Wednesday, January 26, 2011

29-20-3: Inevitable Letdown

It is astounding how a team can look so tough on some nights and so limp others. After surviving the deluge in DC on Monday the Rangers put together a pathetic effort at home against the Panthers tonight, losing 4-3.

It was the same old story, a weak start and a strong finish - one that just wasn't strong enough. Those extra strength finishes are seemingly reserved for road games, because why play desperate when you know you can go drinking after the game? As MZA said on tv on Monday, they couldn't wait to go to Warren 77. The boys must have mentally headed downtown before this one even started as they made the clawless Panthers look like a legitimate squad. Florida had just one regulation win in their last 11 games and had scored more than three goals just once in that same span. Plenty of folks chalked the bad bounces up to the hockey gods but you make your own luck and the Rangers didn't battle hard enough over the first 40 minutes to earn any of their own.

Tomas Vokoun is a good goaltender and for two periods the Rangers let him see every shot he faced. Florida conceded the blue line and the Rangers couldn't mount a cohesive attack. But how can you blame the boys? They are young, they are learning and, for the most part, they are trying hard ... that leaves Tortorella to shoulder much of the responsibility for this one. He didn't instill the hunger for victory at the outset, he couldn't keep them from making the mental mistake of allowing a goal moments after scoring (even if it was offsides) and he made several questionable calls. The man talks so much about consistency but the only consistent thing has been that he can't get his team to play three periods.


*Why in the world would Chris Drury not only get power play time but also see the ice in the waning minutes with the team down a goal? He has no goals and four assists this season and just two power play goals in his last 109 games. Geno Grachev came to the Rangers with six goals in the three games before his recall and he didn't see the ice on the man advantage or in the final 10 minutes of the third period. Well, that makes sense, right?

*What exactly was Arty doing chasing a Panther across the ice -skating directly into Hank's line of sight - during the go-ahead goal? Sure it was unfortunate that the puck was headed well wide before it hit his back and fluttered in, but why was he there in the first place? He wasn't watching the play, he was just chasing a random Panther right through the slot. And his half-hearted attempt at blocking a shot in the first period provided the deflection to beat Hank. If I didn't like him before ...

*And if you disagree with me on that, you are going to hate this: if Michael Del Zotto never wears a Ranger jersey again, I won't be sad. Over a year and a half he has not gotten any better; at his age you should be able to see some gains and, if anything, he has gotten worse. He used to be able to carry the puck a little bit but now he gets rid of it at first check. He did have one good defensive play - credit given - but he still chases guys around looking for a hit. He doesn't seem to grasp that hitting should be used to separate the man from the puck. The blueline was just fine without him and next season there will be one, maybe two spots opening (Eminger and Gilroy) and MDZ hasn't shown anything this year to prove he deserves one of them. Maybe another summer with Gary Roberts can change that but Roberts can put him in good physical form but can't give him the mental discipline and confidence he needs.

*On the other side of the coin is Mats Zuccarello. MZA is looking more and more like a younger Marty St. Louis with his low center of gravity and willingness to work along the boards. Once he builds regular chemistry with regular linemates, he is going to be so incredibly dangerous. It might be interesting to see him with Christensen and Wolski ...

*Derek Stepan is another keeper. Step just keeps getting more and more comfortable and it shows. He has yet to hit the college wall and hopefully this All Star break will put it off for a while (till June perhaps? hopefully? maybe? please?).

*For all of the flak that I give the Garden staff for their idiocy, the decision to cut a highlight montage to Skid Row's "Youth Gone Wild" was inspired awesomeness.

*The NHL really should revisit their rules for reviewing goals, it should be able to encompass the entire play. A little ridiculous perhaps but c'mon, an extra minute to get things right wouldn't slow things down too much. The Panthers were clearly offsides on their second goal; it is just frustrating that a guy gets paid to watch the damned line and he blows it.

*Love the effort from Avery - as always - but our guy has to start contributing on the scoreboard. Next week against Pittsburgh and Jersey would be a really good time ...

*After viewing about a dozen Panther games this year it still astounds me how the Rangers made the Panthers look so tough. Vokoun is good, Weiss has his moments and Santorelli has been a revelation - because most teams don't bother to cover him - but the rest of their roster is incredibly unimpressive, a bunch of borderline prospects and castoffs from other teams. It is like they are still an expansion team 17 years later. And the Rangers just lost to them. Ugh.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Mats Zuccarello - three assists.
2-Mike Santorelli - one goal and one assist.
1-Rostislav Olesz - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Keaton Ellerby - Selected two spots before McDonagh and seven ahead of Alexei Cherepanov (RIP) in 2007, this youngster is still struggling to become a NHL regular but he had an inspired first period that was just eye opening.
2-Zook - Is he exciting to watch or what?
1-Santorelli - Who is this guy? The former Predator won faceoffs, killed penalties, forechecked, backchecked and scored.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

29-19-3: Well, How About That?

Before puck drop I stopped by to say hello to the fine folks at Japer's Rink and said that they should enjoy the win as the Rangers mailed it in. Torts decided to let Del Zotto dress, to start Biron and let Brandon Prust make the call on whether he could play of not. Three very big strikes against the team.

Well, this ain't baseball and those didn't prove to be strikes as the Blueshirts beat the Capitals 2-1 after a wild shootout at the Phone Booth. The game wasn't a shootout - it was actually more of a shooting gallery - but it ended in one of the more entertaining skill competitions this season.

It seems like each time the Rangers find themselves under siege this season they find a way to win. It is shockingly delightful, but painfully ulcer-inducing at the same time. With few exceptions, Blueshirts are racking up points by the narrowest of margins and most of that success is coming away from the Garden. They return home tomorrow to face a Florida team far below them in the standings. The Rangers will have to replicate tonight's effort and polish off the Panthers before heading into the break where they can finally recuperate and reload.

Notes on tonight's win:

*Probably the biggest success to come out of his evening was the fact that no one else was injured. Thank goodness.

*Prust played despite all of his injuries and was his usual soldier self. Seeing how impressed his teammates are with his efforts, Prust should be rewarded with a letter - at least until Dubi returns. Compliments aside, Prust was partially to blame for the Washington goal. He had been covering Hendricks but dropped low to help McDonagh. The puck went up the wall, going past Kolarik to Hendricks, who crossed it. After Boyle committed to Hannan, Prust moved over Johansson but gave the Swede too much room. He seemed ready to block a shot, which opened up the middle of the ice, allowing Johansson to thread a pass to the open Hendricks for the redirection. Now Hendricks was free because Kolarik blew the coverage, but if Prust had closed he might have been able to break up the play.

*Back to the letter thing for a moment for today's Drury bashing. The captain earned as much ice time as three of the injury callups from Hartford - Newbury, Kolarik and Grachev - and was just as invisible as they were. He missed two shots (one from the slot), had another attempt blocked and lost five of eight faceoffs. And is making eight million dollars this year. Just sayin' ...

*Del Zotto calmed down a bit over the course of the game but wasn't particularly good. MDZ ran around like a chicken without a head chasing any Cap that came near him and, as per usual, wasn't good quarterbacking the power play. He is clearly a not-ready-for-prime-time player who needs more time in the bus league. Get well soon Girardi.

*If not for all of the injuries we wouldn't have had the delight of seeing Zuccarello and Wolski score in the shootout. The foreign born duo used essentially the same move but put the puck in opposite sides of the net. Wolski added a shot fake but both players included a sudden slowdown that threw off Washington's rookie goaltender. Both goals were beautiful but you have to wonder how much longer the move will work.

