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 10, 2012 10:15 am
Edited on: February 10, 2012 10:16 am
It's been quiet -- almost too quiet -- on the Brendan Shanahan discipline front lately. Of course that's a good thing, everybody would prefer if Shanahan didn't have to do a thing at all in his job.
But it's time to wake the man up, he has some footage to review.
The Tampa Bay Lightning were visiting the Rangers on Thursday night, a game the Rangers won in overtime. It was early in the third period that Bolts forward Dominic Moore was given a two-minute roughing penalty. Doesn't sound like your run-of-the-mill penalty to sound the Shanahan alarm, but it wasn't exactly a roughing penalty. More like a hit to the head.
A blindside hit away from the puck where the principal point of contact sure looks to me like it was Ruslan Fedotenko's head? That's a recipe for a hearing at the least.
Moore told the Tampa Bay Times that he was "competing for body position" while "trying to make myself available for a shot. I guess [Fedotenko] wasn't ready for that."
Player agent Allen Walsh weighed in as he often does and called it a "textbook blindside hit." Not sure I'd put that one in the textbook, but OK.
The Rangers, meanwhile, we're just a tad upset (from Rangers Rants).
“There’s no puck there,” Brandon Prust said. “It looked like he was looking for him. There’s no puck and he got head contact. We’ll let the league decide on the rest.”
Brian Boyle was a little more emphatic about his view on the legality of the hit.
“Yeah, we’re still pretty angry about that. It’s a very dirty, dirty play. We’ve talked about it enough. We’ve got to get away from that stuff.”
Every time I have talked to players about these hits and Shanahan's job so far, I always get close to the same response: We have to respect each other out there. That's at the crux of what Boyle is saying and was made even clearer from Brad Richards.
“I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re trying not to do to each other,” Richards said. “If we want to keep doing it to each other, we’re going to have a problem. It’s idiotic.”
There is no word yet on Fedotenko's status after the hit but he didn't return in the game. Right or wrong (and I say wrong) that could carry an impact in any punishment for Moore. To be fair, Shanahan recently explained that he doesn't use that in helping to determine the verdict, just the sentencing.
When looking at Moore, he doesn't have a reputation that precedes him; he's not a bad apple. This strikes you as being out of character. And possibly even accidental. But I'm not a believer in punishing the intent; you have to punish the action.
But while Shanny has that game fired up, he might want to take a look at Victor Hedman's supposed slew foot on Prust too, another play that had the Rangers a little fired up after the game.
“I just wanted to get the puck and, all of a sudden, my legs went out from underneath me,” Prust said. “I don’t know what he did but it was pretty dangerous. I didn’t see the replay. I was in a grumpy mood today anyway, I just needed an excuse.”
Back to work, Shanny.
H/t to Kukla's Korner for the video
Posted on: January 21, 2012 9:49 am
Edited on: January 21, 2012 2:49 pm
By: Adam Gretz
It's difficult to find the exact moment the Montreal Canadiens season went flying off the rails.
There are simply so many possibilities, and Friday's 5-4 shootout loss to the Penguins seems to be just another low in a season full of them. Even though they owned a two-goal lead with 16 minutes to play in regulation, the Canadiens still finished in the loss column for the 12th time in their past 16 games.
The game also brought some more unwanted attention to their young star defenseman, P.K. Subban, for what appeared to be a slew foot midway through the overtime period.
There was no penalty called on the play, but Subban was fined $2,500 on Saturday for what the NHL called a "dangerous trip." When compared to the play the Rangers claim was a slew foot on Brad Richards on Thursday, this one stands out as being way more deliberate and actually worthy of being called a slew foot.
Since he has taken over NHL player safety, Brendan Shanahan has not issued a suspension for a slew footing incident. He did, however, also fine Boston's Brad Marchand $2,500 for an incident involving Matt Niskanen earlier this season.
The last player to actually be suspended for a slew foot was Evgeny Artyukhin back in October, 2009, for his slew foot against, oddly enough, Niskanen during his days with the Dallas Stars. It was a three-game suspension.
