Posts tagged: Brian Boyle

Recap: Rangers v. Wild

On a night where the lowly Islanders of all teams were able to stop the freight train that is the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers gutted out a much needed win in Minnesota, 3-2 over the Wild, to extend their Eastern Conference lead to 3 points with 6 to play.  Brian Boyle had a big game for the Rangers, scoring a goal, winning key face-offs and playing a solid physical game.  Let’s get to the bullets…

1st Period

  • The first period started off physical.  Both teams are low-scoring, physical groups and they acted like it to start the tilt.  For the first 10 or so minutes, the teams traded pedestrian scoring chances.
  • As the period progressed, the Rangers started to sustain more pressure and create some decent scoring chances.  They fell victim to a quick whistle on a play where the puck was clearly loose in the crease, and by the time the puck had made its way to the back of the net, the play was long dead.
  • Marian Gaborik was flying during the first period.
  • The Rangers would finally break the scoreless tie at the 11:23 mark when a shot from Anton Stralman was redirected and a scrum in front of the net ensued.  Brandon Dubinsky got the shot past Josh Harding and Brian Boyle popped it in the back of the net. 1-0 Rangers.
  • The Blueshirts had two power play chances in the first, and the unit actually looked pretty good.  The puck movement was there and they were getting shots to the net.  Unfortunately, the results didn’t match up with the effort and the score remained 1-0.
  • The Rangers dominated the first for the most part, outshooting the Wild 13-6.  Josh Harding had to be, and was, the best player on the ice for Minnesota.

2nd Period

  • Brian Boyle took a delay of game penalty to start the 2nd period when Mikko Koivu pressured the big pivot into sending the puck over the glass.  The Rangers would fall into some bad shot blocking luck on the PK. Callahan had to play with a broken stick after blocking a shot, and Ryan McDonagh was left limping after another block.  Kyle Brodziak was able to pot a rebound on a shot that Hank would probably want back.  1-1.
  • After seeing the overall physicality wane in the latter half of first, it returned again in the second.
  • The Rangers would regain the lead on Marian Gaborik’s 38th goal of the season, off a beautiful feed from Brad Richards.  Richards won the draw and followed the puck down low, finding a lane to Gaborik.  Absolute thing of beauty to see Richie finding his game at the right time. 2-1 Rangers.
  • Shortly after the Rangers took the lead again, some miscommunication in the slot between John Mitchell and Mike Rupp resulted in a fantastic save by Henrik Lundqvist, and an interference penalty by Marc Staal.  This was a case where they were both looking for the other to clear the puck, and the whole play broke down.
  • The Rangers were subsequently burned on the ensuing power play by some beautiful passing by the Wild.  Mikko Koivu would eventually deposit the puck into a wide open net off a great feed from Dany Heatley. 2-2.
  • For the second half of the period, the Wild controlled the play.  They won battles along the walls and pinned the Rangers back in their zone for long periods of time.  It was a blessing when the buzzer went off.

3rd Period

  • Brandon Dubinsky, who had played a strong first two periods was rewarded by starting on a line with Callahan and Stepan.  Dubi was all over the place tonight and was rewarded for his strong play.
  • The Rangers looked like a team trying to hold onto the point that they would receive if this game went to overtime.  They were tentative in all areas of the ice, which led to some chances for Minnesota.  Hank was up to the task and made some key saves in the third.
  • The third continued in a fairly uneventful fashion until the Blueshirts struck with a little under 7 minutes to go.  Ryan McDonagh made a nice pinch and carried the puck down low.  He tried to throw the puck toward the net, but it fortuitously bounced off a Wild defender and right onto the stick of Ruslan Fedetenko.  He was able to beat Josh Harding on the far side and give the Rangers the lead and the win. 3-2 Rangers.

Goaltending Analysis

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Musings: The Playoff and Penguin Edition

Good morning Thursday people. Apparently this is the morning where you’ve woken up to the biggest game of the season. Some media darling is skating into the garden today, he’s quite good apparently. Whatever.

Here’s a statistic for you: (I bragged about it earlier this year when I was in New York with Dave, the Suit and co.) Sidney Crosby is winless in Penguins games that I have attended. I say, long may that continue. I was there in November for the 4-3 victory over Sidney and his boys and I saw him twice in his rookie year in Canada. 0 and 3 Sidney, and don’t you forget it.

I’m going to stop lavishing praise on Carl Hagelin soon. It’s becoming boring and predictable.

