Tuesday, January 6, 2009

24-14-3: Picking On The Passionless Pens

A couple of weeks ago a friend reminded me that over the course of a season there are teams that you are supposed to beat and you have to be happy when you do, no matter how you went about doing it. I guess that means that we are supposed to be happy after tonight's 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins ... he never said it would be easy.

The game was a choppy battle between two teams to see who cared less and Pittsburgh won. The Penguins were horrifically bad, and it is of little wonder that Cole Harbour Crybaby Cindy Crosby is in a frustrated funk. His team sucked. While we were celebrating the two Ranger power play goals, Penguin fans had to be regretting the decision to let Ty Conklin go in the offseason. Both shots - one that was deflected and the other through a smattering of traffic - were intensely savable. Where Marc-Andre Fleury couldn't make the big stop, Henrik Lundqvist made the key save early on - a beautiful kick save on Cindy. After that, the Pens barely challenged him and let him get away with his first shutout of the season. As my buddy Mr. X from the Blue Seats said, it was a terrible game but at least it was entertaining.

What it comes down to is that this Ranger win was a small-but-positive step towards regaining some credibility and some momentum heading into the stretch run. Wednesday's match-up against the Canadiens will be the true test ... but before then, some ice chips from tonight:

*Isn't hockey a wonderful game of inches? I counted five saves by the iron tonight, two of which were behind Hank early in the first period. If either one went in?? Different game.

*If Cindy Crosby had some decent linemates? Different game. He was so much fun to watch - getting kicked out of faceoff circles, making bad passes, crying to the refs, taking bad penalties, diving, getting marginalized by Dmitri Kalinin ... and the Ranger crowd chanting "Crosby Sucks" and "Croooooooossssssssbbbbbbbbyyyyy, Croooooooossssssssbbbbbbbbyyyyy?" Priceless!

*Quick Off Topic Question: Why didn't the linesmen jump in on Crosby's "fight" against Florida's Brett McLean? McLean clearly didn't want to fight and was instantly disadvantaged with the jersey over his head. Oh yeah, that's right, because Cindy gets the benefit of the doubt when it comes to officiating.

*But back to the chants at the Garden on this evening, there were fans near me chanting "MVP" for Nigel Dawes by the end of the game. While I think that was mostly partially drunken exuberance, Dawsie did put together another strong game, as did Petr Prucha. Pru threw his body around with abandon as per usual and made a beautiful play to catch the Pittsburgh defense taking a Gatorade break and found Chris Drury so alone in the slot that even the Ranger captain couldn't miss making it a 3-0 game. The kids are alright.

*Sadly that doesn't include Lauri Koprikoski, who was seemingly scratched for no reason. His replacement Aaron Voros didn't do much bad, but he didn't do much good. Where Prucha came out of the gates after his scratches like a bat outta hell, Voros stepped back on the ice and lumbered around, missed some hits and was generally invisible.

*Also wearing the invisibility cloak was Markus Naslund. The only time that I noticed the former Swedish superstar was in the third period when Max Talbot attempted to provoke him with a few cross checks and jabs. Nazzy is a guy who was supposed to be a key cog in the offense and he seems to be spinning off on his own of late.

*Nik Zherdev on the other hand, seems to be playing himself into oblivion. Every game he makes some move - a quick burst of speed, a sidestep around a defender, a pretty deke, something - that proves that he has the talent. He is just proving the Columbus folks right by showing he doesn't have the desire ...

*Interesting sequence late in the third period: Colton Orr hits Cindy, Brooks Orpik chases after him and gives him a big open ice elbow that Orr shakes off. No call and the play continues so when they came back down the ice again, Orr gives Orpik an elbow and the Penguin defenseman snaps his head back like he was shot. Orr gets a penalty. Then, to top it off, Michal Therrien has nothing better to do than to time the end of the penalty so his goon, Eric Goddard, can be at the door to challenge Orr. Orr then proceeds to go all Joey Kocur on him, delivering haymaker after haymaker to Goddard's helmet. His poor knuckles.

*While Orrsie was in the box, Therrien gambled by pulling Fleury to get a 6-on-4 as his team was down by three goals with three and a half minutes left. It was a ballsie move that backfired as Scott Gomez was finally able to use his speed (and tendency to cherry pick and not play defense) for good to beat everyone down ice and pot the charity shot. Gomez, who got an assist by winning the faceoff to Paul Mara earlier in the game, had a nice effort on paper but in reality was little better than he has been of late. It is so frustrating to see him skate into traffic only to dump the puck into the corner or make a pass that puts his linemate (whoever it is on that given shift) in a poor position. While we can't give up on him, here is a suggestion: the power play would be better served having him as the distributor working from the point rather than on the midboards. He doesn't have Jagr's strength (or vision) and he gets caught in coverage there, dragging down his whole unit.

*It is hard to get a good gauge as to how the Ranger blueline played when their opponents were so bad. The Pens had trouble connecting on passes, passed up on good shooting positions and rarely went hard to the net. I mean, Rozy looked like he continued his slow improvement back into a NHL defender, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi both looked ok, Mara scored, Redden didn't do anything to screw up and Dmitri Kalinin hit the crossbar with a shot.

*And, while Freddie Sjostrom and Blair Betts will never be mistaken for Detroit's Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper, they are proving to be a fantastic penalty killing tandem. If only they could generate a little more offense at regular strength ...

*PHW Three Stars
3-Nigel Dawes - one goal and one assist.
2-Paul Mara - one goal and one assist.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 27 save shutout.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - A shutout is a shutout and kudos to the King, even if he ruled over a decimated, punchless foe.
2-Pru - I would say that the way he is playing, Tom Renney couldn't possibly put him back on the bench but the clueless coach has done dumber things so anything goes.
1-Dawsie - Yes, the shot he took on the power play was deflected but his game was so much more than his early goal. He seems to have taken a page from Cally's book and started physically forechecking and it has served him quite well. That, combined with a new willingness to shoot, has resulted in the player we were hoping for last season.


Anonymous said...

I had this game on mute when I was watching the world jr. game. Looking up at a hockey game in HD is like art. Anyway, typcially when you put a game on mute it appears faster. This game, however, looked like it was standing still.

Both teams looked listless and devoid of sweat. I couldn't believe how passionless BOTH teams looked. Yes, the Pens were a step slower, but nonetheless they wasted their HD time on Versus for me. Damn them both.

Graying Mantis said...

Good review as usual.

Have you noticed that Callahan, Dawes and Prucha seem to have bought into the defensive system by (i) covering the defensive slot, (ii) doing some back checking and (iii) putting their bodies on people. This is leading to better defensive success.

And I still think watching the 4th line chug along is one of the most consistent and pleasurable experiences of watching the Rangers this season. That line is the collective MVP right now. Orr was good last night.

The Rangers 1st period penalty kill told you all you needed to know about how much energy the Pens were lacking. Stealing these 2 points and being 3-0 at home over them may come back to haunt the Birds by season's end.