Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rangers Five Game Win Streak Ends In 2-1 Shootout Loss

The Rangers lost 2-1 in a shootout that ended when Erik Karlsson scored to end the Rangers five game wining steak. Christensen, Zuccarello, Wolski, Dubinsky, and Callahan all failed to score in their attempts. The good news is they got one point out if the game in a game where they did not play well.

Very little action of consequence in a very boring first. After being separated late in the first Michael Sauer and Zack Smith would drop the gloves early in period two.

Ottawa got on the board at 15:21 of the second with a goal from Ryan Shannon. Bobby Butler came up the left boards and put a beautiful feed through to Shannon cutting through right faceoff circle.

Rangers best chance in two periods came in the final 30 seconds when Brandon Dubinsky broke in 2-on-1 with Bryan McCabe. Dubinsky played a saucer pass to McCabe but Craig Anderson slid across and made the save.

The Rangers struck early in the third when Brandon Prust scored just 2:45 in to tie the game 1-1. 2:45 The goal was created by Marc Staal who despite being taken out at the blue line still got the puck across to Prust.

In overtime Henrik Lundqvist stoned Chris Neil on a breakaway as Neil tried to go backhand with the shot.
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Rangers, NHL Wont Start In Russia Next Season

According to Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo!'s Puck Daddy the talks between the National Hockey League and the Kontinental Hockey League to begin the 2011-12 NHL season is Russia have officially been pronounced dead. This development will kill rumors the New York Rangers, along with the Washington Capitals might open the season in Russia.

Here is part of the statement from KHL President Alexander Medvedev today:
"It looks like that we will not see such matches next season. And we have only one reason that the NHL due to their, sort of say, exclusively business-like approach…"

The biggest problem appears to be what it normally is, money.  The NHL wanted guaranteed revenue for the games, but give the economy the KHL saw the demands as too significant for the deal to happen.  This will probably end up being good news for most Rangers fans who are holding out hope for a trip to Sweden next year.

Rangers Analysis: Top 20 Prospects Hockey's Future Thoughts

Over at Hockey’s Future, Leslie Treff, has released her New York Rangers top 20 prospects spring update.  The list has changed some through graduations (Derek Stepan, Michael Sauer) as well as players that rose or fell in the rankings. The list shows how much talent is on the way for the Rangers to add to all the young talent that is already here.
Top 5:
Chris Kreider remains in the top spot on the list on the back of a solid if unspectacular sophomore season at Boston College.  He did with the MVP of the 2011 Beanpot, but has had inconsistent results during the year.  There will be a lot of intrigue this summer to see if he signs or returns to BC for his Junior season.
Ryan McDonagh climbed three spots on the list from five to number two on the back of his performance in the NHL.  His AHL season was slow to begin and better later, but did not portend to have this kind of immediate transition to the NHL as he had made so smoothly thus far to make himself arguably the Rangers best defender in the second half or at least part of the best defensive pair, along with Michael Sauer, the team has had since the All-Star Break
Christian Thomas was the biggest riser in the group flying from 10 to 3 on the back of a tremendous OHL season in which he has 54 goals 45 assists and 99 points in 66 games.  I expect him to get a chance in camp next season with his excellent sniping abilities but given his size he is likely to end up back in the OHL to tear it up for another season.
Evgeny Grachev came in at number four on Leslie’s list and I would have to say I disagree with ranking him that highly.  The overall game has improved for Grachev this season as has his work ethic, but his offensive production does not really mesh with being rated that highly on the prospect list.  Talent is still there though.
Mats Zuccarello rounded out the top five, dropping one spot from the preseason rankings, and Leslie’s read on Zuccarello is spot on in terms of his strength on and off the puck and his ability to get positioning being key factors to determine if his offensive talents will really allow him to become a big contributor.
Players Ranked Too Low
Carl Hagelin came in at number seven on the list and this is mainly because of the perceived lack of upside from where he is and the assumption that he can only be a third or fourth line type player.  I am not convinced that is the case and I would have had Carl as high as 4th if I were making the list.
Roman Horak came in down at number 15 which is very low for a player who has shown the kind of improvement that Horak has from year to year.  He has been an underappreciated prospect and he will get his shot next year in the AHL to show that he can be more than just a checking line type player as his offense is better than is given credit for.

Players Ranked Too High
Ryan Bourque came it at number eight and while he has the skill to be a solid NHL player there are still a lot of question marks that make his transition far from certain.  I would have dropped him down to around 12.

Chad Johnson stayed inside the top 10 despite a subpar season in the AHL and has a lot left to prove before he can be considered an NHL backup.

Homegrown Rangers Leading New York Playoff Push

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Through the years of struggling to make the playoffs and the failed big name free agent moves New York Rangers fans have clamored for a rebuilding process that would see more young homegrown talent on display at Madison Square Garden.  As the Rangers are in the midst of a five game winning streak and charging towards the playoff race they are being led in that effort by that homegrown talent fans have yearned for.  At the forward, defense and goaltending levels the Rangers are led by players they have managed to develop.

Up front the best line for New York and the real engine of the offense is that of Brandon Dubinsky (2004, 2nd round), Artem Anisimov (2006, 2nd round), and Ryan Callahan (2004, 4th round).  This line has combined for 63 goals, 77 assists and 140 points in 197 games this season.  If the season totals were not enough in the last four games the trio has combined for 7-12-19 and the Rangers have won all four.  The beauty of this line is that their offense is how defensively responsible all three of them are.  Two-way hockey is a staple of this Rangers team which might lack elite skill, but they play hard, intense hockey on both ends of the ice and they are led by this trio in that effort.

In addition to those three up front the Rangers boast Derek Stepan (2008, 2nd round) and Mats Zuccarello (UFA) as two more young players they are developing for the future while getting contributions in the present.  Stepan’s adjustment from college to the NHL has exceptional (19-21-40) and the fact that he will likely hit the 20 goal mark as a rookie bodes well for his future.  The combination of vision, passing ability, timely goal scoring and maturity make Stepan another piece for New York to build around.  Mats  Zuccarello (6-16-22 in 39 games) has been making all sorts of adjustments this season.  Adjusting from the SEL and the bigger ice surface in Europe to the size and style of North American hockey is Zuccarello has done at varying levels of success, but he has shown flashes of his abilities for the future.

On defense the Rangers boast three core pieces to a defense that have been brought through the organizational ranks.  They can thank the 2005 NHL Entry draft for two of those guys who have helped form the foundation of this year’s defense.  Marc Staal (2005, 1st round) has elevated his game to an All-Star level this season to go along with his long held standing as one of the best shutdown defenders in the NHL.  It is not easy to find a clear cut number 1 defenseman in this league and the Rangers were lucky enough to draft and develop Staal into being just that and will build their defense core around their assistant captain for years to come.

Also take in the 2005 draft was Michael Sauer who the Rangers got in the second round.  While it has taken Sauer longer to get to the NHL his impact on this year’s Rangers team cannot be understated in terms of his positioning, smarts, vision, physicality, mean streak and defense of teammates that he has displayed.  Coming into training camp as a bubble player and the season as part of a rotation Sauer has taken many leaps forward and made himself into a core piece of this defense with his top four play all season long.  The argument can certainly be made that he has been the most consistent of all Rangers’ players.

Dan Girardi is another undrafted gem for Glen Sather and company as someone who blossomed late and has become a very underrated defender around the league for his solid play.  Girardi is never flashy, but he blocks shots, hits and just finds ways to get the job done like the team as a whole. 

The leader of them all and the backbone of the club in terms of both a playoff push and their success in the tournament is Henrik Lundqvist (2000, 7th round).  Lundqvist is a world class goalie who keeps this team in just about every game and down the stretch is back to his form of stealing them when necessary.  When you have an elite goalie like Lundqvist you are never out of a game or a series and that kind of foundational piece allows the Rangers to focus on tinkering in other sections of the ice.

As the Rangers make this push to get into and succeed in the playoffs the reason the thoughts about this season are so positive is because of the level of young and homegrown talent that are playing key roles in the team’s success.  In the past appear to be the days of buying the big name and hoping they can handle the pressure of Broadway and wearing the Blueshirt sweater and here are the days of a “Black and Blueshirt” mentality formed and led by homegrown players that are just willing to do whatever it takes to get this team to where it wants to go.  The fans can stop wishing for a rebuild because over the course of time the Rangers have already done the bulk of it and come out with key pieces to becoming a championship contender.