Friday, October 31, 2008

The Niki Z Show. . .

Nikolai Zherdev might need a nickname at the Garden soon. Better than the Niki Z I call him. Or perhaps he will continue to just remain "Z."

But after last night's game changing performance, he may have truly arrived in New York.

The first two periods were, as many of the Rangers have been so far this season, admit it or not, very lackluster. I didn't even realize Ilya Kovalchuk was on the ice for Atlanta more than twice, and only the second time because it was a power play that led up to Atlanta's tying goal (2-2).

Nigel Dawes, who I watched since Petr Prucha was scratched, actually appeared to look more confident in the game. Took five shots. As did Callahan. Gomez had one. But their line was pretty invisible overall.

As was the fourth line, and the pairing of Dubinsky and Voros was particularly quiet (minus the one assist for Dubi on Zherdev's marker ) and had very little ice time overall, but especially in the first period.

Dan Fritsche did nothing to make a case or ruin a case for himself. He hadn't played since the previous Friday in Columbus. He had a nice chance for a goal as he was left alone to skate through the crease in front of Kari Lehtonen, but the save was made. Although let it be said, he is significantly bigger than both Prucha or Dawes, and he skates pretty fast too. He's bigger though, so in some ways he can be more effective. He also seemed to be more efficient on marking his men in the defensive zone. Remember, he did play a lot of hockey in Columbus, in a fuller role than he's been given here.

Markus Naslund had a pretty goal to open the scoring. He now has extended his points scoring streak to 5 games. He's waking up. And he was in the position to get his second of the night, fifth of the season, except he quite obviously knew he kicked it in. Although his goal celebration for his first genuine goal was rather subdued as well.

Colton Orr fought Eric Boulton shortly into the game. And, you know what, he's fun. He really is. Taking a page from PJ Stock's book and smiling on his way to the box - win, lose, or draw. But, unlike Stock (who I love btw), he does not seem to lose all that often. And it's not even smiling, you know, it's grinning. The guy is grinning. I like it. And that might just go down as one of the loooooongest fights I've seen in my days.

And lastly, a quick mention of Paul Mara who had two assists, was a +1 on the night, and was named the game's 3rd star.

But now that all that has been established, last night was uncontestedly "The Niki Z Show" at the Garden.

He started off his stellar night by making a backcheck play that should almost make highlight reels. It was that good. He has wheels, and this time, instead of using them to score, he was skating back and diving to the ice, making the perfect swing of his stick to knock the puck away from an already broken Todd White. It was a really sweet move. And I guess something that most would not expected to see from the 24-year-old Ukranian. Yes, Ukranian - there are so few in the league, so it's not too hard to keep track. (At one moment in the game, he passed the puck back to Dmitri Kalinin and it ended up going back out of the zone quickly thereafter. I asked myself, did Z only pass to him because he called for it in the only language they both understand? Random thought, I know, but again, the first two periods were very slow moving.)

But his goal was a thing of beauty. Really was. Not many guys can get that movement on the puck on the backhand from that close to the cage and up against the goalie. But he did. Lehtonen had no shot. It was a nice, nice goal.

To continue his great evening (and great last couple weeks), Zherdev took command, skated around the Atlanta net, and sent a feed through the crease and out to the other side. At first I didn't know who rifled it in, but it ended up being Dan Girardi.

So credit Niki Z with the defensive play of the game, the goal of the game, and the assist of the game on the winning goal.

He also took a tripping penalty, when he knocked over Boulton on the faceooff shortly afterward. But you know, I'm not going to let that mar his night. I don't think many will. It might have been poor timing. But, Assistant captain, Naslund, was visibly annoyed with the refs for the call and animatedly talked to coach Tom Renney on the bench. Credit him for sticking up for his teammate.

Regardless, even though Hank Lundqvist has and continues to be strong in net, and the defense continues to be pretty solid, it was Niki's game to win for them. No one else stepped up in that way. He did and his team got the win.

The win, for the record, - does just that. At 10-2-1 it gives the Rangers 21 points in 13 games, which is the best ever start to a season for the Rangers. Best. Ever. That's like 82 years, folks.

Even though it hasn't really looked pretty. Even though their powerplay is quite possibly getting worse by the game (and making me look the fool for saying it couldn't possibly be worse than last year). Even though they have not gotten consistent scoring from any one line or two lines or what have you.

They have done something no Rangers team has ever done. Congratulations to them. I am, constructive comments notwithstanding, very proud to be a fan. I always am.

Around the league:

-Steven Stamkos notches his first NHL goal (and his second as well). First credited to Vincent Lecavalier, it was 10 minutes later announced Stamkos got the deflection. Congrats. And Vinny had already picked up the puck for him. That's why we love you Vinny. And beating Buffalo 5-2. That's not like beating a team like Tampa Bay. Er. Never mind. Good win for them. Good to see the kid get on the board. After all, I said Tampa would score. I didn't say they would stop the puck from going in their own net. But I said they would score.

-I just read Miroslav Satan got his team leading 5th goal of the season. Miroslav Satan? I know Sidney Crosby was slow to start the season. But Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis? But Satan? Seriously? The Penguins got roughed up in the desert, by the way. 4-1 loss and Crosby left the game with a mystery injury just before the end of the 2nd.

-Barring any major Rangers news between now and then, I'll probably check back in on Sunday with a wrap up of Saturday's game action and the first HNIC I've caught live in a while. I'm excited.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pre-Notes for Atlanta Tilt. . .

In other Rangers news, it only took him a few games, but Tom Renney has re-shuffled the lines again. And they'll look,, well, very much like they did to start the season.

Naslund, Drury, and Gomez, the "$18 million line - part 484. . . I'm sorry, part 2. Just seems like that was so, been there, done that. But you never know. I'd have waited til Drury scored at least 2 goals on the season. He did? No. No. I'm still not counting that first one. I'd feel better if it went off his $ss into the net instead of what didn't happen on the Island Monday night. And probably so would he. But I ramble. . .

The PS3 Line of Niki Z, Dubinsky, and Voros return again, which I'm happy about. If nothing else, I can pray for goal celebrations, cause theirs have been enthusiastic to say the least.
The 4th line remains Betts, Sjostrom, and Orr. Big shocker there.

And the 3rd line becomes Callahan, Fritsche and Dawes.

Again, Renney, close but not quite. Drop Dawes (again, will he stub his foot pre-game, maybe, possibly?) and put Prucha in there. That's the line I said I wanted weeks ago. And, YES, with Fritsche at center which he will play tonight. Because he is a center. Yes, hard to tell that when the guy doesn't play. But he is. And I hope he and Callahan show chemistry together. Because then I'll be 2/3rds right. And if I-can-do-no-wrong-Nigel does not stub his toe pre-game and misses two or three wide open shots tonight, perhaps Prucha will join Dan and Ryan on Saturday in Toronto. Stranger things have happened.

(And apologies for busting Nigel. I just really don't think anyone can tell me that guy's play has warrented 7 games in a row without a night off!)

Either way, the Rangers have to watch out tonight. If Johan Hedberg plays, he has done well against the Rangers, for one. But more importantly, I never bet against a team in one of these two situations. Their coach gets canned. Or they get blown out. The following games, they always are pumped up for. The Flyers demolished Atlanta 7-0 on Tuesday night. So I expect them to be angry and take it out on NY. Will it work? Well the Rangers don't have Sean Avery to get Ilya Kovalchuk off his game any more. So. . .

Around the League:

I actually wasn't looking for the Shanny interview in my last post. Or the Stamkos one below. I needed to look up something on Hank Lundvqist and these interviews popped up. But in searching for that one, I found a few more. And I thought this was one of the cuter.

Getting to Know Steven Stamkos:

Awe. haha. Kid notched his first NHL point the other night. Just seems really down to Earth. And I said it before. Eloquent. Some guys never are able to take the pressure of an interview. This kid, at an age that I was still pretty shy, does a great job.

First car: "don't have one yet." ( awe. See, he really is soooo young!)

Some of my most agreeable answers:

Favorite Meal: "Probably a good seafood linguini."

Favorite Breakfast Cereal: "Not a big cereal guy."

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: "Vanilla."

Haha. Love it.

The league is in good hands. Very good hands.

**12:48pm - author's edit : It's been speculated the above lines were only practice lines. In which case, thanks for not putting Drury back on the $18 million line. . .but booooo to not playing Fritsche at center. Or not benching Dawes. Or listening to a word I say! Does Boo-ing on a blog count? Because as a rule I do not boo. something to speculate over lunch**

Thank you Shanny. . .

Pretty much from the moment he came to New York two years ago, Brendan Shanahan became Shanny. Just Shanny. That journey ended yesterday as Shanny told Larry Brooks (NY Post) that he was telling his agent to open talks with other clubs. The time had come and gone for his return to NY.

I already wrote ( "With Apologies in Advance to One of Hockey's Greats") a while back and stated that I don't think Shanahan should come back. And not for not liking him, appreciating him for what he did, or appreciating who he is. But for the fact that there is no way that he'd play fourth line minutes. It would take a matter of a few weeks before the lines would be juggled and Shanahan would be on the top powerplay unit and playing 20 minutes a night. Trust me. And to have him on the top line, taking time and a roster space away from other younger players is wrong, in my opinion. If Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka were told, thank you, but we're moving in a new, youth-oriented direction, and then the Rangers signed Shanahan a few months later, it would seem odd to me. (I guess by the same token it would seem odd if and when Mats Sundin comes around this year, but that's neither here nor there). Again, this is only my opinion, but given the past, and given the constant line changes that go on nightly at the Garden, one can hardly blame me.

Without repeating too much of what I said back in early September, I am glad Shanahan became a Ranger. I know it changed the dynamic of the team and I think for the better for the most part. Nothing is perfect. And yes, if given the right role, he could still play, absolutely. It's more about lack fo trust that will happen the right way, than lack of trust Shanahan is still an admirable and effective player.

Bottom line, if Shanahan never signed with the Rangers, I'd still think of him as one of those guys that won championships with Detroit. And that's short-sided and wrong. Shanahan has been a tremendous hockey player with a great, great career. He should be proud. And I'm proud he was a Ranger.

That being said, he was a Ranger for 2 years. A proud Ranger. A loyal Ranger. All very admirable. But it was 2 years. There were a lot of other guys that played here longer, that did more, that are no longer here.

Shanahan wasn't my favorite Ranger. He will probably never come close. But he was loyal and he had moments on Broadway I will remember. And he had this smile and this funny way of telling stories. I'll miss that. One of my favorite moments was watching him fight Donald Brashear in December of 2006. Showed his character. One of my least favorites was being there to watch him and Mike Knuble collide. Showed how fragile a game hockey is. Anything can happen at any time to anyone.

