The events of Act 1 have me very curious as to how Act 2 will turn out on Broadway.
And I’m not the only one.
Larry Brooks, a highly astute hockey writer and correspondent for The Hockey News, sent us this take on the team he sees almost every day:
“One of the most confounding NHL clubs in memory, the New York Rangers, a) completed the first half of their season with a negative goal-differential of minus-four, excluding shootouts; b) were 26th in the NHL with a power play operating at 14.5 percent; c) were in the league’s bottom five in goals-per-game at 2.54 per; d) were on pace to shatter the NHL record of 22 shorthanded goals against, having allowed 12; and e) saw their prize free agent signings of the previous two summers—Wade Redden, Scott Gomez and Chris Drury – all suffer through dismal opening three months. And yet, somehow, the Rangers were 24-14-3 and locked in an intense battle for first place in the Atlantic. Rarely has there been a better example of a whole being greater than the sum of its parts.”
Got all that?
The Rangers stormed out of the gate and took charge of the Atlantic Division early by winning a lot of games on their dense schedule. But since Halloween, they’re essentially a .500 club. Pare down NHL records to a simple won-loss model and you’ll find the Rangers are 14-15 since Nov. 1, after starting 10-3.
The only reason New York is still at the top of the division is because Philadelphia, New Jersey and Pittsburgh have all endured down cycles of their own this year.
December was an especially worrisome month for the Rangers. They gave up eight goals in a loss to New Jersey and blew a 4-0 lead at home to Washington, losing in overtime.
But those aren’t the numbers that would make me most squirmy if I was a Blueshirt booster. The truly troubling line comes courtesy of Henrik Lundqvist. Over his past 14 starts, King Henrik has surrendered two or less goals just four times. Take away a 27-save shutout on Monday night versus the Penguins and Lundqvist is giving up about 4.5 goals per game over his last four starts.
In Lundqvist’s defence, team defense is where coach Tom Renney is laying the blame.
“Early in the year, we were pretty good and we gave him a chance to be stellar,” Renney told the New York Daily News after his team lost its first second-half game of the season 6-3 to Montreal Wednesday night. “But he’s had to make too many big saves for us in the last (several games), with the odd exception. We have to turn the tables on that and keep the chances against to a real workable number for him.”
The good news with that assessment is, maybe Lundqvist isn’t playing so bad after all. The down side is, if the blame is spread amongst an entire team, that means there’s a lot more than just one person who needs to get better.
The Rangers have received a bit of a mixed bag in terms of their return on summer investments. Nikolai Zherdev has gone from enigmatic to in on most of New York’s goals; he leads the team with 36 points. The problem is, that puts him on pace for just 70 points this season and if that is the best a Ranger can do, it doesn’t speak well of Gomez, Drury or even Brandon Dubinsky.
Two other newcomers are pretty much following the same path they were on before joining New York last summer. Markus Naslund is tracking a 27-goal season, which is right on par with what his recent production indicated he should get.
Redden, unfortunately, is also playing just like he has in recent seasons leading up to his signing with the Rangers. That is to say, New York could definitely have found a better home for $6.5 million in each of the next five years. If Redden has already slid from elite to good to useful, where’s he going to be in 2012?
Gomez, for his part, has been bothered by groin and ankle injuries and feels confident he can once again crank his play up now that the curtain has fallen on the first half.
“I have to be better,” Gomez told Newsday. “No excuses. Guys have played with worse (injuries).
“It’s kind of lame, but I’ve always been a second-half player, so in my mind I’ve gotta create, get it and go.”
He’ll need some company for there to be any kind of Act 3 on Broadway this year.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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