Well, Scotty Hockey and The Dark Ranger can breathe a little easier. As all of the blogosphere carefully evaluated, you can be happy by a couple wins, but you have to be cautious because after all, these are the Rangers.
However, they showed a lot of determination in last night's overtime win at the Garden. The strong play of the top two forward lines continued and really made the difference. Chris Drury seems to have developed a nice chemistry with Brendan Shanahan, and Sean Avery complements both nicely. The duo converted for the overtime winner, but really led play all night.
Similarly with Jaromir Jagr and Scott Gomez. Now that Gomez has extended his point streak to 12 games, you can see the dominance his speed has brought, particularly through the neutral zone. It creates a lot of ice for Jagr and Martin Straka to work.
Marcel Hossa saw his first game in a while as Petr Prucha was a last minute scratch because of an injured wrist from the previous night's scratch. He had an OK performance, nothing worth putting him back in the lineup for.
One item that I thought was worth noting was the poor play of the Michal Rozsival and Marc Staal pairing. In the two-goal two-minute span of the second period, both were out and lost their position for a good portion of the night. While their defensive counterparts played well, including Marek Malik and Paul Mara (although if he doesn't put two hands on his stick going into the corner I may lose my mind), the top pairing really struggled. Everyone's entitled to an off-game, but I think Rozsival is playing nervous. Not sure why, but that's the hunch.
Either way, a strong win that gives us Ranger fans a little hope that maybe they have finally turned the corner.
The Rangers' minor league affiliates made some interesting shakeups. I can't quite figure out why, but I'm searching. Here's the report:
|12/29/2007||Chris Holt (G)||Hartford||DEL Reassigned by NY Rangers (NHL) to Charlotte (ECHL)|
|12/29/2007||Jordan Owens (LW)||Hartford||ADD Recalled from loan to Charlotte (ECHL)|
|12/29/2007||Matt Waddell (D)||Hartford||ADD Signed to PTO|
|12/29/2007||Ryan (C.) Murphy (RW)||Hartford||ADD Signed to PTO|
|12/28/2007||Bruce Graham (C)||Hartford||ADD Reassigned by NY Rangers (NHL) from Charlotte (ECHL)|
|12/28/2007||Nigel Dawes (LW)||Hartford||ADD Returned on loan from NY Rangers (NHL)|
|12/28/2007||Ryan (C.) Murphy (RW)||Hartford||DEL Released from PTO|
And for Charlotte:
|007-12-29||Dallas Steward (F)||Added|
|2007-12-29||Matt Pierce (F)||Added|
|2007-12-29||Mike Hartman (F)||Added|
|2007-12-29||Steve Burgess (D)||Added|
A lot of additions to Hartford without a lot of subtraction. What am I missing?
Where did that come from?
I am pretty sure that was exactly what Ranger fans expected the majority of this season to be and it only took...half a season! Well not quite, but close enough.
Most will focus tonight on the amount of goals. Six for any team that has had offensive struggles as a follow up to a four goal performance is impressive. However, the real story here is the special teams. While the penalty kill has suffered a bit in the past two weeks, the power play has been red hot.
Why is it that it took so long to get going with so many studs? You will have to ask the players (and if I work a game anytime soon I will in fact ask) , but there are a couple things I can see.
First, is the line combinations. While there is some rotation allowed, there is a very good and effective mix of players now. Petr Prucha (who we'll get to in a bit) with Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Brandon Dubinsky, and Michal Rozsival have made a great European combo with a little North American in Dubinsky.
Then, the inverse for the second unit. Chris Drury, Brendan Shanahan, Scott Gomez, and typically Fedor Tyutin and Dan Girardi. A lot of North American and a little Tyutin.
The first minute of the penalty is spent with finesse while the second is grinding and hard to the net. What does this spell?
All season the Rangers have been searching for balance and (as Tom Renney puts it) "traction." What's interesting is the same has come into play in the regular lines. Gomez has solidified the first line with his improved play. The MSG telecast showed Jagr and Gomez discussing things on the bench, while it may have appeared a bit heated, the point is that there is some chemistry and something clicking while Straka provides his usual consistent self.
The Captain is back to form.
With Sean Avery returning, he takes some pressure and light off of Drury and Shanahan allowing them to open up and get to the net or at least find the open man. Avery adds an interesting dimension that really is evident when he is in and out of the lineup.
The third line has become better aware of their role. Prucha (don't worry we'll get there), Ryan Callahan, and now Dubinsky have a much quicker and effective chemistry going then when Drury, Marcel Hossa, and Nigel Dawes were rotating through. Dubinsky is serving a very similar role that Gomez is serving on the first line, speed through the neutral zone and hard to the net. The wingers just take care of the boards and create chances around the net.
