Thursday, December 31, 2009

Torts: "This Was A team Effort"

One of the nice things about the concept of Rock Bottom is its resiliency. Just when you think you've found it - boom - there's another one - just a little lower in the dirt than the last one was.

That's a nice way of saying that our New York Rangers have hit a new Rock Bottom last night - lower than all the other Rock Bottoms we've hit before.

The Flyers - who started the night in 13th place in the East - a team we beat earlier this month - kicked the Christmas Goose Crap (sorry kids) out of us - on our own home ice.

The first goal - just 54 seconds in to the contest - was put home by none other than our old friend Blair Betts. That same Blair Betts who hustled and helped us so much last year - and who the Rangers left in a heap on the ice in last year's playoffs. All I can say is - good for you Blair.

But the Flyers were just getting started. They scored 3 goals on Lundqvist in the first period. So Tortorella - one of those guys who will start throwing switches randomly at the first sign of trouble - yanked Hank. But I wouldn't blame the King this time - the game resembled a never ending shoot out at times - with the Rangers letting up odd-man-rush after odd-man-rush. It only took 11 shots for the Flyers to go up 3-0. And poor Hank was reduced to sitting on the bench shaking his head - trying to understand what had just happened.

So after reading in the papers that he wouldn't get to play for the rest of the decade - Chad Johnson was thrust into the Ranger net. And just like in pre-season - the very first shot he faced - another Flyer Breakaway - found the back of the net. Welcome to the NHL, Chad.

And on it went with the Rangers playing no defense - throwing no hits - and looking as bad as a team can look. By the end it was 6-0 and the Garden fans - what was left of them - cheered the announcement of the final minute of play.

We were shut down, shut out, and shot full of holes.

It's a little hard to go on - but here's the autopsy:

The Goalies: Well, one goalie had a great night. Leighton only faced 22 shots - just 10 in the first 2 periods - but he stopped them all.

Hank: 8 saves. 3 goals. Hung out to dry by our "defense".

Chad Johnson making his NHL debut - let up 3 goals in 20 shots. He was also left on his own by the Rangers - the first goal was a breakaway - just 23 seconds into the 2nd period. I think - if Chad had an actual hockey team playing in front of him - he would have been just fine. I want to see him out there again - from the start - and soon.

Special Teams: First of all - thank you for even reading this section today. It's kind of beside the point - because the Rangers appeared shorthanded even when they weren't and we let up 5 even strength goals. But anyway: the Flyers were 1 of 2 on the PowerPlay, Rangers were 0 for 4. So we were out scored on specials despite having 4 man-advantages to the Flyers 2.

The New Veteran Rangers: No goals. No assists. Nothing

The Kid Rangers: nothing

Your Returning Rangers? Well, you know. Also nothing.

Defense on Offense? Not only was there no offense from the defense - there was no defense from the defense.

In conclusion: Sad day in Ranger-ville. Maybe this will get Sather fired? Anyway - we have a few hours to regroup and get ready to play the Carolina Hurricane - the worst team in hockey - tonight.

If Glen Sather's job was really on the line in the end half of that home-and-home with the Islanders a few weeks back- what about tonight? I mean - it's back to back games against two teams not in playoff position. We just had our worst loss of the season. We've got that big Calendar thing going on tonight - that sort of symbolizes the dawn of a new era. And Glen - how about grabbing back a little dignity and stepping down yourself. You're a hockey legend - you don't need this anymore. Why not stand up and give yourself a nice big healthy scratch?

Anyway - It sure feels like the Rangers need a win tonight. But I'm not too sure it feels like we'll get one.
On a much less terrible note - thank you to everyone who commented a few encouraging words to my 11 year old son Pucks Junior - who is in the first few painful days of braces on his teeth. And Pucks Junior has a post about the game just below this one. And finally - thank you to all our BlueShirt Brothers Readers. As the year draws to a close we appreciate you stopping by - through good times and bad. A Happy and Healthy New Year to all. See you on the decade's flip side.

-Dave Pucks

Over Thrown King (by Pucks Junior)

King Henrik was out played by our back up goalie Chad Johnson. Although they both let up three goals Lundqvist did it in one period and Johnson did it in two. Lundqvist only made eight saves, Johnson made seventeen saves. There really is no excuse for the way we played last night. OK, Lundqvist had to be rested, but how does that explain why we were shut out? Our defense was terrible. Our offense, well, there really was no offense. And the goaltending was terrible. So not a good game for the Rangers.

Oh, and thanks everybody for your advice about my braces.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Higgins - the Love-Hate Ranger

By now you've heard the two dissonant pieces of Chris Higgins news: (Editor - by "dissonant", Dave Pucks means the two pieces of news don't seem to go together)

This is what we're hearing;
1- We are trying to trade Chris Higgins
2- We have promoted Chris Higgins to our top line


On the surface this makes no sense. We hate Chris so we're trying to trade him - or - we love Chris so we put him on Gaborik's line?

It can't be both. Or can it?

The main problem with the New York Rangers offense is not about how to get Gaborik more goals. The main problem is - how do we get everyone else some more goals?

Think of it as a mathematical theorem (Editor - I don't know where Dave Pucks is going with this one - you're on your own, people)

If: Chris Higgins skates with Gabby
Then: Chris will not get guarded much because everyone will be focusing on the NHL's leading goal scorer

And If: Chris doesn't get guarded much
Then: he will get some open ice

And If:
he gets open ice
Then: he will get more quality chances

And If: he gets some quality chances
Then: he will score more goals.

And Then: his plus-minus will go up just from being on Gabby's line

And Then: the added confidence of scoring will make Chris a better player even when he's not on Gaborik's line

So, therefor:

If: the Rangers love Higgy
Then: this is great because they have jump started him

And if: the Rangers hate Higgins
Then: this is great because his numbers will look better - making it much easier to trade him.

So - either way the move makes sense - and Higgins fans and foes should be rooting for him tonight.

But anyway - how about a little Preview, people?

Who the Hell are we playing? The Philadelphia Flyers are actually worse than us. In the Eastern Conference we’re in 9th place at 18-16-4 and the Flyers are two points behind us at 18-18-2 in 13th place. But the Flyers are the hottest team in the East with 3 straight wins. The Rangers have won 4of 5 themselves.

Primary Skaters: The Flyers are lead by three centers: Mick Richards with 16 goals, Jeff Carter with 14 goals and Danny Briere with 13. Defenseman Chris Pronger (how would you like to take that last name through High School?) leads the team with 19 assist. And Defenseman Matt Carle has the team’s best plus-minus at +11 – very impressive for a team with a losing record.

In Net: The Flyers have contributions from three goalies this year – all saving over 90% of their shots. Imagine how sharp Hank would be if he had 2 competent backups? The lead dog is Ray Emery who has appeared in 21 games with a 2.83 GAA and a .901 save percentage. Brian Boucher has appeared in 16 games with a 2.66 GAA and a .902 save percentage. And Michael Leighton has a 2.15 GAA and a .933 save percentage.

Scoring & Defense: The Flyers score 2.79 goals per game to our 2.76. And they let up 2.87 goals a game to our 2.79. So we’re looking at two similar clubs.

Special Effects: Philadelphia PP runs at 20.9% to our 21.7%. Their PK is at 78.2% to our 85.6% So - advantage us.

Scheduling Conflicts: We played and lost to the Islanders (in OT!) on Saturday night. The Flyers then beat the Islanders on Sunday. So we’re a little more rested.

Probable Lines: As mentioned up top - the top line is Higgins with Gabby and Dubinsky, and I don’t yet know how that shakes out in the remaining lines. Will re-post if I get word.

On Defense: Still Redden (ugh), Rozsival (partial ugh), Staal, Girardi, Del Zotto and Gilroy. Does anyone miss Ilkka Heikkenin?

Fronting the Twine: As you know, I'd start Chad Johnson – just to give Hank some rest. Word is that will finally happen – tomorrow. So tonight we go back to Lundqvist – who has had a few days off to reload.

Dave Puck Predicts: Fly-Boys are hot. It’s going to come down – as it always does – to which Lundqvist shows up – the King or the Not-So-Much King. We’re without Prospal. I’m saying a 3-2 shootout win.
Loose Pucks:
My 11 year old son – Pucks Junior – had to have braces put on his teeth yesterday. He is not happy about it and his mouth is really hurting him today. So if you can add a comment below with a few words of encouragement – I’m sure it will make the little guy’s day a little brighter. Thanks

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Exit Vinnie - enter Seanny?

With Vaclav (his name is not Vinnie) Prospal out for at least 10 days after knee surgery - a slot has opened up on the Rangers top line - next to Gaborik and Dubinsky.

And you know what I think. I think it is time to bring Mr. Sean Avery back up where he belongs

Why Sean? Well, he has played up there before when Dubinsky was hurt and showed himself to be a perfect compliment to Marian Gaborik.

