Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lundqvist The Fall Guy Again, But Plenty of Blame To Go Around In Rangers Loss

Each time the New York Rangers win all I hear about is the playoffs and what seed they are at and at different points I try to let myself believe in this team all the while in the back of my head knowing they have not beaten anyone and then there is a game like tonight.  Tonight is a step up from the competition of the last four games but nowhere near a true test when a team comes in having gone 1-5-1 in their last seven and 0-6 in weekend home games.  The one thing the Jackets possess that the Rangers have been unable to account for all season is speed and it would eventually burn them again tonight.  For two plus periods they played a decent if not good game but their inability to cash in on chances left them in a tie game when Henrik Lundqvist let it an awful goal without question and he was bad on the first one in my opinion as well.  I am not one of those who is going to jump full on Henrik just because that ended up being the game winner but he does let in way too many soft goals

For all of those who want to blame the loss on Henrik, what about the other 19 guys who played in this game and could only must 1 goal on a Steve Mason who is not exactly Vezina caliber this season?  How about the coaching decisions to continually throw Frolov out there on the power play shift after shift to kill chance after chance?  How about the utter lack of desperation this team possesses when they trail late in a game by one goal?  There are so many things that are wrong with this team that to blame it solely on Henrik is a cop out that happens way too often for fans.  This team lacks any sense of a killer instinct to put a wounded team down and instead all they seem to do is take years off the lives of the fans by letting the bad teams hang around and then the fans find a scapegoat for the whole team’s failure to get the result; tonight that is Hank.

Some disturbing stats to keep in mind: Rangers are now 4-13-1 when they are tied or trailing after 2; Rangers are now 6-8 when they outshoot their opponents and 11-3-1 in games they get outshot.

Details of the game:

In Front of Record 113,411 Hagelin and Merrill Lead Wolverines Over Michigan State (w/ Video)

The NHL does a great job hyping and promoting the Winter Classic and it is an excellent event, but today the Michigan Wolverines took on the Michigan State Spartans in the Big Chill outdoor hockey game at the Michigan football stadium in Ann-Arbor in front of a record crowd of 113,411, which NHL simply cannot match.  The other thing that a game like this provides that the NHL cannot match no matter which rivalry it tries to use for the Winter Classic is the differential between a professional and a college rivalry as when the colleges that are bitter rivals get together you play for the honor and bragging rights of your school and the University as a whole pays attention not just the fans of the sport.

The game itself was dominated by the Wolverines and prospects that will play in the NY metro area when they become professionals in Jon Merrill the New Jersey Devils 2010 2nd round pick getting two goals and New York Rangers 2007 6th rounder Carl Hagelin added two goals and an assist to seal the game. Hagelin was excellent all game long controlling the play at multiple points especially on the power play and even better for Rangers fans he showed his willingness to play in the tough areas getting both of his goals off rebounds around the net.

Del Zotto Back In Tonight: My take on his homework; Eminger Out

New York Rangers second year defenseman Michael Del Zotto will be back in the lineup tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets after being a healthy scratch in the last game.  The reaction to his scratch was a mixed bag among Rangers fans as some were upset by the move while others including myself wondered why it took so long to let him see the game from another perspective.  The talent with Del Zotto is undeniable, but the hockey IQ he has displayed in this season leaves a lot to be desired as he is not making the smart simple plays that are there for him.  Hopefully seeing the game differently for a night will aid him in doing just that.

The main areas where the struggles for Del Zotto have been new this season are on the power play and on his ability to make the headman pass which were the two things that carried him in his rookie season.  His connection with players such as Marian Gaborik on tape to tape passes to spring breaks were the things that made so many so excited for his talent.  This season however he has been more likely to hit the camera than connect the same way on one of those passes and instead of leading to those chances he was helping create a season ago it is leading to chances for the opposition.  It is not that his talent was a fluke a year ago or that he lost it overnight, rather it is likely he is overthinking and pressing in his game.

I said in the pregame, last night, that I expected him to be back in there and the injury to Eminger who is going to miss tonight’s game only ensures that fact and now it will be up to Del Zotto to transfer what he noticed in the game he watched to the ice tonight.  There has been a lot of discussion the last two days over the homework assignment that Tortorella gave Del Zotto during the game against Ottawa and personally I am not a big fan of the way he did it.  I completely agree with testing the visual side of things and asking him to recall what he did or did not see but instead of writing an essay on when what you are trying to do is relax his mind and get back to his instinctual play the better move for me would have been for him to run a breakdown of the tape specifically showing what he saw and where he changes it.  I think that type of move allows for him to work with his instincts in a more transferable way back to the ice.

As much as anyone I have criticized Del Zotto for his defensive lapses, but if it is overthinking on the defensive end and the game itself that is causing him to lose his natural instincts then let him focus on getting back to his game first and we can work on technique along the way.  Del Zotto seems to be in the exact opposite spot that Marc Staal is where when Staal is pushed on offense he gets caught in-between and his defense suffers.  For Del Zotto the focus on being more in tune to what each move means defensive is causing him to hesitate on the head man passes, his shots and in the end is actually causing as many turnovers and chances against as if he was playing just his offensive game.  The difference in this scenario is he is not providing any offense to offset the mistakes.  So, while I will still scream out loud when his defensive blunder hurts the team he needs to be aggressive in the offensive side because if he is not working the PP and providing offense his purpose on the ice is minimal.  Play simple, play smart, play with your instincts.  Now that he has a game to sit and watch maybe he will get back to just playing hockey which would be nice for all of us to witness.

