Tuesday, November 16, 2010
10-7-1: Against All Odds
On one side of the equation you have a team playing the second game of a back-to-back. A team that is set up for a seemingly inevitable letdown after a wild matinee match at home. A team entering a volatile full house, facing a tough opponent - a recent Cup winner. A team that ends up with officiating that clearly possess an agenda.
On the other side of the equation, you have a bunch of kids and a King.
Guess who won?
The Rangers defeated the Penguins Monday night 3-2 in overtime. It was an emotional, edge-of-your-couch victory that is hard to describe. But let's give it a shot:
*The officials clearly tilted the ice for the Penguins, turning a blind eye to many of the Pens' antics and giving Sidney and Geno carte blanche to do whatever they want. And they did. And they somehow drew penalties while doing it. It is just disgraceful that guys as skilled as the two of them resort to cheap shots. That Malkin threw several punches and elbows that somehow weren't seen, that is almost acceptable compared to Crosby intentionally taking Hank's skates out from under him. Apparently four officials didn't see it. Yeah, right. The worst part wasn't that the stripes ignored it but that the Blueshirts did as well. Someone has to put whatever player - be it Crosby, Talbot, Cooke, whoever - in their place for touching Hank. Lundqvist is far too important to this team and he certainly is not about to defend himself. Even though it was 1-0 Rangers at the time, this is where the two points simply aren't as important as sending a message. Hit Hank, prepare to die.
*What is the worst the refs would have done? Called more penalties? They managed to do that just fine and, remarkably, the Rangers were in good shape. As the shorthanded minutes grew, the constant Pittsburgh pressure seemed to make them diamond-tough. When the pressure eased for a moment due to the stoppage for blood on the ice, the defense opened up after the break and allowed the game-tying goal by Chris Kunitz. It also didn't help that Girardi was gone as the mixed pairing left on the ice didn't work. Staal was caught watching the play after Eminger switched sides on him and got lost in no-man's land. That isn't to say Eminger played a bad game - he has been shocking capable since his minutes started going up - but he and Staal hadn't played together before and it showed.
*As for the go-ahead goal, well, you could see the wind fall out of Hank's sails after the Kunitz tally and he simply could not re-capture his composure. There was no break from the emotional let-down, no chance to calm down. And it allowed the despicable Cooke Monster to come down the ice and fire a simple shot past him. Seeing the Swede breaking his stick and throwing the pieces afterwards said it all. And that showed just how intense he is, which is quite admirable - no matter if the refs were able to use it as another excuse to give the Penguins a power play.
*While Girardi's apathy in the Carcillo/Gaborik incident will never be forgotten, the fact that he went from pouring blood from a head wound to back on the ice in minutes shows how invested he is in the team now. Soldiering on like that is what helps make hockey players better than all other athletes.
*On the redemption note, Erik Christensen did not achieve it. Was it good he scored? Was it a nice goal that he scored? Absolutely. Does it absolve him of throwing Sean Avery under the bus? No. Sure the matter was handled internally, but it would have gone a long way if Christy at least addressed it during his intermission interview. Just a 'pardon my John, but I just want to say I'm sorry to Sean for my comments yesterday. That is all.' That would have been fine - he wouldn't have to defend his opinion or change it, but since his 'cheap shot' comment was made in the media, an apology should have been made in the media.
*Avery, by the way, saw limited time but was effective. He skated hard and was one of the few Rangers to consistently take the play to the Penguins rather than vice versa. His unsportsmanlike conduct was a joke but inevitable when he stepped on the ice along Cooke and the officials heard his voice. The Rangers were lucky Cooke was called for a matching minor because the referees clearly could have ground their ax further.
*After Kunitz's goal, do you think O'Halloran skated by the Pittsburgh bench and asked them "what took you so long?"
*It didn't take Marc Staal long at all to score the equalizer. And it was awesome. Staal just ripped the puck past Marc Andre Fleury, who had been barely tested all night. What a goal. After having trouble in the offensive zone last season and retreating back into his defensive comfort zone, Staal has been slowly moving up the ice this season and this goal was the farthest he has come.
*Now the million dollar question - how far can the Rangers go with Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky leading them? After a game like this one, it is hard to put a limit on it as the two were outstanding in all facets. Not only did they combine on the game-winner, but their penalty killing and their physicality were also top notch. My only concern is what will happen when Chris Drury re-enters the mix. Will they take a step back, allow him to take the mantle of leadership back? How will they be with him getting some of their special teams minutes? They will certainly say all the right things but the proof will be on the ice.
*Cally vs. Comrie? What the ... ?? It was a fair fight between two scrappy little guys, pretty even, nice that they both took their helmets off. Beyond that, whatever. The Rangers losing their best penalty killer for five minutes was dangerous but they got through it.
*Chris Connor was again good against the Rangers. This was the second time this nobody showed up against the Blueshirts, perhaps it is time to figure out who the hell he is.
*Frolov was exposed as a one-way player who Tortorella doesn't trust. And there is nothing wrong with that, as it has been an accepted fact with the rest of us. It just dashed the hopes of those who thought that Sunday's performance against the Oilers was the start of something good.
*Ruslan Fedotenko was strong all night long but one of his best moments was prying Max Talbot out of a scrum. Talbot went from angry, lunging into the mix to smiling and skating away. It was quite amusing; wonder what he said to him.
*Not so amusing was Hank throwing his hands up in disgust at MDZ during a stoppage late in the game. The kid's offense was better than it has been of late - not saying much - but his defense was still pretty harsh. He and Matt Gilroy should be 'traded' to the Whale even up for McDonagh and Valentenko for a few games. Let Sauer see some expanded minutes - he deserves it.
*The ice was as bad as advertised in the new Pittsburgh arena. Instead of letting us see more of the place, instead MSG treated us to a nice segment about Sidney Crosby hitting home runs. C'mon, everyone who aren't Pirates hit home runs in Pittsburgh.
*On the broadcasting note, MSG's cameras did not match - the video levels were waaaay off for the ice-side cameras - and Joe Micheletti is the worst. "I'm sorry Sam but ... " "Pardon me Sam but ..." There is no excuse for Joe. He points out the blatently obvious and has zero chemistry with his co-worker, loudly interrupting him constantly. He is clearly a sycophant, sucking up to his Ranger overlords by being a p.r. shrill lauding any and every minuscule accomplishment. If you haven't figured it out, I can't stand him. Even a drunk homer like Mickey Redmond is easier to listen to.
*PHW Three Stars
3-Sidney Crosby - being Sidney Crosby.
2-Henrik Lundqvist - 37 saves.
1-Ryan Callahan - one goal and one assist.
Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Staal - His gaffe on the Kunitz goal aside, Staal was solid - shutting down Crosby is no easy task and Staal managed it well. And he scored the goal that tied the game, forced overtime and probably forced Colin Campbell to send another e-mail about the failure of the officiating.
2-Dubi - Cally got the pub for the game-winner but admitted it was the easiest goal he ever scored, all because of Dubi's work coming down the ice. And Dubi is the one who set up Staalsie for the game-winner - he made a perfect interception in the Rangers zone, skated up the ice, drew a double team and made a perfect back-pass through the traffic to Staal. Outstanding.
1-Hank - The Cooke goal aside, Lundqvist was outstanding. His positioning was fantastic, he made beautiful saves and he made ugly saves. Hank ranged from the crease a couple of times and actually managed not to butcher them. Could you imagine if Biron had been forced to play in this one?