Rangers playing poorly but no pushover

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

NEW YORK -- In recent years, visiting teams looked forward to an evening at Madison Square Garden, where two points were fairly easily attainable.

That's not the case any more. But the good news for the Maple Leafs is that at the moment, the New York Rangers are playing as poorly as they have all season.

Or are the Leafs arriving a couple of days too late?

The Rangers ended a six-game losing streak by defeating the Washington Capitals 5-4 on Thursday, but that's hardly a momentous achievement.

Still, there were some bright spots on the Rangers' horizon.

Their penalty killers were outstanding against the Caps, and since the Leafs rely so heavily on their power play, that could spell trouble.

Furthermore, the Rangers targeted Alexander Ovechkin as the key to Washington's offence and shut him down completely. Not many teams have done that this year.

The way the Leafs have been going lately, if the Rangers shut down Mats Sundin, they'll take the backbone out of the Leafs offence.

The Rangers were heartened on another front on Thursday. Jaromir Jagr, who had slowed ever so slightly and fallen out of his accustomed spot at the head of the scoring race, returned to form with a beautiful goal in the third period that turned out to be the winner.

Because the Rangers had been in a tailspin, forward Steve Rucchin declared Jagr's goal to be the most important of the team's season to this point.

Coach Tom Renney saw its importance as well. "If we don't get a win here, regardless of what it looked like," he said, "I'm not sure where our team's psyche would be."

If the Leafs are looking for a Ranger to exploit, they could do worse than target defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh.

He was acquired at the trading deadline to help quarterback the Rangers power play. That he can do.

But in Rangers coach Tom Renney's unified defensive system, he stands out. He clearly has not yet learned the system.


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