The Rangers Game Log

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Game 12 – Rangers 5 at Montreal 2

Record – 6-3-3, 15 pts.
Last Year – 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Seen: On tape; out to dinner. Penance for the Head Chef coming to the Breeders’ Cup.
Points out of 8th: Lead Devils by three for first.
Islanders: Lose 6-4 at home, as scoreboard shows Blueshirts ahead. You gotta love that.

- Big Plays – Forget about the goaltending controversy – Henryk Lundqvist has put Tom Renney into a situation in which he has little choice but to ride his hot streak as long as it goes. No way Weekes starts at home for the time being; imagine the crowd reaction Monday night if he started and gave up an early softie. While Lundqvist made a few saves in the ‘dazzling’ category, he seems to position himself in anticipation so well that he makes many of them look routine. Late in the first, with the Blueshirts up 3-0 and the Habs on a power play, Kasparaitus made a terrible clearing attempt that was intercepted and sent to Saku Koivu in the slot. He faked a shot and made a nifty move to get off a backhand shot but Lundqvist was just waiting for it, like “get that crap outta here.”

His most spectacular and crucial saves of the game came shortly after the Canadiens cut the lead to 3-2, with the home team buzzing and the crowd howling. On a play virtually identical to Montreal's second goal, Pierre Dagenais was left all alone at the top of the slot; he one-timed a perfect feed that Lundqvist came out to stop; the rebound came right back out to Dagenais and this time Lundqvist stuck out his right skate and kicked it to the boards. When the puck was slid back towards the net, Lundqvist was there waiting.

The saves occured four minutes before the Blueshirts regained control on one of the nicest goals of the year. Ortmeyer, moved up to the second line for defensive purposes (Fedor Fedorov had a much better effort, showing strength and registering four hits), tipped the puck in and hustled around the defenseman to be the first to the puck behind the net. He gave it to Rucinsky, who did a great job eluding a defender to feed to Ortmeyer along the boards. Ortmeyer, almost doing a Jagr imitation, one-timed a picture perfect pass right to Rucchin, who had established position in front of the net and was able to swipe it in on the backhand.

Ortmeyer and Dominic Moore continue to impress beyond our expectations. Moore once again showed a deft pair of hand with his quick shot off a rush to the net for his first goal; and on his second, it was like ‘ready, aim, fire’ as he picked a spot up high and was bulls-eye for the fifth goal that sealed the game for the spunky visitors.

- Al Montoya stopped 51 out of 53 shots to lead the Wolfpack to victory Saturday night; and Petr Prucha, who perhaps will be recalled to replace Rucinsky, who was unfortunately injured Saturday on a hit well after he’d passed the puck that wasn’t called as a penalty, had a goal and an assist. Jarkko Immonen continues to excel with four goals, three assists, and a team leading plus five after eight games. Hugh Jessiman has no points and a minus two rating; oh man.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Game 11 - Islanders 1 Rangers 3

Record - 5-3-3, 13 pts.
Last year - 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Seen From - Sec 422/ Row D/ Seat 7
Points out of 8th - I know that the minute I eliminate this category, bad things will happen.
Islanders - With all the talk of their "sweep" last week, they got 3 pts and we got 4 in the three games.

- We had an extra ticket for the game, so I put this ad on Craig’s List:
I have one extra for tonight. Section 422 (center ice). Season ticket price of $22.50. ($25 for Islander fans; $50 for Islander fans wearing the orange third jersey; $100 for Republican Islander fans wearing the Fishstick jersey)
It was just a little good-humored banter, but I received in response the usual tired “1 since 40” and “let me know when you win 4 cups in a row” crap from humorless Icelander fans. One guy responded
I am wearing an Islander jersey with the gormans fishsticks logo and you are still wearing the jersey of a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in seven years.

How much for the ticket?
I’ll tell you man, those jerseys are like John Kerry’s “I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it” gaffe, which was described by some in the GOP as “the gift that keeps on giving.” We wouldn’t have the “We Want Fishsticks” chant if not for those uniforms. And besides having very bad taste in fashion, did this guy actually think I was going to sell him the ticket?

- Big Plays - Hockey’s a funny game indeed. Just a week after the Rangers carried the play to their rivals at the Garden but came away with a "loss," it was the opposite scenario for most of this one, except this was a real loss for the visitors. Having 11 power plays, including four consecutive ones in the third period helped their cause to be sure, but other than an initial burst out of the gate off the layoff, the Rangers seemed to be a step behind all night, and most of the penalties were chasing infractions. They didn’t seem as cohesive as they’ve been prior, and newcomers Fedor Fedorov and Jeff Taffe didn’t add much.

With the home team up 2-0 but back on their heels a bit midway through the second, Jagr had the puck behind the net and tried to bank it off DiPietro. It almost worked too, but the puck fell short of the line as D.P. (do they really call him that?) scrambled to cover up. Suddenly, the puck squirted free and Tom Poti (T.P.), lurking on the other side, was looking at an open net with the Isles’ goalie sprawled helplessly. However, his shot struck the leg of Trent Hunter, who had plunged into the net to cover, and bounced away. Replays showed that Hunter barely managed to stop the puck just on the line, keeping his squad in the game.

