January 27th, 2011

From my point of view… with this organisation… it is so bright, the future. If we stay with the plan and that’s to go through the process of building the team. Our youth is our foundation. You add those one or two pieces along the way when you think you’re getting close — that’s when you kick it in to the final part of your process to try to win. We’re on the right road… no matter how many bumps we go through, we’re on the right road here in New York.” - John Tortorella.

January 27th, 2011

Lundqvist, Staal and Stepan prepare for All-Star weekend.

Whilst most of the New York Rangers organisation will be resting their road-weary bodies through the All-Star break this weekend, the same cannot be said for Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal and Derek Stepan. The trio, three of the teams’ most important pieces this season, will all be headed to Raleigh, North Carolina to take part in the All-Star game festivities Friday through Sunday.

Lundqvist and Staal will themselves be participating in the All-Star game, whilst rookie center Derek Stepan will be involved in the NHL SuperSkills competition on Saturday night alongside Taylor Hall, Cam Fowler, Logan Couture, Tyler Seguin, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and more. Jeff Skinner, due to participate in the SuperSkills contests, will now skate in the All-Star game as an injury replacement. Fellow ‘Cane Jamie McBain takes his spot.

It’s a double-edged sword for Blueshirts fans, many of whom would prefer to see three of their hardest working contributors resting up alongside their team-mates this weekend, but it’s also a weekend that few would begrudge Lundqvist, Staal and Stepan, all of whom have been fantastic so far this season. Lundqvist makes the All-Star roster for the second time in three years, whilst Staal debuts in a year that sees brother Eric as one of the selected captains. Staal, of course, took part in the 2008 YoungStars competition notching a goal and an assist.

The All-Star draft begins tomorrow at 8pm EST, the SuperSkills contest takes place Saturday at 7pm EST and the All-Star game itself is Sunday at 4pm EST. Best of luck to all three Blueshirts!

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All-Star coverage @ NHL.com

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January 26th, 2011

Del Zotto, Grachev sent down as Blueshirts heal wounds.

Michael Del Zotto, Evgeny Grachev, Chad Kolarik, Brodie Dupont and Kris Newbury have all been returned to the Connecticut Whale as the New York Rangers head in to the All-Star break. The Rangers, defeated at home by the Florida Panthers last night, will look to rest bodies after a gruelling month of injuries and near-misses. Alternate captain Ryan Callahan is expected to return to the line-up on Tuesday, whilst veteran forward Vinny Prospal has also been activated from injured reserve.

The Blueshirts fell 4-3 at Madison Square Garden last night in spite of another heroic comeback attempt. Derek Stepan, Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle scored for the 29-20-3 Rangers, though a point shot looped over Henrik Lundqvist after hitting Artem Anisimov’s back to hand Florida the win. The Rangers outshot their opponents 35-17, Tomas Vokoun standing strong throughout.

With the Rangers’ AHL affiliate playing twice this weekend, it makes sense to send down five important bodies. Del Zotto will stay in the AHL one would expect, whilst Evgeny Grachev will seek to continue his hot streak back alongside Tim Kennedy. Kolarik looked good during his brief spell with the big club and will surely get another look at some point during the final 30 games.

January 20th, 2011

Gaborik scores four as Rangers batter Leafs, 7-0.

Marian Gaborik scored four times, Artem Anisimov added four assists and Henrik Lundqvist earned his league-leading seventh shutout of the season as the Rangers ran riot over a hapless Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden last night. 

Gaborik, just 3 goals in his previous 19 games, returned to his deadly best on a day the Blueshirts learnt they would be without top-scorer Brandon Dubinsky for the best part of a month. The Slovakian sniper clicked emphatically with linemates Anisimov and Sean Avery, Avery grabbing 3 helpers as the trio combined for 12 points on the night. Lundqvist made 22 saves for his 20th win of the season, joining Boston’s Tim Thomas as league-leader with seven shutouts. 

Wojtek Wolski picked up a pair of assists as the newest Ranger continued to roll at a PPG pace through his first five contests, whilst rookie Derek Stepan set-up Mats Zuccarello for the Blueshirts final goal in the opening minute of the third period to complete a miserable night for the visiting Leafs. 

