Thursday, December 31, 2009

18-17-4: Ho Hum, Another One

What is there left to say that hasn't been said so far this season? The Rangers are a flawed franchise from the top down made up of greedy sycophants and fools who can't put an entertaining team on the ice. The team they built has problems up and down the lineup and the man behind the bench is an ego maniacal idiot who the players have clearly tuned out. The players are a bunch of mercenaries and mislead youths who just don't have their heart in their work.

Several people said to me that this 6-0 loss must be rock bottom but really, it can get so very much worse. The Rangers are still above .500, Henrik Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik are both healthy and the wood panel above my seat is still in one piece. When I smash that into bits, when the stars get hurt, when the team falls well out of playoff position and when Dolan raises ticket prices for next season, then, THEN we will hit rock bottom.

But don't get me wrong, we aren't in a very good place right now. For the first time ever, I walked out of the Garden asking for a refund because I paid to watch a hockey game and only one team showed up. I didn't get one. But, like the Rangers themselves said, at least they "play" again tomorrow so we can all try to forget this one.

Before we do, some notes:

*What does it say about your team when your captain is your fourth line winger alongside Brian Boyle and Donald Brashear?

*Brashear ... when your team is getting destroyed by the Broad Street Bullies - a division rival full of goons - and you don't fight anyone, you officially have given up. Nine and a half minutes of ice time and the highlight being him losing the puck twice on the same play to allow Claude Giroux to score the third goal of the game. Hey Colton, hope you are enjoying Toronto.

*On that same note, is there any better way to get back at the team that unceremoniously dumped you for no good reason than scoring in the first minute of your first game back in your old building? Go Bettsy. That is four goals this season, by the way. His replacement, Susan Boyle, has three and has played 17 more games.

*Boyle is just as soft as that overweight British singer despite being 6'7, 250. The biggest waste of a big body since Marek Malik, he doesn't check so much as hug.

*You can't blame any of this debacle on the netminding, although it surely will come back to cost Chad Johnson. The kid allowed all three Gagne goals, including one on the first shot he faced. Welcome to the NHL. While I hope that he will get the start in Carolina, I doubt it now - Torts won't allow that to happen, he'll run Hank into the ground to attempt to save his own ass.

*MDZ got a ton of ice time, made a ton of mistakes and had the defining moment of this season when the puck hopped over his stick on a Ranger power play late in the first period and skittered out of the zone. He just stood there, looking to the sky for answers. Poor kid. The good thing is that if he survives this season, this coach and this team he will come out of it a far better NHL player. If he survives.

*Several of his teammates seem to be already dead. Anisimov, Kotalik, Redden ... all DOA. I would say that they are zombies but zombies always keep trying to get brains, these guys just stand around and look clueless.

*The entire team had that look when Tortorella called his timeout and yelled at them. How professional athletes can not react - at all - when being screamed at by their boss is beyond me. Actually, no, I do know why they don't have to react - because the paycheques keep coming, the first-class planes are still there to carry them from defeat to defeat, the practices in their secluded yuppy neighborhood go on, etc. Accountability folks. There will be accountability this season! Ha-f-ing-Ha.

*Brandon Dubinsky went from an Arnott-esque savior to a Christmas ham; nice to see that he had a merry holiday break.

*We wanted to see what Erik Christensen could do and he missed an empty net. Ugh. If he does that three more times, we will rename him Higgins.

*I could go on with more but really, what's the point. These guys stepped onto the ice already wearing a toe tag. But before I get to the three stars, I will leave off with this question posed by my friend Andrea, "Which will be easier to quit: The Rangers or tobacco? Because they're both KILLING me!"

*PHW Three Stars
3-Jeff Carter - two assists and one teammate's wife.
2-Danny Briere - one goal and one assist.
1-Simon Gagne - three goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Gagne - How can this guy get any credit when he scored three easy goals when the game was already out of hand against a rookie goaltender?
2-Claude Giroux - This kid has some serious offensive talent and will be a terror if he can ever fully tap it.
1-Bettsy - One goal, 12:39 of ice time - including 1:40 of the easiest penalty killing he has ever had to do - one hit, one block and 11-5 from the faceoff dot. Shove it Sather. Shove it Tortorella. Shove it deep.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

V2010: Finland

Finland released their Vancouver roster and are returning 14 players from their 2006 silver-medal winning squad. That's not too shabby.

The Finns are consistently underrated because they are consistently not flashy. They work hard, they get good goaltending and have a solid stable of forwards. Leading those forwards are long-time running mates Jere Lehtinen, Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne. Saku's brother, Mikko, is actually turning into a better player than his brother ever was and will have some snipers to work with in Wild teammate Antti Miettinen and Detroit's Valtteri Filppula. The dirty Ruutu brothers return to add the sandpaper and penalty minutes while Olli Jokinen will look to do better than he has thus far this season for Calgary. Former Ranger Jarkko Immonen somehow made the roster over Carolina's Jussi Jokinen but I guess the Finns aren't planning on any shootouts.

In net Miikka Kiprusoff was named to the team, so I guess that means he got his wish and will be starting ahead of Niklas Bäckström. The star in Turin and probably the hottest of all three netminders this season, Antero Niittymäki, is the third goaltender - leaving future Finnish netminders Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask on the outside looking in.

Outside of the crease Kimmo Timonen heads up a quiet, solid blueline that has plenty of NHL experience in Sami Salo, Joni Pitkanen and Toni Lydman. They are more than capable of showing the ropes to Coyotes kid Sami Lepistö. NHL cast-offs Janne Niskala and Lasse Kukkonen add some depth.

Finland opens against Belarus on February 17th, play Germany on the 19th and Sveeeeden on the 21st. Barring an shocking upset, they will head into the next round 2-1 or even 3-0 if they get their vengeance for 2006 and for the Swedes losing the Finnish War to Russia back in 1809. (The Swedes lost and Russia occupied Finland until 1917 when they declared independence and had an ensuing civil war ... my old European history teacher Mr. Sinito would be so proud.) But, with the high powered Russian offense, Swedish netminding and Canadian ... everything, it will be tough for the Finns to regain their silver.

V2010: Czech Republic

You know, if Czechoslovakia had never broken up, they would have one helluva hockey team. Instead, the split left two good but not great sides. Where the Slovaks seem to slowly getting better and better, the Czechs are certainly tumbling down the hill from their 1998 Olympic gold. They released their roster today and it will be competitive but really has little chance to medal.

There have been persistent rumours that former Ranger captain Jaromir Jagr wants one last kick of the can in the NHL before calling it quits. Whether it is with Edmonton, Pittsburgh or us, Jagr can raise his stock and prospective earnings with a good showing in Vancouver. He may be getting older and slower, but he is still one of the best offensive talents in the last 20 years.

Jagr will be far from alone on offense with Marty Havlat, Patrik Elias, Martin Erat and Milan Michalek all capable of scoring off the wings. I would be remiss if I left out Tomas Fleischmann, who keeps getting better and better for the Capitals but I must say I was suprised to see him and not Florida's Frolik. The Czechs aren't that deep down the middle but Tomas Plekanec has been great this season for Montreal, Boston's David Krejci seems to have bounced back from surgery well and Josef Vasicek knows the North American game all too well.

The defensive corps also is quite familiar with the smaller NHL ice as all but one of them play in the best league on earth. Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Filip Kuba, Milan's bother Zbynek Michalek and Jan Hejda - if he is healthy - are all capable of competing against top talent and getting the puck up to those wingers.

The Dominator won't be behind them but even without Hasek, the Czech net will be well defended. Florida's Tomas Vokoun has a solid 2.62 gaa and .922 thus far this season despite defensive beast Jay Bouwmeester jumping ship to Calgary in the offseason. And his backup will likely be Atlanta upstart Ondrej Pavelec, who has been nothing short of exceptional at times this season. That being said, those two will have their hands full with the elite offenses coming at them.

The Czech open with the Slovaks on February 17th, face Latvia on the 19th and Russia on the 21st so they could escape the opening round 2-1 if Vokoun can stop the high-powered Slovak offense with a almost-certain win and loss in their next two games. With Gabby on the Slovaks, I would say that is a big IF.

