Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Rings & The Rangers

Going back to NHL hockey after this outstanding Olympics will be a difficult task to be certain but it is one we must do - after all, who can wait another four years for more pucks?

Before we look forward to the last 20 games of the regular season, let's look back at the five Rangers who suited up in Vancouver. Three of the five brought back medals, not too shabby but not great considering two were for being first loser and one was for second loser.

Ryan Callahan
USA: 6 games, no goals, 1 assist, 2 PIM, 56:02 total ice time
Cally started the Olympics getting a regular shift but was bumped from the rotation by none other than Chris Drury. To his credit, the demotion didn't knock him down and he was able to contribute when called upon - primarily on penalty kills alongside Dru. Cally made several huge shot blocks in the first win over Canada and was always good for a body check. He had a great chance to score against Switzerland but pulled his best Chris Higgins and blew it; he never really got another good opportunity. Cally's lone point came on Dru's goal against Norway - his low shot was easily stopped by Dru banged in the rebound. Hopefully Cally will come back hungry to show he does indeed have a scoring touch and isn't a mostly useless extra part like he was in Vancouver.

Chris Drury
USA: 6 games, 2 goals, no assists, no PIM, 68:07 total ice time
Drury's other goal was the United States' go-ahead marker in the first match against the Canadians. With the other American forwards battling in front, Dru swooped in unmolested to tap home the puck and put the U.S. up 3-2. It was classic Drury - coming through in the clutch when the opposition was concentrating on the more dangerous players on the ice. But even with the two tallies, Dru's best work came with Cally on the kills. As was written in this space before, when you ignore the contract and the captaincy Dru makes a great third or fourth line center. Too bad the money and the honour are both so grand that they cannot be ignored. Much like the disgrace of losing to Sidney Crosby.

Marian Gaborik
Slovakia: 7 games, 4 goals, 1 assist, 6 PIM, 119:58 total ice time
Gabby's biggest moment of the Olympics was the one that he wasn't there for - with the Slovaks trying to complete a rally and force overtime against the Canadians in the semifinals, he was in the locker room with an unspecified injury. TSN's Bob McKenzie tweeted that it could be groin related but when Slovakia played two nights later, there was Gabby looking pretty good as he scored the first Slovak goal. So we have no idea just what is up with him or what kind of shape he will be in when returns to the Rangers. We do know that he got a measure of revenge against Hank for the goaltender's errant skate a few weeks back with a goal in Slovakia's elimination of the Swedes.

Olli Jokinen
Finland: 6 games, 3 goals, 1 assist, 2 PIM, 77:17 total ice time
Olli is ending his international career and returning to New York with a bronze medal around his neck. He opened the Olympics with a easy power play goal in Finland's first game (against Belarus) before going goalless over the next four games. To break the drought Ollie shaved off his mustache - and looked even creepier if that is possible - and it worked: his fortunes changed for the best with a pair of goals on Jaro Halak as the Finns beat the Slovaks to capture the bronze. It must be said that both goals were sexy - a nice snipe through traffic and a burst through the defense before sliding it five-hole on Halak. Seeing as he scored the game-winner against Pittsburgh just before the Olympic break, we know he can score some timely goals while wearing a Blueshirt as well as the Suomi ... we just have to hope he can keep it up, something he had trouble doing in Calgary when it came down to it.

Henrik Lundqvist
Sweden: 3 games, 179:05 minutes, four goals allowed on 51 shots, .927 save %, 1.34 g.a.a., 2 shutouts
Don't let the two shutouts fool you, Hank did not play particularly well in Vancouver and the Swedes were bounced in the quarterfinals. Hank barely broke a sweat against the Germans in Sweden's 2-0 win where the two biggest saves were made by the iron behind him. He took the Belarus game off but came back to shutout the listless Finns, who were a different team than the one that beat Slovakia. They only put 20 shots on Hank and hardly tested him. In the quarterfinal the Slovaks pressed the attack far more than the Finns had and touched him for four goals. Two were with the man advantage and two came as a result of Nick Lidstrom doing his best impression of Michal Rozsival. Yes, that Nick Lidstrom. I'm just as shocked and hurt to say that as I am sure Hank was to witness it. But in the end, the Rangers will get back Hank in better physical shape than he was after '06 but with an unknown mental state. Was he overconfident or just plain satisfied in '06 after winning gold? Will this defeat make him hungrier this time around or will it defeat him? Seeing as Torts will ride him the rest of the way, we have to hope for the hunger ...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Same Auld Story

New York Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather announced today that the club has claimed goaltender Alex Auld off re-entry waivers from the Dallas Stars.

Auld, 29, has posted a record of 9-6-3, along with a 3.00 goals against average and an .894 save percentage in 21 appearances with Dallas this season.

For those out there who thought that this New York Ranger season would be properly written off with an eye to the future, you have my sympathies. By adding Alex Auld off the waiver wire, you can be assured that the Blueshirts will make a desperate grab at one of the final playoff spots. Other teams' fans may be reinvigorated by the move to bring in a veteran backup goaltender for a push at the postseason but here in New York, this is the same old story. The flawed franchise as it stands has zero chance at a Stanley Cup but will put just enough effort in to ensure some playoff revenue to keep their jobs, as the ownership sees only dollar signs.

The players may change but the director (Dolan), the producer (Sather) and the script (ultimate failure) remains the same.

Sather went the familiar route of tossing aside a perfectly capable youngster for a veteran, and one who has been in the playoffs just twice - with Vancouver before the lockout. Auld went 1-2 over four appearances in those postseasons but he went
2-0-1 while allowing just three goals in '08-09 against the Rangers and that is all Sather remembers.

But it is not like Auld will see much action; John Tortorella will ride Henrik Lundqvist until the King breaks to ensure those home postseason revenues, while Chad Johnson gets banished back to Hartford. The likely thinking is that DosNueve's development is better starting down there (with Miika Wiikman sent to Charlotte) than it would be with him getting splinters in his ass up here. And you know, it is probably right as Hartford, like the Rangers, is a few points outside of playoff position and will make an attempt at extending their season. Of course, nothing would be better for the kid than to get some starts with the big boys but Torts doesn't trust him so its back to the bus league for the youngster.

Up here we will pray that the King can hold up the castle on his own and put up the bucks until the bitter end - as we always do. Because we are diehards, because we love that sweater, because we bleed blue.

"And this one will have to last a lifetime ..."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tonight's Top 10 List

The category tonight, the top 10 reasons why Chris Drury is playing better for Team USA than he has for the New York Rangers. Chris Drury, the captain of the Rangers, has been booed and jeered mightily back in New York and had his appointment to the national team was questioned by most everyone. Now, in Vancouver, Drury has been lauded for his work by all of America. He has scored two big goals and has been seen hustling all over the ice.

So what has been the change? What has turned him from pariah to all American hero? Well we have 10 reasons why. So the top 10 reasons why Chris Drury is playing better for Team USA than he has for the New York Rangers.

Here weeeeeeeeeee go:

10. He left his wallet in New York. He left his wallet in New York - because he makes so much money there. It weighs him down.

Oh....K, number nine:

9. He is not about to disappoint President Lincoln.

8. He is lighter on his skates without the C on his sweater weighing him down.

7. Even Canada's fans are more welcoming than the ones in the Garden.

6. He doesn't have to worry about Sean Avery critiquing his suits.

5. He has Mr. Tube Steak to look forward to after games.

What? It's a Vancouver hot dog stand! You people ...

4. Brian Burke has helped him find his inner truculence.

3. The opposition in Vancouver is only watching out for Americans named Ryan.

2. It is easier to breathe without Glen Sather's cigar smoke filling the air.

And the number one reason why Chris Drury is playing better for Team USA is:

1. Those little red mittens are keeping his hands warm in between shifts. Little red mittens!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Olympic Pucks Day 4: A Nice Finale For Me

Friday marked my last day in Vancouver and, as I had mentioned, I had a ticket to just one game - Latvia vs. the Czechs. Well, couldn't go out with juuust one so I went out and grabbed a ticket to the Swedes vs. the Belarussians.

Tickets were available all over town and it was no big task finding a good seat. A storefront offered a private suite ticket for just $75 and the plenitude of scalpers were selling at less than face. I may have even overspent for a center ice, last row upstairs ticket - $60 for an $80 seat - but I am a big fan of being able to stand during games so I didn't mind forking over the monopoly money.

