Sunday, March 18, 2007
Just want to say kudos to Steve for holding down the forte lately. Nice job updating the blog and the current status of the wacky Eastern race. I am not really sure what to think right now. Considering how I felt at the deadline, I must say I'm pleasantly surprised so far. But that can change pretty quickly. One slip up and everything can change dramatically. Need proof? Just look at what's happened to the Islanders lately. That's why this frantic race is so unpredictable.
I got to admit watching the scoreboard is fun when you know your team's got a chance. I definitely will say that the failure by the Rangers' other competitors is what opened the door. There's still plenty of work left to be done including 2 match-ups against the Islanders, 2 against the Canadiens and 1 on April Fool's Day versus Toronto at The Garden. And those are the potential four-point swing games which will decide the Blueshirts' fate along with their primary competition down the stretch.
I want to also say thank you for making reference to what I had said all along about the kids from Hartford coming up and doing the job. It was very nice to see Ryan Callahan get rewarded finally for his hard work. And to boot an Irish kid from Rochester basically had himself an Irish hat trick ;) with his first two NHL goals and a scrap. He really played well in his first big action in the OT defeat to Atlanta, nearly scoring to put them ahead in the third. To see him follow it up with last night's performance was very nice and something Ranger fans have wanted for a while. Congrats to him!
But also, it would be worth mentioning that Daniel Girardi has been part of the D's improvement. And while it's not always a result of their play as evidenced by Marek Malik's tip-ins on his own goalie and Michal Rozsival's turnovers (can anyone say apple) or Paul Mara's fear of physical contact in the corners, they have steadied lately. But also, without Henrik Lundqvist raising his game, this wouldn't be possible. Before last night's seven-goal explosion, the Rangers had only manufactured 12 goals in their previous seven games. Yet they managed to take 10 of a possible 14 points by going 4-1-2 in that span. And it was due to the improved play of King Henrik. As noted in this space, the Swedish gold medallist has been brilliant since the middle of January and probably has the lowest GAA in that span. He's turned around his season and played like a No.1 calibre goalie capable of carrying his club. Watching Henrik from high above, he looks extremely focused.
Another change I see is in his demeanor. He seems to be taking on more of a leadership role. It's in his actions on and off the ice. Just read some of his comments after frustrating losses. This guy wants to win badly. I can't remember the last time a Ranger goalie won 30 in back-to-back seasons. But this guy has proven basically without a backup that he can carry the load.
As much credit as he deserves, it also goes to the team which has continued to work extremely hard despite all the injuries. Martin Straka's leg injury which looked quite serious appears not to be, which could be good news for the team. My question is if he's banged up, will they put sparkplug Brandon Dubinsky back in? The 20 year-old former second round pick hasn't looked out of place in the three games he's appeared in. In fact, despite less than eight minutes the other night, he was quite effective creating a couple of scoring chances and registering three shots including one which might've been his first career goal if not for some groovy glove work from No.1 Star Johan Hedberg. It's in this writer's opinion that Dubinsky is the more offensively gifted player over the gritty two-way more polished Callahan. Just based on his skating and how quick he can transition from D to offense makes me believe that Dubinsky could help solve the Ranger problem at center in the future. This kid looks to have some real tools already and he's only in his first pro season. Once he fills out, he should be an even more finished product.
The other positive as we see it was that David Liffiton didn't look out of place in Game No.2. The 22 year-old who was acquired from Colorado for Matt Barnaby three years ago played a physical brand of hockey, winning an entertaining scrap and also taking out a Bruin in front of the net into the boards. Paging the veteran defenders: That's how it's done!
Just a slight correction to Steve on that popular meathead and perennial pest Sean Avery. He registered a career high four points. :)
And with that, I think it's time to conclude this overdue post.
Until next time!