Has there ever been a more boring start to an NHL off-season than this one? Granted, the free-agent pool might not be as deep as it has been in years past, and is only going to keep on getting thinner due to all of these mega-deals, but still, there are enough names out there for this to have been a pretty exciting few weeks in July. It’s funny that when Ryan Suter and Zach Parise actually signed, aside from the initial, “Wow! Minnesota got both!” reaction, the excitement was limited, and people stopped talking about it within two days. Now if Parise had gone to the Rangers, Flyers, or Penguins, and Suter to the Red Wings, not only would we still be talking about it, but suicide hotline workers would be raking in overtime cash.
The New York Rangers re-signed one of their unrestricted free agents yesterday, in bringing back winger Ruslan Fedotenko. I was of the opinion that they were going to bring back only one of the pair of him and Vinny Prospal, so now that he is signed, I think that Prospal is done in New York. If that is the case, so long and thank you very much, because he did the job he was supposed to do. While Fedotenko is not going to blow anybody away, he is very good at what he does, which is blocking shots, checking, and scoring the occasional goal. He finished the season with 10 goals and 15 assists for 25 points, and was rewarded with a one year extension at $1.4 million. He is a great role player to have on the bottom six, and is someone who could jump up on the top line for a few games if need be.
As 32 years old, there is still some gas left in the tank for him, unlike Prospal, unfortunately. These two guys played under John Tortorella in Tampa Bay, which was the reason they were brought in. But now, there really is no place in the future for Vinny, and I do believe the Rangers will not make an effort to bring him back. Fedotenko is the epitome of a Tortorella player, and the Rangers missed his presence in the 16 games he was out with injury last season.
We are now in the morning of Day Two of the NHL’s Free Agent Frenzy, with big names such as Brad Richards and Simon Gagne still out there for the taking. I really hope that Richards, wherever he signs, will do so today, so this does not drag out like Kovalchuk’s saga did last summer.
Christmas is only 35 days away, and fans of the New York Rangers have asked Santa Claus for Brad Richards. The Blueshirts barely snuck into the playoffs this season, mainly due to their anemic offense that was always a two periods late and a goal short. They rode the back of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and a youthful defense for as long as they could, but it was not nearly enough. The team needed goals, plain and simple, or they needed passes going to someone who could get them goals, namely Marian Gab0rik, who disappeared more times than planes have gone down in the Bermuda Triangle.
Blame was placed on the offense in two directions: 1) Marian Gaborik was merely a flash in the pan, who came to Broadway, put up a 40+ goal season, got comfortable, and then went away, content with the salary he was given. He was no longer a big game player, no longer the superstar the Rangers gave a five-year/$37.5 million contract to in 2009. 2) Gaborik did not lose any skill himself, but rather, it was the fault of his teammates who could not get him the puck. Erik Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky, Vinny Prospal, and others whose names elude me at the present time all were blamed for not being a good enough set-up man.
Either way, Gaborik never had a star center in Minnesota (unless you think Pierre-Marc Bouchard is worth writing home about) but that did not stop him from putting up 42 goals in 07/08 and four other 30-goal seasons, all while never playing a full 82 games. So now, everyone is clamoring for Dallas Stars’ free agent center Brad Richards. He is going to be the answer and savior all in one shot. Why? I don’t know, you tell me.
This is where Rangers fans earn their paycheck, by going around the league every summer and seeing what players out there will instantly come here and save the day. Every season it is always a center, and while I agree that the Rangers desperately need a center (just like Christensen desperately needs a prescription for Cymbalta), I also want to make note of the high-priced free agents the Rangers have brought in over the years. Unless you are a fan of the way Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, and Wade Redden worked out, you will agree that when the Rangers throw the checkbook at somebody for how well they played in the past, it ultimately fails.
Brad Richards is a fantastic talent, don’t get me wrong. He has put up 91 points twice (Gomez put up 84 once) and has registered more than 40 assists in all but one season, which was when he was injured in 08/09. But why all of a sudden is he going to click with Gaborik and put up those points here in New York? Rangers fans have this Utopian idea in their heads more than half the time, one that includes severely over-rating our homegrown players and then automatically assuming every free agent in the world wants to play here. To go on a tangent for a second, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan will be overpaid this summer, and neither will be worth the paycheck—trust me on that. But will you take off the blinders and see it too? There is not a player in this franchise (you read correctly, not one player) who should be considered untouchable in my eyes.
Now we must look at what price Richards can be had for. He clearly deserves between $6 and 7 million, easy. The Rangers currently have just over $18 million in cap space, with Dubinsky, Callahan, Brian Boyle, Artem Anisimov, Matt Gilroy, and Michael Sauer all restricted free agents. With those players eating up well over half of that, the Rangers will then need to replace Alex Frolov, whose money thankfully comes off the books, and then must reconsider bringing one (or none) of the pair of Ruslan Fedotenko and Vinny Prospal back—they should not re-sign both. Then there are defensemen Bryan McCabe and Steve Eminger also hitting free agency, and while I like McCabe’s potential as a leader and powerplay catalyst, unless he takes around $2 million for a one-year deal, I would not bring him back. As for Eminger, I am still on the fence about whether he should be brought back, but I am inclined to think no. So now where is this money for Richards going to come from, with most of it tied up in signing the Rangers’ own players? The logical answer would be to summon the ghost of Harry Houdini and make Chris Drury disappear (or they could just banish him to the minors or buy him out), or even find a way to trade Marian Gaborik, but something tells me that would defeat the purpose of signing Brad Richards, won’t it?
What Glen Sather and the Rangers have to do is get creative though trades, which is where the GM excels anyway. I would like to see what the return could be for a Gaborik deal, and although fans would worry about dealing him, if the Rangers can finish in 8th place and have a mediocre offense with him, they can finish in 8th place and have a mediocre offense without him. The Rangers must work the phones here, and find a way to get Gaborik’s contract off the books, and get some high to medium level talent in return, and maybe even some draft picks. With that money, perhaps they can then do what everyone really wants to see, and that is poach Zach Parise from the New Jersey Devils. But I will attach a disclaimer to that: do you really see Sather doing that to his old crony Lou Lamoriello? I don’t think so.
So, the answer to the question I initially asked is “No”, Brad Richards is not the answer. Sure he would be part of it, but unless the Rangers can solve all of it, I would not tie up a large amount of money like that in a 31-year old whose best days are truly behind him. I am tired of seeing the Rangers gamble with enormous contracts, thinking they are a quick fix when all they do is handicap the team further down the road. The Rangers need a center alright, but I would rather give Michal Handzus one year at $2.5 million and throw him next to Gaborik than lock up Richards for five to six years. The free agent market is drier than the Sahara Desert when it comes to centers this summer, but that doesn’t mean the Rangers need to settle for someone just because nobody else is there.
Think I’m joking about the laughably boring free agent market this year? Just click here to see for yourself.
Just one look at the screen shot above, taken during last night’s game between the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers, and you can tell it just has not been an easy season for the Broadway Blueshirts. Decimated by injuries ever since it was reported in September that Vinny Prospal, coming off knee surgery, would be out indefinitely, the wound has kept on getting wider. Chris Drury also injured himself during training camp, missed several weeks, came back for one game, and got injured again. Marian Gaborik has missed 14 games so far due to two separate injuries, and leading scorer Brandon Dubinsky has missed the last five with a stress fracture; the list goes on and on.
Through all of this, though, has bit a been of a blessing, because like it or not, the Rangers are rebuilding without having to actually rebuild. What is the definition of a rebuild? To get rid of all the veterans and those not hacking it in favor of giving the promising youth in the system an extended look, so that in the next season, management will know who should remain in the NHL, who will be sent to the AHL, and who will be cut all together. If you notice the eight currently injured Rangers, you will see that all of them are veterans, and all have been replaced by rookies or those not far from being rookies. Essentially, the Rangers are rebuilding because they are getting a look at all of their top youth, the only difference is, the veterans will be returning this season, oh, and they are actually playing competitively.
