Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cane-Do, Cane-Do -- Rangers Run Win Streak to 6 | NYR 5 CAR 1

The cheers rained down on the Blueshirts on Friday evening as a 4 goal outburst in the 3rd period put away one of the squad's nemeses, the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-1 at Madison Square Garden.

For once, I can write a happy recap about a visit by Carolina to the Garden as opposed to the past 3 seasons.

Since blowing a 3 goal lead 2 Saturdays ago against Ottawa, the Rangers have reeled off 6 straight wins and are now a dazzling 5-1-1 at home for one of their best home starts in years.  The official recap is here.

Your eyes are the eyes of a woman in love... 5 Ranger heart
throbs scored on Friday -- Avery, Girardi, Dubi, Cally
and Richards. Female fans had plenty of reason to swoon.
5 different Rangers scored -- all of the heart throbs of the fan base -- on Friday night and the way the end of the game could not come fast enough for bewildered Carolian Hurricane goalie Cam Ward as he was peppered with 40 shots for the game including 15 in the 2nd period and 17 in the third.

Throughout the game, the Rangers found all sorts of ways to score:
  • in the first period, a partial breakaway by Sean Avery in the first period after the Canes showed incredible slowness in exploiting a 4-on-2 into the Rangers zone.  The Canes misplayed a pass, took a terrible shot at Henrik Lunqdqvist and then got vicitmized when Jeff Woywitka snapped the puck out of the zone off the boards to center ice.  Chasing after it was Sean Avery on the right side, who broke in and deked, charged Cam Ward and lifted a shot over a sprawling Cam Ward that hit the inside of the crossbar.  It was Sean's first goal of the season.  Right from the start of the game, you could see him skating confidently -- he apparently has gotten his skating legs back.  He also brought his pesty self to the game as he drew 2 penalties;

    Happy Place -- Avery celebrates his first goal of the season.
  • a powerplay goal by a defenseman -- Dan Girardi, who together with Henrik, is the team's MVP. Here is one player who has earned every penny of his raise from last year.  He took a high-sticking penalty from Cane's captain Eric Staal in the third period to negate a potentially dangerous powerplay with the score tied 1-1.  During the Rangers' powerplay after the 4-on-4 finished, he teamed up with Brad Richards to score the game-winning goal.  Throughout the game the Blueshirts showed a better appreciation of puck management during the powerplay by holding the puck in, making excellent passes to move around and actually shooting the puck.  During the second period, they kept the puck in the offensive zone for nearly the entire powerplay.  Unfortunately, they failed to score and then yielded the tying goal when they could not complete a line change.  That was perhaps the only miscue of the defense all night long;

    Pretty Power Play -- Dan Girardi scores on the power play
    with 9:15 to go. Credit Mark Richards with a great no-look pass
    and patience to set up Girardi.  The Rangers engineered a power play
    that was beautiful all game and a pleasure to watch.
  • opportunistic and aggressive rushes -- on the ensuing faceoff after Girardi's goal, the Rangers went for the kill as Ryan Callahan led a rush in on the right side, his terrfic shot was kicked out by Cam Ward to an opportunistic Brandon Dubinsky who scored his first goal of the season and looked skyward as if the largest albatros of his career had departed his shoulders -- within 9 seconds, the game had gone from a tight 1-1 contest to a 3-1 Ranger lead with 9:06 to go in the game;
    Net Party.  Callahan again finds himself in
    the goal crease with the puck.  This time the goal counted.
  •  a full squad rush led by Dubinsky into the Carolina end led to him being swiped and knocked down by Cam Ward (no penalty called because no ref saw it), but Dubi did not let up as he fought for 11 seconds in the corner to keep the puck ini play and in the Canes' zone, he won the puck got it behind the net and on his return trip to the front of the net, drew a penalty, but helped to keep the play going.  In a pile-up in the crease, Callahan made his way into the crease where he shot the puck into the net as he was getting crushed from behind.  On a play where the Rangers drew 3 penalties, they got a back-breaking goal to make the score 4-1; and
  • Happy Place #2 -- Dubinsky celebrates his first goal
    of the season at the same place where Avery celebrated.
  • finally, Brad Richards got a well-deserved goal with 1:35 left on a wrap-around to cap the scoring as a reward for all his work all night long.
Although he was scoreless, Marian Gaborik was again magnificent.  Whatever cobwebs he and his teammates were having at the beginning of the season have been long shaken.  He is skating effortlessly, making tremendous passes, took 7 shots on goal and missed one or two one-timers that on any other night should have connected.  He is beautiful to watch again especially during this recent stretch.  Derek Stepan with 6 shots has shown the form he was developing last year.
Henrik Solid Again -- 34 saves for Henrik on Friday night including 15 in
the first period.  The offense came through to make the last 10 minutes of the 3rd period
comfortable.  The Blueshirts kept usual thorns, Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner off the scoreboard.
What can you say about the team's defense?  Defensemen take time to develop as can be seen now with Michael Del Zotto, who is showing a lot more steadiness on both sides of the ice.  Michael Sauer and Girardi are "known" quantities but their continued improvement has been outstanding.  RyanMcDonagh is becoming a stud and GM Glen Sather continues to get a pass for converting Scott Gomez (who?) into something that helps NY while hurting the Canadiens.  The Rangers defense contributed a goal and 3 assists against Carolina.

