The Rangers Game Log

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Shootouts Cheapen Penalty Shots

- The Devils and Thrashers were tied with overtime ticking down when Marcel Marion Hossa came streaking down the right side on Marty Brodeur. Dan McGillis tripped Hossa, sending him crashing into the Devils goalie, and Hossa was awarded a penalty shot (on a somewhat questionable call). So here we go....a minute and a half left, the game at stake.....WOW, there’s nothing like this, right?

Well, in fact, now there is. While the penalty shot remains indisputably an exciting play, what really was different about this one (which Brodeur stopped), even coming in overtime, from your usual run-of-the-mill shootout penalty shot? The play is perhaps the most unique one-on-one confrontation in all of team sports. There really is nothing like it in any other game - to halt the action and clear all but two players off the playing field. Perhaps the closest thing to it would be the penalty kick in soccer, but the goalie has as much chance of stopping those as George W. Bush has of convincing us that he didn’t lie about the war. And whatsmore, the penalty shot in the course of a game is truly a rarity – if you follow one particular team, you’re lucky to see it more than a couple of times a season.

But now, with shootouts, you could conceivably see a penalty shot 30 times in a single night, as we did at the Garden last month. And though we will always remember the goal by Marek Malik that ended that game, it was a truly unique one, and most of the other 29 attempts were eminently forgettable. Once a truly singular occurrence, the penalty shot, in an effort to declare a winner in games that don’t necessarily warrant nor need one, has been cheapened into a superfluous gimmick. Here’s hoping that the epic spectacle of multiple overtime playoff games is not the next victim.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Out of Sync

- I dunno, it seemed like the Rangers were just a bit out of sync last night in their 3-2 loss to the Canucks. Certainly in the first period, when Vancouver came at them like the first wave of bargain hunters when the stores open at 6 A.M. on December 26. Perhaps it was the usual first-game-after-a-roadtrip syndrome that teams usually have to overcome; or maybe it was adjusting to the step up in class, speed, and size against an experienced Canucks squad that showed why they’re considered to be one of the top contenders in the West.

But Lundqvist kept the Blueshirts in the game, punctuating his sharp first period with a pair of skate saves in the closing seconds of the frame. Things seemed to go from bad to worse when Todd Bertuzzi of all people, got the visitors, who seemed to have a fairly large contingent of fans on hand, on the board early in the second and the Rangers failed miserably on a subsequent power play.

Even after the home team seemed to get their footing after the first of Prucha’s two goals, at times carrying the play and eventually outshooting the Canucks thanks to a 16-6 advantage in the third, they just seemed to be a bit off. It never helps when Jagr has a subpar game. Prucha has not shown much of a penchant as a playmaker, but he put the puck right on the tape of Jagr’s stick in the first, and Jagr, wide open in the slot, shot wide on a chance that he would - and should - normally bury. That was a bad sign, and he finished with only two shots as he was frustrated by the Canucks close shadowing. In the official stats, he was listed as having zero giveaways – if that’s the case, than I don’t understand exactly what constitutes a giveaway in the NHL.

So while there were times at which it seemed as if the Rangers would take control of the game, it never quite transpired. It was telling that immediately after Prucha’s second goal, they had to survive a subsequent Vancouver onslaught. And here I’m going to second reader Throwaway’s call to reunite the Hollweg-Moore-Ortmeyer line. Renney put Hollweg on at this stage with his new linemates Blair Betts and Ville Niemenen, but they were immediately swamped. All night, the line combos seemed just a step off in both zones, and perhaps it’s time to go back to what had been working so well. HMO….Betts and Ward….together again. It’s also time to get Maxim Kondratiev back in the lineup. He could have served the team well against Vancouver’s up-tempo and physical play.

With everything, things could have been different if Prucha’s bid for a hat trick hadn’t glanced off the goal post. And though the Canucks deserve full credit for their effort, the winning goal was a gift and an awful gaffe by Nylander, whose prodigious offensive talents are at times betrayed by his play in his own zone. (He only played a bit over nine minutes last night, and was rarely on the ice in the third period.) If the game was truly the measuring stick that Tom Renney proclaimed it to be, then the Rangers were just a tad short. It’s always disappointing to lose on a late goal at home, but you have to come away from the match with at least a little encouragement that they can skate with good teams playing at the top of their game.

