Rangers Avoid the Hurricane

I wanted to post last night, but Blogger had other plans. I got a nice comment from Loser Domi about the site changes and I certainly appreciate it. Also, I am all about suggestions so if you have any, feel free to tell.

As I said, the site isn't 100% complete, but it's close. I wanted to have more Ranger info available, so to the left you'll see the most current stats and I am still working on live game updates, but haven't found a widget that takes under 12 hours to load.

Nonetheless, onto hockey.

A good game by the Blueshirts last night. Solid performance other than a penalty-filled third and you could see that the team was unfazed by the trade deadline and chemistry is still there. I was impressed again by the play of the first line and you can see that each have a way to energize each other. Teams can no longer harp on Jagr because you have to be wary of both Dubinsky and Avery.

Similarly for the third line with Drury. Imagine a team that's rolling on all cylinders and their third line center is your goals leader? Scary.

The only decreased production we have seen from the changes in lines is with Scott Gomez. The second line of Gomez - Shanahan - Dawes has been good, particularly with the clutch goal last night, but doesn't seem as energetic or threatening as the other lines. Just yet, perhaps more time will change that.

I am still a bit hesitant about the use of the fourth line, but Sjostrom certainly fit his role well. Don't be surprised if Hollweg is sitting a few games down the stretch in lieu of the newcomer.

The defense was good, although Rozsival continues to puzzle in the defensive zone. Even though Backman had some terrible penalties, he wasn't awful in his own zone and I am sure will need another game or so to get the concepts and systems under his belt.

Malik seems to be very confident now and that will do nothing but help down the stretch and the rookies aren't cracking under pressure. A definite advantage to having them up last season during their tumultuous run.

All in all, Lundqvist was also comfortable in net. Granted the second goal was weak, despite what people want to say about bounces, he is much more settled in his net and is certainly way ahead of where he was weeks ago.

Philadelphia will be a tough matchup Sunday. Both teams are heading in opposite directions, but this is a game the Rangers MUST have. If they want to assert their presence in the division, let alone the conference, they have to put teams down that are down.

More tomorrow...
(Photo from Yahoo!Images by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Almost there...

I appreciate everyone's patience while I finish up the new design. Much of it is already up and the idea was to be more streamlined, more browser friendly in the 3 column form and a much softer presentation.

Still to come are some functional widgets, a new header, and other additional features.

Hey, I know hockey, not computer code, but it's getting there. I will post after the game.

New Design Coming

As promised earlier in the year, a new web design is on the way. Please excuse the appearance of the site until it is completed!

The morning after...

Now that I have had some time to contemplate yesterday's trade deadline and really evaluate what the Rangers did, I am a bit less disappointed. First, understand that what was done in acquiring Backman was two-fold:

1. The Rangers did not trust Strudwick playing regularly over the next two weeks in Mara's absence. Fearful for losing ground, they got a fill-in defenseman to take Mara's place.

2. This had major salary cap implications. With Mara, Malik, Rozsival, and Strudwick all ready to become UFA's at the season's end, the Rangers solidified a younger, cheaper version of either Mara or Malik. This ensures a cap-friendly hit of just over $2 million and also solidifies the fact that the Rangers don't believe Mara or Malik will re-sign.

Ranger fans rejoice!

Next, it allows for the rookies to be given time to show their stuff, such as Mike Sauer, Ivan Baranka, or even Bobby Sanguinetti if he can pull of a Marc Staal-esque transition from Juniors to the NHL. What does that leave?

Room for a stud.

Perhaps an offensive defenseman, Brian Campbell or Wade Redden, or even a stud winger like a Marian Hossa. The Rangers will be in an enviable position this summer with so much cap space and NHL-ready rookies who can fill in for cheap.

Nigel Dawes, Petr Prucha, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, along with Scott Gomez and Chris Drury have already established two lines. If you keep Avery and Jagr, then look at the talent you have and the money you will be saving.

As far as the Phoenix trade goes, everyone I speak to seems to think that Montoya was merely a scrub and the Rangers got what they could for him.

