Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Capitals 2, Rangers 1

We played a better game than they did for 40 minutes. They played a better game than we did for 20. That's it.

Tomorrow's story, if the Rangers win

That was exactly the effort we needed! They say "anything can happen in a Game 7," which is the awkward hockey equivalent of "any given Sunday," and anything sure as hell did. Torts was right - all the pressure was on Washington (no one expected us to win this game), and they were a little choked up on their sticks at first, but led by Alex Ovechkin, they came at us hard throughout. But we also came out with a jump, like we remembered the game mattered or something (I know, it's weird, right?), and it absolutely made all the difference.

First and foremost, my thanks go out to Henrik Lundqvist. "Stood on his head" is a phrase that doesn't quite carry the power I want to convey here - the dude was unimpeachable (despite a few impeachments from the Caps nonetheless). As they say, Lundqvist is the kind of goalie that gives us a chance to win every single game. He gave us this one, too.

But as you know, all the King can do is keep us in the game against a far superior team. We have to capitalize on that. And somehow, we did. Sean Avery was once again a presence on the ice - sure, he went to the box a bunch, but it was absolutely worth it. He took Mike Green, an otherwise very dangerous man, completely off his game, and our PK made every time worth it. Sean didn't do anything stupid, he just got penalized as if he had - what else is new? Freddie Sjostrom really stepped up to fill the metaphysically huge skates of Blair Betts and kept us in it every time Avery was unjustifiably sent off, which in turn allowed Avery himself to amp up his game.

More than his presence in Mike Green's head, though, it seemed like the rest of the guys caught the Avery bug. Everyone was finishing their checks, everyone was pursuing pucks deep, everyone was trying to win every battle. Even Markus Naslund hit somebody! I'm still not convinced I believe "safe is death" has really gotten through to everyone, but it seems to have worked just well enough.

Redden and Rozsival were a good second pair to Staal and Girardi. It took alternating both pairs to contain the Washington offense as much as we did, and both pairs came up big enough. Building out from a stellar performance by the King and solid work by our back 6, our forwards collectively brought a fight to the game that we hadn't seen in the previous 6. This game was not an easy one to win, but the Rangers made it fun to watch (it helped that we pulled it out in the end). Next stop: Boston.

Tomorrow's story, if the Capitals win

Well, the better-skilled team finally won out, despite going down to us 3-1. Let's start with them. It's no secret that they figured out how to get a few past Lundqvist. But mostly, their scoring came not because Hank wasn't "a god," but because Ovechkin kept his team firing. Green was again fairly useless, but people like Backstrom and Semin were fueled by Ovechkin's fire. It wasn't so much goal-scoring they relied on him for as it was an offensive drive - he was the reason all the big plays happened in the first place.

But enough about them.

We came out flat, as usual. Drury's statistics notwithstanding, his quiet demeanor was not enough to captain this team into giving a shit about their game. For the first 10 minutes, we barely held the puck at all - and by then, I already knew the game was over. Gomez and Drury had solid games, but nothing spectacular - nothing good enough to get a team pumped or build on.

Meanwhile, people like Naslund, Antropov, and Zherdev, as usual, underperformed. While Antropov was characteristically solid defensively, none of these guys seemed to know what to do with the puck. Veterans like Naslund are supposed to be immune to the nerves that completely take a team over in the playoffs, but these are the guys that seemed totally stunned by what they were doing.

Torts has been saying for a while now things like "our best players have to be our best players," "We're not gonna win if Sean Avery is our best player," "We're not gonna win if our kids are our best players." Well, Sean Avery, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan were our best offensive players. Torts was right.

Defensively, we played solidly enough getting in the way - our reactionary defense was fine, even from such as Redden. But once we got to the pucks, we gave them right back up, so the theory of "play defense by not letting them have the puck" gave way to "play defense by scrambling to get in the way" - which was exciting every time it worked, but just keeps leading to giving the puck right back. For every time Redden did something right to get in the way of the puck, he did something else wrong to give it back.

Look, it's no secret that we got where we are because of a stellar PK and a stellar goalie. I don't wanna sound sour on this, so I'm not gonna harp on it - good teams find a way to win, no matter what - but we were killed by the Caps power play. Sure, some calls were questionable, but that's not the point. Not having Betts hurt us more than anyone who will write anything about this game realizes. Our PK was significantly weakened, and while Lundqvist played what I thought was a solid game, and I'd (as ever) call him blameless again, he was not, in fact, superhuman. And unfortunately, our skaters needed him to be to give us a chance.

Among Staal and Girardi still not quite shaking off the nerves of the playoffs, Betts being out of the lineup, and Lundqvist not being supernatural, our defense was weaker than usual. A total lack of offense from the guys that should be our star players put the puck in their hands too often, and they're too dangerous on offense, even when we are at our defensive best. Plus, they were on fire, led by Alex Ovechkin, at home, in a Game 7. They remembered what that meant, and we couldn't get the requisite effort forth. So, they get Pittsburgh and we get golf.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Captain's Log: Supplemental

...in which pretty much all I do is complain about the officiating.

Let's get the easiest one to swallow out of the way first: the Avery/Tortorella saga. We've already covered most of the ridiculousness there, but I just wanna add that I really believe that the officials took Avery out of this series with a conscious, if not organized, effort to penalize him so often for so many things that he now can't (or at least feels like he can't - who can say which?) finish a check without going to the box. Granted, I also feel like Avery didn't do himself, or us, any favors at the end of Game 4.

But let's get to the real meat of things: Brashear's hit on Betts, and the Brandon Dubinsky Finger Incident (band name?). You may recall mention of a certain hit about 9:50 (Betts had played about 1:40 so far) into the game that took Betts out of not only the game, but Game 7 and, presumably, the theoretical beyond. The hit broke an orbital bone (yes, kids, those are the ones we use to keep our eyes in). Let's start by reviewing the hit.

You can watch the whole video if you want, but the portion that matters starts 0:47 into the video. Now, this is a hit that went completely unpenalized. In fact, play continued for a few seconds before Mara went after Brashear, and each of them got 2 for roughing. No other calls on the play.

Now, it is unclear from the video whether or not Brashear's elbow made contact with Betts, or just his shoulder. Bruce Boudreau claimed that it was clearly just the shoulder. But here's the point I want to make: no one at all should be discussing which body part Brashear hit him with. Boudreau is referring to Rule 46.1: "Elbowing shall mean the use of an extended elbow in a manner that may or may not cause injury." The claim is that there is no foul to be found, technically speaking, unless Brashear followed through with the elbow. This is insultingly far from the point, and it speaks to a real gap in the NHL's thinking. They will call every little holding or hooking penalty they can find. If a stick comes up around a midsection, a penalty is called, in the name of "not slowing down the game." But if Brashear doesn't make contact with the elbow, it's a clean hit.

Let me be very clear about this. I've referred to it before, talking about the difference between Avery being a pain in the ass and a player who is actually dirty. This is a hit that is designed to injure. Watch it again. Betts dumps the puck in, and he's going for a change. His body is defenseless, he's away from the play. Brashear knows this. He comes at him from the back, where Betts can't see him, and he charges with all the force he can. Hockey players understand this. People who never watch hockey have a lot of trouble seeing the difference, but players don't. When you're in the game, you're skating, you're checking, you're hitting, your body is poised. Betts was out of the play, retiring to the bench, and never saw Brashear coming. When they talk about "late hits," they are talking about hits on players whose bodies are relaxed. This is textbook.

