Monday, December 28, 2009

Thoughts As We Close Out the Year. . .

So far this hockey season, there've been some cool things going on, and some not so cool things. When I think back on the first part of the 2009-2010 season, these are some things that come to mind:

* Injures. Injuries to key players. Freak injuries.

* Teams like Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Colorado being among the Western elite, while perennial favorite Detroit struggles.

* Carolina going from being a super hot playoff team in May to pretty much being out of playoff contention already the following fall.

* The non-surprises among the league's leading scorers to date, like Ovechkin, Crosby, and Thornton (most points since 2005-2006 season by far), coupled with the one Rangers fans were praying would be included but didn't know for sure - in Gaborik -, and the outright surprises: can you say Tomas Plekanec?

* Players hitting milestones, like Brodeur finally (seriously finally) passing Terry Sawchuk, and as recently as Shane Doan's 1,000th game. Both players hit their milestones having played ALL games with their respective teams, which is commendable.

And on a personal level with my favorite team and one of my favorite teams to follow:

* The Rangers had one of their typical years. Start fast, get hopes up, come back down to Earth (crashing actually), and slowly pick up the pieces amid a winter doldrum. But you know what. Screw it. I like this team. I like this team better than I liked last years team. Yeah, the captain may lack some sense of captain gene (although he does have five points in his last five games!), the team is still saddled and inevitabley ruined by contracts bigger than Sather can count to, and they still throw out crap efforts against teams (*cough* Islanders) they should be psyched to play.

BUT - they've got a goalie who wears his heart on his sleeve. Win, lose, shootout - don't tell me that Hank doesn't care. They've got Marian Gaborik, a healthy Marian Gaborik, who is as advertised and more, dazzling us fans with his every move. We've got a young defense corp, the youngest being a 19-year-old Del Zotto who makes me pray to everything holy that he never leaves the red, white, and blue. And you have a mix of Avery (even if he needs to mix it up more), of Prospal (the steal of the year), and Artem Anisimov (who I am so excited to see come into his own). It's a great team - well maybe not a great team - but my team and for the most part, they are SO much more fun to watch than last year.

And as for the Coyotes, if there was ever going to be any good coming from my favorite player being traded, it was the pleasure I'd had in following my adoptive team. I miss Prucha being in New York, surely, but nothing has made me happier than seeing a once confident and happy hockey player I so loved watching AGAIN BE that confident and happy hockey player. Nothing brings me such joy.

As a bonus, I've gotten to watch a team that I have really grown to like over the last nine months have a really kick butt first half of their season. They have the right mix, the right players, and the right system for the players to buy into. Credit management, credit coaching, credit anyone - but they are incredible and they are fun to watch.

I never contemplated being a fan of two different hockey teams to such an extreme. Surely I followed many - the Stars when Pat Verbeek and Manny Malhotra were there, the Sharks when Adam Graves went West, the Maple Leafs back in the early 2000s becauase those were some fun teams to watch. But I can honestly say even though I haven't gotten to watch all the Coyotes games real time, I've Tivoed them all. And since there is no rooting interest of rivalry between the Rangers and Coyotes, I pretty much want them to win each and every night. It may have started for Prucha, but it grew into a genuine love and appreciation for this team. And it opened up a whole new group of Twitter/blog friends, who I enjoy sharing the experience with, countries apart.

Hockey is for everyone, they say.


Lastly, I haven't put much stock into this End of the Decade stuff, but...since it's floating around, I'll put in a few of my best and worst memories of hockey during this time. It's a hard task and I'll forget tons, but it's been a remarkable 10 years for the best sport in the world. So glad to be fan!

Best Memories:

- Messier returning to the Rangers in 2000. He ended up where he was supposed to be.

- The FLY Line

- The 2002 Olympic games - the most enjoyable I've ever seen.

- The game at the Garden on November 5, 2003 when Messier passed Howe in points. He needed two points to do so and ended up scoring two goals, the second being an empty netter with less than 5 seconds to go. I remember sitting there, numb, just knowing when he got the puck that he was going to do it, right then and there. That was, probably, my only moment of seeing live what was the once (and on some level always) great Messier having one of the great moments he seemed built for.

- Watching Jagr and Prucha, et al, during the 2005-2006 season, my favorite season to date.

- Jagr eclipsing Rangers records for goals 54, points 123, and Prucha getting 30 goals as a rookie, and a record 16 power play goals, that year.

- Seeing Jagr's hat trick, in Pittsburgh, at Mellon arena, in a 6-1 Rangers win over the Penguins in 2005.

- Seeing what I thought was a fantastic 7 game final between Carolina and Edmonton, led by an unsung hero in goal for Edmonton in Jussi Markkanen.

- Starting to listen to the Team990 in Montreal one boring day at work early in 2007 and being blessed with entertainment for the last almost three years.

- Roszival's OT winner at the Garden versus Buffalo in Game 3 in 2007. (The most important a game has felt in the Garden in a long time).

- Jagr's masterful performance in Game 4 versus the Penguins on Garden ice in the second round of the playoffs 2008.

- Getting to see five retirement ceremonies during the decade - Richter, Messier, Leetch, Graves, Howell and Bathgate.

- The 100 year ceremony in Montreal on December 4th. That may have just been one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

- Even though it's early, getting to watch Marian Gaborik play night in, night out. Rangers fans were blessed, BLESSED, with Jagr. We are now getting to be blessed twice.

- The pleasure of getting to watch some of my favorite non Rangers, like Trevor Linden, Mike Modano, Alex Ovechkin, Pat Kane, et al, play hockey.

Worst Memories:

- Richter's consequtive knee injuries and concussion and the inevitable end to a great career.

- The day Manny Malhotra was traded.

- The day Brian Leetch was traded.

- The day they announced they were cancelling the season on 2/16/05.

- The day the Rangers signed Chris Drury and Scott Gomez because every team needs two incredibly overpriced and very often useless centers.

- The day the Rangers let Jaromir Jagr walk even though he and Hank rebuilt this franchise from disaster.

- The day the Rangers signed Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival to the mind-numbingly stupid contracts.

- The day the Rangers traded Petr Prucha.

- The day the Penguins won the Cup.

- PJ Stock leaving the Team990. Some of my greatest days were spent listening to him, but may he enjoy the time with his family. Our loss, their gain. All the best to Peej - one of the true GOOD guys!

Again, I'm sure there is more...of course there is, but these were top of mind. Here's to TONS of wonderful new hockey memories to be shared in the new year and decade to come.

I'll be out of computer range for a few days, although I may tweet from time to time. So as much as this blog has been quiet (continued apologies for that beyond my control and the laziness which was not) it will remain quiet throughout the end of 2009. Hopefully next year, lots more chatter and lots more hockey.

Wishes for a healthy and happy 2010! Thanks for reading! ;)


Monday, December 21, 2009

Some Thoughts on the Rangers/Flyers and Rangers/Hurricanes. . .

Okay, playing some catchup. And don't feel like doing five of anything, so just some random thoughts. . .

On the Flyers:

So treked to Philly, in the snow. Treked back from Wachovia Center, in the snow. A lot of snow. ;) Arena I'd say had 9,000 about, regardless of the 19,000 announced attendance. It was emtpy, pretty quiet, and a pretty quiet game too. Two or three mini scrums, but nothing like the Rangers/Flyers games we know and love.

But the Rangers won, so that was good. And if you've never, and do have the chance to go, people at Wachovia are overall very nice. Concession people, parking lot people. And the fans. I've never felt out of place or like I was going to get my face punched in for wearing other colors. Which, for a game in Philly, is pretty good, don't you think? ;)

Shame this was the first game of the season between the two. When they were both dwelling in the bottom of the conference, amid pretty un-impressive stretches of games. Because to see the two teams firing on all cylinders and then win, that would be saying a lot more of the win. But you take the win on the road, and move on.

On the Canes:

How nice is it to have fan (read: my!) favorite Rangers back in good graces. Marc Staal has looked much more comfortable as of late. And that makes me happy. Marc - you go the way you have to go, pave your own way. You are 22! Plenty of years to live up to all the promise and, call me biased, I think he's already a very, very good defenseman. He just needs to take one thing at a time, because, for the most part, he doesn't get a ton of help on every occasion.

Important the Rangers penalty kill is making some ground, because they keep taking penalties. Although only 3 on the night.

Gaborik had 6 - count'em 6 - shots on goal and his league leading 25th goal of the season! Go Gaby Go! It was also his 15th multi-point game of the year as well for those keeping track.


The Rangers may not be good team. But on any given night, you look to find ways to win. That's what these last three games have been (although if they had lost to the worst team in the league, I'm not sure what that would have been saying...) It's important. Step by step. They have to build confidence and get some points some ways.

I'm more curious who shows up on Wednesday, at home, at a place once kind to the NYRs, but now a place they haven't won at since Columbus came to town.

Time will tell.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

HNIC Wrap-Up ~ 12/19/09. . .

If you didn't get a chance to see this (and you aren't Tavares-ed out) - watch this video of him and Dougie Weight.



Three things about Alex Ovechkin (in general) and on this night:

* He won the Caps "Hardest Working Player" Construction helmet for the first time all season tonight. Scott Oake was baffled. AO explained he missed eight games and had to get back into shape.

* It was AO-craziness in Western Canada. And Ovechkin responds by saying he loves Canada.

* We knew it before, we know it now again - He LOVES the attention. He really does.


Sam Gagner was on After Hours:

* They showed the clip from last year when they did "Cribs" when he lived with Tom Gilbert and Andrew Cogliano.

* Since then, Gilbert has kicked them out. Sam has also apparently not gotten any cleaner (he cleaned the most cause he was the messiest). He and Andrew live in separate apartments in the same complex.

* As so often on After Hours, they get questions from video. This one was from Jason (Strudwick) of Edmonton, asking about stick curves. Apparently back when Struddy was playing in Vancouver, he shot a puck clear out of the rink at practice. Then coach Marc Crawford grabbed the stick, threw it into the stands, and gave him Todd Bertuzzi's stick. Struddy liked it so much, he has used that stick curve ever since. Awe miss Struds!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Five Things on the Rangers/Islanders Game. . .