As Patrick Hoffman mentioned in the comments of the last post, Henrik Lundqvist did not start for Sweden. That wasn't a big surprise but it was a bit shocking that he didn't even dress. Watching warmups iceside, a fellow New Yorker came up to me and asked if I had also flown across the continent to watch a player not play. We glanced around the arena but didn't see any sign of our favourite netminder so there wasn't even the opportunity for a photo or auto. Having at least caught Hank's opener against the Germans, I wasn't as upset as my fellow Ranger fan but was certainly empathetic to the poor guy.

I wish I could say that at least he saw a good game but most of the match was excruciating. There were kids sleeping, adults reading newspapers and plenty of traffic around the concourses even with the puck in play. After the Swedes took a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes, nothing really happened for a long span. There weren't many Belarussian fans to sing or chant and the Swedes are too reserved to roar, so it was quiet and quite dull.

The Mule Johan Franzen scored in the second before Dmitry Meleshko (oh yeah, him) responded with a power play goal. Still, the game limped into the third period as a sleeper. But, Meleshko came through with his second of the afternoon and suddenly the Canadians in the building woke up to cheer on Belarus but a miracle comeback was all for naught as Danny Alfredsson scored his second of the game in the final minute to end the festivities. Prior to puck drop Marc Denis interviewed Alfredsson's dad so it must have been nice for the 'kid' to score two in front of his family.

Still, it was a sleeper of a game. The one thing I took out of it was Nikolai Stasenko - a Ranger season ticket holder ended up sitting next to me (small, small world) and he pointed the kid out after the second period. Stasenko is 23 years old, six-foot-four, 220 and plays defense for Amur Khabarovsk in the KHL. And he was outstanding for Belarus. Used his size well, used his stick well, was quick and smart with the puck and made a fantastic dive to break up a two-on-one in the third. Wouldn't be shocked to see someone make a play for him ...

I absolutely would not be surprised to hear rumours of a return to the NHL by that Jagr guy. The cold of Siberia certainly has done nothing to siphon away his scoring ability. Jaromir scored for the Czechs as they beat the Latvians in the 4:30 game. He is good and could certainly be huge for say, Pittsburgh, this spring. Seeing as he wouldn't have to be a leader, he could just play and cap off his NHL career with a real Cup run. We'll just have to see I guess.

But back to Friday's game. As I mentioned before the Olympics, I heard that the Latvian fans are passionate people and they did not disappoint. While there weren't many of them, they kept the torch going for their team even as they were getting creamed by the Czechs. But when Kristaps Sotnieks jumped out of the penalty box and easily beat Tomas Vokoun on a breakaway, those Latvian few were joined by the vast majority of the building to unleash a deafening roar. And when the Latvians scored again three minutes later?

The. Place. Went. Wild.

Screaming, yelling, singing, flag waving, dancing, high fiving, hugging ... it was amazing. Sure the Latvians went on to lose 5-2 but a good time was still had and I feel lucky to have ended my Olympic experience with the energy that filled Canada Hockey Place. I had some people I had to meet, beers to drink and packing to do so I didn't even bother watching the 5-0 bombing of the Germans by the Finns in the nightcap. I would imagine it would have been bittersweet at best.

So this marks the end of my Olympic saga this time around and I have to recommend it to everyone and anyone. There is just something different, something special about the atmosphere that differentiates it from NHL action and it is well worth experiencing. Only four more years until Sochi!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Olympics Day 3: Misplaced Arrogance

I intentionally did not write last night because the post would have consisted something like this, "Canadians are annoying idiots." And that would have been it. A little bit of uncomfortable sleep has made me a bit more verbose and perhaps a little nicer.

Let me take you in the way back machine to Wednesday when the Americans played the Swiss and won 3-1 in regulation. Canadians talked trash about how their team blew out Norway and would destroy the Swiss. Advance the timeframe a bit when the U.S. 'only' beat Norge 6-1 and Canadians talked trash about how the U.S. wasn't as good as their team. After the Americans cleared off the ice, Canada took on Switzerland and beat them 3-2 in a shootout. In a shootout.

And you know what? Yep, the Canadians talked trash. Seriously? Your team needed a skills competition to defeat the Swiss and yet you can slur the Americans? Yeah, ok. As another American said to me, the Canadians are 'our bratty little brothers that barely count.' They are envious of us (look at that medal count at the Olympics held on their soil) while we really don't dislike them. I don't know about you, but even with 2002 considered, I still see the Russians as our rivals. I don't know, you tell me ...

The United States faces Canada on Sunday. Some other quick notes on yesterday:

*There was a good amount of U.S. fans in the building during the Norway game but we were outnumbered by obnoxious neighbors to the north rooting for American injuries and embarrassment. Stay classy Canada.

*Abraham Lincoln took in the game. Well, not him but a really close properly-bearded doppelganger wearing a stovepipe cap, Team USA sweater with #16 and LINCOLN on the back. Awesomeness.

*During that game Chris Drury scored. And I cheered. He is a lot less loathsome when he isn't being paid seven million bucks. Here expectations are different as he is the 13th forward. He isn't being the worst captain in the 86 year history of a proud franchise. He is the 13th forward who comes in to add energy and a penalty killing. And he is pretty decent at that. So when his contract runs out in the summer of 2012, some other team should go after him - give him a league minimum deal and he happy with the results.

*For the second straight day the Slovakians helped provide a great atmosphere inside Canada Hockey Place. There wasn't as much vitriol with the Russians as there was with the Czechs but both sides showed passion as their teams met in an incredibly exciting game. The Slovaks shockingly prevailed in extra rounds of a shootout where Alexander Ovechkin - of all people - went just one for three. Talk about shocking. And I was a bit surprised that the Slovaks only gave Marian Gaborik one opportunity but having Canuck Pavol Demitra score the winner in Vancouver was pretty impressive.

*Even with the win by the skin of their teeth, Canadians were out in force on Granville Street last night. Imagine a massive frat party filled with drunken children and you have a close idea of what it was like. Hopefully it will be much more low key Sunday night, a sad atmosphere of crestfallen kids drowning their sorrows in alcohol. Hopefully.

Well, today is my last day here in Vancouver and I have a ticket to just one game - Czech Republic vs. Latvia - but I think I will try to get myself one to see Hank one more time as the Swedes open the day against Belarus. As long as Tommy Salo doesn't show up, the Swedes should be ok. Look forward to finding out!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Olympic Pucks Day 2: A Hat Trick Of Hockey

I spent all of Wednesday at Canada Hockey Place or the Garage as I found out it is called (it is normally GM Place, GM=cars so GM Place=Garage ... get it? Kinda like how the Verizon Center is the Phone Booth. Aren't we witty?). It was a long day but one well spent. My goal was to root on the Rangers in action and Olli Jokinen scored to help Finland beat Belarus, Hank shut out Germany and Marian Gaborik was the best player on the ice in a losing effort for Slovakia against the Czechs.

Notes and observations:

*I neglected to mention it yesterday but one of the best things about these Olympics is the uniform for the garbage people at the arena. They wear Islander jerseys without the crest. So every time I see some poor sod forced to mop up or pick up trash, I think Islanders. How appropriate.

*The atmosphere for the Czechoslovakia civil war was wild. Most likely it was because there were less Canadians in the building and more nationals for each team. Chanting, whistling, rising and falling with every play for the first two periods ... it was so much fun. I spoke to security and they said that there was only one minor tussle in the crowd, which I find surprising as rival fans were chanting and yelling at each other so much - especially walking out. Love the passion.

*Didn't love the result, a 3-1 Czech win. It was so incredibly like a Ranger game that it scared me - team gets a great breakaway six minutes in but can't score and gives up a power play goal. Team hits the post in the last minute of the second period and the other team comes right down and scores before the buzzer. Team comes out flat for the third losing by two, Gaborik draws a penalty and the power play can't even get in the opposing zone. Sound familiar?

*That breakaway I mentioned? It was by Ziggy Zombie Palffy. He has to be a zombie: he is back from the 'dead' and he seems very motivated but the coordination isn't what it used to be.

*Jaromir Jagr on the other hand is still Jaromir Jagr. The big beast who steps up his game when he wants to and can change a game just like that. Why the Slovak coach didn't match Zdeno Chara with Jagr for every second of every shift is beyond me. Chara is just gimormous even in person and he really is an adept defenseman - shocking considering his Islander roots. When he decides he wants the puck, he simply takes it away.

*On the topic of top flight defenders, Nicklas Lidstrom wasn't all that impressive - much like the entire Swedish side. They were outhustled and won on two power play goals - one that shouldn't have counted with goaltender interference. The Germans played solid north-south hockey while the Swedes tried to be too cute and nearly paid for it with the result - the Germans hit a post and a crossbar so they were thiiiiis close from a draw with the reigning Olympic champs. Hank barely made a good save but he got the shutout so more power to him.

