Wed 18 Nov 2009
As the New York Rangers hit the quarter-pole, they are hardly the strapping stallions that started the season 7-1. Rather, they look like the same old Rangers that have to struggle at the finish just to qualify for the playoffs. If you look even closer, they appear to be the same team under John Tortorella that they were under Tom Renney.
Despite the coaching and player changes, the one thing that is constant and consistent about the Blueshirts is their inconsistency. The Rangers are one big roller coaster ride from the beginning of the season to the end. They start the season by winning seven of their first eight games and then go into the tank the tune of a 2-8-1 stretch.
Then again Ranger fans have gotten use to living on the roller coaster. Last year, the Blueshirts opened the season five consecutive wins on their way to a 14-5-2 record during their first 21 games. What followed was yet another season-long struggle to make the playoffs before another heartbreaking elimination – this time in the first round.
Just how bad are things?
Don’t look now, but the Rangers (11-9-1) are tied with the New York Islanders (8-6-7) with 23 points. Yes, those are the same Islanders team that started their season 0-3-3 and won only one game in their first 10 games (1-4-5).
What does this mean for the Rangers this season?
It means the Rangers are going to have to fight tooth and nail all season to secure a playoff berth. It means their margin of error is slim to none and it means that they will have to over-rely on Henrik Lundqvist during the second half of the season – Olympics or not.
Some people might point to the injuries that hit Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky in the Calgary game. That really isn’t the case because the Rangers were just 3-5-1 in their nine games prior to the Flames game. When the offense was producing, the defense was letting them down. When the defense kept the goals against down, the offense was nowhere to be found.
Besides, injuries are a convenient excuse to use when management, coaches and players are looking deflect blame. The Pittsburgh Penguins are playing a defense corps that resembles an AHL blue line as opposed to an NHL blue line because of injuries. Yet, the Penguins are battling the New Jersey Devils at the top of the Atlantic Division while the Rangers are battling the Islanders to stay out of the basement.
The Rangers inability to sustain prosperity lies within the organization’s inability to show consistency.
Coach Tortorella espoused a system where the Rangers would feature sustained puck pressure that would put their opponents on their heels. Of late, it has been the Rangers who have been pinned in their own end. He tells Sean Avery to mind his “p’s and q’s” and then says that Avery needs to be more involved. He warns against the ills of taking penalties and then bemoans the fact Matt Gilroy didn’t take a penalty on Matt Bradley’s eventual game-winning goal.
The Blueshirts have gotten everything they expected (and more) out of the likes of Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal. The two rookie defensemen, Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto, are showing themselves to be bona fide NHL blueliners despite their inexperience. Artem Anisimov has struggled at times because he could use more bulk, but he has shown that he will be a solid NHL player.
The problem is that the rest of the lineup has been, you got it, inconsistent at best.
Young guns like Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Daniel Girardi and Marc Staal have not stepped up their play the way they should have – and the way the Rangers needed. While Callahan’s defense and shot blocking has been superb, he received his new contract on the hopes that he would become a 30-goal scorer.
On the other hand, veterans like Avery, Drury, Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival are not bringing the leadership and style of play the team needs. Drury has done a nice job becoming the Rangers defensive go-to center, but at his salary the Rangers need more than that from their captain. Redden and Roszival are second pair defensemen who are getting paid first pair salaries – although Redden has picked up his play under Tortorella.
Even The King has been a mere mortal. Henrik Lundqvist has set a high standard from himself, but he has not been able to steal as many games as he had in the past. Could that be a byproduct of Tortorella’s more open system as opposed to Renney’s closer to the vest system?
Of course, this bring us to Glen Sather. The Rangers President/GM’s inability to manage the salary cap has been the biggest constant since the end of the lockout. With the Rangers close to the salary cap, Slats has no room to maneuver to bring in replacements. Even if he utilized the Long Term Injured Reserve option, the relief he receives lasts as long as Dubinsky and/or Drury are out. Once they are ready to return, the Rangers would have to cut salary/players.
Sather did not leave himself with too many options in Hartford when it came to replacements at the center position. Tyler Arnason bailed out on the Wolf Pack when he saw the writing on the wall. Corey Locke is one of those Quadruple-A players whose skills are just a notch below the NHL. The organization does not seem willing to rush Evgeny Grachev so the only other alternative for the Rangers is to use wingers at center.
So what can we expect out of the Rangers out of the second quarter of the season?
The Rangers are going to be like the girl with the curl – when they are going good they will get fans dreaming about a Stanley Cup run. When they are are going bad, it is going to be more ulcers and agita. My advice is to ask Santa Claus for a lot of Maalox because it is probably going to get worse before it gets better.
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