Monday, December 21, 2009

Danbury Hockey Returning


For Danbury hockey fans, it seems hockey will be returning to the Hat City next season as Danbury is a charter member of the Federal Hockey League. The league had a press conference this past Thursday announcing their intentions and the teams who will be charter members will be having their own introductory press conferences over the next few weeks. The Danbury franchise will be the first team to hold one of these on December 29th at the Danbury Ice Arena. Here is the full press release:
DANBURY HOCKEY

PRESS CONFERENCE

On Tuesday, December 29th at 12 noon, the Danbury Hockey franchise of the new professional Federal Hockey League (www.thefederalhockeyleague.com) will be holding a press conference at the Danbury Ice Arena.

Danbury Hockey will be unveiling the team name, team colors, and introducing the head coach.
In addition the ownership group will be on hand to answer questions and outline their plan for the coming months.

Federal Hockey League officials,
Danbury community leaders, and partners of the team will also have speaking roles in the press conference.

All media are invited to attend.
The event is also open to the general public. All are welcome.

The Danbury Ice Arena is located on
One Independence Way, Danbury, Connecticut.

Special media requests should be directed to Herm Sorcher at 973-713-7547 or email hsorcher@aol.com.


I encourage all Danbury fans to attend this press conference if at all possible. From listening in on the press conference last Thursday this league seems to have things together. Couple that with the fact they are starting a full 10 months before the season and I would have to say this is the best shot Danbury has at a stable hockey team from the beginning since the Trashers. Check the league website for more information as well as minor league hockey message boards. There is a Facebook group for the league which you can see and join here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

World Juniors to Showcase the Future


One thing about the sport of hockey that I love most is how players are drafted and developed. For big sports like football and basketball, once you are drafted you head straight to the pros. For hockey, it is a very different situation.
Players who are drafted do not have to be immediately signed to play. They have many options including major junior hockey, European leagues, NCAAs, USHL, and others. Because of this, many drafted players will take two, three, and even four years before joining the NHL team or anyone of its affiliates.
One of the most scouted and scrutinized prospect tournaments in the world is the under 20 World Junior Championships. It is here that future NHL players go up against the best people in their age group and players who they will most likely run into at the NHL level.
The New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes will be well represented at this tournament especially on Team USA where, barring any surprises, there will be five players representing the two teams.
For the Rangers three forwards will be an integral part of the offense for the United States.
Derek Stepan is a center at the University of Wisconsin drafted in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft. Known for his playmaking abilities he is having a great year as a sophomore with five goals and 17 assists in 18 games for the Badgers. A solid skater Stepan will be a key piece to the United States attack. Team USA played an exhibition game last night against the University of North Dakota where Stepan had two assists in the 4-2 win for the United States. When Stepan will make his professional debut is unknown but there are some who believe he could be playing in the American Hockey League as soon as next season. His performance in this year's tournament will go a long way in making that decision.
Chris Kreider was the Rangers' first round pick in this past 2009 NHL draft. There was much skepticism surrounding him going into the draft. After playing at Andover Academy, scoring 33 goals and adding 23 assists in just 26 games the Rangers saw his talent and decided to take him. Many Blueshirt fans are skeptical of drafting kids out of prep schools after the Hugh Jessiman debacle but this kid has all the tools to be successful. He was considered the best skater in this past draft with explosive speed is showing major improvement this season as he is a freshman at Boston College. Scouts consider him the best prospect to come out of New England since Brian Leetch.
In the win over North Dakota, Kreider showed his value as he scored two goals to help lead Team USA to a win. There was some question as to whether he would make the team but I think he has solidified his position. He has two goals and three assists in 14 games this season for Boston College. The speedy forward will probably spend at least another season at Boston College before even considering moving on to a higher level.
The third Ranger looking to make Team USA is Ryan Bourque who was a third round selection in the past draft. The small forward is the son of Ray Bourque but plays a very different game. Despite his small stature he has the offensive abilities to be a scoring forward. He is a quick forward with a good shot playing for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. With 12 goals and 15 assists in 31 games so far, he is having a solid rookie season in a strong major junior program. He did not play last night against North Dakota but has survived the first round of cuts.
The only other player in the Ranger organization who will be skating in the World Juniors is Czech forward Roman Horak. Playing for the Chiliwack Bruins of the Western Hockey League, the young left winger has developed into a talented forward who plays a strong two way game. In his rookie season in North America, the Czech has put up a respectable 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points in 36 games. He is a fifth round pick of the Rangers from the 2009 draft.
For the Coyotes they will have their eyes on the World Juniors. With so much being put on the future of the organization, there are many players who will be playing key roles for their countries.
On Team USA, the Coyotes have Chris Brown looking to lock up a forward spot. As a freshman Brown is tied for second in scoring for the University of Michigan Wolverines, which has been a breeding ground for Coyote prospects. A power play specialist Brown was a second round pick for the Coyotes at this past draft. A strong forward he will be looking to impress at these World Juniors.
One of the most important pieces to Team USA will be the starting goaltender and the likely candidate was a third round pick of the Coyotes. Mike Lee is the starting goaltender at St. Cloud State as a freshman and will most likely anchor the American goal crease. The big goalie is big and has good reflexes. Team USA will be relying on him to be a rock in goal, especially against so many high powered offensive teams in the tournament.
When the Coyotes picked Oliver Ekman-Larsson with their first round pick this season, the knew they were going to get a solid defenseman who some believe will end up being better than Victor Hedman. He will be an anchor on the blue line for the Tre Kronor at this tournament as they look to solve the Canadians who they have lost two in the last two finals. "OEL" has excellent offensive abilities while being solid in his own end. Phoenix will be hoping he has an impressive showing against the world's best young players.
There are going to be many players at this tournament to keep an eye on as well as the story line of whether or not Canada can win a sixth straight gold medal. For anyone keeping track, the last country to win a gold medal at this tournament besides Canada? The United States. You know this underdog team would love to do that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Taking the Next Step


*NOTE* All of these proposals are contingent upon Ice Edge getting the team and giving Don Maloney money to spend*
For years I have been waiting for the Coyotes to take the step of getting a solid head coach in control of the team. Now that this task was completed by hiring Dave Tippett it is time to take another step towards making this team into a serious contender.
I am very happy with how things have gone so far this season, in fact it is the first time in a long time that I am proud to call myself a Phoenix Coyotes fan. The team is playing well behind a new system, Ilya Bryzgalov, and a pack mentality. The defense has a snarl to it because of a mix of youth and veteran. Yet there is one thing that this team is missing which it will need if they want to become a bonafide contender for the Stanley Cup (Coyotes and Stanley Cup in the same sentence?).
Phoenix's struggles the last few years have been related to scoring. For the most part, Shane Doan has been the go to man for goal scoring the last few seasons, including a career best 31 tallies last season. But with his slow start the Coyotes have had to look to others for goal scoring help. Radim Vrbata, who scored 27 for the Coyotes two seasons ago, is at the top right now with ten goals. Behind him are Scottie Upshall with nine, then Doan and Robert Lang with seven apiece. The team is ranked 27th in the league with just 79 goals but holds a high standing in the Western Conference in the seven spot.
What needs to be done is the organization needs to go out and get a goal scorer. The team has two first round picks in the up-coming draft as well as two second round picks in the 2011 entry draft. With a plethora of young talent in the system the Coyotes can afford to sacrifice some of these picks for an elite scorer which may be available. Here are some names to consider:
Jeff Carter: The Philadelphia Flyers have been struggling recently despite the coaching change. With very little cap space and some key young players coming up to free agency in the next few years (Braydon Coburn, Ryan Parent, Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk) they will need room to keep them. Carter is signed for one more year at $5 million. With his wrist shot and other offensive talents he could be a valuable asset to the Coyotes.
Eric Staal: If you are asking yourself why the Carolina Hurricanes would possibly trade their top forward, then you are asking yourself the right question. It will take a very convincing package besides picks to pry the young star out of the Southeast. But if Don Maloney can create a package centered around the picks and a top six defenseman the Coyotes could add a very talented forward who is signed for the long term. A rumor here and there about Staal possibly being available has cropped up saying he may be available.
Nathan Horton: Horton may not be as big of a name as Staal or Carter, but he can put the puck in the net. Rumors of being available have been abound this season as the Panthers find themselves in the bottom of the standings again. He would be the least expensive out of these three but would definitely be worth the package.
As I noted at the beginning of this, these ideas are all contingent on the fact the Ice Edge group gets the team and allows Don Maloney to spend money. All signs point to this being true but I have learned to never take anything for granted.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Sun Shining A Bit Brighter


