The Rangers Game Log

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Game 24 - Rangers 3 at Buffalo 2 (Shootout)

Record: 14-7-3, wow!
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Conference Standings: Tied for second with Montreal; four point lead over Flyers, losers at home to Tampa Bay
Islanders: Man, these turkeys got to rest at home and host the Sabres, who played an energetic game in "defeat."

“It’s not hockey.” Steve Yzerman is the latest to express that opinion. He hasn’t yet been fined as Pat Quinn was last month. Both of them explained that they were talking about the close officiating and resulting power plays. Quinn noted that five-on-five was going the way of the dodo bird. But given Quinn’s rough and tumble history, one could surmise that what he really misses is the hitting and fighting that seems to be in short supply these days.

Defenseman Lyle Odlein (can you believe this guy is still around?) was more direct when he said "It's not a man's game anymore." Hmmm, what exactly is manly about grabbing and hooking an opponent? Lack of hitting is a complaint I’ve been hearing a lot at the Garden this year, and we’ve certainly seen our share of “no-hitters.” (I’ve heard unsubstantiated rumors from the Far West, which we haven’t yet seen this season, that there’s more hitting out there.)

The fact is that there’s nothing explicitly in the new rules to outlaw hitting, unless you considered cross-checking players in the back to clear them out of the crease as a “hit.” In fact, the rules should actually increase the amount of hitting if anything. Brendan Shanahan was one of the players on the competition committee that came up with the new rules.
In October, he told the [Detroit] Free Press that the new rules, "are not an invitation for soft hockey. We felt that hooking and holding was preventing body checks. There was no need to body-check anymore when the smartest thing to do was just go put a stick on a guy."
One obvious example is the fact that a player can no longer hold up an attacking forward to prevent him from smashing a defenseman who is back behind his net retrieving the puck. [Aside: As we know, a lot of these new rules have been tried before and aren’t really new. In fact, back in 1995, Neil Smith, in explaining the second worst trade of his tenure, raised the specter of Sergei Zubov being battered into submission behind his net in the playoffs by Flyers forwards that could no longer be held up. As it turned out, the Rangers instead faced free-wheeling Quebec and Pittsburgh squads, and ten full years later, the team STILL has never replaced the offense and power play skill that Zubov provided.]

So what’s the explanation? Perhaps, as Shanahan pointed out, hooking and holding was the easy way out, and it’s just too much to ask of a team physically to sustain hitting for 82 games a year. Or maybe it’s simply a case of players becoming timid by the tight officiating. In either event, one would think that physical play will be more intense come playoff time, as is always the case.

Here’s a more radical hypothesis: During Thursday’s game in Carolina, I saw something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in nearly 40 years of watching this sport (other than Lundqvist giving up five goals). And not only once, but twice! I saw Rangers and Hurricanes exchanging words --- pleasant ones --- in the midst of the game! In fact, I caught Nylander exchanging a smile with a Carolina player, and then Marek Malik catching up with an ex-teammate. Huh? Hockey players fraternizing during a game? Football players pummel each other for three hours, yet after the games they shake hands graciously, often embrace, and converse easily with each other. In hockey, we make this huge deal of players shaking hands after a playoff round, even as many of them just go through the motions without ever making eye contact. So what’s going on here?

Maybe, just maybe, a year of being locked out together by the league, and having to make the shared “sacrifices” (if you call making millions instead of gazillions a “sacrifice”) in the new CBA has created a sense of camaraderie amongst the players, and has actually caused them to have some respect for one another and not try to lay each other out on every shift. In addition, perhaps the players are being more mindful of the consequences of their actions on the game that still provides them a lucrative income, given the fact that more people probably watch stuff like horse racing than the NHL on TV at this point. As I said, maybe this is just a nutty idea, and in any event, it too shouldn’t really cut down on clean hitting. But perhaps at the very least, we can hope for no more scenes like the one on the ice in Vancouver in March, 2004.

- I agree with the dissenters that shootouts are not hockey. They're nothing more than a gimmick, though an effective one as far as getting the fans excited. I say this despite the fact that the Rangers are now 3-1 in them after last night's win in Buffalo. But in this case, the shootout result was justice served. The Rangers wuz robbed in regulation; Mika Noronen's ridiculous backhand kick save on Martin Straka while on his stomach is something that should certainly be outlawed by the competition committee! Roszival, who logged 26 solid minutes, made a gorgeous outlet to Jagr to start that rush. Noronen also made huge saves on Niemenen's 3rd period breakaway and a Jed Ortmeyer rebound attempt.

Oh, and those posts. Jagr hit the inside of the post right after the save on Straka, his third clank of the game; Niemenen made it four posts when he beat Noronen cleanly too. The Blueshirts also had to survive the late regulation power play after the disgraceful non-call on Mike Grier's major penalty boarding of Kasparaitus just before. Did you notice a Buffalo player, I believe Daniel Briere, bop Darius on top of his helmet as he was hunched over? So much for my theory of players having respect for each other...

