Fri 8 Oct 2010
The late great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden always preached avoiding the peaks and valleys to his teams. The Wizard of Westwood was cautioning his teams about getting too high after wins and too low after losses. It is a belief that the New York Rangers must heed if they are to avoid missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Streaking was not just a fad in the 1970s, it was the story of the Rangers 2009/2010 season.
The Blueshirts bookended their 7-1-0 start and a frantic 7-2-1 finish with an extremely disappointing 24-31-9 record.
Let’s face it, the only consistent thing about the Rangers is their inconsistency. That would be fine if last season were just an aberration, but that is not the case. Inconsistency has been the Rangers calling card during the Glen Sather Era.
Fortunately, the Rangers biggest star recognizes the need the change that calling card.
“It’s about consistency,” Henrik Lundqvist told Larry Brooks of the NY Post. “Beginning with myself, we have to be consistent right from the start of the season and be a very tough team to play against every night.
“That’s the hardest part of playing in this league, being good every night. That’s as a team and personally. Anyone can have good games once in a while, but to be at the top of your game every night, that’s what separates teams and that’s what separates individuals.
The Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Rangers reared its ugly head when looking at their home and away records. Madison Square Garden, once a feared place for an opponent, was not that fierce for opponents as the Rangers posted an 18-17-6 record at home – only Edmonton (40 points), Florida (41) and St. Louis (41) had less home points. Boston and Toronto had the same home record as the Rangers.
The road was a different story as the Rangers 20-16-5 road record was better than six playoff teams (Buffalo, Colorado, Montreal, Philadelphia, Ottawa, and Vancouver) and tied with a seventh (New Jersey).
The need to be better at home and more consistent throughout the season isnot lost on the Blueshirts captain.
“We’ve got to be better at home, especially our starts. Must’ve been 7, 8, 9, 10 games we’re down a goal in the first three or four minutes. We’ve got to figure that out,” Chris Drury explained to Steve Zipay of Newsday.
“You can’t do that in this league, the way teams play….We had the good start last year and the last 15 games, but we need to play that way consistently…. I don’t want to speak for everybody, but the summer was too long, especially the way we missed the playoffs.”
So Lundqvist and Drury both addressed the need for the team to be more consistent. So how do they do it?
Once again, the Rangers need to turn to Coach Wooden for an insight on accomplishing that goal. Wooden believed that it was doing the little things that made the big things happen.
On the surface, Wooden’s belief sounds like a rather simple solution. Sometimes, as American author Richard Bach wrote, “The simple things are often the truest.”
The Rangers did not have the salary cap space to bring in the number one center they needed, nor did they have the cap space to bring in a big-time number two scorer to take some of the pressure off of Marian Gaborik. Instead, the team had to make smaller moves designed to fit the big picture.
Perhaps the most important move was the signing of Martin Biron who gives the Rangers a true number one type of goaltender to backup Lundqvist. Not only will The King not have to appear in 70+ games (as he has in the last four seasons), but they have a solid backup who can steal points for them.
The ironic thing is Biron will have to wait a bit before he sees his first Rangers start because the Blueshirts play only five games in the season’s first two weeks.
While Alexander Frolov is not a sniper on the level of Gaborik, he is someone who has scored 30 or more goals twice and hit the 20+ mark in five of his seven NHL seasons.
The one thing the Rangers have going for them is that for the first time in a long time they have quality depth at forward. While Todd White is expected to off the roster once Drury is healthy, Tim Kennedy provides two-way depth and will be joined by the forward who eventually loses his spot in the lineup when Drury is healthy.
The news is even better in Hartford as the Rangers have NHL-ready depth in AHL prospects like Mats Zuccarello, Dale Weise, and Dane Byers.
The NHL-ready depth also extends to the blue line with Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko being joined by Tomas Kundratek and Jyri Niemi.
Some fans have been urging the Rangers to further push the prospect envelope by incorporating more youngsters into the lineup. That might not be the best pal in all cases, as Rory Boylen of NHL.com pointed out in a recent online column.
“If you look back at teams that anyone with a hockey brain would consider successful – and I’m thinking a team like Detroit – you’d know you have to develop guys,” an NHL scout told Boylen. “That’s how good organizations are built.”
Perhaps the biggest addition is the subtraction of Wade Redden and his $6.5 million salary anchor. By assigning Redden to the AHL, the Rangers were able to re-sign Marc Staal, and to a lesser extent, keep Daniel Girardi.
In all honesty, I believe that Redden and Michal Rozsival were victims of their contracts. There was no way either one of them were going to live up to high-rent district they were living in. They are being paid as top pair defensemen when they are really second and third pair blueliners. I believe the animosity directed at them would have been lessened if their contracts were cut in half.
Redden’s demotion, believe it or not, does leave a hole on defense. As things stand now, the Rangers will be playing on of their right-handed shooting defensemen out of position. Of course, this might be a moot point if Edmonton tries to recall Sheldon Souray because we all know that Sather will not be able to resist himself.
Sadly, the rangers will have room for him if they move out White and Steve Eminger. Frankly, Sather needs to be treated like a youngster in this case. If he wants a shiny new toy (i.e. Souray) then he needs to get rid of one of his old toys (i.e. Rozsival).
Any way you look it, the Rangers biggest need at the start of the season is to find a veteran defenseman (preferably a left-handed shot) to anchor the third defensive pairing. If the Ranger can clear salary space, keep an eye on Bryan Allen from Florida. He is a 30-year-old physical defensive defenseman who is a $2.9 million cap hit over the next two years (which is a big drawback).
Looking ahead and trying to predict where the Rangers will finish the season is like looking for the proverbial needle among a stack of needles. However, there are some positive signs that point to a Rangers return to the playoffs.
So where do I say the Rangers will finish? After much thinking, and weighing all of the factors, I can say without a doubt that the Rangers finish the season at Madison Square Garden with an afternoon game against the New Jersey Devils on April 9
Seriously, unlike other media like Sports Illustrated (12th in the Eastern Conference) and The Hockey News (13th), I do see the Rangers making the playoffs and they might be able to do so without another frantic fight until the final game of the season. Put me down for sixth in the Eastern Conference and a first round showdown with the Northeast Division champion Boston Bruins.
While I am in prediction mode, I see Derek Stepan’s season going in one of two directions. He is either going to end up the first line center for Frolov and Gaborik or he will end up being sent to Hartford to further his development. While he has played well between Sean Avery and Ruslan Fedotenko, his development might be helped by playing top-six minutes in Hartford as opposed to third line duty with the Rangers.
The one thing to remember is that Matt Gilroy hit the wall as he attempted to make the step from collegiate hockey to the NHL.
The other prediction might be the boldest one a Rangers fan can make – even bolder than saying the Rangers will win the Stanley Cup – Derek Boogaard will end his goal-less streak at some point this season! His pre-season goal against Ottawa on October 1 will provide the impetus he needs to get off the goal scoring schneid.
Boogaard has not scored a regular season or playoff goal since January 7, 2006 when he scored the first goal in the Wild’s 4-1 victory over Anaheim and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
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