Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The lines

It started with penalties. Offensive zone penalties. Lots of them. If I had a statistics department that wasn't me, right now, they'd be compiling numbers to figure out how the Rangers rank against the rest of the league in four different categories: penalty minutes, number of penalties, offensive zone penalty minutes, and number of offensive zone penalties (the latter two not including fights or misconducts). Then they'd provide me with the most impressive-sounding of those stats, and I'd reproduce them for you. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to do that comprehensive research, so I'm trusting my instincts and saying we rank pretty high, and you should just trust that and move on.

After the benchings of Dubinsky and Higgins in Montréal, Tortorella made all the lines go crazy. Sure, Dubinsky hasn't been playing fantastic hockey lately - certainly not hockey that warrants his summer contract fiasco (which I'm sure Torts hasn't forgotten) - but no one really has. So, fine, you bench him, along with Higgins, whose thinking too hard has become an real problem lately. Then, you decide that he's not currently fit to be a first line center. Um, maybe, but, like, we're a dozen games into the season. Maybe let's give him something of a chance to tighten up his game?

Nope. So Prospal moves to center, leaving a space on left wing. Then, why stop there? Callahan hasn't been as hot as he was in the beginning of the season, let's push him down to the third line along with Dubi and Higgins. Or is that the second line now? Wait! We also like Lisin! Let's let him go back to his natural position at left wing, and move Boyle to the wing, and stick Anisimov on the 4th line!


Lisin - Prospal - Gaborik
Higgins - Dubinsky - Callahan
Avery - Drury - Kotalik
Brashear - Anisimov - Boyle

These are the lines that beat the Coyotes 5-2 Monday night. I'm not here to tell Tortorella how to do his job. But damned if I don't get this. Yeah, Lisin's been fine, but he can't help but look outclassed on a line with Prospal and Gaborik. Even if you wanna push Dubi off that line, do you really think Lisin looks better there then Sean "get the hell out of vinnie's way now kthx" Avery would? Or maybe Christopher "i could use a scoring spark" Higgins? And what on earth is a line like Higgins - Dubi - Cally gonna do: skate around the ice hitting people off the puck and pass to each other for 5 minutes waiting for one of them to become the sniper? And how do you expect Artem Anisimov to come into his own as a playmaking forward when you give him a right wing with the body of a gorilla and a left wing with the brain of one?

Gaborik and Prospal (the latter of whom I still think deserves an A on his chest) are playing great hockey together. I love it. Drury, too, has been largely fantastic. Everyone else could stand to pick their games back up. In particular, besides the obvious Dubinsky and Higgins, I'd like to see more from Callahan and Avery. These are the guys that aren't the big marquee players, but that tend to be game-changers when they're at the top of theirs.

On defense, the biggest question has been Staal, who has been mediocre at absolute best lately. Yes, Redden has improved somewhat. Yes, Del Zotto score many point. Gilroy will still come into his own as a good defensemen, just give it time. But in the meanwhile, if the Staal-Girardi pair's better half is playing at the level he's been playing at, our average defenseman has dropped to "second or more likely third pair" caliber. This is not good news.

This drop-off in our best defensemen and our game-changing power forwards, along with the offensive zone penalties, explains what's been happening to us: we're losing the neutral zone, in both directions. When we try to break out, our Dubis and Callys should be pushing through people, not getting stripped in the neutral zone. This causes us to overcompensate and take penalties in our zone. When we're trying to keep pressure on, our high men (like Staal) need to be coming in to the puck, not skating past it. This causes us to overcompensate and take offensive zone penalties. Some commentator paraphrased some coach the other day, saying something that sounded like a less well-worded "he who wins the neutral zone shall win the day." I wish I could quote some famous hockey person has having said exactly that, 'cause it would be totally appropriate for us right now.

No idea what tonight's lines will be. Gaborik's definitely out, Parenteau in. Also, Brashear is out again (still think he was an upgrade from Colton Orr?), so I assume we'll see Voros again. Since we brought in Parenteau rather than Grachev, I assume Prospal will stay at center, with Dubi still down on the third (second?) line. But who will he be centering, Parenteau and Lisin?? Maybe Callahan will be back up there? I have no idea. We'll see, in 45 minutes, at the Coliseum. Let's go Rangers!

The slide

I don't want you to think I only post when we win. It's just that Halloween means busy times, I have costumes to make!

Since I posted that our streak was nearing its end and our slide was beginning, we lost 3 in a row, before beating Prucha and Korpikoski in their return to MSG. What happened? Nothing really surprising. Reality came back and reminded us that despite our newfound prolific scoring, we're not actually the top team in the NHL right now. A bunch of 20-year-olds skating really fast only works for so long.