Jason Strudwick's solid hit kept the puck in the zone, leading to Nylander's clutch tying goal. I mean, did you really expect them to win this game at that point, after all the posts and saves? For a guy who often can't seem to be able to put the puck in the ocean, he sure threaded a needle to get that one in.

- Oh, how we lamented the loss of Martin Rucinsky. Still a week to ten days away, this is longer than the 2-4 weeks predicted. But tell me now, who exactly in the lineup is he going to replace at this point?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Games 21 - 23

Game 21: Rangers 1 at Carolina 5
Game 22: Carolina 3 Rangers 4
Game 23: Boston 2 Rangers 3

Record: 13-7-3, 29 pts
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Conference Standings: Three way tied for second
Islanders: Lingering a bit like the stench at Fulton Fish Market, having benefited from a soft stretch in the schedule.

- If I hadn’t been away for the weekend and neglected my blog, I would have, after the loss in Carolina, made the following observation regarding a 3-2 road trip that we would have been thrilled with had the two losses not come after three wins to open the trip: If they sweep the two home games over the weekend, then those two losses are meaningless.

And so, the ‘2’ in 3-2 becomes nothing more than part of the record from a successful road trip, rather than the start of a backslide into the general population of the Eastern Conference. I drove four hours back from southern Vermont on Sunday afternoon, arriving home with little time to rest before loading a reluctant Head Chef, who still doesn’t grasp the fact that a trip to a Rangers game can actually be entertaining after four years of putting up with them…..and with me putting up with them, into the car for the drive to Manhattan.

To show you how little of the perspective that I’ve urged us all to keep I still retain after merely seven measely regulation losses in 23 games, I actually found myself a bit disappointed that they weren’t more dominant against a struggling Bruins’ squad that has now lost six in a row. It certainly wasn’t a bad game for the Blueshirts, and Henryk Lundqvist made just one memorable save (though what a save it was, robbing 20 year old Patrice Bergeron), but I’d told the Head Chef that I was expecting something along the lines of a 4-1 triumph.

It was a bit of a strange game. The Garden was full once again, and with the Thanksgiving holiday upon us and old rival Boston in town, I sensed a real buzz in the air. Tom Renney is unpredictable if nothing else, and did not return to the formula of starting the 4th line which proved so effective in setting the tone the day before. The home team still got off to a quick start, but the game slowed down pretty quickly, and we never saw much of the wide open play that has become more commonplace in this latest era of the NHL. But all four lines – and when’s the last time that we’ve seen this kind of stability in the line combos – and the defense played fairly soundly in the team’s third game in four days, and tenth in 18.

The power play, which accounted for three goals on Saturday and one on Sunday, remains a bit of an enigma. The situation on the point has not been resolved despite Roszival’s goal on Saturday, and when they failed to convert and add to a 1-0 lead on three chances in the second, it brought a sense of dread which was verified when the Bruins tied the game early in the third. Then Jagr’s power play goal got the Rangers back on track. What an amazing little backhand shove-pass to Niemenen he made on the eventual winning goal.

A word on Maxim Kondratiev, about whom I seem to have a different opinion than some others; guess I’m noticing the good, while others notice the bad. He did seem a bit shakier to me last night, but still chipped in with four hits, and is consistently amongst the team leaders in that category. I would still like to see him get a shot at the point on the first power play unit. Going back to the first period of Thursday’s game, a low, on-net bee-bee on a one-timer indicates to me that he could possibly supply some of the shot threat that the team needs in order to help relieve some of the pressure teams are putting on Jagr.

- Five hits for Ryan Hollweg. An off night on face-offs for Betts and Moore, who dominated them the day before. The team could use a rest, but they hit the road for two more games this week, including a Thanksgiving night game in Atlanta, what the hell is up with that? Remember, when the Wednesday night before was a traditional home game and major party night? The marijuana smoke in the stairwells was particularly thick on those nights… Yet another game, at home, on Saturday night, and then a much needed four day break.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Game 20 - Rangers 1 at Toronto 2

Game 20 – Rangers 1 at Toronto 2
Record: 11-6-3, 25 pts.
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Conference Standings: 4th
Islanders: Idle

- It was an increasingly rare Original Six matchup for the Broadway Blueshirts, as the Rangers are the only one of the six who do not play in a division that has at least another one. So as opposed to Montreal, Boston, and Toronto, who all play each other eight times and are surely sick of each other, these games still seem a little special to me; especially with the two teams in their classic jerseys. Is anyone else out there old enough to remember the time that the Rangers would have tons of fans rooting for them at the old Maple Leaf Gardens? As a kid I used to keep a collection of reel-to-reel tapes of radio and TV play-by-play calls of goals, and I specifically remember one game in which Win Elliot’s calls of Ranger goals on channel 9 were drowned out by the cheers from the Toronto crowd.

