Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Liberties Continue to be Taken | A Time for Assessment

Due to cap issues and movie commitments,
these guys are not available to bolster the Rangers' lineup.
If I had a book of recent Ranger memories that tick me off, the first page would be a picture from last spring’s Game 6 against the Caps when Blair Betts lay on the ice, face down on Garden ice on a Sunday afternoon, his and his team's season and Ranger career over after being blindsided by Donald Brashear. His teammates demonstrated no resolve, no Braveheart style cheering or any kind of emotion, and most of all took no retribution for a fallen teammate whose contributions they and fans had sorely underrated.

The inside of the book would be the pictures of the numerous times opposing players have moved into Henrik’s crease like swarms of rampaging Huns and no one,
including the goalie himself, clearing out the riff-raff. These close encounters have led to some comical looking pileups, usually featuring Ranger players tangled with their goalie, but the only outcome fans can see is the potential for a season-ending injury to their best player.

The final page would be a picture from Saturday night of Chris Drury laying face down after a hit by Curtis Glencross of Calgary in front of apparently no one because no referee saw it, no Ranger players saw it and certainly the recipient never saw it. Again, although the Rangers played one of their better complete games, there was no fire and no retribution. Two concussions sandwiching liberties taken with one of the best goalies in the league. Not a collection of memories that the Garden will be marketing anytime soon but this behavior epitomizes what the Ranger franchise has been about for 40 years or so with little interruption.

A little tutorial may help the Rangers.
Since my youth (going back to the Nixon administration), the Rangers have always been characterized as overpaid and soft. Have things really not changed for so long? Yes, there have been years when Nick Fotiu, Jeff Beukeboom and Colton Orr and some others patrolled the ice effectively but why is it that one of my signature memories still is Dale Rolfe getting killed by Dave Schultz of the Flyers during the 1974 playoffs and no Ranger ever coming to his aid? The Red Sox have eliminated the image of Buckner misplay in 1986 but the lack of physicality of the Rangers endures. Is there something in the MSG water?

The players do not match their coach's fire.

I have no answers for the past and am not so sure I know about the present team. One would think that a team run by the feisty, tempestuous, opposing fan inciting head coach, would take on some of his personality. The return of Sean Avery and the addition of Brashear surely would give the Rangers that sandpaper edge that has been sorely lacking. And such "protection" is especially desirable this season thanks to the signing of elite scoring machine Marian Gaborik whose absence for a couple of games this season already has demonstrated he is the difference between a 200 goal team and a 240 goal team. So, what's going on here?

Could it be that Tortorella has the team on such a short leash that physicality is not on the menu, that perhaps he intimidates the players from meting out some justice on the ice? All the emphasis on pushing the puck into the opponents' end is all well and good but how about reminding other teams that there will be a price to pay if they get a little too close to the goal? Sean Avery, unless he is injured, has not been a presence – he has not annoyed opposing players and frankly, I rarely notice him anymore on whatever line he may be on. Has Torts effectively neutered him after benching him during Game 5 against the Caps last spring?

Sometimes, a message to opponents must be
delivered loud and clear.

The Rangers again are at the top of the league in PK efficiency, they have a great goalie, they are scoring much more than recent years so they can take the risk of being a little more aggressive to send the message that they will not be abused. But, the defensemen do little; Brashear has been exposed to be a coward only interested in orchestrating his bouts. Apparently the chance to cheap shot someone to the back of the head (i.e., Betts) has not come up again. Then again, if his wrists were not so exhausted from counting his undeserved earnings, perhaps he would actually be on the ice to contribute to the team instead of being a "healthy scratch". Perhaps the bottom line is that the Rangers are just a bunch of nice players.

Because nice does not get it done in the NHL.
The NHL has evolved the past couple of seasons as speed is being blended with heft – some Western teams are beefy and scary. Look at Anaheim, San Jose and Calgary who the Rangers played recently. (Edmonton is an exception and the Rangers match up well against the timid, checking-adverse Oilers.)

