Monday, November 30, 2009

Sometimes officials don't understand hockey

Okay, people, it's time to talk about why hockey is getting fucked.

Now's as good a time as any, because no thinking person could believe that I'm trying to paint this loss as the fault of the officials. We lost 8-3 (the night after losing 5-1), we clearly deserved it, and the shitty officiating didn't directly affect the score much anyway. There's stuff to say about the Rangers, but I don't really wanna talk about our shitty hockey team right now. I want to talk about what's happening to the game of hockey at the hands of these ass-hats.

"The GMs are meeting." That's the mantra we keep hearing. Every time there's one of these open-ice hits, one of these blindsiding, away-from-the-puck, looking-the-other-way, obviously-intending-to-injure-a-dude, likely concussing hits, we hear it: the GMs are meeting to discuss what to do. Like some ridiculous cabal of faux NHL royalty (I picture each of them smoking a trademark Sather cigar), the word is that they are going to solve this problem, that more and more of these kinds of hits happen every season, and that nothing seems to deter these kinds of players from doing what they do.

7:39 into the third, 19 seconds after the Pens solidified a win by going up 6-3, Matt Cooke delivered such a questionable, open-ice hit to one Artem Anisimov. Anisimov hobbled off the ice and spent the rest of the night on the bench, with smelling salts. Cooke was awarded a 2-minute interference minor and nothing more. Today, the league decided that this was yet another of this mysterious plague of headshots that they can't possibly understand, and it delivered a 2-game suspension to Cooke. That's it, punishment doled out, problem solved.

Here's the thing: I don't wanna complain about the actual hit. It was obviously dangerous, and there's a pretty strong argument it was intentional. If it was, then part of me agrees with the people who say "make that 2-game suspension a 20-game suspension and it'll stop," because that makes sense. At the end of the day, Cooke doesn't care a whole lot that he got caught and suspended this time: in fact, back in January of this year, he did something similar to Scott Walker, received naught more than a minor interference call at the time, and got a 2-game suspension after the fact. It's easy to see that this kind of officiating (especially with the stigma "you can't suspend someone for the important games" (see: Malkin, automatic 1-game suspension, last playoffs, blah blah blah) is not a deterrent. From the Latin, a deterrent would be "that which deters," and we have just seen that it hasn't. Deterred. Right.

So, yes, if the penalty for this kind of hit somehow became egregiously large, that would certainly do more to, well, deter. But, again, I'm not here to argue that Cooke is a pig or that he deserved a 2-month vacation or anything like that. Even with a phenomenally increased suspension (which I'm not necessarily against), mistakes would still be made. The league would be scared of handing out such a steep sentence, and Cooke would likely have instead received no suspension at all in today's review were this the case. Plus, then Avery could get 30 games for calling Brodeur fat. It's not the cleanest solution. Because let's face it: refs these days are imperfect, by which I mean very shitty at their jobs. These guys blew an icing call, not to mention that Crosby was offsides on his first goal (again, not that it would have made any difference).

So, how is this supposed to work? As the guys in the MSG post-game show uncharacteristically sagely put it, "the players need to police themselves." Cooke needs to know that he will receive many punches for it. Hockey is physical for a reason, and teammates need to stand up for one another and make it clear that running their men all over the ice will not be tolerated. This is where the officials are really, honestly making the game more dangerous.

Cooke's next shift, Brashear also jumped on the ice. He didn't retaliate in a comparable way, but in an appropriate one: he went after Cooke for a fight. Two men, facing off and punching each other. It's undeniably integral to hockey. However, as Sam Rosen (yes, Sam Rosen) said post-game, "it's almost like -- and I know this can't be true -- the linesman doesn't understand how hockey works." As they started to square off, a linesman skated between them (Brashear still got a couple of punches in around the linesman's head before he separated them, but still). He wouldn't let them fight. Brashear got a double minor for roughing, and that was it.

This is how the officials are destroying hockey. In a quest to make it more "approachable" or "PC" or whatever the fuck they're trying to do to market our sport to a bunch of football fans who will never like it, they're trying to remove the notion that it's so violent. Somehow, however, they've misunderstood the actual sport, and they're approaching it like a bunch of people who don't watch hockey. They're penalizing the retaliations more than the infractions. The infractions are subtle intents to injure. The retaliations are noble, obvious man-to-man fights. If they take out the retaliations, more suburban American moms will watch hockey.

What they somehow haven't managed to get through their apparently hockey-deprived brains (or, God forbid, what they understand and don't care about) is that this solution has more people leaving the ice on stretchers. It was undeniably the right thing to do for Brashear to go out there and challenge Cooke - even if you think the hit was legit and legal, you'd agree it was hard and shaking enough that you'd want your man to come out and fight for it. By getting in the way of that fight and sending Brashear off for a double, the officials are showing that they don't understand that, and they're implicitly letting Cooke off the hook for the hit (suspension or otherwise) to return and do it again another time.

On Cooke's following shift, with Brashear in the box, Ryan Callahan, earning his 'A', jumped out to challenge Cooke himself. This was mind-boggling. It was as textbook as a hockey fight gets. They lined up for the faceoff, Callahan tapped Cooke's stick, they looked at each other, tapped sticks, dropped gloves, skated out and circled each other, and came in and started punching (Callahan got his ass kicked, no surprises). When they skated apart, they had each earned the standard 5-minute major for fighting...and a 10-minute misconduct.

For what??? The two parties agreed to fight, there was a physical in-game reason for it, it was an honest, clean was completely appropriate in every sense. If this fight earned each man a misconduct, I cannot imagine circumstances in which a fight doesn't. The message from the officials, then, is clearly just a generic "do not fight." And that is completely scary.

For a while now, usually in coming to the defense of Sean Avery, I have been circling this issue of what a "dirty" player does and what a "pest" does. It's only natural, therefore, that I invoke Avery again to draw a final comparison here. With 6:14 left in the game, now already at its eventual final score of 8-3, Avery, seemingly unprovoked, went after Ruslan Fedotenko from behind and started punching him. It looked like a hockey fight, only Avery was the only one participating. [Not The Point: It was later revealed that Fedotenko had tried to slew-foot Avery on the previous play, and this is what got Avery so mad. Fair enough. But still.] [Also Not The Point: When this has happened in reverse, with Avery playing the part of Fedotenko, everyone has yelled about how Avery is such a coward, how he'll get in your face but not actually fight you.]

But here's the actual point: what Avery did was absolutely wrong. He got 17 minutes in penalties, and he probably deserved them all. He at least deserved most of them. He jumped after the guy and started pummeling him in a one-sided fight. This is a bullshit move, and I don't support it. Yes, Penguin fans, go ahead, read that again: Avery was in the wrong there.

But what the sports media fails to understand, and what I fear the officials are also missing, is the difference between what Cooke did and what Avery did. Again, please note: I am not saying that Avery was justified, nor that he shouldn't have been penalized. But it was never, for a second, a done to take Fedotenko out of the game. It was done in anger, and it was physical, and it broke the rules in a major way. But Avery was never trying to give Fedotenko a career-ending concussion. The separation people don't seem to be able to make is a separation of respect for the game and its players.

People laugh when I talk about Sean Avery and respect, but the fact is that Avery's just a pest. He's an asshole, yeah, and he yells obscenities about your mother at you, and he distracts you and he sometimes goes off the deep end and tries to fight you. Compare that to open-ice hits that attempt to snap necks and give concussions, or to knee-on-knee hits that take a guy out for half a season, or to checking someone's face into the boards when he's on his way off the ice. It's one thing that the media can't tell the difference, and it labels Avery the "dirtiest" player in a league that contains Jarkko Ruutu, and that NHL live put Cooke's move and Avery's in the same category. But it's another that the officials start to buy into it. If the sportswriters and broadcasters aren't going to know the difference between "annoying" and "potentially career-ending," then at least Colin Campbell and his striped boys had better figure it out soon - every day they don't is one more day a good hockey player could be removed from the game.

Fighting doesn't make the game more dangerous, you ignorant fucks. In fact, it can help keep the game safer. But a body of lawmakers (or, at the very least, enforcers) that thinks an honest, respectable fight is worse than a subtle attempt to end a career? That unquestionably makes it more dangerous. Next time, Derek Amell or Steve Barton (whichever linesman you were), back up, let the men fight like they're supposed to, skate away, get off the ice, and go home. There was probably a So You Think You Can Dance marathon that would have tided you over until kickoff at 1:00 the next day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No, really

Drury(*) practiced fully today and is expected to return for tomorrow night in Florida. Meanwhile, Kotalik apparently suffered some kind of nondescript minor injury last night and is probably sitting this one out? I guess that's convenient, since Drury(*) can just slip right into that line, leaving Higgins-Prospal-Gaborik and Avery-Anisimov-Parenteau intact (hooray), and producing a less-awkward-than-last-night's-version line of Lisin-Drury(*)-Callahan. So, we get to see how Drury(*) is in a game situation. Happy Thanksgiving break to me (and anyone else who inexplicably gets Wednesday off, too)!

