Saturday, March 31, 2012

50-21-7: Ole, Ole Ole Ole, Ole ...

Many of those that fill Madison Square Garden nowadays would be shocked to hear it, but for decades the roles were reversed: the Canadiens were the first place team while the Rangers were the doormats. The Habs abused the Blueshirts year after year after year. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

The current edition of the bleu, blanc et rouge got their assistant coach fired. Then they got their head coach fired. Then they got their general manager fired. To say that the team that came to play Friday night was a poor shadow of the dynasties that once filled the Forum would be a gross, gross, gross understatement.

They were a bunch of lame ducks going through the motions and the Rangers barely had to break a sweat to beat them 4-1. Having read about the embarrassments over the ages at the hands of the Habs it was quite enjoyable to see the tables turned.

Have to rip through the Late Hits quick:

*Those two Statue Of Liberty glove saves by Hank were outstanding. Not as dramatic as the French Canadian arm swing but far more in-your-face. 'Yeah, the puck is in my glove, what are you going to do about it?' Hank made a half dozen or so good saves but easily could have sat back and filed his taxes the rest of the evening - guess it helps that the Habs traded away Kostitsyn and Cammalleri and were missing the injured Gionta and Gomez.

*Gabby has seven points in his last four games, all against atrocious teams. We'll get to see if the Slovak Sniper is really on-target when he faces the fierce Boston defense on Sunday.

*Hearing Lady of Spain on the organ in the second period almost outweighed the atrocious music selection the rest of the evening. Slap Shot references rule.

*Steven McDonald is awesome. Love that the Garden honours him with a standing ovation every year, love that he returns the favour with a quick, poignant pep talk.

*Impossible to fault the selection of Ryan Callahan for the officer's award because he clearly puts in the extra effort ... but he is the captain - he's kinda supposed to. After suffering through Jagr and Drury, we may have lowered our expectations. Even so, Cally certainly has surpassed them and, as written after the last match, he is already among the top men in the NHL to wear the C.

*Speaking of fierce defense, how great was it to see McDonagh doing well against his former franchise? Thanks again Gainey, wherever you are.

*Even though he was wearing a Bruins sweater, I have to steal a Happy Gilmour line - 'the Price is wrong, bitch!' Perhaps Carey should cut out the smoking because he was burned several times tonight. Hey ohhhhhhhh.

*Love the heritage sweaters, wonder if they will wear them again on Sunday.

*John Mitchell on the power play? Was Torts just screwing around or trying to rub Cunneyworth's nose in the fact that his team is terrible?

*Del Zaster was still Del Zastrous, three point evening aside. He is going to get points when he focuses on offense, and that is fine. But his continuing incompetence in his own end is infuriating. First he simply fell down to give Montreal a free breakaway early in the third period. Then, moments after lobbing that long shot past Price to make it 4-0, DZ was soundly and easily beaten wide by Plekanec, ineffectively wacking the Czech with his stick as he skated by. Plekanec then passed to Bourque and Hank's deserved shutout was done. If DZ does his job, the King ties Elliott and Quick with nine shutouts and improves his case for Vezina.

*Still think that Richard$ tipped DZ's first goal but if the $60 million man wants to give credit to the kid, so be it. The official scorer is more than willing to help him out with all of the charity second assists this season.

*Just turned on the MSG replay - John Giannone is far, far better than Bill Pidto at the MSG 150. Still think that the 150 is a faulty gimmick, but at least with Giannone is anchoring it isn't so awkward and forced.

*Oh Artyyyyy, where art thou Arty?

*Hey MSG, we payed to go to a hockey game. Because we like hockey. We don't need updates about the Knicks every single break. We don't care. Especially about a .500 borderline playoff team in a terrible conference that already got the coach fired and was playing without its cash cow point guard. Thank goodness those score updates stopped after the first period because I nearly burst a blood vessel.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Marian Gaborik - one goal and one assist.
2-Michael Del Zotto - two goals and one assist.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 19 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - So close to the no-no ...
2-Cally - Received his Extra Effort award and continued to give the extra effort, battling along the boards and in front of the net. Having a captain like him makes me even more proud to be a Ranger fan.
1-Richard$ - Brad effortlessly sliced apart the Montreal defense all night and skated away with (officially) a goal and two assists.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

49-21-7: The Last Of The Cupcakes

Mmmm cupcakes. Well, usually cupcakes are welcomed treats but the Rangers have often made a mess of them this season - not unlike a toddler taking on his/her first tasty cake, just not as adorable. The Blueshirts butcher theirs by playing down to the level of their sub-standard opponents. And, for large portions of Wednesday night's game in Winnipeg they did the same.

But Ryan Callahan wasn't about to let the two points go, and he did what he has done for much of the year - picked up his effort and shamed the team into following him. And they did. And they rallied from a 2-0 hole to defeat the Jets 4-2.

As per usual the Rangers consistency of effort and intensity was questionable and it nearly cost them. But things are about to get real and top teams won't let them off the hook as easily as Winnipeg did. The remaining five games will prove that - two Original Six rivals, two division rivals and one team that knocked them out of the playoffs the last two times the Rangers made it. Hopefully the Blueshirts enjoyed the mess they made, because if they don't clean things up they are going to be thrown out of the house playoffs quickly.

Late Hits:

*Hank had himself a solid game, 22 saves and he could hardly be blamed for the two shots that beat him. That being said, I still don't think he should have been starting - nearly had a heart attack when Kane crashed the crease late in the first period. Just have to hope that the momentum gained was worth the risk.

*Outside of seeing the Stanley Cup being raised by any team other than the Islanders, there is nothing in hockey that I enjoy watching as much as stellar shorthanded play. And the Rangers had that last night. The five-on-three work by Girardi, Boyle, Cally and Hank was something to behold. And Cally's effort to get Del Zaster the tap-in shorty a period later was wonderful. Sheer tenacity. Absolutely adored it.

*Brian Boyle continues to be one of the more frustrating talents in the NHL. How he can be so useless for so long then suddenly realize how valuable his size is is infuriating. The brief moments like last night show why he was drafted so high by Los Angeles and extending the moment will go a long way towards helping the Rangers make a real run at the Cup.

*Honestly had higher hopes for a more hostile crowd but the second the Rangers got things going Winnipeg got awfully quiet. And Evander Kane took after his audience - after a good, physical start he faded something fierce.

*The idea has been batted around quite a bit on Twitter and around the Garden: make Del Zaster a winger. His defense has not improved one iota since he came into the league and he is clearly more interested in joining the attack than in helping Hank out. He simply does not comprehend how to properly play his position. Erik Karlsson can get away with his defensive deficiencies not only because he is astounding on offense but he clearly has been working to improve his game in his own zone. DZ still makes the same mistakes he always has. He doesn't close gaps, he gets beaten wide, he doesn't know when to go to the ice, he doesn't hit for possession and he goes on wild, irresponsible rushes down the ice. Making him a winger would let him off the hook and allow him to concentrate on the aspects of the game he enjoys - carrying the puck, moving the puck, going backdoor to score slam dunk goals...

*The first Winnipeg goal was scored not only because Del Zaster's stick redirected the puck but because he didn't close on his man in the first place. Stu had the skater on the far side and DZ worried about the drop-pass, which was not his responsibility. He should know that by now but he doesn't. Spencer Machacek used the room to get off a shot and the ill-position DZ had it tip off his stick and go past Hank. Horrid.

*Initially I blamed DZ entirely for the second Jets goal but I partially retract that accusation. Watching it again it is clear he is just standing there screening Hank instead of hammering Byfuglien but the slipped coverage in the lost was John Mitchell's mistake. As written in this space, Mitchell has not been the same since Carl Hagelin was stripped from his side. Mitch has showed decent ability in all zones but he has also shown the lapses that left him in the AHL not too long ago.

*How did Blake Wheeler get so skilled so suddenly?