- We don’t like the Islanders if you haven’t noticed, and their loss at home to the Wild was a nice consolation. But unlike the classless morons that attend their games (occasionally), we don’t root for injuries, and besides, the Rangers can crush them fair and square. So here’s hoping that Jason Blake is OK so that the Blueshirts can kick the shit out of him next time they play.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Away and Away?

- Tonight’s opponent, the Vancouver Canucks, are second in the Northwest Division at 18-9-2; but they are only 5-8-2 on the road (13-1 at home). They’ve lost their last three in a row away from home by a combined margin of 13-6, but they come off a big “win” (shootout) against the league-leading Senators on Friday night. An extremely interesting aspect of their schedule thus far is that on three different occasions, they’ve played consecutive road games against the same team! That gives a whole new meaning to the term “home-and-home” series. Perhaps we need a new phrase for that in the new NHL - "away and away?" The Canucks will return the favor and host consecutive home games against the same teams no less than three times throughout the balance of the season. Let’s hope that this remains strictly a Western Conference phenomenon. Consecutive games in Fish Sticks country, or having to see the Orange Crud in town twice in a row would be too much for this Rangers fan to bear.

- The last time that the Canucks were in town was on Feb 2, 2004, and the circumstances were drastically different. The Blueshirts had lost three in a row and were 1-7-2 in the previous ten games, while the Canucks had won five in a row. The home team stayed true to form in that they blew a two goal third period lead, but they got a late goal by Bobby Holik to get a 4-3 win, prompting him to remark, characteristically, ``We will have to be careful not to get overexcited with one win.'' They dropped four out of their five subsequent games.

- The second place Flyers may have four games in hand on the Rangers, but they’ve played only ten road games and 18 at home. Whatsmore, they face an 11 game road trip that commences later this month, one which will bring them to the Garden for the first of four visits (none back-to-back) on Jan 5.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Off Day Tidbits - Dec 12

- The Rangers are still tied with the Ottawa Senators for the top spot in the conference, but the games in hand total is down to five from six, so there’s some progress for you. The Blueshirts will finally get their first look at the Sens on the road the day after Xmas.

Ottawa made what will be for them in the new NHL a rare trip to western Canada this past weekend, and they “lost” twice, beaten in Vancouver in a shootout and in Calgary in overtime. The fans and press were psyched in both cities, seeing it as a “measuring stick” game for their teams. The crowds were reported as 18,630 (101.1% full) in Vancouver, and a sardine-like 19,289 (112.4% full) in Calgary! Sounds like the NYC subway during rush hour.

The Calgary Sun proclaimed: Turns out the Calgary Flames have no reason to sell themselves short when it comes to measuring against the club pegged as the NHL's best. The Vancouver Sun said: So now we know -- don't we?-- that the Vancouver Canucks can be every bit as good as the best team in hockey. Jeez, imagine if either team had actually won their game in regulation! The Canucks wasted 12 power play chances against a sharp Dominick Hasek and needed to go to the 4th shootout round to get the second point.

In Ottawa of course, it was a distinctly different take.
The Senators hit the skids for a second straight night, turning in a lacklustre effort in dropping a 2-1 overtime decision to the Calgary Flames in front of 19,289 last night at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

All [Damon] Langkow had to do was put the puck home over a sprawling Emery as the Senators didn’t put up much in the way of the fight and got what they deserved in a game that was billed as a Stanley Cup final preview. [Ottawa Sun]
(Is every newspaper in Canada a Sun?) The Sens’ massive defenseman Zdeno Chara is getting attention in the hockey blogosphere; James Mirtle wrote the other day of The emergence of The Chara.
Leafs fans may groan when his name is mentioned as a Norris Trophy candidate, but Chara simply does so many things well and makes it so tough for the opposition to play against him that I can't imagine a scenario where he doesn't win at least one in his career.
With Wade Redden out since late November, Chara is logging over 30 minutes a game. This was one of Mike “The Shoe” Milbury’s more brilliant deals, trading Chara and the second overall pick (Jason Spezza) for Alexei Yashin, who he then locked in for ten years. Spezza leads the Sens in scoring with 11 goals and 32 assists and a plus 20 rating. Yashin is having a decent season statistically at 12-17-29, but note that he has less goals than a certain 8th round draft pick rookie who's played far less minutes in Manhattan; and we know what happens to Yashin when the Isles make their annual one-round playoff appearance (not assured this season by any means).

