Sunday, January 2, 2011

Rangers Outplayed By Panthers; Vokoun Stymies Any Rally Hopes in 3-0 Loss

The Rangers certainly did not start 2011 in the way they would have liked with this Florida trip as they only come away with one of four points and while there was the positive battle and finding a way to get a point in last night’s game tonight there was no such positive takeaway.  The team once again tried to rely on a big third period to bail them out after a bad first, decent second and assumed that since it was a lower level team they could get away with it.  Tonight the magic was not there and give a lot of credit for that to Tomas Vokoun.  Vokoun would make 32 saves on the night including a couple of robberies on Prust, Dubinsky and Zuccarello to name a few.  If Vokoun was anywhere other than in Florida with the Panthers he would get the recognition he deserves as a top goaltender in the league.

For the Rangers after hoping against hope that last night’s late tying goal would spark their offensive star, Marian Gaborik it was not there today as he was mostly invisible in the game and on his best chance of the night he frankly choked the play off the side of the net.  We can rehash all the talk about if he is hurt or pressing or whatever you like, but he has to be better than he has been.  Performances like the last two nights, even the goal are why I felt the need to discuss whether the time has come for the Rangers to at least think about trading out their star winger. Gaborik obviously was not the only one this weekend as plenty of guys have failed to make their presence felt in this game and both games, but he is the star so he gets more credit and more blame than he might deserve.  

Overall the Rangers are going to have to be better if they want to hold on to all the work they did to this point in the season because some teams behind them are starting to figure it out and it will only get tougher from here.  All the guys who have played well will have to maintain and those who have not need to show up as the injuries are really starting to catch up the club which frankly has been lucky of late with the light schedule.

In game thoughts:
The Rangers awful play in the first periods is becoming an alarming trend at this point.  They were dominated by a team that on paper is vastly inferior, but had much more desire to actually play the game.  If not for Martin Biron they would have been trailing instead of tied at the end of one. 

If their play was not bad enough in its own right the number of guys who were coming up injured after  blocking shots only made it worse.  Of all of them Ruslan Fedotenko was by far the most serious when at 12:21 of the first period he blocked of Brian McCabe drive from the point off his hand, and in a true testimony to his toughness Fedotenko would get back up, stay on the ice and continue going down to block shots for the rest of the shift.  He would not return for the rest of the game, but after the game it was announced it was not broken, but a bad bruise, so that is good news.

The second period was only marginally better than the first in terms of energy level, but they were still outplayed by a mediocre team.  The Panthers would strike first when David Booth would put home the goal off a scramble in front that ended with Martin Biron on his back with Radislav Olesz on top of him.  Biron complained for goalie interference and he was certainly bumped but as the replays showed it was his own defender, Steve Eminger, who pushed Olesz into Biron. The power play goal for Florida made it 1-0 Florida 11:32 into the second and was only their 12th goal in 125 chances with the man advantage. The score would remain 1-0 the rest of the period. 

The Rangers were still pretty flat early in the third when it appeared at least momentarily that Florida had scored a second goal on another scramble play in front.  The play would be reviewed and determined that Stillman did kick the puck in so no goal at 3:23 of the period.  Suddenly after more than two periods of boring play once the non-goal occurred the game was suddenly end to end chances.  The Rangers had some great chances for Prust, Zuccarello and Gaborik had a wide open net off a beautiful pass from Steve Eminger that Vokoun had no chance on but he flubbed it off the side of the net.

At 8:50 of the period Chris Higgins made a beautiful defensive play then steamrolled up the boards into the Rangers zone, toe dragged the puck and Michael Del Zotto I guess thought he was playing D sliding passed him and then Higgins actually finished.  If he had made moves like that when he was a Ranger they never would have traded him.

The Rangers would get more chances, but could not solve Vokoun and Weiss would finally add an empty net goal from Stephen Weiss at 18:30 to finish it 3-0.
  • Dubinsky, Stepan, Zuccarello was the best line throughout the game
  • Prust was very good and created chances but could not finish in the final period
  • If Michael Del Zotto is being judged on today’s performance he is going right back to the press box if not the minors as he played tight, scared hockey and still had a number of mental mistakes like pinching with two forwards down low on the puck and the slide way too early on Higgins goal.
  • Biron played well tonight with 33 saves and deserved a better result