Tuesday, March 31, 2009

This Is Cool ...

Graphic design folks and hockey fans, I found this in my email from last weekend:
After a very successful first year, the Wolf Pack Specialty Jersey Design Contest is back!

We had hundreds of great entries last year and had a blast choosing the winner. Be creative and have fun because we loved all the different ideas that fans had

The winner of this year’s contest will receive a personalized jersey of their design, along with tickets to see them worn by the team! During the specialty-jersey game, the jerseys will be auctioned right off the player’s backs!

This year’s auction raised over $10,000, which benefited the March of Dimes organization.

Entering this year’s contest is easy: Just download the form and follow the simple instructions to return your entry.

Make sure to submit your entry no later than May 1st to be considered for the contest.

By downloading the entry form and submitting your design you are giving the Hartford Wolf Pack your permission to use your design to create next year’s specialty jersey, and agreeing that there will not be any monetary compensation for your design.
What a great idea, I wish I was more artistic. Good luck to all those out there that give it a shot!

40-28-9: That Is More Like It

For months I was accused of being quite negative, trashing the Rangers and looking too hard to find faults in the team. After last night, I feel vindicated. This team, despite its various inadequacies, has always been capable of playing like they did last night and yet they didn't. It took a new coach, a new sparkplug, a major rival and the loudest Garden crowd to date but the Rangers played like they cared and won a huge game. The 3-0 victory was the kind of game that could and hopefully should propel the team into the playoffs and perhaps well into them.

Now the odds against this team maintaining the momentum are certainly high as they have often won good games only to fall flat on their faces the next time out but let's not think about that for now. Let's just bask in the glow of victory and the shame of Mmmmmmmmaaaaaaaaarrrrtttttyyyyy.

*The well-hyped Seanvs. Mmmaaaarrrrtttyyy matchup didn't manifest itself far beyond a stick to the groin, a few shots on the net and an assist on the game-sealing goal. Not bad work for Mr. Avery as he still managed to keep the Devils occupied. Granted, for the second straight game he managed not to receive any assistance from the officiating. Avery gets thrown around like a rag doll by a minor leaguer and took a roughing penalty for his troubles. Had he been, say Sidney Crosby, he would not have been penalized and the aforementioned minor leaguer would have gotten a game misconduct as well as the double minor rough and 10 minute misconduct. Semantics? Perhaps, given that it was in the last 10 minutes of the game so it was a virtual game-ender for the minor leaguer but that isn't the point. The refs will do no favours for Avery so he has to maintain the amazing level of restraint he showed in this one.

*Devil fans can try to defend Clarkson all they want and say he is more than a minor leaguer but if he was, then Sutter would have been able to put him out there opposite Avery all night. Instead, Avery skated for 15:41 and Clarkson 4:52.

*As I said up top, the Rangers are capable of winning despite their inadequacies. The power play went 0-5. They still don't cycle well, they have trouble getting the puck through traffic and they have difficulty keeping the puck in the zone.

*And yet, they scored three goals. Not too shabby.

*Blair Betts, yet again, anchored a penalty kill that kept the Devils off the scoreboard. He certainly deserved the nomination for the Masterson pregame and should get more than a look for the Rangers Extra Effort award - even if his ice time has gone down and down over the past few weeks, dropping to just 4:36 last night.

*Bobby Holik remains nothing more than a caveman thug with little skill and less brains. Holik, much like Mike Rupp, decided to play less hockey and attempt to intimidate through meaningless physical play. It is a shame, once upon a time he was the top checking center in the NHL. As for Rupp, he scored one decent goal once upon a time and has parlayed that into classless, skill-less career.

*Mr. X From The Blue Seats made an argument that Ryan Callahan has the top Ranger on the ice and I certainly won't take anything away from him, but as you will see in the stars, I disagree. Nevertheless, the kid has steadily been getting better and better and will certainly receive interest this summer as an RFA.

*In the Peepin' Foes I said even Versus couldn't screw up the broadcast of the game. Watching the replay this afternoon, I was proved wrong. While it is nice listening to Doc Emerick, the production value was its usual disappointing level and the directing left much to be desired. Why they feel the need to switch to a tight camera iso of a player a second or two after said player was in the action is beyond me. I still haven't seen a definitive angle of Drury making or not making contact with Mmmmaaarrtttyy on the second Ranger goal. Oh, and it was nice of Versus to show a goal by Sidney Crosby in the middle of play during the first period. Gotta make sure they show WonderBoy ... Crosby Sucks.

*Oh, and Versus, the Sabres do NOT have the most passionate fans in hockey. That would have to go to the Canadiens, sorry. Half of the Sabre season ticket holders are people who couldn't get tickets for their real team, Toronto.

*Scott Gomez showed several flashes of being the MexiCan he was during the Ranger-Devil playoff series, rather than the MexiCan't he has been all too often this season. I understand playing with emotion and motivation does wonders, but how that switch can be turned on and off so easily is beyond me.

*Corey Potter acquitted himself well in his first game in the bigs in months. He was given a good amount of power play time too, which was bizarre but not unwelcome. Potter made a good case to be with the club during training came and during his other call up but was sent back down. Hopefully he will stick this time and take some ice time away from Wade "Out and Drown" Redden. Granted, I didn't think he was especially better than Mike Sauer was but every coach has his favourites and clearly Sauer rubbed Torts the wrong way.

*Poor Shanny, no ovation, no video tribute and no respect from the Rangers. He was a nonfactor in this game and only got on the scoresheet by taking exception to a Freddie Sjostrom check.

*For the Islander fans out there - if this game wasn't proof enough that no one else cares about your silly excuse for a franchise I don't know what is. The Rangers have a rival that they care about playing, hope you enjoy Kansas City.

*But at the same time, perhaps many Garden-goers thought they were watching a Ranger/Islander game as that damned Potvin Sucks whistle rang out time after time after time. Dammit, make it stop! Even with replacing Potvin with Marty, enough is enough. I was surprised that my "Al-I-Mo-Ny" chant didn't go too far, but still stand by it.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Dan Girardi - one goal and one assist.
2-Scott Gomez - one assist.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 38 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Brandon Dubinski - Dubi played his best game in a while. He forechecked, backchecked, made good passes, scored a nice goal and was a perfect 9-0 at the dot. Torts may also have been testing the waters to see what a life without Betts would be like as Dubi saw several shorthanded shifts.
2-Girardi - Back when Girardi was pared with Redden he was forced to do too much and, by overextending himself to cover his partner's many gaffes, he was worse of a hockey player. Now that he has been freed from the anchor and put alongside the competent and ever-improving Marc Staal, Girardi has been the team's No. 1 defenseman.
1-Hank - Devil fans can talk Cups and records, but the King is 18-6-4 (fixed, thanks guys) now in his career against Fatso. Could you imagine what Hank's numbers and success rate would be if he played behind the likes of Stevens, Niedermayer, Rafalski, Daneyko, et. al. instead of Rozsival, Poti, Malik and Redden?

Happy 81st!!

Happy Birthday to Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. Howe turned 81 today and is remains venerated as one of the greatest to ever put a skate on NHL ice. And to think, he could have been a New York Ranger ...


The Rangers played, and won, the biggest game of their season to date tonight by beating Brodeur and the Devils 3-0. It was loud and it was wonderful and I am completely exhausted so check back tomorrow afternoon for a real game recap.

Sweet dreams are made of these.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Peepin' Foes: New Jersey Devils

Ah, the battle for the ages resumes: Avery vs. Mmmmaaaarrrrtttyyy. As a fan, one gets chills thinking about the possibilities. As a realist, I don't think much will happen. Each player is under too much pressure to perform as the Devils have lost four straight and the Rangers are clinging to a playoff position. Nevertheless, Rangers-Devils, 7 p.m. Madison Square Garden. Even Versus can't screw this broadcast up, right? (Don't answer that.)

Where We Are: The Blueshirts have given no signs of being a capable playoff club. The goaltender lets in soft goals, the defense is porous and the goal scorers can't score when it counts. The power play is atrocious and the head coach shockingly seems to believe his team can play their way out of this slump. The last head coach thought that too and look where that got him.

Where They Are: Fatso came out flying from his injury to break St. Patrick's record and since then hasn't been all that great. He couldn't come up with the big saves in Jersey's last two games and has lost four straight. Still, the Devils did so well thanks to Scott Clemmensen that they maintain first in the Atlantic.

Who To Watch For: The usual suspects. Zach Parise, Hepatitis Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner are always dangerous against the Rangers. Langenbrunner, in fact, is one of the few players on either team who seems to really play with a chip on his shoulder - he really doesn't like the Rangers and I can respect that. Travis Zajac has been stellar this season setting up and clearing room for Parise.

