Saturday, December 30, 2006

Rangers vs Capitals, MSG, 7 ET

The Rangers will attempt to lose their last eight in 2006 tonight in similar fashion to how they dropped their final nine to end last year's promising season. At this point, does anyone actually believe they won't find a way to fall to the grittier Capitals tonight at MSG? I thought so.

On a serious note, if you want to know how lost Dumb and Dumber Coach Tom Renney is, one game after benching top pivot Michael Nylander for the third period and replacing him with rookie Jarkko Immonen, he healthy scratched the Finn in favor of enforcer Colton Orr in yesterday's loss to Ottawa. And what was his explanation? According to Daily News beat writer John Dellapina, he was worried about Immonen "keeping up in high paced games." Say what? This is about as dumb an explanation as I've read. Especially when it was Immonen who played well between our two dead Czechs (Jagr and Prucha) against the Islanders. The same Immonen who injected some life into Matt Cullen during a five-game win streak (seems very long ago) which preceded this seven game skid.

I think Renney is delusional for scratching Immonen. A two-way player who actually has one more point in far less games played (1-3-4 in 11 GP) than Marcel Hossa (1-2-3 in 37 GP), Ryan Hollweg (goose egg) Orr (ditto) do. But does he reward the guy when his offense continues to struggle? Of course not. Welcome to Rangers World. Where Logic 101 doesn't apply!

Series Info: The Rangers and Caps have split the first two of the four-game series this season with New York taking the season opener on October 5th at MSG 5-2 while the Capitals turned the tables on them last month at Verizon Center by posting a 3-1 win on November 11th. The final meeting after tonight between the two clubs takes place in the nation's capital on February 10.

Overall, the Rangers are 74-78-18-2 against Washington in the all-time series. They take a 41-34-9-1 home record into play tonight.

Uphill Battle: Due to this seven-game losing streak, a once thought playoff lock, the Rangers (18-17-4, 40 pts) enter play third in the Atlantic five points behind the Devils and one worse than the Islanders. They were finally passed in the standings last night by virtue of Ottawa and Boston's victories which propelled them to 41 points, putting each Northeast club in a three-way tie for sixth in the East with the Islanders...Coming off a 4-3 loss at The Swamp to the Devils, Washington (16-15-7, 39 pts) enters play 10th in the conference right behind the Blueshirts. So to say this is a pivotal game would be an understatement considering what's been going on.

Keys To A Miraculous Victory:

-Limit top sniper Alexander Ovechkin (25 goals, 25 assists)

-Keep an eye on Alexander Semin (17 goals)

-Don't get scored on in the first minute like they did in Ottawa. It's no secret that this team's confidence is at an all-time low. They have been shutout back-to-back games and haven't found the back of the net since Aaron Ward did so at Tampa Bay in the second period to put them up three before a monumental third period collapse. So that's the last seven periods in which they haven't scored. Getting a lead is imperative.

Since I don't believe in making predictions for these games, I am going to add a special bonus line suggestion for what I would do to fix the offense. The lines obviously need to change and there needs to be a switch in the way they're constructed. Here's what I'd try:

Prucha-Nylander-Jagr- It's no secret that Prucha is ice cold. Sticking him with Jagr might snap him out of it.

Straka-Immonen-Shanahan- Immonen has to be the 2nd center on this offensively challenged team. Straka is the club's most interchangeable forward.

Hossa-Cullen-Ward- In order for this team to have any success, Cullen must be the third center. I'm all for recalling Dawes or Callahan and trying them on this line if Hossa and Ward don't cut it.

Hollweg-Betts-Hall- What you have here is an energy line which can be sent out each shift to provide a lift. And it also puts Betts in the proper place centering the fourth line. When Ortmeyer returns, slide him in place of Hall and you got the HBO line in place of HMO. A hardworking line.

Strange but True: Since defenseman Marek Malik left with a groin injury during the first period of a 6-1 Devil loss, this team has been lost. They also imploded in the final two periods of that same game and have gone on to drop five more. Big Bird is missed severely.

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