So there we were, most of the 18,200, standing on our feet, as the final seconds counted down to another game, another season. We were roaring and applauding as the game came to an end. We were cheering the losing team, yes the losing team. The Devils never heard a sound like that in their building even when they were winning Cups. Brodeur, after the game, said that he was amazed by what he heard. "It's pretty impressive how they reacted (the Ranger Fans), even after a sweep!" And it never stopped. It went through the handshaking and erupted when for the last time in the 2005-06 season the players lifted their sticks to salute the crowd. I said most of the 18,200 because there were quite a few Devils fans in the seats, most likely with tickets bought from mercenary Ranger fans. There were also some Ranger fans who left late in the third period. Shame on them for not sticking with them to the end.
To me the game was decided in the first period when the refs disallowed Hossa's goal and instead gave him a penalty for interference. If I were Renney I would have thrown a water bottle at the bum for that bad call. The bad calls continued with a two minute penalty to Rasmussen for boarding Hollweg from behind. The call should have been at the least a double minor, or a five minute major and ejection. It was a worse hit than the one Hollweg delivered in game two and was ejected from the game.
Let me tell you folks, the penalties are called by the back of the jerseys, certain players automatically get big minutes for little or no infractions. Hollweg is one of those targeted players. He doesn't conform to the new NHL, No Hit League. He never complains like cry baby, Grant Marshall, of the Devils, who complains about everything.
Speaking of hits where were the Rangers when Jagr got hit? Sure it was legal but when your star gets hit the team is supposed to go to his support. All hands should be on deck. In this case I guess Hollweg wasn't on the ice and there was nothing the rest of the team could or would do. Umberger, on the Flyers, got knocked senseless by a Sabre, a clean hit, and the entire Flyer team, on the ice, except the goalie rushed to the Sabre.
And how about the hit on Hollweg? Where were the Rangers? Nowhere. Marty McSorley who used to be a team mate of Gretzky said that a teammate must be prepared to take a game misconduct every time Gretzky gets touched, not necessarily hit, but touched. The Rangers need a lot of work in this area.
The Rangers need a lot of work in a lot of areas if they are to be Cup contenders. Jagr kind of summed up what needs to be done, "There are a lot of free agents. If we get two or three real good guys, you never know." Notice, two or three good guys. That statement is as much of an indictment of this years team as it is about the future Rangers. I'm sure Sather and company are listening and hopefully will follow up to keep the great Jaromir Jagr a happy and productive Ranger for the next two seasons. So was the season a success? Let's put it this way. The season ended exactly as most of the Ranger fans thought it would end only four games longer than we thought.
But Jagr might be giving the Ranger management too much credit. Remember at the trade deadline Sather played it safe and came up with Sandis Ozolinsh for a draft pick. He had neither the guts or inclination to get something better and tougher. He could have tried to go after a Brendan Witt type of player, rough, tough, stay at home defenseman but in the process basically gave up rough, tough Ville Niemenen for a first class soft, weak defenseman, who was even a liability on offense. The line goes that he didn't want to change the chemistry of the team. That chemistry looks like acid right now and has consumed the team.
What about Renney? In the nine game slide he acted helpless. It was like it was someone else's fault. He didn't have a clue. With the wealth of young talent he had in Hartford the best he could come up with were a few games for Pock and Immonen. Night after night the same players with minor shifts in line assignments, which further seemed to confuse the Rangers. Is there any guarantee that he would do better with a better cast? Remember a lot of free agents prior to the season refused to even talk to the Rangers. Aucoin, Forsberg and Sellane are among the many who showed no interest in the Rangers. Watching the Ranger collapse, what assurances are there they would, or could, get key free agents like Chara, for instance? He has been in the New York area before, the Islanders, so what makes you think he would want an encore? It could be a long hot summer folks.
ICINGS: Larry Brooks in his Slap Shot column takes a shot at Ranger fans booing Tyutin on the Patrik Elias third period goal. Funny, Larry went out of his way to slam the fans on that one but not a mention of the way the Ranger fans rose to their feet at the end of the game cheering for a tired beaten team. Not one line. Oh well, when you are exalted you need currying the favor of no one but yourself.
Speaking of Devil fans, who insist on coming to the Garden and making fools of themselves, I counted at least three who were escorted out of the Garden last night. What is funny is that the majority of Ranger fans don't taunt them, they taunt the Ranger fans in our building. They represent a group of fans that have trouble selling out their own building. If Ranger fans did not go to Jersey or the Island, for that matter, these teams would never sell out. Stay home boobs!
Sunday, April 30, 2006
Friday, April 28, 2006
This one is easy. The Rangers win and they play on Sunday, lose and scatter to all parts of the world for golf. What are the Rangers chances? No better or worse than they were Wednesday night. It all depends how and if Renney can fire up his troops.
The Rangers have now lost eight straight so the fire hasn't worked, has it? Does a team with all the veterans the Rangers have still need pep talks to get them going? Plus the Devils are one hot team and are rolling now with a fourteen game winning streak. This team does not beat itself so the Rangers must revert to pre-Olympic form if they are to have a chance. The last time the Rangers were swept in a playoff series was 1995 against the Flyers. They have been swept five times in their history.
How can it be worse than Wednesday? It depends on how Jagr, Rucinsky and Rucchin feel after playing with serious injuries. Can Darius Kasparaitis be effective after missing seven of the last nine games. That the first two propositions are positive it is imperative that the Prince returns to form. Certainly the crowd will be with him.
Renney has to do some things different for it to be better and give us a chance to win. First of all, Sandis Ozolinsh must be benched. No if's, and's or but's. If Renney hopes to have any chance at credibility with the fans, and maybe even the team, Ozolinsh must be benched.
Shake up the lines. Its no big deal to do that now, we have been outscored 13-2 in the first three games. Have Rucchin center Jag and Rucinsky. The line seemed to click in the third period and Rucinsky brought much needed speed to that line and was moving quite well.
Have Nylander center Straka and Sykora. Sykora has been skating and shooting in tough luck. A couple of posts and one disallowed goal, quick whistle, have Sykora talking to himself. However he is a pure sniper and might fit in well with the two passing fanatics like Nylander and Straka who seem to be embarrassed to shoot.
On the third line have Betts center Hollweg and Prucha. It is crazy having Prucha on the fourth line. This line has the two Ranger goals in this series, Betts and Prucha, and Hollweg has an assist and has been playing tough. The fourth line will become the HMO line again only this time Hossa will be the H. Hossa, Moore and Ortmeyer should generate good energy from four to six minutes, plus kill penalties. The other option is putting Jarkko Immonen in for Hossa.
On defense I would put in Thomas Pock for Jason Strudwick. Pock is a solid defenseman who also adds some offense, especially on the power play. I would rather see him replace Poti, but there is no way in hell that Renney would sit Poti in what could be the final game of the year. Maybe someone showed him how to play a two on one. The rest of the defense pairings will be Kaspy-Tyutin, Rozsival-Malik with Pock paired with Poti.
However all of this will go for naught if Lundqvist doesn't rise to the occasion. It has to be big because we can't seem able to put the puck on net no less into it. We are not going to score from the side and we must, let's all say this real loud, crash the net, the goal, and Brodeur. We must put off Brodeur's boyhood dream of beating the Rangers in a playoff series.
If we are to lose this series, let's not lose it in the Garden. As I have said before we have to play this one period at a time and we win by scoring one goal at a time. Is there any other way?
I don't expect Renney to pull off any of my moves and suggestions. After all I have been suggesting for 68 years and they haven't been listening.
So you tell me who is right and who is wrong. In 68 years they have won two Stanley Cups so how smart have they been? How smart am I to stay with this team? So how smart have GM's Boucher, Patrick, Francis, Ferguson, Shero, Patrick, Esposito, Smith and Sather been? How smart have coaches Boucher, Patrick, Watson, Ferguson, Sator, Patrick, Shero, Esposito, Nielson, Francis, Trottier, Lowe and Sather been. Two Stanley Cups in 68 years. Gimme a break. Maybe it's me who is nuts to keep coming back year after year, but I love those Blueshirts.
Let's go Rangers, win one for the geezer.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
The roar that greeted the announcement of Jaromir Jagr in the starting lineup was ear tingling. It had followed the roar of the crowd as the team hit the ice and the roar following the National Anthem.
Then came the groan and the silence as Sandis Ozolinsh was trapped and Tom Poti misplayed a two on one. Bingo. Goal! Game! The silence was deafening. Jagr later remarked in the dressing room, "We have to learn how to play a two on one." We don't know how. You leave the shooter to the goalie. Oh well, one more game to figure it out.
Watching the replay in the early minutes Sam and JD remarked that the coaching staff didn't want to hear Ozolinsh being booed last night. Well there is one way to stop it. Don't play him. Hasn't Renney seen enough of this? We got him for offense, especially on the PP, but our defense has gone south since he showed up. Plus he is paired with Tom Poti. Talk about a perfect storm.
After the game I picked up the Renney press conference on the radio. Would you believe not one question of why Renney played Ozolinsh? The usual fluff questions from the drive-by sports media. There was no need to ask why Ozolinsh played. Ozolinsh is playing because Glen Sather traded for him. How fitting, Sather's other god child Tom Poti is paired with Ozolinsh. Maybe it's Tom Renney's perverse way of getting back at Sather.
The life was sucked out of the Garden after Jamie Langenbrunner's goal. Sykora hit the post, that would have tied it, and later hit another post on a gimme to the left of Broduer who made 25 saves. It has been a rough series for Sykora who hit a post in game two, on a five on three, that also might have turned the game around. That's how it goes with the losing teams. The good teams do get the breaks.
What more can you say about Jagr. He gave it his all and thought he might lift the team. Right now this team needs a crane to lift it. The Prince was back in the nets but still is not there yet. Something is amiss. I said it last column that he should have played game two. Another game to iron out whatever kinks exist in his game or his head. He seemed to pick it up in the third period when he made all seven saves.
Besides Jagr, who played over seventeen minutes, Rucinsky and Rucchin also played with injuries. Rucinsky with a broken finger and Rucchin with a broken foot. It was a valiant effort by the skating wounded but unfortunately they couldn't lift up the rest of the team especially one defenseman. At one time in the third period Renney had the wounded trio of Jagr, Rucinsky and Rucchin on the ice at the same time and they did create some opportunities.
What about game four? Do we go quitely or do we kick up a storm? We should stop talking about the great 0-3 comebacks and start thinking about how we start winning periods. Maybe we should be concentrating on scoring goals. That should be our motto. How do you win games? One goal at a time.
ICINGS: Ryan Hollweg continues to play well. He has now become a force even on offense. Perhaps putting him in front of the goalie on the power play? Try something but sit Ozolinsh for game four. At least spare us that.
A very nice Rangers fan in the park today said her father had a flashback nightmare when Zach Parise scored the "nail-in-the-coffin" third goal for the Devils. Thirty-one years ago in 1975 his father, left winger, Jean-Paul Parise of the New York Islanders scored a decisive goal for the Islanders against the Rangers in a Round 1 playoff game. The Islanders won that series 2-1. Ouch!
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Red Barber, the old Brooklyn Dodger and New York Yankee Hall of Fame Baseball announcer, used to say there were two types of errors, one of omission and one of commission. Tom Renney committed both last night. The act of omission was in not sitting Sandis Ozolinsh and the act of commission was in playing Kevin Weekes. Neither one did anything to help the Rangers last night and most certainly did very little to express confidence that they were helping in the long run.
When does Sandis Ozolinsh permanently get benched? This is now beyond ineptness. It is a two goal handicap every time this guy is in the lineup. Tell me where is this offensive prowess that he was bringing to the team? There is little hope that we will see no more of him. This is a Glen Sather project and we know what happens with Glen Sather projects.
Tom Poti is a Glen Sather project and yes, he is playing better now, but have you all forgotten his giveaways and softness? And yes where is his offensive game? So he is playing better? In comparision to what? To Sandis? Sandis pinched on a power play opportunity which led to the Devils first goal. He then came up to help Weekes who had already stopped the puck. All Sandis had to do was put his body on Madden but he put his body on Weekes. Goal! Game!
The playing of Weekes was an act of panic and desperation by Renney. Yes, he got plenty of support by the drive by sports media. They all lined up to support this move. Stan, the Maven, Fischler, Chico Resch, JD and the lot. What was their reasoning? Weekes played well against the Devils in the 2002 playoffs and beat them twice. Wow! The 2002 playoffs and two wins. Why not bring back Mike Richter? He beat them in the playoffs three times.
On a key play after a miserable Ranger performance on a five on three PP Weekes had a chance to come out and beat Madden to the puck. He didn't try, he played it safe. Safe is for losers and that is what we are today. That was the key sequence in the game, our failure to score on a 5-3, and them getting a SH goal. The party line was that Lundqvist was rusty from the long layoff. So tell me, is he going to be less rusty taking another night off? He should have played last night to take out the kinks, if there were any.
But don't worry, Renney says we are coming. So is Christmas. The Rangers did play better but only got 26 shots on goal. They actually took 64 shots but only 26 reached Brodeur. The Devils blocked 18 shots so twenty shots went wide and a Sykora shot clanged off the post during the five on three. The Rangers stopped shooting from the point after that shot and tried to beat Brodeur low on the five on three. That wasn't happening. The Rangers have to get at least thirty shots on the net against Brodeur. How many times have I said that? We must drive to the net for the rebounds and they were there, we couldn't cash them in.
The team as a whole played a gritty game but just couldn't score. Not good - two goals in two games. If we don't pick up our offense, great goaltender might not matter. Ryan Hollweg played a great game. he was moved up to the third line with Ortmeyer and Betts and that line accounted for the only goal. In 10:31 of ice time he was a plus one, got an assist on the goal and dished out seven hits. The Rangers outhit the Devils 27-21 with Hossa and Prucha getting four hits each. In a surprisingly tough game Petr Sykora playing on the first line gave out three hits got two shots on goal plus the big goal post hit. All in all the team played well except for the two big breakdowns by Ozolinsh.
Expect the Prince back in the nets tomorrow night. Jagr and Kasparaitis are still question marks. It's difficult to see how the Rangers can win without Jagr, though last nights game was winnable without the two big mistakes. We need a big game from the Prince and some rock and sock 'em from the rest of the team. The crowd, the faithful, will show up, will the Rangers?
ICINGS: The Rangers were 0-7 on the PP, the Devils 1-6. Must the Devils always looked pained and shocked every time a penalty is called? At least the refs are on to it. Grant Marshall was giving an unsportsmanlike conduct after elbowing Ortmeyer and deservingly so. Here is a guy who constantly goes in with his elbows up and screams when he is caught.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
While most of the experts have buried the Rangers, and some of my friends and relatives have climbed onto that wagon, I for one would like to step forward and pronounce in no uncertain terms, that we are not dead, not yet anyway. I know, the Devils have won eleven straight and are the greatest team ever assembled and the Rangers have lost six straight and have run out of gas.
