We’re still going here, with a fresh cup of coffee at my side….
Sam, WERE you dropped on your head as a small child?—longtimerangerfan
No, but I was hit headfirst into the boards in a morning scrimmage yesterday (the Mystery Linemate, aka former NHL All-Star Valeri Kamensky was nearby, but not the guilty party), rendering me at least a little woozy today. So if you agree with everything I say, it’s because I have an insightful, acute hockey mind. If you disagree, it’s because for all I know, I may have a mild concussion and have been spewing nonsense since about 10 a.m. yesterday.
But hey, you gotta play hurt. So on we go…
Do you expect that the Rangers will continue to focus more on defense, not really worry about scoring a bunch of goals, and continue rather to play stingy defense?—Jeff L.
As far as entertainment value, I’m not sure yesterday’s Rangers-Devils clampdown fest is the type of game that’s going get the NHL on network prime time anytime soon (actually, I’m pretty sure that unless the NHL starts featuring dueling swimsuit models, or losing teams tossed into a pit of rats, network prime time isn’t in the cards at all).
But whether it’s good news or bad news, that’s the hockey the Rangers will need to play to have success this season.
And to be clear, as both coaches and players said yesterday, defensive hockey doesn’t mean passive hockey. And it doesn’t mean they can’t score goals.
The reason the Rangers were so miserable in back-to-back losses to Carolina and Toronto, is their forwards were caught deep in the offensive zone, weren’t coming back hard enough the other way, and as a result, their defensemen were backing off instead of standing up other teams. Throw in some mediocre goaltending, and it wasn’t a good week.
At their best, the Rangers have played a style where their forwards are committed to supporting the defense, which means that the defensemen can be aggressive enough to join the play on the rush, and pinch to keep pucks in the zone to sustain pressure. That’s how goals are scored at even strength these days, and as the Rangers have shown in spots—the back-to-back wins over the Islanders and Ottawa spring to mind—they can do it quite effectively.
Unfortunately, seeing how other teams have embraced this style as well (along with the the fact that the rink is too small, players are too big, and the goaltending too good), it does mean there will be the occasional 1-0 game like yesterday (which actually was more entertaining than the score would indicate). But it’s a system the Rangers have employed better than most. And it’s likely what they’ll rely on come springtime.
Of course, it also wouldn’t hurt to have a clue on the power play. But that’s another story…
Sam, what do you see as the future for the Malik/Strudwick/Mara circus? Who will be the last two left standing?—Mark
A lot of questions about Marek Malik’s place in the lineup and the potential he’ll be traded, to which I’ll respond: Are you people clueless? Do you not see a Norris Trophy candidate when you see one?
OK, sit down. I’m only kidding.
In all seriousness, longtime readers of the blog know I’ve been an occasional defender of big No. 8, for one because I think the vitriol directed at him has been over the top, but also because at least last year, he was better than people gave him credit for.
I still think Malik has some upside—conspiracy theories aside, there’s simply no other reason he’d be here—but to answer your question, his future in New York doesn’t look bright. Given Marc Staal’s blossoming this year, Malik has been jettisoned from the top pairing with Michal Rozsival; and although Tom Renney suggested otherwise last night, it doesn’t appear that the coach has the confidence to play Malik with anyone else.
So given that, and given Malik’s salary of $3 million, I would have to think the Rangers are open to moving him. I don’t know of anything concrete in the works, but I do know there was interest in him last season, so assuming his value hasn’t plummeted since, a trade isn’t inconceivable.
Whatever happens, I would think the Rangers would want someone here who could be a reliable sixth or seventh defensemen, whether it’s Thomas Pock (which is complicated for waiver reasons), Ivan Baranka or someone from another team. I’ll admit that Jason Strudwick has been better than I thought he’d be this year, but I’m not sure he’s an everyday player. And either way, the Rangers would surely want more depth should you no longer have Mr. Malik to kick around anymore.
We’re not done here. So stick around…