V2010: Switzerland

Swiss. I love saying that word. Swisssssss. However, I don't think many will love watching the Swisssss hockey team play in Vancouver, at least not if they are rooting for them.

They released their roster this morning and it is pretty punchless. Just one of the 12 forwards plays in North America and overall 16 of the 23 players on the roster play in the Swiss league. Let's face it, players head to Switzerland when they are either lazy, soft or both because it is a easy-going, laid back league with little physical play. Canadian-born Hnat Domenichelli is a good example - the guy was a nothing for Hartford and has made himself quite the career in Lugano. Remarkably former Montreal Canadien Paul DiPietro was not included on the roster as was Alexander Daigle. I would have thought that Daigle would have gotten himself a Swiss passport by now. Ranger summer signing Andres Ambühl is the only other offensive 'name' outside of Domenichelli and he has yet to impress down in Hartford.

Despite the dearth up front, Switzerland boasts a decent back end (almost like Jessica Biel ... well, I guess not that nice). I hate to say it but Islander defenseman Mark Streit is underrated and he will lead a defensive corps with Flyers Ducks prospect Lucas Sbisa and Canadiens prospect Yannick Weber - and both kids have tasted NHL life before so they won't be unprepared. In net Ducks semi-starter Jonas Hiller is joined by Martin Gerber (if he heals from that scary KHL injury in time) and former Dallas backup Tobias Stephan.

The Swiss will need all the help they can get if they are to beat the Americans on the 16th (I'm trying to get a ticket, anyone care to help a brother out?) and the Canadians on the 18th. They close out the opening round against Norway on the 20th which may amount to a good, competitive game.

V2010: Germany

It's been announced today that the Germans will invade North America next month with this roster. There are plenty of WWII barbs to be made but I will refrain and keep it to pucks.

There are a few NHLers on the roster and just one in the most important position: goal. With Olaf Kolzig's retirement, there are no NHL-level starting netminders to backstop the German side but Thomas Greiss, the backup to Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose, will be called upon to take the mantle. Greiss had good showings his last two Sharks games and is still learning the ropes but he should be able to keep the Germans competitive. His old buddy from their AHL days Dimitri Pätzold is currently playing in the DEL and should back him up.

Outside of the German crease there is some NHL players but not too many. Marcel Goc plays with Nashville nowadays and has been red hot of late. He has 10 points in his last seven games and should be a nice complement to Boston's Marco Sturm. Shockingly (to me at least) Buffalo's Jochen Hecht was left off the roster - leaving Sturm and Goc as the only NHL forwards. On defense Christoph Schubert was left off but there will at least be Christian Ehrhoff and Dennis Seidenberg to help Greiss out. Goc's Nashville teammate Alexander Sulzer is also on the German blueline but despite watching six Predator games this season, I have no idea who he is. So that says something I believe.

Greiss will have to be on his toes as the Germans will have a tough road out of the opening round. They open with Sweden on February 17th, face the Finns on the 19th and end up against Belarus on the 20th. Two almost certain losses and what should be a tough battle against the Kostitsyns that I feel the Germans will lose. Like WWII. Haha.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Peepin' Foes: Philadelphia Flyers

Somewhat lost amid my giddiness over the upcoming Olympics is the team that is the usual focus of this blog. While they rarely bring that same kind of joy of late, I guess I will still cover them. After having their four game winning streak snapped by the Islanders (of all teams, dammit), the Rangers are back in action on Wednesday at home against the Flyers (7 p.m. on MSG2).

Where We Are: Even with Atlanta in eighth place in the East with 40 points on a 18-16-4 record. One point behind seventh place Montreal with three games in hand over the Habs.

Where They Are: Philly is two points back so they can pull even with the win. The Flyers have won three straight after being the Isles 2-1 on Sunday. Guess we roughed the Isles up enough to give the Flyers the win. We roughed the Flyers up in the snow game on Saturday the 19th so they will be looking for revenge. Ok, we didn't rough them up so much as take advantage of their disarray but they appear to have gotten their ship righted so they won't be as easy an opponent.

Who To Watch For: Babyface Briere and Cuckold Carter each scored a goal against Carolina and followed it up with a goal and an assist against the Isles. Danny Carcillo and Arron Asham will certainly lead the Bullies as they attempt to injure Gaborik. And you always have to keep tabs on Chris Pronger, as he is the dirtiest player in the NHL not named Ruutu. I would say Ruutu or Brashear but Brashear isn't dirty anymore, he just isn't much of anything at all.

What To Watch For: Blair Betts and Mike Richards shutting down the Ranger power play. Carolina cast-off Michael Leighton - he of the 5 OT, 98 save losing performance in the AHL playoffs two years ago - was brought in by Philly two weeks ago and promptly backstopped them to their last three wins. James van Riemsdyk has essentially played himself out of the Calder conversation with one goal in his last 20 games but the big kid could surprise.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: Another full Garden of Ranger fans like we had on Saturday. Hank to be dominant yet again. Avery to out-pester Ian Laperriere. A damned goal by Chris Higgins. Someone, anyone, to fill Vinny Prospal's ice time admirably. Someone, anyone, to take the pressure off of Gabby and make the Flyers pay for taking runs at him. The Rangers to send the Flyers to Fenway with a loss, and thus adding a negative mark to the NHL and NBC for putting such a poor choice of an opponent on the ice against the Bruins in the league's most-viewed game.

Also Check Out: Flyer Files is a MSM blog, SBN hosts Broad Street Hockey and you can stop by The 700 Level.

V2010: Latvia

The Latvians are coming! The Latvians are coming! Perhaps the best fanbase in sport will head to Vancouver to support their country in February. The Latvian Ice Hockey Federation named their roster today and, frankly, it isn't all that deep. But that doesn't mean they won't be competitive.

Most of the team already plays together on Dinamo Riga. If you have never seen the Riga jerseys then you gotta check them out. Here is the team's homepage. Riga is the lone Latvian entry into the KHL and represents the nation in the Russian league. They wear the same maroon and grey colours as the national team and have a beautiful crest with lions on either side of a stylized D topped by three stars, symbolizing regional parts of Latvia: Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale. There are lion shoulder patches and the Riga skyline on the bottom. One of my favourite sweaters on the planet. And, remarkably one I don't own yet. Hmmm, gotta change that.

Oh, yeah, we were talking about the Olympic team. Sure they don't have Washington Capitals goaltending coach/Latvian national hero Arthurs Irbe in net anymore but that doesn't mean that they will be trounced as badly as their juniors were at the hands of the Canadians at the WJC. While Scotty Hockey favourite Karlis Skrastins isn't likely to find the same offensive success as he against Detroit two weeks ago, he is still a rock-solid defenseman who will anchor the maroon blueline with Philadelphia Flyers rookie Oskars Bartulis. Former Ranger Sandis Ozolinsh was left off of the roster and will have to watch the Games from a bar somewhere (oh! ouch! snap!)

There are no NHLers on offense but a pair of guys from the AHL. You've never heard of them and it doesn't really matter who they are because of they score, it will be a shock. The only name you may recall is Herberts Vasiljevs, who made the North American rounds around the turn of the century and recorded all of 51 NHL games while spending time in the IHL, AHL, ECHL and Colonial Hockey League. He has been in Germany for the last six seasons and averages a point per game there but, let's face it, the German DEL is a step below the leagues in Sweden and Russia.

The Latvians open up with a really tough match against those ridiculously-stacked Russians on February 16th - the game is at 9pm Vancouver time but I think its worth staying up to watch. At least I hope so as I bought a ticket to go. Then the scheduling gods weren't kind to them as they play their other two games on back-to-back days: they face the Czechs on the 19th and the Slovaks on the 20th.

V2010: Slovakia

It must be said that Slovakia will have some outstanding firepower in an offense led by Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik and solid defense anchored by Norris winner in Zdeno Chara. But that that doesn't mean that this roster is going to win a medal.

Slovakia will not have an easy go of it in Vancouver but certainly has a chance to survive the first round if they can open with a win in the grudge match against the Czech Republic on February 17th. You can preeeeetty much guarantee a loss against Russia on the 18th (I'll be there!) but a win over the Latvians on the 20th is very possible.

Gabby should be great playing with Hossa but you have to be holding your breath every second of every one of his shifts for who will be the Jarkko Ruutu to his Jaromir Jagr. Hossa has been nothing short of outstanding since coming back from injury for Chicago and should be bolstered by his brother Marcel. The lesser Hossa, the former Ranger, is spending his second season playing with Dinamo Riga in Latvia and - you had better sit down for this - is averaging a point per game this season. Yep, Marcel Hossa: 24 goals, 14 assists in 37 games. Our summer signing of Tyler Arnason, by the way, left Harford and is playing with Marcel on Riga and has five points in 12 games. Glad we spent money on that guy.

But I digress, back to the Slovaks: Gabby will have former Wild teammates Branko Radivojevic and Pavol Demitra, if Demitra ever gets healthy. Aside from those guys, Ziggy Palffy will get to show the world how much gas he has left, Miroslav Satan will show the NHL what they are missing (no one wanted to sign poor Miro this summer, boo hoo) and Richard Zednik will show the NHL that he doesn't miss them. All in all, the wings have some fire and some firepower but the Slovaks will be weak down the middle with Demitra (maybe), Michal Handzus, Jozef Stumpel and Martin Cibak.

The blueline won't be weak, not with Chara there. Bruins fans will likely be pissed as the Slovaks will call upon the big man to play some big minutes. He will have some help though, with Lubomir Visnovsky there to move the puck and the Andrejs - Meszaos and Sekera - to help stop it. Milan Jurcina has to be happy to hear that he was included on the team, what with Washington banishing him to Columbus yesterday in the deal for Jason Chimera. Ranger fans may remember Richard Lintner from back in the dark days of the 2002-03 season but really, he wasn't very good.

The final wall of defense will be shared by two goaltenders who have been trying but have never outright won starting jobs in the NHL - Peter Budaj and Jaro Halak. Halak, at times, is outstanding and Budaj, well, he has an outstanding mask. The third guy, Rastislav Stana, is a nobody. And all in all nobody should look past this Slovak side but it would be a bit surprising if they were to make it out of Vancouver with a medal.

V2010: Norway

Norway released their roster for the team that will go 0-3 in Vancouver. I know that is being harsh but c'mon, they face Canada on the 16th, the U.S. on the 18th (got a ticket, woo hoo!) and Switzerland on the 20th - if they win any of them it will be an upset.

Risto Pakarinen has the write-up at that link above and is far more knowledgeable than I about Scandic hockey. Taking a look myself, only six of them play in the GET-ligaen, the national league, which I guess is a good thing considering the low level of talent in that circuit. The bad thing is that two of the six are two of the team's netminders - Pål Grotnes and Ruben Smith and they rank just sixth and seventh in the league. The third goalie is Andre Lysenstøen, a 21 year old kid playing in the second tier of the Finnish league.

Former Philadelphia Flyer Patrick Thoresen will head up the offense. You may remember him from when he blocked a slap shot with his balls. Damn. After finding out that his testicles were not ruptured, Thoresen spent last season in Switzerland (63 points in 48 games with Lugano) and is currently in Russia with Ufa Salavat Yulayev, where he is averaging just over a point per game (40 in 38). He will be joined by a lot of guys who make their living in Sweden, some of whom can actually score but none of whom will be able to actually score on any of Canada's goaltenders.

Thoresen jumped ship from Philly (who would blame him) but his fellow countryman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen signed there this off-season. Tollefsen should anchor the blueline despite having sprained his knee earlier this month - his 13th injury in three seasons. This guy's body clearly can't take the mileage that he puts on it as a rough-and-tumble defensive defenseman. He will certainly have a tough time in Vancouver but if he gets hurt again, at least he can say he was hurt as an Olympian.

Monday, December 28, 2009

So What Now?

If you haven't heard the news yet, Vinny Prospal will be out for around three weeks after undergoing surgery this morning. Apparently he suffered a lateral meniscus tear during the Islander game, which explains why he played so poorly. Even though he disappears for big stretches at a time, Prospal has been a big part of the Rangers this season and leaves a big void. So what can we do? This is how I see it:

*Option #1: Put Erik Christensen back into the lineup and juggle everyone else around. The Blueshirts dealt with Dubi being out, this really isn't much different. Christensen hasn't really gotten himself a chance to shine as of yet, so maybe this is the opportunity he needs. HOWEVER, January is a ridiculously busy month with 16 games so they might feel too desperate to give Crosby's former running partner a real chance - as they haven't to date.

*Option #2: Call up Corey Locke. Locke is the AHL's leading scorer with 41 points in 34 games with Hartford and has them above .500 at 16-13-5 despite poor goaltending. Valley has a 0.890 save percentage in seven games down there (he is 3-3-1 in case you were curious) and Matt Zaba has been even worse. Locke is undersized but a great puck mover and may just click with a sniper like Gabby. HOWEVER, if the Rangers call up Locke, I believe they risk losing him through waivers on the way back down, which is almost a certainty for any other team that wants to win this season's Calder Cup.

*Option #3: Trade for someone. Sather loves dealing with Phoenix, Robert Lang has 20 points in 39 games and makes just a million bucks so he would be a great fit. HOWEVER, you can be sure Maloney will ask for a high draft pick and a prospect in return - he's no dummy, especially with Sather on the ropes. Plus Phoenix is doing quite well right now despite their ownership so maybe not. Maybe an underachiever like Edmonton's Patrick O'Sullivan would be someone Sather would look at but the 24 year old is just 24 and makes more money so the cost would be high. Is he worth Bobby Sanguinetti and a pick?

*Option #4: Somehow make some cap space and swing a waiver deal with Washington for Michael Nylander. Nylander has 14 points (13 assists) in 11 games with Grand Rapids and knows New York. The Caps would love nothing better than to get rid of him and his salary. HOWEVER, even at half price, the slow 37 year old would have a $1.5 million cap hit for the rest of this season and a $2.4 million hit for next year (thanks CapGeek!).

*Option #5: Go completely off the map, make some massive trade for another half-dead, bloated loser who will hang around the Rangers neck like the albatrosses of Redden, Rozsival and Drury. HOWEVER, what kind of sane general manager would do that?

Personally, I believe that the team will go with the first option for a little while before panicking and making a move of any kind - let's face it, there are other problems that have to be dealt with as well (Kotalik, you SUCK! Three million dollars a year for three years of what? YOUUUUU SUUUUUCK!!!). But, seeing as this is Glen Sather we are talking about, I would lean towards the final option and just be pleasantly surprised if he doesn't drop the ball ...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

V2010: Sweden

The Swedes officially announced their Olympic roster today and, surprise, surprise, Henrik Lundqvist will be starting in net. Hank is one of 13 players on the roster who donned silly gold helmets and partied in the streets of Stockholm in 2006 after beating Finland in one heckuva hockey game (that YouTube is creepy with the foreign commentary and Leonard Cohen song).

The New York Times recounts that it was the amazing save by our King that ensured the gold for Sweden and he will be counted on again to play a big role for the Swedes - maybe even a bigger role than last time. Top two-way forwards Mats Sundin, Mikael Samuelsson and P.J. Axelsson are not returning. Neither are slick defensemen Niclas Havelid and Kenny Jonsson. Christian Backman was not selected for another go-around, so at least Hank has that going for him.

In all seriousness, the defensive corps in front of Hank will be much improved if they are all healthy. There will be just one Swedish-based player in that corps, Magnus Johansson - and he had a cup of coffee with Chicago - so these guys will have little trouble with the NHL-sized rink in Vancouver. Even though Nik Lidstrom sounds like he is from Michigan at this point, he is still Swedish and he is still the best defenseman to play hockey since Bobby Orr. Fellow Red Wing Nik Kronwall (KRONWALLED!) is injured but if he isn't at top speed then San Jose's Douglas Murray, he of the UberTap, will handle the physical duties. As loathesome as Johnny Oduya is as a Devil, he will also be a big help for Hank. The Swedes didn't go for youth, leaving Anton Strålman, Victor Hedman and Super Nintendo Hjalmers, Niklas Hjalmarsson, off the roster.