Let me remind you loyal blueshirters that this is not the first time the Rangers have lost the first game in a playoff series. In fact, they have now lost ten straight playoff series openers. They have come back to win six of the previous nine playoff series. In the 1996 playoff series against the Canadiens, the Rangers lost the first two, at home no less, before sweeping the last four games and winning the series.
Tom Renney has his work cut out for him. While the team's penalties were the killers Renney had a chance to alter the game when Colin White went down early in the first period. The Rangers never tried to exploit the Devils defense that was now one man short and in fact played into the Devils hands by constantly trying to skate through the Devils trap rather than shot the puck in and let the forwards forecheck. However, the Rangers are at a disadvantage with this tactic as the third and fourth lines do not get much ice time, and they are the grinders and checkers. Unfortunately most of the ice time in this game, for them, was killing penalties, 18:29 minutes worth.
With Ward out and Jagr possibly out the Rangers have brought up forward Chad Wiseman from Hartford. Wiseman, 25 years old, is 6'1" and weighs 209 pounds. In sixty nine games with Hartford he is 19-36-55. He is being brought up for the possibility that Jagr will not play. I have no inside info but it is my opinion that Jagr will play, injury or not. I believe the Rangers should scrap their freewheeling offensive game and play a tough defensive game. Play to win a 3-2 game.
How do we do that? We start by trying to cut down on our penalties. I say try because I believe penalties are inbred into this Ranger team. Renney must sit Sandis Ozolinsh. Play Jason Strudwick. He has been rested and he does play a stay at home game. He is more solid on defense than Ozolinsh. Who isn't? In addition he can be handy with his dukes and I suspect that this game will bring out some nastiness as Cam Janssen seems intent on going after Ryan Hollweg. Hollweg alienated Janssen, again, by going after him after Janssen hit Kaspy and Hollweg defended Kaspy. Along these lines, Renney should dress Colton Orr and use him in Jason Ward's spot. This will give the Rangers some more needed toughness and some fighting ability. It's coming folks, I can smell it.
The mentality for this game should be defense, defense, defense. Give Lundqvist some support, line of sight, and the Prince will come up big for us. Make no mistake Lundqvist should be in goal. Putting in Weekes will truly be an act of panic and will not be good for the team's psyche. It will be an act of sheer desperation. If I'm wrong I will eat my words gladly.
ICINGS: The Rangers actually took sixteen (16) penalties against the Devils. Hollweg's last penalty amounted to four penalties. Jay Pandolfo is given great credit for stopping Jaromir Jagr. Jagr got nine shots on goal, one assist and many other passes would have been assists, but the Rangers couldn't convert.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Imagine playing a game where your opponent gets a whole period on the power play. That is basically what happened today in New Jersey. The Rangers committed thirteen, yes count them, thirteen, giving the Devils 18:29 minutes of power play time. The Devils scored five power play goals and the sixth was one second after an expiring penalty.
In my 68 years as a Ranger fan I don't believe I've ever seen the Rangers play a more undisciplined game. Considering the stakes this was the most disappointing Ranger game I have ever seen. The game also comes under the heading of be careful what you wish for as Tom Renney, talking about refs calling penalties, was quoted as saying, "I think we need zero tolerance." Tom got that with dividends.
With Gary Bettman and the chief of officials in attendance you just knew that every little infraction would be called. Think about this. In a game that featured one of the most penalized team in the NHL (Rangers), against the least penalized team in the NHL (Devils), whom do you think would benefit? Were there questionable penalties? Of course. But thirteen penalties, give me a break. Four of our first six penalties were by our forwards that usually kill penalties.
However the Rangers did little to help themselves. Their penalty killing was strange and awful. The Devils were 5-13 on the PP. No the Devils didn't score on every PP, it just seemed like they did. Rather then get in close to their goalie the Rangers forwards insisted on chasing the point men back and forth and left the defense having to handle the other three Devils, two of which seemed to be planted in front of Lundqvist at all times. It is hard to say whether the Devils PP is that good or the Rangers PK that bad. Either way the Rangers must rebound in game two.
The Rangers were presented with an opportunity in the first period when Colin White was injured and had to leave the game, leaving the Devils with only five defensemen but alas Renney failed to exploit this situation. The obvious move was to send the forwards in deep and pressure the Devils D. No such adjustment. Renney stuck with his game plan, whatever it was. Also for the second time in a week Renney decided to shuffle the lines and for the second time, first time against the Flyers, the team looked disoriented. That will also cause penalties, but disoriented or not there was no excuse for the endless penalties.
Can the Rangers recover? Will Jagr be able to play? Listening to him after the game it doesn't sound too good. Also the status of Jason Ward is also unknown. Jagr or not the Rangers must go back to basics. Can they go back? Will it matter the way the Devils are playing? Lets face it folks, this Devil team will not beat itself. But there has to be concern in Rangerland. The Rangers have now lost six in a row and can not put together a solid sixty minutes. The Devils are determined, the Rangers seem to be befuddled.
Will Renney make a goalie change in game two? While Lundqvist was not to blame he doesn't seem to have the flair or confidence he had before his injury. Weekes has been successful against the Devils. Changing goalies now may shake up the team but this team right now is so fragile its doubtful that a change could help. This hardly seems to be the time to hope for a Lundqvist revival, not the way the team is playing now. The bet is to stay with Lundqvist. He along with Jagr got us here. Stay with him.
ICINGS: Good for Ryan Hollweg for going after Cam Jannsen who had hit Kasparaitis. Hollweg went right after Jannsen knocking him down and brawling with him. Hollweg also took Janssen down in the scuffle. Remember, Janssen had promised to beat up Hollweg for his hit(clean) on Brylin in the last regular season game. Didn't bother the cannonball one bit, he immediately went after Janssen. With Ward possibly out it may be a good time to dress Colton Orr and maybe we will have a bonafied brawl.
Friday, April 21, 2006
Before we head into the playoffs lets take a moment out to grade the players on a wonderful regular season. Of course this is an inexact science subject to all kinds of comments, criticisms,etc. So let's give it a shot.
1. Jaromir Jagr A+
He led the Rangers in every scoring category setting team records in total points and goals. He is the MAN. As he goes so go the Rangers. Finished with a +34 tied for third in the NHL. Greatest compliment is that opposing teams must change their defenses to stop him. Should win the MVP for taking the team picked for 30th into the playoffs, losing the Atlantic Division Title on the last day.
2. Henrik Lundqvist A+
The creme de la creme. Jagr alone couldn't do it. He needed help, a sidekick and the Prince was perfect. He brought his all world European game to the NHL and dazzled his opponents and his team mates. He often brought the Garden crowd to its feet as they roared his name, Henreek, Henreek, Henreek. He will be delighting us for many more years.
3. Petr Prucha A
Became the first Ranger rookie since Tony Amonte, 1991-92, to score 30 goals in a season and would have broken Tony Granato's record of 36 goals set in 1988-89 had he not gotten injured. An exciting, fiery competitor who plays bigger than his 170 pounds. A 50 goal scorer provided he can stay healthy. Does not shy away from contact, which could be his downfall.
4. Michael Nylander B+
Had career highs in assists and points and centers the number one line. Was benched for one game after taking four penalties in a game. A steady solid two way player who finished with a plus 31, third highest on the team. He is also the type of person who will give you the shirt off his back.
5. Michal Rozsival B+
Had the finest season of his career. Tied Wade Redden of Ottawa for number one spot in the +/- ratings. His 25 assists ranked sixth on the team, first on the defensemen. Would get an A rating but gives away the puck too much. Had three game winning goals.
6. Darius Kasparaitis B+
His best year as a Ranger. Led the team in hits and blocked shots despite missing 15 games. Hits with authority and was a plus 7. Along with Colton Orr the only Ranger not to score a goal. Needs to stay out of the penalty box in the playoffs.
