Saturday, January 8, 2011

Behind Biron Rangers Leave St. Louis Feeling The Blues

AP Photo/Tom Gannam

If the goal of this two game trip was to prove the one last weekend was just a blip on the screen the Rangers certainly did that with their effort the last two nights against two very good Western Conference foes.  Another game, another comeback, another second game of a back-to-back win, and another road win to bring their league leading total to 15 wins road victories.  With the victory the Rangers have now won three straight Tonight the story was Martin Biron who got the start in place of Henrik Lundqvist and he was brilliant with 24 stops, especially in the second period where he stopped 14 of 15 shots, including multiple point blank chances.

Video: Alex Ovechkin Flying Game Winner

It has been a relatively down year for Alex Ovechkin, but this flying goal might just let his game take flight for the Washington Capitals. He stormed down the left side and after getting Bryan McCabe's stick in the skates he goes airborn and still finishes the play for the eventual game-winner

Biron To Start vs. Blues; Update on Torts Boyle Argument; Rozsival Might Play

Per Steve Zipay, In a somewhat surprising move John Tortorella is going away from the hot hand of Henrik Lundqvist to start backup Martin Biron in St. Louis against the Blues this evening.  The only reason I can find for Tortorella to go with Biron instead of Henrik tonight is because of the upcoming schedule featuring Mon, Van, @Mon, Phi the next four games so the next logical place to play Biron would not be until the 19th against Tor.

Jesse Spector threw out this stat on twitter concerning Biron and the Blues:
But also know this: he has never beaten the Blues (0-7-2, 2.52 GAA, .913 SV%)
Certainly for the sake of Biron and the club let us hope he gets that first win though from the numbers it appears he has played well enough to win a few of the others.  This year's game is a prime example where he stopped 20 of 22 but lost 2-0 at the Garden.

Also according to Steve Zipay Michal Rozsival and his ribs are a game-time decision as he will test them in warmups to see if he can go tonight.

To continue the beat writer merry-go-round Andrew Gross was the first up with Torts story on the Boyle incident last night that was caught on camera.  All in all Torts tried to downplay the controversy and praised Boyle's game, but said it was not about Boyle's failure to connect on that pass late in the game.  I have seen speculation in other places that it might have been concerning Boyle leaving an open trailer on a backcheck late in the game, but guess we will never fully know.  Either way it does not really matter because Boyle showed even in the middle of it a great strength of character to sit there and take it without backing down or slouching in the least and if anything it will only further reinforce the belief Torts has in him.

Sidney Crosby Talks Concussion Timeline, Lack of League Response, Steckel, Return

