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"Talking New York Rangers Hockey, since 2007"
New York, NY • United States • 23 Years Old • Male

Breaking It Down (5/5)

Posted 2:20 PM ET | Comments 2

If you missed the previous sections of this 5 part series, follow the links below to catch up:
Part 4
Part 3
Part 2
Part 1


So, you want to be a contender? Well, New York, you have not made it there yet. 47 games only puts you in a position to contend, but there is still work to do.

With a week off, here is a player-by-player breakdown of what needs to be accomplished in the next 35 regular season games and the postseason.

Take Your Time

One of the biggest assets the Rangers have, surprisingly, is defensive depth. Impressive performances by Anton Stralman, Stu Bickel, and Jeff Woywitka has carried the Rangers through 81 man games lost to the best six defensemen. Couple that with concussions, the most sensitive and unpredictable injury in the game of hockey, and its pretty clear that the Rangers and Sauer should proceed with caution.

Nobody outside of the organization knows the extent of Sauer's condition. Therefore, setting any kind of date for return or judging a chosen date as too early or too late is a foolish endeavor. But those involved in his healing process, including Sauer who is relied on to relay how he is feeling day by day, must be careful. If they are not sure, it is better to be conservative. The Rangers don't need Sauer now that badly; he certainly would be of more value during the playoffs when more is at stake. Whenever he comes back, it will be a bonus. But for now, Sauer needs to take his time to heal, however long it takes.

Shake Off The Rust

Its was a long time since Marc Staal step foot on the Garden ice, so its no surprise that there was great happiness surrounding his return. It was a long, hard road to recovery for the Rangers top defenseman, and after a long struggle he has finally made it back. This alone was enough to forgive and forget the fact that since his return he has been a liability on the ice. He has had poor judgement with and without the puck, rarely showing flashes of his old self. He has been on the ice for one goal per game, on average, over the 11 games since his return. That kind of performance is below standard for Staal, and frankly, for any NHL defenseman.

At some point, Staal needs to turn things around. It is easy to baby the recently injured player and make excuses for his poor performance, but that is not the Ranger way. Players no longer have god-given rights in this organization because they have big contracts or famous last names. You have to earn your ice time. If Staal does not fix up his game, he should be asked to be sent down on a conditioning assignment when Eminger is ready to play. It is not a popular idea, no doubt, but if he needs more time to return to being an asset on the ice, it should not be at the expense of this team's success. Something has got to give.

Don't Get Predictable

Since becoming linemates, Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik have, as John Tortorella put it, "married each other." The chemistry between the two forwards is undeniable, as the former leads the club in assists and the latter in goals. But the success behind this dynamic duo is more than the centerman feeding the sniper. In fact, Stepan is 4th on the club in shots on goal, making him one of four Rangers already with double digit goals. The fact Stepan may shoot as much as pass makes him unpredictable when carrying the puck, so opponents cannot just zone in on stopping Gaborik.

Stepan is not going to be an elite goal scorer, at least not in his sophmore season. But even set up men need to be willing to shoot the puck. That is why Jaromir Jagr did not click with Scott Gomez; Gomez always looked to pass to Jagr and other teams picked up on that quickly. If Stepan shoots 15 times, he may only score once. But Gaborik would not be shooting over 15% if he was the only threat on the top line. Add it all up, and overall it will lead to continued success for the combo.

Play A Torts Game

Stralman has the ability to contribute to the Rangers as a top 6 defenseman now and even when the entire defensive corps is healthy. Through 24 games, he has been +10 playing a healthy 18 minutes per game. It is clear that Stralman can be a contributor on both sides of the puck; he is solid defensively and adds good passes and timely shots in the offensive zone. Though he has not broken out offensively yet, he has shown good ability, and even had 4 points during a 3 game stretch in December.

The only thing that may hold him back is John Tortorella. The Rangers coach likes the game played a certain way, and that method has resulted in great success with the club. Initially, Tortorella did not like Stralman's game at all. However, as time has gone on, the defenseman has adjusted and has pleased the coach enough to be placed on the second pairing. It won't be easy for Stralman to stay in the lineup when Sauer and Eminger return, but when things are going well it is hard for any coach to change things up. If Stralman continues to play the way his coach wants, he may just continue to get ice time and be able to contribute in many facets of the game.

If you missed the previous sections of this 5 part series, follow the links below to catch up:
Part 4
Part 3
Part 2
Part 1
Filed Under:   rags2riches   rags2riches   steps   staal   stralman   sauer  
January 31, 2012 3:19 PM ET | Delete
Great series Alex. Excellent writing and analysis
January 31, 2012 3:40 PM ET | Delete
Pretty good stuff. Glad you abandoned the motivational speaker approach from the first entry.
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