Erik Christensen had 16 minutes of ice time in last night’s overtime victory against the Sabres. Almost all 16 minutes of that time was with Marian Gaborik; and in almost all of those 16 minutes, Christensen looked lost. Sure, Gaborik’s timing was off after missing so many games, but that does not excuse Christensen for being invisible or awful for those 16 minutes. Last night was a microcosm of a season that looks lost for the enigmatic center. He was invisible for the most part, made one nifty little pass that set up some offense, and had one gaffe that led to an odd-man rush the other way. That pretty much wraps up the Christensen season thus far.
The difference between last night’s gaffe and the other gaffes is that last night’s almost cost the Rangers the game. He made an ill-timed and very poor cross-ice pass, in the air no less, to try to get the puck to Gaborik, and it was intercepted and taken the other way for a 2-on-1 in overtime. Luckily for Christensen, Martin Biron came up huge (as he did all game) and kept the Rangers in the game. Artem Anisimov sent everyone home happy last night, so I guess there’s no harm, no foul.
But there is harm, and there is a foul. Christensen was handed the top line center role, to play with Gaborik and Alex Frolov, despite never earning that role. His minutes were significantly reduced before Gaborik came back, and for good reason. He wasn’t earning his playing time. Now that Gaborik is back, he gets thrust into the first line center role? I understand the logic that he’s the only experienced center not committed to a line that is clicking, but was it really the right choice? One thing that Christensen is supposed to do, win faceoffs, he didn’t do last night, going 3-11 in the circle.
I’m not saying that Derek Stepan should be centering that line, but he has at least earned a shot there. His offense has trailed off and he has struggled, but he’s never invisible. After Christensen was ineffective at even strength and on the powerplay straight through the second period, wasn’t it time to give Stepan at least a period to see if there’s chemistry there? The combination of Frolov-Stepan-Gaborik did play very well in the preseason, right?
Christensen is definitely a skilled hockey player, and while this comes off as bashing him, I’m not. I’m simply stating he should not be the top line guy. He has been with four separate teams in the past four seasons, and it looks like there’s a reason for that. I have no problem with Christensen on the Rangers, but he should not be centering the top line, even as a stop-gap for a future player (likely Stepan). Christensen would be an effective, and relatively cheap, bottom-six guy, and shootout specialist. But, I’ve seen enough of him on the top line. He doesn’t belong there, and any team that relies on a journeyman to be their top line center is in for some long-term problems.