Tag:Brandon Dubinsky
Posted on: March 7, 2012 9:39 am
Edited on: March 7, 2012 10:09 am
 

Pregame Skate: Sabres, Leafs continue push

Lindy Ruff and Buffalo return home. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

7 ET, Carolina at Buffalo

The first of only two games on an even quieter than usual Wednesday, all eyes will be on the Sabres after a good road trip. They went 3-1-1 on a trip that included stops in Madison Square Garden, Vancouver and Winnipeg. It resurrected their previously dead season.

However the question remains if it was more of an anomaly or the Sabres have turned the corner and shown flashes of the team many thought they would be. They can start to find that out with Wednesday's game against the Hurricanes.

Buffalo starts the night four points back of the Jets for eighth place in the East and tonight will play its one game in hand on Winnipeg. So not only would a win bring them to within just two points of the Jets, it would also pull the Sabres even in points with the Capitals in ninth.

The small bit of irony there is they would have to thank the Hurricanes for helping them achieve that as the 'Canes head to Buffalo just 24 hours after taking down the Caps in Washington with a bonus-hockey goal.

Obviously Carolina isn't going to roll over and the idea of an easy win in the NHL is almost non-existent, but this is a game the Sabres should and almost need to win. They can't make that road trip feel like it was for naught by laying an egg in their return home if they want to keep belief in a playoff berth.

7:30 ET, Toronto at Pittsburgh

The Maple Leafs are still trying to regain any semblance of their season. One way they were hoping to do that was with the hiring of Randy Carlyle. The good news? In the two games he has coached, the Leafs are outscoring their opponents by a goal. There's a plus.

The bad news is that they have still lost 12 of their last 13 games and only one of those losses came beyond 60 minutes. That's five out of the last 26 points up for grabs that they have taken. Is it any wonder then that they are almost as close to the bottom of the East as they are to Winnipeg in the playoff push?

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Now the good news is that it isn't too late to salvage their hopes even if the prospect is dire. But going into Pittsburgh and taking two points from the Penguins could potentially move them back over a pair of teams and just three points out. That's life at the bottom of the East this season, you have to fail really hard to make the playoffs out of reach.

It's pretty tough to go through a stretch of Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in five days but that's where the Leafs are. Then it's on the road for five straight. It's safe to say you'll see a very desperate team playing the Penguins tonight, but the Pens have been handling that a lot lately and are doing just fine.

Don't forget, the Penguins will be unveiling the much-anticipated Mario Lemieux statue outside of the arena.

Others were watching

There's nothing else. That's all we've got.

Your promised miscellany

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: February 28, 2012 1:53 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 2:58 pm
 

Clarkson avoids suspension for flying elbow

By Brian Stubits

First to the news. David Clarkson of the Devils is not going to be suspended for his charging attempt on New York Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky on Monday night.

From the Newark Star-Ledger:

No league hearing has been scheduled today, although a call from Brendan Shanahan and/or a fine is possible.

The fact that Clarkson did not hit Dubinsky in the head will work in his favor. The incident took place at 19:27 of the second period with Clarkson getting a charging minor.

Dainius Zubrus did catch Carl Hagelin in the head during a second period roughing incident, but that won't come to much, either. Zubrus may also get a warning call from Shanahan.

Before going any further, here is the hit in question one more time.

I can't say I'm surprised there will be no suspension forthcoming for Clarkson. That's what I expected, honestly. But I'd lie if I said it doesn't upset me. I don't know why it actually angers me a little, I just know it does.

As the Ledger writes, "The fact that Clarkson did not hit Dubinsky in the head will work in his favor." Why is this so? Why should the result of the play have a bearing on this? Fact of the matter is that he tried to hit Dubinsky. What other explanation is there for his pole-vaulting technique that included a chicken wing. I don't think it was an attempt to fly.

This isn't an analogy I necessarily want to bring up but it is comparable in my mind -- on a basic level, nothing more. Imagine if somebody's attempt at murder doesn't go as planned. Would somebody get away with failing to execute their plan? Of course not. They would be locked up in jail. Just because they failed in doing so doesn't mean they didn't try to do so.

Again, I'm a bit loathe to make the comparison to murder. Change it to blackmail if you want, or any other crime that would fit. The point stands this is one of if not my biggest complaints about the punishment criteria right now. Brendan Shanahan has said that injuries don't factor into the decisions to suspend, just the sentencing, the length of the suspension. Well if the reason there was no suspension here is because there was no injury, then how can that be?