*Back to the Czechoslovakia game, in-game host Marc Denis interviewed NHL Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, who was just sitting in the crowd, a few rows off the ice. Denis spoke to Stastny in the first intermission, leaving fans to try to come over during the second break to get a picture or an autograph. Instead, Stastny was surrounded by five print guys for an interview that lasted the whole intermission. That's just not right; f-ing media.

*I'm bitter because I wanted the former Quebec Nordique to sign my game ticket. It would have topped the auto I got earlier in the day for sure: Jari Kurri on my Finland-Belarus ticket. Kurri was nice to sign and all but let's face it, he came to New York and took a paycheque when he should have retired. Kurri is still a Finnish legend but Stastny is a legend period.

*The current Finns were my darkhorse for a medal and only served to reinforce that in their 5-1 win over the Belarussians. They play smart, simple hockey and make few mistakes. Once Kipper loses his job to the better Backstrom or Niittymaki (who should be starting IMO), they will be a dangerous, dangerous team.

*Coming out of the first intermission of that game one of the linesmen ran onto the ice, made it a few feet and promptly fell. Twice. He had forgotten to take the skate guard off of one skate. Hilarity.

*There was nothing funny about the holding pen they kept us fans who had tickets to the next game. It was a small open space at the bottom of the stairs up to the arena and had a few port-o-potties and a whole lotta nothing else. So everyone just sat around and stared at each other for an hour or so before we were let back in. They had a "band" come in to play, four college kids. One with a guitar who sang, one with a snare drum, one with a bass guitar and one with a trombone and a tambourine... a trombone and a tambourine. Just imagine the horrible noise that resulted. I am pretty sure that the constitution bans cruel and unusual punishment but I guess the Canadians don't abide by basic human rights. Savages.

At least on Thursday I will avoid the pen and head to a pub to watch the Canada/Switzerland game. That comes after the U.S. vs Norway (Go USA, Go Cally!!) and before the Russians take on Gaborik and the poor Slovaks, who don't have a chance with jumpy Jaro Halak in net. But we will see!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Olympic Opening Day

Yesterday was the first day of pucks here in Vancouver and the event got off to a solid start. The United States beat Switzerland 3-1, Canada blew out Norway 8-0 and the Russians beat on the Latvians 8-2. I went to the U.S. and Russia games and watched the Canada at a bar.

I wish I could show off my photos but my new camera doesn't like my old laptop. Still, some random notes/observations:

*The Russians may have won by six but they did not look like the world-slayers that everyone has expected. Maybe it was a slow start but if Latvia was a little bit better, they could have made it really interesting. They blew at least five good scoring chances. Former NHLer Herberts Vasiljevs scored a goal but cost his team at least two (if not three). Poor guy.

*But at the same time, it wasn't as if the Russians were really trying. Alex Ovechkin, yeah, he's good. Right after the first Latvian goal, he skated down the rink and fired a slap shot into the upper reaches of the net to get the goal back. Just because he could.

*The in-house music guy was clearly were rooting against Russia. After each Russian goal they tried to get the crowd to chant Lat-Vi-Ya, Lat-Vi-Ya, Lat-Vi-Ya. It was pretty funny and the primarily Canadian crowd was right there with him, hating on the Russians.

*As for the Americans, while the score was close they looked pretty good. The lone Swiss goal was Ryan Miller's fault, he tipped the puck past himself. Bobby Ryan's and David Backes' goals were suh-weet while Bugsy Malone's was the result of hard work in front. The only underwhelming Americans were Brooks Oprik, who got better by the third period, and who else but Chris Drury. As the extra forward he was constantly rotated around the lineup and the only good thing that I noticed him do was win a defensive zone faceoff cleanly that caught his linemates by surprise. Ryan Callahan was Ryan Callahan: finishing checks, relentlessly skating all over the ice and juuust missing a good scoring chance.

*There were Olympic-paid cheerleaders in the crowd all day - dudes, not underclothed chicks, sorry - trying to get fans to clap, chant and do the wave. They were a bit ridiculous but most folks got into it so I guess they did their job.

*The moron who spastically dances at New Jersey Devil games showed up for the Russian game, throwing out tee shirts and twitching around like an idiot. Can't stand that dude but it seemed the Canadians dug him, at least for the free shirts.

*Former NHLer Marc Denis was the in-game host doing interviews with fans and celebrities all day. The guy honestly did a pretty good job. When he spoke to Mike Eruzione during the U.S. game the place went wild.

*There was a lot of crowd control getting in and coming out of the arena. Going in the security wasn't too bad, basic airport security metal detectors. But the coming out was annoying as people exiting the arena were packed into one small staircase to get up to the street because there were people waiting to get in for the next game at the entrances.

*By the third game, the arena showed its overuse with filthy restrooms and tired, scrambling employees.

*I made $35 off of some Canadians by picking Jarome Iginla to score first against Norway. It was awesome; so much for the 'dumb' Yank not knowing anything about hockey ...

*In the arena they ran 50/50 raffles for each game. The winner for the U.S. game took home over $11,000 - that's insane. And it wasn't me, which is just unfair.

*When they say that Visa is the official card of the Olympics, they mean it. The in-arena stores only took Visa or cash and the ATMs in the building wouldn't even take other cards. So annoying.

*There were scalpers everywhere on the streets around Canada Hockey Place and the cops didn't care in the least. It was kind of trippy, as was the public marijuana smoking (which appears to be socially acceptable in this city).

*I went ice-side for warmups at both games that I was at. For the U.S. game Ryan Callahan hit the boards by me, digging the Ranger flag. Chris Drury kind of shot me a nasty look; maybe he remembered me and my Wade Redden sign. I don't care, it was funny.

*As I tweeted, it appears that this city is still quite bitter about losing in '94. I wore the Ranger flag around and dozens of people over the course of the day talked trash, threatened to beat me up or actually admitted to be Ranger fans. When I walked into a store looking for a Trevor Linden tee shirt, the guy said he didn't have one but he had an authentic sweater with the '94 patch - I asked if it came with Linden's tears running down the front and he threw me out of the store.

Well, that's it for now - I have to get moving as I will be at Canada Hockey Place for all three of today's matches. Olli Jokinen opens with Belarus, Hank takes on Germany and Jaromir Jagr will meet Marian Gaborik. Let's go Rangers!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

28-27-7: Heading To Break On A Strong Note

Apologies for forgetting to put something up about Sunday's 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. As mentioned on the last post, I was trapped on a train so I missed it entirely. From the updates I was given by my dad and NYR34, it was another dismal first period, followed by an Avery penalty shot early in the second that sparked the b rally.

Oh, and the two fights in the game sucked, which I can attest to after watching the clips on Hockey Fights. Why Prust continues to reach out for the boards with his back hand is beyond me, but maybe that is why they brought in Jody Shelley - because the kid can't fight and Aaron Voros clearly shouldn't mess with the big boys. But they lost the fights and the team won and that is all that matters right about now. We'll just have to pray they can carry some of this momentum into the second 'half' of the season.

Let's go Rangers.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Vinny Prospal - one goal and one assist.
2-Henrik Lundqvist - 27 saves.
1-Erik Christensen - two goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
-Didn't see it so I can't judge but the Ranger Pundit pointed out that the PHW got it wrong yet again by judging purely on numbers and not actual game circumstances. No surprise there, it is why I do my own stars every game.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

When It Comes To Pucks, Size Doesn't Matter

I have always found it difficult to understand how small town folks can be happy with their small town hockey. Sounds snobbish, doesn't it? Covering hockey in Binghamton for years then indulging my fandom with UHL, EPHL, ECHL, AHL, ELITE, those games in Switzerland and Islander hockey, I saw and appreciated the passion folks have for lower level pucks. I didn't understand it, but I definitely appreciated it. As my friend Andrea often says, "same religion, different church."

Now, sitting on an Amtrak train on my way to the Olympics, I think I finally get it: sure the NHL is the NHL, but these hometown teams are theirs. Just as we feel a New York pride when we pull on the Blueshirt to root on the boys, they feel the same love for their team - simply because it is theirs. The team represents their town and they want it to do well. Yes, there is something bigger and better out there but that is out there; this team is here and its ours.

It is a strange feeling to be sure but one I am certainly confronted with as I head to watch the best of the best, while the Rangers are back in New York, about to face off against Tampa. Sure I will root for Team USA, but my emotions will rise and fall based upon the text messages I get over the next few hours. Because that quaint little team in my home town will be playing and that team is mine. Sure there is something bigger and better out there, but the Rangers are mine.

As I've mentioned in the past, I love Olympic hockey and was lucky enough to be in Salt Lake for the entire '02 Games (and was even inside the E Center for the Gold Medal game). So it can't be the five circles rings that has brought me to this conclusion.

