Wednesday, December 9, 2009

We face Chicago tonight – but Who Are We?

We're 29 games into John Tortorella's first full season as the Ranger's coach. And where are we? 14 wins. And 14 losses. And an OT loss. So far we’ve pretty much moved sideways. And sideways is not good enough to make the playoffs.

So this is a team in crisis. A team looking to find its soul. Or how about a victory?

We usually open the preview by asking Who The Hell Are We Playing - but first I have to ask:

Who The Hell Are We? I mean - are we a big scoring team where Gaborik leads the league in goals and even our defensemen chip in for goals? Well, in a way yes, our goals are up this year but the last few games we've had trouble scoring. And if your name isn't Gaborik - you're not scoring goals. So, no, we're not a high powered offense right now.

Are we a team built on Goaltending and defense? Uh, not lately. Our goals per game against are way way up - over 3 goals a game. Our defenders are too busy shooting to protect the net. And Hank is not playing like an elite goalie. In fact, lately he seems to be yielding a soft goal at a critical juncture most nights and has had more 4 goal games in the last few weeks than I can ever remember him having.

Are we a tough team? Not with Brashear out of the lineup.

The truth is - I don't know who we are anymore. Lately we can't score or defend. And that's not good.

So it is with a certain degree of trepidation that I view our upcoming contest (Editor - Dave Pucks means that the next game scares him)

Who the Hell are we playing? For the first time this season we are facing the Chicago Blackhawks, an Original Six team in the Western Division. They are third seeded overall in the West at 18-7-3. They are a powerful combination of team scoring and team defense.

Primary Skaters: Unlike some teams we know – the Chicago scoring is spread out among players and lines. They have 4 right wingers with 7 goals or more. Kris Versteeg and Patrick Kane have 9 goals, Dustin Byfuglien (great name) has 8, and Troy Brouwer has 7. (We don’t even have two players with 7 or more goals!). Center Patrick Sharp has 8 goals as well. And Center Jon Toews has a plus-minus of +12

In Net: Cristobal Huet, in 22 games has a goals against average of 2.24 and a save percentage of .906. Very good numbers. If we don’t see Huet, we’ll see Antti Niemi who in 7 games has BETTER numbers. His goals against average is 1.71 and his save percentage is .931. Why can’t we get a backup like that?

Scoring & Defense: Wow. The Blackhawks score 3.04 goals a game and let up 2.29. We are only scoring 2.86 a game and we allow 3.03 per contest. They’re just better than we are.

Special Effects: We’re worse both ways. Our PowerPlay is 12th best in the league at 20.4%. But Chicago is 10th best at just 21.4%. On the Penalty Kill, Chi-Town is 4th in the league at 84.5%. We’re 7th best at 83.9%.

Scheduling Conflicts: We’ve been resting up since splitting a pair of games over the weekend. But Chicago has had more rest – sitting around since Saturday night. So no edge here either.

Possible-Probable-Interchangeable Lines- Update: Avery is back on the Top Line and all is right with the world. I'm not sure how the rest of the lines will shake out.

Line 1: AVERY(!) , Gabs and Prospal.

Beyond that I'm not sure. With Prospal taking Center on the top line again - we now have 5 centers with Christensen. Who drops out? Drury will probably center for Callahan. And I don't know the rest. Also - Brashear is skating today - so he may play.

Back At The Line: Wade Redden is skating with the team - so we'll see what happens to the K-man. I think carrying 7 defensemen is a good idea though - especially if Rozy and Wade are two of them.

Fronting the Twine: Former King Henrik has a 2.64 Goals Against average and a .914 save percentage. Not bad but not Hank. He has to play better – but I think we have to rest him to get him to play better. He’s had a few days off and the Blackhawks are not a team you’d throw your rookie out there against to make his first start. So Chad watches again and we live or die with Hank. Sometimes both.

Dave Puck Predicts: This section is getting lame because I stubbornly refuse to pick against my team. So what if Chicago scores better, defends better, goaltends better, penalty-kills better, powerplays better, and has more rest than we do? I’m saying that Hank comes out like a Man Possessed (not like an old van re-possessed) and we wake up and stun the ‘Hawks 3-1.

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