Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick Or Treat

It's Halloween 2011. And with the gobly fun, comes the end of October for our Battle teams. Well, albeit for one club with the Rangers hosting the Sharks later tonight- still without a home win at the renovated MSG.

Outside of a halfway decent start for the Sabres, the first month didn't treat anyone great. The Devils and Rangers are .500 in Bettman's league while the Islanders one under. All three have been punchless, combining for 58 goals or basically, a shade over two-per-game. Cue the ghosts and goblins howling above as day turns to night in a creepy hemisphere that saw snow fall before All Hallow's Eve- wreaking havoc in towns due to fallen trees. So much for global warming.

It's still hard to fathom that we got a few inches of the white stuff, setting records that even meteorologists never dreamed. Perhaps that can better explain the morbid state of the metro area's hockey teams, where offense has vanished into thin air. At least Buffalo's 6-4-0 with 29 goals nearly good for three-a-game despite a poor finish- blowing a one-goal third period lead to the surprising Panthers. Yes, maybe I and a lot of other skeptics were dead wrong mocking Dale Tallon's unorthodox approach- ignoring a great hire in Kevin Dineen, who has Hawks South playing a rambunctious brand of hockey we'd kill for. Time to put our Michael Myers and Jason masks on and awaken our teams.

COLD OCTOBERS

Ilya Kovalchuk 2 Goals, -5
Brandon Dubinsky 0 Goals, 41 PIM
Kyle Okposo 0 Goals, 18 SOG
Tyler Ennis 0 Points
Adam Larsson 0 Points, -4
Artem Anisimov 0 Goals, 8 SOG
Blake Comeau/Josh Bailey 0 Points, -4, 10 SOG
Ville Leino 1-1-2, -4, 5 SOG
Mattias Tedenby 0 Goals, 9 SOG
Derek Stepan 0 Goals
Brian Rolston 0 Goals
Derek Roy 1-3-4
Martin Brodeur 2 GS, Missed last 7 games
Steve Eminger -7 rating
Rick DiPietro 2 GP, 1 GS along with bizarre shootout relief appearance, Missed 7 games
Jordan Leopold 1-1-2

We could easily include a few more who turned into pumpkins, including John 'Re'Tortorella, whose mysterious line combos had Ranger fans questioning if it was Tom Renney in disguise. It'll be interesting to see what his Prucha treatment of Sean Avery will cause with the anticipated return unless a team claims him off re-entry waivers. Doubtful.

So, will Connecticut Whale recall Andre Deveaux wear a mask tonight when he debuts as a Blueshirt tonight? Assuming Tort has the guts to dress him. Amazing that Christmas ornament Erik Christensen somehow remains. And the D seems to be suffering from the Curse of Marc Staal. If only there was a doctor around like in Dark Shadows to cure Barnabas Collins. Trick Or Treat!



HAPPY HELLOWEEN

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Devils end less than satisfactory road trip with a 1-3 record



After their 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh last Saturday, the Devils went out West for three games in LA, Phoenix and Dallas. While I figured the team would go 1-2, I did think the trip would be better than that after their dominant 3-0 win in LA Tuesday. I only saw the first period of that game but the Devils did look pretty good even before scoring, and of all people Danius Zubrus finally came alive with two goals in that game. Johan Hedberg rebounded from a mediocre performance in Pittsburgh with a shutout that night, and it looked as if the Devils would take a positive step forward after bad games against the Sharks and Penguins last weekend.

On Thursday, I was flipping back and forth between the World Series and Devils-Phoenix. Though I'm usually a bit of a weenie when it comes to staying up for Devils West Coast games on a weekday (especially since there's only a couple every season), a classic Game 6 of the World Series gave me enough incentive to stay up. And as things went on, I stayed with the baseball more as the Devils gave a performance worse than a 5-3 total would indicate. Though they were even at 2-2 till giving up a goal in the final minute of the second period to Ray Whitney, the Devils were horribly outshot by a margin of 35-21 in those two periods. Things didn't get much better in the third as the Yotes scored twice, and the Devils added only a useless tack-on goal by Nick Palmeri late.

Last night I had a Halloween party to go to, but hoped that the game would be on TV in the other room at least. No such luck, thanks to a freak October snowstorm that knocked out all the power in much of Morristown and a lot of other cities as well. My friend's 'party' turned out to be more or less a glorified gettogether with a few people since nobody who lived out of the city wanted to brave the conditions and come. I couldn't even check the score since my phone was almost out of power and I wasn't able to charge it before my power went out around 2 PM. I left around midnight and suddenly remembered to check the score on the radio, nothing terribly surprising there - another day, another struggle to score goals as Petr Sykora's first of his second go-around as a Devil was the Devils' only tally in a 3-1 loss. Apparently a bad bounce doomed us in the third period with a Vernon Fiddler shot going in off Mark Fayne's skate to break a 1-1 tie in the third.

Figures that the power came back on right after I got home, hopefully going home has the same effect for the Devils, who start a stretch of three home games (and one road tilt) in seven days next Wednesday when they return to the ice against the Leafs at the Rock, followed by a trip to Philly to face the Chris Pronger-less Flyers on Thursday, then home games against Winnipeg and Carolina Saturday and next Tuesday. In this day of parity, there are few so-called easy stretches anymore. I'm not saying the next four games should be one of those, but if you're a good team you come out with the majority of points in these games. With the Devils at 4-4-1 now and having only two regulation wins in nine games, getting at least six points in these games is critical since after that they have a home-and-home with the Caps that begins a brutal five-game trip against the Sabres, Bruins, Lightning and Panthers.

Lest I forget, while the Devils were on the road over this late week there were a few personnel changes of note. With the Devils hurting at center after the injuries to Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson, they claimed former Panthers center Ryan Carter off waivers and immediately inserted him into the lineup Thursday. Carter comes with the rep of being a fourth-line center and penalty killer, and coach Pete DeBoer certainly knows him a bit, having him on his team at the end of his Panther tenure last year. Carter replaced Rod Pelley in the lineup, but the Devils' biggest move to fill their center void came when they shifted Zach Parise to the middle, a position he hasn't played since his rookie season of 2005 (and things didn't go very well for him there at that time, until he got shifted to LW).

I don't want to say moving the captain is a panic move, but it certainly lends more credence to the cynics that say you can't have two star LW's on the same team, and that Parise and Kovy can't co-exist. Last year, then-coach John MacLean tried to shift Ilya Kovalchuk to RW and put him on Parise's line and that failed. Now, we're shifting Parise to C - a position he hasn't played successfully since college - to try to link him up with Kovy. Granted, there are extenuating circumstances but the fact you do have so much star power at one wing certainly takes away from your depth at other positions. We're not even as bad off at center than we are at right wing, where it says a lot when David Clarkson suddenly finds himself on the first line by default (and Clarkson has gotten off to a nice start this year, but still).

Things defensively have been in flux too, though DeBoer finally paired up fellow Swedes Henrik Tallinder and Adam Larsson (who might already be showing some fatigue from playing heavy minutes early in the season), he's left the slow-and-slower pair of Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov together as the third pair. I still think Volchenkov can be better used on a higher pairing, with a more mobile partner but apparently the coach doesn't see it that way. At least the Devils might be getting some good news in net soon, as Martin Brodeur is 'closer' to a return after missing the prior four games, whatever that means. Though Hedberg's been good for the most part, it's essential Brodeur get back soon before Hedberg starts to show his age and break down.

With the team at a crossroads, this next week becomes very interesting. If the Devils have a dissapointing week, they go on the road for five tough games either at or under .500, with the specter of last year's start still a prolonged losing streak away (and currently the Devils are 1-3-1 in their last five). However, a good week at least buys the team precious time to stay afloat while Brodeur gets healthy and they figure out just what they're going to do offensively. It'll be interesting to see which way this goes.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Royal Suckage: Nothing to celebrate in listless MSG debut

It was supposed to be a huge celebration. Thunderous applause like we heard when MSG didn't drown them out for King Henrik and new captain Ryan Callahan. They were going to dominate no matter what. Nothing could tarnish the moment at a renovated arena that already has inconvenienced paying customers. More on that later.

Sure. The Rangers came out flying against the Leafs, even jumping in front 1-0 when Jonas Gustavsson looked haunted by a harmless Dan Girardi unscreened shot, set up by the best Blueshirt Marian Gaborik. Perhaps it was the ugly memory of last year when our team blitzed the Swedish Monster, who's been anything but since entering the NHL. To say he and Toronto caught a break would be an understatement. Not once, but twice Captain Cally nullified Ranger goals when t\ref tandem Dennis LaRue and Ian Walsh correctly ruled "incidental contact."

Predictably, it drew the ire of a revved up MSG crowd hoping to pile it on with knowledge that this team already is the gang that can't shoot straight- let alone establish a consistent attack. The latter part falls on the so-called genius who is in his third full year on the job. Yes. John Tortorella's rotating circus lines already have to be questioned along with the team's realistic chances minus Marc Staal. Sometimes, it really is a game of bounces. For the Leafs, the turning point really were the two calls in their favor, allowing Gustavsson to tighten the screws and Ron Wilson to regroup after a lopsided first.