What To Watch For: Does Avery vs. Mmmmaaaarrrtttyyy become a sideshow, the main event or a nonhappening? Will Brendan Shanahan torch the Rangers in his first game back since being unceremonially dumped by the idiot front office? Will the Ranger defense be able to stop Parise, who has turned into one of the top talents in the league?

What We'll (Hopefully) See: A nice salute by the fans and Garden staff for Shanny - the man at least deserves a video tribute. Better officiating then in Pittsburgh. Hank not to allow two or more soft goals. Wade Redden to be injured for the rest of his career. Mike Rupp to get his untalented ass kicked by Colton Orr.

Also Check Out: The solid Fire & Ice, my former fellow NY Times Hockey Night in Blogdom foe In Lou We Trust moved to SBN and Rich Chere's MSM blog.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

39-28-9: House Of Horrors (now with pictures!)

Well, the Rangers and Pens tied the season series at three each with each team winning all of their home games. Much like the other three games in Pittsburgh, the Blueshirts had no chance at winning this one, being outworked by a more talented team from the start. The usual tough officiating in Pittsburgh didn't help, but wasn't as painful as the two incredibly soft goals Henrik Lundqvist allowed. And the team never made a statement, never finished a big play or made a big hit or anything on their way to skating off the Igloo ice as the losers (again). That's 13 regulation losses in their last 15 games in Pittsburgh (including playoffs).

The Rangers could theoretically go on an eight game losing streak to end the season. Sure, this is only the second in a row and the sky isn't falling yet, but five of the remaining six games are against teams playing better than they are - with the lone possible exception being Montreal.

The new parts that were added around the deadline were nice enough to get some people back on the bandwagon but the chassis is still cracked and the axles are bent. It is up to John Tortorella to keep the wheels from falling off the rest of the way before the playoffs and Monday's match against Mmmmaaaarrrtttyyy at MSG will be quite telling.

More on this one:

*If there was any clearer evidence that the Rangers should re-up Nik Antropov over Nik Zherdev than the third Blueshirt goal I don't know what it is. Sure both players disappear regularly, sure both are skilled, sure both are soft but Borat is bigger and that size is quite helpful up front, as shown by the way he used his length to reach out and spin around Mark Eaton to tuck the puck in.

*Why is it that Joe Micheletti feels the need to be Wade Redden's personal publicist? Micheletti raved on and on about how wonderful Redden was when the Penguin ran into him in the neutral zone and the Rangers were able to go the other way and score. Not mentioned was the pathetic netminding by Fleury to allow the telegraphed wrap-around attempt slide past him. But Redden, wow. Just give that man the Norris NOW!!!!!

*Of course, Micheletti lost track of which defenseman was which on Fedotenko's goal. He said it was Morris who pinched and played himself out of position while it was - who else? - Redden. That left Morris back on a three-on-one and that just didn't work out.

*It wouldn't have even gotten to that had Gomez not tried to use telepathy to get the loose puck in. He let himself be twisted out of the play and his stick taken up so he just watched as it was knocked away. Damn superpowers, always failing at the wrong times.

*Hank gave up his trademark soft goal to open the game, letting the classless, clueless clown Max Talbot slide the puck through his legs. For a goaltender who was so good in shootouts, it is at least the fourth breakaway goal this season that I recall Hank letting in. Then Crosby's later on wasn't much different - blow past the D and wrist it right through the goaltender. For shame Hank, for shame.

*The only shame in the second goal of the game - the Cooke-y Monster's - was that the Rangers let themselves be outworked around their own net. But let's face it, that has been the story all season long.

*How could Colton Orr get beaten up by Eric Godard? He landed maybe two decent punches, and both were to Godard's helmet. Orr has steadily gotten worse since Torts has come to town and that is a shame considering how far he had come.

*As for his game misconduct, what can you say? It was a fair hit on a fair play but Eaton was falling so it became a hit to the head. The refs saw blood so they panicked and felt the need to call something big. Just think of it this way, had that been Crosby instead of Eaton then Orr would have been suspended for life.

*The Freddie Sjostrom on the third line experiment isn't working. He has no chemistry with those guys. It may be time to move him back down to the fourth line or maybe even try him alongside Gomez. Chemistry is the name of the game and the lines as they are now aren't meshing all that well.

*Slightly OT: Last game wrap I mocked the decision to start Valley, saying how Vancouver wouldn't bench Roberto Luongo. Well, they did last night. And they beat the worst team in the West (Colorado) 4-1. Dammit.

*Also slightly OT: My buddy Chuck gave the heads up for anyone interested that Borat Antropov will be doing an autograph signing at the NHL Store in New York on Tuesday at 2pm.

*Nice goal by Cally to get the Rangers on the board. After Avery fumbled the puck, Cally snapped it far post and in past Fleury. The kid has been great for the Rangers and unless they re-sign him quickly (he is a RFA), he is almost assured of getting a offer sheet this offseason. That will be a sad day.

*Sean Avery vs. Tyler Kennedy ... huh? Why? Sean has to be smarter than that. There is no reason to fight a little pest like Kennedy, who wears a visor might I add. Avery needed to goad Crosby, Kunitz or Guerin into something - not a spare part like Kennedy.

*Poor Mike Sauer. Two minutes of ice time, -2. And, frankly, neither of them were his fault; the first one was Paul Mara's screw up as Talbot blew past him and the forwards didn't backcheck well on the second, letting Cooke knock in his own rebound. EDIT: And now Sauer has been sent down as Torts found himself a scapegoat. Nevermind that the kid has played well, but he can't send Redden down now, can he?

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ryan Callahan - one goal.
2-Sidney Crosby - one goal.
1-Ruslan Fedotenko - one goal and two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Crosby - The Cole Harbour Crybaby bitched, moaned and complained to the refs every chance he got but he did get up from every hit and kept on going to the tough parts of the ice. His goal was more because of the incompetence of the Rangers than everything else but even I have to admit he is fast.
2-Dan Girardi - I wanted to give this to Blair Betts for his work on the kill (which went 10-0!) but Danny G was a force throughout. He skated for more than 31 minutes, 7:44 on them shorthanded. The most telling part of his performance (and that of Staal's) was that Guerin, Kunitz, Malkin, Staal and Sykora were held pointless.
1-Fedotenko - I mention it in most Peepin' Foes (sorry about the lack of one today) but Tank steps up his game every time he plays the Rangers. He did it in Tampa, he did it on the Island and he does it for the Pens. Bastard.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

39-27-9: True Colours Shine Through

No photos for now. Apparently none of the Getty/AP guys travelled with the team so nothing from any stringers has crossed the wire by now (10:30p). I will add some tomorrow if they pop up ...

This afternoon I watched Game 7 of the '94 series against the Devils on the NHL Network. Then tonight I tuned in to the Rangers' must-win match against the Thrashers down in Atlanta. What a contrast. The current team showed their true colours, folding like a cheap suit. I am usually loathe to use the '94 team as a point of comparison but do you think that Keenan or Messier would have let the team relent against a bottom-feeding team of AHL talent?

No, I didn't think so.

A lot of fingers can be pointed in this one, from the pedestrian performance by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi to Brandon Dubinsky not covering Todd White on the game-tying goal to Valley not even flinching as White scored in the shootout. The biggest finger is aimed at John Tortorella as the coach failed for the first time in his tenure. Sure, there have been losses, but Torts let the Rangers take their foot off the gas after going up 4-1 and left the door open for the Thrashers to battle back.

The Rangers had everything to play for but they lost to a team with nothing to lose. That's why they call them spoilers and that's why the Rangers - if they even make the playoffs (which is not looking so good at the moment) - will fail in the first round. Change the coach, change some of the spare parts and the team picks itself up but it is the same team of underachieving slackers who got Tom Renney fired.

Is this an over-reaction? The team did hold on to get a point in the standings and still is in playoff position with seven games left. But what we saw tonight from the Rangers was supposed to have been eradicated with the changes that were made so it is utterly infuriating to see the same ole story again is simply infuriating and utterly unacceptable.

*I do my best to ignore Joe Micheletti as he is a complete and utter incompetent excuse for a colour guy but my buddy Pat reminded me - Joe said that the three-goal lead the Rangers gained was "safe." The so-called professional broadcaster, who called the 6-5 loss in Montreal, should know better.

*Nice goal by Nik Zherdev to officially start the game's scoring, wristing the puck inside the post on a rebound from the high slot. It was a nice shot but did anyone else notice that all five Thrashers were standing around, watching him skate? They were like that for most of the first two periods and the Rangers didn't take full advantage of it. Instead of pouring it on and putting pucks in, they took dumb penalties.

*I said Z officially started the scoring because there was a goal appropriately waved off earlier in the period. While it would have been for Dru to score, he did hit it with a high stick. It was close, but appeared to be the right call.

*It was a questionable call to not use Z in the shootout. How a skill player like that can be left on the bench is stupefying to me.