To think, that a team that has had six players make their NHL debut, another four join with under fifty games of NHL experience, and the “old man” on defense be 27-year-old Steve Eminger, sit in 6th place in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star Break, is not only mind-boggling, but tremendously encouraging. The rookies the Rangers are sporting are not being carefully inserted into the lineup for a glimpse, but thrust into games with a regular role because this team cannot afford to waste time analyzing.
The Rangers needed the help desperately, and they have gotten key contributions from Mats Zuccarello, who, since his call-up, has three goals and eight assists for 11 points in 17 games, including going four-for -four in shoot-out attempts. Derek Stepan, who has been with the team since the beginning of the season, has 14 goals and 16 assists for 30 points, and has become the team’s most reliable center, next to Brian Boyle who could vie for Comeback Player of the year. Boyle is looked at as a veteran, and may be on this crop, but before this season he had only 107 NHL games experience spread out over three seasons, with only 12 goals and four assists. This season, he has come up clutch time and time again, with a team-leading 18 goals, more than both teammate Marian Gaborik, and Washington Capital star Alex Ovechkin.
Dale Weise has also been a pleasant surprise because of his willingness to fight, and newcomers Kris Newbury and Chad Kolarik, who have spent a lot of time in different systems in the minors, have fit in well, but will most likely not stay once the injured players make their return.
And how about toughness? This team has never been more eager to drop the gloves and stick up for teammates until after Derek Boogaard was injured. At any given time, the Rangers can throw someone out there who will fight, even if none are “enforcer”-type material. Brandon Prust continues to have an amazing season doing a little bit of everything, while Sean Avery, Newbury, and Weise also hold their own rather well.
Last night’s loss to the Panthers was disappointing, but it was part of the learning curve for this Rangers team that just will not die. They lead the league in games on back-to-back nights, yet always prove to be a tough foe when they play. They have been excellent in third periods when trailing, which they showed last night in rallying to tie the game at three after trailing 3-1 heading into the final frame, despite losing 4-3. Resilient would be the perfect word, because as soon as someone gets injured, the call-up comes right in and plays well.
These rookies have made it difficult for the coaching staff to decide who stays and who goes. When Dan Girardi returns after the break, will it be Ryan McDonaugh or Michael Del Zotto that gets sent back to Connecticut? Ryan Callahan is also close to returning, who goes when he gets back? I think it is safe to say that Zuccarello has won his spot on the team this season because of his outstanding play and speedy footwork, so I guess the first candidates to go back down will be DuPont and Weise, with Newbury and Kolarik remaining until Fedotenko and Dubinsky return.
The Rangers finally have a young, homegrown team that we have all been clamoring for years to get. Would it be a success? That is the question we have been wondering about for all this time. I think with this recent stretch of play, the Rangers will have a bright future ahead of them. The old saying holds true, the best discoveries are made, sometimes, entirely by accident.
Just finished reading a great piece by Larry Brooks in the New York Post, where he asks Wayne Gretzky, who turns 50 on Wednesday, how his life is going and should the Winter Classic be in New York next season, would he play for them in the legends game. The Great One responded with an emphatic yes and an, “I’d be there in a minute if the Rangers had one.” If this doesn’t help sell the NHL that the Rangers should be hosting the WC next season, I don’t know what will. As someone alluded to on Yahoo, wouldn’t it be sweet to see a Rangers-Kings classic, where Gretzky suits up for Los Angeles for the first half of the game, then finishes in Ranger blue? But that does not appear to be the likely scenario, because it seems the Rangers and Flyers are the leading contenders for 2012.
This all begs me to ask the question, if Wayne is so eager to play for them in the legends game, would he play for the Rangers right now? With injuries to Dubinsky, Callahan, Christensen, Fedotenko, Boogaard, Frolov, Prospal, and now Girardi and Prust, Gretzky would be a top-flight player on this team who is featuring half of the Connecticut Whale on their roster. If you would have told me that by January, the Rangers would have peeks at Zuccarello, Weise, Dupont, Kolarik, Newbury, McDonaugh, and Williams, I would have thought you were crazy, but the Rangers have caught the injury bug this season, and no one has escaped it, including Marian Gaborik and Chris Drury who are healthy now but missed an extended period of time earlier in the season.