1 - Avery digs in the corners and behind the net and has this uncanny ability to deliver the puck to a shooter just where he needs it. And when that shooter is Marian Gaborik - who scores on one of every five shots, well - you do the math.

2 - Sean also has no problem standing in front of an opposing goalie - screening him, annoying him, getting his attention. All of those things help Gaborik work his magic

3 - And also - Sean is the ultimate distracter. Opposing players hate him. They don't like the horrendous things he says - the antics he pulls - and his general personality. If you put Sean on line 3 he distracts opponents from, say Lisin or Drury. But on Line 1 Sean would distract opponents away from Marian Gaborik - which is a much better idea.

4 - Avery has the best plus-minus of any Ranger forward other than our top liners: Dubi, Gabi, and Vinnie. And he's managed that without being on ice for most of Gaborik's 25 goals. The reason his plus-minus is so much better than Drury's or Callahan's or Kotalik's or Lisin's or Boyle's or Higgins is that Sean works hard - on offense and defense. He's a 2 way player who hustles and hits shift after shift.

So there you have it. John Tortorella - the Blueshirt Brothers are imploring you (editor - that means asking). Please promote Sean to Line One. And keep him there for at least a week or two. I'm sure you'll see results.
Loose Pucks: the New York Times coverage of Vaclav Prospal's arthroscopic surgery? Non-existent (editor - Dave Pucks means there wasn't any).

And a shout out to Mike, a mighty Blueshirt Brothers reader who pointed out that I was incorrect yesterday in posting that Prospal has the 2nd highest number of goals scored on the Rangers with 8. It's really Ryan Callahan with 9. Thanks for the assist Mike.
Where We Stand: Still in 9th place. Tied with 8th place Atlanta with 40 points and just 1 point behiind the 7th place Montreal team that has played three more games than we have.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Prospal “Czech’s Out” for 2-3 weeks.

Vinnie has a bum-knee and the Rangers must cope after his ‘scope.

It’s all true. Vaclav “Vinnie” Prospal the Ranger’s 34 year old Czech forward and the primary linemate of Marian Gaborik, has been diagnosed with a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery.

That surgery was performed this morning (Merry Christmas, Vin) and so our 2nd leading goal scorer (with 8) (correction - he is third best) and our team leading assist-er (with 24) will be out at least 10 days – but more likely 2 weeks or more.

It’s not great news – but it’s just a few weeks and then back on the ice. Meanwhiole though – the Rangers will need a third linemate for Gaborik and Dubinsky. Followers of this website will know my top choice - which I arrived at in just a few (sloppy) seconds - would be none other than Sean Avery.

How badly will Prospal's injury hurt The Rangers? Well, 8 goals is not that many to replace. And as for Prospal’s assists – a lot of those are the result of the highly difficult and skillful hockey maneuver known as “passing the puck to Gaborik”. But other players can do that too, so I think we’ll get by.

And you know – if Gaborik keeps going injury free while his teammates drop out of the lineup – we’re going to have to start calling him Iron Man.

Shoot The Puck! (Or Maybe Not?)

Did anyone else notice this?

The Rangers just concluded a short (but most welcome) 4 game winning streak. Then they lost at home to the Islanders in overtime.

How many of those last five games did the Rangers get more shots on goal than their opponents?

Just one. And that game was: The loss!

Which means: We were outshot in all four wins.

Why is that - and what does it mean?

It means a few different things, actually:

1 - When we get the lead - we stop shooting.

2 - When any team gets behind - they shoot more

3 - but most of all it means that when Henrik Lundqvist plays well - we win. And when he doesn't - we don't. And night after night - the combined actions of 20+ other teammates has less of an impact on us winning and losing than one special goalie does.

Which gets us back to our recurring theme: how to best take care of Henrik Lundqvist. Which - as any high school hockey coach would tell you - involves more rest. Because when Hank plays well - we win - and when he doesn't we don't.

Of course - the other conclusion we could draw from the last 5 games is that shooting less than your opponent is the key to victory!

But I don't think that's really going to work....

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rangers finally get the Point – but not the win.

You know that Day After Christmas feeling? No more presents to open. All the mess to clean up. 364 days until next time. You wait for it – you enjoy it – and suddenly it's gone.

Just like our winning streak. The New York Rangers fell to the hated New York Islanders last night, 3-2, in overtime – so at least we got a point.

The Islanders seem to know exactly how to play us. They deny us the puck and make us work really hard for every inch of ice and every second of puck possession. They use their youth against us well. And I hate to say this – but they look better coached than us. I'm starting to get this sinking feeling that Tortorella may be a A+ motivator, and even an A+ player evaluator, but no better than a B- strategy guy. When teams adjust to us – it takes a really long time for us to adjust to their adjustments – if you know what I mean.

But we like to stay positive here – especially during the holiday season. So let's think about how the Rangers fought back from a two goal deficit to tie the game in the final minute, send the game into overtime, and get a much-needed point.

It was thrilling to watch the Rangers claw their way back with two third period goals. The Dubinsky deflection into the net at 19:13 was the most timely goal of the Rangers season so far and sent the Garden into a joyous pandemonium – for a while, anyway.

Here's the details:

The Goalies: The winning streak was Hank's winning streak. And last night – he was okay – but nowhere near his best. His save percentage was a not-so-good .864%. He faced only 25 shots and let 3 get past him. On the OT goal, he was screened by Staal and the puck deflected off Staal's skate - so it was a very tough shot.

Roloson – who usually plays great against us, stopped 36 of 38 shots, a .947%.
And our Phantom Goalie – Mr. M. T. Nett was perfect again tonight in 45 seconds of ice time.
Seriously though, we outshot the Isles and if Hank had played as well as Rolo, we would have won. We've got to start getting Chad out there.

Special Teams: The Islander short handed goal was a killer. Besides that both teams were 0-3 on the powerplay.

The New Veteran Rangers: Gaborik had 25 minutes of ice time, 5 shots, minus 2. Not a good night for the gifted one – but he was guarded pretty closely. In fact, the whole “New Veteran” unit, the guys that usually carry us – were shut out last night. Prospal lost 5 of 8 faceoffs and was -2.

The Kid Rangers: No points for the youngsters, either.

The Returning Rangers: This was the unit that showed up last night – like old times. Dubinsky with two goals and he won an amazing 12 of 16 faceoffs. Assists for Callahan, Drury, and 2 for Rozsival. And some tough active play from Seanny.

Defense on Offense: Two assists for this unit.

In Conclusion: We outshot them 38-22. We outhit them 36-30. Our faceoff wins were 33-22. And we lost. You can draw your own conclusions. Still, a point is a point.
Next Up: We're off until Wednesday – when we face the Philadelphia Flyers at home.
Where We Stand: We're back in 9th place.
Lookout Below - for my 11 year-old son Puck Junior's take on last night's game

Lowering our standards (by Pucks Jr.)

The only reason that we lost to the Slanders is because we should of rested Lundqvist.

No, you know what, Lundqvist only let up two goals in regulation. We just couldn't score three goals. There wasn't much we could do, the Slanders are fueled by hatred for the Rangers and they always play well against us. Besides the score and Lundqvist we had one of our better games. We finally out shot a team. I think that this was a great game to build on. We had a great come back, or at least Dubinsky did. And if we can get Dubinsky going... Another thing is that a mini hockey miracle happened. We actually scored with under a minute left to send the game into over time. Something that should happen all the time but never does. Considering we were down by two at the begining of the third period that's great that we could send the game into overtime.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Going for Five In A Row

I hope you all had a great Christmas. Sorry for the late post today. We're taking on the hated Islanders in about an hour. Interestingly, The islanders were the first game of our 4 game winning streak – but they were also the last game of the 5 game losing streak that preceded it.

Tonight's game gives us a chance to get even for our last home loss – and could get us to a more or less even record at home.

It looks like the lines will be:

Line 1: Prospal-Dubinsky-Gaborik – this has been working

Line 2: Higgins-Anisimov-Callahan – Merry Christmas, Christensen – you're out of the lineup

Line 3: Avery-Drury-Lisin – Drury climbs back to the 3rd line

Line 4: Brashear-Boyle-Kotalik – Punchman and the Cannon

See you later on.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas Ranger Fans - an exhibition

“Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all you Ranger Fans. This is Sam Rosen from Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day. This afternoon we're in for a rare treat – an Exhibition Game between the New York Rangers – and your Holiday Favorites.

Here's the opening face off Dubinsky stands in against – it looks like – yes it is Saint Nick himself – Santa Claus will be centering the first line. They drop the puck and we're off. Santa wins the draw and passes to Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer on the right side. Rudolph gets right by Redden – that Rudolph can fly.