Taking a break from finals work because I love the fans and procrastination is at an all time high. I need to do something a bit more constructive.
For anyone in the northeast right now it is a cold and dreary day. But if you are a fan of the Phoenix Coyotes no weather can rain on this parade.
Where to start? On the ice the Coyotes are playing great hockey. Sitting in the six spot in the Western Conference Phoenix is one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They are 7-2-1 in their last ten games winning six of their last seven. The one game they did not win was a shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings. Six of the wins include last night's 2-1 win over San Jose as well as wins over Minnesota, Calgary, and Dallas.
What has been the key to their success? There are alot of things going right for Phoenix right now but, for me, it comes down to two specific areas:
One of the best goalies in the NHL so far this season, Ilya Bryzgalov is showing how good he can be. When general manager Don Maloney plucked Bryzgalov off the waiver wire two seasons ago, he was hoping that Ilya could become a solid starting goalie. The good humored Russian has been one of the best goalies in the league this season with a .928 save percentage and a 1.95 goals against average which is second only to Buffalo's Ryan Miller. With timely saves and a solid team in front of him "Breezy" is a very big reason of why the Coyotes are where they are right now.
If you go back and look at some of the articles that I have written in the past, I always said that this team could be much better if Wayne Gretzky was not the head coach and some changes were made to the coaching staff. Right now it looks like that is partly true. Dave Tippett has come in and completely changed the way this team believes. They have turned into a hard working, physical team that relies on a "pack" mentality, believing they can do anything as a team. A sense of constant improvement and accountability has been built with everyone doing their part to get this team forward. Yet there are men behind Tippett who are making a huge difference as well.
Long time hockey man Dave King has brought a calming and experienced presence to the Coyotes roster. This is one thing that has been absent from the Phoenix organization for a very long time. Having coached in the NHL, Russia, and in other places around the world King brings an invaluable wealth of knowledge that will have a long term effect on the success of the Phoenix Coyotes.
The other assistant coach who has played a large role in the high success of the Desert Dogs is the new goaltending coach, Sean Burke. The former Hartford Whalers goaltender has taken over for Grant Fuhr, who was the most useless coach in the organization. Having been a big time goaltender, both physically and on the stat sheet, Burke knows how to handle the pressure of being relied on. He was a main cog for Hartford, Phoenix, and other teams in the NHL for years and knows the pressures that come with it. Having been very technically sound during his career, Burke is helping Ilya Bryzgalov with his positioning and the stress of being a number one goaltender in the NHL.
If you throw in the defensive play of the blue-liners, you have a very formidable team. The one aspect of the team that needs to pick up is the scoring. No one has ten goals with Radim Vrbata and Scottie Upshall tied for the team lead at nine goals apiece. While the team is playing sound defense and have hot goaltending, scoring will need to increase at some point.
The other news that Coyotes fans can smile about comes off the ice as the ownership situation finally seems to be coming to conclusion. The Ice Edge group, which showed interest during the court proceedings over the summer has signed a letter of intent to purchase the Coyotes. The NHL signed a letter of intent to sell just a day later and the Board of Governors will vote on the issue at next week's meeting in Pebble Beach, California.
The key points here are that there is no "out" clause, meaning this group believes the franchise can be resurrected financially. They knew they could not be taken seriously by the fans of the Coyotes if there was one of these clauses present. Ice Edge is also assuming the lease agreement length, which has 26 years left on it. Despite the length, I am sure Ice Edge and the city of Glendale will have adjustments made to the lease to make it a bit more appealing to the new ownership. While it will take the sale, if approved, about two to three months to go through, it seems the end of this long saga has finally come.
What could this new ownership group do? The most obvious thing is provide general manager Don Maloney with more money to spend on improving the on-ice team. Phoenix could use some scoring help. With a solid ownership group, coaching staff, and team it finally looks like Coyotes fans can start holding their heads high.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Is the Answer Jesus?