Real quick, before Thanksgiving break

Okay, look, last night was great, obviously. It's fun to score 7 goals in a game, especially when 5 of them aren't scored by Marian Gaborik (or Vinnie Prospal, for that matter). Avery continued to come back out of his shell, and that's the best sign of the night. I thought Redden actually played a pretty good game, but it's hard to look bad when your team scores 6 goals in 15:54. Not that that stopped Rozsival. Lisin-Callahan-Kotalik was unsurprisingly flat, given how very little chemistry that "line" has any reason to have. Higgins gave the best audition to date for the part of Left Wing on the Top Line, and the Avery-Anisimov-Parenteau line was fun to watch; even Parenteau looked good. Del Zotto and Gilroy each had their exciting offensive defenseman moments, though Del Zotto is still afraid to shoot on the Power Play, on account of Gaborik being on the ice somewhere. I'm hoping that tonight will start to help shake off everyone (except Prospal)'s fear of shooting when Gaborik is nearby. It's a good way to end a homestand before starting a 4-games-in-3-nights road trip.

But as Avery said: "I'm happy that we were able to score the way we did, but realistically it's only one game. The challenge is to sustain it." The sad truth is that this is the same Ranger team that, up until last night, were 3-7 in their previous 10, being outscored 28-17, including a 4-2 victory over Edmonton and a 5-3 loss to Atlanta, without which -- do the math -- they scored a pitiful 10 goals in 8 games. Even with last night's win, we are outside the top 8. If we assume everyone wins their games in hand over us, we are ahead of only Montréal, Toronto, Carolina, and the Islanders in the East. Things are not great.

Last night, we put together an exciting offensive effort, accented by some C-grade goaltending from the opposition, yeah. I would even say we played a decent first 10 minutes, despite being down two 9:31 in. But we were significantly weak in our own zone, and we played large swaths of the third period badly (though there's an argument that it's hard for a team to feel like they have to play hard when they earn a 5-goal lead). It's not hard, however, to feel like with slightly better goaltending, Columbus could have made this a game.

Unrelatedly, props to Voros and Brashear for taking their turns kicking Jared Boll's ass, especially to Brashear, who punched Boll in the head about a dozen times before stopping, looking up at the refs to say "uh, what am I supposed to do now? He's still holding on to me," shrugging, and punching him in the head a few more times. That was awesome.

Anyway, the point is, we need to sustain this kind of pressure and tighten up defensively. This game was fun, but it was not exactly a show of our dominance. Florida tomorrow night, Tampa Friday night, and a home-and-home against the Pens Saturday and Monday will be good places to attempt to prove something.

Oh, and have you heard the rumor? Drury's prepped to play tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Larry Brooks is right about all of these things

I know I've been complaining about him and his sometime crusade against our new coach. But Brooksie's piece in the Post today is exactly accurate. He says a lot of things and every one of them is true. I have nothing to add here. Just go read that article and pretend I wrote it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

On opposites

I am the opposite of Stan Fischler, insofar as I am right about everything, and he is wrong about everything (by this same logic, Chico Resch is the opposite of my father). Usually, we (I) here at Play Petr Prucha leave old man Fischler alone. He's like the Grandpa I never had: I always genuinely enjoyed spending time with both of my grandfathers, and Stan Fischler is that old man through whose opinions you smile and nod because he seems so happy about what he's saying, and he's not really hurting anyone anyway. But today, "The Maven" deserves some special dispensation.

On his Twitter stream yesterday (no, really, his fucking Twitter stream), Fischler, with a cry of "I only have 140 characters, there's no room for supporting evidence anyway!", dropped this unjustifiable nonsense: "It's abundantly clear now that Marian Gaborik is better for the Rangers -- on the ice, in the lockeroom -- than kookie [sic] Jaromir Jagr ever was."

Not "I prefer Gaborik's playing style to Jagr's" or "I think Gaborik could end up being better for the Rangers in the long run" or "I like hanging out with Gaborik more" or "Gaborik doesn't have dumbass facial hair, and that's a plus" or anything like that, but "it's abundantly clear." Really, you clueless fucking codger? What, exactly, makes that clarity so abundant?

First of all, I am as sick tired now as I was in 2006 or people complaining about Jagr being some kind of hockey diva. He was great in Pittsburgh, then he went to Washington, and he wasn't happy with the system there, and it wasn't good for him, and his productivity decreased because of it. Everyone decided that meant he was a whiny bitch who was intentionally playing worse hockey because he didn't like it there. That's fucking dumb. No one decides to perform worse in order to spite his club. Certainly not Jaromir Jagr.

