Posted on: February 22, 2012 5:49 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 6:31 pm
By: Adam Gretz
PITTSBURGH -- The Rangers were the definition of mediocrity during John Tortorella's first two full-seasons behind the bench in New York.
New York finished right around the league average in points despite having one of the highest payrolls in the NHL. They missed the playoffs on the last day of the 2009-10 season thanks to a shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and then snuck in as the No. 8 seed last year before losing in the opening round to the Washington Capitals in five games.
This season, however, the Rangers have emerged as the top team in the Eastern Conference, and even after their 2-0 loss in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night still hold a commanding nine-point lead (as of Wednesday afternoon) over the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. That is no small margin, and at this point in the season it's not one that many teams let slip away (or in the case of Boston, are able to overcome). Barring a late collapse the Rangers, even if they won't admit it, are a pretty safe bet to enter the playoffs as the top team in the East.
Even though it's a pretty solid position, it's not one that the Rangers are particularly comfortable with at this point knowing what remains in front of them.
"There's a lot of hockey left," said center Brad Richards on Tuesday night. "It's not just Boston, there's a lot of teams. The team we just played is right there, too. Philly, New Jersey, there's a lot of good teams behind us and there's a lot of work to do. I mean, we're not disappointed with where we are, but we can't look at it and think we're safe or anything like that."
Tortorella will deny that he thinks about its current standing in the East, but he has to know what a turnaround the Rangers have experienced this season, even if he denies it.
"I don't even think about first place," added Tortorella when asked if his team has a target on its back due to its current spot in the standings. "I think about every game we're trying to win, I don't even look at the standings. We're just trying to get better as a team and trying to prepare each and every day trying to win hockey games."
It's pretty clear that the expectation in New York is significantly higher than simply being the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. And quite frankly, it should be.
This is, after all, one of the NHL's marquee franchises. It's also one that hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1994, and has won just two playoff series -- total -- since 1997. If there's going to be a Rangers team that makes a deep postseason push, this one looks like it might be the one as they've proven to be, through four-and-a-half months to be the top team in what is a very winnable conference with more mediocre teams than great ones.
With still 24 games to play in the regular season the Rangers are set to shatter their win totals from the previous two seasons and have a chance to crack the 50-win mark for the first time since that Stanley Cup winning season back in '94.
The biggest factors in the Rangers' sudden improvement aren't necessarily the addition of another big-name, big-money free agent (this past summer it was Richards, the Conn Smythe winner on John Tortorella's 2003-04 Stanley Cup winning team in Tampa Bay), but the play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, as well as the rapid development of young defensemen like Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto, and the always steady presence of veteran blueliner Dan Giradi.
The performance of Lundqvist is the biggest reason for their success this season. He's a legitimate MVP contender at this point, and is currently tied (with Brian Elliott) for the league lead in save percentage at .940, a mark that no goaltender has ever achieved over a full season (Tim Thomas' .938 mark for the Bruins last season was the best). He's been a game-saver quite a bit this season and has put together an impressive argument to be the first goalie to win the Hart Trophy since Jose Theodore took it home during the 2001-02 season.
But for as good as Lundqvist has been, it can be easy to overlook how valuable the pairing of McDonagh and Giradi have been.
During the absence of Marc Staal during the first half of the season, and even after his return, the 22-year-old McDonagh, acquired in the now laughably lopsided trade that sent Scott Gomez to Montreal, and 27-year-old Girardi has been given the task of playing some of the heaviest minutes in the NHL this season, being used to match up against the other teams best players on a nightly basis (and starting the majority of their shifts in front of their own goal) and still shutting them down. Using the Qualify of Competition metrics at BehindTheNet, McDonagh and Girardi rank third and fourth respectively in the NHL this season in terms of facing the toughest competition at even strength this season and have been among the toughest defensemen in the league to score against.
They're a stout team defensively, and while they have a formidable group of forwards anchored by Richards, Marian Gaborik and captain Ryan Callahan, they may just be missing that one final piece up front to add that final touch of goal-scoring to push them over the top.
