Sunday, March 30, 2008

40-27-11: Sad, Sad Sunday

In between the second and third periods of the Rangers loss to the Penguins on Sunday, NBC interviewed head coach Tom Renney and he said that the Rangers would have to be more physical to get out of their one-goal deficit at the time.

They went on to lose 3-1, and were not much more physical in the third than they were in the first or second.

Either Renney was giving lip service for the cameras, or the players aren't listening to him. If it is indeed the latter, then the Rangers have a massive problem that needs to be solved one way or the other ... and soon. He basically threw his hands up early in the season after telling players to go hard to the net and watched as they disappeared into the periphery, needing a long late run to get into playoff position. Well, those playoffs are almost here so its buckle down or go home. And if the Rangers do falter further, then Renney shouldn't be asked to come back.

Other rants from the game:
*Steve Zipay from Newsday said that Renney scratched Colton Orr because he "sustained a foot injury on a shot a few games ago." So Orr was able to be useless in several games against teams without tough guys (Philly and Jersey), but when we play a team with a legitimate enforcer in Georges Laraque he bitches out? Is this like the Philly flu? How pathetic.

*Renney also made the questionable move of playing Shanny for 20 minutes. This late in the season with the playoffs looming, the veteran should be getting a break - not getting more minutes than usual. I'd say Jagr should also get a chance for a break but he barely skates when he is on so that shouldn't be a problem. Where was he in this one??

*Why the hell do we have to suffer through 90s era dance music in the Garden when the Igloo has Slayer??? They played the opening refrain of "Raining Blood" before the opening faceoff. So great, so cool ... love or hate metal, it certainly gets the blood moving.

*The Rangers power play scored for the second straight game to open the scoring. A low shot by Jagr was easily turned away but no Pen covered Dubi and he was able to bang in the rebound. Bad killing by the Pens but nice work by the Rangers to get into the paint. And as the Blueshirts celebrate, the chorus from Sublime's "I've Seen Better Days" plays in the arena; this music director is just awesome.

*Christian Backman vs. Cindy Crosby and the Penguins tie the game at one. Our soft Swede tries to defend one of the best players in the league from three feet away with some weak stick checks and Cindy gets the puck to Hossa, who then uses Backman as a screen to score. How vile. But he got an assist on the power play goal, so we will ignore his gross incompetence. Riiiiiiiight.

*Backman can take a lesson from Paul Mara, who made a fantastic defensive play in the second period, standing up Gina Malkin just inside the blue line. McGuirre also pointed it out - play the man, not the puck.

*Glad to see Cindy is still a crybaby, whining to the refs over icing calls. I hope she remembered to put on her waterproof mascara. She should be thankful for the call, because it gives her a second to smooth over her dress. And this clown is a captain. Ugh. Gretzky pulled some of the same antics but at least he was a Stanley Cup champion.

*Unreal, the Pens take a 2-1 lead on a 5-on-3 power play. Hank stops two great set ups but lets a far shot from the clear sail over his blocker. As Pierre McGuirre astutely pointed out, Pittsburgh clearly sees Hank going down on his knees too early. Funny, that sounds like the scouting report on Cindy ...

*You would hope that by this point in the season the boys would be involved and interested, battling hard ... instead they seemed to sit back in a 2-3 defense, watching the Penguins work the puck around and do whatever they wanted in the Ranger end.

*I understand that the sloppy Ranger play led to eight power plays for the Pens, but Renney has to find ice time for the pistons that make the Rangers engine move. Sean Avery got just 10 minutes of ice time, Nigel Dawes nine and Sjostrom six. Shoe's linemates, Petr Prucha (4:42) and Ryan Hollweg (3:39) barely saw the ice at all. When they did late in the third period, they skated hard and drew a power play (which the 'skill players' promptly wasted).

*I have to get back to the music thing - I just heard "Crosstown Traffic by" Hendrix. We get Kernkraft, they get Hendrix. And later I heard Megadeth! Damn the benign corporate clowns that run MSG.

*Four officials on the ice, and not one sees Cindy cross check Backman four times with the puck nowhere to be found late in the second period. Apparently he gets the Michael Jordan treatment - the 'do whatever you want, you are the only superstar in our sport.'

*Total side note: Former Ranger Tim Taylor will not play one last NHL game and retire at the end of the season. The Tampa Bay captain missed all of this year with major hip surgery. Goodbye to a good soldier.

*I will stop calling Evgeni Malkin "Gina." Like a true hockey player, he took 10 stitches after getting an accidental skate to the face from Dubi and returned to the game. Baseball player Sean Casey missed the first two games of the season for the Red Sox with a sore neck from the plane ride to Japan. Whiner. Maybe Cindy would be a good baseball player!!

*Marty Straka has one goal in his last 11 games and one power play point in 15 games. So why does he automatically get a spot on the power play? Meanwhile Sjostrom, Callahan, Dawes and Prucha are wasting their energy away on the bench. Midway through the third Straka skated in on a one-on-one and pulled up to wait for everyone else. If he doesn't have the confidence in himself, why does Renney have confidence in him?

*And finally before the stars, the game was the first half of a home-and-home. Sadly the Rangers sent no message and mailed it in. The Blueshirts have been better at home all season long, let's hope that they show up tomorrow ...

*PHW Three Stars
3-Marc Andre Fleury - 26 saves.
2-Cindy - two assists.
1-Malkin - game-winning goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Paul Mara - three hits, two blocked shots on over 23 minutes of ice time.
2-Tyler Kennedy - the kid was involved every second he was out there pressing the action. I've mentioned it before but I really think he is one to watch next season.
1-Malkin - 10 stitches, strong game, good shot on the goal, much respect ...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Saturday Night Randomness

Saturday ended up being a really good day for me. Thanks to work as well as my own obsession, I watched five hockey games: Boston's 4-0 win over Ottawa, Dallas' 7-2 pounding of LA, Toronto's 4-2 spoiler on the Habs, Boston College's energetic 5-2 victory over Minnesota and Wisconsin's 6-2 upset of Denver. That's a lot of hockey, a lot of good times, and a lot of stuff I want to ramble on about, so be warned ...

But first, I would be remiss if I didn't address the big Ranger news of the day. The Daily News reported that Sean Avery's name was on a whorehouse's list of clients. While I really don't think that he needs to rely on his bankroll to get some action, I will be honest in that I don't care. It may have been him, it may have been DP or David Clarkson using his name, whatever. What goes on in the bedroom doesn't matter as long as the game on the ice remains strong. That holds for closeted gay players too. Do whatever you want in your private life, just don't screw up while wearing that jersey.

Ok, onto the games and for those, let me start with my NCAA nightcaps, which MSG Plus smartly picked up from ESPNU:
*College hockey is so vastly underrated. The kids are passionate, hard working and have little to no clue how to play defense, leading some some really exciting hockey.

*One can only wonder how the Gophers would have been had Kyle Okposo not been a selfish, arrogant little brat and left in the middle of the season to go to the Islanders (of all teams). I can understand the move after the year ends, or if it was to a team where he would get good experience in a winning environment but to slander Minnesota coach Don Lucia and sleaze out of a scholarship to go lose some meaningless games with Bridgeport and the Islanders smacks of low character. Although, it is the blue and orange so I guess that he will fit right in.

*Minnesota's goaltender Alex Kangas actually played a strong game but the skaters seemed to be playing on reputation ("you surely can't beat us, don't you know who we are?") and didn't work as hard as the Eagles. Blake Wheeler, a Phoenix draft pick, was an exception and the Phoenix Coyotes will be really, really scary in a few years when he joins Turris, Mueller, Carcillo, et al.