Rudolph behind the net – passes out to Hanukkah Harry in the right circle. Harry with the shot – save Lundqvist – Del Zotto's got it – tries to clear – one of the Radio City Rockettes keeps the puck in – I think she kicked it. Puck loose in the corner. Avery and Santa go after it. Some pushing and shoving in the corner. Avery doesn't like it. Santa throwing his weight around behind the Ranger net. Sean with an elbow.

And here they go. Sean Avery and Santa drop the gloves. Saint Nick with a wicked right that caught Seanny. Avery pulls Santa's red velvet jersey half way over his head. Avery's really unloading now. Blood on the ice everywhere. Avery throwing punch after punch. Oh the humanity. The Linesmen can't stop it. Ladies and Gentleman, in my 40 years of broadcasting I have never witnessed a more horrific spectacle.

I cannot continue.... “

Merry Christmas everyone from BlueShirt Brothers!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

4 in a Row Ho Ho

Well thank you, Santa. The New York Rangers, who just last week looked lost, have now won four straight games and have skated their way back into the playoff picture.

I had predicted a 4-2 win last night but the Rangers did me one better - winning 4-1 over the Florida Panthers for their first home win in 6 tries - dating back to November.

Keith Ballard, who famously hit his own goalie while swinging his stick in anger back in November – managed to steer clear of Vokoun tonight but did knee our goalie Henrik Lundqvist in the head. Lundqvist appears to be fine and played well before and after the blow. Sean Avery did cause some trouble around the Panther’s goal as well – but that’s true every night.

Credit your goaltender with yet another win – as the Rangers were outshot, outhit, out face-offed (you know what I mean) had more give aways and less takeaways than Florida – but beat them convincingly none-the-less.

Anyway, on to the Holiday Recap.

The Goalies: As mentioned, for the 4th straight game we were outshot – and for the 4th straight night we won anyway. And any time that happens – look no further than your goalie for the reason why.

Hank was very sharp again last night, stopping 33 of the 34 shots that came his way. Vokoun, who now has to watch out for his team mate Ballard as much as he does the opposing team, just couldn't keep up - he allowed 4 goals on 32 shots and just couldn't hang with Hank.

Special Teams: We were 1 for 4 on the PowerPlay while Florida was 0 of 4. So another win for this unit.

The New Veteran Rangers: Of course Gaborik scored a goal and had an assist - doesn't he always? But the big news of the night was the sudden reappearance of Vaclav Prospal for two goals after a long scoring drought. Lisin had an assist.

The Kid Rangers did not make the box score tonight.

Your Returning Rangers had a very good night, however. The Captain's pride keeps driving him forward ever since his demotion to the 4th line. Drury notched his 3rd goal in 4 games - the goal that got us even at 1-1. And Drury had an assist as well. Avery, Callahan, Dubinsky and Staal each contributed an assists of their own.

Defense on Offense? One assist for this unit

In conclusion: This is no dead man's bounce. The Rangers are playing better - in goal - on offense - on defense - and special teams. And so we have a little hope as we go to Christmas Break.

And from Dave Pucks, Mrs. Pucks, Pucks Jr. And the whole Pucks family - Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and your family.
Where we stand -
Look at that - we've jumped to 8th place – and back in the playoff seeding.
Next Up: Christmas! And a little bit of rest. Just one game in the next six days – a Saturday night home ice match up with the hated Islanders.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A 3 game winning streak AND a 5 game losing streak? At the Same Time?

How can you have a winning streak and a losing streak at the same time? If you're the New York Rangers, that's how.

The Rangers have won three straight games. But they've all been on the road. Meanwhile, on home ice we've lost 5 straight, stretching back a month to Thanksgiving.

These two streaks have highlighted what's right and wrong with our season. On the road this year we're 10-7-2, and every other team in the East with a winning road record is in the top 8 (and above that all-important playoff Line-O-Death). So the Ranger's road record is pretty good.

But our problem has been at home, where we are 7-9-1, including those last 5 loses. That is the worst home record in the East. Even lowly Carolina is better at home at 8-8-2, thanks in part to Monday night's 3-1 loss to the Rangers.

So tonight our 3 game winning streak and our 5 game home losing streak collide head on. Something has to give. Can Tortorella get the Home Rangers to play as well as the Road Rangers? If we do that – we'll be a playoff team. And that could start tonight.

Who The Hell Are We Playing? The Florida Panthers (16-15-7) will be in town tonight to see what some real Holiday season snow looks like and to take on the New York Rangers. The Panthers are 5-3-2 in their last 10 and have a 1 game winning streak. The last time we faced them, Florida is the perfect team to be playing right now – because they are one notch above us in the standings: in 8th place with 39 points to our 37, even though the Panthers have played two more games than we have. A regulation win tonight will put our Rangers back into the playoff picture – and what would be a better Christmas present than that?

Primary Skaters: Four Florida Centers lead the team in goals, topped by Stephen Weiss' l8 and Nathan Horton's 13. Reinprecht and Frolok have 11 each. You know, the Ranger's 2nd best scorer is nowhere near 11 goals. Horton's 24 assists is the Panther's best.

In Net: The top man is Tomas Vokoun with a 2.57 GAA and a .924 save percentage in 29 appearances.

Scoring & Defense: The Panthers score 2.92 goals per game to our 2.75. But they let up 3.21 goals per game to our improving 2.83.

Special Effects: We dominate both ends. Our Penalty Kill works 85% of the time to Florida's 79%. And our Powerplay scores 22.1% to the Panther's 17.5%.

Scheduling Conflicts: We played and won Monday. So did Florida. So, we're equally rested – but the Florida players may have spent some extra time Christmas shopping in New York.

Probable Lines: Don't know exactly – but Dubi, Gabby, and Vinnie seem to be our first line. At least for now.

On The Blue Line: Glad to have Gilroy back. Redden... not so much. And I think Bobby Sanguinetti was just here to bolster his reputation for a possible trade that didn't happen.

Fronting the Twine: I'm still angry and a little shocked that the Rangers did not start backup Goaltender Chad Johnson on Monday. I understand that Henrik Lundqvist is hot right now and says that he wants to play as often as he can. But we need to protect out Franchise player from himself and we need to see what we've got in Chad. Get him out there.

But we won't. It will be Hank. Again.

Dave Puck Predicts: We win 4-2. The winning streak beats the losing streak.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

And Then There Were Three (in a row!)

Well, I don't feel giddy. Any of you guys feeling giddy? I didn't think so. But still, a win is a win and a streak is a streak and it's a lot better then the alternative. And hey, we'll take it. So even if we can't get all the way to giddy – let's summon up a little holiday cheer. In fact, let me start over:

And Then There Were Three (in a row!)

Just when we had given up and left them for dead, the New York Rangers have risen up and put together their first three game win streak since October. And all three are road wins. And for the first time in a long time, we can walk down the street with a little bounce in our steps and our head held a little higher.

Now, as three game streaks go, this is not a great one. We've beaten the Islanders and then the worst two teams in hockey: the Flyers and now the Hurricane (who, like their name implies, blow) .

The formula seems pretty simple. Once again we were outshot. Once again we struggle to score. And once again our franchise goaltender is amazing and delivers us the win.

After a scoreless first period the Hurricane struck first. Sergei Samsonov snuck a wraparound past Lundqvist. And for a few seconds you got that sinking feeling.

But 28 seconds later it was tied. Dubinsky, centering the top line, won the face off. The puck went to Rozsival, and then there was a flurry of action in front of the Hurricane goal, with the puck coming to Marian Gaborik just 12 feet from the net. Gabby had one of his easiest goals of the season and the Rangers had tied it before the Carolina public address guy could even announce the Hurricane's Goal!

And 1-1 is how it stayed until Brandon Dubinsky – playing with no bandages on his hand for the first time since the injury – took a pass from Gaborik and netted a 10 foot backhander. And in the end it was Marc Staal, playing against his brother by the way – who launched a perfect 150 foot shot at the empty net in the final minute to provide the final score of 3-1. You know, after the last two games I was going to recommend that Tortorella hold some empty net practice – it had been so long since we had any leads we were getting rusty. But Staal's goal was a tough one – over a lot of traffic – to finish off a Hurricane team that still hasn't won ten games.

And here's the recap:

The Goalies: Three times in a row now that Hank faced more shots than his opponent but has won anyway. We technically got him three goals – but really, it was 2-1 until the final 33 seconds. After back to back games where we let up 37 shots on goal, this time, with Redden and Gilroy back and our opponents the worst team in the league, we reduced the shots from 37 to, uh, 31. Better, but not good.

Lundqvist saved 32 of the 33 shots fired at him, a .970 save percentage. His resurgence is the sole reason we're winning again. Cam Ward (whose name sounds made up to me) was not bad, saving 28 of the 30 shots he faced for a .933 save percentage. But King Henrik was better. I still say we should have played Chad Johnson in goal, but just like here at home with Mrs. Pucks, no one listens to me.

Special Teams: Our PK was a perfect 3-3. Our PowerPlay did not score on one attempt.

