Saturday, January 28, 2012

Photo Of The Day

Courtesy of the Whale, a certain favourite of the blog scoring last night (moments before getting 14 min in PIM and getting benched for the rest of the game):

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

31-12-4: Boring But Effective

On Tuesday night the Rangers defeated the Jets 3-0 in the last game before the All Star break.


It was a boring affair before a quiet crowd that - as someone said to me - seemed like it was watching the Rangers being blown out rather than winning. The only non-goal moment to spur any kind of reaction was the showing of the idiot kicker on a New Jersey-based NFL team on the big screen. Several times the crowd actually had to be shamed into chanting "Let's Go Rangers" by a small group of Winnipeg fans filling the silence with "Go, Jets, Go!"

But in everyone's defense, it is hard to get excited watching the grinding game that was presented to them. It was a lot like many of the other wins so far this season where the team stacks its own zone to keep the other team from scoring and hopes and prays for a mistake or a good bounce to get them a lead they can cling to. There is no killer instinct, just basic survival. Get the two points and get out. And that sucks to watch but is fine, for now. As the idiom goes (and has been repeated to me many a time), you have to first get to the playoffs before you can fight for the Cup. That being said, if the Blueshirts are cowering in front of a 10th place Winnipeg side without three of their top four offensive talents in January, what will happen in the second season against actual teams?

Late Hits:

*The Rangers have to grind because their talent is far too unreliable. Marian Gaborik has three goals in his last 13 games - quieting that talk that he would reach 50 this season. Brad Richard$ snapped a seven game goal drought with his third period goal but it was just a simple shot thanks to the stellar set up by Cally. Stepan and Arty are both snakebitten. Hagelin is experiencing the ups and downs that go with being a rookie. Dubi is ... whatever. And, frankly, the power play sucks.

*The unit went 0-4 in this one without getting a sniff of a goal. As my buddy Matt pointed out, it simply kills all momentum. It is stagnant, predictable and inept. Winnipeg's guys were at least willing to shoot the puck into traffic while the Rangers kept trying to make a perfect pass. With an opposing player in the penalty box the Blueshirts should increase their pressure and instead they let their foot off the gas. Cycling is great when you are a telepathic, redheaded Swedish twin but not for the Rangers. Each guy seems to consider his options for an extra second, allowing the defenders to get over and set up in front of him. The few one-timers are telegraphed something fierce and are easily blocked away. No one kills Ranger power plays like the Rangers.

*Despite getting massive minutes with the man advantage Del Zaster is pointless in the last 13 and has just eight assists (six of which were secondary) and zero goals this season. Richard$ has one power play goal in his last 27 and Step sees second unit time and he doesn't have a single power play goal in his last 34.

*With all of them slacking off, at least the captain came through. Cally scored by lurking around the crease and then he pulled a Datsyuk with an amazing steal and dangle to set up Richard$. That. Was. AWESOME!

*Hopefully John Mitchell's goal ensured that Erik Christensen won't be seeing the Ranger lineup for the rest of his time under contract. Mitchell has been quite the revelation, to be sure, and he cost the team just a seventh round draft pick. Interesting note: do you know who Toronto picked in the seventh round of the 2005 draft? Anton Stralman.

*Used the word 'momentum' before, which brings me to Mike F-ing Rupp. What is going through his thick skull? For the second straight game he opened the door for the opposition by accepting an invitation to dance with a fellow neanderthal soon after the Rangers scored. And, as if the first tilt wasn't enough, Rupp went after Thorburn again for another pointless bout. Yu would think a veteran would have an understanding of when to fight and when not to but I guess getting punched in the head a lot takes its toll. But some of it is on Torts, who shouldn't put him out on the ice in the first place.

*It's an empty net guys, the puck should go inside it.

*Credit to Hank for playing on an expected day off but it wasn't like he was particularly challenged on his way to the shutout. Winnipeg hit the iron once and had one, maybe two other real scoring chances but that was it. Still nice to see the clean sheet.

*Because of the Knicks, Rangers in 60 just came on (at 3am). And Micheletti, paraphrasing what Marian Gaborik explained to him about Zdeno Chara said, "Even though we are country mates he pounds me every chance he gets." Somehow I doubt Gabby said that word for word. Ya never know, but I doubt it.

*It is remarkable how glaring the errors are that Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh make but it is likely a symptom of their success the rest of the time. So many thankless minutes in the trenches but when that one bad pass is made, wow do we see it.

*Marc Staal played just 12:06 - his lowest total since his return. Wonder if it was because of the match ups or because of some regression with his head or what. Having a full week off should be really good for him.

*PHW Three Stars
3-John Mitchell - one goal.
2-Ryan Callahan - one goal and one assist.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 22 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - Easy shutout by the King against a bunch of guys who barely belong in the NHL.
2-Richard$ - B-Rich dominated on faceoffs and finally snapped out of his post-Munn funk.
1-Cally - Cap' may not be playing on Sunday but Callahan has been an All Star for us to be sure.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

30-12-4: Hey, look - a PPG!

Of all things, who would have thought that a power play would save the day for the Rangers? Certainly not I but it was indeed the case on Saturday afternoon as Marian Gaborik capitalized in overtime to defeat the Big Bad Bruins 3-2.

The way the Rangers won was just as surprising as the actual fact that they ended up victorious. The Blueshirts spent much of the afternoon crushed in their own zone while the Bruins dominated play. When they finally went on attack, it was one-and-done as the Bs quickly recovered to come back the other way - they are the reigning Stanley Cup champions for a reason. And, like the Rangers, they didn't play close to their best game. That is the remarkable part and it should make the remaining three meetings really special.

Late Hits:

*Truly hope Ryan McDonagh is alright.