Sammy Pahlsson and Hank Zetterberg will be the two forwards likely to make the King's life easiest in his own zone while Tomas Holmstrom returns to make the opposing goaltenders miserable. Daniel Alfredsson was just injured before Christmas but he should be back in time, as should the never-say-die, my-foot-isn't-that-bad Peter Forsberg. The Mule, Johan Franzen, will not. Patric Hörnqvist has been a revelation for Forsberg's former team, the Preds, and he will have no pressure to perform. All of that pressure will fall on the Sedin twins, playing in their home rink. But the thought of the two of them cycling with Washington's Nicklas Backstrom should be outright scary for other teams.

Those teams will be Germany on February 17th, Belarus on the 19th (sorry guys, no Salo this time but I'll be back so hopefully I won't be a mush) and a gold medal replay against the Finns on the 21st.

18-16-4: An Undeserved Point

The New York Rangers salvaged a point tonight with a last minute goal to force overtime before falling in the extra frame and losing 3-2 to the Islanders. The Rangers didn't deserve a point but they earned one so I guess we will call that our Christmas miracle.

The stage was set for the biggest, best game of the season to date: day after Christmas, the first legitimate sell-out since opening night, facing the Islanders - the Islanders who embarrassed them just weeks ago. It could have been wonderful.

It wasn't.

Yet again the Rangers were outworked by their rivals, yet again they made Dwayne Roloson look like Patrick Roy, and yet again they sent their fans home disappointed. Don't get me wrong, there was some awesomeness in the evening. The Rangers opened the first period and ended the third with some of their best hockey of the season. They were a pleasure to watch forechecking, backchecking, matching the Islanders intensity ... but it was for all of about eight minutes. Of course, the game lasted just over 64. What a shame.


*The Islanders are younger, the Islanders are hungrier and the Islanders are better coached. And Tavares still hasn't done a damn thing in our building.

*The sheer joy that filled the Garden when Dubinsky tied it at two in the last minute is impossibly to quantify. Everyone went crazy. Even when the team was rolling earlier in that red hot start, there wasn't a single goal or save that comes close. It was the best moment of the season and it was fantastic.

*Dwayne Roloson, 36 saves and not a single difficult one. Amazing. Hank had to work a bit harder and buckled down late before losing his angle to allow Okposo to put the game-winner in off the post.

*The Rangers had several chances to get the put past Rolo but simply blew it. Chris Higgins' effort can't be questioned but the guy has reached the point where he would find it hard to find success in a house of ill repute with a full wallet.

*Line of the night, from the blue seats courtesy of my friend Rachel: "Can't we buy a goal?" "No, we don't have any room under the salary cap."

*Higgins, Cally, Avery and Dubi battled all night. Prospal rested on his two goals last game and disappeared. Gaborik let himself be marginalized. Anisimov clearly couldn't deal with the Isles physicality. Dru ... apparently his success against the Isles is limited to that dump in Uniondale. Kotalik is an outright disaster and needs to be benched again. Or set on fire.

*That would be accountability - like what Torts did to Boyle after Boyle blew a Ranger power play by dumping the puck into the stands. The BC grad hasn't contributed much of anything all season long and Torts just decided to bench him now. Ok.

*I missed much of Rangers in 60 but did Joe Micheletti really say that Kyle Okposo looked like Jarome Iginla? If so, WTF?

*And WTF is Brashear still doing on the roster? It takes Sean Avery to fight and get life into the building to start and then the goon gets ice time with the team down 2-0 in the lifeless second period and yet he circles aimlessly and goes back to the bench. What a waste.

*What were the Rangers doing constantly dumping the puck in and going to change? They started off the third period and the overtime doing it. They were in their own zone for 15, 20 seconds and got the puck out of the zone. One guy hustles it into the Islander end or chases after the dump and was left isolated as his linemates went for a change. Was it Tortorella limiting minutes? Was it their conditioning?

*Just reread this and noticed that I asked a lot of questions but I believe that is what we are working with as Ranger fans. Which team are they? The one that presses the action and scores big goals or is it the bloated corpse floating in the East River?

*Talking about corpses, Rozsival got himself two assists so he will likely not get the Redden treatment anytime soon despite being just as deserving. Redden ... well, do I have to say anything? Anything at all? Hobey played alright, as did Staalsie. Girardi and MDZ don't have any chemistry and it showed. MDZ keeps going out of position to make hits and is making a lot of turnovers but his effort and skill can not be denied. As I was reminded earlier this evening, defensemen usually take three seasons or so before they finally 'get it' so just imagine what he will be like when everything clicks!

*Nate Thompson, still a dirtbag. Brendan Witt, still looks like a dirtbag. I would say that he should get a haircut and donate his hair to Locks of Love but what kid would want that nasty, stringy mop of his?

*Stephen Walcom started the game as the lone referee. So how is it that with one less zebra on the ice the officials managed to get in the way of the play so many times?

*How hard is it to count to five? Apparently quite difficult as both teams took dumb too many men penalties.

*There are few things in this world that infuriate me more than seeing happy Islander fans. Violence against children. People other than me winning the lotto. The ever-increasing bill for my season tickets. Yeah, I think that's about it.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Dwayne Roloson - 36 saves.
2-Brandon Dubinsky - two goals.
1-Kyle Okposo - one goal and two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Avery - Sure he got a pair of Avery Rules penalties with his unsportsmanlike and his goalie interference call but he seemed like the one Ranger who really wanted to beat the Islanders. Sure he pulls this schtick against other teams, but the fight and the multiple scrums certainly seemed to be personal to me.
2-Dubi - He won faceoffs, he went to the net and he paid the price to score. Imagine that, a Ranger battling for a goal.
1-Okposo - Whatever.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Ho Ho Ho, Time For You To Go

So I've been watching the marathon of Rangers In 60 on MSG this Christmas evening and this last hour was last season's Game 4 against the Caps, the stellar 2-1 win in the Garden. This was the game where Tortorella sent Sean Avery out onto the ice at the end of the evening and Avery took a penalty - thus setting the snowball rolling that resulted in the loss of the series.

But I'm not addressing that now because Tortorella's egotistic, incompetent attempts at accountability have been well documented (both Redden and Kotalik deserve to go back on the shelf). Instead, I decided to post asking the question when will Sather do something to rectify his mistake of signing Donald Brashear.

Yes, I know that getting Blair Betts and Colton Orr back is an impossibility, but it is (well past) time that the team cuts ties with Brashear. The 37 year old goon has a $1.4 million cap hit for this season and next and can be replaced for half that. As the team deals with the cap crunch, dismissing Brashear goes from something we want to happen to something we need to happen.

Brashear has dealt with a variety of mystery injuries ever since he tussled with Orr earlier this season. He has still dressed for 27 of the Rangers' 37 games and has recorded one assist, 13 shots on goal, a -7 plus/minus, six fights and 58 PIM. Brashear is averaging around six and a half minutes of ice time with a low of 2:35 and a high of 11:37 (shudder).

For a point of comparison, Orr - at a $400k smaller cap hit - has played all 38 of Toronto's games. He has one goal (a game-winner), two assists, has 23 shots, is -3, has 10 fights and 82 PIM. Orr's lowest ice time is 1:28, his highest is 12:11 and averages 10 or so more seconds on the ice than Brash.

Now, that is an unfair comparison seeing as Orr is clearly entering the prime of his career and Brash is long past his. And, as I said before, there is no way to reacquire our former tough guy.

Devin DiDiomete, Hartford's resident goon, is not the answer but there are other solutions on the farm. Dane Byers proved he can keep up with the NHL pace in his five games earlier this season. He has 17 points in 26 games with five fights and 47 PIM. Brodie Dupont and Justin Soryal also have five fight majors a piece but don't have the NHL experience. All three would have less than a million dollar cap hit and have one thing that Brashear has proven he no longer has: hunger. They will do everything they can to prove they deserve a spot, checking everything that moves, standing up for their teammates and fighting when needed, not when the mood strikes them.

How much longer will Sather's stupid pride stop him from seeing the obvious? If Torts can shelve Redden - albeit temporarily - Sather should be able shelve Brashear ... permanently.

It's December 25th ...

Merry Christmas folks, and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

V2010: Russia

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming! And they are going to be one fierce, offensive powerhouse. The Russian dude in Puck Daddy's stable, Dmitry Chesnokov, broke the roster for the former Soviet nation.