Little disclaimer before I start this one. I am not saying the season is over. It is far from it.
However it is time to start looking how to fix this team in an attempt to save the season. The New York Rangers are 4-6 in their last ten games and are tied for 9th in the Eastern Conference with the New York Islanders and just one point out of the top 8. That is why the season is not done yet.
But the long slide down the standings is continuing and something needs to be done to reverse it. This is where general manager Glen Sather needs to start to figure who has been naughty and who has been nice for this team.
First things first. John Tortorella is not being fired and Chris Drury is not going anywhere. Drury cannot be moved because of the no movement clause he has and frankly no one wants his cap hit of just over $7 million. We saw the frustration he was feeling last night after Detroit scored the empty net goal when he slammed his stick on the bench and snapped it like a twig.
I am not removing Tortorella because his system has worked. It worked during the seven game winning streak at the beginning of the season and it has worked at times during the last few games. The man won a Stanley Cup using the same system. With a very new team it takes time to implement it.
Now to the nitty gritty. Here is who I will not deal no matter what:
Marian Gaborik
Henrik Lundqvist
Michael Del Zotto
Matt Gilroy
Marc Staal
Sean Avery
Artem Anisimov
All of these players have earned the right to stay on this team. A GM would be very hard pressed to force me to let one of these guys go. Lets just say anything short of Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, or Patrick Roy is not going to work on this. And frankly, what other organization wants Sean Avery?
Here are people I would only give up in the right deal:
Vinny Prospal
Christopher Higgins
These two guys are ones I would rather not deal. Prospal has been very good for the Rangers and is one of the best free agent signings in the entire NHL from this past offseason. But his production and small salary will make him attractive to other teams looking for cheap offensive help. While Christopher Higgins has not put up the points that everyone has been looking for he has played very well the last two weeks or so. He is creating chances for others and getting plenty himself. Some people may see his inability to finish right now a s a reason to trade him but as a two way forward Higgins is looking very valuable.
I am not going to write down every other player on the team in this category because they don't all deserve to be here. This is the group of players who I really could care less if they were traded:
Ryan Callahan
Enver Lisin
Ales Kotalik
Aaron Voros
Dan Girardi
Brian Boyle
I know that I am going to be crucified to even THINK about letting Ryan Callahan go. He seems to be everyone's boy this season including John Tortorella's. I hate to be the bearer of bad news people but all Callahan is is a third liner. We all love effort and work ethic but when it comes down to it Callahan is relatively replaceable. Honestly, he does not belong on the powerplay. If he has such a high value then let him go and get us something useful in return. Have to give to get people.
Enver Lisin was my boy at the beginning of the season and I have been trying to defend the kid all season. He has been much better on the defensive side of things than at previous times in his career. Yet until he is out of Le Chateau Bow Wow, he will not be doing much. His offensive upside could attract teams.
Kotalik was brought in for the powerplay and he has done very well on that front. Yet his even strength play leaves much to be desired. I like the guy and would rather see him stay in New York but if a deal materializes around him then go for it Slats.
Voros? A for effort buddy but thats about it.
Dan Girardi has been up and down all season. He has his games where he looks like a solid shutdown defenseman and others where he looks just as bad as Michal Rozsival.
Speaking of Rozsival. Everyone who knows me knows how much I dislike him. I am convinced that he is a reason that Marek Malik was so bad. He is too slow in his decision making and often makes the wrong decision. His salary will be tough to move but even if Slats has to bite the bullet and just waive him, he should do it. $5 million in cap space would go a long way in improving the overall team. If there is one guy who definitely needs to go, it is him.
Wade Redden. I am sorry to most Ranger fans on this one but I am officially on the Wade Redden band wagon. Did he have an awful season last year? Yes. It was terrible and I found myself rooting against him. However I decided to give him another chance this season and he has done well. One thing people have to realize, and same goes with Drury, is that their contracts are a product of the free agent market that they were involved in. Drury will never be as good as the $7 million and Redden probably will not be worth his $6.5 million. Yet Redden has improved his play in the defensive zone and the Rangers have not done so well without him. Yes all this losing started before Redden went down to injury but look at how the defense has done without him.
What does the team need? As Ned Braden asks in Slapshot, "Is the answer Jesus?". Not quite but he would be a good start.
Pardon the expression but anyone with a pair of grapefruits will do fine in replacig Rozsival. The Rangers need a defenseman who is not afraid to mix it up and use the physical game. Too many times the last few games players have been allowed to skate all the way up the ice untouched and get a goal. See Mike Rupp and Jason Pominville for examples of this. Lundqvist has been run into too many times this season. New York needs someone with cajones.
The other thing the Rangers need is secondary scoring. The talent is there with people like Higgins, Drury, Callahan, and Avery but it is not happening. The possible return of Brandon Dubinsky in the near future may help spark some offense but Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal cannot do everything. Whether this scoring help comes from someone on the team already or someone is brought in to do it, it needs to appear fast.
Henrik Lundqvist needs to stop giving up soft goals. I love the man but he needs to be sharper. He played very well against Buffalo and made some good saves against Detroit. The team needs to put more goals up so he isn't forced to be nearly perfect every night but Henrik needs to be Henrik. Simple as that.
Like I said before it is not time to close the season down. The warning signs are there though and something needs to be planned if this team wants to be successful.

Monday, November 30, 2009

No More Mr. Sunshine

I really tried. I really did.
I started this season off optimistic. The seven game winning streak was fun and then the Rangers fell into a rut and are still in it. I tried to keep hope even after the drubbing in Pittsburgh on Saturday night. I really thought tonight the team would respond.
But I was wrong...again. You think I would have learned to not put faith in this team ever by this point. However I tried being optimistic.
Well I'm done being optimistic. I'm done with my hopes being crushed. I'm done.
The Rangers just lost to the Penguins (again) giving up five or more goals for the third straight game. Sidney Crosby had two goals. But no, he wasn't the star of this game. Nope. It was former Danbury Trasher Mike Rupp...scored a hat trick. A HAT TRICK!
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? HOW DO YOU LET MIKE RUPP SCORE A HAT TRICK? Unbelievable.
Of course the only Ranger to show up was Marian Gaborik as he scored both goals for the Rangers tonight. Props to Gabby, the only guy who has shown up all season. I really feel sorry for him. He has the league lead in goals and is tied for the league lead in points.
But back to the other side of things. This team is softer than a damn roll of Charmin. Gaborik, your leading man this season and a man known to be very injury prone...getting ganged up on by the Penguins. And where are the Rangers? Standing around sucking on their thumbs. STICK UP FOR YOUR TEAMMATES. The Coyotes have had success this season because they have had a PACK MENTALITY. They are in the Western Conference and are surviving, and doing well because of that.
Next up...how do you let Mike Rupp skate up the ice UNTOUCHED? I know he is Mike Rupp but its a basic of hockey. You do not let anyone skate all the way up the ice untouched and undefended. Rozsival is the softest defenseman that I have ever seen. I don't care what needs to happen to get rid of him. Just get it done.
THIS TEAM NEEDS TO GET TOUGHER. That is the difference right now. The system is not working other than for Gaborik.
I have nothing else to say. It is all self-explanatory. Something needs to happen with this team to change their mindset and get them going. I don't know what it is but John Tortorella, Glen Sather, and the rest of Rangers management needs to sit down and figure out what the hell to do...and they better do it quick.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Quarter Poll: Phoenix Coyotes


Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Was nice to see the Rangers get a big win the night before.
But I am going to focus on the Phoenix Coyotes for this post. This team has come out and surprised the hockey world after a tumultuous summer left the team in a state of financial limbo. With 27 points the Coyotes sit in 9th place in the Western Conference, a position much higher than many thought they would get to during the course of the season. But under the direction of a new head coach in Dave Tippett, the Coyotes have slowly begun to find their game and are turning some heads around the league. Honestly, who thought the Coyotes would be ahead of teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks, and Anaheim Ducks?
It all starts with Ilya Bryzgalov who has been the backbone of the team the entire season. He is in the top five of the goals against average category with a stellar 2.13 and a .918 save percentage. He is tied for the league lead in shutouts with three and has 12 of Phoenix's 13 wins. Some of this may be a product of the defense first system the Coyotes are running right now but either way Bryzgalov will have to continue his stellar play as he tries to establish him self as a bonafide starter in the National Hockey League.
Offense continues to be a source of concern for the Coyotes. Radim Vrbata and Scottie Upshall are tied for the team lead in goals with 7 apiece. With the Coyotes averaging just over two goals a game this season, it is making it hard on the team to get victories. Veteran players like Shane Doan, Robert Lang, along with youngster Peter Mueller will all need to step up and be the offensive leaders they can be. Doan leads the team in points with 16 while Lang is just three behind with 13.
One source of offense that has made itself known is the blue line where three defensemen have over ten points so far this season. Veterans Ed Jovanovski and Adrian Aucoin have been the big anchors for the team on the blue line. Jovocop has 13 points while Aucoin is right behind him with 12. Both armed with booming shots, look for them to continue to rain pucks down from the blue line.
The third defenseman is Keith Yandle who is really coming into his own this season. With 11 points so far the smooth skating youngster is making his mark not only on this team but around the league. His offensive abilities have never been under question but his defense has become much improved. As a quarterback on the power play Yandle will be expected to shoulder more responsibility as the season goes on.
Phoenix is on a two game skid right now and will welcome the division rival Dallas Stars into town tonight in what I consider to be an important game in the long run. Jovanovski and Zbynek Michalek are back from their injuries which puts the blue line all ahead full. The Stars are coming off a tough shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues and want to make a statement against the Coyotes.
The Coyotes close out the month of November on Sunday when they travel to Anaheim.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Quarter Poll: New York Rangers