Trade Deadline Evaluation

Why do I have a feeling I am not the only one confused?Here are the two deals so far:
To Phoenix:
Al Montoya
Marcel Hossa

Forwards Fredrick Sjostrom and Josh Gratton
Goaltender David Leneveu

Note: Nothing too surprising a change of scenery for goalies and with Prucha back, this shows th intent of Dawes to remain with the team.

To St. Louis:
2008 4th Round Pick

Defenseman Christian Backman

Note: Backman is a 27 year old generally stay at home defenseman who is injury prone. He has ten points this season and is - 4 in 45 games.

What is most intriguing is that the Rangers now have 8 defensemen. You will have a 3 million dollar 7th defenseman in either Malik or Mara.

What a waste...

Mara out 2 Weeks

According to Steve Zipay, Paul Mara will have to undergo facial surgery and be out two weeks. This changes the entire mindset of the Rangers as they now HAVE to acquire a defenseman, but if they can't what do they do?

The Rangers would need a call up, but can they risk Thomas Pock on re-entry waivers? More likely Michael Sauer would come up to play the 7th defenseman. Additionally, if Mara was the lame goat of the Rangers, Malik now has to be as he is the other odd defenseman out. Is that enough to bring in a quality defenseman?

Let's look at a scenario:
If the Rangers were to acquire Dan Boyle they would have to send at least this much over -
Marek Malik
A First Round Pick
Al Montoya
and perhaps Marcel Hossa or a rookie forward such as Alex Bourrett

Why, you may ask, do the Rangers have to give up so much? Because their situation just became pressed. They NEED to make a move now, instead of just wanting to make a move. This will give Tampa Bay all the cards and pressure them into a bigger price tag. So who else could the Rangers acquire if the price tag is too high for Boyle?

I would still look at John-Michael Liles in Colorado because with their signing of Peter Forsberg today (right after I dropped him in my fantasy...grr...) they may want to upgrade with some veteran presence to make a legitimate run. Who would be available?
Al Montoya
Marek Malik
Hugh Jessiman

Colorado could use some size up front and a steady defensive defenseman. Also, their goaltending isn't shored up enough to not have Montoya included.

More as it's around...

Weekend Roundup

First, my apologies to those who tuned in on Friday. MSG must have had a cell phone block up or something during the Linkin Park concert that prevented me from calling in. Nonetheless, I am sure I will catch up with The Sports Docket soon.

Now onto hockey. An outstanding weekend by the Rangers and overall (as the players have agreed) a good stretch of hockey here aside from 20 minutes in Montreal.

5 - 0 - 2 in their last seven ain't too shabby and has kept them at pace with the Conference, despite the games in hand. Why the sudden turnaround? A few key notes:

  • Henk is back - Henrik had a stellar weekend, making key saves when needed. That has been the one knock on The King recently is that he hasn't made the key save that the team needed and after a wonderful stop on Tomas Vanek on Saturday followed by a solid shutout effort last night, the Ranger seems primed for the post season. Thank Stephen Valiquette for playing well during his rough patch.
  • Chemistry - We've spoken about it ad nauseum on this blog, but it seems that Head Coach Tom Renney has finally found what he's been looking for in line combinations. Brandon Dubinsky continues to impress while Sean Avery seems that he is finally healthy. What does this mean? More space for The Captain and his production has increased because of it. (By the way, has Dubinsky not thrown himself into Calder consideration?) While the power play still needs some work, you can see that the other lines are meshing well and when Petr Prucha is healthy, it should only help promote their success.
  • Malik - I've said that the Rangers are a better team with Malik in the lineup and while many of the naysayers have disagreed with me (and given some of his performances, rightfully so) his play has been solid over the past two weeks. The calming influence he has on Michal Rozsival is priceless while at the same time being the most proficient outlet passer on the breakout that the Rangers have. All of this culminated with his Second Star performance last night with a goal, an assist and even a scrum down low. The issue: the Rangers are gunning for a defenseman at the deadline. It should be Mara, but with his injury it may have to be Malik. Can the Rangers risk sending Rozsival back into a state of defensive confusion?
The Rangers overall have found their legs, are confident in their puck movement and have found ways to win. After the Montreal debacle, we spoke about how this could affect the team: either a learning lesson or the nail in the coffin. Right now, it's looking like it has taught the Rangers how to win. It's too early to tell, but this team is playing at a very high level right now and has kept pace with speedy teams such as Buffalo and Florida.