Ruslan Fedotenko left the game following a hit by Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf and will miss 2-4 weeks with a sprained shoulder. That’s right, another injury.

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Points of note;

#1 - Defensively the Rangers were excellent, perhaps their most composed blueline performance of the season. Matt Gilroy continues to be consistent.

#2 - As good as it is to see Gaborik scoring again, let’s see if he can keep it up - starting tonight in Carolina. The Blueshirts need him scoring, especially with the loss of Dubinsky for up to a month.

#3 - Probably Henrik Lundqvist’s easiest shutout of the season, but it’s easy to lose concentration when you’re not seeing much rubber. Solid, again.

#4 - Sean Avery needs to stay on Gaborik’s line, at least for the time being. His speed and hustle compliment Gaborik extremely well, and it’s little coincidence that Avery’s put up points every time he’s played alongside #10 this season. Anisimov, too.

January 6th, 2011

Zuccarello earns crucial OT win for Rangers.

Mats Zuccarello’s goal 3:19 into overtime, his first in the National Hockey League, gave the New York Rangers a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes last night. Zuccarello picked up Brandon Dubinsky’s loose puck behind the Carolina net, circled in front and beat Cam Ward short-side to hand the Rangers a crucial second point on the night.

Both Cam Ward and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist were exceptional through regulation, turning aside 30+ shots each in a game that predictably went the distance between two playoff-chasing teams. Matt Gilroy’s third goal of the season had given the Blueshirts the lead midway through the third period, but ‘Canes captain Eric Staal tied it up five minutes later after evading Brian Boyle off the faceoff, beating Lundqvist on a big rebound in front. Lundqvist and Ward both made big saves at crucial junctures of the game; Ward denying Sean Avery and Dubinsky, Lundqvist stoning Jeff Skinner and Zach Boychuk.

Brandon Prust and Troy Bodie had earlier exchanged pleasantries at centre ice, Prust more than holding his own against the bigger Bodie as he weaved away from any significant rights before landing a few of his own. The Rangers next head to Dallas on Friday for the first of two back-to-back road games before visiting the St Louis Blues on Saturday evening.

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Points of note - 

#1 - Henrik Lundqvist’s form of late has been absolutely exceptional. Over the last 30 days, Lundqvist has six wins, a 1.98 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and has stopped 281 of 301 shots he’s faced with one shutout. Long may it continue.

#2 - Matt Gilroy continues to take advantage of his opportunities and is quietly putting together a run of strong games for the Blueshirts. Three goals, one assist and a +5 rating for the former Hobey Baker winner over the past month.

#3 - Brandon Dubinsky continues to thrive, even in Ryan Callahan’s absence. Dubinsky has four goals, seven assists and is a +7 since early December.

January 5th, 2011

Rangers/Hurricanes pre-game.

Carolina Hurricanes (18-15-5) @ New York Rangers (22-15-3) (7PM EST)

The Rangers return home to Madison Square Garden tonight as they look to rebound against the Carolina Hurricanes after a less than spectacular road-trip through the sunshine state. The Blueshirts were lifeless in losses to Tampa Bay and Florida this past weekend, salvaging their only point in the dying seconds of Saturday’s game thanks to Marian Gaborik’s late goal. The Rangers would lose in overtime before being blanked in a 3-0 loss to Tomas Vokoun and the Florida Panthers on Sunday evening. Martin Biron was excellent in relief of Henrik Lundqvist, but received scant offensive support as the Rangers lost the second of a back-to-back series for the first time this season.

The Hurricanes currently sit six points behind the Rangers in the Eastern Conference and are looking upwards after winning three of their last four. Jeff Skinner, much like the Rangers’ Derek Stepan, sits atop the rookie scoring charts with 11 goals and 17 assists at the halfway mark of the regular season. Cam Ward and Henrik Lundqvist should be the respective starters; Lundqvist sat out Sunday’s shutout loss in Florida whilst Ward stopped 24 of 28 shots in an overtime defeat to the same team on Monday night.

Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen aren’t expected to skate for the Hurricanes, whilst Ryan McDonagh is likely to miss out despite recently being called up by the Blueshirts in place of the demoted Michael Del Zotto.

