Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dubinsky injury the latest challenge for Rangers

When it rains, it pours literally. How else to explain Brandon Dubinsky going down at the most important stretch? A day after Larry Brooks wrote a suggestive piece advocating returning our leading scorer to center to boost slumping Marian Gaborik, the Rangers learned that the fourth-year emerging star has a stress fracture in his left leg which will keep him out three to four weeks.

To say I'm mystified would be an understatement. When you don't have a working computer and your brother needs your phone, you fall out of the loop. I had no idea Dubinsky was out until I saw a Facebook status which of course said our season was over here at the Library in Great Kills. Look. I'm not going to overlook Dubinsky's importance. It's my opinion that he's been the Team MVP in this surprising season that still has the Rangers seventh a point behind the Canadiens and two up on Atlanta. When Ryan Callahan went down, Dubinsky elevated his play to another level. It might not always be scoring goals cause he'd also cooled off considerably since a hot start but the plays he made helped the team win games. Whether it's winning a battle along the wall to set up Sean Avery a couple of weeks ago or just being in the right position defensively, Dubi has grown up this year.

He's more than the club-leading 17 goals, 21 assists, 38 points, four power play goals, two shorthanded goals and 124 shots. The 24 year-old Alaskan is playing the best hockey of his young career and is about to eclipse career bests across the board. For the Blueshirts to lose him now when Gaborik isn't scoring and the team hasn't scored more than two since a 3-1 win over the Devils concluding 2010, it's dire. There's no questioning the heart of a team that leaves everything out on the ice. Now, they're facing the toughest challenge of their season. Will they bury their heads like a few nervous nellies or will they stand up as they've done all year and fight a la William Wallace's epic speech in Braveheart.

"He's been struggling through it for the past couple of weeks here," John Tortorella pointed out. "He still was playing very well. It was a surprise. But you've got to move right by it, give the other guys opportunities and just go out and play."

"You can't worry about how difficult it is. You have to find a way to get it done. We have five games in seven nights here. There's no time to think, no time to whine. It's time to fight and you have to find a way to get points."

Well stated by a coach who's gotten the most out of his players. This is a team that wouldn't be where it is without the valuable contributions of Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko. They've been a constant. No question Tort needs them to chip in when they can. As was echoed in yesterday's post, it's time for Gaborik to step up. Henrik Lundqvist can't do it alone. Sure. Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Mike Sauer have his back along with an underrated D corps that still makes mistakes due to being the youngest in the league. More will be asked of Artem Anisimov who's capable of scoring more. Maybe they should slide Sean Avery with them. He's been playing much better lately by forechecking with vigor and winning battles. He can create space for our Gabby and Arty.

Keep Derek Stepan, Wojtek Wolski and Mats Zuccarello together. They scored both goals in a grueling 3-2 loss to No.1 overall Philly. The trio combines speed, skill and playmaking forming solid chemistry. It doesn't make sense to break them up. Tort has to be careful not to tweak the lines too much. Chris Drury is what he is at this point. A veteran who can win draws and kill penalties. Keep him on the fourth line with Dale Weise and Kris Newbury if he's still trusted after his idiocy the other night jumping Matt Walker from behind. They'll have to recall someone. Perhaps Chad Kolarik or Jeremy Williams.

In the meantime, the challenge presents itself. They host Toronto tonight, visit Carolina tomorrow and then take on Atlanta and Washington on the road before returning to MSG for Florida. A tough stretch which could prove pivotal if they're to make it back to the postseason. These five games in seven days come before the All-Star break.

"He's in every situation," Tortorella added of losing Dubinsky. "He's maturing, becoming a leader. That's just stuff on the ice. You can see him maturing off the ice. He's a big player for us. He's a very important guy in all situations, offensively and defensively. Because of our struggles in our faceoffs, we've been using him more there. It's a big hole."

Are the Rangers ready to step up? We're about to find out.

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