*Turris, by the way, was one of several Wisconsin Badgers who looked good against Denver. Mike Eaves put together a helluva squad yet again and they will be hard to beat. Of course, they were playing at home in front of a raucous crowd so that had to help but getting two goals from the undersized and undrafted Mike Davies was far from luck. It was good positioning, passing and skating.

*Speaking of such, the atmosphere in the arenas seemed utterly fantastic. Next year the East regionals will be held at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, CT. I am looking forward to it already.

*The BC/Minnesota tv talent was all of ESPN's top hockey guys - John Buccigross doing play-by-play, Barry Melrose doing colour and EJ Hradek iceside. I have to say that Bucci was really solid, but Barry seemed unprepared and EJ clearly knows the game but needs to work on the television part.

And onto the pros, which I gotta lump together for the sake of brevity:

*Boston looked quite good as they held off Ottawa. The Sens were a mess, with Marty Gerber getting beaten badly twice on shots to his glove. You couldn't tell that Spezza/Alfredsson/Heatley were playing at all. The Bruins really could be a dangerous team in the playoffs.

*Boston's Shawn Thornton showed exactly why teams need tough guys and why Colton Orr is a joke. Ottawa took some liberties with dangerous checks (who else but Chris Neil, as well as Cody Bass) and Thornton was there to get retribution. Orr very, very rarely does that. Now if that is his fault or that of Renney is something else. If its Renney, then he should just bench the goon.

*In the Kings blowout loss, they subbed starter Erik Ersberg for the British-born Daniel Taylor. Gibson gave up a goal on the first shot that he faced but the interesting part is that he was born in Plymouth, went through juniors in Kingston (Ontario), and played for both Reading (Pennsylvania) of the ECHL and Manchester (New Hampshire) of the AHL. That's one way to avoid getting homesick ...

*And even though Dallas won big, Marty Turco still looked like crap. Stars fans will have to pray that he will repeat his amazing playoff performance of last year once the postseason begins.

*Staying in the crease, Jaroslav Halak may have given up all four goals but he played a solid game for Montreal against Toronto. I don't think he and Steve Penney, I mean Carey Price, can take the Habs to the Cup, but they have been entertaining.

*If I was a fan of the Leafs (and I am glad that I a not), I would be really mad at them after tonight. After securing themselves an early tee time, they played a spirited, exciting game to shock the Canadiens. I mean, it is a nice sign for the future that two rookies each netted a pair of goals and Vesa Toskala didn't allow any goals from other timezones, but at this point, don't they want a good draft pick? Guess not ...

*Mats Sundin didn't get a single point but went +3. He seems to carry himself with class and yet is willing to get his nose dirty digging out pucks and occasionally banging bodies. He is truly one of the elder statesmen of the NHL and should get more respect than he does.

And on that note, as someone pointed out on a bulletin board I frequent, tomorrow may be the last time that Jaromir Jagr plays in Pittsburgh. While the Pens fans are sure to boo every time he touches the puck, as per usual, it would be a really classy thing if they were to give him a final ovation at the end of the game.

Friday, March 28, 2008

40-26-11: To Hell With The Devil(s)

With Chris Simon banished to the Western Conference, there is no single villain in the East bigger than Martin Brodeur. And some may even say that it wasn't a contest even when The Barbarian was still clad in orange and blue.

So it is with much pleasure that I watched Brodeur get utterly embarrassed tonight. Brodeur was atrocious, allowing many long, uncontrolled rebounds and two weak goals. He was awful, and it was wonderful. The Rangers nearly blew it through poor defense, but managed to escape with the victory and two points, while keeping the Devils to none, zip, zero, nada, nothing.

The horrendous play-for-a-point strategy of the last few weeks was thrown out the window and the Blueshirts opened the ice to show off some of their strengths. They skated well, they shot the puck and went to the net to follow it up. It was one of the better games this season and the result was utterly gratifying. So while I am still aglow, some observations:

*I have been very reticent to hand Hank back his crown, but he grabbed it right out of my hands with his performance tonight. Yes he gave up a pair of goals, but he made at least a half dozen stunning saves. His lateral movement was fantastic, his glove quick and positioning perfect. Of course, the one time he went behind the net to play the puck it nearly ended up back in his own net, but he is paid to stop the puck, not handle it. Great job by the King.

*I would praise the power play, which actually accounted for two of the Rangers three goals. It was utterly shocking, but credit can only be given to Maaaaaaaaaarrrrrrty's ineptness on this evening.

*Scott Gomez and Chris Drury played to their strengths and acted as catalysts, with Gomez carrying the puck and Drury making smart plays to get his teammates in scoring positions. To give away the stars a little early, Gomez was the best player on the ice, bar none. He opened the game a little tentative with those sore ribs, but after he was hit a few times by Colin White and crew, he elevated his game.

*Also coming off of the injury bug, I thought that Paul Mara played a better game than he usually did before the injury - taking more risks and making bigger hits with the cage of invincibility protecting his busted face.

*Sean Avery didn't score, but he was huge in this game as a disruptive force, and not in a negative way. He drew penalties and kept Maaaaaarrrrrty distracted. A point of interest/annoyance with him came in the first period when Sheldon Brookbank went after him, With the puck well on its way towards the Rangers end, Brookbank cross checked Avery several times to Maaaarrrrty's right. A referee was standing five feet away with his whistle in his mouth but when Avery (did the smart thing and) didn't retaliate, the ref put his whistle down. It was a clear case of reffing on reputation and the league needs to stop this garbage. There is no question that Avery would have been called for something had he fought back and Brookbank deserved a minor for either cross checking or even interference. What a disgrace.

*And speaking of disgrace ... Christian Backman. Glen's Folly continued his atrocious defensive play, even with a healthy Marek Malik and Jason Strudwick available. Backman's turnover to give Zach Parise a gimme goal was disgraceful and should have earned him a one-way ticket out of town. Of course, he followed it up with a power play goal, but the ledger remains uneven in his case. The goal came on a long shot that Maaaaarrrrrrrty should have stopped, and Backman's job is to play defense, and he is utterly incompetent at it; no wonder he was a healthy scratch on a piss-poor team like St. Louis. John Davidson has to be sitting back chuckling and looking forward to using our fourth round pick.

*Glen's Folly set up the second Devils goal, the first came when the fourth line was pinned deep into the Rangers zone for over a minute. There was no reason whatsoever that Colton Orr should have been in the lineup, especially over Petr Prucha, who played a strong game on Tuesday. The same could be said for Hollweg, who is many things but he is not a center, I am sure Greg Moore's ego took a hit when the Rangers decided to go with Holly rather than call him up. A fourth line of Moore, Prucha and Sjostrom would have outskated and outhustled the Devils and maybe even created a few scoring chances.

*Until he went into the net himself, taking the puck with him for the game winning goal, Nigel Dawes was invisible. He was subbed several times for Sjostrom and rightly so. Dawsie needs to be more involved and energetic. Basically he needs to take a page from Ryan Callahan, who was tremendous. Cally doesn't have the same scoring touch or ice-sight that Dawes does, but he was a Little Ball of Fury (with all due respect to Pat Verbeek).

*Brandon Dubinsky also played with a good chip on his shoulder and he has only gotten stronger and more confident as the season has gone on. And thank goodness for that, as Jagr has had many off-nights. This wasn't one of them - Jagr played alright and got off a few decent shots - but he still was far from his Hall of Fame-worthy self. And why Renney reunited him with Straka is beyond me. Gomez was healthy so the first three lines could have remained the same as in weeks past.

