Zuccarello’s Hat Trick Leads Rangers Past Leafs

What do you get when you have two teams that haven’t played in at least three days? The game I just watched between the Rangers and Maple Leafs for the past two and a half hours.

Here’s the thing – I was fully expecting horrible hockey tonight. The Rangers had been off since a win over the Flames on Sunday night. The Maple Leafs hadn’t played since a loss to the Coyotes Monday night. Mix that with the Knicks having played at MSG last night (in other words, bad ice) and the game we witnessed was inevitable. But if it weren’t for witnessing our Norwegian’s first career hat trick, I still would’ve asked for my money back.

I can sit here and recap the game but there’s only one thing anyone really cares about – Rick Nash getting the puck to Derick Brassard who kept dishing it to Mats Zuccarello so he could place it in the net. It happened in that exact order three times. Luckily, that was all the Rangers need.

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=860757

Works for me.

The Rangers did let the Leafs score one with just under two minutes remaining because of course they did. The Leafs actually got another at the very beginning of the third period but it was waived off due to goaltender interference. The Leafs challenged but call was upheld. I’m not complaining but I’m honestly shocked the Rangers got that call. It’s not because I think the Rangers never get calls (or Canadian teams always do) but because Henrik Lundqvist was barely touched and honestly it played no part in the puck not being stopped. That said, Rangers lost a goal in Philadelphia that way so at least they are being consistent. We’ll just see if it lasts as the games mean more.

What else can I say about this game? The Rangers were apparently perfect angels as they didn’t take a penalty the entire night. The referees did swallow their whistles most of the game but I still find that hard to believe. Again, I’ll take it. Unfortunately the Leafs took three so we got to watch six minutes of power kill time. They apparently had three shots in those six minutes, although two of them came right with 20 seconds to go in the third penalty.

Simply put, I’ll use the same Vigneault quote I used on Sunday – you never critique a win. Take the two points and move on. I just hope after another three days off, the boys are ready because the Capitals aren’t exactly the same as the Maple Leafs.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

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A New Rangers Baby + Other Practice Updates

It was announced halfway through yesterday’s practice that Derek Stepan was not in attendance due to “personal reasons”. The Rangers made sure to emphasize it had nothing to do with his recent dental work or any new injury. So what was the reason for his absence?

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I would say that’s a pretty good reason. Here’s to hoping that the new baby luck rubs off on Stepan and he has a good game for his son on Friday. Congrats Derek & Stephanie!

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Everyone else was in attendance for practice yesterday except Viktor Stalberg who the Rangers are calling day-to-day with a head injury. They refuse to use the word “concussion” though. Look, I hate the word too but by avoiding using it, the team almost appears to be pretending he doesn’t have one. And there is no way he didn’t suffer one. It could’ve been extremely mild but he was hit directly in the head and didn’t feel well that night. That’s a concussion. Maybe if we start using the word, players will get the treatment they need for them rather than everyone saying “oops!” when it’s too late.

That said, Stalberg did skate on his own after practice. Again, we need rules in place to help these guys in the future. Maybe he is fine. Or maybe symptoms appear a month from now. What is the harm of forcing guys to stay off the ice for a week if they are hit in the head? Maybe one day the NHL will realize this. I’m not holding my breath.

Anyway, no word on if Stalberg will play on Friday. Emerson Etem played well on Sunday so it’s possible Stalberg gets a couple extra days just because of that. If that’s the case, so be it. At least he isn’t rushed back.

The team is off today and then will practice tomorrow before finally getting back on the ice to face the Leafs on Friday night. Here’s to hoping the rest was good for the team and we begin to see the team we’re used to seeing in these next 10 games.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Win Snoozer Versus Flames

 

I remember last year Vigneault made a comment after one game saying “you never critique a win”. I will agree with that. It doesn’t mean you have to keep the tape.

Tonight was the Rangers 10th game of the season. After ten games last year, the Rangers were 5-4-1. After tonight’s win, they are 6-2-2. They probably won’t continue on that pace but if they do they are on pace for roughly 112 points. This is why I haven’t been worried with how bad they’ve looked this month. If they can get points looking this bad, imagine what will happen when they finally look good.

As for the first period, well this explains it all:

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Anyone who knows anything about the Rangers knew the start of tonight’s game (second half of back-to-back with inter-conference opponent after division rival one) would be rough. But I don’t think anyone expected it to be that bad. (Although I’m slightly impressed the Rangers were outshot 0-3 on their two power plays.) Rangers were lucky to only be down by one. They can thank Antti Raanta for that. (The Rangers backup had another great performance. Thanks again, Blackhawks!)

The second period wasn’t much better. In fact the only reason anyone will say it was is because the mirage on the scoreboard as the Rangers scored two late goals after having only one shot through the first half of the period. First it was Kevin Hayes making a ridiculous pass from behind the net to Oscar Lindberg whose shot hit Hamilton and deflected past Hiller to tie the game.

A little less than five minutes later, it was another lucky bounce as a flubbed shot by Emerson Etem (who otherwise had a good game) deflected to a wide open pinching Dan Girardi and he did this:

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=2015020119-502-h

Girardi isn’t known for his scoring but I think we can all agree he needed that. He needed something positive with the way his season has started. That goal was his 200th career point in his 769th game (regular season + playoffs) placing him solely in 10th place on the Rangers all-time list for games played. It was also the game winner and got him the Broadway Hat to which I am just going to assume his response to getting it was “I never get the hat!”. (Sorry, that will never get old.)

We all know “the stat” for the Rangers going into the third period with the lead. But the Flames have an opposite one as they are known for coming back when losing going into the third. So what did the Rangers do to start the third period? Tried to play their usual defensive trap and hope the 20 minutes went by quickly. Fortunately for them, the Flames had very little fight back so it worked.

It helped that a scramble in front of the Flames net eight and a half minutes into the period led to a goal by Kevin Klein. And that almost exactly two minutes later, Ryan McDonagh forced a turnover in the neutral zone that led to Derick Brassard rifling one to make it 4-1. The Flames gave up after that and the remainder of the period was more a formality than anything else.

And with that, the Rangers managed three out of a possible four points this weekend. Would I have rather given an extra point to an out of conference opponent? Absolutely. But I’m not going to complain about three out of four and five out of six in a four day span. The Rangers basically have a week off now as their next game is Friday night against the Leafs. There’s a chance we’ll have an update on Viktor Stalberg by then. I’m not counting on it though.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Lundqvist Helps Rangers Get Point In Philly

My initial reaction whenever I hear the Rangers are playing the Flyers is to hope that the Rangers come out in one piece. Games have been peaceful recently so I didn’t think that before tonight’s game. I guess I need to apologize to Viktor Stalberg.

Couple of milestones before getting to the game. Even though Vigneault has stated he needs to be better (as does a few of his friends), Dan Girardi played in his 768th game (regular season + playoffs) as a Ranger tying him for 10th on the all-time list with Mark Messier. He will have sole possession of 10th when he steps on the ice tomorrow. (Which he will since he might have been the only defenseman who didn’t make a bonehead play tonight. It was nice to see that with the games he had recently.) As for another milestone, Jarret Stoll played in 800th regular season game.

Now onto the game.

Through the first half of the first period, I was afraid that everyone except Henrik Lundqvist had missed the train to Philly. While the Flyers seemed to be controlling play, it looked to me more like the Rangers were a step behind. Therefore it was not surprising when the Flyers got the first goal. (It was deflected by Viktor Stalberg but a light play along the boards by Ryan McDonagh started the problem.)

I”m not sure if I can say that woke the Rangers up but they did manage to tie the game less than two minutes later as J.T. Miller got his first of the season by finding a loose puck in the crease and burying it. The play started with Kevin Hayes coming down the wing and taking a shot (yes, he actually shot). Mason made the save but the rebound came to Keith Yandle who pushed it towards the goal for Miller to put it in.

While nothing else happened in the first, that goal at least woke the Rangers up.

