Friday, September 30, 2011

Lundqvist Stellar In Emotional Return to Frolunda

Everyone new today was going to be a big day for New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist as he returned home, not only to Sweden, but to his former club Frolunda.  Before the game the Frolunda franchise did themselves extremely proud with a moving tribute to their former netminder that Lundqvist himself said after the game nearly had him in tears.  Lundqvist entered to an ovation fitting of a king and he played like it with 32 saves in the Rangers 4-2 win.
The Rangers got on the board when Ryan Bourque sprung Kris Newbury for a goal over the shoulder.  It was another play by Bourque to make the Rangers coaching staff take notice of his all-around game, but it still likely won’t be enough for him to be on the roster for opening night.
After taking and killing off numerous penalties to start the second period, Michael Del Zotto would put the Rangers up when Mats Zuccarello found him pinching to the slot.  The goal for Del Zotto had to feel good for him, but the play was made by Zuccarello who shined in this game.  Zuccarello was not done with Del Zotto’s setup as he had another brilliant pass for Erik Christensen who scored on a low shot to make it 3-1 New York.  If he was not already a lock to make the roster before the game, Zuccarello’s performance in his return to Sweden should clinch it for him.  Maybe Zuccarello was more comfortable on the bigger ice surface, but the plays for the goals were not a product of that difference.  With playmaking skills like that he can be a huge contributor for New York this year if paired with Derek Stepan again.
Lundqvist was beaten in the third with Del Zotto in the box, but Mike Rupp would seal the game with just 3:12 left off a feed from Brendan Bell.
  • Lundqvist is the easy choice for standout player today as he was brilliant in keeping the team alive when they took far too many penalties.  Great move by the organization giving Lundqvist the “A” for the game.
  • Zuccarello as I mentioned earlier continued his excellent showing this year and just looks more confident in what he is doing this season.
  • Hopefully Christensen’s goal does not become an excuse to keep him around
  • Erixon was much better today, but the question remains if it was too late for him
  • Del Zotto is getting his offensive instincts back, which is certainly good news, but there is still work to be done.
  • Bell continues to keep his name in the conversation
  • As a team the penalties need to stop as this has been a trend in their preseason games.  Yes, a lot of young players were in the lineup today, but it is ridiculous the number of penalties and 5-on-3 advantages they are giving against.

Rangers Will Sit Big Names Except Lundqvist Vs Frolunda; Sauer Back On Ice

After going with almost their entire forward roster yesterday, Dan Rosen of tweeted that the New York Rangers are going with a thin roster today in Henrik Lundqvist’s return to Frolunda. 
NYR going w/ thin lineup. Anisimov, Gaborik, Richards, Callahan, Dubi, Stepan, Girardi, Fedotenko, McDonagh, Sauer, Eminger all scratched.
With that list of scratches that would leave the Rangers without most of their top offensive and defensive players today, but it also leads to a different kind of intrigue as much of the lineup will be those players battling for roster spots.  Up front the Rangers will still have Boyle, Wolski, Prust, Zuccarelo and Rupp, but on the blue line it will be all AHL and prospects in the lineup.  This should mean another look at Dylan McIlrath while Del Zotto, Erixon, Bell, and Bickel continue their battle to crack the roster.

In other news, Rosen reports that Michael Sauer is back at practice today, though he was skating with the scratches, which is very good news that his recently sprained shoulder is getting better and he should be ready for next week's opener.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rangers Roster vs HC Sparta; Prust Will Play

Dan Rosen at has today's lineup for the New York Rangers as they take on HC Sparta.


Defenders in the lineup: Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, Steve Eminger, Tim Erixon, Stu Bickel and Brendan Bell.

Having Prust back in action is a big boost for the Rangers and signals he is back from offseason shoulder surgery.   Up front the team is playing virtually their entire starting lineup other than Boyle being out because of the flu.  I am in favor of the idea of putting Fedotenko with Stepan and Zuccarello and having Rupp play with what will be Boyle and Prust.  Feds will bring more offensively to the third line and Rupp with Boyle and Prust could just beat the other team into submission.

Very curious to see reports on which defenders are paired up this afternoon.  The one that makes the most sense from the past would be Del Zotto with Eminger and the other up for grabs.

Has Roster Come Down To Avery vs John Mitchell For Final Forward Spot?

