Sunday, October 30, 2011

Making Sens of it all....


Halloween has always been my favorite holiday....but not even I can appreciate the trick the Rangers played last night on their fans showing up for a the first win in a renovated MSG. Yes last night was frightening to say the least. There was a time when this would be no surprise as the Sens seemed to have our number. Well at least the number of the old Rangers.  But now we're a new team...a young team, with a young captain. a star center, and super skilled winger, an all star goalie and chock full of homegrown young players coming up in the system. Treat or Trick? I'll let you judge for yourself...I know what I saw on the ice last night.

Read the official Replay here.

Lonely at the Top: We got this, relax people!
On with this early Halloween edition. Hmm.... It started a night like any other. Looking for a win at home, our club came out motivated and looked for their first win at home. oh.. if it was only that easy. Finding themselves outplayed they got behind. So they coasted with a "don't panic" mentality and patiently waited for a break; passing the time, shuffling pucks around the endboards... chipping them up the sideboards, turning them over at the blue line and getting pinned in there own zone for  minutes at a time like a bunch of trick or treaters that were instructed not to leave their block in search of a sugar jackpot. That appears to be the status quo as far as offense goes now with this coaching staff.

The belief that things will suddenly click and result in an explosion of goals if the lines are mixed the right way by Torts, the mad scientist is a pipe dream. We did manage to catch a break when Anisimov was caught from the side while turning to circle up the boards again and managed to go into the boards head first, resulting in Ottawa getting hosed on a 5 minute boarding call (I'm a Ranger fan but that hit was legal).  I was glad that we managed to take advantage of our unexpected windfall with 2 power play goals (including Richard's first in the Garden as a Blueshirt) and went were up by 1, but I still wondered if we could managed to eek by without that lucky call. My questions seemed to be answered when we managed to keep the flow going, capitalize on some mistakes made by Ottawa and found ourselves with a commanding 4-1 lead.

Then, as quickly as it came, it left... The Sens turned up the pace just as we clicked the autopilot button and clawed their way back from the brink. Surely the Ranger fans in attendance thought, this can't happen. Perhaps many were reluctant to panic because we still had a lead, whether it was a 3 goal lead, then a 2 goal lead...then a 1 goal lead.... Ok, so they tied it up...but we have one of the best goalies in shootouts in our net. Why worry, right? ummm.. lets see.. O for 3 in  the shootout.  It's like going to biggest house on the block with the best costume and goodie bag and find their giving out fruit.. Sonova... At the end of the night, what started as a breakout game, became a break even game, and eventually a heartbreaker of a game.  How can this continue? 

Over the last couple of games, I've heard the coach say, No excuses... We can't blame it on travel, on injured players or anything else.  Of course, he meant "we" in the "it's you f*ckers that are making me look bad" sense of the word.   A game like last night's will tell you alot about the leadership of the team. When the panic starts, is usually the best time for a captain to step up and lead by example. I think Cally does a good job night in and night out leading by example. He went out and righted a wrong by scoring a goal after inadvertently tipping one past Henrik.

Beyond that, where were the calming voices at the bench, in the middle of this downward spiral and resulting clusterfu.....? It stands to reason that the coaches opinions are the only ones not being disputed or disregarded, yet the blame is not laid at his feet.... its the players... its the ref that didn't call a trip when Gabby went down, its the reporters for asking the question on every ranger fan's mind.."WTF?!?!" The team itself is floundering and uninspired while waiting for a prophecy made by their coach to be fulfilled.  Where is the team that makes its own luck?  I've seen everyone from abandoned goalie to the young captain take part of the blame on their shoulders... so we know at least they have some idea of  what accountability is...

Will Sending Avery to the Minors Haunt Torts all the way to 
his Termination?
It's also telling when players make reference to a guy you sent down to the minors, as a difference maker.  The fans have been saying it for a while, but to hear it from guys like Henrik and Boyle, it only makes the team concept look more diluted. I'm sure they have been pulled aside for that, but who gives a crap.  