*I'm pretty sure I saw D.J. King on the ice for the Capitals during a power play. Now I advocated for Colton Orr to get a shot back in the day but back then, let's face it, we didn't have the talent that Washington has. Wonder what is up with them that they would resort to that.

*The Rangers decided to resort to Biron and the backup acquitted himself well with several old-school saves, including that sprawling pad stack in the first period. What would goalies be without a little luck as Biron managed to get juuuuuust enough of Johansson's shot three minutes into overtime to deflect it away from the post.

*On the subject of luck and deflections, the Rangers got both on the Gaborik goal. As most players will admit, it is the odd goal that hits off random body parts that can re-ignite a scoring touch so let's hope that the Maradona hand-of-god tally will set the slumping sniper straight.

*Arty scored the shootout winner, showing off his super-fast hands before beating Holtby. Too bad he can't do stuff like that when there are other players on the ice going after him.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Alexander Ovechkin - Probably just for being Alexander Ovechkin. No goals in four games against the Rangers and a bad miss in the shootout.
2-Martin Biron - 22 saves.
1-Marian Gaborik - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Michael Sauer - With Girardi out you would think that Tortorella would turn to Steve Eminger but he has finally seen what we have all season - Sauer is solid. The kid played big minutes and did a fantastic job. Hobey and McD also deserve accolades for good performances under pressure; Eminger babysat MDZ and the pairing was bailed out by Biron several times.
2-Matt Hendricks - Washington's Prust is getting better and better as the season goes on and was a big part of this game. He kept Avery in line, he helped kill penalties and he scored in regulation and the shootout.
1-Marc Staal - Where would we be without him? Thankfully we don't have to ponder that as he survived that awkward hit in Atlanta and showed fine form shutting down Ovie. It is nice to see his efforts this season are being honoured with a spot in the All Star Game but it is just a shame he can't take a vacation and rest. Tortorella leaned on him for 29 minutes tonight - how much time can he take before the wear and tear slows him down?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

28-19-3: Ain't That Peachy?

I believe it was Mark Twain who said that "it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." Samuel Clemens could never have known that his words would apply so well to tonight's 3-2 shootout win by the Rangers (ice hockey? in Atlanta? Mah word!).

The Rangers showed that it wasn't size that mattered both their biggest and their littlest players came through in the clutch: Brian Boyle scored the game-tying goal and Mats Zuccarello won it in the skills competition. The size of the fight that is in those players and the rest of their teammates seems to be growing on a game-by-game basis. Occasional let downs aside, the battle level of the Blueshirts is what is making this season tolerable to watch despite seeing the team continually crushed by injuries.

The guys were outhit and outclassed for most of the night but they still escaped Atlanta with a big two points. They keep grounding out wins on the road and staying in the playoff picture despite watching their guys falling like flies.


*A get well soon goes out to Brandon Prust. X-rays on his foot were negative but he is so battered that the All Star break can't come quick enough. Sadly the same can be said for half the roster right about now.

*As per always, Sean Avery was making things happen. Avery was all over the ice, forechecking and backchecking and being a nuisance (giggled at the facewash Byfuglien gave him). That being said, he has just one goal in his last 42 games and no assists in 15 of his last 16 games. Love Avery (as you guys know) but he has to add some production. Perhaps he will find it if Torts ever settles on (and sticks with) two linemates for him.

*It was nice of Andrew Ladd to stop fighting after making Dan Girardi's head bleed for super fan number five. Girardi wasted much of his punches on Ladd's helmet and then ended up on the worse end at the end. It was an unnecessary tussle after a clean hit but a tussle that is understandable when you consider the flak Girardi took for watching Gaborik fight Carcillo - you have to stand up for the stars and Staal is a star.

*With Girardi out after the fight, Sauer and McDonagh seriously stepped up their games. After being a proponent of Sauer for so many years it has been a true delight to see him becoming a bonafide NHL blueliner. And McD is continuing to get better and better; who knows just how far he can go? Just to finish off the defense, Eminger seems to still be recovering his game now that Rozy is gone while Hobey Gilroy had a quiet but solid game.

*The Ranger power play was all-too-quiet, as it has been all season. An option that Tortorella should explore is using the little viking as the primary power play quarterback. Gaborik was used in that spot during the 5-on-3 and he clearly is not cut out for it. Gabby's best weapon is his quick-release wrister and he can't use it sitting out at the blueline. Torts might be afraid that he would be overwhelmed but his speed should be enough to sneak through the pressure. The kid can stickhandle, the kid can pass, the kid can shoot and he can see the ice well. His nifty little feed to Boyle nearly got the big man a goal off the rush - the best chance the Rangers had during the two-man advantage.

*The refs missed at least three penalties committed on the Rangers. Sure two were not called because they were on Avery but how Gabby could have his stick slashed out of his hands with no whistle blown was inexcusable.

*Also inexcusable is the continued employment of Joe Micheletti. ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUpPleaseGodMakeHimShutUp. It is a nightly rant around these parts but every time you think he can't get worse he does. An analyst is supposed to give insight and compliment the play-by-play guy. Joe does neither.

*From one 'favourite' target to another: if Chris Drury was just a little more physical then it would be interesting to entertain the thought of banishing him to the blueline but as he plays now he simply needs to be banished. The captain is nothing less than a liability in the offensive zone, a lamb wandering into a wolf's den. The defenders give him no quarter because they know he is no threat - they simply pounce and take the puck. In the second period Drury skated into the Thrasher end, was quickly overwhelmed, had his halfhearted shot blocked and watched as Atlanta went back the other way and scored. And Dru took all of five faceoffs over the course of the evening; he won three but the two he lost were both in the defensive zone. Kris Newbury has shown he is more than capable of doing what Dru does whole adding a physical element ... and he does it for far, far, far, far, far less money.

*Surprise, surprise, I found Arty Anisimov was disappointing as well. Arty seemingly lost every faceoff he took, he took a poor penalty and for all of the chances he got around the Atlanta net, he didn't come close to scoring. More muscle and more confidence would change all of that.

*After his impressive debut in Carolina, I expected Chad Kolarik to have a better game.

*Brodie Dupont finally made his NHL debut but he only played five minutes and was largely invisible. I'm hoping he sticks until at least Tuesday so I can get a better look.

3-Brian Boyle - one goal.
2-Nik Antropov - one goal.
1-Mats Zuccarello - shootout goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Sauer - Nearly 27 minutes of ice time, nearly five of which were shorthanded. He edged out Tobias Enstrom in my opinion purely because he was not cast in the role he succeeded in this evening.
2-Ondrej Pavelec - Pavelec made 29 saves and came an inch away from stopping Boyle too (the puck clipped his glove). This kid has some serious skill and hopefully for Atlanta he won't fall apart like Kari Lehtonen did.
1-Hank - Sure the King only made 20 saves but he couldn't be faulted for either of the goals against - and he came through in the shootout yet again. While more and more Rangers are going down with injury, Hank has been the crutch holding the team up while the replacements get used to their roles.

Friday, January 21, 2011

27-19-3: Sad Loss Down South

The Blueshirts were battered by the Hurricanes on Thursday night 4-1. At some point people are going to start hanging every loss on the rash of injuries but the fact is that the Rangers actually had a chance to win this one, or at least make it far more of the game it became.