7. Martin Straka B+
One of four Rangers to play in all 82 games. Third leading scorer on the team who finished with a plus 17 and had four game winning goals. Along with Jagr and Nylander the trio combined for 99 goals. Speedy skater who is sometimes used as a penalty killer.
8. Jed Ortmeyer B+
The blood and guts of this team. An integral part of the HMO line and a premier penalty killer. Is second on the team in blocked shots and hits. While scoring only five goals, one of them was a game winner.
9. Martin Rucinsky B
Missed thirty games due to injuries. A knee and a finger. Both injuries were flagrant fouls that were not called by the refs. Piled up 55 points in 52 games including four game winning goals. A full season would have given him an A and given the Rangers the Atlantic Division.
10. Marek Malik B
Though slow, he plays a solid stay at home game. Gets into trouble when he attempts to pinch. Compiled a plus 28, fourth on the team. Will forever be remembered for scoring the magical shootout goal to win the shootout over Washington.
11. Petr Sykora B
A late season slump marred Sykora's performance with the Rangers. He has yet to develop into the sniper they hoped for. However he was deadly in shootouts with five goals in seven attempts. He has yet to turn that skill into his favor on game breakaways. Needs to bring his A game to the playoffs.
12. Fedor Tyutin B
Twenty two years old in his first full season Tyutin had a mixed season. He needs to stay at home and not try to skate the puck out of the zone. One good trait is that after a bad game he usually bounces back with a good one. At 6'2" and 209 pounds he is still growing and should be a mainstay on the back line for a long time.
13. Ryan Hollweg B
Under rated and under used. He is a human cannonball and is fearless. He will go after anyone, including Donald Brashear. Unfortunately, four minutes a game is not enough time to cause as big an impact as he could.
14. Jason Ward B
Rugged, tireless grinder. Sometimes shows some flash of offense though he only scored ten goals all year. An excellent puck chaser and a good penalty killer. Could be a key player in the playoffs checking the slick Devils forwards.
15. Kevin Weekes B
A good experienced goalie who adjusted to the backup goalie situation well. May have suffered in the early part of the year by his inactivity in the 2004-05 lockout season. While sensational at times he seems to have a penchant to giving up the soft goal.
16. Steve Rucchin B-
A big disappointment. At 6'3" 216 pounds plays a soft game. He would be a Lady Byng winner if he had a more productive season. We gave up Bobby Holik for this.
17. Dominic Moore B-
Centers the HMO line and is an excellent penalty killer. Played all 82 games and scored nine goals while averaging about eight minutes a game, half of them on the penalty kill. Needs to pick up his offense.
18. Blair Betts B-
Twenty five years old, he played in 66 games the most he has ever played in the NHL. He previously played a total of 35 games in three seasons with Calgary. A strong faceoff man he mostly centers a line with a checker, Ward, and a scorer, Prucha. Needs to pick up his offense.
19. Tom Poti C
His plus 16 is deceiving. While his game has picked up it isn't at the level that he is being paid to be. He is soft and gets beaten too often. Should be the point man on the power play but often has trouble controlling the puck and his shot from there is more often a wrister rather than a slap shot. Biggest problem maybe that he is no Brian Leetch. That is who Glen Sather hoped he was getting when he traded away Mike York for him. Now wouldn't York make a very good second line center.
20. Marcel Hossa C
He is young and he is eager but so far he has yet to discover his game. Renney is looking for scoring from him but in all fairness how can Hossa score on five minutes a game. He has 10 goals in 64 games.
21. Jason Strudwick C
This 30 year old journeyman played in 65 games, the most since 1998-99 with Vancouver when he also appeared in 65 games. He had career highs with three goals and seven total points. Played very aggressive earlier in the year and seemed to tire as the year went on and he lost a lot of his feistiness.
22. Colton Orr C-
Brought on as an enforcer and never got a chance to develop any type of game. Misused most of the time and got very little playing time in games he did play. Should have spent time in Hartford to develop his skills.
23. Sandis Ozolinsh C-
Brought in from Anaheim to bolster the offense he weakened the defense. Perhaps a stronger and tougher defense could have covered for his defensive faults but strong, tough defense is not the Rangers strong suit. Renney must gamble with him against the Devils. He does have strong playoff experience with the Avs (the Cup) and Anaheim (finals). So like the famous baseball chant of the late forties; 'Spahn and Sain and we pray for rain', we have; 'Poti and Ole and lets put the Devils away'.
24. Tom Renney B
Sure he is a candidate for coach of the year and probably deserves it considering where we were and where we finished. But let's look at the record. Jagr was a huge surprise after his fiasco in Washington. He put the team on his back and carried them into the playoffs. And how do you measure the play of Henrik Lundqvist. As a friend of mine mentioned, "Lundqvist was lightning in a bottle." Jagr and Lundqvist were two gifts to Renney. What disturbs me about Renney were the losing streaks, especially the season ending one. He panicked in Philly turning the lineup upside down leading to one of the worst played games of the year. He will have a big test against the Devils and Lou Lamoriello, who turned out to be as good a coach as he is a GM. Considering what kind of coaches we had in the past, Renney was a breath of fresh air.
ICINGS: Ranger Pundit will comment on all comments sent to him on the comment page.
So here we go again. Just what the New York hockey fans wanted and exactly what the NHL needs. Its no secret that if the NHL hopes to expand its base it has to start in New York and what better way than a bitter rivalry. This is the fourth time the Rangers and Devils have met in a playoff series and the Rangers have come up on top all three times and all three times against Martin Broduer.
Does that mean anything as far as this series goes? Probably not. It hasn't reached the level of the Yankee-Red Sox curse that ended with a thud in 2004, but give it a chance. If you read all the experts the Rangers have no chance. It's the red hot Devils, winners of eleven straight, against the fading Rangers, losers of five straight.
If that wasn't enough, this morning several Rangers came down with flu like symptoms. Of course Jagr was among the sick as was Nylander. Nylander? He passed me his jersey, am I next? So maybe this will all get out of their systems and get them ready to go. So how can the Rangers pull it off when most of the experts see them going down in six? Larry Brooks says five.
To start out the Rangers have the top player in the NHL who is about ready to get back on track. Of course we are talking about Jaromir Jagr. He will have to shake his personal chaperone, Jay Pandolfo, and hope that the refs don't forget to call the hooks, holds and interference calls that they seemed to have forgotten these last few games.
Jagr will be rested and as such could be logging as much as thirty minutes of ice time per game, being double shifted at times. Are the Devils willing to let Pandolfo go thirty minutes taking time away from the more offensive guys? Don't be surprised to see Jagr at the tail end of penalty killings more often. Remember Jagr, who is derided as all offense and no defense, finished the season as a plus 34, second on the team to Michal Rozsival's plus 35. Rozsival tied Wade Redden of Ottawa for the NHL lead.
The next big factor is our Prince, Henrik Lundqvist. Injuries hampered his run at the top goalie numbers. He still finished fourth in save % and fifth in GAA, not bad for a 23 year old rookie. He played well against Ottawa for two periods and seemed to tire in the third. This was his first game in about two weeks so that was understandable. He will be up against the exalted Marty Broduer, who has never beaten the Rangers in three previous playoff series.
The Rangers must get thirty plus shots on goal every game, nothing less will do it. If Jagr is double teamed Straka and Nylander must step up on that line and step up big. The tic-tac-toe passing schemes that the Rangers utilized so well in the early games must be reinstituted, getting Broduer to move side to side and pepper him with shots from everywhere on the ice. Stop with the extra pass for the highlight film and shoot. Shoot and crash the net.
