Friday, October 28, 2005

Prince Henrik and The Kamikaze Kids

They gave out the three star awards last night and while all three were indeed stars the biggest stars were the Ranger penalty killers. Jed Ortmeyer led the charge but he was ably abetted by Blair Betts, who scored the empty netter to put the game away, Dominic Moore, Jason Moore and two normally offensive players, Martin Rucinsky and Steve Rucchin. Additionaly on defense Tyutin, Kasparitis and Strudwick gave their bodies in blocking shots and protecting the Prince from the enemy intruders. It was quite a night and the Blue Shirts are 4-0-1-1 at home capturing 10 out of a possible 12 points. The Rangers must now channel their energies on the road where they have not fared as well.

The Rangers play nine of their next fourteen games on the road and if this years road record (1-3-1-0) is any early indication of their ability to play on the road they are in deep trouble. Unfortunately the Rangers will not have their home crowd which in six home games has absolutely fallen in love with this team and their goalie, Prince Henrik. Fortunately they will have The Prince and his Kamikaze Kids. What else to call them? Did you find it interesting that in the closing minutes of a one goal game, Betts, Ortmeyer and Ward were on the ice. Think back to the last time there was hockey. Did we dare send anyone but Mark Messier out to take a defensive zone faceoff?

Tom Renney has coached this team beautifully to date. Fedor Fedorov who loooked lost the first two periods was given ice time in the third period. Tom Poti took a stupid penalty that looked fatal at the time but Renney brought him right back and Poti did play well. And Jagr got less than five minutes in the third period. However, this could be due to the four penalties the Rangers took in the third period The Ranger penalties added up to almost twenty minutes of minus a man but except for the goal by Chris Campoli The Prince and The Kids held the fort. In what has become a disturbing trend the Islanders forced the play the entire third period with thirteen shots on goal. It could be a fatigue factor, though watching Ortmeyer and the rest of the group it was hard to believe.

Renney now faces a difficult decision. Nine out of fourteen on the road is tough with the first one in Montreal Saturday. Montreal over the years has been a house of horrors for the Rangers. Stay with The Prince or go with Weekes? Weekes has to get in and play sooner or later. Put him in against Le Habs and bring The Prince back then on Monday at the Garden. Or play the hot hand, play The Prince and try to steal a road game. Stay tuned, an exciting start. Can we keep it going? We have other problems on defense and center but that's for another day.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The New NHL

Ran into Beansy the other day. He is from the old neighborhood. Never knew his real first name. It was a neighborhood of nicknames because there were too many similar names. So we had Vinnie Legs, Tommy Boo Boo, Johnny Butch, Vinnie Head and the likes. We used to go to the old Garden, 8th Ave between 48th and 49th Street, stop in Nedicks, grab a couple of dogs and an orangeade for about two bits each and then go in to see the game. We would sit in the side balcony then for fifty cents. Of course everything after Row A was an obstructed view. You had to stand to see the side boards and even then the view wasn't too hot. We eventually graduated to the end Arena for a buck and a half with a clear view and amuse ourselves between periods by blowing up balloons and keeping them in the air and see how far they would go. It has now evolved into 'Potvin sucks' and Dancing Larry.

Been to the Garden lately, I asked? Naw, he said, no fights. I said sure there are fights. Boxing is back at MSG. Not those fights, he countered, they are all fixed. I'm talking about hockey fights where guys met at center ice, dropped their gloves, and went at it until one guy went down. They gave them five minutes each and they would come back and maybe go at it again. That was hockey, he said. I reminded him this is the new NHL.

Then he wanted to know how could a guy stand in front of the goalie without being pushed, shoved or clobbered and allowed to score a soft goal. Beansy said in basketball if you go up for an easy shot you get butchered. I told him that was a deliberate foul. Beansy said, you bet your life it was deliberate. It should be. Nobody should be allowed to score an easy goal. I reminded him this is the new NHL.

Beansy was going now. "I saw a guy throw a pass the other day from one end of the ice to the other end and there was no whistle." I told him that is because they got rid of the red line. He said, there still is a red line I saw it. I tried to explain that while it was there it really wasn't. I told him it was to speed up the game and increase offense. He wanted to know what would happen to basketball if they got rid of the center line. No backcourt, no ten second, no shot clock. I was losing ground here so I reminded Beansy that this is the new NHL.

That didn't stop Beansy. He wanted to know about this shootout. I told him that if the game ends in a tie after a five minute over time each team picks three players and they all get to go against the goalie and whoever scores the most goals wins the game. Beansy said, "Oh, its like when we were kids and stood toe to toe and each get a shot at punching the other guy in the jaw and see who falls first." Not quite, I reminded Beansy that this is the new NHL.

