Thursday, March 3, 2011

Keith "Muhammad" Aulie Lays Out Scott Hartnell (Video)

Keith Aulie of the Toronto Maple Leafs had his first NHL fight tonight against Scott Hartnell of the Philadelphia Flyers and if the league was watching it might be his last one for a some time.  Hartnell clearly had no idea what he was getting into when he squared off with Aulie who used his 6' 5" size along with his reach advantage to dominate Hartnell.  A huge right hand by Aulie dropped Hartnell in a heap.

According to Steve Dangle, during a Leafspace live chat the name Muhammad Aulie was coined and at least for tonight it fits very well.

Video: Matt Bradley Knocks Out Tyson Strachan

Rangers Watching Playoff Hopes Sliding Away As Lose Third Straight, 3-1vs Wild

Someone wake me up when Groundhog’s Day is over.  Three games at home and three straight times you saw the same basic storyline play out.  Tonight was slightly different because the first period was the one they decided to play instead of waiting until the third, but once again the utter lack of finish is beyond comprehension at this point.  You have to score more goals by accident then this team is on purpose right now.  Defensively every goal against is either a deflection or a lost man in front and Henrik Lundqvist is not doing what this team needs right now and stealing a game. 
For a change the Rangers played a dominant first period in which they controlled the play the entire period.  The team had the fast start they keep talking about when Sean Avery gave them the lead just 3:13 into the game.  The play was made behind the net with Christensen who showed excellent patience waiting for Avery to hit the slot and fed him a beautiful pass which Avery roofed over Theodore.  It was only Avery’s third of the season and first since January 8th.  I guess Sean did not appreciate me talking about his 1.6% shooting percentage this morning.
The strong play continued throughout the period and they should have been up multiple goals, but as is usually the case they could not find a way to get the second goal.  They had two power plays, one was abysmal and the other had chances including a golden one for Ryan Callahan, but he did not lift the puck into the open net, rather shooting it into the paddle of Theodore’s stick.  When you hold a team to 3 shots in a period and 17 minutes without a single on you have to have a bigger lead than 1-0.
As well as the team played in the first period, they played equally as bad in the second.  Once again the Rangers took an offensive zone penalty and it came back to bite them.  With Erik Christensen in the box for high sticking, Kyle Brodziak would deflect the puck home to tie the game at one 4:36 into the second.  Before this goal happened the Rangers had a prime chance 2-on-1 with Callahan and Dubinsky and they didn’t even get a shot.  Dubinsky was clearly looking pass the whole way and when that was taken away the puck harmlessly slid off his stick and behind the net. 
Unlike the Rangers the Wild would keep coming and add to their goal total when Casey Wellman burned Matt Gilroy and was all alone in front to deflect a Brett Burns shot in to make it 2-1 Wild.  Bouchard would salt this one away 8:15 into the third and end the game 3-1 Wild.
In terms of the playoff race this was also a bad night for the Rangers. Carolina and Buffalo went to OT with Carolina winning which moved the Hurricanes into 7th with 71 points and Buffalo within two, while having three games in hand.  The red hot Leafs also beat Philly to get within three points of the Rangers.  We keep saying this every night, but the pressure only builds on how important tomorrow’s two points against Ottawa are.

Avery only getting 7:54 of ice tonight was awful coaching by Torts as he was going more than any other forward.
Ryan McDonagh left the game with what is being called a wrenched knee and is listed as day-to-day
The loss drops the team to 14-16-3 at home.

Anyway, the problem defensively is that the Rangers are allowing the opposition to get behind them. Miscoverages on the rush are resulting in players being left wide open around the crease, which leaves goaltender Henrik Lundqvist out on his own to try and make a desperation save. This is something that must change if the offense only plans on scoring one or two goals a night.

These three straight loses could not have come at a worse time. With Carolina and Buffalo tied 2-2 in their game at the moment, at least one of those teams, maybe both, will be getting points out of that one. This is the closest the Rangers have come to falling out of the playoff race this season, and they better hope that changes tomorrow against Ottawa, because we know they aren’t beating the Flyers on Sunday.

Del Zotto Out 4-6 Weeks With Fractured Finger

Per Arthur Staple of Newsday the injury that caused Michael Del Zotto to leave last night’s game for the Connecticut Whale is in fact a fractured finger that we put him on the shelf for the next 4-6 weeks.  Given that the Whale’s regular season does not end until April 10, which just under six weeks from now, it is possible that Del Zotto could make it back before the season is over.  Regardless of whether he makes it back for the end of the regular season this is just another disappointment in a very rough year for Del Zotto and will cost him significant on ice time to work through issues in his development.  The whole idea of sending him down to the Whale was to play significant minutes and now for the next month he will not be playing at all.

Here is last night's account of how Del Zotto got injured and the injury to Jeremy Williams.