The difference was tactical, as Tortorella's decision to start Hank for a second straight night backfired. After all of that talk about saving Lundqvist for the games that matter, Torts went with the King against the loser Leafs. When he made that call, he had to back it up by using the backup against the more important Carolina team ... but he didn't. Instead Hank was back in the crease and the goaltender gave up the all-important first goal, one that was simply soft. The Rangers had had the energy and the momentum and it all drained out as the puck trickled through his legs. Zook had a good chance six, seven minutes later but the full-team pressure that the Rangers had put on Ward was gone.

And, of course, not too much time passed before Mike Sauer got called for a bad penalty. And, of course, the usually-diligent Ranger PK went into a diamond that was sliced in half by the laser of Uh Oh Corvo. Sure the shot was tipped but it shouldn't have gotten to the slot - Boyle gave him too much room and too much time. Conn Smythe winner Ward was able to calm things down and hold the Blueshirts at bay, showing that he is still one of the best in the business. Hank is too, but he was lulled into complacency by the pop-gun attack of the Leafs the night before.

Hopefully this was a wake-up call for the King as the Southeastern swing continues with games in Atlanta (Saturday) and Washington (Monday).


*How can you not love Brandon Prust? Seriously? Bad shoulder and all, the guy refuses to relent. He blew an early breakaway but kept on battling. He fought Jay Harrison and too a few good shots before turning the tables. And then he nearly lost the puck in traffic but kept with it and scored in the third period ... what more can you want from a guy? Heart and soul. With Cally, Dubi and Prospal all out, it would be great if Prust was rewarded with an A - even if it is temporary.

*From a guy deserves a letter to one who doesn't: nice of Chris Drury to contribute nothing, again. He has to took around and see that he is skating alongside Dale Weise and Kris Newbury - a far cry from Hejduk, Forsberg, Briere, Vanek, etc. Wouldn't that motivate him to be better?

*Marian Gaborik scores four goals against the hapless Leafs and yet doesn't even manage four SHOTS in this one. I said it yesterday, "the guy shows up when there is a dog to kick but when a real opponent comes around this season he has been the dog."

*Nice fight by Newbury. One day after making Sloppy Seconds look stupid Newbury engaged in a good battle with former Duck Ryan Carter. I knew I remembered his name from somewhere - Carter was beaten up by Ryan Hollweg at the Garden a few years back. Newbury, by the way, won eight of 10 faceoffs. Not too shabby.

*Derek Stepan needs to find his consistency. His skill level is unquestioned but some mental mistakes are sneaking through, as one did tonight on Skinner's goal. Step hasn't quite hit the College-Kid Wall but he is showing signs - hopefully the All Star break will do him well.

*So Sean Avery slashes Erik Cole and is penalized. Cole slashes Avery and is not penalized. Cole chases down Avery and both are equally penalized even though Cole initiated the contact. And the officials step in to break up what could have been a good fight. Ok then, that makes sense, right?

*Hopefully that same break won't break the momentum that Zuccarello has built up. The little man is playing big and getting in good spots to score. At some point more of those great chances will go in and when they do ... look out. Torts will want to re-unite Cally with Arty but with Dubi out, perhaps Zook could be a good fit with them.

*While I am still sad we didn't get to see Brodie Dupont make his debut, Chad Kolarik fared well in his first foray in a Blueshirt. He made some mistakes and seemed to struggle with the pace once or twice but he does have good offensive instincts.

*What the hell is that Tarzan cry that they kept playing in Carolina? Ugh.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Cam Ward - 39 saves.
2-Jeff Skinner - one goal and one assist.
1-Chad LaRose - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Prust - It is becoming cliche but In Prust We Trust. If there is one blue collar Blueshirt who this city could/should be proud of, it is Prust.
2-Skinner - MSG may love to get a laugh out of the kid's figure skating background but it is the former (Kitchener) Ranger who will have the last laugh. With Logan Couture's injury issues many may Believe in Bob for the Calder but my money is on this Carolina kid.
1-Ward - Is it the fact that he plays in Carolina that keeps him out of most people's minds when they name the top goaltenders in the league? I myself have left him out of the conversation in the past but certainly won't do it again ...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

27-18-3: Yawn

The Rangers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-0 on Wednesday night and if you are looking for a glowing, joyful review ... look elsewhere.

You've been warned.

The game was a boring beating of a dead horse. Toronto was completely lifeless and laid there as the Rangers piled on goal after goal. This was like the snow-day victory over the Islanders, it was a firm trouncing of a team that had no right being on the same ice as them.

Yes, these are the games that you are supposed to win and it was nice to come through. But beyond the two points the victory was completely unfulfilling and proved absolutely nothing. Let's see them have a strong showing against a real NHL team, or at least one that is capable of playing the AHL because the Leafs would have even lost to a SPHL side on this night. Atrocious; any Toronto fans out there have my sympathies. Let's just hope that the Rangers have something left in the tank for tomorrow night's game as the Canes will be one of the teams fighting them for a playoff spot notsofar down the road.


*For all who are still delirious over Marian Gaborik's five point night, please keep in mind that he had hat tricks against Edmonton and the Islanders - the guy shows up when there is a dog to kick but when a real opponent comes around this season he has been the dog. I would rather see him score once in any of the close losses where were were desperate for a goal than see him put up four (and assist on another) against a bunch of bums like the Buds. That being said, his first goal featured some sexy stickhandling, wow. But, again, 10 of his 15 goals have come in three of his 34 games.

*Speaking of bums, Chris Drury. Over 20 minutes of nothingness. The only thing that makes his performance almost acceptable was the disastrous showing by Toronto captain Sloppy Seconds; we may not have the worst captain in the league but Drury is certainly in the conversation. Nice breakaway idiot. Why couldn't Drury get injured instead of Ruslan Fedotenko? Dru adds nothing to the lineup on the ice anymore - he is even a shadow of the fourth liner that he was in Vancouver 11 months ago, much less the star he was on the Sabres (and in Little League!).

*Very tough to lose Fedotenko with a separated shoulder; damn you West Islip waste of skates Mike Komisarek. Feds has been the perfect foot soldier this season and to see him go down was painful. Hopefully, as with Frolov, the Hartford replacement will be able to do the job (if not do even better). Finding someone to step up and fill Dubinsky's skates ... well, that will be far more difficult. A lot can happen in a month.

*When Colton Orr first came to NY I hated him. He was a slow, one-dimensional goon. Then Tom Renney worked some magic and turned Orr into a valuable defensive player, someone who I and most others loved to watch. It appears that Renney's pixie dust has worn off. Orr is back to being a goon and seems to have taken it a step forward and become a clown too. Sad.

*Really kinda curious as to why Dale Weise fought (and got his ass kicked by) Luke Schenn. Nothing positive could have come out of it and, if not for the injuries ravaging the locker room, Weise would have been banished to the minors long ago. It is a shame, he had potential to be more than a goon but he has fallen into the roll and simply is not good at it.

*There was another bout in this one, with Newbury "fighting" Sloppy Seconds. Credit to the little man for getting the jersey over Elishe's boyfriend's head. Just sad to see the refs immediately break it up before Newbury could add injury to Phaneuf's embarrassment.

*Sometimes you forget just how fast Sean Avery is but he showed off some stellar wheels tonight and, for once, managed to keep his new linemates on side. What are the odds that Avery sticks with Anisimov and Gaborik? I would say slim and none.

*Arty really didn't deserve two of his four assists but, hey, everyone acknowledges that the official scorer in NY is a nice guy. And, to be honest, his other two assists were perfect feeds. It is amazing how good he can be when no one is hitting him and he doesn't have to actually work for space.

