Sunday, November 8, 2009

Do the Rangers need Nylander?

Re-visiting a question previously mentioned on Rangers’ posts, would it behoove the Rangers to bring back veteran, play-making Center Michael Nylander? According to Steve Hindle, the Capitals blogger on Hockeybuzz, the team has place Nylander on waivers. This move in and of itself is more complicated than it would seem.

Because of Nylander’s No Movement Clause (NMC), he would have had to have approved this before it could have taken place. This would lead me to believe that there may be a team interested in the services of Nylander that would also interest Nylander. Chances are that no one would claim Nylander because of the hefty cap hit of $4.875 million for each of the next two years. However, it is possible that if the Capitals ran Nylander through re-entry waivers a team would claim him and only be on the hook for half of the cap hit.

Nylander has performed well since going to Grand Rapids of the AHL on a conditioning assignment recording a goal and 6 points in 5 games playing for the Griffins. There were questions about whether or not Nylander was in game shape. His performance in the AHL would seem to indicate that he may be ready to go.

Now let’s assume that Nylander ends up on re-entry waivers; what teams may be interested? Well the team nearest and dearest to our hearts, the Rangers, has certainly had a history with Nylander. We also have a need for a quality playmaking center on the roster. Could the Rangers be a fit?

Two problems exist with bringing Nylander in; the salary cap and the possibility that Nylander’s style wouldn’t fit with the current playing style employed by the Rangers. I believe that if the Rangers decided that Nylander was a realistic option, they could make this move happen.

First off, let’s address the salary cap; according to the website, the Rangers have approximately $846,000 left in cap space (full season salary). Grabbing Nylander on re-entry would require a commitment of nearly $2.45 million for each of the next 2 years. That means the Rangers would have to trim at least 1.5 million off its current roster.

One move that has been rumored has been a deal with the Ducks that would send F Chris Higgins to Anaheim for C (and former Ranger Todd Marchant. The savings the Rangers would see in that move would be $1.125 this year in cap savings. This leaves us only a few hundred thousand or so away from having the cap space necessary to add Nylander on re-entry. The demotion of another forward or any minor move could realize this savings. Therefore, the cap can be maneuvered to accommodate the addition of Michael Nylander.

Now what about playing style? This was my biggest problem with the possibility of acquiring Nylander when he was possibly available earlier this season. After watching the Rangers and remembering what Nylander’s skill set is, I actually think he could fit in with this group of Rangers. Maybe he doesn’t play a style that would work with a player like Gaborik but maybe he could augment a second scoring line.

Nylander isn’t the type of forward that would ordinarily fit Tort’s aggressive, fore-checking style but then again not all 3 forwards on the ice normally are in on the fore-check. Is it conceivable that adding Nylander to the lineup and putting him with Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury could result in more production from those two players.

It would also be likely that Nylander would benefit the Rangers power play. There is no question that Nylander brings elite playmaking skills that could work well with Gaborik, Kotalik and Del Zotto on the PP.

After last night’s contest against the Flames, the Rangers might be in an even more desperate need for a veteran Center after losing both Chris Drury (concussion) and Brandon Dubinsky (undisclosed injury) indefinitely. Nylander on re-entry might be an appealing option for the Rangers to bridge the gap while Drury and Dubinsky are out.

What do you think Rangers fans; should the Rangers look at bringing Nylander back to Manhattan? Would he fit in with this current Rangers’ roster?

Friday, November 6, 2009

What to Do with Chris Drury?

Following the 6 game, Eastern Conference semi-final loss to the Buffalo Sabres in the 2006/2007 playoffs, many Rangers fans and NHL followers felt that the Rangers were close to being a serious Stanley Cup contender. After all, they had come within just 7 seconds of winning game 5 and taking a 3 – 2 series lead against the Sabres; a loss which may have proven to have been the difference in the series. The Rangers were almost on their way to the Conference Final, except Sabres forward Chris Drury had come through in the clutch yet again and tied the game with just seconds left. What was lacking in the Rangers lineup that could have propelled them further in the playoffs; how about a proven, clutch playoff performer, someone like………well, someone like Chris Drury?

That’s exactly what Rangers GM Glen Sather thought when he presented Chris Drury with a very rich UFA contract following that season. Drury, who had grown up as a Rangers fan in Connecticut, naturally accepted the offer of a 5 year, $35.25 million contract from the Blue Shirts. Would Drury prove to be a missing piece; a proven playoff performer that could help the Jaromir Jagr/Henrik Lundqvist led Rangers achieve even more playoff success? So far the answer has been a resounding no!!

I was all for the Rangers chasing Drury. Like many, I thought he would be a perfect fit for that team. A veteran player who would fit in well as a complementary player and locker room presence to superstar Jagr and one that would contribute when it mattered most; in the playoffs. Drury, who was approaching 31 years of age, was sure to attract a 3 or 4 year offer. Even though he had never been a top scorer, I felt a $4 million annual salary would be close to enough to get Drury to sign in Manhattan and a fair price to pay for someone that brought his intangibles.

I was SHOCKED when I saw that the Rangers had signed Drury to a 5 year deal that would pay him an average salary (and cap hit) of $7.05 million. That cap hit represented more than 1/8 or 12 percent, of the Rangers available cap space. Drury had been a very solid player but to commit that much of the salary cap to him seemed like a bad idea. And boy was it.

Now in his third season as a Ranger and his second as team captain, Drury is struggling immensely. He currently has 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 16 games; a pace that would work out to a 31 point season if he should play all 82 games. Thirty-one points!!! That works out to just less than 4.5 points per million dollars.

The NHL is now in its 5th season of operating in the world of a salary cap. Teams have had to learn to be more frugal than they could be in years past; teams like the Rangers for example. It is imperative for teams to manage their salary structure responsibly.

Today, the salary cap sits at roughly $56.8 million dollars. Drury still accounts for more than 12.5% of their cap space. He is spending most of his time skating on the 3rd line and killing penalties these days. He has gotten some PP time but has done little with it. It’s a real eye-opener when you hear longtime Ranger play-by-play announcer Sam Rosen constantly point out what a good game Drury has had on the PK.

I realize that I may be beating a dead horse but I still marvel at the fact that we are paying $7.05 million to a checker/penalty killer. That is not an example of good cap management. Drury’s struggles go beyond just a slow start to this season though. In his 2+ seasons in a Ranger uniform, Drury has recorded a line of 49 goals, 71 assists for 120 points in 179 games. Those figures work out to an average of 55 points in an 82 game schedule. Why is Drury underperforming his career numbers so severely?

The answer is he isn’t. Drury’s career line average is: 25 goals – 36 assists – 61 points. As a Ranger, Drury’s line is: 22 goals – 33 assists – 55 points. That’s a bit of a drop-off; 6 points over an 82 game schedule but not as severe as it feels. The reason why Drury seems like he is underperforming is because Glen Sather horribly overpaid for him.

Prior to his arrival on Broadway, Drury had never recorded more than 69 points in a single campaign while playing 7 full seasons in the NHL. Drury was remarkably consistent in his first 7 seasons scoring fewer than 20 goals only once and never scoring less than 44 points in any year of his career.

There was absolutely no evidence that Drury was on the cusp of a sudden explosion in production. He had proven to be a consistent and durable performer; not a game-breaker. His salary pointed to him being a big-time player and a critical offensive contributor. Drury was and is a nice 2nd line player that can contribute in all 3 zones. Sather made a mistake by paying him like a marquee player; a player like the one Sather gambled on this past off-season, Marian Gaborik.

Drury’s salary really hamstrings the Rangers. After a run of 4 games in which they only recorded 5 goals, the Rangers clearly could use some more offensive production. The question is where will it come from? As long as Drury and his salary remain, the Rangers will have no choice but to hope for improved production from the players currently on the roster or in the minors. Sather found a saint in Bob Gainey who was willing to take the contract of Scott Gomez (which may be even worse than that of Chris Drury) off of his hands. He isn’t likely to find another saint. Once again we see clear proof that Sather has messed up this team; hopefully not beyond repair.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Gaborik Returns; Rangers Win

After a weekend away in Vegas (for my daughter’s showcase softball tournament, not just for fun) and a brief hiatus from the blogosphere, I am ready to return. I can’t think of a better way to return than to do so the day after Gaborik’s triumphant return. Gabby scored the only goal in a 1 – 0 home win against the Boston Bruins in a Sunday afternoon matinee at MSG.

Gaborik had missed the previous 2 games after banging knees with former Ranger Petr Prucha in the Pheonix game. The Rangers lost both contests and in doing so showed why Gaborik is a big key to the Rangers season. With him out of the lineup, the Ranger scored just 3 goals combined while playing two of the NHL’s bottom feeders; the Islanders and the Wild.

Now granted it isn’t as if the Rangers put on an incredible offensive display in Gaborik’s return but his presence in the lineup is crucial to the Rangers’ on-ice success regardless. He is a game-breaker that requires the opponent to account for him whenever he is on the ice. That extra attention can open up the ice for other Rangers. It’s no coincidence that Vinny Prospal is tied for third in assists (14) and tied for 8th in overall scoring (18 points) in the NHL (ironically, he is tied with the Capitals Niklas Backstrom in both categories).

The Rangers are clearly a different and more dangerous team with Gaborik in the lineup. He has had a hand in 38% of the Rangers goals (19 of 50). Without him, there is no one in the Rangers lineup that can pick up the scoring slack. Gaborik literally carries this team offensively.

