By Steve Silverman
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There may be those Rangers fans who want to look at last night’s 6-1 victory over the Penguins and say everything has been fixed following the trades that brought Ryane Clowe to New York and sent Marian Gaborik packing.
Don’t believe it for a minute. The acquisition of Clowe gives the Rangers an influx of toughness and raises the battle level of a team that too often had little going for it this season.
The Rangers haven’t been the same team since Brandon Prust left for Montreal, and the Canadiens haven’t been either. The Rangers have fallen dramatically while Montreal has been soaring.
Clowe is probably a better player than Prust, even though he came to Madison Square Garden without having scored a goal. That he had one before the end of the first period and two by the second period speaks more to good fortune than to Clowe being the savior.
Clowe has toughness and a willingness to engage. However, he’s not a scorer despite his outburst against Pittsburgh.
The Rangers decided that if they were going to make a run at adding grit, they might as well do it in a big way. They parted company with Marian Gaborik, their talented but enigmatic scorer who had reached the 40-goal mark three times in his career, including twice with the Rangers.
They sent him to hockey’s hinterlands when they shuttled him off to Columbus. By sending him to the same place that they had rescued Rick Nash, the Rangers were making a statement.
“We’re the lowest scoring team in the league, and we don’t need you, Marian.”
Gaborik went to the Blue Jackets for Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and defenseman John Moore. Brassard and Moore lit the lamp against the Penguins.
By the looks of that one game, everything is better than it has been all year for the Rangers.
John Tortorella no longer has to worry about a player who doesn’t play all 200 feet of the ice the way he demands. He has good soldiers.
That leaves but one question: Who is going to put the puck in the net?
It’s one thing to run away from a Penguins team that saw its 15-game winning streak go by the boards the night before and was emotionally exhausted. What happens when the Rangers play a team that is fully engaged?
Where is the offense going to come from?
It can’t all come from Rick Nash, who has been the only Rangers player who has shown he can score regularly this year. Maybe Brad Richards is getting his jump back, but the rest of the Rangers are hustlers and hard workers. That includes Derek Stepan (12 goals) and Ryan Callahan (10 goals).
The Rangers don’t have enough offense when they are down two goals entering the third period and you need to put pressure on the opposing goalie.
Goals are going to be hard to come by the rest of the way. The Rangers block shots and have Henrik Lundqvist in the net, but they are not as talented as Pittsburgh, Montreal or Boston.
They may not be talented enough to hold off the New York Islanders.
As disappointing as the Rangers have been, the Islanders have been that surprising. While Tortorella’s methods should be questioned, Jack Capuano has been stellar behind the Islanders bench. He has one rising superstar in John Tavares and the rest of his players are falling in line and getting better every game.
Should the Islanders pass the Rangers in the season’s home stretch and take the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, that will not be acceptable.
The Rangers came into the season as the clear-cut favorite to win the Eastern Conference. Now, they may not even make the playoffs.
Tortorella’s New York coaching career is on the line over the final three-plus weeks.
Are you with Steve? Are the Rangers suddenly for real or was Wednesday’s rout a fluke? Be heard in the comments!