The Rangers four current centers are Brian Boyle, Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov, and Chris Drury…HELP! Where would Gretzky fit into all of this, even at fifty years old? I’d say pretty damn well if you ask me. The Rangers are one of the worst teams in the league on faceoffs…do you think Wayne has slipped up in that department. And how about for goals, a category the Rangers are strapped for considering half their team is watching in the press box? I think he still has a few biscuits left in his arsenal.
So Wayne, if you are reading this and still feel ties to New York, please come and help us out! If I see Captain Clutch miss one more open net or flub one more slap shot, or lose a faceoff, because apparently, that’s the only thing his $7 million salary is paying him to do, I’ll scream. You will always be welcome here Wayne, so how about a comeback attempt?
The Rangers entered tonight’s game against the Montreal Canadiens coming off one of their best games of the season, which was a 1-0 win over the NHL’s best Vancouver Canucks. Unfortunately, more stagnant offense and an undisciplined penalty by Brandon Dubinsky (in retaliation for the P.K Subban slew-foot the last time these two teams met, contributed to the Rangers 3-2 loss tonight in Montreal.
- First period: The Rangers seemed to get off on the right track when Brian Boyle (15) knocked a loose puck past Carey Price a little less than seven minutes into the game. Brandon Prust had swiped at it as well, but Boyle was the last one to touch it; Girardi would also get an assist. It would be all downhill from there, as the Rangers would collapse for three minutes after failing to maintain their discipline. The Canadiens would get powerplay goals from Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Plekanec to take the lead, and then Andrei Kostitsyn would score their third goal. The Rangers failed on the two powerplay opportunities they had, as their offense was simply putrid. It has looked like this for many games, and they don’t even get shots on goal, let alone quality chances. This has to change—a peewee team would look better than they do.
- Second Period: What was a relatively tame period, aside from another two blown mad-advantages, turned very intense at the 17:47 mark. Lundqvist had been bumped into on the Canadiens powerplay minutes earlier, but then he would be completely run into by Matt Pacorietty, causing the goaltender to fall over hard into the net. With Pacioretty laying on the ice, Lundqvist got up and pounced on him, punching him numerous times until it turned into a pile-on. Brian Gionta then jumped on top of Lundqvist, and bodies were locked up everywhere. This was a play that was years in the making—Lundqvist is constantly being bumped into and remains perfectly calm while the gutless dolts this team has on defense do nothing to protect him. Pacioretty was pushed by Dubinsky, but this was something Lundqvist had to do—enough is enough. This melee came off of three amazing saves on Montreal’s powerplay. Lundqvist was not assessed a penalty for the incident, and the crowd would boo him every time he touched the puck or made a save the rest of the game.
- Third Period: For the first few minutes, there seemed to be no indication that the Rangers could come back in this game. They looked disinterested to say the least. There would be a breakthrough at the 6:57 mark when Mats Zuccarello (2) shot one in off a pass from Derek Stepan behind the net, but that’s as close as they would come to tying the game up. Lundqvist continued to be brilliant, but it was to no avail as the team in front of him could not shake their uninspired play, and the Rangers would fall 3-2.
Every game recap after a loss seems to sound the same: the Rangers aren’t shooting enough and with that comes a lack of goals. Gaborik yet again was invisible and I’m not even sure if Chris Drury is actually on the team anymore. It’s great to see the Prust-Boyle-Fedotenko line playing well, but if they are the Rangers’ best line night in and night out, the Rangers are going to start to slip in the standings. That and the atrocious powerplay is equating to some listless offensive play.
The Rangers have been very good at cycling and keeping the puck in the opponents’ zone, but that is a moot point if they aren’t getting shots through. Though the Rangers were able to put up 21 shots in the third period, it was too late. Had they kept the pressure up all game long (and stayed out of the penalty box), they would have won. The Rangers can’t seem to play more than one solid period every game, and that is a big problem.
The team will now return home for a game against the Flyers tomorrow. I would like to see Biron in net, but because it is an important game, Lundqvist may get the start on back-to-back nights. If it was up to me, Biron would have played tonight and Lundqvist tomorrow, but that ship has sailed.
