Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blind Aggression No Match for Puck Possession

Well Ranger fans,

With everyone wondering whether or not the team would be worn out of the road trip, the Rangers surprised everyone, starting the game with an up-tempo aggressive checking style. But like a an arrow without feathers, you're not hitting anything if you can't keep it straight.

Read the official recap here.

Speaking of misses,despite the energy brought by the team and feisty style, there was an obscene amount of Ranger shots (when being taken) that were deflected. A large percentage of the non-deflected shots still went wide of the net. We were a team hell bent on showing off our brass b@lls. While we darted in random directions, chipping pucks and then chasing them down .. only to work the puck around the boards trying to buy time for a shot... our opponents followed and waited for a mistake... We didn't disappoint them as we were caught deep in our own end, out of possession and even managed to get in our own way sometimes. It seems there may have been a good bit of false bravado in that comeback win last time that convinced us that we only had to be aggressive for long enough to see the more tender underbelly of the tuxedo'd poultry... and then we'd go in for the kill.

They say survival is a game best suited for those who can adapt. Adaptation became the fulcrum on which last night's game teetered... as will the rest of the games in this series. A game of chess in which we have exhausted our resources and sacrificed all our pawns thus far on the direct approach. It's indeed a dangerous game to play as it not only wears us thin, but it exposes us as 'one trick ponies' and demonstrates the way to beat us. The aggression is good if it can be bottled and applied when and where needed. It should be a means of channeling our offense and defense, and not our whole game. It becomes more apparent as we play the more hyper and bigger teams, that they know just where to wait for us and will attempt to outwork us along the boards. Thank God we're not playing on a pond, we'd never get anywhere without the boards.

We are now a younger team with younger legs, there's no reason to linger around the perimeters of the zone, using the boards as training wheels. I wouldn't mind seeing this team take the puck off the boards and practice their passing and puck handling in open ice... where it could ignite the skills of players like Gaborik, Stepan, perhaps Frolov..

Kudos go out to Prusty for taking on a much bigger man in Rupp, Avery for punching Kennedy and Roszival for not showing signs of rust. Still for the toughness factor, it's much better when it means something and is perhaps topping off a win. Even the most aggressive of Blind aggression is still Blind.

Between my periodical calls to my local pastor to see if hell has frozen over yet, I manage to check the NHL website to see if any disciplinary action, or hell, even an admission that the league witnessed Skidmark Sid slewfoot Callahan.   I guess I really only need to be checking one to get the answers to both.

Till next time,


Monday, November 29, 2010

Dubinsky Shines Over The Predator(s)

There is nothing better than a horrible photoshop job....so there.
NYR 2, Predators 1 SO

As an old friend said recently, "Two out of three aint bad" an unexpected and pleasantly optimistic viewpoint of the Blueshirts recent roadtrip as the New York Rangers dropped a bomb in Tampa, followed by a perfect shutout of the Florida Panthers and ended with a hard-earned shootout win against the Nashville Predators.

Official recap vs Nashville here.

Brandon Dubinsky once again demonstrated his all-around game - though not on the boards against Nashville, he is showing signs of a leader on the team and his stats are proving just that; the all around efforts by him and Ryan Callahan are getting the attention of the league and we're beginning to see opposing teams double covering Dubie, 'as if' he were some Marian Gaborik or something....  Oh, and did I mention that Gaborik didn't play on Saturday night either?  Again?  This time out with flu-like symptoms, our core team of Dubie, Callahan, Fedotenko, Prust, Sauer, Girardi, Staal, Boyle and Sean Avery are defining this team with a hard working ethic that is mostly winning games.

Henrik Lundqvist in goal the last two games had a strong showing - a blanking against Florida and a terrific shutout whitewash against Nashville, but let us not forget Marty Biron, who is becoming as important as anyone on this "Black & Blue" squad - one that never gives up despite the score and generally manages to deliver a solid effort.  If Henrik can adapt to a two-way goalie system, then we're better for it.
Sticking up for a foul Christensen hit, Sean Avery stepped up and had his head handed to him by Nashville's Tootoo.
Michal Rozsival played a damn good game.  How's that?  After coming off a nine-game absence, he was surpringly in line with the system and played hard as if it were a playoff game.  So there.  I'm still Rozzy-agnostic, though, so don't celebrate too hard, but credit is due to a solid performance.

So with six minutes in the third period left on the boards, Ryan Callahan scored to tie-up the game, which led to overtime, which led to the shootout.

Erik Christensen was the first player called to take part in the shootout, and he beat Pekka Rinne with an aggressive move before slipping the puck just inside the left post.   It turned out to be the game winning goal as Henrik Lundqvist did the rest by denying three subsequent Predator attempts.  Amen.

It was a well deserved win that kept this young and rookie team in the sixth slot in the Eastern Conference with a 14-10-1 record, 3rd in the Atlantic Division behind Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

I'd say we have a damn good team, not great.  But they're getting better.

Tonight we host the Penguins (15-8-2) at MSG and, dammit, I look toward another win against this franchise --- it's always fun to see Sid the Kid Crosby banging his stick on the ice, hitting the post in frustration and losing --- each of the Rangers last three games vs. the Penguins have gone into overtime, dating back to a 3-2 win on Feb. 12, 2010 at Pittsburgh. The Blueshirts are 2-1-0 over the span, so luck will be on our side tonight.

See you at MSG...


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rangers Tame Panthers as Special Teams and Henrik Shine | NYR 3 FLA 0

The Rangers once again proved that it is hard for them to throw back-to-back clunkers as they rebounded from their 5-3 loss in Tampa on Wednesday night with a a solid 3-0 whitewashing of the Florida Panthers. Official recap is here.

Thankfully, the Panthers do not have the scorers or speed of the Lightning because Florida outshot the Rangers 40-19 for the game. However, many of the shots were clearly seen by Henrik Lundqvist and many rebounds were cleared by diligent forwards and defensemen. Henrik did make a couple of spectacular saves including stopping a tip-in try in the first period and shooting out his left leg to make a pad save to thwart Mike Santorelli's shot on a 2-on-1 in the second period. He and his teammates faced down 2 four minute man advantages without yielding a goal.

