Monday, January 31, 2011

Video: Linus Klasen 360 Goal During AHL Skills

During the NHL All-Star SuperSkills there was a lull in the action during the breakaway challenge when players attempted interesting moves, but few if any ended up in the net.  Maybe those guys should take some notes from Linus Klasen and his performance in the AHL Skills competition.  The Nashville Predators prospect, represented his AHL club the Milwaukee Admirals, and scored a beautiful 360 goal that was the prettiest of any scored on hockey’s All-Star weekend.

Positive Injury News: Dubinsky, Prospal, Christensen, Fedotenko Get Return Dates/Timetables

As I relayed earlier, Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi were both back at practice as expected and both will play tomorrow against the Penguins.
Following the good news of Brandon Dubinsky, Erik Christensen and Vinny Prospal all taking part in a full practice there is even more positive news for the three of them in terms of return dates or at least timetables.
The only one certain at the moment is Vinny Prospal. Vinny is a definitely for Thursday and is apparently only being held until then so that he can get in two more full practices for conditioning purposes.  It is still completely unclear what, if anything, can be expected of Prospal considering his age, the injury and the fact he has not played a game in 10 months.  All of that said, I still expect Prospal to get a shot to play with Gaborik immediately, whether at center or on the wing.
Brandon Dubinsky was back on skates today for the first time since he was taken out of the lineup with a stress fracture in his leg.  Dubinsky took part in hard conditioning skate, rest, and then full practice and was said to be feeling good.  He would rule himself out for tomorrow’s game and that it would depend on how the leg responds in the morning.  Jesse Spector tweeted John Tortorella having similar thoughts on Dubinsky in not ruling him out and that if he is pain free he will likely play.
In terms of Christensen and Fedotenko, Darren Dreger tweeted that EC could be back by Saturday and that Fedotenko could be ready within 10 days.
Amazing how all of these guys could be getting healthy basically all at once.  This is great news for the team and the depth of the club, but also means that roster decisions will need to be made both in terms of lines and who plays/sits.
To remind everyone, here are the lines from earlier


If Dubinsky plays these lines will likely change with Avery being the obvious candidate to move down to the fourth line and Grachev sits out.  There could be other shuffling going on with the top three lines depending on if coach Tortorella wants to put Callahan and Dubinsky back together or even reunite the full line of Dubinsky, Anisimov and Callahan.

The only other lineup spot that is not sure is on defense as coach Tortorella would not rule out playing Michael Del Zotto tomorrow despite the fact that Dan Girardi will play.  This would mean someone else would sit, but there will be more on that tomorrow.

Callahan, Girardi Back; Dubinsky, Prospal, Christensen Full Practice; New Lines

Over the past few months with all the injuries the New York Rangers have suffered there have been many negative injury stories.  On that front today is the best injury news day this team has had in a long time. 
In addition to Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi’s expected returns to practice Andrew Gross says that the team saw Brandon Dubinsky, Erik Christensen and Vinny Prospal take part in a full practice.

To say this is great news would be an understatement considering how well the team has played thus far with a depleted roster.  It is likely that only Callahan and Girardi will play tomorrow, but having the other three participate in a full practice says they should be ready in reasonably short order.  Getting Callahan and Girardi back in the lineup adds two critical pieces back to the roster.

Timetables on Prospal, Dubinsky, Christensen, Fedotenko 

New lines with the return of Ryan Callahan...


Maybe it is just me, but these lines confuse me.  The best line over the past few weeks has been that of Wolski, Stepan and Zuccarello.  Ryan Callahan is coming back and is of the same mold as Boyle and Prust and yet you split the best line of the past few weeks up to stick Callahan in that position while putting Zuccarello with two players who play a more grinding style.  Lines never stay the same, so likely not a huge deal, just does not seem to mesh with what has worked. 

Prospal To Get "A" Back From Staal Upon Return?

