Tanner Glass owns the biased Rangers fans


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Tanner Glass had a message for the haters following a big performance in Game 4 that helped the Rangers even the series against the Senators headed into a big Saturday afternoon Game 5. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

It is a topic that has been discussed quite a bit. Following a satisfying 4-1 win in Game 4 by the Rangers to even their best-of-seven second round series with the Senators, Tanner Glass had a message for the critics. The biased Rangers fans don’t grasp the team concept. Something I’ve always been on board with.

Here was Glass following a two assist game in which he played a big role in helping set up a pair of second period Oscar Lindberg goals and then getting his chance to fight an overly aggressive Kyle Turris in the closing half a minute:

The interesting thing is he called the cynics uneducated. Ever since former GM Glen Sather signed him to a three-year contract worth an average cap hit of $1.45 million in the summer of 2014, Rangers bloggers and fans questioned the move. Everyone knew there was no way Glass could replace Derek Dorsett. The expectation became unrealistic when coach Alain Vigneault played him in 66 regular season games in ’14-15 and another 19 in a postseason run that fell just shy of the team reaching another Stanley Cup Final.

A loss that wasn’t on Glass even though he only contributed one assist scoring just once in 85 combined games. He was not an effective player by Corsi which measures puck possession metrics and shot attempts. In Year 2, he didn’t make the team out of training camp. By December, the organization felt they needed to recall him. Glass stayed with the big club the rest of ’15-16 showing improvement with four goals and three assists with 66 penalty minutes and a minus-three rating in 57 contests. He took part in four games against his former team the Pens, who easily dismissed a flawed Blueshirts in five.

Even with poor performances from its better players, the criticism remained for a fourth line energy player. Most of it unfair because if guys like Derick Brassard, Kevin Hayes, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and even Henrik Lundqvist had given more, maybe they wouldn’t have been such an easy out. Deadline acquisition Eric Staal was a total bust going without a point in the postseason never finding chemistry while playing out of position with Hayes. Dan Boyle stunk and then called out New York Post troll Brett Cyrgalis. It was an ugly end to a disappointing season.

Entering ’16-17, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton made some noteworthy additions to bolster the team’s depth. He was able to get top prospect Pavel Buchnevich to sign and come over from the KHL while landing Boston University Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey. He also made a good move in signing Michael Grabner. Even Brandon Pirri looked like a solid addition with a great camp and promising start. The Rangers were deeper. There was no room for Glass, who took his assignment to Hartford in stride and spent most of the year in the AHL.

That is until the Rangers got humiliated by the Canadiens 4-1 on March 4 at MSG. A loss so despicable due to how much Montreal manhandled them that the organization decided they had enough. Up came Glass from the Wolf Pack. He had a positive impact scoring a goal and tallying an assist in his second game in a 5-2 win at Tampa Bay. That earned him the game’s second star. A nice reward for a hard working team player who got plenty of support from excited teammates following his goal.

Maybe that’s where some of our fans get lost. Sure. Glass isn’t going to blow you away with his skating or scoring. It’s not his style. He’s a straight ahead North South player who finishes checks and plays a simple game. He wasn’t good in the first year. That much is true. Vigneault stayed with him because he’s loyal to a fault. Something we’ve seen with warriors Staal and Girardi even when they were hurt.

The thing is it wasn’t Glass who was to blame for the Game 7 home loss in the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay. That was on the players and coach for failing to adjust. They hardly mustered an attack making life easy for Ben Bishop, who pitched a 2-0 shutout to the Garden’s disappointment. It wasn’t Glass when they were totally dominated by a superior Pens team that went on to win a Stanley Cup.

In his final season of a three-year deal with him earning $1 million, the likable 33-year old got into 11 regular season games this season with the goal and assist to go with 37 hits and 17 PIM. He always hits hard. Unlike Year 1 when his skating wasn’t good enough and he was taking the wrong route which led to undisciplined penalties and even odd-man rushes, Glass adjusted his game.

He doesn’t over commit anymore. He picks his spots better and is a more effective player on the forecheck due to effort and hustle. Something unquestioned by even the biggest critics. Maybe that’s why he’s so effective when Vigneault’s dressed him this postseason. In five playoff games, it’s an improved Glass with a goal and three assists with a plus-three rating including his scrap and 25 hits with some bone crunching. Just ask Zack Smith.

Most notably, it was Glass who got the 2017 NHL Playoffs started with the first goal when his nifty backhand off a face-off surprised Carey Price going short side top shelf for the game-winner in a Lundqvist 1-0 shutout in Game 1 of the first round at Montreal. That is the kind of effort that is rewarded during the postseason when things get tighter.

