Wednesday, January 21, 2009

28-16-4: Well Wasn't That Special?

For the first time this season, both of the Rangers special teams were actually special and they accounted for all four goals as the Blueshirts beat the Mighty Ducks 4-2 tonight. Two power play goals and two shorthanded goals gave the Rangers the edge over a bigger, more motivated Anaheim team in what proved to be a heckuva game to watch.

After an initial 10 minutes of hockey where the Rangers played like they did during Sunday's heartless shutout loss at the hands of the Penguins, the home side stepped up their play and put on a show for a surprisingly good Tuesday crowd at the Garden. The power play, which has been utterly terrible for much of this season, scored two goals by doing the things that get goals - shooting the damned puck and crashing the crease. Back on the other side of the ice, with Henrik holding his positions well, the penalty kill eliminated the advantage brought by two of the best defensemen in the NHL by stepping up to the shooters and forcing turnovers. It was, frankly, beautiful.

As a friend said after the game, this team is a tease. It is remarkable how they can get everything to click at times and how they can look so utterly disinterested and awful at others. That is a topic that I have addressed before and will likely return to many times throughout this season but not on this evening. Tonight, the Rangers earned themselves a pass on my questioning of the leadership. Well, except for Tom Renney. The Clueless Coach has absolutely no idea on how to build his roster or how to develop chemistry on it. The additions of Aaron Voros and Dan Fritche both backfired and Renney's ridiculous line rotations cannot be good for the health of the team. At one point, it seemed like he didn't ice the same line once as he revolved wingers like it was going out of style. But we won so he surely won't have learned his lesson. What a doubled edge sword that is ...

*Voros and Fritsche were added as an adjustment due to Anaheim's size. Neither one made an impact, at least a positive one. Voros did try his damnedest to work the crease but didn't succeed in anything except earning a few bad penalties. And he deserved more, going after guys after whistles, trying to act tough (which he shouldn't since he fights just as poorly as Dubi). As for Fritche, the former Blue Jacket's energy went to waste as he couldn't lay any good hits and he couldn't get through traffic - with one exception as he beat out an icing call. There is no way Renney, Glen Sather, or anyone for that matter could look at this game and say that Petr Prucha and Lauri Korpikoski would have done worse than their replacements. And the negative impact on their psyche of being canned despite playing hard nosed hockey every shift of every game they skated in cannot be measured.

*Stemming from that, the Rangers won this game playing their hockey. They can't play another team's hockey. That means that they shouldn't adjust their game plan entirely to match that of an opponent - they are built to play a certain way and when they get away from that, they get into trouble. They can't play "big" like the Ducks, they can't play puck possession like the Wings, they can't get into track meets with the Caps. The Rangers need to make it hard to get into their own zone, need to get Hank the time and space to do that voodoo that he does so well, need to score off of the rush and need to make man-advantages into advantages, not opportunities for the other team to score.

*But back to the positive and tonight's man advantages. Markus Naslund opened the scoring for the Rangers by twisting in the high slot and firing a shot through traffic. It was nice to see the Swede still playing - after many nights of nothing, Naslund seems to pop up once every few games to score a goal. I remember when he was a dangerous sniper who could score on any given rush. Ah, memories. The other power play tally came with him working the crease (as Voros was benched for being an idiot) and Mexican't Scott Gomez resurfacing to chip a loose puck in from the doorstep. Gomez had earlier earned a second assist on Naslund's goal, but second assists, for the most part, shouldn't count. He spent most of the game being marginalized by the big Duck defense but, seeing as he did score a goal and (to steal a phrase) "that's what you're paid for Braiden."

*The penalty kill unit has been the one steady strength of the franchise this campaign and the boys turned the tables and scored two shorthanded goals in this one. Freddie Sjostrom made a strong play inside the blueline and took off like a bat out of hell, bursting down the wing before firing a beautiful shot upper corner, far side past Jonas Hiller. And the other shortie came courtesy of Blair Betts, who forced a turnover with the team skating 4-on-6 and got the puck into the empty net to ice the game.