*Dru didn't let himself get down by the no-goal call and just kept firing. He got himself an assist in the second period when his shot from the left wing that was going wide deflected off of Borat's skate and went in for a power play goal to make it 2-1. Then, just moments later, Dru's open slap shot from the right wing minutes later flew past Hedberg to give the Rangers a two goal lead.

*However, it is hard to give Dru a lot of credit as he is supposed to lead the team and he clearly is not a leader. I just caught a second of his post-game interview and he had the same demeanor as he did during his second intermission interview. I've said it any number of times, the Rangers need a cult of personality to lead them and they don't have one. Is Dru a good hockey player and proven winner? Certainly. But he isn't a leader.

*Valley's red power drink + white away jersey = headache for the equipment manager.

*Speaking of Valley, why the hell did he start? Is there any way the Devils would bench Brodeur around now? How about the Sharks putting Nabokov on the shelf? Luongo? Mason? Backstrom? Theodore? When every win is needed, you need to ride your starter.

*Sean Avery = headache for everyone. And, seemingly, the referees don't want to deal with him. His rep is gone and anything close to a call will be called, like that ridiculous first period interference penalty. Avery came back to draw Kovy into a penalty in the third, but had it been someone else, there would have been more than two minutes called on Kovy. Not only did Kovalchuk crosscheck Avery, but he then chopped at Avery's face as he was down on the ice. That's obscene and suspension-worthy but won't have any repercussions - after all, Avery is fair game in Bettman's NHL. There is nothing more than the league wants than for Avery to go away.

*Kari Lehtonen did get hurt on that first period "interference" play, after being hit by his own teammate. But Lehtonen is made out of glass, he gets hurt by everything.

*This is the problem with the NHL now that there are too many teams - when one of the lesser lights gets eliminated, they populate their roster with half-wit no talent clowns who can hardly play. Sure, there are some stars, but the majority of Atlanta's team does not belong in the NHL and they proved it by hacking, slashing, high sticking and injuring the Rangers. I have no problem with a team playing hard, I have a problem with a team playing recklessly.

*Slightly OT: You know that annoying Optimum Online commercial where the guy has the hockey jerseys of the three local teams talking about their games being available in HD? The Ranger jersey is a Lundqvist, the Islanders is a DiPietro and the Devils jersey? Blank. Hmmm ...

*When Renney ran out of ideas to make the power play successful, he finally grasped at the straw we had all been calling for - putting a forward on the point. Torts is still in the early stages of his tenure but he had Z play the point on the top unit, but that was doomed to fail as the lone defenseman was Wade "Out and Drown" Redden. The special team did score two goals in the second period but the second unit accounted for both. The first unit couldn't do anything right.

*Scott Gomez skated for nearly nine minutes of power play time and didn't do a damned thing. He was on the ice for 26:37, more than any forward in the game and couldn't get past players who couldn't carry his jock in terms of skill or resume.

*One of the good things to come out of this was that Mike Sauer had another fine game. The lone mistake I saw was a giveaway across the Ranger blueline with a few minutes left in the second period. To the kid's credit, he stayed with his man the rest of the play and the Rangers were able to get the puck out with no problems.

*Credit to his partner, Paul Mara, for his fortitude. Mara took a high stick to the face, underwent repairs and returned. He is a real hockey player, unlike Lehtonen.

*Derek Morris played his best game as a Ranger.

*Atlanta had to be pissed as they had a goal waved off in the first period. Valley stopped the initial shot and a Thrasher banged in the rebound - but the ref had blown the whistle early. No whistle rang out in second when Hedberg made the first save and Naslund jammed the puck home. One was a good move by the ref, the other is not. I am a Ranger fan so I won't distinguish which ...

*Given how good the Ranger penalty kill is and how well Colton Orr fights, why wasn't Orr sent out to pick a fight and/or hammer Kovalchuk? Perhaps a physical presence would have helped stop the Atlanta momentum. Just a thought.

*Stat of the game: Atlanta's Rich Peverly won one faceoff. He took 19.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Chris Drury - one goal and two assists.
2-Ilya Kovalchuk - one goal and two assists.
1-Todd White - one goal, one assist and the shootout game-winner.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Zach Bogosian - The 18 year old played with more poise than any of the other defensemen in the game. He played a ton of minutes and never got flustered.
2-White - He is a shifty center with good speed and hockey sense. White put himself into good positions to make or finish plays and let Kovy do the rest.
1-Kovy - He is a game-breaker with All-World talent. Too bad the only player on the Rangers with those qualifications was left on the bench for this game. Perhaps the team will play better against the Pens on Saturday when Hank is put back in the crease.

Peepin' Foes: Atlanta Thrashers

Maybe it's me but it seems that the Rangers are perpetually playing Atlanta. They are down in the dirty sou today to take on the Thrashers (again) in a game that could cement their spot in the playoffs, especially seeing how the Panthers choked last night in Pominville and likely will get beaten up on Broad Street tonight in Philly.

Where We Are: After four wins in the last five games, the Rangers hold seventh place in the East. A win could bring the Blueshirts even with the Pens in sixth, one point behind the fifth place Canes (who will still have a game in hand after tonight). Edit: Zipay has Valley getting the start.

Where They Are: Atlanta is 10 points better than the Islanders, but that isn't saying too much, they are still the fourth-worse team in the league. However, that makes them quite dangerous. They went on a six game win streak earlier this month that included victories over Calgary, Montreal, Buffalo and Washington. They've lost three of their last four

Who To Watch For: Kovy is still a hockey god, even if he is surrounded by a poor team. Slava Kozlov has been hot lately and always hurt the Rangers on the scoreboard, while that idiot Garnet Exelby has always tried to hurt the Blueshirts on the ice. Rich Peverley has come out of nowhere to average nearly a point per game and did you know that Bryan Little has 31 goals?!?

What To Watch For: The new Ranger system opens up the ice and allows odd man rushes and insane opportunities for the opposition so if they get even the least bit sloppy, Kovy will kill them. Kari Lehtonen looked good against the Blueshirts on Graves night so if he gets hot again, he can frustrate the Rangers. Also the Avery vs. Exelby or Zach Bogosian battle should be fun to watch.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: A blowout - a couple of quick goals to set the tempo and the team to keep their feet on the pedal the rest of the way. There is no reason that the Rangers can't do to Atlanta what Anaheim did to Colorado last night (7-2) besides the fact that the Rangers seem to never do that. It would be a nice change of pace. Oh, and another slugfest between Eric Boulton and Colton Orr.

Also Check Out: The team's own blog Blueland, the requisite MSM blog and the in-depth, well thought out fan blog Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons? (I hate the new name so I won't use it.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

39-27-8: Not So Wild But Still Two Points

Quick note: this was written on the train ride home as I have a quick turnaround for work and there is no Ranger Rewind when games are on Versus. Booooo Versus.

It is amazing how a game with three nice goals, two fights and several solid hits could be as dreadfully boring as Tuesday night's 2-1 tilt between the Rangers and the Wild was.

But that should be expected given the Wild. They play smart, low risk hockey while consistently falling back with a 1-3-1 or 2-3 defense. The Rangers were lucky two get two past Nicklas Backstrom and the Minnesota defensive and reversed Sunday's result against the Sens to take two big points away.

Two bigger points await in Atlanta and John Tortorella and company have to do their damnedest not to play down to the Thrashers level. No one said this playoff run would be easy and taking on a team with nothing to lose is a dangerous thing.

Minnesota had most everything to lose and played like that. Jacques Lemaire runs a tight ship and has a lot of the perfect personnel to carry it out. Sure, it hurt that Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns weren't there to supplement Marian Gaborik's offense and sure it hurt that Lemaire scratched Derek Boogaard but the Wild didn't play poorly. They minimized mistakes and were edged out by the slimmest of margins by a team more willing to shoot the puck. Sucks to be them.

*Mr. X from the Blue Seats pointed out that Scott Gomez barely played the final minutes. Whatever kept him off the ice led to Tortorella utilizing a power play unit of Markus Naslund, Ryan Callahan and Nik Zherdev. Needless to say, they didn't score and the unit went 0-5 on the night.

*Cally also didn't score, which is a shame. He had an empty net and instead tried to feed a covered Gomez instead of taking the gimme goal. It ended a six game point streak that proved that he is a capable and valuable member of the Rangers. Not that he wasn't before, but points are quantifiable.

*Zherdev's goal will help add to his final total and future contract offer but what wasn't recorded was the impressive angle from which he shot it. He showed remarkable patience before calmly firing the puck almost at the goal line over Backstrom's extended glove and into the net. It was purty.

*So was Gomez's shot from the slot. Why he wasn't able to convert more chances like that earlier this season is beyond me. A quick wrister put the Rangers ahead and proved to be the game winner. As they say - shoot early, shoot often.

*Freddie Sjostrom got off several good shots. He seemed poised to tuck the puck in on several occasions but just couldn't finish. The experiment of using him on the third line just hasn't worked out. He has no chemistry with them while continuing to play top notch shut-down pucks with Blair Betts on the penalty kill.

