October 2009


Well, the New York Rangers are not the only team in the Atlantic Division faced with one of their offensive stars battling the injury bug. Marian Gaborik has company as the two Pennsylvania teams will be without key forwards.

According to Josh Yohe of the McKeesport Daily News, Pittsburgh Penguins star center Evgeni Malkin will be out of action for two weeks with what coach Dan Bylsma calls a “shoulder strain”. Yohe writes that Malkin has been playing in pain for the last couple of weeks and the team has decided that rest is the best course of action for Malkin.

Yohe points out the shoulder is not the one that Malkin hurt during a pre-season collision with John LeClair in 1996. That injury delayed Malkin’s NHL debut by four regular season games.

The Penguins are already without defenseman Sergei Ginchar for the next four to six weeks due to a broken wrist.

Things look even bleaker in the City of Brotherly Love. While Philly fans are rejoicing in the Phillies Game 1 victory over the Yankees, things are not as good for the Flyers as they have placed Simon Gagne on the Injured Reserve List as a result of two hernias according to Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News.

In order to free up salary cap space, Gagne was placed on the Long Term Injured Reserve List. As a result, he must miss a minimum of 10 games and 24 days – which should not be a problem given Gagne’s injury.

According to Seravalli, the normal recovery time from hernia surgery is eight weeks. However, Gagne has two small hernias in the same area so it is not certain how long Gagne would be out. The one thing to consider is that Gagne has had three previous hernia surgeries in the same area during the past four years.

Seravalli reports that defenseman Randy Jones will be recalled to replace Gagne as long as the blueliner clears re-entry waivers. The other 29 NHL teams have a shot at claiming Jones for $1.5 million – half his 2009/2010 salary. Seravalli said that Jones was originally sent to the AHL because his full salary was too much of hit for the cap-strapped Flyers.

Could Jones be in the mix for the Rangers seventh defenseman position? Here is his scouting report from the Toronto Star:

ASSETS: Has good size and solid puck-moving skills. Is capable of logging important minutes and will play the body. Can also chip in with some offense.
FLAWS: Is extremely inconsistent in the hitting department and could stand to play a more physical game. Must tighten up his defensive-zone coverage.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Top six defenseman.

UPDATE
You can scratch Jones off the Rangers list because he was claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Kings.

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Amid the raindrops and the anticipation of the Liberty World Series between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies, New York City’s biggest rivalry is renewed tonight when the New York Rangers visit the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to take on the New York Islanders.

While a poll at the Rangers official web site lists both the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins ahead of the Islanders when it comes to which division rivalry means the most to you personally, Rangers-Islanders games always bring out that something extra.

It is understandable that the Devils and Penguins have jumped to the head of the list in some Ranger fans eyes. After all, the Sean Avery-Martin Brodeur saga is worthy of any soap opera plot Susan Lucci might be involved with. As for the penguins, the intrigue can be summed up in just two words: Sidney Crosby.

That might be the case for others, but as for me nothing beats a Rangers-Islanders game. I think back to my high school days when my friend Dominick used his uncle’s connections at the Garden to get tickets to the Rangers-Islanders games so that we, along with our friend Louie, could see those games in the early and mid 1980s.

“The games between these two teams always are still the most intense of the season,” Newsday’s Greg Logan offered to Peter Schrager of FoxSports.com. “And yes, the fans still hate each other. Just check the back-and-forth arguments on the blogs that are infuriating because they have no end.”

Ranger fans might find it hard to believe, but the Blueshirts actually hold an edge against the Islanders with a 100-93-19-4 record with the Rangers winning five of six last season – including all three on Long Island.

Of course, the rivalry is not as intense as it once was back in the days when the taunts of “1940″ cut through the heart of Ranger fans like a hot knife through melting butter. Heck, even the “Potvin Sucks” chants don’t carry the same oomph as they once used to. A lot of that has to do with the Islanders (mis)fortunes the past few seasons.

Even with the Islanders far removed from their Dynasty days, the Rangers red, white and blue uniforms always seem to bring out the best in even the most inferior of Islander teams.

“It doesn’t matter where the teams are in the standings, one at the top, the other at the bottom or both in the same spot, it’s a battle,” Jeff Tambellini told Steven Marcus of Newsday. “It’s an absolute war out there. Anytime the Islanders and Rangers come together, especially in Nassau Coliseum it’s a hostile environment. There’s not too many sporting events like that. I think every person who plays in it is pretty excited.”

Tambellini, whose father Steve was also a part of the rivalry, realizes that the more things change, the more they stay the same when it comes to the Rangers-Islanders rivalry.

“I don’t think much has changed. It’s the same feistiness,” Tambellini related to Marcus. “All that changes is the players that were a part of it.

It is interesting to note that the genesis of the Rangers-Islanders feud goes back to the beginning of the 1970s when sports mavericks Gary Davidson and Dennis Murphy started up the World Hockey Association.

In November 1971, the New York Raiders were one of the 12 original WHA franchises. The WHA planned on placing the Raiders in the brand new Nassau Coliseum which would open in 1972. However, two entities stepped in and a hockey rivalry would be born in time for the 1972-73 NHL season.

The Nassau County government was not too keen on the idea of having their brand new arena be the home for some “fly-by-night” hockey league. As a result, they hired lawyer William Shea to bring an NHL team to Long Island. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Shea played an integral part in the birth of the New York Mets. Ironically enough, the Mets were the result Shea’s threat of starting a new league – the Continental Baseball League. Now, he was fighting against a new startup league.

As you might imagine, the NHL wasn’t too keen on having the WHA gain a foothold in the New York market so Clarence Campbell and the Board of Governors quickly granted franchises to Long Island and Atlanta – thus the birth of the Islanders and Flames.

With nowhere else to go, the Raiders ended up at Madison Square Garden. As you might imagine, the Rangers socked the Raiders with a high rent and the absolute worst choice of playing dates. After one season, the Raiders eventually become the Golden Blades under new ownership. As you might imagine, Blades were hardly golden and the WHA had to step in 24 games into the 1973-74 season to run the team. Hmm, can say precursor to the Phoenix Coyotes?

With playing in the Garden becoming an increasing burden, the WHA did the next best thing – they moved the team and renamed them the New Jersey Knights. If you thought the ice at the Garden was bad, you never heard about the Cherry Hill Arena which had a dip in the ice at center ice causing shots from the far end of the ice to disappear for a second and then reappear as they reached the other end of the ice. As bad as the ice surface was, the rest of the facility was just as bad. After finishing out the season, mercifully the team was sold, moved and renamed the San Diego Mariners who soldiered on until 1977.

With Islanders owner Charles Wang unable to push across the Lighthouse Project, it is possible that the Rangers-Islanders rivalry might be heading for extinction if Wang follows through on his threat to move the Isles if he does not get a new arena. As a result, Rangers and Islanders fans should savor each agonizing game while we still can.

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As it turned out, the San Jose Sharks game ended up being the trap game for the New York Rangers. I am not sure if the Rangers were “trapped” looking ahead to their matchup with the New Jersey Devils or if they were caught reading their press clippings. What I do know is that, outside of the first 10 minutes or so, the Rangers played some of their worst hockey of the season – and there is only one reason for it.

I place all of the blame for the Rangers loss on Versus. If there is a network that does less with more when it comes to sports, then I haven’t seen it. I am not sure if Ranger fans are spoiled because of the way the MSG Network broadcasts a game, or if Versus is truly that bad. Given the chatter on the Internet from fans across the NHL, it is definitely a case of Versus being truly that bad.

It is one thing to have to put up with all of the inane graphics and ads for television shows that no one is ever going to watch, but the network’s choice of announcers further ruins the game.

I know that Mike Emrick is an acquired taste that some Ranger fans don’t like, I am quick to admit that I am a mark for Doc Emrick – especially when I am faced with the prospect of having to be tortured by Joe Beninati.

The funny thing is that I used to get a big kick out of hearing Beninati’s calls on the old AHL weekly series “Rinkside”. However, times have changed, and his voice conjures images and sounds of fingernails scratching across a blackboard.

Seriously, the Rangers uneven play of the last few games finally caught up with them as they allowed more than three goals for the first time this season. The Blueshirts were able twice to take advantage of a winless Toronto Maple Leafs and a still learning Los Angeles Kings team.

While some fans have questioned coach John Tortorella’s decision to start Stephen Valiquette, I don’t have a problem with that decision. If Torts has to hold Valiquette out for the weak sisters of the NHL, then the Rangers need to go and find themselves a new backup goaltender. It goes to show that fans have a short memory given Valley’s shutout of the Anaheim Ducks.

You have to wonder if the coach’s decision had anything to do with Henrik being less than 100% because of all the crease shenanigans that Lundqvist has faced the last couple of games.

The bottom line is that Tortorella is going to have use Valiquette more this year because of the King’s Winter Olympics workload. If the Rangers don’t manage Lundqvist’s workload, then they are going to have the same problem the Devils have had with overplaying Martin Brodeur.

While the Rangers have struggled to maintain their level play from the first to the second period, it was no coincidence that the Rangers second loss of the season coincided with the second time they were outscored in the middle stanza. The Pittsburgh Penguins outscored the Rangers 2-0 on Opening Night.

Tortorella’s post-game comments have me wondering if he was watching the game through Versus-colored glasses.

“We have some things to work on,” Tortorella said to Ira Podell of the AP. “The first two periods, we weren’t as bad as what the score was at that point. I don’t think we were terrible.”
I wonder if Torts had a television behind the bench that was tuned to the Yankees-Angels game because that is the only explanation for his statement.

No one expected the Rangers to go the entire season with only one loss, but the score was indicative of the effort the Rangers put forth. Taken by itself, the 7-3 loss is not a big deal. However, when you add it to the last couple of games where the Rangers eked out wins – then it does cause one to pause and reflect on last season.

The Rangers used their trip to Europe at the start of the 2008-2009 season to skate out to a 10-2-1 start. However, the Rangers then hit the skids with as they went 0-4-1 in their next five games and 3-6-1 in their next 10. Of those three wins, two of them were Shootout victories.

This is not a case of Chicken Little crying that the sky is falling. Rather, it has to serve as an early wakeup call for the Rangers to realize that they cannot get by on talent alone. They still have to remember that they are a blue-collar team that needs to do the little things to win.

ON THE FLY

• The last time the Rangers won eight games in a row was in the 1974-75 season (Dec. 27, 1974-Jan. 11, 1975).
• Jeff Z. Klein had an interesting look at that streak on his NY Times web blog . Of those eight wins, three came against teams that no longer exist – two wins against the Kansas City Scouts and one against the Minnesota North Stars.
• The Rangers 7-1 start was their best since the 1983-84 season.
• “Stat of the Game” from MSG.com  The Sharks doled out 33 hits, compared to 22 by the Rangers, and this stat, along with San Jose’s lopsided edge in faceoff percentage, had an impact on the score. In many of their earlier wins this season, the Rangers dominated these statistics.
• According to Steve Zipay in his “Newsday” online blog, the Rangers have inched closer to solving their seventh defenseman problem. Mathieu Dandenault will join the Hartford Wolf Pack on a tryout basis. The 33-year-old is a veteran of 13 seasons in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens. The 6-1/210 blueliner started his career as a RW before Detroit coach Scotty Bowman moved him to defense during the 2001-02 season. Dandenault was with the San Jose sharks during training camp, but was one of their final cuts along with veteran forward Dan Hinote.

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Even with the Rangers flying high with a six game winning streak, there has to be some concern with Saturday night’s game at the Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Saturday night’s game has all the makings of the ultimate trap game for the Rangers.

The Blueshirts are coming off a 4-2 victory over Los Angeles in a game where the Kings outplayed them for the final 40 minutes and are facing a Maple Leafs team that is only one of two NHL teams that had not posted a victory as of Friday morning (our “beloved” New York Islanders are the other team).

Despite Toronto’s dismal start, they are going to be looking for revenge after the Rangers 7-2 win on Monday night that was powered by a four-goal blitzkrieg in the third period. New York’s win ended Toronto’s three game winning streak against the Rangers.

Looking ahead, the Rangers have two tough games in front of them next week. On Monday they return to the Garden to face the San Jose Sharks – a team many writers have picked to be a Stanley Cup contender. They follow that game with a visit to New Jersey on Thursday night to do battle with the Devils.

If the Rangers are going to look ahead to next week, they only need only to look back to their two visits to TO last year to view how much a trap the Air Canada Centre can be. The Rangers lost both of their games in Toronto last season in two very opposite results.

In their first visit to Toronto on November 1, 2008, the Rangers held a comfortable 2-0 lead 12 minutes into the third period. However, that 2-0 lead turned into a 5-2 defeat as the Maple Leafs bombed Stephen Valiquette for five goals in 5:21.

That game could be considered a trap game as the Rangers might have been looking ahead to their November 4, 2008 game against the Islanders at the Garden – a game the Rangers lost 2-1 as they yielded two shorthanded goals in the third period.

The Rangers second and last visit to Toronto coincided with John Tortorella’s return behind the bench on February 25, 2009. The Blueshirts were on the wrong end of a 2-1 shootout decision in that game – which was the front end of a back-to-back scenario. The Rangers played the next night in Torts’s return to the Garden. The Rangers lost that game to Florida in a 2-1 decision.

On the plus side, you can bet that Tortorella will drive home the point of the Rangers two losses in Toronto – especially the November game where the Blueshirts rolled over on their backs in the face of the Toronto onslaught. He also has the opportunity to remind his team that while they did defeat the Kings, the Rangers were outplayed.

“We were a step behind in every facet of the game but we still found a way to win,” Tortorella told Andrew Gross of “The Record”. “As a coach, you feel good about winning a game that way. Good teams win those types of games and we did. That is a good sign.”

Coaches tend to “like” these types of games at times because it offers them the best of both worlds. Their team picks up two points by playing just good enough to win, while giving the coach the opportunity to “lean” on them and impress the need to follow the coach’s system.

Tortorella hinted at this idea in his pre-game conversation with Rick Carpiniello of the “Journal News” prior to the Rangers-Maple Leafs game.

The Rangers need to make sure they find ways beat teams that are going to fore-check them the way the Kings did. The Rangers again had problems producing in the second period and those problems carried over into the third period as the Los Angeles fore-check bottled the Blueshirts up.

As the Kings took away plays along the boards, the Rangers were content to “fly the zone” and look to break the fore-check with long passes – as opposed to having their forwards come back to the puck and look to break out with a couple of short passes instead of one long pass.

The best example of what to do can be taken from football. When a quarterback is scrambling, his receivers are taught to come back to the ball rather than go deep on the play. The same idea can be applied to hockey. Look for the crisp one-touch pass rather than attempt one long breakaway pass.

ON THE FLY

• If Reggie Jackson is “Mr. October”, then I guess can we start calling Marian Gaborik “Mr. Third Period”. All six of Gaborik’s goals have come in the third period. I guess he might be ready to give Chris Drury a run for the “Captain Clutch” moniker?
• According to the “Sporting News”, the Rangers are now 32-16-8 against Original Six NHL teams since the 2005-06 season, including 9-6-2 vs. Toronto.
• The Rangers might want to consider offering defenseman Denis Gauthier whatever he wants after watching the Maple leafs and Kings declare open season on Henrik Lundqvist. The Blueshirts need the option of a loose-cannon like Gauthier on the blue line to give opponents a reason not to charge the net.
• Give The King credit. Unlike other certain goaltenders who flop to the ice at the first hint of a stiff breeze (yes, Marty Brodeur, I am talking about you), Lundqvist plays it straight. However, he might want to consider holding the blade of his stick up a bit – that should help keep away some of the crease crashers.
• One more Lundqvist item. I guess Henrik paid the team back for their effort in bailing him out at Washington against the Capitals.

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With Alexei Semenov spurning the Rangers one-year contract offer for a two-year deal in the KHL, the team has been left shorthanded as they continue to look for a seventh defenseman.

Coach John Tortorella has passed on keeping a prospect like Corey Potter or Michael Sauer because he prefers a more veteran presence to support/push youngster Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto.

I can’t say that I blamed Torts for wanting a veteran option for the seventh defenseman spot. It does not make much sense to have one of the kids sitting around with the Rangers as opposed to getting regular ice time in Hartford. Playing as a regular with the Wolf Pack trumps any practice time a youngster would get with the Blueshirts.

While there are some veterans who are available as free agents, the Rangers best option might be a trade. Mathieu Dandenault is available, but is not the physical presence the Rangers could use. Denis Gauthier is the physical/borderline nasty blueliner the team could use, but Larry Brooks of the NY Post reported that Gauthier turned down repeated requests from President/GM Glen Sather to come to training camp on a tryout basis like Semenov did.

In an October 8, 2009 online Hockey News column , Lyle Richardson (aka Spector) wrote that Tampa Bay might be showcasing two of their defensemen: David Hale and Lukas Krajicek.

Of the two players, Krajicek (6-2/200) is the better choice because he is capable of playing top four defenseman time. The 26-year-old is a solid player who has good offensive upside and fits Tortorella’s wish to have his defenseman put pressure by joining the play. While he has good size, he still could be more physical and use his size better.

Hale (6-2/213) is the opposite end of the spectrum. His offensive ability is limited, but he is a very physical player (and big hitter) who fits the mold of a defensive defenseman. Hale would project out as a nice complimentary defenseman on the third unit.

Both players are in the final year of their contract and are set to be Unrestricted Free Agents at the end of the season – so there is no long-term commitment needed from the Rangers. According to nhnumbers.com, Hale is the better option because the Rangers can fit his $600,000 salary cap hit without removing any players from the active roster. On the other hand, the Rangers would need to make a move in order to fit Krajicek’s nearly $1.5 million salary cap hit.

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