As I wrote in the comments of the last post, I did not watch, so instead, some numbers for you:

* Callahan's two goals now give him 4 goals in the last 4 games and 6 in the last 10. It's important to everyone to contribute, yes, but this was one of the BIG guys that needed to be.

* When Cally scored his second goal (Rangers 3rd of the game) it was the first time the Rangers scored 3 goals in a game in the last 8 games.

* When they scored their 3rd goal, that was only the 5th time in 22 games they had scored more than 2.

* Gaborik's goal, his 24th of the season, was his 12th powerplay goal. That ties his career high.

* With 2 goals and 2 assists Callahan had his first 4 point game of his NHL career.

It'll be interesting to see how it carries over.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Five Questions on the Rangers/Islanders Game. . .

Okay forget things, we're going to do questions. Here goes:

* Do you blame Tortorella for the state of the current team? Are you mad that "safe is death" seems to be words, not actions?

* Who is the most detrimental to the team at present? Drury with his 7 million, or Redden with his 6.5? (And yes, both can be an acceptable answer although I have my preference).

* Who thought Avery was going to get kicked out of the game - right, wrong, or indifferent - just for looking at Roloson the wrong way, let alone taking a swing at him?

* Who is able to admit to themselves what may just be the real and honest truth? - The Islanders are, right now, a better team than the Rangers. Who thought that'd be so when the season started?

* What do the Rangers do to fix this? Do they bench someone, make a trade? Tear it up? What do they do? Because, honestly, what can they do?

I like this group a lot better than last year, but after tonight I am convinced this year's team is having worse problems than last year's team - at least on the surface. Yes, last year they were happy and they couldn't score. Last year they had no personality where this year you WANT to like them. Last year they had a fast start and tumbled, JUST like this year. What gives? I honestly am beyond baffled. Tortorella promised changes for tomorrow. I'm just as baffled as the next guy in what exactly that will be...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Five Things on the Rangers/Thrashers Game. . .

* Johan Hedberg owns the Rangers. This is nothing new. He always has. At least in my memory. (Again, again, again, - if Bob Hartley had stuck with Hedberg in game 3 versus the Rangers in the playoffs maybe, maybe, maybe it would have been a series. Not a different result but a series and instead of a sweep). The saves he made in the first period during that sequence. Yikes. Amazing. (And for the record, I am a Hedberg fan. Who doesn't love players nicknamed Moose?!).

* The Rangers now have, I think we can say, a dreadful record at home. With the exception of the game versus Columbus, I can't even remember the last time they won at the Garden. Any much more of this, someone will have to pinch me and tell me it's not 2003-2004.

* The Rangers record last year and the year previous was decidedly better at this stage of the season. Why? In part due to getting games to OT and to the shootout where they'd steal one, and usually 2, points. Not so this year. This was the Rangers third shootout game, their first at home and first without P.A. "I went on waivers today" Parenteau. They didn't get it done. The last two years, these shootouts bulked points and jumped spots in the standings. Now, they are infrequent and apparently not a guarantee.

* Michael Del Zotto makes me smile. At least someone on this team makes me smile. Please, please, please. Let him stay here FOREVER!

* Gaborik's goal in the 3rd was his 10th of the season in that period. That leads the NHL. Once again, big round of applause for Gaby. As much as I "like" this group better than last year, and he's a big part of that, he really, on many nights, leaves you thinking - my gosh, what if he weren't here? Thankfully he is. Thank you Gaborik. Which translates to "thank you Bob Gainey for taking Scott Gomez so we could afford Gaborik." Thank you. Thank you all.

Overall, not a bad game. A good one in fact. Normally (normally the watch word here) putting 48 shots on a goalie would result in more than 2 goals (if you are not the NYRs...). Normally shooting that much would result in a win (if you are not the NYRs). Again, all props in the world to Hedberg and Atlanta. A good win. A smart road win. The Rangers looked closer than they have been and tonight may have not been their fault. It just feels worse, of course, because they've lost so many, and so many at home.

HUGE two games versus the Isles. Huge! Too early to say "must-win." I'm actually not sure it is.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Five Things on the Rangers/Sabres Game. . .

* It's never a good thing when you feel like you are just doing the same thing over and over again is it? Well, I'm writing the same things. The Rangers are doing the same things. We're all thinking the same things. Not good. Not good at all.

* The set-up on that powerplay (wait did someone say powerplay?) goal by Ryan Callahan looked brilliant. Fantastic to see but all the more annoying because they can do it. They can. Despite their recent blechy-ness on the PP, the Rangers still hold a pretty impressive stat with the extra man on home ice.

* Loved the initial energy and movement of the line of Higgins, Prospal, and Gaborik. Even though PJ Stock thinks that Higgins is better as a complementary checker than a goal scorer...I don't really mind him playing with these boys as long as he keeps up, and shoots the puck. He doesn't have to be the flashy guy, but since his two goal outburst on the West Coast trip, Higgins has seemed a more confident player. And the Rangers need a lot of things surely, but someone with confidence is nice.

* Did my eyes mistake me or did Derek Roy help up Dan Girardi after the tumble in the far boards? I always like to see sportsmanship. And I always thought Derek Roy was a good guy.

* Since we don't want to keep saying the same things over and over, let's talk instead about Ryan Miller. I was suprised to see him give up two goals so quickly (let alone all game) because he's just been so lights as of late. While that's good things for Buffalo, surely, it's very good news for Team USA for him to be having such great numbers.

What will the Rangers do tomorrow? Will it be a different story here? I'm not sure. The Buffalo game at least kept my interest. Actually the last four games (1-3) have been better to watch than the previous handful.

I just wish they'd win a couple in a row - for themselves, for us as fans, for everyone. To prove they can may help build what I'm sure is a pretty low confidence at this point.

HNIC Wrap-Up ~ 12/12/09. . .

The biggest point I took out of HNIC Hockey Tonight was what Alex Ovechkin said. I know not eveyone loves the guy. I have had my moments of doubt in his most recent season, I won't lie, but I think overall he is good for the game. If for no other reason than this.

"I play every game as if it is my last game, because you never know what can happen on the ice."

I think the game, our game, would be a better one overall if more players played that way. Not reckless, not dangerous, not wild. But played the game with passion, love, and appreciation for how wonderful it is and how precious and short the time of playing it may be.


Some funnies:

Turco had a quite a shootout versus San Jose on Friday night. To the Christmas Goose song, they showed Turco out poke-check three of the Sharks skaters.

PJ comes on screen and said "I got to follow the Christmas goose!"

LOL at PJ!

PJ then says Kelly never gets any credit. People always pick Gretzky first overall. PJ says he's picking a team, he's going with Kelly.

Although after he asked if Kelly is buying drinks, and Kelly refuses, PJ takes it back.

Ron McLean: "On HNIC where blue eyes can be PJ, Kelly, or Frank Sinatra."


The "interrogation" of Mason Raymond on After Hours:

* Ryan Kesler said that Mason was a good dancer when he had a few. Mason says Kesler, Wellwood and O'Brien dance it up in the locker room after Canucks wins and that Kesler is one of the best dancers on the team.

* He had a border collie named Champ that used to retrieve balls/pucks that went past the net when he would shoot them. Unfortunately sounds like poor Champ stood in the net and got a few pucks as well. Ouch! See, how wonderful are dogs? Man's best friend, man's best game.

* How do you know you can marry a girl? When you take her cattle roping. Apparently worked for Mason and his wife Meg.

* Scott Oake started calling him Masie. Over and over and over. Apparently this was something new to Mason and his teammates were all over him for it. Masie. Ha!

* His name was "pulled from a hat" or so he says and his name was used in a skit on How I Met Your Mother. I didn't know they liked hockey on this show. I may have to watch. You can too here - (can't get to link properly)

* Who would be the worst hunting companion? "Hordy or Shane O'Brien" essentially because they talk too much!

Great interview. Raymond seems like one of those quiet, but funny guys.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Five Things on the Rangers/Blackhawks Game. . .

I'll be honest, I wasn't able to watch the game closely as I was out with friends and that always proves difficult. Meanwhile...

* Higgins and Callahan are some of (the many) that need to be scoring. It was a nice goal from Higgins from a nice feed from Gaborik.

* Hank made 39 saves and had no chance at that goal mouth scramble that resulted in the tying goal for Chicago. It's a shame for him. As much as the less-than-stellar goal on Sunday night was arguably a fault of his, he's helped this team more than he's harmed them. Tonight was an example of that.

* You have to feel Hank's frustration. Staal alluded to it in his interview, saying that it was a case of Chicago having the puck all night long, chasing them, and taking untimely penalties. He said Hank deserved the 2 points. And watching Hank's interview, you can tell how upset he is. No one can ever tell me HE doesn't care. He always does.

* game poll - Which Original Six Team will win the Cup next? Results were: 49% Chicago, 30% Rangers, 10% Red Wings, 8% Bruins, 3% Montreal and 0% Toronto. I guess a lot of Rangers fans have more confidence than me. But I'd put Chicago at #1, Bruins at #2, and Detroit at #3.

* In some regard it's nice to get a point in a hard building to play in (Blackhawks are #1 in the NHL at home), but in the other it's terribly disappointing to give up another late lead. Look, I mentioned it on Twitter. The Rangers are not a 1-0 team. They really have never been, not in my fandom. Yes, Renney tried to make them that, and yes, over the last few years there have been many low scoring games versus Boston, but...that doesn't make them a 1-0 team. They don't have the collective composure to hold onto that type of lead. They just don't. It's been rare when they have. They were close this time, but...couldn't hold it.

State of the Union at NHTProductions. . .

As we bustle through the season of holiday fun, snow, and hockey, thought I'd take a few minutes out to make another clarification, if I may so bold as to do so.

Last night on my twitter feed I got a comment (we won't say complaint) that I wasn't talking enough about the Rangers and to stop spending so much time talking about the Coyotes.

