Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Swept Away: Gaborik 2 – Penguins 5

I don't like to be negative. I don't like kicking a team when they're down. It feels too much like piling on. And you know what? I'm feeling something today besides disappointment.

I know we just got swept in two games with Penguins. I know we're 13-13-1 and our season is in jeopardy. But I saw something today that I liked.

We showed some fight. We raised our level of play. Gaborik got mad. The team showed real effort. And for over 50 minutes we were tied 2-2 with the best hockey team in the world.
And we finally saw Sean Avery on the top line with Gaborik and Prospal – and they looked great together. Sean digs in the corners and behind the net and makes great set up passes. And Sean draws attention – which distracts some away from Gabs. It's a great line and I hope Tortorella keeps it together. And Sean is playing like Sean again – which brings some real happiness to my BlueShirt Brothers heart.

So yes - we lost - and yes - the team has a 3 game losing streak and yes – we've hit a new rock bottom. But I saw some fight out there last night, And long stretches of great hockey from this team. And when Gaborik was pushing and shoving with Sidney Crosby, I started falling in love with my hockey team all over again.

But anyway – here's what happened.

The Goalies: Fleury saved 29 of 31 shots for a .935 GAA. When you put that together with the Pittsburgh offense that is one tough team to beat. Hank had some stretches of his super-human self, but he is also showing this very very disturbing trend of letting up the late goal. In the end I have to say it – he let us down with a .875 Save Percentage, stopping 28 of 32 shots. Fleury was a little bit better and we can never win if we're outplayed at the goalie position. A lot of the blame goes right here.

Special Teams: We won this battle, going 1 for 3 on the PP and stopping all 5 Penguin man advantages. Against a lot of teams on a lot of nights if you win in Special Teams you win the game. But tonight it just wasn't enough.

The New Veteran Rangers: Marian Gaborik did his best to single-handedly win this one himself and god bless him he almost did it. Two goals on 7 shots and a near fight with Sidney Crosby. Gabs gave us all he had and more than you could ask for. Brashear added 4 hits and seems to be playing better. Prospal had an assist. Chris Higgins somehow managed to be minus 4 on the night. Lisin, by the way, was a healthy scratch – he must really be in the Tortorella doghouse. And Kotalik only played 3 minutes – much of that after the game was pretty much over.

The Kid Rangers: Michael Del Zotto had an assist and six hits. Anisimov, on the flip side, was -3.

The Returning Rangers: Assists for Marc Staal and Chris Drury. And some great defensive plays for Dan Girardi.

Defense on Offense: Two assists for this unit.

In Conclusion: Scoring from the 2nd 3rd and 4th lines. We need it and we're not getting it. I'm starting to wonder if there really is any more to Chris Higgins or if this is who he is. And I keep wondering if Lundqvist is worse this year because of the system we're playing, or the quality of the defense, or is it something about Hank's game. I guess the Olympics may show us if it is us or Hank that is having the problem.

But my other conclusion is this. Win or lose, I like this hockey team. Gaborik is everything you could ask for in a player: he's great - he stick-handles well - he passes well - he's the best pure goal scorer I've seen in Ranger Blue in a generation - he's humble - he cares - and he gives 100% every night. Watching him our there with Sean Avery - what a perfect combination. Sean gets in the corners and behind the net and delivers the puck to his linemates and gets the other team distracted with his physical and verbal antics - and Marian gets in perfect position and finishes and benefits when the other team is looking at Sean.

Next Up: After 5 games in 8 days we get a bit of rest before playing back to back games on the weekend. First we travel to Buffalo for a 7pm start on Saturday. So there are a few days for Tortorella to try and think about how to raise his team's play. We're letting up more than 3 goals a game now and it's going to be tough to win that way.
Where We Stand: Still in 10th place at the moment and still tied in points with the hated Flyers and the more-hated Islanders.

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