Saturday, December 5, 2009

Rangers Shuffle (players), Off To (play) Buffalo

Yes - it's a new rock bottom - below the other rock bottoms we thought we had reached. Your heroes are 13-13-1. That is despite a 7-1 start. And despite having a perfect Shoot Out record. And despite having a rookie of the year candidate defenseman. And despite having the league's leading scorer in Marian Gaborik. (Editor: when Dave Pucks says "Despite" he means "even though")

13-13-1 is good enough for 10th place in the East. Out of the playoffs. But it's really worse than that because we've played more games than a few of the teams we're trailing.

If you came in late, here's our season in a nutshell: We came firing out of the gate with good physical conditioning and an aggressive forechecking style and got off to a great 7-1 start. Then teams started adjusting to us. And we started losing. So we backed off the forecheck and played more defense - but no matter what we tried we kept giving up more and more goals and scoring less and less. Lundqvist is in maybe the worst slump of his career - or maybe this is the beginning of a long slide in his effectiveness. He used to be brilliant. This year he's been very good - which is a step down. And lately he's been good, which is terrible. For Lundqvist that is.

Tortorella and Sather won't sit quietly by while the season falls apart. They have been shuffling lines - now they’re shuffling players. In come Erik Christensen and out goes Steve Valiquette.

We played better Monday - but the Penguins are a pretty good hockey club also and we lost our third in a row.

The team needs to draw a line in the ice right now and start winning some hockey games.

But first – the GameNight Preview

Who the Hell are we playing?

It's nice to not play Pittsburgh for once. This time we play Chris Drury's former team - the Bison Blades - or what the NHL calls the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo is 3rd overall in the Eastern Conference with a record of 16-7-2 for 32 points.

Primary Skaters: Not a lot of goal scorers. the Sabres are led by two left wingers: Thomas Vanek and Clarke Macarthur who have 8 goals apiece. And defenseman Henrik Tallinder has an amazing plus-minus of +10

In Net: Ryan Miller has an amazing 1.84 GAA and a .936 save percentage. Wow.

Scoring & Defense: Buffalo has averaged 2.88 goals a game to our 2.96. Small advantage for us. But on defense, while we’re letting up 3.11 goals game the Sabres only allow 2.28. That’s why they’re great and we’re not.

Special Effects: Buffalo is the 19th best team on the PowerPlay (19.5%) while we are 9th best (21.6%). On the Penalty Kill we’re the league’s 6th best (83.9%) and the Sabres are 3rd best (85.2%)

Scheduling Conflicts: We've been off since Monday, emotionally drained but physically rested. The Sabres played and beat Montreal on Thursday. So we'll be the better rested club - for whatever that's worth.

Probable Lines:
Line 1: Like I said yesterday - this breaks my heart. I was thrilled to see Sean Avery on the top line. Sean is the perfect compliment to Gaborik. But according to reports were seeing - Sean is demoted for reasons I cannot begin to fathom (Editor - when Dave Pucks says "fathom" he mean "figure out"). The first line will now feature Anisimov with Gabs and Prospal. Big step up for the rookie center. It gives Prospal a chance to play his more natural wing position.

Sean falls to Line two, joining Callahan and Drury. Kind of like a Last Year’s Rangers Last Stand. Wake up fellas and score.

Line 3 features the haunted Mr. Higgins, the hot off the waver wire Erik Christensen at Center and "bombs away" recently-benched Kotalik. I think Torts hopes this line catches fire and becomes the real Line Two. He just doesn’t want insult Drury by dropping the team Captain below a center he just pulled off the Waiver Wire. Think of these guys as the Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Line 4: Lisin-Boyle-Parenteau/Voros. Brashear's hurt. Undisclosed punching injury. No one told me this - but I think he's got a cracked rib from some nasty body shots he took recently. Opponents have started to figure out it’s a waste of energy to hit Punch-man in the head.

On Defense: Enter the K-man. With Redden still hurting and Bobby Not-So-Ready Sanguinetti sent back to the minor leagues, the Rangers will try Defenseman Ilkka Heikkinen fills in from Hartford as the 6th defender.
Fronting The Twine: It's back to back games this weekend - but I think it's too much to ask Chad Johnson to jump from Hartford to starting in goal for the New York Rangers in two days. On the other hand - tha Sabres don't score much and on the road he won't get booed - so you never know. Hank's had time to rest - so I'm guessing Lundqvist tonight.

Dave Puck Predicts: Well, on the surface we're reeling and they're not. They're a playoff team and we ain't. The Sabres can defend, goaltend, and kill the penalty. They can’t score much – but it’s enough to get by. Do they remind you of somebody? Me too. They look like Tom Renney’s Rangers at their best.

And the Rangers, with scoring and Chris Drury but not enough Defense – are looking a little like the old Sabres. How did this happen?

Can we win? Can Hank bring his "A" game? Does he even still have one?

I don't like to pick against my hockey team. I’m not really feeling this one. But I’m going to say a Shoot Out Win 3-2

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