It is people like Donald Brashear that inspire me to come to Avery's defense so often. Sean Avery is a prick. He's irritating. He gets on everyone's nerves. It's, frankly, pretty sweet. But he has never, to my knowledge, done anything in order to cause injury to another player. Piss him off? Call his mother a whore? Sure. But not ever actually stop him from taking the ice. That's the difference. Everyone who watched that play knew Betts's body was unprepared for a hit. Brashear knew. That's why Brashear went after him. The NHL talks about how they have to "clean up the game," so they suspend Torts for squirting water at a fan, and they send Avery to counseling for talking about sex, and they call a minor on every hook anywhere on the ice. But they market Brashear as a "tough, physical veteran" and Avery as "the least liked player in the league." You know what? People may get annoyed by players like Avery or Esa Tikkanen. But I gotta believe that your average NHL player is way more put off by the kind of guy that purposely looks to take a guy like Blair Betts out of his career.

Epilogue: The NHL had a hearing today to discuss what to do about Brashear. They ended up suspending him 5 games for the hit, plus an additional game for starting up with Colton Orr in the pre-game warmup. This is good, he deserves suspension. But I'm having trouble getting it to feel too much like justice. You know I wouldn't make a claim like "if it hadn't been for this one thing, we would have won." We got outplayed in Game 6, for all the reasons I outlined. But...Blair Betts is our best faceoff man, and we couldn't get puck possession throughout the game. Also, Blair Betts is our best penalty killer. Through the first 5 games, our PK was quite strong, holding the incredibly dynamic Caps to a series-shaping 4 PPG in 28 minors for 41:23 of power play time. With Betts out of Game 6, they scored 2 PPG on 5 minors that only added up to 4:00 of power play time. 2 is the number of goals by which we lost this contest. I'm not drawing any conclusions here - I report, you decide. I'm just sayin'.

Overshadowed by this nonsense was the weird Dubinsky-Morrisonn biting incident. Apparently, when Dubinsky and Morrisonn came together with 5 minutes left in the second, Morrisonn bit Dubi on the wrist. Apparently, when he tried to show this to the linesman, the linesman determined that Dubi was being unsportsmanlike about it, and that's what led to Dubi's 10-minute misconduct.

It's hard to figure out the details here, but we know Dubi went to get a tetanus shot this morning. Morrisonn, of course, claims he didn't bite Dubi. It seems hard to believe that a dude would bite a dude, but then, Jarkko Ruutu did it, and it seems hard to believe that Dubi would make the whole thing up in the middle of the game like that. And get angry enough about it that he gets a misconduct for it?

Anyway, at the very least, it's very confusing. Surely, it's not as depressing as the Betts loss. But I do have trouble with the idea that a guy got a 10-minute misconduct for, presumably, getting bitten. Whatever. I somehow just got over this bullshit, unacceptable as it is. I mean, Dubinsky got bitten on the wrist, had to go for a tetanus shot this morning, and got a 10-minute misconduct for trying to tell the linesman about it. There is no goddamn way to spin that positively. It is terrible. And I won't get into what losing our second-best faceoff guy did to our chances of winning Game 6, either. There's nothing you can do about this shit. We have to just move on. Game 7 is tomorrow. That's the important thing.

Capitals 5, Rangers 3

...in which I do not complain at all about the officiating. Because the most important thing is to look inward and see what we did wrong (Spoiler Warning: Markus Naslund, Nikolai Zherdev, and Wade Redden).

We actually started this game much better than either of our other losses. We came out strong, as did the Caps - the first time all series I thought to myself "Wow, here are 2 good teams playing at their best." They scored first, but I wasn't worried, and Gomez tied it up (on the power play, no less) only 1:06 later.

Then, the circus started. I'm not going to get into the details, because that would require quite a bit of complaining about officiating. Suffice it to say: Brashear did something very unsportsmanlike and dirty, and Betts was out of the game (he will likely also miss game 7). Paul Mara, may he be blessed for many years, went right after Brashear for it, and they each ended up in the box (for 2 minutes. But again, I'm not here to complain about the officiating).

The point here is: that was the end of retribution. And here is where the lack of a leader shines through. If the officials aren't going to do their jobs to settle the score, we have to. Some teams preach that you get back at a guy like that by scoring a goal the next shift. Some that you flatten him every time he takes the ice all game. Others still claim that next shift he's out there, you send a guy after him to cross-check him in the nose. I am not here to make any claims as to which school of thought prevails (all have their merit, though I fall most often in school #2). My complaint is that the Rangers did none of these. Instead, it seemed like everyone decided to empathize with Betts by all going out cold along with him.

After the incident, the Rangers were a completely different team. It all comes back to what we've been saying all along: there is no spark. There is no leader. Schoenfeld did a completely adequate job interimming (ew) for Torts, (in post-game interviews, I was as impressed by how much Schoenny channels Torts as I was by Perry Pearn channeling Renney), but that fire can't come from behind the bench. We played completely flat, and we don't have a Jaromir Jagr or an Alex Ovechkin who can, through firey play and a firey bench attitude, get his team back in it. Our bench is silent. Our "enforcer," Colton Orr, was scratched, presumably because of a combination of the "we need some dang offense" and "that Too Many Men penalty was his fault" factors. Not that I'm convinced he necessarily would have done anything, or that I disagree. But he could have.

Anyway, we didn't have to stay flat for very long. 7:20 later, it was 3-1 Caps. You see, we are playing a team that is very fucking good at hockey. Way better than we are! We can be forgiven for not having the talent they do, but given that, we can't be forgiven for being so goddamn unaccountable. The coaching party line is always: "we need more from our best guys, I don't wanna name names." I'm gonna name some.

Markus Naslund had what I believe to be his worst game since the coaching change. The CDC has no record of the Wade Redden Virus being contagious (although they do have some research concerning the mycobacterium ulcerans infection by a Jane Redden-Hoare), but I'm prepared to send in a paper. Every time Naslund found his way to the puck (usually because someone else sent it to his stick), he stopped and thought about it. Sometimes, he was driving to the net, and by the time he was done thinking, he was already there. Sometimes, he had a wide open net, and he stopped to make a couple of moves before he bothered attempting to shoot. Across the board, in the Tortorella world of "Safe is death," the motto in play seemed more like "Think before you act." That. Isn't. Working.

Naslund is not alone. Redden, of course, fell victim to his own virus as much as anyone else. Well, slightly more. It is his namesake, after all (or is he its namesake?). He cannot decide what to do with the puck, goddamn ever.

In other news, everyone else sucked, too! Zherdev is embarrassing. The guy that Torts calls "our most offensively talented player" spent yet another game not doing shit, despite 15:27 of ice time, more than each of 5 other forwards (admittedly, one was Betts) AND Paul Mara. If it were me, I wouldn't resign him. But I know Torts thinks he's great, so, well, I guess I have to give him another season to prove it.

Avery was a complete nonfactor. He finished no hits. He got on no one's case. I have a very strong theory about this that involves him going to the box every time he skated near someone for the entire time he's been back on the Rangers, but I won't expound: that would be complaining about the officiating. He needs to accept that he's going to be sent to the box for bullshit, and he needs to play his game anyway.

Once again, when the third period rolled around, we were down by 4, we had pulled Lundqvist, and we started to play some hockey again. You were probably too depressed to notice, but not only did we win the third period 2-0, we outshot them 11-2. Granted, that has something to do with all the makeup calls the refs handed us (we had 2 5-on-3s), but as you know, I am not complaining about the officiating. We played a solid period, especially given that half of it was without Dubinsky and all of it was without Betts. But, as you know, it didn't matter. We were out of the game.

So, there you have it. You'll note I didn't mention Lundqvist much here. That's because I'm not buying into the whole "Lundqvist has lost his touch" crap. He's still a fantastic goalie. He has always been easier to beat top-side than down low. We knew he had stood on his head like a crazyperson earlier in the series. And we've seen that he plays better when he has a solid team skating in front of him! Nothing is news. He will have a fantastic game on Tuesday, and it's up to the rest of the team to make that effort good enough.

