A Big Do-Over

There are many ways to take last night's loss to the Penguins. As TDR put it, "business as usual." The Rangers had opportunities, failed to capitalized, and then ultimately beat themselves into the ground.

And that is more than a fair observation.

Then you can be more optimistic. The Rangers played with the top team in the Eastern Conference, in their own building, getting a couple very generous calls without too many calls coming back. Pittsburgh is an elite team and there is no shame in losing to them and the Rangers are still right in the race and challenging for home ice.

That is also a very logical explanation.

Regardless of how you feel, the bottom line is that the Rangers need a win tonight after getting zero points last night. There is no other way to look at it. The East is as tight as possibly could be at this stage and the Rangers can't afford to wait for a home-at-home with the Islanders and a Devil's finale to get into the playoffs.

One change I think that should be considered is getting Marek Malik back into the lineup. I just don't feel comfortable with Rozsival, Backman, and Mara in their own zone. I am not saying that Malik is much better, but he had been better before being sat the previous games.

My recommendation is to take out Mara. No use in letting his stupid penalties and poor defensive play continue and plague the team for the sake of a big shot that rarely hits the net.


I put up tonight's keys to the game over at The Hockey News, and my weekly column A Week Ahead is up at Ranger Nation.

More later...

Tonight's mission: get it done in regulation

No more ties tonight for the Rangers. No more OT losses. Get two points and move yourself into a tie with the Devils. Simply stated, less simply achieved, but at this point it's a necessity.

Why so much emphasis on tonight?

Well to be blunt, the Rangers need some confidence right now and they haven't done enough of late to really make a push here for home-ice advantage. Tonight, the Rangers could trample a struggling Devils team and put themselves into the drivers seat for a top finish.

My guess is that a regulation win tonight could be enough to push the Rangers into the playoffs. Not guaranteed mathematically, but most likely.

Keys to the game:

  • Forget stats: The Rangers have defeated the Devils all 6 times, but half were in extra time so disregard that stat and play this as game one of the first round of the playoffs.
  • Forget more stats: The powerplay is 1 for the last 31, but the Rangers can't harp on that. Neither should the fans. It's time to forget the past and move forward into the playoffs and the Rangers can get on the ball tonight.
  • Successful changes: Marek Malik will sit with Jason Strudwick tonight and Scott Gomez is a game-time decision. I'd be hard pressed to see him take the warm-ups and not actually play. Look for some power play changes as well in addition to what I wrote about yesterday, there were some rumblings of newer combinations, particularly if Gomez doesn't play.
  • Come out early: Nothing will take the Devils out of the game like being behind early.
Hop on over to The Hockey News later for my views on the Jagr saga.

My Eastern Conference Predictions

This afternoon over at The Hockey News, I put a short blurb about last night's loss as well as some power play and practice notes. However, rather than rehash the boneheaded play of the Rangers last night, I thought I would give you my Eastern Conference predictions for the final standings. So here it goes:
1. Montreal - Easily the hottest team right now and with their speed and potent offense, they will be a force to be reckoned with. Watch out for that power play! Pucks Factor: Goaltending. Two rookies? A lot of pressure.
2. Pittsburgh - Similar to Montreal, but perhaps more explosive and depth scoring. This team is still learning to win, but what depth. Pucks Factor: Goaltending. See a trend? They haven't been able to establish a number one guy. Who will it be?
3. Carolina - The default winner of the NHL's "special division." Carolina has been a gutsy team that has been ravaged with injuries down the stretch. Pucks Factor: Heart. This team lost Ray Whitney and Rod Brind' Amour, but have found ways to win. Sergei Samsonov is also rejuvenated.
4. Ottawa - The next few spots are difficult, but with Ottawa's star power and their ability to explode, you have to like them down the stretch. The goaltending is a bit in limbo, but Martin Gerber is their guy and has shown the ability to be a number one. Pucks Factor: Redden. The once pivotal defenseman has not had a point in over 10 games.
5. New Jersey - This was a toss up between the Rangers and New Jersey, but given the fact that the Rangers have slowed down a bit and owe the Devils a win here, you have to like their chances in the fifth spot. A tough nosed team that has epitomized the concept of team play. Pucks Factor: Will Patrick Elias show up? The dynamic forward has been up and down all season. Can he steady the ship into the playoffs?
6. New York Rangers - The Rangers have good depth and perhaps the most solid goaltending in the conference. Unfortunately, their pitiful power play continues to falter and they can't buy a win in regulation. I like their chances in the playoffs, but they have work to do. Pucks Factor: Old-timers. Can Shanahan and Jagr pick up their games for a Cup run? If so, the Rangers could be dangerous.
7. Philadelphia - Danny Briere is on a mission and will hold the Flyers in the playoff picture despite such up and down streaks, win 10 then lose 10. Their goaltending hasn't been what it's needed to be, but the team has handled injuries well and gotten good leadership from players like Jason Smith. Pucks Factor: Does Briere have enough of a supporting cast to make a run? My guess is no, but with rookies like Jeff Carter and Mike Richards in the mix, the Flyers have quite a future ahead.
8. Washington - Ovechkin. Ovechkin. Ovechkin. The most exciting scorer in the league and a great ambassador for the sport. He has taken an average cast of players and put them into playoff contention. Their deadline acquisitions of Christobal Huet and Sergei Federov will pay dividends. Pucks Factor: How long can the Ovechkin train run? My guess is this could be the next miracle story.