The New York Rangers came into camp with 11 forward positions on the roster already decided and a at least a half dozen others competing for only 1 or 2 spots.  Erik Christensen and Sean Avery were the incumbents, but both had enough flaws in their play and standing with the team to have them immediately on the bubble.  Mats Zuccarello seems as if he is well on his way to securing his spot, which would only leave one spot for the rest of the group to battle for. 

The extra forward spot is not the kind of spot that you want a young player to be in because it can stunt their development and would rather have them play down in the minors than sitting in the press box.  That seemingly would eliminate contenders like Carl Hagelin and Ryan Bourque for sure, and possibly Dale Weise, from the roster on opening night as their development is better served playing huge minutes with the Whale.  Erik Christensen has played his own way off the roster this preseason, while Sean Avery has played well in spots and showed Monday he has flashes of the old Avery still in there. 

Avery showed his toughness and skill early in the game when his battle in early in the first period led to Andreas Thuresson’s goal.  He continued to channel the good parts of Avery when his pestering got under the skin of Wayne Simmonds and had Simmonds take a foolish penalty against him.  However, Avery showed his negative side later in the game when he took his own foolish penalty getting a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.  The Flyers converted on the power play and you can bet that coach John Tortorella took note of that.

The two other main contenders for a 13th forward role would be Kris Newbury and John Mitchell.  Newbury was ok with the Rangers last season and is good in the faceoff circle, but he also takes foolish penalties from trying too hard.  Mitchell on the other hand is in the perfect spot in his career for this kind of chance.  At 26 Mitchell is not going to significantly develop further playing with the Whale while he has shown in camp that he can play a solid game on both ends with a little potential offense as a fill in player.  Mitchell is mainly a center, but is able to play some wing and that kind of flexibility along with his very good work in the faceoff circle makes him a big threat for that final spot on the roster. In the end this is still Avery's spot to win or lose, but Mitchell is likely his biggest competition.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

McIlrath Should Be An Early Season Roster Option If Staal And/Or Sauer Aren't Ready

The New York Rangers came into training camp with questions to be answered about their defense corps, but all of those questions revolved around who exactly would comprise the third pairing.  Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer were to be the top four and give the Rangers the luxury of having two shutdown pairings to give the opposition nightmares. 

However things have not gone according to plan during training camp with Michael Sauer first having knee tendinitis issues and Monday night injuring his shoulder.  The hope is that the shoulder will only cost Sauer a week and that he can return to preseason action in advance of the regular season opener.  For Marc Staal the issues have revolved around linger headaches caused from a concussion he suffered on February 22 against Carolina.  Staal is said to be improving and the team is hopeful he will fly to Sweden at the end of this week to continue his preparation to be in the lineup Oct. 7. 

The best case scenario is that both Staal and Sauer will be there against the Los Angeles Kings, but what if one or both aren’t ready to play?  Having at minimum Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh as top defenders is still tremendous, but that issues come from others that have to be elevated in the lineup to fill the holes.  Steve Eminger and Michael Del Zotto right now appear to be the third pair if all are healthy, but one or both would have to slide into the a top four spot to make up for whomever is missing. 

As I wrote yesterday, Tim Erixon does not appear ready for the NHL just yet, which leaves Brendan Bell, Stu Bickel, Blake Parlett and Dylan McIlrath as options to open the year.  Bell has been solid in his two appearances, while Bickel would bring some toughness.  Parlett has not played in any preseason games as he continues to recover from a knee injury he suffered in Traverse City, so it is tough to gauge how effective he could be.  That brings me to Dylan McIlrath.

Coach John Tortorella said the other day that McIlrath is not ready for the NHL, but bringing him to Europe gives them a chance to keep teaching him.  Tortorella is right that the experience is great for McIlrath is being around not only the coaching staff, but learning how to be a professional from the other defenders on the team.  Where I will differ with the impression from Tortorella that this is basically a take the trip before heading back to Juniors trip is that Dylan showed more, at least in his preseason game, than the other candidates did in their outings.

