Monday, October 17, 2011

Sauer Not Playing Tomorrow, Wolski Unlikely

The good news on Michael Sauer is that he was back on the ice for practice for the first time since returning from Europe.  The bad news is that Sauer will not be able to play tomorrow against the Canucks. Sauer explained the approach that they are taking per Blueshirts United:
"We're taking it in steps, both on ice and off ice," Sauer explained. "They want me out there making passes and stuff, but not ripping it hard yet. Just being out there handling the puck and being with the boys is great in of itself. I just need to get (the shoulder) strong, get it healthy."
Forward Wojtek Wolski (groin) was also on the ice, but it doesn't appear that he will play tomorrow either as he is talking about how he has not had enough practice time.

Have Rangers Lost Their Toughness?

A large part of the New York Rangers identity last season was being a hard/tough team to play against.  The reason for that emphasis was because the Rangers knew that on many nights they would be the inferior team in terms of pure talent, but effort and hard work would carry them through in many situations.  Chris Botta at Slap Shot wonders what has happened to that identity of toughness early this year.
Down: Rangers’ Toughness – So maybe Sean Avery has lost enough of his edge for the pesky wing to no longer merit a job as one of the Rangers’ top 13 forwards. But something is amiss with the Blueshirts. It’s one thing to be winless in three games to start the season; it’s unacceptable to be an easy team to play against. The Rangers need to upgrade their toughness quotient or opponents will continue to skate into their end without a care in the world. Calling up Kris Newbury and demoting Mats Zuccarello to the minors, as Glen Sather did after the loss on Long Island, is not enough.
If Botta is referring directly to the need for more enforcer/goon types, then I am going to disagree with that as the issue here.  The Rangers do have been an easy team to play against to start the season and it is not because of a lack of enforcer type presence as Prust and Rupp can be that in terms of fighting.  The problem has been their inability to use their strength on the forecheck to punish teams and wear them down.  The only game they did this with any real consistency was against the Kings and you could see the impact as the game wore on.  Part of the problem in establishing the forecheck has been the constant penalties which disrupt any rhythm and momentum that could be built at even strength. 

The other part is that the Rangers seem trapped between wanted to exploit the abilities of skilled players like Gaborik and Richards while trying to remain as they were last season and they have failed to find that balance.  That part of the problem should be alleviated to some extent with Stepan showing early returns on the top line and allowing Dubinsky to go back to playing with Anisimov and Callahan while Fedotenko returns to Boyle and Prust.  Those two lines were the ones that were responsible for forming the Rangers toughness identity last season as they hit all that moved and used the forechecking style to create their offense.  Getting back to a dirty work type game is exactly what the Rangers need to do for their own offense and to be tougher to play against.

Taking A Step Back From The Ledge After Rangers Slow Start

At 0-1-2 with three subpar performances under their belt it is ok to be upset with the New York Rangers and how they have started the 2010-11 season.  However, the level at which some are sounding off and looking for a lifeboat is a little out there.  The bad news is that they have had three bad outings with way too many penalties, not enough offensive chances, have failed to establish a consistent forecheck in any game, the power play still doesn’t generate enough of a threat.  

All of those things are perfectly legitimate criticisms, but even with all of those things against two very good Western Conference teams they managed to get a point out of it and against an improving Islanders team they were in the game with a shot to win in the third period.   That for me is actually a positive because it is tough to imagine that they will continue to play this poorly for the next 79 games, thus the results should improve.  That brings me to the positive things out of the first three games that seem to get ignored because the final score is all that matters for some.

Henrik Lundqvist looks locked in as he has surrendered seven goals in three games while stopping 84 shots against.  His goals against is at 2.23 and save percentage is .923 which is almost exactly where his numbers ended last season (2.28 GAA, .923 SV%).  

Derek Stepan showed he can be the answer to the questions surrounding the top line left winger as he looked like he had been playing with Gaborik and Richards since training camp opened.  Gaborik and Richards have shown excellent early chemistry with one another as Gaborik is skating like he did during the 2009-10 season and Richards passes allow him to take advantage of that burst.  Obviously the line will have to be more impactful throughout games than they have been in the first three, but the seeds are there for a special line that can carry an offense.

The play of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh has been phenomenal and while there have been breakdowns from other defenders, the way the defense has played without Staal at all and no Sauer against the Islanders should be somewhat encouraging.  Losing two of the top four defenders is something that would cripple most teams, but the Rangers have battled through reasonably well in the early going.

It is easy to go nuts over the 0-1-2 record and the overall uninspiring performances of the team thus far, but just like 3-0-0 doesn’t mean you are going to be having a parade in June, 0-1-2 does not mean you will miss the playoffs and the world is over.  There are 79 games to go in the season, so let us all take a step back, look at what is and what is not working and realize there are 2 points to be had in the next game.