OK, now debate it out!

Late afternoon notes...

A wonderful question by Jorek below prompted me to put up an evaluation of Petr Prucha over at The Hockey News. While Jorek's question about switching wings is valid and I didn't really address it, the point is that until Petr Prucha is consistently utilized to his strengths, meaning powerplay and a consistent line, it won't matter what he plays.

With that in mind, as we stated earlier, Prucha is in the lineup as is Paul Mara surprisingly. Michal Rozsival is out with a leg sprain and will be given the night off. Mara will be slotted next to Marek Malik, which should make for an interesting evening.

I am in the middle of editing the new Blueshirt Bulletin and if you don't subscribe, I really suggest you do, the content is getting better and better each month and all of the local beat writers contribute. It's really a great Ranger publication.

More after the game...

Win and in?

Most likely not, but 90 points may well guarantee a playoff spot. With Montreal becoming the first Eastern Conference team to clinch a playoff spot yesterday with 96 points and Pittsburgh a mere two points away from clinching, it's not unlikely that 90 points could garner an eighth place finish. Nonetheless, I'm sticking with my prediction of 94 taking the seventh seed.

Yesterday over at The Hockey News, I talked about how the Rangers have the ability to gut-out wins and points where they may not have deserved them, such as this weekend in Philadelphia.

However, tonight the Rangers will play the Flyers again with a more settled lineup as Petr Prucha will finally get his chance and the Rangers won't be taking chances with Scott Gomez. The projected lines are:
Straka - Dubinsky - Jagr
Dawes - Avery - Shanahan
Prucha - Drury - Callahan
Sjostrom - Hollweg - Orr

Interestingly enough, that lineup should yield some offensive results as the Rangers have some grit down the middle and that could create traffic in front. Is Drury still best served on the third line? No, but Head Coach Tom Renney has been using the top three lines nearly the same, which should keep players fresh heading into the playoffs.

Keys to watch tonight:

  • Lundqvist: He should be back in net and will have had a significant layoff after sitting this weekend in Philadelphia. Will he be rusty or rested and back to form?
  • The Power Play: Will it finally click? My guess is, yes.
  • SHO me something: The fourth line of Sjostrom, Hollweg, and Orr could provide a very entertaining game as this contest could quickly become physical. Will Hollweg's reputation land him in the box all night?
  • Dubi do: He has had a lot of puck possession, but Dubinsky has slowed a bit in scoring. Not a major factor, but can he turn it up before the playoffs?
More over at The Hockey News later...

Another Part of the Nation

Just a quick announcement, I've joined the team over at Rangers Nation to do a weekly column called "A Week Ahead." In it, I'll post points and positions for discussion and debate throughout the week. I put up a little preview and a few points to mull over, but it will be a column on the weekend. If you haven't checked out Rangers Nation, get on it. Click over on the right to check it out!

Lone Rangers

Did anyone expect that four points would be gotten from the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils instead of the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning? Didn't think so.