*That being said, I still don't think Andrew Ference deserved a five minute major for the hit. McDonagh saw him coming, skated straight at the boards and presented his back at the on-coming Bruin. For some reason he decided to try to hit the breaks instead of cruising straight around the net and it cost him. Ference barely made contact but McD went flying. There was no intent to injure there. If anything, it should have been a two minute call but the refs saw McD on the ice and upped the punishment. Lucky for the Rangers, who needed the extra time to come though after wasting the first two minutes of the man advantage.

*Dan Girardi played more than Zdeno Chara. Let that one sink in. Dan-o was out there for 33:31 while the ginormous Slovak skated 'just' 32:19. Girardi didn't come close to murdering a few of his foes with his slap shot but still - that's crazy.

*How much had that shot hurt to send Brandon "It's Only Pain" Prust down the runway? And he returned to the game, what a warrior. And that diving call on him later on was total rubbish - one of the worst calls made on the Rangers this season.

*Speaking of the worst, Mike F-ing Rupp. How stupid do you have to be to accept an invitation to dance seconds after your team takes the lead on the road? Rupp could have skated away, and maybe even drawn a penalty to really put the Bruins on their heels. Instead he entertained Shawn Thornton and re-energized the entire Bruin team while bringing the building back into the game. He won the fight but lost the battle. Stupid.

*Ryan Callahan really is the right choice to be captain of the Rangers. Remember the debates we all had over the summer, whether it would/should go to him, Dubi, Staal or Richard$? They just seems so silly now because he has more than lived up to the letter. He gives his utter best every shift, no matter the cost on his body. That was one helluva shot to open the scoring and he was far and away the best Ranger not named Lundqvist.

*Carl Hagelin came close. The Sveedish Wolverine put in a lot of tough minutes and did not look the least bit out of place. While I still believe he should be reunited with John Mitchell, one thing is for certain: this kid will have himself one heck of a career. Bork bork bork!

*Brian Boyle really tried to play well, that was clear. It just didn't work out. In addition to his usual shortcomings Boyle was too late on his forecheck to stop the rush that resulted in the first Boston goal and he tipped the second past his own goaltender.

*Really had hoped Dubi would have been better against the Bs. He took an unfortunate penalty, was on the ice for both goals against and didn't get a single shot on goal. He has the body and aptitude to play a Boston-style game but he just didn't seem into it.

*Also lackadaisical was Richard$ - to the point where he reminded me of the other over-priced No. 19 who used to wear blue. He spent too much time out on the periphery and only got his assist on the game-winner because the rebound of his half-hearted backhand ended up on Gabby's stick. I imagine him listening to the Cure before the game, insisting that Boys Don't Cry.

*Del Zaster showed why he has no place playing big minutes against good teams. He couldn't create any offense, he couldn't handle the stronger forwards, he turned over the puck in his own end ... DZ seems to think that throwing his body across the ice is a good go-to move to break up plays while it should be nothing but a desperation move. On the first Boston goal he simply stood there while Krejci took his time and set up Ference.

*Arty should realize that with the trade deadline approaching he is rapidly becoming nothing more than trade bait. Anisimov barely saw action and for good reason - he couldn't match up in intensity or ability.

*The music played in TD Garden put the MSG selection to shame. Great songs and a well-played, beautiful old organ helped amp the intensity even further. Hearing Maxine Nightingale's "Right Back Where We Started From" - one of the signature songs from Slap Shot - played on the organ was incredible. Perfect hockey music.

*Nice to see Marc Savard again, too bad it was under the unfortunate circumstances. Liked him as a Ranger waaaay back when and will forever remember the classy tap on the pads after he was stopped by Lundqvist (I was at that game in Boston and utterly lost my mind when Hank made the grab).

*Thought Rich Peverley had a really, really good game for Boston. To think that Nashville gave up on this guy years ago is astounding.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ryan Callahan - one goal and one assist.
2-Andrew Ference - one goal and one assist and one major penalty - proof the PHW puts these stars in too early.
1-Marian Gaborik - two goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Gabby - Two lucky bounces got him the puck and two lightning-fast releases got him goals.
2-Hank - The King made a lot of point-blank saves and kept the Rangers in it despite the Bruins pressure.
1-Cally - If only the captain could get all of his teammates to play with his intensity and dedication ...

Friday, January 20, 2012

29-12-4: Hit Him!

Amid all of the celebrations over the last few months, this space warned that things would not be the same once the Blueshirts faced better competition. On Thursday night the Rangers faced a higher level of opponent and were found lacking. The Crosby-less Penguins were better coached and worked harder in what would be a 4-1 victory over the Rangers. The Pens fought for pucks, won the little battles and had their star center show up as they broke the deadlock and pulled away in the third period.

As Mr. X from the Blue Seats astutely observed, Pittsburgh imposed their will right at the opening faceoff of that final frame and they did not relent. John Tortorella did not change his tactics and did not find any combination of forwards to spark his team. Pretty sure he didn't even bother to use his timeout at all either, even though Bylsma's boys scored twice in less than five minutes.

Just looked at that opening line again and it reads like a big fat 'told you so,' which was honestly not the intention. But even first place teams have flaws and - especially after those teams rise to the top - the other sides will work harder to exploit those flaws. The Rangers always had to take on the MSG factor, where visitors would want to impress on the best NHL stage in America. Now that the hype machine has gotten going and the owner shot off his big, ignorant mouth rivals will take things to an even higher notch. The Blueshirts have to respond in kind. Hopefully this loss will work as a gut check and the Rangers will reply with their best game of the season in Boston on Saturday. They certainly will need to.

Late Hits:

*The Rangers had two recorded hits on Geno Malkin, and both were in the first period. Two. They made contact with the top player on the opposing team twice. They had 38 hits in all and, for comparison's sake, they hit Deryk Engelland five times. Malkin was given free reign to run around the Ranger end and it ultimately cost them. Crosby at least had to work to escape his coverage, his Russian companion was able to cruise his way to two goals (and he likely would have had the hat had anyone but Lundqvist been in the Ranger net). Malkin was given way too much room to work - I believe it was the second period where he literally skated around the entire Ranger zone without being touched. Unacceptable.

