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