An intense turn of events last night as the Rangers took another game from the Newark hockey team. While it was their sixth victory against them this season, let's keep it in perspective: three were in a shootout (which to me isn't even really a victory) and one was in OT. So, in reality, the Rangers could just as easily be split in this series as they have allowed NJ four points out of the possible 12.

Nonetheless, the Rangers are alone in 6th place in the Eastern Conference (Did you really think I wouldn't find a way to incorporate the title?) and still in the chase for the top seeds. While they got no help around the league, such as Tampa Bay's third period implosion against the Sabres, the Rangers played some stellar hockey last night.

There are a lot of positive story lines to this game: Chris Drury really is Captain America, Jaromir Jagr has found an open sniper in Sean Avery (?), Marek Malik has played solid defense, and The King has reclaimed his throne.

Then there's the other story lines: The Rangers powerless play is abysmal, and my "What If" piece this morning on The Hockey News. Everyone is giving their solution to the power play and my only solution is along the lines of what Scott Gomez said last night, it's just going to have to take a bad bounce in and then they will start getting some confidence and building momentum.

This late in the season, you can't keep tinkering, hence Head Coach Tom Renney's hesitation in putting Ryan Hollweg or Petr Prucha in the lineup. What you see, is what you got and at this point the Rangers have to live with that. Hopefully, it will come.

My only recommendation? Switch Scott Gomez with Brandon Dubinsky. The lines would be:

  • Shanahan - Gomez - Jagr with Rozsival and Backman
  • Drury - Dubinsky - Straka with Girardi and Tyutin
It's a minor change, but will give the Rangers more setup time on the first line because of Gomez's puck possession, which will help Jagr and Shanahan catch up and set up, and the harder north-south game of the second line will be complemented with Dubinsky's work on the boards and constant movement.

Just a thought.

Other than that, the Rangers are going to continue and have their hands full with so many divisional games and can't take a night off. If their power play doesn't get it together, the games will be that much longer.

(Photo from Yahoo!Images/AP Photo/ Rich Schultz)

A Repeat Performance?

Over at The Hockey News this morning, I touched on last night's game on everything from Jagr's strong back checking to the Rangers' inability to change, so if you haven't read it, hop on over.

Now that Pittsburgh is out of the way, at least for a game, the Rangers turn their focus to Newark and the First Place NJ Devils. Man, is that shocking to say or what? But that's what good coaching gets you.

Patrick Elias will not be in the lineup, but Colin White will. The Rangers have played the Devs well all season, defeating them all five times with one shootout and one overtime victory. The law of averages would say that the Rangers are in trouble tonight, but if they can secure a point, it will be very important going forward.

Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start tonight after another solid performance last night, despite a poor error with Fedor Tyutin. The real lingering issue at this point? The power play.

No team goes far in the playoffs without a power play and right now, the Rangers' is laughable. I think a line change is in order and the Rangers need to find some way to get Petr Prucha into the lineup. Tonight may be a good opportunity, though I doubt it.

More in a bit...

Colton's Place

I put up a game preview and analysis over at The Hockey News this morning, but I thought (since I haven't stopped in here in a couple days) I would put something up that warrants discussion.

Colton Orr, the Rangers fourth line grinder and banger, has played in nearly every game all season. During this important time of the season, it appears that he is a lock in the lineup despite both Petr Prucha and Ryan Hollweg sitting.

To date, Orr has put up the following numbers:
Goals - 1
Assists - 1
Points - 2 (obviously)
P.I.M. - 155
+/- : -13

Now, I'm not suggesting that Orr is anything, or should be anything, beyond a hard checking player who can fight and play five to eight minutes a game. But, there is a flip side to this coin.

Freddie Sjostrom has shown an offensive ability as well as a clean, hard nosed, edge with some decent speed. Blair Betts has been able to keep up with him and continues to play his usual face-off and shutdown role. Orr, however, hasn't done very much since the Sjostrom acquisition.

Have we seen Colton fight recently? Not really. Have we seen some monster hits? Not really. Have we seen penalty minutes? A few, but not really. So, while he's not hurting the Rangers, is he really helping?

He is noticeably slower than the other players and even when presented with an offensive opportunity, lacks the poise to make a play. That's OK, but can we afford to keep him in the lineup while a much quicker player in Hollweg sits?

I will agree that the NHL has Hollweg's number and even further that they have essentially black listed him. But if he were able to stay out of the penalty box, the fourth line would suddenly have a little spark and a whole lot of speed.

