Don't Touch That Dial: There is just no turning off a Ranger game. Regardless of the score, the Rangers continue to rule the third period of games. They have the best point percentage in the NHL when leading after two (19-0-0) and the best winning percentage when trailing after two (7-14-3 for .292, although Boston edges them out for best point percentage, .368 to .354).
Last night, down by three, they came within a last second goalpost of taking the Devils into overtime. Before the All-Star break, they came within Artem Anisimov's back of coming back to take Florida into OT. And that was after coming back in the third period of each of their two previous games to win.
But despite the continued comebacks, slippage is seeping in. Last night was the fifth time in the last nine games the Rangers found themselves behind by two or three goals at some point. Four of five times, they came back in the third period to within a goal or to tie. But they ended up losing all five.
In their game against Pittsburgh, the Rangers blew a two-goal lead for only the fourth time this season (the other three times were all against the Islanders in two separate games, including their only blown third period lead of any kind back in the second game of the season). They did come back to tie and take the game to a shootout, where they lost.
The overall picture: the Rangers remain competitive until the final buzzer, but they are falling behind more frequently and as a result coming up short more often than they did previously. In their first 34 games, they trailed entering the third period on 12 occassions and went 4-7-1 in those games (a .375 point percentage). They have been behind entering the third period an equal number of times in the 20 games since, going 3-7-2 (a .333 point percentage).
No Gift of Gab: Waiting for Marian Gaborik to score that last goal that completes those comebacks has become a losing proposition. He did it once against Washington when a shot caromed in off his arm, but that's it. His 33 points in 40 games is only the third worst pace of his career, though it's the first time he's below a point per game since the lockout.
But aside from 10 goals and 13 points in three games, he has just 6 goals and 20 points in his other 37. He has just two goals in 14 games since New Year's Day other than his four-goal outing against Toronto. I am on semi-forced hiatus from my blogging gig at MSG.com for worrying about Gaborik having slowed down, perhaps due to injuries. Whatever the reason, he is just not the explosive skater and shooter he was last season.
As in past seasons, almost all wins and losses can be pinned to the success or failure of the power play to score the key goal. They got the equalizer against Pittsburgh, but that was the only goal in nine minutes on the power play from the moment Jordan Staal took his match penalty, including a short two-man advantage. They came within one of the Devils after converting a five-on-three but could not tie in three subsequent advantages.
One may be tempted to wonder what the coaches are doing about the flagging power play. But without increased production from Gaborik, it's too much to ask for very much more from the rest of the crew, who are already overachieving. Gaborik has just one power play goal since late December, and it came with the Rangers already comfortably routing Toronto (though to be fair he does have four power play assists in that time).
Face-Off Mess: Hard to believe the Rangers aren't the worst team in the league on face-offs, but they are third-worst. And that's despite the coaching from Mark Messier. They would in fact be worst without Chris Drury's 56.2% record. Other than Drury and Brandon Dubinsky (who otherwise plays on the wing) at just over the 50-50 mark, all other Rangers who have taken over a hundred draws are well below the breakeven point.
Interestingly, face-offs are not hurting the power play. They are slightly better than 50% when up a man, led by Dubinsky's remarkable 64% win rate -- and Dubinsky has taken 35% of the power play draws. Dubinsky is also nearly 60% at home overall and close to 40% on the road, suggesting that he needs to just concentrate harder in all situations.
Serving Youth: With his relegation to face-off specialist, penalty killer, and fourth liner, there has been more attention paid to Drury's decline than ever. John Tortorella has been the first Ranger coach in memory to make decisions based on performance rather than reputation, name, or salary. He will have to make the tough decision on Drury the next time a forward comes off the injured list -- or, at least, the next forward not named Erik Christensen.
Actually, that's my opinion, not the coach's, who said today that Christensen will replace Drury in the next game in Montreal. Drury apparently has a wonky knee -- with his no movement clause precluding assignment to the minors and a trade not possible at his salary (even if he approved it), I have long said the best move is to find a way to get Drury on IR to take advantage of the long-term injury exception to free up his cap hit.
Despite my longstanding preference to go with youth over veterans and my early-season criticism of Steve Eminger, I am quite surprised and a little unhappy at his benching since the All-Star break in favor of the increasingly erratic Mike Del Zotto. I get that Tortorella wants Del Zotto to help jump-start the power play, and I'm thrilled that Ryan McDonagh (who should have made the team out of training camp) was not the defenseman scratched.
But at this moment, Eminger helps the Rangers more than Del Zotto, and down the road, Del Zotto will help the Rangers more with more seasoning in the AHL. Especially when you see what they've done with McDonagh and Mike Sauer down there.
Salary Crap: The struggles of Gaborik and Drury underscore the astonishing disparity between salary and scoring on this Ranger team. The six highest-paid forwards, who earn a combined 28 million cap dollars this season (though not all of it hits the salary cap because of injury and waiver exceptions), have combined for 29 goals and 82 points (more than half the goals and 40% of the points from Gaborik).
The Rangers' top six scorers among forwards who earn less than the top six earners have combined for 80 goals and 170 points, more than double in both categories despite earning a combined $8 million. That's $100,000 per goal and less than $90,000 per assist, versus nearly a million dollars per goal and over half a mil per assist for the guys getting the big bucks.
On a personal note: Condolensces to John Giannone on the passing of his nephew. John is one of the great personalities in the Rangers' press room and post-game locker room scrum, and he is an underrated play-by-play man backing up the impeccable Sam Rosen. I extend my sympathies to him and his family in this moment of tragedy.