Benching a Coach

So, that was interesting. Apparently, while I was upstairs crying in my oatmeal, there was a Caps fan downstairs pouring beer on my head coach. Or something. The details are unclear. At first, the story was that some unruly fan poured beer on the bench, and then Torts threw water back at the fan. After a day of investigation -- no, seriously, I am making none of this up -- it was determined that Torts struck first. And the NHL suspended him for a game.

This...is fantastic. This is really amazing. This is a nice, compact way for me to be angry at absolutely everybody. It is, of course, impossible to figure out what happened in full, but here's what we know: some fan agitated Totorella. Water was thrown. Beer was thrown. Torts brandished Voros's stick at the guy!

You heard me. He took Voros's stick out of his hands and threatened the fan with it.

See? Fantastic stuff. On the one hand, the NHL is suspending a coach in the middle of the playoff series, quite possibly for throwing water at a drunk fan who threw beer at him, while doing nothing at all to ask the Caps to maybe up their security a little bit.

On the other hand, our coach managed to take his mind off the game for long enough to threaten some drunk guy in the stands! Suspendible or not, I don't care how long a T.V. timeout is - you should probably be doing something else? Now, I understand that you're trying to teach your team pride. I do get that. But to get suspended for dealings with a fan? In the middle of the game? Irony bonus: in the middle of the game from which you benched Avery for losing his temper? That is astounding work.

Sure, if that's a Lou Lamoriello coach behind the bench, there's no suspension. Granted. The NHL is biased, we know this - that is no excuse. Just like the open season refs have declared on Avery's head was no excuse for him to swing a stick at a guy, the bullshit coming from the fan and the NHL are no excuse for Torts to take his head out of the game like that. Is there a line combination he could have been changing up in the time he was instead throwing water? Could he maybe have been recommending a Nikolai-Zherdev's-head removal to Nikolai Zherdev's ass? I feel like there's some coaching he could have been doing.

So, that pretty much takes care of Game 5. Promising stuff, huh? Next entry, let's see if we managed to close out the series at home 2 days later (SPOILER WARNING: Nope!)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Capitals 4, Rangers 0

So I'm back-blogging. I just got back from a hockey weekend in DC. We all know how it turned out. Let's start with Friday night.

I know I usually like to start with the good news. Well, Friday night, the good news was pretty much: Ryan Callahan passed me a puck over the glass at practice. From there, it was all downhill. Steckel beat Dubinsky on the opening faceoff, and it seemed like we didn't get the puck back until the third period started. Unusually, the King let in a softie: 12 minutes in, a simple shot from 20 feet out that he let slip either threw his pads or between them and the post, to put the Caps up by 2. But blaming Lundqvist for this loss feels a little like blaming Governor Schwarzenegger for his party's poor handling of environmental concerns.

They never had the puck. Through 40 minutes, they just never had the damn puck. The biggest thing that jumped at me was speed. Yes, the Caps are fast. But literally every race was won by a Cap. No matter who it was, no matter how many steps behind they were, no matter who they were racing, they got there first. Yes, we fell back on the standard Rangers don't-know-what-to-do-with-the-puck. Zherdev looked positively awful every time he touched the puck. But more than that, it was speed. Speed is what makes Redden's game so inexcusable - there is *always* a beat in which he stops to make a decision once he gets the puck. In that time, everyone else has moved. He's like the exact opposite of Wayne Gretzky: he reacts to where everyone used to be.

As you know, you don't win games if you don't score goals, you don't score goals if you don't take shots, and you can't take shots if you never have the puck. So, through 40 minutes, we had only even seen fit to hit the net 10 times (and we had won only 37.5% of faceoffs). Oh, and it was 4-0 Caps. Weird, right?

So, we did the only natural thing we could to fix the problem: We pulled Lundqvist.

Okay, reasonably speaking, I know that we didn't pull him 'cause we thought it was his fault. There was no reason to leave him in while the Caps smelled blood, rest him for the next game, etc. And, as it turned out, for the third period, we started to play some hockey. Got me a little excited, even. Another 10 shots on goal in the third alone. But, it was already 4-0 Caps. So guess what happened. We lost 4-0.

I'd go through a rundown of personnel, but there's no one really to speak of. Every skater was slow, every skater was bad. Except, of course, Sean Avery. He...wasn't present. Torts benched him. Presumably, this was for the 2 penalties he took in the last 10 minutes of game 4. I guess this actually brings me to one more piece of good news that came out of this game.

Standing down by the ice during the pre-game warmup, when I learned that Avery was being scratched, I was talking to some Ranger fans standing around, and I really really wished that I could come up with the perfect real-life analogue for "biting off your nose to spite your face." And I had nothing, and I could not be witty. Now, after the game, I do have the perfect analogue: Game 5 of that Rangers-Caps first-round series, when Tortorella scratched Avery.

Look, I'm not gonna try to claim that we would have won game 5 if one guy had been there. And as you know, I absolutely think Avery has no justification for the lack of discipline he showed. But...maybe, I dunno, sit him for a period? Send a message? Don't take a guy that is consistently one of your best offensive players off the ice in a game where you know your biggest weakness is obviously going to be scoring goals?

Whatever. At the end of the day, every skater out there was accountable. And to try to pin it on just one decision is ridiculous. If anyone's to blame, it's me. I haven't seen a win live since November 17, 2007, in overtime. I haven't seen a regulation win since we swept the Thrashers in the first round of the '06-'07 playoffs.

At the end of the day, I feel like as an overall game, this 4-0 loss was worse for us than the 4-0 loss from Game 3. However, we showed some promise at the end of the game, taking the fight to them. I wonder what would happen if we ever put forth an effort for 60 minutes.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rangers 2, Capitals 1

How's that for an answer to the "How will Drury hold up?" question? What if he holds up for the game-winning goal? Does that count? Man, what a pretty move it was, too - for a guy with only one hand, he sure found that angle. Chris Drury's 17th career Stanley Cup playoff game-winning goal (tying him for 6th ever in that category). And he played a solid defensive game, too! I'll take it, Captain.

So, the first period of this game was the best we've played of our 12 so far. We took the game to them, all period. We looked a step ahead, when we got the puck we kept it, etc. See what happens when you keep putting pucks on net? They bounce around and sometimes go in!

Then we kinda sat back. After outshooting them 11-9 in the first, they outshot us 30-10 over the final two. Welcome to The New York Rangers Present An Evening With Henrik Lundqvist. Letting in only one, a beautiful effort by the finally-on-the-board-but-still-frustrated-as-hell best player in the world, the King stood as tall as we needed him to despite a 40-minute barrage from the second-best offensive team in the East (and third in the league). This included a full 8 minutes of penalty time against the best PP in the East (and second in the league).

And I don't even really feel like we left him hung out to dry that often. Rozsival is actually playing good hockey. Staal realized he was actually a good defenseman and remembered to stop being afraid of the playoffs and do what he did all season. By the second half of the game, Girardi had followed suit. They both had easily their best game of the playoffs. They reminded me they were our best D-pair last night, and they had been blending in all series. Even Redden had a good game. In fact, I would almost even consider Redden/Rozsival our #2 pair, if all 6played every game like they did last night. It was...a good defensive corps.

Of course, if we're going to talk about the PK and defense, we have to mention some forwards. Their names, as usual, are Betts and Sjostrom, and also Antropov. These guys were everywhere they needed to be. I love their forechecking mentality, and more than anything not named Hank, it's this kind of play that has gotten us where we are right now.

We blocked 16 shots, compared to the Caps' 7, and it felt like we were back in the mentality of Games 1 and 2 - get in the way, sacrifice everything. I felt like we played hard, even throughout periods 2 and 3, when we let a bazrillion shots get to the King. The one place we significantly improved, and I think this was very telling, is faceoffs. After losing out on these in all 3 games, desperately badly in Game 1, we won an astonishing 39 of 58 last night, led by Dubinsky, who played like a man (or two) possessed, losing only 2 of his 17 faceoffs, one to Backstrom and one to David Steckel.

