Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rangers Report Card '08-09

Last season I broke out the grade book gave the Rangers a midterm review and a final one. This year I did a midterm so here is the final report. Some grades have gone up, some have gone down and appeals are allowed but changes are rarely made - it isn't like you guys are as good as I was with my pushover professors back in college. Seriously, I had mad skills. Now how about the Rangers? Where do their skills and performances rank? Here are my opinions; feel free to chime in down in the comments ...

Forwards:
Artem Anisimov: One regular season game and one playoff game isn't enough to judge the kid. He looked wooden in the regular season game and barely saw the ice in Game 7 against the Caps. He led Hartford in points and is likely to get a spot on the roster next season. INC

Nik Antropov: The Rangers got the big size up front they wanted at the deadline but Borat barely used it. He did play very well at times, making his lack of physicality acceptable, but he disappeared at others - a routine Leafs fans knew all too well. Just one point over the last six games of the Caps series just wasn't enough. Still made a good case to be re-signed, if he has a reasonable demand. B

Sean Avery: The only numbers that matter are 14-10-1 - the Ranger record with Avery in the lineup (including playoffs). They went 5-2 against divisional rivals thanks to him and the performance that he gave in Game 7 was simply incredible, especially given the referees' disposition towards him. He did some real silly stuff that just made us shrug but his benching was the likely catalyst for the Blueshirt downfall against the Caps. Ranger haters can bash him all they like but even they can't deny that he leaves it all out on the ice. A-

Blair Betts: People scoffed when I called for Betts for captain but the fourth line center was one of the hardest workers on the team. His blue collar effort would have led by example and it could have shamed his higher-paid, higher-profile teammates into showing up every once in a while. He came to play every shift of every game and helped the Rangers to the best penalty kill in the NHL. If the Selke Trophy was truly for the best defensive forward in the league (not high scoring forward who knows what his own zone looks like), Betts would have been a finalist. His absence at the end of Game 6 hurt beyond compare as the Caps scored two power play goals. A

Ryan Callahan: Cally's tenacity was second to none. Where Betts excelled in the defensive zone, Cally starred in all three. The only thing he couldn't seem to do was score on the power play - netting just two of his 22 goals on the man advantage but he didn't see a ton of time on that unit and rarely played with the same two linemates two games in a row. He was well deserving of the Extra Effort Award and still has yet to reach his potential. A+

Nigel Dawes: A Tom Renney favourite, the undersized winger played even smaller than his 5'8 frame and he disappeared for long stretches at a time despite getting every opportunity to excel. He saw second line and power play time and was a shootout regular but never turned into the sniper the Rangers needed. D

Chris Drury: I didn't think Drury should be given the C and he never really lived up to the letter. His comment that he wouldn't let the 5-4 OT loss to the Caps ruin his Christmas was infuriating. He seemed to step up his game against the Islanders - which is great, don't get me wrong - but rarely played that well against anyone else. If he was so incapable of shooting and passing with a broken hand in the playoffs, the captain should have been smart enough to pull himself from the series. D

Brandon Dubinsky: What kind of player in Brandon Dubinsky? The pillar of power that started the season, the frustrated youngster who couldn't do anything right and went 23 games without a goal in one stretch or the tough battler who used his size and strength for good in the playoffs? The thought to cut in and use his size and positioning to free Avery from the boards set up the lone goal in Game 7 and was a clutch veteran move. Should he continue to progress and find a scoring touch with some consistency to go with the dedication to his teammates, that C should be his in a season or two. B-

Dan Fritsche: To be fair, Fritsche never got a fair shot at being a regular on Renney's roster but he didn't do anything with his limited ice time to warrant it. Dealing him for Reitz was good for him and for the team at the time. D

Scott Gomez: The smirking Mexican't led the Rangers with 58 points in 77 games. His obnoxiousness in interviews was infuriating, as was his instance to work the power pay from the short boards despite not having the shot or physical capability to do it properly.Gomez got a ton of ice time and spent much of it circling, putting his teammates offsides or skating into three or four skaters before meekly dumping the puck in the corner and either peeling off to let a winger go fight for it or just abandoning it to make a line change. He was paid first line center money and simply wasn't one. When the Rangers needed him most in the playoffs, he was no where to be found. F

Lauri Korpikoski: The Korpedo was rarely given a definitive role and thus never found his niche. Sometimes he would be a low line center, sometimes a winger, sometimes he would kill penalties, sometimes he would be used to forecheck. He made some rookie mistakes along the way but stepped up his game when Torts came to town so a full season under a coach with a clue could only help the Finn further. C+

Markus Naslund: I said it a number of times over the course of the season but do you remember when Naslund would dominate? He would get a head of steam, use his power to burst in from the wing and use his incredible hands to pot goal after goal. That was a long, long time ago. The Naslund who played for the Rangers was a dim shadow of that player and the result was his fifth straight season of declining production. Forty-six points for a first line winger who plays first unit power play is pathetic. F

Colton Orr: The Colton Orr who started the season wasn't the same one who finished it. Orrsie stepped up his game in a big way and was a huge physical force during the first half. Alongside Bettsy and Sjostrom, the team had a legitimate shutdown line for the first time in forever but, as the heat rose under Renney, the coach had less confidence in him. Tortorella had none and turned him back into a bench-warming goon - a move that burned him. The decision to scratch Orr for Game 6 was one of the biggest mistakes of the season which says a lot for one of the best pugilists in the league. B

Petr Prucha: Ah, Pru. All Prucha wanted was some ice time and Tom Renney didn't want to give it to him. The coach said that Pru was in the best shape of anyone on the team, then turned around and said that the kid didn't have the strength to play every game. Well, it looked like he did have the strength as he came out flying at every opportunity before being unceremoniously shipped away for a mediocre #6 defenseman. That was a damn shame. A

Patrick Rissmiller: One of the free agent f-ups signed by Sather over the summer, Rissmiller never really did anything. He was nonexistent in the preseason games and the two regular season games that he played in so he was sent out to pasture. Apparently he was a good influence for the kids on the farm but up here it is impossible to give him a real grade. INC

Fredrik Sjostrom: Sjoey + Bettsy = best PK pair in the NHL. So why did Betts get a better grade from me? Because Sjostrom clearly has a scoring touch and he struggled to find it. Going 19 straight games without a goal to end the season isn't good for someone that fast and that good in shootouts. However, he gave up his body and more than a little blood to make plays every night and that counts for a lot. A-

Aaron Voros: And to think I was so ecstatic when the Rangers signed him. I mean, he looked so good alongside Gaborik in Minnesota, he could he be bad here? Well, he proved how. After collecting seven points in four games (games 2-5 of the season), he had nine points over the next 53 games - including four playoff games he had no right playing in. Big, dumb and slow, Voros plodded along and got his ass kicked when he tried to fight. F

Nikolai Zherdev: Aside from Henrik, Zherdev is the most talented player on the New York Rangers. He has vision, hands, agility and speed that are to die for. It is just a shame he has no heart to pull the other parts together. He rarely fought for pucks, refused to get his hands dirty along the boards, gave up on the puck when the opposition put a body on him and refused to go remotely near the front of the net. F

Defensemen:
Dan Girardi: Girardi had a tough season. He started alongside Wade Redden and was forced to do too much to make up for his partner's gaffes. It set his development back months and when he was united with Marc Staal he was able to find his game and gained a new lease on life (wouldn't you if you got away from Redden too?). Because the kids were so good, the coach leaned on them a little too hard and they simply didn't have enough gas left by the end of the Caps series. Yes the Rangers needed them and we called for it, but Torts shouldn't have played them 26, 27 minutes a piece, they weren't ready for it. B

Dmitri Kalinin: Kalinin would have been the perfect replacement for Malik had Redden not proved to be a colossal mistake. The Russian was able to fly under the radar a bit and avoided most of the ire of the Garden faithful, who hated him, but not nearly as much as Redden. The signing of Kalinin was a mistake from the start and he showed it waaay back in the Victoria Cup when he kept insisting on passing to his former Metallurg teammates, helping them to that 3-0 lead. F

Paul Mara: What. A. Beard. Based on his facial hair, Mara gets an A. His play, however, gets a little bit of a lower grade. He was the most consistent blueliner of the bunch and was actually willing to hit people and stand up for his teammates. He also got a ton of power play time and had just three points (all goals) on the special team. B-