Granted, I didn't spend a lot of time in the New York Rangers locker room from 2005 to 2008, but I didn't really get the impression he was a burden there. Notwithstanding Fischler's sophomoric "And what superstar REFUSES captaincy?" (one that isn't willing to take that title until he's sure he can actually handle it, you buffoon), wasn't Jagr exactly the kind of captain we're missing right now? The kind that, when you're down three games to none in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, captains from the ice by playing a one-man fast, physical hockey game at home, putting on a show that says "we're not going down without a fight," and scoring 2 goals and an assist to win the game 3-0 seemingly by himself? The kind that afterwards, despite all evidence to the contrary, tells reporters with a confident grin that there is absolutely still something up your sleeves, just wait until Game 5? I mean, we lost Game 5, losing the series like we were always going to, but still, isn't that the kind of captain you need, if you're gonna go deep? Chris Drury is a very good hockey player, but he could stand to take a college-level course or two on captaincy from Jaromir Jagr. Marian Gaborik might be a lot of fun in the locker room, but there's a reason he's not even an Alternate Captain right now. He's an offensive leader, but despite my lack of experience in the locker room itself, I'm betting he's not a locker room leader.

But perhaps Our Mr. Fischler isn't talking about the human interest side of the story (he is). Perhaps this isn't about being a captain (it is). Perhaps the clarity of the situation became so abundant when Staniel did a deep statistical dive into the offensive prolificacy of each player (it didn't; he didn't). Let's give him the benefit of the doubt there (no).

In Jagr's first season with the Rangers, he scored 54 goals, good for the all-time single season Ranger record, beating out my boy Adam Graves's 52 the year we won The Cup. He also scored 69 assists, putting him at seventh all-time on the Ranger list, behind a Gretzky, a Zubov, a Messier, and three Brian Leetches. For the arithmetically slow, this comes to 123 points on the season, which blew the previous Ranger record out of the water: only 5 other Rangers have ever scored over 100 points in a season, and none of them broke 110 (Ratelle - 109, Messier - 107, Hadfield - 106, Mike Rogers - 103, Leetch - 102).

In his second season with us, when his "decline" began, he put up only 30 goals and 66 assists, good for only ninth all-time in assists (one point behind Gretzky) and eleventh all-time in points (also one point behind Gretzky). He also played all 82 games in each of the three seasons he was with us, and he led the team in goals and points in all three of them, and in assists in two of the three. If you ignore all that wishy-washy "he was a fantastic captain" stuff, he was statistically significant to the Rangers' all-time records. Seriously, look at the list of Rangers' single-season records. Jagr is tied with Mark Messier and Brian Leetch for total appearances on this page, with seven. Behind them, Wayne Gretzky appears six times, and then Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert, and Henrik Lundqvist are tied with four appearances each.

This is not to say that Gaborik isn't incredibly valuable. He is. Of 20 games so far this season, he has played 18, and he has scored 13 goals and 12 assists, for a total of 25 points so far. That's nothing to discount. He's on track to play, in an 82-game season, between 73 and 74 games. In those games, he's on track to tie or just beat Jagr's 54 goal record (54.6), and to net an additional 50.4 assists, for 105 points on the season (which would be fifth for the Rangers all-time). This is a hallmark player, no doubt.

But even if we make the statistical mistake of assuming that the man's performance through 18 hockey games is unquestionably going to continue throughout the rest of the season, through continually rotating linemates, while we come up with some fantastic numbers, we absolutely do not find numbers that come anywhere near abundantly clearly more valuable than Jagr's. In fact, we find numbers that fall short of Jagr's first season with us (which, I'll remind you, was a full season, not an imagined season based on 18 productive games).

And none of this even begins to mention the on-ice intangibles. Jaromir Jagr paved the way for other players to be better. I don't mean that in the feel-good leadershippy way: he took the brunt of every defense, game in and game out. Jagr demanded the attention of the opposition so much that it left other players open on the ice to do what they wanted, and he demanded the talent of the opposition so much that his teammates never had to match up against the best players on the other squad. It's something only the truly elite players do.

Again, none of this is to take anything away from Marian Gaborik, who is unquestionably the most prolific part of the first Ranger team to pose any real offensive threat since Sather let Jagr go to Avangard Omsk. He's fantastic. I would have no problem with Fischler offering the opinion that Gaborik could, if he keeps playing like he has been playing, end up proving as useful as Jagr was for the Rangers. But, really? Twenty games into the season, of which Gaborik has played 18, and it's "abundantly clear"? Cause Jagr was too "kookie"? Get over yourself, old man. You're like a shitty, lame, American Don Cherry who can't afford the alcohol, the attitude, or the wardrobe. Retire.

In other news, it's time to stop enjoying our close-but-mediocre 7-round shootout win against the mediocre Ottawa Senators Saturday afternoon. We couldn't even handle Kovalchuk's first game back with the Thrashers, and tomorrow night we have to deal with Ovechkin's first game back with the Capitals. This game could be very, very painful.

Hey, wow, I was gonna end the post there, but guess what I just learned? Up at the top of the post, I wrote that thing about Stan Fischler being my opposite and Chico Resch being my dad's, but that was before I just now learned that Chico and The Maven have written a book together. That's fucking hilarious. Under no circumstances will I pay money for this street trash, but if someone wants to donate a copy to Play Petr Prucha, I will pay you back by blogging about how wrong they are about things. Bonus points if you stole it. Double bonus if you stole two copies so you could pee on one and send the other one. Negative bonus points if you pee on the one you send me. The book is embarrassingly called "Who's Better: Rangers, Devils, Islanders or Flyers?" Maybe my father and I should write a book, too. Working title: "How Hockey Works: A Children's Treasury of Schmucks You Shouldn't Ever Listen To" - what do you think?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Who plays tonight?

A few quick things: on the Thrashers side, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is now reporting that Kovalchuk did, in fact, make the trip to New York tonight and will be a game-time decision. On our side, Lundqvist has been confirmed as the starter for tonight. Also, I was slightly mistaken about our lines: Brashear-Voros-Byers isn't actually the fourth line, those are the three men acting as our fourth-line wings. Our fourth line, whenever it does make it to the ice, will be made up of two of those three (all three are dressed tonight, they will rotate), centered by one of our other centers (Prospal, Anisimov, or Boyle), double-shifted. Also, I was half right about the wings. Anisimov will get Higgins and Kotalik, and Boyle will get Avery and Callahan.

On Flowcharts

Unlike my friends at Free Tank Carter, I'm not funny enough to write my own flowchart. However, this one was passed to me by a friend (it comes from the Maple Leafs blog Down Goes Brown), and it's worth sharing. And so, meine Damen und Herren, I present to you the top secret decision-making flowchart Colin Campbell and his squad use to determine suspension cases.

No one comes up

So, on the injury front, Lundqvist practiced today and should play tonight, saying he feels better. Drury had a "bad day" at practice today, and is basically ruled out for the next couple of games, at least. I expect that to continue for a long while, before we're sure his head is okay, but they rarely ask me. Drury is apparently unhappy about this situation. Duh. Lisin's cracked foot bone is not keeping him out, he is wearing some kind of crazy special foot shield inside his skate and is playing. Brashear has apparently shaken off the wrinkles and is joining the team.

Where does that leave us? Well, for John Tortorella, it leaves us with enough "NHL bodies" to make a team, without calling anyone up. From what I can piece together, we'll be going with something that approximates the following:

Lisin - Prospal - Gaborik
Higgins - Anisimov - Callahan
Avery - Boyle - Kotalik
Brashear - Voros - Byers

I could be mistaken about Higgins versus Avery and Callahan versus Kotalik; assigning them to the second and third lines was based on my best guesses, everything else is based on reports from today's practice. But my guesses seem pretty reasonable, too.

Finally, in "yeah, what he said!" news, Lundqvist is actually starting to talk about how maybe it's not so great that he gets run over all the goddamn time. From Larry Brooks today (which unrelatedly concludes with some interesting statistics about a depressing second PP unit that Sean Avery can't seem to find his way onto):

I don't think it's been as bad the last little while, but I know it's been a lot more than last year, and if it continues, of course we have to stand up and respond. As long as we get calls, I don't mind getting hit if we get power plays, but if we don't get the calls, then we have to respond to it.

Rest assured, the Rangers will have plenty of chances in the coming weeks to respond to it. The question is not "Are people going to stop running Lundqvist?" The question is: when we continue to not get the calls, are the Rangers going to heed the cries, if not of their fans or coach or of reason itself, then of their unquestionably most valuable player game in and game out, and actually start doing something about it? If, in the wake of these injuries, we can't start to stand up for ourselves, it's going to be a very long season.

Very little of that matters presently, though, since tonight, we're only playing a Kovalchuk-less Thrashers, and Lundqvist himself is only probably playing. It's a very good opportunity, however, to see how these guys react to trying to fill the shoes of their missing peers. That's why Torts isn't bringing anyone up: he wants to see what these guys do. "Sometimes this is where you find out about some people," he eloquently explained. If we don't put forth a few big efforts here, I'd expect to see some personnel come in from Hartford within the week or two.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Shit, meet fan (fans, meet shit)

I came into the Calgary game very excited, because Torts set up to use literally exactly the lines I wanted him to. Prospal-Dubinsky-Gaborik; Avery-Drury-Callahan; Higgins-Anisimov-Kotalik; Lisin-Boyle-Byers; same D-pairs as always, with Valiquette in goal for a second game in a row (giving Lundqvist 9 days rest between games to heal his whatever-is-mildly-wrong-with-him). Everything went crazy, though, and now everything sucks.

