Game 24 - Rangers 3 at Buffalo 2 (Shootout)
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?