With some free time over the next few days I want to take a look at the season thus far for the Rangers and Coyotes. Lets start with New York.
After a seven game winning streak spoiled Ranger fans everywhere, the Blueshirts have been brought back to reality as they have gone 5-9-1 since that point with injuries to Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky being apart of the problem.
Some rough defensive play and a lack of scoring outside Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal has made the Rangers tough to watch lately.
However due to my positive nature on this season, I am going to try and keep it to those. Starting with Gaborik and Prospal, the two of them have formed a great chemistry and are among the leaders in the NHL in scoring. Coming into tonight's contest Gaborik is tied for first in the NHL in goals with 18. San Jose's Dany Heatley also has 18. Gaborik is tied for second in total points, just one point behind Anze Kopitar who has 33 points...but in three more games played. Gaborik is the league leader in points per game.
Vinny Prospal has come in and put up 24 points next to Marian Gaborik. The veteran pivot has provided a solid anchor which New York's newest superstar has been able to launch from. His passing abilities are great while his shot is very underrated. There are some points where I wish he would shoot more but as long as he keeps putting up points, it does not matter.
On the back end, my two personal favorites have been rookies Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto.
Del Zotto was rookie of the month for October as he got off to a hot start and was named the power play quarterback for the Rangers' top unit at just 19 years old. With 16 points, Del Zotto is showing his offensive prowess from the blueline with 5 goals and 11 assists so far. His passing is almost unbelievable for someone as young as he is. Almost every pass off his stick gets to the other player's right on the tape. His defensive play, which was the biggest concern coming into the season, has been a surprise as well as his physicality. If he keeps going at this pace, he will definitely be in every conversation when it comes to rookie of the year.
Matt Gilroy has come in and been a solid defenseman. He was brought in because of his offensive abilities but has not gotten on the scoresheet as much as he probably wants to, just three goals and two assists in 23 games. Yet his skating and defensive play has shown he is more than capable of being a NHL player. Being solid in his normal duties has given him confidence and he will only get better. His offense will come as he develops more and understands the professional game fully.
The Rangers do have a lot of work to do and their schedule does not make that easy. A short road trip starting tonight in Sunrise, Florida heads to Tampa Bay and then Pittsburgh. Chris Drury is expected to return tonight after getting a concussion in the game against Calgary. Having him back will help solidify the center position and hopefully get this team more faceoff wins, which has been making it hard for the Rangers to control the puck more.
The standings in the east are tight as usual with spots 4 through 13 within six points of each other. Every game counts now in the grind of the season and a big matchup like tonight's against the Panthers will go a long way in determining how the Rangers will end up this season. They broke their offensive woes against Columbus the other night but need to come out tonight and show that it was not a fluke.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Duty Calls


As I noted in an earlier post, which seems like forever ago, school is getting busy which is the reason for the lack of posts. I apologize for this once again.
But a quick look at how the two main teams on this blog are doing.
It has been a rough go for the New York Rangers who have lost both Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky to injuries which will keep them out. Dubinsky has a broken hand and has 4 to 6 weeks to rest while Chris Drury's concussion symptoms will keep him out for an undetermined amount of time. With this new problem at center speculation by Ranger fans includes trading for a center or signing someone like Peter Forsberg.
Either way the Blueshirts will have to find a way to survive these next few weeks short changed down the middle where it was thought depth was not a problem. Vinny Prospal, Artem Anisimov, and Brian Boyle are the three natural centers left on the team right now. Christopher Higgins filled in at center yesterday against the Senators. Despite no points in the matchup, it seemed to do well. However offense needs to pick up from other sources than Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal. Losing a setup man like Dubinsky will severely increase that need but it is now a chance for young players like Anisimov and Boyle to show what they can do in a prime role.
The other issue for the Rangers is faceoffs. With Drury and Dubinsky out two of their top three faceoff men are gone leaving a void. Boyle and Higgins were not very good and it did not make things any easier for New York. Their next game is Tuesday night as Alexander Ovechkin is supposed to return when the Washington Capitals visit Madison Square Garden.
On the other side of the country the Phoenix Coyotes are right in the middle of the Western Conference after a big win at home Saturday night against the division rival Dallas Stars. The last few games have been up and down with injuries to Ed Jovanovski and Zbynek Michalek hurting the defense corps as Phoenix has won only two of their last six games.
The key to Phoenix's success this season has been the stellar play of Ilya Bryzgalov who was the third star for the month of October. With two defensemen out like Michalek and Jovanovski, he is even more important. The offense has not been able to muster more than three goals in a game since October 28th against Columbus. It is true that the system Phoenix is defensive in nature but they will need more production. Peter Mueller must get going as he is being relied on to provide a spark to the team offensively.
Their next game is tonight as they host the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both are young teams with a few veterans to lead the way. They are up and coming and aggressive which will make for a very interesting matchup. Phoenix will definitely want a win before going on a tough stretch where they play five of seven games on the road. Tough matchups in places like Minnesota, Calgary, and St. Louis await them there with one of the home games against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

JVR: Rookie of the Year?


James van Riemsdyk is almost a local favorite in Philadelphia these days and I say almost because he is from New Jersey. Now yes, South New Jersey is just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia but van Riemsdyk is from Middletown, NJ, about 30 minutes west of where I grew up in North Jersey. But nonetheless fans have embraced him as one of their own. Local enough and getting points on the scoring sheet will make Flyers fan very happy. I would know because I am one of them.
James was originally picked 2nd overall by the Flyers in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft but decided to play the next two years at the University of New Hampshire where in 31 games he racked up a consistent and offensive 11 goals and 23 assists. In 7 games with Philadelphia's AHL affiliate the Phantoms, James accumulated 2 points. This past offseason "JVR" had a very impressive rookie camp and showed Coach Stevens and ex-Broad Street Bully and current GM Paul Holmgren that he can be a reliable third liner with some scoring prowess.

But now, one month into this hockey season James finds himself in a new spot. Injuries to Simon Gagne and Danny Briere means James will be getting time on the first and second lines with offensive players such as Captain Mike Richards and high scoring center Jeff Carter. The defensive pairings of the top lines work very well to help young James because the top defensive line for the Flyers consists of young and offensive Matt Carle and a dependable and hard hitting Chris Pronger. Just a few games in James "had his bell rung" as described by GM Holmgren. Since that point van Riemsdyk has exploded to a NHL rookie leading 13 points (2 goals, 11 assists). His +/- is a plus 6 and with a strong team around him that can only go up. In his last 5 games van Riemsdyk has 2 goals and 6 assists for a total of 8 points. Not bad for someone who is just now being tossed into the top lines. Hopefully for the Flyers though Simon Gagne has a good recovery from surgery and Briere's groin no longer bothers him.

I was recently at one of Riemsdyk's games down here in South Florida against the Panthers and he did not play like a rookie. He was showing signs of maturity, passing the puck to open players and not giving it up on tight passes. JVR was taking up space in front of the net and shooting from good locations on the ice. Whenever he was knocked down in front of the net he would get right back up and jump back into the play.

As of now JVR is showing that he wants to play in Philadelphia for years to come and wants to be a foward that people will dread facing with his combination of speed, scoring and size. Seriously the kid is 6 foot 3 and 200 pounds .