*The third member of the former fourth line, Colton Orr, had a good game. Torts utilized his size and energy and it resulted in some fine play. Granted, he beat up a senior citizen but the Irishman was asking for it.

*Cal Clutterbuck also asked for it and Sean Avery answered the bell. Finally. Avery picked his spot well, taking on someone of pretty much the same size and aptitude. The Garden roared after the first period fight and Avery went on to add another assist. It is interesting that when he is involved in the game, banging bodies and doing whatnot behind the play, the Rangers step up their game and get more offensive chances. When Avery steps back, so do the Blueshirts ....

*The Garden was half empty. Considering the dog fight the team is in for the playoffs, it was pathetic. And the idiots that showed up and kept doing 'Potvin Sucks' were just as terrible - except for the one appropriate time, when Ulf Nilsson was shown on the big board.

*Michael Sauer should have been recognized more. The youngster played in his first NHL game and acquitted himself quite well. Sauer played the puck smoothly with good accuracy on his passes and he picked his spots to go lay hits wisely. He was rarely caught out of position and had a better game than Wade "Put and Drown" Redden, who was mediocre at best (at BEST).

*Oh, a little off topic, I got my 'Please Sens, Take Redden Back' sign back. The security guard who took it away on Sunday was kind enough to return it at the end of this one. According to him, some of the Rangers came out for warmups, spotted it and complained to staff, who ordered him to take it away in the first place. I am thinking it was Gomez and Drury ...

*Drury, by the way, was a ghost in this one. Dru did absolutely nothing of value. No killing penalties, no big faceoff wins, no big shot blocks and certainly nothing on the offensive side of the puck. He has to be a factor if the team is to win in the long run - the captain can't disappear like Z does for games at a time.

*Again off topic but I won't have time before Monday to make another sign but if anyone feels so adventurous, I had an idea: one side says "Marty Want A Donut?" and the other side says "How About An Alimony Sandwich?"

*If there was any doubt that Dan Girardi and Marc Staal were the top defensive pairing, then it should be gone by this point. Torts used them in all situations and they didn't disappoint. They moved the puck well, stepped up at good times and were rock solid in the Ranger end. Should the Blueshirts manage to keep them together on the blueline for a long time, then these two could go down as one of the top pairings in team history. Girardi played more than 26 minutes and was fantastic.

*Who lost the shoe? Anyone out there know the story of the sneaker that was thrown onto the ice late in the third period?

*PHW Three Stars
3-Henrik Lundqvist - 18 saves.
2-Sean Avery - one assist.
1-Nik Zherdev - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Sauer - The kid was thrust into the Ranger lineup and never looked out of sorts or out of step. While I am not a huge fan of a defenseman who wears a visor, I can understand why kids today wear them and hopefully this performance will be the first of many on the Garden ice for him.
2-Zherdev - Z popped up to make some big plays. It is nice then that happens but is a complete shame he isn't motivated or capable of doing so for more than a game a month.
1-Gomez - As bitter as I was about the sign thing, even I can recognize that Gomer had a strong game. His puck handling skills shone as he slipped around and through the stout Wild defense and his goal was perfect place at perfect time.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Peepin' Foes: Minnesota Wild

The Rangers are back in action on Tuesday, taking on the Wild at the Garden on Versus. Feel free to drink along.

Where We Are: There are just four home games left including this one and nine left overall. Dammit. What the hell are we going to do after that? Well, maybe playoffs. The Rangers sit three points clear of Montreal in seventh place but the Habs have a game in hand. Luckily the two teams in front of the Rangers - the Canes and the Pens both have played more games than the Rangers. After playing so many games early in the year, this is a nice change.

Where They Are: Minnesota is one point shy of the eighth spot out West. Just as the East is bunched up at the bottom, the West is and the Wild are fighting tooth and nail to get in. They beat Edmonton 3-0 on Sunday in a huge game but it was coming off of a sad 4-0 loss to Mmmmaaaaarrrrtttttyyyyy and the Devils - in New Jersey.

Who To Watch For: Well, Mikko Koivu is out but Marian Gaborik finally returned - the same Marian Gaborik who dropped five on the Rangers once upon a time. Irishman Owen Nolan has proved he is quite capable despite being as old as the Blarney Stone, as is the evergreen (and ever slow) Andrew Brunette. Marek Zidlicky is a good puck moving defenseman and Nick Schultz is one of the most underrated blueliners in the league. And finally, Cal Clutterbuck and Stephane Veilleux are edgy forwards with grit and I'm a big fan of Veilleux because he plays with his heart on his sleeve and he has a sense of humour.

What To Watch For: See if the Rangers get the jump back in their step and play a quick power game that puts pucks on the net. Then again, it would be just as possible that we will see a boring ping-pong game between two of the best goaltenders in the game - Hank and Nicklas Backstrom. Dan Fritsche might also have an extra spark playing against the team that threw him away like a losing lotto ticket.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: A strong effort from the Rangers, who looked tired and almost bored during points of the mediocre Sens match. More than three goals. A statement from Michael Sauer that he belongs in the NHL. The heavyweight event of the season between Colton Orr and Derek Boogaard. The Boogey Man is a monster but if Colt can get inside on the 6'7 monster, he can do some damage.

Also Check Out: View from Section 216, Hitting The Post, 18,568 Reasons Why and SBN's Hockey Wilderness.

An Eye On The E

Shameless advertising for them, solely because I had a good time last week:

This week the EPHL crowns their inaugural Champion and all the games are at the Aviator Sports Complex, home of the Regular Season Champion Brooklyn Aces!

As a bonus for the playoffs the EPHL and the Brooklyn Aces have lowered the ticket prices as a thank you to the fans for their support the entire season.

Don’t miss the action this week of the best of 3 series!!!

Inaugural Championship game
(2) Jersey Rockhoppers Vs. (1)The Brooklyn Aces
Thursday, March, 23rd @ 7:30
Friday, March, 24th @ 7:30
Saturday, March 25th @7:30 (if necessary)

Tickets only $15 for adults (regularly $20) and $9 for kids

For your tickets call 718-758-7585 or 718-977-5930

38-27-8: Sunday Boring Sunday

The back side of Ranger tickets has a lot of small print and amid that eye-straining legal-speak is this: "Management reserves the right, without the refund of any portion of the ticket purchase price, to refuse admission or eject any person whose conduct is deemed by management to be disorderly, who uses vulgar or abusive language or who fails to comply with the terms and conditions within."

Apparently holding up a sign during warmups that reads "Please Sens, Take Redden Back" meets with those conditions. How possession of said sign - which has no vulgar or abusive language (no 'sloppy seconds') - is deemed ejection worthy is beyond me. Apparently it is indeed an ejectable offense, as I was threatened with it before security took my sign away. How a sign devoid of objectionable material that brought a smile to the faces of other patrons and Ottawa Senators alike is disorderly is beyond me. Is it objectionable to the public relations arm of the franchise? Certainly. Is it objectionable to the fragile ego of Mr. Redden? I'm sure. But is it anything aside from harmless fun? Absolutely not.

As fans we have very few ways to make our displeasure known - basically two ways: boo or don't go. Being as this is New York, it is clear that neither will, or has ever worked. Putting G-rated words on a piece of oaktag was a means of protest to the franchise for the illogical and foolish waste of the fans hard-earned money. Being threatened with ejection after spending said hard-earned money to watch the franchise is worse. And to willingly submit to the heavy-handed request of said franchise just to be slapped in the face with a pathetic excuse for an effort on the ice is absolutely horrifying.

A recorded sellout crowd of 18,200 (which was more like 16,000) paid their hard-earned money to watch Tom Renney's Rangers reappear and submit before a lesser foe in the midst of a playoff run. They played with no intensity, no interest and no heart as the Senators skated out of the Garden with an easy 2-1 win. Jarkko Ruutu was his usual clown-ish self, soliciting a "Ruutu Sucks" chant that he clearly enjoyed and yet the Rangers never attempted to confront the super pest. Ottawa put their backup goaltender in the net and the Blueshirts never challenged him, despite getting six power plays. As they did earlier in the season, the Blueshirts seemed all too eager to play for the shootout and a lone soft goal given up by Hank sank them. It was pathetic, it was gross and one can only hope that Tortorella doesn't let it happen again.

But if he does, so be it. We can save our cash on what is sure to be a short, pointless foray into and out of the first round of the playoffs.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brandon Dubinsky - one goal.
2-Alex Auld - 28 saves.
1-Ryan Shannon - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Ryan Callahan - Best Ranger on the ice, bar none.
2-Chris Phillips -Solid defense from a solid player.
1-Shannon - Playing in front of friends and family, he showed more exuberance than the entire Ranger roster and went on to score the game-winning goal. Good for him.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

38-26-8: Hockey Night In New York

Walking out to the sweet sound of Bob Marley's "Buffalo Soldier" after the Rangers 5-3 win over the Sabres was a treat on Saturday night. The game itself? Almost as nice.