I think it was the WHL game I went to last night between the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Silvertips in Everett. Played in a wonderful 8,000 or so seat facility, the game was quite exciting with the Tips prevailing 5-1. There were just over six thousand fans in the building but if you closed your eyes, you would have thought there was over 10.

They were loud, proud and passionate. It was not unlike the Bern/Ranger game in Switzerland last year with flags and noisemakers but these folks knew their hockey. Where the Swiss just seemed to be happy to have something to do no matter the outcome, these people were diehards. And the trippy thing? From my understanding, Everett was never a hockey town until the Silvertips came to town seven years back. But over that span the townfolk learned the game and embraced it.

Looking around the pro shop for my traditional puck (every new city, gotta get a puck), I was startled to see a bunch of Phoenix Coyotes sweaters. 'What in the holy hell are those doing in here?!?' ran through my mind until I pulled one off the rack: it was Peter Mueller #88. Mueller, aside from being the target of dozens of trade rumours to New York, was one of the first, best graduates of the Everett program.

Sure Mueller was born in Minnesota, but he was a Everett product - he was one of their boys. And they will root him on and follow him in the show but, at the same time, there is a new bunch of kids wearing the green and white and they are the focus now.

We will root for the Ranger Olympians (and pray that they don't get hurt) while they play in the Olympics but if they win or they lose, we won't lose any sleep over it. And that's ok; the Rangers are our team, just as the Silvertips are Everett's.

Just for perspective purposes (timing and quality), this post was written earlier today while I was stuck on a train full of screaming, whining, crying children.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tee Hee

For Immediate Release


New York, February 13, 2010 – New York Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather announced today that forward Donald Brashear has been assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL).

Brashear, 38, has registered one assist and 73 penalty minutes in 36 games with the Rangers this season. He has not dressed in each of the last eight games, and 13 of the last 14, and has missed 25 games total this season. He ranks third on the team in penalty minutes and second in fighting majors (nine). Brashear registered his first point as a Ranger with an assist in a 5-2 win vs. Phoenix on October 26, and skated in his 1,000th career NHL game on November 12 vs. Atlanta.

The Bedford, Indiana native signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Rangers on July 1.

27-27-7: Well That Was Timely

A team is limping towards the Olympic break, slowly falling out of contention and the top scorer on a low scoring team is sliced and diced up. So what does said team do? Go out and beat a rival on their own ice.

How about that?

The Rangers beat the Pens in Pittsburgh 3-2 in overtime on Friday night. I wish I could go into great detail, but I didn't see it. For some reason the game was blacked out on DTV here in Seattle (at least at the Jillians I was at) and the live streams didn't work on my laptop thanks to the dingy wifi at the hotel I'm staying at. So my knowledge of the game comes from the Fox Final Score hilite and dozens upon dozens of text messages from friends of the blog Andrea and NYR34 and a section 329 friend of mine. So you guys feel free to fill in the blanks ...

*When I heard Ryan Callahan got hurt, I nearly wept. Thank goodness he is alright. If not, who would I root for on Team USA? Drury? Yeah, right. Oh yeah, not to mention that he has been the best Ranger not named Lundqvist or Gaborik.

*Olli Jokinen scored the overtime game-winner by simply ripping the puck. Simple, straightforward hockey is best most of the time folks; we've watched the Blueshirts be too cute for too long.

*MDZ got clipped with a skate across his side and bled right through his sweater. Sounds scary. Guess that won't be given away with Blueshirts Off Our Back.

*With MDZ already out, Michal Rozsival decides to jump in to help out Chris Drury when Dru was getting pummeled by the Cookie Monster (thank you Hockey Fights for that video). It is good to see this team stand up for its fourth line center - not the first line superstar, but the fourth line center. And, while doing it, leave the roster with four defensemen. Good job Rozy.

*Then again, maybe Rozy thought Drury was something more than that after Dru made the best pass of his NHL career to set up the Dubi goal to tie the game at one. Seriously, that was one helluva pass.

*And what is this about Rozy sending the puck up to Olli to get an assist on the game-winner? Is there a full moon?

*Speaking of unlikely assist artists, Artem Anisimov fed Vinny Prospal for the go-ahead goal. He also won six of seven faceoffs according to the event summary, will wonders never cease?

*He got some time alongside Vinny after Gabby couldn't go any more. Rushing the guy back was not the best of ideas but the team is in a bad spot so I guess Torts kinda hadta give it a shot.

*Oh wait, about that full moon - nevermind. Wade Redden still directly caused a goal against, setting a nice screen on Hank on Cindy's first goal. That is $8.1 million this year and we have him for four more years. Joy!

*Brandon Prust saw 13 minutes of ice time, which is curious considering the team replaced him prior to the game. Unless it was an attempt to showcase the guy so they can flip him for something else. I have no problem with Jody Shelley - I remember reading wonderful, sad things from Columbus when he was dealt to San Jose - but why do we need him with Prust on the roster? Or is Prust replacing Aaron Voros while Shelley replaces Brashear?

*After giving up on getting the game in, I went to watch the Seattle Thunderbirds take on the Moose Jaw Warriors. If you guys want a recap/observations, just ask. In fact, if I get some time, I may do it anyways. We'll see. By the way, I may have to have another recap like this for the Valentines Day game as well - I will be Amtrakking up to Vancouver while the game is going on (damned daytime match and three hour time difference). I apologize in advance.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brandon Dubinsky - one goal.
2-Sidney Crosby - two goals.
1-Olli Jokinen - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
-None, sorry. I rip on the PHW for judging based on stats, I won't do it myself.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ding-Dong, Brash Is Gone!!

Donald Brashear was placed on waivers today and could be headed to Pittsburgh (multiple sources on Twitter).

Let's face it, who cares where he goes as long as he isn't here anymore.

Good riddance to bad garbage.

I knew this vacation was going to be great!!!!!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

26-27-7: No Shows

Apparently the announced attendance of the Ranger 2-1 loss to Nashville was just over 13,000. That is a lot of no-shows for the Garden but the most important people who didn't show up were the Rangers. Outside of a handful of players, the Blueshirts put in a half-hearted effort without Marian Gaborik. Henrik Lundqvist was great. Ryan Callahan skated his ass off but had a case of Higgins-itis. Enver Lisin got several great scoring chances but bless him, he just isn't good enough to take advantage of them. The rest of the team ... meh. It was as lackluster as always where many of the players disappeared for long stretches before making a late, ultimately futile push for an equalizer.

All that being said, credit must be given to Barry Trotz, Dan Ellis and the Nashville defense. They were all great with Trotz outcoaching Torts, Ellis making some good saves and the blueline helping him clear rebounds before the Rangers eventually decided to go after them. Torts decided to play seven defensemen for some reason, claiming that the other six guys were banged up. Well, if they are banged up then they shouldn't be playing, especially at the expense of being able to roll four lines. Cally played 27 minutes. That is insane! And he will be playing at least three extra games over the Olympic break so let's work on burning him out now, right?

It would have been nice for some other player to come through in the clutch ... you know, some player. I don't know who. Perhaps the one that had that "Captain Clutch" nickname before he came to New York? The one making over eight million dollars this season. You know who, right? Nahhhhhhh. That guy is only on the ice on power plays and in big situations, when he could possibly come through? The captain continues to underwhelm and Tortorella should keep him on the fourth line rather than bouncing him around the lineup so he can waste important ice time. Don't get me wrong, I will root for the guy in Vancouver, I just wonder why he will be there.

*And why the hell is he sent over the boards again and again on the power play? Drury has one power play assist and no goals in over his last 32 games. And our power play sucks. You do the math.

*The lone Ranger goal came off a lucky bounce, with the puck rebounding off the boards back to Dan Ellis and Vinny Prospal blindly swinging his stick at it to knock it in. It may have been the only time in the match where a Ranger was that close to the crease.

*Predators go-ahead goal was a power play goal after Michael Del Zotto was given a double minor. MDZ took a borderline penalty and then argued with the referee and got a unsportsmanlike. After the Rangers killed the first two, the Preds scored on the next two (more on that in a sec) and Torts blew a gasket on the kid. Was MDZ wrong to argue? Sure. Was it a rookie mistake? Sure. The kid was upset - which is something Redden and Rozsival don't seem to be despite constant mistakes and blunders.

*And it was a blunder by Rozy that gave up the power play goal. Now I don't know about you guys, but when I learned to play defense I was taught that, like crossing the streams, clearing the puck up the middle was baaaad. Rozy blindly launched the puck up the middle and it hit Cally, bounced to Colin Wilson and Carey's kid scored. Did Tortorella yell at Rozsival? Not that we saw...