They are, as expected, freakin' sick up front with a ridiculously talented top nine forwards: Ovechkin, Datsyuk, Malkin, Kovalchuk, Semin, Fedorov, Radulov, Morozov and Afinogenov. I believe that, roughly translated from Russian, that is: goals, goals, goals, goals, goals, goals, goals, goals and goals. I could be wrong, but I don't think so.

The blueline is a bit weaker with a major flaw in it - Dmitri Kalinin. Outside of the folks at Direct TV, everyone here in the States have realized that Kalinin is a colossal waste of space. But to balance him out the Russians have the toughness and defensive capability of Anton Volchenkov and Fedor Tyutin (I hate you Glen Sather). Andrei Markov is finally healthy, as is Sergei Gonchar so the Soviets have people to move the puck up to that stable of studs on offense.

In net will be a personal fav in Ilya Bryzgalov and shouldhavewontheVezinaifnotforfatboyMmmmaaarrrttttyyyy Evgeni Nabokov, even though Nabby is a Kazah (damned stupid IIHF rules). With twitchy Khabibulin injured, the press box slot will be held by Ranger-beater Semyon Varlamov. Good for the kid to make the cut and get a great seat for what should be some incredible games.

I will have a seat at two of the three in pool play as well. The Russians face off against Latvia on the 16th, Slovakia on the 18th and the Czechs on the 21st. That is some tough competition but just look at some of the goals they scored last year at the world championships. Damn. Should be some good hockey, less than two months until we find out!

Scotty Hockey's Team USA 2010

Since the announcement of the official Team USA roster is just days away, and the Rangers don't play again until Saturday, I figured it was time to take the reins of the American program and release my starting lineup.

Two years ago in this space I had:
Patrick Kane-Paul Stastny-Zach Parise
Dustin Brown-Chris Drury-Phil Kessel
Chris Higgins-Tim Connolly-Brian Gionta
Erik Cole-David Legwand-Kyle Okposo

Brian Rafalski-Matt Niskanen
Mike Komisarek-Jack Johnson
Tom Gilbert-Ryan Suter

Ryan Miller, DP, Jimmy Howard
Click the link for some of the explanations that I made at the time. But times change and so has my selections. Without further ado, here is the 23 man team that I would ice in Vancouver now:
Zach Parise-Paul Stastny-Jamie Langenbrunner
Dustin Brown-Tim Connolly-Phil Kessel
Ryan Malone-Joe Pavelski-Patrick Kane
David Backes-Ryan Kesler-Bill Guerin
Dustin Byfuglien

Brian Rafalski-Mike Komisarek
Ryan Whitney-Brooks Orpik
Keith Ballard-Ryan Suter
Erik Johnson

Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas, Jimmy Howard
But back to the USA roster. I wanted to get Ryan Callahan in there in the worst way but, let's face it, even with it being a Scotty Hockey/Burke team there are already a lot of grind-it-out energy guys included there in Langenbrunner, Brown, Malone, Backes and Guerin. And having Byfuglien's size as the extra forward is too enticing to pass up considering they are playing on NHL-sized rinks. No Drury, no Gionta, no Gomez because their times have all passed. Even with Dru's resurgence last week, he hasn't been clutch since he left Buffalo three years ago and the Montreal midgets haven't ranked among the elite in even longer. My first three lines have two skill guys with a grit guy on the wing and all three guys on the fourth line combine both talents.

Johnson slides in as the extra defender because, let's face it, he is still a kid - especially having missed a year with the golf cart accident. Ballard is playing big minutes for Florida and handling many of the tough assignments well he is more-than-capable as a No.5 guy alongside 'legacy' Ryan Suter. Reuniting Orpik and Whitney is a no-brainer, as is combining the offense of Rafalski with the defense of Komisarek.

As for in goal, Miller and Thomas are guaranteed to make it if they are healthy so Howard gets the third spot to observe and learn for his shot in 2014 and beyond.

By the way, after combing through NHL rosters, I saw that the Minnesota Wild don't have a single American-born player on their team. How is that possible? There is just something wrong with that. So what is wrong - or right - with my selections for America 2010?

18-16-3: Merry Christmas!

The Rangers ensured that New York would have a happy holiday by beating the Florida Panthers 4-1 tonight at the Garden. They extended their win streak to four games and broke a five game winless streak at home. Ho freakin' ho, it may just be a merry Christmas.

There are plenty of notes so I won't waste more time, especially as I missed the first airing of Ranger Rewind and am trying to do this from memory:

*So theeeeere is Vinny Prospal, coming in late behind the play to bang in the trash. After far too many games of being invisible in a bad way, Prospal was invisible in a good way to get to the Florida net untouched to finish off a pair of plays and score a pair of goals. Given the attention that Gaborik garners, Prospal should be able to get loose like this more often and tonight he used it to his advantage.

*Gaborik, by the way, is outstanding. He doesn't have the presence or the combination of size and strength that Jagr had but he certainly has the scoring ability. We were screaming for a penalty shot after Drury was hooked at center ice but Gaborik swooped in to get the puck and race in to sweep a backhand through the Czech Vokoun. Jagr was rarely fun to watch, playing a power possession game; Gaborik is worth the price of admission with that speed and that shot. Well, maybe not the price in NY, but the price in most other cities.

*Anyone else panic when they saw Hank down on the ice holding his head in the third period? He made a save and a Panther kicked him on the head going by. Luckily Hank was able to shake it off after a minute and continue but it does go to show just how fragile the future of our franchise is. If Hank goes down, we are done.

*As typical of any fan, while I was calling for blood for that Panther nailing Hank, I was cheering Sean Avery for his work all evening. Avery opened the night with a shift where he swooped past Vokoun three times, making some form of contact each time. A little bit of a bump, a little bit of a slash, another 'accidental' bump ... and from there on out Florida spent an inordinate amount of time going after him - twice taking roughing penalties for chasing him in scrums. It has gone beyond being a theory: when Avery is being Avery, the Rangers are winners. When he is castrated by an incompetent coach, he isn't playing his game and the Rangers aren't winning.

*Mike Duco may think he is tough, but he is no Avery. And big Steve MacIntyre barely played. That's a shame as it would have been nice to see him knock Brashear out but what can you do? Brashear was still able to wander around aimlessly, missing checks and being a complete liability on ice losing pucks and looking clueless. So glad Sather signed him for his 'offensive upside' ...

*Plenty of people have spoken up Arty Anisimov's offensive upside but it is evenings like tonight that cast some doubt. The big kid, who is more Jagr than Gaborik, had a poor game. He lost a slew of faceoffs and was mostly missing from the Ranger attack. Brandon Dubinsky was everything that Arty wasn't. Dubi was certainly missed and his return has taken some of the burden off of Drury, allowing the captain to contribute more and score yet again.

*Just want to give some credit to the opponent, specifically former Ranger Dominic Moore. Moore was the best Panther on the ice, skating hard and playing well on both sides of the puck. No Dominic, not forget aboot it, forget abaht it.

*The Rangers had a in-arena gimmick where they had people text in their favourite holiday present. The results ranged to the expected Ranger jerseys and tickets to the unexpected chocolate menorahs. But the winner, by far, was the leopard print Snuggie.

*Also ridiculous was Wade Redden having yet another bad game. I think it is about time he goes back into the press box because the first benching clearly hasn't done anything. Ill advised passes, blown coverages, turnovers ... this guy is a disgrace. Ales Kotalik? Even worse.

*On the other hand, Hobey Gilroy was better than he was against the Canes. Tonight he was used on the power play quite a bit and didn't look out of place. The kid just needs to learn not to listen to the crowd and not shoot when there is someone standing right in front of him.

*Rozy regressed back to his terrible self - the lone goal against was all his fault - but Dan Girardi stepped up his game and played quite well, despite taking a bad penalty. I hardly noticed Staalsie but I think that in this instance, it is not a bad thing.

*I think it is safe enough to say right now that Ryan Callahan will make Team USA. Even with the Rangers suffering through some awful experiences of late, Cally has never stopped skating. I think Chris Higgins keeps trying as well but he doesn't have the same impact that Cally has.