The explanation was always that the Blueshirts had gained a following there from playing many of their “home” playoff games there. That’s right; the team played second fiddle in the Garden to the circus, was banished from their home ice come playoff time, and found a second home in Toronto, apparently gaining significant support there. Those who ridicule the team’s paltry Cup-winning record conveniently ignore this fact. I imagine the Islanders wouldn’t have won their four Cups if they played their home games at the Capital Centre in Landover.

- Big Plays: Well, once again I’m forced to point to two questionable (and in one of those cases, ‘questionable’ doesn’t even begin to apply) penalty calls as big turning points in the game. It seemed the team was a bit awestruck in their first game in Toronto and it was a decidedly shaky start, and the visitors dodged a bullet on Matt Stajan’s early miss of a wide open net. But they were settling down as the period went on, thanks in part to hard work by the 4th line, and let’s once again mention Maxim Kondratiev. I am extremely impressed by this guy; he may look a bit lumbering at first glance, but he’s quick with his feet and hands, shows excellent instincts, and seems to thrive on physical play. When the Leafs were hitting early, he was one of the guys who was taking it and dishing it out as well, even delivering a ferocious open-ice hit on Darcy Tucker.

It was Tucker who shot the puck in at the Ranger blue line late in the first and after one of three failed power plays; Roszival hit him just after he released the puck and was hit with a ponderous interference penalty. When Dominic Moore was whistled for a hook which was minor but consistent with the calls we’ve seen this year, the Leafs already dangerous power play went five-on-three, leading to McCabe’s first goal.

After Jagr tied the game in the second, the Blueshirts threatened to take over this game. The line of Rucchin-Hossa-Niemenen was particularly effective on this night. Niemenen may have lacked conditioning at the beginning of the year, and is skating much better now; and Hossa, who has been a fixture on the second line all year, is showing grit and determination, and was relentless in his best game as a Ranger with four shots and a disallowed goal after he knocked the puck down with a high stick. The momentum continued early into the third and it seemed just a matter of time. Until….

The 4th line was pressing deep; Ortmeyer skated out from behind the net and cruised by Belfour, who was way out of his crease. As he went by, it looked like Belfour stuck out his skate into Ortmeyer’s path, and they grazed without much incident. Yet the Ranger forward was whistled for an absurd interference call that I don’t even know what to say about. Not only did it lead to the winning goal, but the Blueshirts never were able to regain their flow. Now yes, blame the team for not converting on a subsequent power play of their own (on a dicey elbowing call on McCabe), but that call on Ortmeyer completely changed the game. And if I sound like a homer….well, I am!!

When Martin Straka took Jagr’s perfect breakaway pass with around six minutes left, and grazed the inside of the post after beating Belfour cleanly, I suffered my first major meltdown of the season, leading the Head Chef to make sure I was OK. The team seemed to sag as well, spending the next minute running around in their own zone and leaving it to Weekes to keep them close, and were never able to mount another serious threat, despite Blair Betts’ two super-clutch faceoff wins (against Sundin) in the final minute.

- Betts was 14-4 on faceoffs; Nylander was 2-10.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Game 19 - Rangers 6 at Pittsburgh 1

Record: 11-5-3, 25 pts.
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Conference Standing: Tied for 3rd with Carolina
Islanders: A perfectly good night at the Mauseleum watching their garishly orange-clad heros ruined by the incessant sight of the Rangers winning, and maintaining their nine point bulge.

- Things have now gotten to the point at which I’m actually worrying about when to schedule a late winter vacation so as not to miss a possible dramatic playoff run, oh man. The Head Chef and I like to go away sometime in March, and I haven’t lost much sleep over the timing the last few years. In 2002, I was in Jamaica when the team acquired Pavel Bure from the Panthers, yet still lost at home to Vancouver in his debut and then were humiliated by a pitiful Atlanta team 5-2 at home (and if I’m not mistaken, that was the game in which Richter suffered a fractured skull); two of seven losses in eight games that doomed their playoff hopes.

In 2003, we were in Grenada and only missed three games at the beginning of March. The team went 2-0-1, including a resounding 5-1 win against the Flyers at the Garden in which they scored four goals in less than a seven minute stretch in the first (Holik, Nedved, Lundmark, Dan LaCouture – do we miss any of those guys?). But when I returned, they dropped their next three in a row on their way to oblivion. 2004 was too pitiful to even remember, and last year was, of course, a free pass.

