Sunday, October 31, 2010

5-4-1: Another Block Party


During the third period of the Rangers 2-0 win over Toronto on Saturday, the Rangers got a little too feisty near J.S. Giguere and the Leafs took exception. Greg Caggiano tweeted "Let's see a scrum like that in front of OUR net."

There shouldn't just be a scrum, there should be a brawl. It is difficult to believe, after performances like this, that the Rangers don't realize that their livelihood rests upon Swedish shoulders. How they don't do anything and everything to protect those shoulders is baffling.

The HNIC announcers broke down Henrik's play, pointing out how he plays deep in his crease more often than not. What they didn't point out is that he does it because 1- he is European and most goalies who come from the wider ice surface play deeper and 2- it is safer.

That being said, the Rangers played their second impressive defensive game in the Air Canada Center. Like the last time, the Blueshirts gave up the body, diving in front of shot after shot. Oh, there were breakdowns and Hank got crowded at times, but they repeated their Biron performance to limit Leaf chances. They blocked 35 shots in all, and yet Hank still made 36 saves.

Insane, right? But it does make sense - Toronto pressed the play with their energy and physicality, while the Rangers cowed back in their own zone. The team doesn't have much toughness and it certainly doesn't have much skill with Gaborik gone, so they fall back on their heels and give up the neural zone and the blue line.

They simply can't allow Pat Kane and the Hawks to do that on Monday. But they probably will. Let's just hope Hank can pull out another gem ...

Notes:

*Jim Hughson doing the play-by-play makes me think that I'm immersed in a video game rather than watching the Rangers. Brian Boyle scoring his fourth goal of the season doesn't help either, as that is far more likely in the virtual world than reality.

*But seriously, kudos to Boyle for bouncing back from an atrocious effort on Friday. When he plays his size, when he plays to his skill level, he excels. Boyle is not a particularly good hockey player, so being fancy and messing around with the puck is just stupid. When he just keeps it simple, good things happen. He skated hard, went to the net, went to the backhand and caught Giguere cheating away from the post. There was no wild stickhandling, no pulling up to wait for help. Plain, simple, north-south hockey.

*It has been mentioned many times that Chris Drury really shouldn't bother coming back but tonight's game changed my opinion. And it is all because of Ryan Callahan. Watching Cally closely, you can see what the kid has learned from the captain. He is slowly starting to combine the scoring prowess of Drury's youth with the defensive acumen of Dru now. The scoring is not coming easily - he was venturing into Higgins territory - but the talent is there. Dru racked up 47 assists one season, there is no reason to think that Cally can't if he ever gets the chance to skate with some snipers. Not to say that he can't score himself; as we saw with his penalty shot - he has hands. His hard work earned him that shot and he buried it.

*Another player stepping into a leadership role seems to be Brandon Prust. Prust is more of an enforcer than Brashear or Boogaard ever was. After the awful loss on Friday, Prust stepped up to the bell to go after Komisarek and then later Colton Orr. Where exactly was Boogaard? Prust had the visor removed before the game and immediately went to business; that's bold and that's appreciated. I mean, he went after Orr in Eminger's defense ... Eminger!

*Eminger, who stinks. But so does Gilroy and MDZ. The three of them are barely qualified to man a AHL blueline, much less a NHL one. Despite the CBC guys saying MDZ has avoided a sophomore slump (he hasn't), we have reached at the point where I wonder if a little time with JJ Daigneault might do MDZ some good. The only hope for us with Eminger or Gilroy is for an injury because that seems like what it will take to get the reliable Mike Sauer back in action.

*Grachev saw eight minutes or action but frankly, I can't remember most any of it. At least that is better than remembering just how disappointed I was with Alex Frolov. Again.

*Arty was alright - not as bad as he has been at times, not as good as he has been. He was involved and that is a plus for us. It was quite amusing watching him try to pull Boyle's move off in the third period, only to end up getting hammered into the net by West Islip white trash.

*Facing Toronto without Darcy Tucker just seems to leave Sean Avery on the outside looking in. He keeps pressing the action and skating hard but without a foil in Tucker, it just isn't the same.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brian Boyle - one goal.
2-Dan Girardi - one assist.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 36 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Prust - Face still messed up from the high stick, Prust held his own well being at bay for the sake of the team. More players should be as selfless - right now it seems like four, maybe five Blueshirts get it. Imagine what would happen if more did.
2-Girardi - Ever since the Carcillo/Gaborik incident, Girardi has played remarkably consistant - almost enough to forgive his mistake. Almost. Girardi has done quite well of late, especially when you consider that he is often saddled with MDZ as a partner.
1-Hank - I would say it is a pleasure to watch one of the top five goaltenders in the game go to work but it often gives me heart palpitations. Luckily he, and I, keep managing to pull though ...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

4-4-1: Another Home Disaster


Eight-plus hours removed from the final buzzer and it is still hard to think about the 4-3 loss by the Rangers tonight to the Hurricanes. After a bit of soul searching I have found some peace in this: as pathetic a piss-poor game as the Blueshirts played, they still came within a few posts of victory. That has to be heartening, right?

As the boys will be back in action in a few more hours, I'll just keep this brief:

*It is my sincerest wish that all of you MDZ apologists and fanboys at the start of the season are finally seeing the gaping holes in his game. Mike Sauer should be re-inserted into the lineup, not for Eminger (who is, indeed, not particularly capable himself) but for Del Zotto. The kid is incompetent in the Ranger end and his offense hasn't been good enough to make up for it. He is taking the extra slack Torts is giving to defensemen who want to pinch and helping tie the noose that is hanging the team. Time to teach the kid accountability.

*Nice goal by Staal though.

*Grachev played, supposedly. I noticed two shifts of his, one of which was passable with a hit but he turned the puck over.

*Anisimov can be knocked off the puck with a stiff breeze and is running around seemingly by himself half the time. That is better that Frolov, who isn't running around much at all. His halfhearted skating, shooting and passing are utterly infuriating.

*The officiating wasn't particularly pleasing either. But when you have to blame the refs ...

*The big swirl that makes up the logo of the Hurricanes must have looked like a target to the Blueshirts because it seemed like they were aiming for it - hitting Cam Ward in the chest time after time after time.

*Jeff Skinner is good.

*Brian Boyle was not. Up there with his worst efforts as a Ranger. And Brandon Prust needs to heal faster because his game is just not the same. His effort can not be questioned, but that extra spark is just not there.

*The only two Blueshirts to show legitimate chemistry is Avery and Fedotenko - and they have been together almost exclusively since preseason. Hmmm, playing together and staying together develops chemistry, which is good? What a concept? Too bad they were saddled with Susan on this evening.

*I said in Peepin Foes that the Rangers needed to limit the amount of space Anton Babchuk would get and they didn't, and it cost them.

*Good crowd but not a whole lot of Whalers jerseys (if any). A shame.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ryan Callahan - one goal and one assist.
2-Erik Cole - one goal and one assist.
1-Jeff Skinner - two goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Tuomo Ruutu - He hit, he was a pain in the ass and he collected a goal and two assists.
2-Hank - He was ran multiple times, he had no help whatsoever and he still kept the Rangers in it until the bitter end.
1-Skinner - So when your team sucks, you get higher draft picks, and high draft picks often turn into better players? How about that? Al Montoya what?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Peepin' Foes: Carolina Hurricanes

The circus may not come to town for a few months but the Garden is sure to be filled with clowns and animals as the Rangers have a Friday night home game to open Halloween weekend. The Blueshirts will face off against the Hartford Whalers, who will be dressed as some made-up team called the Carolina Hurricanes. Like they would put a real hockey team in Carolina. Haha.

Where We Are: The Rangers are 4-3-1 on the season and 3-1 in the last four - but sadly the second 1 was a hugely disappointing home loss at the hands of the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday.

Where They Are: The Canes are 4-4, coming off of their home opener on Wednesday, a 3-0 loss to the Caps. Carolina, lest you have forgotten, opened their season in Finland (with a pair of wins over Minnesota). They will face the Rangers tonight before heading right to Pittsburgh for Saturday night against the Pens - that means they will have one home game in their first 10; that's gotta suck for their 15 fans in Raleigh. (Yes, I know there is a dedicated fan base, no I don't care. Our Original Six status lets me look down on Karmanos' Folly. I miss the Whalers!)