The Canadiens enter Saturday's game in Toronto, one of the four teams between them and a playoff spot, nine points out of what would be the eighth and final spot, and they're in desperate need of a win, especially after letting a point slip away on Friday
"It's not even close to enough," said forward Max Pacioretty after Friday's game. "Especially against a team that's hanging around for a playoff push, both of us right now, when you look at that, if it goes the other way and we hang onto that lead ... it's frustrating that keeps happening. We have to find answers."
Previously at Eye On Hockey
Cooke won't face discipline for alleged slew foot
Brad Marchand fined for slew foot
More NHL Discipline news here
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 20, 2012 12:57 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2012 3:50 pm
Thanks to the scheduling quirks of the NHL, it has taken us until the end of January to get a dose of some real New York-Boston feuding in hockey. No offense to the Devils and the Islanders, but the city-to-city rivalry is reserved for pretty much only the Rangers against the Bruins.
This season, though, the wait has seemed even longer than it really has been. That's because of the little fact that for the first team in a long, long time, the Bruins and Rangers are the best two teams in the Eastern Conference.
There has been some bemoaning lately of the lack of rivalries in hockey. Well this isn't on par with Yankees-Red Sox in baseball, but there's always a little extra flair when it's New York vs. Boston. This one should have a lot of extra flair.
Nobody at this point will dispute the Rangers are one of the best teams in the league this season. You'd be foolish to try. But there are people, myself included, who are still wondering exactly how good are the Rangers? Well what better way to find out than to send them to the hornets’ nest that is TD Garden in Boston to face the defending champs?
Although it’s too bad we could have had this game a week or so ago. By their standards this season, each of these teams has lost some steam going into the game. The Bruins are only 6-4-0 in their last 10 (gasp!) while the Rangers just slightly better at 7-3-0. I laugh about it a little but it was just in the last two weeks that each of these teams had won nine of 10 games.
One of the tricks for each of the coaches is to find ways to keep pushing their guys in the middle of the season, particularly when you've had as much success as these two Original Six squads have. Sometimes that can be as simple as finding a bear to poke (pun clearly intended).
"Horton has got to pick up his game. No ifs or buts about it," Julien said after the shootout win at Florida. "A guy his size needs to get more physically involved. He needs to compete a lot harder. He's skating hard, you can see it on the backcheck ... but we need more from him. When he's emotionally engaged, he scores goals and he's a difference-maker. He's got to find his game. We're at the point where we're a little shorthanded and we need him to step up."
Horton responded by scoring twice in the loss to the Lightning and then one more in the win on Thursday night against the Devils. That might be mission: accomplished.
It looks like Rangers coach John Tortorella has his own target to try and prod.
Brad Richards was the star they brought to New York this summer to give Marian Gaborik that other scoring threat and finally give Henrik Lundqvist some much-deserved support. In that regard, Richards has been alright. But that's it.
In 45 games he has 15 goals and 16 assists for 31 points while carrying a minus-3. That stat still means very little, plus/minus, but on a team like the Rangers, it's tough to be negative. He and Ruslan Fedotenko are the only players on the team with more than 10 games played that are in the red.
Going into the game against the Bruins, Richards hasn't tallied a single point in the last six games. Obviously that's not very good, particularly for a guy making $6.7 million per season.
While Tortorella didn't go anywhere close to the level of criticism that Julien did with Horton, he at least made it known that Richards needs to step up some. From Ranger Rants:
Coach John Tortorella said he didn’t want to analyze individual performances after the game when asked specifically about Staal and Brad Richards. But he acknowledged that Richards’ game wasn’t spot on right now (he was a minus-1 in 16:46 though he won 12 of 16 faceoffs).
If the Rangers can get a point-per-game pace out of Richards like he has been doing for most of the past few seasons, then watch out.
This will be the first of four matchups between the foes this season and each will very likely go a long way in determining who gets home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
If that leaves you wanting more ...
