RANGERS HIT A LOW POINT; DEVILS ON THE RISE

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

 The Rangers hit a new low on Friday night as they were pummeled by the Devils, 8-5. The Rangers are still a “first-place” team, but that’s a misnomer (see below). The problems for them are far bigger than their position in the standings. This is a team that, defensively and on the power play, has lost its way.

CAN THE RANGERS DECLINE THE PENALTY?

Nothing’s been so maddening this year as the Rangers’ power play. A stunning 0-9 against the Devils, the worse news was that the Rangers gave up two short-handed goals, a very difficult feat. Of course, the Rangers gave up two short-handed goals early in November to lose 2-1 to the Islanders. So this isn’t new. It’s just scary.

    
To give you some context, the Rangers have allowed TEN short-handed goals already this year. According to hockeyreference.com, the league average per team, to date, is THREE. To scare a Ranger fan some more, the league average for the entire 2007-2008 NHL season was EIGHT. This is an epidemic.

    
The Rangers are now in the lower third of the NHL on the power play. While captain and leader Chris Drury was disappointed in the power play and the performance, he said, after the game on MSG, that he and his teammates weren’t “embarrassed.” Well, maybe that’s semantics, but the Rangers play against the Devils certainly was embarrassing.

    
Going minus 2 (stunning) on nine power plays against the Devils, maybe the Rangers can decline the penalty or commit one right after the other team does during the game. Just kidding. I think.

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, BRENDAN SHANAHAN?

Could Brendan Shanahan have been the answer? Well, he certainly wanted to stay and money didn’t seem to be a big issue to him. But the Rangers left him hanging and simply wouldn’t make an offer to a guy who, last year, was an excellent two-way player, was one of the leading Ranger goal scorers (they could use one of those, no?) and was a leader in the clubhouse. While Drury seemed meek, almost apologetic, in his post-game interview, it’s hard to believe that Shanahan would stand for this type of performance.

    
Maybe Mats Sundin is the answer? Apparently he’ll be at the Garden on Saturday for the Carolina game. A huge goal scorer who has the support of fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist, it seems like any quality scorer could help the Rangers now.

WHAT ABOUT THE DEFENSE?

The huge defensive changes that were made (Fedor Tyutin and Marek Malik out, Wayne Redden and Dimitri Kalinin in) haven’t really worked out to date. Kalinin has the worst plus/minus in the NHL for a defensemen and Redden often just seems to wander out of place. At this point, you’d think that the Rangers would give Corey Potter an extended try to, if nothing else, shake up the defensemen who have been with the big club all season.

WHAT ABOUT THE GOALIE?

Well, against the Devils, King Henrik looked like he was standing in front of the hit-the-net-win-the prize shooting gallery. After owning the Devils and the Great Brodeur (13-1-1 in the last 15 games between the teams), he gave up almost as many goals in one game (8) as he gave up to the Devils last year in eight games (9, the shootout doesn’t count in the last regular season game or it would be 10 but you get the point). Another stunning stat.

    
For you old-timers, it might have brought back memories of the late, great Gump Worsley, who faced these kinds of barrages often as a Ranger goalie in the early 1960s before he came to his senses, went to the Montreal Canadiens and became a multiple Stanley Cup winner and a Hall of Famer.

WHO’S REALLY IN FIRST PLACE?

The NHL games-in-hand thing is bizarre, especially this season. The Devils are in fourth place in the NHL Atlantic with 34 points. The Rangers are in first with 40 points. But the Devils have played SIX less games than the Rangers. That’s absurd. In addition, the Flyers, with 36 points, are four points behind the Rangers with FOUR games in hands. Even the Penguins, also with 36 points, have three games in hand.

     
In the land of NHL point inflation, when teams today can combine for three points in a game rather than two (see Kallas Remarks, 12/7/08), you can easily make the case that the Rangers are a third or even fourth place team in their own division. In fact, the Rangers have played more games than EVERY team in the NHL. That’s not a good thing.

HOW DO THE DEVILS DO THIS?

Well, the Devils are the Devils are the Devils. But nobody thought they could do this without the Great Brodeur. But they’ve actually been better (if that’s possible) since he went down with an injury. Believe it or not, back-up goalie Scott Clemmensen has won nine of the last 10 games for the Devils. That’s stunning stuff.

    
And although he wasn’t great tonight (the Rangers teased their fans by coming back from four goals down to tie the game at 5), he hung in there as the Devils pulled away by scoring three more. A strange hockey game, to say the least.

WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE THE RANGERS?

With the acquisitions last year of Drury and Scott Gomez, the Rangers, in the eyes of many (including this writer), became instant Stanley Cup contenders. But they fell short last year and, even though they are a “first-place” team this year, they’ve shown some big holes in their game that will hurt tremendously come playoff time. The season is young, but the warning bells are ringing. We’ll see.

 

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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