Last Night Adam Rotter of SNYRangersblog tweeted that while he was on the New York Rangers website he noticed that Vinny Prospal had an “A” next to his name, while Marc Staal did not.  Adam in his story this morning said he was unsure if the “A” was ever listed next to Staal on the website, but assumes that it likely was over the course of the last few months.
When Marc Staal was named as a temporary captain on October 18th in Vinny Prospal’s place the belief behind it was that Prospal would be back in shorter order than it has turned out to be the case.  In the interim Marc Staal has turned into a leader of the young defensive core who has advanced his game beyond just a tremendous shutdown defender to be a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate this season.
Vinny Prospal is an excellent leader, an established veteran with lots of experience and brings tremendous enthusiasm to the club, but this team has been about the transformation from the ways of veterans to building around the young core.  While “just a letter,” this is the kind of thing that makes a huge statement to the club about having that youth remain in the leadership positions they have taken on all year.
Either way should be an interesting scenario.

Eight Keys For New York Rangers To Stay in East's Top Eight

The New York Rangers have been one of the most pleasant surprises in the NHL to this point in the season.  When the team starts again on Tuesday against Pittsburgh they will have 30 games left in the season to ensure they hold onto their playoff position.  They start the “second half” with a five-point edge on the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes, who have two games in hand on New York, and a four-point lead over the Atlanta Thrashers, who have played the same number of games as the Rangers. 
Since there are eight spots in the playoffs, I made a list of eight things that must happen for the Rangers to stay in the top eight.  The list is divided into four things that must continue and four things that must improve for the team to hold onto a playoff spot, if not advance up the standings.
Room for Improvement:
This one is the winner of the captain obvious award considering the Rangers have lost 193 man-games to injury already.  That number is going to rise with each passing game as Dubinsky, Christensen, Fedotenko, Prospal, Boogaard, Frolov will not be back at the start of play Tuesday, but Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi should be.  This team has played admirably though all the injuries and found different players to continue to step and step up, but if they are going to hold on they need some better luck on the injury front.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rangers Recall Newbury, Grachev, Del Zotto. Good Move?

The CT Whale have tweeted that the Rangers have called up Evgeny Grachev, Michael Del Zotto and Kris Newbury.  The move is also listed on the AHL transactions page. 

The recall of Newbury was to be expected, but bringing back Grachev and Del Zotto are both surprising to me.  In terms of Del Zotto there are six guys who are all clearly ahead of him in terms of their play, so unless Girardi is not responding well to his injury, then MDZ should be sticking with the Whale and continuing to work on his game.  Grachev has been tearing up the AHL, but has not shown any real flash of being ready at the NHL level.  To further that, with the expected return of Callahan on Tuesday, Grachev is likely being called up for a fourth line role which is a mistake and will only further hinder his development to get 8 minutes a games instead of playing big minutes for the Whale.

Video: Lundqvist Stops Duchene On First-Ever All-Star Penalty Shot

During the third period of tonight's All-Star game, the first ever penalty shot was awarded with Matt Duchene taking on New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The penalty shot was given after Alex Ovechkin tossed his stick at Duchene in an attempt to stop his breakaway on Lundqvist, which Lundqvist would end up stopping anyway. 

On the penalty shot Duchene skated in and tried to beat Lundqvist with the backhand, but Henrik stuck with him the whole way and knocked it away with his left skate.

Marc Staal to Play with Letang; Lundqvist in Goal for Third Period.

According to Mike Sundheim New York Rangers All-Star Marc Staal will be paired with Penguins D Kris Letang on the second pair for Team Staal.

In addition as you can see in the picture Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will get the third period in today's All-Star game.  The fact that Lundqvist is playing the third period should give him a chance to drive out of Raleigh with a new car for the MVP.  Obviously as offensive MVP is more likely, but if the game is close and Henrik leads them to the lead it is certainly possible.

NHLPA Poll: Tortorella Voted Most Demanding Coach; Where Do Other Rangers Rank?

