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!
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 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 can work in Danbury.

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.