Our defense somehow collapsed the last five games. What happened? The introduction of Sandis Ozolinsh into the lineup is what started it. The changing of the pairings didn't help and also the line changes had an effect on the defense also. So how do we fix it. Ozolinsh is obviously a very skilled offensive defenseman. It is just as obvious he has defensive deficiences. They will probably pair Poti with him. Doesn't that excite you? Scare you? One of them has to stay at home and the forwards have to be aware that when one of them goes offensive one of the forwards should go defensive. Simple right? Its always simple when you are writing.
The Devils love to skate and lately have been enjoying a lot of open ice. Our third and fourth lines, especially the HMO line, have to get in deep and put some bodies on the Devils defensemen so that they spend more time in their own zone with the puck and less time breaking out. The Rangers need to do more hitting and checking to slow the Devils forwards down. This is what playoff hockey is all about, checking, hitting and grinding.
An interesting aspect should be the fact that Cam Jannsen had vowed to beat up Hollweg for his hit (clean) on Brylin. Add the Marshall and Kasparaitis love affair and all hell could break out at any time. Then the Rangers could have a Devil of a time. Bad Mike, bad.
Prediction: Rangers in six. Why? Because I am a Ranger fan and don't need any other reason other than my gut which is starting to expand again.
ICINGS: From a helter skelter schedule where they seemed to be games every other night the playoffs seem to be more relaxing. Three games in a week seem vacation like. Saturday and Monday at the Devils and then Wednesday and Saturday at the Rangers. They want the Saturday games for NBC. The OLN station will have quite a few games which will be all the Rangers-Devils that are not on NBC.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
So what can you say about a season that was supposed to be a bummer, experts picked us for 30th, and you wind up with 100 points and make the playoffs, finishing sixth? How do you blast a team for losing the last five games of a season and falling out of the Division lead on the last game of the season? You can't blast them and you wish them the best of luck in the playoffs. They are going to need all the luck to purge the ghosts of past Rangers failures and frustrations.
Renney made all the right moves last night. He reunited the Jagr, Nylander, Straka line. He reunited the HMO line and made them open the game which they did with a flourish. He benched Sandis Ozolinsh but unfortunately other Rangers defensemen played as careless as he has played. Plus the Prince was back and all would go right. Wrong.
Despite the giveaways and many odd man rushes the Rangers were only trailing 2-1 after two periods. But the house of cards collapsed as the giveaways continued as did the odd man rushes and Lundqvist seemed to tire. Had the Rangers put together this performance against either the Islanders or the Penguins they would be the Division Champs. Ottawa is too good a team to beat with less than a sixty minute effort.
Jagr tried and tried mightily. The one Ranger goal was through his effort chasing a puck, negating an icing and feeding a beautiful pass to Straka for the only goal for the Rangers. He finished with 123 points, two behind Joe Thornton, and with 54 goals, two behind Jonathan Cheechoo, also of San Jose. Unless all the Canadien sportswriters decide to unite behind Joe Thornton, Jaromir Jagr should be the MVP of the NHL.
It now remains to be seen what kind of effort the Rangers can mount against the Devils. The Devils are flying right now and Martin Brodeur besides having his game back also has his arrogance back. His hatred of the Rangers is well known and I'm sure the feeling is mutual. Of course the Rangers have had the last laugh on Brodeur, he has never beaten them in a playoff series. In three playoff series, 1991-92, 1993-94 and 1996-97 the Rangers have eliminated Martin Brodeur and his Devils from the playoffs. Will that streak continue?
The Rangers must pick up their game. The defense has to tighten and the offense has to come from others, not just Jagr. Petr Sykora seems to have disappeared these last few games and Petr Prucha since his return from an injury has not returned to the form that made him one of the leagues top rookies. Stay tuned for an interesting playoff war.
ICINGS: The Pundit received a pleasant surprise last night being one of the few fans chosen to go down to the ice at the end of the game and receiving one of the Rangers autographed jerseys. I got Michael Nylander's.
I congratulated him on a good year, 23-56-79, and wished him success in the playoffs. The 56 assists and 79 total points are career highs. He signed the jersey to my seven-year-old grandson, Nicholas, who after he finishes his NHL career will take over the writing of this blog.
The Rangers final post Olympic record is 9-11-1-3, not good. We may well look back at the Olympics as our downfall as we were 10-1-1-0 going into the Olympics.
Update: One more reason to love Michael Nylander. Gabriel at Behindthenet.ca just posted the 2005-06 Final NHL Shootout Leaders-
Michael Nylander is number 13th overall, contributing 0.75 wins above average to the Rangers total.
Martin Straka on the other hand is in the bottom 25.
Stats explained here.
Monday, April 17, 2006
The Rangers have more lives than an alley cat. Just when we thought we were doomed after the Flyers debacle, that would cost us first place in the Atlantic Division, another chance surfaces.
So Tuesday night the Rangers have it in their hands to finally sew up the Atlantic Division Title, on the last game of the regular season. It won't be easy. Their opponents are the Ottawa Senators who are one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes for first in the Eastern Conference. So who do you think will be more motivated to come out big? A flat first period by the Rangers will leave them hoping for the double miracles on ice of both the Devils and the Flyers losing their last games of the season.
Many questions abound. Can Jagr rise to the heights one more time? Will the Prince return to the form that placed him among the top three goalies in the NHL? Can Kasparaitis tighten up a loosely knit porous defense and inject some 'smash mouth' into the game? Will the HMO line be reunited and get significant ice time? Will Sandis 'Ole' Ozolinsh be benched for this game? Will Tom Renney, who predicts a Ranger win, coach the game of his life? Can Renney coach the game of his life? All of this will be answered in a sixty minute game that could be the most significant, and most exciting, game since June 14, 1994.
A Ranger win and wins by the Devils and Flyers gives the Rangers the Atlantic Division Title and a seven game series against the Flyers starting at the Garden on Friday. It will be the same scenario if all three teams lose. A Ranger win and a loss by either the Devils or the Flyers will match the Rangers against the loser staring on Friday. If the Rangers get an OT or shootout loss and the Devils and Flyers both win the Devils win the division and play the Rangers starting Friday in New Jersey. The Rangers will finish sixth in this scenario because both the Devils and Flyers will have more wins than the Rangers which is the first tie breaker when all teams have the same amount of points. An OT or shootout loss only helps the Rangers if both the Devils and Flyers lose either in regulation, OT or a shootout. There are more scenarios but the basic idea is that this is a must win for the Rangers.
Are the Rangers ready? Who knows, I don't. Too many years of great expectations, false hopes and dismal results. Can a team that was embarrassed by the Islanders, Penguins and Flyers rise up to beat one of the best teams in the NHL? On paper it doesn't look good. We looked good on paper against the Islanders and Penguins and look what happened there. However, the game is played on the ice. Remember, the Rangers completely outplayed the Senators in the Garden on February 8th, winning 6-1. The Rangers then swept Toronto in a home and home and went roaring into the Olympics.
Since the return from the Olympics the Rangers have been below average with a 9-10-1-3 record, so it's a wonder that they have a one game shot to win the Atlantic Division. But no more looking back it's on to the future with the hope that our Prince will once again rise to the occasion that he so often has during a magnificent season. This has been an exciting year for these born again Rangers and a win on Tuesday would put an exclamation point on this season.
