Stepan Returns + Other Rangers Practice Updates

Let’s just get this out of the way now. This morning at the Rangers first practice since Wednesday, the above picture happened. Yellow has never looked so beautiful.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsOn Wednesday, Vigneault said that Derek Stepan was 4 – 7 days from rejoining his teammates. The beat writers took that as he would be practicing in 4 – 7 days but that didn’t really match up with everything else Vigneault said. Now I’m wondering if that was a timeline for when he would return to game action. If so, Monday is technically still a possibility for him but I’m guessing it will be a little longer than that. (Although Vigneault hinted Monday wasn’t out of the question.) Either way, the Rangers number one center will be back soon. His timing couldn’t be better as I really don’t like Marty St. Louis in the middle and I’m pretty sure Vigneault agrees, especially since he mentioned Matthew Lombardi would probably be on the roster if he had stuck around.

Speaking of injury updates, we also received one on Dan Boyle who it appears has been skating on his own:

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That’s a good sign as well. I still expect we see John Moore before Boyle but at least he’s getting closer. Maybe by Thanksgiving we’ll get to see our actual top six in a full game. I know, I’m asking for a lot.

Moore also spoke today for the first time since his suspension was handed down and said he respected the decision and had no intention in hurting Haula. The last part is no secret or surprise, no matter what everyone is saying about him. Moore also mentioned this:

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I’m glad Moore called him to apologize. As I’ve said before, I get it. The evidence is there and it doesn’t look good. But the kid is honestly harmless. It’s serious lacks of judgement that have hurt him. There’s no excuse for it and he deserves the punishment he got. But I’m not throwing him off the team or out of the league for two dumb plays. Scott Stevens and Chris Pronger wouldn’t have had careers if it was two strikes and you’re out. (No, I am not comparing John Moore to those hall of fame defensemen. I’m just saying to give the kid a chance.)

And with that, we finally have a game to look forward to as the Rangers take on the Jets tomorrow. I hope everyone enjoyed this time off as it will feel like the Rangers are playing every day once November begins.

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John Moore Suspended For Five Games

As soon as word came down that John Moore would be having a hearing for his hit on Minnesota’s Eric Haula the question wasn’t if he would be suspended but for how long. My thoughts when watching the play was he deserved two or three games, my guess is it would’ve been three. Then add on two because he’s a repeat offender and Moore would be out through next weekend.

Earlier today he had his hearing which led to:

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We can talk about the “wheel of justice” all we want but at the end of the day, the NHL is extremely predictable.

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=656886

I’m so glad the NHL does these videos as I can’t refute anything after seeing that.

Do I think Moore deserved five games? Yes and no. Truth of the matter is the kid has a reputation now and being a repeat offender meant he was going to get hit hard. Keeping that in mind along with the fact his first suspension wasn’t that long ago (if you take out the summer break, we’re talking a month or so) and that the hit was similar (although I believe the first was worst), I really can’t refute the length of this one.

That said, it doesn’t mean Moore is a dirty player. Saying he’s Matt Cooke or Trevor Gillies, guys who have been known to line up their targets before illegally hitting them, is absurd. Moore isn’t trying to hurt the opposition. He’s just an idiot who isn’t thinking before throwing a check. Think of him as the guy who says the first thing that comes to his mind before thinking if those words should be coming out of his mouth. We all know that person.

The worst part in all of this (other than Moore losing a bit of his paycheck), is the Rangers are now down another top six defenseman. And no matter how you feel about Moore, he’s better than some of the other options below him. For now, the belief is Michael Kostka will take his spot in the lineup. I’m willing to give Kostka a chance but that means the defense pairs should be as follows:

Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Marc Staal – Kevin Klein
Matt Hunwick – Michael Kostka

While Hunwick has been fine, if they are keeping pairs together, that basically means the team is playing four defensemen. Which to me is no good. No matter what we know for the next five games the lineup won’t include Dan Boyle (who isn’t skating yet) or John Moore.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

One Ranger Cleared, Other Not So Lucky

As I said last night, the question today wouldn’t be what happened at practice where the Rangers are apparently holding a mini training camp with so much time off. It would be would Chris Kreider and John Moore be playing when the Rangers returned to MSG on Saturday night. The answer is basically what I was expecting.

