Monday, December 19, 2011

As injuries mount, pressure is on Slats

Injuries are part of hockey. More and more, we're seeing the unfortunate aspect with many big names sidelined by concussions. Or in Chris Pronger's case, severe PCS has finished the future Hall Of Famer for the season. A costly loss for the Flyers, who also are keeping their fingers crossed for leading scorer Claude Giroux to return at some point from the concussion he suffered from an accidental knee from teammate Wayne Simmonds. This is the ugly side that's becoming a league wide epidemic.

As the Rangers would attest, they know full well that much of their season depends on if Marc Staal can return from PCS. His is an odd case where the All-Star blueliner returned for the rest of the '10-11 season, including all five games in a first round defeat to the Caps. He was 'good enough' to play but then suffered a setback during the summer that ended his workouts. It still boggles the mind how he was able to play and then the unknown hit, forcing the Blueshirts to shut him down during camp. Finally improving, he could be cleared for contact soon. What that could mean for a suddenly depleted back end is pivotal. The light at the end of the tunnel says perhaps we see Staal debut in the new calendar year. However, we're still dealing with uncertainty. The organization will take every precaution.

Just a brief look into Sidney Crosby is proof enough how fragile the head can be. What if the Penguins had not brought Sid The Kid back so soon following the first concussion suffered on a David Steckel hit? If only we knew. Crosby is again sidelined due to a hit from David Krejci a couple of weeks ago. He'd returned with a flash pulverizing teams with 12 points in eight games, including the unreal backhand goal on his first shift in a blowout of the Islanders. Now, he is suffering from PCS (post concussion symptoms) again. Not a concussion, which the Pittsburgh captain clarified to the media recently. So, the game's most dynamic player sits with no time table. Almost like that repeat scene in Ground Hog Day where Bill Murray's Phil character keeps waking up to that annoying alarm clock with "I Got You Babe" playing. No matter what he does to the clock, it keeps playing. Of course, this harsh reality is sadder and much more daunting.

Already without concussed Mike Sauer, who was KO'd by a clean Dion Phaneuf shoulder, the Rangers lost Steve Eminger to a separated shoulder for eight to ten weeks in their miraculous last second win over Phoenix. In the wake of one of the wildest endings that saw Brad Richards last ditch backhand fling deflect off Keith Yandle past Mike Smith just beating the clock literally (it crossed the goal line with 0.01 forcing a video reversal), the Blueshirts find themselves in dire straits. With tough games beginning tomorrow against division rivals New Jersey, the Islanders and Philadelphia with HBO cameras rolling, they'll be minus half their starting D. No Staal and no Sauer is bad enough because that's half their top four. Somehow, John Tortorella has managed to get by by wisely teaming super soph Ryan McDonagh with Team MVP Dan Girardi while recently replacing Sauer with Eminger for emerging Michael Del Zotto.

If only it were that simple. There are so many injuries that you can never have enough players. Especially defensemen. So, here's what Tort's left with for tomorrow's big showdown in Newark against the suddenly red hot Devils, who are blitzing goalies thanks to wiz kid Adam Henrique, Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk and yes, David Clarkson. Even Dainius Zubrus has 10 goals. A once weakness is now a team strength, which explains the Devs' torrid play that suddenly has them just three points behind us and the Pens. While they are clicking on all cylinders, Tortorella will roll out McDonagh and Girardi as much as humanly possible in the blood rivals first of six. Del Zotto likely will play with Anton Stralman while unsung hero Jeff Woywitka if available, should see increased responsibility. Emergency recall Tim Erixon could also return after spending over a month with the Connecticut Whale. In other words, the Rangers are in trouble.

The Devils are hardly All-Star caliber on the blueline. However, at least most of their regulars will be a go with first-year Swede Adam Larsson learning on the job along with second-year man Mark Fayne while vets Bryce Salvador, Henrik Tallinder and Lou Lamoriello steal Kurt Foster supply depth. How the odd GM got Foster from the Ducks for Mark Fraser and immortal Rod Pelley we'll never comprehend. Yeah. I know they're character guys but come on. Bob Murray should be investigated for how he's run a former Cup champ into the ground.

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that our team is at a disadvantage tomorrow night. Sure. Marian Gaborik's playing like an MVP and Richards has proven what a leader he is. Derek Stepan has blossomed along with Artem Anismov while Ryan Callahan has certainly welcomed the challenge of being captain with open arms. After those four, it gets thin with underachieving Brandon Dubinsky still stuck on one goal. That's four million's worth. Brian Boyle has not been able to repeat last year's output and Brandon Prust is more a warrior than scorer who'll take on all comers despite being nicked up. Carl Hagelin just might be the next most important player with incredible speed and instincts. Ruslan Fedotenko is what he is. A solid checker who can scorer every once in a while.

Something needs to be done. Henrik Lundqvist is going to be peppered given our D issues. How soon before Girardi's tank runs on empty? He can only do so much. Glen Sather needs to open his eyes and realize this team cannot have another first round flop. That means get on the phone to try to get a character D like Tim Gleason. Our team also lacks enough skill up front. One more scorer and this team could compete with Boston, Pittsburgh and Philly. Even the Panthers boast more talent.

It's high time Slats gives us a team that can actually win more than two rounds. The pressure's on.

1 comment:

Hasan said...

Larsson's going to miss a game or two this week since he went back to Sweden for his grandmother's funeral. And Tallinder's still questionable with back spasms I suppose.

Stralman lol, almost forgot about him. That'll be interesting tomorrow. Hopefully me and my friend aren't a late scratch for the game due to my sore throat/fever combo.

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