Martin Straka

Alternative Power Sources

by Mike Aker

The Rangers recent three-game slide can be attributed as much to their one-dimensional power play as to tired legs playing seven games in ten nights.

While the Blueshirts is ranked in the top ten in power play conversions, their production will continue to decrease if teams take notes from both Buffalo and the Islanders.  Both teams used aggressive penalty killers to limit the predictable Rangers passes. Had a timely power play goal been scored in either of the two previous games, the results would have awarded the Rangers a guaranteed trip to OT, and at least a point, as seen in last Wednesday’s Garden match-up against the Islanders.

The most obvious problem is too much reliance on Jaromir Jagr, who despite being one of the NHL’s elite players, cannot realistically be expected to continue to produce at a rate of a goal per game. Having him stay in the right face-off circle waiting to get open costs valuable time and allows defenders to position accordingly.

Another obvious problem is at point. The players in this position are supposed to quarterback the power play and create smart passes to open men or rifle a hard shot to the goal in hope of a Ranger obtaining a juicy rebound. Has Martin Straka even taken a shot from the point this year? Michal Rozsival seems to be a decent passer, but his lack of shooting does not warrant him to be on the first unit. Tom Poti’s weak wrist shots don’t offer much of a challenge for goaltenders and aren’t hard enough to create rebounds. Poti has used a heavy shot in the past, yet for whatever reason seems reluctant to use it ten games into the 2005-06 campaign.

The best options for the point begin with Fedor Tyutin, who has occasionally struggled this season, but leads Rangers defensemen in points and is not afraid to shoot.  He has already contributed to Dominic Moore’s first NHL goal against the Canadiens, and Petr Prucha’s tally against the Islanders last Wednesday.

Another option would be Maxim Kondratiev, who has a very hard shot and showed in preseason that he can handle playing the point, and WILL shoot if no one is open. Although he is young and relatively inexperienced compared to other Rangers defensemen, why Renney has not used his raw ability on a struggling power play makes little sense.

While Michael Nylander is a playmaking pivot rather, the man possesses a wicked shot as evident by his goal on Atlanta where he had no open man and shot it right past the rookie netminder. With skilled players like Rucinksy, Hossa, Straka, and Prucha in the perimeter, it would be an interesting experiment to try Nylander on the point for a few games.

Does anyone remember the last Ranger to park himself in front of the net and screen the goalie willingly? How many of you remember John Tripp? Since the departure of Adam Graves, there has not been a Ranger who has acted as a natural screen to the opposing goalie and been there for the garbage goals. Prucha has shown he’s not afraid to do it despite being average in size, but his passing is needed. There has to be a big man of 6’3’’ with at least decent hands for this least until either Bruce Graham or Hugh Jessiman are ready.

The obvious choice is team leader Steve Rucchin, who has good enough hands to score 20-something goals. There is no reason why Rucchin shouldn’t be out with the first unit either screening the goalie or cycling behind the net to keep the puck in the zone. That leaves one spot open for the second line. While Ville Nieminen is crazy enough for this assignment, why not take advantage of the biggest man on the team and park 6’5” Marek Malik in front of the net? He is known as a puck moving defenseman so he can pass the puck back to the point and has decent hands.

Thursday’s match-up against the Islanders will place a well-rested Rangers team in better position than the two clubs’ previous contests, but may come down to special teams. It would be a shame to see the game handed to an Islanders club that has dissected a Rangers power play, and which is beginning to resemble a “one-trick pony.” 

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