Once upon a time in this town, the kids were alright. Already facing a crisis four games into this new season, the Rangers must call on some of their own young pups to shine.
Yes, Year Two for Marian Gaborik won't be injury free thanks to Colby Armstrong boarding the Big Ticket during last week's hellacious home opener which KO'd the superstar for at least two weeks. Six days later following just a paltry goal in an uneven home loss to Colorado that drew boos and "Fire Sather" chants, John Tortorella's walking wounded visit Toronto for the first of a challenging three in four with Boston to follow before returning home for the Devils Sunday. Not exactly the greatest timing for a club that did zilch in five power plays, stuck on two-for-17 that has them near the bottom. What's more depressing is the once strong PK has also come undone with Tort's crew permitting two more Monday to fall to 29th overall. Hardly a winning formula.
While the embattled coach desperately tries to find the right combos to cure the potential scoring issues minus the Great Gabby, the onus is on some of the young core to step up. A couple of Americans pace the team in goals with both third-year Alaskan Brandon Dubinsky and rookie Minnesotan Derek Stepan each entering Game No.5 with three goals each. While it might be a stretch to expect the 20 year-old Stepan, who debuted in style with a hat trick to finish plays he starts, the same can't be said for Dubinsky, who the coaching staff is expecting more from. Especially now that he's shifted to left wing where he can use his big frame around the net. Playing on the club's most cohesive unit anchored by sophomore Artem Anisimov and flanked by third-year alternate Ryan Callahan, he must be good for 25 goals. At least he has three thus far while linemate Cally hasn't lit the lamp yet despite good scoring chances. They're counting on the North American-Russian Alliance big time. While it may seem ideal to break them up in an attempt to spark Alex Frolov, Tortorella would be wise to keep them together. Precisely what rebuilds are about.
If patience is a virtue and it must be for the Blueshirts to turn this around, then Tort also must put Stepan and Ruslan Fedotenko back with Sean Avery, who complements them well. As Devil beat writer Michelle Kenneth noted in a tweet while covering Monday's contest, that trio has generated the club's best opportunities. Why mess around? It's up to Frolov to follow up his first goal as a Ranger with a streak. That means meshing with Erik Christensen and whoever the coach sees fit to play top line. Obviously, the choices aren't great. Either move Brian Boyle up based on how he's performed or try vet Todd White. We doubt he'd put Brandon Prust on the first line even though he's got some sand to his game. Something the Rangers lack.
The other early problem is Tortorella's lack of faith in the fourth line and his third D pair. Derek Boogaard only got three shifts in the club's third consecutive loss. What's the point of bringing in the former Minny enforcer if you refuse to play him? How can he protect teammates? Between his refusal to roll four lines and the continued minimal ice-time Matt Gilroy, Mike Sauer and Steve Eminger are seeing, it's no wonder the Rangers are struggling to get out of their end. It's no way to run a bench. Even if Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michal Rozsival and Mike Del Zotto are all capable of logging big minutes. However, by double shifting them, it's also a way to run out of gas, which may better explain the inconsistencies shift to shift. If he doesn't find a third pair he can trust, the team's play will continue to suffer and Henrik Lundqvist will be hung out to dry.
Speaking of King Henrik, if it's true he hasn't yet found his A form, how would you like to be in net with this roster? One that never defends him and repeatedly allows point blank chances within 10 feet. It's no wonder he permits the occasional softy. Not that that's an excuse. He is after all the backbone and unquestioned leader. He'll have to steal games for this outfit to be competitive. Already a top five goalie, Lundqvist will have to carry the load. Do you really want to see Martin Biron in Beantown tomorrow following say a fourth straight loss?!?!?!?!?! About as promising as A.J. Burnett being kept in too long in Game Four by Joe Girardi.
If Lundqvist, who continually gets run into by fearless foes who know there' ll be no payback- wants to survive Year Six, it's time for him to step out of character and hit back. If nobody else will, then he must. Use your equipment and go Billy Smith. That might be the only way to stop the madness. The book's been written about this team forever. Drive hard to the net and get to the goalie. I swear. This franchise should be permanently sponsored by Hostess. The time has come for him to erase his squeaky clean image. Maybe it would strike a nerve with teammates and send a message that this team won't get pushed around. Or is Boyle wrong? He and Del Zotto shouldn't be the only ones standing up. Starting tonight at the ACC, there needs to be a lot more passengers.
Whether they're successful depends on the play of the kids.