The New York Rangers kicked off the 2017-18 NHL season in a less than favorable way. That’s putting it nicely actually. It’s been awful. In the month of October, the Rangers earned a 4-7-2 record. The losers of the month are easy to pick out, but the winners are few and far between. The few winners proved their worth for the Blueshirts. However, the majority of the team belongs in the loser column.
New York Rangers Winners and Losers of October 2017
Mika Zibenejad made headlines pre-2016-17 as Derick Brassard‘s replacement on the Rangers. Last year, his progress with the Rangers was stunted due to a broken fibula which sidelined him for almost eight weeks. He ended the season favorably with 37 points in 56 games, including 14 goals.
The spotlight got hotter on Zibanejad this year, taking the place of Rangers veteran, Derek Stepan and signing a five-year contract extension. The Swedish-native arrived in Manhattan determined to prove his $26.75 million worth. Throughout the Rangers 13 games this season, Zibanejad has 13 points. In fact, he was the only Ranger finding the back of the net to start the season. He scored five goals in the first four games.
Zibanejad provided a beacon of hope for a floundering team. It is thanks to his offensive production that the Rangers weren’t completely blown out to start the season considering his teammates were so ill prepared. Meanwhile in Ottawa, Brassard has been held scoreless in his last four games. This trade still looks good for the Rangers and Zibanejad’s youth should mean his prime years take place in New York.
Buchnevich, last year’s question mark player, emerged this year with a point to prove. Despite adversity from the coaching staff, he’s getting the job done and proving his right to play top NHL minutes. Buchnevich only played half the season last year due to conditioning problems, earning 20 points. However, this year he’s already half way to last year’s point total 13 games in with 10.
It was unclear how Buchnevich would contribute to the Rangers this year after his shaky rookie season. Additionally, his off-season looked more like an American roadtrip than workouts and season prep. Putting the past behind him though, Buchnevich is no doubt an integral part of the Rangers lineup right now. Unfortunately, it’s taken too long for Vigneault to see the value in Buchnevich. He was demoted to the fourth line and played under ten minutes in losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders.
Luckily, as Vigenault clings to his coaching job, Buchnevich was given a new line partner in Boo Nieves. On his line with Michael Grabner and Nieves against the Arizona Coyotes, Buchnevich tallied two points. The line had a total of seven. Buchnevich continues to prove his offensive talent is ripe and just needs to the minutes to prove it.
The KZB Line
The KZB line (Chris Kreider – Zibanejad – Buchnevich) began in 2016-17 and produced a barrage of points for the Rangers before it was disassembled. This year, Vigneault has been shifting lines so many times that despite the lines successes, they continued to be broken apart. Luckily, it was reunited against the Vegas Golden Knights and how sweet it was.
Against the Golden Knights, the KZB line tallied six points. Three of those points were a goal a piece for the dynamic trio. Keeping these players together is going to be key moving forward if the Rangers want to keep some momentum going. Kreider even learned Russian last year in an attempt to bond with Buchnevich. There’s an undeniable bond between these players and disrupting it, especially now would just be incorrect.
It’s hard to name just a handful of losers for the month of October. All month, it’s been difficult to find bright spots in a team that fell so far from grace. The most difficult thing to admit about the losers is that almost no one saw them coming, especially not in this magnitude.
Last season’s playoffs marked the beginning of the end for Vigneault. This season the culmination of his poor decision making and player deployment has put his team into an embarrassing hole.
Despite his many accolades, Vigneault has a reputation for burning out with teams. His dated coaching methods are often speculated as the reason for this shift in success. Vigneault was fired by the Montreal Canadiens mid-season in 2000-01. He failed to propel them to the playoffs numerous times and the team’s continued struggles did not help his cause. The Vancouver Canucks demoralizing sweep in the first round of the 2013 playoffs by the San Jose Sharks also earned Vigneault his next trip out the door.
Since arriving in New York in 2013, Vigneault has brought the team to one Stanley Cup Final and two Eastern Conference Finals. However, his success with the team has flamed out due to his lack of trust in the team’s younger talent. Vigenault consistently favors older veterans for minutes, even if they haven’t earned them. In a league where youth, skill and speed has overtaken pure grit, Vigneault is behind the times.
With a 3-7-2 record to his name, Tuesday night’s game against the Golden Knights was speculated to be his last with the Rangers if it resulted in a loss. Vigneault will hold on for another day, despite the Twitterverse calling for his head with #FireAV hashtags. It is in his best interest to keep Tuesday night’s lines intact if he wanted to build chemistry and momentum with this team. Line changes every game jars players and doesn’t allow for progress to build. In fact, the Rangers slow starts are most likely due to their unfamiliarity with their line dynamics in high-pressure situations. Food for thought.
Kreider, heralded in the past as an offensive power house for the Rangers, consistently puts up 20-plus goals a season. Sadly, this year he is playing as though his days are numbered and he could care less. His play against the Golden Knights on the KZB line is an exception to this behavior, but his play has been noticeably and painfully lackluster.
In addition to lethargic play, Kreider’s temper has been an issue this season. His offensive zone cross-checking penalty on the Penguin’s Brian Dumoulin cost the Rangers a two-man advantage and earned the Penguins a powerplay goal. Keep your stick down and avoid the penalty, no matter who nudges you. That Penguins powerplay goal arguably shifted the momentum in the Penguins favor and forced the Rangers to play catch up. Kreider tops the team in penalty minutes with 21.
To name the captain one of the losers for this month is disappointing, yet unavoidable. McDonagh has played top minutes for the Rangers since arriving in New York and joined the NHL All-Star team two years in a row. However, this year McDonagh’s play is sloppy, fueled by fear. His team’s poor performance is worn on his sleeve and has distracted him from doing his own job well. His insanely awful turnover in overtime against the Penguins was essentially a secondary assist on the game-winning goal for the Penguins.
McDonagh deserves to be in the category because as the captain, it’s your responsibility to lift your team up, even in difficult times. McDonagh didn’t show up to practice the day after the Penguins game, calling it a maintenance day. Whether or not he was actually nursing an injury we may never know, but he played in the following game, another loss to the Islanders with no injury noted. Would Mark Messier have stood for this team’s play and sat down without stating there would be a shift and he was going to make it? No. The leadership in the Rangers locker room needs a serious face lift.
He was the golden goose of the off-season, the boy coming home to play for his childhood dream-team. Shattenkirk signed a four-year, $26.6 million contract with the Rangers over the summer. A discount apparently to play for the Broadway Blueshirts. Too bad he turned out to be a disappointment so far. Shattenkirk has been brutal with turnovers.
Bottom line, Shattenkirk put too much pressure on himself to be the hometown hero he’s not ready to be. Any new team takes time to adjust to and his mindset narrowed his focus to being the superstar or nothing. Mistakes come under pressure, must like his poor stick placement against the Penguins to redirect the puck in front of Henrik Lundqvist, giving Sidney Crosby the perfect back-handed tally. One can only hope that time heals this wound, otherwise this off-season provided nothing but more worries for the Rangers.
The Whole Team
At the end of the day, the Rangers need to play their game as a unit. Hockey is a team sport, something the Rangers have clearly forgotten. Their lack of communication and chemistry on the ice has resulted in countless turnovers and missed opportunities. Vigneault’s panic-induced line changes combined with the lack of constructive leadership from McDonagh remain keys in the Rangers failures. As a former Cup contender, the Rangers must climb out of a deep hole to be on the ice instead of the golf course in April.