It is a basic simple play for the defenseman to make. Scenario. It's early in the third period of a 1-1 game and Marek Malik has the puck deep in his own zone with a Sabre on his left and a Sabre in front of him. What to do?
(A) Loft the puck into center ice.
(B) Shoot the puck high off the near side glass and down the ice.
(C) Pass the puck back to goalie Lundqvist, who would have known what to do with it.
(D) None of the above.
And that (D) is exactly what Malik did. None of the basic plays. Instead he tried to make like Bobby Orr and skate his way out of this. Ales Kotalik picked off the puck and buried it against a surprised Lundqvist for the game winner.
Too hard on Malik? After all this was just one moment in one game. But it wasn't one moment. He also turned the puck over to Maxim Afinogenov, with 49 seconds left in the first period, who came in alone on Lundqvist, who poke checked it away from Afinogerov to keep the score at 1-0 Sabres. Prior to that save The Prince made the save of the night by diving to his right and deflecting a shot by Daniel Paille that evoked probably the loudest roar of the night from the crowd. The Garden faithful stood up and gave The Prince a standing ovation.
The Buffalo Sabre's coach, Lindy Ruff commented:
"We (Buffalo) totally dominated the game. If it wasn't for their goaltending in the first period they should have been down 5-0."
Back to Malik.If you remember he gave the puck away in almost a similar circumstance against the Bruins, which resulted in a game tying goal for Boston. If Tom Poti had the kind of night that Marek Malik had last night, the boobirds would have booed him out of the Garden. In fact, Poti played one of the better games of the defense corps (I can read the comments now). I don't know how Buffalo stacks up with speed against the rest of the league, but last night against the Rangers they resembled 1950's Canadians. Then it dawned on me, they weren't the 50's Canadians, we were the post 1940 World War II Rangers.
The offense wasn't much better. We got 24 shots on goal. We were 1-5 on the power play. But the power play had no flow. The over passing continued. The tic-tac-toe pattern continued to ad nauseum. The opposition has no problem with this strategy. Very few shots, especially from the point. Ryan Miller, the Sabre goalie, stopped 23 of 24 shots. Most of the shots were non descript. I would be hard pressed to think of one outstanding save by Miller. Even Jagr's goal seemed to be one Miller should have stopped.
How bad was the offense in general and the power play in particular? Let's ask an expert:
"I think we should have performed better on the power play. That's the key today. I don't think we made it hard for him (Buffalo goalie, Miller). We should have gone harder to the net."That expert is Henrik Lundqvist who had traffic in front of him, and on him all night.
In my previous post I mentioned that The Rangers would go as far as Lundqvist could carry them. I may have misspoke. The defense seems to be wearing down. Doesn't it make some sense to bring up a young good player like Thomas Pock and rotate him so the Malik's and Rozsival's get some time off. They need it. Pock would also be an asset on the power play as he is a natural point man. Isn't it about time to end the Martin Rucinsky experiment as the point man? Isn't it about time that Rucinsky sat a few games as a reminder that there is also defense and back checking in hockey? Perfect spot to get Marcel Hossa back into the lineup.
The Rangers lost a big game last night. They could have moved to within three points of the Flyers in the Atlantic Division and four points up on Buffalo for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Devils are back to six points behind us for fifth place. I mention this because the Rangers, the Devils and the Sabres are right now locked in a battle for fourth, fifth and sixth place in the Eastern Conference and the chances of two of these teams locking horns with each other is very probable. Yes, the Rangers have made great strides. But why be satisfied with just making the playoffs when there is the big prize out there.
In the last four games that Lundqvist has played he has given up seven goals. One goal was slapped in the net by one of our defensemen (Rozsival). One was off of a defensemen's leg (Strudwick). The two in Boston were off of blatant giveaways by our defensemen and the giveaway by Malik against Buffalo. Five of the seven goals that The Prince has given up HIS TEAMMATES WERE LARGELY RESPONSIBLE. To recoin an old phrase, "With teammates like these, who needs opponents."
ICINGS: In my last article I mentioned that Lundqvist had played 40 games in Europe. I was slightly off. In the 2004-05 season Lundqvist played in 44 games, 33-8-3, with a 1.79 GAA. In 14 playoff games, 12-2, with a 1.05 GAA. In 2003-04 he played in 48 games with a 2.17 GAA. In 10 playoff games he had a 1.97 GAA. Playing for Sweden in the 2005 World Championship he was 6-3-0 with a 2.35 GAA. So you see, he is human. This is not your normal NHL rookie.