*Interesting how Brad RichardS can win 14 of 17 faceoffs and still manage to be invisible. Gabby at least stays involved in the plays while Richard$ sits on the outskirts.

*Snipe snipe. Snipe snipe snipey snipe. What a shot by Step.

*Solid bounce-back effort by Staal, essentially trading places with Stralman from the Minnesota game.

*Glass vs. Bickel. Why? Why Stu? Why? And he lost to a guy four inches and at least 10 pounds smaller. Ugh.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Evander Kane - one impressive dive.
2-Ryan Callahan - one goal and one assist.
1-Michael Del Zotto - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Girardi/McD - Not sure anyone would have picked them to be not just the top pairing on the team but one of the top pairings in the NHL.
2-Boyle - Lose a tooth, score a game-winning goal. Seems like a good exchange to me.
1-Cally - Still in his first season as captain Cally already ranks among the league's elite leaders with Toews, Doan and Iginla. Outstanding.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

48-21-7: Nothing Wild About That Win

It would be easy to re-write the usual rant about the Rangers playing down to the level of their opponents. It would be easy to talk about how the man advantage is no advantage for the Rangers. It would be easy to attack a Ranger team that played grinding, boring hockey on their way to a grinding, boring 3-2 win over a bad Wild team.

Instead I'll rant at the fact that neither MSG nor the Rangers made any mention of Mike Sauer or Derek Boogaard. For all of the talk about the team being in Minnesota and all of the homecomings for the guys, both were ignored.

Sauer's serious concussion has kept him away from the ice and - guessing here because the team releases no information - will keep him away from it for a long, long time. But he is still a member of the franchise and it should have at least been mentioned by MSG (or by his teammates) that he is from St. Cloud, Minnesota. As we heard in the sad story of Boogaard, being away from the guys makes the injured player feel like he isn't a part of the team and adds to the depression they already feel. So certainly being ignored as being one of the Minnesota-born Rangers stung Sauer.

As for Boogaard, you just have to shake your head. The Rangers were partly culpable in the Boogeyman's demise and have done their best to sweep everything about his death under the rug. First they give it lip service in the home opener, then they decide not to wear patches this season but to put helmet stickers on - stickers that are almost impossible to see, even with HDTV. And when the team stepped into the XCel Center, they didn't do anything publicly to honour the man. Perhaps a player or two stopped by the memorial in the arena but as a team - nothing. I tweeted yesterday that a simple, classy gesture like sending the guys out in sweaters with Boogey's name and number would have gone a long way. But that would have been a salute to a player the team helped kill (with all of the prescriptions), and they couldn't have that. Sad.

The boys are back in action tomorrow so just a few Late Hits:

*Gabby's goal was sexy. Fedotenko's goal was not. But both were from the same basic play - get the puck deep along the wall and blindly fire it to the slot, (hopefully) to a cutting teammate. Richard$ won the faceoff and ended up making a beautiful pass to Gabby, who fired across his body to beat Harding. Feds forced the turnover, the puck swung all the way around the ice and Feds slid backwards out into the slot, where McDonagh's feed found him. Nice to see something that Torts has done has worked.

*Del Zaster played 7:10 of the eight minutes of power play time; the power play went 0-4.

*Hank made 24 saves and could hardly be faulted for the two goals against. It would nice to give him credit for a return to form but this was against Minnesota and they are terrible. Let's see what happens against a good team.

*It is really easy to forget how fast Dubi is when he is tied to ponderous linemates.

*Speaking of, Brian Boyle had one of his better games. Goal aside, things just seemed to work better for him - perhaps because the Wild aren't a quick team, or perhaps just because it was his night. As was observed to me, he may struggle quite often but he always tries his hardest - something several of his teammates does not do.

*Arty was all but invisible.

*Ryan Callahan is such a great captain. Just sayin'.

*Always brings a smile to see Jed Ortmeyer doing what he does in the NHL. Not the biggest guy, not the most skilled guy, but guts count and guts has given him a NHL career. Definitely glad Stu decided not to kill him in the third period.

*Anton Stralman returned and collected an assist on the Boyle goal thanks to his shot from the blueline. Nice to see him contribute, but would have been nicer to get Timmy Erixon more experience.

*Marc Staal played just 12:28. Huh?

*PHW Three Stars
3-Kyle Brodziak - one goal.
2-Marco Scandella - one assist.
1-Ryan McDonagh - two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Harding - Nearly gave this star to Brodziak for his goal and his penalty killing but Harding was capable and hardly culpable for the goals against.
2-McDonagh - Mac's two assists helped offset the two Minnesota goals he was on for.
1-Boyle - The big man won faceoffs, fired the puck freely and skated away with a goal. Dubi deserves some recognition but he saw nearly three minutes of power play time so he can''t escape that ineptitude.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

47-21-7: Well, We're Better Than Toronto

The Ranger team that was blown out by Buffalo 4-1 on Friday was the same one that defeated Toronto 4-3 in overtime on Saturday. The only difference was the ability of their opponent. All the mistakes, all of the errors in judgement, all of the lapses were still there - the Leafs simply weren't capable of taking advantage of all of them. And their goaltending is terrrrrrrible.

Heard the term "gut check" used a few times in the wake of this one - and, honestly, in the wake of more than a few games this season. That is inaccurate. The Rangers didn't dig deep and find something there to persevere against all odds, they put together another sub-par performance. They played down to the level of their opponent and, on this night, got a couple of good bounces to keep pace before winning the breakaway contest.

As ranted again and again in this space, there are major flaws in this franchise and they have to be addressed before there is to be any real success. Power play, depth, consistency ... and now, shockingly/disappointingly/tragically, goaltending. Time is running short, things are about to get real and the Rangers had better come up with some solutions soon. They've won three out of four now but certainly won't be able to take four out of seven when it counts unless they step things up.

Late Hits:

*Not a great night for Swedish goaltenders as both Hank and Gustavsson gave up awful goals. The difference there is that Hank is actually quite good, or was. It is uncharacteristic of him to see mental lapses night after night like this - overcommitting to Kessel, horrid rebound control to Connolly ... hopefully the shootout stops will be a starting point for the King to get his game back together. Seeing as the next Ranger opponent is Minnesota, and the Wild are anything but, Biron should get the start and Hank can have three full days to rest, relax and practice.

*Earlier this year Ryan McDonagh had a few bad games but the Rangers were able to rely on his rock of a partner Dan Girardi. Now Girardi has hit a rough patch and McD is the reliable one. Given the absence of Sauer and the troubles Staal is suffering through, the Rangers will need both of their top blueliners going if they are to withstand the playoff pressure.

*Is there any more under-covered concussion than that of Mike Sauer? The only updates we get are when the beat guys deign to reply to fan queries, and then they only seem to have some form of 'nothing new.' With McIlrath and Ceresnak still at least a year or three away, Pashnin likely to be with the rebuilt Lokomotiv next season and Valentenko not developing as hoped, the Rangers may need to seriously address the position this summer.

*Del Zaster didn't help Toronto score a single goal. He also didn't help the Rangers score a single goal. Call it a push.

*Richard$ made up for the turnover he had (the one that led to the Crabb goal) with his sexy assist on the Gabby goal. He then made up for his missed coverage of Tim Connolly with his first shootout goal of the year. Another push.

*TIm Erixon - two games, two assists. DZ one assist in his last seven. Just sayin' ...

*It has often seemed this season like Callahan was the only Ranger on the ice - often skating into the opposition end one-on-four and playing a far more motivated game than his teammates. So it is a bit amusing that his success came when he literally was the one Ranger on the ice. Well, I thought it was amusing. And outstanding.

*Did you notice Rupp hit Dubinsky an instant before Dubi scored? He collided with the kid from behind, shoving Dubi forward. Maybe the contact altered the angle of the shot and helped it go in, who knows? But it was certainly the closest thing Rupp has come to an assist in over a month. Nineteen games, no points. One assist in 33 games. I thought the point of having him as team goon was that he could contribute in other ways than using his fists?

