January 2008


The Rangers jump from the frying pan into the fire as they start the figurative second half of the season in Carolina on Tuesday night.  The Blueshirts face a difficult task in keeping the “momentum” of their two wins over the Atlanta Thrashers as the return to action with a four game in six days road trip.  Actually, the Rangers play six of their next eight games on the road.

While the Rangers are 9-2-0 in the 11 games they have played against the Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens, the NHL did not do the Rangers any favors by scheduling four consecutive road games.

Why all the doom gloom as the Rangers return to action?

The Blueshirts have not won a game on the road since defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 29.  They are 0-3-2 in their last five road games and 1-5-4 in their last 10 games away from Madison Square Garden.  The lone win was a 5-2 matinee victory over the Ottawa Senators on December 1.

An even more stagger statistic is that only two of the above-mentioned nine wins came on the road – a pair of back-to-back wins against the Devils and Flyers in mid-November (a pair of 4-2 victories).

Returning to the idea of momentum, any momentum the Rangers have had this season seems to fluctuate game-to-game, and in some cases period-to-period.  The only consistency the Rangers have shown this season is their inconsistency.

The Rangers inability to find any inconsistency and their inability to produce points on the road puts them in a position where their margin for error is slim – especially if their road woes continue.

If the Blueshirts want to prevent Glen Sather from playing wheeler-dealer at the trade deadline, they must pick up their play on the road.  The Rangers will play none of their next 13 games on the road.  That stretch takes them up through February 24.  The NHL traded deadline is two days later and the Rangers don’t return to action until February 28 when they play at Carolina.

There is an interesting twist about three of those four home games the Rangers will have.  They will play host to three Western Conference teams: Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks.  Given the Rangers one point in their three game Western Canada trip, all bets are off as to how the Rangers will fare against the league’s California contingent.

The key to the Rangers playoff push begins and ends with consistency.  They must find a way to raise their level play for 60 minutes.  It will require Henrik Lundqvist returning to his Vezina Trophy performance of last season.  It will require veterans like Chris Drury, Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan stepping up their play and their leadership – both on and off the ice.

It will require Sean Avery to stay healthy and continue to walk the fine line of super pest and penalty liability.

It will require youngsters like Nigel Dawes, Brandon Dubinsky, Dan Girardi, and Marc Staal working through the tough times that rookies face as the games gain in importance.

It will require Tom Renney to step up his tough love and coming down harder on those players who are not doing their jobs.

It will require the Rangers to find a common ground when it comes to their power play.  The Rangers best play with the man advantage comes when the team actively moves the puck (and themselves) in an attempt to open the shooting lanes and setting screens in front of the net.

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According to various news reports, Marek Malik’s absence is a result of his snubbing coach Tom Renney following the Rangers 4-0 victory over Atlanta on Tuesday night.  As is Renney’s custom, he shakes hands and congratulates all of his players after a win.  On Tuesday night, Malik – obviously miffed over Renney’s on-and-off benchings – refused to shake the coach’s hand.

It is kind of funny (in a bad way) that Malik chose to bite the hand that feeds him rather than shake it given the way Renney has defended the beleaguered blue liner.  Despite being a constant target of the Garden’s boo-birds, Renney has been quick to defend the Unrestricted Free Agent to be.  In fact, Renney even played down Malik’s snit on January 5 when he left the arena after finding out he was scratched against Edmonton.

Jay Greenberg of the “NY Post” wrote that Malik met with Renney prior to practice on Thursday and will meet with again on Monday when the Rangers return to practice following the All Star Game break.

It would be easy for Renney and the Rangers organization to overlook Malik’s actions except for the fact players were quick to call Malik out for his actions.  John Dellapina had the following quote from one of Malik’s unnamed teammates.

“‘It was pretty obvious – a lot of guys saw it,’ one Ranger said of Malik’s snub of Renney. ‘You don’t do that. And you can’t have that. If you do, you don’t have a team.’”

Players and coaches being at odds is nothing in the world of sports.  It is as old as sports itself – and is something that can be overcome.  However, when a player starts losing the respect of his teammates then that is when a team has a problem.  Malik had better find a way to mend the rifts between himself, his coach – and more importantly – his teammates.  If he doesn’t Marek Malik will be a man without a hockey team.