... Then you'll get it. There is no better way to spend Saturday if you're a hockey fan than to tune in to the NHL Network. Once that Rangers-Bruins tilt is done it's on to the next, but it takes no backseat to the first game.
The Vancouver Canucks seem to have a lot of rivalries these days. We all know about their ongoing feud with the Bruins, they have a fierce battle with the Chicago Blackhawks and pretty much any team from Canada.
But don't forget about their rivals to the south in San Jose, too. They've had some damn good playoff battles as well, including that Western Conference final matchup a season ago where Kevin Bieksa was the only person on the ice who knew what the heck was going on.
The Sharks are an interesting team to me. Perhaps it's a situation of just getting used to it, being desensitized to them, but once again they are right there in the race for the Presidents' Trophy this season. Remember, they have games in hand on every single Western Conference team.
Yet they are just quietly trudging along on the West Coast. It's expected from them now to be honest. That's a great compliment to give to the ownership and front office in San Jose.
Unlike the Eastern powers mentioned above, these Western heavies have already met three times this season, so when they dance on Saturday night in Vancouver, it's the last time they'll see each other until next season. Unless ...
Hot, hot, hot!
When they looked at the itinerary for the road trip, they had to look at the Saturday visit to Anaheim as a little bit of a reprieve on the tough trip. Not anymore.
It took a while, but Bruce Boudreau is seeing the Ducks play the way we all thought they would this season. All of a sudden, these are the two hottest teams in the NHL (what?!?). The Ducks are 6-0-1 in their last seven games in their own right.
It's likely well past the time for them to get back into the playoff picture. Even with these 13 points in seven games, they are still 13 points behind Colorado for the eighth spot in the West. What a really strong finish can do, though, is affect the way general manager Bob Murray views his team and thus how much of a seller the Ducks will be at the Feb. 27 trade deadline.
In the meantime, each of the Sens and Ducks gets a heat check in one of the few places in either the USA or Canada that it's actually warm right now, Southern California.
Friday night will feature some old friends facing off as the Florida Blackhawks visit the Chicago Panthers. Wait ...
Since Dale Tallon took over in Florida as general manager, the Panthers have taken on quite a strong feeling of the Blackhawks. They currently carry five former players from Chicago: John Madden, Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky and Jack Skille. Of them, only Skille wasn't a contributor to the Stanley Cup a couple of seasons ago.
To make that happen obviously Tallon had to send some of his Panthers players to GM Stan Bowman in Chicago. It's not as strong the other way but the Blackhawks currently employ former Panthers Michal Frolik, Steve Montador and have Rostislav Olesz and Alexander Salak in the system.
But the player to watch in this battle? How about Andrew Shaw, who is quickly making a big name for himself in Chicago. The 20-year-old forward who was a fifth-round pick by the 'Hawks has five points in the last four games on the strength of a goal in each game. That's led to the Twitter hashtag of #ShawFacts where fans have taken their best Chuck Norris jokes and tailored them for Shaw.
Something else worth watching: With weather conditions as bad as they are in Chicago this weekend, will the Panthers have any problems getting out of town and into Winnipeg in time for their game Saturday against the Jets?
Speak of old friends ...
The Bolts will get the chance to see firsthand what has happened to Smith since he moved to the desert this offseason. For those not in the know, what has happened is that he has become a quality starting goaltender for the Coyotes.
The Lightning are giving up more goals than any team in the league. Don't you think Smith and his 2.41 goals against average would be handy in Tampa Bay this season?
Then again, it probably wouldn't be too much different if the defenders in front of Smith were playing the same/as injured as they are in front of Roloson and Mathieu Garon.
Fun doesn't stop Saturday
On Sunday there is a nice pair of battles for matinee games in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins will take on another one of the I-95 corridor powers in the Philadelphia Flyers while the Pittsburgh Penguins will host the Washington Capitals for their final bout this season. It might be a bit watered down without Sidney Crosby playing, but it's still worth watching.
Both games are worth it, so get ready to wear out the "last" button on your remote.
We're going streaking!
