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."