Why Are Rangers So Good On Road But So Mediocre at Home? Can It Be Fixed?

As a follower of the New York Rangers there are things you have come to expect and maybe even begrudgingly accept in terms of inconsistent play and overpaid players and never reaching the team’s full potential.  One thing that is hard to comprehend though for the fans of this franchise who have stuck with this club in good times and bad is this new found ineptitude in their own building.  That is not to say that the Rangers were always good on home ice because they haven’t been especially during the consecutive years of missing the playoffs, but from the lockout until last season the club was 97-49-18 on home ice in those four years (11, 17, 6, 8 in home rankings in those seasons).  In those same four seasons the Rangers were a combined 74-64-26 on the road (18, 12, T-12, T-8 in road rankings) which is extremely respectable mark. 

Last season it took a late season charge just to get over .500 at 18-17-6 (T-27th w Tortonto) and this year they are a mere 6-8-1 at home (T-1st in home losses w Buffalo).  What makes the home struggles even more puzzling is the road excellence, especially in comparison to what the rest of the league does on the road.  Last season while they were struggling just to reach .500 on home ice they were 20-16-5 on the road which was the 13th best road record and this season they lead the league in road wins with 11 and an overall road mark of 11-4.  So the question becomes two-fold in how did the team go from so good at home to so mediocre and how are they so good on the road but unable to repeat that in their own building?

For the question of the disparity in the records at home versus prior years the teams are not as good, but at some point you have to look at the coaching as well considering those very good home records at least 3 ½ years of them were under the reign of Tom Renney.  On the question of why they have struggled so much the last two years at home there have been a lot of theories and many of them seem to put the fans squarely on the chopping block as a cause for the team struggles.  Personally I do not buy the whole the pressure of the fans causes the team to play worse excuses that some are trying to peddle.  I am not going to dismiss it completely as a “factor” as some players, especially those who have struggled in the past might grip the stick a little tighter, but it is not the reason.

Another theory is about slow starts to games and yes the Rangers do have a higher tendency to play a slow first period offensively at home, but the statistics do not show any defensive lag at home in the first.  In fact the first period is the only period in which the Rangers actually have outscored their opponents at home this year.  The Rangers have an 8-6 goal differential in the first at home while losing the second 20-18 and the third 14-13.  By contrast on the road the Rangers win both the first period 13-8 and third period 18-14 while only losing the second period 17-15.  Also the slow start theory does not really hold up when you look at games in which the team scored first which has happened at a 9:6 ratio at home and 10:5 on the road.

The power play struggling at home is certainly an issue so far this year but does not explain last year’s bad home record.  Last season the Rangers were an excellent 38/166 (22.9%) at home with the man advantage while they struggled to score on the road with a pitiful 17/135 (12.6%) mark.  This season the team is 8/60 (13.3%) at home while performing better at 10/50 (20%) on the road.

For me the Rangers just play a much tighter game on the road than they do at home in terms of keeping players to the outside, giving up less scoring chances, working the forecheck and cycle much better offensively and playing with a higher sense of urgency.  This to me is shown in both the increased early scoring on the road and the better finishes out of home ice as well.  The most telling statistic for me is the Rangers record when scoring first and the differential they have in holding leads at home as opposed to on the road.  Everyone has been impressed with the Rangers record when they have the lead after two periods which is an outstanding 13-0-0.  I went through the numbers earlier in discussing the slow start theory but when I did not do is break down how those games turned out. 

The team is a very good 14-4-1 when they score the first goal of the game, but at home it is only 5-3-1 as opposed to a 9-1 mark on the road.  When they fail to score first they are a pitiful 1-5 at home and better 2-3 on the road.  To me this speaks to the urgency and style differences the team plays with away from their own rink throughout the course of the game.  There is no reason that a team that is undefeated when leading after two periods should have failed to win 4 of the 9 games they scored first at home while successfully defending an opening goal lead 9 of 10 times on the road.   This is the kind of stat that for me takes away the excuse of the crowd making them tight because the reality is they actually play a "looser" game with the lead at home as opposed to on the road unless someone would like to argue that the crowd makes them tight and causes the screw-ups.  At some point as a professional you have to look in the mirror and take the responsibility especially in New York because as bad as the fans hate screw-ups they respect those who cop to it instead of out on it.  Besides if you succeed here there is no better fan base to have behind you.

For me it really does boil down to a mentality differential for the team in how they play at home versus on the road in which they go into the opponent’s building with the idea of doing whatever it takes to get two points and at home they sit back and wait for the other team to hand them the game.

Give me your theories.

Video: Linus Omark Goes Spin-o-Rama In Shootout vs Lightning

Linus Omark making his NHL debut was the third shooter for the Edmonton Oilers in tonight's shootout against the Tampa Bay Lightning and if anyone wondered who the kid was he showed the flash he can play with on this attempt. A Spin-o-rama a smacking of the ice all before he even took the shot which would end up being th game winner. It was a beautiful piece of skill, but he does have to be careful not to get carried away with it or teams will start coming for him. Beautiful work for the win as the Oilers are getting better and all of their young guys played important roles tonight.