*When Steve Yzerman retired, one of the many accolades that he received was for his two-way play, especially late in his career. His former teammate Brendan Shanahan will be remembered much the same way. Shanny was able to score often as a younger player, and even as a sniper in the middle of his career but he has stepped up his defensive game and was incredible on the penalty kill for the Rangers. It is a shame that he made it to New York so late in his career, as a few more years of service would have earned him a number in the rafters. He is my nominee for the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award ...

*The Garden had Emile Francis out to give an award to a New Yorker who dutifully served local youth hockey. It was just a shame that they put it in between periods, rather than before the game as most fans were running to get food or hit the bathrooms.

*There were actually two, TWO promotions at this game - a nice Hummer poster of the team giving a post-game salute (where you can easily cut off the Hummer logo and have a nice poster), and a pin trading day. The team really should advertise these things a little ahead of time, at least on the website. The pin trading becomes a money grab as fans don't know to bring pins to trade, and thus have to buy new ones (guilty as charged).

*And, lest I forget, condolences go out to Inferno of Rangers Review. He lost his dad and is taking a break from blogging. Best wishes to him and his family as they work through this sad time.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Drury - three assists.
2-Hank - 32 saves.
1-Gomez - two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Avery - after his mistake-laden game on Tuesday, he bounced back with a really good effort. It would have been easy for him to snap and go after Maaaaaaaarrrrrty or David Clarkson but he didn't succumb to stupidity and kept the Devils off of their game.
2-Hank - One of his best efforts in months.
1-Gomez - What upper body injury?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

39-26-11: Treading Water

It really is quite amazing that I have found a sense of serenity in this calamity that is the rush for the playoffs. Tonight was a prime example; I didn't get upset, I didn't throw anything, curse anyone, fall into a moody depression ... nothing. I walked out of the Garden with a smile.

How could I, you may ask? Because I already accepted the one key to the game: the Rangers aren't playing to win, they are playing not to lose. And without offensive linchpins Scott Gomez and Mike Roszival, that was even more the case than it has been in recent games against Philly, Jersey and Pittsburgh. To play to win would leave open the possibility that we would skate away with no points, to play not to lose would get at least one. And at the end of tonight's 2-1 overtime loss, we got one. The Blueshirts stay afloat in playoff position despite playing a dreadfully boring, sloppy game against a weak Flyer squad.

That isn't to say I feel all warm and rosy inside. There is certainly reason for concern:

*Jagr's recent goals have come from picking up the garbage or lucky bounces, he still hasn't been scoring like he could/should.

*Sean Avery wasn't as involved as he could/should have been and his ill-advised back pass in overtime was right to Jason Smith, who fed Mike Richards for the game-winner. Sloppy garbage for a guy looking for a big contract.

*The power play remains a disgrace (it went 0-4 tonight). They don't cycle, their pass patterns are predictable and the resulting shots are immensely stoppable.

*Backman and Malik still log considerable minutes despite being defensive liabilities. Backman made one really good defensive play and followed it up with a bad penalty. Malik was actually pretty steady in the game, but was caught standing still on both Philly goals and took a bad penalty, so boooo Malik.

*Colton Orr took a stupid penalty and did nothing, absolutely nothing to justify a place on the roster. Hank was ran and Petr Prucha came to his aid. Orr didn't take on Riley Cote, who took some liberties, nor did he make any big hits, aside from the illegal one that got the aforementioned penalty. If Renney insists on skating a goon, he has to intimidate the other team somehow and stand up for his teammates. He did not.

*Hank let in two saveable goals on 25 shots. I won't say that they were soft, but they certainly weren't on good scoring chances. He has to be better than that. I know he is the starter and all that, but it wouldn't have been a bad move to start Valley, given his success against the Broad Street boys this season.

Now there were also reasons to smile in this one:

*Jagr scored. Doesn't matter how he did it, he scored. Sadly, at this point, we will take whatever contribution we can get from the captain. He even jumped into a tussle along the boards at one point, showing he cares (more than we can say for two, three months of this season).

*Prucha stepped back into the lineup and played pretty well. He played a Prucha game - a million miles an hour at the puck, damn the consequences. It was good to see he rebounded from the injury. And the same goes for Paul Mara, who didn't look tentative or lost despite wearing a cage.

*Dubi and Callahan both played physical games and stayed involved. I thought Dawsie was a little lost out there but all in all the kids did well.

*The penalty kill went 3-3, holding the second-best power play team in the league at bay.

*Sjostrom continued to do well with the little ice time he had - 6:26 (three minutes more than the underutilized Hollweg). He has clearly earned himself more minutes and it would be nice to see them come on special teams as he won't fit on the second or third lines the way they are configured. We know he can accelerate and score shorthanded, and his willingness to get involved could translate into success if he gets planted in the paint on the power play.

*And onto the evening's stars:
PHW Three Stars
3-Danny Briere - one goal.
2-Martin Biron - 31 saves.
1-Mike Richards - game winning goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Dan Girardi - he played his best game in a while. He was solid in the Rangers end and came through when Tyutin took a few ill-advised liberties.
2-Biron - I am really not sure how the Rangers got that many shots without having many legitimate scoring chances, but Biron stopped all but one so kudos to him.
1-Vinny Prospal - he was a constant offensive threat and got an assist on Briere's goal. He also won a remarkable seven of the 10 faceoffs he took ...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Scouting The Enemy

Ok, now I detailed my surroundings, let me get on to the game itself, the Isles 4-1 win over Pittsburgh. I shot all of the pictures in this post from the blog box, sorry about the quality. I also am apologizing ahead of time about the scatterbrained ramblings forthwith, some were typed during the game, others hours later but it is mostly in chronological order from the time the thoughts popped into my head. Scary ...

*How in the world does Billy Joel have a banner in the rafters both here and in the Garden?? Actually it makes more sense here, but that just isn't right. He is no Pat LaFontaine ... or even Pat Flatley for that matter. The guy doesn't play defense, he plays a piano.

*I've said it before that Richard Park is the one Islander who I can honestly appreciate and he came through for on this evening, scoring a shorthanded goal to open the scoring. The very smart and soon-to-be-tremendous-pain-in-the-ass for the Rangers Kyle Okposo set it up with a smart pass off of the boards.

*The Isles are trying to cash in on Okposo by selling player tees. This is a rookie who just made it up to the team. The odds of him keeping the number for next season are slim to none, but if people are willing to pay ... I guess they will just buy a new one then .... hmmm, maybe that is the whole point ... interesting - seems like something the money-loving Rangers would do, not that of a team desperate for fans. Although I must say that there was a good crowd for a Monday night, the day after the Isles were eliminated from the playoffs.

*Okposo clearly has skills, but some of the Islander fans were already handing him the keys to the franchise, hailing him as the second coming of Mike Bossy. Relax people, I know that there hasn't been a hot shot forward prospect like him in a while but he is just a kid who has done nothing except drop out of school, bad mouthing one of the more respected NCAA coaches along the way.

*One thing I will say, the house announcer needs work, as "Ryan Sykora" scored the first goal for the Pens. Petr, actually, made one of his classic quick wristers to find the upper corner to tie the game at one.

*Isles defenseman Matthew Spiller may prove to be someone to watch, and not in the usual car wreck kind of way. Spiller, 6'5 233, stood his ground when challenged by Georges Laraque and has the potential to be a Chara-clone. Right now it is only potential, but we shall see. In terms of the Rangers, he could prove problematic if he starts taking liberties with Shanny or Dawsie.

*While it is difficult to judge the Pens power play with Cindy sitting out, the Isles shouldn't be much of a problem for the Rangers killers. For some reason they have Miro Satan at the point and keep Bill Guerin on the half boards as triggerman. I could see it working with the veterans' positions reversed, as Guerin has lost something off his wrister, but Satan's shot is still lethal. Of course I said that well before he made a pinpoint shot off the bar to give the Isles a 2-1 second period lead.