For some unknown reason only known to the 18 skaters and two goalies wearing Broadway Blue colors, they disappeared after 20 minutes. Gone was the relentless aggression with Callahan driving the net hard without any breaks. So, too was any form of offense. Yet again, the offense fizzled. At one point, the Rangers were stuck on seven shots while a more inspired Toronto turned it up by firing 16 shots on Henrik Lundqvist, including one off the stick of Matt Lombardi that squeaked by in the first 80 seconds, which demoralized everyone. It was the first softie he'd allowed. But King Henrik would more than atone, flat out robbing Phil Kessel twice on clean breakaways to keep his team afloat. He was spectacular after the Lombardi tally that knotted it, making all sorts of big saves.

The trouble was Lundqvist's teammates bailed on him again. Considering that Brad Richards was brought in to bolster the offense, this wasn't supposed to happen. For the sixth time in their first eight games, the Blueshirts failed to score three. Discounting a four-goal third period explosion in Vancouver and an unbelievable last second OT winner from Ryan McDonagh to stun Calgary, they've totaled 11 goals in the other 25 periods. Simply inexcusable. That can be attributed to Tort's mindless line combos that are starting to emulate former coach Tom Renney. Remember him? I have no love for Renney and the boring style he coached while exiling Petr Prucha in much the same fashion as Tortorella has with Sean Avery. Only difference is the current coach ran his mouth.

Frankly, I'm fed up with it. Especially if Glen Sather handed him the team he wanted, including the addition of Mike Rupp, who already has been so misused that permanent Christmas ornament Erik Christensen started over the enforcer, whose goal helped us to our first win. Considering how dead the Rangers looked, resembling closet skeletons in time for Halloween, wouldn't it have made sense to keep Rupp in for say a scrap that could energize the building. Or is that a thing of the past due to the luxuries rich folks have on the concourse? It also kinda goes against the coach's word of wanting to be tough. What they got was a vanilla effort from a team that looked lost. Even Kris Newbury took a beating from Mike Brown and Brandon Dubinsky got knocked on his kisser courtesy of a clean takeout from Long Island native Mike Komisarek.

You'd think they would've responded with a better third. But it was more of the same with Tortorella finally breaking up the confusing lines that had no semblance of chemistry. Instead of going back to roots, he watched in horror as Joffrey Lupul banged home a rebound of a Jake Gardiner shot Lundqvist couldn't control. It only got worse when Artem Anisimov turned the puck over thanks to a stellar defensive play from Komisarek, who celebrated teammate Clarke MacArthur's left wing blast that eluded Henrik. The first boos rained down in much the same fashion as the old place minus all the fancy food and everything else MSG has built up. Did they really need a blue carpet for tonight's festivities? At least John Amirante was in fine form during the Canadian and American national anthems.

There's plenty to be said about a state of the art updated MSG that won't be completed until 2013. By then, your bank accounts will be running on empty. So, if you still get to go watch the boys a few times the next couple of years, savor it while you can. If we learned anything by the lack of acknowledgment of Derek Boogaard prior to the opening faceoff, it's that the same greedy owner only cares about one thing. Just in case you had your blinders on, it ain't about championships. As long as money's pouring through Dolan's new toy, he won't care. That definitely was the rude message a loyal Section 411 got for still having to watch the game with obstructed views while being charged double what Sec's 412-416 are. This is what you get. Even when complaints are filed and heard, it only results in a $10 food reimbursement for each game. As if that atones for such a foul up. Oh well.

Maybe it's a good thing I wasn't up to it tonight. The team just couldn't summon the energy required to win in this league. Meaning 20 minute efforts gets you very little. Especially at home where they expect you to triumph and build something called a "home ice advantage." Only the Garden Faithful aren't familiar with that since the past couple of years under Tort. Can they really get by on the road when five more are part of this big homestand, including the odd 3 PM Saturday matinee versus Ottawa in two days? Even the Sens have woken up. They're scoring more than us.

By the time Del Zotto got one to count, the same Brown who pounded Newbury into submission, had added insult to injury for 4-1- resulting in a familiar chant that had to turn the coach beet red. Oh. They may have tried to drown it out and dismiss it like an arrogant Sam Rosen did as they went to break. But there it was to be heard from the few diehards that remain in the World's Most Renovated Arena.

"We Want Avery! We Want Avery! We Want Avery! Ave---ry! Ave---ry! Ave---ry!"

Newsflash to Coach Clueless. You can't fool us. Neither can no shows like the last two periods.


BONY 3 Stars: 

3rd Star-Mike Komisarek, Tor (assist, +2 rating, 2 blocked shots, 2 takeaways, big hit on Dubinsky)
2nd Star-Mike Brown, Tor (1st of season, TKO of Newbury)
1st Star-Joffrey Lupul, Tor (GWG, 5th of season, 4 SOG)

Rangers set to open Renovated MSG

The fun starts tonight. Based on all the hoopla, you'd think this was some ode to the franchise's fifth Stanley Cup. One could only hope it leads there soon. After a lengthy seven-game tour around the world, the Rangers finally open the doors to a renovated MSG later when they take on the improved Maple Leafs before a soldout Garden.

How will it rate? The unveiling includes a Blue carpet to welcome our Blueshirts, who are all very pumped up about finally taking to the ice in what's expected to be a state of the art facility that barely resembles the old place. The intriguing aspect is this is only Phase I with the bottom to the sixth floor redone for all the rich to pay through the wazoo for an ultimate Garden experience. New restaurants. Better food. A much larger concourse as reported by Ranger radio voice Kenny Albert, who was on with Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts earlier. It's expected to be great.

I'll admit there's anticipation building. Not so much for the same old seats we still have which won't be completed till Year 3. But for the actual team to get introduced by Joe Tolleson and for the Garden Faithful as Adam Graves refers to us, to rain down our heroes with thunderous cheers fit for a King. Did I just say King? The way King Henrik's played thus far, the roof just might come off when he's announced. Without him and Martin Biron, we could actually have come in 0-7, which doesn't say much for John Tortorella's line experiment. Yes, I am down on the coach, who has destroyed any semblance of a fourth line by somehow relegating Artem Anisimov there for the time being and misusing Mike Rupp. Based on the team's struggles, you just don't know from shift to shift what the lines will be. It's almost gotten Renney-esque.

At the very least, Tort should start with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, who just might see fourth wheel Ruslan Fedotenko. Feds has been one of our most consistent forwards, of course looking solid with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust, which should be our checking line instead of the second line it's been out of necessity. Is it any wonder Fedotenko leads us with four assists and five points? Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan are back together, joined by Wojtek Wolski. Nobody will get louder pops than Captain Cally, who at 26 is the Rangers' 26th captain. He'll get a heroes welcome from 18,200 strong, who hopefully won't be on their mobile phones during what should be a good test.

The Leafs (5-2-1) are out of the gate fast led by NHL leading sniper Phil Kessel (9 goals, 15 points) and rejuvenated captain Dion Phaneuf (7 assists, +7 rating). Toronto is more than that with Mikhail Grabovski continuing to evolve into a reliable top pivot and Joffrey Lupul (remember him) playing like he once did with Anaheim. They'll be without No.1 goalie James Reimer, who's still suffering the lingering effects of an undisclosed injury which involves the head. So, Jonas Gustavsson gets the nod against his Swedish counterpart. It'd be wise for the Rangers to stay out of the box like in their win over Winnipeg where miraculously, they took only one minor. Toronto boasts new point man John-Michael Liles along with Kessel and Phaneuf. Tim Connolly also could return. They also can play it tough with Luke Schenn and former Ranger Colton Orr, who could have a dance partner if Rupp obliges. We've already seen Prust fight too much.

For the Rangers, they managed to win three of four on the Western Canadian part of the trip- earning points in five of the first seven despite offensive futility. Sure. Gaborik did his thing scoring four and Richards looks the part even though he was quiet the last two. But until Tortorella wakes up and reunites the Draft Line, it says here that our team could continue to struggle offensively. Quite frankly, the Boyle unit's been the best and if Fedotenko starts on the Richards line, that means someone else plays with them. It's all too confusing. Anyone else wonder if each player including coach's pet extraordinaire Erik Christensen will be introduced? Never mind. At the very least, Dubi and Cally resembled more of themselves in the win at Winnipeg.

The D is still in limbo minus Marc Staal with not an iota on when he'll be back. Next time the Canes come to town, everyone should lynch Sam and Joe whenever they make a Staals Are Brothers reference. Eric Staal, yeah. I'm talking at you buddy. Be very scared! :P For now, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi anchor the blueline with Tim Erixon (yes, the same 20-year old Calgary booed) our third best. He's adjusted quickly, covering for Mike Del Zotto's mistakes. Encouraging has been MDZ's offense which seems to be coming around. It's the only way he'll stick. Steve Eminger has been a warrior, doing some outstanding PK work and again elevating his play with the extra minutes. Jeff Woywitka's been better than expected, barely out of position despite not the fleetest of foot. And Brendan Bell received the Sauer treatment the first time he made a mistake a few years ago under Tort. Speaking of Mike Sauer, he's hoping to be a go after missing the last five with the bum shoulder.

