Posted on: February 22, 2012 5:49 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 6:31 pm
By: Adam Gretz
PITTSBURGH -- The Rangers were the definition of mediocrity during John Tortorella's first two full-seasons behind the bench in New York.
New York finished right around the league average in points despite having one of the highest payrolls in the NHL. They missed the playoffs on the last day of the 2009-10 season thanks to a shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and then snuck in as the No. 8 seed last year before losing in the opening round to the Washington Capitals in five games.
This season, however, the Rangers have emerged as the top team in the Eastern Conference, and even after their 2-0 loss in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night still hold a commanding nine-point lead (as of Wednesday afternoon) over the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. That is no small margin, and at this point in the season it's not one that many teams let slip away (or in the case of Boston, are able to overcome). Barring a late collapse the Rangers, even if they won't admit it, are a pretty safe bet to enter the playoffs as the top team in the East.
Even though it's a pretty solid position, it's not one that the Rangers are particularly comfortable with at this point knowing what remains in front of them.
"There's a lot of hockey left," said center Brad Richards on Tuesday night. "It's not just Boston, there's a lot of teams. The team we just played is right there, too. Philly, New Jersey, there's a lot of good teams behind us and there's a lot of work to do. I mean, we're not disappointed with where we are, but we can't look at it and think we're safe or anything like that."
Tortorella will deny that he thinks about its current standing in the East, but he has to know what a turnaround the Rangers have experienced this season, even if he denies it.
"I don't even think about first place," added Tortorella when asked if his team has a target on its back due to its current spot in the standings. "I think about every game we're trying to win, I don't even look at the standings. We're just trying to get better as a team and trying to prepare each and every day trying to win hockey games."
It's pretty clear that the expectation in New York is significantly higher than simply being the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. And quite frankly, it should be.
This is, after all, one of the NHL's marquee franchises. It's also one that hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1994, and has won just two playoff series -- total -- since 1997. If there's going to be a Rangers team that makes a deep postseason push, this one looks like it might be the one as they've proven to be, through four-and-a-half months to be the top team in what is a very winnable conference with more mediocre teams than great ones.
With still 24 games to play in the regular season the Rangers are set to shatter their win totals from the previous two seasons and have a chance to crack the 50-win mark for the first time since that Stanley Cup winning season back in '94.
The biggest factors in the Rangers' sudden improvement aren't necessarily the addition of another big-name, big-money free agent (this past summer it was Richards, the Conn Smythe winner on John Tortorella's 2003-04 Stanley Cup winning team in Tampa Bay), but the play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, as well as the rapid development of young defensemen like Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto, and the always steady presence of veteran blueliner Dan Giradi.
The performance of Lundqvist is the biggest reason for their success this season. He's a legitimate MVP contender at this point, and is currently tied (with Brian Elliott) for the league lead in save percentage at .940, a mark that no goaltender has ever achieved over a full season (Tim Thomas' .938 mark for the Bruins last season was the best). He's been a game-saver quite a bit this season and has put together an impressive argument to be the first goalie to win the Hart Trophy since Jose Theodore took it home during the 2001-02 season.
But for as good as Lundqvist has been, it can be easy to overlook how valuable the pairing of McDonagh and Giradi have been.
During the absence of Marc Staal during the first half of the season, and even after his return, the 22-year-old McDonagh, acquired in the now laughably lopsided trade that sent Scott Gomez to Montreal, and 27-year-old Girardi has been given the task of playing some of the heaviest minutes in the NHL this season, being used to match up against the other teams best players on a nightly basis (and starting the majority of their shifts in front of their own goal) and still shutting them down. Using the Qualify of Competition metrics at BehindTheNet, McDonagh and Girardi rank third and fourth respectively in the NHL this season in terms of facing the toughest competition at even strength this season and have been among the toughest defensemen in the league to score against.
They're a stout team defensively, and while they have a formidable group of forwards anchored by Richards, Marian Gaborik and captain Ryan Callahan, they may just be missing that one final piece up front to add that final touch of goal-scoring to push them over the top.
The Rangers have been rumored to be connected to the Rick Nash sweepstakes and if they're able to add him before the 3 p.m. Monday trade deadline, watch out.
Tortorella has finally given the Rangers faithful something to brag about.
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 19, 2012 1:41 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2012 3:45 pm
This Pavel Datsyuk fellow is a pretty good player.
In the NHL Players Association's annual poll, Datsyuk was voted as the best in six of the superlative categories. In addition to being named the most difficult player to play against and the league's smartest player (with a strong 45 percent saying as much) he was also voted the hardest to take the puck from, toughest forward to play against, the cleanest to play against and he was voted the toughest to stop by goaltenders.
