Tuesday, November 30, 2010

14-11-1: How Unpleasant

The pathetic display of pucks on Monday night was a game of men against boys and anytime there are men and boys around, you know Sidney Crosby had himself a good time. Crosby's cronies defeated the Rangers 3-1 in a game that didn't remotely resemble that scoreline. Had it not been for some Henrik heroics and the perfect positioning of the pipes behind him, it would have been a 9-1 affair. Easily.

After the Rangers attempted the play the Penguins run and gun game for the first few minutes and the Pens scored, the Blueshirts spent the rest of their game on their heels, letting Pittsburgh do anything and everything they wanted. Instead of playing the tight, smart defensive game that served them well in the teams' last matchup, the Rangers were an unorganized mess that couldn't do a damned thing right.

It was one of their worst performances of the season, and of course it came on home ice. How is one not to assume that these kids are enjoying Manhattan's allures a little too much when they're 5-7-1 at home and 9-4 on the road? Of the five home wins, only one was convincing and it was against Edmonton - a team that could be beaten by half of the AHL. They practice - or so they claim - up in their sequestered Westchester country club and amble into the Garden, do their business, collect extravagant paycheques and then head to their luxury apartments. What a life. When the team is on the road they are forced together, forced into a real regimen, forced to come together as a unit and they win. Amazing how that works.


*The lone Ranger goal came from Marian Gaborik, who did his best Brian Boyle impression and just shot the damned puck for once. What a concept.

*There was alot of rage at the officiating but it wasn't the zebras who lost this game. Crosby is a bitch and the Pens get the benefit of the doubt. We know that. But those same officials who missed alleged slewfoots also gave the Rangers three power plays that the Blueshirts pissed away like dollar bills at strip clubs.

*By my count the Rangers had four point blank opportunities that they either missed three feet wide or 15 feet high. The net is 4x6, how hard is it to just get the damned puck on net? Instead of being fancy and trying to pick corners, they need to just get it on goal and follow their shots. If the goalie makes the save, then there is a rebound or a chance to knock it loose. The second Marc-Andre Fleury touched the puck, the Rangers backed off - whether he had control or not.

*Michael Del Zotto was on the ice constantly, 25 minutes according to the box score but it seemed like more. And what did he do with it? Aside from one nice play - falling to block the pass on one of the 8,000 odd man rushes by the Pens - MDZ was atrocious. His passes don't put his teammates in good positions (when they are on the mark at all), he rarely shoots the puck, he can't hold the offensive blue line and he can't clear the puck out of the defensive zone. Torts keeps giving him more and more minutes and he keeps getting worse and worse.

*That isn't to say that the other defensemen were any better. Girardi kept pinching, Eminger was out of position, Staal was overwhelmed, Rozsival is .... ugh, Rozsival, and Sauer saw all of 13 minutes despite being the lone blueliner willing to hit the Penguins when they were around the Ranger net.

*Of the guys up front, Todd White was the best of the bunch and that pretty much says it all.

*Loved the white papers (asbestos!!) that came fluttering down from the ceiling in the third period. At least that led to some laughs.

*Also enjoyed the quick ceremony for Rod Gilbert, marking 50 years as a Ranger. MSG should have shone a spotlight on his retired number but whatever. He is the first and seemingly last home-grown Ranger scorer who spent his entire career here. Every other born-and-bred Blueshirt who could put the puck in was dealt away at some point. From Bathgate and Hadfield to Amonte and even Kovalev, they all ended up elsewhere.

*There were two fights in this one, Prust vs the Trasher Mike Rupp and Avery vs Tyler Kennedy. The only reason I could figure for the Prust fight was that he wanted to put a charge in the Rangers, but it was late in the first period so that excuse makes no sense. Just two tough guys going at it. Avery vs Kennedy just seemed to be Avery going for some pride after the team went down 3-0. The results were mixed as Gabby scored three minutes later but if the goal was a result of the fight, the emotion died once the puck went in.

*The emotion in the building ... well, there wasn't much. There were wide swaths of empty seats down low, upstairs we waited for either the Pens or the officials to screw us and smattered all around were too many Penguin fans. Horrible.

*Nice of Tortorella to use his timeout with 28 seconds left, just to let most of the fans leave early. Seriously, what was the point? To rub in the fact that his team couldn't create any offense with an empty net?

*The official event summary had the Rangers guilty of just two giveaways. I guess that the official scorer doesn't count the team passing the puck right to the Pens as giveaways; otherwise it would be 15-20. That same summary listed 86 hits. Maybe the official scorer simply wasn't watching this game ...

This team had better use the next two days working because you know that the Islanders will play high above their pay grades later this week and the last thing the Rangers need is to lose two games to them.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Sidney Crosby - one assist.
2-Marc-Andre Fleury - 25 saves.
1-Pascal Dupuis - two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Deryk Engelland/Brooks Orpik - The two tough Penguin defensemen clearly intimidated the Rangers as no Blueshirts bothered Fleury. The Flower saw most shots and had time to grab any and all loose pucks.
2-Chris Connor - The little bastard was persistent. Connor, 5'9 with skates on (maybe) kept his feet moving and kept finding himself involved in the action. He could take a hit and keep the puck and create the play. Basically everything I hope MZA will do once he gets used to North America.
1-Kris Letang - With Arron Asham gone, Letang seems to have taken the dirtbag look away with that greasy mop of hair. But looks aside, Letang was instrumental in the Pittsburgh offense. Sometimes he was starting the rush, sometimes he was joining it. Letang has stepped up and filled Gonchar's skates well.

But as bad as this game was, at least Chris McGrath of Getty Images got this photo out of it to make us smile:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

14-10-1: Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad

The Rangers will head back into the Garden for their matchup against the evil Penguins on a high note after beating Nashville 3-2 in a shootout on Saturday night. As it has been of late, it was a game where a few guys put their oars in the water and pulled the entire ship but they pulled hard enough to win.

There is cause for celebration as the team is heading in the right direction. After two periods of putrid play in Tampa, the boys have slowly picked things up. They took advantage of the Bolts to make the scoreline look respectable, then won despite being outplayed in Florida and tonight beat a well-coached grinding team at their own game. We'll see if they can keep this upward swing when they face Pittsburgh and their cronies the officials on Monday.

Just going to get right into it:

*Erik Christensen is infuriating. Mr. Softie the Backstabber blatantly kicked the puck in the net, then proceeded to miss a pair of perfect chances that were gift wrapped for him. He had those opportunities because he was standing around while his linemates were battling around him. The so-called skill guy doesn't seem to have chemistry with anyone other than Gaborik and can be pushed off the puck quite easily (more on another Ranger like that later). When his mistakes were presented to him during an intermission interview, he didn't seem the least bit upset. So, with the hate still seething from my pores, Christy goes on to score a pretty goal in the shootout. Sonofa... In the postgame interview he admitted to using the same move he does every time, which goes to show that Pekka Rinne doesn't do his homework. As @mleetch352 pointed out to me, Christy can score in the skill competition "maybe because there is no threat of being hit by the other team?"

*Those aforementioned interviews, by the way, came with Dave Maloney seemingly inside a dark closet. What, MSG can't afford lighting? Even a small lamp atop the camera would have been better than looking at Mr. Softie cloaked in shadow, like a Sith lord or something.

*The King, meanwhile, showed that he has regained a bit of his form. While he was hardly tested by the Panthers, the Predators came right at him and he made several big saves. None were better than the one he made on a early break by Martin Erat, even if the Nashville goal came moments later.

*That goal came on Dan Girardi's stickhandling gaffe. It was a bouncing puck and it tantalized the usually steady blueliner - instead of turning and holding off the oncoming Wilson, Girardi started towards the boards but still didn't have possession and Carey's kid came in and scored. Random interesting thing about Carey, by the way, was the Rangers dealt him to Hartford with a third round pick for Jody Hull. The interesting part? The Whale selected Michael Nylander with that pick.

*It is sad that the current state of the Ranger power play makes me long for the Nylander/Jagr days because the power play sucked then too. But at least back then they were able to get the puck in the zone and stay there for a while. The current man advantage men are just awful, primarily because of MDZ. How long will we wait for something to click with this kid?

