Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rangers Get Crucial Points As Zuccarello, Christensen Work Shootout Magic To Give Lundqvist Win 200

Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images
This was not the prettiest game to watch, but what matters at this point of the year is the outcome and the Rangers walked out of Madison Square Garden with a critical two points in the standings.  The Rangers had another weak first period, and blew two leads in the third, but they got the win so have to be happy about that.  Once again it felt like in overtime the Rangers despite having a 4-on-3 powerplay to start were playing purely for the shootout and that is a dangerous way to play.
In the shootout, the usual suspects for the Rangers came through and delivered the victory.  Erik Christensen did his best Peter Forsberg impression on his attempt and then Mats Zuccarello learned from his mistake in his last shootout attempt and stick with his move until someone stops it.  Zuccarello came down in his slow methodical pace, basically stopped, slid the puck to the backhand, Bernier overcommitted and then he pulled it back forehand into an open net.  Both players made Bernier look foolish.  Jarret Stoll could beat Lundqvist on the Kings second attempt with a beautiful shot top corner and after Wolski was poke checked on an ugly move, it was down to Lundqvist vs Kopitar.  Kopitar attempted to do the same thing that Stoll did, but Henrik got enough of it to have it go over the back of the net and seal the victory for New York.  It was Lundqvist’s 200th career victory in his 383rd career start.
Early on the Kings controlled play and Henrik Lundqvist made a spectacular save on Anze Kopitar less than two minutes into the game.  A few minutes later Brandon Dubinsky took a bad penalty in boarding Willie Mitchell and on the ensuing power play Dustin Brown made the Rangers pay for the mistake beating Lundqvist for the 1-0 lead 5:25 into the game.  This was the sixth straight and 10th out of 11 in which the Rangers gave up the first goal.  That cannot continue to happen.  The rest of the period was be tightly contested and ended with the Rangers trailing once again after one.
The Rangers played their game to a larger degree in the second period as they finally started attacking the net.  They scored a typical Rangers goal as off the faceoff battle Derek Stepan beats his man and took a one hand shot which banked off Bernier leaving the rebound there for Callahan and he punched it home 4:01 into the period.  The period ended at 1-1.
Early in the third period, Marian Gaborik got off the goal slide with a less than picture perfect shot 6:10 in to give the Rangers the 2-1 lead.  As I said, it was not the prettiest goal, but they all count the same and it has to feel good for Gaborik to see it go in the net and hopefully it will set him off on a little run.  We all know the team could really use him to carry them for a little bit.
Los Angeles answered back only 100 seconds later when Matt Greene scored his first goal in 73 games to tie it again.  The key to start the play was a back-check by Wayne Simmonds who stripped Brandon Prust of the puck in the neutral zone and allowed the Kings to keep Dan Girardi on the ice after he had been clipped with a high stick that was not called.  The puck cycled around and came back to Greene at the point and his shot deflected off Brian Boyle’s stick and in.
New York took the lead again when Brandon Dubinsky showed that an Alex Frolov frapparound can work as he put it in off Bernier’s skate to give the Blueshirts a 3-2 lead with just 3:08 remaining in the game.  Officially the goal has been changed to Anisimov, but I saw no evidence that it hit anything other than Bernier’s skate.  Be interesting to see if that ever gets changed.
Problem was the Rangers coughed the lead up once again when Dustin Brown scored his second of the night just 47 seconds after Dubinsky put New York ahead.  The goal itself was a combination of skill and luck as it appeared to me that Brown shot the puck off the back of Lundqvist’s mask and in.  Beyond the goal itself you saw the problems the Rangers have with faceoffs bite them, as because of an icing they could not send out Boyle or Dubinsky to take the draw, which left Stepan to take a defensive zone draw in the final three minutes. 
Obviously the game ended 3-3 after regulation.  In overtime neither team really threatened even though the Rangers started the OT with a four minute advantage after a Ponikarovsky double minor for high sticking Marc Staal at the end of regulation.  Dubinsky took his third minor penalty of the night 1:48 into the extra session, leaving two minutes of the most cautious 3-on-3 hockey I have ever seen.  We all know how the shootout ended.
Rangers will be back in action tomorrow against the equally red-hot Devils.
  • Ryan Callahan played an excellent game tonight and so did his Western Conference version, Dustin Brown
  • Love Dubinsky, but he has to stop taking so many stupid penalties.  Other than the penalties he played a great game, but it was Callahan who kept bailing him out from those mental errors.
  • Ryan McDonagh is the Rangers best defenseman right now in my opinion.  The kid is doing everything and making me feel smart for yesterday praising how easy he is making his transition look.  Another +3 effort.

Wolski Game-time decision

Wojtek Wolski's ribs are feeling much better and he will take the skate in warmups to see if he can go tonight. If he cannot go, then Kris Newbury will play
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Rumor: Rangers Interested in Filip Kuba? Are Things That Bad?