The team is telling their coach what they need to win. You'd figure the coach of  a team that couldn't even coast to a regulation win with a 3 goal lead, would be open to suggestions. The decision to keep Christensen is looking worse with every shootout loss. Defending the decision, by touting Christensen as a more skilled versatile player  only makes Tortorella look like more of a putz. Avery can turn the puck over along the boards and take penalties just as good as anyone else on the team.

Till Next time Ranger Fans, 

P.S. - Happy Halloween. Remember to make your little Rangers visible when the go trick or treating and to check their candy. The world is not as safe as it once was. The existence of Gary Bettman is proof of that.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Overpowered - Punchless Rangers Lose Home Opener | TOR 4 NYR 2

Late yesterday afternoon, I headed to Penn Station from Long Island under gray clouds.  I was surrounded on the LIRR by numerous Rangers fans in various sweaters.

When the season began, I was feeling a sense of withdrawal watching the Rangers playing overseas and starting on the road for the first couple of weeks. 

Finally, the Rangers came home.  I kept thinking of my old section, the rut in the concrete floor in front of my seat.  It was comforting the same way the den in my childhood home was.  I was missing that seat.

Uninspiring Beginning. From what I could
see, the music was awful, and the player
intros were listless -- just like the team.
I arrived at Penn Station, but I was not going to the Garden.  I had an appointment elsewhere.  Like many of my friends, I had not renewed my seats this year.  It was a difficult decision, but not necessarily permanent.

A cold driving rain greeted me on 7th Avenue and that's when I really started to miss being inside the Garden sitting at my comfortable seat, rut and all.

Despite the nostalgia, I have been ambivalent about the Rangers since training camp opened.  After last night's effort, a depressing 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, I can see my ambivalence so far has been validated.  The official recap is here.

Last night the so far surprising and youthful Maple Leafs came to christen the new Garden. Michael Sauer and Wotjek Wolski joined the Rangers squad after missing most of the season due to injuries.

Within the first 6 1/2 minutes of the game, Dan Girardi got the Rangers off to an early lead with a shot from the right point that simply eluded Jonas Gustavsson, who was replacing usual starter James Reimer, out with an injury.  It was a typical bad goal given up by the mediocre goalie.

Rangers celebrate their first goal and first lead of their home season.

Immediately, visions of the sieve that Gustavsson was last year during last year's Gaborik led 7-0 rampage were obviously dancing in fans' heads. And the Rangers looked like they were going to pounce.

The Rangers pressured throughout the first period and even scored twice but each time the goal was waved off due to incidental contact in the crease between Ryan Callahan and Gustavvson. So two terrific shots by Dubinsky and Del Zotto were nullified.

Meanwhile, Marian Gaborik was buzzing around the ice taking advantage of his speed to get good chances.  On one rush, he split the defenders and took aim at Gustavsson before being stopped.  His speed has been one of the bright spots so far. 

The Rangers had 16 shots in the first period, nearly matching their game average of 22 so far this season.  But at the end of the period, the Rangers only had a 1-0 lead.

First Period Blanks.  Callahan failed to convert twice on the doorstep.  And
he was called for being in the crease twice to nullify goals during the first period.


In the first 80 seconds of the second period, Matt Lombardi found an opening between the goal post, Henrik Lundqvist's arm and his side to slip a puck into the net to tie the game at 1.

Phil Kessel roamed the ice at will wreaking havoc. 
Lundqvist stopped the league leading scorer
twice on breakaways during the second period.
The Ranger defense scrambled to keep the puck out of the net as Henrik was forced to track Leaf players all around the net.

In fact, for the next 30+ minutes of the game, the Rangers would muster a pitiful 7 shots on goal and were behind 4-1 with 4 minutes to go.  During that span, the Rangers were out shot 23-7.  