*What game was the official scorer watching? He/she/it somehow counted 100 (!!!) hits in this game - one of the least physical exhibitions that the Rangers have skated in all season. Derek Stepan, who was all but invisible when not losing faceoffs, somehow accounted for a team high six hits (a total matched by Cally, although he has hit that number before). Ridiculous.

*Joey Crabb? Really?

*Sam and Joe are completely unlistenable. Sam doesn't know anyone's names anymore and Joe has amped up the obnoxiousness more than ever - something thought to be impossible. Said it before, I will say it again - I weep for the kids who are learning the game from these two. I was lucky to have had the best - JD and a young Sam - so I truly feel for those who get their info and insight from the current pairing.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Joey Crabb - one goal and one assist.
2-Marian Gaborik - two goals.
1-Ryan Callahan - game-winning shootout goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Gabby - The Slovak was just as involved as he was in Buffalo, but he faced a far weaker team and found far better results.
2-Connolly - Sexy snipe in the shootout plus the game-tying goal - just seconds after Gabby's go-ahead goal - gives him the nod over Joey Crabb.
1-Cally - The captain comes through yet again; where would the Rangers be without him?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

46-21-7: Sad Excuse For An Effort

On Friday night the Rangers appeared to have bought into their own hype, thinking that they are something special. Reality hits hard, and it slapped the Blueshirts across their faces to the tune of a 4-1 loss against a team 19 points below them in the standings.

Silly drop passes, passes behind their backs, blind passes ... not bothering to close gaps, not bothering to follow up their shots, not bothering to cover the short side ... freewheeling and not paying attention to details. Completely disappointing and infuriating that it is happening this late in the campaign. The one thing about the Blueshirts battling for eighth place the last few seasons was that they came to play more often than not - although the nots were far, far more painful. But this time around the many reoccurring issues that weren't addressed are coming back to bite the boys at a bad time, not the worst but far from the best.

Seeing as the Rangers return to action in about 14 hours, this will be brief, Late Hits:

*Those reoccurring issues? John Mitchell has been lost without Carl Hagelin. Hagelin has been wildly erratic as he tries to do too much. Del Zaster is grossly incompetent. Staal is not himself. Gaborik is hit or miss. Richard$ disappears on a semi-regular basis. Rupp is useless. Stepan is struggling with added responsibility. And Cally often seems like he is skating alone and is the only guy out there who cares.

*Del Zaster was just as, if not even more, of a detriment to the team than Mitchell was. Sure Mitch kicked a puck in and lost another in his skates but those at least happened while he was trying to do his job. DZ forgets that he is a defenseman. During Stafford's first goal he was deeper than all three of the Ranger forwards and during his second he tried to split the defense and when that failed he stood around and watched as Buffalo counter-attacked. Not to mention his pathetic flop to the ice during the two-on-one that Ennis capitalized on. Clueless.

*Hank is ultimately responsible for the goals that went in and all four were stoppable. As mentioned in several recent posts, he is steadily playing himself out of the Vezina. While initially I believed that the news of an incoming offspring was to blame, perhaps it is his backup's struggles that have struck him. With Biron being outright bad, Hank has to be that much better and the extra pressure is perhaps getting to him. How else to explain the mental lapses? Certainly don't want to blame the grind of the season, as he upped his game in springs past.

*Pretty dangle McD, but all the fancy moves are for naught when your backhand from five feet away misses the net by a wide margin.

*Too many shots missed the net, most from the stick of Marian Gaborik. It is understandable that the Slovak sniper wants to pick the corners but sometimes just putting the puck on net is a good thing.

*Without seeing a good replay it is impossible to judge the goal that wasn't. In typical fashion the in-arena crew dropped the ball on the replays and explanations.

*Actually caught a replay of the Ehrhoff stops on Gabby. That's some good defense right there, and it was all caused by his own terrible turnover - a pass through the slot from the corner of his own zone.

*Did Thomas Vanek even play?

*Tim Erixon is getting more and more comfortable out there, and some of that is certainly due to his partner Stu Bickel. Remember when Staal came back at the Classic he credited Stu for being talkative and that is surely helping Jan Timmy adjust.

*Can't put it off any longer, have to mention Zuccarello ... this sucks. Zuke showed improvement in all aspects of the game from where he had been and now all that progress is gone. In its place is a cast on his fractured wrist and hopefully the promise of future success. And hopefully that future success will be on Broadway. At least he went down doing his job, unlike the last fan favourite who was forced out by a domineering, short-sighted egomaniac.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Tyler Ennis - one goal and two assists.
2-Ryan Miller - 26 saves.
1-Drew Stafford - two goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Cally - You could tell the captain didn't want to lose to his hometown team.
2-Ennis - He's so little, how can you hate him? As Brian Gionta proved, easily.
1-Stafford - Drew is getting hot at the right time, that is for sure - 12 points in his last six games; Gabby has none in four.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

46-20-7: Cally Clips The Wings

Sure they didn't have their best defenseman in their line up. Sure they didn't have their leading goal scorer. Sure they didn't have their starting goaltender (or their backup). Details, details. On Wednesday night the Rangers still defeated Detroit, the team that - over the last 30, 35 years - has set the bar for sustained success in the NHL.

It feels nice.

It also shows that the ball is beginning to roll and it can pick up some good speed with the next five games against teams not in playoff positions. But that also makes them that more dangerous, and thus let's ignore them for this evening and focus on the 2-1 overtime win at the Garden.

It is a lovely result but all is not copacetic with either team. Ed. note: Yes I say either team; I am admittedly a Wings fan, they have been my second fav team since the bruise brothers years. The low numbers bely the many missed scoring chances by both sides, ones that both teams should be kicking themselves over. There were times when the intensity was lacking, there were times when sloppiness and mental mistakes proved costly. There is room for improvement, and improvement needs to occur before either side suits up for the playoffs.

Time is tight, so onto the Late Hits:

*There really is something special about Original Six matchups: the history, the sweaters ... even the atmosphere feels different.

*Was happy to hear that the octopus thrower was thrown out, because had he stayed he would have ended up in the hospital. Utterly unacceptable in our building.

*Mats Zuccarello was the best Ranger for about two periods. Zuke did everything asked of him and more, he just didn't score. Outstanding effort by the youngster. Liten mann, stor innsats. (Hope Google translate got that right ... small man, big effort.)

*On the other side of the coin, someone was simply Del Zastrous. DZ's simple cross to Cally in OT does not wipe away the rest of his horrendous play the rest of the night. Gross incompetence, which seems to be par for the course. Thankfully Hank bailed the boy out for the most egregious of his errors, one can only hope he does the right thing and treat the King to dinner.

*Nick Lidstrom and Chris Chelios were in the press box and signed autographs throughout the first intermission. Class. And there were a lot of requests, which shows how Ranger fans appreciate greatness.

*You know why Brad Richard$ gets vilified in this space? Because he has it in him to score goals like the one he put in during tonight's game. Coast to coast, speedy, slices through the defense like butter and calmly puts the puck past the netminder. A true thing of beauty. More consistency of effort would be appreciated. That being said, he has a pretty hot hand now with 12 points in his last eight games - too bad there is still plenty of time until the playoffs.

*Mike Rupp played nearly six minutes, which was nearly six minutes too many. It was perfectly clear that he didn't belong on the same ice as the Red Wings. He can't skate well, he can't stickhandle, he can't do much of anything. It was he who gave Zetterberg the time and space to score the Wings lone goal of the night and how Torts even could have put him out there at the same time as Z is inexplicable. Hell, how he was in the lineup over Feds is also questionable - have to hope the Ukrainian is ok...

*Cally's eighth shot of the night was the one that went in. Dubi had no shots and Gabby just two. Something wrong with that ratio. Everything was right with Cally's final shot - off the post and in - but he shouldn't be the team's triggerman.