*Jordin Tootoo had a goal on six shots. Sean Avery had no goals and one shot. Just sayin'.

*Considering how tightly knit the Nashville defense was, it would have been nice to see Prust and Boyle (and Voros if he was dressed) to go in and knock some heads around for a shift or two. They were used sparingly by Tortorella and played like they were on a tight leash.

*Voros was out so Torts could dress the extra defenseman - going back to the aforementioned 'banged up' starting six. Seeing as none of them played any worse than they usually do, I have to ask if it was just a chance for the Rangers and other teams to get a look at Corey Potter. Torts has never trusted him to date so what changed? Well, the trade deadline is coming up and Potter will be a RFA this summer. What a co-in-key-dink.

*I know many of you guys like Arty Anisimov but this kid is just infuriating me more and more. There is skill there - that is for certain - but there is something missing that just has kept him from putting pucks in the net. Perhaps the break will help, perhaps a trip to Hartford would. Just FYI, the AHL operates as normal through the Olympics.

*As I mentioned on Twitter, when MSG showed Hank's Team Sweden mask, Sam Rosen pointed out the "Olympic Circles" on the back. Seriously. Olympic Circles. They are rings Sam, rings. I guess after a while a bit of Micheletti had to wear off ...

*And speaking of the Olympics, I am heading west on Thursday to spend a few days in Seattle prior to Amtraking up to Vancouver. I will do my best to catch Friday and Sunday's game but no guarantees. As for as the Olympics go, I have tix to eight games in four days before I have to head back so I should be posting something each night, so stay tuned!

*PHW Three Stars
3-Henrik Lundqvist - 34 saves.
2-Colin Wilson - one goal.
1-Dan Ellis - 37 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Dan Hamhuis - Best of the Predator blueliners, Hamhuis looked better than Weber and even Klein (the guy who took the shot that scored the first goal of the game).
2-Ellis - The dude did the splits to make a save late in the third period. That has just gotta hurt ...
1-Hank - MSG caught the goaltender walking down the tunnel and hitting the garbage can with his stick for the umpteenth time this season. The poor guy has been hung out to dry so often it is just embarrassing and this night was no different as he could not be blamed for either goal against.

Peepin' Foes: Nashville Predators

The Rangers are due to battle the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night at the Garden at 7 p.m. (MSG).

Even with local television making the forecast sound like the coming of the apocalypse, the odds of the game being cancelled are slim. For one, the NHL played the NBC Caps/Pens game on schedule despite a state of emergency due to snow. And for two, New York is a real city - no reason to close down for something so petty as a few inches of snow. Of course, the LIRR has already put out a warning that 10 inches will shut down the system so my personal four year streak of not missing a regular season home game is in jeopardy. And not the fun kind with Alex Trebek.

Where We Are: Coming off of a huge win over the Devils on Saturday. They've actually had two straight days of practice, which hasn't happened in a month.

Where They Are: Nashville lost Tuesday in a shootout on the Island. The Fishermen had their triple backup goalie Biron in the net so it was all the more embarrassing. However, they are in seventh in the West with 67 points in 59 games; the Rangers sit in 10th with 59 in 59.

Who To Watch For: They are doing quite well without having and real standout scorers. The neck-less Barry Trotz has them playing such a great team game on both sides of the ice that the entire team is dangerous - from Hank's soon-to-be-teammate on Sweden Patric Hornqvist down to Milwaukee call-up Cal O'Reilly, who scored his first goal against the Isles. That being said, old Devil foe Jason Arnott is always dangerous, as is Martin Erat.

What To Watch For: The Rangers giving too much room to the Pred blueliners, who are all capable of blasting the puck on goal. Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Cody Franson all have incredible shots that they are not afraid to take. If Francis Bouillon has a decent game, rumour has it that Sather may swing a deal for him (and despite his name, Bouillon is a NY native). Joel Ward broke free for a gorgeous breakaway goal on the Isles and can turn on the jets just like that. Dan Ellis can get hot and run away with games - just ask Chris Mason - seeing as Pekka Rinne started against the Isles, we are likely to see @dellis39.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: No snow. Another outstanding effort from the Rangers, including Chris Drury - he has a one game scoring streak. Marian Gaborik not to show any signs of injury from his cut in practice (see! that's what happens when we start talkin' bout practice!). Hank shutting down Hornqvist. Sean Avery not wasting time with Jordin Tootoo but Brandon Prust beating down Wade Belak after the albino does something dumb.

Also Check Out: The local MSM guy is John Glennon SBN has On The Forecheck, Nashville's Sommet Center has born Section 303, See Puck City is good, as is What the Puck?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

26-26-7: Here He Comes To Save The Day!

Let the entire NHL hate Sean Avery. Let the refs grind their axes against him. It's ok. Really. It is ok because New York loves Sean Avery and Avery loves New York. On a night where Henrik Lundqvist makes Mmmmaaaarrrrttttyyyy Brodeur look like a house league goaltender, on a night when hell freezes over and Chris Drury scores an important goal, it was Sean Avery who saved the day.

No, Avery didn't mess with Mmmmaaaarrrrttttyyyy but instead he turned his talents upon Ilya Kovalchuk. New Jersey was pressuring and getting deep in the Ranger end late in the third period but Avery provoked Kovy and the Russian lost his mind. Both players got double minors (Kovalchuk should have gotten more) and both went to the box. That meant that Sean got Devils' top scorer off the ice with less than three minutes to go to preserve a 3-1 win for the Rangers.

Were the Henrik Lundqvist glove saves monumental? No doubt. Was Drury's goal a nail in the heart of New Jersey? Absolutely. But Avery being Avery was what closed another fantastic chapter in the Hudson rivalry. It was smart, calculated hockey by the super pest and exactly why love him in New York. Go Sean.


*Kind of ironic that Hank made at least a half dozen outstanding glove saves and Mmmmaaaarrrrttttyyyy gives up the eventual game-winner on a shot right past his catcher. Mmmmaaaarrrrttttyyyy, Mmmmaaaarrrrttttyyyy, Mmmmaaaarrrrttttyyyy ...

*Late in the third but prior to Avery's achievement, there was the most exotic of animals on the ice - a cycling Ranger side. The Blueshirts capably moved the puck around the New Jersey zone for what seemed like an eternity. And they were sending crisp, clean simple passes around while moving their feet and getting to space. It was incredible. Just as they seem to have learned that dumping and chasing isn't a good game plan, they are hopefully learning to cut down on the cuteness in their passing. Simple, direct feeds work just as well, if not better, than blind behind-the-back drops.

*Gabby's tic-tac-toe power play goal to open the night's scoring was sweet. Gabby finally made some space for himself on the doorstep and Ryan Callahan turned a feed from Michael Del Zotto down to the open superstar for the tap-in.

*As I mentioned up top, Chris Drury actually scored. His off-balance shot somehow went through a screen and past Mmmmaaaarrrrttttyyyy to make it 3-0 Rangers. It was a nice consolation for the captain's terrible first period penalty and his two faceoff losses in the Ranger end in the final minutes.

*Matt Gilroy is under the weather; like Dan Girardi last season, Gilroy is suffering from Redden-itis - a horrible disease where a promising young defenseman has his growth stunted by being paired with the old albatross. Something should be done before it is too late to salvage some hope for Hobey.

*The ice crew was all wearing the new Olympic player-number tee shirts. It was a nice touch as the team tries to convince fans to spend $32 on a tee shirt.

*The Rangers debuted two new features on the big board on this night. First off they had a new pre-game montage where they dropped common players in with guys from days gone by. The other was a constant listing of which lines were on the ice. It was humourous watching some poor intern keep up with who was going over the boards but other than the comedy it was completely worthless. A numbered listing of players who are on the ice is just ridiculous.

*Brandon Prust fought Andrew Peters twice, for no apparent reason than entertaining the former Sabre and justifying his paycheque. The first tussle went on forever and was horrible, with Prust holding onto the glass behind him for some inexplicable reason. The second should never have happened. Peters dropped his gloves and Prust could have skated away, giving the Rangers a power play. Instead he waited until the refs saw that he didn't want to go and then fought him anyway - and got his ass kicked in another boring bout. This kid is supposed to be a improvement over the imbecile Donald Brashear, he should start acting like it.

*There was a lot of red in the building but really not as much as expected. I think there were just as many, if not more, Washington fans on Thursday but luckily these guys walked out disappointed. Amid the army of red, I spotted a half dozen or so Cardiff Devils fans. Let's hope the Welsh weren't rooting for their namesakes.

