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Posts tagged: Brandon Prust

Rangers final grades: Bottom six forwards

The bottom six forwards get a raw deal sometimes. Many base their usefulness on their offensive output, and unfortunately that is just not the role of the bottom six forward. Sure, contributing offensively is nice, but the role of these players is to shut down the opposition’s top lines. They are the ones that do the dirty work, they keep the opposing goons in check, they wear down the opposition.

So based on the above,  let me reiterate these grades are based on the players executing their specific roles within our team concept. This isn’t just based on stats.

Brian Boyle

Boy did Boyle have some major responsibilities this season. He was generally responsible for lining up against the opposition’s top scorers and was given the job of shutting them down. He also was the guy that Torts turned to when he needed a defensive zone face off win. People look to his drop in scoring (11-15-26 this year, a drop from 21-14-35 last year) and they assume Boyle has just been awful. That’s not the case. Boyle started just 28.8% of all his shifts in the offensive zone, good for lowest rate on the team. But yet, he managed to finish 43.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone. The result: a player that did his job. He handled the defensive zone pressure and set up the Rangers in the offensive zone.  Oh, and he was tied with Brad Richards and John Mitchell for second on the team in face off win percentage (51.8%).

In the playoffs, Boyle was clearly getting under the Ottawa Senators’ skin, which is why Chris Neil decided to target him with a head shot. Boyle was one of the most effective Ranger forwards before the concussion, and was clearly not the same after. Mid-season: B/Full Season: A-/Playoffs: B+.

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Thank you Shanny?

Brendan Shanahan may have done the Rangers a huge favour by suspending Brandon Prust for game four. In the past few years no team has better utilized an ‘us against the world’ mentality better than the NFL’s New York Giants. Consistently written off by the media, the Giants used that apparent lack of respect and turned it into a huge motivating factor that helped win two Superbowls. They played with a chip on their shoulders.

In many ways the blatant inconsistencies so evident in the NHL’s disciplinary this post season and grievances the Rangers have had throughout the playoffs can be used the same way the Giants used the lack of respect to strive for success. The Rangers; such a close knit, team-first-individual-second kind of team will use the absence of Prust the right way. They won’t be crying over the suspension.

Coach Tortorella has been more than vocal in his disdain for the way Brendan ‘losing league-wide respect by the second’ Shanahan has ruled over his players and the way the NHL’s VP of player safety so often hasn’t ruled against others.

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Options to replace Prust tonight

Whether you agree with the suspension or not, Brandon Prust will not be playing in tonight’s Game 4 against the Devils. With the opportunity to build a two game lead, the Rangers will be without one of their warriors and top penalty killers. It’s a blow, but not a blow that can’t be overcome. Unlike with Carl Hagelin, the Rangers have a few options readily available to replace Prust for the one game ban.

Option 1: Brandon Dubinsky

This option is the best option for the Rangers. With Dubi cleared for contact and partaking in optional skates, he is on the cusp of returning to action. It has to be assumed that if Dubi can play, then he will play. Dubi would be a perfect fit to replace Prust, as Dubi can slide in quietly to a fourth line role for this game, and ease back into playoff hockey. Plus, if Dubi comes back, the penalty kill won’t suffer too much with Prust out.

Option 2: Insert Stu Bickel at forward

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Getting by without Hagelin

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past week, you know that Carl Hagelin was suspended (questionably) for 3 games for elbowing Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson in the head during game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.  Due to this turn of events, the Rangers have lost a key cog in their top line, and one of their biggest speed/forechecking threats.

Chris Kreider was inserted into the lineup in Hagelin’s place for game 3 and acquitted himself well for a pro debut in the middle of a playoff series.  By the third period, however, Torts felt that Kreider wasn’t ready to be that guy for the top line and inserted Derek Stepan.  The question remains going into Game 4 on Wednesday, who is the right guy to take Hagelin’s spot on the top unit?