*The Penguins defense is immensely beatable. They have Kris Letang paired with Hal Gill in the hopes that the little Letang's speed will prove to be a good match for the lumbering Gill. It also gives you a strong side and a weak side to exploit off of the rush.

*I finally caught a shirt that was shot into the crowd during the first intermission, but as it is the Isles, and I am a good person (contrary to popular belief), I handed it to a kid in the row behind me.

*The Isles publicized their new two year loyalty season ticket plan that I have to say looks phenomenal. You get the first year's cost at a discount and the price remains the same for the second year. They also give free VIP parking. After seeing my tickets go up by several hundred dollars last year and dreading the increase for the year to come, this is really an appealing thing. Too bad the Rangers would never, ever, ever put together a deal like that.

*It took until the second period for the first "If you know the Rangers suck, clap your hands" chant to come out. I am admittedly a little disappointed in that. Maybe I have just gotten used to the incessant 'Potvin Sucks' chants at the Garden. Although they play the "Hey" song after each goal and yell "You Suck" throughout so they still get the word in plenty.

*Jordan Staal is a shadow of the player he was last season. He is tentative with the puck, unsteady at the faceoff dot and doen't use his reach to break up plays the way he did last year. I hope our Staal doesn't have as painful a sophomore slump next season.

*Meanwhile, Sykora took a boarderline penalty and the Islanders capitalized on the power play. Sean Bergenheim knocked in the puck from the doorstep. Bergenheim, a NHL sophomore himself, is one of the few kids on the team who actually looks like an NHL player. Several of them clearly are a ways away if at all - Blake Comeau, Jeff Tambellini, Jeremy Colliton and Steve Regier are all Sound Tigers auditioning for a job. They make a lot of mistakes but could end up being very dangerous against us: they are all trying to avoid returning to the bus league in the fall and doing well against the Rangers is huge in this barn but I wouldn't bet on it. The one kid who will likely stick for them is defenseman Aaron Johnson, who put in a really steady, solid game.

*I mentioned it to a few people at the Garden last week but I will say it again here: Pittsburgh's Tyler Kennedy is definitely a player to watch. The kid hits, has deceptive quickness, goes to the net hard and isn't afraid to shoot. Kennedy may be a fantasy stud in the futures; I picked Phoenix's Danny Carcillo coming into this season and he has worked out ...

*It is impressive that the Pens can put Marian Hossa out on the ice regularly but without Cindy he isn't the threat he was before leaving the pressure-less confines of Atlanta. Hossa and everyone else in white appeared to just be sitting and watching Malkin, waiting for him to do something. If I was a Pittsburgh fan, I would be pretty damn upset that they dealt Colby Armstrong for him. Army's passion was tangible and translated into energetic shifts that pressed the action.

*Trent Hunter, who has been around seemingly forever, scored the Isles fourth goal of the game. Hunter is a really decent lunchpail guy who plays with heart and zero skill. Ty Conklin has been abominable of late and this game was no exception. So Hunter's hard work gets rewarded and the Penguins waddle out of Uniondale with the loss.

So what's the final verdict? The Rangers have scary good talent and should be able to beat any team in the league but, given the current state of the team, they will have some problems with the Isles. Crosby's imminent return will either turn the Pens upside down or provide the spark that will fire them into the playoffs. Either way, the team does have major flaws that a smart, energetic Ranger team can exploit. As for the Isles, even without DP, they will be tough to take on - every team with nothing to lose is - so its best that we beat the Flyers and Devils this week to settle into a playoff spot before we play that home and home in April.

A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing

So I am splitting my Monday night experience at the Islanders-Pens game into two posts - the first being this one, on the Islanders Blog Box itself.

As I mentioned, the Islanders were gracious enough to give me a credential and allow me entry into the building, as well as a spot in the box. I managed to not wear a single item of clothing with the Rangers logo on it (quite the task, let me tell you) and I covered up the Rangers stickers on my laptop. I also replaced my usual wallpaper (which I shot myself on opening night) with this (where you couldn't see the bottom line thanks to the Macbook's dock.

I have to say that it is really a wonderful idea with pretty good positioning -- it is on the penalty box side of the ice in the Islanders end so you get a nice view of the ice and the benches. However, the way they shoehorned it into the space behind the lower bowl causes it to have some problems. It is only on a foot-high dais so if there is someone in the row directly in front of you, their head blocks a solid portion of the ice. It would pay to be higher, but at the same time a female blogger - Dee from Seventh Woman - had a bit of trouble to climb up so steps would be nice. I found it best to stand, which is fine with me as I usually stand for much of the Ranger games in the last row of the 300s. But still, when people in the row in front of you stand, you can't see a thing.

Speaking of the female blogger - there were nine seats but just three other writers sitting there. I am not trying to make a joke here, but the Islanders can't give away free seats? Could you imagine the line of writers who would be at the Garden? There was another blogger there who sat in his season ticket seat (Mike from Isles Blogger), but that brings up the point that teams don't really need to give free spots away to passionate fans/bloggers - we go anyway. If the Rangers gave me a free seat to blog, they could lose the $2,200 I pay for my season ticket ... and why would they do that?

But in the case of the Islanders (and the Capitals and other teams with attendance/marketing/coverage problems) I really do think that it is a great way to get more eyes on their team. The writers there are passionate and care about their team - a far cry from the bored beat writers who may or may not show up to every game. It is also a little weird to hear cheering from other writers. After covering sporting events in the past as MSM, I had been used to a quiet (bitter, annoyed) press row but this was a great change.

And after the game we were allowed to go down to the locker room to participate in some interviews - Ted Nolan, Dubi and Sean Bergenheim all spoke. This again brings up a debate on bloggers: are we fans who act like media, or are we fans who act like fans? Basically, do you play it straight or do you ask the burning questions? I played it straight, asking a legit question to Dubi about how he prepares for the games behind all of these kids (no change, just hope they don't relent in the third period). But as a fan, I would have asked what was wrong with his stick as he lost it three times during play (and no teammates gave him theirs - for shame).

But for all of the nitpicking, and for all of the debates that it brings up, the Blog Box really is a great thing, not only for the Islanders but for the sport as well in that it brings the fans even closer to the action. I am very thankful to the Islanders, in particular VP of Media Relations Chris Botta and VP of Communications Josh Bernstein, for the opportunity.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Goin' Behind Enemy Lines

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I am the baddest mother ----er in the valley.

So folks, as you could guess from the title, Scotty Hockey will be heading to the Nassau Coliseum tonight.

I've asked for and received a spot in the much publicized Islanders Blog Box for this evening's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

My mission? Twofold: see just what this mysterious blog box is and do some forward scouting as the Rangers will face off against the Isles twice and the Pens one more time as we 'race' for the playoffs.

My tools? My laptop, my camera and my tape recorder.

My spirits? High, I like hockey.

And though I am sure I will hear a few 'Rangers Suck' chants, I can assure you dear readers that I will maintain my professional exterior and not go ballistic, for those yelling can't help it, they are merely the misguided or insane. I ask that you suspend your disbelief and shock as I may even find some complimentary things to say about our most vile enemies. That is not me being brainwashed, nay, it is an attempt at objective, even-handed journalism.

Wish me luck.