Derek Morris: While it was nice to get rid of Kalinin and Dawes, there really was no reason to deal for Morris. His day has long past and he was doing just fine withering away in the Phoenix sun. The limelight of New York didn't do him any better and he was completely unable to form any chemistry with his friend Mara. Sather brought him in to add a big shot on the power play and, in the rare instances that he actually unleashed it, he missed the net by miles. Morris did collect 10 assists in 25 games but both Potter and Sauer proved they could handle his role and it would have been nice to have had Prucha in the playoffs. C-

Corey Potter: Potter had a good showing in preseason and had good poise in each of his five appearances. He certainly showed he is capable of NHL-caliber play and perhaps we will get to see it next season. That he got sent down to Hartford the day after scoring his first NHL goal was ridiculous. INC

Wade Redden: Sather's folly, Redden was the worsT signing in the NHL over last summer and his deal ranks among one of the worsT contracts in league history. I will fully admit that he picked up his play in the playoffs but he was still terrible. Even Sergei Fedorov was surprised that Redden gave him so much room to shoot the game-winner while screening his own goaltender. Redden is the albatross Sather put around the Rangers' necks and something, anything has to be done to throw the dead bird overboard. F

Erik Reitz: It was tempting to give Reitz a INC as he played 11 games but he acquitted himself pretty well. Not particularly fleet of foot or the brightest bulb in the box, Reitz was willing to hit and fight - two things the defensive corps desperately needed at the time he was brought onboard. Sather actually deserves a lot of credit for acquiring him for the overpaid Fritsche and then dealing him away with a broken foot for a fourth round pick. C-

Michal Rozsival: At times last season Rozy looked like a legitimate top pairing defensemen and without Malik weighing him down, he should have been able to flourish. He didn't. It took months for his body to heal from offseason hip surgery and his confidence never seemed to completely come back. Rozy was tentative with the puck and turned it over time and time again for shorthanded goals. F

Mike Sauer: Sauer got the shaft from Tortorella. After playing two solid games, Sauer's partner Mara had two horrible mistakes in the opening minutes of Sauer's third game and the coach took it out on the rookie. Sauer saw less than two minutes of ice time in the game and was banished back to Hartford. If his confidence was not completely ruined, Sauer showed he was certainly able to man the Ranger blueline next season. Too bad that is a big if thanks to Torts. INC

Marc Staal: I could basically copy what I wrote for Girardi here. Staal had to overwork to make up for the hobbled Rozy early, then was given too much responsibility too fast. He showed that he can handle it at times - especially in those epic battles with Ovie - but is too young to be leaned upon as a top defenseman just yet. Give it time. B+

Goaltenders:
Henrik Lundqvist: What can you say? Hank was great. Yes, he allowed a soft goal every game or two but without him, the Rangers are in the draft lotto. The King made many saves he had no right to make and shouldn't be hung on the cross for the early exit from the playoffs. He certainly could have been better, but the same can be said for everyone not named Avery, Betts or Callahan. He was robbed of what should have been his fourth straight Vezina nomination, especially considering that none of the guys that made it played behind such porous bluelines. A

Stephen Valiquette: Valley wasn't nearly as good as he was last season and the unfortunate luck to be in the net for two of the worsT games of the season - the 5-2 blitzkrieg loss to Toronto and the 10-2 stampede in Dallas. He is a decent backup and, from all accounts, a good team guy but since Wiikman and Zaba did well in Hartford, Valley's time is likely over in NY. C

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

R1, G7: It's Over Folks


Sean Avery turned in one of the best individual performances of the entire season and it wasn't nearly enough as the Rangers fell to the Washington Capitals 2-1 to complete a self-destruction of epic proportions. John Tortorella doomed them to failure two games in a row and had no answers to fix what was wrong in the ultimate game. Granted, he was working with a squad that was flawed from the start but the chips had fallen into place for victory and the incompetence of the man in charge handed it back to their opponent.

It is truly difficult to type this recap. The Rangers artificially raised everyone's hopes - mine included, no matter how many cracks I pointed out over the course of the season - and then they knocked them down. Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Markus Naslund, Nik Zherdev, Wade @#$!%! Redden ... thanks for nothing. That my season ticket money (and all of the other cash I spent) helped go to pay their salaries pisses me right off. Then again, it really is quite remarkable that the team made it to the playoffs, much less to seven games against Alexander Ovechkin but when the inevitable downfall came it was still crushing. There will be more analysis of this season and report cards and all that fun to come here but I don't have much more for tonight, it's over. It's just over. Just some quick notes:

*Hank didn't win the game for the Rangers but he didn't lose it for them either. He made several amazing saves against a fierce team that was all pressure all the time in the third period.

*Avery, Dubinsky and Callahan ... you just can't say enough about these guys. How the veterans couldn't bother to dig deep and put up half the effort that that trio did is beyond me. I would have included Staal and Girardi in that but they just fell apart in the final minutes and didn't give their team a chance to mount a counterattack.

*The fans wearing ponchos behind the Rangers net? Brilliant.

*Credit to Rozy for toughing things out. His partner actually played decently before screening the goaltender on the game-winner.

*Both goals against come seconds after the Rangers rush down a wing and miss the net. It would be shocking if it didn't happen to the team at least a half dozen times over the course of the season. You would think they would work on that - either on hitting the net while skating at high speeds, spreading out the attack or how to recover in time. But they didn't, and they lost.

*When did Milan Jurcina learn how to play?

*It always sucks when the last game is on the road so the team can't get a proper sendoff.

*Seeing Fedorov score the game-winner made me miss Brendan Shanahan that much more. Cagey veterans who have been there, done that don't get flustered this time of year. They put their noses to the grindstone and do their jobs. And Shanny never shied away from shooting the damned puck and that woulda been nice. He certainly would have contributed more than Voros...

*PHW Three Stars
3-Henrik Lundqvist - 22 saves.
2-Sergei Fedorov - one goal.
1-Simeon Varlamov - 14 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Callahan - Even though he had the bad luck of the first goal going off of him, Cally was remarkable considering he was out there alone. His linemates did nothing and I kept waiting for him to get Borat's spot with Avery and Dubi and it never came, even when Borat ran out of energy in the third period. Pathetic.
2-Varlamov - For the first time in the series, I will give the kid credit. He helped his team weather the attack in the first two periods with solid positional play and never got flustered. Even though he faced 14 shots. Just 14 shots. That is criminal. Goddamn Rangers.
1-Avery - He took a beating and he kept playing. He kept working, he kept battling, he kept taking the game to the Caps. For all of you non-Ranger fans out there, this is why we worship him. All heart and all effort.

Keys To Game 7

Despite showing absolutely no real indications that they will ever win another game EVER based upon their last two performances, it is possible for the Rangers to defeat the Washington Capitals. It is unlikely, but it can be done. I always loved that cliche that a Game 7 is the 'definition of competition.' This is what they play for and perhaps, perhaps this game will be different than the last two. So what has to happen?

1-They have to get a good case of amnesia. The Rangers simply can't think of any action that has happened before the puck drops. Not earlier this series, not earlier this season, not earlier in their lives. Instinct, energy and controlled emotion will rule the day.

2-They have to do that voodoo that they do so well. These Blueshirts seemed to do their best when they combined the sensibility of their old coach with the safe-is-death mentality of their new one. They know the basics of the systems and how to make them work. Its time to make them work.

3-Scott Gomez has to imagine he is playing against New Jersey. It should be easy as both teams wear red. The Alaskan Mexican has all too often been a MexiCan't. Actually, he has been worse as he has done virtually nothing in this series. He has to stop overthinking, stop circling and stop going offsides. He has to show off some of his amazing speed and the tenacity that was ingrained into him as a Devil and that he has only shown when he has played against them.

4-Captain Clutch has to be, well, clutch. Chris Drury has bit down and gritted through some kind of injury but it hasn't been enough. After he scored with 7.7 seconds left to essentially end the Rangers season two years ago, he has rarely shown that ability (except against the Islanders). Time to dig deep and find it. He was given the C, and now it's time to lead.

5-Time for the King to play like a prince and not a pauper. I have staunchly defended his play as he has gotten no help but in a Game 7 he has to be able to do it himself. He was not included as a Vezina finalist by the league and this is his opportunity to prove them wrong.

