2002-02-02 / Sports

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: A Metro Hockey Update

By Andrei Petrovitch

By Andrei Petrovitch

Ranger Defense Is No Longer An Oxymoron

Apparently, Glen Sather and Ron Low read the Wave.

In my last column, I noted that one of the causes of the Ranger's recent losing skid was the stubborn insistence on the part of both the team's management and coaching staff in adhering to an outdated philosophy. Both Sather and Low are proponents of freewheeling, score at all cost offense- a strategy that went out with the Reagan administration.

While the execution of such a battle plan is certainly exciting to watch, the sad fact is that the high scoring shootouts of the 80's and early 90's are now extinct. Gone are the days of NHL teams having multiple 100-point scorers. Gone are the days of charismatic right-wingers such as Bret Hull (now with the Detroit Red Wings) scoring 50 goals in 50 games, or of defensemen (such as retired stars Paul Coffey and Doug Wilson) scoring 30 plus goals a season from the blueline.

Instead, the typical National Hockey League game of the mid 90's and early millennium has de-emphasized offense in favor of stifling defense and brutal physical play. Fearing the prospect of bored fans, the Rangers failed to adhere to the rules of hockey Darwinism and have thus languished as a result, having missed the playoffs for the past four years in a row.

But denial isn't just a river in Egypt; reality, it seems, is finally starting to seep into the Ranger organization. With his team having been outscored by a total of 34-12 in only nine (!) games, Coach Low started implementing a controversial strategy known as the neutral zone trap, in which the defending team clogs the neutral zone by forcing enemy puck carriers towards the boards and out of play.

The results have been impressive. In recent games against the Islanders, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, The Rangers have compiled a very respectable 3-1-0-0 record, with their only loss being a 1-0 defeat against the Lightning on January 28. Ironically, this new commitment to defense has also helped the offense, as evidenced by the 8-4 win over Boston on January 23.

Devils Management to Coach Robinson: Go To Hell!

Can someone explain how Larry Robinson- the man who led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Championship in 2000 and back to the finals in 2001- suddenly became incompetent in the eyes of team management?

This is, after all, the same Larry Robinson who won six Stanley Cup rings as a player with the legendary Montreal Canadiens of the 70's and another as an assistant coach on the Devils' 1995 championship team. He was regarded by many in the league as a skilled tactician, and was reportedly well liked by team captain Scott Stevens.

So what happened? The other players stopped responding, plain and simple. Some, like Jason Arnott, complained of a double standard in regards to team discipline, while others, like veteran Ken Daneyko, whined about their diminishing roles. According to rumors from various media outlets, the team has become divided due to ethnic squabbles and contract disputes. General Manager Lou Lamoriello became fed up with Robinson's increasing inability to unify and motivate the troops and decided to replace him with Kevin Constantine (a reputed taskmaster who wore out his welcomes in his previous coaching jobs with San Jose and Pittsburgh).

Vince Lombardi once said that "the coach gets too much credit when the team wins, and too much blame when it loses," and in the case of this year's Devils team, he's right. While Robinson could have perhaps handled the locker room dissension better, the fact remains that it is management's fault- and not Robinson's that last year's top goal scorer (Alex Mogilny) was not signed to a new deal. It's also not Robinson's fault that management provided him with an aging defense, a depleted farm system, disgruntled stars (Patrick Elias and Bobby Holik), and a string of inferior backup goalies.

It seems as if the one once mighty New Jersey Devils are reverting back to what Wayne Gretzky once called "a Mickey Mouse organization." Stay tuned.

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