Monday, December 27, 2010

Video: Tortorella Press Conference - Not Happy With Team Despite Big Win; Gilroy In Top Six

Video: Tim Thomas Imitates Superman To Stone Wideman

Say whatever you want about the style with which Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas plays, but what you cannot say is he ever quits on a play. Thomas showed that again tonight with this lunging save to rob Dennis Wideman on the doorstep. The save is even bigger because he made it with two minutes left in a tie game and while it does no top the save in Toronto it is right up there with the best of the year.

Gilroy Leads Charge As Rangers Bury Islanders 7-2

Scott Levy/Getty Images
After a blizzard pounded the New York City area over the last 36 hours the New York Rangers unleashed a blizzard of their own by dumping a whopping 52 shots on net and scoring 7 times in their 7-2 victory of the rival Islanders this evening.  As difficult as it was to move around the city today it was that easy for the Rangers to do nearly whatever they wanted in the Islanders zone.  The offense was sparked early by an unlikely candidate in the often scratched Matt Gilroy who scored his first of the season and would make me look smart for saying just this afternoon that he has done everything to earn a legit shot at getting a regular spot on the defense core.  Gilroy would only help his cause and my case by adding another goal in the second.  The goals for Gilroy were his first in 64 games and only his 5th and 6th in 91 career games.  Gilroy would get some help from his friends as Marian Gaborik, Brian Boyle, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko and finally Derek Stepan would get in on the act.  The scariest part is if not for some phenomenal work from Dwayne Roloson it could have been a lot bigger score.
The first period saw the Rangers start fast as just 44 seconds into the game Matt Gilroy would fire a shot from the right point that would deflect off of Islander Rob Schremp and in to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.  The Rangers would continue to have good puck possession but fail to get the second goal and then the Islanders on a counter would score on a shot from Rob Schremp that Henrik Lundqvist has got to stop at 7:51 of the period. 
The negative play would continue just 1:52 later as an overall team breakdown would lead the Islanders taking a 2-1 lead when the Islanders would break down 3-on-2 and after a failed pass attempt by P.A. Parenteau would go to Matt Moulson, Parenteau would score on the rebound but the failure of the forwards to backcheck left him wide open.
The Rangers would have their share of chances in trying to tie the game, but it would not be until 19:09 of the first where they would finally strike.  On the shift Mats Zuccarello would make a beautiful feed to Chris Drury in front but he could not convert, but eventually the puck would work back to the point and Marc Staal would pinch down and give a beautiful feed through the seem to Marian Gaborik for the one-timer to tie the score at 2-2.  The Rangers would have chances late in the period for Drury hitting the post and Prust missing the net, but the period would end 2-2 with the shots at 18-12.
The Rangers would dominate the second period from start to finish but for a while Dwayne Roloson had their number and it had the feeling of one of those game that could go the other way.  At 12:08 of the period Matt Gilroy would change all that and start the floodgates opening as he would drive into the Rangers zone and with no hesitation let go of a quick shot that deflected off Andy MacDonald and in to make it 3-2.
The Rangers would strike again late in the period as at 18:21 Brian Boyle would beat Dwayne Roloson short side hide with a backhander that Roloson is supposed to save and as good as he was for the first 30 minutes that goal had the makings of a back-breaker for his club.  At the end of two the Rangers were now up 4-2 and outshooting the Islanders 36-16 overall.
After killing of an Artem Anisimov early penalty in the third the Rangers would keep the throttle down and blow it open and it would be Anisimov’s hard work behind the Isles net that would lead to Brandon Dubinsky scoring his 15th goal of the season when he lifted the puck over Rollie to make it 5-2 4:14 in.
At 9:05 in typical Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust fashion they would get a grinding type goal for Fedotenko to make it 6-2.  The Rangers would cap the scoring at 10:34 when Derek Stepan scored his 11th of the season and the Rangers second power play goal of the evening.
  • Marian Gaborik was much more involved tonight as he took the play to the net, fought for the puck and was much more decisive, especially on the power play
  • Zuccarello was not quite as noticeable on a shift to shift basis tonight but again proved he belonged and got his first NHL point.
  • Derek Stepan scored in his fourth straight game and now has 11 goals on the season only pushing him higher in the Calder conversation
  • Brandon Dubinsky played another very involved game tonight, which was great to see with Gaborik back in there.
  • Artem Anisimov played another excellent game as he was a force to be reckoned with in the offensive zone and love that he was around the crease all night and not drifted as he sometimes does
  • Chris Drury did not score a goal, but he was in the right spot on numerous occasions and eventually one has to go
  • Brian Boyle is giving Dubinsky a run for his money as the MVP of the club for the half way mark
  • Matt Gilroy has earned more games and if Del Zotto is to come back in it should be at the expense of Eminger right now.
  • Mike Sauer had another quietly effective game as usual

Lineup: Gaborik Returns on Top Line; Zuccarello With Avery, Christensen

The New York Rangers have announced tonight's lines and while I really hate saying it, but I told you so.  Once again Marian comes back and everyone else has to bend over backwards to help him get going.  Here are the lines:


So, on Thursday night the combination of Dubinsky, Stepan and Zuccarello did some very good things as the team's top line, and some wishfully thought with Zuke coming back they would leave that alone.  I guess those people missed the memo that this team has all line movements revolve around Marian Gaborik.  For a team that is supposedly built on an identity of hard work and no one bigger than the team you would know it with the way the lines are always catered to get Gaborik going.

