Don't rule out collapse by others
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The gap between the Penguins and the playoffs, technically not more than six points but realistically the approximate mental distance from Vancouver to Newfoundland, is supposed to be traversed with an emergency concoction of passion and energy.
Or so said Dan Bylsma yesterday on his second full day as head coach of the boys of wimper.
"We talked about passion and energy," Bylsma said yesterday at the arena. "Ray [Shero] talked about passion and energy, and that needs to show up in how we come to the rink. That's a challenge, a great challenge, [but] it's well within our abilities."
Yeah, well, forget it.
Passion and energy won't do it.
What the Penguins need is disinterest and incompetence, and not from within, where there seems to be a considerable reservoir of both, but from outside the organ-I-zation.
The best Bylsma and Shero and the few optimists left in the Penguins' wounded fan base can hope for is that somebody holding a postseason reservation can bundle together just enough disinterest and incompetence to allow even the Penguins to climb over them between now and April 12.
In other words, c'mon Rangers.
New York's bumbling Blueshirts are so bad right now that if I'd been forced to pick an NHL coach in his last day of employment Sunday, I'd have easily taken Tom Renney over Michel Therrien.
When the Philadelphia Flyers scored three times in the second period that afternoon, including a Mike Richards goal in the middle of a 5-on-3 New York power play, the Madison Square Garden audience voiced a dubious idea in a thunderous chant for the remainder of the Rangers' eighth loss in their past nine games: "FI-URR REN-NEY! FI-URR REN-NEY!"
Coaches never like to hear fire expressed as two syllables, and even less as one, which is exactly what Shero was doing for Therrien on the other side of the East River the same day.
Of the Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres, the four teams nearest the Penguins on the good side of playoff demarcation, the Rangers seem the optimal situation for a monumental collapse. Assuming Pittsburgh's Passion and Energy Express can leapfrog the Carolina Hurricanes, who can barely get the puck out of their own end, New York's incompetence has the most viable chance to bump the Penguins into the playoffs.
That's mostly because, as Flyers coach John Stevens noted of the Rangers after the game Sunday, "they don't score."
Not true technically. The Rangers scored once Monday in a loss at St. Louis, further honing a stretch of offensive indifference in which they've scored two or fewer goals nine times in the past 12 games.
No New York Ranger can find his name among the league's top 30 scorers, likely because Renney's team's goals-per-game figure, 2.33, is the worst in the NHL. The power play, if such a thing is possible, is worse than the Penguins'. You've heard of players recording double-doubles in basketball, even the occasional triple-double, but the Rangers can actually lay claim to an icy version of the rare octuple-double. They have eight players whose plus/minus ratings are double digits to the negative: Colton Orr and Wade Redden (both -10), Fredrik Sjostrom, Scott Gomez, and Chris Drury (all -11), Dan Girardi (-12), Markus Naslund (-13) and Michal Rozsival (-14).
No one on New York's roster for the game last night against the New York Islanders has a positive plus/minus.
Even for the NHL, this is a playoff team?
I know. Wait 'til Sean Avery gets there.
The next worst thing, it so happens, would be the Canadiens, who'll visit the Penguins tomorrow night in what ought to be a chilling confrontation of conspicuous indifference.
Montreal has won twice in February, three times since Jan. 17.
Like the Penguins, the Canadiens made a bold move over the weekend, acquiring defenseman Mathieu Schneider from the Atlanta Thrashers in an attempt to reconnect with their Stanley Cup tradition. The problem there is that Schneider is now so old that some fans aren't sure if he skated with the Cup alongside Guy Carbonneau or Rocket Richard.
On their way to losing 10 of their past 13 (they'll likely make it 11 of 14 tonight in Washington), the Canadiens also lost Robert Lang to a season-ending Achilles injury. Both the Rangers and Canadiens seem likely to be overtaken by Florida and Buffalo, but whether one or both can exit the top eight to the benefit of the Penguins is only the last best hockey hope around here.
Unless passion and energy make one astonishing comeback.
First Published February 18, 2009 12:00 am