First, we received news on Chris Kreider:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsSigh. Of. Relief. Was the hit stupid? Yes. But as I said in the game recap, I could see both sides. Kreider wasn’t trying to maliciously board Brodin. Mix that with fact there was no apparent injury and the guess was he was safe. At practice today, he spoke to the beat writers and basically said what I saw (stick tap to Andrew Gross for posting full quotes):

“I think I was a little bit surprised just because of that, I didn’t see it as a boarding, it was so far off the wall,” Kreider said today at the Rangers’ practice facility before going on the ice with the third and final group of players for skating/passing/shooting drills. “I’m trying to get in on the forecheck. I’m trying to get the puck, there are 20, 15 seconds left, we have a chance to pin them, maybe get a shot. I feel him pulling up and so I turn my body sideways trying not to go completely through him but at the same time get a piece of him.

We’ve all said Kreider has to play a fine line. He doesn’t know his own strength yet but he can’t use that as an excuse. And honestly at this point, he needs to learn it. But he needs to keep playing the way he does to be effective. He just can’t cross that line and too many times he’s gotten too close. Last night’s call was completely made from how it looked. It looked bad and Brodin stayed down. Easy call for the referees to make. Luckily the Department of Player Safety felt differently when reviewing all the evidence.

John Moore, on the other hand, will not get as lucky:  

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Can I just sigh for this one? Sigh.

I’m not reading into the fact he has been offered an in-person hearing as that only means a long suspension is possible plus they are both in NYC so might as well meet face to face. My issue is this was originally believed to be a phone hearing and then after an uproar it became an in-person hearing. I’m sorry but that looks suspicious to me.

That said, I’m not saying it shouldn’t be an in-person hearing. I am sticking with my original belief that Moore will get five games – two or three for the actual hit with the same tacked on because he is a repeat offender. If he hadn’t been suspended in the playoffs last year, this is a phone hearing no question. But repeat offender status is a killer. So is an injury and Haula never returned nor is expected to play tonight in Boston.

And now, fair or not, Moore has a reputation. Did he deserve suspensions on both hits? Absolutely. I still have no idea what he was thinking either time. But watching him for the past two years, he doesn’t strike me as a dirty player which is now how he is looked at. To me, it’s momentary lapses of stupidity. But you still get punished for those and Moore is definitely going to pay the price this time. It’s just a question of for how long…

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

 

Rangers + Wild Cover All Bases At MSG

Craziness. That is honestly the only word I have to describe what I just witnessed this evening. Complete and utter craziness. I honestly wish I had been writing the recap as the game went on, although being there to witness it might have been just as good.

I really don’t know how to recap this game. I know I’ve said before I’ve watched two or three different games in one but tonight is the first time I truly felt I watched three different games, each period having it’s own feel, it’s own story lines. Honestly, there are so many angles I could take for this game. The huge hits that didn’t only have repercussions tonight but might on future games. The huge penalty kills in the second period that could be seen as game changers. The huge comeback that showed the teams’ resilience. The huge comeback the team didn’t deserve after a lackluster forty minutes. Notice the word “huge” used in each one. Each one of those things were “huge” and would’ve been the lead story had they happened in separate games. Mixed together? Craziness.

There is part of me that wants to recap this as a normal recap. But I really don’t know if I can. I don’t know how to approach this game because if I give each “huge” aspect the attention it deserves, this post will be 5,000 words and even I wouldn’t want to read it. Bare with me, I give it a try.

The first period was complete and utter crap for both teams. I was honestly staring at the ice and didn’t register a single thing that happened. Or if I did, I don’t remember it after watching the final forty. (There is potential that is what happened.) I know the Rangers took two dumb penalties and killed them off. Then, with 15 seconds to go in the period, Chris Kreider did this:

Christopher, what were you thinking?