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The Canadian Press is reporting that the National Hockey League. as rumored and expected, will once again return to Europe to play regular season games at the start of the 2008-2009 season.  Instead of just having two teams like they did with Anaheim and Los Angeles, the NHL will send four teams to Europe.

The New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning will play two games in Prague, Czech Republic while the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins will play a pair of games in Stockholm, Sweden.  The report said that the four teams will play some pre-season games in Europe as well.  However, the report did not say if the teams will be playing each other, European teams or a combination of both.

Given the fact that Jaromir Jagr, Michal Rozsival, Martin Straka, and yes even Marek Malik are all Unrestricted Free Agents, the NHL is taking a bit of gamble sending the Rangers to Prague given the fact that Henrik Lundqvist would be a big draw in Sweden.  One has to wonder if the NHL has a little “inside information as to the makeup of the 2008-2009 Rangers.

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It seems that the retiring of Brian Leetch’s jersey might not be the big story from tonight’s Rangers-Thrashers game. No, it isn’t even the one-game suspension of Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk. Instead, it appears the Garden boo-birds might have to find a new target for their wrath.

According to blog reports from Sam Weinman of the “Journal News” and Steve Zipay of “Newsday”, Marek Malik’s equipment was not in his locker at the Rangers practice facility in Greenburgh, NY. When asked about Malik, coach Tom Renney was cryptic with his answers. He referred to the situation as an “internal matter”. In response to questions about a potential Malik suspension, Renney’s response was, “That is to be determined”. As for the question of Malik’s status with the team, Renney answered, “He’s a Ranger”.  Writing on his blog, John Dellapina said that Malik has not been placed on waivers so a potential trip to Hartford is not on the table at this time.  However, the Rangers might wait until after tonight’s ceremony.  Given the way the news has spread, I can’t think they would hold off on putting Malik on waivers because they did not want to ruin tonight.
The ironic part of this whole equation is that Malik had one of his best games of the season against the Thrashers on Tuesday night. With Malik on his way out, Paul Mara steps into the lineup. If the Rangers do not get an NHL defenseman in return, they will most likely wait until after the All-Star break before making a move. If they look to recall a blueliner from Hartford, don’t expect it to be Ivan Baranka because he suffered a shoulder injury in a fight recently and I do not know how severe the injury is/was.
If the Rangers want to recall Thomas Pock they have to run him through waivers with the Blueshirts having to pay half of his remaining salary if he were claimed. The same holds true for Andrew Hutchinson. David Liffiton is just returning to action after suffering from a concussion so it is unlikely he would be recalled. The most likely defenseman to be recalled would be Michael Sauer.

What does all this mean? It means that the Rangers will be moving Malik in exchange for a defenseman or will be makinga second deal to bring in help on defense. Either way, it could mean that the Rangers would have to trade one of their prospects in order to either trade Malik (for a defenseman) or acquire another defenseman.

Here is some food for thought. The St. Louis Blues run the risk of losing Christian Backman and/or Barret Jackman at the end of the season. Could John Davidson be willing to take on Malik and a prospect(s) instead of losing one of his defenseman for nothing at the end of the season?

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a state of transition with John Ferguson, Jr. out and Cliff Fletcher in as interim GM. Would Fletcher look to acquire a prospect(s) and Malik while moving one of his defensmen? While Tomas Kaberle would bring a lot to the ice, he also brings three years and nearly $13 million as well. However, Hal Gill has only one year left on a deal that pays him $2.1 million.

Just some food for thought.

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One game does not make a winning streak, never mind a turning point to s season.  However, the Rangers 4-0 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers is the first step in helping erase the sour taste of the team’s lost weekend against the Boston Bruins.  The Blueshirts must take the next step and finish off the second game of Thrashers mini-series on Brian Leetch Night.

One has to wonder if the retirement festivities will provide the team a lift or an excuse to go back to their half-hearted ways.  Not even Kreskin could answer that question.  But for night, all was right in the Madison Square Garden world.

