Don't let the 5-3 scoreline or the 36-27 shot total fool you, the Rangers were dominated tonight by the Atlanta Thrashers. Yep, the Atlanta Thrashers.
It was atrocious, and yet the Blueshirts were a post and a crossbar away from winning the game. I guess that is a good thing, but walking out of the Garden I don't feel the least bit good about the Ranger performance. Atlanta kept them bottled up in their own end for long stretches, had little trouble breaking up most Ranger rushes and kept the shots away from the danger zones. You would think that after finally getting a few days off to practice the Rangers would be better, not worse. You would think that.
Efforts like this make you wonder if the team has tuned out Tortorella already or simply have no clue or capability to play his hard-nosed, open ice hockey. The slot remains empty with no one paying the price to go to the net, the defense isn't helping the offense and isn't playing defense, and players are passing up good shots while taking bad ones.
The upside is that the Rangers have a cupcake of a game on Saturday against the Senators where they have a good chance of pulling out a W. Tonight the Sens allowed Blair Betts to score a power play goal - I kid you not. But that isn't until Saturday so let's look at the misery that was this evening:
*The night started in entertaining fashion with Sean Avery talking trash to Colby Armstrong throughout warm-ups. Unfortunately, the game started, Armstrong scored 19 seconds in and Avery took a cross checking penalty less than two minutes later. And that was all we saw of Sean Avery for the night. Perhaps he was afraid of incurring further wrath at the hands of Kerry Frasier, perhaps he was afraid of incurring further wrath at the hands of John Tortorella, who knows but the result was an invisible Avery. And the Rangers need the exact opposite. I love Aves, but he has to step up and provide some secondary scoring.
*The same goes for Cally, who blew a perfect chance on the doorstep. I loved the thought of Cally across from Higgins but perhaps it is time Torts pulled the two stone-handed players apart. Cally should fill the slot across from Gabby as Lisin has clearly lost a step with his foot injury.
*Torts also needs to re-think his defense, Girardi/Staal has stagnated, Gilroy is carrying Redden and the pairing of Rozy and MDZ .... ugh. Rozy's tenure as a Ranger should have ended with Jaromir Jagr's, seeing as he has been horrendous ever since his Czechmate left town. Tonight he helped lower the bar even further with some of his worst play this season. His laissez faire defense just doesn't work and it led directly to two Atlanta goals and his passing is constantly off the mark, putting teammates in bad spots. The sight of him staring at Hank shrugging his shoulders after the Kane goal was ... I don't have the words. He makes Redden look like Rod Langway. That bad. And the whole Tortorella accountability thing is officially a bad joke.
*Why did Torts waste his timeout with nine minutes remaining? He gave the Thrashers a breather, clearly didn't inspire the Ranger power play and was without his break when he needed it in the final minutes. Very questionable.
*Several folks who watched the game on TV said that MDZ was indeed tripped by Peverley as he flew into the Thrasher zone and his momentum carried him forward and got a mistaken diving penalty but from my seat it looked like a dive of Brodeurian proportions.
*Just as I had predicted, Brashear got into a pointless fight against Boulton early on. The score was 1-1, he wasn't standing up for a teammate, he was just trying to justify his contract with more buffoonery. He took on a guy he knew he could beat, and proceeded to throw dozens of punches at the guy's helmet. One could only hope that he hurt his hand again and will be out for a prolonged time. I doubt it, seeing as he circled around the ice for a few more shifts but one can pray.
*The other fisticuffs came courtesy of Cally, who took on young Zach Bogosian after Bogosian ran him. Cally laid on the ice, looked for a penalty, didn't get one, had none of his teammates come to his aid and took him on himself. I'm not sure why he didn't get an instigator, but the referees in the NHL seem to have no idea how to call that mistake of a rule nine times out of 10.
*Brian Boyle got a goal, playing trailer on a rush and banging in a rebound. The tally helped level the table after some horrendous play in the Ranger end. The big guy got some good time and pretty much proved that he doesn't belong any higher than the fourth line in an ideal world; I think I saw him win one faceoff all night. I want to see Corey Locke called up because Torts' experiment of three centers clearly failed on this occasion and Locke is racking up points in the A. Torts got so desperate that he even put out Byers, Brash and Voros by themselves after Boyle scored. The sad thing? They killed the clock in the Atlanta end better than the second and third lines were able to do. The saddest thing? Any momentum gained from the goal was completely killed.
*If the Hartford crew doesn't think Locke can do the job, then Sather needs to look elsewhere. Atlanta's Rich Peverley came off of the garbage heap and has flourished as their first-line center. They need more people who can score, that simple. Gabby is outstanding but he can't win alone.
*Peverley and Ilya Kovalchuk were an interesting contrast to Prospal and Gaborik. While their styles are different, I would say that their skill and talent are a wash. Gabby, yet again, was the one Ranger to consistently put himself into good spots to score while Kovalchuk created something out of nothing time and time again.
*The Garden wanted $55 to heat press a name plate on a jersey. Just to heat press it on, not sew it. What the hell?
*Max Afinogenov really is bad. No wonder he frustrated Buffalo fans so badly. He blew several gimme goals for A-T-L. He got his empty netter after Vinny Prospal made the same mistake several Rangers made over the night - passing up the shot to try for force a foolish cross-ice pass on a midget goaltender.
*Borat was a little bit better, going hard to Hank but he couldn't get himself good vengeance with a goal. Thank goodness for small favours.
*I typed almost all of this on the train before getting home just now to finish it up and head to bed. I tuned into MSG and caught the last three minutes of Rangers in 60 where Sam and Joe seem to have traded in their journalist credentials to become PR shrills. Let's face it, they always have been but it was worse than usual.
*PHW Three Stars
3-Rich Peverley - one goal and two assists.
2-Marian Gaborik - one goal and one assist. And he didn't even bother to come out to salute the crowd after it. Classless.
1-Ilya Kovalchuk - one goal and two assists.
Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - How can you fault Hank for the loss? He had no chance at stopping three of the four goals against and without him, the game would have been 5-1 by the end of the first.
2-Gabby - When he gets inevitably injured, we will be screwed.
1-Kovalchuk - Kovy is all-world and it shows. He can't lead the Thrashers to Stanley Cup success but when his skills are combined with other big talents, he is scary - thus the Russian success in the World Championships. Watch out Vancouver.