This year’s NHLPA player survey has the New York Rangers featured prominently in many of the results.  This morning CBC posted the results on their site, so let’s see how the Rangers came out in some of the different categories.
Among the coaches, John Tortorella was voted the most demanding coach and also finished second in the voting for coach players would least like to play for.  That is not altogether surprising, but one has to wonder if the results of the poll were based on past seasons and not this “new” version of Torts that seems to have emerged this year.  I would say he is still one of the most demanding guys in the game, but not sure that he would rank as high in terms of least like to play for.
Among the goalies, Henrik Lundqvist was voted the fourth most difficult goalie to score on behind Roberto Luongo, Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas.  This season I could buy Tim Thomas being ahead of him, and even Ryan Miller based on last year, but Luongo never should be.  Maybe they want to have a re-vote after last night’s skills competition.
Marian Gaborik was listed as the best skater in the NHL and also the fastest skater.  I have always thought of Gaborik is as a very good and extremely quick skater, but he has never really popped to the forefront of fastest skaters in the league.
Among the tough guys, Derek Boogaard was voted the toughest player in the NHL.  Not really sure what the criteria were for this particular category, but if it is about a combination of guts and strength I am certainly voting for Brandon Prust.
Madison Square Garden was voted the second worst ice in the NHL behind the Florida Panthers rink.  Despits having awful ice MSG was also listed behind the Montreal and the Chicago as the rink players like most to play in.  The only way to reconcile the awful ice with the fact that the players love playing in MSG is the fans the Rangers have.  Every game at the Garden the place has a buzz to go along with the history of the building itself, so give yourselves a pat on the back Rangers fans.
Finally the Rangers were listed fourth as the team most players would like to play on.  This again needs some reconciling considering players don’t want to play for Tortorella and the fact that the team has not been in contention in some time.  The best explanations are the fans, the city and the building.

In non-Rangers news it seems clear that 24/7 helped the image of both Dan Bylsma and Bruce Boudreau.  Blysma was voted the coach they most want to play for, while Boudreau was voted the easiest to play for.  

Marc Staal, Derek Stepan, Henrik Lundqvist Photos at SuperSkills


All Photos from

Lundqvist Nearly Pitches Shutout In Elimination Shootout

Last night in the NHL SuperSkills the New York Rangers were well represented having Derek Stepan, Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist all involved in the competition.  While Staal and Stepan would have their moments in the spotlight, it was Lundqvist who once again demonstrated why he is one of if not the best goaltender in the world during the night’s final event. Typically the performances in the shootout for Henrik get the Rangers the extra point, but on this night they would seal the victory for Team Staal.
During the concluding Elimination Shootout, Lundqvist would turn aside nine of 10 shooters he faced, which would rank him atop the standings for all of the six participating goaltenders.  The only player who would find an answer for Lundqvist on this night was Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis, who beat the Rangers goalie with a backhand. 
That Henrik put on this kind of performance is no surprise to Rangers fans who have the pleasure of watching him over the past six seasons.  Lundqvist is second all-time in shootout wins (33) and has stopped a remarkable 160/211 (75.8%) career attempts in the format.  
Other than Martin St. Louis, the only player who had a great chance to score on Henrik was his teammate Derek Stepan.  Stepan beat Lundqvist cleanly with his deke to the forehand side, but he would hit the crossbar as he tried to lift it over his down goalie.

Paired with Lundqvist on Team Staal, Marc Staal would be stopped by Team Lidstrom goalie Jonas Hiller in the first round of the Elimination Shootout. Staal would also compete in the Fastest Skater event to open the festivities.  In that competition, Staal would be matched up against Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene as the final skaters in the first round.  Staal was clearly the underdog in the pairing and then during his lap the timer for Staal malfunctioned, so no time was ever shown.  Duchene was clearly the winner and his time was 14.779 seconds.
Marc Staal would also participate in the Skills Challenge relay event on the evening.  The multi-player event which tested the All-Stars in a vast array of hockey skills would see Staal on a team with Kris Letang, Mike Green, Claude Giroux, Jamie McBain, David Backes, and Jeff Skinner.  The role for Stepan in the event was that of stickhandling through a series of pucks and overall he did fine, but there were a couple of hiccups.  Overall this group would end up with the worst time of the four groups at 2:34.
The only other event that saw a Rangers player participate was the Accuracy Shooting Competition in which Derek Stepan competed.  Stepan would compete head-to-head against Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks.  Couture is currently considered one of the top two in the Calder trophy race.  In the event both Couture and Stepan would break all four targets, but Couture would do it in a faster time and earn Team Staal a point for winning the round. 
While Derek Stepan has no more hockey to participate in during the weekend, Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist will suit up for Team Staal in this afternoon’s All-Star game.  No word yet on who Marc will partner with on defense or what period Henrik will play, but one expects both to represent the Rangers proudly as they always do.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chara Breaks Own Record With 105.9 MPH Rocket (Video)

