For most of the season, the Rangers have overachieved courtesy of hard work and determination- willing themselves to big wins such as the Pens and Canucks. That kind of yeoman effort is what Garden Faithful have come to expect from Jack Adams candidate John Tortorella's club which is tied with Montreal for sixth with 55 points entering tomorrow's match-up against Original Six Toronto at The Garden.
However, as the lost weekend proved in gut wrenching one-goal defeats to the Canadiens and Flyers, there's still work to be done if this team is going to get back to the playoffs. By dropping both ends of a crucial back-to-back against two playoff calibre clubs, the Rangers suddenly find themselves two points up on eighth Atlanta who pulled off a crazy late comeback win over Florida Sunday. What's even more is that the Hurricanes sit just five out playing better hockey until taking it on the chin 7-zip in Beantown yesterday. Loose translation: Unless Marian Gaborik gets it together, the Blueshirts could be in trouble.
Since the new calendar year, they haven't scored more than two goals yet. That's nine games with a slump also hitting leading scorer Brandon Dubinsky, who had a horrific night in Montreal Saturday getting nabbed for a couple of retaliatory penalties due to rookie punk P.K. Subban. It's understandable why our Team MVP wanted a piece of Subban for his unpenalized and remarkable unsuspended spear to Marc Staal's private area in a previous match last Monday. But getting sucked in hurt the team's chances with our club out of sorts giving up three goals in less than three minutes putting them behind the eight ball. The 13 shots on Carey Price through two periods wasn't enough. Especially with Henrik Lundqvist responding strongly by taking action on Benoit Pouliot for bumping him. Lundqvist is playing his best hockey, emerging into a heated Vezina race with Tim Thomas, Jonas Hiller, Marc-Andre Fleury, Price and Ondrej Pavelec.
If not for King Henrik's stellar play, it could be worse for a club that's a mediocre 4-4-1 in January with no let up in sight. Not even the visiting Leafs should be easy with them able to score goals thanks to Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin and dangerous sniper Phil Kessel. It's a must win for the Blueshirts who then see those Canes in Raleigh Thursday as part of a pivotal three-game Southeast road swing with stops at Atlanta and Washington before the pesky Panthers visit the Big Apple before the All-Star break. Now isn't the time for the Rangers to fall into bad habits with poor starts that have them playing catch up as we saw in falling behind 3-1 and 3-0 to the hated Flyers before a furious rally fell short thanks to splendid goaltending from Brian Boucher and a couple of Dubinsky near misses.
Consistency has been a key in why the Blueshirts are 26-18-3 still in playoff position. They can't let up now. Perhaps Tortorella benching Gaborik for long stretches Sunday will finally ignite the slumping Slovak, who's got only three goals in his last 19 games. Hardly the kinda production you expect from one of the game's top finishers. Finding the right linemates shouldn't matter. Gaborik hasn't made any excuses, noting that he must be better by working harder to get out of this. Needless to say, the power play has struggled mightily with so much depending on Gabby. It's not just about the megastar in his second year but also about kids like Artem Anisimov finding the net with more regularity. He has one of the best shots but has only 10 goals so far. Not enough for a guy who should easily be 20-25 goals with any consistency.
The Rangers can't depend solely on rookie Derek Stepan to carry the burden with new linemates Wojtek Wolski and Mats Zuccarello. They need more from Sean Avery who's playing better aside from his stupid cheap shots on a fallen Matt Carle with him beaten up. Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust need to pick up the slack as does Chris Drury, who really must contribute a little more.
Now we find out what this team is made of.