The one area of the ice that the Rangers don’t need to rely on the efforts of Gaborik is in goal where the Rangers have the King. Lundqvist recorded his first shutout of the season stopping 29 shots in the win. The Rangers, despite an increased focus on offense (where they are currently 7th in goals scored per game, 3.33), are 8th in the league in goals against per game (2.60). Naturally Lundqvist has been the primary reason for the solid defensive standing as he has appeared in all but 2 contests and his .920 save % ranks 4th in the NHL among goalies with 10 or more appearances.

Coming into the season, everyone knew that the two biggest keys to the Rangers season were Gaborik and Lundqvist. If either player suffered a long term injury or underperformed, then the Rangers would likely miss the playoffs. If both can remain in the lineup and stay productive then the team should qualify for the playoffs and have a shot at making some noise while there.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rangers Victory a Sure Thing Tomorrow? You Bet!!

Alright Isles fans, this site has been way too quiet for my taste. It’s time to stir up some action. Tomorrow, you guys have the unfortunate luck to have to play us. I hope you like only having 1 win to date because that’s what you’ll have after tomorrow’s game.

I’m curious, who are you starting in goal; Rolo the “extremely old” or Martin “I wish I were anywhere but here” Biron? Either way, with the Rangers scoring goals in bunches like they are then neither guy has much of a chance.

I am excited that I’ll get a good look at the future of the Isles. Tavares has gotten off to a nice start for an 18 year-old kid. He’d be a legit Calder candidate if it wasn’t for Michael Del Zotto. Have you noticed that DZ has 12 points in 12 games? Maybe he won’t keep that pace up for the whole season but still, that’s an awesome accomplishment for a 19 year-old kid.

It’s also good to see a guy like Matt Moulson get a real shot in the NHL. Moulson had a strong college career but never got a chance with the Kings to show his offensive abilities. On the Island, he is getting a chance to skate with Tavares on the #1 line and he has produced so far.

Truthfully, I do feel kind of bad for the Islanders. I believe the team already has 4 or 5 OT losses? It seems as if you guys are in games but can’t find a way to put those games away. Several times already the opponent has come from behind in the third period and beaten you in OT or in the shootout. Even your 1 win was the result of a shootout goal by Tavares after Carolina came from 2 down in the 3rd.

Take heart Isles fans; I do think that you’re on the right track. It may take a couple more years of adding talent before you sniff the playoffs again but things are getting better. Don’t feel too bad though; the Rangers will represent New York well come playoff time.

Oh by the way, what’s this garbage I’ve read about Gordon getting canned and replaced by Peter Laviolette. Didn’t you guys go down this road once already? Why can a coach that is getting his young charges to play hard and is keeping them competitive? I think that would be a bad move. Hopefully it’s just rumor and you guys will stick with Gordon. I think he’s earned the right to stay behind the bench for the Islanders; although that could be seen as more of a punishment than a reward. Oh well, enjoy the game tomorrow Isles fans, I know I will.

Rangers Back on Winning Road

After 3 consecutive losses and having only recorded 1 point out of a possible 6, it was nice to get back into the win column last night against a surprisingly tough Phoenix squad. Marian Gaborik again showed why he is easily worth $7.5 million annually when he is healthy by potting 2 goals (#’s 9 and 10 for the season) and also assisting on Vinny Prospal’s 4th goal of the season. Gaborik is now tied for the league lead in goals with the Kings’ Anze Kopitar.

Prospal finished with a goal and two assists giving him 16 points in 12 games this season. New line mate Enver Lisin also scored a goal and an assist against his former team and now has 8 points on the young season (5 in his last 5 contests).

The Rangers jumped out to a 4 – 0 lead mid-way into the second period on goals by Artem Anisimov, Prospal and 2 by Gaborik before the Coyotes doused the Rangers momentum by replacing Ilya Bryzgalov in net with former Ranger farm hand Jason Labarbara. The Coyotes scored 2 goals in the 2nd period including a short-handed effort by Vernon Fiddler just before the end of the frame.

Once again the Rangers came out on fire only to see their opponents take the momentum away from them in period 2. The Coyotes out shot the Rangers for the game 32 – 24 even though Lundqvist wasn’t challenged much besides the two goals. He was still sharp in winning his 7th decision on the season.

Let’s face it Rangers fans, we knew this team was going to be up and down all season. How could they not be when they are breaking in two rookie defensemen and a bunch of new players up front? There are going to be games like the San Jose contest where they are just blown out of the water by a good team working hard and skating fast. They are going to blow games, like the one in Montreal, from time to time. As long as this team keeps working hard and the new players show improvement then we have to be happy.

Clearly this team has improved in a big way offensively. Last season this squad would be buzzing about but couldn’t bury the puck in the net. This year’s edition has some real skill. Gaborik is just tremendous and Prospal has proven to be a steal so far. Lisin is flashing the skill that excites scouts and fans alike and if he can continue to improve in the other facets of the game then the Lisin-for-Korpikoski trade will be a huge win for New York.