Then came the second period where everything happened – goals, no penalties on hits causing injuries, a stoppage in play for an issue on the bench and a coaches’ challenge. I think I got everything.

It started just two minutes into the period when Marc Staal lost the puck along the boards in the Rangers’ zone leading to the Flyers regaining their lead. Less than a minute later, the Flyers pulled a move the Rangers usually do by taking a penalty. As soon as the puck was dropped, there was a whistle behind the play as the Flyers bench was screaming in panic to get played stopped. Still no word on exactly what happened but when the camera went to the bench, the team was surrounding Michael Raffl who was then helped to the locker room. To say it looked like a scary situation would be an understatement. Not sure if it played a part but Raffl had been hit by Jarret Stoll not too long before that.

Things quickly settled down on the ice and with Raffl in the room, play resumed. It took almost the entire power play but the Rangers finally found the back of the net to once again tie the game as Derick Brassard got his second (power play) goal of the season. That made it three straight games with a power play goal. I think the Rangers heard me laugh last weekend about the thought of them scoring on the power play and decided to go out and prove me wrong.

Seven minutes later the Rangers thought they finally had the lead. The goal was immediately waived off which led to the Rangers first coaches challenge of the season. Here was the play:

I’m apparently in the minority but I would’ve been shocked if they called that a goal. More and more it is goaltenders getting the benefit of the doubt on all calls in the crease. Did Jarret Stoll stop Mason from making the stop? Debatable. Did Stoll bump into Mason while in the crease? Yes, hence no goal. I don’t make the rules, I just know what they are. So I wasn’t surprised in the least that the call stood as no goal. At least the Rangers never use their timeouts so it was no problem they lost one tonight.

With a minute to go in the period, Radko Gudas decided to come across the ice and hit an unsuspecting Viktor Stalberg right in the head. Stalberg may have been admiring a pass but there was absolutely no reason for Gudas to throw that hit. Even though it was directly in center ice, somehow the referees missed it so there was no call on the play. While not as blatant, the Rangers got away with one earlier in the period (Stoll on Raffl) so I guess the referees just didn’t want to call obvious penalties tonight. Stalberg never returned and only update we received was that he wouldn’t play tomorrow.

The Rangers would take an interference penalty shortly after that which they killed merely with luck and because it was a split penalty. (The Flyers hit a crossbar and the puck somehow stayed out of the net on their other shots.)

As for the remainder of the third period, both teams got great chances but neither goalie was letting anything past them. (Both did get lucky on a few shots.) With five minutes remaining, I thought how this reminded me of the game in Columbus earlier in the month. Sure enough, with less than four minutes to go, the Rangers shot the puck into the crowd for a delay of game penalty. My initial reaction was the same as that night against the Blue Jackets – at least I don’t have to watch overtime.

But tonight was different as the Rangers killed the penalty and weren’t able to get anything after it ended so to overtime we went. Have I mentioned how I don’t like 3-on-3 hockey? Because I don’t. Maybe it’s because too many Rangers players play with the puck rather than attempt to set up a play or shoot it. Honestly, until Kevin Hayes learns he isn’t in college anymore, I never want to see him out in overtime again. I don’t really want to see a few other guys who are known to play with the puck either but someone has to play.

Somehow the Rangers managed to get out of the five minutes unscathed and we went to a shootout. (For the record, according to MSG this was the 8th game to go to a shootout of the 19 (including another game tonight that ended in OT) that have gone past regulation this season. So much for getting rid of the shootout.) That didn’t go well as Lundqvist looked really off. I guess that’s what happens when you face 48 shots over the prior 65 minutes. The Rangers only have the record they do because Lundqvist has looked great so far this year. Hopefully he has something left when the rest of the team decides to catch up.

Not sure what else to say but at least the team got a point. And maybe they are pissed off enough to figure out a way to get two tomorrow.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Break Out In Third To Beat Yotes

Let’s just get this out of the way… RICK NASH SCORED!

Okay, he didn’t take an actual shot and the puck didn’t actually go into the net but…

RICK NASH SCORED!

