The New York Rangers have entered into unfamiliar territory after dropping their 4th game in a row. During a time that was supposed to be one where the Rangers thrived after getting 4 regulars back into the lineup, they have instead played the inconsistent hockey that has plagued them the past few seasons. It's too quick to jump to conclusions and say that this team is the "pretender" that many "experts" have predicted, but they do need to get back on track and quickly.
The return of Ryan Callahan was the biggest and he has been by far the most noticeable in his return. He doesn't look at all sluggish and even after the injury, he has not once hesitated to jump into a shooting lane to block a shot. He brings energy and fire to a team in need of some right now, though it's not that they are lacking it-- just not bringing the same intensity night-in-and-night-out that we have come to expect.
Vinny Prospal has been a bit of a mixed bag in his two game return. In his first night back, there was a jump in step that showed that he was truly fired up about his return and may be the guy who can give Gaborik that push. However, on Saturday he looked more like a 35-year-old coming off of major knee surgery (surprising). Tortorella's mondset has always been 'if you're healthy enough to play, you're healthy enough to play full-time', which I would normally agree with. But, when it comes to 35-year-olds who are tabbed with taking a slumping star and returning him to the top, it may be time to adjust the thinking. He looked tired against the Canadiens, which is not surprising considering Thursday he appeared to have put everything he had into his game. Look, I'm not suggesting that Prospal be a part-time player, but a shift or two off here and there couldn't hurt. This is a guy the Rangers need for the stretch run, and if he's running on one leg, he isn't much use.
Brandon Dubinsky missed just 5 games, but it still showed that he is this team's most valuable player. Callahan is a better all-around player than Dubinsky, but Dubinsky has more skill and on a team that is severely lacking it, he is the guy that needs to step up. The reason he has so many missed opportunities is because he puts himself in a position to get those opportunities. Yes, he needs to start burying them, but it can't be ignored that he always seems to be in position to put one home. That's not an accident. Although he wasn't able to score, he should get a lot of credit for the post shot in the waning seconds against the Devils. It seemed that everyone on the ice but Girardi and Dubinsky thought the game was over. But Dubinsky never gave up and nearly got the Rangers to overtime with what would have been the play of the year so far.
Christensen's return was interesting, to say the least. Drury has been battling a knee injury, so Christensen by his own account not ready to return was forced into action. Now, Torts gave him just over 10 minutes of ice time, but the majority of it was spent on a line with Gaborik and Prospal (which can no longer be called the top line). When Drury comes back, he needs to be put back in the lineup. Christensen has some skill, however not nearly enough to overcome the fact that he is a defensive liability and would never be used in late game situations. I know that a lot of fans are calling for Drury's head and if the Rangers could find someone to take him (I heard a Drury to Kings rumor floating around that seemed to make sense) they most certainly should, but if he's on the roster, he should be in the game. I think many fans let the contract cloud their judgment on Drury, but just because he isn't worth $7 mil/year doesn't mean he isn't worth anything. He is a valuable guy in that he brings leadership and versatility. He takes the most important faceoffs (which shouldn't be undersold), he plays the penalty kill extremely well, and he knows how to accept his role, even if it's not the one he'd prefer to have.
So, all of this brings us to tonight's contest against the Detroit Red Wings. In battle for the "who's struggling more right now" current title amongst playoff contenders, Detroit enters the game having scored 7 goals in three games since the break. Unfortunately for the Wings, they scored all 7 in the first and have not scored in back-to-back games. Detroit has never been shut out 3 games in a row in their history. The Red Wings are suffering from some of the same issues that have plagued the Rangers this year, most notably on the power play where they are just 2 for 28 in their last nine games. They will get a boost, though, with Pavel Datsyuk returning to the lineup for Detroit. It is going to be extremely imperative for New York to come out firing right away, as Detroit has fallen into holes in their last 2 games and have been unable to recover.
The question heading into the game for New York is who's going to play goal tonight. After publicly calling out Lundqvist, Torts went with Biron on Saturday and it paid off. The Rangers didn't win the game, but no one would say that Biron had anything to do with that. The lone goal that was scored came off a good bounce off of the lively Montreal boards and left Scott Gomez wide open at the side of the net and Marty had little chance in that battle. Quite often during the game he stood on his head and made huge saves. I hate to say it, but I think you have to go with the hot hand and give Biron another shot tonight, as he has stopped 33 of 34 shots since replacing Lundqvist against the Devils. This is a huge game for the Rangers, who are trying to avoid a 5-game losing streak.
Line combinations aren't up yet, but here are the ones I would go with (I'll post the actual ones when they go live):
Dubinsky-Boyle-Callahan (not gonna happen, but would be interesting)
Wolski-Stepan-Zuccarello (if the line above struggles again, I wouldn't hesitate to roll with this as line 2)
I'll post a recap shortly after tonight's match