Monday, February 28, 2011

Staying On Target

Deadline day proved to be much ado about nothing for Ranger fans, something we should be quite delighted about. It is cause for celebration as it shows that for all of the blustering in years past, the organization is truly sticking with their pledge to build from within.

The one deal done today - John Mitchell for a seventh rounder - was a good one and a necessary one. It was necessary because Hartford needed a body to properly replace Tim Kennedy, who was dealt for McCabe. It was good because that body can be Mitchell or it can be Newbury or someone else. Mitchell has had his successes against the Rangers in the past - eight points in eight games, three of which came on that infamous Hockey Night In Hell. Once seen as a possible power forward for the Leafs, he fell out of favour and has been waived a few times if my memory holds. While one may grimace that a possible wire pickup cost a perfectly good pick, you just can't time when another team will put that player on waivers. So he is here now, and the Rangers future is still heading forward according to plans.

Sure I personally would have loved to have rid us of Anisimov, Gilroy and Del Zotto, but that is me. The brass feels that these kids have an upside and they are sticking with them. If the two RFAs go to arbitration, they will be that much more motivated next season. Next season is not the target, however. As I have written several times in the past, the Rangers are building for Stanley in 2013. They will have a newly renovated building and have to have a team to justify the ticket prices they will charge to get into it.

If you need evidence for that, season ticket holders not-so-coincidentally received e-mails "from" Scott O'Neil - the president of the Garden. O'Neil's opus provided an update on the Transformation, how the changes would effect subscribers and, oh yeah, details about when subscribers can expect to receive 2011 playoff invoices and 2011-12 renewal information. In regards to that last part, O'Neil said they will offer "new interest-free payment plans designed to provide you with extended time to pay for your tickets" - which means we can expect prices to skyrocket this summer. Joy.

But, after today's relative inactivity, at least we know that what we will be paying for is a team finally trying to do it right. All of the words over the years that proved false are gone, today's action - or inaction - provides proof that the Rangers are trying to win the Stanley Cup, not just make the playoffs.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

33-27-4: Low Voltage

For the third time in the last month and a half the Rangers returned to the Garden after winning two fantastic road games by losing in disappointing fashion. Today's sadness comes from a limp 2-1 loss to the Lightning.

The Rangers popgun attack attempted 49 shots but had 15 of them blocked and they missed the net completely 11 times. Plenty of credit goes to Guy Boucher for getting his team to play a great road game but the Blueshirts certainly could have been better. They started the game seemingly hung over (no surprise) and they got their attack going just a little too late. But even though we have heard that tale told before, it just doesn't feel like the same old story. They did a lot of good things against a really good opponent so this could become one of those positive losses that the team can learn from and build off of.

We can only hope.


*Bryan McCabe made his debut and in his first shift he showed he was better than Del Zotto by keeping the puck inside the Tampa zone. McCabe held the blue line again later on, he was decisive with the puck and wasn't a detriment defensively. While I still question how he can help these kids win as he is a career loser, he did have a nice start on Broadway. Enjoy the bus league MDZ.

*Granted, McCabe didn't score on the power play but, c'mon, who many Rangers ever do? Despite going with one unit entirely of forwards, they went 0-4 with four shots on goal. Ugh.

*Despite not getting a puck past Roloson during the last minute flurry, how can you not be impressed with the Rangers winning faceoff after faceoff to get those pucks? It was shocking, it was awesome.

*The Ranger defense held Steve Stamkos without a shot on goal. That is just impressive work. Unfortunately for the Blueshirts, Tampa has a few more goal scorers on their roster and it was all but impossible for Hank to stop the two blistering one-timers that beat him.

*The second one - which came on the 5-on-3 - came from a rare positioning mistake. Callahan and Dubinsky stood side-by-side just a few feet away from each other, leaving shooting lanes open all over the ice. St. Louis is too good and he easily found Vinny04 open. Seeing as Captain Cally and Dubi have been so solid this season when a man down, it is hard to wring them out over this one.

*It was Kids Day, which meant the Garden was full of rugrats thinking they were on Romper Room or something. While they were annoying, it is only good for the game to get the next wave of fans to witness the sport in person.

*Kind of funny that on Kids Day the Rangers honoured a True Blue fan who turned 100 years old. The little old lady received a roaring ovation and clearly teared up. Very sweet.

*If Dubi doesn't hit the post in the last minute of the first period, does Tampa end up winning this one? And, having watched the replay multiple times, it was a great blocker save by Roloson that got enough of the puck to deflect it onto the iron. Damn guy always does well against us.

*Four of Brandon Prust's 10 goals this season have been shorthanded. Today's tally came from crashing the net and, while Rolo may have had some cause to complain, it was a good goal. To top it off, I finally got my Prust jersey before the first period and ran across him after the game so I got it signed too! Very gracious guy - taking pictures and signing for everyone, even after a loss.

*Sure the officiating was poor (just saw the Dubi "interference", what a joke) but the Rangers did themselves no favours. There was no excuse for Boyle's puck out of play penalty. Boyle, by the way, had one of his worst games this season.

*For once it is impossible to rail at Tortorella for benching Avery as he certainly seemed to be a step behind from the start. Why Kris Newbury was also benched is beyond me.

*Did Wojtek Wolski play? Couldn't tell. That makes two games of invisibility after his starring role in Carolina. Erik Christensen came through against the Caps but, while he went 12-2 in faceoffs, only attempted one shot all game. Tampa played tough D but even Arty made the effort to get the puck on net ...

PHW Three Stars
3-Brandon Prust - one goal.
2-Vincent Lecavalier - one goal.
1-Martin St. Louis - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Ryan McDonagh - Staal who? While the kid has a lot to learn, Torts leaned on him heavily and he held up well. McD skated eight minutes shorthanded and kept the Bolts away from Hank for most of the match.
2-Roloson - How a guy stays focused after having to stand around for the first 18, 19 minutes is beyond me. But Rolo did it and he came up big when he needed to in the final seconds.
1-St. Louis - We have to hope that Mats Zuccarello watches this game tape and follows in Marty's little footsteps because the undersized forward had a big impact, as he usually does. There is little reason why MZA can't become a St. Louis-type star - he has the skills.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

McCabe to MSG

In recent seasons it has become more and more difficult to question Glen Sather's smarts when it comes to trades but today's move does open debate. Sather pulled the trigger on the long rumoured addition of veteran defenseman Bryan McCabe from Florida, sending Tim Kennedy and a third round pick back the other way.

Losing Kennedy is tough because he is a versatile, tough little bugger who was battling well for the Wolf Pack Whale. Then again, the kid must have slept with Tortorella's daughter or something to have been banished there in the first place and he wasn't likely to ever see the lights of Broadway. Anytime you deal away a draft pick you lose a potential player (duh) but the Rangers' have had little success in the third round over the last 20 years. Dominic Moore is the best of the bunch to come out of the third during that span, seeing as Eric Cairns and Jason Labarbera found their "success" elsewhere. The jury still out on Evgeny Brendl Grachev, Tomas Kundratek and Ryan Bourque.

So the risk isn't high at all, but what kind of reward could we get?

After failing with Berard, Poti, Rachunek, Rozsival and Redden, Sather brings in another puck mover to man the point on the power play. Nice company, huh?

The last time McCabe ever won anything was the gold medal in the 1997 World Championships and the 35 year old was only part of one (failed) Cup run - with Toronto in 2002. The former Islander has played 24 career games in the Garden, collecting one goal and six assists while going +7 but since the lockout he has played nine games, had three points and went -6. He hasn't played in the NHL postseason since 2004.

McCabe had been the captain of the Panthers, so adding someone who is used to being the big voice could upset the chemistry and confidence of the young leadership already in the Ranger room. He has suffered injuries three of the last four seasons and has scored on his own goaltender multiple times over the course of his career. McCabe is prone to stupid penalties, having taken almost the full variety of minors this season - three interference calls, two hooks, two slashes, two cross checks, two trips, one hold and one unsportsmanlike. And a partridge in a pear tree ...

But, at the end of the day, McCabe is a warm body on the blueline that Tortorella should trust (mistakenly or not). He will get decent minutes while whittling away the end of an oversized contract that will not get renewed. His salary should put the Richards rumours to rest, as it will be all-but-impossible to add the concussed Star. Michael Del Zotto will finally end up where he belongs (off Broadway) and McCabe should finally give us someone to hate again in our sweater. Joy.