*A friend tried throwing his hat after Gabby's third goal only to watch it fall short and have a teenager sitting a few rows from the ice pick it up and put it on his head. That is just wrong, and gross.

*The Blueshirts spent plenty of time late being cute with their passes and it gave the Leafs some life. Sure, the game was well out of hand by then and only a high stick could strike a puck past Hank but being cute is a bad habit for our boys and one that hopefully won't carry on to Carolina.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Henrik Lundqvist - 22 saves.
2-Artem Anisimov - four assists.
1-Marian Gaborik - four goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Ron Wilson - The Maple Leafs coach's composure was astounding. If I was him I would have ripped off my tie, thrown it onto the ice and walked out before the end of the second period. And just think that if he had prepared his team to play, they could have capitalized on that power play thee minutes into the first and made it an entirely different game.
2-Ryan McDonagh - Sure the Leafs were limp but the kid played his most minutes to date in the NHL and played his best hockey to date. Toronto couldn't get second or third chances as McD was well positioned to make plays.
1-Gaborik - Nice to see that he is still indeed on the team but let's see him do something when he is actually needed before saluting the Slovak.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

True Blue Subscriber Night

The Rangers held a fan forum for season subscribers tonight inside the Manhattan Center. It was the same space that held last year's Lifer Forum and the team kept the same formula this time around. Parade the Rangers in, have the team banter with a moderator, then open the floor to questions from fans.

Ryan Callahan, Henrik Lundqvist and Brian Boyle were on the panel last year and were joined tonight by Vinny Prospal, Brandon Prust and Ryan McDonagh. Some randomness to come out of all of the talking:

*The biggest thing to come out from the players was Vinny Prospal's admission that all is not well with his rehab. Prospal said that he has been testing it and was skating "on one leg." The one thing pushing him is his promise to his son that he will play again but certainly he did not seem optimistic.

*Prospal is so tan from spending all summer playing tennis outdoors. Hank is tan because he spent the off time during the recent Florida trip out by the pool.

*Hank overdressed with a sharp, skin-tight suit while Prust underdressed and was given a bit of grief for it.

*The guys have good chemistry and there was a bit of fun banter to be had. McDonagh, however, did the smart rookie thing and kept his mouth shut. Kinda felt bad for him because he was barely acknowledged after his initial q&a with Al.

*McDonagh admitted that he is not a big television guy and he prefers to read while Cally admitted that he has a passion for reality TV - specifically Toddlers & Tiaras and Jersey Shore.

*As ridiculous as that was, Cally came across as the captain. I'm not sure how to phrase it any other way - he had a certainty to the way he was talking and the way he spoke to the other guys that just seemed to me to show leadership.

*Brian Boyle's nickname is Boiler. And the guys acknowledged that hockey nicknames are not particularly inventive nowadays.

*As I tweeted, many of the fan-asked questions were dumb beyond redemption; the players must have walked away thinking that we are all idiots. Many people actually didn't ask questions, choosing instead to rant or talk about themselves.

*One poor woman, who may have had some kind of mental disability, went on and on about gifts she sent to the guys. It was heart-felt but rambling and she was cat-called by another member of the audience.

*Hank said that he goes through 120 sticks a year, and that he may not throw his sticks into the crowd anymore during the three stars as it ignites fights in the crowd (and some brass said that he shouldn't). The fact that he had the three-game point streak was brought up and Hank said he called several friends to taunt them.

*Scott Lasky was the MC and he was horrid. The guy is corporate vanilla awfulness. He tried to claim an life-long fandom of the team, saying that he was a Ranger fan who used to get beat up during the years that the "boys on the bus of Bossy, Potvin Trottier" were going on. Sorry pal, the Boys on the Bus were the Oilers, not the Islanders.

*For as good as Al was, he didn't do his homework ahead of time and said that Prust was a Western Canada guy when, in fact, the Ranger hails from London, Ontario. Whoops.

*People asked if the team was going to play in the next Winter Classic and, of course, the guys didn't know but would like to. They also have no problem with starting next season overseas as Callahan said that the last time it was a good experience and it brought the boys together.

*And everyone hates Sidney Crosby.

All told it was a nice evening but, of course, you left wanting more. There were no autographs, no photos and only a lucky few received prizes. But, considering the large amount of diehard Ranger fans, those 1,000 or so in attendance were the lucky few to even get to go so we should be thankful.

Monday, January 17, 2011

26-18-3: Phailure

Just four days ago the Rangers took on the best team in the Western Conference and beat them in a thrilling game at the Garden. Tonight the Rangers took on the best team in the Eastern Conference and lost in a 3-2 game that was not nearly as close as the score indicated. It was a result that nearly mirrored that of the loss on Saturday night in Montreal: slow legs led to dumb penalties led to big deficit early, before a late press made it look respectable.

It was not respectable.

It was a failure by coach to get the team ready to play at puck drop. It was a failure by the captain to lead his teammates. It was a failure by the star scorer to do much of anything. Worst of all, it was a failure of the team to live by the Code. Losing to the best team in the conference is unfortunate but acceptable. Failing to live by the Code of the sport during that second period fracas is not.

The video is here, and you can see not one but two infractions. First Kris Newbury had the nerve to jump Matt Walker from behind, then Sean Avery doing his pathetic, unfortunate extra punches on a prone opponent. Newbury should never be allowed to wear a Blueshirt again, while Avery's routine is sure to come back to him - perhaps soon as Sloppy Seconds comes to town on Wednesday. It is easy to be an apologist for Avery as he adds so much to the team but at some point enough is enough and seeing him punching softie Matt Carle as he is pulling his best Claude Lemieux impression by turtling on the ice is enough. If it was Darcy Tucker that would be one thing, pacifist Matt Carle is another.


*As with the Fedotenko/Boyle/Prust line, Tortorella's overuse of Staal and Girardi could very well cost the team in the long run. Torts is leaning hard on these guys and the extra ice time is clearly wearing them down. There is no reason for Staal to play 28 minutes in a regular season game that is not that important. Ryan McDonagh, who Torts didn't trust enough to take some of that time, managed to be +2 in the loss.

*Three of the six goals that were scored against the Rangers in the last two games were directly Chris Drury's fault. As he did twice in Montreal, Dru was unable to cover his man and his man set up a goal. Dru dropped down low to slash a Flyer from behind, leaving Carle open at the point to take a shot that Jeff Carter tipped. Drury took just seven faceoffs - winning four of them - and missed two of the three shots he attempted. He isn't playing defensive hockey well, he isn't playing offensive hockey well, he isn't leading the team on the ice or the bench ... Someone should tell him that there is no shame in giving up the Captaincy for the good of the team - hell, a good captain should know that. Rod Brind'Amour did it in Carolina, Drury should do it here. And then it would be classy of him to pull a Naslund and simply go away (retire) but he is just 34 years old so the odds of that are slim.

*Sure Derek Stepan was the one stripped of the puck but Marty Biron should shoulder full responsibility for the game-winning goal. The entire building knew that Giroux was going to pass on the two-on-one and yet Biron somehow wasn't able to get across his crease to stop Mike Richards' shot.

*Gaborik, well, he was benched for a portion of the game, something that has been a long time coming. As said here several times, Gabby never really returned from injury so perhaps the upcoming All-Star break will give him the time to re-find his form. By my count, the Ranger power play is 2-28 this year (nine games) and that largely the Slovak's fault.

*It was nice to see the Rangers show up for the third period for the second straight night but, let's face it, both the Habs and the Flyers took their feet off the gas. It is hard to be heartened at the Ranger effort when the opponent is not bothering to play their best.