Maybe I’m trying to help out a player who I love to watch but I can see both sides. Brodin slowed down and turned. Kreider was coming in at full speed not expecting that to happen. That said, he can’t shove him there. I don’t know what he does instead but the second he pushes him, it’s an automatic penalty. The fact it came that close to the boards, I don’t blame the referees one bit for throwing him. Will he get more than that? I have no idea. I don’t think there was any maliciousness in the hit as he didn’t intentionally board him. But you wonder how many times hits like this happen and he gets away with it. The good news was Brodin returned around halfway through the second period. But please think before you react, Chris. I don’t like having to defend guys for stuff like this.

Since it happened so late in the period, the Wild basically had a 5-minute power play to start the second. We all assumed that 0-for would be done before Malone, who was serving the penalty, got out of the box. After watching that, I will never complain about the Rangers power play again. (Okay, that’s a lie but it might be awhile.) That was one of the best power kills I have ever seen.

As Malone exited the box and the Garden cheered the kill, you would think the home team had all the momentum. You would be wrong. Less than a minute later, the Wild got on the board. A minute after that, they doubled their lead. Any momentum the team may have had from the kill was completely gone.

And just when Rangers fans thought it couldn’t get any worse, John Moore goes and does this:

John, what were you thinking?

I’m not sure I can defend this one. The good news is it doesn’t look like Moore left his feet. That’s about the only thing he has going for him. But he hit a defenseless player with a high elbow. Mix that with the fact he has a record due to his two-game suspension in the playoffs and sweet and innocent “Baby Moore” is not so sweet and innocent. The other bad news? Haula didn’t return.

I don’t think I have ever seen a team have to kill off two 5-minute majors in one game, nonetheless the same period, but here we were. Fortunately for the Rangers, the Wild’s power play truly is horrible and they managed to kill it off. Honestly, those two kills were huge. I knew it at the time because even if they lost the game, the confidence they got in killing those had to roll over to future games.

Malone again got to serve the penalty (he must have been thrilled to come back for this game) and the Garden once again erupted as he left the box, trying to will some momentum on the home team. And once again, it didn’t work as three minutes later the visitors made it 3-0 and I’ll admit, the vibe in the Garden was not good. There truly wasn’t anyone who thought the Rangers were coming back and the Garden showed their displeasure by booing the team off the ice at the end of the period. I can’t say they didn’t deserve it with only eight shots in two periods.

Then came the third period. After the game, Vigneault said Henrik Lundqvist had some words for his teammates. While I didn’t think he was playing a great game either and he said it was more frustration than anger in the room, I guess his words resonated with the team as it was a completely different team to come out for the final frame.

It started less than three minutes in when Kevin Klein took a perfect low shot from the point (honestly a shot that reminded me of the one Dan Girardi has when he chooses to shoot and get the puck on net) that Kuemper never saw to get the Rangers on the board. Two minutes later, after Lundqvist made a great save on Ryan McDonagh (I kid you not), Rick Nash found a rebound to get the Rangers within one and the building was rocking.

But the Rangers never make things easy so a minute later they got hemmed in their zone and it was back to a two goal game. I honestly thought at that point that the comeback wasn’t meant to be. It wasn’t giving up on the boys so much as saying things usually don’t end well when a team let’s up a goal right after getting back into it.

Two minutes later, Carl Hagelin took a shot from the slot that hit iron. The entire building thought it was in except one man – Derick Brassard, who followed up the play and buried it for what we all thought was a second time to make sure it counted. It’s a good thing he did because the first shot definitely was not in the net. At that point, there was roughly 12 minutes to go and we had a one goal game again. I really didn’t know what to expect.

It took a while, maybe because the Wild really weren’t trying to lose the game, but with less than four minutes remaining in the period, Anthony Duclair finally got his first NHL goal. I’m sure he will remember it as this fantastic shot as he was coming down the wing. Truth is, Kuemper should’ve had it and didn’t. It was the softest goal he gave up all night and honestly might have been the worst goal given up all game. As the Garden celebrated the rookies’ first goal and the now tie game, I watched the referee skate away with the puck and kept screaming “someone get that puck!”. Luckily, Klein did before they threw it into a corner somewhere.