Interesting, dubious facts: McCabe was traded to Chicago by Vancouver with the Canucks' 2000 1st round draft choice for Chicago's 1999 1st round pick. That pick was later traded to Tampa and then summarily sent to the Rangers, and the Rangers selected none other than Pavel Brendl. McCabe ended his junior career in Brandon, playing alongside Wade Redden. And the overtime goal he scored on his own net against the Sabres was credited to our old friend Alice KotalĂ­k.

33-26-4: Six Pack Against The Caps

Before this season started pundits everywhere lauded the Washington Capitals, saying the team needed a little help on the back end to contend for the Cup. Well, Washington has gotten that help with the trade for Scott Hannan and the emergence of Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Michal Neuvirth. Unfortunately for them, somewhere along the way they lost their heart and their love for the game.

The pressure has increased on the Caps and it has crushed the life out of them. When Ovechkin was running around as the straw that stirred their drink and the big blissful belch that came after the big gulp, Washington was a happy-go-lucky hockey club. Now that Ovie has gotten serious - right down to the cleanly shaven face - the Caps aren't as fun and aren't as successful.

I know, I feel bad for them too. (No, not really.)

The Rangers beat the Capitals for the third straight time, winning tonight 6-0 to give them an aggregate score of 13-0 in their last two against DC. Perhaps it was because the Blueshirts played good defense, perhaps it was because they kept finding the back of the net, perhaps it was because there were nine power plays, perhaps it was because the Phone Booth had no atmosphere to speak of but this game was tremendously dull. Let's hope the boys didn't decide to liven things up after the game because they will face one very different, very tough Tampa team on Sunday.

Quick notes on this one:

*I admit it, I missed Tom Poti tonight.

*That the night ended without the news that Erik Christensen was traded should grounds for Sather's firing. His trade value has never been higher and will only go down from here. Mr. Softie is utterly useless 99% of the time - remember, there are no shootouts in the Stanley Cup FInals, much less any of the other playoff rounds, and thy are what we are shooting for.

*Love Mike Sauer but his decision to fight Jason Chimera was astoundingly stupid. Sure he bounced back and had a great game after that but he needs to know when, who and why it is worth fighting.

*If Staal is healthy on Sunday, MDZ should see the bench. Eminger was every bit the solid vet they have needed while Del Zotto took a stupid penalty that could have cost his team and he was mediocre the rest of the time. The Rangers are 8-6-1 in the last 15 that he dressed and 2-6-1 during that last nine game stretch where Torts went with the slumping sophomore.

*While talking defense, Dan Girardi was his usual tough self and Matt Gilroy had a really good, really quiet 20 minutes - his best all-around effort in a while.

*Watched the Stepan hit on Green a dozen times and it still is not suspension-worthy. Hell, it isn't even an offense worthy of a two minute minor. Green knew he was there, Green saw him coming and Green still skated right at him. The cross check Green laid on Step was far worse and even that wasn't egregious.

*Before this season I never would have said this but here it goes: Get well soon Fedotenko, we need you.

*Is there anyone who watched the last two games that believes that the Rangers are a better team with Marian Gaborik in the lineup? Didn't think so.

*Captain Callahan's feed to Christy on the third Ranger goal was quite likely the prettiest pass made by a Ranger this season.

*Arty Anisimov had his best game in a while. Perhaps he was trying to impress his fellow countrymen on the opposite bench?

*Everyone went wild over Wolski after his performance against the Hurricanes, but it was funny, hardly heard his name at all on this night. This team needs consistency.

*Did you see the reaction by Prospal after he scored? Even though it was the fifth Ranger goal of the night, you would have thought it was the first of his career. Kinda nice to see someone get that excited ...

*How many good saves did Hank have to make? Three, four?

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ryan Callahan - one assist.
2-Erik Christensen - two goals and two assists.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 35 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Ryan McDonagh - The kid slid into Staal's spot and - while he didn't star - he didn't look out of place in the least.
2-Step - Another youngster playing in all situations who acquitted himself quite well. Perhaps it was the hit on Green that set him off but Stepan was more involved buzzer-to-buzzer then he has been in a long time.
1-Christy - Trade him right f-ing now!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

32-26-4: Rangers Survive The Storm Without Staal

The nickname 'Heart Attack Kids' has been used on teams across all four major sports many times and the latest squad to deserve the moniker is proving to be the Rangers. The young Blueshirts blew a 2-1 lead against the Carolina Hurricanes but rallied to tie the game in the final two minutes and win it 4-3 in a shootout.

If was far from the first late rally for the Rangers this year but it was one of the few that resulted in victory. And it certainly caused more than a few heart palpitations. The incredible range of emotions is astounding considering how many games in recent years simply drew dread, anger and sadness. This is an interesting turn of events and one that must be suffered through until it can be replaced by the expectation and thrill of domination. Let's hope the suffering doesn't last too long, my ticker can't take it.

That being said, it is certainly astounding and encouraging how these kids play their best after they see one of their own go down. Marc Staal's exit just 40 seconds after the Canes took a 3-2 lead seemed to spell doom and yet, there the Rangers were - tightening up and powering on. There has been much said and written about this team finding its identity this season and this was the latest, clearest indication that they have gotten a clue themselves: this is a young, tough, resilient bunch with a big future.


*Staal going down scared the bejesus out everybody. He has been the cornerstone of this team and if his knee is really hurt, so are the hopes for the Rangers. The hit by his brother surely has been debated but, in this writer's opinion, it was a good, clean hit. No matter how Micheletti howled that it was a hit to the head, the replays did not show that Eric tried to decapitate his sibling. The Carolina captain could have and should have eased up, seeing as we live in a day and age where most good hits are bad hits, but it was an attempt to remove the player from the puck - it is just a shame that player had been twisted around by an illegal hook.

*Hank bounced back from some disappointing goals against in the Garden on Sunday with a great performance. Lundqvist matched Ward save for save before edging out the former Conn Smythe winner in the shootout. The duel between the two was quite special, as any meeting of two of the top five goaltenders in the league should be.

*The Rangers scored three goals and Brandon Dubinsky had virtually nothing to do with them. And yet, he had a pretty effective game. Imagine what this team will be like once Dubi combines his success away from the puck with some success with it.

*Why in the world would Michael Del Zotto be on the ice in overtime? Especially when he wasn't so good during regulation. For his two perfectly timed flops to the ice, MDZ made mistake after mistake and even handed Carolina one goal. Yes he is young, yes he will make mistakes ... he should be making them in Hartford where it won't cost us real wins.

*And, while questioning the moves made by Tortorella, why bench Prust, Avery and Newbury for much of the second and third periods? The three of them came out of the gates flying, scoring a goal two minutes into the first and pressing the action for the rest of the frame. Prust saw a bit more ice than the other two but that was because of his penalty killing duties. It makes no sense to unplug the energy unit while keeping the ineffective, soft Erik Christensen in regular rotation.

*Speaking of soft, Arty Anisimov. Ok, that is unfair, he isn't soft ... he's just weak. The kid gets a great opportunity to score breaking down the wing but the least amount of contact throws him off and allows Ward to make the save. On the rare occasions where he tries to set up near the slot, he is quickly pushed away. Meanwhile, Mats Zuccarello holds his ground late in the third period, occupying a defender, distracting Ward and allowing Wolski to score the equalizer.

*On Zuke, well, the novelty of his move has officially worn off. While that would be cause of concern, the way he played over the rest of the evening squashes any questions. The Norwegian skated hard, saw the ice well and had no problems shooting. Sooner or later those pucks will end up going in.

*How the hell did the puck not go in for Vinny Prospal? The Czech vet was all over the ice, earning chance after chance and he couldn't beat Carolina's keeper. Now Ward deserves a lot of credit but Vinny should have been able to get at least one of his 11 shot attempts into the goal.

*Micheletti and Rosen were woeful. Joe, well, he is just awful - worse than listening to the tone that goes with colour bars. Sam is usually good to listen to but it took him half the game to realize which Ruutu played for Carolina.

*Newbury went 5-0 at the faceoff circle. Is there really any need for Chris Drury to ever return?

*Pointed out the many flaws of MDZ earlier but his partner Matt Gilroy was just as bad. If Hobey was getting extra ice time in an attempt to be showcased for scouts, it is easy to believe he played his way out of any trades. You just have to hope that he wasn't bad enough that Sather will overspend for someone to come in and replace him.

*For how annoying "Potvin Sucks" has become in the Garden, it is still awesome hearing it in away arenas. It sounded like there was a large contingent of Ranger fans in Raleigh ...

