Thursday, September 29, 2011
Preseason: Rangers 2, HC Sparta Prague 0
Mmmmaaarrrtttyyyy, Mmmmaaarrrtttyyyy ... no, I'm not jeering the jerk that sat five rows in front of me wearing a Brodeur sweater, I am cheering for Mr. Biron, who saved the Rangers in Prague tonight. The Blueshirts stumbled out of the gate and the patchwork defense struggled to contain the Spartans for much of the night. The Ranger performance, while not great, not as bad as that sounds - it was actually a terrific match, for both the fans and for the players. There was tough, physical, back-and-forth action with good scoring chances on both sides of the ice, something that shocked me after expecting a thrashing on the order of the 8-1 beating of Bern a few years back.
*I wonder what games were like at Tesla before the movie the 300 came out. Guys dressed as Spartans - cloaks, hats, speedos and shields came out and held torches as their team took the ice. Afterwards they grabbed their spears and came back out to 'defend' the national anthem singer. Neat stuff. Oh, and the official team mascot was a Spartan - a gold version of Michigan State's Sparty.
*The Czechs skated off the ice with heads held high, and not just because of the positive reinforcement their fans gave them after the loss. None of the Spartans really stood out but they had a good team form, showing the work they've put in opening up their Extraliga campaign. They just couldn't get the puck past Biron over the first two periods, not with good wristers, deflections or high slap shots. Biron's lateral movement was terrific and he showed the veteran poise that we knew he had.
*Michael Del Zotto made a fantastic cross-crease pass on the power play to set up Ruslan Fedotenko's goal. MDZ had an utterly atrocious start where he did exactly what I said in the Peepin' Foes, "just think how Michael Del Zotto was thrown out of position on a small rink, in this one he might end up in another country." But whatever he changed during the first intermission paid off as he was a different player, one far better. He started gambling a little bit late which fried my nerves, but overall this was a very good performance for a kid very maligned in this space.
*Tim Erixon also had a decent turnaround. Erixon had an awful giveaway in the Ranger end and slammed his stick down near the end of the first but he recovered from it. He even unleashed a good shot a few times (and I believe one of them was the one that set up Arty's goal).
*Speaking of shooting, Mats Zuccarello! Zuke shot the puck twice on the same shift. I nearly fell down from shock. The Rangers' Rudy was all over the ice and had a strong showing. Sadly it wasn't one that seemed to get Torts to put him on the power play but he still saw some good ice time.
*The power play, aside from Feds' goal, was woeful. Five forwards doesn't work when the two point guys are not capable defensively and the penalty killers put on good pressure. Wolski simply doesn't belong back there.
*The Rangers penalty kill was terrific - Dubi, Cally and Biron. Enough said.
*Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik were completely underwhelming. Richards turned the puck over several times and Gabby missed several gimme goals. Still have three games to get those two going so no panic yet. Yet.
*Brandon Prust looked positively winded after his first few shifts but he eventually got his legs under him and was the Prust we know and love. He gave a Spartan an extra shove, gave another a facewash, forechecked well and was responsible defensively.
*Stu Bickel did a pretty good job on defense despite a clear deficiency skating. He is big, tough and actually showed a decent first pass to get the puck out of trouble. He also was the only Ranger to come over to a small group of fans after the game to sign autographs. Too bad no one was able to recognize who he was.
*Hard to recognize Artem Anisimov on the ice because Arty scored the game's first goal by going to the net and knocking home a rebound. Always said that when he gets his confidence up and uses his size and strength he can be a great player. And this time it wasn't because of the confidence from his usual linemates as Torts spun the wheel o wingers throughout the night. The kid went to the crease and gave the Rangers the all-important first goal.
*Quickies on the rest of the guys: Rupp missed a good scoring chance and his size and skill set didn't work in this game. McDonagh was rock solid. Eminger had a few bad plays but was overall ok - and he got a stinger or something because he went off the ice doubled over at one point (but later returned and choked up the puck). Cut Christensen now, he is useless. Brendan Bell made a few really good, sexy rushes up the ice ... then turned over the puck or missed the net.
*The game was definitely shot for television, if it was not broadcast live. They had a small scorebug on the game feed, which was shown on the big board hanging over center ice. The board which, by the way, was nailed by a Praha clearing pass at one point. Don't see that too often.
*Good moment after the final buzzer: after the teams shook hands Dubi headed right off the ice. The guys called him back and the team went to center ice and did the signature stick salute. Loved it.
If I was to do Scotty Hockey Three Stars then 3-Cally, 2-Dubi and 1-Biron.