Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sorting out the Rangers

I know what you'll say. It's early and yes, you'd be proven right. We're almost two weeks into this promising 2007-08 Ranger season. Sure, they've only played five games but is anyone else a little concerned about the lack of chemistry Tom Renney's club has displayed?

After landing center duo Scott Gomez and Chris Drury hours apart back on the first day of unrestricted free agency in July, much was expected of a Blueshirt team which won its first playoff round in 10 years and pushed Buffalo six games in a series they easily could've prevailed in.

By subtracting Michael Nylander and adding two younger pivots, the thinking was it would make the Rangers even better offensively. Maybe Ranger brass didn't realize that the two newcomers who play more of a North American style might have issues meshing with the East-West game of captain Jaromir Jagr. Thus far, there's been little chemistry to speak of with either big ticket pivot getting turns with No.68. This isn't a surprising revelation. It was going to take time for either to work well and adjust to the Czech star's game.

Will it eventually click? It better or the Rangers are going to have a lot of egg on their faces for not saving some cash and just giving the better suited Nylander his money. They also would've saved some cap space. Instead, he's now in Washington working with youngsters Alexander Ovechkin, Alexei Semin and Nicklas Backstrom.

With Drury (1-3-4) and Gomez (1-1-2) out of the gate slowly and Matt Cullen (3-2-5, 2 PPG) already lighting it up back with Carolina, one has to wonder if maybe management didn't think everything through.

Are the additions of Drury and Gomez really that much of an upgrade over what they had? You can be sure Nylander will score more goals and points than Gomez who they severely overpaid for. You also can take to the bank that Drury for as good a player as he is, the former Trumbull Connecticut Little League World Series star isn't going to score 37 goals like he did last year with an explosive Buffalo team who came at opponents in waves.

Now, if it's true that Drury and Gomez are the top two pivots, then it's also true that the Rangers have no replacement for the gritty Cullen who even without playing point on the man-advantage on Broadway still finished strong working well with Petr Prucha and Ryan Callahan to comprise a solid forechecking third line.

Then there's the Marcel Hossa experiment. How does the left wing go from in Tom Renney's doghouse to suddenly logging over 20 minutes a night playing top line because Sean Avery is out? The recently turned 26 year-old Slovak is a diligent forechecker and backchecker who also teams with top penalty killer Blair Betts while shorthanded.

He did finish well playing with Jagr and Nylander last Spring attaining new marks in goals (10) and points (18) and outplayed older brother Marian by a lot in the Rangers' sweep of Atlanta.

So how does he go from that to being a healthy scratch to start the season? Then suddenly there he is on the top line. While it's true he has three assists in three games, it just doesn't make sense to go from one extreme to the other. Are they playing him that much for a showcase to possibly free up a spot for Nigel Dawes who impressed in preseason and clearly doesn't belong in Hartford? Maybe.

But it says here Hossa could have a place on this team if Renney concludes that neither Drury or Gomez can work with Jagr. The coach still hasn't tried an all-Euro unit with Hossa, Straka in the middle with Jagr. By shifting Straka to center, that would allow Renney to try Drury with the goal-less Brendan Shanahan and maybe use Gomez with speedsters Prucha and Callahan which could make better sense and give the Blueshirts a more balanced look up front and most importantly better chemistry.

The question is with Avery still out a couple of weeks due to a shoulder separation suffered at the hands of a good hit by Ottawa's Chris Neil, what happens with rookie Brandon Dubinsky who looks better and better when he gets more ice-time?

With a former student of Renney Dave Scatchard still trying out and possibly getting ready to sign, does that spell Hartford for Dubinsky who's one of the few young forwards with speed and pizzazz with Avery out? It makes about as much sense as scratching Hossa for Ryan Hollweg.

As for Dawes, considering how he looked with Gomez and Shanahan in exhibition, he deserves a shot there. What is the organization waiting for? To fall into the same kind of slow start they did last year before needing a Yankee-like finish just to qualify for a third straight postseason when they're expected to finish near the top?

It's little secret that favorite MSG target Marek "Big Bird" Malik has struggled thus far and been out of position for at least four of the 10 goals a sharp Henrik Lundqvist has permitted. Since his three assist night in a victorious home opener over Florida, the 32 year-old Czech who's not the fastest skater has been victimized badly in a couple of defeats including the most recent one to Ottawa.

He's gotten out of the gate slowly before and recovered well to log valuable minutes in key situations with more steady D partner Michal Rozsival. Much of how the D performs depends largely on the 6-6 240 pound fares. When he and Rozsival are in synch, they're one of the most underrated tandems in the league.

With Fedor Tyutin and Dan Girardi blossoming into a reliable shutdown second pair proving that last Spring wasn't a fluke, if Malik can settle down, suddenly the Ranger blueline will be much more formidable. Especially with former 2005 top pick Marc Staal gaining the trust of the staff and being put into key situations.

The other question is what does Renney do with Paul Mara having already been scratched twice for the more physical but slower footed Jason Strudwick? While Malik has struggled, he's not the only defenseman who's missed assignments and cost his team goals against. Mara has been brutal in his three games hurting the pairing with Staal.

Could the Blueshirts possibly look to deal Mara and unload his contract? Stay tuned.


When your most consistent forwards are Colton Orr and Betts, it's not a ringing endorsement. Neither is Shanahan showing some age by firing nothing but blanks (league leading 32 SOG) so far.

It is early but the sooner this team finds chemistry, the better it will be for their season.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great input as always. Couldn't agree more.

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