Tomorrow is the NHL trade deadline, 3 p.m. est, and while I will not have blogging access the entire day, I will check in as often as possible. A few rumblings and notes:
  • Joe Micheletti and John Dellapina were on WFAN 660 yesterday and believe Dan Boyle is the most likely trade candidate. I would agree and you would have to think that Al Montoya is part of that deal. Boyle had a successful relationship with Renney with the national program.
  • Larry Brooks mentioned the possibility of the Rangers bringing back Martin Rucinsky. Not happening.
  • GM Glen Sather spoke with Edmonton reporters last week and emphatically said that both Jagr and Avery aren't going anywhere and should be re-signed. That settles those rumors.
  • Toronto's Mats Sundin isn't waiving his No-Trade Clause. Good for him. If Brian Leetch had that luxury, he never would have left either. Pride and commitment to your organization is eons more important than tarnishing that image with rental player status.
  • However, it does appear that Bryan McCabe will be waiving his NTC. Some have him rumored to the Rangers, though I think that is more smoke to get the Islanders to up their offer. It appears Islanders' GM Garth Snow is trying to correct all of former GM Mike Milbury's mistakes. Next up: Ziggy Palffy, Roberto Luongo, Todd Bertuzzi, Kenny Jonsson, Zdeno Chara...
  • I still can't figure out why nobody is talking about Wade Redden...
More later...

(Photo from Yahoo! Images by Seth Wenig/ AP Photo)

Radio Spot

For anyone interested, I'll be taking a break from tonight's Linkin Park concert at the Garden for a roundtable discussion on the Atlantic Division. At 9 p.m. join in or listen to The Sports Docket.

Will the King stand up?

I was unable to upload to Outside the Garden last night, so here is the story I was going to run there:

A couple seasons ago, Ranger fans saw a young Swedish goaltender come into camp, earn a spot, then effectively win over the starting position because he was just "that good."

"The King" won our hearts, our affections, instantly becoming a crowd favorite. He led the Rangers into the playoffs for the first time in well, you know. And even topped the season off with a gold medal and Vezina Trophy nomination.

His style, flare, and connection with the city endeared him to fans and he became rock star status the likes of which haven't been seen since Ron Duguay graced 7th avenue.

His following season, he didn't disappoint leading the Rangers into the playoffs with an unthinkable second half of the season and a mere seconds away from the Eastern Conference Finals.

He was given a one-year deal and the commitment to a long term deal in January 2008. Sure enough, while his team was floundering in front of him offensively, Lundqvist took the reigns to begin the 2007-08 campaign and played lights out hockey, keeping the Rangers in the divisional race despite such poor play.

Then his game turned.

Many attributed it to his father being ill. Some attributed it to being burnt out or the defense in front of him. Some said he just wasn't as good as people thought.

Perhaps it is a combination of all parts, but simply put: The King needs to start ruling.

John Dellapina of the Daily News commented earlier in the month that Lundqvist needs to be better and he is right. While "Hank" hasn't played poorly by NHL goaltender standards, he hasn't stolen a game in a while or made the clutch save that the Rangers needed.

If you look at "The Comeback" (as it is being dubbed in Canada) of the Canadiens, Lundqvist should have had at least two of those goals. But why the change in performance? Why has the confident and cool Lundqvist become so seemingly rattled?

I delved over the past two weeks into exactly that question and came up with three reasons:

1. Sophmore Slump: Lundqvist is human despite his often inhumanly play. While his "rookie" season wasn't really a full season, Lundqvist never had time to develop at the NHL level, say like Mike Richter did. Could the Rangers have jumped the gun here? In all actuality this is Lundqvist
's second season and he is still adjusting to the NHL. Think about it: when he came into the league, he was an unknown and could not be beaten because there was no way to study him. Last season, he was lights out in shootouts, but players started to realize they could beat him high during games. He had to adjust. This season, he has been vulnerable in the shootout because there are ways to study him and players are adapting. Think of Marty Brodeur. How vulnerable was he in his early years? It is all part of the maturing process.

