Nigel Dawes

Changes Needed As Mediocrity Settles In

by Mark Owens

Optimistic Ranger fans are probably satisfied with the Rangers’ current second place standing, patiently watching the Rangers tread water, but changes are needed before mediocrity settles in

Need some evidence?

– The Rangers are now 26-10-7 with Avery and 7-8-2 without him since his arrival last February.

-The Rangers’ anemic offense continues to rank at the very bottom of the NHL, with just 2.19 goals per game.

-The Rangers are on target to have just three 20-goal scorers. Not one player is on track for 30 or more goals. At his current pace, leading scorer Scott Gomez will finish with less than 70 total points. Jaromir Jagr is currently the 79th leading scorer in the NHL, and has just one point in his past five games.

Petr PruchaMarcel HossaRyan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky have combined for just seven goals despite playing on the top-three lines. Prucha is on pace for six goals, Hossa recently scored his first goal since February and Dubinsky, while showing decent chemistry with Jagr, is on target for a 20-point season. Why exactly is Nigel Dawes in Hartford?

-The Rangers, as a team, are now plus one. They have scored 71 goals and yielded 70. That statistic, more than any other, spells mediocrity.

-The players’ plus/minus ratings get more unsightly by the game. Colton Orr is now -10; Ryan Hollweg, -7; Dan Girardi, -6; Jagr, -4. The plus-minus leader is the much-maligned Marcel Hossa, at +7. The plus-minus statistic is often criticized, but it is elementary: you need to outscore your opponent to win.

Let’s face it, Henrik Lundqvist and the team’s third-ranked penalty-killing squad have earned the Rangers a winning record. If you’re waiting for the team’s offense – or power play (now ranked 23rd) – to win a game and bail out Hank and the defense, you might be waiting a long time. The Rangers put up some goals against the Caps, but on a night that the King was below his usual excellence.

Besides a rejuvenated Jagr, what will it take for the Rangers offense to become somewhat respectable? Avery’s return will once again help spark the team and his line with Gomez and Shanahan, but those players are already the only offensive players playing near their potential.

Here are some things that might help, or are at least worth trying:

1) Give Chris Drury a prolonged stretch playing with Jagr and Martin Straka.
2) Promote Dawes (or Greg Moore) to play with Dubinsky and Prucha; let Callahan (one goal in 15 games) find his game in Hartford.
3) Replace Hollweg with Hossa on line four (when Avery returns).
4) Make a trade ‘ to create roster spots for Dawes and/or Moore, and possibly to add an impact player.

Besides a winger with some size (Moore) and scoring punch (Dawes and Moore), the Rangers could use an offensive-minded defenseman, such as John-Michael Liles of the Colorado Avalanche. Liles’ salary is just $1.3 million and he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. His 12 points this season would make him the Rangers’ sixth leading scorer.

Until the recent slump, the Rangers had no reason to make radical lineup changes, since the team was playing so well defensively (with Hank covering mistakes) and winning games on a regular basis. That is slowly changing, as witnessed by their lackluster 4-5-2 record in the past 11 games.

Although they’re currently vying for first place, one prolonged slump – as they appear to be drifting into right now – will quickly place them in the Eastern Conference’s bottom half, instead of among the top four teams as they were just several games ago. They may not be able to add an impact player like Avery again, but a trade may wake the team up.

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