*Arty looked tentative with that bum shoulder of his. Have to hope that it keeps healing and he regains his confidence because he needs that to be a factor.

*Love Carl Hagelin but he needs to be reined in a bit - the Swede seems to kick things into overdrive and gets out of control out there. Also needs to use that speed of his to backcheck as well as he forechecks.

*Not sure if Detroit's Brendan Smith was partners with Ryan McDonagh all three seasons the two were at Wisconsin, but they certainly were teammates. That being said, the Rangers certainly got the better of the two Badger blueliners. Smith has ability but McDonagh is the total package (thank you again Bob Gainey, wherever you are).

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ryan Callahan - one goal.
2-Ty Conklin - 32 saves.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 26 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Datsyuk - Even on an off night, Pasha was still outstanding. Sure he didn't score or do any of his Datsyukian dekes but every shift he did something impressive - make a pass, pick off a pass, force a Ranger play, set up a Detroit rush... amazing.
2-Hank - Several solid stops and his second assist of the season!
1-Cally - Cally is such a good captain that he gives gifts to other people for his birthday. Helluva guy right there.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

45-20-7: Delightful Defeat Of The Devils

Opponents of puck fisticuffs will claim that the game is good without the pugilism, for there is a poetry in the motion of skill - in, say, anything Pavel Datsyuk ever does.

But there is a beauty of another kind in the game, the kind that comes with the pure hatred of rivalries. Seeing the players' seething dislike for the opposition is positively heartwarming - because it is one of the rare moments when you can actually believe that they care as much as you do. The Mona Lisa moment of last night's game came off of the initial faceoff with it's trio of bouts.

These were no nonsensical staged bouts to justify the neanderthal goon culture, as many of the fights between these two teams have been this season. This was a statement by both squads, a warning that neither would be an easy opponent - especially with the playoffs coming and despite recent disappointments. And, unlike the February 7th game between the teams that also started with pugilism, the Rangers actually responded in this one with a spirited performance and they went on to defeat the Devils 4-2.

Now the trick of it will be gaining some momentum from the win. The schedule lends well to it as five of the next six games are against teams out of playoff position but that also means that they are all the more dangerous. The one that is against a playoff team is vs. Detroit but the Wings have melted without injured Nick Lidstrom; you'd suck too without the second- or third-best defenseman of all-time in your lineup. So we'll just have to see, but the win against New Jersey was a nice step forward.

Late Hits:

*Should rumours be true and Martin Brodeur was thinking of calling it a career after this season, he might be reconsidering now. There is no way a competitor like he supposedly is would want to leave the lasting memory of this game as his final on Garden ice. Although he did manage to punctuate his performance with one of his signature flops; while his antics won't be missed, the serenades of Mmmmaaaaarrrrtttyyy from around the arena will.

*While mocking Mmmaaarrttyyy is always a fun pastime, it must be mentioned that his Ranger counterpart was not particularly good in this one either. Both goals against were uncharacteristically awful. As I tweeted, one has to wonder if he is playing himself out of his long-deserved Vezina. Pekka Rinne and Nashville are as good as ever while chinks are starting to appear in the King's armour. There is still time to get things back together but there is also enough cause for concern.

*French playwright Pierre Corneille wrote "to take revenge halfheartedly is to court disaster: Either condemn or crown your hatred." Brandon Dubinsky donned the crown on this night, with a little help from his friends. First Bickel battered Carter, and when that idiot Bryce Salvador tried to get involved Dubi was the first one over to intervene. Luckily Dubi escaped penalty himself as less than a minute later he converted a feed from Step for just his second goal in his last 20 games. And, to top it off, he fired the shot that Step tipped past Fatso for the game-sealing goal. It was good to see 17 step up and show he still can be a big part of this team, after more than a few nights of nothingness.

*Dubi's goal came after Step shanked his first pass attempt. The mistake drew the defender towards Step, opening up the lane for Dubi. Love when that works out that way. His own assist was just as fortuitous as it appeared like he was heading back to the bench when Hagelin's pass came from down low.

*Quickly on the fights, Stuuuuu vs Carter was clearly the top tilt of the three - even if most of the injury came from the fall to the ice. Rupp beat up Boulton, who seemed like he didn't want to fight. And poor Prust clung on to Janssen for dear life. Ever since that Barch fight earlier this season he simply has not been the same.

*Not sure how much credit should be given to the Devils but Marian Gaborik was limited to just two shots and missed the net on both. Gabby was largely invisible all night aside from one sexy shift with Hags and Richard$ where they kept the puck deep in the Devils end but ultimately came up empty.

*Seeing Kovalchuk get frustrated during the Devil power play in the third period brought back memories of the sweep of the Thrashers several years back. Delightful. It is amazing for as good a player as he is, how easy it is to knock him off his game.

*Yet another evening where Tim Erixon looked capable. The extra time with Wade Redden and JJ Daignault has certainly helped the Swedish youngster as he is stronger and more decisive. That being said, Torts clearly doesn't trust him and is trying to shield him from tougher opponents - tougher physically and skillfully. And yet Torts trusts Del Zaster despite being burned again and again. Ah well.

*Love everything that Zuke is doing right now. The Norwegian registered three hits - one of which was outstanding on Volchenkov in the corner - and he added a power play goal, one from going to the net and being in a position to pounce when the puck went his way. It is clear that the kid has done all that he has to in his own end to gain Torts' trust and earn more ice time. Now whether it will earn him a new contract is something else ...

*PHW Three Stars
3-Mats Zuccarello - one goal.
2-Brandon Dubinsky - one goal and one assist.
1-Ryan Callahan - two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hagelin - Bork bork bork.
2-Cap'n Cally - He leads, they follow.
1-Dubi - Nice to see him again, eh?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

44-20-7: Free Fallin'

Spring officially begins this week and it can't come soon enough for the Rangers. The Blueshirts continue to languish in their winter doldrums and on Saturday were beaten by Colorado 3-1. The Avalanche, a young team that came in hungrier than the hefty Rangers, who have grown fat on points they barely had to work for this season.

Now is the time that Rangers should be rounding into form and instead they are languishing in laziness and ineptitude. And things aren't going to get any easier

But you know, this slide may very well be the best thing for the Dolans, as the Rangers could tumble to sixth place. The air down there is far better than at the top as they will face the SouthLeast Division winner and have their best chance to not get bounced in the first round of the playoffs.

Late Hits:

*Is Varley French Canadian? He loves to over-emphasize every one of his glove saves the way those goalies do. I hate that. The former Cap somehow collected 40 saves and yet barely had to break a sweat. He had time, he had space and he barely had to face any rebounds. Why would the Rangers go hard to the net? The one time they did crash the crease they scored a goal, but why bother doing it again?

*Del Zaster returned from injury and stepped right back in his usual position of ruining Ranger power plays. He can hardly hold the blue line, he is constantly looking for his own glory with a backdoor chance and he wastes hours of time with the puck, allowing the defenders to get set ... And Torts gave him hours, well close to it - an outrageous 8:38 of man advantage ice time.

*Brad Richard$ certainly didn't pull his weight with the man advantage either. But, as we've seen this season, consistency isn't his strong suit so we have to expect him to disappear for a few games - even with nearly nine minutes of power play time. Random fact, Landeskog was 11 years old when Richard$ won his Conn Smythe.

*Mike Rupp may be the most useless player in the NHL. A grinder who doesn't grind, a fighter who doesn't fight, a former hat trick scorer who doesn't score. And yet he got some power play time. Seriously.

*Then again, everyone except for Stu saw at least three seconds of power play time. Talk about grasping at straws Torts. THe head coach is completely clueless about how to make the power play work, and it is mid-March. Not October, March. Seventy-one games into the season.

