Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Rangers Devour Cheesesteaks

The game isn't over yet. But for all intent and purposes, it ended a little while ago. One word to sum it up: Domination.

In every aspect, the Rangers have given their fans at MSG a treat. And with it, they march two points closer to a second straight postseason. After tonight, they'll be up to 83 with eight left- one behind the Lightning for sixth.

The goalscorers were Petr Prucha (19), Jaromir Jagr (26), Sean Avery (15,16) and Jed Ortmeyer (2).

So, what can be said about this performance on the heels of two impressive ones over Boston (7-0 St. Patty's Bash) and Pittsburgh (2-1)? They're looking very together. Brendan Shanahan has looked good playing alongside Avery and impressive rookie Ryan Callahan to comprise the IRA Line, which btw struck for a beautiful tic-tac-toe goal to put the finishing touches on this 5-0 domination (third consecutive win).

With red hot netminder Henrik Lundqvist about to get shutout No.5 (he's coming folks), the Rangers are the best defensive team in the league since January 13. One word which sums it up: Wow. It's hard to fathom. But the Swedish goalie has been sensational and the team D has improved significantly since rookie Daniel Girardi (2 assists and some more steady play tonight) was recalled. Since Tom Renney broke up Marek Malik and Michal Rozsival, the blueline looks much more balanced. Girardi works extremely well with Big Bird. And Rozsival has teamed effectively with Thomas Pock. Meanwhile, veteran Jason Strudwick hasn't looked out of place in working with Paul Mara. Just remember they're missing Fedor Tyutin (just started skating) and Karel Rachunek.

It's a credit to the staff how well these guys have meshed under extreme circumstances. And kudos to Renney for having enough confidence to roll four lines. Every player saw at least 10 minutes including enforcer Colton Orr, who as noted earlier KO'd Todd Fedoruk- sending the Flyer tough guy to St. Vincent's Hospital for precautionary measures.

What's more? Renney's club is coming together while staying disciplined. This wasn't the case during last season's feel good story and certainly wasn't two months ago. But a lot seems to have been righted lately. And with meathead Avery proving to be more than just a pest, this team is no longer a pushover for the opposition. With Callahan continuing to impress playing solid overall hockey notching his first career assist on Avery's second, this team has much more balance than before.

It says here that when Martin Straka returns from his knee injury, Callahan deserves his place on the second line. While Brad Isbister has been a good soldier, he doesn't have the skills that the 21 year-old Rochester native possesses. Nor the hands either. Izzy has played hard but it would be an injustice if he played over Callahan.

So when Straka returns, the lines should look like this:





Extra F: Isbister

As complete a lineup up front as the Rangers have had in years. What can't get lost in all this solid play is that the task is far from over. Locked into seventh in the East with 83 points (3 better than Tor, Car and Mtl and 4 more than NYI), the Blueshirts have their work cut out for them down the stretch- finishing the schedule with six of the final eight away from MSG. But as Avery noted during the 2nd intermission, the team has played better away from home. They'll now put it to a test when they visit Boston, the Islanders, Canadiens and Flyers in succession over the next week.

With pivotal games against the Isles (2 at Nassau), Habs (1 R, 1 H) and the Leafs (H 4/1), Renney's players know what they must do if they want to make it back-to-back postseasons on Broadway for the first time in a decade ('96, '97).

And the formula is simple. Keep playing the way they are with solid team commitment to defense and hard aggressive forechecking. If they do, everything will take care of itself.

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