A packed Garden witnessed the Rangers skating hard, creating chances and putting the puck in the back of the net. It is a remarkable change from a month ago ...

Still, the Blueshirts were almost undone by their blueline as a 4-1 lead was cut to one late in the third period. Please, Wade "Out and Drown" Redden, put yourself out of our misery. Leave town. Please? Pretty please? Now. You suck. Redden made one decent play along the boards that was well outweighed by his gaffes. He is atrocious and Sather needs to find a way to slip out of the noose that is Redden's contract. Bobby Sanguinetti, even without a minute of NHL experience, is a safer bet than Redden.

At the end of the night, the Rangers hopefully learned that they simply cannot take their feet off the gas because every opponent is playing like its the playoffs nowadays. Sundays opponent - the Ottawa Senators - won't be any easier, in fact, they come in red hot with four wins in their last five and eight in their last nine and have a better goaltender then Buffalo (that's it for a Peepin' Foes, sorry folks).

I'll try to keep tonight's comments short as there is a quick turnaround:

*First off RIP Walt.

*Sean Avery was a dirty, filthy beast who did his job pretty damned well. If he played as well when the Rangers played the Sabres two years ago in the playoffs, the Blueshirts would have made it to the conference finals.

*Blair Betts, who went 12-6 in the faceoff circle, took two bad penalties - raising his season total to 16 PIM. The last time he took two minors in one game was November 25th, 2006 - a span of 224 games. Usually when he ends up in the box, the puck ends up behind Hank but Freddie Sjostrom, Brandon Dubinsky, Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan were huge to keep the Sabre power play off the board. In fact, the Sabres went 0-6 with the man advantage, keeping the Ranger kill the first in the NHL.

*It is a good thing Lauri Korpikoski did well on the kill because his ice time is coming down and I am sure Tort's opinion of him dropped after the kid missed a penalty shot. Korpikoski waited too long to shoot and had Lalime easily kick it away. Luckily it did not cost the team in the end but he should have scored.

*A Chris Drury goal against a team other than the Isles? And on a nice redirection? And on the power play? Who'da thunk it?!? And a night after Danny Briere also scored on the Sabres? Nice!

*Minutes after I yell that Markus Naslund needs to retire, he scores a nice goal. Typical. But that goal was all thanks to Borat Antropov, who had another big game. As long as he remains this involved in the offense it is easy to overlook how soft he is. Borat is proving to be what Zherdev hasn't been and it would be foolish to re-sign Z if there is a chance to get the Kazakh for the same money. At the same time, neither deserve deals for more than two, three seasons.

*Scott Gomez is really fast. And his speed gets him chances. He just needs to start finishing them more often.

*It woud have been nice to see a Colton Orr-Paul Gaustad tilt. Gaustad thought he was tough try to take on the much smaller Avery and the much more skilled Dubinsky so perhaps he could tussle with someone closer to his own size and temperament?

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ryan Callahan - two goals.
2-Nik Antropov - two assists.
1-Nik Zherdev - one goal that went off of a defenseman's skate and just happened to prove to be the game winner because the Ranger defense gave up two bad goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - Lundqvist gave up three goals on 40 shots but just one was his fault. The Sabres kept pressing and two of the three Ranger defensive pairings let them come. Hank also got crashed into twice and kept his head in the game.
2-Dan Girardi - The top Ranger pairing was solid. I thought Girardi was the better of his pairing on this night, if only because Staal got caught wandering on a Sabre goal.
1-Ryan Callahan - The future winner of the Steven A. McDonald Extra Effort Award gave it his extra effort, as per usual, and it paid off with a pair of goals. And on his birthday to boot. Happy b-day Cally, hope enjoyed your day - we did!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Peepin' Foes: Buffalo Sabres

Sorry about the delay on this, I had some work today and then was completely obssessed with the series finale for Battlestar Galactica. As someone who grew up loving the original and then revering it's revival, I have to say that they did a soso job ending it. But that is neither here nor there. What is here is a huge weekend for the Rangers with back-to-back games - first the Sabres on Saturday and then the Sens on Sunday. The fact that the Blueshirts can make a legit claim to home ice advantage by sweeping these two games is scary, especially with the playoff ticket costs how bad this team was just a few weeks ago.

Where We Are: Veni, vidi, victum: I came, I saw, they conquered (I think that's right, online translators suck). The Rangers edged out the Habs in the talent competition on Tuesday to take two points away from Montreal. That's six wins in the last eight games and sit in seventh place in the East, one point behind Carolina and four behind Pittsburgh and Philly. Philly has a game in hand on the Rangers while the Blueshirts have two games in hand on the Canes and Pens. A first round 4-5 against Philly is a scary thought but one that can be entertained with just 11 games left (and the last two against the Flyers? What drama!).

Where They Are: Without Ryan Miller, the Sabres are in desperate need for some wins if they are to make the playoffs. They slipped down to 10th and trail eighth place Montreal by five points. Tonight they got bit by Briere for two goals that turned a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 deficit - if only Chris Drury can have the same impact against his former team tomorrow ...

Who To Watch For: Former Ranger Dominic Moore had a goal and an assist in that loss to the Flyers, snapping a six game scoreless streak. Bobblehead Tim Connolly got that fat paycheck last month and has just two assists in his last six games. Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek are as dangerous as always, as I am sure Patrick 'Killer' Kaleta is. Hopefully he manages not to severely injure any Rangers and the Blueshirts avoid going out of their way to hurt him.

What To Watch For: If the Rangers relent and give Roy or Vanek room to create, watch out. They are two extremely skilled players and they have been able to get the puck past Hank in the past. It is doubtful that the Sabres would go hunting for Scott Gomez as he is the one who collided with Miller (and got my first star for it) but if the game gets out of hand for the Rangers (one can only hope), it is a definite possibility.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: It will be Saturday night hockey in New York so perhaps the Garden can get rocking with a another strong effort from the boys. Let's hope that Sean Avery can continue to keep his emotions in check and play smart hockey as the Sabres can key on him and get him frustrated. They pretty much took him out of the second round playoff series two seasons ago. Buffalo brawler Andrew Peters hardly plays anymore so a heavyweight tilt against Colt is quite doubtful.

Also Check Out: Sabres Insider, Sabres Not Slugs! and SBN's Die By The Blade.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Eye On The E

A quick note: I forgot my camera so I didn't get any pictures (sorry) but Aces Over Brooklyn covers the team quite well and there is a lot of info and shots there. It truly shames the buggy EPHL home site in terms of quality to be sure.

I had every intention of making this a regular feature here but two factors contributed to it's being mothballed - notorious hockey hoodlum Billy Tibbetts leaving the league and the sad fact that I never had time to make it to a game. Well, that changed last Friday as I made the trek from Manhattan to Brooklyn to 'go to the Aces.'

It is a longer ride than at least I anticipated, as you take the 2 train all the way to it's end in Flatbush (an hour ride from midtown) and from there hop on a bus for a 10, 15 minute ride to the rink. But once you hop off of the bus, you can see how the Aces got their name: they play at a small entertainment complex at a small airfield - Floyd Bennett Field to be precise.

Walk in the main entrance and you could be walking into any community rink with kids running about, flashing lights of video games and other amusements and two sheets of ice tucked away behind double glass doors. The Aces have their ticket and merch sales on a couple of folding tables in the lobby and the staff was quite courteous and seemed genuinely happy to be there - quite the change from many of the drones milling about the Garden (season ticket reps excluded). Tickets were cheap - 20 bucks or less - and they give you a 'seat assignment' for the metal bleachers and a wristband to get in the door. The wristband was the only thing really needed as there were maybe a couple of hundred people there when I went so there were plenty of places to sit.

To generalize, the folks who came out for the Friday night game were just happy to be out for the night, seeing something exciting like a hockey game - they were not hockey fans. Not knowing any of the players, not really caring, I was one of (if not the loudest fan when I decided to pipe up. I was also the only one clapping for good penalty kills, of which the Aces had several.

They were facing the Jersey Rockhoppers, a team they clearly outclassed, and dominated much of the game until their starting goaltender got injured. The netminder, Eddie Neville, was ran into and fell awkwardly. He didn't get up. Emergency staff came out to attend to him and eventually players - including the opposition goaltender - helped carry Neville off the ice on a backboard to await an ambulance. When the game restarted Neville's backup didn't fare badly but the game was already well in hand so the forwards let up on the gas a little.

Don't get the low 'Single A' level fool you, these guys have skill. Former junior and NCAA grads, most every one showed some substance but they all had a major deficiency or two that kept them from advancing up the ranks. Several were quite skilled but way too small, the big guys had no skill, speedsters had no hands, many didn't have well developed hockey sense but each and every one worked their asses off. The effort was very impressive, as were some of the goals, the one fight and the play itself certainly had entertainment value.

