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 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 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 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 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 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.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Two Sides of the Coin

The two main teams that I follow are on two very different sides of the coin right now.
The Phoenix Coyotes dropped their home opener in the worst fashion possible as they were shutout by the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-0. The good news is that the arena was sold out and the crowd was into it. Unfortunately Phoenix could not get a win for them.
On the other side is the New York Rangers who are on a roll right now. After dropping the season opener in Pittsburgh the Rangers have rang off four straight wins including yesterday's 3-0 shutout over the Anaheim Ducks. Steve Valiquette stopped 18 shots for the first shutout by a Ranger goaltender this year. Tonight they welcome the Toronto Maple Leafs who have not won a game this season and have just one point. They will be looking to get a victory for sure.
Rangers and Coyotes seasons are in full swing and its a great time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Coyotes Set for Sold Out Whiteout

Tonight is the big night for the Phoenix Coyotes.
The team returns to Glendale with a 2-1 record and an arena that is officially sold out with more standing room tickets being sold. Kudos to the people of Phoenix and the staff of the Coyotes in getting this done. Yes I know people are criticizing the team since the tickets are discounted but that is not the point. The point is that people bought these tickets and are coming to the game meaning this team will have support if it stays.
But this game is also big for another reason. Phoenix is coming off its first loss of the season against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night and will be looking to impress the home crowd. Ilya Bryzgalov will be back in net after backup Jason LaBarbera played stellar in the recent loss. Petr Prucha is day to day after being hit by Patrick Kaleta and is hoping to play in tonight's opener. Prucha was an integral part of the victory over Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
The Coyotes welcome the Columbus Blue Jackets in who are coming off a 6-3 loss where newest San Jose Shark Dany Heatley had a hat trick. Like the Coyotes they will definitely be looking to get back on the winning side of things. As always the Coyotes will need to keep an eye on Rick Nash who can tear the opposition apart single handedly.
Phoenix will be wearing their white jerseys tonight to go along with the Whiteout. It is a big night for the Phoenix Coyotes and they will come out with a jump in their step. But if they play the game they did in the first two games then they will have success. Hopefully this is the first of many sellouts this season for Phoenix as they look to get respect around the NHL by winning big games and maybe, just maybe, getting a look at the post season. But for now they should be focusing on tonight's game. What a memorable one it should be.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Coyotes Shut Out Pittsburgh in an Early Statement Game

I am finally coming down off the high of elation that I have just experienced and am still so excited.
The Phoenix Coyotes defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 3-0 tonight in Pittsburgh. This was the first time that I got to watch Phoenix while under the guidance of Dave Tippett and I have to say that this looks like a completely different team.
The high pressure forecheck, good positioning, and physicality are aspects that I have not seen from a Phoenix team. They executed the Tippett system to perfection tonight as they limited the time and space of the opposition and forced them to mistakes. The players played a physical game, especially Ed Jovanovski who really showed up as his old self constantly punishing the Penguins when they came into the defensive zone.
Ilya Bryzgalov got his first shutout of the season. He did not have to be brilliant but he made some very big and timely saves in the third period. There were points in the third period where the Penguins were putting the pressure on and Phoenix was having trouble but Bryzgalov was there to keep Phoenix ahead. Bryz finished the game with 24 saves as he is off to a good start.
The last goal by Radim Vrbata was an empty net goal but the first two were powerplay goals. Petr Prucha showed why he should be on the ice during a man advantage situation as he played an important role in both tallies. Shane Doan made a nice cross ice pass to Ed Jovanovski who was down in the faceoff circle to the left of Penguins goalie Brent Johnson. Prucha stood in front screening Johnson while big Jovanovski sniped the short side corner to give Phoenix a 1-0 lead.
Prucha once again was a factor as he scored the second Phoenix goal on the power play. The young Czech got tangled up with Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton and fell to the ice. Radim Vrbata moved in and took a shot on Brent Johnson leaving the rebound right where Prucha was. Using his skill Prucha flipped the puck into the net while on his back. The hard work continued to pay off for the Coyotes.
While goals are impressive what the Coyotes did for the rest of the game was even more impressive. They systematically shut down the Penguin offense by being in good position and outworking the Penguins along the boards. Their sticks were right in the passing lanes and the players were sacrificing their bodies to block the puck before it even got on goal.
It was an impressive showing by the Phoenix Coyotes and win that a team can really use to become better. I know it is only the second game of a very long season but a win like this, no matter where it is in the season, can provide a confidence boost to more wins. I am trying to keep myself relatively calm but I cannot help but wonder if this team is going to make some noise this season.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Coyotes Getting an Early Test