Finally, the HBO line (Ryan Hollweg, Blair Betts, and Colton Orr) is serving an outstanding role of shutting down the other team's top line. On most teams, this is merely served by a defensive pairing or the third line because fourth lines are essentially goon lines. However, Betts and Hollweg create a lot of speed and energy while clogging up the lanes and Orr is a physical presence, particularly on the boards.
Is this too much praise?
Maybe, but it's been a fun couple days and should only get more interesting tomorrow night. Will the streak continue or will old ways be reverted back to?
And now the rant you have all been waiting for: PRU - CHA!
Since the beginning of this blog, I have maintained that Prucha has been used wrong, isn't given enough credit, and his efforts deserve far better than his stats dictate. I still maintain that, but it seems Renney finally sees enough in Prucha in putting him with the power play and tonight his play was simply outstanding. Two goals on the power play, some drawn penalties, and a huge smile to top the monkey jumping off his back.
I am going to be candid here and explain something that is often not mentioned. Most fans have recognized that Dawes needs to be a top two line player to be successful. What distinguishes that assessment from Prucha? They are smaller in stature, though Prucha is leaner and Dawes broader, have a great scoring touch and knack for the net. Everyone was so quick to jump on the "Trade Prucha" bandwagon and have really forgotten to assess. Dawes and Prucha are similar players with Prucha having a 30 goal season and 20 goal in a limited role sophomore season under his belt.
When Shanahan, Straka, and potentially Jagr leave the Rangers for retirement or other tidings, who will serve as our top line wingers? Dawes and Prucha. Even more reason to hold on and as Stan Fischler said in his Hockey Night Live broadcast, give it time. Look at Henrik Zetterberg. We, as fans, all think we have the ability to scout. To a large extent we do see valid things and make assesments, but in this case Prucha will be a top six forward for years to come and with wings thinning out after this season, it's no time to be giving up.
Great win tonight and I think this is a great spot to build on. More tomorrow from the Garden...
(Photo from Yahoo! Images by Harry How/Getty Images)
Apologies for the late post, but during this time of the year I always seem to be battling something, in this case sinusitis. (Which might be one of the funniest illnesses to say) However, despite my illness, I did attend the game and it was quite a show.
After the second period, I have a tradition about asking whoever is with me to predict the outcome. My good friend predicted 2 - 2 and a shootout win. I actually said 4 - 2 and it would be a turning point of the season. Not to give myself kudos (I have the proof in a text message), but what will be interesting is to see where this period takes the Rangers going forward.
Following such a strong outing, while most are encouraged I continue to be disappointed that this team can play that well and still have garbage games. How could a team with so much potential continue to be so inconsistent?
The roster finally made sense, with Marek Malik and Paul Mara both playing. I'd speculated here that the jumping around of both of them as well as Nigel Dawes and Petr Prucha could have meant something, but last night throws a wrench into those works.
Despite the abundance of talk about the Columbus scouts and trade rumors, I watched the Blue Jacket game tonight and GM Scott Howson obviously denied all of the rumors and said that nothing would happen tonight when the trade freeze is lifted at midnight.
Jaromir Jagr had a strong game and it seems that he and the red-hot Scott Gomez continue to jell, while Gomez continues to attribute the success to Martin Straka's strong play. Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and Petr Prucha had a strong night and the power play is working well.
The defense was also strong, despite a couple gaffs by Marc Staal and Michal Rozsival. Even Malik had a good game.
I won't comment much about the Colton Orr hit because everyone has seen it and everyone has commented on it. Bottom line: NO WAY was it a penalty and if the NHL continues to take strong physical play and open ice hits out of the game, nothing but bad can happen.
Sean Avery continues to be a difference maker and will see a big pay day from the Rangers next month. (Does anyone actually think he's going to become a UFA?)
A big Canada swing is coming up and hopefully I'll have time to do a game-log!
More (as always) to come...
P.S.: If anything happens at midnight, I'll post it as I hear it...
(Photo from Yahoo! images by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
I am not going to even bother discussing last night too much. (Mainly to avoid ruining this nice holiday) While it was a better overall effort, it illustrated the same continuing problems that have plagued this team all season long.
However, there were some very telling events as to how this club is thinking moving forward.
First, Sean Avery returned, which was interesting given that it was an opportunity for him to rest an additional three days before coming back. It shows how much of an asset he is. And why bring him back partially recovered? To sit Petr Prucha.
Interestingly enough, Prucha was pulled aside and spoken to by Head Coach Tom Renney yesterday at practice leading the beat writers to speculate that he may have skated last night in case Avery can't go. However, I feel that he was being told of a trade. Why? Was it worth sitting him and putting Nigel Dawes in his place? Has Dawes brought enough to the table to warrant sitting Prucha who has been held to the third line all season and still been a trooper? I don't think so. But since Dawes stayed, it seems as if the writing is on the wall for the feisty winger.
