Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dubinsky Putting Early Struggles In The Past

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
The New York Rangers have had a phenomenal 2011-12 campaign thus far as they sit in first place in the Eastern Conference as New Year's Eve hits.  However, the team success does not mean that all players have played to expectations thus far.  One such player has been forward Brandon Dubinsky.  Coming into the 2011-12 season the expectations for Dubinsky were extremely high following a career season and brand new long-term contract this summer.  Dubinsky was coming off a season in which he led the Rangers in goals (24), assists (30) and points (54) being rewarded with a four-year, $16.8 million contract.  

Early in the season Dubinsky was doing a number of things right, but not being rewarded in the goal column.  He finally broke through with his first goal of the season against the Carolina Hurricanes on Nov 11.  That was the Rangers' 15th game of the season.  The thought was that now Dubinsky would get hot as the monkey was off his back.  Instead Dubinsky's play actually slipped to a lower level than it had been before he finally scored.  After another long goal drought Dubinsky found himself with one goal and 12 assists through his first 31 games on the season.  Conversation was rampant about how Dubinsky needed to not just be moved down the lineup, but benched altogether.

Now that conversation has been flipped from benching Dubinsky to hoping that this time he has truly turned the corner and is back to being a core player for the team.  In the past five games Dubinsky has scored three goals and added two assists, but his impact goes beyond the numbers.  Dubinsky is back to being a physical presence both in hitting and in his play along the wall.  His forechecking has picked up significantly and he has found a home playing with Brian Boyle and John Mitchell.  That line has been so effective in dictating the game that coach John Tortorella has turned to in the third period of games to preserve leads.

There is no denying that Dubinsky struggled mightily during the Rangers first third of the season and the team found ways to win without getting his typical contributions, but a productive Dubinsky is huge for the Rangers final goals this season.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Rangers Pounce On Panthers Early in 4-1 Win

The New York Rangers bounced back from Wednesday’s 4-1 loss against Washington with a 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers Friday night.  New York grabbed control of the game from the start and with the win retook first place in the Eastern Conference, one point of the idle Boston Bruins.  The Rangers will have the next two days off before hitting the ice Monday in Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against the Flyers.

Carl Hagelin got the Rangers on the board just 35 seconds into the game when he deflected a Ryan Callahan pass behind Panthers’ goaltender Scott Clemmensen.  The goal was the fastest the Rangers have scored to open a game this season.

Brad Richards pushed the advantage to two when he beat Clemmensen with a snap shot 5:10 into the first.  The Rangers needed a little luck as Jeff Woywitka’s outlet pass seemed like it would be easily intercepted in the neutral zone, but it found Richards and he made the most of the opportunity.  The goal along with an assist later in the game snapped Richards five game point drought and hopefully will snap him out of a funk that has seen him score only four points in the prior 12 games.

The Rangers pushed the advantage to three when Michael Del Zotto fired from the left point and had his shot deflect off a Florida Panther and in late in the first period.  The goal was Del Zotto’s fifth of the season and sixth point in the last five games.  Following the goal the Panthers pulled Clemmensen and replaced him with Jose Theodore.

Brandon Dubinsky continued his recent hot play towards the middle of the second period when he used strong work along the boards to work out in front and beat Theodore with a backhander.  The goal was Dubinsky’s third along with two assists in the last five games. 

The Panthers got on the board just 1:47 later when Dubinsky failed to clear the zone along the boards and the puck ended up on Matt Bradley’s stick in the slot.
There was no scoring in the third period, but there was some action with 7.6 seconds left after Michael Del Zotto cross-checked Tomas Kopecky setting off a fight.  Kopecky responded to the cross-check by punching Del Zotto in the face, which led to Mike Rupp beating on Kopecky.  It will be interesting to see if any of that carries over into the final meeting between the two teams next Thursday.