A look at the winning and losing streaks heading into the weekend.
Penguins: Remember how they just lost six in a row? This is how you rebound from that. The Pens take a four-game winning streak into Friday night's game against the Canadiens before the game against the Caps.
Detroit Red Wings: For the moment, they have taken the lead in the Central Division, which is an unbelievable race this season. Their five straight wins will be put on the line Saturday vs. the Blue Jackets.
St. Louis Blues: They are doing what they can to keep pace with the Red Wings and Blackhawks, and they're doing it just fine. They ride a three-game run into a home game against the Sabres, losers of 10 straight on the road.
Buffalo Sabres: As just mentioned, 10 straight road losses, four in a row overall. Only the one chance in St. Louis to snap it this weekend.
Panthers: They haven't won a game in their last three chances but they have picked up points in two of those three. The double dip this weekend is at Chicago and at Winnipeg.
Minnesota Wild: The ship keeps on sinking. Remember when they were first in the NHL? I hardly do either. Four straight losses and Dallas on tap this weekend.
Dallas Stars: Misery loves company, I suppose. Dallas brings its own losing streak of three games into the weekend, but they get Tampa Bay before facing the Wild.For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.
Tags: Alexander Salak, Anaheim Ducks, Andrew Shaw, Bob Murray, Boston Bruins, Brad Richards, Brian Campbell, Brian Stubits, Bruce Boudreau, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, Claude Julien, Dale Tallon, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Dwayne Roloson, Florida Panthers, John Madden, John Tortorella, Kevin Bieksa, Kris Versteeg, Kyle Turris, Mathieu Garon, Michal Frolik, Mike Smith, Minnesota Wild, Nathan Horton, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Rostislav Olesz, San Jose Sharks, Skille, St. Louis Blues, Stan Bowman, Steve Montador, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tomas Kopecky, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, Weekend Preview
Posted on: January 20, 2012 11:12 am
Edited on: January 20, 2012 12:48 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Matt Cooke is probably never going to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to any play that is even remotely close to being dirty or against the rules.
Given his history and the list of plays that make up what is basically a career lowlight film, he doesn't really deserve the benefit of the doubt at this point, either. But that doesn't change the fact that he has made a legitimate effort to clean up his game this season after numerous suspensions, including one last season that turned out to be a 17-game banishment (10 regular season games and all seven of Pittsburgh playoff games) for a hit to the head of New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
In 46 games this season Cooke has been issued just 14 penalty minutes, a total that over 430 players in the NHL have topped this season, including 12 of his own teammates. Because he's Matt Cooke, however, guilt is always going to be assumed when he's the focal point, as it was on Thursday night for an alleged slew foot incident during the Penguins' 4-1 win against the New York Rangers that put him squarely in the crosshairs on Friday
This is the play in question, via Empty Netters' Seth Rorabaugh:
You can see another angle (and get some expert commentary) by clicking here.
Cooke has done some bad things on the ice in his career, but this isn't even close to being one of them, even if the Rangers believe it was a slew foot. Richards did not participate in the Rangers' skate on Friday.
There was no penalty called on the play, and according to TSN's Darren Dreger, he won't face any discipline from the NHL.
And he shouldn't, because that's not a slew foot. At its worst it's tripping, at the very least it's two players getting their feet tangled up as they turn into each other going for the puck. Pretty common occurrence, and if it involved almost any player in the league likely wouldn't have even been a blip on the NHL's radar on Friday.
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 2, 2012 6:02 pm
Edited on: January 2, 2012 8:51 pm
PHILADELPHIA -- You always hear about how important the next minute after a goal is. The game can flip like a switch in a heartbeat. One second a team is celebrating their goal, the next they're reminded to get back in the game.
That's how the 2012 Winter Classic flipped and how the Rangers came away with the win. For the first 35 minutes or so it was all Flyers. They had the chances, they had the possession and they had the lead.
The Rangers have guys who can do that. Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards ... they both come to mind. Mike Rupp can flip momentum in a game too, but that's usually by dropping his gloves, not by dropping pucks in the other team's net.
It was Rupp's goal just 49 seconds after Matt Carle gave the Philadelphia Flyers a 2-0 lead in their (neighbor's) house. That's when the Rangers finally seem to find their footing on the patchwork outdoor ice of Citizen's Bank Park, just shy of 38 minutes into the game. Or maybe it was his Jaromir Jagr salute after the goal that juiced up the Rangers. Either way, they had life.
"The crowd's going, you're down 2-0," Rupp said after the game while sporting the Broadway Hat, the Rangers' victory token this season. "Any game that you get that next shift -- there's times where you're looking to maybe pick a fight, you're trying to get a big hit, you're trying to play in their zone -- just to change the tide a little bit. I think a goal is the best way you can but it's just trying to throw things at net and keep it simple."
That's a good way to describe it, it was simple. It wasn't a thing of beauty -- nothing that's going to make Rupp look like the scorer that he isn't -- just a wrister from the slot with a defenseman trying to close the shooting lane.
"It was a key moment of the game because they had all the momentum on their side," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "Again, the game is a series of momentums, how quickly you get it back vs. losing it. We go down 3-0 that's tough sledding, as far as trying to come back there. We end up scoring the next goal right there and it puts you right back in."
As for that salute? Well at first Rupp didn't want to talk about it, pulling a Peter Laviolette and saying "I don't know what you're talking about" with a smirk. But it happened, and he knew it.
"No pre-thoughts, just kind of excited in the moment," Rupp said.
The Flyers and Scott Hartnell sure seemed to notice it as he appeared to be chirping at Rupp before the third period. You were thinking that's how Rupp affects a game for the better for his team, with a little tangle, not a stick and dangle.
"He [Hartnell] just wished me a happy new year and I did the same," Rupp said, leaving what's said on the ice to stay on the ice. "So, hopefully he has a good year and he wished me the same."
Good thing for the Rangers that didn't result in a fight. It was within the next few minutes -- when Rupp would have still been serving a five-minute major if he did fight -- that he struck again.
It was Rupp again that tied things up and took us back to square one, before the lights were making an impact on the ice. His high, short-side goal somehow leaked by Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
From there it was all Rangers, save for the final two-minute flurry from the Flyers after the flurries had finished falling at Citizen's Bank Park.
"We've been a good third period team all year long," Tortorella said. "We just wanted to just try to get pucks to the net and grind away. I thought we really started grinding -- and really in the conditions that's the only way you're going to be able to play. It suited well for us. I don't think we did a good job in the first half but I think we found ourselves as it went on."
As big as that first goal for Rupp was, the key to this game for New York might well have been the first period. The ice was tilted -- against the wind, mind you -- in favor of the Flyers. They dominated play. It was all Philly. Still, the Rangers took the long walk back to the clubhouse through the third base dugout at a 0-0 tie. The Flyers had some very good chances to notch the first goal then but couldn't get it in.
That won't be as obvious of a key to victory as Rupp's two goals, but it certainly was.
"Early on in the first period there a couple breakaways, some breakdowns, he makes the saves there," Tortorella said. "He was put right on the center stage there and answered."
Lundqvist is used to center stage. He owns center stage. But Rupp? It's not often he gets to have the leading role. That would explain his humility with the Broadway Hat on. Either that or he was really humiliated. Artem Anisimov interrupted his interview after the game and asked 'Why they give you Broadway Hat?"
"Just wanted to see how dumb I look because it doesn't fit," Rupp responded. "Good question."
It might have looked dumb, but it had to feel great. The whole thing had to feel great, really. From playing in the Winter Classic again and getting the snow he wished for last year -- albeit briefly -- to scoring two goals, his first two since returning from injury.
"It was a great experience again and it feels good to win this time," Rupp said, referring to last year's Winter Classic loss while a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. "I just got to shoot the puck twice and fortunately it went in.
"You want to contribute; I was able to tonight so it felt good."