The Sidney Crosby concussion continues to evolve and the focus of the story seems to be less about how long the Pittsburgh Penguins star and NHL’s best player is going to be out of the lineup and more about everything else that went into the injury itself.  Concussions and trying to prevent them have been a point of conversation for the NHL over the past few seasons including the creation and implementation of Rule 48 to deal with headshots in game action.  It is strange to see that Crosby, whom many deem the most protected player in the game, take two blows to the head with only two minutes of penalties called, no retaliation by his teammates and no suspensions from the league. 
That series of facts was obvious on Crosby’s mind today when he spoke to reporters today about the injury.  He criticizes the NHL for not following through on all their talk about headshots (1:41-2:40 of the video) when he said:
I didn't like them. You talk about headshots and dealing with them, and that's been something that's been a pretty big point of interest from everybody -- GMs and players. When I look at those two hits and when we talk about blindside, that's a big word, unsuspecting player, there's no puck there on both of them and direct hit to the head on both of them. If you go through the criteria, I think they fit all those.
I know it's a fast game. If anybody understands it's a fast game ... I've been hit a thousand times. When you get hit like that, there's nothing you can do. There's no way to protect yourself. Those are things that hopefully they pay more attention to. It's easy saying that, being in this situation; but those are two hits, looking back, that I can't say I should have done something different or had my head down. I wouldn't change anything. [emphasis mine]
In general Crosby is 100% right in those comments that the league has been wildly inconsistent in how they have sought to implement Rule 48 this season where some actions get let go and others of the same exact ilk are hit with varying degrees of punishment. 
In discussing the David Steckel hit/collision from the Winter Classic (video of hit) Crosby reiterates his belief that Steckel could have avoided him if he wanted when he said:
On the Steckel one, it's tough. It's really tough to decide if he meant to or didn't mean to. I feel like he could have gotten out of the way and avoided me. Whether he tried to hurt me, only he knows. I guess we'll never know that, but you still have to be responsible out there. I can carry my stick up around my head and say that I'm protecting myself, but I still have to be responsible for whatever I do with my stick if I end up high-sticking someone.
It's the same thing. In that situation, I don't see anything [and] he sees me there. He sees the whole ice and he doesn't avoid me. I don't think that's responsible on his part. Whether or not he tried to hurt me, only he knows that. But he's got to be the one to try to avoid me in that situation.
This series of comments is likely going to get Crosby criticism especially from those who have an aversion to him already because of the exaggerated example he gives to try and create a metaphorical scenario on the ice and the fact that he did not give Steckel the benefit of the doubt on his intent.  You can say that he did not out and out accuse Steckel but the majority of the time when you lay out a scenario as he did where you say “only he knows” you are going to find many that presume it to be you accusing that person of a dirty play, especially when you then call him irresponsible saying he saw you and did not try to avoid you. 
From listening to Sidney it seems like the concussion was more likely from the collision with Steckel seeing as how he was not feeling “right” even before Hedman boarded him into the glass and probably exacerbated whatever symptoms he was already having.  Why it matters when he originally sustained the concussion is not about whether the Steckel hit was clean or dirty but the fact that the Penguins let him finish the Winter Classic game and play in a gave four days later while possibly having a concussion. Maybe Sidney should be complaining about that as well as the league for not protecting the players because as we have seen in other sport’s many times the league does a better job protecting the players from each other and themselves than the team’s do.
Instead Crosby defending the organization from just that kind of critcism when he said: "No, I mean, looking back, I wouldn't have changed anything we did. It may be easy to say that now, but I didn't have any head and it didn't feel like a concussion."
No offense to Crosby's medical training but that is why team's have professional doctors and trainers on staff to determine those things and maybe the NHL has to go the route of the NFL that any time a player hits his head he has to be concussion tested in order to prevent guys from playing with them until they get severe.  Personally from listening to Sidney today the one week timetable that was laid out seems awfully optimistic and at least on that count Crosby certainly seems to understand the need to wait until he is actually ready to be back to avoid getting another one.
Also I know the media has a job to do and without it I would not have this video to share with you of his comments, but which person thought it was a bright idea to take a guy with a concussion and stick numerous TV cameras and lights in his eyes?
Full Video via

Petr Prucha to KHL?

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Earlier this week when it was announced that Petr Prucha was put on re-entry waivers by the Phoenix Coyotes I looked at whether it made sense for him to come back here as a low-risk gamble.  It turns out the team did not think so and neither did any other NHL team as Prucha cleared re-entry waivers.  When he cleared the Coyotes left him in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage. 

Now according to both Dmitry Chesnokov of Puck Daddy and Laurie Carr of Beyond the Blueshirts there are reports out that Prucha is negotiating with SKA St. Petersburg.  If you speak Czech the original source of the story is an story which has SKA coach Vaclav Sykora suggesting the linkage.

For many fans of Prucha’s this is distressing news to see that he is not getting another chance in the NHL to try and regain the form he had his first few seasons.  There is obviously a level of hockey skill remaining in Prucha as while he has struggled at the NHL level this season he does have 8 goals and 12 assists in just 18 games in the AHL.  A move to the KHL could signal the end of Prucha’s time in the NHL or it could allow him to show at another professional level that the skill is still there and get him another chance in the NHL down the line.  Either way I want to wish Prucha the best for the energy and effort he plays the game with makes all those that watch him hope for his success.

Zuccarello-Aasen Providing Rangers With Magic Touch

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When Mats Zuccarello-Aasen was called up to make his NHL debut for the New York Rangers December 23rd game against Tampa we were not fully sure of what to expect.  What was known was his prowess overseas in the SEL where he was the best player in the league last year.  What was known was that he struggled adjusting to the NHL and North American style during the preseason forcing the Rangers to send him down to the AHL.  What was known was he struggled initially in the AHL as well, but had turned his game up to a very high level after that point.  What was known was the skill in passing, vision, creativity and more that he could and would bring to the table.  What was unknown was whether he could translate his game to the NHL level of competition.

What we learned right off the bat was when he was thrown in on the team’s top line with the injury to Marian Gaborik he did not blink at all from the atmosphere or the pressure and he went out and played excellent hockey showing all of those skills and proving he belonged at this level.  The day after his debut I wrote about how he showed his place was at this level and that the Rangers would be compelled to find him a spot on the roster no matter who comes back from injury. 

