Lazy Hockey…Simple as That

So I let myself cool off for a lil more than 12 hours, and I thought long and hard about the hockey game I was actually in attendance for last night.  While the pre-game/1st five-minute atmosphere was so electric and exciting that I literally had goosebumps and my heart was racing well over 150, it became very apparent early on that the Rangers were doing plenty of watching in their defensive zone.  I pointed it out to Dave via text message and knew they were ultimately doomed.  Lazy hockey leads to watching, watching leads to not moving your feet, which leads to being a step behind, which begets hooking and holding penalties, which results in being a man-down almost the entire night.  Not that difficult to follow.

It was easy to notice that the Rangers were complacent coming into the game.  And they had reason to be: up 2-0 in a series where they have dominated the best offensive force in the NHL, heading back to one of the best home ice advantages in the league.  What they probably failed to realize was that a bounce this way or that way and they could have easily been down 2-0 coming back home.  In the playoffs, you need to play more desperate than the team across from you at all times, and they just didn’t have it last night.  An old hockey coach once told me after a bad game, “somedays you eat the bear, and somedays the bear eats you.”  Its a strong motto to fall back on, and you have to believe that the Blueshirts have the right coaching staff in place to put a bandage on a seemingly deep cut.

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On a totally different note, what the hell was up with the “power sticks” passed out last night?  I didn’t even open mine up.  What ever happened to a good ole’ pair of hands?  Personally, I’m a stickler for superstition and tradition, and the Rangers have ALWAYS handed out rally towels for playoff home games (at least in the post-lockout era).  I think it was a poor attempt by the Rangers brass to respond to Washington’s cheesy “Rock the Red” campaign.  Somehow, I don’t think “Rock Your Optimum Lightpath Neon-Blue Power Sticks” is a good rebuttal.  Here’s hoping there are some rally towels tomorrow night

It Won’t Be Long Until He’s Not So “Under the Radar”

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun wrote a very nice piece on Ryan Callahan, even pointing out himself that its just a matter of time until the 24-year-old winger erupts on the national scene.  The playoffs are an excellent time to do it.  While many of the local writers and broadcasters have continuously praised Callahan’s play, this may be the first column written solely about Cally on a national level.  The truth of it all is that Callahan still hasn’t been able to put together a full season, meaning that he has usually been a strong second half player.  It would be interesting to see what Cally will be able to do under Tortorella for a full 82 games.  I love the last bit when LeBrun mentions that Callahan has had the ability to score on every level.  I think that is so important when evaluating a player; the ability to recognize that the player is a goal-scorer, and someday will put it together and be successful in the NHL.  Ultimately, I have been caught with my foot in my mouf.  When I was evaluating the Rangers situation under Renney a few months back I mentioned that a group of young Rangers, including Callahan, were expendable.  He obviously isn’t.  Here are some highlights from the article, if you don’t have the time to read it yourself.

“He’s a guy that does everything,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “He’s in every situation. He’s earned the responsibility and the chance to be in those situations because he’s succeeded. Players sometimes need to believe they can score regularly; I think he’s beginning to realize that and believe in himself.”

“Ryan had a big breakout season for the Rangers,” Brian Burke, the GM of the U.S. Olympic team, told ESPN.com on Friday. “He has put himself into contention for Team USA in Vancouver.”

The kid could always score. He tallied 52 goals in 62 games in his final junior season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm in 2005-06. But like many young players, he needed to find his confidence with the puck once he got to the NHL. He had eight goals in 52 games last season but took huge strides in 2008-09

Hobey Baker Winner and Fellow New Yorker Matt Gilroy Signs Two-Year Deal with the Rangers

TSN is reporting that Hobey Baker Award Winner and hometown hero Matt Gilroy of Boston University has signed a two-year, 3.5 million dollar deal to play for the New York Rangers.  Below is the link:

http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=275400

A week ago I wrote a piece on Gilroy and a surge of Long Island talent beginning to emerge at significant levels.  Nice to see a player of his caliber and character come home and sign with the Blueshirts.  While its pleasing to see this come about for those reasons, its also a very strong pickup with for the Rangers.  Even though he is not eligible to play in this year’s playoffs, Gilroy has the age, maturity, and skill-set to make a run at a roster spot come training camp next year.  At 24 years old, he is predictably farther along in development than the likes of Del Zotto and possibly Sanguinetti (possibly).  During his tenure at BU, the co-captain showed he is both versatile (37 points in 45 games on the blue line), durable (145 consecutive games played), and a legend in his own right (one of BU’s only three-time 1st Team All-Americans).  A wealth of experience playing in college hockey’s most storied programs and toughest conference also doesn’t hurt.  I personally am very excited about this pickup and the prospect of having a blueline with the likes of Staal, Girardi, Sanguinetti, Del Zotto, Gilroy, and “insert veteran here” someday

AHHHHH…now THAT’s more like it!

