Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rangers Best Lineup Requires Reuniting Prospal-Christensen-Gaborik

In trying to explain the New York Rangers inconsistency and downright struggles to produce offense a divide emerges.  One side argues that the offense issues stem from the fact that the team is constantly changing lines.  The other side says the line changes are necessary since the team has failed to generate offensive results for long stretches.  I believe that the answer is some of both.  There are games where the lines do need to be changed up, but there is also a very large issue in the fact that no lines really get time to play together and develop chemistry.  The amount of injuries the team has had and issues reintegrating injured players into the lineup recently have only added to the issues.
There had to be some expectation of struggles for the players that missed significant time, but part of the reason the problem exists at the moment is that coach John Tortorella has gone away from lines that previously worked.  A large reason for the constant fluctuation in the forward lines has the inability to find a grouping that can get Marian Gaborik going for more than one or two games.  The inclination to get the star going is a good one, but the way it is playing out is not.  The team is breaking up what have been successful lines behind Gaborik in order to try and find his spark.  That might not be necessary now.
With Erik Christensen back in the lineup for the road trip and Chris Drury out, the goal of getting Gaborik going and keeping successful lines together do not have to collide.  Unfortunately, based on the lines from practice yesterday they will.  The projected lineup:


Those lines have Stepan still sacrifice multiple combinations that have worked better together in the past for no necessary reason.  For me there is a much simpler way to make the lines with these forwards that allows for players of similar styles and skill levels to play together in combinations that have worked in the past.  The combinations I would use would be the following:

Vinny Prospal – Erik Christensen – Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky – Artem Anisimov – Ryan Callahan
Wojtek Wolski – Derek Stepan – Mats Zuccarello
Sean Avery – Brian Boyle – Brandon Prust

The top line allows for Gaborik to play with the combination that afforded him the most success last season.  I do not believe Erik Christensen is a top line center, but the utter failure of Gaborik to create chemistry with another combination calls for at least an attempt at what has worked previously.  The line has the potential to spark Gaborik, help Prospal and bring consistency and value out of Christensen, while most importantly in my mind, allowing other lines to stay how they work best.

By putting that group together it does not change the combination of Dubinsky, Anisimov and Callahan, which if they can find the form they had when they were carrying the team early in the season would be tremendous.  What the move also allows is the reuniting of Wolski, Stepan and Zuccarello.  This line was the Rangers best in January and the only line that consistently generated offense as the skill level of these three works very well in combination.  There is a level of chemistry there that none of the three have really found with other players for extended periods. 

Finally, you are left with a “fourth line” of Avery, Boyle and Prust.  If calling that unit the fourth line does not display the potential depth of the Rangers roster, nothing will.  All three of these players have similar styles in they are good on the forecheck, solid with puck possession and can play a grinding style.  Avery’s passing skill could mesh very well with Boyle’s new found goal scoring ability and they would bring tremendous energy to the team.

The combination of these four lines gives the Rangers better balance throughout the lineup, a history of success within in each unit and the ability to roll four lines consistently.