As much as the NHL tries to hype the rest of the SuperSkills competitions the highlight of the night and even All-Star weekend is the Hardest Shot competition.  This event is the one where everyone in the building holds their breath before each attempt just waiting for the radar to give them a reading.
This year the final matched Nashville Predator Shea Weber against the Boston Bruins three-time defending champion Zdeno Chara.  These two met in the preliminary round and Weber came out with the victory having blasted a shot 104.8 mph.  In the rematch it would Chara not only picking up the two points for Team Staal, but on his first attempt he would break his own record with a rocket of 105.9 mph.  The win marked Chara’s fourth straight title in the event, which matches Al MacInnis
You watch this competition and you wonder not only how crazy goalies have to be to sign up for this, but forwards and defenders who throw their body in the way of these blasts.

Tim Thomas Wipes Out During Fastest Skater Competition (Video)

Only in the NHL can you see goalies with the size of their padding compete in a fastest skater competition.  Tonight for the first time Boston Bruin Tim Thomas and Carolina Hurricane Cam Ward were the first goalies to ever take part in the speed race.  During the competition Tim Thomas, the leading candidate for the Vezina, wiped out, but true to his personality he battled right back to his feet and finished the race.

Stepan in Shooting Accuracy; Staal in Fastest Skater, Skills Challenge Relay

Now that the teams have been decided the skills competition is up for tonight.  Now we get see how the captains send out their guys for the different events and focus on the New York Rangers who are competing in them.  The NHL has released the players who will be competing in the events in the skills competition tonight. 

Rookie Derek Stepan is competing for Team Lidstrom in the accuracy shooting competition, which seems to be the competition that best suits his game.  Rangers teammate, but All-Star opponent Marc Staal will be on Team Staal in the fastest skater and the skills challenge relay.  Depending on who Marc draws it could be a rough go in the fastest skater, but expect both Rangers to show well.

Overall I expect Team Lidstrom to have the edge tonight based on the way the lineups are laid out.   The full list of the participants in each event can be here.

Fantasy Draft A Rousing Success for NHL; Can The Game Live Up To It?

With the goal of creating buzz and energy around NHL All-Star weekend there is no denying that last night’s fantasy draft was a rousing success.  After days of talk around the nation and every office, blog, and TV commentator doing their own mock draft the real thing came last night in Raleigh.  The storylines were there going in.  Would Eric Staal pick his brother? Would the Sedin twins finally be separated?  Would the hometown Hurricanes all play together?

The setup had the feel of a game show, with the captains on each side of the stage and the chairs above for the teams to assemble in.  The combination of fantasy draft and throwback to youth in the school days picking format wondering who would be last created a buzz the weekend has not had in many years. 

In the end Eric Staal would fulfill all his necessary obligations to his team, his family and even grab a Sedin while he was at.  Nicklas Lidstrom would take advantage of the requirements Staal had to make by grabbing the more talented roster.  That is not to say that Staal does not have excellent players on his team because these are all All-Stars, but Lidstrom has players that have more familiarity with one another, which should help in the game itself.

During the telecast the players themselves did their best to roll with the punches and even play to the mood in their interviews whether it be Marc Staal acting crushed or Jonathan Toews looking totally aggrevated with Patrick Kane.  The level of personality on display can only help the sport as a whole when you rarely see players beyond Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin used to promote the game.

This had to be what Brendan Shanahan, League's Vice President of Hockey and Business Development, had envisioned when he came up with the idea of the draft.  More than possibly any other league the NHL All-Star weekend had grown stale and uninteresting to the public because the weekend truly lacked the best things about the sport.  Hockey is a sport when at its best is about the pride, the passion and physicality of the game and few if any of those things happen in the All-Star game itself.  The game is a highlight fest marked by the utter lack of hitting or defense and leaves the fans wanting something more.  The Fantasy Draft might not cure the problems in Sunday’s game alone, but it gave buzz to the weekend and the NHL has to hope that there will be some carry-over from Friday through the weekend.

There are still a few talking points remaining for the rest of the weekend like the Sedin twins playing against one another and some teammates squaring off, but will the buzz of the draft be able to carry over?  If it does not, then some will look at the overall move negatively, but at least for one night the NHL was the talk of the sports world, and that is always a good thing.