Sunday, February 6, 2011

Impudent Gomez and Impotent Offense Doom Blueshirts | MON 2 NYR 0

When the post-mortem of this season is written and the Rangers do not find themselves among the 8 teams in the playoffs or in 8th place ready to get swept by the Flyers, they will look back on games like yesterday's as the reason why.

In fact, they can look at pretty much every game since the All-Star break as a reason why epitomized by the Rangers' again being unable to score early in games, falling behind heading into the 3rd period, mounting a frantic rally in the 3rd period and falling one goal short.

This perilous recipe for success has not worked its early season magic recently. Throw in the fact that the Blueshirts are 0-for-3 against Montreal (so far), 0-for 3 against the Flyers (so far), 0-for-2 at home to Carolina and you can count up points left behind on the table.

Instead, the Rangers were shut out by Montreal, 2-0, in a matinee before the usual packed house at the Chambre du Horrors known as the Bell Centre. The recap is here. The team's losing streak is now 4.

Proving once again that goaltending is the least of the team's problems, Mary Biron was saddled with the loss despite showing an excellent glove hand, being a 3rd defenseman with his adept puck-handling and zone-clearing passes, and making some outstanding saves. Unfortunately, Carey Price bested him by playing well but helped by plenty of blocked shots, one too many passes by Ranger forwards and overall hesitation by the team in trying to finish plays.

Bodies Everywhere. Despite only 6 penalties
called in the game, there was plenty of hitting.

Let's also not forget the incredible ineptitude of the Rangers' power play -- the one that had 4 straight chances in the second period and came up with one lone shot on goal during those 8 minutes of a man advantage.

It was during this stretch that the game was lost. The Rangers simply had trouble keeping the puck in the zone at times. At other times, 3 Rangers would cycle endlessly behind the net enabling the Canadien defenders o collapse in front of the goal.

No Rangers were in front of the net and the Rangers did nothing to stretch the defense by getting the puck to the net. When the Rangers actually succeeded in doing that, Del Zotto had the lone shot on net during the 3rd power play. What became noticeable was the fact that because the Rangers created no momentum during the power plays, Canadien players did not seem to exert any energy. In fact, after each power lay was concluded, the Canadiens burst into the Rangers' zone to attack as if they had been resting.

It was, of course, not surprising, when after the 4th power play failed with 2:04 left in the 2nd period, within 40 seconds, Montreal scored the game winning goal. That play showed sharp passing along the blue line first by Yannick Weber at the right point who sent a sharp pass over to the left point to Alexandre Picard that got the Ranger players moving out of position.

Picard shot the puck that went wide to Biron's right where it caromed off the board to the left side of he goal where an unchecked Gomez calmly collected it and went up high over Biron's left glove. Whether it was a deliberate pass or an errant shot, the passing at the point opened up space that enabled Gomez to exploit the opening. This was exactly the kind of passing and chaos the Rangers could not create during their power plays.

Gomez collects the puck from Picard's shot as Biron scrambles from the right post to cover the left.

Gomez roofs the puck (puck is to the left of the "G" on his uniform); Biron had no chance . . . .

and can only watch the puck as it starts to tall into the corner of the net. Game over.

Picking up a recent theme, the Rangers came out flying in the 3rd period and held a huge territorial advantage and scorched Carey Price with 19 shots. Montreal had 6. Price was skilled and lucky enough to withstand the onslaught.

Why the Rangers have fallen into the habit of raising their offense in the 3rd period instad of earlier is a mystery. Perhaps they are in fact a better conditioned team. But the tactic, such as it is, is not working because the Rangers come into the 3rd periods of many games trailing or tied and that adds pressure to score an equalizing or winning goal while keeping the other team off the scoreboard.

It has not worked in the last 4 games -- the Rangers outshot Florida 11-1 (and outscored the Panthers 2-1 but that one shot allowed was the Florida game-winner), Pittsburgh 11-3 (no goals and a shootout loss), Devils 15-2 (no goals and a regulation loss) and Montreal 19-6 (no goals and a regulation loss). 56 shots yielding 2 goals and 1 point in the standings.

Dark Days Coming? 10 games ago, the Rangers were tied with the Capitals at 55 points for 5th in the conference and led Montreal by 4. Things have changed now thanks to their recent 3-6-1 streak including an abysmal 3 game (and pointless) home losing streak (Florida, Pitt and NJ).

The teams ahead of the Rangers in the conference are putting some serious distance between them and the Blueshirts. Over the past 10 games, the Canadiens have outgained the Rangers by 7 points and lead them by 3, the Caps - 4 points, the Pens and Flyers - 9 points each, Tampa - 7 points.

That is a lot of territory to try to make up as the number of games dwindle. Carolina beat the struggling Thrashers to replace Atlanta as the number 8 seed and are within hailing distance of the Rangers.

Where there was talk during the All-Star break that the Rangers could make a run at a top 4 conference slot, that dream may be disappearing as quickly as Marian Gaboirk's ability to score in consecutive games.

The Rangers are off to Detroit for a Monday evening game on Versus at the Joe. Fortunately, the Red Wings have been inconsistent recently with their own 4-5-1 stretch. If there's any consolation, anyone notice that the Black Hawks are 11th in the conference.

---The Graying Mantis

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