*As regular readers know, Bettsy is my favourite Ranger and he showed everyone the skills that have earned my adoration in this one (even in just nine minutes of ice time). Earlier in the third period he was out there killing a penalty and broke his stick. He kept his wits about him, tightened up his spacing and went on to block a shot that deflected out of the zone. The play earned a standing ovation from a good portion of the Garden crowd and deservedly so. If the Selke Trophy truly went to the best defensive forward in the NHL, Betts would be on the short list. An argument could be made that he is the most important Ranger not named Lundqvist and he certainly should be Glen Sather's first priority to re-sign as he becomes unrestricted this offseason. Say what you want about the possibilities held by Anisimov or any of the other kids, Betts has proven his worth in the Rangers zone and in the faceoff circle and all championship teams have a guy like that.

*The mighty mustache of George Parros didn't have an impact in this game, aside from beating Wade Redden flatfooted at one point. Sadly he and Colton Orr didn't dance but there was no lack of fisticuffs as Brandon Dubinsky got the edge over Drew Miller in a MMA submission match (earning a pat on his ass from his opponent) and Ryan Callahan got tossed around like a rag doll by Travis Moen after being slewfooted by the dirty Duck (thanks Mr. X for pointing out the cause, I had missed it).

*Something I did catch was a fantastic shift where Dan Girardi and Marc Staal combined to break up two Duck rushes. Staal had been unable to complete a change and got left out on the ice with Girardi and the two were great together. They knocked the puck away and got it right out of the zone both times. For all of Renney's incessant line juggling, these two kids haven't seen the ice together and after that shift, you have to wonder why. Aside from the thought that that would put the defensively lacking Redden and Rozsival together, the gain could be entirely worth it - not only for this season but going forward. Girardi hasn't been the same since Tyutin got shipped out since he seems to be trying to do too much to cover up for Redden's multitude of inadequacies. Putting him across from the strong Staal may be just what he needs to get his game going in the right direction again.

*It was an interesting choice by the Garden staff to follow up their new movie-quote montage with Dancing Larry but it seemed to work. The decision to follow the iconic scene from Network ("I want you all to get up ...") with Adam Sandler making a stupid voice saying 'Let's go Rangers' did not work. It almost seemed like he was making fun of us. Damn that Happy Gilmore.

*Stat of the night: Chris Pronger, 28:42 of ice time. Scott Niedermayer, 29:00.

*On that note, Orrsie got less than five minutes and yet he was the only Ranger who showed up to play from the start. He got scoring chances on each of his first two chances. Let me repeat that - Colton Orr got scoring chances on each of his first two shifts. Voros, who didn't get squat, skated for 12 minutes.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Scott Gomez - one goal and one assist.
2-Henrik Lundqvist - 32 saves.
1-Blair Betts - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Nazzy - I don't see how the Professional Hockey Writers chose Gomez over Naslund. I just don't get it. As I mentioned before, Gomez's assist was a gift while his goal came courtesy of Naslund's hard work in front of the net. And Nazzy's tally came on a perfect shot ...
2-Hank - As Mr. X from the Blue Seats mentioned to me, early on it looked like the Ducks were 'storming the beach at Normandy.' Hank held his ground and gave his team a chance to wake up and get into the game.
1-Bettsy - When he was re-signed the last time, I joked to a friend, "what do you think those negotiations were like? 'Hey Blair, want a contract?' 'Sure! Thanks!'" This time it won't go nearly as easily. His worth has gone up as more teams have seen how valuable his skill set truly is. Sign him now Glen, while you still can.


Anonymous said...

Nice recap.

Anonymous said...

Nice write up.

Rob Celletti said...

Generally I agree with most of this recap. Betts was immense last night. Both Voros and Fritsche were absolute wastes of space on the ice and neither should be playing over Prucha and Korpikoski at this point. I also agree that Naslund should have gotten Third Star honors and not Gomez. Imagine Naslund played like that every night? Like you alluded to, it's nights like last night that remind you how Naslund was once a 100-point scorer in this league.

Graying Mantis said...

I cannot argue with anything you said.

I hope the Rangers come out of the break the way they started the season. I truly believe they are starting to gel (scratched and line changes notwithstanding).

The schedule gets busy during the next few weeks -- 13 games in 28 days in February.