Sunday, February 13, 2011

Callahan's Two Power Play Goals Lead Way As Rangers Snap Skid By Beating Pens

Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Today was a game you must win.  The team needed the win for the playoff standings, to end the six game losing streak and because you have to take advantage of team’s when they are depleted like the Penguins were.  The fact that they got the win should allow Rangers fans to take a deep breath and stop looking for the safety raft for at least a day.  Give an immense amount of credit to the team for battling back and not folding when they went down two goals early because it would have been easy while riding a six game losing streak to do just that.  There are a lot of positives to take from the game from the battle back to the offense scoring five goals, and most importantly the special teams.  To get three goals from the previously horrific power play is a huge bonus for this club, and to combine it with some huge penalty kills and you find the reason they won the game today.
The Rangers could not have played any worse in the first five minutes of this game if they tried.  Just 2:06 into the game, Engelland would end up putting the Penguins on the board when the Rangers blew a goal mouth scramble in which Steve Eminger lost his stick and ended up having the shot, which would have gone wide, go off him into the net while Henrik Lundqvist was down.
The Rangers got a power play following the goal, but as the man advantage was ending the puck came around the boards and Ryan McDonagh failed to keep the puck in.  Pascal Dupuis sent the puck ahead to Jordan Staal and while the Rangers actually had a three men back to defend the two attackers, Nick Johnson beat Ryan McDonagh to the spot inside and finished off the goal.  The shot deflected off Lundqvist shoulder and he probably should have stopped it, but it was 2-0 Penguins just 5:06 into the game.
John Tortorella called a timeout following the second goal and instead of blowing up at the team, he remained calm.  Luckily for the Rangers they responded quickly with a goal from Brian Boyle just 37 seconds later.  Boyle won the offensive zone draw back to Marc Staal, Staal let go a wrist shot that was heading just wide, but Boyle having charged the net deflected it by Marc-Andre Fleury.
Just over two minutes later Kris Letang was goaded into a penalty by Sean Avery.  Half-way through that power play the Rangers tied it up when Ryan Callahan tipped Dan Girardi’s point shot into the net.  That was be the final tally of an up and down first period.  After falling down 2-0 in the first 5:06, the Rangers managed to get back to even in the next 4:14.  
The Rangers played a phenomenal second period as they turned that 2-2 tie after one into a 5-2 lead by the time the middle period was over.  Just 1:34 into the period Vinny Prospal would take a beautiful feed from Brandon Dubinsky to score  his second of the season.  Marian Gaborik was a key player on the goal as well because his presence in front forced Brooks Orpik to play him and left Prospal all alone on the back post.
The team received a four minute power play midway through the period after Brett Sterling’s high stick drew blood from the nose of Ryan Callahan.  On that advantage Callahan got his second goal of the game with a slapper above the left circle.  The key play on this goal was not the shot by Callahan or the screen by Dubinsky, but the play by Marc Staal at the point to not only keep the puck in the zone, but feed Callahan in a position to give it a blast.
The previously woeful power play struck for the third time in the game, later in the period, when Callahan did not play fancy, but just fired the bad angle shot and it led to a rebound in the slot and Artem Anisimov who buried the Rangers fifth goal of the game and third on the power play.
The third period saw the team come out flat giving up an early penalty by Callahan, which led to a Brett Sterling goal to cut the Rangers’ lead to 5-3.  The tense nature of the proceedings picked up midway through the period when Michael Sauer took a double minor for high sticking on Tyler Kennedy.  Luckily for the Blueshirts the penalty kill came through again as it did when Dubinsky took his double minor earlier in the game and it ended in a 5-3 victory.
  • Ryan Callahan bounced back after playing two sub-par games and was huge today.  Not just the two goals, but he was back to playing Callahan hockey all over the ice.
  • Brian Boyle played his best game in three weeks.  He had more jump in his stride, was more physical in battles and went to the net.
  • As good as Callahan was, the best player on the ice for the Rangers today, in my view, was Marc Staal.  Staal was everywhere today.  He joined the rush, he pinched, was huge on the power play with the keep in, had two assists and anchored the penalty kill.  Oh yea, and he played 29:51 of ice time.  Cannot say enough about Staal today.
  • Marian Gaborik was much less visible to me today compared to the Atlanta game.  He had a few chances, but was not skating with the same explosion and watching him miss the empty net to close the game said all you need to know about where he is in terms of finishing.
  • Wojtek Wolski was injured in the first period and tried to play a couple shifts during the second, but eventually shut it down for the night.
  • The win was Henrik Lundqvist's 199th of his career.
  • Steve Eminger only got 4:08 of ice time in the game, including zero shifts from the middle of the second period on, so expect him to be back in the press-box on Thursday.

Lemieux Bashes NHL Response To Debacle: Is He Right, A Hypocrite or Both?

Last night the NHL handed out suspensions to three players and a $100K dollar fine to the New York Islanders for Friday’s debacle.  Today, Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins released a statement in response to the actions the league took. 
Lemieux did not mince words in the statement:
"Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be. But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn't hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that.

"The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed.

"We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players.  We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action.
"If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it." 
While I agree with Lemieux that the league did not go far enough, especially in the case of Trevor Gillies there is clearly a level of hypocrisy here from Mario.  He employs Matt Cooke, who is one of the dirtiest players in the game, and you never see Mario say anything about Cooke and his antics.  Now it is uncommon for a coach, general manager or owner to speak out against their own player, but if you are going to keep your mouth closed on those guys, then you should do the same when people cross the line against your guys.
You either play referee and try to call a spade a spade in all circumstances or just keep quiet.

Video: Tortorella Plays Cheerleader Pregame...Hilarious

Video of John Tortorella courtesy of Jesse Spector’s Blueshirts Blog:

Trade Rumors: Rangers Interested In Joni Pitkanen, Eric Brewer?

With the trade deadline two week from tomorrow, and the New York Rangers in the midst of six game losing streak, it should come as surprise to no one that the rumors surrounding New York and trades is churning overtime right now.  This morning there are two new names added to the list of players that the Rangers have been linked to in the apparent quest to sure up the steadiest part of the team right now, defense.  The new names are Carolina’s Joni Pitkanen and St. Louis Blues defender Eric Brewer.
According to Larry Brooks of the NY Post, the Carolina Hurricanes might be willing to part with workhorse defender Joni Pitkanen given that he is going to be a free agent this summer and the budget for Carolina is not going to increase.  On the season Pitkanen, 27, has two goals and 23 assists while chewing up 25:31 of ice time in 47 games.  Of those points eight have come on the power play. 
From Brooks…
The Rangers, who have an assortment of players on Entry Level contracts the cost-conscious 'Canes covet, should be in on the big, powerful defenseman, who would also improve the power play.
I could buy that the Hurricanes would be willing to move Pitkanen before the deadline, but the idea that they would trade him to a team they are directly competing for the playoffs against does not fully pass the sniff test, unless it means the Rangers have to overpay for him.  The Rangers do have that assortment, but none of the players on entry-level contracts at the NHL level should be dealt for Pitkanen.
In the other rumor, Bruce Garrioch at the Ottawa Sun reports that the Rangers could be looking for a power play quarterback at the trade deadline and will likely make a pitch for the Blues Eric Brewer.  The phrase power play quarterback should not be on the same ice surface as Eric Brewer.  I think he is an excellent veteran, defensive defender, but he literally has zero power play points this year.  If the Rangers needed another defensive minded guy, then I would be all over Brewer, but the emergence of Ryan McDonagh has made that potential need disappear, so there is no reason to even inquire about him.
Garrioch also talks about how the Rangers would sell on Matt Gilroy, Todd White and Michael Del Zotto.  I do not buy, as much as some fans and even rumor sites are selling, the idea that Michael Del Zotto is being actively shopped around the league.  I can certainly see the Rangers listening on him as is the case with Gaborik, but giving up on him would be a mistake.  Dealing off Gilroy for a draft pick is something I would be in favor of since the team will not qualify him at 1.925 million this summer, so dealing him for something and possibly bringing him back for much less over the summer would not be a bad way to go.  Todd White is a hilarious name to even bring up.
Defense really is not the Rangers problem right now and neither of these guys are really the ones to solve the places where the D might be lacking at the moment, at least in comparison to what they might cost.  Stay the course.

Photos: Zuccarello, Boyle, Stepan All Play Goalie As Fans Watch Practice.

On Saturday afternoon members of Blueshirts United were invited to come and watch the Rangers practice.  Thanks to the generous Catherine Smith, aka cathybytes, I can show you some of the pictures that she took at practice.  Everyone be sure to thank her for allowing me to post her pictures, and check out rest of the shot she got from her day at the practice facility in the full gallery.

I chose ones that were not from practice itself, but the end of practice when Brian Boyle, Michael Del Zotto, Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan had some fun for the fans who were there and resulted in them taking turns in net and having breakaways on each other.  I think these demonstrate the fun nature of the guys on the club and how much they enjoy being around each other.  The Rangers are building something special with this group and do not let the current losing streak let you lose sight of that being the case.  Anyway, here is the visual evidence of some of what ensued.
Derek Stepan slides in on Brian Boyle
Boyle imitates Hasek as he tries to stop Del Zotto

Mats Zuccarello kick save on Del Zotto
The Hobbit is Helpless
Zuccarello stacks "the pads" covering 1/3rd of the net
Zuccarello tries to hold off Boyle as he breaks in on Stepan who slides across
Sara (@osaraba) with Ron Duguay

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