Speaking of Dubinsky, I can't say enough about him. What a winner. He is doing absolutely everything right. I want to keep him. I want him to captain the Rangers of the future. And while we're on the subject, Callahan. No matter where they were, these two were playing with an extra step, an extra hustle, and an extra hit. When a Cap had the puck, they were on him, on the boards, squeezing it out. PP, PK, even strength, offensive zone, defensive zone, neutral ice, whatever. These two should be Rangers their whole careers, please. Dubinsky, Callahan, Staal, and Lundqvist. This is my new definition of a Ranger. I'm happy with it.

And I need to talk a little about the penalty situation, because it needs to be discussed. Yes, we have the best PK in the league. No doubt. But it is unacceptable nonetheless to be shorthanded as much as we are shorthanded. Through 4 games, we have suffered 24 minor penalties for 40:59 of shorthanded time. That's over 2 full periods of penalty kill in 4 games.

Now, we know the officials have not been particularly...reasonable all the time. Last night, that came down pretty strongly in favor of the Caps, as the stripes called a phantom holding on Rozsival mere minutes from ignoring multiple crosschecks to Dubinsky's backside. But it's gonna happen like that. Especially in a series we're threatening to take a commanding lead in, when everyone wanted this to be a marquee match. The league scoring leader skates into Broadway? Ratings police say: this has to go more than 4 or 5 games. We'd be getting the same special treatment if we were about to go down 3 games to 1. And honestly, I'd rather be up by a few and getting dogged than the other way around.

We just need to compensate for it. Granted, there were phantom calls, but there we also unnecessary ones. Particularly, Naslund has had some real issues not taking stupid penalties. I remember Rozsival's inexcusable hook in game 2. And yes, let's talk about the Page Six elephant in the room. There is no doubt that everyone in the league is allowed to do whatever they want to Avery and never get called for it. And there is no doubt that whenever two people collide, if one of them is Sean Avery, he goes to the box. But Avery's mentality absolutely cannot be "if you're gonna do the time, at least do the crime."

As much as I have faith in him that the collision for the icing with 10 minutes left was incidental contact, and that officials Paul Devorsky and Ian Walsh have been drinking the "Avery is a criminal" Kool-Aid, the response absolutely cannot be to stick a guy in the head with 3 minutes to go. Note, those who would call Avery dirty for this move: it still did not intend to injure anybody. Believe me, if you swing your hockey stick at somebody's head and make direct contact with intent to injure, he doesn't just skate away annoyed. As with everything else Avery does, he was trying to fuck with, in this case, Brian Pothier. It's an important distinction from people like Jarkko Ruutu. However, the move is still completely inexcusable.

First of all, you are up by 1 goal, 3 minutes away from your team taking a 3-1 series lead. The play has already stopped. How dare you put the Rangers in jeopardy like that? What is it going to accomplish? Second of all, and this is the factor no one else is talking about, the more you keep your nose clean, while they keep calling more and more embarrassingly nonexistent penalties against you, the harder it is for the league to keep looking like it's in the right. But one clip like that high-sticking can be played on Vs. and on NBC and on TSN over and over and over again, and as long as you keep giving them material like that, you will keep being painted as the bad guy, and you will keep getting called every time you breathe near someone.

In conclusion, everyone stay out of the goddamn box tomorrow night!

But, as you know, this particular sub-story has a happy ending. The Rangers and their King killed off all of the penalties and everything else the Caps threw at them. It is hard to imagine a better playoff performance from a goalie. Well, at least, it's hard to imagine one that doesn't involve a temper-tantrum so bad your seven-year-old daughter chastises you for it when you get home. We kept saying he was going to need to be spectacular, and guess what? He was spectacular. Rangers lead, 3-1. And I have tickets to Game 5.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Looks like, for better or for worse, Drury is playing tonight.

Hope his hand is up to it.

Don't do what I said

Don't click down there. Click here instead. This is better. This is much better. 'Cause this is the Devils' broadcast. This shows two things the other video doesn't. You get to see the absolute tantrum Marty throws, including smashing his stick against the boards. He is a child. Also, you get to hear the whole thing announced by Chico Resch. You get to watch him complain about some goalie interference non-call, even showing the clip, over and over again, of Marty being bumped a full foot in front of the crease, while Chico complains about how Marty is clearly still in the crease. You even get to hear him commend Marty for the stick-throwing tantrum! This whole thing is so priceless, I'm linking you to it twice. If you were a Devil fan (*shudder*), how embarrassed would you be?? This is Devils' hockey.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Wanna do what I've been doing for the last 15 minutes?
1. Go here.
2. Click the blue video camera icon about halfway down, over on the left, where it says (in classic gray-on-black) "Jussi Jokinen GOAL on Martin Brodeur."
3. Watch.
4. Click "Replay."
5. Go to step 3.

It cannot be fun to be a Devil fan right now.

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be worried about our series, but that wasn't gonna change tonight no matter what. And...man, is that a good way to end a hockey game.

Capitals 4, Rangers 0

"A good, old-fashioned spanking," Torts called it. I...can't really come up with a better phrase. We took a 2-0 series lead back home and got messed the hell up. There's not a lot of good to take from this game. The Caps came out the same as they have in the last 2 games, but a little hungrier. We looked like me in my weekly ice skating class compared to them.

At the very least, this was an opportunity to lose to the best player in the world, who reminded me a great deal in this game of one Jaromir Jagr of our recent past, stepping up and carrying an entire playoff game on his back.

Not that Ovechkin was alone - Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom both delivered performances that will make any Ranger fan nauseated. But Ovechkin was, as Brooks called him, "unconquerable." On both ends of the ice. His lack of goals in the series shouldn't fool you - last night, he was a star.

That said, not all is lost, because this isn't entirely different than the way the Caps showed up for games 1 and 2. The big difference was the New York Rangers. We came out flat and embarrassing. Mark Staal provided the executive summary:

I don't think it was so much them as much as it was us: we were standing around kinda watching a lot, circling, turning our backs, and against that team, they'll pass it around you, cycle it around you. So from the start, I don't know what it was, but we were kind of hesitant to play D-zone coverage well enough to keep them off the board.

"I don't think it was so much them as much as it was us." Exactly. There are a lot of things we could blame - not just Ovechkin. We could blame the officiating. After all, as Brooks put it, "The Dave Jackson-Kelly Sutherland referee pair made it its business to eliminate Sean Avery from the game by whistling him into oblivion. Mission accomplished." Meanwhile, Ovechkin broke Rozsival's nose by hitting him in the face with a stick, for no call at all (Vs. (possibly rightly) excused it by showing multiple angles and saying "you're supposed to be in control of your stick, but the referees will let it go if it's a follow through," while TSN claimed it was a puck that hit him in the face, and not a stick at all). But Torts's answer was the important thing: "I mean, penalties were called. I'm not sure what they were. That really wasn't an indicator of how we played. So, I'm not gonna whine about penalties. We stunk. Simple."

We could blame excellent goaltending from the opposition, like we used to in the regular season, and like we no doubt would have if we had played the same exact game to lose by the same exact score to Jose Theodore last night. But it's hard to make that argument when a 20-year-old is playing his 7th and 8th NHL games ever, his first-ever NHL playoff games, his first NHL games of the season, and two NHL games in the row for the first time. And then he lets in one goal on 57 shots.

We could blame the Caps as a whole for stepping their game up, like many "experts" are doing now. But I'm having some trouble buying that. In each of the first two games, the Caps put 35 shots on Hank, and in the third, they only raised that to 40. In the first two games, they had 23.5 hits on us, and in Game 3, they had 24. In blocked shots, which is a stat that NHL TV specifically used to prove that the Caps had stepped it up significantly, they had 10 in Game 1 and 13 in Game 2. They had 13 in Game 3. That's....not "stepping it up."