This leads us to Paul Mara. Every Ranger fan has mercilessly booed Malik, but failed to recognize the ineffectiveness of our highest salaried defenseman. I've said here that I have been totally confused as to why bring Mara back with an injury and sit a healthy Malik and the answer is simple: to showcase Mara. Malik was brought back tonight and where Mara should have played with him, 7th defenseman Jason Strudwick was chosen over him.
Some very interesting turn of events. But who are the Rangers interested in? Here is a short list of internet rumors, rumblings around the Garden, and even a couple based on reliable sources:
- John-Michael Liles - Colorado
- Marek Svatos - Colorado
- Rob Blake - Los Angeles
- Brent Sopel - Vancouver
- Brooks Orpik - Pittsburgh
- Joni Pitkanen - Edmonton
- Mathieu Schneider - Anaheim
- Francois Beauchemin - Anaheim
From Pucks to your house, Have a Happy Holiday and we'll pick back up right after Christmas!
Only a Rangers' road trip could put such a dim light on the holiday season. With such an encouraging victory over Pittsburgh the Rangers crumbled following questionable officiating against Minnesota and then couldn't finish the job in Colorado, despite getting a point.
What does this tell us?
Well, at least the Rangers have been scoring. So the offensive drought seems to have ended. However, this seems to be at the expense of the defensive system they prided themselves. The defense has been constantly caught up ice and the forwards are collapsing in the defensive zone. Sound familiar? It should, it was the story of the first 10 games of the season.
Lundqvist has been sharp, but hasn't been able to steal a game for the Rangers in a while. Does that mean he is at fault? No, but even a questionable goal in Minnesota made the difference in the game as the Rangers tried to come back.
Let's be honest, the Rangers have yet to be running on all cylinders. Pittsburgh was perhaps the closest and even that was up and down.
There is some good to all of this. The unsportsmanlike conduct penalties of Tom Renney and Chris Drury as well as the reaction of Michal Rozsival shows some energy and a bit of passion, which has really been missing this season. If the Rangers can finally get the "us versus them" mentality of earlier seasons, this could be an exciting team to watch. If not, it will just show a lack of composure and a telltale sign that this train is becoming derailed.
On a lighter note, tomorrow I will have the privilege of participating in a round table discussion about the Atlantic Division tomorrow at 6:30 pm on Blog Talk Radio's Sports Docket.
Join in or listen here.
(photo from Yahoo! images, AP Photo/ David Zalubowski)
While there is a bit of a lull in the action before tonight's contest against Minnesota (8 p.m.), there are a few house keeping items for the Rangers to address, as well as here at Pucks on Broadway moving into the next year.
First, the important issues the Rangers will address. Consider this a combination of a holiday wish list and grocery list of what the Rangers need:
- The defense: The rumors are rampant about it. The Rangers have addressed it as their biggest concern. Will they have to wait until the deadline in order to make their move? In the past two seasons, Paul Mara and Sandis Ozolinsh have been their real deadline deals. Don't expect quite the same this year. I think there is some merit to the John-Michael Liles talk, and even perhaps Derek Morris. One way or another, it will be the one thing, if not the only thing, the Rangers tinker with before the playoffs.
- Heart: See what losing Jed Ortmeyer does? The Rangers have some heart and soul guys, but nobody is stepping up to fill the role that Ortmeyer played last year. Who will be vocal enough and make a meaningful impact on the ice moving forward? My bet is Chris Drury.
- Jagr: Is he finally happy with Scott Gomez as his center? They played well last night and going into the 3 games in 4 nights this weekend, we will get a better sense of what's to come. The Rangers need him in order to be successful in the playoffs.
- Contracts: Henrik Lundqvist and Sean Avery are both UFA's (unrestricted free agents) this summer if GM Glen Sather can't sign them. You know people will be offering, if not just to get them off the Rangers.
With the new year moving forward, there are some exciting new features coming.
- First and foremost, you will see at the left our READER COMMUNITY. If you're a visitor, drop your name and even a photo and begin to interact with other readers. In the future, Pucks will hold special events as well as contests for readers! So get involved!
- A photographer - - we are trying hard to try and find one. Being that we can't provide press credentials YET, we are still looking for a fan or current photographer with a few pictures. Email any inquiries.
- Weekly Guests - - we had Jeremy Kenter of Devil's Daily and after the New Year it will be a weekly feature.
- Are you a writer or Ranger blogger? Pucks is always looking to expand and will be having guest columns as well. Email us at the left and we'll be happy to start publishing YOUR materials!
