AUTHOR: The Maven
TITLE: Rangers-Devils ... Which way?
DATE: 12/15/2006 02:15:00 PM
This is the story of two teams going in different directions – for the moment at least – headed for a major collision at the Garden on Sunday night. In case you missed it, I’m talking about the Rangers and Devils.
What’s noteworthy about them is that each played a mediocre game – with the exception of Henrik Lundqvist – on Thursday night but one team won and the other lost. The Blueshirts rode Lundqvist’s best game of the season to a 5-2 win in Dallas. New Jersey decided to gamble on Scott Clemmensen who gave up a pair of goals before some people were even seated. Yet I don’t fault him for the loss – but we’ll get to that later.
With games in Toronto on Saturday and at home against the Devs on Sunday, the Rangers are in position to move away from the pack; and it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.
Even Matt Cullen is scoring now and Jarkko Immonen belongs in the lineup on a regular basis.
By the way, how come nobody is pointing out that the winning streak directly coincided with the return of Darius Kasparitis?
On the other side of the Hudson, the Devils are in real danger of descending into a four game losing streak reminiscent of the one that began in Phoenix on November 22.
Granted Clemmensen was rusty in the first period in Beantown but he did recover and his buddies got two goals back before the first period had ended.
But Claude Julien’s skaters descended into an inexplicable funk not unlike the one suffered against the Coyotes.
In the end, they were double victims: A. The club lost two precious points to the team it defeated 5-1 the week before. B. Clemmensen unfairly took the wrap for an undisciplined team who’s penalty killing failed them.
Redemption is possible Saturday afternoon with the Detroit Red Wings coming to town. No less important will be the Devils visit to The Apple on Sunday.
After two straight losses to the Blueshirts it’s time for the Meadowlanders to show they can beat the Rangers as they did last Spring.
For that to happen Marty Brodeur will have to out-goal Lundqvist and the Devs have to figure out how to score some goals.
By Monday we’ll know in which direction each of the teams is headed.
AUTHOR: The Maven
TITLE: Devils' demise?
DATE: 12/13/2006 12:24:00 PM
How much credence should we give to New Jersey's disappointing 3-2 defeat at the hands of the sensational Sabres?
Is it setting the stage for another skid like the one out West?
Or is it a mere aberration that will be corrected Thursday night in Boston.
We'll know better by midnight tomorrow evening.
The most disappointing aspect of the Buffalo encounter had less to do with the blemish on the home record and more to do with the Devils' failure to welcome opportunity when it knocked.
Exhibit A was the first period onslaught which had the Sabres reeling in retreat only to be saved time and again by goalie Ryan Miller. Granted there was a hit cross bar and goal post that would have made a difference had the puck been an inch or two closer to the net but it wasn't and the exited 0-0 at the end of one.
Still, there were promising signs through the first half of the middle period until one failed assignment produced an odd man rush for the Sabres and the opening goal against.
It's obvious now that it's more important for New Jersey to score the first goal than it is for most teams. The uphill climb was magnified with two more third period breakdowns rendering the late comeback too little and too late.
Make no mistake, Boston will be no push over the second time around which means this is a terribly important game with the Red Wings and the Rangers coming up over the weekend Saturday afternoon in New Jersey and Sunday night at the Garden.
When will Martin Brodeur be rested? Or will he?
Or should he?
But that's getting ahead of the game it's Boston that has to be dealt with and, quite frankly, I'm concerned about the Devils ability to go back the Beantown and make it two in a row.
Let's face it; all the concern about the Rangers slipping into an Atlantic Division abyss was – as I pointed out – a bazillion times simply nonsense.
It's now clear that Kevin Weekes can play goal as well as Henny Lundqvist. Plus, the latter ranks among the top five NHL goaltenders.
What's more the return of Darius Kasparaitis can be summed up in three letters – W-I-N.
Jaromir Jagr is just short of 100% healthy and Marty Straka keeps adding new nuances to his game.
Even Matt Cullen has started scoring.
I would hardly be surprised if the Blueshirts got themselves a mortgage on first place in the Atlantic.
AUTHOR: The Maven
TITLE: Is Bragging Allowed?