2. Too Much Coaching: I am never one to question a coach. That's why they are in the NHL and I am coaching youth hockey. However, there is a tendency by any coach to coach too much when your player needs help rather than letting them just play. Lundqvist's game feeds off of energy and momentum and feel. You can see when he moves laterally that when he is playing well he is smooth and doesn't even feel the posts. If you watch him now, he relies heavily on the posts and crease position and often overcompensates his position.

3. Pressure: Maybe Henrik isn't the clutch player that we think he is, yet. He folded against the Devils in his rookie playoff debut and wasn't outstanding against Buffalo. Yes he won a gold medal, but if there is no expectation of success (which for Sweden there certainly wasn't) you have nothing to lose. Last season when he went on a tear, there was nothing to lose. It couldn't get much worse for the Rangers than it was. I am not saying that he isn't a clutch goaltender, but his inconsistency with it right now will be corrected as he matures. Perhaps now the fans are seeing the rookie errors that have been overlooked the past two years.

Don't get me wrong, Lundqvist is a top three goaltender in the league, but if you look at the rest in his class, say Roberto Luongo and Mikka Kiprusoff, they had time to develop and went through their own growing pains. It may take a little time and now is not the time to jump ship on the King.

But at the same time, the King needs to re-establish his throne.

(Photo from EWOnline)

The strength of your desire...

With as busy as life has been around here at Pucks on Broadway, I sat in a nice Huntington sports bar last night with a few friends compiling mentally the article that would be written here today after a near week hiatus.

The Rangers were winning, it seemed as if they had turned the corner from their efforts to their physical play to even the power play. They were finally running on all cylinders and I was excited to write about it.

It was a kind article. Something with some humor, panache, strong analysis and the kind of observations that have made this blog fairly successful.

Then came the second period.

After the Rangers surrendered their second goal I turned to a friend and said "here it comes." He was in disbelief, how could I make such outlandish claims after a 5 - 0 lead. Could I expect the score to stay the same? But I maintained that it would be the beginning of the end and sure enough it was. My younger brother, texting his disbelief towards me, didn't believe my prediction of a 6 - 5 Rangers loss following countless failed power play opportunities.

But it happened and we all have to live with it.

Last night exemplified exactly why the Rangers are an outstanding team, but not an elite team. They have proven that they can defeat the best teams in the East, but have yet to learn how to win. Brendan Shanahan alluded to this earlier last week and he is exactly right. There is a difference in winning a game and being a winning team. This team has yet to come together in a way that will allow them to hold a lead, come from behind to win, or close it out in the clutch such as overtime or the shootout.

And that's OK, because the rookies are gaining valuable experience, but the Rangers need to get this together if they have any hope of going far in the playoffs.

Robert Kiyosaki wrote: "The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire; the size of your dream; and how you handle disappointment along the way.”

Very appropriate for this team. Is their desire strong enough? Their dream is correct, but how will they handle last night's debacle.

There were many subpar performances down the stretch last night: Where was Shanahan the second half? Jaromir Jagr? Scott Gomez? Henrik Lundqvist? They seemingly took a break after an outstanding first 30 minutes.

Interestingly enough, Jagr and Shanahan were two of the strongest players on the ice and most experienced. How could two future Hall of Famers fold under the "pressure" of a five-goal lead? Yes there is a time for everything and all things have to happen once. (The biggest comeback in Canadiens history) Just think of the Red Sox defeat of the Yankees after being down 3 - 0.

The difference here is that this one individual game is far less important than what the reaction will be. How will the Rangers handle the pressure?

It's time for fight or flight and this game will show the Rangers true mettle and mental toughness. If they can continue their strong play and take it as a good road point, then there will be no stopping them down the stretch. If they fold and are unable to get on a streak or recover, well let's start looking at next season.

The team needs to be better as a whole and really the major disappointment has been Lundqvist's inconsistency. What happened to the King? I am going to have an analysis tonight on Outside the Garden.