According to multiple news outlets, the NHL has suspended Chris Simon 30 games for his actions against Jarkko Ruutu of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
If you haven't seen the video click here.
Simon was given an indefinite leave of absence from the Islanders yesterday to work out his on and off-ice problems.
Was thirty games enough? Yes, but the real question is whether anyone will continue to let him play. It's incredibly important to note that if the NHL expels him from the league, it sets a precedent. Are repeat offenders more likely to receive that kind of punishment? Was Marty McSorley's incident worse than Simon's? How do you define the standard?
Given these questions it's understandable that the league doesn't want to go that far into the issue. However, if any team signs Simon or if the Islanders allow him to return, they are far worse than the offender because they are allowing it and nearly condoning it.
The same way Islander's Head Coach Ted Nolan came to Simon's defense following his Ryan Hollweg incident, he is nearly as guilty as Simon if he allows him to return to the lineup.
For the sake of himself, the league, and his team, Chris Simon should retire and not do any further harm to himself or others.
(photo from Losers with Socks)
Great win. I originally wasn't going to go in and gave the seats away to my brother, but a last minute turn of events found myself driving into MSG with free seats and a good buddy of mine.
Glad I went in, it's been a while since I've attended a Rangers' home win.
There was a lot of good to be taken from last night. First and foremost was obviously the points, something that they needed as the Devils and Flyers continue to hover around first place. The Rangers shutdown Sid the Kid and the Beastly Malkin and really held their ground physically.
Secondly was the re-emergence of a commitment to defense. In allowing a mere five shots through two periods, the Rangers got back to the successful style that they had earlier in the season.
Next was the potent offense. The team skated well offensively, moved the puck well on the power play, and got some nice production from the first line, with new center Scott Gomez.
Is this the way the line combinations will stay? Most likely for a bit now. I still wonder however, why Chris Drury is not allowed to play with Jagr.
Henrik Lundqvist made the big-game saves he needed to late in the second and throughout the third to hold onto the lead and his sixth shutout. He looked steady and comfortable, something that has been lacking of late.
The only real blemish in my mind was the lack of defense by Michal Rozsival. He was caught up a couple times and rescued by Jason Strudwick and Marc Staal on multiple occasions. I have maintained this throughout the season that if it wasn't for his offense (the only real offensive defenseman we have), he deserves to be sat as much if not more than Marek Malik.
Fedor Tyutin had a strong game, particularly on the boards and an overall physical presence. His partner Dan Girardi was exceptional at the blue line and was getting a lot of good shots through to the net.
Looking ahead the Rangers have a back-to-back with Minnesota and Colorado before returning home on Sunday. It's a good time to get hot because these will not be easy games.
The NHL trade freeze is midnight tonight, the Flyers traded Ben Eager to Chicago for Jeff Vandermeer last night. Will the Rangers do something?
EDIT: Yesterday, I reported that Joni Pitkanen was a Flyer which he is obviously no longer. He is of course an Edmonton Oiler and could have some merit in coming to the Rangers although they have enough defensive problems in Edmonton that I'm not sure they're ready to part with him.
(photo from Yahoo images, Al Bello/Getty Images)
UPDATE: Al Montoya was sent down as quickly as he came up and Henrik Lundqvist will indeed go for the Rangers. Renney was leaning toward the earlier mentioned lines and Marek Malik will be a scratch, due to an issue with "illness."
I don't buy it.
A couple of internet rumors being thrown about including earlier rumors of Derek Morris and John Michael Liles, as well as Joni Pitkanen. You got the sense during the Phoenix game that something was coming, but I'm pretty positive it's not going to come from Philly.
Also, a memorable quote from Perry Pearn today that I thought has summed up the entire season, courtesy of Steve Zipay:
"This is an optional practice," he barked. "If you don;t want to be here, get the ---- off," he said, pointing his stick toward the bench. "When the whistle blows, be ready to go. Wake the -----up!"
Why can't he say that during games?
The Rangers play host to the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. This will be a good test for both clubs as neither seems to be able to hit their stride and stay with it. In their last 10, Pittsburgh is 7 - 3 while the Rangers are a dismal 3 - 5 - 2.
Obviously the Rangers will have to watch out for the big guns of Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but should also get a little relief given their porous goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist should be back in net for the Rangers, but Al Montoya was called up (and Greg Moore sent down) from Hartford just in case.
As of yesterday's practice, here were the lines:
Straka - Gomez - Jagr
Dawes - Drury - Shanahan
Prucha - Dubinsky - Callahan
Hollweg - Betts - Orr
Will Renney hold these lines down or continue to shake them up?
More to come...