We'll be there along with Pop, Justin and Mike, plus the usual regulars up in 411 taking it in. I'll be sure to give a synopsis on the new place. It should be exciting!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Game Preview: Islanders and Pens renew rivalry tonight

The bell will sound at 7 ET tonight in Long Island. Bring out Michael Buffer. "Let's Get Ready To Rumble!!!!!" Cue classic 2Unlimited "Get Ready For This."

Alright. So, maybe we're going a bit overboard about Round One of Pens/Isles at Nassau Coliseum with the rematch Thursday in Pittsburgh. It's well documented what transpired during the last two meetings of '10-11, stemming from a Brent Johnson KO of Rick DiPietro that concussed the unlucky Islander franchise netminder. The Islanders didn't take too kindly to laughter on the Pen bench, earning revenge on the scoreboard and everywhere else by routing them 9-3 and literally beating their old Patrick division rival up. When it was over, 15 fights, 10 game misconducts, 20 misconducts and a combined 346 penalty minutes that would make Reggie Dunlap and The Hansons proud resulted in suspensions for Trevor Gillies and Matt Martin, along with a $100,000 fine.

In retrospect, the Islanders overreacted. Jack Capuano should've called the dogs off in the third because the message was sent loud and clear. Instead, E-Z target Max Talbot got what was coming along with any other Pen they went after. It was ugly. Even if you enjoy Slap Shot, it went overboard, which had to have Gary Bettman shaking.

For me, it’s not even a rivalry, it’s just another game because obviously the last two games we didn’t play a full 60 minutes, so it doesn’t matter who we are playing right now,” Capuano told NYIslanders.com.
His club must focus on getting back on track after dropping two in a row. Consecutive losses to Tampa (4-1) and Florida (4-2) have the Islanders back at .500 (3-3-0) entering a home-and-home against a team they haven't historically done well against. The Pens own a 19-4-2 record over the last 25 meetings. John Tavares, Al Montoya, Mark Streit and Co. will be looking to change that trend in a year they're expected to compete for the playoffs. The Isles have plenty of weapons but a few aren't chipping in. More is needed from Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey, who have yet to score a goal with only an assist coming off the stick of Okposo, who's expected to break out. It's time.

The Pens amaze under last year's Jack Adams winner Dan Bylsma, who has his team in first with a 6-2-2 mark. Sure. They've played more than anyone else but it's very impressive minus Sidney Crosby and game-time decision Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh continues to be hampered by injuries with key defenseman Zbynek Michalek out four to six weeks with a broken finger. A look at the Pen injured list reminds of what's plagued the Isles over past seasons. Tyler Kennedy is also out with a concussion along with four other Pens joining Michalek and Sid The Kid, who continues to get ready.

It will still be a stiff challenge with Jordan Staal (5-3-8) leading the way along with James Neal (8 goals), Kris Letang (7 assists) and Marc-Andre Fleury (5-2-2, 2.13 GAA, .930 Save Pct). Keep an eye on Matt Cooke, who's stuck to offense instead of thuggery. Plus Matt Niskanen and Chris Kunitz can't be overlooked. In other words, the Pens are more than just their stars. On another team, Staal would be one.

Will the teams stick to hockey or will it have the same edge we had last year? Steve MacIntyre is as tough as they come if Gillies needs a partner. Arron Asham is always game if Matt Martin wants to go. Fasten your seatbelts!

Biron, Fedotenko spark Rangers past Jets

Sometimes, when you're not going good, someone steps up and makes a play that lifts a team. Such was the case during last night's Rangers' 2-1 win over the Jets at soldout Winnipeg- finally concluding their crazy seven-game trip around the world at 3-2-2. That they managed to go 3-1 on the Western part speaks volumes about the goaltending they received from Henrik Lundqvist and yesterday's hero Martin Biron, who sparkled with 27 saves in his first start since preseason.

If you look at it, we’ve played seven road games with a trip to Europe and a Western Canadian trip and we’ve only lost two games in regulation,” Biron said after keeping his team afloat with a series of saves early in the third when the Jets buzzed for 90 seconds. “We got points in five out of the seven. You win three of them, it makes a big difference going home.



As John Tortorella emphasized, they're ugly. But the bottom line is they survived by gutting out tough road wins in Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg and now finally come home for tomorrow's home opener at the newly renovated MSG versus an improved Toronto club. It'll be the first of a six-game homestand. The longest of the season and a chance for the Rangers to take advantage of overwhelming support along with the comfort of their own practice facility in Greenburgh.

Locked in a tie game following ex-Ranger Nik Antropov's blast off a forced Brandon Prust turnover, the Blueshirts were on their heels literally as Winnipeg began to dominate shifts. Despite a huge territorial edge in play, they couldn't get another one past a Biron, who was outstanding making several Lundqvist-esque clutch stops in tight.

While the capable backup got the job done, the Blueshirts had help from Ruslan Fedotenko. The hard working checking wing was the team's best forward, scoring and setting up two actual power play goals. The first came in the second following another meager start in which they had three shots. With nothing working for the top unit, Tortorella sent out Fedotenko, Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan, who finally played like the captain we love. With Dan Girardi also out, he took a Mike Del Zotto pass and then patiently waited for Fedotenko to flash open in the slot. With Boyle in front screening Chris Mason, the more conventional look worked as Fedotenko neatly tipped Girardi's shot pass past the Winnipeg backup for the lead.

With the team more assertive, it looked like maybe they'd pad the lead. But Mason made a few key stops before his team drew even thanks to their top unit. Trying to get the puck out, Prust was closed off by former Devil Johnny Oduya, forcing him to fumble the puck, eventually turning it over to Evander Kane. Kane and Alex Burmistrov combined to set up Antropov, who blasted one past Biron.

Getting plenty of support from a wild home crowd 15,000+ strong, the Jets made life difficult on the Rangers. They controlled play for the rest of the second and the first part of the third until a hustling Fedotenko got around the D and forced Chris Thorburn to take him down. All night, Tortorella mixed his lines, eventually sliding Artem Anisimov down to the fourth line while shifting Brandon Dubinsky to center Callahan and Wojtek Wolski, who received over 15 minutes in his return. There were some oddities with Marian Gaborik sitting for a long stretch for unknown reasons.

None of that mattered when Girardi and Fedotenko combined to spring Callahan, who was flying down the right wing. With Winnipeg scrambling back, he centered for Fedotenko right off Zach Bogosian's skate and in for the game-winner. A relieved Cally raised his arms in triumph with a wide eyed grin as teammates congratulated him. It snapped a six-game scoreless drought.

From there, the Blueshirts clamped down defensively- not allowing the Jets to generate much. Even if they pulled Mason for an extra late, making it dicey, a couple of clears allowed them to exhale with a nice win.


BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (PP GW- 2nd of season w/11:19 remaining in 3rd)
2nd Star-Ruslan Fedotenko, NYR (PPG, assist, penalty drawn)
1st Star-Martin Biron, NYR (27 saves, 1st win of season)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Game Preview NYR at WPG: Wolski returns

Tonight, the Rangers will visit Winnipeg for the first time since NHL '96 was in stores. Sega Genesis was hot along with Super Nintendo. There were no PS3's, Ipods, Iphones or Ipads.

Fifteen years later, the rebirth of the Winnipeg Jets has been evident with every seat sold filled with tremendous support. When they defeated the Pens for their first home win last week, it was 15 years in the making. Fans went wild as the final minute wound down. This is the kind of atmosphere the Blueshirts must contend with tonight in their final road game before arriving for Thursday's home opener at the World's Most Renovated Arena.

Known as the former Thrashers, who have made a living tormenting us, Winterpeg hosts the first of four meetings. Last year, they took three of four including a damaging win at MSG that nearly ended our season. Indeed, players like Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Alex Burmistrov and Nik Antropov gave us fits. Even Jim Slater did. Don't forget Ondrej Pavelec, who can make the highlight reel save look routine. If only he got more help. Winnipeg plays an exciting style based around their speed and skill. They can really come at you in waves. Given our D issues, this should be a stiff test. Can they prevent the new Jets from dominating down low?

Much depends on the invisible Draft Line of Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan, who really need to get their act together. I already got on Cally and Dubi, who are two of our leaders that haven't been pulling their weight. I realize they have hefty raises. But there are no excuses. Anisimov hasn't been bad but you'd never know it by his statline of just two assists. He hasn't taken foolish penalties and filled in admirably on the PK, which btw needs our top forward American duo out instead of in the box watching teams capitalize. After how John Tortorella erupted in Edmonton, everyone must respond. The slow starts are disturbing. We can't be stuck on 8-9 shots with nearly 40 minutes played.

Henrik Lundqvist cramped up the other night and was replaced by Martin Biron, who at least saw his first action since preseason. I'd hardly call three saves much to go by. But it's a virtual lock that our capable backup will get the call later. At times last year, the team played better in front of him than King Henrik. I'm hoping for a similar game.