The Rangers do not hit, they do not finish their checks and most of all exert no physical presence in a game. The East’s elite -- the Penguins, Flyers, Caps – throw their bodies around with abandon. Finesse teams will not succeed in the playoffs because they will get worn down -- all you have to do is recall how the Pens dispatched the Flyers in 6, the Caps in 7, swept the finesse team from Carolina in the conference finals and had enough energy left to overtake Detroit after spotting them the first 2 games in the Stanley Cup Finals.

After Game 4 against the Caps, the Rangers had been worn down by the Caps’ relentless efforts and scored 3 goals over the final 3 games. Does any Ranger fan really think the Rangers can prevail in a best of 7 against Philly, Pittsburgh or Washington? Maybe they can steal one series like they nearly did last year but anymore than that would be a surprise.

Perhaps Torts is looking over his shoulder at Mike Keenan squirreled away in an MSG broadcast booth and Messier patrolling MSG like an underfed pit bull recently released from one of Michael Vick’s cages.
Maybe he figures that he is an interim caretaker at best and wins will delay an inevitable firing by the GM. My advice to Torts – get your players to grow a pair and defend the ice, the goal and their goalie and their teammates.

Lying in wait. . . . Perhaps Sather, Messier & Keenan are
biding their time to embark on some sort of master plan,
but the Coach and players have a job to do, regardless.

Finally, about the Captain – a team typically takes its personality from the coach or the captain. We already see the Rangers do not follow Torts’ personality. Ranger players love Chris Drury and always talk about how he leads by example. He is not a fiery leader like Crosby or Ovechkin. He’s a solid player, yes grossly overpaid, but he does what he can to lead the team and we can remember that Friday night game last year in Chicago when he led the team to a stirring victory.

Unfortunately, he does not produce the results like Derek Jeter (the most famous captain in New York sports this decade), but let’s face it, Jeter is a once in a lifetime player here in New York. No other New York team has had a captain like Jeter since Messier, who as you may recall, was an import complete with an established pedigree. The question now is who will fill the void -- likely it will be Vinne Prospal who fortuitously already earned his "A" before Drury's injury.

The fact that no Ranger took umbrage over Drury’s hit (Phaneuf would have been a nice target for a run) or flattened an opposing player here and there near or inside the crease to protect Lundqvist is simply shocking. Turning the other cheek works well to avoid penalties but at a certain point a message is being sent to fans and opposing teams. And the message is not a good one and I won’t suggest the words that come to every fan’s mind.

Henrik's sister is right --
it's time to get a little meaner.
During last night's subscriber forum, Lundqvist even admitted that his own sister told him to develop an edge and protect himself. One fan recommended that he watch old tapes of Billy Smith. Perhaps the Rangers will return to the ice on Thursday night with a different attitude.

Finally, I was aghast by the vitriol that fans on various message boards spewed at Chris Drury from questioning his manhood (Canadian fans) to celebrating his injury (Ranger fans).

I find it amusing that Barcalounger fans think they are qualified to judge the merits of concussions when the biggest injury they ever have had are getting either a hangnail from popping open a beer can or waist burn from trying to zip up size 40 pants around their 48 inch waists.

The "experts" from the U.S. and north of the border have
"weighed" in on all things Drury on various bulletin boards.
Really, consider the source.

The season is nearly ¼ complete and the hockey gods have bestowed the Rangers with a 4 day break. It is a timely gift because it buys some time for Drury and Dubinsky to start healing. The Rangers are not alone in the injury department – Detroit, Washington and Pittsburgh have been hit particularly hard. If I could stock a team with players on injured reserve, I think I would be leading my fantasy league if I participated.

Atlanta visits MSG tomorrow, presumably without Ilya Kovlachuk, and Henrik will have had a week off to retool. Then the team visits Ottawa for the annual Saturday afternoon match and then returns home to face Washington (likely without Ovechkin) next Tuesday.

--- The Graying Mantis

1 comment:

  1. You know, I wouldn't ever HOPE for someone to get injured, but, after the fact, I kind of hope Drury doesn't come back. I don't think he brings anything to the table anymore...and rarely did. And since no one will take his bloated contract off our hands...


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