Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Rangers Fail To Make Grade At Break

At the beginning of the season, expectations were up for Tom Renney's club. They were even the trendy pick to break the Devils' and Flyers' Atlantic Division dominance over the last decade. Some even went as far as to take them to the Cup finals. Boy, do they look silly now. For the record, I had them finishing second to New Jersey and fifth in the East, falling to the Senators in the first round. That can still happen but Renney's club has some work to do just to get there.

Here are our grades at the All Star break:

Forwards

1.Jaromir Jagr (18-42-60 in 48 GP)- B-

Analysis: While he hasn't been 100 percent, the captain hasn't led this team the way he can taking way too many lazy penalties in the process. Even with solid numbers, he's capable of more. Will the week off help?

2.Martin Straka (24-32-56 in 48 GP)- A

Analysis: He's been the most consistent player night in and night out. A superb skater who never takes a shift off. Underrated backchecker. He leads the club in game winners with 5 and has been in the box just 22 minutes. Deserved to be an All Star.

3.Michael Nylander (15-38-53 in 45 GP)- B

Analysis: The playmaking pivot does his job well setting up linemates Jagr and Straka. The only flaw in his game is his reluctance to shoot when he's got wide open looks which drives fans nuts. If he improved that, there would be nothing to criticize.

4.Brendan Shanahan (24-22-46 in 48 GP)- B+

Analysis: The just turned 38 year-old future Hall of Famer has been everything advertised. Has played more minutes than in Motown and shown an ability to play in any situation. Leads the club with 12 power play goals. He's struggled to score at even strength but it's not his fault that the Rangers failed to address a No.2 center. They need to find the right combo for Shanny to rediscover his touch. Has been a much more vocal leader than Jagr.

5.Matt Cullen (9-11-20 in 46 GP) - C

Analysis: The former Cane tries extremely hard but is just not a second line pivot which explains why Renney has shifted him all over the place in an attempt to find the right mix. He's disappointed so far. Seems to miss the net a quite deal and has problems getting the puck out. But also, he has not been given a chance to play the right point on the PP, a place he flourished in Carolina. It's just another baffling move by Renney, who did the same thing to Petr Sykora. How's Sykora doing in Edmonton coach? Enough said!

6.Petr Prucha (10-9-19 in 46 GP) - C

Analysis: While it's true the second-year Czech has had a sophomore jinx, he hasn't been given enough trust from the coach who gave him lots of time with Jagr last year on the top PP unit. He can't play fourth line. He does have talent but the coach has screwed up. It's true he hasn't hit the net enough this year and has too often been taken off the puck. He must play 2nd or 3rd line to have success and needs more PP time. Crazy as it sounds, he can still finish with 20-plus goals. The Rangers need him to get hot.

7.Adam Hall (4-7-11 in 45 GP) - D

Analysis: Amazingly, the 26 year-old has become the odd man out after being acquired for the hardworking Dominic Moore last summer. Too often, he struggled to distinguish himself and couldn't finish. But him being scratched is on Renney as well. Did you know that just over half his points have come via the man-advantage including three of his four goals? Hello McFly! That's what he can do. He scored 10 in Nashville last year. I'd retry him with Betts. Sitting him makes no sense for a 31 year-old vet. Just typical.

8.Jason Ward (4-6-10 in 45 GP) - C+

Analysis: Has been a bit of a disappointment after promising first year on Broadway. But he is gritty and tries hard. He can kill penalties and has played out of position at times cause of Renney's reluctance to keep Jarkko Immonen up as the fourth center. He needs to play consistent minutes and can provide energy. Can anyone figure out why he was the odd man out after helping spark the Rangers in a heated comeback before falling short to Ottawa?

9.Blair Betts (6-1-7 in 48 GP) - B+

Analysis: The underrated soon to be 27 year-old Alberta native plays his role well. Always brings solid energy each game and is a decent skater with better hands as at least half of his goals suggest. Reliable penalty killer who can create shorthanded opportunities through share hustle. Was justly rewarded for play with a two-year extension. Only gripe is the lack of assists but that's not really his job. Maybe if you surrounded him with consistent linemates, that part would develop.

