The title might make you think that there's two important things I want to say about tonight's matchup against the suddenly hot Ottawa Senators, but you'd be wrong. It's as literal as it gets. Tonight's game is as close as you can get to a must-win situation without having the math to back it up.
As the Montreal Canadiens continue to struggle (losing 5-2 to the Leafs last night), the Rangers have an opportunity to put some space between them and the dreaded early-April tee time that comes to those teams and players who fail to make the playoffs. Luckily, the Rangers have come alive since the acquisition of Sean Avery, the trade deadline pickups of Nik Antropov and Derek Morris, and of course, the supplanting of former head coach Tom Renney by bench boss John Tortorella.
Yes, the Rangers now enjoy a 4-point cushion on the 9th placed Florida Panthers, and a 3-point margin over Montreal, and all teams have the same number of games played (72). That's what makes tonight even more important for the Rags.
Ottawa is playing their best hockey of the season, having won 4 in a row, and going 8-2 in their last 10. That's better than the Blueshirts, who are 7-3 in their past 10 while winning 3 straight.
Ottawa is actually looking like a team who could totally shock everyone and eke into that 8th position, especially if the teams in front of them continue to struggle (with the notable exception of the Leafs, who have been keeping pace to some extent). Buffalo and Florida have really not been good lately, and of course, everyone knows about the trials of the Habs, who look poised to miss the playoffs on the eve of their centennial.
Here's the statistical breakdown courtesy of TSN.ca:
- NYR are 2-1-0 vs OTT this season
– NYR are 7-3-1 under Tortorella
– OTT is 14-6-3 under Clouston
– NYR have scored four-or-more goals in six of their 11 games under Tortorella, after having done so only six times in the last 37 games that Tom Renney coached
– OTT is 8-1-0 in their last 9 games, scoring 4 or more goals in 6 of those games
– NYR have won 3 straight games, they haven’t won 4 in a row since Oct. 24-30
– NYR are 6-2-0 with Antropov (4G, 4A) and Avery (4G, 2A)
– 3 of Antropov’s goals have been assisted on by Drury
– Drury has 2G, 4A since Antropov joined the NYR, both of his goals have been assisted on by Antropov
– Avery has 2PPG’s this season (both with NYR) which ties his career high (set last season)
– Callahan has 4G, 3A during a 5 game point streak
– Spezza has 5G, 9A during a 9 game point streak, he has 1G, 0A vs NYR this season
– Alfredsson has five goals and 10 assists in Ottawa's last nine games
– Heatley has 4G, 4A during the past 9 games
– NYR are 3-4-1 on Sunday’s this season, including being shutout 3 times
– OTT is 1-2-1 on Sunday’s this season with their lone win coming in Sweden
– 21 of the NYR 38 wins this season have been by 1G
– Elliott is 8-0-0 in March with a 2.37GAA and a .905sv%
– Elliott is 5-0-0 on the road this season, 3.14GAA, .904sv%
– Lundqvist is 6-1-0 in March with a 2.56GAA, .915sv%
– Lundqvist is 2-0-0 vs OTT this season, allowing 1G, 0.48GAA, .984sv%, 1SO
I've highlighted certain stats that I believe are keys for tonight's game, focusing on the changes made on or around the trade deadline. This Rangers team is clearly different from the one that was floundering towards the end of Renney's tenure, especially where scoring is concerned.
So, what are the keys to victory tonight?
1 – The Rangers must play Lundqvist, even against what may be perceived to be a lesser opponent. This Senators team may be on the outside looking in, but realistically, why should the Rangers help them get closer to the improbable finish that has Ottawa fans drooling? Go with the horse that got you here!
2 – Keep balanced scoring. Who would have thought Ryan Callahan would have as many goals this season as Chris Drury, quick, raise your hands?! Well, don't look now, but Callahan has 19, while Drury has 18 and Scotty Gomez has only 15. To put this in perspective, and to underline the problems this team had generating offence under Renney, consider that Nik Zherdev has only 21 goals so far. Our team is led by our trade deadline acquisition, Nik Antropov, who has 25. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it shows the potential for the Rags to get scoring from almost anyone, and sometimes that makes it harder for opposing defences to focus on particular lines or players in terms of shutting them down.
3 – Avery has to keep being Avery, even if his mouth isn't allowed free speech anymore. There were many questions out there about Avery's return to Broadway, and his co-existence with John Tortorella, who publicly blasted the agitator for his comments about his former puck-bunny girlfriends. However, to date it appears as though Avery has had just enough rehab and Torts has just enough of an iron fist to make the combination work. Avery has been nothing short of awesome since his return from Dallas. On almost every shift, he does something, whether it's getting a shot, a hit or drawing a penalty. He isn't without his short-comings, but he's certainly a guy I'm happy to see back in the red-white-and-blue. He needs to keep playing with an edge and driving people crazy. It's kind of funny to watch him nowadays, because it seems he gets under peoples' skin more by not being the pre-behavioural-modification Avery… He simply walks away from people who are looking to goad him into penalties.
4 – Finally, I believe the Rangers need to continue buying in to Tortorella's up-tempo system. The last couple of games I was fortunate enough to watch were the most spirited of the season. It is clear to me that Renney's ideas had simply become outdated, and that he wasn't getting the most out of a relatively talented roster. Sometimes a coaching change is a way for a GM to make himself more safe in his position, but this one appears to have been just what the doctor ordered. Look at the Habs for what a needless coaching change can do… In their case, Boob Gainey decided to fire long-time friend Guy Carbonneau, when clearly that wasn't the problem with the team. They're doing just as bad, or worse, under Gainey's interim reign… In the case of the Rangers, it was a calculated move to bring in a task-master, and light a fire under the Rangers' bench. It has paid off in spades, as the Rangers are still in good shape to finish as high as 4th in the East.
With all that said, here's an image of what the Rangers need to watch out for tonight. For everyone who believes Sean Avery to be a dirty or cheap player, take a look at Jarkko Ruutu.
Step one – Put your stick up against Rozsival's gonadsStep two – Set up an elbow directly to his headStep three – Complain to officials for getting caught. I tell ya, if I'm Rozsival in this picture, I smash his face open with my stick. Ruutu is as much of a garbage hockey player as the NHL has seen in my lifetime, and I remember Claude Lemieux in his prime… It'll be interesting to watch Avery vs. Ruutu develop tonight. Anyway, in closing, my prediction for tonight is a 4-3 Rangers win, possibly in extra time or shootout. Na Zdravi!DR
About the Author
Written by Dan Rakusan
A huge Rangers (NHL), Falcons (NFL), PGA Tour and soccer fan, I have been writing semi-professionally for about 7 years now. I try to impart information with some degree of humour, and always have an opinion. PSB is another feather in my cap, and am really proud of the team assembled here, and look forward to the long-term journey PSB is embarking on in terms of establishing itself as the best sports blogging collective on the net! Look for articles such as 4-Play, Rangers blogs and PGA Tour updates, along with my NFL handicapping service!