Thursday, March 31, 2011

Video: Tortorella Refusing To Discuss Awful Team Perfomance

Rangers Embarass The Sweater With Performance Against Isles, Risk Playoff Spot

There are no words to accurately describe the disgrace that was the New York Rangers performance tonight in a 6-2 loss to the “rival” Islanders.  Coming off a mediocre performance in their biggest game of the year last night in Buffalo the team decided it didn’t really have to show up at all with the belief the Isles were going to roll over and hand them two points.  The power play was atrocious in going 0-7, defensive zone coverage was even worse, but the utter lifelessness and lack of effort for the team as a whole was the worst part of it all.  There is no way in the last five games of the year that you should lack effort and energy while battling for a playoff spot. The performance was an embarrassment to the sweater that they wear and should have all the men in that room ashamed at their "effort".
Hard to believe but the Rangers actually did lead in this game when Vinny Prospal made it 1-0 Rangers 14:25 into the first period.  The goal was created by excellent work from Marian Gaborik down low would get him the puck, he stepped out and fired a shot that was blocked by Jack Hillen, then Gaborik played the puck over to Prospal who fired a quick slap shot from the right faceoff circle that beat Montoya high.
Following the goal the Rangers would have a series of four power plays over the next eight minutes of action including two different 5-on-3 advantages in which the team converted nothing and ended up creating momentum for the Islanders and they would actually feel like converting something tonight.
Blake Comeau and Radek Martinek would score 33 seconds apart to take what was a 1-0 deficit and turn it into a 2-1 Islanders lead.  After killing off the Rangers sixth power play of the game the Islanders would could get two more quick goals during the latter stages of the period with the first from Jesse Joensu on a deflection and then Parenteau would score 76 seconds later to make it 4-1.
Matt Moulson added to the insult mid-way through the third and then the ultimate indignity occurred when Trevor Gillies scored at 14:00 of the third period to make it 6-1.  Prust gets an absolutely meaningless goal with 13.6 seconds left to make it 6-2.
Now they have to pick themselves up and show some of the heart they showed before the last two nights on Sunday or all the work of the first 76 games could unravel rapidly.

Rangers Recall Cam Talbot, Precaution or Lundqvist Not Available Tonight?

According to the AHL Transaction Log, the New York Rangers have recalled goaltender Cam Talbot from the Connecticut Whale of the AHL. There was no corresponding move to send Chad Johnson down to bring Talbot up so that means the Rangers will have three goalies on the roster for tonight which brings into question the availability of Henrik Lundqvist tonight against the Islanders. 

Lundqvist took a shot off his right leg above the knee last night, but was able to stay in for the third period.  It would be no surprise to see that once the adrenaline left the body and the injury had the night to set in that the issue is worse today than yesterday, but even if Lundqvist is out tonight I would expect him to be back shortly.  The move for Talbot is likely one of precaution in case Lundqvist cant go so the Rangers dont end up with only one goalie available.

Ryan McDonagh Strides Into Hockey's Future Top 50 Prospects

Ryan McDonagh has been so good since being brought up to the Rangers in early January that there are many points where you forget he is still a rookie and technically even still a prospect.  Today is one of those reminders as the Hockey’s Future countdown of the top 50 prospects in the game has started and McDonagh comes in right at number 50.  McDonagh had been ranked by HF before when he came in at number 39 back in Fall 2009. 

The heady McDonagh has impressed during his time with the Rangers this season, and seems poised to move his career to another level.

There were those who were concerned with McDonagh’s game last season with his lack of offensive production at Wisconsin and then his slow start in the AHL at the beginning of this year but he has more than erased those doubters since coming to the NHL.  From nearly day one he has played with a tremendous amount of poise, intelligence and skill on the ice that when you watch him you see a veteran on the ice not a player still eligible for prospect lists.  In 35 games for the Rangers McDonagh has eight assists with an impressive plus 17 rating in 18:39 of ice time per game while combining with Michael Sauer to be arguably the Rangers best defensive pair in the stretch drive.  The sky is the limit for this young player who might come in at number 50 on this list but will be much more valuable to the Rangers than that for the next decade.

Rangers Offense Still Boom Or Bust, Will It Cost Them Playoff Spot?