6-Colton Orr has to play, and play smart. The desire for revenge will be ridiculous as his linemate for the last couple of seasons was destroyed by that savage Brashear. As Markus Naslund learned the lesson firsthand with the Bertuzzi/Moore incident, it isn't worth it. Winning is the best vengeance and he just has to keep things buckled down and get the job done. Earlier this season Orr proved he could play smart, disciplined, physical hockey and make the most of his limited ice time. It is imperative that he does it again.

7-Brandon Dubinsky, who hopefully did not get rabies, has shown flashes all season long of Jason Arnott-esque play and has to step up here. Dubi has to play to his size, play to his smarts and crash the net. If that wasn't enough, he has to pick up where Betts left off on the penalty kill.

8-Artem Anisimov was called up to fill Bettsy's spot in the lineup and it is quite important that he do better than he did in his NHL debut. In that game he looked wooden and lost. The Rangers don't need a third lackadaisical communist to overhandle the puck and make bad turnovers. At least, unlike the other two, Beyond The Blueshirts says that this one is sure to be motivated.

9-It isn't key as the Rangers have won without Nik Zherdev caring, but it would be nice. Z is just as skilled as Semin and couldn't even carry his jock in this series.

10-The Avery factor has to return. Not the reckless pest that pissed off his coach, but the smart yet dirty player who could get under his opponents' skin and then turn around and score a pretty goal to rub their face in it.

And lucky Messier 11-Feed off of the crowd. The Blueshirts don't play in hostile environments often, as the True Blue follow them to Jersey and the Island and take over those buildings. But the bandwagon in Washington will be overflowing with loathing and the strong emotions of the crowd could strengthen the will and desire of the Rangers.

That is, of course, saying that there is any will and desire left. One can only hope ...

Let's Go Rangers!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Judging The Judgement

The word came down earlier that Donald Brashear will be suspended one game for his pregame antics, and five for his hit on Blair Betts.

The one game is basically an "our bad" by the league as it was their fault that he wasn't caught until they saw it on the news after the game. Even if Brash had been properly removed, had Colton Orr been playing you can be sure Brash wouldn't have just gone after any Ranger jersey and instead gone looking to get retribution against the guy who has handed him his lunch before. Or, more likely, gone after the guy who's job would have been to be around him and keep him in line.

Regardless, Brashear made the hit and he has to pay the piper to the tune of five games for it. There are several ways that you have to look at it. Brashear is a prior offender who often attempts to injure his opponents. He is not a skill player, his lone job is to play enforcer for a guy who doesn't need a bodyguard so he doesn't even play night in and night out. (Colton Orr did play every game, until Tortorella's Game 6 folly but we won't go there.)

Chris Simon was a prior offender and a useless goon who 'lost his mind' and hit the first person he saw. Ryan Hollweg took some stitches and was able to play, while Bettsy is done for the year (and perhaps has played his last game as a Ranger, given Sather's stupidity). So you can say that what Brashear did was comparable to, if not worse than, what Simon did and he got a lesser sentence.

The other Chris - Pronger - was also a regular offender and he unleashed a clearer, more vicious elbow at the head of Dean McCammond. That hit was in the playoffs and Pronger got one game for it. At the time they said the length was because of the gravity of the lost game - a Stanley Cup Final. This incident was in the opening round and it was done by someone who wasn't as important to his team and not a superstar. So six games for Brashear seems on the money in comparison to that.

But the final verdict is that you can't compare the events. Puck Daddy believes that the league got it right and that it is a fair ruling because it essentially knocks the role player out for a full series. I personally disagree as it put a player's livelihood at risk with an intentional high hit. If someone decides to play Tim "Dr. Hook" McCracken and chops at a head, you can believe that there will be more than a six game suspension. How is this any different? An intent to injure is an intent to injure. Brashear got hit and he wanted to lash out and hurt someone. And he did.

There has never been a clear-cut ruling to base future events upon. Politics, profile and the personal opinion of the judge all play into the equation. Considering that the track record of said judge is quite dubious, perhaps it is time for a new judge? As that isn't likely to happen, what will occur is that the Caps will get their captain back in the lineup, the Rangers lost their top penalty killer and likely the series and the NHL could very well get the dream matchup of Crosby v. Ovie. I don't subscribe to the conspiracy theory that this was intended from the start - there is still a little integrity left in the front office ... somewhere - but I certainly don't think the league minds.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Brashear Pulls A Simon

Ghostwalker upped the Brashear hit on Betts, which I embedded below. First Brash took a shove from Cally, who then went to the bench. Then, looking for a target Brash happened upon Bettsy and nailed him in the head as he was coming off his follow through from dumping the puck. Should the league do the right thing and suspend the repeat offender Brashear long-term? Do you think Brash will use the Chris Simon defense - that he was hit first and 'concussed'? Say what you want about Sean Avery's antics, he doesn't attempt to injure - just to annoy.

R1, G6: Well, That Sucked

Did you know that this was Game 6 of a playoff series? With a chance to close out the series at home, New York fell right on their faces and made yet another national embarrassment, a 5-3 loss to Washington that wasn't even remotely as close as the score indicates. The Ranger "performance" today was eerily reminiscent of the passionless, pathetic, limp displays that saw the team tumble down the standings in February. It was a disgraceful exhibition in failure.

One moment, one domino falling can spell the end of a team in a playoff game. Just as the Max Talbot/Dan Carcillo fight in Philadelphia turned that game around for the Pens, the massively illegal elbow to Blair Betts by Donald Brashear turned this one. And, as is typical nowadays, the four officials seemed to miss the massive hockey player race across the ice and throw his elbow directly at Betts' head 10 minutes into the game. The Rangers had some semblance of life prior to that and it disappeared. Paul Mara came over to push and shove at the goon and that was the only retribution. The Blueshirts didn't up their offensive attack and they cowered physically. They didn't even flinch the next period when Henrik Lundqvist was ran on the fifth goal - one he shouldn't have been in the net for.

To the best of my knowledge - and please correct me if I am wrong - Colton Orr was not scratched due to an injury sustained in Game 5 so he was purely scratched upon the stupidity of management. Aaron Voros' contribution was nil and Washington was allowed to hammer the Rangers up and down the lineup. Even Sean Avery was timid as his major target the first few games - Tom Poti - turned into an offensive star. Seeing Poti skate off the ice after the game with his hand to his ear was another horrifying, infuriating moment in a string of them and seemingly a perfect cap to a terrible afternoon.

Originally I was planning to head to Washington for a Game 7 but the Blueshirts have shown no signs whatsoever that they would be capable of winning. Why deal with the obnoxious bandwagon fans in the Phone Booth? Speaking of obnoxious fans, as the Ranger performance got worse and worse, a portion of the Garden faithful devolved into savages screaming streams of obscenities and racial slurs. It was disgusting.

Perhaps later I will break this down further but right now I don't think so. Perhaps Glen Sather shouldn't be writing letters to defend his hypocrite of a coach and instead should be trying to fix this abomination of a team. Actually, upon second thought, he should be writing a letter of resignation instead.

PHW Three Stars (which weren't announced in the building)
3-Alexander Ovechkin - one goal.
2-Simeon Varlamov - 29 saves.
1-Tom Poti - one goal and three assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Cally - As it has been through all of the ups and downs this season, Callahan gave maximum effort and played every shift hard. It is criminal that his teammates can not learn from him.
2-Poti - What better place and time to turn into the player he was supposed to 10 years ago? By slapping the Rangers in the face so, I think my hatred has lessened. perhaps it is because my loathing for Wade Redden has increased. Either way, four points in a playoff game for Poti. Good job, jerk.
1-Brashear - He gives goons a bad name but he got away with it and his physical play put the Rangers on their heels. He got started hitting, Ovechkin followed and then the Blueshirts fell apart and started playing like the overpriced individuals they are rather than the collective consciousness that emerged victorious from that thrilling Game 4.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bettman Bounces Torts

Tortorella was suspended for a game after one of his many stupid moves on Friday, the throwing of a water bottle at a bandwagon Washington fan. The Rangers replied:
New York, April 25, 2009 – The New York Rangers have issued the following statement in response to Head Coach John Tortorella’s one game suspension:

“We disagree with the suspension and will have no further comment.”
They can't comment because they would be wrong. Tortorella lowered himself to the Washington fan's level and the suspension was well justified. Jim Schoenfeld should take the Rangers reins for the game and should have a better chance to close out the series than Torts would have. Shoeny can handle Avery and was a solid coach in his day before moving upstairs. He should do fine, at least since Don Koharski won't be the ref ...

