Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Daily Recap: Rangers Find Identity; Drury In, Christensen Out?; Passing On Hagelin?; Pens Preview

The Rangers have had the past two days off so now less than 24 hours before the next game New York Rangers fans and likely the team are getting antsy for the game to just get here already.   The wait seems longer since the opponent Penguins played on national coverage against the hated Flyers and the Flyers would end the Pens 12 game winning streak.  Will the loss make the Penguins easier or tougher for the Rangers tomorrow when they meet in Pittsburgh?  Will the Penguins sit Marc-Andre Fleury now that the streak is over?  Find out those things along with my keys for the Rangers to win their second in as many trips to Pittsburgh in the full preview of the Rangers at Penguins.

Obviously we cannot look at tomorrow’s game without talking about the return of Chris Drury and when you talk about the return of Drury you focus on two things: Who is he is going to play with and who is coming out of the lineup? Today’s news from practice will answer both of those questions, one which I am happy to see what I hoped for playing out and the other surprising in the scratch that could be made while pondered down the road was not really considered for tomorrow.  The key for this team is to continue to play the same game as they were playing before Drury and just let him add where he can and I think the placement of Drury on the line he is planned for does the best job of that.

Speaking of playing the way there were before Drury came into the lineup, this morning’s article dealt with how the Rangers have finally found a collective/team identity and it is helping to produce better results for the club.  I go through where you can see the differences, what that identity is, why it is producing better results and what questions are left to be answered for the club in relation to this identity.

Early this afternoon it was reported by Larry B rooks in what is now becoming a saga like situation that the reports of a few days ago saying that Tim Kennedy could seek a trade with another club were shot down by Glen Sather and that Kennedy will not be put on re-entry waivers by the Rangers.   Check out my take on the situation, why he re-entry waivers makes no sense for the Rangers to do, and what Tim Kennedy might be wishing he had done this summer to be in a different scenario right now.

In prospect news there was a report in the Windsor Star regarding the Rangers interest or potential lack of interest in signing Senior forward Carl Hagelin this summer before he would become a free agent.  Inside is exactly what was said in the Windsor star, my take on the move if the Rangers make it, how it could be similar to another personnel decision the Rangers have made on a prospect of late and which team is said to be ready to sign the Michigan captain if he hits free agency.

Finally in the video segment there is the brilliant save that Jonathan Quick made to rob Tomas Holmostrom Monday night in the Kings 5-0 win along with a brawl in the KHL 6 seconds into a game involving former Ranger Jaromir Jagr’s Avangard Omsk club.

Video: Jagr's Avangard Omsk Has Brawl Six Seconds Into Game

Last week it was the UK, now the KHL, there are some very angry hockey players over in Europe. The game was between former NHL star Jaromir Jagr's Avangard Omsk and Chekhov Vityaz. The move was obviously planned before the game and was a reaction to a brawl the two teams had back in January. Video of both at the bottom with the one from over the weekend first.

Rangers at Penguins Pregame: Captain Returns

The Rangers will take the ice tomorrow coming off their most impressive game of the year, a 7-0 win against the Capitals, hoping that unlike previous huge momentum victories they can actually carry it over to the following game.  There will be lots of storylines in this one: Drury returns; first meeting since Crosby slew foot and Dubinsky calling him dirty; Crosby’s scoring streak certainly among the top ones.  Even with their loss to the Blue Jackets in their last road foray the Rangers bring a stellar 11-5 road mark to face the Pens who are 10-5-1 home mark and the fact the Rangers won their earlier trip to Pitt a month ago 3-2 in OT.  The Penguins did avenge that home loss by beating the Rangers in the Garden two weeks later 3-1, so this is a sort of early season rubber match.
Rangers (18-13-1) at Pittsburgh (21-9-2)
Key Opposing Player: Sidney Crosby (26-27-53)
Ruslan Fedotenko – Derek Stepan – Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky – Artem Anisimov – Ryan Callahan
Alex Frolov – Brian Boyle – Brandon Prust
Sean Avery – Chris Drury – Erik Christensen

Marc Staal – Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto – Michal Rozsival
Steve Eminger – Michael Sauer

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Scratches: Todd White (healthy), Matt Gilroy (healthy), Derek Boogaard (shoulder)

Rumor: Rangers Might Not Sign Carl Hagelin

If one follows the New York Rangers one should not be surprised when the team makes an awful personnel decision and yet if the following report is true this would be the second in the last month regarding a prospect that will have be disappointed all over again.  Today’s news is regarding Michigan senior forward, 2007 6th round pick, Carl Hagelin and in the Windsor Star the report goes as follows:
There's speculation in NHL circles that Michigan senior co-captain Carl Hagelin, who notched a pair of goals Saturday as the Wolverines blanked the Michigan State Spartans 5-0 in the Big Chill outdoor NCAA hockey game at Michigan Stadium, could be headed for the Detroit Red Wings.

Currently the property of the New York Rangers, who selected the 5-11, 176-pound left-winger from Sodertalje, Sweden with the 168th pick of the 2007 National Hockey League entry draft, word around the NHL is that the Rangers won't be signing Hagelin, who would then become a free agent Aug. 15, 2011. “I wouldn't be surprised to see Detroit sign him,” said one NHL scout at Saturday's game.
There is no reason that this makes any sense for the Rangers to make a move like this when Hagelin has turned himself into one of the best players in the country at one of the top hockey institutions in the nation.  You do not play on the top line nor get named captain of the Michigan Wolverines without an immense level of skill and the Rangers, and any other team, could always use more of that.  In today’s NHL more and more the game is becoming about speed, a trait which the Rangers lack and have been burned by in games this season.  Hagelin for all his other qualities, speed would be the one at the top of the list.  In addition to his speed, Hagelin, shows excellent finishing skill, very good vision, tremendous and dangerous penalty kill ability and toughness in battles.  That to me is the way the Rangers have been moving in their young players and yet they may let this one walk away?

If you needed more proof than his standing on his club, his production as a point a game player, or the fact he is a Hobey Baker semi-finalist last season, just look at the team that is rumored to be interested in signing him because if there is a better run organization and one more known for spotting talent than the Detroit Red-Wings I am not aware of it. 

I for one am hoping that unlike the mistake that was letting Brandon Manning sign on elsewhere this is just a rumor that will end up being incorrect and Hagelin not only signs but has a chance to make this roster next season.  The reason I hold out this hope is the words of Glen Sather himself just six weeks ago when talking with Pierre LeBrun about our future talent Sather said:
"I think [Roman] Horak is going to be a good player, [Chris] Kreider for sure, [Carl] Hagelin has a good opportunity. We've got lots of good kids coming,"
So here is to hoping that what Glen said then will match his actions and he signs Hagelin, otherwise it will just be another poor personnel decision for a fan base that should be used to seeing them already.

Stick Salute to Canyon of Blueshirts for finding this story and check out his take on it here.

Drury Returns on Fourth Line; Torts Will Scratch White or Christensen

There has been a lot of speculation as to what the return of Chris Drury to the Rangers lineup will mean for the rest of the guys on the team, especially those on the fringe, but today’s statement by coach John Tortorella concerning who might be the scratch tomorrow against the Penguins caught many of us off guard.  I will not say that we did not think this guy was above being scratched, especially when Vinny Prospal comes back, but to possibly scratch him in favor of Todd White would be surprising.

According to Andrew Gross reported earlier that coach John Tortorella has said that the healthy scratch for tomorrow’s game will be either Todd White or Erik Christensen.  Many of have said that Christensen is in trouble when Prospal returns but to see White who has done little to nothing might play over him is a little stunning.  Christensen is probably the most frustrating New York Rangers player because the skill is obviously there to be a very solid NHL player but there is absolutely no consistency to his play, so as excited as he can make you with a brilliant play it is even more infuriating when he fails to do anything.  This talk from Torts could be a mind game with Christensen to put the pressure on him to keep producing and earning his minutes and he could back that up by sitting him tomorrow and bringing him back on Thursday, we will see.

As for my question yesterday of where Drury will slot into the lineup, score one for me, for correctly predicting at least for the opening shifts of the game he will be on the fourth line with Avery and either Christensen or White as Torts does not want to disrupt the other three lines.  Word of advice for Stepan, Anisimov, Fedotenko and Frolov would be to produce early in the game because we know Tortorella will not hesitate to mix it up and now he has a new ping pong ball to put into the line lottery drawing.

Lines to expect tomorrow:
Ruslan Fedotenko-Derek Stepan-Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky-Artem Anisimov-Ryan Callahan
Alex Frolov-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust
Sean Avery-Chris Drury-Erik Christensen/Todd White

Scratch That: Rangers Will NOT Put Kennedy On Re-Entry Waivers or Trade

So the other day there were various reports about how the Rangers had given Tim Kennedy permission to seek a trade from his current state of exile in the AHL where the Rangers would likely not be able to call him up on re-entry waivers since they would lose him for nothing as his cap hit would be a measly 275K, which prorated at this points is more like 180K.  Well, Larry Brooks of the New York Post today said via twitter:
Sather:NYR have NOT told Tim Kennedy or agent they would put him on re-entry for trade. "Not a chance" GM tells Post.
That seems like a pretty adamant contradiction to the earlier speculation and understandable since they would very likely lose him for nothing by putting him on re-entry.  What I do not understand is why they would not look to move him for something/anything in a trade since he will never play here and is not exactly lighting up the world in Connecticut.  Sure at this point Kennedy wishes he has signed with a team like the Islanders or the Devils for as bad as their records are at least he would still be in the NHL right now trying to keep his career going in the right direction instead of watching at least a year fade away.