At that point, the building was going crazy and most of us were just hoping the Rangers didn’t blow it now that they’d come back. As the chants of “Duuuucccc” died down, the chants of “Zuuuucccc” arose as Mats Zuccarello gave the Rangers the lead with his first of the season. I would say I haven’t screamed that loud in years but I definitely did during the playoffs last year so we’ll just say it’s been a while since I’ve screamed like that at a regular season game, especially one in October.

All the Rangers had to do at that point was to hold on for dear life. And somehow they did. It wasn’t easy to watch as I had flashbacks to watching the last few minutes of game six against the Canadiens last May (yes I realize that had a lot more meaning than tonight did) but the Rangers got the job done and absolutely stole two points. Complete craziness.

So now, as Rangers nation celebrates an unlikely comeback and huge victory, we also wait for the fates of two core players. My hope is that Kreider somehow gets off the hook. I really don’t know if Moore will get that lucky. I also hope Brodin and Haula are okay. Even though Brodin came back, you never know when symptoms can appear and while some may see this as hoping they are okay to help my players, I never want to see anyone get hurt. Especially not head injuries. Either way, what should’ve been a quiet week will be anything but for the Rangers now.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Return Home To Face Wild

So, about that game in Montreal?

I would love to admit I didn’t see a single second of it but after reading about it, I had to watch the Canadiens first goal. Ryan McDonagh, what in the heck were you thinking? Forget there was a forward on the other point (which I saw a number of people point out), I want to know what possessed him to think a pinch there was a good idea no matter who was on the ice with him. I’ve been trying to come up with a pairing that wouldn’t have scored on that 2-on-0 but to give it to Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec? I honestly miss the Ryan McDonagh who I have watched the past four years and who earned that C. I think he’s still on summer break in Minnesota.

Anyway, that’s all I caught of the game and from the sounds of it, that’s not a bad thing. It was also surprisingly quiet around the team the past few days so not much to catch up on. (I really expected something to happen.)

Which brings us to tonight against the Wild. As he’s done for every game but one so far this season, it sounds like Vigneault will be making another roster change. Anthony Duclair played in place of Ryan Malone in Montreal and from the morning skate, it appears he will stay in. But Vigneault wants to get Malone back which means someone else has to come out. The beat writers are guessing it will be Kevin Hayes, with Marty St. Louis going back to center (unless someone is on their way to New York) but nothing will be confirmed until later. If that is the case, it makes me laugh even more that people thought Hayes would remain on the first line when Derek Stepan returned. He couldn’t even remain there until that happened, nonetheless afterwards.

Speaking of Stepan, this happened over the weekend:

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Very good sign as I don’t care what anyone says, the team needs him. Also the sooner he gets back, the sooner he is able to get his legs under him. The first possible game he could play is a week from today, 11/3 against the Blues. I was hoping the fact he skated over the weekend would mean he would be at practice this morning but it doesn’t sound like he was which makes me wonder if that target is still realistic. I’m hoping it is but I don’t want him to rush. The team needs him but they need him healthy.

As for Malone, him coming back in is predicated with the fact he will be on the power play. I like him on the power play so am okay with that as anything to make it better works for me. That said, Rangers fans apparently can’t complain. As bad as the Rangers 2-for-25 power play is, the Wild are coming in boasting an 0-for-20 power play this season. Which means I fully expect another special teams game like we saw against the Devils last week. (Side note: Read the story at the start of that link with the power play stats. Not surprised at all something like that would happen at MSG.)

Since this is the only game for the boys until the weekend, let’s hope it’s a good one!

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

The Day After: Delayed Thoughts On Rangers-Devils

After the news out of Ottawa yesterday morning, I didn’t think it right to post thoughts about a hockey game. Especially since I didn’t necessarily agree with everyone asking when the Senators-Leafs game last night would be cancelled as there were gunmen on the loose. I don’t usually speak on behalf of others but I’m confident in saying the thoughts and prayers of those of us in New York are with those who were affected in Ottawa yesterday.

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And now onto the game.

