Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tale of two locals: Rangers get it righted, Devs take it on chin

So far, it's been a tale of two very different nights for the locals in action tonight.

For Brent Sutter's first place Devils, it's been about as ugly as it was for Tom Renney's Rangers the other night in an brutal home defeat to the Coyotes.

It's been all Canucks out in what was billed as a classic goaltender battle between Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo.

The opening stanza wasn't bad aside from a surprise slapper from savvy veteran D Aaron Miller which deflected off Sergei Brylin past Brodeur for his first of the season off a faceoff win courtesy of Henrik Sedin.

There was also an entertaining scrap between Arron Asham and Mike Brown in which the former Islander came away with a bloody ear leaving the ice momentarily before returning like tough hockey players do.

However, as I got out of the shower, the Devils forgot to show for the middle stanza where they were outscored by three despite a 15-10 edge in shots. They were ahead 26-16 in that category thru 40 minutes of play but sometimes such stats can be very misleading.

Such was the case here as Ryan Kesler notched his ninth 69 seconds in off a turnover. It didn't take long for British Columbia favorite Trevor Linden to get into the act as 1:34 later his rocket of a slapper from inside the right blueline beat Brodeur high to the glove side for a three-goal Vancity lead.

Vancouver captain Markus Naslund broke a nine-game goal drought thanks to a tic-tac-toe goal execute by the Swedish veteran Canucks mainstay along with the magical Sedins who we still maintain are two of the most fun playmaking forwards to catch. So if you get a chance, don't pass it up unless you're with a hot chick. That takes priority. Duh.

Naslund was just setup again by the dynamic duo for his second of the night giving him #'s 12 and 13 in 2007-08.

So far, Luongo has stopped all 30 Devil shots. But the question in this space was how many did he really have to stand on his head for? Not enough.

It's Vancouver that's had the better of the play and generated better opportunities cashing them in despite 11 less shots with nearly 10 minutes remaining.

It isn't often the Devs are this outclassed. They were coming off a very nice 4-2 win over their Turnpike rivals the Flyers Sunday night at The Rock improving to 3-1 against a quality divisional foe.

But you have to figure the travel across the continent and not much time off contributed. Great scheduling there!

Now let's get to the better part of the night as the Rangers got back to the proactive approach Renney prefers. Solid in every zone paying attention to detail, they totally shutdown Sidney Crosby and the Pens in a 4-0 blanking- permitting only 18 shots as Henrik Lundqvist returned in goal to record probably the easiest shutout you'll ever see. He faced just five total shots in the first two stanzas.

So what went so right as opposed to Sunday's 5-1 beatdown at the hands of the Coyotes. Well, for starters, they competed. You noticed a real big difference in the defensive end. Lately, they had been allowing an un-Blueshirt like four-or-more to opponents and getting severely outworked along the boards.

Everytime a Pen had a step though Tuesday night, a Ranger was there to backcheck or break up a shot or play and move the puck the other way. This hadn't been the case for a while and explains why they bottomed out Sunday.

The newly formed lines by Renney clicked. Almost immediately, it paid dividends as an aggressive Scott Gomez was the beneficiary of a Martin Straka rebound getting to it for the game's first goal just 72 seconds in.

The crafty pivot was flying all night with Straka and a more aggressive Jaromir Jagr (assist, plus-two).

They outshot the Pens 10-3 in the first giving up zilch but led by only one due to an anemic power play which came to life later on. But first, Gomez was once again stationed in front when rookie blueliner Marc Staal's left point wrister was deflected home by Straka for his fifth giving them an all important two-goal lead halfway through.

Like the first goal, it was off hard work with guys more determined getting to the net. When's the last time you could say that realistically about this team?

Gomez had been reluctant to shoot all night despite a team best seven SOG. He had been backing up the Pens D and overpassing in the first period. Finally, he wisely threw the puck towards the net from the left hash trying for Brendan Shanahan and caught a break as it caromed past Dany Sabourin for Gomer's second of the night at 13:21. An actual power play goal! Imagine that.

They had outshot the Pens by seven in the first. Well, the second was even better as they held an 11-2 edge with one gigantic stop by Lundqvist off a Pens' two-on-one in which Crosby was too close to one-time it in but the puck went off his skate as King Henrik dove on top of it.

You just knew after the first 40, even with the Pens' fire power, this one was over. That's how well the Rangers played. Sure. The Pens predictably got more shots (13) than they had in the first couple of periods. But for all intensive purposes, Lundqvist wasn't forced to stand on his head much the way Luongo wasn't in getting his fifth shutout in a 5-0 win over New Jersey which just concluded.

When Chris Drury snuck a backhand past Sabourin off a broken play for a PPG with 7:40 left, it put a cap to a very successful night for New York as they pulled within two of first place Jersey and most importantly, rediscovered their game.

Now we'll see if they can carry it forward as they head out to the midwest for a brief two-game trip starting Thursday in Minnesota and ending Friday at Colorado before returning Sunday night to host conference leader Ottawa.

None of these opponents will be easy. But maybe that's what the Rangers need as they seem to pick up their play against stiffer competition.

Other pluses:

-Michal Rozsival notched a career high three helpers.
-Ryan Hollweg was reinserted into the lineup on the fourth line and played a spunky game with several hits and agitated the Pens. Overall, that line was effective drawing a couple of penalties.
-Nigel Dawes looked good with Drury and Shanahan on the second line hitting Evgeni Malkin while drawing the ire of Sid the Kid.
-The PK killed off all five Pittsburgh power plays without breaking a sweat.
-Staal was re-teamed with Rozy while Jason Strudwick and Paul Mara reunited and played solid as did Fedor Tyutin and Dan Girardi.
-Marek Malik was a healthy scratch. It's time to get rid of Big Bird. He's got to have some value as despite what critics say, he does log 19-20 minutes and can play PK. There has to be a taker with him in his last year. D are always are in need.

Negatives:

-Ryan Callahan only saw 5:09 of ice-time despite being very active in his shifts on a third line with Brandon Dubinsky and Petr Prucha. Why??? Don't tell me Marcel Hossa takes Cally's spot.
-Prucha again only had one SOG. Good god. Is it that hard to get shots? He played over 12 minutes. I get that he works hard but two goals and 44 shots in 33 games doesn't cut it. Especially for a guy who tallied 52 (30 in '05-06) in his first two NHL seasons. I'm losing patience here.



Congrats to former New Jersey and current Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire on career win No.1,000. His team did it by rallying from two down after two periods to comeback and defeat the Predators 3-2 in regulation with team captain Brian Rolston tallying the winner with 68 ticks left to complete the comeback.

Congratulations to one of the best coaches this game has!

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