What can really be said about another inconsistent undisciplined effort against the most bitter rival in which the Blueshirts fell to the Islanders 4-3 at MSG? I've come to the conclusion that this team sucks. They're so imbalanced it's sad. How much can a team rely on aging superstars Jaromir Jagr (2 goals, assist) and Brendan Shanahan (league-leading 23rd plus a helper or two) to win enough just to qualify for their second straight postseason? Take away the Broadway Dynamic Duo along with top pivot Michael Nylander (missed 2nd straight with flu) and the often overlooked Martin Straka (2 more assists) and this team has little offense.
Aside from that, there's the lack of a solid D which repeatedly backs up, allowing opponents to dictate rushes and get shots from inside the slot which sometimes wind up in goals (See the latest Isles hat trick winner Jason Blake on the tying goal in the first which eluded a napping Kevin Weekes). It's just amazing that this continues to happen. Do you think somebody would want to put a body on that pest or on the suddenly revived Isles' captain Alexei Yashin, who once again lit the lamp by ripping a shot topshelf which turned out to be the winner as the Fishsticks held on for the one-goal win to pickup their 17th victory of the season and pull within three points of the still somehow first place Rangers. What's more alarming for a team that's now dropped three straight is that they have played three more games than the Islanders and two more than the second place Devils, who picked up a mercy point in a 4-3 shootout loss to Atlanta tonight.
Of course, the injury excuses were made by Devil fan and Ranger studio host Don "Spinmaster" LaGreca on ESPN Radio during the postgame. As frustrated Coach Tom Renney pointed out during his postgame conference, forget the fact that the Blueshirts were without a few key players (Nylander, Cullen, Malik, Lundqvist). They didn't engage their opponents physically enough once again and took the kind of penalties which usually cost a team games. Hence...Renney called out his best two players about the silly penalties they took which resulted in a 3-1 Isles lead and a Blake natural hat trick. Speaking of which, for as great as he's been on Broadway, when does Jagr not take a bad penalty? Especially this season. Is it from not being in top condition due to offseason shoulder surgery? Or just frustration? If you saw how he tackled Sean Hill for no reason, you'd think he forgot to take his med. It was bad enough that Rangers were being sent to the box at a wild rate in the pivotal second. But then Renney made it worse by pulling a bush league move by sending out that waste of space Colton Orr to rough up Brendan Witt. End result: Another two minutes wasted even if the Isles didn't score.
Why is Orr even on the roster? He can't beat anyone convincingly in scraps. He hardly ever sees regular shifts from Renney. So what's the point of having him on the roster? At least Ryan Hollweg can skate good enough and hit. Too bad he has stone hands because he sure puts in an effort and gets chances. Maybe next time, No.44 will be a little selfish on a shorthanded two-on-one and not try a silly cross pass to a cutting Darius "Ghost" Kasparaitis. I'm still trying to digest how Hollweg and Kaspar actually were in that position. Oh well.
Now, you can kill Kevin Weekes for allowing Blake's first goal and maybe a little for Yashin's water bottle popper. But let's be honest about this team for a minute. If either goalie doesn't have a great night, they can't win. Just look at the five-game win streak they had before this three-game slide. In every one of those victories, each netminder was splendid in backstopping the team to wins. That's how weak the D is. So go ahead. Kill Weekes for not playing to capability. But how many times are Rangers going to let opponents do whatever they want in their end? Where is the grit? Oh wait. It left when Dominic Moore put on another jersey and Jed Ortmeyer is still not back.
Speaking of grit. Did anyone notice how visible the Rochester kid Ryan Callahan was in the actual 10 shifts he got (7:22)? He even created a chance off hard work forcing an Isle at the blueline and forcing Rick DiPietro to make a tough save. I like this guy. He should get at least a couple of more minutes next game at Florida. That's if Renney has the balls to play him again. He definitely didn't do anything to say he shouldn't be in there when the Rangers thankfully begin a four-game road trip where they've won 11 of their 18 this season. After traveling to Florida, they visit Tampa before a rematch vs the Isles at Nassau Coliseum and then conclude the trip in Ottawa.
So, what needs to happen for this team to show some life? How about anyone but the Big Four scoring? Oh. Since Jarkko Immonen was a reason for sparking Cullen before he went down, what did the two-way center do to merit only getting 10:12 of ice-time. This while Hollweg saw over 13:00? I like Ryan but you got to be kidding me. If Nylander and Cullen were out, shouldn't Immonen be getting 14-15 minutes? That's the problem with this team.
In assessing Thomas Pock in his game back to the blueline where he teamed with Michal Rozsival, the 25 year-old Austrian didn't distinguish himself. He was hesitant to move the puck in his end creating problems and didn't take control enough offensively.
A thought in response to Steve's comment about how the Sabres-Devils game drew a slightly better rating (0.3 to 0.2) than the Crosby-Ovechkin showdown on Versus last week:
If that's what the NHL calls progress, then they got severe issues bud! Oh...and if you're wondering why this league is in trouble, look no further than some of the marginal penalty calls in that Ranger game tonight. Two phantom goalie interference penalties in particular were just sad. This is what the league wants?
One observation on all these games winding up in shootouts. That is not what it was supposed to be geared towards. Too many crucial extra points are getting decided that way. And even some teams are starting to play for it in OT. At this point, I am convinced the points system needs to be adjusted. But will it? Come on. There's a better of chance of Santa Claus making an appearance at the Felix household!
Finally, there's this:
1.Rangers- 40 out of a possible 70 points
2.Devils- 39 of a possible 66
3.Islanders- 37 of 64
4.Penguins- 35 of 66
Can you say parity?
There's also this. With their 5-2 win at Buffalo, the Canadiens now have 45 points. That's five less than the Sabres and five more than the "third seeded" Rangers. They also have one more point than the Southeast leading Thrashers with two less games played. But hey. The system works.
And with that. We'll see you all tomorrow including what should be quite an interesting NY Hockey Report show where myself and cohost Gary Harding are sure to give it to our host Joe Mac on the Rangers. Tune in at our usual time of 8:05 live:
Almost forgot. I'd be remiss if I forgot to mention the nice ceremony the Rangers had to honor the newest 600 goal members Jagr and Shanahan presenting each with silver sticks along with a nice video tribute which included highlights from their career. The best part was that they brought in both their families along with ex-teammates and 600 goal scorers Steve Yzerman (who got a loud pop), Ranger killer Mario Lemieux and of course hockey and Ranger legend Mark Messier. The tribute was very nice. But that Jagr Czech Republic girlfriend was hot! Good stuff.