Talk about disappointments. First, my first meal in the Play-By-Play in months was dry and disgusting. Next, there was absolutely NO recognition by MSG and the Rangers for Wayne Gretzky or Don Maloney. The usually classy New York hockey team really got this wrong. It was classless and really dishonored two individuals who deserved much more. Finally, the game. So let's focus on that debacle.
I am tired of hearing this term "clunker." Since a great homestand, the Rangers have been a win one - lose a couple team. That is unacceptable. First, many of these games were written off as flubs that happen over the course of the season. Very true. However, at this point it is far too consistent to be written off so easily.
Head Coach Tom Renney made some interesting moves in the lineup to try and remedy it, albeit far too late. By calling up Greg Moore and Nigel Dawes, you put some pressure on the lineup. However, scratching Ryan Hollweg? I don't think he is the problem.
Why the hesitation AGAIN of moving Drury on the first line? Even with today's updated line combinations, you break up the Shanahan - Gomez combo that has been a rare bright spot on this team and move Gomez to the first line? I just simply don't understand.
Although the Rangers came out strong and had a lot of opportunities they still don't understand the concept of a full 60 minute game. The defense was slow and lackluster, the forwards didn't back check and Stephen Valiquette didn't impress.
So where do the Rangers go from here?
They are facing a tough young and fast team in Pittsburgh and will have no choice but to be on their games. The holiday roster freeze is December 19th. Will something happen? Something needs to happen and soon or this ship is ready to go the way of the Titanic.
(photo from Yahoo Images, AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
I had the privilege of being around as a Ranger fan for the Great One's arrival and departure in New York. I see in coaching young kids now, that they know who Gretzky is, but can't appreciate his impact on the sport.
Growing up I remember watching in awe of Gretzky and his abilities. He was never the fastest, the biggest, or the most impressive at individual skills. However, his ability to mold the game and smoothly transition was unparalleled. He knew every inch of the and how to utilize it for his advantage and the advantages of his team.
Would you have the "trailer" so prevalently passed to without Gretzky? How about play behind the net? He found ways to utilize his vision and abilities to make him the greatest player that ever played.
Further impressive is the ability for Gretzky as a coach to still be the most recognizable figure for the sport. Where the NHL is still searching for identity amongst the NFL, MLB, NBA, and Nascar, Gretzky needs to remain a prevalent force in the sport. He's cheered at every draft he's attended, namely in cities he never played.
Throughout his star-laden career, he was never associated with drugs, alcohol, steroids, crime, or spousal abuse. He was the model athlete and icon and carried himself as an ambassador the sport, with all the class in the world. Today, players are able to follow in those footsteps.
While players like Henrik Lundqvist, Sidney Crosby, and Alex Ovechkin are moving the new class forward, to have some of the old Golden Class, such as Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and Ron Francis around like Gretzky, it brings a sense of continuity for the league and it's fan base.
From this blogger to the Great One: Thanks for everything that you gave to the sport and the league. Without you many of us would have never turned on a TV to watch a game or stepped onto the ice. I hope to see your 99 in the rafters of MSG one day soon.
(photo from HockeyForum.com)
I refuse to use a "trip," "fall," or "stumble" pun about this game. I also refuse, which I wish Joe Micheletti refused, to acknowledge the ice problems. Both teams play on the same sheet, so no excuses.
This was another disheartening loss for the Rangers, despite gaining the point. As Head Coach Tom Renney noted, the Rangers were lucky to get a point out of that game.
They started out strong, scoring two quick goals in the first and having all the momentum. Then, in typical Ranger fashion, they rested on their laurels and allowed the play to come to them instead of continuing to dictate it. The result? The Capitals tie the score midway through the second.
The Rangers were lax, heartless and out of sync again. The Gomez - Shanahan combination has been one of the few strong points of the team recently.
How did the third period end up? A rope a dope contest of bad goals, including against "The King," which eventually resulted in a tie score.
The OT doesn't count for much because the Rangers were holding their breaths to get there and it was fitting that they couldn't do much and a silly mishap caused the goal.
So where do the Rangers go from here? Well they have some time off before Sunday's contest against Phoenix and there is nothing further that can be done that hasn't been mentioned on this blog: Renney throws a chair and makes them skate laps, Drury is moved to the first line with Jagr, Jagr is demoted to the third line, a trade is made, Malik is back in the lineup. Whatever the case, the Rangers need a shakeup.
If the team's captain looks disinterested (by the way, who was he screaming at on the bench?) the whole team has no model to follow, other than Shanny of course. Is this creating discourse? Perhaps.
Regardless, there needs to be change because these listless efforts are growing continuously frustrating, both to the fans and coaching staff. Look for an article this evening on Outside The Garden with what options the Rangers really have at this point...