*When the Flyers were playing their best they really looked like a team that will contend for the Cup. Ugh.

*How stupid were those part-time, weekend Ranger fans? The Garden had several "Flyers Suck!" chants in the third period ... while the Flyers were winning. If they suck, what do the Rangers do?

*And I'm pretty sure it was a hockey game, so why the hell would the Garden staff feel the need to announce how a football team is doing? And a New Jersey team to boot. Listen, if people really cared about that, they should have gone to the damned game. We can't get decent replays of what happens on the ice but we can get highlights of some bullshit football game. Ridiculous.

*The Rangers took three hooking penalties over the course of the evening, showing that the team simply couldn't skate with the Flyers. If they could, or if they were smart enough to be positioned well enough not to have to, they wouldn't be forced to lay the lumber like that.

*The Rangers had trouble holding the offensive zone blue line and easily gave away the defensive zone blue line. We are rebuilding with youth so we have to forgive their mistakes but Hobey Gilroy being unable to keep the puck in the Flyer end three times was just ridiculous. And the Blueshirts never made Philly earn their way into the Ranger end. The Flyers cruised through the neutral zone and over the blueline with ease, which is not good. Not good at all.

*I'm still not sure how Meszaros' mugging of Arty Anisimov was just a hook and not a penalty shot.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Matt Carle - two assists.
2-Derek Stepan - one goal and one assist.
1-Ville Leino - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Brian Boucher - Sure Boucher pulled a Leighton and allowed a horrid low short-side shot to beat him but Boosh made 34 saves on the night and was all that kept the Rangers from equalizing as the skaters in front of him slowed in the final period.
2-Mike Richards - Imagine that, the captain of the team contributing in a big way.
1-Kimmo Timonen - Amazing how quietly he goes about his business - kinda like Teppo Numminen did so maybe it is a Finnish thing. Timo played 25:24, five minutes of PP, four of PK. He blocked five shots, had two takeaways, three hits and took three shots (one that went on net).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

26-17-3: All Hail King Henrik

In general, the Rangers have struggled in Montreal for 84 years so the 3-2 loss on Saturday night was no surprise. The fact that the Blueshirts came out flat is no surprise. The facts that they took bad penalties, had a terrible power play and rallied late to make it interesting are all not surprising. All are par for the course this season.

What stands out in this one was a moment in the second period. Henrik Lundqvist was completely under siege throughout the frame, playing some of the best hockey he has to date. Brandon Dubinsky - who played some of his worst hockey to date - was a step behind Max Pacioretty and shoved the Canadien forward into Henrik. Pacioretty was headed for the crease anyway, he was just helped along, and he bumped into the Ranger goaltender. Now this wasn't the biggest hit Hank has taken this season (that 'honour' probably is still Dion Phaneuf's) but Hank took exception and pounced on Pacioretty. He managed to fire off a big right before Gionta jumped on his back like a spider monkey. The video of it is here.

After watching his teammates seemingly suffer from strip club hangovers, Hank was mad as hell and he wasn't going to take it any more. He snapped. And all of a sudden the Rangers started skating. They started hitting and they got back into the game. It proved to be too little too late to win this battle but it should help the team win the war.

Some notes:

*The only Ranger aside from Hank to play all three periods was Sean Avery. If only Tortorella would give Avery some consistent linemates he can really make something happen. For all of the notorious antics (which are overblown if you ask me), Avery can skate as fast as anyone, he has a good pair of hands and has good instincts. Let him get a little consistency and see what happens...

*The addition of Wolski was a good one but tonight you saw just how easily it is for him to disappear. With Gaborik already on a milk carton, Tortorella needs to ensure the Polish kid stays involved.

*How sad is it that the Rangers drew a power play in the last minute of the game and you just knew that there was no chance that they would score? Why Gaborik was playing as the quarterback is beyond me.

*Having Friday off from practice clearly helped Prust/Feds/Boyle and they accounted for the first Ranger goal, with Boyle putting it in. But if only the big BC man was a better player he would have had another three. He had so many chances! Why can't anyone else work themselves into those scoring spots?

*Mats Zuccarello snuck into one in the third period and was able to score. Without a Hab draped on his back, MZA was able to bang home his own rebound to bring the boys in Blue back within one. His ice time was limited in the second period, showing that Tortorella is not quite confident in the Norwegian's play without the puck. But he is clearly making gains in that aspect of his game and it will be hard to pry him out of the lineup the rest of this season.

*Kris Newbury had a decent debut. He "fought" Travis Moen, jumping the former Duck and swinging around before falling. Newbury did some good things in the third period but having Dale Weise's big body around could perhaps have turned things around earlier.

*Matt Gilroy keeps improving, which is great to see. You have to wonder if it is born of a legitimate drive to improve or just his interest to earn another big money contract this summer. But, either way, it is helping the Rangers right now.

*Can MexiCan't Scott Gomez be any more classless? His childish berating of John Giannone during their intermission interview was completely unprofessional and unwarranted.

*Can Chris Drury be any more useless?

*Why does Joe Micheletti insist on pointing out the blatantly obvious?

*Will someone give Arty Anisimov a cheeseburger?

*Final note of the night before the stars: as you surely saw, the Flyers practiced on Saturday in Central Park. They followed in the footsteps of the Ottawa Senators, who did it last season. Two teams hold public practices in New York City and neither are the team that calls the city home. That is ridiculous and unfair and oh so typically Dolan. He keeps the players in their Westchester country club, likely because he sees no money to be made in having them practice out in the open. It is ridiculously near-sighted as a public practice would allow kids to get to see the Rangers up close and help build fans for life - you know, so later on when they have money they might actually spend it on the team.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Andrei Kostitsyn - one goal.
2-Henrik Lundqvist - 38 saves.
1-James Wisniewski - two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-PK Subban - As @livestrongray tweeted, "you can't spell punk without P and K." The arrogant little defenseman knew he had a target on his back and he played it up, distracting the Rangers and getting them to be undisciplined.
2-Roman Hamrlik - The first overall draft pick in 1992 never lived up to the superstar billing but has been a rock for the Habs. They lose Andrei Markov and Hamrlik has picked up the slack. Sure BJ Wisniewski has stepped in and helped out but Hamrlik plays big, tough minutes and makes few mistakes.
1-Hank - What can you say? The man is the King.

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.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

25-16-3: Consistency

John Tortorella's catchword this season has been consistency and he has often gone off on how his team needs to strive for it. Well, the only consistency that we have seen is the regularity that the Rangers disappoint at home. After back-to-back stellar efforts in Dallas and St. Louis the Rangers returned to the Garden, played poorly and lost to Montreal 2-1.

In the first period the Blueshirts came out like gangbusters to open the first period, fell flat when they went on the power play and finished with a flourish. The second period saw the entire team go MIA and the third was all Montreal until the final minute. The Rangers played strong hockey for 125 minutes on the road and returned home to play about 12 to 15 in this one.

That is simply unacceptable and it can not continue if the team is to succeed this season. And if the team doesn't address it on Wednesday (if they can shovel the snow), then the NHL-best Canucks are going to destroy them on Thursday.

Notes on tonight:

*Welcome Wojotech. Wahtek. Woltoke. Voltok. Volek. Whatever the hell the new kid's name is, he has to learn how to put the puck into an empty net. That's not asking too much. Wolski showed more skill and was more involved than Frolov - the man he replaced - but the result was the same: no goals. But it was only his first game, no reason to go crazy.