Indeed, the only Caps stat that has changed significantly over the course of the series is faceoffs, of which they won 70% in Game 1 and have only won 53% since then. To summarize, it is not statistically justifiable that the Caps have significantly improved their gameplay over the 3 games. They have started to look a little sharper, sure, but mostly, it's by comparison.

The Rangers, meanwhile, have fallen off significantly. In Game 1, we beat the Caps at their own game, and in Game 2, we tightened up and beat them at ours. In Game 3, we failed to play our game, and we let them play theirs. We reverted to February hockey, getting 11 more shots on goal than the average of our previous two games, but most were from the outside. Meanwhile, having blocked an average of 25 shots in each of our first two games, we blocked only 13 this time around. Since scoring 2 PPG in 8:00 of PP time in Game 1, we've been stymied for 18:16 of PP time. There's no one we can really blame but ourselves.

In the game of puck possession, we were the losers. No question. We've been losing that game all series. It had to matter eventually, but there are real differences. In Game 1, we took advantage of every opportunity, on a weak Theodore. Last night, in the first 11 and a half minutes, we had two wide open nets that we failed to bury the puck into - the second of which, Callahan's, was particularly egregious and also led directly to the Caps' second goal. Talk about a momentum shift. In Game 2, we tightened up defensively, and despite not having a ton of possession time to show for it, when we couldn't play a solid game of keep-away, at least we played some fantastic get-in-the-way. Last night, we didn't have the defensive chops to keep it up.

A reporter asked Torts why his team didn't come to the arena with the jump they needed, and he said something about the jump not being all they were missing. Like what?

I thought we were terrible defensively. As I said, I think a very important part of trying to compete in this series is having the puck. You're not gonna have the puck if you play defense like we played tonight. To create offense, you need to be sound defensively, and we weren't. We weren't even close.

That's the long and the short of it. Time to, as Torts put it, "take our medicine." But let's talk personnel for a second.

First of all, Bruce Bo-French-Name did an excellent job in keeping Varlamov in. The kid seems immune to all the nervousness you'd expect out of a Garden, playoff, Sean Avery, 20-year-old type situation. And with the currently-NHL-playoff-best .982 save percentage and 0.5 GAA the Rangers have granted him, expect to see more of Simeon Varlamov, at least until we give Boudreau a reason to pull him.

As for the rest of the Caps, we've covered it: Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom = bad news. Keep them contained. Let's move on to us. Chris Drury. I like the guy, and this is the time of the season when we need him most. But he has a goddamn broken hand. And as much of a warrior as he is for staying in and playing through it, he just hasn't been helpful the ways we need him to, which are big plays in front of the net and faceoffs. Those are what he does. In 15:25 of ice time in Game 2, he hit a guy once and blocked 3 shots, but he only took one shot (it missed the net), and he went 1 for 2 on faceoffs. In 10:58 of ice time in Game 3, he did nothing (shots, faceoffs, hits, blocks - nothing) but be on the ice for the Caps' second goal (he was the man supposed to pick up Semin) and in the box for their third. I think he's a great hockey player, and I love that he wants to play. But if Drury-with-a-broken-hand is less effective than Voros, then Voros should get the start in favor of Drury-with-a-broken-hand.

Yeah, Sean Avery got a little frustrated last night. But you would have too, if you'd been a marked man from minute one as obviously as he was. They keep showing that goalie interference call, and I keep rubbing my eyes and going "huh?" NHL TV even used the clip of that call to talk about how out-of-control Avery is, taking 3 minor penalties in the second like that. Weird that no one said anything about Naslund's 3 minors in Game 2.

The $11-million-dollar men didn't play too much worse than our other pairings last night, which I guess could be considered a good thing? There were errors from everyone. None of our back 6 seemed to be able to hold a puck once they got it. They all got to pucks, but none of them knew what to do with them.

I can't get on Callahan's case too badly for the wide-open miss, but it sure would have been nice if he'd buried that. Also, I need more from everyone named Nik.

As usual when we give up this many, Lundqvist was blameless.

That's the long and the short of it. We sucked. Tomorrow night, we need to suck less. Tomorrow night is the difference between going into the last 3 games of the series only having to win 1 and returning to Washington for the start of a best-of-3. That sounds like the difference between winning a series and losing one. Let's see what happens tomorrow night.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ovechkin vs. Tortorella

It's the tiny battles that make the war interesting.

Early during our pregame practice this morning, Alex Ovechkin went out to the visitors' bench and sat there, watching. Then a PR person told him he had to go to the stands. Why did you go sit there, Alex? He smiled and said it was to mess with Torts. And why did they ask you to leave? "Because they're afraid of me, alright?"

Good stuff. I like this guy.

Torts's response?

"Oh God, I didn't even know. This is the first I heard of it. Ask me a question about the game, not that shit."

Point to Torts.

Rangers 1, Capitals 0

No time to blog. We won, but not by enough. I'm thrilled and nervous. As Naslund said, "One goal is not going to cut it." As usual, I'm happy that at least we seem to know it. We've been outshot 70-45 in the two games so far. That's not surprising, but we're not gonna keep winning like that. Simeon Varlamov didn't hold up much better than Theodore to a little bit of poking, and we have to assume that one of these two goalies will play a good game soon. We're going to need to really bring the pressure, more than you might think.

Defensively, it seems, Redden and Rozsival are playing decently. If they continue doing that, and we stop using them on the PP, we might be in okay shape there. Not necessarily 11-million-dollar shape, but okay shape.

So, we need to get more pucks to the net. And at the end of the day, we're STILL gonna need a huge performance from our ever-MVP, King Henrik. Let's hope he puts on another show.

Sorry, I'm in a lot of meetings at work, so this entry is pretty short. We know what we have to do, and it has to be more than we've been doing if we want to go up 3-0 tonight. That said, it's hard to imagine my reaction to being told a week ago that we'd be taking a 2-0 series lead back to New York. So, let's see what we can do for the Garden Faithful. I, for one, can't wait to hear them.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Other Eastern Conference series

Hockey on the brain! Hockey on the brain! No more Rangers news today. Who else we got?

Devils-Hurricanes. This is the series where I'm gonna sound like a standard dumbass sportscaster. Before Game 1, I picked the 'Canes. Now, I'm leaning toward the Devils. Don't judge me, hear me out. The 'Canes got very, very, very hot, and the Devils (by which I mean Marty Brodeur, who determines their fate) were losing all over the place. It seemed like Marty would pick up his game a little for the playoffs, but the 'Canes would just keep rolling, until someone bigger snapped them out of it. But it also seemed like the 'Canes would be snapped out of it, at some point, hard. It's possible that their 4-1 loss at The Rock was that snap, and if it was, I think Marty can steal the Devils another series. Sad, I know, but totally plausible.

Bruins-Canadiens. Hooooo-boy! If the Rangers hadn't made the playoffs, besides rooting passively against the Devils and Penguins, this is the series I'd watch. I know I keep saying the Bruins are the team to beat in the East, as does everyone else, and we're all right. I know the Bruins really should win this series handily. But my sweet Lord, are these gonna be good games. These two teams hate each other, and they do so with a lot hitting. Yes, I know the Bruins won game one 4-2, and they're easily the best all-around team in the East, but don't expect the Canadiens to lose every game. I don't see the Bruins taking two in a row in Montréal. And I do see a ton of good, old-fashioned hockey.

Penguins-Flyers. Everyone who talks about sports is dumb, right? So, naturally, everyone thinks that this series is the evenly-matched one of the bunch. Seriously, in the East, the media conversation is that the top seeds are obviously winning these series, but the "Keystone State Battle of Pennsylvania Hockey Superiority" or whatever they call it is gonna be the close race. This is sophomoric. They think this for a few reasons:
--OMG Sidney Crosby is the face of the NHL!! That means the series has to be dramatic for RATINGS!!
--They finished right in the middle! 4th and 5th are way closer to each other than all the other pairs of numbers, so the teams are close in ability!
--Pennsylvania! Same state! Drama! Two cities, one state! RATINGS!!
--Last season, we also had a playoffs, and these guys were the BEST TWO TEAMS in the East! They played in the Conference Finals! This must be just like that! Two powerhouses!

