The Rangers (10-2-1) beat the Atlanta Thrashers (2-6-2) last night 3-2 in a battle that wasn't pretty at times, but ultimately turned out to be a succesful 2 points in the standings.
The power play was again relatively lackluster (sure the 2nd goal came on the man-advantage but come on, this amount of failure on the 5 on 3 has got to be frustrating power-play "guru" Perry Pearn), but Nikolai Zherdev again stepped up and took control of the game to ensure a Rangers win. His brilliant backcheck on Todd White's breakaway saved a huge scoring chance, and the 3rd period power play tally he scored after swiping the puck from Tobias Enstrom was a beautiful highlight reel goal.
It's become increasingly clear that teams are looking to prevent Tom Renney's club from winning with their legs. Buffalo and Dallas showed the league that the Rangers could be stopped - as long as you keep at least four guys back.
Since the Dallas game, New York has played four games, and three of them - by my determination, anyway - constituted defensive battles. Of course, the Rangers came out on top in every game since the Dallas contest - so either the Rangers have adjusted, or teams aren't doing a good enough job at stifling New York's attack. Either way, it's good to see that the Rangers can win playing a run and gun or defensive shutdown style.
Brandon Dubinsky was benched by Renney in Monday's victory over the Islanders as a response to a couple of lackluster penalties taken by Dubinsky in the 1st period of that contest. He said that he needs to work harder to keep having the early success he's had.
The secret is clearly out that he is one of the best forwards on this team. Other clubs are going to come at him and prevent him from using space to his advantage -something that was much easier to come by last season while playing on a line with Jaromir Jagr. Fortunately for Dubinsky and Rangers fans, it seems like the kid is an intelligent, hard-working player that can adapt to the game and make the players around him better.
The Rangers recent moves suggest something is up. The demotion of Korpikoski ($1M cap hit) and the eventual departure of Rissmiller ($1M cap hit) will leave the Rangers with $2,285,000 of cap space. It's possible that Glen Sather could use this money to lock up either Dubinsky or Zherdev before January 1. It's also possible that he is looking to move salary to sign Sundin. In the latter case, he's going to need to clear more money, and the most likely candidate to go is the oft-maligned Petr Prucha.
Prucha ($1.6M cap hit) was noticeable in the two consecutive games he played against Pittsburgh and the Islanders but failed to register a point. While he certainly doesn't have the trade value he once had (hence the reason that we in section 419 call him "Lastings Milledge"
, I feel that the one-time 30 goal scorer still has some value at the very least.
The problem is that the Rangers have little to no leverage in sending him off at this point in the season, for some important reasons. It's clear that when discussing a deal for Prucha, Sather's GM counterparts around the league will realize what he's doing and try to acquire Prucha for less than what he's worth.
But how are you supposed to determine a player's value when he doesn't get to play? Prucha was clearly in Renney's doghouse for the past year and a half and didn't get the even strength or power play minutes he received in his standout 2005-06 campaign. That trend has continued this season, as Prucha has appeared in only 5 games and has only logged about 11 minutes of average ice time per contest.
At this point in the season, most teams aren't yet ready to bail on their early season commitments - unless they can acquire a player that will undoubtedly make them better. With all the questions surrounding Prucha's fall from grace, I'm not sure a team can say that. Come the trade deadline, I'm sure he'll be much easier to deal, as several teams will be in panic mode trying to acquire the necessary parts to either make a playoff run or rebuild.
Which leads me to Sundin. Sure I'd love to have him on the Rangers, but the reality is that he's going to have to take a massive pay cut (relative to his potential value) to play in New York. If he truly doesn't care about the money, then this isn't an issue. And while that would be a major breath of fresh air in the world of professional sports, I'll believe it when I see it.
Valiquette will likely get the start in Toronto tomorrow night, where he won two games last season. Game time is 7 PM and can be seen locally on MSGHD and nationally on the NHL network (US) and CBC (Canada).
photo credit: AP/Mary Altaffer