Through the first six games of the season, the Rangers had scored 13 goals while surrendering only 15, which is a stark contrast from the prior year, when in the same amount of contests, the team had scored 25 goals and given up 25. Just like 2006-07, the Rangers scored the same of goals - zero - in Game Seven, but this it was against Manny Fernandez, who had given up 10 goals his prior two games and been outplayed by Tim Thomas, while last year, it came against a hot goalie in Tomas Vokoun.
What the heck is causing this offensive shortage, which is surprising for a squad that seemingly upgraded that area of the game this past offseason with the signings of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury?
Several reasons have been suggested including:
1) the forwards need time to mesh, which is a valid excuse, but it's starting to get to the point where that symbiotic relationship between linemates should have showed signs of developing;
2) coach Tom Renney has constantly juggled Drury and Gomez with Jagr, not allowing one of them to get comfortable with skating on a line with the team's best forward. The problem is Jagr likes having the puck and going slowly up ice, while Gomez, who is probably best suited to skating with Jagr, likes going full speed out of his zone through center ice into the opponents zone, especially on the power play. What that does is take away the best part of Jagr's game and Marcel Hossa might have been able to balance the line by helping Gomez gain the blue line, but he has been batting both injuries and scratching;
3) Brendan Shanahan looks like the shooting gallery at the arcade, where you keep firing but don't have anything to show for it. Shanny had 32 shots through five games but nothing to show for it. It would be easy to say the career 13.1 percent shooter was starting his downslide, but that's a convenient excuse. Shanahan has for the most part been in the right place and didn't appear to be a step slow or bothered by last season's concussion. He finally scored in game six but needs to get on a roll and probably should be skating on a line with Gomez, to see if the two former Devils can mesh as a unit;
4) Injuries. The loss of Sean Avery robbed the team of some abrasiveness, which may have led to more power plays, and a solid, scoring skater who was able to move easily between playing on any one of the top three lines while the knee surgery Martin Straka underwent this offseason hurt his conditioning and set him back early in the year. There are rumors that the right finger Straka fractured against Boston Saturday could cost him six weeks, if that happens, No. 5 below takes on even more importance;
5) Lack of forward depth. I said during the summer that I felt GM Glen Sather paid Shanahan $500k too much in base salary and overpaid Henrik Lundqvist - given what Ryan Miller and Cam Ward got for similar service time and Ray Emery signed for - by $1-1.5mm, which forced the team to trade a perfect third center in Matt Cullen to Carolina to give the Rangers some cap room. Cullen would have been able to play the first or second line if needed, provide offense from the third line and some veteran leadership. The trade of Cullen forced
6) Lack of production from the young guns. One reason given for the Cullen trade was to provide ice time for Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. Through seven games, the total for both of them, one goal in 14 goals. One could that their ice time has left a lot to be desired - 12:23 for Callahan and 8:05 per Dubinsky, but neither has earned the right to more playing time. The early-season woes of these two plus the problems suffered by the rest of the offense has resulted in Renney using Blair Betts, yes you read that correctly, when the team needed an extra skater on a 5-on-3 man advantage.
Choose one or all of the above and you have a recipe for why the Rangers have struggled. Notice I never mentioned the defense where despite Marek Malik's continued issues, Marc Staal's problems with preventing forwards from going wide, a lack of production from the d-men on the PP point, etc., the team - thanks to Henrik - has allowed just 2.3 goals a game, a low enough total where the Rangers should be at least 4-2-1 and not 2-4-1.
So where to go from here? Renney has to decide on either Gomez or Drury and let them try and build a relationship with Jagr or maybe go with Dave Scatchard, who is in camp on a tryout and see if he clicks with JJ. 2) Find a way to unlock Petr Prucha's goal-scoring ability. It's well know that Prucha is not the best defensively and struggled last year, but he still scored 30 goals as a rookie and 22 last year. Maybe play him with Jagr or on a line with Dubinsky and Callahan to geenrate some speed. 3) Keep playing Nigel Dawes with the top scorers and see what he can do. If not, send him back to the AHL as using on the third or fourth line does little for him or the team. 4) Call up Alex Bourret and see if he can provide a spark with his physical play and ability to score. 5) Stay the course.
Tell me your view as to which of these issues is the most pervasive and which suggestion - if any - makes the most sense.
Note: Devils and Isles updates forthcoming.