That being said, I wish him all the success in wherever he goes (if he does), and if not, I thank him for his two years here, and for all he did in his career. I applaud the good guys. And he is a good guy.

As a tribute to a great guy and a tremendous hockey player:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Korpikoski to the Wolves. . .

Lauri Korpikoski has been assigned to the Rangers AHL affliliate team in Hartford today.

I personally was suprised this didn't happen a game or two ago. Not because I don't like the kid. Quite the contrary - I do a lot. But because a) while he looked very impressive in training camp, he has not looked comfortable nor been effective in his games with the big club and b) he can't continue to sit stagnant on the bench while the 3rd line carousel/roulette wheel/musical chair situation continues. Its not fair and it will retard his development. And I've made it clear that I think, unfortunately, this was the case with a few former Rangers over the years.

If he's not going to play here, I think it's best for him to go and play in Hartford. And when and if an injury happens, you can easily pull from Hartford and he will be a good callup option. And if he comes up and is that effective/confident player we all saw in training camp, then he can make a case for himself to stay.

There are already enough question marks on the Rangers and the roulette situation will do nothing but hurt this young kid with a bright future.

Again, I am a little uncertain with what the Rangers have done or will do in regards to personnel. Now, having a waived Patrick Rissmiller floating, literally floating around, practices and not being assigned to Hartford, doesn't entirely make sense to me. And with Korpikoski sent down, the carousel does in fact, lose another member. But where does that leave us.

Personally, I'd say take Fristche and Prucha and put them in the lineup. Bench Dawes. I'll go over the game by games again, removing Korpikoski (re-assigned), Rissmiller (waived) and Callahan (played every game) for those reasons.

10/4 – 1 shot, 15 shifts, 10:14 ice time
10/5 – 1 shot, 13 shifts, 9:57 ice time
10/15 – 3 shots, 15 shifts, 11:59 ice time
10/25 - 3 shots, 15 shifts, 12:40 ice time
10/27 - 0 shots, 15 shifts, 10:05 ice time (0:54 PP time)

10/4/08 – 0 shots, 19 shifts, 14:00 ice time
10/5/08 – 3 shots, 17 shifts, 16:09 ice time
10/10 – (-1), 17 shifts, 14:01 ice time
10/17 – 2 shots, 12 shifts, 10:34 ice time (SHO goal)
10/18 – 1 goal, 3 shots, 22 shifts, 14:36 ice time
10/20 - 4 shots, 14:00 ice time
10/24 - 1 shot, 16 shifts, 13:48 ice time
10/25 - 1 shot, 18 shifts, 14:45 ice time
10/27 - (+1), 1 shot, 18 shifts, 14:39 ice time

10/13 – 0 shots, 15 shifts, 9:38 ice time
10/17 – 4 shots, 11 shifts, 9:26 ice time
10/24 - (-1) 11 shifts, 8:35 ice time

Now, I am not an expert, and I'm not the coach. I get no vote. But look at the games and ice time Dawes has gotten. Prucha and Fritsche have not had that consistency. I was shocked, happily, to see Prucha back in the lineup after having a good game against Pittsburgh on Saturday. And he had no worse a game on Monday. But Fritsche, has been in one game, out for one, in one game, out for 2, in one game, out for two, and TBD going forward.

Nigel Dawes has gotten 6 games in a row, and unless I'm mistaken, he's gotten sizeably more ice time than either Prucha or Fritsche got, and he's actually looked less productive. Less. He had a good game, it seemed, against Detroit. Again, I didn't see the game. But he also, could have been benefiting from Gomez and Callahan, two of the fastest husslers on the team.

He's had his chance, and to me, he should be the one sitting down. Now, here's my proposal.

Keep Prucha in for at least four more games, so he'll have six in a row and the same chance as Dawes had. To make it really even, stick him with Gomez . See how he benefits from the great passer. Have you seen the games recently? Prucha's been carrying the puck. That's not his strongest area. He's been admirably fighting to stand up and move forward (and drew a penalty the other day doing it) but he can benefit most from having Gomez dish him the pucks. As I'm sure Dawes did on that goal in hockey town. Let's see what Pete does.

Secondly, put Fritsche in too. The team is winning, yes. But winning with Prucha. So why not replace a struggling Dawes with a fresh set of skates in Fritsche? Really. What's the worst that can happen? If you don't know where to put him, stick him with Betts and Orr. They aren't scoring anyway. He can get his 8-9 minutes a night, while Betts will see more on the PK. And Sjostrom's speed can be better utilized elsewhere. If nothing else, the team gets a little bigger. I liked Fritsche's game on the 17th versus Toronto. In limited time, he got 4 shots on goal. He was trying.

I'm just saying, let the two guys who have sat out and are still here - let them have a consistent go. For six games. The Rangers play Atlanta, Toronto, New York, Tampa Bay, in their next four. Those are not games that should be overlooked, but those aren't NJ, Detroit, or Dallas either.

Make your own decisions. Oh, I'm sorry, you will any way. ;) But that's what I would do if I were coaching. If you are worried about not having guys to take shoot-outs, I'm pretty sure Zherdev and Sjostrom got it covered on the top side. Oh and if you give him his confidence back, Prucha was once very dormidable in this department. Just ask Marty Brodeur.
We will see tomorrow.

Around the League:

Pretty much every score last night made me look like a genius in my pre-season predictions. (haha overstatement!) If the hockey season were only one night long. (God forbid!) The teams I thought would do well that were having slow starts - Calgary, Colorado, Philadelphia - are doing better. The teams that I thought were going to be worse - like Vancouver - are doing worse. It's still early, but it's nice to know I wasn't completely insane. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Snoozefest. . .?

At least a few apologies in advance, because I honestly am not sure what I am going to comment upon in last night's Isles/Rangers game. And that is because I almost unbelievably and regretfully, fell asleep.

Yes, asleep. In the third period. Which from my continuing to wake up every time a goal was scored, sounded like the better of the three.

To start, I was delayed out of work, so I missed the first goal on the radio. Anyone want to tell me what channel Rangers games are on now that it's not 1050 or 1130 or even 1560? I finally caught the Islanders feed on XM Radio in time to hear it was 1-0. So by the time I got home, I watched what I could of the first, and the second, but again, regrettably I fell asleep for the third. And not because I don't love hockey. But because apparently I was THAT tired.

So in the quickest wrap-up in history:

-Didn't think it was the prettiest game, but again, I guess they don't have to be. The important thing is they won.

-Chris Drury scored a goal. I'm not going pat him on the back and say he scored two. Because even if (even if) he touched the puck by a millimeter on that first goal, he didn't mean to. They second one was a legit goal, however, and I hope that breaks him out of his funk. Besides PK, the guy is not doing much else.

- Speaking of, thank goodness this team has good penalty killers, honestly. Because the PP is a joke. 1-8. Just sit back and think how good this team would be if they could get more than one PP goal a game. Honestly now. . .

- Joey MacDonald, in for a mysteriously injured Rick Dipietro, played very well. For a while, at 1-1, I thought it was going to be a close game the whole way through. Credit him. He kept them in the game until the Rangers (apparently) came on strong in the 3rd.

-Petr Prucha got more ice time (and a whopping 0:54 on the struggling powerplay) than Brandon Dubinsky and Aaron Voros, his linemates to start the game. This was because Dubinsky, the first center to be benched since Michael Nylander a few years ago (to my memory at least), came out of the gate and took 2 penalties. And because Voros fought Nate Thompson, who I think had grabbed Voros' undershirt, because it appeared Voros could not get a clean swing; and then later took a boarding call, which, from my slumber, sounded like a not great move on his part. I'll review that tonight. Of note for Prucha, a blocked shot. Which is all I seem to remember. And hustle. Of course, presumably, he was playing with a whole slew of different guys throughout the night. Will he be back Thursday?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Rangers/Isles Preview and Random Ramblings. . .

There's not too much I can say about the New York/New York hockey matchup that hasn't already been thought about or talked about. Rick DiPietro is, in all likelyhood, out of tonight's game with mystery injury. While the Isles aren't saying, we can assume it's about his knee or his hip. Either way, he is 99% not to play tonight.

That being said, the Rangers need to take this game seriously. The Isles always get up to play them. The Isles, because not much else goes right for them, honestly, have to take games against the Rangers and the Devils as playoff games. And last year they owned both area teams.

Rangers will dress the same guys as they did Saturday. I think it's important that Petr Prucha builds on his strengths last game. This will be his first consequtive games in the lineup since the first two of the season in Europe.

I think the Rangers can and should beat the Islanders. Absolutely. But I've been around long enough to know that sometimes the Rangers under-value their opponents. And if that's the case, it could get ugly. Eh, it'll probably get a little ugly anyhow. Because it's:

Isles/Rangers - Part 1 of 6. Tonight @ 7pm.

Around the League:

-Alex Ovechkin will return to Russia to be with his ailing grandfather and will miss his first game in the last 200+. His streak ends at 203. I hope he comes back and plays like the player we call know he can be. Perhaps this has been weighing on his mind a little to start the season?

- NHL Trade Deadline Day - aka one of the most popular days to call in sick if you're Canadian - has been moved from March 3rd to March 4th, 2009. I myself will probably be stuck at work, regretably. But I will be useless as anything and hoping for no meetings during peak trade hours. It's also one of the only days a year that I can get TSN footage online here in the States.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rangers Steal Two Points. . .

That's literally what happened in my mind. The first two periods were somewhat lackluster. Credit Hank and the D for not having it be more than a 2-0 deficit. The Penguins weren't flying, per say, but every once in a while I'd look at Evgeni Malkin's moves and be forced to admit, to myself, what a great player he is. To make those moves and with that size - pretty remarkable.

But credit the Rangers. A good team, yes a good team, is able to capitalize at key moments. Hockey games are 60 minutes. The Penguins would be the first to admit, they stepped off the gas in the third. The Rangers woke up and seized the opportunity. This happens all the time. It's a great ending. The floor and walls of the Garden shook with force I haven't felt in a LONG time when Niki Zherdev scored the game tying goal with 8 seconds to go. And it was a pretty goal.

But it was more than just a last minute goal, in all honestly. The Rangers had 18 shots in the third for a game total of 44. For whatever they lacked in the first two, they made up for it in the third in intensity. The Penguins, for the record, only managed 2 in the third frame.