Is that a better option than Orr?

You tell me...

(Photo from S.I.com/ AP Photo)

Let's Try That Again

Last night was a bit of a klunker, a sloppy lack of effort that resulted in a loss to a desperate team. Check over at my The Hockey News Blog for a recap of last night.

I suggested it may be time to sit Shanahan and/or Straka because of their terrible efforts last night and put Prucha in for some energy and to help the power play.

Head Coach Tom Renney has different plans.

He will again go with the same lineup it appears barring any last minute changes, perhaps in part to the fact that the Rangers don't have a healthy 7th defenseman (unless you count Backman or Strudwick as playing 7th defensemen).

However, one positive is that "The King" has found his throne and will be given the opportunity tonight to take two points against a Lightning team that would love to play spoiler.

Bottom line: Rangers need two points and a power play effort is the only way to ensure that.

More in a few...

Rangers at the Stadium

I wasn't going to chime in on this issue since it is so speculative and may well result in nothing, but given the media coverage and everyone else having an opinion, I suppose I owe all of you mine as well.

Let me start off by explaining, I am not a huge baseball fan. I watch on occasion, consider my favorite team the Florida Marlins (anyone wanting explanation let me know, but it's valid), but given their few and far between playoff appearances, as a New Yorker, I root for a Subway Series World Series.

Baseball has been sullied by scandal perhaps more than any other sport and I don't find the players endearing nor do I find the sport entertaining. I can't understand the inundation of media coverage and certainly don't understand the country's major turn on by it. 162 games? Absurd.

Nonetheless, it is the way of the world and I accept it.

Hockey, in all of its glory, has an opportunity to be on the grand stage again, for the first time since the mid to early nineties. If the Rangers faced the Islanders or Boston (the only two teams that would make any sense) at Yankee Stadium, there would be a tremendous outpouring of media coverage and league recognition.

The Yankees have stated they're OK with it, which is obviously important. Besides, knowing the Yankees and Rangers, there will be plenty of recognition and honorary stuff done to close out the Stadium with the Yankees.

I understand the concern of Yankee fans and baseball writers that the "House that Ruth Built" should be closed by a Yankee game. What people are forgetting is that Yankee Stadium may still be used for post-Yankee events, there was talk of collegiate teams and concerts utilizing the venue. Whether that is still the case or not, I don't know. But fans can't get caught up in the notion that the last event should be a baseball game because it will be.

People will remember the final baseball game at Yankee Stadium forever, they will not remember the stadium closing for a hockey game. What people will remember the hockey game for is Rangers v. Islanders outdoors in NY.

It just happens to be at Yankee Stadium. This will not define Yankee Stadium, it's history has been defined already. A Ranger outdoor event will define the Rangers and the NHL and that goes far beyond a stadium.

A Ranger Nation

Yesterday I posted on THN, some specifics about what the Rangers must specifically do (breakout techniques, etc.) to continue this run toward the playoffs.

I got a nice complementary post from a user over at Ranger Nation and immediately went over to check it out. Very cool website and forum, I highly suggest all of you checking it out!

A big back-to-back series in Florida against the Lightning and Panthers, I'll have analysis after my CT Scan this morning.

Back to sipping barium sulfate...terrible.

Rangers sweep Buffalo series

A formal congrats again to TDR on his new draft pick! Hopefully I got this day right to help fill in here. The Rangers took another two points to the standings last night in a shootout victory against the Buffalo Sabres, 3 - 2.

Like TDR, I won't bother with the recap so here is the official one.

This is the analysis I put up over on The Dark Ranger:
What is perhaps most interesting is that the Rangers really haven't played a full 60 minute game, but are finding ways to get two points. Perseverance is essential! Henrik Lundqvist has had a lot to do with that, taking the brunt of this workload and shining when it counts most.

The first trio of Jagr - Dubinsky - Avery has been solid and , even though Dubinsky looks tired of late, have really established themselves as the team's top weapon. Who would have thought an agitator, aging veteran, and baby-faced kid would be leading this Ranger revival?

There has also been a lot of success by the penalty killers of late. Before this streak, the Rangers PK was very up and down, but now has settled into a nice groove and killed off some integral penalties.

But what about the defense?