The Rangers have been rumored to be connected to the Rick Nash sweepstakes and if they're able to add him before the 3 p.m. Monday trade deadline, watch out.
Tortorella has finally given the Rangers faithful something to brag about.
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 22, 2012 9:38 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 9:47 am
The Morning Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.
There are only three games on the schedule for Wednesday night and who'd a thunk that the Bruins visiting the Blues would be the least interesting of the three in terms of the playoff picture? These two are both fighting hard for positioning in their respective conferences and in the case of the Bruins, actually for the division lead as hard as that might be to believe. But more on that a little further down.
7 ET, Washington at Ottawa: The Capitals have become everybody's favorite trainwreck to watch. For some reason I have never quite understood, fans around the league just love to watch the Caps fail and this season is shaping up to be a whole heaping of fail. It's to the point where they are ready to point fingers and find the biggest offenders of them all.
But here's the miraculous thing: The Capitals have gone 0-5-1 in their last six games against teams not named the Florida Panthers. Yet they go into Ottawa to finish up a four-game roadtrip only two points behind the Panthers -- and Winnipeg Jets -- for first place in the Southeast. They are the same distance from the eighth spot in the East. So yes, by deduction, the Southeast leader is good enough to be seventh best in the conference, not third.
Point is, getting two points tonight is massively important for the Caps. Not only does it forge ties for a playoff berth but sends them back home with a 2-2-0 roadtrip which isn't so bad when you consider it included an embarrassing loss in Carolina.
From the Senators perspective, the rest of the East has mostly caught up in terms of games play and they're still comfortably inside the playoff picture, five points clear of eighth. But now they can actually turn their sights on the Northeast Division lead. They enter Wednesday night only two points behind Boston, although the Bruins are one team who hasn't caught up in games played yet as they have four games in hand.
9 ET, Los Angeles at Colorado Talk about two teams fighting for their playoff lives. Each of them can see their postseason hopes fading away, so the good news is that at least one of them is going to get points tonight and stay in the race for that final spot out West.
Despite a complete inability to score goals (Tuesday night not withstanding) the Kings are clinging to that last spot right now, one point ahead of Calgary, two ahead of Dallas. At four back is the Avalanche who made it clear on Tuesday that they're still trying to make a push for the playoffs by acquiring Steve Downie from the Lightning.
Especially considering the game is in Pepsi Center, it's a crucial game for the Avs. They really can't afford to fall six points back of the eighth spot. With so many teams in the mix for it, that's a lot of ground to make up being made more difficult by the number of teams to pass. When you're playing a team struggling as much as L.A., you can't miss the opportunity.
And yes, L.A. is struggling. It is 2-5-2 in its last nine games. But at least they showed some life in Phoenix, even if they did blow a three-goal first-period lead. Much like the Caps in the West, it's pretty hard to believe the Kings are only three points out of the division lead shared by the Sharks and Coyotes.
Your promised miscellany
• Lastly, relive the greatest moment in American hockey history, the Miracle on Ice. That happened 32 years ago today in the medal round against the U.S.S.R.
Posted on: February 19, 2012 1:41 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2012 3:45 pm
This Pavel Datsyuk fellow is a pretty good player.
In the NHL Players Association's annual poll, Datsyuk was voted as the best in six of the superlative categories. In addition to being named the most difficult player to play against and the league's smartest player (with a strong 45 percent saying as much) he was also voted the hardest to take the puck from, toughest forward to play against, the cleanest to play against and he was voted the toughest to stop by goaltenders.
What, no interesting man in hockey?
The Bruins and Rangers were also popular among the players for some of the superlatives. No surprise here, but Zdeno Chara was named the hardest shot, Milan Lucic called the toughest player in the league (ahead of teammates Chara and Shawn Thornton), Patrice Bergeron the most underrated player and Chara the toughest defenseman to play against.
For the Rangers, Marian Gaborik was called the best skater as well as the fastest, Henrik Lundqvist was named the most difficult goalie to score on and John Tortorella was voted as the coach who demands the most from his players.
There are a lot more categories that were voted on and you can check them all out here, including the top five vote getters in each category.
