Thursday, January 11, 2007

Can Anyone Explain This Team

I am begging any Ranger fan to attempt to explain this team. How did they respond to their coach blowing a gasquet after a brutal Islander loss on home ice? By playing like a bunch of pansies for two periods and giving up the first five to Ottawa before deciding to play hockey in a 6-4 loss. Oh...and before any deranged Ranger fan blames Kevin Weekes, why don't you take a look at the Senators fifth goal which proved to be the winner just 1:02 into the third?

I'm going to try to drive the message through now. It's not the goalies. It's the defense. It's the lack of commitment on the ice by a team which never seems to be on the same page on a home ice where they have somehow won only nine of 21 games. Toss out the complementary 9-9-3 record because those extra three points are exactly that. A product of the soft ass Bettman rules. Nine wins in 21 means they have lost 12 times at MSG. That's a joke. How can anyone take this team seriously when they can't establish any consistency in their own home rink. This isn't the dead swamp which has no atmosphere but somehow, their team still wins a heck of a lot more than they lose. The Garden is one of the best places to play. Period. Even with what that foolish jackass Dolan has done, it is still a compelling place. When the Knicks and Rangers are winning, few places sound louder. You'd think they'd try to take advantage of that. But instead of getting fans on their side like last year, they've turned the fans into silent spectators and against them.

How bad was the Ranger second period tonight? Made the lifeless effort against the Isles look like they were giving 100 percent. Could the defense just once take a man in front? Anyone? On every Senator goal, they were allowed enough room to get a quality shot off in the slot or put home a rebound. And btw...our new whipping boy Fedor Tyutin had another abysmal game. He was responsible for at least two of the goals against and finished the night a minus-three. When is it time to healthy scratch the young Russian and let him take in a game from upstairs? If it worked for Petr Prucha, why not with Tyutin? He has regressed and seems to have lost confidence.

So what to make of the comeback after Daniel Alfredsson was allowed to walk in and beat Henrik Lundqvist from the slot on Henrik's first shot seen? I'm not sure. The most encouraging aspect of tonight's four goal explosion in only a 7:10 span was that it wasn't the usual suspects who did the scoring. For much of this season, this team has relied on Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, Martin Straka and even the soft as molasses Michael Nylander to score the majority of the goals. With things going so wrong, Tom Renney switched up his lines. The moves paid off.

First, it was Prucha in front who had a Jagr shot bounce off his shoulder and in to get them on the board at 3:29. Just 45 seconds later, a routine Marek Malik point shot was redirected by Jed Ortmeyer creating a rebound in front which Jason Ward potted for his fourth to cut it to 5-2. Less than two minutes later, there was a Marcel Hossa sighting on a goal. True. He gives solid effort every night. But placed on a line with Nylander and Shanahan, Hossa put home a rebound on a delayed call for just his second tally of the season to suddenly cut it to two. Continuing to carry the play, once again it was a gritty third liner who scored 4:29 later to make it a one goal contest. Off a North American style play by Ortmeyer (a routine shot folks), the underrated Blair Betts redirected one past Ray Emery to give the Blueshirts life with 9:21 left.

And how were all four scored? All by hardworking guys who got dirty in front. That should be signal to the coach and the players that they can do the little things it takes to win. They did fall short when Dany Heatley hit the empty net with 34 ticks remaining. But at least the coach could take something out of tonight.

It's worth noting that there was a bit of controversy regarding the confusing Delay of Game penalty rule. Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips cleared a puck inside his zone into the other side of the stands with under 3:00 to go. By rule, any clearing attempt inside the zone which doesn't make contact with the glass is supposed to be penalized. At first, it looked like the officials would rule that way but after a lengthy discussion, they reversed the call ticking off the Rangers. So were they wronged? Probably. But this was as confusing a play as we've seen. Phillips backhanded it to the other side of the ice over the glass. This wasn't like most instances which made it tough from a refs' vantage point to make a call. I can certainly see why they ruled what they did but also can see why Shanahan and Renney would be so hot because they worked their asses off to comeback and really could've used that power play to get themselves the equalizer. But by the same token, if you give up the first five, you deserve to lose. So that should be the valuable lesson from this second straight defeat.

The bigger question is did the coach learn anything from tonight? Will he put more trust in his role players after what they showed? Find out Saturday afternoon when his club hosts Boston on NBC. If they can't respond after what transpired tonight, there really won't be much left to say.

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