Since he signed with the Rangers in the summer of 2014, Tanner Glass has been subject to fan criticism. Whether on social media or the blogosphere, the likable 32-year old fourth liner has had his share of detractors. In this space during his first season, I was one of them. However, the amount of blame he received and a solid showing last postseason changed my mind.
Glass will never be the fastest skater or the most skilled. He gets by on effort and grit. On a team that isn’t overly physical, he does have a role under Alain Vigneault, who also coached him in Vancouver. Whether or not you agree with the coach’s loyalty or deployment, that’s not on Glass. All he does is suit up and give an honest effort. Something a few of his more talented teammates could learn from.
Since returning to the lineup on Dec. 2 after a recall from Hartford, he’s given a good account of himself. The hard working role player has gotten rewarded with three goals and three assists. It was Glass who was in the right place for a Dominic Moore centering feed with his shot rebounding off Anaheim goalie John Gibson to Kevin Klein for the first of two goals in a feel good 2-1 win over the Ducks on Wednesday.
Klein redeemed himself in a big way tallying twice including the game-winner with 6:41 left in regulation. It was his turnover that led to Corey Perry setting up Jamie McGinn for the Ducks’ only goal against backup Antti Raanta. Raanta was steady making 22 saves for the big win to start a three-game California trip in four days on the right foot. Henrik Lundqvist gets the call at Los Angeles tonight.
The Rangers didn’t get a lot done offensively in a tightly played first period. In fact, shots were at a premium with the teams combining for nine. The Ducks held a slight 5-4 edge. The only mistake was Klein getting pick pocketed by Perry, who fed McGinn for a lay-up.
It was the strong play from a newly formed fourth line consisting of Glass, Dominic Moore and Viktor Stalberg that provided a spark. The trio were very effective getting the puck deep and forechecking. Vigneault moved Stalberg down flipping Kevin Hayes on a new third line with Eric Staal and J.T. Miller. He reunited Rick Nash with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. Jesper Fast joined Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider.
While the more offensive lines weren’t consistent shift to shift, it was the fourth line that could be counted on. Off a clean faceoff win from Moore, who went a perfect 9-for-9 in the dot, they outworked the Ducks to tie the game on Klein’s first of the game coming at 3:11 of the second. Stalberg chipped the puck down low to Moore who fed Glass for a tough low shot Gibson leaked to Klein, who finished. Glass got the primary assist. A nice reward for a player who continues to be unfairly scapegoated.
It’s not his fault Vigneault has mismanaged rookie forward Oscar Lindberg. A big contributor at the start of the season, the 24-year old Swede has seen his ice-time dwindle. Things could not have gone better for him in October. He scored in the team’s first three games totaling four goals all in wins. In fact, nine of his 12 goals came during the first two months. In the first 25 games, Lindberg was 9-7-16.
Like most first-year players, he hit a wall. His offense dried up with just one goal in 12 games during December. A bad penchant for taking penalties led to reduced playing time. He also sat out a couple of times. He was a healthy scratch Wednesday and likely will be again versus the Kings. To be fair, he’s played 66 of the Rangers’ 70 games. The production of 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points isn’t bad. He ranks 10th in team scoring.
By comparison, struggling sophomore Kevin Hayes has 11 goals and 20 helpers totaling 31 points in 68 games. Vigneault made an example of him twice. However, even after Hayes’ initial positive response, he’s back to disappearing. He’s followed his best stretch of the season in which he tallied eight points (4-4-8) over eight games by registering just an assist over the past nine. The inconsistency of the gifted big forward with strong possession and play making skills is puzzling. He was demoted to the fourth line for a couple of games until yesterday.
At this moment, Glass has been more consistent than Hayes. Hard as that is to believe, it’s true. With Glass, you know what to expect. He brings energy every shift. He played one of his best games in the 2-1 win over the Ducks registering a game high 10 hits with the primary helper on Klein’s first of two. In 45 games, his 182 hits lead the Blueshirts. He also has shown improvement defensively. While you never want to see him or the fourth line trapped in their zone due to coach’s exploiting the match-up, Glass’ effort has been commendable.
On a team that doesn’t always have every forward going, Glass isn’t the issue. It would be nice to see the stubborn Vigneault change his mind on Lindberg. But with the addition of Staal and Nash back, he’s become the odd man out. Lindberg is a better skater than Glass. Without question, he can bring more offense. If the coach is willing to try him with Moore and Stalberg, the argument can be made for a better skating line.
With 11 games remaining following tonight, there isn’t much time. Even now, Vigneault continues to tweak his lines searching for the right combination. Unlike the past two seasons, there isn’t any consistency. That includes the defense where from time to time, he’ll move Klein up to the top pair with Ryan McDonagh. One that makes better sense with Dan Girardi susceptible to hiccups like the giveaway he had late in the second that almost led to a Anaheim goal.
Girardi and Marc Staal have a lot of miles on them. All the games played and injuries have caught up. Staal put in a strong effort at Anaheim playing with more edge. It’s when the two elder statesmen of the blue line are more instinctive that they play their best hockey. When they hesitate, they get in trouble. Aggressive opponents know they can forecheck each and force them into turnovers. It is this area that is more of a concern than Glass. There are also scary moments where Dan Boyle puts himself in bad spots. At 39, he is what he is. A effective possession player who can contribute offense but a defensive liability.
Without Dylan McIlrath, the Rangers are going with six defensemen. With Brady Skjei down in Hartford, that means it falls on a unit anchored by McDonagh and offensive leader Keith Yandle to carry the load. As The Journal News’ Rick Carpiniello has alluded to throughout the season, they need Girardi and Staal to be counted on for any kind of run this postseason. The team’s best two defensive D are McDonagh and Klein, who should be together more than apart.
Yandle is high risk, high reward. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee he will be back. GM Jeff Gorton has been noncommittal to re-signing him due to the development of Skjei. Hopefully, McIlrath is part of the plan. His current knee injury is a concern. It isn’t the same one that was operated on. But you have to wonder why Vigneault termed it ‘not serious.’ Now he’s out longer. Who will be the extra defenseman? Probably Skjei if the Wolf Pack don’t qualify for the postseason.
As for Glass, he’ll continue to give 100 percent and be a good teammate. Character.