National Hockey League
REGULAR SEASON OPENER
NEW YORK RANGERS
Not The Boston Garden
Legends Way, North End
NEW YORK RANGERS:
Four Blueshirt Points Of Interest and Concern (and Worry)
1) - Improve the Power Play - The Rangers, it turns out, were very very good last season - just not great. An overall lack of key scoring hurt. But an abysmal power play killed. In consecutive seasons, Brad Richards and Rick Nash have been brought to New York with the expectation they can help turn the PP unit around and have it become an offensive weapon for a change. Because let us be honest here. The Rangers power play has short circuited ever since Sergei Zubov last manned the point two decades ago.
2) - Give Marty Biron twelve to fifteen starts unless otherwise dictated by necessity; or it adversely affects Henrik's timing; or Marty proves it is a bad idea. With the additional back-to-back games and an overall compressed schedule, he will obviously get his chances. I know giving Biron that many starts seems a bit much. Henrik would still get 33/35 starts. Once the playoffs start, Marty Biron will effectively disappear. However, should something unfortunately befall Henrik Lundqvist, Marty Biron will need to be up to game speed, meaning playoff speed. In a short season scenario, everything moves fast.
3) - Will the real Brad Richards please stand up? See below. But all we need from Brad Richards is to be Brad Richards. Judging by the way he performed in the playoffs, we might get it. Then again.......
4) - Who will fight our battles now that Brandon Prust is gone? Mike Rupp? Brian Boyle? Okay..., then who? ...............(*sigh*)...............? I thought so. With all due respect to our Captain, the Rangers are shy in the pugilist department. For the moment, lets leave Rick Nash out of this one. He is a qualified tough guy. Otherwise, this is highly concerning to me. The Rangers led, or were among the top two (which?) NHL teams in fighting majors last season. Now fear this. Brandon Prust led the Rangers by far, engaging in twenty regular season fights last season. Mike Rupp came in second with thirteen. Stu Bickel..! - exchanged hey-makers twelve times. Good for him. Labelled as a bit soft, the dearly departed Brandon Dubinsky is next on the list with six fights. Then...., Brian Boyle comes in with three. How important is fighting to the Rangers overall game? It depends how many fights they themselves instigated, and how many times they needed to meet the challenge. Was their willingness to drop gloves born of necessity because veteran teams like Philly, Pittsburgh, and others thought they could take their liberties against a very young club? Or was fighting inevitable because of their rabid, and possessed-like grinding style? Go figure...
Finally! It's Time To Drop The Puck And Get Broadway's Big Blue Glacier Moving FORWARD Again.
Is Marian Gaborik The Rangers Version Of Howard Johnson?
The most glaring problem facing the Rangers these past two seasons has been their ability, or inability, to score the big goal, a put-away goal, the Say Goodnight Gracie type goal. More simply, the Rangers just need to score more goals, period. For it is heartbreaking when fifty nine minutes of hard work and effort falls through a crack in the ice due to one very brief or fleeting defensive lapse or misplay. With alarming frequency in last season's playoffs and culminating against the Devils, any deviation from perfection without the puck torpedoed their game. They possessed the puck just fine. They just couldn't find net. Other times, they over-possessed and failed to get off shots.
The Rangers lost their bearing in the neutral zone as well. But teams adept at scoring can many times outscore their mistakes. The Rangers never could. The goals the Blueshirts did score oft times came only after a supreme physical effort - the kind of effort it takes to grind granite into sand. And as fans, we were going to buy into it no matter what. But to their credit, Coach Torts and the team moved forward with the steady movement and power of a glacier as long as they could. Maybe by the time they faced the surging Devils, the long grind of the Rangers style of play just caught up to Team Torts... Or, maybe they just couldn't score. Everything would have been fine, as is, if they could only have mustered a goal or two more.
Mind you, that's at even strength. Because worse yet, when fans would rather fore go a power play just to continue playing at even strength, that's a problem. The power play has been a dilemma; a crisis even; for the Rangers - not an advantage. And that is so unlike many John Tortorella teams of the past.
Rick Nash was imported to address such issues. This is what I said a few posts ago:
...securing a second high profile player in consecutive years (also) brings expectations. So hello Rick Nash. This ain't Columbus chum. Show me. Rick Nash is actually the player the Rangers have been seeking on the wing for decades, or at least since the days Nick Fotiu played. Difference being, Nash is a legit scorer. He is big, and tough like Fotiu was, but a vastly more skilled forward than Fotiu could ever aspire to be. And he's young. He is entering his prime years. Alas, recent years of making mistakes with forwards such as Scott Gomez and Chris Drury seem like ages ago - perchance to dream.
On paper, this acquisition is a home run. However, until they drop the puck to start the season, let us just keep it at that. Because the fact is, the Rangers still have carry-over issues with two of their other recent, and fairly recent high profile acquisitions.
Will the real Brad Richard please stand up? I'm not complaining. This blog gave him a season's grace. And after all, he had big moments in last year's playoffs. But Brad without a doubt struggled during the regular season.....mightily. So much so, Coach Torts had no choice but to demote him to the fourth line for a time. That can not be the case this season. But he only needs to be Brad Richards, not a savior.
With Nash on board, everyone should be carrying a lighter load, and benefiting. But then again, that's what we fans said when the team acquired Marian Gaborik. And we said it again when we acquired Richards. I know many of the real cynical fans, and even some more moderate ones can't help but think, even fleetingly....., here we go again.
Within a four season stretch, the Rangers (ideally speaking) have now acquired their top three scorers. Marian Gaborik was the first. During Marian Gaborik's '07-'08 season with Minnesota, he scored forty two goals. The following season, injury limited him to seventeen games and thirteen goals. He returned healthy for the '09-'10 season, but only he now played for the Rangers. In his first season wearing a Blueshirt, he matched his career high set two seasons ago, by scoring forty two goals. The next season, he managed sixty two games played, but only scored twenty two goals. There was much speculation as to whether he played the season injured. At the end of the season, he admitted he did. Last year, Marian Gaborik "the sniper" returned. For the third time in the last five alternating seasons, he topped (41) the forty goal mark. He did in fact play through injury again through last season's playoffs. Marian Gaborik is now coming off shoulder surgery, but appears quite ready to get going. But which Marian Gaborik will the Rangers be getting? The forty goal scorer, or, the alternating stinker scheduled to appear this year? In local terms, he is like the Howard Johnson of hockey.