Stop the Presses.  The Rangers' improved overall play can
be seen as Erik Christensen introduces Hurricane forward,
Zach Boychuk, to the base of the boards.
Steve Eminger and Woywitka won't lead any all-star balloting but they have been serviceable.  Anton Stralman, who is getting raves about his skating ability, will be joining the team shortly.  All in all, the Rangers' defense has kept other teams off the scoreboard (the team is currently tied with Edmonton for the fewest goals yielded with 32), bought the offense time to gel, has started to protect Henrik in the crease and surprisingly has scored rather often in fact, and most importantly are a squad that have banded together to cover up for the loss of Marc Staal.  

Girardi, McDonagh, and Del Zotto have gained some comfort at the point and making usually controlled rushes into the offensive zone and are becoming an offensive threat is something that has not been seen for some time. Girardi has 8 points (3G, 5A), McDonagh has 7 points (3G, 4A), and Del Zotto has 6 points (2G, 4A) -- they are among the Rangers' top 10 scorers.  They also have gaudy +/- numbers.  Truth be told, their aggressiveness and ability to not mistakes have taken pressure off the forwards.

We are heading to the conclusion of the first 20% of the season.  Certain teams, the Rangers included, that started off slowly -- Bruins, Canuck and Red Wings -- are starting to show up for games and put together serious win streaks.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Rangers have shown glimpses of how talented they are.  They have played well overall but improvement is always possible.  There are times when their offense disappears but during these past few games, their overall level of play has been raised.

During the next 2 weeks, they only have 4 games, 3 of them on the road.  The benefit is that some aches and pains suffered by players (Brandon Prust and Dan Girardi especially) will get a chance to heal.  Lundqvist will get some rest.  The disadvantage may be a loss of momentum.  They also have away games against three of their favorite foes -- the Islanders and Canadiens and Capitals -- on opposing ice before returning to take on the Flyers on November 26.

The Rangers are challenging for the top of the conference and have a couple of games in hand.  Let's hope this is not the highwater mark of their season.

Next game is on Tuesday against the Islanders.  It seems a while back when they dominated the Rangers in game #3 of the season.  The Isles have not had much success since.  The Rangers want to keep it that way.

--- The Graying Mantis

Thursday, November 10, 2011

GAS Line exercising the Gift of Gab


It wasn’t long ago that many of our players were standing around getting dizzy from the constant like switching and shifting. The mission find a way to activate the teams big offensive gun, Marion Gaborik. Things may have finally clicked for the Gabby with his latest pair of line mates.

Read the official recap here.

