Step back from the ledge


UPDATE, 2:20 p.m.: Tomorrow’s game in Boston has been moved up to 4 p.m. because of Game 6 of the ALCS.

Wow, there’s enough early season angst here to drive our own prime time TV drama (and speaking of which, humiliating admission of the week: I have become a regular watcher of the CW’s awful “Gossip Girl”. I blame this on my wife, who works at an all-girls middle school, and who claims she “has” to watch it to stay up on the latest trends.

Oh sure, and I “have” to watch sports to…oh wait, I DO have to watch sports).


But enough joking around. The sorry state of your Rangers is no laughing matter, and I noticed that a lot of your questions are of the rather vague “What the hell is going on here?” variety. Like I said, I’m mystified as well. But let’s delve a little deeper.

Q: Sam, to me, Renney seems to be switching up the lines far too often. He claims that he is searching for combos that can gel together and produce. However, I think some of these lines need to be given more time than Renney is giving them. In your opinion, are the offensive struggles a result of not yet finding the right line combos? Or is it that the right combos haven’t been given enough time to properly gel and are broken up too quickly? — NYRBlue2


A: The great majority of questions have to do with Tom Renney’s line-juggling, but this was the first one on it, so I’ll get it out of the way here. First, some background: as much as the Rangers tried to avoid it, they spent too much time in the preseason assessing their own prospects and not enough preparing for the season ahead. Hence, you are seeing a lot of tinkering and experimentation continue into the first part of the schedule.

Is this the reason they’re such a trainwreck so far? Maybe a little, although in fairness, much of the changes have been precipitated by injury. The problem with the Rangers right now is they want so badly to build up some momentum in these games, but in doing so, they’ve made mistakes that have put them behind the eight-ball. Every game they’ve lost has been one in which they’ve fallen behind relatively early, and they then spend the rest of the time scrambling to get back in it. This is why taking an early lead is so important. That’s when you’re able to play with more composure, roll your lines, and develop something of a rhythm.

Renney may be a big picture guy, but he also has a tendency to coach too much in the moment. And that’s why he shifts things up so often and will likely err on the side of overplaying veterans when things are tight. The only way around it is positive reinforcement. You don’t shift things up when you take an early lead, nor do you do it when you’re winning.

Q: Sam, our defensive play looked terrible yesterday, even with no Malik in the lineup. Do you think Sather should make some moves to power Rangers defense? My second question is about Chris Drury. What is going on with this player? He misses the shots, he’s not controlling the puck well, makes bad turnovers and he’s almost invisible on the ice. Where is the last year’s Sabres leader? — STF

A: The question isn’t whether SHOULD Glen Sather make a move to bolster the defense. It’s a question of whether he can. Between Mara, Malik, Strudwick and Pock, the Rangers have four defensemen who are expendable. But the first two are weighted with hefty salaries, and the other two aren’t the type of players teams are salivating over. Assuming the Rangers don’t want to part with any valuable prospects — at least not yet — and given their salary cap constrictions, that makes dealing difficult.

Meanwhile, for all of the talk of Mara and Malik so far, the most disappointing defenseman so far might be Michal Rozsival. I say that because I honestly thought No. 3 was headed for a breakout season, but he has been well below the standard he set last year.

As for Chris Drury, he is certainly pressing a bit now. But let’s remember something else, and I said it even before free agency began: if you’re looking for a player who is going to jump out at you on every shift, Drury is not your guy (Scott Gomez is, for reasons good and bad).
He can score goals and has great vision of the ice, but much of his brilliance lies in the little things he does — faceoffs, outlet passes, tying a player up on the backcheck. This being my first chance to watch Drury on a regular basis, I’ve come to appreciate how complete a player he is. And I say that also acknowledging he should, and needs to be, much better than he’s been.

Q: What comes first, Renney realizing Betts isn’t a top 3 center (at least on an offensive minded top 3 lines) or Renney is replaced? — Azrok

A: OK, let’s get this out of the way relatively early: Tom Renney isn’t going anywhere. If the Rangers are still this sorry a team later in the season, then let’s talk.

