As the Rangers returned to practice after a few days off, the news out of camp was that Tom Renney plans to change up the lines for Saturday’s contest against the Sabres, and hopes to see the new lines become permanent.
Note: Hollweg looks like he’ll be scratched on Saturday and for the foreseeable future. Prucha is out with a shoulder injury.
Here’s that analysis I promised… After the jump
Here’s what I like about this line. Avery can fight in front of the net while Jagr does his thing circling around defenders and cycling the puck down low. We’ve seen Jagr struggle all season without his running mate of the last few years, Nylander, and I think for him to find success in the last part of the season, he’s going to need someone on his line willing to pay the price in the front of the net to screen the goalie and scrap for rebounds. The scrappy Avery fits that role perfectly. Dubinsky and Jagr are both strong in the corners and I think this line will be successful cycling the puck and keeping possession in the offensive zone. If Jagr can generate shots while Avery is screening the goalie, goals should start to come.
My biggest concern about this line is: who’s going to backcheck? Dubinsky gives 100% on every shift, but we all know Capt. Jaromir doesn’t exactly hustle back on D. As is the case with most of Jagr’s lines, defense is going to be a big question mark. Watch out for odd-man rushes going the other way.
I’m also a little worried that Avery might be in over his head on the first line. Remember, because of Jagr, the other team’s best defensemen are going to be on the ice. It will be interesting to see how Avery handles it.
If I had to put money on one of these lines catching fire for the stretch run and leading us to the playoffs, it would be this one. All three of these guys play an up-tempo north-south game, and they put shots on net and drive hard for rebounds. This line kind of reminds me of the EGG line from the 2005-2006 Devils (Elias, Gomez, Gionta) that ripped off 15 straight wins and torched the Rangers for 9 combined goals in a 4-game sweep.
Our guys might have a little less speed than those Devils, but the playing style is going to be the same. Shanahan has definitely lost a step, but he definitely makes up for it with his smart play and flat-out nasty wrist shot. Those Devils used to say that nobody would have the puck on their stick for more than 3 seconds. I wouldn’t mind seeing this line adopt that strategy, and I think we’ll see something close to that. Look for quick passes, quick shots – and hopefully lots of goals.
This line is supposed to be a “skating line”, but my big concern here is Straka playing with Drury. I like the Callahan/Drury pairing but I can’t see Straka fitting in well. Drury and Callahan both like to go hard to the net for rebounds, which raises the question of where those rebounds are going to come from. Straka doesn’t shoot the puck.
At some point in the next few weeks, after the 47th time Straka passes out of the slot, Drury is going to pull a Ken Caminiti and break his stick over his knee. Just watch.
I would love to see Renney put Hollweg on this line with Drury and Callahan. Hollweg is like a cannonball on the ice. He plays with a fire that nobody else on the team has. Constantly going at full speed, hard into the corners, hard at the net. If only he didn’t shoot the puck directly at the goalie’s chest on every shot, he might be good for 10 goals a year. At any rate, his style of play fits much better with Drury/Callahan than Straka’s does. The reason this will never happen is because there is no way Renney is going to drop Straka to the 4th line. This raises a bigger issue, that Straka doesn’t really fit anywhere on this Rangers team. Hey Slats, the trade deadline is approaching…
I think Prucha would also be a better fit here instead of Straka. But he’s hurt and–like I said–Renney’s not gonna drop Straka to the 4th line or pull him from the lineup. One note about Straka from Eric: If you recall, he injured his shoulder at the end of last season and chose to not have surgery. That might be why he’s not shooting. But if he’s not shooting, what good is he to the team?
Scratching Hollweg in favor of Hossa kind of bothers me, because I really like the HoBO line. Here is what a hockey team wants out of its 4th line: play even for the game (in terms of +/-), eat up some quality ice time, and inject some energy into the team with good hard shifts. Hossa doesn’t give you any of that. Here’s the question: Would you rather have Hollweg out there banging heads or Hossa throwing his purse around and playing soft on defense? Yeah, exactly. Why mess with something that works? Renney consistently plays them against the opposition’s first line and they get the job done.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the +/- of the 4th line really slip with Hossa out there. I realize the stats don’t support this, with Hollweg at -8 and Hossa at +7. But, the anecdotal evidence (what I’ve seen) contradicts the empirical evidence. Maybe I’m just too hard on Hossa and he’s actually not a bad player. Or maybe the stats are the product of Hossa’s time on the first line. I guess we will find out soon enough.
And even though Hossa instead of Hollweg still works for the HoBO line moniker, I’m vetoing that right now. This is kind of like LaDainian Tomlinson calling himself LT. Sorry, buddy, that one’s taken. Lawrence Taylor is still LT, just like HoBO is still Hollweg-Betts-Orr, and that’s final.