Going back just a little further, I was actually in Florida the night in February, 1979 that Denis Potivn hit Ulf Nilsson, breaking his leg. I remember trying to tune the game in on radio, and between the signal fading in and out, caught something about the Islanders being held shotless in the second period, and about some kind of injury… To this day, I have still never, ever seen that play. So when everyone goes “Potvin Sucks,” I’m not really entirely sure why, and in my more mature days, I would substitute Nystrom, by far, in my opinion, the most despicable of the Islander players during that time oh so long, long ago, when they used to be good.

Coming into this season, in which the team would rebuild and not even be concerned with a playoff spot, the last thing I thought I’d be worrying about is when to go away. Now, with their gaudy 11-5-3 record, I find myself consulting the schedule, and thinking which week I’ll miss less games. Even worse, I must admit that the thought has crossed my mind that by then, they'll have a playoff spot virtually locked up. A sure sign that I’m getting quickly sucked in. Rebuilding? Now?

- I wondered after the Tampa Bay game what would happen if, in addition to the supporting cast continuing to produce, Jaomir Jagr regained his touch. The answer is Saturday’s facile 6-1 win in Pittsburgh. Amongst all the fine efforts in that game, I noticed that of Maxim Kondratiev, who is showing more confidence with each game, keeping the useful Jason Strudwick out of the lineup. He moves the puck with alacrity and confidence, isn’t afraid of the physical stuff, and could prove to be an asset on the power play in time. And he’s just one half of the return for the now-injured Brian Leetch. The other, Jarkko Immonen, currently leads the Wolfpack in scoring with 7 goals and 6 assists in 15 games.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Game 18 - Rangers 5 at Tampa Bay 2

Record: 10-5-3, 23 pts.
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Seen: On MSG
Conference Standings: Tied for third with Carolina, who have four games in hand.
Islanders: Fail to provide help for the Rangers by wasting a 2-0 lead in Philly, how's that for optimism? And for losing perspective? The Flyers have not lost at home since dropping the season opener to the Rangers.

- I find myself kinda at a loss for words this morning in the wake of the Rangers’ 5-2 win on the road against the defending Cup champs. A double digit win total puts a team in the league’s elite at this time of the year, so what’s going on here? In the space of 24 hours, they went from the brink of a disheartening second loss in a row to pulling away to a relatively easy 4th win in five games. The team didn’t get their tenth win last season until Dec 4, 2003, in their 26th game.

So, I thought I’d turn to the vanquished Lightning to provide their impressions of the surprise leaders of the Atlantic Division, the Flyers' four games in hand be damned.
"We sucked," Lightning coach John Tortorella said after watching the Rangers score four goals in the third period. "This game is different from the other ones. I don't think we played as poorly in the other losses." [Tampa Tribune]
Oh. OK, let’s see what the papers there had to say.
The Lightning coughed up a fur ball that would have choked Garfield during Thursday night's dreadful 5-2 loss to the Rangers…

First there were the missed scoring chances. Then the sloppy turnovers that helped serve up goals to New York on a silver platter.

To borrow an old joke, look in the dictionary under How to Lose and there will be a team picture of the Lightning.

And the Lightning might have hit bottom. [St. Petersburg Times]
Post-game assessments in any sport can be a funny thing; you rarely hear anything beyond a biased assessment of one’s own team’s performance, and one can often think that they’re reading about two different games based on the quotes coming out of the locker rooms and from the respective beat reporters.

In this case, it was obvious that the Lightning were sluggish in their fifth loss in a row. The contrast between them and the hard-charging though less talented Panthers from the night before was obvious. Yet, consider this: The visitors won despite perhaps the most ineffective game of the season from their top line and premier player. Jagr was credited with just one shot on goal; and not even any missed shots. Was I imagining that Renney replaced him with Petr Prucha in that familiar spot at the right faceoff circle on the Blueshirts’ final power play? Michael Nylander couldn’t finish a connect-the-dots puzzle these days. The top power play unit was awful again, with the only extra-man goal scored by Dominic Moore.

So just how impressive is it that the slack was ably picked up by guys like Moore, Prucha, plus two and an incredible sequence in which he made two sprawling blocks on three sprawling attempts, Maxim Kondratiev, displaying a strong physical element to his game, Fedor Tyutin, plus three on the night, Ville Niemenen, burying his breakaway opportunity, and Ryan Hollweg, with three hits and boundless energy that made it seem like he played more than the 6:45 he was credited with. And that they were able to overcome that disheartening sequence in which Nylander's double miss was followed by Leclavier's tying goal? Plus the usual flawless penalty killing by Ortmeyer, Betts, Rucchin and company. The team is getting scoring from all four of their lines across the board, and who would have thought that? A testament to the team effort is that the most memorable aspect of Lundqvist’s performance was the long pass he made to Marcel Hossa to set up Niemenen’s tally.

So what happens when Jagr starts to play well again? What’s going on here anyway?

