2016-2017 NHL Season

After it appeared that the New York Rangers were not going to win the Metropolitan Division crown, Blueshirts fans have been calling for their team to go into the tank (just enough) to clinch the first wildcard and cross over into the Atlantic Division as the fourth seed.

Ranger fans: Be careful what you wish for.

Switching divisions does have its advantage as the Rangers avoid the gauntlet of having to defeat two of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference (who also rank first, second and fourth in the NHL) in order to just reach the Eastern Conference Final.

Of course, that advantage means the Rangers get to face the Montreal Canadiens and the house of horrors known as the Bell Centre. Despite the Rangers having, as Rick Carpiniello, now writing online for MSG at ACCORDING TO CARP calls it, “road-ice advantage”, the Rangers would have been better off crossing over to the Western Conference where they posted a 21-6-1 record. Only Chicago’s 43 points against the Eastern Conference matched the Rangers.

The Rangers passed on their fans “tanking” mantra last season and paid the price with a five-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite that loss, that series was tied at 1-1 with Game 3 being tied at 1-1 going into the third period at the garden. The Rangers could have been ahead if not for Michael Sullivan winning a coach’s challenge that wiped out Chris Kreider’s PPG midway through the first period. Pittsburgh tied the game on a late second period PPG by Sidney Crosby.

Rather than that memory, fans remember the Rangers third period collapse in Game 3 and the Pens thorough dismantling of the Rangers in the next two games as The King was unceremoniously dethroned.

As is the case any time the Rangers have entered a playoff series, their fates rest squarely on the shoulders of Henrik Lundqvist. For the first time in a long time, Lundqvist enters a series as the decided underdog in the battle of the goaltenders.

Since the end of the 2008-9 season, Lundqvist has been anything but a king in the Bell Centre posting a 0-6-1 record with a 4.42 GAA. In 2014, Lundqvist held Montreal to three goals as the Rangers won the first two games at the Bell Centre. Game 5, on the hand, was a nightmare as Lundqvist gave up four goals before being pulled about midway through the game leaving Cam Talbot to take the loss after the Rangers erased a 4-1 deficit.

As formidable as Price has been in his career during his 10 year career (he only played 12 games last season), he has been rather pedestrian in terms of his playoff heroics. In looking at his statistics Price’s numbers, his playoff numbers are slightly off when compared to regular season numbers: GAA – 2.62/2.40 and SV% – .914%/.920%.

For comparison’s sake, Lundqvist’s playoff numbers closely mirror his regular season numbers: GAA – 2.28/2.32 and SV% – .921/.920.

The Carey Price-Chris Kreider escapade of 2014 has been written about and talked about enough that there is no need for me to analyze and over-analyze what happened. I will say this – if Montreal needs that particular revenge factor as a motive to beat the Rangers – then the Habs are done before the series starts.

Another angle that has been beaten to death is the rematch of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final coaches with Claude Julien replacing Michel Therrien during the regular season. Given that Julien and Alain Vigneault are coaching different teams this angle is nothing more than any interesting tidbit as what happened in 2011 will have no bearing on what happens in 2017.

What will have a bearing is which Rangers team decides to show up for this series. Is the disinterested Rangers team that stumbled home with an 8-9-4 record or is it the team that roared out to a 40-19-2 record?

While Jeff Gorton has done a pretty good job of injecting some youth into a team that was left bereft of first round draft picks, some tough decision will be coming in the off-season thanks to the Expansion Draft and the intrigue over next season’s salary cap. Contract clauses and high salaries will limit Gorton’s ability to break up the veteran core, but another uninspired playoff exit might force the Rangers to make hard decisions – which are for another day.

The concern for the Rangers is how to game plan a strategy to beat the Montreal Canadiens. Being a diehard Rangers fan – as if there is any other kind of Rangers fan – I offer Vigneault the following suggestions.

The first is some advice that I had stored way from an old Elliotte Friedman article from Sportsnet.ca. Friedman was writing about the 2015 playoff matchup between the Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. Friedman wrote, “One NHLer, watching that series, said despite all of Ottawa’s pressure, there’s a certain way you have to do it against the Canadiens — drive the middle and push the defence back. ‘(The Senators) don’t shoot for rebounds,’ he texted. ‘They shoot to score from far out,’ and that is ‘too easy for Price.’”

The Rangers forwards are going to have to camp out in front of Price and being active and alert for any rebound chances and look to screen him at every chance. Think of Derek Stepan’s PPG against Philadelphia in the regular season finale as the blueprint for the Rangers – especially on the power play. Tristan Jarry had no chance to stop Stepan’s shot because he had to look around Rick Nash.

Shea Weber is going to be an imposing figure in this series at both ends of the ice. You can expect he will be out against either Kreider or Nash and will try to neutralize either one. On the plus side, that probably means he can’t be on the ice to defend them both as long as AV pays attention to matchups.

Offensively, Weber’s howitzer of a shot will be as imposing as that of Alex Ovechkin – especially when the Habs are on the PP. The Rangers must know where Weber is on the ice at all times in the Rangers zone and the Blueshirts must be active with their sticks and bodies to disrupt his shot – something they don’t always do enough of when facing Ovechkin – especially on the PP.

Offensively, especially early in games, dump the puck into his corner and make him play the puck. The Rangers have enough forwards who have the skating ability and size to put pressure on Weber and make him give up the puck. When he does, that is when the Rangers must attack on the forecheck. It is similar to the strategy the Rangers used in 1979 when they defeated Denis Potvin and the New York Islanders.

Some fans are concerned about the size the Habs added at the trade deadline. If the difference in this series comes down Jordie Benn, Dwight King and Steve Ott then the Rangers had no business even being in the playoffs. The Rangers have enough size in their lineup to battle Montreal – it is a matter of them using it.

It is that size and the Rangers speed among their forwards that make it a must that the Rangers harass Montreal on the forecheck, above and beyond what I wrote previously about slowing Weber down. Julien is going to have the Habs clogging the neutral zone so the best way for the Rangers to combat that is to pin the Canadiens in their own zone.

Remember, dump-and-chase is not always a bad idea as long as the Rangers don’t forget the chase part – something they often do. When they dump the puck in they have to do it smartly because price can handle the puck. Either band it hard around the boards or put into the corner where Price can’t play the puck. Cross-ice dump-ins with the weak side forward going hard after the puck will help.

Speaking of being pinned in their own zone, could the Rangers please abandon this fake news about them playing man-to-man defense because they don’t. The Rangers forwards drop down into the shooting lanes rather than cover the points. Watch the Rangers’ defensive zone coverage; the forwards are playing a spot on the ice as opposed to playing the man. This is why the Rangers get caught in their own zone for extended periods of time.

In coming up with a prediction, I am of two minds. My heart says that the Rangers can and will win in six games. However, my brain says something different.

If the Rangers were an offensive juggernaut or a lockdown defensive team, then I could see them being able to flip the switch and return to the success they had prior to the final quarter of the regular season. Since the Rangers are neither of those type of teams, the prediction is Montreal in six.

If you are looking for a place to gripe, kvetch or just talk Rangers playoff hockey just visit Rangers Report 2.0. It is a place where we have serious (and sometimes not so serious) discussions on the Rangers and hockey.

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This edition of Ranger Ramblings represents my first blog entry since the June 2015 NHL Draft articles. I am writing this entry with a heavy heart as it is dedicated to and in memory of the Rangers most diehard fan, my most ardent supporter and the love of life – my wife Roe who passed away in May 2016. I want to take this opportunity to not only share Roe’s Rangers stories with you, but also explain my long absence from blogging.

It is no coincidence that my first blog in well over a year was posted on November 20 because it marks the six month anniversary of Roe’s passing. The anniversary theme kind of fits given that the Rangers are celebrating their 90th anniversary and Ranger Ramblings first appeared some 20 years ago (more on that later).

In mid-October 2015, I found myself with an unexpected vacation courtesy of an eight-day stay in the hospital. While not immediately life-threatening, it was enough to knock for me a bit of a loop for a few weeks. Combine that with the New York Mets run to the World Series and you can see why I was a little slow out of the gate in terms of blogging about the Rangers.

As time flew by, I just never seemed to get back on the writing track as the 2015-2016 NHL season progressed. I had many starts and stops before deciding I would try to get back in the saddle in time for the playoffs. Obviously, that never materialized as the Rangers quick exit never gave me a chance to even warm up my keyboard.

It was at that point that I figured that my love for the NHL Draft would be the thing that would get me to put pen to paper, so to speak, and end my writing “sabbatical”.

After celebrating my 30-year anniversary working at Iona College – a feat that Roe was prouder of than I was – my world came crashing down when she got sick on the evening of April 28 – only eight days after the aforementioned work celebration.

The details of what happened aren’t that important and, to be honest, are still a bit raw to this date – even though I have repeated the story many times since. Suffice it to say, three weeks later Roe was gone and my life permanently changed.

Now that I have given everyone the Reader’s Digest version of why I have been away for so long, I want to get much happier talk about Roe and her boys – the New York Rangers.

Roe and I met online in September 2003 – yes online dating does pay off. One of the first stories she told me was when her family would decorate the Christmas tree there would always be a Rangers game on the television.

While she was a Rangers fan before meeting me, Roe would attain diehard status after we started dating. Honestly, she never stood a chance in terms of loving the Rangers. She was quite proud to say that she “wasn’t a hockey fan, I am a Rangers fan.”

Little by little her Rangers fandom would grow. She started asking more and more questions about the game and Roe started learning the nuances of the game.

One of her biggest questions, and one that I could never properly answer, was why the team seemed to have so many problems in the second periods of games. The only answer I could provide was the idea of the long change being a possible answer. She often reminded me that their opponents faced the same dilemma. My final response would always be “because they are the Rangers”.

Of course, the Blueshirts have managed to correct that problem this year. Could they be getting a little intervention from above? Who knows, but I’d like to think that she looking down on her boys. It might also explain the offensive ‘explosion” we have seen from Dan Girardi at the start of the season. She would always get upset when I would let her know that the fans on Rick Carpiniello’s Rangers Report Blog (more on that later, too) would be getting on her “DANNY!”

Girardi was one of a handful of Roe’s Rangers favorites. Henrik Lundqvist was at the top of the list and his jersey is one of two that I bought for Roe over the years. The other is one that she stopped wearing in March 2014.

She was a big Ryan Callahan fan until he was dealt to Tampa Bay. She couldn’t understand why he was traded until I explained all of the free agency/salary cap machinations. In time she came to understand and adopted the Rangers Report nickname of “Tax Free” for Cally.

Another favorite of hers was Mats Zuccarello. It was Roe who helped me coin the nickname that I still use for him today – LINK (Little Italian Norwegian Kid).

As I mentioned that Roe became a DIEHARD Rangers fan after meeting me. I think I can even pinpoint the exact day that became official. It was May 4, 2007 when the Buffalo Sabres beat the Rangers in Game 5 in overtime. That was the game when Chris Drury tied the game with about eight seconds left in regulation and then Maxim Afinogenov won it about four and a half minutes into overtime with a power play goal.

As soon as the Sabres scored, Roe got up from her chair in the living room and went straight into the bedroom without saying a word to me. It was then that I knew she was one of us.

As far as I am concerned, her special place in Rangers fan history was set during the Rangers Eastern Quarterfinals matchup against the Ottawa Senators in 2012. That was the series that saw Carl Hagelin get suspended for three games for his hit on Daniel Alfredsson in Game 2.

That was also the series where Brian Boyle got concussed on a cheap shot from Chris Neil in Game 5. Then NHL dean of discipline Brendan Shanahan decided not to suspend Neil for the hit.

Shanny was Roe’s first favorite Ranger. So much so that one of the first Rangers items I gave to her was a Shanahan tee shirt.
Roe earned her stripes as a Hall of Fame Rangers fan after finding out that Shanahan was not suspending Neil after previously suspending Hagelin.

She calmly took out a pair of scissors and methodically began cutting that shirt to shreds. I must say that I was amazed at how coolly and calmly she cut that shirt up with the precision of a surgeon. Needless to say, I slept with one eye open (gripping my pillow tight) that night ?
The only thing she did not cut to shreds was the Rangers wordmark on the front of the shirt because she was keeping that. An interesting story so far, eh? Well, it is not over.

Roe was not content with dismantling the shirt. She had a higher method to her madness. She sat down and wrote a letter to Brendan Shanahan expressing her displeasure over his actions and told him that she was sending him the shreds of his shirt. She made sure to explain that she was not including the Rangers wordmark because “he did not deserve to wear the Rangers name”.

She made me get his address at the NHL offices and packaged everything up. I would love to be able to say that she mailed the package, but cooler heads prevailed and she did not. I will let you know that package sat waiting to be mailed for a couple of months before she ended up throwing it out.

In retrospect, I really wish we did mail it just see what, if any, response she would have received. Part of me regrets it because we might have been able to score free Rangers tickets and perhaps a meeting with Shanahan.

Oh, one final addendum to that story. When Roe finished packing the tee shirt shreds, she placed the Rangers wordmark on the end table near her recliner. I am happy to report that it has been there ever since and it will always remain there.

That 2012 playoff season provided us with the biggest Rangers thrill we shared as a couple. While the Stanley Cup Final run was special, Game 1 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Final marked the first and only playoff game Roe ever attended. If you forgot that game, allow me to refresh your memory. Henrik Lundqvist shut out Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils 3-0.

It was poetic justice that night because Marty was one the players that Roe loved to hate. Uncle Daddy (she got a big kick out that when I explained it to her) rivaled only Sidney Crosby when it came to her dislike for Rangers opponents.

Speaking of Marty and the Devils, Roe and I went to one of those viewing parties at Foxwoods to watch the Rangers play the Devils – a game the Blueshirts would win. Among the Rangers legends were my all-time favorite Eddie Giacomin and one of Roe’s all-time favorites Adam Graves.

We saw Giacomin before the event and I called out “Eddie” and went over and talked to him for a few minutes. Roe was surprised that I would just go over to him and talk to him as if we had known each other for years.

Later in the evening Roe and hoped to get a picture with Graves. She thought she had him lined up, but he ended up going to a private area to spend time with an elderly gentleman.

After a few minutes he came out and one the young women working for Foxwoods was escorting him somewhere. I told Roe we should go and get the picture. Believe it or not, Roe was shy and didn’t want to do it. For her family and friends, yes Roe was too shy to go over and ask for a picture.

Anyway, I call out to Adam and ask if he would take a picture with my wife. Of course, he agreed and the young women also ended up taking a picture of three of us.

Okay, you are wondering what the big deal is. Well, the kicker was that she was so nervous that she kept referring to him as “Mr. Graves”. Mind you, Roe had a couple of years on him. Needless to say, we shared many laughs afterwards whenever I would mention “Mr. Graves”.

Allow me one more Rangers story in Roe’s memory. While I indoctrinated Roe into diehard Rangers fandom, she opened my horizons it terms of watching new TV shows. One such show was “Third Watch”. One of the characters on that show was Officer Maurice “Bosco” Boscorelli, portrayed by Jason Wiles – a character that often found himself getting in trouble for going over the line.

If you are familiar with Jason Wiles you will realize that he bears a resemblance to Rangers bad boy Sean Avery. It was not too much of a stretch to see that Avery soon became “Bosco” in our household.

To make a short story long, we have two female cats – Vinnie and Frankie. Yes, that is what happens when you pick out the names before you get the cats.

Anyway, Vinnie (Vincenza) was almost four-years-old when we got Frankie (Francesca) as a kitten. As you might imagine, they had some tussles during the first few weeks. Once Frankie got her bearings she managed to learn how to “torture” her sister.

After one such session, I remarked that Frankie was acting like Sean Avery and presto, Frankie’s nickname of Bosco was born.

I must admit that I kept putting off writing this article because I didn’t think I could do it without drowning my keyboard in tears. While my eyes did get misty, it was not as bad as I anticipated. It gave me a chance to reflect on some of the good times that Roe and I had. For that I am thankful that I had her in my life – even though the time was waaay too short.

I am also thankful for all of you who had to put up with reminiscing and for putting up with my 17 month absence. I do promise to try and get back to writing. I want to thank you for allowing me this insight into my life. I am hoping that it will help provide me some form of closure, even though there will always be a hole in my heart.

I am still fighting the doubts of whether Rangers hockey will ever mean the same to me again without my “linemate” being around. I know she is staring down at me and giving me that look only a wife can give her husband, but there is still something missing in terms of enjoying the Rangers.

Thankfully, the Blueshirts are providing me with some happier times. Whether it lasts or not remains to be seen. But if along the way, the Rangers get some “unexpected” breaks along the way this season – a post here and a lucky bounce there, we will know it will be because they have an angel on their right shoulder keeping an eye for them.

Before I close, I want to get back to a pair of items I mentioned previously.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Ranger Ramblings, which began at Allsports.com before moving to NY Sport Day’s site. After using some of the skills I have acquired during my 30+ years working in a library, I found that very ORIGINAL EDITION of Ranger Ramblings.

I also mentioned Rick Carpiniello’s Rangers Report Blog that was housed on the Journal News web site. As most, if not all, of you know Carp was fired as part of housecleaning/money purge at the Journal News. I won’t comment any further because I don’t want to give that “newspaper” the time of day.

Anyway, one of his loyal readers started up a web site to continue Carp’s legacy and Rangers talk. I invite everyone to go to Rangers Report 2.0 – it is a place where we have serious (and sometimes not so serious) discussions on the Rangers and hockey.

Roe and Mr. Graves

Roe and Mr. Graves

Roe with "Ryan Callahan"

Roe with “Ryan Callahan”

Roe showing that she is a Ranger

Roe showing that she is a Ranger

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