Sunday, December 30, 2007

Rangers Watch: MTL 3, NYR 4 (OT)

Chris Drury has been steady but often unnoticeable since signing with New York. He's killed in the faceoff circle but his 28 points put him behind pace for his best years in Colorado and Buffalo. Tonight, he showed exactly why the Rangers signed him to a rich, multi-year contract. Drury potted a signature clutch goal to tie the game and then provided the primary assist on the OT tally by Brendan Shanahan.

After a painful second period, where the Canadiens scored two goals to take the lead while holding the Rangers to one shot on goal, you had to wonder which Rangers team was going to take the ice for the second: the one which scores first, loses the lead, and then folds; or the team which keeps coming at you. Fortunately, it was the latter.

Could the Blueshirts really be experiencing the same post-Christmas renaissance that turned last year's season around? They're 3-0 since unwrapping their gifts. It will be a challenge to keep the streak alive - next up is a swing through Western Canada.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rangers Watch: NYR 6, TOR 1

An impressive victory by the Rangers, but let's be real. The Leafs failed to show up for the game. Still, it's two points New York desperately needs to stay in the pack in the Eastern Conference and help to dig them out of the hole they created for themselves earlier this month.

Jaromir Jagr exploded for four points, and Peter Prucha scored two goals after a 17 game drought. December 1st was the last time anyone on the HBO line earned a point. Tonight, the checking line of Ryan Hollweg-Blair Betts-Colton Orr opened up the scoring en route to a rout of Toronto. It was a long overdue for the hard working, hard hitting trio.

Recaps: Y!/AP


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rangers Watch: CAR 2, NYR 4

Prior to tonight's game, the Rangers had scored first in their last four matches only to go 1-3 during that same stretch. The pattern looked as though it was going to repeat after New York potted the first goal only to find themselves down 2-1 by the end of the period. Tonight would be different, however. The Rangers rallied back to score three unanswered goals and end their three game slide. It was also the Rangers first win since December 1st that wasn't a shut out by Henrik Lundqvist.

Tough break for Colton Orr, tougher for Matt Cullen. The two collided in open ice, leaving Cullen unconscious. It could have been worse - Orr didn't drive through his former teammate. Depending on which side of the fence your rooting from, it looked as though Orr was prepared for a collision Cullen clearly didn't see coming. Although Cullen had just dropped the puck to a teammate, Orr was given a major for interference and a game misconduct plus another five for the resulting fight with Mike Commodore.

And tonight welcomed the return of Jaromir Jagr. After going goalless in his last 10 games, Jags erupted for two.

This is about the time last year that the Rangers turned it around after a slow start to the season. Hopefully history will repeat itself. Thanks to the parity in the Eastern Conference, the hole they've dug for themselves isn't as deep.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Rangers Watch: OTT 3, NYR 1

What's worse than a seven year playoff draught? Watching a team that should succeed be outworked repeatedly. If I could give the Rangers one thing for Christmas, it would be heart.

Yeah, there's a couple players with regular shifts who give it every night, most notably Marty Straka and Sean Avery. Dynamic opposites in terms of how they approach the game, but both play with energy every shift. But even the return of Avery couldn't lift New York out of its funk. If Jaromir Jagr and, yes, Brendan Shanahan don't skate all out on both ends of the ice, this is the exactly the result I would expect. Can you imagine if all that talent played all out for 60 minutes?

Yeah, the Rangers out shot the Senators, but do you remember any quality chances? Martin Gerber didn't need to be spectacular to win that game. Henrik Lundqvist, on the other hand, had to come up big - stoning Ottawa on a least two breakaways - to keep the Blueshirts in it. When was the last time New York had an odd-man rush, let alone broke a man loose? Instead, they play a puck control game which slowly moves the puck up, allowing their foe time to set up a neutral zone trap.

I don't know what's worse, the lack of heart or the coaching staff's inability to arm its players with a system they can execute successfully. And quotes like this, after losing to the Avalanche and Wild, don't help:
"I think we still had a bit of a taste in our mouths from last night," coach Tom Renney said after the Rangers' first game in Denver in more than four years. "I liked our team effort after that tough one last night."