*Big Brian Boyle had no impact, and yet again leads one to wonder why the Rangers picked up Erik Christensen if they are going to bench him for Boyle. The big BC grad doesn't use his size and doesn't do much of anything. His penalty killing is average and he adds zero offense.

*As I was asked by someone not in the building, there was indeed an "asshole" chant late in the third period. It was initiated by the crowd for a pair of Islander-wearing idiots walking around the entire building on the concourse between the 200 and 300 level seats. Clowns. The crowd, by the way, was far from a sell-out yet again but more numerous than the audiences at the last two home games. And many of the fans who did show up left early once the Rangers went up 4-1. I will never understand why people leave sporting events before they are over (outside of having to take care of little kids).

*Maybe the guys wanted to start their holiday early but their post-victory center ice salute was quite brief and halfhearted, if I do say so. Kinda hard to cheer the win, get your camera out and take the picture before they are already off the ice. I know it is minutia but it was a tad disappointing. Still great to see the win though ...

*PHW Three Stars
3-Chris Drury - one goal and one assist.
2-Vinny Prospal - two goals.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 33 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Avery - When the Panthers are concentrating their efforts on Avery, they are giving more room to the other guys.
2-Gaborik - I'm racking my mind for the last time the Rangers had a slick goal scoring sniper like Gaborik. Mike Gartner? Pierre Larouche?
1-Hank - All hail! No soft goals, several big saves to keep the game close and another win. My buddy Pete pointed out that Florida listened to the scouting report and tested Hank's glove but he passed that test tonight, keeping the Cats out.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

V2010: Belarus

Two years ago I posted what I thought the Team USA roster would look like with what appears will be several good hits and several big misses. It is one of the most viewed things I have ever done here so I believe that others are as interested in the international tournament as I am. That being said, I plan on doing quite a bit of coverage on Vancouver 2010 in this space - including several game recaps directly from Vancouver! But before we get there, the rosters are being released piecemeal - mighty Mirtle has the breakdown of dates - and today the first one was released: Belarus.

The full roster is here but the notables are the Kostitsyn brothers, Toronto's Mikhail Grabovsky, former Penguin Konstantin Koltsov and the ever-young Ruslan Salei. Former Ranger farmhand Vlad Denisov will join Salei on the blueline in front of amazin' Andrei Mezin. I saw Mezin play years ago firsthand in the UHL and the 2002 Olympic Games and the guy can really be lights out at times, one of those Cujo-esque netminders who play better the more rubber they face. But he is getting older and the competition will be quite fierce so he likely will not be able to win any games on his own.

Belarus play Finland on February 17th, Sweden on the 19th (I'll be there) and Germany on the 20th. They should be competitive but, barring a Tommy Salo appearance, aren't likely to advance past pool play.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Peepin' Foes: Florida Panthers

The Rangers return to the Garden on Wednesday night to take on the Florida kitty cats at 7 p.m. (on MSG).

Where We Are: About to be tested by a real team. After taking wins from three bad teams in the Isles, Flyers and Canes, the Rangers are facing the red hot Panthers. And they are playing at home, where they have suuuuuucked. I mean suuuuuucked. When they make diehards question their loyalty and send them away in droves, there is something really wrong. The team, coddled in their exclusive practice facility, ambles into their arena and doesn't play with the same passion that they do on the road. And, thus, they are 1-7-1 in their last nine on Broadway. That's money well spent by folks like us. Ugh. Almost $1,000 spent to see one win. Shoot me.

Where They Are: They inexplicably still haven't retired John Vanbiesbrouck's No. 34. That pisses me off. Granted, if they put him up they would be somewhat obligated to put Bure and Luongo eventually but neither of those guys got the team to the Cup finals - some place they will likely not return to anywhere soon. David Booth hasn't returned from his headaches but the Panthers still are 5-1-1 in their last seven and are holding eighth place in the conference - two points ahead of the Blueshirts, who have two games in a row.

Who To Watch For: Michael Frolik has nine points in his last seven games after putting up three against the pitiful Flyers. Stephen Weiss has been even hotter with four points in that game and 28 in his last 20 - he was held off the scoresheet just three times during that span. Nathan Horton was shut out in five of his last 22 games but still put up 26 points. That's insane. Also kinda nuts is Bryan McCabe fighting Mike Richards. After being mocked so much by Toronto media, McCabe is fulfilling that C on his jersey pretty well down in the sun, taking on the guy who took out Booth. I wish we had a good captain.

What To Watch For: If Torts decides to match the Drury line against the Weiss line to try to forecheck out their fire. How many of the tough guys dress for Florida and how they attempt to intimidate the soft Rangers. Steve Macintyre is no joke and Mike Duco has no brains - either one could do serious damage to the Rangers considering that they don't have a real enforcer; mongoloid Brashear is 0-6 this season with a loss to Macintyre. Greg Campbell reviving his history with Brandon Dubinsky.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: Gabby being Gabby and Hank being the King. Dubi building off that goal against Carolina. Higgins to keep trying, the goals will come ... eventually. Hobey step up his game after a mostly-invisible return from Hartford. Rozy and Redden still not hurting the team - still seeing as they weren't bad last game, with Rozy being actually *gulp* good). Christensen getting good minutes and making the most of them.

Also Check Out: The Rat Trick, On Frozen Pond (different from the Caps one) and SBN's Litter Box Cats.

Monday, December 21, 2009

17-16-3: Three In A Row!

There are many reasons to be happy and there are many reasons to be cautious when considering the Rangers 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes tonight. The Rangers got even strength goals, got great goaltending and won their third game in a row. All reason to celebrate. However, don't get too giddy. Marian Gaborik is carrying the Ranger offense singlehandedly, Henrik Lundqvist has had to be great in these games and the last three Ranger opponents have all sucked.

The Rangers turned the puck over time after time, there were Hurricanes getting open in good scoring positions left and right and the penalty kill was called upon three times to make up for lazy gaffes. Don't get me wrong, I am quite happy to see signs of life coming from the Rangers, but I refuse to get my hopes up as this franchise has crushed them time and time again. Teasing us with bursts of skill. Tempting with wins. Then looking DOA when really tested. These guys just beat the worst team in the NHL, how can you get too excited? They will face Florida on Wednesday - the Panthers beating up on Philly tonight - and the Isles on Saturday. We will see where we stand after those two ...

More on this one:

*You know what I love? When Micheletti rambles on about nothing, making himself giggle like a schoolgirl while play is going on. Love it. I also love that he gushes about Wade Redden and Donald Brashear every chance he gets. He definitely knows which way the wind blows.

*Michal Rozsival is still not No. 1 or 2 defenseman and certainly is not worth his contract. However, it must be said that he has been more decisive of late than he was to start this season (or all of last year) and was the best Blueshirt blueliner on this night. I can't believe I actually said that but it's true. His positioning was as good as it has ever been, he made smart passes and knock the puck into or past Hank. Which is always a good quality for a defenseman.

*Hobey and Wade returned and both fared fine. Hobey made a great pass early in the first and then faded into the background, which is fine for a young defenseman. Wade was more visible, if only because Micheletti pointed out everything he did whenever he did it. Staal, Rozy and Girardi took all of the hard minutes so we will have to wait a little bit longer to see if the demoting/benching worked.

*Tortorella kept switching Enver Lisin and Ales Kotalik between the third and fourth lines. The two were quite interchangeable with Lisin showing a bit more jump and Kotalik a little more physicality but otherwise they were nothing. That is sad when a $3 million dollar forward is playing every bit as good as a borderline NHLer, but at least he didn't give the Canes any breakaways.

*What can you say about Sergei Samsonov's goal? Dude pulled an old school wrap around with Hank too far out of his crease to get back. The best part about it is that Ward over-committed just as Hank did seconds later, allowing Gabby to tie the game with an open shot from the slot.

*So there was Vinny Prospal! After several games of invisibility he was spotted turning the puck over a few times and taking a bad penalty. It is a long season but it seems like a heckuva long time since he was relevant. He collected an assist on the tic-tac-toe Dubi goal but for the most part has been a shadow of the player who started the season with something to prove.

*Anyone else harbour some hatred for Cullen and Ward? Reverse carpetbaggers.