To be clear, for the most part I have objected very little to Shanahan's decisions this year and I have really appreciated the transparency. But this one bothers me.

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Posted on: February 27, 2012 9:35 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 10:28 am
 

Video: Clarkson soars into Dubinsky for charging

By Brian Stubits

The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils game on Monday was exactly what you thought it would be. It was physical, "chippy" and low scoring. That chippiness was particularly evident.

One of the fights in the game, a quick tilt between David Clarkson of the Devils and Brandon Dubinsky of the Rangers was set off by Clarkson's charge into Dubinski.

Well, technically it was a charge but it was more like a leaping elbow. Perhaps Clarkson was trying to audition for next year's dunk contest with this one, the NBA could use a fresh take.

Now I haven't been right on very many of these lately, I admit I'm beginning to get lost on what's OK and what's not, but this one has to be deserving of a review from the league, doesn't it?

This is a classic case of intent vs. result. It might not draw a whole lot of attention because it didn't harm Dubinsky on the play. There was very little actual contact. But man oh man it would be nearly impossible to believe that there was no intention from Clarkson.

I've never been comfortable in the process of punishing guys based on what they say their intent is. But sometimes it's so obvious what the intent is that it can't be ignored. He leaped about a foot off the ice and came with an elbow flying high. What else could he be trying to do there?

I fear this doesn't get a second look from the league because of the lack of injury. But there's no place for that, I don't care if he connected or not. Clarkson obviously tried.

What do you think, will Clarkson's hit be reviewed by the league? Should it? Those are obviously not the same question.

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Posted on: February 21, 2012 5:46 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 8:54 am
 

Nash Dash: How would Nash fit with Rangers?

What Nash would look like in a Blueshirt.

By Brian Stubits

In the days leading up to the trade deadline (Monday, Feb. 27) we're going to keep tabs on the biggest name on the block, Columbus Blue Jackets star and captain Rick Nash.

The list of teams rumored to be in on Nash isn't incredibly long and it's the usual suspects that you'd expect to be in on a big-name, high-priced star like Nash. His wish list -- put into song so wonderfully -- was supposedly five teams long with possible Wild cards in the mix too.

We're going to take a look at each of the rumored wish-list teams and how Nash would fit, starting today with the New York Rangers.

From the moment the Jackets said they'd entertain offers for Nash, the Rangers jumped to the front of the pack as a favorite to land him. With a team on its way to its best season since winning the Cup almost two decades ago lacking just a little in the scoring department and a rich farm system, Broadway seems like an ideal situation.

But you're left wondering why. Why would the Rangers want to risk what they have going for them by bringing in Nash? They already have the best points percentage in the NHL, obviously they are doing something right.

It seems to me that you're flirting with disaster by mixing up the formula. That's especially the case if it requires losing some assets that are currently on the team, going beyond the prospects.

Usually this time of year everybody is enthralled with adding a star to their team, consequences be damned. The fans schmooze them on the Internet and in some cases Twitter, they serenade them with chants and creative signs when they visit. Then dismiss and even trash the player when they don't end up coming to their team. It's the way fandom goes these days.

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Not like this is the first time we've said this, but the Rangers fans are different. They had the chance to warm Nash to MSG this week. Instead of serenading him they pretty much insulted him, chanting "We don't want you!" throughout the game.

Now Rangers fans haven't always been the best at making personnel decisions for their team. They were advocating Sean Avery playing earlier this season. But in this case I think they're on to something.

Would the Rangers and their fans like to have Nash? Of course they would. But should they be willing to pay the price (both in terms of the trade return and the salary) to get Nash? The fans have made their side clear, the brass hasn't yet.

The decision becomes a lot easier for GM Glen Sather and crew if the Jackets are insistent on getting Michael Del Zotto in a deal. In his third year in the league, Del Zotto is growing into one very good defenseman for the Blueshirts. With seven goals and 25 assists, he's 10 points clear of any other Rangers defenseman this season in scoring.

It's believed that any deal for Nash would cost the Rangers somebody like Del Zotto plus perhaps a Derek Stepan, elite prospect Chris Kreider and a draft pick. Brandon Dubinsky's name has also floated around.

In return they get an upgrade to their scoring this season, assuming he'd fit in well. As Brad Richards has shown, there's no guarantee they will get the same kind of production if he moves to the Rangers. Of course he could give better production too.

