So much shit went down! Wow! Check it out!
At 1:30, they officially announced the Winter Classic, Rangers-Flyers at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. In addition to the things everybody already knew, that the Winter Classic will be officially happening (on January 2 at 1:00 PM) and that HBO will be doing a 24/7 series about the two teams leading up to the game (starting December 14 at 10:00 PM), we also learned that they will be doing an alumni game again this year. The game will be December 31, and the prospect of seeing old Rangers play hockey again might actually be enough to get me to spend New Years Eve in Goddamn Philadelphia. This isn't exactly Pens-Caps: there are more than like 3 notable alumni total between these two teams.
The other exciting thing about the announcement was Glen Sather's performance. It was pretty heroic. Here, watch it:
Niiiiiice. Oh, and they'll be using this logo.
Then, last night, after NHL Network went back on its original plan to cover the Rangers-Flyers preseason game live at 7, it went ahead and showed us a slightly abbreviated replay at 11. So, I got to watch some hockey! We lost 5-3 including an empty-netter, but it's silly to talk about overall performance in a preseason game with that many penalties. So let's talk specifics.
As I had guessed, almost every forward that can be considered "on the bubble" was in last night: Avery, Christensen, Weise, Zuccarello, Deveaux, Mitchell, Bourque, Hagelin, and Thuresson all played. This leaves out only Kris Newbury, among forwards at camp who are not considered to be in the "locked" 11 forward spots on the opening night roster. At the end of the night, I expected Deveaux and Bourque to be the two final cuts before the European trip. Turns out, it was Deveaux and Thuresson, which surprises me, but not a lot.
Bourque is clearly not ready to play at the NHL level yet. He was mostly a non-factor. Thuresson scored a goal, which was nice, and held his own with the puck a few times. Hagelin was able to make a couple of cute moves here and there, but didn't wow. Still, he probably looked most NHL-ready of the trio. The reports on Weise and Zuccarello are unchanged: Weise did his 6'2" job and punched a guy, while being otherwise competent. Zuccarello made some really nice passes down low, one of which led to a Ranger goal, but is still a little short for a Storm Trooper.
As for the two guys I hadn't seen before, Deveaux was decent, and Mitchell was impressive. Some reports say that Mitchell was likely the 19th forward, the one that "earned his way to Europe," and I'm not surprised. Dude was strong on the puck and spent a good deal of time in front of the net. Based solely on last night's game, if Avery doesn't get the 12th forward spot, I'd give it to Mitchell.
Speaking of Avery, I feel like he won round two of Avery v. Christensen: Roster Battle 2k11. It's almost comical to watch how often an opposing team member skates past Christensen and all of a sudden Mr. Softie doesn't have the puck anymore. He supposedly makes up for his inability to keep the puck by having a great wrist shot, but last night all he did was hit Bryzgalov squarely in the P a few times. Holy possession time, Batman: he is a piece of shit.
Avery, on the other hand, did almost everything right. First of all, the Rangers first (and only even-strength) goal came entirely from his hard work, down in the trenches, keeping the puck away from like 3 different Flyers. Dude does not lose the puck, ever; it is great.
A few minutes later, dirtbag-in-training Tom Sestito hit Mike Sauer into the boards, from behind. No call. Sauer left the game with a shoulder sprain and will be back in a week. The next thing I heard (over Steve Coates's mic between the benches) was a voice yelling at Sestito to slow down and pay attention, or he was gonna injure somebody. Turns out that voice was Sean Avery's. The next shift, Avery is out there starting trouble with Wayne Simmonds.
A few minutes later, sure enough, Sestito once again goes after a Ranger from behind into the boards. This time, it's Deveaux (not his best night ever), and it's way worse. It leads to a brawl, a game misconduct for Sestito, and almost certainly a suspension from Shanahan today. The Flyers' broadcast brilliantly explained to us that "Avery starting with Simmonds" was where the whole thing started, but hey - that's what you get when you watch the Flyers' broadcast.