Meanwhile, the Ranger special teams were markedly improved from the Tampa game. No goals on 5 PP opportunities for the Panthers including a 4 minute penalty in the first period. Shortly after that kill, the Rangers struck for their first goal thanks to quick puck movement by Staal with a pass to Avery streaking out of the penalty box that led to Sean's shot off Scott Clemmenson (former Devils goalie) leaving a perfectly placed rebound for Derek Stepan to convert. There's nothing more exhilarating for a team to conclude a long penalty kill with a goal of their own (of course, a shorthanded goal is just as sweet -- foreshadowing alert). The first period ended with the Rangers outshot 15-5 -- a disturbing trend recently that bears some analysis after this stretch of games is completed.

Stepan was on the first line with Brandon Dubinsky and Marian Gaborik and all three had a wonderful chemistry. Stepan scored for the 2nd game in a row (points in 6 games in a row) and missed an open net in the 2nd period that could have proved crucial later. Coach Tortorella increased Gaborik's minutes to 20 for the game and exhorted him to play harder. He certainly did with some quality shifts on the penalty kill as well.

The second period was scoreless and saw plenty of activity in the Rangers' end. In the third period, the Ranger special teams struck for 2 goals. First, in a picture-perfect display of power play proficiency, Eric Christensen won a faceoff to Steve Emminger who passed it back to Christensen along the right boards (Eric had sprinted over from the left faceoff circle to get into position). Christensen then centered a pass to Ryan Callahan between the circles who deflected the puck past Clemmenson to put the Rangers up 2-0 with 5:34 gone in the 3rd. It was the 4th straight game in which the Rangers have scored a power play goal.

Later in the 3rd, Brian Boyle was whistled off for interference with 6:41 remaining. This was a potentially critical moment of the game. The Panthers had picked up steam and even had a goal waved off because it was batted in by a Florida player hand.

During the penalty kill, 3 Panthers got caught deep in the Rangers zone. Brandon Prust moved up the left side past the Rangers blue line and worked a 2-on-1 up ice. Seeing that there was no pass option, he wristed a shot between Clemmenson's legs that gave the Rangers an insurmountable 3-0 lead with 5:35 left.

For the remaining 3:36 of the game, the Panthers pulled their goalie. 11 skaters filled the Rangers defensive zone for nearly 3 minutes without a break or a clear. Thanks to the density of players, the Rangers were not scrambling all over as in a normal power play. Henrik made some key stops, the Rangers kept moving the puck but could not get the puck out of the zone until finally it was cleared with only a few seconds remaining, thus keeping the shutout intact.

There was a sizable crowd for the game -- more than 17,000 reported -- it was obvious this was a NY crowd based on the number of Ranger jerseys throughout the arena and the vocal cheers after Ranger goals. (A couple of Florida resident/NY Ranger fans attending the game advised me by e-mail that the Florida PA had fun with the Ranger fans in attendance by exhorting them to return "home.")

Hockey is a strange game -- Tampa scored the first 5 goals against the Rangers in the first 2 periods of their Wednesday victory over the Rangers. The Bolts gave up 3 goals in the final frame of that game and then got shutout in D.C. yesterday, 6-0. So after looking invincible for 2 periods, they yielded 9 goals over 4 periods. Meanwhile, the Caps had been shut out twice within 3 games last week, including one by the so-far woeful Devils.

Tonight the Rangers visit Nashville with their vocal fans to complete this 3 game in 4 night road trip before returning home to face the Penguins on Monday night at MSG.

As has been reported, during the 7 weeks ending December 5, the Rangers will have played the most games of any team in the NHL -- 24 games in 46 days. So if you have been thinking the Rangers have been playing frequently, you are correct. The fact that they are staying solidly in the pack of the Eastern Conference despite missing several players and integrating new players is a testament to their work ethic and their coaches.

---The Graying Mantis

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Give Thanks That It Wasn't Worse....

Ugh... thinking about last night's romp in Tampa, I may just lose my Thanksgiving dinner.  Okay every once in a while, we get outplayed by a better/equal/much worse team. It happens to everyone...blah blah blah// join the Bettman chorus in singing the praises of Stamkos, league's leading scorer...

Read the official recap here.

Now that being said... F*ck me? You've got to be kidding! Ok yeah we got out played or at least our goalie got out-gunned by Tampa... I don't consider it a team win or loss as much ...as perhaps my perspective on this is just as clouded as Henriks last night and I can't see past Ryan Malone camping out in our crease with his stupid Tampa mustache.(ok, I've seen team trends...Mohawks, Rally caps in the dugouts.. When the hell did the stupid musketeer mustache become a pop culture trend?) Anyway, as Doc Holiday relaxed in front of the net like a tourist sitting the middle of Times Square.... Our d-men circled cluelessly for the first 2 or 3 goals giving him full access to Henrik... so he could hack, chop and dig uninterrupted. We were taking penalties anyway. How big a pair does it take to come by and send a message to Shakespeare Malone? This was one of the reasons I thought we were a little quick in dismissing Excelby from his tryout.

At any rate, at a loss for more rational thought after this loss... I present to you the top 10 things that may or may not have been caught on John Tortorella's Microphone last night.

10. "Stop this Chip and Fetch crap. Hold on to the puck and make some plays."
9. "Hit Stamkos... Repeatedly"
8. "Slow the game down in the neutral Zone and stop trying to out sprint the sprinters!"
7. "I coached you b@st@rds to a cup, where's the respect?"
6. "Anyone seen Vinnie, I owe him a kick in the nuts..."
5. "Boogey.. Sic Malone!"
4. "Sean, go shoot the $hit with Stamkos...Got any dirt on him?"
3. "For God Sakes, don't just stand there!!!"
2. "Somebody Retaliate! Boogey, Crash the net!"


1. What's with the stupid Mustaches?

Till Next Time Rangers,
Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless...


P.S. Torts felt the need to call out Gabby after the loss, calling him invisible for 20 minutes. Call it a hunch but, unless I missed something Gabbys not a chip and fetch player. He needs to be fed the puck and have some ice opened up for him to move. The only way Gabby could have been effective with the way the team was playing was to cruise the neutral zone waiting for passes and cherry picking opportunities.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Holidays and Happy Hockey

...or (insert) the head of Ilya Kovalchuk

Nothing better than a good Turkey Shoot, eh?  