Gustavsson, shaky in the first period, was given a reprieve as the Leafs provided what Tortorella wants -- the best defense is keeping your team pressuring in the other end.  Then in a final burst,the Rangers would score after shooting 7 pucks at Gustavsson in the waning minutes.

One of those nights.  Lundqvist had a shaky 3rd period. 
But he also had no support after the first period.
Although there was no further scoring in the second period, the Rangers were obviously being dominated as they could not set up any attack in the Leafs zone.

In the third period, Henke was beaten 3 times.  While he was not as sharp as he had been in previous games, he had kept the team in the game during the 2nd period when he made 15 saves. 

Unfortunately, the 3rd period was the worst period he has had the entire season so far and he was not picked up by his team. 

The first Leaf goal came from a scramble in front of the net when Joffrey Lupul was able to poke the puck past Henrik's left side at the 2:11 mark.  For 2 straight periods, the Rangers yielded a goal within the first couple of minutes. 

The back breaking goal came 4 minutes later.  As an onrushing Artem Anisimov headed into the Leafs' Zone, Mike Komisarek poked the puck away and slipped it between his legs to Clarke MacArthur who spun on a dime, headed up the left side over the blue line and blasted a shot from the dot of the left faceoff circle that beat Lundqvist to the far side. 

The final Toronto goal was scored by Mike Brown who launched a shot from nearly the same spot to beat the Ranger goaltender.  That time, again the Leafs were quick on the transition and Tim Erixson was victimized by Brown at the Ranger blue line with 6:06 remaining.  Michael Del Zotto closed out the scoring late in the game.  His play has improved the past week.  Unfortunately, the Ranger goals only came from their defensemen.  
Overhaul in the Garden and Locker Room.  In September 2008, MSG introduced
a model of the renovated arena.  Little did Naslund, Redden, Drury and Gomez
know they would not be around to open the renovated arena.
Through these first 8 games (roughly 10% of the season), there has been no spark on the team.  There is no personality that charges up the fans and the team -- Vinny Prospal and Sean Avery come to mind as the ones missing.

Maybe we just foolishly hoped for continued improvement from the 2009 season to last season to now this season on a scale beyond the players' capabilities. It is possible that Boyle and Prust and Anisimov had career years LAST year. 

Stepan may be having a sophomore slump but he showed signs of working well with Dubinsky & Callahan.  Both of those players have not shown any signs of offensive firepower.  Each has a single goal.  

Meanwhile, the Rangers have lost to 2 teams that have some serious scorers -- the Islanders and Maple Leafs.  The Caps and Pens are scoring prolifically.  You have to be concerned.

Still, we won't have answers until mid-to-late December. Patience is the watchword.
And that is in short supply among Ranger faithful. 

That last thought is worrisome.  Fans have been getting awfully anxious on the Internet for the past week or so.  Folks, this team is not built to win this year.  We want them to compete but most of all we want to be entertained. 

The hue and cry over the missing Sean Avery is no different than the hue and cry over Petr Prucha and other players who had some initial success, won the fans' hearts but ultimately proved not to have staying power. 

Right now, this season will be about further development of the youngsters (Sauer, Del Zotto and Stepan).  Some players are playing for their careers and cannot live on the success of last season (e.g., Boyle, Prust, Anisimov, Dubinsky).  They should be looking over their shoulders anyway because a new regime is being groomed in the AHL and minors.

Next up -- a Saturday 3 p.m. matinee with the Ottawa Senators.

--- The Graying Mantis

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rangers Roar Past Jets in 2-1 Scramble | NYR 2 WIN 1

In meeting the second NHL team within a week to leave Atlanta by visiting Winnipeg, Monday night’s victory was exactly what the Blueshirts needed.  It was messy and gritty in some places, with some serious domination issues in our zone at one point, but in the end, the Rangers came out with two points thanks to two power play goals including a late one from Ryan Callahan that ought to carry them to their Home Opener on Thursday night.