Specifically, we knew we weren't playing great hockey, just getting the big goal at the right time. The Sharks game was the low point, giving up 7 goals (although the silver lining is that we scored 3 ourselves). In the Devils game, we found ourselves on the other end of what we're used to dealing out. After a weak first period, we came back and tied it 2-2 after 2, then continued to play a pretty good third period against a team that also played a pretty good period: they got the big goals at the right times, we didn't, we lost 4-2. Fine. This happens. My only issue, of course, was that it was the Devils. I think if we went 18-64 on the season, beating the Devils, Islanders, and Penguins all 6 times each, I'd call it a good season.

Then, the Habs game. The Habs game, the Habs game. This, to me, was the game that screamed trouble the most. We had our big loss to the Sharks, then we lost to our big rivals in a hard-fought game, now the 2-game slide was going to Montréal so we could meet Scott Gomez and Paul Mara and they could meet Chris Higgins. After a little over half a hockey game, we were up 4-2, and we had each only gone off for one minor penalty. It was the first time this season I really recall feeling like we inexcusably took a step back. Forgetting that we had just lost 2 in a row by an aggregate 11-5, forgetting that we were playing a pretty good hockey team and needed some discipline, forgetting how fucking scary a line of Gionta-Gomez-Cammalleri is, we decided this game was mostly in the bag. One 5-on-3 later, it was a one-goal game, and with 1:02 left in the second, it was tied.

Sure, we held them off for the third. We didn't let them do what they were always inevitably going to do until overtime, so we kept a point (half a "W" for playing half a hockey game). But we just did not finish playing this hockey game, and the Habs got a win because of it.

So, yes, after 3 losses, we came back to the Garden and won 5-2. But does anyone really believe that game put us "back on track"? The Coyotes outplayed us for swaths of Monday night's contest, and as much as I like them (we watched the Phoenix broadcast, and when Prucha winked at the camera pre-game, I almost cried), they really don't have a fantastic defensive squad. It's nice, but not particularly thrilling, when Gaborik finds the back of the cage twice in a game against a team like this. I'm not saying I'm unhappy about it, I'm just saying it hardly heralds a Thin Lizzy montage.

Tonight, the Islanders. News time. We will likely be playing without Marian Gaborik, who you'll note was missing for the end of the Coyotes game, following some sort of undisclosed "lower body injury" (but don't worry - "it has nothing to do with his hip or his groin, we swear"). P.A. Parenteau (remember him?) will be getting the call up, which is fine, 'cause he's totally the same caliber of player as Gaborik. Also, Lundqvist is fine, following a minor fender-bender.

Personnel review coming. But first: you have got to check this shit out.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tired of being run over?

Valiquette will be starting tonight instead of Lundqvist.

Stumbling past the only team in the league worse than the Islanders

Okay, so, the good news is that we won another one on Saturday night. The fun part was listening to the disgruntled Toronto fans boo the hell out of their second-rate neo-Flyers of a squad, justifiably angrier at their home team's own 0-6-1 start than at our performance in a modest 4-1 win. But for a team with numbers as good as our own so far, the bad news is surprisingly the way we played this game.

In the big picture, we're 7-1 to start the season, we've won 7 in a row, we've outscored our opponents by an aggregate 32-15 (no team has scored more (only the Oilers and Thrashers are on pace to tie us in 8 games), and of the teams that have allowed fewer than 15, only the Coyotes are on pace to allow that few in 8 games), we haven't even trailed since 8:09 of the third when Gaborik tied the Caps on October 8, and the first period that night remains the only period of hockey we've lost other than the second period of opening night. Hell, since losing on opening night, in 420 minutes of hockey, we have only trailed at all for a total of 30:39, and never by more than a goal.

But in what Michael Obernauer rightly refers to as "eerily similar" to last season's start, something feels wrong. It started when we faced the Leafs the first time, in the second period. After we worked so diligently to beat the Ducks 3-0 and were up 3-2 the very next night, it was easy to excuse a tired team for taking a "good-enough" lapse in the second before exploding for 4 in the third. But since then, we submitted an inappropriately low effort in winning two more by an aggregate 8-3. We were outshot 71-49 across the two games, through which we didn't even outshoot our opponents in a single period.

Now, as I said a few days ago, I know these are kids and energy is going to peter out. But there's a mental component here, too, and that needs to be improved. When Lundqvist is so obviously the only guy keeping you in these games during your vapid periods, and Leafs are so obviously taking runs at him, and the referees are so obviously ignoring said runs, it's time to send Hank a thank you card in the form of violence toward others.

There are positive takeaways. Obviously, the 4 points we took away from these two games are pretty positive. It's nice that we can steal wins even when we're sliding, against a good team and a desperate (if pathetic) team. Moreover, there was some promise near the end of the second and through the third of Saturday night's game, where we started to turn on some speed and play in the Toronto zone. But, again, that's not all that promising; it was only Toronto.

I guess the point is, like we said at this time last year, this is fun, but if we keep playing like this, it can't last. That's the bottom line. Adding up to the bottom line, however, is a lot of more positive ingredients than those that added up to the same line last season. These include a radically more potent group of forwards and a young and excited group of talented defensemen, paired with the same great goalies. That's part of why our 10-2-1 October that kicked off last season saw us outscore our opponents 36-25, winning 6 of the 10 by one goal, including 2 shootout wins, while this season, we've won by a total 32-15, winning 4 of the 7 by three or more.

Funny story. Going 6-1-1 through their first 8 games, Tom Renney's "defense-first, defense always" squad, backdropped by a stellar Henrik Lundqvist, gave up only 14 goals. Going 7-1 through their first 8, Tortorella's "always be attacking, safe is death, we'll deal with the odd-man rushes as they come" group, backed by the same Lundqvist, has given up only 15. Kinda makes you wonder what all that focus on the defense was buying us, huh?

Chris Higgins is starting to get very pissed off at his lack of scoring. I'm fuzzy on how appropriate that is, even for a top six forward, if you're playing as well as he's been playing otherwise and your team is averaging 4 goals a game. Whatever it is, Torts is ready to help develop a spark there. For tonight's game against the Sharks (and possibly the foreseeable future), Higgins will be down on Anisimov's line, and Avery will be up with Drury and Cally. I think it's a good move. I'd like to see Avery have more of an effect, and I'd like to see Higgins bring some offense to the third line - I think Avery-Drury-Callahan and Higgins-Anisimov-Kotalik is an upgrade for both lines, actually.

Our nine games with Del Zotto are almost up. Steve Zipay put it best: "For those knuckleheads who were counting down: It'll be nine games into the season tomorrow. Yeah, Del Zotto's going back to juniors. 'Bout as much chance of me being voted Miss Congeniality..."

Sharks, Heatley and all, at the Garden tonight at 7. Our chance to go to 8 in a row. Or, to continue sliding into a loss. Tomorrow night, the Pens have the chance to win their eighth of the season (go Blues!). Leafs are off until Saturday, by which time the Isles will have had two chances to make the Leafs the only winless team (go 'Canes and Habs!). That's all for now.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rangers 4, Kings 2

Well, last night we did something that's probably been a long time coming: we were playing our third game in four nights, against an opponent with a similarly impressive record to our own, and leading 2-1 after 1, we got tired. We just stopped winning battles, all over the ice. There was a timeout in the middle of the second that didn't bounce us back. There were special teams efforts that didn't bounce us back. There was a second intermission that didn't bounce us back. We played almost all of the last two periods in our own zone, taking 6 minor penalties (3 by forwards) across these two periods (to the Kings' no minors), testing Lundqvist over and over again, even getting outshot 10-1 in the third.

Oh, and we won 4-2.

I don't like the phrase "the really good teams find a way to win." It's usually what the kinda good teams say when they get outplayed by a really good team but win anyway. The Rangers, for a chunk of last season, "found a way to win." We went up 3-1 over the Caps last spring by "finding a way to win" (his name was Henrik). Generally, if your team is "finding a way to win," it's on the brink of "losing a lot." That said, there are some pieces of good news that came out of us "finding a way to win" last night.

The obvious one is the one that comforted us through most of last season: Lundqvist remains elite, and as so many better-paid-than-I sportswriters have said, as long as he remains so, the Rangers will continue to be relevant. But there's more than that with this group. It's a lot easier to get outshot 10-1 in a period when your one shot is a lonely Marian Gaborik shot from the circle that finds its way to twine. And yeah, we took some bad penalties, but our PK unit was superb in killing 6 of 7. We just never got the momentum going.

This is kind of a weird, hard-to-substantiate claim, but it felt more like we just couldn't win the battles than that we weren't giving enough effort. Winning 3 games in 4 nights is hard work. And it's hard to complain about a team that has been playing like we've been playing. And it's not like we didn't win handily: we led for the entirety of these two "lazy" periods, and we led by two for over half of that, including the final 15:38 of the game. And had Gaborik not attempted an impossible pass through a defenseman to try to get Prospal the hat trick instead of just shooting at the open net himself, the game would have ended with a 3-goal cushion instead.

And, most importantly, no one is trying to pass along any illusions that this is how we want to win hockey games. Tortorella's reactions correctly diagnosed the game:

You find a way to win one of these games when you're not on, and we were not on. It wasn't laziness, it has nothing to do with that; we were just a step behind. We tried, but we couldn't win battles. We couldn't catch up to them. We looked like a tired hockey club. We were a step behind in every facet, but we still found a way to win. We can't get spoiled. It's not easy winning games. Good teams win games like this, and we did. So that's a good sign.