- Now that Moore has already scored the three goals on this trip that I predicted, let’s try again. Despite the woes of the top line described earlier, Martin Straka is showing some good jump, and should net at least a pair before the Blueshirts return to MSG next Saturday. In addition, Marek Malik has been absolutely robbed on at least two occasions I remember, and seems to have a decent low shot that he gets on goal. Look for him to score one before the end of the calendar year.

- I hope this isn’t a bad sign, but the 2001-02 edition of the Broadway Blueshirts also won their tenth game on November 10th in their 18th game. It was a 4-2 win in Buffalo, the 4th win of a six game winning streak, as Mike York broke a 2-2 tie with second and third period goals, and Don Blackburn stopped 29 shots.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Game 17 - Rangers 4 at Florida 3 (shootout)

Record: 9-5-3, 21 pts.
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Seen: On MSG and Fox Sports Florida
Standings: 4th in the conference, but beware the four games in hand enjoyed by Philly and Ottawa; three by Carolina
Islanders: Tied for 10th with the Devils

- There was a point during this game at which I started to experience a real sense of dread. Trailing a hard-charging Panthers team in their first game of a five game road trip after dropping the last one at home, I peeked warily at the upcoming games and started, for the first time this season, to have my doubts. I had already tabbed tonight’s game in Tampa against the slumping Lightning as a “must game.” There’s nothing more that can, at times, make this all seem like a house of cards than the nominal number one defense pairing of Michael Roszival and Marek Malik, and the pair was again caught standing motionless in their own zone as, at one point, Nathan Horton was left alone for one, two, three shots on goal, with time to scan through the latest issue of Hockey News in between.

I thought an early turning point was the clean and unpenalized hit on Branislav Mezei by Ryan Hollweg that put him out of the game with an apparent knee injury. The check seemed to energize the Panthers, and they started to skate with purpose and take the play. The visitors were somehow able to weather the storm and find themselves tied at two midway through the game, and the tide seemed to be turning in their favor. Then came one of two awful calls, or non-call in this case, each of which helped to stop their momentum cold. Petr Prucha was at it again, battling in the corner with a much larger player, yet coming away with the puck. The fact that it was against veteran piece of shit Eric Cairns made it only a bit less impressive. Cairns reached out and pulled Prucha down, and incredibly there was no call, even though one of the clueless officials was right on top of the play. Soon after, Malik did his best statue imitation at the blue line as Olli Jokinen whizzed by and he pulled him down, leading to the Panthers’ only power play goal in 11 attempts.

Again in the third, it was the Blueshirts taking the play after killing off a double minor to start the period, as Renney looked to prod the tying goal out of his gritty squad. At one point, after an energetic shift by the 4th line followed by a TV time out, he left Moore and Ortmeyer on and brought out Jagr, who took that shift and then was joined by his regular linemates. When Jay Bouwmeester, who would ultimately turn out to be the goat of the game, took a tripping penalty at 8:47, things were really looking up. For 31 seconds anyway, before Nylander was penalized on an absolutely awful goalie interference call on a play on which he was clearly pushed into Luongo. Not only did it end the power play, but two subsequent Ranger penalties had them shorthanded for much of the next five minutes. Y’know, I’m not one to generally blame the officiating, but these were not only inept decisions, they both came at times at which the Rangers were taking the play to the home team and helped to completely stall their drive.

- The power play clicked on its first attempt, getting much better point play with Martin Straka, whose shot was converted on the rebound by Rucchin. But it proved inept the rest of the night, and once again, the Rangers had that first power play team on late in the game – twice - but couldn’t convert. What exactly was Roszival doing on the ice on the final one in the last minute? He fumbled Jagr’s picture perfect pass in the high slot and then took a penalty to neutralize the advantage with 21 seconds to go.

But credit Renney with having Dominic Moore on the ice at the end. I’m sure that he put him out there specifically so that he could lose the ensuing faceoff cleanly, allowing Bouwmeester to stupidly ice the puck and set up the tying score. Moore did the smart thing – really, the only thing he could do – in throwing the puck at the net, and after nearly two full games of bad bounces, lousy calls, and sticks breaking at the wrong time, the Rangers finally got the break they needed.

- Perhaps the deftest maneuver of the night was the one by Cablevision to scramble and pick up the Fox feed from Florida when MSG lost transmission just after the overtime.

- Sal Messina was in the booth on this night, and when asked before the game what he thought of Lundqvist, he emphasized that he’s great “down low.” Indeed, the Panthers beat the rookie up high for their three goals.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Game 16 – Penguins 3 Rangers 2

Record – 8-5-3, 19 pts.
Last Year – 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Seen From: Sec 422/D/7
Islanders: Resting on the laurels of their 6-8 start.

