As Marek Malik chewed on a slice of pizza in the Rangers dressing room after his team’s “third straight win over the Devils last night”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071115/SPORTS01/711150418, the amateur psychoanalyst in me started to wonder:
What must Malik be thinking now that Marc Staal has slipped so seamlessly into his spot alongside Michal Rozsival? Where does Malik fit in when he does finally return from his back injury? And what kind of pizza is that? Can I have a slice? The press room barbecue chicken didn’t quite get the job done, and I have a drive to Philly in front of me.
But I digress. The point is many of you want to see Staal and Rozsival as the permanent pairing and for Malik to disappear altogether. I agree that Staal and Rozsival is ideal, and that the two arguably give the Rangers a true top pairing that they’ve lacked since Brian Leetch left town.
But I also know Malik isn’t going anywhere just yet, and when he does return, I can’t say for sure what Tom Renney is going to do. I asked the coach again last night if Staal’s play is making that decision more difficult for him, and the coach respectfully wouldn’t speculate. He did say that both pairings work and that it allows them more options. But frankly I’d have been surprised if he said something definitive with Malik’s return still at least a few more days off.
And make no mistake, the point isn’t that Malik is better than Staal, or that, as many of you have suggested, there is some deep-rooted Czech conspiracy within the Rangers. More to the point, it’s that while Staal has proven he can play alongside Paul Mara, Malik hasn’t proven he can. And unless you’re ready to pin your hopes on Jason Strudwick playing every night, the Rangers have to find three combinations that work.
Yes, maybe the Rangers can move Malik, and maybe they will. But his hefty salary is a consideration.
For what it’s worth, I asked Rozsival as well about playing with Staal, and he was only positive.
“He’s playing very well,” Rozsival said. “You can see he’s proving that he was the best player in junior hockey league last year and by coming here, he’s moving the puck well, he’s skating well and he’s making good decisions with the puck. He has all the tools to be a really good defenseman in this league.”