The Gaborik – Richards – Hagelin line; the performance (as a line) against the Canes was both impressive and promising. I’ve a pretty good memory and for me, that was the most dominant one game performance by a Rangers line since the Jagr days during his 54 goal season. Any other alternatives you want to suggest?

Reasons we love Ryan Callahan: He had no qualms about going on the radio the other day and insisting the Rangers would go straight at Crosby. You know he’ll back his words up too. If he plays.

Back to the November Pens victory at the Garden: The Rangers dominated that game in the faceoff circle and was surely a key to the success. Richards was 13-3, Boyle 11-4, Dubinsky 11-5 and even Stepan was 5-3. The Blueshirts will likely need to win the faceoff battle again tonight.

Something I asked on Twitter the other day; is the current edition of Gaborik the best ever (so far)??

I am hard on him but I would love to see a quality performance from Anisimov tonight. He’s surely due. For the record; I am only hard on him because he’s so talented but we don’t see it enough. Just like his shot.

Kudos Time: Brian Boyle has been very impressive recently. Starting to find a rhythm offensively, playing the body more (even if it could be even more), defensively he’s been his usual excellent self and his penalty killing has been a joy to watch. If Boyle is on form heading in to the playoffs that gives the Rangers another dimension.

If the Rangers win tonight and conclude the home stand with at least 5 of 7 as victories, I’m resting Dan Girardi for a game or two.

Same goes for Prust and I’m also careful with Callahan.  It would also give an opportunity to give Zuccarello more ice time. Audition time Hobbit.

If the Rangers do the unthinkable and lose tonight, does that make the Avalanche game a crucial-win? The Devils, Red Wings and a suddenly surging (and still desperate) Sabres team follow tonight. That’s quite the threesome up next.

If you’re a Rangers fan you’re cheering for Buffalo and Washington right now, by the way. You’d much rather them in the first round than Ottawa or the Devils who are far more awkward opponents.

Question Time:

  • If you had to choose: Boston or Ottawa as 1st round opponent?
  • More points this season: McDonagh or Dubinsky?
  • If you could only retain one: Fedotenko or Mitchell?
  • If you could only retain one part 2: Bickel or Eminger?

Game day, folks. Get your game faces on, avoid happiness in work. Don’t be fazed by happy people, Knicks fans or anyone from Pennsylvania. If you see a Penguins fan hip check them in to the side walk. (Dave, can I promote violence on the blog? No?) OK, scratch that last one folks….

My prediction: Rangers win 3-2 in OT. Sidney’s futile run against his arch nemesis (me) continues.


Rangers Refuse to Lose; Beat Isles in OT

The Rangers willed themselves to a 4-3 overtime win over the Islanders tonight. Trailing three times, on the receiving end of some questionable refereeing and unlucky breaks that resulted in Islanders goals, this team refused to give in and got the three points their play deserved. The better team won tonight. To the game points:

First Period

The Islanders and Rangers sleep walked through the first half of the first period. The Rangers played conservatively, perhaps timidly (given their recent slump, not a surprise) and the Islanders were more than happy to go along with that start. The slow start meant zero offensive zone pressure from either team and almost no shots to speak of.

Brian Boyle laid on a big, clean hit early in the first. If he used his body as effectively as he did with that hit – more often – he’d be a scary hockey player.

Another unnecessary Bickel duel. That aside, Bickel was solid tonight.

Whenever the Rangers raised the ante in the last few minutes of the first, they put pressure on the Isles and generated offense. A few solid scoring chances came out of the last five, six minutes because the Rangers did a better job of getting the puck in deep, and controlling the boards.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, Evgeni Nabakov was tremendous in the first period and made smart stops on Mitchell in front and Dubinsky.

The Tavares goal was from a quick break out from the Isles zone and the Rangers being unprepared. The forwards were slow to get back and the defensemen were too close together allowing Parenteau space on the right and thus able to get his shot off cleanly. Lundqvist gave up a juicy rebound in front and Girardi swatted the puck straight in to Tavares who was driving to the net. Several Rangers looked sloppy on the goal.

The Dubinsky line had a real strong shift late on. The line displayed great puck control, impressive strength and determination along the boards– particularly from Dubinsky – that led to a few opportunities and a great Dubinsky chance that Nabakov was equal to.

The shift was everything that’s good about Dubinsky: hustle, strength and determination resulting in generating his own scoring chance.