It seems that Backman is what he is, a decent offensive presence culpable to a few giveaways in his own zone. At least the penalty train has slowed down. Malik, Staal, and the Tyutin-Girardi combo have played solid in their own zone, but I question what has come of Michal Rozsival?

At times he seems lost, not confident, and even overwhelmed. Why? He is not relied on as heavily given the success of the other pairings and he has Lundqvist back to form behind me. He needs to kick it into gear.

Finally, the power play (or power-less play). Bottom line: more traffic in front and much less puck possession. In fact, the only real issue the Rangers offense is having is with the offense carrying the puck too much, perhaps making an ill-advised pass, and losing the puck without an opportunity to show for it.

But hey, 10 - 0 - 3 in the last 13? I'll take it.

I'll have more in a bit...

More to come...

A big couple of days for the Blueshirts, a huge win at Uniondale followed by a sloppy, but standout performance by the King yesterday at the Garden. The Rangers have done a lot of good over this streak of 8 - 0 - 2 in their last ten and most of it 5-on-5.

Today, the Rangers sit at 6th in the Eastern Conference with 13 games remaining. We did some numbers work last week about what it would take to make the playoffs and it's looking like 12 points out of the remaining 13 games will get it done. 93 points should be enough to make the playoffs and give the Rangers an 8th or 7th seed.

This makes tonight's Buffalo game even that much more important.

Washington, Florida, the Islanders and Toronto have all fallen off which leads the Rangers, Bruins, Sabres and Flyers for three playoff spots. If the Rangers can take two points in regulation tonight against the Sabres, Buffalo would seemingly need 20 points in 12 games to make the playoffs. Certainly not impossible, but not easy either.

The Rangers have done the impossible and put themselves in a position to compete for top seeds in the conference with a mere 13 games left. If they can play well against their own division, a 4 or 5 seed in not unthinkable.

Hell, even the division isn't out of reach or the conference.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves, the Rangers have a lot of work to do.

Rather than get into it here, however, there is an announcement which plays into my "More to come..." title. I am now, along with Patrick Hoffman, a Rangers' blogger for The Hockey News. Along with my writing (which has admittedly fallen by the wayside) on Outside the Garden, this blog will be tailored a little differently to give each blog it's own unique feel.

Stay tuned...

Non-Hockey: Dave Matthews Summer Tour!

I try to keep the non-hockey information off of this blog, but my favorite band just announced their annual summer tour! Dave Matthews Band will be playing a variety of venues in 2008 and you can catch me at at least SPAC (Saratoga Performing Arts Center) and the Gorge! The tour dates are here: http://tourdates.davematthewsband.com/

Also, the Warehouse (DMB fan club) gave this little blurb about the upcoming tour that includes one awesome piece of information:

Fans attending DMB shows this summer will be the first to hear the latest material from Dave Matthews Band as the band debuts songs from their forthcoming record. DMB is currently in the studio with Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Alanis Morrisette) working on the yet-to-be-titled album! Guitarist and long time friend Tim Reynolds is playing on the album, marking his first recording with DMB since 1998’s Before These Crowded Streets.

Very exciting news! If you're going and want to tailgate or join a little Pucks party, leave a comment or shoot me an email.

The Final 15

Time to do some numbers analysis:

  • First, the Rangers have 15 games remaining in the schedule, all against conference opponents.
  • Of those 15, only 6 are home games with 9 (obviously) on the road.
  • There are 5 back-to-back sets of games, 10 games.
  • 11 of the 15 games are against Divisional opponents.
  • The final 10 games of the season are all against Divisional opponents.
  • The Rangers have 2 games against the Northeast Division (Boston, Buffalo) and 2 against the Southeast Division (Florida, Tampa Bay)
  • All teams the Rangers play, except for Tampa Bay and Florida, expect to make a playoff run.
  • The Rangers currently rank 7th in the Eastern Conference and will need approximately 18 points out of a possible 30 to make the playoffs. (Three point games will matter)
Now let's make some predictions:
  • If the Rangers go .500 (7 - 7- 1) in their remaining games, they WILL NOT make the playoffs.
  • If the Rangers can take 3 of out every 4 points, approximately 22 points, the Rangers will finish 6th or 7th.
That's a lot of numbers, but what's your prediction? How will the Rangers handle the playoff push? My guess is we're looking at a 7th seed against our own divisional opponent in the first round. Can anyone say Rangers - Devils in the first round?

