Ron Low

Quarterly Report

by Jim Samuels

Just over a month into the season and the Rangers have already reached the twenty game mark in this condensed, Olympic year schedule. The season’s first month has brought several surprises and much good fortune for the Blueshirts, who have gone a surprising 12-7-1 in their first twenty matches. General manager Glen Sather who has been at the helm of this floundering franchise for about a year and a half, has all of six players remaining as holdovers from the Neil Smith era, and has emphatically put his stamp on this up and coming bunch. 

This year’s edition has been able to avoid the early season malaise that has plagued the Blueshirts over the past four ill fated seasons. If you break down the Rangers starts over the last four seasons the team’s futility in October has been astounding. They have gone a combined 27-37-16 to start the past four seasons, couple that with the teams marginal talent level and you need not look any further to see why they haven’t been to the post season since Pat Flatley and Dallas Eakins were playing Broadway. 

With the edition of Eric Lindros, the re-emergence of Theo Fleury and the outstanding goaltending of Mike Richter the Rangers have forged their way back to respectability and to the top of the Atlantic division. Much maligned head coach Ron Low has done a commendable job coaching some team defense out of a roster of offensive minded players. At the twenty game mark last season the Blueshirts had given up a whopping 63 goals, this years more defensively responsible bunch has given up an alarming 57 goals but just fifteen over the last seven games. It seems as if this stubborn freelancing bunch is finally buying into a more conservative, third-man high approach, maybe someone has looked across the Hudson and realized that defense wins come playoff time. 

Twenty games does not a season make but at the quarter mark we look at some individual performances:

BRYAN BERARD- Grade “C” Started slowly but has made steady improvement, especially in the defensive zone. Still seems tentative jumping into the play at times and has been losing too many one on one battles, defensive gaffe’s have been fewer and further between as season has gone on. Should contribute more offensively as season goes on.

DAN BLACKBURN- Grade “B” Rookie netminder has gone 3-3 in six starts, always in control and seems to thrive under pressure, recorded first win in Montreal over the Canadiens. Earned spot on team with stellar training camp, most recent game was 29 save effort in 4-2 win at Buffalo.

ZDENO CIGER- Grade “D-” Veteran free agent signee has been a disappointment thus far. Has played solely on the perimeter and has not been able to finish what few chances he’s been able to generate. Has gone 3-6-9 and is a -3 in first 20 games, was a healthy scratch vs Flyers. Needs to get more involved physically and has to contribute offensively to stay among top nine forwards. Has found his way into Low’s doghouse with lackluster play.

RADEK DVORAK Grade “C+” Speedy winger got off to slow start after torrid finish to last season, has played alongside both Messier and Nedved at times. Tries to make the perfect play rather than just putting the puck on the net, will be one of NHL’s best snipers once he realizes just how good he is. Went 6-7-13 over first twenty games. Rangers are 4-1-0 when Dvorak scores.

THEO FLEURY- Grade “A” – Diminutive winer has bounced back from last seasons personal problems to lead the team in scoring through twenty games. Has played nasty, in your face game night in and night out, has stayed away from undisciplined penalties that have marred his first two seasons on Broadway. Should be a lock for comeback player of the year. Has gone 8-11-19 over first twenty games. Has gone 5-6-11 in his last 6 contests. Rangers are 11-1-0 when he registers a point.

ANDREAS JOHANSSON- Grade “B”- Defensively responsible forward has been a breath of fresh air for Ron Low and his coaching staff. One of the clubs best penalty killers, he’s rarely out of position and has contributed offensively, chipping in with 6 goals over the teams first twenty games. Has been on of GM Glen Sather’s best acquisitions after being picked up off the waiver wire for the $1 dollar transaction fee.

DAVE KARPA- Grade “C”- Was just starting to find his game when a shoulder injury sidelined him for six matches in mid-October, give Blueshirts much needed physical presence on the blueline has averaged 19:00 of icetime a night and has been dependable stay at home type Sather had hoped. Has shown propensity for the unforced giveaway and at times goes out of his way to deliver the big hit, is a +2 through the first twenty games.

TOMAS KLOUCEK- Grade “C”- Has teamed with Dale Purinton to form hard hitting duo. Returned from injury a month ahead of schedule and hasn’t missed a beat. Made impact in his first game knocking Turner Stevenson out of action with a clean open ice hit. Never passes up a chance to finish his check. Should improve with age, was a deal-breaker in the Jaromir Jagr fiasco. Fourth on Rangers in hits with 46.

BRIAN LEETCH- Grade “B+”- Former captain has flourished with added depth on backline which has allowed him to keep his minutes around the 20-22 minute range. Leads all Rangers defensemen with a +15 and has teamed with Vladimir Malakhov to form Blueshirts top defensive pairing. Has gone 5-12-17 over first 20 matches. Norris Trophy ?