When a change is made to a team you want to put it up against a team that is rock solid and can be used as a measuring stick. The Phoenix Coyotes underwent some changes this offseason with a few new players and a new head coach in Dave Tippett.
Well Tippett is going to get his first real challenge on Wednesday night when the Coyotes visit the defending Stanley Cup champions at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. Phoenix has only played one game so far this season when they defeated the Los Angeles Kings 6-3 on Saturday night and will be facing a much more experienced and high powered team in the Penguins.
The Coyotes are starting this season off on a road trip that will take them to Pittsburgh and Buffalo before returning home to Phoenix on Saturday for the home opener.
But this game is a big deal for the team. No doubt they want to make a big impression by taking down Sidney Crosby and the rest of the defending champions. Phoenix actually defeated Pittsburgh last season by a score of 4-1 in Glendale but this is a much different team than that of last year. This season the Coyotes have a structure and system in place that will give them a chance to win every night whether it is against the LA Kings or someone like the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It is this system that will truly be tested when trying to defend Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and the rest of the potent Penguin offense. Phoenix will need to be firing on all cylinders to get pucks by Marc-Andre Fleury. The power play got a good start against the LA Kings but will need to be a big factor. Pittsburgh will not give you many chances so you need to take advantage of the ones that you do find.
More importantly is limiting your mistakes. The Penguins feed off the mistakes of the other team and taking excessive penalties is where they can be deadly. The Coyotes gave up three power play goals against Los Angeles but were lucky enough to survive. If Phoenix's penalty kill has not improved they will have lost this game before it even started. I am hoping it has since they have had a few practices to work on the strategy and positioning they need to have in place to improve on a penalty kill that was dismal last season.
Ilya Bryzgalov will need to be sharp. Pittsburgh is a high pressure offensive team and will be bombarding the Coyotes defense and net with shots from all angles and directions. The Coyotes staff has said Bryzgalov will have to steal games that Phoenix probably should not win. Well this is one of those. Goaltending coach Sean Burke will look to have his main man ready for a big game.
It is tough to call early games like these big but for this organization it is. Putting up a team which is being questioned by alot of critics against the reigning champions is a good way to measure how well you are doing. I have no idea how this will turn out but am obviously hoping for a Coyotes win.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Enough with the Brash Bash

Alright...enough is enough people.
When the New York Rangers signed veteran enforcer Donald Brashear this offseason many Ranger fans felt betrayed. Brashear has been on the top 10 most wanted list by Ranger fans for the last few years...and not the good most wanted list.
When I first heard of the signing I was a bit shocked like most fans and I felt a little weird knowing that I would see Donald Brashear in blue. But I have gotten over it and now prefer him to Colton Orr.
While many may not think it Brashear can actually play hockey. He can skate, hit and is a real benefit when he is in front of the net battling it out. He is very strong and provides a veteran presence in the locker room. Since the lockout he has had 36 points while Colton Orr has had 11. While Orr improved on his skating it was still pretty awful. Brashear is not the best either but he is better than Orr, not to mention he has a little bit of hockey sense knowing to go to the front of the net and trying to outmuscle the opposition.
It did suck what he did to Blair Betts in the playoffs last season but if he was a Ranger and did the same thing to someone on the Caps, Ranger fans would be on their feet. When he fought Brandon Sugden the second time the fans were going nuts as Brashear came on late in the fight. Don't believe me? Watch it here.
This guy lays it all out on the ice willing to take punches from some of the meanest goons in the NHL right now to defend his teammates. There are not many other players on the Rangers now willing to go toe to toe with people like Eric Godard. No doubt we will see Brashear fight the likes of Riley Cote, Colton Orr, and who knows. Maybe we will be luck to see him take on Sidney Crosby (please oh please just once).
I cannot guarantee that he will fight Crosby or score 50 goals. What I can guarantee is that he is laying it all out for his team and the fans every night and Ranger fans will come to love Donald Brashear very soon. So stop booing him.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Rangers and Coyotes Off to a Good Start