Yes, the Thrashers are struggling as much – if not more than the Rangers and entered the front end of the back-to-back games with a three game losing streak that saw the Thrashers outscored 17-5.  Included in that misery was a 10-1 thrashing (pun intended) at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres – yet another team struggling to find their way.

On the other hand, it is the same Thrashers team that one week ago visited the Joe Louis Arena and skated out of Detroit with a 5-1 win over the Red Wings – an impressive victory given the fact Detroit is 19-4-2 at home this season.

Atlanta also enjoyed a trip through the Metropolitan area at the beginning of December when they took five out of a possible six points against the local teams.  Only an overtime loss to the Devils spoiled Atlanta’s perfect march north.

Also, don’t forget that this is the same Atlanta Thrasher team that took five straight regular season games from the Rangers prior to their 4-0 loss.

The Atlanta debate aside, the Rangers played with an urgency and a purpose that has not been seen since the Rangers November roll.  They remembered that hockey is a sixty minute/three period/three zone game.  They finally heeded the coaching staff’s call to get down and dirty and the results paid off.  The Rangers showed how effective they can be offensively when they actually work the forecheck, go to the net and shoot the puck.

Of course, there were a couple of bumps along the road.  Martin Straka passes up a scoring chance in the first period for a drop pass on a mini-breakaway and Scott Gomez passed up a scoring chance in the second period.  The Blueshirts still need to carry over the idea of causing traffic in front of the net on the power play

ON THE FLY

  1. While spinning the dials of the NHL’s center Ice package, I came across an in-between interview with former Rangers defenseman Randy Moller.  It seems that Moller has made NHL history by becoming one of, if not the first, NHL player to become a play-by-play announcer.  Moller had been the radio color analyst for the Panthers until this year.  Radio play-by-play announcer Steve Goldstein replaced Dave Strader on television and Moller moved over to handle the play-by-play duties with former NHLer Bill Lindsay replacing him as color analyst.  In addition to his play-by-play duties, Moller is the Panthers’ Vice President of Broadcasting and Alumni and is the President of the Florida Panthers Alumni Association.
  2. John Dellapina of the “Daily News” has a great entry on his blog.  Dellapina lists his Top 10 Brian Leetch Moments.  It makes a great read.  You can view it at http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/rangers/.
  3. Adrian Dater of the “Denver Post” reported that the Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs had scouts at last night’s Colorado Avalanche-Nashville Predators game.  Dater points out that the two Eastern Conference teams do not play either of the Western Conference teams.
  4. Marc Stall’s brother Jared will represent the Staal Family as a member of Team White in the 2008 Home Hardware CHL-NHL Top Prospects Game.  In addition, the youngest Staal brother will represent the Eastern Conference in the OHL All-Star Game in February.
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If E.T. came back down Earth today and surfed the Internet and various Ranger sites, the little fella would go back home under the impression that the Rangers HBO Line is the be all and end all as far as the Blueshirts problems – especially those of the offensive variety.  You almost get the feeling that Ryan Hollweg, Blair Betts and Colton Orr are Public Enemies Number one through three.

While Tom Renney does go overboard at times with their ice time, the bottom line is that they have been the most consistent line from the start of the season.

I think the problem stems with fans trying to treat the Rangers as a Fantasy hockey team where all four lines should be packed to the gills with 30 goal scorers.  In theory, this might be a good idea, but then again, someone thought New Coke was a good idea as well.  I can understand some of this thinking because team management has often taken this view with their careless spending on free agents in the past.

For years fans have been complaining the Rangers needed some muckers and grinders – the type of players who do the little dirty jobs the superstars can’t or don’t want to do.  Now that the Rangers have such line, fans are complaining because they can’t score goals.  Guess what – that is not their job.

The HBO Line’s primary job is to keep the other team off the scoreboard while creating some physical play that is sorely lacking from a majority of the Rangers forwards.  If they happen to score a goal – more power to them.

I know some fans are griping because of the inordinate amount of ice time they are getting at the expense of the Rangers third line – which now comprises Nigel Dawes, Brandon Dubinsky and Petr Prucha.  I think part of the problem is perception and part of the problem is terminology.