- It was a full house at the Garden, and a lively Monday night crowd at that. Was the crowd there to see Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux? Or was there the kind of big walk-up crowd that reflects a growing excitement with a team that is winning? The first Monday game of the season, against Florida, was one of the smallest regular season crowds in memory; but now, the seats were filled and the fans were fully engaged. While I suppose that Crosby had something to do with that, I highly doubt the place would have been nearly as full if the Rangers were 3-12.

As far as the game goes, I'm putting this one in the "mama told me there'd be nights like this" category. While the execution at times left something to be desired, the team played hard and never quit after going down 3-0 against a fired-up Penguins squad that has now won three out of four on the road. They had 37 shots, and seemed to have to work hard for every one. The puck just was not bouncing their way on what seemed to be a very bad ice surface (though apparently not for Crosby), especially for Tom Poti, who drew the wrath of the crowd, for a change, for letting two dribbling pucks hop over his stick at the point.

Both occurrences came, of course, at the most inopportune of times for the luckless defenseman. The first time was off of a clean face-off win by Blair Betts at the start of a crucial power play with 3:47 left and the home team having drawn within one. It was a bad start, and it took around 50 seconds for the team to finally set up. Only Jagr got a shot on goal and as he did all night, Sebastian Caron gobbled it up without a rebound to spare. The second miscue effectively ended the game, coming with 12 seconds left and the Rangers scrambling for the tie with the extra attacker (Petr Prucha, in his only appearance of the third period).

It wasn’t only Poti the puck was bouncing around for. Seconds after the Blueshirts’ second goal, Jagr was fed a perfect pass in the slot for what looked like would be the equalizer, only to have the puck hop right over his stick. They would not have a similarly glorious chance for the rest of the night, but again, not for lack of effort.

However, it was another good night for Tom Renney, who did everything he could in the third period to try and bring his team back, and he pushed all the right buttons and almost pulled it off. He benched Prucha, who didn’t seem to have nearly the jump he did on Saturday, and replaced him with Ryan Hollweg, a dynamo all night, on the Rucchin line with Marcel Hossa. Hollweg responded with a goal and an assist; how’s that for bench coaching? He got his first NHL goal on an impressive one-time low screamer right through the five hole to get the home team on the board and back in the game soon after Weekes stopped Ziggy Pallfy on a penalty shot. And there he was, deservedly, on the ice in the final minute of the game.

Ville Niemenen was back and was moved up to the Jagr line in the third, with Straka moving alongside Blair Betts and Jason Ward. Dominic Moore still hasn’t scored against anyone other than Montreal, but had good jump and showed some nifty stop-and-go moves. I predict that he’ll score three goals on the upcoming five game road trip.

- As far as Poti goes, I'm usually willing to overlook the occasional miscue of a young defenseman who shows skating, stickhandling, and offensive potential. But this guy is now 28, and if he's not going to score 10-12 goals, chip in at least 25 helpers, and help direct the power play then I don't really see what the point is. He shows no signs of doing any of the above, and looks like a guy who could use a fresh start somewhere. Again.

- An ugly minus three for Michael Roszival. Hollweg had six shots on goal and was credited with four hits, though it seemed as if he had more. Moore was 8-4 on faceoffs.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Game 15 - Rangers 3 Devils 2 (Shootout)

Record: 8-4-3, 19 pts.
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Seen From: Sec 422/D/5
Islanders: It must have been a particular sense of dread for Islander fans with which they headed into an almost unwinnable game in Ottawa after seeing their hated rivals win once again. They lost 6-0

- Big Plays 8-4-3 seems like pretty lofty territory, doesn’t it? The Blueshirts got two points by virtue of Petr Prucha’s shoot-out goal and they haven’t lost to the Devils in regulation in four games now, earning 11 out of 12 seven out of eight (long weekend) possible points, wow.

It was only fitting that Prucha scored the winning tally, as his hard work helped to lead his team out of a funk that led to a 2-0 deficit midway through the game. Weekes was beaten on a perfect ringer off the post by Gionta, his third goal in two games against the Rangers’ netminder, who as otherwise solid and in no way deserved the handful of derisive cheers that greeted his next save...I mean, please!

Besides his flashy offensive talents, Prucha shows a remarkable ability to come out of the corners with pucks won from much beefier opponents. The mood at the Garden was grim as the Rucchin-Hossa-Prucha line came on following the Devs’ second goal. Roszival, who played a great game, shot the puck in and Prucha, with help from Marcel Hossa, who had his best game in weeks, went to work. Prucha pursued the puck into the corner and took a stiff check from six-foot-three, 215 pound Sean Brown. Yet with his legs always churning he managed to come away with the puck, shaking off another attempt by the frustrated Brown, and eventually helped set up a scoring chance when he took a run at Erik Rasmussen, who gave it away right to Rucchin for the shot. Though they didn’t score (and in fact Weekes had to stop Rasmussen on an ensuing two-on-one), it was a portent of the hard work that the home team displayed for the rest of the game.