Let’s take a look at some possibilities…

  • Ryan Callahan- Captain Cally does just about everything for the Rangers, so why not install him on the top line?  He could be a huge boon to the forecheck and allow for Richards and Gabby a little more room to operate down low.  He also has an unfailing nose for the net, and if those two can generate shots on goal, Cally is a good bet to bang in some rebounds.
  • Brandon Dubinsky- Last season’s leading scorer, Dubi would seem to possess the skill set to complement the top line nicely.  He has a decent set of hands and can bring some jam to a finesse unit.  However, he has had trouble finding the back of the net this season, and has often looked lost between passing and shooting.  But, who knows, maybe playing with talent like Gaborik and Richards is just the thing to light the fire under Dubi’s offensive game. Read more »

Brandon Prust contract talks; Justin Schultz notes

Contract talks aren’t going to be a distraction for Brandon Prust. Per Larry Brooks, the right winger is putting contract discussions on hold while the Rangers are still trying to lock up the Atlantic Division title. Prust is one of seven pending unrestricted free agents, but one that the Rangers will likely pursue and re-sign prior to July 1.

Since coming over from Calgary in 2010 as a part of the Olli Jokinen trade, Prust has been a pleasant surprise and an integral piece of the Rangers core, and has even chipped in offensively, with 55 points over the course of two and a third seasons with the Rangers (179 games). In addition to being a part of one of the Rangers top defensive lines, Prust is also heavily relied upon to kill penalties.

In NCAA news, also per Brooks in the same article, the Rangers might pursue Wisconsin Badgers defenseman Justin Schultz. The talk on Schultz may be a bit premature though. Schultz was Anaheim’s second round pick in 2008 (43rd overall), but has yet to sign with the Ducks. If Schultz does not sign by July 1, he will be a free agent.

Schultz, drafted out of the BCHL, joined Wisconsin in 2009, and was teammates with both Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh. Following McDonagh’s departure, Schultz was relied upon as a top defenseman, and answered the call. In his last two seasons, the 6’1 185-lb defenseman has averaged more than a point per game from the blue line, with a line of 34-57-91 in 78 games.

This situation is similar to the Tim Erixon situation, but not identical. Since Schultz went to play in the NCAA, the drafting organization needs to have the player signed by July 1 following his senior year. In Erixon’s case, he did not play in the NCAA, thus he needed to be signed before July 1 two years after his draft year. Similar, but different.

Rest the Rangers?

At what stage – if any – should John Tortorella consider resting Rangers for a game or two with the playoffs approaching? It’s a key consideration for the coach as particularly in the recent stretch of games some players have started to evidence wear and tear from the long season, probably because of the way this blue collar Rangers team play the game.

The issue of rest is a tricky one because of the hard charging and getting healthy Penguins (winners of seven straight), the benefits securing home ice advantage throughout the playoffs would provide and, don’t discount organisational pressure/desire toward securing home ice and the associated financial advantages an extra game or two would mean. Points mean prizes folks.

Dan Girardi has looked mortal over the last few games. His turnover that led to Jordan Caron’s goal in the Boston game was very un-Dan Girardi and it may have been the result of mental fatigue. Girardi almost always makes the right decision, the sensible decision. In that instance he misread the play and tossed it through center ice – we saw the result.

That said Girardi isn’t the only one who has begun to look jaded. The team generally has been scrambling a lot, has been handsomely outshot in their recent 1-1-1 streak and look perhaps a step off the pace. This team gets away with it and continues to rack up results because they never give in and the effort level is always high. However, once a tank is running on empty there is only so long even the hardest working team can go on.

Players like Dan Girardi and Brandon Prust don’t voluntarily take a seat. They play through pain so a ‘rest break’ would be foreign to them. If anyone takes a seat it will be because the coach has told them to. Not an easy situation to negotiate.

There could be benefits from any rest, aside from the health factor. If a few Rangers sat for a game or two it might allow the team to give more NHL experience to the likes of Tim Erixon at the back or a final gauge of whether Zuccarello can cut it with the Rangers up front; with injuries in deep playoff runs so frequent having potential call ups recently involved in the NHL could be beneficial; plenty to think about for the coaching staff.

Fantasy hockey fanatics out there will worry about Henrik Lundqvist too. Probably the easiest and most likely position to justify an extended break would be in goal. If the Rangers can maintain a healthy lead in the division heading in to the last week or two there’s a good chance Biron sees a few games more than he normally would – a refreshing change to when the Rangers have had to rely on Lundqvist just to get in to the playoffs. A well rested King come playoff time? Sign me up.

Rangers/Hurricanes recap

The Rangers grinded out a gutsy win in Carolina tonight, beating the ‘Canes 3-2 behind a fantastic defensive effort and a very solid game by Marty Biron.  Marian Gaborik scored to net his 30th of the year, and his 7th 30 goal season overall.  Seems like the theme lately has been a period by period recap, so I’ll give it a try (let me know which format you guys prefer in the comments).  To the bullets…

  • 1st Period
  • During the first period the Rangers had a solid forecheck going and were doing a nice job getting penetration into the offensive zone.  The problem was they weren’t developing quality chances from that penetration.  They were moving the puck well enough to evade pressure from the Hurricanes, but not well enough to put quality shots on Cam Ward.
  • Defensively the Blueshirts did a fantastic job of getting sticks into passing lanes and forcing Carolina’s wingers to the outside on the rush.  Ryan McDonagh was especially impressive early on. 
  • With :50 seconds remaining in the first, Brandon Dubinsky took what I will assume was a stupid penalty (I didn’t seem like any MSG camera actually caught Dubinsky throw Jiri Tlusty’s stick), which drew the ire of coach John Tortorella.  Dubinsky wouldn’t see the ice the rest of the game.
  • 2nd period
  • What do you know?  That penalty came back to the bite the Rangers as Jeff Skinner snuck a shot through Marty Biron’s arm on a point blank slap shot.  As a goalie, those goals are absolutely infuriating.  1-0 Carolina.
  • As Dubinsky continued to sit, the recipient of his minutes seemed to be John Mitchell.  Mitchell played about 15 minutes and played a solid game.  He seemed to have a nice chemistry with Richards/Hagelin as well.
  • The Ranger’s continued to play excellent defense through the second period.  Michael Del Zotto exited the game early with an apparent hip injury, which pressed Marc Staal into bigger minutes as the game went on. 
  • The Rangers would tie the game on a hard wrist shot from Artem Anismov off a nice little back pass from Marian Gaborik.  The play wouldn’t have happened however, without some tremendous work by Derek Stepan in the neutral zone after blocking a shot. The shot seemed to handcuff Cam Ward a little bit, as he threw the puck in frustration after the puck bounced out. 1-1.
  • I caught myself wondering at one point in the second…why would Carolina want to stir anything up with the Rupp/Scott combination? 
  • Gaborik would put the Rangers ahead later in the second when he banged in the rebound of a Derek Stepan shot.  Gabby made a strong play in the slot to create a good chance and then didn’t give up on the play and was able to guide the rebound home.  Very strong play for the Rangers leading goal scorer as he pocketed his 30th of the season. 2-1 Rangers.
  • 3rd period
  • The Rangers caught a break at the start of the third period when the puck ricocheted off the lines man and right onto the stick of Brian Boyle, who would make a beauty of a pass to Brandon Prust to give the Rangers some insurance.  3-1 Rangers.
  • Jeff Skinner is absolutely filthy.  Crazy how two of Carolina’s best players can’t legally drink yet. (Skinner and Falk)
  •  The last 10 or so minutes of the game, the Rangers killed 6 minutes worth of penalties.  The bulk of which was assessed when John Mitchell accidentally clipped Jay Harrison with his stick.  Blood was drawn, 4 minutes. 
  • The ensuing penalty kill was magnificent.  Prust and Boyle were at their very best, while Staal continued to round into form with a strong effort on the PK.  Also, Dan Girardi is a warrior.
  • The ‘Canes drew within one goal with :39 seconds remaining after some slightly blown coverage from the aforementioned Girardi and Staal (not nearly enough impact to mar the fantastic game both played).  Jay Harrison was there to tap it in on the doorstep.  3-2 Rangers.
  • New York was able to hold on in regulation to win their 8th game in their last 11.

Obligatory Goaltending Notes

  • I thought both goaltenders played terrific tonight.  Neither one had a ton of work, but both made great saves at various points of the game.
  • Cam Ward isn’t a flashy goalie, but despite the 3 goals, he continues to show why he is one of the game’s best despite a suspect blue line.
  • Marty Biron had a nice bounce back game after a couple bumps in the road in the form of Chicago and the Islanders.  He had a slight case of rebounditis in the first third of the game or so, but his confidence clearly grew as the game went on and ended up making several key saves.
Random Thoughts
  • Torts might as well have put a dunce hat on the Dubi and made him sit facing the corner for the rest of the game.  Torts was visibly irritated about that penalty in his presser.
  • Brandon Prust was the 1st star of this game for me.  Absolute monster out there.
  • I’m going to say this with the assumption that DZ’s injury is nothing serious; I think it’s time to bump Staal up to the second pair.  The coaching staff has done a tremendous job bringing him back slowly this year, but I think the training wheels are ready to come off.  He played over 20 minutes tonight, and I don’t think any of us would be against demoting Anton Stralman to the third pair with Stu Bickel.  Not that Stralman hasn’t played well, but clearly Staal is the better player.
  • I’m not sure how many of you had the privilege of watching the MSG post game, but if you did you were able to behold that shirt that Ron Duguay was wearing.  Just terrific Ron, terrific.