*Bet Hank wants that Richard Park goal back. Park has played 38 games against the Rangers in his career, the most against any team he faced in the NHL. Park also has 18 points in those games, the most against any team in the NHL. Former Islander. Ugh.

*Even with the loss Hank is the best goaltender in the NHL, or at least top three. So why does Torts insist that all five of his skaters collapse in the face of the opposition attack? Couldn't count the number of times the Rangers gave up the blue line and then had five skaters below the top of the circles and between the dots. Hank doesn't suck and he doesn't need his sight line filled with skaters standing around watching the opposition work.

*BTW - Major kudos to Lundqvist for hosting a Q & A with people who bought Crown Collection gear. While he didn't break any real news (some twit from ESPN the Magazine "interviewed" him with the same softball questions we've often heard in the past), he faced the small crowd with a thankful smile despite the loss.

*I'm not a girl and I'm not into the other fellows so I can't judge Brad Richard$ looks but surely his bank account is enough to attract Olivia Munn's replacement. Where the star center of the Penguins stepped his game up, the Rangers' version played like he would rather be somewhere else. While Richard$ absolutely dominated on draws, he was found lacking in all of the other aspects of his game and is now pointless in his last six (over which time he made $731,707.32 - more than what Mitchell, Woywitka and Bickel will make the entire season).

*Marian Gaborik at least made an incredible pass to Carl Hagelin for the lone Ranger goal and he managed to get six shots through to Fleury despite tough checking by the Pens. Not sure Step and Hagelin are the right linemates for him in the long run but it worked in this one.

*Hagelin, called out for going dry in the Nashville postgame blog, snapped his eight game goal drought. Bork, bork, bork!

*While I'm no fan of Mike F-ing Rupp, Tortorella should have let him play more, and in better spots. His size would have been useful to keep the Pens in check but instead we got to see Willie Huber Brian Boyle get beat all over the ice. Rangers are down 3-1 so Torts puts Boyle on the ice - he of one goal in 25 games. And he rewarded the coach's dubious decision by losing the draw, missing a hit on Letang, blocking his own teammate's shot and standing atop the crease, watching the play around him. He seems to be trying hard but whatever magic that he had in the first half of last season is gone. And he has two more seasons left on his deal after this one ...

*In ripping on Del Zaster in the past (which I will do again momentarily), I pointed out the difference between hitting to make contact and hitting to win the puck. Through much of this game the Rangers were sadly just trying to get body on body, and not particularly violently. Brandon Prust's first period hit was one of the few that made the boards rattle and got the crowd going.

*Ah, Del Zaster. The kid just doesn't have a clue how to play in his own end. That flailing fall on Malkin's first goal would have been embarrassing had it not been so entertaining. He just has no idea. And for all of those who went on about how wonderful he was because of his big +/- number, he is -5 over his last five games - getting negative numbers in each of the Ranger losses.

*At least Stuuuuuuuuuu won his fight. Bickel beat up on Eric Tangradi in a battle of two guys bound for the AHL once their NHL teams get healthy. Guess they just were trying to do something, anything to try to sway their GMs' impending decisions.

*Paul Martin is awfully tough while wearing that Cobra Commander faceshield, eh?

*PHW Three Stars
3-Kris Letang - one assist.
2-Marc-Andre Fleury - 30 saves.
1-Evgeni Malkin - two goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Letang - Why does everyone have to return from injury just in time to face the Rangers?
2-Chris Kunitz - Kunitz played the gritty, effective kind of game we'd have hoped came from Cally.
1-Malkin - The slew-footing, fight-starting, hit-dodging superstar came though without Crosby yet again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

29-11-4: Saw This Story Before

It is nice to see other teams have the same trouble with playing a full 60 the way the Rangers do. For the second straight game Nashville played for just one period but this time the result did not go in their favour. The Preds scored three goals in the first period against the Isles Monday and cruised to a 3-1 win. Well, Tuesday they faced a real franchise and found Henrik Lundqvist more than up to the challenge in the first period. Hank held tough and Preds retracted their claws the rest of the way, gifting the Rangers a 3-0 win.

The Blueshirts seem to be in a little cycle - they played terribly against Ottawa and bounced back against a tired and largely uninterested Toronto team. Then they played terrible against Montreal and bounced back against a tired and largely uninterested Nashville team. Where the Rangers amped up their checking to wear down the Leafs early, they just let the Preds punch themselves out before going on to the win.

We just have to hope that they can break the cycle and crush the injury-ravaged Pens on Thursday.

Late Hits:

*Very interesting that the Predators decided to start Rinne against the Isles and Lindback - he of the .893 save percentage - against the Rangers. They put their starter in to get the 'guaranteed' points while playing the backup in the game with more of a dubious outcome. Plenty of teams do that - Carolina did it last year for one - and it showed that the Ranger reputation has grown.

*Most of the Ranger success this season can be attributed to Henrik Lundqvist and yet again the Rangers stood by when their goaltender got ran. Marty Erat hit the King and no one did anything other than offer some (likely) harsh words. Erat was called for goaltender interference. The Blueshirts were up 2-0 and their power play is terrible, so there shouldn't have been any fear of negating the call - which ended up happening thanks to a poor high sticking call for what actually was Predator on Predator violence. Hank got hit a few times in Montreal too, and has taken plenty of contact this season. I thought having a goon on the team was supposed to discourage that kind of thing but so far Mike Rupp has only fought to justify his fellow neanderthals' careers. (Shocked he didn't take on Brian McGrattan, who took a few spins looking for a tussle.)

*Big, big fan of Carl Hagelin - as is well known - but he extended his goal drought to eight games. He got a charity assist on Girardi's fluke goal but he hasn't been able to put the puck in. His speed is tantalizing and he has worked hard to move up the lineup but perhaps it is time to put him back with John Mitchell full time, as the two worked quite well together. In fact, it was Hagelin's forecheck that set up the play that Mitch scored on.