* Listening to the guys after the game say it was a “character win” and that they thought while not perfect, it was a solid game, made me think that I once again was watching a different game. Or that I’m too critical of the boys. Then I read the beat writers opinions on the game. And shockingly, they agreed with me with the common theme being they played decently at times for two and a half periods but not nearly well enough to deserve the victory. And while they didn’t say this, I stand by what I said in my recap – the Devils played the exact same game. Which meant overtime was the perfect outcome because neither team deserved to win outright.

* I still can’t get over the fact Kevin Klein scored the game winner. I’m glad he admitted he owed Lundqvist and the team one after all the pucks he deflected into his own net. I’m not expecting him to make a play like that again any time soon but it was a really nice goal.

* As seems to be the trend in these day after recaps, let’s talk about ice time. Specifically on defense. Ryan McDonagh had the most with a little over 28 minutes. That’s about right considering the game went to overtime. Maybe a little high since they didn’t play the full five minutes but I’ll take it. His defense partner Dan Girardi, who was technically a game-time decision that day? Exactly five seconds less with just over 28 minutes. The man is without a doubt part robot. I don’t get how he does it but will never complain about it.

* Speaking of ice-time, Kevin Hayes ended up with 12:45. Not terrible but definitely not first line minutes. His linemates, on the other hand, played 16:18 and 17:08. So who made up the difference? Chris Mueller was placed on that line temporarily in the third period. The reasoning? Vigneault didn’t like the chances that line was getting and Hayes was 0-9 on face-offs through two periods. It’s moves like that which make me laugh when people say Hayes might stay on that line when Stepan returns. He’s not.

* Speaking of Derek Stepan, still no updates other than he’s not skating yet. I know he can’t return before 11/3 but if he doesn’t start skating soon, that might not be a realistic return date either. The team is getting by but I do think they need him back. Or maybe I just need him back. Same thing.

* But in all seriousness, I think his linemates miss him. Yes, Rick Nash is on a tear right now no matter who he’s playing with but Chris Kreider has been on and off. And while a lot of people think they should be split, I think Kreider and Stepan have a lot of chemistry so maybe the young winger misses his center. That said, I thought Kreider played a great game and was surprised to not see him as one of the stars. Yes he took two dumb penalties but he had a goal and an assist while being noticeable through the entire game. I would’ve given him the third star over Nash but that’s just me.

* And that goal he scored? One of five power play goals on eight opportunities in the game. That’s right, the two teams went a combined 5 for 8 on the power play. In the previous 11 combined games played prior to that game the two teams were a combined 3 for 35 on the power play. I know nights like that happen but you never expect it in a Rangers-Devils game. As DeBoer said after the game, “if we’re going to give up two power-play goals a night, it’s going to be hard to win”. True, but the Rangers gave up three and still managed to. Somehow.

Honestly, a win is a win. You take the two points and move on. I feel like I’m going to be doing that a lot this year. That said, I didn’t think they were playing that great last spring either and we see how that turned out.

So we move on to Montreal. I am actually going to miss that game so there won’t be a recap Saturday night. I might write up some thoughts if I have time on Sunday but otherwise you’ll have to look elsewhere for news on that one or any news later today and tomorrow. For those wondering how I could miss a Saturday night Rangers-Canadiens game, the last time I did the Rangers won their first game in Montreal in five years. Sometimes you just have to take one for the team.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Special Teams Highlight Rangers Defeat Of Devils

I don’t even have words for that game. Actually I have a lot of words. Here is what my recap looked like early in the third period:

recap

Was I giving up on the team? I’ll be honest and say yes and no. Of course there was part of me that was hoping to use that as a jinx so I would have to re-write the whole thing. But at that point, I really wasn’t impressed with their play so I had every intention of posting that. The Rangers had something else in mind.

In regards to the lineup, tonight was the first time all season the Rangers played the same lineup in back to back games. That meant, to the surprise of no one, Dan Girardi was in the lineup. He skated in the optional morning skate this morning and then declared himself ready to play. Vigneault put it best though:

“I’ve just known him for a year, but I think it would take a lot to keep him out of the lineup tonight.”

A lot, as in tying him down to a hospital bed. Nothing keeps Girardi out of the lineup. He really isn’t human.

