That was one tough loss to New Jersey. Even though the Blueshirts got a point out of it, they still played one of their worst games of the season.
Prior to their loss to the Devils, Alain Vigneault talked about the distractions surrounding his team at the moment; namely the Road to the NHL Winter Classic.
The players have added off-ice responsibilities during the buildup to the NHL’s “Super Bowl.” While Vigneault and his players have embraced these extra duties, they want to get back to just playing hockey.
Unfortunately that won’t happen until the big-game is over.
If you don’t believe that this is a factor in the team’s play you’re wrong.
Just ask the Maple Leafs; who are coming to town for an Original Six matchup.
The Leafs just celebrated their 100th anniversary as part of the NHL Centennial and the added strain showed as they went just 5-5 in their last 10 games.
The Leafs say they enjoyed the buildup to their anniversary but their record says otherwise.
The 7th Avenue Skaters can only hope that things return to normal soon as they are playing in the toughest division in the NHL this year; and every point matters.
DEEP ROOTED CONNECTIONS
Michael Grabner was a Maple Leaf during the 2015-16 season.
Dominic Moore had two tours of duty for the Rangers; encompassing five seasons (2003-04 – 2005-06 & 2013-14 – 2015-16).
Maple Leafs’ Team President Brendan Shanahan spent two seasons playing in New York (2006-07 & 2007-08).
Jim Vesey is Jimmy’s Father and serves as an Amateur Scout for the Maple Leafs.
Ryan McDonagh: The Rangers’ captain is two games away from his 500th career NHL contest.
Mats Zuccarello: Arguably the best playmaker on the Blueshirts, Zuccarello is three assists away from 200 in his career.
PLAYER TO WATCH
MAPLE LEAFS: AUSTON MATTHEWS. The Leafs’ first-round (first overall) draft pick in 2016 has been out with a concussion since December 10th. Matthews is currently Toronto’s leading-scorer and in his absence the teams has gone 2-4. Currently there is no timetable for his return, but his teammates sure hope it’s sooner rather than later.
RANGERS: J.T. MILLER. In the wake of Jesper Fast’s injury Miller has been temporarily demoted to the fourth-line as part of a lineup shuffle. This continues a vexing trend that has gone on for five-years now. During that span, Head Coach Alain Vigneault has moved Miller down the lineup on numerous occasions in order to challenge/punish J.T. for recent defensive lapses in his game.
Jesper Fast suffered a quad strain against New Jersey; dealing the Rangers a significant blow. He is expected to miss two-to-three weeks.
In his absence Boo Nieves tags back in as a fourth-line winger. David Desharnais is now handling second-line center duties. Jimmy Vesey also received a promotion; to the third-line. And Miller received a demotion to the fourth-line center role.
Offense aside, the D-corps remains intact and Henrik Lundqvist is expected to draw the start.
WHERE TO WATCH
The game will be broadcast on MSG Networks at 7pm ET. For in-game coverage check out our Twitter account @NYRBlueBulletin.
Fast’s injury is significant for two reasons.
One, he is the Blueshirts’ most reliable defensive forward and his presence was sorely missed at the start of the season while he recovered from hip surgery.
Two, due to the NHL’s holiday roster freeze the Rangers’ can’t make a corresponding call-up until after Christmas.
Without their best defensive forward the task of taming the high-flying Maple Leafs just got tougher.