First I got annoyed. It was very clear from the beginning - to me at least - that even though the Rangers logo appears and that the Rangers are #1 (in our hearts, not in the standings) that Natural Hat Trick Productions was always a hockey blog. A hockey blog with a Rangers flavor and favortism, but a hockey blog.

After the annoyance faded, I actual agreed on some level with the person who commented. I engage in A LOT of Coyote conversation. It's true. And the thought has crossed my mind that someone "following" me may be a little annoyed by it if they follow for "Ranger" or "NHL" news.

However, I can't apologize and I don't think it should have to change.

When the trade that rocked some of our worlds in March sent Petr Prucha - the like him, love him, don't care about him, but don't hate him bundle of energy - to the desert, my rooting interests changed. Or rather were added to.

I'm still a New York Rangers fan. But I had a player I cared about deeply go somewhere else. Somewhere you can't visit all the time. Somewhere that, with a BIG thanks to technology, you can only watch on TV and communicate about on the internet. Thankfully, it's still possible to root. To be a fan.

Thus I found a new team to follow. They don't replace the Rangers. Please. But I'm not one of those people that felt that you couldn't follow other teams when the Rangers weren't playing, or when they were not in the playoffs. I spent years following Dallas, San Jose, and the rest of those perennial playoff teams during the Rangers dark era. I did. And no regrets, and no apologies.

So why should there need to be apologies for spending evenings, late evenings, sometimes til 1am or beyond, chatting with people who like the Coyotes, like the Rangers and watch the Coyotes, or like both? Why? The greatest thing, besides the fact that "pepperpot" gets to play hockey (guess who was on during the last few minutes of a tie game? guess who was taking faceoffs last night?), is that it's opened up a whole new group of hockey friends to share the experience with.

If Prucha does not go to the Coyotes, I may root for them, hope well for them, but I do not watch them, I do not follow them so closely. He went, so I do. But it's really more than him. It is. I always respected Shane Doan. Don't know if it's possible not to. And I wanted well for the team. They are a fun team. A fun group of guys that, perhaps like Pete, did not get the chance to play somewhere else.

And they are doing a fantastic job there. Very enjoyable team to watch. They hustle, they support one another, they almost never back down from a game they are losing in. And I say what I am going to say next with love - they are more enjoyable to watch than the Rangers are right now.

If I'm apologizing for anything here, it's that with watching essentially every Rangers game and every Coyotes game, there has become little to no time for watching any OTHER team. And that does hurt. I have such a devoted interest to all hockey, and on a weekly basis there are many games I wish there was time to watch. I'm apologizing that the "Game of the Week" segment disappeared. I'm apologizing that the Flyers have fired their coach and I still have not seen them play a game yet this year! (Although that one may be on Versus a bit).

Before this "few minutes" gets to be more than it needs to be, the person who made the comment had a point. And while I will not stop at the late west coast hours chatting on twitter with fellow Rangers, Coyotes, and Prucha fans - my advice, btw, is to just ignore my twitter account during those late hours - I can make sure to add some more Rangers content to NHTProductions. Absolutely.

So to the random person who made the comment. Thank you. I won't apologize or change what I am doing regards the Coyotes, BUT, I'll be better about not forgetting my Rangers team either.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

HNIC Wrap-Up ~ 12/5/09. . .

Well what really else matters on Hockey Night in Canada if Jumbo Joe Thornton is going to be on After Hours~! =)

Seriously, if you like him or have no opinion on him, he's always a must-watch!

Granted, I'm assuming if you already hate him, his hilarious interviews will not change your opinion, but you never know...


This week started with a big shock - JUMBO JOE HAD A SHIRT ON! Joe Thornton NEVER wears a shirt during interviews. Shirts almost seem to repel from him. It's an odd phenomenon.

My best guess - not along PJ's lines about whether or not he worked out enough at Venice Beach topless - is that he got married. Perhaps his wife does not want him going shirtless on national TV anymore. He got married over the summer. I don't know but...


For the record, Joe and PJ played together in Boston and Joe calls him "one of his favorites of all times" as far as teammates go. Take that as you will.

PJ continues to express his disappointment that Joe is not shirtless and Joe promises next time he and Weeksie will go topless for the interview. (We'll see...)


Anyway, after PJ was done with his joking about Venice Beach and Joe's clothing or lack thereof, he asked a serious question. He listed the half dozen players Joe made a career of setting up (Setogucci, Cheechoo, Murray, Samsonov, Knuble, Guerin) and noted they were all righties, UNTIL Dany Heatley.

Joe thought it was a great question and he said he did have to change what he did and that he prefers setting up righties. Well until Dany Heatley that is.

We all know how well that is working so far for San Jose so no arguments yet.

Then After Hours sent PJ off for a "big beer" (Scott Oake: "He's got to rush because it's heading for last call at the Irish Embassy") and Joe off to...well, we're not sure.


Meanwhile in stepped Rob Blake. It was established:

* Blake scored around 2 of his career goals versus Kevin Weekes.

* He thinks the additions of guys like Manny Malhotra and Jed Ortmeyer were good ones to help fill in the puzzle in San Jose. (no argument here!)

* He made a point to sit and talk with Patrick Marleau when they knew that Blake would be taking the captain C after it was taken away from Marleau. Sounded like Marleau was ready to come and work hard and make it work, despite what obviously could have been an awkward situation.

* He's a "lousy doctor" but a "great hockey player"

* Actor James Caan is on his speed dial. And Ray Liotta trains with them sometimes.

* He can sing hip-hop lyrics when prompted.

* His son is a huge Joe Thornton fan so he was thrilled when his dad signed in San Jose!


That's it for this week. Good After Hours. Love when we get the random guests of non Canadian teams in there. San Jose is always a treat. That Thornton/Boyle one was priceless. I'll find a clip fo that one on a day I need a cheer up!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Five Things About the Rangers/Red Wings Game. . .

* How do the Rangers not score on ONE of their powerplays in the 3rd? How? The Rangers are actually VERY good on the powerplay at HOME. Detroit is LOUSY on the penalty kill on the ROAD. This does not fundamentally make sense!

* Detroit, despite not having all their players, is still Detroit. They can never be taken lightly. The Rangers played them well for most of the game. A shame, and a disappointment, they couldn't hold on.

* Word on the street (aka Twitter friends) is that Drury was so upset that he showed he has...get this - a pulse! By breaking his stick in frustration. My reaction to that. Umm - GOOD! (Well as long as you don't harm any teammates). Good. Show some emotion. Show - something! Make the team see that you, as "Captain Fun," do not think this is, (To lose that is.)

* On the way home, I heard the Detroit commentary of the Stuart hit on Anisimov. "He's a rookie. Hasn't learned yet. Ding dong." - Seriously. That's what the broadcasters say. "Ding dong." Poor Arti. Kid's been trying hard and he gets his bell rung twice in a week. Poor kid.

* I would call this, on the surface, the Rangers playing a good enough game, but not a good enough game for the full 60 minutes. Another partial effort. Howard made some saves, yes, but was he lights-out enough that the Rangers couldn't have gotten another goal, after having so many glorious powerplay opportunities? I would lean towards no.

This one is disappointing. It is. Not that all losses aren't, but this one was such an achievable win. To not get it, and to have it all fall apart, seemingly, in the end, that hurts a bit. Not going to get any easier in a very slow week as the Rangers battle Chicago on Wednesday. We'll see how they respond.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Five Things on the Rangers/Sabres Game. . .

* Due to technical difficulties with the satellite (ie: snow), I was not able to watch the first half of the game in its entirety (although Rangers fans kick butt for being so great as to send links to watch online! Thank you!). From what I did see though, that was a complete team effort. Supporting each other. Grinding. Moving. Skating. Passing. Pretty much doing what needed to be done to win. And they did.

* How important was it that Callahan and Higgins scored? These are two guys that many Rangers fans - and me too - expected to be able to pot around 20 goals easily this year. Easily has not been the case and even though there is plenty of the season to go, the Rangers have not scored in such a manner that would make me think that original assumption is still possible. BUT - if these guys can start to contribute more in any degree on the score sheet, the Rangers will benefit from it.

* Hank looked to have one of his more solid games than in the past handful. Honestly, I love the Rangers - I do! - but I did not think the Rangers stood much of a chance going into Buffalo on a Saturday night to play the red-hot Ryan Miller. I was proven wrong. Yes, the Rangers needed two goals to do it, but Hank kept them in the game with some nice saves.

* As much as the win was important, I think the way in which they played was more so. They need to play on the same page. They need to play as a team. And they need to do the little things. They are not "good enough" to just skate through the motions. They need to work and they need to work for a full 60 minutes. Last night was a good example of it, but sadly we've seen much to little of those games from them this year.

* With his assist on the Higgins goal, Marian Gaborik has scored points in 23 of his 26 games as a Ranger. Seriously? The guy is simply unreal.

That is all. Rangers quick turnaround to play Detroit at home in just under 5 hours. Enjoy the game everyone!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Yotes: From the Flames Game Day. . .

Just to please the masses:

Prucha got the Coyotes first goal of the night en route to a 2-1 win. His goal broke a recent shutout streak by the recently very impressive Kiprusoff!

We're happy for you Pru! =)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Five Things on the Rangers/Penguins Game. . .

I so should be sleeping right now, but...

* How good did Christopher Higgins, PA Parenteau and Artem Anisimov look together in their first few shifts? Now, how sad that didn't seem to last much beyond that?

* My grandmother asked me if the coach was changing lines as much as Renney was last year? I said perhaps not quite as much, but she had a point, one we've all made at one time or another. I know the Rangers do not have much to work with, but they seem to take every line that seemingly has or will ever have chemistry and tear it apart. Worse in Tortorella's case is because he has "feelings" for some players, he will pull them from the lineup, sit them on the bench, play them minimal minutes. Well that all further disrupts any chemistry that may be going on with those or other lines. Again, I'm all for accountability but I'm thinking it's something else that has to change.

* This morning Mike Ross on Hockey This Morning/XM204 and Larry Brooks in the Post both said the same thing. It's Tortorella's responsibility to get this team going in the right direction. To get them on one page, one page where they know what effort is expected of them. Where they come to play. He can't control what they do on the ice, whether they win or lose, score or don't score, but he can help control the way in which they do it. I think we'd all be a lot happier if they were playing hard and winning, but honestly, I'll take playing hard at this point. And playing hard so we all can say, damn, they got robbed. Not playing hard so they can just say that they did but we can't notice as fans.

* While I'm mentioning Tortorella, how about Captain Fun? Everyone has to take accountability for how they approach the game and individual work ethic, yes. But if we're placing blame on Torts, we have to blame some on Captain Mumbles too. We can belabour (sp?) the point over and over that he's a great 3rd line center being paid 1st line center marquee player money. BUT really what we should be concerned about - more concerned about - is that this group turned from a group of fun players into a bunch of mindless drones. Again! And this time they actually have personality to squash! The captain needs to get the players motivated. Get them angry. Get them to show - anything. Once again, I'm just not seeing enough of that.

* Lastly, as much as I love to see Gaborik score goals (#20 and #21 on the season tonight), it's becoming all the more sad to see him do so. Sad you ask, why? Because it's becoming all the more obvious that he's the only one that can, truly can score goals. And if not the only one that can, the only one that will. Worse? It's being wasted. Not to get into the Jagr/Gaborik debate, but when Jagr had his season of all seasons here, he was playing well, the team was playing well, and more than just he was contributing. With Gaborik, no one else seems to be playing the same game. Yes, part of that is blamed on youth, and bad pieces, and bad game plan, but all of it makes me sad. Gaborik came to New York for many reasons. I doubt he came to be what's turning into a one man show.

Rangers have four big days off before the next game. I do need a break from this, but I'm very scared to see what they throw out this coming weekend.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

HNIC Wrap-Up ~ November 28, 2009. . .

Sorry these have been few and far between. Not my intention and as many people HNIC is an important part of Saturday night and one I gladly partake in when I am home.

So as to not jump back (at least not now) - I'll just move forward.

Yesterday's Inside Hockey had an interview with Rick Nash, his agent, coach Ken Hitchcock, and the GM of Columbus, Scott Howson. And a testament to a young player that truly gets what "team" means.

He took less money than he would have commanded on the open market to stay in Columbus. But he and his agent were on the same page. He wanted to stay in Columbus, he wanted to be a player the city - a city of no other professional teams - could rally around.

Any other teams he wanted to play for? He grew up a Maple Leafs fan, so he always wanted to wear the Maple Leaf.

"Luckily for me I grew up playing with the Marlies, so I already had that," Rick said.

Hitchcock was pleased and both he and Howson feel it helped bring other players to the team, after news was out that Rick had been locked up to a long term deal.

Hitchcock said Rick's signing became a feeling for the hockey community of "what's right with Columbus" rather than "what's wrong with Columbus."

The strongest testament again to Rick's team first attitude.

"At the end of the day Columbus is just too good of a city and I'm a loyal guy."

Good for him, and great for Columbus.

If you have 5 minutes, check it out here.

What Has Happened to the Rangers. . .?

We at NHTProductions have decided to take a break from the Five Things, because, well, essentially I'm not sure there are five points I can make about this team at this juncture. Instead, we'll try to see where this team got derailed.

Because, it's disheartening really - when you look at what the facts are presenting. Ignore the decline that was coming, for the moment. Look only back to Monday. A team that was in desperate need of a big effort got it. They scored, in bunches, and were able to do something a Rangers team has not done in quite a while - come back from a two goal deficit.

Their next effort was one of those play 'em close games, where the Rangers played much of it with only five defensemen, before going down to four during the final frame. A close affair, an unlucky goal allowed the tie, but they were able to hold down in OT and win in the shootout.

Friday night's game was the one where the car started to visibly shake. The alignment was off somehow. True, they were playing with (arguably) five young defensemen, including three rookies. But they were playing a Tampa team that has not looked super sharp in the early going. Vinny (oh poor Vinny) Lecavalier has not even looked like he realizes the season has started. And yet, super sophomore Stamkos breaks his four game scoreless streak against the NYRs, and notorious Rangers killer St. Louis pockets three assists, en route to a 5-1 drubbing. I'll be honest - that's not how I saw it playing out.

Last night's game, which I'll be honest, I watched in small intervals once the Penguins scored two quick to go up 3-1, was when car stopped shaking and the wheels fell off entirely. I feel bad for Valiquette, because unless he hasn't been "cheering" enough from the bench these last handful of games, he's really had no fault in this team going on their tailspin. Yet last night they dragged him right in.

The Rangers team had those five young defensemen and Rozsival. I'd be confident against them too. With no disrespect to the youth. Box score states that Staal and Sanguinetti were somehow able to be a +1 in this blech-fest.

Ignoring the defense themselves for a moment, what about defensive responsibility. Games that get totally out of control like this (remember, we've seen them from the other side, because that's pretty much what DID happen to Columbus in the Rangers super win last Monday and goodness knows the Rangers know how that feels) - I don't know what to think about them. I mean credit the fact that they were able to somehow score 3 goals, by defensemen ironically, but there is a major team disconnect that allows such bleeding to take place unchecked.

Again, as an isolated incident - a bad game, all teams have them - it's fine. But the second game in a row where your team is outscored so badly. Yet another game in a long line of disconnect games. That's disappointing. And that says more about this team than most of us want to admit.

I mean surely we don't want to take from the surface - and we can - that the reason the team has lost the last two games so glaringly is because Drury has returned and Redden is out of the lineup.

Surely we don't want to believe that as fact.

So it must be some other reason. Some other more plausible reason.

If I may hazzard a guess. This team, despite how close they are and how much more entertaining they were (at times) versus last year, is still not very good. Not very good at scoring. Not very good at keeping with a game plan - whatever it may be. Not very good at stopping the bleeding. Not very good at sticking up for one another (small incidents to the contrary aside).

And the players that were good last year (seemingly al year) - Callahan, Staal, Hank - have all struggled at times.

The players that were bad - Redden - have turned it around, if not to become good and certainly not great, but to become decent to steady.

Something weird is going on in Rangerland. Something very weird.

I thought I was dreading the Monday Columbus game after the non-effort versus Florida last weekend? Well, after this weekend's double dose of disappointment, I am really, REALLY not looking forward to the Penguins coming into the Garden tomorrow.

Not at all.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Five Things About the Rangers/Lightning Game...

Okay, I'm going to be honest here, part of me really wants to suspend the "Five Things" when the Rangers give up five goals and "play" as badly as they did. But we'll give it a go...

* The Rangers played a game last night. Seriously? Did someone tell them that?

* Tortorella called this the worst game of the season. I couldn't continue watching it with the interest I would if the Rangers were actually playing, so I'm not sure, but I'd have to think he was right.

* What a sad first NHL game for NJ native Bobby Sanguinetti. Although he played over 16 minutes, took a shot, and was only a -1 for all the damage, so I only mean sad for the sake of the result, not for his effort in it.

* Why does, with the exception of that game vs Tampa early last season when Voros fought him, Mike Smith always seem to look brilliant when I see him play. He's 4-4-4 in games played with a .892 Save % and 3.17 GAA, but yet when I see him, he's always looking sharp. Why is that?

* I think I expected they'd start Valiquette in Pittsburgh on Saturday BEFORE the game got away. Now I think they have to. I'm not saying Hank was the reason it went wrong last night, but...I think he needs a break with the back part of the home and home on Monday.

And a bonus question - with a Washington/Montreal game going as well tonight, how long do I give the Rangers before I turn the game off if it goes badly?

It's a good question. Hopefully the Rangers do their part and I won't need to answer it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Five Things on the Rangers/Panthers Game. . .

First of all, I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Even though I caught up on some games (like the Calgary/Coyotes game that had more former Rangers than I could count - Prucha, Korpikoski, Sjostrom, Lundmark, and Dawes (GWG) and the Canucks/Kings tilt), I apparently didn't find myself time to update the blog. ;)

* Does anyone else remember last year's Thanksgiving Eve? (Well, alcohol may or may not have played a factor in that...) The Rangers played Tampa, they led the game late, gave up the tying goal with less than a minute to go to St. Louis, and then won in a shootout. Thankfully. This Thanksgiving Eve, the Rangers played Florida, led the game late, gave up the tying goal to Moore, and then won in a shootout. Thankfully. Only difference was 3-2 SHW a year ago, and a 2-1 SHW this year. If the Rangers beat Tampa Bay tonight in a shootout (as they did Thanksgiving Friday against Florida last year) we'll really see history repeating itself.

* Who is not thankful for P.A. Parenteau. The guy said he wanted to come up and stay up this time around and he's doing everything to be considering for that. Two deciding goals in the Rangers only two shootout appearances this season. Can't ask for more than that. And did you see Tortorella's grin after he scored? It was like, damn, this kid. He was right.

* Gaborik scored a goal, on the powerplay, for the Rangers? You don't say. No, honestly here. It was smart movement on the PP all around. And a very smart tip by Gaborik. Not that we should be surprised anymore with his talent. But we're happy to continue to see it displayed. The goal was Gaborik's league leading 19th and currently has him in a tie for points, at 33, with Thornton and Kopitar.

* It's always nice to see a player defend his teammate. Even nicer when it's someone you may not have expected. Matt Gilroy, seeing Prospal hit by the same player whose hit took out Redden early in the game, jumped in for his first career fight. He took 17 minutes in penalties, but the message was clear - don't mess with our guys. Great to see from the young guy. But why can't everybody be so willing to defend their own?

* Because it's Thanksgiving time and there isn't much else to talk about here, why not give a quick rundown of what or who I am most thankful for on the Rangers 2 months into the season:

- Gaborik, Gaborik, Gaborik. If there's a Rangers fan that is not thankful for this guy, I'd love to know it. He scores, sometimes the Rangers only goals. He PKs, even though we sometimes wish he wouldn't. He playmakes. He does it all and in a way that makes you think it's effortless. A priceless talent. Very thankful for him.