I know Tort shook up the lines the other night. With Wojtek Wolski finally returning from a groin injury that caused him to miss the opening six, no more Erik Christensen. Wolski's best assets are his size and forecheck ability. Something that's been lacking. Figure Tort to slot him in on the fourth line with Kris Newbury and Mike Rupp. If Christy plays over Newbury, I might toss an object at the wall. Newbury is a much better fit for that line. EC doesn't fit anymore. He's too perimeter oriented and inconsistent. It's hard to fathom that this waste is still on the roster while Sean Avery is banished to Hartford and Mats Zuccarello the same.

I'd like the coach to keep Derek Stepan with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. With Brendan Bell struggling in his Ranger debut, figure Jeff Woywitka to be back in.

Projected Lines:

Stepan-Richards-Gaborik
Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan
Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust
Wolski-Newbury-Rupp

McDonagh-Girardi
Del Zotto-Erixon
Eminger-Woywitka

Biron
Lundqvist

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Paging Captain Cally/Dubi

It's time for Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky to start leading by example.


Sure. It's only been six games. Rome wasn't built in a day. Of course, no one's saying the '11-12 Rangers will evolve into an NHL version of a Roman Empire. However, expectations are up with the key addition of top pivot Brad Richards, who thus far has been worth every penny alongside Marian Gaborik. So naturally, John Tortorella saw fit to break up his top line and play a game old coach Tom Renney became famous for towards the end of his tenure on Broadway. It doesn't mean the furious coach wasn't right about his team in the quickest postgame interview that even didn't give Larry Brooks a chance.

Perhaps if the newest Ranger captain was pulling his weight, none of this would be necessary. At 26, Ryan Callahan is the embodiment of what this team can be. A hard working, in your face, blue collar player who's become a fan favorite. Number 24 deserved the captaincy entering the season. The Rochester native who lasted till the fourth round in '04 was the most consistent Blueshirt last year, sacrificing his body 24/7. Nobody has a bigger heart than the gritty kid from Rochester, who earned a new contract along with the 'C' as the franchise's 26th team captain.

There was never any doubt that Cally as he's become known to teammates earned it with his physical style while establishing career highs across the board (23-25-48) despite missing 22 games, including last Spring's playoff series versus Washington. To say they could've used him would be an understatement. He is as rootable as it gets in this league. A classic overachiever who gets the most out of his talent. With Callahan, it's always been about effort. He won't win any skill competitions unless hitting becomes a category. Not exactly the NHL mantra unless they're inviting broken bones.

Being the emotional leader of a team expected to compete the upper echelon Eastern clubs presents a new challenge. Perhaps it explains Callahan's quiet start that's seen him go pointless since scoring his only goal in the Original Six club's opener in Stockholm. An overtime defeat to LA. True enough, No.24 will go through stretches where he doesn't score. However, more baffling has been the lack of gumption to his game. Missing is the crunching hits we've grown accustomed to seeing that energizes his teammates. Following last night's clunker that saw the team get blanked by Nikolai Khabibulin (19 saves while on a couch), next to Cally's name is six penalty minutes and 15 hits. Hardly what you expect from your leader.

As much as it pains me to admit, Captain Cally has been MIA. So much of what makes these Blueshirts go is the black and blue approach of Callahan and American linemate Brandon Dubinsky, who's not exactly lighting the world on fire. Both had good seasons and received nice raises. Each are expected to lead this club with key component Marc Staal on the shelf probably till at least January. The utter silence from the organization speaks volumes. It's understandable why the D has struggled to get out of its end with both Staal and Mike Sauer (shoulder) out. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh are being leaned on heavily, which could comeback to haunt them. While Tim Erixon improves and Mike Del Zotto makes you long for Matt Gilroy, Tortorella has also relied on vet Steve Eminger, who's been admirable while teaming with Jeff Woywitka and last night, a shaky Brendan Bell. Not exactly a recipe for success.

It doesn't explain the lack of assertiveness from Dubinsky and Callahan, who have combined for one goal, three assists along with far too many silly penalties. Dubi more mindless than our even keel captain. At least he's contributed in the two wins. When Mike Rupp has as many goals as two-thirds of the Draft Line, that's a problem. Sad as it sounds, they're holding Artem Anisimov back, whose improved muscle has been noticeable. Maybe Tortorella felt he had no choice but to flip Gaborik and Callahan to try to spark them. Unlike last year, Gabby is going- pacing the Rangers with four goals- while creating a plethora of chances. His health and confidence is back where it needs to be. Derek Stepan has fit in well with him and Richards. The reunited Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust mash unit has been the team's second best line, which means last year's No.1 line has been invisible. Last night, Tortorella sacrificed the game in Edmonton, allowing Renney to earn revenge.

If it's not a wake up call to the captain and his '04 Draft brethren, I don't know what is. It's time for Callahan to play instead of worrying about that heavy letter on his chest. It's also time for Dubinsky to start earning his keep like he said entering camp. There's no reason they shouldn't reach 30 goals apiece. Especially given the chemistry with Anisimov, who's chomping at the bit.

Halloween is eight days away. Time for the American duo to remove their masks and start playing. Tomorrow in Winnipeg is as good a time as any. Their teammates and staff are patiently waiting.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Where's the imaginary line in hockey?

Let's be honest, tonight's 4-1 Devil loss in Pittsburgh isn't much worth recapping. Yeah the game was 1-1 early in the third period until the roof fell in with three goals against, but about all I want to talk about is one contreversial play that happened early in the third period with the Devils trailing 1-0. The refs on the ice called a double-minor high stick penalty on Patrik Elias, even saying number 26 but Petr Sykora rushed to the box before anyone knew what happened. Why? It wasn't a honest mistake, that's for sure. Sykora knows he doesn't kill penalties and Elias does so it would be more beneficial to the team to have him serve the penalty.

None of the refs caught that little...um, bit of gamesmanship (since the penalty happened with both Elias and Sykora in the vicinity of the play), which could well have changed the game since moments later Elias ironically scored a shorthanded goal to tie it up, helped out by a hook that started the play and really had the Penguins up in arms. Especially since they did notice that Sykora had gone to the box and lost a faceoff because they were trying to alert the refs about the wrong player being in the box. Perhaps karma caught up with us since the Pens did wind up getting the lead back on that power play, then added two more for good measure off what looked like a tiring Johan Hedberg as our hideous offense again petered out and offered no support other than the one ill-gotten goal.

Granted, I'm not in the mood to hear crying from the Penguins. More than anyone in this league they catch breaks from the refs, and arguably they caught a break on both our penalty calls in the first period (one of which resulted in a power play goal from Jordan Staal to open the scoring). That said, I'm a little uneasy about this particular type of gamesmanship. You could argue it's really no different than diving or embellishing to draw a penalty, which I'm not too keen on either, but to me, this is the kind of stuff we - and when I say we I mean Devils fans - always got on Sean Avery for. Goading players into dropping the gloves to get an instigator, or standing in front of Martin Brodeur and waving his stick to provide a distraction - which I actually thought was creative lol, and hey if he wants to risk bodily harm with a shot that hits him while he can't look or protect himself well buona fortuna, be my guest.

I seem to be in the minority in this one, in that Devils fans got a chuckle out of what happened while I cringed. Granted, there are bigger fish to fry considering the Devils now only have one regulation win in their first six games and are going on a three-game Western trip this week without two of their top three centers and their number one goalie. Still, it wouldn't surprise me if someone (re: Lou Lamoriello) had a talk with Sykora after that, and to his credit he did apologize to the refs later. Of course the refs weren't thrilled and it wouldn't surprise me if we got 'taxed' a few breaks against us in subsequent games because of it.

As well-meaning as doing something to win a game is, sometimes there is a line you don't cross. Obviously when there's a bench minor you can pick whoever you want to serve the penalty but I've literally never heard of a guy intentionally running to the box to serve a penalty for someone else. It's probably happened before but it's very hard to do, cause usually who the penalty's on is obvious and someone'll catch that kind of chicanery. I'm not a fan of it, then again I'm not a fan of most types of gamesmanship.

Devils lose shootout to Sharks, Josefson to injury



After what felt like an NFL-style bye week between games, the Devils returned to the ice last night for the first time in six days and received a bit of a reality check from the Sharks in Newark. While the Devils did get a 'new NHL' point in their 4-3 shootout loss, they were fortunate to get even that - since it was mostly due to a heroic performance from Johan Hedberg. Moose had 38 saves, 31 of them in the final two periods and overtime when the Sharks outshot New Jersey 34-13. Despite being dominated to such an extent, the Devils did hold a 2-0 lead for much of the second period, and 3-2 in the final minute but lost both leads, and eventually the game.

Things went from bad to worse after the game when the Devils announced Jacob Josefson had suffered a broken clavicle, and after a MRI this morning revealed he needed surgery it was determined that the young Swede would miss 3-4 months. For a team already missing Travis Zajac down the middle this is a severe blow depth-wise, and for Josefson himself this makes long-term injuries in back-to-back seasons. After sending Adam Henrique down last week with the intention to 'recall him soon' the Devils did recall him to take Josefson's spot, though obviously this wasn't the kind of move the team had in mind.

