Thursday, December 30, 2010

Video: Stamkos Hypocrisy? TB Star Goes Spin-O-Rama On Penalty Shot After Criticizing Omark

Fancy shootout moves have been the talk of late, but what makes this one different is it was during regulation play and meant a goal for the Lightning as star Steven Stamkos drove hard towards his forehand and then slammed the brakes and spun around using his backhand to beat Carey Price.

Don't think Ryan Malone and Dan Ellis will be complaining about this one like they did with Linus Omark, do you?

Does Stamkos change his comments about Ovie or Crosby not doing something like that since he just did?

Personally I did not have anything wrong with what Omark did the first time and thought it had very little to do with the goal itself, and the overreaction to it was unjustified.  On this particular occassion the move had everything to do with the goal and the point after all is to score so kudos to Stamkos for doing his job and putting it in the back of the net.

Video: P.K. Subban Cleans Out Dana Tyrell With Open-Ice Beauty

Montreal Candiens rookie defenseman P.K. Subban is going to get a reputation if he keeps flattening apponents in the neutral zone.  Two weeks ago it was Marchand and tonight it was Dana Tyrell of the Tampa Bay Lightning.  It is great to see open ice hitting still a part of the NHL game.

Video: Team USA Highlights Vs Germany

Erik Christensen Out 4-6 Weeks With Sprained MCL

According to multiple reports, New York Rangers Center Erik Christensen has been diagnosed with a second degree sprain to his right MCL and will be out of the lineup anywhere from four to six weeks.  Christensen sustained the injury last night during the second period when he was knocked into the post, where he immediately grabbed for the knee.  He would not return to the game and now we know for how long he will be missing.  Christensen, 27, has totaled six goals and eight assists for 14 points in 37 games this season for the team and while he has played at times with star Marian Gaborik his biggest contributions of late have been in the shootout.   The Rangers have already recalled Dale Weise from Hartford to take Christensen’s place on the roster, but questions about the lineup have not yet been answered.

Video: Ovechkin Obliterates Russian Dolls In Shooting Practice

If the NHL really wants to change All-star weekend into something that gets more national attention than it currently does, then they should be doing things like what ESPN did with Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. ESPN had Ovie take the traditional accuracy competition and "spiced" it up by changing the traditional disc targets to Russian Dolls and filling them with Russian salad dressing.

What ensued was a highly messy but even more entertaining display of the skill one of the top players in the world has to put the puck wherever he wants to at any moment. This is the kind of ingenious move that would help build the sport to a higher level among a national audience, so let's have more instead of the same boring commercials and gimmicks like fantasy drafts at the ASG.

The key beyond the skill and the mess which will make people pass this on to all they know is the personality of Ovechkin when he grins and says, "I'm glad I'm not one of the dolls." Now you know what NHL goaltenders must be thinking every time he breaks in on them.

Recap: Whale Win Behind Kennedy OT Goal Vs Former Club (Video)

The Connecticut Whale continued to ride the wave up the standings with Wednesday night’s 2-1 victory over the Portland Pirates.  The Whale is now a superb 8-1-0-1 in their last 10 and 10-1-0-1 in the 12 games since the name change and those marks have moved the Whale into third place in the Atlantic Division only 1 point behind the Pirates for second.  One of the biggest keys for the Whale resurgence has been that on any given night a different guy could be the hero and on this night former Portland Pirate Tim Kennedy was that hero.  Just 36 seconds into overtime Kennedy would patiently hold the puck at the right faceoff circle looking for and faking multiple passes before finally firing the shot that would beat Pirate’s netminder Jhonas Enroth to the short side high.  The shot had beautiful placement on it, but if not for the patience and fake passes Enroth probably has a better chance to square up the shot and possibly save it. 

For Kennedy beating his old club has to add a little something to what has been a tough few months for the 24 year old who two seasons ago with Portland was on the AHL all-rookie team and led all first year players with 67 points and 49 helpers.  Kennedy would go to the big club, Buffalo Sabres the following season and have a decent rookie season in which he posted 10 goals and 16 assists in 78 games.  All seemed to be heading in the right direction but then Buffalo walked away from Kennedy’s arbitration award.  Trying to stay in the NHL Kennedy would sign with the New York Rangers but fail to make the club and end up back in the AHL this season.  Kennedy has had some ups and downs this season for the Whale but has gotten his game going of late with 1G and 3 assists in the last three contests including the game winner on this night.

As for the rest of the game the first period had no offense to speak of and as the highlights show the only real entertainment was a huge hit by Dale Weise in his own zone and then in the two fights that happened literally within five seconds of each other.  Brodie Dupont took on Tim Conboy and Conboy was in charge early in the fight, but Dupont would land the biggest punch of the fight to even it out by the end.  In the other fight Justin Soryal and Dennis McCauley would square off and while McCauley got in some good shots of his own I think Soryal won the fight overall, but a very good scrap.

While the first had little offense, the second had its share of chances and if not for strong goaltending by both Chad Johnson and Jhonas Enroth goals would have come.  The best chances stopped by Johnson were from Derek Whitmore who was left alone in front for a one-timer on a play from behind the net which Johnson would stop.  Then again while the Whale were on the power play Weise would try a backhand pass to Wade Redden at the point but it would be Whitmore streaking the other way on a breakaway Johnson would stone with the pad as Whitmore tried a wrist shot low stick side.

Early in the third while on a 5-on-3 power play it would be Enroth’s turn to make some big saves as he would stop the initial shot from Jeremy Williams and then stone Tim Kennedy’s rebound attempt and then Kennedy would attempt to slide it across the crease to Dale Weise but it would not connect. 

The scoreless tie was finally ended when Ryan McDonagh made a very smart play at the point when he held the Pirate’s attempted clear in the zone.  McDonagh instead of just playing the puck to keep it in fired it at the net and with Portland looking to break out it left three Whale players in front with only one Pirate defender and Kelsey Tessier would be the beneficiary as he would collect the rebound and have an open net to shoot at.  The Whale took the lead 1-0 4:58 into the final period.

That lead would be short lived however as just 1:11 later after Portland barely maintained the zone Colin Stuart would feed Paul Byron at the top of the left wing circle and he would wind and fire one by Johnson to make it 1-1.

Following the goal the Whale would have a few more chances lead by Evgeny Grachev taking a feed from Williams at the left side faceoff circle and firing a shot that beat Enroth but would then he the crossbar and stay out.  Finally the Whale would have a power play late in regulation, which would be the same one Kennedy scored on early in OT, but Chad Kolarik would be denied by Enroth in the waning seconds.

As most of you know following the game the Rangers called up Dale Weise from the Whale and also that the Whale will be getting Todd White in time for their weekend games.  It will be interesting to see how Gernander handles the lines with Zuccarello and Weise both in New York and where he incorporates White’s veteran presence in the lineup.

Rangers vs Flyers Only Real Choice For 2012 Winter Classic

With the 2011 Winter Classic just two days away it is not too early to start thinking about where the 2012 version of this annual event will be held and the implications that choice could have on various aspects of the sport.  Each year the event has become bigger and bigger after starting in Buffalo, moving to Chicago, then Boston and now Pittsburgh.  The next logical progression is to bring the game to the New York City area with one of the leagues original six teams, the New York Rangers as the host team.  New York makes tremendous sense because it gives you a vast array of different match-ups you could market both in terms of team rivalries, the sport and geographic considerations.

The Winter Classic has become the NHL’s signature regular season game in terms of audience and maybe even more importantly revenue.  Just yesterday Chris Botta over at AOL Fanhouse talked about the evolution of the event and revenue stream that has come out of it for the NHL.  From the article:
According to data provided by the NHL, it appears Burwick was on to something. League sponsorship revenue is up $330 million over the last three years, with the signature New Year's Day event as the driving force. All broadcast spots on NBC are sold out, with NHL partners buying 37 units -- up from 28 last year. Geico and Verizon have created hockey-centric spots, a rarity for major companies in the U.S. The Winter Classic gear by Reebok (knit hats, scarves, workout shirts) is such a massive revenue generator -- 38,000 jerseys have been sold as of this week -- Collins refers to the merchandising as "our 31st team." HBO's four-part "24/7" documentary is bringing the NHL closer to the casual fan. Projected revenue for the 2011 Classic is up 20 percent from last year's game between the Bruins and Flyers in Fenway Park and more than 200 percent over the 2008 game in Buffalo.
Speaking of HBO 24/7 having just watched the third episode the series leading up to the Capitals Penguins game all I can say is that I wish HBO covered the NHL in their next TV contract and that I want more 24/7, including if HBO and the NHL were willing a similar type event for the playoffs as a whole or just the finals series.  As much as many fans might not like to admit it the real reason the NHL got HBO to sign on to do 24/7 at all was because of the match-up of Ovechkin and Crosby.  What we have now though because of the exposure HBO has given the game beyond the normal NHL fan is an opportunity to expand the marketing of the game past just Ovechkin and Crosby and back to the overall quality of the game.  The problem is you need something large to draw the attention of HBO again to continue their willingness to be a part of the package. 

I believe New York gives HBO that kind of potential draw given the city itself and that the team has remade itself from one that relied solely on big name stars to a homegrown club improving by becoming a single unit instead of a collection of individuals.  That said the Rangers do have an interesting group of engaging personalities in the locker room like Sean Avery, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky while behind the bench John Tortorella is always entertaining whether you agree or disagree.  Along with the personalities you have star quality in terms of Henrik Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik with rising players with Marc Staal at the top of that list.  On the merchandise side, I believe given the global reach of the New York Rangers brand it is tough to fathom them not only sustaining the merchandise sales but increasing the reach of the game, especially if the right match-up is involved.  For both HBO and the NHL the match-up will be critical to the success of any event involving the Rangers. 

For many there is a natural inclination to keep the game a New York game and pit the Rangers against either the Devils or the Islanders, but with the struggles of both clubs this season I do not see that as a viable option and is probably too narrow for the league as a whole.  There are four match-ups that can appeal to the NHL on differing levels in terms of an opponent for the Rangers, though one stands above the rest.

The best option I believe is playing against Philadelphia as it has both a team and city rivalry aspect to the game which will draw out a level of intensity to the game that probably has not been seen in any of the previous match-ups other than Detroit/Chicago.  In Philadelphia you have a team that went to the Cup finals last season, is among the favorites this year and boasts an extremely young and talented roster with marketable players like Mike Richards, Chris Pronger and burgeoning star Claude Giroux.  In terms of 24/7 there are plenty of characters on the team that could make for entertaining television and a look at the New York/Philadelphia dynamic both on and off the ice as well.  The drawback is that Philly was just in the game against Boston, though so was Pittsburgh when they played Buffalo in the inaugural event and that did not disqualify them from making a second appearance.

Playing against Boston has many of the same positives as Philly with a possibly larger city vs city dynamic and the original six component, but possibly less intense being non division.  The main drawback is also the same drawback as a match-up with the Flyers.

Playing the Los Angeles Kings would give the NHL the ability to bring in a West Coast team that would never host a game due to the weather, and also give a tip of the cap to the history of the first NHL outdoor game just over 20 years later as the game took place Sept. 27, 1991, which took place in Las Vegas.  The Kings are a very talented team with marketable talents like Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty and New York against Los Angeles brings ratings in just about anything they do and will certainly sell merchandise.  The negative is there is little on ice history to the rivalry, so some of the bad blood between the teams and fan bases would not be there like with other match-ups.