For the first 30 seconds of the game, the first line was on, and that was fine. Then, the second line came on, and that was also fine for about 19 seconds. Then, with the puck 10 feet away and moving in the opposite direction, Curtis Glencross moved in on an unaware Chris Drury who had his head down and elbowed him in the head. Drury, needless to say, did not return to the game. Current reports are that he will be out for an unknown period of time, but the good news is that he flew home with the team, which means they weren't afraid of a flight screwing with his concussion (?).

This is what I'm talking about, people. This is why I draw a distinction between "not well-liked" and "dirty." This piece at Bleacher Report probably isn't, like, worth reading, but it summarizes our issue pretty nicely: there are hits that are part of hockey, and there are hits that aren't. It's very hard for a non-hockey fan to distinguish these, but we hockey fans know the difference. There are hard hits (some of which do sadly cause injury), and there are dirty hits. Hits away from the play, hits when the guy you're hitting isn't looking, or his body is relaxed. These are not hits that try to take someone out of the play, they are hits that try to take someone out of the game.

As a Ranger fan, I'm on the fence. On the one hand, I watched my team battle back hard, play the majority of the game without its top two centers (Dubinsky is out 3-6 weeks with a broken hand from a blocked shot), killed of some really questionable penalties, and outplayed the Flames for the large majority of the 3-1 loss anyway. Effort-wise, after winning those games we deserved to lose in the middle of October, there's something nice about losing a game we deserved to win.

On the other hand, if we're gonna lose 3-1 anyway, where is the retaliation? Yes, yes, "the best retaliation is winning." But we didn't do that. The tone of the game was set early, even earlier than this hit 0:49 in, when some Flame came past the red line and bumped Dubinsky during pre-game warmups. If Glencross was going to be officially so very, very unpenalized for the hit, why wasn't he punished by someone's fists? We need to show some kind of passion, to show that this kind of bullshit, even if it's mysteriously okay with the league, is not going to be okay with us. My father sent me an e-mail the next morning that said exactly what I said to my girlfriend at the time: this is why we have guys like Donald Brashear. Not to go out and take cheap shots like these at guys like Blair Betts, but to make people pay in a physical way for hits like Glencross's. And, ideally, to have the decency to do it like a man, with your victim facing you.

Asked about why there was no retaliation, Avery responded, "You can't. You can't. If the game had become lopsided, there's no question something would have been done. It sucks. It sucks, that's what happens with the instigator rule. It protects guys who are cowards." I don't know how I feel about this. On the one hand, you need to flatten a guy who does this to your captain. On the other hand, we all know what the story would have been post-game if Avery had gone after Glencross: Avery would have gotten a game misconduct for starting trouble, the Rangers' loss would have been pinned, at least partially, on those penalties, and the league would have investigated both Avery and Glencross for possible future suspensions. Instead, the Rangers buckled down and played a fantastic hockey game, one that certainly could have been a win if not for the fantastic play of Flames goalie Mikka Kiprusoff.

Which brings me to the counterpoint to "as a Ranger fan," which is how I feel as a generic hockey fan. If we ignore what we think the Rangers should or should not have done differently, Avery's comments are pretty telling here. Glencross was able to get away with a dirty hit like this and then skate around for the rest of the game. Avery was afraid to retaliate because that's what the league cracks down on. And it's true: though Glencross received a 3-game suspension (meh!), Avery could easily have been given 17 minutes for going after him "unprovoked." Meanwhile, four officials managed to give zero minutes to the initial hit.

It speaks to a lack of understanding of the game of hockey. You know that difference between hits I was talking about, the one we hockey fans understand? It seems the school of NHL officiating does not understand it. Time and time again, we see that the rules are formulated to really crack down on the stuff that "looks" (to non-hockey fans) like the dangerous stuff. After all, Glencross just hit someone on the ice with his body - hockey players do that all the time, right? That can't possibly be as dangerous as, say, fighting! The question is: are the aptly-pronounced Colin Campbell and his striped squad trying to keep hockey safer and more true-to-form, or are they trying to make it look safer and "more exciting"?

Anyway, we move forward as best we can. As Larry Brooks put it in an informative piece today, "the thinnest position on the roster and in the organization has taken on an anorexic look." Reports on Drury's injury are largely inconclusive, with Steve Zipay going as far as to say he's not even ruled out playing on Thursday (wow). That said, it seems unlikely he'll play then, as you really don't wanna mess with a concussion. Dubinsky's hand, as I said above, will take 3-6 weeks to heal. (Meanwhile, Lundqvist, Lisin, and Gaborik were all resting instead of skating at today's practice - but, hey, Brashear skated.)

