The injury to Martin Rucinsky -- two to four weeks with a sprained MCL, resulting from a reckless uncalled charging major by Montreal's Craig Rivet -- creates two critical decision points for the Rangers when they complete their home and home series with the Canadiens at the Garden tonight. The Rangers, one of only two teams without a fighting major this season, and with no enforcer on the roster, have to send a message to Rivet, the Habs, and the NHL about running players, as Larry Brooks points out in his Post article today. How will they respond?
And the Rangers have to replace Rucinsky on the left side of Steve Rucchin's second line, the subject of much speculation in the Asbury Park Press ("Petr Prucha is a likely candidate to take Rucinsky's roster spot"), Star-Ledger ("Renney said Prucha was coming back after the weekend anyway"), and Newsday ("no word Sunday on who will take Rucinsky's place"). We were going to let the Prucha thing drop after hammering away at it the past few days, but Rucinsky's injury brings him immediately back onto our radar screen. He is the only logical choice to replace Rucinsky, especially after scoring again in Hartford's shootout loss last night. If someone else gets the call, then we'll have to find some other way to sort out the logic of the situation.
Dominic Moore, the subject of John Dellapina's article in the Daily News today, and his line (with Jed Ortmeyer and, at times earlier this season, Prucha) could get more responsibility to make up for Rucinsky's absence.
Henrik Lundqvist got some much-deserved nationwide attention after his performance against Monteal in a profile by the Canadian Press that was carried almost everywhere. Brooks in his article suggests that the Rangers nevertheless get Kevin Weekes some work, because Lundqvist is going to need help before long. Some comparisons around the web to the Rangers' good start to the ultimately disastrous 2003-04 season present one good reason for caution, especially because the prime reason for any early season success that season was Mike Dunham's goaltending, which went south after an injury.
Things are different now -- the signs from this team are positive, especially the work ethic, while the signs from that team were not encouraging even when they were winning. When Dunham's injury stopped masking them, the record became a more accurate reflection of the effort.
His injury occurred when the coach unwisely played him on back to back nights, against Dunham's wishes, causing a predictable groin injury. The coach then shattered Dunham's confidence by questioning his courage as he struggled to return from that injury. Coach Renney does not have it within him to repeat that kind of scenario, and Lundqvist's confidence seems unshakable, but the potential for injury must not be overlooked. Likewise the potential that the opposition will begin to figure Lundqvist out. Brooks is right, Weekes will be needed at some point, sooner or later, so it's best to keep him sharp.