(photo from AP Photo on yahoo.com)
John Dellapina touched on this in his blog this morning, and if you've read this blog before you know that I am in huge agreement with him. It is time to put Chris Drury on a line with Jaromir Jagr. Why is this so important? Since Drury can acclimate to any playing style, he can stay with the best of them offensively and still be defensively responsible enough to allow for Jagr and Straka's offensive talents.
Drury has played well with Prucha and Callahan, but in all honesty, if Rangers' fans were upset about Matt Cullen's salary at third line center, they can't accept Drury in that spot. On any NHL team, Drury is a number one center.
The only understanding I have been able to have with keeping Dubinsky there is for the future experience. If the Rangers do not plan on keeping Jagr or if he retires, the future will have had an entire season between Hall of Famers in Straka and Jagr. That is priceless experience. At the same time, you are recognizing that Drury is the future as well and will most likely be playing with players such as Callahan and Prucha on the top two lines for years to come, not a bad time to start gaining chemistry.
In recent weeks, we have questioned Tom Renney here a bit. Though I hate to do it, when teams struggle you have to look at the why. Keeping Drury there seems like an understandable decision, but it has run it's course. It's time to get serious and start thinking toward the now.
In other notes:
- Trade speculation continues, don't be surprised if you see Mathieu Schneider back in a Rangers' uniform.
- Wayne Gretzky comes back to MSG on Sunday for the first time since he retired. The Rangers did originally want to retire his number, though he said he would not until Messier was in the rafters. I doubt they would do it Sunday given Leetch's retirement is nearing.
- Greg Moore was called up, practiced, then sent back down all in one day. Allegedly the Ranger prospect was in case Callahan couldn't go tonight.
(Photo from MSG.com)
Despite the Rangers defeating the Devils in a 1 - 0 OT thriller this weekend, Jeremy Kenter of Devils' Daily was still kind enough to sit down with us and give his thoughts on the Devils and the Atlantic Division.
Pucks on Broadway: Jeremy, first and foremost, the Devils are on quite a streak here despite falling to the Rangers in OT and Washington. Why the quick turnaround?
Jeremy Kenter: Credit the NY Rangers and Washington Capitals for stepping up their games the past two nights. Even though the Rangers were on tilt after losing three straight, they muscled up the energy (as always against the Devils) to slow down the Devils. Then again, Tom Renney and Bruce Boudreau are respectable coaches of the two aforementioned teams and prepared well-designed game plans against the Devils. And another thing… unlike the Chicago Bulls of the 90’s, the Devils cannot win every game this season. Nine straight was nice. The Rangers, Caps, and even upcoming Boston and Phoenix are not “easy” wins so I will enjoy the competition and the upcoming matchups the Devils are facing.
PB: I am very intrigued with how the Atlantic Division goaltending is shaping up. With the premier goalies of the league, always being set against the precedent of Martin Brodeur, who do you see as the next great goalie?
JK: Wow, Daniel I’ve been hearing that question for a while now. I want to say Henrik Lundqvist but what confuses me is that he seems to struggle against non-Devils teams. I mean struggle might not be the best word, but he’s 11-11-1 against the rest of the league and was just pulled in two consecutive starts. Does he have the potential above every other goaltender in the league right now? Absofreakenlutely. Just watch him against the Devils. It’s Brodeur-esque what he is capable of doing. But, if I had to throw out some names who are playing Vezina-worthy goaltending, including Pascal Leclaire (six shutouts, third in save percentage, second in goals against average) on the list and Evgeni Nabokov, who quietly has put up four shutouts thus far in addition to a 15-9-4 record.
PB: I would be remiss to not ask this question: what do you think of the new Arena and why aren't people going?
JK: To put the Prudential Center in perspective, Devils fans are showing up more than they did last year. That, to me is a start in the right direction. But, as many people know, it’s very expensive to attend a professional sporting event nowadays, with the ticket prices at record prices. Hence the reason that the Devils management cut prices in half and will continue to do so until the arena begins to fill to capacity. What I don’t understand is why the team doesn’t offer student rates to weekday games and then family weekend promotions. They need to sell seats and put fans in the 17,625-seat arena.
PB: What are your thoughts on Brent Sutter, his style, his abilities, his job thus far?
JK: I’ve discussed Brent Sutter in depth on my blog. He’s a veteran player and successful coach. I am confident in his abilities to lead the Devils to the postseason and beyond. I still believe that the Devils need to upgrade their defense, but that is GM Lou Lamoriello’s department.
PB: With Colin White and Sergei Brylin in the lineup, how do you see the veteran leadership shaping up? Do they have enough?