As the trade deadline gets closer and closer the list of defenseman linked to the New York Rangers seems to growing longer and longer.  Any player that has ever even thought about being a power play quarterback is apparently up for discussion when it comes to New York being involved in dealing for them.  For the most part the candidates for the position have been of the rental variety, but that is not the case today.  In this morning’s New York Post Larry Brooks reports that the Rangers have interest in Ottawa Senators defenseman Filip Kuba.  Kuba currently has one year remaining on his deal for 3.7 million dollars.
Rumors fly from all over the place this time of year and there are always bound to be some bad ones, but this is clearly one of the worst I have seen suggested thus far.  I see absolutely no positives to this move.  Kuba, 34, has 0 goals and 5 assists this season while recording a whopping -25 in just 39 games.  I do not care how bad your team or your goalie are, when you are -25 in 39 games you are playing like garbage.  I know plus/minus is not the greatest indicator out there, but when it gets to a certain point it must mean something.  Rangers fans complained about Del Zotto last year at -20, but at least he was bringing some offense to the table.
Yes, he does have a history with Tortorella.  Yes he was a good power play quarterback; two years ago.  Do we have to revisit the last time that Glen Sather made a move for a defenseman coming from Ottawa based on what he had done two years before the Rangers got him?  This idea is worse than bringing in Sheldon Souray.  If you know me and what I have had to say about Souray over the last few seasons you will understand just how crazy that might seem.
Why on Earth would the Rangers waste a roster spot, development time and 3.7 million on this kind of a move?   I would much rather suffer the ups and downs with Del Zotto, Eminger and Gilroy than do something like this.  At least with Del Zotto there is the potential for it to be worth it down the line.

This one does not pass the smell test by a long shot, but if it goes down it will destroy a lot of the good will that Sather has earned over the last few years with his trades.

Do Rangers Buy, Sell, or Hold at Trade Deadline?

The trade deadline feels like it is rapidly approaching and the Rangers are in a playoff spot with teams not that far ahead and a number close behind, so decisions must be made as to what the Rangers should do.  Around the league many teams are getting a jump on the action making moves early to get more time with their newly acquired players.  With the way the trade deadline is looking I cannot help but think of the stock market and how overvalued the commodities that are on the market seem. 
In the stock market the goal is always to buy low and sell high.  With that philosophy in mind we can put an end to the ideas that Michael Del Zotto, Marian Gaborik or even Evgeny Grachev get moved at the deadline because you will be selling at a depreciated price.  The other issue right now as the initial moves are being made is what is the valuation of the assets being dealt and with each deal so far it seems that the acquiring team is overpaying on the face value of the player they are getting.  Good players have been traded, and I do not mean to knock them, but the prices that the selling teams are getting for some of these guys is ludicrous for the level of talent they are getting.  Chris Kelly, for example, is a third line center on a good team and that with a year left on his contract is not worth a second round draft pick, but that is what the market is pricing at right now.
So the question is simple:  Do the Rangers buy, sell or hold at the deadline?
The problem with simple questions however, is that the answers are not always as simple.  The Rangers truly have the feel of an organization that is stuck in the middle of multiple tracks with no clear vision of what they want out of the season.  There is a part of the organization that seems to look at this season as purely a building and development year in which they really see what they have in the young talent and getting those guys experience at this level.  If that part is the one that wins out as most important between now and deadline day the Rangers will either hold with what they have and possibly tinker in small moves and or sell some pieces (Gilroy, Eminger, Christensen) if they can get anything for them.
Another part of the organization will always look to make the playoffs whether they can actually win once they get there or not.  To be fair, hockey is a business, so looking at the extra revenue of a playoff series is certainly well within the rights of ownership and management.  Along with that making the playoffs would certainly be vital experience for many of the Rangers young players as it would help prepare them for the playoff intensity when the team is better equipped to be a legitimate contender.  If those factors win out then you will likely see the Rangers be buyers at the deadline, though even then the extent to which they move is unclear. 
The biggest move I could see the Rangers making is the rumored move for Kaberle.  I understand the team and fan fascination with the idea of Kaberle because of how pitiful the power play has looked for long stretches.  There is clearly a need, an almost dire need for a quarterback to run the show, but I do not see it as a difference maker of a move.  While Kaberle will make the team better, he does not make them a contender and with the price that Kaberle is going to command in this current market, it is not worth it.
Last season the Rangers were in a similar position to where they currently find themselves and general manager Glen Sather made some tinkering moves, but nothing that sacrificed the future.  The move for Jokinen, while having the potential to be a buyer’s move, was mainly about eliminating Kotalik’s contract and moving Higgins along.  It fits the mold of the Rozsival-Wolski trade that he made earlier this season as well.  Based on what Sather said earlier this week I look for this type of approach this season.  The team is not looking to take on salary or sacrifice important pieces just to make a run this year.
There is nothing wrong with the fact that general fan inclination is always on the buy side so that their team can win now.  Plenty of fans also see the benefits of holding onto what the team has and continuing to build for the future.  Obviously the next six games will have a lot to do with what the final decision is, but I look for Sather to only make a move that has the net effect of the Jokinen or Wolski moves and that is the right course of action for the team.  Sather has been very good at protecting his prospects from trades, though not as much his picks and hopefully that will continue.
For me, I would go with a hold/sell approach in keeping all your future assets and making those moves to look to see if you can get anything of value for disposable pieces like Gilroy.  If I was to look into the buying side, I would look at, depending on price, a faceoff man and a depth defenseman to sure up the last pairing.