Sunday, April 29, 2012

R2, G1: Soft Goals, Solid Result

It is hard to imagine that Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist didn't realize that yesterday marked the first game of their team's second round series. After all, they both slogged through seven games against their previous opponent and skated into an outrageously loud Madison Square Garden.

So it is curious why each had such poor performances. It is shocking even, considering one was just lauded for shutting down the reigning Stanley Cup champions and the other was named a candidate for both the Vezina and Hart trophies.

Luck was on Lundqvist's side though as several of his worst misses rang off the iron while Holtby's ended up in the back of the net. Had Washington started an actual NHL goaltender, the result may have been different. But, alas, it was what it was and the Rangers survived the sloppy grindfest to win 3-1 and take a 1-0 lead in the series.


Late Hits:

*Chris Kreider was all the talk after this one for his game-winning goal but his assist was far more impressive. The goal was an intensely saveable shot that Holtby just blew. The assist, however, was a terrific, veteran play. Richard$ lost the puck and Kreider corralled it along the boards before Chimera could get it. He then turned back and took contact from Karl Alzner to backhand the puck to the uncovered Richard$. Smart, calm and smooth. And Holtby allowed another awful goal and the Blueshirts had some insurance.

*Stephane Matteau was shown to the arena during a television timeout, and Artem Anisimov opened the scoring just over a minute later on a wrap-around. Was that remarkable or what?

*The Caps' game-tying goal was pretty for them but ugly work by the Rangers. It was a helluva feed from Brooks Laich but Dan Girardi simply got out-hustled by Chimera, who beat Hank five-hole. Girardi played a lot of tough minutes earlier this season and it has been showing in recent weeks.

*The Ovie trolling, a la Alfredsson, was terrific fun. It is remarkable how great the Garden crowd can get after months and months of Potvin chants ad nauseum.

*Steve Eminger returned, although he got the Rupp/Bickel/Mitchell treatment and barely played. Expect a guest post on this topic one of these days.

*The Mitchell/Rupp/Eminger line played in the middle of the second period, then was not used again until the shift after the Richard$ goal - and they proceeded to get trapped in their own end. What could Tortorella be thinking? He puts a cold fourth line out onto the ice after taking a two-goal lead, does he want to jump-start the Washington comeback for them?

*The Ranger power play went 0-3, New York typical.

*Gabby continued to be snakebitten. At some point those chances have to start going in, hopefully that point will be before next fall.

*Step's confidence seems to be at a season-high, which is nice timing. He ceased being timid and is working the hard areas to try to create and finish.

*Hmm, who is worse at defense: Del Zaster or Mike Green? Both have just two points in eight playoff games despite getting serious power play time.

*Free tee shirts again, and they again are without massive corporate logos. Dolan must die a little bit with every one that is handed out.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Ruslan Fedotenko - one assist.
2-Brad Richards - one goal.
1-Chris Kreider - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Feds - Championships are won on the backs of players like Feds. For all of the weeks of invisibility, the Ukrainian's work in the trenches is helping the team win games when they really count.
2-Kreider - Another really fast, relentless young player named Hagelin came out of the gates flying too after his debut. Now the trick will be doing it night in and night out...
1-Ryan McDonagh - It was another masterful performance by McDonagh. Three of the top offensive talents in the NHL didn't even get a sniff of scoring because of his steady, smart defending. Outstanding.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

R1, G7: Sayonara Senators

The Rangers advanced to the second round of the playoffs by defeating the Senators on Thursday 2-1 in Game 7 of their series.

The Blueshirts blueliners jumped into the attack to capitalize for a pair of second period goals and the team then spent the rest of night clinging to their advantage. The third period was an expected stress-filled, one-sided atrocity but the King kept the Rangers ahead and they collected the victory.

What ever happened to that "safe is death" nonsense that Tortorella spouted once upon a time? The coach has his team playing a game 180 degrees away - a dull, Devils-esque, counter-attacking defensive style. As those few Jersey fans formerly said, in defending their franchise, 'it is not entertaining but it is effective, and that is all that matters.'

I used to meet that claim with a disagreeing shrug but now it is one that is more resigned than anything else. These are the players we have, this is the style our coach is preaching. If there is a Cup at the end of the rainbow, well, then it is all worth it. But the Rangers had better be careful. With the Washington series slated to start on Saturday, we won't be watching a one-line wonder anchored by a senior citizen like Daniel Alfredsson out there killing the clock until social security kicks in. The Caps have far more depth and are far more dangerous than the north-of-the-border boys so the Blueshirts had better expand their repertoire.

Just a few Late Hits:

*Brandon Dubinsky was finally able to contribute. His hit in the corner forced a turnover and knocked Jason Spezza out of the play. The Blueshirts transitioned up the ice, Spezza lollygagged back and Dubi was able to turn Pruster's feed across to an uncovered Dan Girardi. Sexy, simple play.

*The power play went 0-3, New York typical.

*Enjoyed the "Alfie Sucks" countdown, inarticulate yet entertaining trolling.

*Chris Kreider contributed by losing an edge. He took out Foligno to force the turnover that led to the Staalsie goal. Smart move by the defender to jump up and Step found him with a sweet feed through Gonchar. It has been a long, slow recovery for Staal but he is getting back to the player that he once was. Maybe another round of Semin's bongos will bring him back even closer.

*Why can't Step win a faceoff?

*Rangers went up 2-0, and Del Zaster opened the door for Ottawa by taking a stupid penalty. DZ had been jousting with Neil all shift and Neil won, that simple. The kid was outmuscled and outwitted and lost his temper. His incompetence in his own end continues to be infuriating.

*The Sens capitalized on that power play thanks to Alfie, who sent a shot past the flamingo defense of Anton Stralman. How Stralman can play alongside Girardi all season and try to block a shot in that manner (or not) is beyond me.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Marc Staal - one goal.
2-Dan Girardi - one goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 26 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Cally - Did he want to win or what?
2-Staal - Maybe a full training camp this fall can help him reclaim his position as Best Staal of them All.
1-Hank - Been tweeting #HankForHart for months for a reason ...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

R1, G6: Stayin' Alive

Oh, the frustrations of being a Ranger fan, what a cross we have to bear. If the Rangers were capable of playing at the level that they did on Monday night, why the hell is this series going to seven games? The Blueshirts put together a terrific performance to top Ottawa 3-2 to level the series at three.

The boys were physical, they were smart, they were resilient, they were a first place team. It was one of the rare times this season that all elements worked efficiently: their best players were their best players and there was secondary scoring, solid special teams and incredible defense. Things just worked. And it was wonderful.

And now they have a chance to do it again on Thursday. And they had better do it again on Thursday.

Or else.

It's hard to organize all the reactions amid the sheer relief of surviving but I'll give it a shot in the Late Hits:

*Love the Code, it is one of my favourite things about our sport. Prust hits Karlsson, Neil hits Richards in response. Prust then fights Neil. You hit ours, we hit yours, time to dance. Bloody beautiful.

*That fight though ... that wasn't pretty. Poor Pruster is clearly not the pugilist he was before the Krys Barch fight broke everything that was fixed in his offseason shoulder surgery. But, as he has said, "it's just pain." After a string of underwhelming performances to start the series, Prust was a huge factor for the Rangers in this one. He and Rupp came out hitting and his fight against Neil signalled that the Rangers weren't ready to quit this series.