- Del Zotto and Gilroy. Again, I can not express to you, after years and years and years where the Rangers had no youth or no defensive anything, besides stopgaps, how wonderful it is to have two (really four) players that are OURS. Two players that are young, are ours, and are good. This isn't discounting Girardi and Staal (my favorite player how has struggled this year but has looked better as of late) but Del Zotto and Gilroy have hardly seemed to struggle to settle in. It's remarkable really. Just do the job and do it well. Del Zotto's offense is just icing on the cake. It's been a long time for something like that.

- Hank. I can't go through a thankful list without mentioning the goalie. No, he's not perfect. At some moments he's very pedestrian. But on a scale, overall, he's been able to do things other goalies have not. Play with as much consistency in his first years in the league as to be recognized as one of the best. Play with as much talent as necessary to keep what has been a very low scoring (after the Jagr years) and defensively challenged team in playoff contention. He may not be perfect. But take Hank out of the equation, this team has not been a playoff team for all four years. No way.

Enjoy the games this weekend!! Again, I think we can all agree to be thankful for the greatest game of all - hockey! I know I am.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Five Things About the Rangers/Blue Jackets Game. . .

* Who were those guys and what did they do with the Rangers? You may think I'm being all "haha" but no, I'm serious. Who were those guys? I haven't seen them in. . . well, in a long time.

* Important not just that the Rangers scored 7 - count 'em 7 goals - last night, but important in who scored them. One, a recently struggling and seemingly unhappy Sean Avery, and two, defensemen Gilroy and Del Zotto - both who had been off the score sheet for much too long. For the Rangers to win, the defense has to contribute, not just in their own end, but with points as well. Not meaning to forget about Parenteau and Anisimov - both had career highs in points with 2 and 3 respectively. An important night for contributions all around. A real team effort. And Christopher Higgins didn't look too bad on the top line with Gaborik (2G, 2A) and Prospal, did he now?

* The fact that they won was almost a side story to how they won. And I don't even mean the 7 goals. Whatever Tortorella said - and even if he did indeed just say breathe, there's a lot more hockey left to play - that deserves credit. Credit him for knowing what to say to get the team to get back to playing a go-go-go game. And credit the players for actually looking alive and doing so. This was much needed and it had been much, MUCH, too long since they had played this way.

* Del Zotto's goal was pretty. There's still something about a defenseman making a play like that that just makes you feel there is something right in the world.

* Speaking of special defensemen, think the Rangers will try to have Brian Leetch do TV work at all their games? He brought them luck, he helped them win. Heck he even was around for when the Sean Avery (2) and Marian Gaborik scored three goals in 111 seconds, the fastest three goals by the Rangers since Theo Fleury, Sandy McCarthy, and Brian Leetch himself did it back in 2001.

I am sure Hank didn't love the game and giving up four goals, but man. After not having seen so much as a sniff of goal scoring in what was weeks, feels like months, I'll take it. Every time. Columbus is not a bad team. They just couldn't stop the bleeding.

And if anyone knows how that goes, the Rangers are surely among them.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Five Things About the Rangers/Panthers Game. . .

This is going to be rough, because honestly, I'm not sure what to say that hasn't been said:

* If you missed it, the Rangers pre-game showed a great interview with Adam Graves and spokesperson for the NHLPA Goals and Dreams organization Rob Zamuner. Zamuner talked about visiting Bosnia, and how people would never realize how hockey has reached everywhere, even that war-torn corner of the world. Great stuff. Really great stuff. On NHTP favorite PJ Stock, his fellow spokesperson, he said:

"We were roommates in Boston. I'm glad he's gone and he's back home. We'll catch up with him tomorrow, but he was outstanding with the kids. Every tour needs a clown and he was ours."

* Speaking of...well. Anyone else surprised that Avery didn't get a goaltender interference penalty when he tangled with Vokoun last night. Not saying he either deserved it or didn't but, some restraint by the referee in not calling him for it. And some sarcasm by the author of this blog right there.

* Gaborik scored his 16th goal of the season which ties him with Alex Ovechkin for 2nd in the league, two behind Dany Heatley. Ho-hum, Gaborik scored again. Ho-hum, he's the only one that can. Seriously, what would the Rangers do without Gaborik? I argue they'd have won half as many games - at least.

* The Rangers took their patented second period nap in this game, but to me, they didn't look awake at all. Sure it wasn't the worst snoozefest of the year or recent past, but it was close. It's bad enough they are not winning, not scoring, but do they have to do it with such lifelessness? Callahan, once always a factor, has been a non-factor more than he's been one. Half the team seriously looks invisible. You ask me what any player did on the ice last night, save Gaby and Hank, and Prospal, and I really can't answer you.

* On that note, the Rangers team has too many passengers, not enough drivers. (Somehow I think I just referenced something from my college Leadership class - um, scary). They finally have a game changer again - thankfully- but they are wasting him by having almost every other person go idly by. No one was particularly bad in last night's game, but no one was particularly good either. And it's not good enough. The Rangers will continue to lose if they do not put forth a better effort. And that's what hurts the most. Yes, Captain-Fun is gone and Dubi is out, but how come Florida was able to win the game with three American Hockey League players in their lineup? The Rangers look like a disheveled and disinterested mess!

Someone, stop the bleeding - please!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Follow NHLPA Goals and Dreams 10 Countries in 10 Days Trip. . .

Goals and Dreams is a fantastic cause supported by the NHLPA and currently they are involved in a trip to 10 Countries in 10 Days to give away hockey equipment to continue to expand the sport of hockey.

Personal favorite PJ Stock and Rob Zamuner lead the group, and meet up with many former NHL players (and NYR players) along the way including Markus Naslund, Martin Straka, and Martin Ruchinsky.

Enjoy these clips and look for more here courtesy of the NHLPA.

Some of my favorites:

DAY ONE: (Naslund/Forsberg)

DAY ONE: (Naslund)

DAY TWO: (Tikkanen)

DAY FIVE: (Stock as Professional)

DAY FIVE: (Straka)

DAY SEVEN: (Stocker coaching kids)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Five Things About the Rangers/Capitals Game. . .

Another game, another loss. Please don't tell me this is how the home stand is going to unfold.

* For the first 10-or-so minutes of this game, the Rangers were flying. They were go-go-going in the manner we envisioned Torts pushing them to go. They won battles, put pressure on, kept the puck in Washington's zone. As wonderful as it was to see, it was just as evident that it was so rare to see from this team as of late.

* At the Garden tonight they showed a really great clip montage of vintage Rangers clips meshed with current Rangers clips. Whoever thought of that - very good idea. You could tell many fans at the Garden were watching and saying, hmm, this is new, this is cool.

* In the 2nd period, the Rangers normal "nap" period, they actually pressed the puck. I'd guess they had no less than 6 takeaways. Which is something I hadn't noticed before, so I'm going to go with - this is something they don't normally do. Getting to those loose puck battles, standing up and taking the puck away from someone on the Capitals unexpectedly.

* Gaborik has a special something. It should have - and was - evident in every single game so far, it would seem, but yet tonight, with his two goals, it was incredibly obvious. If you are a goalie, you almost can't see his shot. He's that quick. But my favorite thing about Gaborik, a quarter into the season, is the way he is able to pick up a puck. A puck is coming to him, and he has one hand on the stick to pick it up, without any bit of effort, and he slides so easily into his motion of - making a play, a pass, a shot. The way he appears to be barely holding on to the hockey stick, and yet he can make such fluid motions. It's really something. It really is.

* Such a disappointing loss tonight. Really. You have your guy - let's face it, your ONLY guy, score two goals, to keep you in a game that perhaps, you shouldn't have been in, and you manage to lose the tie with less than five minutes to go. Very depressing. They didn't play badly, but they didn't play well enough to win.

The Rangers have three days off before Florida comes to the Garden on Saturday. We'll see how they rebound. I don't even know what to expect to expect.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Mystery of Sean Avery. . .

First of all I feel pretty badly that I've been so busy trying to watch all the
Rangers and Coyotes games, in addition to my real job and trying to have a life - an other than hockey life ;) - that the blog is much darker than it was to start last season or that I'd like it to be.

Perhaps part of that is how much more there was to talk about
last year - with the record sertting start, to the dismal decline, to the
boring play, to the lack of personality of the players.

Actually, now that I'm listing things, this is sounding a lot like last year on the surface.

Well, with personality that is.

Anyway if you read this blog you know I don't do the Xs and Os thing. There are so many more bloggers that do this and do this well. So instead what you get from me is creative rambling.

Why you haven't gotten that thus far is because - ignoring time constraints that is - I honestly have no more answers than the rest of you.

Which brings us to a topic I can ramble readily about -

Reader Luke mentioned it in the comments here on NHTP. Carp on Rangers Report mentioned it after the Vancouver game two weeks ago. It was a Milbury, McLean, Hrudey conversation on HNIC two Saturday's ago . And Larry Brooks finally out right wrote about it in today's NY Post.

The topic at hand, you ask.

Just what the heck is up with Sean Avery?

First let's break down all the possible things that can be causing Sean Avery to be the anti-Sean Avery.

- He's still playing hurt and either playing through it or not being honest about it.

- He is playing timid because Tortorella has pressured him to do that.

- He is playing timid because he is afraid he can't be the real Sean Avery without punishment from referees.

- He has something personal going on and doesn't have his head in the game.


Now, let's analyze:

Option ONE -

None of us can speak to. I have no more information than you. I
would only hope that if he were injured he'd man up, say so, and take the time to get healthy.

Option TWO -

Tortorella seemed to deny this by his CBC comments and in the Brooks'
article today.

Tortorella got on HNIC when the Rangers were up in Toronto and said that he and Avery had a good relationship and were on the same page.