But for all of the coach’s flaws — and yes, I’d say pushing Blair Betts as a playmaking center is one of them — the coach has the ears of his players, and has already proven his ability to steer a team through choppy waters.

You point to the coach when a team isn’t trying, when it doesn’t have the right system, or when his deployment of personnel is counterproductive. The first two aren’t even an issue — the Rangers are playing too desperate, if anything, and they have the right idea of how they want to play. If Renney is guilty of the third, it’s largely a function of injury and feeling his way around some new personnel.

Sure, the coach deserves some blame, because the Rangers are too good a team to be playing this badly. But recent history suggests he needs more time to work out some kinks.

Q: Sam, how much do you think the Rangers miss Nylander? I know he drove the fans crazy but he’s the type of player who goes into the corner, comes out with the puck and controls it. Guys like Jagr NEED that kind of player on his line. — Tony

A: It was only a matter of time before the “Bring Back Michael Nylander” petition started up. As long as there’s not simiilar cries for Adam Hall and Jason Krog, the Rangers should be OK.

To answer your question, Tony, yes, the Rangers miss Michael Nylander. He, Jaromir Jagr, and Martin Straka had a chemistry that you don’t easily replicate, and I think much of Renney’s early-season tinkering comes with that standard in mind.

I do think Gomez and Drury are better players for this team for the long haul, not only because of the way they play — both are much better two-way players — but also because they’re younger. And let’s remember it was Nylander who rejected an offer from the Rangers. But I think if it was only about one year and getting the most out of Jagr as quickly as possible, convincing No. 92 to come back would have been more of a priority.

Q: Hey Sam, the past two seasons this Ranger team seemed to be a pretty tight knit group. Is there anything you sense from them behind the scenes or during practice that leaves you with the impression that maybe chemistry is the main issue and that perhaps it’s going to take longer then most hoped for them to be a cohesive unit? — James

A: Not yet, James, but then again, I thought Jagr and Aaron Ward were best buds last season until Jagr had the defenseman shipped off to Boston (OK, I never really thought that). I honestly don’t see much dissension beyond the fact that, on the ice, the Rangers are obviously wound too tight. It’s not my job to make excuses for these guys, but you wonder what kind of affect it has on a team to be anointed Eastern Conference champions before you even play a game. High expectations can be a great thing some times, but they can also be paralyzing. So far what we’re seeing from the Rangers is the latter.

Q: Sam, do you think Pock blew his chance and we will have Malik back? — A Psychic.

A: You’re the psychic, you tell me. Well, let’s put it this way: when Thomas Pock went to great lengths to talk about how he wanted to get in the lineup, I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a debut like last night in mind.

Now, to be fair, you can’t expect a player to sit for five games and not be rusty, so the right thing to do would be to give Pock another chance tomorrow. But I don’t see it coming at the expense of Marek Malik again, so Pock could be out of luck.

The reality is that Renney’s support for Malik and apparent distate for Pock’s game both center around a simple premise: The coach likes players who are proactive, and who make a decision quickly and stand by it. This is why Renney can stomach Malik occasionally throwing a pass up the middle and seeing it picked off, and why he probably doesn’t like when Pock carries the puck and seems to struggle with where to put it. I’ve heard the coach say time and again about how he can live with a player’s mistake as long as he’s trying to do something, but that he doesn’t like it when a player wavers. Fair or not, that is where the difference between the two lies.

Well, another epic session is behind us. Again, I went a little crazy with some of my answers, which means I again neglected way too many of you. But this is why the season is six months long.

Until then…

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  1. Nice gutless display last night. I think most of the clowns were busy thinking about cashing their oversized checks rather than playing hard. Shanny looks nearly as bad as Messier did in his second tour here. Jagr is too busy crying about Nylander to backcheck or drive to the net. Rozsival has been putrid. The guy has always been awful on the pp, but now he’s worse on 5 on 5. This team isn’t willing to do the little things to win.

  2. Exactly, Graves9. Living in NJ, I have access to Flyers games.. and last year was fun watching them fall apart, but they are a new team this year. We made two roster moves, and they made 8. The Flyers are playing with so much heart and it sickens me.