Some fans see a slight because they believe the third line should get more ice time than the fourth line.  The problem is they believe the Dubinsky line is the third line while the Betts line is the fourth line.  Just wishing does not necessarily make it so.

Whether you like it or not, the Rangers do not have a set “third line” and “fourth line”.  In games like the 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, the Betts line is going to see more ice time because they are the more defensive line – and thus become the third line for the evening.  If the Rangers were losing 2-1, then it would make more sense that the Dubinsky line would get more ice time.

The problem arises when Renney continues to run four lines late into games when the Rangers are trailing.  More often than not, Renney needs to shorten his rotation late in games when the Rangers trail.  However, even this should not be an ironclad rule depending on the flow game and the effectiveness of the Dubinsky and Betts lines.

One thing that fans do not take into account is how special teams plat affects the amount of time players get.  Blair Betts is going to see more ice time than Brandon Dubinsky and Nigel Dawes because he kills penalties.

Does this mean the Rangers should not look to add some offense to HBO Line?  Come next season, it is possible that Greg Moore or another rookie might push Hollweg out of the regular rotation.  It is even conceivable that this type of move might happen before the end of the season depending on what President/GM Glen Sather does as we get closer to the NHL trade deadline.

For the time being, fans should cut the HBO Line a little slack.  They are doing the exact job they are supposed to be doing.  If the rest of the team were doing followed the HBO Line’s lead, the Rangers would not be at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt – they would be in a battle for the top spot in the Conference.

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The Columbus Blue Jackets might not have any big name players available via trade, but that is not stopping the New York Rangers from heavily scouting the Jackets. Even if they did have big name players who might be available, Rangers president/GM Glen Sather needs to pull off another “under-the-radar” type deal – like he did last year when he acquired Sean Avery from the Los Angeles Kings.

Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch has been writing about Rangers scouts who have been scouting the Blue Jackets rather religiously. On January 15 Portzline said sources told him that Columbus had three scouts at the Rangers-Penguins game, including their Bob Strumm, their head of professional scouting. Portzline also offered that the Jackets had scouted the Penguins-Nashville Predators game over the weekend.

While there have been rumors about the Rangers interest in David Vyborny, Portzline shifted focus to thee other forwards: Jason Chimera, Dan Fritsche and Manny Malhotra. While I have long been a fan and a mark for Malhotra, I can’t see Sather bringing Malhotra back to New York. Fritsche is still only 22, and while has been slow to develop, I can’t see Columbus being that interested in trading him.

That leaves Chimera and he would fit the mold of an Avery type acquisition. Even more telling, he fits the mold of Sather type acquisition. Slats drafted the Edmonton native in the fifth round (#121) of the 1997 NHL Draft. The 6-foot-2 and 206 pound Chimera is only 28-years-old and is the final year of a reasonable $1 million contract.

Chimera is an extremely fast skater who uses his speed and size to power his strong forechecking game. He is good at both ends of the ice and is a good penalty killer. While he won’t score a lot of goals, he is like Avery in the respect that they tend to come in bunches. His lack of offensive is the one thing that has kept him from elevating his game to that next level. However, he is a solid fit for the Rangers based on his skating, forechecking and penalty killing abilities.

The question becomes who do the Rangers trade? Portzline mentioned Brandon Dubinsky’s name. If that is the type of player Columbus GM Scott Howson is looking for – then he needn’t bother returning Sather’s calls. If the Blue Jackets were willing to settle for Greg Moore then I think the Rangers would be willing to listen.

While Moore is a nice player, the Rangers do have other players in their system who can replace him. If the Rangers were to acquire Chimera, they would have some insurance in case Avery leaves as an UFA. While Chimera doesn’t bring the physical aspect that Avery does, he does have intangibles that would help the Rangers replace Avery.

The Rangers could expand the deal by looking into acquiring Adam Foote in the deal. The veteran blue liner is in the final year of a deal that pays him $4.6 million. While the Rangers salary cap space is limited, remember that Foote’s deal would be prorated. Of course, Columbus would have to take Marek Malik or Paul Mara back in the deal in order to create a salary slot for Foote. The Rangers could use a veteran defensive presence on the back line to help youngsters Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Fedor Tyutin.

