Broadway's hockey team has gone from Blueshirts to blues singers.
Not a smile can be found in the Rangers' dressing room these days. And a scoring threat can't be found on the ice.
Instead, the offensive Rangers' offense seems frozen amid a season that has the potential to slip away even faster than last year's nightmare.
The Rangers -- mired in the Atlantic Division basement at 3-6-3 -- can't win for the simplest of reasons. They couldn't score if their life depended on it.
Right now, the stakes aren't quite that high. There is still a lot of season left. But it will go to waste unless GM Neil Smith brings in somebody who can score, and soon.
The latest display of the team's ineptitude was a 4-1 loss to the Canadiens Wednesday night. But more telling than the end result was the way Madison Square Garden -- one of the most electrifying arenas in the world -- seemed like a morgue.
With seven minutes left, the Rangers fell behind by two goals to a Montreal team that hadn't won a game on the road all season. And the Garden cleared out.
Those who stayed uttered the bone-chilling sarcasm that could surely be heard on the ice.
"Stay on the road," yelled one particularly vociferous paying customer.
| Mike Richter's been great for the Rangers. It's just too bad he can't score goals for them. (AP) |
"I feel like a broken record," sighed coach John Muckler, who has changed lines early and often to no avail. "We get chances and don't finish them off. Everyone is frustrated. Right now, we're not positive thinkers.">
Perhaps that's because they really have no reason to be positive. Look around, this is not just a team in a scoring slump. It's a team that doesn't have nearly enough scorers.
Wake up, Neil Smith. There are snipers there for the taking.
How about Pavel Bure, the Russian Rocket? He's still a holdout in Vancouver and he's just the type of glamour-seeker who would thrive in New York. Or Zigmund Palffy, the restricted free-agent holdout of the crosstown Islanders who is wasting away in Vienna.
If he waffles any longer, Smith will watch as the Islanders and Canucks make a natural Palffy-Bure swap. And he'll watch his Rangers miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
All it would take for the Rangers to get Palffy is an offer sheet too rich for the financially-strapped Isles to match. All it would take for Bure is a creative package mixing prospects and maybe a Niklas Sundstrom and/or Adam Graves. Of course, it would also take roughly $8 million a year to sign the enigmatic Bure, but the Rangers aren't exactly hurting for cash.
By keeping the current team intact, they are only hurting themselves.
Sure, goalie Mike Richter is off to a terrific start, and the defense has been tremendous. But what good does that do when you've scored a pathetic 18 goals in 12 games?
And Wayne Gretzky, though clearly not the Greatest One anymore, is still arguably the finest passer on skates. A lot of good that does when No. 99 has nobody to pass to.
It's time Smith does something besides make excuses.
"We have scoring problems, but so do a lot of teams around the league," Smith said. "Our problems wouldn't be as bad if we weren't having so much trouble on the power play."
If Smith really believes that, he's lying to himself. He should listen to the despondent sounds of his coach and his players.
"We will never be a good scoring team," conceded Muckler. "But we can increase it. We have to start hitting the net more and getting the puck through the zone."
With each loss, or 1-1 tie, the players only start squeezing their sticks tighter. Even Gretzky, who has scored more goals (886) than anyone in history, has suddenly forgotten how to turn the red light on. While he remains a physical marvel at age 38, he has just one goal.
"I just haven't scored. It's nobody's fault but mine," said Gretzky, who has never sounded so beaten. "I've let the team down."
In actuality, he is one of few things keeping the Rangers up.
"It's a privilege playing with Wayne Gretzky," Graves said.
But a wasted one at that.
It's time for the Rangers to stop wondering what could have been if Pat LaFontaine had not retired. Time to stop hoping gifted Alexei Kovalev (no goals in nine games) is going to reach his potential. Time to stop praying old warrior Esa Tikkanen (no goals in 11 games) will actually wake up before the playoffs start
Only Smith can fix this mess. And only then can he avenge ownership's bonehead decision to let Mark Messier walk two years ago.
Until then, all that is left is false hope.
"The momentum in that dressing room is pretty low right now," Muckler said. "But the sun will come out tomorrow."
Maybe. But that still doesn't change the fact the Rangers can't score.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved