Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rangers vs Senators Preview, 7 PM, MSG

After suffering another crushing defeat at the hands of the Fishsticks, the Rangers (22-18-4, 48 pts) will attempt to prevent another losing streak from starting when they take on the Ottawa Senators. The Sens (24-19-2, 50 pts) enter play having won three of four. Aside from a 3-2 home loss to New Jersey this past Saturday, Ottawa has gotten at least a point in eight of their last nine posting a 7-1-1 record to move up to fifth overall in the East. Tied with Carolina in points, they own the tiebreaker due to one more win.

For the Blueshirts, it's an opportunity to tie Ottawa in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race. How will they respond to Tom Renney's heated criticism from the other night? Will they fall back into the doldrums or "circle the wagons," a favorite expression of the coach?

It will be interesting to see and once again we'll be in attendance hoping for a better result. Can they deal with Chris Neil's physicality? Who knows? The bottom line right now is coming away with the two points because it's so important at this stage of the season. With 14 of the 15 teams in the conference still realistically alive, getting as many points as you can is a must. To show you how much parity there is, only 12 points separate fourth ranked Montreal (53 points) from 14th seeded Florida (41 points). And with some teams holding games at hand on the Rangers, they can't afford another slip up like the seven-game December skid.

Season Series: The teams split the first two games at Scotiabank Place with the Rangers taking the first game 3-1 on December 9 thanks to splendid goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. But two weeks ago, it was the other No.1 goalie Ray Emery who made the big stops in posting a 1-0 shutout December 29 to make captain Daniel Alfredsson's deflection goal in the opening minute stand up and extend the Rangers' losing streak to seven. Now the series shifts to MSG where they'll try to get back on the winning track and improve their mediocre 9-8-3 home record tonight. The final match-up will take place at the Garden on March 13th.

Series History: Overall, the Rangers are 41-30-12-1 against Ottawa and enter tonight with a 19-17-5-0 edge on home ice.

Final thoughts include a mention of a Larry Brooks column in which the ornery NY Post beat writer took the team to task for unloading the underrated Dominic Moore in the offseason for Adam Hall. Hall (4-7-11, -13) has failed to distinguish himself while Moore (5-6-11, +1) has fit in much better with the rebuilding Pens centering their third line. Sure, the production is similar but Moore brought an element centering last year's popular HMO line that this team lacks. Brooks also references some other Renney quotes from this season where he was disappointed with the club's effort along with the lack of production from the third and fourth lines:

http://www.nypost.com/seven/01112007/sports/rangers/renney_venom_more_of_same_rangers_larry_brooks.htm


My other thought regards the mishandling of Jarkko Immonen. Clearly, he is an NHL ready player who won't benefit from being sent back to Hartford. Why this Finn who will turn 25 in April can't be part of the solution is beyond explanation. In 11 games, he has more points (1-3-4) than Marcel Hossa (1-2-3) or Ryan Hollweg do. Immonen has two-way ability and size. He also can win faceoffs. If this team was serious about balancing out their scoring, he would center either the second or third line. Blair Betts (5-1-6) is a hard worker and never takes shifts off but the club would be better served if he anchored the fourth line. How would I construct the lines? Here's a sampling:

Straka-Nylander-Jagr
Prucha-Immonen-Shanahan
Ward-Cullen-Hossa
Hollweg-Betts-Ortmeyer

Sit Hall out a couple of games. He should be more productive. If they did it this way, it would balance out the center slot and make it easier to roll four lines. Plus the fourth line would be a hardworking grind line that can provide some of that missing energy Brooks and Ranger supporters are looking for. Cullen is a third center playing No.2 right now. Trying Immonen with Prucha and Shanny wouldn't be a bad move. Too bad the organization doesn't have a clue.

While I am on the topic of disappointments, both Fedor Tyutin and Aaron Ward haven't been pulling their weight. They once looked like a solid pair but not for quite a while. If these two don't get their act together soon, it won't be the usual whipping boys such as Marek Malik and Karel Rachunek which will be drawing the ire of fans. Tyutin should be better than he is by now and Ward has been inconsistent. They must raise their level.

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