However, in the commotion over determining whether the puck went over the line, what was overlooked was the play that Jagr made to set up Poti for the shot. Despite being shoved and pinned at the back of the net by Alexei Zhitnik after his bank attempt, Jagr saw the puck sitting along the goal line, somehow managed to wrap his stick around the goal post and poke at the puck with a backhand tip, directing it across the goalmouth and right to the luckless Poti. It was a truly remarkable play, demonstrating his extraordinary strength and vision, and was inches away from being his third point of the night.

- All too often, the person who selects the three stars is obviously looking only at the score sheet. Yes, Jagr, awarded the first star, set up both first period goals, but during the crucial third period in which the Rangers were constantly shorthanded, he was barely on the ice. It was the penalty killing duos of Ortmeyer-Moore, Betts-Ward, and Rucchin-Rucinsky, and all the D that combined to block 25 shots in a penalty killing performance that was more scrambly than anything else, and to me, Ortmeyer was the standout and deserved some post-game honors for his relentless effort. He had four blocked shots, a big clear with three minutes left, and his check on Satan in the last minute dislodged the puck and led to Betts’ clinching empty-netter.

- Former Hartford Wolfpack goalie Jason Labarbera is 5-0 for the Kings, with a 1.4 goals against and a save percentage of 94.7%.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Game 10 – Rangers 1 at Buffalo 3

Record – 4-3-3, 11 pts.
Last Year – 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Seen: On MSG
Points out of 8th: Still hanging on to first because of extra games played
Islanders: Heartbreaking loss in Montreal, that's more like it.

- Here are some things we know about the New York Rangers after the first ten games:

They’ve played a lot of games, which means they’ll play less games than every other team will for the rest of the year. There’s no doubt they were a very tired hockey club their last two games.

The goalie controversy that we all expected to develop at some point is already here.

The defense, which was projected to be the weakest part of the team, doesn’t look too shabby at all. It helps when the forward lines help out too. Michael Rozsival and Marek Malik may not be the ideal guys you want to see on the point during power plays, but they’ve constituted a solid number one defense pairing, logging 25 minutes a game, and are both plus (three and two, respectively) on the year.

Jagr is pretty good. Better yet, he seems totally into the games, directing other players on the ice, and barking at them at times.

Dominic Moore is becoming a real revelation – fast, tough, and relentless, and he shows some decent hands at times as well.

This might be is the best coached Rangers squad since Colin Campbell took them to the 1997 semifinals. That's not saying much, really.

- Big Plays – We wuz robbed. MSG’s replays with sound clearly showed Jason Ward raising his arms to celebrate a goal before the ref blew the whistle and the play. It was a tired and rather sloppy team that came on the ice for its tenth game in 18 days against a Buffalo team that’s unbeaten at home. Yet it was a game they easily could have won, even without Ward’s goal. The Sabres’ second goal was another own-goal off of Kasparaitus, this one off his glove. And shortly after Ward’s goal was disallowed, the Rangers were awarded two power plays, creating a 47 second five-on-three on which they failed to register a shot. As I’ve written before, the Blueshirts can’t ask for more than to be close late in the game with the first team power play on the ice, and they have to take advantage of those situations. Even after the two man advantage expired and it was five on four, Rucinsky set up Steve Rucchin all alone in the low slot with what looked like a lot of net to shoot at, but he flubbed the shot off the outside of the left post. Buffalo’s rookie goalie Ryan Miller made just 22 saves, but made several big saves, and robbed Jagr twice in a single power play sequence earlier in the third.

- I'm seeing some calls in the press and the blogosphere calling for the recall of Ryan Hollweg, whose speed and feistiness would be helpful.

- The Rangers have not had a fight since Garth Murray battled the Sabres' Adam Mair in the first period of Messier's farewell game on March 31, 2004.

- Jarkko Immonen, acquired in the Leetch trade along with Kondratiev, was one of the last cuts in training camp, and he leads the Wolfpack in scoring with 4 goals and an assist. Fedor Fedorov is tied in total points with a goal and 4 assists.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Game 9 - Rangers 4 at Islanders 5

Record: 4-2-3, 11 pts
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts
Seen: Not
Points out of 8th: You may not want to hear this, but if every team in the conference were to win all their games in hand, the Rangers would be in 11th, ugh.
Islanders: It’s humbling indeed to be (kind of) swept by the Fish Sticks. The consolation is that I seem to recall, way, way back when the Rangers last lost to them, that they generally go into a tailspin after beating us. So we’ll have that to look forward to, hopefully.

- I went to see Death Cab for Cutie at Hammerstein Ballroom last night. The opening act, the excellent Canadian band Stars, was scheduled to come on at eight, so the plan was to catch the first period at one of the bars around the Garden before heading into the nearby concert venue. So I walked over to 8th Avenue, where the venerable Charley O’s has been relocated, and headed in. But much to my surprise, the TVs were all tuned to college football on ESPN. Huh? Where’s the Rangers game? I mean, this is Charley O’s, where I used to hang after games and see some of the players come in as well. Why, I once had a face-to-face encounter right there with a young player in his first NHL season named Wayne Gretzky. Yes, there I was, with a chance to speak to the future greatest player of all time, whose Oilers had tied the Rangers after beating the Isles the night before, and all I could come up with was: “So who’s better, the Rangers or the Islanders?” It’s obvious that I should have been getting out more often to stuff like concerts over the last quarter century or so.