UPDATE (Wednesday-1/16/08): Tom Reed of the Columbus Dispatch writes on the paper’s blog that the Blue Jackets are interested in Fedor Tyutin. He writes that the Rangers are not interested in moving him, but have made similar moves with young defensemen in the past (e.g. Mark Tinordi and Mattias Norstrom). Reed also writes that the Jackets are interested in Penguins forward Erik Christenson.

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Just when you though the New York Rangers couldn’t get any worse, they manage to sink to lower depths.  Apparently, the team did not heed coach Tom Renney’s warnings of how time slipping away and the need for more defensive play.  Granted there were some bad goals allowed and some weird bounces that did not go the Rangers way, but the way the Rangers just stopped competing is a major concern.

Losing is one thing, but playing listless and almost disinterested hockey is another.

As expected, fans were once again quick to get the daggers out for Renney’s head.  Maybe he has lost the team.  I wish it were only that simple a fix.  The Rangers are now a team that appears rudderless, and it goes beyond just coaching.  Players who were expected to carry this team are not doing so.

Henrik Lundqvist’s poor play of late can be attributed to the health problems his father has been having, but the King has had an on-again/off-again season from the outset.

Jaromir Jagr has pouted since Michael Nylander has left and his indifferent play at times has shown.

Chris Drury, who was brought in with the promise of big plays in big plays, has not lived up to that billing.

Sean Avery, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka have been struggling with health concerns for better part of the season

The team’s most consistent line has been the HBO line of Ryan Hollweg, Blair Betts and Colton Orr – and if that doesn’t speak volumes about what is wrong with this team than nothing ever will.

Outside of the HBO Line, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are the only two other players who have played at or above their expected level.

Frankly, there are 20 or so players who need to look deep within themselves and come to the same conclusion that Renney did following the Flyers debacle.  The following quote comes from the “Journal News” January 10, 2008 blog entry of Sam Weinman.

“‘The games are starting to diminish. They start to fade away pretty fast,’ Tom Renney said. ‘So we can not sit here and feel sorry for ourselves. I’m not happy with our play. I’m not happy with the way we’ve been unable to deal with this. But clearly I’ve got to do a better job, too. It’s time for me to step up. What we’ve got to do is recognize this is a situation that is staring us right in the face. Our season is probably somewhere in the next couple of weeks.’”

So far President/GM Glen Sather has resisted the urge to try and trade the Rangers out of their doldrums.  However, it might be time for him to do a little fine tuning.  Normally, I am the type of person who wants to make trades for the sake of making trades but it appears the team needs a spark.

As we near the NHL trade deadline, the rumor wires are beginning to heat up.  Chris Kuc of the “Chicago Tribune” writes that Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon is close to making a deal for a defenseman.  Jeremy Rutherford of the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” writes the same thing about the Blues.

Is it possible the answer to the Rangers problems could lie with a couple of former Ranger employees in St. Louis?

Would John Davidson and Larry Pleau be interested one of the Rangers UFA blueliners: Marek Malik or Paul Mara?

Rutherford reports that St. Louis is facing the prospect of losing Barret Jackman and/or Bryce Salvador as UFA at the end of the season.  Would the Blues be willing to engage in a swap of UFA defensemen?  The other alternative, according to Rutherford, is to deal Christian Backman who was one more season at $3.4 million.

Sather can’t afford to take on additional salary for next year given all of the decisions he will have to make in regards to the Rangers corps of UFAs.  However, Jackman (at $2.2 million) does fit – especially if Malik or Mara went west.

Jackman is an ideal fit for the rangers.  The former Calder Trophy winner packs an aggressive and physical style of play into his 6-foot and 213 pound body.  Jackman will be only 27 comes March so he still has some room to develop if the Rangers were interested in re-signing him.  Jackman’s best attribute is that he is a leader – something the Rangers blue line can use.  The one negative on him is that he does have a history of injuries and has just recovered from a concussion.