*Dubi, Cally, Avery, Prust, Girardi, Staal and Sauer all deserve attaboys for their efforts. Granted, Avery got his ass kicked by an eskimo but he can't be accused of lollygagging. Those guys make up the core of this team and who knows where we would be without them. Stepan has had games where he is right there with them but he clearly is still getting his skates under him.

*No, I didn't include Arty in that. Some credit must be given for his attempts to be more active than he was in Florida but I counted three times where he stickhandled into coverage and simply gave up possession of the puck. Most of his goals this season have come from sheer opportunism - it is nice that he has scored them but for a big, skilled kid he needs to be able to initiate the action with hard work instead of just capitalizing on others' efforts.

*Todd White played nearly 10 minutes. Could you tell? Me neither.

*Rozy returned to the lineup, weren't you excited to see him? Me neither. Rozsival clearly had his share of rust and yet Torts still gave him 22:22 of ice time, including more than two minutes with the man advantage. His timing was off, his positioning was off and he contributed little. Maybe it wasn't rust, because that is just like how he was before the injury ...

*Do you like Alex Frolov? Me neither. I would guess that noone, outside of his mother, does at this point. This guy is just awful and he is making three mil for it. Once he loses his spot on the top three lines once Prospal, Dru and Gabby come back, perhaps Sather can send him to Hartford and bring up a grinder like Dale Weise or Brodie Dupont. Brodie, by the way, might actually win a few faceoffs - something the Rangers struggle to do. That would be moot if MZA's acclimation to North America would go faster.

*MZA, by the way, had a four-game point streak (three goals and three assists) snapped tonight against Bridgeport. The team had 45 shots and MZA accounted for just two, not counting a blown attempt in the shootout. The Whale's new goon Stu Bickel had five shots, an assist and a fight.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Pekka Rinne - 23 saves.
2-Erik Christensen - shootout goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 29 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Jerred Smithson - It is hard to pick just one of the grinding Predators - Goc and Ward also deserved consideration - but Smithson kept winning faceoffs, allowing Nashville to control play.
2-Cally - Callahan certainly needs a nickname and seeing how Little Ball of Hate is taken, is Captain acceptable? Well that handle will come in two seasons ...
1-Dubi - Hank may have made a few saves, Christy may have scored the game winner but Dubi was the best player on the ice by far. He was incredibly frustrating last season but that was because of his inconsistency - something he clearly has improved upon this season.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

13-10-1: Too Much Turkey

Don't let the final 3-0 scoreline fool you, the Ranger victory over the Panthers on Friday night was not nearly that impressive. The Blueshirts came out utterly flat and were lucky that Shawn Matthias couldn't score in an empty net. Had Matthias put the puck in rather than have hit the post in the first period, then it may have been a very different affair down in Florida.

But he didn't, and the Rangers won. So there is cause for celebration, but don't go crazy because there were many issues. Let's take the two points and move on to Nashville, were a much strong opponent awaits. Here is a quick breakdown of the good and the bad in this one:

*Good: Brandon Prust, making $800k (thank you CapGeek), fought a heavyweight to a draw and scored a shorthanded goal. It was just awesome to see this guy finally put the puck in the net and it was the nail in the coffin of the Panthers.

*Good: Henrik Lundqvist made 40 saves.

*Bad: Henrik Lundqvist had to make 40 saves. Against the Panthers.

*Good: Ryan Callahan scored a power play goal on a beautiful redirection.

*Bad: Marian Gaborik didn't score a power play goal. He didn't score a regular strength goal. In fact, he had all of two shots and only one of them made it on net. When the superstar sniper is on the ice for over 20 minutes and he only tries to shoot twice, there is a problem.

*Bad: Alex Frolov saw less than 10 minutes of ice time and didn't have a single shot. This guy is getting paid $3 million this season to score goals and he can't do a damned thing.

*Bad: The engaging Anisimov who paired with Dubi and Cally to pot some goals and press the action earlier this season is all but gone. Arty is back to playing on the perimeter and is quickly pushed off the puck when he gets it. He now has played 262 games in North America (108 NHL, 154 AHL) and he should realize he has to be stronger to contribute.

*Good: Mike Sauer is showing he can be the tough but quiet, stable presence on the blueline that the Rangers have lacked since they got rid of Fedor Tyutin. Toots combined a penchant for big hits with solid positioning and Sauer is getting there. Already he has shown he is willing to stand up for his teammates and for Hank, which is more than can be said for most Ranger defensemen since the lockout.

*Bad: Steve Eminger had his worst game in a while and his blue line fumble - a result of a bad pinch by MDZ - gave the Panthers a shorthanded 2-on-1 that they nearly scored on. Not to mention that he totally butchered the play that Chris Higgins scored on (which didn't count, that poor kid can't catch a break).

*Good: I believe it was either Cally or Mr. Softie the Backstabber who came back to make up for the defensive gaffe on the power play and laid out, forcing Weiss to wait too long to make his pass. By the time Santorelli got the puck, he had no room to life it past a lunging Lundqvist.

*Good: On the Ranger 2-on-1 Sean Avery smartly shot the puck low and to Clemmensen's right side, using the pillows to essentially feed the puck to Stepan. The Rangers usually fire that shot at the logo on the goalie's chest or fire it high and wide, giving the other team a break as the puck zooms around the boards and back towards the NY end.

*Bad: As I tweeted several times, the Fox Sports play-by-play guy Steve Goldstein was simply bad. There is little wonder that hockey isn't taking down there as this clown simply can't call it. He made several mistakes that just made me twitch. On the plus side though, Bill Lindsay was pretty good as an analyst - unlike Micheletti, he didn't shoot his mouth off just to hear himself speak. Another positive was FSN using cutie Allison Williams as the intermission host ... better to listen to her struggle to read pre-read copy than listen to Bill Pidto attempt to have a conversation with Ron Duguay.

*Bad: This isn't game related but Pidto was the wrong choice for the Tortorella/Keenan show. He just doesn't have the personality for it. The framework for a good show is there but the execution blew. And when Pidto jokingly asked Tortorella if he was going to do it again, Torts clearly hesitated - you could almost see the steam come out of his ears. He surely is being forced to do the show and that question made it obvious.

*Good: Well, this is good for Florida: Pete DeBoer clearly knows how to coach. He had his team playing more than the sum of their parts ... sadly for them that isn't saying much. He used his timeout well and he had the chutzpah to pull Clemmensen with four minutes left in an attempt to score. And - if not for stellar work by the Rangers (Girardi and Lundqvist in particular) - they would have.

*Bad: Those Panther sweaters suck. The colouring is a clear Penguin/Blues/Nashville/Columbus rip off, the main logo should be a shoulder patch and the font is completely uninspired and out of place.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brandon Prust - one goal.
2-Ryan Callahan - one goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 40 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Cally - Night in, night out you know what you are going to get from Callahan. You can almost see that C on his chest.
2-Prust - While premeditated fights for no reason are usually cringeworthy, his bout with Hordichuk showed that the Rangers weren't the same team that was mowed down in Tampa. It certainly put an extra spring in the Rangers' step and
1-Hank - I don't think he was particularly great in this one but he made the saves he needed to. He was facing an offensively challenged team and managed not to allow a single soft goal. Let's consider this a nice rebound from Tampa and move on.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

12-10-1: Torture In Tampa

Judging by the comments for the last game post, I was supposed to be happy with a 2-1 home win over a mediocre team. So should I be despondent - even suicidal - after watching the Rangers lose 5-3 in a game that wasn't nearly that close against a good team?

As the players say, you can't get too high after a win, you can't get too low after a loss. It is a long season (and there are going to be a lotta losses). You just have to hope you can learn game-to-game and build for the future because the Cup is out of the question.

So far, lessons haven't sunk in as team remains maddeningly inconsistent and often infuriating to watch. That being said, there was something heartening in this debacle - when Tampa took their feet off the gas, some of the Rangers took advantage of the slack (Boyle, Stepan, Dubi) and created some offense. Usually it is the Rangers blowing a lead and making things interesting, instead of vice versa. It is just too bad that all of that effort came too late tonight.


