In the old days of an 80 game schedule, with no overtime losses, it would seem appropriate to pencil in the Rangers for a 35-35-10 season. On the other hand, that might be a little too generous considering the ease of the Rangers schedule thus far, and the current results.
Last night's utterly dismal performance, again leaves one to wonder what exactly is different about this year's team. Well in a nutshell, not a whole hell of a lot.
Last night, for the second time in as many games, the Rangers let a team walk into the Garden, and own it. Tampa Bay looked bigger, younger, and faster for a reason, they are! The Lightning kept the Rangers in check for the first two periods. It was painfully boring to watch the Rangers, so easily being kept to the outside, much like they had been last year.
The Rangers are trying to be a perimeter team, in a league that will simply not allow that. They are not going to beat NHL goalies from the outside, and they don't seem to have the proper personnel to get to the net on a consistent basis. Five-on-five play continues to be useless. If the Rangers do not get power-plays, they do not score. Last night, not even eight power-play opportunities was enough, with Theo Fleury scoring the only one in the third period. Brian Leetch also scored his first of the season, while Messier added two more assists to his totals. Big Frederick Modin netted his first NHL hat-trick, spoiling Mike Richter's return following off-season knee surgery.
The Rangers are scoring more this year, but then so is the entire NHL. Goal scoring is up quite a bit so far this year, mainly due to the penalties, and the fact that the players are adjusting to the "no hacking" rules. While some people are complaining that the officials are turning the game into a wimp's game, let us be the first to tell you it is the players who are doing it. You would be surprised how easy it is to just keep skating, and run into someone with the puck, rather then just cost next to them and hack at their stick. Lazy NHL players are the reason these rules are in the "no tolerance" mode. You are still allowed to hack at the puck, you just can't hack at the guy's hands. The call last night on Brad Brown for hitting Martin St. Louis, was simply a bad judgment call by the referee. It was a clean hit. The call on Fleury was absolutely just. There is no hacking at all, and the sooner the players get used to it the better. It has no place in the game, that is why God gave hockey players speed, players need to shut up and skate.
Ron Low on the other hand needs to shut up and start doing something. He has not done one thing to shake up this lineup other then some marginal NHL defensman getting ice-time. Low seems to be refusing to shuffle the lines, defensively and offensively. These lines are not getting it done at even strength, as we have been saying since pre-season.
As much as they are solid at times, the Czech line has come to an end. As far back as last year, there was some question if they could get it done if teams keyed on them for a full season. Messier's line was supposed to take the heat off Nedved's line, but that has not happened. Teams are not having any problem containing Messier's line at even strength. Kamensky seems to be getting more ice-time then he knows what to do with, and Adam Graves has dropped off the radar for the most part.
Mike York seemed to have one of his worst games of the year last night, or did he? It is hard to tell, because it seems that his line is in a world of disarray. Fleury still has the cruise control set on cost too often, and Michal Grosek has been relatively ineffective since his arrival.
The Czech line needs to be broken up for a while. There needs to be an element of toughness out there up front. A player that can open space by simpley going to the net. Pavel Brendl might be a perfect player to do just that, with his big body, he loves to go to the net. However, that point is moot, since he was not good enough to make this team according to Glen Sather. The problem is that of the possible candidates to play with Nedved who have size, none have enough speed to step in.
The defense was atrocious again. This pairing of Leetch and Lefebvre has not worked now in two different seasons, why does Low assume it will suddenly work? Johnsson and Brown are both too young to be on the ice together, this is a simple thing that a Peewee coach will tell you. Never pair the two most inexperienced defensman on the team. What idiot would even try this for an extended period of time, especially when you can see it's not working. Not only does Low have the two oldest paired, the two youngest paired, but he also has the two who likely wouldn't make any other NHL roster paired in Bannister and Pilon. Anyone with half a hockey brain would look at these pairings and wonder who thought of them.
For some odd reason, Low seems to think that things are not that bad. Maybe he will change his views when the Rangers actually start playing some playoff contenders night in and night out. So far, the only really good team they have played, embarrassed them with an eight goal shellacking. Next game is Tuesday night verses Philadelphia. Even though the Flyers are struggling, and without basically all of their best players, the Rangers may find it is more then they can handle.
Power-play Conversions: Tam - 1 of 9, Nyr - 1 of 8. Goalies: Tampa Bay, Weekes (34 shots, 32 saves; record: 2-1-0). NY Rangers, Richter (22, 18; record: 0-1-0).