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: December 29, 2011 12:10 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 12:14 pm
In the second episode of the great behind-the-scenes show, Lundqvist was followed on a day off to a studio where he was seen playing right beside American tennis legend John McEnroe and Jay Weinberg, son of Max Weinberg, on the drums.
How does a Swedish hockey player end up playing alongside such a group of guys?
"You live in New York, play there a few years obviously you're going to run into people," Lundqvist said. "John McEnroe, I've been running into him a bunch of times. He's a hockey fan and I'm a tennis fan. So we've been talking about playing music together. I said finally this year, 'Let's do it, let's do something fun.' We're doing a charity event in February, rock it out a little bit.
"Then the drummer Jay Weinberg, I met him at a Bruce [Springsteen] concert in Sweden actually, when his dad was playing. It's fun. If you play in New York you get to meet a lot of interesting people, sometimes people that you admire and respect a lot, so it's a great place."
So add musician to things we already knew about Lundqvist, such as his stellar fashion sense. Oh, and the fact that he's a damn good goalie.
We know that because New York isn't just a great place to live, it's a great place to play when you're playing for a Rangers team like this.
"So far it's been a good year," Lundqvist said. "It's been fun, it's been fun."
That usually happens when you are fighting for the top spot in the conference with every game you play. Sure beats the alternative of the past few seasons where the Rangers were fighting for the eighth spot in the East instead of first.
Make no mistake about: The Rangers have grown as a team. They have a young core of players that is only going to get better -- as a side note, watch out if Brandon Dubinsky regains his scoring form that he's beginning to show again -- and they had a pretty notable upgrade to the scoring this summer with Brad Richards in free agency. They are a very good group of skaters.
But Lundqvist has been and still is the straw that stirs the Rangers drink. He has earned the right to be referred to as an elite goaltender, and not just because he plays in New York. He's been that good in recent seasons for the Blueshirts. Without him, you wonder if they make the playoffs as often as they have. OK, I'll save you the wondering -- they don't.
But now he has help.
"I mean the reason why we're in pretty good shape in the standings is not that we're that much better than everybody else," Lundqvist said, "but it's that we've been consistent in how we play and how hard we have to play, so that's been paying off for us."
One of the ways that they play is a commitment to blocking shots. Defenseman Dan Girardi has been near the top of the shot-blocking list in the league the last couple of seasons and team captain Ryan Callahan isn't afraid to get in the way of a puck either. In the first period of the Rangers' 4-1 loss to the Capitals on Wednesday, Callahan was credited with four blocked shots, one of them actually led to a Dubinsky goal, giving Callahan an assist. He then was a mad man during a later penalty kill, scrambling and diving all over the ice, getting credit for three blocks in one shift.
"Guys take a lot of pride in that [blocking shots]," Lundqvist said. "You have a style. We have to play hard and we have to block shots, it's part of our game. Guys are doing a great job of that.
"To play well as a goalie you want to feel the support from the team in front of you. It helps if you have a good structure, you know what's going on and what type of chances are going to come up."
Well, it's working, because Lundqvist is playing as well as he ever has. In his case, that's saying something. Through 26 games this season, Lundqvist is on pace for career bests in save percentage (currently .936) and goals against average (1.95 per game).
Maybe that has something to do with coach John Tortorella's plan to play Lundqvist less this year, too. Only once in the past five seasons has Lundqvist played less than 70 games -- last season with 68. He was up there with the likes of Miikka Kiprusoff for biggest workhorses in the league. Now backup Martin Biron is being asked to and is carrying some more of the load. Rather well, too.
Before he took the loss against the Caps, Biron had a 7-1-0 record in his spot duty with a 1.84 GAA and .933 save percentage. That makes it a lot easier for the Rangers to stick to the plan this year and play Lundqvist around 65 games or so, possibly even a few less.
"I'm trying to get used to not playing as much. Last few years the plan was for me to play around 65 games, around there. It hasn't turned out that way," Lundqvist said. "We're [he and Biron] a good team. Benny [Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire] and Marty work well together, push each other to work hard."