*The Boys & Girls Club of Harlem Choir Alumni sang the national anthem and I have to admit that they did a helluva job. They needed to give a little more space where we scream "Let's Go Rangers" after "gallantly streaming..." but that was the only complaint. Their singing was spectacular.

*Olli "Doll's Eyes" Jokinen needs to get his game together. He took yet another bad minor, his fourth in two games. Sure, he is more involved than Ales Kotalik ever was but he needs to be smarter and better.

I'm sure there is more but a bit of college hockey and a bit of celebration after the Ranger game has taken its toll. Keep an eye on my twitter @truebluefan329 for anything that may cross my mind in the morning (or at this rate, afternoon) tomorrow.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Marian Gaborik - one goal.
2-Ryan Callahan - one goal and one assist.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 41 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Cally - He kills penalties, he hits, he shoots, he scores.
2-Avery - Sure he didn't screw with Mmmmaaaarrrrttttyyyy and missed a great scoring chance but he came through anyway in the end.
1-Hank - Mmmmaaaarrrrttttyyyy who? The Swede owns Fatso in MSG and hopefully will in Vancouver as well.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Peepin' Foes: New Jersey Devils

Seeing as the big storm that has freaked people out is now only expected dump all of two to four inches on New York (as of 2:45am), the Ranger game Saturday night should go on without a hitch. Well, it should start on time, but the New Jersey Devils will definitely muck things up a bit. Puck drop is still scheduled for 7 p.m. and it will be on MSG2 for the Ranger-cast and MSG+ for the Devils.

Where We Are: Coming off of the seventh loss in eight games, one where the power play finally scored (three times!) and players other than Marian Gaborik found the back of the net but the team still blew a two goal lead to steal defeat from the jaws of victory. Despite the slide, the team is still in the thick of the playoff hunt in the Least.

Where They Are: Second place in the Least. They played Toronto three of the last four games and won two of them, including a wild one Friday night where they did a reverse-Rangers by not folding and blowing a lead at the end of a period and instead scoring three goals in three minutes to come from behind and win.

Who To Watch For: That game marked the Devil debut of Ilya Kovalchuk and he contributed two assists for his new side. He may do even better on Saturday should the rumours prove true and Patrik Elias return from that big hit last month. David Clarkson and Paul Martin will still be on the IR, but Jersey still has Zach Parise, still has Travis Zajac and still has Jamie Langenbrunner. But, the Rangers being the Rangers, Dainius Zubrus or Rob Niedermayer could just as easily strike or Vladimir Zharkov could score his first NHL goal.

What To Watch For: More goals than the last time this two teams met (the insanely exciting 1-0 shootout loss). Kovy to get more comfortable with the Devils and get off more shots in space. Langenbrunner making himself comfortable around Hank thanks to the Charmin Blueshirt blueline. Dean McAmmond building off of his goal and assist against Toronto. I always liked his work ethic but easily hate him now that he went from Ottawa to the Isles and then the Devils.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: Marian Gaborik to keep his four-game point streak going. Ryan Callahan being better than Langenbrunner at his own game. Sean Avery re-introducing himself to Mmmmaaarrrrtttyyy. MDZ to regain a bit of a scoring touch. Michal Rozsival to get less ice time. Olli Jokinen staying out of the penalty box. Brandon Prust vs. either Andrew Peters or Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (what a hockey name).

Also Check Out: The solid Fire & Ice, SBN's In Lou We Trust and Rich Chere's MSM blog.

Friday, February 5, 2010

25-26-7: Well, That Was Something

As we get ourselves wrapped up into the day to day grind of the hockey season, we sometimes forget that hockey is supposed to be entertainment. As a Ranger fan, the 6-5 loss to the Capitals on Thursday night was utterly infuriating ... but it must be said that it was insanely entertaining. What a wild game. Heroes, villains and action all night. Taking away the massive disappointment, it was awesome.

That massive disappointment came from the Rangers being the Rangers - playing up the the level of the best team in the league before folding like a cheap suit. They blew leads three times and gave up three straight goals to lose. Who is at fault? The usual suspects - Glen Sather for building a pathetically soft defense. John Tortorella for being the worst coach in the NHL. Chris Drury for being the worst Ranger captain of all time. All time. When the leadership doesn't lead, the rank and file can only go so far.

Quick notes:

*Before I get into the game, I want to address the Kovalchuk trade to New Jersey as it had Ranger fans getting upset all night long. To all of those freaked out fans, relax. There was no way the Rangers were going to catch New Jersey in the standings. All this will do is take points away from the teams we will be battling for a playoff spot with. Kovy will be huge for the Devils this season - and that is where it ends. They won't re-sign him, not for the money he wants. Jersey added him to make a big push to get Mmmaaaarrrtttyyy one more Cup and Kovy will help in that effort. They get a young defenseman with him and surrender talented youngster Nik Bergfors, capable defenseman Johnny Oduya, overrated elbow-throwing Patrick Cormier and a first rounder, which will likely be quite late in the opening round of the next draft. That package is nothing compared to what Atlanta tried to get from the Rangers ...

*One of the things that was most impressive about the Ranger effort on this night was that they actually carried the puck. They didn't do their normal dump, let the other team get the puck and backtrack back into their own zone. They hauled it over the blueline and made things happen using their talent - which is much more appropriate with their skill set.

*As my buddy Miserable Eric pointed out, when the team gets a 5-3 lead at the end of the second period, how does the coach put the fourth line with Redden and Rozsival out on the ice to counter the Caps top unit to finish off the frame? They oh-so-unsurprisingly choke up a goal with nine seconds left and gave Washington back some life.

*The Rangers helped it along by taking penalty after penalty after penalty. But discipline comes from the aforementioned leadership and the lack thereof will doom this team to mediocrity for a long time coming.

*Tortorella talks about accountability and yet Redden was the only one to feel the whip. When does Michal Rozsival take his proper place in the press box? The guy made one great defensive play on a three-on-one but was directly involved in giving up three goals against.

*Olli Jokinen had himself a power play goal but took himself a hat trick of penalties - two of which resulted in Washington goals. Then he was called upon to take an offensive zone faceoff in the final minute with the team down one and he lost it cleanly. Cleanly! The Caps cleared and that was pretty much that.

*Is it bad when Chris Drury blocks a shot and everyone prays that it is a long term injury? While he played up the impact of the Ovechkin shot to get some kind of sympathy, the Caps scored a goal. Mysteriously he went from being doubled over in "pain" to being right back on the ice the next shift. And later the captain takes a borderline penalty to negate a Ranger power play. Usually when a player is hurt we are happy to see the ugy bounce back and play and yet an audible groan was heard when he jumped right back on the ice, good as new. Drury was on the fourth line and yet he played nearly 20 minutes. Why? The Rangers scored five goals and he had no part in any of them on his way to a -2. That number is a lie as he was on the ice for five of the six goals against. That's $7 million a year for what? The Blueshirts finally scored on the power play - three times in fact - and he wasn't on the ice for two and had nothing to do with the third; coincidence? I think not.

*Tom F-ing Poti scored. Poti. Sure he was woeful in his own end and essentially gave the Rangers at least two if not three of their goals, but the goal he scored just made me want to puke and I am hoarse right now from yelling at him all night. What a bum. Still, would rather habe him than Rozsival or Redden - cheaper incompetence.

*Dan Girardi and Hobey Gilroy needs to play less with Redden because the veteran is clearly rubbing off all of his bad qualities upon the two of them.

*Is there a more useless player on the Ranger roster than Arty Anisimov? He doesn't necessarily hurt the team but he certainly doesn't help it. Chalk that two-goal game from a few weeks back up to a fluke and he still belongs back on the farm.

*After tearing apart the team I feel I should say something nice. Vinny Prospal wasn't bad. After he skated away from a loose puck in the Washington end in the first period so he could take a rest, he became the focus of some hate but he came back and put up four points on the board by cashing in on all of that play with the man advantage. Let's hope that this was the game that finally gets him back on track after that injury.

*Erik Christensen was also quite good. Christy is a capable puck mover who certainly has chemistry with Vinny and Gabby.

*Wouldn't have been nice to have Marian Gaborik score?

*Gotta love Ryan Callahan and his heart but seriously, why can't he score on a breakaway?

*Brandon Prust and Jason Chimera came together after a whistle early in the first but didn't throw down and frankly, a fight was all this game was missing.