ERIC LINDROS- Grade “B+” Had a slow tentative start after 16 months on the shelf. But has been everything Sather said he would since. Centers FLY LINE with Fleury and Mike York, Rangers are an amazing 11-2-1 when he registers a point. Has begun to find the physical aspect of his game since Low began to double shift him and The Big Train’s icetime up to about 25 minutes a night. Has gone 9-9-18 over first 20 and is tied for team lead in +/- with Fleury at +17. Lindros’ health is the key to Rangers season.

VLADIMIR MALAKHOV- Grade”C+” Has come on strong after slow start, maddening unforced errors marred the beginning of the oft-injured defensemen’s season. Has posted a plus or even rating in 15 of his last 16 matches, has combined with Leetch to post a plus-15 rating over past 10 games. Would’ve gotten higher grade if not for single handedly costing Blueshirts a point with careless defensive gaffe in Ottawa. Tends to pass the puck too softly across the middle. His health is a big key to the Rangers season. Has gone 1-5-6 over first 20.

MANNY MALHOTRA- Grade “D”- Saga has continued for 21 year old Malhotra. Cannot seem to earn icetime necessary to build confidence. Hasn’t been willing hitter that he’s been in past seasons, Low must find room for Manny on top three lines, preferably alongside the Captain when Malhotra flourished last season. Played spirited game against Flyers logging 17 minutes of icetime. Needs to produce to stay in the lineup. Could be part of a deal to land scoring winger. Has two assists in 17 matches.

SANDY MCCARTHY- Grade”C-” Sandman hasn’t built on impressive showing last season. Has averaged under 6 minutes of icetime on most nights so must make most of limited use. Has only had two fighting majors and must show more willingness to stand up for teammates. Should get more icetime playing with Steve McKenna and Lindros on newly formed fourth line. Has strong rambunctious game against Nassau Coliseum against the Islanders. Is a team worst -7 over first 20 games.

STEVE MCKENNA- Grade “INC”- Has impressed in 5 games with Blueshirts but must maintain intensity in order to land permanent spot with the big club. Has been a willing fighter racking up 4 fighting majors over his first 5 matches. Chipped in with a goal against Minnesota and came to aid of McCarthy taking on Eric Cairns against the Islanders.

MARK MESSIER- Grade “C”- The Captain has willingly accepted a lesser role and has fit in rather well as the third line pivot. Has had a slew of different linemates playing most recently with Malhotra and Dvorak a line that gives the Rangers a much more balanced attack. Has been quiet in stretches but hasn’t been counted on as heavily as in past years which should benefit the forty-something as the season rolls on. Has gone 3-7-10 in 18 games missing two games with a rib injury. Is a plus-4 thus far.

PETR NEDVED- Grade “C”- The notorious slow starter has fared as well as could be expected after missing two weeks of training camp due to a contract stalemate. Has been playing on a line with Johansson and newcomer Mikael Samuelsson, should benefit from presence of Lindros which will keep him away from the Keith Primeau’s and Bobby Holik’s of the world. Has excelled killing penalties has averaged 16-18 minutes of ice a night. Has gone 4-9-13 in 16 games, missed 4 games with a concussion suffered in a Lafontaine-esque collision with Eric Lindros.

DALE PURINTON- Grade “C+” Dale has developed into a much more dependable defensemen, has been used much more regularly by the coaching staff this season. Took on heavyweight Peter Worrell in game against Panthers after the pugilist took a run at smallish forward Zdeno Ciger. Always finishes his checks and is a great team player.

MIKE RICHTER- Grade “A”- Veteran netminder has amazed coming back from two major knee surgeries in the past two years. Has started 14 games going 9-4-1 over that stretch and is off to the best start of his career. Any talk of Richter getting dealt is pre-mature as the Garden brass are counting on the Blueshirts for some much needed playoff revenue which may not come from the Knicks this season. Will benefit from the occasional day off with backup Blackburn playing as well as he has.

MIKAEL SAMUELSSON- Grade “INC”- Rookie acquired in the draft day deal that saw Adam Graves sent packing has been a pleasant surprise. Plays a physical game and is strong on the forecheck. Has been used to kill penalties and seems to have found a spot on line with Nedved and Johansson.

IGOR ULANOV- Grade “C-” Free agent signee has picked up his game after starting miserably. Seven game suspension for stick infraction against Washington may have been best thing that could’ve happened to the hard hitting Russian. Has played with more confidence but hasn’t been the nasty in your face defensemen we saw for years in Edmonton. Still trying to find his niche on this deep defensive corps. Has recorded three assists in 13 matches, is a plus-4.

MIKE YORK- Grade “A”- Has been the teams most consistent player, does it all, kills penalties, plays the power play, forechecks and has even found the offensive touch that has been missing from his game. Plays on top line with Lindros and Fleury, and seems to have benefited from the move to the wing where he doesn’t have to match up against much bigger opposing centers. Has gone 8-7-15 over first 20 games and is fourth on the team with a plus-15.

RON LOW- Grade “C”- Despite teams fast start, head coach must keep driving defense first approach home. He has gotten this offensively laden team to buy into some semblance of a defensive system but must keep the team from reverting back to their run and gun ways or they’re doomed to meet the same fate the prior four defensively challenged squads have.

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