It was Chris Drury on Monday night. Two nights earlier it was Nikolai Zherdev. Since October 4th it has been Scott Gomez, Brandon Dubinsky, Markus Naslund, and Henrik Lundqvist among others. And while common sense would seem to dictate that teams without 35+ goal scorers are lost, the 9-2-1 Rangers are proving that scoring by committee can be just as effective. It is true that they don't have a Marian Hossa or Sidney Crosby to bail them out while trailing late in a game. But that isn't necessary when you have three lines that can score at will. In fact, it is more difficult to defend against a team with three very good lines than it is against a team with only one elite scoring threat. That much became apparent in New York in days long ago when Jaromir Jagr roamed the frozen pond above Penn Station. There is no doubting that lacking an elite player in the lineup is a negative aspect, but it is a problem that, if attacked properly, can be turned into an advantage.
The "Renney System," which preaches rolling four lines, swarming defense and 60 minutes of effort is ideal for these set of players. The top three lines have 9 quality forwards, 6 of them on pace for 20+ goal seasons, with no elite players but no weak links either. They all play solid defense, forecheck well and by doing so are able to keep the puck in the offensive zone for the majority of the shift. The fourth line plays the role of shutdown unit with less offensive upside but also create scoring chances through good effort along the boards and a relentless forecheck. The Rangers gameplan is to outwork the opponent, and because their are 12 forwards who are capable of doing their share to the utmost, this goal can be accomplished without tiring out the players. The burden can be shared fairly equally and enough energy is conserved for every player to compete on every shift. Most teams are not equipped to play 60 minutes of high energy hockey and find it difficult to maintain their level of play throughout the game when facing the Rangers. No example is more telling than Saturday's shootout win over the Penguins in which the Rangers outshot Pittsburgh 18-2 during a third period that saw the Rangers come back from a 2-0 deficit. The first two periods of that game seemed to be fruitless for the Rangers but their hard work paid off late in the game when they took advantage of their worn out opponents.
The depth in the roster also helps the Rangers be an elite defensive team. There is no weak line that opponents can take advantage of and thus, opponents find it harder to generate sustained offensive pressure. The Rangers allow only 27 shots per game, which is good enough for a seventh best league ranking in that category, and that translates into the best team goals against average in the league. I also helps that Henrik Lundqvist can bail them out on the few chances that are given up. This great defense allows the Rangers to be successful without an elite scorer as the team is almost designed to win games by scoring two or three goals. In fact, since the lockout, the Rangers are 111-20-16 when scoring 3 or more goals in a game, a pretty staggering record considering they never finished better than 5th in the conference during that span. This year has been the best start for the Rangers under Tom Renney mainly because those three goals can now come from any player in the lineup. Even when a player or an entire line is in a slump, other players are there to step up and provide those three goals. This is very evident from the Rangers success this season despite Chris Drury's ineffectiveness through the first eleven games.
The ability of anybody to step up on any given night creates a very stable system. There will be ups and downs this season, as there always is. But now that those ups and downs don't depend on those of an individual player, the success should continue pretty consistently throughout the year.