*That defensive play Del Zaster made in the second period? Best play he has made the entire season. Credit definitely due and given. No credit for the other 23 mediocre minutes he played though ...

*For the Swiss out there, Roman Josi was nothing special. Sorry. I watched him and rookie Ryan Ellis closely and came away unimpressed. Both have talent, but neither have tapped it yet and it is hard to say if they will be able to in Nashville's system.

*Oh, Brad Richard$. He has to realize that his ex was one of the most unfunny, uninteresting people to contribute to the Daily Show ever and get over her already. Another sub-par performance by the big-money signing.

*Brian Boyle played a motivated game but still choked when he had a chance to score. Old school Ranger fans, help me out here - is Boyle indeed the biggest waste of size since Willie Huber?

*Dubi made his return and was largely silent. But the two or three times he did get involved (that blocked Weber shot for one) the Garden crowd was quick to recognize his contribution with Duuuuuuubbbbbbbbs. Ruslan Fedotenko did not receive the same recognition.

*Saw the Garden put tweets up from people claiming there was a playoff-like atmosphere and that the place was going crazy. Um, no. Was the building dead? Far from it. Was it electric? Not even close.

*Arty and Stuuuuu were both in the doghouse and for good reason. Poor Stu made a poor play early on that gave Nashville a good scoring chance and Arty was a whole lot of nothing yet again. Guess after playing him up and down the lineup Torts decided a benching might be a better motivator. Not so sure that will work with him but we will find out soon enough.

*There was a guy in my section (329) wearing a yellow Preds jersey with Mike Fisher's #12 and the Underwood nameplate. Ridiculous. I did not get a good picture, sorry, but I did yell "Carrie, sit the hell down" at one point.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brandon Prust - Um, nothing.
2-Dan Girardi - one goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 27 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hagelin - Bork, bork, bork.
2-McDonagh - One of Mac's best performances in a month. He probably played a little too much but with Staal slowly rounding into form his minutes will go down and this experience will only help.
1-Hank - The King helped the Rangers survive the early onslaught and avoided allowing any soft goals.

Monday, January 16, 2012

28-11-4: Bleu, Blanc et Blechhh

Just what is it about Montreal? Is it an overindulgence in the various pleasures of the city? The haunting of 101 years of ghosts? The intimidation of 20,000 french fanatics? Or is it just an basic inability for the Rangers to match up?

On Sunday the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge beat the Blueshirts 4-1 in a game that simply wasn't that close. The Rangers' hearts were never in this one and the biggest laughingstock in the NHL skated away with a laugher of a victory.

The Frenchmen are not flying anymore, they have become the butt end of many a joke. How can one not at least snicker when you consider the recent rioting, the trading for Scott Gomez, the firing of Perry Pearn and the controversy over the lingua franca? Teams like Columbus induce sympathy. Teams like Montreal bring out the hilarity. The most accomplished franchise in the NHL has gloriously ruined their reputation.

And yet the Rangers still can't figure out a way to show up and play a competitive hockey game against them. Stupefying.

Late Hits:

*Peter Budaj is a terrible goaltender, a terrible goaltender with a fantastic mask. Perhaps it was a fear of Ned Flanders that kept the Rangers from testing the Habs backup? The keeper who collected calamitous numbers in Colorado faced 29 shots, few of which made him even move.

*If the Rangers thought that just because he stinks they would score, well that would be Torts' folly for not properly preparing them. Not the first time, won't be the last.

*Five of the so-called top-six forwards didn't come to play. The sixth being John Mitchell. Har har, I'm kidding. Derek Stepan keeps giving it his all and was probably the best of the Ranger bunch. Mitchell got a goal but seeing him out there with Step and Gabby was just disturbing. Torts was just grasping at straws. Rather than place faith in his players to play out of a funk, using the things the coach supposedly has taught the team, Torts just juggles lines at the first sign of distress. Hagelin worked great with Mitchell when they first came up so, of course, they haven't played together in weeks.

*Stu Bickel got screamed at on the bench after being on the ice for two goals. The kid was caught watching the play both times and it cost the team. It was moments like that where you remember Bickel was in the ECHL two seasons ago. Other players have gotten some slack but it wouldn't be far fetched to see Jeff Woywitka make a return to the lineup on Tuesday.

*Speaking about guys who have gotten a lot of slack: Arty was awful yet again and his coverage mistake gave the Canadiens their fourth goal. Eleven games, no points and few signs of hope.

*With Bickel getting the Avery treatment, McD and Girardi both played close to 30 minutes. Against the Canadiens, a soft team without a single 'star' on offense. When Boston comes to town with their four hard nosed lines of ability McD and Girardi may be ground into dust.

*A night after getting an Abuse of Officials game misconduct with the Whale Kris Newbury was up with the Rangers. So much for accountability. He appreciated the promotion so much that he played his worse hockey with the team to date and was on the ice for three of the four Habs goals. Hope he enjoys his ride back to Hartford.

*Can't complain about Typical Montreal reffing. Devorski and Hasenfrantz were the least of the Rangers' problems.

*Man do I still hate the MexiCan't. Gomez got an assist but at least the Rangers weren't the team to give up his first goal of the season.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Erik Cole - three assists.
2-David Desharnais - one goal and two assists.
1-Max Pacioretty - two goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Blunden - The kid grinded all game and ended up with goal from Gomez.
2-Cole - The former Cane usually steps up his game against the Rangers and the Blueshirt blueliners struggled to cope with him.
1-Pacioretty - Carl Hagelin's former teammate at Michigan is maturing into a real player.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

28-10-4: Blowing Away The Leafs

The New York Rangers rebounded from their 3-0 loss to Ottawa on Thursday with a 3-0 win over the other Ontario team - the Toronto Maple Leafs - on Saturday. It was nice to see them shake off the stench of the Sens failure with a victory.