The New Veteran Rangers: The Gifted One (of course) had a goal and an assist. Prospal had an assist as well. Brashear had 2 hits, passed when he should have shot, and looked a little lost and slow out there.

The Kid Rangers: No points for the youngsters, but Gilroy returned from exile and was +1 with 2 hits in 15 minutes of ice time. Anisimov won 4 of 8 faceoffs.

The Returning Rangers: Dubinsky is starting to look like his old self with a goal, and assist, 12-of-19 faceoff wins, and a team-leading +3 on the night. Now that he's back, we're starting to realize how much we missed him. His plus-minus is better than Gaborik's. And an empty netter for Staal and an assist for Rozsival. Captain Drury, demoted to the 4th line, did win 11 of 19 faceoffs but was -1 on the night and did not get a shot on goal. Redden, who may be playing for his Ranger life right now had 2 shots, 1 hit, 1 takeaway and 2 giveaways in 16 minutes of play.

Defense on Offense: One goal and one assist for this unit.

In Conclusion: We were outhit 39 to 20, which helped a weak Hurricane team stay in this game for a long time. But, hey, it's a whole lot more fun to nit pick about victories than it is to find positives after loses.
Next Up: An off day and then, on the eve of Christmas Eve – Wednesday night – we face the Florida Panthers – the team just above us in the standings - 8th place in the east.
Where We Stand: We're still in 9th, just two points below Florida – our next opponent – although we have 2 games at hand.

Monday, December 21, 2009

4 Reasons to START CHAD NOW

Look. It's simple. The Rangers need to start Chad Johnson in goal tonight against the Carolina Hurricane. Here's why:

1 - You need to get Henrik Lundqvist some rest or he will burn out or break down all over again. The number of games Hank has had to play so far this year is ridiculous and the Rangers need to address this - today.

2 - You need to see what your back-up goaltender can do. You need to evaluate the guy so we can see if he's any good or if we need to find someone else to play second goalie on this team. It's pointless to have him on the roster if you're not going to use him.

3 - You've got a 2 game winning streak - something quite rare for this team these days. So there is less pressure on the goalie today than there would be after a loss.

4- You're facing the undisputed worst team in the NHL (more on that later). So it's a perfect way to ease the kid in.

You'll never have a better moment than right now to get Chad Johnson his first NHL start. So, come on Glen, come on John. Give the kid a chance. Let's see what he can do.

Anyway - that's my opinion - and now on to the preview:

Who the Hell are we playing? Sometimes its hard to figure out exactly who the worst team in hockey is. After all - a few bounces - a few goals - a few wins - and you're worst team might not be the worst at all.

Not in this case. The Carolina Hurricane - our opponent this evening are head and shoulders BELOW everybody else.

To illustrate what I'm talking about, let's compare the Hurricane with the 29th best team in the NHL: the Philadelphia Flyers - who happen to have been our last opponent.

The Flyers have 32 points - the Hurricane have 24. The Flyers have 15 wins - the Hurricane just have 9. 9 wins. We got our 9th win in October.

In short - we should beat these guys.

Primary Skaters: Ray Whitney and Tuomo Ruutu (great name) each have 10 goals, which leads the Hurricane. Defenseman Joni Pikanen leads the team with 15 assist. And no one who has played more than 11 games has a positive plus-minus. Rob Brind’Amour is at -19.

In Net: Cam Ward, in 20 games, has a 3.12 GAA and an .896 save percentage. He has backup though (unlike some teams I could mention). Manny Legace is 3.09 and .899 in 12 appearances. And Mike Leighton is 4.28 and .848% in 7 games. Hank is better than all of them.

Scoring & Defense: The Hurricane’s 2.51 goals per game trails our 2.74 somewhat. But the real difference is in goals allowed - they let up 3.66 goals a game to our 2.89.

Special Effects: As you’d expect, we dominate here as well. Our PP is 6th best at 22.3%. Carolina’s is 28th best, scoring only 15.4% of the time. Carolina’s PK is somewhat “better”, they are 21st in the league with a 78.9% kill ratio. Our PK is 6th best again with an 84.7% success rate.

Scheduling Conflicts: We played Saturday afternoon and won. They won on Saturday – a 3-2 victory over Florida.

Possible-Probable-Interchangeable Lines:

Line 1: Prospal-Dubinsky-Gaborik: how we started the season.

Line 2: Higgins-Christensen-Callahan: Merry Christmas Christensen – you want from Waivers to centering the Ranger’s second line.

Line 3: Avery-Anisimov-Lisin: I’m not happy that Sean is down here on 3.

Line 4: Boyle-Drury-Brashear: The Captain bottoms out to the 4th line. How awkward is that? But – for what it’s worth - he’s responded with some goals.

Back At The Line: Some movement here as John Tortorella and Glen Sather have send Heikkinen and Sanguinetti down to the minors and have brought back Matt Gilroy - our current plus-minus leader among defenseman.

But that seems to imply that the benching of Wade Redden may be coming to an end. This makes me a little sad as his healthy scratches the last two games was the feel-good story of the holiday season.

The unit is rounded out as usual by Girardi, Del Zotto, Staal, and Rozsival.

Fronting the Twine: Like we said up top - Start Chad. If you're ever going to give the kid a chance - the time is now.

Dave Puck Predicts: This one looks too easy. So it scares me. But I’m game and I’ll say a 3-2 win.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Can You Believe It? We Won Again

A two game winning streak! Our first since Thanksgiving. Our Rangers seemed to have put together two straight victories – by beating the troubled and despised Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in a matinee game.
Now before we all get delusions of adequacy – remember that the Flyers have lost 13 of 16 games and that the Rangers were outshot 37 to 24 (one game after getting outshot 37 to 22). But still, a win is a win and we've had so few of them that we might as well be happy about it.
The Flyers were held without an even strength goal. It's nice to see that happen to someone else for a change.
Here's the recap:
The Goalies: And for the second straight game – Hank won it for us. Of all the guys that I thought would react positively to Tortorella's tirade - I never thought it would be Hank. But maybe it was the removal of Redden that did the trick.
Henrik's save percentage was .973% and he's not going to lose many when he plays that well. The Water Boy (Mr. Boucher) didn't play badly, letting in 2 goals on 24 shots for a .917% save percentage, but he was no match for The King.
Special Teams: We won despite being outplayed here – which is hard to do. The Rangers were 0-2 on the powerplay while Philadelphia was 1 for 5.
The New Veteran Rangers: For the first time – ever – the new Ranger vets were completely shut out in a victory. In a way it's good to see us generate enough offense to win – if barely – without Gaborik and friends. The Gifted on only too one shot in over 20 minutes of ice time.
The Kid Rangers: “Anis” (Anisimov) found an opening (no pun intended) and scored a ricochet style goal. Not pretty – but if you throw the puck at the net (more or less) good things can happen – and they did. And we should mention that our 3 rookie defensemen managed out there – helping to hold to Flyers to one powerplay goal.
The Returning Rangers: The Captain! Chris Drury scores again, making up for the fact that he lost 9 of 14 faceoffs – something that rarely happens to him. And assist for Callahan and Girardi.

Defense on Offense: One assist for this unit.
In Conclusion: All season long we've been living and dying with our goaltending – it's nice to enjoy the upside of that for a change. You know, when Hank plays great and we score a little bit – we can beat anybody. It's enough to give us a little hope – for the holidays.
Rumors: Word on the street is that the Rangers have sent Sanguinetti and Heikkinen back to the AHL – but the move has more to do with the technical aspects of the the NHL than Tortorella getting mad again. There's a holiday roster freeze rule in the NHL – so if the Rangers didn't sent the two rookie defensemen down they would have been lockout out of any roster moves for the next week or so. They can recall either or both defensemen – or Gilroy – before their next game. Of course this also makes us wonder if Sather is about to pull off another trade.
We do know that Ilya Kovalchuk's contract talks with the Thrashers have not been going well. Time will tell.
Next Up: One day off and then our three game road trip concludes in Carolina on Monday night.
Where We Stand:
The second straight win – and yes I like writing that – puts the Rangers alone in 9th place – just 2 points below 8th place Florida – who hold the last playoff spot. The Rangers, on the other hand – have 2 games at hand over Florida.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Twas six days before Christmas

Twas six days before Christmas and all through the rink
Skated our New York Rangers - I just hope they don't stink

They all had but one wish - though it may have been silly
"May we rise up this one game and stick it to Philly"

The Rangers all gazed at their goal with such care
In hopes that King Henrik, soon would be there.

And just when the franchise looked like it might cease
Our own Henrik Lundqvist did skate into his crease.

With his mighty Blue Shirt and his merry Red pants
King Henrik was playing and man - can he dance!

From the look in his eye you just knew he'd play well
And from behind his great mask he did let out a yell

"On Gabby, on Cally, and Avery too"
Go score us some goals - and please more than just two!