Considering everything, not bad for a week’s run in Canada (3-1 overall and 3-2-2 for this 7 game road trip).  Needless to say, there’s always room for improvement.  Here’s hoping they carry this momentum home to NYC.  The official recap can be found here.

With 28 saves, Marty Biron had a fantastic effort between the pipes, proving that even without Lundqvist (for a game or two), we still have some great goaltending talent on the ice.

Lundqvist was out after cramping up during the previous game and reports explain that the new skates he’s using tend to hurt his foot now and then. We can be pretty sure that he’ll be back for the home opener.

The first period was pretty back and forth, with good movement, but again, we seemed to have problems with penalties and being totally outshot by the opposition.  Throughout the first 7 games of the season, the Rangers on average are being outshot 31-22.  Against the Jets, the Rangers were outshot 28-17.  This is simply not good.  It is definitely a result of missing Marc Staal and Matt Sauer from the defense.

It is no help that the Rangers lead the NHL with average penalty minutes of more than 20 per game and there own power play, even helped by the 2 goals in this game is clicking at an anemic 10.7%.  Finally, being outshot also is an indictment of the offense generally.  Coach Tortorella noticed as serious bench time was liberally handed out to Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Artie Anisimov  during the 3rd period. 

An early fight between Brandon Prust and Tanner Glass ended up with them being in the box for a five minute major, but this, along with another Ranger penalty in the same period led to no damage as Biron and the Ranger defense were able to keep the game scoreless.

The second period had a great goal on a Ranger power play with Dan Girardi firing hard from the blue line. Ruslan Fedotenko (who overall had a tremendous game) was in the right place for a sweet deflection past Jet goalie Chris Mason. Unfortunately, the Jets came back near the end of the period thanks to a crisp quick-look shot by former Ranger Nik Andropov to tie the game going into the 3rd period.

About 5 minutes into the 3rd, the ice slanted in favor of the Jets.  The Rangers simply could not clear the puck out of their zone.  Every time they tried to clear the puck, a Jet was ready to capture it at the point and send it right back in.  The activity in the defensive end was intense and the partisan Jet crowd was roaring with the action.  This seemed like a make or break moment of the game as the Ranger defenders could not even get a change.  The shots for the 3rd period showed total domination with the Jets having a 12-1 edge.

Jets to the left of me, Jets to the right of me.  The Jets unleashed a barrage of
shots early in the 3rd period.  The Rangers withstood the attack and
turned a rush into a power play opportunity that Callahan converted.
While Biron was unable to freeze the puck after making several eye-opening saves to keep the game tied, the Rangers came to his defense with sliding blocks and stick sweeps. I had hoped that some of the passing wouldn’t be along the boards too much, but it seemed like our passes were getting picked off a little too easily. However, the Rangers did not panic and maintained their positions in pretty good order despite being exhausted from the onslaught.

The Goal Scoring Trio.  Fedetenko fed Callahan
who deflected a shot off Bogosian for the game winning
goal. Why isn't Bogosian celebrating?
The defensive effort was commendable, but also scary when you realize for that amount of time, the Jets had so much control of the situation.  Incredibly, when the Rangers did take control of the puck, they made a strong rush to the Jets end where Fedetenko drew a penalty on a strong move toward the net.

From there, the winning goal was scored during the first minute of ensuing power play on what looked like a simple lateral pass just in front of the crease by Cally that bounced off of a Jet’s skate right into the net.

I’m of the belief that you really should just pepper the net with shots. Not all of them will go in, but there has to be at least one of them that does.  It was an interesting chance taken, that really worked out for the Rangers. As for the Jets, I’m pretty sure that has to be an deflating way to lose a game.

The Rangers, energized by the lead, simply locked down on the Jets with a great forechecking effort for the final 8 minutes of the contest.  During the final 3 minutes, the Rangers grounded the Jets as the Jets could not get out of their own zone thanks to the swarming Rangers.