Rangers Waive Sean Avery Again

The New York Rangers have waived forward Sean Avery for the second time this season.  Avery had been a healthy scratch for the past nine games.  Avery scored three goals in his 15 games this season and played very well right after his recall, but coach John Tortorella had said that his game leveled off before the scratching began. 

There was no reason for the Rangers to continue carrying the $1.9 million cap hit that Avery carries if he was going to continue being a healthy scratch.  The move also opens up a roster spot if Wojtek Wolski or Marc Staal are ready to return from their respective injuries.

The demotion will send Avery back to the Whale where he will get to play and see consistent ice time which he was never going to realistically get with the Rangers this season.  For those upset that it was Avery and not Erik Christensen being demoted the salary difference and Christensen's shootout potential were likely key factors in the decision.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rangers Five-Game Win Streak Snapped In 4-1 Loss To Capitals

The New York Rangers had their five-game winning streak snapped in a decisive way as the Washington Capitals controlled much of the game en route to a 4-1 victory. 

Michael Del Zotto has been excellent of late, but he had some bad moments tonight with one early costing the Rangers’ the first goal of the game.  Marcus Johansson made the Rangers pay for the Del Zotto turnover when he coverts the rebound from Halpern’s shot.

Brandon Dubinsky got the Rangers back to even late in the first period when he kept the puck on a two-on-one and beat Vokoun glove side.  The goal was Dubinsky’s third of the year and second in four games has him showing more and more signs of pulling out of his struggles.  The key to the play was Callahan blocking the Carlson shot and starting the play the other way.

After the first period the Capitals had control of the play and Troy Brouwer scored the go-ahead goal that seemed to take a lot of steam out of the Rangers.  Brouwer beat McDonagh in front and re-directed the Carlson shot mid-way through the second.

With the game tied 1-1, Brouwer got tangled with Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in front of the New York net. Brouwer not only screened goalie Martin Biron but redirected John Carlson's drive from the left point for his 10th goal of the season at 10:24.
Alexander Semin made it 3-1 just 2:38 later when Alex Ovechkin stood Brad Richards up in neutral ice and it led to Backstrom before Semin got beat the defense in for the backhander.  Semin added another one in the third with him more typical snap shot high glove side that went off Biron’s shoulder and in.
  • Rangers defense looked slow and over matched more tonight than much of the season.
  • Interesting decision by Tortorella to go with five-forward power play during the third period though it appeared to work when Callahan put the puck in, but it was disallowed for Callahan's kick.  The decision was interesting because of how well Del Zotto has been playing of late.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rangers Should Continue Cautious Approach With Staal Return

The New York Rangers currently sit in first place in the Eastern Conference with a tremendous 22-8-4 record through 34 games this season.  Making the record even more impressive is the number of injuries they have battled through on defense with the most significant being All-Star defender Marc Staal.  Staal has been sidelined for the entire season while he recovers from post-concussion issues from a hit delivered by brother Eric Staal on February 22. 

After months of stagnation in his recovery, Staal has gone from bring completely shut down to being cleared for contact in the last five weeks.  The speed of Staal’s recent recovery has people wondering if he could return to the lineup in next week’s Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.  Staal has refused to rule himself out the game, which only furthers the speculation of a potential return.

Andrew Gross at Ranger Rants had the following comments from Staal following his first contact action in months…
“I did some battle drills, took some hits,” Staal said. “I don’t feel great after two days off but I feel good enough physically to do it. It feels really good. It’s been a long time. It’s the next step to get back to playing…We’ll see how the next few days go with the hitting. I wasn’t hitting very hard. I still need some more work (on conditioning), I don’t feel like I’m ready to play 25 minutes like last year. Obviously, getting more contact, getting more hits, that’s the best way to tell if I’m ready to take it into a game, getting hit and getting into the grind of the season. I haven’t talked to (trainer Jim Ramsey), I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring. I totally felt fully confident going on the ice to take some hits. There’s no doubt in my mind it was the right thing to do. I knew they (my teammates) weren’t going to run me into the glass. It feels like I’m a step behind, knowing where they’re going and what they’re going to do.”
Staal does not sound like a player who would assess himself as ready to compete in an NHL game right now, but that is also Staal comparing where he is right now to the level he expects of himself.  Marc Staal at 75-80% effectiveness is better than about 85-90% of the defenders in the NHL when it comes to shutting down opposing offensive players.  That said, there is no way that Staal should be in the lineup next Monday when the Rangers take the ice in Citizens Bank Ballpark. 

