Friday, March 11, 2011

Rangers Prospect Christian Thomas Hits 50 Goals, But Doesnt Stop There

While many of the New York Rangers prospects have struggled with injury issues this season 2010 second round pick Christian Thomas has been lighting up the Ontario Hockey League for the Oshawa Generals.  Yesterday in the Eastern Conference Coaches Poll Thomas was deemed to have the best shot, be the most dangerous in the goal area and have the second hardest shot in the league.  That is a tremendous amount of respect shown to the offensive ability Thomas has and the respect he has garnered from the coaches who see everyone in the league.
Clearly those coaches knew what they were talking about as tonight not only did Thomas put up his 50th of the season, but he would get a hat-trick to add number 51 and 52 in his tremendous campaign.  Thomas would also add an assist to take his season numbers to 52-40-92 in 62 games.  He is currently tied for 1st in goals with Ottawa’s Tyler Toffoli and 4th overall in points.  Thomas has been tremendous all year, but his work down the stretch of the season has been extraordinary as he has 18 goals 14 assists in 17 games since the start of February.
Before Rangers fans get overly excited, as we have a tendency to do, do not expect Thomas to be able to put up those numbers in the NHL, but as a pure sniper he is certainly the best of any Rangers prospect, so be excited about that.

Enough With The Excuses, Gaborik Must Rise To The Occasion Down The Stretch

Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
The New York Rangers have 13 games left in this season and as of this moment they are still in the playoffs without their best offensive player producing anywhere near his capabilities.  If they want to stay there it is well beyond time that Marian Gaborik step his game up and get beyond the struggles for consistent goal scoring he has suffered from all season.  One of the few things as frustrating as the lack of goal scoring from Gaborik has been the sheer number of excuses and apologists that have come out looking to explain why he has struggled so mightily.  Yes, he has been hurt at different points this year.  Yes, he does not have elite talent to play with him.  Yes, the team does play a grinding style that is not particularly suited for Gaborik’s playing style.  No, those are not valid excuses to explain why in 49 games this season a world class sniper like Marian Gaborik has 18 goals, all which have come in just 11 games.  Reality is if the excuses do not end and the goals begin then the Rangers will lose out on all the hard work that has gone into this season and fall short of the playoffs again.
The latest attempt to explain Gaborik’s ineffectiveness was from Larry Brooks today in the NY Post when he discussed how coach John Tortorella needs to let Gaborik be Gaborik.
There's been a push and pull all year and it hasn't worked.
John Tortorella, the coach, has publicly (and assuredly more pointedly behind closed doors) attempted to prod Marian Gaborik into becoming a card-carrying member of the Black-and-Blueshirts' shot-blocking wall-battlers.
Wednesday morning, even in praising Gaborik's performance against the Flyers, Tortorella made a reference to "grinding." There were no such references last year when Gaborik finished fifth in the league in goal scoring.
We get it. Gaborik has the same responsibility to compete as every one of his teammates. But we can tell you that dynastic Islanders' coach Al Arbour never once called for Mike Bossy to be a grinder in the mold of teammates Clark Gillies, John Tonelli, Bob Nystrom and Duane Sutter. Are you kidding?
The point Brooks is pushing towards is a valid one in that asking Gaborik to play the game the Rangers’ “less skilled” players have to play is not going to work because it does not fit his skill set.  The problem is that Brooks is pushing this as if Gaborik is doing the things he is capable of doing and just not getting enough ice time to show it.  He was invisible for the first two periods the other night and that had nothing to do with John Tortorella.  The problem with Gaborik is the same as it has been all season; he is not skating. 
No one is to blame for Gaborik’s lack of aggressiveness skating or in the offensive zone except him.  It is that lack of being a threat that is making it easy for him to be defended.  When you remove all the excuses and watch Gaborik in every game that he has played well this season you notice him in front of the net, you notice him taking guys on one-on-one, you notice him constantly moving.  The Rangers need Marian to be that dynamic threat that everyone in the building rises to their feet every time he touches the puck.  The need to opponent’s to fear him on every shift.  They need him to get back to doing what makes him so dangerous to play against.  That begins with his skating and carrying the puck instead of dumping it in.  It continues with shooting off the rush as it will create not only space, but rebounds for his teammates. 
When he plays along the wall and drifts around the ice aimlessly he is useless to this team and there is no reason to give him more ice time.  To toss the blame for a player struggling is the easiest thing that one can do, but that does not mean the blame does not belong on the player’s shoulders.  That is not to say the reasons/excuses all have not individually and collectively played a role in the season that Gaborik has had but it is well past time to ditch the crutches and hold Gaborik accountable for his own performance.  If Gaborik is skating the results will take care of themselves and then if he is still getting 14 minutes a night, I will gladly point the finger at the coaches for not using him properly. Until he does what he needs to do in having an impact while he is on the ice there is no reason to just hand him more time for the sake of saying he is the star.  Stars find a way to produce in the face of the adversities that everyone is claiming as his reasons for not producing, not hide behind them.  He did not have elite linemates in Minnesota, yet he produced.  He played in a defense first system in Minnesota, yet he produced.  He was injured a lot in Minnesota, yet he produced. 
There are 13 games left in the regular season so the time for excuses for Gaborik and everyone else must end and the performance must show up or the team will go down, simple as that.