What, no interesting man in hockey?
The Bruins and Rangers were also popular among the players for some of the superlatives. No surprise here, but Zdeno Chara was named the hardest shot, Milan Lucic called the toughest player in the league (ahead of teammates Chara and Shawn Thornton), Patrice Bergeron the most underrated player and Chara the toughest defenseman to play against.
For the Rangers, Marian Gaborik was called the best skater as well as the fastest, Henrik Lundqvist was named the most difficult goalie to score on and John Tortorella was voted as the coach who demands the most from his players.
There are a lot more categories that were voted on and you can check them all out here, including the top five vote getters in each category.
But another worth sharing here is definitely the biggest surprise in my eyes. A total of 53 percent of the players do not think the instigator rule should be removed from the game. Considering how vocal a lot of players have been in their dislike for the rule, it was certainly an eye-opener for me.
What wasn't shocking, however, was to see Datsyuk dominate the voting. Fans love the guy because he's a joy to watch, media members love the guy because he's a good quote and apparently players love the guy because he does everything well. If there were a player that this stupid cliché ever fit perfectly, it's Datsyuk: He plays the game the right way.
Posted on: February 14, 2012 11:53 pm
Edited on: February 15, 2012 12:06 am
By: Adam Gretz
There are still two months to play in the regular season, but with their 3-0 win in Boston on Tuesday night you can probably assume that the New York Rangers have all but locked up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Maybe not officially, because, after all, there is still a chance that the Bruins could put together another run where they look like the '75 Canadiens, and the Rangers could always hit a rut down the stretch, but with Tuesday's win New York opened up a nine-point lead over Boston for the top spot in the conference.
That's a significant lead, and a deficit that large, this late in the season, can be almost impossible to overcome, even though the teams have two more games remaining against one another. That's a lot of ground to make up, and with the way the Rangers are playing right now it's hard to see them slowing down enough to allow Boston to get back to the top.
Since the start of the '05-06 season the average No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference has finished with 112 points, so for arguments sake let's just go with that. The Rangers would only need to put together a record of 15-9-3 over their final 27 games to reach that mark. Boston, by comparison, would need to go somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-6-2 in its remaining 28 games.
This is a pretty amazing development given how dominant the Bruins looked as recently as a month ago, and how ordinary they've looked since the start of January, having won back-to-back games just twice since the start of the new year. They haven't been able to win consecutive games since Jan. 10-12.
I haven't always been a believer in the Rangers this season, particularly earlier in the season, but it's hard to ignore what they've been able to accomplish to this point.
Henrik Lundqvist, having earned his 7th shutout of the season in Boston, is not only playing like a favorite for the Vezina Trophy, you can also make an argument that he's in the race for the Hart Trophy as the league MVP as well. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have been one of the best defensive pairings in the league this season, while Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik have done their part to carry the offense.
The Rangers made a pretty big statement on Tuesday night, and right now they've put themselves in a position that very well could make the road to the Stanley Cup Finals go right through Madison Square Garden. And just imagine what they might look like if Rick Nash would happen to end up on Broadway.
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 7, 2012 10:36 pm
Edited on: February 7, 2012 10:40 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The New Jersey Devils extended their winning streak to five games on Tuesday night by picking up a 1-0 win at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.
In the end, David Clarkson's 21st goal of the season was all the offense the Devils needed, while Martin Brodeur stopped all 30 shots he faced to add yet another shutout to his Hall of Fame resume. But it almost wasn't enough as the Rangers appeared, for a brief moment, to break through and tie the game with just under four seconds remaining in regulation.
The potential game-tying goal, however, was called back when it was determined that Rangers forward Marian Gaborik interferred with Brodeur.
Gaborik argued that he was pushed into Broduer by defenseman Anton Volchenkov, while Volchenkov countered by saying he did no such thing, which is about what you should expect to come from both sides.
There is clearly contact with the goaltender, and anytime that happens you can be sure there is going to be some sort of a call made, whether it be goaltender interference or waved off goal. Surely we've all seen goals called back for far less than that (heck, it happens to Tomas Holmstrom seemingly once a month). The fact that it happened with time running down in a 1-0 game simply magnifies it.
But you make the call: Right decision by the on-ice officials to take away the goal, or should that have been a game that went to overtime?
