Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rangers look for two straight, Flyers lose again

In case you missed it last night, the Rangers got a big one-goal win in Buffalo. It wasn't pretty but it didn't have to be as neither team which entered tied with 68 points played the kind of D which allowed for it to be a lowscoring game.

Instead, it was literally back and forth action keeping you on the edge of your seat with each team taking turns carrying the play. Jaromir Jagr snapped his goal drought by neatly deflecting home Fedor Tyutin's left point shot to put the Blueshirts out in front.

It didn't last long as the Sabres cameback thanks to an Ales Kotalik blast off some poor defensive coverage. It was the first of two goals for him. Rookie forward Nigel Dawes would put his team back ahead with a sneaky wrister top shelf past Ryan Miller's glove. It was his ninth.

However, Buffalo got the next two 6:06 apart in the second off the sticks of Jason Pominville and Kotalik. Just when it seemed the Sabres had the momentum, the Rangers came right back on the next shift with Michal Rozsival setting up rookie pivot Brandon Dubinsky for the equalizer only 34 seconds later. It was a huge goal because it allowed New York to relax and get their game back.

Though the Sabres generated a few dangerous chances in the third, they wouldn't find that fourth goal on Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist. If he struggled with the puck and maybe gave up one questionable one earlier, the 25 year-old Swede made up for it by flat out stoning red hot Buffalo sniper Thomas Vanek on a breakaway. Sprung by an excellent breakout pass, Vanek tried to go stick side but Lundqvist stood tall blocking it away.

Not long after, Sean Avery was the beneficiary of a dreadful giveaway by Kotalik. He might have been his team's best offensive player earlier in the crucial contest but a blind backhand up the middle to Brendan Shanahan resulted in Avery's deciding tally. Shanahan's shot deflected right to a cutting Avery who easily put home his 10th with Ryan Miller out of position anticipating Shanny's blast which never came.

From there, the Rangers steadied to do a solid enough job defensively. In particular, Shanahan was terrific in the final seconds keeping a puck alive in the corner without using his hand wasting at least eight seconds.

Lundqvist finished with 26 saves as his team improved to 4-0-2 in their last six. They'll look to continue putting up points later tonight when they return home to host the Panthers.

A few notes about this game now that I'm able to:

-Dubinsky finished with a goal and a helper. Since Tom Renney changed the lines sticking Jagr back with the rookie out of Anchorage, Dubi has seven points (3-4-7) in the last four contests. He really looks like a more confident player now. It's no surprise anymore that it's the former 2004 second round pick who has been his team's best player lately. He's a point-a-game in his last 11 and has 17 points (8-9-17) and a plus-11 rating since Jan.12.

-Rozsival contributed two assists. He's really stepped up his game lately and has four assists in the last two games. Most notably, Rozy is playing more physical in his end. Maybe he's feeling better.

-Marek Malik and rookie Marc Staal struggled last night. They'll both need to be better tonight. Especially with Paul Mara getting hurt and leaving yesterday's game. If Mara's out a period, it could impact what the Rangers do at Tuesday's deadline. They could step up their hunt for another defenseman. Perhaps Dan Boyle or Tomas Kaberle? The price will be hefty.

-Dawes continues to look more confident out there. He's meshed well with Scott Gomez and is using his speed and grit to create chances. Twelve of his 18 points have come since Jan.12. If the kid from Manitoba ever consistently gets on the scoresheet, he'll develop into the kind of player which will allow the club to keep him around as part of the plan.

-Both Tyutin and partner Dan Girardi were strong on the blueline breaking up plays and playing physical. They both were recently re-signed by the club and are proving why. Girardi's plus-minus is now minus-six. While that's not great, it's a nice improvement from where the second-year find was a month ago.

-Avery finished with the ever popular Gordie Howe hat trick. He has really played well since returning. He's factoring in offensively and is very active. It just might be the best hockey of his career. The pest has five goals in the past five contests and over that span is plus-five. If he continues performing this way, it's going to be impossible for the Rangers not to get him re-signed. It's going to cost.

-The Panthers are coming off a stunning OT win over the Flyers last night. Since nobody could understand what I wrote last nite, I'll just rehash what happened.

Antero Niittymaki was four seconds away from a huge shutout which would've snapped his team's inexplicable nine-game skid. Instead of getting the win though, somehow the Flyers didn't clear the zone allowing a desperate Florida club to setup a last second shot by defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. With captain Olli Jokinen standing in front, Niittymaki allowed the puck to go through him for the tying goal at 19:56. In OT, David Booth drew a penalty with his speed. He's really a nice player. Off the next draw, Jokinen stepped into one blasting it past Niittymaki inside the right bar for the crushing winner sending a stunned Philly crowd home.

Sure. They got a point and at least went ahead of the Isles due to more wins and an extra game left. But how the heck did they lose? They dominated most of the game and were stellar defensively until the closing seconds. Losing their best player Mike Richards on top of it with a torn hamstring hurts big time. They're now 0-8-2 in their last 10. You have to figure Paul Holmgren will be aggressive trying to upgrade the roster. With Peter Forsberg out of the loop, might he go after Brad Richards as a replacement?

Stay tuned.

There are more games going on today with the Devils in the nation's capital to play the Caps. We'll have some updates later.

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