Friday, October 9, 2009

Team Tortortella Outlasts Team O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-Ovechkin

There is nothing like a Caps/Rangers game whether at the Verizon Center or the Garden. These 2 teams match up well and play entertaining hockey (games 5 and 6 of last year's Round 1 playoffs notwithstanding).

Practice makes perfect.
It's back to the basics after the
Big "O"vechkin went 0 for 9 to stop his scoring streak.

The Caps with their high-powered offense hosted the Rangers who had also found an early-season scoring touch. In a back and forth nail biting game, the Rangers prevailed 4-3 thanks to 2 outrageous goals by Marian Gaborik in the 3rd.

There's not enough space to review in depth the scoring plays and highlights. You can find the official recap here. It was a great game primarily because the Rangers persevered despite being penalized 9 times including playing 2 men down for more than a minute at a time twice.

It's early -- 4 games in but I think we can make some observations:
  • The Rangers have no fear right now playing on the road. They gave the Pens trouble on opening night and have won in New Jersey and Washington (the first regular season win in nearly 2 years in D.C.)
  • If anyone doubted how the offseason acquisitions have changed this team, doubt no more. The Blueshirts have a legitimate score-at-any-time-from-anywhere threat in Gaborik. His 2 goals in the 3rd period, a tying goal 18 seconds after the Caps had gone ahead, and the winning goal on a power play stunned viewers, stunned the Caps, stunned the fans and most of all stunned Jose Theodore in the goal. What I enjoyed the most was that Gaborik does not celebrate the goals like he won the Stanley Cup. Business-like and cold-blooded like a silent assassin.
  • Henrik gave up a bad goal on a shot that was near the outfield wall of the Nationals stadium by Niklas Backstrom that tied the score at 2 and changed the momentum. For a change, the rest of the team eventually pulled together after Backstrom scored his 2nd goal of the period (the Caps' only successful power play) to make it 3-2. They pushed forward, regained the ice and scored twice before shutting down the Caps. You did not see that much at all last season.
  • The 3rd period is the Rangers' strong period so far with scoring and shutdown defense. Perhaps that conditioning really works.
  • The Rangers are putting the puck on net a lot more -- from the point especially. Last night, numerous shots rebounded off Theodore leaving prime opportunities for goals. Gaborik overskated a tempting rebound. Overall, you have to like the increased shooting accuracy which is wreaking havoc in front of the net and putting pressure on defense. Also, these shots keep the puck in the enemy zone which enables the Rangers to continue their pressure. Vastly different play (and results) from last season.
  • The penalty kill unit was a fabulous 8 for 9 and scored a shorthanded goal. And quite a goal it was. Callahan was on the kill for more than a minute and deflected a pass that led to a 2 on 1 with Dubinsky. That pass was broken up. Callay, instead of heading off ice, went back to the defensive zone, swatted another puck away and went up ice on a breakaway that he converted with a nifty backhander. Skill, perseverance and conditioning -- you can see Tortorella's fingerprints on this team.
  • Vinny Prospal -- he was all over the ice -- offensively and defensively. I understand why he is here because he knows Tortorella's system and leads by example. And the coach trusts him.
  • Ales Kotalik -- I saw him muscling people behind the net. I saw him put a strong move on a pass from Anisimov that led to the goal in the picture here. Nice.

Knock, knock. Two on the doorstep lead to success.

  • Veteran defensemen. I did not see Roszival for the last half of the game. I think there is a reason why. He made his usual cover your eyes giveaway to lead to the Caps first goal. Then he lost his stick and held a player for a penalty. He then lost his slot on the ice. The Coach in his postgame commented ominously that players who earned ice time played. Meanwhile, Wade Redden, after a couple of bad plays, got stronger as the game wore on and was on the ice for many pivotal moments. Girardi and Staal also got stronger as the game wore on with some shot deflections, blocked passes and stronger defensive play. The vets' defense is not there yet.
  • Forechecking -- a team effort that successfully bottled up the Caps for minutes at a time. The energy the Caps had to expend helped to deflate them on their numerous power play opportunities. Even the fans sensed especially with their final power play in the last 5 minutes of the game that the Caps were out of sync. The MSG announcers said that the Caps had a bad game. I disagree. The Rangers' aggressive play on enemy ice did that. The 4th line, despite its bad penalties in the 3rd period, acquitted itself well. I totally respect Tortorella for letting them play so he can evaluate how they respond. He also did not punish (except verbally) Voros for his penalty that led to the Caps go ahead goal and sent him right back out. It's early, folks -- the coach has to test the mettle of the team.
  • Continued domination of Ovechkin -- 0 for 9 on shots. He has trouble scoring goals against the Rangers. They effectively get after him but he cannot be totally denied. Fortunately, Henrik was able to stop the shots that got through including a laser beam that he was able to stick away.
My caveat -- it's early in the season. Surely teams will adjust to the Rangers high-energy style. More importantly, can the Rangers keep playing like this in the condensed schedule? For example, the Blueshirts have 3 home games in 4 days starting on Sunday (starting with Anaheim who inflicted a 6-1 pasting on the Bruins in Boston last night). Some players, like Prospal, Redden and a couple of others will wear down during the season. We will soon learn a lot more.

--- The Mantis.


  1. It's certainly a different team that I'm watching so far. I know it's early and I'm not anointing anyone but you have to be impressed with the way they fought back to win this game.

    Rangers in the past might have folded the tent. Last night as a "Team" they stuck together and that my friend is a good sign for the future.

  2. Looking at last year's opening, with the Rangers winning more games than not -- no one ever believed it could continue even with them on top of the standings. there were too many games in the final period, too many last minute dirty goals to pull out the win, whereas...

    This squad has more confidence and consistency -- and a system that appears to be working AND satisfying the fans -- MORE GOALS. I am on the verge of believing in what is happening -- as Larry Brooks pointed out, another blue-collar win, which is another way to say 'a team win' and 'earning every single check, hit and goal'.

    I am especially feeling good about a young'ens on D --- the Gilroy jersey is in the mail. But maybe it should have been the Del Zotto jersey? My Rozsival jersey has been converted into a seat warmer.


  3. Nice win tonight over the Leafs. This team seems to have a little more heart and isn't folding up when they face adversity. I agree with you that so far the third period has been strong both offensively and defensively.

    They have shut down their opponents in the third and played smart hockey. I have to give Sather credit for holding on to the young talent and allowing them time to develop. Del Zotto and Gilroy have added stability to the defensive core and a good scoring touch.

    It's early but they look good.



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