Rangers Stuff on Staal/Lundqvist and Kravtsov in visit to Nashville


This afternoon in Music City, the Rangers visit the Predators for a 2 PM (1 Local Time) matinee. I don’t know how much I’ll watch. I’m not a fan of early games. We’ll see. Either way, I’ll have a game review tonight.

Let’s jump right in on some key information about today’s game against a very good opponent.

Nashville should be upset after taking the third period off to blow a 4-1 lead in a perplexing 6-5 overtime loss to the Flames. They got beat at the buzzer basically by a between the legs highlight reel Matthew Tkachuk goal. It was a game they once had a 27-9 edge in shots.

Even though they haven’t played since Tuesday, the Rangers could be getting the Predators at the wrong time. You have to figure they’ll be on edge following such a bad loss in Smashville. Especially where they have great fans. For that reason, I don’t have great expectations.

Don’t forget how deep that roster is. Adding Matt Duchene to Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris and surprisingly red hot Nick Bonino gives them a huge edge at center against most teams. Don’t forget the versatile Colton Sissons and Calle Jarnkrok, who have three of their four shorthanded goals. Filip Forsberg could return too. Along with Viktor Arvidsson, this is a tenacious group of skilled forwards that will make life difficult on goalies.

Long story short, the young and younger Rangers defense will have to do a good job in front of Alexandar Georgiev. That means limiting the Nashville attack by boxing out and keeping them to the outside. It won’t be easy. Especially with arguably the league’s best defense that’s led by overlooked star Roman Josi. It’s Ryan Ellis and Josi who top the Preds in scoring. They’re 1-2 with underrated Mattias Ekholm a key contributor.

There aren’t many weaknesses with veteran coach Peter Laviolette’s balanced roster. They haven’t missed PK Subban, who continues to make more headlines off the ice than on it. That’s not a ringing endorsement. Dante Fabbro is the fourth defenseman. Only 21, he’s considered the next good blueliner for the Predators.

Considering that Nashville doesn’t have a back-to-back with the struggling Red Wings next in Detroit on Monday, I wouldn’t be surprised if Laviolette goes back to ace Pekka Rinne. Still one of the league’s best netminders despite sheer lunacy from detractors, the former Vezina winner is off to a great start. In nine starts, he’s yet to lose in regulation, boasting a 7-0-2 mark with a 2.19 GAA, .920 save percentage and two shutouts.

He turns 37 tomorrow. The same age as Henrik Lundqvist. The difference being Lundqvist was drafted at 18 in the seventh round of ’00 while Rinne waited until 21 as the last overall pick (258) in ’04. If you want a good comparison, go look at both goalies. Each has a Vezina and Stanley Cup appearance while putting up eerily similar numbers.

Juuse Saros hasn’t yet fulfilled expectations. He’s gotten into four games and only has one win which was his last start against the bumbling Lightning on Oct. 26. After allowing 14 goals on 95 shots in his first three starts, Saros stopped 28 of 30 in a 3-2 victory last Saturday.

I laid out how good Nashville is. To David Quinn’s credit, he’s sticking with the same lineup that made the Lightning look bad. Mika Zibanejad will miss a second consecutive game (UBI). That means more of Filip Chytil centering the second line while Ryan Strome draws first line duty. If you subtracted Strome, where would they be? Don’t answer it.

I wonder if Quinn will again have Jesper Fast on that top line as a matchup player while shielding Kaapo Kakko on the third line to keep him away from being exposed. He had a better game on Tuesday. It wasn’t only that he scored his second goal on the power play. He played with more poise and looked confident. Exactly what you want to see. My guess is the forward lines won’t change.

Kreider-Strome-Fast

Panarin-Chytil-Buchnevich

Lemieux-Howden-Kakko

Haley-Andersson-Smith

Given the success he had, Kakko should stay put on the top power play unit. A good development. That means Pavel Buchnevich on the second unit. I like it better along with promoting Tony DeAngelo to that first unit. He has the right instincts. Jacob Trouba just didn’t fit due to Zibanejad and Artemiy Panarin. It’s better off this way. I also like seeing Adam Fox get power play time. He’s gonna put up more points.

With Quinn wisely opting to ice the same lineup, that means Marc Staal sits out again. He said all the right things about it yesterday. Obviously, he’s not happy. However, the prideful vet understands why Ryan Lindgren has replaced him. He’s anxious to get back in.

By ego, I’m referring to how demonstrative Lundqvist acts when things unravel. While I get the frustration, he has to understand what’s going on here. This is a Rebuild. There are going to be mistakes. Even though he was right about last Sunday’s humiliation, he should realize the situation. This isn’t a playoff contender. They’re likely gonna miss the postseason a third straight year. This is all part of the process.

When you listen to Staal or watch him during a game after a mistake or goal against, he doesn’t sulk. He’s a good team guy and true unselfish leader. That’s the only reason he’s still here. That isn’t the case with Lundqvist, who rejected a chance to waive his no-trade clause when approached by the organization over a season ago. He chose to stay.

Henrik’s loyalty reminds me of countryman Mats Sundin. The Maple Leafs became a horrible team with the great Hall of Fame center still their captain. He never wanted to leave Toronto. It wasn’t until after his contract expires that he played half a final year in Vancouver. His final postseason appearance, Sundin showed he still had it going 3-5-8 over eight games in the 2009 NHL Playoffs. His previous appearance was with the Leafs in ’03-04 before the lockout.

Igor Shesterkin lost his first game with Hartford in a 4-1 loss to Laval on Wednesday. He allowed three goals on 23 shots. In the rematch, the Wolf Pack fell in a shootout 2-1 to the Rocket. Defense prospect Joey Keane had the lone goal for the Pack. He has five. Adam Huska made 27 saves in the loss.

Finally, KHL reporter Gillian Kemmerer had a nice update on Vitali Kravtsov. Ironically, it comes from former Rangers assistant Mike Pelino, who coaches HC Lokomotiv in Russia. I think what he had to say is worthwhile.

That final part where he mentions having “unreal expectations,” is true. Especially when it comes to an impatient fan base in NYC. In many aspects, that applies to what we are seeing with the amount of venom that’s destroying the fabric of the city. Young people have no respect for anything these days. It’s embarrassing.

Updating this post, this happened earlier:

Nice to see Kravtsov get on the board for Chelyabinsk Traktor.

Getting back on topic, I really enjoy Gillian. If you aren’t following her already, you should. She’s great.

That’s gonna do it for now. Until much later. 🙂

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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