The New York Rangers are a team that prides itself on the consistency of their effort in order to gain results and that has shown itself throughout the 2010-11 season.  The one place the Rangers have failed to find that consistency is on the offensive end of the ice.  After the offense exploded for 17 goals in three games the team has gone back to struggling only accounting for three goals in the last four games.  Luckily for the team they have played tremendous defense over the same stretch only surrendering three goals and going 2-1-1. 

It is great to have a defense and goaltender that can shut teams down like that and it will give you a chance in just about every night, but you have to score some goals to win in this league.  It is not too much to ask for an offense to find two goals a night and yet over these last four games the Rangers cannot seem to find a way to do it.  A lot of the offensive struggles are confidence related as this team is one that when it starts flowing in a game can explode because everyone else loosens up.  When they struggle to score early in the game they get tighter and tighter and then the problem seems to snowball on itself.

On the season, according to, the Rangers have scored 210 goals in their 77 games, an average of 2.73 goals per game which ranks them 16th in the league.  That does not seem all that bad, but that factors in the fact that the Rangers have scored six goals or more on nine different occasions this year.  If you take those games out the Rangers are left with 152 goals in the other 68 games the team has played which is an average of only 2.24 goals per game and would rank them 29th in the league.  To further that they have had 20 games this season in which they scored 1 goal or less.

Obviously all teams are going to have games where they have big offensive nights that inflate their numbers and others where they struggle and the numbers slide, but the Rangers have been a huge team for the differential.  Until the Rangers figure out a way to get more consistent with their offense their ability to be a true contender for the Cup will be in question and maybe even their spot in the playoffs altogether.

Video: Did Getzlaf Play Hide-and-Seek With Puck To Rob Flames of Goal?

Quick thinking and a will to do whatever it takes to win are things any team wants from its players and it appears on Wednesday night Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks put both of those to work by breaking the rules to prevent a Calgary goal late in the second period.  With the Ducks up 2-1, Tim Jackman deflects the puck on net and it appears to be resting on top of the prone Ray Emery over the goal line when Getzlaf comes in, closes his hand on the puck to hide it from the video review and then slides the puck out under Emery.

Following the review it was ruled that no goal was scored as there was not enough video evidence to overturn the call.  TSN does an excellent job breaking down the play:

Did Getzlaf steal a goal from Calgary?  Is that leadership from the captain of the Ducks?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Video: Tortorella Defends Gaborik, Rips Urgency/Effort After Buffalo Loss

Rangers Lack Urgency In Shutout Loss To Sabres, Drop To Eighth in East

Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Tonight was billed as the biggest game of the New York Rangers season as they were heading into Buffalo to take on the Sabres with a chance to gain ground on those in front of them and put some distance between themselves, the Sabres and the Hurricanes.  The problem is no one on the Rangers displayed that sense of urgency for the majority of the hockey game.  It was not until the third period that team actually had some urgency.  The team did scramble late in trying to tie the game and salvage something from the night, but the overall effort was not nearly to the level necessary to be successful and so the team will leave Buffalo in eighth place only three points up Carolina for the final playoff spot.

The Rangers were given a gift in catching the Sabres without Ryan Miller and acted ungrateful as they made the majority of the night on backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth.  Enroth would only have to make 23 saves to get his first career shutout. To Enroth’s credit he did make three or four beautiful saves in the third period to secure the 1-0 victory.

As for the action the Rangers were dominated for the first half of the first period, but would mount some pressure late in the period including a disallowed Artem Anisimov goal with just over two minutes left.  On the play Ryan Callahan was skating through the crease and ended up sandwiched between Enroth and Sekera.  While not a malicious play by Callahan it was the right call to disallow the goal because it did impact Enroth’s ability to get back and play the rebound from Anisimov.

During the second period the Rangers were woeful and the only goal of the game would happen.  Brian Boyle broke down on a two-on-one, while shorthanded, with Ryan Callahan and elected to make the pass which was blocked and Buffalo came back the other way.  The puck would eventually end up on the stick of Tim Connolly along the left wing board and he wound up for a blast that beat Lundqvist high at 5:28 of the second.