In Brook's article Tortorella is quoted:

"It's very important for the club for Sean to show his personality," Tortorella told The Post. "I think there are a lot of people around the club and who follow the club who think that the coaching staff is holding Sean back from being who he is.

"That is not the case. I want and we want Sean to be who he is. And he knows that, I guarantee you that he knows that. We've talked to Sean. It's not only the coaches. Everyone in the organization has told Sean that he needs to show his personality out there."

So it would seem, and we would hope, that this is the case.

Option THREE -

When Sean came back last March and started his second stint with the Rangers few could deny he got some unfair treatment by the referees. Things that were very marginal got called because they were committed by #16 in blue, not because they were actually cut and dry penalties.

That isn't to say that Sean didn't earn any of his own penalties or that he was always a target, but it's hard to say he wasn't treated differently. Whether you agree or disagree that he did (or that he deserved it) will probably tell which side of the Sean Avery line you fall on.

The culmination of this "situation" happened in the Rangers first round playoff series versus the Capitals. After a game of four penalties, two of them marginal, in game 3, and 2 penalties in the closing minutes of game 4, Tortorella did the thing everyone wondered if he'd do - he benched Sean Avery for game 5. The Rangers slept through most of Avery's suspended game, and Sean returned a quiet man in Game 6. Sean's best game of the playoffs, and perhaps his renewed Ranger career, came in Game 7, where he skated on the Rangers best line and looked fantastic.

But since the season started and Sean returned from injury (he missed the Rangers first four games of the season), he has not looked at all like the Sean we've known. He had six points in his first 7 games (4 wins and 3 losses in that order), and has had no points in his last 8.

As for penalties, he was called for none in his first 4 games back. He's taken 19 penalty minutes in his 15 games, but that included a five minute fighting major versus NJ on October 22nd.

Surely doesn't appear that he's been getting called as much as he was - although one boarding call was pretty absurd - but that doesn't mean he still isn't playing scared. The league has painted him as a villian. Chances are he still remembers that.

Option FOUR -

- Is Sean distracted? As much as he loved playing in New York, is he over it? Is he over hockey? Is his mind on something else?

Again, only he can answer this but this is the one option I'll be very disappointed in knowing is the right one. Not everyone gets second chances, in the city and for the team they love. Sean is not evil and he doesn't deserve all the crap he endures - at least I don't believe he does - but he owes it to me, and all the others who support him, to be trying with all he has, every single night.



Now, we may never be able to truly answer the question and pick an option, but I can say this much.

For Sean to be effective he needs to be aggressive. Smart but aggressive. I haven't
seen that yet from him this year. He's played too safe, definitely too safe. And when he's trying to please other people, rather than be himself, he is just not right.

So, if I had to take a guess, I'd say it's option number three we are looking at. For some reason Sean is playing scared, and not being who he can be, who he needs to be. Now, perhaps he is scared Tortorella will not support him if he goes too far in the other direction, afraid he'll be called for too many penalties (a very real risk), and he just doesn't know how to balance that fear.

Sean also, it seems, hasn't had the opportunity to work through it all that much. In the loss in Montreal, he'd have his season high ice time of 18:45. His season low - a mere 5:56 in Edmonton on November 5th. The less effective he is, the less he'll play, as per Tortorella.

However, this was a guy that "potentially" was coming into the season to play with Gaborik and Dubinsky. That may have been tried in the ever-changing switcharoos, but it didn't last.

Sean, when he's been in NY, has played best when he's playing first or second line minutes, with guys of speed and/or talent.

Sean's greatest assets are his skating, his ability to get the puck to where it needs to be, and his work around the back of the net as a setup guy. I haven't seen these things in enough abundancy this year. I fear in addition to whatever fear it is he has, that his lack of production may also be a result of who he is playing with.

I felt, I think rightly so, that Sean could get 15-20 goals this year. But if and only IF he is playing with the right players. But it seems no one on New York that isn't Gaborik, Prospal or Kotalik is the right players - for scoring that is. Not sure where that leaves Sean.


The bottom line is that Sean needs to be the player he can be. He really does. One, for himself, two, for the team, and three, to prove some of his critics wrong. He can't fix everything that's happened. No one expects him to. But if Sean is every able to make the best of his second chance, it's by being a good teammate, and an effective teammate.

It was pointed out, by Milbury in fact, that Sean looked disinterested. Well a disinterested Sean is essentially a useless Sean. He needs to be involved. The Rangers need him to be involved.

Larry Brook's in today's article said,

"This Avery might even get Gary Bettman's seal of approval."

If that doesn't tell you just how far off the right path Sean is, I don't know what will.

What I want, what the team NEEDS, is to have the REAL Sean Avery here, in New York playing for the Rangers. What I want, what the team NEEDS, is to see Sean Avery smiling again.

Even though you never know exactly what he's smiling about, Sean Avery is just so much more likeable when he's smiling, no?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Five Things About the Rangers/Senators Game. . .

* I tried to watch the Rangers defensemen more closely. Thought Redden had a good start to the game in terms of offensive movement. Chipping the puck, a few nice little passes, smart plays at the blue line and neutral zone. As the game went on, he had a few more. This is the most composed I've seen him in a while AND he was in Ottawa. Interesting.

* In case you were late getting back for the 3rd period, MSG announced that Prospal's shorthanded goal was the ONLY shorthanded goal of his career. Kinda seems hard to believe, but I don't know how much PK time he had in Tampa, I'll be honest. And as much as I have to hold my breath everytime Gaborik is on the ice down a man, this is a benefit of having him there - the chance to get some offense. The Rangers used to get a lot of shorties when the Czechmates like Dvorak and Nedved were on PK duty.

* This team has serious offensive problems. They can't seem to buy a goal. Earlier in the season the Rangers had a bunch of scoring from defensemen which made their totals look better (they were leading the league in goals scored for a whlie) but it seems everyone has stopped scoring at once. Except for...well, the guys that always do - Gaborik and Prospal. Them and whomever is called up for the game from Hartford.

* Can someone tell me where the team that was supposed to go-go-go went to? I know the Rangers usually take a winter nap in November or December, but there is little excuse when this team doesn't hit, doesn't skate, and doesn't play with some level of tenacity. I find it hard to believe Tortorella is happy with the effort in that regard. As a fan, I'm not happy with the way they've regressed.

* One sign these aren't last year's Rangers - it's almost American Thanksgiving and this was their first shootout game. Congrats to P.A. Parenteau for getting the deciding goal in the skills contest, in front of his family and friends. Good for him and he (and Hank) stole the Rangers two points tonight.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Five Things About the Thrashers/Rangers Game. . .

Another game, another loss. 2 in a row for the Blueshirts. =(

* The Rangers giving up the two very, very quick goals to Atlanta (like, oops, blink, they scored again, goals) reminded me of last year. It really did. Never a good thing. Good teams need to know how to focus and stop the bleeding.

* Gaborik's goal was - nice. I wasn't even sure who shot it at first, but given the reaction and the fact that it, umm, went in the net, you had to be 90% sure who it was. Guy has a special talent. Shame the Rangers don't have 4 more of him.

* Props to Cally for sticking up for himself after that hit. I don't know much of Zach Bogosian, probably due to his being injured last year and playing for, umm, Atlanta, but they had a nice little tangle. If no one else is going to do the dirty work, I'm happy Cally did it himself. (A little like Doan, although immediate in reaction). He had a fired up game, Cally did. I thought to myself, he looks better than he has in recent games. I noticed him more. Drury absense = better Cally?

* During a TV time out, Boyle stood with referee Kerry Fraser and talked for quite a bit, getting an explaination of his tripping penalty. Sometimes you catch it and sometimes you don't, but this was a lengthy conversation. At first glace, which is all I really had, it looked relatively harmless, but you are responsible for your skate, no?

* Rangers scored 3, which was a big plus over these one goal showings, but still fell apart at the wrong times. A few bad penalties. A second period nap. And they couldn't rebound. Disappointing, because even though Hedberg often beats the Rangers, this game probably was a should have won game.

Who wants a real blog entry? I do! Special events aside. I want a real blog entry on the Rangers. So, coming this weekend. Something more than "Five Things" - something deeper on the red, white, and blue. Looking forward to it.

I just hope I keep my word. ;)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Congratulations To My Favorite Player on the Eve of His HHOF Induction. . .

My favorite hockey player is being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame tonight. My favorite player - ever.

I don't think many of us - I certainly didn't - knew just how blessed we were to get to watch someone like him play, night in, night out. How his style of play, his work ethic, his quiet demeanor, would so deeply affect the team while he was on it and make us all, over five and a half years after his departure, still long for those days as if they were yesterday.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm talking about Brian Leetch, my favorite player. Arguably - and yes, a very, very good argument can be made - the best Rangers player. Ever.

If he's not the best player ever to don the red, white, and blue, surely he's among the best. No one dare argue that.

The man of relatively few words off of it, Leetch never failed to make every statement while on the ice. The way he was able to lead a rush and get back, effortlessly, flawlessly - you just don't see that anymore. I get a odd sense of bittersweet joy when I remember it even today. Joy because he was simply that good, and bittersweet because he couldn't play forever.

Speaking of joys, I truly consider it one of my greatest joys that I was a Rangers fan and able to watch someone of Leetch's, in ways unparalleled, talent play for my favorite team. Players like him do not come along every day. If you are a Rangers fan, until recent seasons perhaps, you were still waiting for a decent to semi-good defensemen, let alone one that could be described as great, spectacular, marquee, and yes, homegrown.

For I would have loved Brian Leetch if he were from any country. I seriously would have. But it gave me satisfaction to know that Brian was both mine, as a Rangers fan, and mine, as an American. It was a great source of pride. Someone that it can be argued was one of the best defensemen to ever play in the game - from any country - and he was born in Texas, and raised in the New England area.

The American roots would be intertwined with him forever, for more than just two reasons, but never for more than these two.

- Brian Leetch was the first American born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. I would imagine he will not be the only American to ever win the award, but 15 years later, he is still the only one.