The standings may show the New Jersey Devils to be the worst team in the league, but tonight, when the New York Rangers came to town, they upped their game considerably and battled hard for the entire night. The Rangers would eventually overcome them, with a 3-1 win, but it was a hard-fought sixty minutes by both teams. I stated earlier this afternoon that the Rangers could not take them lightly, and as close as the score was, I do not think that was the case. The Rangers did not play very well, but they were not terrible. The Devils, meanwhile, played very well but when you are in the midst of a season like this, the breaks do not go your way. This would be evident in the ensuing three periods.
- First period: The Devils got off to a great start by keeping the puck in the Rangers end and cracking the score sheet just over six minutes in. With Henrik Lundqvist down and a scramble in the crease, Travis Zajac shot one past Marc Staal who almost got his skate on it. This would cause some worry in the Rangers, as they were getting badly outplayed, but then Brian Boyle (14) would counter with the tying goal less than a minute later. It started in their own zone with Brandon Prust, who carried the puck out and gave it to Ruslan Fedotenko, who fed Boyle for a quick shot, that hit off the bottom of Martin Brodeur’s glove. Needless to say, it was an extraordinarily soft goal that he should have had, but the Rangers will take it. They would only muster up 5 shots in the period, but Brodeur looked shaky, and they may have scored more goals had they not been outplayed so severely. The Devils would have 16 shots and control play for the majority of the period. The Rangers were lucky to get out tied.
- Second period: As unstable as Brodeur was in the first period was as good as he looked in the second. The Rangers still did not generate an adequate number of shots, but Brodeur made several nice saves, including one on Sean Avery later in the period. The tempo of play also increased, as the game became more hard-hitting and even prompted a fight between Boyle and Dainus Zubrus, who is nothing but a gutless thug. The Rangers would end up giving up 20 more shots in the middle frame, bringing the Devils’ game total to 36, but that would not stop the Rangers from taking the lead 2-1, on a goal by Michal Rozsival (3). Stepan would get the puck to Dubinsky behind the night, who fed Rozsival at the right circle, and his shot appeared to be going wide, before it took a dramatic deflection off Andy Greene and past Brodeur short-side. Lundqvist was keeping the team in the game.
- Third period: The two teams kept playing hard, and the Rangers would get a glorious scoring chance early, with a four-minute powerplay. However, the Devils would kill it off easily and the score would remain the same. The Rangers were able to keep pressure off Lundqvist, who had a heavy workload through two periods. He would end the game with 43 saves in total, a season high. The game would wind down and Jason Arnott was just inches away from tying the it late, when he was a foot away from the crease with the puck on his stick and a wide open net, but he shot it over the top of the net and into the crowd. Brandon Dubinsky would ice the game with an empty net goal, sealing a 3-1 victory against the Devils.
The Rangers did not play a very good game tonight—it was not terrible, but I don’t think they were prepared for a Devils team who obviously had tonight’s rivalry matchup circled on their calendar. In other words, they were extremely lucky to come away with a win tonight, and thanks to a blooper first goal, a lucky bounce on the second, and some amazing goaltending, they were able to keep the Devils reeling, and winless with Jacques Lemaire as coach.
Chris Drury also had a sub-par game tonight. He took a very bad offensive zone penalty with under four minutes remaining in regulation, and luckily the team was able to kill it off. He is still looking for his first goal since his return from a broken hand.
Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle continue to be this team’s unsung heroes. They work hard every night and have developed unbelievable chemistry with their other line mate, Ruslan Fedotenko. They have become a true joy to watch on this team, and they deserve some powerplay time, while Gaborik and Co. continue to struggle just getting shots on goal.
And so the Rangers close out 2010 with a victory over their rivals. It really was not as much fun tonight, beating up on the worst team in the league, but a win is a win, and the Rangers did exactly what they needed to do.
The New York Rangers found themselves trailing three times tonight, but each time they fell behind, they fought back, and ultimately found a way to defeat the Ottawa Senators tonight 5-3 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. It was not pretty, and the Rangers found themselves stuck in stretches of clumsy play, but they needed a win tonight after playing horribly against these same Senators Saturday night. In the end, they would have an unlikely hero as one of their young defensemen would score his first NHL goal, and send the Rangers to victory.
