Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tavares-ty in Uniondale | NYI 4 NYR 2

The Rangers came about as close to home as they could before the "new" MSG reopens in a couple of weeks.

Their cameo visit to the U.S. brought them to MSG East a/k/a The Mausoleum (officially, the Nassau Coliseum) to visit the feisty 2-1 Islanders before heading out to Canada for a week.

Back in the U.S. of A.  The Rangers made a brief
appearance in the U.S. for their game against the Isles
before embarking on a 4 game trip to Canada.

Unfortunately, their sluggish offensive play and their injury-riddled defense combined to ensure the team would be no match for the youthful Islanders who were led by John Tavares to a 4-2 victory in front of a capacity crowd.  The official recap is here.

A sold out raucous Coliseum filled to the brim with Ranger fans greeted both teams.  When the final whistle blew, early season trends were reinforced for another night:
  • Rangers fans arrived with the hope that the Blueshirts offense would start to click and Islander fans had the chance to see whether the Isles their thumping of the Lightning was a positive sign of the future for this season.
  • Islander fans were rewarded with a hat trick from John Tavares and 3 assists from former Ranger castaway P.A. Parenteau.  All the Rangers needed to complete the horror show would have been a stellar performance by former Ranger Al Montoya.  Instead they faced Evgeni Nabokov, who did not report to the Isles last season, and had not played for more than 500 days.
  • The Ranger offense continues to struggle.  The first line had plenty of chances (Marian Gaborik had 8 shots on goal and scored one goal) and the squad had 31 shots but could not develop momentum for most of the game.  Nabokov acquitted himself quite well as his defense helped him by clearing the puck and giving the goalie clear sight lines.
  • The Rangers continue to owe rent for space in the penalty box.  This time, they were guilty of 8 infractions -- admittedly, a couple of them were absolutely bogus (especially the delay of game call on Brian Boyle in the 2nd period).  The Isles had 11 shots (out of a total of 34) and converted twice.  Considering that the Rangers have been whistled for numerous penalties in each of their first 3 games (a situation going back to preseason) and the Rangers offense is not clicking, this is not a formula for winning.
For the first time ever, the name Tavares is
synonymous with hockey talent, not Disco.

  • Being shorthanded so much has reduced time for the first line to become a force on the ice. 
  • The Rangers would be 0-3 if Henrik was not in playoff form. 
  • John Tavares is the real deal.  Not that anyone should have any doubts.  I found an interesting forecast about Tavares after the June 2009 draft.  If you hate the Islanders, this is grim reading.
  • He has made his linemates much better so far.  Considering his 4 points on Thursday night against Tampa and a hat trick against the Rangers (2 go ahead goals on the power play and an empty net) on Saturday night, Tavares just concluded an eye-opening first week.   He would have had another but for the tremendous save by Lundqvist (see below).
    Denied!  This was simply a beautiful save on Tavares during
    a 2nd period power play.  Moments later, Tavares scored on
    a backhander to give the Isles a 2-1 lead.
  • Tavares has teamed up with P. A. Parenteau to become an early season force of youth and scoring.  Tavares has 5 goals and 3 assists, and Parenteau has 1 goal and 6 assists.  Not to be outdone, Matt Moulson has 4 points.  That equals a prolific 15 points from the first line through 4 games.  Meanwhile, the Rangers as a TEAM has 11 points (although they have played one game less). 
We are only 3 games into the season.  I can hear the fans' voices on Facebook (still screaming about Sean Avery's dismissal) screaming about Tortorella, Richards, Gaborik, giving up on the season, blah, blah, blah. . . .  Rangers fans often remind me of Mets fans.  I remember when Mets fan whined after Willie Randolph went 0-5 in his first week as a manager.  Fans were calling for his head, saying he was overmatched and underqualified.  The team rebounded, winning the next 6, on their way to the playoffs.  It's a long season. 

The Losing View
The Winner's View
Keep in mind that in prior years (especially in 2008 when the Rangers were in Europe), the Rangers started off fast creating visions of conference finals in fans' heads before falling back into the pack and spending the next few months scrambling for a playoff position.  This madhouse scramble has been the hallmark of every season except the first one after the lockout.
Denied!  God, Gaborik sucks on breakaways.

Unlike recent seasons, this year the Rangers have started out slowly.  It is no time to panic.  But there are some signs that make me nervous.  First, the nagging injury to Marc Staal that has impacted the defense.  The injury to Michael Sauer is worrisome.  Marian Gaborik still does not look right.  Where has his speed gone?  His defensive play is lacksadaisical -- he killed the Rangers comeback opportunity with a horrendous penalty with 5 minutes to go.  The Isles essentially played keepaway to kill the clock.

Also, is it me but do the Rangers look very slow?  All the talk of youth has been a bit of a mirage right now as they are playing for the Whale right now.  Fedetenko, Rupp, Christensen, Prust will never be confused with speedsters. 

The Silver Lining.  There is talk that the Isles may move to
Brooklyn.  Then Tavares will be within walking distance. 
Just like once upon a time in the movies.
But, right now, it almost looks like they are still tired from last season.  They expended lots of energy forechecking and blocking shots all year long.  I thought the break would re-energize the team, especially Gaborik, and give them time to rest injuries.  Only Lundqvist has come out sharp.  Fortunately, the team has been in every game so it is really a question of getting the offense to score.

Fortunately, when the Rangers finally return home, they will be owed 7 home games thanks to this season's schedule.  So, they will be able to get settled, put away their passports and get back into a routine.

The trip to Canada will be interesting.  Another venture to a new time zone and another coast before they make their way back to NYC. 

--- The Graying Mantis

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