Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Impact of McCabe Goes Beyond Numbers

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Normally I agree with George Ays of Tracking the Rangers when he says, “Numbers don’t lie, they just don’t agree with you.”  One place where I don’t agree, at least not yet, is in terms of the impact Bryan McCabe has had on the New York Rangers power play.  It has been five games and the stats say the man advantage is still struggling only converting on 3 of 20 (15%) power plays.  The numbers say that the impact has been negligible to this point.  I do not get that same feel in watching the Rangers when they have the advantage since he has been here.

The willingness to shoot the puck and hit the net has created something opponents have not had to account for all season.  He has yet to score with his bombs from the point, but it has created a number of rebound opportunities and beyond that has made other players on the ice more aggressive and that aggression has been utterly lacking for this team all season.  More players are willing to pull the trigger on their own shots, with more space to do so and some are even heading to the front of the net for a change.  All of these things are critical to getting the final reward.

Along with his shot the biggest help to the power play has been his ability to keep the puck in the zone.  For much of the year the Rangers would spend half the power play chasing the puck down to the other end of the ice and starting over because they were unable to hold the line, but McCabe has been a virtual vacuum back there sucking up clearing attempts and continuing possession for the offense.

His understanding and comfort running a power play also shows in how he walks the line at the point to create angles for both his own shot and passing lanes.  These are the types of things that a power play quarterback does and the things that McCabe should be imparting to the rest of the Rangers defense core.  The results are not there yet, but I believe that between the movement, the aggression, the puck possession and the big shot from the point those results will come in short order.

So, do the numbers lie or my eyes?

Could Sean Avery Be A Healthy Scratch In The Near Future?

Al Bello/Getty Images
New York Rangers coach John Tortorella refusing to commit to a lineup the day before a game is nothing new, but does it speak to potential changes in the near future?  The assumption for many was that once Erik Christensen was the healthy scratch on Sunday the Rangers had their forward lineup for the rest of the season.  That is certainly possible, but to this point I am not convinced that is the case.  In fact, I believe he will be back in the lineup pretty soon and a fan favorite, Sean Avery, might be the one who goes out in his place.
The reason given for Christensen taking a seat against Philadelphia was about his toughness against that kind of team, which is certainly a valid criticism of his game.  The interesting lineup questions will come when the Rangers play teams that are not as physical and the team needs to incorporate more skill.  Christensen frustrates like few others because he possesses elite skill that should make him a top six forward, but absolutely no consistency to his play.  On the season he has been disappointing with just 9 goals and 20 points in 50 games, but he does have three goals and three assists in the last five games.  The combination of his recent hot play, his prior chemistry with Marian Gaborik and his shootout abilities down the stretch in a tight playoff race make him an option John Tortorella is likely to go back to.
If Christensen is to go back into the lineup, someone must come out and barring any other injuries the most likely candidate is Sean Avery.  I am not arguing that Avery should come out of the lineup for Christensen, just that it is likely to happen.  Avery has been excellent this year in playing his role and of late has picked up his threat level in terms of scoring goals, but nothing he has done has translated to him getting more minutes.  Only once in the last seven games has Avery even hit the 10 minute mark for ice time in a game. The minutes certainly play a role in his point production, but Avery has only accounted for one goal and three assists in his last 17 games.
In practice the past few days the lines have been consistent:
With those being the lines it only furthers the belief that if Christensen is to come back in the lineup and there are no injuries it would be a clean swap of him and Avery.  The line of Avery, Prospal, Gaborik failed to generate much of anything on Sunday, other than the disallowed goal, so that also factors in when considering where a change would be made as the other three lines are playing well together.  I do not see that happening tonight against a physical team like Anaheim, but it could happen much sooner than many fans would like.
I know a lot of the comments will be against the move, and I appreciate that, but I am more interested in whether you think it will happen, so leave that as well. Thanks.