As far as the actual game, some might be bothered by the fact the Devils did blow the two leads, including the one late. To me, it just was more indiciative of how we played in the game - which is what actually did bother me. For the second time in five games we more or less got dominated from blue line to blue line, though at least unlike Opening Night we managed to get some timely goals. Even the power play looked NHL-caliber in the first period, as Patrik Elias roofed one off a nice feed from Ilya Kovalchuk and the team created good chances on multiple power plays.

Special teams continued to help the Devils early in the second period, as Zach Parise got a shorthanded breakaway and was taken down by Brent Burns, giving the Devils a penalty shot. Of course, Parise took it and as he's done so many times in the shootout, rendered yet another goalie helpless on a breakwaway - scoring his third goal of the year. Amazingly enough, it was the captain's first-ever penalty shot goal. From there, it's almost as if the Devils sagged a little bit and Moose found himself under siege as the Sharks (who were coming into the Rock on a three-game losing streak) peppered the net. For a while, it looked as if Moose was channeling Martin Brodeur during Game 5 against Carolina a couple years ago, where he wouldn't let anything in.

Eventually, the dam did break though - when Joe Thornton (celebrating his 1000th NHL game) scored on a three-on-one at 15:18 of the second period. There was no letup from the Sharks, and just sixty-three seconds later they scored again when a puck bounced off of Ryan Clowe's skate and in. Right there probably at least half the building had the same thought I had - TIMEOUT - but the fact that Clowe's goal had to be reviewed basically acted as a timeout for us anyway.

While the Sharks didn't score again in the second period, they continued to dominate play into the third. Moose remained strong however, and pretty much against the run of play the Devils took the lead with just 6:42 remaining when Mattais Tedenby connected with David Clarkson for the second straight game, with Clarkson driving to the net and taking advantage of a nice feed from Tedenby, to give the Devils a surprising 3-2 lead. While coach Pete DeBoer later said he thought we played well in the first and third periods, I mostly disagree with that assessment when it comes to the third, however from Clarkson's goal on it did seem like the Sharks sagged - as if they couldn't believe what was going on.

Until they pulled Antti Niemi for an extra skater they really didn't get as much pressure on us as they had for most of the prior thirty plus minutes, but in the final minute they sprung to life and wouldn't be denied as the two Joes (Pavelski and Thornton) combined for a goal with Pavelski beating Hedberg emphatically on one knee to tie the game with just thirty-three seconds left. Right then, I just wanted to get to overtime but the Sharks nearly Carolinaed us and scored again before the end of regulation, just missing the net on a good chance in front. Finally, it went to overtime for a third straight game and then a shootout for a third straight game.

Despite the fact Kovy scored on his first shootout attempt and Hedberg made a stop on Pavelski, I didn't feel this shootout would follow the script of our previous two. Parise had already shown Niemi his best move to score on the penalty shot, but in the shootout the advantage swung to Niemi as a result - and somewhat predictably he did stop Zach this time. Then, when Michael Handzus ripped one off the post that went off of Hedberg's back and in the net I knew then it wasn't going to be our night. Sure enough, Elias got stopped on his first shootout attempt of the season, then Clowe scored (this time with his stick), giving us perhaps a deserved loss.

Unfortunately the loss of Josefson - and continued absence of Brodeur - might prove to be the ones that sting more in the long-term.

Battle Saturday Preview: Devs, Isles, Sabres, Rangers

Today is the third NHL Saturday. And for each Battle club, they take to the ice looking to get the 'W.'


Devils at Penguins- A day removed from a tough 4-3 shootout defeat to San Jose that saw the teal rally in the final minute, the Devils hit the road for a stiff test at Pittsburgh, who don't seem to mind no Crosby or Malkin. Not with James Neal pacing everyone with seven goals and Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Marc-Andre Fleury leading the way. In the league's most competitive division, the Pens lead everyone with a 5-2-2 mark- good for 12 points. They've played more than anyone and done plenty of travel but haven't been affected. Now, the Devs and Pens meet for the first time. Does Malkin play? Pitt got back bruiser Brooks Orpik and recently suspended Kris Letang returns. For New Jersey, Johan Hedberg will again be in net with Martin Brodeur sidelined another week. The news on Jacob Josefson wasn't good with the second-year Swede needing surgery which will sideline him a few months. Rookie Adam Henrique was recalled.

Sabres at Lightning- Buffalo looks to keep it going when they visit St. Pete versus a rejuvenated Bolts' club that snapped a five-game skid with a 4-1 win over the Islanders. Ryan Malone and Steven Stamkos tallied while Mathieu Garon was strong in his second consecutive start. The Lightning will look to end the Sabres' perfect road start that's seen them go 4-0, including two-for-two overseas. It's the first of a home-and-home spread out over three days with the two meeting again in Western New York Tuesday. Buffalo blanked Florida 3-zip thanks to the continued hot play of Thomas Vanek (2 goals) and Jason Pominville. They also could have security blanket Ryan Miller unless Lindy Ruff tabs backup Jhonas Enroth.

Islanders at Panthers- The Islanders look to bounce back from a disappointing 4-1 loss in Tampa by gaining a split in Florida. The Panthers are looking to make it two-for-two versus the Isles- also spoiling the home opener with a 2-0 blanking on the shoulders of vet Jose Theodore. He's played well thus far along with new faces Kris Versteeg (3-4-7), Brian Campbell (7 assists) and mainstay Stephen Weiss (3-3-6), who have the team off to a .500 start. The Islanders need more from Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau, who have yet to get untracked. John Tavares can only do so much. Does Jack Capuano start Evgeni Nabokov instead of Al Montoya, who was hardly to blame for the other night?

Rangers at Oilers- The Rangers get their first taste of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tonight. Can they deny the wiz kid along with Taylor Hall and familiar face Ryan Smyth? The Blueshirts look to stay hot behind Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards.




Friday, October 21, 2011

McDonagh stuns Flames

The super soph was at it again. A game removed from breaking out with a goal and assist, Ryan McDonagh continued his rapid improvement by stunning the Flames at the last split second. After exchanging four goals and fisticuffs in a wildly entertaining first period, the Rangers and Calgary were locked in a defensive battle with a shootout looming.

Even when the Blueshirts carried the four-on-four in overtime, it still seemed destined for the skill competition. But a strange thing happened. Brandon Dubinsky wouldn't give up on a last second play, dropping the puck to Dan Girardi, who intentionally fired wide off the backboards right to a wide open McDonagh, who buried it for an unbelievable 3-2 win with 0.5 seconds left. An unlikely conclusion to a great game.

Danny’s a smart player, I know he’s just putting it anywhere where it’s not going to get blocked and it was fortunate that it kicked off the boards there,” said McDonagh. “We were talking about how the boards could be used to our advantage and it did there.”
From the outset, Calgary tried to set the tone with physical play. As if on cue, Jarome Iginla challenged Ryan Callahan to no avail. The Calgary franchise scoring leader later nailed Cally with a clean check during a power play. With his team again on the short end of the stick, the Ranger captain took the hit to clear the puck out. That's the kind of play we expect from our team, who despite permitting a power play goal to Mark Giordano, were aggressive- killing off four of five, including a pivotal one down the stretch.

Outstanding were ex-Flame Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle, who combined for a nice shorthanded goal that gave the Rangers their second lead. But Calgary struck back thanks to Giordano, who took an Iginla feed and beat an irate Henrik Lundqvist through a screen. McDonagh accidentally screened our goalie, who picked up Giordano's shot too late. Alex Tanguay added his second helper of the night. He also set up Iginla to level it at 1-1, taking advantage of a rare Dan Girardi miscue that allowed the former Cup winner to find Jarome for an easy redirect. Marian Gaborik started the scoring with his fourth in another bizarre way. Something called a power play goal. Typically, the Rangers were the last team to connect on the power play. Of course, it was only our fifth game with every single one on the road. No wonder we haven't been getting the benefit of whistles. Perhaps that'll change once they host the Leafs next Thursday (10/27).

Gaborik's back to form, skating with purpose and being dangerous. It's safe to say he and Brad Richards have found chemistry along with key complement Derek Stepan, who threaded the needle to Gabby for a tap-in. It was his club-leading fourth goal with Richards also earning an assist. Richy Rich has a point in all five games (1-4-5). Stepan, who deserved a helper versus the Islanders, got his first point of the season. He really has looked good, making outstanding defensive plays while taking the body. The Wisconsin product brings that same intangible that Chris Drury did. High skill set. It's amazing how good our two Badgers look. D-Step fitting in on the top line with Wojtek Wolski still nursing a groin injury, and McDonagh smoothly transitioning to top pair with Girardi while showing off improved offense.

There's a lot to be said for McD and how quick a learner he is. The skating, shot and instincts get better all the time. He definitely looks like our most talented blueliner with no disrespect shown to Marc Staal. It just seems that he has a higher ceiling in that he can contribute more offensively while continuing stellar defensive work. Though last night wasn't one of his best. It's exciting to see the development of him and budding rookie Tim Erixon, who played his best game despite plenty of boos whenever he touched the puck. Calgary fans let him know how they feel about the 20-year old Swede not signing. However, it didn't faze him. Instead, Erixon made sound reads and smart defensive plays while teamed with adventurous partner Mike Del Zotto, whose offense is coming. DZ has been a bit more aggressive as evidenced by Mike Rupp's goal he set up the other day. John Tortorella's confidence has grown, rewarding the former first rounder with 22 shifts (18:12).