*How crazy was it seeing Mats Zuccarello hitting Hal Gill? The kid jumped into the defender on the boards and still only came up to the logo on his chest. Hilarious. It was one of several great shifts by MZA, who is rapidly becoming a fan favourite as the Zoooooks rained down on the ice several times.

*No, Michal Rozsival was not missed. As happened earlier this season, Steve Eminger upped his game in the absence of the elder Czech. Eminger was fantastic. Yes, his gamble down the ice resulted in Pouliot's goal but Torts encourages defensive pinching and there were two other Rangers back who should have grabbed the Frenchman and threw him through the boards before he could get a shot off.

*Since we don't have Rozy to kick around anymore, my target will be Anisimov. He has great hands. He has a great shot. He barely uses either because he is too damned soft and doesn't have that killer instinct. Arty was stumbling around the crease completely lost when Wolski hit the post late in the third period. Add 15 pounds and some drive to this kid and you have a helluva player. Don't and you have this frustrating perimeter player who only excels at losing faceoffs.

*Now seriously, what does Tortorella have against Avery? Sean was all over the ice in the first period and then saw less and less in the second and third. Said it before, will say it again: all Avery does is make things happen. And Torts isn't putting Avery or his team in a position to achieve when he throws him on the ice alongside Drury and Weise.

*Drury was just atrocious, outside of the faceoff circle. He did hit the iron at one point but frankly he is just a poor shadow of the player he used to be. There is no questioning his effort but the guy who scored 37 goals in Buffalo to earn his enormous contract is gone. Hopefully someone this summer will convince him to give up the C to someone more deserving, someone with a future on the team.

*Dubi's goal was a thing of beauty, taking a nice pass off the boards from Hobey and skating around a sprawled Hal Gill before wristing the puck past Auld. Dubi's hands have just been incredible of late, having caught up to his speed. Let's hope he doesn't waste them on any kind of fighting any time soon.

*Speaking of such, has anyone missed Derek Boogaard at all? Didn't think so.

*Even if the Cloverfield monster was in the lineup, it wasn't like he would have done anything to PK Subban, even though the rookie Canadien deserved a beating. The dirty little overrated child had several cheap shots in the game, with the two most egregious being his cheap shot on Staal and his slew foot on Dubi. Then again, history dictates that slew footing Rangers is legal in MSG. Someone should do something on Saturday.

*I went to the game and only watched Rangers in 60. For those who watched the entire thing on MSG, you have my sympathies. After about 30 seconds I wanted to stuff a hockey sock down Joe Micheletti's throat, I can't imagine three hours. He has been on one horrible roll.

*Hank has three assists in three games, what's next? Is he going to pull a Hextall and score?

*Love those heritage sweaters.

*It is weird to say this but Brian Boyle should have been better. It is a testament to his play so far this season that that can be said but it is true. He lost 11 of 14 faceoffs and was invisible for most of the night.

*Damn do I hate the Mexican't. I didn't see Gomez once skate around in circles and take his teammates offsides, guess that part of his game is gone now that he isn't getting our money.

*Dale Weise had two shots. Derek Stepan had none. We can live with Step's defensive gaffes when he is being proactive and making things happen but he was clearly a passenger during tonight's ride. Consistency kiddo, consistency.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Henrik Lundqvist - 36 saves.
2-Alex Auld - 25 saves.
1-Benoit Pouliot - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Auld - The Habs backup was beaten at least five times and yet he ended the night with a win against the team the unceremoniously dumped him for an Islander. More power to him.
2-Mathieu Darche - I'm with Keven Weekes on this one. On NHL tonight Weeksie pointed how involved Darche was all night and it was quite noticeable. Even though he is 34, Darche isn't a late bloomer - he has always been talented, having dominated the AHL - he is just in a perfect situation in Montreal.
1-Hank - Pouliot's pin-point shot aside, our goalie had himself a helluva game. Many will say that even the one softie was too many but the King bailed out his young guard several times and he gave the Rangers a good chance to win. It is not his fault they couldn't play 60 minutes and couldn't capitalize on chance after chance - the margin of error shouldn't be that slim, even with a young, talent team like ours.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ding Dong Rozy's Gone

All of that cheering you heard earlier was the sound of celebration after news of Michal Rozsival's ensuing departure made its way around New York. The Rangers traded Rozy to Phoenix for Wojtek Wolski.

While the deal was a simple player-for-player, there are a lot of complicated implications. So it may be best just to break things down bit by bit.

First off, a glance at the departed: Rozy played 432 regular season games and put up 42 goals and 134 assists, with 20 goals and 53 assists coming on the power play. He was in 31 playoff games and put up four goals and 10 assists. Jaromir Jagr left in the summer of 2008 and Rozy's points per game dropped from .407 to .357, he began suffering from a bad hip and he became widely loathed around the Garden.

That loathing did not extend into the locker room and Rozy was well-liked by his teammates. With the team finally clicking, you have to wonder what dealing the longest-tenured Ranger will do to the team's chemistry ...

Now that he is gone, which Blueshirt blueliner will draw the True Blue's ire for lackadaisical play? Rozy was the latest in a long line of soft players who didn't seem to be trying particularly hard. Could this be the end of an era? We can only hope.

Mockery aside, the Rangers gave up a veteran defenseman who was consistent and calm, if nothing else. That kind of presence is prized, especially in the stretch run and in the playoffs. As the Rangers missed the postseason last year, you had better believe that Dolan won't settle for another spring without extra revenue. If the team is teetering on the edge in February, will the Ranger braintrust be able to convince the boss that this defensive corps is enough to get the team over the hump? That is a tough sell when you consider Sather's talk that a real rebuild wouldn't be accepted in New York. He has been able to sneak one though but that is because any minor game-by-game losses in revenue can be chalked up to the economy. The big bucks that are the playoffs are something else.

Seeing as Future Blue is greatly improved and the only clear draft need is a goaltender (who likely won't be taken before the second round at the earliest), you have to wonder if Sather will be tempted to deal a pick away at the deadline for a veteran insurance policy. Let's hope not. But if he does feel the need, perhaps he won't have to deal away any picks: last year's late addition Anders Eriksson is back in action overseas with Zuccarello's former team Modo and likely would make it through waivers.

Enough about the Rozsival; Wojtek Wolski is coming to town. Sather said that the Polish-born but Canadian-raised winger will be available for Tuesday's game against Montreal. Wolski follows the line of one-way, skilled forwards that went from Jagr to Zherdev to Frolov; he is just as enigmatic and frustrating. After Colorado gave up on him and swapped the winger for Peter Mueller, Phoenix saw their new addition score 18 points in 18 games. Then the summer came and something happened. Either Wolski became complacent or he lost favour with Dave Tippett or he simply lost his touch. At 24 you certainly don't think that the latter is the case but Wolski comes to the Rangers on a seven game pointless drought and already had goalless streaks of 10 and eight games this season.

With Wolski come a complement of questions: Will this trade motivate him the way the last deal did? Who will he have chemistry with? Will he fit into the locker room? Can he do a wrap-around like Frolov did? Is it possible for him to avoid Tortorella's doghouse? Did Torts learn something from Zherdev that he can use to avoid the same frustrations? What will Sather do with the extra money under the salary cap?

If I had to guess at some of those answers, I would say that Wolski will do well in the next few weeks. He likely won't be as prolific as he was when he first got to Phoenix, but that is because the Rangers play a tighter game. Wolski won't likely work well on the ice with Gaborik, if only because both players need the puck on their stick; Wolski with MZA could be a good pairing though. Wolski will score in shootouts and can't possibly be worse than Frolov on the power play. Off the ice, Wolski is another Toronto-area kid fresh to New York City so it could go either way. Hopefully his hard-working immigrant parents instilled in him some good values.