So I headed into Penn Station, where the cleverly named bar Cabooz had a big sign outside - “Welcome Back Ranger Fans!” OK, this should do it. But no, they were watching college football too! I tried Houlihans’ – “Welcome Back Hockey Fans!” – but they were watching freaking CNN! What’s going on here? The whole city wasn’t consumed by the rematch of the two bitter rivals that had staged such a gripping battle just the night before? You mean, people DON’T CARE ABOUT HOCKEY?? It was a bit of an eye-opener to be sure, a harsh reminder about the state of our favorite team sport. Here I was, practically in the Garden itself, and I couldn’t find anywhere to watch the home team play.

And when I did, I wished I hadn’t. When I finally found a TV in the back of TGIF’s, it was 3-0 only three minutes in. What the fuck! I was honestly shocked – I expected the Blueshirts to win, possibly in dominant fashion. I was in an optimistic state I guess, but who wouldn’t be after watching Wednesday’s game. I later saw a stat showing that besides the 35 shots on the Fish Stick goal that night, they had around 25 wide and the same number blocked! And now again I watched as Poti fed a perfect feed to Rucinsky, who was stopped by DiPietro, who’s starting to really annoy me. Then Dominic Moore made a terrific play to get a shot right off the faceoff, kicked out by DiPietro. Ortmeyer had a wide open net on the rebound but couldn’t convert. It was like déjà vu all over again and too much for me to bear. I left to grab a bite.

When I checked again before leaving for the show, I saw it was 3-2 after one, that’s what I’m talking about, a team that won’t quit! I would have been clueless about the rest of the game if not for the fact that my new Sprint cell phone has one month of free internet access (which I’ll DEFINITELY be canceling before I start getting charged for it!) and I just could not resist checking the score periodically, at least until Death Cab for Cutie made me (almost) forget about it. They must be a really good band.

Big Plays - I dunno, can you even blame Weekes on those goals? But if you go on the road, hold the home team to 21 shots, score four goals, including three from your best player, you should come out with a win. I’m depressed, and that’s all I have to say. It’s so early, yet that break after Saturday’s game can’t come soon enough.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Game 8 – Islanders 2* Rangers 2
Record – 4-1-3, 11 points
Last Year – 0-0-0, 0 pts
Points Out of 8th – Nah, still in first
Islanders – Off since Saturday, dressed down by the coach and GM, driven through two punishing practices, with talk of revenge for the season sweep in 2003-04, and the best they could come up with is to have their goalie stand on his head to bail them out?

* I think shootouts are stupid, so I won’t be acknowledging their result, unless the Rangers win.

- Two songs come to mind today. One, the Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It's Worth’, goes “There’s something happening here….What it is ain’t exactly clear.” And the other is the theme from the Twilight Zone. October 19, eight games into what is supposed to be a rebuilding season, and the Garden was as tense as the White House as they await the Plamegate indictments. What exactly is going on here? I know, we’re supposed to be happy just to see a young team with a future coming out and giving it all every night, but I guess earning at least a point in six of the first seven games can get people thinking. And it didn’t hurt that the despised rivals were in town, because who could possibly stomach the bubble being burst by the Fish Sticks?

With both teams outfitted in their classic jerseys, it seemed like old times, as the action rocked back and forth (mostly forth, in the Rangers’ case), with the crowd inflating and deflating accordingly along with the plot twists. After a first period in which the home team dominated to the point where I found myself laughing at times, but found themselves down 1-0 (for the first time this year), I saw Ranger fans slumped in their seats with their familiar expressions of impending doom. That was actually nice to see, because the cause had been so hopeless in past years that too many times the prevailing mood was one of apathy.

Big Plays: It seemed like the same old new story in the first, as the Blueshirts spent virtually the entire first fifteen minutes in the Fish Stick zone, only to be frustrated by Rick DiPietro. For the second game in a row, Marek Malik was absolutely robbed on what should have been a simple stuff-in off a cross-ice pass. Half the crowd had already started to celebrate, but there was to be no Rangers Goal song. (NOTE: Can we PLEASE get rid of that fucking thing already?) Malik must be wondering if he’ll ever score. Besides the 35 shots fired on DiPietro, the Rangers shot wide or fanned on a multitude of others, not to mention Jagr breaking his stick on his shootout try.

The own-goal off of Jagr’s pass/shot was a crucial one, getting the team back into the game immediately after they seemed to be taken out of it. But the Isles were able to settle down and take the crowd out of the game after that, using an aggressive deep forechecking scheme to repel the Blueshirts’ attack over the next 12 minutes or so. Jason Blake was by far their best player besides DiPietro, and on one power play, he pinned the Rangers in their own zone virtually single-handedly for the first 30 seconds. Thus it helped that it was Blake who was penalized when the power play finally clicked late in regulation after seven failures as Petr Prucha, seeing ice time at that crucial stage of the game despite getting less than eight minutes total for the game, stood his ground in slot traffic to tip in Tyutin’s low shot toward the net.

