Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New York Rangers at the Halfway Mark

The New York Rangers have had a very interesting year to say the least.
Starting in Prague, the Rangers won both games in Europe before coming back stateside and winning their first three. They started the year off incredibly, playing solid defense and getting outstanding goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. Brandon Dubinsky and Aaron Voros led the way offensively in the first part of the season.
However, things did not last as the Rangers fell back to Earth and were having a tough time against teams they should have easily beaten, chalked up to lack of scoring, poor defensive play and leaving goaltenders Lundqvist and Stephen Valiquette out to dry as they faced an onslaught of chances. 
There was worry that teams with games in hand would surely catch up to the Rangers very quickly if they continued to play like this.
However, a bit of luck occurred as teams had some rough starts too. But they are coming on now.
Nikolai Zherdev leads the team in points with 35 (12-23) while Markus Naslund leads the team in goals with 14. The new comers are chipping in, for the most part. Fans have gotten on players like Wade Redden and Dmitri Kalinin for poor and uninspired defensive play. 
One person who has gotten on the good side of Ranger fans in recent games has been Michal Rozsival, whose head was being called for during the beginning of the season by Garden Faithful. He leads all Ranger defensemen in scoring with 20 points. The Rangers will need him to continue that if they want to succeed and that includes using that shot of his on the powerplay.
Speaking of which, the Ranger powerplay has been nothing but abysmal. For anyone who has watched the Rangers the past 15 years or so, you know the powerplay has always been a problem with low scoring. However, this year it has hurt more because of the 12 shorthanded goals allowed, the most in the NHL. That has to stop. The powerplay needs to get better. Enough said.
Another bright spot is with Marc Staal, who is turning into one of the best shutdown defenseman in the league right before our eyes. He has been matched up against Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and other stars in the league and has done well. If he can get his offense going, who knows what the limits are for this young man. 
The Rangers sit 4th in the conference going into tonight's game against Les Habitants. What do the Rangers need to win this game and more to get into the playoffs? A coupe of things.
Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, and Brandon Dubinsky have to get off of their slides. The top three centers for the Rangers have been snakebitten all year. Dubinsky hasn't scored a goal in a very long time while Gomez and Drury need to be offensive leaders on this team, especially Gomez. Nikolai Zherdev needs to become more consistent and be the player that his skills warrant. Markus Naslund has been the goal scorer and will have to continue that.
The powerplay has to improve. I'm done talking about this issue.
For the love of all that is holy Renney, play Petr Prucha the rest of the year. All the kid has been doing is creating chances and putting up points. He plays hard every shift and draws penalties (whether or not Ranger fans want that is another story). Play the kid the rest of the year and one other thing. PICK A SET OF LINES AND KEEP THEM! The only coach who changes his lines more is Wayne Gretzky. 
On the management side of things, the Rangers need to be looking around for a goal scorer and a physical defenseman. Yes Marc Staal and Paul Mara have been hitters all year but the Rangers need someone who can clear the crease in front of Lundqvist and be an intimidating force when opposing teams cross the blue line. 
A goal scorer may be hard to come by but there are players out there who fit the bill. No you don't need someone like Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Gaborik, or any other big name. Someone like Erik Cole or Antoine Vermette would be absolutely fine. Their values are at all time lows. Make calls Slats.
I'm not even going to predict where the Rangers will end up at the end of the year. They just need to take it one game at a time and get back to that level of play from the beginning of the year. 
Can they do it? Sure they can, but everyone has to chip in. 

Image found here via Google Image search.  

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