Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Grinding style could use more skill this Spring

It's kind of tough to analyze a game when you can't even see it. Unless it's a rarity like tonight's visit to Western New York with the Rangers battling the suddenly resurgent Sabres (yes, even our lurking Buffalo blogger texted me something positive last night) on NBC Sports Network at 7:30 PM. Fortunately for me, I'll get home in the middle of the first from my basketball game in Park Slope.

It'll be refreshing to get a chance to watch our team for a change. Hopefully, they remember the team mantra of no losing streaks. Especially with the Pens on the verge of passing the Flyers. The way Evgeni Malkin is playing, it's making Pittsburgh supporters forget the ineptitude of their team doctors regarding Sid The Kid. You'd swear the Pens and Mets share the same one or as I like to refer to tongue in cheek, Dr. Seuss. While they continue to win and the Flyers are right there as well, nights like last night are opportunities lost. Especially when you blow three one-goal leads against your archrival, even if a bounce went against you to give the Devils the big break they needed.

Of course, the Rangers had no chance once it went to a skill competition. The Devils are simply too strong. All it took was another Ilya Kovalchuk blast to give them the valuable extra point for their first win in four. Meanwhile, Brad Richards continued to fire blanks and All-Star MVP Marian Gaborik couldn't save us this time. At least he set up two goals. What's Richards excuse? I get that he's tied with captain Ryan Callahan for game-winners with six but there's been too many nights where you barely notice him. Given our lack of skill, it's somewhat understandable. However, isn't he talented enough to make others better and carry this team? You don't pay through the nose for inconsistency. When Olli Joke-in-en's been better with the Flames, something's wrong.

Admittedly, it's hard to kill Richie when he's in our top four in scoring with Gabby and Cally. Other than Derek Stepan, who has been cold lately and last night's goalscorer Mike Del Zotto, the offense is hit or miss. While Artem Anisimov seems to believe his season was made with HBO cameras, Brandon Dubinsky remains stuck on five goals. FIVE! How is that humanly possible? I know Dubi gives the effort more than Artie, but enough's enough. We didn't extend him to be a checker. Brian Boyle has one less goal. Ruslan Fedotenko is either even or has one more. Even John Mitchell has been more productive since he's been up. Mike freaking Rupp has four.

Sooner or later, Dubi has to put the puck in the net. There's no reason why he shouldn't be able to turn it up and reach 20. He's good enough. It's high time him and AFKAA (Artist Formerly Known As Anisimov) remember their roles. You can't always rely on the Boyles, Mitchells and Anton Stralmans to bail you out. I enjoy how hard our team plays. But the constant grinding can wear on you. Over an 82-game schedule, it's not conducive. This team isn't the Boston Bruins. They're not even in the same stratosphere. Henrik Lundqvist and Dan Girardi can only do so much. With apologies to Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and even Del Zotto, that's our backbone.

The Rangers win the hard way. While it's working now, that style might not pay off this Spring against the best competiton. Seven-game series are a whole different ballgame. As we've seen in excruciating losses to the Caps, our lesser talented core has worn down. Adding Richards was supposed to boost scoring. While it's been better, there's still zero consistency. Most games they win are tight like yesterday's with the bounce going the other way. In the playoffs, skill takes over. As big a fan I am in effort, grit and intangibles, which I've constantly been ribbed at by Brian for years (haha), you still need enough skill to advance.

What that means for Glen Sather is an improved power play, which can really use either a PP quarterback or another forward who doesn't fire blanks. I've already suggested Ray Whitney from the Coyotes, who has valuable experience winning with Carolina. Even at 40, the Wizard can still bring it. His 43 points (16-27-43) that pace Phoenix are actually two better than our point leader Gaborik. Whitney also has 27 helpers, five power play goals and a plus-14 rating. He knows how to play and would be a nice fit in Tort's system. The cost wouldn't be astronomical like Shane Doan. Maybe even a high pick would get it done. But you're probably looking at a B level prospect just for good measure.

Even with Steve Eminger getting closer and Jeff Woywitka too, I still believe our team could use another defenseman who can log big minutes. Eminger and Woywitka are fillers who Tort uses sparingly. Though at least he trusts Eminger. Adrian Aucoin also plays for the 'Yotes and has miles of experience and durability. He can play any situation and would take pressure off our top four. It might be worth a call to Don Maloney for a cheap price.

Undoubtedly as the deadline draws nearer with the calendar finally February, there will be more rumors and bigger names mentioned. Do they really want to overpay when it's not a given this team can go far? I say fill the holes but don't sacrifice too much. We'll see what happens.

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