It’s a great experience for him because there has been some struggles with his play but he stays with it,” Tortorella pointed out. “As we go through here, some of those guys that are in spots that they didn’t expect to be in, it’s going to help our team in the long run.”
There also were teammates standing up for each other like when Kris Newbury didn't take kindly to Cory Sarich's hit from behind on Richards, quickly coming to Brad's aid. Though he got the extra for instigating (this while the blind mice turned a blind eye to Sarich's boarding) and Calgary converted, it was a good penalty to take. You can't get pushed around. Rupp also dropped the gloves with Tim Jackman early on before things settled down.

It was a fun game. Eventually, the radar shifted to Lundqvist (33 saves, 157-166 over 5 GP) and second-year man Henrik Karlsson, who gave a good account of himself with 26 stops, including some close calls. Meanwhile, Lundqvist was again outstanding- flat out robbing Iginla by somehow stacking the pad on a gimme. Once he let in the second, he wasn't going to give up anything else. King Henrik is just so on right now. He is playing the best hockey of his already brilliant career. With great rebound control and so technically sound, could this be the year he finally wins a Vezina? Keep your fingers crossed.

“I was getting ready for it, so I was really happy to see the puck go in because they have some skilled guys to send out for a shootout,” Lundqvist noted of the unpredictable finish.


BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Marian Gaborik, (PPG-fourth of season, 8 SOG)
2nd Star-Jarome Iginla, Cgy (goal, assist)
1st Star-Ryan McDonagh, NYR (game-winner w/1.3 secs left)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Game Preview: King Henrik looks to stay hot in Alberta

In this league, you're only as hot as your goalie. Especially when in the early going, the Rangers had struggled to score goals until a four-goal third period explosion- stunning Roberto Luongo and the Canucks 4-zip. It was their first win of the season and couldn't have come at a better time.

Till that point, Henrik Lundqvist had been busy holding them in despite being outshot 28-9. If not for the sensational play from King Henrik, it would've been a cake walk for the Canucks, who dominated long stretches while Luongo was on vacation. The Rangers continued a disturbing early trend of taking undisciplined penalties with one in the offensive zone from Brandon Prust landing him on the bench for a while. Ironically, the hard working grinder would factor in despite only 13 shifts (7:12), setting up unlikely goalscorer Mike Rupp while also later finding linemate Brian Boyle for their third straight goal.

None of it would've mattered if not for Lundqvist, who arguably played his best game as a Ranger, stoning Canuck after Canuck en route to his 36th career shutout. He led by example, controlling his rebounds with ease despite relentless pressure. It didn't matter if Henrik Sedin went around Mike Del Zotto like a traffic cone following Rupp's first as a Blueshirt. There was Henrik turning away four point blank chances in a row to keep his team ahead. Soon after, the coming out party of Ryan McDonagh helped silence Canuckleheads. The sophomore D finished off a textbook give-and-go with Brandon Dubinsky, increasing the lead to two.

Following outstanding work from Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko, who combined to find a cutting Boyle for a wicked shot top shelf, there was McDonagh again making like Brian Leetch, cruising towards Luongo before dishing for Marian Gaborik's tap-in that put the exclamation point on a big win. They won despite being shorthanded eight times. Vancouver's dominance didn't mean a thing due to Lundqvist, who posted back-to-back shutouts on the Western power. It was last year when he turned aside all 38 in a home win. That's 78 straight if you're keeping track. It wasn't long ago when the anticipated Henrik/Louie showdown on Versus was a dud with the King pulling himself. Perhaps he had a message for those foolish GMs who passed on him for the Vezina for Canadian hero Luongo.

"I guess this game he thought I deserved it, so I’m wearing it with a lot of pride," the elated Swede told reporters after sporting Brad Richards' winning hat: "And it also looks pretty good."

"We wanted this one, and it’s a nice feeling when you’ve got him back there," Richards added after notching a helper on Gaborik's third. "You could see early on he was in the zone.”

Perhaps the strong third will bring the team together as they prepare for tonight's match in Alberta versus Calgary. As John Tortorella reminded everyone, they still have some things to work on. It'll be interesting to see how they deal with chaotic forwards Curtis Glencross and Rene Bourque, who are off to good starts along with Alex Tanguay. They also don't want to awaken Flames' franchise leading scorer Jarome Iginla. They're coming off a come from behind 2-1 win over Edmonton in which consecutive tallies from Jay Bouwmeester and Tanguay rallied them past their nemesis Tuesday.

The Saddledome can be a tough place to play. So, it should be noisy. There's also the strong play of Miikka Kiprusoff, who's strung together three good starts in a row. He was outstanding making 24 stops versus Edmonton to preserve their win. Calgary likes to be physical led by Bourque and Glencross, who the Rangers don't need any reminders on (ie Chris Drury). They also boast ex-Devil heavyweight Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who could be an opponent for Rupp tonight. Vet Scott Hannan's been a solid addition to a blueline led by underrated Mark Giordano, who should see a lot of the Richards line along with Bouwmeester. Cory Sarich is also tough.

There will also be familiar faces Olli Jokinen and probably Roman Horak, who the Rangers parted with to get Tim Erixon. If the ex-Ranger draft pick plays, he'll center the third line. That would be an intriguing storyline along with the goalie match-up (Lundqvist/Kiprusoff) assuming it comes down. Ironically, Kipper has fared well versus us, winning three of four with a 1.51 GAA. However, they took last year's lone meeting 2-1 behind 31 saves from backup Martin Biron. Considering that they don't play Edmonton until Saturday, it makes sense to stick with Lundqvist, who's repelled 124 of 131 shots thus far. We'll see what Tort decides.

Wojtek Wolski (groin) is hoping to make his season debut. Otherwise, figure Tortorella to stick with what worked.

Stepan-Richards-Gaborik
Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan
Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust
Christensen-Newbury-Rupp

McDonagh-Girardi
Del Zotto-Erixon
Woywitka-Eminger

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Game Preview: Rangers at Canucks

They try again later tonight in British Columbia. A place that once treated them well. It really is imperative that the Rangers get in the 'W' column sometime during this crucial four-game Canadian trip that includes stops at Calgary, Edmonton and concludes in Winnipeg, who finally got their first win last night over the Pens before a hyped crowd.

At 0-1-2, the Blueshirts aren't doing themselves any favors in the league's deepest division. Everyone else has gotten out of the gate fast, putting John Tortorella's club in an early hole. Forget Europe. Forget the MSG renovation. It's time for this team to come together and build some momentum for next week's home opener. Yes, the impact of Marc Staal has been felt. Even if Ryan McDonagh has effectively teamed with Dan Girardi, the trickle down effect has forced Tortorella to trust kids Mike Del Zotto and Tim Erixon while even sprinkling in waiver pickup Jeff Woywitka on the Island due to Mike Sauer's separated shoulder that's still nagging him. Brendan Bell should debut, likely replacing Woywitka.

No one ever said it would be easy. However, there's no excuse for the ineptitude of the Draft Line, who have combined for only three points (1-2-3). That simply won't get it done. Artem Anisimov has shown improved muscle but needs support from Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. They're the glue that makes this team go. And while Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik are finding chemistry, they can't be asked to carry the load. That's not how this team was constructed. More is expected of the trio, who need to bring it starting tonight. Especially with Ryan Kesler set to debut for the Canucks, who hardly are lighting it up.

Brian Boyle is off to a poor start, admitting such to the press. Four minors and no production isn't what he had in mind. The big man is our most versatile forward, who can be shifted to wing and used up front on the power play. He's also vital for the PK, which is a double whammy when he's in the box. He, Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko need to stay together. It's no time for the coach to mess around. Keep Derek Stepan on the top line after he was our best forward Saturday. As for the fourth line, Kris Newbury was brought up to add some grit. He proved capable last year. Mike Rupp is off to a lousy start. Please tell me Wojtek Wolski replaces team ornament Erik Christensen when he gets healthy.

Prior to Henrik Lundqvist's shutout last Jan.13,  Vancouver had owned us- winning nine of the previous 10. They also had victimized King Henrik, including a pivotal showdown that turned into a home humiliation on Versus with Henke removing himself. Last year, he bested Cory Schneider. Might we get the match-up everyone wants to see with GM favorite Roberto Luongo? We all know Luongo didn't deserve to get nominated for the Vezina. Statement game for Henrik? He'll need some support.

The Rangers must stay disciplined. That means no more silly penalties for the league's second most penalized team. And for the love of sanity, don't let Chris Higgins score. It won't be easy against The Sedins and pest Alex Burrows. McDonagh and Girardi will really be tested. Who takes Kesler? Hope Tort matches the Boyle unit against him.

We'll see if they're up to the challenge.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Early Trends

It's already Week 3. Even though technically, it's not till later this week, it's never too early to start looking at trends. How are our teams faring? What are the early stories? Is it Toronto's perfect start highlighted by Phil Kessel's explosion? What about the surprising Avs led by new goalie Semyon Varlamov and rookie Gabriel Landeskog? Or perhaps it's the Stars out of the gate fast while Brad Richards' new team on Broadway is one of three teams (Jackets, Jets) that haven't won yet.

