Monday, January 29, 2007

Captain Ort Leads The Way

Alright, the headline probably has some people chuckling. But if you've watched the new and improved Jed Ortmeyer since he returned from a life threatening pulmonary embollism condition, then you can appreciate how well Ort is playing. He also was a ton of fun while mic'd up by Versus. Singing apparently is part of his daily routine.

As I noted on the Outside The Garden forum www.outsidethegarden.com Jed has definitely improved offensively. There were a couple of recent games where he was getting more scoring chances and getting tough shots on net. Well tonight, the hard work paid off as he had a career best three points (all assists) in an impressive Rangers 6-1 rout of the Bruins up in Boston.

This was a very solid performance. The second straight game since the All Star break that you couldn't find anything to complain about. Even the power play connected when out of all players, Michael Nylander "went hard to the net and shot the puck," taking a hard check by Andrew Alberts to score his 16th goal late in the third, putting an exclamation point on the 'W.'

So, how good was Ortmeyer in this game along with linemates Matt Cullen and Petr Prucha? The trio was splendid following up a very effective game in NHL Siberia with an even more inspired one tonight which produced results:

Prucha-2 goals, 1 assist
Cullen-goal, 2 assists
Ortmeyer-3 assists

No, this isn't a misprint. They combined for nine points and were absolutely dominant. Btw those are your three stars. A miracle that Renney just might have found the right combo. Now if only he could find someone to play with Brendan Shanahan at even strength. Another day I guess.

The 28 year-old Omaha Nebraska native was the catalyst. His grunt work in the corners resulted in both of Prucha's tallies. And his hustle on the PK resulted in Cullen's shorthanded tally which gave the club a three goal lead after two periods.

The best part about the trio was they easily could've had another one in the third, which tells you how well they clicked.

Aside from that line, every other Ranger competed extremely hard. Team captain Jaromir Jagr might've been held off the scoresheet but he didn't take any shifts off.

A shorthanded Shanahan was rewarded with a phantom penalty shot in the middle of the third. Yes, it was a bad call as he did get a shot off which went wide. But hey, he needed a break and got it, by going to the backhand top shelf inside the bar against Hannu Toivonen or as my brother refers to him as Toivo Trash. It was Shanny's first ever penalty shot goal in four tries and put him back in the club lead with 25 goals this season (one better than Martin Straka).

Only drawback was Michal Rozsival left in the second and didn't return, forcing Renney to play five D in the third and mix up pairings. His status won't be known till tomorrow.

So, what else did I like about this game?

1.Daniel Girardi asserted himself well in his 2nd game logging 16:33 and finishing plus-one. Could the Rangers have a steal? He really has looked good. He doesn't do anything flashy but doesn't have to.

2.Marcel Hossa was on the puck most of the night and had some near misses on the PP in the first. He takes the body well and works hard. It's just a matter of finally getting rewarded.

3.Henrik Lundqvist had an easy night. Yeah, he made 29 saves but how many of them were tough? This felt like a Devil game where the D does the job and doesn't allow any real pointblank chances. He barely broke a sweat.

What we saw tonight was a desperate team playing very determined on the puck all night. That's how the Rangers must be if they want to qualify for their second consecutive postseason in this crazy Eastern race. The win was their second in a row and improved their record to 25-21-4, tying eighth seeded Tampa Bay with 54 points. By virtue of one less game played, they moved percentage points ahead.

And so, the club's next test comes against another competitor in Toronto when they return to MSG Wednesday night to host the 10th seeded Leafs (52 pts). The last time the two met, the Leafs spanked them 9-2 up in Air Canada Centre on December 16. So the Rangers definitely owe them some payback. If they come with the same team effort, they'll come out victorious. But they'll have to also deal with the Leafs' physicality. It will be a true test.

Callahan Scores Winner In AHL All Star Game: Congratulations to Hartford All Star Ryan Callahan on tallying the winning goal up in Toronto tonight for Planet USA in their 7-6 win over Canada during the AHL All Star Game. It's no secret that the Rochester native has flourished in his first season of pro leading the Wolf Pack with 29 goals. Hopefully, he'll get another opportunity later this year with the big club.

Canadiens Retire Dryden's No.29: Congrats are in order for Hall of Famer Ken Dryden, who finally had his No.29 retired by the Canadiens tonight, becoming the 12th Hab to have such a prestigous honor. The 59 year-old former Leafs' executive was one of the best goalies ever, leading Montreal to six Stanley Cups during the 1970's. Originally selected by the Bruins 14th overall in the 1964 NHL Amateur Draft, he opted to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree at Cornell University rather than turn pro and play for Boston. Due to his failure to report back in '64, the Bruins traded him to Montreal for Guy Allen and Paul Reid. Both never even became NHLers.

It was in the middle of 1971 that Dryden made his Canadiens' debut. How well did he perform? Only wound up leading them to the Cup and taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP. Still not considered a rookie, he cameback the next season and won the Calder. It was during the 1972-73 season that he established himself as one of the league's best netminders by winning his first Vezina for best goalkeeper. It was the first of five Vezinas for Dryden as he went on to share the award four consecutive times from 1976-79 when he helped lead Montreal to four straight Cups before retiring at the tender age of 31. He was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.

Just how remarkable was Dryden's seven-year career up in Montreal? In 397 regular season games, he was 225-57-61 with a 2.24 GAA. Even more impressive was the 46 shutouts posted, meaning he almost had as many career blankings as total losses. That is utterly unthinkable.

It should also be pointed out that after leading the Habs to their second Cup and taking home his first Vezina in 1973, Dryden held out during the 1973-74 season due to displeasure with the contract the team offered him. How many more wins and shutouts would he have been good for during that year off? Who knows. But he had a very brief but dominant career which makes him one of the best goalies to ever lace'em up. We'll leave where No.29 ranks up to debate.

Flames Reacquire Conroy: As noted by Rob earlier in his Islander weekly entry, center Craig Conroy is going back to Calgary. Three years removed from almost leading them to their second Cup, the former No.1 center was shipped to Alberta earlier today by the lottery bound Kings for ex-Ranger farmhand Jamie Lundmark, a 2007 fourth round pick and a 2008 second rounder. While it's true the Flames gave up two picks for the versatile Conroy, this is a solid deal for them. With C Daymond Langkow on pace for a career season and Matthew Lombardi also playing well at the pivot, Conroy provides some depth up the middle and maybe even a little more offensive balance. With Krisitan Huselius (21 goals) lighting it up en route to his own career season, getting the experienced Conroy makes sense. He can play in a scoring or checking role and is also reliable at winning faceoffs as well playing in any situation. It makes Calgary stronger as they push for another Stanley Cup appearance. The best part is they only lost the replaceable Lundmark off the roster. In 39 games, he had zero goals and four assists. Can you say nothing?

In reply to Rob's pointed statement that he'd begin doing Ranger entries if the Isles got Forsberg. If they gave up that package, I wouldn't blame ya. That's insane. The other rumor of Hill for Kotalik is interesting. While Hill has played well on the blueline, the Isles could use another offensive player up front. Kotalik certainly would fill that void.

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