Credit, too, Freddy Sjostrom in the shootout. Playing on a fourth line with Blair Betts and Colton Orr will not get you a ton of points, but Sjo is now 2-2 in shootout goals with the two deciding winners. And every team needs one guy (at least) that you want in that final go-around of the shoot out, when it's on the line. And, he hasn't been a liability at all on the ice. Fast, capable - he's earned his time on ice.

It's so true that they will not all end this way. So savor it. But a character victory, absolutely. And hopefully it can be built upon starting Monday on Long Island.

Other notes:

- Chris Drury, although potting a secondary assist on the Markus Naslund PP goal (yeah, PP goal, you heard me), looked much of the same. At many times I swear he was flat footed. And twice, he got knocked down (or fell) to the ice and stayed down. Very peculiar behavior all around.

-The shot leaders for the NYRs for the night were Zherdev/3, Dubinsky/5, Callahan/5, Prucha/3, Naslund/6, and Gomez/9! I thought Gomez was not flying like he usually is, but 9 shots!

-I didn't think Prucha had a bad game at all. I think people were saying he had a giveaway that caused Pitts second goal, but I will have to go back to check. All I know is, as pretty much always, he was hussling and drew the penalty that the Rangers scored their first goal on....and yes, on the PP. I know I'm shocked too.

-I don't think it was Prucha being on the line, but I am concerned with Aaron Voros and Brandon Dubinsky being in negative numbers again. Although, those boys played against the Malkin line for Pittsburgh, and how can you be expected to hold him off all night is beyond me. Does anyone think they are suffering from lack of chemistry because Niki Z is now playing with other linemates? The Rangers needed secondary scoring, absolutely, but now their one line that was clipping, is looking more and more pedestrian.

-Callahan never doesn't fly. In his good games or his mediocre games. He's trying. Nigel Dawes, on the other hand, falls into the Drury camp. I saw him flat footed. I saw him reaching back for a puck that had gone by him on the boards more than once. Just seeming behind a step and making plays that could get him into trouble for it. Not sure. Maybe he goes out on Monday?

Around the League:

As I wasn't home, I didn't get to watch the other games last night. ALL the other games. But for once, DirecTV did not cut off HNIC After Hours and I was able to catch PJs last scoreboard update. (haha, he's hilarous with his moustache and the ensuing conversation). Here are some highlights:

-Milan Lucic scored 3 goals in Bostons 5-4 win over Atlanta. Yes, Lucic.

-Devils lose to the Flyers in OT after a stink-bomb or a flare was thrown onto the ice in Philly. I'm not saying that's right. It's horribly dangerous. But the articles I read this morning are almost blaming it. A Flyers player, the article said, skated by the Devils bench not once, but twice!, with the flaming object. I'm sorry, but if it were THAT bad, they would have delayed the game even longer, am I wrong? Again, not to apologize for the fan from Philadelphia. That's stupid and unneccessary.

-Apparently Toronto's Luke Schenn fought Ottawa's Chris Neil. I now love #2 even more than I thought I would.

No games today, so I guess I'm playing catchup from last week. I still have that Detroit/Rangers game from last Saturday I missed on my Tivo.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

All We Want Is Answers. . .

"Talk about wiping a smile off someone's face."

Take a minute to read this article on Petr Prucha. It's short, to the point, and hopefully, someone that matters will see it. This kid deserves a) a shot or b) to be traded immediately. He deserves to smile somewhere.

Thanks, Larry. I get The Post and this was featured almost full page and with a giant color picture of Prucha. Attention grabbed. I hope.

In other news:

Poor Manny Legace. Seriously, I like the guy a lot. Great sense of humor. I'm not posting this in any way for political reasons. I just hope he didn't hurt himself too badly. That would be a sincere shame.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Welcome Home Niki Zherdev. . .

Apparently it didn't matter who he was skating with, as Nik Zherdev had one heck of a homecoming in his first return to Columbus since being traded to NY this summer. 1 goal, 2 assists and a +2. For the record, Drury notched an assist and Naslund had two. They must be happy to get in the + column for a change, so for the night, as credit due, I will not use words like, pathetic or waste of space or useless. ;)

But it was Zherdev who showed the most energy and poise in what was not the world's most exciting game. I mean I was happy because I like Columbus, and have followed them a bit. Glad to see Manny Malhotra back in the lineup as well. Always a big fan of that guy (cried, in fact, when he got traded to Dallas, I must admit).

But there wasn't a great pace. It had moments, but not much.

And sure, the save by Lundqvist on Rick Nash was nice. But was it really . . . that nice?

Credit the Rangers, too, for showing a bit of resilience after their coach, Tom Renney, was hit with a stick or two on the Rangers bench. They came out a little fired up after that. Possible concussion. Hope he feels better. You never like to see those things happen.

But you know what, I'm going to let it all go. An important win and two points needed to rebound after the Detroit and Dallas games. They can't all be pretty. Although, again, with the exception of the one against the Devils - were any of these pretty per say? Sorry, moving on. . .

Other notes:

Rangers PP was 1-8. Not a shocker there. And that one goal was not from any of the big money guys on the number one unit. No, it was just from let-me-do-everything-to-win, Brandon Dubinsky. In my eyes it was a good goal and should have counted. I just wasn't sure the guys in Toronto wouldn't focus on the kicking motion that happened AFTER the re-direct. Luckily, they didn't.

Fritsche/Voros/Dubinsky were all -1 on the night. Nothing bad, nothing spectacular.

Gomez/Callahan/Dawes were pretty invisible too, after better efforts the last 2-3 games. Gomez missed a shot from the doorstep I think he'd like to have back.

Dan Girardi had a good night and not just for his offensive output. For the most part, he made and has been making the necessary plays without being flashy. And I'll take that from the young D-men any day.

Random note:

I've heard nothing but great things about Nationwide Arena. And while a Rangers road trip might never make sense in tandom with Pittsburgh, hearing it's only a 2.5 hour drive from there makes it seem slightly less far. Hope to get there though.

Til tomorrow's tilt at home versus Pittsburgh. . .good night hockey fans. And I will be at the game, so I won't have the same opportunity to keep track of all other 14 games going on. All 30 teams in action, folks. It's rare, so enjoy. should be buzzing.

On My First Scott Gomez Show and The Good Guy Aaron Voros. . .

I don't get to listen to the Michael Kay Show as much as I used to. It kinda worked out better for me when he had the 10-1 slot and I was in college and on the days I was awake, and not in class, I'd listen. And not that the drive-time slot has been all bad. I just haven't yet realized I can utilize online streaming to listen to radio stations that are being broadcast in the same city as myself. Usually I'm all about the Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver stations so I can listen to what really matters to me - hockey.

However, I just discovered Scott Gomez has a weekly segment on TMKS. Thursday afternoons at around 5:40ish. Cool! I remember how excited I was for Tino Martinez and Al Leiter's segments years ago. So I guess, when I'm able and not away from the computer, I'll be excited for that too.

The funniest part of yesterdays segment was when Gomez came up with a nickname for Michael Kay - "Bitter Beans." Michael laughed, and after the interview discussed with Don LaGreca, just how appropriate that name was. And how it was funny that his bitterness was SO apparent that random guests could pick up on it over the airwaves. oh Michael. I'm not denying any of that. I've been a fan of his for years. But Scotty Gomez - he has that sarcastic sense of humor with everyone! One of the primary reasons I found it hard to hate the guy when he came over from NJ, even though I really wanted to. Really badly. And to think last summer, I was happy about the Chris Drury signing and miserable about the Gomez one. ha. ha. ha. ha. But it's not really funny at all, is it.

In other random news, credit Aaron Voros with not only being a healthy dose of life in the Rangers lineup. A go-get em guy who can yap and be a physical presence, and, yes, score some goals too. But credit him with being a good guy.

I've seen most of his interviews, and he never fails to credit either Jacques Lemaire, his coach with the Wild, or the team of guys over at the Devils organization, like Lou Lamoriello, who drafted him and brought him up in a good hockey system. They also took care of him when he found a tumor behind his knee cap. He's mentioned his gratitude more than once. And as a Rangers fan, it might get annoying, all this love for the guys on the rival side, but in every way it's just sincerity. And that is something we don't see enough of. And he took it a step further by mailing a hand-written letter - yes hand written - to Lemaire, thanking him for what he'd done for him and crediting him with helping make him the hockey player he is today.

I tell you what, he won't be among the league lead in points all season, one would assume (although stranger things have happened). But if he continues to pot goals and be a genuine likeable guy for this team: I'll thank Jacques myself next time I see him.

And as for Voros, a class act. And genuine good guy. Who didn't forget where he came from and the battles he endured to get where he is. Good stuff.

(And on a really random note, even though they come from totally different sides of Canada, try closing your eyes when Voros is doing an interview and tell me what borderline future hockey Hall of Famer who recently took a role with the players association, he sounds like. Was that a good enough hint?)

Lastly, the Rangers take the ice again tonight after having 3 - count 'em - 3 big days off. Honestly, I didn't know what to do with my time off. I caught the beginning of some baseball games, I caught up on some TV shows. I tried to catch some hockey games here and there, but I'll be honest with you, it's been hard getting into a groove watching extra hockey when the Rangers play every freakin' Friday and Saturday. I'll be honest, I'm excited for Columbus tonight and the test at home against Pitt tomorrow, but I will be very glad to just sit back and watch a bunch of games next Saturday. The team will be in Toronto and I will be home, with my choice of games to watch.

As for the team. apparently Rissmiller, who cleared waivers the other day, is still skating with the team (don't ask me. . .). And apparently, the lineup tonight will be similar to those last game - except Dan Fritsche goes into the lineup in his home state and to play his former team. Although there will be some line tinkering. And I guess don't ask me about that either. If you go back in my blogs, I somehow thought the Dawes, Drury, and Prucha line was a sure thing. So I obviously have zero credibility in this.

However, I would not mess with the PS3 line, but it appears that Tom Renney will slightly juggle it. Keeping Voros and Dubinsky together but moving one Niki Zherdev to play with the struggling and borderline pathetic Markus Naslund and Chris Drury combination. Udachi, Niki, Udachi.

We will see. Seriously looking forward to watching a Friday night game from the comfort of my own living room though.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Numbers Behind the Rangers Roulette-Carousel-Musical Chairs Charade. . . [updated]

On a side note, in my reading, I found this on a blog and figure that it saves me the effort of typing it out myself. I am trying to see the pattern of who plays when and why, with the carousel-musical chairs-roulette 3rd line I spoke about last week, but I really can't. I can say though that with the way guys like Petr Prucha, Dan Fritsche, and Patrick Rissmiller are shuffled in and out and find themselves playing one game and then not another for three or four at a time, can anyone really blame them for being a step behind when they finally do see game action?