*Nice of the ECHL version of Stu Bickel to show up and get embarrassed by Boston cast-off Matt Hunwick to allow Colorado to tie things up in the 1st period. And then Stu decided to goon it up in the second with a poor fight for no reason against Cody McLeod. There is a lot to like about Bickel's game but the whole package simply isn't up to par.

*Hunwick went to the University of Michigan from 2003-2007. His goaltender during his first two college campaigns was Al Montoya. Monty was there one year prior to Hunwick, and played for captain Jed Ortmeyer that season. Hunwick spent three years alongside the Whale's Chad Kolarik. Kolarik was one year behind him, and during Kolarik's senior season he got to play with a fresh-faced Swedish rookie named Carl Hagelin. Bork bork bork.

*The second Avalanche goal was just atrocious. Colorado rushes in, Del Zaster chases one Av into the corner and Staal didn't notice DZ was out of position because he was busy blocking a shot. Pruster had covered Landeskog as the Avalanche came into the zone but he got spun by the soon-to-be-superstar Swede. Boyle watched as O'Reilly crossed to Wilson. Fedotenko didn't bother to close with Wilson and Landeskog was left alone, making it an easy deflection. A comedy of errors by the Blueshirts.

*Thought Matt Duchene had a broken ankle?!?

*Dubi. Nothing. Again.

*Jan Hejda does nothing flashy, but most things right.

*Speaking of such, enjoyed Timmy Erixon's return. He was quietly capable and solid with the puck. The extra time with Wade Redden seemingly has paid off - seriously.

*Couldn't believe the Garden played a clip of Pantera's "Cowboys From Hell" - but sadly couldn't enjoy it as it came right before the end of the night's failure.

*For the first game in a while, there weren't many opposing fans in the Garden. It didn't make for an especially outstanding crowd but there were a few Let's Go Rangers chants that got quite loud.

*Love Hank, but how the hell was he named the third star? He allowed two goals on 10 shots and went on to close with all of 17 saves - just one of which was particularly impressive. Another example of why I do my own stars after every match.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Henrik Lundqvist - 17 saves.
2-Gabriel Landeskog - one goal.
1-Semyon Varlamov - 41 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Varley - No softies allowed.
2-Ryan Wilson - Some solid defense, good puck movement and the perfect shot for Landeskog to tip home.
1-Landeskog - Damn Swedes are building more hockey robots to take over the world.

Friday, March 16, 2012

44-19-7: Reality Check

Hey Rangers, this is Earth - welcome back to it. The Rangers deceptive run to the top of the Eastern Conference belied many of the teams flaws, not the least of which was the team's lack of depth and it's inconsistency. Both hurt the Blueshirts as Pittsburgh came to town On Thursday and proceeded to go to town on them. This one wasn't even close. Despite being within one goal at the end of the second period, the result was never in question and the Pens cruised to a 5-2 victory.

The Rangers were outclassed from the start by the team destined to take their top seed away. Even before Crosby and Letang returned Pittsburgh was dangerous - now the Pens are outright lethal. They have primary scoring, they have secondary scoring, they have tertiary scoring, they have a decent defense in front of a showboating-but-solid goaltender. The Rangers have one line, three defensemen and a goalie with a bad immune system.

There is some consolation for this loss - Hank and Cally were both out, this was in March and not April and the Rangers didn't play the game that has earned them first place. There was no crash-bang hockey, little pressure, little heart ... And the wear and tear of playing every other day took the rest of the life out of the team and they stood around and watched the Penguins dominate.

Had this been unexpected, had this been in the playoffs, had this been with Hank in the net it would have been unacceptable. Now it is just unfortunate. Hopefully the guys will learn from this experience and realize that they - all of them - have to work hard every night, all night. This is a lesson that should have been learned months ago but the combination of bad opponents and great Lundqvist has held it until now. Hopefully it is not too late.

Late Hits:

*Not a single guy went after Crosby. The kid came back from his overhyped headache and wasn't challenged physically in the least. They gave him time, they gave him space and they watched him work. An utter failure by the Blueshirts.

*Marty Biron is a sieve. He didn't give the Rangers a chance to win, allowing five stoppable goals. His angles were off, he ranged too far from the goal mouth, he went down too fast, he lost track of the play. Simply said, he was horrid - yet again. You can take the guy off the Islanders but you can't take the Islanders out of the guy. He may be a helluva guy in the room but he is atrocious in the net. Get well soon Hank.

*It has to be said that the Blueshirt blueliners certainly didn't help much. Torts inexplicably broke up McDonagh and Girardi in the second period, because that pairing has only worked well all season long. Girardi was reunited with the shadow of the player Marc Staal once was and McD played alongside Stu Bickel. Poor Stu played far, far too much - nearly 22 minutes. Have to dig all that he has brought but he is not good enough to handle that much time against an opponent that skates as well as Pittsburgh. And Stralman and Eminger continued to show how they are AAAA players, too good for AAA but not good enough for the big leagues.

*Also seeing too much ice time was Boyle, Prust and Fedotenko. The Rangers have grinded so long that their primary grinders have been grinded down to nothing. Except for Rupp, who was nothing long before the Rangers ever got him.

*Nothing was what the power play contributed. The Rangers had two man advantage chances, both of which would have been huge if the team had been able to come through and score. A quick explanation? Boyle saw 1:32 of pp ice time, while the red hot Hagelin had :44 and Zuke had :48.

*Bork, bork, bork! Best Ranger out there - the only one skating at the same speed as Pittsburgh. Gabby and Richard$ had their moments as well but Hagelin was the only one busting his ass from buzzer to buzzer.

*Did Dubi play? Couldn't tell.

*Had a very excitable crowd early that calmed down after the back-to-back goals in the early minutes of the second period. There were farrrrrrr too many opposition fans scattered throughout the building, something that we have to get used to as the ever-rising prices force more Ranger fans out.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Kris Letang - one assist and +5.
2-Evgeni Malkin - one goal.
1-Matt Cooke - two goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Crosby - Just by showing up he gave Pittsburgh the mental edge and the Rangers never stepped up.
2-Letang - Calm, cool, collected quarterback.
1-Cooke - No one wanted to get around Pig-Pen (get it? because he is so dirty?), and he handily collected a pair of goals.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

44-18-7: Stars Looking Like The Stars

Last season we saw how someone with wheels could help Marian Gaborik. Gabby was paired with Sean Avery and the two instantly clicked. Unfortunately their on-ice success was cut short by John Tortorella's off-ice hatred for Avery. Torts quickly removed the Grate One from the Slovak's side and that was that. Luckily for us now, the head coach likes Carl Hagelin.

Since his promotion, Hagelin has acclimated himself to the pace and physicality of the NHL. Red Berenson's training in Michigan has served the 23 year old well and he quickly became one of Tortorella's go-to guys. During the coach's incessant line juggling he found that Hags had chemistry some with Brad Richard$ and, with Ryan Callahan out, Torts made Marian the final piece of their troika. Now Gabby has the Swede's speed to help him out and Richard$ is finding his form from last year.

Honestly it should be of little surprise that Richard$ is getting his game together now, getting it back to the level it was with the Stars. During his final campaign in Dallas he combined with Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn in one of the NHL's best lines. Well, right now Gabby is playing the part of Eriksson, Hagelin has replaced Benn and the Ranger threesome has quickly become lethal.

On Tuesday they provided all of the offense as the Blueshirts beat the Hurricanes 4-2 at the Garden. It was a very necessary win for the Rangers, as they continue to work their way out of their recent funk. It should increase their confidence and give them a very necessary boost towards Thursday's massive meeting with Crosby and the Pens.

Late Hits:

*Lost in the mix is Derek Stepan. The kid is sinking down the depth chart like a rock and his play has gone south as well. Hopefully Callahan's eventual return will help fix that but we will have to see. For now reuniting Step with Zuke might be a short-term solution as the two worked well together last season. If you can pry Prust away from Boyle, his grit could give them both a boost.

