Friday, February 27, 2009

The Futility Is Palpable -- FLA 2, NYR 1

Another February game, another loss. Official recap here.

Mercifully, February is coming to an end. Even more mercifully, this is not a leap year so the Rangers schedule will not be extended by another day after Saturday night's contest v. Colorado.

Mirroring the Dow Jones (down 11.7% for the month), the Rangers record has headed south with a 2-6-4 record in February.

You ask, how bad has it been? Let's review. During this dreary month, the Rangers were outscored 40-21 in 12 games and could not average 2 goals per game. They were spanked by conference foes Buffalo and Philly, shutout by Clemenson of the Devils, swept by the Leafs and Florida, and of course humiliated by the Stars. Meanwhile, they lost their head coach. Not exactly a recipe for solidifying a playoff spot.

Want some more? Take a look at the +/- of the Rangers and you'd swear you were looking at scores of Tiger Woods at the local golf course -- seven Rangers having scores of -10 or more. Only Zherdev at +2 and Callahan at 0 are "below par". Meanwhile, the Panthers (Thursday night's competition) have only 8 players with minus scores and have 3 with scores above +13.

This week, the Rangers had immense difficulty solving Vesa "Veszina" Toskala -- in two games against the lowly Leafs, the Rangers had 75 shots and scored 3 goals. A scintillating 4% shooting percentage and lost the games 3-2 and 2-1. Drury has not scored a goal since the Bush administration. It does not matter which one if you are really counting.

Still, coming into Thursday's game, after the energy they expended the night before against Toronto, you would have forgiven them for coming out flat. They fooled us as they came out and dominated the Panthers and brought energy that immediately led to an early goal (at :17) that was called off and then a goal by Markus Naslund on a 3 Ranger party crashing into the net.

With backup Craig Anderson in net, you were hopeful that they might break out. The Panthers were passive and not taking advantage of a team that had played its heart out the night before. Instead of hitting the Rangers early and often, the Panthers laid back. Perhaps, they were waiting for the Rangers to get tired.

If true, that was a risky strategy. Only more than halfway through the game did they start to hit. And then they started to assert themselves. Everyone recognized that one goal would not be enough even though Henrik was stonewalling the Panthers. At the beginning of the 3rd period, the Rangers had the chance to win outright but totally frittered away a critical man and two man advantage that could have extended the lead to 2-0.

The Rangers threw 41 shots (just like Sunday) at Anderson and the result was depressingly familiar -- one Naslund goal and so many close calls that defied belief. (If you're counting, in the past 3 games, the Rangers scored 4 goals on 116 shots, or 3.4% -- the league average is usually around 9-10% so the Rangers should have scored about 6-8 more goals this week.)

Another depressing 3rd period loss.

The list of players missing the net or failing to convert an opportunity is lengthy -- Naslund, Gomez, Dubinsky (several times), Prucha, Mara, Staal - and those names come up without a second's thought. A conversion here or there and the Rangers would have beaten Florida in a romp.

As has been their trait the entire season, the Rangers penalty kill was their strength - what was new was their aggressiveness -- not simply clearing the zone but making numerous rushes into the offensive zone that led to some quality shots while shorthanded. Ultimately, to no avail, but it was fun to watch.

At this time of year, a team's flaws, if not corrected, start to show up at the worst times. The Rangers' primary flaws are these:

(1) The Rangers pitiful power play -- especially glaring during a 5-on-3 advantage at the beginning of the 3rd period. When that ended, a palpable sigh could be heard from the crowd.

(2) Inability to score -- the Rangers simply could not pot numerous shots behind a cover-your-eyes-awful goalie, Craig Anderson. He is the paradigm of it's better to be lucky than good. If anyone can be singled out offensively recently other than the captain, it has to be Dubinsky -- the kid skates hard and never gives up. He had some effective time on the penalty kill unit. Unfortunately, he is totally inept in the offensive zone. How many shots did he miss with open nets the past 2 games? His 2-on-1 breakout was awful as he had no idea when to pass and simply ended up skating behind the net.

(3) Soft goals -- Henrik's predilection to let in a soft goal appeared again as he was beaten cleanly and embarrassingly so by a backhand from David Booth with 8:10 left. At that point, the Rangers were simply trying to hang on before yielding the back-breaking goal to Nathan Horton received a nifty pass from Richard Zednik a minute later for the game-winner.

I don't want to leave on a negative note so how about this -- Tortorella has the right idea and watching the team work so hard is appreciated. Their effort is certainly leading to opportunities and numerous shots. Yet, as noted in prior posts and admitted by Tom Renney after his firing, losing Jagr, Shanahan, Straka and Avery all in one offseason has crippled the offense.



  1. On, c'mon Mantis, "At this time of year, a team's flaws, if not corrected, start to show up at the worst times" ??? These flaws have been there from the start of the season, they just had some better luck around the net back then ...

  2. Scotty --

    Perhaps I was not clear. The early part of the season is when you try to find chemistry, work the kinks out, etc. Sometimes you can get by glossing over some of the inadequacies, but later in the season, these problems have a way of erupting at the worst possible times. Yeah, we know that these problems have been there all season long but the Rangers were doing relatively well despite them.

    Now that we are in the home stretch and other teams have elevated their level of play, the Rangers' flaws are more exposed and more costly.

    As for the net, they have had little luck all season and the level of score-making skill is even more spare.


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