The one thing that I find truly amazing is the play of Del Zotto. Not only is this kid maintaining his point-per-game production but he is getting more comfortable and decisive in the defensive zone. He is really starting to step up and play the man more in the defensive zone. His instincts are plain to see. For a kid drafted just a year ago to step right into the responsibility he has earned so far and produce like this is amazing to me. After all, we aren’t talking about a kid like Tavares or Crosby here; someone drafted #1 overall with undeniable gifts. Del Zotto was taken 20th overall in 2008. Half of the players drafted around that spot never make an impact in the NHL much less do so at 19. If he continues his level of play and doesn’t win the Calder it will be because of blatant ignorance on the part of the voters.

One concern was a possible knee-on-knee collision to Gaborik with 5 minutes or so remaining in the game. He has already come out and said that it isn’t “major” and has nothing to do with the groin or hip problems he’s had previously. Hopefully that is the case and Gaborik will be on the ice tomorrow against the Isles. Just in case, the Blue Shirts called F P.A. Parenteau up from Hartford.

This Rangers team personifies why it is important for fans, coaches and players to never get too high when things are going well or too low when things aren’t. This team can go from one extreme to the other within a single game. Even still, there sure appears to be enough talent that with Lundqvist in net, that this should be a playoff team.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rangers Bring in Dandenault for a Look

Ever since Alexei Semenov backed out of an agreement with the Rangers to be their 7th defenseman, it was thought that the team would pursue another veteran blue liner to fill that role; whether by trade or free agency. Salary cap restrictions and the lack of quality UFA’s on the market made it a difficult task for Glen Sather and his staff to find the right kind of fit for that spot.

A 7th defenseman on this Rangers team has to be prepared to not play for long stretches when things are going well but also be ready to step in at a moment’s notice if an injury occurs or if one of the top 6 guys is not playing well. With the Rangers committed to playing two rookies as much as possible, the large salary obligations to Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden and the presence of young, talented blue liners Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, there would be no guaranteed ice time for a 7th guy.

Carrying just 6 defensemen can be dangerous though; especially when you have two rookies in this year’s lineup and two expensive veterans coming off of dismal showings last season. John Tortorella is not the type of coach to sit idly by and watch as veterans under-perform. He’d like to have an experienced and dependable option available in the event that he wants to bench a struggling defenseman.

Enter Mathieu Dandenault, a veteran of 13 NHL campaigns with Montreal and Detroit and who was cut loose by San Jose after failing to make their squad as a training camp invite. Dandenault has a career line of 68 g -135 a – 203 pts and is a +42 in 868 NHL contests. The 6’1” 210 Dandenault has played both defense and forward in his career and has his name etched on the Stanley Cup 3 times thanks to his time with the Red Wings.

Dandenault isn’t the big, physical presence that maybe Tortorella would have liked but he is a solid veteran guy who has been a part winning programs in the past. If he proves himself capable of contributing while skating with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Rangers will sign him to a prorated, 1 year deal worth somewhere around the league minimum in all likelihood. If his play isn’t up to snuff then they simply release him from his tryout and move on; a perfect no-lose scenario.

I like this addition for the Rangers. Dandenault is a good team guy who has filled in at both defense and forward during his lengthy career showing his willingness to compete and do whatever is asked of him. He’s been a gritty competitor throughout his career, not afraid to mix it up with the opposition. The fact that he brings some Stanley Cup winning experience makes it an even nicer addition potentially.

This is they type of under-the-radar move that every playoff team must make to ensure they have the necessary depth come playoff time. With his experience, Dandenault is a nice fallback option in the event of an injury to or substandard performance by any of the top six.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The King of New York

Sounds like a great title for a movie doesn’t it? Oh wait, someone has already used it? Darn! Regardless, it is an appropriate title for our King Henrik. Up until last night’s meeting with an improving Kings club, the King hadn’t been asked to win a game virtually all on his own. The Rangers had played their style to a tee and had consistently pressured the opposition into mistakes and had taken advantage of those mistakes. Only for small stretches has Hank been asked to be the King and save the Rangers collective bacon.

Last night, however, was very different. It had always been in the back of my mind that the style of play that the Rangers were employing was not unique to John Tortorella or Manhattan. Other teams could come in with an aggressive fore check and pressure our blue line to the point where they couldn’t execute the “first pass” out of the zone and start our offensive rush. That’s exactly what the Kings did last night.

Look, after years of mediocrity and rebuilding, the Kings look like a playoff team. I picked them to qualify this season in my Western Conference predictions in fact. Ryan Smyth has been stellar and seems to have pushed the ultra-talented Anze Kopitar to the next level of his development. Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson are right now what I hope Del Zotto and Gilroy are in another year or two.