Well whatever it is, it's working.
The funny thing this season is that everything seems to be coming together for the Rangers. The spotlight was turned up on them this season anyway thanks to the Richards signing and all else they are experiencing this year.
"It's been a fun year. It's been an interesting year starting in Europe and then HBO and the Winter Classic coming up," Lundqvist said. "It's been a lot of ... I don't want to say distractions ... fun things going on. Things we don't normally see in a normal regular season. It's been a fun experience. I think we all look forward to the Winter Classic here as well.
"But it's good for us to have these different things happening during the year, learn to deal with it. It could be a distraction, it hasn't been one for us. We've been focused on what we have to do, with all the travel starting the year, the HBO, Winter Classic coming up. So, it's a test for us to maintain our focus on the games."
As he said, they've done that. He's done that.
But they're all hoping to have a lot more fun by season's end.
"It's still so early, but I'm happy with the way I've been playing so far, but there's a long way to go here," Lundqvist said. "We definitely raised the bar this year though. Our goal is to play in June. That's our goal."
If this is the Rangers' year, maybe Lundqvist can get the band together for a big show on the streets of Manhattan this summer.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: December 29, 2011 12:04 am
Edited on: December 29, 2011 12:09 am
By: Adam Gretz
When Flyers coach Peter Laviolette and Dallas Stars forward Steve Ott had their little "shoving" match after the first period of a recent game the first thing that popped into my mind was, "I can't wait to hear what was actually said on the next episode of 24/7."
As it turns out, and it's probably not much of a surprise, the actual encounter was pretty lame and consisted of nothing other than Ott telling Laviolette to wait for the remainder of the Stars bench to head into the locker room, and Laviolette telling Ott to "go [expletive] yourself" two times. WIth a couple of shoves thrown in for good measure. In other words, it was just another day at the office for Steve Ott as you can be darn sure that's not the first time those words were spoken to him by an opposing player or coach during a game.
It's no wonder the NHL didn't fine either participant: nothing happened.
Episode 3 of HBO's 24/7 probably wasn't one of the best ones in the series over the past two seasons. We had an opportunity to see a lot of the players hanging out with their families over the Holiday break, including Rangers forward Brian Boyle as he went home to spend time with his 12(!) brothers and sisters. There was an ugly sweater party, probably not unlike the ones you've had at work, and we also watched as Marian Gaborik awkwardly carried a massive Christmas tree over his shoulders through the streets of New York in an effort to get it back to his pad.
Three moments that stood out
1) Episode 3 focussed the Flyers-Rangers game at Madison Square Garden last week, which the Rangers won, and we were able to get a good listen to all of the trash talk that takes places on the ice and on the bench during a heated rivalry game. The best line of the night came from Rangers forward Brad Richards in response to Flyers call-up Tom Sestito, whom had been chirping the Rangers bench and talking about how he was going to knock all of them out. Said Richards, "This is fantasy camp for you," an obvious jab at Sestito's status as a call-up from the American Hockey League.
2) That game also gave us an opportunity to get a quick glimpse at the War Room in Toronto that keeps an eye on every single game taking place in the NHL and handles all of the questionable goal reviews that come up in a given night. During the second period of the Rangers-Flyers game Ruslan Fedotenko's goal had to be reviewed to make sure the puck actually went in the net (it did) and we managed to get a look at what can only be described as a dream job for a hockey enthusiast: a wall of massive HD flat screen TV's with nothing but hockey games taking place ... and one TV that, for reasons unknown, happened to have a close up angle of a dog.
3) The unquestioned star of the first two episodes, we had to wait nearly 49 minutes before we had our first real look at Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, and like many of the players, was seen celebrating the holiday with his wife, two children and his now-famous (after the previous episode in the series) Husky that he referred to as "a hot girl, man."
I'll say this, he wasn't lying about the dog: it is a sharp looking animal.
More 2012 Winter Classic News Here
24/7 Flyers-Rangers Episode 1
24/7 Flyers-Rangers Episode 2
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