Who To Watch For: After facing the No. 8 selection in the 2010 draft on Wednesday (Alexander Burmistrov), tonight brings No. 7, Jeff Skinner. Where Burmistrov collected his first point against us, Skinner already has a goal and three assists over Carolina's eight games. The other young stud, Jamie McBain, has been a disappointment with just two assists so far - killing me in fantasy. Eric Staal is still Eric Staal, Chad LaRose is still Chad LaRose. As usual, the Finnish contingent is dangerous in Jussi Jokinen, Joni Pitkanen and Tuomu Ruutu. Sergei Samsonov is scoring at a goal-every-other-game rate, which should put him in line for a goal tonight.

What To Watch For: Well, without the "intimidating" Derek Boogaard playing, watch for Ruutu to do his best impression of his brother and drive the Rangers crazy with dirty play. If Cam Ward starts, look for him to get on a roll - even though the Canes lost against the Caps, Ward was quite good. See how Geno Grachev fits into the Ranger roster and how much ice time Torts will be willing to give him. See if Frolov shows up for once, if Stepan can finally get over his Garden jitters and how Arty and Rozy fare despite their injuries.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: A Ranger team that plays 60 minutes. Not five, 10, 20, 40, 59 ... 60. Someone to step up if Hank gets hit. Our Staal to outperform theirs. Hobey Gilroy to finally get a point and prove he is worth a damn. An aggressive checking system that limits the amount of time Anton Babchuk, Uh Oh Corvo and Pitkanen have the puck.

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

Thursday, October 28, 2010

4-3-1: Oh Yeah, That's The Rangers I Know


All signs pointed towards a result like the one that we got tonight - a 6-4 loss by the Rangers at the hands of the Atlanta Thrashers. The team beat tough, meaningful opponents and looked good doing it. Then they faced a loser team that no one cares about and virtually no one cared about them - no one on the Rangers at least. It is the New York m.o. and the loss is not the least bit surprising.

There was nothing surprising about this loss and only one thing really worth raging about: early in the second period Marty Biron was ran by a Thrasher (Thorburn?), Steve Eminger crossed checked the guy, Derek Boogaard skated to the bench, the guy skated away and play continued. (I will fill in the details when I get to re-watch the game.) After years of watching lackluster efforts like this game, it is easy to accept them as par for the course. It is never easy to accept watch a NHL goaltender - especially one on the team you love - get bowled over and have no one do anything. And it is the second time it has happened this season.

With this being a anniversary year, we keep hearing about the history and pride of the organization. It is about time this bunch of Blueshirts show some pride.

Notes:

*The only Ranger who can look at himself and say 'well, at least I played my hardest every second I was on the ice' was Ryan Callahan. And you know what? He won't say that - which is all the more reason to love him.

*The turning point wasn't in the third period when they hit the post with six or seven minutes to go - it was in the second. Right after Avery scored to tie the game at two the Rangers had a power play and blew it. Someone, I forget who, turned and asked 'who the hell ices the puck on the power play?!?!' The Rangers, that's who. The momentum was all for the Blueshirts after the goal and the penalty but they blew it, and just a few minutes later Bergfors scored to make it a 3-2 game. They had to play catch-up and, despite an all-too-typical rally, they fell short.

*All four Ranger goals came from around the net - Cally one-timer from the top of the crease, Avery wrap around, White dunk and Boyle doorstep wrister. So why do they spend 90% of the time playing along the perimeter when they have a power play?

*Biron was nothing short of horrible. Professional goaltenders shouldn't allow goals to the short side, much less three of them. Everything that he did well in Toronto he didn't do well on this night. But it must be said that he certainly received less help from his teammates; no Maple Leafs sauntered around the Rangers the way Bryan Little did to score the first Atlanta goal. Pathetic. In case you were wondering, Steve Valiquette is still playing in the KHL.

*Six Ranger defensemen, and not a single iota of defensive acumen among them on this night. MDZ was an outright disaster and is showing that he is not ready (or simply not able to) run a NHL power play. Staal and Girardi are lost without each other. Rozy had some ups and downs before he was hurt and you really have to wonder what it is that Torts sees in Eminger. If Sauer can walk, he should be back in the lineup come Friday - if not for Eminger than for Hobey or Rozy.

*Do you think Todd White's goal made him more attractive to prospective trade partners? No? Me neither. That he was on the ice in the last desperate minutes of the third was simply stupid coaching.

*I'm wondering about the coaching a lot of late - why does Torts insist on his team using the crutch of dump and chase hockey? I mean, they aren't quite capable of outright puck possession - few guys can stickhandle and the team's passing leaves much to be desired - but damn, they are NHLers, they should be able to gain the blueline once in a while.

*Arty was injured, but whatever. Outside of his smart feed to Cally in the opening minute, he wasn't doing much of anything good. Watching him try to skate through three Thrashers at one point made my skin crawl.

*The other Russian, Alex Frolov, was a lazy waste of space. The Rangers were begging for someone to take control and make a play and yet Frolov was nowhere to be found. I watched one shift where the puck was deep in the Ranger zone and Frolov circled alone by the blueline. Where his teammates were scoring goals from in close, he stayed on the perimeter of the offensive zone. Where was the guy who looked so good in preseason?

*Derek Stepan continues to struggle at the Garden. His linemates Avery and Fedotenko are willing to trudge through the trenches to make plays, the kid needs to follow suit - just put his head down and work. He can't win a faceoff and looks lost half the time. In fact, he was replaced by Boyle on his line in the third period and Boyle scored.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Sean Avery - one goal and one assist.
2-Anthony Stewart - two assists.
1-Niclas Bergfors - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Andrew Ladd - His goal was an empty netter and he didn't deserve his assist on the Little goal (as my buddy Mike said, how do you give two assists when the scorer does all the work red line in?). But Ladd plays a simple, hard-nosed game that works.
2-Stewart - As I said in the Peepin' Foes, he hasn't been as hot as his brother but he has been contributing and that is what he did in this one. A fearless kid, he showed good ice sense and quick hands.
1-Dustin Byfuglien - Buff was a monster, the best player on the ice. He hit, he blocked shots and he took them - and one went in. A big power guy playing a big power game.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Peepin' Foes: Atlanta Thrashers

A Peepin' Foes? How about that. This is a limited scouting report as I've only been able to see one Atlanta game so far this season, and it could hardly be judged as true showing of their abilities as Ondrej Pavelec suddenly collapsed just minutes in. Well Pavelec survived - they still don't know what happened - but he will not be in New York tonight as the Thrashers visit the Rangers. He is down with the Wolves so we will see Chris Mason starting with former Islander Peter Mannino backing him up.

Where We Are: Coming off of three terrific efforts where the team finally appeared to 'get it.' Guys hustled, guys worked, and guys battled. Their pathetic power play didn't hobble them too much as they dispatched the Leafs, Bruins and Devils.

Where They Are: On a three game losing streak, having lost to Buffalo, Tampa and Washington. The most recent result was an overtime loss to the Caps where they lost the lead twice, tied the game with 33 seconds left and fell in overtime on a goal by Flash (Tomas Fleischmann). Mason made 40 saves but Atlanta lost 41 of 64 faceoffs and were outshot 44-32.

Who To Watch For: Former Devil Niclas Bergfors has been underwhelming but the contingent of reining Stanley Cup winners have helped carry the Atlanta core. Andrew Ladd (despite the photo on the right) is scoring at a point per game and big Dustin Byfuglien has six points in eight games despite moving back to the blueline. Young, undersized Swede Tobias Enstrom has stepped up as the power play quarterback and up front Evander Kane - he of the Cooke knockout - has five goals. Rich Peverley has yet to score this season but has historically been quite good against the Rangers (six points in six games). Anthony Stewart hasn't been quite as hot as his brother Chris (who clobbered us last week) but he has been contributing.

What To Watch For: Mason has started two games against the Rangers and won them both, albeit while with St. Louis. He thrives while facing a lot of rubber so the Blueshirts can't allow him to get comfortable. Borat, Nic Antropov, was benched for the Caps game and his time off might ignite his game. Former Devil Johnny Oduya should get good minutes with Zach Bogosian out with injury and he has been tough for the Rangers in the past.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: Another strong, strong effort by the Blueshirts. As I keep saying, these are the games where the Rangers come in underestimating their opponent and they don't play 100%. They have to play 100% and keep this run going. How about a few power play goals? Wouldn't that be nice. Boogaard vs Eager - forget Boulton, the goon. Eager will do his best to cause havoc and, with Prust still healing from the high stick to the eye, you don't want to see Avery get his ass kicked by the former Flyer.