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 29, 2012 8:38 pm
Edited on: January 29, 2012 8:40 pm
The All-Star Game is about fun and it ends up being a lot about offense. The scoring is always through the roof. That's what happens when defensemen get stuck in 1-on-3s, players don't hit and the intensity level is lower than a mites game at intermission.
It doesn't always make for compelling television, but it does result in some pretty interesting statistics for the players. This saddens the skaters but the goalies couldn't be happier.
So here you are, the All-Star Game superlatives from Team Chara's 12-9 over Team Alfredsson in Ottawa.
Most goals: That would go to MVP Marian Gaborik, the only player to record a hat trick on the day. Sadly, nobody in Ottawa threw a hat on the ice, but Gabby did have a pretty memorable moment by beating his Rangers teammate Henrik Lundqvist and celebrating like Artem Anisimov.
Most points: Also Gaborik, who was the only player to reach four points. He assisted on Zdeno Chara's game-winning goal.
Most unselfish (assists leader): Pavel Datsyuk earns the "award" with his three assists in the game, the benefits of playing with Gaborik (or the other way around). "I wanted to score, too," Datysuk told Dan Rosen of NHL.com. "I never scored in my career in the All-Star Game. The dream is still there."
Ironman (most minutes): Shea Weber had more ice time than any player in the game, clocking 22:12 for Team Alfredsson. Still, he didn't record a point on the night. Something about nobody taking slap shots ...
Plus/Minus ace: Chara and Brian Campbell were tied for the best mark, playing together for much of Team Chara's win. Each was an impressive plus-seven.
Forgettable forward: Despite playing for the team that scored 12 goals and won, Jamie Benn was the only forward in the game on either side that didn't record a point.
Hitman: Yes, there was actually a hit in the game. A single hit. Scott Hartnell (of course) come on down! He had the audacity to get credit for a hit in an All-Star Game.
Best goalie: The award goes to Thomas, who pulled off a pretty incredible feat by winning the All-Star Game for the fourth straight time. He stopped 18 of 21 shots for an .857 save percentage.
Worst goalie: It was like old times in Ottawa for Brian Elliott, unfortunately. He surrendered six goals on 19 shots in the third period for a save percentage of .684. Oy.
Prettiest goal: It's a tough call after Daniel Alfredsson's first of the game, but I'm going to go with Marian Hossa's third-period goal when there was a player who was actually trying to play defense in front of him. It gets some extra credit for the saucer pass from Datsyuk to spring the breakaway.
More from Eye on Hockey
Photo courtesy of Sean Gentille twitpic
Tags: 2012 All-Star Game, Boston Bruins, Brian Campbell, Brian Elliott, Brian Stubits, Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Lundqvist, Henrik Sedin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Keith Yandle, Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, Milan Michalek, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Pavel Datsyuk, Scott Hartnell, Shea Weber, Tim Thomas, Vancouver Canucks, Zdeno Chara
Posted on: January 29, 2012 7:13 pm
Edited on: January 30, 2012 6:54 am
After a true All-Star Game with players skating half-speed, no hitting taking place (although there was one) and zero defense being played, it was a hat trick for Marian Gaborik that was enough to get him the honor of All-Star Game MVP and a brand new car.
But he had some serious competition on the night. I don't mean from the other team's defensemen, of course he didn't have that. Instead, it came from the captain of the losing team, Daniel Alfredsson.
Playing on his home ice in Ottawa, Alfie helped bring his team back in the second period when he scored a pair of goals to give his team the lead for a brief time in the game. As you'd expect, the fans relished the moment.
All three Senators forwards in the game scored for Team Alfredsson (Jason Spezza in the first, then Milan Michalek in the third) but there was no doubt which goal the hometown crowd enjoyed the most. Just take a look at how they responded in what could be their captain's final All-Star game.
"It's unbelievable," Alfredsson said to Pierre McGuire in a midgame interview. "I'm not sure I deserve it, but it's been incredible."
Humility. That's just part of what makes Alfredsson so beloved.
Throughout the third period, it was the mission of Team Alfredsson to get Alfie one more goal, to match Gaborik and pick up the hat trick in the All-Star Game. Everybody seemed to be on board with it, continuing to pass it back to Alfredsson who even fired a slap shot.
Everybody was for it except for Tim Thomas, of course. The Bruins goalie doesn't like to get beat, ever. He denied Alfie on his last-minute attempts, preserving his own bit of All-Star glory. Thomas was the goalie on record for Team Chara and with the 12-9 win, he was the winning goalie for the fourth consecutive All-Star Game, a remarkable feat in a game with so much scoring.
