Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun discuss the ramifications of the Rangers’ win Monday night and what the Red Wings can do to snap out of their funk.
Burnside: Well, my friend, it takes only one night in the NHL to put a completely different complexion on things, no? Take the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts arrived home from a record-breaking road trip to start the season and were waxed by the Leafs, and then they blew a 4-1 lead against Ottawa on Saturday in refurbished Madison Square Garden. You'd think facing the red-hot San Jose Sharks, winners of five straight, Monday night would be a spooky proposition (sorry, had to get the obligatory Halloween reference in there). Instead the Rangers, behind backup Martin Biron, came up large in a 5-2 win. Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, who had combined for just six points total in their first nine games, led the way with two goals and three assists Monday night, with Callahan breaking through with a pair and adding an assist. Those guys are so important for a Rangers club whose identity was forged last season with a real blue-collar mentality. That mentality has been missing for the most part in this early season. One game doesn't necessarily mean a corner has been turned, but this was definitely one of those significant early moments for a team most people had penciled into their playoff bracket in the Eastern Conference.
LeBrun: The Sharks looked a little tired to me at the end of a long road trip, being outshot, which is rare for them. But given the miles around the globe the Rangers have traversed in the opening month of the season, you won't see any violins out for San Jose. A critical, early-season victory for the Blueshirts in my opinion, especially after Saturday's meltdown at home to the Ottawa Senators. Callahan, in particular, was really noticeable to me. He's the engine, the heart of this club. The rest of the team feeds off the captain. And I give credit to head coach John Tortorella for starting his backup goalie despite the quality of the visiting team, a Stanley Cup contender in San Jose. Biron was solid and is now 2-0-0 on the season. The Rangers can't overtax Henrik Lundqvist; they need quality minutes from Biron, and so far they've got it from the former Sabres netminder.
Burnside: Yes, it's been a weird start for the Rangers, and Lundqvist hasn't been his typically heroic self early on, which made Monday's strong performance from Biron so important. Things are going to continue to be interesting for the Rangers, though, as they may be rejoined by Sean Avery, one of the most polarizing figures in the game. The Rangers winger was sent to the minors and then recalled by the team. He has to pass through re-waivers, but if no other team claims him, it will be curious to see how, or even if, Tortorella uses him. The Rangers have three more games on this homestand against Anaheim, Montreal and Winnipeg. We'll see if this marks the start of something positive for the up-and-down Rangers.
Speaking of up and down, it's been mostly down for the Detroit Red Wings, who will try to stop a four-game slide against Minnesota on Tuesday night. The Wild blanked the Wings on Saturday 1-0, as the Wings cannot get anything going offensively now. They've been outscored 16-4 during this slide, and they have only one player, Johan Franzen, who has more than two goals. Do the Wings miss Brian Rafalski this much?
LeBrun: Scotty, I had a chance to chat with Wings GM Ken Holland on Monday and asked him about his team's recent slide. ”We’re not scoring the way we hoped," Holland told ESPN.com. “But I would say to you that if you look at the games, we probably maybe won a game or two in the five that we didn’t play well, and we probably might have won a game or two in this four-game losing streak. But it’s the league, it’s close. We’re not humming on all cylinders right now. And if you don’t have everybody going, you don’t win." Still, Holland pointed to some positives in the opening month.
“Jimmy Howard’s been a good story for us early on. We like the way [Jonathan] Ericsson and [Jakub] Kindl are playing; we think [Ian] White’s been a good addition. Up front, we have a lot of people not producing at the levels they have in the past.’’
Of late, the big guys haven't played up to their usual levels. Take star center Pavel Datsyuk. He's minus-8 in the past six games. Can you remember anytime -- ever -- in Datsyuk's career that he was minus-8 in a six-game span? We're talking about Mr. Selke Trophy here. So you know that's going to turn around. Just like Henrik Zetterberg is going to step it up a notch, too.
I wouldn't be too worried if I were a Wings fan, but with the understanding that these aren't the good ol' days, and the Wings don't have the kind of talent gap on the rest of the conference like they used to. This system doesn't allow it. All you know in Detroit is that you have a playoff-bound team.
Burnside: Funny how it goes, though. The past couple of years as Jimmy Howard was emerging as the starter (he still should have won rookie of the year if it weren't for the fact voters punished him for being an “older” rookie), it was the Wings' defense that looked like it was off-kilter when the team wasn't going well. Now they're getting good goaltending -- at least from Howard -- and it's the offense that's gone south. Agreed that guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg are too good to keep playing at this level. Dan Cleary's off to a slow start, too, but I wonder about the supporting cast; Todd Bertuzzi has just one goal and the “next” generation hasn't exactly stepped forward. Jiri Hudler shows flashes but has just two goals, Darren Helm has one and Justin Abdelkader has one. The Wings always have counted on finding diamonds in the rough because they never draft high enough to get a sure thing. Some of those other players need to step up not just to help the Wings out of this slide, but if they're going to be considered a legitimate Stanley Cup threat next spring.
LeBrun: Remember one important thing about the Red Wings: They have cap room. As in more than $5 million in cap room this season. They've usually been so tight against the cap over the past seven years that it's been difficult to make big moves. But they've got big-time flexibility. Right now, there's nothing imminent too early in the season. But closer to the Feb. 27 trade deadline, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Wings quite active. Looking even more down the road, even with the extension signed by Niklas Kronwall, the Wings have more than $23 million in cap room for next summer. So whether it's the trade route or free agency, the game's top GM has more cap space to play with than he ever has under this system. So if you're right, Scotty, in your analysis of the Wings' supporting cast, you can bet Holland has the tools to fix it.
Until tomorrow, my friend