Monday, October 29, 2007

Rangers Watch: TAM 1, NYR 3

I'm sorry, Shanny. How could I ever have doubted you? The old man had a goal and an assist, almost doubling his point production so far this season.

What a difference a day makes. The Bolts and Leafs are similar teams: high octane offenses but challenged in front of (and in) their own net. Saturday's game should have looked a lot more like tonight's victory.

My biggest nitpick about the Blueshirts tonight was their eagerness to shoot from the outside. I lost count of how many times they passed up a quick shot from the slot for a bad angle wrister. I thought Michael Nylander was in Washington now?

Speaking of, there's no telling which Rangers team will show up for Thursday's game against the well-dressed Caps. New York has yet to string together back-to-back wins this season. They need to beat Washington not just for the two points, but to prove they've begun to turn the corner.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Jones joins suspended Flyers list

Flyers defenseman Randy Jones received a two-game suspension for his check on Patrice Bergeron, which left the Bruins center motionless on the ice. You can see the video here if you haven't already.

The hit was reckless but hardly malicious, particularly when compared to the acts of his Philly teammates Steve Downie and Jesse Boulerice. Had Bergeron suffered anything more serious than a concussion and broken nose, no doubt the punishment would have been harsher.

It's hardly fair to paint Jones with the same brush, but you have to wonder what Flyers management is putting in the players' water bottles. With the exception of one game between the Senators and Panthers, the rest of the league seems to get it while Philadelphia has managed to rack up their third suspension.

Is it a run of unrelated incidents or the return of the Broad Street Bullies?

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rangers Watch: TOR 4, NYR 1

One step forward, two steps back.

The Rangers were unable to muster more than one-goal against he league's worst defense. That lone goal came from Jaromir Jagr, his second of the season, which remarkably ties him for the team lead. New York is the only team in the league without a player to score three or more goals.

Brendan Shannahan displayed shades of Mark Messier's second tour on Broadway, turning away from checks and floating through all three zones. On the Leafs' third goal, Shanny's inability to pick up a man driving the net left Dan Girardi with two men in front and the inevitable tip in.

Even when Shanny doesn't score, he's always done the little things that have helped the team. Without that, his role should be limited to the third line and as a special unit specialist. Despite all the line juggling, coach Tom Renney is still unwilling to go there. Is the clock ticking yet for Renney?

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rangers Watch: NJD 0, NYR 2

Is it just me or did the Rangers cut the tail off their jerseys? I was so distracted by it (and grateful for it), I almost missed the Rangers score - twice no less.

I wouldn't declare an end to the Rangers' scoring drought just yet. Their big four upfront still only have 5 goals in 9 games this season. Both tonight came off the stick of Nigel Dawes, who even without beating the Devils singlehandedly would have been the best player on the ice.

New York merely returned to baseline tonight. They're back to executing a system offensively, the forecheck was strong, and their shots were quality chances. However, the oft discuss chemistry is still lacking. On the controlled breakout, too many times the swing support almost tripped over the Rangers defenseman trying to make the first pass.

All in all, tonight's win should quell the rebellious MSG fans for another day. The Rangers will need to build on it to prove they're the team they are on paper.

I wonder if the league keeps stats on interference penalties drawn by goalies. Surely, Martin Brodeur would be a league leader. He's only slightly more tolerable than Dwayne Roloson who likes to punctuate his backflips by crying to the ref. Needless to say, I thought Paul Mara's goalie interference call was more of a dive. than a Sean Avery crease crash. But if he's gonna flop like that, you might as well earn it.

Last thought: why can't Marcel Hossa play like that when he's on the third line?

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


If it ain't broke...

According to sources in the B’s dressing room, Reebok has been unable to correct problems with the new jerseys introduced this season across the NHL and will replace them at the company’s expense with new uniforms made of the old materials.

Players have complained since training camp that the new jerseys, which are supposed to be lighter and allow sweat to evaporate out through the shirts, have instead trapped water inside and gotten heavier.

- Boston Herald

Oh, the irony.

I'm guessing going back to the old fabric won't make the jerseys any cheaper for the fans.

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Leafs offer Tavares 3-year deal

GM John Ferguson has struggled to make the big club better, but there's still hope for the baby Leafs. Fergie offered Oshawa phenom John Tavares a three-year contract with their AHL affiliate, Toronto Marlies.

While it would be a bold move to sign Tavares to an AHL deal, to do so might not be so easy. AHL eligibility rules match the NHL's, meaning Tavares wouldn't be able to play until the 09-10 season. It's possible but unlikely that the AHL would give Tavares an exemption (something the NHL has been unwilling to do).
That would require an amendment of the bylaw in question, which requires a vote of our board [of governors]... In my experience, the likelihood of the other 28 teams in the AHL voting in favour of allowing the other team a competitive advantage is not great.

