Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun look at two teams -- the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings -- that are
Burnside: Greetings, my friend. Let's start our daily free-for-all with a discussion of the New York Rangers. To me, they've been one of the surprise stories in the Eastern Conference. With no real No. 1 center and a young blue line that bodes well for the future, they've still been in the thick of things in the conference.
But they've started to slide a little (5-4-1 in their past 10 games). Unless Marian Gaborik gets into some sort of groove, you have to figure it will be a battle for them to make the playoffs. Coming off such a strong season last season, Gaborik has been hurt and has not been the same player since his return. He's gone eight straight games without a goal and was a healthy scratch. Ouch.
LeBrun: The Rangers are an intriguing tale. Under the excellent tutelage of coach John Tortorella, they've scratched and clawed their way to maintaining a playoff spot all season. Imagine if Gaborik was along for the ride? To be fair, he doesn't have a bona fide No. 1 center to play with. But let's be honest, where has the speed and explosion gone? Remember Gaborik in Minnesota? He was the fastest player in the league. I spoke with someone this week who figured Gaborik has never been the same player since his hip surgery; or maybe it's just going to take longer to get it all back? The Rangers better hope he does; there's three more years left on his deal at $7.5 million per year.
Burnside: The problem for teams like the Rangers, who have to constantly scratch out low-scoring one-goal wins, is it taxes everyone. You need to have those games where the offense makes it easy on everyone, especially goalie Henrik Lundqvist and that young blue line.
The Rangers have managed to cobble together passable offensive numbers, but Gaborik's job is to make them better than passable. Wojtek Wolski should help up front, but Gaborik has to do more than he has or it's going to be a difficult road to the postseason for the Rangers.
Speaking of difficult paths, how about the Los Angeles Kings? The offseason darlings of most prognosticators, the Kings have won just twice in their past 11 games. They dropped a 2-1 decision to St. Louis on Tuesday night, their second straight 2-1 loss. They woke up Wednesday morning in 12th place in the Western Conference, five points out of eighth. All is not lost, of course, but how long is coach Terry Murray's leash? I think ownership will not be pleased if this promising young team falls short of the playoffs this season.
LeBrun: Kings fans were tweeting me last night, asking for Murray to be fired. I hope he isn't -- talk about one of the nicest guys in the business. But it's funny how the players are escaping the blame. There are some young, important players in L.A. that don't have the same commitment as they did a year ago. This is a young Kings team that believed their press clippings and didn't realize they had to work even harder to take the next step. Interestingly, they went 9-2-1 from Dec. 2-27; I remember talking to Murray and thinking they had turned the corner. They've gone 2-9-0 since. Something's got to give there. As we've said all season long, the Kings have cap room, but do you really want to trade for a rental now that you're five points out?
Burnside: I blame you for putting the curse on them last month! Well, if there's pressure on Murray, who I think hasn't received the credit due for helping introduce structure to a raw group of players the last couple of seasons, there's double the pressure on GM Dean Lombardi.
He escaped the Ilya Kovalchuk trap, but signing the injury-prone Willie Mitchell hasn't worked out, and there are precious few impact players available before the Feb. 28 deadline. But I remain mystified that veteran players like Rob Scuderi, Ryan Smyth, Justin Williams and Michal Handzus aren't enough to get this team over the hump. From the outside, this looks like a team that has a perfect blend of youth, talent and experience, but it's not getting it done. Are they waiting for help from the outside? It's help that may not be coming.
LeBrun: Calgary insists it won't trade Jarome Iginla. Dallas would be crazy at this point to move Brad Richards. Patrik Elias won't waive his no-movement clause in New Jersey for personal reasons. Just where is that big ticket that can save the Kings? There is still a lot of time before the trade deadline, but the Kings need some wins now. Until tomorrow, my friend.