All the talk of why you could not bring up Mats Zuccarello unless it was for a top six role is apparently garbage as well considering after playing well in the offensive role he is now sitting down there with Sean Avery and Erik Christensen on the fourth line.  If he was going to be in that spot then the guy who should have gotten the call is Dale Weise as he is equipped for that kind of role.  Yes, these are the lines to start the game and with one bad shift they will all change, but it is comical how garbage the whole "you get the minutes you earn" mantra from Tortorella has become in how he makes his line choices.

Will Gilroy Get a Fair Shot To Remain In Lineup This Time?

Bruce Bennett/Getty
Matt Gilroy will dress for the second straight game tonight as again Michael Del Zotto will sit, this time with his second healthy scratch of the season.  Gilroy will now be playing in 22nd game this year, but other than early in the year the main cause of his appearances have been through injury to other defenders or as a tool in the punishment of bad play.  The question is whether this is more of the same of Gilroy is finally getting a legit chance to get a spot back in the lineup.  Gilroy struggled in his transition a season ago and had some struggles early this year but has been very solid in his recent play, so it would be nice to see him given a fair chance to get back in.

Combine the increased play from Gilroy in terms of positioning, and physicality along with his willingness to push the puck and the declining play of both Steve Eminger and Michal Rozsival and Gilroy deserves a chance to get back in the lineup consistently.  I realize that much of tonight’s move is  because of the up and down play of Del Zotto who they are trying to get to learn some lessons as he develops but that does not mean with the chance Gilroy cannot show he is outplaying another member of the defense core.  You could argue over the last month he has been the fourth best defender on the club, when he has been in there, behind only Staal, Girardi and Sauer.

Zuccarello-Aasen is Back; Can the Norwegian Hobbit Use His Magic To Make It Permanent?

Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images
Following his debut performance last Thursday it was clear the Rangers would have to find a spot for Mats Zuccarello-Aasen in their lineup because he demonstated he could play at this level and he added elements the team has lacked.  His play had changed the question from if he would get a chance to when would he get his next one.  The Rangers have answered that question by recalling the Norwegian Hobbit from the Connecticut Whale for the second time in the last week in time to play tonight against the Islanders.  So the question this Monday is not whether or when we would see Zuccarello again, but for how long will his stay be this time?  Management will ultimately have the right to choose the answer to that question, but it will be up to Zuccarello-Aasen to frame the options.

The Rangers sent him down following Thursday’s game against the Lightning because the NHL club was off until tonight’s game while the AHL team had a game yesterday for him to play in.  In the game, ironically against the Islanders AHL affiliate, Zuccarello would have an assist in the 4-0 Whale win.  That particular rationale will no longer be viable as the Rangers and Whale have virtually the same schedule this week and the Rangers schedule gets back to a more normal consistency, so now decisions will be based purely on play.

The reason there were questions surrounding whether or not he would be called back up were because of the following series of topics: things that had been previously said by the Rangers staff regarding him readiness; the fact he was not called up until Marian Gaborik was unable to play; that Gaborik was expected back for Monday’s game; that Zuccarello must have a top six role. 

Apparently what the coaching staff and management saw in Zuccarello’s opening act in the NHL was enough to eliminate all of those other issues and come to the realization that with that kind of talent and the team's need to add talent you must find a place for him.  The decision is not that hard right now as there is an easy fix in dropping Chris Drury out of the top six and letting Zuccarello take a spot in it.  Zuccarello adds a level of skill and creativity to a lineup that frankly lacks both in a significant way.  The Rangers have built their season on their grit and toughness and to add a talent they have not really had is something the club needs to take another step as long as they continue to play their style and not just watch as the talent goes to work.

As easy as the decision to bring Zuccarello-Aasen back now is it gets more complicated in a couple weeks with the scheduled return of Vinny Prospal and then even more so when Ryan Callahan is ready to return.  The timetable on these injuries should give Zuccarello at least a 2-3 week window to truly cement a role on the club before Prospal is ready to be back in the lineup.

