Late Goal Leads Rangers Past Jets

My hope going into tonight’s game against the Jets was that the Rangers would come out of it in one piece. The Jets are known for hitting so I just wanted no injuries. Getting the two points was an added bonus.

A couple of pregame notes. Yesterday Chris Summers was sent back to Hartford meaning Matt Hunwick was ready to go tonight. Summers didn’t leave an impression one way or the other with me but he did get 15 minutes of ice time so we’ll see what the coaching staff thought if a defenseman is needed again.

In non-lineup news, you know it’s getting to the end of the season when we start seeing award winners. Today the NYR chapter of the PHWA announced that Marc Staal was once again their nominee for the Masterton trophy while Derek Stepan was this years’ John Halligan Good Guy winner.

Staal had been previously nominated for the Masterton in 2013 after returning from his concussion. Since he wasn’t able to be nominated last year (Dominic Moore, the eventual winner of the award, got that one), the writers gave it to him this year. Staal’s  initial response was “again?” but I agree with the nomination. You can read his complete reaction here. What I found most interesting was the breakdown in votes. Per Andrew Gross:

The chapter’s voting (on a 3-2-1 basis) for this season’s Masterton nominee was Staal with 13, Marty St. Louis with 11, Dan Girardi with nine, Cam Talbot and Henrik Lundqvist with six and five others receiving votes.

St. Louis makes sense to me but the other three caught me offguard since we’re trained to think of this award as one for a player returning from injury or dealing with a hardship. Lundqvist will obviously get it next year unless something else happens to another player on the team.

As for the Good Guy award, that is given to the player who is best with the media. Players can only receive it once so Lundqvist, Staal and Girardi were ineligible. According to Gross, Stepan was an obvious choice for the award. Not surprised since there seems to be quotes from him every day.

Now onto the game.

Well I’m going to move onto the game. The Rangers didn’t show up for the start. Somehow the Jets only had a 1-0 lead after outshooting the Rangers 9-0 in the first five minutes. Yes, five minutes. Fortunately for the Rangers, the Jets took a penalty at 5:20 allowing them to get a couple of shots on net. But it took until almost ten minutes into the period for the visitors to get an even strength shot on goal. Lucky for them it went in as Mats Zuccarello found a puck in the crease and deposited it in the back of the net.

John Giannone said there was a sigh of relief on the bench after the goal and it was noticeable as after that, the Rangers actually looked like they had arrived in Winnipeg. But you could still tell the Jets were a desperate team and once again, the Rangers didn’t seem to know how to handle that. The good news was Henrik Lundqvist continued to get the practice he needs. Fortunately for the team, he showed up at puck drop as he faced 16 shots over the first 20 minutes only allowing one past him.

It’s a good thing he was still ready to go in the second as once again the Rangers weren’t ready for puck drop. But there was only so much he could do as ex-Ranger Lee Stempniak beat him high glove less than 90 seconds into the period to regain the lead for the Jets. Wonder if that shot was from being with the Rangers or what he knew before he came to the team.

The Rangers did wake up a little earlier than they did in the first but still didn’t have much going. They had some zone time and a couple of shifts where they pinned the Jets in their own zone but the puck was mostly kept to the perimeter.

Nine and a half minutes in, the Jets received another penalty after hemming the Rangers in their zone. I say received because if I’m being honest, it was a light call. Perreault was headed to the bench and somehow clipped Dominic Moore on the blue line and the veteran center went down. I’m not going to call it a dive because the view MSG showed didn’t show a good angle but let’s just say I was waiting for the makeup call. When the Rangers scored less than a minute later, I knew the makeup call was coming.

The goal was a beautiful one though as Keith Yandle and Ryan McDonagh kept the puck at the points and got it to Derick Brassard in the left circle. Brassard took a slap shot that Pavelec had no chance of seeing due to the maze of bodies, specifically Rick Nash, in front of him. I honestly needed to see a replay to see how the puck got in the net.

Three minutes later, the makeup call came as Nash was called for hooking. I knew it would be him or Hagelin. It’s not a Rangers game if one of them don’t end up in the box. Early in the penalty kill, Dustin Byfuglien took a shot from the point that Dan Girardi blocked. (He did a lot of that tonight as he was credited with a career-high 10 blocks. Of course he tried to pretend it was no big deal after the game.) Right away, Joe Micheletti said the iron man was hurt…as I watched him race around the zone to stop the Jets from taking other shots. He was fine. Again, not human.

The Rangers killed the penalty as well as the remainder of the period to get to intermission tied at two. But not without a little action. With only a couple minutes remaining in the period, Dustin Byfuglien decided to do this:

http://streamable.com/e/rzly

Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti were besides themselves for the remainder of the game. Not only that there was no call but that he threw that crosscheck. Luckily J.T. Miller was okay.