Friday, March 21, 2008

39-26-10: Puttin' Up A Point In Pennsylvania

When the Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday I was cautiously optimistic and pleased to earn the points. Tonight, after rallying from behind twice to force overtime (and a shootout, which we lost) to Philadelphia, I have pretty much the same reaction. The resiliency to bounce back is very reassuring and getting a point at all after losing the team's top scorer early in the game is a nice bonus. But at the same time, the Flyers aren't a very good team right now and we lost to them - the same Flyers who lost the Pens Sunday 7-1 and needed a desperation last-second save to hold off the woeful Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday. Tonight should have been a two point game but at least the Rangers got one on the road so let's learn and move on - there are two big games at home next week to concentrate on. But before then:

*If there ever was a bell-ringing to signal Jaromir Jagr to wake up, seeing Scott Gomez slam shoulder first into the boards in the first period was it. Jagr did seem to skate a bit more in the second period, but to no avail. He tried to skate through everyone once, only to lose the puck just over the Philly blue line. He did finally score, thanks to a diving Jason Smith so maybe it can be the spark that ignites a scoring spree. But I don't think so, especially after thinking the same when he scored in Buffalo five games ago. The once-stellar offensive stud has lost his scoring touch and, thus far, it hasn't cost the team but that won't last, especially if Gomez is out for a length of time. The way he went off looked an awful like a busted collarbone or separated shoulder but he looked ok in postgame interviews so who knows? They are saying it isn't broken ribs, thank goodness ...

*It really is amazing how one penalty begets another and another and another. Luckily the penalty kill was able to survive the absence of Bettsy and weathered the Philly attack in the second period, including a 5-on-3. Of course, the power play went 0-3, but we won't discuss that. We will just focus on the six kills ...

*And, as they say, the best penalty killer is the goaltender and Valley was quite good, even though he gave up three goals in regulation. His lanky frame allows him to kick out those big pads and stop shots throughout the game. HOWEVER, it would not have been out of the question for Renney to pull him for the shootout and put Hank in. I remember at least one occasion when a coach did that, and this would have been a justifiable case. I don't know if I would have done it myself, but I certainly would have given it consideration considering how hot Hank has been in shootouts of late. Valley opened himself up in the shootout and gave the Flyers shooters a lot of room to shoot at, winning them the game.

*Everyone laughed at Brian Burke when he pitched the idea that overtime penalties should be a minute long but it really does seem like the power play lasts for an eternity. Staal went in and luckily the PK came through yet again.

*As they mentioned on the broadcast, Hartford played Philly at the Scrotum. It was a perfect chance for MSG to pay a few extra hundred bucks to get rights to air live peeks at the game, or even highlights. And if it wasn't being broadcast at all, then they should have paid for a cameraman to go over there, shoot a period and run the tape back so they could air something. One of the big catchwords in broadcasting is 360 coverage. That means coverage of a topic from all angles. Shooting the Rangers minor league team while they are in spitting distance is part of that and it would serve them well, to serve us fans well.

*The respect that I held for Girardi has been eroding for a little while as he succumbs to the grind of a long season. He played poorly for much of the game and it cost them on the second goal when he was too far behind the play and tried for a weak stick check and had the puck bang off of it into the net. Granted, his check from behind on Scott Hartnell probably saved a goal (as the puck hit the post) but he needs to step his game up and be as rock solid as he was early in the season. Girardi and Toots have been the defensive stalwarts on the team and we are about to head into the playoffs so they have to be at the top of their game.

*As for the other defensemen ... Malik nearly scored on Valley early in the third period and then actually scored a goal on a nice wrister to put the Rangers on the board. Much like with Backman, who tallied three assists, Malik contributed offensively while remaining piss poor in his own zone. The idiot let Briere walk into the zone, then lost positioning as babyface banged in the rebound from Hartnell's shot for the Flyers third goal. How a 6'6 man gets beaten physically by a guy whose body is permanently stuck in puberty is beyond me. And Backman's offensive contributions were needed and appreciated, but his play wasn't nearly as wonderful as Micheletti made it out to be.

*Credit goes to Tom Renney, who smartly used his time out for the second time in three games. On this night, he used it to set up the Rangers overtime power play (of which nothing came, but that isn't the point). I said it earlier this season, if you have it, use it.

*After ranting on about reputation and how it could cost the Rangers, Renney helped head that off by keeping Hollweg and Orr on a short leash, giving each four minutes or so of ice time. I think Holly should have gotten more of a look, but Renney was too nervous to give it.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Jeff Carter - the shootout goal to seal the win (not even the game-winner).
2-Backman - three assists.
1-Briere - two goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Dubi - the kid battled down low, was physical and drew defenders to him, giving more room to his linemates for them to take advantage of. He also blocked three shots to show off his ability to be defensively responsible.
2-Vinny Prospal - a pair of assists and a constant threat on offense that the Rangers had to battle.
1-Briere - he finally used his quickness to get to good spots and force the action. Unfortunately the Blueshirts blueliners let him do it and it got Philly two goals.

Penalizing Based On Prestige

The great band Thin Lizzy released a classic song called "Bad Reputation" back in the '70s that is quite relevant to the current situation in the NHL - the lyrics are below, and music video here.

You got a bad reputation
That's the word out on the town
It gives a certain fascination
But it can only bring you down

You better turn yourself around
Turn yourself around
Turn it upside down
Turn yourself around

You had bad breaks well that's tough luck
You play too hard too much rough stuff
You're too sly so cold
That bad reputation has made you old

Turn yourself around
Turn yourself around
Turn it upside down
Turn yourself around

Penalizing players based on their reputation is a topic that recently was debated when Chris Pronger was awarded a paltry eight game suspension compared to Chris Simon's 30, as they both committed the heinous sin of stomping. To be honest, I didn't address it as there is no way justice would be served - Pronger deserved to be thrown out of the playoffs for elbowing but got one game because he is Chris Pronger, EA Sports coverboy and a Hart and Norris Trophy winner. And as for Simon, well I felt he should have been banned from hockey for being a barbarian.

So why bring it up?

Because tonight the Rangers are facing the Flyers and Ryan Hollweg will make his return to the lineup. Hollweg, who was on Gary Bettman's hit-to-hurt list along with Jordin Tootoo and Derek Boogaard, was getting penalized pretty much whether or not he actually did something wrong. Earlier this season he was elbowed by Alex Kovalev and the refs did nothing, setting up his outrageous hit on Sergei Kostitsyn. So what happens? Hollweg gets physically hurt and his reputation gets hurt yet again. Meanwhile, it was his reputation that averted the refs eyes in the first place.

Holly isn't the only one - Dan Carcillo, the NHL's penalty minute leader, is in the same situation, except the refs have a no tolerance policy - as in, they can't tolerate him so the second he does anything, he gets slapped with a 10 minute misconduct in addition to the initial penalty. He has eight 10 minute misconducts and four game misconducts in 50 games. The officiating has done well to slow the development of what could be a solid NHLer (he has eight goals and nine assists to go with his 299 pims). He isn't the only one; the Flyers Steve Downie has slowly gotten more and more irrelevant as he learned the officials were out to get him (and with some cause, as he did this and this).

But what about Colton Orr? He carries around the goon label (and rightly so) but got the same penalty as Andrew Peters when Peters hit him from the bench. Orr stood up for himself when Peters reached out from the bench and instigated with a punch amd they both got 10 minute misconducts. That is just inconceivable!

There is a distinct difference between inconsistent officiating, and incompetent officiating. The former has been prevalent since we got out of the lockout, and the latter seems to be sticking its ugly head out more and more in recent months. Now I do not think this is purely the fault of the NHL's on-ice officials, it goes up the administration through director of officiating Stephen Walkom and even Colin Campbell to none other than your friend and mine, Gary Bettman.

