Monday, February 7, 2011

Rangers Cannot End The Skid in Detroit

In private conversations over the last couple of days the discussion has been about how important tonight’s two points were to the New York Rangers at a critical juncture of the season and the different ramifications that could result.  The team had the chance to go into Detroit with only two possible outcomes to be had.  They would either secure a huge win against a great team to snap a skid, or they would walk out having gone winless in five straight.  Despite a very good effort, the Rangers would fall short in yet another 3-2 loss in which the ineptitude of the power play would play a critical part.  Now the team is left without a game until Friday against the also struggling Thrashers, having not won a game since January 24th.
While the Thrashers continuing to lose is a slight saving grace for the Blueshirts, they cannot take those kind of moral victories as Carolina is on their heels and suddenly Buffalo, while nine points back, has five games in hand on New York.  Friday will obviously be a crucial game, but it will also be very interesting to see what the team does over these three intervening days.
In terms of the game, the Rangers came out of the gates playing their style of hockey.  The pressure was creating turnovers, they were forechecking and cycling the puck and had plenty of chances to get the early goal on Jimmy Howard, who came in struggling.  Unfortunately, as has been the case a lot of times of late, the Rangers were unable to get one in and make all their work pay dividends on the scoreboard.  Detroit started to play their game in the latter half of the period, but at the end of one the score was tied and the Rangers had a penalty that was going to carry over.
After failing to convert on the carry over penalty, Detroit had some momentum and Pavel Datsyuk would make that momentum grow with a beautiful individual effort.  Datsyuk would use the physics of the game instead of the force of the game to work the puck free from Brian Boyle and then work a give and go from the corner in which zero Rangers picked him up.  Biron would stop the initial shot, but after Boyle did not follow him out of the corner, Avery failed to pick up the stick in front and McDonagh was caught high guarding another player, Pavel would put home the rebound.
The Rangers would have some beautiful chances to score, including one for Sean Avery that was created by a beautiful stretch pass from Martin Biron to Mats Zuccarello who played a perfect saucer pass to Avery, who was in alone on Howard, but could not finish. 
The Rangers would once again head to the third down a goal.  It marked the 15th time in the 18 games the Rangers failed to have a lead after two periods.  They would get on the board early in the third, Matt Gilroy played a saucer pass to Derek Stepan for the finish which tied the game at 1-1.
Less than two minutes later the Red Wings would score a highlight reel goal on a tic-tack-toe passing play where Hudler would start the play at the point, the puck would work to the far side of the ice and the winger on that side never followed Hudler as he broke to the net and he would end up with the easy finish.  Detroit had the lead back at 2-1, just over five minutes into the final period.
After that goal the Rangers would get a power play on a delay of game call, generate little and fail to score.  I actually joked when they took the penalty with 13:30 remaining in the game that it would be the first of seven consecutive penalties they would take to ice the game.  Little did I know how prophetic that would become.
Late in the third, Drew Miller would make it 3-1 and almost every Rangers’ fan I know thought that was surely the end of the game.  Brandon Dubinsky and Sean Avery would combine to bring back hope or prolong the agony, depending on how you look at it, when Avery fed Dubinsky for a goal to cut it to 3-2 with just over four minutes to play.  Even though Dubinsky scored, I thought Avery should have taken the shot on the two-on-one, but Dubinsky would convert from the tough angle.
With 3:40 to go in the game, Sean Avery was hit with a high stick giving the Rangers a 5-on-4 power play.  When the clock read 2:24 the Rangers would get a 5-on-3 advantage for 44 seconds as once again it was Avery who was high sticked.  This time Avery was cut (ended up with four stitches) so it was a double-minor which meant the Rangers would either score or end the game still on the power play. 
If there was anything that typifies the Rangers struggles beyond the power play itself it was the fact that they have a 5-on-3 for 44 seconds and they lose the faceoff, then three players get outhustled by Henrik Zetterberg and basically kills of 30 seconds of the two man advantage.  The Rangers would fail to convert and the game ended.
The most interesting things of note about the power play were that both Marian Gaborik and Michael Del Zotto were mainly glued to the bench during them.  Gaborik had plenty of time on the power play, but not much of it during the late opportunities.  I thought the main purpose for Del Zotto being here was to help the power play, but he only played 51 seconds with the man advantage.
  • Sean Avery was the Rangers best player
  • Gaborik once again had an excellent first period and then basically disappeared.