I remember Byfuglien when he was with the Blackhawks and that was not something he did in Chicago. I hope DoPS takes a good long look at that check. After the game, Vigneault did not mince words by saying it was “violent, deliberate, could have broken his neck. One of the most vicious cross-checks I’ve seen this year” while Steve Valiquette compared it to Chris Simon’s hit on Ryan Hollweg, which by the way garnered a 25-game suspension if I remember correctly. I don’t expect that again this time as I don’t think it was as vicious as that one but Byfuglien better get something.

Anyway, back to the game. The two teams battled it out in the third period and it looked like we were headed to overtime. Then J.T. Miller found the perfect revenge on Byfuglien by helping Chris Kreider do this:

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=2014021148-621-h

That reaction is priceless. So was the goal. It turned out to be the game winner as the Jets pushed but in the end couldn’t get another one past Lundqvist. It didn’t help that Byfuglien decided to go after Mats Zuccarello with 40 seconds remaining. Sam Rosen’s response to the referees finally calling a penalty on him? “It’s about time.” He did apologize as he usually doesn’t lose his cool but I think every Rangers fan agreed with him on that one.

And with that, the Rangers once again found a way to bounce back. The win gave them their 25th road win, most in the NHL and tying a franchise record set last year. Why do we want home ice again? Oh right, cause they have 23 wins at MSG. Six more games to go before the fun really begins.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

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Taxi Squad Arrives As Rangers Prepare For Return To Philly

With the Wolfpack’s season officially over, it was only a matter of time before the taxi squad (a.k.a. the players who would stick around in case needed) arrived. While the Rangers haven’t officially announced who this years’ black aces are, a look at the scratches list from Tuesday’s game tells us all we need to know:

black aces

Diaz, Falk, Fast, Kreider and I believe Miller will remain with the team. The rest of the guys on that list will practice separately and only been seen when needed. They do get prime seats to every game though.

Not really any surprises on the list although a little surprised Asham isn’t included. I’m guessing the veteran would rather be with his family and said to give the spot to a kid for the experience. (As Powe is included, I find it hard to believe Asham wouldn’t have been offered a spot as well. Unless he has an injury that I’m not aware of.)

As for who I think would get called up if needed? With the extra players already around the team (two healthy forwards and two healthy defensemen), I’m going to hope it doesn’t come to that. My guess is Bourque and Allen would be the first two called upon but that is based on nothing but pure speculation on my part.

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As for the guys playing tomorrow, to the surprise of no one, no changes are expected in the Rangers lineup. Carcillo did exactly what was expected of him and honestly, the four who didn’t play don’t really have a chance to get in unless someone gets injured. And goaltending won’t be a question until September.

Speaking of goaltending the Flyers will be making a change there as Berube announced, again to the surprise of no one, that Steve Mason would be starting for game four. I said from the start of the series I wasn’t sure which goaltender would be better for the Rangers to face. We saw what Emery’s weakness was. Now the hope is the Rangers can figure out Mason’s quickly as he has played well against them in his career. The Rangers knew this change was coming so should be prepared for it. That said, why do I have this feeling we’ll be talking about this again after the game tomorrow?

Notes From Rangers Practice + Thoughts On Miller, Nash & More

I had every intention of posting a bunch of random news and notes today. Then the Rangers took to the ice to practice today and iced a line that included Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and…Dan Carcillo.

There is part of me that thinks this is just Vigneault messing with everyone and that there is no way that line will see the ice in Edmonton tomorrow. Then there is another part of me who knows Carcillo has actually played on top lines before and been effective when he’s not being stupid (which to his credit, he hasn’t been since he got here).

But the thought most running through my mind? How do you take a guy who has either been a healthy scratch or received regular fourth line minutes (i.e. under 10 minutes a night) for the past month and throw him on the top line? Am I missing something? The best part is the power play units stayed the same meaning Girardi and Diaz will be out there with Nash, Stepan and St. Louis. I agree that forward line isn’t working so why keep it as a power play unit?

I think Vigneault just wants to make sure I am always shaking my head at him for something.

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Now to the questions I intended to ask after last nights’ game against Calgary (some of which have now been answered).

Was J.T. Miller benched last night?

Answer is yes he was. Vigneault admitted it by saying he thought he could’ve made better plays both offensively and defensively. I thought he was one of the best players on the ice through two periods. Unfortunately for Miller, he’s a kid who happened to be on the ice for the Flames third goal. To me, he wasn’t the one who made the biggest mistake leading to the goal but add those two plus fact coach felt need to shorten bench to get back in game and he inevitably wasn’t going to see the ice. And we thought those days were done when Tortorella moved to Vancouver.

But not only was he benched last night, he appears to be moved even lower down for tomorrow’s game. As mentioned above, it sounds like Carcillo is drawing back in. So who’s coming out? You see where this is going.

I have an idea. Why not place Miller on the line with Stepan and Nash? You know, place an offensive guy who goes into the corners with those two. I mean that’s the type of guy who was on their line when it was being successful so wouldn’t it make sense to place a similar one if you have him to use? Maybe that’s just me.

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How did everyone think Nash played last night?

He had his moments but I didn’t think it was a great game for #61. Now I will admit I was watching him more closely than normal. Why was that? Because of this:

(Editors Note: I tried to find video of the hit but couldn’t.)