The game tying goal: Like with Dubinsky it was a showcase of everything good about Brad Richards. He skated coast to coast with the puck, beat a defenseman up the middle and used another as a screen to get his quick wrist shot off that beat Nabakov. Richards has such puck carrying ability and we don’t see it nearly enough.

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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.


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Boyle rounding into form?

Brian Boyle will get nowhere near his offensive totals from last season, even the Stevie Wonder of Rangers fans knows that. Many people have been unhappy with his play at times this season but lately Boyle has been a workhorse and even begun to chip in a little offensively. If he can gather some offensive momentum – which this team surely needs – then he can be happy with his overall season.

He can be happy with his overall play because Boyle is above all else, invaluable to the penalty kill. One of the league’s very best penalty kills let us not forget. It is one of the units that have made this team one of the leagues’ best as they head in to the stretch. Boyle was dominant on the penalty kill against the Sabres and his goal against Martin Brodeur a game earlier hinted at his (decent) offensive ability. He didn’t panic, he waited out Brodeur and calmly finished. It wasn’t a play of a guy that has such meagre goal totals this season.

Brian Boyle may not be worthy of his contract when he doesn’t provide a 15+ goal season but he’s certainly a great asset on this team. For all the rants people go on about his lack of physicality – given his size – it’s a fact that this Rangers team is much better with Boyle than they are without him. Boyle is the kind of player that succeeds in the post season. He plays through pain and never – at least voluntarily – gives up on a play.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, what Boyle has been lacking this season is what the team most sorely needs – offense. If players such as Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky and Brad Richards were performing better Boyle’s lack of offense may not be as widely discussed as it has been. That said, Boyle has been playing better, getting chances and consistently providing great special teams play for his side. He’s offering a lot more than some other members of the roster and on a first placed team that’s not such a bad start.

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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A Look At The NYR GVT/PVT Leaders

With the Rangers seemingly in cruise control heading as the season flipped to January, we have been taking the time to look at advanced metrics to determine who exactly is contributing and in what fashion. One of the overall metrics we use here, Points Versus Threshold (or PVT), has been unavailable because it is derived from Goals Versus Threshold (GVT), of which the numbers were not available until recently. Now that Hockey Prospectus has made the GVT numbers available, PVT is now available*. Just a note about the numbers: these do not include the Winter Classic or any January games.

*-Note to the HP and BTN guys: I can help you with getting these out regularly if you want. </shameless plug>

Looking at the defensive unit, which has been marred by injuries, there might be a bit of a surprise at who leads the way:

Key for the tables: GP=Games Played; OGVT=Offensive GVT; DGVT=Defensive GVT; SGVT=Shootout GVT; GVT=Overall GVT; PVT=Overall PVT

1 Michael Del Zotto 36 3.6 4 0 7.6 2.5
2 Ryan McDonagh 36 2.7 2 0 4.7 1.6
3 Dan Girardi 36 0.6 2.1 0 2.7 0.9
4 Anton Stralman 13 0.7 1.6 0 2.4 0.8
5 Jeff Woywitka 26 1.3 0.5 0 1.8 0.6
6 Stu Bickel 6 1 0.6 0 1.7 0.6
7 Michael Sauer 19 0 1.7 0 1.7 0.6
8 Steve Eminger 30 -0.1 0.9 0 0.8 0.3
9 Brendan Bell 1 -0.1 -0.1 0 -0.2 -0.1
10 Tim Erixon 13 -0.6 0.1 0 -0.5 -0.2

Yes folks, that is Michael Del Zotto ahead of both Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi for tops among the defensemen in PVT. Del Zotto has earned the Rangers 2.5 extra points in the standings. That is as much as both McDoangh and Girardi combined. That’s not to discount the top pairing, as they are critical to the success of the team by shutting down the opposition. It is more to play up how Del Zotto has done a complete 180 from last season.

Looking more into these numbers, don’t look too deep into Mike Sauer’s numbers. GVT and PVT are counting metrics, and since Sauer has only played 19 games, his number appears lower. When you average it out to the 36 games played, he has about a 1.1 PVT (3.3 GVT) and sits in the top three or four.

As for Steve Eminger, who sits in the bottom three with a 0.3 PVT, it shows how much he struggled early in the season. He played better as he received more minutes, but his PVT numbers suffer because of his horrendous start.