R1, G5: Coach's Ego Costs Rangers


Siegfried & Roy knew that when they could no longer work with the tiger, it was time to call it quits. No one wants to pay to watch two dorks not be funny. John Tortorella put his head in the tiger's mouth, got bitten and got rid of the tiger. Big mistake, and there was nothing funny about ensuing show, a 4-0 loss to the Caps.

Benching Sean Avery for Game 5 lost the game for the Rangers before the puck was even dropped. Tortorella wanted to send a message and he did - his ego is bigger than his desire to win. Everyone has seen the Rangers record with and without Avery in the lineup; you don't have to be Stephen Hawking (get well soon) to figure out that when the team really needs to win a game, Avery should be in the lineup. He wasn't, and they didn't.

Say what you want about Avery's reoccurring antics: they are reckless, they sometimes injure other players and they put the Rangers at a disadvantage. Quick quiz - how many times has Avery taken a penalty as a Ranger and had it directly cost the team a game? The answer? Zero. In the eight games that the Blueshirts lost since getting Avery back, he took penalties in six of them. And not once did the opposing teams score on the ensuing power play. There were two occasions when the game was tied (one was when he fought Tyler Kennedy) and just once were the Rangers clinging to a lead (against Atlanta on March 26th). In the other losses he may have not helped get the team back in the game but it is undeniable that Avery's indiscretions have yet to directly cost the team a victory.

Sadly the same can't be said for Captain Queeg Tortorella.

Tortorella wants to preach accountability and yet Markus Naslund didn't sit in the skybox for a second after his parade to the penalty box in Game 1. Chris Drury took a bad penalty in Game 3 and the Caps scored on the ensuing power play to essentially kill the Ranger chances and he wasn't benched. Both Scott Gomez and Tortorella himself took penalties to put the Rangers on their heels in the opening minutes and you can be sure both will be back for Game 6. (That is, unless Torts gets suspended for winging a waterbottle into the crowd, but I still haven't seen a good angle of that incident.)

The man preaches discipline, discipline, discipline but I'm not really sure if he knows what it means. It isn't the ability to restrain oneself from taking penalties. In hockey it is the combination of hockey smarts, talent and effort to not place oneself in the position where the referee can call an infraction. Beat the guy to the puck, you don't need to hook or grab him as he goes by. Be responsible with your stick, you won't slash, high stick or trip the guy. Position yourself better, you don't have to crosscheck him. Angle your checks properly and you won't board him.

Sadly on Friday the Rangers showed little of the hockey smarts, talent and effort needed to win and they didn't.

*Even when the Rangers were given a gift, they blew it. How Ryan Callahan didn't get a matching penalty with Erskine at the end of the second period is beyond me. But the Rangers got a power play and did ... absolutely nothing. So typical.

*All season long all I have asked from the maligned unit is to not give up a short handed goal. To the best of my memory, since Avery returned they hadn't. No Avery and Matt freakin' Bradley scores. Coincidence? Perhaps. But it's terrible any way you cut it.

*And the worst part of that goal was not that Rozy fell or shootout specialist Hank gave up a breakaway goal but that Drury game up on the puck, allowing Bradley to blow past him. He made a half-heated chop at it instead of skating through and taking possession or, frankly, hitting it with any kind of oomph. And watching him miss the check on Ovechkin's goal was pathetic. You can only hope that he really is indeed playing severely hurt because otherwise there is no excuse for the captain to be so clumsy.

*Everyone is drooling over that Ovechkin goal and it was kinda pretty but c'mon, how do you celebrate that? As I said over at Japer's Rink, look at who he beat on the way: Zherdev, Morris and Voros. When you think about how good Ovechkin is, that is like you or me skating though a bunch of handicapped children. Would you jump around? Wooo!!! In your face!!! Yippeeeeee! I didn't think so.

*Speaking of the challenged, Joe Micheletti made his best observation to date - pointing out where Alex Semin was positioned on the face off that he scored off of. Of course, Joe neglected to point out that Hank's angle was off and he was already on his knees as the puck hit the top of the post but let's face it, it was a helluva shot.

*Hank allowed his first soft goal of the series, the bad-angle shot that made it 2-0. Like I said before, you can also hang him a little for the first goal but there was no way he was stopping either of the goals by the Alexes.

*He wouldn't of had to try on the Ovechkin goal if the officiating blew the whistle when they should have. You can clearly see Sergei Fedorov kick out Zherdev's leg on the replay. Z tumbled and Fedorov kicked the puck to OV. I mean, it isn't like Zherdev wasn't going to actually do anything with the puck, but a penalty is a penalty and the slew foot clearly was a penalty.

*As MSG showed, Blair Betts did kick the puck back to Semin on the third goal but that was just bad luck. All Bettsy did with Dubi, Sjoey and Cally was get the Washington power play to go 0-7. And a ton of credit has to go to Staalsie and Girardi, were on for around seven minutes of kill time. That is insane. And in a game where the opponent scored four goals, they were the only defensive pairing not to have a goal scored against while on the ice.

*Interesting timing for Colton Orr to finally get angry - 14:14 of the third period. It was just outside of that dreaded last-five-minute-sending-a-message time. It was also way too little, way too late but that likely goes back to the incompetent coaching.

*At this point all you can hope for is that Torts hasn't blown the series. He surely sent the wrong message to Sean - he benched him and the team lost. Sam Rosen even said at the 13 minute mark of the second period that 'the Rangers sure need a spark' or something to that effect. But perhaps Avery will show he is the better man and come out like gangbusters on Sunday. If not, the Rangers are finished.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Simeon Varlamov - 20 saves.
2-Alexander Ovechkin - one goal.
1-Matt Bradley - two goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Girardi/Staal - These kids are getting better and better. Too bad the coach won't give them a chance on the power play because they surely can excel there as well.
2-Bradley - Even as an opposing fan, you have to love when guys like this score. hard work pays off kids.
1-Tortorella - His personnel selection, both in his roster and on his power play - gave Washington the win as much as anything the Caps actually did themselves.

Friday, April 24, 2009

This Just In!!!

MSG reported on the pregame that Sean Avery was benched for Game 5 tonight in favour of Aaron Voros.

So who is coming to Game 6?

Just One Question

Can they pull it off?

Watching Pens/Flyers last night it appeared that Crosby's crybabies didn't have it in them to seal the deal. Despite some stellar work from their goaltender, the drive was gone from their offense. And they were playing at home. The Rangers are in the Phone Booth with a chance to advance.

Will we see a Game 6?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Norris Trophy

The 2008-09 Norris Trophy finalists were announced today and there were no surprises: Nick Lidstrom, Mike Green and Zdeno Chara.

Simply said, the Rangers didn't have a Norris Trophy defenseman. The Norris now seems to go to the highest scoring defenseman and thus Green will get the damned thing even though Chara is the Scotty Hockey choice as the best all-around defender. Michal Rozsival led the Blueshirt bunch with 30 points in 76 games. Paul Mara showed up every game - when he wasn't losing his mind going after Patrick Kaleta - and he was the most solid all-around presence of the seven 'regulars' (can't forget Kalinin). He rarely made a gaffe with the puck, he was physical and he ended up the only positive defender on the team. While Marek Malik proved that plus/minus isn't the be-all-end-all stat for defensemen, Mara coming out clean was an impressive achievement - especially given as his game has faded since being paired with former teammate Derek Morris.

Dan Girardi and Marc Staal each have had some stellar performances since they became the top pairing upon being united by Tortorella. Unfortunately that was too little too late as both had struggled heavily trying to carry their defensively-incompetent partners, Redden and Rozy respectively. Perhaps next season and beyond, once they add Bobby, Del Zotto and the Hobey Baker blueliner, the Rangers may indeed produce another Norris winner.

R1, G4: Three Down, One To Go!


"That's why we showed up for 40 games, for nights like these. Best game of the year." - Mr. X From The Blue Seats

I don't think I could have said it better. Wednesday night's 2-1 win over the Caps was the best game of the season. It was utterly astounding, utterly frustrating and utterly rewarding. To be honest, I still haven't been able to relax (maybe that was because I had to crash some sleep and run to work, but still). The last period was so on the edge of your seat insane that it will take at least until Friday to finally unwind - just in time to get all wrapped up again in a possible season ender. But first, there was this one and What. A. Game.