"I've never been so happy losing a game," Alfredsson said afterward.
One of the many conversations in Ottawa this weekend was the future of Alfredsson. Nobody wanted to take away too much from the spotlight he was enjoying as captain in his home city but it's a natural question for a guy who has been in Ottawa since 1995-96.
He's said of late that he's open to playing again next season depending on how he feels. With the Senators' success this season, he said he's been having fun.
As of now, the best Alfredsson will commit to playing another season is 50/50 and the decision isn't just his. His wife will have the answer in the other 50 percent, he said.
There is obviously a second half of the season left to play and his Sens are in the thick of the Eastern playoff race. So there are a lot more memories he can make this season. But this night, combined with his 400th career goal earlier this season, have to be unforgettable for Alfie, even if this was a meaningless, watered down hockey game.
More from Eye on Hockey
Posted on: January 29, 2012 5:13 pm
Edited on: January 29, 2012 5:17 pm
Marian Gaborik laid down the gauntlet before the All-Star Game. He was determined to get the better of his New York Rangers teammate Henrik Lundqvist. He had the chance to right out of the gate in the game and it was Gabby who won.
Gaborik scored two of the three goals surrendered by Lundqvist in the first period, including the game's opening salvo.
It was a pretty give-and-go that left Lundqvist face down on the ice, obviously upset to lose the trash-talking battle with his teammate. But it was the goal celebration afterward that made it all that much better for Gaborik.
Yes, that's Gabby pulling an Artem Anisimov and using his stick to shoot at Lundqvist in net. This time, there was no retaliation from the opposing team as there was from the Lightning when Anisimov pulled the stunt earlier this season.
Guaranteed, wherever Anisimov is watching the game, he was surely smiling with that.
Later in the period Pierre McGuire had his chance to interview Team Alfredsson coach John Tortorella and asked him about the gun shooting. Could he be facing some power skates?
"We want his money," Tortorella said, indicating Gaborik would have a $1,000 fine waiting for him, with a grin of course.
Hate the All-Star Game all you want, but fun like this is what makes it good, or at least watchable for most people.
More from Eye on Hockey
Posted on: January 27, 2012 3:13 pm
Edited on: January 27, 2012 3:39 pm
When it comes to All-Star Games, the NHL is probably in the middle. It's certainly a notch below the holy grail of games, baseball's Midsummer Classic, but it's undoubtedly ahead of football's Pro Bowl. Like the NBA's version, defense isn't even optional, it's pretty much discouraged.
So truth be told, people don't watch the All-Star Game for the hockey. Really, mid-week games featuring the Blue Jackets and Oilers will provide a better game (not necessarily entertainment, however). Instead, fans watch it for the Stars , the chance to see their favorite players.
Or to see things we never get the chance to see.
Thanks to the Fantasy Draft, the possibilities exist for some squeamish line combinations that wouldn't otherwise have been feasible. Such as Bruins playing with Canucks. However seeing as one of the two captains was a Bruin, we missed out on some golden opportunity to have Zdeno Chara paired with Alex Edler while playing with Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Tyler Seguin in front of them with Tim Thomas in net. Oh, if Chara could have only seen the potential.
What Chara did end up doing was drafting a host of right wingers, making this pre-draft incredibly awkward exchange all the more apropos.
With all that said, thanks to our Line Mixmaster 3000 (patent pending) we were able to come up with some interesting lines with the teams that were selected -- and some lines that make you go "meh." Hey, you can't win them all.
(Do note we had to execute some position changes to get four even lines. But to Joffrey Lupul and Daniel Alfredsson: I see what you did. Lupul only helped Chara draft one left winger and Alfredsson only picked one right winger. Sorry fellas, you can't triple shift.)
Let's start with Team Alfredsson, considering he's the host and all.
As Seen in Ottawa line: Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson. Intrigue? Nah, there's not a whole lot on this one, frankly. Senators fans can see these guys together most every night. But you have an entire line of guys not out of position in their hometown ... it's a lock. But hopefully they keep the mic on Spezza during the game like he had it on in the draft and this time we can hear a full-out laugh. That's interesting enough.
Third Wheel line: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Logan Couture. OK, I'll relent and keep the Sedins together. The best third wheel for them is Couture. You have the whole Predators of the sea thing (Canucks' killer whale vs. the Sharks), the little rivalry between their teams and, well, just another way to pick on Couture a little bit after he was Mr. Irrelevant. Sorry Henrik, I don't think you're going to get those better players to play with this year (It's OK, Daniel, you can smile!).
