What the New York Rangers Need Now: Or Gaborik and the Lilliputians

Russell McKenzieCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2009

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 3: Brandon Dubinsky #17 and Marian Gaborik #10 of the New York Rangers play for possession of the puck along the boards against Chris Campoli #14 of the Ottawa Senators during the second period at Madison Square Garden on October 3, 2009 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Senators 5-2. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

There is a certain amount of fear you hear in the voices of players when they talk about someone like Chris Pronger.  Behind the facade of toughness and testosterone, any time a forward has to face Pronger, there's a reverence and sense of doom whenever you hear them comment on Pronger's play.

It's like they're speaking of their own demise.

When Henrik Lundquist has spoken in postgame sessions, his eyes widen and he looks crazed when he talks about his team, and behind those words, he keeps coming back to the same things: Play in front of his net.

In the post-lockout NHL, one trend has overtaken all.  That's the size of the players in front of the goal.  Some teams are great at clearing opposing forwards from in front of their netminder, others, not so much.

Take the New Jersey Devils, for instance.  Their forwards and defenders punish the opposition forwards for even looking in the direction of Marty Brodeur.  But, any time they fail to clear bodies, a quality scoring chance occurs.

Now, let's take a look at the team across the Hudson.  The New York Rangers, despite regaining some of their early season confidence with a four-game winning streak, run into trouble when their opponents create traffic in front of Lundquist.

We know that King Henrik is a world class goaltender.  But the general consensus is that even the best of keepers cannot save what they cannot see.

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That's not to say that there is not some size and snarl to the Rangers' game of late. However, when most of your size players are only playing five to seven minutes a night, their assets are being mishandled.

John Tortorella, as talented a coach as he is, needs to realize that leaning on a top line will only create injuries and frustration.  Most teams roll three lines pretty consistently, and all of those lines have one or more large-bodied forwards on them.  Tortorella seems to have finally worked out his defense pairings, although he seems to be determined to freeze Roszival and Redden by placing them on a line together.

Now, that is not to say that the onus of blame is shouldered completely by Torts.  Sather put this team together, and seemed to forget that size does, in fact, matter.  

Slats has not done a totally awful job.  At least we have one player to rely on to do the dirty work.  Sean Avery, since being totally undisciplined earlier in the season, has been on the ice for 10 of the last 18 goals.  That's a staggering number for a player that is known more for his mouth than his hands.

Avery continues to be the driving force behind the Rangers, but he cannot be most effective if he is the only one causing trouble.  Let's be real, Adam Graves scored 52 goals in the blessed 1993-1994 season.  Most of those goals came by causing trouble in front of the net.  

Now, Graves was on the first line.  Can Avery be a top line forward? That's a level of risk no one is looking to take.

So, Sather needs to go back to the drawing board.  

No one is scared to play the New York Rangers.  They're a small team and they don't have depth down the middle.  If you can stop their top line, they get rattled and take penalties. If you can forecheck harder than they do, you can create turnovers and throw a wrench in their weak transition game.  If you create trouble in front of their goal, you can create scoring chances almost at will.  

The rest of the NHL has the Rangers' number and got it early.  There's no question in this writer's mind that the Rangers simply have to be harder to play against, and that task is nearly impossible with the personnel they currently possess.

Now, the example of Chris Pronger, as wild as that may be, is an apt one.  The man punishes misdeeds in his zone.  He's a game-changer because of his size and strength. Now, the Rangers don't have to go find that kind of talent.  They simply don't have the assets to trade, nor do they have the cap space for a salary as such.  

However, there are big bodies to be had at bargain prices.  And if Sather can't open his eyes and see them, then he isn't doing his job and needs to rethink his career choices.

Prepare for it, Rangers fans.  Glen Sather will need to trade skill for size very soon. Whether it's blue line size or size at forward, expect a shift soon.  If not, the Rangers Nation may get their wish, and Sather may be gone.

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