Let's get right into it:

*It doesn't happen often that one of the best moments of the game was a time out called outside of the final minutes but John Tortorella's decision to use his break on an icing call after a penalty kill helped decide the game. All of the momentum was with the Caps and the quick breather was enough to give the Blueshirts on the ice a chance to battle back.

*Then again, all of the credit due for that play was completely washed away by his call to put Sean Avery on the ice with four minutes left. There was absolutely no reason for it. Yes, Avery was one of the most energetic skaters and he maintained his composure for two periods. Yes, he is a loose cannon with a ginormous target on his back. Now, according some MSG guys, he did indeed lose control of his stick and deserve the high sticking. But it shouldn't matter as he shouldn't have been on the ice in the first place.

*The officiating left much to be desired. And this is coming from someone basking the glow of a stunning victory. There were dubious calls and a good number of noncalls - including a a penalty shot that wasn't called. Paul Devorski should be ashamed of himself for such a poor effort. One of the few 'names' left officiating, he did a terrible job and actually made me miss Kerry Fraser. Seriously. Ugh, I feel dirty.

*The Blueshirt blueline basically had pairings 1A and 1B. Staal and Girardi kept up their top notch work while Redden and Rozsival managed not to screw anything up. Ok, ok, ok. Rozy played his best defensive game in over a season, perhaps his best as a Ranger. I was impressed. As for Redden, whatever. He wasn't bad. That is about as nice as I will get. And I yelled at him less than I yelled Tom Poti, so that is a plus (even if it wasn't by much).

*And it hurts to say this but damn, Alex Ovechkin truly is a hockey god. You knew he would score sooner or later in this series and he did in fine fashion with a stellar shot into the upper corner - who woulda thought, if the goaltender plays half the game on his knees, then a shot under the bar will go in ... Now the shot that hit the post may be the shot heard 'round the world. The sound of the puck hitting iron rang louder then the bell of Big Ben. That was incredible, how it didn't shatter the puck or bend the iron is beyond me.

*Anyone know what happened to the pane of glass behind the net in the third period? From 329 we couldn't tell if it was cracked from an errant shot or dislodged with a hit ...

*A hit that certainly didn't come from Nik Zherdev. Z saw seven minutes of ice time - none of which was in the third period. Unlike Colton Orr, who actually made the most of his limited action, Z was invisible. As I said last game, all he is doing now is ensuring exit from the NHL. He may very well turn into an Alexei Morozov-like star but he simply doesn't have the heart to play the North American game.

*Talking heart - Bettsy, Sjo, Cally and Dubi. All four were incredible, as they have been most of the season. While we expect it of the first three, Dubi is finally putting the pieces back together that made him so dominant back in October. He won 15 of 17 faceoffs, played on both special teams and collected an assist.

*These guys, along with Staalsie and Girardi, did a stellar job shutting down Nick Backstrom. One game after he was so dominant, he was virtually invisible. Ovie and Semin were still threats but Backstrom couldn't do anything. Neither could Mike Green, but that mohawked dork has fallen flat on his face thus far in the series - I love this picture - he is looking the wrong way!

*I'm sure there is more but I'm still basking in the glow of victory. If there is anything else, don't you worry, I'm not shy.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Chris Drury - one goal.
2-Alexander Ovechkin - one goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 38 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Dru - Among the other fans I spoke to, several said that Markus Naslund deserved a heap of credit but I won't give it to him just because he decided to show up and play for the first time this season. Dru - the guy I said should be scratched if he was so hurt - played well in limited action. He didn't get his usual 18, 19 minutes (just 13 and change) but he got in the action, put his body in the line of fire and went to the net. So this is how he earned that clutch reputation, huh?
2-Ovie - What can be said that hasn't been already? Ovechkin is the modern Gordie Howe with a fun streak. It was just nice to see him sad rather than jumping around like a fool.
1-Hank - Unless something outrageous and unforgivable happens, Hank will be a Vezina finalist again this season. And if the Rangers advance then he will add a Conn Smythe to it. There is no one more valuable to their team then he is. Look at the team in front of him ...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Calder Trophy

The NHL just released the candidates for the rookie of the year - the Calder Trophy. The final three were Columbus goaltender Steve Mason, Anaheim winger Bobby Ryan and Chicago winger Kris Versteeg. The Rangers had just one rookie to play a significant role this season, Lauri Korpikoski and let's face it - he didn't have a chance.

Actually, Versteeg and Ryan don't have a chance against the goaltender who carried a mediocre team into the playoffs. So the Scotty Hockey pick is Steve Mason. Going beyond this season, I think Ryan will prove to be a better player (Versteeg is a complimentary-type, nothing more) but Mason helped Manny Malhotra get back into the playoffs so all credit given and due (yeah Manny!).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mmmaaaaarrrrrrtttttyyyyyyyyy

What a stunningly awesome scene in NASCAR nation. Mmmmaaarrrtttyyy comes out of his crease too far, gets bumped, doesn't get back into position quickly, punches the guy who bumped him and the game-winning goal sails into the net with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. Carolina wins 4-3 to tie the series at two. He chases down the ref and throws a tantrum, slamming his stick at the ice as souvenir towels rain down around him. Check it out, courtesy of MJM at HockeyDump.

That was spectacular; listen to Chico cry for his boy!! As a Ranger fan, I can only applaud. Sheer awesomeness.

Mmmaaaaarrrrrrtttttyyyyyyyyy, Mmmaaaaarrrrrrtttttyyyyyyyyy

That's More Like It ...

Wednesday's Garden giveaway:

Weighing In


There are people today on call-in shows and blogs questioning whether the Rangers should bench Sean Avery for Game 4, given his penchant for penalties last night.

I feel that I have to offer my opinion: Those people are insane.

Avery was one of four Rangers who played his hardest yesterday - Hank, Betts and Cally being the others (all of the defenseman took turns watching plays). I keep Avery in the lineup – even with the high likelihood of two or three minors called against him deserved or not. We have the top penalty killers in the NHL, what he brings is well worth it. Did any of these folks out there actually watch the games prior to Sean's arrival? Do you want this series to end in six, losing four straight?

As I said in the comments over at Blueshirt Banter where a Ranger fan actually raised the debate, if you want a bold move you don't bench Avery. Try benching the still injured Drury. Try benching the ineffective Zherdev. The ineffective Mexican’t Gomez who aborted every damned attack single handedly. Try winning a power play faceoff for once for chrissake. Try not going offsides 18 times a game. Benching one of the four players who show up for every game is just stupid, no matter how many penalties he is ‘awarded’.

Avery's presence is worth it even if the Blueshirts should start Game 4 shorthanded after sending Colton Orr over to send the message that showing up your opponent at center ice of your own building (below) is utterly unacceptable.

R1 G3: Renney's Rangers Return


As a woman in Penn Station said to me, it was just like this Rangers/Caps game was in mid-February. She went so far as to say that her section in the blue seats chanted "Fire Renney" at one point. And they were right, it was a return of no heart, no hurry Tom Renney hockey, and at the worsT possible time. The Rangers had a chance to make a statement and essentially put this series in the bag and instead have their own diehard fans talking about a six game series loss. It was embarrassing, it was sloppy and it was a slap in the fans who paid good money to watch the game.

The Blueshirts never got into any kind of rhythm, never challenged a rookie goaltender and hung their netminder out to dry. It was a lackluster mid-winter doldrum effort, not a pivotal playoff game before a hungry home crowd. The only redeeming factor is that you have to imagine the current coach not standing for the garbage, where the former bench boss seemed willing to roll over and die.

Some notes:

*It is a sad state of affairs when you can seriously say that the goaltender that gave up four goals played significantly better than the one who posted a shutout but that was the case. The Rangers failed their King.

*That idiot goon Brashear dressed to make a physical statement and he did his job. With the score 1-0, he crashed the net, took a few facewashes and skated off unscathed. He and Colton Orr got matching roughings but there never was any retribution. Brash skated out of the penalty box and went to the bench, Orr finished off a shift and neither was heard from again. The Rangers could have announced that they wouldn't stand for being abused on their home ice, could have announced that touching Hank was strictly a no-no but instead they rolled over and Washington scored a few minutes later to ice the game.