Look, they all count. Most guys pray for something to hit off a shin pad or other piece of equipment just to get them in the goal column. Nash found a different way. If it gets him scoring, I could care less how it went in. It’s not like anyone will remember his first of the year in June. (Who am I kidding? No one is forgetting that goal any time soon. Even his teammates said they don’t plan to let him off the hook.)

As for the rest of the game, I actually like Dave Tippett as a coach. But there aren’t enough words to explain how horrible it is to watch two teams play his style of hockey. Marc Staal used the word “miserable”. I don’t think that’s a strong enough word.

Tonight was Hockey Fights Cancer night at MSG so the boys were wearing lavender jerseys for warmups (as seen above). I love the color purple but that just looked weird. They are being auctioned off for a great cause so if you have the money (or just want to donate), click here or here.

The first period happened. I think. I’m not even sure since I fell asleep during it. I did see something about the Rangers just missing stuffing one in halfway through the period (it somehow never went over the goal line) and the Coyotes not getting an actual shot until there were five minutes remaining and then scoring on their second shot of the period so I guess the period actually happened. Or they just made all of that up to make it look like twenty minutes were played.

As for the second period, it looked like it was going to start that way. Then the Rangers had two extended shifts in the Coyotes zone but couldn’t break through. (I’m not sure how many shots they had but they definitely applied pressure.) I expected the Coyotes to come back the other way and score but somehow that didn’t happen.

Seven minutes into the period, Keith Yandle took a tripping penalty. Like Dan Boyle the other night, he tried to argue the call. And like the other night I have no idea what he was arguing. Fortunately the Rangers were able to kill it off and a little over a minute later, Mats Zuccarello made an incredible pass to a diving Chris Kreider who managed to bury his first of the season. I think I’m going to start calling a goal celebration where a player is lying on their stomach “the Kreider”. He did it in preseason and now in the regular season. I don’t care what he does as long as the puck finds the back of the net and he doesn’t get hurt.

The Coyotes took back to back penalties after the goal which the Rangers effectively killed and the second period mercifully came to an end. Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as the first but it was close. I have no idea how Coyotes fans watch this style of hockey on a regular basis.

Two and a half minutes into the third period, this happened:

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=2015020092-524-h

Mike Smith is a good goalie. Yes he dives occasionally (okay, more than occasionally) but he’s really good at playing the puck and truly is an above average goalie. But he also makes plays like that. A lot. While watching the game, I just laughed. After the game, Smith said that he heard someone call for the puck and didn’t realize till after he passed it that it was someone in blue. Then J.T. Miller told the media this:

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I love that kid. Kevin Hayes should buy Miller dinner for getting him that goal.

Four minutes later, the Coyotes took another penalty. I’ve figured out the key to the Rangers power play success. Don’t make any mention in the building that the power play is going on. Everyone missed the call, there was no music and as they started to announce the penalty, Keith Yandle rifled one from the point that beat everyone and gave him his first goal against his ex-team. That music they play only makes me dread the next two minutes anyway so let’s just skip it going forward.

Both teams got chances over the next ten minutes but the score remained the same. Then with less than five minutes remaining, Henrik Lundqvist did this:

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=853681

I am going to be completely honest and say my first reaction was to say how much I hate him playing the puck. Seriously, he needs to stop doing that. The quicker he stops, the less he will need to make those desperation saves. Because for now he’s making them but that won’t last.

The Rangers clamped down after that and then with less than a minute remaining, Rick Nash “scored” an empty net goal. As I said at the start of the recap, they all count. At least even he was laughing about it. (He was as he went back to the bench and down the line. Then when they announced it in the building, Derek Stepan (who by the way, also had screws taken out of his jaw yesterday but of course played tonight) was sitting next to him and cheering as he just shook his head and laughed.)