More to come...

(Photo by David Bolly/ The Canadian Press/ AP Photo on Yahoo! Images)

Can MSG just be considered a road game?

So the Rangers are in a position where they are staying competitve in the East, barely, without any help from their home record. This can be viewed two ways:
1. Very positively - once the Rangers can win at home, they will be a force to be reckoned with
2. Realistically - if the Rangers can't win at home, how will they go anywhere

Both sides have their points, but most importantly is that the Rangers earned 3 out of 4 points against two very tough opponents. Yes, they should have gotten 2 in Washington, but the fact they got 1 was important.

Interesting to think that, aside from the Islanders, the Rangers have played the Atlantic Division so effectively and still find themselves in this state of panic to make the playoffs. Good sign or bad sign? You decide.

There were a couple items that irked me over the weekend. First was obviously the power play. The second unit of Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Nigel Dawes, and Fedor Tyutin with Dan Girardi on defense, plays the power play the way it's supposed to be played. North-south, traffic in front, lots of shots. Then the skill group of Jaromir Jagr, Brandon Dubinsky, Martin Straka, and the other defensive combo (typically Paul Mara and Michal Rozsival) go out and essentially waste the remaining power play for perhaps one mediocre shooting opportunity.

0 - 6 yesterday is unacceptable.

The Rangers had too many chances to put the Capitals down for the count and instead took silly penalties had committed a couple defensive gaffs that lead to them sacrificing a point and giving Washington two.

How can the power play be addressed? I've maintained for a while that some offensive presence needs to be felt from the blueline, until that happens, opponents will merely key on players like Jagr knowing that Rozsival will only pass to him or Mara will miss the net by a good 4 feet.

The other gripe I have is something that many people have disagreed with me about, the use of the fourth line.

With 30 seconds left in the game, why is Ryan Hollweg on the ice?

Put out the Drury line or the Dubinsky line, no need to risk a penalty and what almost cost the Rangers the game.

The Rangers' special teams are not special enough to warrant so many penalties, particularly by Hollweg who is still searching for discipline. Yes he is a great energy boost and can be effective when not in the box, but in a tight game, why are we resting the game in his hands?

Renney needs to be more conscientious about who is on the ice and when. I respect the loyalty to his players, but at the same time more care needs to be taken with his on-ice decisions.

In other notes:

  • No word on Prucha just yet, he is to be re-evaluated today.
  • Shanahan is expected to be back next weekend.
  • I wonder if this break, in which the Rangers don't play until the weekend, will be the time that a move is made.
  • When will Malik be inserted into the lineup? My guess is not until he is in another sweater.
More in a bit...

Can the West be Won?

The Rangers took on the NHL's weakest link and fumbled.

Big time.

In a listless (doesn't that sound familiar) and disorganized effort, the Blueshirts failed to capture any of the momentum or heart that was shown in three strong victories over Eastern Conference rivals.

The good news is that the Rangers didn't really lose much ground aside from the fact that two points would have helped them considering every team seems to have games in hand. As the defense collapsed, the forwards were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, and Henrik Lundqvist seemed deep in his crease, there was not much to talk about positively about the loss.

I will, however, venture to try and find some silver linings.

First, is the play of Chris Drury. A major component to the last month's turnaround, Drury has found a knack between Petr Prucha and Nigel Dawes and they have become, easily, the most steady line on the team.

Though Prucha turned away a beautiful scoring opportunity for a flubbed pass, you can see that he is re-energized and has been able to take some focus off of him with the likes of Drury and a smaller Dawes on his line.

You can also see that Jaromir Jagr is putting forth a very solid effort. His scoring is not there yet, but he's back checking, trying to control the play down low, and just hasn't gotten enough out of Martin Straka to be able to move the puck around the way he should.

This is really an intriguing point: what happened to Straka? The NHL's most reliable, yet underrated, forward has become confused, dazed, and playing what seems to be on another planet. His usual steady north south or adaptive style game has become jagged and he seems as if he is lost. Perhaps this is because of Scott Gomez's speed, but if that's the case then a quicker player should be on that line and Straka should be on a lower line.