But another worth sharing here is definitely the biggest surprise in my eyes. A total of 53 percent of the players do not think the instigator rule should be removed from the game. Considering how vocal a lot of players have been in their dislike for the rule, it was certainly an eye-opener for me.
What wasn't shocking, however, was to see Datsyuk dominate the voting. Fans love the guy because he's a joy to watch, media members love the guy because he's a good quote and apparently players love the guy because he does everything well. If there were a player that this stupid cliché ever fit perfectly, it's Datsyuk: He plays the game the right way.
Posted on: February 17, 2012 5:25 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2012 5:28 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli announced on Friday that forward Rich Peverley is expected to miss the next four-to-six weeks with what is being called a third-degree MCL sprain in his right knee. The injury occurred on Wednesday night during an extremely physical game with the Montreal Canadiens when he was hit on a knee-to-knee collission with Hal Gill.
(Gill, of course, was traded to Nashville on Friday afternoon).
The incident took place early in the third period of Boston's 4-3 shootout win.
There was no penalty called on the play and no punishment from the league. This happened in the same game that also included the Brad Marchand clipping incident on Montreal's Alexei Emelin (that did not result in a suspension) and Montreal fans cheering after Zdeno Chara was hit in the face with a puck. Yeah, it's a tough rivalry.
Peverley's absence will be a big loss for the Bruins as he's been a quality player since joining the team last season in the trade that sent Blake Wheeler to Atlanta. In 49 games this season he's scored nine goals to go with 29 assists and has been a 40-point player in each of the past three seasons.
Also at Eye On Hockey
Marchand not suspended for clip
Montreal fans cheer Chara hit by puck
Gill traded to Nashville
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 17, 2012 3:28 pm
The excitement further ramped up when word came down that the Kings might be one of five teams on Nash's approved list for trades considering his no-trade clause. Don't believe me? Just check out this video from the Royal Half, a Kings blog (and great follow on Twitter).
Now I've seen some song parodies before, but this one is outstanding. The lyrics and vocals are enough to make Hall & Oates probably not cry. By the way, for comparison's sake, here's the original song Kiss on My List.
See, it's for reasons like this that I love trade season in the modern age. A part of me hopes the Kings can get Nash as a reward for this effort.
Posted on: February 17, 2012 1:58 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2012 5:01 pm
In case you didn't know -- and chances are you didn't -- this weekend is Hockey Weekend in America. Mostly it's a name attached to a normal weekend of games, but dammit it's Patriotic and I'll be a son of a gun if Old Glory doesn't get me pumped up for anything.
The weekend showcase will be the triple-header early Sunday in what has become the spotlight game of the week now that football is in hibernation until the end of summer. Your choices -- OK, NBC's choices to show you based on where you live -- are Sharks at Red Wings (yes please!), Blues at Blackhawks (I'll take that) and Penguins at Sabres (hey, it looked good at the start of the season). It wraps with a game at 3 ET on NBC Sports Network as the Bruins visit the Wild.
With no slight to that Blues-Blackhawks game back in Chicago (home sweet home, eh 'Hawks?) the Sharks-Wings battle is the one to really watch. For if the Red Wings are still riding their record win streak into Sunday -- a mighty big "if" with the Predators visiting the Joe on Friday night -- then this will be the biggest threat to date.
There aren't many teams that can say this, but the Sharks have had Detroit's number recently. They are one of the few teams who have won in Detroit this season, doing so way back before Halloween. Go back to the beginning of last season and the Sharks are 9-4 vs. the Wings, including the playoffs. That includes five consecutive wins in regular-season matchups.
Must be coach Todd McLellan still knowing a secret or two to beating his old squad.
So while the bout in Motown might be the best from an action standpoint and as far as NHL history is concerned, I argue the more meaningful game is the one in the Windy City.
It was such a massive relief for the Blackhawks to finally end their losing streak that had peaked at nine games. Against the Rangers, no less. That's not like ending the skid against the Blue Jackets -- their final stop on this massive road trip Saturday -- it's the type of win that can really signify that things are alright. Taking down the best team in the league in their barn? Talk about a slumpbuster.