*It was no coincidence that the Rangers hit Erik Karlsson five times over the night and won the game. (They hit him five times total, total over the previous four matches.)

*Alfie! Alfie! Alfie! Invisible, except when being hit by John Mitchell of all people. Check that: except when being hit by Mitchell and when being stoned in front by Hank. That save by the King, with the game tied at one, was MASSIVE. If Alfredsson scored the go-ahead goal in his first game back, the roof would have blown off that building and it would have been all-but-impossible for the Rangers to recover.

*Mitchell on the power play? Mitchell on the penalty kill? Mitchell holding blackmail photos of Torts' wife. Well ... maybe not, but how do you explain it?

*Welcome back Hagelin. A nice, simple, tenacious performance. Bork!

*That Senator Silfverberg has a big future - looked a lot like that Nyqvist kid on Detroit. What is it with the influx of young, skilled Swedish forwards? Put him out there with Karlsson, Bishop, Stone and Zibanejad in the next few years and Ottawa could be really dangerous.

*Ever since people decided they needed third parties to mediate their sporting events there have been fans who have disapproved of the actions and decisions of those third parties. And when those decisions directly affect the results, well those fans voice their disapproval. This is me voicing my disapproval: Tim Peel needs to be relieved of his duties. You never want to see someone out of work, but officiating NHL hockey is clearly not something he is capable or competent of doing so he should be banished to the unemployment line. The calls throughout the night - on both sides - were not dubious, they were egregious.

*The USA! USA! chants at the Garden will finally be appropriate on Thursday when Step, Kreider and Callahan take the ice. The three all-American boys worked quite well together for enough shifts that they deserve a shot to stay together despite Torts' tendency to juggle lines. And, riffing off the U.S. aspect of it, it seemed like Step finally realized that 'a bruise on the leg is a hell of a long way from the heart.' The kid was playing at a level unseen from him this series to be sure.

*And congrats to Kreider: right time, right place, perfect release.

*Del Zaster had two of his better moments as a Ranger. First he made an outstanding keep-in on the Richard$ goal, then he lined up Neil with a hit. Sure he barely made contact and Neil milked it as much as he could, but seeing that Sen rolling around was outstanding. It was a nice measure of revenge after DZ left Staal outmatched in front on the opening goal of the game.

*Dubi picked up some of Boyle's ice time and most of his faceoff duties. He proved capable, but little more. This kid used to tease an impressive combination of size, power and hands and now he is little more than a third line plug. Kinda sad. Really woulda been nice if he could have helped Cally convert one of those shorthanded breaks.

*Pretty sure I saw Konopka get away with a clear headbutt on Rupp in the first period, just before he got hung for the ridiculous roughing call. Rupp, by the way, played three more shifts in the first, none in the second and just one in the third. He really had his legs for that one in the third, let me tell you. And he came out of the gate flying - well, as close to flying as Rupp gets.

*Two minutes for Stu? Really Torts? Can't deny that McDonagh did utterly phenomenal work in his extended minutes - minutes he pretty much needed to play - but keeping Bickel benched for so long only hurts the team in the long run.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Chris Neil - one goal.
2-Henrik Lundqvist - 25 saves.
1-Derek Stepan - one goal and two assists.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Richard$ - Hey, there is that power play quarterback we were promised!
2-Neil - The only thing that didn't work for him was his act behind the net. Hate him so very much, which means he is doing his job so very well.
1-McDonagh - Step collected a few points and the King came through with a few big saves but McD was a rock all night long (all night). As Girardi has faded ever so slightly since the All Star Game, McD has raised his game to another level. Love you Bob Gainey!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

R1, G5: Gutless At The Garden

It is an odd thing that the 2011-12 New York Rangers, a team that clawed its way to the top not on skill but on hard work, would piss away their season so softly.

On Saturday night the Rangers were outworked for the fourth straight game of their playoff series against the Senators and lost 2-0. They moved one game away from elimination, trailing Ottawa 3-2 in the best of seven. I've overused T. S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" in this blog but rarely has it been more true than now. The Blueshirts are ending their season "not with a bang but a whimper."

The team that led the NHL with 65 fights this season (0.79 per game) has just one bout in the series. And that is not for lack of provocation from the Senators, to be sure. That is because John Tortorella has tied the hands (or gloves to the hands) of the Ranger tough guys. Torts has taken the team away from a crash-bang, hard hitting, hard punching, forechecking team to one that sits back and reacts to their opponent. And Ottawa has used their team speed to take advantage of the time and space to dominate play. It's pathetic.

And, almost thankfully, it's almost over. All we have left to hope for is Carl Hagelin's youthful reckless abandon ignites the offence when he returns to action on Monday. That's right, a team with Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richard$ (among others) needs a rookie to return its identity. Pathetic.

Late Hits

*As the Rangers have done all too often since the lockout, they inflated the opposing goaltender's numbers. Craig Anderson skated away with a 41 save shutout, but if he had to take a shower afterwards I'd be shocked. The Rangers shooters just fired the puck on net and rarely followed it. They didn't get into the slot, they didn't get into the crease. They aimed for the logo on Anderson's chest and skated away at the whistle.

*If Tortorella was indeed upset over the Neil hit on Boyle, why didn't he have anyone do anything about it? At this point he appears to be dressing Stu Bickel and Mike Rupp for no reason other than to meet the roster minimum, which is unfortunate.

*That hit, by the way, was totally clean. It was a great hit on a player not paying attention. So quit your crying. This is hockey.

*Neil has been one of the most valuable players in the series, to be sure. He has been throwing his body around, he has been contributing to the offense and has been capable backchecking. Doing exactly what Dubi should be doing for the Rangers.

*Yet another game where Erik Karlsson skated free. The Swede was hit once. Once. That makes for a total of five over the last four games. The linchpin to the Senator offense. Not that Del Zaster is in the same stratosphere of Karlsson (NOT EVEN CLOSE), but the Sens made sure to hit the Rangers lone "offensive defenseman" three times.

*Eight minutes of power play time, seven shots, no goals. Del Zastrous. New York typical.

*The one real goal against was abominable. John Mitchell abandoned his man Jason Spezza for a foolhardy poke check on Mark Stone and Stone smartly took advantage of it with a perfect pass. How Spezza's shot beat Hank five hole, well, that is beyond me. A terrible mistake by Hank. But you would think a goaltender should be allowed to survive one mistake while playing behind a first place team, wouldn't you?

*Chris Kreider just one shot in seven and a half minutes of play. If he was any more invisible his name would be Artem Anisimov.

*Perhaps Anisimov will show up in Game 6 if Torts deigns to pair him with Prust - the tough guy sparked Arty before (along with Jody Shelley), perhaps having the bruiser's heart will get him going again.

*Zenon Konopka played nearly 11 minutes (four of which were shorthanded), had an assist and won 10 of 12 faceoffs. Rupp played for five and a half and took a minor for charging. Ugh.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Jason Spezza - two goals.
2-Henrik Lundqvist - 28 saves.
1-Craig Anderson - 41 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Anderson - Allowed one less softie than Hank.
2-Hank - One terrible goal aside, this game could easily have been four or five to zip.
1-Spezza - Spezza's first two goals of the series were more than enough to win on this night.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

R1, G4: More OT Awfulness

The Rangers had a chance to take a stranglehold in their series against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday and they blew it.