In his role as owners' pet, Bettman has come out and publicly admonished excessive violence in the league. While he gives lip service to allowing fighting, its clear that he will eventually call for its banishment. Rather than come out and make the bold move of eliminating fisticuffs outright, he works behind the curtain. He sets the ball rolling to smash 'smaller' players like Hollweg, Carcillo and Orr while steering it clear of guys like Pronger. Pronger is marketable, so he is allowed to do whatever he wants. Hell, Cindy Crosby hooks and harasses players constantly, but since he is the poster boy, he has been given all of 37 pim in 49 games.

Bettman plays the part of Animal Farm's Napoleon and he maintains the same dictum that "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." George Orwell's book was an allegory of Soviet communism and the NHL's commissioner acts the underhanded pig. Unfortunately, just like the Soviets, his communist commune will fall but hopefully it won't take the entire sport down with him when it does.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

39-26-9: Maaaaaaarrrrty

A warning at the start: I didn't get to watch the game live or go to Newark so I may have missed some of the fun minutia catching Rangers in 60 - feel free to fill me in in the comments below. My observations are pretty much chronological as I don't have a lotta time tonight; my sincerest apologies. So let's get going:

*Sean got the Rangers into the game by grappling with David Clarkson. I don't know about you but I cringed. Why should our sparkplug take on a second-class citizen as Clarkson? I know the history, but still, he really isn't worth it.

*The first Devils goal really, really bothered me. The Rangers stretched themselves out and lost their coverage, with Dan Girardi probably the biggest culprit by ranging out from the slot, allowing Dainius Zubrus to slide in and score.

*Kudos to Scott Gomez for a pretty solid game. I loved watching him get booed for almost a solid minute as he skated around the ice with the puck killing a penalty. It was beautiful, beautiful!

*I have to tell you that it is annoying to try to avoid watching the bottom line with scores going across. They really shouldn't do that as folks like me are watching because we didn't get to see it. Catching the score takes away from the fun of it.

*You could hear the Newark crowd doing the classic whistle with their "Rangers Suck" in place of the traditional "Potvin Sucks". Why do they insist on making it a rivalry? Don't they know they don't count? They are barely a real franchise ... they win Cups and celebrate by driving around a parking lot. They helped kill the game with boring hockey and their fans barely show up to games. If it wasn't for Maaaaaaaarrrrrrrty, no one would care about them at all.

*Whoever did the cut for Rangers in 60 should be shot. I know its a quick turnaround and all, but what a disjointed edit job. There were few replays and cuts in the middle of play.

*Yet another game Colton Orr played, yet another game I found his presence pointless. Its really nice to think of Hollweg and Prucha wasting away, especially Pru as he did a ton of rehab for his shoulder so he certainly needs to get some game action in before the playoffs.

*And what a great bonus it is for us to have Chris Drury on our roster for those playoffs (if we make it, I won't presume that we are assured of a spot yet. Dru got a great goal to tie the game with five minutes left after Ryan Callahan's deft work captivated two Devils and left Dru alone at the far post to bang in the equalizer.

*Was Dancin' Larry there??? With less than a minute left the Devils game crew played his song during the Rangers time out ... How awesome would that be to see him dance in their building? That would be an incredible slap in the face.

*I didn't see Backman or Malik make any egregious mistakes. Backman looked useless on the power play, but as I said, it was hard to tell watching the edited game. Somehow Backman got 25:46 of ice time, a Rangers high. Insanity.

*And on that note - Rangers power play was 0-4. Another game, another donut with the man down. hey, remember that Jagr guy? He used to be good on the power play. What ever happened to him?

*Damn Rangers in 60 cut from Drury's goal to the last minute so I can't tell if they actually tried to win the game or were skating for the point. It looked like they went for it, which would be a nice change from the norm.

*And we are in a shootout, nice. Shanny went for what has been his fallback move of a wrist shot and waited too long so Maaaaaaaarrrrrty was able to make the stop. Luckily Maaaaaaaaaarrrrrty fell for Dawesie's silly little fake so we got a goal. Cally was too fast for his own good and Hank did his job, standing tall against the midgets the Devils threw at him to seal the win. What a beautiful thing. We just might be able to pull this off?!?!? Still a lot of important games left.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Chris Drury - one goal.
2-Dainius Zubrus - one goal.
1-Maaaaaaaarrrrrrrrty - 20 saves in a loss. That's just screwed up.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - 17 saves in the game and three in the skills competition to get the win.
2-Callahan/Dawes/Dubinsky - Only Dawes scored, and that was in the shootout, but all three were flying and pressing the action.
1-Drury - the Little Leaguer, Captain America, Captain Clutch ... whatever you want to call him, Dru is the man when it comes down to the wire and his performance of late justifies his contract.

38-26-9: Rangers Club Penguins

Hey, at the end of the day the scoreboard said 5-2. It didn't mention that Cindy Crosby didn't play. It didn't mention that the Rangers gave up two awful goals to lose a 2-0 lead. It didn't mention how disjointed Pittsburgh played. It didn't show how Gina Malkin wasn't the same player who dominated Philly on Sunday. It said the Rangers won, and that's good enough for me at this point. The Rangers took advantage of the scrambling Pens to solve the Conk-blocker for five goals to come out with two points. Some notes from the game:

*“Re-sign Avery! Re-sign Avery!” Need I say more than that chant that resounded through the Garden after his second goal?

*You know, Tom Renney's loyalty/stubbornness really could end up hurting this team. The only change in the lineup was to put Malik back in, resulting in Strudwick and his mustache being scratched. But where is Ryan Hollweg and Petr Prucha? These guys need to get a game or two in soon just in case something happens during the playoff run. Everyone remembers '94s Black Aces fondly because they were able to step in when needed because they had gotten plenty of action during the regular season. Just like I saw no reason that either Hollweg or Prucha shouldn't have played over the weekend, there was no reason they couldn't play tonight.

*On the same topic - why did Colton Orr play? Georges Laraque didn't. Orr didn't intimidate, he didn't stand up for his teammates with Hal Gill, Tyler Kennedy and Jarkko Ruutu deserving of a beating. Gill stood a few guys up at the blue line, Kennedy crashed Hank and Ruutu is just a filthy player.

*From what I've heard, Ruutu deserves to get a suspension. From my side of the ice I didn't see it as it happened, but apparently that rat held Sean Avery's stick from the bench. Just as Andrew Peters was suspended from hitting Orr from the bench, Ruutu should get a game or two. Unsportsmanlike conduct like that is unacceptable.

*The power play went 0-2. Christian Backman got a look on one of the points and didn't look that bad. At least, he didn't look as bad as he was at regular strength. And he was BAD. This guy couldn't earn a starting job on the St. Louis Blues, who are one of the poorest teams in the league. He has become a staple for us and played 21 minutes, second only to Rozy. There is something really wrong there ...

*And there is something wrong with the fact that Malik skated away from the game with a +3. He played an adequate game with his usual flaws, but somehow ended up with the best plus/minus - further proof that that stat is not a fair judge of talent. I am not saying he was especially horrid, but he certainly wasn't solid.

*Is it me or has Brandon Dubinsky turned into the player that Hugh Jessiman was supposed to be?

*Hank won the 100th game of his NHL career. As I said, I think the two goals against were on the softer side but he rebounded and made a few big saves. The time out that Renney called after the second one seemed to do our netminder the most help of anyone on the ice.

*I can't wait to see what the guys at The Pensblog have to say about this one. As I mentioned at the top, Conklin was touched for five goals, at least three of which were absolutely his fault. And I bet they sure are glad that the Pens traded a portion of their future for Hossa (the better brother - ours is still useless for Phoenix). He had an assist but was virtually nonexistent in this one.

*So was the line of Dawes, Shanny and Gomez. They should have been able to feast on the Pens but were barely there all night. Gomez had a couple of really good chances but just couldn't capitalize.