- First Period: The Rangers were looking to have a better start to the game than their last, which included an awful first period. They would not get started off on the right foot, as the Senators would score on an early powerplay less than three minutes in. Henrik Lundqvist would make a terrific stop on Nick Foligno before Mike Fisher netted home the rebound. But from there on out, the Rangers would pick up their game and tie the score nearly two minutes later, when Derek Stepan (7) found a fanned shot attempt by Marian Gaborik land on his stick, and shot it past Brian Elliot. The Rangers would not play a great period, but they had a lot more jump in their step than Sunday night’s game. Late in the period, Matt Carkner would fight Derek Boogaard and land a massive punch square in the face of Boogaard, and taking him down to the ice moments later. For the first time all season, an opponent landed a perfect punch to his face. The Rangers would exit the period tied at one a piece, despite taking three minor penalties, including one by Alex Frolov, which resulted in the Senators’ goal.
- Second Period: Once again the Senators would get the early goal, as Jason Spezza would tally one with the man advantage 34 seconds in. And once again, the Rangers would quickly counter, with a goal at an even faster minute and nine seconds later. This one would be from newly placed first liner Ruslan Fedotenko (5), from Gaborik, who got his second assist of the night, and Rozsival whose slapshot hit the post just seconds earlier. Minutes later, it would appear that the Senators had retaken the lead, when Mike Fisher took a shot from the circle that the referee signaled went in just under the crossbar. But the replay would show a miraculous example of physics that kept the puck out of the net—first it struck the crossbar, then bounced straight down off the goal line, and then sideways off the post, before bouncing forward, and directly between the leg of Lundqvist and an oncoming skate of Rozsival. Just moments later, though, Fisher would have retribution when he scored a breakaway goal on assists from Foligno and Campoli. The Rangers powerplay would fail twice more in the second period, and their lack of discipline cost them yet another goal.
- Third Period: With the Rangers trailing by one heading into the third, they needed to hunker down and play a solid period of hockey. The Rangers would shut down the Senators and put some goals up on the board. For the third time in the game, they tied the score, when Erik Christensen (5) wound up for a shot in the corner along the goal line, and somehow, the puck trickled past Elliot—it was a horribly angled goal, and for the first time in a while, the Rangers are beneficiaries of such luck. With five and a half minutes remaining in the period, the Rangers once again found themselves on the powerplay. With only seconds remaining on the advantage, and it seeming like the Rangers were going to waste another opportunity, Tortorella sent out his grinders, and among the makeshift unit, defenseman Michael Sauer (1), who ripped a slapshot that found its way through a maze of people and into the net. It would be his first NHL goal, on assists from Prust, and Avery, who now has 13 on the season. The goal would stand to be the game winner, and Brandon Dubinsky (13) would tack on an empty net goal when the Ottawa defenseman playing the puck fell down, giving it away to Dubinsky. It was not a masterpiece, but the Rangers got a very important bounce back win.
Over the last few off days, the Rangers practiced a lot of different things, emphasizing the powerplay. Up until the Sauer goal, one could hardly tell that, and even so, the powerplay is cause for concern. They are not even generating chances, but spend much of the two minutes skating up and down the rink after they allow their opponents to clear the puck.
Ruslan Fedotenko looked very good on the first line with Gaborik and Stepan, that is, when Tortorella wasn’t experimenting with and reverting back to old line combinations. The Rangers’ offense is still not getting nearly enough shots, but Fedotenko’s checking and backchecking will be a welcome sight on the top line should he stay there.
Regarding the Boogaard-Carkner fight, it was originally Tweeted by Darren Dreger of TSN that Carkner flicked blood off his fingers at players on the Rangers’ bench. No one watching the telecast noticed this, though Carkner did get a ten minute misconduct. It could be possible that was the reason. If this is true, he should face further discipline from the league. Showboating after winning a fight is one thing, but to flick a bodily fluid at someone? Not only is it disgusting and immature, but it is dangerous as well. I truly hope this was all a misunderstanding, because that would be a new low for a hockey player to have stooped to.