Gaborik Concussion Gets Cloudier All the Time (w/Video)

Yesterday the New York Rangers got their first bit of good news concerning their star sniper Marian Gaborik and his recovery from the concussion he suffered on February 13th on a hit from Brooks Orpik.  The fact that Gaborik had his first symptom free day on Tuesday, and was able to skate in practice on Wednesday is excellent news.  I do not want to take away from how positive that news is, but I am more and more disturbed by the chain of events that happened in the week between Gaborik taking the initial hit and when he was actually pulled from action three games later.
Update from today:
The positive news was dampened some this morning with the reports that while able to skate today, Gaborik awoke with a headache this morning, which is also being classified as pressure in his head.  There is a problem when a guy who is coming off a concussion is allowed to even skate with anything going on in his head and this idea that he wants to fly to Ottawa for tomorrow’s game should be scrapped immediately.
Back to yesterday:
Here is video from the Rangers official site of Gaborik meeting with the media after practice to talk about the concussion and his recovery:

Some of key quotes from his meeting with the media via Jesse Spector at Blueshirts Blog
"It was against Pittsburgh, I got hit by (Brooks) Orpik, and then during the shift after I kind of blacked out for a little bit," Gaborik said. "After that, I had headaches, and was dizzy and couldn't focus. I've never had a concussion, or whatever, before. I thought I was just going to play and it was just going to be a little bell-ringer, but it just kept getting worse and worse."
When any player, particularly a star player can tell the media that he literally blacked out, had headaches and was dizzy following a hit and was not checked it is a huge problem for me.  I understand the machismo factor that is involved here where Gaborik tries to brush off the symptoms and play through them, but his lack of understanding of what concussion symptoms are is not an excuse for him being able to play with one. 
The NHL is all about this new focus on concussions and yet here you have a player who was on the ice with one and if he played a different style of game than he does could have easily taken a blow to his already concussed head.  If the NHL is truly serious then they need to institute concussion testing to the level the NFL did this season, where you have a baseline result, if you receive a concussion you are done for that game and until you pass neurological testing you cannot play again. 
The onus for this is on the players, the teams and the league if they are truly serious about fixing this problem.  The players have to get over the stigma of admitting they got their bell rung and possibly being called soft for going out with a concussion and admit to the training staff like Jim Ramsay that something is wrong so they can be diagnosed.  The training staffs and coaching staffs have to be more aware of the potential for concussions and on the lookout for symptoms and anything that presents to possibly fit those symptoms must be checked.  The symptoms of the flu and a concussion can be similar and while in many cases it might be a waste of time to check for the concussion, do it anyway.
The fact that he played for an entire week, parts of four different games with a concussion is simply unacceptable and the more information that comes out the more questions there are about who knew what when and who is responsible for allowing that to happen.  The bulk of it has to go on the athlete himself if he was not forthcoming with the team and training staff, but the culture of the game both in the fear of being stigmatized as soft and the urgency to win now also played a role in this in my opinion.  We cannot overlook things that might be there because we want to play or as an organization we want to win.

Does Sean Avery Deserve More Ice Time?

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Among New York Rangers fans there are few subjects that cause the kind of response as talking about Sean Avery does.  There is a loyalty to Avery among many fans that dates back to how well he played when he first arrived in New York over four years ago.  Fans always love players who play hard, those who fight and then on top of that Sean Avery was the best agitator in the game back then.  The talk about Avery is much different this year because he is not playing that agitating style anymore, at least not to nearly the same degree, and the argument is about how he is less effective for it. 

The argument from Avery supporters is that he deserves more ice time, but he is not getting it because of issues with John Tortorella.  I openly admit to not being a huge Avery supporter, but today I will go beyond the visceral reactions to look at the numbers and answer the following question: Does Sean Avery’s production actually merit more ice time?

To his credit Avery has been the good soldier this season and taken on any assignment the coaching staff has given whether it is on the top line with Marian Gaborik or the fourth line with Kris Newbury.  Avery has been among the best partners with Gaborik, but with each returning body for the Rangers he kept getting shuffled back to the third or fourth line.  This has shown itself considerably in the amount of ice time that Avery is being given.  On the season Avery is averaging 11:48 of ice time, but has been under the 10 minute mark in 24 of the 65 games this season.  Rage over his ice time was at its strongest point this past Sunday when Avery only played 4:14 for the entire game and 54 seconds for the final two periods against the Lightning. 

In terms of production supporters will justly point out that Avery does rank fourth on the team in assists with 20.  On the other side of the argument there are serious production deficiencies for Avery which get brushed aside by his supporters.  In 65 games this season Avery has a lousy two goals.  You can try and blame that on his ice time, but he is seventh on the team with 124 shots, which leaves him at a horrific 1.6% shooting percentage.  That shooting percentage is a full 6% below his career average and ranks him 647th in the NHL this season. 

When looking overall point production as it relates to ice time Avery ranks 11th among New York forwards getting one point for every 34:46 of ice time.  The only forwards that are lower than Avery are: Chad Kolarik, Alex Frolov, Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko, Derek Boogaard, Todd White, Chris Drury and Kris Newbury.  With the exception of Prust and Fedotenko this is not a list that you want to be on and even then the clear argument is that these players are third or fourth liners and not guys that need to be elevated in the lineup.

Passing has been the most effective weapon for him this season and is what allowed him to be effective when he was paired with Gaborik.  The problem is, as Rangers fans have frequently pointed out, this team struggles to finish and Sean Avery certainly does not help that problem.  I believe there is a level of truth to the perception that there is an issue with Avery and Tortorella, but his ice time or at least his assignment to the fourth line is justified by his overall lack of production with the ice he is getting and Avery’s supporters have to admit that side as well.  He has been an effective player for the Rangers this season with his energy, forecheck and ability to cycle the puck, but on a team that lacks upper level talent, having Avery higher in the lineup or eating more minutes when he is not producing will not solve the offensive problems.

Tell me what you think.