*Had the opportunity to view both teams' broadcasts of this game. The Tampa crew - not counting Dave Andreychuk who kept saying "we" when referring to the Bolts - is far less of a homer crew than the Rangers. Micheletti crying how Malone ran over Hank in the second period was asinine when the replay showed Bugsy was shoved into the crease and actually tried to jump over the goaltender. The Tampa guys called the game evenly, and Bobby Taylor's breakdown of how the Ranger defense kept breaking down (body position) was spot on. Loved seeing Micheletti telestrate the back of Brandon Prust's sweater...

*It was amusing to see Hank stay in the crease late in the second period when there was a delayed call on Tampa. Hank waited and waited until MDZ had the puck past the hash marks - it was as if he didn't trust the kid not to score in the Ranger net.

*And who could blame him? Hank watched the defense fail time and time again before that. As mentioned, Taylor pointed out how the Blueshirt blueline let the Bolts get behind them. It happened during the power plays when Tampa was set up in the Ranger zone and it happened off the rush. There were at least four instances off the rush when the Lightning got the edge and the trailing Ranger defenseman shoved them either directly into Hank or into the net behind him. Hank needs to worry about stopping pucks, not players. He isn't Billy Smith, he isn't going to hack and slash to get himself space. The defense has to do it and they continue to fail at it.

*Dan Girardi was on the ice for four of the five goals against, while Staal was for three (Eminger was for two and MDZ one). Not good, not good at all. But, with them failing early and often, it allowed Mike Sauer to get a season-high 18:21 of ice time and he was solid.

*As for the questions about Hank ... well there are questions but not because of his own play. The biggest question is why do the Rangers play better team defense with Biron than they do Lundqvist? They blocked just 11 shots and, as mentioned, let the Bolts buy the good areas of the ice. Just one of the five goals could have been considered a softie (Brett Clark's) and even then it would have been tough to stop as it was tipped in the low slot. The first three goals were all defensive breakdowns and the fifth was a beautiful seeing-eye shot through traffic.

*Mr. Softie the Backstabber - aka Erik Christensen - is not one of the players mentioned earlier that took advantage of Tampa's late lapses. He had the puck on his stick down low twice with chances to score but was easily pushed away. Softie didn't battle and jam away at the puck, he stumbled and let himself get knocked out of position. Pathetic.

*Anyone else catch the irony in Christy getting his clocked cleaned on a (legal) hit and Sean Avery being the one to step up? While it is awful that these guys fight after fair hits, when your team is losing 5-1 and a skill guy gets hammered, it was good to see someone stand up.

*Arty needs to regain that confidence he had earlier this year because he is back to playing on the perimeter. For a kid his size and for a kid with his hands, he can't do that.

*Do you think MDZ made his dinner plans with Stamkos through Mike Smith during that scrum at the final buzzer?

*So what was the point of playing Derek Boogaard in this one? Was it to ensure the Ranger fans would get to see what a good power play looked like? The Bolts don't dress an enforcer and certainly were not discouraged from going hard to the Ranger net by his presence.

*Too bad Chris Drury wasn't playing in this one; he could have repeated his Christmas line from a few years back about how he won't let the loss ruin his holiday. Isn't it nice that the already spoiled Rangers get to spend Thanksgiving in Florida?

*PHW Three Stars
3-Steve Downie - two assists.
2-Ryan Malone - two goals.
1-Steven Stamkos - one goal and two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Malone - Wouldn't it be great if the Rangers had a big body that would be willing to fight for space in front of the net, stay there and have the hands to capitalize on the scoring opportunities that come from that effort?
2-Marty St. Louis - Wouldn't it be great if the Rangers had a agile playmaker who could see the ice so well, carry the puck and set up the sniper?
1-Stamkos - Wouldn't it be great if all of those years of losing had given the Rangers a first overall draft pick with game-breaking skill?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

12-9-1: It Wasn't Pretty But ...

... the Rangers won at home. So at least we have that going for us.

The Calgary Flames came into the Garden on Monday night exhausted and emotionally drained after a hugely disappointing loss to Detroit on Sunday and yet were able to carry the action for much of the night. The Rangers started with a jump but didn't score and caved after that, allowing Calgary to dictate the play. The Blueshirts scored a pair of lucky goals and were able to make them stand up against a Flames squad that just couldn't get any flow going to their game.

Basically, the Rangers played a good road game, and escaped with two points. It wasn't pretty, it was hardly entertaining, but now the boys can head out of town on a high note. Not bad.


*Yes, both Ranger goals were soft. Boyle's unintentionally came off a defenseman's skate and Girardi's was a wide open shot that Kipper simply couldn't catch.

*All of the rough stuff came because Brent Sutter and Jarome Iginla insist on a high level of pride. Calgary may lose on the scoreboard but they will not be pushed around doing so. The Flames took exception to every hit they absorbed and it resulted in two fights and a scrum. All of those hits, by the way, were legal - even the initial boarding called on Mike Sauer and especially the one that knocked Matt Stajan out of the game.

*Curtis Glencross did not get his comeuppance after clocking Chris Drury, further showing how little the team cares about Dru. The only bit of revenge that was served was the power play goal scored on Glencross' second period penalty, but that didn't have the same impact as it was a soft goal allowed by Kipper.

*Depending on how you look at it, Derek Boogaard is either very good or very bad at what he does. After the third period fracas, Torts put the big man on the ice for the next shift. Boogey missed his first hit attempt by a few feet, tried to pick a fight, lumbered around a bit, was hit from behind, lumbered towards the bench, tried to pick a fight again and sat down for the rest of the night. On one hand, he couldn't get anyone to dance with him but, on the other, after that shift the Flames did not try to exact any extra revenge for the Staal/Stajan hit. Now, would Calgary have attempted to do that, down by just one goal in the third period? And that is why the question remains, what good is Boogaard?

*Martin Biron was not really forced to make many big saves but he got the job done. Considering there is something hugely wrong with Hank - you don't just decide to take the night off to 'practice some things' when you are a top-5 goaltender on the planet - having Biron come in and do the job was nice to see. But I will not cheer "Marty, Marty, Marty" in MSG. I don't care that it is a different Marty, one on our team who hasn't had relations with his wife's sister, but it is just not going to happen.

*Hey Cally, I know you saw Frolov score on a wrap-around against Minnesota but that move doesn't work 99% of the time. This isn't a video game, this is real life and a All-World goaltender like Miikka Kiprusoff isn't going to give up a goal that way. And is it a coincidence that after Cally was shafted by the scorer in Minnesota that the guy here in NY awarded him an astounding 11 hits? Hmmm ....

*Frolov, you suck. The Russian clearly has some offensive instincts, he just hasn't shown the drive or ability to capitalize on them. The same can almost be said for young Anisimov. Calgary played a tough, physical defense and Arty became invisible. While Frolov's day is done, there is still hope for Arty; let's hope he realizes that.

*Sean Avery saw the second least amount of ice time, getting just three shifts in each of the last two periods. Was Tortorella afraid that Avery would take a bad penalty? Was Tortorella afraid Avery wasn't defensively responsible enough to get more time in a tight game?

*MDZ didn't make many mistakes and had a quiet game, which is exactly what he needed. Perhaps it was because the Rangers had just two power plays or because it was a tight game but giving the youngster less than 20 minutes was a good thing - he still saw action but he didn't have to overextend himself. Another reason why MDZ saw last time was because Torts put Sauer and Gilroy out there more and they rewarded his faith with solid defense.

*Credit to Calgary for shutting down Gaborik completely and credit to the Rangers for winning anyway.

*Nice of the Rangers to have a remembrance of Pat Burns. In my opinion the true testament of a man is not the amount of love his friends and family have for him but the amount of respect he has earned from his enemies. Burns may have made the Blueshirts' lives miserable while with the Devils but he was a helluva coach.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brian Boyle - one goal.
2-Dan Girardi - one goal and one assist.
1-Martin Biron - 31 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Iginla - Can you imagine how good Iginla would be if he played on a real team?
2-Biron - The Islander didn't give up a single soft goal and gave the Rangers a chance to win - all you can ask for from your backup goaltender.
1-Staal - Girardi is getting all of the press for his two points but it was Staal who made several stellar defensive plays - laying out to break up a 2-on-1 being one of them - and it was Staal who had a beautiful open ice hit on Stajan.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Peepin' Foes: Calgary Flames

For the second straight game the Rangers will get the Red Wings' sloppy seconds when they face off against the Calgary Flames at the Garden Monday night (7pm, MSG).

