Yes, give credit to the New Jersey Devils for coming out guns blazin’ in each of these first four Eastern Conference Finals games against the New York Rangers. You must give credit where credit is due, however, if the Rangers lose this series, a result I am now unfortunately leaning towards, even with it tied, they can only blame themselves. They never have or ever will make things easy on themselves or the fans that ardently watch them and spend exorbitant amounts of money to see them play live, because that is the curse that hovers over this team, ever since television announcer Sam Rosen bestowed on them, “This one will last a lifetime!” moments after winning the Stanley Cup in 1994. Even that team could not get it done easily, loaded with all-stars and future hall-of-famers. Comparisons have been drawn between this current team and that legendary one, and all I can do is laugh at that, because that team at least had the killer instinct. Make no mistake, I do not want this to seem like a full-throttle damning of a team that finished first in the Eastern Conference, and yes, always performs well with their backs against the wall, but that is exactly the problem. They cannot seem to focus unless they absolutely have to, such as when facing elimination or coming off an extremely poor performance.
Since the lockout, the New York Rangers have been used to not getting any media coverage, save for a few weeks when they make the playoffs, when perhaps they get a corner of the back page of either the New York Post or Daily News. Even then, you will not hear any puck talk on any of the major radio stations in the area. It is almost as if the sport of hockey does not exist, especially during the regular season. There could be a multitude of reasons for this, like maybe the team having a mediocre season with no players standing out in any exceptional way. Okay, maybe then it would be understandable, but the snowball effect of ignorance one year after another has built up so much that it clouds the media’s coverage even when the team is first in the Eastern Conference, with a nine-point lead, and two points out of being in first place in the entire league. Instead, even though baseball season has been over for months, and the glory of the Super Bowl is now teetering out, we now have to see the New York Knicks and Jeremy Lin on the back page every single day, while the Rangers keep on flying to obscurity in the back of the sports section.
For the past several games, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been showing a serious interest in the New York Rangers, so much so, that on Saturday in Philadelphia, their General Manager Scott Howson was in attendance as well. While no one knows exactly who they are interested in, or if the Rangers are even willing to make a deal, we do know that something is definitely brewing, because it is not often that a team’s GM tags along to scout a game. This leaves us to speculate on who exactly could be on the move within the next couple of weeks. There are only two players on the Blue Jackets that would even come remotely close to helping them, but each one comes with some serious baggage by means of an enormous contract. They are center Jeff Carter and left wing Rick Nash. Even though the Rangers sit in first place in the Eastern Conference, they are in no doubt in need of another offensive presence, yes, even after Gaborik and Richards seem to have broken out of their funk over this past weekend. But at what cost will the Rangers act?
With the NHL Trade Deadline less than three weeks away, the excitement and speculation is already underway, as we await yet another frenzy of trades and seeing who goes where. There are plenty of names on the block, which only adds to the suspense. I am not going to bother making predictions this year, just suggestions and observations for the New York Rangers, based on what their needs are. For a first place team, they have plenty of dead weight that they could afford to lose, and plenty of places to plug a player here and there. If they want to stay in first place and actually advance past the first round this season, the Rangers are going to have to be active. This does not mean a complete overhaul by any means (since when has Sather ever done that anyway, except for the 2004 fire-sale?) but rather a series of non-blockbusters (I hesitate to use the phrase “small deals”) that will sure up the team’s flimsy offense. Below are some options, as well as some other things we must consider:
For the New York Rangers this afternoon, history repeated itself, because the last time they played on a Super Bowl Sunday, they won on the same day that the New York Giants and New England Patriots squared off in one of the most memorable football games in recent history, four years ago. With the atmosphere in New York swelling around the big game on February 3, 2008, the Rangers headed up to Montreal where they got off to a very slow start, falling behind 3-0. But very quickly, the game started to turn around, and the Rangers made sure that the Giants were not the only New York team to win that day. After goals by Michal Rozsival, Brandon Dubinsky, and Scott Gomez to tie the game after two periods, the Rangers then went ahead and steamrolled the Canadiens in their home building (an extreme rarity) with two third period goals, scored by Chris Drury and Martin Straka. The feeling we felt after this game was complete elation, because Montreal’s arena had (and still has) always proved to be a House of Horrors. The happy feeling would only be eclipsed for Giants’ fans later in the day, as they defeated the Patriots, ending their incredible undefeated season.