On the next shift for this line, Brian Rafalski beat Prucha to the puck in the corner of the Devils’ zone, but Prucha smacked the veteran defenseman to the boards, bounced off and fell. He got himself right up, went back and picked up the puck kinda like ‘oops, forgot something,’ and again came away with clear possession. Some additional good work by Hossa led to the first of two penalties that would give the Blueshirts the five-on-three on which Prucha converted Jagr’s pass to get them on the board.

- I haven’t been as down on Niemenen as many others seem to be, at least stupid penalties aside. But it took me a long time to think of who was scratched in order to dress Strudwick as a forward, so I guess I didn't miss him. Renney seems to be making those little moves that help the team win. Kondratiev had a solid game, and Strudwick played a key role in the hard work tying goal, crashing the net (which I guess isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be) and getting his stick on the puck before Betts found it for the score.

- Sign of the times: The New York Times is no longer printing NHL box scores other than for the three local teams. So while you’ll still be able to see who led the Sacramento Kings in offensive rebounds, forget about seeing who scored the winning goal in any hockey game not involving a local team. I wonder if they’ve gotten a single complaint.

- I still think shootouts are stupid, but the crowd was on their feet throughout, and the roars and groans were resounding. Weekes looked like Mike Richter on his contortionist stop on Langenbrunner, and Jagr ran into bad luck for the second time in his two shootout attempts.

- The game started a grueling week. Yes, it's true, the Rangers DO play teams other than Montreal, New Jersey, and the Islanders. Monday’s game against the Pens is the first of four games in six days; with road games in Florida, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh on Wed, Thurs, and Saturday nights, eek.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Game 14 - Rangers 4 at Devils 2

2005 Record: 7-4-3, 17 pts.
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts.
Days In First Place: [gulp]
Islanders: Crushed at home 5-1. Hey Islander fans, aren't you happy that hockey is back?

- Petr Prucha and Ryan Hollweg were back in the lineup as the effect of the injury to Martin Rucinsky continued to ripple through the lineup. During neither of Rucinsky’s two prior stints with the team, when he was a lesser light than many if not most of the other players on the roster, would his being hurt have nearly such implications, which shows how much things have changed. Whatsmore, the angst caused by the injury, particularly amongst those loudly questioning why Prucha wasn’t called up for Monday’s game (and I’m sure they feel vindicated by the way he played in this one) shows, I think, that the impressive start of the season has us all pretty hepped up, and thinking in terms that we’re not really supposed to this year.

Because, really, a two- to-four week injury to a 34 year-old signed to a one-year contract on a team in the first year of what many have projected to be a long rebuilding program is really a non-event in the long-term scheme of things, which is what this season is supposed to be about. A 7-4-3 start has us all dreaming of hockey in springtime, and why shouldn’t it? Damn it, I’m SICK of missing the playoffs and I don’t want to wait another three-four years; I’m tired of the taunts by Islander fans who haven’t seen their sorry-ass franchise on the winning side of a handshake line since 1993. But I think things need to be kept in perspective here. If the Blueshirts were 4-7-3 instead of 7-4-3 with the same effort and spunk they’ve shown for most of their games, we’d have to be happy with that, right? And ditto if they continue to display effort and grit but fail to qualify for the post-season, because in the big picture, making or missing the playoffs this year isn’t supposed to be the point as long as young players develop and grow throughout the year, giving us hope for the future.

There’s years and years of damage to be undone, and it’s natural to be skeptical of roster moves and non-moves because of the demonstrated incompetence of Sather. But the fact is that we’re stuck with him for now, and as another inept leader who somehow still has his job recently said: we have to fight with the GM we have, not the GM we wish we had (or something like that). So I’m putting my trust in Tom Renney and his staff, and if they felt that Prucha would better benefit from some ice time in Hartford – and who’s to say that his stint there didn’t contribute to his performance in Jersey - or if they want to soon take another look at Fedor Fedorov (who I’m not quite as down on – yet – as others seem to be), I’m not going to question it. In the long term picture, the question of who is playing wing on the second or third line in a game on Halloween night is just a tiny part of a rebuilding process that certainly isn’t supposed to produce the results we desire overnight. Even if a good start has us thinking (and hoping!) that it just might.

Big Plays - Kevin Weekes had little chance on Langenbrunner’s perfectly placed roofer to open the scoring, but he served notice of his sharpness during an ensuing two minute five-on-three five early in the game. It helped that Kozlov missed a wide-open net, and Roszival was splendid in the last thirty seconds with a block and two clears. Weekes made a huge save late in the game after the Devs cut the lead to 3-2, when Mogilny fed a streaking Gionta in front as Malek lost his stick trying to check the latter. On the radio pre-game show, I heard Don LaGreca say that Weekes, being a “big goalie,” is the type that gives the Devils trouble. What the hell does that mean? Perhaps the Rangers should dress Channing Frye on Saturday?