- The Rangers had two shots in OT, and Prucha and Tom Poti were robbed by DiPietro, the latter after a great spin-o-rama move from the point. Prucha will likely see more ice time, as Renney hinted post-game of some lineup changes for tonight’s rematch.

- Lundqvist probably played his best game of the season in “defeat.”

- Doesn't it always seem like the Rangers play more games than anyone else early and that other teams always have games in hand?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Game 7 – Panthers 0 Rangers 4

Record: 4-1-2, 10 pts.
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Seen From: Sec 218, Row C, Seat 14
Points out of 8th: N/A. First Place.
Islanders: Licking wounds from latest lopsided loss

- Many Islander fans on LonGisland unfortunately were unable to watch the game and have their hopes for an imminent Rangers collapse deflated again, since OLN is withholding the games from Cablevision. Larry Brooks in the Post today reiterates something I’ve read several times about the situation – that the NHL has the contractual right to direct the Outdoor Life Network not to black out Cablevision subscribers on exclusive telecasts.

That's an interesting point considering that a spokesman for the NHL told me yesterday that that is not the case, and that the dispute is strictly between OLN owner Comcast, and the particular cable and satellite providers. As a Dish Network subscriber, I am being blacked out myself, and it took two letters and two phone calls (the second one of the angry/nasty/sarcastic variety) to get the league to return my call. So what then, is the truth about this? Can the league direct OLN to stop the blackouts? Call the NHL at 212-789-2000 and ask them what the real scoop is. I placed a return call about Brooks' article to the gentleman I spoke to before and I’ll let you know if he returns my call.

- We weren’t in our regular seats last night as my seatmate was entertaining a client and wanted “good” seats. So we moved down and sat in the old yellow section, where leg space is scarce compared to upstairs, and in a corner. You can’t see about a quarter of the face-off circle from there, and players who go into that corner disappear from sight faster than the Astros will after last night’s disaster. I’m old enough to remember flyers advertising the “unobstructed view from 19,000 seats” before what was referred to then as the “new “ Garden opened. Unfortunately, someone forgot to take the seats and peoples’ heads into account.

Big Plays: Welcome to the post-lockout NHL; there were thousands of empty seats with empty patches in all the levels – it looked like a snowstorm game, or a game on the night of a Yankees’ Game 7. Perhaps years from now 100,000 people will claim to have been at Lundqvist’s first NHL shutout, just like all of those who say they were at the weekday afternoon game that Tom Seaver struck out 19 Padres and the last ten in a row.

But it was a lively crowd who saw the unlikely juggernaut continue. I think Gilles Gratton could have earned the shutout last night; in fact, I’d have given Roberto Luongo a star before Lundqvist. Luongo signaled his sharpness in the first period, frustrating the first line on their first power play, and then robbing Marek Malik on what should have been a simple stuff-in. The home team led by just 1-0 despite outshooting the Panthers by 30-12 when they were given their first five-on-three power play of the year late in the second. Sensing that this was the big opportunity, Renney called time and sent out five forwards including the top guns. Luongo had no shot on Jagr’s bullet off Straka’s feed. And when the Panthers cooperated with another quick penalty, the same five-on-three configuration resulted in a nearly identical goal, Jagr from Straka. The latter hasn’t yet scored a goal, but is second in the league with nine assists. He was put back on the Jagr line, as Renney continues to shuffle the combos. Ville Neimenen moved to play with Betts and Ward; Prucha skated on the 4th line and scored the 4th goal on a two-on-one on which he had no intention whatsoever of passing the puck.

- 25 minutes plus each once again for what I guess is the #1 defense combo of Marek Malik and Michael Rozsival. Who woulda thunk?

- Jamie McLennan relieved Luongo and stopped all 11 Rangers shots in the third. McLennan was in goal for the Blueshirts in Washington on April 3, 2004, the last game before the lockout and of the Sather era. Oh. He's still around?

- One year Two years ago today, the Rangers tied the Carolina Hurricanes (with Kevin Weekes in goal) 2-2. On the ice for the Blueshirts were Matt Barnaby, Joel Bouchard, Anson Carter, Greg deVries, Jan Hlavac, Bobby Holik, Kasparaitis, Alexei Kovalev, Dan LaCouture, Eric Lindros, Vladamir Malakhov, some guy Messier, Boris Mironov, Petr Nedved, Tom Poti, Martin Rucinsky, Chris Simon, and Jamie Lundmark.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Game 6 – Atlanta 1 Rangers 5

Record: 3-1-2, 8 pts
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts
Seen: Sec 422/Row D/Seat 7
Points Out of 8th: N/A. First place in the division
Islanders: Crushed 5-1 in Philly as Garth Snow, looking like Frodo after shedding all that equipment this year, is bombarded with 46 Flyer shots.