Adding injury to the insult of the effort of the first two periods was Henrik Lundqvist being down again, but this time not from being run into by the opposition.  With just 24.4 seconds left in the second period Lundqvist appeared to take a shot just above his right knee while he was down in the butterfly.  After shaking off the leg and being checked by Jim Ramsey he stayed in the game for the rest of the night.
The third period saw the Rangers finally show some urgency and create some scoring chances that tested Enroth, but they could not solve him tonight.  The best chances were had by Stepan and various others by
  • Marian Gaborik and it had the feel they would find a way to get one though it was not meant to be.
    Prospal-Stepan-Gaborik was the most dangerous line for the Rangers tonight
    Sean Avery had an impact in his minutes
    Wolski or Christensen need to hit the bench tomorrow and let Zuccarello get back in.

Buzz: Rangers Interested In Stephane Da Costa, What He Would Bring To New York

As the college hockey season winds down the undrafted free agent signings from the college ranks really heat up and one of the most sought after players out there this season is Merrimack forward Stephane Da Costa.  Da Costa is a 5'11" 180lbs center that starred during his sophomore year for Merrimack College, with a team leading 45 points (14-31) in 33 games.  Following his freshman campaign Da Costa was named the NCAA (Hockey East) Rookie of the Year and NCAA (New England) Rookie of the Year as well.  

Per Larry Brooks of the New York Post the Rangers are in on the bidding war that will be the Da Costa recruitment.  The team most frequently connected with him at this point has been the Minnesota Wild, but Darren Dreger reported yesterday that as many as 20 teams were in on him.

In terms of what you are getting in Da Costa he is 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, plays center and is an extremely intelligent hockey player that has vision and goal scoring touch.  Playmaking is his best attribute, but he is a very good skater, even if not fast, and handles the puck very well both in moving it and protecting it from the opposition.
If the money is all the same, as it appears to be from reports, then Da Costa is going to go to the team that gives him the best chance to play right away and prove he belongs at the NHL level.  If that is what the decision is based on, then coming to New York likely would not happen with the number of young and talent players we already have that he would be competing against for roster spots next season, but it would be great to add him to the mix.

Will The Rangers Buyout Wojtek Wolski This Summer?

When the New York Rangers acquired Wojtek Wolski for Michal Rozsival back in January the word no-brainer was used by anyone and everyone around as the move brought New York a young player with offensive upside, save the team cap space and opened up a defensive spot for Ryan McDonagh to play at this level.  Over the course of his 32 games with the Rangers he has amassed only 16 points (5-11) and has been brilliant in some games and healthy scratched for one as well.  The move is still the right one, but the questions have to start becoming more concrete about just how long Wolski’s stay in New York will last. 

With a cap hit of 3.8 million dollars next season and the Rangers in need of relief to sign their own restricted free agents and possibly chase the likes of Brad Richards the team will need to find the money from somewhere and Wolski could be part of that process.  According to Capgeek the buyout for Wolski this summer would only cost the Rangers 466,667 against the cap next season and 666,667 which would create over 3.3 million in cap space for the team this summer which would provide significant breathing room and options for the organization.

The lure of Wolski’s skill could entice the Rangers to keep him around, but if he keeps going like he has been where he is scoreless in his last seven games and providing little to nothing else on the ice then one would have to think that they would consider cutting bait on him whether it be trying to deal him or just walking away for pennies and taking the cap space with the roster spot.  It will be up to Wolski to go back to how he was playing when he was first brought to New York which was a dangerous offensive game with defensive effort and grinding play along the way or he will be on his fourth NHL team to start the 2011-12 season.

What Is Derek Stepan's Ceiling?

photo by Robyn Florek (@njrobynf)

When Derek Stepan signed with the New York Rangers there was hope that he would be able to make the team out of training camp, but no one could have hoped or imagined the season he was going to have in his rookie campaign.  At the start of training camp there was debate about whether playing on a lower line at the NHL level or going down and being a top line player getting large minutes in the AHL was better for his development.  That question appeared to be one that was going to go on throughout the preseason and make the roster decisions for the Rangers difficult, but with his play in camp and the preseason Stepan locked up his spot on the roster and has not looked back.