The Blueshirts blew an early 2-0 lead and ultimately lost 3-2 in overtime, letting the Sens draw even at two games apiece. John Tortorella has not had his team press the advantage once this season and he did not have them do it again last night. They take the lead and battle to hang on to it, praying that Hank will be up to the task. Well, one game after giving a dominating performance he could not. All three Senator goals were stoppable but bigger factor was the fact that the Rangers couldn't get any kind of attack together against an Ottawa defense that gave up 240 goals - the most of any team to make the playoffs.

It is getting harder and harder to figure out which team was the higher seed entering this series. That is not a testament to the Senators, but proof that the Rangers play down to the level of their opponents - something they have done all year. That year is about to end if they can't figure out how to finish off what should be an inferior foe.

Late Hits:

*One hit on Karlsson, three minutes into the game. This marks the third game in row that the Swedish defenseman hasn't been hit and the third game in a row where the Rangers were outplayed. Not a coincidence.

*Mike Rupp was the best Ranger during the overtime. Let me repeat that. Mike Rupp was the best Ranger during the overtime. On one hand, Rupp's playoff past is why the Rangers signed him (over Zenon Kenopka, who would actually have been far more of a help this season). On the other hand, HE IS MIKE F-ING RUPP!

*Why did no one go after Carkner? Instead of getting his comeuppance he got an assist. Oops.

*Helluva hit by Marc Staal on Jason Spezza. Helluva hit. And nice of Spezza to play it up to try to get Staal sent off. Sorry, didn't work softie.

*Speaking of soft, no Alfredsson again. While we made the superstar vs. rookie claim on the suspension decision to Hagelin, it is appearing more and more that both were equally important to their teams. Unfortunately, while the Sens are surviving, Hagelin's absence is killing the Rangers. The forecheck is not the same, the attack is not the same, the dump and chase is not the same ... the only good thing about this series extending to six games is that the kid will be back before it is too late.

*His replacement Chris Kreider continues to look out of place. Kreider has NHL skills, to be sure, but he is not a NHL-ready package. He looks lost out there at times, he disappears and he has blown the few scoring chances that he has been given on a silver platter. The college kid would certainly have been better served skating in Hartford (with JT Miller now) than being thrust into the middle of this chaos. We just have to hope that a supporting Garden crowd will give him the boost he needs to be relevant on Saturday.

*Nice to get two first period power play goals. Not nice to blow three second period power plays, one of which where they didn't get off a single shot. New York typical.

*Brian Boyle's scoring streak was snapped. Boyle played more than 19 minutes just three out of the previous 85 games. He never played more than 20 minutes. So it only makes sense that a desperate Tortorella would put him out for 20:54 in this one.

*Boyle took 28 faceoffs, Richard$ 23. The next-highest was Arty, who took four. Things worked out for Torts in Tampa when leaned hard on a young Richard$ and Vinny Lecavalier constantly, because they were superstars. Things are not working out here - he has to use more of his lineup.

*Stu Bickel had the save of the night in Game 3, so it only makes sense for Torts to keep him on the bench for most of this one. Stu got called for a nickel-dime penalty, McDonagh got called for two of them. And Mac just kept on playing on. That is not to say that they are equal - they are not - but that Torts is too hard on Stu. Konopka and Neil regularly made themselves at home around Hank but the Ranger head coach decided to keep his bruiser blueliner on the bench. Ridiculous.

*Derek Stepan was not good. Pointless in his last six, two goals in his last 21 games. Heard that he may be nursing an undisclosed injury and, given his level of play, would not be the least bit surprised if that was indeed the case.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brad Richards - two assists.
2-Craig Anderson - 31 saves.
1-Kyle Turris - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Richard$ - Good numbers across the board but he couldn't help the Rangers when it counted.
2-Milan Michalek - The Czech, who happens to hail from the same hometown of Ales Kotalik, plays in all situations and finally broke through for a goal.
1-Sergei Gonchar - An offensive defenseman who contributes on the scoresheet? Heh, how about that? Del Zaster, one assist in his last eight games. (You had know I'd get him in this wrap at some point ...)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

R1, G3: Thank You Henrik ...

The King is a mighty crutch to have in hockey, as last night's 1-0 Ranger win proved. Henrik Lundqvist made 39 saves on the Sens to help give the Blueshirts a 2-1 lead in the best o' seven series.

It was a great result, given the not so great effort from the Rangers. Ottawa, without one of their top scorers, pinned the Blueshirts in their own end for long stretches and peppered Hank with shots. The Rangers transition game was nothing short of abominable as it was a tough chore to get out of their own zone, much less through the neutral zone and in on Anderson. Their puck pressure was poor, their forecheck was sporadic and they pissed away two full power plays and 24 seconds of a third.

However, all was not awful (especially the result). The boys got in a few good counterpunches but just could not finish. No Ranger will be getting suspended for any of his actions. No Ranger cowered beneath the physicality of his opponent. And Henrik Lundqvist showed some simply outstanding form. All are things to build on for Game 4 as the team hopefully turns this tough victory into an easier one on Wednesday.

Late Hits:

*Is there anything more awesome than seeing Hank get angry? He put up with Neil in his face all night and finally snapped when Konopka came calling. Konopka, one of the toughest guys in the NHL - a guy who had 307 PIM last season, 76 fights in his last three seasons. Hank's got some big Swedish meatballs, if you know what I mean.

*It is astounding how streaky (and thus frustrating) of a player Brian Boyle is, but you simply can not complain about the timing of this latest hot streak. On a night where Gabby was frustrated and Richard$ was invisible, Boyle kept his hot hand going. People have been saying it since before he was drafted - when Boyle is willing and able to use his size, he is a solid player. The rest of the time ... notsomuch. It is of little coincidence that Boyle's goals start going in once he is willing to use his size to make space in front of the net.

*Erik Karlsson may be a disciple of the school of Nick Lidstrom but it was Dan Girardi who best used one of the lessons taught by the Swedish superstar. One of Lidstrom's top moves is to use the ricochet off the endboards to get a puck through to the slot and Dan-O did just that. The puck bounced off the boards and came back to Boyle for the one-timer past Anderson. Simple, sexy stuff.

*Karlsson, by the way, was hit just once according to the official play-by-play (I didn't notice it) - and that was with an official scorekeeper who counted an outrageous 81 hits in a relatively timid game.

*Both Carl Hagelin and Daniel Alfredsson were missed by their teams. The Rangers were clearly lacking the speed and tenacity of Young Carl's forecheck and, without Alfredson's virtual ownership of Lundqvist the Sens couldn't score. Of course, Carl was Shanabanned so he had no choice. Alfie passed all of the concussion tests and just didn't bother to show up. That's a captain right there.

*That being said, gotta admire the Scotiabank Crowd for their 11:11 countdown and chant in his honour - they are respecting one of their own, a guy who has played in Ottawa his entire career. Ranger fans that mocked it ... most of you join in on "Potvin Sucks" and have no idea the origin of that chant so shush.