*There was a good number of Caps fans in the building, and the vast majority was clearly bandwagoners wearing jerseys and t-shirts that still likely had the tags on them. Two particular clowns in my section had brand new, red Mike Green and Semyon Varlamov sweaters over their monogrammed dress shirts. Lame! The only Washington fan that garnered any credibility was the dude wearing the black Steve Konowalchuk jersey.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Vinny Prospal - two goals and two assists.
2-Nicklas Backstrom - one goal and four assists.
1-Alexander Ovechkin - two goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Prospal - Nice to see him wake up.
2-Backstrom - His hands are great, his timing is great and his skating is phenomenal. This kid is the real deal and doesn;t get enough credit playing in OV's shadow.
1-Ovechkin - Yeah, it's a big shadow cast by this guy because he's good. Very, very good.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hartford 3, Lowell 2

Last night the New Jersey Devils allowed their AHL affiliate from Lowell to play a regular season game at the Rock, facing off against the Ranger affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack. It was the third time this season that they did it, once in preseason and once earlier this month. I missed the one on January 6th (a Devil 3-2 win) but made it to the preseason match and last night's 3-2 win in overtime.

In Lou We Trust was there as well and posted a Devil-centric wrap. So here are some of my observations; sorry no photos as I have a contentious relationship with my camera at the moment:

*Minor league hockey is really fan friendly - it is cheap entertainment that is great for families. It is a shame that this game wasn't promoted more as it surely could have gotten more people. As is, there were a decent number of fans - probably a few thousand. The entire upper bowl of the Rock was cordoned off and most was blocked by black curtains but the lower bowl's luxury seats (between the bluelines) were all full - something that never happens during Devil games. It was general admission for $15 a ticket ($10 for kids) so everyone got to enjoy the high life for a bit. And perhaps the best thing is that the youngsters got to sit by the glass to see the speed and everything up close, which is only good for the future of the sport.

*Even with the game not getting much advance talk on the blogs or the papers, there was still a good showing of Ranger/Hartford fans. At one point I sat a few rows behind a guy wearing what looked like a game-worn Wolf Pack Blair Betts sweater. That's awesome.

*It was very quiet, which was creepy. When the Hartford power play did it's best impression of the Blueshirts special team, I pointed out that they indeed had the man advantage and it reverberated around the arena. Very strange, but funny. I had a bunch of high school kids chanting "sit down, shut up" clap-clap-clapclapclap which was utterly hilarious and something I plan on stealing for use in the Garden. Of course, these same high schoolers were unattended by parents and used vicious blue language that should have gotten them ejected as there were so many little kids around.

*As I mentioned, the Wolf Pack power play was pretty damn bad. They ended up going 1-7 with the lone tally coming from Brodie Dupont working the slot.

*Dupont was the best Hartford player on the ice. He went to the net, he carried the puck, he backchecked, killed penalties ... he was all over the place and his effort was exceptional.

*Evgeni Grachev? Notsomuch. If this kid is the future of the franchise, then our franchise is f-ed. Grachev was abysmal and was kept off the ice in the overtime. He definitely has size, he definitely has hands but he just couldn't get his act together out there. I saw him cough up the puck several times in the first period and then didn't notice him at all.

*The game went to overtime because Hartford clung to their 2-1 lead late in the game and collapsed into their own zone. Lowell was able to move the puck around to get the equalizer in the last minute and had what would have been the game-winner go over the goal line inside the far post past the sprawled Matt Zaba just a second after the final buzzer. Talk about saved by the bell...

*Zaba plays an entirely different game from Chad Johnson. Where DosNueve is economical with his movements, Zaba is outright twitchy. Still, he made several big saves and couldn't be faulted for at least one, if not both of the goals against.

*His counterpart, Mike McKenna, is a long goaltender like Valley who uses his pads well. McKenna had a clear view of Dupont's overtime game-winner (with 20 seconds left in the extra frame) and it just eluded his glove. He got a taste of the NHL last season but will need to do better than he did on this night if he is to get back to the show.

*Jordan Owens, who fed Dupont for the game-winner, kept himself involved all game. I would like to think he will get a shot at the show as a Higgens/Sjostrom-esque grit and goals guy but I didn't see enough of his offense to make a fair judgement.

*Earlier in the season I asked why Corey Locke wasn't given a shot when the Rangers suffered through so many scoring woes but now I see why. The diminutive center is easily shut down by tight checking.

*I would like to say good things about Ilkka Heikkinen but I didn't really see him doing too much. Still, he has to be an upgrade from Rozy and should be more comfortable in a Blueshirt with fellow Finn Jokinen around so let's give him a shot...

*The Devils' Louis Robitaille is an obnoxious thug. He is just the kind of player you love to hate and I definitely hate him. The guy cheap shots, takes big liberties with his hits and tries to start fights from behind the officials. Basically he is Cam Janssen with less courage (if that's possible). It was great seeing Devin DiDiomete land a few punches despite being hugged to death when the two tussled in the first period.

*Few Devils stood out other than that clown. Tim Sestito scored on a sweet shot over Zaba and was a major part of the Lowell offense but even then, that isn't saying too much as they play typical Devil hockey.

And even with the Devils being tight and boring for much of the penalty-filled affair, it was still a enjoyable experience and one that will hopefully happen again. Perhaps the next time they will advertise it better so more people can get in on the inexpensive fun.

Peepin' Foes: Washington Capitals

Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust make their Garden debuts in Blueshirts tonight as the Rangers take on the Washington Capitals at 7 p.m. (MSG).

Where We Are: Coming off a three game road trip where the team went 1-2 but played considerably better than they did in the four straight losses that preceded the western swing.

Where They Are: Oh, just on a 11 game streak - 11 wins. In a row. Can you imagine? And, all it did was put them in first place in the league. And they've won six of the last eight games against the Rangers. Yeah, this looks good for us.

Who To Watch For: Really? Do I need to list 'em? Ovie, Nick Backstrom and Alex Semin are all scorchingly hot right now. Tomas Fleischmann, Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich are all providing secondary scoring - heh, that would be nice. Secondary scoring, on the Rangers?

What To Watch For: Matt Bradley has one goal in his last 18 games, which of course makes him the odds-on favourite to score. Washington started slowly in each of the last two games, yet still pulled through - if the Rangers can score a bunch of goals early ... ok, any goals ... they can not rest on their laurels and certainly can not do the typical Ranger second period slacking.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: Smarter coaching - no five forwards on the power play. No Chris Drury on the power play. Jose Theodore to change back from Theorgasm to Three-or-more. Someone cream Tom Poti for skating off the ice with his hand to his ear last spring; that sight still haunts me. Brandon Prust not to be all Ryan Hollweg again and not take a borderline boarding penalty and to get into a real fight this time, likely with Jason Chimera.

Also Check Out: I could give you a list but really, there is no point. Japer's Rink is the best Caps blog, hands down.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

25-25-7: My Kingdom For A Goal

There are a lot of ways to look at the Ranger 2-1 loss to Los Angeles tonight. You could say they played a tight road game against a red-hot young team and only lost by a goal. You could say that the power play cost the Rangers the victory. You can say that the Rangers picked up their game and got great chances late but couldn't solve an Olympic goaltender in Jonathan Quick. You could say the Rangers made two bad mistakes and they ended up behind their Olympic goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. You can say that the pucks didn't bounce the Ranger way as they hit the post twice and got a puck through Quick that didn't go in. You could say that a loss is a loss and the Rangers lost.

You can say all of those things and you would be completely right on all counts. But the simple statement is Rangers 2, Kings 1. And that is what matters. The Blueshirts went 1-2 on the three game western swing and will come back to the Garden to face Washington and New Jersey later this week. This is not an easy stretch but with the playoff race being what it is, if the Rangers can keep treading water with occasional wins until they get their ship together it will be enough to keep them in the hunt. Notes for now:

*I've mentioned it here before, Christensen should not have been removed from Gabby's side when Prospal returned. The two have chemistry, which seems to be a dirty word to john Tortorella but in actuality something good for a hockey team. What a sexy goal by the two of them. And Cally came oh-so-close to redirecting in that Prospal feed that it makes you wonder how these lines should be fleshed out.

*Olli Jokinen had the first shot of the game with a shot late in the first period. Sure it was just a low shot but 1- it wasn't right into Quick's glove and 2- Jokinen followed it to the net. Too often this season Rangers are lettin' 'em fly and going for a change or pulling up and waiting for teammates. Throughout the night he went to the boards, tried to fight through traffic and seemed more than willing to let it fly so let's hope this is the start of something good.

*Everyone has been focusing on Jokinen's magnificent biker mustache but anyone notice his eyes? All I could think about was the line from Jaws, "Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be living." They were kinda creepy but hey, if it works for him ....

*Here is a question for the Meigrey folks out there - did Jokinen get a new jersey or just a Kotalik with a new nameplate sewed on top?