*Erik Cole deserves some serious credit. This guy came back from a broken neck and is still one of the most dangerous players on the ice for the Hurricanes. Carolina has to be thankful to have him around to help guide Jeff Skinner through his rookie campaign.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Wojtek Wolski - one goal.
2-Jay Harrison - one goal and one assist.
1-Jussi Jokinen - two goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Callahan - Captain Cally is laying it on the line every second of every shift in every situation.
2-Wolski - All credit given to Jokinen for his two regulation goals but the game-tying tally and the game-winner tilt the scales in Wolski's favour.
1-Sauer - Sauer has been good this entire season. He has been great at times this season. Tonight, after Staal went down, Sauer was stellar. Like Hobey and McD, Sauer saw a mistake of his end up in the back of the net but his work late in the third period more than made up for it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Wonderful Jersey Foul

Spotted in Hartford on Saturday - a guy with a Wolf Pack sweater with a homemade name and number pinned on. And, yes, as a 'bonus' I got a shot of his buddy wearing a Fishsticks Redden jersey.

Peepin' Foes: Carolina Hurricanes

The Rangers are deep in NASCAR Nation right now for tonight's game against the Carolina Hurricanes (7:00pm, MSG). For anyone who may be in the Raleigh area, bring a few extra bucks with you as the Canes are hosting St. Baldrick’s Night, a great fundraiser where guys get their heads shaved to earn money for childhood cancer research.

Where We Are: As mentioned in the last game wrap, the Blueshirts are 2-7-1 in their last 10 games, and 2-7-1 in Michael Del Zotto's last 10 ... just sayin'. But as easy as it would be to beat up the kid, the lack of success hasn't been his fault. The cause of the slide rests entirely on the shoulders of the head coach, as John Tortorella couldn't bring the injured vets back into the lineup smoothly enough to keep the team's momentum going. He jumbled lines and altered ice times, screwing up all chemistry and sending this team into a nosedive that he seems to have no way to stop.

Where They Are: Carolina is going through a rough patch as well - going 2-2-1 in their last five (with both regulation losses coming against the Devils) and 3-5-2 in their last 10 - but they remain two points behind the seventh place Rangers with a game in hand. The Buffalo Sabres have three games in hand on the Rangers and are bearing down on the Hurricanes, four points back.

Who To Watch For: Calder candidate Jeff Skinner has five points in the Canes three games against the Rangers this season so he leads the way. The former figure skater has been a revelation this season and is dangerous every time he steps on the ice. Tuomo Ruutu, Sergei Samsonov and Erik Cole have historically had success when facing the Blueshirts and Marc's brother Eric is always tough but our Staal should be able to handle him.

What To Watch For: Cam Ward breaking his 13 game streak of allowing two or more goals - he has allowed less than two just once in his last 22 and that once came ... you guessed it, against the Rangers on January 20th. The Rangers to go back to a real north-south offense without Marian Gaborik and to pick up their forecheck as Carolina will be without the injured Joni Pitkanen and the traded Ian White and they still employ Uh Oh Corvo. No fisticuffs - Troy Bodie and Jay Harrison are pretty much the only ones to throw down for Carolina and they don't do it on daily basis.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: The Rangers to get an early lead and keep pressing the advantage. No soft goals allowed by Hank. With Kris Newbury around, the team to win some more faceoffs. Without Gaborik the team to shoot more on the power play instead of looking for the Slovak sniper. Boyle, Prust and Avery to get back some of the ice time they have worked so hard to earn. Cally to out Chad LaRose Chad LaRose. And, if it comes down to it, our shootout specialist (Mr. Softie Erik Christensen) to score while theirs doesn't (Jussi Jokinen).

Also Check Out: Red and Black Hockey, Canes Country and Canes Now.

Monday, February 21, 2011

31-26-4: Another Phailure Vs. Philly

The Rangers spoiled Sunday by producing a stinker against the Philadelphia Flyers, losing 4-2 in a game that wasn't as close and wasn't anywhere near as exciting as the score may imply.

The Blueshirts got off to a nice start by scoring first but then let the Flyers battle back to take over the game. It was amazing how, against the Broad Street Bullies, the Rangers didn't work hard enough to earn a single power play. And, when the team needed a spark for themselves and the crowd, not a single big hit was thrown or punch exchanged. That seems to be this team's M.O. this year but it clearly hasn't worked as they have had rally after rally fall short this season. Maybe a tussle late in the second period could have gotten the ball rolling in time to save the game. Maybe.

They dominated in shots but, as per usual, barely made the opposing goaltender work for his saves. Some credit needs to go to the stellar defensive corps in front of Bobby Brian Boucher but the Rangers need to follow their shots in. They bunch up too often, allowing the defenders to close off the ice. They spend too much time below the goal line and along the half boards when they should be within five feet of the blue paint. And they never, ever, ever should have six forwards out on the ice.

Now 2-7-1 in the last 10 games with three games to go until the trade deadline, the Rangers need to decide what the goal of this season is. If it is to make a real run at the playoffs, then a big deal is in order. If it is to just develop the players, then they need to stop talking about the postseason and how important getting points is because that kind of pressure is pointless; just let the boys play and learn on the fly - let the chips fall where they may. But I wouldn't bet on that. Instead we will keep going the way we are with the team will be driven hard with the goal being any playoff spot they can get. If it burns out Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal and Brandon Dubinsky (among others), so be it.


*For the second straight game the team needed to grind out a goal or two and yet their grinders - Boyle, Prust and Avery - all saw less than 13 minutes of ice time. The completely ineffective Mr. Softie Erik Christensen saw more time than all three of them. Inexcusable. Boyle should have been reprimanded for his stupid first period penalty but the coach should bag skate the guy to send the message, don't piss away two points.

*Perhaps it is time to let Avery off his leash, don't you think?

*Amazing - as a member of a team that claims to be so tough - how Andrej Meszaros collapsed like a ton of bricks after being bumped by Wolski. Meszaros looked directly at Wolski before taking the feed from Boucher and intentionally turned into the boards before embellishing his fall. People get hit harder than that walking through New York City streets and yet they don't immediately turn and look at the ref to make sure they get the call.

*Marian Gaborik left early with a mysterious concussion. If we were dubious about Drury's injury, we need to be outright disbelieving about this diagnosis. Sure he hasn't been himself, but when has Gaborik taken a big hit this season? Did he pull a Brian Leetch and 'slip on some ice exiting a cab'?? No matter what excuse the Slovak can come up with, the fact is that he has been virtually useless in 35 or so of his 47 appearances this season so his absence shouldn't hurt too badly. In fact, the team should do better without him as they can use his 'concussion' as something to rally around - as they did during his first injury this season.

*While neither he, nor his buddy Prospal put the puck in, the Rangers did manage to score. Wojtek Wolski, in fact, snapped a 10 game drought. Wolski finally used his tendency to circle around avoiding contact to slip past Claude Giroux and score from the slot. It was nice to see New York with the first goal of the game but, of course, it didn't last.

*Their other goal - Derek Stepan's - was just dumb luck after Boucher misplayed a puck off the endboards. Nice to see Step score - hopefully now he can figure out how to do it more than once every four or five games.

*The goals Hank gave up weren't great goals but it is hard to hang him out on this one. All three of the pucks that ended up behind him came on plays where the guys in front of him were scrambling around. If Biron is in net, would they have been so willing to run around? This would have been the right game to put the backup in, as the team is amid a span of four games in six days and was facing the top team in the conference at an odd time of day. It was a pointless risk for for the team's top 'tender.

*And this was a game where Tortorella's pledge to stick with the youngsters through thick and thin was tested as Sauer and McDonagh were horrid. The Carcillo goal was uuuuuuugly but if Sauer actually hit checked the guy, he wouldn't have been able to get his backhand off. And McDonagh's silly stick check wasn't enough to stop Carter from tipping Giroux's shot in.

*Too many Flyer fans in the Garden, too much of that awful orange around.

*The Rangers can talk about development all they want but is Del Zotto really developing playing 10 minutes of ineffective hockey?

*Mats Zuccarello could/should be the player to most take advantage of Gaborik's "concussion" and he showed why in this one. MZA, in my opinion, was the best of the bunch for the Rangers - he shows no fear, has great hands and good ice awareness. I think the sky is the limit for him (which is funny 'cause he is so short. Get it?!?).

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ryan Callahan - four shots, -1.
2-Claude Giroux - one goal and one assist.
1-Jeff Carter - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Kimmo Timmonen - There aren't many players in the NHL as underrated as this guy. A smart puck mover who is good in his own zone and eats up the minutes, Timmonen was as good as usual in this one.
2-Giroux - Sure glad the Rangers selected Bobby Sanguinetti the pick before Philly grabbed Giroux in 2006, right? Personally I blame Tom Poti. If he hadn't sucked so much, the scouting staff wouldn't have reached for another Leetch replacement.
1-Carter - Carter is a big, strong sniper who is willing to go to the tough spots to score. The Rangers sure could use a player like that.