- Newsday

At times it seems only the fans expect better. Sing with me, Tom:
Just to register emotion, jealousy - devotion,
And really feel the part.
I could stay young and chipper
and I'd lock it with a zipper,
If I only had a heart.
Recaps: Y!/AP


Friday, December 21, 2007

Rangers Watch: NYR 3, COL 4 (OT)

It was a better effort than yesterday's loss to the Wild, but that's not saying much. The Rangers were lucky to eke out a point after blowing the lead twice.

If there's anything good to take from tonight's loss is the penalty kill, the only bright spot this season, is back to form. New York's special teams killed off a double minor and a two-man advantage.

This was thankfully a short western swing. The Rangers have one last chance to turn around their fortunes before the holiday break when they face the Senators at MSG on Sunday.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Rangers Watch: NYR 3, MIN 6

Marion Gaborik can take back his apology to fantasy hockey owners. The nifty Slovak exploded for 5 goals and an assist, leading the Wild to a 6-3 victory the Rangers. The feat included a natural hat trick and two goals knocked out of mid air.

New York dominated most the first period, surviving a quick and disciplined Minnesota forecheck and limiting the Wild to two shots on goal. It all fell apart in the second, however, when the Rangers' penalty kill - 3rd best in the league - turned into their Achilles' heel. Minnesota converted their first three chances of the night and the Rangers were never able to tie the game.

While the Rangers can only blame themselves for their dismal PK, it was the zebras thin skin which left them shorthanded. New York took two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for comments directed at the on-ice officials.

James Mirtle had an interesting post recently on the value of a second assist. If you don't believe it's worth getting a point for, check out Aaron Voros' slick between the legs pass on the Wild's first goal. It will make you a believer.

Recaps: Y!/AP


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rangers Watch: PIT 0, NYR 4

Welcome to New York, Scott Gomez. New York, meet Scott Gomez.

Gomez was on the ice for all four of the Rangers' goals (two off his own stick) in tonight's shutout victory over the Penguins. He has been the Blueshirts best player during what has been a very ugly December. After a slow start to the season, Gomez is now the team's leading scorer.

Chris Drury, New York's other pricey off-season free agent signing, earned his keep tonight as well with a goal and assist, both on the power play. This is the team GM Don Maloney put together on paper. Coach Tom Renney finally went back to plan A, with Gomez centering Czech-mates Jaromir Jagr and Marty Straka and Drury with Brendan Shanahan.

Marek Malik's turn back in the coaches' good graces was short lived. He found himself a healthy scratch [flu] again, with Marc Staal back with Michal Rosizval and Jason Strudwick dressed as the sixth D-man. Apparently, if Malik isn't paired with Rosival, he doesn't play at all. [I'll save this last comment for later.]

All said, this was a convincing win, the Rangers' first since defeating the slumping Senators on December 1st. New York needs to finish 2007 in the same fashion. For the time being, the boo birds are simply circling MSG, not quite ready to fly south for the winter.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rangers Watch: PHX 5, NYR 1

How many times and how many different ways can you write the Rangers need to find a way to win? Unlike their recent losses, they weren't outworked on both ends of the rink, but the result was the same. I don't know if coach Tom Renney is unable to find a system that will benefit his olio of players or if they simply can't execute his system. Certainly, he can't allow his players to continue to be "creative" if this is the result. And if that ultimately means benching New York's mercurial captain, so be it.

And in what world does Brandon Dubinsky (8 pts) continue to be your first line center with multi-million, multi-year centers Scott Gomez (24 pts) and Chris Drury (20 pts with no help at even strength) behind him in the depth chart? With all due respect to the kid, he's playing too many minutes and shouldering too much responsibility. He certainly deserves to be up with the big club, but as a third line center, not muffing set-ups from Jarmoir Jagr.

Nice coaches finish last, and Renney's decision to stick with Dubinsky may be his undoing. As will his decision to only pair the struggling Marek Malik with countryman Michal Rosival. Renney's job will be safe so long as the Eastern conference remains tightly packed, but it's beginning to look the the Rangers are starting to tune their coach out.