As the holiday season begins, here at The Dark Ranger we wanted to wish everyone safe travels and a fun-filled weekend of hockey! We appreciate your readership and hope that you continue to visit for some good fan insight and, better yet, a good laugh.

Happy holidays to all and see you tonight in Tampa Bay.

The Dark Ranger        Graying Mantis       J_Undisputed

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ranger Reduce Flames To Embers In Close One

The Flames lived up to their name when their aggressive play ignited a rough and tumble game in the Garden last night. Watching the two teams go at it for 3 periods brought about one observation, they're a lot like us. They're not a start studded team, but make/get their wins off the back of hard work and more often than not are backstopped by a very good goaltender. They're just like us, except last night for once, the breaks fell in our favor.

Get the Official Recap here.

The heavy hits went back and forth, the aggressive forechecks and play along the boards. Goaltending on both sides was solid. Kipper kept his team in the game with the exception of a few bad bounces. The Rangers were playing with the Iginla Factor looming over them as he now has goals in 6 games. There seemed to be no shortage of work on either side except for the Boogeyman who once again found himself without a willing dance partner.

The only controversy on the night came in the form of Marc Staal drilling Matt Stajan with an open ice hit. Was it legal, perfectly... but you know the soupy and the guys in the war room in Toronto have been scratching at the surface of it, anyway. We welcome your opinions. Legal?  Illegal? Brutal? A love tap?

Also does anyone else notice there seems to be a lot more targeting of the head since the league actually said something about it?

Till next time Ranger Fans,

Monday, November 22, 2010

She Loves Me Not, She Loves Me

Fri  NYR 1,  Avalanche 5   Recap here.
Sat  NYR 5,  Minnesota Wild 2,  Recap here.

It was a wild weekend of hockey for us Rangers fans, as much fun as having your girlfriend break up with you and one day later having her beg to have you back.  In other words, 'rebound love'.   Now hold on Rangers, I'm not suggesting anything dirty like the pat-down you're all going to receive at your neighborhood airport this holiday season, I'm referring to the hate & love of Rangers hockey that we all felt within a 24-hour period.

Friday night against the Colorado Avalanche will never be explained, as the Blueshirts decided that the altitude was good reason to not show-up and play hockey - where a scoreless first period was followed by the Avalanche lighting the lamp four times, our King Lundqvist letting in 3 softies out of 16 shots and soon after replaced by surprisingly stellar backup goalie Martin Biron.  By the time Biron took goal, the rest of the team was deflated and there was absolutely nothing that could be done to revive the scoreboard in our favor. 
"I felt like everything went their way in the second period and that kind of killed the game," Lundqvist said. "I didn't think we were that bad. We needed a couple more saves to keep us in the game but we didn't get them tonight."
Scary bad Henrik in net
Well for once, I disagree with Henrik's assessment.  Coming off the Boston loss last Wednesday and Lundqvist taking responsibility for what probably was his worst focused game of the season, the three goals on Friday night scored against him were stoppable and it is worrisome.  Is it fair to suggest that the more he sits, the softer he gets?  Larry Brooks of The Post posed an interesting article over the weekend, questioning Lundqvist's ability to play in a two-goalie system (go here).

The game against Colorado 'was what it was' - a bad game.  We 'shat the bed' and let's move on.

So Saturday couldn't have arrived any sooner as the Blueshirts arrived as well.  It was the return of Marian Gaborik and as part of Minnesota's greeting, the Wild brass handed out overstocked Gaborik bobble-heads in his Minnesota jersey to everyone at the arena -- a clever little joke gone awry by management, as we stalked them, played as a team and made a 'Wild fool' of their obnoxious psychological giveaway act --- all goals without Marian.  Ha! 

Saturday's game was the parallel opposite to the night before, where on both nights the first period both teams looked strong and solid  - East Conference meets West Conference and the courting before the kill; the second period the Rangers took control scoring four lovelies in a row, one of them a delicious Derek Stepan feed to Michael Del Zotto's coming up the chute goal.  These goals were solid goals, none of them were soft, and Minnesota Wild's goalkeeper Backstrom didn't have a chance as his own squad let him down.  Sound familiar?  Minnesota found two pride goals in the last period, enough to keep their heads up high.  We win.

Biron Battles and deserves the start tonight
But here's the difference - Marty Biron was in goal for the Rangers, with Henrik on the sidelines.  So the operative question is as the Rangers head home tonight against the Calgary Flames - who starts in goal tonight?   I'd actually like to see Marty Biron open the game tonight.  It would fit the Torts philosophy and system.  If you win and play hard, you will be rewarded.   What do you think?

Looking ahead, here are the stats going into tonight's matchup:

The Rangers will face-off against the Calgary Flames at Madison Square Garden (7:00 p.m.), in their third consecutive game vs. a Northwest Division opponent. The Blueshirts currently rank third in the Atlantic Division standings, and seventh in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 11-9-1 (23 pts). The Rangers enter the contest having defeated the Minnesota Wild, 5-2, on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center, to improve to 5-0-0 in the second game of back-to-back sets. The Flames enter the contest with a 8-10-1 (17 pts) record to rank 14th in the Western Conference, and have lost four of their last five games (0-3-1).

There are games we should win and there are games that we just need to work hard and see what happens. Tonight we are expected to win, which are usually the ones we don't. So perhaps Saturday night's game did a little good to the confidence factor - as we meet our old friend Olli Jokinen (who I believe is still suspended for a cross-checking incident here), the Sutter family will be in attendence (former coach of the NJ Devils... "help Sutters, we need you back" - Lou L.) ....and I believe we'll all be treated to Brandon Prust welcoming his ex-teammates to the Garden. It should be a battle. 

The ride continues tonight Rangers fans.....onward!


Garden fans, look out for that funny looking dude wearing the Flames jersey

A great moment in hockey history, note Olli forgot to defend again.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NY Rangers 1, Avalanche 5

Official recap here.  NY Rangers are now 10-9-1.    Tonight they take on the Minnesota Wild (away), followed by an official Dark Ranger dual-game weekend recap first thing tomorrow.   See you then.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ranger Miscues Let Bruins Escape | BOS 3 NYR 2

Last night at the Garden, the Rangers unveiled their new third jerseys -- to be worn on Sundays and against Original Six teams.

