Would you believe a three point lead in the Atlantic Division? Would you believe two points out of first place in the Eastern Conference? Would you believe three points out of first place for the entire NHL? No, this is not a Don Adams, Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 routine. These are your New York Rangers, the surprise team of the NHL. Hell, they are the surprise team of all of sports and they still can't get a headline on the back page of The New York Post.
Jaromir Jagr and the Rangers beat up Toronto in a home and home by identical scores of 4-2 with Jagr getting two goals in each game for a season total of 40. He now leads the league in goals scored and total points, 88. He even scored one from behind the goal line yesterday as he banked one off the leg of goalie Belfour. The guy is hot and ready for the Olympics and the only thing that could stop him is Henrik Lundqvist, the Swedish Ranger goalie. Or is it the Ranger's Swedish goalie? Anyway, you know what I mean.
The new NHL, no clutching, no holding, no interference, fits Jagr and his mates to a tee. By the way, that garbage, clutching, holding interference should have always been called as penalties. Checking and hitting OK, but the other stuff had to go.
The Rangers have come up to the Olympic break on a 10-1-1 roll. They have beaten New Jersey, Philadelphia, Ottawa and Toronto in that streak. So much for not beating the top teams. They have won six in a row for the second time this year. While Jagr has been the big gun others have chimed in. Petr Sykora has a four game goal streak going. He seems to be playing better with each game and getting back to his Devil playing days. He has definitely picked up the slack from the loss of Petr Prucha. Sykora's presence has picked up Rucchin and Rucinsky's game and that line is now productive.
The third and fourth lines are doing their jobs as checkers, harassers and shot blockers. While I understand why Renney puts in Colton Orr in certain games the HMO line must stay intact. When Orr is in the lineup instead of Ryan Hollweg ice time diminishes for that line. Most of the ice time for Moore and Ortmeyer is then relegated to penalty killing. The offense and the lines seem set and there doesn't seem to be a need for an offensive upgrade to replace Prucha.
The defense is another story. While the defense has settled down in the last twelve games there still is a need for a tough defenseman who can move the puck, protect the crease and dish out some punishment to the opposing forwards. It is going to be a gruelling stretch run. There are twenty four games left in the regular season. However, four of the Rangers defensemen will be playing in the Olympics.
Kasparaitis, Tyutin, Malik and Rozsival all will be logging significant ice time in the Olympics and those last regular season games promise to be tough. To that add the playoffs and the schedule will be brutal. The last 24 regular season games will be played in 48 days. At the least the Rangers need a seventh defensemen,need an occasional break which is not there right now. And what happens if one goes down to an injury. We need a backup plan for the defense. In this case, the defense can not rest.
ICINGS: Kevin Weekes played a strong game giving up one iffy goal, the last one. He was the number one star of the game. It seemed the defense took the third period off as Totonto poured twelve shots on goal in that period. Or maybe they were tired.
Al Michaels traded for a cartoon rabbit -
"Do you Beweeve in Wabbits?"
-- Sportscaster Al Michaels was traded by Disney (owner of ABC/ESPN) to NBC Universal for the rights to own Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. It turns out that Disney created Oswald in 1927. So he is even older than Mickey. Could we get Pepe Le Pew for Sam Rosen? (just kidding Sam) [source]
-- Angela Ruggiero is a two-time US Olympian in women's ice hockey, winning a gold medal in the 1998 Olympic Winter Games and a silver in 2002. She plays defense, is 26-years-old, 5'9" tall, and went to college at Harvard. In 2005, she became first female defensive player to participate in the Central Hockey League. I think Glen Sather should sign her to a contract. (just kidding Glen) She is blogging about her experiences at the 2006 Winter Games:
In two short days, so much has happened. First of all, the Opening Ceremonies were amazing! I got to walk in the front of the USA athletes because I was nominated by our federation to carry the Opening Ceremony flag. That honor, and VERY well deserved, was given to Chris Witty, who is a five time Olympian in speedskating (one of those 5 was in the summer Games in cycling!). I was able to go skiing with her and a few of my teammates after the games were over in Salt Lake City, so we were pumped that she was able to carry the flag into the stadium.
Did you really think the Ranger Pundit would root for the Czech's during the Olympics?
-- Would anyone in Europe be willing to pay to watch the NHL on the internet? We know who has their act together.
National Basketball Assn. fans in Brazil have become the first in the world to have access to live games via broadband Internet.
About 10,000 fans saw the Dallas Mavericks beat the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday on web portal Globo.com, which charges an extra monthly fee of 4.90 reals ($2.20) to watch two games per week on Globoesporte.com.
The matches, broadcast in Portuguese, are not the same as ones aired live in Brazil by ESPN Intl. and ESPN Brasil. The league has also inked a similar deal in China with Chinese portal NuSports. [source]
-- Janet Jones (Mrs. Gretzky), Yoko Ono, and Paris Hilton all share Elliot Mintz as their personal spokesperson/publicist [source]
-- Team Sports Bars and its Google map was created by Frank Gruber to help people identify bars with loose affiliations to either college or professional sports teams thus connecting fans with a bar to cheer on their team.
-- Memorable Olympic quotes - one by John Tesh at the 1992 Summer Olympics, Women's gymnastics competition:
The Romanian (Women's) Team is a man short tonight.