Let's give some credit to the Coyotes, who have played well during their Atlantic swing. Their aggressive forecheck earned most of their goals and Ilya Bryzgalov stoned the Rangers when the puck turned the other way. For Wayne Gretzky, this was a much better result than his last game at MSG, when Jagr (then with the Penguins) spoiled his last NHL game by scoring in overtime. Nice to have #99 back. I wish it was under different circumstances.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Suspension coming for Simon

What does a guy have to do to get kicked out of the NHL?

With the Islanders pressing for a game-tying goal, Chris Simon slew foots Penguins megapest Jarkkko Ruutu and then stomps on his foot before slinking into the bench. You'll be hard-pressed to find a Ruutu fan that doesn't live in Pittsburgh or wear #15 for the Blackhawks, but even his punk arse doesn't deserve what could have been a very ugly injury. Here's the video.

This incident caps a history of suspensions for dirty play by Simon, who most recently had to sit out 25 games for his two handed chop to the face of the Rangers' Ryan Hollweg. This will surely land Simon an equally long ban, if he's not forced to sit out the rest of the season.

I don't remember Simon being such a knob when he played for the Rangers, but then again that was during a seven year span most Blueshirt fans try to forget. Ironically, Simon's one-year deal with the Isles includes a $325K games played bonus. I joked that it was insurance against him losing his mind again. I certainly didn't think the comment would be so prophetic.

Update: The NHL suspended Simon for 30 games, the longest ban in league history. The previous record was a 25-game suspension, shared by Simon (for for the Hollweg incident) and Jesse Boulerice (still serving). Simon is eligible to return to the Islanders' line-up on February 21st vs. the Lightning.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rangers Watch: NYR 4, WAS 5 (OT)

Why does Colton Orr continue to drop gloves with Donald Brashear? He gets thumped every time. I'd understand if Orr was looking to change the momentum of the game, but it was so early on neither team had yet established themselves. Or, say, Orr wanted to send a message about taking liberties with his teammates, as Brendan Shanahan did last year when he challenged the Capitals' resident pugilist. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those pansy, "there's no room for fighting in hockey" types, but this bout was unnecessary and bound to end in disappointment for Ranger fans. The only thing Orr accomplished was getting the home crowd into the game early. He needs to be a bit smarter about picking his battles.

This isn't Blueshirt Bulletin. I hardly think the Rangers get the short side of the stick when it comes to officiating. But on the Caps' first goal, it looked to me like Brashear clearly used his stick as leverage to muscle Dan Girardi off the puck. And there was the tell-tale stick parallel to the ice. That's hooking, right? No one else seems to be complaining about it, so maybe it's all in my head.

Even if it was a missed call, it's not to blame for the Rangers loss. They were outworked for long stretches of the game. A number of Washington goals stemmed from New York's inability to clear the zone. It seems the Rangers can score goals or play tight defense, but not both.

There's been a lot of calls to put Chris Drury on the first line with Jaromir Jagr and Marty Straka. I have to say I agree. Brandon Dubinsky isn't getting better with increased responsibility and ice time. He's shaky defensively and often gets caught staring at the puck instead of taking the body. Washington's second goal was a direct result of Dubinsky overskating a missed poke rather than taking separating the Capitals player from the puck.

On the plus side, Scott Gomez has been flying as of late. When he's on, he's a pleasure to watch skate. Gomer started the season off trying to do it all himself, but he now seems back to his playermaker style. I look forward to having him on Broadway for the next seven years, even though I doubt he'll ever be top scorer.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Rangers Watch: NJD 0, NYR 1 (OT)

Remember that stingy team that had trouble scoring. They're baack!

The Rangers brought their "D" game to the Garden, conveniently snapping two streaks tonight. Previously, New York had dropped their last three games thanks to iffy defensive play. The cross-Hudson rival Devils, on the other hand were riding a nine game unbeaten streak.

While New Jersey, under new coach Brent Sutter, is learning to play a defense first game with some offensive counter-punch, the Rangers tend to be snake bitten around the net when focusing on positional play. This time, however, the 1-0 score went in the Blueshirs favor, when Brendan Shanahan scored on a Brett Hull-type one-timer in OT.