Tonight when he returns to Buffalo he will not only be going back to the site of his first career game but where he scored a hat-trick in his debut.  That hat-trick set the 20-year-old rookie on his way to a campaign that with his goal against Boston on Saturday now has him as the youngest New York Rangers player to score 20 goals since Alexi Kovalev did it during the 1992-93 season.  Overall in his rookie season he has posted a scoring output of 20-21-41 in 76 games. 

Coming out of college I expected Stepan to adjust well to the NHL, if not this quickly, and to be a very good playmaker that could you his intelligence, vision and passing ability to make his teammates better.  Additionally there was no questioning of his maturity, two-way play, willingness to play the body and penchant for the big spot as he started his career.  What I did not expect was for him to chip in as many goals as he has this season which leaves the question as to where the ceiling is for Stepan?

I expected Stepan to be a 15-20 goal guy who chipped in 45-50 assists when he established himself as a consistent NHL player.  The fact that he has scored 20 goals in his rookie season will make some expect higher and higher outputs from him going forward.  Even with that level of production I still would not refer to him as a goal scorer, as his many of his goals are not beautiful plays that make the jaw drop, but just plays that get the job done.  If his ceiling even changes from maybe 15-20 to 25-30 that is a huge difference on a team like New York that has so struggled to find consistent offensive production and the difference between a very good second line type playmaker and a first line player if he can reach his potential in the assist department.

I do not want to focus solely on the surprise that is goal scoring and neglect to discuss how impressive the transition he has made has been.  Stepan has this knack for being in the right place at the right time and the puck seeming to find him and that is something that cannot be taught.  For a player to shift from the college to pro game as he has in terms of the longer schedule, the bigger, tougher opponents and hold up has been crucial to where the Rangers currently are in the standings.  There have been dips in his game, but with each dip there has been no sulking, no complaining about being moved down in the lineup just a resolve to do whatever it takes to help the team win.  That team first, win first mentality is what had him as the captain of Team USA’s gold medal effort just a year ago, why he was a letter wearer at Wisconsin and why before all is said and done he will have a letter on his chest with the New York Rangers.
With the combination of work ethic, intelligence and hockey skill the ceiling on his career is completely in the control of Derek Stepan and I look for him to maximize everything he can out of it and give the fans of the New York Rangers reasons to cheer for many years to come.  The biggest thing that Stepan has to work on in his game is his faceoffs if he wants to remain at center over the long term, but he will likely end up playing left wing.  To have a ceiling as a 70-80 point guy is certainly nothing to sneeze at and while it might take a few more years to get to that level it will certainly be worth the wait and I am not willing to bet against him.

What do you think Stepan's ceiling is?

*Thanks to Robyn Florek for the Stepan picture

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Video: Shawn Thornton Gets 40 stitch Wound In Face From Skate, Wants At Hawks Bench

During the second period of Tuesday night’s Bruins Blackhawks game Shawn Thornton on the Bruins was cut in the head by the skate of Fernando Pisani.  The cut was purely accident and left behind a wound that took 40 stitches to close above his eye. 

After taking the skate to the face Thornton got up and was skating off the ice while bleeding profusely when he heard something from the Chicago bench that made him attempt to get at them before the linesman stepped in.


Hat tip to Puck Daddy

Stepan Back With Gaborik, Breaking Down the Healthy Scratch Contenders

Based on practice today there appears to be at least one change to the New York Rangers lineup tomorrow against the Buffalo Sabres and it has nothing to do with who the healthy scratch might be.  The lines that were reported from practice showed two that remained intact and the other have been shifted at the center position. Derek Stepan has been moved from his recent role as centering the fourth line to playing with Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal.  The move is one that coach John Tortorella has employed with Stepan already this year where he drops him down in the lineup when his game slips and then when he finds it again he moves back up.  Moving down in the lineup was Erik Christensen who after his four game point streak has gone scoreless in his last three. This move was done for large parts of the Boston game as well.

In terms of the healthy scratch for tomorrow it is a very safe bet that it will come from the foursome of Wojtek Wolski, Sean Avery, Mats Zuccarello and Erik Christensen.  Here is a quick breakdown of the candidates:

Wojtek Wolski: Wolski has been healthy scratched once already and has been scoreless in his last seven games.  Combine his lack of impact when he isn’t scoring with those facts and he is certainly a candidate to end up wearing a suit tomorrow night.  The potential skill of Wolski likely saves him for this game, but no telling for how long after that.

Sean Avery: Avery has been a scratch in four of the last six games, and only played 5:45 of ice time against Boston, but he was a spark with his fight and contributed that huge shot block late in the third so I expect him to be in again.

Mats Zuccarello: Zuke was scratched against Boston with the size of Bruins seen as a factor and that factor should not exist tomorrow Buffalo who has a number of small players of their own.  That said Zuccarello has seen his ice diminished significantly over his last six games before the scratch.  He has three assists in his last six game so while he is not scoring goals the combination of his even limited production with his effort might get him back in the lineup.

Erik Christensen: Christensen is by far the biggest enigma on this team in terms of figuring out what version of him is going to show up to the rink on a given night.  You can either get the guy who looks like a top line player and makes beautiful plays on the ice with and without the puck or you get a guy who looks like he couldn’t make a recreational league team and plays like a ghost in a uniform.  While Wolski and Avery have both played center at times in the past I think being a center is what saves Christensen for this one.

As of now I would assume that Zuccarello will be the odd-man out again as, but I would not discount the chances that it is Wolski who goes back to the pine given how little he is giving right now. 

Rangers Sign Forward Tommy Grant

Per the New York Rangers twitter the team has agreed to terms with Tommy Grant, an unrestricted free agent forward out of the University of Alaska-Anchorage. Grant, 24, an undrafted free agent, played four seasons there and had a career senior season with 32 points in 37 games this year (16-16) including five game winning goals.  Grant played for the Whale on Sunday and recorded two assists.  Grant is 6’2, and 195 lbs, and played in all situations for UAA including on the point during the powerplay. 

Should Kreider Sign or Spend Another Year At BC?

Over the past few months much has been written about Rangers 2009 first round pick Chris Kreider and whether he will or won’t leave Boston College this summer to sign with the New York Rangers.  Everything that has been said to this point suggested the Rangers will attempt to bring him into the fold even if to play for the Connecticut Whale in the AHL next season.  The hesitation appears to have been more on the side of Kreider himself.  According to John Connelly at the Boston Herald that might be changing as Kreider is considering leaving Boston College for the Rangers. 

In the past few days both Cam Atkinson and Jimmy Hayes left BC early to sign with their respective NHL clubs.  Those moves might make it easier for Kreider to do the same based on the level of talent that will be left in the program next season.  The question remains though if Kreider is really ready to make the transition from college to the pros.

There are those who say he might be bored with the college game and that is a possibility, but if it is so easy for him you would think he would put up better numbers than 11 goals and 12 assists in 37 games.  Those stats do not speak to domination or even Kreider coming close to tapping the potential he has at this point.  For those who throw out the Derek Stepan comparison you have to realize the utter differential in the way the two performed in college and have reasonable expectations both for Kreider’s performance next season and whether he should leave at all.  In 41 games last season Stepan had 12 goals and 42 assists for an average of 1.32 points per game while Kreider was at .62 this season.

Personally I would rather see him stay at BC for another season and work on his game in a great program where he is likely to be the main focus of the offense next year instead of forcing him into the professional ranks early and looking to “fix” the issues with his game.  College hockey is certainly a place where he can develop.  The biggest negative being that he will not be preparing for the grind of the long professional season with the shorter schedule, but if it improves his game and ability to be an impact player down the road it is still the right move.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Henrik Lundqvist Named NHL's Third Star of the Week

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
During most weeks if a goaltender posts a 2-0-1 record, 0.32 goals-against average, .987 save percentage and two shutouts they would win the National Hockey Leauge’s first star of the week, but unfortunately for Henrik Lundqvist this week he will have to settle for third.  Ryan Miller who had a very similar week to Henrik but won all three of his starts as the Sabres continue their push for the playoffs and Corey Perry had an amazing offensive week for the Ducks.

Lundqvist play last week was critical to propelling the Rangers considering the offense only mustered three goals in the three games and yet still managed to get five critical points in the playoff race that not only has them much more comfortably inside, but now looking ahead in the standings.  The two shutouts brought Lundqvist season total up to a career-high eleven on the season and his primed to carry this team into the playoffs as a darkhorse to be reckoned with by whomever they draw.