*If the fans weren't insulted enough by the lack of effort by the Blueshirts, the Rangers had to add insult to injury by allowing Tom Poti to score. Terrible, just terrible.

*I previously ripped on the bandwagon Washington fans but the part-time Ranger fans returned the Garden and were annoying as all hell. These people actually were surprised and upset when the power play didn't score time after time! Can you believe that? They believed that the special team was actually special and yelled and booed when it failed miserably. Helloooooo welcome to New York Ranger hockey. Just be happy they were able to kill those two minute minors off.

*On the subject of penalties, Sean Avery. The referees won't give him the benefit of the doubt and they won't protect him. Seconds after he was cross checked away from the play into the Caps net, he took a very, very dubious high sticking call. That is almost as bad as the two minutes for roughing he took when he was cross checked from behind and hit in the nuts with the goaltender's stick in the final minutes of the game. If the ref called either of the early calls, or the linesman actually did his job and broke them up, then Avery wouldn't have been able to throw a light jab at Varlamov.

*But many of the penalties on both teams were weak so what can you do? Gary Bettman doesn't want hard-nosed playoff hockey, he wants the same boring antiseptic garbage that he force feeds us in the regular season. Ryan Callahan's high stick? Please.

*I just turned on Ranger Rewind and see that New York Life bought in to that creepy virtual advertising on the glass. I went to say something bad about New York Life but can't, they employ Snoopy. Subway, on the other hand, had ads pop up on the ice at least once (I saw them with 13 minutes left in the third). That's not cool.

*In an attempt to find something positive to speak about, Michal Rozsival deserves accolades for taking a high stick to the face (for which there was no penalty) and returning the ice - I think he missed one shift? Not too shabby.

*Ovechkin didn't score but he did make a brilliant play to knock the puck away from Korpikoski on a shorthanded breakaway. How there is any doubt that he is the best player in the world is shocking to me and it is a disgrace that Bettman made that pathetic crybaby Crosby to be the face of the league when he couldn't hold Captain Caveman's jock.

*Nik Zherdev spent his first few shifts in the game finding new ways to fall on the ice and lose the puck and then disappeared. He has pretty much ensured that he will make a nice salary next season back in Russia because he has proven he doesn't have the heart for real hockey.

*Markus Naslund worked hard to replicate his better efforts in the first two games but he certainly tried too hard. Nothing worked right and he spent a lot of time in the penalty box and a lot of time on the bench as a result.

*Aside from showing off his ridiculous mohawk while skating helmetless in the warmups, did Mike Green actually participate in this game? And this guy is a Norris candidate?

*Those Thundersticks may have been the worse giveaway in Garden history. And the silly blue lights in them? Did anyone get chills or anything for the 10 seconds the Garden kept the lights down prior to the game? LAME. And the announcement at the end of the game saying how fans should not throw anything on the ice after the so-called souvenirs began raining down was almost as bad. If the Rangers had given something good like a shirt, a hat or even the usual towels, the odds are damned good that people wouldn't throw them on the ice, no matter how disgusted they were. (Hats thrown on the ice at the Garden? That almost never happens.)

*PHW Three Stars
3-Nick Backstrom - three assists.
2-Alex Semin - two goals and one assist.
1-Simeon Varlamov - 33 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-John Erskine - The top Washington defenseman, Erskine was always there to help the Rangers abort their attack and he drew several penalties as well. Simple, smart hockey.
2-Backstrom - He has some incredible hands and he showed them off, taking advantage of the massive holes in the Ranger defense.
1-Bruce Boudreau - Boudreau had his time ready and prepared to fight for their lives. Some pundits said that Torts had been 'outcoaching' Boudreau - which was laughable - but there was no doubt in this game that even the fiery Tortorella couldn't ignite the Rangers while Boudreau's bunch came to play.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Musings For Monday Morning

As JRS said over at Blueshirt Banter, the only thing louder than a Ranger fan is a Ranger fan when they're winning. And the Rangers are winning: back-to-back surprising successes in Washington has the team riding one helluva high entering Monday night's Game 3. Now the Blueshirts can come out on fire and use the momentum and the crowd to go up 3-0 or fall flat on their behinds or give Ovechkin and company an inch and watch as they take a yard.

*I had yet to address the Matt Gilroy signing. So now I am. He had apparently given Toronto every indication that he would become a Maple Leaf but picked a real team instead. Gilroy looked great in the Frozen Four but let's face it, he wasn't drafted for a reason. Maybe he is indeed a late bloomer and he will join Staal, Girardi, Sanguinetti, Del Zotto, Potter and Sauer as the future Blue blueline but maybe not. No use getting all pumped up now, we still are hamstrung with Redden and Rozy.

*Apparently things are so bad that the Rangers are not giving up the usual cheap towels but instead the even cheaper Thunderstix. What do they think we are? Japanese baseball fans?!?! The inflatable noisemakers are annoying as hell and should never be allowed in a proper hockey arena.

*While I am not bringing a sign with me to the game, I did have a few ideas for the more motivated out there - "OVerrated," "Peanut Butter Poti Time," "Caps Fans, Rock The White," "The Bandwagon Stops Here" or just one of those incredibly big Hershey's bars for their fresh-from-the-farm netminder.

*A comment I had to pass along from one of the folks over at Japer's Rink during Game 2: everyone who wears a Lundqvist shirt/jersey should wear a crown. He meant it sarcastically, I think it would be fantastic.

*Over at Rangers Report Carp has done an adequate job replacing Sam but c'mon, how could he just now be writing "what has crossed my mind lately when I see [Callahan] and Dubinsky and Avery is this question: 'Why doesn’t everybody give that kind of effort all the time?' I don’t have that answer." We've only been asking that here in the blogosphere since last year.

*And it appears the Rangers are bringing the buses back this year. I rode one before a game against Atlanta and you basically stand up top and yell Let's Go Rangers at scared tourists while throwing out playoff towels - although who knows if there will be towels ...
New York Rangers fans will ride on two Rangers branded Double Decker buses prior to the New York Rangers taking on the Washington Capitals for games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals. Fans will ride through midtown cheering on the Blueshirts and will proceed to Madison Square Garden for the start of Games 3 and 4, which will air live on MSG Network starting at 7 p.m. Lucky fans will meet Rangers alumni and will be given the chance to win Blueshirt gifts and prizes, including coveted playoff tickets.

WHAT: New York Rangers Fans Ride Double Decker Buses Through Midtown
WHO: Rangers Fans and Rangers Alumni
WHERE: Starting at Madison Square Garden (In front of 7th Ave at 31st St. continuing through midtown and returning to MSG.)
WHEN: Monday, April 20th and Wednesday, April 22 at 5:00 and 5:45 pm.
I won't be going along - can't ruin a routine that has helped the Rangers get this far (yes, I am superstitious) - but if you have the time, why not? At the least its a fun ride around midtown and you get some freebies out of it ... let's go Rangers!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

R1 G2: All Hail The King!


The series between the Rangers and the Capitals was often previewed as the offense of Ovechkin and company against Henrik Lundqvist. Well, on Saturday Henrik Lundqvist decidedly won that battle as he backstopped the Blueshirts to a 1-0 win.

It is outright bizarre that Lundqvist has not been included in the conversation for NHL MVP as the Rangers clearly would not be in the playoffs, much less up 2-0, without him.

Hank didn't make many highlight-reel saves, but he made the timely ones and the defense in front of him kept the second-chance tries to a minimum. It was a good recipe for success and it allowed the Rangers to skate out of DC with a strong advantage in the best-of-seven series.

*It is amazing the standard that we hold him up to when you can say that Alex Ovechkin barely showed up for this one. He still had six shots, he still came within inches of tying the game in the third period and yet he was a disappointment for Washington fans. Not that I'm complaining ...

*But think about what the Caps may be like on Monday if OV shows up and they get the same level of goaltending? Danger Will Robinson, danger. Varlamov really was quite good and can hardly be hung for the loss. His positioning was solid, he kept his temper despite Avery lurking around his crease and he had absolutely no chance to stop Cally's goal.

*That goal was quite pretty - OV's pass goes to Timbuktu, is picked up by Dubi, shoveled forward to Naslund, Nazzy takes it deep and makes Tom Poti look even stupider than usual before perfectly putting the puck on Cally's stick for a chip into the upper reaches of the net. What a tally for Cally.