10.Marcel Hossa (2-3-5 in 46 GP) - C

Analysis: For all his scoring woes, the Slovakian does play hard. Has improved defensively and is a solid penalty killer. Is one of the best forecheckers on this team which doesn't say much for his teammates. He has ability. Either try him on a scoring line or just recall Nigel Dawes and see what the kid can do.

11.Jarkko Immonen (1-3-4 in 11 GP) - Incomplete

Analysis The 25 year-old Finn didn't look out of place in his first recall. When placed with Cullen and Shanahan he provided a spark. Then Cullen went down and Renney never tried that combo again. Huh? He can win draws, is reliable in his end and goes to the net. But somehow, there's no place for that here. It reminds me of that silly slogan they came up with after landing the great Bobby Holik. "Hockey's Different Here!" It sure is.

12.Jed Ortmeyer (1-2-3 in 8 GP) - A

Analysis: Despite missing the first 40 games with a life threatening pulsonary embollism condition, the gritty 28 year-old from Omaha Nebraska has already demonstrated in just eight games why he's such a fan favorite. Has worked really hard thus far and played role well. Seems to have improved a little offensively. This guy is the epitome of what a Ranger should be on and off the ice. Has a little captain in him.

13.Brad Isbister (1-0-1 in 2 GP) - Incomplete

Analysis: Was recalled from Hartford and did exactly what the coach wanted driving to the net and scoring a goal in a win and playing hard. So how did the vet get rewarded? With a demotion. Man. Some things are hard to explain.

14.Nigel Dawes (1-0-1 in 8 GP) - Incomplete

Analysis: It's hard to grade the promising 21 year-old rookie when he is hardly given a chance. He had an impressive preseason and started on the third line but didn't get enough ice-time to make a difference. The only instance he saw enough was when Renney tried him with Nylander and Ward in Toronto. And what happened? He notched his first NHL goal and played well. If only the coach had stuck it out before dwindling his minutes to almost zilch. He's recovered well at Hartford and has tallied 16 points the past 14 games. The kid deserves a real shot. Will he get it?

15.Ryan Callahan (0-0-0 in 2 GP) - Incomplete

Analysis: For what it's worth, the Rochester native didn't look out of place in his few shifts playing fourth line. The former 2004 fourth round pick has flourished down in the 'A' in his first pro season, pacing the Wolf Pack with 26 goals and 39 points. He also leads the club with 13 power play goals and also has recorded two shorthanded goals, ranking second to Dwight Helminen. While it is his first year, the 21 year-old has made an impression, opening some eyes.

16.Colton Orr (62 PIM in 27 GP) - C+

Analysis: On a team which possesses little toughness, he's been the only player to hold opponents accountable when they take liberties with the club's stars. He's shown some guts taking on some big boys and done fairly well. But clearly, he's strictly a role player who should only be used in certain games.

17.Jason Krog (0-0-0 in 3 GP) - Incomplete

Analysis: It's still hard to say if this 31 year-old waiver pickup from Atlanta is just taking up a spot. Sure, he plays the game gritty and is another center which is badly needed. But is he logging too many minutes as an out of place second line pivot when his career screams third liner at best? Maybe the coach can explain this one.

18.Ryan Hollweg (76 PIM in 48 GP) - C+

Analysis: This guy works his butt off every shift and provides energy with physicality. He's got to be up there in the hits department. Just ask all the players who have been decked by mostly clean checks by a more mature player. The silly penalties have declined but it's hard to believe he plays every game when he hasn't contributed offensively. It's not like he's a poor skater either. So should his role be changed so the team can get more offense? We think so. This is a good team guy though and someone who fans love because he's a gamer.

Defense

1.Michal Rozsival (5-19-24 in 48 GP) - B

Analysis: In his second-year as a Ranger, the 28 year-old Czech is on pace for new career highs in goals and points. He's been the only reliable offense from the blueline and has been more involved than last season. But he's not a top defender, which he's being asked to be by logging the most minutes back there. Lately, his game has suffered because of it. If only the team wasn't built so poorly on the backline so he could play a less taxing role as a No.3.

2.Marek Malik (0-11-11 in 40 GP) - B-

Analysis: A very unpopular player due to the big man's positional play and penchant for lazy penalties, the D partner of Rozsival is more important than people realize. Not coincidentally, the team struggled without him and really hasn't been in synch the past month. Now, he's been tried with Aaron Ward which makes little sense. He is what he is. A steady puckmover who works well with Rozsival but won't play as physical as his size.

