Monday, December 14, 2009

Rangers victimized in skill comp

It doesn't seem to matter anymore. Even when they play their best game registering a season best 48 shots, the Rangers still can't come away with the all important 'W.' For a second consecutive game, the home club battled hard against a more skilled opponent but could only muster the magic No.2, which made it something like 20 straight games. I'm too tired to look it up. I scored two bball games in Park Slope on little rest. Then listened to the second and caught the rest with Pop.

There's no doubt they deserved better against the Thrashers. Same as Saturday's disappointment versus Buffalo in which they got zilch. Who cares if they earned a point? With how crowded the bottom of the East is, it's imperative to get two points. This time, the lousy skill comp didn't aid us with Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov beating Henrik Lundqvist while the league's leading finisher Marian Gaborik and Ales Kotalik couldn't beat Johan Hedberg.

The Rangers had plenty of chances after the Great Gabby slammed home his 23rd on the rejuvenated power play off a scintillating pass from Mike Del Zotto, who also setup Ryan Callahan's seventh. Even Michal Rozsival played well, finding the seam three times but his 'mates couldn't finish. Most notably Chris Higgins, whose backhand on a mini-break was thwarted with a couple of minutes to spare in regulation. Brandon Dubinsky finally returned after a 13-game absence from a broken hand. He got plenty of ice-time (24+) and looked decent between Gaborik and Higgins while Vinny Prospal anchored the second line. But the third-year Alaskan pivot missed a point blank chance, firing too high after being sent in.

For the second straight game, the Blueshirts permitted a shorthanded goal. Last game, it was little rascal Patrick Kaleta burning them. This time, Colby Armstrong took advantage of a Del Zotto miscue, surprising Lundqvist with a laser far side, extending to a four-game goal streak. Imagine that happening here. Armstrong is a third liner on a good Atlanta offensive team. Lundqvist was too close to the goalpost, leaving Colby too much room. DZ over skated. Unfortunately, you live with those rookie mistakes. Especially from a kid as physically gifted as the Calder hopeful, who at least atoned later with an absolutely brilliant cross-ice feed to the Big Ticket for a gimme that forced overtime.

Despite some interesting four-on-four, nothing was decided leaving yet another valuable point to the shootout. Both Swedish netminders entered 2-0 this season but it was the elder statesman who prevailed. After Gaborik's wrister was stopped by an aggressive Moose, Kovalchuk put on a bunch of fancy moves before deking Henrik out of his jock. A great goal by a special player but Henrik needed to be more aggressive,  taking himself out of position by going down. Something that must be corrected. Still, without some superb goaltending from him on a two-man advantage late in which the trio of Dubi, Higgins and Wade Redden shined, they don't even reach that point. Kudos to Lundqvist for standing up and making some critical stops.

As soon as the puck slid off the waste of space Kotalik, you knew it was over. Especially with one of the best shooters, Slava Kozlov up. The crafty Russian vet surprised Lundqvist with a quick wrister. Normally, he dekes forehand wide or backhand. But it was a wise choice by the former Cup champ, sealing the extra point for an Atlanta team that only got 27 on net. Twenty-one less than a Ranger team that gave a great effort. Even if the place was half empty according to our close pal who went in our place, you could hear the "Let's Go Rangers" chants during that inspired PK. All it takes for our fans to support them is that kind of yeoman work. Something they've done the last two games, combining for 86 shots. If only someone other than Gaborik put the puck in consistently.

Normally, my recaps are more detail oriented. But with me being exhausted, I summed it up quickly. I'll now provide some quotes from John Tortorella, Lundqvist and Chris Drury.

Tort: “Other than six or seven minutes at the beginning of that second period, I thought we played a good hockey game.  We just have to keep on trying to build on it.  We have to get over the hump of that second goal.  We had our chances to score our third one but we didn’t get it done.  We have a lot of good things to build off of.

Henrik: I don’t think it matters who we are playing right now.  We have to see every game as an opportunity for us to turn this around.  We have to keep pushing each other to have the energy that you need to win a hockey game.  You can’t walk around and feel sorry for yourself.  All of the guys have to work together.

  Drury  We’ve got to keep doing the right things, keep playing like we’re playing.  48 shots and I think we got 38 last game – if we keep getting over 30 shots something’s going to give here.

Look. There's no denying that they've played much better the last two yet were only rewarded with one point. They're all saying similar things which have been echoed before. Until this team breaks out, it's going to be like a dark storm cloud hanging over their heads. Lundqvist is feeling the pressure. You can see it. So are guys who aren't scoring. One game where they get three or four and a win could go a long way. The Islanders are coming in Wednesday fresh off a 7-1 beating at the hands of the Panthers for a fourth loss in five. You know they're going to be angry. It doesn't take much when they're playing the Rangers, who must match their intensity. A game we'll be at which should be interesting. These games are always fun. Can our guys come out on top? See ya at Gotham Wednesday!

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (25 saves incl.13/13 in 2nd)
2nd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (PPG/assist, 5 SOG, game high 6 hits, TK/BS in 23:35)
1st Star-Johan Hedberg, Atl (46 saves incl.18/19 in 2nd and 2/2 in skill comp)

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