*As for Poti, that was one of the best things he has ever done for the Rangers. For once his ridiculous incompetence paid off for the Blueshirts. And watching him go back and forth with Avery is just quality theater.

*The current Ranger Poti, Wade Redden was actually quite solid - to the point where I won't even boo him right off the bat on Monday, if you can believe that. He hustled and was physical, which is all we ever asked for. Sure, he still wastes minute after minute of power play time and often puts his teammates in bad spots with ill-positioned passes but Redden played defense. Not $6.5 million defense, but defense. Small steps.

*The rest of the defensive corps - aside from Staal's gaffe that set up OV's crossbar hit - was just as spectacular as the goaltender the stood before. Washington was unable to get to most rebounds and Hank saw almost all of the shots from distance.

*NBC's coverage was crap, and the commentary was terrible. Two of the more egregious cases were Eddie O saying the Caps need to shoot low on Hank and Panger saying if he was Tortorella, he would congratulate the Rangers on good line changes. And as much as Doc is revered, he did call a shot “a whirling steamer.” Umm ... ??

*Now a different meaning of that same phrase could apply to the Ranger power play. The Blueshirts went 0-5 with the man advantage and struggled to get open shots or even shots through traffic. It is not so much a testament to the Caps penalty killers rather than the lack of creativity on the part of the Rangers.

*Nik Zherdev saw three minutes of time on the special team and just 10:15 total. If he doesn't step up and play, he hopefully will have signed his ticket out of town. The other Nik - Borat - has been much better. He used his size well, got some good shots off and stood up for his teammates - he was the first one in on John Erskin when the defenseman cheap-shotted Sean at the end of the opening period.

*One of the funnier quips I have heard about the bandwagon Cap fans is that they are told to Rock The Red so they know which team to root for. Well, when the Washington offense went quiet, so did the fans. The Garden has gone deathly silent in the past but not during a playoff game (to the best of my recollection). The fans could have helped pick up their struggling team and they did not.

*If the game was in the Garden, there would have been quite the cheer for Freddie Sjostrom. He goes out writhing in pain and is back in the ice the next shift. He hasn't fully matured into the two-way threat that he has hinted at but is definitely a big part of the team.

*I spent much of the game over at Japer's Rink in the open game thread and the Caps fans (and many pension plan puppets - Leaf fans) complained about the Rangers diving left and right. There were a few tumbles that looked extreme but I don't think there was much embellishment on either team's parts. And for what it's worth, the officiating wasn't terrible. It wasn't good by any means, but it wasn't terrible. The stripes allowed the teams to dictate the tempo, which was a nice change from Game 1.

*Stat of the game: Rangers blocked 29 shots to the Caps 13.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Markus Naslund - one assist.
2-Ryan Callahan - one goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 35 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Varlamov - Watching the game, you would never know that it was just his sixth NHL game. He solidified the goaltending position and showed why the Caps had confidence in him with cool, collected play.
2-Cally - Not only did he score the gorgeous, lone goal, but he is the damned Energizer Bunny of the Blueshirts. He is hustling shift in and shift out, on both sides of the ice.
1-Hank - He saw the shots; he stopped the shots; the Rangers won.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Setting Up For Saturday

The Rangers had a light practice today and will have another day on the ice before Saturday's matinee Game 2, thank you NBC.

As much as that extra time will be nice to get Chris Drury back into the game, it also allows Washington to look at what they did wrong and find ways to fix it. They are still going to run and gun, take pot shots at Sean and throw puck after puck at Hank. But for as dopey as Bruce Boudreau may seem, he really is a helluva coach.

So I would wager a guess now that Ovie took all of those shots (28 total attempts or something like that) and showed that tendency to Hank and the Blueshirts, Bruce will persuade him get his linemates more involved next game - if only a little bit. Nick Backstrom kept lurking around the net and a slap-pass or intentional miss might set up a slam dunk for him. Although, talking Ovie into intentionally missing the net might be a hard sell.

It might be in their best interest as you have to imagine Bruce is unhappy with his team's power play. It was held to two goals on seven chances. It doesn't sound so bad but they were able to exhaust the Ranger penalty killers on several occasions and couldn't take advantage.

For all of their speed, the Washington transition game wasn't all that impressive and they had trouble maintaining pressure. Once they broke into the zone, they weren't able to sustain any pressure. Hank stopped every shot that he saw so the Ranger defense will likely have to deal with more traffic this time around. Two of the three goals against came with Washington bodies planted in the slot and with Rozy and Redden not being known for their physicality, the Caps may key in on them.

They will also need to stop bring obsessed with a certain number 16. Avery's work (and his 'accidental' bump) pretty much negated the Mike Green factor. Anytime Avery was on the ice with Green, he was in the defenseman's face and the overrated Norris candidate was knocked off his game. If he can avoid falling for Sean, then the Rangers will have to watch out for him as he can quickly take advantage of any turnover anywhere on the ice and turn it into an offensive opportunity.

The Rangers scored four goals in the game but were still limited to 10 total shots in the first and third periods. Boudreau has to be happy with that but defensive gaffes allowed the Rangers to get through so he may stress better awareness from his blueliners and perhaps even more defensive responsibility from the forwards. I doubt it, as the Caps rarely played like that all season - preferring to run and gun instead - but you never know. Perhaps Poti will play and firm things up in the Washington zone.

Hahahahahahaha.

One can only hope, one can only hope ...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cycling With The Sedins 2

I totally forgot that right after I did the Hockey Orphan thing for Cycle With The Sedins, I did a quick playoff preview for their Rangers/Caps minisite.

Check out my five answers to their five questions here.

Thanks to James for letting me play along!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

R1 G1: Well, A Win Is A Win ...


The Ranger 4-3 win over the Washington Capitals to open up their playoff series may have been one of the worse playoff games I have ever seen. The penaltyfest had whistle after whistle on nickle-dime calls while big stuff went unpunished. This was an early season game where the officials wanted to make their presence known. I was annoyed to the point of boredom just waiting for the next stoppage.

The Ranger defense was mediocre, the offense was weak and the goaltender gave up three goals but thankfully, Jose Theodore was horrendous. The Washington netminder looked like a ShooterTutor out there with all of the wide open holes. But as terrible a game as it was, at least the Rangers got the needed result - a road win.

*The Ranger offense was quite weak - taking silly penalties, making terrible passes, missing checks - but Dubi's game-winning goal was fun to watch. He took a bad pass, set Jeff Schultz spinning like a top and put yet another intensely stoppable shot between the near post and swiss cheese Theodore. Maybe Schultz caught a rut, maybe he just couldn't keep up with the streaking Ranger, maybe Staalsie looked just as bad later, who cares - Dubi made Schultz look like an amateur and his goaltender couldn't bail him out. It was awesome.

*All four goals by the Blueshirts were stoppable by a good goaltender. Their best shot of the game was by Cally and it hit a post. Gomez one-on-one blows the puck by Theodore with a wrister that hit maybe 65 mph, Borat's open shot sailed over his shoulder and the former MVP waved at Markus Naslund's shot as it went by him.

*My how things have flipped around for Naslund. He used to be able to get a hat trick of goals and take one penalty; in this game he got one goal and three penalties. When you jam on the gas as hard as you can, the car goes a little out of control. Nazzy is emptying the tank with the pedal to the metal and he just needs to keep his hands on the wheel for just a few more weeks before he rolls into retirement (hopefully).

*All of the credit that I gave to Gomez for his interview the other day was completely obliterated in this one. How the smug bastard can sit and rip on the journalist deigning to speak to him during a game of such magnitude is petty and immature. I thought he had grown up after the classy interview during the Flyer game; instead he reverted back to this. It's not funny, it's rude and unprofessional.

*Now you want comedy, Tom Poti confronting Sean Avery after a whistle was priceless! What is Poti going to do, hit him with his purse and call him a big meaniehead? You brute!

*The Viktor Kozlov goal to make it 3-2 was a perfect redirect after he slipped past Staalsie. Sadly it came after a clear elbow slipped past the officiating. Green took a page from Chris Pronger and nearly decapitated Freddie Sjostrom on the boards but there was no elbowing, no boarding, no nothing. Sergei Fedorov cross checks Avery from behind after a whistle, in front of the ref and no penalty. And yet the stripes saw an infraction 20 seconds into the game when Dan Girardi touched the Capital with his loose hand.

