After being shut out by the San Jose Sharks 1-0 in what Rangers owner James Dolan referred as still playing “magnificently,” the New York Rangers exploded for eight goals against the struggling Ottawa Senators to win 8-4. The game, however, was far from one either team would really like to hang their hat on. As Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist put it, the Rangers’ effort- especially in the third period- was just plain “sloppy.” Despite the ‘sloppiness,’ the win over the disappointing Ottawa Senators has propelled the New York Rangers into sixth place in Eastern Conference.
When the Rangers traded Ryan Callahan for Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis, it was supposed to provide a much needed jolt to a struggling offense. Although St. Louis has yet to fully start clicking with the team offensively, perhaps this outburst of eight goals will spark the 38-year-old along with the rest of the team. St, Louis has been recently quoted talking about his struggles saying, “I have 20 new teammates that have seen me play and played against me, but it’s a lot different feel than playing together. That takes time.” Time, however, is running low. St. Louis has three assists in eight games played so far with the Rangers, which is well below average for the Art Ross trophy winner from a year ago. But if there is one consistent bright spot on this Rangers team, it is the man between the pipes.
With the win, Henrik Lundquist- aptly nicknamed ‘King’ Lundqvist- became the New York Rangers’ all-time winningest goalie with 302 wins. Lundqvist has a respectable 2.50 GAA and save percentage of .917, but due to a lack of offense on the year, Lundqvist and the Rangers, under first year coach Alain Vigneault, are still trying to click in their new system. With the 12 games remaining on the Rangers schedule, if the Rangers can figure out their offensive woes before the playoffs begin, net-minder Lundqvist has shown time and time again that he can pretty much carry any team on his back all the way to the finals, as he recently showed in the Olympic Games when Lundqvist took an injury-laden Swedish team to the Gold Medal match.
The New York Rangers would appear to be trending upward in the push for the playoffs, but the same cannot be said about the Ottawa Senators who continue to disappoint fans and have now dropped four straight in four ‘must-win’ games. It is not that the Senators are exactly playing “bad” but rather they had put themselves in four ‘must-win’ situations against four of the top goaltenders who happen to be on four of the hottest teams in the league right now. That being said, giving up eight goals at home in a ‘must-win’ game is pretty embarrassing. What exactly is going wrong with the Ottawa Senators would appear as something much harder to diagnose.
The team is virtually the same- if not better- on paper than the year before when the Senators, in a shortened season, made it to the Conference Semifinals. The scoring has improved from last year (going from 26th in the league to this year’s 14th in the league) and added strong, scoring forwards like Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacArthur and the recently acquired Ales Hemsky to their lineups. However, if there was one underlying problem to point out, it could be the goalie-play that is causing the team to struggle. Last year, starting goalie Craig Anderson posted an astounding 1.69 GAA. Compare that to this year’s abysmal 3.10 GAA. Also, backup net-minder Robin Lehner posted a 2.20 GAA, compared to this year’s 3.24 GAA. The goalie woes, coupled with the loss of veteran leaders like Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar, may have proved to be too much to overcome this year for the Sens.
The Rangers, on the other hand, still have a very good team team on paper, and if Vigneault can get his team to buy in to his system, as he did in his last five seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, leading to five Northwest Division championships, look for the Rangers to be a sleeper team in the playoffs. This 8-4 game last night has outlined the tale of two teams seemingly moving in opposite directions: the Ottawa Senators appear to continue to disappoint for the rest of the season and miss the playoffs; and the New York Rangers have jumped to sixth place for now and if they can get things clicking, could jump up the standings even further. If or when the veteran star players like Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis start putting pucks in the back of the net, look for the Rangers to become the one lower-seated team no one wants to face in the first round.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles