So, before I get into it, let's take a moment to reflect on how fucking fantastic it is to watch this team right now. I hate to use the clichés that are all over the media about us right now, like "never-say-die" and crap, but they're pretty accurate: we just refuse to lose hockey games, regardless of the circumstance. It is impossible not to love this team.
And so, instead of stumbling to the All-Star Break wondering where our playoff position went, we come flying through January 7-6-1, in 6th in the Conference - 2 points behind the 5th-place Caps, tied with the 3rd-place Bruins, and 7 points to the better of losing a playoff spot. And that includes last night, a game I'm considering a moral victory despite not getting any points out of it. That game-winning goal for Florida was going 3 feet wide, Anisimov was coming over to get in the way, and it took a bizarre bounce high up into the air and landed right behind Lundqvist. It's a ridiculous way to lose a hockey game, and whatever. That goal was Florida's only registered shot of the period, after we held them to only 4 shots in the first. We came back to tie it early in the 3rd after being down 3-1, and we did everything we were supposed to. Fuck the two points, it's been a great month.
So here's the question: what next? I wrote last time about 8 injured starting forwards. Well, Brandon Prust proved me wrong by just cold playing anyway, leaving 7. We know Frolov is never coming back. Let's make some bold assumptions, for the purposes of discussion: 1) we don't give a damn if Boogaard ever gets healthy; 2) I know people are talking about Prospal finally returning very soon, but let's remain dubious and keep him out of the conversation.
Even without Prospal or Boogaard, we're looking at 4 forwards that do return to the lineup: Christensen, Callahan, Dubinsky, and Fedotenko. With the team playing like this, what do we do with them when they come back? Which lines deserve to be broken up? Who deserves to be sent down?
Well, I think we start by sending down Kolarik and putting Fedotenko back on that line. That's easy. Then, honestly, I'd take Anisimov out from the middle of Avery and Gaborik and insert Christensen there instead. I'd leave Wolski-Stepan-Zuccarello alone, and I'd use Anisimov to re-construct a new old line, centering Dubinsky and Callahan once again.
See the problem? We've got Avery-Christensen-Gaborik, Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan, Wolski-Stepan-Zuccarello, and Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust. We've also got Grachev or Dupont, Drury, and Newbury - and I really only see three of those four guys going back down to Connecticut. What do we do with Chris Drury?
Surely I'm not suggesting cutting him from the lineup - regular readers will know that I stand behind him as a player, and even though he's not producing, he's solid on the PK, and it's nice to have a veteran presence in the locker room. I don't think he's the travesty of a captain that a lot of Ranger fans seem to (and as I've said, I think our youth movement is well and truly in place, and I don't really think we need to cut everyone over 30). At the same time, look at those 4 potential lines, and tell me which forward you cut to make room for Drury. Is there anyone on any of those lines that you'd rather send down in deference to the captain?
Here's my wacky recommendation: suit up Drury on the blue line. Here's the thing: in 21 games since he returned, Drury has 4 assists and no goals in skating an average of 12:30 per game. I am passionately not one of those people who says "he makes a lot of money, so he needs to score a lot of goals" - I know there are lots of ways to contribute to a hockey team that aren't scoring goals. But the fact is that he's not producing. That's not why he's valuable to us this season.
He's valuable because, despite what we may think of his non-committal, soft post-game interviews, everyone on the team seems to say he's a great locker room presence. He's valuable because he's one of our best penalty killers. He's valuable because despite not scoring, he goes hard after the puck, he blocks zillions of shots, and it's very hard to score while he's on the ice (with only 4 assists and 0 goals on the season, as a forward, he's still a +2). Now, which position on a hockey team does that skill set describe?
Meanwhile, let's take an honest look at our defense. Yes, Staal, Girardi, and Sauer have all stepped up and played just inspiring defense this season. They're three great, young reasons to be excited about the future of this team. Eminger (the defense's resident old man, at 27) has been very good most of the time, with some awful games here and there, and needs to work on a little consistency. Then there are Matt Gilroy, Michael Del Zotto, and Ryan McDonagh, all of whome I'm happy with at times, all of whom I'm excited to see as part of this club's future, and all of which could stand some more time in Connecticut improving their games.
See what I'm getting at here? Throw the captain in the mix! Even on a third pair, he'll get a little more ice time than he does now, so it's not a demotion. People can stop expecting him to score, which he's not doing anyway. He can keep being the defensive strength he is for us now. Meanwhile, our blue line gets a little bit of veteran presence. We gain a little more depth for when there are injuries on defense, and we get Gilroy, DZ, and McDonagh to spend more time in Connecticut, actually competing with each other for spots. It's one thing to have DZ there working on his game by himself, it's another entirely to have a healthy rotation of kids, where every day they spend with the Whale, they're competing to get back onto the Rangers. Maybe even throw Eminger into the mix.
The one down side I see to this plan is faceoffs. Drury is the one Ranger who has taken over 50 faceoffs and is over 50% on them. We are awful on the faceoff, and moving Drury back to defense would only make us worse. But I'm thinking that might be worth it. Disagree with my crazy plan? Leave a comment: what would you do if Christensen, Callahan, Dubinsky, and Fedotenko all returned this week?