The return of Staal to the lineup would be great, and with the injuries that the Rangers have in their defensive corps they could certainly use him, but given where the Rangers are right now and his long-term importance to the organization there is no reason that the cautious approach should not continue. 

Larry Brooks of the New York Post puts Staal's potential return as happening within the next two weeks.  All concussions are certainly different, but the Crosby comparisons have been used often in talking about Staal and removing the fact that Crosby is back out with another concussion, all should remember that Crosby had almost a month of contact practices before he stepped back into regular season action.  The burden on the rest of the defense and having to press Stu Bickel and Tim Erixon into action is not ideal, but each player has risen to the sustained enough to not take any unnecessary chances with Staal.  The more conditioning and comfort Staal gets with taking contact the better off he will be because of the physical style of play he has to bring to the ice to be fully effective.

Video: Kovalchuk Helps Cam Ward Get First NHL Goal

New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk was given a 15-year, $100 million contract before last season to put pucks in the back of the net.  Down 3-2 late in Monday night's game against the Carolina Hurricanes the Devils pulled their goalie in hopes of getting a goal.  As it turns out Kovalchuk did score a late goal, but not in the way that the Devils were looking for as he passed the puck into his own net for a goal that was credited to Hurricanes' goaltender Cam Ward.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hagelin Scores Twice, Lundqvist Shutout Propel Rangers To First In Eastern Conference

The New York Rangers won their fifth straight game 3-0 over the New York Islanders and took over first place in the Eastern Conference.  Carl Hagelin provided much of the offense with two goals while Henrik Lundqvist took care of all 28 shots that managed to get through for his third shutout of the season. 

Both of Hagelin’s goals had Michael Del Zotto and Ryan Callahan involved with Del Zotto being the key player on each showing his confidence is flying right now.  The first goal was created by Del Zotto making a phenomenal stick-handling move to dance around Frans Nielsen and fire the puck on net.  Callahan was denied but the puck got moved over to Hagelin for the easy finish.

The second goal was Del Zotto bring the puck into the zone, feeding Callahan and continuing down low where Callahan gave it back before the feed to Hagelin in the slot for the finish.  Gaborik finished it off with the empty-netter for his league leading 22nd goal.

New York did a great job of maintaining their focus after the two day break to finish off an impressive week defeating the rival Devils and Flyers once and the Islanders twice.  In past years the Rangers get too high off the win against Philly which gave them first place and tank a game like this, but not right now. 

The first period was not pretty, but the Rangers got better as the game went along with lots of players contributing in their roles to put the team where it is right now.   The work of a line like Dubinsky-Boyle-Mitchell is the perfect example of that because they are dominating with their defense and forechecking whether they ever hit the scoresheet. 

Bickel continues to emerge as a fan favorite.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Rangers Take First Place In Atlantic Division With 4-2 Win Over Flyers

With the results of the first two meetings between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers the Rangers will be looking for more of the same in the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Jan 2.  The Rangers took down the Flyers 4-2 Friday night for their fourth straight win and gained first place in the Atlantic Division courtesy of less games played.

For much of the night it appeared that Henrik Lundqvist was going to shutout the Flyers for the second time, but he had to settle for 28 saves and two goals against on the evening.  Lundqvist was excellent throughout the game with solid positioning and great control of rebounds.

Offensively the key for the night was traffic around the net.  Derek Stepan and Ruslan Fedotenko scored the Rangers first two goals on deflections of Stu Bickel point shots.  Stepan’s deflection from chest high was a thing of beauty that left Flyers’ goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov stunned that it had gone in.  Fedotenko’s deflection went in and out of the net so fast that it was initially missed as a goal before review gave him his first goal in 10 games. 

