by Cliff Auld
I cannot help but wonder if the Rangers 3-1 West Coast road trip will be regarded as a turning point, or just another good streak amongst the peaks and valleys of the long NHL season, but either way the timing was perfect for the Rangers.
With trade rumors swirling and the Rangers game in shambles, they headed west. A poor trip would surely have sent panic through the Garden faithful and would have necessitated some sort of minor shakeup. Instead, they return with a 3-1 record including back to back wins over two of the NHL’s elite the Ducks and Sharks on the back end which sets up what should be a fun game Sunday night at the Garden against the high flying Sabres. Can the Rangers keep it going? Only time will tell, but the team is starting to take shape. Some recent developments from the road trip include:
• Fedor Tyutin and Aaron Ward have emerged as the Rangers #1 defensive pairing. Ward has been excellent all year and Tyutin after a shaky start.
• Kevin Weekes may see increased playing time. Weeks won the last two games on the trip and coaches don’t like to mess with winning. Henrik Lundqvist has been mediocre at best. He’s had a difficult time making the “big” save, and hasn’t been able to steal any points this season as he did so often last year. It will be very interesting to see who starts on Sunday against Buffalo. Last season Renney went out of his way to play Lundqvist at home whenever possible, but this not been the same Henrik Lundqvist thus far. It’s obviously Henry’s job long term, but I would expect Renney to play the hot hand for the short term.
• The Rangers have two lines that can score. I don’t know that Renney has figured out the best combinations yet, but there is certainly more firepower up front than 05-06. Obviously, it starts with Brendan Shanahan who leads the NHL in goals, but Matt Cullen and Adam Hall provide some additional scoring touch they did not have last season.. The Rangers are averaging over 3.6 goals per game thru 13 games. Only 7 of their 47 goals have been scored by Jagr and Prucha. This balance bodes well for success down the road. It is extremely difficult to win in the playoffs without two lines that can score.
• There is still a distinct need for a point man on the power play….Sandis Ozolinsh, Martin Straka, and Michael Roszival are hardly three names that would roll off your tongue when thinking of the league’s premiere point men. This may be a need that does not get filled until the trade deadline, but a defenseman with a hard shot and good decision making ability to man the power play has to top the list of needs. Teams will back down and collapse their “box” more and more in an attempt to blanket Jagr, Nylander, and Shanahan unless someone can be give us a point shot that will keep them honest.
• Why is Nigel Dawes here if he is not going to play? Rumors continue to swirl that the Rangers are looking to deal a forward for a defensemen in part to open up some ice time for Dawes. Until that happens though, send him to Hartford and let him play. It is OK to have a journeyman as one of your spare forwards such as Colton Orr, but to have a young player with scoring touch like Dawes sitting or only playing 6-8 minutes a night does not make sense. It reminds me of the John Muckler days with Manny Malhotra sitting night after night as a 19 year old, and who wants to be reminded of those days?
Malkin, Crosby, Fleury. The Penguins are probably a year away, but there is not a troika of better young players in the league on one team.
Poor Wayne Gretzky…Even with the injuries the Coyotes have had, I am not sure where they thought they were going to get the offense from. Phoenix may have the inside track to the No I pick in the draft.
Trent Yawney (Hawks) or Gerard Gallant (Blue Jackets)…flip a coin to see who gets fired first. The Jackets seem to have a bit more talent with Nash, Zherdev, etc. and the Hawks have had some decimating injuries so my money would be on Gallant.
I have heard and read in a couple of places that Mats Sundin may be on the market soon. It is hard to imagine the Leafs parting with him, but in the new world NHL with a salary cap, a team like the Leafs needs to get some young talent for him if they don’t feel they can win now. I am sure there would be 8-10 teams in the market if he were made available. Look for teams who are legitimate contenders and have cap room to be in front of the line.