So there was K’Andre Miller picking a hole through traffic with a seeing-eye floater from the right point to get the Rangers off to a 1-0 lead early in the first period of Saturday’s 4-0 victory in Boston, and, thankfully, nobody but nobody raised any questions following the match about what had happened to the puck that represented the first game-winning goal of the rookie’s career.
It was Miller’s second goal of the season. It was also the fourth goal scored by a Rangers defenseman at five-on-five in the last six games after the blue-line corps had recorded all of three goals through the team’s first 20 contests. So, seven in 26 games leading into Monday’s Garden match against the Flyers.
That, as compares to 28 goals at five-on-five in the Blueshirts’ 70-game schedule a year ago. Of course, that’s when the team had Tony DeAngelo, who scored nine at five-on-five while checking in as the NHL’s fourth-most productive defenseman with 53 points (15-38). And that’s when the team had Brady Skjei, who scored seven goals at full-and even-strength before being sent to the Hurricanes at the trade deadline.
DeAngelo and Skjei may have had their issues in the defensive zone and when it came to neutral-zone decision making, but they both were able to get the puck up the ice and both were a threat with the puck on their sticks. There has been addition by subtraction for the Blueshirts in the D-zone, but only subtraction at the other end of the ice.
A year later, Miller and Brendan Smith are tied for the club lead among defensemen with two goals at five-on-five, while Jack Johnson, Anthony Bitetto and Libor Hajek each have one apiece. Perhaps as the Rangers approach the second half of the season, the recent uptick will become a trend.
(By the way, that is correct: Adam Fox, who scored seven such goals last season as a rookie and who scored a power-play coast-to-coaster in New Jersey on March 6, does not have a five-on-five goal yet this season.)
The Rangers don’t want to sacrifice their defensive structure in order to create more of an attack, but more production is needed from the back end. No team can thrive without consequential offensive contributions from the defense.
(Also correct is that it is fair to anticipate a dramatic increase of production from the blue line once Nils Lundkvist, the Swedish defenseman in whose hands rests the ultimate fate of the Ryan McDonagh-J.T. Miller export deal to Tampa Bay, arrives in New York, presumably next season.)
K’Andre Miller seems to have the instincts and tools to have an impact at the offensive end of the ice. That is why he has been installed on the point of the second power-play unit. But the Rangers are not going to rush him into becoming more of a rush-oriented defenseman.
The coaching staff is not going to yank him out of the natural comfort zone in which he has operated through the first half of his first pro season so he can fit one of the team’s immediate needs. Miller’s career is not going to be run as a sprint. His offensive game will blossom in time. Better to be safe than sorry.
Miller’s average ice time of 20:13 is second among rookies to the Kings’ freshman defenseman Mikey Anderson, who is getting 21:07 per game while playing primarily as Drew Doughty’s partner. Miller’s time is the most for any Rangers rookie since defenseman Fedor Tyutin logged 20:33 per game in 2005-06.
After going through a couple of growing weeks in which his game seemed to have plateaued, Miller played a, ahem, career-high 23:36 in Saturday’s victory during which he and partner Jacob Trouba were matched much of the time against the Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand-David Pastrnak unit. The B’s top guns manufactured just one five-on-five attempt for the afternoon. The defenseman was outstanding, eliminating turnovers and passiveness.
“I thought [Miller] did a really good job defensively, obviously scores the goal and gets the puck to the net on that play,” said David Quinn. “I thought he was making good decisions when to get involved and when not to.
“He’s out there against top players and defends them well. I thought he did a really good job closing on people and finishing checks. He had a great stick. I liked a lot about his game.”
One of those parts was scoring a goal. The Rangers could use some more of them from the guys with whom he shares the blue line.