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 havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not controlling the puck well, makes bad turnovers and heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s almost invisible on the ice. Where is the last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.