Looking to shake the early-season doldrums, New York Rangers coach John Tortorella did what he does best when he's looking for some sort of offensive spark: shake up the lines. Tortorella's reconfigured lines will be put to its first test against the 5-5 Ottawa Senators on Saturday (3 p.m. EST, MSG).
Despite their strongest period of the season in the loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the first period was the only good thing about the Rangers' long-awaited return to Madison Square Garden. After the first, it all went downhill as the energy level dipped, the Blueshirts stopped skating and stopped shooting, making it a pretty easy victory for the visitors.
Thus, during practice on Friday, Tortorella tinkered with the personnel, most notably moving Brad Richards with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan -- and stationing Marian Gaborik with Erik Christensen and Wojtek Wolski. The new-look fourth line consisted of Artem Anisimov, Derek Stepan and Kris Newbury.
The goal, obviously, here is to find matches, get more than one line going and create more consistent offense. Richards and Gaborik have been up-and-down when paired together, but you'd have to think that those two would be reunited again in the near future; after all, it's pretty much why Richards was signed in the first place. What's more important now, though, is to win games and it really doesn't matter who is playing with whom as long as points are put on the board.
"Everything is easier if it's working," Richards said as quoted by The Record's Andrew Gross. "If it's not working and your with the same line all the time then, no, it's not easy. Obviously, offensively our team is not clicking overall. Some individuals have had good games. As a player, things aren't going good, and you're not finishing a game feeling you created a lot of offense as an offensive player, then change is sometimes what you need to get a different look or to get away from someone for a little bit, who knows? But if it was working there'd be no line changes. Simple."
I do have my worries, though. The first line (with Gaborik) is a very strange group as Christensen has continued to be invisible, and Wolski hasn't exactly been noticed, either. It's a line that will struggle defensively, and one that doesn't have a lot of grittiness, so I really wonder how it will work. These three players are kind of similar in style. It's also a bit disappointing that Anisimov and Stepan have fallen so low in the graces of Tortorella to be playing on what looks like the fourth line. These are guys that were so vital to the Rangers' success last season.
Regardless, my bet is that these could be shuffled again against Ottawa if they struggle; however, I do think if there's a game in which the Rangers could find themselves and even put on the front of 'clicking' together, it's against a weak defensive team like the Senators.
Even with all the analysis on the roster construction, the fact of the matter is it really doesn't matter when the Rangers are winning. It's only heavily scrutinized when the team and every one of its players has been as inconsistent -- and hard to watch -- as the Blueshirts have been.