These are all stupid reasons. The fact is that since February, the Pens have been way outplaying the Flyers. Just because two teams finished near each other doesn't mean they're close in skill. The Flyers are falling apart and the Pens are hot. Just because they're both from Pennsylvania, and they happened to play in the unbalanced Conference Final last season, doesn't mean they're an even match. The Pens should have this series well in hand. I'm not happy about it, but it's true.

That's all. Just wanted to blog about something. If I'm bored later, I'll do the West (Go Blues). Otherwise, I won't. Watch some hockey tonight! I don't care which game(s)! It's the playoffs!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rangers 4, Capitals 3





I can't believe we took this game. I know, it's only one game, and we have to win 3 more. But this was huge. I said yesterday that we would need big performances from everyone. I said yesterday that we were gonna need to pepper the shit out of a weak Theodore. I said yesterday that, we were gonna have to win despite, not by stopping, an insanely talented barrage of Ovechkin-fire.

And then it all happened!

In the first period, we got unreasonably outplayed. Outplayed in a way that, despite being scoreless after 1, made me despair. Yeah, we'd gotten out without damage, but this performance was not going to be good enough. They outshot us 14-4, which told the story. And, of course, that meant we needed an enormous performance from The King. And the score tells us that we got it. So, there was ingredient 1: Lundqvist stepping up and keeping us alive. As always, the story of our survival when we don't deserve it comes back to The King.

Then we came back after the first intermission and realized we were in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Caps, who had been there by themselves for the whole first, seemed less than thrilled that we had joined them. We started bringing pressure - from everyone. Throughout the second and third, this didn't stop. People drove to the net and hit hard, especially our last two McDonald award recipients, Dubi and Cally. The Caps drew first blood (on a PP that came from a penalty we never would have taken if Naslund had just driven to the net instead of trying a spinorama with Ovechkin a foot away...Pro Tip: DO NOT TRY A SPINORAMA WITH ALEX OVECHKIN A FOOT AWAY FROM YOU YOU ARE NOT WAYNE GRETZKY), but Gomez came back about a minute later to tie it, and then all of a sudden we were still driving to the net and we were up 3-1.

Granted, we still made mistakes. Enough to collapse back to tied at 3 early in the 3rd (after giving up our second with like 45 seconds left in the second). But our defense came up really big. And not just Staal and Girardi. For all that Redden and Rozsie still don't know what to do with the puck on the PP (and they really, really don't), they played relatively solidly in the back. I mean, against Ovechkin sometimes, even.

Let's talk about him. I had a friend over last night, and I was trying to explain to her that an average shift for a forward in the NHL is about a minute. I failed to explain this to her, because of the third period last night. Seriously, did Ovechkin play all of it? Cause it seems like he never left the ice. What the hell, man? Don't you need to breathe? Or drink water? Fuck!

Okay, the cursory internet research I had to do to learn more tells me that he was on the ice for 26:07 total, including 11:22 in the third. 11:22. Fucking 57% of the period! He's a forward! That's...I don't even have a word for that. And, I mean, he earned every second of the ice time, too. Larry Brooks, whose whole article is an excellent summary of what happened to us (or, what we happened to) last night, helps me out with the numbers:

Ovechkin launched an astonishing 28 shots in 26:07 of ice time, 13 of which hit the net, 10 of which were blocked and five of which went wide.

Double Jesus Wow! But, here's the thing: it didn't matter. We held on and won one anyway. For all of Ovechkin's 11:22 in the third period, he was held to 3 shots, and none of them found their way into the net. And, even he admitted about Dubinsky's game-winning between-the-legs deke: "It was a sweet move, what can you do?" [paraphrase, I saw the interview last night, but couldn't find it online today to confirm]

We endured 3 penalties throughout that period as well, to their 0 (one was a really bad call, but whatever, there were bad calls in both directions - refs are shitty and it's the playoffs, no excuses). And this is a team that scores goals. A lot. In bursts. And yet we held on, played tough (really tough, as did they), and secured the win despite a painfully nerve-wracking barrage of attack late in the third.

Sure, it feels a little like we stole one. But it also feels like we held on against a team with ridiculous firepower, including the leading scorer and the leading scoring defenseman in the NHL, holding them to 2-for-7 on the PP, by scoring enough goals to come back and beat them, including going 2-for-4 on our own PP, despite playing a shitty first period, and playing without our captain, who is known for scoring the big late clutch goals, and we hit two posts besides.

You know what? I'll fucking take it. Rangers lead, 1-0. See you Saturday.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Washington Capitals

Round 1 Schedule, in case you missed it:

Game 1 - Tonight (4/15), 7:00, in DC
Game 2 - Saturday (4/18), 1:00, in DC
Game 3 - Monday (4/20), 7:00, at the Garden
Game 4 - Next Wednesday (4/22), 7:00, at the Garden
---------------IF NECESSARY-----------------
Game 5 - Friday, 4/24, 7:00, in DC
Game 6 - Sunday, 4/26, 2:00, at the Garden
Game 7 - Tuesday, 4/28, in DC (time TBD, but probably 7:00)

So, 7 games to beat the Caps 4 times. That's hard work. How do we do it?

The first step is containment. You've probably heard a thing or two about one Alex Ovechkin, the best player in hockey. That's not the sarcasm I use when I call Brodeur a Prince or Crosbaby the Face of the NHL - Ovechkin is actually the best player in hockey right now. Which is not to scare you, it's to prepare you. But it's not Ovechkin I'm the most worried about. He is going to break through and score a few unbelievable solo act goals, and we're gonna have to rely on Marc Staal and then Henrik Lundqvist (the two Rangers I would trust the most to do pretty much anything) to keep those to a minimum. Seriously, the key to the series will not be "stop Ovechkin." You don't stop Ovechkin. You put your best players between him and the back of your net, and you keep him to a minimum. I'm fine with that.

I'm talking about containing everyone else. Most notably: Alexander Semin and Mike Green. That's where the other guys come in. That's where we need solid defense all around. That's where we need a guy like Sean Avery to get in people's faces. He's not gonna distract Ovechkin - Ovechkin is too good. But he might distract Mike Green, and that could be a difference-maker.

So, that's the first part: Lundqvist needs to steal more than a few games, every defenseman needs to step up - Staal needs to be as good as he can be, but Redden and Rozsival also need to be better than I've seen them (as discussed yesterday).

What then?

If the Capitals have a weak point, it is their last line of defense. Jose Theodore just isn't great. However, he's playing behind a team that could score 7 goals a game, against a team that still doesn't really know how to score them, so that may not matter. How do we make it matter? Get shots to the net. I'm not asking for much from Redden and Rozsival, they have enough on their hands playing defense. But Mara needs to shoot. Morris needs to shoot. And every Ranger forward needs to be in the crease. If we default to our usual "come down the boards, stay to the outside and set up," we will lose this series. We need to take advantage of what weakness the Caps do have, and that means peppering Theodore with 40 shots a game. Not one-and-done shots, sustained pressure. The Tortorella way. This applies to everyone.

Everyone is predicting a Caps win in this series, and their reasoning is sound. I'm not going to tell you we'll win this series, but I am going to tell you we can. We know the Rangers are capable of driving to the net. We know Theodore will give up goals if we do. We know Lundqvist can stop breakaways normal humans can't. We know Avery can get in people's faces.