*Not only is the shot that Boyle once had gone, but the gains from his much-publicized skate lessons also seem to have disappeared. He had one decent backhand but seemed to constantly be chasing the Canes around the ice. And when he doesn't use his size and doesn't win faceoffs, well there isn't much use for him.

*Speaking of useless, perhaps the Museum of Natural History can use Mike Rupp for their early human display because his presence adds nothing to the Rangers on the ice. He may be a great teammate off of it but that's not something we can see.

*Mats Zuccarello had two shots, on the same shift! And one hit the post! Shocking. Zuke had himself a pretty solid game on both sides of the ice, although he couldn't help the power play convert on any of their three opportunities. The tripping call on him was one of the most ridiculous penalties this season. Because someone his size can make someone Tim Gleason's size go flying. Yeah, ok.

*Bobby Sanguinetti, haha. Not quite the folly that was Hugh Jessiman but still a big bust. Bobby looked like an even poorer version of Del Zaster. Perfect example? On the first goal. Watching him chase Mitchell up the boards, slapping the Ranger with his stick like he was trying to swat a fly was hilarious. It achieved nothing, and Mitchell sent it to Dan-O, who took the big shot. Girardi intentionally send it wide, so the ricochet off the end boards ended up on Gabby's stick and the Slovak scored.

*Credit to Marty Biron, for not giving up a goal before Cam Ward did. Biron was barely tested but still managed to make a pair of nice saves that I noticed. Also noticed that he owes Ruslan Fedotenko a nice steak dinner for making a save of his own after the goaltender overcommitted.

*Please Mike Sauer, get well already; Steve Eminger should not be playing regularly in the NHL. Neither should Anton Stralman, although the Swede did have a few really strong, even physical shifts against Carolina. Stu Bickel, on the other hand, is proving he belongs. Stu played nearly 22 minutes and is clearly not chasing the play as much as he used to - not bad for a guy who was in the ECHL not too long ago.

*What are the odds that Callahan's eventual return will transform Brandon Dubinsky back into the player who earned his four-year, $16.8m contract, rather than the one enjoying his four-year, $16.8m contract?

*Justin Faulk was fantastic for Carolina, that kid has a helluva future ahead of him.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Marian Gaborik - one goal and two assists.
2-Carl Hagelin - one goal and two assists.
1-Brad Richards - two goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Gabby - How he deals with defenders is impressive.
2-Richard$ - So shooting the puck is a good thing, eh?
1-Bork - The kid makes things happen.

Monday, March 12, 2012

43-18-7: Slump-Buster

After losing three straight road games the Rangers returned to the Garden on Sunday to see if they could snap out of their slump. The evil Islanders stood in their way but proved unable to extend the Blueshirts' run of futility, ultimately falling 4-3 in overtime.

The match was a big test for the one true New York team and they came out of it with solid marks. Sure this one should have been a definitive demolition of Wang's minions but it isn't often that a team simply snaps out of a funk. After the loss to Chicago, I wrote how the Ranger "skill guys rarely come to play, their power play is atrocious, and their grit - their wonderful, endearing and enduring grit - only goes so far." Well, the skill guys came to play, the power play worked and their grit matched that of the Islanders.

Now the trick of this will be for all of those things to keep on clicking so the Rangers can find their groove and stride into the playoffs firing on all cylinders. What a trick that would be.

Late Hits:

*Boyle using his freakish size for once was nice. Twice in the same game? Wonderful! Amazing the things that happen when someone stands in the slot.

*"Shoot the puck! Shoot the puck! Shoot the puck!" Hilarious. This team spends too much time trying to be too cute too often. They aren't good enough to be doing behind the back passes and other nonsense - just shoot the damned thing and good things happen. Look at the mistake that was the Mark Streit shot: the damned thing caromed oddly off of the glass and Moulson was positioned well to pounce on it.

*It is good to know that other teams' tv analysts are as brain dead as Joe Micheletti. About six minutes into the first period Butch Goring said: 'Michael Del Zotto is out and the Rangers really miss that young man - he is a plus 24. The Rangers have so many positive players and Callahan and Richards are minus two and minus three. They need to be worried about how those guys are playing.' Yeah, definitely need to be worried about that Callahan guy...he's like, totally incompetent. Methinks Goring suffered a few too many hits to his head when he played.

*Del Zaster wasn't missed in the least, again. Bickel answered the bell against Haley, Stralman rebounded from a rough start with some of his most solid play in a while and Eminger managed not to suck. And I'd say that the power play was able to survive without Del Zaster, wouldn't you? It was amazing what a decisive, skilled passer could do with the extra ice.

*Speaking of such, Zuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuke. The nano-sized Norwegian was greeted by the fans on his first shift and most of his others as well. The kid needed to be a factor if he was to save his NHL life and he did just that. He skated hard, he was defensively responsibly and his passing was quick and decisive. That being said, the big knock that knocked him into the AHL was his reluctance to shoot and that still remains.

*Andrew MacDonald's breakaway goal ranks among the worst that Hank has allowed this season. The King is definitely slumping of late, hopefully not enough to take away the Vezina Trophy that he worked so hard to earn.

*Hank overcommitted on P.A. Parenteau's initial shot and Dan Girardi's poor positioning gave Tavares the slot, where he was able to kick the rebound in. Like Hank, Dan-O has not been himself of late but at least there has been no let down in his partner's play. Ryan McDonagh had himself yet another solid outing, playing major minutes and coming through with big plays on both sides of the ice. Have to hope that he doesn't burn out the way Landon's dad has.

*Proof that the official scorer is a giving soul? Brad Richard$ skated the entire length of the ice and beat Nabby for the Rangers' first goal and yet the scorer awarded two assists on the play - one to Stralman and one to Hank. Technically they were indeed the last two to touch the puck before RIchard$ but that is just silliness, they had nothing to do with the final result of the play. Actually, I'm surprised DZ wasn't given a helper on that from the press box.

*Asked an Isle fan why Travis Hamonic was wearing a cage and got this reply: "I donno, cause he's gay?" These people are the worst form of life on earth.

*Too many Islander sweaters in the Garden. The ever increasing prices allow that to happen, sapping out the home ice advantage of the building. While that is utterly infuriating, I must admit the Portland Winterhawks Nino Niederreiter sweater I spotted was pretty cool.

*Not saying that Nabby deserved to be Malarchuked for his blocker punches to Prust's head at the end of the second period but he should at least have been ran the way Lucic destroyed Miller, with a nice high head shot. Eye for an eye, if there is to be no proper punishment. Head punches with blockers are pretty far from being ok - that is assault with a weapon. But the NHL is not that serious with their concussion consciousness and Brendan Shanahan doesn't have the gall to make a call on that. Neither did the game's officials, who came up with a mythical slashing penalty on Prust to match the roughing they gave Nabby. Roughing? Should have been attempt to injure. If the Kazakh keeper wants to try to injure a Ranger, a Ranger should try to injure him.

*Shoulda sent Rupp to do it. He was good for nothing (as per usual) and had four minutes of ineffective ice time. Once Cally comes back it should be Rupp who sits, not Zuke - at least the mighty midget can be useful in certain situations.

*And finally: why yes, Potvin does suck.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Marian Gaborik - one goal and one assist.
2-John Tavares - one goal and one assist.
1-Brad Richards - two goals and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Bork Bork Bork - Hagelin couldn't get the puck past Nabby and he wasn't on the ice for a single goal for or goal against. But he was utterly relentless every second that he was out there. Would have loved to give this to Zuke but the little guy was saddled with some poor linemates during five-on-five play.
2-Tavares - His goal was nice, his assist was nice, his dive to draw a boarding call on Boyle was nice.
1-Richard$ - That's what you're paid for Braden.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

42-18-7: Grit Can Only Go So Far

The Rangers were on the road during the recent raise in temperatures around New York and thus remained mired in their mid-winter doldrums. On Friday they completed their three-game road trip with a 4-3 failure to the Blackhawks.