Avery did take an unfortunate Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty in the second, which I'd be more apt to judge if I had been able to see it. I saw Simmonds punch Avery in the back of the head, into the glass (no call), and I saw the two of them skate away. I heard the Flyers broadcasters talk a whole bunch about what a drain Avery was on his team, upon the penalty being called a few seconds later. But, because they were too busy talking about it, they didn't bother to ever show us the actual play, so I don't know what happened there.
Avery ended up leaving the game for a reason Torts can't get too upset about: he blocked a shot. Avery went down hard and stayed there for a bit before limping off to the locker room. The good news is apparently his foot is not broken, and he will be fine. It also led to my favorite Flyers broadcast moment of the night, in which they showed Simmonds hitting Avery in the upper body on the previous shift, then immediately showed Avery leaving for the locker room after the blocked shot, and bragged about how Simmonds hit Avery so hard, he had to go to the locker room. My friends, it takes a serious brand of homerism to spin "blocked a shot with his foot and had to limp off to the locker room" into "got hit so hard by our guy 2 shifts ago that he had to leave just now to cry about it," but the Flyers broadcast team is capable of such homerism. And, really, shouldn't we respect those who excel in any field?
On defense, I'm starting to get concerned. While the Staal situation remains as it was (he didn't fly to Europe today, but still could by the end of the week), we had a brief scare with Sauer getting hurt on like his second shift and not returning. Fortunately, he, too, has nothing broken - it's a sprain that will keep him out a week. With him out last night, though, there was a big opportunity for Del Zotto, Erixon, or long-shot Stu Bickel to step up and fill a gap (the other two spots were held admirably by Girardi and McDonagh). And unfortunately, none of them did.
Erixon's ability to make the puck move well on a power play was not tested much last night, with Torts instead opting to test his defensive responsibility at the NHL level (this is smart - I'd hate to bring up yet another young defensemen who's supposed to improve the power play and can't play defense). And, as it turns out, Erixon had some problems. He was caught out of position, he lost the puck a lot, et cetera. Look, I know he's 20. Nothing against the guy. But last night, he didn't look totally ready to play defense in the NHL.
Meanwhile, Del Zotto looked bigger than he did last season, but didn't really look any better on defense. This is a huge disappointment, as he had the opportunity to make a real impact, and he didn't. Oh, and after watching a whole hockey game, I know no more about Stu Bickel than I did yesterday. That doesn't say much for the kid.
One last crazy thing that happened yesterday: Wayne Simmonds called Avery a faggot! Yeah, classy, right? Simmonds, predictably, responded to the media by saying something like "hey, he's Avery, he says shit too sometimes." After some digging, Flyers blogs seem to be pinning it on a clip overheard early in the game. After Sestito threw his (first) uncalled-for intent-to-injure hit-from-behind, Avery yelled at the Flyers bench. It sounded to me like, "You know, I kinda wanna fucking kill Giroux tonight. After -- this guy right here [indicating Sestito]? Get him under control, or we'll fucking kill Giroux."
That right there? That's exactly what he should be saying. This schmuck targeted out guy's head? You keep that punk under control, or we'll go after your guys! I imagine that even most Flyers fans have to see the difference between that quote and Simmonds calling Avery a faggot. Especially less than a week after Simmonds himself, who is black, was targeted by some horribly racist fans in Ontario, who threw a banana on the ice when Simmonds was making a shootout attempt.
And, for perspective's sake, let me once again remind you that when Sean Avery was asked, by a reporter, in a locker room, about being in Calgary (home of Dion Phaneuf, who had started dating Avery's ex-girlfriend, the unassailably attractive Elisha Cuthbert), Avery responded "I just want to comment on how it's become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds. I don't know what that's about, but enjoy the game tonight." As a result, that very same night, Avery was suspended indefinitely for "conduct detrimental to the league or the game of hockey." The suspension ended up being 6 games, plus a mandatory anger management evaluation, and his team (the Dallas Stars) refused to ever play him again.
In conclusion: the Rangers are in Prague now, fuck the Flyers, the regular season starts in 10 days, Avery's great, and I'm spending New Years in Philly.