The Sens complete a tough three-in-four day road stretch with a game in Colorado tonight. The Canucks have rested since “beating” the Sens Friday, and will be at the Garden Tuesday. Trevor Linden is the only player left on either team from the 94 finals; and he’s had a couple of stops elsewhere in between.

- Tony Amonte scored his 400th NHL goal against the Sens on Saturday, and who woulda thunk? A 4th round pick for the Blueshirts, he scored 68 goals in his first two seasons, but only 16 when he was dispatched to Chicago by Mike Keenan in the trade that brought Brian Noonan and Stephane Matteau to New York. 316 NHL goals later for Amonte, now 35, I’ve never heard anyone complain about that deal.

- Larry Brooks talks up the possibility of a deal for Petr Sykora in the Post today. Sykora is 29, and will be a free agent after the season. He has just five goals and eight assists thus far this season.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Rangers Win the Damn Thing

- It’s a happy recap, but only because of the Rube Goldbergesque goal by Martin Rucinsky for the team’s first OT (non-shootout) win of the year. It’s being reported that the shot was deflected by Blues’ defenseman Bryce Salvador (no relation to Bryce Lampman) before hitting the glass, and floating off Patrick Lalime’s butt into the net. But Rangers Game Log has analyzed the super-slo motion, which revealed that after hitting Salvador, it hit the back of Marek Malik’s helmet, went into the stands, struck an unsuspecting electrician sitting in the 5th row, and was then batted away by a crazed peanut vendor back into play, off the glass and into the unfortunate Blues’ goalie.

It’s an illustration of how poorly the Rangers played that Weekes was stellar in the net despite giving up four goals. Being shorthanded 12 times didn’t help. But the Blueshirts seemed to finally have this one under control after scoring their first power play goal of the road trip with just 3:15 to go on another tough break for Lalime. He’d just made a good save on a point blank Poti shot, but Prucha’s shot went off Salvador’s skate into the net.

With the teams playing four aside in the final two minutes, this one seemed to be in the bag, as we saw glimpses of the Broadway Blueshirts we’ve come to love. The visitors smelled victory and had the Blues pinned in their own zone as the fans started to boo. Kasparaitus delivered one of his five credited hits at center ice and cleared the puck back down; Jason Ward stole the puck and was denied on a wraparound; Moore stole a clearing attempt and was foiled on a breakaway; Kasparaitus nailed Tkachuk in the defensive zone and allowed Malik to clear. But then Malik made a critical mistake; with just one second to go until the Blues would have a brief power play, he iced the puck. Don’t know if he thought that the power play had started, or if he felt he had a shot at the empty net, but the Rangers wouldn’t recover from that mistake. Despite Moore cleanly winning the faceoff, Tkachuk had cheated a bit and got a jump to the end boards and controlled, leading to the wacky tying goal. It's very possible that the puck was hit with a high stick before Sillinger legally batted it in, but the replay was not conclusive. Malik actually redeemed himself for his error just beforehand by blocking an empty net attempt by Tkachuk (deservedly named the first star).

- It was the Rangers’ first overtime goal since the final game of the 2003-04 season, when Bobby Holik scored in Washington to put the Blueshirts out of their misery for another year. Or two in this case. The assists went to Thomas Pock and Karel Rachunek, and what ever happened to that guy? He doesn’t seem to be in the league anymore. It was Holik’s second goal of the game; the other was scored by Mike Green, on an assist from Josh Green. The only Green in the league this year is Travis. In fact, the only players on the ice for New York that day that I found to still be in the league are Garth Murray, just called up Friday by Montreal, Dan Lacouture, who’s played five games in Boston, Jamie Lundmark, Jamie McLennan, the goalie that day, now a backup for the Panthers, Holik and Tyutin.

- A tough six game stretch now awaits the Blueshirts, led off by what could be a fascinating four game homestand. It's an interesting mix of tough visiting squads, and with full, lively crowds assured as the holiday approaches, and with a 20-8-4 record that seems just surreal, the atmosphere should be electric. The Canucks are in Tuesday night, and then after a five day rest, the homestead continues with the Avs, Devils, and Lightning. That is followed by road games in Ottawa and Long Island. Yes fans, the year 2005 shall not conclude without another encounter with the putrid Fish Sticks in front of their cretinous fans with their tedious chants and general lack of civility.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Life At The Top

Rangers players help Preds backup goalie Chris Mason find his contact lens.

(Or maybe they're looking for the Islanders, way down there in the standings somewhere?)

