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.

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