*In between the second and third period they had a peddle car race on the ice between three former Rangers - Rod Gilbert, Ron Duguay and Nick Fotiu. They gave Gilbert a chance to start ahead of the other two since he is a Hockey Hall of Famer. As a friend said, "He is a Hall of Famer, he shouldn't have to do this kind of sh--." The race was ridiculous fun, but my friend was right - Gilbert should act the role of elder statesman at this point; let the silly 70s guys go at it.

*I left him out of my three stars, but Chris Drury yet again played a really good game. Dru has been great as a penalty killer and is working the paint on the power play. Now, he is one player I don't want getting battered down low with that long term contract of his but his willingness to do anything to win is why we brought him here and why he should be the captain when Jagr goes.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Chris Drury - two assists.
2-Marty Straka - goal and an assist.
1-Avery - two goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Fredrik Sjostrom - he yet again saw less than 10 minutes of ice time and yet again played hard every second he was out there. He was rewarded with a good goal and should get the opportunity to play more. I wouldn't mind him getting some power play time with his willingness to do the dirty work.
2-Avery - he was his usual pest self and didn't let his early empty net miss to get to him. He rebounded with two good goals and raised his contract demands a few hundred thousand dollars.
1-Cally - the kid was the most involved player on the ice. He pressured the Pens, buzzed their net, hit, made room for his linemates, shot the puck and got himself a goal.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Making MSG Relevant

MSG Network used to be the biggest, best regional sports network in America. Then they lost the Yankees to YES. Then they let the staff and equipment get old and outdated. In recent years they have attempted to clean up their image and, frankly, I don't think they have done a very good job. The Rangers and Knicks broadcasts are still well done, as is Mike Quick's High School Weekly ... it's just everything else that needs work.

Why does the network insist on regurgitating shows, while not replaying games? The Rangers play Pittsburgh on Tuesday - why not air some classic games between the two teams during the day and a Rangers in 60 of their last match-up? Instead there is a four hour high school basketball game of the week - something more appropriate for a day with the Knicks. I have tons of friends who tune in to the NHL Network just to watch classic games, so let's revisit Patrick Division matchups to add historical context to the rivalries. How many people in the Garden who yell Potvin Sucks have actually seen his hit on Ulf Nilsson? Tailoring the schedule towards key events helps draw viewers in and keep them longer. But no, we'll get more prepackaged filler like Fran's The Game 365 or that mediocre retrospective that was overhyped and underproduced: The 50 Greatest Moments at Madison Square Garden.

Enough with Fran Healy! This guy is 100 years old and his all-too-friendly interviewing style rarely gets to the heart of whichever subject he is discussing. Plus it sounds like he is drunk half of the time, which is less endearing than one would think. On the same token, why in the world does Boomer Esiason talk about anything outside of football?? He has no clue!

And now for my biggest annoyance with MSG Network: They took away Sportsdesk two years back and replaced it with MSG, NY - which they just expanded to a full hour seven days a week. I do not know a single person who actually watches this show, outside of the few minutes immediately following a Rangers game. And the only reason people watch that is because their talk-backs and locker room interviews are the closest thing to a post-game show. But no one sticks with it, as the show quickly changes the subject to music and entertainment. Frankly, MSG, NY blows and making it longer doesn't make it better.

Here is how it can be better:
*First off, split it apart. Enough with this attempt to combine sports with entertainment - it doesn't work. I am a Ranger fan and could care less about some crappy band that is playing at the Beacon Theater. I am a huge fan of what Eddie Trunk has done - the guy is a heavy metal journalism icon - but when I am looking for info on the Rangers, seeing him makes me want to puke. Make one show about the Rangers and the Knicks, and another about whatever show is rolling through the WAMU Theater or Radio City.

*Get a New Yorker to anchor the sports. Jason Horowitz, Jonathan Coachman and Scott Lasky are plastic television personalities who wish they were anchoring SportsCenter. Actually having someone with a New York accent, who is authentic in demeanor, would go miles towards making people care. If the anchor cares, the audience cares - that is why hockey highlights on ESPN sound so much better when done by huge Ranger fan Linda Cohn than by John Anderson, who believes hockey is a joke.

*Rangers On Demand (the online video service on the Rangers homepage) does a great job at getting daily locker room interviews and practice video. That service is basically a kid with a camera and a lap top. Why can't a network do the same and make it into a daily show? Don't give me a 15 clip of practice and 30 second quote at the top of MSG, NY; get in-depth information - talk to the trainers, equipment guys, beat writers ... passionate fans will eat it up and it will even help draw new fans. Inside the Rangers does a decent job, but they are just a half hour that doesn't even seem to be weekly. I know costs are high in a union shop like MSG, but if you aren't willing to pay them, why bother going on-air at all? If you put money in, you get money out. Hockey Night In New York has been an interesting experiment but it could be a lot more.

*Everyone got a kick out of the piece on Strudwick, Staal and Hollweg playing Rock Band because it was fun and showed the personalities of the guys we love to watch on the ice. Why not do more things of that ilk? Let's get the Euros drinking beers while watching soccer. Let's send Sean Avery and Ron Duguay clothes shopping and clubbing. Go apartment hunting with Brandon Dubinsky and Nigel Dawes. Sit down Chris Drury and Brian Leetch as they watch BU play BC in college hockey - or take them to Yankee Stadium for a game. I believe Shanny is part-owner of a lacrosse team and used to play - cross promote the Titans while showing off the old man's dexterity. These guys have personalities, let's see them.

*Why do we rarely get to see the Hartford Wolf Pack? The Garden owns the team and their arena, at the least they should show highlights of every game. And for that matter, Canadian television airs highlights of junior games so why don't we get regular updates on the Ranger prospects?

I am sure I can think of more things but its 4 a.m. and I need to crash. All of the ideas I riffed on about the Blueshirts pretty much work for Isaih's disasterpiece of a basketball franchise. The point is that we have a network that has two main cornerstones - the Knicks and the Rangers. Its time to start accepting that and catering to it, lest it lose more viewers than it already has.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

37-26-9: Rangers Get Electrocuted

Ah, two games against two terrible teams and the Rangers skate away with exactly zero points. The 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay is something they will need to take as a learning experience: you can't underestimate opponents, especially those with nothing to lose - a lesson they should have learned already but I guess their arrogance kept them from accepting. The offense barely skated and missed chance after chance - hell, Tampa looked like they were trying to lose the game and the Blueshirts couldn't put the puck. The defense was close to the worse that it has been all year missing coverage assignments, allowing the Bolts to do whatever they wanted and taking stupid penalties. And the goaltending? Well, I had been all ready to jump all over Renney for playing Hank but he played some of his best hockey in months. He was great. Everyone else? Blech.

*That starts with the captain. All of you apologists who leap to his defense every time I say something negative about him can not deny that Jagr missed at least four prime scoring chances in the game. He got himself into prime positions and blew them. In a game where the team is lagging, the superstar needs to shine and he didn't - he was just as bad as the rest of them. And he had the nerve to tell the AP that Tampa "had nothing to lose. Skating up and down, they had more scoring chances than us.” Do you think Mark Messier would let the Rangers sleepwalk through a game like this? I don't think so.

*Remember Mike Smith? He stopped 39 shots when he beat us with Dallas earlier this year. He used his size to his advantage then as he did tonight. Unlike that evening, Smith took more liberties in this one but was lucky that the Rangers were too incompetent to take advantage of them. He made all of 20 saves in this one and nearly had an empty net goal.

*Power play goes 0-3 ... no surprise there at this point.