That happened on his first shift of the night. He was extremely slow to get up and yes I feared the worst. He finished the game but that honestly means nothing to me as we’ve seen how the Rangers medical staff treats their players. (Word of Kreider being shutdown due to Sather rather than team doctors doesn’t help their reputation.)

I’m not saying Nash is injured but he has a history so I think it’s something to keep an eye on.

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Speaking of injuries, full credit to Brian Boyle last night. I have no idea how badly he was limping afterwards but it’s amazing he made it through the game with how many shots that hit him where padding is to a minimum. The best way I can explain it is you know how when you bite the side of your mouth while eating and then end up continuing to do it no matter how hard you try not to? Well Boyle kept getting hit in the same spot with the puck every time he managed to get back on the ice after blocking the initial shot. Felt so bad for him but there was someone willing to do whatever it took to win that game.

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Finally, a quick note about an ex-Ranger. No, I’m not going to discuss how Michael Del Zotto got his first goal as a Predator last night or how well Ryan Callahan is fitting in with the Lightning right now. This is an ex-Ranger from a few years ago.

Yesterday, Martin Straka quietly announced his retirement after his Czech team was eliminated from the playoffs.

I know he hasn’t been in the NHL for a couple of years but he still is a part of Rangers history. Yes the “Czech teams” after the lockout weren’t the best but they got the Rangers back to relevance. And in Straka’s case, I remember him being the guy always to stand in front of Zdeno Chara’s slapshots while Boston was on the power play. He sustained a couple of injuries by doing it but inspired others (namely an ex-captain mentioned above) from doing what was necessary to win games. You also have to love a guy who says this in making the announcement (quote loosely translated from this article):

“I’ll have a beer, a cigarette .. It was a beautiful twenty-five years, “said Straka in the bowels of the Brnohall Rondo few minutes after his Plzeň fell in the quarterfinals with a comet Extra League play-off.

Enjoy that beer and cigarette, Marty. You’ve earned it. Congrats on a great career and good luck with whatever you choose to do next.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Have Clean Slates + Other Notes From Beginning Of Camp

A couple of story lines developed on Wednesday as the team showed up for physicals and media day. Some were already known (would Stepan be there? Answer: no), some not so much (Marty Biron missing?). Either way it was great to see hockey back.

The biggest theme of the day seemed to be the picture above which is the slogan on the shirts the Rangers were wearing. Vigneault gave them out to make sure the players knew everyone was starting from scratch this year. Makes for competition and I like that. (He also apparently keeps a smaller version of the Stanley Cup on his desk as a reminder of what the main goal is. I like the guy already.)

A clean slate also helps plenty of players – not just obvious ones like Brad Richards and Taylor Pyatt who absolutely need a better year, but guys like Michael Del Zotto who probably needs a new voice in his ear. Or younger guys like Chris Kreider and even Stu Bickel who just want to show what they can do. I think there will be a few surprises with the roster when the season opens on October 3rd as there are spots open. Just a question of who grabs them.

Speaking of the roster, one guy who will definitely be on it was still nowhere to be found as Derek Stepan officially missed the first day. Will he miss today’s first day on the ice? Some think yes, others expect an early morning signing. I was in the latter group until Cody Hodgson signed a 6 year deal worth $4.25 million per year. Thanks a lot Buffalo! (It would be great if everyone reading this now was pointing out to themselves that I should’ve stuck with my first instinct.)

I honestly don’t know what to think with Stepan. I know he wants to be in camp. I know he wants to get paid and he deserves to get paid. (In a non-cap world, he would get the above contract easily.) I also know Sather doesn’t like to pay his homegrown talent for some reason. Somewhere we need compromise. I would like it sooner rather than later.

While the Stepan issue was expected news, another player brought some unexpected news as Marty Biron was not at camp for “personal reasons”. I won’t begin to speculate what those reasons are but I do hope everything is okay with Marty and his family. (And for those who were speculating yesterday, please stop.) There is no timetable for his return meaning he could be there today or he could be out till October. It may be the latter as the Rangers brought in Johan Hedberg on a PTO to cover for him.

Unless the Rangers know Biron is going to be out long term (i.e. into the season), I don’t understand the move. Yes it’s nice to give a guy a place to skate and then put in a good word for him around the league but there isn’t a single person in the hockey world who think the Rangers have any intention of signing Hedberg. It’s just not going to happen. Honestly, even if Biron is out half the season, I’m not sure it would happen. I guess we’ll just have to see how this goes. In the meantime, sending good thoughts Marty’s way that everything is okay.

And with that, the players are now hitting the ice for the first time this season. While I’m sure skating will be included, I doubt it will be the rigorous testing the boys are used to. Hopefully they prepared for it anyway as I don’t want to hear any stories about guys coming to camp unprepared.

Less than 120 hours until the first preseason game meaning hockey is officially back! Isn’t it great to be saying that in September rather than January?

 

Photo above: New York Rangers instagram