- Don't look now, but the Rangers now share the top spot in the NHL with Ottawa, and who cares, really, if the Sens have played six less games? Let's see how well they do when their strings of four games in six days start to pile up.

- If you took my advice and took the loved one out to dinner, you missed the team's most complete performance of the season. As bad as the power play has been, that's how outstanding the penalty killing is; and just as the power play cost the Blueshirts the point in Chicago, the PK set the tone with their first period kills. Jed Ortmeyer was an inspiration to the team, and to us all, hanging in there after taking a Zedlicky slap shot right over the knee, and diving to block a shot shortly after. No way they could lose after that display!

I also said in the same misguided post that the game wasn't really that important because the loss that I was admittedly anticipating (still a habit after seven years) would be neutralized by a win in St. Louis on Saturday. Now, that game becomes a huge one (they all seem bigger as the record gets better), as a loss against the woeful Blues would greatly diminish what they accomplished in Nashville. So don't make any plans. That's right - you're spending your Saturday night at home, fuck the loved one.

- The one depressing note about the game to me was the apparently significant injury to the Preds' David Legwand. Coming on a totally innocent collision with Blair Betts, it served as a reminder of the fragile nature of a team's success, and how quickly and unexpectedly disaster can strike. And I'm not going to say another word.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Haven't You Heard? No Ties in Hockey

- An article in the Chicago Tribune yesterday speculated that last night’s game could be Jaromir Jagr’s final appearance there, since due to the unbalanced schedule, it’s possible the Rangers won't make another appearance in Chicago for five or six years. That would be a shame, as would the prospect of our not seeing the Blackhawks or Red Wings at the Garden for a similar period of time. I know I’m sentimental about the Original Six, and that fans in the other 24 NHL cities, as well as anyone born after 1957 or so, probably couldn’t give a rat’s ass about it. But personally, I’d like to see an arrangment akin to that in baseball, in which traditional and/or inter-city rivals such as the Mets and Yanks are guaranteed to meet in a home-and-home series each year. (I’m actually strongly opposed to interleague play in baseball, but that’s a subject for another blog.)

I know that could create some competitive disadvantages (or advantages), as this year, for example, the Rangers would have to play the Red Wings twice, while most other teams would not. But I’d still be in favor, in an attempt to preserve just a little of the history and tradition of the sport. And no third jerseys allowed.

- OK, officially, it’s a “loss,” but check out other sites if you’re looking for a lot of negativity. It sucks that the Rangers couldn’t get the extra point; sucks that they lost in the overtime, that Rucinsky got that double minor, and it especially sucks that the power play sucked; clearly, that was the main reason for only getting a point. However, in this case, I’m going to try and keep the proper perspective here. Other than the power play, I have nothing to complain about. The Blueshirts played at a high level throughout, with crisp and clever passing, consistent pressure and solid defensive play. They hit three posts, and Khabibulin was pretty spectacular in the nets, especially in the third period, when the Rangers out shot the Hawks 15-5; he robbed Tom Poti, who made a nifty move in front after some excellent work along the boards by Nylander, and stopped Jason Strudwick point blank from the slot.

I was quite surprised to see Renney break up Blair Betts and Jason Ward, but the combos of Ward-Nylander-Prucha, and even Betts-Hollweg-Orr functioned well; the latter was even on the ice in the last 90 seconds of regulation! Hollweg made a nice play on his breakaway in the second, but Khabibulin came up big. And the fact that Kondratiev, who is getting better and better, was a healthy scratch, is a testament to the depth of a defense corps which was widely perceived to be the weak link of the team before the season.

And I’m not even going to criticize Poti for rushing up ice while shorthanded in overtime, even though the visitors couldn’t recover in time to prevent the winning goal. This is the one situation in the new NHL that a team can truly settle for a point – being on the road against a Western Conference team in the 30th game of the season, there’s little risk involved in taking chances to win even if it leads to ceding a point to the other team (unless you think the Rangers are likely to face the Hawks in the finals). It’s been said that 4 on 3 can be even more dangerous than 5 on 3, and facing that situation for four minutes in overtime, I thought Poti did nothing wrong by trying to generate a scoring chance; disagree with me if you’d like. The prospect of beating Khabibulen on this night in a shootout even if they somehow managed to survive the power play was iffy at best. So it’s too bad that it didn’t work out, but in this case, save the Poti venom for another time.