For the coming out party for the jerseys, the Rangers hosted the Boston Bruins. I have to admit that when I first saw them (the jerseys) during the offseason (modeled by Sean Avery), I was unimpressed.

However, after seeing some pictures of the jerseys posted by friends over the weekend from the Rangers' introduction of the jerseys and watching the game on t.v. last night, they really grew on me.

As for the game, it was another nail-biting, closely-contested, low-scoring game that has been the trademark of their encounters the past 3 seasons. This time, Tim Thomas led the Bruins to a 3-2 victory over Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers.

The game was played briskly like an old-time pitcher's duel. When the final horn sounded, the clock read 9:22 so it took only about 2 hours and 15 minutes to play the entire game. The season series is now tied at 1. The official recap is here.

Coming off the heels of their scintillating overtime victory in Pittsburgh, the Rangers would have been excused if they came out flat or were beaten by the Bruins, who brought a 9-4-1 record to New York. Thomas, rejuvenated after last year's mediocre season, arrived with a gaudy 9-1-0 record and a sterling 1.32 goals against average. Coming into the game, the Bruins had allowed a paltry 29 goals through their first 15 games.

For the 2nd time this week, Marian found the inside of the net with the puck
and with his body. Here, Tim Thomas keeps the puck out and lets Marian slide on by.

Meanwhile, his counterpart, Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist had a 2.60 goal against average, which some detractors might remark includes a 1.33 soft goal allowed per game average.

Unfortunately in this contest, the difference was the fact that Lundqvist's Achilles heels (one for each ankle) appeared.

First, he was beaten high over his shoulder while down on the ice by Tyler Seguin to give the Bruins the lead at 2-1 with 3:25 left in the second period.

Later, he let in a soft goal in the first 70 seconds of the 3rd period by failing to cover the post securely permitting Mark Recchi's shot to find the space between his leg and the post to dribble its way through for what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

Oh Henry. An uncovered post and a laser shot made all the
difference as the Bruins jumped out to a 3-1 early in the 3rd period.

Last night, the Rangers started fast and maintained a decent amount of pressure on the Bruins all game long. Tim Thomas was kept busy but he did not have to stand on his head to keep the Rangers at bay.The Rangers showed some offensive fludity at times as Gaborik and his linemates continued to grow more comfortable.

What was definitely encouraging was Brandon Dubinsky's powerplay goal to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead with 7:10 gone in the second period. He deked Tim Thomas with his eyes as he charged into the offensive zone. Thomas bought the fake (which was legitimate since Gaborik was coming down the center) and moved slightly to his left before Dubinsky beat him with a wrist shot.

Dubinsky's play has shown no let up since Gaborik has returned as evidenced by the artistry of the game-winning play in overtime against Pittsburgh and his goal against Boston.

The Rangers have developed two quality scoring lines. For all the worries about a lack of offense, the Rangers are 10th in the NHL in goals scored (57), rarefied air for this team in recent years.

During the game Derek Stepan's presence became more pronounced as he logged more than 11 minutes for the game (including 3:30 on the power play) at the expense of Eric Christensen. It appears that Coach Tortorella is giving Stepan an opportunity to work his way on to the first line.

His pass to Gaborik for the Rangers' 2nd goal was simply beautiful and unlike Christensen's ill-conceived pass in the 1st period, the correct decision. Thanks to the recent spate of games at home, Stepan certainly looked more comfortable playing before the home crowd. During recent games, I noticed his ability to fend off defenders around the boards and behind the net in addition to his overall speed and skating skills.

The Rangers even outshot Boston 36-20 for the game including a margin of 16-5 in the final period. However, the Bruins provided a clinic for crowding the slot and blocking activity in the creases while blocking numerous shots, successfully frustrating the Blue Shirts and providing ample protection for their goalie.

Building on recent success, the Rangers killed all 3 of the Bruin power play opportunities (extending their recent success streak to 17 straight and 23 out of 24). This success with the penalty kill takes pressure off the team from worrying about incurring penalties by being physical. This is a far cry from their rate of nearly 25% futility rate that put them near the bottom of the league for the first month of the season.

Also noteworthy is the fact that during the past 7 games (excluding the 5-3 loss to the Caps), the Rangers have given up only 11 goals without Michal Roszival in the past 4 games, and with a blueline dependent on Steve Eminger and Michael Sauer (both continue to improve) as well as the noticeably improved Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. The goals allowed (52) now puts them in the middle of the league, which is far better than where they were at the beginning of November.

The Rangers had plenty of chances that were squandered during the game. Early in the game, Eric Christensen ruined a 2-on-1 break by trying an extra pass to Marian Gaborik instead of shooting. Michael Del Zotto took a slapshot from the left point with Ryan Callahan in front of Thomas. The puck was just a bit too high and Callahan whiffed on the deflection try.

In the second period, the Rangers had a 4 minute power play which ended up looking a lot like the Rangers were interested in running out the clock or forgetting that during a double minor, you can score more than one goal. Unfortunately, this opportunity was wasted.

In the final period -- the most painful 20 minutes of the game, the Rangers fell behind early 3-1 before Marian Gaborik brought the Rangers closer with a beautiful passing play with Derek Stepan with 14 1/2 minutes remaining. The Rangers could not break through for the equalizer as the Bruins tightened up their defense.

What was most frustrating was the Rangers inability to exploit a lengthy 2 man advantage when Andrew Ference and Zdeno Charra were whistled off within 16 seconds of each other with less than 6 minutes to go. While the puck movement was decent and the Rangers did take some shots, they made lives too easy for the Bruins. The Rangers continue to show a tendency to have their defensemen creep in too closely from the blue line.

That gave the Bruin defenders less ice to cover, preserving their strength, and enabling them to bottle up the slot and crease. The Rangers failed to open up the triangle to make the Bruins cover larger expanses to chase down the Rangers. This has been going on for the past 2 seasons at least and essentially neutralizes the 2 mad advantage.

Still, the past 2 games -- in Pittsburgh and against Boston -- have had playoff atmospheres and the tight-checking, physical play and gut wrenching twists and turns that we see every Spring. The Rangers are proving they can compete with upper echelon teams and bring a full-game effort for nearly every game.