Why Danbury Should Build a New Arena

Going to do a bit of a different perspective today as I talk about Danbury hockey.
Over the last few years Danbury, CT has had some minor league hockey teams that have not worked out. The last two, the Danbury Mad Hatters and New England Stars, were one year wonders. The Stars were a a small step above men's beer league hockey and never drew much. The Mad Hatters had a chance to make something work but a combination of financial troubles and a small league brought them to a quick end.
Before that was the two best years of hockey. The Danbury Trashers were apart of the United Hockey League (UHL) and spent two great seasons in the city. They drew huge crowds and were very competitive as they made the playoffs both seasons, with a division title and league finals appearance in the second year. Names such as Dave MacIsaac, Mario Larocque, Bruce Richardson, Brent Gretzky, Drew and Mike Omicioli, and many more were great players and personalities on the ice that made Danbury fans stand up and cheer. The nightly cheering and chants of Section 102 always got the crowd going and the visiting team off their game.
I have been to alot of hockey games over the course of my life but these were some of the best ones I have been to. Being so close to the action and the play being so competitive it was almost too good to be true. I still remember walking out of the last game when Danbury lost to the Kalamazoo Wings in the finals thinking about the next year.
However that next year never came as criminal charges were put on the owner, James Galante, and others which led to the downfall of the team and the end of some unbelievable times at the DIA (Danbury Ice Arena).
The Stars and Mad Hatters tried to fill that void but could not. During this past summer, a new league (NEPHL) tried to start a team in Danbury but could not get it done. There really was no reason as the NEPHL is really just another EPHL with even less teams. If Danbury is really serious about getting a hockey team then they need to think a bit bigger.
Danbury is a large enough city that they could support a higher level league. The Danbury Ice Arena officially holds 2,100 people, even though there were Trasher games where there was easily 3,000 people. That is not enough for a minor pro hockey team. Leave the DIA to youth, college, and men's league hockey which is what it is perfect for.
What the city of Danbury needs to do, and something that I think there would be investors for, is to build a professional arena. I'm not talking about a Madison Square Garden or Prudential Center sized arena but more like a 7,000 seat arena that is built for hockey. Make it have beautiful sight lines and right on top of the ice. Take a page from old arenas like the Forum, Maple Leaf Gardens, or the old Chicago Stadium and give it a classic feel with all the modern amenities. Do that and attract a franchise for the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL).
A brand new arena plus quality investors will be more than enough to convince the ECHL, which has teams all over the country, does not have a team in New England. This makes complete sense for two reasons.
First, you have a city that knows what works and does not work with hockey. Danbury has tasted success and failure with the sport. The city would be able to support it and the team would be a complete hit. Knowing that a stable league like the ECHL would be in the city would draw more fans simply because it is a serious hockey league.
Second, why wouldn't the ECHL want to be in the Northeast which is a hockey hot bed in the USA? A rivalry would be automatically born between the Danbury team and the Elmira Jackals, who used to have quite the rivalry with the Danbury Trashers, not to mention the team would be in close proximity to the rest of the teams in the Eastern Division.
This seems almost too easy to put together. It makes too much sense for the city and the league itself. But knowing political circles and the economy right now, there would be almost an infinite number of hoops to jump through. But once that was all done and the first game started with a loud sold out crowd as Danbury took the ice, it would all be worth it to the city and the investors.
I am not basing this off anything, it is just my personal opinion. But thinking about the situation, I can't help but think that this has been seriously thought about at some point by someone. Just take a look at this penalty shot and the crowd reaction...it can work in Danbury.
video

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Whirlwind of Action


As a college student now is the time the whirlwind begins. It is the second half of the semester where final projects are being assigned. It is because of this that my writing may or may not become more sporadic over the next few weeks so an apology in advance if this does happen.
For hockey players, the season is in full swing. The second full month of the schedule is beginning with the Coyotes and Rangers holding their own. The Rangers had a rough few games without Marian Gaborik before playing, in my opinion, their best defensive game of the season this afternoon against the Boston Bruins. Yes it may be frustrating to see a system that should be high scoring held to only one goal, but it is nice to see that this aggressive structure can be very effective at preventing goals.
Of course Gaborik had the lone goal in the contest...who else right? The more important aspect of this game was the defensive play. Young players Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto both looked like veteran defensemen on the ice as they went up against some very gritty forwards from the Bruins. Dane Byers, playing his second game since being called up, returned the physical play in the other end when he had a solid forecheck. Even Enver Lisin, who has been known to have almost no defensive skill when he came to North America, made a few defensive plays that showed huge strides in his learning.
Christopher Higgins did not score a goal but he played very well on the penalty kill. Sometimes getting back to just playing defense will eventually get you scoring chances. He will score soon because everyone knows the Rangers need it from him.
Looking ahead at the schedule for this week, the Rangers hit the road and are going through the dreaded Western Canada trip. Tuesday night they will be in Vancouver to face off with the Canucks, Thursday in Edmonton as they go up against their old head coach, finishing off the road trip in Calgary before having 5 days off. While these out of conference games may not be as important as the divisional ones, two points are still up for grabs. This road trip is going to tell Ranger fans alot about this team.
These western games have even more meaning than usual because they are a chance for the Rangers to help out the Phoenix Coyotes. Phoenix ranks fourth in the Western Conference right now and will undoubtedly be fighting the three western Canadian teams as the season goes on. The Coyotes had a big win Halloween night as they came back from a late one goal deficit to defeat the Anaheim Ducks in a shootout. Since losing to the New York Rangers, the Coyotes have rolled off three consecutive victories and will look to continue their roll tomorrow night when the Los Angeles Kings visit. The rest of the week does not get any easier as the Avalanche, Blackhawks, and Ducks again are on the docket for Phoenix.
I was very impressed, through watching the highlights from Phoenix's game, that the team is standing up for itself. Shane Doan received an elbow to the head from Ducks defenseman James Wisniewski. Keith Yandle immediately jumped in to defend his Captain, who later took matters into his own hands and pounded Wisniewski into the ice. In past years the Coyotes would have been crushed by this and the late goal in the third period. But they were able to compose themselves and battle back to get the victory, something that has not been in their game for a long time. The Pack mentality that they are developing is a huge change from last season and will go a long way in determining the success they achieve this year.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Few Good Minutes with Dancing Larry


One of the biggest non-player celebrities for the New York Rangers is Dancing Larry. I caught up with Larry and he answered a few questions for the faithful here:

Gootz: How long have you been a season ticket holder?
Larry: Since 1988

G: What made you start dancing? Do you remember the first time you danced at a game?
L: Friends in my section wanted me to get up and I didn't want to but I did. I did it a couple of times and one night saw myself on the Gardenvision. First dance was '96.

G: Where did you learn all your dance moves?
L: Don't remember where I got my dance moves from...I am sure it was from someone haha

G: Who is your favorite Ranger on the team right now? All Time?
L: That is tough because I have alot of favorites. Right now a few are Avery, Henrik, and Cally. All time would have to be Messier-Graves and Richter.

G: What do you think of John Tortorella and his style of coaching?
L: Love Torts and his coaching style. The team needs a coach who doesn't take any *insert any four letter word*.

G: What other teams in the Eastern Conference should the Rangers be worried about the most?L: Pens and Caps for sure.

G: Do you have a soft spot for any other team in the NHL?
L: No because I can't worry about any other team than the Rangers.

G: How many jerseys do you have? Do you have a favorite one?
L: I have about 10 with my favorite one being Adam Graves.

G: What is your favorite moment at a Ranger game?
L: When I get up and dance and make the fans in the Garden happy. Also anytime the Rangers win and salute the crowd at center ice.

G: What do you think of the Dancing Granny?
L: I think she is cool. I hope I will still be able to get up and dance at that age.


Thanks again to Larry for taking the time to answer these questions.