- The Blueshirts made their first appearance of the year in their third jerseys, the so-called ‘Statue of Liberty’ uniforms that were instituted during the Neil Smith regime in the 1996-97 season. I’m as traditionalist as one can get - I’m opposed to regular season overtime, no less shootouts. In the dark John Ferguson era in the mid-70s when the team was outfitted in those hideous uniforms with the crest on the front, I was plunged into drugs and despair, and I placed an emergency call to my therapist upon seeing them revived on occasion last season.

But I’ve always liked these third jerseys (not so much the year they wore them in a white version), and I do particularly enjoy it when they hit the ice in them. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of something called ‘playoffs,’ as the team wore them frequently during the 1997 playoff run.

- Big plays: “What team is this?” asked a fan in my section last night. Another night of spunk and hustle from all four lines against an Atlanta team that they rarely beat even before they added a major Ranger killer in Peter Bondra. The hard work was never more apparent on the big second goal. Despite all the energy on a rare, though no longer unprecedented Saturday night home game, as well as the presence of the Thrashers’ 4th string goalie, it was just a 1-0 game midway through, and the home team was spending some time in its own zone against what should be a dangerous offensive team. Jed Ortmeyer had drawn a penalty by going to the net, and after Kasparaitus, who set the tone with some early hits, kept the puck in at the point, the Rangers controlled and Ortmeyer nudged the puck to Dominic Moore along the boards. Moore outhustled and absolutely undressed Bondra with a nifty move and got the puck around to Straka who found Nylander, on as the extra man. His low shot was stopped but Ortmeyer was one of three blueshirts right in front and he tapped it home. It was Straka's 7th assist.

Thirty seconds later, the Rangers scored with some flash instead of grit. Steve Rucchin started the rush with a nice outlet pass to Hossa from his own zone. He fed Rucinsky on the left wing, who pulled up and made a gorgeous backhand flip pass to Rucchin, joining the play, who scored on his second shot after the first was blocked. Perhaps this team has a bit more talent than many thought. I don’t think that before the season one would expect them to win 5-1 without Jagr (who had two assists) scoring a goal.

- The crowd alternated chants of “Hen-reek” and “Lund-quist” as the Rangers’ goalie put on a show in the third. The rookie who really isn’t one made some nifty saves as the Thrashers pressured (too) late. He seems to have a particularly quick stick hand and uses his blocker deftly to steer shots away. He stopped every shot the Thrashers threw at him, losing his shutout on an own-goal off Kasparaitus’s skate. I prefer the “Hen-reek” myself, but the fact is that some goalies’ names are just not that suitable for chanting. Take Kevin Weekes for example. Lundquist’s style is more flashy and crowd-pleasing, both between the pipes and otherwise, as he was flamboyant when acknowledging the crowd’s cheers when coming on the ice as the game’s first star. Woe be to Weekes the next time he allows a soft one at home; it’s the type of situation that can be tough on the first-string goaltender.

- Renney continued to tinker with the top line, trying Niemenen in place of Prucha in the third period; a combination which resulted in the Finn’s second goal in two games.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Game 5 – Devils 1 Rangers 4

Record: 2-1-2, 6 pts
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts
Seen: Partially, on MSG
Points out of 8th: N/A. First in the division, but sixth in the conference
Islanders: Won 5-3 at Washington, making the Rangers’ loss there even more unacceptable

- Well, I was traveling down and up the east coast this week, and arrived in Albany, NY on Thursday evening. Was pleasantly surprised to see that the hotel I checked into had MSG, and even more so when I flipped it on in time for the beginning of the second period to see that the Rangers were ahead 3-0. Cool. It was a tumultuous week of travel, and circumstances made me unable to pay more than scattered attention to the rest of the contest. I later saw the ultimately decisive first period action on that ‘Rangers in 60’ thing they run on MSG now, in which they compress the game into an hour. Many times in the last few years, I watched games in far less than that time; having taped it and then ended up running through it in via fast forward in short order after the sad outcome became apparent. There were many games I ended up scanning in their entirety in 15 minutes or less, pausing just to see any fights.

- I saw some of the post-game show. If you turn on the TV with no sound and see the Devils and Islanders announcers doing their wrap-up, you can tell whether their teams won or lost just by the look on their faces. You tune in and see either the grim looks and head-shaking, or a pair of grinning idiots. What a bunch of shills. Emrick and Chico Resch came on and immediately lamented how the Devils “weren’t ready to play” and that this was a case of only “one team showing up to play.” Gimme a fucking break. The Rangers have solidly outplayed this team for most of six periods now. Then Howie Rose and Joe Micheletti were all smiles as they raved about the Isles’ play. Micheletti doesn’t bother me that much, but Rose has lost any credibility as a broadcast journalist he may have had, shilling for a mickey mouse club that hasn’t won a single playoff round since the year before the spring that Rose reached the peak of his profession with his landmark Matteau Matteau Matteau call.

- Big Play - Tom Renney spoke after the game of his decision to move Petr Prucha up to the Jagr line, talking about his resiliency, which was noted here after the last Devils game. By moving Rucinsky down to the Rucchin line, and, in turn, Straka down to the third line, suddenly the offense seems to have the potential to go deeper than we once thought.