Where We Are: After the pleasant surprise of the win over Minnesota, the Rangers are returning to the Garden where they are 4-6-1 this season. Perhaps the young roster has been enjoying Manhattan a bit too much and, while they are enjoying their nights out, they are ruining ours by showing up to work in less than top form. The best we can hope for is that after playing back-to-back Friday and Saturday, they took Sunday night easy.

Where They Are: On Thursday The 4th Line Blog wrote: "They’re ... a completely apathetic team. Well, maybe not completely, but not far from it either. They’re making bizarre trades, the coach is shuffling lines seemingly out of boredom, and fans are simply angry. This is the point where GMs and coaches are often fired..."

Since then the Flames beat the hell out of Chicago 7-2 behind a hat trick by Jarome Iginla and choked against the Wings 5-4. Iggy had two goals and an assist but it wasn't enough. A bad penalty and a broken stick allowed Henrik Zetterberg to force overtime with three seconds left in the third and Nick Lidstrom won it in the four-on-four. Who knows what the sudden meltdown will do to the team - it could strengthen their resolve or send them into a death spiral. Let's hope for the latter.

Who To Watch For: Iginla is red hot right about now. After the team went 1-7 in the eight games before Chicago, the "Trade Iginla" wagon was brought out again and folks in L.A. started drooling. The classiest captain in the league, Iggy is the total package as a player and can take over games. Alex Tanguay came back from a terrible season in Tampa and has recaptured some of his old form while Rene Bourque continues to be a regular threat. Calgary's gamble on re-signing Olli Jokinen has unsurprisingly failed while the addition of Brendan Morrison has proved brilliant; Morrison just seems more comfortable in Western Canada. Jay Bouwmeester has been a bust so the GM traded his own kid to bolster the blueline, adding Carolina's Anton Babchuk.

What To Watch For: Miikka Kiprusoff to give up just two goals as the fine Finn has allowed two goals in five of his last eight starts. Then again backup Henrik Karlsson hasn't played once this month maybe Kipper won't start ... yeah right. Robyn Regehr, if he is able to go after taking a bad fall last night in Detroit, making himself quite familiar with Gabby while Mark Giordano and Cory Sarich do their best to clog the middle on the Pack line. Matt Stajan keeping his five-game assist streak going. Alex Frolov trying his wrap-around more often now that it actually worked.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: Hank to step back into the lineup and not give up a single soft goal. Even though Drury is out, hopefully someone showing a good memory by getting Curtis Glencross back for that bad hit last year. Raitis Ivanans is concussed so there is no one for Boogey to dance with but a Prust vs. Tim Jackman battle might be nice - it's always a pleasure to see a former Islander get his ass kicked - but Tom Kostopoulos has yet to fight for his new team so the pressure is on there. Derek Stepan to shrug off the pressure and have a good game at home for once. Brian Boyle to snap his second four-game goal drought of the season.

Also Check Out: Sadly Five Hole Fanatics has called it quits but Hit The Post, SBN's Matchsticks & Gasoline and the Battle of Alberta continue to bring the news.

11-9-1: Reboundin' Like Rodman

After the Rangers choked in the thin air of Denver on Friday night, hopes were not particularly high for Saturday evening's tilt against the Minnesota Wild. As the Rangers often prove, if you set the bar low then they can mostly get over it. But on this night, it wasn't even close as the Blueshirts blew out the Wild 5-2.

Now, It would have been nice for Gabby to return to the Xcel Energy Center and put up five but it was just as enjoyable to see the Rangers as a team do it, in a much-needed victory. Everything went right for the Rangers and they head back to the Garden on a high note. This win was huge because they will face a desperate Calgary team before heading out on another short road trip to complete a six-games-in-nine-days rip.

Some notes:

*One of the best parts of this win? The goals didn't come from the team's primary scoring. No Gabby, no Boyle. (Yes, I just included Brian Boyle in the team's primary scoring but that is how things have fleshed out so far. He did get an assist, his first of the season.) The Pack guys accounted for a pair, Ruslan Fedotenko was finally rewarded for his hard work with a goal and MDZ and Frolov set pigs'a flyin' with a goal apiece.

*Brandon Prust = Warrior.

*Mike Sauer was the guest during a intermission and he spoke just like he plays - calm, cool and to the point.

*Micheletti and Kevin Weekes both attributed the Arty goal to Boogaard's big hit - something the big man should have been penalized for. He nailed Robbie Earl high, something that surely should have been penalized. But, perhaps O'Halloran received an e-mail after the Pittsburgh affair so he swallowed his whistle. In fact, O'Halloran (along with partner O'Rourke) called four of the first five penalties against Minnesota ... hmmm ... how about that? What a co-in-key-dink.

*Not that there is any competition or anything but Minnesota's official scorer gave Cally just one hit in the game while awarding Cal Clutterbuck with six. And it was enough to put Clutterbuck in first in the NHL by two hits over - who else but - Cally with a total of 82 in 19 games.

*The Rangers still suck on faceoffs.

*How great was it to hear Micheletti rave about Del Zotto being the 'best player on the ice' right before he helped Matt Cullen (of all people) break Biron's bid for a shutout with his missed hit and then took a late penalty? MDZ did score a goal - something to be thankful for - but it really wasn't anything special as Backstrom was caught grossly out of position. The kid is still struggling in his own end, he is struggling making passes and one goal into a mostly empty net doesn't change that. Even with the goal, he still finished a -2 in a 5-2 win.

*Alex Frolov scored on a wrap-around. That pretty much sums up just how woeful Backstrom was in this one.

*As mentioned on twitter, "Can't decide who is/was more despicable - Matt Cullen or Aaron Ward ... no love lost for either."

*For all of the talk about how great the fans are in Minnesota, that building sounded dead - even before the Rangers went up four-zip. Were they all in awe that they received Gaborik bobbleheads? I know I would be, our owner is too cheap to give those out nowadays.

*Now there is no reason to demean Derek Stepan's mother by subjecting her to a physical review but she deserves inclusion in this because her presence at the games clearly has an impact on her son. Stepan is simply more comfortable playing with her in attendance. He doesn't seem to grip his stick as tight and just plays, and the Rangers are a better team for it. Perhaps the team should give her one of those season tickets that they are still advertising in late November.

*Matt Gilroy, frankly, was hardly noticed despite playing more than 16 minutes and getting the helper on the Arty goal. And that is a good thing.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brent Burns - one assist.
2-Marc Staal - no points.
1-Dan Girardi - two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Greg Zanon - Zanon is just so insanely underrated that it is criminal. He blocks shots, he makes good hits and he is right where he needs to be. And, on a night where the usually-stable Nick Schultz is a minus-three and the team allowed five goals, Zanon skated off with a plus-two rating.
2-Fedotenko - The Ukrainian foot soldier keeps fighting the good fight, continually proving the Ranger brass right to have given him a training camp tryout. He goes to the tough parts of the ice and often comes out with the puck and on this night came out with a goal.
1-Staal - Staal didn't score, he didn't even collect an assist in his 25 minutes of work. But he did play some strong hockey on both sides of the ice. Staal showed he can be part of - if not lead - the rush while still making it back to keep up his defensive responsibilities. Last season he over-extended himself trying to do both but he is gradually finding the right balance and is morphing into the No. 1 defenseman he has been forced to be the last few seasons.

Friday, November 19, 2010

10-9-1: When Is Enough Enough?

This will be quite quick because the Blueshirts will be back in action Saturday night against Minnesota - none too soon after tonight's 5-1 loss at the hands of the Avalanche. The Rangers were as sloppy as the ice they were playing on and simply couldn't keep up with the faster, younger, more talented Colorado crew.


