Saturday, January 27, 2007

Stone Hand Idiots = Win In Cheesesteak Town

How often can you say that the fourth line was the difference in a Ranger victory this season? Exactly. Crazy as it might sound, that's exactly what took place in Cheesesteak town this afternoon as the Blueshirts edged NHL Siberia Philadelphia 2-1, dealing them their ninth consecutive defeat. Man, when's the last time the Flyers were this dreadful? Nevermind.

Anyway, from start to finish the Rangers were the better team. But you'd never know it by the score. That's because they had trouble finishing in this tilt. They came out very strong and even had five power plays in the opening period but failed to capitalize. Despite better puck movement and more shots, they couldn't beat Robert Esche. Though Brendan Shanahan (2 posts) and Jaromir Jagr (1 post) came close, the Rangers had nothing to show after one despite outshooting the Flyers 17-4.

The good news for them was that they got off to a quick start in the second thanks to a nifty Jagr redirect of a Karel Rachunek shot less than a minute in putting them ahead. It was his second consecutive game with a goal as he also tallied the lone Ranger goal in a 3-1 loss to Atlanta last Saturday.

But the lead didn't last long. Less than three minutes later, Flyer defenseman Joni Pitkanen tied it on a delayed penalty. It was started by the much talked about Peter Forsberg, who whipped a perfect diagonal pass to Mike Knuble, who in one motion passed across for a cutting Pitkanen, who then buried it past Henrik Lundqvist at 3:24. It was the only offense the Flyers would get on a day which saw them register just 18 shots due to an improved Ranger team effort.

After the Flyers tied it, the second kind of dragged. The Flyers had their best sustained effort late in the stanza but couldn't really get the kind of shots they needed to take the lead. Some of them never made it to the net due to the Ranger D and others were just repelled by Lundqvist with nobody getting to rebounds due once again to the Rangers actually doing their jobs. Amazing, huh?

Even though it was kind of boring, there was some physical play which at least helped. All game, Ryan Hollweg was agitating the Flyers. In fact, I'd say this was one of his best games as he drew two power plays just by throwing a couple of hits and then drawing a retaliatory penalty from rookie Ryan Potulny and later a Flyer bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. But in the second, the Flyers had the better hits and that's when they played well. But all they could muster were six shots, totaling 10 for the first two periods.

The combination of being hungry and not being too excited about the end of the period convinced me to go make a strawberry omelette and listen to the beginning of the third via ESPN Radio with Kenny Albert and Dave Maloney calling the action. It worked in surprising fashion as a rare occurrence then happened. No. Shanahan didn't score at even strength. No. Petr Prucha didn't hit the back of the net. And no. Hollweg didn't register a point but actually was out there when the go-ahead goal happened. So he had something to do with it. Somehow, Jason Krog was able to trickle a backhand in front past Esche to give the Rangers the lead at 3:49. As Albert noted, it was only his second goal of the season and first as a Ranger. In fact, it was his first in 17 games since scoring a goal for Atlanta in his first game of the season back on November 24th last year. Amazing what happens when he's utilized as a fourth line pivot instead of as a "2nd line solution."

I'm still amazed that his goal was the difference in this game. Hey. Even Adam Hall who was back after three healthy scratches picked up an assist. Truthfully, that fourth line was effective today and even got enough ice-time. All three got at least 10 minutes as Coach Tom Renney rolled his lines. Got to love Krog's postgame assessment of their contribution:

"We just got the puck deep and did two or three cycles. Adam (Hall) threw it across the crease and I was just there banging it and it found its way in. We managed to get an ugly one...I'm sure our line is not looked upon to score too much. It's always nice to contribute whenever you can."

Yeah, it was ugly. And I remarked to my brother that that's probably the only way they could put one in. But it still counted.

So how was the rest of the period? Honestly, it was pretty boring as the Rangers actually reminded me of that other metropolitan rival that makes its living playing a perfect system infuriating opponents in the process. Yes, Steve. It was that kind of third period. The good news for the Broadway Blues is that they won to pull their record to 24-21-4 and temporarily tie Pittsburgh for the final playoff spot. The Pens have two games at hand and play later tonight at Phoenix.

I was also informed by Outside The Garden poster 51tyutin that Jagr indeed scored according to Swedish telecasts in the same period when his shot rang off the inside bar and back out. It did kind of make a funny sound. Nobody picked it up. Fortunately, it didn't prove costly. Speaking of Jagr, the Ranger team captain played one of his most inspired games of the season. Looking fresher after the week off, the 34 year-old former Hart winner was much better in all facets today. Skating like he cared and looking stronger and even backchecking, No.68 was all over the ice. There was even a shift late in the game when the moody Czech gave opposing star Forsberg the Jay Pandolfo treatment as MSG's Sam Rosen noted. Yes, he actually stayed with Forsberg during the shift until he went to the bench. It was quite impressive. This is the kind of play the Rangers will need from their team leader. The past couple of days, he admitted to the local press that he had to carry this club on his back. Well, Jaromir, today was a good start. Keep it up!

Here was Jagr after the win:

"For us it was a huge game. It doesn't matter if you win 1-0 or 6-5. We need to win a lot of games to make the playoffs."
The performance also earned high praise from Renney:

"He (Jagr) was great. He battled every inch of ice tonight. He certainly was the leader that we need at this point in time. I thought he played a terrific game amongst others. I don't know that there's a player we can single out tonight that didn't show up."

This was a solid game for the Rangers to build on. In particular, the third line of Jed Ortmeyer, Matt Cullen and Petr Prucha was good. They played with energy, recovered loose pucks in the Flyers zone and generated chances. I still don't think Prucha should be with them but they certainly deserve another look. Ort btw was the most impressive player on the line. He just seems to be gaining more confidence offensively and is taking more shots which is nice to see.

This also was 22 year-old rookie defenseman Daniel Girardi's NHL debut. The recent Hartford call-up who replaced waived veteran Darius Kasparaitis didn't look too bad in his first game. Paired with Fedor Tyutin, the righty D played a shade underneath 12 minutes and was steady for the most part. He was forced to take a penalty when the pair had a mix up leaving a Flyer open in front late in the first. But it was one of those good penalties. The only other problem he had was a change he made in the third where the Flyers quickly countered and almost got a good chance. But a hustling Aaron Ward got on in time to break up the play. Girardi will learn from that.

Notes: Jagr's 19th goal of the season was his 610th of his career, tying Bobby Hull for 13th on the all-time NHL list. ... After not practicing yesterday due to a stomach virus, LW Martin Straka was able to suit up in place of healthy scratch Jason Ward and logged 18:06 of ice-time and registered one shot. Still though, it was his diligent backchecking on one shift late while protecting the lead which forced the Forsberg line to change. Also healthy scratches were team enforcer Colton Orr and defenseman Thomas Pock. ... Making 17 saves, Lundqvist became the first Ranger netminder since Mike Richter to post back-to-back 20 win seasons. ... Rangers improved to 14-11-1 on the road as compared to 10-10-3 at home. ... With an assist, Forsberg notched his 602nd helper of his career to tie Kirk Muller for 68th on the NHL list. ... Flyer defenseman Randy Jones left the third period with a separated right shoulder. ... Esche finished with 33 saves in a losing effort. ... It was the Flyers' 10th consecutive loss on home ice. Their last win came back on November 24 against Columbus.

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