Friday, March 25, 2011

Point Well Taken, Not So Well Earned | OTT 2 NYR 1 [sho]

Not that I want to quibble with the title of the Rangers' official recap, but the Rangers stole a point last night with one of their patented answers of the 3rd period bell.

Brandon Prust scored early in that period to tie the game at 1 and neither team scored for the remainder of regulation, overtime and the first 4 frames of the shootout. The Ottawa Senators converted in the bottom of the 5th to take the game by a score of 2-1. Craig Anderson, with a new 4 year contract, got a measure of revenge as he bested Henrik Lundqvist. Official recap is here.

Like the Florida game on Tuesday, the Rangers scored their only goal in the 3rd period. Unlike the Florida game, the Rangers slept walked through the first 40 minutes as they had no answer to a combination of Ottawa speed and blanket defensive coverage.

Magically, they converted their offensive malaise into 3 standings points, which, as I will describe, shows improvement from earlier this season.

Bad Gabby. To his credit, after leaving his man,
Ryan Shannon, open to score, Gaborik played at a heightened level
with strong defensive play and several good opportunities to score.
Ottawa scored its goal at the 15:21 mark of the first when Marian Gaborik failed to cover Ryan Shannon in the slot. During the stretch leading up to the goal, Ottawa dominated the ice and the Rangers looked slow-footed in their own end.

Marc Staal, coming back from a knee injury, himself started slowly but gained confidence. In the beginning of the 3rd period, his rush up ice and brilliant pass to Brandon Prust as he was falling down (and drawing a penalty) sprang Prust who was able to beat Anderson to his right side for the tying goal (Prust's 12th of the season) within the first 3 minutes.

Prust "Owns" Ottawa. Without Prust, the Rangers would have
been shutout in both home games against Ottawa.

This season, the Rangers lost both home games to Ottawa this season by the score of 2-1. In each case, Prust scored the tying goal (a shorthanded goal in the first game and a goal on a delayed penalty call last night).

At least last night, the Rangers got it to extra time and gathered a point unlike the earlier loss which happened late in regulation when a shot ricocheted off Henrik's back.

Despite the recent offensive juggernaut being derailed this week, there is good news on the defensive side -- the defense has tightened up nicely and there have been no deflected goals going past the Ranger goalie for the past several games.

Additionally, in both home games, the Rangers did not commit any egregious mistakes that cost a game with a late goal. Henrik played superbly because he was tested in both games, and did not give up any "soft" or fluky goals.

On Tuesday, he robbed the Panthers of a chance to tie the game late in regulation. Last night, he robbed Chris Neil on a breakaway out of the penalty box. So, during this pivotal time, the Rangers did not leave points on the ice with late game failures.

As for Ottawa, a team that went into wholesale liquidation mode, they have truly played the role of spoiler recently. The Rangers took 3 points (out of 4) from them during this month. Meanwhile, the Devils recently lost 2 games to the Senators (so did Tampa Bay) that have torpedoed the Devils' playoff hopes. That point difference is one reason the Blueshirts are in the top 8 of the conference and the Devils are getting ready for early golf.

Finally, it is indeed frustrating to see the Rangers struggling on offense as they did at home this week. At least they did not lose 3 in a row like a few weeks ago. During their recent streak of 7 wins in 8 games, the Rangers scored 32 goals and had nine power-play goals over their past seven games. Scott Burnside had a very complimentary column about the Blueshirts yesterday, worth reading.

But truthfully, we know that the team was truly clicking. During the Florida game, the Rangers dominated the ice but had trouble finishing, could not score into open nets or engaged in too much passing.

Against Ottawa, it was much worse as they had mustered 9 shots during 30 minutes (as opposed to 23 shots in one period against the Isles) and reverted to the old ways of making one too many passes. Yes, #17, I am looking at you -- Dubinsky looked a lot like the old Dubi that Torts chewed out a couple of weeks ago. And Staal failed several times to simply shoot as he went into helicopter wind-up mode on several opportunities. There were other culprits as the offense simply did not click until the 3rd period.

Bad luck (or the crappy MSG ice) also played a role as passes hopped over sticks (like Christensen's attempted feed to Gaborik in the 2nd period) and a couple of others slithered out of reach of Ranger players at Anderson's door step. Whether this was just one of those nights or a reversion to old habits will be evident during the upcoming road trip.

Pass the Lysol. Apparently it was MSG's night to honor NY's most overpaid, untalented and incompetent celebrities as Chris Carton, resident moron at WFAN, Gary Bettman, the 21st century poster dwarf of the Napoleon complex, and Katie Couric (she still has a job???) graced MSG.

The 7th place Rangers have built a cushion (7 points over 9th place Carolina) and teams like Buffalo and Carolina still have to play their "in hand" games to catch up in the schedule. A condensed schedule at this time of year is a mixed blessing -- there are points to get but the wear and tear and pressure can break you when you are doing the chasing. Just ask the Devils.

Now the road beckons and what a trip that is upcoming over the next 8 days -- Boston for a Saturday afternoon game, then a 3 day break before a crucial back-to-back in Buffalo and Uniondale on Wednesday and Thursday nights before a Sunday matinee in Philly. A win in Boston may guarantee Chad Johnson a start against the Isles and Henrik a rest for at least one game.

---The Graying Mantis

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