Since the second half of the season began, the Hartford Wolf Pack have been on fire. Dating back to January 29, the Pack are 4-2 over their last six games. While at one point this season scoring was a serious concern, the Pack have scored three or more goals in six of there last seven games. Leading the way for the Wolf Pack is a hungry group of prospects that are all hoping to make their mark in the NHL.
Oscar Lindberg- In this last six game stand, Lindberg has been far and away the Pack’s best player. He Leads the team in goals (4) assists (3) and points (7). A noticeable change to his game is the amount of shots he has taken as of late. In the beginning of the season he was slow to pull the trigger, now he is finding his grove and shooting a lot more. It would be easy to look at his offensive stats, and stop there but Lindberg does a lot more than put up points. He's involved and engaged in his zone defensively, gets in deep on the forecheck and creates a lot of opportunities for linemates. Lindberg’s game is complete and all around and is now showing why he came over with a lot of hype.
J.T. Miller- After being on a hot streak for much of the season, Miller seemed to finally cool down. After being pretty much a point per game player, over the last six games Miller has no goals and just three assists. The biggest issue right now is consistency. There are times when he is the best player on the ice and times when he is going through the motions. There have even been times when you don't notice him at all. The lack of goals may be alarming to some, but he has had 10 shots in his last six games. He was robbed of goals on at least three of those shots so the goals will come.
Danny Kristo- Like much of the season, the question has been the same: What Danny Kristo will show up? It shouldn’t be a surprise that this team goes as Kristo goes. When he is flying around, the team follows, when he is invisible so is the team. Fortunately, over the last six, and in most of the second half of the season for that matter, Kristo has been buzzing. In the latest stretch of games, Danny has three goals and two assists for five points. He also added 10 shots. The effort and consistency has always been a concern, if he can start playing on a more consistent level, the sky is the limit.
Jesper Fast- Coming off a monster week where Fast was the hottest player in the AHL, he once again produced points and played a solid all around game. While the goal numbers were down, just one goal in the last seven games, he was still able to create opportunities by adding in four assists. Fast’s overall game was solid. He was involved in the Forecheck, played great two way hockey and saw time on both the Power play and Penalty Kill. It should be noted that Fast also had the Shoot out winner against Albany on Feb 1.
Ryan Bourque- One name not talked about nearly enough in regards to Rangers Prospects is Ryan Bourque. While he doesn’t have the Skill of Kristo, the speed of Fast or the size of Lindberg, He brings something they don’t: A blue collar grit. Often times, Bourque is the hardest working player on the ice, and is always noticeable. At the start of the season, Bourque was playing on the forth line, He managed to work his way up to the first line. Over the last six games, he’s punched in two goals, taken 18 shots, and played in every situation imaginable. Bourque excels on the fore-check, and out works people down line, despite his size he have no problem throwing his body around. His blue collar attitude has been a welcomed addition to Miller and Fast.
Conor Allen- Much like most of the season, the report on Allen is boring and pretty much the same: He shows up, He does his Job, He leaves. The past stretch of games, has been pretty much the same. The only thing that has changed is where he is playing and the amount of minutes he is playing. Since the second half of the season, Allen has more time on the Power Play, the Penalty kill and on the top line. Hes eating up more minutes and getting better every game. While his point totals are lacking, just one assist in the last six games, he is more then making up for it with his positioning, and his ability to keep other teams best players off the score sheet.
Dylan McIlrath- Big Mac missed three of the six games with an upper body injury. When he returned, he played in his normal top line role. He was physical and played with an edge which was good to see coming off an injury. One thing I noticed is that he is not fighting as much, and isn’t even looking for it as often. Im not sure if that is the injury or coming from the coaches. While the improvements and gains are there, It’s now more of a case of McIlrath staying healthy. In three games, MacIlrath added an assist and a +2 rating.
By William Cullen
FAST TIMES AHEAD
The last time many of us saw Jesper Fast, he was playing for the New York Rangers. While Fast only had a cup of coffee with the big club before being sent down to the Hartford Wolf Pack, most were impressed with what they saw. Thought to be a long shot, Fast made the Rangers out of his first pro camp. What people didn’t get to gauge or see is what type of player Jesper Fast really is. After battling through an ankle injury in Hartford, Fast has returned and given fans what we all hope is a glimpse into a bright future.
A PLEASANT SURPRISE
During his time with New York, Fast was mainly a fourth line player, who was used in defensive roles and on the penalty kill. Truth be told, he was nothing more then a place keeper until Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan both returned from injuries. Some people look at that as a negative, but the fact that AV would give him a spot on the fourth line, in a defensive role no less, should speak volumes. It has been stated numerous times that AV does not trust rookies in that sense. Down in Harford, Fast has not only shown a good two way game, but also that he has a big offensive upside to go along with it.