- AHL president Dave Andrews

Assuming Ferguson pulls a rabbit out of his hat and gets the exemption, it's doubtful Tavares would except a three-year pact which leaves him in the AHL during his first year of NHL eligibility.

Clearly the Leafs hope Tavares would either refuse to sign with his eventual draft team (and, at this rate, Toronto could easily win the Tavares sweepstakes) making him a free agent in 2011, unless the Leafs successfully trade for the his rights. Or, better yet, scare other teams away on draft day by making them wait at least two years for Tavares' services.

If Tavares expresses a desire to play in the AHL, I'm sure a slew of clubs would be lining up with a deal for just next season. (Do you think the Kings were the only team willing have Sidney Crosby at their development camp?) No doubt his agent has already received calls from across the Atlantic, and that's where Tavares will likely end up if he turns pro.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rangers Watch: NYR 0, PIT 1

This is getting painful. At least tonight only my ears had to hear the shame; my eyes had thankfully had the night off as I don't have Versus in my cable package.

I've lost track of how many scoreless periods this makes and exactly how anemic the Rangers power play is. It's too depressing to look up the stats, but here's one I heard on the radio: New York has scored a total of 13 goals in their 7 (now make that 8) games. Ouch.

On the bright side, if there is one, is the Rangers' defense. The D-core was the big question mark going into this season (oh, those were the days) because of its apparent lack of depth. Even with the periodic Marek Malik bungle, the Blueshirts' team GAA is 8th in the league. No doubt Henrik Lundqvist's strong start is propping up those numbers, but Robert Luongo would kill to have the Rangers' blueliners in Vancouver.

I'm going to bed now. Wake me up when the Rangers start scoring some goals...or a goal.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Blackhawks headed for Chicago TV

Representatives of the Chicago Blackhawks met with Comcast SportsNet executives (Monday) to begin discussions about televising some home games this hockey season.

- Team release

Hell hath frozen over.

It was believed that the Wirtz family would bring home games back to TV, but not while the memory of recently departed patriarch Bill Wirtz is still fresh. Props to new team chairman Rocky Wirtz for listening to the pulse of the fans (those left) and moving quickly to share a young, exciting Hawks team with the great city of Chicago.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rangers Watch: NYR 0, BOS 1 (SO)

OK, this is getting a bit frustrating. I've been resisting the urge to send up the SOS flares, but the impulse is growing stronger with each game.

Scoring chances are generally the best indicator of how a team slumping. If you're getting them but the puck isn't going in, you're simply snake bitten. The tide will turn. When the chances aren't there, you team is struggling as a whole. Tonight the Rangers looked very much like the latter. If their big guns weren't equal part talent and character, I'd call it a renaissance of the pre-lockout Blueshirts. (We can debate where Jagr fits in that statement later.)

New York is a team without an identity. They seem to either lack a system or the ability to execute one. Like the loss against Atlanta, there were too many errant passes to be acceptable. There's speed throughout the Rangers' lineup yet - particularly in the first two periods of tonight's game - they slowed down in the neutral zone and consequently killed the quickness needed for a dump-and-chase game. And there's absolutely no counter punch when they are able to establish a forecheck - or backcheck for that matter.

I have to admit I'm losing faith in Tom Renney. Unfortunately, nice coaches finish last and Renney is heading in the that direction. I'm not advocating a coaching change just yet, but Bob Hartley is available.

Should Glen Sather choose to shake the coaching staff up, Benoit Allaire's job is safe. Henrik Lundqvist has been New York's best player in all seven games this season, earning every dollar of his $4.25M contract.

Another player who earns every penny is Martin Straka. He left the game in the first after a blocking shot from Zdeno Chara which broke is his finger. Of the combined injuries to Straka, Sean Avery and Marian Hossa, the Rangers will feel Straka's absence the most. He comes with energy to every shift and does the little things on both sides of he ice.

Renney needs to find a way to make his roster click if plans to salvage the team's slow start...and justify his own job.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Rangers Watch: NYR 3, ATL 5

So you're 2-3 to start the season. You've been beat soundly twice by Ottawa, but had good shows against teams with lesser rosters. Your opponent is 0-6 and just fired it's head coach. You've scratched error-prone Marek Malik. If your players don't underestimate a pride-battered Thrashers team, this should be a confidence building win.

So, Coach Renney, what's your plan for tonight's game?

Juggle the lines!