Of course, if a team works hard all night, even the 4th line will create opportunities. Right after the first Rangers goal, Renney rolled it out. Jed Ortmeyer, whose diligent work habits compensate for his occasional gaffes, took a hit along the boards, got up and battled for the puck in center ice, practically willing it into the Devils zone on sheer desire alone, without actually ever getting a stick on it. The puck still hadn’t settled down when Niemenin burst in and was somehow able to get a backhand flip onto the bouncing disk and send it past Brodeur for a second goal in 17 seconds.

- Ryan Hollweg was sent down to Hartford and Lundmark was banished from the lineup for the second time in three games. You wonder what Sather could even get for him at this point. Let’s hope we see Hollweg again soon.

- Michael Rozsival continues to lead the team in minutes played, logging 25:29, more than five minutes more than Jagr.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Game 4 – Rangers 2 at Washington 3

2005-06 Record: 1-1-2, 4 pts.
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Seen: On tape, MSG
Pts out of 8th: Here we go…Tied in points but behind several teams based on one less win
Islanders: Lose listlessly at home to Florida 3-1 on a Monday afternoon in front of 47 laid off investment bankers and John Spano impersonating an usher.

- In all of my years following the Rangers, and that’s a lot of years, I never, ever recall missing a game because it was on a weekday and I was at work. Columbus Day? Who is off besides schools and the post office? I spent a couple of years living in Philly in 1980-1 and Jay Greenberg, the snide columnist for the NY Post, was then a beat writer covering the Flyers for the Philadelphia Daily News, and a member of a press corps that took every opportunity to blast New York City and its fans. In 1981, the Rangers hooked up with the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs, and the Garden had a scheduling conflict with the Knicks. There was speculation that perhaps the Rangers would have to play a weekday afternoon playoff game, a plan that was eventually scuttled. Greenberg wrote that the Garden nixed the idea because too many fans wouldn’t be able to get out of their prison work-release programs to attend the game. Ha ha, very funny.

The NY Times estimated the crowd in Washington on Monday to be around 5,000. Given the arena’s proximity to our nation’s capitol and the current corrupt Republican administration, perhaps Greenberg’s words ring truer in this case.

As for me, I wanted to watch the game without knowing the score, such is the heady excitement of this early season. No problem in this office; I don’t think anyone knows what hockey is. And given the current standing of the sport here in New York, the chance of me walking down the street and hearing someone go “Hey, the Rangers lost!” is about the same as the chance of hearing someone go “Hey, Bloomberg lost!” come this November 2. The only problem is there are some taxis these days that have these damn ESPN sponsored scoreboards on top of their cars; this has caused me to see a score I didn’t want to on more than one occasion. So here I was, a grown man (in some peoples’ opinions), walking around Manhattan late yesterday afternoon with my head down so as not to see any traffic. Walking around this city with one’s head down is not recommended, even in these days of reduced crime.

Big Plays: An unbeaten in regulation streak can quickly become a losing streak. That’s three in a row, though this was the first one with no points earned. It was the team’s sloppiest game of the young season, with odd man rushes and awful own-zone giveaways by the D galore. Bryce Lampman dressed in place of Jason Strudwick who was gone with a death in the family, and his shaky play made his uniform number 33 reminiscent of Bruce Driver in more than one respect.

I guess the big play was the Caps’ goal right at the end of the second period, though in my opinion, the awfulness of giving up a late period goal is sometimes overrated. There are some times after surrendering a goal that a 17 minute time out is exactly what a team needs. As the period ticked down, Jagr made a nifty move into the attack zone, went behind the net, and got rocked by Brian Sutherby, wow. At the same time, Nylander fell in front of the net, and the Caps were off to the races three on two. Tyutin and Kondratiev backed up faster than the moving vans at Yankee Stadium today, and while Weekes stopped the initial shot, Steve Eminger scored on the rebound to tie the game. In fact, all three of the Caps goals came on rebounds of tough first stops. Weekes doesn’t show much in the way of directing rebounds out of harm’s way, and his D was certainly no help on any of the goals; the others were scored on a 3 on 1 break and a 5 on 3 power play.

Yet with all the ragged play, the game was the Blueshirts’ to win, as they had three full power plays and part of another in the third period. Jagr was stopped on 8 out of nine shots and seemed to get frustrated towards the end, taking shots that had no chance to get through. Kolzig made two big skate stops on him in the third, one of them with Nylander lying on top of him, I have no idea how he did that. He made a Hasek-type stop on Jason Ward off a scramble in front, and took care of his rebounds all night.

- Ville Niemenen dressed for the first time and didn’t seem to have much jump coming off a groin injury. Ryan Hollweg sat; don’t know if he would have anyway with Niemenen’s return, or if it was due to the late penalty he took in New Jersey. It’s good that Renney holds players responsible, but personally, I loved that hit on Paul Martin, and his feistiness was noticeably absent in this game. Let’s see if Kasparaitis sits for his awful penalty that led to the five-on-three and the losing goal.

- No fights in the first four games. Come to think of it, with Purinton suspended, just who is going to drop the gloves on this team? Is fighting still permitted?

