Banged-up Blueshirts in Search of the Red Light District
Punchless Rangers can't tickle the twine
As a season of high hopes slowly starts to take on the tinge of slight and subtle desperation, the NY Rangers suddenly find themselves short on defensemen and just as short on goal scoring as the season creeps past the 1/3 mark.
And they know they need to find answers quickly.
After yet another shutout loss in Montreal to Carey Price, an otherwise pedestrian net minder who morphs into the Great Wall of China whenever visited by the blue-sweatered New Yorkers, the Rangers have tallied a mere 5 goals over their last 4 games. With injuries mounting on their normally stingy blueline, they've allowed 10 goals over that same 4 game stretch.
Many of the offensive woes of the past were to be eliminated upon the the arrival of #61 Rick Nash. But the explosive 6'4" play maker with a history of bringing out the best in his linemates is stuck somewhere between the Witness Protection Program and the Twilight Zone, not even spotted at practice this week presumably nursing a head injury of sorts. And as Coach John Tortorella assumes the persona of a grouchy Rod Serling cast in the role of Federal Marshall whenever a member of the media has the unmitigated gall to inquire about Nash's status or for that matter even his whereabouts ("none of your business" was among the most cordial of his replies), Ranger faithful fear the worst.
......as Mr. Serling might say between drags of his unfiltered Pall Mall, file this one under "C" for concussion.
Further complicating things is the mysterious and sudden drop-off in Brad Richards' play, who appears to be skating in lumpy oatmeal alongside line mate Marion Gaborik, who has played to a -3 P/M Rating with 1 lonesome goal and one equally lonesome assist over his last 5 games.
Even the ever-reliable Ryan Callahan has been largely unheard from over the last 5 contests, registering 2 points and a -2 rating over that span. Although Callahan provided his usual heart and relentless energy in an OT loss to Ottawa last week, the Ranger Captain has been far too quiet over large patches of this young but rapidly aging season.
Constant line changes, spotty play and having to learn on the fly have plagued young stars-in-waiting Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller while the speedy Carl Hagelin, perhaps most affected by the loss of Nash in the lineup, has hung a bagel in the goal column over his last 3 contests with precious few chances to boot. It would come as no surprise that Derek Stepan's productivity has sloughed off as well.
Ranger Fans looking for help from their Power Play Unit should seriously, and I do mean seriously consider looking elsewhere. Ranked 29th in the League with a puny 11.5% conversion rate, over-passing and a general lack of penetration, playmaking and urgency have severely saddled this unit, much like it did last year and the year before that.
At the defensive end of the frozen sheet, nagging injuries have begun to mount with Michael Del Zotto, Dan Girardi and now Ryan McDonagh all missing games as of late. For a team that relies on defense, goal tending and finding a way to muster a couple of goals, these are crucial losses.
With March right around the corner, the time to step it up is now. Henrik Lunqvist will be asked to lug this team through the doldrums as he has oftentimes been asked to do over his sparkling 7+ year run on Broadway. Aggressive fore-checking that leads to turnovers that leads to goals will be the elixir until the goal scorers score goals. Perhaps Christian Thomas deserves a longer look, as he displayed an ability to create offense and get rubber on the net in his lone opportunity.
Ultimately though the big names will have to be heard from if this team is to be heard from. Carl Hagelin has been a nice story and the younger players could very well develop into All Stars, but a healthy and productive 35 game run from Richards, Gaborik, Stepan, Callahan and Nash is the only way that this Ranger Team will be able to punch their playoff ticket and compete with the Bruins, Devils and Penguins.
Fortunately for the Rangers, defense and goal tending still wins in the NHL. But the red lamp must be occasionally lit if Lord Stanley is to make his long-awaited appearance in Manhattan.