Thursday, December 28, 2006

Random Thoughts

From time to time, I'll do this and let you know what I'm thinking. In this segment, I'm going to focus exclusively on the struggling Rangers' problems:

-Among the problems is team captain Jaromir Jagr. Despite being in the top three in scoring, the sometimes moody Czech who finished a close runner-up to San Jose's Joe Thornton for last year's Hart Trophy seems to be in a rut. The body language hasn't been good and might be a reason the dynamic winger has been held off the scoresheet the past two games. The more alarming aspect is that outside of a two-goal effort in a loss to the Islanders over a week ago, he's only hit the back of the net in two other games this whole month. That just won't cut it. Sure, Jagr has been a target of team defenses and will continue to be. But he has the size, strength and skill to combat it. He took the same punishment last year and played like an MVP. With his club struggling, it's no time for sulking. He needs to lift his game.

-As has been well documented, the team's third and fourth lines aren't giving the kind of support Jagr and Brendan Shanahan need to relieve some pressure. Just how bad is it? Here's a breakdown of the lack of production:

Ranger Big Four (Shanahan, Jagr, Straka, Nylander): 69 goals
Rest of Forwards: (Cullen, Prucha, Betts, Hall, etc): 29 goals

And right there is the problem. There's just not enough support.

-Aside from the lack of offensive balance up front, the defense has issues. Other than Michal Rozsival, nobody has been consistent. I'll cut Aaron Ward some slack because he's playing through injuries and always gives a solid effort. Fedor Tyutin has been up and down but shows potential. If he could just find some consistency, he could be really good. Outside of those three, it's a struggle. Especially with Marek "Big Bird" Malik still out due to a groin problem. I know nobody is going to want to be reminded but the two times Malik has gone down, this team has fallen apart defensively. It's not so much that he's a great defenseman as much as he's a steady player who pairs well with Rozsival and alleviates some pressure. As I also noted on my show last night, it's little secret that Karel "Poti II" Rachunek and Darius Kasparaitis have struggled mightily. When do they make a move and upgrade that horrific third pair?

-With Jed Ortmeyer finally recovered from a pulsonary condition, the gritty underrated wing and PK specialist should be returning to the lineup soon. And boy can they use him. Nobody ever realized how vital he was. But this is a guy with so much heart who plays the game all out and hustles every shift. He's definitely sorely missed. Hopefully getting him back can provide a spark for this lifeless bunch.

-If the other third and fourth line forwards continue to struggle finishing, the Rangers need to get Ryan Callahan and Nigel Dawes back up here. Both have more talent and upside than guys like Hall, Hollweg, Hossa and Ward to name a few. It wouldn't hurt to try to inject this roster with some young energy.

-The Rangers will visit Ottawa tomorrow before returning home for the Caps Saturday night to finish the year. They definitely need a win just for their confidence. Remarkably, they're not out of the playoff picture due to the East's mediocrity. So if they can string together a couple of solid efforts, they can right themselves. It has to happen soon.

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