- I hate the shootouts. Caught the OT of Leafs-Sens and the wide-open back and forth four-on-four play was breathtaking. To me, the shootout was just anticlimactic and a farcical way to decide a game.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Game 3: Rangers 2 at Devils 3 (OT)

Seen: On MSG, Mike Crispino sitting in for Sam Rosen
Record: 1-0-2
Last Year: 0-0-0
Points out of 8th: N/A
Islanders: Won, luckily, in their puerile third jerseys. Pelted with 44 shots by a Carolina squad that played the night before. Islander fans, many of whom were out of their homes or office for the first time in 18 months, are delirious but distracted throughout by the Rangers score, their smug assurance as to their rivals' ineptitude starting to waiver ever so slightly.

- I’m trying to get used to this idea that you can no longer settle for a tie. What’s wrong with settling once in a while? It always seemed rather comforting to think that you could just hang on after playing 60 or 65 tough minutes in a hostile building, get the point on the road and go home. Yes, they did get the point, but had to suffer the indignity of watching the home team and fans celebrate, as well as seeing a division rival earning an extra point. This one seemed less tolerable than the one on Thursday, both because of the opponent and the fact that the Rangers were arguably the better team.

The Head Chef and I were invited to go to the game with a couple of dear friends, but she was busy feeding clients and I was stuck home with kids. I’ve only been to one Rangers game at the Meadowlands since Game 4 in ’94, the loss in which Keenan benched Leetch and pulled Richter. I was also at Game 3, Matteau’s first double overtime winner, which to me is the real overlooked great game of the championship season. Of course games 6 and 7 are the ones that will always be remembered, but game 3 was a classic in its own right. The winner was such a quick shot by Matteau that I still really have to concentrate to see it unfold. A guy with his size and those flashes of quick’d think he would have had a more productive career

I could have gone to Game 6 too, but I plain chickened out, I admit it. I was a wuss. I just couldn’t bear the thought of seeing the dream end in that wretched building and in front of those fans. So I didn’t go and missed personally witnessing perhaps the most dramatic Rangers moment of my lifetime. Until Game 7, that is.

- Big plays: Peter Prucha and Maxim Kondratiev dressed in place of Lundmark and Poti. The latter may be the most unpopular defenseman at the Garden since Rod Seiling. The Devils had tied the game on a fluky goal early in the third, and it was uh-oh time. When you outshoot a team by 13-1 and then 26-8 after two but only have a one goal lead, it’s never a good sign. With about 15 minutes left, the Devils were surging and they were getting physical too. Within seconds, Kasparaitus got nailed by Grant Marshall, and then Prucha got absolutely hammered by Eric Rasmussen at center ice. The usually catatonic crowd was into it and I started to fear the worst.

But Prucha got himself up, shook out the cobwebs and pursued the puck in the Devils zone. He swooped in and picked up the puck behind the net, outbattled Paul Martin along the boards and was able to kick the puck to a teammate, allowing the Rangers to retain possession, which then led to a cross-checking penalty on Dan McGillis. Though they didn’t score on the power play, they had chances and put the crowd back into their usual stupor. The Devils never got any physical play flowing again and in fact, Ryan Hollweg made a statement when he rocked Martin later in the period. He drew a questionable penalty, but it became one of those good bad penalties when the Rangers, led by the energetic Blair Betts, killed it off.

Brodeur was really, really good; he stole two points for his team and one from mine. He made great glove stops on Malek and Jagr late in regulation, the latter on a power play. The Rangers can’t ask for anything more than being tied late in a game and getting that first power-play unit on the ice. They need to cash in when they get those opportunities, and their failure to do so led to the OT and the "loss." Lundqvist shows confidence handling the puck; he wanted to play it on the winning losing goal but pulled back because it was outside the trapezoid, then didn’t seem to be in position when Rafalski’s shot whizzed by, damn these new rules. Ironically, it was in large part because of Brodeur that the trapezoid was instituted.

- If Zach Parise is so great, why did 16 teams including the Rangers pass on him in the draft?

- What does it say about the Devils defense that Vladimir Malakhov played thirty minutes? Rozsival led all Blueshirts D at 25:33.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Game 2 - Canadiens 4 Rangers 3 (OT)

Record – 1-0-0-1, 3 pts.
Last Year – 0-0-0-0, no pts.
Watched From – Section 422/Row D/ Seat 7
Days in First Place – 2
Points out of 8th – N/A
Islanders – Idle, winless, tied for worst goals-against average in the league. Islander fans returning from nighttime botox appointments curse under their breaths when they see the ‘OT’ designation following the score of the Rangers’ game, but assure themselves that they have a game in hand.

- I hadn’t picked up my tickets until tonight, as I skipped all the preseason games. Actually, there’s no longer a need for the tickets at all. You can just email them to yourself or anyone else. You print out a barcode that’s scanned at the gate, and the real tickets are voided. Soon they’ll probably have an EZ Pass system in place; you can get a chip in the shape of the Rangers insignia implanted into your butt. But then I would have missed the silver paint can that the tickets come in, with the greeting We are honored to welcome you home. Of course, it also meant that I had to walk around the rest of the night with a silver paint can filled with tickets, confetti, jellybeans, and a T-shirt compressed into the shape of a puck (I kid you not).

