One of the best aspects of writing in a
forum the likes of Outside The Garden is you constantly get to ask
questions that you don't have to answer. Heading into this season the
Rangers organization was filled with questions from top to bottom, Will
Eric Lindros remain healthy? Can Mike Richter rebound from his second
major knee surgery in as many years? Can Mark Messier withstand the rigors
of another 82 game NHL regular season marathon? The list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, ten games into this young season both the question marks
and the losses have begun to pile up.
The Rangers have gone a respectable 4-5-1,
which in and of itself is no cause for alarm because let's be honest here,
where exactly did you expect this collection of rookies, journeymen and
reclamation projects to be just ten games into the season? The alarming
part is not where they are, it's how they got there.
Head coach Ron Low, for whatever reason,
has been unable to get this stubborn, freelancing bunch to buy into
anything resembling a defensive system. Night after night players up and
down the roster are beaten in one on one battles along the wall. Opposing
players, big and small, are allowed to set up camp in front of gun shy
Ranger netminders with nary a price to be paid.
The starts to games thus far this young
season have been absolutely awful, through ten games the Blueshirts have
yet to hold a lead after the first period. The beginnings to the past
three matches have bordered on embarrassing and after watching the Blues
outshoot the Rangers 15-0 in the first nine minutes of Thursday's debacle
in St Louis, GM Glen Sather has got to be scratching his head.
The powers that be in this column would
like to go on record right now, at the ten game mark, and make one thing
very clear, if this team has not turned their season around by game twenty
a coaching change has got to be in the offing. It has become blatantly
obvious through these eyes that a coaching change needs to be made. Not
after Thanksgiving, not after forty games, but sooner rather than later
while there's still some season to salvage. This is not a knee jerk
reaction to three bad games, nor is this a move that should reek of
desperation, but this should be looked upon as a necessary evil for a team
that despite sweeping changes in the off-season has picked up where it
left off last season and has seemingly lost it's way so early in this
Look up and down the roster, there's no way
this team is as bad as recent games would indicate. There's no way the
power play can possibly be this anemic, a team wide refusal to enter the
forbidden zone, or the slot area as it's known to most other NHL
franchises, and pay the price to create havoc in front of the other team's
net has become a Rangers trademark under the Low regime.
All too often this young season opposing
goaltenders have had an easy night's work against the offensively
challenged Blueshirts. This is due in large part to a lack of traffic and
second chance opportunities created by this band of perimeter players that
would make Herb Brooks proud. The willingness to pay the price must not be
requested, it must be demanded, a refusal or unwillingness to do so must
result in a loss of playing time, which in most NHL circles is called
Fresh off Thursday's thorough beating at
the hands of the St Louis Blues, the Rangers have stumbled to the ten game
mark. Here's a report card based on individual performances over the first
BRYAN BERARD- Grade - "C-" Coming
back after missing full year due to injury. Seems to have hit a bit of a
wall after quick start, losing too many one on one battles. Should improve
as season moves along.
DAN BLACKBURN- Grade- "B" Rookie
netminder has been team's most pleasant surprise early on. Extremely cool
for an 18 year-old, notched first win in Montreal with 2-1 victory over
Canadiens. Needs to play consistently to remain sharp and give starter
Mike Richter's cranky knees a rest. Has gone 2-2 in four game starts.
ZDENO CIGER- Grade "C+" Free
agent signee, one of few bright spot's early on, seems to have a real nose
for the net. Needs to be more consistent with play away from the puck.
Seems to have found spot on wing with newly formed Czech line.
RADEK DVORAK- Grade "C" Hasn't
gotten off to fast start Rangers had hoped after strong finish to last
season. Must score consistently if Blueshirts hope to compete for a
playoff spot. Went 3-4-7 in first ten matches. Hasn't scored in last 5
games since marker vs Montreal 10/15.
RICO FATA- Grade "INC" Claimed
off waivers from talent starved Flames, was reportedly placed back on
waivers but pulled back once claim was expected.
THEO FLEURY- Grade "C+"
Diminutive winger would've gotten higher grade but penchant for taking bad
penalties has reared it's ugly head once again. Theo has played with a
real chip on his shoulder early on, has created lot's of opportunities but
hasn't gotten on offensive roll of yet, went 2-3-5 in first 10 matches.
Leads team in SOG with 36 through first ten.
BARRETT HEISTEN- Grade "C"
Off-season free agent acquisition has proved to be an absolute coup for GM
Glen Sather. Made team with outstanding camp but has only averaged 7-10
minutes a night with high priced veterans in front of him. Plays high
energy game that the Blueshirts sorely need, has been used on the PK.
ANDREAS JOHANSSON- Grade "B"
Defensive specialist has been pleasant surprise, has played both center
and wing and been one of the clubs best penalty killers, has to contribute
more offensively. Seems to have found confidence during hiatus in Sweden.
