Puck Daddy - NHL

Reasons we love the New York sports media, especially in print form:

1. They're the only place where you could read Phil Mushnick ranting about morality and good taste in sports ... about three pages away from an advertisement for Busty Dusty pole-dancing at a local strip club.

2. When combined with the amplifier of sports talk radio, they can literally run an athlete or coach out of town if they all get behind the campaign. Or, at the very least, make even the most dedicated athlete look like a greedy bum.

3. One day you're a Stanley Cup contender; the next you're in a death spiral. Just ask the New York Rangers.

The Rangers are still the first-place team in the Eastern Conference with 21 points, but they're coming off back-to-back losses, including to the New York Islanders at home. Steve Zipay of Newsday's story is titled "After strong start, Rangers come back to Earth," and imagines a conversation between the Blueshirts and terra firma, specifically about the slumping power-play:

You know, Earth, we're worried about the effects of global warming on you. The heat coming from critics and these Rangers fans about the power play is cranking up the temperature.

That's because on Broadway, baby, we're absolutely freezing with a man or two extra. We're far too predictable, using our point men too often instead of hammering pucks at the net and being in optimum position to pounce on rebounds. Teams have figured us out. We have 10 goals, count em, 10, in 74 chances, (only three teams are worse) and have opened the gates for five goals for our shorthanded opponents! But let's put the math aside.

The Rangers power play is currently ranked second to last in the NHL, and the scoring has been a bit clustered with the man advantage.

Have the Rangers crashed down to earth heading into tonight's game with the Tampa Bay Lightning? Is even the declaration of there being "no panic" an acknowledgment that, well, there might be?

Sam Weinman of Rangers Report doesn't see a reason to panic. Yet:

Of course, let's not panic, either. Truth is outside of Markus Naslund, who has arguably been the best player in a Rangers sweater the last two weeks, everyone from Chris Drury and Scott Gomez to Michal Rozsvial and Wade Redden has plenty of room for improvement. The Rangers have lost two straight, but they also had plenty of opportunities to win both of those games, and they've still won 10 of their first 15.

If you're turning on this team now, you obviously don't have a grasp of the trials and turns of an 82-game schedule. You have the right to be concerned. But as you've probably heard plenty of these past few days, now is the hardly time to be giving up hope.

Stan Fischler, who finds Puck Daddy "uproarious," thinks that there's "No Time for an S.O.S." But beat writer Andrew Gross of Rangers Rants puts the focus back on the power play, and wonders if help is on the way in the form of a bald Swede:

What's been surprising is how glaring the rough patches have been - a five-goal barrage by the Toronto Maple Leafs and two shorthanded goals by the Islanders that has further focused the spotlight on the Rangers anemic power play.

In the pre-salary cap days, no doubt the team would be looking to make a move right now for a goal scorer and a defenseman for the power play. But salary cap constraints makes a move right now very difficult, even figuring out how to fit a free agent like Mats Sundin into the team's salary structure is enough to induce headaches (it would likely take removing the salaries of Petr Prucha ($1.6 million), Patrick Rissmiller ($1 million) plus one more noteworthy salary like Dmitri Kalinin ($2.1 million) or Paul Mara ($1.9 million), add that to whatever space the team currently has (estimated around $700,000) then subtracting the minimal salaries the Rangers would need to replenish the roster with guys from Hartford like D Corey Potter). Then, Sundin would have to want to play for considerably less than the two years, $20 million the Vancouver Canucks are offering.

In short, while the Rangers will be mentioned as a Sundin suitor until the day he signs, it has to be considered a long shot.

There's no reason to worry, no reason to panic. This is merely a slight correction after the team's blockbuster start. Brandon Dubinsky wasn't going to lead the league in scoring. The power-play is a problem, but its deficiencies are being over-amplified by the media. It looked awful last year, too, and ended up being 0.02 percentage points away from being in the Top 20. There's too much talent there for it not to succeed at some point.

So cheer up, Tom Renney.

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