The problem with making this type of deal is that St. Louis is going to require something besides Malik or Mara to sweeten the deal.  The question is should the Rangers trade off one of their prospects in order to acquire Jackman.  The Rangers do have some depth in Hartford – especially among their forwards.  It is a matter of deciding whether or not it would be worth moving a Nigel Dawes or a Greg Moore in order to get rid of a Malik in order to acquire a Jackman.

On The Fly 1: Congratulations are in order for Scott Gomez who was named as the Rangers representative to the NHL All-Star game.

On The Fly 2: Former Rangers center Dominic Moore was placed on waivers by the Minnesota Wild and was claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Perhaps Tuesday’s question should have been, “Can a hockey team win any game, never mind a big game, by playing only 25 minutes of hockey?”

Of course, the answer was a resounding “No!” given the Rangers 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. How bad was that game? It has taken me two days just gather my thoughts and write them up.

A spin across the Internet shows that calls for Tom Renney’s job have been kicked up a couple of notches – as to be expected. It seems like any time the Rangers lose a game, there are calls for Renney’s head. With that said, Renney did not have a good game against Tampa Bay.

It was unsettling to see him stand by his plan to match the fourth line against the Lightning’s top line – something that Renney does not always do. While he does try to get favorable matchups (just like any other coach), he does not normally adhere to such a rigid flow of line matching. One could understand and explain this decision if the Rangers were winning or even tied. But as the rangers fell behind and their lackluster play continued, Renney continued his line matching.

The one thing that needs to be separated from this discussion is all of the criticism the fourth line has gotten. Yes, I know the HBO line of Ryan Hollweg, Blair Betts and Colton Orr do not inspire stories of offensive grandeur and that the line is a minus-25; however, they have also bee the only line to play at a consistent level all season long. It is funny how critics will trot out their poor plus/.minus numbers to condemn them, but conveniently ignore plus/minus in any discussion of Marek Malik. Sorry fans, but you can’t have it both ways.

Yes, Renney deserves blame for the loss to the Lightning – but so does the rest of the team. There is enough accountability, or lack thereof, to go around. I don’t care if Isiah Thomas or the worst coach you could conjure up was behind the bench Tuesday night; there was no excuse for the Rangers to lose that game.

Tampa Bay was a team begging to be beaten. They were 0-5-2 in their last seven games and were just finishing up a four game road trip to start the New Year. In addition, they were playing a rookie netminder making only his eight NHL appearance – and given his shaky start – Karri Ramo was not going to last the full 60 minutes.

Following that goal, the Rangers did not pick up their play until the closing minutes of the second period when Scott Gomez’s power play goal cut the deficit to 4-2. This is where the blame has to be shared between Renney/coaching staff and the players. At a time when they had a struggling team and a rookie goalie ripe to be taken, the Blueshirts not only eased off the throttle, but they coasted for almost two periods.

The Rangers need to focus on the closing minutes of the second period and the entire third period for the type of intensity they need to bring night-in and night-out and period-in and period-out.

On The Fly 1: Congratulations to Nigel Dawes for being named to the Canadian Team and Greg Moore for being named to the PlanetUSA Team for the AHL’s All-Star game to be held in Binghamton on January 28. Dawes’ and Moore’s participation is up in the air depending on where they will be playing in a couple of weeks. Given the I-95/i-91 shuttle, it is very possible Dawes and/or Moore will be reassigned to the Wolf Pack by that time.

On the Fly 2: With the Philadelphia Flyers invading Madison Square Garden tonight, it will be Ranger fans first look at the most infamous rookie in hockey this side of Ogie Oglethorpe. Steve Downie is expected to be in the lineup after dodging a suspension bullet in only his fourth NHL game. Downie was called in on the carpet by Colin Campbell following the rookie’s cheap shot punch thrown at Toronto’s Jason Blake during an altercation. Downie landed punched Blake in his left eye as the Maple Leaf was being held back by an official. While Campbell did issue a warning, he did not hit the rookie with his second suspension of the season. As we all remember, Downie received a 20-game suspension for his hit on Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond during a pre-season game.