*Mistake after mistake by Michael Del Zotto ended up in the back of the Blueshirt net and, before you knew it, the team was down 4-0 and that was the game. I was vilified earlier this season for pointing out (or nitpicking as some said) MDZ's many deficiencies and those flaws in his game have gotten worse and more obvious. My arguments have not changed, until the team decides to blow off the playoffs, MDZ would be best served in the minors. Dave Tippett sent Kyle Turris down in Phoenix and the player is better for the experience. If the organization really believes in MDZ, they will do the same. It does him and the team no good playing minute after minute, night after night with no chance to learn or grow or gain confidence.

*Henrik Lundqvist allowed three goals on 16 shots; two off deflections, one a rebound after the initial stop. As I tweeted, the Rangers could replace Hank with Biron but that wouldn't take MDZ off the ice ... and MDZ promptly helped Colorado score on their first shot on the backup.

*The power play continued to be powerless. A lot of that is the personnel and the personnel's lack of confidence and willingness to pay the price for goals. Same old story ...

*David Jones crashed the net several times in the first period hitting Hank twice and no one did a thing about it - it was little surprise to see him bang home the first goal of the game.

*It is hard to say this but it will be nice to have Chris Drury back in the lineup, if only because it will likely take Erik Christensen out of it. Mr. Softie the Backstabber does have offensive skill but lacks the killer instinct that puts pucks in the net - and without that, he is all but useless.

*Happy to see Derek Stepan score. He had troubles on the play, blowing a pass and shanking a shot but that actually helped throw Craig Anderson off. Let's hope that this sparks the kid's scoring touch so we don't have to wait 19 games for another goal.

*Best three Rangers of this game? Sean Avery, Mike Sauer and Brandon Prust. Avery hustled every second of every shift and drew several penalties that his teammates blew. For giggles he went after Cody McLeod after a whistle with a minute left in the game and not one of his teammates tapped him as he went off the ice. It is sad he gives his all for the team while the team won't reciprocate. It shouldn't matter what a ginormous d-bag he may be off the ice or even in the room, once his skates hits the ice he battles for Blue. And that is where it matters. Sauer was solid but Torts keeps shielding him from the opposition's top talent - at some point he should get his shot against the big boys. And Prust, well, the guy got hurt and clearly did not want to give up. In visible pain after an awkward fall, Prust stuck around for several minutes trying to force his body to listen to him and get back into the game ... the game which was well out of reach. That is dedication boys and girls.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Scott Hannan - two assists.
2-Craig Anderson - 25 saves.
1-Matt Duchene - one goal and two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Jones - A 6'2, 220 pound kid uses his size well and goes to the net. Not the most skilled guy, his persistence and fearlessness paid off.
2-Kevin Shattenkirk - Any wonder why this guy was a first round selection and Matt Gilroy wasn't drafted at all? Shattenkirk plays with a poise that belies his experience.
1-MDZ - If not for Del Zotto, the Avalanche might have had a tough time scoring tonight.

Peepin' Foes: Colorado Avalanche

The Rangers are out west tonight, opening a short two-game road trip with their second game this season against the Colorado Avalanche (9pm, MSG-Plus).

Where We Are: The first one didn't go so well, a 3-1 loss in the fourth game of the season. Since then the team has picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and played a more cohesive game. Sometimes it has worked out - vs. Buffalo last week - and sometimes it has not - vs. Boston this week.

Where They Are: Winners of three of their last four and five of their last eight, Colorado is a young, well-coached hungry team that combines top end skill with solid goaltending.

Who To Watch For: That goaltending, surprisingly, has come in the form of Petr Budaj of late as Craig Anderson was injured. That may change tonight as Anderson is healthy and looking to get back into the game. Their blueline has been stepping things up with John-Michael Liles leading the way. Liles, who was trade bait last season, has seven points in his last four games. Kevin Shattenkirk scored his first NHL goal in their last game and looks far, far better than his old Boston University teammate Matt Gilroy. Matt Duchene hasn't scored in nine games but had his first career fight the other day. Even though he is slumping, the Avs offense have been in good shape with Chris Stewart and Paul Stastny putting up points like it is going out of style.

What To Watch For: A Ranger team struggling to keep up with the speedy Avs in the altitude. Hank to either bounce back from the back goal against Boston or to implode. Chris Stewart to strike again after scoring two in the first game against the Rangers this season. Liles to show MDZ how to play point on a power play. Foote to be the filthy, dirty, slow, old warrior that he is while he - along with Scott Hannan - makes himself acquainted with Dubi and Gabby. Brandon Yip to pop up in the most annoying of places down low.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: A decent Ranger power play. The Rangers blocking the passing lanes so capably used by wily vet Milan Hejduk. Alex Frolov to do anything (other than a wraparound). Cody McLeod vs. Brandon Prust (and not Dubi).

Also Check Out: Quebec Nordiques Preservation Society and Quebec Nordiques Legends for the nostalgia, Mile High Hockey, All Things Aves and my personal favourite Jibble Scribbits for the current pretenders.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

10-8-1: Bruins BeDevil Rangers

The Rangers attempted to celebrate their so-called 85th anniversary - 84 years and a day after their first-ever game - against the Boston Bruins and failed, losing 3-2. When the Rangers debuted they played a rough-and-tumble 1-0 affair against the Montreal Maroons. On this night the Rangers weren't rough, and they tumbled at the feet of a Claude Julien classic.

Tim Thomas was the first star and is sure to draw many accolades but the truth is he had very little to do with Boston's victory. Thomas made one tough save out of his 34, and it came off of a bad bounce that somehow got behind him. The Rangers got off shots in low percentage areas and couldn't/were unable to follow them in. There were virtually no second chances, and every time a puck was thrown through the slot it was either easily cleared or just cruised through to the other side because no Ranger was there. Julien's team clogged the middle of the ice and the Blueshirts weren't talented enough to or couldn't/wouldn't battle through them.

The officiating wasn't kind to the Rangers - Gaborik was molested several times - but it wouldn't have mattered if the calls had been made as the power play was atrocious. The Rangers had a double minor and didn't get a single shot off over the first three minutes. The first shot taken, by Brandon Dubinsky, went in. With the game on the line late in the third period they had an extended five-on-three and were grossly incompetent, killing off the time better than Boston could have themselves.

The question is why? Why are the Rangers so horrible with the man advantage? Five on threes, five minute majors ... they stink. Perry Pearn is long gone so what is it? Personnel: their talent, confidence and bravery - namely, the lack of all three. The primary culprit is clearly Michael Del Zotto. John Tortorella, when talking about playing the kids, has said that the team will have to ride the highs and lows that come with playing kids. And that is understandable. But the question is, at what point do you realize that just throwing them over the boards again and again is not doing anything? MDZ is too gunshy to shoot, his passing is predictable and interceptable, he can't carry the puck over the blueline and he can't hold the line once they are inside it. Marc Staal scored a remarkable shorthanded goal last game and was willing to lug the puck on several occasions in this game, and yet he saw one minute with the man advantage while MDZ saw five. It is bad enough that everyone knows the team is trying to set up Marian Gaborik but to telegraph it every single time is just stupid and ineffective - we saw that in the Jagr years. Them aside, no one is willing to Adam Graves/Tomas Holmstrom the crease. In a 'new NHL' that hampers the physicality defensemen are able to use, no Ranger is willing to set up camp at the top of the paint. They stop by for a second but quickly skate out if only to play a part in the passing party. Sidenote: I often yell "Pass it to Hank! He is open!!" and tonight he picked up the assist on the power play goal (a play that did not go through the defenders). Hilarious.

Other notes:

*The heritage sweater is nothing less than beautiful in action. Too bad the team didn't keep the theme going with more old-timey stuff. The music played on this night (especially during warmups) was - by far - the worst of the season. If you are honouring 85 years, why not throw in some fun flapper tunes? The team decided to host a Q&A during the first intermission with some Ranger greats and yet you could hardly hear them as fans milled about. And on the 75th anniversary the Rangers gave away a Canon-sponsored hat with the anniversary logo. On this night the giveaway was a piece of paper - a flimsy, poorly-designed poster with NHLUniforms-esque drawings of the Ranger sweaters in front of a plain, white background. Could the Rangers have tried any less? (The 85th anniversary hats, minus sponsor, was being sold for $30 in the team store.)