Gary Thorne doing play-by-play, Barry Melrose on color commentary, and hockey on ESPN.  Just like the good ole’ days, except its not the NHL, but the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey National Championship Game between the Boston University Terriers and the Miami University Redhawks.  A couple weeks ago I wrote a bit on how the NHL brass is butchering the game by broadcasting their games on Versus.  Something about this just seems right don’t it?

The game itself features a trio of Long Island players, most notably Matt Gilroy, senior defensive captain for the Terriers and a three-time All-America selection, as well as the 2009 Hobey Baker Memorial Trophy Winner as the nation’s top collegiate defensemen.  Interestingly, Gilroy started his hockey career in the same youth organization as I did, the Nassau County Lions.  He wears #97 in honor of his deceased brother Timothy, who died tragically at a very young age in a bicycle accident, and whom I knew personally.  Gilroy’s hockey career is certainly a great story, going from walk-on freshman, having his scholarship taken from him after his junior year because his head coach thought he was going pro (wanted to give it to someone else), and leaving as one of the most decorated players in BU’s history.  That’s a pretty amazing statement considering BU is one of college hockey’s powerhouse programs.  Also a breathe of air to see a college sports star turn down huge pro dollars to stay in college four years; perhaps those playing in football and basketball can take some notes.

The other two Long Island natives playing in the title game include Matt’s younger brother, Kevin Gilroy, and Pat Cannone of Miami U.  Long Island hockey has certainly developed some notable prospects and current NHL stars over the past decade or so, and its nice to see our area of the hockey universe get a little more noticed year after year.  While most of them have not made it to the NHL as of yet, the college and minor league ranks have become stock-piled with Long Island talent year after year.  You will likely see more names come up in the next few seaons.  Below is a list of notable NHL names that came from Long Island:

Ryan Vesce, RW, San Jose Sharks (Lloyd Harbor)

Eric Nystrom, LW, Calgary Flames (Syosset)

Chris Higgins, C, Montreal Canadiens (Smithtown)

Rob Scuderi, D, Pittsburgh Penguins (Syosset)

Mike Komisarek, D, Montreal Canadiens (West Islip)

Wade Redden and the Proverbial Mud

Part of me still doesn’t believe it.  I’ve never seen an NHL defenseman flat-footed so often.  He just doesn’t have the size or the reach to compensate.  Not blaming the loss on him, but he was certainly exposed (again) tonight.  Not good.

Lundqvist was certainly below par, and he was shaky after getting rattled by Ruutu early in the 1st.  Normally, Colton Orr would’ve come in handy after that, but Carolina doesn’t have that guy who will accept the challenge.  When you see your franchise goalie get run like that though, you have to respond in a big way, and I just don’t think the Rangers were able to do it the way they may have wanted to.  New regime or old, the Blueshirts still have difficulty with teams that can “skate”

And on a more disturbing note, Montreal ran through the Isles tonight, putting the Rangers at the bottom of the playoff pool.  Nail-biting time fo sho.

3rd and Season

Kinda weird to use a football reference here, but the Rangers have to look at the next 20 minutes as the rest of their season.  With the Islanders doing their best to make it impossible for the Blueshirts, a loss here puts them squarely behind the eight-ball.  Love Tortorella’s fire going into the locker room though.  Hopefully it translates to a strong effort here.

Update Friday, 11:10am (Dave): Considering the magic number doesn’t really mean much anymore, as it will play out until the last game of the season, I removed the magic number counter on the right. I also got depressed that the number stayed so high for so long.

Not Getting Much Love

Maybe its just me, or is every team fighting for a playoff spot/position in the East playing pretty well?  Carolina and Pittsburgh are on fire, and even though Philly hasn’t been spectacular, they have been good enough to stay afloat in the 4th spot.  The teams chasing the Rangers aren’t giving them any room to breath either.  I feel that every time I’m looking at a box score, the Habs and the Panthers are coming up with wins.