I am with many of the fans who believe that even in Prospal’s return Zuccarello should stay with the club and in a top six role, especially seeing as how Prospal is 35 and is not part of the franchise long term.  The problem is Prospal has a history with Tortorella so he gets the benefit of the doubt and with all the different combinations that have been tried to get Marian Gaborik going you can bet that Torts will look to Prospal to try and rekindle the chemistry he had with Gabby last season. 

The only roster related move that would need to happen when Prospal comes back would be Todd White finally going down to the AHL, but the lineup does become more complicated.  If Prospal slots in on the line with Gaborik it means that Dubinsky likely slides back down and then the choice would be between Frolov and Zuccarello on the second line.  That choice is pretty obvious for most of us right now, but for Zuke to make it reality it will depend on his play these next few weeks because not only would that push Frolov down in the lineup, but it would also push someone like Avery or Christensen out of the lineup altogether, which both of them have been in danger of already this season at different points.

The lineup and roster would get even more complicated by the time Callahan came back because if no trades were made to keep Zuccarello on the NHL roster they would have to waive another player from the roster to stay within roster size limits.  If Zuccarello plays how he is capable it is certainly possible the Rangers will move someone out via trade or waivers, but if he shows any struggles he is the easier decision in sending him back down.

When the season started Zuccarello-Aasen was sent down to the AHL to learn the North American style of play and adjust to the smaller ice surfaces and after the initial struggles he did that to an extent that he forced the Rangers to give him a chance at the NHL level.  With that chance last Thursday he proved that he belonged at this level and forced the club to bring him back again for tonight.  Given the complications that lurk a few weeks down the line MZA will once again have to force the move to keep him because while there is no question that long term there is no question that MZA has a larger potential impact on the Rangers franchise than Prospal, Avery or Christensen, as we know that does not always get the greatest level of consideration in making all roster decisions. I believe he will get every opportunity to do just that now that he is back to prove that he should stay here so while the Rangers had a certain schedule in mind for Zuccarello when the year started as has been the case at each turn the puck will be on his stick to force the team change that schedule.  He will have to do it one more time and force them to keep the hobbit on the big stage and let him try to become lord of the MSG rink.  With the fierce determination he plays with and his willingness to mix it up even at his size I would not bet against him succeeding.

Weekend Recap: Zuccarello Proves He Belongs, Called Back; Better W/O Gabby?; Gaborik Groin Better?; MDZ Out; WJC

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Been a quiet few days for the Rangers and the league, so might as well wrap up the holiday break all at once.  On Friday following his excellent debut I discussed how the play of Mats Zuccarello-Aasen would force the Rangers to find him a spot because he proved he belonged at this level and due to the team needing to add more talent to the lineup.  I went through a few different permeations of what that might look like in the short term and it seems as if the Rangers at least somewhat agree as they have recalled Zuccarello for the game against the Islanders Monday night.

On Saturday I took a look at the Rangers play with and without Marian Gaborik and asked if the team was better off without their most skilled offensive weapon in the lineup.   Yes, I know it sounds kind of counterintuitive to ask if a team that lacks talent as the Rangers do, but in watching the Rangers mentality with and without Gaborik out there you notice a distinct difference in how they play that makes the question not so far-fetched.  The mentality difference in the club is not directly Gaborik’s fault, but combine that with him being below that is expected of him in terms of impact on a consistent basis and it raises some red flags.  The Rangers have been successful from playing to a certain identity this season and they seem to decrease the urgency of playing that way with Marian out there.

Along with the recall of Zuccarello there was news on Marian Gaborik getting better and Michael Del Zotto still being out of the lineup for the game.  I went through what was said about Gaborik in that he is improving and hopeful to play along with the discrepancies between his course of events and that which John Tortorella laid out concerning the timing of his injury.  In addition I looked at the lines from today’s practice how they might look tomorrow upon Zuccarello’s return and whether how they are likely to look is how they should actually be.  Finally in discussing Del Zotto there was an update on his health, which is improving and the reason he will still be out tomorrow.

Also on Sunday I took a look at Roman Horak and Jesper Fasth the Rangers forgotten prospects in the World Junior Championship.   These two seem to have gotten lost in the focus on Team USA and Rangers prospects Chris Kreider and Ryan Bourque being on the team.  I did not want Horak and Fasth to get ignored so I did a write-up on what was originally expected of these guys; scouting reports on their games; what they can become down the line. Fasth would record 1A today in Sweden’s 7-1 blowout of Norway, while Horak will not begin his tournament until tomorrow

Finally there is a video highlight package from the Team USA vs Team Finland game which includes Joni Ortio robbing Rangers prospect Chris Kreider of a sure goal.  Ortio was the best player on the ice in the game, with Nick Bjugstad being the best USA player.  Kreider and Bourque both played their games well.  Bourque played an energetic game and combined with Bjugstad and Jeremy Morin to be the best line for the USA squad.   Kreider showcased his speed numerous times and had an assist on the first goal for Team USA.