The recent skid has exposed the Rangers as the one-trick pony that they are. Their skill guys rarely come to play, their power play is atrocious, and their grit - their wonderful, endearing and enduring grit - only goes so far. Harsh? Absolutely. But seemingly true.

Gaborik breaks down the wing and gives up an open shot to try to pass it though a defender towards Richard$. Two futile power plays. Six forwards on the ice at the end of the game - inexplicably including John Mitchell - and they dump and chase, with just one forward doing the chasing ...

The team has to do some soul searching and they have to do it fast with the evil Islanders in the Garden on Sunday. Despite being a bad joke of a franchise, the Isles always step up their game against the Rangers and an embarrassment at their hands would be ... well, I don't even want to consider it.

Late Hits:

*Yet again the Rangers came out flat and Marian Hossa very nearly made them pay. Luckily he faced Henrik Lundqvist instead of Marty Biron and the Rangers didn't immediately fall behind. But Hank wasn't infallible. After the game Cally said his stick didn't deflect Johnny Oduya's shot, meaning that the Rangers starting goaltender gave up a goal just as bad as his backup did a day before. A sad truth is that Hank has to be as close to perfect as possible for his team to have a shot to win - as it has been for far too long.

*Been advocating Hank For Hart for a while but perhaps Dan Girardi is the Rangers most valuable player. All of the minutes earlier in the season - and that slap shot to the arm a few games ago - are finally getting to Logan's dad. Torts finally noticed the wear and tear and played Girardi less than 25 minutes in each of the last seven games ... and the Rangers went 3-3-1 during that span.

*It was unfortunate the Rangers waited to finally find their forecheck after Patrick Kane kicked in the game-sealing empty netter. The Blueshirts were voracious off of the ensuing faceoff and it resulted in Richard$' goal. Where was that effort the previous 59:07?

*Arty's goal was dirrrty. He is finally gaining the confidence he needed, now he needs the strength to help use it with regularity. If Vassili Zaitsev (get it? the Russian sniper from Enemy at the Gates?) ever bulks up to add power to that skill, man could he be a helluva player.

*While piling upon the Rangers, credit must be given to the 2010 Stanley Cup winners. Chicago played a complete game from Emery on out. Emery improved to 7-1 lifetime against the Blueshirts (thanks @KevinComplains) by being solid during the rare times that the defense in front of him faltered (which wasn't often). And the Blackhawk offense was working on all levels with their first three lines all accounting for goals.

*While his goal was a gift from Hank, Oduya had himself one solid game. Damned former Devil. Had Sather not been sucked in to the Nash derby, perhaps he could have picked up Oduya from Winnipeg. A solid citizen who is well aware of Atlantic Division hockey, he surely would have been an upgrade over Eminger and Stralman (and a certain someone else).

*Can you imagine what this one would have been like had Chicago had their best player, one of the top five all-around talents in the NHL?

*Also missing was my favourite punching bag, so there was no blaming Del Zaster on this one as he was a late scratch. But he wasn't missed, as the power play was as ineffective without him as it has been with him.

*Bryan Bickell edged out Stu Bickel in this one. Each accounted for three hits but Bickell had an assist on the Shaw goal that saw Bickel stumbling around the crease.

*Love Pruster. Good things happen when you go to the net kids.

*Proof plus/minus is nonsense? Cally was -3. Boyle was +2.

*Another stat anomaly? Anton Stralman was credited with a game-high seven hits. What?

*Rangers survive the early onslaught, escape the first period with the lead and what happens? Mike Rupp decides to defend his own selfish honour against an undrafted minor league goon. Rupp was supposed to be a multi-dimensional veteran who would give more to the team then a thug and yet - Winter Classic luck aside - has done nothing to help his team or his teammates on the ice this season.

*Those Blackhawks sweaters are beautiful.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Patrick Kane - one goal and one assist.
2-Brandon Prust - one goal.
1-Johnny Oduya - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Mackey D - Thought he was the best of the Blueshirts.
2-Hossa - Unlike Gaborik, Chicago's Slovak sniper was a constant threat every time he stepped on the ice.
1-Oduya - A defenseman with a heavy shot who is not afraid to use it? What a concept!

Friday, March 9, 2012

42-17-7: Overlooking Ottawa

Perhaps John Tortorella had his sights set on Chicago. After all, Friday's match will be against a recent Stanley Cup winner and an Original Six foe. But before the Blackhawks came the Ottawa Senators and Torts' oversight doomed his team to a 4-1 loss.

The Rangers are smack dab in the middle of their annual winter doldrums. They have put forth far from acceptable efforts over their last dozen or so games. Thanks to a little bit of luck and some regal performances by the King, the Blueshirts have escaped with a few wins over that span but don't let that fool you - this team is struggling.

Tonight's loss started with the decision to start Marty Biron. Facing an Eastern Conference foe - one with a 8-3-1 record in their previous 12 games - Torts went with his backup and the decision backfired. Biron has been outright bad of late and he did nothing to turn around his fortunes. The netminder allowed two goals on the first four shots he faced - the first of which was outright amateurish, a wide open shot from the top of the circle. Given how the Rangers have been stumbling out of the gates, to lose an early lead one minute after going ahead was huge.

From there on out it was a battle for the Blueshirts to get their game together and they were unable to do it. There was little intensity and little effort. Big Ben Bishop had a harder time during the AHL All Star Game last month than he was in this one.

Given the trajectory that the Penguins are on and the imminent return of Sidney Crosby, the Rangers' time atop the Eastern Conference may well be coming to a close. They certainly aren't doing much to stay there. A win against Chicago will help, but a win over Ottawa would have been more important.

Late Hits:

*No one kills a Ranger power play like the Rangers. They had four power plays in this one, for a total of 7:27 of ice time. They managed all of six shots, not one of which really tested Ottawa's giant goaltender. It is hard to rip on Richard$ given his exceptional feed to Cally for the first goal, but he certainly didn't do much with the man advantage.

*And neither did Del Zaster, who was his usual DelZastrous self. Sloppy in the offensive end, awful on defense. For all of those who defend DZ because of his age, Erik Karlsson - Norris candidate Erik Karlsson - is less than a month older.

*What I would have given to see DZ fight against Sergei Gonchar. I imagine it would have been a bit like this. Del Zaster, by the way, has yet to have a NHL fight and I am pretty sure he never tossed the gloves in junior either.

*Love Pruster, but why fight late in the third period? The game was well out of hand. He should have tossed the gloves to go after Chris Neil when that goon was cheap shotting the Rangers earlier on. But at least he escaped the fight with Smith without injury.

*Speaking of goons ... Mike Rupp. I say a lot of bad things about him but on this evening he deserves my thanks. His missed hit in the third period was hilarious. After watching the team struggle all night, I needed that laugh. And, thanks to a reader - click on the pic for endless fun!

*Almost as amusing was John Scott's breakaway. The big guy had no idea what he was doing and by the time he decided it was too late. Had he scored, the Rangers would have went up 2-1 and who knows what would have happened (pigs may have taken flight, dogs and cats may have started living together, mass hysteria may have ensued ... ).

*Rangers deserving of accolades were Cap'n Cally, Feds, Mitch and Arty. All four hustled all night long (all night) and were rewarded with chances. Sadly they couldn't convert but they get an A for effort.

*Paul MacLean's mustache is magnificent.

*I admit to being a long-time fan of Jason Spezza. Saw him fight Jason Botterill in Binghamton back in 2003 after Botterill went knee-on-knee with Spezza's teammate Christoph Schubert. He may not be the do-all power pivot folks in Ottawa hoped for but he has a heap of talent.