The key to the early season success of the Kings has been the solid play of Jonathan Quick in net. He hasn’t been excellent but with the Kings scoring goals for him a solid performance was all that was necessary to propel the Kings to a 4 game winning streak, (coming into last night) following their opening night disaster against Phoenix.

This wasn’t going to be an easy game but the Rangers came out pretty strong in period 1 recording two PP goals in the first period. Vinny Prospal cashed in both, the first of which was his 200th NHL goal. The Kings trailed going into period 2 by a score of 2 – 1.

Brian Boyle kicked off the scoring in the second with a goal, his first as a Ranger, against the team that dealt him this past off-season. That’s when the Kings took control of the game. The Kings dominated the puck and controlled the play for virtually the rest of the game and it was during this time that the King was at his best. New York was out shot for the game 36 – 21 and by an especially wide margin in the 2nd and 3rd periods (24 – 12). Lundqvist was game for every chance in those two periods with the exception of a PPG scored by Michal Handzus in which a shot from the point by Jack Johnson hit Handzus’ body and deflected by the King for a goal.

Lundqvist made several great saves including a point blank opportunity of a rebound chance by Kopitar from about 12 feet out. Marian Gaborik closed out the scoring with a beautiful wrister into the top corner of the net against Kings’ goalie Erik Ersberg (more on that shortly).

All-in-all, the Rangers were not the better team but they were able to dig this one out. That’s great news for Rangers fans; if you can win against a good team when you are not playing your best hockey then that is something to be proud of.

Other Impressions:

Marian Gaborik - I never saw a lot of Marian Gaborik when he played in Minny. Now that I see him in every game, I’ve concluded that he reminds me so much of Jaromir Jagr; especially in the season right after the lockout in which Jagr set a team record with 54 goals to go along with 123 points.

Every time Gabby has the puck in the offensive zone I think he can score. That is a tremendous threat to have on your side; one that only a few teams can boast. That wrist shot was incredible. He received a pass/clearing attempt from Prospal near the Kings’ blue line and calmly skate into the offensive zone. The Kings d-man (Doughty?) skated over forcing Gaborik to the left wing face-off circle where Gabby let loose of a laser shot to the far corner that beat Ersberg over his shoulder before he could react. I’m not even sure the defenseman realized the shot had been let go until it was already in the net.

The great thing about Gaborik’s performance to date is that all 6 of his goals have come in the third period when they are most needed. He has been absolutely clutch this season. We know that when we need a goal, Gaborik is definitely capable of delivering and that breeds confidence amongst the rest of the players.

Another aspect to like about Gabby is his unselfishness. He had an opportunity to shoot the puck into the empty net late in the game and pad his stats but instead tried a cross-ice feed to Prospal in an attempt to get Prospal the hat-trick. Little things like that go a long way in a dressing room. It would certainly appear as if Gabby and his teammates are having fun and the chemistry seems to be there.

Michael Del Zotto – I keep waiting for the scoring pace to wane some but through 7, the 19 year-old rookie has 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) and is a +2. Those are great numbers for any defensemen at this stage much less a 19 year-old kid. I doubt he can keep up this torrid pace but if he can even crack 50 points this year with a + rating it will be an accomplishment worthy of serious Calder Trophy consideration.

Ales Kotalik – This guy keeps producing points on a highly effective PP (converting at a 26.5% clip in 34 chances) as 6 of his 7 points have been on the PP. I didn’t like the signing when it was announced but Kotalik is doing loads to change my mind. With the play of Del Zotto and Kotalik on the PP points, the Rangers PP looks immensely better than the clueless rabble that the Rangers iced last year.

Protect the goalie please – Over the last two contests, I’ve seen opposing forwards run into (whether intentional or not is irrelevant) Lundqvist with little or no reaction from the Rangers. I don’t expect someone to just start beating an opposing player in this situation but at least get the dude off of our goalie and give him a good shove. Say something! We have to keep the King healthy and in good shape. That won’t happen if he keeps getting run into like that.

Face-offs – Before looking up the numbers, I really expected there to be a larger disparity between face-offs won and lost for the Rangers. It seemed to me as if the Rangers were being beaten consistently and at key times. After a quick review though, it isn’t good but not as bad as I had originally thought. Here is a list of the Rangers 5 face-off guys:

Prospal 53%
Dubinsky 52%
Boyle 48%
Drury 48%
Anisimov 34%

Those numbers, especially Anisimov’s is too low. I may be nitpicking here but I believe that face-off win % is an undervalued stat in the NHL. If Anisimov doesn’t improve then I would suspect Torts would do something different with his line. You can’t have a C taking anywhere from 6 – 12 draws per game when he’s losing 2/3 of them.