Might his play make him trade bait in two weeks?

I can't say enough, negative, about Michal Rozsival and Paul Mara. Where are their heads at? Blistering shots six feet wide, four feet high? Come on boys, NHL players are supposed to hit the net. If Jagr is not on the ice, Rozsival is like a puppy who has lost his home. Even worse, they are taking bad penalties and throwing passes across the ice in their own zone, hockey's cardinal sin.

Get your heads straight or sit down and let's see what Michael Sauer or Ivan Baranka can do.

On the flip side, the rookies are leading our defensive corps, but this will not stand the test of the playoffs. The Rangers need to address the defense and soon. Give the new defenseman some time to adjust before this gets too late.

With Anaheim coming up tonight, a lot will be determined. They shellacked the Islanders 3 - 0 , can the Rangers rebound?

Heave Ho Three In A Row!

And to think you all thought I left. No, but busy life often takes precedence over blogging. Particularly with other analysis and writing I am required to do. However, it has not prevented me from watching the games with my usual fine toothed comb and lately there is a lot to be positive about.

First, is of course Brandon Dubinsky. You can't say enough about this kid and what he has brought to the table. He reminds me a lot of Messier as much people will scoff at that, but he's a tireless work horse with a great north-south game and scoring touch. Paired with Brendan Shanahan and Sean Avery has only brought him greater success.

Next on the plate is the turn around of Chris Drury. As any reader of this site knows, I am a huge fan of Drury and while his point production hasn't been what many fans have hoped, at the same time he continues to have a persistent work ethic, strong special teams play, and bounces around lines more than any other Ranger. He is finally getting the breaks that he has deserved all season. Pairing him with Nigel Dawes and Petr Prucha has really been stalwart. I will have a major analysis on him tomorrow.

Not surprisingly, Henrik Lundqvist has also turned it around. As Head Coach Tom Renney alluded to yesterday, things are good at home, the team is playing better in front of him, and he has had a bit of a rest. Without his strong play, the Rangers go down hard in Montreal instead of making a nice comeback.

The defense has been better overall in their own zone, while I still think that Michal Rozsival and Paul Mara are at times lost in their own end or nervous, their partners in Marc Staal and Jason Strudwick have adapted better with them. Fedor Tyutin and Dan Girardi have also gotten back on their consistent play after a couple weeks of being a bit off.

However, of course, not everything is "hunky-dory." While Jaromir Jagr has played better, he is starting to be the victim of some big time hits. What does that mean? He's slowing. His age is showing. Not good, but still better than most of the other Ranger forwards. A bright spot to that is the continued strong play of Scott Gomez and even Martin Straka has been better of late. They should be able to take some pressure off of Jagr going forward.

Finally, the penalties and special teams. Still far too inconsistent.

Too many penalties and dumb ones at that. (See Ryan Hollweg yesterday) I mentioned a little while back that Renney needs to stop playing the HBO line after goals particularly for that reason. The Rangers have all the momentum and look what happens. Luckily their penalty killing bailed them out, but not after they allowed 3 power play goals.

The power play continues to be hot and cold, but should settle down with the increased production of Drury.

With two great opportunities coming up against Anaheim and Los Angeles, the Rangers are right back in the divisional mix. Can they put away the West and move up in the standings?

Some closing notes:

  • I have heard the Forsberg rumors, but I just don't know where the Rangers would put him. It would have to come at the expense of two of the next three: Prucha, Callahan, Dawes. Simply because Drury would be forced into a wing.
  • In addressing the defense, the Rangers may be able to get Rob Blake cheaper given his injury here that will leave him on IR until the trade deadline.
  • Who did I pick last night? The Giants of course!
  • Do the Rangers make a move at Hossa? Possibly.
  • Why is nobody talking about Wade Redden's situation? The Senators can't win a Cup without him, but can't retain him in the off-season. A terse situation at least.
  • John-Michael Liles, Dan Boyle, and both Toronto defensemen Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle are also apparently on the Rangers' radar. Who will blink first? My guess is not Glen Sather.
More later...