Before you go look up the word slump in your dictionary, perhaps you should ask the New York Rangers the meaning, first. Currently holding down, and not so proudly, the 12th spot in the Eastern Conference and sitting 11 points back of the Habs, who find themselves in 8th, the Rags high-priced power-puffs are playing host tonight, as Steve Begin and our slumping Canadiens head into the spotlight. The Rangers, though, are certainly not out of the playoff race, although it is a race they are slowly seeing fade away.
Despite going a paltry 4-12-2 in their last 18 sad-sack efforts, New York, as you hopefully know, boasts an impressive collection of unimpressing superstars. Led by the likes of uber-talented sniper Alexei Kovalev, currently hiding under a rock bigger than the Bronx itself, the now tea-sipping Mark Messier, and a trio of solid Czechs; Martin Rucinsky, Bobby Holik, and Jaromir Jagr, the star-studded roster will be without a star-seeing skater, Eric Lindros, who has been indomitabe it seems whenever dressing against the CH. Jagr, with 66 points against the Habs throughout his tenure in the league, will hopefully be snoozing in search of some beauty sleep tonight.
If Jagr is rearin’ and ready to rock against the Habs, than Joe Juneau’s back should be frowning already. The astute checking line centreman, Juneau will return to the middle of the ice, after stint on the left wing. Unfortunately, it was announced today that Coach Claude will be returning Juneau to his home on the third line, thus meaning that the engine that makes the Habs third trio tick, Steve Begin, will be dropped onto a brilliant energy line consisting of Begin, Darren Langdon, who returns after a one-game scratch, and Jason Ward. So, where does this put Chad Kilger and Yanic Perreault? Why, in the pressbox of course. Besides, the two would probably feel more at home in the stands where they can admire Petr Nedved’s beautiful wife, and where hockey is the least of there concerns.
Nedved, by the way, is another Ranger forward who has enjoyed considerable success again the red, white, and blue, throwing up 39 career points. That 39 is nine more points than he has accumulated this season, as the 32-year-old Liberec, CZE native has 30 poinbts, 14 of that total being goals, on the campaign. His countryman and possible linemate, Jagr, leads the team with 59 points in 57 matches, nine better than the Habs top scorer.
And just who is the Habs top point-getter to date? Mike Ribeiro, of course, who on Saturday hit the 50-point plateau for the first time in career. While it is a remarkable achievement, Ribeiro must not slow down. And, what are the chances that he will? His tiny frame has been able to withstand the bigger, stronger folk up until this point. There’s no questioning Mike Ribeiro likes to win, and his all out effort (including his extra efforts in the checking department, which are very nice to see) is a necessity. After all, the Habs best players must be just that, there best players; other wise we could surely be in for a long night.
While on most nights the loss of Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov could be more devastating than a, well, whatever you see as devastating, the effect of their loss may be lessened tonight. The Rangers are brutal when it comes to performing on the special teams, whether that be on the powerplay or the penalty kill. Perhaps a portion of the PK’ing incompetence could be attributed to Mike Dunham, who has underachieved all the way to a 2.91 GAA and a .899 SV%. Dunham is the likely starter tonight, and will go up against another talented netminder who is currently underachieving in Jose Theodore.
Theo, who is easily a top-5 goaltender in the league on an average night, has been below average of late. While his teammates should have been credited with Saturday night’s loss for their poor work early on in the game (okay, okay, chalk it up to ‘rookie mistakes’), Jose took the ugly ‘L’, and stretched his losing streak to a shameful five games. With so many talented shooters in the New York lineup (Nedved, Kovalev, and Jagr all have wicked wrist-shots), Theo’s rebound control and his patience with the shooters will be key.
Game time is 7:00 ET, and for those of you that today told all of your Leaf buddies that the Habs will avenge Saturday’s loss, I salute you. Enjoy the game folks, and maybe, just maybe, Mr. Gainey will enjoy it too. I don’t usually say a win is necessary (partly because I have a hard time spelling nec-ess-ary), but, in all seriousness, how shameful would it be to lose out to the Buffalo Sabres?