Another solid effort from the good guys. It’s amazing how much rosier a win makes a game look because I don’t think they played much better than they have in the last few games. But, it helps to get a few bounces here and there, to score when you have a wide open net, and of course to play the worst team in the Eastern Conference. All good things.
Some thoughts on the game, the team and the NHL in general:
1) The Rangers finally finished chances tonight which should bring a hearty smile to anyone visiting this blog. But let’s be honest: Craig Anderson was traded for a reason. The Prospal goal was the type that normally compels otherwise rational individuals to suggest that Lundqvist is not a top goalie and needs to go. The Zuccarello goal came after a huge rebound and, on both his goal and Anisimov’s, the goalie got completely owned. I’m not saying he should have stopped either one on one because they were certainly great moves, but ask yourself this: if the man behind the mask is Miller or Fleury in that situation, aren’t they at least in the picture? Maybe they’re not making the save, but they’re definitely making it tougher to finish. Anisimov could have gotten down on one knee and shot the puck in billards-style with all that room.
2) Speaking of goaltending, I remember a 2007 MSG interview with Brian Leetch where he was talking about how much he loved Lundqvist and how in those dark pre-lockout days it always seemed like they never had their goaltending solidified. As much as we get on Lundqvist for bad angle goals and seemingly coming up one save short all too often, games like this remind you of just how lucky the Rangers are to have him. Steady with a few unbelievable saves thrown in. In my opinion, the difference between an elite goalie and a marginal one isn’t necessarily an incredible game or save. Every NHL goalie will have these here and there, which explains phenomena such as Jim Carey or Roman Cechmanek. The real measuring stick is consistency, and you have to admire that our goalie is always, even in off years, in the discussion for the league’s best. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be complaining that my superstar goalie shouldn’t let in soft goals than debating the merits of Mike Dunham or Guy Hebert as a #1.
3) What happened to the Senators? They’re like the Flyers in reverse; Stanley Cup Finals in ’07 and now tucked away in the cellar, with two first round losses to the Pens and a season sans playoffs in between. Interestingly, though the franchises trajectory has been the opposite of Philly’s, they share the common theme of never having that definitive netminder. Philadelphia got away with it because they have great forward depth (kudos to Bobby Clarke for resisting the temptation of drafting Hugh Jessiman instead of Jeff Carter), but you have to have someone in there your team has faith in. I’m not saying it necessarily has to be an top tier guy, as Detroit and Chicago have proven, but it’s also can’t be Brian Elliot. And being held hostage by arguably your best player (Heatley) and receiving what in retrospect appears to be a terrible return definitely hurts too.
4) One week into his Rangers tenure, I think I’ve seen McCabe stop the puck from exiting the offensive zone more times than I saw from Rozsival in five years. The puck would be heading towards the blue line and Rozi would act as if he was out on a leisurely stroll and might try to keep the puck in if he got around to it. With McCabe, there’s a palpable sense of urgency when the other team’s trying to clear it past him. The final minute of the Tampa game comes to mind when he went goalie style in a scrum to keep the puck in (or, as my brother observed, “he turned himself into a rock”). Little things like that are what win games.
5) I’ve been waiting to get a new Ranger jersey for a couple years now because I wanted to get a young player on there that I could grow with; no Gaborik, no Drury, etc. I was close to getting Lundqvist, Dubinsky and Staal at various times. But at 9:24 tonight, or more specifically at 2:26 of the third period, I officially decided that Derek Stepan is the man. Time will only tell how high his ceiling will be, but he looks like a future all-star to me. And his hockey IQ is off the charts.
6) Speaking of Wisconsin alumnu (impressive segue I know), I hope fellow Badger Ryan McDonagh comes back quickly because he’s quickly become one of the team’s most reliable defensemen. It reminds me of when Girardi stepped up on ’07 and played simple, steady hockey for the second half of the season and playoffs. But McD also has a much higher upside than Girardi and could be an all star one day. The Jagr deal may be Sather’s magnum opus, but Scott Gomez for Ryan McDonagh, the cap room to sign Marian Gaborik, and a trade piece that allowed us to get Prust is a close second.
7) I thought Eminger filled in admirably and, if this team makes the playoffs, they should put him in instead of Gilroy. With McCabe proving to be a very competent power play QB, the only reason for playing Gilroy would be to get him playoff experience, but if they’re not planning on re-signing him this summer I think it makes to have a more reliable, physical presence on the backline. So, you’d have Staal-Girardi as your shut down first pairing, Sauer-McD as your steady second unit, and McCabe-Eminger as a mean spirited third tandem. Suddenly the defense, which at the beginning of the year looked like our Achilles’ Heel, looks great top to bottom.
8) While we’re on the subject of lineup decisions, who do you send down when Gaborik comes back? I’m hoping it’s Christensen or Wolski but I’m afraid it’s going to be the Hobbit. And I hope Drury and Boogaard are not wearing a jersey for the rest of the season unless they pick one up at their local sporting goods store.
9) How is it that Sean Avery routinely gets the least ice time on the team? I understand that he doesn’t play special teams but he’s still an energetic physical player at worst and can be a difference maker when he gets going. It’s been a rough year for him but it’s also sort of a chicken and egg conundrum; is he getting low ice time because of his rough year, or is he having trouble getting in a groove because of his limited ice time? I’m going to give the savior of the ’07 season the benefit of the doubt and say that Torts needs to find a way to get him some more time out there. As much as I love guys like Prust, he can’t create plays the same way that Avery does.