But with the asking price so high, the risk seems to outweigh the reward. Do people really feel that the Rangers as presently constructed couldn't compete for the Stanley Cup? I know I don't. The risk of bringing in Nash is to lose that contender status while the reward is that they're a Stanley Cup contender. Hmm.

If I'm Slatts, I think I'd pass. If it ain't broke ...

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For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: February 16, 2012 1:24 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2012 1:44 pm
 

Nash reportedly down to five possible teams

Nash reportedly has a wish list of five teams. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Look what the Columbus Blue Jackets started. Now every few hours there is a new Rick Nash update after word leaked they'd consider trading their captain.

Then again, we can thank them for what they jump-started, too; the NHL trade deadline.

Nash is available at the right price ... for a couple of teams. Five to be exact. Because of his no-trade clause, the Jackets had to ask Nash for a list of team's he'd waive it for to approve a deal. Who's on it? Would he put any big-market teams on there considering he's seemed to enjoy playing in the smaller Columbus market?

Thanks to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch who has been all over this story like the league's discipline offices on Matt Cooke, we have the teams that are believed to be on the approved side.

Boston, Los Angeles, the Rangers, San Jose and Toronto are believed to be on the approved list for Nash — he would have to waive a no-movement clause in his contract before he could be traded — but the return the Blue Jackets seek could vary widely from club to club.

The Rangers and Kings have been the first two teams mentioned with Nash since the rumors began. So it's interesting they're on the list. The Maple Leafs are involved with every big name available in some capacity, so this will only stoke that fire. The Sharks have good friend Joe Thornton. And the Bruins? Well that'd just be unfair.

It goes without saying that this is just one small step for the man. There is still a giant leap or two to go.

It's going to take a lot to get Nash from the Blue Jackets. The good news for the suitors: there isn't really a position the Jackets couldn't use help at. A goalie will be at the front of all the talks, but they need defensemen and help scoring, particularly if they trade Nash and Jeff Carter. Plus, you can never really have enough scoring regardless.

Portzline speculated on what it would take to get the GM Scott Howson to trade Nash, looking specifically at the top two contenders.

The Blue Jackets are said to want at least one young roster player along with a combination of top prospects and quality draft picks. Using that criteria, the Rangers seem to make the most sense, and the New York Post reported on Tuesday that the two sides have had preliminary discussions.

The Rangers have a player the Blue Jackets have pursued for years in forward Brandon Dubinsky, but they’re also stocked with young defensemen — Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh and Tim Erixon, among others — and forward Chris Kreider, currently playing at Boston College.

The Blue Jackets play on Sunday at the Rangers.

Los Angeles could provide something the Rangers cannot — a top goaltending prospect. Jonathan Bernier, the No. 11 overall draft pick in 2005, has spent the past two seasons as the seldom-used backup to Jonathan Quick. However, the Kings don’t have young prospects to match the Rangers.

Well it sure sounds like a certain President's Trophy contender is in the cat bird's seat here, now doesn't it?

My concern about the Rangers trading for Nash -- aside from the heavy cost -- is the fit. Not that I would foresee any problems with Nash jelling with the Rangers, it's just being wary of messing with a good thing. Obviously the Rangers have that part down pat. They have the best points percentage in the league and are seven points up on everybody else in the East while no team has played fewer games than them.

No doubt adding a little more scoring would help the Rangers this season. If they have an Achilles' heel, it's probably still the offense. I'd just be leery of fixing something that's not broken.

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Posted on: February 14, 2012 10:24 am
Edited on: February 14, 2012 3:11 pm
 

Reports: Nash not untouchable for Columbus

Nash's numbers are slightly down with 18 goals this season. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Is Rick Nash on the block or not in Columbus? That is the question this morning.

Well it appears we have a case of semantics being played. Whatever verbiage you want to use, Nash sure as heck sounds available and that's all that matters.

His name has been lobbed around just a little with Blue Jackets teammate Jeff Carter being mentioned a lot. But the conversation erupted again on Monday night when Renaud P. Lavoie of RDS in Canada tweeted "2 NHL sources told me that #bluejackets Rick Nash is on the market. Nash have a no-movement clause and will controle his destiny."

Columbus GM Scott Howson, who was reportedly in Philadelphia over the weekend for the Rangers and Flyers Saturday matinee, declined to comment on the report to the Columbus Dispatch. The Dispatch continued:

NHL sources -- from Columbus and beyond -- took issue with the suggestion that Nash is "on the block", but only the terminology. He is not being shopped by the Blue Jackets, they insist, and the club is not intent on moving him, as it is with Jeff Carter and perhaps others.

