While the New Jersey Devils have blamed unrelenting injuries for their tank to the bottom of the standings this season, the New York Rangers have fought through injuries to three of their top forwards to land in the number five-spot in the Eastern Conference at the 33 game mark. Top penalty killer and faceoff man Chris Drury had missed 31 games, last year’s top-line center Vinny Prospal has missed the entire season, and their superstar winger Marian Gaborik missed 13 games. Michal Rozsival, who had upped his play on defense this also saw some time with the doctor, as he missed nine games. The Rangers were also dealt a blow last night, as Drury returned only to see them lose spark plug Ryan Callahan for at least six weeks with a broken hand.
It seems the hockey gods are throwing whatever they can at the Rangers, trying to throw them off course, and while this season has by no means been a masterpiece, their grit, hard work, and new-found team toughness has created a special bond, one that has catapulted them into good standing in the east.
Coming of wins against two of the top four teams in the conference, 7-0 over Washington and 4-1 over Pittsburgh last night, the Rangers gave fans some hope that with a solid 60-minute effort every night, everything and anything is possible. Should the Rangers find some consistency (they have yet to win more than four games in a row) then the Rangers can be considered one of the top teams in the east. The team really came into their own, ironically enough, without the prowess of Marian Gaborik, and have finally settled in since his return to the lineup. The Rangers have also shown that they can overcome adversity, as their play in tight-scoring games and comeback ability has raised some eyebrows.
I am still hesitant to call this team a contender, though. The Rangers are getting scoring from all over the place, including 14 goals from Brandon Dubinsky and 12 from Brian Boyle, who had only 12 goals in 107 games prior to the start of this season. The now injured Callahan has chipped in 10 goals and Gaborik has 9, even after missing so much time. It seems whenever they need a goal, they get one, whether it’s from hard work by scrapper Brandon Prust, or a nifty wrist shot by Erik Christensen.
But how long will all this last? How long before Boyle’s hot streak goes cold? How long before Dubinsky comes back down to earth? What if Gaborik gets injured again? These are all questions facing the Rangers, and it is because of this that the Rangers need to get themselves another legitimate threat. The name Brad Richards has been tossed around, and the rumor was that the Rangers not only showed an interest, but inquired about him but ran from Dallas’ wanting of Callahan and Dubinsky. Say what you want about his signings, but Glen Sather is a magician at trades, and if there is a solution to the problem of secondary scoring, he’ll find it.
Richards’ price tag may be an issue, because at nearly $8 million, the Rangers could not even afford to trade for his ice skates at this present time. Other than him, there are really no other forwards out there that have an affordable rate and are free agents next season, a combination that teams love to acquire mid-season.
However, the one player the Rangers need may be currently skating with them, and his name is Alex Frolov. I have harped on him all season long, and he has quickly put himself in the old Chateau Bow-Wow (as John Davidson would call it) with fans. Every time he has a good game and looks like he is going to break out, he goes on a ten game goal drought. The goal he scored last night was his first goal in twelve games, and he has only three points during that span. But last night, there was just something about him that looked different—he had a jump in his step and for the first time all season, it looked as if he wasn’t skating through mud. Before he scored what stood to be the game winning goal, he got off a quick shot on a one-timer on a feed from Brandon Prust and Johnson knocked down, but it caught my attention nonetheless.
No one has been harder on Frolov than I have, and maybe I’m just being led by false hope, but I truly believe that last night will be the game where he turned it all around. I’m not expecting a 30 goal season out of him, especially after he only put up six goals in the first 33 games, but to finish with 20+ goals on the season is not a ridiculous expectation, and I think if he can get his confidence up (and knock off the wrap-arounds!) he will be the scorer that the Rangers signed him to be.
In regards to Chris Drury’s return to the lineup, John Tortorella in the post game press conference noted that he has, “Balls as big as the building”, because he returned to blocking shots and being an excellent defensive forward, despite missing 31 games this season.