On the Fly 3: You have to wonder if The Clueless One (aka Colin Campbell) would have been as lenient with a Sean Avery or Ryan Hollweg if they had punched Jason Blake. Do you get the feeling that the Rangers might need an old fashioned Broadway Blues-Broad Street Bullies barnburner to cure what ails them?

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Can a hockey game in early January be classified as a big game?

It is if you are the New York Rangers and you are facing the Tampa Bay Lightning and you are coming off a three game Western Canada swing that saw the Blueshirts post only one point. The Blueshirts need to shake off the clichéd, yet inevitable, curse of the first game back from a road trip.

It is if you are facing the prospect of playing that game, and more, without two of your veteran leaders: Martin Straka and Brendan Shanahan. Straka is expected to miss at least two games due to a concussion he suffered in the overtime loss at Edmonton. Shanahan is listed as day-to-day after suffering a knee “contusion: in a collision with the Oilers Dustin Penner. That is a pretty steep price to pay for one point.

It is if you are hitting a favorable stretch of your schedule where you play seven of your next nine games at Madison Square Garden. The first of these games comes against a Lightning team that has given up an NHL worst 144 goals against that is expected to start rookie netminder Karri Ramo. The Rangers, who are continuing their morphing into “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight”, must find their offense, and in a hurry. Hollywood’s central casting has provided the perfect villains for the Rangers revival.

It is if you are hockey team that is still looking for its first power play goal of the New Year as the Blueshirts inconsistent power play maintains its (in)consistency.

It is if you are looking to establish some type of stamp on a team that is only 5-8-3 in their last 16 games. If the Rangers are going to kick start the second half of their season, there is no better time, no better place and no better team to do it against than the Tampa Bay Lightning – a team that has only won three road games all year and have not won since December 20 (0-5-2).

It is if you are Nigel Dawes and Greg Moore – two players who see significant ice time if Straka and Shanahan are unable to go tonight. Tonight’s game is the best chance for these two youngsters to make a name for themselves and show the Rangers organization that they deserve to stay and play in the NHL. Even if Shanahan does play, both youngsters might see action if Sean Avery is unable to go. According to Larry Brooks in today’s “NY Post”, the feisty LW is suffering from a sore hand he got in the, yup you guessed it, Edmonton game.

The game is important for Henrik Lundqvist as news of his father’s health problems surfaced this week. The King needs to show his personal problems are behind and that he backs to his Vezina Trophy form.

UPDATE: According to Sam Weinman of the “Journal News”, the Rangers task at hand in this big game has turned even more difficult. Sean Avery has a “contusion” on his right hand (the one that was not operated on) and has been placed on the Injured Reserve List as of Saturday night. The injury occurred in the Rangers win over Montreal prior to their trip to Western Canada and Avery, ever the earrior, played through it. He will be out at least a week but possibly longer if the swelling is slow to subside.

It seems that Brendan Shanahan might miss tonight’s game. Weinman reported that Shanny skated prior to the Rangers practice and he will give the old college try in warmups. As a precaution, the Rangers have recalled Pierre Parenteau from Hartford.

Just when you thought things could not get worse, it also seems that Greg Moore will not play tonight. No, he did not hop back on the shuttle to Hartford. Instead, Moore missed practice today with the flu and is questionable for tonight. Depending on how the walking wounded do between now and the opening face off, it is possible disgruntled defenseman Marek Malik will have to be in the lineup with Jason Strudwick moving up front to play forward.

Weinman offered some possible line combinations depending on how the lineup shakes out. Moore has been playing with Parenteau and Nigel Dawes in Hartford so it is possible that line could be reunited in the Garden if Moore plays. Weinman writes that if Moore does play, coach Tom Renney might put all of his eggs in one basket and move Chris Drury up with Scott Gomez and Jaromir Jagr. If that is the case, that would leave Marcel Hossa, Brandon Dubinsky and Petr Prucha as the third line backed up by the HBO Line of Ryan Hollweg, Blair Betts and Colton Orr – not exactly the steallar type of lineup a team wants on the ice in a big game.

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