Friday, January 20, 2012

Ranger Stuff: Dolan, Pens debacle, Staal

I'm not quite sure where to start this post. Should I just get into last night's forgettable home tilt against the Pens, who whipped us 4-1? I did wind up going to my fifth game and my record is now 3-2 after Evgeni Malkin dominated us. Kris Letang's return was huge for Pittsburgh, who turned the tide by picking up their first win in three tries against the Rangers.

Instead of getting into the particulars of one of the poorest efforts this season, I am still a bit peturbed by the ridiculous commentary of the most evil owner in sports, Mr. Dolan. Following Tuesday's 3-0 shutout of Nashville in which our boys didn't play a full 60 minutes (unless you had blinders on), the biggest jerk that's run MSG into the ground decided it was a good time to brag about his hockey club. Mind you John Tortorella was standing right next to him, discussing the win when Dolan went out of his way to blow praise Slats for his work that's seen our team win exactly two rounds in over a decade. Unbelievable.

If that wasn't enough, he then mentioned the 'C' word. As if their work was finished because the Rangers are first in the East. This is a good team who wins by outworking the opponent and getting quality netminding from King Henrik. Could they erase the Dolan Curse and win two rounds? Possibly. To even utter Stanley Cup is nonsensical and doesn't benefit anyone. There's so much more work to do, which a fuming Tortorella pointed out while blasting Dolan's misguided nonsense by calling it what it was. To paraphrase, BS. Well done coach.

The Blueshirts have let some bad habits crawl into their play and we're starting to see them pay on the scoreboard. They weren't good enough against Ottawa and did their usual nap in Montreal following a shutout at Toronto. The Nashville win saw our team grind its way past Barry Trotz' list of no-names sans Shea Weber. Yesterday, a flat start put them behind with Chris Kunitz burying a rebound following a close call in Marc-Andre Fleury's crease. The Rangers didn't throw one check in the period and chased the puck constantly. Full credit to the Pens, who strategically used our aggression to its benefit by chipping the puck out, leading to odd-man rushes. Pittsburgh also pinched in wreaking havoc for long stretches. They also stood up at their blueline, forcing sloppy turnovers. They deserved the win.
The Rangers picked it up in a better second with rookie Carl Hagelin slipping one through McFleury thanks to a beautiful backhand saucer pass from Marian Gaborik. Gabby has struggled lately putting the puck in. He's got one over the last 11. He was good in spurts, nearly beating Fleury off a great feed from Hags but shot the backhand into him with a gaping net. I won't complain about Gaborik because the effort was there. More than you could say for Brad Richards. Did anyone see him last night? The one time he had a clear chance to shoot on our first power play, he passed up a left circle blast for a foolish pass to no one. Richie hasn't been good enough lately. Sure. There's not a ton of finish with Artem Anisimov in a malaise and Ryan Callahan held in check. But Richards needs to be better.

Tort broke up the Boyle unit in hopes of getting Richards going by sticking Brandon Prust with him and Brandon Dubinsky, who looked good again. The Rangers did many good things but only came away 1-1 after two. Unfortunately, they were dreadful in the third where the Pens gave their supporters who braved the trip plenty to cheer about. A terrible pinch by Marc Staal led to a three-on-one with immortal Richard Park finishing off a nice passing play started by otherwise invisible Matt Cooke. Still, he made a big play that decided the game. Cooke's a shell of himself minus the physicality.

Staal struck again when he mindlessly kicked the puck right to Malkin, who only was too pleased to take it off the wall and then blow by a falling Mike Del Zotto (why did he go down???) and roof a backhand top shelf. Just brutal. I get that it's only Staal's ninth game back but what the hell was he doing there? You got to take the body and make sure it gets out. Especially with Geno breathing down your neck. He sucked on the foolish pinch in a tie game mind you that led to Park's go-ahead and then compounded it with a boneheaded play that put it out of reach, sending some of our fraud fans home. You know. The ones who take forever to find their seat and then disrespectfully stand up while play is going on. This is what you get with Dolan's new MSG.

Marc Staal is a minus-four so far with zero points. Sure. The defensive habits are still there like on the PK. And he has jumped into the rush a few instances, creating offense. But games like last night against a potential playoff foe raise questions. Will we see the Staalsie that everyone loves? Hard to predict. He is still a long way away. I didn't like the pairing with Del Zotto, who's in a rut. He has to at least stand up with Malkin coming in and try to get in his way. When MDZ doesn't contribute offensively, his game suffers.

I also don't get the sudden lack of confidence in Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel. Why? Cause Bickel had a brutal game at Montreal when our entire team royally sucked. One thing is apparent. The more we see inconsistency defensively, the more they miss the physical presence of Mike Sauer. Sauer's our most physical D since Jeff Beukeboom. He is sorely missed. Hopefully, after the two games and then the All-Star Break, we'll soon see Sauer return. If not, Glen Sather may want to make a call to buddy Brian Burke and inquire about Luke Schenn. Just the kinda hardnosed D that would fit our system if Sauer doesn't return.

Is it panic time? Hardly. Though I'm working all weekend and will miss the big match in Beantown, I'll be curious to see how they respond. Losing streaks haven't been common. Boston wiped out a one-goal Devil lead in one period by putting up a four spot in the third Thursday. They are explosive and really test every area. The best team in the league. It's the first of four meetings tomorrow. This will be a good test.

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