- At one point in the game, Sam Rosen said “Babcock shoots it in, and John’s cellphone rings!” I thought he’d announce a big trade or something newsworthy, but it was a big letdown. Rangers Game Log has learned that it was actually his wife, who had just, for the first time, seen Bobby Granger cutting her favorite tie in half.

- Facing the three road games in four nights, I figured before the trip that I’d be happy with three out of six points. Having gotten one last night, and with the awful Blues coming up on Saturday, tonight’s game against Nashville is NOT that big of a game. Well? Not every game on an 82 game schedule is a must-win. A loss tonight would be rendered meaningless by a win on Saturday, so my advice is this (especially considering that the Predators have lost only four times in regulation this year): If you need to show your significant other that he or she is really more important than your favorite hockey team, this is the night. Take him or her to that special restaurant or romantic film, tell them how special they are and shower them with affection. “What? A stupid hockey team more important than you? HA!

That should carry you through at least until the new year. I’ll find another game for you after that.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Whatever Happened To.....

Anyone seen him around lately?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Trap This

- Jacques Lemaire will never meet a set of new rules he can’t trap. With monsters such as 6’7” Derek Boogaard, 6’5” Alex Henry, 6’5” Marc Choinard on his roster, the Man Who Ruined Hockey has a veritable redwood forest with which to clog the neutral zone, and in a 1-1 game in the third, the Wild (one of three NHL teams whose team name doesn’t end with an ‘s) was sticking to the game plan.

But what’s this? The Broadway Blueshirts picking and wading their way through center ice with clever passing and skating patterns as if they’ve actually practiced this before!? After years of being jealous of teams that are 'well-coached,' the Rangers, under Tom Renney and his staff, finally qualify as such. We may get frustrated at times watching the power play, but at least it’s obvious that these guys are practicing this, and that in itself is a huge improvement from past years during which the team played very much like the random assortment of players that they were. Throw in fundamentals such as going to the net, and you have two Peter Prucha power play goals, and a big 3-1 win.

Yes, a big win. A must-win in my book. Oh man….a must-win in game 29 of a rebuilding season? In the context of a first place team that had gone off its game recently (though only losing once), and is going off for three road games in four nights, yes. And it was a full house at the Garden on a Monday night against a faceless, nameless, and downright boring opponent with perhaps the blandest uniforms in the league, yuck. You see? We told you we’d support a rebuilding team! :-)

- A lineup change, and as so often has happened this season, Tom Renney pushed the right buttons. The top line of Jagr-Straka-and Rucinsky replacing Nylander was buzzing around the net all night and, much to the chagrin of at least one fan I know, on the ice in the final minute of the game. Prucha joined Betts and the indefatigable Jason Ward to form what could be an intriguing combination, as Prucha could fit in well to their checking scheme as well as add some scoring punch on the third line. Nylander started out with Rucchin and Hossa, but he and Hossa took a seat for much of the third, as Renney shortened up and used Rucchin on the wing with Moore and Ortmeyer.

The penalty killing excelled again with five kills in as many tries, including an outstanding effort on their only one in the third period, with Rucchin getting a shorthanded chance, Ortmeyer taking the puck away in the offensive zone, and Kasparaitus, physically dominant all night, delivering one of his eight hits.

- Lundqvist seems to like playing at home. Here’s hoping that Weekes makes it back for at least one of these next three on the road.

- The Garden seems determined to milk every ounce out of the Malik shootout goal. Are you getting sick of it yet? Last night, it was one of three goals displayed on the scoreboard for fans to “vote” for as goal of the year, or something nonsensical like that, on their cellphone. Though that goal naturally won, I would have voted for Dominic Moore’s bank-in from behind the net with three seconds left in Florida, propelling the Blueshirts to a shootout win. It followed a depressing home loss to the Penguins, started the five game road trip on the right note, and was the beginning of nine wins in 11 games. The biggest goal of the year thus far, for sure, doncha think?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sudden Change of Perspective

- Everything seemed fine as I awoke on Saturday morning, despite the recent wins earned with less than completely satisfying performances because, really, winning is the bottom line (something I wouldn’t have written at the beginning of the year). I don’t spend much time agonizing over games that are wins, because hockey is not a game of perfection, and you rarely if ever see a team play a flawless game. I think back to watching the Islanders’ championship teams and recall how many times their goalies would stand on their heads to keep them in the games long enough to summon up the big plays needed to get the win. And I’d think, “jeez, they’re so lucky!”