It’s harder to score at this time of year. In five games, Glass has more points than more skilled teammates Chris Kreider, Hayes and J.T. Miller. He has fit in with Lindberg, who’s been one of the team’s most consistent players since the tournament began. The playoffs reward grit. It’s players who can win battles that have success. Look at the performances from Lindberg, Glass, first round hero Jesper Fast and Grabner. They’re the ones succeeding.

While Derek Stepan has struggled even though he has three of his five points in the last three games, it’s the secondary players who are picking up the slack. Somehow, the Rangers find themselves tied with the Senators 2-2 with a huge Game 5 tomorrow afternoon in Kanata, Ontario. They have gotten no goals from Hayes or Miller. Mika Zibanejad leads them in scoring with a goal and six assists. But the ex-Sen has yet to find the back of the net against Ottawa despite creating chances. He’s outplayed Brassard though who’s been invisible with no points and minus-five through four games. Hard to fathom.

The thing about the playoffs is it doesn’t matter who you get it from. As Vigneault referenced last night following the Rangers’ 4-1 win, it’s about the 18 or 19 skaters. Having reliable depth is important.

Ditto for the contributions of deadline pickup Brendan Smith. The former Red Wing plays a rugged style suited for this time of year. He’s the toughest defenseman this team has had since Mike Sauer. He doesn’t back down having already gotten into two fights while dishing it out. He certainly took a lot of punishment from the Habs but kept going back. It’s no wonder Smith leads the Rangers in plus/minus (9). He has formed a potent third pair with rookie Brady Skjei, who’s tied for the team lead in goals (4) with Grabner and always pesky leader Mats Zuccarello.

When it comes down to it, it is nice to see Glass getting rewarded. Can anyone think of a better teammate than him? He has taken a lot of abuse. Some warranted but most unfair. Let’s be honest. For all the criticism of Vigneault and I get him on plenty too, he has pushed the right buttons. Following a no show in Game 3 at home last round to fall behind Montreal 2-1, he took Glass out and went back to Buchnevich, who was effective the rest of the series on a line with Zibanejad and Kreider. The Rangers took the final three to advance with the coach changing the look of all four lines.

Vigneault isn’t perfect. We know that. He made the silly mistake of going with Marc Staal and Nick Holden down the stretch with a two-goal lead against the Sens in Game 2. They weren’t on for Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s pair that forced overtime. That was McDonagh and Girardi. But Holden made a bad pinch getting caught along with two forwards leading to Pageau’s fourth for a Sens’ 6-5 double overtime win that put them in a 2-0 hole.

With Buchnevich ineffective and the coach not confident enough to play him regularly, he went back to Glass and changed the lines again. It’s worked out pretty well. The Rangers swept the two games at home by identical 4-1 scores. Glass’ energy rubbed off. He has formed chemistry with Lindberg and Miller, who got demoted after struggling on the third line. Hayes is working with Grabner and Fast. A line that has the hard workers needed to get more out of the pass oriented Hayes, who still needs to think shot more.

Vigneault also managed the shifts of Staal and Holden more, limiting them to third pair duty in Game 3. In Game 4, he was able to balance it out due to a 4-0 lead. So, they got a little more time than Smith, who exited after a fight with Phaneuf, and Skjei. He didn’t even play Girardi 18 minutes. So, they should be fresh for Saturday. Only McDonagh got the usual with over 25. A manageable amount for his horse. We’ll see how that plays on Derby Day.

So, here’s the rub. Glass is an intelligent, well spoken veteran who is a graduate of Dartmouth. If you’ve ever listened to him speak during interviews, he always gives reporters a lot on what the team needs to do to be successful.

Maybe where everyone is wrong is that Glass is a professional hockey player. How dare any of us question him? It’s more about usage. This time, Vigneault’s right. He’s made the right call on Tanner, who’s been very effective. He also delivered seven hits along with those two assists Thursday night. Glass distracted Craig Anderson on Lindberg’s long shot that beat the Ottawa starter high short side from distance. Anderson rested in the third period replaced by backup Mike Condon.

I’m not a beat reporter and don’t pretend to be. I’m not an expert either. Those who cover the team respect what Glass brings. They get it. The notion that there are actually misguided fan bloggers still complaining after last night is sad. Glass has earned his keep. It isn’t Glass vs Buchnevich. It’s about style. The coach makes the decision based on feel. He’s been proven right.

If you can’t see it, then maybe you should go support a different team. His teammates love and appreciate him. Good for Tanner.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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