Friday, February 18, 2011

31-25-4: Two Thousand Zero Zero Party Over

How nice of Jacques Lemaire to come back to the Devils and bring them back to respectability by choking the life out of hockey. He also is proving that Mmmmaaaarrrrtttyyy's numbers were all inflated as Johan Hedberg had a Brodeur-esque 16 saves in a 1-0 shutout of the Rangers.

In typical Devil hockey, it was painful to watch and stiflingly effective.

Sure there were no Daneykos, Stevens or Niedermayers out there for New Jersey but the 'new' NHL just brings the trapping defenders back a few feet. Seeing as the Rangers have plenty of trouble on their own making it to the blue line - much less getting over it - this game was a slam dunk for the Devs. Lemaire has a system that works and Tortorella has ... well, nothing. The clueless coach simply had no counter to the Hall of Famer, he just kept throwing the same ineffective guys over the boards again and again and again. Awful.

Some quick notes, as I'm hitting up the three outdoor games in Hartford tomorrow:

*The team needed to grind out a goal or two and yet their grinders - Boyle, Prust and Avery - all saw less than 15 minutes of ice time. Meanwhile Arty was pushed around all night - one time being the giveaway that resulted in the lone goal - and he played 19.

*Arty choked up the puck and it bounced right past Marc Staal, who was clearly playing on fumes after being ran ragged by the Kings on Thursday. Seeing as Torts either didn't see that or ignored it, it just proves that Sather needs to spend to bring in a veteran defender that the coach trusts to help eat up some ice time - you know Hobey and MDZ can't do it. Someone get Staal some fluids; he played a half hour against LA and another 28 minutes tonight and the Flyers are a day and a half away.

*If Christensen doesn't miss that mostly empty net in the first period, perhaps we would have seen a better game. But Mr. Softie blew it and we didn't. When you have him, Wolski, Arty and MZA all being tossed around, how do you not rely heavily on the tough guys? Mind boggling.

*Marian Gaborik vs. Ilya Kovalchuk ... one was dynamic and the other was Marian Gaborik.

*Poor Mike Sauer got called for the iffy penalty in the second period. Boyle didn't approve and bumped the rookie after the whistle. It was amusing but it did show that there is a leadership corps and accountability inside the room.

*Three hours before game-time, the cheapest seats for the game on StubHub were $92 a pop. The cheapest seat for Jersey's next home game, vs Tampa was $6. Their game against Ottawa on March 8th? $2.60. Yeah, so all of those morons who came out to yell 'Rangers Suck' aren't real fans.

*Dainius Zubrus seems to play his best hockey against the Rangers, doesn't he?

*PHW Three Stars
3-Henrik Lundqvist - 27 saves.
2-Johan Hedberg - 16 saves.
1-Ilya Kovalchuk - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - The King came through again, giving the Rangers a chance to win despite being under siege for much of the night.
2-Kovy - No 100 million dollar jokes on this night, that's for sure. He kept his temper in check and was the all-world talent he could be.
1-Lemaire - He brought the system back and has the iron hand to make his players abide by it.

31-24-4: Rangers Win But Found LacKing

The Rangers blew two third period leads but managed to beat Los Angeles 4-3 thanks to a shootout. Two points against a tough Western opponent are great but the way the Blueshirts got them is best left forgotten.

John Tortorella's Tampa team won to spite him, and tonight the Rangers won in spite of him. As per usual, Tortorella didn't get his team to start the game well - giving up chance after chance before allowing a goal. Later in the frame the Rangers were on the power play and Torts somehow put Zuccarello in front - apparently thinking Jonathan Bernier would be screened by a guy who is barely tall enough to ride rollercoasters. In the third period the coach didn't have the team play smart hockey after taking a 2-1 lead, letting them fall right back into their own end instead of pressing the advantage. And, after the team regained the lead 10 minutes later, Torts inexplicably gave the Kings a breather and a chance to compose themselves by calling time out - perhaps the dumbest thing he has done this season.

Tortorella had better get his game together quickly because he is going up against Jacques Lemaire tonight, and the former Hab has been hugely impressive turning the Devils season around. If Torts lets the Rangers play the same undisciplined, loose game then they will be destroyed by the Devils.

Some notes on the win over L.A. first:

*Perhaps we should just start calling Callahan the captain and eventually Acacio will sew that letter on his sweater. Cally brought the Rangers back into the game in the second period with the goal and some utterly spectacular penalty killing. His goal proved that going to the net pays off, and his killing proved that hard work pays off. The goal was Graves-esque - meaning not pretty but effective - while the penalty killing was spectacular. He blocked a shot, lost his stick, stuck with the play, tried to block another shot, stuck with the play, laid a check, picked up his lost stick, got back into position and took advantage of fumble by the L.A. point man to take the puck out, carried it deep and allowed his teammates to change. The Garden went wild and deservingly so, it was awesome.

*Dustin Brown is the Los Angeles version of Callahan, but a version who has been justly rewarded with the captaincy. Brown scored the first goal of the game on a great turnaround shot in the slot on a Kings power play. His second goal was blown coverage by Staal and a smart shot up top that snuck past Hank's shoulder.

*How anyone is blaming Hank for what happened is beyond me. He made big save after big save in this one, keeping his team in it. All three goals against came when his teammates were outhustled and outskated.

*Not too long after I mocked a guy for wearing a Los Angeles Frolov sweater, Dubi scored on a wrap-around. Something karmic about that. Box scores have Arty getting credit but I haven't seen a replay yet that showed his stick making contact. Either way, the goal was all thanks to Cally as he had forced a turnover, put the puck off the boards and out before carrying it down the ice.

*Gabby scored! He pulled his best Boyle impression and simply shot the puck ... and it went in! How about that? I pulled out the classic "that's what you're paid for Braden!" and was met with blank stares from the folks around me. Astounding.

*Nice of Christy and Zuke to score in the shootout because they contributed nothing else the rest of the game. And credit to Bernier because after Christy beat him backhand and Zuke beat him forehand, the rookie just said screw it and poked the puck away from the Polish putz Wolski - another offensive player who struggled during the first 65 minutes.

*The officiating was questionable. Dubi was called for goaltender interference when he was pushed into the L.A. crease and yet a King escaped unscathed after the same thing.

*Anisimov ... well, what can I say that I haven't? He skated directly into a King, lost the puck and bounced back five feet. It was hilarious and pathetic. Put 15, 20 pounds of muscle on him and we might have a player. And someone teach him how to properly block a shot. Nice of him to put up some points (the second assist on Cally's goal and the Dubi wrap-around that he was credited with) but they will only prove problematic this summer as his agent will use the numbers to undeservedly inflate his salary.

*Torts brought MDZ back and the kid rewarded him with a weak effort and stupid penalty. Sadly the coach will simply see his third period benching as punishment enough instead of sending him to Hartford where he belongs.

*It really is a shame these teams will only play once this season but at least we got a chance to see them in person - something we didn't with Detroit. Both the Rangers and the Kings have good, young players but does either one of them have the building blocks of a Stanley Cup winner? Tough to say.

*Just saw the Hockey Night Live promo with the Stayin' Alive remake. Horrific. Why MSG would want to show that their analysts are trapped in the past - one that is really far from golden - is beyond me.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Dustin Brown - two goals.
2-Marian Gaborik - one goal.
1-Ryan Callahan - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-McDonagh - The kid played a good, consistent game and thus gets the star. Girardi logged more, tougher minutes but was on for two goals against. Gabby got lucky on his shot and was dreadful the rest of the time. Kopitar was dangerous but took a bad penalty. Dubi was pretty good but spent too much time in the box.
2-Brown - The perfect combination of power, speed, skill and drive. The exact kind of player I want leading my hockey team.
1-Cally - See above.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Peepin' Foes: Los Angeles Kings

The Rangers will hopefully have recovered from their Casino Night hangovers by the time the puck drops tomorrow night at the Garden. The Blueshirts will face off against the red-hot Los Angles Kings (7pm, MSG).

Where We Are: Coming off of a good win over the Wilkes Barre Penguins on Sunday but 1-5-1 in the last seven games. After three days off last week, the Rangers stumbled against Atlanta and they are coming off of three days off this week - facing a far tougher foe. Seeing as Carolina is two points behind the seventh-place Blueshirts and are playing the Devils tonight, the teams could be even at 64 points come the mornin'.