It would make sense that the guys to mesh with Gabby would be the guys that are closest to playing the same style.  Salary aside, big set up guys like Richards are not always a natural match. A lesson we should know all too well considering the one ice match game we had with Jagr a few years back.  With guys like Stepan and Anisimov still discovering their own game, it does indeed help that they can be brought along by someone with more experience in Gaborik. It also helps in that they haven’t been to the ball yet and been convinced that other players need to learn how to play around them. Could this be a definitive scoring combination for the Rangers? Yes definitely, but as we have seen before nothing in this team is set in stone and difficulty could be just around the corner. In the meantime, the team can take confidence in a few things.

Scoring—yes, the guys that are supposed to score and starting to net some goals and make it a routine.  Gaborik’s is starting to have the kind of season Ranger fans expected.  Getting a few other guys to convert will definitely help. As guys like Dubinsky wait for their first goal, there are other things that can contribute.

Energy and the Snarl—It would appear that there is a bit of arrogance back in the team and that’s a good thing.  Passion greatly contributes to a teams ability to deal with the ups and downs. Its make a winners fire burn hotter and shortens slumps through determination. Is this an Avery affect? Possibly. It could also be the winning affect.  Or both. Be it in a lockeroom or on the ice. The team seems tighter to be more intent in imposing its will. (except for Christensen who always looks disinterested.)

Defense—Marc Staal is still out. In his absence the d corps have collectively tried to fill the void. I think everyone forgets that Marc Staal was not Brian Leetch or Nick Lidstrom. He was still learning also. The Dmen make mistakes that young defensemen make. If they are looking for help, it will come from the forwards.  Minutes for the 3rd line is a good start but they can’t be depended on to spend the day forechecking and abusing opposing forwards if Torts expects to get his share of offense out of them. He needs to stop being so stubborn roll for 4 lines for more minutes and take the burden off the 3rd line with the 4th.

Right now the 4th seeing any ice is a concession Torts feels he has to make to appease people. The fan favorite, the shootout guy and the big body get on the ice long enough to chase pick a fight and go to the box. Hardly the best use of a guy with speed who plays well behind the net in Avery, a guy with a handle and can tap in goals like Christensen and a guy like Devaux who could be put to better use smashing guys along the boards or screening  goalies.

For now though, We’ll take the wins anyway we can get them and prepare for our closeup at the Winter Classic.  Let’s go Rangers.

Till Next Time Ranger Fans,

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sharks Landed and Avery Recalled | NYR 5 SJ 2

The San Jose Sharks, away from the confines of the Shark Tank, finished their long (and so far unbeaten) road trip with a visit to MSG to take on the winless Rangers (at home) in a Halloween matchup.

Despite the horror shows that the Rangers had inflicted on their fans for the first 2 home games, this night the Rangers were more interested in doling out treats to their faithful.

This time, there was no repeat of Saturday's debacle as the Blueshirts skated away with their first home win of the season, 5-2, behind the steady goalkeeping of Marty Biron.  The official recap is here

Reports that the Rangers were looking to recall Sean Avery to the main club by putting him on re-entry waivers had been news all day.
Sean of the Undead.  Sean Avery is set to return to the
Rangers in time for Thursday's game v. Anaheim.

Speculation and wonderment have been raging among fans as to how Avery's potential return to the lineup would impact the team.

One could surmise that certain players on the roster answered an important wake-up call as Artem Anisimov and Erik Christensen put up points and Captain Ryan Callahan had a 3 point night as the first line essentially got a night off from having to be the primary source of scoring.

Ryan McDonagh had yet another goal (3rd of the season) to open the scoring in the first period and is showing signs of being a stud on the defense.  He has been great as a defender and picks his spots to join the offense.

Wake-Up Call-Up.  With Sean Avery set to rejoin the
team, 2 Ranger zombies stirred into action as Erik Christensen
assisted on Artem Anisimov's nifty backhander to make
the score 4-2 in the 2nd period.

His offensive talent is so much smoother at this stage in his career than Marc Staal's ability (which started to bloom last season).

Dan Girardi had 2 assists as the backliners continued to contribute to the scoring column.