The New York Rangers and the Phoenix Coyotes were both in action last night.
The Rangers returned to Madison Square Garden after dropping their first game in Pittsburgh by a score of 3-2. There were alot of positives out of the Penguins game but Ranger fans were expecting a win in the first home game. The new look Ottawa Senators came into to town looking to get their season started.
While there were points where the Rangers had trouble they dominated most of the game. It took until the second period for the scoring to get under way as Vinny Prospal got his first goal as a Ranger when he sniped the puck over the left shoulder of Senators goaltender Pascal LeClaire just over three minutes into the 2nd period. Brandon Dubinsky made it 2-0 halfway through the second when he roofed the puck on a semi-breakaway. Dubinsky had been working on his shot during the offseason and really showed it tonight.
Daniel Alfredsson managed to bring Ottawa within one after receiving a nice pass from Jason Spezza. Matt Gilroy was at the end of a very long shift and was beaten to the puck while the Rangers made a bad line change leaving him out to dry.
As the period was winding down Ranger fans got a boost of excitement when Michael Del Zotto slinged a wrist shot from the blue line through a maze of bodies and into the back of the net. The crowd at MSG exploded in elation as one of its young prospects made his mark. At just 19 years old Del Zotto has Ranger fans buzzing about his game.
Marian Gaborik scored and Dubinsky added an empty net goal at the end. Senators rookie Peter Regin scored his first NHL goal with just over 5 seconds left in the game as the Rangers won by a final score of 5-2. Dubinsky finished with two goals and an assist, Gaborik had a goal and assist, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 32 of 34 shots for his first victory of the season.
On the other side of the country the Dave Tippett era was getting under way in Los Angeles as the Phoenix Coyotes visited the Kings. Radim Vrbata had a great return as he scored two goals for the Coyotes. Robert Lang, Scottie Upshall, Matthew Lombardi, and Daniel Winnik had the other three goals as Phoenix went into LA and got a big victory.
Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov, and Drew Doughty scored for the Kings. If there is one negative for the Phoenix Coyotes, it was their penalty kill as all three LA goals came on the man advantage. Special teams was a rough spot for the Coyotes and they will look to improve on it as the season goes on. Phoenix was one for four on the power play.
Not a bad start to the season. The Rangers head to New Jersey to take on the Devils Monday while the Coyotes go to visit the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. The two teams have things to work on but I like what I see and other fans should too.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hockey Season Begins Tonight

Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is finally over. After months of speculation about who is the best and how teams will play the first night of the NHL regular season is officially tonight. And it could not have come sooner. Actually it could have.
The New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes are not in action tonight but there is one thing that I would like to do and that is put the two in a head to head matchup by position and see who comes out on top. Lets get to it:
Forwards: Up front both of these teams have depth to talk about. In New York the Rangers have added Marian Gaborik, Christopher Higgins, Ales Kotalik, Enver Lisin, Vinny Prospal, and Donald Brashear through offseason acquisitions. Add in Russian rookie Artem Anisimov and you have a very different looking squad up front which saw the likes of Markus Naslund, Scott Gomez, and Nikolai Zherdev leave. Returning are names like Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Chris Drury, and Sean Avery who will look to be a foundation the team will build from. This is a very different looking team and will no doubt take some time to mesh but the talent is there.
For the Coyotes, they have decided to cut down a bit on the youth and try to add some veteran presence up front. The addition of Robert Lang is huge as this veteran pivot will look to create chemistry on the ice with who ever he is with and off the ice with some of the young Czech players on the upstart Coyotes. Other additions like Taylor Pyatt and Vernon Fiddler will add to the depth and hopefully a jump in the special teams where the Coyotes have been sorely lacking both on the power play and penalty kill in the last few seasons. Add in the return of Radim Vrbata from Tampa Bay and the Coyotes have brought in some players who can add to the offense that was ranked 26th in goals for last season.
The Coyotes will be looking to young players like Peter Mueller and Martin Hanzal to have big seasons in their third year. Mueller has come to camp in the best shape he has ever been in and is looking much better than last season. Hanzal will continue his development in his big body and will hopefully get some helpful pointers from someone like Robert Lang. The youth continues with players like Mikkel Boedker, Scottie Upshall, Petr Prucha, and Matthew Lombardi. Throw in the veteran Shane Doan and the offense has some serious potential to put up more goals.
However, what the Coyotes lack is what the Rangers have...a game breaker. While both teams have solid depth up front the lack of a game breaker in Phoenix puts the Rangers above them. Winner: RANGERS
Defense: The blue line is always key to any championship team. As the saying goes "Defense wins championships". Looking at New York the slight problem is a lack of experience. Four of the Rangers' six defensemen are 25 years old or younger. Rookies Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto impressed enough in training camp to earn a starting spot at this position and certainly have the potential to become good NHL defensemen. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi return to the lineup and will need to have strong years considering the two veteran defensemen, Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden, will need to bounce back after pretty dismal seasons. If the preseason is any indication of what is to come, the blue line may be in trouble if the veterans cannot bounce back.
What New York lacks on defense the Coyotes do have. Veteran defense is a big advantage to the Coyotes as Adrian Aucoin and Ed Jovanovski will lead a solid defensive corps that is a good mix of young and old. "Jovocop" will need to have a rebound season and be a catalyst for starting the Coyotes play up the ice. If he can return to the form which has made him a good defenseman in the NHL, it will be a big boost to the team.
The Coyotes added some physicality by bringing in Jim Vandermeer who is known to be a very gritty blueliner. Phoenix lacked bite on its blue line last season and, with the combination of Kurt Sauer, Vandermeer may be able to make life hard for opposing offenses.
The future of the Coyotes blueline lies in Zbynek Michalek and Keith Yandle. Both took huge strides last season and will be looked to take on a bigger role. Michalek's two way play has been crucial to what little success Phoenix has had the last few years as he led the entire NHL in blocked shots last season. He will need to continue his stellar defensive play. Yandle had a decent season as he garnered 30 points and drastically improved his defensive play. He needs to continue to refine his play but it seems like the Coyotes may have found a decent offensive defenseman in Keith Yandle.
Who is better? This one has to go to Phoenix. The depth and veteran leadership on the Phoenix blue line outweighs that of the Rangers by a long shot. If Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival can turn things around then maybe this changes but right now with a structured defensive system like that of Dave Tippett's coming in, the Coyotes will really be relying on their blue line if they want to have success this season. Winner: Coyotes
Goaltending: And here is where the scale tips. I like Ilya Bryzgalov as a starting goalie and think he has the talent to be very good in the NHL. That being said, Henrik Lundqvist is one of the top goalies in the NHL right now. Having been a Vezina finalist three times and winning at least 30 games in every season so far Lundqvist is the backbone of the New York Rangers. Bryzgalov will have do well with a new technical coach like Sean Burke and a solid defense in front of him, but Lundqvist's raw talent and skill beats out Bryzgalov. Winner: Rangers.
So who wins in the head to head matchup? Well the Rangers have two of the three categories so I will give it to them. However, it will be interesting to see how these two teams matchup this season as they have two meetings. On paper it seems the Rangers would come out on top but with Phoenix having a solid head coach in Dave Tippett who knows how well they play in a structured system. We'll call it a shootout win for the Rangers at this point.
Here are my predictions for the first night of games:
WSH@BOS: Offense vs Defense. The Bruins are very good at defense and are much more physical than the Washington Ovechkins. If Tim Thomas continues his Vezina caliber play then look for the B's to come out on top. 4-2 Bruins
MTL@TOR: The classic NHL rivalry is apart of the opening night festivities. The new look Maple Leafs are going to be looking for a big first win to get their season going while Montreal looks to erase the horrible year last season that was their 100th anniversary. This is a tough one as I am rooting for the Maple Leafs to make a comeback but Montreal will take this one. 4-3 Habs
SJS@COL: It is Joe Sakic night in Denver as the Avalanche will raise 19 to the rafters after an unbelievable career. But that is going to be the end of the joyous time for Avs fans as the San Jose Sharks will pick apart a team that is systematic and talented. It will be a long season in Colorado and it will start tonight. 4-1 Sharks
VAN@CGY: This will be the matchup to watch in the Northwest division as these two teams will slug it out all season for the divisional crown. Roberto Luongo is looking to have another big season and will need to if the Canucks want this division. Calgary looks strong again with the usual suspects of Iginla, Phaneuf, Regehr, and Kiprusoff. A full season of Olli Jokinen will be a big boost along with the acquisition of Jay Bouwmeester. It is a clash of the titans in the Northwest and the Canucks will come out on top. 3-2 Canucks.
So there you have it. The opening night of the season is tonight with the Rangers' first game tomorrow night in Pittsburgh and Phoenix's first one on Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings. Get the jerseys out and bundle up. ITS HOCKEY SEASON!