So, maybe I shouldn't be feeling so down on this win. As Michael Obernauer put it, "you won't find any argument from the Rangers that they were outworked and on their heels Wednesday night, easily the second-best team on the ice. But you also won't find any Rangers apologizing for taking the two points."

And you can't really argue with 28 goals for and 14 goals against to come up with 12 points in 7 games to start the season, can you?

Saturday night, we play the Leafs again. I'd like to repeat what we did to them Monday night. Oh, and Leafs fans and Islander fans: don't despair yet. You play each other November 23. That means one of you is bound to have a win in the books by Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Brashear out for the night

Brashear is out for the night with old age, what the Rangers are calling "soreness" and nothing more. Voros will take his place on the 4th line tonight against the Kings.

More specifically speaking

I'm separating this portion of the post out so you don't think I talk too much. I want to talk about some personnel here.

No need to talk about our first class goaltending (did I mention it was our backup who picked up that first shutout of the season on Sunday?), starting at the top of the lineup and moving down...

Dubinsky is starting to figure out his job as the center between Gaborik and Prospal: keep Gaborik and Prospal happy. Gaborik continues to be impressive, with 5 goals and 4 assists so far this season, and what has really gotten me is how he comes out of nowhere. All of a sudden, he's shooting the puck, and you're not sure how he found such good ice position. Prospal, meanwhile, is very obviously finding a way to skate with the puck past 2 defenders, by being strong with it. Dubinsky's job, then, is to get other people out of the way, and to keep the puck for long stretches, until he can get it to one of them. And he has been, admirably. Dubi's been significantly stronger on the puck and more physical this season, and he's starting to develop a real chemistry with his two scoring wingers. You know, like a first line should.

Speaking of centers figuring out what their jobs are, Chris Drury has had probably his best stretch as a Ranger. With the pressure off, he's back to being an incredibly valuable penalty killer and a presence in front of the net. Callahan... was probably a little more shaken up by that collision in practice last week than he let on. After his heroics against the Caps, while he's still been putting his body in the right place, he's looked a little weak with his stick and on the puck these last two games. I expect this will get sorted out. Higgins, on Drury's other side, has continued to play great hockey. He's frustrated he hasn't scored yet (a feeling that was probably compounded by his being the only forward not named Brashear or Boyle that didn't nab at least a point Monday night), but I'm not too worried - I really like the things he's been doing with the puck, and the scoring will come - as long as in the meanwhile it's coming from everyone else.

Anisimov is starting to develop, and while I'm not exactly buying his jersey yet, I'm excited about where he might be 6 months or 2 years from now. I'm still a little confused about what's happening wing-wise on his and the fourth lines. For two consecutive games, Torts has put Kotalik down on the fourth line, opting for Avery and Lisin surrounding Anisimov. Not sure what he's seeing in Lisin (who has admittedly been playing decent hockey) that I'm not, but I can't imagine how it justifies placing him above Ales Kotalik, who has already shown some flashes of brilliance. Meanwhile, if the idea is to put some scoring on the fourth line (which Kotalik, who is part of Torts's 5-forward power play unit, would certainly bring), shouldn't Voros be out there instead of Brashear? Anyway, I'm very happy with Boyle, and Brashear finally won a fight the other day.

Hey, remember that time Wade Redden wasn't atrocious? Yeah, he's actually been pretty solid. Rozsival, after his benching, has improved back to regular-grade awful, but Redden is starting to play like a guy I might actually want on my team. It's weird. I keep cheering for him and then looking back on myself going "wait, huh?" The dude is +4 with 3 points so far. I hope this keeps up.

On our other defensemen, the story is obvious. Staal is great, Girardi is becoming better every game, and our kids (cause Staal and Girardi aren't "our kids") are young and talented and need to learn to play more solidly, which they will. For now, they're picking up the job pretty quickly.

I'm not unhappy!

Also, don't be fooled: is wrong about the standings. We're not first in the league. We're tied with the Pens in points, in the same number of games, but they beat us head-to-head, so should be listing them ahead of us. No idea why they're not.

Two great games, post two days late

Okay, over Sunday and Monday, we won two back-to-back games by an aggregate 10-2. Can we talk about this? The two games represented two different kinds of games we expect the Rangers to lose, and yet we won both decisively. That is awesome.

Sunday night, we ground out a hard effort, outplaying the Ducks pretty consistently for 42:14 (outshooting them 11-1 in the first and 24-12 through two) before ever scoring a goal. This is exactly the kind of game where a Ranger fan gets nervous: we keep outplaying them for most of the game, and then they get a lucky bounce, score first, and win 1-0. We've seen this movie before.

Only this is John Tortorella's team now, and that means this is a team that keeps fighting hard and forcing chances, even if they've already been doing so for two fruitless periods. And so Alex Kotalik, not some lucky Duck (ha!), broke the scoreless tie on the power play. And we kept pressing, and we kept playing hard, and then with 5:38 to go, it became 2-0 Blueshirts, Anisimov's first (and Avery's first point), also on the power play. Again, we didn't back down, we kept the game in their end, and Girardi hit the empty net to finish it out. A thing of beauty.

Monday night, we played different kind of game we used to like to lose. After scoring on the PP 2:34 into the game and dominating the Leafs through the first period (outshooting them 15-8) and giving up a late goal to make it 2-1 at the first intermission, we bounced back to regain the 2-goal lead just 26 seconds into the period, then fell asleep. After the previous night's 3-0 victory, and up 3-1 over a winless team in this one, we seemed to consider this a game in hand. All of a sudden we were spending long stretches of time in our zone, laying down to let Lundqvist bail us out. Had he not, it would have gotten much closer much sooner, but as it was, Toronto finally came within one with 2:49 left in the period. And honestly, they could easily have been leading by then.

But between periods, it seems, Torts sent out a reminder that this is, as mentioned, his team. Yes, we played a great 60-minute effort just the previous night, and yes, we were still up in this one, but it was our game to lose. Had we played the third like we had since we scored goal number three, we would have lost it. Instead, we listened, and who better to kick things off than Sean Avery, with his first goal of the season? From there, the flood gates opened. We took the game to the Leafs despite our comfortable lead, and we scored goals until there was only 1:57 left on the clock, when Avery tallied again to make it 7-2.

In the past, you may recall relying on one or two "key players" to provide the offense for the team. When it was Jagr, it worked, because he was Jaromir Jagr. Otherwise, it largely hasn't. These days, are we spreading the offense around better? Well, in routing the leafs, 11 different Rangers (nine forwards and two defensemen) picked up points. Our 7 goals came from 5 different people. Eight Rangers (Dubinsky, Prospal, Drury, Avery, Anisimov, Gaborik, Redden, Girardi) had multi-point nights. Yeah, times are good.

Look, I know it's a young team, and I know things aren't gonna stay this good. They can't possibly. We haven't lost since opening night, when we lost to the defending Stanley Cup Champions, in their building (which we can't win in anyway), for their banner-raising, by one goal. Since then, we're 5-0, outscoring our opponents 22-9, including 18-5 in the final two periods. In fact, other than the Caps scoring one in the first period of our 4-3 triumph in DC, we haven't been outscored in any period in that stretch. So, yeah, I know there's gonna be a fall off. But let's do this for as long as we can first. This is fun. Let's show the Kings how much fun we have, tonight at 7.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Avery is reportedly on schedule to be in the lineup Sunday against the Ducks. Apparently, the final decision will be made tomorrow. Torts also announced that he would not be breaking up his top two lines on Sunday, and that (duh) Avery will be in as soon as he's healthy, which makes it pretty clear what our lineup will be when Avery comes back. Good. Avery - Anisimov - Kotalik sounds like fun.

In other "duh" lineup news, Rozsival will be playing again Sunday, and Grachev was sent back to Hartford.


Woo yeah wow! Rangers 4, Capitals 3

You know it's a good night when you keep the best player in hockey off the scoreboard. You know it's a better one, one that screams "this season's Rangers," when you score 4 of your own goals (a feat we accomplished only once in scoring only 11 in a seven-game series against this team last spring), and when 2 of them come in a 2:33 span from the guy you're paying to score goals.

Oh, and the penalty kill wasn't bad either. In a 60-minute game that saw 14 2-minute penalties assigned (9 of them, including 6 in a row, to the Blueshirts), the Rangers gave up only one shorthanded goal in 13:19 of shorthanded ice time, including 1:33 of 5-on-3. Blair Betts, out with a 4-week-minimum shoulder injury after his third game for Philly, was unavailable for comment.

Yes, this was a game that would have seemed completely out of reach to look at the Rangers only a summer ago: without any of Betts, Fredrik Sjostrom, or Paul Mara, our PK was simply astonishing. Meanwhile, we managed to battle back from deficits twice, including one that came from - gasp! - a bad mistake by Lundqvist, and win the game in regulation time by scoring more goals than our opponents. We forechecked, we passed East-West instead of North-South, and we battled for pucks along the boards. All game, consistently. We didn't win this game by getting lucky, having King Hank, and surviving, like we did in the playoffs so recently - we won it by battling hard and shooting the puck.

Who are these guys??

Chris Drury (yes, Chris Drury) played a fantastic game of hockey, sacrificing his body to make plays and putting himself in the right place all the time. Last night, I saw the Drury I've been hoping for since he made us look silly in Buffalo back in the 2007 playoffs. Quite sure we would have given up at least one on our first 5-on-3 without his heroics.

Ryan Callahan, playing "injured" (?), was another hero. Killing a 4-on-3, he made a beautiful move to strip the puck and come down with it, but the defender got there and stopped him, so, exhausted, he went back to kill more penalty and made the same move again, scoring this time, to tie the game at 1. It was a thing of beauty. He continued to dominate all night.

In fact, that whole line was great. I have been loving everything I've seen Chris Higgins do as well. He and Prospal are my most pleasant surprises right now: I'm happy every time either of them has the puck. Dubinsky needs to start making a few smarter decisions, but I'm confident he will, and meanwhile, he keeps hitting people, a lot. Like, almost to a fault. So, that's awesome. Obviously, Gaborik did his job - no questions there. The third line? Well, besides the obvious Kotalik's goal, Anisimov, finally started to bloom a little - I've been thoroughly underwhelmed by him so far, and last night I finally started to see a good hockey player in there. So that's nice.

Torts can NOT be happy with his fourth line: we took a number of dumb penalties throughout the game, starting with our opener, Dubi's punching minor. But when your fourth line takes two dumbass minors in the third - one in a tie game, and one up by a goal with 5 minutes left - you can't be happy. Brashear, seriously, every time you make 3 good passes and I try to not hate you, you make me hate you somehow. Stop it.

Speaking of Torts not being happy, you may have noticed an abominable little defensemen wearing #33 from the bench throughout the entire third. I am exceedingly excited about this. Maybe he will finally learn that if he keeps playing shitty hockey, he might not be allowed to play hockey so much anymore. Granted, this would hold more weight if we had more than six defensemen...but still. I liked it.

Other than Rozsie, our defense played a solid game (yes, even Wade Redden). Hell, we had to, to kill all those penalties. It turns out Torts was right: regardless of how "defensively-minded" you want your club to be, it's very hard for the other team to score when they don't have the puck (though not impossible, Backstrom).

I'm out of stuff to talk about, this game was just so fucking great. This is how you fight back for a victory against a tough team - this is exactly how I want my club playing. The Good Ship Tortorella sails on! Holy shit I'm happy about hockey!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

We didn't even have time to miss him!

Apparently Cally had some kind of "minor upper body injury" during practice this morning, and he's listed as questionable for tonight. Awesome. Welcome back to Evgeny Grachev, recalled from Hartford as a response to this injury (cause, well, we don't exactly have a lot of spare manpower on our roster). We'll see how this plays out. Let's go Rangers!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Reports from practice

Word from Steve Zipay and Andrew Gross is Avery is practicing in a non-contact jersey and has ruled himself out for tomorrow's game in DC. He also apparently said that barring anything unforeseen, he should be ready to go for our next game, when the Ducks visit the Garden on Sunday. Reports are unsurprisingly that the practice lines and pairs this morning were the same lines and pairs we've been playing all season.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Oh yeah! And...

Some guy named Sean Avery could be coming back into the lineup for Thursday's game. If he does, it seems logical that Lisin will sit. I imagine Prospal will stay right where he is, and Avery will either come in and replace Lisin directly or bump Higgins down to the third line. I'd prefer to see Avery on Drury's line, but either one works.

The only other possibility in my mind would be sticking Avery on the first line, moving Prospal to third line center, and sitting Anisimov. But that seems less likely than sitting Lisin, and the only reason I'm even bringing it up is that Torts may see something in Lisin that we don't, what with all the Power Play time he gave him.

Three games in four nights. I'm spoiled. Is it Thursday yet?

Opening thoughts

So, four points in three games later, the season is well underway. And I'm somehow pleased. We're a very young team, we're learning to play in the NHL at all, let alone with each other, and we lost to the defending Stanley Cup Champions opening night by one goal, then won two in a row. It's a relatively good time to be a Ranger fan.

For the first time in a very long time, I really really like our whole first line. I've liked up to two thirds of it a great deal, but I really like the whole thing right now. Gaborik has been doing fantastic things with the puck, which everyone in the world said he would, but that's never actually meant much before. Dubinsky, a man with something to prove, has been playing like a man with something to prove. His stick work is as smart as it was last season, but he's also been throwing his weight around significantly more, to significant effect. Also, his shot looks really good now. I'm very happy there. I'm also very happy with Vinnie Prospal. Again, forgive me for sounding surprised, but I'm not usually impressed by a mid-30s free agent signing. I know it's early, but three games in, Prospal has, like Gaborik, been everything he's supposed to be. He's really strong on the puck, and I keep being surprised by situations in which I expect him to get stripped and then he winds up on the other side still with the puck. I love what these three guys are doing.

Our second line wings have been the stars of the second line show. This is not to take anything away from Drury, who has played a good few games, now that he seems to be playing his game (be in the right place all the time) a little more. Callahan, the rightful Alternate Captain, has not disappointed, consistently winning battles, as he did throughout last season. Meanwhile, Chris Higgins might be the new forward that has excited me most. Again, I know it's only been three games, but Higgins looks like the kind of winger that plays a physical, smart, hard-working game every minute he's on the ice, and I can't wait to see more.

The third line was completely adequate. Ales Kotalik showed some real promise, but I'd like to see more from him. I didn't manage to notice Anisimov or Lisin doing much of any import, good or bad, despite the abundance of power play time Tortorella gave Lisin. I'm withholding judgement until I watch some more hockey.

The "rough-and-tumble" line of Voros, Boyle, and Brashear is something of an enigma. On the one hand, Voros is pretty much exactly what I want in a fourth-liner. He's very big, and he can create offensive pressure. He fights when it happens naturally, and otherwise he's using his bigness to play hockey. Not only is he big, he's the smallest man on the line. I also like the way Brian Boyle has been playing, and clearly Torts does, too, since he's been out there killing penalties. On the other hand, as good as Brian Boyle gets at killing penalties, and as much of a minor offensive threat as Aaron Voros is, are they ever going to be as good at these things as Betts and Sjostrom? And we know Donald Brashear brings down our classiness factor by about a million. On the other hand, that's not so bad, since Torts never plays his fourth line. And at least Brashear is one of the best actual fighters in the league, right? Plus, I've already seen him make passes Colton Orr would never have made. On the other hand, Brashear has fought twice so far this season, and I haven't been particularly impressed with either: he clearly lost to Eric Godard and kinda broke even against someone named Matt Carkner. And the three-minutes-a-game rumor appears to be no more than that: Torts has been rolling all four lines, even late in the game in a one-goal lead over our rivals. On the other hand, isn't it good that he rolls all four lines? And if Brashear doesn't do anything criminal, he does have better stick work than Colton Orr, and he's bound start winning fights again soon, right? On the other hand...

And so on.

On defense, everything is as good as can be hoped for. Staal and Girardi both look solid. Del Zotto and Gilroy are proving to be offensive threats even this early. I already love the power play. These kids move the puck and also shoot it. They're young and developing and I love it. Redden and Rozsival keep playing leap frog to determine who's gonna suck more that night. Every time one of them does something I like, the other one does something inexcusable. I'm really trying to give them a chance, but $11.5 million a year is making it hard. After this season, Rozsival has 2 more on his contract ($5 m) and Redden has 4 ($6.5 m). Maybe they'll start playing well enough to get traded? Anyway, in conclusion, everything on defense is as good as can be hoped for.

And Lundqvist's lifetime record against Brodeur is 15-2-4.

Thursday night, at 7:00, we invade the nation's capital and pay the best player in the NHL a visit. It's flattering and exciting that the dumbasses on Versus last night were talking about the highly-anticipated renewal of the Staal-Ovechkin matchup. Let's Go Rangers! Until then, we're 2-1 in our first three, and hockey is fun as hell again.

Oh, and let's root for Florida's teams as well, this week. I'd like Jacques Lemaire's homecoming to be winless for as long as possible.

Friday, October 2, 2009


As usual, my father is always righter than I am. How? I dunno. My lineup was based on the Drury/Kotalik chemistry, as well as on the lines Torts was playing all through the preseason. My father's was based on...being right. Anyway, according to reports from people at Mellon Arena (remind me why they get to be there while I'm down the street at my office?), these are the lines and pairs we practiced today (and presumably therefore the ones we'll play tonight).

Prospal - Dubinsky - Gaborik
Higgins - Drury - Callahan
Lisin - Anisimov - Kotalik
Brashear - Boyle - Voros

Gilroy - Rozsival
Del Zotto - Redden
Staal - Girardi

So, he's breaking up the Albatross Twins but leaving the Staal/Girardi pair intact? Weird. Also, I imagine the D pairs there are in no particular order.

It seems like Torts might be using the philosophy that your top 3 centers are ordered, your top 3 left wings are ordered, and your top 3 right wings are ordered, and then that's how you make your top 3 lines. I imagine this will change as chemistry is developed over the season, but for now, I'm not gonna complain, I'm gonna sit here and get excited.


I'm sorry what?

Some interesting reports on those magical internet streams that we call the twitters.

As for Alternates, the word is that Callahan was given an A, and that's it. Torts is holding off, it seems, until another viable Alternate Captain candidate is found. I like it. In my ideal world, Dubi eventually earns his A as well, and those two go on to lead the Rangers into the future. I like not slapping the A on Rozsival's or Gaborik's chest just because you're supposed to, and holding off until you find the appropriate man. That said, Gaborik could just as easily be the Alternate 5 weeks, or 5 days, or 5 minutes from now - but still, I think it's kinda a cool message: you have to earn that A.

Meanwhile, say goodbye to Semenov? The story now emerging seems to explain why the contract was a done deal and a no-brainer and yet "issues emerged." Um...his...wife...said no. Yeah, the word is he "couldn't talk his family into it." Semenov had reportedly said "I'd love to be here, but don't know if it's going to work out." According to Zipay, "Sather said [the] players and agent agreed but Semenov's wife nixed [the] deal." Um, so, I guess, we need to find a big, veteran defenseman for $961,667.

What the fuck?!?


Hockey hockey hockey hockey hockey hockey hockey!

Watched Leafs-Habs and Flames-Canucks last night on Hockey Night in Canada. Didn't really do it on purpose, but ended up seeing a lot of Scott Gomez, Paul Mara, Colton Orr, and Fredrik Sjostrom. (Nigel Dawes was somewhat less prevalent.) The Canadiens put one in with 12 seconds left in OT, which was thrilling. Then Luongo gave up 3 goals on 7 shots in the first, which was a great start to a 12-year contract (which, for those of you who are bad at math, ends when he's 42, in 2021). I know you don't come here to read about other hockey (if you come here at all), but sweet goddamn I missed hockey.

Anyway, what about us? Larry Brooks sheds what appears to be some revealing light on our lineup for tonight, saying that Dubinsky is "primed to center Vinny Prospal and the brilliant Marian Gaborik." I keep being surprised when our coach does what I think is logical for him to do, but I can try to get used to it. Prospal is the "center" I think belongs most on the wing (though I don't know that he's a first-liner?). Anyway, with Prospal as the first-line left wing, and Avery out, the rest of this picture becomes fairly easy to paint:

Prospal - Dubinsky - Gaborik
Higgins - Drury - Kotalik
Lisin - Anisimov - Callahan
Voros - Boyle - Brashear

Obviously, this is just my conjecture. For the record, my father's guess switches Kotalik and Callahan, and he is usually right even more often than I am (which is always), but my money's on the above lineup for tonight. We'll see what actually happens.

Meanwhile, on defense, Brooks confirms what we all pretty much knew: "These Rangers will start with four [defensemen 25 or younger] in Staal, Dan Girardi, Gilroy and Del Zotto." As I said, don't expect to see much of Semenov (whose mythical "contract issues" seem to have magically vanished) until the Del Zotto decision gets finalized, at which point you can expect to see more regular rotation. No clues yet on pairs, but my guesses from Tuesday stand. Here's hoping he keeps the Albatross Twins together.

PS Like Brooks, I love rooting for a team on which a 23-year-old Brandon Dubinsky refers to the big boost to the team brought in by "the young guys."

Stay tuned for Alternate Captain announcements (Torts will be naming them at this morning's skate).


Thursday, October 1, 2009

A few more things

1. Tomorrow morning is when Torts will announce the alternate captains for this season. Before this summer's contract fiasco, I would have been hoping for Dubinsky to get one of the 'A's, but that seems unlikely now. I imagine Gaborik will probably wear one. I'd love to see Callahan or Avery pick up the other, but it's just as likely that Rozsival will wear it. What do you think?

2. Andrew Gross reports that "some issues" have arisen with the Semenov contract. Probably nothing to be worried about, even if this does stop him from making the trip here to Pittsburgh tomorrow night (he likely wasn't going to be dressed anyway), I'm only reporting it because it may mean the previous post about his one-year $600,000 contract was not entirely accurate. Still, this could just be Gross speculating based solely on Semenov's absence from practice this morning. If this "news" had broken by itself, I wouldn't even post about it. I just already had this space to write in, and I like talking. No worries yet.

3. The Rangers came back out later in the Late Show, carrying Madonna to the stage on a hockey stick litter. Video!

Semenov signed

The title pretty much says it all. Last night, we signed Semenov for one year at $600,000. This brings the roster up to 22 men and pretty much finalizes it for now - the remaining $361,667 of cap space, less than the minimum NHL contract, is not exactly what I'd call "breathing room." But hey - 22 players, and only a couple are definitely being overpaid, with the jury out on a couple more.

I still don't expect to see Semenov in the lineup for a bit, at least while we're trying out Del Zotto and it's "too early" to realize anyone else deserves to be sat.

I'm going to go downtown to try to get my picture taken with the Stanley Cup now. For all that living in the City of the Penguins has its annoyances, there are definitely some upsides.

Meanwhile, here are some Rangers on Letterman last night. Ten of them, doing the top ten list. It's not that funny, but it's still the Rangers on Letterman. And some of them are kinda funny.

Let's Go Rangers!