Video: Matt Cooke Knees Alex Ovechkin

There is no debate that Matt Cooke is a dirty player with a history of plays that go beyond the bounds of clean play, but there is certainly no player that plays the innocent as well as Cooke does.  Yesterday was the latest in the line of plays that crossed the line when Cooke intentionally stuck his knee out to take out Alex Ovechkin.


Cooke after the game said: "I just checked the puck. He tried to cut back on me, and we clipped skates."
That is hilarious considering their skates were nowhere near one another.

Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau was very candid in his assessment of Cooke. 

"It's not like it's his first rodeo. He's done it to everybody and then he goes to the ref and says, 'What did I do?' He knows damn well what he did. There's no doubt in my mind that he's good at it and he knows how to pick this stuff. And we, as a League, buy into this like it's an accidental thing."

At some point the league will punish Cooke or someone on another team will be the one that does it one has to assume.  Sad because Cooke has skill to be a very solid contributor, but this is what people remember about him.  The fact that on Versus tonight neither Jones or Milbury had the guts to call him dirty and then Milbury sought to justify the move because Ovechkin has done it is atrocious.  Ovehckin's were dirty and illegal when he did them and so is Cooke's now.

Thankfully Rangers Take A Pass On Souray

There has been a lot of talk about Sheldon Souray over the last few days and whether he would eventually end up a New York Ranger.  Hopefully now all of that discussion will stop.  Over the weekend the Rangers did send scouts to watch Souray play in the AHL for the Hershey Bears and according to Mark Spector, the Rangers came away severely unimpressed with what they saw.  The game at the AHL level was said to be significantly too fast for Souray, and the NHL level is much faster than the AHL, so there is no way for him to transition to being an NHL player right now.

This is great news for the Rangers next season, and shows that while Glen Sather is going to look under every rock to try and improve this team, he is also going to do his due diligence to make sure any potential addition will actually add to the team.  Thank you for your hard work Mr. Sather and the scouting department.  Now we move on to see if anything else might help the club this year or in the future with an eye on bringing back our own players.

Biron Will Start vs Detroit; Right Move For Sliding Rangers

Al Bello/Getty Images
Having gone winless in their last four games (0-3-1) the New York Rangers are facing a huge game tonight against the Detroit Red Wings, and one of the big questions was would it be Martin Biron or Henrik Lundqvist in the net.  The team is dire need of a win and two points.  The fact that the Rangers do not play against until Friday only increases the importance of this game for team morale and maybe more importantly what could be a sense of panic to change things up.  With those facts being as they are, the best move for the team against Detroit would be for Martin Biron to back between the pipes.  It appears based on this morning's  optional skate, per Andrew Gross, that John Tortorella agrees with that assessment, since Martin Biron was the first goalie off. 
I am not trying to start a goalie controversy or anything of that ilk because Henrik Lundqvist is the unquestioned number one goalie for the Rangers.  With the team in desperate need of a win, the team must put his best lineup on the ice and right now Biron is playing better than Lundqvist.  This is not a vote of no confidence in Lundqvist either.  This is simply letting the hot goalie play while the number one gets extra work to fix the mechanical things going wrong in his game.

This will not be the first time this season that coach John Tortorella has employed this kind of tactic as a way to get Henrik back on track either.  Back in November when Lundqvist was going through up and down performances coach John Tortorella turned to Biron for two straight starts to give Lundqvist the better part of a week to work on his game in practice.  It was after that move that Lundqvist went on his tear for the better part of the next two months. By playing Biron against Detroit it would give Lundqvist a full week off from the time of his last start until the game against Atlanta on Friday.
The easy choice would have been to go back to Lundqvist because he is the number one guy, but the right choice for tonight is to let Biron, the goalie who is playing better, be the man between the pipes.  The team brought Biron in to be a backup they were not afraid to use in any situation and tonight is proof of that, so instead of taking the negative on Lundqvist, let us appreciate the quality Biron has given that Tortorella can make this move.

As expected, Henrik Lundqvist took the decision with professionalism.  Per the Rangers official twitter:

Lundqvist: "This is big for the have two great goalies...Marty is playing well"
"this is my time to work hard and get good practice in...I want to be a part of as many wins as possible"
You can bet that Henrik will be read come Friday.

Gaborik Must Rise To the Occasion or Rangers Will Fall

Paul J. Bereswill
The struggles of Marian Gaborik have been well chronicled over the past few months.  The New York Rangers sniper has been AWOL far too often this season and that must change if the Rangers are to break out of this slump they are currently mired in.  The current four game winless streak (0-3-1), is the team’s longest drought this year and their best offensive player needs to step to the forefront immediately or the team will soon find itself in danger of falling out of the playoffs completely.   These are the moments where the teams stars are needed the most, and we will find out what Marian Gaborik is made of in this stretch.

The overall numbers for Gaborik still look reasonable as he as a line of 16-17-33 in his 41 games this season.  The problem is still a consistency and impact issue.  Despite the fact that he has 16 goals on the season, Gaborik’s name has absent from the list of goal scorers a whopping 32 times in those 41 contests; including 14 of the last 16.  That simply is not good enough. 

Delving deeper into the numbers for Gaborik the results you find make the cause for concern and the lackluster nature of his totals even more startling.  One expects that players might produce at a slower rate against better competition, but Marian Gaborik has only managed to tally five goals against teams that are currently in the playoffs.  Compare that with how he has done against non-playoff teams and specifically the worst five teams in the current standings and you see just how disappointing the production is.  The statistical breakdown is as follows:

vs. Playoff Teams
vs. Non-Playoff Teams
vs. Bot-5 Teams

Based on those facts saying that Gaborik’s totals are inflated would be a gross understatement.  Those numbers have to change and change now because seven of the Rangers next nine games are against teams currently in the playoffs.

Throughout the season there have been excuse makers and apologists trying to come up with reasons why the Gaborik of last season has not shown up on a consistent basis for this Rangers’ team.  The notion was more than understandable given the season that he had and wanting to give him the benefit of the down.  At this point it is getting tougher and tougher for those people to keep going.  All of the excuses are gone. 

There has been no talk and there is no reason to believe there is any sort of injury to Gaborik.  Vinny Prospal whose absence was pointed to as a missing piece for Marian to get going again is back.  Prospal is playing like he has not missed a step despite missing so much time and battling back from knee issues, while Gaborik no matter what they try cannot seem to find his.  There may not be a combination of lines that the Rangers have yet to try to get Gaborik going and yet the results are what they have been.

The Rangers were always going to be a team that was going to struggle to consistently find offense, but Gaborik was supposed to be the one constant figure.  With many of the guys when they struggle to score you notice the effort and other things they do on the ice, but not with Gaborik.  There are many points in games where it appears the desire is just not there for him.  Maybe that is not a fair criticism because he is a goal scorer and not a grinder type, but I do not mean it in terms of hitting or failing to block shots, but a desire to go to the tough areas; take the hits necessary to make plays and score goals.  Too many times you see Gaborik content to play along the wall or pull up for the shot instead of drive the net.  There is no explosion to his stride or belief in his shot and those things have to change.

There is nothing else the coaching staff or the team can do for Gaborik that they have not tried already. The results and the burden for them are on Gaborik’s shoulders.  The level of consistency that is necessary is also with him.  Whether he can handle that burden and turn things around is yet to be known.  What is known though is if Gaborik cannot turn himself around, for more than a game here or there, any hope for this Rangers team to make a legitimate run this year disappears with their AWOL sniper.