The next game will be finally on home ice at the Garden against the Toronto Maple Leafs this Thursday. The pregame ceremonies should be interesting with a tribute to Derek Boogaard and the welcoming of Ryan Callahan as captain and the arrival of Brad Richards.

--- Cav

Monday, October 24, 2011

Oilers Mow Down Blueshirts | EDM 2 NYR 0

Did that blade move?  This guy had more excitement
than anyone willing to waste Saturday night
in front of the t.v. watching the Rangers.
On a night where 14 games were played in the NHL including some dominating performances, goal-scoring explosions and some nasty rivalries being renewed, the last game to be finished was by far the most boring match.

Unfortunately, that contest was the snorefest that the Rangers presented to a sold-out crowd at the Rexall Center in Edmonton. 

Youth and age combined as the Oilers defeated the Rangers 2-0 at the Rexall Center behind a goal and an assist by 18 year-old rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins  and 19 saves by oldtimer, 38-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin. Jordan Kaberle also assisted on both goals. The recap is here.

Beginner's Luck. 18 year-old first overall pick, Ryan Nugent
Hopkins continues to impress and make a case to say in the
NHL with 5 goals and 2 assists in his first 7 NHL games .
If the Rangers want to be part of a winter landscape that has been vacated by the NY baseball and basketball teams, they better get into gear because the higher echelon teams in the East (and division) are starting to say good-bye.
All the talk of traveling has its point but the Rangers were a very good road team the past few seasons.  So far, they rarely have had a lead in any game. 

What's worse is that right now they are a boring team that seems to be having an energy hangover from last season.  Perhaps what they need most of all is their initial visit to home ice and familiar surroundings.  That is on the horizon as the home opener is 3 days away.

The missing defensemen (Staal and Sauer) are a problem, but if the lack of an offensive spark is the absence of Wojtek Wolski then the Ranger problems are deeper than we imagined.

There's really not much to say about the game other than noting the continuation of 2 negative trends.

First, terrible penalties taken by the Rangers. The mishap of Rupp getting his stick tangled in an Oiler's player midsection in the 3rd led to the game-clinching goal by Corey Potter and provided a cushion that was obvious the Rangers would not overcome.

Second, an inability of the offense to do anything. The closest thing to a goal the Rangers had was when Ruslan Fedetenko stole an outlet pass by Kabibiluin and tried to shoot back at the vacated net. There was little on the shot as the goalie successfully scrambled back to the right side of the goal to block the shot.  Marian Gabork was once again stopped on a breakaway, this time in the 3rd period.  He also failed to put home a rebound of a Brendan Bell shot in the first.  Continuing how starved for offense the Rangers were during the game, missing opportunites like these were fatal to any chance the Rangers had.

Other than that, the Oilers bottled up the Rangers all night long as the offensive woes continue including being outshot 11-4 in the first period.

Then there was an injury scare when Henrik Lundqvist left the game with a bad foot and was replaced by Marty Biron for the final 9 minutes of the game.  Whenever Henke leaves the game, Ranger fans hold their breath because he is the key to any hopes for a successful season.

Despite the fact that there was no injury, Biron may get hist first start against the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night to give him some work against an offense that averages fewer than 2 goals a game.

The Silent Treatment.  Tort's comment after the game as he
declined to take questions from reporters:  "We (stunk) from

head to toe.  I'm not going to dissect it with you guys."
Former Ranger coach Tom Renney, who was run out of town thanks to the player mutiny started by Ranger disaster Scott Gomez, must have savored this win after the embarrassing asskicking the Rangers inflicted on his squad at the Garden last year. 

The performance so far this season by Khabibulin has been remarkable.  During the summer, he spent time in an Arizona jail for a DUI and joined the Oilers.  
Little was expected of the 38 year-old netminder especially after last season's awful record of 10-32-4 for an equally awful Oiler team.

Potter's Field.  Former Ranger and career minor-leaguer
Corey Potter celebrates the backbreaking goal
at the 4 minute mark of the 3rd period.
Quietly, he now leads the NHL with a goals-against average of 0.72, and second with a .969 save percentage. Unfortunately for him, the Oiler offense has let him down as his record is only 2-0-2.