Ah, the sight of the Rangers’ blue uniforms. For many years it was a rare sight to see in person, as teams wore their dark jerseys on the road. It used to be a special feeling at the Spectrum or the Mauseleum when the Broadway Blueshirts took the ice. Now, they wear them at home, but I for one never tire of seeing them. I walked down to the ice to get a closer look during the warmups, and when I did, I discovered to my horror that instead of the diagonal R A N G E R S the jerseys instead read T H A N K Y O U.

I could no longer concentrate on the players and the drills, as I was fixated on the ridiculous sight of grown men wearing sports jerseys that say THANK YOU. And while I’m at it, why don’t they cut out the ‘thank you’ bullshit. We’re hockey fans – you play the games, and we’re going to come. If racetracks closed down due to, say, insolvency, and they reopened a year later – would you have to thank the people for coming back?

I was becoming concerned that they would wear the jerseys in the game, but thankfully they didn’t. Instead they gave them away, autographed, to some lucky fans that, as usual, didn’t include me. So if you’re on Ebay, and see blue hockey jerseys with THANK YOU written diagonally down the front, you’ll know what it is.

- Big plays: Teams that are short on talent as the Rangers are presumed to be must at least play smart to stay in games, and being shorthanded 21 times in two games does not qualify. Down 3-2 late in the second period, the home team found themselves two men down for 1:08, and whereas in past years that might produce a potential Hall of Fame threesome of Bobby Holik, Mark Messier and Brian Leetch, instead we saw Blair Betts, Marek Malik, and Michael Rozsival. The trio performed superbly, with Malik and Rozsival blocking the passing lanes with their long reach and keeping the unguarded Canadiens at the side of the net too deep to be effective (it helped that Alexei Kovalev was one of them.)

Midway through the 3rd, with the score still 3-2, once again the Rangers were two men short, this time for 1:05. Again, Tom Renney rolled out the three and again they kept the team in the game. I don’t really recall Weekes making any particularly spectacular stops (and that goes for the entire game). The penalty-killing heroics allowed the home team to tie the game on a power play of their own and earn a point before an enthusiastic crowd with just over 2 1/2 minutes remaining. It was a well-executed play starting from their own zone with a neat outlet from Rozsival that allowed Kasparaitis to enter the attacking zone with speed, backing up the defense, allowing Rucchin to nudge the puck back to Tyutin, whose low shot was deflected in by Dominic Moore, who was going to the net. Perfect.

- Rozsival led the team with 22:34 of ice time, while Jamie Lundmark took two penalties and skated for only 8:16.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Game 1 - Rangers 5 At Flyers 3

2005 Record: 1-0
Last Year: 0-0
Seen: On OLN
Points out of 8th: N/A
Islanders: Lost

- So, 18 months after Bobby Holik scored in OT to defeat the Caps to end the 2003-04 season, what was another 20 agonizing minutes of the OLN pregame show? It was ironic that Neil Smith, who would always tell us that you can't rebuild in New York, was on hand in the studio to see the first game of the process he refused to initiate. About the time that Donald Trump was telling us how much he loves the rules changes, dinner was served, and I put the game on pause. How did I ever live without a DVR?

Back to the action, and Sam and J.D. were trying so hard to pretend to be objective for the national TV audience that they were talking only about the Flyers and not identifying the unidentifiable Ranger players. So I went to the Rangers website to pull up the roster. But, I forgot that I watching the game on a half hour delay, and the main page flashed the score - Flyers 2, Rangers 1. So, since the worst scenario of that score would be the Rangers scoring first, this is how, after an entire season of no hockey, the new season started for me: rooting for the other team to score first. When Jason Strudwick scored the first goal of the season, I pretended to cheer because I was embarrassed to admit what I had done.

- Big Play: Did that second period remind you of something? It was noted that for the first time since they won the Cup, there were no members of the '94 team on the roster. Yet, second period, down two goals in a game you thought they were going to lose from the start, being peppered in their own zone, one goal away from the game being effectively over, goalie standing on his head.... Well, no, the team captain Jaomir Jagr Darius Kasparaitus Steve Rucchin..... er, no one guaranteed a win in this case and Alexei Kovalev is gone, but it seemed vaguely familiar nonetheless.

I had just uttered "you suck, Lundmark" (how's that for patience?) after a cross-ice pass to no one, and then a fumble in the Flyers zone which led to a clear as a rare power play ticked down with the score still 3-1 after Nylander's penalty shot hit the crossbar. Martin Straka made a nice back checking play and Fedor Tyutin, who looks like he's grown about a foot since last we saw him, made a nifty move to evade a checker and a nice two-line headman pass to Rucchin, who dumped it in. Lundmark was backing up when the puck came bouncing out and did a good job setting himself and getting much of his small frame into the shot.

- Violent hockey clips interspersed with Survivor and Ted Nugent; musical accompaniment for every instant replay; welcome to the NHL on OLN. I found myself longing for the days of glowing pucks.

- Not only did the Islanders lose, but I was pleased to see them relegated to a small AP box in the Times this morning. The only thing better than seeing them suck is to see them be irrelevant.