I don't think Rissmiller had a good game last night, as people keep saying, but come on. The guy played 6:53 of ice time in one game on 10/11 before having his ankle injured. In his first game back, five later, he is saddled with Chris Drury and Markus Naslund, the inconsistency twins. I'm not saying he's my favorite on the roulette wheel at all, but poor Rissmiller had no shot in hell of impressing last night. Sorry. And I'm sure he's a nice guy, but I actually almost feel as bad for him as I do for Prucha in this (almost. . .). He signs a contract but he really never had a shot here at all. Players better than him who have been here longer never had a shot either. But it was wrong to give this guy a contract here when he could have signed elsewhere and could actually be playing right now.

But if you look at the below, it shows that Fritsche got to play a game - a good game in my opinion against Toronto on 10/17, only to be benched the next game. Prucha played his best game, in my opinion, against the Sabres on 10/15 and he was benched the next 3 games. Way to build on their efforts, right? What can they possibly do to build any sort of momentum - from the locker room? And what about the mental games it plays with their head. They have to know they gave their all and that, for the most part, it was better than their teammates.

Dawes, on the other hand (and no, no, I'm off my Dawes rant for now), he got to play against Toronto on 10/17, and he had a so-so game. (Because, face it, he looked dreadful in his first three.) But for what reason did he get to play the following night in Detroit? Because he potted a non-decisive goal in the shootout? Okay. Fine. But that gave him a chance to get his legs, get momentum, and feel a part of the team. He's, consequently, looked better and better. Not great, but better.

So Fritsche, Prucha, and Rissmiller are not going to be given the same chance? Obviously not. I mean, really, the fairest thing to do is to, as promised, give guys like Prucha a five or so game stretch to play and get their heads and legs into the game.

But who do you bench? Well, if I were the coach I'd bench the worst player on the ice for the last nine games. Oh...what, I'm sorry. The Rangers made him captain and paid him $7 million a year. So he has to play every night even though right now he's doing nothing but wasting a roster spot for someone who did look ready to play to start the season.

Hmm. Okay. Can't argue there.

Dan and Patrick - welcome to New York.

Petr - I'm praying for you buddy. I hear California is beautiful all year round.

All - I feel sorry for whichever of you becomes the utility guy here. It's going to be a long year. 9 down and 73 to go.

10/4 – 1 shot, 15 shifts, 10:14 ice time
10/5 – 1 shot, 13 shifts, 9:57 ice time
10/15 – 3 shots, 15 shifts, 11:59 ice time

10/4/08 – 0 shots, 19 shifts, 14:00 ice time
10/5/08 – 3 shots, 17 shifts, 16:09 ice time
10/10 – (-1), 17 shifts, 14:01 ice time
10/17 – 2 shots, 12 shifts, 10:34 ice time (SHO goal)
10/18 – 1 goal, 3 shots, 22 shifts, 14:36 ice time
10/20 - 4 shots, 14:00 ice time

10/13 – 0 shots, 15 shifts, 9:38 ice time
10/17 – 4 shots, 11 shifts, 9:26 ice time

10/4/08 – 0 shots, 19 shifts, 11:03 ice time
10/5/08 – 0 shots, 14 shifts, 10:37 ice time
10/10/08 – 0 shots, 18 shifts, 12:43 ice time
10/11/08 – (-1), 1 shot, 13 shifts, 8:18 ice time
10/13/08 – 0 shots, 18 shifts, 13:01 ice time
10/15/08 – 0 shots, 14 shifts 10:54 ice
10/18/08 – (-2), 0 shots, 17 shifts, 12:08 ice time

10/11 – (-1), 2 shots, 14 shifts, 6:53 ice time
10/20 - (-1), 0 shots, 11:32 ice time


10/4/08 – 3 shots, 20 shifts, 11:58 ice time
10/5/08 – 2 shots, 18 shifts, 14:19 ice time
10/10/08 – 3 shots, 19 shifts, 12:03 ice time
10/11/08 – (-1), 0 shots, 18 shifts, 12:12 ice time
10/13/08 – 1 goal, 4 shots, 21 shifts, 15:47 ice time
10/15/08 – 1 assist, 1 shot, 18 shifts, 13:04 ice time
10/17/08 – no shots, 16 shifts 12:52 ice time
10/18/08 – 1 goal, 2 shots, 24 shifts, 15:41 ice time
10/20/08 - 4 shots, 16:58

***Updated 10/21/08- 1:40pm east***

Well the carousel-roulette-musical chairs charade has lost it's first member:
Patrick Rissmiller has been placed on waivers, TSN reports, as of 12:30 east today:

I can't say anything more than I just said above. He really never had a chance.

And for the record: I predicted on Sept 11th ("With apologies in advance. . .") that out of Aaron Voros, Patrick Rissmiller, and Andreas Jamtin, only one would play on the Rangers this year.

So far, with only Aaron Voros in the lineup consistently, I guess I was right.

The Return of Avery. . .Post Game. . .

"He's a career minor-leaguer and he's got to get in the paper some way. So why not talk about me?" Sean Avery on Rangers goalie Steve Valiquette.

That may have been as ugly as it got last night. Or it may have gotten much uglier. We'll probably never know everything that happened in #16's return to the place he called home for the better part of the last two seasons. So all I can review is what was seen and heard:

Avery's Antics:

I happen to really like and respect Steve Valiquette. I happen to really like and appreciate Sean Avery. It's a simple as that. Appreciation versus respect. Sean Avery, the hockey player and the personality that goes along with it, is entertaining. I appreciate that. As a fan and for what it does for the league - making it all a little less cookie cutter. I appreciated it when he was a Ranger and now that he's a Star. Above all else, no one can ever say he is boring. However, I respect Steve Valiquette. I've had the pleasure of talking with him for a few brief moments after a game once, and he is as nice and genuine as he appears on his post game interviews. A real good guy. Does a genuine good guy deserve that swipe from Avery? Certainly not.

But I'm not going to throw Avery under a bus for it either. Why? Because he's wrong. The above statement is blatantly wrong. Valiquette has better things to do than talk about Avery to get his name in the papers, for one. I'm pretty sure his play against teams like Toronto and Philadelphia mean he gets plenty of press at those games for the right reasons. He's not a minor leaguer. In fact, he can probably be starting on a few teams in this league right now. So it's false. End of story. They are just words meant to get a rise.

But the real reason I won't allow myself to worry about it - is because this is Sean Avery. Sean being Sean. He said he wasn't going to talk to the media. And yet, not at all surprisingly, he still did take time to talk to Stan Fischler (where the above quote came from on MSG network). And he said something marginally controversial. Is anyone really shocked? Anyone? This is Sean being Sean. I'm sure Vali slept just fine last night. And in defense of the entire situation - which for the record started because apparently Brandon Dubinsky and Valiquette both said things about how the atmosphere around the team was different this year and that it had to do with the absence of Avery - these guys that have a right to their opinions. I heard that Sean sat in the locker room (I'm assuming visiting or perhaps at the training center because I am pretty sure the Rangers home locker room has the two goalies sit side by side) with Dubinsky on one side and Valiquette on the other. If ANYONE has the right to be sick of his mouth, it's those two. And like him or not, and again, I still like him, Sean has a big freakin' mouth. And that can grate on anyone, day in, day out. I'm going to leave it at that.

Except for one more thing and I apologize for what might seem to be a tangent. I defended Mark Messier and will continue to do so probably forever, against all those who said he left to go to Vancouver for more money. I really ,really, really think it has everything to do with respect. I read once that he called Brian Leetch as the situation was going down and said, "I can't believe they don't want me." It might appear, on the surface, to be money. But for a guy like that who has plenty, isn't it really more about what you've done and the respect you should get. The guy gets standing ovations whenever he enters the arena. He did more for the team than just the actions of that one year, but it is that one year that cemented his legacy. He can live forever on that one year. And they pretty much said, we don't need you THAT much. And that hurt and he left, poised for the next challenge. Although I know he never wanted to leave. If I had to guess, he felt he had to. Hockey players are people, and people are prideful mammals. That hurt his pride. He moved on. That's my opinion.

Now Avery is not Messier, or Brian Leetch (who also to this day believes - very rightly so - that he was greatly disrespected by the Rangers organization), but he still might feel something of the same vein as those two great players did.

Allow me to explain before you jump at me. Are these situations on the same scale? Don't be serious. I think Leetch was the most disrespected and did the most in his time in New York, even over Messier and over Mike Richter. Again, I think Messier's moments in 1994 paints his strong legacy to this team and he will be remembered forever.

Sean Avery could not be further away on that list. It's not a contest. He might fall somewhere 300 players down the line of guys that have stood and contributed for the red, white, and blue, whereas you might be looking at 1 and 2 in Leetch and Messier.

But . . . like it or not - he made the Rangers a more effective team. He loved his time in NY. Despite his attitude and his mouth, he was very rarely a reason they lost. More often than not, he was a reason they won. Somewhat unorthodoxly? Yeah maybe. But effective. All I am really saying is the guy probably just wanted to see some respect. And in his mind, he didn't get that.
Is he worth what he was asking monetarily? Probably not, but I am not sure. I hesitate to say no way in hell, because, face it, Gomez, Drury, Redden and Rozsival are not worth what they are making for this team at all. (Neither were guys, although good guys like, Eric Lindros, Bobby Holik, Darius Kasparaitis, et al). And yet they get to stay. So. . . I'm not going to suggest he is or isn't worth it. It's not important. But the process is a business. (Ask Bobby Holik how he felt when he played for the Devils and went to arbitration. He's a smart guy, but his feelings were hurt. So he turned and walked away from a team he loved. For the extra $500,000? Puhhhleaaseee. It was because he felt disrespected. Right, wrong, or indifferent. He moved on.) And Sean made a business move. Whether he felt he was going to take whoever was offering the most money OR he felt disrespected by a team that was, in all honestly kissing his @ss a little at times during his years there, OR a combination of both - he moved on. In my mind it's as simple as that. We should probably move on too.

