Marc Staal 2

Leaving Henrik Out to Dry

by Mark Owens

The Rangers are making an annual event out of blowing four-goal leads. Last season’s meltdown in Montreal was brutal, but it was a road game in one of the most intimidating buildings in the NHL. Wednesday night’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Capitals was more troubling. The Rangers hadn’t blown a four-goal lead at home since 1979, when a very strong Flyers’ team erased a four-goal deficit at MSG.

Not counting last week’s 3-1 win against the Ducks (aided by a referee-awarded empty-net goal), the Blueshirts have not won by more than one goal since November 24, a span of 13 games. While their record during that stretch is a respectable 7-5-1, three of the losses were by three or more goals.

On a night the Rangers actually generated some offense, lackluster team defense, bad passing and soft play helped the Rangers snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Sure, Alexander Ovechkin showed why he is the NHL’s best player, with two goals, one assist, and 13 shots on goal. More than his stats, Ovechkin was a beast all night, hunting down every loose puck and daring the Rangers to match his intensity and desire to compete. Besides Marc Staal, they weren’t up to the task.

The Rangers attempted to win this game without getting dirty or paying the price. As usual, they got too conservative after building a lead. They were too passive and delivered more stick checks than body checks (see Chris Drury‘s effort on goals three and five by the Caps). Ryan CallahanBrandon DubinskyDan Girardi and Staal are the only Rangers who can be counted on to physically compete on a regular basis.

On Wednesday night, two of the goals that beat Henrik were deflections, two were breakaways and the overtime winner was an uncontested slap shot from inside the left faceoff circle. In other words, Henrik was not to blame at all for this loss.

Nigel Dawes made one of the worst passes you’ll ever see. Passing the puck back into the defensive zone as he crossed the blue line ‘ with Ovechkin on the ice, no less ‘ was just stupid. Drury fumbled the in-the-skates pass and Ovechkin deftly gloved the puck and stormed Henrik in one motion, tying the score and deflating the Rangers.

Lundqvist needs more help. He has to be tired of carrying this team on his back. He practically begged Glen Sather to sign Mats Sundin. The addition of Sundin would have given the Rangers a legitimate number one center and improved the power play (how could it not?). At 6’5, 231 pounds, Sundin is hard to defend and would have created space for finesse players like Markus Naslund and Nikolai Zherdev.

At 37 last season, Sundin ranked as the NHL’s 20th leading scorer and tied for second among the league’s top 20 scorers in winning face-offs. He was also +17 despite playing on the NHL’s fourth-worst defensive team.

Glen Sather needs to add at least one high-impact player before the March trade deadline, or the Rangers face another first or second-round playoff exit. With 7 of the NHL’s top 10 scorers, there’s just too much talent in the Eastern Conference for the Rangers as currently constructed to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup.

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