    We need to stop with the flashy-passes that become turnovers, and just play some blue-collar hockey. We have to stop with the lazy penalties.

  3. SAM-

    Do you have an opinion re the unbalanced allocation of PP minutes, thus far on the season? I mean, from Jagr (39:04), Gomez (37:52), Drury (37:22), Shanahan (37:03), and Straka (26:43) – to falling off a cliff to Prucha (13:00), Dubinsky (4:27), and Callahan (4:09), is this imbalance helping or hurting the club?

    With the Rangers scoring just ONE even-strength goal over the past four games, scoring on the power play, to pick up the slack, is critical. Do you have any constructive criticism re the PP minutes allocation, so far?

  4. Does anyone else feel like Renney is still coaching as if it’s the preseason? Spend the whole ACTUAL preseason evaluating youth, then spend the first 10 games evaluating line combos…and then get it started. I know that may be a bit of an oversimplification, but I percieve a disctinct lack of motivation with this crew – at least until things get desperate, late in the game. That leads me to believe the talent is there, but the coaching has not.

  5. Pavel I agree on Philly. They’ve also drafted well over the last few years. Carter and Richards are gonna be stars and Gagne already is one. Mike Knuble was one of if not the best post lockout signings. I though Knuble played very well for the Rangers in the 98-99 Season. The next year Muckler buried him on the 4th line for no reason. Then Smith traded him for Rob Dimaio oops.

  6. Drop the Puck! on

    Pavel – nice point about the blue collar(ness) being gone. Two seasons ago we made the playoffs b/c of 4 lines busting there butts every shift(and jags record year, of course). Last year that fell off a little, imo. This year, we have yet to see a hard working blue collar 60 minutes. We’ve see some good shifts come from lines 3 and 4 (‘good’ to their abilities anyway), but not enough to change a game. Sorry I don’t have a solution for the problem.

    And I don’t think slats look to this message board for advice. Sorry guys.

  7. I’ve got no issue with Drury on the point on the pp. Drury unlike Straka actually shoots the puck on the pp.

  8. The Dude — Motivation should certainly come in part from your coach, but when you have Cup winners and future hall of famers, it also has to come from them. Playing lazy and sloppy is unacceptable for hockey players of this quality and experience, hardass coach or no coach. It’s time everyone stop talking about talent and start talking about work ethic and playing smarter.

    Give me a team of Girardis any day.

  9. I felt it back in July and do so now. It was a mistake not bringing back a heart and soul player like Ortmeyer back.

  10. Sam, good point about playing from behind.

    Let’s not forget that they were down to Florida in the very first game of the season… it just so happened that they pulled it out.

    Which leads me to my next point. For a team that’s loaded (ahem!) on the offensive front… how many goals have they scored this season thus far in the first period? How about the second? Take away the Washington game and the numbers are staggering.

  11. Malik will probably be back in the lineup tomorrow against Boston, especially since Chara is in. It’ll be Lord of the Ring on Ice minus the hobbits. :)

    Serious question here Sam:

    Are there any talk of reviewing the Prucha hit? Is Renney going to ask for a review?

  12. I’ve been recording the “Rangers in 60” & burning them to a DVD so that my grandson Cameron can see the games in the hospital.
    After last nights game, my wife reminded me that I’m supposed to be cheering him up , not getting him more depressed.
    I know it’s early in the season, but we gotta turn this around.
    By the way, Cam’s heart is beating on it’s own – Thank you God ! They removed the pacemaker & we’re waiting to hear if the heart valves will have to be replaced.
    His kidneys are still only working at 50%. We know there are many challenges ahead for the kid but we’re happy with the progress so far.
    Anyone know how I can get some autographed pictures of some of the Rangers ?
    The hospital room is decorated with many get well wishes & lots of Ranger stuff.A few photos wishing him well would mean a lot.