Isles Evaluation

Let's play the good news/bad news game. After a game in which the Islanders won in a shootout after the Rangers dominated for the first period with nothing to show for it, there's not much too say in terms of performance evaluation.

First the good news:

  • The Rangers didn't lose in regulation for the 10th straight game. In such a close division, all the points are necessary.
  • New acquisition Freddy Sjostrom is continuing to impress and provide a role that Hollweg couldn't play: effective, scoring threat, and doesn't take penalties.
  • Even when down in the third period, the Rangers have found ways to come back in games. This is essential down the stretch and in the playoffs.
  • Jagr had a dominant game and you can see his confidence on the ice as he is trying moves from the outside that he hasn't made all season. That combined with Dubinsky's strong north-south game, and the line is a legitimate threat now.
  • Malik is back.
And now onto the bad news:
  • Poor officiating overall. I am not usually one to bash the refs, but last night was atrocious. It is one thing to let the players play, it's another to miss blatant calls in such an important game.
  • The King is still not playing kingly. He had a great period, but faltered in the final two periods and was less than dominant in the shootout. Someone needs to ask what happened to the shutdown play of the first part of the season.
  • Backman could very well be another Sandis Ozolinsh.
  • Too much scrambling. Often in their own zone, the Rangers lost their positions and couldn't break the puck out when needed. More confidence in their own zone is a necessity.
  • What has happened to Rozsival?
  • Renney: You have a Captain 600 goal scorer and 500 goal scorer. Why are they going after Rozsival in shootout? Poor choice and ultimately game deciding.
Too disappointed to continue, but I will be at the game tomorrow so stop by...


EDIT: Apparently I was a week off with TDR, so I will be covering for him next week and congratulations on his upcoming baby. I'll be back here tonight after the game.

Congratulations to The Dark Ranger on his new baby! I will be covering the game tonight for him, so expect a post on his site after the game, since I'll be attending.

All I have to say is the baby better come out with a jersey on!

Rangers Win in a Strange Way

If I would have told you before the game that the following were to occur, what would you have said:

  • Lundqvist is pulled at a 3 - 3 tie and Valiquette starts the second en route to another big victory over Philadelphia
  • Nittymakki is pulled after the first shot in the second and Biron comes in.
  • Sjostrom and Backman both score.
  • Backman takes more penalties.
  • Nigel Dawes would score in the second round of a shootout
None of those were terribly likely before I saw it myself in a strange game yesterday. The Rangers played well on a couple facets:
1. Perseverence - they never gave up despite holding a couple leads for only a few minutes. The Flyers needed this game after their atrocious streak and the Rangers dominance of them over the season. Needless to say, this would be a tough game to win let alone if you add a couple defensive gaffs and a less than shutdown performance by the King.

2. Transition- As Doc Emrick alluded to on yesterday's broadcast, the Rangers' defense is noticeably jumping up into the play more. This can allow for a more diverse attack that includes more offense from the defense and more aggressive play in the neutral zone. A team can pull this off when their defense is quick, which the Rangers really are not. Yes, Tyutin and Girardi are quick, as well as Staal, but Malik, Rozsival and Backman are not strong enough skaters to take too many chances at the offensive blue line. The downside to this system is that while it encourages flow and offense, it can lead to defensive breakdowns and odd-man opportunities. When Lundqvist is on his game, this could be a nice combo.

There were some mind boggling things however that the Rangers continue to do. First is the inability to break out of their zone. How often were the Rangers caught in their own zone for an extended period of time yesterday? Too often. You can see that they begin to scramble and lose their positioning, leading to opportunities from the point or bad penalties. Which leads us to bad penalties.

Granted, many of the calls this season have been inconsistent and many calls against have gone, well...uncalled. But at the same time it is not an excuse and the Rangers need to make better decisions without the puck. Having Sjostrom in for Hollweg will help this at points, but the defense (noticeably slow) is taking a lot of hooking and holding penalties while some of the forwards are just taking silly penalties at inopportune times.

They need to stay out of the box. This will keep the studs on the ice and not wear down the defense.

More analysis later before the home-at-home with the Icelanders....