Fortunately, the Rangers are about to end their opening season 7 game road trip with their first to Winnipeg since the Clinton administration. 

If they can defeat the Jets (2-4-1), who are near the bottom of offense and defense in the NHL, then the Canadian road trip will be a quite respectable 3-1.  

A victory there would be a nice segue to Thrusday night's home opener at the Garden against the very hot Toronto Maple Leafs.  

---The Graying Mantis

Friday, October 21, 2011

NY Henrik Prevails Over Calgary Henrik in Thriller | NYR 3 CAL 2 (OT)

After going winless in Sweden and the U.S., so far, the Rangers have had some great games in Canada.  Their game against Vancouver on Tuesday earned them their first win of the season, and last night’s game against the Flames saw them skate away with a fantastic 3-2 overtime win thanks to Sean McDonough’s goal that came with 1.5 seconds left before the buzzer.  The Rangers are now 2-1-2.

Despite having earlier screened Henrik Lundqvist to enable the Flames to tie the score at 2-2, he more than made up for it with that in this game.   So far, McDonagh has scored 2 goals and an assist in these 2 games in Canada and has provided a key backline lift to the Rangers offense.

The game featured a battle of the Henriks in goal – Lundqvist for the Rangers and Karlsson for the Flames as Mikka Kiprusoff was given the night off.  The official Recap can be found here.

Cubicle Crew.  The Rangers do not have Ice Girls.  Even with
the upcoming renovations. Just thought we would mention that.
The 4 regulation goals were all scored in the first period.  Marian Gaborik was able to get the scoring started in the first period with a power play goal at the 4:53 mark that came only a minute after Sam Rosen mentioned that we were the last team to not have one.  The goal broke a season long powerplay schneid of a pitiful 0-for-16.   

Drought Breaker!  Gaborik's goal in the first period
broke the Rangers' season long power play futility .
What was noteworthy about the goal was Gaborik’s hard work on the ice.  He covered for Michael Del Zotto as he pinched in and was engaged around the boards.  Gaborik’s presence there prevented the puck from leaving the offensive zone and enabled the Rangers to continue to exert pressure.  

Gaborik’s work paid off when he worked himself toward the top of the circle where he received a pass from Derek Stepan that he immediately shot past Karlsson on his glove side.  The first line’s chemistry (especially between Brad Richards and Gaborik) seems to be showing some promise.  

Jarome Iginla managed to get one by Henke about 2 minutes later to even it up.  Then, Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust, demonstrating their long-standing chemistry teamed up to score a shorthanded goal while Gaborik was off the ice for a hooking penalty.  Boyle rushed into the Flames corner to steal the puck from a Flame and snapped a pass to Prust who bulleted it past Karlsson. 

Within 2 minutes, during yet another power play, the Flames tied it thanks to a goal by Mark Giordano.  Unfortunately, McDonagh was slow in getting out of Lundqvist’s line of vision and the puck whistled past him, leading to the goalie getting visibly angry.  It was one of only 2 goals allowed by Lundqvist.  The rest of the game, Henrik was again unbeatable as the Flames had a 20-13 edge in shots during the final 2 periods.

Love Fest.  McDonagh with another key goal.  He has made
it a habit since last year's finale against New Jersey.
One of the best highlights of the game was the second period PK, which had to be one of most focused sessions I’ve seen from the Rangers so far this season.  Calgary had very little time to set anything up before the play was picked up and the puck was dumped down the ice.  If they can make that part of the regular routine (and avoid screening Lundqvist or Biron), they should do well down the road, defensively.  The team overall seemed to have an easier time of keeping up with this team - it wasn’t so much of a chase this time around as with the other foes.  Whether this is a sign of the Rangers getting into a game routine will remain to be seen. 