JK: Don’t forget Madden, Elias, and Brodeur who have also lifted the Stanley Cup in their days. The team is definitely younger with Parise, Gionta, and some others at the blue line. Having White and Langenbrunner back in the lineup is important to the team’s success. In terms of veteran leaders, the Devils could use a small trade for a defenseman -- Francois Beauchemin of the Ducks would be a perfect fit. So, we will see what happens as the season progresses.
PB: The Devils have used an abundance of mid-level and young defenseman this season, but been generally successful. What do you feel is the cause for this success despite the lack of a true stud?
JK: The Devils made plays when necessary. They have capable players who have been around long enough and understand the nature of the game. There was only one season in the league where the Devils. That season, the 2000-2001 campaign, the Avalanche overcame a 3-2 finals deficit to win in seven. Patrik Elias finished the regular season with 96 points and played on the ‘A’ line with Arnott and Sykora. The funny thing is the year before, the Devils won the Cup with the same line when Elias had 72 points. So scoring isn’t everything in hockey. Defense is part of the equation as well.
The Devils find ways to win by drafting and raising players in their farm system from Marty and Madden to Gio and Parise.
PB: The division is tough, what will it take for the Devils to succeed long term throughout the remainder of the season?
JK: To win the Atlantic Division, the Devils need to stay healthy and compete for a complete 60 minutes each game. There are times this season when they have mental lapses and leave Marty and Weekes hung out to dry. They need to settle down on the power play, make the right pass, take the right shot when it’s there.
PB: I have to ask one Rangers question: Gomez is starting to put together a nice chemistry with Brendan Shanahan and Sean Avery, and is putting up points. What would you attribute to the change in his success?
JK: Gomer is a talented hockey player. He might not have scored 100 points per season in New Jersey due to the team’s defensive, low-scoring style of play. However, with the right mix, he can definitely reach or surpass the 84-point mark set in the 05-06 campaign. With that said, as a Devils fan, I know that many players have left the organization for the Rangers, Ducks, and other teams. Holik, Gomer, and Shanahan (and maybe some others) have all made the trip across the Hudson River to play for the Rangers after being drafted in NJ. I don’t think there is a necessarily a curse upon leaving the Garden State but at the same time I don’t think the Rangers have the personnel to win a Cup… and $10 million for Gomez??? That’s overpaying an above average player by a long slide, especially when the next highest bidder reportedly offered $5 million for his services.
More to come...
Back from sunny Fort Lauderdale. While I was happy to be in the incredible weather, I did miss the bitter snap of the cold on the ice rink. So while my internet was intermittent at best, I did put together a few thoughts for this morning.
First off, the consistency of posts will return. We were on a good streak until Florida so, as always, stay tuned...
Secondly, man did the Rangers hit a low! This brings up an interesting observation. When the Rangers are playing well, they can beat the best of them. (See Ottawa) But when they are bad, they can look like the worst team in the NHL. (See Atlanta, Toronto, etc.) So I begged the question, why? Unfortunately, I think it isn't one thing.
The general consensus over the past couple of seasons has been that the team goes as Jagr goes. Well, that is now dead wrong. This team goes as Lundqvist goes. While he has hiccuped in those losses, he is allowed an off game. To say he's had three bad games thus far is much better than any other goalie in the NHL can say. What is scary about this is that they are so reliant on the goaltender, that no other facet of the team can compensate at this point.
The so-called "flawless defensive system" that people have reveled at all season, collapses. The forwards become lost and then become too lax to even back check. Tom Renney doesn't even know what to do.
This is scary.
With so much riding on the goaltender, you can see that the individual parts aren't that good or at least not cohesive enough to warrant their abilities. How to remedy that? I have maintained that it is time for Renney to step up and throw a chair. These players are getting unmotivated and away from him and it's time to right the ship. Players perform when motivated and when you see your Captain merely not touch a puck or communicate to his winger to get the puck, that resulted in a game winning goal, that's ugly and disinterest.
The next item of business is the Marek Malik healthy-scratching. Yes I am a Malik supporter. Yes he makes gaffes , but what defenseman doesn't? The bottom line is the Rangers are NOT a better team without him, despite what everyone seems to think. He can make a break out pass, that many can not. Right now the Rangers are relying on forwards like Scott Gomez to come from behind the net and lead the play up ice. Not only is that wasting time and energy, but the defensemen should be able to skate and make a pass without causing a turnover or losing possession. However, I understand the fan's sentiments and ultimately it seems that will lead to his trade. While Eklund speculated on it yesterday, there are a couple of other considerations I will throw at you.
Would you take - Michael Nylander and a defenseman for Marek Malik and a prospect? It would give Jagr and Straka some chemsitry, Chris Drury is already on the third line and Malik gets his change of scenery. Nylander has been a scratch over the past five games for the Caps with an undisclosed injury. Could a trade be brewing? The expense: Brandon Dubinsky. He goes back to Hartford.
