Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rangers face challenging week

Having lost two of their last three, the Rangers finally have cooled off. You can't expect to win every night. Our team has set a high standard, which hasn't existed in 15 years. Ironically the last time they won two rounds and reached the Conference Finals, led by Gretzky, Messier, Leetch, Graves and Richter.

This year's group, who still carries the East's top mark (28-11-4) with a league tying 60 points (tied with Blues) into tonight's home match versus a rejuvenated Nashville club- are being led by mostly core players such as captain Ryan Callahan, Henrik Lundqvist, Brandon Dubinsky, Dan Girardi, Mike Del Zotto, Marc Staal, Derek Stepan and slumping Artem Anisimov. It's refreshing for Garden Faithful to have our own home grown kids leading the charge. However, without the clutch scoring of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, the team wouldn't be where they are, still atop a four-headed monster in the ultracompetitive Atlantic. The Flyers aren't going away and the Devils are lurking while the Pens are getting their act together led by Evgeni Malkin. They'll also benefit from the return of Kris Letang for you guessed it, Thursday's pivotal game at MSG.

Right now, the Blueshirts have slowed down. Over their last three games (1-2-0), they've been blanked by surprise contender Ottawa while scoring only four goals during a weekend that included another Montreal stinker. Part of the problem is Dubinsky (shoulder) and Ruslan Fedotenko missed games, which forced John Tortorella to adjust the lines with the likes of Wojtek Wolski and recently demoted Kris Newbury. When your one win is highlighted by the play of Brian Boyle, who finally got his second in a 3-0 shutout of Toronto, that's not a good sign. Fact is the offense has dried up thanks to Anisimov disappearing completely. Ever since HBO's 24/7, Artie has gone 11 straight without a point. Impossible. Perhaps he celebrated a bit too much versus Tampa. The enigmatic Russian is too skilled to go this long without one single point. He now finds himself on the fourth line for tonight against a Pred squad that's won five straight.

Tortorella has bumped up rookie Carl Hagelin to the top line of D-Step and Gabby. His speed and willingness to shoot can only be a plus. Here are the rest of the lines:

Dubinsky-Richards-Callahan
Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust
Anisimov-Mitchell-Rupp

With Staal getting healthier each day, his ice-time has increased to nearly 20 minutes. Considering Stu Bickel's nightmarish game at the Bell Centre Hell Centre and Del Zotto cooling off, Tortorella has eased Marc back into the rotation. Ryan McDonagh has also been a bit up and down lately, which is to be expected for his first full year. Even if McD isn't a true freshman, rookie walls can be hit. That's the challenge of an 82-game schedule that can be taxing. The Rangers are getting healthier with Jeff Woywitka and Steve Eminger close to returning while Mike Sauer hasn't had any post-concussion symptoms over the last week. However, there's still no timetable for Sauer Power's return with it awfully hard to predict. You have to be so careful. The concussion epidemic continues to haunt a league that now has confused fans to the point that some can't tell what a clean hit is anymore.

Albeit, there was nothing wrong with pesky Rene Bourque's hit on Hagelin with the newest Hab coming from the side with a clean shoulder. The same 4-1 nightmare that I only caught lowlights of also had another rumored controversy involving P.K. Subban and Del Zotto with the second-year D supposedly spitting on MDZ, which both denied. Judging from one replay, it was much ado about nothing. I have no love for PK but that was unintentional with him just spitting while Del Zotto was skating back to the bench. Geez.

Getting to this week's slate that begins without Pekka Rinne, who will rest for the Islanders with capable backup Anders Lindback challenging Lundqvist, who just lost to the immortal Peter Budaj. The Preds are playing better than us. So, even if there's no Rinne and probably no Ryan Suter, our team needs to reestablish the identity that's given them this cushion. Nashville is a lot like us. Match their work ethic. The Pens visit Thursday. It's always interesting and it'll be my fifth game. I'm 3-1 so far. Not too shabby. Figure it to be heated with Pittsburgh trying to avenge a loss to us. This week ends with the mighty Bruins in Beantown. They still are top dog, boasting everything you could want to repeat. It promises to be a stern test.

How our boys respond to a little adversity should be good. Tortorella has succeeded at preventing losing streaks. Let's see what the Rangers got.

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