*Joe Micheletti is a tool. Saying the Rangers are skating well after they were pinned in their own zone for four minutes is just dumb. Talking about the good, young Kings defense while the truck is airing a highlight from 38 year old Sean O'Donnell also isn't good television. His continual apologizing for Redden and Rozy is just shameless PR to boot. I mean, most people forget that the TV announcers are not real journalists but team employees and the constant positive spin for these colossal failures is just ridiculous. Who are you trying to fool? Not a single word as how Rozy stood frozen while Brown passed the puck right through him to Smythe for the second Kings goal.

*Playing the part of incompetent fourth liner who makes a mistake on the power play that results in a shorthanded goal? Chris Drury, aka the worst Ranger captain ever. And, going back to the whole MSG as a extension of the team's public relations, Ron Duguay hangs the mistake on the new guy Jokinen instead of the captain. If Drury wasn't holding onto the boards to stay on his skates far away from the action, the Kings wouldn't have had the width of the ice to pick off the pass. And later, with the game hinging on an offensive zone faceoff with seconds left, Drury couldn't get the puck - instead he stood there tying up his opposition and praying someone else comes in. You had to know this was coming: Blair Betts > Chris Drury.

*I watch a significant amount of hockey and it appears to me that the Rangers, more than most other teams, rely upon dumping and chasing to gain the zone on a power play. It doesn't work when they can't regain possession. And it definitely doesn't work if Chris Drury is a part of it.

*Not to disparage the MSG guys, but missing the first fight of Brandon Prust's Ranger career sucked. I understand that they want to get into the replay as quickly as possible so they can get the analysis in before the puck is dropped again but damn, it was a bang-bang kinda thing and all of a sudden we see the guys falling to the ice. Even with the replay, we didn't see what led to Prust throwing down the gloves - the bad angle replay cut in with him spinning in the zone and going over to the guy.

*On Prust, I have already heard one comparison to Ryan Hollweg after this performance. I think it is mistaken, and I think Prust showed why in the third period with smart, good play and a good scoring chance.

*Not Rangers but Dion Phaneuf also fought in his first game with his new team tonight and Dion, who many of us would have loved to have in NY, fought and kept his helmet (and visor) on while fighting. Classless. Also in that Leafs' game, Freddie Sjostrom was the third star after getting the primary assist on the game winner. Miss you Sjo.

*Talking with friend of the blog Andrea, we decided it would be utterly incredible if Sean Avery had "BITE ME" written on the front of his mouth guard. Of course, you would rarely see it as he has his mouth open yapping so often, but it would be hilarious nonetheless. MSG caught Sean yapping at fans coming off the ice after the first period and with Kings after most every whistle. Love that guy.

*If Michael Del Zotto can develop as quickly and as well as Drew Doughty, we will have one helluva defenseman on our hands. He continues to make amazing long-distance passes and shows a willingness to hit, we just have to get the rest of his game together.

*Totally random but do you think that James Patrick cursed the number three when he was dumped by the Rangers? Since him Stan Neckar, Kim Johnsson, Tom Poti and Michal Rozsival all wore it. Ok, so Johnsson wasn't terrible but he was dealt for the concussed, clueless Eric Lindros so it's still a loss.

*Funny how during his second intermission interview Brian Boyle pointed out that it was sad saying goodbye to Chris Higgins, oh yeah, and Kotes too, but really Higgins. Ha. Guess Kotalik didn't make many friends on the team ...

*Ranger fans are great - anyone else catch the Potvin Sucks whistle midway through the third period? It may be a nuisance at the Garden every game, multiple times per game, but once, loudly, in an away arena? Awesome.

*Last game I mocked the third jerseys of the Avalanche but I only have praise for the Kings. Throwback black-white-silver colour scheme and clean, simple design. That's a nice sweater.

*Jack Johnson will be playing on Team USA in Vancouver but after watching this one, you just have to question why? I don't know about you guys but I was completely unimpressed. I thought that his teammate and fellow American Matt Greene was far better in this one.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Henrik Lundqvist - 19 saves.
2-Jon Quick - 20 saves.
1-Anze Kopitar - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Wayne Simmonds - I initially wanted to give this start to Kopitar but you expect the young superstar to have the speed and hands he showed. And Anze beat Hank gloveside, which we know is no big accomplishment. But Simmonds really impressed me with smart, responsible play on both sides of the ice.
2-O'Donnell - The old guy is exactly what the Rangers need: a steady, physical, crease-clearing defenseman. Exactly what Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival (and Hobey Gilroy and Dan Girardi of late) are not.
1-Quick - As Andrea said to me, USA would be better suited going with Quick right now instead of Tim Thomas. Of course, neither one will start over Ryan Miller but Quick is certainly making his case for it; the kid is good.

The Deal Is Done

Of course, not long after I finished the Peepin' Foes and watched the rest of the Calgary game, the trade we've all been waiting for has finally gone through: the Rangers have dealt Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins to the Flames for Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust. Sorry to see Higgins go but this trade is a win for the Blueshirts. Kotalik's New York experiment was not unlike Valeri Kamensky's at the turn of the millennium - the guy put up points but that contribution wasn't enough to overcome his defensive weaknesses and he didn't get the ice time he wanted. As for Higgins, as I have always said, at least he tried. Smithtown's hustle was admirable, but his inability to score was distressing (at best).

So in return for those guys, the Rangers add a playmaking center in Jokinen who clearly needed a change of scenery. The guy had been a all-world talent for a span but somehow lost that of late. But if there is a single coach in the NHL who believes that Olli Jokinen can still be a star, John Tortorella has to be it. Post-lockout, Tortorella saw Jokinen skate against his Lightning on Florida 23 times and Jokinen scored 33 points in those games, including six three-point nights. The last two times he played against the Rangers, he grabbed an assist in each game (one with Phoenix on Nov. 24, 08 and one with Calgary Nov. 7, 09).

Now Torts can slot Jokinen in the middle between Prospal and Gabby, and can slide Dubi down to the second line. A second unit of Dubi, Cally and Avery could be outright scary. Dru or Arty can get slotted out on the wing on the third line with Lisin while you put Boyle, Prust and @Voros34 out as a don't-f@#k-with-us, grind-it-out fourth line. Or mix them in with the third line "talent" to balance the bottom two lines out. Seeing as Prust can fight, this could also hopefully be the end of Brashear's stay on Broadway, which would make this deal an outright victory - even if Jokinen never scores a single point.

Sorry for the Photoshops, they were quite rushed.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Peepin' Foes: Los Angeles Kings

Prepare to stay up late Tuesday night because the boys are out West for a 10:30 start on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings (MSG).

Where We Are: Coming off of four periods of inspired play. Of course that came after many more periods of uninspired play but let's not think about those. Having won three of the last 11 games kinda shortens the memory.

Where They Are: Flying. L.A. has won eight of their last nine and six in a row - five on a road trip capped off with a wonderful come-from-behind beating of Mmmmaaaarrrrtttyyyy that had two goals in the final 1:46 turn the tables on the Devils. They are young, they are exciting and they may fly all the way up to the Olympic break ... unless the Rangers can stop them now.

Who To Watch For: Ahn-Jay Kopitar is a superstar and has only been helped by the presence of (former) Captain Canada Ryan Smyth. The Slovenian - not to be confused with Slovakian - has great wheels, sick hands and hockey smarts. Sloppy Seconds Jarret Stoll and a rejuvenated Michal Handzus add depth down the middle. I heart Dustin Brown, a kid who hits everything that moves and has no issue with working in the trenches. He is like a cleaner version of Pat Verbeek or the Western version of Ryan Callahan. Alex Frolov has been under-whelming but Wayne Simmonds is developing into a good player. Oh yeah, and they have Drew Doughty, who doesn't get the credit he deserves out East. Forget sophomore slump, Doughty is flourishing into Ray Bourque.

What To Watch For: People harped on Craig Anderson's omission to the Olympic team because of the hot season he is having. Well, Jon Quick has been just as good and is still getting better. I watched Quick shut down Ovechkin and the Caps in early January and he was utterly astounding. See if he is jut as astounding against the Rangers. See if Hank is healthy enough to start or if Chad (and the rest of the Rangers) can keep their momentum going after the win in Colorado.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: The Kotalik trade saga come to a close. Callahan to be better than his future Olympic teammate Brown. Any Ranger defenseman keeping Smyth away from the crease. A power play goal ... by the Blueshirts.

Also Check Out: The Battle of California, Life in Hockeywood, A Queen Among Kings sold out and moved to SBN at Jewels From The Crown, Purple Crushed Velvet and Rich Hammond moved over to Kings Insider.