It's been 2 weeks since my last article as I was away on vacation, but wow have things ever changed for the Kitchener Rangers in that time. The Rangers have lost 4 straight games, there most in a row so far this season, and are 3-6-1 in their past 10. What's happened?
After going 9-3 in the month of January, the teams performance slowly faltered heading towards the end of February. Despite finishing the month 7-5, they seemed very un-interested. They lost for the first time to the London Knights, in fact, they lost twice. They followed the second loss up by drumming the Storm by a score of 6-1, but Guelph would then beat up on Kitchener during the final game of February 6-3. So far, Kitchener is winless in March, falling Thursday to Barrie 5-3, and Friday to Sudbury 8-5.
So whats going on here? Last time I wrote the Rangers were locked in third place and looked like they actually might be able to push London for top spot in the division. Instead, the team dropped out of the CHL Top 10, and also lost their heart and desperation in the process. Take for example, Friday night in Sudbury.
Down by one goal with 12 minutes to go in the third period, The Rangers played with almost no heart at all. They casually skated the puck back and forth, but never had a concrete scoring opportunity, or held the play at all for an extended period of time. It's easy to look at the positives for tonight, all 5 Kitchener goals came on the power play which is a part of their game that has been struggling. It's nice to see some specialty teams work out.
Maybe what we're seeing now is the effect of the Rangers playing without a hot goaltender. Frank Palazesse played a lot of games over the past few weeks. In fact the so-called 'backup' has played more than the 'starter' John Gibson, who has been away after having surgery at the end of January. Franky certainly played well during that stretch, but it's also a lot to ask of a guy who hadn't been playing a lot of games in a row prior to Gibson getting hurt. Just like the rest of us, goalies get tired and need a few games off. No one can blame Franky for that.
John Gibson came back to Kitchener last week, and played his first game on Thursday against the Colts. He certainly shows some signs of rust, and you can't blame the kid after being sick for so long and returning to the lineup without having much of a chance to get back in to game shape. In my honest opinion, starting Gibson was the right thing to do on Thursday night. A game against a team that isn't in your conference, and a game that couldn't really be considered a must win, it's a good opportunity to get him back in game mode. However, Friday night against Sudbury should have seen Franky Palazesse back in between the pipes. We all know that Franky is quite capable of leading the team, and Gibson can't play them all. Again, this was a game that was not against a conference opponent, but it could be considered a must win as the Rangers had gone so long without winning.
So are we seeing what this team is truely made of? Without a hot goalie to steal games do the Rangers have what it takes to go deep in the post season, or is this just dejavu, where just like last season, the Rangers falter down the stretch and bow out early in the playoffs? I certainly hope this isn't the case. Over-agers like Michael Cattenacci, Tyler Randell and Cody Sol certainly hope this isn't the way their OHL career will end. So now is the time to turn it around.
John Gibson needs to get back in to game shape. Ben Fanelli and Max Iafrate have to get back to their top defenseive form, and Randell, Radek Faksa, Eric Ming and Zach Lorentz all need to start finding the back of the net.
If the team can play like they did in December/January, they'll make it past the first round. If this keeps up, well, I'd be worried about a glitch in the matrix.