That leaves us with Artem Anisimov, as centers go. As of yet, no one has been called up from Hartford, but I can't imagine that lasting. Presumably, Prospal will be moved back to center, and Anisimov will center the second line. Brooks posits that he might be too young, but I still believe that we'll be bringing Grachev up to fill the third line center position and leaving Boyle to center the fourth. Brooks adequately explains that we can't hire any more centers because we can't afford them, but brings one interesting rule to light: we could place Dubi on Long Term Injured Reserve (this requires a minimum of 10 missed games and 24 missed days, both of which should be no problem here), which would free up his salary (which I believe to be $1.7 million, and Brooks claims frees up only $1.2 million, and I don't know why) to be spent against the cap, but, of course, we'd have to stop spending that money as soon as Dubi returns, so, the short story is: we can't hire any more centers because we can't afford them.

The previous sentence was 114 words long.

Here's a fun exercise I just did:
Higgins - Prospal - Gaborik
Avery - Anisimov - Callahan
Lisin - Grachev - Kotalik
Byers - Boyle - Brashear

...guh...the good news is we don't play again until Thursday, and we only have 4 games from now through November 22. So, now's as good a time as any for all those teams beneath us in the standings to catch up to us. We'll take the time to heal?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

As expected

Steve Zipay confirms: Valiquette will start tonight, Lisin is in, on Drury's line, and Brashear is out, leaving the 4th line as Avery-Boyle-Voros. Exactly zero people were shocked.

Hey, you do remember that Tom Renney is one of Pat Quinn's Assistant Coaches in Edmonton, right? If not, take a quick saunter to his bio. They could probably have stood to use a less...confused picture of him?

I want a really big win tonight.

Punishments and moves forward

Tuesday night: super-brawl. Thursday morning: punishments doled out. So, under an automatic NHL rule, Byers, for receiving an instigation minor in the final five minutes of a game, also receives a one-game suspension (and his coach gets fined). This is an automatic suspension, which you'll recall from when Gary Bettman decided it didn't apply to Evgeni Malkin back in the Spring. Well, this was just some regular season game involving some team that hasn't been branded the Commisioner's "model franchise," so the rules were applied as normal: Byers won't be eligible to play tonight in Edmonton.

On the flip side, Shane O'Brien was summoned to a disciplinary hearing and awarded a not-at-all-automatic one-game suspension - you know, for spearing Avery with his stick while they were both on their benches. Avery, reached for comment, smiled and said, "I'm surprised they haven't called me for being in the area."

Without Byers, we're down to 13 potential forward, two of whom are Enver Lisin and Donald Brashear. The good news is that Lisin skated at practice today, so he may actually be in the lineup. Failing that, they will probably dust off Donald Brashear, throw in some WD-40, and see if he's still scary.

Gaborik and Lundqvist were both out from practice today with minor bumps and bruises. Both should be able to play tonight, though it seems to me to be a real good time for Torts to throw Valiquette into the lineup instead.

After my long talk with him last night, John Tortorella has agreed to recreate Prospal-Dubinsky-Gaborik as the first line. Torts also said he really liked Higgins-Anisimov-Kotalik, so we may see that tonight as well. That would leave Drury and Callahan looking for a left wing, a job for which I would choose Sean Avery, but that Lisin will probably fill if he's healthy enough. This would leave Avery-Boyle-Voros as the likely fourth line, or, if Lisin doesn't make the cut, and Avery is up on Drury's line, Brashear-Boyle-Voros. It seems like we won't be flying anyone like Parenteau or Grachev out to deal with the lack of Byers (it would be silly to).

I like these line ideas, significantly more than I like the stuff we've been playing with lately. I can only hope they work tonight, so we get to keep them. 9:30, at Rexall Place, Let's Go Rangers!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What the hell just happened in Vancouver?

Not much to say about our other games last week. Hoping to post more frequently, now Halloween has come and gone. We didn't show up at the Coliseum, and we got badly outplayed for much of the game in Minnesota (for which a quarter of our regular forwards literally didn't show up). Coach's remarks were largely "no, this isn't a lack of Gaborik, everyone needs to just suck less." Then we beat the Bruins 1-0 in a game that bored the hell out of my hung-over ass. I remember, last season, when watching Ranger games felt like an obligation. Sunday, I had flashbacks.