The New York Rangers stand deadlocked for the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference one-third into their regular season campaign. Given their hard work ethic, the Rangers have created an identity of a team who will work for an entire 60 minutes. At times, the scheduling has caught up to them, but all in all one cannot be disappointed with the efforts of the club.
Complacency from top to bottom is the one nagging issue with the team this season. Players like Alex Frolov and Ruslan Fedotenko have been invisible way too often. Many Ranger fans are already calling for the head of Frolov, but I am not keen on cutting ties with the struggling winger just yet. In fairness to Frolov, the Rangers do not have a remedy at the number one center position to get him going. John Tortorella and company can say as they please, but the number one center by committee rotation has not and will not work for the coming games in store.
Erik Christensen is not a top line center. He is a player I would not want on my club, even if his cap hit were $0. Christensen has no self confidence—he talks about himself in the third person when interviewed in a negative manner. Players like this will never be able to bring their A game every night when mentally they do not believe in themselves. Christensen has the talent; its just too bad the Rangers still believe he can be a pivot between Gaborik and whomever else Tortorella puts on the opposite wing.
The Rangers’ defense has been one that I really do not have an issue with. Michael Sauer, for the most part, has been a pleasant surprise alongside Steve Eminger. The third pairing defenders are playing into their defined roles well. Marc Staal at times has looked great and at others dismal, but when you are going up against top players on a nightly basis the mistakes will only be magnified. Veteran mainstay Michael Rozsival started the season off with a bang, but has steadied off. The Rangers’ defense looked more poised without him for a few games when he sat out with injury. I’m still steadfast in my belief that Rozsival is way too much of a liability to have out on the ice—the defenseman he is paired with has his play regress. Matt Gilroy has not been a surprise; when he was inserted into the lineup he was decent given his seven minutes of ice time. Gilroy will not finish the season out with the club if management were smart, as he is clearly not happy here.
The Rangers do have a fighting chance in the East if they decide to make a trade for number one center Brad Richards. Richards will be able to give the Rangers a true pivot for Gaborik and would redefine the power play. If the Rangers can do this without parting with any of their core (Dubinsky, Callahan, Stepan, Staal, Del Zotto) they must make this move. I would not rule out moving Girardi to Dallas in the event the Rangers can bring along a defenseman in a deal for Brad Richards. Artem Anisimov is another Ranger player that I would be open in moving for Richards. It would not be a popular move by dealing Anisimov, but lets be real here: Anisimov will never be Brad Richards.
I leave you all with this proposal for Brad Richards:
Rangers trade: Anisimov, Gilroy, Prospect, 2nd
Stars trade: Richards, Daley
The Dallas Stars are going to lose Richards no matter what, via either trade or free agency after next season. The Rangers and Stars have reportedly been in contact, with Dallas demanding Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. The proposal was immediately shot down by Sather, who will no part with any of his core.
Just like in year’s past and the perennial jokes involving the New York Rangers being the team to play against when in the midst of a slump, the Ottawa Senators came into Madison Square Garden, having lost eight out of their last ten, and having not scored since a first period three games ago. If that wasn’t enough, Chris Kelly, their third line center who has been struggling horrendously all season, had not scored in fifteen games. Well, not only did Kelly and the not-so sensational Senators snap their goal droughts, but they won as well, handing the Rangers an embarrassing 3-1 loss. The Rangers were the more rested team, and the hotter team, but none of that seemed to matter, as the Rangers never put together any solid stretches of pressure in the offensive zone.
- First Period: To describe how the Rangers played in the first period, let me just say that I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in the locker room during the intermission. For nearly the entire twenty minutes, the Senators kept them pinned in their own zone, and not let them get anything going in the neutral zone either. The Senators really did not get any glorious scoring chances themselves, but it took the Rangers nearly eighteen minutes to get their first sustained pressure of the period. Prior to that, they had a failed 3-on-1 opportunity when Derek Stepan shot the puck over the top of the net. Other than those two instances, the Rangers looked horrible. John Tortorella even had to call a timeout just four minutes in, to try to wake up his team, but it was to no avail. It really was mind-boggling how awful they looked, especially when considering the Senators played last night in Ottawa (less than 24 hours ago) and the Rangers had the night off—it looked the other way around. The shot totals would end with a 10-5 advantage to the Senators, with both Pascal Leclaire and Henrik Lundqvist being perfect, but neither of them faced any truly difficult shots. At the period’s end, the Senators goal scoring drought eclipsed 200 minutes—roughly three games and a period.
