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Monday, March 16, 2009

The New York Rangers at Game 70

What a difference a coaching change, a kid from Kazakhstan, and a New & Improved (yet same old) Avery make...

While the Rangers' 5-3-1 record under new head coach John Tortorella isn't cause enough to write epic poetry, it's a vast improvement over the Blueshirts' 2-6-2 slide into Game 60. Besides the shift from the L column to the W column, what other trends do we see? Under Torts' aggressive attacking system, New York is scoring more at Game 70 (2.40 G/gm) than they were at Game 60 (2.33 G/gm), though they've actually slipped from 29th to 30th in the NHL due to Nashville's sudden goal explosion. As the team becomes comfortable with the new system, look for their G/gm average to continue this upward trend.

Remember the old saying, "The best defense is a good offense"? As the Rangers have increased pressure at the other end of the rink, team GAA has fallen, from 2.72 GA/gm at Game 60 to 2.64 GA/gm at Game 70 (6th in the NHL).

As you might expect based on the above stats, the PP is trending upward, to 14.6% at Game 70 (27th) vs 14.0% at Game 60. The PK has improved as well, to a league-best 87.2% at Game 70 vs 87.0% at Game 60. New York is also shooting more (32.3/gm vs 32.0/gm) and allowing fewer Shots Against (29.8/gm vs 30.2/gm).

General Manager Glen Sather did quite well at the trade deadline, picking up Nik Antropov from Toronto for a second round and a conditional draft pick, and getting blueliner Derek Morris from Phoenix in exchange for forwards Petr Prucha and Nigel Dawes and orange traffic cone Dimitri Kalinin. In six games with the Rangers, Antropov has 3 G(including 1 game-winner) and 2 A, while Morris has 2 Assists, both coming on the Power Play.

The possibility exists, however, that re-entry waiver wire pick-up of Sean Avery might just be Sather's most significant long-term move. The Rangers were in dire need of jam, and Avery provides plenty on every shift. This is exactly what what was expected of The Reviled One. What was completely unexpected, however, was Avery's 4 Goals (including 2 PPG), 1 Assist in his first six games. Think he's happy to be back on Broadway?

Scott Gomez is another happy camper. He has clearly benefited more than any other Ranger from the recent changes, picking up 4 G (including 1 PPG & 1 GWG) and 6 A, and going +7 over the last ten games. Ryan Callahan is a close second, with 3 G, 4 A, +1 over the same span.

Whether or not Sather can sign Antropov and Morris over the summer is a question for another time. Right now, the Rangers are back in the fight, trending upward in multiple key statistical categories as they head into the homestretch and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Provided they continue on their current track, the Blueshirts will be the lower seed nobody - not even the red-hot New Jersey Devils - wants to play in the first round.

Postscript: Petr Prucha will be sorely missed. I sincerely hope he scores 30 in Phoenix next season, because he gave New York 100% every night and deserves that kind of success. If/when he does, I will burn Sather (and Renney) in effigy yet again.

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