So, let's jump right to last night. With our lineup largely reconstituted (scratches were Enver "no, really, someone tell me what I'm missing about this guy" Lisin and Donald "$1.4 million dollars, really?" Brashear), Tortorella made a move I loved and put Higgins up on the top line with Prospal and Gaborik. For some reason, he still can't get over his "three-Americans-who-check-people" line of Avery-Dubi-Cally, leaving Drury with Kotalik and Freshman-hottie-of-the-week Dane Byers. (The fourth line, for completion's sake, was Anisimov centering Voros and Boyle.)

Oh, and Prospal was finally named Alternate Captain. I'm right about everything.

The Canucks, even without Roberto "my contract looks like a parody of a contract" Luongo, are a very strong defensive team. We knew this was gonna be a hard team to try to get back strong offensive momentum against. In fact, even Joe Micheletti, pre-game, said "the Canucks are going to try to win this game 1-0." And so, that strong defense, combined with the Rangers resent propensity for not pushing the issue (ever), led to being outshot 10-4 in the first period, after which we were down 1-0 and I was bored again.

About 6 or 7 minutes into the second, we started to pick up our game. By then, lines were started to shift around somewhat. I saw Callahan back on Drury's line. While the Canucks' best defense was focused on shutting down the Prospal-Gaborik-whoever line, Kotalik surfaced as our most promising offensive threat, taking a number of hard shots at the net, like we pay him to do. We continued to battle hard on into the third (wherein Dubinsky earned the glorious reunion of Prospal-himself-Gaborik), and I started to not be bored: it was really a good game.

Also, every day, even when we're playing bad, boring hockey, I like Matt Gilroy a little more. Congratulations to Michael Del Zotto, who was named NHL's rookie of the month yesterday (before having a mediocre-to-poor game last night), but I really can't wait until Gilroy comes into his own.

And then, 4:21 into the third, everything went crazy. First of all, early in the third, the crowd was chanting "Rangers suck!", which was weird, for a 1-0 game against a team we play like once a year (in an arena we haven't won in since Wayne Gretzky scored a hat trick to beat Tom Renney's Canucks, starring Mark Messier, on my 14th birthday). Then, after some questionable pushing and shoving between Gaborik and Bieksa (I think it was Bieksa), there was a line change at a stoppage of play, which developed into a crazy bajillion-person brawl. Because of the line change, more than 5 skaters were out for each team. It was awesome. It lasted like 5 solid minutes before they got everything broken up, going through about 3 "oops, we thought everything was under control and then something else happened" phases, including Shane O'Brien attacking Avery with his stick from his bench. I loved it the way I loved the They Might Be Giants show I saw last month: it was the kind of totally awesome thing that I am too young to have seen when it used to happen all the time.

All said and done, the scrum(s) earned 52 penalty minutes which came in the form of 5 10-minute misconducts (Byers and Girardi; Bieksa, Burrows, and O'Brien) and a 2-minute roughing minor to Ryan Kesler. The brouhaha did exactly what we wanted it to: acted as another big push in a momentum shift that hadn't quite worked yet. On the ensuing power play, Chris Higgins (finally!) scored, and as he looked to the heavens mouthing what appeared to be "Thank Christ!", the game was tied. On top of which, Bieksa mouthed off at some official after the goal and earned himself another two.

We didn't capitalize on that minor, but all of a sudden there were 11 and a half minutes left in a fast-paced, exciting, tied hockey game. Oh, um, but, Michal Rozsival's on our side. So after a weak play by Del Zotto, the puck was coming innocently down near Hank's left side, with Rozsie a step ahead of Kesler. Somehow, between Rozsival's skill level and Kesler's, Kesler managerd to get past him and get to the puck first, skating behind the net and leaving Rozsival in the dust. Then, Kesler flew past DZ, and Rozsival stood in front of the net, which was a great place for him to watch and do nothing as Rypien recieved Kesler's feed a foot away and regained the lead. The game had been tied for a total of 2:24.

The deal-sealing third Canuck goal was on a power play from a very, very questionable hooking call on Rozsival a few minutes later, though even if Rozsie was just in the wrong place at the wrong time (story of his life?), I can't imagine it endeared him to Torts any further. Empty-netter at 18:36, big brawl at 18:50, Rangers lose 4-1. So, it wasn't pretty. But at least it was fun for a while.

Torts, keep Callahan and Dubi on different lines, keep Lisin off the top line, keep Brashear scratched, and fire Rozsival, out of a cannon, into the sun. Just some suggestions. Western Canadian road trip part two is Thursday night in Edmonton. Is it time to get things rolling again? When do we start getting concerned? Well, let's look at our two 8-game sets. Since outscoring our opponents 32-15 to start the season 7-1, we have given up 28 goals and scored only 19 in going 2-5-1. Tomorrow's as good a time as any to win a game 9-2.