Perhaps not the best timing. The big guns were already slow to gel and this set them back to opening night. New York's night was marked by a bunch of talented players making cute passes to unsuspecting teammates. Things improved when Atlanta got more interested in hitting players than protecting their lead.

The game became much more physical after the refs neglected to call Garret Exelby for running Peter Prucha at center ice. I have as much respect for Exelby as I do for Brendan Witt, which is less than zero. If you want to take a shot at a guy, that's fine, but don't turtle when you get called out for it.

Renney is feeling the pressure for his team to perform and appears to be grasping at straws. He'd be better served to ride out the slump. Bear the media brunt for your players while they find their chemistry. If the Rangers weren't getting chances, I'd be a bit more concerned. The dam will eventually break, but not if Renney keeps fiddling with a team that isn't broken...yet.

Recaps: TSN/CP, TSN Broadband


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thrashers cut out their Hart

Bob Hartley is the first coaching causality of the seasons. With the Thrashers going 0-6, the only winless team left, GM Don Waddell made a move to right the ship, firing head coach Hartley.

You gotta love a GM who does little to better his team in the off-season and then takes it out on his Stanley Cup-winning coach.

When Hartley has the tools, he can take a club far. Heck, he even turned Ville Nieminen into a contributor. With the benefit of shootout wins, Atlanta's record the past couple years was in line with how Colorado performed in front of Hartley (the Cup year being the obvious exception). The Thrashers have half the talent the Avs had.

Who ever replaces Hartley - for now it's Waddell - isn't going to have a much easier go of it this season. If the Thrashers really want to turn it around, they're going to need to make some personnel changes on the ice or maybe even upstairs (remember the Keith Tkachuck deal?), not behind the bench.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Bye bye Boulerice

Today the Flyers waived suspended forward Jesse Boulerice. This could very well mark the end of his NHL career.

By sending him down to the Phantoms (and he'll surely clear waivers), Philadelphia has no intention of letting Boulerice serve his suspension in a Flyers sweater. The move takes his salary off the cap books and frees up a spot on their 23-man roster.

With 24 games left to go on his ban and pointless since the lockout, it's doubtful another NHL team will take a chance on him.

It's yet to be seen how much of Boulerice's suspension the AHL will uphold.

Update: The AHL ruled Boulerice ineligibe to play until Dec. 16.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rangers Watch: OTT 3, NYR 1

While it was a better effort this time around, it still only took the Senators a minute - 52 seconds to be exact - to undo the Rangers. In that time, Ottawa created a 3 goal hole which the Rangers couldn't climb out of.

Despite New York earning more scoring chances, the game was remarkably similar to their first meeting of the season. Quick goals by the Sens killed (they had two in 58 seconds in the Rangers first 0-2 loss) and Martin Gerber stood tall. The saves were much tougher this time around but Gerber made them look just as easy. Pugilist Ray Emery may have to win his job back when he returns from his reconditioning stint.

Another solid outing by Henrik Lundqvist, but unfortunately he can't score goals for his team as well. The Rangers are going to have to find some offensive if they plan to best Cup-ready teams like Ottawa.

Rookie Brandon Dubinsky's stepped up his game with the possibility of being replaced by free agent Dave Scatchard. This was his strongest game of the season and earns him another chance to prove himself to the coaches. (Assuming he's still not loony from his scrap with Luke Richardson.)

Mark Staal, on the other hand, can sign a lease for a Manhattan apartment. He's going to be here for awhile. This kid doesn't make the same mistake twice. The more you play him the better he gets.

Recaps: Y!/AP


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Rangers Watch: WSH 1, NYR 3

The Rangers took two points from the best looking team in the NHL, beating the Capitals 3-1. All three New York goals came on the power play in the first period (including Gomez's first goal as a Ranger). Now that's the chemistry the fans have been waiting for.

This is a much more impressive win than the season opener against Florida. Washington is a much improved team and went into last night's game with a 4-1 record, their only loss a squeaker against Ottawa.

Let's see if the Blueshirts can keep the momentum going for their rematch tonight against the Senators.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadbrand


Friday, October 12, 2007

25 game ban for Boulerice

"I think we're in agreement that there's no place in the game for this anymore. I do think it was an isolated incident. Jesse lost his composure, lost his cool. It's something that's not the right thing to do, at any time."

- Flyers GM Paul Holmgren

Flyers winger Jesse Boulerice received a 25 game suspension from the league for his cross check to the chin of the Canucks' Ryan Kesler.

Philadelphia is on the verge of reviving their Broad Street Bullies handle, and not in a good way. I don't think the recent undisciplined play of Boulerice and Downie is at the directive of the club as was the Bullies in their heyday. But the Flyers have taken a chance on two prospects with troubled pasts and are now 0 for 2 in their rehabilitation. (Boulerice was signed as a free agent tryout this year but was originally drafted by Philly in '96.)

