Monday, November 23, 2009

Four Lines Deep - 11/23/09

Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Rangers;MSG
7:00 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio (HD)

Marian Gaborik has had plenty of reasons to celebrate his arrival in New York, as he currently leads the Rangers in scoring.

In this special holiday week edition of Four Lines Deep, the column has been condensed to a bunch of random thoughts. I'm sure that our readers are as busy with multi-tasking as we are during the holiday rush, so don't be shocked to see this format in the near future.

The Rangers have certainly cooled since their blazing start. They now sit at fourth in the Atlantic. The Rangers have lost four of their last five, and when they faced top-tier teams, they weren't up for the challenge. "Torts" as he's known, is not exactly a lilting flower on the bench. He is less than pleased with the recent stretch of games, and his doghouse is getting a little more crowded with Blueshirts. The Rangers have felt some pain from injuries, but eventually every team always does, and they are not dealing well with the adversity.

Tonight's game should feature an intriguing special teams matchup. The Rangers' PK is the fourth best in the league -- which is even more surprising given their poor performance in the faceoff circle (47%).  The Jackets have the second best powerplay in the league. Yes, I just wrote that. They are clicking at better than a 25% conversion rate, and Stralman, Tyutin and Brassard are doing an excellent job of generating effective puck movement and shots from the point. The Rangers take approximately 20 minutes of penalties per game, so if the Jackets can manage to be a little more prudent in staying out of the box, the powerplay should get at least 3-4 good chances to convert.

Unfortunately, the Jackets' penalty kill is equally noteworthy -- for all the wrong reasons.  The Jackets keep missing opportunities to clear pucks, and it's killing them. Pun intended. Their have been recent flashes of brilliance, but it just simply lacks the consistent, competitive drive it once had. Key people are losing their composure. It has to get better, and soon. They clearly have the talent to be killing at least 80 percent of the penalties -- they just need to re-dedicate themselves. As a side note, would you have ever expected that at any point in the season, the Jackets would have a power play or a penalty kill ranked in the top three in the league? 

The primary key to this game will be shuting down the Ranger's first line. Drury is still out due to a concussion delivered by former Jacket Curtis Glencross. The only two forwards that are scoring threats are Prospal and Gaborik -- and they're on the same line. There's been a lot of transition on the off winger, but it doesn't matter. They are lethal together. Gaborik has had an amazing first quarter of the season and stands as an elite player right now. He has nearly one-quarter of the team's goals. Rest assured, Hitch and Murph have already given the blueliners a sense of urgency about keeping track of Gaborik. Shutting down that line is no small task, but if the Jackets can do that, their chances for two points go way up. Having both Commodore and Hejda back in the lineup --even if they're not paired together-- should continue to strengthen the overall efficacy of the Jackets' defense.

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