There is no debating that the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs are the toughest playoff tournament in professional sports. The reason is that teams have to play four seven-game series as opposed to two or three in other pro sports. For the New York Rangers, who are in third place in the NHL’s Metropolitan division, there are 19 games left in the regular season, but their work is far from over.
It may upset Rangers fans to say the team should not worry about winning the division. The head coach of the Rangers, Gerard Gallant believes in playing a straight-forward brand of hockey and his simple approach probably means he is not pushing his team to overtake both the New Jersey Devils (in second place) and the Carolina Hurricanes (in first). Recently, the Rangers have gone 3-2 in their last five games and part of the reason they have is that they have had to play without defenseman Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller.
During a game against the Capitals, Lindgren was checked hard into the boards by T.J. Oshie. He immediately left the game and was labelled as “day-to-day.” However, since then, days have turned into weeks. and now the Rangers have played four games without Lindgren and lost more ground to the Devils, who are currently nine points ahead of them. The truth is clear, the Rangers miss the borderline nasty, useful edge that Lindgren adds to their team and even just not having him out for five games has hurt their ability to win games.
Gritty Hockey Is not to be Taken Lightly
Fans may not appreciate the not-so-flashy qualities that a shutdown defenseman like Lindgren brings to a team. Part of the reason for that is he plays next to Adam Fox, a former Norris trophy-winner. Lindgren’s 17 points in 56 games and an average time-on-ice of 18:22 this season are not outstanding by any means but all the other attributes he brings to the team are valuable. He blocks shots that most Rangers players wouldn’t on the penalty kill and defends well inside his own zone, which have been crucial to the team’s success this season and in past years.
One stat that emphasizes Lindgren’s value to the Rangers is “plus/minus rating.” Plus/minus is a regular stat that is a positive or negative number that subtracts the number of goals against a player who is on the ice from the team’s goals-for. For example, the plus-27 rating Lindgren has this season ranks seventh-overall among NHL defensemen and only five defensemen rank ahead of him in that category: Hampus Lindholm, Matt Grzelczyk and Brandon Carlo who all play for the Boston Bruins– the best team in the NHL. This proves, for the most part, that when Lindgren is on the ice, the Rangers are scoring more goals than they give up and that is a great thing for a player to bring to a hockey team, especially one competing in a high-scoring division like the Metropolitan.
Further proof of how plus/minus impacts a team bound for playoffs is looking at defensemen on really good teams, like Bowen Byram who plays for the reigning cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche. Byram is an inch taller than Lindgren but is the same weight and plays on the Avalanche’s second defensive pairing. Byram was a plus-15 in 20 playoff games during last year’s NHL playoffs. During those same playoffs, Lindgren played 17 games and was a plus-eight. Since both players had plus/minus ratings that were well above the neutral number of “even”, one thing is clear; they were two of the most reliable defensemen, not just on their teams but around the league during last year’s playoffs.
The Rangers’ Home Stretch
There are 19 games left in the season for the Rangers and they may be missing Lindgren, but, since almost every team has injuries this time of the year, they can’t let that stop them. The Rangers added all-star forwards, Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane which should help their offense score goals and relieve pressure on their blueline. However, the Rangers must still set their chemistry straight before the playoffs begin.
It has been reported that Lindgren skated yesterday during practice but will not play tonight in Montreal. The Rangers’ upcoming schedule is very tough after this, as they will face Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Washington who all have winning records. Now that Miller and Lindgren will be returning to the lineup Gallant’s team should be getting their chemistry back together and be ready for the final 19 games of the regular season and even if he is not an offensive defenseman like Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren is going to be just as important to this Ranger team winning hockey games from here on out.
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