Playing Montreal would give the NHL the ability to market the game as an original six match-up and against the most successful NHL franchise.  This would allow the NHL to include a Canadian team which it has yet to do in the previous four incarnations of the game.   The match-up would oppose the second and third most valuable NHL franchises according to Forbes, but there is a reason the NHL has yet to include Canadian teams in the Classic and that is because the ratings do not crossover and ratings are what drives advertising dollars.  Besides the NHL will tell you there is already the Heritage Classic for teams north of the border.

The biggest impediment to the Rangers getting the Winter Classic for 2012 is the venue.  If Yankee Stadium was available I think this would already be wrapped up but because of the commitment the stadium has with the Pinstripe Bowl that is not a possibility.  It has recently been said the NHL is considering both Citi Field and the New Meadowlands for potential sites for the Classic.  Citi Field is not really a viable candidate for the game, but while there are complications to using the Meadowlands (having to move two NFL teams for two Sundays) and it will not have the same mystique as using Yankee Stadium it is a very viable option for the game; similar to that of Heinz field this year.  The stadium is brand new, state of the art along site and goes along with Gary Bettman previously saying that football stadiums often offer better viewing for the hockey events; especially in the lower sections.  The capacity at the stadium is 82,500, which while not the Big House at Michigan, would be the largest capacity of any of the host sites the NHL has used thus far and offers the NHL the ability to one up the NFL who is afraid to schedule their biggest game for the NYC area.

Factoring in all the potential sites and match-ups that could be viable for the NHL in the 2012 Winter Classic the best solution to advance the NHL and this game in particular is New York Rangers vs Philadelphia Flyers at the New Meadowlands stadium.  How could HBO possibly turn down the chance to follow Tortorella, Avery, Pronger, Carcillo around to see the next crazy thing that is going to come out of one or all of their mouths?  How great would a Rangers-Flyers alumni game be with Messier, Richter, Leetch, Graves and more taking on Lindros, LeClair, Brind'Amour, Hextall, Tocchet, Kerr and any of the Broadstreet Bullies that still wanted to still go?  How great would it be filming Christmas and New Year's in New York?  It is clear the only choice is Rangers vs Flyers.

Tell me your thoughts on where you would like to see the game and who you want in it.

Daily Recap: Rangers Grind; Christensen Hurt, Weise Back; Del Zotto to Minors Good?; White Gone

A lot went on around the New York Rangers today starting most notably with the Rangers finding a way to get the two points behind Lundqvist, Boyle and Dubinsky most notably.  The game was by no means pretty, but it was another one of those examples of why this year’s club is different from prior ones in that they come out with these wins in some form or fashion.  Coach John Tortorella echoed those thoughts to some extent in his postgame press conference in which among other things he talked about the Rangers having a certain mentality they play with.

Lundqvist was brilliant as he normally is against the Devils and the two best Rangers offensive players over the course of the season had a hand in all three of the teams goals and so while they were likely outplayed over the course of the game they got the most important thing; the result.  The full recap of the game has more complete thoughts on the game, who played stood out most and as always details on all the goals and big plays.

During the game the Rangers lost center Erik Christensen to what is currently being called a knee sprain, but no timetable was given this evening as to how long he would be out.  In response to the injury the Rangers announced tonight that they have recalled Dale Weise from the Connecticut Whale.  Personally with the Rangers finally sending Todd White to Connecticut this afternoon I thought Weise would be here soon either way, but this certainly sped up the process.  The question now is with losing Christensen how the lines will shake out as the team has a lot of wingers and this might mean Drury goes back to center on the fourth line.  More detailed thoughts on all of that another time.

