by Steven Zeltser
Iím going to have to go against current hype and say the Rangers will miss the playoffs again this year. Alright, before you start getting on me
about being a pessimist let me say that I would like nothing more than to see the Rangers battle thru their current injuries and miraculously
scratch and crawl their way into the playoffs. If they were somehow able to do that, without suffering further injuries, while nursing their
injuries back to full health I believe they would absolutely be set to do some major damage regardless of who their first round opponent ends up
being. I just donít see it happening.
Since the injury to Brendan Shanahan the team has been hit with an onslaught of devastating injuries. First,
Martin Straka suffered a shoulder injury and has since made his return thanks to injection into his shoulder that is allowing him to play.
However, make no mistake; he is not at full strength. Coach Tom Renney may believe that Straka is valuable for gaining the zone on the power
play, but his shot, which has never been spectacular, is less than stellar at the moment. Then, Fedor Tyutin, who has been a steady defensive
and physical presence on the blue line all season, went down with an MCL sprain that will keep him out of the lineup for 2-3 weeks. Next, Marcel
Hossa suffers a similar injury. While early in the season losing Hossa may have been seen as inconsequential, he has emerged as an important
piece of this puzzle we call the Rangers. His solid two-way play all season and his emergence as a solid penalty killer earned him ice time on
the power play as well as top line duty which has all greatly boosted his confidence and resulted in his recent emergence as a goal scorer. Then
to round it all off, the Rangers spark plug Sean Avery is banged up and Mara who has looked good is also hurting due to a bruised shoulder.
In an attempt to retool the Rangers have called up Brandon Dubinsky and David Liffiton from the Wolfpack. If
Dubinsky dresses he will be making his NHL debut against the teamís biggest rival. Dubinsky is a promising young player, but itís unlikely that
he will be able to make any real impact. David Liffiton is unlikely to start unless Paul Mara is unable to go. If he does dress, he would be
playing in just his second NHL game, his first of the season and along with Thomas Pock and Daniel Girardi be one of three rookie defenseman.
When looking at these injures together with the task at hand it still looks very unlikely this team will be able
to continue winning at the rate necessary to gain a playoff birth. They face the Islander for the 2nd game of their home and home Thursday night
and the schedule doesnít get easier. They face the talent laden Penguins Saturday then the Hurricanes who are also in the hunt for the last
playoff seed. That is three games in 4 nights for a team that is obviously hurting. If they somehow make it out of the weekend still in
contention, they face Ottawa, Atlanta and Boston next week, none of which will be an easy game considering they are all either jockeying for
position or trying to slip into the last playoff spot as well. Beyond that the schedule is relentless down the stretch.
Another big obstacle they would have to overcome is somehow holding off six other teams that have as realistic a
shot at the last two playoffs spots as the Rangers do. Starting with the Islander and the Maple Leafs the Rangers also have to contend with the
Bruins, Habs, Canes and the Panthers, who have been hot posting a 6-2-2 record in their last 10 games.
What does this all mean? Well it means that Rangers fans will yet again be teased with a late resurgence and then
an inevitable collapse. It will give the current management another reason to garner sympathy from fans and ownership. Actually it seems like
nothing changes around here. Last season it was fatigue due to a long season that included half the team participating in the winter Olympics.
This year much of the same, injuries will become the scapegoat for a failed season and another season to maintain the status quo.