You can put it on MSG - put it on Versus
You can can listen to Torts and each one of his curses

You can forecheck and hustle you can dump the puck in
But no matter what happens - the Rangers will win

And with save after save Henrik stood on his head
And soon all the Flyers fans went home to bed.

And when Henrik had beat them despite all the dangers
He said "Merry Christmas to all, and to all Let's Go Rangers!"

Friday, December 18, 2009

Goals! Saves! A Ranger Victory! Finally!

Hey! We won a hockey game! After so much pain and suffering – after 5 consecutive losses – after starting to think that we’d never score more than 2 goals ever again – the Rangers provided us with a big jolt of good news for the holiday season. For the first time in a long time we got (1) timely goaltending, (2) some scoring, and (3) a huge dose of NOT LOSING.

After Wednesday’s loss, Coach John Tortorella’s press conference was short, angry, and not suitable for repetition in a family web site. (Editor – he means Torts was cursing). Tortorella was also ominous – hinting that there would be changes made to the team. And one thing you can count on this Coach for – he will not stand still in a crisis.

So – with the wolves circling and the team in crisis – what does a coach do? Well, when John Tortorella has an itch – he scratches. And last night’s healthy scratches were: Wade Redden (and it is about time!) and Ales Kotalik (the man with the Cannon, but not a two-way game – his plus minus is a disaster). And for one night anyway – the move worked.

There were rumors flying around that a loss last night would have put an end to Glen Sather’s increasingly troubled tenure as our General Manager. Was that true? We may never know – because our New York Rangers responded last night – digging deep and coming up – finally – with a stellar effort.

Unless you’re a football team, there’s no such thing as a must-win game in Mid December, but it sure felt that way as the Rangers took the ice last night in Nassau. And make no mistake – the Islanders competed last night – at least the front five did. The ‘slanders outshot our heroes 37 to 22, which on a lot of nights, is going to get them a victory. But not last night.

Because last night, finally, was the Rangers’ night. Here’s the details:

The Goalies: It has been so long since I had a chance to write this - the game was won by Henrik Lundqvist outplaying his counterpart. Hank had a great game - holding off the Islanders against a barrage of shots.

The Islanders, playing at home against a desperate Ranger team, outshot the Blueshirts. But Hank came up huge and while Roloson was coming up not-so-huge.

Roloson’s numbers were terrible. He let in 5 goals on 22 shots and made just 17 saves for a save percentage of .773 percent.

This was the Henrik Lundqvist we know and love. Hank stopped 35 shots and let in just 2 goals (admittedly one was a late goal - a symptom, I believe, of the overwork he's getting from John Tortorella). His save percentage was .946% - which means he had a great night.

Special Teams: A big boost from this unit. The Ranger power play scored on 3 of 6 opportunities while the penalty kill unit was a perfect 7 for 7. You are virtually never going to lose when your special teams dominate like that.

The New Veteran Rangers: The Gifted One had a big night. Gaborik had a goal and 2 big assists on Cally's Tallys. Prospal had 2 assists of his own and won 6 of 11 faceoffs. Christensen won 5 of 8 faceoffs. 4 hits for Lisin.

The Kid Rangers contributed a goal from Anisimov. And I guess we should point out the 3 rookie defensemen hung in there pretty well. Delzy had 4 hits. Heikkinen was +1 and Bobby S. was even.

Your Returning Rangers came to the party big time last night. Ryan Callahan had a thrilling night: 2 goals and 2 assists. And the Captain returned to the Bridge - Drury finally notched a goal. Rozsival had 2 assists and Girardi had one. And SEAN had an assist and 4 hits.

Defense on Offense: 3 assists from this unit.

In conclusion:
Is this A New Beginning or a Dead Man’s Bounce? We’ll find out a lot more in the next few days. And maybe we can finally jettison some of the dead weight. Redden? Sather? I sure hope so.
But anyway Toto, we won a hockey game. Finally!
Where we stand: In the tightly bunched Eastern Conference the win catapults us to 9th place. We’re just 2 points out of 8th place – but also just 2 points out of 15th place.
Next Up: One rest day and then it’s down the turnpike to play the Philadelphia Flyers – a team with a record almost identical to ours. We’re 15-16-3 and they are 15-16-2.
Lookout below: if you want to read one very excited post by my 11 year old son Pucks Junior – who has suffered through the longest losing streak he can remember - check out his happy post below.

And That's Why We Call Him The King (by Pucks Junior)

Henrik Lundqvist played magnificently, and again, he was the difference. The first period was amazing! We were out shot 4-14. But we were the ones with two goals. Lundqvist played great. His pad saves were a big factor. Some of the time we were just lucky, but most of the time he was just amazing.

The Ranger scoring was awesome. When was the last time we scored 5 goals? Callahan had 2 goals. Rozsival played pretty well last night. It was a great response to the loss the night before.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

When The Scoring Stops

I'm stunned. And worse than that - I'm speechless - which as most of you know is not something that happens to Dave Pucks very often.

I watched as much of the game last night as I could stand. There was some pretty bad play - by both sides. But in the end the Islanders beat the Rangers 2-1.

There are a bunch of phrases I could use - but I've used them all before. This week even. Phrases like "two goals or less", "shuffling the lines too often", "late goal let up by Lundqvist" and "can't score". They're all true but I lack the will to write them again.

I mean, there is luck in hockey. There is skill in hockey. There are streaks in hockey. But if we can't beat the Islanders - and this was our second try this season - if we can't beat the islanders then I think you have to start looking at the coach and the GM. (Late Note - there is a rumor out there now that Glen Sather may be on the brink of getting fired. Supposedly - if the Rangers lose tonight - goodbye Slats)

You want a few positives? So do I. Um, we finally scored a goal. And Hank had some nice moments when he kept us in the game. And then there's ... Uh ... Well, we scored a goal - did I mention that?

The NHL has 30 teams. The Rangers have 31 points. 28 of the 29 other teams have 31 points or more. Yes, it's that bad.

The Goalies: Roloson faced 26 shots and made 25 saves. Hank? He saved 26 of 28. Not that bad really. Three goals would have won this - but three goals is looking like an impossible task these days. And you have to say that on paper at least - Hank again let up a late goal - by letting up a long rebound - and was again outplayed by a goalie who will never be considered elite.

Special Teams: Both sides failed on two power plays and both teams successfully killed off two penalties. So - we broke even here - which was a net win for the Islanders who trail us this year in both PP and PK averages..

The New Veteran Rangers: Lisin scored a goal. Gaborik took six shots.

The Kid Rangers did not show up on the scorer's sheet.

Your Returning Rangers contributed two assists (Girardi and Dubinsky - welcome back Dubi)

Defense on Offense: One assist for this unit.

In conclusion: I liked that Sean Avery did not go down without a fight. Literally. He got in a fist fight with the Islander Goalie and ended up drawing a Ranger PowerPlay. And he made yet another great feed to Gaborik from behind the goal.

But beyond that – there are no positive conclusions to be drawn. We are the dead man without even the dead-man’s bounce. Maybe we’ll see Chad Johnson tonight in the Ranger’s goal. Maybe things will go better. And maybe there’s a Santa Claus.
Where we stand: You really want to know? We’re still in 12th place in the East, but the 13th and 14th place teams are tied with us at 31 points. In fact, in the whole NHL there is exactly one team with less points than us.
Next Up: Same opponent. Tonight. At their placed this time.

They say that a clear sign of stupidity is to do the exact same thing over and over again and expect a different result. So when I pick the Rangers to win again tonight – just understand that I know exactly what that pick is saying about me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dead Man's Bounce, Anyone?

Courage, friends - all is not lost. All may be misplaced, though. We think All must be around here somewhere but we're not exactly sure where we left it. And we'd better find it soon.

Things are very bad right now. Our beloved Rangers are tumbling. They were once tied for first in the Eastern conference. Then they tumbled down the standings. They tumbled to the brink and then out of the playoff seedings. And now they're tumbling out of contention.

In the stock market - those fat cat Wall Street guys have an expression they use when a market or a stock price - after getting hammered - makes a small - and possibly undeserved - recovery. It's called the Dead Man's Bounce.

It refers to someone jumping out the window. After falling 30 stories or more - the person will - horribly - bounce a little off the pavement before coming to a complete and final rest.

This morbid concepts illustrates a small bit of upward movement - the bounce. But that bounce is not to be trusted - because even a dead man can bounce a little if he's fallen hard and fast enough.

That awful idea may apply to our Rangers tonight. It's been so bad for so long that they have to bounce back a little tonight.

Don't they?

Who the Hell are we playing? It is the hated ones. The 'slanders. That team we dislike above all others - except maybe the Devils.

This may be a good thing. It's a team we dislike - so we will focus - and a team that is not all that good - so we stand a good chance.

And it's a double dip - two games against the Islanders in two days - tonight at the Garden and tomorrow on the Island.