The goaltending was stellar at both ends of the ice. Martin Brodeur faced more shots, but Henrik Lundqvist had the more difficult saves to make when the Devils pounced on Ranger blunders.

Marty Straka was -8 during the three game skid, an uncharacteristic stat for the hard-working winger. It was all forgotten in one PK shift, where Straka blocked three shots in a row (after breaking his stick on the first shot attempt). Welcome back, Marty. Now can you get Jagr going again?

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Friday, December 07, 2007

Rangers Watch: NYR 2, ATL 4

The same start to last night: Rangers gave up the first goal on rebound after the failing to pick up the man driving the net.

The same result as last night: Another Rangers loss (third in a row, their longest streak of the season) and a potential two points missed.

New York left the first period with a 2-1 lead, thanks to Chris Drury's 200th career goal. But bad habits die hard. The Thrashers out worked the Rangers leaving poor Stephen Valiquette to face the following sequence of chances by Atlanta:
  • 3 on 1 odd man rush
  • 2 on 1 odd man rush
  • Ilya Kovalchuk on a semi-breakaway
  • penalty kill where Valiquette plucked the puck off the goal line
New York was lucky to get out of the second tied 2-2.

The Rangers themselves felt they played well.
"I thought we played great," Rangers center Scott Gomez said. "We stuck to the game plan. We did everything, but it wasn't enough."

- New York Post

The fans, I'm sure, have a different analysis of the game. I know I do.

True New York out shot Atlanta, which is something they weren't able to accomplish in their last two losses, but the Blueshirts were still felled by their own inconsistent defensive play. Coach Tom Renney tried to address the problem by scratching Marek Malik, but that's not a cure for poor back checking by the forwards.

Malik will be an UFA at the end of the season, likely his last in a Rangers uniform. Despite being a career +127, much of that on Broadway, he's never been a fan favorite and is now in the dog house with the coaches as well. Scratching him, however, is not going to help him regain his confidence. He certainly doesn't deserve first line minutes the way he's played as of late, but Malik's not as bad a defenseman as his critics make him out to be. As long as Michal Rosival and rookie Marc Staal are in sync, the Rangers should take the opportunity to demote Malik to the third line pair with Paul Mara. Yes, that leaves Jason Strudwick the odd man out waiting for someone (forward or defense) to be injured before he gets a chance to play, but that's why GM Glen Sather brought him back. Strudwick will fill that role without complaint.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Rangers Watch: TOR 6, NYR 2

The power play can forgive a multitude of sins but it wasn't enough to rescue the Rangers from their sinful performance.

New York's lazy play got them into a two goal hole early in the first. they were able to salvage the period on two PP goals, tying things up before the second.

Then came Nik Antropov. His first of two in the second period - on the way to a hat trick - took the wind out of the Rangers' sails. There was no recovering this time. The Blueshirts were on their way to 6-2 defeat and their second embarrassing loss in a row.

Coach Tom Renney took some pity on Henrik Lundqvist, putting Steven Valiquette between the pipes for the final frame. The King could have exhibited better rebound control but is hardly to blame for New York's dismal performance. His D-men took a vacation tonight. Even the steady Dan Girardi made an ill-advised back hand attempt to clear the zone which lead to a Leafs' goal. [Per Sam Weiman's blog, Shanny is calling the poor pass a set play gone bust. Um, yeah.]

When the Rangers roll into Atlanta tomorrow, they will be (almost) as desperate to turn things around as the Thrashers were in their the two team's last meeting, Atlanta's first game post-Bob Hartley. After a couple sound drubbings by its own hand, New York needs to come out playing for pride.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Niedermayer to return

Color me shocked.

Ducks GM Brian Burke confirmed today that defenseman Scott Niedermayer will return for the remainder of the season, predictably ending the speculation surrounding the former captain.

Burke will have to shed some salary to accommodate Niedermayer's multiyear contract.
Niedermayer is not eligible to go back on the 23-man roster of the Ducks until Anaheim GM Brian Burke clears cap space for next year - called "tagging" room - by moving a player currently on the roster who is also under contract next season. By everyone's estimate, the Ducks need to free up about $3 million worth of next season's salary commitment in order to get Niedermayer back in the lineup now.