This morning’s story was about the hot topic of yesterday whether Michael Del Zotto might go down to the minors and I looked at the pros and cons of the move along with a potential option as a power play quarterback who is still out there on the free agent market to fill that void along with a left handed defender if they do send MDZ down.  I am very mixed at the moment on sending Del Zotto down, though moving more towards liking the idea than I was previously because I think a large part of the problem right now for DZ is what is going on with him and Torts.  I do not think Torts is putting him in the best scenarios to succeed in terms of whom he is paired with and matched up against along with the way he is allowing him to play as he seems to be taking away some of his biggest strengths and as a result DZ is playing scared hockey.  The biggest worry is obviously that it will put Michael in the tank confidence wise like it did with Gilly last year.  More thoughts in the article.

This afternoon I looked at the rumors surrounding the Atlanta Thrashers looking to move Niclas Bergfors and whether the Rangers should get involved and overall depending on the price I am intrigued enough by the talent to think it might be worth a shot.  Like I said it is very dependent on the price though and so it is really about how badly Atlanta wants to move him as with Torts it could flame out and I would not want to risk dealing anything of real value.

In the video department there were a couple of entries:  During the game there was a decent scrap between Brian Boyle and Dainius Zubrus.  From the WJC there was video of Rangers 2010 6th round pick Jesper Fasth scoring against Russia on a pretty play that showed a goal scorers aptitude for me.

Finally in a story that will surprisingly make Rangers fans very happy the Islanders and Rick DiPietro managed to finally end the scoring streak of Sidney Crosby.  Now let us hope that it means the end of that hideous disease on the top of his lip.

DiPietro Stops Crosby Streak at 25 Games...More Importantly With It End The Mustache?

All the worry this week concerning the Winter Classic has been about whether Mother Nature would rain down on Saturday and cause the game to be potentially postponed until Sunday.  What was never considered even possible is that the New York Islanders and Rick DiPietro of all goaltenders would be the one to stop the scoring streak of Sidney Crosby just one game short of the NHL’s biggest regular season spectacle.  You could see all the marketing and conversation that was being set up to discuss the streak on Saturday during the game, but it was DiPietro and the Islanders who ruined all those plans and ended the streak at 25 games. 

Part of the reason there was little worry that the Islanders and DiPietro would stop the Crosby run was because there is no team that Sidney has victimized more often in his career than the team from Long Island.  In 32 career games against the Islanders coming into the contest he had scored an eye popping 62 points with 18 goals and 44 assists.  Combine that with the fact the Islanders are currently 29th in the league in points, 28th in the league in goals against and gave up seven goals to the New York Rangers in their last contest.  If the Crosby’s personal stats against them and the Islanders team stats were not enough mix in Rick DiPietro playing his first game after missing the prior five games with a bad knee and it seemed like a virtual lock for Crosby. 

Love Crosby or hate Crosby the 25-game point streak was an impressive feat and tied him with Wayne Gretzky (1990-91), Bryan Trottier (1981-82), Brett Hull (1991-92) and Bernie Nicholls (1984-85) for the 11th-longest run in NHL history.  During the streak Crosby netted an unbelievable 26 goals and 24 assists for 50 points along the way.

The Penguins certainly tried their best to get Crosby every opportunity to continue it as he would log 26:16 of ice time, but with all the attention he would only account for two shots in the game.  There was an attempt at some shenanigans by the Penguins with 7:01 left in the final period when a penalty shot was called for when an Islanders player covered the puck in his own crease.  Crosby was not on the ice at the time of the play so he was ineligible to be the shooter, but that did not stop the Penguins from trying though they were stopped and Kris Letang would miss the shot.

For good measure DiPietro would stop Crosby in the shootout and while Penguins fans, NHL executives and corporate sponsors were sad for the end of the streak it was the highlight of the year for the Islanders and a reason for Crosby haters to rejoice.  With any luck for viewers of the Winter Classic, especially in HD it will mean the end of that awful “mustache” he has been growing as well because the end of that thing will be even sweeter than the end of the streak itself.  Now we are left to ponder if what DiPietro and the Islanders did might be worse for the NHL and the Winter Classic than the rain Mother Nature could bring on Saturday.