Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Change it up

At some point with your offense struggling, you have to make changes. Part of the reason John Tortorella has succeeded this season was because he's been able to push the right buttons. Even if I haven't always agreed with every decision, more often than not the fiery coach has gotten his team to respond.

Here the Rangers are again facing adversity against a better quality opponent than the first two rounds. Wednesday's Game Five could decide who wins this Battle Of Hudson and advances to play for the Stanley Cup. How Tortorella handles it could impact whether they win or lose. It's still up to the players to perform. Big pieces Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan have been ineffective at even strength. In fact, only Callahan's scored and that was into an open net. At least Richards has helped set up important power play goals, including his clean win that led to Dan Girardi's Game Three decider. And Callahan did have a hand in Chris Kreider's insurance marker over the weekend.

However, the Rangers haven't gotten consistent play against their blood rival, who's had the better of the play five on five by winning the battles in the corners and neutral zone to control the series. The lifeless first periods are getting redundant. It's a recipe for disaster. If they can't summon up the energy to bring it at the start of Game Five with an amped up Garden, perhaps they should throw in the towel. I'm not suggesting our team will give up easily. But this trend can't continue if they want to win the franchise's fifth championship.

It still has a chance to be very special. The Blueshirts look like they need some changes. Tortorella has often changed it up when things aren't working. Look at the success Pete DeBoer had yesterday by splitting up Zach Parise (2 goals, assist) and Ilya Kovalchuk (assist) while inserting Jacob Josefson (9 faceoff wins). I don't think you'll find many Ranger fans who think our top line should stay intact. Gaborik has been forced to the perimeter and Richards and Hagelin aren't doing enough. When right, the trio is an excellent cycling line that creates chances and finishes. But they clearly need a change.

My suggestion is to bump up Kreider, who's size, skill and strength would give Richards and Gaborik more time and space. By flipping Hagelin and Kreider, it might give a boost to our key players. Callahan can play with almost anyone as can Stepan, who also had success with Gaborik earlier this season. With Brian Boyle clearly not 100 percent, it puts more of an emphasis on the top two lines to perform. Boyle also can use help. And I don't mean by sticking stonehands Mike Rupp on it to goon it up. Encouraging is that Brandon Prust will return, giving Tortorella another physical forward he trusts. I still believe Artem Anisimov is miscast on the fourth line. He has nine or 10 points. Not two. Play him.

Ruslan Fedotenko has been one of the club's most consistent workers. He has a wealth of big game experience stemming from two Cups, including '04 when he was a hero under Tortorella in Tampa Bay. Our coach needs to mix and match. Even John Mitchell has been effective in spurts, like that great shift he had to help set up Kreider's third of the series. One thing about Tort. He's never locked in when it comes to lines. Adjusting on the fly is something his players are accustomed to.

Changing it up won't bother them. Especially if Brandon Dubinsky returns.

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