But the Blue Jackets, by far the worst club in the NHL this season and resigned to missing the playoffs for the third straight season, have reached a point where every player on the roster could be had if the price is right, and that includes Nash.

Again, semantics.

And a swirling rumor mill. The New York Rangers keep being mentioned with every Nash discussion out there, including from the New York Daily News' Pat Leonard.

Nash is in just the second season of an eight-year, $62.4 million contract carrying a $7.8 million annual cap hit. The Rangers only have $6.95 million left under the cap, so they would need to make room.

Nash (18 goals this season) would give the Rangers (36-13-5) -- who have struggled at times to score -- an established threat who could take pressure off Marion Gaborik and Ryan Callahan.

Huh. Here I thought that's what Brad Richards was supposed to do.

What would it take for the Rangers to get Nash? The flavor of the day seems to be a package of Brandon Dubinsky, super prospect Chris Kreider and the Rangers' No. 1 pick, which at this rate will barely be better than Columbus' second-round pick. Clearly that's a high price.

The part that seems to be the toughest for New York and its fans to swallow is parting with Kreider, currently playing with the Beanpot champion Boston College Eagles.

More on the Rangers, this comes from the New York Post's Larry Brooks, who confirms that the Rangers have talked to the Blue Jackets regarding Nash. But he also puts the brakes on a little.

The Rangers have had preliminary discussions with the Blue Jackets regarding the availability of Rick Nash, The Post has learned, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the 27-year-old power winger is en route to Broadway.

Indeed, an individual familiar with the situation told The Post that the chance of completing a trade before the Feb. 27 deadline is “a longshot.”

But the Rangers would hardly be the only suitor. The Los Angeles Kings would be interested in scoring help and the Washington Capitals will be mentioned, too. Over the weekend there were two Capitals scouts in attendance for a game in Columbus and the Jackets returned the favor with two on hand for Monday's Caps-Sharks tilt in D.C. They have some defensemen they could ship Columbus' way and you know that's a position of interest for the Jackets.

It's all a bit unbelievable it's come to this. Nash is the face of an otherwise faceless franchise. From all reports, he really does love playing in Columbus. Sometimes that makes a guy that much more valuable, a skilled player who wants to be in an otherwise undesirable market (sorry Columbus, lack of winning will do that). Right now the assumption is that Nash will be the player the All-Star Game is built around next season in Columbus. Who else will be the local hero?

“I love Columbus. I love being here. I love being a Blue Jacket," Nash said earlier this season. "The city of Columbus deserves a winner and deserves a good product on the ice. If it comes to that – like you said, all speculation – but if they don’t want me here, they want to move me? I’m not going to do something where it’s going to hurt the franchise just because I have that in my contract.”

The question is how much would it hurt the Jackets franchise if Nash were to leave. We might find out now.

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Posted on: January 1, 2012 3:05 pm
Edited on: January 1, 2012 5:45 pm
 

Winter Classic preview: What to look for

By Brian Stubits

It's hard to remember the Winter Classic is just another game on the schedule. In reality it is just that. The winner of this game gets nothing more than two points in the standings.

But in practical purposes, the Winter Classic is anything but normal. It is annually the most-watched game of the season and it's not even close. It's commonplace for players and even coaches on occasion to do some chirping before games. But general managers throwing down the gauntlet like the Rangers' Glen Sather did a couple months ago? Yea, that's no ordinary game.

Plus, you know, they play it outside and all.

Without further ado, let's look ahead to the NHL's annual "celebration of hockey" on Tuesday in Philadelphia between the Flyers and the Rangers.

The weather

It goes without saying this is the only game of the season when this matters now that the NHL has stopped the Heritage Classic in Canada.

The initial game-day in the extended forecast called for rain and warm temperatures. That has been altered, for the good. Now the game-time temp is supposed to be 41 degrees and the only element to deal with will be the wind, where it is expected to blow in excess of 20 MPH.

So the ice itself should be alright for the game. As for the wind? It might have an impact, but we're not talking football here where the ball will be affected by strong gusts on field-goal attempts or deep passes. It sure beats precipitation fogging up visors.

Home-field advantage

Not in this game. There is virtually zero home-ice advantage of which to speak in the Winter Classic. Both teams are equally inexperienced with the sheet of ice in Philadelphia. Despite two times the amount of fans in the building, the noise level doesn't factor in. As a matter of fact, it's diminished with fans so far from the ice and no roof.