Where They Are: The Kings could be undefeated in regulation in their last 10 when the clock hits midnight. Los Angeles is 7-0-2 in their last nine and is playing in Columbus tonight. Luckily for the Rangers, the Kings are 3-5 this season in the back half of back-to-backs. Going into tonight's game, L.A. has played two less games than the Rangers and have one more point but aren't even in the top eight in the West; they are even with Minnesota one point behind the eighth place team - Olli Jokinen's Calgary Flames. (Update: LA beat Columbus in a shootout, 4-3, to go to 8-0-2 in their last 10. They moved two points over the Wild but remain one behind Calgary.)

Who To Watch For: For all of their perceived offensive ability, the Kings don't have a single point-per-game player or a single 20 goal scorer yet. All of their stars have suffered slumps this season - from Anze Kopitar to Drew Doughty to Dustin Brown to to Ryan Smyth to Wayne Simmonds - but that doesn't make them any less dangerous; remember that the Rangers are great slump-busters. Jason Williams has played more games this season than he has the previous three and is back to being the dangerous player he was on Carolina coming out of the lockout. Alexei Ponikarovsky, L.A.'s replacement for Alex Frolov, is indeed replacing Frolov well with just one goal in his last 18 games and four all season. Young Andrei Loktionov is coming on strong of late and should have a big NHL future. And Jarret Stoll, who called off his marriage with Avery's sloppy seconds Rachel Hunter, is an impressive 56.8% at the faceoff dot and has been on a bit of a hot streak as well; he could be dangerous.

What To Watch For: With Jonathan Quick due to start against Columbus, Jonathan Bernier will likely be the man between the pipes. Yes, he is the backup but he has been outstanding of late, allowing just five goals over his last four starts - see if he can keep it up. L.A. doesn't have a power play goal in their last three games, mostly because the QB Doughty, has zero assists in his last seven games (but has three goals, including the game-winner against Philly). Seeing as the Rangers are young and soft in the back, expect the Kings to come hard. Simmonds and Brown will throw their bodies around, as will tough guys Kyle Clifford and Kevin Westgarth.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: Prust not fighting either one of them. Boyle showing Los Angeles exactly what they traded away. Avery also making a statement against his former team. The Rangers going to the net the way they did against Pittsburgh, even though Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Johnson will make them pay. Brown and Cally going hit for hit. Michael Del Zotto doing something, anything to justify Tortorella's faith. Gaborik scoring a goal ... hey, I said hopefully.

Also Check Out: The Royal Half, Surly & Scribe, SBN's The Battle of California and Jewels From The Crown, and Rich Hammond's Kings Insider.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

30-24-4: We May Get Out Of This Yet

There is nothing quite like being able to kick a rival when they are down and the Rangers did just that on Sunday, beating the Pens 5-3.

Pittsburgh was without the injured Crosby, Malkin, Letestu, Asham, Kunitz, Jeffrey and Tangradi, as well as the suspended Cooke and Godard. Friend of the blog Pete, who lives in Pennsylvania, came to the Garden for his first game this season and saw a good number of the guys that he has seen in Wilkes Barre this year (poor bastard). You feel some sympathy for him but not for the Penguins, as they may have been just what the doctor ordered for the struggling Blueshirts.

The Rangers were able to snap their skid against an AHL roster and did many good things that they hopefully will be able to build upon going forward. We should be pleased but should hold off on the celebration just yet - it is just like that great scene from Pulp Fiction (NSFW), the first phase of cleaning up the mess is done but there is still plenty of work to be done.


*The power play went a remarkable three-for-four. Now I, like you, would love to chalk it up to the absence of Michael Del Zotto but that is only part of the reason for the change of luck. The guys were willing to shoot, they smartly cycled and they set someone up in the paint. When you have Callahan and Dubinsky channeling their inner Graves, good things happen.

*A key to the win was the Rangers scoring a goal on their four minute double minor power play and their ability to kill the Penguins'. They desperately needed to kill that after Pittsburgh made it 5-3 on a power play goal - it is no coincidence that the Pens scored when Cally was in the box. As with Bettsy a few years back, you can't have an integral part of the kill committing a penalty.

*On that, the Blueshirts need to be more disciplined. Eight minutes of high sticking calls just shows sloppiness.

*Marian Gaborik now has eight assists in his last eight games. Most of those helpers came from rebounds of his shots that teammates were able to capitalize on. That's definitely nice, but at some point he needs to put some of those pucks in himself.

*Would be nice for Avery to capitalize on one of his chances too. The Grate One is battling but at some point he needs some points. Fifteen game goal drought, two assists in his last 10 games - for all of the work he does something needs to click.

*After raving about Ryan McDonagh's work against Atlanta, he was completely at fault on Nick Johnson's goal. McD was beat twice on the same play and the Pens capitalized. Credit to the kid for bouncing back. Steve Eminger was at fault for the first Pittsburgh goal and barely saw the ice the rest of the game - not at all in the third period.

*Priceless moment courtesy of the Garden staff: after the Rangers went down 2-0 they played Papa Roach's "Last Resort" - a song about suicide. Luckily the players ignored it, won a faceoff and scored immediately ... helping us fans back away from the ledge a bit.

*It is astounding how soft Arty Anisimov is. His ice-sight and timing gives him so many chances, can you imagine how good he would be if he was strong and confident? The goal did boost his confidence enough for him to try a Savardian spin-o-rama on the next play but that just seemed to be for comedic effect more than anything else.

*Mike Rupp has seen some success at the Garden but when a team is relying on him to center their first power play unit, well, there is a problem with that team. Pathetic.

*Just turned on the MSG broadcast and, shockingly, Micheletti was awful yet again. Yes I point it out every game and no I will not stop until someone jams a hockey sock down his throat and puts him out of our misery.

*Judging by the sheer number of Pittsburgh bandwagoners in the building today, next Sunday should see quite the invasion of orange idiots.

*Very nice of the Ferraro brothers to make a donation to the Garden of Dreams. It may have been their lone positive contribution on the Garden ice ever. Undersized but talented, the two of them just didn't have the smarts to find NHL success - a terrible lack of discipline doomed them both. I'll always remember a Larry Brooks rumour that the Rangers turned down a trade for Pavel Bure because Vancouver wanted the two of them.

*After the Heritage Classic the Rangers should hire Dan Craig to come in and make a new sheet of ice in the Garden. Of all of the unnecessary renovations going on, the replacing the pad should be paramount. And on the renovations, the Garden showed a video where Troutwig took a tour, showing the New York City views you get ... of the post office where the homeless sleep on summer nights. Gorgeous. Maybe you can see from the other side of the concourse the bedbugs inside the Hotel Penn! Woo hoo!

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brian Boyle - one goal.
2-Marc Staal - two assists.
1-Ryan Callahan - two goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Staal - Want to give some love to Girardi for his constant shot blocking but Staal edged him out in minutes and assists.
2-Torts - His timeout turned things around and his tweaks to the power play and benching of MDZ paid off. Credit due, credit given.
1-Cally - Seriously, let's do away with any formalities and put the C on his sweater already.

Friday, February 11, 2011

29-24-4: Evander Knocks Out Rangers

Evander Kane's back-to-back goals in the third period turned the tables and gave Atlanta a 3-2 win over the Rangers on Friday night. When the Thrashers needed him, Kane was a force and he missed a hat trick by inches when his shot at the empty net went wide. When the Rangers needed Gaborik, he blew a penalty shot.

Gaborik's exceptional timing and great speed earned him a shorthanded breakaway and a hook from behind put him on the spot. And, for the second time this month, he had a chance to win the game for the Rangers and failed (the first being the shootout loss to Pittsburgh). His effort on the evening can't be questioned but the results certainly can. He assisted on the two Ranger goals; the first being more luck than anything else as his botched shot went right to Staal and the second being a legit nice play with a smart feed to an oncoming Dubinsky. It was good to see him involved but it simply wasn't enough.

This night will go down as another transitional game as Tortorella works his regulars back into the lineup. There were good signs and troubling signs for the days ahead. The good: Gabby was into it, Hank made some great saves, Arty managed to at least hit some iron and the top four defensemen were strong. The bad: Gabby's failure with the game on his shoulders, Del Zotto dragging Gilroy down with him, Avery still getting royally screwed by the officials and Wojtek Wolski and Erik Christensen having no impact whatsoever. Oh, and after being heavily leaned on during all of the injuries, Brian Boyle and Derek Stepan combined for just under 22 minutes of ice time and Mats Zuccarello saw 9:18. That feisty, overachieving team that battled hard and surprised with some wins is gone; the Rangers are back and they are back on track to battle for the final playoff spot, again. It hurts but it appears that we are headed for a heartache again.

