Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ozo Back On The Blueline...

Tonight Sandis Ozolinsh returns to the lineup for the New York Rangers when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ozo played poorly in the playoffs last year for the Rangers, after he was obtained from the Anaheim Ducks late in the season.

His deficiencies are quite apparent defensively, but offensively he is definitely very skilled when on his game. An arrest in the offseason and surgery, actually seems to have given Ozo a new lease on life. In reading his comments the last few days, he appears to be more willing to take responsibility for his problems that have taken place on and off the ice the last season or so. The former all-star entered into the NHL's substance abuse program early last year, but was said to have been doing much better after returning to NHL action. That all came before his disastrous end to last season for Ozo and the Rangers.

We'll see what happens. But the Blueshirts' blueline needs a better offensive presence. Ozo might just be the guy.

The Rangers looked good against New Jersey in Monday night's win, but not that great in a loss to Nashville on Wednesday night. I liked the style New York played against the Devs; playing more like old New Jersey teams. That's what I loved about the Rangers last season. They reminded me of the Devils of their glory years. Tight defense, solid penalty killing, and goal scoring by committee, led by Chairman Jaromir Jagr. In addition, a goalie that left no rebounds.

So far in this very young season the Rangers have taken too many penalties and have seemed to be more focused on offense. I don't want to see this team try and play run-and-gun. Tighten things up, skate hard, and draw penalties. Then they can let what may potentially be the best power play in the league to take over. That's what will make this Rangers' team successful.

Brendan Shanahan has been sensational, but I am afraid Coach Tom Renney will burn him out. The whole point to having him on the team is for the playoffs where his leadership and feistiness will be extremely valuable.

Henrik Lundqvist has been a bit inconsistent, but I am not worried.

Michael Nylander always gets off to slow starts, so that does not worry me either.

What I am concerned with is the forwards not backchecking enough and taking lazy penalties. I really hate to hear coaches whine about the refs calling bad penalties. Yes, the Rangers have had some phantom calls go against them. But it's a long season. Also, referees have long memories and if a team gets a reputation as a bunch of whiners, they will lose the benefit of the doubt from the men in zebrastripes.

The Rangers have to get back to being a "blue collar team" like last season when they worked extremely hard on every shift. They do miss Jed Ortmeyer, a future captain, who will be back in January after doctors discovered a heart embolism during the summer. They do miss Dominick Moore who was traded for the hulking Adam Hall.

So that means that Hall has to start using his size in front of the net. Ditto Marcel Hossa. Peter Prucha, benched often in this young season, has got to start playing like he deserves to be in the NHL, despite his diminutive size. Nigel Dawes either has to start using his blazing speed or take a slow bus ride back to Hartford.

It's early yet, but the Rangers seem to be lacking that "eye of the tiger" they had last year.

Tonight, is a good place to start. If this team's gigantic hearts are in deed dormant, perhaps a brutal hipcheck from Darcy Tucker or Michael Peca will awaken these Rangers.

Stay Onsides!

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