Friday, February 11, 2011

Mayhem in Islanders Penguins 'Game': Sucker-Punches, Goalie vs Skater Fights, Player Leaves Bench (Video)

I cannot tell if tonight’s game between the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins classifies as a hockey game or a game of ‘Punch Out.’  There was bad blood left over from the last meeting between these two teams where Rick DiPietro had his face busted up and Blake Comeau was given a concussion on a hit by Max Talbot.
It was the Talbot incident from the last game that seemed to set fire to the first altercation of the night when the Islanders Matt Martin attempted to sucker-punch of Talbot, while up 6-0 that started the first of many line brawls on the night.  Martin should be and likely will be suspended for the sucker-punch for multiple games.

Later in the game came another line brawl, which this time was set off by Trevor Gillies dirty leaping elbow to Eric Tangradi, which was only made worse by his punching him in the back of the head while he was on the ice.  Gillies should get at least 10 games for his actions in this incident.
During this fight Michael Haley, who was just called up from the AHL, fought Max Talbot and then proceeded to be a “real-man” and challenge Brent Johnson to a skater-vs-fighter bout.  Johnson seemed to be game for the fight, but as he should Eric Godard came in to stick up for his goalie.  The only problem with that is Godard left the bench to do so, which will result in a significant suspension for him.

By the time the action was done the Penguins had a grand total of two players left on their bench and the Islanders had a whopping four.  As of now the official total is 351 penalty minutes in the game according to the official scoresheet, but that could change.  Oh yea, there was a result to the game too with the Isles winning 9-3.

Rangers Collapse Late Sending Them To Sixth Straigh Loss

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This one hurts.  There is no other way to say it than that simple sentence.  When you are the New York Rangers, have lost five games in a row, and are playing a team chasing you in the playoffs you have to finish off a game where you have a 2-1 lead with six minutes left.   You cannot blow that game and talk about the playoffs without hearing Jim Mora echoing in the background as the losing streak extends to six consecutive games and everyone behind them is getting that much closer, and have games in hand.
The Rangers played well again in the first period, but once again had nothing to show for it.  The Blueshirts would fall behind 1-0 on an Anthony Stewart tally.  The goal came midway through the first when Evander Kane caused an Artem Anisimov turnover in the neutral zone, fed the puck to Alex Burmistrov and Burmistrov saucered a pass over a sliding Michael Del Zotto to Stewart who slid it under Henrik Lundqvist.  On the play Matt Gilroy fell down in the transition from offense back to defense which created the two-on-one opportunity.  I really hate the slide play by all Rangers defenders because they never seem to make it work and Del Zotto employs the tactic way too often.  That would be the only tally of the period.
The Rangers would generate not only an early power play, but actually score a power play goal to open the second period.  Stewart took a bad offensive zone penalty and the Rangers would win the ensuing draw, Staal would head towards the net and after a beautiful pass from Prospal to Gaborik would fail to be capitalized on by Gaborik, Staal would put home the rebound.
The Rangers would strike again early in the third period, when Marian Gaborik would make a beautiful feed to Brandon Dubinsky who would beat Pavelec high to give the Rangers their first lead in an astonishing 255:35.  That would be about the point where the Rangers highlights would end.
At 7:36 of the third period, with the team up 2-1 on the scoreboard, Marian Gaborik had a penalty shot chance to in some respects salt away the game and frankly he choked.  This is that moment where the great players find a way, even will the puck into the net and he came up short.  While that is the case that is not the reason the team lost, but more on that later.
The last six minutes of the game were the Evander Kane show.  Kane would tie the game with just under six to play on a somewhat lucky goal that he would partially fan on the backhand and bounces and deflections would see it in.  Following an awful turnover and penalty by Michael Del Zotto, it would be Kane again on the power play with just 2:20 to go in the game.  The penalty and the turnover are on Del Zotto, but the goal was pitiful coverage where Kane got second and third chances with no one clearing the puck out.
The guy that really got the short end and will take the loss the hardest is Henrik Lundqvist.  His defense left him hanging on at least two of the three goals after he made numerous brilliant saves to keep them in the game and then maintain the lead early in the third.  Way too many turnovers tonight and as I said, defensive zone was bad.
Marian Gaborik was the Rangers best player tonight.  I know he didn’t finish his chances and he must start doing that, but without Gaborik they are not in this game at all.  He skated hard, he took shots, he was aggressive in all zones.  As I said this afternoon, Gaborik would start to turn it around tonight and he did in the effort department.  If I get 25 more efforts like that one out of Marian I will not have a bad word to say about him and the goals will come.  Anyone who watched that game and is complaining about Gaborik needs to check to see if they really watched the game and not just read the negative comments section on twitter.
Michael Del Zotto belongs in the minors, there is no other way to say it, but he did not lose this game for the Rangers.  That was a TEAM collapse.
Gilroy played a very poor game tonight as if he was trying to get Eminger in the lineup or knew DZ was going to screw the pooch and wanted to save him.
You have to love Prust’s heart and will, but he needs to be smarter about when to fight and who to fight.  There was no purpose to his fight with Boulton tonight and he took his worst beating of the year in the scrap.

