The Rangers Game Log

Monday, April 17, 2006

Wha' Happened?

- Well, it seems to have simply come down to Henrik Lundqvist saving the season. In addition to stopping the puck, it’s up to Lundqvist to revive the power play; to make Martin Straka not pass when he should shoot (on net), and not shoot when he should pass; to get the forechecking game going again; to get Renney to not bench Jed Ortmeyer against the Flyers (we’re 0-2 when he does so); to get Peter Prucha scoring in bunches again; to stop Michael Nylander from taking offensive zone hooking penalties; to get the officials to get their calls right (what a joke, the way they handled the attack on Ryan Hollweg on Saturday).

Of course, by stopping the puck and controlling rebounds, he could actually really help settle down Sandis Ozolinsh, who seems to now be getting blamed for all the defensive woes. And the return of Darius Kasparaitis should help in that regard too.

But how did it come to this anyway? Everything seemed fine if not flawless, really, after the playoff clincher against the Flyers. The subsequent sleepwalk against the Islanders was expected; the fact they could win with such a half-hearted effort was encouraging. There was the OT win in Boston against a team that has now lost 23 out of their last 29 (8 in OT or SO); nothing to write home about for sure, but nothing awful either. The Bruins have at least battled and have now lost consecutive 4-3 decisions to desperate Ottawa, Montreal, and Atlanta squads. The 2-1 loss in New Jersey to the league’s hottest club in a hotly-contested and well-played game was certainly no disgrace; and even the loss to the Islanders, while inexcusable, was explainable and mitigated somewhat by the third period onslaught.

So what has happened? How did things get as bad as they’ve been for the last two games? Individual player meetings and a 20 minute closed-door lashing have had no effect. So really, what is there to lean on now other than the return of King Henrik? The theory goes that everything starts with spectacular goaltending, which the rest of the team feeds off of. Lundqvist will be asked to provide that coming in cold against an Ottawa team who, as luck would have it, needs to win to keep their conference title hopes alive (also needing the Hurricanes to lose). Perhaps it should be a bit reassuring that the Sens, losers of 9 of their last 12, find themselves in actually a worse position than the Rangers, at least in terms of not controlling their own fate. Two quick goals for Buffalo against the Hurricanes, as the now-revived Sabres did to Toronto the other night, could help deflate the Sens, who continue to struggle even with Chara and Redden back in the lineup. In all the weeks (months) that we’ve been staring at this final, ominous-looking game on the schedule, who would have thought that it would turn out to be anything but an unwelcome distraction for the Senators, and a chance to rest their best players. Just our luck…

- With all the talk of the benefits of Lundqvist and Kaspar’s returns, overlooked is the hoped-for return of Martin Rucinsky early in the first round against whoever the hell we’re going to end up playing. He’s been out a lot this year, and the team has mostly done well without him, so perhaps he’s a bit forgotten. But at this time of year, with the intensity up and scoring more difficult, this team in particular can ill afford to have a point-per-game scorer out of the lineup. I think his return could be a big boost; he’ll help the power play, and whether he or Straka moves down to play with Sykora on the second line, it will hopefully relieve some of the pressure on Jagr, which will only be cranked up further starting Friday night.

- And how about those Devs, man! An amazing winning streak indeed, especially considering that pre-streak they were teetering on the edge of elimination, with Brodeur looking almost amateurish at times, and they were facing what seemed to be a treacherous stretch of schedule. But their ten wins have come against Philly (3), Rangers, Ottawa, Buffalo, Carolina, and Montreal (and two against the Pens). Even us Blueshirts fans must give them full credit (and thank them for beating the Flyers).

Three things for those of us who dread seeing another “parade” around the Meadowlands parking lot to consider. 1) Do you really want to go into the playoffs with an 11 game win streak, should they win tomorrow? (Note that Montreal could be playing for their playoff lives if Atlanta wins tonight.) I mean, how long can a team stay hot? 2) Remember that they’ve been a streaky team all year. They won 9 in a row and 10 of 11 in January, only to fall back into the doldrums that had them in such a precarious position before the streak. And 3) Given the state of the Meadowlands parking lot with all the construction, they’d have no place for their little procession anyway.

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