Duh, Winning!  Callahan lets the 19,300
Flames fans know the game is over.
That is, if the Blueshirts can avoid the penalties, at least.  This remains a really big problem for the team, and we took a number of them that didn’t need to happen.  Not counting the fights Rupp and Newbury had, Gaborik’s mini stick lift after skating behind the net got him in trouble in the first period.  This changed slightly in the 2nd and 3rd periods, but we had two instances where the puck was dumped over the glass for delay of game calls rather than down the ice.  The look on Tortorella’s face was priceless and I’m sure that both Woywitka and McDonagh are going to get pulled aside for a discussion.  Well, Woywitka will, at least.  He is definitely a work in progress.  McDonagh’s game winning goal may get him out of trouble. 

I’m not sure how the officials didn’t catch that hooking call on Gaborik in the second period after his breakaway.  Everyone seemed to have noticed that, but the officials let that one go.  Same goes for a stick to the face that Dubinsky caught behind the net.  You’d think with all of those cameras, they’d possibly take notice.  Still, the missed calls luckily weren’t part of game changer moments and didn’t cost us anything.  This seems to be a continuation of the patter from last year but the Rangers do not have Avery on the ice who seemed to be the referees’ whipping boy. 

The next game will be against former Ranger Coach Tom Renney and the Oilers on Saturday night.  And then a trip to Winnipeg before the Rangers finally arrive at the new MSG for their first home game.

--- Cav 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Nuck Nyuk Nyuk


Like the first 3 games of the season, the first 2 periods of last night's kick off of a NorthWest Road Trip seemed like deja vu. Haunted by foul filled memories, youthful exuberance ruled over discipline and we had to thank the hockey gods for our guy in goal.

Read the official report here.

Henrik's sharp reflexes were enough to keep us in the game until we were able to generate some offense. It was a good win after a so so game against one of the leagues better goaltenders.  However it would be a disservice to let this one slide in favor of just celebrating the win. The first two periods of this game were played like the last 258+... under the Torts plan... and at this rate, its hard to understand how this is supposed to work for us or get us to a cup.

The major difference between the goals scored in the 3rd last night and that of the previous two was that according the blue print, everything in the third was done wrong.... and Thank god for that.  The 3rd and fourth liners were producing goals run and gun style. D-men played as extra forwards and dished passes to shooters around the net. For once... the offense wasn't concerning itself playing the shell game around the boards, which has seeming been the bane of a ranger fans existence over the past couple of seasons. The horribly contrived game plan, where forwards go deep  behind the net and and dmen pin themselves to the boards at the blue line in order to keep pucks in, leaves the middle of the ice wide open for opposing forward trolling the passing lanes for cross ice passes to pick off and start oddman rushes with. With the entire team racing back behind the play on turnovers, its almost inevitable that a penalty will be committed just to break even at the other end.

The energy level we display in trying to outwork our opponents is nice and reflects the young legs on the team. Its really a shame that for many of the forwards, being out of position is part of the plan. At any given time there is a clump of blue shirts concentrated on the ambush effort and when we manage to strip an opponent of the ice, it's a success. When the opponent manages to get a pass out to someone on the open side, we're slowly relying more and more on our superstar goalie to bail us out. In the mad scramble to to dig a puck out and work it around the boards to an open man, the art of the pass, big shot from the blueline, the one timer and the dangle is lost and the training wheels are back on.

Perhaps Torts feels like he is using a game plan that suits the skill level of this team. These young players won't get any better dishing rubber around the boards and perfecting dumps into the corners to be chased. While we are not a team with size, our players have shown to be skillful enough to play a more open game. Mike Rupp was acquired to put hands on people when stuff got rough. He still managed to score a goal last night doing the most basic of practices. Follow the play, advanced the puck, and wait for a shot at a rebound. Brandon Prust the same. It seems on the 3rd and 4th line.. despite only getting 5 minutes a night, these guys are not high enough on the totem pole to have the preaching from Torts, erode their most basic of hockey instincts and overwrite them like it seeming does on the the top two lines. As Torts tries to recreate the Tampa bay cup team and justify his ego, most of our players are being neutered by the inhibiting bland offense. In case, you haven't notice yet, this is really sticking in my craw.