Character wins Cups and Philly still has a ways to go. Call it a Bobby Clarke Hangover.

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NHL store opens in NYC

As part of Gary Bettman's continual quest to NBA-ify the league, the NHL Powered by Reebok Store (seriously, that's its name) opens today in Manhattan.

Highlights of the store include:
  • XM Satellite Radio on-air studio
  • In-store Starbucks
  • A floating Rbk hockey stick sculpture, constructed of over 400 sticks
  • An ice wall, made of real ice
  • Larger than life graphics that highlight NHL players (ooooh!)
And of course, all the overpriced apparel and memorabilia you can shake a stick at.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Boulerice waits for suspension

Maring the Flyers 8-2 defeat of the Canucks last night was Jesse Boulerice's cross-check to the jaw of Ryan Kesler as he was coming around the net. Boulerice and Kesler had been going at it pretty good during the game, but the Philly forward lost his cool.

Boulerice will surely face a lengthy suspension by the league. It won't be a particularly great loss of talent for the Flyers, but combined with Steve Downie's recent 20-game ban, this could eat up Philly's $600K cap cushion.

I will give partial credit to Boulerice and coach John Stevens for admitting that it was an f-ed up act.
"I reacted in a bad way - the wrong way."

- Boulerice

"It's unacceptable, it's something that we can't have."

- Stevens

That's in direct contrast to the last stick incident, Chris Simon's two-handed chop to the head of Ryan Hollweg. Here's a gem at the time from Simon's teammate, super turtle Brendan Witt:
"It always looks worse. I saw the guy after the game, he looked fine. That's enough to tell me that it wasn't that bad. You know what I mean?"
Admitting culpability doesn't excuse Boulerice and this isn't his first lapse in judgement. In 1998, he was suspended for a year by the OHL, 15 games by the AHL and faced criminal charges for an axe swing to the face of Guelph Storm's Alex Long during a playoff match.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rangers Watch: NYR 1, NYI 2

I wasn't able to watch tonight's game so I have no observations to share other than this: Last year the Senators when 1-3 in their first four games and were hovering around .500 at Christmas. Yes, they eventually lost the Cup to Anaheim, but you see my point.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband,


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Vote for Rory redux?

If you're not quite satisfied with how the all-star voting went down last season, the Flyers are keeping hope alive. Philadelphia signed free agent/write-in candidate Rory Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal.

Don't forget to Vote For Rory this November.

Wow, I actually just visited the site to "borrow" this image. I had much more respect for the campaign before they pimped it out for a quick buck. Hopefully, Rory will find a much more scrupulous campaign manager in Philly.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Rangers Watch: NYR 0, OTT 2

The Rangers were unable to generate much offense tonight. Unlike the trap performed by a middling Panthers team, New York couldn't weave their way through the five Senators camped in the neutral zone. Once they got the puck deep, they earned some quality chances but the Rangers weren't able to solve Martin Gerber.

Henrik Lundqvist was the bright spot for Blueshirt fans. As opposed to last season, the King has gotten off to a strong start. He can hardly be blamed for the two Ottawa goals. Both came of defensive miscues: Marik Malik left the front of the net without coverage on the first and Marc Staal was unable to recover from a comically bad change resulting in the second.

I don't think we'll see the Strudwick/Staal pair again soon. They seemed to have a hard time reading each other. This wasn't Scott Gomez's best game either. He was trying to do it all himself, using his speed to gain the zone but rarely getting a shot off on the rush.

Oh, and the Rangers lost Sean Avery (separated shoulder - out 4 weeks) to a Chris Neil hit. I thought it was clean, unlike the late hit Neil laid on Peter Prucha (who actually had his head up for once) later in the game.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Friday, October 05, 2007

Havlat injured in Blackhawks loss

How am I not surprised?

Martin Havlat has yet to play a full 82-game seaosn. His record is 73 in 00-01, his first year in the NHL. He's questionable for Saturday's game, but suffice it to say this year isn't looking up for the fragile winger.

Even before Havlat hurt his shoulder (throwing a punch in a scrum - not fight, scrum), the Blackhawks were facing a challenging season. In the final minute of their eventual 1-0 loss to Minnesota, here's who Chicago had on the ice:

Rene Bourque
Magnus Johansson
Patrick Kane
Robert Lang
Yanic Perrault
Jason Williams

If these are your best players, it's going to be a long year.

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Rangers Watch: FLA 2, NYR 5

My beloved New York Rangers kicked off the season last night. There are some lofty expectations for the team, with some pundits putting them in the Cup Final. That always makes me extremely nervous. It much easier to exceed expectations than live up to them. Ask the Sharks.