Avery's Game:

Avery's game was nothing special. He wasn't bad, he wasn't good. He was just there. Chirping at moments. Chipping at others. But nothing insane. At one point he tried to hit Dmitri Kalinin behind the net, and half missed, falling to the ice. That prompted laughs from the crowd. Which, for the most part, was in the anti-Avery corner. Whether a few guys decided to start to boo and it caught on from there, I'm not sure. I, for the record, do not boo. I really don't. I'll mumble stuff under my breath, but I don't boo. It's not my style. If fans got pleasure out of doing it, then fine. But, at the end of it all, the Stars still won the game. Which brings me to:

The Game Itself:

It was really pretty uninspired. Gomez, in my opinion, might really have been suffering from effects of the flu in the games last week, because he looked much quicker last night. I'll admit that. The rest of the team, with the exception of Callahan and Dubinsky, who always look fast, did not. It was a good start. The Rangers drew a powerplay on Loui Erikkson's penalty at 25 seconds and potted their first (and consequently only) goal at 58 seconds.

For the next 59:02, it was mostly Stars or indifferent. Rangers got some shots, definitely. But even their goal - and if it helps his confidence than I'm all for him getting it - by Naslund was into an essentially empty net. Kudos on his being open for it though. And he did have five shots on the night.

Drury continued to be invisible. Is it too early to say that he is letting the "captain" stigma get to him? I mean I honestly, and I haven't said one word about this, felt the Rangers shouldn't have named a captain this year. Why do they really need one? Have 3 assistants, like they did post-lockout, and let someone step up and earn it - both on the ice and in the room. No personal disrespect to Drury, but it is not going to look good to have your team captain also being the worst player on your team. And can you ever take that back?

Gomez, Callahan, and a slightly renewed Nigel Dawes, also had a good number of shots, so it continues to prove that Gomez plays well with guys with the younger guys, rather than Drury and Naslund.

Michal Rozsival is a question for me. I never hated him, never loved him. The guy has helped score some goals over the years, many clutch. But. . . he always takes penalties - in good games, in bad games, and at all types of moments. At some point you have to ask, is he just dumb to keep taking the same penalties, or does he get caught in bad spots on the ice? I'm not sure. I don't hate him like some people seem to, but he and his co-D on the power play (one Wade Redden) are both grossly overpaid. Speaking of #6 - he hasn't had a point since opening night. At least Rozsival finds the net from time to time. Or helps others find it.

On a personal level, I loved seeing Mike Modano get the game winner. I've been a big fan of his for a very long time and to have him still play and continue to contribute (6 pts in 6 games this season) makes me happy. He's a loyal guy, and has played for the Stars franchise for all his season in the league, which is rare in this day's NHL. And he's American born, and arguably one of the all-time best from the USA. And if you are looking at goals and points, he already is that guy. I watched the Stars big time during the 99 season and the early 2000s. They had some epic playoff matchups against Edmonton and Colorado. Those were great. I've never quite understood the switcher-oo the Stars played with Modano being captain and then not, but I think he was a good enough guy to take it in stride for the most part. A part of a team, and if the team succeeds, I'll be happy, kind of guy. Or else he would have been out of there too. But he does great things for Dallas. Not many people, especially from a state like Michigan, play in Minnesota, go onto Dallas, and then stay there. In Dallas. Year round. The city of Dallas owes Michael Thomas Modano a lot. And for me, he's had a great career to watch.


Sean said good things about the Rangers - last night, when he was with the team, and at times in between. Whether it was all in the name of public relations, we won't ever know. But I think he liked NY. I think NY was good to him. And I think he was good for the Rangers as well. I'm not his teammate, so I can't guess whether or not the Rangers players (that were on the team the last two years with Sean) feel it is a good or bad thing he's not around. But, for me, he is entertaining and he is more than just the character that no one can deny he is. He came back to the Garden last night, and was essentially nothing less than his true self. And, whether he pumped up his new team or distracted his former team, his new team won the game. And that's the bottom line.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Return of Avery - Preview. . .

"That boy never played with a doll in his life. Why would he tell people that?" - Al Avery (Sean's father) on Sean's recent interview

I think that pretty much sums up almost everything you need to know about Sean Avery. The guy, as I've said before and will continue to hold true to, is a character. Plain. Simple. Done deal. He says what he says to get a rise out of those around him. He is an actor, playing a role, and the NHL and it's rinks are his stage.

In between it all, he manages to play hockey (sometimes), but he, like me, much prefers his part time job. His - pain in the @ss!

But I write this all with a smile on my face. Sean, a character, is also a heck of a hockey player. When he wants to be. I can't in all of my running it through my head, figure out why he would sign in Dallas and purposely try to play poorly there. Again, I've made it clear. If he doesn't play well and keep as good an attitude as possible, no one will take him off Dallas' hands. And the Sean Avery show will come to an end - on ice at least.

However, it's really kinda early to be saying that, in my opinion. True, Sean came to the Rangers and the impact was like a flame to gasoline. He ignited. Perhaps he is still getting used to the southern climate. More cowboy boots and less Naked Cowboys. . .maybe?

He will return tonight though to a climate he was very familiar with for the bulk of the last two years - New York City. Will the fans great him with open arms and chants of Avery-Avery? Probably not. I do, if I had to take a guess, think he'll get a good reception. I do. He was a big part of this team's success. And I think people will remember that. And given the absolute lack of personality and character on this team right now, I think some miss Sean Avery more than ever.
Dallas comes into the Garden at 1-3-1, which I think is below their standards and certainly what I expected from them. The Rangers are currently at 6-1-1 and, might I be so bold to admit, are getting better results than they might be deserving.

I didn't get to see Saturday's game, and I only read a few articles, so I can't really comment on it. But, to sum up:

-The Rangers PP has been horrible. 5 for 39, good for 22nd in the league. Just over 12%. Honestly. . . I never should have said it couldn't get worse.

-Naslund and Drury are a combined -7 on the year. So not only have they not been scoring, but I noticed they were both -2 for the game on Saturday as well. Drury continues to be, until proven otherwise, my biggest personal disappointment on this team. (And faceoff, smashe-off; this team was awesome on faceoffs. This year, so far, slightly less awesome. Same, stupid non-difference!)

-To expound upon my comment above on the lack of personality on the team. I love the Rangers I really do. I think that's clear. But while I'll try to apologize while being blunt in some of my comments, I'm not going to sugar coat either. If the Rangers did not have Aaron Voros and Brandon Dubinsky, this team would be in a much worse place. In the standings. In moral. End of story. They are contributing in bulk and they are looking alive in doing so. If I were to list the Rangers that had personality (on the ice), I'm looking at a rare few: Valiquette, Dubinsky, and perhaps and at times: Aaron Voros, Paul Mara, and Colton Orr (smiling after fighting never hurts). But seriously, this team is not bursting at the seams with life. It's not. They are winning, which is great, but with the exception of a good goal celebration run from the PS3 line, this team does not really make you feel that they well. . .feel it. It's obviously too early to really comment on this, but I'm just taking a moment to say what I feel. They are winning - yes. But are they really doing it in the way you thought they'd be? Cause I can certainly say, not at all. And I'm also not sure how long it will last at this rate. A strong PK, one line of scoring, and good goaltending can only last so far before more holes are exposed. Just my opinion.

Around the league:

Biggest surprise to start the season - negative: a tie for me between Philadelphia and Anaheim's lackluster starts.

Biggest surprise to start the season - positive: St. Louis's PP and Buffalo's going 4-0-1

I'll check in tomorrow with The Return of Avery. . .the Recap. Enjoy everyone.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

And Thank You Vali. . .

Alright, raise your hands if you know Rangers backup goalie, Steve Valiquette, should be given a great big pat on the back for playing as well as he did and getting the Rangers the win in the shootout last night. All raised? Good, we're on the same page.

Credit Steve Valiquette. No, it wasn't his most remarkable game ever. But it was solid. And he needed to be solid in the face of his own team which was not taking shots, at least not really until the third. And he needed to be solid in the face of a team that had a pretty hot goalie last night in Vesa Toskala. While we are handing out credit, hand some to that guy. If anyone told me in advance of last night's game that it would be a 0-0 tie going into the shootout, I wouldn't have believed it. (Now for the record, I liked Vesa when he was in San Jose, but I just don't know how much support he'd be getting in TO, but he is a very good goalie.)

Back to Valiquette. I love how he can step in and get the game for his guys. Because he wants to be that guy. And I kept thinking, don't blow it, Rangers. Not for him. I mean Hank will get the majority of the games and the team will blow one or two (or a dozen) for him and he will have a shaky one himself, but for Valiquette, whose job has to be to win those against Philadelphia and Toronto, he has stepped up marvelously to do so. With a smile. And he's intense. He wanted to win. And he did. Credit all around for letting that happen.

However, before the third and before the OT, I was playing a game of count the jerseys in the stands. (Lotssssssa Drurys and leftover Jagrs for the record). It was boring. Again. But here are my pressing thoughts as the game progressed:

-Toronto's is a big team. I knew this. But guys like Mikhail Grabovsky, Pavel Kubina, and Nik Antropov are huge. Even young Luke Schenn, is pretty big. There really isn't any reason to comment on this except to say that, to the contrary, the Rangers are small. Very, very small. Even if Toronto's players might not be "better" than others - they are decidedly bigger. And that has to count for something. And this is minus Hal Gil, people.

-I did the math on the first unit PP for the Rangers and they make a total of 29.5 million (maybe it's technically closer to 30 with the change, but for argument's sake). So 29.5 million of Drury, Gomez, Naslund, Redden, and Rozsival to skate the puck around, not shoot, and watch it fly back out of the zone. And we still think it's Jagrs fault. Rangers were 0-8 last night. 0-8! Renney, Perry Pearn, anyone who will listen - - - fix it!! It's really that painful. What either Gomez or Drury make in one game is more than double what I make in a year; and I think I would have faired better last night than them.

-Pavel Kubina made a nice move to skate through the neutral and then the Rangers zone and take a nice shot on Valiquette, which was stopped. Valiquette, for not seeing a ton of shots (21 on the night) made a few particular ones that looked great.

-About halfway through the second period, I started thinking, hmmm, where is Petr Nedved? At least he had gotten a few goals in the pre-season. But, no, no, we're watching centers Drury, Gomez, and Betts look like they've never scored before in their lives. Yes, Blair, you have. Remember, Philly, last weekend? And, what like four times before that. It'll come back to you. Paging #93. . .

- Somewhere around the tail end of the 2nd, I believe, Drury misses the goal (perhaps on one of the 8 failed PPs) and comes back to the bench and Paul Bunyans his stick over the edge of the bench. Very close to three of his teammates, I might add. I appreciated this if only that it showed, yes is has been confirmed that #23 does in fact still have a pulse. But. . .

-Dan Fritsche had a good game. If anyone deserves another shake in the lineup tonight, with perhaps, an additional winger named Prucha. . . hmmm. . . it's Dan Fritsche. He had four shots which was second on the team. Gomez had five. But. . . Fritsche played 9 1/2 minutes, Gomez played close to 19. And over 8 of those minutes for Gomez were on the PP. So, Fritsche both in the box score, and to my eyes, did more with his ice time than half the team. Good game for him. He was skating.

-Nigel Dawes, on the other hand, looked like he was skating better, but he does not look to be showing any more prowess for scoring or where to be. And he did gain weight (fine, muscle), but he doesn't seem to be moving as well as he did. Is that the reason? I'm not sure. But to open the game, he, on a line with - awe, hell, I forget who he opened the game with - went down into the Toronto zone, got beaten to the puck and fell over. Like a toy. I just don't see his strength on the puck. At least Prucha bounces back up more quickly. . .

-Whoo, was that Marc Staal, in a fight? Well kinda in a fight. Good for him. More than just a pretty face, although yes, a pretty face, for sure. Again, someone was awake. And for the record on him, he hasn't looked spectacular. But he hasn't stood out for the wrong reasons. As a young D man still trying to establish himself in the league, that's as good a thing as any. I'll take quiet and consitent over standing out for the bad plays. (Dmitri Kalinin. . . you play for the red, white, and blue, now, - ok?)

-If I again had to make a plea, I'd hope again for the Prucha, Callahan, Fritsche combo, although I'm not sure tonight in Detroit is the place to showcase it. I'll leave that to the coaching staff, as if I get a vote anyway.

I sadly will be missing - the Rangers game, the first of the Colorado/Dallas games I was most looking forward to, and HNIC. But, I must continue to do other things with my life, or so I keep telling myself. I'll try to Tivo Rangers in 60 so I can make a report tomorrow. If not, I'll preview what should be a fun and exciting tilt of brothers, and formers teammates, at the Garden on Monday.

Enjoy the weekend. . .

Friday, October 17, 2008

Should He Play or Should He Go. . .?

I have read, listened to, and literally gotten sick keeping track of all the talk over keep him/trade him, like him/think he's not worth it, on Petr Prucha, and I've waited a long time to respond. So, now that I am . . . let's go. . .

I've listened to it all. Really. And I'm not saying he is blameless. I'm not saying he is perfect. I'm not saying anything really. Except give the kid a damn break. There, I said it. Give him a break. Whether he sticks with this team for ten years or gets traded tomorrow. . .this is a kid that has, honestly, tried his best. Really. I'd like to see someone argue that he hasn't.

And now the facts and then my honest to goodness opinion.

Petr came into the league as an unknown in the 2005-2006 season. During which, he came in under the radar and at a time when almost everything was clicking on the Rangers. Guys like Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka and Michael Nylander were resurrecting their careers. Hank Lundqvist emerged, also as a relative unknown, to lead the team into the playoff picture. The way the team was clipping before the Olympic break, I'd be hard pressed to believe they wouldn't have continued on into the late rounds of the playoffs and perhaps even the Final. As it was, the team fell apart post-Olympic break and stumbled into the playoffs, leading to a quick, painful exit in four to the team from NJ.

Regardless, Jagr would go on to have a career type year, setting all time records for Rangers goals and points in that year. Prucha would get prominent time on the Powerplay with Jagr, and on the team's top lines. He managed to score 16 goals on the man advantage that year- a Rangers record for a rookie. He scored in six straight games in December of that year, tying a franchise mark for rookies. His shooting percentage was one of the highest in the entire league.
A knee injury right before the 2006 Olympic break set him back a little. His heart was bruised most of all, but he still managed to have a great rookie year.

The following year, in came Brendan Shanahan. And, because I grew to like the guy, I will not say I'd want to take that back. He provided strong leadership, proved he was not washed up, and came through with goals (especially timely shootout ones). However, if I were Petr Prucha, I'd wish that Shanahan never came to the Rangers at all. (I also feel Petr is probably too nice a guy to say that himself but it's true). He went from starring on Broadway with Jagr and piling up Powerplay goals, to sitting on the bench during those key stretches. His numbers were good, but they weren't as good as the previous year. Am I suggesting that the only reason he didn't produce OR that the equation is a simple as << shanahan =" Prucha's">>? - no. But I am saying that to not think one has anything to do with the other is maddening.

During Petr's first year here, they had more role and support type players, and in my opinion more success (05-06 could have won the Cup. 06-07 they beat themselves in the playoffs. 07-08, not a good year at all really). That team was built around one or two really good guys. But when you added Shanahan to a team that already had Jagr and Straka and co. . . things were going to be different. A coach like Renney and/or a GM like Glen is not going to have a player like Petr Prucha out on the Powerplay when he could have Brendan Shanahan out there. Bottom line. So, those numbers went way down. Also for whatever reason (blame Jagr, blame Renney, blame Glen, blame Perry Pearn - take your pick. Although if seriously, if any of the guys in suits were letting Jagr dictate everything that happened on that PP and who should be on it - the team was doomed anyway. So much for democracy) the powerplay failed to score as much in 06-07 and especially 07-08, and the guys on it were rarely changed. It was the same thing night after night, month after month. Again, blame who you want for that. But Petr went from 16 PP goals, to 8 the following year, to finally 2 last season.

Year three for Prucha on Broadway was the most frustrating yet. He scored in his first game, I believe, but then took a long time to score again. He totaled merely 7 on the year after getting 30 and 22 in his first two campaigns. His two best stretches of the year were towards late December 2007, where he scored two goals in a game against Toronto, and a good stretch in January where he played on a line with Nigel Dawes and Brandon Dubinsky. His best game (ironically one I missed - damn business trip) was a 2-1 win over Buffalo on January 16th, where he scored a goal, got an assist and was named the game's first star. That seems a thousand years ago for me. Probably for him too.

But those moments were few and far between. Why? Because as a result of that 2 goal game in Toronto, his hand got slashed and he missed some games. Luckily he came back during a time he could fit in on a line with Dubinsky and Dawes. That line worked for probably 2-3 weeks. Then, Petr got injured again, I believe in an early February (10th?) game against Washington. This time it was his knee and he was held out a little longer. And longer still when guys like Callahan (who had been in Hartford rehabbing his own knee) came back into the lineup and deserved to stay. Dawes, for his own, played well in the tail half of the season. Jagr, obviously, did not have a great year. Dubinsky was called on to play with Jagr. Two $7 million centers and he has to play with the 21-year-old kid. (Which for the record, is fine by me; I'm not attacking what worked. He and Dubinsky looked great at times last year and both benefited from each other). My point is, there really wasn't a place for Petr to come back to. He finally got a sniff in the lineup for two games when Scott Gomez needed a few days. But for the most part, he didn't play. Even when guys like Shanahan should have been resting so that someone would be fresh for the playoffs the team was limping towards. But, no, no one did rest.

When he got back in for a random game or two in the playoffs, he looked lost. And who can really blame him. Think about it. As a goalie can tell you how hard it is to play after not playing for a while, it is no easier for a young skater to do so.

Sports are funny. Chemistry and confidence are everything. Well maybe not everything, but two of the most important aspects.

Excuse what I'm going to say next. I realize there is more to it all that just this. But I'm allowed my opinion.

I personally believe we can bring all this back to Michael Nylander's departure from the Rangers. If Nylander stayed, Jagr would have been fine. He would have scored more goals, triggered his contract and would probably still be a Ranger today. That's my opinion. But Nylander couldn't get his 4 year $4 million contract, and they gave $7 million a piece to both Gomez and Chris Drury instead, neither of whom could play with Jagr. I personally, and I won't know for a few years, maybe more, think this was the turning point for the franchise. Now, if the Rangers go forward and succeed, fine. But if they go back to the dark ages before the lockout, I'll look back to that moment. That's my lesson on chemistry. Savoring it when you have it because you don't know when it'll come again. Or if. . .

As for confidence, it's a mental thing. Hockey is a mental game. Most sports are! And you can't take a kid who has all the confidence in the world and loves playing the game, and use him in a game of musical lines. It hurts their progress. If nothing else, when all is said and done I hope (I hope!) whether it is in NY or on another team, that Prucha can rebound and be a good player. Because he was without a doubt and with no uncertainty in my mind - misused. His progress was halted. He was, of course, also the recipient of bad luck and bad timing. Those things happen. But to be misused as so many young athletes have been on this team before him, must sting even more.

I have an analogy for you. In baseball when a player is slumping, you don't keep him on the bench, at least not usually. You let him stand there and hit .100 while he figures it out. You count on the other guys in the batting order to pick up the slack for him. And he does other things, like field and make defensive plays. True, hockey and baseball are not the same, but you tell me how a kid is going to gain any confidence by being shuffled in and out of the lineup every third or fourth game? And when its his turn to be shuffled in, it's with completely different linemates that he finds himself. Because I don't think that's how it works. And that's what's been asked of Petr for the entirety of last season and so far again this year.

All I'd have hoped for to start this season was for Prucha to get a chance to get into a groove. If he played the first 10 or so games, game in, game out, with the same line, and he still didn't produce anything - then maybe it can be called a failed experiment. But to shuffle him (and the other poor guys in this horrific and saddening game of 3rd line carousel) around like this, does nothing for his own confidence or for any chemistry that he might build with anyone.
The only thing beyond that I can say is that while everyone wants to do well, I'm not sure everyone else shows it more than Petr. (Except perhaps the former Ranger Marty Straka). Pete wants to play, wants to contribute, and wants to get the chance, and it shows. The concentration on his face during the pre-game skate and during the game on Wednesday were particularly visible. This guy wants to be there. He wants to be counted on. And to contribute. And the fact that he didn't score, probably plummeted his confidence still. Even more, the fact he doesn't know when or if he'll get another chance.

Right now, thanks to the above and the fact that the Rangers already HAD a bunch of excess forwards and proceeded to go out and sign even MORE guys during the off-season, there is little room for Petr. And he's not alone. Dan Fritsche, Patrick Rissmiller, and Dawes are the other guys in this roulette wheel, and I honestly feel for all of them.

But I feel the worst for the guy that never complained, did everything with a smile, and put his heart on the line over and over again.

If Prucha can't be on this team - and I mean truly, truly, on this team - and be given a chance to regain his former status, then for his own sake, I hope he gets traded. It will break my heart, but I hope that if he gets traded, he goes to a team that can let him play solid minutes for all 82 games and that he gets into a groove and shows the hockey world something. That he shows the 30 goals his rookie year were more than just a fluke, shows that he can contribute more than just goals for his game to be effective, and shows that he can be confident and productive in this league.

For him, I hope. And I hope soon. Because to watch the roulette-carousel-musical chairs charade, it's getting old. And just imagine how he feels.

*Note: as of 11:30 am this morning, Prucha is scheduled to be scratched for tonight's game, after what was in my opinion, a v. strong effort on Wednesday. My previous line suggestion of Callahan, Fritsche and Prucha, is almost complete again, minus one. Dawes is scheduled to skate with those two tonight. If Dawes stubs his toe, will Prucha play with those two instead? Will he play with them Saturday, or Monday? Time will tell.*

*Note 2: A bunch of people will be saying that Prucha is first in line to go and/or should be producing more because of his $1.6 million contract. Right. Sure. I'd blame a kid for taking what was probably a fair amount of money two years ago when he signed the contract. (And I mean fair cause he had a great year and because look at what other guys get after having crappy years!!) Cause we all thought that in two years people would be jumping to trade a guy for the extra $0.6 he is making. The argument makes me sick. Don't blame him. Blame Sather for paying four guys 49% of the team salary when only one (Hank) of which deserves it! Prucha and his $1.6 should have nothing to do with it!*

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back to Earth . . .

Well the all-time Rangers record for wins to start a season was met, and not exceeded, as the Rangers fell to the Buffalo Sabres last night 3-1. Their record now stands at 5-1-0.

My thoughts:

It was bound to happen at some point, and people would have probably assumed sooner rather than later, but the top line stopped scoring. You know the #2 line by depth, but the uncontested top line of Dubinsky, Voros, and Zherdev, the PS3 line. And they are due an off night. Especially for a line that was not supposed to be carrying the load and scoring 90% of the team's goals, which they kinda have been.

So they had an off night, and with the exception of a surprise goal from Scott Gomez (previously credited to Michal Rozsival), the team was flat. Really flat. Turnovers by defense, by forwards. Sloppy play. Poor marking. Passing that was not crisp. It was not the prettiest night at the Garden. Not the ugliest, but the ugliest this season for the Rangers by far.

The first period wasn't so bad, really. But the second and third were clearly owned by Buffalo. And credit the Sabres. I did not think they'd be a good team this year. I thought - probably unfairly - that they wouldn't be able to score (or stop other teams from scoring) consistently. Well, I think I was a little quick to say that. Thomas Vanek has been that guy for a few years now. And when healthy guys like Ales Kotalik and Jochen Hecht usually chip in as well. Jason Pominville has been known to have decent production as well. Maybe I was too quick to judge. But it's hard to see how much of last night was Buffalo playing well (which they did) and the Rangers playing poorly (which they did).

So, when your only line that is scoring - umm, doesn't - what happens? Well somewhere in the third period the lines started their typical Tom Renney switcheroo. Naslund, still looking uninspired on the first line, was moved down to play with Korpikoski and Callahan on the 3rd. Prucha, who I'll talk more about in a minute, was moved to the "$18 million" line (which with him it would be $15.6 in case you were wondering). Even the second (and previously most solid) line was torn apart a bit.

The uncontested low point of the night was the Rangers not only failing to capitalize on a 4 minute double minor on Sabres captain Craig Rivet for high sticking, but actually giving up the shortie to Vanek, one of his two on the night.

The most interesting, it seems, was Rangers Paul Mara mauling Patrick Kaleta. It took me a minute to realize a) Kaleta did not drop the gloves so this was technically viewed as an attack and b) that Mara was out for blood because of Kaleta breaking his face last year. Apparently Kaleta hit him again and Mara flipped out. Even more so, apparently Kaleta was being smart with his mouth. I don't know. I'm not going to judge Mara one way or another on the mauling and the 5 minute major and game misconduct he took (that the Sabres scored on - ruining the Rangers perfection on the PK this season) because sometimes you have to stick up for yourself - and later he said he didn't regret it but apologized to his teammates - but the timing might have not been the best.

Although perhaps the Rangers were just not going to win. This is NOT an excuse. Not at all. They could have been mentally sharp even if physically tired. But the schedule has to be getting to them a little. And again, not an excuse, but maybe they were due for a loss. They got up for their home opener, to play the Flyers and then the Devils, and then you have the Sabres coming in in the middle of a seven game in 11 night stretch, and maybe it was just going to happen.

Overall, I said it before, so this isn't news, but it's not looking good that our "$18 million" line cannot score whether those players stay on the same line or not. And I'm pardoning Naslund for now. But Scott Gomez, goal not withstanding, has not looked sharp. His attitude seems different too. I mean I haven't caught as many interviews yet, but he doesn't seem as funny or like he's having as much fun. And yeah, when you aren't scoring, you have to be disappointed and maybe that's what I'm seeing, but I'm not seeing a happy or confident person. And I'd like the guy that makes the most money on my team (still shaking head over that one) to be both. Happy and confident.

And Drury, oh captain my captain. Yeah. It's been over a year and I'm still not feeling anything warm towards him. I don't dislike him. I don't like him. I just don't anything him. Totally apathy. Except of course for the moments where I'm annoyed because he's making $7 million and has shown barely a spark of a reason why he should be. Really. Faceoffs. If faceoffs were so damn important, Blair Betts could be captain, because that's what he does. And yes, Drury penalty kills. And takes sticks to the face and continues to play. But when does he score? When does he fire his team up? The most - the most - I've seen him fired up was that comeback victory against MM in the pre-season. Other than that, he seems more quiet - and much LESS effective in both word and actions - than the Rangers other silent leaders - Jaromir Jagr and Brian Leetch. He doens't need to be vocal. He doesn't need to be the best player on the team. But, he should look like he has a pulse. And honestly with very, very, few exceptions, this guy has not looked like he's had a pulse in his time with NY. And that's a shame. For us. For him. For everyone. If Aaron Voros, a life long Rangers fan, can get up and get excited for playing for his favorite team, then why can't Drury. He seems like he has pride in being a Ranger, but I want to see that pride.

Seriously I am not throwing him under a bus. I've never really said anything bad about the guy and I can't. He's a good guy. But I want leadership. I want passion. And I'd like some of that to be by example. Because, until I see he's worth somewhere close to the $7 million they pay him (even though that may never be the case), I am going to question why he's here and I'm going to be mad when he's not producing. Good guy or not. And as for Captain, I'm sorry, Chris, but you've got big,big shoes to fill buddy. And not just Messier's. Leetch and Jagr are going to the Hall of Fame. Do they have Hall of Fames for role players who happen to find themselves on championship teams in multiple sports and randomly make some clutch plays when they count? You have to check. Okay, good, get back to me on that.

Lastly, Petr Prucha returned to the lineup after not playing in the last three games. I made it a point to watch his shifts very closely and mark whether they were good, bad, or indifferent. My results, he had more good shifts than indifferent, and only one or two "bad" ones in my opinion. His first shift, he was flying. Took the puck away. Kept it in the Sabres zone. His second shift, he went down to block a puck that flew off him with such force it sailed right back into the neutral zone. Hobbled off the ice. When I think of that kid, I think of that. "More guts than a slaughter house," coach Renney had said a few years back when describing the young winger. And it's true. His only bad moment that I can remember was when the game was already probably away from the Rangers and Prucha had the puck to the side of the Sabres net on a PP. Instead of shooting, he passsed and it went out of the zone. And that happens. But for a guy that has not played on an every day basis and for someone obviously has less confidence, I thought he played as well as he could. I was hoping he'd score a goal (or two . . .) but it seemed no one could score last night that was not named Thomas Vanek. I hope (hope!) for his sake, it was enough to get him another look. Hopefully the rest of the team will come on board for the next one and we can see how he works into a full group effort.

And thus we'll see how it goes against Toronto Friday night. . .

Quick shots:

In other news around the league, I listened to my first bit of the Stars this season, as they played Nashville. Glad they found the back of the net - six times. And I'm glad Mike Modano has appaently looked solid. A big fan of his for a long time now, I hope he has the type of season he is capable of. And Fabian Brunnstrom becomes only the third player in NHL history to make his debut and score a hat trick. Think the Stars were wondering why he didn't play in their first two games? (and on a line with Sean Avery no less). Oh well. Joel "the other" Lundqvist, apparently made good use of his time, getting 8 hits in just over 10 minutes played.

I am so disappointed I missed the Canadiens/Bruins game last night. Sounds like it was a typical Habs/Bs game with a flash for some fights (oh Georges Laraque) and some comebacks. And apparently the ceremony was as only the Habs can do. But, alas, that's why there is youtube.

Lots of games tonight but the Rangers schedule is exhausting me (and I'm not even playing, folks) so I fear it might be an early night.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Here's Hoping. . .

Well it's about time. From my keyboard to Renney's ears. . . Prucha in tonight, on a line with Callahan and Korpikoski, the line combo from the starting games in Prague if I am not mistaken. True, true, I said it was Fritsche, Callahan, and Prucha I wanted together. . . but I'll take two out of three and pray. I hope (hope!) for his sake, he has a good game.

I guess til then. . .

Ovie For President. . .

Let me just put it out there. Alex Ovechkin for President. AO8 is GREAT! can be his call. His platform:

- dental care for all. . . to preserve those smiles
- freedom for jubilant goal celebrations. . . without fear of retribution
- less crime and more hockey in DC. . . to keep those stands full in Verizon Center
- celebrating diversity, for the greatest hockey players come from everywhere. . . and one of the greatest, from mother Russia

I've said it before and I'll say it again - this guy expresses EVERYTHING that is good about hockey right now. He's young. He's talented. He's a team guy. He's got an infectious smile. He's got a great personality. He's got heart. And apparently. . . he too, has got soul.

He might just be the unstoppable combination. Hockey is in good hands - very, very good hands.

The guy definitely is - a Rock Star!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Just One More Thing. . .

I realize obviously a lot of stuff is being posted about the tragic death of young Alexei Cherepanov. I, admittedly, read little else at work today. I'm including two things in this entry, all courtesy of Beyond the Blueshirts blog. They've done a great job over there of translating articles from Russian to English and getting more information than I could on my own.

The first is the image above. Of 22-year-old Brandon Dubinsky comforting 23-year-old Nikolai Zherdev before the Moment of Silence last night at the Garden. Zherdev had known Alexei.

The second, is a copy of the first and only blog entry young Alexei wrote, dated last Thursday:

"The Siberian ExpressThursday, October 9, 2009 11:48

Greetings to all fans of Avangard. My name is Alexei Cherepanov. As of today I am starting my own online blog. In it I will answer your questions and communicate with you. To begin with I want to say thanks to everyone who supports us. The arena is always full, and it helps us greatly to play. I hope that together we will achieve a lot this season.

Currently we have three games on the road. It will be the first road trip under the leadership of [new head coach Wayne] Fleming. When he came to the team, he said “Now to us will be a new way. Give everything you’ve got, and together we’ll come out ahead.” With Fleming we spend less time practicing, but it is more intensive. We pay particular attention to our defensive game. And so our preparations for the away games went on as usual.

Recently we were told to come to games in business suits. This was done at the initiative of the “Council of Four”, as they have been named in the press. In it are included Sasha Svitov, Dima Ryabikin, Jagr and Anton Kuryanov. They talked with the coach and delivered this decision. I know that some of the guys had to buy suits. I had no such problem — in my closet hangs two complete suits. They’re from my time at the draft. So I only had to buy a coat.

This season there has been an important event — the arrival of Jagr. I generally consider him my fourth coach. He always gives me advice when something doesn’t work out. After practice we often remain with him and work on shooting. And he’s always ready to come to the aid of the other guys. Everyone sees that he very experienced in the game and wants to become a champion.The atmosphere in our team is outstanding. The guys encourage one another. I, by the way, have made a playful wager with [Viktor] Aleksandrov. We have bet a block of chocolates, that I will become the best player at the upcoming junior championships. He doubts it. We’ll see which one of us is eating the chocolate after the championships. So everything with us is good. I hope that my goal scoring streak will last. I will make every effort to make it happen!

That’s all for now. We’ll see each other after the road trip! See you then!"

Both make me tear up. But the second literally gives me chills.

If there is nothing else gained from a life lost so young, let it be that in the future all arenas in the KHL have working defibrilators, and take safety precautions so that nothing like this happens ever again. A hard lesson to learn, but if anything can be taken from something so tragic, let it be that.

Alexei, you will be missed.

Moments of Silence. . .

Alright, perhaps last night's game at the Garden will help silence some of the disbelievers of the Rangers perfect start this season. Myself included.

Trying to pay close attention to the details, I think the Rangers got it much better last night. Their passing was crisper, they managed to get to more loose pucks, they hit, they skated, and they twice took advantage on the Powerplay. Yes, 2 big PP goals for the . . . 2nd unit?

Yes, once again the "$18 million" line was held without a point. But the PS3 Line - :) - notched up a total of 7 points, three each by Brandon Dubinsky and Aaron Voros. I can't help but continuing to be impressed with this line. For these reasons, and more:

- Voros, in his words and to our eyes, is being utilized in the way he can best contribute and play. Is has been a LONG time since Rangers fans have seen a big guy (or a guy in general) stand in front of the goalie on the man advantage. A welcome sight, definitely. And, yes, two PP goals for the new #34 last night.

-Dubinsky, as I very much thought he would, is having no problems adjusting to life without Jaromir Jagr. And that isn't at all a knock on Jagr. It's a credit to Dubinsky. A guy that scores in the Young Stars game (although a somewhat throwaway games of goals), the World Juniors games, and seemingly on lines with whomever he plays with in NY, is a guy that can play - plain and simple. Jagr or no Jagr. Brandon - welcome to your coming out party.

- They look like they are having fun! All of them. And especially in light of the most recent tragedy to hit the Rangers team, to see young guys having fun and doing what they love, we, as fans, have to be happy they are doing so well, and be happy to see them happy. I know I am.

In other thoughts, I don't know if Sean Avery has permanantely gotten under the skin of Marty Brodeur, even in #16's absence from NY. In the last two or so seasons, I've continued to see Brodeur play to the top of his game, although of course, not as perfect as he once was. But against New York, he seems to be a little un-Marty-like. In what would have been an uncharacteristic goal against any other team, the Devils goalie let in another fluke goal last night, and never really regained his pre-game mentality. He looked out of place a few more times, a little scrambly, and of course, there was the over-exaggerated dive after Callahan made contact, thanks to Johnny Oduya's interference, which, yes, was called. As a Rangers fan that has watched NJ and Brodeur dominate my team for the better part of a decade, I can't be disappointed that that dominance has not been so strong these last three years. But I can question it. Hockey, after all and like most sports, is very much a mental game. You wonder. . .

Which brings me to the 3rd line. I never much paid attention to who was the 1st and who was the 3rd line. I really didn't. I'm talking years ago. But after ALL the debate of this year's lines, especially their 3rd and 4th, and well actually 1st and 2nd, I have paid very close attention. And obviously the 2nd line is clipping at a pace that is making me shake my head and smile. The 1st line, is, well, overpaid and underproducing, but I don't suggest for a moment it should be torn apart right now in any way that might affect our big three guys who ARE contributing. When something works, well, you . . .yeah, you don't do that. The fourth line - is what it is right now. I'm actually not going to complain about them, as much as I once wanted to. Fredrick Sjostrom and Colton Orr are cycling and playing responsible, and making Blair Betts look better than he, perhaps, is. But they haven't been a liability at all. And . . . we'll see if the goals come. Again, anything more than 5 is a victory for a line centered by Betts, no?

My issue now, is with the 3rd line. Lauri Korpikoski, who looked brilliant in training camp, has not seemed to translate his game into the NHL - yet. And my question is, how long do you give him? The 10 or so games that they usually give to "test" a player before sending him down? Perhaps. And that's fine. As a guy, however, that is your ONLY guy who can safely go to Hartford via waivers, I'm suggesting maybe you do. If you want to give it the 10 games, fine, we're half way there (oh, oh, livin' on a prayer; where did that come from?). And then, after which and assuming there is no major lightbulb going off, why not, why not stick Dan Fritsche or even Petr Prucha at center. I'm pretty sure Fritsche was a center, or at least played a bulk of his time there. And while I'm not saying the way to boost a guy's ever-decreasing confidence is to stick him in a position that he is not most familiar with, I'm pretty sure Prucha played center at one point, and while I can't find the stats, I am quite sure he has taken faceoffs. So, argue with me for a moment, as I play a bit of devil's advocate. Prucha, Fritsche and Ryan Callahan. Even though Callahan plays RW, Prucha can fill in on the left; he's done it before. I want to see THAT line play for a game. They'd be fast, at the very least. And if you take some shots. . . you never know. I think Callahan deserves some better linemates right now.

And maybe I'm just grasping at straws. I guess what it comes down to is, I continue to see a guy that used to smile like there was nothing in the world that could touch him, walk around with a frown because he hasn't gotten to play and he probably, like me, sees no clear picture about if and when he will play again. Petr Prucha, folks. Yeah, that guy who scored 16 PP goals his rookie year, and set or tied some Ranger rookie records. That guy. So, even though I didn't want it to be this way, and still don't, if the ONLY way this kid can play consistently is to play elsewhere, I will help him pack. Seriously, I'm the worst packer in the world, but I'll gladly help him pack if it means he can go somewhere else, play hockey every day, and be happy. It's depressing, especially for a guy that gave so much, and, honestly, didn't deserve the in and out treatment over the last few years, to be so miserable because he can't play the game we all love. Do I still wish it works out in New York - yes. Is my hope ever decreasing that it does - yes.

Notice, I've ignored Nigel Dawes in the above line combination of #24, #25, and #49. Purposely. Prucha, Fritsche, Callahan, and even what little I've seen of Patrick Rissmiller, have shown more speed and togetherness than Dawes showed all pre-season and so far into the campaign. I apologize, but I wish there was a way HE could go to Hartford and get his head on straight. I'd hate to lose him, but to say he should be playing over any of these other guys is wrong. And to those who thought he should be in the lineup because he plays well against New Jersey. Fair point. But guess who else has played well against NJ and had his moments with Marty in the shootout. Prucha.

In other news, the Rangers penalty kill continues to impress. 21 for 21 on the year. Will it last - I'm sure not. But the PK boys have gotten the job done for years now. And, honestly, taking an average of 4 penalties per game is really not that bad for these guys. Really. . .I've seen these guys. That is very doable. And for a Rangers/Devils game, it as a little mild yesterday. A few roughing calls. Even Chris Drury got in a little with Devils Captain Jamie Langenbrunner. But nothing major.

I guess we'll see how the team continues to fair with three games in four nights to close out the week.

Around the League:

Listened to a bit of the Toronto/St. Louis game yesterday, post-Ryan Hollweg's disgressions. I won't bother touching on that again. I know we can't un-penalize the Leafs, but they were in control of that game. The five minute major led to two goals and St. Louis was able to pull it out in shootout. What if, asks, Luke Schenn. What if?

On the way home, I caught the last 15 minutes of the Chicago/Nashville game and the shootout. Wish I was watching because that seemed nothing less than an intense finish. It's still early, so I hold faith that the young guys for Chicago will come together. Nashville wins in a shootout; their captain Jason Arnott goes out with an injury. And speaking of and somewhat suprisingly, it's been three full games, and Chicago's Martin Havlat has not gotten injured yet. (Sorry, sorry, I know, one of the big fears of Hawks fans, and I sincerely hope he plays healthy the whole year).

And I know it was against the Islanders, but ----, the Sabres scored a lot yesterday.

As did the Capitals, with 5 goals. And yet, Alex Ovechkin had three shots and no points. Does he still have the flu? It's early, Ovechkin fans, it's still early.

Lastly I want to go back to yesterday for a moment, and the very sad passing of Alexei Cherepanov. At the arena last night, it was hard to judge the mood. It would seem it was like any other Devils/Rangers matchup. Outside the young kids were chanting "Let's Go Rangers. Let's go Devils." Inside, the fans were excited to see what team would gain the early advantage and bragging rights among rivals. Then when the announcement was made, I heard collective gasps go up in the crowd, obviously among the many that had not yet had the chance to read the computer or listen to sports radio. Walking into the arena earlier I heard one girl, on her cell phone and carrying a Rangers jersey, say, "I really thought I'd be seeing him play here next season." And that was the collective emotion. Disbelief. Sadness. Something we are all unable to comprehend.

The moment of silence ended, but that silence might stick with some longer than others. Maybe you don't think as seriously about a sports tragedy until it's your own team. A name you've heard. A face you thought you were going to see play for your team. It doesn't make any of it fair, but perhaps, it brings it all closer to home. Closer to reality. Something we can see and feel.

Win or lose, the Rangers lost an important piece of their future yesterday, and all indications were, the world lost a great player and a great human being. I think I'll close with a quote from Rangers coach Tom Renney, and a reminder that, yes, sometimes there is more to life than hockey:

"It serves as inspiration for the rest of us not to take anything for granted, live life and love the people that are important to you."