Primary Skaters: The Islanders have two skaters with 15 goals: LW Matt Moulson and C John Tavares. RW Kyle Okpsos leads the team with 17 assists. Defenseman Jack Hillen leads the team plus-minus at +6

In Net: Dwayne Roloson has played 20 games with a 2.90 GAA and a .911 save percentage. Martin Biron has appeared in 15 games with a 3.33 GAA and a .898% save percentage. Compare those to the 28 games played by our own Henrik Lundqvist, his 2.59 GAA and his .916 save percentage.

Scoring & Defense: We score more goals than the Islanders (2.75 a game to their 2.55) although maybe not lately. And we let up less goals than the Islanders too (3.00 to their 3.24). So we have that going for us.

Special Effects: We dominate here also. Our PP is 7th best at 21.7%. The ‘slanders are 17th best at 18.5%. On the PK we are 6th best at 83.8% and the Islanders are way down at 27th with a 77.6%

Scheduling Conflicts: We played Monday. So did the Islanders. We both lost. We got a point. The Islanders had their worst loss of the season. But, both teams will be about equally tired.

Possible-Probable-Interchangeable Lines: Tortorella and his friggin lines. What a mess. Zero consistency - so zero chemistry. At this point he's probably putting the lines together in alphabetical order. So anyway – here’s best guess, but John will probably shift them mid-game anyway:

Line 1: Higgins-Dubinsky-Gaborik. The Gab Line. Introductions are still in order.

Line 2: Prospal-Drury-Callahan: The “Sweater Letter” line. Did anyone else notice – this is the Captain and his two Alternates all together on one line.

Line 3: Avery-Anisimov-Kotalik: A.K.A (get it?) The Avery Line –

Line 4: Brashear-Boyle-Lisin: Misfits and broken toys…

Back At The Blue Line: Still no Gilroy - the only Ranger defenseman with a plus-minus above the water line. So we have Redden, Rozsival, Girardi, Staal, Del Zotto and Heikkinen.

Fronting the Twine: I keep asking for Chad Johnson (and I keep getting turned down). Henrik Lundqvist is being overused - it's like using Secretariat to haul bricks the day before the Kentucky Derby.. But yes - it will be Hank again.

Dave Puck Predicts: You know - last time I predicted a shoot out and we had one. But I was on the wrong side of the outcome. This time the prediction is simpler: We win.

We win because the team is still battling, still has talent, is still listening to their coach, and is still better than the (expletive removed by Editor) Islanders

And failing that logic - we can always hope for the dead man's bounce…

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thrashed (Again)

It’s not fair. We took 48 shots last night. 48 shots. 47 in regulation. 2 PowerPlay goals. You'd sign up for a performance like that every night if you could. Because when we work that hard - we're supposed to win. But we didn't. The Atlanta Thrashers beat us 3-2 on a Shoot Out.
One even-strength goal would have won this hockey game. One! But the New York Rangers are finding ways to lose right now. At least we got a point - got to the OT - and even got to the Shoot Out - before losing.

The return of Brandon Dubinsky ended up a lot like the 13 games we played without him - with the Rangers playing hard - but unable to find that 3rd goal - and with Hank having his moments - but getting outplayed by the opposing goalie.

I'm feeling sorry for John Tortorella and Glen Sather right now. They make two moves - (1) demoting P. A. Parenteau to make room for Dubi and (2) making Christensen a healty scratch. Parenteau had one area where he excelled on the Rangers - he was 2 for 2 in the Shoot Out. And Christensen is 17-31 lifetime in ShootOuts. Torts and Sather take them both out of the lineup. And sure enough - the game goes to Shoot Out and we can't score.

And I was surprised we did so poorly in the Shoot Out. I thought we we're built as a shoot out team. Higgins is supposed to be a shoot out expert - he never even shot. Kotalik is also supposed to be good at this - but never got the shot off. Gaborik is now 0-2 on shoot outs.

Nothing is going well right now. This is a dark period for the team. We do get a point - but man, we should have won this game.

The Goalies: I hate to say this – but look no further - your game was lost right here. Hank was good – Hedberg was better. Hedberg faced an incredible 48 shots and saved 46 of them. An amazing performance. Lundqvist faced 27 shots and saved 25 of them. And in the shoot out - Hedberg saved both shots and Hank let both shots in. You can't have a clearer indicator than that.

I think you have to say - if you flipped the goalies here the Rangers would have won. And that is a very sad truth to be facing today.

Special Teams: Again - the whole game played out in special teams - there was no even strength scoring. The Rangers were 2 of 5 on the PowerPlay - but also let up a backbreaking shorthanded goal. The Thrashers were 1 for 3. That included a great PK by the Rangers at 5 on 3 that had the Garden on its feet.

The New Veteran Rangers Who else? Marian Gaborik scored in the third period to tie the game at 2-2. I think he’s the best scoring Ranger I’ve ever seen.

The Kid Rangers contributed with Michael Del Zotto notching assists on both Ranger goals.

Your Returning Rangers contributed the goal and an assist by Ryan Callahan.

Defense on Offense: Two assists for this unit.

In conclusion: Okay - let's focus on a few positives. Let's see.... There has to be a few positives around here somewhere.
We got a point. The team clearly has not quit on Tortorella. They are playing hard. 48 shots is some pretty good work.

And for a few moments - when Lundqvist was brilliant during a Rangers 5 on 3 Penatly Kill - the Garden was yelling "Hen-Rik Hen-Rik" and it was just like old times.

And Hank did not surrender a late goal - which is good. He hung tough twice while we were behind to let us catch up.
So there's that stuff. But how many big efforts can we come up with - and still lose - before the team starts breaking down? Some how - some way - we need to win a hockey game.
Where we stand: The point moves us nominally into 11th place – up one notch. But in reality we are now tied at 31 points with the Islanders, the Flyers, the Maple Leafs, and the Lightning between 9th and 13th place in the Eastern Conference. One more point sure would have come in handy.
Next Up: One rest day and then 2 in a row against the hated Islanders.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thashers Preview: Brandon Back - but can Dubi Do It?

Remember the good old days when we were in 10th place in the Eastern Conference? Well, now we're in 12th place, just one point above the Flyers who have a game at hand. We're 14-15-2 and if you factor in the knowledge that we were 7-1 once upon a time this year – the fall has been steep, swift and terrible to behold

We have the league's top scorer in Gaborik. But every other aspect of our game is falling apart – starting with our (former?) franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers seem to be trying out there – which may be worse actually – since they keep on losing. But the only way to turn this around is to win and the only way to win is to play games and tonight we have a new opportunity to do just that.

One bright shiny piece of news among a steaming pile of … less good news is the fact that Brandon Dubinsky has rejoined the Ranger active roster. P. A. Parenteau, who stopped scoring a while back, was the roster casualty and will join Valiquette and Gilroy in Hartford.

Who the Hell are we playing? The Atlanta Thrashers are in 7th place in the Eastern Conference and 6-4 in their last ten games, two things that we wish we could be.

They are the hockey team of one Nik Antropov - former Ranger and one of our leading scorers last year. We played them once before this year: a 5-3 loss where Antropov had an assist.

One interesting thing about the last time we played Atlanta - it was our first game without the services of Brandon Dubinsky - who had just broken his hand in the prior game. Now it is possible that Dubinsky will return for this contest - so the Thrashers are like bookends on the injury.

Primary Skaters: Left Winger Ilya Kovalchuk has 17 goals, right winger Maxim Afinogenov (great first name) has 11 goals and Cneter Rich Peverly has 10. Our old friend Nik Antropov leads the team with 21 assists (but only 4 goals). Defenseman Pavel Kubina lead the plus–minus with +13.

In Net: The Thrashers can throw two guys at you (and why didn't we think of that?). Ondrej Pavelec in 20 games has a 3.09 GAA and a .913 save percentage. In 14 games Johan Hedberg has a 2.22 and .929%. Our own Henrik Lundqvist is a very ordinary 2.64 GAA and .916%

Scoring & Defense: Atlanta scores 3.20 goals a game – much better than our falling average of 2.77. They let up 2.93 a game, slightly better than our even 3 goals a game defensive effort. So they dominate us in both ends of the ice.

Special Effects: The Thrashers are slightly better than us on the PowerPlay. They’re 8th best in the league with a 21.1% success rate. We’re 9th at 20.9%.

On the Penalty Kill Atlanta is again one slot above the Rangers. The Thrashers are 6th best with a 84.7% PK. We’re 7th best at 84.2%

Scheduling Conflicts: We played and lost on Saturday Night - against a team that had played the night before. So extra rest hasn't helped us. Atlanta played and won Saturday – 4-3 over Montreal to break a 3 game losing streak.

