The middle pretty much has been a black hole for the Rangers through the 8-8-2 getaway that includes the four-game losing streak (0-3-1) the club will tote into tonight’s Garden match against the Lightning.
Brad Richards hasn’t been able to find his game. Brian Boyle has been a shell of the player he was two years ago and in last year’s playoffs before concussed by Ottawa’s Chris Neil.
Indeed, Blueshirt pivots have accounted for a sum of seven goals, and that includes a pair by J.T. Miller, who has shifted to right wing since scoring those two — the only two of his 10-game NHL career — on Feb. 5 in New Jersey.
But even as so many of the Rangers’ issues have been centered in the middle, and with no help from the outside readily available — no developments at all on the Ryan O’Reilly front, in other words — the fact is Derek Stepan has emerged as one of the disappointing team’s brightest spots in assuming the role as first-line pivot.
It will be interesting to see whether coach John Tortorella reunites Rick Nash with Stepan when the winger returns from injured reserve, perhaps as soon as tonight.
Nash rotated in and out of a four-man unit with Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan at yesterday’s practice. Stepan skated between Callahan and Taylor Pyatt in Tuesday night’s 4-3 defeat to the Jets, the first time in 13 games Hagelin wasn’t on his port side.
“And Step’s line was our best,” Tortorella said. “It generated quite a lot of offense. I’m hoping we can get that from other places.”
Stepan’s line — with Hagelin and Nash, or with Hagelin and Marian Gaborik, or with Hagelin and Callahan — routinely has been the Blueshirts’ most dangerous unit since very early in the season when the Richards-Nash-Gaborik collaboration set the tone and Stepan was having a miserable time out of the gate.
Derek emerging as pivotal Ranger
New York Post | Feb 28