There's also been the quick adjustment from No.1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who already recorded his first career hat trick in only the Oilers' third game. Even if they lost to the Canucks, it certainly left an impression on his linemate Taylor Hall.

It's his third NHL game, he got a hat trick against his home town team, and Robert Luongo and guys he's watched for a long time, it's great to see.
It's always fun to look at the good. Better than viewing the bad and ugly that has the Rangers as one of two clubs (WPG) that have yet to score a power play goal. And you're thinking, 'Wasn't that supposed to be fixed?' Some old habits die hard. Insert John McClane reference here. Let's take a closer look at some of these early trends that either have you wowing or pulling out your hair.

-As previously noted, the Rangers' power play issues continue. Over three games, they're 0-for-12. Not the kind of baker's dozen John Tortorella had in mind. The lack of a true point that can mesh with Richards still is missing and could be a problem all season unless Mike Del Zotto regains that spot.

-The Blueshirts have been horrific on special teams, also shorthanded 19 times already. Though the PK had done a fine job, it finally got burnt by John Tavares Saturday. In this league, special teams are essential to a club's success.

-Conversely, the Islanders have been pretty solid in that facet, killing off 18 of 19 penalties against to rank second overall. The PP had struggled before connecting twice to boost it to 3-of-18. Good for 15th. With a true PP QB in Mark Streit and the skill of Tavares along with Michael Grabner and gritty types Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo, there's no reason they shouldn't be in the top 10.

-The Devils under Pete DeBoer still are struggling on the man-advantage (2-of-17) but finally got a crucial one on a five-on-three from bomber Ilya Kovalchuk to turn around their game in Music City. With captain Zach Parise back along with defensive types Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder and underrated sophomore Mark Fayne, the Devs rank fourth on the PK, permitting just one in 17 thus far.

-Off to a 3-1 start, the Sabres have connected three times in 15 chances on the PP to place 12th led by Thomas Vanek's pair. More encouraging is new captain Jason Pominville, who's okay after taking a clean hit from a Candy Cane in which he was in an awkward position. They ran tests and he was good enough to do a postgame interview. Buffalo is middle of the pack in PK permitting two in 15 against. An area they can improve at with physical element Robyn Regehr.

WHO'S HOT?

Sabres- Luke Adam (3-3-6), Thomas Vanek (3-4-7, 2 PPG), Jason Pominville (1-4-5)

Devils- Zach Parise (2-1-3/2 shootout clinchers), Johan Hedberg (3-0, 1.41 GAA, .950 Save Pct.), Mark Fayne (1-1-2, 5 hits, 5 blocked shots)

Islanders- John Tavares (5-3-8- all 8 Pts last 2 GP, 2 PPG, +4), Al Montoya (2-1, 1.35 GAA, .950 Save Pct.), Mark Streit (3 A, 2 PPA, 6 blocks), P.A. Parenteau (1-6-7)

Rangers- Marian Gaborik (2 goals, 14 SOG), Brad Richards (1-2-3, Pt in each game incl. GTG vs Ducks), Henrik Lundqvist (0-1-2, 7 GA in 3 starts, 2.23 GAA, .920 Save Pct.)


WHO'S NOT?

Rangers- Ryan Callahan (1 A, 0 G, 6 PIM incl. 2 minors vs NYI), Brandon Dubinsky (0-1-1, 20 PIM), Brian Boyle (0 Pts, 8 PIM)


Islanders- Kyle Okposo (0 G, A, 7 SOG), Josh Bailey (0 Pts, 3 SOG), Blake Comeau (0 Pts, SOG in 3 GP)
 
Devils- David Clarkson (G, 26 PIM), Adam Larsson (0 Pts, -2), Jacob Josefson (1 A, 4 SOG)
 
Sabres- Brad Boyes (0 G, A, 6 SOG), Tyler Ennis (0 Pts, 7 SOG), Ville Leino (G, 3 SOG)
 
 
HOT STARTS
 
1.Phil Kessel (Tor) 5-3-8
2.John Tavares (NYI) 5-3-8
3.David Legwand (Nsh) 2-6-8
4.James Neal (Pit) 5-1-6
5.P.A. Parenteau (NYI) 1-6-7
6.Anze Kopitar (LAK) 3-4-7
7.The Sedins (Van) 2-5-7 each = 4-10-14
8.Shane Doan (Phx) 3-4-7
9.Kris Letang (Pit) 1-5-6
10.Chris Pronger (Phi) 1-4-5
11.M.A. Bergeron (TB) 2-3-5
12.Jeff Skinner (Car) 2-4-6)
13.Thomas Vanek (Buf) 3-4-7
14.Claude Giroux (Phi) 3-2-5
15.Sheldon Souray (Dal) 1-3-4
16.Kari Lehtonen (Dal) 4-0, 1.48, .955
17.Jonathan Quick (LAK) 2-0-1, 1.57, .948
18.Johan Hedberg (NJD) 3-0, 1.41, .945
19.Semyon Varlamov (Col) 3-1, 2.17, .938, SHO
20.Ilya Bryzgalov (Phi) 3-0-1, 1.99, .927, SHO
21.Jonas Hiller (Ana) 3-1, 1.71, .931, SHO
22.Jose Theodore (Fla) 2-1, 1.97, .930, SHO
23.Al Montoya (NYI) 2-1, 1.35, .953
24.Jimmy Howard (Det) 3-0, 1.63, .930, SHO
25.Tim Thomas (Bos) 2-2, 1.98, .932
 
ICE COLD
 
1.Craig Anderson (Ott) 1-2, 5.07, .853
2.Ondrej Pavelec (Wpg) 0-2, 4.55, .833
3.Dwayne Roloson (TBL) 1-1-1, 4.35, .883
4.Steve Mason (CBJ) 0-4-1, 3.40, .889
5.Carey Price (Mtl) 1-2-1, 2.96, .880
6.Roberto Luongo (Van) 1-1-1, 3.60, .871
7.Jaroslav Halak (Stl) 1-3, 3.05, .850
8.Cam Ward (Car) 2-2, 3.26, .900
9.Jeff Carter (CBJ) 0 G, 3 A, 20 SOG
10.Dustin Byfuglien (Wpg) 0 Pts, -3, 10 SOG
11.Alex Ovechkin (Wsh) G, A, -2, 15 SOG
12.Kevin Bieksa (Van) 1 A, -3, 11 SOG
13.Nikolai Kulemin (Tor) 0 G, A, -2, 2 SOG
14.Vincent Lecavalier (TBL) G, A, 8 PIM, 18 SOG
15.Steven Stamkos (TBL) G in 5 GP, 15 SOG
16.Logan Couture (SJS) 0 G, A, 8 SOG
17.Daniel Alfredsson (Ott) 2-1-3, -6
18.Dubinsky/Anisimov/Callahan (NYR)  G, 2 A, 26 PIM, 20 SOG
19.Okposo/Grabner/Rolston (NYI) G, 2 A, -3, 22 SOG
20.Mattias Tedenby (NJD) 0 G, A, 2 SOG
21.Cal O'Reilly (Nsh) 0 G, A, SOG
22.Scott Gomez (Mtl) 0 G, A
23.P.K. Subban (Mtl) 0 G, A, -3, 12 SOG
24.Erik Cole (Mtl) 0 G, A, 5 SOG
25.Mikko Koivu (Min) 2 A in 5 GP
26.Dustin Brown (LAK) 0 G, A, -2, 10 SOG
27.David Booth (Fla), 0 G, A, -3, 8 SOG
28.Nick Lidstrom/Henrik Zetterberg (Det) 2 G, 0 A, 27 SOG
29.Eric Staal (Car) 2 G, A, -8
30.Ryan Getzlaf (Ana) 0 G, 2 A, 8 SOG
31.Jarome Iginla (Cgy) G, 0 A, -3, 8 SOG
32.Milan Lucic (Bos) 0 G, A, 2 PIM, 12 SOG
 
 
Storybook Return For Ex-Flyer: In case you were asleep Saturday night, the biggest game on a busy schedule was ex-Flyer captain's Mike Richards' return to the City of Brotherly Love with the rest of his King teammates. Thus far, a trade that left many speechless has worked out well for both clubs.
 
However, this one had special meaning for Richards as he and former teammate Jeff Carter were sent packing as part of Paul Holmgren's overhaul that split a passionate fanbase down the middle. Looking good in his new LA threads, Mr. Richards was right smack in the middle of an emotional game that had a bit of everything, including physicality with Drew Doughty knocked out of the game on a big hit by rookie Zac Rinaldo that drew the ire of Dustin Penner. Later on, Richards got into the act with a clean takeout of a Flyer that immediately got the attention of former King Wayne Simmonds.
 
Cooler heads prevailed as the two teams battled to overtime where an undisciplined trip from James van Riemsdyk allowed Richards, who received a fitting tribute prior to the drop of the puck- to burn his ex-club. During a four-on-three, the skilled center who set up Jack Johnson to beat the Rangers in Stockholm made another spectacular read. This time, from the left point, he faked before sending a perfect shot pass to Johnson, who deflected it home for the OT winner. A great conclusion to a well played game. But definitely an exclamation point for Richards.
 