They are in first in the NHL and, according to the AP, are on pace for the best season in franchise history.

That being said, they beat an over-hyped, utterly exhausted team missing their top center. To the Blueshirts credit, they hit everything that moved early and helped grind the rest of the life out of the Leafs, setting up a strong second period. There is still much work to be done, as was blatantly apparent after watching Wings/Hawks earlier in the day.

Late Hits:

*Few goals this season have been as pretty as the first tally of the night by Mike F-ing Rupp. Step, Wolski and Rupp made Cody Franson look stupid, the monkey in the middle as they passed the puck around before beating Gustavsson. What a highlight. Mike F-ing Rupp. Again. Unreal.

*Have to admit loving his work in front of the paint on the power play - doing exactly what Boyle should have been doing for the last few years.

*Called out Rupp on Twitter ahead of the Winter Classic and he scored two goals outdoors. Called out Boyle in this space after last game, and he scored against Toronto. Didn't see much change in Boyle's quality of play but his luck certainly improved - Franson perfectly screened Gustavsson, allowing his hail mary shot from the circle in. But sometimes it takes some help to get out of a slump and Boyle got it. On the other side of the coin, his hit on Kessel in the first period was one of the most awkward things I've seen in the NHL this season.

*It could have been a totally different result if Kessel's redirection hadn't hit the post late in the second period. Instead the American rang one off the iron and Boyle scored two minutes later to go up 2-0. That's the way the puck bounces I guess.

*The Ranger power play remained incompetent.

*Brad Richards remained heartbroken. At least he played like he was. He had three giveaways and he attempted five shots - one missed the net and four were blocked.

*Dan Girardi had his hands full with Kessel and skated a game-high 28:40 - six minutes more than any other Ranger. What happens when the Blueshirts play against a team with more than one line? Will he play all 60? This is getting ridiculous.

*Del Zaster was playing in his hometown but he certainly did not step up his game. He was beaten to the puck, he was caught watching the play and his hits did little to stop the opposing attack (for those demanding examples, watch him with five minutes left in the first period). All of that would be acceptable if he did something on the other end of the ice but he was largely ineffective. Again. Six games with just one assist despite 14 minutes of power play time. Fourteen. Thankfully the Rangers still won five of the six ... Credit is due to the kid for holding the blue line on the power play at the beginning of the second period - it was a really play.

*Anton Stralman had quite a good game. Bet that shocked those Leaf fans that remembered him as a Buds blueliner.

*Saw Biron get bumped more than once. With no retribution. Unacceptable.

*Paging Artem Anisimov ...

*There is surely more but Montreal is looming. Let's hope Henrik doesn't have his typical game at the Bell Centre.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brandon Prust - one assist.
2-Marty Biron - 20 saves.
1-Derek Stepan - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Cally - The captain was all over the ice.
2-Prust - One of his best games in weeks and it didn't require him to fight in the first two minutes.
1-Step - Great game by the Badger.

Friday, January 13, 2012

27-10-4: Nothing Good At The Garden

It is not that the Rangers lost to the Senators 3-0 on Thursday night, it is the manner in which they did it.

Losses are going to happen - these are not the '76-77 Canadiens. But there are ways to lose and walk away with head held high. This was not one of those ways.

The Blueshirts played largely without a pulse for much of the 60 minutes and made a mediocre goaltender look great. They have done it often over the last few years with a litany of goaltenders - Al Montoya, Joey MacDonald, Rick DiPietro, Dwayne Roloson, Scott Clemmensen, and Craig Anderson (more than once). They shot at the logo on Anderson's chest and let his defense do the rest. They also made stupid mistakes and sloppy plays and they had a DOA power play - all things that have to be fixed for this team to go anywhere.

Late Hits:

*It is games like these that give fodder to Sean Avery supporters like myself. There were no shift disturbers, there was no spark, there was little life in blue out there. Most rushes were one (-shot) and done, no one got in Anderson's grill, Spezza had time and space and no distractions.

*What is stupefying is how the Rangers didn't respond to Brandon Prust. Prust fights a guy he shouldn't have, lands a few punches, rips his hand open and returns to the game. The guy literally bled for the team tonight and what did the rest of the guys do? Not a whole helluvalot, that's what.

*His old buddy Brian Boyle is the worst Ranger right now. That includes Rupp. That includes Del Zaster. Boyle is not just a waste of space, but on this night he was a detriment to the team. All evidence of those much publicized skating lessons is gone. He can't score, he can't shoot, he can't hit, he can't win faceoffs. Somehow the Garden scorekeeper credited him with eight hits, which I'm guessing included his accidentally running into guys while not paying attention or running into guys to stop. He lost 11 of 19 faceoffs, he turned the puck over, he tries to stickhandle like he is Datsyuk or something ... Boyle is back to being the frustrating big bod that Los Angeles smartly gave up on.

*Marc Staal was more involved in this one than in any other previous games since his return. Staal had one of the Blueshirts' best chances on a rebound five and a half minutes into the first period. But his interest in the attack also cost the Rangers as he pinched while shorthanded in the third. Carl Hagelin's pass to him was intercepted and Spezza came back to score the nail-in-the-coffin third Senator goal. Staal is slowly returning to his former stature but it is a process.

*Wolski made his triumphant return to the Garden and looked like he didn't miss a moment - he was just as useless after his injury as he was before it.

*Still haven't seen the Del Zaster save as he slid through the crease. Did he do it intentionally? If so, gotta give credit where due - the fall worked there. It didn't on the two-on-one that made it a 3-0 game. Everyone gets lucky now and then. Everyone defends his defensive shortcomings with his ability on the other side of the ice but DZ played six minutes on the power play and did nothing. Erik Karlsson is awful in his own end but he is an All Star because his passing, instincts and speed are outstanding. Del Zaster doesn't come close.