A return to home ice will be nice. Think about how you feel when you walk back in your front door after a vacation. Now think of how great that feeling is when you've had about the worst vacation you can imagine.
Then again, it's not so great when you have a house guest like St. Louis sitting on your porch awaiting for you to let them in. The good news is they aren't the type of guest who trashes your place, they're respectful that way. They are just 10-12-3 away from Scottrade Center.
Extended metaphor aside, there's no better time than now for the Blackhawks to regain their footing. That would put an end to the ridiculously stupid Patrick Kane trade suggestions and allow them to safely put space between them and the playoff chasers in the West.
One thing to consider: Face-off will be at 11:30 local time to accommodate NBC's time slot. That's an awfully early wakeup call after so long away from home.
Southeast showdown Part V
The Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals will square off for the fifth time this season Friday night in Florida. Strangely enough, it's going to be the first time that Tomas Vokoun has started a game back in Sunrise, his former stomping grounds, and the first start against the Capitals period for Jose Theodore this season. It's a bit odd that the No. 1 goalies have only received two of the eight starts in this series so far this season.
It makes sense both starters get the nod on Friday. It's another massive night for these teams. If the Panthers can do what they have done twice already this season and beat the Caps at home, they'll move six points up on Washington in the division. That's a nice cushion when we're getting down to 25 games or fewer left this season. Not insurmountable, but nice.
This is the third time these two have met this month. The last meeting was a 4-0 whitewashing by the Capitals in D.C. Coach Dale Hunter referred to that as a playoff game before it began and the Caps make it look as such. Since? They're 1-3-1. By my count, that'd have them eliminated (from the mythical Feb. playoffs, folks).
The good news is that Mike Green might return for the Caps against the Panthers. He's stopped and started so many times this season you'd think he was driving on the Washington Beltway during morning rush hour.
There will be a lot of interesting things to watch for in the game, but one for me will be the intensity of the Caps. In their last visit to Florida, Karl Alzner explained away their poor start by the lack of energy in the building. A pretty soft excuse in a pivotal division matchup.
They can't afford to start slow again. The Panthers have been doing that a lot lately themselves and coach Kevin Dineen is determined to make that stop in such an important game.
Desert streaking dogs
Holy Coyotes that team is hot right now.
Perhaps it's been a push to help garner interest to keep them in Phoenix, I don't know, but the Coyotes have caught fire. Just when you were ready to bury them in the desert sand, they spring off a run like this. "This" would be six wins in the last seven games to get into the playoff seedings at the moment.
To further their standing in the, um, standings, they get their own pivotal matchup. The Dallas Stars, one of the plethora of teams on their heels outside of the playoff picture at the moment, come to the desert on Saturday night.
It's a classic "four-point game" for the teams battling in the West and Pacific Division. Here's hoping there's a better than normal crowd to watch it, should be close to a playoff atmosphere.
Keystone clash rekindled
The Flyers and Penguins will renew acquaintances again this weekend. It's the start of a stretch with a lot of meetings for the intrastate rivals.
It will be the first of four meetings for the teams from now until April 7, the final day of the season. No wonder the chirping between the fan bases has been mostly quiet this season, they have hardly met.
The importance here should be pretty clear. As of now they are jockeying back and forth -- and with New Jersey -- for that all-important fourth spot in the East, the only home-ice award that goes to a non-division winner. It's very possible that these four tilts, starting with the Saturday matinee, will decide that race.
Plus it's about that time of the season where the Flyers could really stand for Ilya Bryzgalov to heat up and carry some momentum into the postseason. He's back in action now after an illness and this is the type of game where it would be so big if he came up humangous big for the Flyers but unfortunately the kind we've come to expect a few bad goals this season.
Sibling rivalry renewed
Brothers Brent and Darryl Sutter this time get the undercard billing with another battle of teams at the bottom of the playoff picture out West.
After their own long road trip, you'd think coming home might be enough to jolt that putrid 2.07 goals per game number for the Kings. Well they were shut out by the Coyotes on Thursday night at Staples Center, so you can probably shoot that theory down. Fact is they haven't been able to score much anywhere, no matter if it's at home or not.