This isn't just bullshit, it is an actual way that we could win this series. The question is simply: can the Rangers pull it off? There's no doubt that we have a path to victory, and there's no doubt that the burden of proof is on us. That's why the posts about our own guys were the important ones. The Caps are a hard team to beat, and this post outlines a way that it could happen - but really, it comes down to the improvements I talked about yesterday. As always, as Torts professes, this is about us, not them. Puck drops in 6 and a half hours; clown time is over.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Know Thyself Two: The Back Six (plus)

A lot of people would have you believe that we have an excellent defense. After all, we allowed only 212 goals all season, behind only 5 teams (including the-one-with-Zdeno-Chara and the-one-coached-by-Jacques-Lemaire).

When Googling Lemaire's name to make sure I spelled it right (I did), I learned three fascinating things I did not know!!

1. Jacques Lemaire is the only coach the Minnesota Wild have ever had!

2. Jacques Lemaire quit now that the season is over!

3. Jacques Lemaire is Manny Fernandez's uncle!

Wow!! I didn't know any of those things!! Did you?

I'm unconvinced. I see a mediocre system with a few good defensemen, one fantastic defenseman, a few bad defensemen, and a superlative goalie, which spent the majority of its season back on its heels playing protective hockey games that ended 2-1. But what do I know? Stan Fischler never asks me.

I've said it before: Marc Staal is the overall best player on the team that doesn't wear goalie pads. This is a guy that absolutely would deserve the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, if we ever gave it to defensemen (Yes, I know, in 1997, we gave it to Leetch. That's it. That hardly counts). You can't say enough good things about this kid, so I won't. He's the future. Hear that, Slats? He damn well better be the future.

Dan Girardi has picked up his game significantly since being paired with Staal (see also: since not having to spend all his time covering for other D-men's mistakes), which is interesting since I've been shouting at my TV that they should make that a pair for a year now. But they never listen to me. Oh, well, they finally did, and look what happened. I can't tell you how glad I am that Torts sees that this is our #1 pair, not our throwaway pair, because he doesn't coach by seniority. Hip hip hooray, and all that. I'm excited to see how good the Staal-Girardi tandem gets over the years to come. Years. Hear that, Torts? Slats? Years.

I have always liked Paul Mara, but he's been significantly less visible of late. Maybe he's just not standing out as much, because the whole team is finally being told to do what he was usually the only guy to do (be physical and skate forwards), but I feel like Mara has some more drive in him. Like with Korpikoski, I just have this feeling that I'd like to see more. He hasn't been bad, I just think there's more in him.

Derek Morris isn't bad. There, I said it. He wasn't the savior of the defensive squad that everyone else wasn't either, but he makes smart decisions. He defends. And, he shoots. Not like our other two "offensive defensemen" who shoot either 12 feet wide or not at all. He shoots, on net, from the point, like it's his job (it is), and when he's not doing that, he's also not giving up odd-man rushes all the damn time. I'm bitter about him because we gave up 3 men for him, but as it turns out, I'm surprised by how nice it is to only feel nervous 1/3 of the time (assuming Torts keeps Redden and Rozsival paired together), and the difference between this one more shitty defenseman (Kalinin) and this one totally competent one really does make me feel better about us. So, good on ya, Morris.

Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden. Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden. Wow. These guys really are not good. They've been alternating slowly over the last month or two: one of them merely barely competent, the other embarrassingly awful. The way these guys make mistakes is completely inexcusable. They cough up pucks in neutral ice as if it is their only option. They choose to pass down the ice only when they can't figure out how to pass it across the zone into traffic - the latter seems preferable. As you know, I said at the top of the season "if Redden plays very well, we will have a very good season." 6 and a half months later, here we are.

Maybe you think I'm too hard on them? Let me now show you, as Larry Brooks calls it, Sather's Folly, in stark detail. You may have heard me throw around an 11-million dollar figure. Let me now put it in perspective.

The NHL Salary Cap for this season is $56.7 million (we are at 56.4). Of that:
-Redden and Rozsival combine for $11.5 million, or over twenty percent
-The other 4 defensemen combine for $5.169 million (9 percent)
-Redden alone costs $6.5 million (11.5 percent)
-Henrik fucking Lundqvist costs $6.875 million (12.1 percent)

There. Compare those fucking numbers. Seriously. Redden and Rozsival absolutely must play significantly better than they are. That is what we need to happen. The fact that they are by far the biggest liability on the ice is an embarrassment. You can't defend against the Washington Capitals with 1/3 of your defensive squad playing this badly - end of story. We need to see better performances from these guys, or we need to see them benched.

I'll end on a happier note. Henrik Lundqvist is still our goalie, and Stephen Valiquette is still our backup, and I would not request another pair if I had my pick of the whole league. Seriously.

Let's Go Rangers!

Before you know thy enemy, you must know thyself

Playoffs Playoffs Playoffs Playoffs Playoffs!


Oh man okay so the playoffs start tomorrow. We're in DC at 7:00. Home of Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green. It's going to be quite a job to win this series. But in true guided-by-Torts fashion, I don't want to talk about them. I want to talk about us.

Yesterday, I covered Antropov and Betts. I think they're two of our strongest players, most reliable going into this battle. Let's talk a little about who else we can rely on, who we can't, and who we'd better hope we can if we're gonna move forward. I'll start by continuing (start by continuing?) to talk about forwards.

Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Sean Avery, and Fredrik Sjostrom all get a pass. They have all consistently been playing solid hockey. Sure, each of them has had a less effective game here and there along the way, but they all generally make smart plays with the puck and are unafraid to take the body game in and game out. I expect more consistency from them. Avery may be a special case: I feel like he's capable of a little more, now that it's playoff time, and while more is always better, I'd be fine with it if he kept doing what he's doing (Dayenu).

Add Colton Orr to that list. He doesn't do as much as the others, because he can't shoot worth a damn, but he plays strong and he punches well. Good work, Colton.

Lauri Korpikoski, I feel, is capable of more. Maybe he's just not as good as I want him to be, and he hasn't been bad, he's just been kinda a non-presence. I'd like to see that change, this week. I saw him score live in Game 5 against the Pens last season, his first NHL goal (his first NHL game). I'll be at Game 5 (if necessary) again this series. Got any more for me, Lauri?

Chris Drury is not, as everyone thinks he is, a shitty forward, or in a slump, or anything else bad. He is a guy who is the captain of a team that isn't great, and he does not know how to be a leader. Some men choose greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them, and some probably shouldn't have had greatness thrust upon them but did anyway. He's a very good hockey player when he's allowed to do his job, which is to be in the right place at the right time in case the puck is there. My big wish for Drury is that he relax and let the C on his chest imaginarily (this is not a word) drift over to Dubinsky's chest. He doesn't have to be a 50-goal scorer, he never was. Let him do his job: we could use someone who does it.

Oh, and he's injured. Remember when he got hit with all those pucks on Thursday? And then he sat out Sunday because of it, but was "definitely going to be ready for the playoffs"? Yeah, now he's "day-to-day." So, there that is. If he's out, almost certainly Aaron Voros is in. That's...a downgrade.

Scott Gomez, Nikolai Zherdev, and Markus Naslund. Streaky. These are the three forwards I really need better performances from. They have each had games in the last month or two that have been fantastic. Even Naslund, as soon as Torts took over, spent a few games playing the best hockey I've seen him play all season. If these three guys step it up to the level I've seen each of them play at individually at some point S.T.E. (Since Torts Era), or, Hanuman forbid, a step beyond that cause it's the playoffs, then we'll be in decent shape. If they play at their average S.T.E. level, we may have an issue.

So, in conclusion, my Passover list (mail directly to Moses on Mt. Sinai, he will bring gifts in an unleavened sack in a sleigh pulled by camels):
-Korpikoski maybe picks it up a little
-Drury gets healthy and relaxes
-Avery annoys everyone
-Gomez, Zherdev, and Naslund each play their actual best
-Everyone steps it up 'cause it's the PLAYOFFS!