Some notes:

*In the Peepin' Foes I wrote "Prust had better not battle with Boulton for the sake of the fighting" and that is exactly what he did. He fought to justify the Atlanta goon's paycheck and it handed the Thrashers the momentum early. A momentum that carried them to a Anthony Stewart goal five minutes after the fisticuffs. Prust was hurt in the bout but, of course, he came back to play later in the game. He has proven to be the heart of this team and a extremely valuable forechecker, to lose him for five or more minutes in a foolish fight is folly.

*I was wrong in the PF saying Alex Burmistrov would score. Instead he had an assist on the Stewart goal. As per usual, Arty needs to be stronger and smarter - he was looking around trying to figure out what to do instead of accepting the pass, handling the puck and getting it through the neutral zone. Arty did hit the crossbar, but he still lacks the poise, strength and confidence needed to be a force. Dubi and Cally are back, he is running out of time/excuses.

*After much thought, the most disappointing thing about Del Zotto is not his performance. It is that he is dragging down what had been an improved Matt Gilroy. Tortorella had been able to throw his three pairings over the boards with regularity but now he has to pick his spots as his third pairing is a untrustworthy disasterpiece. If keeping MDZ around is un-negotiable, then Gilroy has to be dealt at the deadline. Put Eminger back in to bring back some form of stability while getting something back for Hobey before he bolts this summer.

*While bashing those two, let's even the ledger by praising Sauer and McDonagh. Night in and night out they have been the steadiest pair. They aren't flashy by any means but they can skate and they can do their job. McD's work on Byfuglien just before the game-winner was delightful, standing up the big man at the blueline while his teammates could get back into position. Sure he was at the top of the crease less than a minute later when Kane scored, but he had his man - it was Boyle who blew his coverage, allowing Kane to get the goal.

*It would be easy to rage against the officiating for screwing Sean Avery yet again but that is par for the course, right?

*And what else can I say about Joe Micheletti at this point? He makes watching a Ranger game a task to suffer through instead of an enjoyable experience. His shrill voice, the fact that he pipes up trying to fill every second of silence and his complete lack of chemistry with Sam is just infuriating. He gets plays, players, facts and analysis wrong, apologizes incessantly for his errors and points out the blatantly obvious the rest of the time. If you played a drinking game with a shot for his every apology you would be sent to the hospital.

*Hank was great, which was great to see. There wasn't any rust after his forced time off and he made a half dozen outstanding saves. He will have to do it again on Sunday, because that terrifying scoring force that is Mike Rupp will be in the Garden with the Penguins. If you think that Dan Bylsma will let the short-handed Penguins perform as they did tonight on the Island you will be mistaken; Sunday will be another tough game, let's hope that the Rangers won't need Gaborik to come through in the clutch to win it.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Anthony Stewart - one goal and one assist.
2-Ondrej Pavelec - 27 saves.
1-Evander Kane - two goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - Can't piss on 33 saves.
2-Stewart - Anthony is looking like the power forward his brother Chris was before he went down with injury earlier this season. A nice combination of strength and skill, if he can get rolling the Thrashers will be in the playoff picture in two months.
1-Kane - He turns 20 years old this summer. That's just not fair.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Peepin' Foes: Atlanta Thrashers

Hey look, it is a rare appearance of a pre-game report! How about that? The Rangers face off for their most important game of the season tomorrow night in Atlanta. The game starts at 7:30 and is on MSG 2, where we will be subjected to the annoying awfulness of Joe Micheletti. Joy. The Knicks are getting MSG as they face the Lakers (the game is on ESPN, why does MSG have to do it as well?) but why the Rangers couldn't take MSG+ away from the Islanders is beyond me. The Isles play the Crosby-less Pens, while the Devils are stuck on MSG+2 for their game against the Sharks. Yeah, that makes sense.

Where We Are: Trying to make sense of our season. The team had a big three days off where they licked their wounds from Detroit, took care of some public engagements and practiced, practiced, practiced. Hopefully something they worked on clicked because something needs to happen to snap this five game losing streak. The slide has left them in seventh place, with 62 points in 56 games played - tied for the most games played in the conference - and are just three points over eighth place Carolina.

Where They Are: They are other team in the East to have skated 56 times this season. Atlanta sits in ninth place with 58 points, four behind the Rangers and one behind the Hurricanes. Now that could change tonight as the Canes play one of their two games in hand, facing off against the Flyers in Philly. The Thrashers are struggling, having lost seven of eight (three were OTLs - one being the loss to the Rangers in a shootout on January 22nd). After a surprise 1-0 win over Washington at the end of January, the Birdies have lost to the Isles, Flames, Canes and Leafs. The loss to the Leafs was on Monday and it wasn't pretty, they blew leads of 2-0 and 3-2 on their way to a 5-4 loss.

Who To Watch For: Borat scored in the last Ranger game against Atlanta and he has eight points in his last 10 games. Former Devil Niclas Bergfors hasn't been able to recapture his hot hand from the start of the season but has been chipping in a few points lately; luckily he was atrocious against Toronto. Dustin Byfuglien scored in that Toronto game but it was his only point in his last 14 games - guess teams are getting used to seeing his big body rushing in from the blueline. Rich Peverley has seven points in eight career games against the Rangers, Evander Kane has three in four and Freddie Modin has 27 in 28. Modin, thankfully, is day-to-day with an upper body injury and might not play. Rookie Alex Burmistrov has one point in his last 15 games and has a goal drought of 26 games, which almost ensures that he will score on Hank. There are actually (shockingly) trade rumours floating around about Zach Bogosian, the third overall pick in '08, so look for him to do his best to cement a spot in Atlanta - his three points in his last two games have been a start.

What To Watch For: The Rangers to score at least a pair of goals. Atlanta's likely starter Ondrej Pavelec has only allowed less than two goals in a game once in his last 20 appearances. The Thrashers could be without puck-moving Swedish stud Tobias Enstrom, so look for the Rangers to be more successful with their forecheck. Enstrom is working his way back from a fractured finger and could play any day. And see what kind of form Hank has after having over a week off.

What We'll (Hopefully) See: The Ranger power play not sucking - all of that practice has to pay off, right? Seeing as Atlanta isn't a great team, perhaps Marian Gaborik can show up to pot a few goals. Maybe Torts will stick with a line from faceoff to buzzer for once. And, it is hard for me to say this, but no fighting unless circumstances dictate it; Prust had better not battle with Boulton for the sake of the fighting - he is too valuable to go down against a goon like that.

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

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

29-23-4: Fashion Show

"Ensemble number 32, entitled 'Omar Sharif', and modelled by Chiefs defenceman, Billy Charlebois, who hails from - if I can read the card here - Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan."
The Ranger power play resembles the fashion show in Slap Shot. It is a comedy of errors that becomes an unmitigated disaster. They strut out onto the ice with the man advantage and just like that, the show is over. The players look uncomfortable for a while before whipping it out, wiggling it around and sending everybody in the audience - with the exception of Prospal's wife - runnin' for the exits. And at this point all Tortorella can do is slowly hang up the phone and be sad.

Ok, maybe it is not Prospal's wife sticking around, but you get the reference (and if you don't, click here, NSFW language). We've seen it all season and we saw it tonight in the team's 3-2 loss to Detroit. Now the key difference is that Slap Shot provides pure hilarity while the Ranger power play is providing pure heartbreak. How players with such ability are so incredibly incompetent is astounding. And they are justifying the idiots who yell "SHOOT IT!!!" incessantly every second the puck is in the offensive zone, which is almost as bad. To the best of my recollection, the majority of the team's 31 power play goals this season have came off the rush - not when they set things up. Once the team settles into the zone they are trying to make the right play, look for the right lane. You simply can't do that in the NHL anymore, the penalty killers are too good. Put a body at the top of the paint, throw the puck on the net and crash the crease. It's not rocket science. Endlessly cycling, passing and shooting from bad angles lead to turnovers, not goals. No one kills a Ranger power play better than the Rangers.


*Pavel Datsyuk is so very good. Why isn't he in the conversation when they talk about the top three players in the NHL? He and his team are among the class of the NHL, which is why losing to them is no shame. That being said, the Rangers beat themselves in this one with stupid mistakes and their inept power play.

*What would possess Brian Boyle to try to carry the puck off of the endboards, especially with Datsyuk lurking nearby?

*Mike Sauer and Ryan McDonagh were phenomenal. The Versus crew might have fawned over Staal and Girardi early but when Babcock used his last change to get his big guns away from our top pairing, the kids came through. Can't rave about their play enough. Had high hopes for Sauer this season and he has surpassed them; I didn't even think we would see McD in NY, what with Rozy around.

*Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto on the other hand ... blech. Hobey looked outclassed for much of the night and MDZ all but picked up his bus ticket to Hartford. Granted, MDZ didn't play much in the first period and made one or two simple defensive plays that surely will impress Torts when he watches the tape but the lasting memory you take away of MDZ in this game was him sliding helplessly across the ice on Miller's goal to make it 3-1. Connecticut will be good for him.

*Pierre McGuire asking if the Rangers miss Chris Drury is on par with the Versus producers asking if Matt Cooke is a dirty player - just a dumb question with an obvious answer. Losing less than 10 minutes a night of a mediocre fourth liner who can't score doesn't hurt anyone.

*Hockey adages say that the time a team is most vulnerable is the two minutes after they score a goal. Well, Detroit scored 1:55 after Derek Stepan tied the game at one. Ain't that a kick in the pants? And it came on such a horrible play too - the Rangers were chasing the puck around like a pack of seven year olds. Defense like that isn't going to cut it anywhere, much less in the NHL against an elite team.

*Is it me or did Nick Lidstrom look unimpressive? I mean, he was still good but he looked almost ordinary. Love Lidstrom - in my opinion one of the greatest to ever play the game - but he just ... I don't know, didn't look elite. And he got away with an awful cross check in full view of the referee. Pays to have a clean report card I guess.

*Mats Zuccarello had perhaps his worst game as a Ranger to date. Maybe it was the awe of playing against Zetterberg and Lidstrom or something but he did not play his game. Zook had no patience with the puck and went chasing after Red Wings to get hits - none of them earth shattering as most came after the Wing had dished away the puck.

*Who knew Ruslan Salei could still be a solid defenseman in the NHL?

*Sean Avery looked like the Sean Avery of old - constantly skating, pressuring the puck and drawing penalties. He was the best Ranger on the ice, unfortunately he simply couldn't score on Jimmy Howard. Had he capitalized on that breakaway it could have been a totally different game.

*Howard made a boatload of saves and yet not one of them was memorable. He was jumpy and left rebounds all over the ice that the Rangers simply didn't get to in time to score. Biron was steady yet again and can't be faulted for the goals against.

*Did Arty dress for this one? Couldn't tell.

*Gabby did and yet he was still ineffective. Now some of that is due to the Detroit defense but a player of his caliber should make some kind of impact. He had three shots on goal all night; Avery and Prospal had six apiece. But picking on the Slovak Slacker is like beating a dead horse at this point. He has yet to win the Rangers a game this season and they've managed 29 victories anyway. If he shows up, that's great. If not, so be it.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Jimmy Howard - 45 saves.
2-Jiri Hudler - one goal and one assist.
1-Pavel Datsyuk - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Howard - Sure the Rangers inflated his save total but he made those saves and he controlled the rebounds enough so they didn't cost him.
2-Avery - By far the best Ranger on the ice, yet again. Sure he embellished the first of the two high sticks he took but he had to if he was get the the call, seeing as Van Massenhoven turned a blind eye to several other infractions against him throughout the night.
1-Datsyuk - Dude is 'leet man, what can you say? And he didn't even pull out one of his insane dangles. You would probably have to go back to Frank Boucher to find a Ranger so smooth, so skilled on both sides of the ice and yet so clean.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

29-22-4: No Le Buts About It

In the final minute of the Rangers' 2-0 loss to the Canadiens on Saturday Sam Rosen observed that the Rangers didn't have their top offensive players out on the ice. Having watched this team night in and night out, my query is who in the hell could he be talking about?

In Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust, Sean Avery and Ryan Callahan (in for a pulled Biron) Tortorella had assembled the few players willing to test Price in tight. A goaltender as big and as quick as Price, you have get dirty if you want to score and those were the guys to have on the ice. It just didn't work out.

But make no bones about it, this four game losing skid is entirely the head coach's fault. Torts refuses to let a full line develop any kind of chemistry, he can't get the power play to work and he hasn't a clue as to how he can spark the Slovakian Slacker Marian Gaborik. If the lack of scoring is a matter of confidence, then the coach is to blame. If the puck isn't bouncing their way, it is because he doesn't have them in the right spots, doing the right things. If the team only plays their best hockey when trailing in the third period, it is because he can't light the fire early enough. Blissfully that third period 'battle-level' is as high as it has been in 15 years but all of the final frame effort in the world won't win you games when the other team is trying just as hard and they are doing it all night long.

Something has to change, and soon. Now this is not a call for a firing but someone needs to set this guy straight before the season slips away.


*When the team was physical they were creating chances. So why doesn't Torts have them playing physical all game long? It is infuriating to watch them come alive in the third period only to fall short; just like the annual push for the playoffs that proves to be too little, too late.

*Of course physicality comes with a cost, and that cost should be three or four games for Brian Boyle. Boyle's elbow to the head of Spacek certainly won't go unpunished, especially when they bust Danny Paille for four games after a legal hit.

*Someone put a gag on Joe Micheletti. He spends 99% of his time being wrong or pointing out the painfully obvious while interrupting Rosen and driving viewers to distraction. When will MSG say enough is enough and pick up someone capable of doing colour?

*When will the Rangers say enough is enough and pick up someone capable of quarterbacking the power play? Del Zotto is averaging, AVERAGING 4:16 on the unit and the unit isn't scoring goals and costing the team games. It is great that Torts wants to stick with the rookies through their ups and downs but throughout it all, the rookies have been growing and showing improvement. Del Zotto is not and has not. He can work on his game and raise his confidence in Connecticut; there is no reason to piss away points up here to watch him stagnate night after night.

*Personally, I think Eminger should take the roster spot and Zook should take the power play spot. Torts has tried it before but not for any consistent amount of time. Tell him that is his job, explain what he has to do and let the little man do it. Since there is a real fear of turnovers, put him across from Mike Sauer. Sauer's shot is underrated and underutilized and he would be strong against shorthanded counterattacks. It is worth a shot because 1- nothing else has worked and 2- Sauer deserves it. He played one of his best games this afternoon and it was all for naught.

*The coach can't call on Biron as the scapegoat for this one as the backup was solid despite playing behind the inept MDZ, the still-learning Hobey Gilroy and the pairing of Staal and Girardi, who had a disappointing game (based on the high standard they have set this season). Biron favoured his glove throughout the afternoon so, of course, the lone goal went right past it. Other than that play, he was perfect so even I can't rage against the former Islander.

*That goal against came because Brian Boyle and Dan Girardi both went to cover the same guy, leaving Scott Gomez open. If there is one player on the entire obnoxious Canadien roster you should cover, it should be Gomez. Nothing is worse than seeing the Mexican't smirking visage. He smirked when he was a Devil and beat us, he smirked when he was a Ranger and he ruined us and he smirked today. One day someone should wipe that smirk off his face.

*It likely won't be Sean Avery, who keeps getting thrown around like a rag doll in his tussles and insists on firing punches when he and his opponent are down on the ice. That is the only thing not to like about Avery's game of late as he has put his game into another gear. It was good to see Torts realize it in the third period and let him go out there and make a difference.

*The skill guys need to step up and make a difference too. Gaborik aside, no shots on goal for Zook, Wolski, Stepan or Christy (the long-absent Mr. Softie the Backstabber). They each had one blocked but that is just not enough from three so-called skill players. Zook is at least finishing his checks but he can't find his linemates and his linemates can't find him, especially not when those linemates are rotating every other shift.

*Someone tell Prospal we've seen many a wrap-around this season and they don't work.

*Anyone miss Chris Drury? Anyone? Anyone?

*PHW Three Stars
3-Martin Biron - 27 saves.
2-Scott Gomez - one goal.
1-Carey Price - 35 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Alex Picard - Jean-Luc took the blast that went off the end boards right to Gomez for the easy goal. While we'll never know if it was an intentional miss or not, I'll give the kid credit for it. He also had a few blocked shots and the bout with Avery.
2-Biron - The backup goaltender gave the team a chance to win, all you can ask for.
1-Price - No wonder they traded Halak away (for Lars Eller, really?. Jesus Price didn't allow a single softie and withstood the Rangers' late press.

Friday, February 4, 2011

29-21-4: It Would Have Been Nice

In the Rangers' 3-2 loss to New Jersey tonight it would have been nice if Dan Girardi's shot hit the post and went in in the final second of the third period to force overtime.

It would have been nice if Henrik Lundqvist didn't give up three goals on 12 shots, one softie and two on his knees.

It would have been nice if Henrik Lundqvist didn't spend Wednesday night watching the Knicks and hanging out with Justin Bieber because some of the kid's suck was clearly absorbed by osmosis.