Beansy had enough. I gotta catch the last race at OTB, he said. Beansy was always catching the last race. Give him five bucks and if it came between a sandwich and a horse the money went on the horse. Beansy was fascinated by beautiful horses and fast women. But he was definitely old school and when you are old school it sometimes takes a while to change. So this new NHL hasn't grabbed him yet as he would say. But give him time. Given the choice between the new NHL or no NHL Beansy will eventually go with the new NHL. It will take time but it will happen. As he was moving away Beansy shouted out to me. "I get it now. New NHL - No Hit League."

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A GIANT Leaves Us

There were few owners like Wellington Mara. Heck, there were few humans like Wellington Mara. One hour or so after the Giants pulled out a stirring last play one point win over the Broncos, Wellington Mara, 89 years of age, passed away with the knowledge that his Giants had won one for him. He had a smile on his face.

Wellington Mara became involved with the New York Giants at the age of nine, back in 1925, when pro football was just a past time for a few pioneers like Wellington, Art Rooney, George Halas and a few other hardy souls. The team was family owned.They played in the Polo Grounds in those days. All pro football teams at that time played in major league baseball parks.The Brooklyn Dodgers (football) played in Ebbets Field, Pittsburgh in Forbes Field and the Bears in Wrigley Field. None of the teams had their own stadium. The Giants moved up to Yankee Stadium and for two years when they renovated the stadium in Yale Bowl in New Haven. Finally they ended up in Giant Stadium in New jersey. Through all these years and all these turmoils there was one constant. Wellington Mara.

What kind of owner was he? He was a players owner. When the team won the Super Bowl he was no where to be found in the locker room. He said it was coaches and players time. When they lost, he was there. Not to criticize but to encourage and comfort. Could you think of any other owner doing that? Could you see the baseball owner in New York or the football owner in Dallas doing that? He was truly a Giant. Eighty years in the game and never took the headlines from his coaches or his players. He was voted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1997. What took so long? Remember his name. You will never see another one like him. Condolences to the Mara family. Wellington Mara. rest in peace.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I May be Wrong But..........

The shootout is nothing more than an ill conceived gimmick. What does a shootout have to do with hockey? What's the reason for it? They say they don't want the games to go too long. The fans don't say that. Baseball games and basketball games can go on forever. Football has a fifteen minute sudden death OT (Pros). The shootout would be akin to baseball having a home run hitting contest if the game is tied after nine innings. Basketball having a free throw contest after a tie game. Why not at the minimum a ten minute four on four. Still tied. A five minute three on three. Still tied. Game over, each team gets a point. What's wrong with a tie. Many a team has made the playoffs by a point.

The refs are going overboard on minor (some are miniscule) penalties and ignoring some obvious and more flagrant penalties. Two of the more flagrant showed up at the Ranger game at the Island Thursday. Brad Lukowich slashed Martin Straka behind the knee and nothing was called and even worse, considering the attention given to goalies, Rick DiPietro roamed way out of the nets to catch a puck and stop play. It was so obvious that JD read the rule on goalie movement to prove the point that it was indeed a penalty. What are they going to do when a skater comes in on Dominick Hasek in a shootout and he backs up and knocks the net off the posts as the puck is going in the net? I said it before by the twentieth game or so the referees will be calling the pre-lockout type of game. Third periods will be back to "boys will be boys."

Why does the Garden insist on padding attendance figures? For the Monday night game against the Panthers they announced 16,000 plus. No way. There were sections of Green (300's) behind both nets that were completely empty. If 12,000 were there that night it was a stretch. On Wednesday against the Islanders just about every section had empty seats. Believe me I have been to games that were packed. This game was not. But yet the figure was announced at 18,200. At least the Islanders were honest enough to admit they had 15,847, about 400 short of capacity. Watching the Rangers against Washington on TV you could see many empty seats. It says here that as the season progress the teams that start to fall behind in the standings will see a dramatic decrease in attendance. Maybe its not like Sam Rosen and JD keep saying that the fans love this hockey. I think the Ranger fans love the fact they have a competitive team with a big star like Jagr and some promising rookies. Sam Rosen may like this no hit, no touch hockey but it may wear thin with the regular fans. We'll see.

