One of the habits we all fall into when talking about the Rangers is in talking about their lines in a particular order. Everyone does it, myself included. But I’m not sure we should. Or if we do, I’m not sure we’re always right.
I think we can all agree that the team as its currently constructed has a top two lines, and a bottom two. Beyond that, though, it’s all open for debate.
For instance, is the Rangers’ first line the one that has Scott Gomez at center between Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan? Or is it the one with Markus Naslund and Nikolai Zherdev on either side of Brandon Dubinsky?
You’d say it’s the Gomez line based on Drury and Gomez’s prominent roles, their contracts, and their collective experience. You’d say it’s the other line since Zherdev, Naslund, Dubinsky are currently the team’s top three scorers.
It gets even more complicated with the other two lines. As much as the line of Blair Betts, Colton Orr, and Fred Sjostrom has been used as a classic fourth-line, shutdown unit in the past, that line still got far more ice time on Monday than the unit of Lauri Korpikoski, Aaron Voros, and Dan Fritsche (roughly five minutes more). You’d think that the Korpikoski line would be the one to contribute more offense, but on Monday at least it was Betts who came up with the big first period goal.
Does any of this matter? Probably not, especially this season. One of the Rangers advantages and weaknesses all at once is the relative balance in their lineup. There is no superstar like Jaromir Jagr, who even in a down season last year was still the team’s top-line wing. But there are a lot of interchangeable parts that can be moved around with greater ease.
“Numbers are irrelevant. They really are,” Tom Renney said when I asked him which was the third line and which was the fourth. “They didn’t call Bettsy’s line the number one line in Ottawa when we started them. Everyone contributes.”
Meanwhile, a sidebar to this is how Renney uses that Betts line, whatever you want to call it. One thing that infuriates perplexes some observers is how the coach will consistently use that line in the first and second period even when the Rangers are down a goal or two (Renney has at least shortened his bench in the third period when the Rangers are behind. He’ll mix in Sjostrom or Betts, but not Orr).
While it’s true that the Rangers’ ability to roll four lines can be at an advantage in wearing teams down over 60 minutes, it does seem like a wasted opportunity to generate needed offense when Renney uses the likes of Orr and Betts as much as he does.
And that is at least one reason the team’s recent stretch of falling behind in games has been so costly. When you fall behind in games you’re forced to press by either a) playing guys who should be on the bench; or b) relying heavily on guys who need more rest.
By taking a lead or at least staying even, you can justify playing all four lines as a means of maintaining a consistent energy.
The blog is not in Florida—don’t feel too bad, I’ll take Thanksgiving at home with the family over 80 degrees and sunny—but we’ll obviously be monitoring the events tonight and Friday, and we’ll chime in with news when we have it.