*DZ didn't get a single shot off despite 20 minutes of ice time. Gabby didn't get a shot on goal either. He didn't have a single shot that was blocked. He didn't have a shot that missed the net. The Slovakian Slacker is supposed to be a sniper. I'm pretty sure snipers are supposed to be able to be invisible and to shoot with pinpoint accuracy. Gabby was just invisible.

*Brad Richards was hardly there as well, but he got dumped by Olivia Munn so we have to let him off the hook for this one. I'm sure there are other hot yet incredibly unfunny women out there for him.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Milan Michalek - one goal.
2-Jason Spezza - two goals.
1-Craig Anderson - 34 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Kyle Turris - Michalek may be an All Star and he did have that nice goal but Turris was more of a consistent threat. It appears that the deal for Rundblad and a second wasn't as lopsided as it seemed.
2-Karlsson - Talked to some of the Senators' staff yesterday and they said silky Swede has simplified his game. While biased, they were right - he doesn't do anything fancy in his own end and still has that ice sight on attack.
1-Spezza - Spezza was the game-breaking talent Brad Richards was supposed to be, but he came in with heart intact and he came to play.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

27-9-4: The King Carries On

The Rangers edged out the Coyotes on Tuesday night in the Garden, winning 2-1 in a shootout. It was remarkable: despite facing a talent-lacking team like the Desert Dogs, the Blueshirts needed to receive heroics from the King time and time again to escape utter embarrassment.

And to escape with two points? A minor miracle. The Rangers are the top team in the NHL but they are far from the best. As mentioned, the King was often relied upon to save the castle as his serfs scrambled to keep up with their less-skilled but harder-working opponents. Hank made 18 saves in regulation and three more in the shootout and most-every one was impressive. How he hasn't entered some Hart Trophy conversations is inexcusable. There has been no single player more valuable to his team in the NHL to date.

Phoenix is in the lower half of the Western Conference and likely would be in the basement if not for the stellar coaching of Dave Tippett. As Mr. X From The Blue Seats observed, the former Hartford Whaler has his team playing like he did - talent-free but forever hustling and intelligent. They grind the way he did and they are defensively responsible the way he was.

The Coyotes choked the life out of the Rangers but the Rangers still won the game. That has been the truth of this season so far: no matter how bad they are for long stretches, no matter how many mistakes they make and no matter how often they've had to rely on majestic netminding, the Rangers still managed to win the game. Remarkable.

Late Hits:

*What, no tribute video for Michal Rozsival?

*A couple of years ago this evening would have ended in regulation after Hank gave up a soft goal. Lundqvist and Benoit Allaire appear to have taken that largely out of the King's game and it is what is keeping the Rangers atop the table.

*The Rangers top two lines were all-but-invisible, negated by their hard-hatted opponents. Phoenix's defensive acumen kept the New York attack away from the many rebounds of Mike Smith and, in the process, making Smith look like Patrick Roy - quite the impressive feat. With Tampa two seasons ago he had a GAA over three and last season he had a save percentage below 90 but this season he actually looks like the player Tampa hoped they were getting when they traded away Brad Richard$.

*Was the penalty shot call in overtime the NHL's way of saying 'our bad' on the penalty shot in the Winter Classic? Gabby simply stopped playing the puck when he was 'hooked' by Adrian Aucoin (looked like a slash to me, if anything). Too bad the Slovakian Slacker took the easy way out after deking Smith on the ensuing penalty shot - had he not half-assed his wrister the game wouldn't have had to go to the shootout. At least he gained some redemption there, eh?

*Ranger fans, STOP THE POTVIN SUCKS WHISTLES!!! I mean, seriously, stop it. I know for many folks these are their first games at the Garden in years and they want to feel like they are still fans but doing the whistle and chant a dozen times in a game against the Phoenix-freaking-Coyotes is not only annoying but just plain stupid.

*Radim Vrbata has some sick hands. Wow. They were so impressive that four Rangers stopped to watch him shoot the game-tying goal.

*I would love to see Carl Hagelin race Oliver Ekman-Larsson. May have mentioned that before but, seriously, what an exhibition of speed that would be. Young Carl powered down the wing several times and OEL showed off his wheels in overtime. The defenseman took two maybe three strides and ended up ahead of all of his linemates (going offsides). They might even be faster than Mike Gartner. Gartner at 52 years old, not Gartner in his prime. No one can be that fast.

*Mike Rupp fighting Biz Nasty was totally pointless. Sam said it might have had some carry-over from the first matchup of the two teams but I don't recall any incidents in the 0.1 game needing resolution, other than the justification of Biz Nasty's presence in the NHL.

*Prust had one of his best games in weeks. The Rangers can definitely use his skill set with the schedule they have ahead.

*Stu Bickel was on for just one shift in the third period - the one the Rangers scored on. Not sure what was wrong with him or with his coach but it was interesting to see Staal back out on the ice with Girardi. Sadly he is still not yet the Staal of old but we're slowly getting there. A full return to form and a Sauer resurrection would really be something ...

*Multiple Del Zastrous moments in the first period but he blissfully became a non-factor the rest of the night.

*While Boyle was not directly screening Smith on the Feds goal, he had just crossed in front of the crease. Boyle may be snakebitten or he may just not be very good but he has to at least use that freakish size of his for something other than filling out his sweater.

*Really would have loved an all-access 24/7 to hear what Dubi was yelling at Langkow. I mean, Daymond Langkow. Really?

*Seemed like an awful lot of broken sticks for the Coyotes, right?

