Prior to the first puck dropping during the first game for the first time this season, all eyes in the Eastern Conference were on these two teams. The Rangers and their offseason shopping spree had the media buzzing to the sounds of playoff contention. The Penguins with their turnaround season the previous year, were also ranked with the Rangers as not only division rivals, but also conference winning contenders. Ah yes, it seemed the season was already played out in people's heads, and there was no changing that.
So now, heading in to their eigth game of the season, it would certainly come as a surprise to Rangers fans (and I suppose hockey fans in general) everywhere to see their team second to last, only three points ahead of none other than the Atlanta Thrashers in the east, ironically enough the same team they knocked out of the first round of the playoffs in 06/07. Perhaps being shutout once against Ottawa, again against Boston this past weekend, and held to only one goal in two other games really makes it seem like the team hasn't gelled yet. Regardless as to whether Gomez or Drury is wearing the same number as last season, one thing is obvious: at this rate, neither is really on pace to put 19; or even 23 goals this season.
Chris Drury, second on the team with 1 goal and six points, has yet to really hit the gas. Gomez, with 2 goals and three points, has also failed on great opportunities with open net shots that would have otherwise had him as the team's leading goal scorer. Factor in these stats to the remainder of the season, and you'll see Drury with 12 goals and 58 assists, while Gomez is on track for 23 goals and 12 helpers. Combined, they'll barely hit over 100 points.
Considering Brierre and Drury paired up for 164 total points last season, it goes without saying that Gomez and Drury have to really pick up the pace. Hopefully, that won't be tomorrow against the Pens.
I'll be honest, there's no better team to test your scoring abilities on then the Penguins. Giving up 24 goals in 7 games is not something any defense will brag about. But it's their offense that gets them wins, while it's the Rangers' defense that secures their's.
Lundqvist isn't looking half bad. There's no doubt he's one of the better goalies in the league, but there's little faith in his teams offensive production. In turn, the two games in which he held the opposition to only two goals is still marked as a loss, and his shutout performance against the Bruins was all for none as he ended the night with a shootout loss.
So really, what should the Penguins focus on come Tuesday night? Well, just because Drury and Gomez aren't lighting up the net, doesn't mean they should go ignored. Not to mention, Jagr is still rolling his wheels as the team's leading scorer with one goal and seven assists.
It's all about watching the rebounds and tip-ins. Jagr will be the one trying to cash in, but Drury will be right there for the loose change. We're gonna need some muscle down low to bully Drury out of the crease, and some pressue on the boards to keep Jagr at bay.
As far as Rangers' blueliners go, they don't pack much of a shot. Roszival leads the Rangers' defenders with 2 goals, but only had a career high 10 last season. The Pens waved goodbye to him in 2003, and I'm sure there's no regret on that move.
Luckily Sean Avery is still out of the line-up, because when he's back from his shoulder injury is when I feel the Rangers will start rollin again. Sure, say what you want about defensive forwards, but if there's one thing a team with poor offense needs, it's some fore-checking from a guy like Avery to keep the puck in the zone.
Ah yes, and the young, magnificent Marc Staal will be playing his older [edit: younger] brother Jordan. From a personal standpoint I find Marc to be a fantastic defender, but if you ask the game announcers they'll say it's true love. Every time he touches the puck, it's an over zealous compliment. I would've at least waited till he had a point on the season.
Shanahan is playing for the salary he's making. Ask a Ranger fan and they'll tell ya he took the cut for the better of the team. Interrogate Shanny enough, and he'll be sure to tell ya he thought doing so would allow him to ride the season out to the cup under the wings of Gomez and Drury.
As a final consideration, the Rangers will not miss the playoffs. It's impossible for them to do so. They really just have to wait and click, which for the sake of Penguins fans will not happen tomorrow. Lundqvist is beatable, as proven by the worst team in the NHL the other night. But he's also relatively unstoppable, as evidenced in his regulation and overtime play against the Bruins Saturday night. You have to hit him with shots, capitalize on powerplays and avoid a goalie duel with Fleury, because a guy like him only needs a single goal from his team to win.
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