Dmitri Kalinin

Hank and Team Defense Carrying the Team

by Mark Owens

Only three NHL defensemen have a worse plus/minus than Dmitri Kalinin. At -10, Kalinin leads the team in this category. He also seems to bring the worst out of whichever defenseman he is paired with. Aside from Sunday’s team-wide malfunction, is it any surprise that Michal Rozsival‘s play improved immensely once he was reunited with Marc Staal?

Signed to a one-year contract, Glen Sather clearly saw Kalinin as a potential stop-gap for this season until players like Bobby Sanguinetti, Michael Sauer or Corey Potter prove they’re ready to make the jump to the NHL. The Rangers have carried just six defensemen all season, but it may be time to relegate Kalinin to the press box while someone like Potter gets a few games. Sauer is just back from a horrendous knee injury last season, and Sanguinetti hasn’t done very much to distinguish himself at the AHL level so far. Trading a spare forward or two for a defensive upgrade may be required.

The long-term, hefty contract given to Wade Redden looks brutal compared to the slightly larger contracts given to Dan Boyle and Brian Campbell by their new teams. Redden appears slow and his shot from the point is pure beer league. Worse than that, his decision-making has been absolutely horrible. Dale Purinton and Rudy Poeschek didn’t get caught out of position as much as Redden has in just 27 games.

Redden’s half-baked decision/attempt to break up a two-on-two at the blue line in the final minutes of Friday night’s game led directly to that game’s tying goal by David Booth. (It also didn’t help that Colton Orr was on the ice to protect a one-goal lead.) Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Marc Savard may feast on him come late April/early May.

Somehow, Kalinin and Redden have avoided the Garden’s wrath this season, while Rozi has been absolutely vilified.

On the flip side of those negative thoughts, is it any surprise that Paul Mara has played some of the best hockey of his career paired with Staal this season? Staal is an excellent defender who gets better every game (in case you haven’t been reminded of that enough by Joe Micheletti). It’s probably unfair to compare Staal to Chris Pronger or Larry Robinson like some people have; the offense just isn’t there. Kevin Lowe would be a much better comparison.

On offense, Nik Zherdev has carried this team so far. Zherdev forms the first line with whomever he skates with, most recently Brandon Dubinsky and Markus Naslund.

The newly formed second line of Chris DruryScott Gomez and Ryan Callahan hasn’t produced much since Gomez returned to the lineup. So far there’s no reason to believe Callahan has enough offensive talent to play with Drury and Gomez. Callahan is fifth in the NHL in hits and can certainly skate well enough to play with Gomez, but doesn’t seem to make enough good plays with the puck. If this line doesn’t pick it up, Renney needs to try Aaron Voros or even Lauri Korpikoski on this line. Better yet, why not promote P.A. Parenteau and see what he can do. Maybe he can click with Gomez, because nobody else really has so far. The Rangers need more players who can make plays in the offensive zone. Right now, Zherdev and Naslund are all we have.

The current third line of Voros, Korpikoski and Dan Fritsche chipped in with two goals Friday night, with Fritsche bagging his first as a Ranger. Besides scoring the occasional goal, this line needs to prove that they can be counted on to play a sound defensive game by protecting the puck and limiting offensive chances against.

The Rangers are 26th in the NHL in goals per game, 22nd on the power play (again), and only four Rangers have a positive plus/minus rating, which tells me this team is toast without Lundqvist, Zherdev, Staal and strong penalty killing and team defense (not to mention the shootout gimmick). Is that enough to beat Pittsburgh or Boston in the second round of the playoffs?

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