*I enjoyed watching Rod Brind'Amour play from his St. Louis days but his time has clearly gone. His skills have withered to the point where my dad figures that Brind'Amour is still in hockey either playing for the love of the game or the paycheque ($3.6 mil) ...

*At least Erik Christensen is collecting a NHL salary, considering he isn't getting a real chance at being a NHL player. Putting the poor guy over the boards with Donald Brashear is just criminal. Christensen forechecked well, actually carried the puck well, and on one rush got into scoring position but dished the puck to Brashear. I know you will be surprised to hear it, but the puck did not end up in the Carolina net. Amazing.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Henrik Lundqvist - 32 saves.
2-Brandon Dubinsky - one goal and one assist.
1-Marian Gaborik - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Rozy - Seriously, Rozy was good. He even bailed out Staalsie when he went chasing after a few hits. I am as surprised as you are.
2-Gabby - His talent was never questioned, just his ability to stay healthy. He has been healthy and he has been showing off his talent. And damn, that man is good.
1-Hank - One bad goal, no shots over his shoulder and several stellar saves.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Peepin' Foes: Carolina Hurricanes

After being stuck in Philadelphia for an extra day, the Rangers headed to Carolina today to prepare for their faceoff against the Hurricanes in Raleigh at 7 p.m. on MSG.

Where We Are: Remarkably two points out of a playoff spot after two straight wins. And the surprising part is that the Rangers actually have two games in hand on Florida, the team they trail for eighth. Rangers. Games in hand. Definitely a nice change of pace.

Where They Are: Last place in the NHL but slowly turning things around. After struggling with major injuries (Ward and Staal) and major disappointments (Brind'Amour), Carolina is getting healthy and has won two of their last three games.

Who To Watch For: The older Staal brother has 12 points in his last eight games and Pat Dwyer (who?) has two goals in each of his last two games but the biggest threat is probably Tuomo Ruutu, who always seems to do well against the Blueshirts. The ageless Ray Whitney is still around as is our old friend Matt Cullen, who just scored a goal in the Canes last game. But no Erik Cole, no Joe Corvo and no Chad LaRose.

What To Watch For: Cam Ward has given up 15 goals in the four games since returning from injury but is certainly capable of turning back into the stellar netminder that won a Cup and was outstanding last season. See how Wade Redden responds to his benching in his first game back. See if Chris Drury and Arty Anisimov can turn back-to-back games with goals into legitimate goal streaks.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: Dare I say it? Three in a row? Three in a row. There, I said it. And that is all I hope to see.

Also Check Out: Red and Black Hockey, Canes Country and Lord Stanley's Blog.

Hobey's Back!

New York Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather announced today that defenseman Matt Gilroy has been recalled from the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL). Gilroy, 25, has recorded four assists in five games with Hartford this season.

Thanks, Dude ...

Because of my unhealthy jersey habit, I am a huge fan of the blog Third String Goalie. Jeff does a helluva job with hockey history and linking it to the massive sweater collection he owns (and dreams about owning). He puts up a new post every day and is the first blog I check every morning afternoon when I wake up.

He is a Minnesota man, something I would not have a problem with ... except that in today's case, he selected a special moment in Wild history to honour: the anniversary of Marian Gaborik's five-goal game.


Funny how my (now pic-less) take on it back then hasn't changed. But then again, how can I be mad? Gabby is ours now, so we've won in the end. Right??

Saturday, December 19, 2009

So Much For Celebrating

Just got his news in:
New York Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather announced today that defensemen Bobby Sanguinetti and Ilkka Heikkinen have been assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL).
Guess that means Redden will return on Monday. Maybe Hobey Gilroy too?

16-16-3: Two In A Row!

There are two ways to look at the 2-1 Ranger win over the Flyers today:

1 - The Blueshirts got some goals, they killed big penalties and Hank held his ground.
2 - Peter Laviolette is no Freddy Shero and can't get Philly's toughness to work for them. They didn't play like a team and rarely got off a good coordinated attack.

Frankly, both are true. Hank was huge yet again through first and third period deluges - think he got any extra satisfaction from stopping young Finnish forward Mika Pyorala with a sweet glove save? Jeff Carter got off a lot of good shots but few of his Flyer teammates went to the slot to get at rebounds. Ian Laperriere was barely noticed, Dan Carcillo was all over the ice in the first period, Scott Hartnell in the second and Arron Asham in the third but they never mounted a physical attack that wore down the Rangers or forced them into doing anything dumb.

Sucks for them, good for us. This bunch of Blueshirts needed to show that they had a pulse in the worst way and are doing it. We will just have to pray that they can somehow keep the paddles handy when the inevitable flatlining returns.

Case in point: after Wednesday's loss at the Garden, I asked, "Remember when Staal was showing signs of future Norris as he was the one defenseman in the entire NHL to be able to match up with and negate Alex Ovechkin? That seems so long ago ... oh wait, it was only before Tortorella came here." Well, Staal turned back the clock in this one. He did have that one rush where he wristed the puck on net off the left wing but that was it. Staalsie concentrated on working in the Ranger zone and outright starred, giving Hank time and space to make a lot of big saves.

Some observations:

*Wade Redden benched for two games, Rangers win two games. Coincidence?

*Is it any surprise that Brian Boyle gets a mystery injury in the opening period of a game where he was being tested physically? Gets though one scrum and then bails with what they made out to be a groin injury (or lack of groin or maybe he just soiled himself). That guys has been six-foot-seven of nothing all too often this season.

*Talking about underutilized size, Arty Anisimov made up for his horrific first period penalty with a good, lucky goal in the second period. He went around the net, lost the puck but was able to get it back and threw it towards the net where it hit a Flyer and went in. Two goals in two games from just putting his shoulder down and working around the net. Hopefully it is a sign of things to come rather than an aberration. He had such confidence playing alongside Grachev in preseason and then completely disappeared when his boy got bounced to Hartford. Maybe the confidence is coming back? As I've said, I don't have much faith but you never know.

*NYR34 sent me a txt asking what I did with Chris Drury and just who was wearing his sweater. I said I will never tell but, frankly, I didn't do anything. I think that really was Chris Drury and thus, the apocalypse is near. Look at Boucher in the photo at the top - even he is shocked that Dru scored. I mean, it had to be Drury; do you think an impostor would have hit the post of an empty net?

*Sean Avery was effective yet again. He was on the ice for both Ranger goals (actually in the slot for Arty's), got under the Flyers skin on several occasions and avoided any Avery Rule penalties. Say what you want about Hank's importance night in and night out but it is clear that when Avery is on his game, the Rangers win.

*I love when John Giannone shows more hockey knowledge and game awareness than analyst Joe Michaletti. Not like that is saying much ... and why do they keep having Dave Maloney as the 'sideline' reporter? I can't stand it as Maloney displays a much more accessible, intelligent take on the action than Micheletti and yet Micheletti keeps his place in the booth.

*In another questionable move, why does Torts insist on putting Brashear on the ice immediately after goals? He did it again this game after Drury's goal. And he gave Brash ice time in the third with the team hanging onto the one-goal lead. Luckily he wasn't burned this time but why keep testing his luck? Brash has done nothing to earn any kind of trust ...

*For all of the goons out there, it boggles my mind that Chris Pronger is still in the NHL. He intentionally attempts to injure other players. Pronger gets bumped by Lisin, cross checks the kid on the ice, overhand chops at Arty and then throws punches at Avery. Lisin gets boarding and Pronger gets a power play goal. Yeah, that makes sense. I am all for tough play, scrums and fighting - hell, I revel in that stuff - but penalties in today's NHL aren't called even game to game or player to player. Pronger has left a trail of injured players in his wake throughout his career and yet the officiating leaves him alone unless the guy he hits isn't able to get back up.

*Nice to see Bettsy again - too bad it was in the wrong uniform. Betts helped kill both Ranger power plays but lost the even strength faceoff to Anisimov that led to the Russian's goal.

*As I tweeted, Philly had the snow excuse for not being able to fill the Wachovia Center, but what is Dolan's excuse for the empty seats in the Garden night after night?

*Great efforts from Cally, Smithtown, Dubi and Dan-O. No goals among them but they definitely were tryin' ...