These things would be nice. The Caps are tough. Maybe now I'll write about defensemen. Let's Go Rangers!

Monday, April 13, 2009

End of the Regular Season

Okay, I'm back from my second of two trips now. I know, I know, PLAYOFFS! But first, let's talk about the home-and-home we went through with the boys from Philly to close out the regular season.

Thursday night, MSG, Rangers 2, Flyers 1 - In short, we stole this game. We played about 10 total minutes of solid hockey, we got very lucky on a non-whistle under a minute in, and we really played pretty flat for most of the game. We pretty much held on to kill off the entire final 25 minutes. But we DID kill it off, including a few obvious "sorry, Philly, we really botched that first play, here's a free power play or two" calls. I guess this is where the optimist says "good teams find a way to win"? But I can't shake the feeling we "got away with" this win.

Sunday night, Philly, Rangers 4, Flyers 3 - This game is why I'm happy. I was ready for us to lose, and I was ready to come here and blog "I'm OK with it, 'cause we didn't need the points, and we deserved to win." And then we DID win! The first period of this game was wide open and not terribly inspiring. Then, all of a sudden, we realized we should start playing playoff hockey. Despite being outscored in the second 1-0, we spent almost all of it in the Flyers' end. And we stayed there for the 3rd, finally getting our third consecutive response goal from Morris (Avery deflected it in) and our first lead off a beautiful move by Betts, which we kept through the end. After our practice went as badly as it did yesterday morning ("If you come here ready to practice, we'll get along fine!"), it was nice to prove that we *can* come up with the big play to win on the road, against a team that needed the win (by holding the Flyers back in regulation, we deprived them of home ice advantage against the Pens. You're welcome, Pens). It was exactly what we needed to show.

Specifically, I want to point out two guys. First is Blair Betts. Betts is a guy I've been liking from day 1. He is never considered a game star, and yet he is always making exactly the right decision. Hyphenated Concepts: At the beginning of March, I talked about Avery's take-it-to-them gameplay style as the antithesis to Rozsival's hang-around-and-see-what-happens style. If there's an antithesis to Rosie's stand-there-and-look-confused move, it's Betts's always-know-what-to-do. When Betts gets to the puck, moreso than anyone else on the ice, I am confident that he will put it in the smartest possible place, least likely to lead to a bad turnover, most likely to lead to sustained offensive pressure, every time. Blair Betts has spent 4 seasons being the unsung hero of the Rangers, so I'm singing him.

Also: Antropov, Antropov, Antropov. When he showed up, I was bitter that he wasn't Petr Prucha, and he didn't really impress me. He was big, and that was awesome, but he wasn't much more than big. He quickly changed that. These days, he is among the most consistent Rangers, constantly throwing his body around in the right places. Remember the goal he scored against the Habs last Tuesday? He went diving forward from practically the faceoff circles to get his stick to the puck before either of the Canadiens standing in the crease. That, to me, is representative of his tenure here now. He sacrifices himself, takes the body, and makes sure he has the puck. I thought he was a rental. Now I couldn't be happier with him, and I hope we can keep him long-term (Hint: I can think of 2 defensemen that are costing us quite a bit of salary cap. I hear that they wouldn't be costing us cap space if they played for the Atlantic Division-winning Hartford Wolf Pack).

More on other Rangers later, along with my best impression of a playoff preview, but these two guys really stood out last night, so I wanted to make sure that was covered.

So, all in all, we finish the season, for 3 games, against teams with as much or more to play for than we have, against teams even with or ahead of us in the standings, all in playoff contention, and we end up winning all 3 in regulation, scoring 9 goals. I'll take it. That wraps up the regular season. 43-30-9, for 95 points, and our fourth consecutive playoff berth since the lockout. Bring on the Caps! Let's Go Rangers!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

You never call, you never write...

Oh, wait, that's me. I'm back from traveling! And I'm getting on another plane to leave again tonight!

Since I left, we lost some games, and we won some games. I didn't see the Bruins game on Saturday, but it seems like I missed very little. I saw the loss to the 'Canes and the win over the Habs. We can't feel too terrible about these. The Bruins are the best team in the East, and the 'Canes have cold forgotten how to lose games. Other teams didn't do us favors, then they did. We can't worry about that, because we can only win our games. Also, the Penguins are SUCH DICKS that they didn't even beat Florida for us. SUCH DICKS.

We've been playing...decent hockey. I feel like last night's victory had a lot to do with a very jumpy Carey Price. We're crashing the net...more...but not enough. We definitely looked good in the second and third periods, but not exceptional, and we looked awful in the first. The point is that I'm very happy with the points, and we didn't play bad hockey, but if Carey Price were, say, Marty Biron, we might have lost this game 2-1. Just sayin'.

Sean Avery is playing fantastic hockey, despite the fact that his probationary period still doesn't seem to be over. Naslund seems to have stepped up his game, at least for this last one. Antropov continues to be huge. Oh! And Rozsival's back! And...he looks exactly as confused as he did when he left.

At the end of this last hiatus I seem to have taken, here's where our (now significantly diminished) standings update...stands...:

7. Montréal, 92 pts, 2 GR
8. NEW YORK RANGERS, 91 pts, 2 GR
9. Florida, 89 pts, 2 GR
10. Buffalo, 85 pts, 3 GR

Between now and this weekend's finale, the Sabres have to play both the 'Canes and the Bruins. Let's assume that they're not beating both (and the Leafs tonight). That puts us somewhere between 7th and 9th. 9th is out. 8th plays the Bruins round 1. 7th plays the Devils or Caps, most likely the Caps (unless the Caps lose to both the Lightning and the Panthers AND the Devils beat both the Senators and the 'Canes - unlikely).

So, mathy times. If we win one of our two, we are in the playoffs. That's simple. If we win one more, we have more wins than the Panthers can get, and we have as many points as they can get. So we're in with one win. If we don't get that win, Florida or Buffalo can catch us by winning out (really, Florida can catch us with a win/OTL combo too).

As for catching 7th (which, as previously described, is hell of desirable - see also: Boston is a way better team than Washington), we'd need help. Montréal can clinch 7th by winning out the season. If they lose 1, we can clinch it by winning out, if they lose both, we can clinch it by winning 1, etc. This is obvious. In case of 3-point games, here are the tiebreakers:

We have 2 more wins than the Panthers. So if we end up tied, we will likely still have 1 more win than they do, which means we win the tiebreaker. If, however, we end up tied with them by losing both our games in overtime while they win both, we'll be tied in wins, and the tiebreaker will go to the season series, which the Panthers have won.

If we somehow end up tied with Buffalo (they win out, we lose out), we will also end up tied with them in wins. The tiebreaker will go to the season series, which the Sabres have won (this is why they are still in contention).

We are tied with the Canadiens in wins. So, if we end up tied with them in points because they lost in OT a game that we won, we will win the tiebreaker by having the extra win. However, if we end up tied because we lost in OT a game that they lost in regulation, we stay tied in wins, and the tiebreaker will go to the season series, which, as you have no doubt guessed if you're still reading this and good at pattern recognition, the Canadiens have won.

So, what are the chances of these teams doing these various things? Let's look forward. As well you know, our season comes down to a home-and-home against the Flyers, Thursday night at 7 at the Garden, and Sunday night at 5 in Philly. We've already covered the Sabres. Meanwhile, what will the Panthers and Canadiens be doing? Florida is in Atlanta tomorrow night at 7, then home against the Caps Saturday night at 7. Montréal is in Boston tomorrow night at 7, then home against the Pens Saturday night at 7.

This is not so bad for us. It lets us just concentrate on beating the Flyers. If we can beat them in both games, we make the playoffs and have a good chance at 7th. If we can beat them in one game, we make the playoffs and have a mediocre chance at 7th. If we can't win at all, we have a poor chance at the playoffs and no chance at 7th. I know I've described "season-defining moments" before, but....yeah.