Fri 6 Feb 2009
No, I am not saying that the Rangers should be lined up and shot â€“ although that thought has crossed my mind a couple of times during the season. Instead, my headline refers to the need for Coach Tom Renney to make a stand and go with set lines for more than a game or two.
Much about the Rangers season can be classified as a Catch-22 system and their inability to find and stick with four set lines is probably at the top of the list. Is Renney juggling the lines because the offense wonâ€™t click or is it a case of the offense not clicking because of Renneyâ€™s constant line shuffling? To borrow an oldie but goodie clichÃ©, it is probably six of one and a half dozen of another.
However, there comes a time when a coach, and a team for that matter, has to make a stand. For Renney and the Rangers that means setting four lines and sticking with them for more than just one game. Renneyâ€™s latest incarnations come close to giving the Rangers their best chance at stability â€“ with one minor adjustment.
Renney has left the fourth line of Fredrik Sjostrom, Blair Betts and Colton Orr alone for most of the season â€“ and with good reason. While fans gnash their teeth over the lines inability to score, those same fans forget that this isnâ€™t a Fantasy league and that all teams need balance and players who play specific roles. Not only are Betts and Sjostrom the Rangers best penalty killing forwards, they are among the NHLâ€™s best duos. As for Orr, he serves as the teamâ€™s only legitimate enforcer while still being to contribute defensively. Plus, Orr has been so effective at annoying and frustrating Sidney Crosby that he deserves to play for that reason alone.
The new third line of Nigel Dawes, Lauri Korpikoski and Ryan Callahan offers up an interesting combination. Their speed and intensity could very well make up for any scoring problems they might have. If used properly, they should be able to cause havoc on the forecheck, which could lead to turnovers, which will lead to scoring chances.
The Blueshirtsâ€™ second line of Brandon Dubinsky, Chris Drury and Nikolai Zherdev may very well be the teamâ€™s best line, but for this discussion will we call it the second line. Some might say that Scott Gomez would be the best center for Zherdev, but both players are similar because they both want to carry the puck. With Dubinsky and Drury as his linemates, Zherdev would be able to take better advantage of his playmaking skills â€“ as well as serving as the lineâ€™s sniper.
That brings us to Renneyâ€™s new first line of Aaron Voros, Gomez and Markus Naslund. Yes, you read that right â€“ Aaron Voros is on the first line. Donâ€™t get me wrong, Voros is nice player to have as long as he on the fourth line or even the third line if the other two forwards are big scorers.
Renneyâ€™s justification is that Voros goes to the net â€“ which is a HUGE part of the game the Rangers do not do enough of. However, after a quick start Voros has leveled off â€“ much as he did last year with Minnesota. The solution to getting the Rangers to go to the net is not to play Voros, but to threaten the rest of the team if they donâ€™t go to the net.
Lost in the shuffle is Petr Prucha, who should be the third forward with Gomez and Naslund. No player has stirred up as much debate as Prucha among Ranger fans on the various Internet boards. Renney stated that Pruchaâ€™s problem is that he tends to wear down. There is a simple reason for why Prucha â€œwears downâ€ â€“ he is one of the few Ranger forwards who is active every shift of every game. While he might not be the biggest Ranger, outside of Callahan no forward seems to throw his body around as much as Prucha. Given all of the Rangers struggles on the power play, Prucha has never been given an extended look on the power play.
Even if Renney is correct about Prucha wearing down, then the answer is not sit him out for stretches of time. Rather, it is to give him a game off when this perceived wearing down is hurting his game. If the Rangers have a stretch where they are playing three games in four nights, or even two games in back-to-back nights, then you can give Prucha a night off he truly needs it.
While we are talking about the lineup, Renney and the Rangers should use Dmitri Kalininâ€™s injury as opportunity to see what Erik Reitz can bring to the team. In his first game as a Ranger he showed his fighting skills might not match his size, but he did show a willingness to use his size and hit â€“ something the Rangers also need. Since there no chance Kalinin will be re-signed, why not take this chance to see what Reitz can do.
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