After 7 games and a 6 – 1 record about all anyone can do is nitpick. The Rangers have won games a number of different ways. They’ve now won when they were severely outplayed, they’ve won with offense and they’ve won with the King coming to the rescue. All hail the King.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Rangers Best Performance to Date

The Rangers entered Sunday’s matinee contest against the Anaheim Ducks feeling pretty good about themselves. After all, they were riding a 3 game winning streak and had gotten the hoped for offensive production from FA additions Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal. Plus they were catching the Ducks on the back end of two games in two nights.

The Rangers would have to be careful however. Steve Valiquette was making his first appearance of the young season and the Ducks showed some tremendous fortitude coming back from a 2 – 0 deficit against the Flyers; getting 2 late goals from Teemu Selanne in the final 6:47 and finally winning in a shootout. The victory was all the more impressive given it came on the road against one of the premier teams in the Eastern Conference.

The Rangers game plan was pretty obvious; work the puck in deep and work over the Ducks defense. The longer the Rangers could pressure the Ducks in their defensive zone, the more likely they would wear down the Ducks and come out on top.

The team executed their game plan to a tee, outshooting the Ducks 13 – 1 in the first period. In fact, using the Corsi Rating, the Rangers directed 29 shots toward the Ducks net while the Ducks only directed 4 shots toward the Rangers net. The Rangers finished with an astonishing +25 Corsi Rating in the 1st period. MSG color analyst Joe Micheletti even referred to the 1st period as, and allow me to paraphrase, the finest period of Rangers hockey in quite some time.

Not surprisingly the Ducks looked flat and sluggish in the first. The Rangers seemed to be a step ahead for the entire period. But the Ducks showed their true colors by playing a much better second period. The shot count at the end of 2: Rangers 24 – Ducks 12. The score at the end of 2: Rangers 0 – Ducks 0.

This is where I started to get nervy. After dominating so much in the first and seeing a number of quality chances turned away by Ducks goalie J.S. Giguere, there was a palpable fear that the Ducks would re-create the magic from the night before. Fortunately for the Rangers, Ales Kotalik finally cashed in on the PP at the 2:14 mark. Kotalik finished off a spiffy passing play begun by Gaborik who fed Del Zotto on the left point. Del Zotto then faked a shot before passing the puck to Kotalik at the left circle. Kotalik fired the puck scoring the game’s first goal.

The game went back-and-forth with the score remaining 1 – 0 in favor of New York. At the 11:57 mark, Evgeni Artyukin took a double minor for high sticking Rangers Defenseman Marc Staal. After the Ducks killed off the first 2:25 seconds, rookie Artem Anisimov scored his first career NHL capping off a nifty passing play. Avery skated in behind the net in pursuit of the puck. He beat a Ducks defender and fed Vinny Prospal on the left wing side of the net. Prospal then shot a perfect pass to Anisimov in front of the cage and the rookie wasted no time firing off a perfect shot to stake the Rangers to a 2 – 0 lead.

Things got a bit dicey as Dubinsky took a double minor of his own at the 17:36 mark. Dubinsky was after a puck along the right wing boards when he tried to jump by Ducks defenseman Ryan Whitney. As he did, he was dragging his stick behind him and as he tried to raise his stick to get it over Whitney, he clipped the defender in the face. The stage was set if the Ducks were going to launch a second consecutive come-from-behind win. The Rangers would have none of that however.

Dan Girardi iced the game with a length of the ice shot resulting in a short-handed, empty-net goal. It was Girardi’s first of the year and capped off one of the best 60 minute performances I’ve seen of the Rangers in quite some time.

Here are some of the other things I noticed in this game:

Vinny Prospal – Prospal continues to impress; not only with his skill and savvy offensively but with his guts and determination. He engaged in quite the physical battle with Ducks C Saku Koivu. For a guy that doesn’t have a reputation as being a physical player, Prospal showed that he doesn’t lack in the guts department.

Michal Rozsival - After the 3rd period benching against the Capitals, Rozsival bounced back with a much better performance overall. He seemed more decisive with the puck and worked harder in the defensive zone.

Wade Redden – Maybe the best thing that can be said about Redden is that he has gone nearly unnoticed on the ice. Too often last season he was being noticed a lot, mainly because he was coughing the puck up or because he was being outmuscled on the puck. This season he has been much quieter; a sign that he isn’t losing those one-on-one battles and has made better decisions with the puck. His play is critical this season as he needs to serve as a mentor for rookies Matt Gilroy and Del Zotto. Redden also just missed his first goal of the season when his shot from the point deflected off Giguere and then hit the post in the third period.

Ales Kotalik – I won’t make a definitive “I was wrong,” statement about Kotalik….yet. Some of you may remember that I was very critical of the signing after it was announced. So far, I can’t argue with the production Kotalik has provided. Through 5 games Kotalik has come through with 3 goals and an assist. Two of his markers have been on the power play. To date, the Rangers PP is converting at a 20% clip (5 for 25). Even better, the Rangers have scored all 5 of their PPG in their last 16 attempts (31.3%). Some of that success can be attributed to the addition of Kotalik.

