Friday, March 16, 2007

Powerless in Atlanta

If there was a charger, it would be on empty. That's how dreadful the Ranger power play continued to be in another crushing defeat to Atlanta, 2-1 in overtime at Philips Arena Friday night.

Once again, the Blueshirts failed miserably on six power plays- making it 0 for their last four games (0-for-19). The trouble is time much like their too predictable man-advantage is running out on them. Instead of getting two points, they settled for one in a game they controlled a vast majority of outshooting the Thrashers 39-20 in regulation (28-10 final two frames).

"We have to stay the course," coach Tom Renney said. "One thing we do not want to do is get frustrated. Bottom line is we have to keep working here and start getting two points instead of one."

With a golden opportunity to gain ground on the idle Islanders and Hurricanes where a win would've put them in a three-way tie for seventh, the Rangers just wouldn't alter the strategy. One in which Renney continued to send out his all-Euro unit of Michael Nylander, Jaromir Jagr, Petr Prucha, Michal Rozsival and Martin Straka. Content to just skate on the perimeter and pass the puck around instead of registering shots, they helped Atlanta kill off valuable time. The dilemma for the coaching staff was that their more aggressive second unit which gets shots through hardly saw the ice.

Unable to take advantage, the Rangers let a point slip when ex-Islander Alexei Zhitnik one-timed a point shot past Henrik Lundqvist at 2:18 of OT. Cashing in on an undisciplined Matt Cullen hook in the offensive zone, Zhitnik took a feed from Slava Kozlov and bombed his sixth in for the winner. It ended another frustrating game in which the Blueshirts only managed to beat backup goalie Johan Hedberg once. Moose finished with 38 saves earning First Star honors.

"That's a game we should win," Lundqvist pointed out after failing to pickup his 30th win. "Still a good point. We had our chance to get two...I have to stay sharp and not allow any mistakes. Hopefully our power play can step up and get some goals."

The lost point was particularly damaging because instead of guaranteeing themselves of at least a share for seventh with 11 games remaining, New York made the task even more difficult. And while the Leafs were somehow losing in Washington 5-1 making one wonder if there was a Lunar Eclipse, so too were the Canadiens, who fell at Pittsburgh 6-3. Gone was a chance to pull ahead of the Leafs and move two points ahead of the Habs.

Instead, when the Rangers take on Boston tonight on St. Patty's Day, they'll find themselves tied with the Leafs for ninth with each having 77 points and the same 11 left with one pivotal Garden match-up on April Fool's Day. Maybe by that time, Renney's club will fool a lot of people and actually shoot the puck on the power play.

Without Karel Rachunek on the blueline, the Rangers recalled rookie David Liffiton from Hartford. He saw the ice only sparingly though getting 7:26 of ice-time with two shots while taking a questionable holding penalty. What that meant for the rest of the D were major minutes for Rozsival and (30:47), Marek Malik (24:08). Renney doubleshifted both a lot splitting them most of the night with Rozsival working with Thomas Pock (16:25) and Malik teaming with Daniel Girardi (17:53). Paul Mara, who struggled in his end taking two minors also received 19:51.

Despite the heavy workload, they would get the game's first goal late in the first when Sean Avery took a Michael Nylander feed in the slot and wristed one past Hedberg with 53 seconds left. During a change, Jagr fed the puck to Mara down low, who got it to Nylander behind the net. He then found a wide open Avery for his 13th (3rd as a Ranger).

It gave them momentum after a wide open first where each team registered 10 shots. In particular, Lundqvist was sharp in stoning a couple of Thrashers from in close, including a tough pad stop on Marian Hossa.

But the Thrashers would draw even early in the second thanks to some sloppy play by the Rangers. After getting nothing accomplished during a four-on-four, Nylander returned from the box as did Ilya Kovalchuk 13 seconds later to put the clubs at even strength. But with Atlanta pressing on the forecheck, they forced Nylander into a bad turnover. After intercepting his mistimed feed through the middle of the ice, Kozlov fed Kovalchuk, who fired a shot which was redirected home by Hossa for his Thrasher-leading 41st which tied it at 2:51.

Afterwards, the Rangers would dominate play by generating plenty of chances off an aggressive attack. Rookie recall Ryan Callahan nearly had his first but Hedberg got a piece of his backhand from in close. The Hartford leading scorer played very well, getting four shots on goal in 15:06. The Rochester native replaced flu-ridden Ryan Hollweg and made a strong case to stay, also finishing with a team high three hits.

Unfortunately, his inspired play wasn't enough to get the Rangers that second goal. Nor was it enough to merit power play time. There's always that reliable top Euro unit.

Notes: Rookie center Brandon Dubinsky had a solid showing. Despite only receiving 7:40 of ice-time, he was very effective on the forecheck and registered three shots, nearly converting on one. ... Club enforcer Colton Orr (4:14) got into a first period scrap with Eric Boulton, dropping a decision. ... Making his 33rd start in the last 34, Lundqvist finished with 20 saves. ... Despite scoring only 12 goals in their last seven, the Rangers somehow are 4-1-2- managing to get 10 of a possible 14 points. They have scored two-or-less in seven straight.

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