Probable Lines: I don't know what Tortorella is doing. Sometimes I’m not sure if Tortorella knows what he’s doing either. Since the start of the season he had shuffled faster than a Vegas card dealer. He does this, I believe, to enforce accountability. But the downside, of course, is that no chemistry has a chance to develop.

Adding to the line confusion is the return of Brandon Dubinsky. But it’s not clear if Dubi will play right away.

I was happy when Avery was on the top line and then really unhappy when Tortorella moved him. At this point - with the offence falling apart - Tortorella might want to stop shifting his lines over and over gain - seemingly as random - and let a few lines get comfortable with each other for a few games.

And – get this – there are reports that Tortorella may break up the one combination that he has kept together all season: Gaborik and Prospal. I’m kind of speechless about that - this is the combo that has produced most of the Ranger’s offence and the league’s leading scorer. I think our coach may be losing his marbles. His moves look less and less like a plan and more and more like desperation.

On Defense: Our latest six are set to go. Matt Gilroy is in Hartford now - and looking good - according to our Blueshirt Brothers readers and friends who have watched him play up there.

And Ilkka Heikkinen is here - trying to throw the body around and show he belongs.

Del Zotto is trying to dig himself out of his plus-minus hole, but has the talent to do it. And give the kid time - he's a teenager. As one reader commented - maybe Delzy should have retooled a few days in Hartford instead of Gilly.

Fronting the Twine: I’ll say it again. I'd start Chad Johnson. Starting Hank night after night is just not working. We're burning out our brightest bulb - maybe forever.

Start Chad tonight and again for one of the two Islander games. We're not playing an elite team this week - let your main goalie watch a few games and recharge his batteries.

But - since we're always in desperation mode - it will probably be all Hank all the time once again.

Dave Puck Predicts: We need to break out of this death-spiral soon - or this is going to be a long and difficult season to watch. I've found I can’t pick against my team - especially when they're down. So I'll say we find our way to 3 regulation goals and we will win 4-3 in a Shoot Out.
Off The Record: By the way - I got Pucks Junior his first table-top rod hockey game this week and he loves it. I had a rod hockey game as a kid - longer ago than I care to remember - and the technology has improved. The game surface is slicker - the puck slides easier. On our game the left forward has a long curved track that lets him dig behind the net like Sean Avery. And they have this button that pops the puck out of the goal after you score. Very cool.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rangers lose lead, hope, and direction – fall to Sabres 3-2

Not good, people, not good at all.

Our Rangers lost a 2-1 lead and fell 3-2 to the Buffalo Sabres. Their mojo is gone, their scoring has left them, and their season is in jeopardy.

Not a lot of positives here. 2 first periods goals – then lots of nothing – and against a Sabre team that had played the night before while we rested.

I can't keep writing “tough loss” and “rock bottom” but they both apply. Again.

And here are the details:

The Goalies: Hank faced 32 shots – quite a lot – and that's 74 shots in two games. Hank's save percentage was .906. But Buffalo”s Miller saved 36 of 38 for a .947 save percentage. So, we were outplayed at the goalie position – which really can't happen if we're going to win. On Friday I offered some free advice on how to get better play from Henrik Lundqvist – but the Rangers don't seem to be paying attention

Special Teams: We won on Specials but lost anyway – which is not supposed to happen. We killed off all 4 Penalties. And we scored on 2 of 6 PowerPlay opportunities against a pretty good PK team. We did give up a Short-handed goal, however, which proved to be the game winner.

The New Veteran Rangers: Who else? Marian Gaborik added a goal to his league leading total and put a perfect pass on Ryan Callahan's stick for an assist. Kotalik had an assist, as did Prospal. Prospal also had 4 hits and won 58% of his face offs.

The Kid Rangers An assist for Teen Ranger. But Del Zotto was also -2 on the night, moving him to -10 on the season – the 2nd worst of all Rangers.

The Returning Rangers Callahan had a goal, but managed to be on the ice for all three Sabre goals. Drury won 65% of his faceoffs and had 5 shots on net, but was -2 himself on the night.

Defense on Offense: One assist.

In Conclusion: I don't know what to say anymore. This is as bad as it's been in a long while. In our last eight games we have scored: 2 goals, 1 goal, 3 goals, 2 goals, 2 goals, 1 goal, 1 goal and 2 goals. We're not going to beat anybody that way.

If you're looking for a positive – our phantom Goalie: Mr. M. T. Nett, was perfect, letting up no goals in 1 minute and 1 second of ice time.

Next Up: Monday night – at home – to Atlanta.
Where We Stand: Are we still standing? The Rangers fall to 12th place in the Eastern Conference. We'll have to pass three teams just to be in 9th.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Buffalo tonight

So, Buffalo tonight and, sorry, we're late with the preview so it will be a quick one.

The team is in crisis. Confidence is down after wasting a gem by Henrik Lundqvist. Gilroy has been sent to the minors. Dubinsky is still out – but word is he may rejoin the team next week – and not a moment too soon. Ilkka Heineken our new 6th defenseman.

And Tortorella has thrown Sean Avery off the top line yet again - making me very disappointed and angry.

The puck drops at 7. More later.

Down Goes Gilroy

The Rangers used to have just 4 players on the active roster with a positive Plus-minus statistic. Now they have three: Gaborik, Prospal, and Avery

What happened to the fourth? The Rangers have demoted Matt Gilroy (+2) to Hartford and have decided to keep Heikkinen after all as their 6th defenseman.
The Rangers are saying this is not a knee-jerk reaction to Matt getting beat for the game winner Wednesday – that Matt's game had deteriorated and it's many things over many games – not just this one moment.
But I don't think so. I think that Sather and Tortorella are just about out of moves and this is one thing they can do – demote a player who has a few options left and can bounce up and down to the AHL without waivers.
Look. Gilly might not be lighting the world on fire in his rookie season. But someone please explain to me why (-8) Del Zotto and (-6) Girardi and (1) Rozsival and (+0) Redden get to stay while Gilroy doesn't?
I try to be positive here, but I'm sorry. It makes no sense to me.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Six Rules to Save Henrik Lundqvist - before it's too late

Night after night, year after year, Henrik Lundqvist have been making saves. Saving shots, saving games, and (at least temporarily) saving our seasons. But now it's the Ranger's turn. We've got to step up and save Henrik Lundqvist - before we ruin him forever.
It's no secret that the Ranger's fortunes start and end with their franchise goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. Ever since the talented Swede won the starting job on Broadway a few years back - he's given us everything he has - and has kept us in hockey games that we had no business being in. We don't have to look any further back than last Wednesday for evidence of that – Hank single-handedly delivered us a point against the Blackhawks, stopping 39 shots to get us to OT.
Lundqvist has been everything we could have asked for all these years. But have the Rangers held up their end of the bargain? Have they taken proper care of their prized Thoroughbred?

If Hank's level of play has fallen over the last year, it is the fault of the New York Rangers. They are mishandling their goalie and the sad results are playing out in front of our eyes.
On Wednesday he turned in a vintage Lundqvist, super-human effort in a losing cause. It was the kind of game he is still capable of - but which we haven't seen in quite a while.
But we can get The King back to the elite level again - if we just follow a few simple rules
Rule 1: Rest him. Hank is one of the most over-worked goaltender over the past two seasons. He is a team player and will always go out there if asked. What the Rangers should do is protect their franchise player. Give the guy a night off once in a while. Sit him for 15 games a year. Never let him start on consecutive days. Forget this week's losing streak - protect your franchise.
Rule 2: Get a quality backup. The career implosion of Steve Valiquette - he has now been pulled from two consecutive AHL starts - underscores the fact that really, he was never good enough. Steve had the ultimate failure as a backup this year – he was pulled from a Ranger start and Lundqvist – on a rare off day - had to skate out and take over.
The Rangers need a backup like Washington's Varlamov: someone who you can put out there to provide a great change of pace, fire up the team, and give you a real chance of winning. I think we should give Chad Johnson a chance to become that goalie. A good backup takes the pressure off your starter and will let Hank focus better – and even give him a little friendly competition.

Rule 3: Score some freaking goals. Hank's life doesn't have to be like this. If the Rangers could score some goals he could let up two goals and win easily – instead of losing. And it's not just wins and losses. If Henrik had a 2 or 3 goal lead once in a while – his life becomes more stress free. He won't burn out so quickly.
Rule 4: Block Shots. Now – the Rangers have been doing a much better job of this lately. And Chris Drury has been a champ at this. But the other fellows have to pitch in. Every blocked shot is one less that Hank has to deal with.
Rule 5: Stop the odd man rush. Again, this has been better lately – but for the first three quarters of our season the Rangers have let up an unacceptable level of odd man rushes – usually resulting in a player getting a free shot at Hank. That's how the Blackhawks beat us in OT. We've got to position better and hustle back on defense.
Rule 6: Protect Him. Clear the crease. It may be old fashioned – but it works. Get those opposing players away from Hank. Too many nights he's been crowded, screened, bumped, or just plain run over. The Rangers need to retaliate when our goalie is knocked down. We've got a great Penalty Kill Unit – let's use our penalties for a purpose. Protect your franchise.
So that's the recipe. If the Rangers can do all of those things – Henrik Lundqvist can be like a better version of Marty Brodeur – someone who can shine for this franchise for years to come. But if we keep on breaking all of those rules – The King will break down. We're seeing the unfortunate beginnings of that breakdown right before our eyes. Sather and Tortorella need to take action now to preserve the brightest star in the Ranger galaxy – before he burns himself out.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Torts: “We Stunk Tonight” - Hank Awesome but Rangers Still Fall in OT 2-1

That one hurt. The Rangers, getting a superstar performance from their maligned goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, led for most of the contest but ended up losing in Overtime 2-1. They do leave Chicago with a point - but Hank played almost perfectly and still, the Rangers failed to win.

