Game Preview: Rangers host Ducks in Hagelin’s return

Carl Hagelin

Happier Times: Overtime hero Carl Hagelin celebrates his series clinching goal that eliminated the Penguins in Game 5. He makes his Garden return tonight with the Ducks. AP Photo by Julie Jacobson/Getty Images

In what’s the final game before the holiday break, the Rangers host the Ducks in a battle of slumping teams. Anaheim enters the second of a back-to-back fresh off a 5-2 loss to the Islanders in Brooklyn. Former Blueshirt Carl Hagelin scored. But the Isles chased Frederik Andersen with three straight in the first.

The Ducks are the NHL’s biggest disappointment. Their 12-15-5 record is the worst in the West. Ryan Getzlaf remains stuck on one goal. An empty netter. I would know since I have him in fantasy. How come every time I get this guy, he does nothing? Never mind. He looks a step slow. Maybe he’s playing hurt. Nothing would surprise me.

Corey Perry leads the Ducks in scoring with a dismal 20 points. He also paces them with 10 goals but has only one assist over the last four games and took two penalties yesterday as did Getzlaf. Not what you come to expect from two of the league’s best players.

Something is fishy in Anaheim. They are the worst offense in the NHL averaging less than two goals-per-game. On a new team due to becoming a cap casualty, Hagelin got his third goal Monday. He hasn’t fit in coach Bruce Boudreau’s system. Then again, it’s a team wide epidemic. Ryan Kesler has four goals and Jakob Silfverberg has three. Do they miss Matt Beleskey that much?

If they can go overboard with a video tribute to coach Alain Vigneault for his 1,000th game, the Rangers can at least acknowledge Hagelin during a stoppage. He was a key part of three teams that went to the Final Four including the 2014 roster that lost to the Kings for the Stanley Cup. Hagelin’s greatest goal came last Spring when he closed out the Pens in the first round with a clutch overtime winner.

In a bizarre twist, the trade that sent Hagelin, a second round pick (Julius Nattinen) and sixth rounder (Garrett Metcalf) for Emerson Etem and a second round pick that turned into Ryan Gropp hasn’t worked out for either team. Hagelin has 11 points with a minus-11 rating in 32 games while Etem has three assists in only 16 games due to Vigneault misusing him. He’s on the fourth line tonight.

The Blueshirts couldn’t afford to bump Hagelin’s salary up to $4 million. They had to clear space to re-sign Derek Stepan. It’s unfortunate because the speedy Hagelin was a perfect fit in Vigneault’s system. A splendid skater, he was dangerous in transition and good on the forecheck. Two areas that have been missing from the Rangers along with two-way forwards who remember to back check.

Hagelin now wears number 26 for the Ducks. The reverse of his No. 62 in Blueshirt colors. He’ll get a nice hand from the Garden Faithful who never forget good players. Hopefully, Hagelin gets one and the Rangers win.

While the Ducks have their issues, the Rangers certainly have their own having dropped 11 of 14 to fall into third place a point behind the Isles for second in the Metropolitan. At 19-12-4 with 42 points, they’re still in solid position five points ahead of the Devils and resurgent Flyers. But it’s not a safe lead due to how they’ve played.

Henrik Lundqvist has been ice cold giving up an ungodly 20 goals over his last five appearances. That includes four-or-more in the last three starts and four of his last five. With the defense continuing to struggle minus Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi who both took part in the morning skate, Lundqvist hasn’t been able to bail his team out. He looks mentally drained. With Magnus Hellberg still backing up with Antti Raanta out due to a “head injury,” Lundqvist will get another start before Christmas.

Neither Klein nor Girardi will return. That means another game for the problematic Chris Summers. He’s paired with Dan Boyle, whose offense has been much better. But that’s not a pair you want out against quality competition. That includes the penalty kill where Vigneault remarkably gave them a shift in the brutal 7-3 humiliation to the Caps who not surprisingly took advantage. They were on for three goals against.

As for AV’s latest lines, it’s a bit improved from Sunday’s head scratcher that included Tanner Glass on a third line with Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello. This time, Glass is back on the fourth line with Dominic Moore and Etem, who just can’t break into the top nine despite improved play.

This time, Vigneault decided to take J.T. Miller off the top line. This after he scored his seventh goal. Instead, he’ll move down to the third line with Hayes and Oscar Lindberg. In an even odder move, Vigneault flipped Chris Kreider and Rick Nash. Kreider will play on the first line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello while Nash gets a turn with Derek Stepan and Jesper Fast.

At this point, AV’s lines are bordering Tom Renney. We all remember the Renney Line Generator towards the end of his run. I have no idea what other possible combos Vigneault has in store. But he’s not allowing anything to jell. It’s so unlike him.

The top two defense pairs remain the same. Marc Staal with Ryan McDonagh while Keith Yandle teams with Dylan McIlrath. I don’t know what McIlrath has to do to be given a look on the top pair with McDonagh. Why not try it? What are they afraid of?

Well, I’m skipping this one for a late shift. So, I will catch the highlights later and have a recap.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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