The Rangers are now off to face two quality Northwest Division teams: Colorado (10-7-1) on Friday night and the Minnesota Wild (9-6-2) on Saturday night. Both are having good seasons so far so they should be fun games as the Rangers have a great 6-2 road record.

--- The Graying Mantis

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rangers escape with win despite attempted robbery at Igloo!

Well Rangers Fans, it was a close one! Soon after sewing up our win against the the greatest odds, did our netminder call the officials on their one sided performance by requesting to see the record for the last 5 seasons of penalty tallies in Pittsburgh.

You can get the official Report on the attempted Robbery here.

For us at the Dark Ranger, We know what happened and don't need it dressed up by the league or the officials. After a hard fought first period, where we tried to match the intensity of the Pittsburgh team, it became apparent that we just weren't controlling the puck enough and our offense while well intended was fairly one dimensional...The Gaborik line alone was a little puzzling as his linemates seemed content to kick back and let Gabby enter the zone solo and try to split 4 defenders on his way to the net. Quick Note: Kudos to Cally for dropping the gloves and shutting Comrie the hell up and later force feeding Skidmark Sid some glove during a scrum.

The second brought more of an effort and intensity, as did the third. Interesting enough that we never got a call in the entire game, but once again diving seems to be popular in Pittsburgh. You have to love how a kid like Malkin is revered as big, strong and fast and so steady on his skates but somehow gets overpowered and thrown to the ice by little Ryan Callahan. Once again, demonstrating the Pittsburgh motto of:"if you cant beat em, cheat em..." The officials of course, fall in line with this mentality making up calls along the way, justifying them with stupid smiles.

For as much tampering as there was, it added a bit of excitement to the game and even managed to royally piss off Lundqvist who played a spectacular game and tried to remain calm despite being tripped and later threatened by a tantrum throwing Crosby. It would eventually boil over as one mystery penalty too many pushed Henrik over the edge and resulted in him breaking his stick over the crossbar following the second Pens goal. Then Henrik attempted to get some boomerang action going with the broken handle, in the direction of the officials.

If not for the effort of the first line and a Marc Staal joining the play, all would have been lost. Instead, tied and going into overtime, our boys in blue decided to flip off the posterboys from Pittsburgh, the corrupt officials and the rest of the Gary Bettman circus. As much as I ride Dubinsky for that contract play at the beginning of last season, he did make a great Datsyuk-ian move to avoid the sprawling defensemen and feed Cally that winning goal.

Till next time Ranger Fans,


Monday, November 15, 2010

Benedict Arnold or Erik Christensen?

As you've all heard by now, New York Rangers Erik Christensen took liberties with the Edmonton press yesterday, essentially calling out his own teammate Sean Avery as clearly sucker punching Oiler's Smid during yesterday's match.

If you're not a Rangers fan, anything to do with Sean Avery will be a disgrace and you may praise Christensen for his honesty and forthright nature, but...

Sean Avery is my agitator and my pain-in-the-ass and I support him as a fan and I know and he knows his place in the league (even if Torts doesn't at times).  I say Erik Christensen is 'a bit of a rat' for screwing around with the locker room chemistry that is now winning them games.  The last thing we need is for our inner-core turning on each other and criticizing each other.  That should be left to the coach.

Blueshirt Banter did a nice piece here.  

So The Dark Ranger is calling him out as a disgrace to the jersey he wears.  Plain and simple.

You are supposed to protect your own Erik Christensen, so keep your damn mouth shut next time.


The Gaborik Rising / NYR 8 , Edmonton 2

Yesterday was Family Day at The Garden, Rangers brethren, one of the only opportunities this fall to bring your young'ens and inspire them to be a professional hockey player later in life; good clean family fun where they can cheer on their role models and you can reinforce all the New York Rangers propaganda we've been feeding them since they were babies.

Aside from the drumming the Edmonton Oilers took from the high scoring Rangers 8-2, the Garden fan-kids were treated to everything a good hockey game should have - the return of a former coach who helped bring back the Rangers to playoff glory & later shamed, a hat trick, eight renditions of the Goal Song, a bench brawl, the coach jumping into the action and a good old fashioned sucker punch.  Good family values.

Official recap here.

Gaborik defining 'dirty-goal'
We all tip our hats (and throw them on the ice) to Marian Gaborik, who coming off a shoulder injury that has sidelined him most of the season, played his fourth game and stole the limelight as he scored three goals and one assist - embarrassing most of the Oilers and especially goalie Nikolai Khabibulin who stopped only 22 shots and let more than enough in.

We must also tip our hats to the 'Return of Avery' - now known as Enemy Number One in Edmonton.  The Oilers were already trailing by three goals in the final period of a long and disappointing five-game road trip when Avery really got them mad. Our revitalized agitator checked Oilers' Colin Fraser hard into the boards and, according to the Oilers, declined to fight Ladislav Smid when he was challenged.  Avery eventually took the initiative of throwing a punch after Smid let down his guard when it seemed a fight wouldn't happen. - which if you watch the replay below, you will see that Smid dropped his gloves when he saw Sean accepting his offer and Edmonton is just what Dad used to call "a sore loser" making excuses for a kid on their squad trying to make a name for himself.  The Avery element of surprise made way for sorry Oiler excuses.

We usually save this behavior for Philly
A brawl then broke out with 8:42 remaining and by the end of it, 124 penalty minutes were handed out -- 67 to Edmonton -- including five standard misconducts and four ejections.   Even coach John Tortorella couldn't hold back Brandon Dubinsky from the bench - who took a 10-minute major for joining in on the ruckus.  Avery, Boyle, Prust and Dubinsky were all thrown out of the game......YEE HAW M*THER F*CKERS.  Oops....sorry kids and Family Day at the Garden.   "See kids....that's old time hockey."  The video is below and worth the entire watch:

It was an easier night for backup Marty Biron, who gave Henrik Lundqvist some much needed rest for the Pittsburgh Penguin game tonight.  Biron only faced 22 shots, but picked up another win proving that acquiring him during the off-season was the right move by Rangers management.