Marian Gaborik scored his league leading 21st goal of the season when he converted on a breakaway in the third period and Ryan Callahan capped the scoring with a rebound power play goal off Dan Girardi’s shot.

  • Dubinsky was strong again tonight creating chances, even if there was no finish tonight.
  • Ryan McDonagh was tremendous tonight with his coverage.  He was excellent all night in stepping up in neutral ice to take away time and space from the Flyers who love to carry the puck.
  • Del Zotto continues to rack up points with two more assists and another plus-two.
  • Gaborik gave the Garden a scare when he went down after scoring his goal and wincing, but he returned

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rangers Extend Latest Win Streak To Three With 4-2 Win Over Islanders

The New York Rangers continued their strong play with their third consecutive game in a 4-2 fashion over the New York Islanders Thursday night.  The win pulled the Rangers within two points of the first place Flyers as the two teams will battle it out tomorrow night.  Michael Del Zotto continued his excellent play of late with a goal and a plus three to push him to a tremendous plus-20 this year. 

Martin Biron continued his excellent play this season making 24 saves to improve to 7-1 on the season.  The play of Biron is a key factor for the Rangers success in both the short and long term outlook for the season.  His play to win the games he starts and give more rest to Henrik Lundqvist so he is fresh down the stretch in the playoffs makes him such an asset for New York.

The New York Rangers started a little slow and had too many defensive zone turnovers early in the first period, but Martin Biron bailed them out, most notably on a beautiful save against Michael Grabner mid-way through the period.  Tavares found an open Grabner who looked like a lock to score on the half open net, but Biron slid across and robbed him with the pad before making a rebound save as well.  Biron had some help from Tim Erixon when he pinned his body against the post and kept the puck out of the net.

Late in the first period the Rangers got a much needed goal from Brandon Dubinsky.  The goal was a pure example of how Dubinsky plays when he is at his best.  Taking the puck from behind his own net Dubinsky sped up the right wing boards around multiple Islanders defenders and had no hesitation firing the shot from the faceoff circle far side to beat Nabokov.  The Rangers need more of that from Dubinsky in the long run if they are going to continue to get the results they have gotten thus far.

After McDonagh took a penalty late in the first period, P.A. Parenteau tied the game for the Islanders just 18 seconds into the second.  Parenteau converted a Streit rebound.

The Rangers regained control of the game after Artem Anisimov won an offensive zone faceoff and fed Marian Gaborik for his 20th goal of the season.  The goal tied Gaborik for the NHL lead in goal with Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews before Phil Kessel also joined the 20 goal club.

New York gained a two goal lead when Michael Del Zotto continued his excellent play of late ripping a slapshot passed Nabokov at 15:25 of the period.  The shot from the faceoff circle on a rolling puck was impressive in itself, but when you look at the anticipation and reading of the play by Del Zotto to be in the spot in the first place it becomes even more impressive.

Stu Bickel gave the Islanders some life towards the middle of the third period when during a scrum after the whistle he was assessed an extra two minutes for his altercation with Tim Wallace.  On the ensuing power play Matt Moulson made the Rangers pay when he converted a Mark Streit rebound.  Bickel has shown a willingness to get involved physically in his first two games with the Rangers, but he has to be smarter about when to do so.

John Mitchell added the empty-netter with 1:33 remaining to cap the 4-2 win.

  • Del Zotto has been amongst the Rangers best players the past few weeks and has stepped up more and more with each defender that goes down.
  • Gaborik is a man possessed this year and doing everything he wasn’t last year getting so many goals around the front of the net.
  • Dubinsky is getting back to playing his type of game.
  • Hagelin continues to be noticeable each game.
  • Bickel will be a fan favorite quickly with his willingness to stand up for teammates and drop the gloves.