  13. adam from the hills on

    ok sammy baby i have a question for ya, last nights game in the ATL was one of the worst displays of officiating ive seen since our last road game, honestly i dont know if the NHL has it out for the rangers or not, but especially last night, that hit on prucha by exellby (who has to be one of the biggest cowards in the league, hes always startin beef and then when he finally drops the gloves he doesnt even take off his helmet with the visor on it) he left his feet and went headhunting, he should be suspended for the hit and yet it wasnt even penalized, it shoulda been one of those new 5 minute major penalties and that woulda put us right back in the game, ok ill get to my question, in football it is said that a referee could call a holding penalty on each play but doesnt because they really only call the penalties that affect the play, now in hockey i know they want the flow of the game to be increased so they dont want all the hooking, but if the hook doesnt have anything to do with the play or taking away an offensive opportunity and doesnt take the player off his skates then whats the big deal? i want everybody to respond to this! especially you sammy baby!

  14. Frankly, I’m sick of the Shanahan bashing. Many of the players are struggling and yes, he doesn’t have the speed that the youth around him have.

    But it’s not like he isn’t trying. Shanny leads the league in shots on goal so it’s not like he’s got Isbister-like accuracy. He’s also one of our best penalty killers and works his butt off in shorthanded situations. He may seem a little lackadasical during even strength situations, but who really has stood out during even strength (minus Girardi and Tyutin)?

    In the game last night vs. Atlanta, I thought he was the most noticeable player on the ice and look at how he jumped at Exelby after that cheap shot to Jagr. The guy is a team player through and through that wants to be there and is trying hard. He’s the sandpaper player that Strudwick is always touted as being, but he also can put the puck in the net.

  15. Last night was the most pathetic officiating ive ever fuggin seen in my life. They have the balls to call 2 phantom penalties on the fuggin Rangers but there gonna totally miss a charge on Exalby that was worth 4 minutes, but they throw Orr in the box for 4 minutes instead. It was a bad penalty by Orr, but im damn glad he did it, its to bad he couldnt do more, and this puss Hollweg, barely did anything last night, it was ridiculous.

    I dont give a flying fugg what any puss NYR fan says, but if ATL is gonna throw dirty hits with a 4 – 1 lead late in the 3rd period, then NYR needs to do the same g*d damn thing. I dont care if it sounds criminal, and if it doesnt belong in the NHL, but Hollweg should have done what he did to Exelby in 05- 06. I cant wait till the next time we play these assholes, i hope Orr knocks out Boulton like he did last year, and i hope Hollweg throws in elbow to the noggin.

    On top of that, that moron Thrasher throws a knee at Pruchs, i swear, there better be a suspension coming to Exelby, cause if the NHL is gonna be bitching and moaning about hits to the head, and how they wanna get rid of them, then just fuggin do it, i already know what this moron Colin Campbell is gonna say, “if prucha didnt get hurt then theresnno need for a suspension”, that idiot…when are they gonna take this serious, the fact is he could have gotten hurtt, Cally could have gotten hurt in pre season, is he gonna wait till someone dies before taking care of this. Talk about Pruchs being a cupcake, lol, ive never seen someone come up from a hit to the head so quick. You can go down the long list of guys who hit him in the head in the last 2 seasons, along with this one…

    1) Exelby
    2) Jovonovski
    3) Lukowhich
    4) Exelby

    He always bounces back up, and its crazy. but last night was pathetic the way they tried to injure him twice.

    To bad Shanny was held up by the ref, cause he would have beat the living sh*t out of Exelby, hopefully that happens next time..

    But all thats good is, we got 3 PP goals, Girardi had a sweet goal set up by a beauty pass by Jags, and Shanny and Gomer scored, which we need. This can be good in a way, NYR has been losing close games, but this wasnt that close.


    I liked Dawes in the first period, just ilke in game 6 of the playoffs. But in my opinion, and i dont know about all of you, but just like in that playoff game he disapeared in the 2nd and 3rd.

  16. Tony- Great to here about your grandson, and I would maybe try and contact the rangers or the garden because they usually do a pretty good job with getting autographs or actually sending a player or players to the hospital. It seems like there is always one story on inside the rangers showing some ranger players visiting a hospital.