"I think you go back to our building over there when it matters and when it counts to have our fans behind us, I think it's really important," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said on Sunday. "We are looking forward to getting here and on this ice out here in front of that many people and having a great game."

But the points stands, don't expect the Flyers to have a big advantage just because they're the home team and the Citizen's Bank Park seats will be full of folks garbed in black and orange. Of the five Winter Classic games played to date, only one of them has seen the home team come away victorious and it took the Bruins an overtime period to beat the Flyers in 2010.

One advantage that I suppose you can credit to the Flyers is the fact that they have multiple players who have experienced Winter Classics before thanks to that game at Fenway Park two years ago. I put little stock into that, however. Once the game begins, experience means squat. Rangers coach John Tortorella agrees that won't mean much.

"We have kept our schedule, our whole way we have gone about our business has stayed the same and it will say the same tomorrow," Tortorella said. "We go day-to-day as far as how we prepare and that's what we have  done  right  on through this, we'll be doing the same thing as we get ready to play tomorrow."

Goals not galore

More on Winter Classic

Just continuing to look at the trends of past games, don't expect to see a lot of scoring. Only the game at Wrigley Field between the Red Wings and Blackhawks showed off much in the way of offense as the teams combined for 10 goals. The other three games combined have only seen nine goals (the Penguins won in a shootout).

That could just be as simple as a coincidence, there certainly is not a big sample size we're talking about here. Or it might be a real trend. I'd like to think that some of the uncontrolled elements play a role the lack of scoring in games, particularly factors such as glare, discomfort and surroundings.

I'll take my chances and say don't expect a lot of scoring on Monday. That's a bit easier to say knowing Henrik Lundqvist will be manning one crease.

Fighting chance

Half of the Winter Classics thus far have seen a fight. Each of the last two renditions featured impromptu boxing matches. So it's not like the players are going to shy away just because of the spotlight.

In the case of these two foes, there is a lot of dislike to put it mildly. Only the Blackhawks-Wings tilt compares favorably to this year's matchup in terms of a true rivalry. So it's likely some bad blood will spill over.

That seems especially plausible when you realize that last year's fight between the Penguins and Capitals featured Mike Rupp facing John Erskine. You'll recall that Rupp signed with the Rangers in the offseason so he'll be on the ice on Monday.

Players to watch

First for the Rangers, keep tabs on Brandon Dubinsky. The young Rangers forward was off to a very tough start this season, it had to be frustrating. It wasn't until Dec. 22 that he scored his second goal of the season. For a guy that had 24 goals last season, that's quite a drop.

However he is starting to return to the mean. What, you thought that only worked in the regression sense? Not exactly. Dubinsky enters the Winter Classic having scored a goal in each of his last two games and three of the past five.

For the Flyers, I'd love to say Ilya Bryzgalov but he's just going to be sitting on the bench, enjoying his tea in a thermos. Now if NBC can just get him mic'd up for the game, they'd have the best on-ice commentator in the sport for the broadcast, with all due respect to Darren Pang.

However it does mean that the actual Flyers starter, Sergei Bobrovsky, will be worth keeping an eye on. He's been playing very well lately for the Flyers and with Bryzgalov's struggles, this could be an opportunity for Bobrovsky to stake a big claim that he should continue to get a lot more playing time. Remember, it was just a season ago that he was their starter and came to the NHL with a lot of promise.

Prediction

I'm a sucker for trends, so I'm going to stick with them in this game. I've got the visiting Rangers winning a low-scoring affair. Plus, in a situation like that I'll take Lundqvist over Bobrovsky. I'll put my name down for a 3-1 prediction in favor of New York.

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: December 29, 2011 12:10 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 12:14 pm
 

Rangers success has Lundqvist shining brighter

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- Thanks to HBO, we all learned a little something extra about New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist: he plays in one awesome jam band.

In the second episode of the great behind-the-scenes show, Lundqvist was followed on a day off to a studio where he was seen playing right beside American tennis legend John McEnroe and Jay Weinberg, son of Max Weinberg, on the drums.

How does a Swedish hockey player end up playing alongside such a group of guys?

"You live in New York, play there a few years obviously you're going to run into people," Lundqvist said. "John McEnroe, I've been running into him a bunch of times. He's a hockey fan and I'm a tennis fan. So we've been talking about playing music together. I said finally this year, 'Let's do it, let's do something fun.' We're doing a charity event in February, rock it out a little bit.