Steve Valiquette – Vally wasn’t severely tested in his 2009/2010 debut but was solid nonetheless. He stopped all 18 shots in recording his 4th career shutout. Tortorella will feel much better about resting Lundqvist if Vally can keep playing at this level.

Sean Avery – Has there ever been a player who needed a team as much as the team needed the player. Despite a 3 – 1 record to start minus Avery, the Rangers record with Avery in the lineup has been so much better than without him. Today he recorded an assist and maybe more importantly didn’t take any penalties while drawing a roughing call against Ryan Whitney that resulted in the Rangers first goal. He also finished tied for second on the Rangers with 5 hits.

Brandon Dubinsky – Whether it’s because he is trying to prove he is worth the money and the holdout or maybe he is invigorated playing with skilled players like Prospal and Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky is playing like a much different a better player this year. He is not hesitating taking the puck hard to the net. In his first two years in those spots he would have looked to pass the puck off but not now. He is maintaining his aggressiveness while keeping his emotions in check. We’ll see if he can keep up this performance for the entire year but if he does then the Rangers have their #1 Center.
It’s only 5 games into the new season and the memories of last year’s hot start and subsequent disappointing inconsistencies still haunt me. I’m not predicting great things for this incarnation of the New York Rangers but I am very encouraged by what I am seeing. The young players are stepping up and playing well which bodes well for future Rangers’ teams. Gaborik, Kotalik and Prospal are doing what was expected; producing offensively. We’ll see where they are at after 82 games but right now they look darn good.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Blue Shirts Show Resiliency in Win Over Caps

When Henrik Lundqvist allowed a seemingly harmless dump-in from center ice squirt by him for the tying goal early in the third period yesterday my mouth literally hung open with shock. Was this the turning point in what had been a solid effort against a very good Caps team? Were we going to lose a game because our heroic goalie allowed a silky, soft goal?

My fears began to be realized when the “lucky” goal scorer who beat Lundqvist with a dump-in, Niklas Backstrom, scored a power play goal to put the Capitals up 3 – 2 in the third period. A solid all-around effort which bordered on sensational at times in the second period was going to be wasted all because our favorite Ranger made a terrible mistake. Or was it?

Maybe in years past the Rangers would have folded under those unfortunate circumstances but not last night. Marian Gaborik tied the score just seconds after Backstrom put the Caps up. Gaborik then recorded what would ultimately be the game winner a couple of minutes later on a Rangers PP.

Neither of Gaborik’s goals were of the awe-inspiring variety. In fact, Caps goalie Jose Theodore probably should have stopped both shots. That’s the thing with premier goal scorers; the puck tends to find them and those players find a way to put the puck in the net. An “ugly” goal counts the same as a highlight reel goal and both of Gaborik’s goals were closer to “ugly” than they were to highlight reel. Both goals were definitely “goal scorer’s” goals.

That’s the type of production the Rangers paid for and desperately need from their star sniper. It’s nice to know that when you are a goal down you have a guy that can tie the score at any time, from nearly anywhere. When Gaborik is going, you are almost never out of a game until the final horn goes.

I actually sat down last night with pen and paper and took some notes during last night’s game. Here are a few of the things that I noticed in last nights contest:

Marian Gaborik: Looked at times as if he was fighting the puck. Apart from a wrap around attempt and then subsequently a juicy rebound attempt (both of which were stopped by Theodore) Gaborik had trouble with puck possession.

On a second period power play, Gabby took too much on himself trying to skate by three defenders only to have the puck stripped. Use your line mates Marian!
Clutch goal to tie the game in the third just seconds after Caps break the tie. Skated in on a mini-rush and beat Theodore 5-hole.

Ryan Callahan: Great work on the penalty kill in the second period. Just missed on a breakaway opportunity when the defender pushed him past the net and not allowing him to get a shot off. Tremendous stick work again stripping AO of the puck and skating out on a breakaway. Scores on a sweet back-hand beating Theo 5-hole.

Lisin-Kotalik-Anisimov: Some great shifts in the middle period by these guys. Kotalik lifted a back-hand that got over Theo after some nice passing in the offensive zone.

Anisimov: Got caught too high in the D zone on the Semin goal. Left a seam for Pothier to get the puck cross-ice for Semin who planted the puck. Anisimov needed to collapse a little lower and keep his stick on the ice.

Michal Rozsival: Giveaways, giveaways, giveaways!!!! Lazy passes, not decisive. Confidence issue? Took a holding call after being out-hustled and out-muscled by Caps F Chris Clark at the 6:45 mark of the 2nd. On the bench for much of the third.

Matt Gilroy: Still pushed off the puck too easily at times. Unbelievable how often and how deep he’ll carry the puck into the offensive zone. He looks more like a rover than a defenseman. Getting some critical PK time here in the third period; great learning experience under the gun.