All that said, the Rangers really need to dig deep in the last five games just to make the playoffs because nobody is giving an inch.

Update 9:30am (Dave): I found the NYTimes link showing that the NHL re-upped with Versus for another three seasons (Ugh). You can read it here. Stas was mentioning this in one of the many ways Versus sucks when covering hockey.

Versus – Bettman’s Finest Work To Date!

Yeah, the title is a huge dose of sarcasm.  For the channel that claims to be the flagship channel of the National Hockey League, it is probably the greatest abomination in the history of sports coverage.  I always knew that Versus was awful, but it became awfully apparent to me while watching the Rangers-Devils game on Monday night.  Below are just the reasons I can think of now.  Feel free to add in the comments section:

1) With the exception of Doc Emmerick, who happens to be a Hall of Fame commentator, the cast of play-by-play, color commentators, and desk anchors happens to be the biggest group of rejects in the business.  Who the hell decided to make Keith Jones an authority on hockey?  And even though Brian Engblom’s hockey career is a little more polished, someone needs to refer that dude to a new barber or something.  Apparently he doesn’t understand that we get excited when we see mullets because they’re so ridiculous and absurd that you can’t help but laugh about them.  Its so bad that I honestly don’t even listen to the commentary throughout the game; I’ve seriously watched almost an entire game and finally asked myself, “what the hell have these guys been talking about the whole time?”  I pine for the good ol’ days with Gary Thorne, Al Morganti, and Barry Melrose on ESPN.

2) Have you ever noticed that 90% of the commercials end short?  Its pretty apparent to me that the corportation cares nothing about covering hockey and is just trying to get as many commercials as possible in the alotted amount of time.  And if you don’t believe that, consider this: the only extra coverage during a game is that blonde-haired chick (don’t even know her name) interviewing the coaches very briefly before coming back from the break.  They never come back from commercial early and analyze a play that just occurred the way MSG does.  I basically feel that they are just there to show the game, and nothing else.

3) Speaking of commercials – that Buffalo commercial.  Come on!  Seriously, the most passionate fans in the game?  Before Carpinello mentioned this in his blog, my father was nearly throwing his shoes at the television with the amount of times this commercial came up during a telecast.  I can guarantee you people sitting at MSG, the Bell Centre, the Air Canada Centre, the Saddledome, and even the Coliseum would have something to say about that.  What gives them the nerve to make such a superlative statement with such definement like that?

4) Not one mention about Brendan Shannahan’s return to MSG after two years as one of the most popular players.

5) What happened prior to the Clarkson-Avery incident?  Anyone?  Did you see how it all started?  I know I didn’t, and do you know why I didn’t?  BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T SHOW YOU!!!  How can you not show the precipitating events leading up to that skirmish?  A whole lot of questions and no answers.

6) Who were the three stars of the game?  They were Henrik Lundqvist, Scott Gomez, and Dan Girardi.  I know that because I was curious enough to look it up after the game, no thanks to Versus.

7) The biggest reason of them all – unless you watch hockey (and even that is painful to watch on this particular channel), the channel provides nothing else, meaning nobody knows what channel it is.  A minority of the homes actually get the network.

What makes this all even more painful is that Gary Bettman recently signed a deal to extend the contract with Versus for the next couple of seasons.  My beloved sport has been clawing for media attention for over a decade.  Let’s be honest – if you’re not a regular on ESPN, you’re drowning.  They show highlights of the games and do a once a week analysis of the sport (I believe its Wednesdays with either Barry Melrose or Matthew Barnaby), and thats it.  Look at the coverage and attention they give to the NFL, MLB, NBA, NASCAR, and NCAA.  Its due to this that the NHL has been trailing for a long time now.  People need to be exposed to the sport on a regular basis.  And while its not a perfect channel itself, its not known as the Worldwide Leader in Sports for nothing, and if you’re going to be taken seriously as a sport, you need to be a regular on that channel.  Why Gary Bettman doesn’t realize this and try to re-establish a relationship with ESPN is inexcusable.  Then again, this guy hasn’t done anything positive for a long time….except for positively suck

At risk of overstating the obvious….