"It took me a second to realize it went in," the ex-Flyer said. He finished his career in orange and black with 133 goals and 349 points along with a Cup Finals appearance with a video tribute thanking him for his contributions to Philly. "It was a broken play and I was tying to find a lane to shoot and saw JJ at the last second."
 
"It was easy once I touched the ice. I felt comfortable out there. I just played hockey."

Battle News & Notes

It's already been busy for the Battle clubs (Buf, NJD, NYI, NYR). Injuries, demotions, call-ups and early surprises are in the offing. So let's get to it!

-Devils recall G Keith Kinkaid. Due to Martin Brodeur's right shoulder injury, the kid from Union College gets an emergency call-up. Probably the wise thing considering Marty's health. Age is finally catching up. Johan Hedberg continues to be a great insurance policy. The team plays well in front of him.

-Devils send down C Adam Henrique to Albany. This was clearly impacted by the play of Petr Sykora, who's fit in nicely with Parise and Elias. Plus Pete DeBoer is pretty set depth wise with Clarkson, Zubrus, Tedenby, Janssen, Boulton and PK fixture Brad Mills. It's better for Henrique's development.

-Islanders send C Ryan Strome back to Niagara (OHL). There's no denying the No.1 pick's talent but a numbers game that has reduced Blake Comeau's role was the icing on the cake. Plus Nino Neiderreiter will return from IR soon. 

-Islander G Rick DiPietro suffered a concussion when he was accidentally hit in the mask by a shot before his scheduled start against Tampa Bay. If DP didn't have bad luck, he'd have no luck at all. The poor franchise goalie continues to be plagued by injuries. Each one more bizarre. The organization must be careful with the concussed netminder, who has a history. With Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov as a security blanket, they can be patient.

-Rangers send RW Mats Zuccarello down to Connecticut Whale and recall C Kris Newbury. Clearly, this is a WTF panic move by Tort. What did MZA even do to deserve the demotion other than be cast aside unlikely linemates Mike Rupp and teacher's pet extraordinaire Erik Christensen? I'm running out of words here. Sad as it sounds, Wolski's injury has hurt the depth and Tort's hypocrisy and Avery hate hasn't helped. That said, Newbury was a solid contributor last year who adds a physical element.

-Rangers recall D Brendan Bell from Whale. Finally, a rational move following the continued matador D after pseudo top pair Ryan McDonagh/Dan Girardi. Minus Staal and with Sauer still nicked up, it's about time the coach sees the light. Simply put, Eminger can't play daily and pairing Del Zotto and Erixon is scary.

-Sabres C Luke Adam scored and set up another in Buffalo's 3-2 home win over the Pens. The 21-year old former '08 second rounder continues his hot start with six points (3-3-6) over the club's first four games (3-1-0). Only Carolina held him off the score sheet. Coincidentally, their only loss. In 19 games last season, Adam had four points (3-1-4). Perhaps he'll be in the Calder discussion with early candidates Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Adam Larsson. Keep an eye on 18-year old freshman Sean Couturier, (assist) who might stick in Philly.


That wraps up this week's edition. Happy pucking!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Round One: Tavares hat trick TKO's Rangers

John Tavares' hat trick victimized Marian Gaborik during the Isles' 4-2 win.



Round One was a TKO by John Tavares. Led by the third-year star, the Islanders won the first big match-up between blood rivals- doubling up on the Rangers 4-2 last night at energized Nassau Coliseum. In what amounted to an entertaining, rambunctious and in your face brand of hockey one comes to expect when these New York rivals get together, it was Long Island prevailing over Manhattan thanks to another offensive explosion from Tavares. After being shutout the first two games, the blossoming superstar has eight points over the past two, including his first hat trick of the season along with a helper- factoring in on every Islander goal.


"You're not going to say no to production like that. It's nice to produce. It's what I do best, obviously," Tavares pointed out of his second straight four-point outing. 

"I still see him as a goofy kid. But he's committed to being one of the best players in the league," teammate Matt Moulson praised after notching a goal and assist in the Islanders' third consecutive win. "He's playing with a lot of confidence. When he does that, he can be a scary player. And he's only going to get better once he matures and understands what he's capable of."

Aided by a slew of undisciplined Ranger penalties, Tavares and Co. had no trouble taking full advantage, going two-for-eight. That proved to be the difference with Jack Capuano's club remaining poised unlike their nemesis. Conversely, John Tortorella's team went blank in four chances while drawing the ire of an impatient coach who is tired of using Europe as an alibi for their slow start.

“There is no excuses here,” the displeased Ranger coach said. “We lost a hockey game. That team played better than us, they were more disciplined than us. I don’t want to hear about Europe, I don’t want to hear about if it’s a penalty or not a penalty. We’re not disciplined enough, and Europe has nothing to do with tonight’s game.”

Twice, the road team fought back from one-goal deficits during the first two periods. However, more penalty trouble eventually led to Tavares' winner, which came just seven seconds after Dan Girardi was nabbed for interference. Off a faceoff win, JT91 slipped to the left in the high slot where Islander captain Mark Streit passed through for a ridiculous deflection that Henrik Lundqvist had no chance on. It was the kind of hand eye coordination that makes the franchise player special. Along with improved skating, strength and conditioning, the 21-year old center looks poised for a big year. Similar skill was required on his first power play goal of the night midway thru. With Ryan Callahan out of the box, the Isles still were on the man-advantage thanks to a dubious delay of game call on Brian Boyle. Regardless, Tavares made them pay when he backhanded a low Streit rebound in for his first of the game.

Earlier, Tavares helped set up Moulson's opener off a Ranger turnover. He and P.A. Parenteau combined on a broken play that allowed Moulson to use Steve Eminger as a perfect screen for his second of the season at 12:04 of the first. Before they could get comfortable, the Rangers responded with better even strength play- forcing Evgeni Nabokov to make some tough stops in a busy first (14 saves). Somehow, the Blueshirts survived a loss of discipline that included a bench minor and a foolish Callahan boarding minor which wasn't smart. A great play by Derek Stepan allowed Marian Gaborik to tie it. Moved up to the top line, the sophomore out of Wisconsin made a great backcheck in the neutral zone and then Brad Richards sprung Gaborik, who easily beat Nabokov five-hold to knot it at one. The play of Stepan was one of the bright spots with a backhand lead nearly setting up another Gaborik tally only to see Nabokov deny his backhand deke later.

There were a couple of times where we kind of took over the game, but unfortunately we took a few penalties and it kind of killed that momentum that we had,” an observant Lundqvist noted after playing a third straight solid game but having nothing to show for it. King Henrik finished with 30 saves. “We have to work even harder to be more disciplined out there.

A turning point came when Boyle was called for delay of game while on the PK. During Callahan's second minor of the seesaw contest, Boyle killed off 15 seconds without ever closing his hand on the puck. However, ref Steve Kozari felt differently at the urging of the hometown fans amidst a mixture at a soldout (16,234) Coliseum. Despite the Ranger captain returning, they couldn't deny Tavares, who along with Streit and ex-Devil Brian Rolston combined for a 2-1 lead. With Lundqvist busy (13 saves) keeping his team afloat, the reunited checking line of Boyle, Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko got it tied before the second concluded. Off a forced turnover from Fedotenko, Prust quickly steered a wraparound off Frans Nielsen's skate past a stunned Nabokov to tie it at 18:26.

Oddly enough, it was Nielsen's acting skills which later helped the Islanders kill off a valuable two minutes late in regulation. Prior, Tavares already had No.2 off a great redirection with Girardi off. The Rangers have run into penalty trouble without anchor Marc Staal. They also were without Mike Sauer with ex-Hab Jeff Woywitka faring alright in an abbreviated role (12:27). That forced Tortorella to pair up Mike Del Zotto with rookie Tim Erixon, who was up and down along with his partner. The Swede is still learning. He took a minor and also passed up on two good chances to shoot. Del Zotto meanwhile was more aggressive offensively but is still shaky in his end. 

Meanwhile, the Isles got strong play from Andrew MacDonald, who made several solid defensive plays along with Travis Hamonic. That along with better control allowed the hosts to earn a hard fought victory. They neutralized the Draft Line of Callahan, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky with only Anisimov pulling his weight. Ineffective nights from two of the Ranger leaders forced Tortorella to go with the top line and Boyle's down the stretch. It didn't matter when a turnover led to Parenteau finding Tavares, who hit the open net for his third career hat trick, sending everyone home. 

“We’re probably ready for a good trip,” Tavares said after leading his club to a 3-1 homestand before they head to Florida for two games versus the Lightning and Panthers. “It’s always a great way to develop chemistry. It was a huge start for us, and other than the first night we took full advantage of it.”


BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Derek Stepan, NYR (2 SOG, 3 hits, takeaway in 18:36)
2nd Star-Mark Streit, NYI (2 primary assists, 3 SOG in 24:50)
1st Star-John Tavares, NYI (1st hat trick of season/assist, 3rd career, +2 in 17:29)

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