Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wolski, Drury Wildcards For Rangers During Postseason

To win in the playoffs you need your stars to play to their capabilities, but you also need a few unsuspecting players to step their game up and bring more than might be expected of them.  For the Rangers heading into their series against the Washington Capitals Wojtek Wolski and Chris Drury are two wild cards that would greatly improve the chances of victory with strong play.
Wolski started strong for the Rangers and then tailed off to point of being a healthy scratch, but he played a critical role in each of the team’s final two victories during the regular season.  The skill has never been the question for Wolski, rather the effort and impact he has on the ice.  Wolski can be a top line talent and since being put with Derek Stepan and Vinny Prospal he has shown more of that talent.  Against the Bruins he played excellent hockey and was instrumental in both Vinny Prospal goals that gave the Rangers life to make the comeback possible.  Against the Devils he scored early in the second period to tie the game after the Devils had taken the lead late in period one.  If that goal does not happen when it did there is no telling how the rest of the game plays out because of the tension both in the crowd and the team the longer it took for them to get back to even.  These two games are the kinds of efforts that could make Wolski a key piece that isn’t necessarily accounted for when first analyzing the Rangers in a series.  If the other version of Wolski shows up the Rangers are likely to struggle for offense during the playoffs.
Chris Drury has had a horrendous season.  Between battling injuries and a lack of production when he has been on the ice the Rangers captain has been written off by many.  What Drury can bring to the team is playoff experience, penalty killing, faceoffs and leadership.  Do not expect him to go out and produce a lot of points, but the intangibles he can bring are important to a team as young as the Rangers are.  In the right role, Drury can still be a valuable asset to this club in the playoffs.  With Drury there is the concern over how healthy the knee is in terms of not only how effective he can be, but how long he will last in the lineup.
Neither of these two players will win or lose the series by themselves, but in each series role players can find big moments to have an impact and both of these players, whether it be the skill of Wolski or the experience of Drury have the ability to change a game in one of those crucial moments.

Rangers' Hope New Season Brings Back Gaborik's Old Form

The playoffs are often referred to as the “second season.”  They are also thought of as the time when stars rise to the top as opposed to those who produce big numbers in the regular season.  For the Rangers they hope that the fresh start helps to bring back the vintage version of Marian Gaborik and not the one who skated around in his sweater for the 2010-11 regular season. 
The numbers on Gaborik say that he had 22 goals and 48 points in his 62 games this season despite battling through both injuries that kept him off the ice and inconsistent lines throughout the season.  Those numbers were good enough to rank him third on the team in goals and tied for second on the team in points.  While respectable for some players that level of production is unacceptable from a player of Marian Gaborik’s talent level.
The Rangers have to hope that Gaborik takes the challenge of avenging his disappointing regular season and proves he should still be considered among the elite offensive players in the game.  The team needs that second version of Gaborik to come to the forefront if they are going to make a run in the playoffs.  If he does not do just that, then the stay in the second season could be over before the Rangers even reach the second round.

Peter Botte of the New York Daily News passes along quotes from John Tortorella Monday.
"For a lot of players that feel they've struggled a little bit, or even if they have played well, you wipe the slate clean here," Tortorella said after practice Monday. "I hope Gabby realizes the slate is clean. So let's get to work."
The key word there from Tortorella might be work.  The difference in the Gaborik that scored 42 goals last season and only 22 this year is the work rate he is playing with.  Last year the reason he was so successful was the speed, creativity and hands for sure, but also the willingness to go to the front of the net where he hound pucks to bury instead of hanging around the outside and making himself easy to defend.  If Gaborik decides to skate and press the Capitals defense he should be able to create problems for them and help propel the Rangers into the series.
The Rangers have gotten to where they are right now because so many players have overachieved and gotten the most out of their talents this year.  One who has not and has plenty more to provide in terms of production from the first season to the second one is Marian Gaborik.  Maybe there is a belief that the team can make a run without a producing Gaborik because they have basically been forced to do so already this year, but playoff hockey is a different animal and to survive your best players have to play at their best.  Those players have to want the pressure, not shrink from it.  Now for the Rangers and their fans all that is left is to hope Gaborik realizes that.