The first thing that jumped out to me is how hard of a worker he is. Often times, offensive minded forwards tend to be lazy on the forecheck and in the defensive zone. That is not the case with him at all. Fast is a great skater that has good speed and acceleration. He uses that speed to get in on the forecheck to create chaos and offensive chances. Fast has good hockey sense, as you can see him anticipating plays on the ice instead of reacting to them. While Fast isn’t a physical player, he is very strong on the puck and has no problems going into the dirty areas to win battles. Although, the most outstanding aspect of his game has been his offense.
Since his return on December 20th, a span of 16 games, Fast has registered 8 goals, 4 assists for 12 points. Adding to his stats, Fast has 24 shots, a +5 rating, 4 power play goals, and 2 power play assists. He has mostly been playing on the first line with JT Miller and Ryan Bourque. In addition, he sees action on both the PP and PK.
Fast is a scary combination of speed and tenacity. The young Swede is a relentless fore checker and a solid two way player. The scouting report thus far is holding true. However, does Jesper have the size to compete and the NHL level? At the young age of 22 he still has time to work on it. Above all else he is a talent with great hockey sense that keeps him one step ahead of most players on the ice. It wouldn’t be hard to argue that he has been the best player on the Pack since his return. The jury may still be out on Fast, but his future sure looks bright!
By: Will Cullen
Over 100,000 people entered Yankee Stadium on Sunday and Tuesday to watch something that looking back in the 90s, and part of the 2000s, seemed like a pipe dream. These games didn’t seem possible. Why? The league didn’t feel like taking the risk. Since the inception of the Winter Classic, which was first played on January 1, 2008, the NHL after the success of the first game thought over the past few years. What could we do next?
Introducing, the Stadium Series. A 4 game series, set around various baseball or football fields across America. Luckily, with the New York City area having three teams so close by, Yankee Stadium hosted two games. It was not only a treat for fans of the respective teams, but it was a treat for those who wanted to celebrate the game of hockey.
First off, Dave Maloney said it during the New York Rangers practice, which was aired on MSG, having these games is good for the teams involved, because it breaks them away from the norm. It gives them a chance to step away from the indoors, and get a nice taste of what it feels like outdoors. If Sunday wasn’t an indicator, then Wednesday sure was due to it being absolutely cold. The cold elements could have played a factor in how these teams played, but they churned on and put on the best performance they possibly could.
Comparing where I sat? Sunday by far was the better seating choice. Sitting high up in section 313 (Wednesday I sat in 108), I got to see the play better, the control of the puck a lot more. I got to see the plays develop, and I got to see Jaromir Jagr undress Henrik Lundqvist. But, hey the Rangers won! That’s what it’s all about, right? No, when you walked into Yankee Stadium, you felt it. You felt the mystique, you felt the magic that Yankee Stadium brings, night in and night out for the Yankees.
The Stadium had enough NHL flair, while still having the entire Yankee Stadium feel. From where I sat, I could see the bullpen, where Mariano Rivera would warm up before coming out in the ninth. I saw Monument Park, where the plaques of Mantle, DiMaggio, and Ruth all stand to commemorate what they’ve done. I saw the scoreboard, which showed the game and stats. Oh yeah, I saw two hockey games there too. It’s just crazy to think about.
By far this was something I would suggest to anyone who loves the sport. The NHL did it right with the first three Stadium Series games. In LA, it was more of a thank you to Wayne Gretzky, who gave the sport life in California. In New York, it was about the teams that played sure, but it was about where the game was being played as well. There is history in this stadium, and history was made this week by having the first two hockey games there.
I think Henrik Lundqvist said it right where he said he’ll never forget these games. He’s so right. Even though obviously I didn’t play I will remember these games because of how hard fought they were. If there was one thing I could say I wasn’t too happy about, it was the entertainment the NHL got, but honestly, who cares? You’re not there watching a concert, you’re watching a hockey game. For Ranger fans, we couldn't ask for two better games.
If the NHL decides to bring back the Stadium Series to New York, the Rangers will be happy to play two again. Of this I'm sure and I’ll be happy to go back and watch.
By: Shawn Taggart
A change of scenery for the Rangers, as they returned from the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium after they swept their Stadium Series set against the Islanders and the Devils. The opponent again, was the Islanders, the result was the same. A Rangers victory. This time to a tune of 4-1.