That was a big win.  A huge win.  I sometimes laugh at sports reporters and anchors who ask questions that they know the answers to (i.e. “is this a big game tonight?”) and make statements to players that are so obvious its disgusting, but you can’t deny the magnitude of tonight’s W.  Sure, every game this time of year is the biggest game of the season and is a must-win, but when you consider the history and drama between these two teams, it doesn’t get much sweeter than this.  And it speaks volumes to the dynamic change undergone in the Rangers locker room from their last meeting, even though many parallels existed between now and then….

Remember way back in the Tom Renney era, circa February 2009?  The Rangers were coming off three straight losses: a blowout @ the Igloo, a blanking at the hands of the #1 seeded Bruins, and a lackluster effort against lowly Atlanta on Adam Graves Night (salvaged only by Markus Naslund’s miraculous goal with 11 seconds remaining to force OT).  Renney did his best Herb Brooks impression and chose to skate the team until their blades wore thin prior to heading out for a road game in Dallas.  The result (if you need refreshing): a 10-2 drubbing by the Stars.  The Blueshirts had the rest of the weekend to think about how shameful they played, and a shot at redemption was provided in front of a national TV audience against their archrivals across the Hudson.  Back then, I tabbed it as the most important game in Tom Renney’s tenure.  The team responded with an effortless, almost pathetic 3-0 shutout loss.  In the end, it was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back, with Renney getting fired several weeks later, a decision Sather claimed was in the works for about as long.

Tonight was the most important game in John Tortorella’s short tenure.  A blown shootout loss to lowly Atlanta and another failed attempt @ the Igloo, not to mention a pressing Florida Panthers team only 2 points away, and the Rangers again found themselves with their backs against the wall against their archrivals on national TV.  The result was a complete 180-degree reversal of fortune, all due to reasons that have been discussed ad nauseum to this point.  And a certain diminutive player wearing #16 in blue giving everyone grey hairs in red and black (Brendan Shannahan doesn’t count) didn’t hurt too much.

When you put these two periods together side by side, its easy to see how far this team has come in a relatively short amount of time.  Its great to see how everyone on the team has responded.  More importantly, we weren’t all taking crazy pills when we were screaming about how much potential this team had.

HOW CAN WE GET THIS WORK DONE WITH ALL THE SHOUTING???…WE’RE THROUGH WITH THE SHOUTING!!!!

Alright….let’s put things in a little perspective.  This team was a massive disappointment this season.  All the complaining that is being done in regards to players who helped this team barely keep their head above water really has no logic.  For the sake of Petr Prucha’s career, he needed to leave New York, for reasons we have discussed ad nauseum on this website.  As for Nigel Dawes, did anybody ever think to consider that maybe this guy has peaked?  I mean, he’s a great skater and is great in the shootout, but he’s a defensive liability and can’t create his own scoring opportunities consistently even though he’s a beautiful skater.  Its apparent Sather had no intention of resigning either of them, so why not go out and get something in return?

As for the guy they traded them both for, Phoenix is not really a hallowed ground of hockey.  Its where players go to die, and Derek Morris has been a fairly stable player for an organization that has been consistently awful year, after year, after year.  Remember when Paul Mara used to play in Arizona?  Now we sweat this guy more than he sweats through that big lumberjack beard of his.  Just goes to show what a change of scenery can do for a guy.  And as for trading for ANOTHER “puck moving defenseman”, what is the point in that?  We already have two (kind of), who have played noticeably better under Tortorella.  What they need is grit

Speaking of grit, my man-crush for him aside, the Rangers need a guy like Sean Avery.  I know I know…Tortorella has the fire that they need, but ya know something, Tortorella doesn’t skate.  The team has zero personality, and its something you need in hockey.  It’s not chess, its not baseball, and its not a Friday night poker game with your buddies.  Its hockey, and if you don’t play it with emotion and an edge, you’re gonna get blown off the ice (see of the season, first 5 month).

This team was going nowhere, and after all the screaming that was being done for moves needing to be made, we should feel somewhat glad that Sather rolled the dice a bit.  Who knows what Prucha and Dawes would have contributed down the road, and who knows what Antropov, Morris, and Avery will provide down the road.  But at least we won’t be asking ourselves what might have been if the Rangers kept the same team.  Just one of those things time will tell.