- TSN's Bob McKenzie

Thanks to Niedermayer's suspension, his salary to date this year isn't on the books and the Anaheim has just enough cap room to accomodate the prorated remainder of his $6.75MM paycheck - but next year is another story (assuming Niedermayer doesn't extend his off-season again). The contract extensions for Ryan Getzlaf and Chris Kunitz have maxed out the Ducks for the 08/09 season, and Burke still has to resign RFA Corey Perry and a number of role players.

McKenzie and others speculate Matthieu Schneider and his $5M contract will be on the block to clear cap space for both this year (with the double benefit of paving the way for the possible return of Teemu Selanne) and next.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Cote suspended, Flyers warned

Flyers pugilist Riley Cote was suspended three games for his high hit on Stars defenceman Matt Niskanen.

It's Philadelphia's fifth player suspension this season - Steve Downie (20 games), Jesse Boulerice (25), Randy Jones (2), Scott Hartnell (2), and Cote (3). That's a total of 52 games. Compare that to their 73 man-games lost to injury so far this season.

The league has taken note and issued stern warning to GM Paul Holmgren: control your players or else - with "else" undefined.

It's getting tougher to blow the rash of incidents off as merely coincidence. It could easily be argued that Patrice Bergeron and Andrew Alberts put themselves in vulnerable positions, which led to their injury. (Bruins fans, of course, would beg to differ.) Although Niskanen escaped unharmed, there's no question Cote delivered an intentional shot to the head.

To replace Cote, the Flyers recalled Downie, who recently finished serving his own 20-game suspension. The headcase that Downie is, it may not be long until Philadelphia gets their sixth suspension.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Rangers Watch: CAR 4, NYR 0

There weren't a lot of positives in tonight's shutout loss to the Hurricanes. Marty Straka laid a couple nice open ice checks, but other than that the Rangers' top line was their most dangerous and not in a good way. Straka and Brandon Dubinsky were a minus four and Jaromir Jagr a minus three. However, only the stat sheet has Colton Orr as the other forward with a minus. A stickless Jagr's failure to play a puck near the bench lead to David Tanabe's goal, Carolina's third.

In fact, the HBO line (Ryan Hollweg-Blair Betts-Orr) was New York's best. Their forecheck matched Carolina's and were able to generate chances. If they were able to convert, it surely would have been a different game. Instead, the Blueshirts suffered their largest defeat of the season, which is still better than the 8-1 loss Carolina suffered in Buffalo on Saturday.

It's always tough to play a team the game after a drubbing. Pride is a big motivator. The Canes were quick tonight and kept the Rangers at bay with a strong effort on the fore and backcheck. When New York was able to get possession in Carolina's zone, they effectively collapsed around Cam Ward. The Rangers adjusted and started using their points more, but they still weren't able to weave the puck through a sea of white jerseys.

Loses happen. The Rangers still hold onto first in the Atlantic. This defeat doesn't hurt as much as the game in Atlanta, but I'd still like to wash my brain of tonight's poor show.

Recaps: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Rangers Watch: NYR 5, OTT 2

In their first two meetings of the season, the Rangers were unable to solve Martin Gerber. Tonight, Gerber didn't make it past the first period after letting in three goals on 12 shots. The Senators played most of the first 20 minutes in their own end, but Gerber giving up a couple softies didn't help.

The Rangers' powerplay, after taking a vacation, has gone back to work going 2-6 tonight. The first extra man goal came courtesy of Jaromir Jagr, who looked particularly inspired. It was Jags' third goal in as many games (still a paltry seven in 26 games). What a difference Marty Straka makes on the big guy's game.

After trying to take Peter Prucha's head off twice in past games, it was somewhat comical to see Chris Neil giving him an earful after eating Prucha's elbow. Can you blame the guy for trying to protect himself with Neil bearing down?

BTW, I went to the NHL Powered by Reebok Store yesterday and it sucked. If you're in NYC and curious, skip it and go to Cosby's instead, where they also have an equally impressive collection of classic hockey equipment (also available for sale).

Recap: Y!/AP, TSN Broadband