They may not be the most talented three players on the Rangers this season, and they certainly are not the highest paid, but Michael Grabner, Kevin Hayes, and JT Miller have the best chemistry of all the forwards currently on the team. It was obvious in October and even more obvious after last night’s Rangers 5-2 win in Philadelphia.
The line just works. With all the injuries among forwards this year, it is easy to understand why the coaches have separated the three at times. But, as we get into the last half of the season and Rick Nash and Mika Zibanejad return later this month, there is no reason that this group of three should not be allowed to consistently show how offensively productive they can be. They did against the Flyers last night, amassing nine points (including four of the five Rangers goals) among the three of them. And that production did not include giving Grabner, Hayes, and Miller a chance on the power play, which should at least be considered going forward.
It is understood that, if allowed to play together, this threesome likely will be the third line upon Nash and Mika’s return. But, if Jimmy Vesey plays top six minutes after the injured forwards’ return, there will be enough threats among the top two lines to be able to keep this “third line” intact. Wouldn’t it be great to have three true scoring lines to face opponents?
In net, there have been recent questions about Henrik Lundqvist. But, he was spectacular between the pipes last night. Lundqvist made save after save, controlling his rebounds and his lateral movement so that little got past him. The momentum of the entire game actually turned on a first period penalty kill, when, with Ryan McDonagh in the box, the Flyers reeled off four great shots, all of which were turned aside deftly by Henrik.
His play in Philadelphia was in direct contrast to that of Tuesday night, when Lundqvist let in a couple of questionable goals. This led to many journalists and fans speculating yesterday about Lundqvist’s status as the number one between the pipes. While there is some truth to his troubles–although Henrik’s goals against average thus far in 2016/17 is almost the same as what he posted for all of last season (2.49 versus 2.48), Lundqvist is facing fewer shots per game (28.81 this year compared to 30.92 last year, per 60 minutes on the ice). And, anecdotal evidence suggests that he is letting in goals he did not in the past. But for anyone to say that Antti Raanta is a better goaltender for the Blueshirts moving toward and into the playoffs this season is a bit ridiculous. Lundqvist may not be on the top of his game at all times, but he has been starting against most of the very important rivals in the Metropolitan Division (Henrik has started 11 games, Raanta 3).
As for the defense, it is no secret that the Rangers have been looking for a top four, right-handed blueliner. Although thus far, a trade has not been made, it is very likely to happen prior to the deadline on the first of March. Although Kevin Shattenkirk has been mentioned time and again, what about Dennis Wideman, a right handed defenseman likely available from Calgary? Someone will have to be sent the other way, but Wideman may fill New York’s need at least for the short term.