The March To The Playoffs: Lundqvist’s Return, Talbot, Injuries, AV’s Controversies & More

What it’s all about

Welcome everyone to another blog here on the new and improved DOINOW.com. With these two days off, I figured I’d chime in a few thoughts, as we are now less than a month away from the NHL playoffs. As always, you can check out the archives on the right hand of the site for previous blogs, don’t forget to tip your bartenders, don’t drink and drive, try the Sheppard’s Pie at the Bold & always, and I mean ALWAYS, use “In Cam We Trust” as your personal mantra.

There are few things to discuss, as the Rangers approach the Stanley Cup playoffs. Of course we have to talk about the goalie controversy, the injuries, the lines and everything else. The biggest news reports today were that it is rumored that Hank might be back on March 24th vs a team that owned him last year, the LA Kings. The other report was that Martin St. Louis will join Kevin Klein on the injured list.

As I said in my previous blogs, the biggest question is where do the Rangers go with Henrik Lundqvist? This is the best Rangers team since 1994. Where last year’s team was a Cinderella team, this year’s Rangers are the best and most dominating team in hockey. Just read any of the Ranger press notes, the stats, the numbers, the streaks, the wins, the points – Rangers are setting team records everywhere. All without their $8.5M goalie.

Henrik Lundqvist, like usual, started off another season like crap. He was in the bottom half of the league in saves, save percentage and goals allowed. However, he never kicked out of his funk, like he usually does after 2-3 weeks. (Again, why is he the highest paid goalie in the NHL if he can’t play at a top level every game?) Hank wound up being blown out 9 times from October-January and was crushed by every top team he played. Whether it was getting smacked up by the Islanders three times, being disgraced by the Lightening three times, being embarrassed in the home opener against Toronto, Hank looked terrible.

Ardent Hank supporters can say he had a short off-season, the defense wasn’t as strong or whatever excuse you want, but when you say you want to win a Cup in NY at all costs, then tease free agency & demand to be the highest paid goalie in the league (once again), you need to be lights out, all the time. Hank takes the lion share of the money, so he needs to be the King of the Jungle and be a world beater. He hasn’t done any of that since signing a contract that gives him 10% of team payroll until he’s near 40 years old. It’s a very questionable contract because rarely do long-term deals work out. One must also wonder, if a goalie who has never won a Stanley Cup or led his team to a President’s Trophy, gets $8.5M a season, what would Roy, Brodeur or Hasek get from Sather in the present day? $29M a season?

If Hank is a King, what’s Marty, the Master & Ruler of the World?

Since Henrik went down, the Rangers are the best team in hockey, bar none. I think copying and pasting the numbers cheapens my worth, of you the reader, because you know the deal. But here are the numbers from the Rangers. I think you need them in front of your face to really absorb and get what’s going on here:

(Note, this is from last night’s Rangers update from their official website.)

   TOP OF THE HEAP – As of the conclusion of tonight’s game, the Rangers have the top record in the Metropolitan Division, the Eastern Conference, and the NHL.

 

–        POINT TAKEN – The Rangers have 95 points in their first 68 games this season, which is the most they have had in the first 68 contests of any season since 1971-72 (101 points). The Rangers extended their winning streak to five games. The Blueshirts have earned at least one point in seven straight games (6-0-1) and in 17 of their last 18 contests (14-1-3), and they have won 14 of their last 17 contests (14-1-2). The Rangers have recorded at least one point in 20 of their last 22 games (17-2-3). The Blueshirts have won 37 of their last 50 games (37-10-3), including 35 of their last 47 games (35-9-3) and 33 of their last 43 contests (33-7-3). The Rangers have also earned at least one point in 50 of their last 64 games (43-14-7), including 43 of their last 54 games (38-11-5).
 
–        RANK AND FILE – As of the conclusion of tonight’s game, the Rangers lead the NHL in wins (44), points (95), regulation/OT wins (41), and points percentage (.699). New York also ranks second in the NHL in goals against per game (2.25) in 2014-15.
 
–        HOME COOKING – New York has won each of its last five home games and has earned at least one point in each of its last 10 home games (8-0-2 record). The Rangers have earned a point in at least 10 straight home games during one season for the first time since Feb. 16 – Apr. 4, 2008 (11 games; 8-0-3). The Blueshirts have won 14 of their last 18 home contests (14-2-2) and 17 of their last 22 home games (17-3-2). The Rangers have also earned at least one point in 27 of their last 32 home games, dating back to Oct. 16 (22-5-5 over the span).
 
–        RIGHT BACK AT IT – The Rangers have posted an 8-2-1 record in the second half of back-to-back games this season, including an 8-0-1 record in the second half of their last nine back-to-back sets.
 
–        FINISHING THE JOB – The Blueshirts have posted a 29-0-1 record when leading after two periods this season. New York has registered a 143-1-9 record in its last 153 regular season games when leading after 40 minutes. The 153-game stretch began on Feb. 6, 2010 vs. New Jersey. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Rangers are the only NHL team since 1999-2000 (the first year when teams earned a point for a loss after regulation) to have no more than one regulation loss over a span of 150 or more regular season games when leading after two periods.
 
–        LEADING THE WAY – New York has posted a 23-1-3 record when leading after the first period this season.
 
–        FIRST IN SCORE – The Blueshirts have tallied the first goal of the game in 25 of their last 38 games, in 33 of their last 50 contests, and in 42 of 68 games this season. New York has posted a 34-5-3 record when tallying the first goal of the game in 2014-15.
 
–        TEAM EFFORT – With James Sheppard and Matt Hunwick each tallying their first goals as Rangers in the contest, 23 different players have registered at least one goal with the Blueshirts this season. Three different Rangers have recorded their first goal with the team over the last two games (Sheppard, Hunwick, and Keith Yandle).
 
–        Cam Talbot tied a single-game career-high with 38 saves to record his 17th win of the season and extend his personal winning streak to four games. He has posted a 0.75 GAA, a .976 SV%, and 1 SO during his personal winning streak. Talbot has posted a 5-0-1 record, along with a 1.00 GAA, a .967 SV%, and 1 SO in his last six appearances. He has also posted an 8-1-1 record, along with a 1.49 GAA, a .951 SV%, and 2 SO in his last 10 appearances. Talbot has allowed one goal or fewer in regulation in each of his last six appearances. He has earned at least one point in 15 of his last 16 appearances (12-1-3 record), and in 16 of 18 appearances since Feb. 4 (13-2-3 record over the span).

 

GOALBUSTER!

Before Hank went down, it seemed that Hank was turning the corner. The team won, for the first time in their history, not only their Western Canada road-trip but swept their California road-trip aas well. The Rangers were playing well, but Hank was still having these games where he was giving up 3,4,5 goals. There was no consistency this season in his play. You never knew what Hank would show up.

When Hank did go down, we all know, I said the Rangers would be better without him. Talbot is the real deal. All the Talbot critics will say, “He hasn’t played enough.” Well now he has, and the guy has just finished getting his second player of the week award from NHL.com. Sure Talbot started off shaky, but with Benoit Allaire & getting the time, Talbot worked out the kinks. Now he’s giving up 1 goal a game to the top teams in the league, and those goals that did go in weren’t even his fault! For $500,000 a season, Cam Talbot is the biggest steal in the NHL. Fortunately for the NYR, they re-signed him before he got the starting gig and he will only make $1.5M next season.

I’ve said it before in these blogs, the salary cap doesn’t make the league fun. Fans know what everyone get paid, trades are made over money & not because of player talent and we’ve wasted enough time talking Hank’s deal here. However, it is a real thing. He’s 10% of their contract until he’s 40 years old. Listen, I get he has had a HOF career here, no one is denying that. However, why are you overpaying him til he’s 40? He got paid very well during the HOF portion of his career. You didn’t need to give him a $2M raise, especially when he hasn’t won anything.