ICINGS: Rangers traded Jamie Lundmark to Phoenix for somebody named Jeff Taffe a center. Unless I'm wrong this completes Glen Sather's purge of all Neil Smith's prospects and it's now Glen's team for whatever it's worth. Tom Renney greeted the arrival of Taffe (I'm sure the blue seats will have fun with this one) by stating, "We hoped to improve ourselves with a player who might be a bit more involved physically and has an ability to augment the attack with size and strength and skating". Guess what Tom? We had that guy and his name was Bobby Holik who led the team in scoring the last time we played hockey here. But we bought him out and retained Kasparitis, a marginal defenseman. Sather kept Kasparitis because 'he was good in the locker room.' What he meant was that Holik talked too much and pointed out the lack of direction the Rangers had under Sather. It's a long season. Do you think Jagr will keep quiet if this team goes south? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Hen-Reek, Hen-Reek, Hen-Reek-Star is Born

There is a love affair blooming in Madison Square Garden and it's between Prince Henrik Lundqvist I and his adoring subjects, the fans. Last night at the Garden the crowd of 16,000 plus (much smaller I thought) heaped a crescendo of cheers, chants and standing O's in a night that resembled more of a rock concert than a hockey game.

I think the Rangers got more standing O's last night than in all of 2003-04. In fact I know they did. Oh yes, Jagr scored two PP goals, he now has six goals all PP's. Tyutin and Prucha each scored their first NHL goals.

Tom Renney called a key timeout with two quick goals (Jagr) following: The Rangers won their third straight and seven out of potential eight points; and the Rangers continued to play their frenzied style hockey. However the story of the night was the play of Prince Henrik. Yes he made "only" 23 saves but 11 of them were in the 3rd period and no amount of carping by Olli Jokinen about how the Panthers only played 10 minutes in the game. Olli, the Panthers only played 10 minutes because the Rangers were all over you guys and had you backtracking all night.

Now Renney has a crossroad decision to make. Renney keeps insisting that Kevin Weekes is his number 1 goalie. Tom has to change that thinking and change it fast. Lundqvist is no ordinary rookie goalie. He is an experienced, proven goalie and he played last year in Europe. How many goalies in the NHL played last year? Did Weekes play last year? Did Brodeur play last year? Maybe he did but it wasn't hockey. And all of the European players in the NHL played in Europe last year. So Lundqvist got the necessary experience while a lot of top goalies were basically idle. Besides the Prince is fearless. Tom has a tough decision to make that will be crucial to the Rangers chances. From here the decision is easy. But from here the decisions are always easy. So far Renney has been good. Not great but good. Benching Poti was a great move, unfortunately he should stay benched. But he can't be traded if he is benched. But enough negativity this is about our Prince. Henrik Lundqvist I. Long may he reign.

ICINGS: The announced attendance seemed overstated. Many sections of empty seats. Lundqvist has given up 5 goals in four games. Three were by the Devils in the OT loss. Luongo played well in goal but his defense looked overwhelmed against the Rangers. The home and home against the Islanders should tell us a lot about how we are progressing. But I have said that before, haven't I?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Devils Trapless-Rangers Dominate

The Rangers in two games against the Devils have outplayed them in five of the six periods played, not counting game one OT, outskating, outhustling and outscoring their Jersey rivals who have lost a big advantage. The Red Line is basically gone, except for opening period faceoffs and after goals. The loss of the Red Line has basically crippled the Devils defense. Can't trap anymore it just won't work. But outside of that the Rangers are playing entertaining hockey. They came out of the gate roaring, scored on a soft goal by Rucinsky and seventeen seconds later by Nieminen and never looked back. Watching Nieminen, Ortmeyer, Ward, Hossa and Prucha crash the net was an absolute delight. And the backline was strong too, clearing away the few rebounds that Lundqvist left. Tyutin has settled in so well he plays like a veteran and his Russian buddy Maxim Kondratien has been solid. In fact when Strudwick returns it should be Tom Poti who sits. The one goal scored by the Devils was more the fault of Poti than Lundqvist. But the delight and the promising prospects of this team is watching these young legs skate and hustle and hit and score. Each line registered a goal. Blair Betts like Niemenin tallied his first and Jagr on a power play got his fourth. All of Jagr goals have come on the power play. They now have three tough home games coming up. Atlanta Thrashers Saturday night, Florida Panthers Monday night and the Islanders Wednesday night. This should tell us more about this team after this stretch.

ICINGS: The referees calling out the penalties to the crowd is not working. Seems they need to make some adjustments to the PA system. As stated all four lines scored a goal each and all were feisty and effective. Kasparitis took one more tripping (lazy) penalty but overall played a tough game with some solid hits.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Yankees Bomb

An aside to hockey for one day. The Bronx Bunglers did it again. With a chance to redeem themselves the Yanks did not come through. They failed in all aspects of the game, pitching, hitting and fielding. What else is there. Joe Torre claims he is proud of this team. For what? For coming back to win the AL East after playing some of the worst baseball a Yankee team has ever played. And the final game was a microcosm of the season. The hitting, which has been overrated all year, left eleven runners on base. A-Rod and Matsui were absolutely atrocious. Jeter got three hits one including a homer and each one of his at bats were followed by A-Rod's pathetic attempts at the plate. If Dave Winfield was Mr. May and Reggie Mr. October and Derek Jeter Mr. November then A-Rod has to be Mr. August or whatever other insignificant month there is in baseball.

