Monday, January 17, 2011

Vinny Prospal Finished?

At tonight’s Rangers’ fan forum event at MSG for season ticket holders per Scotty Hockey Vinny Prospal told the crowd that he is unsure if he will ever play again. 

Obviously he did not say that he is done for sure or anything along those lines, but the idea that he might not come back should not be shocking given the struggles Vinny has had in rehabbing his injured knee.  The loss of Prospal for the season if it does eventually happen would be a hard blow for the Rangers, but one has to figure they have been counting on a return from last season’s second leading scorer less and less as the season has progressed.  I took the trade for Wojtek Wolski last week as a sign that Vinny was unlikely to make it back this year and they were looking for a new player to spark Marian Gaborik.  Obviously regardless of Prospal in the equation you take the trade of Rozsival for Wolski, but I would surmise that it played a factor in the move.

Let’s hope that Vinny gets back, but know that this team is where it is right now without him having hit the ice this year, so they can continue without him if the need arises.

Video: Mats Zuccarello Plays Goalie Against Jacob Biron

In a cute moment, shown during the pregame of the Rangers/Flyers game, Rangers rookie Mats Zuccarello played goalie against Jacob Biron, Martin Biron's son and stoned him cold on the breakaway. Even better than the play was was Jacob's reaction of throwing all his equipment.

Briere, Hartnell Punch Prust From Bench (Video)

As much as I detest fighting a guy after a clean hit and the rise of that in the NHL this season, what went on late in the New York Rangers vs Philadelphia Flyers game last night is worse.  After a perfectly clean hit in the corner by Brandon Prust on Kimmo Timmonen as Prust skated back towards his own bench he was greeted by Flyers captain Mike Richards who took exception to the hit.  I have no problem with what Richards did, but while Richards was talking to Prust both Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell threw punches from the Flyers' bench that hit Prust in the back of the head.

Update: broadstbull: Danny Briere fined for throwing a punch from the bench on Sun. Hartnell escaped discipline.#Flyers

This is what I expected as you will see under the video though I do find it strange that Briere got a fine but Hartnell did nor for doing the exact same thing.  Though inconsistent discipline is a consistent feature of the NHL discipline regime at the moment.

Here is the video from Broad Street Hockey

I do not expect any huge moves from the league in regards to the cheap shots, but I would expect fines as you will recall rhe Rangers' Brandon Dubinsky was fined $1,000 for grabbing Edmonton's Colin Fraser from the bench during the brawl against the Oilers on November 14, 2010.

Wonder if all those Flyers fans and players bagging on Avery for him taking liberties on Carle after he took him down will be as hard on their own guys.  I certainly disagreed with what Avery did and said so here.

From Worlds Apart Zuccarello and Stepan Bring Rangers Present and Future Together

Getty Images

There is no denying the results of the last two games are certainly less than what the New York Rangers had hoped for following their huge win last Thursday against Vancouver.  As a team they had two games with sluggish play in the first forty minutes and torrid rally attempts in the final period which both came up a goal short.  Combine that with the overall offensive struggles for the overall month and there might be some red flags popping up around the way.  I know the easy thing to do this morning is focus on Gaborik and his benching, but not today, as I would rather focus on the best thing I saw this weekend.  The biggest bright spot in the weekend and the month as a whole has been the play of rookies Mats Zuccarello-Aasen and Derek Stepan. 

We talk often of chemistry between players and how they search for it to develop between combinations that should otherwise work; well there is no searching for it with these two as they have a feel for each other that is special.  The pass by Stepan to Zuccarello in Montreal and then by Zuccarello to Stepan against Philadelphia showed not only the vision and passing skill each player has individually but the connection they have to one another.  It is why when coach Tortorella goes through his next set of lineup roulette this pair must be left together at all costs.  From this point that pair should be as inseparable as Boyle and Prust have been all season.  When training camp started I envisioned these two being dominant players together this season, but I expected it to happen in the AHL not at this level. Turns out this pair did not want to wait and the Rangers are very thankful for that as they are being asked to carry a heavy burden right now.

In both games you saw these two rookies take the game over and spark the team in their comeback efforts.  The fact they led the effort is not totally surprising considering both players have shown a propensity to show up in big spots this season, and neither has been overwhelmed by the stage since being brought here for regular season action.  Stepan obviously has a longer track record having earned his spot out of camp and played 47 games at this level.  Overall season numbers of 13-14-27 place him second on the team behind Brandon Dubinsky.  Those numbers also have him tied with number 1 overall pick Taylor Hall for second in rookie scoring.  Stepan had his bumps in the road early in the year, but he fought through it and continued to work to get his game back to where he is accustomed and the results have shown.  Along with just pure results the fans have been witness to his passing skill, tremendous vision, hockey sense, two-way play, willingness to take the body and a maturity you do not often see in a player his age.

For Zuccarello the path was not as easy as he struggled in preseason and was sent down to the AHL to adjust his game to the new style.  It would have been easy for a young player coming off an MVP year in the SEL, the world’s second best league, to take the demotion badly, but that is not the character Zuccarello showed.  Zuke understood the weaknesses in his game and sought to improve them and in his 33 games with the Hartford Wolfpack/Connecticut Whale he did just that while totaling an impressive 25 points.  When Zuccarello came back in December he brought a better understanding of the style of play, a stick that was two inches shorter and all the skill he had shown everywhere else he had played before.  Since his recall he has displayed all of the same qualities as Stepan though his willingness to scrap and take the body is all the more impressive given his size.  His flair for success in the shootouts has been huge for the club as well. 

When a team is struggling, as it is right now, to score goals you expect veterans to step up first.  That has not been the story of the Rangers season, which has seen the veterans missing in action and even the younger veterans like Dubinsky were unaccounted for this weekend, so up stepped Stepan and Zuccarello to center stage.  The leadership and desire for the puck these two showed this weekend while many of their teammates were fighting the game and the puck bodes extremely well for not only the future but the present in Rangers hockey.  Add that to their chemistry they have with one another and the team might have landed a heck of a successful experiment.

The difference between good players and great players is that innate desire to want the puck on your stick when the game is on the line.  It is one of those things that cannot be taught as some have it and other just do not.  For these two young players that desire to take the final shot or make the final play is there in spades. Both obviously have much growth to go in their complete games at the NHL level, but with the desire they have for the puck at the end and their ability to improve that they have shown over their careers you can bet they will get there.  Stepan proved that each year at Wisconsin and then here with the Rangers.  Zuccarello showed that with Frisk in the GET-ligaen (Norway), Modo (SEL), Hartford (AHL) so there is no doubt he will continue to work on and improve his game at the NHL level.  That combination of natural skill, desire to get better and being big enough for the stage makes them key figures not only in the present but the future of New York Rangers hockey. 

While they started their hockey journey’s worlds apart in Hastings, Minnesota and Oslo, Norway they are showing on the ice, to the delight of 18,200 that pack Madison Square Garden, the ability to grow and be at home together in New York, New York.  All told the Rangers would have loved to get four points out of this weekend, but the three they got out of this combination might be worth more when all is said and done.

Daily Recap: Rally Comes Up Short; Gaborik Benched; Torts Strikes Back; Avery Fight/Usage

Tonight was more of the same that Rangers fans saw on Saturday as a furious comeback would come up short once again in a 3-2 loss.  The team would again fail to really do anything for two periods and it would be another fight that would seem to spark some life in the game for the club. The full game recap will go through all that went on in the game, but I want to focus on some overall thoughts about tonight and what is coming. 

Obviously the Rangers need more from Marian Gaborik as now everyone is starting to clamor about it and he was even benched during the game, but other players need to step up as well.  Artem Anisimov is cold. Chris Drury needs to shows some signs of life through his hole infested shorts.  Those aren’t the only two either as there are a grand total of eight players with more than two points this month.  Only eight guys, one being Henrik Lundqvist, have managed to score more than one point in nine games.  That is ridiculously bad.  To make it worse only three guys have managed to score more than one goal this month and one of them is Wolski who has been here four games.  Overall the team has scored 13 goals in regulation and overtime and failed to score more than three times in any game this month, so it is the whole offense that is failing.

In terms of things that went on during and after the game there were certainly plenty of headlines.  There was Gaborik being benched and his talking about it afterwards.  There was the fracas that broke out during the second period that ended with Sean Avery dropping Matt Carle to the ice with a right hand.  Finally there was the postgame with John Tortorella that is becoming must see TV as tonight he struck back at what he perceived was a question that called into question the effort of his club during the game.

Beyond the game tonight and all that it entailed there was my story on how Sean Avery needs to be unleashed by this coaching staff right now.  For whatever reason regardless of how Sean Avery plays he seems to be stuck in the doghouse with John Tortorella despite not having hurt the team this season with any overly stupid actions.  With that in mind I took a look at his situation and how to better use him, especially in light of how P.K. Subban used an Avery-esque approach to mess up the Rangers.

Since I did not recap Saturday the main story was about Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust has become the Rangers most important line partly because of how they have played and in part because of the failures and injuries on other lines.

Video: Avery Drops Carle During Rangers Flyers Fracas

With the Rangers down 3-0 to the Flyers and getting little going in terms of momentum in the game a fight was bound to happen. Originally the play started with just Brandon Prust and Darroll Powe, but then Scott Walker and Kris Newbury got involved and eventually it was all ten skaters that were on the ice at the time.

The funniest part of the whole thing was when Brandon Dubinsky tried to mount Jody Shelley, but thankfully for Dubinsky's healthy Shelley refrained from destroying him.

In the main fight that come out Sean Avery dropped Matt Carle, a non-fighter, with a right hand which showed why Rangers fans love him. In that same moment after he dropped him he showed why fans of other teams hate him as he kept punching Carle after he went down. Where you come down on that likely depends on which team you cheer for because it will either be if you get destroyed in a fight then you deserve it or Avery is dirty scum for doing it. Personally I hate that so many in the league do it at all as I do not see any honor in it, and find what Avery did to be BS regardless of the fact that others do it, but that's me.

There is also the issue of Avery taking on Carle who as I said is a non-fighter and that breaking the code of fighters in the NHL and I agree that should not happen much the way that Carcillo should have laid off Gaborik last season.

Interestingly enough the two that started the whole thing did not throw a punch or end up in the penalty box.