Friday, February 23, 2007

Ooffaaa!!! Seeing New Jersey Red...

First off, the title of my last posting "Little Tommy" was named so because I was delusionally hopeful that it would be turned into a masterpiece - like Tommy - which was on TCM the other night. I'm not sure which awards the film version of the rock opera won, but TCM is getting movie buffs ready for the Academy Awards by airing films from the past that have featured so and so who have won for such and such. I guess sometimes the titles of my postings don't always add up, but then again what does add up? Now that such vital information has been cleared up, let's get to what is really important: the New York Rangers and boy am I bummed out about the last two games!

I might be extremely pessimistic or perhaps I am being realistic. But after only picking up one point out of a possible four from their home and home series with the New Jersey Devils, I think the Blueshirts are done. Yes, mathematically they are still in it and the teams in front of them are not exactly the 1984 Edmonton Oilers. But if you subscribe to the widely held belief that it will take 93 points to make the playoffs, then the Rangers would have to win 15 of their last 21 games which would add up to 94 points. Am I to believe that a team that has been largely mediocre all season is suddenly going to go 15-6?

In many ways the Rangers are better than they have been at any point of this season. Let's start with the goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist has allowed two goals or more only three times in the last 17 games. During that span the New York Rangers have only won seven times. King Henrik has been awesome and the guys in front of him just aren't scoring enough.

The blueline has been much better. But someone explain to me why Aaron Ward continues to play out of position with Karel (sounds like Carl) Rachunek. Ward normally plays on the right side of the blueline. I've heard that it is because Head Coach Tom Renney wants to keep Fedor Tyutin and Dan Girardi together, but I don't buy it. I am not impressed with Ward, and Rachunek continues to commit unforgiving gaffes over and over again. Girardi, however, has been very impressive and has been a 'plus' in all thirteen games he has played except for one.

The Toots/Girardi pairing could be together for a long time. Why Thomas Pock sits out is beyond me. Marek Malik somehow has managed to be a +20, but every time I look up the guy is out of position and letting the opposition's forwards muscle around him. In many ways the Rangers' blueline has a good young core, but I would still like to see them get rid of Ward and/or Rachunek and either play Pock every game or trade for someone to strengthen the defensive corps. Preferably a guy who can move the puck, such as Phoenix's Derek Morris or the Flames' Roman Hamrlik.

By the way, I'm blogging from the Regal Beagle where I'm trying to get over the Blueshirts' woes by drinking endless amounts of warm milk! Now back to this posting...

The dynamics of the forwards has been changed immeasurably since Sean Avery and Pascal Dupuis (pronounced Do Pwee) were acquired. Not having Brendan Shanahan in the lineup obviously hurts. However, Petr Prucha's play has been raised several notches as he continues to show enormous courage by driving to the net against much bigger forwards and some pretty nasty d-men. Matt Cullen seems to be the most inspired he has been since the former Hurricane was signed as an unrestricted free agent last summer. He looks good on the point and has been showing excellent speed. His line - with Dupuis and Jed Ortmeyer - provide a lot of spark to a team that has seemed indifferent during large stretches of the season. Those guys can also kill penalties. Avery has been all over the place and has given the team much needed snarl, and what can you say about Marcel Hossa. Placed on a line with Jaromir Jagr, Marian's brother has undergone an amazing transformation. He's actually using his size and skating ability to drive to the net and create scoring opportunities.

So this brings me to the 'big guy.' Jaromir Jagr stated after the all-star break that he had to step up his game if the Rangers were to make the playoffs. Well, it's not for a lack of trying but the results just aren't there. Yes, the Devils do an incredible job of shutting Jagr down, but the same goes for every team. Jagr constantly has three guys on him. But the issue I have is that too often Jagr stays near the half boards. Last night when he went to the net with the puck he drew three guys to him which enabled a wide-open Petr Prucha to stuff home a goal past Martin Brodeur.

Playing on the perimeter - especially against New Jersey - does little. I don't know if Jagr's shoulder which he had surgically repaired last summer is still pretty bad or if it is a lack of confidence, but Jagr just isn't up to what he was last season. Yes, he has had a good season and is ranked fourth in the NHL with 52 helpers. But by the standards that Jagr has set, it just hasn't been good enough.

Last season, Jagr scored 54 goals; this year he has 21. Last season, Double J scored 24 goals on the power play; this season Mario Jr. (Jaromir's name scrambled) has four with the man-advantage. Last season, the Rangers looked to Jaromir Jagr to carry them to the playoffs; this year Jagr will be looking for someone to carry his golf bag.

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