ICINGS: Joe Thornton leads Jaromir Jagr by three points, for the scoring race, going into the final games of the season. San Jose hosts the LA Kings tonight. Cheechoo, also of San Jose, leads Jagr in the goal scoring race 56-54. Neither of these developments take anything away from Jagr's wonderful Ranger record breaking season. Jagr should still win the Hart MVP award for bringing a team, picked for 30th by most of the so called experts, to one game away from the Atlantic Division Title.
If you read the entire statistical analysis: "How much was that hit worth?" by Gabriel Desjardins of Protrade.com you come to these conclusions regarding blocking shots in the NHL:
we can see that the value of a blocked shot is actually quite positive...
we would see that blocking a shot is a very positive event relative to allowing a shot on goal.
That's one tangible reason Jed Ortmeyer is an important asset to this team. Maybe if Protrade gets its NHL athlete market going Poti and "Ole!" Ozolinsh can at least be sold figuratively to other unsuspecting rubes from the big city.
update: interesting tidbit from offwing opinion-
If Jagr wins either the Art Ross, Hart or Conn Smythe, he gets an extra year added to the 7-year, $77 million deal, which the Caps are 50 percent on the hook for...
A Jagr explosion might just win him the Art Ross and the Richard. Get his team two points, they clinch the Atlantic Division. Do it all in one night, and you might well be able to stop the Thornton surge for the Hart.
Thanks Ted, sometimes even a
Saturday, April 15, 2006
Last Thursday night after the Pittsburgh debacle Tom Renney came out of the dressing room and declared that the Rangers were ready to play the Flyers then. Maybe we should have played them then because we sure didn't play them today - suffering a 4-1 defeat which leaves the Rangers one point ahead of the Flyers and three points ahead of the Devils for first place in the Atlantic Division. Both the Flyers and the Devils have two games each, one against each other, we have one game left. We need the Devils to beat the Flyers tomorrow and we must win our last game against Ottawa at the Garden Tuesday night.
However, this defeat should not be blamed on the team but on Tom Renney. Renney forgot everything that got the Rangers to 100 points. He benched Ortmeyer, dressed seven defensemen, using one, Strudwick as a sometimes forward and changed the four lines completely. Jagr who has played almost all year with Michael Nylander as center along with either Straka or Prucha on the wing suddenly had Straka at center with Sykora on the wing. Nylander centered Prucha and Hossa, who scored the only Ranger goal. Betts centered Hollweg and Ward and Moore centered Orr and Strudwick. There were changes during the game with the end result being a disoriented type of game with very little offense until it was too late.
Renney has to go back to the basics. The strength of this Ranger team has been: (1) Jagr (2) Lundqvist (3) the HMO line (4) stay at home defense and (5) strong fore and back checking. With the pressure on Jagr and the injury to Lundqvist it is imperative the other three components work. Unfortunately they are dependent on number 3. Why break up that line? How can you bench Jed Ortmeyer the heart and soul of this team? He is second in hits and blocked shots. Kasparaitis is first.
Why play Colton Orr if he is not willing to mix it up with El Goono, Donald Brashear? Why was he in there? He should have been in retaliating against the Flyers for the way they were going after Hollweg. Was it his fault or Renney's for not being more aggressive? If Orr doesn't feel like he could give a good account of himself against El Goono, then why was he in there? For his scoring? For his passing? And when does the NHL crack down on El Goono and Ken Hitchcock for this blatant attempt to intimidate and injure someone.
I also think the Rangers owe Peter Forsberg a few licks for his head hunting attempt on Ryan Hollweg. I guess Philly objects to their star being legally checked but it was okay to go after Jagr with cross checks, holdings, late hits after whistle's and hooks. The Rangers should be on alert for this motley crew if we meet them in the playoffs.
Renney has to get this team back to ground zero. Hopefully the return of the Prince will help, but Renney has to get the teams confidence back. Hey, it's the Holy Season full of redemption and hope. Happy Easter and a belated Happy Passover to all.
ICINGS: The post Olympic record is now 9-10-1-3, officially under .500. Jagr has now lost his scoring lead to Joe Thornton and seems destined to finish second in the race. Everything is going down.
Friday, April 14, 2006
Tom Renney closed the door for 23 minutes after the game last night and when he emerged and was asked were they ready to play the Flyers Saturday he replied, "They are ready to play the Flyers tonight." Really! Then why weren't they ready to play the Penguins last night? For the second game in a row the Rangers bombed against one of the worst teams in the NHL. Forget Sam and JD's ravings about Sidney Crosby and all these great youngsters that Pittsburgh have, the Penguins are a lousy team. But this lousy team outhustled, outplayed, outshot (35-24), outhit (25-10) and outscored (5-3) the Rangers last night. The win was the 21st for the Penguins, which ties them with St. Louis for the most inept team in the NHL.
The Ranger defense was atrocious. Of course with very little checking by the forwards the problem was compounded. Ryan Hollweg played his usual feisty game and racked up four hits in only 6:50 of ice time. Maybe Ryan needs more ice time. The Ranger defensemen accumulated all of three hits. Yes that is correct folks, three hits. Tyutin got two and Rozsival got credited for one. Is it any wonder that the Rangers are considering playing Marc Stahl in the last two games. Marc is 6'4' and weighs 202 pounds. In 57 games for Sudbury of the OHL he racked up 49 points including 11 goals. Only 19 years old he would be an improvement over Strudwick and Ozolinsh right now. The Rangers are 9-10 since acquiring Ozolinsh. What an acquisition that was.
So now the Rangers are faced with a real must win game against the Flyers. Lose and they get either the fifth spot against Buffalo or more probably the sixth spot against the Flyers. How's about those rotten apples. Lets hope that Tom Renney is right and the Rangers are ready to play the Flyers. However, why didn't Renney give his 23 minute tirade 36 hours earlier when they were playing the Islanders? It might have meant something then. Please don't give me the mantra going around how we were picked to finish 30th and we still made the playoffs. That idea was gone after the Rangers made up a nine point deficit and passed the Flyers for first place in the Atlantic. Yes Tom, I hope you are right. I sure hope so.
ICINGS: The refs continued their awful calls. They pick up the soft retaliations but miss the cross checks, the late hits and cheap shots. Post Olympic tally is now 9-9-1-3 with two to go, at Philly tomorrow and against the Senators Tuesday. Lundqvist will be back then. Too late for the regular season but hopefully in time for a playoff run.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Ranger Management held a tribute to Jaromir Jagr and his record breaking year last night and the Rangers ruined it. They were so in awe of seeing past 50 goal scorers Vic Hatfield and Adam Graves and all time leading scorer Jean Ratelle that they forget to play hockey. On a night that they should have risen to the stars they plummeted to the depths of mediocrity. Instead of playing at the level that has brought them to the top echelons of the NHL they played down at the level of the Islanders. Instead of getting excited by the third period outburst of 24 shots, two goals, be concerned about their play in the last four games since beating the Flyers in a shootout on April 4th.
Since that win over the Flyers, the Rangers pulled out a stinker against the Islanders, had to come from behind twice against the Bruins to win in OT, and blew a third period lead against the Devils. They now face the prospect that they must beat the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday to clinch first place in the Atlantic. If that doesn't happen then the hope would be that the Devils knock off the Flyers twice in their last two meetings. Then they would have to worry about the Devils, assuming we don't win one in our last three.
So what happened? How does a team come out flat in such an important game so late in the season? You could live with a bad first period, provided you rebound in the second period. The second period was even worse than the first. Where was Tom Renney and the coaching staff? Shouldn't they bear the brunt of the responsibility for this fiasco?
The Rangers managed to wake up in the third period, but it was the classic too little, too late. They put 24 shots on goal and only managed two goals DiPietro made 36 saves, twenty two in the third, to back up his boast of kicking the Rangers butts. Remember, the Rangers were 12-1-1-1 in their previous outings against the Islanders.