That proved to be a very good thing as there wasn't much else - no mascot, a chuck-a-puck, the usual blaring arena music and hard-to-hear MC. Aces staff kept walking round handing out slips of paper to remind everyone of upcoming games, deals on tickets, an opportunity to dine with the players and something else I can't remember as after a while all of the flyers looked alike.

While the papers went in the circular file, I did buy a shirt, a puck and a player photo (Neville, since it appeared he was severely injured and I wanted to support the guy). There was a wide variety of shirt designs, which was nice but they had just one kind of hat and - as someone who wears hats daily and owns probably over a hundred ballcaps - the one that they offered was pitiful and ratty looking. The souvenir pucks were black practice pucks with a logo sticker slapped on. Both provided quite the contrast to the quality shirts, hoodies and jerseys that they were selling but I guess everyone has their own priorities.

And if you can make it out, I recommend that you do make it a priority - if not this season then next. The Aces clinched the regular season title in the four team league on the night that I went and from what I gleaned from a flyer, the playoffs are a three game championship series at the end of this month. There are talks of the league expanding for the fall and I, for one, would love to see it (especially if rumours of a Long Island team are true).

While the EPHL clearly lacks the grandeur of the NHL game, it localizes the sport and allows fans to get up close and personal. The players all realize this and sign autographs. After an Aces goal, the scorer went to the boards and high-fived a little kid through the glass. It is the small touches that make the game fun and the Aces were a good time. Highly recommended, even if they are featuring some old geezer this weekend ...

37-26-8: Sacré Bleu (Blanc et Rouge)!

If you ever get a chance to go to a game at the Bell Centre in Montreal, I recommend you take it. What an experience. It is amazing to be part of a massive crowd where each and every person cares about the game, knows about the game and pays attention to the game.

The fans cheered most everything good - every rush, every pass, every shot. The booed Sean Avery. They booed me and the Ranger fans I was with. And no matter which, they were doing it loudly. When Alex Kovalev scored to tie the game at one, you would have thought that the Habs won yet another damned Stanley Cup. Yes, I'm jealous - it is intimidating to sit beneath rafters filled with such excellence. Banner after banner after banner ... ugh. And the pic to the right is just half of them!

But back to the game itself and what a game it was. That was some good hockey right there and it was exciting from start to finish. The goaltending was terrible, there wasn't any fisticuffs and neither team showed the composure they needed and took bad penalties. So what? It was a see-saw battle between Original Six rivals that the Rangers came out as the victors - I don't think it gets much better unless Stanley is involved.

Quick shots on the experience as my hangover can't handle much more:

*Bell Centre staff doesn't let fans come down to watch warm ups. The usher I asked said that there was an 'incident' that ruined it for everyone. So uncool.

*Also uncool were the fans booing the U.S. national anthem. That is just classless. I refrained from yelling Let's Go Rangers as I normally do out of respect for them and they didn't respect us. Jerks.

*The Canadian national anthem was sang by all and had one of the coolest pieces of video I've ever seen up on the gigantic scoreboard - a single hockey player skating across a glacier at sunset. Gave me chills.

*The Montreal fans cheered everything remotely positive, everything. The Habs are heading up ice on a two-on-four rush during a line change, YAYYYYYY. The Habs connected on a smart pass in their own zone, YAYYYYYYY. And when they scored? Deafening YAYYYYYYY. Then again, for all those accusations that Ranger fans are fickle, these people had been boing Jesus Price for a while but he made a decent save and they went bananas, chanting his name and giving him a huge ovation. Hypocrites.

*Note I said ovation and not standing ovation. These people didn't stand for big plays other than goals or for the shootout, it was weird.

*Also weird was how their french accents screw up their trash talk. Yelling "Rangers Socks, Rangers Socks" just brings the lols. And look at the moron with the sign - Avery never married Elishe. Get your facts right before you sit down to make a sign. Clown.

*The building itself was quite nice. It was pretty clean, the staff was courteous, I was able to get my pregame pretzle ... The sightlines were also good from what I saw - the seating is quite steep (narrow seats with little leg room too) so you do feel like you are looking over the ice.

Now some thoughts on the game itself, which really was quite the contest:

*Both Hank and Carey gave up regrettable goals but both made a huge save or two as well.

*If Andrei Markov was not Russian, he probably would get more of the credit that he deserves. Everyone has been raving about posterboy Mike Green in Washington but where are the accolades for Markov? He is leading the Habs in scoring and is all over the ice. Alex Kovalev also looked damned good. He always could have been a superstar, too bad he only did it when Messier or Lemieux was riding his ass.

*Borat did well for the Blueshirts and even solicited one of the stranger comments of the night, from a Habs fan a section over from me - "Antropovvvvv! Go back to Torontooooo!" Huh?

*Man did I want Sean Avery to score. Dammit. That hit that he took was tough and the place roared as he didn't get up from it for a while. He still managed to have a good game and make stuff happen every shift.

*The same can be said for Lauri Korpikoski, who barely got any ice time. It was an impressive effort by the youngster and he appears to be embracing the opportunities that he is given. Unfortunately, Colton Orr has gotten worse with the lessened ice time. With Georges Laraque out with injury, Colt didn't have a foil and Torts put him on the shelf most of the night.

*Bettsy, on the other hand, got much more time because of the penalty kill. He was on the ice shorthanded for 5:26 as the special unit went 1-6, with the one being that bad angle Kovalev one-timer that Hank shoulda stopped.

*Scott Gomez wasn't at his best as Montreal played him tightly but Chris Drury was significantly better - not 'Hey, I'm playing the Islanders' better but more involved at both ends of the ice than he was against Philly.

*Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are by far the best defensive pairing on the Rangers. They made defensive stops, smart passes up ice and even fired a few towards the net. Told you they would work well together. What is going to happen next year when Bobby comes up? He won't be able to replace Mara's physical presence so the Blueshirts may have to split these guys up again. You can't put the kid out on the ice with Rozy, you just can't.

*Wade "Out and Drown" Redden made the defensive play of the game. Yeah, I never thought I would write that either. He made a perfect diving stop to break up a Canadien 2-on-1 that shocked the hell out of the entire building. My response? Yelling "haha, you got stopped by Wade Redden! You suuuuuuuuuck!!!!" I had a good time.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Maxim Lapierre - one goal.
2-Nik Zherdev - one goal.
1-Andrei Markov - one goal and two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Ryan Callahan - I nearly gave this to Sjostrom for his pk work but that puck over the glass penalty sucked. Cally didn't have any negative marks as he went to the net hard and came out with a goal. I still think he was tripped into his own net so that goal shouldn't have counted.
2-Markov - A well rounded effort by one of the more well rounded defensemen in the NHL.
1-Lapierre - Of all of the youngsters on the Habs offense, Max made the most impact. He seemed quite quick and constantly buzzed around the Ranger net. His goal made the statement that the Blueshirts were in for a dogfight as Z's tally to make it 2-1 sucked the air out of the building.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Peepin' Foes: Montreal Canadiens

You know this city loves their hockey when you go down to the Bell Centre to look at the plaques and sculptures outside at 11 at night with temperatures below freezing and you aren't the only one there! The building looks nice outside and the tributes to their history is nice, aside from the paving stone commemorating the "greatest comeback ever." I wanted to spit on it (but refrained).

Where We Are: The Rangers have won four of their last six but who knows which team will show up? Will it be the lazy losers to Carolina or the high Flyers who beat up Philly on Sunday? Hopefully the one that wants to make the playoffs.

Where They Are: Alex Kovalev will return after missing some games with the flu and he will join a team that is viewing this game as make or break for their season. They have lost four of their last six including an OT loss to the Isles (booo) and the now-infamous loss they didn't mind to Mmmmaaaaarrrrttttyyyy. Jesus Price will be in the net.

Who To Watch For: The two Andrei's, Markov and Kostitsyn, have been strong of late, as has Tomas Plekanec. Steve Begin was dealt to Dallas so we won't have to worry about him but Georges Laraque is still around so he may be able to provide the punch the Habs need to knock out the Rangers.

What To Watch For: The Rangers can't let the energy of what is sure to be a pumped up crowd to get the Habs rolling. The Blueshirts need to play just as strong a road game as they did in Nashville - rob the fans of their energy by hitting hard, fast and often.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: Someone to absolutely hammer Mike Komisarek. Kovalev to come back and still show the signs of his sickness. Sean Avery not to get duped into doing something stupid by Max Pacioretty or Tom Kostopoulos. Matt Schneider's wicked shot from the point on the power play to not reach the net.

Also Check Out: Suiting a team of their stature, the Habs have plenty of good writers up here in the interweb. Some of them are: All Habs, Top Shelf Habs, Habs Blog, SBN's Eyes on the Prize and a thorough MSM blog in Habs Inside/Out.