Even though the NHL season always seems like a long a grueling one (it is), I always find myself in amazement at how fast it actually all goes by. It is January 28th, and the proverbial first half of the season has come to an end with every NHL team skating into the All Star Break for a restful few days before the playoff chase officially begins. Who would have thought at this point, that the New York Rangers would be second in the entire league and in first place in the Eastern Conference? I can guarantee no one had it pegged as such. The highest aspirations I had for the team for the regular season were what they have been for the last few years: battling for a playoff spot the entire year, and going down to the last day.
Obviously, that could still be a possibility depending on which Rangers show up when the second half starts on Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils, but for now, let us look back on a first half that has, overall, been a great one. It seems like a long time ago that the Rangers were literally traveling all over the world to play hockey games and having a bumpy start to the season. But from then until now, Ranger fans have watched a team gel and combine to form a potent force that finds ways to win. If you think about it, it is kind of amazing that the Rangers are where they are when you consider a few things. First, the defensive core has never been healthy for a long period of time. Whether it was Marc Staal starting late, or him coming back and Mike Sauer and Steve Eminger going out, the D-corps has not been at full strength.
This is not really a post-game recap, just my general thoughts on yet another amazing and magical Winter Classic that the NHL has put on for us, between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. Surprisingly, for what seems like the first time in the brief five-year history of the event, there were no ice malfunctions, and the passing and skating was pretty smooth early on. Though the game did slow down in the second, I would definitely rank the overall pace of this afternoon to be one of the better ones yet. And of course, there was plenty of drama with yet another photo finish—something that seems to happen every year, which I will elaborate on later.
‘Twas the last game before Christmas, and the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are both surging toward the highly anticipated Winter Classic on January 2nd. Both of these teams, the stars of HBO’s hit series 24/7, have given the network and fans alike plenty of entertainment. From a hockey marketing standpoint, the scenario could not be any better. The Flyers currently sit in first place in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, while the Rangers sit in second in the former, and fourth in the latter, just two points behind. Should the Blueshirts win tonight, they would take over first place, because they would have played one less game with one fewer loss, though both teams would have an identical number of wins.
Seriously, when was the last time the New York Rangers called someone up from the minors during the season and they instantly caused a sensation, not only by succeeding early, but continuing that success for more than just a game or two? It has been a long time, we know that much, and so, it is with open arms that we have watched rookie Carl Hagelin (8 GP; 3 G, 3 A) play in these last eight games. There is much reason to get excited here, and I am not worried about him being a mere flash-in-the-pan, because he has not been getting lucky with his goals, but actually creating them. Last night, against the Buffalo Sabres, he scored two; one at even strength and one shorthanded. Each one was nearly identical: he used his speed to cut down the wing before blasting a shot home. That is the reason why he will succeed in New York this season, because of his speed and determination, and also, his willingness to just shoot the puck (he has 21 shots so far on the season). He even shows signs of backchecking and defensive zone awareness, which is something that rookies often lack mightily.
Spare me the cries of overreaction on what will be game nine of the New York Rangers’ season tomorrow afternoon at home against the Ottawa Senators. The bottom-line is, the Rangers have not played one complete game all season long, and blew a chance to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, after they began the game flying in the offensive zone. As usual, they did not end the game as they began, with the order of good and bad play shifting around from previous games. Coach John Tortorella, out of desperation (or maybe compulsion, I have not yet decided) keeps on changing the lines in his eternal quest to find offensive chemistry, something his team has never had, dating back to when he inherited a misfit team from Tom Renney three years ago. He had an excuse then, though, as he was not working with who he wanted. Well, he got who he wanted this off-season, and has done nothing but make everyone’s head spin with his nonsensical line switches that seem to occur on a shift-by-shift basis, rather than a more understandable game-by-game.