Marian Gaborik Will Skate His Way Back To Form Beginning Tonight

The Rangers need their star sniper, Marian Gaborik, to start producing.  There is no grand revelation in that statement and few have been more critical of his struggles than I have.  The revelation for me comes in the form that his resurgence will begin tonight.  The fact that the Rangers as a team and many individuals are having surprisingly good seasons only seeks to heighten the negative year Gaborik is having and I have clearly expressed that frustration on occasion.  My issue with Gaborik has never been purely results based, but rather about the mentality he appears to be playing with this season and I am hopeful that part will change starting tonight.  I am sure that when that part shifts, the results will take care of themselves.
I look for the fact that the Rangers have kept the mood positive, the extra practice time and the consistency of lines to push Gaborik forward tonight and skate like he has in his better games this year.  I expect that Marian will start going to the front of the net more and getting those “vulture” goals that made his season last year. 
What might have started as an injury issue developed into a confidence issue and while with some the prodding and tough love seem to be helpful, that does not seem to be the case with Gaborik.  To be clear, I am not saying he is soft or that he doesn’t care because he strikes me as a star who does and that fact might have become his problem through all of this.  The level at which Gaborik does care and does understand his importance to this team causes him to put more pressure on himself, which leads to him playing a tight game.  This manifests itself in looking for the perfect play instead of just taking the simple one.  It is on a larger scale the same problem that Michael Del Zotto has faced this year, but the better correlation might be with Ilya Kovalchuk.
When the year began Kovalchuk spent so much time and energy in trying to fit into the system that he forgot how to play his game as an addition to that system.  That has changed in New Jersey for Kovalchuk as you watch him now and his gallup has returned and he is back to playing his style of hockey.  Now Gaboirk will do the same.  On the surface, the things that Gaborik does best and the new Rangers identity seem to clash.  On the ice it manifests itself in Gaborik being content to dump the puck in and play along the wall instead of doing what he does best; skate. 
From Arthur Staple’s piece on Gaborik:
"It starts with his legs. He's a freak as far as the way he can skate," Tortorella said. "If we can get him moving his legs, the rest will come. Sometimes, when a goal-scorer isn't scoring goals, he needs to stop thinking about scoring goals. Just do the work and the results will come."
The Rangers need Marian to be that dynamic threat that everyone in the building rises to their feet every time he touches the puck.  The need to opponent’s to fear him on every shift.  They need him to get back to doing what makes him so dangerous to play against.  That begins with his skating and carrying the puck instead of dumping it in.  It continues with shooting off the rush as it will create not only space, but rebounds for his teammates. 
When it becomes consistent all the talk will stop and the love will begin again.  I believe that transition begins tonight.  Maybe I am being overly optimistic, which would be a change, but playing the negative side on Gaborik has not helped the Rangers out at all, so time to try something different.  Let’s have a little faith because the there is no doubt the talent is still in there and if we believe in Gaborik enough, maybe, just maybe he will find it in himself.

Regaining Perspective: Rangers Season About Much More than Wins and Losses

Andy Marlin/Getty Images
The degree to which tonight’s game matter for the New York Rangers might just depend on what the focus of this season is really about.  If the season is about making the playoffs and trying to somehow win a championship, then tonight is likely seen as a huge game for the Blueshirts.  If, on the other hand, this season was always about developing the young players for the future and thinking this season was a year early, then there is still the bigger picture to consider and the success the year has been already to focus on.  What has gotten lost over this five game losing streak is that big picture.  It is a natural thing to be upset that the team is struggling, but all teams go through slumps.  The difference truly is the expectation level that is causing the fans to get up on the ledge with the inclination to jump ship.
When the season began, I would bet, most Rangers’ fans, if they were realistic with themselves, expected this team to either battle for one of the last three playoff spots, or just miss the extra season.  Don’t look now, but that is exactly where the Rangers are right now.  Despite this five game skid, the team is still in seventh place with a three point lead on eighth and four points inside the playoffs in the East.  Reality is most of the teams behind the Rangers have been unable to take advantage of the recent slide, except for the Sabres who have gotten themselves in the race.  The more important reality for me though is that none of those teams matter because it is about what the Rangers have done and will do.
As with anything else in life, expectations change.  That is what is at the heart of the reaction to the five game winless streak.  As Rangers fans, we have seen our share of five game losing streaks and before it began likely expected to see more this season.  What happened was in the first half of the year, the long losing streaks never came; the team always found a way to stop them at three games or less.  The fact that the team could shut down the bad play and respond with a result created that expectation.  The fact that the team has consistently found a way to battle back in third periods and pull out wins, created an expectation that leaves fans shocked when they do not complete the comeback.  Add to that the success the team had in hanging on while all these key parts were missing and it is unfathomable to see them struggle at possibly the healthiest point they have had all year.
This team has shown too much heart, too much character for this to continue and so I expect they will turn it back around, and make the playoffs, but that is not what is important for me this year.  I am not here to say that I do not care about making the playoffs because more hockey for the team I follow, the team I love is always something I wish for, but what I am saying is regardless of playoffs/no playoffs, deep run or first round exit, the 2010-11 season has been the most successful one for my money in years.
When we get some perspective on the year as a whole, then we can step back and realize all that has been accomplished in the first 56 games in total to see what the last 26 will work themselves out.  The team has formed an identity as a tough team to play and more importantly one that never gives up on a game.  It is those two things right there that have keyed the overall team success and what is making fans so bewildered that the breaks are not going for the team right now.
On the individual level there is so much to be proud of with this team.  Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky have taken strides to the next level on and off the ice.  The team is getting huge contributions from four rookies (Stepan, Zuccarello, Sauer, McDonagh) who are showing night in and night out that they belong on this level.  Brian Boyle has taken a giant leap from a journeyman type player to a team leader, both in how he plays the game and sticking pucks in the net.  Brandon Prust has had his warrior mentality wear off on this locker room and made a statement that he is part of the core of this franchise.
There have certainly been disappointments this year on an individual level, but sometimes we, certainly myself included, get lost in focusing on the ones who are failing to meet expectations than praising those who are exceeding them.  This team while struggling is certainly exceeding what the initial expectations were and we should all keep that in mind before we pull the fire alarm because we lost sight of what the real goals of this season were. 
As this Rangers’ team has fought all season, I expect to see that fight tonight in Atlanta, and win or lose the focus for me will be on the effort this team has brought all year and the development of these players for the future.  If the team continues in their fight and the young core continues to develop, then the score at the end of the night does not matter because the team, the organization is still moving in the right direction.