3.Fedor Tyutin (2-9-11 in 48 GP) - C

Analysis: The second-year Russian has been very unsteady so far this season. There are times where he shows promise by delivering thunderous hip checks and there are frustrating moments where he fails to take his man resulting in a goal against. He has so much more ability. It's just a matter of confidence and becoming more consistent.

4.Aaron Ward (3-9-12 in 47 GP) - C

Analysis: The warrior who helped Carolina win their first Cup has played through injuries this season. But he was far more effective along with Tyutin the first six weeks. Since then, it's been a struggle. Maybe the week off will help him get healthier.

5.Karel Rachunek (2-12-14 in 44 GP) - C-

Analysis: If the puckmoving defenseman was supplying more offense, his minus-12 rating wouldn't be so bad. But he is just very weak in his end and puts even more pressure on whoever pairs with him. The ex-Sen has made ex-Ranger Tom Poti look like Bobby Orr. Poti btw has played decently for the Islanders while Rachunek has struggled.

6.Darius Kasparaitis (2-2-4 in 24 GP) - C

Analysis: The 34 year-old veteran has been up and down all season. In and out of Renney's doghouse due to not coming into camp in better shape, Kaspar has looked alright at times and brutal at others. He's a dinosaur due to his lack of mobility. Sure, he can hit but if he isn't in position, it's bad news. At this point, he should be an extra defenseman who can spell someone.

7.Thomas Pock (1-1-2 in 18 GP) - C

Analysis: The 25 year-old Austrian has finally gotten back in Renney's good graces. Lately, he's replaced Kasparaitis in the lineup and even gotten a chance to team with Rozsival and get some power play time. There's little question the puckmoving D has offensive potential. It's all about getting results. But in his end, he's a liability. So it's hard to say what his future is.

8.Sandis Ozolinsh (0-3-3 in 21 GP) - C

Analysis: Give the 34 year-old former All Star credit for working hard during last summer to rehab both on and off the ice and adapt to Renney's system. At first, he was playing well in his end and making Renney's crazy pairing with Rachunek look okay. But he wasn't able to sustain it. In the final year of his contract making $2.75 million, he might be a trade candidate at the deadline. But who's going to take the risk?

Goalies

1.Henrik Lundqvist (19-15-2, 2.83 GAA, .903 Save Pct, 1 SO in 37 GP) - C

Analysis: The King has comeback to earth in his second year. There are games where he shows flashes of brilliance, reminding fans of his share talent. But then there are games where he inexplicably lets in untimely goals and seems to lose concentration making us wonder if the 24 year-old is spending a little too much time in the New York night life. He needs to be more consistent for this team to have a chance when play resumes.

2.Kevin Weekes (4-6-2, 3.39 GAA, .879 Save Pct in 14 GP) - D

Analysis: The 31 year-old Toronto native has always been a true professional and seems to have a solid relationship with Lundqvist. But lately, he had hardly been used enough by Renney, which explains the lack of sharpness in net. Try explaining it to fans who unfairly loathe the guy and blame him whenever something goes wrong. It's not all his fault. He's the kind of goalie who needs to be played more. Repetition makes him sharper. If he's going to be played so sparingly, it's time for the Rangers to consider moving him and recalling former 2004 number one pick Al Montoya. There's got to be a team out there who could use a netminder capable of starting.

Coach Tom Renney (23-21-4 record, 50 points, 2nd Atlantic, 9th East) - D

Analysis: He is a very honest and respectable coach who understands what's wrong with his Jekyll and Hyde club but has done a poor job of attempting to fix it. Too often this season, he has juggled lines not giving most combos a chance to jell. Aside from the top Euro unit, there's no consistency. How can a team which had higher goals be expected to win when more than halfway through, there's little team chemistry in the coach's lines? How can they win when their pass first power play continues to be brutal even driving Shanahan to take it to task? Are they practicing it enough? Part of the problem is Renney has been dealt a tough situation and is almost forced to play vets over kids due to salary commitments. But even when he's had kids up as documented throughout this article, the affable bench leader has failed to give them enough time for them to flourish. Currently, the Rangers are two under .500 in the new NHL treading water. If things don't improve soon, it might be time for a change.

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