Tomorrow’s top two lines, who they will field against a weak assemblage from Ottawa, who, by the way, have played better than the Rangers, are as follows:
1) Wojtek Wolski- Erik Christensen- Marian Gaborik
2) Brandon Dubinsky- Brad Richards- Ryan Callahan
As I said just said days ago, the sheer brilliance of John Tortorella here is so strong, it will blind you and knock you out of your chair. Brad Richards is not being paid nearly $7 million to skate between two offensive hacks, who have combined for two goals and three assists in 16 games. Brandon Dubinsky, who may have qualified for the Dumbest Ranger award, after the last game, continues to take stupid penalties at inopportune times, while waltzing irrelevantly through all three zones as a non-factor, with zero goals in eight games. Fresh off a contract that is paying him $4.2 million, he is now showing his true colors, one of yet another overpaid homegrown “star” who fans love, that has never really accomplished anything. Ryan Callahan, meanwhile, has been just a step better, if only because he has not spent an entire two periods worth of penalty minutes in the sin bin. The fact that Richards is between the two is just more proof of Tortorella’s disillusionment. He is the only marquee playmaker this team has had since the lockout, except for Michael Nylander, and that is who he has to work with? Where is Marian Gaborik, who he actually played well with in the first few games of the season? Oh yeah, stuck on the wing with Erik Christensen and Wojtek Wolski, two players who have played a combined nine games without a point between them. Remember, this is the Rangers. Here 2 + 2 = 5.
If Tortorella wants to keep up the juggling act, which would have even Barnum and Bailey fainting from dizziness, at least he could not insult the fan base and those that shell out the money that helps to pay for some of these contracts, and actually keep Gaborik and Richards together. The clock is ticking, and while the season may still be young, if the Rangers continue to play like this, we will not have to worry about the season much longer. So far, they have been a disgrace, and I do not care what their record is. This is a franchise that prides itself on being just good enough to get to the playoffs. How long is it before they push it a little bit further and not settle for a berth that more than half the teams in the league also make? It is harder to miss the playoffs than make them, and while this was the year that the Rangers were actually going to get out of the first round and make a serious push, I think we can now consider it a major accomplishment if they make it through the month of November with a winning record. This team needs a wake-up call, and while I am not yet ready to have Tortorella on the chopping block, I would say he is very close. The only problem is who would replace him. Who is out there? Mike Keenan (who was an analyst on MSG last season, prompting me to think he was in waiting), Bob Hartley, and Ted Nolan come to mind, but the Rangers also need to make trades, in offense and defense. This all adds up to a major problem, and a New York Rangers’ season would not be one without one, as you damn well know if you have been watching them as long as I have, and beyond.
Comments on the Home Opener Festivities
I could not help but cringe during the Rangers’ extended “Blue Carpet” pre-game show, where they interviewed disinterested celebrities who just happened to be at the game because they got free tickets, not because they are actually hockey fans. Gianonne kept floating the same boring, basic questions that plague his real hockey coverage, while the star-power present was strong enough to have powered a low-budget C-level horror movie. Then came the actual pre-game ceremony, one which was nothing special (which I don’t mind), but it also lacked a memorial for Derek Boogaard, who passed away this off-season. While he was remembered during a TV timeout, a video or something needed to be done while still on the broadcast, so it could be seen as special, and not crammed into a thirty-second money-making time-slot. If their reason is because they did not want to sadden the mood of a home opener, and not because a ceremony is coming later in the season, then shame on MSG.
One more thing, and this is in regard to those dolts who unfurled the “We Want Avery” banner and yelled the chants that could be heard on television. Let me ask you: do you really think he would make a difference? His famous spark was gone, and he was just as useless as Dubinsky or Wolski during the pre-season. I know there are many with an undying affection for him, but would he help the team score goals? Would he help them be more disciplined? Would he help the defense clear the zone? The answer to all three questions is no, so please, just leave it alone and stick to reality here. I may want him more than Christensen too, but he sure as hell would not have made the outcomes of these miserable games any different.