I feel like this is a pivotal point to a player like Derek Stepan, who has seemed to really picked up a chip on his shoulder over the summer and is playing with more confidence. There are many a player on this team that may finally be coming into their own and I can't help but feel we're missing out on it thanks to the mundane offensive plan. I also resent the notion that injuries (like that of Staal) already have this team on unstable legs. This team cannot revolve around 1 player or 1 line or even just 3 lines. Playing favorites and on a whim switcharoos on the lines are things you do when tweaking something that already works. Till then, a solid offensive game plan and mastering of the fundamentals will provide more versatility in the line up. Stop dumbing down your offense to the most common denominator and elevate the skills of the players where they will have another gear when you need it. We've seen what your non marquee players can do in a period like the 3rd. There is no reason they and the rest of the team cannot practice and use these skills all the time.

Till Next time Ranger Fans; Frustrated Early,


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

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Last Cut is the Deepest -- Rangers Waiving Sean Avery

The New York Rangers are reported to announce at noon today that they are waiving Sean Avery.

In deciding between two frustratingly inconsistent players, the Rangers decided to go with keeping the boring Erik Christensen as their final forward and waive the gritty fan favorite, Sean Avery.

For sure, Avery has never endeared himself to Coach John Tortorella (even before he became the Rangers' coach), so in many ways the waiver is no surprise.  The Coach likely will say all the civil things [see below for what the Coach did say which once again demonstrates I am no prognosticator about human nature] but this is just another step in transforming the roster into one that relies on speed, youth and multiple skills.

Perhaps if Sean had scored more than 4 goals last season, had more consistency on the ice and reduced the number of momentum-killing offsides he would "create" every game, there may have been room for him. Perhaps if he was not targeted by the league and referees (unfairly) for his infamous comments in Dallas and became an on-ice distraction, he could have remained.

Perhaps more telling is that he had started to become a public distraction (originally starting off harmless - Vogue internship and opening a new restaurant - to the political - lobbying for gay marriage - to the embarrassing - the post-party encounter with L.A. police in June and his charge in late September against Wayne Simmonds for hurling a slur at him during a preseason game).  His recent behavior made it easier to select the plain vanilla Christensen over Avery.  

In the final analysis, perhaps the Rangers decided that his $1.9 million salary for such paltry offensive performance (vs. Christensen's $900K salary) was a possible backbreaker, especially since the Rangers may be on the prowl for a quality veteran defenseman to replace the ailing Marc Staal.  (The Rangers announced yesterday that Staal will miss the first 2 games of the regular season in Europe at the end of this week.)  Now that the Rangers are down to 5 defensemen, they better be looking to reinforce the back line as they waived Stu Bickel and Brendan Bell while in Sweden.  Apparently the team's bag charges will be that much cheaper as the team only has 20 active players now.

Avery is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.  So now we will see if anyone claims the enigmatic forward or if he moves on to Europe as his agent suggests.

He certainly has a mix of offensive and defensive skills and he was definitely a fan favorite.  We'll always have the "Avery Rule" and his battles with the Devils and Martin Brodeur will always bring smiles to the faces of Ranger fans especially when the Blueshirts beat the Devils in 5 games in the 2008 playoffs.  But during last season, you could sense that he was wearing out his welcome with his uneven performances.

Ultimately, to become an elite team that is not always straddling the playoff bubble, the Rangers cannot afford to carry players who cannot be counted on for a consistent standard of performance every game.

Both Christensen and Avery are maddeningly inconsistent in extreme ways. Certainly, the Rangers cannot afford to carry 2 such players.  So #16 is the odd one out leaving Christensen to draw the ire of Ranger fans.

--- The Graying Mantis

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