Well, I was out at a buddy's in Point Pleasant tonight for a hockey get together. And it was nice to see that for the third straight game (yes they played well at the Swamp too), the Rangers no longer resembled a lost team. Taking the body at every turn and winning the key loose puck battles, the revamped Sean Avery Blueshirts dominated in the nation's capital to pickup their first win there since 2004- coming away with an all important 5-2 victory. The win improved the club to 2-0-1 in their last three and most crucial, it put them at 59 points.
With Tampa idle but playing the Devils later today in a matinee, they pulled within three of the final spot. It should also be noted that Toronto (6-5 shootout loss to Pens) and the Islanders (4-3 SO loss as well) each came away with a point. Meanwhile, the up and down defending Cup champion Hurricanes fell in Minnesota 5-4 and Montreal's inconsistencies continued in a 5-3 loss to Ottawa, making the standings even more chaotic for the final three spots:
At this point with about a quarter remaining, it's going to come down to those head-to-head match-ups. The Rangers play the Islanders four more times. They must do much better than the first portion where they dropped all four. They also go to Carolina next Thursday for a huge game. That will be a big measuring stick. I believe they also have two or three left with Montreal, plus one April home contest against Toronto. The potential four-point swing games will prove pivotal. But more so, it's about getting as many wins as possible. Remember, if teams finish tied for the final spot, the first tiebreaker is wins. That will loom large.
I didn't really get much into what I liked from last night's Ranger win which bolstered them to 27-24-5, injecting some much needed life into their playoff aspiration. I'll break it down quickly:
1.The lines were again the same because Hollweg wasn't suspended by the league. They all had good chemistry and Avery drove Olaf Kolzig nuts. Btw...the roughing call on the underappreciated Caps' goalie resulted in Michal Rozsival's winning power play tally. Avery has three points in three games and has sparked this club. Goalies no longer have a free ride.
2.Marcel Hossa (goal, assist) continued his inspired play. As suggested a while ago here, he fits in well with Marty Straka and Jaromir Jagr. He is playing very well. The PP redirect and then rebound he put home was stuff that we haven't seen. The Slovak has now doubled his goal output in the past three games (six for season). It's no coincidence.
3.Colton Orr and Hollweg hit everything that moved and each had scraps. Orr had a nice rematch with Donald Brashear in which the two exchanged blows and Hollweg stuck up for Henrik Lundqvist. The Swede was run by Brian Sutherby. Then the undersized Hollweg dropped'em and took some shots from Sutherby. But he sent the message. For once, with the energizers doing their job and Avery playing his role perfectly, this team looks together. Amazing what one deal and breaking up that top line can do to boost morale.
4.Outside of two almost identical flukey Caps' PP goals off the boards, Lundqvist was once again sharp. What's he played? 19 or 20 straight. Remember all that talk that he couldn't handle a heavy workload? He's silencing those critics with much better play. I'm going to try to break it all down. He's been playing well for a while and deserves some due.
5.The D has also been playing better. It's no coincidence that since Marek Malik returned to pair with Rozy, they look more in synch. And the two young'uns Fedor Tyutin and Daniel Girardi continue to impress as the third pair. They're only getting 12-13 minutes but boy are they stepping up. I'll give Karel Rachunek some credit as he wasn't bad last night and even made a couple of defensive plays and chipped in with an assist on the improved 2nd power play unit. And Aaron Ward was a beast last night. He was blocking shots and throwing hits. That's the way he has to play to make an impact.
All in all, I must say I was very impressed with how they responded after that Chris Clark goal. It would've been easy to get down and think maybe it's not their night but instead, Avery had a real good shift and Rozsival ripped home his 2nd PPG to reclaim the lead in a tough place.
This was a big win because now they're off until Thursday's showdown in Raleigh. And you know what that means. The teams around them could pick up points. That's why it was imperative that they get this one so that that gap doesn't grow to 8-10 points in four days.
Stuart moving to Alberta: While we're discussing puck, Brad Stuart was moved along with Wayne Primeau to Calgary for Andrew Ference and Chuck Kobasew. Our translation: Salary dump for the B's. It was little secret that the ex-Shark was going to leave Beantown and probably head back to the West Coast where his most likely destination is rumored to be LA (cue 2PAC's To Live In Die LA theme now). Okay. Ference is a solid physical D while Kobasew didn't exactly fulfill expecations in Calgary but is only 24 and returns to an area where he starred for Boston College, helping them win a championship. But here's the sad aspect for Boston fans if there are any left:
They traded a superstar in rating Hart winner Joe Thornton to San Jose now for Ference, Kobasew and Marco Sturm. Say what??? Somebody please tell me this isn't true. Wow. That franchise should be disbanded. That is one of the worst deals in NHL history.
One final note for those that might've caught the exciting conclusion of the Pens' thrilling OT win over the Leafs at Air Canada Centre:
Did you see the move Jordan Staal put on that Leaf defenseman before beating Andrew Raycroft to win it with his first career hat trick? That's now seven goals in the last five for the former 2006 2nd overall selection who is very much looking like a superstar. I said it the other day. There isn't anything this kid can't do. If he keeps this up, by the time April hits, it will be linemate Evgeni Malkin edging out him for the Calder. Nothing against Anze Kopitar. He is a super talent. But based on what I've seen from Jordan, he's better. They're both going to be great players. But this Staal might just be the best one when it's all said and done.
The kid also got to be interviewed by HNIC's own Ron MacLean and his biggest supporter Don Cherry. How good can it get?
And now for a scary but true fact:
Pittsburgh has three players 20 or younger with at least 20 goals - Malkin (27), Crosby (25) and Staal (22) - and that hasn't happened since 1981-82 when Edmonton had Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey.
Jagr Becomes 12th Member To Reach 1500: And finally, congrats to Jaromir Jagr on becoming only the 12th NHLer to reach 1500 points for his brilliant career. With three assists in the Rangers' 5-2 win over the Caps, No.68 joined the exclusive list. Btw...it was no accident that he had a big game. He played inspired. Kudos to JJ for this impressive feat.
So here's our trivia. Name the other 11 players on the list. We'll provide the answer Monday.