But goaltending is part of the game, and if ours were good enough to steal some points in games in which the overall performance was lackluster, then so be it. It’s a long season, and every team has ebbs and tides that can vary according to the frequency of games, injuries, or just the slumps and streaks that inevitably come with an 82 game season.

So, riding a six game winning streak, I didn’t have a care in the hockey world, until I stumbled across this article by Steve Zipay in Newsday on Saturday morning.
…troubling signs are surfacing for the Rangers…….. teams are figuring out how to counter the system and style of the 17-7-3 Rangers…. There's the possibility that fatigue - both mental and physical - might be starting to affect some players…..And there's another road-heavy schedule looming..
And that wasn’t all – Rucinsky’s knee was still sore, the goaltending situation is precarious with Weekes (and Al Montoya) out, Jagr’s hip flexor… And suddenly, in the minute that it took me to read this piece, everything seemed less rosy than it did before….the result, I’m sure, of the years of misery that makes ones’ confidence easy to rattle, even with just some written words.

Now I didn’t feel too hot about the upcoming game in Washington that night, fears that were confirmed by the 5-1 loss which, fortunately, I didn’t get to see that much of. I can easily just chalk it up to “due to lose,” but being nine games over .500 doesn’t seem as great now as it did before they went ten quickly I get spoiled! A Fish Stick win in Detroit only added further ruin to my psyche.

So now, we turn to the mysterious Western Conference, in a stretch that feels like that of interleague play in baseball given the rarity of the matchups and their concentration into short periods of time. A win against the Wild tonight would make Saturday’s loss meaningless, but despite their three game “losing” streak (they went to a shootout in New Jersey), the Blueshirts will have to solve Jacques Lemaire’s defensive system, and Manny Fernandez, the leading goalie in the league in terms of save percentage.

- It will be interesting to see what kind of crowd gathers at the Garden for this one. It’s a Monday night, on which we saw the smallest crowd of the year when the Panthers were in a few weeks ago. All the recent games have been full, but tonight we’ll see if the sellouts for the Penguins were to see Sid the Kid or a first place hockey team in New York.

- It’s been thirty years since Brad Park, Jean Ratelle, and Joe Zanussi were dealt to the Bruins for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais in what to this day remains the most shocking Rangers trade I’ve ever seen. I was actually in Philadelphia that day, and couldn’t believe what I heard. I saw a fellow Rangers fan that day, the biggest Jean Ratelle fan of all time. I remember that he had “19” written all over his sneakers…and I got to tell him about the deal. He didn’t react that well. Neither did Park. He tells "I'm still ticked!"

Friday, December 02, 2005

Why Leetch?

Still reading stories like this speculating on a possible return of Brian Leetch.

I'm going to try and say this as gently and diplomatically as possible in deference to one of the greatest players ever to don a Rangers' jersey. Brian Leetch was the leading ice-time getter and the quarterback of their star-studded but sputtering power play throughout most of seven miserable losing seasons that we all want to forget. So, forget it. Period.

Henrik the Katt

- I’ve been around for awhile, but fortunately not long enough to say that I saw Emile Francis tend goal for the Rangers. I don’t know how he got the nickname of “The Cat,” whether it was reflection on his goaltending style or perhaps because he drank a lot of milk and purred if you rubbed his neck.

But Henryk Lundqvist, solid in the nets for the Blueshirts’ 2-1 win over the Pens on Thursday night, is reminding me of the first Rangers coach I ever remember (OK, I’m old enough for that) with his play. Crouched low, like a cat, or perhaps we should say, katt in honor of his Swedish roots, waiting to pounce, Lundqvist stopped 35 Penguins shots to outduel the Penguins’ young goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with Katt-like quickness, flashing his glove, his blocker, and his pads and skates, all with equal effectiveness and flash. He seems to know when to gobble up the rebounds, and when to kick the puck clear. He protects the net less economically in terms of movement than Kevin Weekes, more of the stoic, positional type, and thus projects the kind of visual panache that has made him the favorite of the fans.

Fleury was perhaps the second best player on the ice. His circus save on Darius Kasparaitus was followed by a minute of sustained Pittsburgh pressure that led to the tying goal early in the second, and he kept his team in the game in the third, as the home team revved up their play to protect their lead.