The game overall wasn't much of a challenge as the Rangers controlled most of the tempo, but it was 'made to look easier' by both Marc Staal and Dan Girardi's stellar defense.  Both commanded their zones, controlled the neutral zone and stepped up offensively when needed.  They both smoked Edmonton's #1 Draft Taylor Hall a number of times, making him look young and inexperienced, which by the looks of it, he is exactly that - young & inexperienced.  Hall looks well below in comfort and talent than more recent number picks such as Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos.  I'm sure in time he will blossom, unless Edmonton continues to drag their heels.  The NHL brings out the best or worse in a player and he obviously has not adjusted well at this point in the season.

The Rangers are 9-7-1 this season, ranked 4th place in the Eastern Conference - and their crank-n-grind work ethic is finally getting some respect in the hockey blogosphere.  We are surprising teams with 60-minutes of hockey - and Torts (over the last 2-3 games)  is doing a pretty good job of letting them (finally) play hockey and duke-it-out when necessary.  I have a feeling we're going to see more of this as the season progresses. 

So Pittsburgh is tonight and we can all wipe that smile off our faces, as Henrik is back in goal and 'The Diver' Crosby makes his way into the Garden.  We are supposed to win games against struggling teams like Edmonton and we did, but tonight we are only expected to play hard and give it our all -- and occasionally we win them.   The Penguins always bring a physical game to the Garden, but this time they are playing a very different Rangers squad and tonight is their first meeting.

Let's bring it on, Blueshirts.  Maybe Avery can show Crosby a good 'ole fashioned  melee....


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Resilience At Work -- Defense Pitches In to Help Biron Slip Past Sabres | NYR 3 BUF 2 (OT)

Thursday night's game against the Buffalo Sabres presented a golden opportunity for the Rangers to finally win a game at home for the first time in this third game of a 4 game home stand.

Their upstate opponents, not the free skating talented team of recent years, had played an overtime game the night before in Newark. This was one of those games that the Rangers should get and need to get when they are home.

However, this game would see an injury depleted roster for both teams, which has become a staple of the Rangers' season so far. On the positive side, the Blueshirts were welcoming back Marian Gaborik for his first game since the opener, while on the infirmary side, Michal Roszival (shoulder) and Henrik Lundqvist (stomach flu) would be sitting.

Ryan Miller, the Sabres' Olympic goalie, was out with a knee injury and would be replaced by Jhonas Enroth, who had beaten the Devils the night before.

With Marty Biron in goal for his second start this week (he lost 2-0 on Sunday to the Blues), this was a chance for him to put to rest any doubts that he cannot spell Henrik for as many as a dozen or more games this season. As it turned out, the Rangers did not miss a chance to get 2 points at home and Biron erased significant doubts about his ability as he played a sterling game to lead the Rangers to a thrilling 3-2 overtime win. Official recap is here.

Fedetenko. He played perhaps his best game overall as a Ranger with a
goal, an assist and a waved off goal besides being a strong presence on the ice.

Besides Biron, the Russian contingent of Artem Anisimov and Ruslan Fedotenko provided the scoring needed to secure the win. Fedotenko got the Rangers' initial score in the first period while Anisimov scored a goal in the final minute of the second period and then snapped in the game winner with 3:28 remaining in overtime.

The Rangers took the lead in the first period after the Rangers failed to capitalize on 2 power play advantages. However, the Rangers maintained their pressure after the second one expired leading to Fedotenko slipping the puck under Enroth after the goalie could not control a rebound.

Christopher Higgins Redux? Frolov cannot buy a goal right now.

Alex Frolov, although snakebitten again, seemed rejuvenated and had a bounce in his step that suggested that he and Gaborik are going to team up well. Near the end of the period, he had 2 quality chances that he could not put home, yet again. But you can sense that the goals are about to come. The Rangers outshot the Sabres 14-8 and should have had more goals.

The second period started with the Rangers pressuring Buffalo led by Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust in an attempt to extend the lead. But eventually, the Sabres took control as Tim Connolly had 2 great chances in the first 3 minutes.

Biron was sharp for the most part and he had to be as the Sabres outshot the Rangers 12-4. He robbed Neidemayer by stretching across the net to stop his shot. Later Andrej Sikera sprang Thomas Vanek on a long pass; Biron blocked the shot but he ended up on his side. Tyler Ennis, duplicating Fedotenko's score, jammed the puck home under the prone Biron to tie the game at 1.

Robbing Niedermayer. Biron did not let Niedermayer find the
back of the net on several occasions.

With a minute to go in the period, the game got interesting. With 55 seconds to go, Brandon Dubinsky won a face-off in the Buffalo zone. Dubinsky chased the puck behind the net and passed it out to Anisimov at Enroth's right and shot it into the net, for his first goal in ten games with 48 seconds to go. (Recently, the best scoring that Anisimov had been doing was injuring goalies in practice -- he hit Lundqvist in the neck last week and plunked Biron earlier in the day.)

It was another game that the Rangers scored late in a period, including their recent win in Toronto. And it was an opportunistic goal since it came on only the Rangers' 4th shot of the period.

Offensively Positioned. Note how Grier has inside position on Ryan Callahan
and an unimpeded approach to the net to tie the with less than 3 seconds.

However, following a pattern of the past couple of seasons, the final minute of a period can be dicey for the Rangers. This game was no different as Buffalo immediately took the puck into the Rangers' end. The Rangers simply could not clear it out of the zone and you could see Rangers gliding around waiting for the horn to sound.

Dan Girardi was a guilty party as he slowly chased the puck into the corner but Cody McCormick of the Sabres got to it first and found Rob Niedermayer who saw that Mike Grier had inside position on Ryan Callahan in front of Biron. Grier took a nifty pass across the crease and slipped the puck into the net with 2.9 seconds left to tie the score.

For the third period, the Rangers came out of the locker room and dominated. The Sabres were likely weary at this point after their long game the night before. Gilroy pushed the puck up the ice several times. Fedetenko scored what should have been the Rangers' goal but it was inexplicably waved off just 4 minutes into the period. Replays showed that the puck was in the back of the net before the whistle blew.

Why the goal was not reviewed is also inexplicable. For one of the first times this season, Tortorella went ballistic on the bench and rightly so as this was the second goal waved off during the homestand on questionable grounds.

Two minutes later, the Rangers almost were in deep trouble as Hecht beat Biron on a wraparound but somehow Biron kept the puck out of the net, it bounced off Biron's pad and then the knob of his stick prevented it from rolling into the net. Fortunately, Eric Christensen swooped in to clear the puck away.