Jaromir Jagr with two assists, now has 119 points which gives him six more than Joe Thornton. He is on target to win three awards this year. The Art Ross Trophy, top scorer in the NHL, The Maurice Richard Trophy, most goals, and of course the Hart Trophy for the MVP of the NHL. The Hart Trophy seems to be a certainty regardless of the Rangers final finish.
Petr Prucha scored his 30th goal and his 16th power play goal. The power play breaks Camille Henry's record for power play goals for rookies set in 1953-54. The Ranger rookie goals record is 36 by Tony Granato in 1988-89.
And what would a big game like this be without mentioning the refs. They called sixteen penalties, of which eight were for hooking. They missed a beauty in the third period when Shawn Bates cut Jagr's lip and nothing was called. Referee Paul Devorski said he didn't see it. How about the other ref, the junior guy, Chris Rooney. He didn't see it either but he does see hooks.
Maybe that's the new referee system for the new NHL. Senior refs call the big penalties and the junior guys call the hookings. A soft hooking call on Nylander with 1:37 left killed all hopes of a miracle comeback. The sticking of Jagr would have been a four minute call and could have changed the outcome of the game. Would you believe the two linesman, who can call these penalties, didn't see them either. You think the suits in Toronto saw it?
The Rangers have six regulars injured but the Islanders played with eight rookies so that was not a factor. A big concern for the Rangers have to be the injuries to Lundqvist and Kasparaitis. How badly hurt are these two? If Lundqvist is seriously injured stop all talk of making a serious run at the Cup. Kevin Weekes cannot do it. A sore groin to a goalie can be a killer. Can the Rangers afford not to play the Prince with a shot at winning the Atlantic Division, injury or not? We shall see against Pittsburgh on Thursday, a definite must win.
ICINGS: Post Olympic record is now 9-8-1-3 with three to go. Rangers are first NHL team in history to have a rookie goaltender (Lundqvist) with 30 wins and a rookie goal scorer (Prucha) with 30 goals. Rod Gilbert was also in attendance. His record for most goals scored by a right winger was also broken by Jagr (43).
Update: James Mirtle thinks Joe Thornton is the frontrunner for the Hart Trophy-
a few weeks ago, I had said Miikka Kiprusoff or Jaromir Jagr would and should be the frontrunners for the Hart Trophy...
unlike Jagr, Thornton is an excellent defensive player, a physical force and great on faceoffs (51.5%). He plays the second-most time shorthanded among San Jose forwards (2:03), behind only Alyn McCauley, and wouldn't be out of place among this year's nominees for the Selke. (New York Rangers coach Tom Renny, on the other hand, wouldn't be caught dead with Jagr on the penalty kill.)
Monday, April 10, 2006
For the second time in their last three meetings against the Devils the Rangers blew a one goal lead in the third period, which evened the season series at four wins apiece.
Later Tom Renney muttered something about his team proved they could come to New Jersey and win even though they lost. Renney seems content that the Rangers keep playing close games against the Devils. Hey Tom, we are the team in third place and we should win these games. The Rangers have scored all of four goals in the last three games against the Devils now that Lou Lamoriello has figured out that Jagr needs a bodyguard in the person of Jay Pandolfo.
In honor of the Holy Season the defensive (?) combination of Jason Strudwick and Sandis Ozolinsh parted like the Red Sea and allowed Scotty Gomez to skate in all alone on Kevin Weekes and caught him going the wrong way to net the tying goal. Ozolinsh then had an encore performance and left Brian Gionta alone in front of Weekes for an easy tap in. If Ozolinsh were a baseball player he would be a DH as he has no defensive skills at all. He has taken this no hit league to its highest absurdity. I personally bestow upon him the Willie Huber Award for being the softest defensemen in hockey history. We got rooked when we gave up that third rounder for him.
The Rangers were outhit 21-11 in what the Rangers called a playoff type game. I have news for the Rangers. Playoff type hockey implies two teams hitting, not one. Ryan Hollweg led the team with four hits and was given a five minute penalty for a legal hit on Brian Rafalski. This was a makeup call for Hollweg's hit on Sergei Brylin in the first period, which was also legal, and not penalized.
Would you believe that the entire Ranger defense, six players, accounted for two hits? The only one hitters were Tyutin and Pock. Who has more no-hitters than Nolan Ryan? The New York Ranger's defense. The Rangers gave up seven power plays. They took three hookings and three holding penalties. Head shots by the Devils were overlooked for the one-sec hooking penalty. Grant Marshall who moaned long and loud over Kasparaitis's hit on him seemed to be enjoying himself with his hits. This seems to be the theme of the new NHL, cut down on those hooks. The Rangers will never cut down on those type of penalties, they are hooked.
Thomas Pock played well coming up from Hartford. Hell, he played well last time he was up and should be a regular and not be sent back to Hartford. He should take the place of Ozolinsh, but no chance. Sather brought Ozolinsh in and you know how that works? Look at Tom Poti. Poti by the way sat out with an upper body injury, whatever the hell that means. Lundqvist is still out with no date of return, bad news. Kaspy also is out with no idea of when he will return, more bad news. Rucinsky is out until the playoffs and no word on Rucchin's return, though the way Immonen is playing Rucchin is not missed.
Next up, the Islanders tomorrow night. Just to add extra interest to the game the great Ricky DiPietro has promised to kick the Rangers butts. Let's see if our under hitters respond to this challenge with a blow out win or another squeaker. We need six points, Ranger wins or Flyer losses, to clinch third so this is a big game as there will be only three left after this one. Lets win it guys, lets not back in.
ICINGS: Post Olympic scorecard is now 9-7-1-3. Willie Huber played for the Rangers from 1983-84 until 1987-88 when he was traded.
UPDATE: Eric at Offwing notes an interesting observation by John Davidson regarding Grant Marshall getting away with head shots against the Rangers-
Saturday, April 08, 2006
So there was Michael Nylander talking to Pierre McGuire about his game and about when he played in Hartford and suddenly he uttered the 'S' word and there were the announcers and the post game analyst's apologizing for this 'obscene' word that was spoken. I guess they don't watch TV often, and I am not talking about the cable. They should sit in the Garden one game and really hear some words. And how about that "A..hole" chant? Give me a break. Watch Bettman or Campbell step in and make some moralistic statement.
Back to the game. Nylander scored two goals and had an assist. The game winner in OT was Nylander's 22nd goal of the season. Jagr was Jagr. He broke Graves single season record with his 53rd to lead the comeback. He also picked up two assists to pad his league leading points total to 118. He was a coach on ice, directing and producing. The man is on a mission folks and his mission is to bring the Stanley Cup to New York.
The other bright spot was Jarkko Immonen, again. He scored his second goal in two games. This one was a power play goal as he was in front of the net and deflected a Tom Poti pass into the net. This gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead which Weekes gave back with a weak goal. With Rucchin out with a bad foot Immonen is getting the chance and is producing. This kid has to stay and play for the rest of the season. If Renney insists on putting Rucchin back on the number two line then Immonen should be on with Ward and Betts and send Hossa to the bench. He is not producing. Wait 'til next year to see if he has any potential to do anything.
Renney made a change during the game and I thought it a poor one. He put the Poti and Ozolinsh defensive pairing on with the Jagr line. Three offensive players with two deficient defensemen does not a good combo make. They were okay when they were on the offense but once Boston got into their offensive zone we had problems. Ozolinsh gives up the puck too often and two easy.
