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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