Even in his first NHL game there was no hesitation, no lack of confidence in his game and his ability.  That was evident in the shootout of his debut when the coach asked him if he wanted to be a shorter and he wanted the chance.  On that play he showed glimpses of his flair for the dramatic as he stepped up as a shootout participant and calmly finished as if he had been at this level in those spots for years.  The combination of skill he showed in the game and on his shootout goal proved for many that this team needed his added skill to let the tam continue to mature.  What I did not, and I would guess very few did, fully grasp at the time was how much the “Norwegian Hobbit” had a magical touch that would be able to propel the Rangers forward to wins as he has the last two games.

In his seven games for the Rangers Zuccarello has what might seem like a mere one goal and two assists but consider that in his short time he has a game winner in overtime, a game winner a shootout and another shootout goal and you wonder what he will be able to do when he fully adapts to the NHL game.  The skill is obviously there and has been on display in various forms in each game that he has played at this level.  When Zuccarello has been partnered with Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan that trio has worked very well together and created chances, but the Frodo from Modo has not been able to cash in.  Some of those are Zuke himself and on others he was just robbed of the reward, but if he continues to play the same way he has been the luck that he needs to cash in those chances at other points of the game will come, which combined with his flair for the dramatic will be make him an even bigger fan favorite then he has already become.

One thing has become crystal clear over these two weeks Mats Zuccarello has spent on hockey’s biggest stage, for this Norwegian Hobbit there is no stage or event that is too big for him to handle and maybe it is because he can waive his magic wand and shrink everything else around him down to his size.  There is no telling how long this magical run Zuccarello or the Rangers are currently on will last, but what is clear is that as special as the season has been for the Rangers overall the Frodo from Modo is going to play an instrumental part in determining if they can pull off the biggest trick there is; winning the Stanley Cup.

In the meantime I am left with questions, Is what Zuccarello is doing right now more luck than skill?  Can what he is doing be counted on to continue or will the magic run out?  How vital is Zuccarello to the Rangers this year when the other guys come back from injury?  Will Zuke be here for the rest of the season?  Maybe the simplest solution to answer those queries is to ask Zuccarello-Aasen himself since right now when it comes to the tough spots he has all the right answer and there is pure magic in that fact.

Daily Recap: Zuccarello SO Winner; Richards Off Market?; Frolov to MTL?; NHL Worsts

Certainly no shortage of things to talk about today when it comes to the New York Rangers, but let us start where the day ended with a tough shootout win against a very good Stars team.  The win was yet another Rangers comeback win which is a great thing to see the team have the belief that being down a goal going into the third is not only not the end of the game, but possibly right where they want to be. 

Against Stars Zuccarello Shines Brightest; Rangers 3-2 SO Win is the recap of tonight’s comeback win in the shootout with Mats Zuccarello-Aasen getting the winner, but as with every game there were plenty of other key moments in the game which are detailed, which players stood out and those which did not show up for tonight’s game.  Also see a review of how Ryan McDonagh’s debut

Highlights from tonight’s game include the Artem Anisimov shot that tied the game in the third period and the Mats Zuccarello shootout winner along with a Dale Weise, Steve Ott fight so check out those videos.

The biggest prize in the NHL rumormill this season has been Brad Richards because of the assumption that at some point for various reasons the Stars would have to seel him.  With today’s move to go out and trade for Jamie Langenbrunner so I looked at whether that move means Brad Richards Is Off The Market? The move to go out and trade for Langenbrunner certainly changes the calculations and assumptions involved, but does it mean Richards is a lock to stay through the deadline?  Are the Rangers better off if this move does ensure that neither the Rangers nor anyone else get Richards during the year?

This morning I took a look at a rumor that had the Rangers and Habs talking trade and Alex Frolov potentially involved.  Inside there is a look at the obvious of why the Rangers would deal Frolov, the less obvious on the surface of why Montreal would look to acquire him and what a possible trade might look like if it did happen.

This afternoon I put up links to other sites that had some great stories up involving the following topics: Mid-term Grades; Drury Needs New Pants; Lundqvist Pending Nuptials

Finally tonight’s video section is unfortunately a couple of lowlights from the way some people choose to play the game.

One has Kostopoulos Blindside Cheap Shot Breaks Stuart's Jaw (Video w Blood) which is one of the dirtiest hits I can think of in recent memory and he should expect a lengthy suspension.