I thought the team battled throughout and played defense, threw checks, and blocked shots to help their goaltender but Coach thought differently. Tortorella called the effort “unacceptable” from everyone other than the goaltender.

The Ranger coach's opinion was that Henrik Lundqvist was “the only one the played” last night – and Hank certainly did play.

All pain aside, it's a point on the road against a very good hockey team. And it's a return to top form for Henrik Lundqvist. But it's also a crushing loss where the Rangers battled hard for 63 minutes and still lost in overtime. A 1-0 lead after two periods was lost in regulation and then the game was lost in OT.

We were outshot 41 to 18. Coming in to the third period with the lead, we only generated one shot in 20 minutes. We gave the Blackhawks five Powerplays and only had one of our own. But the team played hard, blocked shots, hung tough and almost beat a very good hockey team.

So you take the point and try to build on that. That's all we can do.

The Goalies: Hank was magnificent. Hank was as good as he's ever been in his life. Hank outplayed Huet and still lost – something you'll only see a handful of times in your life. Hank had 39 saves. He had a save percentage of .951% while his Blackhawk counterpart only saved 17 shots for a save percentage of .944%.

It was a late goal that tied it – but don't blame Hank for this. It was a powerplay goal where Chicago had several shots from point blank range before finally putting one home.

Lundqvist slammed his stick on the boards as he left the ice in frustration. He sounded despondent in interviews after the game. You have to feel really bad for Hank – because he played well enough to win the game. In fact, with 39 saves he played well enough to win two games.

Special Teams: Our Powerplay was 0-1. But Chicago had 5 chances and scored on one of them. That was all they needed to get the game to OT.

The New Veteran Rangers: Higgins had the only Ranger goal off a great feed from Gaborik during a partial line change. Gabs had an assist on that same play. Only two shots on goal for Gabs.

The Kid Rangers were Pointless. But some good defensive play. Del Zotto was +1 on the night.

The Returning Rangers: Rozy had an assist. Drury blocked 4 shots and did great on the Penalty Kill.

Defense on Offense: One assist for this unit.

In Conclusion: We can't seem to put it all together. When the goalie returns to superstar form – we can't shoot and we can't score.

On the other hand – if you're looking for positives - which I always am - we've seen all of the elements of greatness. Some nights we can score. Some nights we can defend. And some nights our goaltending is stellar. So we just need to start doing it all on the same night.

Best aspect of last night - it was really good to see that the King can still do it.

Another hard loss late in the game – but we do get a point for our efforts. And if we had lasted another 2 minutes - I always like our chances in the shootout.

Next Up: A few days of Christmas shopping and we return home Saturday to play a Sabres team that we beat 2-1 one week prior.
Where We Stand - The point puts us in 9th place, two points behind 8th place Montreal with a game at hand.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Updates – lines and lineups

Here’s the latest from Ranger-land:

The lines as they practiced today:

Line One: Avery-Prospal-Gaborik: My dream line – reunited and it feels so good.

Line Two: Higgins-Drury-Callahan: These guys seem to go together – but I’m not sure it’s for a good reason.

Line Three: Boyle-Anisimov-Kotalik. Two centers and a cannon. “Anis” demoted from line 1 to 3. Keep your chin up Artem – and keep your head up also.

Line Four: Brashear-Christensen-Parenteau. Glad to have Punch-Man back. And with the “Second Coming” of Christiansen off the waver wire and PA – the 4th line has some potential scoring to it.

Odd men out: Lisin. Voros.

Redden returns to the team. We were 1-3 without him. But 2 were against the Penguins.

Self-Tooting Horn Department

Back on December 5th I wrote:

Brashear's hurt. Undisclosed punching injury. No one told me this - but I think he's got a cracked rib from some nasty body shots he took recently.

And today he admitted it was, in fact a rib injury. I just had a feeling from the way he looked while absorbing body shots – like he was really hurt and trying to hide it. So score one for the Blueshirt Brothers.

Puck drops 8:30. Go Avery!

We face Chicago tonight – but Who Are We?

We're 29 games into John Tortorella's first full season as the Ranger's coach. And where are we? 14 wins. And 14 losses. And an OT loss. So far we’ve pretty much moved sideways. And sideways is not good enough to make the playoffs.

So this is a team in crisis. A team looking to find its soul. Or how about a victory?

We usually open the preview by asking Who The Hell Are We Playing - but first I have to ask:

Who The Hell Are We? I mean - are we a big scoring team where Gaborik leads the league in goals and even our defensemen chip in for goals? Well, in a way yes, our goals are up this year but the last few games we've had trouble scoring. And if your name isn't Gaborik - you're not scoring goals. So, no, we're not a high powered offense right now.

Are we a team built on Goaltending and defense? Uh, not lately. Our goals per game against are way way up - over 3 goals a game. Our defenders are too busy shooting to protect the net. And Hank is not playing like an elite goalie. In fact, lately he seems to be yielding a soft goal at a critical juncture most nights and has had more 4 goal games in the last few weeks than I can ever remember him having.

Are we a tough team? Not with Brashear out of the lineup.

The truth is - I don't know who we are anymore. Lately we can't score or defend. And that's not good.

So it is with a certain degree of trepidation that I view our upcoming contest (Editor - Dave Pucks means that the next game scares him)

Who the Hell are we playing? For the first time this season we are facing the Chicago Blackhawks, an Original Six team in the Western Division. They are third seeded overall in the West at 18-7-3. They are a powerful combination of team scoring and team defense.

Primary Skaters: Unlike some teams we know – the Chicago scoring is spread out among players and lines. They have 4 right wingers with 7 goals or more. Kris Versteeg and Patrick Kane have 9 goals, Dustin Byfuglien (great name) has 8, and Troy Brouwer has 7. (We don’t even have two players with 7 or more goals!). Center Patrick Sharp has 8 goals as well. And Center Jon Toews has a plus-minus of +12

In Net: Cristobal Huet, in 22 games has a goals against average of 2.24 and a save percentage of .906. Very good numbers. If we don’t see Huet, we’ll see Antti Niemi who in 7 games has BETTER numbers. His goals against average is 1.71 and his save percentage is .931. Why can’t we get a backup like that?

Scoring & Defense: Wow. The Blackhawks score 3.04 goals a game and let up 2.29. We are only scoring 2.86 a game and we allow 3.03 per contest. They’re just better than we are.

Special Effects: We’re worse both ways. Our PowerPlay is 12th best in the league at 20.4%. But Chicago is 10th best at just 21.4%. On the Penalty Kill, Chi-Town is 4th in the league at 84.5%. We’re 7th best at 83.9%.

Scheduling Conflicts: We’ve been resting up since splitting a pair of games over the weekend. But Chicago has had more rest – sitting around since Saturday night. So no edge here either.

Possible-Probable-Interchangeable Lines- Update: Avery is back on the Top Line and all is right with the world. I'm not sure how the rest of the lines will shake out.

Line 1: AVERY(!) , Gabs and Prospal.

Beyond that I'm not sure. With Prospal taking Center on the top line again - we now have 5 centers with Christensen. Who drops out? Drury will probably center for Callahan. And I don't know the rest. Also - Brashear is skating today - so he may play.

Back At The Line: Wade Redden is skating with the team - so we'll see what happens to the K-man. I think carrying 7 defensemen is a good idea though - especially if Rozy and Wade are two of them.

Fronting the Twine: Former King Henrik has a 2.64 Goals Against average and a .914 save percentage. Not bad but not Hank. He has to play better – but I think we have to rest him to get him to play better. He’s had a few days off and the Blackhawks are not a team you’d throw your rookie out there against to make his first start. So Chad watches again and we live or die with Hank. Sometimes both.

Dave Puck Predicts: This section is getting lame because I stubbornly refuse to pick against my team. So what if Chicago scores better, defends better, goaltends better, penalty-kills better, powerplays better, and has more rest than we do? I’m saying that Hank comes out like a Man Possessed (not like an old van re-possessed) and we wake up and stun the ‘Hawks 3-1.