Monday, March 9, 2009

Under New Management | NYR 4, Boston 3

With the clocks moved forward today, the Rangers' matinee against the Eastern Conference leading Bruins seemed even earlier than usual. Apparently, the Bruins goalie, Manny Fernandez subbing for top-flight goalie Tim Thomas and obviously rusty, left his game in a totally different time zone as his 3 flubbed "saves" directly led to the Rangers 4-3 victory. Official recap here.

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.

Like a camel through the eye of a needle -- Gomez about to score. Seriously. That shot went in.

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.


1 comment:

  1. Your post Mantis is an accurate one, and we have lived through the team that wasn't self motivated throughout the season. It was dreadful and we see bits of that dreadfulness in each other game since Renney was dismissed and Torts instituted his attack hockey, but...we are seeing less dread each game. Not to suggest Wade Redden will be worth what we paid for him - but there is an absolute change in the hustle and what these players are giving every night. More and more every game.

    I am optimistic with the Sather trades -- they are not magnificent, but if you look at the three players traded away (i.e. salary dump) and the three players gained -- we gained this season. Antropov is going to be an asset -- size and power play assets that I like.

    I am optimistic. All we need is to get to the playoffs -- just think, the Hurricanes won the game after a mediocre season. It can happen. Not saying it is going to...but there is always a chance....?

    They fixed what they could. I am optimistic going into tonight.



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