- Brian Leetch captained the greatest American hockey team to come together in our lifetime. I still get chills thinking about the 1996 World Cup. I've seen exciting hockey, but I certainly have not seen as exciting hockey played on an international stage. Certainly not with the Americans coming out on top. What a series. And Leetch was very much a part of that.

When looking back on Brian's remarkable career - and remarkable doesn't even begin to do justice to the guy so often overlooked because while he was graceful and smooth, he wasn't flashy - the only disappointment I can name is that it didn't end in New York. If anyone - anyone - deserved to retire a Ranger, it was Brian Leetch. He's not over it, understandably, and we can't go back, but as much as the disappointment is there, I think it's now been buried far enough. Buried under all the wonderful memories of the player that Brian was, and the person he still is.

I could probably go on about Brian Leetch forever, but instead I think I'll let his former teammate, Mike Richter, speak for me, just this once.

"There's only going to be one Brian Leetch," said Richter. "He was not just great, he was unique in the way he was great. You know what? I really miss watching him play."

So do I, Ricky. So do I.

Congratulations, Brian Leetch, and thank you.

#2 Forever.

Five Things About the Rangers/Flames Game. . .

Alright, admittedly, I did not see much of this game apart from the 3rd period. I apologize, but I think I used the Rangers west coast trip as a much needed break time. As much as we all love the game, we do all need a break from time to time, realize it or not at the time. It's been a busy start to the year on a work/personal level, and trying to keep up with two teams has been hard at times. So worth it, but difficult. So another fractured group of random thoughts...

* Some called this Rangers game one of the best efforts of the season. I sure hope so. Injuries to Dubinsky and Drury in addition to an already ailing Brashear, will cause more substitutions to be made. Here's hoping whoever is called up has as good of games as Parenteau and Byers had in their call up games.

* Former Ranger Nigel Dawes got 3 - count-em, 3 - assists against his former club. I haven't seen as much of Calgary as I'd have liked to, and usually do, but Nigel seems to be playing pretty well for them. Remember, even though Renney called him a playmaker, I still hold true to the fact that he's got a better shot. He can be a goal scorer if he doesn't forget how to shoot on the net.

* There's been talk of why someone didn't stick up for Drury after the hit by Glencross. That reminds me of when Zherdev got his nose broken in the "chew-toy" game in Dallas back in February, and pretty much everyone stood idly by, except for one (it may have been Dubinsky). If we thought there'd have been a lot of players on this team that would have played the role, perhaps we were mistaken. Although two of those that may have probably had good reason not to. Byers, coming off his one game suspension, and Avery, just probably treading very carefully so as to not breathe on anyone wrong given what happened last time he was Calgary.

* As much as we don't like to see Hank injured, it's nice to have Valiquette come in and play two strong games in back to backs. Even though the Rangers only got one win in three games, you'd have to say that minus the injuries, this Western swing looked miles better than last time they made the trip, no?

* Long break for the Rangers could be a good chance to rest some tired bodies. I'll be curious to see how they respond against a team in Atlanta that is better than I thought they'd be. I can just see that young goalie Ondrej Pavelec stopping 40 shots against us. If the Rangers were to get their season high and shoot 40 times, that is.

Fun Fact: If Pavelec's place of birth in Kladno, Czech Republic sounds familiar, it's because it's the same as Jaromir Jagr's.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Five Things About the Rangers/Oilers Game. . .

(Note, didn't see the whole game tonight, so these will be really simple, random thoughts. What? You always get simple, random thoughts here? Hmmmm. I try.)

* Christopher Higgins follows up his first goal of the season on Tuesday with his second goal of the season in the very next game. Is this just a breathing the Western Canadian air thing, or will he bring it back to the States with him next week?

* Three, count-em, three power play goals on the night. How refreshing the powerplay is working again. How refreshing to see guys like Gaborik, Prospal, Kotalik, and Del Zotto on it. I still have nightmares from last year sometimes, so the reminder that those days are over is nice.

* As much as part of me loathes the man for what he did in his final season here, Tom Renney will get a moment of thanks from me for what he did in the years previous. Yes, Jagr and Hank carried that team, but Renney was the right coach for the team coming out of the lockout. It's just a shame that no one seemed to realize any sooner last year, that such was no longer the case.

* Anyone shocked that Renney and Jagr want to potentially re-unite the perfect relationship they shared in New York in Edmonton next season? Jagr was the dominating force he could be when healthy and Renney stood back and let him do it. If we are so lucky, it will be great to see Jagr return to the league, because yes, he is good enough. More than good enough. As for Renney, I'm kinda pretty happy the Rangers only play Edmonton once a year, for his sake, and ours.

* I was just going to comment last game on how Callahan was really having a slow start to the season and to add to Carp's thoughts (at Rangers Report, #2) where he asked where he had been, noting relative invisibility, when along Callahan comes and scores a pretty goal. This guy doesn't need to score (although after a 20+ goal campaign last year, we were all expecting him to do that more), but he needs to be effective in other ways. Goodness knows he always hustles and hits, but I have to question whether "Captain Fun" is dragging him down a bit.

Important win for the NYRs. A win in Calgary on Saturday would really help make the Rangers (and me) feel good before a 4 day hiatus. We'll see how that goes...

Five Things About the Rangers/Canucks Game. . .

I know this is days late (and dollars short surely) but...

* I know it was only 4 games in betwen there, but I can't believe the Rangers haven't won in Vancouver since October 11, 1997. That may as well have been another lifetime ago.

* How long a lifetime ago, you ask? That was Messier's first game versus the NYRs after the Vancouver exodus. And that night also marked the last regular season hat trick (#50) of the Great One's career. See, lifetime ago.

* I hate to say, but the melee that occurred early in the third It was fun to see that sense of old time hockey which is rare. Ironic it all happened during a line change, but that made it even more exciting. Sad that this was the most exciting part of the game, but the Rangers did not do their part to help that.

* The Rangers undiscplined play and lack of goal scoring continued. The end of the game proved that. They had a chance to really use the melee as a jumping-off point, and they chose to self-combust instead. Again.

* A shame it was in a loss, but congrats to Christopher Higgins for goal #1 as a New York Ranger!

Monday, November 2, 2009

HNIC Wrap-Up ~ October 31, 2009. . .

Again, belated, so apologies for that. Lots of hockey this Saturday night.

Hockey Tonight's Inside Hockey talked about goal masks, something very important this weekend for more than a few reasons, but something I've always had a unique interest in. (Childhood favorite - Stephane Fiset's "ice blocks.") They're just fun to look at.

The end of Inside Hockey showcases this guy who does over 80 masks a year, some commissioned by NHL players. During the show, he shared one for Carey Price. For Rememberance Day, it showcases poppies, pinning a wreath, the Canadian flag, and the poem Flander's field. Looks amazing. Even better, Carey Price, when he's done, will auction it off for money to help wounded soldiers. Find out more at


On After Hours, the guest to speak of (no disrespect to Steve Yzerman, Red Wings great, that is) was Rene Bourque.

Before Saturday night, the only thing I knew about Rene Bourque was that he was the player whose neck was sliced open by Nik Zherdev's skate blade, when Rene was with Chicago, and Nik was a Blue Jacket.

Thanks to segments like After Hours, I now know a lot more about Bourque, and can think of some good things instead of remembering what was probably the most horrible time in his life and one he'd rather forget.

It didn't take long for Rene to have hosts Scott Oake and Kevin Weekes laughing. Literally, at one point they had a hard time continuing. Some of his more clever moments:

After being shown an image of his report card from youth hockey camp, with average marks in some categories, and signed by Ron Sutter, he said, "maybe the Sutter family had a late night the night before."

That had them laughing. For a while.

The next was when Kevin Weekes called him "Mr.-Everything" and said the only thing he hadn't seen Rene do was wear the Harvy the Hound costume. Rene's response:

"Maybe tomorrow night."

Some other tidbits:

He grew up with sisters, one of them a twin, so he said he never had to fight for clothes or bathroom time.

He heard about Goals and Dreams through the NHLPA and wanted to participate. Gave out 50 sets of hockey equipment to kids in his hometown of Lac Li Biche, Alberta.

"It was like Christmas for them; it was very rewarding."


Lastly, while he said he doesn't like to think about it, he watched the clip of the Zherdev incident with the guys. And he was gracious enough to speak about it. He lost over a liter of blood, and didn't realize at first how dangerous the injury was. He was in hostpial for 5 days, and the doctors, he said, looked like they almost didn't know what to do because it's such a rare injury. He was very close to losing his life, but thankfully, thanks to the medical staff and doctors, he survived. Still has a visible scar on his neck, a reminder for the rest of his life of how close it came to ending.

Overall, a very funny, humble interview with the guy who is leading the Calgary Flames in scoring so far this season. A guy to root for, that's for sure. I'm now going to.

Oh and lest you feel cheated, in another installment of "Tips from the WEEKES' Beauty Bag" - Weeke's urged guys to bring cologne, and girls to bring perfume for after the game. You don't want to smell "like hockey," he says.

Kinda wonderfing how far this segment will go. I didn't get to write up on last week (not too much doing although there was a short Nigel Dawes interview) but Weekes' tip for 10/24 was to use shower gel.

Guess we'll see. Gotta love Weeksie, though.

My Game of the Week ~ Leafs/Canadiens 10/31/09. . .

A little belated and a little shorter than ususal, but wanted to make sure to share some of the moments between the two rivals playing their first game against one another since opening night. In case you missed:

- No, it wasn't for Halloween, but the Habs wore the barber pole jerseys (made known in 1912-1913) in continuing to celebrate their centennial. They hadn't worn them since the Superbowl game versus Boston that had them lose not only the game but Robert Lang, Josh Gorges, and Guillaume Latendresse during the 60 minutes. Lang's was the most painful- as a strong part of the team, he left with what may have been a potentially career ending cut to his Achilles tendon. Would they provide better luck on this night?

