by Mark Owens
Simply put, Ryan Hollweg and Colton Orr should only be on the ice when the opponent is pushing the Rangers around, or perhaps when playing two games in two days. The illusion that they along with Blair Betts somehow form a checking line capable of dictating tempo and shutting down the opponents’ best players is just that ‘ an illusion. Yes, they had some memorable efforts, such as one early-season game when they held Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, albeit when the dynamic duo were playing their second game in two nights. However, they just don’t have the puck skills or skating ability to garner regular ice time, much less shut down top players in meaningful games.
Renney’s use of the fourth line in Tuesday night’s astonishing collapse was especially questionable. With Colton Orr out sick and Jason Strudwick playing out of position (sorry, he’s not a forward), Renney exposed this line ‘ and his team ‘ in an important, playoff-like atmosphere. Has Strudwick ever played right wing before? Should he be expected to do a respectable job against one of the fastest, highly skilled teams in the league? We now know the answer is no. Renney should have known that and not used this line unless/until the game was well in hand in the third period, especially with three days off until the next game. Instead, the fourth line contributed zero shots on goal and was on ice for two second-period goals that got Montreal back in the game.
With Petr Prucha already sidelined and Marcel Hossa in Hartford on a conditioning assignment, why didn’t Renney have Greg Moore on hand in case another player contracted the flu that already sidelined Marc Staal last weekend? Guess what, Orr got the flu and had to miss the game. Is Strudwick the best the organization can do in the middle of a playoff push? Don’t these games matter?
If Strudwick and Hollweg had any use Tuesday night it would have been to control the punishment handed out by Mike Komisarek and Steve Begin. Why weren’t they ‘ along with Sean Avery, Brendan Shanahan, Paul Mara, and Marek Malik ’ answering the bell instead of (or in addition to) Brandon Dubinsky? If Hollweg can’t make a statement in a game like that the Rangers really have no use for him. Hossa can’t replace him in the lineup soon enough.
Renney may be holding this team back. It’s hard to argue with his defense-first approach given its relative success in his first two seasons. However, regular ice time for the fourth line can only be construed as a ‘play not to lose’ mentality, the equivalent of football’s dreaded ‘prevent’ defense, which usually only serves to prevent the winning team from putting a game away. Is that a wise strategy when you have two of the best offensive players ever and one of the league’s best skaters and playmakers?
Betts, Orr, Hollweg and Strudwick are role players. Betts is a great penalty killer, Orr is a great fighter and Hollweg is a sometimes-effective physical winger. Together, they do NOT form a dependable checking line that is worthy of important minutes. Renney’s effort to develop them as players is commendable, but is starting to look ill-fated in the middle of a playoff push.