Let me be clear that I am not arguing McIlrath is ready or that he should make the team full time this season.  What I am saying is that if Staal and/or Sauer are unable to go when the Rangers open the season on Oct 7 the organization should not close the door on the idea of letting Dylan play some of his allotted games before sending him back to the WHL.  McIlrath taking a spot that would otherwise be held by Bell or Bickel is certainly not in any way detrimental to the team.  McIlrath has shown tremendous improvement in his skating, gap control and shooting over last year and other than possibly Tim Erixon has the most upside of any of the defensive options. 

Obviously if McIlrath falters, Erixon rises up to claim the spot or Sauer and Staal are both healthy we are having a different conversation in a week.  There is no doubt that McIlrath has more to learn to be NHL ready full-time, but if he gets more opportunities during the European preseason games and shows similar to how he did against New Jersey there is no reason to deny him outright as an option. Let the 19-year-old get a taste of what the NHL is like and make him even hungrier to continue his course of significant improvement from where he was a year ago.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NHL Fails To Punish Wayne Simmonds For Homophobic Slur

While the National Hockey League has put Brendan Shanahan in charge of discipline for incidents that take place on-ice, Colin Campbell is still the man in charge of judging discipline for things like Wayne Simmonds homophobic slur directed at Sean Avery Monday night.  Following the game Simmonds did not deny saying what Avery alleged, but today when meeting with the league he did deny it.  Today the league decided that there was no conclusive evidence that to support the allegations, despite video to the contrary, thus the league doled out no punishment.

Here via Andrew Gross at Ranger Rants is the statement from Campbell…
 “All Players, Coaches and Officials in the National Hockey League deserve the respect of their peers, and have the absolute right to function in a work environment that is free from racially or sexually-based innuendo or derision. This is the National Hockey League’s policy and it will remain so going forward."
“It also is important to emphasize that the National Hockey League holds, and will continue to hold, our Players to higher standards with respect to their conduct both on and off the ice. While we recognize that the emotion involved in certain on-ice confrontations may lead to the use of highly charged and sometimes offensive language and commentary, certain lines cannot be crossed. Specifically, we have for many years emphasized to our Clubs and Players that commentary directed at the race or ethnicity of other participants in the game (or even non-participants), or that is otherwise socially or morally inappropriate or potentially hurtful—including as it may relate to sexual orientation—is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

“With that as background, we have looked into the allegations relating to the possible use of a homophobic slur by a Flyers player in the Rangers/Flyers preseason game last night in Philadelphia. Since there are conflicting accounts of what transpired on the ice, we have been unable to substantiate with the necessary degree of certainty what was said and by whom. Specifically, Flyers Player Wayne Simmonds has expressly denied using the homophobic slur he is alleged to have said. Additionally, none of the on-ice officials close to the altercation in question heard any inappropriate slurs uttered by either of the primary antagonists. In light of this, we are unable at this time to take any disciplinary action with respect to last night’s events. To the extent we become aware of additional information conclusively establishing that an inappropriate slur was invoked, we are reserving the option to revisit the matter.”

Tortorella Scolds Rangers In Practice As Team Seems To Be Lacking Focus

Deciding how much stock to put in preseason games is difficult because as everyone knows they have no meaning in the standings, and they are as much for evaluating talent as preparing for the season, but the way the New York Rangers have performed in their three outings thus far is a little concerning.  In all fairness, the Rangers have played mainly minor leaguers/prospects in two of the games, though the more veteran squad was not overwhelming in their outing at New Jersey last Friday.

The biggest concern from the games thus far has to be the number of lazy stick penalties they have been taking.  Instead of doing the work necessary to get in proper position to make sound plays they have been relying on their sticks to bail them out of trouble and getting caught committing hooking or tripping penalties.  Apparently the frustration with this kind of work from the team spread to coach John Tortorella today in practice based on reports from Dan Rosen of
Torts is in the process of scolding his team, telling them to start concentrating on everything they do. He's not a happy guy right now.

Tortorella's message sending continued at end of practice. He gave a long, impassioned speech about needing to be better and it starts here.
It is certainly true that the results of preseason games are not important because of the lack of points in the standings, but the way a team plays and prepares absolutely has importance when getting ready for the regular season.  The Rangers have been sloppy in all three games thus far and while the lack of their regular roster accounts for some of that it cannot be seen as a given that they will just turn it on when the games count.  The work must be put in every day whether it counts for something in the standing or not and hopefully today’s message from Tortorella got them heading in that direction.