Monday, March 16, 2009

36-26-8: Shooting ... On A Power Play?

I have to keep this quick as I just got in from work and need to crash before heading to Montreal in the morning so I can experience my first Habs game on Tuesday.

The Rangers won. And it was good.

All season we have longed for the Blueshirts to shoot on the power play and crash the net and on Sunday, they did that. And it was good. Four goals with the man advantage spelled doom for Flyers, who took stupid penalty after stupid penalty. (Thank you Sean Avery.) Someone needs to amend that Versus commercial with Braydon Coburn ... "I stupidly went after a soft European at center ice away from the play. Yeah, I didn't come back."

That isn't to say that the Blueshirts were bright - there was no reason for Dan Girardi to take himself out of the game for instigating a fight after a clean check. Henrik Lundqvist gets bumped and there is barely a scrum. Nik Zherdev plays with his head down and gets his clocked clean so the top Ranger defenseman throws down with Mike Richards. Stupid.

But the big picture looks good as the Rangers kept pace with the Penguins, who beat up the suddenly suspect Bruins. At the same time, there is no resting on the laurels of a good win - the Blueshirts have to do this every game the rest of the way if they are going to hang in a playoff position.

Quick hits:

*Zherdev has now taken, what, three games off? He was terrible here so he should star up in Montreal.

*Wade "Out and Drown" Redden remains the bane of my existence. Redden somehow recorded three hits, which has to include the times he ran into the boards after the opposing player skated away with the puck. He is a disaster. And his power play point was a second assist on a goal he had NOTHING TO DO WITH.

*The other waste of money on the blueline Michal Rozsival remained suspect with the puck but I think he had a visibly better game then he did in Philly on Saturday.

*If Scott Hartnell scored on that two-on-one two minutes into the game, the Rangers woulda lost. There were a lotta odd man rushes, especially early. High risk, high reward with Torts, huh?

*I wonder who was a game-time decision for the Rangers - Borat maybe? Aaron Voros took warmups so either someone was hurting or Torts was playing a mind game with the Flyers. Borat played quite well and got himself another goal. See? I can give him credit even if I remain in utter disbelief that someone that big can be that soft ... I know, I shoulda learned from Malik but I thought he was just a freak of nature!

*Lauri Korpikoski barely played despite no forward getting more than 20 minutes of ice time. The Korpedo must have done something to turn off Torts to have been cut to just over six minutes of work.

*Markus Naslund is no Benjamin Button. Nazzy is far past his prime and getting worse as the season goes on. He is slowing down, he can hardly hit the net with a shot and he has no chemistry with any of his linemates. There is no shame in calling it a career and heading back to Modo this summer.

*Almost as frustrating is Zherdev. I say almost because his disappearing act is expected at this point. You still kinda hope that he cares, even though you know he doesn't. The Flyers showed how to keep him on the outskirts - hit him once and he is like a spurned puppy who cowers in the corner.

*What will it take for Brandon Dubinsky to score? He seems to be doing everything but nowadays.

*Blair Betts is my favourite player. He is one of the top five penalty killers in the NHL but, let's face it, he couldn't hit a barn with a beach ball.

*Danny Briere really does look like a child in person. It is kinda creepy. It was kinda sad watching him skate around, clearly still injured and uninterested in getting involved.

*The building kept hyping that it was the 150th consecutive sellout but there were still a slew of empty seats. A sad sign of the times I guess.

*John Amirante's anthem blew away that blonde bimbo from Philly on Saturday.

*Stat of the night: 56 penalty minutes were awarded but Dan Carcillo, Riley Cote and Colton Orr had none of them.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Henrik Lundqvist - 24 saves.
2-Nik Antropov - one power play goal.
1-Sean Avery - two power play goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Freddie Sjostrom - Hard work pays off and Sjo finally netted a goal. Hopefully it will start a trend.
2-Hank - The only goal that got past him was a deflection he didn't see and he played behind a defense with Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival. He doesn't deserve a star, he deserves a medal.
1-Avery - He delivered. Again.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Class Acts in Quebec

Now, I hate Mmmmmmaaaaaaarrrrrrrtttttyyyyyy more than most any NHLer not named Poti, Redden, Malik or Crosby and I am certainly going to give the Habs fans hell on Tuesday but what they did tonight for Fatso was a wonderful moment in NHL history.

If you didn't see it, the Devils topped the Canadiens 3-1 to secure Mmmmaaarrrtttyyy's 551st career win, tying him with St. Patrick Roy. That wasn't so great. What was great was the loud, prolonged ovation that the packed house at the Bell Centre gave Brodeur in recognition of his accomplishment. You can watch it with the final seconds of the game here.

Maybe it is because he is a hometown boy, maybe it is because the two teams aren't rivals, who knows? Honestly, I can't say that I would have cheered him had he reached the mark at the Garden so kudos to the Canadien fans for their class. This display ranks right up there with the notoriously tough Boston Garden fans giving Ron Tugnutt a standing o' after his 70 save performance for the Nordiques back in the day and rivals the display of virtue by Jarome Iginla after Trevor Linden's final game in more recent history.

So nice work Hab fans and congrats to Fatso, who remains an overrated and classless clown.

35-26-8: Thanks For Nothing Wade!

Please, someone put Wade "Out and Die" Redden out of our misery. Buy him out, send him to Siberia ... anything, just get him out of a Blueshirt. His contract is clearly the worst ever given to an NHL player and until Sather gets the dead albatross off of the Rangers this team will not win. It was primarily his fault they did not prove victorious in Philadelphia on Saturday, instead coming up short 4-2.

We are 69 (hehe) games into this season and Redden has not contributed well defensively (understatement of the year) and had just one important offensive play all season long (the shot in OT that Dru deflected for a game-winner against Chicago in January). Simply said, his horrible and his incompetence is making new partner Derek Morris look even worse then he already is.

When Redden stupidly pinched in the second period and the Flyers broke out on a 2-on-1, Morris looked lost in the middle. He watched the puck and managed not to cover anyone, leaving Richards alone on the doorstep to bang in a rebound.

When Redden couldn't keep the puck in the Flyer end in the third period, he stopped to admire one of his rare hits in the corner. After he crept back into position, he tried soft a one-handed stick check on Giroux that allowed the skillful kid to easily slide the puck to Asham in the slot for the goal.

This guy is a disaster.

*I understand that the broadcast team is paid by the franchise but for Sam and Joe to not get on Redden for his mistakes is just bad journalism. Martin Biron made some good saves to be sure, but so did Hank and Biron didn't do it behind a defense that included Redden. Sam and Joe instead decided to hang the win around Biron's net because of his inflated save number rather than where it belonged - Redden's mistakes and the continuing inability for the Ranger stars to score.

*Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky both have troubles putting the puck in but you can't lump the two together. Drury's experience helps him kill penalties where Dubi is at his best pressing the play by forechecking. And Dubi has yet to hit his prime, while Drury is clearly past his. I used to think it was Gomez who had no chemistry with a single teammate but now that Gomer found a comfort zone, it is apparent that Drury is uncomfortable unless the Islanders are across the ice from him.

*Nik Zherdev is in his prime but he is just an uncaring, unmotivated clown collecting a paycheck. When you go from dominating one night to disappearing the next two, three there is something very, very wrong. We saw it in Columbus, we saw it earlier this season and we saw it the last two games. If he had the killer instincts that most scorers have, Z would have put at least two pucks past Biron in this one - that half-empty net late in the second period was as much of a killer as the overruled Gomez goal (which was a fair call).

*Could you imagine if Orrsie actually scored on that great set-up from Bettsy and Sjo in the first period? Now that isn't comparable to Z's disgrace because a) Biron was in position to make the save and b) Orr isn't supposed to be a scorer. He uses his hands to beat people up. And he did that, knocking the snot out of that cementhead Cote.

*You guys asked for it, so I will say it - Go Borat. After giving the puck up on the boards on his first shift he comes back, blocks a shot and raced down to score on a breakaway. All credit given and due. That was naice!

*The Flyers equalized the game at one on a play that Hank grossly mishandled. He came all the way out to the top corner of his crease to make a save and kicked the rebound out across the slot where who else but Scotty Hartnell was cutting through and scored into an empty net. The game was virtually already lost when he gave up the softie to that renowned sniper Arron Asham.

*Of course, the Rangers stuck back with an almost identical goal by Sean Avery but it was too little, too late.

*I said it last game and I'll keep saying it: Sather needs to buy out Markus Naslund after this season.

*Shame on MSG, they cut out of replaying the ceremonial faceoff to show some old, unattractive Philly woman auditioning for an opera singing the national anthem. What makes it worse is that MSG rarely shows regular Garden singer John Amirante do the anthem - a man who can actually sing. I don't care that she fought cancer or that she was Gene Hart's daughter or what, she wasn't very good and there was no reason for MSG to include her in the broadcast. For a network that misses half of the faceoffs in-game, why show that unnecessary pre-game garbage?

