2003-11-14 / Sports

Blueshirt Babblings: A Metro Hockey Update

Hockey Columnist
By Andrei Petrovitch
Blueshirt Babblings: A Metro Hockey Update By Andrei Petrovitch Hockey Columnist

Edmonton Oilers winger Ryan Smyth raises his stick next to New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch (L) after winger Raffi Torres (14) scored past Rangers goalie M ike Dunham and center Mark Mes­sier (11) in a Oilers 5-4 victory. (Reuters/Ray Stubble­bine).Edmonton Oilers winger Ryan Smyth raises his stick next to New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch (L) after winger Raffi Torres (14) scored past Rangers goalie M ike Dunham and center Mark Mes­sier (11) in a Oilers 5-4 victory. (Reuters/Ray Stubble­bine).

It’s nearly a quarter of the way into the season, and the roller coaster ride has already begun. After dazzling fans and observers alike with tough, smart, defensive hockey, the New York Rangers have, with remarkable speed, managed to revert to their passive, disorganized, freewheeling ways. The results have been predictable: three straight loses as of press time, including a 5-4 loss against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night (the "highlight" of which being the astonishing ease at which the Oilers were able to score four unanswered goals after being down 3-1).

While some losses have been close overtime affairs, the terrifying reality is that the Rangers of the previous week have looked no better than the previous editions that have failed to make the playoffs for an absurd SIX years in a row. The same mistakes – failure to scramble for loose pucks, a reluctance to shoot on the power play, inadequate coverage in the defensive zone, among many others – are slowly creeping back into the Ranger playbook.

Can the tide be reversed? Yes…but only if the team follows these simple suggestions:

1) Play the kids: Rookie Dominic Moore and young forward Jamie Lundmark were scheduled to play on the wings of center Eric Lindros for Wednesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is a good move on Coach/General Manager Glen Sather’s part, as the rugged Lindros works best with speedy, creative wingers. What’s not good, however, is Sather’s bizarre reluctance to cut Mark Messier’s ice time. At 43-years old, Messier can’t be counted on to have the stamina and strength necessary to help the Rangers prevent their nightly third-period breakdowns.

2) If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it: Puck-rusher Tom Poti played very well with stay-at-home defender Greg Devries as his blueline partner. Yet, when Brian Leetch returned, Sather saw fit to split up the Poti-Devries tandem, placing the former with Leetch. Why? Leetch functions best with a defenseman who…well, plays defense. Meanwhile, Anson Carter had started to show good chemistry with Bobby Holik as his center, but Sather somehow saw fit to break up that duo as well. Although Holik has been able to elevate his game, Carter has been unable to establish some much needed offensive consistency. Slats, if you’re reading this (you do read the Wave, don’t you?), put everyone back in their proper place. NOW.

3) Stay away from Jagr: Face it – another superstar won’t fix this. Star winger Jaromir Jagr, currently employed by the cellar-dwelling Washington Capitals, would only prove to be another overpaid headache. The offensive problems the Rangers have stem from a team-wide inability to forecheck effectively, crash the enemy crease, and shoot the puck through traffic. The team also loses a ridiculous number of one-on-one battles in the corners, resulting in needless turnovers and blown opportunities. It is up to Sather to correct these issues with proper coaching, not roster upheaval. Throwing another offensively-minded big name into this mess will only create instability, and complicate Sather’s plan of turning the Rangers into a strong two-way team.

Coming next week: A leaner, cheaper Islander team? According to General Manager Mike Milbury, that’s the goal. We’ll tell you who’s gonna stay…and who’s gonna go.

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