Also Check Out: The Thrashers keep their own blog/PR machine called Blueland, the main stream media in Atlanta actually cover the team and Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons? (I still hate the SBN name so I won't use it) is a solid read.

Monday, October 25, 2010

4-2-1: Three Games, Four Nights, No Problem


All of the worries that New Jersey and Ilya Kovalchuk would come out flying after their Saturday embarrassments proved unwarranted on Sunday. The Rangers kept them grounded in a 3-1 win by the boys in blue.

Any win over Mmmmaaarrrtttyyyy and company is a good one but this marked the third straight solid effort by New York. The Rangers simply did their jobs and skated their hardest first against Toronto, then against Boston and then this evening. It is the kind of consistent, honest effort that we have been crying for for years now and it was a delight to watch.

That being said - because you know there had to be a hitch here - the Rangers have often stepped up their game against big opponents. I mentioned it in the Bruins wrap: these are the games you kind of expect them to come out for, the two coming up will where we see the true makeup of this bunch of Blueshirts. It is one thing when they take the ice against the Devils and another when they face the Hurricanes. I'm not taking anything away from what they've done, I'm just tempering my excitement and feel you would be wise to as well.

Some slap shots on this one:

*Games at the Garden just have a different feeling when it is John Amirante signing the national anthem. It was nice to have him set the tone for the night.

*On another musical note - the tunes during warmups were an offense against my ears. Dance remixes of metal songs (Danzig, Metallica), techno and hip hop? Really? How do you get pumped up from that? Oomps, Oomps, Oomps, ugh. After warmups there was just an odd mix through the game with Pantera popping up (YES!!) but sandwiched through the usual Garden garbage.

*Speaking of garbage, why is it that Jersey fans are seemingly embracing the Jersey Shore look and attitude? There were at least a half dozen of those ... people ... in my section. How vile.

*The title of the post is a bit misleading because there have been problems, just not crippling ones. The Rangers continue to lose more faceoffs than they win and the power play went just 2-14 over the three games. The lack of man advantage ability can be attributed to several factors, 1-the quarterbacks are not quarterbacking well, 2-the point people aren't getting pucks on net (if they shoot at all) and 3-few Rangers are paying the price in front. It is not surprising that the Rangers scored when Arty was by the net, Ryan Callahan joined him in the slot and was able to redirect a Dubi feed through Fatso's legs.

*Yes, that was me giving credit to Arty again. Buoyed by Dubi and Cally, the former Pack pups are pushing each other to play better. Cally set the tone with his relentless work and the other two have fallen in step to form a solid unit - they are simply getting it now.

*It would be a lesson well learned by some of the other Rangers, specifically Alex Frolov. He continues to play along the perimeter and continues to be a nonfactor.

*Sean Avery, always a factor when facing Fatso, had a pretty quiet game but was still effective. That high sticking hiccup aside (a dubious call if you ask me), Avery skated hard without being a distraction for his own teammates. He and Fedotenko play a good, simple game that can only be good for young Derek Stepan. Step yet again showed his nerves on Garden ice but it should only be a matter of time before he finds a comfort level that allows him to bring those stellar road efforts home.

*As with Corey Locke last season, Torts said he wanted to take a look at a Pack player and proceeded to give him virtually no ice time. Jeremy Williams saw less than four minutes so it is next to impossible to judge his ability. He saw 16 more seconds than Derek Boogaard, who has proved he has no ability.

*As Eric from 5-Hole asked me, it may be time for me to bust out my Michal Rozsival sweater. Rozy was ... wait for it ... wait for it ... good. He is not the player he was when Jagr was here - that is clear - but during the last few games he has been a solid, veteran presence on the blueline.

*But don't you guys worry about me, I still have someone to hate - Steve Eminger. The guy has no place on our team. Jim Cerny said that Mike Sauer was nicked up hurt and it certainly could have hurt the Rangers. Without his ability, Torts had to limit the third pairing to just over eight minutes - giving MDZ over 28 minutes. Torts burned MDZ out a bit early last season as well and that can not happen again. It is difficult to learn and grow when the pressure is that great.

*Credit to Brandon Prust for playing a day after a scary high stick. Usually when a player adds the protection of a visor or facemask, they can play with an extra level of fearlessness but Prust did not. He skated well and showed a good effort but was not the factor that he was against Toronto or early against Boston.

*There is nothing great about David Clarkson. He is like a scummier version of Avery, without the ability.

*Ilya Kovalchuk? Much ado about nothing. Overrated, overpriced, one-dimensional loser. He is a big reason why none of his teams have won a playoff series and that, hopefully (likely), won't change this year.

*Sorry about the delay on this wrap guys, it ended up being quite a late night, even for me.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brandon Dubinsky - one goal and one assist.
2-Ryan Callahan - one goal and one assist.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 27 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Rozy - This is the second time this season he has broken into my top three, which I think is two more times than all of last season. As I said, the younger offensive weapon that Rozy was is no longer but he is using the tools that he has left to be a pillar of the blueline. He could still be better, that is for certain, but he hasn't been the liability he was in recent seasons.
2-Hank - Much like he has done most matches against the Devils, Hank outdueled Mmmaaaarrrtttyyyy, clearing getting the better of the former Vezina winner. Hank's positioning has been perfect, he hasn't over committed and his puck tracking has been second to none.
1-Cally - A tale of two captains: there was Jamie Langenbrunner on one side of the ice, taking dumb penalties, arguing with the officiating and doing nothing on the ice. On the other side, Cally. Skating, hustling, keeping his feet moving, battling, working. Standing up for his teammates, drawing penalties and swarming Marty the Poo's honey hole (that just sounds dirty, sorry). Chris Drury's finger has helped Cally grow into the leadership role and we can only pray that his eventual return won't change that.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

3-2-1: Is Something A'Bruin?


You have to wonder what exactly the Rangers are cooking up right now. Are they developing into a tough team to play against, one that battles buzzer to buzzer, as they did against the Leafs and tonight against the Bruins? Or are they just playing like any team that is coming together away from home and without their stars? They've had their cages rattled by their coach, they haven't had the distractions of NYC and they are just playing hockey. So which is it?

Frankly, I don't think we will find out Sunday night. Going from a pair of Original Six foes to the Devs should make for another valiant Ranger effort. The proof will be in the next two games, a pair of 'softies' in the Garden against Southeast teams Atlanta and Carolina - exactly the kinds of teams/games that the Blueshirts blunder.

But that is later this week. Here are some quick notes on tonight's 3-2 tilt in Beantown:

*I am firmly in the group of puckheads that hates seeing fights after perfectly legal hits but, seeing as the Rangers rarely stand up for each other, seeing Sean Avery go after Mark Stuart was heartwarming, outstanding even. It took the Big and the Bad out of the Bruins and sent a 'don't tread on us' message. This was the kind of thing that should have happened against the Leafs.

*And that was just the first of three fights in the opening period, if you can call them fight. Boogaard wrestled with Thornton (and lost by decision) while Brandon Prust tussled with Milan Lucic in a linesman-interrupted battle. It is amazing how many fights Lucic is in that end prematurely with the stripes stepping in.

*Nice goal by Arty. There, I said it. Good eye-hand coordination.

*MDZ is still a defensive disaster, and his offensive skills haven't been used well at all. The Ranger power play that he is quarterbacking is a disaster. On one hand, it is missing a triggerman like Gaborik but on the other, they are all professional hockey players and, with a man advantage, you would think they would have just that - an advantage.

*Rozy is not. The Czech vet has had two great games in a row. If he keeps playing at this level of competence, I may have to break out that jersey of his like last season. The sweater set off a win streak then and Rozy could get more shots on net, it could do it again now.

*Mike Sauer is leading the way in my 'who will I get on the throwback jersey' race. He was given an assist on the fluke Frolov goal - a goal that probably didn't deserve assists - but it has been his steady defensive work that just blows my hair back. I've been an advocate for this kid from day one so it's just great seeing him finally get a shot and fare well.

*Todd White played five minutes, 5:04 to be precise. For $2.375 million this season and at 35 years of age, you have to think that he is not long for this franchise.

*Back to the question that was posed at the top, perhaps the team is taking on the personality of it's on-ice leader - Ryan Callahan. Cally has been Cally at his best, just minus some scoring. He will do anything to make the play and busts his ass every second of every shift. When Dru was healthy, the team was inconsistent, much like Drury himself. Sometimes Dru would be great, sometimes he would disappear. Cally? Notsomuch. You hope that Cally can regain some kind of scoring touch but there could be worse things than having a Chris Clark-type captain who would go through a wall for the team heading the Rangers.

