Oh, sure an optimist will say if your Rangers beat the Bruins in regulation on Sunday, (and they may need Henrik Lundqvist’s third shutout of the season for that to happen) they would be within a point of eighth with 10 games left. The Bruins have 11.  Pure speculation, but if the Bruins go 5-5-1 and the Rangers go 6-3-1, the Rangers finish with 86 points, the Bs with 85.  I’m not buying.               

              What a realist is looking at here:

              First year since the lockout without 40 wins: In 2003-04, there were 27

              First year since the lockout without 90 points

              Worst home record since 2003-04 (13-21-3-4, 33 points)             

               First year Rangers might draft in Top 10 since Al Montoya was taken at No. 6 in 2004. How’d that work out?

               In the pre-season previews, we figured (and you can look it up), that the re-engineered Rangers under a new coach would be scrapping for a playoff berth in late March. So, surprised? Not really. But perhaps the circumstances could have been avoided.                 

                  Let’s set aside the Redden and Rozsival and Drury contract burdens for a moment, and the Ales Kotalik and Donald Brashear signings, although the No. 1 offseason item on the to-do-list has to be: Clear cap space.  No. 2?  As I wrote yesterday, there’s still no top-line center.

                  In addition to the coach failing to adjust and apparently mesh with many players, a lot of currents conspired to flood the season.

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                  But one thing at a time. Goaltending?  The poor play of backup Steve Valiquette, who had been valuable in previous seasons and was penciled in for 17 to 20 starts, added an enormous amount of pressure on Henrik Lundqvist. In six appearances, Valliquette had an .850 save percentage and a 3.74 GAA and lost the confidence of the coach.

                The front office didn’t have the wherewithal to snag another experienced backup before Alex Auld, and so the coach had to force-feed Chad Johnson from Dec. 30 to Jan. 31 to afford Lundqvist a breather. Johnson was 1-2-1 with a 2.35 GAA and gained some experience, but Lundqvist appeared in 54 games (8 DNP) before the Olympic break. Could management have acted sooner? Probably.

                But a far more chronic and much-discussed problem was a stubbornness to carry a seventh defenseman to spell rookies Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy and perhaps give a breather to the four more experienced blueliners: Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Rozsival and Redden. Bobby Sanguinetti, Ilkka Heikinen and Corey Potter were used only as insurance during injuries.  

                Upfront:  Marian Gaborik: as advertised. But he simply cannot carry a team in today’s NHL by himself.

                Vinny Prospal: Didn’t know him, now I admire him. He deserves to win the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award and be re-signed.

                Ryan Callahan. Will score 20 after a slow start and comes to play every night.

                Olli Jokinen? Not worth $5.5 mil. Sean Avery’s in a tough spot, with issues with the refs, the league, the coach.  

                Overall, kinda thin on talent and heavy on expectations unfulfilled: Start with Kotalik, apparently also invisible in Calgary, where he balked at going; Chris Higgins, who suffered under the spell of his hometown and Brashear, older and slower than any $2.8-million guy I can find on an NHL roster.

              Erik Christensen was a good pickup. Artem Anisimov, 21, is developing. Brandon Dubinsky’s season was undermined by the broken hand, as was Enver Lisin’s by the fractured foot. Brian Boyle improved and Brandon Prust added some jam.  Aaron Voros didn’t have a spot. But as it winds down, this team has turned out to smaller than the sum of its jumbled parts.

                Were they young? In spots. Del Zotto 19, Anisimov, 21. Staal, who need to be signed to a long-term deal, Dubinsky, Lisin, all 23.  Gilroy just out of college. Girardi will be 26 and an RFA.

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                Just some grist for the mill, which is overflowing with discussions for the off-season….Please weigh in, Blue Noters                  

               But first, there’s that little game in Beantown Sunday.