*Gabby didn't score either but certainly made a statement. When the Flyers pushed, he pushed back. The Slovak star didn't wilt under pressure and kept going to the net, kept pushing the Ranger attack. Hopefully that will earn him a little more space in future games (but I doubt it).

*Erik Christensen got himself involved early in the game but faded as the afternoon wore on. Maybe it was a symptom of his conditioning as he played 13:44 - the highest total since he came to New York off waivers. But I think he at least earned himself more playing time going forward, if only so the team can decide what to do with him.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ryan Callahan - one assist.
2-Chris Pronger - one goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 36 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Avery - His grit was far more effective than that of the assortment of "tough guys" that masquerade as Broad Street Bullies.
2-Staal - Over 30 minutes of solid work from the best Blueshirt blueliner.
1-Hank - The Incredible Hank strikes again! The best Swedish goaltender since Pelle Lindbergh kept up his string of success against Lindbergh's former team and grabbed a much-needed win for the Rangers.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Peepin' Foes: Philadelphia Flyers

As the East Coast gets battered by snow on Saturday, the Rangers will be snug as bugs in a rug in Philadelphia as they face the Flyers at 1 p.m. (MSG). I refuse to address this newly spouted accountability nonsense from Torts. The guy gets his team to win one game and tries to regain some kind of credibility? Yeah, not quite pal, this isn't Tampa.

Where We Are: But even though Torts shouldn't be floating on Cloud 9 and spewing nonsense to beat writers, we should still be celebrating our winning streak! A one-game winning streak but a win streak just the same!

Where They Are: The Flyers are 3-11-1 in their last 15 games. Peter Laviolette is juggling lines and searching for answers in a mess not of his own creation.

Who To Watch For: Blair Betts returned from injury just in time to help Philly avenge a 6-1 loss and earn a point against the far superior Penguins Thursday in a 3-2 shootout loss. The Flyers are 10-3-1 with Bettsy in the lineup this season and 5-13-1 without him. How about that. Oh yeah, and they still have some other guys worth named Richards, Carter and Briere. Middleweight/super pest Danny Carcillo game off of his undeserved suspension and was put on the first line and given power play time - where he promptly assisted on a Claude Giroux goal.

What To Watch For: Donald Brashear finally fighting in a poor attempt to justify his paycheque. Pronger, Hartnell, Laperriere, Asham and Carcillo doing anything and everything to intimidate the Rangers any way they can. The Flyer penalty kill pressuring the Ranger points to turn over the puck. That 3-on-5 Richards goal remains one of the most impressive things I've ever seen in the Garden.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: Brash not doing anything dumb. Torts not doing anything dumb. Gabby not to get injured going against Pronger and Coburn. Cally to keep up his Graves act. Smithtown to keep trying and to actually, finally, succeed. MDZ to keep proving that he is more deserving of the Calder than James van Riemsdyk. Hank getting angry again and shutting down the Flyer attack ... hey, if Valley can succeed against Philly, why can't Hank? Redden and Kotalik kept out of the lineup.

Also Check Out: Flyer Files is a decent MSM blog, SBN hosts Broad Street Hockey and the The 700 Level aint' all that bad.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

15-16-3: What A Nice Change!

After the Ranger game Thursday Hank told MSG that he wasn't feeling all that great but "was just angry from last night." That's our goaltender, the Incredible Swedish Hulk. Don't make him angry, you wouldn't like him when he is angry. Well, we would like him but you won't.

The Islanders certainly don't, not after Hank stymied them and backstopped the Rangers to a 5-2 win.

The team stumbled out of the gate with bad penalty after bad penalty but Hank bailed them out. Sean Avery stoked the fires and the bounces started going the Rangers way and they took off from there.

*Hank had to be happy that dirtbag Nate Thompson isn't a real hockey player. Whatever possessed Hank to chase after the puck in the second period is beyond me - he has even joked himself that leaving the crease isn't his strength, so what would he be thinking to run after a puck on the boards?

*While that was a nice stroke of luck, having Andy Mac II's shot hit off Cally's glove was not. The rising slapper was actually deflected down by Cally so it might very well have gone in over Hanks glove anyways or missed high. Who knows?

*On the other hand, there was no doubt that Gabby's shot on the third power power play was going to go in. He is good. Really, really good. He had time, he had space and his rocket gave the Rangers the insurance goal they needed.

*Cally opened the night's scoring with a power play goal. He camped out in the slot and - surprise, surprise - good things happened. It's been said from the start that this team needs to pay the price to score and Cally did to score two goals.

*For all of the power plays that the Rangers scored on and all of the great kills made by Hank, the officiating sucked. These guys were clearly scared of a real rivalry game so they called anything and everything to keep tempers down. It is nice that we benefited to get the win, but it would have been nice to get some bad blood back in these affairs.

*I wish I could say it is surprising but the fact that Torts immediately put Donald Brashear out onto the ice after two Ranger goals was not. Because once you get a 2-0 or 3-0 lead on the road, the one thing you want to do is give the other team a chance to grab the momentum. And, of course, Brash took a bad penalty after the third Ranger goal. Is this coach clueless or what? When someone has a rabid dog and let him off the leash, it is the owner's fault that he bites someone, not the dog's. The dog is a dog, he doesn't know better. The owner should.

*Prior to last night's debacle, Chris Drury had 35 points in 35 games against the Islanders. As I've said, they are the only team he appears to play against. After the lackluster effort Wednesday, I didn't expect anything tonight. So him scoring a goal was a pleasant but not huge surprise. We'll see how he progresses from here ...

*Since when do the Islanders use the Bro Hymn for their goal song? Ripping off Anaheim and Philadelphia now in an attempt to gain some kind of toughness or something?

*I will stop with the mocking for a second and relay the observation that my dad had: the Islanders never stopped skating. Where the Rangers fall apart and give up, the Isles kept working and working. They just couldn't solve Hank for more than two goals and Rolo couldn't match the Swede's success.

*Bobby filled in for the benched Wade Redden and really didn't fare too well. That isn't to say that Redden deserves to be plugged back into the lineup, just that there are better options: Hobey, Potter, Sauer, a garbage can, a traffic cone.

*Oh my, how hilarious were the soundbites from Redden after the morning skate? He looked like the rich kid on a joy ride given a speeding ticket - 'but don't you know who my dad is?'

*So I caught that on the Ranger broadcast, which I watched pre- and post-game and during the intermissions (missing the initial interviews each time dammit). During play, I watched the Isles because Cablevision had MSG+ in HD, but not MSG2. Considering Cablevision's ownership of the Rangers, it is stupefying that they would not have an HD telecast.

*On the Ranger side, I love having Brian Leetch on set during the intermission - almost as much as Mike Keenan - but c'mon Leetchie, show some personality. What a stiff. Just like Arty Anisimov.

*Ok, maybe that was a little unfair considering Arty scored a pretty goal but let's face it, that was a complete defensive breakdown on the part of the Islanders - Freddie Meyer played defense the Redden way, waving his purse at Arty as he skated by. But a goal is a goal and Arty got a goal. Kudos, now do it again.

*Well, maybe I am a mush. After waffling throughout the day as whether or not to head to the Mausoleum, I decided I've pissed enough money and time away on the Rangers. I sat at home watching the game on tv (more on that later) and, of course, the Blueshirts won dammit. So maybe it is me. We'll find out with Philly on Saturday.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Marian Gaborik - one goal and two assists.
2-Henrik Lundqvist - 35 saves.
1-Ryan Callahan - two goals and two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-MDZ - Yeah, I know, Gabby is a golden god but MDZ showed up his former junior teammate Tavares with a Calder-worthy performance. The kid moved the puck, played well defensively and keyed the power play's success with steady play.
2-Cally - Let's face it, things finally went right for Callahan and he finally got the puck in. He put on quite a Adam Graves-esque performance and showed all of the fire and skill that has endeared him to the city so far.
1-Hank - The PHWs who voted must be a bunch of idiots blinded by the glimmer of goals to miss the sheer magnitude of the performance by Hank. He was under fire and held his ground with Islanders crashing the crease. It helped that the defense kept the shooters close enough so they couldn't get the puck around his glove and Nate Thompson is a tool, but Hank's performance on this evening was outstanding.