*Of course, Dru would have been quite useful during all of the penalty kills. Two five-on-threes is just too much.

*It was funny watching Dubi skating around after his first period slashing call - you could tell he didn't want to go back to the bench, where he was sure to face Tortorella's ire.

*Hope Prust's eye is alright. Prust has given an honest effort all season and was having another solid hardhat game when he was high sticked. A guy like that will never wear a visor full time (and shouldn't have to). What the hell kind of classless idiots booed when he was clipped by Campbell? Man I hate Boston. I also hate Jersey and since that game is 16 hours away, I will just get to the stars ...

*PHW Three Stars
3-Nathan Horton - one goal and one assist.
2-Brandon Dubinsky - one assist.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 35 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Girardi - Like last game, I hedged on this final star. Staal scored, Cally was Cally and Dubi had a strong all-around game but Girardi played nearly seven minutes shorthanded. Ever since Eminger was eliminated from the blueline, the Ranger defense has played better as a unit and has been significantly tougher with Girardi leading the way.
2-Zdeno Chara - Serious credit has to go to whatever scout, coach or GM that actually saw the promise in that lumbering clown of a awkward goon the Islanders had on defense a dozen years ago. He is a monster of a man and plays his size on both sides of the ice.
1-Hank - Something about the Bruins brings out the best in Hank - from that insane save on Savvy a few seasons back to his tough work tonight. While this is the third time that I've made him one of my stars, I believe this was his first Kingly performance of the season.

Friday, October 22, 2010

MZA Update

With the injuries that have ravaged the Rangers, many have wondered just how the much-hyped Mats Zuccarello-Aasen has been faring as he makes his transition to Harford and North American hockey.

Bob Crawford, the Senior Vice President, Broadcasting and Media Relations of the team soon not to be known as the Wolf Pack and the author of Crawford's Corner, was kind enough to pass along a scouting report:

"He seems to me to be doing fine. The whole team really hasn't lit it up offensively to this point. It looks to me like he's still getting used to not having as much room out there and having to make all the plays a little bit quicker and with less space, but he doesn't seem to mind the rough going at all, and the two goals he has scored have been the result of being willing to go to the front of the net and battle."
The Pack have home games tonight and tomorrow night for those in and around Connecticut. Even though their home page has made the change, their official name change to the Connecticut Whale won't officially take place until November 27th, in a game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. And I don't believe it is official yet but it is expected that a game against Providence in February will be outdoors. Can't freakin' wait, even if it means paying to watch Wade Redden play again ...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

2-2-1: Unbe-Leaf-able!


If you are Henrik Lundqvist, sitting on the bench watching the Ranger 2-1 win over Toronto, what are you thinking?

Who are these guys and what did you do with the Rangers? Oh, the same guys? then why can't they play like this when I'm in net?

When the announcement was made that Marty Biron was starting, I figured that the Blueshirts were writing off this game but the exact opposite happened - they tightened up and played good hockey. They forced the action rather than letting the Leafs dictate it. When they were forced to react, instead of setting back on their heels, they stood up and got in the Leafs' faces, blocking shots and passes. Forechecking, backchecking, shot blocking, shocking!!!!

It is the efforts like these that infuriate me that much more when we see the listless, halfhearted garbage night after night. Last year's team had efforts like this but had many more when they didn't show up. Perhaps the new A on Staal's sweater marks A new start. Then again, maybe not so we might as well enjoy it while we can. But before I break out the beer, some notes:

*The two early goals assured Colby Armstrong would escape his come-uppance because there is no way Torts would allow anyone to do anything to jeopardize the lead. You could see Torts seething when Avery got called for his slash late in the first period.

*Aside from that penalty, which was stupid to take because you knew the refs were looking for it, Avery had a great game. Reunited with Stepan and Fedotenko, they skated and skated and skated. They pressed the action and didn't allow the Leafs to get any kind of flow. Stepen clearly has been suffering from MSG-itis, a fear of playing in MSG. Where he was gripping his stick too tight, second guessing his moves and making mistakes at the Garden, he simply played hockey here. His comfort level was high and he had chemistry with Aves and Tank. Look for Torts to break them up again soon.

*Yes, I laughed when Arty scored on an assist from Rozy. No, I'm still not giving Anisimov credit. Kaberle was watching the puck like a cat watches a laser pointer, he gave Arty body position and forgot he was there. Boogaard could have scored that. All credit to Rozy for the perfect feed and Gustavsson for not poking it away. Ok, I will give him a smidge of credit for his late faceoffs - he lost the puck but chased it, forcing the Leafs back - but I still don't enjoy watching him play.

*The other Ranger that has taken some tough words in this space this season - well, the other one that played tonight - MDZ was far better in the Ranger end. All of the Blueshirt blueliners were better than usual. Gilroy didn't panic and nearly scored a goal. Rozy's assist, as I said, was a beautiful thing, and Sauer quietly stepped into the lineup and did his job. It was delightful to see him do that; hopefully that means we will never see Eminger again.

*If I am going to be nice to MDZ and Arty, well, then the venom has to go elsewhere and it lands on Alex Frolov, who was disappointing. He definitely put forth some effort but it didn't get him or the Rangers anywhere. His miss on the empty net after Hobey hit the crossbar had me twitching. Especially after Cally batted the puck out of midair in the first period.

*Boogaard finally got into his first fight as a Ranger. It wasn't particularly impressive - a prearranged battle with Colton Orr that had no meaning in the context of the game. Boogaard landed a few big punches, missed a few more and was taken to the ice - certainly a better showing than Brashear had in his first battle as a Ranger last year. But he played 2:59 and sat in the penalty box for five - is that worth the $20k or so he makes per game?

*Rangers went 25-31 at the dot and 0-5 on the power play. I really don't want to talk about either. Let's just be happy with the win.

*Where Erik Christensen was disappointing yet again, Todd White had perhaps his best showing yet. White is a capable two-way center and he played like it.

*Anyone know why Mike Komisarek played just 12 minutes?

*PHW Three Stars
3-Arty Anisimov - one goal.
2-Luke Schenn - 19,310 Leaf fans cheering everything he did.
1-Marty Biron - 24 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Rozy - Hey, I'm as shocked as you are. Actually I was going to give the third star to MDZ but saw a replay of Rozy's feed to Arty and it gave him the edge. Actually this could also go to Girardi ... let's just say that the Blueshirt blueliners get the third star.
2-Biron - For all of the defensemen's efforts, Toronto was still able to get a lot of good chances and Biron stopped them. Gustavsson made more saves but Biron made better ones. He stayed square to the shooters, showed great economy of motion and calmly controlled the crease.
1-Ryan Callahan - Wouldn't it be great if we could strip the C from Drury and hand it to Cally? Up and down the ice, never stopping - his effort night after night is so great to watch.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

1-2-1: Dreadful


You can look at the Rangers' 3-1 loss to the Avalanche (and the next month of action) one of two ways:

1- What did you think would happen? Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal - arguably three of their most valuable forwards are injured. Without them, well, the Rangers can't be expected to compete with healthy, skilled, well coached teams.

2- Even without the injured trio, the Rangers still have Henrik Lundqvist and that makes them competitive against anyone. If only a few breaks went their way ...

I, as you surely guessed, refuse to use the crutch that is the first option. But, that being said, the players who aren't hurt and the coach who runs their bench have to come together and give Lundqvist something to work with. You make your own luck and on this evening the Rangers did not. Desperately grasping at the straws of the barren cupboard of forwards, Tortorella slapped together some lines that were utterly devoid of chemistry or capability. The Rangers had no idea of where their teammates were, had no idea what do to with the puck the rare times they had it and were completely outworked by the younger, hungrier Avalanche squad.

The box score, in it's black and white way, allows an observer to say that it was just a momentary mental/defensive/whatever lapse in the third period that gave Colorado two goals in 26 seconds and decided the game. But it was so much more than that, and so much more painful. Sure it was just the fourth game of the season but it was just the fourth game of the season - how can the team already be so far off the message and look so disorganized?

Notes:

*Without Hank, the Aves would have put up a 10 spot. He was surely culpable in the goals he allowed but the barrage of good scoring chances he endured was ridiculous.