All-in-all, this was a gutsy effort by the Rangers. They came from behind on two occasions, Lundqvist gave up the type of goal that gives goalies nightmares and the Rangers gave the Capitals 9 power plays and still came out on top in the end; this coming against a team the really lambasted us (despite going to 7 games) in the playoffs last year. Not bad, not bad at all.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

First Impression of the New Look Rangers

Three games into the new season and the Rangers find themselves 2 – 1 – 0 heading into a big early season match-up with the team that knocked us out of last years postseason. I will be watching intently to see how the new Rangers players and the Torts’ style of play compare to the offensive juggernaut that is the Capitals. In last year’s playoffs, the Capitals dominated the Rangers and only the play of Lundqvist and a couple of timely goals got us to seven games. That series is what prompted some of the off-season additions to the Rangers lineup as the team struggled to generate anything offensively.

Before tonight’s game, I’d like to look back at the first three contests and offer up my impressions on the team so far. Three games is a very small sample size and won’t necessarily predict the future performances of either the players or the team but it is enough to give us an idea of what kind of team we have here and whether the squad is moving in the right direction.

The kids on D: We expected the young guys on the blue line to struggle with their play in the defensive zone; they are just kids after all. Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto didn’t earn roster spots because of their stellar defensive play. They earned spots because they can bring offense to a team sorely lacking it last year.

To date, the kids haven’t disappointed; they’ve struggled at times in their own zone just like everyone expected. They’ve lost some one-on-one battles for possession of the puck. But they’ve also scored goals. The two rookies have combined for 3 goals through 3 games including 2 game winners and a PP goal among them.

I’m willing to live with some of the defensive miscues as long as they can produce offensively like that and also as long as they show improvement in their own end. I’m pretty sure Torts will be drilling them all season on that score.

Goaltending: We already know we’ve got one of the best between the pipes in the “King”. We also know with the style of play Torts wants to implement and the inexperience on D, the “King” was going to have to be on top of his game all of the time for us to be a playoff team.

So far, he hasn’t disappointed either. He was real strong in the home opener against Ottawa and made several quality stops in the Pittsburgh and New Jersey games that kept us in the game. He hasn’t had to “steal” a game yet but that chance might come tonight when the high-octane Capitals play host to the Rangers.

Improved offensive production: I’ve already touched on the kids’ contributions but the Rangers, after finishing just above the Islanders in goals scored last season in the Eastern Conference, needed big-money newcomer Marian Gaborik to prove he’s healthy and to start producing points quickly. Through three he has 4 points (2 goals and 2 assists) and he looks dynamic on the ice.

Fellow newcomers Vinny Prospal and Christopher Higgins have also done a good job of creating chances. Higgins hasn’t been rewarded much for his efforts but his time should come if he continues to play as well as he has. Prospal has a goal and two assists so far and the top line of Dubinsky centering Gaborik and Prospal has clicked to the tune of 5 goals and 11 points so far.

The Rangers really need more production from the third line of Anisimov, Kotalik and Lisin as they have combined to score just 1 goal (Kotalik on the PP). These three have the skill to be key contributors offensively for the Blue Shirts. Now it’s time for them to produce.

Turning the Power Play into an advantage instead of a disadvantage: The Rangers flat out sucked last year on the power play converting at a paltry 13.9% clip. Not only did the team finish next to last in power play efficiency they also gave up the second most short-handed goals (14) in the entire league.

To put it bluntly, I used to hope that the referee wouldn’t call a penalty against the opponent because I didn’t want to see the putrid Rangers power play. I was afraid that the Rangers would just upset me by giving up a shorty instead of converting themselves. Last season, the Rangers PPG for versus SHGA ratio was 48 – 14. That’s a +34 goal differential. The league average was nearly +57. Only Columbus had a worse differential finishing +29.

So far, the Rangers have converted 2 of 15 chances; which computes to a 13.3% success rate. That’s even worse than last year. Of course three games isn’t enough to use success rate as a useful statistic. At this point the power play does look better creating chances for and limiting chances against. Del Zotto clearly will be a force on the PP while Ales Kotalik and his hard shot are a welcome sight after seeing so many shots passed on by Rangers point men last season. All signs are at least encouraging on the power play.

I like the way the team looks so far. They will be a lot more exciting than past Rangers squads. The high pressure attack will surely create more scoring chances; both for and against. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there will be times when a rookie screws up or a vet makes a bone-head play or maybe Gaborik gets hurt. I can deal with that. As long as I’m seeing a commitment to some of the younger guys and as long as the up tempo game yields more goals for us. With Lundqvist in net I’m confident that we’ll have a good year if we can just score more goals.

Follow me on twitter tonight as I post updates throughout tonights contest. “Gkmkiller”