Friday, April 8, 2011

Video: Nathan Gerbe Spinning Backhand Goal Sends Sabres To Playoffs

The Buffalo Sabres came into their game against the Philadelphia Flyers needing only one point to secure a playoff birth and midway through the third period they were trailing 3-2.  If the result had held that way they would need to gain that point at Columbus Saturday night and give both Carolina and New York another way into the postseason.

At 10:03 of the third period Nathan Gerbe changed all those calculations with a beautiful spinning backhand shot that beat Sergei Bobrovsky top shelf to tie the game at 3-3 and would end up being the goal that sent the Sabres into the playoffs.  Gerbe's both on the skill of the play and the context for the season is easily one of the best goals of the year in the NHL.

The Idea of Firing Tortorella if Rangers Miss Playoffs

The murmurs among the New York Rangers fans about the job security of coach John Tortorella if the team does indeed fail to make the playoffs for the second straight year.  There is no denying that missing again, especially when it will come down to the final game would be heartbreaking for the fans, the team and the organization.  Making matters worse would be the fact that the Rangers had a seven point lead with just six games to go and that leads to use of the phrase collapse in describing how the team has closed the season.  The idea that Tortorella’s job should be in jeopardy is lunacy for me.

The reality is that the team is 10-4-1 in their 15 games which is hardly a collapse. The reality is that all realistic Rangers fans pegged this team as either battling for the eight spot at the end of the year or missing the playoffs altogether.  This team has massively overachieved even if they had been healthy the entire year based on the talent they run out there each night.  Add to that the number of key injuries they have suffered during the course of the year and the amount of young players that were incorporated into the fold this season and Tortorella should be being praised for even having the Rangers with a shot to get in the playoffs tomorrow.  Talk of firing him after the job he has done this year in changing the culture and growing the youth is ridiculous and you should just stop following this team.  Torts has made his mistakes, as all coaches will, but in the totality of the year he has done a tremendous job and deserves the support of this fan base not an irrational reaction to possibly missing the playoffs.

Zuccarello Recalled from Whale, Who Will Sit?

Based on the AHL transactions page, the stay in Connecticut was a short one for Mats Zuccarello as the New York Rangers have recalled the 23-year-old winger.  In the three games he played since his demotion to the Whale Zuccarello had four assists.  The Rangers are obviously looking for an offensive spark with the loss of Ryan Callahan and being blanked by the Thrashers.  There is no telling currently whether Zuccarello will go back to his recent fourth line role which saw him be ineffective or if the coach will give him a chance to move up in the lineup against the Devils tomorrow.

The speculation now is over who will sit tomorrow and while the early favorite would be Matt Gilroy to ride the pine don’t rule out other options if Tortorella is truly trying to push the offensive envelope.

Rangers Have Lost Control of Own Destiny From Inability To Beat Weaker Competition

The cliché that has surrounded the New York Rangers all season, based on missing the playoffs last year by a single point, has been that every point counts.  Those points in any or all of the first 81 games of the season count as much as those in the finale, but once again it will come down to the final game of the season to decide the Rangers playoff fate.  As the playoffs approach, if you are a team that is battling to get in, the one thing you can take comfort in is having some sense of control of your destiny.  Despite the charge the Carolina Hurricanes have been on, 7-1-1 in their last 9 games, going into last night against the Atlanta Thrashers the Rangers still had that card in their back pocket.  It is gone now.  Instead they must find a way to bounce back against the rival Devils and hope for other teams to aid them in their quest to make the playoffs this season.
If the Rangers fail to make the postseason it will be easy to point to last night’s game as the reason why and it would certainly be part of it, but it goes deeper than that.  Over the past three months the Rangers inability to defeat the teams they are supposed to has cost them an inordinate amount of points.  According to Andrew Gross, since January 20 the Rangers are now 5-7-1 against the non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.  That is 15 lost points in 13 games against teams that are not in a position to currently make the postseason.  You have to collect as many points as possible against those teams that are not going to make it and then play respectably against the better teams. 
In contrast, over that same stretch of the season the team is 9-5-1 against teams currently in the Eastern Conference playoffs.  Those numbers show that the Rangers can beat any and all teams they might play in the playoffs, but that their inability to maintain that level against the inferior competition may well cost them that chance. 
Here is a breakdown Buffalo, New York and Carolina over since January 20…

Overall Record
VS Non-Playoff Teams in East
VS Playoff Teams in East
New York

As you can see all three teams have been above .500 against the playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, but the place where the Rangers fall short against the competition is gaining the points they should against those teams that are not going to be playing next week.  When you gain only 42% of the possible points against non-playoff teams in your conference over the course of nearly three months, frankly you do not deserve to be in the playoffs yourself.  You can look at any one game and say that was the game in which the Rangers lost control of their destiny, but the reality is the Rangers lost it over the course of months not any one night because they could not consistently get the points playoff teams do against inferior competition.