Monday, May 19, 2008

Scotty Hockey Power Company

Of all of the major flaws with the Rangers, the biggest one that hurt them over the course of the season - outside of consistency - was the power play. Despite having weapons that would have impressed Patton (the general, not the singer), it scored at a meager 16.5% pace: good for 22nd in the league. That number - believe it or not - actually went up in the playoffs, to a whopping 16.7%. Wow, right?

Those numbers simply are not good enough.

Now how about 21.4%? That's better and was the regular season power play for the Hartford Wolf Pack. (Unfortunately, that number also is attached to 8.3%, the pitiful playoff success rate of the special team for the AHL squad, but we will ignore that). Now how does the Pack's success translate to the Rangers and next season?

I'll be honest: I saw the Pack play just twice this year on tv. Very disappointing but Hartford is a long ways away from me and MetroNorth doesn't go there so I can't say that they did right and what they did wrong. I know they loaded the special team with skill guys like P.A. Paranteau and Andrew Hutchinson who could deftly move the puck and were willing and able to shoot. They also had no problem with putting Dane Byers and Huge Bust, I mean Hugh Jessiman, out there to work the paint.

Tom Renney and company were quick to talk about not rushing prospects and how letting them spend time in the minors would allow them to learn the Rangers system. So how in the world did the prospects learn and execute the system better than the Blueshirts? Just what was wrong on Broadway, and how can it be fixed? Let's take a look:

*Assistant coach Perry Pearn stood up at a Ranger Season Ticket Subscriber forum and admitted that he was the coach responsible for the power play. Whether he wrote up the plan that didn't work or couldn't get the players to buy into it, he should be held accountable. Hopefully Florida will take him, because you can be pretty damn sure he won't be canned in Dolan's 'what are you talking about? Isiah was the man!' organization. So if/when he goes, the team should try someone new. I don't think that Ken Gernander is the fix (although he is a personal favourite of mine) so start combing the desert to find fresh ideas. Renney loves the WHL so why not give Spokane's Bill Peters or Tri-City's Don Nachbaur (the WHL coach of the year) a try?

*The power play essentially kneeled before Jaromir Jagr. As he lost a step and some zing off of his wrister, the predictable plan of attack was easily read and stopped. Allowing him to control the power play buried on the boards limited the amount of ice the power play could use. If he comes back (and it looks like he will), you fix it by ignoring the C on his jersey and forgetting his reputation; use him as you would any other winger.

*Get a power play quarterback. Rozy sure as hell wasn't it. Neither was Marty Straka (more on him in a bit). Get a bonafide puck mover/big gun to run the special team from the point. In theory you have a ton of room to work with from the blue line in so the team needs to stop getting itself caught in the corner trying to force passes and shots through defenders who know what is coming. Now Bobby Sanguinetti may hold that role in the future but someone has to step in for next year. Give Hutch a try; if you don't trust his defensive acumen, then put him on the third pairing. Mighty midgets Tobias Enstrom and Corey Murphy both did solid point work in Atlanta and Florida respectively and they can't play a lick of defense.

*Don't let the defenders know what is coming. The Rangers power play rarely cycled and - as I and everyone else mentioned - was exceedingly, stupefyingly, shockingly predictable. Turn on the playoffs; Philly (RIP), Detroit and Pittsburgh were 2, 3 and 4 in the league on the power play respectively and they don't stand still for minutes at a time.

*Put hungry players out there. For all of their many good qualities, Straka and Brendan Shanahan did not play hungry. Straka was the first to defer to Jagr and Shanny too often looked like late-career Brett Hull out there: 'Hey, I can shoot, pass me the puck. I can't stickhandle around many people anymore so I won't try. I'm old and slow so I won't really move to much. But pass me the puck! I can shoot!' Petr Prucha had 16 power play goals his rookie year and saw virtually no time on the power play this season. When he did, he was on the far side from Jagr and few passes made it through the crowd in front across to him. That has to change for next year if he is still going to be on the squad. The kid is a Timex, he "Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking" (did you know they dropped that tag line?!? stupid company), and he has to serve some purpose if he is to hold a roster spot.

Of course, many of these things were said over the course of the year but, after watching the Rangers go one for 18 in their four losses to the Pens, its blatantly apparent to even the blind (Sather) that some change has to be made. Because, let's face it, if the power play was more successful we would be preparing for the Cup Finals right now instead of watching Cindy's squad get a chance at Stanley ...

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