*Serious attaboy to Anton Stralman for his play in the final minute. Who knew he had that in him?

*Best save of the night? Not Hank on Turris. Not Anderson on Callahan. Stu Bickel on Jim O'Brien. Outstanding arm save by the big Minnesota boy. Despite being the unnecessary butt of Tortorella's ire often this season, Stu has helped save the Blueshirt blueliners by stepping in for Sauer with strong, capable play. It isn't flashy at all but it has certainly filled part of the huge gap left by Sauer's absence.

*Del Zaster ... not sure what is left to say anymore. He prizes his offense over his defense and yet he often doesn't even do that right. He was utterly incapable of carrying the puck out, he gambled and failed in the Ottawa end several times and his work on the power play is pedantic at best.

*Really had hoped Dubi would have had a far better game than he did. After his early ejection in Game 2, you would think he would have been even more riled up and ready to go. Unfortunately he had a largely timid performance, outside of the facewash to Foligno after the Sen dumped Cally in a post-whistle scrum. He has to be more involved.

*So does Chris Kreider. Kreider looked like a kid with no NHL experience out there but he definitely displayed the skills the scouts said he had. That was clearly evident right from the outset - his initial shift saw him playing proper Ranger hockey: dump, chase, hit and keep after it. This is a trial by fire and Kreider managed not to get burned in his first game. We'll see how he does in his second and beyond ...

*PHW Three Stars
3-Brian Boyle - one goal.
2-Craig Anderson - 22 saves.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 39 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Anderson - Seriously considered Girardi but Anderson does deserve recognition. He was hardly tested but when he was, he came though with solid saves.
2-Boyle - Outshined Richard$, outshined Spezza, outshined everyone due to his battle level. Outstanding.
1-Hank - Considered giving him all three stars for that effort. Outstanding.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Senator Series Shanabans

For those not following on Twitter, I disagree with Brendan Shanahan's rulings today. Carl Hagelin was suspended for three games for his "elbow" on Daniel Alfredsson and Matt Carkner was suspended for one due to his assault on Brian Boyle.

Shanahan's reasoning was that Hagelin “finishes his check with his arms high, recklessly hitting Alfredsson high with his elbow.” Alright, an elbow high is bad.

Shanahan's reasoning was that Carkner "delivers two punches to Boyle's head, the second of which knocks Boyle to the ice. With Boyle down Carkner continues to throw punches, connecting at least five more times with a player who has chosen not to engage in this altercation." Punching a guy in the head is ok, but continuing to punch a turtle is bad.

These rulings display the utter hypocrisy of the NHL today: one unintentional high hit in the flow of play is three times more egregious than two direct punches to the head and five more to undefined locations upon a prone player's body.

Now add to the equation the $2,500 fine Shea Weber received for grabbing Henrik Zetterberg by the helmet and slamming the Swede's head into the glass. Zetterberg and Boyle were fine, Alfredsson did not return to the game. It is clear that Shanahan bases these punishments not on how egregious the action, but by the fallout of said action.

Shanahan's process is flawed and unfair.

Punishing Hagelin based on the fact that Alfredsson was hurt does not take into account the fact that the 39 year old has a long history of injuries. Alfredsson has not played a full season since his rookie year due to a litany of bumps, bruises and breaks. The laundry list of ouchies includes knocks to his hip, ankle, back, knee, head, jaw and "upper body" so it is of little surprise that a little bit of contact took him out yet again. Wolski gave him his first recorded concussion earlier this season and doctors (and Lindroses) have shown that it is easier to get another concussion once a player has already had one - if Alfredsson does indeed have another, which has yet to be diagnosed. Ryan Callahan took an elbow to the head from Chris Phillips in Game 2 but he didn't collapse like a house of cards so the play wasn't even reviewed.

Hagelin is classy and was, of course, apologetic for hitting his childhood hero. If anything, the way Hagelin handled himself will endear him even more into the hearts of Ranger fans. But he did make things worse by apologizing in his meeting with Shanny - as most kids learn, by saying "sorry" you are admitting that you've done something wrong. Hags may think he did something wrong but personally, I don't think he did. He finished a check and, if Alfredsson wasn't the NHL equivalent of Elijah Price, he would have skated off with a two minute minor, at most.

As for Carkner, he received most of the punishment he deserved in the game. The refs gave him the appropriate 2, 5 and 10 and all that should be left is a beating at the hands of a Ranger. It is not his fault that Boyle bitched out. And to suspend Carkner for a game that he likely would have been benched for makes the ruling even more silly - as an Sens fan explained to me, MacLean has alternated Carkner with Gilroy in recent weeks so it was more than likely that Carkner would have been out anyway.

So the Rangers lose an energetic, capable and clean (24 PIM in 64 games) kid for the next three games while Ottawa goes about business as usual in Game 3 without Carkner. By no means has justice been served, in any form. But what it is is what it is, and the series continues tonight. Let's hope that the Rangers can recover from the loss of Game 2 and the loss of Carl Hagelin - it is all that they can do.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

R1, G2: So Much For Home Ice

Several hours of retrospection have helped to find one single common thread among the many failures by the Blueshirts in Game 2 against Ottawa:

John Tortorella.

The Ranger bench boss made a plethora of mistakes in judgement and they cost his team a playoff game. Forgive me if that sounds familiar - as his errors cost the Blueshirts the Washington series in 2009 too - but his team tonight deserved a better fate.

Torts let his charges sit back on both leads they earned, apparently thinking that a one-goal advantage was enough in a playoff game ... a game against a team that scored 23 more goals than his own during the regular season. Instead they allowed the game-tying tally with less than five minutes to go and lost 3-2 early in overtime. Awful.

Torts saw the success the Rangers had in hitting Karlsson in Game 1 but did not demand they punish him again in Game 2 - Karlsson was hit twice. Twice. The guy was physically intimidated by all of the contact in the opener and played 30 minutes in this one. And he was hit twice. Inexcusable.

Torts kept Mitchell and Rupp off the ice entirely after the second period. Rupp may be largely useless, but Mitchell was actually having a solid outing before being stapled to the bench. By over-using the top lines in a defensive role, the skill guys had little energy to make honest attacks on a goaltender that they utterly owned in Game 1. And what makes it even worse is that Rupp's and Mitchell's counterparts - Chris Neil and Zenon Konopka - played a huge part for Ottawa.

The other Ranger with an edge, Stu Bickel, was limited to all of six shifts - two in the second period and one in the third. The remaining Blueshirt blueliners were physically worn down by overtime and were scrambling in their own end, leading to Neil's goal.

The head coach will have to get his head about him if the Rangers are to regain the momentum in this series. Luckily the Blueshirts had a 27-12-2 home record this year and a nearly identical away record of 24-12-5. But to replicate that regular season success the Rangers will have to replicate the physical play that brought them a win in the playoff opener: Karlsson needs to be abused, lines need to be better managed, bodies need to pile up around Anderson and goals need to pile up behind him.

This series depends on it.

Late Hits:

*Matt Carkner was the hero of the game for Ottawa because he did his job, above and beyond. He got revenge for Boyle's nuggies on Karlsson in Game 1 and intimidated the Rangers away from doing anything to the kid in Game 1. And he took a hard-working Ranger with him while doing it. That is a helluva performance by the no-talent neanderthal.

*Good job turtling Boyle, surely Claude Lemieux and Sean Avery are proud wherever they may be. It was Willie Huber channelling Jeff Bloemberg. You have to respect Dubi for doing the right thing but for him to even have to defend a 6-foot-7, 245 pound behemoth is ridiculous. Boyle tried to save face by taking on Neil but, of course, the Senator won that debate. And that final shift in overtime was full of fail for the big softie Boyle as he lost a defensive zone faceoff and lost his coverage, allowing Neil to win again. It is delightful that the BC alum has been able to provide some secondary scoring - someone, anyone needed to step up - but he still needs to be solid in his own end, that's his job.

*Callahan showed that, unlike the soft septuagenerian captain of Ottawa, he actually has some integrity and toughness. He ducked his head and took an elbow from Chris Phillips in the first period. Alfredsson ducked his head and took an elbow from Hagelin in the second and went down like a ton of bricks to draw a major penalty. Maybe if Cally collapsed and called it a night the Rangers would have received another five minute power play. Not that they would have scored on it but still ...

*A knuckle puck from Anton Stralman ensured that the Rangers escaped with one goal in their 10 minutes and 39 seconds of power play time. They had a man advantage for more than one-sixth of regulation and scored once - on a lucky shot at that. The power play has been a sore spot for much of this season but Tortorella keeps throwing the same personnel out there hoping for a different result. I do believe that that is the definition of insanity.

*Del Zaster had 6:17 of power play time and did not score or set up or even witness a single goal during that span. But he had 3:14 of shorthanded time and deftly redirected a shot in for Ottawa with his skate; perhaps the Red Bulls could use his services. Sure he picked off the pass to feed Fedotenko (who looked offsides) on the Boyle goal but that doesn't level the ledger. DZ's defensive play has been disgraceful from Day 1 and has not gotten any better. Did he have a good moment in the second period where he forced two turnovers? Yes. Was he constantly outmatched the rest of the time? Yes.

*Walcom and Walsh have shown their incompetence time and time again and yet are still given regular assignments for the NHL. Their work on this evening was atrocious. They battled to ensure that all of the calls evened out and "missed" blatantly obvious infractions inches away from them - for both teams. Just piss poor officiating.

*Brandon Prust = heart. Balls to the wall, every second of every shift. And he had one of the two hits on Karlsson!

*Cally, dude ... one on one with Craig Anderson, how do you blow that? Anderson's five hole opened up bigger than the Lincoln Tunnel - exactly as it did for Gabby in Game 1. And Cally chipped the puck into the goaltender's waiting glove. Heartbreaker. But it must be said that that late first period gaffe was the only egregious error in his evening as the captain put together another outstanding game. If this team goes down, it won't be from lack of effort by its leader.

*Speaking of Gabby, did the Slovakian Sniper dress for this game? Didn't notice him. Well, outside of the Foligno goal - what a terrible shift by the Ranger top line on that one.

*Nick Foligno had exactly the kind of performance Dubi should have been able to have if not for Boyle, full of gritty work around the opponent's net.

*What was the deal with the second-rate cover band playing every other break? Eesh. The music director finally got things right by playing some edgier music to match the mood but the hackney covers were just unnecessary.

*Absolutely love, love, love that the Minnesota guys who get the call to start the game wait to leave the blue line after the national anthem until the American flag is taken off the ice. Noticed it a few games ago with McD and Step and, on this night, Stuuuuu. Class. USA! USA!

*As mentioned after Game 1, those USA chants are ridiculous The Sens have seven Americans on their roster, the Rangers have seven Americans on their roster. And to chant that after the Swedish goaltender makes a save is just stupid.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Daniel Alfredsson - A convincing dive to draw a five minute power play.
2-Brian Boyle - one goal.
1-Chris Neil - one goal.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hank - The King made 29 saves and could hardly be faulted on the three shots he missed.
2-Karlsson - The Swede controlled play singlehandedly for long stretches of the night.
1-Carkner - Mission accomplished.

Friday, April 13, 2012

R1, G1: Opening Up With A Win

The Rangers opened their quest for the Cup with a 4-2 win over Ottawa on Thursday night at MSG.

Not a lot of time so just into the Late Hits:

*Hagelin to Richard$ ... that was hot.

*Ottawa commanded play for long stretches of the night but Craig Anderson did them in by allowing three bad goals. So much for his 6-0-0 record with a 1.13 GAA and two shutouts in six career starts at MSG ... Certainly have to wonder how much rope he has in this series when his highly skilled backup Ben Bishop performed well against the Rangers a month ago.

*I have no idea why Hank received a bit of a standing ovation after giving up that goal from Erik Condra. Hank was higher than usual in his crease and made an atrocious attempt at a diving two-pad stack or something as the puck was crossed to Condra for the one-timer. And people at the Garden stood and applauded. When the shutout was broken by Alfredsson there was a brief Hen-Rik chant but nothing lasting. But when Hank pulled a Biron and allowed an awful goal the fans showed their appreciation. Utterly dumbfounding to me.

*The Ranger fans in general were pretty good, clearly giddy to get free t-shirts and towels. The USA chants for the soldier who was given a house were nice, the USA chants because the Rangers were winning were stupid - the Sens have seven Americans on their roster, the Rangers have seven Americans on their roster. Happy to report that I counted less than a dozen Sens fans in attendance.

*Mike Rupp was signed for his playoff experience and he came through big time. No, he missed a wide open net but that is to be expected when his hands are as filled with cement as his head. But Rupp contributed more than he did in any other indoor game this season by taking Chris Neil off the ice for 10 minutes at the outset of the third period. Ottawa was forced to mount a rally - or try to send a message - without their toughest player.

*Another great trade off was Boyle for Karlsson late in the first period. Ottawa had just received a power play thanks to Stu Bickel's unnecessary cross check and Boyle goaded the Sens best player into a roughing penalty. It all but ensured that the Rangers would take their lead into the first intermission - a definite factor in the win.

*Poor Stu. You have to wonder if he is getting tired of Torts' idea of accountability. Stu took a bad penalty and saw four shifts the rest of the game, just one in the third period. Brandon Prust and Ryan McDonagh both took a bad penalties and neither one missed a shift.

*Arty Anisimov had two assists in his previous 28 games but came up with a pair in this one. The first was a secondary point on the Cally goal but the other was the smart set up for Boyle. A quick toedrag and an awkward shot across the grain gave the Rangers a 3-0 lead into the second intermission.

*The Ranger power play, featuring the usual Del Zastrous quarterback, went 0-4. Zack Smith's slashing penalty seven minutes into the third period provided the perfect opportunity for the Rangers to put a nail in the coffin. But, instead the man advantage men did nothing and Alfredsson scored 21 seconds after Smith returned to the ice. So the Sens gained something to build off of while the Blueshirts staggered to the final buzzer.

*More proof that +/- is more often a stat of circumstance and not skill? Anton Stralman +3, Ryan McDonagh -1. McDonagh had himself a pretty damn good game too.

*The Garden music was godawful.

*If Kreider is blowing a year of his contract, he should be playing - especially when the fourth line guys were getting limited minutes anyway.

*15 more wins to go.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Artem Anisimov - two assists.
2-Ryan Callahan - one goal.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - 30 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Girardi - Rock solid defense by Dan-O kept the top Sens off the board.
2-Boyle - Donning dastardly facial hair must be the key to keeping him motivated and involved ...
1-Callahan - Did the captain want to win or what?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Peepin' Playoff Foes: Ottawa Senators

So it has been quite a while since I peeped a foe but what the hell, the playoffs are here so what better time to get back on the horse?

Series Schedule:
Game 1 - at MSG, 7 pm, on MSG Network or the NHL Network
Game 2 - at MSG, 7 pm, on MSG Network or the NHL Network
Game 3 - at Scotiabank, 7:30 pm, on MSG Network or CNBC
Game 4 - at Scotiabank, 7:30 pm, on MSG Network or CNBC
Game 5 - at MSG, 7 pm, on MSG Network or NBC Sports
Game 6 - at Scotiabank, TBD, on MSG Network
Game 7 - at MSG, TBD, on MSG Network

Where We Finished: The Rangers closed the regular season atop the Eastern Conference with a 51-24-7 record, despite losing three of four at the end. They fell two points short of the albatross that is the President's Trophy (*whew*).

Where They Finished: The Senators similarly stumbled to the finish. Ottawa lost their three final games to make the race for the final few playoff positions interesting. They closed with the same 92 points that Washington had but ceded seventh on the tiebreaker - regulation wins; they had one less than the Caps for a 41-31-10 record. For a good recap and report card of the Senators' regular season, take a look at Eye On The Sens.

What Happened In Playoffs Past: Wonderful Wikipedia tells us that in 1930 the "Senators faced off against the New York Rangers in a two-game total-goals series. In the last NHL playoff game in Ottawa until 1996, the Senators tied the Rangers 1–1 on March 28, 1930, but lost game two in New York 5–1 to lose the series 6 goals to 2."

What Happened This Season: The Rangers went 1-2-1 against the Sens. The first matchup proved to be the end of the stumble out of the gates for the Blueshirts. At the end of October they blew a 2-1 lead to lose 5-4 in a shootout to the Sens, the catalyst for a 7-0 Ranger run. The second meeting was within that run, a 3-2 victory. The remaining two games between the teams were both ugly. First there was a lifeless 3-0 loss in mid-January and a 4-1 atrocity last month.

Who To Watch For:
*Daniel Alfredsson is no stranger to his fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist and, understandably, has 56 points in 57 career games against the Rangers.
*As he has matured Jason Spezza has raised his game to that of one of the NHL's elite centers has somehow done it for the Senators despite their trials and tribulations since the lockout. And, of course, Spezza has four goals and two assists in the four games vs. the Blueshirts this season.
*Erik Karlsson is a far, far better version of Del Zaster. Karlsson - a Norris candidate to be sure - has incredible offensive instincts and great wheels. He used to be horrid in his own end but has made strides in that area this season.
*Sniper Milan Michalek has four goals and one assist in four games against the Blueshirts this year.
*Nick Foligno might as well be a clone of his dad Mike the way he does all of the gritty little things.
*Chris Neil has proving that he not just a neanderthal, he had 13 goals this season - the second highest total of his 10 season career.

Tough Stuff: It is an arbitrary stat but the Rangers won the hit battle 129-105 this season. Matt Carkner, the man who's punch sent Boogaard on his death spiral, has just four fights this season but one of them was against our Stu Bickel when both were in the AHL. There were four fights during the four games between the two teams: Sean Avery fought out of his weight class against Zenon Konopka, Andre Deveaux soundly defeated Jared Cowan, Pruster battled Konopka and Zack Smith. Mike Rupp played in two of the four games and had seven minutes of ice time and two hits in each.

Random Stats and Stuff:
*While having a solid 2.05 gaa and .931 save %, Hank has a career record of 11-12-2 against Ottawa.
*In 2006-07 Erik Karlsson had 10 points in 10 games for the Södertälje junior team - his teammate and the leading scorer? Carl Hagelin. Bork!
*Brad Richard$ is -5 this season against the Sens, his worst +/- against any opponent; Marian Gabori is +3.
*Dan Girardi played more than 26 minutes in three of the four games.
*Sergei Gonchar played for the Penguins when they defeated the Rangers in the second round back in 2008; he had three assists in that five-game series.
*In 2007 I wanted to trade Scott Gomez for Jason Spezza.
*Erik Condra has eight goals this season but just one in his last 42 games.
*The Rangers have out-blocked the Senators 64-41 this season.
*Ottawa drafted Karlsson five spots before the Rangers took Del Zaster in 2008 and drafted Foligno seven picks after the Blueshirts took Bobby Sanguinetti in 2006. They also drafted Brian Lee - now on Tampa - three picks before the Rangers took Marc Staal in 2005.
*Due to Ottawa's poor attendance against American teams, the Sens moved a few home games to Atlantic City in '29-30 and they faced the Rangers there on December 28th, 1929. The Rangers won 3-1.
*When the Rangers were an expansion team in 1926, they went 0-3-1 against Ottawa. When the Senators were an expansion team in 1992, they went 0-3 against the Rangers.
*The Sens took goaltender Mark Laforest from the Rangers in the 1992 expansion draft.
*Some notable players who skated for both teams: Leo Bourgeault (won the Cup with the Rangers in '28, wore #99 late in his career), Norm Maciver, Joe Cirella, Marty Straka, Vinny Prospal, Alex Daigle, Karel Rachunek and, of course, Wade Redden.

Who To Troll On Twitter: The Sens themselves @NHL_Sens, Jason Spezza @JSpezza_19 (FAKE), Craig Anderson @CraigAnderson41, his backup Ben Bishop @benbishop30, Kyle Turris @kyleturris, Erik Condra @econdra, Jesse Winchester @jwinch18, Ottawa's mascot Spartacat, former player and current media hack Jason York @jasonyork33, Ottawa's writer Erin Nicks @erinnicks and Ottawa Sun scribe Bruce Garrioch @sungarrioch.

Bad Guy Blogs: The Black Aces is a solid fan blog and then there are the MSM SenatorsExtra, Bloguin's 6th Sens, and SBN's Silver Seven.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

51-24-7: Well That's Over

Perhaps resting some of their 'stars' would have been too obvious. Perhaps the Rangers felt afraid of facing Washington in the playoffs. Perhaps the Rangers believed that the President's Trophy is indeed an albatross. Whatever it was, the team rolled over and played dead on Saturday night, falling 4-1 to Washington.

The Rangers regular season ended not with a bang but with a whimper as the Blueshirts lost three of their final four games. But that little losing streak - as well as the rest of their results - is utterly meaningless as the real season starts up next week. There will be a big preview piece in this space in the next few days but for now, just a few Late Hits on this one:

*No one got injured. Yay.

*We got free tee shirts. Double yay.

*Hank did his best Marty Biron impression, choking up two inexcusable goals in the first 10 minutes. Not sure why Biron himself didn't start this one if the King wasn't even going to try.

*The power play went 0-4 but, let's face it, the man advantage unit has been incompetent more often than not this season so their ineptness was no shock.

*The Rangers did play a good five minutes in the third period but after getting back-to-back breakaways stopped by a minor league netminder they went right back to waiting for the final buzzer.

*Holtby followed in a long tradition of mediocre goaltenders that marched into MSG and left looking good after the Rangers inflated the shot total with attempt after attempt from the outside.

*Don't look now but Carl Hagelin ended the season without a goal in his final 12 games. Former college kids hit the wall after the while, it is just a sad fact. Stepan had just one goal in his last 11 last year. Keep that in mind while pleading for Chris Kreider to come after a full university campaign.

*Who says hockey players have no respect for each other anymore? Ryan Callahan had a perfect chance to put Nicklas Backstrom back on the IR with one firm punch to the face and he restrained himself. Our captain, all class.

*Boyle had the lone goal for the Blueshirts, a Frolov-ian wrap-around. It was his 10th goal of the season. Basically the Rangers paid him three times as much as he made last year to score half the amount of goals - $1.7m v. $525k, 10g v. 21g.

*Dubi got the secondary assist - his third straight game with a point. So that's a plus. He also finished the season with 10 goals, and he was paid $4.2m for it ...

*Nice giveaways Del Zaster.

*Yet another year and I didn't get Blueshirts off our Backs but, as my buddy said, "I don't want the Blueshirts off their back tonight. Whatever they have might be contagious."

*Didn't see Mike Sauer out there for the 'ceremony.' Pray the Rangers aren't ostracizing him the way they did Boogaard ...

*Priceless moment: the Rangers showed Pat Lafontaine during a tv break, a wonderful slap in the face to the Islanders in the wake of the WSJ article. Love, love, love when the Isles look awful - and they make it so easy too!

*PHW Three Stars
3-Roman Hamrlik - two assists.
2-Nicklas Backstrom - one goal and one assist.
1-Braden Holtby - 35 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-None tonight, not when one team played and the other did not.

Friday, April 6, 2012

51-23-7: It's All About Torts

The Rangers continued to play out the regular season string, taking on Pittsburgh in the penultimate match before the playoffs on Thursday. It was an ugly affair as the Blueshirts put forth a less-than-par effort and the Pens played to win. And win they did, 5-2.

The circumstance of the game meant that the result was largely meaningless - the Rangers had little to play for so win or lose, whatever. There is no posterity in the President's Trophy, in fact that piece of hardware has been an albatross in recent years: five of the last six winners came up short in the end. No one remembers or cares about the regular season winner, we treasure the guys who get etched into history upon Stanley's Cup.

So the biggest item of note came from the fallout of a missed hit late in the third period. Brooks Orpik tried to line up Derek Stepan for an open-ice check, Stepan tried to juke out of the way and their knees knocked. It was a far cry from Bryan Marchment's many attempts to injure. But it provided John Tortorella the perfect opportunity to make himself the story and the egomaniacal blowhard did just that, ranting at the Pens postgame.

Those who hold the coach in higher regard than I may see it as a masterstroke - Torts made himself the story, deflecting media focus from the embarrassing loss itself, the sieve of a goaltender he started, the unacceptable performance of many of his players ... but my opinion was that the hit just gave Torts the opportunity to grandstand yet again and he took it.

Did Torts say anything that us fans haven't been claiming about the Pens for years? No. But all of Torts' sound and fury signifies nothing when the coach doesn't back it up. If he was so upset why didn't he send out someone to exact revenge? His sense of honour? Ha, we know that's a joke - the guy has rarely taken the honourable road. Because Torts didn't want to risk any of his players? Mike Rupp has contributed less than nothing for months and the revenge would be worth far more than the cost of a minor suspension to him. Because Torts didn't want to risk the points? Ha. His sleepwalking team was down three goals with four and a half minutes to go against a side that was playing for something (home ice vs. the Flyers).

So instead addressing the issues with his own team or attempting to exact vengeance, Torts made himself the center of attention yet again and gave the Pens bulletin board material for their playoff run. Stellar work coach.

Late Hits:

*It does need to be noticed just how cheap and dirty both Crosby and Malkin are when they don't have the puck. Saw several late hits on the numbers and stick jabs by both of them. Want to send a message coach? Don't swear in the media, give no quarter - tell your guys not to take sh-t from anyone.

*The only player who didn't was Ryan Callahan, who was by far the most involved of the Rangers (as per usual). The captain doesn't have a dimmer - he is all-in, all the time. It is wonderful to watch but a bit nerve racking when you realize how he puts himself in the line of fire and can be injured at any time, even in a meaningless game.

*The best thing to come out of the evening was the rest that Henrik received. His wrist got to relax and he got to see just how important he is to his team's success. The moronic Pittsburgh fans chanted MVP for Malkin when the Russian was left alone and scored an easy goal on a backup goaltender. Big deal. #Hank4Hart

*Of course, Hank's night off meant that Marty Biron had to play and the former Islander proved incapable of giving the Rangers a chance to win. Biron put his team behind the eight ball yet again - he has allowed the first goal of the game in 10 of his 20 starts, and 16 of the 50 goals he gave up this season came in the first 10 minutes of the opening period; someone doesn't come ready to play. And even after the 10 minute mark Biron was jumpy and unsettled. Both the Kennedy and Park goals completely fell upon his shoulders and they were the ones that ultimately decided the game.

*Stu Bickel was stapled to the bench for 20 minutes after the Kennedy goal, because it was he who kicked the puck right to the Penguin's stick. Right? Stu was not responsible for the bad rebound but Tortorella's selective accountability struck again and the big defender had to sit. None of the other defensemen missed a shift for any of their faux pas.

*The Ranger power play went just 1-6 over 11:52 of man advantage time, including 47 seconds of 5-on-3. They were handily kept to the outside for the majority of the time and the one time they crashed the crease they scored.

*Del Zaster saw 7:20 of power play time and contributed nothing. All night long he took himself out of position looking for backdoor goals and the one chance he got he blew, shooting the puck right at the logo on Fleury's chest.

*If the team was indeed attempting to win, how was it that Brad Richard$ saw less playing time than Dubi, Arty and Step?

*Nice to see Dubi score, one can only hope that it will spark him towards getting his game back together. An involved Dubinsky is a powerful player.

*John Mitchell has not scored in 33 games and has just one assist in his last 12. He also has all of eight penalty minutes in 62 games. Wait a second, John Mitchell has played 62 NHL games this season?

*The Whale were off, why not call someone up to give one of the stars a breather? Why not dress John Scott and/or Jeff Woywitka?

*Whatever, one more meaningless game remaining before things get real. It will be interesting to see what kind of effort we see on Saturday.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Kris Letang - one goal and one assist.
2-Chris Kunitz - one goal and one assist.
1-Evgeni Malkin - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Kunitz - Every now and then you see just how good Kunitz can be.
2-Jordan Staal - A consistent, two-way player who was involved all night and put up a pair of primary assists.
1-Henrik Lundqvist - No injuries.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

51-22-7: You Can't Beat Us!!!!

Let's just get this out of the way - with their 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday the Rangers clinched first place in the Eastern Conference.

Yippee and woo hoo. Home ice and all that. Great. Hopefully that proves to mean something two months from now. What is meaningful at the moment is that one of the most heated Ranger rivalries was completely and utterly owned by the Blueshirts this season. Six games against Philadelphia. Six wins. Suck on that you savages. WE. EAT. YOUR. CHEESESTEAK! WE EAT IT UP!

Tee hee.

Late Hits:

*All gloating aside, this game proved that the Rangers don't have that killer instinct in them. Up 4-0 they took their feet off the gas, took stupid penalties and allowed the Flyers to make things interesting. Sure some of the officiating was dubious ... to say the least ... but sloppy play put them in the position to allow Philly to get things going.

*The team as a whole has drawn much criticism in this space and, if anything, this game showed the reason for much of it: there are times that the Rangers are capable of greatness. The forecheck can be ferocious. The power play can work. Marian Gaborik can snipe with the best of them. Brad Richard$ reads the ice like few others. Brian Boyle can use his size to gain room and score from the slot. Arty Anisimov can channel his skill and confidence to power through the opposition on his way to sexy goals. Del Zaster has it in him to play passable defense. These are all things that need to happen at the same time, all the time.

*Henrik Lundqvist - a few foul performances in recent weeks aside - has been the most consistent contributor to the Ranger success. And on this night he was pretty damned successful. Lundqvist made 37 saves, several of them of the extraordinary type. After opening the door for his Vezina competition, he surely shut it with this evening's simply outstanding performance. Point blank saves, falling-back last-ditch stick-throwing blocker saves ... and there are few things more enjoyable than his Statue of Liberty glove saves. Puck in hand, hand outwards and upwards, on fire (metaphorically) - the King of New York, holding his torch high.

*Guessing that everyone out there said some kind of prayer when Hank took a puck off his wrist and doubled over in pain. After the game he said he could hardly clutch his stick after the injury, which doesn't bode well but Biron is long past due to make an appearance anyway. Hopefully those prayers carry and it proves to be just a bruise and not a break.

*Speaking of bruises, there were a pair of fights and they were exact examples of what is good about fighting in hockey and what is bad about fighting in hockey. Zac Rinaldo wants to screw with the Rangers' top scorer, he will have to face the consequences - the left and right fists of Brandon Prust. Honor, the Code, hockey. Then when things get amped up Mike Rupp decides to dance with Jody Shelley in what was clearly an orchestrated exhibition of the lone skill each one possesses. It meant nothing and it should not be part of the game.

*Stuuu vs. Simmonds? I don't even know what that was.

*McD: one goal, one assist and literally one second of power play time. Del Zaster: no points and 6:20 of power play time. That makes sense.

*Pardon me Sam, please shut your partner up. Micheletti is just terrible, up there with Chico and Butch in the race for most awful analysts in the NHL.

*Hope those brave souls that went down to Philly got home safe. At least the ones that were smart enough not to provoke the savages in that city.

*I know Mike Richards is gone so he didn't have his regular dance partner but how/why was Brandon Dubinsky all but invisible in this one?

*Dubi provides quite a contrast to captain Callahan - it is astounding the different career trajectories that the two have had after starting together.

*The Whale can not catch the team ahead of them and they can't lose their playoff spot. The Rangers have used two of their four post-deadline callups with Zuke and Erixon, leaving two for the two remaining games of the regular season. With the top spot wrapped up, it might be nice to see if Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Ryan Bourque can handle NHL speed (while resting regulars like Richard$ and Gaborik).

*PHW Three Stars
3-Claude Giroux - three assists.
2-Henrik Lundqvist - 37 saves.
1-Marian Gaborik - one goal and one assist.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Boyle - The big man won faceoffs, killed penalties and scored a goal.
2-Giroux - He's talented, that's for sure.
1-Hank - Simply stellar.

Monday, April 2, 2012

50-22-7: Arrogance Is Not Attractive

All the Rangers needed on Sunday was a point. One point. One point and the regular season was all sealed up for them. Get that one point and have three games left to rest key guys, to practice in real game situations and get ready for the real season to start.

Needless to say, they did not get it.

Instead the Blueshirts blew an early lead and limply let two points skate off the Garden ice. The Boston Bruins beat them 2-1.

Perhaps the team figured the B's would roll over. Perhaps the team figured that their earlier success against the B's would just happen again. Perhaps the team thought that their last four wins - against franchises out of contention for the postseason - actually meant that they could cruise against the reigning Stanley Cup winners.


But whatever they were thinking is irrelevant as their actions spoke volumes - the Rangers didn't want to win this one nearly as badly as Boston did. That simple. That sad. Now they have to somehow find the motivation to get back in gear against Philly, Pittsburgh and Washington - all franchises that have found success against the Rangers when it has counted in the past. The Blueshirts were handed a reality check by the Bruins: you can't take anything for granted - not ever, but especially not in April.

Late Hits:

*Aside from being unable to properly motivate his team, John Tortorella also failed the franchise by continually fooling with the lines. By game 79 you would think he would have allowed the guys to develop some kind of chemistry but instead he threw random guys over the boards and it cost them. Case in point: Carl Hagelin (Bork!) couldn't tell if he was coming or he was going. The kid clearly had no clue who was out on the ice with him, and where those linemates may have been.

*In beating Boston earlier this season the Rangers matched the Bruins intensity and physicality. So why did Brandon Prust see two shifts in the second period and just one in the third? John Mitchell got two and Mike Rupp none (not that Rupp should ever be on the ice, or even allowed to wear a Ranger jersey, but I digress). Prust played 5:29 - his second lowest total of the entire season - and one minute of that was killing penalties. Even his Boston counterpart, Shawn Thornton, saw more time and Thornton didn't get special teams time.

*Nice penalty and power play work Del Zaster. DZ qb'd the power play for nearly five minutes and it went 0-3 while managing two shots on goal. Two shots. Two. Two shots in four minutes and 53 seconds to be precise. Two.

*DZ's stupid penalty led to the game-winning goal but responsibility on the goal itself goes to Dan Girardi. Not sure what Dan-O was thinking right there (or how Hank got beaten short side for seemingly the umpteenth time this season).

*Arty received a home-run pass, made a power move to the outside and wasted the scoring chance it gave him. As always, we see flashes of brilliance from this boy but he just can't put it all together.

*Too many Bruin fans at MSG.

*The usual hard work from captain Callahan but it just wasn't enough as Boston clearly was expecting it.

*Didn't get to see the replay but was Hank screened on the Seidenberg goal? He had to be, right?

*Congrats to Gabby on number 40. The goal came on a beautiful play with a swift and easy finish - long rebound comes all the way out to free him for a breakaway and the Slovak Sniper just blasted it past Tim Thomas.

*Every time Thomas came out of his crease to stretch during time outs I prayed for Sean Avery to just skate by and hit him in the back of the head again. Ah well.

*PHW Three Stars
3-Marian Gaborik - one goal.
2-Zdeno Chara - one assist.
1-Tim Thomas - 33 saves.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Cally - At least there was one Ranger who really wanted to win.
2-Thomas - Sure he was under fire more from the media in the wake of the Obama nonsense then he was from the Rangers in this one but he still did his job.
1-Patrice Bergeron - Outstanding work by the (certain-to-be) Selke finalist. Not only did he take advantage of Girardi's mistake for the game-winner but he also played in all situations and won 17 of 19 faceoffs. That is outrageous.