*We knew that the defense would be bad, but really, who thought it would be this atrocious. As in the days when they were saddled with the incompetence of their partners Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are regressing. They are trying to do too much and end up doing far too little. Rozy is still far from the player he was when Jagr was here and Michael Del Zotto simply does not know how to play his position. The third pairing of Steve Eminger and Hobey Gilroy isn't fit to play in the AHL, much less the NHL. How and why Tortorella insisted on bringing them back again after the Toronto game is utterly beyond me but the two should be sent to Greenville ASAP. Reinsert the quietly capable Mike Sauer and either re-sign Anders Eriksson (who I believe was released from the Isles) or bring up one of the kids from the Pack. Eminger is a journeyman for a reason and Hobey was a great college player but is not a NHL caliber guy - at least not yet.

*The lack of chemistry was painfully obvious. Colorado would skate as a unit to gain the zone, moving together with smart, short passes and some actual puck carrying. The Rangers just kept panicking and going back to their classic dump and change - not dump and chase. Not to mention the utter incompetence of the power play unit. Different year, same complaints: no decisive QB, telegraphing passes, painful shot selection (if there is a shot at all) and no one battling in the crease.

*If Mark Messier can't teach the Rangers how to win faceoffs, how do you people expect him to take over the GM job and run the organization? The centers couldn't win a draw to save their lives and it allowed the Aves to dictate the play from the drop. Being at home is supposed to give you an advantage at the dots ...

*Chris Stewart is everything I had hoped Brandon Dubinsky would be when they moved him to wing. Instead Dubi mucks about in a north-south game looking to pass to guys who can't finish. He should be the finisher, a power forward willing to drive to the net.

*When the Rangers were bored and listless and going through the motions with it tied at one, it woulda been great to see Derek Boogaard go out there and make something happen, huh? And his intimidation factor is so great that it, like totally, stopped TJ Galiardi from boarding Dan Girardi, right? Oh wait, it didn't and MDZ took a retaliation penalty that negated a Ranger power play (not that they wouldn't have blown it like the other five, but still).

*I honestly did not notice Erik Christensen was in the lineup until the 16 minute mark of the third period. I did notice Todd White several times and thought that seeing that 12 jersey skating around doing nothing was awfully familiar of too many nights last season - when both Kotalik and Jokinen donned the digit.

*All of you guys who tore me apart for being critical of Arty Anisimov, are you finally seeing what I saw from day one? For his size he can be pushed off the puck 99 percent of the time by a strong gust of wind. His skating is lacking - he kept falling down in this one. And he simply doesn't have the drive. Call me Don Cherry but it is a trait shared by fellow former communist Alex Frolov. Frolov seems to believe that doing the same move 18 times coming out from behind the enemy net will somehow have a different result some day. The bottom line is that both of these guys are obviously talented but they just don't seem to have that extra oomph that would make them reliable night in and night out.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Alex Frolov - one goal.
2-Craig Anderson - 31 saves.
1-Chris Stewart - two goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - Two of the three goals against came when shorthanded. Its been said before and will be said again - the Rangers are wasting away what appears to be the prime of his career.
2-Paul Stastny - He doesn't have the flair that his dad seemed to have but he certainly has the grim determination and will to win. Stastny was battling all over the ice and had no trouble taking his fight to Hank's doorstep.
1-Stewart - Prior to the game I pointed out to a friend - a lapsed Avalanche fan - that Stewart was the hottest player on the Aves entering the evening and he proved me right. The strides that he has made in his career have been remarkable and, judging from what we saw tonight, he still has yet to reach his peak.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

1-1-1: That Looked Familiar


The Rangers encapsulated their entire 2009-10 season in one game tonight when they lost in overtime to Toronto, 4-3. They got off to a great start, thudded through a horrible middle, battled like hell at the end before blowing it. Their best players were invisible outside of Hank and they were saved by their grinders before everyone fell just a little short. That being said, there were some differences. The defense in the second period was the worst I have ever witnessed by the Rangers ever. Ulanov, Quintal, Pilon, Poti, Malik, Redden ... the six Blueshirt blueliners as a corps were a disaster. Injuries didn't really effect the Rangers last year and this night saw both Gabby and Dru go down. Let's just jump into it:

*Every "entertainment" decision made by the Garden brass was wrong. They did individual player intros, but ignored all of the scratches until the end as an afterthought. They dug up Ace Freeley to poorly sing a old song no one wanted to hear. On the heels of that, with everyone just wanting the puck drop, they took 10 minutes trying to describe the life and times of Lester Patrick. Lester's importance can't be summed up that quickly and it just sounded like droning in the wake of the warbling Freeley. Having two of his grandkids - both of whom work for other NHL teams - drop the puck was nice, if only to see Drury win a faceoff - but really, Craig Patrick helped build the Cup-winning Penguins, I don't care about his bloodline. The so-called celebrity sightings were droll - Ronny Turiaf, Pat Ewing Jr., Liam Neeson? Really? A bunch of gymnasts jumping around on a trampoline? What does that have to do with hockey? Where are the little kids? And what the hell was the guy playing an off-tune electric violin to Led Zeppelin? Tied 3-3 with seven minutes left, let's watch Dancin' Larry! Ugh! Not to mention that the music during warmups was atrocious. Dance remixes of Metallica? What the f...???? The Rangers ignored the most obvious thing - the fans were there to watch hockey, not for any kind of other entertainment.

*From a Garden regular and an admitted curmudgeon, I thought the fans were horrible - a lot of people with no clue at their one game of the year filling the concourses and getting in the way. And Potvin Sucks, we know. Woo hoo, you all know a chant. Congrats. As the team is trying to claw their way back from a 3-1 deficit against Toronto? Completely unnecessary.

*I will give them some credit as I wasn't the only one to applaud when the Rangers finally reached double digits in shots. Toronto, the second worst team in the league last year, completely dominated the Blueshirts in the second period. That marks two games in a row where the Rangers were outworked by a younger, hungrier, less skilled team. Unacceptable.

*It is easier to pick out the players who deserve accolades than the ones who deserve lashings. Brian Boyle came up with a pair of seeing-eye shots that went in for goals - just like the one he scored during preseason. Amazing how the grinder knows just to throw the puck on the net and see what happens while so many of the skill guys are blind to it. Brandon Prust saw only nine minutes of ice time and was arguably the best Ranger on the ice outside of Hank - and I called that he would fight Brown btw. Lundqvist was the only reason the game wasn't 7-1 by the third period. Ruslan Fedotenko had another quietly solid game while his linemate Sean Avery was, well, Sean Avery. He busted his ass, missed wide open chances, set up other scoring chances, let his emotions get to him, got screwed by the refs, made terrible turnovers, made nice checks ... he was involved.

*Speaking of the refs, as was pointed out to me the other day, a team shouldn't put themselves in a position where the officiating can play a role. And I have to agree. The Rangers should have been smarter and better - that goes without saying - but the refs were pretty bad. Missing obvious calls, calling borderline infractions, stopping fights, and I particularly enjoyed the linesman not bothering to move before kicking the puck to the Leafs to set up their second goal.

*I admittedly have yet to see Avery hacking Mike Komisarek's ankle on replay. But how does a guy go from shuffling along the ice looking like he would never walk again to skating off smiling and skating the next shift?

*Now that Dru and Gabby are out, how do you replace them? You move Gilroy to the wing - he simply can not play defense - and you hope Erik Christiansen is good to go. To my knowledge Kennedy can't come back without waivers, Zuccarello just scored his first North American goal so he isn't ready, Grachev isn't ready. Byers is the Hartford captain, Weise is not a scorer, Kelsey Tessier is tearing things up for the Whale but he is not a NHL player ... my buddy Eric floated the idea of BIll Guerin but I just don't see it. I think they make due with Christy and White for now.

*The Rangers were desperate for a change of fortune in the second period and yet 1- Torts never called timeout and 2- Derek Boogaard did nothing. Says a lot about both.

