by Jess Rubenstein
Given how so many of the Ranger players pointed to Eric Lindros as the key to the Ranger’s season one has to wonder how losing him for 2-4 weeks is going to impact on the team’s playoff hopes. As it is I for one didn’t think it was right or fair for his teammates to point to Lindros and proclaim him as the on-ice leader. I felt then as I do now that Lindros could have a great season but it would not guarantee that the rest of the team would be a winner. Some of my associates have gone so far as to view those proclamations as an early bird rush to make Lindros the scapegoat if the team doesn’t do well.
I tend to agree with that view since it is my belief that one of the biggest problems the Rangers have had in recent years is the expectation that the other guy will get the job done. As seen by the playoff runs by the Devils, Ducks and Wild, it isn’t the most talented team that will usually win but rather the team that plays the best as a team that does. It is a lesson that the Rangers have failed to learn and use during these past 6 seasons without playoffs.
So what now given that the word on Lindros is he is expected to be out for 2-4 weeks with sternoclavicular sprain in his left chest? Who is supposed to become the on-ice leader of the team while Lindros recovers from his injury? Is it going to be Kovalev, Holik, and Nedved or will Messier reclaim his spot as the on-ice leader?
If Lindros is out just two weeks then he will miss five games, that means he will miss games against the Red Wings, Ducks, Canes, Habs and Avs. Even with him in the lineup the Rangers really would be hard pressed to win more than 2 of those games. Without him we have to seriously wonder what is going to happen.
What happens though if he is out the full 4 weeks then? He will miss at the least 12 games and that is a large chunk to be missing for a team already without Brian Leetch in the lineup. The Rangers are going to be very tested during this time and one can say that the best case scenario for the team would be to come out of the next 12 games with no worse than a 500 record.
After 5 games it is still a Ranger team that has more questions than they do answers about their future. It seems that for every one positive you can find about the team there hides two negatives just waiting to show themselves. The Rangers must find ways to rid themselves of so many negative stats that are killing this season before it gets started. These stats are trends for the season and they are for the most part very scary to look at.
If not for Mike Dunham one has to really wonder if the Ranger record would be 0-5. Dunham has been rock solid in net for the Rangers. I didn’t feel what happened in the season opener was all his fault as 3 of the Wild goals were major breakdowns on defense by the Rangers. Take those 3 goals away and Mike Dunham has been giving up about 2 goals a game which is the kind of numbers you want to see from your starter. If you think the loss of Lindros was bad can you imagine what the Ranger season would be like if Dunham went down with an injury?
When you look at where the Rangers are at on the stat sheet you see just how much of an impact Dunham has had. The Rangers aren’t scoring goals period so it is up to Dunham to keep them in the game each night. 8 goals in 5 games are something even the most cynical Ranger fan would not have expected to see. Not one power play goal after 5 games is perhaps even more frightening that the total lack of offense is so now measure the job Dunham has done against the lack of offense and be thankful the Rangers have 4 points when they could have none.
Sure people want to look at the PK and say how great it is doing. Yes it is doing fine as the 5th best in the NHL, a great looking stat when one remembers the previous seasons in which the Rangers were typically at the bottom in that category. Then you look closer at those numbers as it is hard to believe such an overnight turnaround and you get a good idea why those numbers look so good as it has been who the Rangers have been playing and the kind of power play those teams have. The Rangers have had the good luck to have been playing against the 23rd (Thrashers), 26th (Wild), 27th (Panthers) and 29th (Canes) ranked PPs. It makes you wonder if it is the PK or that it is simply playing teams who like the Rangers can’t buy goals on the PP
The only team that has in fact scored Power Play goals on the Rangers has been the Blue Jackets and they have the 9th best Power Play in the NHL. Perhaps we should take these Penalty Kill numbers with a grain of salt for now and see what happens this weekend when the Rangers face the Red Wings who have the 3rd best PP in the NHL. If the PK is for real then let us see them hold the Red Wings to what the Rangers have been averaging on the PK as it is.
Of course the other bad part about having such a decent PK is that it means you are spending quite a bit of time on it. Interesting that the Rangers also happen to be tied for 5th in the NHL for most times shorthanded. The team has been shorthanded close to 7 times a game over the first 5 games, a number that is like holding a loaded weapon at their foot just waiting for it to go off.
More than anything after 5 games Ranger fans are no closer to figuring out what kind of team they really have than they were in the preseason. Sure we have seen some poor play by several of the players, a lack of accountability from Slats and more of the very things that have hurt the team in the past. It is so hard to gauge whether or not this team is going to be a success or will it be another in the long list of failures from the past 6 years. With November coming and the kind of schedule the Ranger have next month I think we will get a very good idea by the end of that month.