"Then the drummer Jay Weinberg, I met him at a Bruce [Springsteen] concert in Sweden actually, when his dad was playing. It's fun. If you play in New York you get to meet a lot of interesting people, sometimes people that you admire and respect a lot, so it's a great place."

So add musician to things we already knew about Lundqvist, such as his stellar fashion sense. Oh, and the fact that he's a damn good goalie.

We know that because New York isn't just a great place to live, it's a great place to play when you're playing for a Rangers team like this.

"So far it's been a good year," Lundqvist said. "It's been fun, it's been fun."

That usually happens when you are fighting for the top spot in the conference with every game you play. Sure beats the alternative of the past few seasons where the Rangers were fighting for the eighth spot in the East instead of first.

Make no mistake about: The Rangers have grown as a team. They have a young core of players that is only going to get better -- as a side note, watch out if Brandon Dubinsky regains his scoring form that he's beginning to show again -- and they had a pretty notable upgrade to the scoring this summer with Brad Richards in free agency. They are a very good group of skaters.

But Lundqvist has been and still is the straw that stirs the Rangers drink. He has earned the right to be referred to as an elite goaltender, and not just because he plays in New York. He's been that good in recent seasons for the Blueshirts. Without him, you wonder if they make the playoffs as often as they have. OK, I'll save you the wondering -- they don't.

But now he has help.

"I mean the reason why we're in pretty good shape in the standings is not that we're that much better than everybody else," Lundqvist said, "but it's that we've been consistent in how we play and how hard we have to play, so that's been paying off for us."

One of the ways that they play is a commitment to blocking shots. Defenseman Dan Girardi has been near the top of the shot-blocking list in the league the last couple of seasons and team captain Ryan Callahan isn't afraid to get in the way of a puck either. In the first period of the Rangers' 4-1 loss to the Capitals on Wednesday, Callahan was credited with four blocked shots, one of them actually led to a Dubinsky goal, giving Callahan an assist. He then was a mad man during a later penalty kill, scrambling and diving all over the ice, getting credit for three blocks in one shift.

"Guys take a lot of pride in that [blocking shots]," Lundqvist said. "You have a style. We have to play hard and we have to block shots, it's part of our game. Guys are doing a great job of that.

"To play well as a goalie you want to feel the support from the team in front of you. It helps if you have a good structure, you know what's going on and what type of chances are going to come up."

Well, it's working, because Lundqvist is playing as well as he ever has. In his case, that's saying something. Through 26 games this season, Lundqvist is on pace for career bests in save percentage (currently .936) and goals against average (1.95 per game).

Maybe that has something to do with coach John Tortorella's plan to play Lundqvist less this year, too. Only once in the past five seasons has Lundqvist played less than 70 games -- last season with 68. He was up there with the likes of Miikka Kiprusoff for biggest workhorses in the league. Now backup Martin Biron is being asked to and is carrying some more of the load. Rather well, too.

Before he took the loss against the Caps, Biron had a 7-1-0 record in his spot duty with a 1.84 GAA and .933 save percentage. That makes it a lot easier for the Rangers to stick to the plan this year and play Lundqvist around 65 games or so, possibly even a few less.

"I'm trying to get used to not playing as much. Last few years the plan was for me to play around 65 games, around there. It hasn't turned out that way," Lundqvist said. "We're [he and Biron] a good team. Benny [Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire] and Marty work well together, push each other to work hard."

Well whatever it is, it's working.

The funny thing this season is that everything seems to be coming together for the Rangers. The spotlight was turned up on them this season anyway thanks to the Richards signing and all else they are experiencing this year.

"It's been a fun year. It's been an interesting year starting in Europe and then HBO and the Winter Classic coming up," Lundqvist said. "It's been a lot of ... I don't want to say distractions ... fun things going on. Things we don't normally see in a normal regular season. It's been a fun experience. I think we all look forward to the Winter Classic here as well.

"But it's good for us to have these different things happening during the year, learn to deal with it. It could be a distraction, it hasn't been one for us. We've been focused on what we have to do, with all the travel starting the year, the HBO, Winter Classic coming up. So, it's a test for us to maintain our focus on the games."

As he said, they've done that. He's done that.

But they're all hoping to have a lot more fun by season's end.

"It's still so early, but I'm happy with the way I've been playing so far, but there's a long way to go here," Lundqvist said. "We definitely raised the bar this year though. Our goal is to play in June. That's our goal."

If this is the Rangers' year, maybe Lundqvist can get the band together for a big show on the streets of Manhattan this summer.

Photo: Getty Images

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