Friday, January 14, 2011
26-16-3: Beating The Best Is The Best
The Rangers played perhaps their best home game of the season on Thursday night, downing the Vancouver Canucks 1-0. This was no spanking the hapless Oilers, no smacking down a slumping Capital team ... this was the Rangers holding their own against the top-ranked team in the NHL. The only games worthy of comparison all happened on the road - surviving the double team of the refs and Pens in Pittsburgh early this season and the two tooth-and-nail victories last weekend against the Blues and Stars.
The wins over Edmonton and Washington brought the delight of sheer domination - a good feeling to be sure - but this victory and the others of its ilk on the road drew that triumphant Tiger Woods fist pump of a battle well won. The Rangers earned these two points and hopefully the victory that they worked so hard for will be emotional lift that will drive this team the rest of the way.
No, I'm not starting to believe that they can contend ... but I want to.
*There was a huge contingent of Canuck fans around the arena, something they should be proud of. Of course, once they started their Canadian flag waving bs the rest of the Garden lowered themselves to chanting "U! S! A! U! S! A!", which may be the dumbest thing I've heard - even worse than Potvin Sucks 18 times. Vancouver's best all-around player is American, our best player is Swedish. Yeah. U! S! A!
*Our Captain America needs to be put out to pasture. He did have some late heroics deep in the Ranger end but the rest of his game was utter garbage. Drury has become utterly inept in the offensive zone and, possibly due to his limited ice time, tries to do too much everywhere else. It at least seems like he or the team is acknowledging that his tenure is near its end as Dubinsky was the one to skate to the refs for the controversial calls.
*The officiating handed Vancouver a 47 second two-man advantage in the second period that the Rangers killed off. While the penalties themselves were just atrocious calls, the kill is what's worth talking about. The Blueshirts contained the creepy Canuck ginger twins, kept the Canucks away from the crease and drove the puck out of the zone again and again. Brian Boyle, Dubi, Dan Girardi and of course Henrik did yeoman's work during the kill ... it was perhaps my favourite 'moment' at the Garden since Jed scored a penalty shot against Boston (my dad's favourite team). It was simply awesome.
*Of the officiating issues, the spear was awful and it was the ref outside of the zone who called the trip - he simply didn't see the spearing because there were bodies in the way. Can you blame Stephane Auger for his 'problems' with Burrows? The kid is a dirty player. But the call that I have the biggest problem with was the noncall on interference in the first period. Sean Avery dumped the puck in and was bodied by both Vancouver defensemen with the puck long gone. Marc Staal - the recipient of the spear - was called for an interference the very last game on a very, very similar play.
*Avery should have drawn that penalty, he had a great scoring chance and a few hits. And he had just eight shifts all night. Drury had 19.
*Boyle, Fedotenko and Prust continued their exceptional two-way play that has been the most consistent element to the Rangers this season. HOWEVER, it got to the point where Tortorella was channelling Tom Renney and threw them over the boards every other shift. Remember when Renney did that with Orr, Sjostrom and Betts? It worked just as well but the guys wore out after a while and weren't as efficient. Considering all of the bumps, bruises and outright injuries the current trio have suffered this season, history is sure to repeat itself unless something is done soon.
*For all of the talk about how the Rangers 'got lucky' by facing a backup and not Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider was outstanding. That kid is sure to start somewhere in the not-too-distant future. He had good positioning, good economy of motion and wasn't flustered after the Rangers scored or after Sean Avery made a visit to his crease.
*Of course, the Rangers helped make him look good. For the first time in months Marian Gaborik wasn't invisible or looked like he was injured - he had chance after chance, he just kept blowing them. How a world class player like him blows a breakaway like he did is beyond me. He is clearly working hard and credit must be given to the Slovak for his assist. Gaborik went forward on the faceoff loss to force the turnover and get a chance. Wolski jammed in the rebound and that was the lone goal of the game.
*Please MSG Network, put Joe Micheletti out of my misery.
*And the MSG entertainment staff is really getting worse, if you can believe that. The stupid section vs. section fist pumping garbage, the section trivia - which they intentionally gave the wrong answer to tonight - and the canned music at ear-bleeding decibels is awful. And why did they have some kid give a violin recital during a commercial break? That was just horrid.
*Can we please hook Arty Anismov up with 'I lift stuff up and put them down' guy from those gym commercials? The young Russian had his best performance since Cally went down and yet he still couldn't score. But it wasn't for lack of trying - Arty put himself in good positions, worked to get into the trenches and then the capable Canuck defense knocked him out of the away. Put 15 more pounds of muscle on Arty and he becomes one helluva player; they would give him the confidence in himself that he has found in his tougher linemates.
*Even though they added Ballard and Hamhuis this offseason, I thought that Vancouver's defense was doomed because the cornerstone of the corps (Willie Mitchell) headed to L.A. I was wrong. Kevin Bieksa is finally healthy and he showed on this night at least that he is quite capable of filling Big Willie's shoes.
*On the topic of defense, Matt Gilroy had a very strong game. Hobey has been far better of late with his positioning and timing and it showed. Ryan McDonagh and Mike Sauer were all but invisible, which means they did a fantastic job.
*Hey Vancouver fans, we won in '94 and we won tonight. Haha. After going there for the Olympics and finding out firsthand just how bitter they still are over the Cup loss, I find this victory extra-sweet.
*How stupid is the NHL in that this was the only matchup between these teams this season?
*PHW Three Stars
3-Cory Schneider - 34 saves.
2-Wojtek Wolski - one goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 31 saves.
Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Dan Girardi - As I said to a friend, what happened in Philadelphia has been forgiven but not forgotten. Girardi was a rock.
2-Schneider - This big kid has a big future if he can get out of Luongo's shadow and into a city desperate for a starter.
1-Hank - After giving up the softie on Tuesday against the Habs Hank bounced back with a stellar performance. The man is the King and he played his best game of the season, which is saying a lot since he has been so good so often.