Rangers Have Found Meaning of Team Thus Finding Better Results; Consistency Next?

Consistency is a buzz word that has surrounded the New York Rangers the past few seasons and the search to find it not just in the results, but also in the process.  My penchant for focusing on the process as much as the results themselves can tend to make me come off more pessimistic than some others might.  For me the reason the process is so important is because using the right process and getting results makes those results more likely to be repeatable on a consistent basis as opposed to when you can escape with the result even if you did not really earn it.

For me in order for a team to be consistent it needs to first have an identity (system/style) and a common purpose.  One of the reasons this organization has failed to garner consistent results the last few seasons is they have lacked a team identity.  When it has come to Rangers over the last few years when speaking about the team it felt as if “team” was more appropriate because it really was a collection of individuals all collecting their checks from the same place and having no common purpose. 

This season the Rangers have done a much better job of developing their identity as a team that is hard to play against, works the forecheck and cycle games, blocks shots and hits.  What this sense of identity or at least a consistent style for the team has done is allowed them to have a different mentality within games.  From the preseason there were differences in this team that were noticeable in the way they competed especially when they would fall behind in games and continue to battle where in those situations a season ago they would have cashed it in for the night.  This sort of mentality change has been evident for most of the season as the Rangers even in their up and down phases have rarely had whole games where they just did not show up.  There have been quite a few times especially leading up to the Washington game where they had significant lapses in their focus, but rarely the clunker they mailed it in on.  Having a system you are always trying to get back to gives a team a foundation to build from and a goal to push towards in each game.

Beyond just the system itself though there must be a common purpose and a collective identity in the room in order to truly be a good team.  This is one of the areas the Rangers have improved in the most as they have consistently stood up for one another, filled in for each other and stepped up in the absence of others in doing what has been necessary for the team first.  Part of the change might be that there was a whole offseason with a guy like Brandon Prust around because he certainly showed a willingness to do all those things in his stint to close last season or maybe it is the addition of Michael Sauer from the minors who defends his teammates and bring a toughness that can be contagious.  I cannot honestly say there is one player this season who on the ice has acted as if they were bigger than the team or the sweater as all have sacrificed their body for hits, blocked shots and to make plays.  Obviously some have done it more than others, but all have shown a willingness to do it and that makes it easier to believe and build upon.  I also think that guys like Prust or Boyle or even Sauer doing it is one thing as for them that is a role they can play but when your teams best player this season, Brandon Dubinsky, is constantly scrumming and scrapping for his mates it sends a message on a totally different level.

Last season thru 32 games the New York Rangers were 14-15-3, while this season they are 18-13-1.  On paper the Rangers are not much different than a year ago as they have the same coaches; many of the same players; approximately the same overall talent level.  For me what accounts for the difference in the results is just what I have described they have a more consistent system in not lines and they have an identity not as individuals but as a unit.  As sad as it is going to sound the difference might be as simple as it seems they care more not just about the results but each other; the mentality of the club is different.  Obviously on many nights a team with superior talent will win out, but as was evidenced in the game against Washington when you can mix your talent, whatever amount it is, with a collective purpose you can be a lethal combination, especially against a until that has talent but no cohesion. 

It is refreshing after the past few seasons to see the Rangers actually playing as a team and to this point they are being rewarded in the standings.  The next key for the Rangers is to apply the differences in their team this season on that consistent basis not just from game to game, but within games for the full sixty minutes and once they do that, then the process will be complete and on most nights the results will take care of themselves.  Only time will tell if this year is the time when that combination comes together or if this is just another foundational year building for the future, but either way the signs among the team are good because they are pointing in the same direction.

Video: Jonathan Quick With Save of Year Entry To Rob Holmstrom

The Los Angeles Kings took on the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit on Monday night and if the 51 saves Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick made in the win were not impressive enough he put up this gem to rob Tomas Holmstrom of a sure goal. Quick made the initial save on a point shot from Brian Rafalski and he always is Tomas Holmstrom was in front of the net to grab a rebound and he had a wide open net to shoot at but Quick did not quit on the play diving back and stoning Holmstrom with the goalie paddle. Yes, the final outcome was 5-0 but if you notice the game was 1-0 at that point so if that goes in who knows what happens. Tremendous stuff.