*While Thomas was hardly responsible for Boston's win, Henrik's softies helped sink the Rangers. The King gave up a pair of horrible goals and the Ranger offense couldn't bail him out. It was like last season all over again. We are spoiled seeing games like Monday where the King is the best player on the ice; he is human and his teammates should be able to bail out his occasional mistakes. But on this night, just like last season, they couldn't do it.

*Arty Anisimov couldn't have been any less effective if his name was Alex Frolov. Where Dubi and Cally have raised their games to the next level, Arty continues to play on the periphery. He can't win faceoffs, he won't pay the price to score, he just occasionally gets into good spots when the opposition forgets about him. Arty has to be better.

*Frolov is a disgrace. It is easy to see why L.A. dropped him down their lineup. The guy has good size that he doesn't use, he supposedly has good hands but it seems they turn to cement within a few feet of the net and he can't pass worth a damn.

*Erik Christensen has to do some soul searching. Mr. Softie couldn't get anything going offensively with the bigger, physical Bruins filling the ice and lost his job to Derek Stepan to the third period. If Benedict Arnold isn't willing to get his nose dirty and he can't play well enough to hold off a rookie, what good is he?

*Where MDZ showed no signs that he can be better than what he is at the moment, Stepan did. The Badger was woeful in the faceoff circle but his rush with Gabby was a thing of beauty. A few times in the third period Torts had Gabby-Stepan-Avery out as a line and he probably should unite them again in the future. Avery, for his theatrics, is a capable hockey player who can cycle the puck well and is willing to battle on the boards. Sure the line is a bit undersized but if the Rangers aren't facing a Philadelphia, it shouldn't matter.

*Mike Sauer simply can not get the ice time he needs to prove his worth when he is saddled with Matt Gilroy. Hobey was horrid yet again, blah blah same old story. At this point a move to wing surely will be beneficial for his career as the stint in Hartford last season didn't teach the college kid anything.

*Love Brandon Prust and his energy but he struggled. Prust couldn't accept a pass cleanly for the life of him on this night and sooner or later he will have to score. The other Ranger tough guy, Derek Boogaard, was useless and made to look like a clown on several occasions. Zdeno Chara proves that big men are capable of being mobile but Boogey is a clumsy oaf who can hardly skate. Hank was ran (twice) and Gaborik was hooked to death but the Boogeyman was in the lineup and he was intimidating!

*It seemed like the Rangers intentionally avoided getting into it with Fortunate Son Gregory Campbell. Colin's kid was given a lot of space but luckily he isn't very good and couldn't do any damage.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Marian Gaborik - one goal.
2-Tyler Seguin - one goal and millions of remorseful Leafs fans.
1-Tim Thomas - 34 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Andrew Ference - This star could also go to Mark Stuart or Zdeno Chara as all three kept the Rangers away from the good scoring areas and deftly cleared rebounds.
2-Milan Lucic - Missing Link Milan is not the same player he was last year. Lootch certainly appeared to have the game back that made him a Bruin legend in the first place and that will help Boston go far this season.
1-Seguin - The Boston lineup didn't have a hell of a lot of offensive talent but this kid had a lot of it. He sliced through the Rangers with ease and will only get better.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Peepin' Foes: Boston Bruins

The Rangers will wear their Heritage sweaters for the first time this season as they face their Original Six rivals, the Boston Bruins. It is the second of four meetings this season between the teams, the first being the 3-2 win a few weeks back.

Where We Are: On a three-game win streak? No, that can't be right, can it?? It is! The Rangers beat Buffalo and Edmonton to finish a four-game homestand with a split and followed it with the wild win in Pittsburgh on Monday. Sure two of the victories took overtime and one came over a glorified AHL squad but the emotional boost picked up from them will serve the Blueshirts well going forward.

Where They Are: To keep moving forward, the Rangers will have to go through Boston, a strong side that has played three less games and has accumulated a 9-5-1 record. The B's bounced back from a pair of losses with a 3-0 win over the sad-sack Devils on Monday.

Who To Watch For: Wunderkind Tyler Seguin has no goals and just one assist in his last seven games but while the youngster struggles, the vets are getting things done. Mark Recchi and Mike Ryder both have 11 points and Timmy Thomas has been astounding - 9-1 with a .960 save percentage, a 1.32 goals against average and four shutouts. Milan Lucic has remembered what it is to be a Big Bad Bruin and offseason acquisition Nathan Horton is making the most of his new surroundings and is pacing the team in goals and points. David Krejci had been racking up points but he is out with injury, as is Marco Sturm and Marc Savard.

What To Watch For: That beautiful new Blueshirt in action. Any kind of emotional letdown or exhaustion by the Rangers. Patrice Bergeron dominating the Rangers in the faceoff circle. Zdeno Chara doing everything Zdeno Chara does - not that you could miss him. While I don't think anyone will go after Brandon Dubinsky for his slash on Johnny Boychuk last game, it is possible. Greg Campbell getting away with murder, because you know who his dad is.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: Cally and Dubi to be able to keep the magic going. Arty not to get physically intimidated by the big Bs. Boyle to step up against his hometown team. Hank to outperform Thomas. Avery to smack Thomas in the back of the head again. If Boogey is still bitching out with a bum hand, Brandon Prust to keep Shawn Thornton in line. Mike Sauer to do better than Mark Stuart in the shutdown/tough defenseman role.

Also Check Out: Something's Bruin, Stanley Cup of Chowder, Cornelius Hardenbergh and the Hockey Blog Adventure and the Boston Globe's Bruins Blog.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

10-7-1: Against All Odds

On one side of the equation you have a team playing the second game of a back-to-back. A team that is set up for a seemingly inevitable letdown after a wild matinee match at home. A team entering a volatile full house, facing a tough opponent - a recent Cup winner. A team that ends up with officiating that clearly possess an agenda.

On the other side of the equation, you have a bunch of kids and a King.

Guess who won?

The Rangers defeated the Penguins Monday night 3-2 in overtime. It was an emotional, edge-of-your-couch victory that is hard to describe. But let's give it a shot:

*The officials clearly tilted the ice for the Penguins, turning a blind eye to many of the Pens' antics and giving Sidney and Geno carte blanche to do whatever they want. And they did. And they somehow drew penalties while doing it. It is just disgraceful that guys as skilled as the two of them resort to cheap shots. That Malkin threw several punches and elbows that somehow weren't seen, that is almost acceptable compared to Crosby intentionally taking Hank's skates out from under him. Apparently four officials didn't see it. Yeah, right. The worst part wasn't that the stripes ignored it but that the Blueshirts did as well. Someone has to put whatever player - be it Crosby, Talbot, Cooke, whoever - in their place for touching Hank. Lundqvist is far too important to this team and he certainly is not about to defend himself. Even though it was 1-0 Rangers at the time, this is where the two points simply aren't as important as sending a message. Hit Hank, prepare to die.

*What is the worst the refs would have done? Called more penalties? They managed to do that just fine and, remarkably, the Rangers were in good shape. As the shorthanded minutes grew, the constant Pittsburgh pressure seemed to make them diamond-tough. When the pressure eased for a moment due to the stoppage for blood on the ice, the defense opened up after the break and allowed the game-tying goal by Chris Kunitz. It also didn't help that Girardi was gone as the mixed pairing left on the ice didn't work. Staal was caught watching the play after Eminger switched sides on him and got lost in no-man's land. That isn't to say Eminger played a bad game - he has been shocking capable since his minutes started going up - but he and Staal hadn't played together before and it showed.

*As for the go-ahead goal, well, you could see the wind fall out of Hank's sails after the Kunitz tally and he simply could not re-capture his composure. There was no break from the emotional let-down, no chance to calm down. And it allowed the despicable Cooke Monster to come down the ice and fire a simple shot past him. Seeing the Swede breaking his stick and throwing the pieces afterwards said it all. And that showed just how intense he is, which is quite admirable - no matter if the refs were able to use it as another excuse to give the Penguins a power play.