- Second Period: If Tortorella did any yelling between periods, the Rangers did not pay him any mind for the first half of the second period. They continued their lethargic play and had a chance to turn it around with an early powerplay, but instead of scoring, they allowed themselves to be scored on, when Chris Kelley snapped his 15 game goal scoring drought with a shorthanded goal. For Ottawa, it would be their first goal in 206 minutes. Once again, the Rangers prove to be the perfect remedy for struggling teams. This goal, by the way, would come within thirty seconds of Marian Gaborik being tripped by Jarkko Ruutu, very obviously, when his stick went between his legs and spun him to the ground. The incident would not be called, and it would cost the Rangers a goal. As the period continued, the Rangers play would get better. Ironically, they would tie the game while shorthanded themselves, when Brandon Prust (3) came in on a 2-on-1 and flicked a wrist shot over the shoulder of Leclaire. Assists would go to Brian Boyle and Dan Girardi. With the way Prust has played this season, I would seriously consider taking the “A” from Staal and giving it to him, as he has clearly earned more recognition. He plays with heart every night, with his checking and fighting, and has been putting pucks in the back of the net of late. Staal has struggled this season and has not given me any reason to hold on to the letter. Later in the period, the officiating would continue to be shaky. Ruslan Fedotenko knocked Leclaire over to no call, after Lundqvist had been knocked down twice earlier with no call. Then Gaborik would have a breakaway and be tripped, again, before getting being able to get a shot on goal, but that would not be called either. Lundqvist would have an easy period, and the Senators hit two posts. Meanwhile, Leclaire put on a show with several nice stops, including one on a Dubinsky deflection and the other stopping Staal on a 3-on-1.
- Third Period: The Rangers would have plenty of chances to win this game, with back to back powerplays to start the third, but they would fail to do so. They put plenty of pucks on net, but Leclaire was terrific, and kept the Rangers to only one goal. For virtually the entire period, play went back and forth and looked like it was headed to overtime. Then with just over two minutes to go, Jarkko Ruutu, two minutes removed from a world-class dive behind the Rangers’ net, set up Chris Kelly who beat Lundqvist over the shoulder for his second of the game. Then with just under a second remaining in the game, Kelly would get himself the hat trick goal and ice the game for the Senators 3-1. It was moments earlier when Lundqvist had smothered the puck, and Ruutu poked at it, which caused Del Zotto to shove him, sending the dirty Finnish player sprawling to the ice on an obvious dive. Fedotenko also went at it with Chris Neil and wanted to fight, but neither of them threw a punch. Earlier in the period, Alex Frolov would have a tremendous chance while standing in the crease, with the puck on his stick and the net wide open, but he hesitated and shot the puck right into Leclaire’s pads. This was a game that the Rangers defeated themselves in. There are no excuses for such atrocious play, considering they were the more well-rested team.
It seems every week or so, I am saying that this is “just one of those games” where certain things go wrong to contribute to a Ranger loss. Once again I am looking to find some consistency with this team, and again I find none. The Rangers had spurts where they had good chances, but they chose to shoot low on Leclaire, a player who is fantastic with his legs, and weak with his upper body. The only puck to beat him tonight was over his shoulder.
The first line was invisible and there was no hard work or aggression from Callahan or Dubinsky. As I mentioned earlier, the Rangers had no excuse to look as tired and slow as they did. Ottawa was not too good themselves, but they capitalized on the Rangers’ mistakes, including the game winning goal when Kelly was allowed to skate to within just feet of Lundqvist unopposed.
The Rangers will now have until Thursday to figure out how to put together a solid sixty minutes. They are coming off two straight wins versus the Islanders, the worst team in hockey, and were barely able to beat them, with each of those coming down to the wire. The Rangers should really be worried about their season, because they have not played well against the good teams, and they have played games like this against the bad, mediocre, and struggling teams.