Sylvain Lefebvre

Week 10 Wrap-up

by Jim Samuels

So, where did you really think the New York Rangers would be after thirty-five games ?. If you think along the same lines that are drawn each week in this column, you probably figured the Rangers would be somewhere in the middle of the pack in the eastern conference. Possibly flirting with the .500 mark, but more likely to be jumbled up in the company of the Buffalos and the Pittsburghs of the world . 

Having played approximately one-third of their schedule, not only have the Blueshirts met or exceeded the most optimistic preseason prognostication offered up on the most pro-Ranger venue, but this group of journeymen and reclamation projects has the Rangers atop the Atlantic division. Perhaps more importantly, they have New York talking hockey again. 

The Rangers quick start hasn’t been all roses though, the team has had it’s share of up’s and down’s. New York had an impressive November going 9-3-1-1 in 14 matches finishing tops in the eastern conference. This however, has been followed up by a five game losing streak early in December that included the Blueshirts third loss of the season to the Washington Capitals and two disappointing losses to Toronto. The Rangers have gone 3-4-0-1 in eight December matches. 

Many of the early season questions that faced this free lancing group have been answered in the affirmative. Eric Lindros has been more than could be expected, his recent injury aside, the Big Train leads the Rangers in scoring and has been a menace to opposing defensemen. Theo Fleury has bounced back from his well documented personal problems to play some of the best hockey of his career, and the diminutive dynamo is second on the team with 36 points. Mike York, the third member of the FLY line, has been the most pleasant surprise of all. The centerman turned winger has posted lofty numbers playing alongside #88 and has likely played himself onto the U.S. Olympic team. York has already eclipsed last year’s output going 14-21-35 over the first thirty-five games, as compared to last season’s 14-17-31 that was compiled in 79 matches. 

Czech-mates Peter Nedved and Radek Dvorak just did not click with the since departed Zdeno Ciger and it’s safe to say that both are hoping that the addition of Matthew Barnaby is just what the doctor ordered. In an attempt to jump-start the slumping countrymen, Head coach Ron Low decided to insert the Barnaby on Nedved’s flank in hopes that the gritty winger will buy his finesse oriented linemates some space. 

Defensemen Sylvain Lefebvre was recalled from Hartford to help a sagging Rangers defensive corps that had given up 25 goals during their recent five game winless streak. Hard hitting Tomas Kloucek has been watching from the pressbox as the hulking defensemen has been scratched twice in the last week. 

The Rangers began the week with a 20 minute effort at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. New York came into the game having lost three straight and hoped to get their longest homestand of the season off on a winning note. But familiar problems plagued the Blueshirts, after a scoreless first period the Hurricanes jumped out to a 2-0 lead on early second period goals by Sami Kapanen and Bates Battaglia. Eric Lindros answered back for the Rangers but Rod Brind’Amour tallied late in the period to give the ‘Canes a 3-1 advantage after two. 

New York would battle back.  Theo Fleury made it 3-2 midway through the third, and Petr Nedved tied it with just over five minutes to go, sending the game to overtime and giving the Rangers a valuable point in the standings. Carolina was awarded a power play in the extra session on an Eric Lindros offensive zone tripping penalty, and they converted. The ageless Ron Francis beat Mike Richter from just inside the blueline with a perfect shot to win it for the ‘Canes 4-3. 

The Blueshirts earned a point on the night, moving them back into sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division with 38 points. Mike York snapped a three game pointless streak, collecting a pair of assists. Radek Dvorak collected two assists and has now notched a point in three of his last four games. Richter was solid in the defeat turning aside 36 of 40 Hurricanes shots. The Rangers were 1 for 4 with the man advantage while killing 3 of 4 Carolina power plays. 

On Wednesday the Rangers entertained the upstart Nashville Predators. In a game that featured little flow and even less excitement early on, New York played to the level of their opponent and allowed an inferior team to play it’s style of hockey on Garden ice. After the teams traded first period goals the Predators were the beneficiary of more atrocious second period defensive play by the Rangers. Mark Eaton broke the 1-1 tie at 2:25 of the second, then Andy Delmore tallied his team leading 12th goal on the power play to put the Pred’s up two. Eric Lindros tallied his second of the game and 18th of the season to cut the lead to one after two periods. 

But after losing Lindros late in the second period to a knee injury, the Rangers came out flat in the third and weren’t able to mount much offense against the trapping Predators. Even a two man advantage couldn’t generate any quality chances as the Blueshirts enjoyed 52 seconds with two extra skaters and didn’t even get set up in the offensive zone. Journeyman Tom Fitzgerald added an empty netter to ice the game for Nashville. 

The loss to the Predators extended to Rangers winless streak to five (0-4-0-1). Eric Lindros netted his 17th and 18th goals but suffered a knee injury late in the second and did not return. Nashville, who entered the game scoreless on the power play over their past 10 games, tallied twice with the man advantage. In their 34th game the FLY line has eclipsed the 100-point mark since being united during the first week of the season. 

Buffalo was up next on the docket, as the Rangers entertained the Sabres in a rare Saturday night Garden match. The Blueshirts were playing for the first time this season without Eric Lindros, as their offensive leader sat out with a sprained knee. The Rangers were badly in need of a gritty effort without #88, and they got it. Mike York opened the scoring with a pretty stuff-shot from the left post to put New York in front. Theo Fleury then tallied his 13th of the season to stretch the lead to two as the Rangers seemed to play with more confidence and intensity on the heels of their five game winless streak. 

Captain Mark Messier then recorded his 1800th point with a late second period goal to put the Rangers up 3-0 after two. But Buffalo would battle back in the third, after Slava Kozlov got the Sabres on the board, newly acquired Matthew Barnaby, playing in his first game as a Ranger, was whistled for a major boarding penalty. Maxim Afinogenov would cut the lead to one but New York would kill the remainder of the power play and hold on as Jeff Toms iced the game with an empty netter and the Rangers held on for a much needed streak-stopping 4-2 victory. 

New York is 11-6-0-1 in 18 Garden matches. Blueshirt goaltending has combined to stop 130 of 140 Buffalo shots this season. Mike York led all Rangers in scoring in season series vs Buffalo going 4-2-6 in four matches. Mike Richter turned aside 33 of 35 Sabres shots. 

UP NEXT: The Rangers continue their homestand as the face Mike Keenan and the Florida Panthers on Monday night and then face the Devils on Wednesday and the Islanders on Friday. The Blueshirts close out the week with a matinee against Ottawa on Sunday. 

OUTLOOK: OK, Let me make one thing perfectly clear, the time has come to play Manny Malhotra. This team, badly in need of size and toughness has got to see what this kid can bring to the table. And when we say play him we don’t mean the obligatory shift once or twice a period between penalty killing stints. Let him play some quality minutes, let him stand in front to help an anemic power play try to create some second and third chances that have been few and far between this season with the extra skater. The former first round pick has got to be given his last best chance to succeed before being dealt for a song. 

Defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre played well in his return to New York and should add to the Rangers already deep blueline corps. Tomas Kloucek may be a victim of the numbers game as he is the only defensemen currently with the big club that does not have to pass through waivers to be sent to Hartford.

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