Originally written on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 10/28/11

WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 08: Marian Gaborik #10 of the New York Rangers celebrates with teammate Vaclav Prospal #20 after scoring in the third period against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on October 8, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

By Alexander Monaghan
President

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By Bridget Samuels from College Park, MD (IMG_8730.jpg) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/ licenses/by/2.0)

This morning Katie Strang of ESPN New York reported, via Twitter, that Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards were not skating on the same line. Instead, the team’s newest free agent prize found himself between the heart-and-soul of the team – Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky – while Gaborik flanked Erik Christensen and Wojtek Wolski. Although this move makes sense due to the New York Rangers‘ disappointing 3-3-2 record after eight games, it further begs the question: Is coach John Tortorella being hasty with his line shuffling?

At this point it simply depends on how long he plans on keeping these tandems together. If past history is any indication, he likely changes these lines again and again until finding the perfect combination. Considering the current configuration places young pivots Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov on the fourth line, more moves will be made before finding the right fit.

But these line changes do a few necessary things. First, it reunites the bread-and-butter line of Ruslan Fedotenko, Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust, giving the Rangers a true checking line capable of shutting down top lines and chipping in offensively. Second, it puts a true playmaker between two finishers in Callahan and Dubinsky as the uneven play of third-year center Anisimov has helped the two wingers to only two goals (both Callahan’s markers), further accenting their sluggish start.

Furthermore, it gives useless forwards Wolski and Christensen some purpose in the lineup.  Although useless is an extreme word in this situation, it definitely applies as the team has no need for bottom-line players who don’t generate scoring chances and who don’t hit everything that moves (or really anything for that matter). Through their combined nine games, the two enigmatic but skilled forwards registered one shot on goal. Put them with the team’s most efficient scorer and the tides should change, right?

Probably not, but at least coach Tortorella expresses urgency in his juggling lines. He commented today that although Gaborik and Richards may appear destined for each other on paper, their combination may not be a perfect fit for this team. If the Rangers played with the same energy as they did last season, they likely would have fit Richards into the lineup in an easier way but their style of play continues to adapt. Gaborik, for that matter, barely fit in with last year’s system but has found the back of the net just fine this year.

Earlier in the year, Tortorella conveyed his team’s lack of identity on a North American sheet of ice. To say the least, they have been more timid and less timely. Perhaps last season was a factor of good bounces and their luck ran out in October. Maybe the offseason additions made them a bit too cocky. Most likely, the entire team is feeling the effect of Marc Staal‘s injury. Losing such an important piece for the puzzle has been dibilitating despite Ryan McDonagh‘s strong play and Dan Girardi playing half of every game. Starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist holds less room for error where depth players like Steve Eminger and Mike Sauer step into the forefront, where they may be over their head.

 Eventually Gaborik and Richards will find each other. Anisimov and Stepan won’t be fourth liners forever either. Nevertheless, as this team currently stands, they need help and Tortorella is doing everything in his power to give them that before they slip farther down in the standings.


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