*MSG - I like Amstel, really, I do. I drink quite a lot of it. But every commercial break? Surely there are more ads available in the inventory?? Dadadadapdadadadadap. Damn do I hate the Fratellis (the group who wrote the song). Maybe that will be the next poll - what is more annoying, that commercial or the damn Geico campaign with the stupid money with eyes?

*And you guys laughed at me for being a Blair Betts fanboy for all those months! Let's see, 7:41 of his 12:20 of ice time was shorthanded and he was fantastic. Five blocked shots! Hard work pays off kids ... too bad Nik Zherdev isn't listening.

*With the NHL's insistence of secrecy on injuries, we have no idea what kept Chris Drury out. So, of course, I will think the worse. He is just a weakling who wanted a night off. What ever happened to hockey players as warriors? He was able to skate in warmups and you are telling me he wasn't well enough or motivated enough to take up that stellar three minutes that Aaron Voros got? When Drury got his Cup, Peter Forsberg finished a playoff game with a burst spleen!

*During the postgame Maloney said that the "much-maligned" defensemen Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden were incredible. No, they weren't. But they weren't bad. Sure, Rozy turned away from some hits, Redden fumbled the puck a few times and made two or three bad passes but neither one took stupid penalties or abandoned their posts in the defensive zone. Amazing how good they can look playing average games after they've set the bar so very, very low.

*Stat of the night: I could go with the obvious - 11 power plays in a game that really didn't have much violence (a few hits but not a whole lot of venom) - but instead 30%, the amount of power plays that the Rangers won. They lost 46 of the 66 draws, allowing the Caps to dictate the action.

*How much pressure do you think there is on Brent Johnson to get better? The injured netminder was better than Theodore before undergoing hip surgery and would be huge in this series if he was 100%. He is a streaky netminder and if he was to get hot, he could play just as good as Hank. Good thing he is still cooling off on the IR.

*Many thanks to Allen at Off Wing Photo for all of the pics used with this post. Some great work dude.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brandon Dubinsky - one goal.
2-Scott Gomez - one goal and two assists.
1-Alexander Ovechkin - two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - The King was fantastic. The first goal against was tipped, the second was on a power play and the third he had no chance at stopping. Every time he had to make a big save, he did and unlike Theodore, he gave his team a chance to win.
2-Cally - The most motivated Ranger, Cally again threw his body around making hits, blocking shots, clearing pucks, pressuring puckholders, taking shots, hitting posts - an incredible effort.
1-OV - He really is a hockey god. I mean, he was everywhere. Everywhere. OV lost his helmet, finished a tough shift, took a rest for a few seconds, grabbed someone else's helmet and got right back into the fray. Wow.

Nothing Like A Last Second Announcement

Just arrived in my e-mail so I'll prob have to skip due to the late notice but if you guys head over, lemme know how it goes!
The New York Rangers will provide fans with an opportunity to gather and cheer on the Blueshirts as they take on the Washington Capitals in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fans will have the chance to watch the game on big-screen televisions at Stout, located across the street from Madison Square Garden, and at Black Bear Bar & Grill, in Hoboken, NJ. Former NY Rangers great Glenn Anderson will greet fans at Stout while Nick Fotiu will be on hand at the Black Bear Bar & Grill giving away playoff tickets, autographed merchandise and Rangers products. The game will be telecast live on MSG Network at 7 p.m. Pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Getting Ready For Round 1

For a few years when I was a kid, my dad lived in Washington. Not wanting to uproot me from school, he worked down there and came back to NY on weekends. My mom and I visited a few times, one of them being during the spring of 1990. Yes, that spring. That was when John Druce channeled Maurice Richard and singlehandedly destroyed the New York Rangers. We didn't go to any of the games but I remember seeing Druce everywhere - on every tv channel, on the cover of the newspaper ... it was awful. And when Druce closed out the series with the game-winning OT goal past my favourite Ranger of all time - John Vanbiesbrouck - I was crushed.

I can't possibly explain what happened any better than John Sexton did for the New York Times:
The buzz went dead last night, and the Rangers, although they didn't go quietly, went into yet one more tenure of springtime unemployment when John Druce, the no-name who had become a nemesis, deflected in a goal 6 minutes 48 seconds into overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 2-1 victory and the right to represent the Patrick Division in the Wales Conference final.
The loss extended the Ranger curse to 50 years and Druce would finish the spring with 14 goals in 15 playoff games as the Caps would lose to the Bruins, who lost to Messier and the Oilers for the Cup. I saw all of the DC sights, and all I remember is John Druce.

Sonofabitch.

Before the Buffalo series two years back, I recall Sean Avery saying he was 'thinking of reasons to hate' the Sabres or something to that effect. So why should we hate these Caps? Here are some reasons:

1. Tom Poti. Yes, he is questionable to play in Game 1 but his very existence in the league makes me seethe with anger. Poti sucks. He's terrible. Useless, clueless, terrible. That simple. I hate you Tom Poti! Love, Scotty Hockey

2. Ovechkin's celebration. Yes, he hit the 50 goal mark but it isn't like he never reached it before. Instead he jumped up and down like an idiot for the first goal against a bad opponent with a rookie goaltender. I have no problem with him going nuts jumping into the glass on big goals and all that but this was too much and frankly a disgrace to the game. The true greats of the game never celebrated like that, there is simply no need for it.

3. Washington's bandwagon fans. I went down to DC for a Ovechkin/Crosby game at the Verizon Center in December 2006. The building was far from capacity and it seemed like the majority of the fans were rooting for Pittsburgh. It was pathetic (as was the result, the Caps blew a 4-0 lead to lose 5-4 in a shootout - sound familiar?). And now being a Cap fan is in vogue? Weak.

4. Donald Brashear. Is there a lower-brow goon in the league? While Ovechkin may look like a caveman, Brashear acts like one. The neanderthal has no talent and is exactly the kind of goon who needs to be shoved out of the sport. By the way, I watched that Boston/Vancouver game and Brash was cheap-shotting Bruins all game. Instead of taking what he deserved, he kept dodging Marty McSorley and Marty just simply lost it. I'm not defending Marty's swing, I'm just saying that Brash deserved a beating and was too cowardly to take it. At least he answered the bell when Shanny came calling.

5. Hell, the rest of the team is made up of girlie men who can't fight. Ah, January 3rd, what a night that was. Not only did the captain of the Caps get knocked out by Wade Redden (!!!!) but it was also the evening of the toddler tantrum of Alex Semin.

6. Michael Nylander. If Nylander wasn't greedy, who knows what would have happened in New York last year. We may not be saddled with Gomez and Drury for eternity. Jagr might not have sulked for so long and the Blueshirts would have been in a better position in the playoffs. And they may have gone farther than falling at the feet of Penguins ...

7. Ted Leonsis. The Washington owner seems cool despite being filthy rich and he embraces bloggers. Doesn't he know that owners are supposed to be spoiled rich kids who ignore the fans, allow incompetence and sexual harassment while treating their team like an asset and nothing more?

8. Sergei Fedorov. The former Stanley Cup champion Red Wing had Anna Kournikova before she was dirty. Yeah, I guess jealousy is a good breeding ground for hatred.

9. Jose Theodore dated Paris Hilton. This isn't jealousy but disgust. Dude, sloppy seconds just doesn't come close ... gross.

10. The sheer number of possible John Druces on the current caps lineup. The underrated Brooks Laich, the underachieving Eric Fehr, the old Viktor Kozlov or my buddy Eric's pick, Tomas Fleischmann. Let's hope that none of them pick up the mantle and Druce remains a (terrible) name from the past.

I'm sure there are more reasons to hate Washington and I'm sure more will come to pass as the series starts up. As usual, I will have my postgame recaps but I won't have Peepin' Foes as you all know the names already. For the best of the opposition blogs, look no further than Japer's Rink. JP does a brilliant job on his blog and beat me to the punch on several topics, including the transaction history (ya still gotta laugh at Anson Carter for Jagr).

So let's get down to it, what's going to happen, who will win? As much as the momentum swings towards DC, the playoffs are a new season entirely and the Caps don't have the class, experience or goaltending that the Rangers do so Blueshirts in six. But if the Rangers don't at least split the first two games, the odds are not so good for a MSG miracle. But you never know, that is why they play the games and anything can happen in the postseason so let's go Rangers!!!