The other was Ben Eager Sucker Punches Armstrong; Tor Get 4 Goals; Suspension Likely Coming (Video) which looks at not only the sucker punch itself and possible suspension but how his team paid a dear price for his selfish play to cheapshot Armstrong.  Regardless of what you think about Armstrong personally this was beyond the bounds.

Tom Kostopoulos Blindside Cheap Shot Breaks Brad Stuart's Jaw (Video w Blood)

Tom Kostopoulos of the Calgary Flames on Friday night broke the jaw of Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart with s blindside hit that cannot be described in any manner other than a cheap shot.

Amazingly on the play all Kostopoulos was charged with was a two minute roughing penalty which is a joke that means none of the referees saw the play and only gave a penalty when they saw the results.  There is no arguing that this is not the epitome of the type of hit the NHL created Rule 48 to eliminate from the game.  This was clearly a targeted head shot and was the principal point of contact and I believe it was also from the blind side.

I do not think there is any question as to whether a suspension and a rather lengthy one is coming, just a question of how long it will be.  How long do you think Kostopoulos should and/or will get for this hit?

Watch: Zuccarello Magical Shootout Winner

Against Stars Zuccarello Shines Brightest; Rangers 3-2 SO Win

Tonight’s finish for the New York Rangers is a pattern that the fans could certainly get used to as Mats Zuccarello-Aasen once again was the hero.  The only difference this time was that it was a shootout goal instead of an overtime winner for the rookie in the second round as it was the only goal scored in the skills competition.  The move by Zuccarello was special as he came down slow again, put a hesitation shake and then went forehand, backhand, and back to the forehand with a quick shot up over the pad of Lehtonen.  Henrik Lundqvist would seal the win when he stopped Mike Ribeiro in the third round to send the Rangers home with a well-earned two points.

Overall Lundqvist made 28 saves in the game in another stellar effort as he has been superb over the last month and he is in one of those zones where he can carry the team and he is doing that while the offense and team figures it out within games.  To top it off he had an assist tonight, the second game in a row and league leading third assist by a goalie.

The goal that Lundqvist would earn that assist was the tying goal from Artem Anisimov at 8:04 of the third period.  The play had the Rangers on the man advantage and Lundqvist saw the Stars were trying to make a change and so he fired the puck up the ice to Marc Staal at the offensive blue line.  Staal made a beautiful play entering the zone, but having tremendous patience with the puck to find Anisimov as the trailer and then Artie wound up and fired an absolutely perfect shot high far side.

The first period tonight was an up and down one as the Rangers played well in spurts, but certainly gave up the better chances in the period to the Stars and were lucky to come out only down 1-0.

During the period Dale Weise would take on Steve Ott in a good fight in which Ott landed a few good shots and Weis got in one of his own. This was obviously Weise trying to get the attention of the coaches and remain with the club for playing a toughness role, especially with Brandon Prust still nursing that sore shoulder.

The goal for Dallas would come at 7:55 on a simple dump play in which Henrik Lundqvist went behind the net and fans on the puck, the puck would continue to the corner where Anisimov was beat and with McDonagh and Lundqvist both behind the net Brian Sutherby was left alone in front for 1-0 lead.

In the second period Brandon Dubinsky would take an early penalty and the Rangers would do a great job of frustrating the power play and finally with 11 seconds left shorthanded Ruslan Fedotenko would score the Rangers ninth shorthanded goal of the season.  The play was really caused by a bad change for the Dallas Stars as when the puck exited the zone Brad Richards stepped off the ice and no one else stepped on.  Fedotenko would pick up the puck and with Drury driving the net fire the shot high from the short side.

After a relatively weak call gave the Stars another power play the Rangers were doing a phenomenal job on the kill, first Brandon Prust and then Dubinsky, but the Stars would score late in the advantage.  After a dump in they would eventually get Lundqvist down and scrambling that ended with Mike Ribeiro taking the shot quickly before Henrik could get back 10:20 into the period to make it 2-1 Dallas.
  • Alex Frolov played his best game of the year tonight with his highest activity level
  • Dubinsky, Boyle, Prust, Stepan just did what they do every night and are the best forwards on the club right now by far
  • Marian Gaborik is lost out there and I do not want to hear anything about groins as he showed he is healthy when he made a great defensive play streaking back on Jamie Benn in the third.
  • Marc Staal and Dan Girardi continue to be absolute workhorses and shut down defenders as they played 33:06 and 31:31 respectively for career highs.
  • Ryan McDonagh had his moments both good and bad, but overall he could use some more time in the AHL