No matter how it plays out the simple facts are that the Rangers are younger, they have more money to re-sign their core kids this summer and Rozy is gone. So we have all of that going for us. I can see the comments already about how I should be overjoyed purely because there is no more Rozsival to kick around but, as a long time Ranger fan, I'm waiting for the other shoe to fall.

Things are just going too well.

Renovation Update

Madison Square Garden's atrocious transformation/money grab is continuing and starting to infringe on the public parts of the Garden. The team just sent out an update with what will be closed during tomorrow's game:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

25-15-3: That's What I'm Talkin' About

After a dreadful first period where the Rangers worked the exhaustion out of their bodies, the team woke up and played what should be Ranger hockey. They battled and battled and battled and grinded out an exciting 2-1 victory over the Blues - another young, tough team that battles and grinds.

For years now Saturday night's tilt in St. Louis would be the kind of game where the Rangers would be outworked and outhustled on their way to a disappointing loss. But they didn't let that happen. Not on this night. For the second straight game the team did not relent, did not give up the good areas of the ice and ended up on top. It was outstanding and exactly why there has been millions of pixels wasted on this website in rants about how bad the Blueshirts were - they have had the ability to do this for a while and simply didn't.

Now let's not start signing Kumbaya just yet as there were still plenty of warts but, BUT this weekend's efforts are a welcomed indication of the Rangers ability to contend. Now let's just see them do it at home, in front of the adoring fans that have been desperate for signs of life like this for a long time.


*This game was so impressive that even Marian Gaborik showed up to take part in it. Gabby and Avery combined for two terrific chances and the second one went in. Going to the net is gooooood. All of the Avery haters should simmer down because when Sean is on the ice things happen. Well, those haters in New York at least. The late double minor for high sticking was an accident, not an instance of him being out of control.

*Highlight of the game? Not what you might think: During the second period the game was tied at one and Matt D'Agostini took off on a breakaway. Marc Staal raced back and took a good penalty to throw the Blue off before he could get a good shot. D'Agostini slid into Biron, knocking the net off. Avery, Staal and Girardi all charge right at D'Agostini, setting off a scrum. That kind of thing rarely happened in recent seasons and didn't even happen during the first month of this one. But, as the team has come together and - to steal the company line - 'found their identity' that is happening more and more. The Blueshirts are doing whatever it takes to get the job done and they are standing up for themselves and each other while doing it. How can you not love it?

*There is plenty not to love: the Rangers can't win faceoffs and can't score on the power play. Too many men on the ice is utterly inexcusable in the quieter confines of St. Louis - it isn't like it is the Stanley Cup Final at the Montreal Forum. Arty Anisimov can't stay on his skates and needs to add at least 15-20 pounds of muscle. Love the flash of his spin o'rama, hate the turnovers and spills the second there is a little bit of physical pressure.

*Marty Biron was rock solid with perhaps his best performance this season. Sure he has other wins but this game saw him exposed numerous times and he closed down the Blues. Sure - as JD pointed out - the Blues were missing three of their top forwards but they still had many capable contributors (led by the Awesome American David Backes). And Biron only allowed one goal on 25 shots; a great job by the backup.

*Derek Stepan's goal was damn sexy coming on a tic-tac-toe passing play. How he made himself wide open, took the pass, stickhandled in close and found a gap in Halak is beyond me but it was enjoyable to see. Something to be wary though - last year Step played 41 games with Wisconsin and seven games with Team USA at the WJC for a total of 48. Tonight was game 43 for the Rangers ...

*Random but I heard the St. Louis staff playing Ozzy's "Shot in the Dark" in the arena. Great song.

*The timing of that was good as it was played during one of the few moments where Joe Micheletti actually shut his mouth. He was at his very worse during this one, getting facts and names wrong, focusing his analysis on minor minutia while missing big trends and events. His performance was made even worse by the contrast that was John Davidson's stop in the booth. JD and Sam showed the chemistry that made for so many years of wonderful broadcasts, and they were just shootin' the sh-t. Joe interrupts, Joe apologizes and Joe blathers on about bullsh-t while play is going on. He does a disservice to current and future Ranger fans. Both Billy Jaffe and Kevin Weekes would be far better than Joe as they offer intelligent insight delivered with an easy-going demeanor. Micheletti is a banshee who should be silenced. And I'm sorry MSG, NO ONE CARES ABOUT JOE'S 15 MINUTES IN THE NHL BACK IN THE 80s!!!!! If anything it shows just how out of touch he is with the current game.

*Anyone else do a little dance when Frolov was helped off the ice injured? Sure the Rangers don't have many reinforcements left but damn, it will be good to get him out of the lineup - at least off of the power play.

*Notice that with Rozsival out with injury Eminger is starting to get his game back ...

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brad Winchester - one goal.
2-Marian Gaborik - one assist.
1-Marty Biron - 24 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Biron - As he said in the post-game interview, Marty closed the gaps and didn't allow any pucks to trickle through despite St. Louis getting several good chances in close.
2-Dan Girardi - Sure I could split the star like last night, giving half to his partner Staal but on this night Girardi was the better of the two. He blocked a slew of shots, helped Biron kill penalties and
1-Brandon Dubinsky - Dubi is finally using all of the weapons in his arsenal, combining his size with his speed and his skill. He used his reach to stickhandle in deep before dishing to his open teammate - he did it with MZA against Carolina and he did it tonight with Gabby (on Avery's goal).

Saturday, January 8, 2011

24-15-3: Simply Outstanding

The Rangers turned in a fantastic effort out on the road Friday night, beating the Dallas Stars in a 3-2 shootout. It would be a wonderful game to go on and on about except it is 6am and the Rangers play again in 14 hours so this will be quick:

*Sean Avery, Sean Avery, Sean Avery. For all of the hype, his return to Big D wasn't all that big. Avery played a big part in the first period, getting seven shifts where he made things happen each time. Torts seemingly didn't see it that way as he gave Avery just eight shifts over the next two frames. The guy can play, hopefully the coach will find that to be true as well and find the proper place for him in the lineup.

*Mats Zuccarello Aasen is getting comfortable in the top six and it looks like he will be there for a while. MZA has shown flashes that he can play either provider or finisher, but they have only been flashes. He needs to keep buzzing around the puck and develop some kind of chemistry with regular linemates (a tough task with Tortorella). While the kid's performance to date has been impressive, he has been going through a bit of a trial by fire due to the injuries and you have to wonder how this forced-adjustment will affect him in the long run.

*Alex Frolov, 41 games this season, one power play point (a second assist back in October). And yet he continues to be thrown over the boards time and time again. Tonight he had more than three minutes of man advantage time ... why, I simply don't know. He was a big summer signing and has a $3 million contract. Ruslan Fedotenko was a training camp invite making a third of that and has two more points this season - one of which being tonight's shorthanded goal.

*Aren't shorthanded goals great, when it is your team that is scoring them?

*Ya gotta love how Ott hugged like he was done fighting Weise and then threw some punches once the linesmen got close and Weise loosened his grip. Hopefully it taught Dale a lesson - either don't fight a clown like Cheap Shot Steve Ott or keep throwing until the stripes pry you off of the guy's beaten, broken body. Weise is in a bad spot, getting little ice time and being forced to play the enforcer when he clearly isn't.