Playoffs Begin Now, Will The Rangers Rise To Moment Or Fall Short Again?

With Buffalo’s win last night in Boston the New York Rangers have fallen into eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race courtesy of the games played tiebreaker.  New York is still two points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes, though the Hurricanes also possess two games in hand on the Rangers.  With those as the facts and the bitter taste remaining from the Anaheim performance there is a sense of panic amongst Rangers fans.  Is it really time to panic?  Not just yet, but the sense of urgency better be there with the team these last 13 games or they will be home watching along with us as the playoffs start.
Every team hits rough patches in the season.  The difference between those that survive the grind and those that don’t is how quickly they can stop the bleeding and right the ship.  Another key, especially under this playoff system is to find a way to get at least one point in games you might lose and the Rangers are doing an awful job of that.  The Rangers have 35 wins this season while Buffalo has 33 and Carolina only 31, but the Rangers have only gotten one point out of a game 4 times while Buffalo has done it 8 and Carolina 10.  Sometimes you just have to find a way to get one point.  Also under the new tiebreaker rules those wins do not mean the same thing they used to as shootout wins are removed from the equation so the Rangers have 28 wins in regulation/OT while Buffalo has 28 and Carolina 27.
Those facts do not help the Rangers cause in thinking about whether they will be able to maintain their current playoff spot.  Yesterday at Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun discussed the chase for the final two spots in the East and did not look to favorably on the Rangers chances of remaining inside the top eight.
Burnside: The Rangers have won just two of their past six games, and their offense comes in fits and starts even with Marian Gaborik back in the lineup. Buffalo looks like a good bet to settle into the seventh seed given games in hand and its current level of play, although the Sabres have a big tilt with Boston on Thursday night in Beantown. But the Rangers have to be concerned that their up and down play is going to open the door for one of those on-the-bubble teams to make a late push and snatch up that final playoff berth. Do you think the Rangers can hang on, my friend?

LeBrun: The Rangers concern me greatly. They've lost some confidence. Only three wins in their last 10, that's not going to cut it. I feel like they overachieved in the first half and now reality is settling in. But they're a better team than what they showed last night in Anaheim.
LeBrun is correct when he says that the Rangers, in the first half of the year, greatly overachieved and performed beyond their abilities. That's something that has been stated quite often here on the blog. But the play we have seen from this team as of late, in the games against the Ducks, Wild and Sabres, the Blueshirts have been playing below their abilities. They may have been overpowered in the tilt with Anaheim, but there is no reason that they couldn't have made that a closer contest.

Burnside: As the games dwindle, this is where you see teams start to knuckle. Sometimes it's injuries, but in the case of the Rangers, I think they have to work so hard for every point that at some point the tank dries up. That's why Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist are so important to keeping them afloat. They will need to be better.
Both are right in talking about the Rangers have lowered their level and gone from overachievers in the first half to underachievers in the second half and part of that is the fact that they have gone from a team that outworked their opponents over the course of a game to a team that is content with constantly trying to come back in the third period.  In the first half of the year they were finding a way to get those late goals and comeback wins that they cannot manage to secure now.  Their stars must be better and more importantly their effort has to get back to where it was before.  In the words of Dennis Green, “they are who we thought they were,” and with that we knew that this season was going to come down to the wire in terms of getting in or being left out of the playoffs and now there are 13 games to decide their fate.  Regardless of the outcome there is hope for the future, but this final month will tell a lot about the leadership in that locker room.