Game Saving Play. Biron, sprawling, was able to control the puck and avoid
knocking it into the net as the knob of his stick made the final save. Christensen
came in from the left to sweep away the puck into the corner to preserve the tie.

The rest of the period saw some great end-to-end play. Biron stopped Vanek's terrific try for score, the Rangers immediately skated up ice and Callahan made a beautiful pass to Dubinsky whose one-timer was stopped by Enroth with 11:25 left.

Christensen, Gaborik and Frolov meshed well during the third period but Frolov continued to be unable to convert his chances. Avery, Steve Eminger and Derek Stepan wreaked havoc with forechecking for a couple of shifts in the Sabre zone keeping Buffalo bottled up.

Regulation ended tied and so it was the third consecutive OT game for Buffalo. In the extra stanza, the Rangers were able to get an unusual win in overtime. Believe it or not, the game winning play started with a terrible turnover by Christensen outside the blue line.

Vanek was stopped again by Biron and the Rangers rushed up ice. Anisimov was stopped on his first shot at Enroth but the puck stayed in the zone. Fedontenko (who played perhaps his overall Ranger game) went into the corner to retrieve and sent it to Girardi at the blue line. He shot the puck toward the net, Anisimov's attempt was blocked but he immediately pounced on it, settled it and turning around, he shot a laser that beat Enroth high over his left glove hand with 3:28 remaining for the win.

Parting thoughts:
Answer to Frolov's scoring woes? Welcome Back, Marian.
Once again the Rangers showed their resiliency -- they shook off the loss of Roszival and Lundqvist. They did not allow Buffalo's tying goal at the end of the 2nd period to destroy their confidence. They ignored another waved off goal and just plugged away.

Winning this game was important because the idea of losing a third game in a row at home would mean that the Rangers had squandered a possible 6 points.

Marian Gaborik's speed was evident as the Rangers often rushed up ice with a quickness that has been missing.

With Roszival out, other defensemen stepped up -- Eminger and Sauer had good games. Sauer seems to be getting more comfortable on his shifts and is not shy to hit some people. He tangled with Paul Gaustad in the second period. Later, he boarded Patrick Kaleta (and somewhere Paul Mara did a fist pump) and drew a penalty for it. Kaleta was a bit groggy and some Sabres considered revenge against anyone in a blue shirt. But nothing developed and the game went on.

Gilroy, the beneficiary of Roszival's injury, certainly looked like his hiatus helped him as he had a better sense of what he should be doing out there.

One thing that has become evident recently is that fans are warming to the team. They are enjoying the team's lunchpail work ethic, their resiliency, their work in the corners and the payoff of a youth movement.

Fans I have corresponded with keep saying how much more entertaining the team is from recent seasons, especially the last two. Coach John Tortorella has maintained a quieter demeanor so far on the bench and in public. He has publicly praised his players (Roszival being a noteworthy example) and shared the advice he and his coaches have told players (Christensen) and what is expected of them to be contributor to the team. He has not fought with beat reporters, who have actually tried not to bait him this year. It seems everyone is more interested in how the team is developing.

David Letterman learning to his dismay that the Rangers do not have Ice Girls for him to pursue.
Later he told his crew that was the last time he would accept text messages from Brett Favre.

Interesting that Tortorella has taken more of a mentor role instead of the harsh parent. Perhaps he recognizes how hard they play and how hard they are trying to buy into his system.

Perhaps he realizes that he will lose the team because they have been without Gaborik, Prospal and Drury for the entire season.

With Gaborik's return, the level of talent should rise and the competition for ice time will increase. That can only be a good thing for the Rangers.

--- The Graying Mantis

Monday, November 8, 2010

You Win One, Then You Blues One

How do you beat a team named the St. Louis Blues (8-1-2) coming into the Garden having won six in a row?

You don't.

Or at least at Madison Square Garden you don't because we generally don't win games at home, and it was another crashing disappointment in front of the Garden faithful.  Coming off a fantastic Friday night shutout over the falling NJ Devils, this was not what anyone was expecting.

It was a battle of the backups as NYR's Marty Biron replaced Henrik Lundqvist and St. Louis' Ty Conklin replaced the shutout King Jaroslav Halak.  Biron did the best he could to keep the Rangers in the game, but ultimately he found no support, our d-men were unable to control our zone and the end result was Ty Conklin continuing his team's trend of shutting out their opponents.  The St. Louis Blues who managed to physical beat down on our New York Rangers, controlled the neutral zone and held our Blueshirts outside of their own blueline throughout the evening, even during a number of power play advantage opportunities, including a 'sorry-ass' Rangers five-minute power play (missed) opportunity. 

Official recap here.

The first period opened well, especially when the Rangers thought they had taken a 1-0 lead with 1:56 left in the first period, but a Frolov goal was immediately waved off by an odd and confusing high-sticking call by another ridiculous referee call.  Ref protocol, I suppose.

Blues' Steen took a pass from Brad Boyes during a 3-on-2 rush and snapped a shot from the high slot past Biron to make it 1-0 at 5:16 of the second period.

No Rangers stepped up after Stepan getting boarded.  This should never happen again.
During the third period after B.J. Crombeen received a five-minute major penalty for boarding Derek Stepan with 12:35 left and our boys only managed four shots.  The 'dump & chase' Rangers philosophy was in full effect and ultimately to no effect. But even more alarming was that, once again, this 'new & improved' tough Rangers squad were unable or unwilling to defend their own.  Perhaps Coach Torts' eyes were ready to bulge if any Ranger took a stupid penalty with only one goal on the boards, but I am surprised nothing became of this.  It was a ridiculous hit and there was no retribution.  Boogey?  Girardi (hardy ha)?  Yes, Prust launched shortly after, but again to no effect.
Sauer got more action from Boogaard than any Blues opponent

When your team is wronged, sending the right message is always about the right timing -- someone needs to teach our boys this.  Coach John Tortorella can talk about the right kind of penalty and he may talk-the-talk, but he is holding our boys back from retaliating - after last night, it is apparent that this is a trend that is becoming consistent:  "BEAT ON US, The New York Rangers".  I don't like the sound of that, and this needs to change.