Would you take - John-Micheal Liles and Marek Svatos for Al Montoya, Petr Prucha, Marek Malik and a prospect? This was the trade speculated by Eklund yesterday. Liles is a stalwart defenseman that could help the powerplay and Svatos is a similar Petr Prucha type that needs a change of scenery. The expense: Petr Prucha. Do the Rangers finally give up on him?
Would you take - an Anaheim defenseman (Schneider or Beauchemin) - for Marek Malik and prospects? Anaheim needs to make a move given Niedermeyer's return, more particularly for next year. Malik is unrestricted at the end of the season and would save Anaheim about $2 million. The expense: cap space.
A lot to consider and discuss as well as an exclusive Q&A with Jeremy Kenter of Devil's Daily on the state of the Devils coming up...
Though I am destined for Fort Lauderdale this evening (business, not pleasure), I will try to keep up with the game as best I can. However, there are a few things to look for tonight. The bottom line is the Rangers need a big win ; come back strong and win this one for Avery, who we all remembered what happened last time these two met.
A few notes to ponder:
- Is Henrik OK? He's the league's best goalie, but in the past two weeks has not been his usual self. This happens with players when the long stretches of the season begin. Can he sustain his play?
- Is Jagr back or just toying? It seemed in recent weeks that Jagr has turned it around and really made a solid effort, due in large part to Martin Straka being back. However, quite a listless effort against Carolina. Tonight will show where he really stands, a fluke game or just a mini-hot streak.
- The power play. It was hot, then ice cold. Which side of the proverbial thermometer will they settle?
- Scratches and injuries: with the return of Scott Niedermeyer yesterday, the Rangers were in rumblings about possibly acquiring a defenseman from Anaheim, given Sather and Burke's friendship and past trade history (Sykora and Kondratiev). Who sits, who stays, showcasing or preventing injury? Should make for some interesting observations.
More to come...
After a stunning defeat of Ottawa, the Rangers decided that they didn't need to play against Carolina, who had just come off an 8-1 bashing by the Sabres.
Well, they stuck to their plan and plain didn't play at all.
It was a lack luster performance that players and announcers deemed anywhere from a "klunker" to a "stinker." Granted, this will happen during the season, but you would still like to see effort.
I will take a night where it doesn't click or the Rangers get blown out, as long as the effort was there. Last night, it simply was not.
There was no emotion, no energy, and no positioning. The youth team I coach has at least gotten over those issues midway through the season. Overall, pathetic.
It starts from leadership and when Brendan Shanahan is firing pucks high and wide, Jaromir Jagr is simply not skating or leaving the puck and Martin Straka is trying every inconcieveable and ill-advised pass, what are the indians supposed to think?
With a team comprised of all these "chiefs" it's disheartening to think nobody could step up to rally the troops last night.
While TDR, and other bloggers, noted Malik's poor play, I think it was in fact Rozsival who was constantly caught out of position. Why? Good question. Maybe he should go back with Staal. Who knows.
It was disappointing and painful to watch, but should make for a very entertaining Thursday night against Toronto. More to come...
There's a lot of good to talk about in Ranger land today. They finally defeated their rivals in the Islanders, 4 - 2, and then made a dominant performance in Ottawa yesterday, 5 - 2. So why the turnaround?
The Rangers studs are playing hard and finally finishing. Jagr has been stellar and really responded over the past two games. Nobody will know why or how he can turn it on and off so quickly, but with the addition of Straka, Jagr is a new man. This has also given rookie Dubinsky a lot of great experience.
The line of Avery (before the injury, now Hossa) - Gomez - and Shanahan has found a great chemistry and each have really found their role on the ice. Gomez is shooting, Hossa/Avery are working the boards and Shanahan remains the two-way player on the line.
While I still believe Drury is best suited on the first line, he has made the best out of his situation with Prucha and Callahan. The line has speed, grit, and has put up some numbers.
Then finally, the power play. The lines are working, the concept and theory is being bought into by the whole team and the overall performance is much harder. Shooting is happening. Smart passing is happening. Most importantly, chemistry is happening.
While the defense continues to play fairly strong, there are a couple issues still plaguing the Rangers.
The biggest is the play in their own zone.
While Lundqvist makes the defense look better at times then they are, they continue to struggle along the boards and on the breakout. With Malik back, that should help, but there needs to be a better system in place for getting of the zone.
There are too many turnovers between the bluelines.
Other than that, the Rangers are growing strong and it'll be interesting to see what happens after the holidays. They have some valuable assets that can help this team either stepping in or via trade.
However, at some point the Rangers are going to have to make some decisions with their additional assets. How and when will it happen? Wait and see...