  17. I can’t believe that the time has changed? Can they do that with so little time leading up to the game?

  18. They can when it involves the Sox.

    I think they would shut down a highway if the Sox wanted to practice running on concrete…

  19. Thanks for A, Sam.

    Like other readers I also wonder if Rangers plan to do something about Exelby’s hit on Prucha. NHL needs to review that dirty play!

  20. Poorly officiated games? Did not our current Commisioner push through the two referees system? I notice that when the NHL adopts an idea which proves to be highly flawed – they do not change it! I mean, damn, two referees competing with eachother to the extent of making bad calls for attention; the despicable, amateurish shootout; grotesque five on three power plays – when it used to be the first penalty would have to be served, before the second penalty could begin being served – what the hell was wrong with that rule? Five on three skaters is a circus act.

    The “wider nets” lunacy, and who knows, perhaps it is still on Buttman’s back burner. Expansion into small-market non-hockey areas, so that now there are troubled franchises all over the map, yet this jerk in the penthouse wants to expand into Kansas City, of all places! Guess he has never heard of failed KC franchises the Athletics, the Kings of the NBA, and, oh yes, the Scouts of a certain National Hockey League, who now play in a New Jersey swampland, in preference to playing in Kansas City. Only the NFL can make it in “Cowtown,” unless you think the Royals are doing well. I mean, what is with this rabies-infested Commissioner?

    This Commissioner made the most telling quote just a couple days ago regarding his latest gimmick, the Thermablade joke, whereby, NHL players skates are now going to be warmed-up to 41 degrees Fahrenheit. He said: “Thermablade will REVOLUTIONIZE hockey.”

    Get it? Hockey is broken (well, much of it is, thanks to him). Hockey needs gimmicks, hockey can’t compete just as hockey, it needs to be completely re-defined and reorganized, and revolutionized. Hockey is broken. That is his attitude and his agenda, to wreck hockey’s core foundation, so that it truly is broken.

    The Board of Governor’s will not fire this train wreck of a human being who is destroying our favorite sport. They are to blame for this, as much as he, for not axing him the minute he came out with the “wider nets” insanity. Can’t wait for the Rangers first visit to Kansas City – what a blockbuster day in franchise history that will be.

  21. sam im right there with ya budday on gossip girl…

    i uttered my first theres always next year during the early 3rd period of yesterdays game we’ll see what happens.

  22. Sam I have a question specifically for you. I am starting an “apprenticeship” with a writer for a college hockey site. I was wondering if you have any advice you could give me.

  23. Sam,

    Great job with the blog! Here’s a concept, and question, why can’t the Rangers put a man in front of the net and screen the goalie? Renney should watch the tape and see the goals they score for, and against. Avery is missed because he is one of the few that stands in front and screens(just like Graves did back in the day).

  24. “Malik will probably be back in the lineup tomorrow against Boston, especially since Chara is in. It’ll be Lord of the Ring on Ice minus the hobbits. :)”

    LOL Malik is a far cry from Lord of the Ring. He’s like a cream puff and has little or no physical element to his game.
    I pay to see Malik knock someone… anyone on there ass!

  25. Robby Bonfire,
    I couldn’t have said it better. I used to watch as many games as i could squeeze in, however lately with all this absolutely terrible officiating, stupid looking new jerseys, this new Thermo-Blade idea, larger nets… your right hockey is broken and the only way to fix it is to get rid of bettman.

  26. Just a thought, and why not?
    Try these line combos.

    Shanahan Gomez Jagr
    Straka/Dawes Drury Callahan
    Dawes/Straka Dubinsky Prucha
    Orr Betts Hollweg

    The only reason I am even suggesting it is that on the Power Play that top line looks damn good together.

  27. And hell, we need scoring, and this season we thought we were going to get balanced scoring from at least 3 of 4 lines and it hasn’t happened yet. But if we load up that front line and maybe teams will put so much focus on trying to stop them that maybe the other 3 can be productive while I feel the top line would be also. It didn’t work last year with Nylander as the center, but With Gomez as the center maybe it would be different. If Renney is still going to shuffle lines why not give it a shot.

  28. Not one Ranger forward has scored an even-strength goal over the last FOUR games! The club shows one Ranger D even-strength goal during that stretch.

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