The Bottom Six
Continue to Spark
Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello. The entire bottom six has continued to chip in and play a hard game night in and night out. These lines were the stars of the Stadium Series games, and tonight was no different. When Brian Boyle made the game 1-0, it was nothing but sheer joy coming out of his face. He felt relieved after deflecting a hard shot from the point by Marc Staal. Boyle has been playing well as of late, I guess you could say it has a lot to do with a certain someone being inserted into the lineup. But, that entire line has raised its game, and it’s a big thank you to Daniel Carcillo.
For the third line, none other than Mats Zuccarello has lead the charge, and has proven himself worthy of a new contract. He started the play that led to the eventual game winning goal by Derick Brassard, who got his ninth of the year. Zuccarello generated that rush, eventually passed it to Marc Staal, and then passed it over to Brassard who had a wide open net. For Zuccarello it’s his fourth point in 3 games, and 8 in his last 10. Zuccarello has been a steal for this team, and has proven that he simply deserves to be in the NHL, as he’s finally got a hold of the ice.
Lundqvist Holding his
Lundqvist has risen his game since late December, and has played real well, and shown flashes of his old self. Finally being able to see him hold the team in tight games, and allow the team to come to their own and put enough pucks in the net for them to win games. Lundqvist did just that again, stopping 38 of 39 shots, and really holding the Rangers in the game, when they looked completely lost in the second period.
Lundqvist hasn’t changed his game, but his game has come back to him. Now this team is as dangerous as any in the East, and in the league. It just depends on will he continue to be this hot, or will it start to slow down a bit? Time will tell, but hey there’s nothing wrong with what we’re seeing right now.
The Rangers have a nice three days off before they face the Avalanche on Tuesday at the Garden. And again, I’ll be there with updates and pictures, so make sure you follow @fulltilttaggs on Twitter.
By: Shawn Taggart
Start the panic! Chris Stewart is a big boy who is 2 years younger than Ryan Callahan and could replace Callahan's offensive production. What he can't replace are the intangibles that Captain Cally brings. So is there more to this deal? Kevin Shattenkirk maybe? Pure speculation on my part but you have to think of all the possibilities.
Western Conf teams suggest the Rangers are gathering intel on Chris Stewart. Callahan for Stewart would be a sweet deal for the Blues.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) January 31, 2014
THE STADIUM SERIES SEQUEL
50,027 turned up at even colder Yankee Stadium, as they watched the Rangers and Islanders face off for the fourth time this season. The stage was set, Pierre, Doc and Eddie O were there guiding you through the night at home, and once again I was there to take it all in.
This time knowing what to expect, and being able to maneuver myself around some tight spots made it easy for me. My seats were okay and the view wasn’t the best. At Sunday’s game, I was right up in the 300s (wind chill made me glad I wasn’t there tonight!), but where we were sitting it was hard to see certain plays develop and made it extra hard to figure out if a player was offsides or not. You know, the normal stuff I try to figure out and yell at if a referee misses it.
The first period was a huge feeling out processes for both teams, which surprised me in the case of the Rangers. It just felt like it was never going to end, as both teams would do the occasional dump and change, get a few good shots in and work their way back and repeat. Two penalties were called, both against the Rangers. They were successfully killed by the Rangers 10th ranked PK unit.
The second period was better than the first. Both teams, done with feeling one another out, just went and played their game. Notably with the Rangers, they were trying to do to much and push the play like they did against the Devils. The Islanders wanted no part of that and handled themselves just fine. Brock Nelson started the scoring and made it 1-0 late in the second. Yet with less than 50 seconds left, Benoit Pouliot knotted the game up at 1. This was a huge goal and reminiscent of the Staal goal at the end of the first period versus NJ.
The third started with the Rangers coming out flying and dominating play. The Blueshirts pressured the Islanders in their zone and it paid off. Daniel Carcillo following up on Dominic Moore’s move to the net snapped one past Nabokov, and gave the Rangers the 2-1 lead. Lundqvist had another stellar outdoor performance leading the Rangers to victory and a Stadium Series sweep.
The crowd in this game was much livelier. Ranger fans were fully in attendance for this game, and it didn’t go unnoticed. “POTVIN SUCKS” rained down in the bitter cold. Regardless of the NHL’s official position, this was a Rangers home game.
As for the league, this was a huge success and I’m sure they couldn’t ask for anything more. My experience around the Stadium Series will be up sometime this weekend, so don’t miss that.
The Rangers next game is against a familiar foe as they face-off Friday against the Islanders. The only difference this time is its back indoors at Madison Square Garden, where they start a three game home stand.
By: Shawn Taggart