DATE: 12/11/2006 01:05:00 PM
Pardon me for a bit of bragging so here goes:
Remember when I said long ago that Darius Kasparaitis belongs in the Rangers’ lineup? Well, Kasparaitis is back and guess what? The Rangers are winning and sit tied for first in the Atlantic Division.
For weeks in New Jersey I urged coach Claude Julien to employ his fourth line of Mike Rupp, Erik Rasmussen and Jim Dowd on a more regular basis.
And guess what? His Devils now have a five-game, season-best winning streak thanks in part to the hard-working fourth line.
And I especially promoted Rupp with the coach. My feeling always has been the big Clevelander could be everything that Viktor Kozlov was – and more – because of his positive attitude and his Devil-like style of play. And it’s quite clear now that the more we see of Rupp the more we appreciate his usefulness. And I believe the coach feels the same way.
And speaking of Kozlov, I told Garth Snow that the gifted Russian could be an asset to the Islanders under the right circumstances. Guess what? Kozlov has helped Teddy Nolan’s club remain competitive during the absence of Alexei Yashin.
One more thing, I’ve been a supporter of Kevin Weekes through thick and thin and, as everyone knows the Garden once was thick with anti-Weekes booing.
Kevin’s performance Sunday night merely confirms my confidence in him.
Which brings us to an interesting bottom line: All three Met Area teams are in the thick of a compelling playoff race which should take us five more pulsating months until the season ends in April.
DATE:12/12/2006 02:19:00 PM
1) Kasper is but a shadow of his former self. We wouldn't pin much to the recent Ranger play to his return.
2) As a whooe the ranger defense core is pretty shaky. If they don't recieve a stellar game from their goalie, they usually lose
AUTHOR: The Maven
TITLE: Rangers' Uprising
DATE: 12/08/2006 04:26:00 PM
Are the Rangers taking a page from the Devils’ third period heroic script?
I certainly got that impression watching the Blueshirts emerge from their two period cocoon, overcoming a two goal deficit to beat Pitt in the Shootout 3-2.Whether they’re aping the Devils or not, a few certainties emerged as the Rangers invade Ottawa for a Saturday afternoon game.
Any doubts about Henny’s ability to rebound from the Islander’s debacle were erased by his keep-the-team-in-the-game-performance until Brendan Shanahan tied the count late in the third. And when it came to the Shootout, well, his impeccable 22 for 22 record against shots in a Shootout speaks for itself.
THE KASPARAITIS QUESTION
Darius did not hurt the team last night and coach Tom Renney agrees with me that, in fairness, he needs at least five straight games to find his groove. His hitting helped.
THE RETURN OF IMMONEN
Jarkko delivered some freshness and speed. I’d like to see him in the lineup for four more consecutive games. Guaranteed, he’d help. But don’t take my word for it; my buddy P.J. Lally was with me at the Garden Thursday night, so here’s his view:
Don’t let the Ranger’s shootout win over the Penguins fool you. There is still work to be done. The important thing is, though, that the Blueshirts got a much needed two points last night riding on the back of Brendan Shanahan’s power-play equalizer and shootout winner.
The flip side of that is they gave up a point to their division rival Penguins.
After the 7-4 debacle on Sunday against the Islanders, it was obvious that Tom Renney had to shake things up in terms of his lineup, and he did.Jarkko Immonen had a solid showing in his premier game playing on a line with Matt Cullen and Brendan Shanahan.
Between Petr Prucha, Adam Hall and Immonen – the three players who have played with Cullen and Shanny – Immonen is the best match.His speed was an obvious asset with the second scoring unit and once he gets a few games under his belt, I think he will be a significant contributor. He certainly showed great hustle last night backchecking better than even Shanahan at times.Another shakeup last night was the return of Darius Kasparaitis.
It was about time that Renney gave him another chance and Kaspar had a solid showing in his first game back since his November conditioning assignment in Hartford.Kasparaitis seemed upbeat during post-game interviews and indicated that he hoped this wasn’t just a one game stint on the roster. After watching his solid defensive play, I hope so too.Down the stretch, what seems to be the prevailing concern for the Blueshirts is their depth.
