The news this week that Blair Betts will be
sidelined for 6-8 weeks with a sprained MCL in his left knee, was pretty
much met with silence from both the media and the Blueshirt faithful.
Perhaps not all that surprising when you consider that Betts has scored
just 4 goals (a career high) and one solitary assist in 42 appearances
for the Rangers this year, but focusing on the offensive side of the ice
would do both Betts and Renney's Rangers some injustice.
Surprisingly, the Rangers are in the
midst of the playoff hunt with half the season already in the books.
They've managed to accomplish this through opportunistic scoring,
effective coaching and ultimately a team defense and penalty kill that
is ranked amongst the best in the league...an area that the former
second round draft choice of the Calgary Flames has excelled in.
Betts has struggled with injuries to his
shoulder early in his career and was limited to just 16 appearances for
the Hartford Wolf Pack last year, the third consecutive year in which he
had sustained such an injury. The lack of playing time in the
previous three years (just 64 games between the AHL and NHL) has lead to
a reduced salary this season, after the Rangers decided to provide a
qualifying offer, but thought enough of him to work out a contract
anyway. You could say the gamble has paid off so far for New York.
Statistically, the most significant
number that describes his contribution to the team is probably the 55.7% win rate in the face-off circle, good enough for 15th in the league
amongst those who've taken 250 face-offs or more this year. He leads the Rangers in this category, and is the only regular face-off
forward to be over the .500 mark, with the closest three Prucha 54.6, Hollweg 53.6 and Ward 50.0 all considered second choices on their
respective lines for the most part.
Perhaps more importantly, Betts won many of those face-offs whilst the Rangers were a man or two short. The
24 year old forward (25 in February) was fourth on the team in shorthanded ice time (second amongst forwards, trailing Dominic Moore by
approximately 4 minutes), and formed an effective penalty killing pair with Jason Ward, another surprise contributor this season. Add in
his aggressive forechecking at even strength, and his quick shifts (39.4 seconds on average) and you have the perfect example of a what the
role-players have been contributing to this team's success.
With the addition of Petr Sykora this week, the Rangers of course were seeking to bring additional to an offense
that was clearly weighted towards role-players and second tier players. But while Sykora will likely produce the offense that Blair Betts
can clearly not provide, it remains to be seen whether the Rangers will be able to maintain their penalty killing and defensive prowess with one
of their key role-players side-lined for the next two months.