Best of all, for the second game in a row the Rangers scored more than 3 goals and again had a 3 goal lead in the 3rd period.  So perhaps they are starting to get used to playing at their new home.

Right from the start of the game, (at the 7 second mark), Brandon Prust tangled with Ryane Clowe that ended up with Prust hurting his hand a little, but he seemed to recover from it without too many problems.  But the fight served to energize the Rangers as they moved the puck well, with only a few mistakes (Girardi in the neutral zone that almost opened a breakaway).

Stepan's driving to the net during
the first period led to the Ranger's
2nd goal during a power play.
On a power play (which has been quite successful recently) Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan teamed up to score thanks to a great cross crease one timer from Dubinsky from Niemi's right that he just didn’t see as Stepan swooped in from his left.

The Sharks quickly answered back with a shot by Pavelski that actually beat Biron twice.

The first time the shot beat Biron to his right side cleanly, but hit both posts and and came careening out right to Pavelski who beat Biron to the right side.  This time the puck stayed in the net and diminshed the buzz of the Stepan goal.

The Rangers ran into a few problems into the second. At one point, the Sharks had the puck in our zone and without an opportunity to make a line change, fatigue wore in and another goal was scored by the Sharks to tie the game.

The second time around counts.  Pavelski beats
Biron to make score 2-1 Rangers in the second period.
The Rangers just couldn’t get rid of the puck there and it cost them dearly.

Right after that, the Rangers quickly regained momentum and took San Jose out of the game.  After the game was tied, the Rangers went on to score 3 straight goals in the final 6 minutes of the period as they simply wore down the Sharks.

That edge was seen in the Rangers 16 shots on goal during the period.  It also led to witnessing two great goals.

The Captain enjoys the view after scoring
to make it 5-2 in the second period.
First, Anisimov had a fantastic up and over shot close to the net off of a beautiful lead toward the net from Christensen.

Second, it was Callahan’s second goal (and the last goal scored in the entire game) that was the topping to the period.  It came with less than a minute to go in the period.

Coming in hard into the offensive zone from the right side, he dished the puck behind him along the boards as he moved behind the net.

By the time he actually cleared the net, Richards fed the Captain a pass that he was able to get in on a mostly empty net.

This was done even as he was knocked down to the ice, and the look on his face was priceless.  Cocky, even.

There was no scoring in the third period, but the Rangers killed off 2 penalties in the 3rd to ensure that the Sharks would not have a 3rd period comeback like Ottawa did the other day.

Andre Deveaux in his first game did okay as a center.  He didn’t score, but he appears to be promising thanks to his gritty style.  It will be interesting to see how he fits in and how long he stays once Avery is back on the roster.  The Michael Rupp injury may prove to be a blessing for the Rangers by giving Avery and Deveaux a chance.  We'll see how long that window is open.

Overall, this game might prove to be the start of an upswing.  The team is scoring, the power play has become more successful and against the Sharks, the Rangers only took 3 minors (in addition to Prust's fighting major).  Also, the defense has settled down -- Michael Sauer is logging in nearly 20 minutes per game.  Michael Del Zotto has beed adequate and not guilty of cover-your-eye mistakes.

Granted, nothing ever changes overnight.  There’s a scary notion whether Torts will change the lines up drastically with Avery in the equation, but right now, you can see the team's potential.

After the Sharks' loss, Joe Thornton said that the Blueshirts "were probably the softest team we played on the [road] trip. We should have had these two points."  It’s kind of odd that we’re getting this type of reputation, considering that the team leads the NHL in fighting majors.

Coach John Tortorella did not take kindly to Thornton's comments, "He could go down as a player, being one of the better players in our league never to win anything. So what he should do is just shut up."  Too bad these teams can only meet again this year in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Overall, considering that the Rangers came away with the win, that has to say something about the progress we’re making. Tonight was easily Ryan Callahan’s night, with a little help from Marty Biron in net.

Next game is Thursday night -- the 4th game of the 6 game homestand and likely includes Sean Avery's triumphant return to the MSG faithful in a contest against the Anaheim Ducks.  The Garden should be rocking that night.


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