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NHL Write-Up...By Rink Rat

Being Way Behind Even When Out In Front

by`s NHL Guru, Rink Rat

Hearty Bookiekiller congratulations to the New York Rangers and Atlanta Thrashers. They are the first two National Hockey League teams to reach the 100-goal plateau this season. Skate a lap of honour, lads. Break open the champagne and squirt each other; rollick all over town; demand a parade.

Shame about those 100 goals being in the goals against column. Purists will frown at your joy. But look on the bright side - fans of those two

teams have sure seen a lot of goals, and that`s good right? It`s not like either of these teams will be first or best at anything else. Even so, the Rat doesn`t think either of the coaches, Bryan Trottier in New York or Curt Fraser in Atlanta, will be sucking on a celebratory root beer any time soon.

The Rangers are enmeshed in a mirage right now. They are clinging to the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference standings but by rights they shouldn`t even be close. For starters they have played 31 games which is up to five more than the four teams immediatley behing them. Those trailing teams are only one slim point behind New York.

Here`s another way of looking at the Rangers` perilous situation. A .500 hockey team is one which manages to squeeze one point out of every game, on average. Right now the Chicago Blackhawks are a classic example, having played 27 games, earned 27 points, scored 62 goals and conceded 62 goals. Can`t get any more .500 than that.

The Boston Bruins are the league`s best team. They`ve played 27 games and have 42 points built on 93 goals for and 59 against. Boston has cashed nearly 78% of the points available (42/54) on a goal differential of +34. Western Conference leading Dallas Stars are 67%, also on a goals differential of +34. It can be seen here that the Bruins are making better use of their differential than Dallas has so far.

Now, the Rangers. They have played 31 games, tallied 29 points, scored 80 goals and given up 100. (Insert brass band music here) Their goals differential is a deficit of wondrous proportions, -20. By all that is logical this team should no more have 29 points than a walrus should have wings. The poor Buffalo Sabres have a better goals differential (-11) yet are in 15th place in the conference and have mustered a shabby 19 points out of 26 games.

There`s simply no justice in this world. But there will be. The Toronto Maple Leafs, yes, yes, the same Leafs the Rat said would miss the playoffs, and the Pittsburgh Penguins ( +8 and +3) have better differentials but sit a point behind the Rangers. However, with games in hand they will surge past New York in the next week or so and likely stay ahead of the Rangers for the balance of the season.

The adage is that defense wins in the NHL. True, but simplistic. Having the proper goals differential is what wins. There are four teams in the Eastern Conference which have scored fewer goals than the Rangers, and all four are ahead of them in the standings. Each has a far superior goals differential to the Rangers. One of those teams, the Jersey Devils, are

almost twice as good defensively as the Rangers, having allowed only 52 goals against.

New York lost Pavel Bure on the weekend and now have a ready made excuse for missing the playoffs for the seventh straight year. Don`t buy it. This is a lousy team which has been riding its luck. If their fans

don`t twig to the real situation, then boss Glen Sather might survive this latest wasted season.

If he does then along about this time next year we`ll be banging on

pots and pans in the sumptuous Bookiekiller office complex, cheering the

Rangers for once again being the first to reach 100 goals.

the Rat can be reached via email @

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