*Just 30 seconds after his fight Dallas scored. Both Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan McDonagh chased the puck behind the net, Arty Anisimov was beaten to the puck in the corner and Brian Sutherby had a slam dunk of a goal. It wouldn't have happened if Hank learned from past mistakes and didn't leave his crease, if McD left the back boards to his goaltender or if Arty powered past or into Segal rather than going after the puck. The first two could/should be fixed with better communication on the ice and more time for McD while the third is a bigger project.

*Arty made up for it with his wicked wrister to tie the game with a third period power play goal. We knew he had the skills, he just needs to be more assertive and to do that he has to be more confident. The best way to get that would be for him to get physically stronger but seeing as the slim Russian has yet to pack on any pounds, we have to wait for him to be paired with guys willing to do the physical work for him.

*That goal, by the way, came off the rush. By my inexact, unresearched estimate, approximately 95% of the Rangers power play goals have come that way this season. They turn the puck over when they try to set up in the zone. They pass too much when they are in the zone. They can't hold the blue line. They try to be too cute. When they head right for the net, good things happen and it did on this occasion.

*Rozy wasn't missed. At all.

*Once Cally and Prospal re-enter the roster, perhaps it will be time to give Brandon Prust a night off. The poor guy is clearly playing hampered by a bad shoulder and yet he has been outstanding all season. The team has been talking about consistency of effort and Prust gives that - he consistently gives all of the effort he can muster. Now imagine all of that effort coming from him 100% healthy ...

*Did Marian Gaborik every return from his injury? Can't tell.

*Nice of the Stars fans to show up for the Friday night game; guess they were all at the Cotton Bowl watching LSU beat up A&M.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Kari Lehtonen - 29 saves.
2-Henrik Lundqvist - 28 saves.
1-Artem Anisimov - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - Another solid effort from the King.
2-Lehtonen - It is astounding how many teams wrote Kari off because of how injury prone he was but there was never any denying that the second overall pick in 2002 could stop the puck. Now that he is healthy and has Gary Roberts around to keep him in shape, he gives Dallas their best goaltending since Belfour at the turn of the century. The Eagle took them to the Cup Finals twice, we'll certainly see what Lehtonen can do in the next year or two.
1-Girardi/Staal - The shutdown pair did their job, quieting Dallas' top notch offense. Brad Richards did nothing. Jamie Benn and James Neal did nothing. Loui Eriksson assisted on the power play goal when they weren't on the ice. Outstanding work by the Blueshirts blueliners. And, while I feel the All Star Game is an utter waste of time and an unnecessary injury risk, if anyone is going to represent the Rangers it should be Staal.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

23-15-3: Storhet!

Many will find it hard to believe but there are Ranger fans out there more miserable than even the author of this blog. One of those despondent souls walked into the Garden this evening ranting about how the game against the Canes was a must-win. 'Lose this game, might as well not play anymore because it is over.'

The reasoning behind his ranting was that, by his calculations, Carolina is the team most likely to be battling the Rangers for the final playoff spot. They have a young, hardworking team that includes two of the best players in the game (Staal and Ward) and were missing two major parts in Finns Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen. So the Rangers just had to beat them - the two points were huge and the tiebreaker even bigger.

And, much to the miserable man's delight and shock, the Rangers did beat them - downing the Hurricanes 2-1 in overtime. It was a back-and-forth, grinding affair that seemed to go quite fast and yet be dreadfully boring at times. There were chances to be had on both sides but the goaltenders were up to the task and, in the end, the Little Rookie That Could concluded the evening in exciting fashion. No skills competition, just a perfectly placed shot and that was it. The Blueshirts won their must-win game and live to play another day ... and perhaps that day will be in May. Ok, the rhyming was nice but let's not get crazy now. There is a lot of time left and a lot of games left to be played but the team showed they could find a way to win a tight one - and they did it at home for once; even the most pessimistic of Ranger puckheads can appreciate that.

It's late so onto some notes:

*Zooooooooook. What a great way to score your first NHL goal, huh? Overtime, game-winner at the Garden. Wow. Love this kid and what he brings but, it should be said, he is still new to the league and may need more time back down on the farm before the season is through. How funny was it to see him be embraced by Brian Boyle after the goal? Over a foot difference there but it showed the sheer joy the kid had and joy his teammates had for him. It seemed to be more than just a celebration of a overtime tally, but the delight of older brothers for a younger sibling's success. Storhet = Greatness in Norwegian.

*On the brotherhood theme, Eric Staal vs Marc Staal was an epic battle. Good genes in that family, huh?

*The Rangers dominated in the faceoff circle and it showed in the amount of pressure they were able to put on. It was interesting to see how, after Boyle was beaten on the play that led to the Carolina goal, Drury took his spot in the next defensive zone faceoff before curling back to the bench to change for Boyle.

*When will the Blueshirt brass put Rozy and Frolov out of our misery?

*Mike Sauer's rock solid play has freed Hobey Gilroy to concentrate on his offense and it paid off in a see-ing eye shot to open the scoring. Sauer won't enter anyone's rookie of the year conversations but his play this season has been a delightful revelation.

*Did not spot a single Hartford Whalers sweater in the crowd. Made me sad.

*And FYI, Denis Potvin did not play for the Whale, so there is no reason to chant that he sucks 18 times.

*Marian Gaborik once scored five goals against the New York Rangers. There is a guy wearing a sweater with Gaborik on the back but it surely can't be the same guy. This poor facsimile was actually better than he has been in recent games but that isn't saying much at all.

*For all of the Torts talk about accountability, Steve Eminger took a bad penalty at the top of the third period and was not chastised for his mistake. Instead he had seven more shifts after leaving the box, including one that lasted more than a minute of overtime. Granted, he broke up a three-on-one with a perfectly-timed fall but still - he didn't miss a beat. Dale Weise dressed but that may be it as he was never on the ice (the official sheet has him at three minutes but they must have been quite quiet because they weren't noticeable).

*Anyone know what happened to Sergei Samsonov? The wily Russian vet barely saw the ice - was he busy watching his country upset Canada? Can't blame him if so ... (Canada: the only country in the world that cares about the tournament gets embarrassed in the final for the second straight year, nyeh nyeh).

*Staal, Dubi and Stepan all deserve attaboys for good performances. All three drafted by the Rangers, all three in the franchise's core. Once Cally rejoins them and the team drafts/trades for/signs a scorer, the Blueshirts will be one tough team to face.

*Also helping to make the team tough, Brandon Prust. Prust fought former Duck Troy Bodie in a fun fight near center ice. The two pugilists were pretty evenly matched, making for an entertaining battle.

*Just once it would be nice to see one of the Three Stars throw his puck higher up into the crowd. Sure there are no Nick Fotiu's anymore but c'mon, sending it up to the yuppies behind the bench most of the time is no fun.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Mats Zuccarello Aasen - one goal and one assist.
2-Matt Gilroy - one goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 31 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - As always, the defense left the Swede out on his own a few too many times and yet Hank held firm. He took a few too many hits from the physical Canes but he didn't let the contact throw him off his game.
2-Sean Avery - The best Ranger on the ice, by far. Every time he was on the ice he made things happen, whether it was setting his linemates up or going to the net himself. It is just a shame that he couldn't finish.
1-Cam Ward - It is almost impossible to hang Ward out for the two goals against. The first was a shot through traffic and the game-winner came right after he absorbed a hit from Dubi and was a perfectly placed shot under the crossbar. As the miserable man said to me, Ward never enters the 'best goalie in the game' conversation and yet he has never lost a Game 7.