NEW YORK RANGERS: The 7th and 8th Playoff Spot Is Drawing A Crowd. And Now The DEVILS Decided They Are Going To Matter.
There was the most recent losing streak that tested our mettle. And after every loss during said streak, I wanted to get a little carried away with myself while I was still in the moment and filled with frustration. But because the outcomes lately have been more of the stymied type losses than a lack of effort problem, who could get too crazy about it? So I rode it out; waited and exercised patience (I think) over those games. Then the streak hit six straight losses. The most recent game against the Penguins and going down 2-0 very quickly became something I was bound to erupt over. Then Coach Torts called that early time-out and restored calm and order to the Blueshirt Universe, if for a game.
The Rangers, as you know, composed themselves and won the game scoring five goals there-after. What was more promising than just roaring back, they scored a few times on the Power Play; the weakest aspect of their game. This game against the Penguins also reinforces why we can't turn our backs on them. They work too hard for us not to respect what they've done so far. We know who they are as presently constituted. We are pretty much defined as a team now. What this team lacks is more a matter to be taken up with Glen Sather. But the group of gentlemen we have skating presently are a bunch a fine, hard working guys. We are basically a collection of 2nd and 3rd line players who can not afford to have even a single player take a shift-off mentally or physically, much less whole forward-lines, and even worse, for entire periods.
We are still waiting for Marian Gaborik's stick to ignite, but on the other hand, who envisioned Brian Boyle scoring this many goals for us. So, some of the things we are concerned about in some cases can be washed by another aspect of our game. I'm still doing cartwheels we were able to unload Rozsival, but the truth is Del Zotto's fast-tracked, forced development has been somewhat of a liability to us as well. That situation itself turns out to be a wash also, but when Wojtek Wolski is then considered, the present set up is preferable to the situation prior to the deal. Chris Drury was getting limited time, and the truth is, besides his limited effectiveness, the forward lines were starting to get a little crowded once Callahan, Dubinsky, and Prospal began returning from injury. So with his injury and the injury to Frolov, there-in are two more situations that washed themselves out. Ruslan Fedotenko is a very solid and useful player. But he doesn't stick out amongst the crowd and therefore, we can afford to be without him for now. But it will ultimately be nice to get him back.
There's no denying the losing streak coincided with returning players like Prospal and a continued decline in Drury's game. That's why I was so against disrupting what the new infusion of kids worked so hard to achieve through a-lot of youthful spirit and gumption; and that meant keeping the Rangers a very viable, and competitive playoff contenting team. The call-ups along with Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle are as big a reason as any for the success we achieved right up until we lost six in a row. But in that streak, we saw a dip in Boyle's and Prust's minutes and more erratic handling of Sean Avery didn't we? So, I'm not about to start shaking the pom-poms yet. Knowing who we are works both ways. That win against the Penguins came against a team minus Sid The Slew and Malkin, and additionally coming on the heals of Pittsburgh's brawl with the Islanders, which no doubt took a toll on the team and also resulted in suspensions.
But I remind...again; We all knew we'd be in a toe-to-toe fight for the 8th or 7th playoff spot when we started prognosticating back in October. Knowing that, and coming back against PITT the way we did, should be a reminder to us, that the ride towards April is going to be a bumpy, rough and tumble trip into warmer weather time.
The six game losing streak was our worst in quite a few years. The losses haven't proved to be malignant yet, but they went a long way towards decreasing our buoyancy in the playoffs standings. We were once in 6th place. Carolina went from being a distant 10th (even 11th at one point) to being right up our behinds with 60 points against our 62 points, as we sit in 7th place and they in 8th. Now that Carolina has fit themselves inside the Bracket of Eight, I don't think they're leaving. The next team on the outside looking in is Atlanta with 60 points and they will not be going away however falling out of the top eight just recently. Buffalo has risen like the Phoenix from their early October and November ashes to regroup and come on strong. Over the years, Buffalo's teams are authors of some of the most stampede-like late season surges, and some of the most intense first round play-off series I've ever watched. They just took a 10-round shoot-out victory over Montreal and gained their 60th point tonight (Tues.). They have four wins in their last five games.
Then, the New Jersey Devils, under Jacques LeMaire are now currently the hottest team in hockey and are coming on furiously. They now have 48 points and sit a distant 13th in the Eastern standings. But you do the math. That is the most precarious and dangerously flimsy 12 point difference (between NYR and NJD) in all of hockey. If the Atlanta Thrashers, Buffalo Sabres or worst case, the Devils, gain a playoff spot come April, it will surely and pathetically come at out expense. The suddenly re-dedicated Devils are currently causing all kinds of Hell on Ice. Under Jacques LeMaire their horns and pointed tails have become rededicated to the art of winning games again. If you take into account how abysmal their goal scoring was to start the season; so bad in fact it got John MacLean fired...; the fact they have surged to the tune of 120 goals scored now is a remarkable feat from where they were. They've always had the weapons. Coach Lemaire has his team well adjusted now.
This battle for a playoff spot is going is going to be played-out in old fashioned trenches.. Teams will be dug-in and the front lines for 7th and 8th place will face-off within 30 to 100 yards of heavily mined, open fields between each other. He who gains two feet forward in a day is a huge winner. Us, Buffalo, Carolina, Atlanta, and eventually the Devils will fight for two points of supremacy on a given night between now and April.
The trade-deadline is still looming. Philadelphia made a reinforcement trade. And it seems more and more the Maple Leafs could be sellers. There's players there the Rangers can use that just might agree with our Cap situation. The growing question is what will, or what can Glen Sather do. And the bigger question is where are the Rangers priorities right now? Do they side with continued development of the young players and not being disruptive with them; letting them play and grow together? Or do they make a move for this season and give away a kid or two in exchange for what I hope won't be another Sather disaster. Simply, we need a forward who can score goals, and a defenseman who can protect the ice in front of Henrik and lay the down the smack'th. But are you from the Torts' school of thought when he says we're building for the future? Or, are you wanting Glen Sather to go out and do something, anything, because that's what he does, and what we're accustomed to when it comes to Sather.
I know what I want. I just don't want to say it out loud.
All I know is we better button-up our chinstraps and bear-down. We're in for a hell of a fight in trying to hold on to what we have.