The way it stands going into the weekend, L.A. is clinging to the eighth spot out West and Calgary is right behind them. Pretty astonishing I think, but the Flames are still right there.
So you see, this one is about a lot more than a sibling rivalry.
We're going streaking!
Here are the streaks -- both good and bad -- headed into the weekend.
Red Wings: Considering they've been playing a lot at home recently and they have an NHL record win streak going, it's no surprise they've won four straight. Two toughies this weekend with Nashville and San Jose visiting.
Sabres: It keeps getting worse and worse. After seven unanswered goals against on Thursday, they now have a three-game skid. They have the Canadiens on Friday and Penguins on Sunday.
Capitals: Needing to go on a tear late like they have in recent seasons, the Caps are instead sputtering. They do the Florida double-header this weekend entering with a three-game slide.
Wild: Six-game skid ... and likely counting. A back-to-back at the Blues and vs. the Bruins doesn't figure to be the remedy. This weekend could all but officially bury their once promising playoff hopes.
Tags: Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Brent Sutter, Brian Stubits, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, Dale Hunter, Dallas Stars, Darryl Sutter, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jose Theodore, Karl Alzner, Kevin Dineen, Los Angeles Kings, Mike Green, Minnesota Wild, Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Todd McLellan, Tomas Vokoun, Washington Capitals, Weekend Preview
Posted on: February 17, 2012 10:37 am
Edited on: February 17, 2012 1:54 pm
The above is a photo of Bruins forward Milan Lucic's family church back in Vancouver, his hometown. It was taken by Lucic's girlfriend Brittany Carnegie after some vandals thought it was a good idea to deface it in the name of the Canuks. Sorry, I mean Canucks, got confused after looking at the handiwork of some obviously hardcore fans.
We took some photo editing liberties to tone it down, so in case you were wondering, just by any off chance, what the entire image looked like/said, here's a description from the Vancouver Sun.
Lucic hasn't been exactly treated kindly by his hometown since the Bruins beat the Canucks in an intense seven-game series. Posters of him have been defaced in the city and a brawl broke out when he showed up at a Greek festival. So yea, he's kind of a big deal there.
I'd admonish the hockey fans of Vancouver here for giving themselves another black eye, but I can't. I just can't call these guys Canucks fans. Isn't it a requisite to spell the team's name right to be called a fan? This had to be the work of the same type of fan who decided it was a good idea to wreck their city after losing the final game.
Speaking of which, the first sentence has been handed down to a rioter and it was for 17 months. Granted, said rioter had a history that greatly contributed to that sentence so it was abnormal, but point is we should start seeing some more soon.
In the meantime, let's leave this rivalry on the ice. That's more than entertaining and heated enough already.
Posted on: February 16, 2012 4:31 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2012 4:41 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The NHL has decided Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand will not be suspended for a clipping incident that took place during Wednesday's game in Montreal.
This decision is probably a surprise to some given that Marchand was suspended five games for clipping Vancouver's Sami Salo earlier this season (to be exact, it was just last month). Same player, same type of play. Seems reasonable to expect some sort of supplemental discipline. But that's not going to be the case.
The NHL's Vice President of Player Safety, Brendan Shanahan, briefly addressed the play on Twitter Thursday afternoon and said, "Like all penalties on the ice, not all 'clips' rise to the level of supplemental discipline. This check by Marchand was delivered to the upper thigh/hip and not the knee area. We don't like it, but not SD."
"Not SD," of course, refers to no supplemental discipline.
Here is the play one more time in case you missed it the first time around:
It's fair to point out that this clip and the earlier play that did result in a suspension may not be exactly the same. But if there is going to be a criticism of the decision (and there is always a criticism of the league's decisions when it comes to disciplinary matters) it's that Shanahan admitted that the league didn't like it -- it, of course, being the hit. Coming from a player that was suspended for a similar play just one month ago.
If nothing else, that's going to bring up even more questions about consistency and NHL discipline. Seems like we've been down that road before.
Previously at Eye On Hockey
Marchand called for clipping
Marchand suspended 5 games for clipping
Marchand excused from Cup DVD filming for drunkenness
More NHL Discipline news
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.