The pitching wasn't much better either. Mike Mussina after a good opening game didn't have it. Why do Yankee pitchers insist on pitching Garet Anderson low and in? And in the biggest game of his short Yankee career Randy Johnson bombed in game three. Again Anderson taking a low inside pitch into the bleachers with two on. And how about that so called middle relief? How sad that Al Lieter was the most reliable out of the bullpen. And Randy Johnson redeeming himself in relief in game five. Forget it. There is no such thing as redemption in a losing cause. And how about the fielding. Despite all the hitting and pitching flaws, two plays cost the Yankees the series. A-Rod's error on a little league hopper in the second game killed Wang and the Yankees and eventually the series as that game would have put the Yanks up 2-0 in the series. And the coup-de-gras in game five of Crosby crashing into Sheffield as he was about to catch the ball. Had Williams been in center he would be no way near the ball.

So look at all the players George has brought in and he hasn't won since 2000. Mussina, Johnson, A-Rod, Matsui, Giambi, Sheffield, Pavano, Wright and for what? If it hadn't been for Small, Chacon, Wang, Jeter and old reliable Mariano Rivera we wouldn't even had made the playoffs. Shame on you Yankee fans who booed Rivera early in the season. The boos should be for A-Rod who had a meaningless regular season hitting meaningless home runs. Send him back to Texas. MVP? Why not. Meaningless Valuable Player.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Renney Scores-Benches Poti and Lundmark

Yes the Rangers got another point, while losing in OT again. And yes for two periods they completely outplayed the Devils. And Lundquist was great in goal in his first start as he progresses toward the number one goalie spot on the team. And Petr Prucha finally got into a game along with Maxim Kondratiev, the Russian defender. But the story of the night was that Tom Poti and Jamie Lundmark were benched. Maybe Renney is not Glen Sather's alter-ego and wants to be his own man. Good start Tom. Sather would never have benched Poti. Lundmark yes, Poti no. Remember Glen made Poti a number one pick in Edmonton and after they both left Edmonton, Poti was booed out of town, Sather picked him up for Michael York who committed the sin of being a Neil Smith pick. Poti hasn't delivered anything in his brief tenure with the Rangers. He is the reincarnation of ghosts of other not hitting defensemen acquired by the Blue Shirts. He doesn't fit in with this team. This team, so far, is a skating, feisty, energetic bunch all qualities missing in Poti. The rules haven't been made it soft enough for him to be effective. While the penalty killers seem to be working well the power play unit needs to improve. From here it looks like the unit is looking for Jagr too much. This is not Jagr's fault as he seems to be on top of his game. So far so good for the Blue Shirts. And so far so good for Tom Renney. Bench the underperformers and keep playing the young guys. Now if we could cut the penalties in half we may have a successful season. Maybe I was wrong about Renney being Sather's bag man. I hope so. But it is early, lets wait.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Penalties Kill Rangers-Who show Grit

The night got off to a raucous start as 1:05 in the game when Marcel Hossa tapped in a gimmee off a beautiful feed by Martin Straka and the crowd went wild. Unfortunately the Rangers were stalled by again taking too many penalties (11) which disrupted the flow of their game and eventually they would lose in OT when Kevin Weekes allowed a soft goal to Michael Ryder. While that was the clincher the Rangers lost this one because they still haven't caught on to the rules. The Rangers have committed 21 penalties in two games. Unless this is stopped the season will turn into a disaster. To their credit the penalty killers have killed 19 of 21 in two games. In ice time the Ranger have played short handed 40:58 minutes in two games. That is two full periods. It has to stop. The Rangers power play time is only 16:52 less than half the penalty killing. Bad ratio which must be fixed. The good news - the Rangers did show some grit when they roared out of the gate and also in coming back late. Poti, Kasparaitis and Jamie Lundmark took two penalties each. Most of them were the lazy type. But Dominic Moore, Jason Ward, Blair Betts and Fedor Tyutin all got significant ice time and rewarded the fans with their strong play. But the Rangers must stay out of the penalty box. This is the new NHL. How long it will last is anyone's guess but give it at least 20 games.

ICINGs: While the pre game ceremony was nice I would have liked to see the players introduced individually. I guess they didn't want to see Tom Poti get booed more than necessary. On to the Devils.

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