*While Girardi's apathy in the Carcillo/Gaborik incident will never be forgotten, the fact that he went from pouring blood from a head wound to back on the ice in minutes shows how invested he is in the team now. Soldiering on like that is what helps make hockey players better than all other athletes.

*On the redemption note, Erik Christensen did not achieve it. Was it good he scored? Was it a nice goal that he scored? Absolutely. Does it absolve him of throwing Sean Avery under the bus? No. Sure the matter was handled internally, but it would have gone a long way if Christy at least addressed it during his intermission interview. Just a 'pardon my John, but I just want to say I'm sorry to Sean for my comments yesterday. That is all.' That would have been fine - he wouldn't have to defend his opinion or change it, but since his 'cheap shot' comment was made in the media, an apology should have been made in the media.

*Avery, by the way, saw limited time but was effective. He skated hard and was one of the few Rangers to consistently take the play to the Penguins rather than vice versa. His unsportsmanlike conduct was a joke but inevitable when he stepped on the ice along Cooke and the officials heard his voice. The Rangers were lucky Cooke was called for a matching minor because the referees clearly could have ground their ax further.

*After Kunitz's goal, do you think O'Halloran skated by the Pittsburgh bench and asked them "what took you so long?"

*It didn't take Marc Staal long at all to score the equalizer. And it was awesome. Staal just ripped the puck past Marc Andre Fleury, who had been barely tested all night. What a goal. After having trouble in the offensive zone last season and retreating back into his defensive comfort zone, Staal has been slowly moving up the ice this season and this goal was the farthest he has come.

*Now the million dollar question - how far can the Rangers go with Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky leading them? After a game like this one, it is hard to put a limit on it as the two were outstanding in all facets. Not only did they combine on the game-winner, but their penalty killing and their physicality were also top notch. My only concern is what will happen when Chris Drury re-enters the mix. Will they take a step back, allow him to take the mantle of leadership back? How will they be with him getting some of their special teams minutes? They will certainly say all the right things but the proof will be on the ice.

*Cally vs. Comrie? What the ... ?? It was a fair fight between two scrappy little guys, pretty even, nice that they both took their helmets off. Beyond that, whatever. The Rangers losing their best penalty killer for five minutes was dangerous but they got through it.

*Chris Connor was again good against the Rangers. This was the second time this nobody showed up against the Blueshirts, perhaps it is time to figure out who the hell he is.

*Frolov was exposed as a one-way player who Tortorella doesn't trust. And there is nothing wrong with that, as it has been an accepted fact with the rest of us. It just dashed the hopes of those who thought that Sunday's performance against the Oilers was the start of something good.

*Ruslan Fedotenko was strong all night long but one of his best moments was prying Max Talbot out of a scrum. Talbot went from angry, lunging into the mix to smiling and skating away. It was quite amusing; wonder what he said to him.

*Not so amusing was Hank throwing his hands up in disgust at MDZ during a stoppage late in the game. The kid's offense was better than it has been of late - not saying much - but his defense was still pretty harsh. He and Matt Gilroy should be 'traded' to the Whale even up for McDonagh and Valentenko for a few games. Let Sauer see some expanded minutes - he deserves it.

*The ice was as bad as advertised in the new Pittsburgh arena. Instead of letting us see more of the place, instead MSG treated us to a nice segment about Sidney Crosby hitting home runs. C'mon, everyone who aren't Pirates hit home runs in Pittsburgh.

*On the broadcasting note, MSG's cameras did not match - the video levels were waaaay off for the ice-side cameras - and Joe Micheletti is the worst. "I'm sorry Sam but ... " "Pardon me Sam but ..." There is no excuse for Joe. He points out the blatently obvious and has zero chemistry with his co-worker, loudly interrupting him constantly. He is clearly a sycophant, sucking up to his Ranger overlords by being a p.r. shrill lauding any and every minuscule accomplishment. If you haven't figured it out, I can't stand him. Even a drunk homer like Mickey Redmond is easier to listen to.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Sidney Crosby - being Sidney Crosby.
2-Henrik Lundqvist - 37 saves.
1-Ryan Callahan - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Staal - His gaffe on the Kunitz goal aside, Staal was solid - shutting down Crosby is no easy task and Staal managed it well. And he scored the goal that tied the game, forced overtime and probably forced Colin Campbell to send another e-mail about the failure of the officiating.
2-Dubi - Cally got the pub for the game-winner but admitted it was the easiest goal he ever scored, all because of Dubi's work coming down the ice. And Dubi is the one who set up Staalsie for the game-winner - he made a perfect interception in the Rangers zone, skated up the ice, drew a double team and made a perfect back-pass through the traffic to Staal. Outstanding.
1-Hank - The Cooke goal aside, Lundqvist was outstanding. His positioning was fantastic, he made beautiful saves and he made ugly saves. Hank ranged from the crease a couple of times and actually managed not to butcher them. Could you imagine if Biron had been forced to play in this one?

Monday, November 15, 2010

9-7-1: What The ... ???

The two big topics that are sure to be talked about are Avery's antics in the 8-2 Ranger win over the Oilers and Colin Campbell's idiocy with e-mails. Seeing as the big picture stuff is best left to big picture people, you will not find reaction on our former coach's stupidity here (really, it is just more of a continuation from his tenure here). As for Avery, well, many points need to be made but first off, if you haven't seen it, this is a must watch. Here are a half dozen thoughts:

1- Above everything, this incident proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that fight belongs in hockey. All of the tree-hugging pacifists out there that cry over it aren't the ones roaring their approval. The Garden was far from capacity and yet it was louder than it has been all season long. And you know what? Not one of the many (many) little kids ran crying out of the place. Not one parent in the general vicinity of section 329 shielded their children's eyes. The emotion of the moment energized the place like nothing else has outside of the rare playoff victory.

2- This space has been very favourable for Avery but he needs to be called out in this instance. If you are going to fight, fight like a man. Jumping some soft, stupid European is not honourable. Even if said Euro literally asked for it. And after a perfectly legal hit.

3- That being said, Avery attacking Smid did not cause the brawl. Tom Renney's inability to control his players did that. As Copper & Blue lamented before the game, the Renney that is "leading" Edmonton is not the Renney that ran the Rangers. Our head coach kept the team on a tight leash, one that at times strangled the life out of Colton Orr and the team. If you think, for one moment, that Renney would have allowed a Ranger to skate the length of the bench and try to run down the runway after an opposing player, you never watched him coach. As soft of a touch that man had, he was in full control.

4- Theo Peckham deserves more of a beating than Boyle gave him in that wrestling match and Colin Fraser should be fined for going after Dubinsky, who was on the Ranger bench. No wonder Chicago had no qualms with dropping the affordable Fraser ...

5- The NHL On The Fly crew went off about how Avery is forcing his teammates to fight his battles for him, an utterly illogical assumption based upon their predetermined loathing for him. Hey guys, sticks and stones. Avery was pulled off the ice by a smart linesman while he was still yapping but the petulant children on the Oilers were responsible for losing their temper and getting physically out of control. And to say that Brandon Prust solely squared off with Huggy Bear Zack Stortini because of Avery is ridiculous as the two have a history and you could see it coming earlier in the game.

6- The NHL schedule-makers suck. As detailed in No. 1 on this list, people enjoy fighting. Bad blood sells. Too bad these teams won't face each other again for a year, year-and-a-half and even then, it will likely be in Edmonton, not MSG.

Now there was indeed a full hockey game played so other notes:

*Since the adrenaline is still flowing, Boogaard vs. MacIntyre I and II weren't bad fights. Sure they were pre-ordained but they happened in the flow of play. Both battles featured too much clutching and grabbing for my tastes and too many helmet hits but it is about time we get to see a real heavyweight fight. That being said, neither battle compared to the Erskine/Boulton tussle in the Caps game.

*For all of us who dropped Alex Frolov in fantasy hockey, we just have to shrug. Two goals, two assists, five shots and +5. Dammit. Maybe Gabby makes all the difference, maybe Edmonton just sucks that bad. Personally I think the latter as it did not appear that the Rangers changed any of their tactics, it was just that all of them worked.