*I could go on about the top lines and how disappointing they all were too but it just isn't worth it. The only thing I will point out is that you could nearly see Stepan shaking in his first Garden game. Let's hope that those jitters worked themselves out tonight and he will be good to go Monday, because if tonight's Devil game is any indication, Colorado will be one tough opponent.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Sean Avery - two assists.
2-Brian Boyle - two goals.
1-Phil Kessel - two goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - The King made 34 saves and was under siege most of the night. He probably could have stopped one or two of the ones that went in but he gave the Rangers a chance to win when they clearly did not deserve it.
2-Tyler Bozak - Bozak dominated in the faceoff circle and collected a pair of assists. He is still goalless on the season but he is contributing to Toronto nonetheless.
1-Kessel - The man is a sniper, what can you say? Too bad he didn't come through when Team USA needed him in Vancouver.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Peepin' Foes: Toronto Maple Leafs

I was going to hold off doing Peepin' Foes until later in the season but circumstances are just too great not to put together a post: 1- the New York Rangers are opening their home schedule, 2- they are facing a Original Six opponent and 3- that opponent is the undefeated Toronto Maple Leafs. The last Original Six opponent the Rangers faced on opening night was the Blackhawks two years ago, and now they are the defending champs. The Leaf fans aren't willing to wait an extra year, they are already planning the parade for this season ... good luck with that.

Where We Are: One win, one loss. In years past I begged people not to take the hot start seriously and this time around the Rangers have yet to fool anyone. After dominating the first two periods against Buffalo, the Rangers have been well, the Rangers. The difference being the ease at which the puck has gone into the net for seemingly everyone not named Gaborik or Frolov.

Where They Are: Haven't you heard? 3-0 baby! Stanley Cup baby! As David Shoalts pointed out in the Globe, all of the hard hat guys are doing what hard hat guys are supposed to do - bust their behinds every second of every shift. That being said, the Leafs have yet to face a real goaltender - they beat up serial smoker Jesus Price, ouch-I'm-hurt-again Pascal Leclaire and day-glo-smile Marc-Andre Fleury, who allowed four goals on 14 shots. Yeah, that's embarrassing.

Who To Watch For: Clarke MacArthur - of no fame whatsoever but formerly of Atlanta and Buffalo - has four goals in three games so he is the hot hand coming in. The lone true offensive star, Phil Kessel, has two goals and an assist while the Cup winner Burke added Kris Versteeg has one goal and one assist. Olympic brawler Mikhail Grabovski is goalless but has three assists while the expected first line center Tyler Bozak also hasn't scored and only collected a lone helper. Broken Hearted Gustavsson took the win against Pittsburgh so Ron Wilson could very well put him back in the crease opposite his Swedish counterpart but Jiggy took the Leafs' first two wins so it may be his turn to take the net.

What To Watch For: The return of Chris Drury screwing up any kind of chemistry the second Tortorella realizes Dru is incapable of keeping up with his wingers and starts juggling lines. The decision to dress Hobey Gilroy for the solid Mike Sauer instead of the incompetent Steve Eminger costing the Rangers a goal or two. Sloppy Seconds Phaneuf or Sloppy Seconds Komisarek going after Sean Avery. Toronto's discipline will be important; so far they have gone a decent 1-8 on the kill, thank you Freddie Sjostrom. The other former Ranger, Colton Orr, may not even play. His status from what I've seen is uncertain as he was knocked the f^(& out by minor league heavy Deryk Engelland.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: A lavish opening ceremony that hopefully won't suck as bad as the Blue Man Group. Nothing stupid by MDZ in the Ranger zone. Derek Stepan not falling prey to nerves and regaining his scoring touch as his linemate Avery drives everyone on Toronto batshit crazy (like their fans). Boogey vs. Orr. If no Orr, Mike Brown to pick up the fisticuffs for the Leafs - he battled Brandon Prust twice (1, 2) two years ago. A return of the lousy Leafs of last season rather than the one steamrolling through the beginning of this campaign.

Also Check Out: Down Goes Brown (who often combines with Bloge Salming to form the Voltron of hockey humour), Toronto Mike, the Bitter Leaf Fan (who will have to find a new name if they keep winning) and of course the Pension Plan Puppets. PPP is probably one of the top-five best team-specific blogs out there and a must-read if you care at all about the Leafs. But if you do, may god have mercy on your soul.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

1-1-0: No Holiday At All


For all of you younger folks who believe that the Devils are the biggest rival of the Rangers - imagine a game like this afternoon's every time and with more fighting. That was how it was for years and how it will be again. The Devils are irrelevant - they are the sullen little brother who wishes they were us, the Islanders are the competitive bratty brother who will do anything to beat us. And you could see that this afternoon.

It was a wildly entertaining, ultimately heartbreaking disastrous 6-4 loss for the Rangers. It had 10 goals, a fight, a blown penalty shot, some gamesmanship ... the only thing else would could ask for was for the score to be reversed. And it should have been. Much like in Buffalo, the Rangers had control of the game and they opened the door for their opponent. This time they only had a one goal lead instead of two, and they blew it.

This one is quite painful now, and could be even more migraine-inducing come April. Some notes:

*If not even a Ranger game can bring the Islanders close to a sellout on a school holiday, when does the league step in and say enough is enough?

*I'm not linking the 'gesture' but if slagging French Canadians sends the NHL Wheel O' Justice spinning, homophobic nonsense like Wisniewski's deserves a suspension and sensitivity counseling. Now do I think that NHLers should be sensitive when trash talking? No. I think everything should be fair game. But if a making fun of French Canadians or throat-cutting gestures get suspensions in today's NHL, well this should too.

*MDZ, well, what can I say other than I told you so? Yes he is young, yes he is skilled, yes he has an upside that we can hardly imagine. But no, he has no idea how to play defense just yet. He was just plain bad inside the Ranger blueline and that shouldn't be acceptable. But in Torts' world of accountability, the kid didn't miss a single shift and will start next game.

*This 'Eminger needs to play because he is a left-handed shot' nonsense is just that. Nonsense. He shouldn't start next game as he is just horrible. I don't care if he is a lefty or a righty or an Aquarius or whatever, he is a liability and should not be a NHL regular. He has little toughness and little upside. We would be better served dealing with the mistakes of younger players than keeping this clown employed.

*But that is just one of the issues I have with Torts' decisions. His personnel selection was questionable most of the game - after goals and at the end. Maybe it is a philosophy thing, I don't know - I think that when you are down one and desperate, you put the players will battle in there. No Arty, no Frolov, no MDZ. I would have had Avery, Fedotenko and Girardi. Avery has been around the net every shift, Fedotenko has a knack for scoring big goals and Girardi was the best Ranger blueliner - finally unleashing that shot of his.

*And Frolov, don't celebrate until you actually score. Clown.

*Did anyone think that P.A. Parenteau would have a great game while Marian Gaborik would disappoint? I figured P.A. would get up for the affair but Gabby was invisible for much of the game. And his bungled penalty shot, oy. Where was Olli Jokinen when you wanted him? I kid, I kid ...

*For as physical as the game was, the only battle was the tussle between Brandon Prust and Zenon Konopka. I think that there should have been some kind of retribution when Stepan was run in the third period but Torts wanted to keep discipline - which ultimately was what cost them anyway. Better to send a message at that moment and risk losing than to look soft and still lose.

*Boogaard played a grand total of 1:34. That signing is looking worse and worse. Having Kennedy and his energy level would have been much more meaningful than having a minute and a half of a useless goon. As I said before though, Boogey's big moment will be Friday. If he doesn't fight Orr, then he is dead to me.

*While looking at ice time - Rozy skated for 27:38. You know there is something wrong when ...

*Mike Sauer was quietly solid yet again. I'm really liking what he brings to the blueliners, hopefully he will be able to take more responsibility soon.

*It has always amazed me how former Ranger Mike Mottau could do so many good things defensively and so many bad things defensively - often on the same shift.

*I'm sure there is more but this one hurts too much to talk about anymore. I hate the Islanders so much.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brandon Dubinsky - one goal and one assist.
2-Josh Bailey - one goal and one assist.
1-Blake Comeau - two goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Girardi - Dan-O hit, blocked shots, took shots, killed penalties ... nice reliable play. Perhaps soon we will be able to forgive him for the Carcillo/Gaborik incident. Never forget, but forgive ...
2-PA Parenteau - Is there anything more satisfying than sticking it to your old team?
1-Comeau - Two goals, one assist and an Oscar for his performance on the Staal "high stick." Comeau always kicks his game up a notch against the Rangers and you have to respect that.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

1-0-0: Well, It's A Start

I did go with the simple title because Stepan-Out and any other poor puns surely will be overused after the kid's performance. What can you say? For all of the hype that came with him from college and the world juniors, Stepan really blew the doors off in his debut. He showed a wonderful array of skill on his way to a hat trick, one post away from a foursome. Woa baby.

