The New York Rangers aren’t willing to go down without a fight, as shown by their trip through Florida. First, they beat the defensively inept Tampa Bay Lightning by a 5-0 margin, and then they took their show to Miami, where they downed the perpetually rebuilding Panthers by a 4-1 mark.
Without getting into game specifics, both games were a sign that the Rangers actually can play like a good team when they set their minds to it. However, is this a case of too little too late?
The Rags now sit 2 points behind the Flyers and Bruins, with a game in hand on Philly. At this stage, the home-and-home series against the Black And Orange looms large on the horizon, and could well determine whether it’s time to buy playoff tickets or for the team to book early tee times. But before they get to take on their divisional rivals, they must first face the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. The Flyers take on the Leafs on Tuesday, while the Bruins have Washington tonight, Buffalo on Thursday, Carolina on Saturday and finally Washington again on Sunday.
Looking at the schedules, it is clear that the best chance the Rangers have is against Philly, as they somewhat control their own destiny against their arch rivals. With the Flyers down to Brian Boucher in goal (who I must say has surprised me somewhat by his decent play in games I’ve watched him play), the Rangers will need to muster their best offensive efforts, as the Flyers remain an otherwise dangerous team, even without Jeff Carter. However, focussing strictly on one side of the game could be devastating against a deep attack like the Flyers have.
I am curious if Matt Gilroy will remain a healthy scratch in favour of veteran deadline acquisition Anders Eriksson. Eriksson has looked pretty steady on the point, despite making some glaring mistakes as he gets used to his new teammates’ habits. I’m in favour of keeping him in, as Gilroy has proven unreliable defensively. As I have stated many times, Gilroy might be better suited playing up front, as he does possess great skating and some decent offensive skills. He also played forward until college, meaning the transition might not be that difficult for him to make. Besides, he looked much more comfortable when pinching in the offensive zone than he did when called upon for defensive zone coverage…
Another questionmark is whether or not Ryan Callahan will be available. Cally is one of the few players on this team who gives his all on every shift, and having him in the lineup would help tremendously in terms of keeping the effort level of the team up where it belongs. His offence, usually generated through relentless forechecking, would also be useful.
The one thing I am certain of is that Enver Lisin will continue to sit out as a healthy scratch. The reason for this is the chemistry found by the new “fourth” line of Jody Shelley, Brandon Prust and Artem Anisimov. The SAP line has seen their ice-time increased recently, largely due to their commitment to forechecking. In the game against Tampa, it was a solid hit by Shelley that turned the puck over from Vladimir Mihalik that ended up behind the net on Prust’s stick. With Mihalik more interested in trying to start a fight with Shelley (a bad idea on every level), Prust evaded a check and brought the puck out front, jamming it past Mike Smith to start the scoring. It was a real working man’s goal, which is something the Rangers lacked through most of the season.
Another thing that is nice to see lately is that the offence isn’t squarely on Gaborik’s shoulders. Gabby is still the focal point of the attack, but other players have been stepping up and scoring key goals when Gaborik simply is being covered too well to be effective. Proof of this is that in the Tampa game, 5 different players found the back of the net (Prust, Staal, Prospal, Dubinsky and Voros) with only one assist going to Gaborik. In the Florida game, it was Staal (scoring for the third game in a row), Prust, Drury and finally Gaborik into the empty net. Balanced scoring like this makes it much more difficult for a team to send out their top checkers to shut the Rangers down.
Finally, where would we be if I didn’t mention the stellar play of Henrik Lundqvist? Hank, as we all knew, is the key to any chance the Rangers have of making the playoffs. He has elevated his game of late, and will need to continue to be letter-perfect through the final four games. He seems to have more confidence now that the team is actually giving him a scoring cushion to work with, but that doesn’t mean he can rest on his laurels, as the offence is known to randomly dry up with this team. Simply put, he has to know that it all boils down to him. He’s an all-world goaltender, and needs to play as such.
One thing that appears to be behind this recent surge is that John Tortorella has somewhat relinquished the reins, allowing his players to play a looser style that lends itself better to the motley assortment of players on the team. It was evident that his system was too demanding at times earlier in the season, or that perhaps he simply didn’t have the personnel to properly play his system. By allowing players the chance to make their decisions based on their skillsets, it has created more flow to the games, and given players the opportunity to do what they do best as individuals. This can be seen in Marc Staal’s recent scoring streak, where he’s been allowed to go in on the attack if he sees the right opening.
It’s going to be a nerve-racking, exciting, and possibly disappointing end to the season, but we can safely say that in terms of pure entertainment value, we’re getting our money’s worth.
Until next time,
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!