Was it a pretty win? Not at all. But a win is a win and the Rangers will take all the points they can get. Hoepfully they can keep it up as they have another back to back this weekend with a trip to Philadelphia on Saturday and then home against the Flames on Sunday. With the starts both of those teams have had, I don’t think it’s wrong to expect four points out of the weekend. What will be more interesting is to see which game Antti Raanta gets.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Glass To Hartford + Other Rangers Thoughts + Notes

Let’s start with the news that has caused all Rangers fans to celebrate – Tanner Glass was sent to the Hartford Wolf Pack after clearing waivers at noon today.

Am I surprised this happened? No, I’m not. Vigneault didn’t want 14 forwards and he still has no idea what he has with Emerson Etem. I can say without a doubt that if Etem didn’t need waivers, he would’ve been in Hartford weeks ago. Do I think this is the last we see of Glass in a Rangers uniform? Sorry to burst your bubble Rangers fans but no I don’t. Any injuries or call-ups needed up front and he’s probably the first one called. Reading the official release from the team, I don’t think the Rangers did this because they wanted to or because of whatever reason you will read on other blogs over the next few days. They did this because they had no choice and I’m positive they are not happy about it.

Glass is what he is – he isn’t the horrible player many fans (not actual beat writers, mind you) try to lead people to believe but he won’t be winning any awards any time soon either. He was well-liked in the room and with a different contract would be a very serviceable NHL player. The cap was put in to stop teams with a lot of money from overloading their roster. Unfortuantely it also hurts guys just trying to make a living.

Anyway, there’s really not much to say on this other than I will not be surprised in the least if he’s back sooner rather than later.

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In regards to practice news, Derek Stepan missed practice today due to being at the dentist to have a wisdom tooth extracted. That does not sound fun at all. I’m going to guess it started bothering him a couple of days ago. There was no mention of this anywhere that I saw but he went to the locker room for a period of time in the first period against the Sharks. (I didn’t see him leave but did see him come back.) Afterwards, I noticed him on the bench holding the side of his face and talking with Jim Ramsey. Just putting two and two together here.

He’s expected to play tomorrow meaning it will be the same lineup against the Coyotes with Henrik Lundqvist in net.

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I was going to do some additional thoughts on the Sharks game but at this point, probably better to let that one go. I will say this – I will be watching the defense very closely tomorrow. There’s been some interesting changes in regards to ice time that I’ve noticed. These last two games haven’t been a lot of special teams so it’s easy to see who is playing and who isn’t. I’m interested to see if trend of Marc Staal getting the least amount of minutes continues.

And before anyone asks, he has gotten a lot less than Dan Girardi. I will always defend Girardi because I root for the logo on the front and not the name on the back meaning I will defend anyone on this team. That said, Girardi has definitely been fighting it recently. But he led the team in minutes on Monday so it looks like Vigneault is letting him play through it. We’ll see if it works.

Speaking of the defense, will also be interested to see if the Coyotes try to take advantage of Keith Yandle tomorrow. Here’s to hoping the Rangers learned enough about Anthony Duclair to not allow him to do anything.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Raanta Shuts Out Sharks In Rangers Debut

On June 27, 2015, I ran around my apartment jumping up and down as the Rangers announced their replacement for Cam Talbot. I had been a fan of Antti Raanta’s while he was in Chicago and wanted him to go somewhere he would get a chance to play. With the trade, I was thrilled I would be able to continue to root for him.

Everyone who knows me knows I follow the Blackhawks as well so asked my opinion of the Rangers new backup goalie. My response was that he would be perfect in this role and the Rangers wouldn’t be missing a beat losing Talbot. Tonight, Raanta backed up those words by stopping every puck that came his way.

Did the Rangers play better? Of course they did. This team always plays differently when there is someone other than Henrik Lundqvist in net. That said, this wasn’t an easy shutout for Raanta. He made some saves that made MSG wonder if Lundqvist had snuck back in net. But that’s Raanta. There are plenty of nights you sit and wonder how he is still a backup. From following him I know there will be nights that show why. But we don’t need to worry about those tonight.

What we do need to worry about is how Scandinavia was represented for the home team tonight as tonight’s roster did something no other Rangers one has done:

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I know Mats Zuccarello is the Rangers first Norwegian so I believe this being a new thing. I can’t believe the Rangers haven’t had a Finn in the lineup since he got here though.