The Rangers have now won three straight and five of their last six. More importantly they have come from behind in four of the five wins. This is a good sign heading into the playoffs. They now have 100 points, five ahead of the Flyers who play Toronto tonight in Philly. The Rangers are now tied with Buffalo for the third most points in the Eastern Conference. The magic number for third place is four. Any combination of Ranger wins or Flyers losses totaling four will give the Rangers third place and home ice advantage for the first round.
ICINGS: The Rangers post Olympic record is now up to 9-6-1-3. The Rangers 100 points is the most for a Ranger team since the Championship team of 1993-94. That was also the last year that a Ranger player had a 50 goal season. See any good omens in that?
Friday, April 07, 2006
They say good teams win games that they sometimes are not supposed to win. The Rangers did that last night beating the Islanders 3-1 at the Garden and are now 4-1 in their last five games and 8-2-1 in their last eleven home games.
But if truth be known the win was more of a reflection of how poor the Islander's are as a team than the Rangers are as a good team. Folks, the Rangers were awful last night and against any other team in the conference, including the Penguins, they would have lost. But as it has been so often this year they were saved by one of their young players, just called up from Hartford, Jarkko Immonen.
Yes, Kevin Weekes played another strong game in goal though he gave up a rather soft goal in the first. However, the culprit on that play was Tom Poti. Poti, who made like Brian Leetch, with a beautiful end to end rush in the third period that culminated in a Martin Straka goal, made like Tom Poti in the first period with a beautiful clear out onto the stick of Miroslav Satan for the first Islander goal. Weekes recovered from that and made 21 saves including highlight saves on Shawn Bates and Chris Campoli, so why quibble over the first goal. Weekes was awarded the second star of the game and seems to be hitting his stride at the right time.
Let's talk about Jarkko Immonen. This is one of the guys we got for Brian Leetch and while we may moan the loss of Leetch let us start celebrating the arrival of Immonen. Immonen, twenty-three years old, had 30 goals, 40 assists for 70 points in 74 games for Hartford. He started out centering for Prucha and Sykora, taking Steve Rucchin's spot, but in the second period, Renney had him on with Prucha and Jagr and what do you know, 21 seconds in he roofed one past DiPietro to tie the game and change the whole complexion of the game. That in itself would have been great but there is more. He logged 13:11 of ice time in 17 shifts, was a plus one, was six for ten on faceoffs and led the team with four hits.
When was the last time Steve Rucchin had four hits in a game? In a week? In a month? You can bet your life Rucchin will hurry back for the Bruins game, bad foot or not. I hope Renney doesn't send this kid back to Hartford. Send Hossa or Orr back to Hartford but leave Immonen here. The Ranger Pundit has lobbied long and loud for a long time to have this kid brought up. He is the real deal. Keep him here.
Henrik Lundqvist, The Prince, was awarded The Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, voted by the fans which signifies, "Above And Beyond The Call Of Duty," truly deserving. Steven McDonald is one truly amazing and courageous human being as is his wife and son and it is an honor to see him appear every year to give out this award. May God continue to bless Steven McDonald and his great family.
ICINGS: The Rangers were 0-4 on the power play and their futility has now stretched to 3-34 in the last five games. Not good. Put Jagr on the point with the HMO line out there on the power play. Can't do any worse than they are right now. Post Olympic record is now 8-6-1-3 with six to go. If Rangers win four of six including the Flyer game they are in. Easier said than done. Martin Straka with two goals was number one star of the game. He now has 21 goals and is playing his best hockey of the season.
Ranger fans might have forgotten the shot big shot Straka took from Denis Gauthier in Tuesday's Flyers game but the Philly fans haven't.
Flyersfancentral.com notes that the official score sheet didn't count the Gauthier bell ringer as a hit. But the video says otherwise.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
So check out the back page of the New York Post today and lo and behold, what do we see? We see a bunch of Rangers in a group hug with the headline reading, "Berth Day." It seems the Post gave up its lenten fast to finally put the Rangers on the back page. So there they are. Dominic Moore, who played a whale of a game, Marcel Hossa, Ryan Hollweg who fought Mike Richards, and Kevin Weekes who played his greatest game of the season.
Weekes was voted the number one star of the game. The crowd chanted his name. Weeeekes!, Weeeekes!, Weeeekes! Forgotten were the soft OT goals against Montreal and Philadelphia. Gone was the poor performances against Ottawa and Buffalo, when he was pulled from the nets.
This was the night for retribution and Kevin Weekes was in the nets on the night that the Rangers clinched their first playoff berth in nine years. He made a series of saves on Kapanen, Pitkanen and Jeff Carter that was as good a sequence of saves that the Garden has seen this year.
The save on Carter was a thing of beauty with Weekes sprawled to his right and poking the puck away with his stick. Weekes called that one a Hasek, copied from the master. The crowd was all Weekes' in the third period. The crowd dispelled the notion put forth by the mass media that the treatment Weekes previously received was for anything but performance. It was always about performance and nothing else. Weekes made 21 saves, 8 in the third period, one in OT and two biggies in the shootout.
While Jagr was held without a goal, he picked up an assist on the first goal, a beautiful tic-tac-toe play of Jagr to Ozolinsh to Nylander. Jagr put twelve shots on goal which included a breakaway. On one shot when Esche made a glove save, Jagr came around the net and tapped Esche on the pads in recognition of the save. Jagr later commented that, "It wasn't my night it was his (Esche) night". This year Jagr has torched Esche for nine of his league leading total of 52 goals. He was right on target with the comment that the team hadn't won anything yet and had a tough schedule ahead of them.
This was a playoff type game for sure and was a rock 'em sock 'em contest. The Rangers actually outhit the Flyers 30-28 and the biggest hitter was Fedor Tyutin with six hits. His thundering check on Brian Savage left Savage dazed and brought down the house.
The Rangers were futile on the power play. They are now back in one of those funks and are 3-30 in the last four games with a 3-1 record. Its the same rut they fall into every time of waiting for Jagr to shoot. Interesting was the last play of the game prior to the shootout. With a faceoff deep in the Flyer zone, Nylander won the faceoff back to Jagr who fed Rozsival who put the puck on net and it was saved by Esche. Esche made 38 saves and was voted the third star of the game. Nylander with a first period goal and a shootout goal was the number two star.
Petr Sykora won the game with a shootout goal when he went with his forehand instead of the usual backhand. Sykora is now 5-7 on shootout goals and has had three game deciding shootout goals.
The Rangers are now three points ahead of the Flyers for the Atlantic Division lead with seven games to go for each team. They both have three home games and four away games. They have one more game against each other, April 15th, at Wachovia Center. The Rangers are 4-1-2-0 against the Flyers and Weekes is 3-1 against them. With the Islanders coming in tomorrow night at the Garden it would seem logical for Weekes to get another start and let Lundqvist heal, but Renney has defied logic before and the way the Rangers have been going why question Renney's logic.
ICINGS: Post Olympic count now has Rangers at 7-6-1-3 with seven to play. The Rangers are now 8-2-1 in there last eleven home games. The Rangers 96 points ties them with the 1995-96 Ranger team for six highest in team points. Their 42 wins ties them with the 1983-84 team for sixth highest in team wins. The Rangers Stanley Cup Champions of 1993-94 hold team records for most points(112) and most wins(52). Both beyond reach for this years group.
Blogger Eric McErlain says Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has taken the time to talk to four hockey bloggers. The latest being, Paul Kukla [Kukla's Korner], who recently got Ted Leonsis on the phone for a chat:
"When Alexander [Ovechkin] reached the podium, he stood beside me and I felt his heartbeat against my shoulder, it was pumping fast." What a way to describe your first meeting with your future.
Who would bet on the Dolan's taking a call from the RangerPundit?