- I don't care what anyone says, those jerseys are pretty damn distracting. What I noticed this time that I did not notice as much the last time is the gloves. Even they are distracting, that orangy/mustardy/yellowy color. Look, I understand and I thnk it's a bold statement to go back to vintage jerseys. But that is a BOLD statement.

- One of the best lines of this: Thinking it was movie night for the Habs and how the guys were dressed up as George Clooney in "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?"

- Grabovski, because the Habs just love Mikeal, and Komisarek, because Mike will not be forgiven for going to the other side of the proud rivalry, were both booed often and heavily every time they touched the puck.

- Luke Schenn (awe, Luke Schenn), suffering from a bit of a sophomore slump, called fellow former Kelowna Rocket's player Shea Weber to get some advice. Shea's advice: focus on the physicality of the game. If you continue to make checks, play the body, use your size, the rest of your game will come back. I just think it's refreshing that he feels comfortable reaching out to one of his own teammates. Shows a sense of maturity beyond his years.

- "Hell just froze over. The Maple Leafs scored." - the broadcaster announced when the Leafs found the back of the net.

- When Komisarek took a penalty, that he seemed unsure he took, at the end of the first, he left the rink, not wanting to get booed more than necessary in the penalty box.

- Halak had an impressive run during the Leafs 5-3 powerplay.

- Former teammate, Latendresse hit Komisarek behind the net, to rousing cheers from the Belle Centre faithful.

- After the 3rd goal, the Leaf's Beauchemin was so angry he just went right after Michael Cammalleri. A scrum ensued.

- "Face washing and candy kisses" abound. They love each other guys!

- Toskala made an impressive save as former Rangers' Mara set up Gomez on an odd-man rush.

- As fans serenaded the Leafs with "na na na na - sayyy, goodbye" - the Leafs scored to start mounting the comeback. Have to hold that song until you are up by more than 2 goals. Seriously.

- The Leafs come back to tie at 4-4, but former Ranger Gomez gets the deciding goal in the shootout.

Overall, I love watching the Habs/Leafs - always did. But even more so now because it appears some of the true rare times that the Leafs look like they are really putting it all together. Toskala has to take blame for the bad goals - he let in a bad one to Metropolit - but on many other occassions he gets little to no help. The expected powerhouse of defense in Toronto just isn't working. The Leafs powerplay has good movement, and scored 2 of 7 times. The held Montreal scoreless on their man advantage.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Five Things About the Rangers/Bruins Game. . .

* The Rangers, miraculously some may say, put together as close to a 60 minute effort as they have in the last week plus, and finally came up with a very important win.

* Is it just me, or with the random exception of the 7-0 St. Patrick's Day Massacre of a few years back, most Rangers/Bruins games end in a 1-0 score, one way or another?

* Redden made another good play in front of his own net to steal the puck away, and got cheered - at the Garden. Props to him for keeping his head in the game and doing the simple things. Wade doesn't need to be flashy, he just needs to make simple plays to get the job done.

* I blinked for a second and didn't see who scored the Rangers goal. I probably didn't need three guesses to figure out who it was, now did I?

* Part of me wanted to see Gaborik not play (not because I don't love seeing him play, people) to see if the Rangers could still put together a real effort and win without him. Now, still, I'm really not sure if it was Gaborik injecting life into this team, or them really putting the pieces back together. Either way, I'll take the win. This losing thing was getting old.

Western Canadian trip coming up. We all know these have been nothing easy for the Rangers in the recent past. Should be interesting. Truth be told, they better keep it interesting - if it's 11:45 and they are not playing well, it's going to be that much easier to turn off the TV and just go to bed...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Five Things About the Rangers/Wild Game. . .

This should be quick, because it looked not too much better - from my side at least - than Wednesday night's game versus the Isles.

* Why does it say about the Rangers team that in two back to back games the young guys called up for the first time all year net their first NHL goals? - Parenteau on Wednesday and Byers versus Minnesota last night. A case of effort and wanting to impress in their first views with the big club? A sign of how little offense there is elsewhere? Meanwhile, big props to Dane Byers for coming to play and scoring his first NHL. And he did it all with less than a half hour of prep time as he encountered travel problems getting to Minny. Glad he showed up - in both senses of the word.

* It's now sufficiently into the season and I have no compliants about Wade Redden. He is not perfect. He never was and never will be. His contract is the bane of this team and will be for the next four years beyond this. But his play on the Byers goal showed confidence that I do not think I saw from him once last season after he came back from Prague last year. Whatever he did - get in shape, get his head on straight - thank goodness for that. He deserves some credit for not being what many expected he'd be - the worst Rangers d-man.

* I really hate that Gaborik is out, because I love watching him play. But I am hating it more that his being out is showing the flaws of this team's construction (although maybe in the long run that is a good thing). A team cannot depend on one player. It simply won't work. So is Gaborik's being out showing just how clearly the talent level drops off after him? If so, that's a scary thought. As for Gaborik, it's quite clear he's a superstar in every sense. He makes his own dazzling moves, yes, but he makes the team around him better. Rangers fans are lucky to get to see two players of such talent play for their team in the last few years, first Jagr and now Gaborik.

* Anisimov may have had a slow start to the year, but he looks so much more poised in his puck carrying. And he's using his big body to move around guys, knock guys off the puck. It's wonderful to see.

* That was Minnesota's first win in regulation so far this season. Just stating the facts here. But take nothing away from them - they clearly came ready to play and to win, and that's what they did.

I'm almost afraid to see what Sunday will bring, but I hope the Rangers are able to put it together better. I really do.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Around the League: Some Early Season Surprises. . .

I know it's still early in the NHL season, but there were just some things that you couldn't have possibly predicted happening.

The Good:

-The Avalanche have opened up to a 10-1-2 record with 22 points and are leading the NHL. The Avalanche. Yes, that team from Colorado who went into the season with big goalie questions and in the wake of the retirement of staple and gentlemanly captain Joe Sakic. I believe someone said if you say you saw this coming - you are lying! I very readily admit I picked them to finish dead last in the West. But if they continue at this clip, they may bulk up enough points by Christmas to make that almost impossible. I mean anything can happen (see: quick start in the first place), but you'd have to admit the Avs have a lot to be proud of, the best of which is the play of young kids Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene. Craig Anderson deserves credit as well, but he's less of a shock to me. He was a solid goalie in Florida when called upon too.

-As of today (*pre-tonights games) and despite the blech performance last night on the Island, the Rangers lead the league in goals for, with 47. Read that again if you have to. The masters last season of 2-1, 1-0 wins or losses, they have scored enough goals in the early going to average 3.6 goals per game. Now, that won't last, especially if they turn out crap-fests like they did last night, but for a team that couldn't score, they are getting ice production from the expected in Gaborik, the surprises in Prospal and Kotalik, and the extreme feel-good-story of young d-man Michael Del Zotto. Trust me, losses are a lot easier to take if the team is at least scoring goals and not just letting them in. We've seen the alternative and I'll take losses by way of 6-4, 5-3, just about every time.

The Bad:

-Now I was not one of the people suggesting they'd be a playoff team, but no one could have expected the Maple Leafs would have been this bad out of the gate. Could they? It took them 9 games, but the Leafs finally won their first game of the campaign, 6-3 over Anaheim on Monday. They are 1-7-2 in their first 10. We all predicted they'd have a problem scoring and that they'd spent the majority of the off-season addressing their defensive concerns. Sadly Burke's mixture has not seemed to create anything workable at the moment. Yes, much blame can fall on Vesa Toskala, the once great San Jose backup, who sadly, cannot seem to stop a puck. (For the record, I do not understand what he is going through, but it's upsetting to watch. I really thought he had a chance to rebound this year and this start has to have wiped away any of what little confidence he had left). The other guy I sympathize with is Ron Wilson. Ron Wilson is a smart guy, a smart hockey man, and I feel for him being in this position of what seems like no win. Literally, no win. Komisarek, on the other side of the Habs/Leafs rivalry this season, has been trying everything he can and he can't seem to make a difference. Opening night I thought he endeared himself to the fans with his energy, although at times misguided, but ten games in, he may be wishing he never left the belle province. The good news is that Phil Kessel is coming. The bad news might not make much of a difference.

-In the tale of the second to last conference teams, Anaheim and Florida were both teams I had as being about equal to last year. On a last minute prediction whim, and for lack of other options, I put Florida in the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. Were Chris Pronger and Jay Bouwmeester really that vital to their former teams? In Anaheim, both goalies have GAA's of over 3.00, and their supposed top guys of Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan have not seemed to realize the season has in fact started yet. Niedermeyer, Selanne, and Koivu are a combined -18. As for the Panthers, both goalies have GAA's of well over 3.50, and Steven Reinprecht is leading their team in points with 5-2-7. Stephen Weiss is the only other guy on the team to have more than two goals; he has 3. And with injures a plenty, none looking worse than that to David Booth, I don't know where the help comes from.

The Feel-Good:

-I'm not going to sit here and say I'm either surprised or not surprised with the start the Phoenix Coyotes are having. They are 7-4-0 and have knocked off San Jose, Detroit, Columbus, and Pittsburgh on their way. That's been impressive. Very impressive. Perhaps more surprising than fans could have hoped for. And Ilya Bryzgalov, the other one time super Pacific division backup, is having a masterful start to the season. .917 save percentage and 1.97 GAA are his numbers. (Note, backup Jason Labarbera's are even better at .952 and 1.59). If we're being honest, that part surprised me a bit. Not because they are not capable, but because you just never know what you are going to get with goalies (see: Roberto Luongo, Martin Brodeur, and Cam Ward - Canada's Team Canada perennials and hopefuls. The guys getting it done for them on the scoresheet are guys you need to be the leaders in every regard - Ed Jovonovski (4-6-10) and captain Shane Doan (3-7-10). Those not appearing on the scoresheet as much are still getting it done on shots, energy, and undeniable work ethic (Upshall, and Czechs - Hanzal, Vrbata, and Prucha). This team had the pieces to be good; I truly believed that. Their fast start is just making those outside of their fanbase take notice of a team that is playing some really good hockey and that deserves every bit of success it has.