Right back at it tomorrow night in Tampa at 7pm, as the Rangers try to run their winning streak to 4 in a row.  Don’t forget to be here tomorrow at noon for the BSB Live Chat!

Hockey Systems – T forecheck

By now hopefully all of you have read our hockey systems page and have a basic understanding of the game from an x’s and o’s perspective. Today we are going to turn it up a notch and get into advanced hockey tactics.

Sorry, no trade rumor talk today :(

In order to comprehend complex forechecking schemes, you have to throw away the notion of forwards being referred to as centers, leftwings, and rightwings. In today’s sophisticated systems, coaches label their players by their distance from the puck.

F1 is the forward closest to the puck. F2 is the forward second closest to the puck. F3 is the forward furthest from the puck. Sounds simple right?

The difficulty is every forward has different responsibilities in different areas of the ice (i.e. Offensive Zone, Neutral Zone, Defensive Zone) and every forward needs to be aware of each other’s responsibilities.

The reasoning is simple. Every forward is going to find themselves as F1, F2, or F3 at some point during the game. And when they find themselves in one of these roles, they better know what they should be doing or a breakdown will ensue.

Got it? Good.

I’ve been noticing lately that Torts & Sullivan have our boys executing a new forechecking tactic, which I believe is helping our penalty kill create some offense. Specifically, it’s called a T-Forecheck.

Tforecheck

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Game Day Musings

Welcome to Thursday. That means it’s almost the end of the week, obviously. It’s a game day and the Rangers are entertaining a surprising and in form Senators tonight. It should be an interesting one. Before today’s focus switches to the pre game build up, let’s saunter through a Musings together.

The fact it’s the Senators tonight brings me to mini rant time. No disrespect to the Senators (it could be any team) but it’s made an absolute farce of the All Star game that they have so many starters in the game. Fan involvement should somehow be incorporated but an All Star game should be the best players, most deserving players and true stars of the game not the likes of Daniel Alfredsson who is there mainly on popularity. Erik Karlsson deserves to go to the game but really, he leads all vote getters? Not right. The format needs to be changed to make the game meaningful or at least eagerly anticipated.

I did chuckle when I read Dion Phaneuf was voted the most overrated player in the league. It says a lot about his (lack of) popularity and standing in the game because he’s a lot better than people are giving him credit for. He’s a good defender who has found his game again this year. Somewhere in Connecticut, Sean Avery is smiling.

So, Stefan Matteau is draft eligible this summer. The USNTDP stand out is going to the QMJHL next season. Naturally, masses of Rangers fans will demand he be drafted regardless of whether he’s the right pick, at the time. Just like Beukeboom’s son who has already been traded and is having a mediocre OHL career. It’s not all about the surname – as Marcel Hossa and Fedor Fedorov will attest.

Ilya Kovalchuk is in great form and the Devils are winning games again. I couldn’t be happier for them. Really. They’re well on their way to becoming the Rangers circa 1997-2003. Not good enough for lottery picks (for a true rebuild) but good enough to be, at best, first round fodder. The Devils are in desperate need for another Adam Larsson or two to put around Kovalchuk. Enjoy mediocrity Jersey.

Recently quite a few Rangers players have cooled offensively making Dubinsky’s health (and relative return to form) that much more important. The Rangers can win close games, low scoring games and can live with the higher scoring teams but it’d be nice to see Anisimov, Stepan, Richards and even Gaborik to an extent start up some streaks again. Oh, and some consistent secondary scoring (Boyle etc) would be nice too.

  • Best mid season defensive addition: Bickel, Stralman or Woywitka?

What has happened to Brandon Prust this year? He’s simply not a factor consistently. His hit total is well down, shooting % well down on his career average and as a result he’s not getting the ice time. It’s a vicious circle but if he can get better (closer to last year) this team gets much deeper.