Face-offs were a topic of discussion during the off days, as the team had slackened off in that category of late. But Martin Straka, taking his only draw of the game after Nylander was tossed from the circle, battled Mark Recchi, the Pens’ best player last night, to a draw on the draw. Nylander however was able to sweep the puck back to Roszival, who passed it across to Marek Malik. If you think this guy isn’t blessed these days, take a look at how the ice parted biblically as he skated in with a clear look and an absolute clear path before beating Fleury with a wrist shot for the winning goal.

On the other hand, we saw perhaps the worst face-off effort in NHL history. With the Blueshirts briefly down two men, Dominic Moore, who continued to struggle on draws, was tossed, and Roszival stepped in to face Mario Lemiuex. Roszival made like a little point guard in a jump ball against a seven foot center, making hardly an effort at all before dropping back into position. A true defensive defenseman indeed, Roszival logged a team leading 24:51 of ice time, and was one of the keys in the Rangers’ holding Sid the Kid and Mario to a single shot apiece; that’s pretty impressive.

- Team effort in compensating for the absence of Jed Ortmeyer, as no less than 14 Rangers registered at least one blocked shot.

- I’ve been calling for Kondratiev to get a shot on the power play point, and he scored from there last night. However, a shot deflecting off of two different Penguins isn’t exactly what I had in mind.

- Energetic game for the Betts-Ward-Niemenen line. Ward throws in some nifty moves from time to time, as he did early in the second, faking Brooks Orpik out of his uniform pants and cutting towards the net for a shot. Betts outhustled Orpik to the puck in the third, and despite being hooked got the puck over to Rucinsky for a shot, and drew a key penalty with just eight minutes left.

- A funny phenomenon I’ve noticed so far this year at the Garden is that despite the team’s success, the fans are still hooked on stars of the past. Walk through the building and notice what jerseys people are wearing and you’d think it was still 1994. 11….2…..9…..35…..those are the numbers that still dominate. (One recent night, I saw two Walt Tkaczuks.) But I did see one Lundqvist jersey last night, and no doubt we’ll be seeing more of those. When I see someone wearing a Marek Malik sweater, I’ll know that this team has truly arrived.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Don't Blame Me

- Saturday’s epic shootout victory against the Caps seems to have changed the landscape of hockey in this town and perhaps beyond as well. Besides vaulting the team and the sport into the public consciousness here and apparently leaving yours truly completely speechless, it may very well, as Larry Brooks speculated the other day, be the beginning of the end of the multiple overtime playoff games that have created legends out of players like Stephan Matteau and Peter Stemkowsi, and made for long nights and mornings that none of us will ever forget. While I fervently hope that is not the case, it’s hard to argue with Brooks' idea that the league would happily sell out its tradition and its fans for a favorable TV deal.

The five days since the game has allowed it to crystallize into an instant NYC sports classic. You can be sure during the next lockout, we’ll see it replayed countless times on MSG, even though the game itself is hardly worth watching again. And when the team takes to the ice tonight against the Penguins, the bond between the players and the fans will seem as if it’s been present for years. Marek Malik is now as firmly ingrained in Rangers history as Jim Dorey, even if he too never plays another game for the team.

As for me and this blog, my original concept was, obviously, to post entries after, and only after, each game. However, this has proved to be a daunting task. Those of you who are familiar with my “full-time” blog know that I devote much time to it, and between that and my real job and family duties, I’ve failed at my original goal and find that I cannot keep up with the pace. In truth, I never imagined that the team would be winning like this, and figured I could instead go off on slightly related topics such as the threat of avian flu. So, while not abandoning the blog entirely, I will change the format, as well as the name once I think of one, and check in periodically and as often as I can. Besides, my more esteemed Ranger blogger colleagues, some of whom are listed in the links section on the right, provide ample post-game commentary.

One of those bloggers, the usually irascible Hockey Rodent, after and despite describing how he spent much of Saturday’s game tossing his TV Brick at the Blueshirts for their lackluster performance, proclaimed: Despite my skepticism, despite my cynicism, I am slowly accepting what I've been denying for a third of the season. They are for real.

Surely, the occurances on Saturday night give me a sense that the magical spirits that visited the Garden some 11 years ago are still lurking somewhere in the building. Perhaps they were waiting for something, like the sound of fans cheering, to awaken them from their long slumber. However, I’m still afraid to make a proclamation like that of the Rodent, fearing the consequences of jumping on the bandwagon too soon, like the stock market bulls just before the bubble bursts. Glad that someone else did it first….now you can’t blame it on me.