If NBC’s Game of the Week is the current portal in which to shepherd new fans towards the game of hockey, then Gary Bettman ought to fine the New York Rangers for yesterday’s performance against the Philadelphia Flyers. Call it “conduct detrimental to the sport.”
Harsh? Not if you watched the sombre, mopey (lack of) effort put forth by the Blueshirts in a morose 5-2 loss.
The irony is that the Atlantic Division coach who lost his job that day was Pittsburgh’s Michel Therrien.
Not that Manhattan is ignorant of the state of its team. While some are calling for GM Glen Sather’s head instead of coach Tom Renney’s, it’s hard to see what Renney has done to keep his job. Sure, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but the early season success of the Rangers should put to bed the notion this is just a team of misfits; they can win, they’ve just forgotten how.
In fact, one of the first storylines of the 2008-09 campaign was how the Rangers shot out of the gate, riding an unexpected run of offense from the rugged Aaron Voros (nine points in his first eight games, six points since) and the seemingly reborn Nikolai Zherdev (still on pace for a career-best 63 points, but played a season-low 13:18 minutes of ice time vs. Philly and is a minus-five in his past five games).
Renney also has one of the best goaltenders in the world in Henrik Lundqvist and a more than capable leader in captain Chris Drury. But a team once vaunted for its defense has exposed Lundqvist on many nights. ‘Hank’ has given up five or more goals seven times this season, including eight to arch-rival New Jersey, a game in which the Rangers did show some pluck, then reverted back to pond-hockey defense. Drury’s well-known magic has not been translating onto the ice, either. This team looks flat and, frankly, whipped by life.
It is Renney’s job to motivate his troops. Right now, everybody within striking distance of the Rangers, who sit sixth overall in the East, are doing better than them. Pittsburgh, who again have the services of Sergei Gonchar on defense and are likely to get a bump from new coach Dan Bylsma (see Ottawa under Cory Clouston), will also take a run at the Blueshirts, meaning even making the playoffs is no guarantee. Winning a round seems an impossibility.
True, Renney did not sign Wade Redden, nor Dmitri Kalinin. But he is responsible for a team that currently has only two plus players on the roster – Zherdev is plus-2, Marc Staal is plus-1. Artem Anisimov, who played 9:27 in one game, is even. Renney is also responsible for wringing whatever he can out of Drury and Scott Gomez, whose big contracts and drop in play since hitting Broadway ostensibly make them unmovable. Markus Naslund is on pace for less points than he had last season in Vancouver and ask any Canucks fan – that’s kind of remarkable in a backwards way.
The great joke going around the blogosphere right now is that Renney has tried every line combination mathematically possible, as long as Petr Prucha is not involved, but clearly it’s not working. The Rangers look to have given up on Renney and since the days of the coach/GM appear to be dead, the Blueshirts should be looking for two new employees as soon as possible.
New York has lost that loving feeling and now it’s gone, gone, gone. (whoa-oow-whoa-oow-whoa.)
Ryan Kennedy 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 Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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