With the Blueshirts up 2-1 with 14 minutes left in the second, the Jagr-Nylander-Straka line, left intact all night, had a dominating shift resulting in some good chances foiled by Devils goalie...who the hell was that guy anyway? That led to a TV time out, and after a brief shift by the Rucchin line, Renney rolled the big guys right back out. It was well into the second minute of that shift that Jagr demanded the puck behind the Jersey net, stood there unchecked for what seemed like a minute, came out, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t know exactly what he was doing when he lobbed the puck off this strange goalie’s mask, right to Nyalnder, who knocked it down and stuffed it in for what would turn out to be the winning goal.

- I know this is a totally incongruous comparison, but Prucha reminds me a bit of Mario Marios. Probably just the uniform number 25 and the slight build; certainly Marios had none of the Czech’s considerable offensive skills. But perhaps it’s Prucha’s fearlessness too, venturing into the corner against Dan McGillis and coming away with the puck; or gliding into the crease against Malakhov and putting a perfect tip on net.

- Straka looked like Stevie Wonderboy streaking from nowhere to get back and help break up what looked like a sure two-on-one; man, he can skate. He added another assist and now has 14 on the year. That’s also Jagr’s goal total. He just shrugged off a helpless Richard Matvichuk on his first tally and added the empty net goal.

- A graphic after the game said that it’s the first time the Blueshirts have defeated the Devils twice in one season since 1996-97, when they also took Jersey in five games in their last playoff appearance.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Game 13 - Montreal 4 Rangers 1

Record: 6-4-3, 13 pts
Last Year: 0-0-0, 0 pts
Seen From: Sec 422/D/7
Islanders: For Halloween. Islander fans generally dress up as Islander fans. Pretty scary, I say.

- A very, very long time ago, when I used to bet on creatures with less than four legs, one of my favorite angles was betting the visiting team in the second half of a home and home series when that team had dropped the first game at home. I think the road team has a big psychological advantage in those cases - pissed off after losing at home, while the home team has to have something in their subconscious telling them 'well, if we beat them on the road...' So, I was expecting the worst when I entered the Garden last night, especially with the Canadiens having lost at home on a Saturday night, a defeat which drew howls of despair from the press, fans, and coaching staff alike.

And for the most part, my fears were well-founded. The Canadiens were a determined bunch, playing with intensity and determination that were noticeably lacking from the home team. As if Montreal needed any further inspiration, I cringed during an early time out when, instead of the usual blaring music – heaven forbid we should ever have a couple of moments of silence to gather our thoughts! – they showed highlights of Saturday’s game, with the narrator loudly pointing out that it was a “shaky Jose Theodore” in the nets. Oh man. Did they really need to rub it in like that? Theodore was not shaky at all last night, repelling every Ranger shot in the first two periods, when they actually had some good scoring chances.

Yet, with nine minutes left, there we were, on our feet celebrating a tying goal. How did that happen? Henryk Lundqvist was outstanding once again keeping the game scoreless through two, frustrating Les Habs late in the second when they were two men up, showing his uncanny anticipation to thwart Richard Zednik and Pierre Daganais with quick skate saves and drawing two standing ovations from the adoring crowd. But after Koivu tipped in a Craig Rivet point shot as the power play continued early in the third (thanks to Kasparaitus’ double high-sticking minor), the Rangers evaporated and the Canadiens picked up their play. They thwarted every attempted Rangers rush with a tenacious neutral zone……dare I say, trap? It sure looked like “old hockey” – not to be confused with “old-time hockey,” when there were things like hitting and retaliating for dirty hits that leave key players injured.

Finally, it was Ville Niemenen who gave the Blueshirts a shot with some hard work in deep that led to a penalty, and Theodore who gave them some life with a touch of the puck outside the trapezoid. It was apparent that the Rangers would need to have a five-on-three to score, and Jagr did on his usual one-timer. But when play reverted back to mere five-on-four, the Canadiens quickly took charge as Niklas Sundstrom stripped the puck from a sub-par Michael Nylander and fed Steve Begin for a short-handed goal that you could see coming from a mile away.

- Rucinsky’s absence was apparent from the first shift, on which Dominic Moore, who led the team with 23 minutes on ice, replaced Straka on the top line. The latter was shifted down to Rucchin’s line to try and spread the offense a bit. Moore also replaced Rucinsky on the top power play unit; as much as we love Moore, the fluid Czech connection on that unit is a dangerous asset and will be missed. Fedor Fedorov again showed flashes of strength and skill, but sat for most of the third.

- While Lundqvist can’t be blamed on any of the goals, the loss opens the way for Renney to give Kevin Weekes a start in New Jersey in Thursday night.