I Believe I Can Fly line: Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, John Tavares. I had a harder time naming this line than any of the others (no doubt it shows). But the Flyers connection is pretty clear and they get an Atlantic Division friend in the mix in Tavares, somebody who has wheels that just might inspire Hartnell to try and skate faster and contribute to the Hartnell Down-O-Meter. Tavares converts to the wing to make it happen, a pretty easy transition from center.
The Forgotten line: James Neal, Steven Stamkos, Jason Pominville. Neal was the guy who the NHL just didn't seem to want to invite. It took the last replacement spot for Neal to get the call despite being second in the league in goals scored. Stamkos is the only guy with more goals than Neal and yet he's such a quiet superstar that some might not even be aware of that fact. As for Pominville? Well it's been a forgettable season in Buffalo so far, so he fits in here.
Defensive pairings: This is really a hodgepodge of names when put together, there's not a whole lot that screams out for obvious potential pairings. So I've got Shea Weber with Alex Edler (Western Conference the tie that binds), Erik Karlsson with Kris Letang (excessive use of the letter K) and Dan Girardi with Keith Yandle (ummm, they were each in that game that was won with 0.1 seconds left this season).
Now on to Team Chara. Here are the lines that we can put together, seeking maximum intrigue.
Cyborg line: Corey Perry, Pavel Datsyuk, Jarome Iginla. The cyborg obviously references the man in the middle, but it also includes one of the league's ageless wonders in Iginla plus a guy with a connection to Disney. Hey, we have to make some stretches. The only person out of position here is Perry, being forced to the left wing because of Chara's right-side glut.
Miss-match line: Jamie Benn, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik. Yea, there isn't a whole lot of connections with this line except Malkin and Gaborik are both from Eastern Europe. But hey, good for Benn to play his first game in weeks alongside the best player in the NHL the last couple of weeks in Malkin. He'll take it, I'm sure.
Two Blackhawks and a Kid line: Jordan Eberle, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa. So this line has a couple of players "out of position" but Kane is no stranger to center. We had to convert somebody to the middle and he's the easy pick seeing that he's played there this season. He gets to be alongside his Chicago buddy Hossa. Poor Eberle, he might not get to see the puck with these two guys. That won't make his fan club president (on the right) too happy.
Blackhawks and ladies? No doubt this will be Joey the Junior Reporter's favorite line to follow.
The Awkward line: Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Seguin, Phil Kessel. We saved the best for last. Yes, consider this the coup-de-grace of interesting lines. The two players -- Seguin and Kessel -- who will forever be tied to each other thanks to the trade between the Maple Leafs and Bruins, alongside another Leaf in Lupul.
“I said ‘Kess, I think we’re linemates,'" Seguin said to Kessel on Thursday (from the Boston Herald). "He said ‘That be cool. I think the media would like it.’”
Yes, Phil, yes we would.
Defensive pairings: Well we have to put Chara with Dion Phaneuf. Again, it's the Leafs-Bruins angle but also two of the more fearsome defensemen in the league. Good pairing. Ryan Suter gets paired with Kimmo Timmonen so they can find out if there is any chemistry there in case Philly is Suter's landing spot if he's traded. That leaves Brian Campbell to pair with Dennis Wideman. All I got here is Campbell is a current Panthers defenseman and Wideman used to be one.
As for a goalie to be mic'd up like Cam Ward was last year? I'm going to vote for Carey Price. Hey, any guy that does a campaign video like this and nearly spits his drink out when he's picked in the draft is probably entertaining enough to help carry the event for a period.
Enjoy the game. It will be a lot easier with some of the above intrigue. But please, leave your gripes about the lack of defense at home, we all know it's sorely lacking.
Tags: 2012 All-Star Game, Alex Edler, Alex Edler, Boston Bruins, Brian Campbell, Brian Stubits, Carey Price, Chicago Blackhawks, Claude Giroux, Corey Perry, Dan Girardi, Daniel Alfredsson, Daniel Sedin, Dennis Wideman, Dion Phaneuf, Erik Karlsson, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Sedin, James Neal, Jamie Benn, Jarome Iginla, Jason Pominville, Jason Spezza, Joffrey Lupul, John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, Keith Yandle, Kimmo Timmonen, Kris Letang, Logan Couture, Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, Milan Michalek, Ottawa Senators, Patrick Kane, Pavel Datsyuk, Phil Kessel, Ryan Suter, Scott Hartnell, Shea Weber, Steven Stamkos, Tim Thomas, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tyler Seguin, Vancouver Canucks, Zdeno Chara