Hank’s career will either go down the Ewing, the Piazza path or it can go down the Jeter, Manning path. But should it be Hank in net come the spring? It’s a debatable decision.

And the starting goalie is….

Where I did predict Talbot would be a savior for the Rangers this season, I did not predict that Alain Vigneault would become one of the most successful Ranger coaches in their near 90 year history. Sure it’s only been two years, but in those two years, he had this team in the Cup Finals & would win the President’s Trophy if the season ended today. You gotta wonder, is Hank’s rust worth losing home ice in the playoffs for? One thing is for certain, if AV doesn’t win the Jack Adams Coach of the Year Award, something is seriously flawed with the NHL.

Put this in perspective – is there any other team that lost their most expensive piece of talent and dominated? Look at what AV is doing. It truly is remarkable, especially when you factor in how he’s juggled his lines, made tough talent decisions, benched guys and improved the games of his players. AV should win this award unanimously.

AV is no stranger to goalie controversy or winning President Trophy’s. AV won two in a row in Vancouver. He also had two goalie controversies in his coaching career, one with Vancouver and one in Montreal.

In Montreal, AV debated on starting Jeff Hackett, Jose Theodore (who wound up being the most successful of the three) and Jocelyn Thibault, who was acquired in the Patrick Roy trade. Montreal, coming off their 1993 Cup, would never get back there with AV and his rotating goalies. AV would get the pink slip.

In Vancouver, where AV gained his most success, his final years were not without controversy. AV allowed Roberto Luongo to become team captain, despite NHL rules disallowing goalies as captain. Then, a young Corey Schneider got hot. AV allowed Schneider to start in the playoffs, after Luongo failures. When it was all said and done, after that 2012-2013 season, AV was gone & was hired by the Rangers, Luongo returned to Florida and Schneider, in a weird deal, went to the Devils, which ironically led to the ousting of one of the best goalies of all time, Marty Brodeur.

AV finds himself at a similar crossroads in his career, however, this is his biggest goalie controversy yet. Here is Talbot vs Hank in a nutshell:

Talbot- has the team as number 1 in the league and setting records left and right.

Lundqvist – one of the best goalies in NYR history and has a few records of his own.

Talbot – doesn’t have the playoff experience. But he didn’t have regular season experience either and that’s been working out. See Jonathan Quick’s first Cup run.

Lundqvist – has a ton of playoff experience, but no Stanley Cup to show for it. He has won a bunch of Game 7’s, but if he won a few Game 5’s or 6’s, there would be no need for that Game 7.

Talbot – he’s the back-up because we’re told that’s all he is.

Lundqvist – he’s the King, despite having no crown. He’s also $8.5M a season and no GM or owner wants to see  that sitting on the bench.

This will be debated endlessly if the Rangers don’t win the Cup

There really is no knock on Talbot’s play of late. He’s owned the job once finding his groove. The only knock on Talbot is that he’s not Lundqvist and really we can’t say Talbot isn’t Lundqvist until Talbot has a chance to play in the playoffs. Make sense?

Hank will return and he will have the opportunity to get his job back. Talbot won’t get the Tom Brady, the Mike Richter or the Aaron Rodgers treatment because Hank is $8.5M a season and AV would be creating a nightmare for himself with the front office if he blew Hank off here.

But what happens when Hank comes back, rumors say 3/24, and he shits the bed? Ok, that was just rust. What happens when he plays 2-3 more games, and the Rangers lose the President’s Trophy bid, lose home ice and lose first in the Metro? Do you go into the playoffs with a cold Hank? Then, what if Talbot isn’t as hot as he’s been because you cooled him off a bit? Tons of questions here.

Bottom line is: Hank will get a chance to get his job back. Let me rephrase it, it’s his job to lose. Unless Tonya Harding is a Talbot fan, Hank will be starting in the playoffs. However, if Hank pulls another one of his choke jobs like he did against the Kings last year (Sorry, you can’t be highest paid goalie in the league, blow several 2 goal leads and lose 3 OT games and still want to be called a King)  everyone will be questioning the goalie situation.