  • Chris Kreider watch: 24 points in 21 games; goals in every kind of scenario – 3 game winners, 4 Power play tallies and a shorthanded goal.
  • Chris Thomas watch: 37 points in 29 games; 18 goals and 19 assists and a minus 3 rating. In his defence he’s on an at-best-average Oshawa team that is clearly gearing to the future. Thomas could really do with a big end to his season and great camp next year in NY. There’s a lot of competition for spots right now.

I wonder if Steve Eminger has played his last game for the Rangers. Don’t forget he’s got another 6 weeks recovery and has to watch Bickel, Stralman and Woywitka fight it out for bottom pair jobs anyway. There’s a chance Sauer is back well before him too. He may get a conditioning assignment like Christensen and never see NY ice as a Ranger again. It’s a tough way to lose your job if it happens.

Question Time:

  • Bigger disappointment: Brian Boyle or Brand Prust?
  • If one had to be cut loose: Woywitka, Bickel or Eminger?
  • Del Zotto season points total: Over or under 40?
  • Race to 20 goals: Hagelin or Dubinsky?

We’ll end this edition of musings with a rare tip of the Broadway hat to Erik Christensen. He’s unlikely to ever play for the Rangers again but credit where it’s due for getting back on the ice with the Whale and looking to get sharp again. He’s an NHL quality player but simply put, can’t help this Rangers team. If he works his tail off in CT he may get a shot elsewhere. The Whale will hopefully benefit from a motivated, talented player.

P.S. Henrik For Vezina. That is all.

Mid-Season Report Cards: Bottom Six Forwards

Today we are going to be talking about our unheralded, but no less vital bottom six forwards. Prior to Tortorella’s arrival, the Rangers bottom six was typically composed of too many wannabe skill players like Matt Cullen, Marcel Hossa, etc. The last few years we finally started to value players who understood that their role is to forecheck, backcheck, hit, score dirty goals, and protect their teammates.

Before we get started, let me just reiterate these grades are based on these respective players executing their specific roles within our team concept.

Brian Boyle: Boyle has much improved at faceoffs this season (51.5% vs. 48.5%) and it’s a big reason why the Hagelin-Boyle-Mitchell line was out possessing the opposition. He’s gotten some flak for his offense being down, but he’s pretty much doing everything defensively you could ask from a third line center. He forechecks, he blocks shots, and he doesn’t turn the puck over. I would like to see him lay people out a little more often given his size.

With that said, we are going to need more scoring from our bottom six in the second half and beyond. Boyle is on pace for 4 goals and 16 points, which is down from last season’s 21 goals and 35 points. Icetime isn’t much of an excuse as his avg. icetime last season was 15 mins and change. This season he is skating 14 mins and change. Essentially he’s playing one less shift per game. Grade: B

Ruslan Fedotenko: Feds has been one of the most reliable trenchmen in the game for the past 10 years. Every season he gives you steady corner play, second chance efforts, and 30 points give or take. Most of his strengths are often overlooked because he’s not a puck carrier or a fighter, but he is a strategic insertion in this lineup and he executes Tortorella’s puck pursuit system to a T. The only reason I didn’t grade him higher was because he played on the second line for a while and did squat with it and he could stand to be more physical when playing in a bottom 6 role. Grade: B-

Carl Hagelin: Hagelin is a bottom six player this season, but he won’t be next season. He may not even be a bottom sixer by the end of this season thanks to his explosiveness, escapeability, and positional awareness. As he’s gained more experience, he has also gained more trust from his coach, which is evident in the increase in situations he is being utilized.

The question really is what is this kid’s ceiling? It’s hard to know at this point, but what really impresses me about Hagelin’s game is that his puck handling keeps up with his foot speed. Rico Fata could skate like the wind too, but he had no hands.

Many will write that Hagelin is too small or that he needs to bulk up. To which I say, BS! How many times have you seen him get pancaked and lose the puck? Grade: A

John Mitchell: While many of Avery’s supporters blame his current status on Rupp and Erik Christensen, Mitchell too deserves culpability. Of course Mitchell deserves a spot on this roster over Avery, so you won’t hear any complaints from me.

Mitchell has been a possession monster for us, as he currently leads the team in relative corsi. He’s also been dynamite on the draw (FO 58.6%), he’s quick, and he plays gritty without taking dumb penalties. I’m not sure who scouted this guy in Toronto, but whoever it was deserves credit. Like a glove! Grade: B+

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