*Sam and Joe were horrible, one of their worst broadcasts of the season. They got names wrong, facts wrong, analysis wrong ... how does the colour man of the Rangers not know the franchise's ECHL affiliate? And geez Joe, stop with the hair dye - you look as ridiculous as you sound.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Rob Klinkhammer - one assist.
2-Jared Cowen - no idea. Five hits?
1-Ben Bishop - 25 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Chris Neil - Cheap-shotting shift disturber did his job. Makes you miss a certain former Ranger ...
2-Chris Phillips - Several times the Rangers got themselves into good scoring positions only to have the Sens' vet smoothly diffuse the situations.
1-Zack Smith - Sure his goal should have been an easy stop but it came at the tail end of a relentless shift. And he came just short of a Gordie Howe hattie when he beat up Pruster at the end of the third.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

42-16-7: Rocked

The Rangers have won most of their games this season through a combination of hard work and good luck. As the idiom goes, one begets the other and against the Devils the Blueshirts didn't have much of either in the match. The result was a poor one, a 4-1 loss to their cross-river rivals.

It was awful at the start, as the Rangers played one of their worst periods of the year. They got their game together for the second period before falling apart in the finale. Lack of consistency has been a killer at times and it certainly proved fatal in this one. But at least they weren't consistently bad. The success during the second showed that they can get their act together under duress and that perseverance should prove to be a powerful quality during the postseason.

Late Hits:

*Poor Brandon Dubinsky, he really is trying. So Chris Higgins-ish. After the top unit completely fell apart in the first minute, Dubi tried to jump-start his teammates by tussling with Ryan Carter. Too bad the former Duck channeled Hurricane Carter and kicked the hell out of him.

*Tortorella's line juggling was just as hurtful to the Rangers as the punches Dubinsky took to the face. No one had any clue as to where they were going or who they were playing with (especially in the third period) and the lack of chemistry killed.

*The coach's call to dress 'toughness' was also a massive mistake in judgement. Keeping goons John Scott and Mike Rupp in the roster while dropping grinder John Mitchell and selecting Steve Eminger over Anton Stralman both backfired. Scott lost a fight to a guy nearly a foot shorter than him, Rupp achieved absolutely nothing (as per usual) and Mitchell's energy was missing. Eminger couldn't do a single thing right, while Stralman's puck skills could have helped get the team out of their own end once or twice. The devil is in the details and the Devils managed their details better than the Rangers did.

*It is astounding how the Rangers have yet to learn that dumping the puck around the boards and chasing doesn't work against Mmmaaaaarrrrttyy? The tubby tender has always gotten his exercise ranging out of his crease, it is no revelation that he will beat the Blueshirts to puck after puck - even with a speedster like Hagelin heading into the Jersey end.

*Bork bork bork! The youngster's set up to Step was simply stellar: he won a battle behind the net against two Devils and threaded the needle through the slot to Stepan. Beautiful stuff, and we are only scratching the surface of the Swede's talent. Adam Henrique may be more of a Calder candidate, but Hagelin can be better down the line.

*Del Zastrous. In his own end. Along the boards. On the power play. Just Del Zastrous.

*Dan Girardi was almost as awful. Ok, no, not really. But he wasn't his usual solid self. While he may have physically survived to this point of the season the many minutes that he has played have taken a mental toll and he is making uncharacteristic mistakes.

*Thankfully Marc Staal is raising his game. He was strong, confident and decisive on both ends of the ice. Frankly, Staal had his best performance in a long, long time - a throwback to the pre-concussion kid who rose to become the Blueshirts' best blueliner.

*Timing is everything. During a game where Sean Avery's presence would have helped immeasurably, news came out that he has been told to not come back to the Whale. Not sure if I have another post in me lamenting Avery's fate but the gist of it would just be a sad, slow shake of the head.

*Man do I hate David Clarkson. That's all, just wanted to say that.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ryan Carter - one goal and one KO.
2-Martin Brodeur - 25 saves.
1-Ilya Kovalchuk - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - A ton of astounding saves to keep the Rangers close. Sure he probably coulda grabbed one or two of the goals against, but many of his 25 stops were just stellar.
2-Carter - Eight minutes, four shots, one goal, one demolition of Dubinsky. Not bad.
1-Kovy - New Jersey's top skill player was their top player, shaming Gaborik and Richard$.

Monday, March 5, 2012

42-15-7: Bumping Uglies

Sunday's tilt between the Bruins and the Rangers, the two top teams in the Eastern Conference was not an attractive display. It was not an exhibition of grace and skill. It was raw, gritty, grinding hockey. And in the end the Blueshirts emerged victorious 4-3.

It was yet more proof that the Rangers can contend with the beasts of the lEast. Whether they can hang with them (or the Pens) in a seven game series is still questionable but they can certainly give them a run for their money.

Late Hits:

*Rangers dumped and chased, Bruins dumped and chased. Really brutal stuff for long stretches. Given that there were skill players out there, it is astounding how this one went to the team that outhustled the other.

*Speaking of such, bork bork bork!

*Staal has had several moments over the last three games that were glimpses of the guy who was one of the NHL's top blueliners and this may have been his best all-around performance. With Sauer out long term, Staal's continued improvement is key to the team's future success.

*Nice tip by Ruslan Fedotenko to re-direct Anton Stralman's shot past Timmy Thomas. Stralman gets credit for just throwing the puck into traffic but he wasted that credit just minutes later with a bone-headed turnover. Passing the puck through your own slot is one of the no-nos they teach you in Defense 101.

*Feds also sliced to the net on the Stepan goal, crossing into Thomas' line of vision as Step took his shot. That's what you need to do in today's NHL to score, especially against the elite goaltenders.

*Mike Rupp decided to show up and do something for once, but it wasn't to do anything necessary to the game. Rupp justified his paycheque and the role of the one-dimensional goon by entertaining a minor league nobody in exactly the kind of meaningless bout that the pacifists are using as evidence the sport doesn't need fighting. Bickel's bout with Campbell at least came in the flow of play, Rupp's neanderthal dance was senseless.

*While on the subject of fighting, what was Prust thinking? The Bruins had just gotten back into the game, scoring to cut their deficit to one and he added more fuel to the fire by taking on the bigger, stronger Milan Lucic. Haveta love Prust's willingness to fight out of his weight class but answering the bell for this one was not the brightest move he's made. At least it took Lucic off the ice for five minutes and luckily Prust survived to show his other skills with stellar penalty killing the rest of the afternoon.

*It has been clear that the power play has had many problems but for Torts to think that John Mitchell is the solution ... I mean, seriously? Having John Scott plant his enormous body in front would make more sense than putting Mitchell out there.

*Scott jousting with Chara got me all excited. Would have loved to see the two titans square off, too bad Chara realized that was a trade off that Boston couldn't afford.

*Big game by Boyle, but I still wish he wasn't so soft.

*Tyler Seguin is scary good. And just 20 years old. Stupid Maple Leafs.

*Nice of the scorekeeper to give Del Zaster that assist on the Gaborik goal. He broke his stick and skated to the bench while Richard$ put the puck on net. That shot was stopped and Richard$ got the rebound over to Gabby for the goal, and yet DZ still got a helper. No slamming DZ's drop pass to Step though, that was a good play. Hilarious watching the kid literally stumbling around the Ranger end at one point.

*Dubi had no shots on goal but he played the same high level of motivated, physical hockey that we saw against Tampa. Let's hope this fire remains lit.

*PHW Three Stars
3-David Krejci - one goal.
2-Marian Gaborik - one goal.
1-Derek Stepan - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Feds - The Ukrainian is lunchpail guy. While he has large stretches of invisible play, games like this one show how he can be big in the playoffs.
2-Lucic - The Big Bad Bruin was a force to be feared all game. He beat up Prust, he set up Krejci and he sent a message at the final buzzer. Old Time Hockey!
1-Hank - While he wasn't as huge as he was in the 1-0 game in Boston, the King still made 30 saves, six of them shorthanded.