Things have gone from bad to worse on Broadway as Ryan McDonagh is the latest Ranger to go down with an injury. Can this team stay afloat without two-thirds of its blueline?
Compare the Stanley Cup finalist New York Rangers from five months ago to the group set to take the ice Monday night against the St. Louis Blues. If the 2014-15 Rangers want to replicate last spring’s deep run, they sure seem to be doing it with a hand tied behind their collective back.
First came free agency. The Rangers bought out Brad Richards and watched Benoit Pouliot and Brian Boyle find new teams. General manager Glen Sather replaced them with the likes of Lee Stempniak and Tanner Glass. Any way you sliced it, the Rangers’ forward depth took a hit. The off-season looks especially bad now that youngsters J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast are languishing in the American League instead of taking leaps forward in the Ranger lineup, which they were expected to do. On defense, New York lost Anton Stralman to the Lightning. They filled that void, albeit with a different type of player, via Dan Boyle.
Then first-line center Derek Stepan broke his leg during a pre-season practice. Then Boyle broke his hand in New York’s season opener Oct. 9. Then John Moore earned a five-game suspension for elbowing Erik Haula. Kevin Klein and Mats Zuccarello have minor injuries, too.
And, just for good measure, the hockey gods kicked the Rangers once more while they were already down. This happened to captain Ryan McDonagh Saturday night against the Winnipeg Jets:
Ouch. A separated shoulder on the hit from Evander Kane (which I had no issue with, by the way. McDonagh changed direction as the last second, so Kane can’t be faulted). It will cost McDonagh at least three to four weeks. It’s a devastating blow. McDonagh is one of the sport’s best all-round blueliners, a tremendous skater who can play a shutdown game and also contribute offense. The question now is: who is left for the Rangers? And can they weather this storm?
Believe it or not, their No. 2 defense pairing is now Matt Hunwick and Michael Kostka. Conor Allen and Dylan McIlrath have been recalled from AHL Hartford to round out the top six. McIlrath is a name to monitor. He’s a 6-foot-5 monster, taken 10th overall in the 2010 draft. Thus far, he’s been a disappointment, only cracking the Rangers for two games to date and failing to develop much of an offensive game at the AHL level. That said, McIlrath is only 22. Big D-men often mature slowly and McIlrath at least has potential to be a bottom-pair bruiser. If there’s a silver lining to the Rangers’ explosion of bad luck, it’s that they’ll get a look at McIlrath.
Still, it’s difficult not to worry about this team’s short-term future. Henrik Lundqvist is in another one of his early-season funks, having posted a 2.85 goals-against average and .902 save percentage in nine appearances. With less help than ever in front of him, he needs to get hot to keep New York afloat. He has to worry the offensive support will dry up, too. He finally got on track with a shutout Saturday, but lost the game as the Rangers couldn’t score once and Winnipeg bested Lundqvist in the shootout. The power play hums along at frigid 7.1 percent, good for 28th in the NHL. This team desperately needs Boyle back.
On the bright side, the Rangers won’t be without Moore and Klein for long, and they play five of their next six games at home. They can survive this, but they’ll need some outstanding efforts from the few healthy bodies they have left.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin