Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The Ranger entered the game precariously positioned for a playoff berth after losing 2 straight on the road in Atlanta and Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, since setting the wins record, Brodeur and the Devils had lost 4 in a row, a streak marred by a complete lack of scoring against quality competition.
The Garden atmosphere was electric as fans eagerly anticipated much-awaited rematch between Sean Avery and Marty Brodeur took a back seat to the match-up between two great goalies. If you came to the Garden solely to look for a confrontation between them, forget it except a questionable goalie interference call. If you came expecting a playoff-type tight-checking, low-scoring contest, you were mistaken.
Nearly 80 shots were launched at the 2 netminders by the time final whistle blew. The onslaught began with the opening whistle and continued for nearly the entire night. In a game where defense took the night off, the two faced more than 50 shots in the first half of the game in a fusillade reminiscent of the OK Corral.
During the first 30 minutes, Brodeur absorbed as much rubber as Sonny Corleone absorbed lead.
Whatever the Devils game plan was, permitting Brodeur to face 20 shots in the first period could not have been part of it. Midway through the 2nd period, Brodeur, who was solid but not spectacular, had faced 29 shots and the Rangers had started breaking through.
Despite the lack of Avery/Brodeur theatrics, there was plenty of barroom brawling Sean Avery must have had a bounty on his head as the Devils fell into the Rangers-style trap -- focus on Avery and forget fundamentals like covering men, clearing the puck, blocking shots, the kinds of things a team forgets when it is in a slump.
This game was decided by 3 things all in favor of the Blueshirts --
1. Composure. The chippiness of the Devils (led by Mike Rupp) was disruptive more to the Devils than to the Rangers. Staal, for example, took a beating by two Devils including Rupp before the refs called an end to it and sent Rupp off. Avery, tempted as he was on several occasions, avoided fisticuffs and taking penalties as he hunted by the likes of Mike Rupp persistently, Mike Mottau and David Clarkson. He also showed up the NHL on national television by refusing to fight Clarkson, who hit him and then dragged him around like a rag doll trying to entice him to fight. Avery dropped one glove but thought better of it and never made a move. Still, because he is Sean Avery, he received a minor for roughing. Clarkson received a double minor and directions to the shower courtesy of a game misconduct.
My editorial moment: This treatment of Avery by the refs and league is total nonsense and cowardice by the NHL, plain and simple. I was not in favor of him rejoining the Rangers but I admit I was wrong -- he has brought some spunk and maturity to the team. I am amazed that in the NHL, it's o.k. to have a convicted gambler coaching a team, and players who should be serving life for attempted manslaughter (hello, Todd Bertuzzi) or vehicular manslaughter (care for another drink, Danny Heatley?) continue to be active players, but Avery is being singled out for being the Pete Rose of the NHL because he disrupts teams physically, verbally and mentally. Hello, NHL -- Avery served his time for exercising his freedom of speech. It's over, let him play, he adds character and color to the sport. Based on his recent treatment, I want the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup so I can see Sean parade it around.
"Not tonight, David." Sean Avery feigning interest in Clarkson's attempts to engage.
2. Stellar goaltending. Henrik was brilliant. He made a couple of spectacular glove saves whereas Brodeur got beat to his glove side on a blast from Callahan. Henrik flopped and covered up the puck in mad scrambles, whereas Brodeur was looking at the MSG ceiling while Dubinsky lifted the puck into the top of the net to start the scoring at 4:35 of the 2nd period. Henrik saw numerous deflections and was in proper position on screened shots. Brodeur was lucky that a Gomez blast failed to negotiate the goal line and never saw Girardi's shot go into the net.
3. Opportunistic Goal Scoring. Each of the three Ranger goals came from hard work. Dubinsky, who has picked up his scoring pace, showed Shanahan-type presence (remember game 4 v Buffalo) in waiting to settle the puck before directing it top-shelf to score. The goal was started with a slap shot from the right point by Dan Girardi that Brodeur stretched to kick out, leaving him sprawling on the ice for Dubinsky to exploit.
A few minutes later, the 4th line worked the puck into the Devils zone and kept it there for some time as a 4 on 4 situation began. The Devils' defense, worn out by the Korpikoski and Sjostrom energy, never recovered as new Ranger reinforcements arrived. Girardi used one of his patented on the ice shots to beat Brodeur. Finally, at 15:06, on a beautiful cross-ice pass from Scott Gomez that hit Callahan in stride, Ryan blasted a shot past Brodeur's right high into the net. It was beautiful passing that opened up the defense (admittedly fatigued at this point) and exposed Brodeur. It was nice to see some creative playmaking.
After that, the Rangers went back into a shell and eventually, the Devils surpassed the Rangers in shots on goal. That was a bit troubling, but Henrik preserved the 3 goal margin through the end of the period (and beyond), which was key. No sense of giving a team hope like the Rangers gave Atlanta the other night when a 4-1 lead became 4-2 with 20 seconds to go in the 2nd period.
The MSG crowd roared throughout the game as the Rangers' renewed spirits, the playoff fight and the appearance of old rivals washed away the crowd's recent apathy. Henrik reminded the MSG faithful why he can be called the King as he rebounded strongly after the Pitt game. The crowd reminded the Rangers that it appreciates their energy with a standing ovation that began with the final minute of the game.
For the 4th year in a row, the Rangers have won 40 games in a season. The question is will it be enough to make the playoffs? The Rangers travel to Carolina and Boston for important games for each of the 3 teams. The Bruins are trying to remain atop the East, Carolina is seeking to remain in 4th place, a surprising rise since the trade deadline. The Rangers are just trying to make sure they are in the party -- they don't care where they are sitting. When they play like they did against the Devils, you would take your chances in the playoffs.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
1. Two bad games in a row
2. Two points we didn't get.
The Dark Ranger and The Blueshirts are in a tight spot these days and after the second loss with only six games remaining in the season -- we find playoff qualification hardly a sure thing. Those deep conflicted feelings we all share about our Blueshirts are beginning to show once again - yes, they are a fast moving, puck pushing attack hockey team AND yes, they are certainly a better team with Sean Avery, Nik Antropov and (dare I say) Nik Zherdev actually playing hockey these last few months, AND yes, we have a fast no-nonsense talking coach in Torts that gives our players and the fans confidence that 'lazy' and 'defense hockey' is a thing of the past.
But....the defense cannot secure the center. This was the case this afternoon and it has been all season. Our D-men cannot hold back the onslaught of a playoff-minded Atlantic division rival. Roszival is out for another couple of weeks due to injury, Paul Mara looked like a version of Rocky IV and we are in desperate need for blueline recovery and much needed support. Ooh...look for call-ups from Hartford to secure our 'D'-needs, Corey Potter or Bobby Sanguinetti to take on the role at the most crucial and honest point in the season. That should be fun to watch against the final two games against the Philadelphia Flyers!!?
Official recap here.
The Blueshirts have six games remaining, all against teams that are higher in the standings than the Rangers - so it's going to be a tough road ahead. No doubt, but I do believe they have it in them to be contenders in the final stretch. Everyone plays differently in the playoffs. Aside from some of the most atrocious referee calls and nine penalties called against the Blueshirts (all killed, thank you kindly), without discussing the moments of the game that led to our loss I wanted to fundamentally discuss the state of the New York Rangers.
Is this a team that can get past the first round in the playoffs? Are they capable of actually reaching the Cup? How might one answer without carrying the pessimism of the last seven months?
On a tangent, I was participating in one of the NHL media junkets where they typically interview someone important or relevant in hockey and allow media and bloggers to ask questions live. Because of the "critical Rangers' nature" of this site, The Dark Ranger has never been given permission to participate in a Rangers interview, but I was present when the Coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ken Hitchcock, was asked about how it felt to potentially reach the playoffs for the first time in Columbus. I took interest in his words (also because he successfully coached the Philadelphia Flyers for years) and I enjoyed that he was non specific in his answers. He described what it felt like getting into the playoffs, the pride & glory of the experience, and the vindication of having worked so hard and being given the chance to win the Cup. He wasn't even sure his team could get far into the playoffs, but he did describe "those teams that you know really want it -- you know what I mean?....the teams that are playing their hearts out, burning up the ice with a knowing that there are bigger things ahead. Fear. Guts. Pride. You know which teams have it and which teams don't have it. My team has it!" Now this was Ken Hitchcock talking about the Columbus Blue Jackets.
What is John Tortorella saying? Do we have it? Can we WIN it?
Friday, March 27, 2009
You have to like a coach who can conduct a 30 second post-game press conference to succinctly sum up a game. Why was the coach mad? Read the official recap of the Rangers' 5-4 shootout loss to the Atlanta Thrashers here.
Depending on what happens during the next 7 games, the Rangers may rue their season-long charity fest of starting Steve Valiquette in goal on the road against non-playoff teams. I have met him and I like him but this season he has not been a capable backstop during several important games. He also expressed the thought Ranger fans have been saying for the past 2 seasons: "Where is our killer instinct when we're playing someone lower in the standings?"
Let's face it. His stats during 3rd periods of games have been mediocre, to be kind. Lit up for 5 consecutive goals in Toronto to blow a 2-0 lead, lit up for 6 in Dallas in that 10-4 demolition, and but for the technicality that Ilya Kovalchulk scored just before the 2nd intermission last night, Valley gave up 3 consecutive goals in the last 20:20 to surrender a 4-1 lead en route to a 5-4 shootout loss. I don't have an issue with playing Valiquette -- but he has not been the reliable player of recent seasons. Everyone is entitled to a slump so I will be kind here but point out that we are not talking about Scott Clemenson here.
This was a totally dispiriting loss because Drury had a monster game with a power play goal and 2 assists. The Russian duo of Zherdev and Antropov scored and the Rangers used 2 power play goals to jump to a 4-1 lead with 30 seconds to go in the 2nd period.
But dark omens were circling in spite of the lead. The Thrashers had the better of the play at even strength but were giving away the game thanks to their season-long awful PK unit. Who knew the Drury's apparent 1st period goal that would be disallowed because of a high stick would matter? The Atlanta goalies -- Lehtonen in the first and Hedberg in the 2nd -- looked shaky and yielded 4 goals. But all of a sudden, both units tightened up and the Thrashers did not allow the Rangers to score again. Like the Senators game on Sunday, the Rangers did not take enough advantage of what their opponents offered -- scoring chances and pitiful goaltending.
When Kovalchuk scored on his wrap-around late in the 2nd, you should have known that the 3rd was going to be a problem based on Valiquette's history this season. While Kovalchuk made a speedy move around the net, I question why Valiquette was so far to the left of the left goalpost. His positioning (and I watched the replay several times) was awful and cost him any chance to recover to stop Ilya.
With the playoff pressure off, Kaptain Kovalchuk has been on a scoring streak with 22 points in his last 13 games. We oldsters use to call this a salary drive in baseball -- your team is long out of contention, the pressure is off and you pad your stats so next season's trading card makes you look like the superstar of the team. In other words, where were you, Ilya, when your team could have used you?
Stats-padding? I'm carrying this team.
Right to 13th place in the East.
This game epitomizes why the Rangers are not an elite team. Elite teams do not lose to non-playoff teams at home (Ottawa) and blow 3 goal leads on the road to another non-playoff team. Elite teams have a killer instinct and do not leave points on the table -- the Rangers garnered 3 out of 6 this week when easily 5 was in their reach. Elite teams take advantage of the weaknesses of their foes -- bad goalkeeping and a terrible penalty killing unit. The Rangers were 2 for 10 on PP opportunities during the game. During the pivotal 5 on 3 advantage early in the 3rd period that they failed to capitalize on, the Blueshirts had less movement than the statues on Easter Island.
Roszival's absence was felt as the other defenders spent many minutes on the ice and as the game wore on, it showed. The usually reliable Girardi and Staal were on the ice for all 4 of the Thrashers' goals. On the tying goal, Staal made the deadly mistake of following one Thrasher beyond the net while leaving Girardi in the crease to cover 2 Thrashers. Meanwhile, White netted the goal while Dubinsky watched from behind as well. This was simply brutal play late in the game when the score was 4-3. I noticed that Sauer's ice time again was curtailed during the final stretch of the game and overtime.
Montreal and Florida both won on Thursday night so they crept closer. The "easy" part of the Rangers schedule is now finished. They visit the Igloo for a Saturday afternoon game and entertain the Devils at the Garden on Monday. Don't forget upcoming trips to Carolina and Boston and Philly.
3 points left behind this week in the Ottawa and Atlanta games may prove fatal.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Ok, so not too much was wild after the first period. Just the same, the blueshirts showed the ability to adapt and carry an edge that was missing as they tried to just concentrate on scoring a goal in the last 2 periods against Ottawa.
Official recap here.
In the first game I had been to at the garden in a long while, it seemed as though the excitement in the air was back at the worlds most famous arena. The stale stench of the lifeless team that leaked on to the ice the last time I was there a few months ago, had been replaced by hope and anticipation. Could it be the overflow of a stretch run for a playoff spot? Probably. Whatever it was it, It was surging through the latter part of first period. A throwback fight between Avery and Cal Clutterbuck, where both dropped the mitts and helmets and had a good square off was a bit of a see saw battle, where no big seemed to be exchanged, but ended with an Avery on top as both players went to the ice. Shortly after that Orr registered an clean, hard hit on Owen Nolan who took exception with a cross check, never dropped his gloves and got punched in the mouth for his trouble. Orr then allowed his foe to shed his gloves and square up briefly before pummeling again. Both fights had the garden on its feet and roaring . Things only got louder with 4.4 seconds to go in the period, where Zherdev exhibit some patience before scoring from a bad angle over a downed and scrambling Backstrom.
Early in the second period, Gaborik would tie it up for the wild on a redirection to continue his come back. That would last long though (less than a minute, in fact), as moments later Gomez would score off a pass from Avery to exhibit some of the Ranger's resiliancy. The second period continued with some scrums and jousting between players, but no scoring.
The third was relatively quiet, until the clock started to tick down to the final minute and ranger players and fans clinched that teeth looking for an elusive empty netter that was close but never came after Ryan Callahan was hacked across the arm as he was being pursued by former Ranger, Kim Johnsson, on his way toward the empty net.
Quick Thoughts: The garden was more fun than it had been in a while. Many thanks go out to a friend that gave me the tickets.
Michael Sauers first game as a Ranger went fairly smooth as he kept things simple. Aside from a carreen off one of the sideboards that started a rush for the wild, he seemed like he could get comfortable at the NHL level. Hes a big kid who seems strong on his skates, knows his role, and was trying to be responsible in his own zone.
Lastly, Madison Square Garden, has a lot of F*ckin nerve. As I walked past the Double Team store last night, I saw a sign that suggested fans trade in their old Jerseys for 30% off a new jersey. That $hit may fly in a place where expansion hockey is played, but its an insult to Rangers fans that have been coming to the garden for years to watch this team, collect the autographs, meet the players, heckle the fans of visiting teams and wear their jerseys with honor and pride. As a collector of rangers jerseys, I am sickened at the offer to trade one of my CCM, or KOHO, Pro Player one ice jerseys with the the double stitching, double elbows, fight straps, names and stitched on names and numbers .... for one of those, overly soft, tear away, shrink wrapping, sweat repelling, Red-dickied, bib-bottomed, slenderizing reebok nightshirts with the iron on details. Trade in my Tradition for a shiney new cookie cutter Crosby endorsed special? NEVER!!!
Monday, March 23, 2009
Official recap here.
The million dollar question is "How big was this loss?" Number wise, it's big just like every other game this time of year unless your BBq'ing in sunny San Jose; Stinking of beans in Boston or running for your life in Detroit....after a loss. Hockey wise, you could say we put up a good fight and pretend not to hear the chants of "liar". Scoring our only goal very early in the first on a gaffe by Alex Auld was apparently all we needed to decide the plan for the night was going to be to try and recreate that mistake. Amidst all the scrums, face washes and Dubinksy taking every opportunity to flatten a somewhat disinterested Danny Heatley, we found ourselves down a defenseman as a low hip check hobbled Rozsival and sent him to the locker room. He would not return and the sens would tie it up. A classic patented Gomez no look, drop pass give-away... paved the way to usher in the go ahead goal for Ottawa. We spent the entire third period trying to score goals on wraparounds and jam in attempts from the sides of the net. Aside from a promising 3 shot sequence from Naslund and trying to chop rebounds through a forest of Ottawa legs, the last 20 minutes we filled with ironic futility as we thought Auld was just to good a goalie to shoot at him from the front.
While the game is not as ugly as I am making it sound, it wasn't pretty either. As sportswriters offered up excuses (back to back games, fatigue) in the post game interviews, the team and its coach knew better and wouldn't accept. The fact is we played a team that is used to playing the attack game and is on a roll right now and where their top line couldn't bring themselves to score, a kid (originally from Connecticut)on their team took the opportunity to make it a night for his family and friends in attendance. Aww, how nice. Anyway, back to us... the cloud hanging over us says we lost a game to a team thats probably fighting in vain to get a sniff of post season play. It happens. Will coach and players let it happen again? We'll have to see... With Ranger conqueror, Marion Gaborik coming to town Tuesday... there's only one answer to the million dollar question.
How bad was the loss? As bad as the team lets it be. The playoffs are calling and if this team is too busy listening to the voices inside its collective head and ghosts of hockey months past, there's plenty of teams who will be glad to answer the call. Ottawa proved in the third period to be one of em...
A Call Up: Sauer has been called up to play some D against the Wild as Rozi is due for an MRI. I'm interested to see him play. With Del Zotto starting off the year and Potter getting in some games, there must have been some reason that Schoeny gave the word that we should go with Sauer.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Saturday night’s game itself also presented an interesting contrast of the Renney Rangers and the present version. For this game, the Buffalo Sabres played the early season version of the Rangers by taking a too many men penalty, nearly giving up a shorthanded goal to Lauri Korpikoski (which he did not convert and then failed to score on the penalty shot) during a powerplay, leaving men wide open in front of a defenseless Patrick Lalime (who was chased after 3 periods) that led to 3 goals on deflections, letting Ryan Callahan and others skate unimpeded up ice, failing miserably on the power play, falling behind early and frantically trying to catch up at the end.
The New Rangers prevailed by a score of 5-3 to put some distance between themselves and the other teams following in close pursuit for a playoff spot. The Sabres are a bit closer to elimination or for now, trailing the Rangers by 8 points, not an immediate threat. Official recap here.
The Tortorella version of the Rangers was aggressive offensively creating numerous scoring chances throughout the first 2 periods especially. They also avoided for a substantial portion of the game the pesky Sabre forechecking that was so troubling in prior games this season thanks to nifty cross-ice passes that outdistanced the Sabres. Also, I saw that the defensemen are starting to look around over their shoulders a bit more when heading into the end boards and corners to survey what passes might be open. Staal did that in the 2nd period when he saw a Sabre coming in from his right. Instead of passing that way, Staal moved to his left and circled around the goal to lead a successful rush out of the zone. Meanwhile, the Sabres were often guilty of making blind passes in their own zone that came quite close to being converted by the Rangers.
The Rangers scored a first period goals on deflection by Naslund, that was later followed up by deflections by Avery and Drury on the power play (what a beauty that one was) in the second that lifted the Rangers to a 3-1 lead in the second. Then birthday boy Ryan Callahan scored to make it 4-1 still early in the 2nd period with an outrageous deke to the right past Lalime and capped the Rangers scoring with an empty-better.
The game was wide open and fast-paced just the way Buffalo likes it. They fired 40 shots against Lundqvist but overall he was sharp. The old Rangers did show up for parts of the game as they allowed the first Buffalo goal a mere 27 seconds after Avery scored to make it 2-0. Then the Rangers permitted the Sabres to draw within 4-2 a mere 54 seconds into the 3rd period started. The Blueshirts weathered the storm for the most part before allowing Buffalo to draw within 4-3 in the final 80 seconds. The potential for a brutal loss beckoned but the Rangers defense held on before Callahan was sprung by Sjostrom for his empty-netter to end the scoring.
Nik Antropov continued his salary drive. He had a nice rush up ice that led to an assist on Naslund's goal and later added another on Drury's. Some have referred to him as Borat from whatever Tongue-Twister-izatan he is from.
Add black rimmed goofy glasses and stir.
Yield one Hanson Brother.
Instead, at least for one game, he reminded me of one of the Hanson Brothers (pick any one) -- gobbling up big expanses of ice with his stride and then leveling anything in sight -- on this occasion, Patrick Kaleta in a nice bit of payback for the hits he delivered on Mara last season and the usual annoyance that he can be. It was nice to see Kaleta's helmet flying off his head after Antropov introduced him to the Garden ice surface. One would think Kaleta had become Tim McCracken with a $100 bounty on his head.
Tonight is a quick turnaround as the pesky Ottawa Senators arrive. They are out of the playoff race but have made life miserable for some of the teams above them.
With a win, the Rangers can leapfrog over a suddenly hot Carolina team back into 6th place. The Rangers have 2 games at hand on the Hurricanes going into tonight's game. Other than seeking to secure a playoff spot, it has become silly to think about potential playoff match-ups as the top 3 teams in the conference are now all bunched up. The Rangers now have a 3 point lead on Montreal, currently in 8th, and a 4 point lead on Florida. The season ends in 3 weeks and we're looking at one helluva finish.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
For picking that is... In a shootout decider for the 2nd point, Montreals pride and joy (and a goalie that many ballot stuffing Hab fans had named to the all star team)....allowed 3 goals on 3 shots.
What a difference a save makes. The stop by Henrik on Kostitsen's shootout attempt would be the one to get us the extra point after a see saw battle that saw us lead 3 different times during the game only to have the Habs tie it up after a momentary breakdown in concentration by our Rangers.
Official Game Recap here.
The team seemed to find a rhythm for much of this game, with our defense kicking it up a notch and taking the body. (this being perhaps probably the only team we've been able to out muscle since they lost Souray a season ago.) Nonetheless, the physical factor created an added pressure that allowed us to coerce some turnovers and convert on several plays. The first Blueshirt goal being a textbook odd-man rush that saw Nik Antropov bury a rebound to extend his point scoring streak. Coupled with Sean Avery being his usual agitating self, the other most stand out player this St.Pattys Day was our very own hyperactive leprechaun, Ryan Callahan. Aside from Cally's chip in on the scoreboard with the third goal off a rebounded attempt from Dubinsky, he seemed to contribute where it counted most... in energy. Charging up and down the ice, throwing hits, poking at pucks and sacrificing his body consistently against bigger opposing forwards (and even a crossbar on a very dangerous play) in almost every fashion imaginable, he has truley shown why his been able to establish himself on this team and why a guy like Nigel Dawes is playing in the desert.
There were some things that did worry me though. Aside from the no look, drop passes that have seemed to become a specialty of Gomez, Zherdev, Rozi and Avery...This team many times waited for loose pucks to drift that last few inches to their sticks. Pucks that were just out of reach of their sticks weren't actively pursued, coralled and then moved. It only proved dangerous a few times as we were up against Canadiens team that seemed to be sulking a little bit as they struggle to get a grip after the firing of their coach. The ray of hope for the Canadien team seemed to be two time former Ranger and now Ranger spoiler, Alex Kovalev. Kovalev, who is exceptionally skilled but not often inspired, drew the ire of many in Hab-land in the the previous weeks as he didn't provide the spark that was needed by his team. He did, however manage to do his fair bit of damage tonight as he buried the first goal for Montreal and and kept them alive in the shootout. In fact he and Markov kept the their team in this game till Chris Drury drove the third nail into the Price shootout coffin.
Make no mistake though, the Canadiens can prove to be a tough team (as we've seen so many times over the last 2 seasons) if we meet them in the playoffs and they have their legs under them and their confidence is high. In fact, the credit for tonight's win should go to the top notch Ranger penalty kill that proved to be all that was needed to get the Hab fans to jeer and heap a little more pressure onto their teams already narrow shoulders as the frustration mounted.
Monday, March 16, 2009
The Flyers' game plan apparently omitted scoring and goal-tending.
After a pretty convincing win in Philly on Saturday afternoon, you have to wonder at what point during Sunday's rematch did the Flyers decide that they simply could blow off the game. The opening faceoff, perhaps?
Because as was evident from their play and Coach John Steven's comments between the first and second period, the team decided that Sean Avery was the primary goal instead of winning a 2nd game in a row to solidify a playoff position.
Official recap here. The game has been publicized all over the place because of Sean Avery's heroics so I will address him briefly before turning to some other thoughts.
The "Grate One", as he is being called since his return, tormented the Flyers over the weekend and especially at the Garden with his offensive skills by tallying 3 goals (including 2 on Sunday) and distracting the Flyers generally. Thanks to his play on Sunday, the Rangers once again pulled themselves back into playoff position with a stirring 4-1 victory over the Broad Street Bullies, who gifted the Rangers with 9 penalties that ruined any offensive rhythm they tried to create and led to 3 Ranger power play goals.
Since his return to NYC, Avery has done his part and more -- he has been skating, scoring and playmaking. He took a few boneheaded penalties earlier this week but he has shown admirable restraint when other teams have sought to provoke him. Yesterday's goalie interference penalty was downright laughable as he was pushed into Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki and did what he could to cushion the fall.
His overall play has energized others including Callahan (as if he could go to another level), Dubinsky, Scott Gomez, Girardi and Staal (on 2-1 odd man rushes, don't you feel more comfortable with one of these guys as the one?), Betts (who was the darling of yesterday's NBC announcing team) and Sjostrom.
Avery's play also has shown up the lack of speed, talent and/or heart of players like Naslund, Zherdev, Dreadd-en, and Roszival (the architect of several cover-your-eyes plays yesterday).
Avery's impact has not been lost on the team's best defensemen.
The newest Rangers -- Avery, Nik Antropov (who scored twice against Philly) and Derek Morris -- are showing me that I may have been wrong to denigrate these deadline deals. In fact, until Frederick Sjostrom scored to make the score 4-1, Antropov and Avery had scored the first 5 goals the Rangers had against the Flyers this weekend.
With the higher level of skills brought by these acquisitions, the team's overall performance has risen. They have been scoring more (and may reach 200 goals for the season after all) and have not had to rely on shootout wins to embellish their won/loss totals. Still they lack an elite scorer which means that stinkers like the Carolina game (0-3) and Saturday's loss to Philly (2-4) are going to happen. If they reach the playoffs, this may be a fatal deficiency.
Some may see a pretty face. . . .
If you look at other Eastern team records since early February, you can see why the Rangers are where they are. Only four teams competing for a playoff spot have fewer than 10 wins -- the Rangers are one of them at 7-7-3, with Buffalo (7-7-3), Montreal (7-9-2), and the suddenly moribund Bruins (6-9-3) the other 3 slumping teams.
The best teams in the East right now are the Devils (13-4) and the Penguins (13-3-3). The Devils are 6 points behind the Bruins for 1st in the conference. The Pens, once left for dead, have been bolstered by the return of Sergei Gonchar and their trade pickups (especially Kunitz). They have caught the Canadiens in 5th and are right behind the Flyers (11-6-1) for 4th. They are making a run to get home ice for the first series. Carolina (10-6-2) and Florida (10-7-2) have played their way into the mix, while Washington (11-10-2) keeps a stranglehold on at least a 3rd seed.
One final thought -- those pesky Islanders are enjoying the role of spoilers with defeats of the Devils, Canadiens and Black Hawks recently. They are taking advantage of teams that either are looking past them or are uptight. Thank goodness, the Rangers were 5-1 against them and are finished with them this season. The remainder of the schedule is tough enough.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
This was two seasons ago -- it appears everyone cared a little more then. We were not treated to any game changer this afternoon in Philly. Hhhmmm....
The train ride home from Philadelphia, that is......
Rangers' fans, young and old, where do we begin to explain what happened to our Torts-attack-hockey transformation this afternoon against our much-hated rival Philadelphia Flyers? Whatever coach John Tortorella used last game (vs Nashville) after the first period didn't work on this particular day against a real hockey team.
The Flyers saw right through it. Official recap here.
They engaged in a textbook counter-style to our 'pushing forward system', which left open our greatest vulnerabilities -- our defense (aka Wade Redden). We've heard this one before. Might I add on a sidenote, every time Wade Redden makes a bad play, he talks to himself dramatically into the air - not to anyone specifically, but probably to his makers or God. Maybe he wants to show that he cares. We don't. He is a strange bird. I digress.....
Yes, we are a more aggressive looking team in general - but we regress to the team that we know - a defensive one, without confidence, might I add. We are 'Sober House.'
Huge kudos to Nik Antropov and Sean Avery this afternoon, because they were the only guys visible on the ice. Nik Zherdev improved his performance from his previously benched game, but his finesse style was no match for a shutdown goaltender-extraordinaire-for-one-game Marty Biron or Timonen or Coburn. They ate him today.
The King Lundqvist looked like what Flyers fans would expect of their own Biron or Nittymaki goalkeeping- an average performance, allowing some pretty soft goals - two of the Flyers goals scored by the second worst player on the Flyers - Aaron Asham. Perhaps his performance this afternoon will encourage NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to further expand the league into the Asian territories, as I am told Asham is the first Asian player in the NHL. I cannot confirm the accuracy of this ethnicity hockey stat, as I am riding home on the "train of shame" as mentioned. Hey, it worked for baseball!!?
God, I hate losing to Philly. To me, they remain the greatest rival to the New York Rangers, maybe on par with the Islanders. I am hopeful that with the home crowd tomorrow, in a back-to-back rematch we can turn this around and make it even. If not, and we cannot compete against Atlantic division rivals, then we are close to writing off playoff contention. It does not get any easier from this point forward.
As there are a number of games throughout the day, the standings will change, but at the time of this writing, the Rangers are still in 7th place. Today's game further solidified Philly's place in the standings.
If you can sum up the season, tomorrow's rematch and potential two points means everything and will determine the direction of our Blueshirts. There is nothing worse than the oxygen being sucked out of The Garden during crucial games, so our dear Coach Johnny has great motivation and work ahead of him over the next 24 hours. Perhaps the entire team could be benched -- that would show 'em.
As for me, I'm only as far as God foresaken Trenton.
May the Torts Be With Us!
Friday, March 13, 2009
After a lethargic first period, the Rangers prevailed 4-2 thanks to the energetic play of Scott Gomez and Sean Avery, and stellar goalkeeping by Henrik Lundqvist. An assist should be given to Coach Tortorella for grabbing the team's attention after the first period. The official recap is here.
At first, the Rangers brought the memories of their not-so-sweet Carolina performance with them in a first period that saw them skate listlessly, draw penalties and give up 2 goals as they trailed 2-1. The Nashville go-ahead goal was scored on an unfortunate deflection off Dan Girardi's skate. Sean Avery, in a foretelling of what he was going to bring to the game, scored the first goal for the Rangers.
During the intermission, Coach Tortorella "shared" some thoughts with his sleep-walking team as alluded to by Lundqvist in a post-game interview. The coach also demonstrated that he knew words mean nothing without action by benching Nikolai Zherdev for the final 40 minutes and limiting Markus Nasland's overall minutes to fewer than 10. Apparently, both raised the coach's ire with their penalties in the first period.
Avery had a fine night hunting down Predators.
The newly constituted line of Callahan, Avery and Gomez (1 G/2 A) dominated the Predators for the final 2 periods. In the 2nd period, the Rangers outshot them by 17 to 5 and scored 2 goals to take the lead into the 3rd period. The trio had 13 out of the Rangers 32 shots. They buzzed around the Predator defensive zone for most of the second period.
Avery threw his body around to keep pucks in the offensive zone and set up the ultimate game winner with a stop along the boards, then carrying the puck between the circles. His shot led to mayhem in front that enabled Staal to sweep in to slip the puck into the net with 2:30 to go.
It was a lonely walk off the ice for the Predators after the second period
as Nashville fans expressed some serious verbal disapproval.
In the 3rd period, the PK unit killed off 3 power plays and even scored the 8th SHG of the season to increase the lead to 4-2. That goal came on an aggressive clear-out pass by Staal after a Betts face-off win in the defensive end. After Ryan Suter slipped trying to save the puck at the blue line, Betts swept it up and went off to convert on a nifty 2 on 1 by passing to Sjostrom for a one-timer that beat Dane Ellis cleanly to his left side.
Proving how good the PK unit is this season, the 8th SHG puts the team into the top 8 of the league. Nashville with the 29th rated powerplay cannot harbor much hope of doing much in the playoffs if they make it. (Of course, the same can be said about the Rangers with their 26th rated attack, but let's focus for now on the highlights.)
After the first period, the defense had a good night. Girardi and Staal played well positionally and used their bodies and stick work to keep the Predators away from Henrik. Staal simply has been terrific recently and is showing a stronger offensive bent as evidenced by his game-winning goal. Derek Morris is slowly convincing me that he is a solid defender. No doubt he is a step up from Kalinin.
The expert PK duo of Betts and Sjostrom eliminated
Nashville hopes with a SHG midway in the 3rd.
Now comes the hard part -- back to back games against Philly this weekend. First up will be a Saturday matinee in Philly followed by an afternoon tilt back at MSG. The Rangers are fortunate that Montreal keeps stumbling and Florida hit a rough spot this week. The Blueshirts vaulted back into 7th place after the win in Nashville.
A regulation sweep would bring the Rangers to 4th or 5th in the East and tie the Flyers. That may be beyond what one can realistically hope for, but it's worth mentioning.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Well, Rangers family... Last night was a bust. So much for the full steam ahead approach toward the post season. Last night we were pretty much ... well, "caned" by Cole, E. Staal & Company..... (with a little help from the ref-- do these guys get paid by the whistle blow?)
Official recap here.
Seems like our team forgot that it takes more than just a coach, a big forward, a serviceable d-man, and the grate one to keep this team from reverting to the Tom Renney's Tourist group. Now don't get me wrong, it was the second of back games and I still love the way this team is going, despite last nights step backwards. But make no mistake; For a team floating on and off the edge of post season play, last nights game was a pretty big collective brain fart. Other teams have managed to win the second of back to back games by 10-2, so it can be done. Also lets keep in mind that this wasn't the lowly islanders we were playing; a team that couldn't get out of last place if they started every game up 2-0. The team we played last night leapfrogged us with that win and dropped us out of the playoffs (momentarily). These are must win games. While the canes really didn't look sharp themselves, they showed they definitely wanted it more than we did.
Even before our waved off goal, things just didn't seem to be clicking for us. In his statements to the press over the last few games (mostly in response to questions about Avery) , Torts has been preaching "the team concept". I think he's on the right path with this and it would have definitely helped last night. There were so many fundamental blunders last night, it seems like guys were making errant passes just to fit it with the rest of the team that was doing so. The biggest problem last night by far was the fact that every one seemed to be trying to do too much with the puck. Hanging on for that extra deke when they should be moving the puck, that extra pass when they should have been shooting, and making too many lateral east-west passes in traffic. The canes do a really could job and at jamming every player they have into the slot to take away looks and its unfortunate that their offensive style (getting Cole, Staal, and their other forwards to streak up ice for breakaway opportunities) exploits the biggest weakness of our new aggressive style (which Torts forewarned us about). However, our team did have options that weren't exercised and I would have like to have seen...
- It hard to catch a guy out in the open, while he's streaking up ice, especially when hes already got 2 or 3 strides on you. So when you have the chance, take the body hard when you're in the trenches and bang em up a little and take some wind out of their sails before you need to. We have 6'6 230lb forward now that squished many a blueshirt smurf against the boards when he was with the leafs. While Averys still finding his legs and Cally is a bit light to bully guys with hits, there are enough guys on this team that can and should have been doing so last night. Mara's could stand to nurse the injury a little but, what the hell happened to Girardi's edge?
- Lundqvist wasn't in goal last night and rightfully so after having to play an amazing game so we could hang on and outlast the B's. While the sound of the Versus broadcasting team is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me, they did have a point about Valiquette playing to deep in net one of the goals. Our goalies are coached by Allaire to be play deep in net and don't come out to challenge or cut down the angle. Granted, the game has changed a little as squeaky little priss fowards lick their chops at the thought of going around a goalie thats out too far and our more risky style isn't optimum for aggressive goalies, but how many of those top shelfers could be eliminated by just tweaking this and cutting down the angles.
- Lastly, with the canes protecting thier net minder and clogging the slot the way they do, our D should've been moving their feet as they did in the 2nd and 3rd games under Torts. Morris has a got a lot of speed and power on his shot. He and the other big shooters could have been taking shots hard shots from the point and side boards, if they had got the defense moving. Unfortunately standing still, settling down a pass and a big wind up only helped the Canes convert defense into offense as they came out blocked shots and used the rebounds like outlet passes to start their rush.
Also is anyone else getting last season Jagr flashbacks while watching Zherdev wheel back, take control of the puck, weave around opposing forwards only to get swallowed up by the defense and have the puck poked off his stick or make a small pass that gets chipped away? A few people speculated that it would come down to him and Antropov playing for a contract, the remainder of the season. While they both seem a bit streaky, at this point (still too early to choose), if we can't have both... I'm leaning towards Antropov. Aside from his size (the guy is like "Mutant" big), his patience with the puck seems to be a virtue so far and seems to help create opportunities. The edge in skating at this point definitely goes to Zherdev. Zherdevs phsycial game (what there was of it seems to have dropped off as of late) and Antropov only seems to have been consistent with his hitting when playing against us. (or maybe it just seemed that way). Anyway definitely something i'll be keeping an eye on for the rest of the season and hopefully, post season. In the meantime, lets hope we learned something from last night.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Both teams came into this afternoon's match struggling, with each only notching 4 wins in their past 13 games. Both teams were trying to mesh their newly-acquired players and solidify playoff spots. The Bruins brought their #4 power play unit to face the Rangers' #2 penalty kill unit.
The Bruins came to New York to playing their 2nd of back to back games (having defeated the Blackhawks in Chicago 24 hours earlier). Meanwhile, the Rangers had played only once since last Monday and arrived home 0-5 on afternoon games (albeit under the old regime).
The last time the Rangers were the national Sunday afternoon draw was their utter 5-2 humiliation at the hands of the Flyers. This day, it was time to unveil the new look Rangers with their new acquisitions -- Sean Avery, Nik Antropov and Derek Morris before the home crowd. The overall results were good and Antropov had 2 points, but it's still too early for any salient review.
Although the Rangers started off slowly today with their captain getting called for a penalty 8 seconds into the game, it became evident during the first and second periods that the up-tempo style was sticking with the team and could be effective against quality competition. The Rangers came out banging bodies, and for the first 35 minutes, it seemed that the Bruins had forgotten their passports to get past the Ranger's blue line.
If not for the pitiful play of Manny Fernandez, the Rangers might have come to rue all the shots that had him beaten early on but were not on net. Zherdev especially blew a golden opportunity from the right side during the scoreless first period. What also stopped the Blueshirts attack was their inability to win a faceoff in the 1st period, at one point losing 12 out of 15.
Bruins fans will feel more comfortable if this
kid replaces Tim Thomas next time he needs a rest.
In the second period, the Rangers started winning faceoffs leading to their further territorial domination of the game including 3 scores. Goals were scored by Andropov on a nice wrist shot (hist 1st goal as a Ranger and the first of 2 points on the afternoon), Gomez (on a seeing eye goal past Fernandez's toe), and Callahan on a fluky misplay by Fernandez who seemed to kick the puck into the net after he lost sight of it. A giveaway by Drury led to a breakaway by Chuck Kobasew exactly 2 minutes after the Antropov goal that was converted to tie the score at 1. It is evident that the Rangers are vulnerable to that type of odd man rush with the aggressive attack strategy they now are employing.
What was a little disconcerting was that by the time Callahan scored his ricochet shot to make it 3-1 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the 2nd period, the Bruins had started to assert themselves. At that point, the Rangers were outshooting them by 20-13. During the final 4 minutes, the Bruins had the next 5 shots and drew a 4 minute double minor on Girardi to be served at the beginning of the 3rd period. In fact, over the final 24 minutes, the Bruins had 26 shots to the Rangers 10. But the Rangers had an NHL goalie in net; the Bruins did not.
Still, the Rangers thoroughly dominated the 2nd period and one could rightly suspect that the effect of the back-to-back games against playoff-caliber teams would catch up to the Bruins. However, that was not the case as the Bruins dominated the 3rd period similar to the way the Dallas Stars did against the Rangers a couple of weeks ago. Boston launched an amazing 21 shots to the Rangers 10 in the final 20 minutes. They scored twice in the first 4 minutes to tie the game. The first was a bomb delivered 2:12 into the 3rd by Chara from inside the left point. About 90 seconds later, during the tail-end of Girardi's penalty, Mike Ryder tied it with a wrist shot that beat Lundqvist cleanly.
The rest of the period Henrik stoned the Bruins to preserve the tie although he left some juicy rebounds available. He did play solidly and the defense did clear out enough pucks to keep the Bruins from having multiple chances, but the Bruins kept the Rangers trapped in their zone for substantially all of the period. Yet, unlike the Renney version of the team, the Rangers were not content playing for overtime. With less then 6 1/2 minutes to go, Staal led a rush up ice on the left side and shot wide of the net. Inexplicably, Fernandez went down for it as it went wide to his right and he was out of position when the puck caromed to the other side where a grateful Zherdev who had followed up the play banged the puck into the net.
The Rangers hung on for the next 6 minutes including killing off a 6-on-4 advantage after Avery was called for interference with a minute to go, a ridiculous call since a minute or two earlier Gomez had been mugged in a more blatant interference that was not called. Dubinsky and Drury had several plays breaking up final frantic rushes by the Bruins.
It's obvious that Tortorella has unleashed the energy of the youngsters and it is showing results. Dubinsky had a magnificent game -- he did not score, but he was a presence in front of the net, he blocked shots, he dragged the puck up ice and out of danger, and he threw his body around. He looked a lot more like the purposeful skater of last year. His efforts were noticed with a third star of the game.
Meanwhile, Zherdev was aggressive, skating toward the net and shooting often. He missed at least one opportunity early in the game by shooting over the net. Callahan played well. Staal was very solid in one of his best games since the holidays. Girardi knocked Lucic silly in the defensive zone. I think a compilation of Girardi's knockdowns of players in open ice would surely be good viewing. It's still too early to comment on Avery, Antropov and Morris although I can say each has come to play for their first 2 games.
I viewed today's game from the comfort of my own apartment today instead of the friendly confines of MSG so I got to listen to the NBC crew's take on the revamped Rangers. From shortly after the puck dropped, the NBC announcers could not stop praising the new look of the Rangers, the new "dynamic" Ranger power play, the crisp passing and shots, the persistent forechecking, the aggressive pinching-in of the defensemen, the hurling of bodies all over the ice, and the overall up-tempo play. Kudos to the new coach and his demonstrative personality flowed from the announcer lips like champagne at another of AIG's taxpayer-sponsored Bacchanalia.
The Rangers have scored 14 goals and yielded 6 during this modest streak of 3 straight regulation wins. The Rangers have scored power play goals in 6 of their last 8 games. It's a good time for this winning streak because other teams in the playoff hunt are playing well including the Pens (8-1-1). Pittsburgh has gained 7 points on the Rangers (4-4-2) during that span.
The crowd was definitely into this game as NBC let the audio come through nearly unobstructed (Potvin Sucks chants were muted although taunts to the refs were not). The reboot of the Rangers squad was met with approval of the MSG faithful.
The Rangers (7th, 76 points) are in Carolina (9th, 75 points) on Monday night as they finish their own back-to-back. The Hurricanes can vault into 6th with a regulation win over the Rangers. The playoffs have started for the top 10 teams in the Eastern Conference.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Thursday night’s 4-2 win over the New York Islanders extended the team’s record to 50-23-13 in the regular season when Avery is in the lineup. He had just over 10 minutes of ice time and was rather effective as he forechecked, stirred it up without crossing the line, generated a few scoring chances and in general, gave the team an extra spark.
Yes, the win came over the last place Islanders and yes, the team wasn’t great but in the end, they did what they had to do to win and even managed to get goals from Nikolai Zherdev, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Markus Naslund, guys that need to step it up down the stretch in order to help get this team into the playoffs.
The team’s newcomers, Nik Antropov and Derek Morris, both did well enough to hep the team win but need to show head coach John Tortorella that they can be consistent, a factor that has plagued the both of them throughout the season and their respective careers.
Sunday’s game against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden will be the real test for the Blueshirts and should show Tortorella where they are in terms of making progress. If they can pick up a victory, it could go a long way in helping the club clinch a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference come April.
- Patrick Hoffman
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
To wit. . . .
Out Go the
- Petr Prucha . . . . exiled to the graveyard known as Phoenix (cue the sobbing and rending of garments by NYR fans).
- Dimitri Kalinin . . . dispatched to Phoenix.
- Nigel Dawes . . . banished to Phoenix (Brodeur sighs in relief).
- Erik Reitz . . . gone on waivers to Toronto.
- Aaron Voros . . . Hartford via waivers (note to Aaron -- take pugilism lessons).
In Come Some New Stiffs ---
- Nik Antropov (29) from Toronto. He has been invisible all year. He averages perhaps 50 points a season. He does have 46 points so far (25G/21A) so he becomes the Rangers 2nd leading scorer which is not saying much. The Rangers actually stole him from Toronto for a couple of draft picks. Another Russian player like Zherdev who may or may not give his all on a nightly basis. I'm sure Coach Tortorella will love this guy. Career stats here.
- Derek Morris (30.5) from Phoenix. Ah, yes, let's give up 3 players for this underachieiving -13 defenseman. Hey, Redden, did you know you have a twin? Not only that, he is a UFA, so he may be a rental especially if he does not perform. He's also 4 years older than Reitz and Kalinin and does not score. Other than that, he is a steal. Career stats here.
The potential good news --- Sean Avery being picked up from waivers via Dallas. He better produce and not have more than his usual 4-5 offside calls per game because Prucha was sacrificed at the salary cap altar to bring him back.
Bottom line --
- Rangers unloaded 2 mediocre defensemen (Kalinin and Reitz) for an older, mediocre defensemen who has convinced some Ranger fans (at other boards) that he is better than Redden. I'll believe it when I see it.
- Rangers obtained Avery and Antropov for Prucha, Dawes and Voros. We'll see what these two can bring to the table after their forgettable seasons so far. The Rangers forwards are now bigger and edgier. Let's see if they can score and do the dirty work that Tortorella requires. I'm dubious about big Nik.
Oh, and let's not forget . . . Sather's summer acquisitions are all gone -- Voros, Rissmiler, Fritsche and Kalinin.
And finally, in case you need reminding, the Rangers still have
their All-Star line-up of Immovable/Untradeable Objects --
- Michal Roszival
- Wade Redden
- Scott Gomez
- Chris Drury
After 1 p.m., the Rangers website was down off and on because of volume. Numerous Ranger related websites and blogs had "technical difficulties." Nothing like a trading deadline to erase any remnants of the apathy that has been prevalent recently.
Feel free to weigh in.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
and least favorite dance partner. . .
Why can't we be friends?
All work and no play makes Sean a very ornery guy.
Counting to ten. . .
I guess I should say welcome back. I'm not particularly happy about this.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Rangers 6, Colorado 1.
4 goals in the first period -- an outburst that led to a total domination of a game that has not been since last year when the Rangers scored 5 to open a Saturday afternoon game against the Sabres. It's been that long. The biggest scoring output of the season. A regulation win. Drury and Zherdev goals. That's 3 signs of the Apocalypse right there. The official recap is here.
Nothing further is needed today to discuss the game with so much else about to happen in the "background" as noted below. I exchanged several e-mails with my friends prior to last night's game and we all agreed that the Rangers were due to score some goals especially considering their feeble 4% shooting percentage. It was only a matter of time. Fortunately, it arrived. (Someone suggested that future games should be telecast on WPIX-11 as was last night's game.) But that's only one game -- there has to be a carryover effect to show that the Blueshirts are going to rebound. The first test will be Thursday against the Isles in Uniondale. That is now a big game.
Once again we learned that while you can question the talent level of the Rangers (and I have), you can never question their heart -- as evidenced by Sjostrom's recent stitch work (which reopened during Saturday's game) and Mara's pounding on Darcy Tucker without regard to the questionable health of his shoulder.
- First, the Rangers get to practice (and some players can rest) to enable them to get more comfortable with Tortorella's new system.
- Second, the Dallas Stars are expected to put Sean Avery on waivers, and many are predicting that he will be available for the Rangers to pick up. Who knows whether he will be suiting up in white on Thursday for the Rangers.
- Finally, the trading deadline expires on March 4. Who did we say goodbye to last night? We'll find out soon.