Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fight Back!

There are two Ranger players whose game-to-game presence and absence I have been following with great interest this year.

One of them is of course our offensive superstar Marian Gaborik.

And the other? Less obviously - is Donald Brashear, the 37 year old behemoth better known for his punch ability than for his puck skills.

Why my interest in the violent head-hunting Brashear? Because - like it or not - I am starting to realize what he brings to this hockey team when he's in the line up - and what we're missing when he's not.

By now you've probably heard that Calgary's Glencross was suspended (just) 3 games for a vicious blindsided illegal hit to the side of the head of Ranger Captain Chris Drury. Drury didn't have the puck - was nowhere near either goal and had no reason to expect to get hit. But Glencross went after him with intent to injure.

It took a few minutes for Drury to gather himself and slowly skate to the locker room. And after that - there was no Ranger who tried to retaliate for this attack on their captain. The Refs were silent and the league didn't do anything for three days.

I don't understand why there's a place in the NHL for Glencross' actions. But - ironically - this is a play Donald Brashear does understand. Because last year in the playoffs he did something fairly similar to former Ranger Blair Betts - removing Betts' from the team and nearly removing his head in the process.

Glencross was striking a blow at the heart of the Rangers - trying to intimidate us. It's like a brush-back pitch in baseball. It is designed to make the Rangers think about their safety instead of how to win the game. And, at least to some extent, it worked - just as it worked against us in last year's playoff.

The trouble was - Don Brashear wasn't on the roster Saturday night, he’s been listed as a "healthy scratch" but really - he's been hurt with one of those injuries the Rangers don't like to talk about.

Look - I don't like this part of hockey. Not at all. But I can't ignore it either. If Brashear was out there, I figure Glencross would be looking to see where Brashear was or at least thinking about him. With Brashear in the lineup, Glencross and the other Flames would be trying to avoid becoming a victim instead of looking for one of their own.

Am I just guessing here about Brashear's value? Is he really helping us - or is he just an aging, slow poor-shooting forward with little to add to the mix? Well, like I said - I've been keeping track of how we play with him and with Gabby in and out of the lineup:

With Gaborik playing and Brashear sitting out - the Rangers are a very ordinary 3-3-1. But when Gaborik and Brashear both play – our record improves to an impressive 7-2-0.

Why is that? Because Brashear provides protection to Gaborik. Without it, Gabs has to keep his head on a swivel - looking to avoid cheap shots instead of taking shots on goal.

We've only played 16 games this year - but so far - the numbers tell the story. And so far the story is: when Brashear and Gabs both play – only then - are the Rangers something special.

That's why Sather and Torts got this guy. And like it or not - that's why we need him. Because if the Rangers won't defend their captain - other teams take notice. And until we FIGHT BACK - we're going to see more teams coming after us.

Where We Stand: as of Tuesday morning the Rangers are the 5th seed in the Eastern conference - trailing the (much hated) Devils by 1 and leading the (much hated) Flyers by 2.

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