One of the highlights was Sean Avery checking Tyson Strachan into the boards - which always amuses me at how embarrassing this must be to your fellow teammates. 

So we're a .500 team (7-6-1).  No surprise there.  Tomorrow night we play Alexander Ovechkin and his Caps at The Garden and it is almost certain Henrik Lundqvist will be in net, our only dependable and consistent wall of defense; expect to see him playing his heart out against an onslaught of Cap(tain) Crunch.

Maybe Boogey or Prust could make a run at Ovie?  Semin?  Green?  Something....anything....would get our attention back.  See you tomorrow.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Boys to Men -- Dubi and Boyle Lead Rangers to Victory | NYR 3 NJD 0

Proving that the maturation process continues in the absence of the veteran stars and again demonstrating an unexpected boundless reservoir of resiliency, the Rangers shook off their wounds from their loss in Philly the previous night to shut out the Devils 3-0 in Newark.

Savor this Ranger fans -- the Rangers are 5th in the conference, on a 95 point pace and averaging nearly 3 goals per game.

The Rangers survived the loss of Ryan Callahan (recovering from his mugging in Philly) and relied on their domestically raised killer B's -- Brandon Dubinsky and Brian Boyle -- to spoil the Devils' return home after a 6 game road trip. The official recap is here.

Frequent scorer plan. Dubinsky has 5 goals in his last 3 games,
10 in the team's first 14. How many of us saw this coming?

The missing starpower for last night's contest could have lit up Times Square. The Devils were without Martin Brodeur and Zach Parise. Besides the missing trio of Gaborik, Prospal, and Drury, Callahan was rested from the after effects of his boarding in Philly.

Despite being down 4 front line players, the Rangers again shook off adversity and kept the offensively-challenged Devils mired in their own.

The Devils continue to be winless at the Rock (0-5) so far this season. Brandon Dubinsky, with 2 goals last night, has 10 goals so far this season, which is more than the Devils starting front liners combined (even including the injured Zach Parise).

Ilya Kolvachuk was held pointless after being effectively smothered by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi throughout the game. Even more embarrassing was the fact that the Devils could not sell out the arena for a rival game even after being on a 6 game road trip.

Shrinking Violet. Blowhard fans touting how great Kolvy would
look in a Ranger uniform should be glad that management did not hear them.
For the game, the Devils had the overall advantage in shots, 33-20 (including a 11-4 first period advantage), for the game and were led by Jonas Hedberg in goal, who had been successful against the Rangers when he was with Atlanta.

However, Henrik Lundqvist was better in goal and the Rangers capitalized on their opportunities. Well, truth be told, the first line capitalized on their chances.

Brandon Dubinsky was directly involved with all 3 goals -- he scored the first and third goals of the game, the latter a shorthanded tally and set up the middle goal by winning a faceoff. Artem Anisimov had 2 assists and Brian Boyle scored his 5th goal of the season.

Dubinsky broke a scoreless tie with at 7:35 mark of the first when Alex Frolov drove to the net on the left side, shot the puck and worked behind the net to retrieve it. The puck went to Anisimov on Hedberg's right, who tried to shoot but instead it went across the crease to Dubinsky.

Although blocked by a defenseman, Dubinsky snapped a shot around the back of the defenseman and between Hedberg's legs. I had to watch the shot several times on replay to appreciate the quickness of Dubinsky's release. So entering the 2nd period, the Rangers had the lead, which has not been a common occurrence so far this season.

More importantly, the Rangers stayed out of the penalty box but were physical. Anton Volchenkov and David Clarkson started throwing their weight around, targeting Sean Avery. But Brian Boyle defended Avery by fighting Clarkson. The Rangers ended up with a power play that they could not convert. So the Rangers did not back down and it was nice to see Boyle use his size despite the physical game they played the night before.

Filling the Void and the Net. Dubinsky and Boyle have combined
to score 15 of the Rangers' 38 goals. Raise your hand if you saw THAT coming.

In the second period, the Devils pressured the Rangers but Henrik Lundqvist kept them at bay including stoning Kolvachuk and Langenbrunner. Late in the second, Danius Zubrus was whistled for hooking with 2 minutes to go.

During the power play, Hedberg covered up the puck by making a scrambling save on Todd White. Dubinsky won the ensuing faceoff to Anisimov, who passed to Girardi on the point. Girardi moved to the center of the blue line and shot the puck on goal. Brian Boyle deflected it past Hedberg so for once the Rangers scored a goal in the final minute of a period with :36 left. That was Boyle's 5th goal -- a career high in goals -- and the first power play goal of his career.

Early in the 3rd period, during a Devils power play, Dubinsky and White charged up ice on a give and go. After White's shot was blocked by Hedberg, Dubinsky banged home the rebound for a 3-0 lead.

Later that period, Clarkson, again proving that he is gutless, boarded Brian Boyle hard. Surprisingly, the refs actually called a 5 minute major on Clarkson. Even though the Rangers did not score, the passage of that time ensured that the Devils would not have enough time to score three times to tie the score.

And the 3 goal cushion was handy because fatigue that was setting in. But the Rangers had an insurmountable lead and did what they needed to do to enable Lundqvist to preserve his shutout.

Love for Boogy. For a team to be successful when stars are missing, others must step up. Derek Boogaard may have played his best game as a Ranger. Physical without taking any penalties, nearly scoring at one point and being an intelligent presence on the ice, Derek had a good game. The play that caught my eye was when he was in front of the net, saw Girardi pinch in along the right boards, and hustled to cover the right point. He was in the right position to keep the puck in the zone. So there seems to be some talent behind all that brawn.

One and done. Jonas Hedberg was deserted by his offense and finished after yielding Dubinsky's first goal. The Devils are 30th in power play proficiency. The Rangers gave them only 2 chances and used one for a short-handed goal to make the score 3-0.

Dominant. Rebounding nicely from the Philly game, Henrik stopped 33 shots.
In his career, he is now 20-7-5 v. NJ with 5 shutouts.

On Sunday, the Rangers begin a 4 game homestand -- St. Louis on Sunday, Washington on Tuesday, Buffalo on Thursday and finally Edmonton next Sunday. This would be a capital time for the Rangers to start showing some dominance at home.

---The Graying Mantis

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