October 2006

The Rangers are picking a great time to hit the road considering their less-than-stellar effort against the Florida Panthers.  The Blueshirts have to use their four game road trip, and nine of the next 11 on the road, as another part of the “team building” that Tom Renney has stressed in his two training camps as Ranger coach.

Often long road trips serve to pull a team together better than any contrived team building exercises can.  Teams have the opportunity to focus on the task at hand when the distractions of home, and the media, are removed.

Frankly, all of the team building exercises mean nothing if the Rangers do not stop their annoying habit of turning the puck over – especially when they try cross-ice passes or clearing the puck up the middle in the defensive zone.  If there is a bad pass to make, the Rangers are likely to make it, rather than chip the puck off the boards.

<>Renney must use the four game trip as a wakeup call for his troops.  Last year he played no favorites when it came to benching veterans who were not performing.  Renney did it to Michael Nylander, so it should be easy to sit down a Karel Rachunek or Michael Rozsival.  With eight defensemen on the roster, there is no excuse to keep playing blueliners who are not pulling their weight.  <>

<>According to John Dellapina of the “Daily News”, Renney sat Sandis Ozolnish against Florida because he wants the veteran defenseman to get some playing time under his belt before he subjects him to the Garden boo birds.  If that is true, then the Rangers will be forced to call up reinforcements when they return home to face the Buffalo Sabres.

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From the Elias Sports Bureau, by way of the NHL:

Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin is the first Penguins player ever to score a goal in each of his first three NHL games and he’s the first player on any team to do it since the Sharks’ Jan Caloun in March 1996. The last player to score a goal in each of his first four NHL games was the Rangers’ Steven King in December 1992.

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Why do I get this feeling that I have seen this scenario play out time after time with the Rangers? Fans get fed a steady diet of positive talk about rookies and prospects, but when push comes to shove, the organization looks to veteran players when times get tough.

I would be willing to let the team have a pass on giving Sandis Ozolinsh another chance if he wasn’t taking up about $2.5 million worth of cap space and if the Rangers weren’t blocking a Thomas Pock from showing his wares. While Glen Sather managed to keep the Rangers away from the salary cap hell other teams are in, his “generosity” with his defensemen has painted him into a corner if he needs to swing a deal a the trade deadline – never mind trying to make a deal now.

Now we are hearing some talk that Nigel Dawes might be sent down to Hartford. Given his lack of ice time, it might not be the worst thing in the world. It is better that he sees regular ice time in Hartford than struggle to see seven minutes a game in New York.

<>I know what you are thinking. What happened to playing the prospects? Fortunately, for the first time, the Wolf Pack are not carrying the likes of a Brent Fedyk to clog up ice time. Instead, it would be a good chance to take a look at some other forward prospects. While I thought that Jarkko Immonen would make the team after a solid training camp, I am intrigued at the prospect of another forward – Brandon Dubinsky. <>

<>I have to admit that I really enjoyed the way Dubinsky played during the pre-season. He already is showing all of the ingredients of being an uber-pest – something the Rangers can use in the light of all of the finesse players on the team. It is his tenacity that could get his skate into the NHL door and it will be the development of his NHL game that sees him move from fourth-liner to a vital component of the top two lines. Speaking of development, the same concern I expressed about Dawes also goes for Dubinsky. Would it be better for him to stay in New York as the fourth line center or go to Hartford and be their number one center?

<>At some point the Rangers just have to let their prospects sink or swimIt is the only way they are going to gauge their ability in the NHL. But in doing so, they have to give kids like Dawes, Dubinsky et al more than just token shifts per game. Tom Renney must have the confidence in them to give them a regular shift – and even look to them to step up and take playing time away from veterans.

It seems that Renney likes Marcel Hossa more than I day. I guess the coaching staff values his ability to kill penalties as well take a regular shift. I guess it beats having the likes of a Fedyk or Patrick Flatley standing in the way of younger (and better) players. I imagine that it is still possible that Hossa will live up to his advanced billing, but I can’t help but wonder if the Rangers could make better use of his $600,000 salary slot. Hmm, why not trade him to Atlanta so he can join his brother Marian?

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