Ladies and gentlemen of Ranger Nation, we dodged a potentially fatal blow last night, and it is time to start sweating bullets. If not for the suddenly competent Atlanta Thrashers, the Rangers would have started their Saturday looking at the playoff picture from the outside-in. But the Thrash defeated the Florida Panthers by a 3-1 score to keep our beloved Rags in 8th place. Today, a potential first-round matchup against the Boston Bruins, fresh off of signing Tim Thomas to a 4-year contract extension worth $20-million. This is gut-check time!
Looking ahead at the final four games of the season, things certainly won't be easy for New York. Starting with the Bruins tilt this afternoon (1PM-ET), the Rags then host the Montreal Canadiens, who boast a bi-polar offence. The season ends with a home-and-home series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Conversely, the Florida Panthers (who are most likely to knock the Rangers out of the playoffs, if anyone does, as they sit two points behind the Boys In Blue), have Pittsburgh, Philly, Atlanta and Washington remaining on their dance card. I must say, I like their odds, as depressing as that might be for me.
With an outside chance, and a game in hand, the Buffalo Sabres (4 points behind the Rags) finish off their season with games against New Jersey, Detroit, Toronto, Carolina and Boston. If all things were equal, I'd say the Sabres are an extreme long shot, but the way New Jersey and Detroit have been playing lately, I've got to think they still have a shot, especially since there's a good chance the Bruins will be resting people by the time they play Buffalo. Carolina is the eternal wild-card…
So, with the chase on, what do the Rangers need to do to ensure they stay alive beyond the rapidly approaching horizon of the regular season? It's quite simple really: They need to play better. Many of you are probably thinking “easier said than done” to my suggestion, but when you boil things down to nails and brass tacks, it really is that simple.
First of all, the defence has been exposed many times in recent games, as they continue to adapt to John Tortorella's aggressive system that often costs the Rangers odd-man rushes against. This is problematic, as the core group of defencemen on the Rags is not particularly strong defensively. We lack shut-down guys. Asking them to change their style of play is not something they can do by flipping a switch. Torts seems to be aware of it, as in the last game I watched (against Pittsburgh and their high-powered offence), he told his blueliners that on any given rush, when the puck gets turned over or there is a battle along the boards, they were to back up out of the zone and make for the New York blueline. This worked for most of the game, but again, the lack of a true shutdown pairing ended up costing them the game, despite the improved positioning.
Secondly, it is time for the big guns (read: big contracts) to step up and prove their worth. This offensive lineup can't continue to rely on Ryan Callahan playing over his head. Simply put, guys like Zherdev, Naslund, Gomez, and Drury need to start finding the back of the net more regularly and more often. One positive sign along these lines is that Scotty Gomez has really been going to the net with authority. The problem is that he isn't a natural goal-scorer, but rather a playmaker, so he is having trouble finishing his chances (of which there have been plenty). I'd like to see Zherdev playing with that much determination, but the enigmatic uber-talent is hit-and-miss. Maybe that's a sign of youth…
Thirdly, we need to simplify the powerplay. While the PP units are absolutely amazing at passing the puck around in the attacking zone, they don't seem to get much possession because they attempt to carry the puck in rather than using the dump-and-chase. Clearly this is by design, as the first powerplay unit isn't particularly good at forechecking, but maybe putting Callahan out there could change that, as he's as gritty as they come. Dump it in, go get it, and then set up point shots with traffic in front (why else did we pick up big Nik Antropov if not for that screening presence?)…
Finally, and I know it sounds cliche, the Rangers need “King” Henrik Lundqvist to steal them a game or two. There is no doubt he is still one of the elite goalies in the game, but with a shoddy defence in front of him, aside from the PK, he faces a lot of quality scoring chances each game, and lately he's had problems shutting them down. We saw him carry the team into the playoffs last year, and there's no reason to suggest he isn't capable of doing it again. However, it might be getting a little late in the season for him to start turning things on. It would be nice to see him steal one against Boston this afternoon, as simply a sign that he's on top of his game…
- Michal Roszival, who has missed the past 5 games, is expected to play against Boston.
- Boston's Phil Kessel skated with the fourth line in practice, but isn't expected to play today.
- Shawn Thornton will also miss today's game, but has been practicing.
- The Rangers have only one win in their last 4 games.
- Boston has won their past 5 games.
That's it for today! Enjoy the game! GO RANGERS!
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!