As I asked on Twitter, "how does one contain excitement over a rookie who nearly scores 4 goals in his debut?" After a bit of contemplation, I decided what I said in an earlier tweet held true: responding to Jim Cerny's factoid that 'Stepan is first rookie to score a Hat Trick in NHL debut since Fabian Brunnstrom of Dallas in 08' I wrote "and look at Barnstormer now..." One game does not a career make, so let's enjoy the moment, share in his mom's beaming pride and wait and see before passing any kind of judgement.

The same should go for the entire team so I will try to stick to observations ... yeah right:

*Stop me if this sounds familiar: the Rangers start hot - dominate even - then let their opponent back into the action before a fervent finish. The Blueshirts did that in many, many games in the past and that also pretty much sums up their last few seasons.

*And it is tough to be giddy about the game, or even the outrageous start, when the opponent was just so completely crappy (I think that is the professional term). Buffalo was a step slow and completely disorganized. Ryan Miller gave up some bad goals but he was clearly the last line of defense behind a tired collection of mediocrity. Their Calder kid from last season, Tyler Myers, suddenly turned into Eric Cairns. He was lumbering around, falling all over himself and helped the Ranger cause immeasurably both with his turnovers and the confidence it gave the Rangers. Lindy Ruff must have reigned hellfire in the locker room during both intermissions as the Sabres stepped up their play each time. When they started getting physical, they started doing better.

*The physical Rangers - the fourth liners - weren't particularly impressive at all. We got some soso work from Boyle and Prust killing penalties and the expected six minutes of nothing from Boogaard. Zenon Konopka didn't fight against Dallas tonight so the likelihood of a tilt between the two on Monday went up just a notch. But only a notch because things are setting up for a Boogaard/Orr battle at the home opener that will define the Boogeyman's Ranger career, much the way Brashear's bout with Colt did.

*My opinion of Ruslan Fedotenko also went up. He was pointless in the game but his energy level carried over from the preseason when he was fighting for his NHL career. Feds and Avery were both stellar and easily outshined the duo of Frolov and Gaborik.

*Frankly, I didn't notice Mike Sauer at all. And that is terrific. That is exactly what we want from him - solid, steady, capable and quiet defending. Steve Eminger, on the other hand was all too noticeable. Eminger took two bad penalties, was weak along the boards and I even spotted him backing down and away from Nathan Gerbe - a player eight inches smaller.

*MDZ was far better in the Ranger end than he was during preseason. He chased a few hits but his positioning was definitely improved - which is all I asked for. The kid has to play both ends of the ice.

*The other Ranger I voiced my concern about, Arty Anisimov, wasn't any better than I expected but he wasn't any worse. Arty's timing and offensive instincts are good but he is still all too soft, he still can be intimidated physically and he still can't put all of his skills together at once. It may come together one day, but it isn't there yet.

*Joe Micheletti is just plain difficult to listen to and his obsession with Dubi's kiss to Stepan's visor was just a little disturbing. But I have to give credit where due and his observation that Paul Gaustad getting kicked out of the faceoff circle led to Dubi's empty netter was spot on.

*Dubi and Cally played their games and did it well. They hustled and they got results. At what point does Torts bequeath an A for Dubi's sweater? Since Sean is certainly not going to get it, Dubi is quite deserving and he is a home-grown guy. Better him than a mercenary like Prospal (if/when he comes back).

*Speaking of lettermen, Chris Drury was not particularly missed and do you think it was any kind of coincidence that immediately after the MSG staff starts talking about him Buffalo scored? I'm too superstitious to let that one go anytime soon...

*Now the Rangers probably put the 85th anniversary patch up on the shoulder because of the cut of the Reebok jersey but it is still interesting that it is in the same place where they had put the '94 Cup patch. It leaves the left chest open, making the captains' letters that much more special.

*Hank allowed three goals on 36 shots. He is still quick to drop into the butterfly, allowing one of Leopold's shots in up high. That isn't troubling - that the Rangers allowed 36 shots to a team like Buffalo is. The Sabres are far from an offensive powerhouse; what will happen when Washington comes to town? Are we going to see Lundqvist do a Denis Lemieux confused collapse into his own locker?

*PHW Three Stars
3-Dan Girardi - two assists.
2-Jordan Leopold - two goals and one assist.
1-Derek Stepan - three goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Leopold - While his goals weren't particularly impressive, the Sabre defender did what he was supposed to do - throw the puck at the net and make something happen.
2-Avery - Talk about making something happen ... Avery showed that he can be a perfectly competent player when he reins in his emotions and just goes to work. This wasn't Sean riding the razor's edge with borderline actions; this was Avery's energy level and physicality making room for his linemates. Speaking of which ...
1-Stepan - If he never plays another game it will still be magical - a kid plays his first game, has his mom in the crowd and puts up a hat trick. Outstanding. But yeah, let's hope he saved some goals for the rest of the season.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Starting Up, Upstate To Be Exact

For the first season since '06-07, expectations for the New York Rangers are quite low entering the season.

You know what that means?

We have them right where we want them! The Blueshirts can blow everyone away with a solid season and it begins tomorrow night. Conditions are primed for a great start when they drop the puck in Buffalo. Why? Six reasons:

1- The Sabres will already be tired, playing the second half of a back-to-back. They have to hope that the crowd will be enough to rejuvenate their players after what is certain to be a tough opening night in Ottawa. Sure they are well conditioned pro athletes but a real game is a real game and they haven't played any real games. And if the Sens expose any deficiencies in the Sabres play, former Ranger defenseman Lindy Ruff won't have the time to make any corrections.

2- No Chris Drury and likely no Tim Kennedy. A little harsh but that means two less distractions on the ice, two guys who can't get caught up in their old stomping grounds and the people that fill them. Dru went pointless in all four matchups against the Sabres last season and Kennedy has got to be pissed to be tossed aside like a dead hooker.

3- Derek Boogaard has to redeem himself. After going without a fight and embarrassing the hell out of himself and the Ranger franchise with his amateurish cup check in the final preseason game, the Boogey man can make all of that disappear by keeping Pat Kaleta in line.

4- No one will be surprised by mighty midget Tyler Ennis. Ennis had a goal and two assists when he faced the Rangers in April but now the boys will be aware of what the kid is capable of. The oompa loompa is dangerous, plain and simple.

5- Thomas Vanek is banged up with a bad neck. Vanek, a two-time 40-goal scorer, got hurt during the playoffs last spring and the Sabres fell apart against the Bruins. Vanek played three games of the six and had two goals and an assist - that is how good he is. Sadly he has never been able to pick them up on his back; to steal the old ad line, Is This The Year? While looking through the numbers, I came across another interesting stat: since the Sabres beat the Rangers in the playoffs in '07 - when Tim Connolly had four assists in six games - the former Islander has only put up two points (both assists) in nine games against us.

6- The Rangers have won their opening night for of the last five years, falling last season in Pittsburgh (before rattling off seven straight wins). The Blueshirts are better teasers than the women at the strip clubs around the city - if history is any indication they will raise our hopes before setting them on fire and stomping them like a burning bad of poo.

Let's Go Rangers!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hittin' The Road For Hockey

A good friend of mine was sitting at work last week and decided to use her time the best way possible (if you ask me): by planning a hockey road trip for her next vacation. She shared her plans and it got me thinking about how much fun it is to see how the other side lives by hittin' road to go watch hockey elsewhere. As regular readers know, I try to get out and about when I can and have had some utterly amazing experiences. I have one booked for certain this season (a week in Sweden) and have a few more possibilities lurking around in my head.

So what goes into a hockey trip? With a little help from the well-traveled Tapeleg of the terrific blog Jerseys & Hockey Love and Seth Mates, a road-weary/wary buddy of mine, I'll break it down into the misnamed five Ws: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How? Some are easier to answer so let's knock those off first:

Why?
Cause you love hockey, duh. Everyone should make a hockey bucket list that includes things other than 'see my team win the Stanley Cup,' especially when it is pretty likely you won't (sorry Canuck fans).

Who?
Many people make sure to include their favourite team. Steve Williamson pulled off 30 games in 30 nights and managed to include eight games with his Tampa Bay Lightning. But cheering on your team doesn't necessarily have to happen. Sometimes it is easier to take in the scene when not blinded by your own fandom. As Tapeleg warns, "if you are at an NHL game wearing your teams colors, then you are in for various degrees of ribbing. Remember, you chose to wear your jersey. The degree to which you will be taunted will vary depending on where you are. Be prepared, and learn to laugh it off. Being confrontational will not help your cause." If you do decide to see your team in an away setting, do your best to abide by A View From My Seats' Road Trip Etiquette.