10) Here I was, getting this piece ready to go during the third and in the middle of writing a bullet point about how Dubinsky was better with not overthinking things this game. And then, another 2 on 1 where he looks for the tough pass instead of a quick shot. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that if it was a tie game he would’ve shot there and that he went for the unselfish play because it was already out of reach. But I’m not too confident about it.
11) Speaking of Dubi, did anyone catch his postgame interview last night? He looked so disappointed talking about how he needs to step up and score a big goal when they need one. He’s like the guy in a relationship who tries too hard and ends up doing more harm than good when a step back is the best play. When he’s rolling and letting the game come to him he has a gear where he can take over a game, like the instant classic Pittsburgh comeback from November. The problem is consistency, and that he goes into prolonged slumps when he overthinks things. Quick story: two years ago I was out at a Maryland bar with Mike Green and Nick Backstrom. After some general small talk and a few rounds of shots, I brought up the Rangers and asked them what they thought of our guys (who, incidentally, they would face in the playoffs a few months later). Predictably they said Lundqvist was a beast, Avery was a dirtbag, etc. The most interesting part to me was when I asked them who they really respected on the Rangers. Green thought about it for a few seconds and then said “Dubinsky. He’s young but that kid’s got some serious skills.” I’ve heard all the prognostications that Dubinsky’s ceiling is 60 points and a mid level second liner. I’m not buying it. Look at what happened to Boyle this year, or St Louis a few years back. Some players just take more time to put it all together, and I think Dubinsky will blossom into a 70-80 point player and, along with Cally, a perennial Team USA representative.
12) I’m glad to see Anisimov scoring at a more consistent rate recently because I was ready to ship him off to Dallas with a pick for Richards if they would’ve taken it. He’s been solid but they’re going to need him to be more dynamic if they’re going to make noise in the playoffs. He shows flashes but too often I watch entire games without noticing him. And yes, I’m aware it’s only his second year and he already has 15 goals. But I also know that Nigel Dawes had 15 goals as a rookie, Petr Prucha had 30 and Mike York had 26. I hope he has another gear in him because unfortunately these once promising rookies apparently did not.
13) The Rangers’ recent slide is a lot like the Andrea Doria; seems catastrophic on first glance, but once you look at the big picture you realize it’s really not so bad. They’re still in the playoffs and in better position than they have been at this point in any post lockout year besides ‘06 and possibly ‘08. They’ve needed big runs to make it in past years or, in the case of last season, to barely miss, so the fact that they just need to play slightly better than their pace thus far is fine. Despite the worries of many Chicken Littles out there, including my dear father and brother, I think this is a playoff team. They’ve lost a few close ones recently but it looks like the worst is behind them. Remember, they got a bunch of players back from injury all at once; when a quarter of your lineup is playing their first NHL games in over a month, there’s bound to be some hiccups. They’re gritty, they work hard, they have a goalie that can steal games, and perhaps most importantly they’ve proven to be a great road team. These are the exact ingredients of a playoff team no one wants to face.
14) What Silvio was to the Sopranos, Mike Sauer is to the Rangers. He may not be second in command but he’s quietly effective, imposing and fiercely loyal. I still hate the Leetch trade but Sauer does at least somewhat redeem it.
15) Even though they went 0-3 on that homestand, I think the Rangers seem to play better without Gaborik. I know it may seem strange to suggest the team is better off without their most talented player and leader in points per game, but to me it doesn’t really feel like he’s part of the team, but rather that he’s a great player who just so happens to play on the Rangers. It’s like buying a brand new 3D TV when all you have is basic cable and a VCR. Obviously having a top of the line television is great but if you don’t have digital cable or a blu-ray player it won’t really add that much value. Now that’s no knock on the Blueshirts; basic cable and a VCR is still much better than your neighbor’s bunny ears and Betamax (Islanders) or having a great looking new DVD player that doesn’t actually work (Rangers 2001-2004). But sometimes the improvement you get on paper is nowhere near what actually translates on the ice. I’ve loved watching this years team compete hard (almost) every night and grow as a team. I just wish Gaborik fit in better.
16) I hope, hope, hope that no cataclysmic event occurs in 2012, and I’m not talking about solar storms or magnetic pole reversal. The CBA expires after next season and there’s already some grumbling about both sides wanting significant changes to the current system. I’m not a religious man but let’s pray that the negotiations are swift and that no games are lost, not just because we as hockey fans deserve better, but also because the looming uncertainty in the NBA presents a tremendous opportunity to showcase the game and potentially attract a lot of new fans.
17) Does anyone remember the motive for instituting the charity point in 1999? Overtimes were becoming absolutely brutal to watch because more often then not, both teams would be extremely cautious so as not to lose their point in the standings. To add some excitement, the NHL switched OT to 4 on 4 (after testing in the AHL) and gave the loser a point so each team would have added incentive to go for the win rather than sitting back. Fair enough; an imperfect solution but it made for a much more entertaining product so I was all for it. However, with the addition of the shootout there’s now no chance of a tie, so what’s the purpose of the charity point aside from artificially making the playoff races appear closer? The solution in my opinion is not to switch to a 3-2-1 soccer style system, but to switch to a baseball style wins, losses and games behind system. Clean, easy to read, and way more logical.
18) Duguay’s wink at the end of that Hockey Night Live commercial was an interesting artistic choice by the director. It didn’t do anything to convince me to watch the show, but it did convince me that if I ever have a daughter, I’m keeping her the hell away from Ron Duguay.