Rangers are in Minnesota tonight. Marian Gaborik skated this morning but will not play tonight along with Christopher Higgins and Sean Avery. Gaborik is almost 100% and should be able to play Sunday afternoon when the Rangers host the Bruins. Henrik Lundqvist will be in net tonight as well...game time is 8PM.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why Its Good Marian Gaborik is Hurt


No I am not on anything as I write this article. You read the title right.
It is being reported out of Minnesota that Marian Gaborik is definitely not playing tomorrow night on Long Island and is questionable for his return to Minnesota when the New York Rangers visit the Wild on Friday. Read the article here.
Are Ranger fans calling the suicide hotline? Crowding the edge of the Brooklyn Bridge? Well they should not be. In fact it is a good thing that Gaborik has gotten a little hurt.
Every preview of the Rangers during the offseason said they would be fine as long as Gaborik stayed healthy. After a hot start it seemed all of this was forgotten. But after a collision in last night's game against the Phoenix Coyotes the issue has been thrust back to the forefront. So why do I think this is good?
Well now Ranger fans get to see how good this team really is. Gaborik adds an entirely different element to every game he is in and has saved the Rangers a couple of times already. Yet after the sloppy play of the last week or so the Rangers will now be forced to rely on each other rather than a superstar if they want to win. We are going to see what this Ranger team is really made of. Head Coach John Tortorella probably will never admit it but I bet there is a little bit of excitement in him knowing that this team will have to face adversity in playing without Marian Gaborik.
If the injury is just minor, keeping Gaborik out is a good idea. Missing two games like this will not be a major factor this early in the season. If this was the last week of the season and in a tight playoff race I would be worried but this is game 13. Ranger fans need to take a deep breath and realize the depth will be able to handle not having Gaborik. Enver Lisin has been coming on lately with five points in the last five games. Christopher Higgins is still looking for his first goal of the season. Getting him a chance on a top six line with someone like Vinny Prospal or Brandon Dubinsky may help him get off his slump.
So do not jump off the bridges Ranger fans. This team has plenty of talent to overcome the loss of Marian Gaborik for one or two games. If this was a long term injury then I may be worrying. But no Gaborik for two games against two teams at the bottom of the standings in the NHL? I'm not freaking out and neither should you.
As for last night, the Rangers took round 1 against Phoenix. The Coyotes showed up very little for the game, except for a stretch in the 2nd period. They showed how good they can be but also how terrible. I was hoping for a closer game but just to see the Coyotes live again was nice. Getting news that Jerry Moyes has agreed to sell the team to the NHL was another piece of news that came in. You can check out the details here. It is expected that Ice Edge will have control of the team by November 2nd.
Round 2 for the Coyotes and Rangers comes in January at Jobing.com Arena. Will be a much different matchup by then I am sure.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Head to Head: Round 1


Monday night the New York Rangers will host the Phoenix Coyotes in the first of two matchups this season. The predicament I experience between these two teams will be continue but it is a little different this season. Instead of the two teams being on opposite sides of the spectrum, they are both in good places in the standings.
Both of them lost last night as the Rangers fell in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens while Phoenix were defeated by the Los Angeles Kings. Both teams have been playing sloppy as of late which is expected as both teams look to learn new systems after going on extended winning streaks.
Tomorrow's lineups are unknown as of right now. Henrik Lundqvist has a stiff foot after having it knocked into the goal post in yesterday's game. I would not be surprised to see Valiquette in goal tomorrow just to give Lundqvist a rest for Wednesday when the Rangers meet the New York Islanders for the first time this season.
Head Coach Dave Tippett usually sticks with one goalie and someone playing like Ilya Bryzgalov, there is no doubt he will continue to start in goal for Phoenix as they look to get back to winning.
The head coaches of these teams are very intense and believe their teams have been playing very poorly despite finding ways to win. The mistakes are catching up with these teams and both the coaches and players know it. It will be an interesting game where both teams will be looking to get back on the winning side of things.
For Ranger fans: Chill out. This team is going to take time to get completely used to each other. John Tortorella has won a Stanley Cup and knows how to run a team. He is the reason that Vincent Lecavalier is the player he has become and why that Tampa Bay team was able to be competitive. We have seen both the best and worst sides of this team. It was going to happen at some point during the season, just be happy it is early in the season.
Me? I will be wearing my Coyotes stuff tomorrow. I see this as possibly the last time I will see the Phoenix Coyotes live and in person so I will support them. I am ready for the ownership jokes and attendance jabs but if the Coyotes can win then it will be completely worth it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Now To the Real Deal


New York Rangers fans have been spoiled in this early season with seven straight wins and a quick rise to the top of the standings. The little fantasy world we all lived in was eradicated Monday night as the Sharks systematically tore the Rangers apart showing that this team was far from the top.
With the fantasy world and winning streak gone, its time to start the season. What do I mean. I mean the tension and grind where every game is as important as Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Every win counts as we know from the way playoff races turn out. The Eastern Conference is always hotly contested and that last two years has come down to the final games before the Rangers would clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Tonight is one of those games as New York hosts the rival New Jersey Devils. The Devils were one of the teams New York beat during their winning streak where Matt Gilroy scored the game winning goal, his first NHL goal. Head Coach John Tortorella would love for Gilroy to repeat that performance along with the rest of his team. After taking an early timeout in that game the Rangers got in gear and battled back for a big win at Prudential Center.
But what does this game mean? Sure it is the 100th game between these two teams at Madison Square Garden but it means more than that. New York has suffered its first big setback of the season and its first real adversity. How will they respond? History shows that long winning streaks are coupled with losing streaks and no doubt the players and staff of the Blueshirts know this. I would have believed this team would go on an extended losing streak the last few years, but not this team. This is not because of a fiery coach or the system that is in place (while these do contribute to that belief). It is because of enthusiasm and a work ethic. Its seeing Vinny Prospal celebrate like a 5 year old when he scores, Marian Gaborik giving an emphatic fist pump after a snipe, Donald Brashear fighting for fans he knows are not fond of him, Wade Redden playing much better and getting praise from fans, watching Michael Del Zotto look like a veteran defenseman on the point of the power play, or the emphatic leg pumps of Henrik Lundqvist. The signs of enthusiasm and team are refreshing to see from an organization that has long had to fight with the lure of New York City to get the players to focus on hockey first.
Will we see that tonight? This rivalry always brings out the passion from the fans. The players will certainly be ready to go. All eyes will be on Sean Avery and Martin Brodeur who have had some memorable encounters the last few years. Personally I would like to see Avery get under Marty's skin again. He has not been on that edge like we have seen before and the Rangers need a bit of that snarl and aggravation from Avery if they want to succeed.
The Coyotes are on the other side of the country and will take on the Detroit Red Wings for the first time this season. Phoenix will look to continue its winning streak and their surprising start.
Anyone see Willie Mitchell lay out Jonathan Toews last night? What a hit. Watch it here. That is the kind of physical play the Rangers need on their blue line and have been missing for awhile. An absolutely beautiful hit.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ranger Fans? This is Earth...You Can Come Back Down Now