*It was nice to see class act Pat Dapuzzo honoured before the game but I have a question - after he shook the hands of Drury and Richards, why did the two captains shake hands? That's just not right.

*Stat of the night: The Rangers had 16 missed shots to seven by the Flyers which means they took 57 to Philly's 36. The Flyers had 25 giveaways, the Rangers had 10. And the Rangers lost 4-2.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Mike Richards - one goal.
2-Arron Asham - two goals.
1-Martin Biron - 39 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Scott Hartnell - It seems like every time the Rangers play the Flyers Hartnell plays a big part in the win. And now he has stupid hair.
2-Braydon Coburn - Coburn was a force on the Philly blueline and had 10 recorded hits. He was there to block seemingly every Ranger rush.
1-Asham - Anytime a grinder pots two goals he deserves an attaboy. Even if he is a former Islander, a former Devil and a continual pain in the Rangers' ass.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Peepin' Foes: Philadelphia Flyers

Nashville was a must-win for the Rangers but this home-and-home against Philly this weekend could be just as big for the Blueshirts. A sweep or even a split would be fantastic to keep the Rangers in a playoff position.

Where We Are: To beat the Predators was nice, to do it in regulation, in the manner the Rangers did it was fantastic. The unfortunate thing is that, to date, the Blueshirts have been unable to carry over that momentum. Saturday would be the perfect game to start.

Where They Are: The Flyers had a two game win streak - including a 4-1 victory over Nashville - broken on Thursday night by Alexander Ovechkin and Jose Theodore. Ovechkin basically proved that he was the best player in the NHL in the game with stellar defensive play to go with his game-winner goal and Theodore made 36 saves. There should be no shame on Broad Street for the loss and they will bring their best to beat the Blueshirts.

Who To Watch For: Mike Richards is one of the top five all-around players in the NHL and somehow Jeff Carter has become one of the best scorers. They still have Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble but watch out for Scott Hartnell, who always plays the Rangers tough. Kimmo Timonen is everything in an defenseman that Wade "Out and Drown" Redden is not - meaning he is good.

What To Watch For: Sean Avery, Ryan Callahan and Scott Gomez to get a lot of time and hopefully set the tempo. They will be playing in a hostile environment so they should be at their best. Then again, they aren't going to be playing against a soft team like Nashville so Aaron Asham, Danny Carcillo and Riley Cote are sure to make a statement - especially in their own building.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: No Rangers getting the Philly flu. The Flyers will play them tough and the Blueshirts have to answer the bell, while still playing smart, responsible hockey. Oh, we will hopefully NOT see another 3-on-5 goal by Richards. It happened, we can say we saw something rare in hockey and woe be the team that gives it up again.

Also Check Out: Their blogosphere is woefully underdeveloped but the best I could find was Broad Street Hockey over at SBN.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

35-25-8: Hoo Wee, A Win In Tennessee!

Could this game be the St. Louis of this season? The Rangers blew a lead to the Blues when Sean Avery first came to town and Avery helped power the team to a comeback victory. Well, Sean seems to have found his form and was a profound pain in the ass to the Predators and it helped propel his team to a 4-2 victory.

Each team gave up a fluke goal that their goaltenders should have stopped, each team got a bad goal in off of a defenseman's skate but just one team had Avery. Sean set the tempo early and the Rangers followed. When they sat back at the end of the period John Tortorella apparently reignited the fire and the Blueshirts outplayed the Preds the rest of the way. Because Torts benched Nik Zherdev for halfassed play, that left Avery to play alongside Scott Gomez and Ryan Callahan and they overwhelmed Nashville. He finally gave Callahan someone to skate with and turned Gomez back into a real hockey player - put that together and you have two points in the standings.

This was tremendous for the Rangers as they head into the tough home-and-home with Philly. They will have one helluva fight ahead of them so for the team to show some moxy in coming from behind to win this one was huge. It was fun to watch and hopefully is a sign of things to come. After so many months of dreary hockey and dread, this is just awesome. Let's go Rangers.

*Continuing my love affair with the fourth line - they saw limited action but created chances when they were out there together. And on the penalty kill, there aren't many better than Betts and Sjostrom. Torts had them split up through much of the first kill in the third period but were able to reunite them and Sjo scored a one timer on a great play by Bettsy. Win the faceoff, take advantage of the pointman's mistake, use your speed to get free and make a perfect pass to your partner. Money. Too many times this season we saw the other team do that so it was great to see the Blueshirts net a pretty shortie.

*Yes, Hank won his 30th game to become the first goaltender to get 30 in his first four seasons but seriously, it doesn't matter. They used to have these things called "ties" back in the day that takes the luster off of this achievement.

*For months I called for Dan Girardi to be paired with Marc Staal. They were together for most of one shift early in the season and looked great but no matter how much Tom Renney juggled his lines, he never juggled the D. Tortorella came in, put the two RANGER PRODUCTS together and finally had a worthy first pairing on the blueline.

*It is quite easy to mock hockey in Tennessee but it looked like the Preds had a really good crowd there - a lot more than the Isles and Devils get at home.

*With all of that second period talk of Nik Zherdev being in "Chateau Bow Wow" was there anyone else who got extremely mad at Joe? Ok, we can accept that he isn't J.D. but several years later he still has no chemistry with Sam and still has no clue. Coming out of the next break he was 'analyzing' two Hank saves and said that the "puck went back to whoever followed up the play and Lundqvist made the save." Whoever. ARG!!!!!!

*Kinda OT: Fox Soccer Channel has a fun show where they get fans of opposing teams to call the EPL games together. I think that would be really fun - call a game the way I saw it, with someone sitting alongside as an easy target for rooting for the wrong team ...

*Totally OT: The Two Brothers Scrap Metal makes me laugh, every time. Apparently teenage girls have a lot of scrap metal lying around their homes and they talk about it with their hot little friends.

*Markus Naslund got pinned with two first period penalties. While he could be excused for the interference call - Scott Nichol came under him and got caught - the other was a too many men on the ice where Nazzy just jumped over the boards. Senior moments like that just can't be allowed and you have to hope that the Rangers make up for the mistake of signing him and buy him out this summer.

*Nice to see Wade Redden playing his game. He lofted a shot at the Nashville net that was easily blocked and then was grossly out of position as the Preds went the other way on a breakaway - with Redden trying to waterski back. What a useless clown. We need to come up with a good nickname for him. Just throwing this out there - Wade "Out and Drown" Redden.

*Derek Morris finally contributed to the Blueshirts, drawing a penalty late in the second period. For a big money defenseman who was acquired for three players, it is about time Morris did something positive. Then again, Morris was a huge help to Hank and the rest of the team tonight by allowing Tortorella to give less ice time to his new partner, Redden. Point of observation, Petr Prucha had a power play point, giving him four points in four games with Phoenix.

*Better beard: Paul Mara or Greg Zanon? Mara looks more like a lumberjack but Zanon's looked immaculately kept.

*KGB Watch: Nik Antropov contributed virtually nothing. While he went to the net once or twice, he sat back and watched the play more often then not. Nik Zherdev also sat back and watched - because he was benched. The mercurial forward got an assist on the opening goal and then made a half-assed play that led to a Nashville goal and spent the rest of the night on the bench. That is what we call accountability. Now if only Tortorella would use that on Redden and/or Rozy ...

*I'm serious, before every game someone needs to sneak into Chris Drury's room while he is napping and repeat "you are playing the Islanders tonight, you are playing the Islanders tonight. The Islanders." How he can be so big in those games and so small in others is beyond me. However, he did win nine of 10 faceoffs so at least he contributed something tonight.

*Stat of the night: Rozy was awarded with four hits while Avery and Callahan were credited with just one. I think that pretty much proves that no one in Nashville knows anything about hockey.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Henrik Lundqvist - 19 saves.
2-Ryan Callahan - two assists.
1-Scott Gomez - one goal and two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Gomez - New coach, new pain-in-the-ass linemate and Gomez has gotten his lackadaisical ass in gear. Whether he was shamed into playing hard or not, Gomez matched the intensity of his linemates and is finally playing as well has he did when he helped the evil Devils win a Cup.
2-Avery - What can you say? Sean is back. Sure, he still took a few spills on the ice but his hands are matching his mouth and he is playing smart, pestering hockey. He is clearly the sparkplug that gets the Ranger engine running.
1-Cally - I used to call Cally the 'new Little Ball of Hate' after he looked like he would step into the Pat Verbeek role. He is not Beeker - he isn't nearly as surly. However, he is just as energetic and makes just as big an impact with his relentless physical play. Cally has played this hard all season long and now that he has linemates working as hard as he does, it is paying off.