*I was at work for the first two periods and at a bar for the third so I didn't hear much of the game. I did get to catch Sam making the outrageous nomination of Colton Orr for the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. And, of course, that idiot monkey Micheletti agreed. There are a number of good guys that are deserving (I voted for Shanny) but Orr isn't one. He is an enforcer that doesn't discourage the other teams from going after Jagr or crashing the net. He is also -13 with two points and 18 fighting majors, at least 10 of which were meaningless tussles with other goons.

*The inadequacies of the Blueshirt blueline were numerous. Rozy was terrible, Marc Staal had one of his worse games, Girardi looked uncertain, and Backman ... well I think I am going to stop calling him Wally. The real Wally Backman was a productive baseball player before flushing his life away and this Backman has produced nothing. He is incapable of playing a tough game, incapable of playing a smart game, and unworthy of the uniform.

*Renney's stubborn attachment to the current lines has to change. I said yesterday that Prucha needed to play - something I stand by - and I have said numerous times that Sjostrom needs to get more ice time. He was one of the few Rangers who pressed the action and he saw less than eight minutes of ice time. Meanwhile Marty Straka was nearly invisible and logged more than 14.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Hank - 27 saves.
2-Jeff Halpern - one assist.
1-Mike Smith - 20 save shutout.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Mathieu Darch/Vinny Levacalier - both were constant threats on the ice that sent the Rangers back deep into their own zone. Darche was wily and quick, and Vinny was a horse.
2-Hank - he played great with little to no help all night long and kept the Rangers in a game they should have lost 7-0.
1-Dan Boyle - the guy played more than 30 minutes - he was on the ice for more than half the game. No wonder Tampa decided he was more important than pretty boy Richards. Boyle's performance really makes me hope that Bobby Sanguinetti proves to be the real thing. I hate putting unfair pressure on the kids but the hole on defense is just getting bigger and bigger.

Friday, March 14, 2008

37-25-9: Taking Things For Granted

During this recent stretch of games, if the game was tied after two periods, the Rangers would sleepwalk their way through the third period, looking to secure at least a point. It hadn't cost them until tonight, as they gave up a goal to Olli Jokinen seven minutes into the final period and that was that. You would think that the boys would play with more intensity but aside from a moment or two, really didn't. They came in thinking they were well rested and could trounce the mediocre Florida Panthers like they did last month and things didn't go according to plan. Instead of charging towards the net, they looked like they were waiting for the perfect plays and it just didn't happen as the Kittens played the game like they had nothing to lose - and it worked. The Blueshirts need to learn how to lay it on the line, and soon. Also on tonight:

*Joe Micheletti ... ugh. Need I say more?

*While Tampa Bay has found success and often draws huge crowds, Florida has been a joke. Aside from the John Vanbiesbrouck-powered Cup run in 1996, they have also been a failure. Before we start talking further expansion, how about rearranging franchises? Bettman wants to be ridiculous and force teams into non-traditional markets? Move the Panthers to Kansas City or Vegas. If he was smart, the Panthers would be a good fit for southern Ontario as there is some good, young talent there.

*Is it me or was it hilarious that the first tune the organ played was "Here we go Panthers, here we go" or better known in New York as "Beat your wife Potvin, beat your wife." Our favourite Islander is still working as a colour analyst for Florida and there was also a good number of Ranger fans in attendance, as apparent by the multiple "Potvin Sucks" whistles during the second and third periods.

*One good thing about Malik being out of the lineup - one of several - is that Renney moved Marc Staal back up with Rozy where he is back to playing smart, solid hockey. Of course, I typed that a moment before he was caught standing still as Florida opened the game's scoring, but I stand by the assessment.

*I am definitely among those advocating more ice time for Sjostrom. He presses the action, plays with speed and appears to be quite responsible in his own end. He is pretty much the antithesis of Wally Backman, who is an incompetent idiot. He took a stupid penalty, was horrible in the Rangers end, missed a prime scoring chance late and was pretty much the entire reason why the Panthers got the go-ahead goal in the third period. That Sather and Renney think he is worth a roster spot shows how little they think of the guys in Hartford. MSG showed Paul Mara back on the ice so let's hope his return is imminent so Wally can be shown the finer points of being a healthy scratch. While Joe and Sam raved about how he looked, I thought the clip they aired showed him unsteady and far from his normal smooth-skating self.

*What happened to Jay Bouwmeester? He was supposed to be a standout stud but he has really gone far below the radar in Florida. His own teammates really seem to do him no favours, leaving him alone to handle the load down low and not getting him the puck once they get in the offensive zone. He played 29 minutes of the game, but was barely noticed out there.

*The time off after Monday's game clearly did Shanny well, as he had one of his best periods in ages. He skated well, he played his Hall of Fame smart game: killing penalties, moving the puck and putting that quick-release wrister of his on net. Renney should take note and give Shanny, Jagr and Straka a game or two off once we are a little more firmly in playoff position ...

*What is it with Rostislav Olesz? This kid looks great every time we play the Panthers and yet he only has 24 points this season. When we played them last month, I mentioned to a friend that we had better watch out for David Booth, who promptly played a poor game in the 5-0 loss. He certainly showed up in this game and was a constant threat, finding seems to get in on Hank alone. Thankfully the netminder stood his ground and made some great saves to keep the kitten off the board.

*NO TRIVIA?!?!? I know some of the people who work at MSG, but I have no idea what the hell they were thinking when they decided on the ridiculous Battle of the Bands instead of trivia. To have people vote for a couple of goofy guys playing Rock Band or a bunch of dorks singing and dancing (probably while heavily intoxicated) 25 years ago is ridiculous and infuriating. And the fact that a ton of people voted just astounds me. I am sure it was a fun activity, but certainly should not have come at the cost of trivia!!

*And another thing on MSG: the intermission interview with Scott Gomez by John Giannone was awesomely uncomfortable. Either Gomez really didn't want to speak, didn't want to speak about what John was asking or just dislikes the man, but that resulted in a really entertaining exchange. Entertaining like a train wreck, but well worth watching nonetheless.

*Hank is definitely making these recent games entertaining - he is making some big saves, and is getting some help from the ironwork. I do believe that he should get a rest for tomorrow's match against Tampa Bay, but have a hunch that Renney will stick with him. Valley needs to get in a game, and if the playoff run stays as obscenely close as they are, Renney won't put him in. If not tomorrow, then he will have to play one of the back-to-back games against the Isles during the first week in April.

*I don't really see why in the world the Rangers dressed Colton Orr for this game. Was it in case the atrocious albino Wade Belak started taking liberties? That goon can't skate and barely gets any ice time. Petr Prucha should have gotten a shot at getting back into the lineup.

*After the game I usually avoid MSG, NY but caught a quick bite from Ron Duguay saying how the Rangers needed someone to work the crease. Sound familiar? It has been the same old song for months and until they plant someone there, they will be in trouble. Last year Brad Isbister did it to a small degree, and in this game Sean Avery did it a little and it resulted in Gomez's goal. Duguay pitched Colton Orr for the job, which I have to agree with. If Renney insists on dressing him, at least use him to his maximum potential. Let him take hits and provide screens.

*PHW Three Stars - clearly the folks down in Florida are homers. All three stars Panthers in a one-goal game? I don't think so.
3-Jason Cullimore - goal and an assist.
2-Brett McLean - two assists
1-Olli Jokinen - game-winning goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Avery - he disproved my notion that he can't do anything without a foil. He just annoyed everyone and went to the net hard.
2-Tomas Vokoun - 32 saves and the ability to fool the officials into thinking he had the puck under control when he didn't.
1-Cullimore - this guy has lasted 700 NHL games because he is steady on defense and tonight his hard work was rewarded with two points.