DAVE KARPA- Grade "C-" Another of
off-season free agent class, stay at home defensemen plays it tough in his
own end, gets caught out of position trying to deliver big hits, unforced
giveaway's plagued him early on, was starting to find his game until
sustaining shoulder injury against San Jose.
TOMAS KLOUCEK- Grade "INC" Hard
hitting defensemen came back from major knee surgery a month early, made
impact in first game delivering big hit on Turner Stevenson against New
Jersey. Should be a huge asset as he rounds into shape with more playing
time, assuming he gets it.
BRIAN LEETCH- Grade "B" Former
captain started fast but has struggled during recent three game skid.
Seems to be getting beaten in an awful lot of one on one battles along the
wall, still has ability to jump into the play, needs steady defensive
partner to be of the stay at home variety. Went 4-5-9 in first ten games,
including OT game winner in opening night victory over the Sabres.
ERIC LINDROS- Grade "C-" Grade
should have been lower but we give the Big Train a pass due to his stretch
of inactivity prior to the season. Hasn't been big presence offensively
and seems tentative in traffic, should improve vastly as season
progresses. His health is the key to Ranger season. Went 3-3-6 in first
ten, but was extremely quiet in back to back losses to San Jose and St
VLADIMIR MALAKHOV- Grade "C"
Oft-injured defensemen has embodied this Ranger season, flashes of
brilliant play followed by maddening unforced errors. Probably deserves a
better grade but single-handedly cost Blueshirts a point with lazy
giveaway vs. Ottawa. Needs to exert himself more offensively to take the
onus off of Leetch, leads team in +/- with a +6 rating.
MANNY MALHOTRA- Grade "D" Former
first rounder is looking more and more like a bust every day, cannot seem
to earn himself a regular shift and seems to have fallen out of favor with
his second regime. For some reason Low refuses to give Manny his best
chance to succeed, on a line with the Captain, instead he has seen an
average of 7-10 minutes a night on the 4th line. Has not distinguished
himself in a limited role.
SANDY McCARTHY- Grade "F" Rangers
"enforcer" has dropped the gloves a grand total of one time this
season, in the home opener against Buffalo. The hulking wingers role seems
to have diminished for some reason after breakout season last year. Is an
alarming -6 through first ten matches. Sandman needs to get more involved
physically to be the asset he was last season.
MARK MESSIER- Grade "C-" Hate to
say this but the greatest captain the Rangers have ever known has begun to
show his age early on. Has become too much of a perimeter player and is
consistently losing one on one battles. Missed two games due to ribcage
injury, went 2-3-5 in eight matches.
PETER NEDVED- Grade "B"
Notoriously slow starter got off to fast start for first time in Ranger
career, speedy Czech has continued to be way too streaky, needs to find
consistency on offense. Penchant to miss the net can be maddening at
times, needs to shoot more, tied for team lead in scoring with 9 points.
Ranks second among Ranger forwards with 30 SOG.
DALE PURINTON- Grade "INC"
Rangers pugilist was suspended for seven games for high sticking incident
against Washington in home opener. Suspension ends 10/27 against Boston.
MIKE RICHTER- Grade "B+" Has
bounced back nicely from second consecutive season ending knee surgery.
Has been outstanding early on, single-handedly kept Blueshirts in game
against St Louis making 19 saves during 20 shot first period onslaught.
Has been given day's off in between starts unlike last season's heavy
workload, has gone respectable 2-3-1 in six appearances.
PETER SMREK- Grade "D" Second
year man has been inconsistent to say the least Has dubious distinction of
being a whopping -7 through first ten matches. Saw some power play time
early on, may be sent to Hartford after suspensions to Purinton and Ulanov
expire. Looks like he may need some more time on the farm.
IGOR ULANOV- Grade "INC" Free
agent signee was also suspended for high sticking incident following his
Garden debut against the Caps. Was guilty of several unforced errors in
first two games as a Ranger. Should also improve as the season moves
along. Could form quite an imposing duo if teamed with Kloucek.
DARREN VAN IMPE- Grade "D" Waiver
pick up has appeared in 6 games after brief stint in Hartford. Has
averaged 10-14 minutes a night and has seen limited work on the power
play, always makes the safe play, is a solid sixth defensemen.
MIKE YORK- Grade "B" Smallish
forward comes to play every night, is a solid two way player but is too
small to match up against large eastern conference centermen so has been
moved to the wing. Must show more of an ability to finish and improve on
last season's 14 goal output. Has gone 2-1-3 in ten games.
RON LOW- Grade "D" Head coach
needs to find a way to get the team to think defense first, need to look
across the Hudson to see what type of style wins these days. May have to
implement the dreaded trap if all else fails, if not he could be back in
Edmonton for Christmas.
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