*Gabby's three goals marked the first hat trick at the Garden in nearly two years. I know this because I looked it up because damned my memory, I couldn't remember the last time I had seen one in person. And, unfortunately, I was wearing a hat that was too meaningful to me to throw (not that Versus would understand that). Fantastic moment after the game: a little girl talking through one of the photographer portholes to one of the ice crew guys asking if she could get her daddy's hat back.

*It was unfortunate that Magnus Paajarvi didn't dress, it would have been nice to see that young talent in person. Apparently people think that that Taylor Hall kid and that Jordan Eberle kid have some kind of ability but whatever they possess was easily suffocated by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi.

*Derek Stepan didn't face anything resembling a tough defender and played his best game in weeks. Hopefully it will be a confidence boost going forward for the youngster.

*Someone shoulda told Ole Twitchy Nik Khabibulin that playing puck hung over is a bad idea. The drunk driver seemed to give in to the headache after the melee, allowing three bad goals.

*It was very nice for Arty to score a goal - and a nice one at that - but please, someone teach him how to take a faceoff.

*Do you know why Boyle keeps scoring goals? It isn't necessarily because of his much-publicised skating lessons. It is because, finally, it appears Brian Boyle realizes he is Brian Boyle. He has broken his game waaaay down and is keeping things simple. See the net, shoot at the net, go to the net if the last step didn't work.

*Hank had better get well soon because Marty Biron is not particularly good. The first goal was not his fault - Matt Gilroy really should learn how to play defense one of these days - but the second was abominable. And it clearly got to him as he wiffed on a swing at the puck behind the net soonafter, resulting in a turnover. You can take the guy out of the Island(ers) but you can't take the Island(ers) out of the guy.

*Remember when Ales Hemsky was a world-class player? If so Oiler fans (if you are out there), you should remind him.

*And it's late - or early depending on how you look at it - so no Peepin' Foes for the Pens, sorry. Just know that that Crosby fellow is despicable but good, the Pens have scored no less than four goals in each of their last four games (while winning three of them) and the ice sucks in Pittsburgh.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Erik Christensen - three assists.
2-Alex Frolov - two goals and two assists.
1-Marian Gaborik - three goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Frolov - Did you see that goal he scored falling down at the end of the second period? It happened because he went to the front of the net, not the back of it.
2-Christy - Last season we saw flashes of the chemistry he had with Gabby and when you add in Frolov and face a team like Edmonton, it is a caustic mix that just results in goals. Christensen had his head up and made some great passes. He also had a takeaway that looked positively Datsyukian - it was that kind of highway robbery.
1-Gabby - Sure Khabby had given up long before Gaborik completed his trick but to see three goals by a Ranger (in one game) was just awesome. Gabby is one dangerous fella and he makes his magic look so easy ...

Friday, November 12, 2010

8-7-1: A Win? At Home? Strange ...

The Rangers' fortunes changed for the better on Thursday as the Blueshirts won at the Garden, and in overtime no less. They beat Buffalo 3-2 on an OT goal by Arty Anisimov, his second goal of the game. And it counted, which was almost as surprising as the officials found ways to call two other Ranger goals off.

Two issues before I get to the game:

1- Trading Dane Byers was stupid. The Pack are doing terrible, so they trade the captain? I would gladly watch the Rangers lose a few if it meant that Chris Drury would be dealt... Byers has done everything right on the ice, I can't see the logic in letting him go for a Blue Jacket - especially considering how well the last trade with that franchise went. Unless Hartford goes on a five, 10, 15 game win streak, this trade was a mistake.

2- I want all of your input on this one - do you feel that the Garden needs to be renovated? Does the state of the building keep you from attending games? I had a discussion with my rep and she couldn't comprehend my reluctance. Ticket prices have skyrocketed since the lockout, and who will end up paying for it? Us. And what are we getting out of it? Nothing that I can see. Her rationale was that there would be more bathrooms and more places to buy food/beer. I don't know about you guys, but most Garden regulars I know all have their routines and rarely have problems. So please comment - do you think a new shiny building with a few more toilets is worth paying five, 10, 20 bucks more a night?

Ok, some game stuff:

*Credit to Marty Biron, stepping in last second. He really didn't have to do all that much - Buffalo wasn't particularly good - but goaltenders are creatures of routine and being thrown into the net just before gametime surely was a surprise. Biron's biggest saves were all his own fault as his rebound control was atrocious. If he had allowed Buffalo to take the lead on that third period wrap-around, Alex Frolov may have requested a trade.

*Buffalo was indeed mediocre. The Sabres the Rangers faced last night were far, far different from the team that won the Northeast last year. That team had rock solid goaltending that radiated a confidence that the rest of the players drew off of. They combined skill with effort and great coaching to take the division title. Last night's squad was actually quite like the Rangers - the skill guys can't score and dump and chase is the dull gameplan of choice. They battle but they don't have that extra level it takes to put away scoring chances.

*It is a shame that Pat Kaleta wasn't injured. He lost his balance and fell, then literally cried about it. What a piece of garbage. He is just as despicable as Matt Cooke.

*Seven goals were scored in the game (two didn't count) and six of them were scored within a few feet of the paint. Sometimes you just have to get dirty to get the job done. If the Ranger forwards can keep that willingness to work going forward, and the defense can learn how to do their jobs, the team can be quite formidable.

*The best thing I saw all night was Marc Staal clocking Thomas Vanek when Vanek was jamming at Biron in the second period. Standing up for the goaltender. Second game in a row. Finally.

*Brian Leetch seems to be around a bit this season, perhaps he needs to be hired full time to coach Michael Del Zotto. The kid needs serious tutoring and if it won't come in Hartford, it needs to come at the country club training center. There is no debate left, a blind man can see MDZ has regressed. Something has to be done and throwing him minute after minute of ice time is not it. His mistakes, his indecision and his reluctance to shoot is a massive reason why the Ranger power play is a disaster.

*Marian Gaborik definitely was rusty but his poise with the puck was a breath of fresh air. Unlike many of his teammates, Gabby doesn't panic with he gains possession in the offensive zone. He doesn't immediately throw it behind the net or bounce it off the boards, he takes a second, looks at his options and makes his play. He is kinda good.

*Frolov is not. And that is all I have to say about him.

*Matt Gilroy returned and was quietly effective as he focused on his defense rather than trying to add offense. That being said, he was rarely put under pressure so it may be best to withhold judgement.

*Do the Rangers think that Derek Stepan is in a position where he can succeed while playing with Sean Avery and Todd White? All three are miscast on that line.

*Avery and Brandon Prust need to get things going. Their compete level can not be questioned but they haven't been effective lately for some reason or another - the juggling linemates, the ice time they are getting, the opponents they are facing.

*I still can't decide if I want Prust, Sauer or Cally on the back of the new Heritage sweater. All three had assists in this game, all three always work hard, all three have traits of their game I find admirable and all three easily could be gone by next season.

*I just saw on MSG that Acacio Marques had his 1,000th game last night - it is a shame that he wasn't honoured in the building. Guys like him and Jim Ramsay make the Rangers go.

*There were a lot of Buffalo sweaters at the Garden. It was easy to laugh at them as many were Buffa-slugs but still, in a game that wasn't at capacity, there was a solid number of those people. Mike Grier is a helluva player and yet I didn't see a single one of his jerseys. Stupid Sabres fans.

*Erik Christensen caught Arty's bug - the disease where he can't win a faceoff to win his life. Christy was probably the worst Ranger on the ice in this one, which hurts as the return of Gabby was supposed to energize the waiver wire acquisition.

*It was Steve Eminger's best game as a Ranger. He made smart, simple plays and his positioning was solid.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Mike Grier - one goal.
2-Martin Biron - 29 saves.
1-Artem Anisimov - two goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Arty - Right spots at the right times. Credit given.
2-Grier - One of those core lunchpail NHLers who just goes out there and does his job. The BU grad has never been one of the most skilled guys but he has always been one of the hardest workers.
1-Ruslan Fedotenko - Fedotenko was faced without a NHL job this season and was lucky enough to get a tryout with the Rangers. Well, he is rewarding their faith with a willingness to do anything to score. Fedotenko banged home a pair of goals from the doorstep (only one counted) and his efforts resulted in Arty's game-winner.