*Interesting: on the day where Torts says he may send Wolski and Christensen to the AHL to get some games in, John Mitchell blows his attempt in the shootout.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Mike Smith - 31 saves.
2-Derek Stepan - Shootout gwg.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 18 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Fedotenko - Even before he scored Feds was having a great game.
2-Vrbata - Did I mention he has sick hands? Because he does. Game-tying goal and an incredible shootout goal gets him a star.
1-Hank - Just give him the Hart now.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

26-9-4: The King Clubs The Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins were without their superstar on Friday night but thankfully the very best of the Blueshirts was in attendance. Henrik Lundqvist made 37 saves to shut down the Crosby-less waddlers in their own building, with only one shot slipping through his diligent guard.

As my friend Interface Eric txted, "No Crosbaby = no tilted ice. Refreshing." After all of those games in Pittsburgh where the team was automatically behind the eight ball, it was nice not to spend the game shorthanded - even if it seemed that way at times. The Rangers were outclassed at the outset and through several stretches of the second and third periods.

And yet, they won. Again.

This one took a stellar effort from the King and one of Tortorella's typical time-out tantrums. After Lovejoy danced into the slot and slid the puck through Hank's legs, Torts asked for his break and went on a rant. It tightened up the team a bit, enough that the game didn't spiral out of control and eventually they were able to tie it up and go on to take the lead. It has been a worry for a while - that the horses will tire of the whip - but it is working now so let's just hope it lasts.

Late Hits:

*Think James Neal is going to have nightmares of Henrik's glove or what?

*Hank was his Vezina self but it certainly also helped that 13 of the 18 skaters recorded blocked shots. Remarkably Prust and Boyle were two of the five that did not get credited with a single block.

*Was that Cally to Dubi shortie sexy or what?

*Many are raving about the Richards signing now but now I, at least not yet. My criteria remains a Cup within the first three seasons of his deal, nothing less. Was he dominant in the faceoff circle? Did he score the all-important game-tying goal? Yes. But a guy of his stature is supposed to have some small successes. It is the big one that I want.

*Kneeing? Really? The refs called Mike F-ing Rupp for kneeing on his collision with Jordan Staal. Let's face it, that was not kneeing. That was an exhibition of Rupp's low level of skating ability.

*Our Staal? Not yet back to being our Staal again. Marc's timing and positioning are still off, as expected. Not sure how much chemistry he has with Stuuuuuuu Bickel too but with Marc saying how Stuuuuuuuu's chatter has been helpful, the pairing will stick for the near future.

*Wasn't happy with Del Zaster - as per usual - and was largely disappointed by McD. The former Badger made a good play getting the puck on net on the Richards goal but he just doesn't seem to be the same player that he was earlier this season. Perhaps Marc's continuing improvement and growing minutes will help McD return to form.

*Step and Arty both had their best games in the last little while. Step struck for his second goal in his last 12 games, getting the gimme goal after Gabby hit the post on Fleury's fan. Arty extended an eight game goal drought but he was still involved and even hit the iron once.

*John Mitchell has quietly been quite the solid citizen. I thought acquiring him was a good deal when it happened but for Hartford's sake, certainly not Broadway's. That being said, saddling him with Prust and Rupp limits his potential impact - we saw how good he could be when he first came up, skating alongside Young Carl.

*Wow the Penguins broadcasters are awful - it was like two Micheletti's in the booth at once. Just awful.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ben Lovejoy - one goal.
2-Brandon Dubinsky - one goal and one assist.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 37 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Dubi - He is definitely rounding into form, showing that hard work and determination pays off.
2-Richards - You need to win faceoffs to control the game and he won 18 of 23. He got lucky that McD's shot ricocheted off of Dubi over to him but he was in the right spot at the right time - and it was on a play that he started with a successful draw.
1-Henke - Sabres netminder Jhonas Enroth tweeted it during the Winter Classic - "#givehimthevezinaallready!!!"

Friday, January 6, 2012

25-9-4: Finishing Up With Florida

The old adage is that it "isn't how you start but how you finish." On Thursday night it held true as the Rangers survived yet another lackluster opening to come back and beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 in overtime.

It was quite nice to collect the team's eighth win in the last nine games but "isn't how you start but how you finish." It was the fourth and final match against Florida, and the Rangers third win. The Blueshirts still have five games against the Penguins, four against the Bruins and two against the Blackhawks left in their schedule and you'd better believe that those teams are on a different level than the piecemeal Panthers. They aren't going to relinquish their leads like the kitty cats did on this day. (Yes, I know Chicago blew two one-goal advantages against Philadelphia tonight but it was Ray Emery returning to Philly, he is 6-1 career vs. the Rangers.)

If the Blueshirts can combine their resolve to never say die with a good jump at the outset, then perhaps in June we won't be reminiscing about the team's good start but celebrating it's Stanley Cup finish.

Just a few Late Hits as the team plays the Pens in a few hours:

*Anyone else get reeeeaal nervous when Carl Hagelin went down? The kid looked like cracked a collar bone or something. And yet he bounced right back. Swedish engineering, bork bork bork.

*Arty did not put together a particularly good game. It was his sixth straight pointless performance and he was all over the ice. A bad stick-check set Florida off on the two-on-one break that resulted in the game-opening goal and things did not get much better.

*Actually liked Mike F-ing Rupp standing atop the crease on the power play. That being said, after scoring the two in Philly, he blew a gimme of a goal in the first. It would have been interesting to see how he fared against Barch.

*Happy to see Anton Stralman collect his first goal as a Ranger but he gave it back by letting Santorelli step right past him five minutes into the third. But at least he tried to get his stick on him to make up for being caught flatfooted, Del Zaster was lost in no man's land - giving the guy room and time to shoot.

*Sure that goal should have been stopped by Biron but it is further evidence that Del Zaster doesn't know how to play his position. Another Panther was sliding behind him and he just got stuck in the middle. Perhaps it was evidence of uncertainty in his own end, a lack of determination in decision making or something. The kid has to learn not to get caught like that.

*It was a bit like what happened to Florida in overtime. Step cut through to disrupt their defense, making room for Gabby to get off his game-winning shot. The Panther defenders were sliding backwards, allowing the Slovakian sniper to move into a good position to beat Clemmensen.

