Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Case For Michael Sauer As Rangers Rookie Of The Year

Al Bello/Getty Images

The New York Rangers have been very fortunate this season with the play of their rookies as they boast four that are critical to the stretch run for the playoffs.  As important as Mats Zuccarello and Ryan McDonagh will be down the stretch clearly Derek Stepan and Michael Sauer have been the best Rangers rookies for the length of the season.  Much praise has been levied on Derek Stepan for his work this year and this team has needed all 18 of his goals and 39 of his points with their struggles to find offense, but Michael Sauer is the Rangers’ rookie of the year.
What differentiates Sauer from Stepan is the consistency for me.  Stepan has had some great games, some huge goals, but his game has seen huge peaks and valleys while Sauer has been there each game and doing nothing but elevating his game as the season has gone along.  Rising from a question mark to even make the squad to a top four defender capable of playing against the top players on any team and in any situation.  Where would this team be without his ability to step into a top four role and be the steady force he has been all season?  I cannot answer that definitively but I would garner to guess they would not be in the playoff position they are right now and they would not have been able to pull the trigger on the trade to acquire Wolski because the would have been Rozsival too much.
The 23-year-old defenseman is not the flashiest player by any means, and his offensive numbers will not win him any accolades around the league or even buzz for the Calder, but watch him every night and you will appreciate just how special he has been this year.  The numbers themselves are: two goals, eight assists and a plus 15 in 17:04 of ice time per game.  I would argue that he has been the Rangers most consistent player game in and game out at any position. 
From the opening game of the season Sauer has given the Rangers tremendous defensive awareness, positioning and attention to the basics.  Along with those things he has given the team a defender that loves to hit, clears the crease and fights to defend himself and his teammates, which is all you can ask for in a shutdown defender.
Not only Sauer been consistent from game to game but with each passing game there is added confidence and skill on the ice.  Last night was a perfect example of how his game has evolved over the course of the season and how the confidence has only increased his value to the Rangers.  On both goals it was Sauer adding to his offense which created them.  On the first goal he pinched down the wall and kept the play alive and on the second he pinched down into the slot and was there ready to shoot the puck.  If Sauer can continue to grow the offensive side of the game, not just in terms of points but how brilliantly he is reading the play and deciding when to pinch his value to this club will only grow.

Video: Marc Staal Flattens Kyle Wellwood

The National Hockey League will always have a place clean hard hitting in the game and while the bulk of the discussion both in terms of this weeks events and concussion issues surrounding headshots, Marc Staal of the New York Rangers reminded everyone what a beautiful clean hit looks like when he flattened Kyle Wellwood in the second period of the game.

Dubinsky Shootout Winner Seals Crucial Rangers Victory Over Sharks

Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images
Coming off arguably their worst performance of the season Wednesday in Anaheim the Rangers took the ice tonight in San Jose looking for redemption.  It took them all the way to the shootout and six rounds later Brandon Dubinsky sent the Rangers home with a hard fought two points when he beat Anti Niemi five-hole.  If not for Wojtek Wolski coming up with a clutch goal in the third round of the shootout the Rangers lose as Dan Boyle had the Sharks poised for the win with his beautiful goal on the backhand against Lundqvist, but Wolski kept it alive and Dubinsky finally cashed it in.
The shootout winner by Dubinsky pushed the Rangers record to 8-3 in the skills competition, which while it might hurt them in tiebreakers later has been critical to their current standing.  With the win the Rangers moved back into seventh in the Eastern Conference with a four point “cushion” on ninth place Carolina.
Dubinsky might have gotten the winner, but tonight was all about Henrik Lundqvist as he stole two points for the Blueshirts.  Henrik while solid many nights has not stolen too many of late, but tonight was certainly one of those as he stopped 31 shots, numerous of the top notch variety and both goals that beat him were once again deflected. 
The Rangers came out sluggish in the first period and were controlled for much of the first period, but were able to keep it even until Ryan Clowe scored off Marc Staal and over Henrik Lundqvist’s glove.  The Sharks were on the power play after Matt Gilroy fumbled the puck behind the net and eventually took a hooking penalty.  Off the ensuing faceoff Marc Staal was hit with a high stick and no call was made with the play eventually working back to Clowe would shoot it off Staal and in.  It was a horrible missed call and more bad luck for the team on deflected goals.
New York answered 4:27 later when Erik Christensen finished off a beautiful feed from Vinny Prospal.  The play was a great cycling shift, but the end of the play was setup by a crucial pinch by Michael Sauer who kept it in the zone and played it back down the boards to Gaborik who dropped it behind the net for Prospal.  Overall the Rangers had to be happy to be tied after one considering they were outplayed for much of the period.
The Rangers carried over the late momentum from the first period into the start of the second and Michael Sauer gave them a 2-1 lead just 1:16 into the frame.  This play was a beautiful read from Sauer who noticed that a San Jose player was without a stick and so he moved up into the high slot and fired the shot through traffic and by Niemi.
Though New York would carry most of the play in the period it would be San Jose that took late momentum with Ben Eager scoring yet another deflected goal with just 3:34 left in the period to tie the game.  The Eager goal would begin as a shot by Torrey Mitchell and then deflected off Artem Anisimov, Dan Girardi and finally Eager before going in.
San Jose dominated the third period, but it would be Lundqvist making some huge saves to get the team to OT.
  • Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov were the best Rangers forwards for me tonight.
  • Michael Sauer was phenomenal in this game in every facet
  • Marc Staal had a tremendous bounce back effort and laid out Kyle Wellwood with a huge hit
  • Dan Girardi also responded well with nine blocked shots.