It would have been nice if Henrik Lundqvist's teammates bailed him out for once.

It would have been nice if John Tortorella didn't blame this loss (and the previous two) on Henrik Lundqvist, and placed it where it belonged - on himself. The coach has proven utterly incapable of getting the team to play three full periods or to score a timely goal and yet it was the goaltender's fault for getting pucks scored off of Arty Anisimov (Florida) or in a seven round shootout (Pittsburgh) or off of bad turnovers (tonight).

It would have been nice if Arty Anisimov had some ... fortitude ... so he could stand in front of the net and take advantage of the chances his teammates made for him. Three pucks came across towards him in the first period and yet he was sliding behind the net or curling away to avoid contact.

It would have been nice if the Rangers realized that they can't dump the puck into the zone of a puck moving goaltender like Mmmmaaarrrtttyyy because he will just send it right back out again.

It would have been nice if the Rangers actually challenged Mmmmaaarrrtttyyy with some shots and play down low instead of shooting it at his jelly belly or praying for a bad bounce down by his skates. Sure the goaltender likely hasn't seen said skates for years but he does have those pads to stop the puck.

It would have been nice if any of the Rangers could win an important faceoff.

It would have been nice if Chris Drury did the honourable thing and bequeathed the C to Callahan, where it rightfully belongs.

It would have been nice if Marian Gaborik knew how to score a goal that mattered. Or, at this point, knew how to score a goal at all.

It would have been nice if Michael Del Zotto had not played on Broadway last season and learned from Dale Hunter in the AHL. Or had not played in Broadway at the start of this season and spent the campaign in Connecticut. Or had not been called up when Dan Girardi went down. Or had been sent down when Girardi came back. Or been rightfully benched after the Pittsburgh game for wasting minute upon minute of important ice time. Steve Eminger had better be hurt because MDZ's continued presence in the lineup is inexcusable otherwise.

It would have been nice if MDZ wouldn't have taken a stupid penalty so the team could have had a chance at a second power play goal early in the third period.

It would have been nice if the Rangers would have gotten the boost they should have after killing the long 5-on-3 in the first period.

It would have been nice if Sean Avery didn't fall time after time. Avery tripped over the blueline. Avery swung at David Clarkson and missed, landing flat on his back. Somehow Avery kept falling and not once did his 'accidentally' fall on top of Fatso.

It would have been nice if - and this hurts to write - Brandon Prust was as smart as Clarkson. Prust took on Engy on Pittsburgh with the Rangers up 2-0 and the bout energized the Pens and set them on the road to victory. Prust tried to take on Clarkson with the Devils up 2-0 and Clarkson wanted nothing to do with him. Smart move by the minor leaguer.

But all of those ifs didn't happen so the Rangers lost at home. Again. Against the Devils.

Nothing nice about that.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ilya Kovalchuk - one goal.
2-Vinny Prospal - one goal.
1-Dainius Zubrus - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Prospal - Nice of him to return to the Rangers, too bad he couldn't bring Gaborik's skill back with him.
2-Zubrus - Somehow this oversized former Flyer has the Rangers' number.
1-Jacques Lemaire - The Devils coach has turned things around for his team, instilling discipline and reinstating their defensive system. They were clearly trapping late in the third period and yet they did it cleanly and legally. Unlike the Ranger bench boss, Lemaire had his team ready to play at 7:05.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

29-20-4: Disappointing But Acceptable

The Rangers returned from the All Star break last night and blew a shootout against the Pittsburgh Penguins, falling 1-0 in the skills competition and 4-3 overall. As the title says, it was disappointing but acceptable.

Sure the Penguins were without Crosby, Malkin and Letestu. They did what the Rangers did all season: overachieved without their best players. The Rangers were incorporating several guys back into their lineup and, as per always, their coach wouldn't allow any chemistry to form. It will happen again and again over the next two weeks, give or take, so don't be surprised. This team is right on track to battle for the eighth spot, just as most Ranger-related folks expected before the season.


*It is odd to say this but Steve Eminger has been a staple of the defense all season long so he was unceremoniously dumped for Michael Del Zotto. It makes no sense whatsoever as MDZ showed no signs of any improvement down on the farm or in his return before the break. Yes, it was his shot that Cally deflected in for the game-tying goal but that doesn't excuse the other six-and-a-half minutes of wasted power play time. Is MDZ the lone reason for the atrocious man advantage? Certainly not, but last night he was a big part of it's ineptitude. MDZ can't play defense and isn't capable of playing quarterback on the power play - he has made that clear. Now he may be able to do it somewhere down the line but for the moment he - and the Rangers - are best served with him off-Broadway.

*Cally's power play goal was the lone tally or even scoring chance on the five minute power play resulting from Jordan Staal's cheap shot. I'm hearing Penguin fans are calling dive but that is a load of garbage. For one, Brandon Prust is not Sidney Crosby. Two, you get popped in the chin unawares from someone bigger than you and see how you take it. Three, just because he was hit in the chin and not full in the face doesn't mean it wasn't attempt to injure. The only difference between that shot and Domi-Samuelsson was Staal kept his glove on. An it isn't like the Penguins don't have a history full of cheap shots, full of slew foots, headhunting and punches to the nuts. Fair call.

*Why did Prust fight Deryk Engelland? Just because he had a few days to rest doesn't mean that he should take on the other team's heavyweight when it wasn't necessary. Prust has grown beyond your average goon and he needs to stop thinking like one. The Pens weren't taking many liberties, the Rangers had the 2-0 lead ... why let their idiot goad you into a fight to swing the momentum towards his team?

*Cally missing that open net earlier in the game was par for the course guys, not rust from the injury. Our love for the future captain aside, Cally has always earned chance after chance with his hard work - it is why we love him - but he doesn't always capitalize on them.

*Once you accept that Chris Drury is no more than a middling fourth liner, you can find that it is easy to accept his performance. He is not going to score, he is not going to contribute anything other than a breather for the top lines. It is not his fault he has a contract and a captaincy that he doesn't deserve, he didn't ask for either.

*How can Sean Avery be expected to score or make a difference when he is skating alongside Drury and Kris Newbury? Of course he is going to end up offsides as he takes two strides and he is a mile ahead of his linemates. When he did get shifts with players with NHL futures, he was able to make things happen. He just needs to make those things happen for himself.

*Marian Gaborik had five shot attempts in the game - one went on net, three were blocked and one was his botched shootout 'effort.' It is maddening to watch an AHLer like Dustin Jeffrey (even one with a solid NHL future ahead of him) score when one of the most talented players in the world can't even make the goaltender strain himself. As some big trade for a superstar center who will magically give Gaborik confidence and a scoring touch isn't about to happen, we can only hope that the comfort of old friend Vinny Prospal will do the trick. But I wouldn't bet on it.

*Mike f-ing Rupp. C'mon. Dammit Rangers, that the hell? Again and again and again. Mike f-ing Rupp.

*Poor Hank, three goals against in regulation and not one was his fault. Even when the guy doesn't give up a soft goal the team can't put together a win for him, ugh. Despite barely breaking sweat making four stops over the final 25 minutes Hank stopped six of the seven shooters in the skill competition. He has to be sitting back there wondering why his teammates can't keep the same mental focus.

*Now I've seen a good number of Penguin games over the last few seasons and I am completely baffled why the Rangers kept trying to go five hole on Fleury. Fleury is prone to over-committing and yet the Blueshirts went for the wickets again and again and again. I was waiting for Fleury to start doing jumping jacks or pushups just to taunt the incompetent Ranger shooters.

*Matt Cooke is such a scumbag.

*Highlight of the night? Mats Zuccarello giving Brooks Orpik free candy. The little man crushed the Penguins' hit machine in the first period along the endboards. Now that is entertainment folks.

*Mike Sauer quietly had himself a great game. Sauer has been an unheralded hero of this season and he deserves some accolades.

*Dubi won 15 of 19 faceoffs, what a nice change. Arty won six of eight but one of his two losses went right into the back of the Ranger net. It was a draw he shouldn't have even taken but was forced to as it came off of a sloppy icing the play before.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Chris Kunitz - one goal and one assist.
2-Ryan Callahan - one goal.
1-Dustin Jeffrey - one power play goal and one shootout goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Cally - Welcome back Cap.
2-Engelland - One fight changed the game - that is what fighting is for. It is no wonder the Penguin bench all got up to bang on the boards when he got out of the penalty box.
1-Jeffrey - A young, hungry up-and-coming scorer contributed exactly what an older, complacent star scorer on the Rangers couldn't.