*Marc Staal got caught as the lone man back on the two on one and he looked like a squirrel trying to cross a road. He still has a ways to go to get back his game form.

*The Rangers were credited with 50 hits. They were wonderfully aggressive at times but 50 hits? Really?

*Neither Dubi nor Prust scored but both had quite solid games.

*Sam Rosen said that Boston went ahead of Calgary 9-0. Joe Micheletti replied that the Bruins should go for the extra point. Sam had to tapdance and say that the B's hit a field goal early in the game. Good to see that Joe knows about as much about football as he does hockey.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Scott Clemmensen - 38 saves.
2-Brad Richards - one assist. (Really? He won 10 of 22 faceoffs and his assist was a soft shot that deflected in off of Cally's leg.)
1-Marian Gaborik - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Fedotenko - It was the Ukranian's forecheck that got Stralman the puck for his first NYR goal. After many a game of uselessness, this one one of Feds' better nights this year.
2-Mikael Samuelsson - The former Ranger was a consistent threat. He is like Radek Dvorak (now on Dallas), a guy who made a career of being a semi-regular contributor while being defensively competent.
1-Cally - As mentioned above, Richards got his assist when the puck went off of Callahan's leg and went in. You know how it did that? The captain was paying the price to stand in the slot; he leads by example.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

24-9-4: Classic Classic

It is getting to the point where it is nearly impossible to ignore the position of the Rangers in the standings. The fact of the matter is that the Blueshirts are in first place. First. Having watched every second of every game that fact is virtually unfathomable. The team is flawed in several major areas, it has been battling crippling injuries and it has yet to play a full 60 minutes this season.

The Winter Classic in Philadelphia was a microcosm of the season to date because all of that was on display under the open sky in Citizens Bank Park. And yet - as they have been doing all season so far - they pulled out a win. And ya know what? It was delightful. Two periods of atrocious, inexcusable drek wiped away by one well-played frame where the guys nearly reached their potential. Simple north-south, hard working, hard hitting, relentless hockey is this team's bread and butter and it is wonderful to watch. To have seen it working after being surrounded by swirling snow, well that was classic.

Late Hits:

*Mike F-ing Rupp. Can you believe it? Two goals from Mike F-ing Rupp. I've been chirping the guy on Twitter of late, saying he was just as irrelevant as Jody Shelley and he scores not once but twice. Just as shocking was that he mocked Jaromir Jagr with a salute after the first goal and instead of giving him a beating, the Flyers let him score again.

*I laughed hysterically when the second one went in before delighting in the moment - who in the world could have guessed Mike F-ing Rupp would score twice in the biggest game of the year? His first goal, however, was even better, because it brought the snow, as seconds later the first flakes drifted down into the stands. After basking in the wonder of the snowstorm in Buffalo and the flurries during Frozen Fenway, it was awesome to experience it again - it definitely adds to the awesomeness.

*Also awesome? Fireworks after a Ranger win in Philadelphia. You have to wonder what the hell was the NHL thinking ...

*Also questionable? Saving Kate Smith/Lauren Hart's rendition of "God Bless America" for an intermission, instead of starting the game with it. The game was in Philly and that is something inherent to Flyer hockey. Why do the anthems? And, if they did insist on saving Kate for the Broad Street Bullies tribute and bring out old Patti LaBelle for the Star-Spangled Banner, why do the Canadian anthem? There were two American teams playing. Was it some kind of pittance for our friends north of the border who won't get to experience an outdoor game thus year?

*And did the league want the Flyers to get a chance to tie things up or what? I can't imagine a first time viewer of hockey not thinking the sport was fixed after watching that - even though the calls were both legitimate penalties.

*Live by the sword, die by the sword. Del Zaster has been picking up points by jumping into the play in the offensive zone. So he tried it in this one and got caught. Claude Giroux came down and scored to make it a 2-0 game. It happens. MDZ was not particularly good in this one but he was not nearly as bad as Ryan McDonagh.

*All of the extra minutes have clearly cost McD as he has not been his sharpest in the last few weeks and he was horrid here, at least until the end. The defenseman made up for all of his earlier mistakes by scooping the puck out of the crease with 20 seconds left in the third period. Sure it brought about Briere's penalty shot but it stopped a sure goal against; I will put the game on Henrik Lundqvist's shoulders any day.

*Hopefully Marc Staal can get his mojo back to take some of the time and pressure away from McD. It was shocking to hear that he was dressed and it was sad to watch him play because "rusty" would be an understatement. Everyone was happy to see him step out onto the ice but it was nerve-racking to watch him go to the wall and take contact. No one wants a Crosby situation to occur with the team's best defender.

*The Roots? Not really hockey music.

*Best line overheard walking out of the ballpark? "At least we won the alumni game."

*Worst line overheard walking out of the ballpark? "Go back to Jew York Ezekiel!" screamed by a drunk Flyer fan at a Ranger fan.

*That idiot aside, the Flyer fans that I saw were largely well behaved, even boring. The pockets of Ranger fans around the stadium started more chants and were largely louder than the home fans. We travel well.

*It is hard enough to follow a hockey puck from the upper deck of a ballpark but to have NBC's cable camera constantly drifting through the line of sight was horribly distracting.

*I paid $85 for a sweatshirt. A sweatshirt. Tees were $40. Yep.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Claude Giroux - one goal.
2-Henrik Lundqvist - 34 saves.
1-Michael Rupp - two goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Brayden Schenn - The kid collected his first NHL goal and won a ton of faceoffs. He's still not worth Mike Richards but perhaps he will grow into a real player.
2-Rupp - Mike F-ing Rupp. Seriously. Wow.
1-Hank - If he doesn't make all of those glove saves then Rupp's two goals would have been about three short of tying things up. And to think that high glove side was the King's weakness not too long ago ... great work by Benoit Allaire.