It was clear from the puck drop that the Rangers were going to actually do what they said, at least to start the game. The first period might have been their best period of the season. (Yes I know the season is young and that they’ve had a few bad periods. Just know the first period was really good.)

Early in the game, I remember Marc Staal doing something that made me cringe and wonder if his ice time would suffer again. (He had the least amount of minutes for the defense yesterday and it wasn’t really close.) I wish I could remember what but I remember thinking it. He then made up for it halfway through the period by taking a perfect pass from Derick Brassard and rifling it on net. I’m really not sure he had any clue that the puck went straight into the net but he quickly figured out it ended up there and threw his hands in the air as the Garden erupted.

That would be the only thing to end up on the scoresheet for the first twenty minutes. Things that didn’t end up on the scoresheet? Rick Nash being extremely involved in the play (although I’m convinced after tonight he is never scoring a goal again), Kevin Hayes still refusing to shoot the puck and Raanta making a couple of big saves to let Rangers fans know they had nothing to worry about in goal tonight.

As the second period began, I just prayed that the Rangers would show up for it. Really, I did. Fortunately they listened.

It didn’t look good to start as just 89 seconds into the period, Dan Boyle took a really bad tripping penalty. (He lost the puck at the point, spun around, lost his balance and took a Shark down with him.) But the penalty kill looked great for a minute and a half, actually spending most of the time in the Sharks zone. Then Marc Staal decided to take back all that good will he earned with the goal by tripping Wingels with 22 seconds to go. I guess the team likes Staal cause they saved him by killing that penalty too.

Four minutes later, the Rangers got their first (and only) power play of the night. I believe it was in preseason when I mentioned that I don’t understand how the Rangers can have a power kill most nights and then randomly have a game where they can get a puck off a face-off, cycle and score in a matter of 26 seconds. I will never understand this team but that’s what they did tonight as Mats Zuccarello wristed one from the face-off circle to double the Rangers lead. Nash was in front of the net providing the screen and everyone hoped it hit him. It didn’t. I’m serious, he’s never going to score again.

Speaking of Nash, with time running down I thought we randomly skipped to overtime except with five players for each team on the ice as both sides got clear breakaway chances. On the Rangers end it was Nash but Jones made the save. Raanta did the same when the puck went the other way and we headed to intermission with the home team holding a 2-0 lead.

The third period started with the Sharks pressing and Rangers fans began to worry that punishment for having a good second period meant the team would have a bad third period. But less than four minutes in, Chris Kreider made a perfect pass to lead to this:

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=2015020080-476-ingame-h

I would love to say Jesper Fast made a highlight reel move to score that goal. That video doesn’t show the replay but I can promise you that’s not what happened. In fact, Fast missed the shot entirely as Jones poked the puck away. Problem was it hit his pad and then went behind him. You can see Fast smiling in the video as the team comes to congratulate him. I’m pretty sure he’s laughing because he knows he missed the shot.

The Rangers didn’t stop there as they got a number of chances to extend the lead as the period went on. Two that stick out? Rick Nash hitting the post and then shortly afterwards Chris Kreider doing the same. One day those two will find the back of the net. It may be next season but it has to happen eventually. They need luck like Fast had.

Or like that of Viktor Stalberg who raced down on another breakaway and somehow got the puck through Jones’ five hole with less than four minutes remaining to make it 4-0. The play started with Staal, who had an up and down game again but this time mostly up, making a great defensive play to force the turnover and then slide the puck to Stalberg. The assist was Staal’s 100th career assist. (Yes I feel like he should have more as well.) The funniest part, to me at least, was for the second time that shift Stalberg almost ran into Jarret Stoll after getting the puck. Luckily they missed and Stalberg was able to head up the ice as Stoll went to the bench.

And with that, Rangers fans held their breath as the clock wound down. There were some scary moments (I’m looking at you, Dan Girardi) but the boys held on to give Raanta a debut he won’t soon forget. Now here’s to hoping the team plays this well in front of their regular goalie on Thursday.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)