This upcoming spring will be the most pressure in Hank’s career. If he wins the Cup, Hank redeems himself, and while I do think 10% of team payroll is too much for one guy, especially for a guy who says he wants to win at all costs, it helps lessen that blow. If Hank wins the Cup, Talbot will be traded and will go on to have a great career somewhere else. However, if Hank comes back and the Rangers do not win the cup – and don’t be fooled, this is a CUP or BUST year, then everyone will be wondering WHAT IF, in regards to Talbot as starter.

Let me also get the record straight here. Yes I’m a Talbot guy, but no way am I rooting against Hank here. The most important thing is to win a Stanley Cup. However, you can bet I’ll be the loudest voice if Hank can’t bring a Cup here this season. It is just a shame that Talbot is an innocent victim in all this and will have to get the big payday & starter job somewhere else. However, I’ll live with that if Hank wins the Cup. Shit, if Talbot goes to Arizona with Duclair/Domi and maybe McDavid, I got a new favorite west coast team! I just wonder, if Hank doesn’t win the Cup, how much does that drive up Talbot’s asking price when he’s a free agent?

For the RANGERS team, the best case scenario is Hank comes back, is the Hank of 2012 where he put the team on his back, and leads the Blueshirts to the Cup. Talbot gets his money somewhere else and the Rangers get some forward help. The worst case scenario is Hank comes back, stinks the joint out and we’re wondering if Talbot would’ve got it done.

Even for a team dominating the NHL, there are surely a lot of questions!

I’ll never forget what MSL did for this team last year

It was announced Monday that MSL will miss 1-2 weeks with a knee injury. MSL joins Kevin Klein on the injured list. Fortunately, both will be ready to return for the playoffs.

In Klein’s case, the Rangers are fine. Hunwick thus far has filled the role perfectly and Klein is a warrior. Klein will be fine when he gets back.

For Marty, this could just be a two week vacation. He has had been up and down all year. With age a factor, this could be a nice two week rest to get Marty ready for the playoffs. The real question is what does AV do with his lines?

There are many different ways to go here. You could bump up the third line to the second line, as the third line has been playing well. You could take a third line winger, like Hags or Hayes and put them with Stepan & Kreider. You could put Sheppard with the second line. The only thing I do not want to see more of is Tanner Glass! AV has some juggling to do, but he’s been perfect all year. I’ll trust whatever judgement he makes.

What it’s all about

The Rangers are all but guaranteed a playoff berth this year. There’s a few games left to be played before it’s all official, but the Rangers, if they can hold on, should not only win their division but could finish first in the whole league. For the fringe teams, looking for those two wild card spots, the Rangers most likely host either Boston, Washington, Ottawa or Florida at home. Of the four teams, Washington would be the most dangerous. Forgetting yesterday, Florida would present perhaps the path of least resistance to the second round. Boston has matched up well against the Rangers in years past, but this is not the same Bruin team. The Senators would be happy just to be in the playoffs under their new hot goaltender, but you would have to worry a bit. If the Senators wind up in the playoffs, it will be because they are streaking and hot as hell. They could be nervous team to play.

What is looking more probable as time goes on is a first round match up between the Islanders & Penguins, ensuring that if the Rangers can get past the first round, they wouldn’t have to see both of these teams in the playoffs. The Penguins, as of late, have been an easier nut to crack for the Rangers, although Talbot is undefeated against the Islanders, where Hank is 0-3.

One thing is for sure, the NHL playoffs are shaping up once again to be another exciting and thrilling rollercoaster. I’m ready for these playoffs to start ASAP. And I’m hoping to be hanging out with all of you for a parade at the Canyon of Heroes come June.

I’ll be back Wednesday night with Hawks/NYR reaction.

Let’s Go Rangers

IN CAM WE TRUST
Sean McCaffrey

BULLSMC@aol.com

@NYCTHEMIC on the twitter

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