Rosival's goal 37 seconds in set the game off on the right foot. But despite a strong start, the Blueshirts didn't look like a Cup contender. The star laden scoring lines lacked chemistry (to be expected this early on) and the entire team seem to be forcing passes.

What's worse, after Florida took advantage of Ranger mishaps to pot two goals they stopped winning battles for loose pucks. And so New York found themselves down 2-1 going into the third.

The Rangers faced their first test of the season. If in fact this is a Stanley Cup team, they'll stop beating themselves, bear down and get the goals they need to win the game. Witness Ottawa's defeat of Toronto in their home opener.

And so it happened. The Rangers forechecked hard, broke the Jacques Martin trap and took it to the Panthers scoring four goals in the final frame. New York passed the test with flying colors. Can this really be their year?

Rookies: Marc Staal reads the play well but needs to make the quick pass rather than stickhandle out of trouble. Note to Brandon Dubinsky, "The blue ice on your end is for King Henrik. Stay out."

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hockeyrama Season Predictions, sponsored by Reebok

The playing field is even this year, as every team introduces the new RBK Edge uniform system. To honor this great achievement in hockey technology, Hockeyrama has made it's predictions for the 07-08 season using only new jerseys as the criteria to evaluate the 30 NHL teams.

So with no further adieu, here's a division by division breakdown:


Atlantic Division

New York Rangers
New Jersey Devils
Pittsburgh Penguins
Philadelphia Flyers
New York Islanders

The Atlantic is anyone's race, well, except the Islanders. No one really hit a home run. While the curved hem makes the Rangers look like they forgot to tuck in their jerseys, for better or for worse they did their best to maintain their classic look. That will help them eke out a division title if they don't get to distracted by the Pens oversized '250' shoulder patch or the construction sign orange shoulders of the Flyers' road Jersey.

Northeast Division
Montreal Canadiens
Buffalo Sabres
Ottawa Senators
Boston Bruins
Toronto Maple Leafs

There's really only two teams contending in the Northeast: Montreal and Buffalo. A battle of the new and old guard, if you will. The Canadiens are perhaps the only Original Six team to come out of the redesign unscathed. They should make quick work of their other division rivals. The Sabres, on the other hand, will be another story. We all made fun of these young guns last year when they introduced the Buffaslug, but they were building for the future. Turns out Buffalo was wearing the RBK Edge jerseys the whole time right under our nose.

Southeast Division
Washington Capitals
Tampa Bay Lightning
Carolina Hurricanes
Atlanta Thrashers
Florida Panthers

Dispelling the notion "you're not always as good as you look", the Capitals are Hockeyrama's pick to win the Cup. Washington went retro this year and came up with something more Ovechkin's style. The flashy Caps will roll over their Southeast rivals before commencing the pose-off which is the Stanley Cup playoffs. And this team will have no trouble turning left.


Central Division

Chicago Blackhawks
Detroit Red Wings
Nashville Predators
Columbus Blue Jackets
St. Louis Blues

Fortunately, Wirtz was too cheap to mess with a good thing. and so the Blackhawks' uniforms - like their Original Six counterparts - remain unchanged. That's enough to edge Chicago past the Red Wings, who employed the same strategy going into the new season. The rest of the Central will put on an admirable show but ultimately succumb to old school chic.

Northwest Division
Calgary Flames
Minnesota Wild
Edmonton Oilers
Colorado Avalance
Vancouver Canucks

It's a two-horse race in the Northwest: the tough, bold look of the look of Flames vs. the well-executed but identity-less Wild. Carried by the Canadian flags affixed to their shoulders, Calgary will take the division and claw their way to the Stanley Cup final. But as if to simply prove the '94 Rangers were a fluke, the Flames will ultimately fall to the Washington Captials, leaving only 23 more teams to try their luck with Iron Mike.

Pacific Division
Anaheim Ducks
Dallas Stars
Phoenix Coyotes
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks

With a new look last year, the Ducks brought home their first Stanley Cup. In order to repeat, they'll need to adapt to the changes a new season brings without messing up their recipe for success. So far so good. Their new Reebok rags almost mask the fact they're dropping the puck this year without Niedermayer or Selanne. Anaheim's biggest competition in the Pacific will be the Stars, who bucked convention by putting "Dallas" across their home jerseys. The Coyotes and Kings haven't done much to improve themselves this season, but a few easy points over the Sharks, who went from the coolest Jerseys in the league to college cast-offs, should help.

Special thanks to the NHL Tournament of Logos photo gallery.

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