Though Betts’ shorthanded goal last night was the backbone of their late-third period rally, it’s more a flash in a pan than anything else.
What the Rangers need down the stretch to be serious playoff contenders is players like Matt Cullen and Petr Prucha to step up and create a scoring threat at spans into the third line.
As the Isles’ losing streak continues, it’s becoming more apparent that the most valuable player on the team isn’t playing. And that’s Alexei Yashin.The prayer has to be that Ted Nolan can keep his club’s heads above water.
AUTHOR: The Maven
TITLE: Rangers Crisis
DATE: 12/07/2006 02:53:00 PM
I said it before and I'll say it again; the Devils can't go on this way.
Not spotting an opponent a lead and then expecting to come from behind in the final half of the third period and winning in overtime.
Oh, it was breath-taking to watch Claude Julien's sextet pulling a win out of a hat in Philly and then extracting victory from defeat against Les Canadiens on Wednesday at the Meadowlands.
That's three straight wins with the Turnpike open for a fourth consecutive triumph on Friday night at Continental Airlines Arena when the Flyers come to town again.
But not if the Devs continue to play lacklustre hockey in the opening frame and battle from behind from that point on; uh-uh, it ain't going to work forever.
On the bright side, there's every reason to expect a change for the better and that starts with the captain.
Even though Patrik Elias still is not playing the kind of hockey I'd like to see, he certainly is on the road to recovery and nothing said it better than his game-winning blast against the Habs in the waning minutes of overtime.
Other positive notes: 1. Zach Parise has developed a bite to his game along with a knack for delivering big ones; as in the tying backhander late in the third period; 2. Martin Brodeur may give up a softee now and then -- and in the early Montreal goal -- but he's delivering the huge saves and looks as determined as ever; 3. Brad Lukowich -- while far from perfect -- appears more at home on the D's defense than ever; 4. The young defenders --Johnny Oduya, David Hale -- are slowly but surely improving and playing as steadily as the vetes; 5. Brian Rafalski continues to deliver key passes at ideal moments; as evidence by his skim to Elias for the winner against the Canadiens.
Perhaps the brightest note, from my viewpoint, is the fact that Julien appears to be taking my advice -- or at least has decided on his own -- by using more of his fourth line.
Mike Rupp in particular has shown a flair for carrying the puck out of his own with confidence and occasionally delivers a potent shot. With more playing time, Rupp should be connecting with a goal here and there.
I'd be remiss if I overlooked Scott Gomez, whose end to end rushes are reminiscent of some of the best carries I've ever seen.
Not only that but Scotty is a delight to chat with in the dressing room and without question, one of the most genuine wits in sports; even though Richard Matvichuk might disagree.
The Flyers proved more than a worthy foe last Saturday -- without Peter Forsberg -- and certainly should not be taken lightly tomorrow night.
All lessons should have been learned by now. Let's see whether they're applied.
RANGERS AT CROSSROADS:
There have been few games when it could be said that MANY Rangers are on the spot when they play Pittsburgh tonight at the Garden.
* HENRIK LUNDQVIST: Henny must rebound from the Islanders' disaster by both restoring his confidence as well as that of his coach and teammates.
* DARIUS KASPARAITIS: Mysteriously benched, the Rangers heaviest hitter returns to the lineup in a position to prove to his general staff that he belongs as a regular. One game against Sid Crosby Inc. may not be a fair test. Then again, who says hockey is fair?
* PETR PRUCHA: Patience is running thin. Is the gifted Czech in a sophomore slump? Is he absorbing too much physical punishment? Is he about to break out with goals as he did last year? Tonight would be a good night for him to return to last year's form.
* MATT CULLEN: I love the way he plays the game except for the fact that the ex-Hurricane seems unable to produce in the manner expected when he arrived on Seventh Avenue. Cullen needs to make a positive statement.
Now you know why tonight's match is important to a lot of Rangers.
ISLAND OF RESPITE?
Based on medical reports alone, the Islanders deserve a good rest.
Ah, but there's a problem.
The Canadiens invade Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum tonight after losing to New Jersey and that means no respite is possible for a club hurting without Alexei Yashin and Trent Hunter.
Viktor Kozlov played decently enough in the Isles loss to Ottawa on Tuesday but if someone is going to compensate for Yashin's absence it must be Kozzy.
Trouble is, as a Devil, Koz came to play in about one out of four games. Coach Ted Nolan cannot allow that to happen on the Island; Vik is simply too important to the team.
An opening Islanders goal would be helpful because when the Habs get a lead, they play as tight a trap as any team in the league.
Also worth noting is the return of Habs defenseman Mike Komisarek to his native Long Island.
A product of ex-Islanders defenseman Gerry Hart's Rinx Complex in Hauppage, Mike has emerged as a tough, solid backliner.
Montreal's other Long Islander, Chris Higgins, remains sidelined at least a few more weeks with an injury. His absence is as devastating to the Habs as the loss of Yashin to the Isles.
If the Isles lose, beware of a skid that could last until Yashin returns. This one is bigger than a lot of people may think.
AUTHOR: The Maven
TITLE: Rangers Questions
DATE: 12/04/2006 04:56:00 PM
You pick it – what’s the Rangers’ big concern as they prepare for Thursday night’s game at the Garden against the Penguins after the 7-4 loss to the Islanders on Sunday.
A. Is it Henrik Lundqvist who pulled himself after a horrific four goal first period?
B. Or is it the uncooperative defense which deserted the goalie?
C. Or might it be the total team breakdown all the way to the fourth liners?
Answer: all of the above.
A. For sure it starts with the goaltenders – including Kevin Weekes, who was average at best after replacing Lundqvist. The primary concern is Henny’s confidence, which, for the moment at least, appears fragile.
B. The veteran defense must tighten up and play to its abilities.
C. It’s time for the third and fourth liners to provide more tangible support for the top units.But let’s get real, it was only one game and the Rangers are in the thick of the mix. My advice is simple; relax and another win streak is just around the corner. But if you want another take, here’s what my sidekick P.J. Lally has to say:
It must be frustrating to score a hat-trick and still lose by three goals. Though when asked about how much of a “bummer” it was to lose after such a performance, Brendan Shanahan shrugged it off and said that it was the loss that really affected him. But you could clearly hear the frustration in his tone.
The Rangers find themselves without a win in four straight games– a skid that currently places them behind both the Devils and the Islanders in the Atlantic Division. But don’t sound the alarm yet. The Blueshirts have shown that they’re capable of competing with the likes of both Anaheim and Buffalo, the two top teams in the league.
What the team lacks is consistency. It’s hard to tell which Ranger team will show up. Will it be the Rangers who outscored Carolina and Tampa Bay by a combined 8-1 in a two game stretch two weeks ago? Or will it be the Ranger team which looked sluggish and slow on Sunday?
After being out-hit and out-hustled giving up four goals in the first period last night, the Rangers came out for the second with confidence. They scored three quick goals and actually brought the game within their grasp at 4-3, though it turned out to be too little too late. When any defense allows Viktor Kozlov to net four goals in 60 minutes, there’s not much hope of any kind of comeback.
What can be done? I like Tom Renney moving Adam Hall up to the second line with Matt Cullen and Shanahan. Petr Prucha hardly deserved the spot. Cullen’s speed is a huge asset that gives him a lot of scoring chances, but he just can’t seem to finish. If Cully could finish a play, he could provide depth to the lineup – and take pressure off Jagr, Shanahan and Straka.
THE PERILS OF PAULINE & THE DEVILS
Watching the Devils is like catching a glimpse of the age-old silent movie, “The Perils of Pauline.” More often than not they appear to be strapped to the railroad tracks with a locomotive rounding the curve and no hope in sight. And then, miraculously, somehow they’re saved.
I have seen several chapters of the “Devils’ Perils,” but the most unreal of all took place on Saturday night in Philadelphia. Who could believe it? The Devils, who often make it seem as if scoring a single goal is a major achievement, were down 3-2 when Paul Martin was hit with a penalty and only three minutes and change left in the game.