I suppose that most Ranger fans have gotten over last night's debacle against the San Jose Sharks. I'm not going to give a recap because frankly it is not necessary. A 7-3 whooping of New York by one of the top teams in the league shows us one thing: The Rangers have alot of work to do.
This seven game winning streak was a nice way to get back into the season but it is time for everyone to come back down to reality. The Rangers are good but not great. With so many changes to the lineup and a new system being implemented it is not surprise that this kind of mess occurred. If you have been watching the two games leading up to this one it was pretty obvious that this team was going to lose. Better it be against a non-conference foe like San Jose and not against someone like the New Jersey Devils or Montreal Canadiens, the next two opponents for the Blueshirts.
Starting Steve Valiquette was probably the wrong move for head coach John Tortorella to do. I understand that Henrik Lundqvist needs to get games off so he stays fresh for the playoffs but letting him play against prime competition like the San Jose Sharks will do more good than harm in the long run. This was a bench marking game and the fact Steve Valiquette was a sieve makes it hard for Tortorella and the coaching staff to determine who would have won this game with the King in net. Granted San Jose did outplay the Rangers for long periods of time but many of the goals Valiquette gave up could have been stopped through simple technical fixes such as being out on top of the crease.
But what's done is done. The Rangers are moving on to Thursday night when they will be back at Madison Square Garden to host the New Jersey Devils for the first time this season. The last matchup saw Matt Gilroy score his first NHL goal which was the game winner. No doubt Martin Brodeur will be in net and Henrik Lundqvist will be back in the crease for New York. As always it is a goaltending showdown between two of the top netminders in the entire NHL. You can bet that John Tortorella and his staff will have broken down every minute detail of the loss to San Jose and try to fix what went wrong.
Without the pressure of a big winning streak going it may benefit the Rangers by making them get back to a simpler and more effective style of play. They have looked sloppy the last two games despite getting two wins. Now is the time to regroup and tighten up the structure of the system to get going again.
A tidbit that came in today is that veteran defenseman Mathieu Dandenault has signed a 25 game tryout with the Hartford Wolf Pack. It has been known the Rangers have been looking for a veteran seventh defenseman to carry on the roster and Dandenault would be able to provide that. He attended the training camp of the San Jose Sharks during the offseason but was cut. If he proves himself in the AHL then hopefully he will be able to come up and bring a much needed veteran presence on the Ranger blue line.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Breeze to Bryz


The National Hockey League announced their three stars of the week with Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov right at the top. Read the release here.
Arguably the hottest goaltender in the NHL right now Bryzgalov is fulfilling the role of a consistent goaltender that has been missing from the Phoenix Coyotes for a long time. He continued his impressive play with a huge week and three wins over three very good teams. He started the week off by shutting out the San Jose Sharks and helping Phoenix to a 1-0 shootout win over the Western powerhouse. He went on to hold St. Louis to just two goals in a 4-2 win and the Boston Bruins to one goal in a 4-1 win. Stopping 70 of 73 shots faced, Bryzgalov had a .95 goals against average and a .959 save percentage.
On the season Bryzgalov leads goaltenders in goals against average (1.14) and save percentage (.953). An absolutely terrific start for Bryzgalov, he will need to continue his great play to help Phoenix stay atop the Pacific Division in the West. They will certainly be cheering for the New York Rangers when they take on San Jose tonight. LA plays Dallas in a divisional matchup so for Phoenix it does not really matter. They are focuses on Thursday night's showdown with the Detroit Red Wings at Jobing.com Arena. Get out there and support a team that is playing very well right now.
A quick note about tonight's Rangers game. Steve Valiquette will be getting his second start of the season when the Rangers host the San Jose Sharks. His last start was against the Anaheim Ducks where he helped the Rangers to a 3-0 shutout win. Head Coach John Tortorella has said he would like to rest Lundqvist more this season than he has been the last few, especially with the Olympics in February. The Rangers have said they have been sloppy the last few games. Hopefully they can fix that tonight as they go for 8 in a row.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rolling Right Along


So far the ships are running right on course.
Both teams were in action last night. The New York Rangers brought their six game winning streak to Toronto to take on an awful Maple Leafs team that is just falling apart right now. Despite a physical brand of hockey from the Leafs New York came out on top again by a score of 4-1. Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto, and Enver Lisin scored the four Ranger goals as they continued to roll. Marian Gaborik continued his point streak with two assists on the night.
The key to this game was not the scoring but goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist was his usual self as he stopped 34 of 35 Toronto shots. While the final score was a three goal advantage in favor of the Rangers the Maple Leafs could have easily made this game interesting if the King was not sharp. He made some difficult saves and had to deal with Toronto's tendency to run the goaltender.
If anything the Rangers need to get meaner on the back end. When the man in net is as important as Lundqvist is to your team you need to protect him. I think it is only a matter of time before Lundqvist snaps and goes off on someone. Jason Blake would have been the perfect candidate for that but Staal took care of him with a big hit late. Either way New York needs to be more mindful of what is going on with Lundqvist and how the opponents are treating him.
One other thing that has been out of the picture because of the winning is Sean Avery. Avery has played very well since coming back from his knee injury early in the season. However, I just do not see that edge from him that made everyone fall in love with him. The Rangers are winning which is the most important thing but I would like to see Avery live a bit more on the edge than he has been.
Rookie Michael Del Zotto is now tied for the league lead among defensemen for points with 8.
For the Phoenix Coyotes they are now on a three game winning streak that has seen them defeat the Sharks, Blues, and the Boston Bruins. Defeating the Bruins last night was impressive as three of the Coyotes four goals were scored by defensemen. Ed Jovanovski, Adrian Aucoin, Keith Yandle, and Scottie Upshall all scored for the Coyotes as they get another win against a decent team. Coyotes captain Shane Doan finished with three assists as he tries to get his game going.
The story for the Coyotes was their defense and goaltending once again as Ilya Bryzgalov continues his great play stopping 22 of 23 shots faced. The Bruins only had two power plays in the game but Phoenix killed both of them off while the power play struck twice. I mentioned before that the special teams need to get going for Phoenix and this game shows just how much more dangerous they are when the special teams are clicking. If they want to stay where they are the great special teams need to continue.
Unfortunately for the Coyotes attendance has not been great at the last two home games. Just under 7,000 people showed up for the comeback win over St. Louis and just under 10,000 showed up last night with the Bruins in town. The bright side is that the attendance went up between the two games but realistically that is just not acceptable for a team looking to stay. I am hoping that the city of Phoenix has a change of heart and more people start going to games. Watching this team win is great. If they can keep winning and be a tough team to play against every night then the people will go to the games. If the Arizona Cardinals can turn their situation around then the Phoenix Coyotes most certainly can as well.
Only two games for the Coyotes this week as they are off until Thursday when the Detroit Red Wings come to Phoenix. If attendance is looking to go up then it will for this game as many Red Wings fans always turn out for the Coyotes home games. They finish their week off with a home game against the LA Kings before coming over to New York to play the Rangers.
The Rangers have a little bit of a tougher schedule with three games this week. They host the San Jose Sharks Monday night and the New Jersey Devils on Thursday before heading north of the border once again as they travel to Montreal to face Scott Gomez and the Canadiens.
Who will have the hot hand as we head towards the first clash of the season between my two teams? I have no clue how it will end up but it is distinctly possible that both of these teams will be very hot going into next Monday night at the Garden.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Uglier Side of Winning


The Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers faced off at Madison Square Garden last night as both were on hot streaks. Coming in the Rangers had won five straight, coming off a most recent seven goal performance against the woeful Toronto Maple Leafs. The LA Kings came in on a four game winning streak having most recently beaten the New York Islanders on Monday night by a score of 2-1.
Despite the fact that usual starter Jonathan Quick was not the starter last night, Erik Ersberg is no slouch of a goaltender and the LA Kings are one of those up and coming Western Conference teams who will be a force in the future. Their style of hard forechecking and being physical on the puck, not to mention being a physically big team, sort of reminds me of the Philadelphia Flyers. What happens in the future for them will only be told by time but Kings fans have plenty to be excited about.
But last night's game saw a Ranger team get lucky. Vinny Prospal scored two power play goals in the first period as he broke the 200 career goal mark on the first one. The first one came off a nice deflection setup by Michael Del Zotto who finished with two assists on the night. The rookie continues to light it up on the power play as well as Ales Kotalik who had two more assists, both on the powerplay goals. Brian Boyle made it 3-1 as he scored against his former team in what would prove to be the game winner.
Coming out of the first period with a one goal lead was a bit tough because from the 2nd period on it was a domination of puck possession by the LA Kings. They continued to battle the Rangers who were tired as they finished up a stretch of three games in four nights at home. Ryan Smyth scored their first goal off a nice deflection while Jack Johnson scored in the second period to make it 3-2. Being a Rangers fan I was prepared for a letdown. Why shouldn't I be considering the way the team has been the last few years?
That was until Marian Gaborik. When you are actually at a game you can appreciate plays much more because you see everything that is going on down on the ice and in the crowd. When Gaborik got the pass from Prospal and went over the line slow you could feel the buzz in the building. Starting off slow he came down the wing and released a shot like a rattlesnake. It was quick, sudden and deadly. The puck was in the net before Ersberg knew what had happened and oh my what a sick shot it was. You can call it a roof, snipe, or whatever else you want but it was a thing of beauty. I have watched the goal at least ten times and every time I cannot help but laugh and smile knowing how unbelievably sick that shot is. I tried watching it frame by frame and it is unbelievable to see him have the puck in one frame and the next its already bouncing out of the net. Poor Erik Ersberg. Click the link at the end of this post if you missed the goal.
That was the only shot the Rangers had in the third period. After that it was all Henrik Lundqvist as he had to preserve the win just as he had so many times before. He made a stellar save in the first period and had to make more by looking through screens and dealing with people barreling into him again. Lundqvist finished with 34 saves and was named the first star of the game.
The Rangers get a day off today and hopefully some much needed rest. It was an ugly win but, as John Tortorella said in the post game, good teams win these kinds of games. He certainly is right. New York will be in Toronto on Saturday night to take on the Maple Leafs once again.
The Phoenix Coyotes return home tonight after a big shootout win over the San Jose Sharks on Monday night. They will be looking to get their first win on home ice this season when they host the St. Louis Blues. Hopefully another big crowd will be on hand.
The Coyotes sent Mikkel Boedker to the AHL. While it is sad to see this, it is for the ebtter as Boedker was not getting much playing time in Phoenix. It makes more sense to put him in a position where he will get plenty of ice time and can develop some chemistry with some of the players who will make up the future of the franchise. I have a feeling Yotes fans will be seeing Mikkel back in Phoenix before the season is over.
Once again...an ugly win but one that Ranger fans will take...especially if Gaborik keeps on scoring pretty goals like this.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wins on Both Coasts


What night it was to be a hockey fan last night. Plenty of great games including a humiliating loss for the Calgary Flames who blew a five goal lead to lose in overtime (sound familiar Ranger fans?).
But for the two main teams victories were achieved albeit through very different means.
In New York the Rangers were coming off a big win over the Anaheim Ducks where Steve Valiquette stopped 18 shots for a 3-0 win. He filled in with a solid effort for Henrik Lundqvist who was back in the crease last night as the woeful Toronto Maple Leafs came into New York looking for their first win of the season. They could not have gone through a worse affair.
The Rangers put up a lucky 7 against the Maple Leafs as Dan Girardi and Sean Avery had two goals each. Wade Redden looked like the Redden the Rangers signed as he had a goal and two assists. What a snipe his goal was as another high performing Ranger, Vinny Prospal, fed Redden the puck and he drilled it short side high off the cross bar and behind frustrated Leafs goaltender Vesa Toskala (By the way Toskala suffered an injury last night making Joey MacDonald the starter for Toronto for the foreseeable future).
Prospal and Artem Anisimov finished with two assists each. Marian Gaborik had a goal and an assist to extend his point scoring streak. It was a dominating win for the boys in blue. Two points I want to make however:
1. As expected Donald Brashear and Colton Orr met up and dropped the gloves. Up until this point many people had been booing Brashear because of his prior history against the Rangers. Last night the two heavyweights met up as they have many times during their careers and it was a pretty good battle but the edge goes to big Brashear as he landed some good punches. If this win over Orr was not enough Brashear had his family hand out gloves with the finger tips cut off to certain sections in Madison Square Garden. One glove had his number and the nickname "Brash" on it while the other one was signed by him. Inside were plastic cups that made the gloves into noisemakers of sorts. It is sad that Brashear has had to try and win over fans like this but I think he has earned the respect for Ranger fans...at least I hope.
2. Last night Leafs forward Jason Blake ran Henrik Lundqvist twice and he did not get challenged. If you are the Rangers, you need to get on Blake and make sure he does not do that. Whether it is giving him a face wash or making him apart of the boards the Rangers cannot let that happen. Lundqvist is the most important piece to the Rangers and he needs to be protected. The Rangers need to get a little mean and make sure players know that if they run into Lundqvist they are going to pay for it.
The Rangers are practicing today and then are at home again on Wednesday when they take on the Los Angeles Kings who are coming off a win against the Islanders. They will pose a stiffer test than the Leafs did.
On the other coast you could say the Rangers won another game. The Phoenix Coyotes were coming off their shutout loss in their home opener and now were visiting the San Jose Sharks who are expected to be a major player in the Western Conference.
If you are a fan of high scoring games then this was not the matchup for you as good defensive play and goaltending made this game completely scoreless and forced a shootout. Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov both earned a shutout but a winner still had to be decided.
The shootout came with both goalies hot as they both stopped the first shooters they faced.
Bryzgalov got lucky as Devin Setoguchi missed a wrist shot on his blocker side.
Peter Mueller gave Phoenix the lead when he used his nice wrist shot and slipped the puck under the glove of Nabokov.
Dan Boyle came in next and made a nice fake to avoid the poke check attempt from Bryzgalov and used a nice back hand up into the back of the net.
As I mentioned before the Rangers won two games last night. Lauri Korpikoski was the last man to go for the Coyotes. His first career shootout attempt would be a big one as he came up against Nabokov fast. A little bit of a change of the angle and a good wrist shot was enough to get it by the Sharks goaltender.
This was an absolutely monumental win for so early in the season for the Coyotes. They went up against a high powered offensive team and shut them down. The defense has really improved this season as the Coyotes have given up just two even strength goals this season. However they will need to get the offense going as well. They peppered Nabokov with 30 shots last night which means they are getting chances but they need to finish the job a bit more. Not having the speed of Matthew Lombardi was probably a big reason why the offense could not generate but regardless, they need to get going.
The power play needs to be more organized and more creative. Passing is key for a power play and Phoenix needs to get better at doing that. The power play did not convert on four chances last night. A big part of getting Phoenix's offense going will be converting while on the man advantage.
Bryzgalov played exactly how he needs to for the entire season. He was solid all night and stopped all the shots he should have to keep his team in the game.
A positive night overall in hockey with the two main teams on here. The Rangers play on Wednesday against the LA Kings (I will be there) while the Coyotes return home on Thursday to host the St. Louis Blues. If you are in Phoenix, make sure you get yourself to that home game. The Coyotes will be better.