Looking at the PVT numbers, it’s easy to see why Jeff Woywitka was scratched for Marc Staal’s return, and not Stu Bickel. Bickel has the same PVT as Woywitka, but in almost 1/4 the games. That number says it all. Plus the youth and “jam” factor of course.

Analysis of the forwards after the jump

Boyle Needs To Be Better

Editor’s Note: This post was written on 12/25, with some updates made by Dave as of last night’s game.

One of the biggest surprises during the first half of last season was Rangers forward Brian Boyle.  Boyle came out of the gate looking like a completely different player and was a huge part of our offense. Through the first three months of last season, Boyle had 14 goals and 22 points in 38 games.  After the halfway mark his production fell off a cliff.

This season, Boyle’s contributions on offense have been more congruent with the 2nd half of last year, as he has just two goals to date. To be fair, Boyle’s average minutes per game have slightly decreased from 15:44 last season to 14 minutes this season and obviously he’s being relied on more for his play in the defensive zone, which has been stellar (just look at last night’s game). However, if the Rangers are going to go the distance in the playoffs, they are going to need some scoring from our bottom six and that starts with Brian Boyle.

Now I wasn’t expecting him to go out and score 25 goals this season, but 15 shouldn’t have been a stretch. With Brandon Dubinsky struggling, and the fact that you can only ask so much of guys like Brandon Prust, Mike Rupp, and Ruslan Fedotenko offensively, it’s fair to say that Boyle simply needs to be better offensively.

Brian Boyle Needs To Be Better

Jeff Woywitka had the same amount of points as Brian Boyle prior to last night’s game. While Boyle isn’t (or at least should not be) judged purely on offensive statistics that first comment is quite a damning statement given Woywitka is a throw-in and plays minimal minutes on the bottom defensive pair. Simply put Brian Boyle, even with his goal yesterday, hasn’t been good enough consistently (the key word) this season.

We’ve not seen the same improved skating from last year, there’s been an absence of Boyle driving hard to the net using his size to his advantage and generally Boyle has failed to impose himself on games. Boyle has been OK defensively, but isn’t taking the body as well as he did last year. He needs to do more. The thing is, despite all the big name players in the Rangers top six, the presence of Boyle in his 2010-11 form would go a long way to making this team much better.

Boyle is a huge part of this team. Why? With Boyle playing like he did at times last year this team is suddenly very deep down the middle. Without that Boyle the team is simply not as deep. A good Boyle, and a good line led by Boyle, creates match-up problems for opposing teams and gives the Rangers three strong lines with different skill sets to roll with confidence.

Boyle isn’t the only Rangers forward fighting with himself to be better. Brandon Dubinsky still isn’t justifying his new deal (sorry, one goal doesn’t cut it), Brandon Prust has been indifferent (cause or effect of Boyle’s year?) while Wojtek Wolski can’t get and stay in the line up. However, if Brian Boyle can get close to his level of play from last year he helps those around him. His line playing well helps the other lines and thus it truly could be a knock on effect.

Some people might forget that Boyle had a long scoreless streak last year as well. If his current form (at least offensively) continues questions may be asked whether he was merely on a hot streak last year and it was all a flash in the pan. So far, Boyle hasn’t received much criticism. Whether that’s because of his popularity or the fact his new deal isn’t as big as a guy like Dubinsky’s is a moot point. The Rangers need him to be better and sooner rather than later.

Prust’s Tricky Situation

Despite a great season last time around, when Brandon Prust became an integral (albeit surprising) Ranger there could be some difficulty finding an ideal spot for Prust on this year’s team. Prust is obviously going to make the side; after all he became a dangerous penalty killer last season as well as a fearless competitor. However, his role this year is somewhat complicated by the fact he still hasn’t been cleared for physical contact and won’t be until the Rangers hit Europe – meaning the gritty winger won’t have had an ideal pre-season whatsoever.

His line mates from last season – primarily Brian Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko – will have a full camp under their belts with different line mates as well as accumulating plenty of ice time. The Rangers have a lot of wingers desperate to make the team out of camp including physical winger Dale Weise, speedy Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello. One of those, if not more, may head to Europe because of injuries persisting on the roster to players such as Prust.

So what if a Hagelin or Weise finds great chemistry in the bottom six, especially with Prust’s former line? Again, to repeat, Prust isn’t going anywhere. His play last year built up a lot of credit and he’s a great find for the Rangers but he may be moved around the roster if chemistry is built up in his absence. Not an ideal scenario for the fan favourite.