Since the Devils never score a shorthanded goal, the game, for all intents and purposes, was over. I give my buddy Chico Resch credit because he said that New Jersey’s penalty killers just might go on the attack .Sure enough, Johnny Madden moved the puck over the Philly blue line, spotted Brad Lukowich coming down the middle and watched Jay Pandolfo head for the goal to screen Philly’s netminder.
Lukowich, who hardly ever scores, delivered a delicious high wrist shot over Antero Niittymaki’s shoulder while Pandolfo provided the screen. And, so, a 3-2 defeat suddenly became a 3-3 tie which led to a Devils dominated OT but no score.
Next came the shootout magic with Zach Parise and Brian Gionta executing fantastic fakes – and goals – while Marty Brodeur stopped Simon Gagne and Petr Nedved. The problems is that in “The Perils of Pauline,” the lass always survives. You have to wonder whether the same will hold for New Jersey’s sextet.
ISLES IN FIRST
Why are the Isles in first place?
1. Viktor Kozlov
2. Ted Nolan. End of story.
DATE:12/05/2006 09:40:00 AM
Why is it that Victor Kozlov couldn't a hit a goal the size of a broad side of a barn last year nor handle the puck well at all (it was like he was afraid of it) with the Devils, and then all of a sudden turn into a genuine scorer with the Islanders? It makes no sense to me.
DATE:12/06/2006 10:20:00 AM
Love your work!
I pray the Rangers put Kasper in Thursday night! This line-up needs some sandpaper badly! Ozolinsh & Rachunek are too soft!
I still can't see why Renney plays Orr, Hollweg fights more and can play! It also has not stopped teams from taking runs at Jagr!
AUTHOR: The Maven
TITLE: It's all about perspective
DATE: 11/29/2006 05:37:00 PM
HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY?
After the last two games – an OT loss to Buffalo, ditto for Atlanta – you can’t sell the Rangers on the idea that their glass is half-full.
“Two out of four ain't bad,” I told Tom Renney after Tuesday night’s Bobby Holik-ache.
The coach agrees with my math but not the optimism.
“I feel sorry most for the fans,” Tom said in what was a very sensitive and perceptive reply. In both games his Blueshirts rallied in utterly dramatic fashion and seemed on the brink of overtime triumph.
But it was merely a build up to a let down.
On Sunday it was Chris Drury’s OT goal followed by the devastator delivered by Holik.
That’s why the troops see the glass as half-empty.
We’ll know better on Friday night when the lads visit Buffalo for a Sabres rematch.
It’s time for a Kevin Weekes return; and, hopefully, a surprise edition of exiled Darius Kasparaitis to the lineup.
It’s still too early in the season to consider Friday night’s game with Pittsburgh at the Meadowlands a “crisis” encounter but it has taken on greater importance now that Claude Julien’s sextet has lost the playoff cushion that was in place at the start of the road trip after the victory in Toronto.
How Patrik Elias and company react on Friday night could have major significance when one considers how tight the playoff race already has become; and it won’t get any easier Saturday night in Philly.
Captain Elias MUST improve his game pronto. That includes the elimination of careless passes and not trying to do too much and a little less work will do.
I agree with Elias and his assessment of the California excursion, “as bad as the results are, the last three games we skated well, especially in Anaheim and San Jose against very good hockey teams. The Kings are playing better now, so it wasn’t easy and we stayed with them. We made a couple of mistakes here and there and they ended up in our net and offensively we didn’t come through.” Patrik makes all the sense in the world but what really matters is how and when they get in the win column.
The New Jersey backline has been offensively anemic. Through 23 games Devils defensemen have only accounted for one goal from Brian Rafalski. Paul Martin and Rafalski must find a way to bury a few.
No question this is Julien’s first major test in terms of rallying the troops.
I like his attitude but when all is said and done it will be the results that matter.
Pittsburgh is a team that must be beaten out for a playoff berth.
Let’s see what happens.
DATE:12/01/2006 10:45:00 AM
I agree that Paul Martin and Rafalski have to help out more offensively, but I think Johnny Oduya has great offensive potential as well. I have seen him several times skate through the neutral zone with a lot of speed just to stop at the blue line and dump the puck. Somebody needs to give him the green light in some of those situations to just keep going to the net.