When?
During hockey season and when you can get off from school/work/responsibility. But even then that isn't necessarily the case as work trips often allow for some time off and if you are in good locales, you can fit in some puck. A friend of mine caught a game in Chicago last year, another hit the Hall of Fame last weekend ... and both were expensing it. It is a beautiful thing when you can manage it. But if you have to use your vacation time, choose wisely - remember hockey is played when it is cold, so snow could be a concern for many a trip. And holiday travel is always a hassle; the Rangers make their trips to Florida over Thanksgiving and New Years this season - sounds great but you will pay more and have to put up with more nonsense. Mr. Mates recommends that you "try to aim for games against crappy teams or in the middle of the week. The overall game experience is better when you avoid the crowds and chaos. Presents more opportunities for you. Also much cheaper." While I think the chaos is fun at times - i.e. Montreal - I have to agree on all of the other points. Plus the fans at those 'lesser' games are primarily the hardcore folks, the ones you want to be around anyway. I went to a Friday night WHL game in Seattle and no one around me knew anything about anyone; it sucked.

Where?
Well, when you aren't tied to the location of your business trip, the where can be anywhere you desire (or can afford). Some folks copy the classic baseball bucket list item of hitting all the ballparks, something my baseball obsessed buddy Mates is close to completing. I was up to 15 NHL arenas myself but with the Pens leaving the Igloo, a trip back to Pittsburgh will be in store down the line (dammit). But the NHL's teams are scattered across the country so it is hard to include a lot of NHL games in a geographically reasonably area for one trip. Tapeleg suggests, "going to hockey games outside your home rink is fun, but putting a theme to the trip is even more fun. My three major road trips all had some purpose to them: a trip through Texas (hockey on the border is great stuff), a west coast hockey tour (NHL, ECHL, and WHL), and a road trip through the entire UHL (14 teams in a league that doesn't exist any more). Having a theme can keep you focused on your trip, or just be a bit more fun, and give you more of a story to tell."

What?
Let's change this to What to Wear?
I don't know about you but this is a big deal to me; I know, I'm ridiculous. If you are following the Rangers do you wear road whites to match the boys? Do you wear a fan favourite? I donned my Ortmeyer once in DC and had many Caps fans come up and say how much they liked his heart, asking what team he was on ... it was great. Then again I wore my Rangers Blair Betts to a Philly game and it just felt like I was rooting for the wrong team - but it did get some of the more ... enthusiastic ... Flyer fans to back off. The Blueshirt is so iconic that you can just go with NNOB (no name on back) and still get accolades and start conversations. But what if you aren't watching your boys on the road? I have some generic goodies that always work - a USA Olympic sweater from '02 being one. But that's a bit boring and Tapeleg recommends "if you don't have a horse in the race, wear a jersey that is somewhat remarkable, something a little different. My go to jersey is my black Johnstown Chiefs jersey. Most people will recognize the Chiefs from Slap Shot, but this isn't some novelty jersey. This jersey is from the home of Slap Shot, worn in a game at the War Memorial. You would be surprised at how many people from Johnstown, PA you can meet at an airport, or at a hockey game. Hockey jerseys are social objects. They draw other hockey fans to them. If you want to talk to hockey fans, wear a hockey jersey. And you might as well wear an interesting one."

How?
Now this one is the biggie so strap in. First there is the scheduling. I mentioned Steve Williamson's 30 in 30 before but Tapeleg warns against booking a packed trip like that. "Seeing 30 teams in 30 days is a stunt," he said. "It will get you a few free beers from people who want to say hi, but it will also make you hate your life. Build in a day of rest every so often." Mates, on the other hand, thinks that you should "oversubscribe yourself. If you're going for a week, book a different team for every day, some hundreds of miles apart. Also, stay flexible. You can always change plans, but better to have constant options than to change your mind and there's no game when you want one." While I like to have options, I do agree with Tapeleg in that some rest time between games is necessary. When I went to the Olympics this year, I took in nine games in four days (and watched another two on tv in bars). It was awesome, but insane. And frankly, it was hard to take it all in and remember everything as it seemed to be just one long game. Plus, when you include free time, you can head out and just explore. If you are going to go all the way there, might as well play the tourist and see the sights too. I'm a big art and museum fan so I make sure to include time to stop at the biggest one in town. Mates agrees that you should see the landmarks, but he thinks the sightseeing should be planned. "Schedule your day from sunrise to sundown," he said. "Depending on how much driving you do, you'll want every ounce of sunlight you can get. Try not to drive too much at night, and try to restrict your post-game activity (especially early in the trip) so you don't tire yourself out before you even begin."

To avoid having to avoid post-game partying Tapeleg offers this advice: "I do my best to have my hotels lined up for game nights, and stay within walking distance of the arena. This allows me not only to have a beer or two at the game, but save on the parking fees that so many rinks want to charge as well. Sometimes this isn't possible, so I try to say in places that are comfortable. If I can, I stay where I can get some perks (Holiday Inn Express is a great option), and even a little consistency. When I stay at a HIE, I know what I am getting. Cheap is great and all, but when you are driving day after day, having a nice - or at least clean - place to stay can help keep you sane. Pro tip: some of the smaller 'boutique' hotels like Hotel Indigo can be really nice without costing a ton of money. The O Hotel in downtown Los Angeles is a great option for Kings games, and whatever the hotel next to the arena in Stockton, California is great."

Personally I book the hotels last as they really don't mean too much to me. If you are going to a big city, it is nice to find a place near the touristy stuff as you can run right over to check those out, then go back to your room to drop your souvenirs off and relax before heading out to the game. You have to be careful in selecting your souvenirs too as you will be bringing them along with you for the rest of the trip - not to mention that it often ends up being an expensive endeavour.

But back to lodging as Mates has an interesting opinion, one that runs contrary to my own obsessive nature: "Never, ever book hotels in advance, unless you're 1,000% sure you'll be where you think you will. Wait until you're tired of driving, then just get a room. If you stick with interstates and daylight, you'll never have trouble finding a hotel. Plus, there's enough iPhone apps, etc, now that you can still get a great deal. You can haggle at most hotels too -- if you're checking in on a Tuesday night and half the place is empty, they're likely to give you a great deal just to get something for the room. After all, if they don't rent it for something, they get nothing. But stay with friends along the way if you can (great way to save money)."

It is the little things like that that help you save money that can be better spent better tickets, better souvenirs or even best, on another trip. And Mates has more: "Also, even after you book a rental car or hotel, keep checking afterwards for a better deal (NEVER pay in advance for anything except a flight). I booked a car for an LA to Denver weeklong trip that I thought was a bargain at $588 (everything else had been over $1,000) - then I got a rate for $280. Wound up payin $211 by the time the trip came. Sign up for every free credit card/travel rewards program you can. You'd be surprised how quickly the hotel/flight/cars points add up. Also, don't buy the game tickets until the week right before. I've bought tickets and then changed my mind and never made it to the game."

When it comes to buying tickets, I'm usually the opposite myself. I like to make sure that no matter what, I will be in the building gamenight ... after all, that was the whole reason for the trip. And I definitely do not want to have to go through scalpers. If you deal with them, you will get your best price at or after game-time but you will miss so much. I like to show up to a new building as early as possible to explore everything - take a lap around the concourse, hit the team shop, get a game-night pretzel and watch warmups. As for picking the best place to sit, you can always email the local bloggers or even call the team for tips. "You would be amazed at how friendly and helpful team staff can be," Tapeleg said. "Calling ahead and telling the team what you are doing can not only give you a few perks (I've gotten better seats, as well as cheaper tickets and a few souvenirs). And if you are going to a minor league game, they will bend over backwards for you, and you may gain some interesting insight and background before the game."

Seeing as NHL teams aren't often as accommodating, you might just say 'screw it' and hit up Ticketbastard or Stubhub for your tickets. If you do, Mates says that you should "get either really cheap seats or really expensive seats. Either you want to save money, or you want to have an amazing time. Why half-ass it?"

While I certainly think you can (and probably will) have just as amazing an experience upstairs as you would down low, he has a point. If you aren't used to being a few rows off the ice and think you would find it enjoyable, what the hell? Go for it, you're on vacation.

This day and age we all spend far too much time cooped up at work or school that the rare moments of freedom should be enjoyed to their fullest. And what better way to do that than to hit the road and watch some hockey?