Unfortunately having the same lineup meant Anthony Duclair would be scratched again. I’m really interested to see what they do with him as Vigneault acknowledged that part of the reason he’s still here is that they can’t recall him if they send him back to juniors. Have I mentioned how dumb this rule? If it helped even one side, I would understand. But I don’t see how this helps anyone.

I know the writers and TV analysts keep trying to drum up Rangers-Devils games as if they are something different than any other game. Maybe the players feel differently when playing each other but if they do, it really doesn’t show. Sure there are hits but both teams hit their opponent no matter who it is. I saw nothing in the first period that says this is a rivalry more than any other game I’ve watched this season.

We did get a couple of penalties though with only one actually being killed – the first one the Rangers took. Shortly after they killed it, they received their first power play where Joe Micheletti acted surprised the Rangers didn’t have a power play goal yet this season. As if they should have one by now. I’m not sure why he felt that way because I sure wasn’t surprised they didn’t have one. Especially since the guy they brought in to fix their power play has only played 40 minutes this season. But the zero is there no more as Chris Kreider buried a rebound for the first goal of a game.

But of course we can never have a full good period for Kreider as five minutes later he took a penalty which the Devils cashed in on to tie the game at one.

Other than a few great chances by Mats Zuccarello (and a few bad defensive plays by the Rangers blueline if you ask me), that was all for the first frame.

I want to say it got better in the second frame, but I can’t. That said, I’m talking about both teams. While I definitely wasn’t impressed with the Rangers play, it wasn’t as if the Devils were dominating either. Maybe both teams were somehow managing to shut down the other? I’m not sure either deserves any credit.

There were a couple more penalties that period with one leading to a power play goal as Kevin Klein tipped one past Lundqvist. We won’t talk about who took the shot. I know some guys just have a streak of bad luck but I really am curious how many Klein has scored on his own goalie this season. Feels like I’m seeing it happen every game. It also makes me wonder who is the issue in the Moore – Klein pairing. I’ve always noticed Klein but wondered if he looked bad because he was covering for Moore. I’m really not so sure anymore. Of course he had to go and make me look bad for that paragraph but one goal doesn’t change the fact his defense has been far from acceptable so that didn’t get the same deletion my intro did.

The Devils had another power play which carried over into the third and of course they scored on the second half of it to take a 3-1 lead. Fortunately eight minutes later, the Devils put the puck in the crowd so the Rangers got another chance on the power play, allowing Chris Mueller to get his first as a Ranger.

Unfortunately that would be the last penalty the Devils would take. But it didn’t matter because the Rangers still had Rick Nash who has been on an absolute tear this season. And Nash decided to spurn the trend and do something crazy – score at even strength. That might not sound crazy but if you hadn’t noticed, the five goals prior to that goal were all with the man advantage. Oh and that goal was Nash’s eighth of the season, which leads the league.

With that goal, the Rangers stole a point and the teams headed to overtime. Halfway through the overtime period…bare with me as I try to find the words. First, Vigneault put Chris Kreider on the ice. The play he made is exactly why fans have been screaming for him to play in overtime for over a year now. But Vigneault also put out Chris Mueller, John Moore and Kevin Klein. After a back and forth with Mueller, Kreider drew two guys with his speed while a third watched him with the puck. He got the puck to Klein who was wide open coming down the middle and the game was over.

I am honestly still laughing at the whole sequence because Klein might have been the last person I would’ve picked to score the overtime winner. I would’ve picked Glass before him, knowing Glass would never see the ice in overtime. But it was a perfect shot so he gets credit where it’s due. The funniest part is I saw him coming up the ice and said out loud “Is that Klein on the ice? Why?” I got my answer. He apparently wanted to get the first goal by a Rangers defenseman this season.

The Rangers have a couple of days off before they head to Montreal this weekend. Days off usually mean roster moves so I’m sure there will be news before Saturday. As for the game, I’m going to start praying now that the team comes out in one piece. That’s always the problem when the Rangers play up there. Something always happens and we have enough injury problems at the moment. At least we know Lundqvist can win in the Bell Centre now.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)