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Projected lines; New York.

Brandon Dubinsky - Derek Stepan - Mats Zuccarello 
Alexander Frolov - Artem Anisimov - Marian Gaborik 
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Sean Avery - Chris Drury (C) - Dale Weise

Marc Staal (A) - Dan Girardi
Steve Eminger - Michal Rozsival
Michael Sauer - Matt Gilroy

Projected lines; Carolina.

Sergei Samsonov - Eric Staal (C) - Erik Cole
Chad LaRose - Jeff Skinner - Tuomo Ruutu
Zach Boychuk - Brandon Sutter (A) - Patrick Dwyer
Zac Dalpe - Ryan Carter - Troy Bodie

Jamie McBain - Tim Gleason (A)
Ian White - Joe Corvo
Jay Harrison - Brett Carson

December 30th, 2010

Rangers topple Devils, roll into new year.

As Brandon Dubinsky put the gloss on a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night with an empty-net goal six seconds from time, the New York Rangers collectively slapped the exclamation mark on a strong year for the organisation. The Rangers won’t play again until New Years Day when they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that sits directly above them in the Eastern Conference standings by a solitary point.

Dubinsky’s goal sealed the deal on a tight win for the Blueshirts at the Prudential Center. Henrik Lundqvist made 43 saves in perhaps his finest performance of the season so far, whilst Brian Boyle scored his 14th goal of the year off the back of another superb outing for the former LA Kings project. Boyle has continued his strong play throughout the first half of the season, working alongside Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko on the Rangers’ third line to provide much needed offensive support to the likes of Dubinsky and Marian Gaborik.

The Rangers’ offence has been stretched by an injury sustained by alternate captain Ryan Callahan during a 4-1 win in Pittsburgh on December 15. Callahan, arguably the Blueshirts best player this season with 10 goals and 13 assists through 32 games, dove out to block a shot during a Penguins powerplay, breaking his hand with a 6-8 week timeline for return.

The game itself provided another marker for a young Rangers team that’s taken to comebacks this season. Henrik Lundqvist kept the team in the game after an early Evgeni Malkin strike, stopping 24 shots before Erik Christensen, Alex Frolov, Artem Anisimov and Boyle scored four times in the space of six minutes to seal a dramatic third period turnaround.

The Blueshirts took advantage of a listless Washington Capitals team three days prior, routing the visitors in a 7-0 win at Madison Square Garden, Lundqvist again making 24 saves as Callahan and Dubinsky combined to pick off the underachieving Capitals.

Outside of a mistake-filled 4-1 loss in Philadelphia on December 18, the Blueshirts have managed to remain competitive in almost all of their games. Derek Stepan, currently third in rookie scoring across the NHL, has recorded 17 points throughout his last 23 games and has found swift chemistry with fellow rookie Mats Zuccarello.

Zuccarello, a 5’7” Norwegian who boasts physical comparisons to Tampa Bay’s Martin St Louis, has skated in three consecutive games for the Rangers since his call-up from the AHL’s Connecticut Whale before Christmas. Despite having just one secondary assist to show for his efforts so far, Zuccarello’s lively play has helped to fill the gaping void left by Callahan’s injury.

Derek Stepan recorded goals in four straight games between December 16-27. The former Wisconsin Badger currently sits on a five-game point-scoring streak heading in to Saturday’s game against the Lightning, displaying a knack for clutch performances that will seldom surprise anyone that watched him captain Team USA to gold at the World Junior Championships in Saskatoon last year.

The biggest discrepancy for the Blueshirts this season has been their ability to beat those teams below them in the standings. Putting aside character wins over Pittsburgh, Washington, Chicago, Boston, and Phoenix, the most pleasing aspect for Ranger management must be the dominant records against the likes of the Islanders and Devils. The Rangers are a clean 3-0 against the Devils this season and a decisive 3-1 over the Islanders, only losing an October 11th game on Long Island after leading late in the third period. Edmonton, Calgary, Nashville, Minnesota, Toronto, Florida and Buffalo have all fallen by the wayside too, something you couldn’t so confidently expect during years past.

Lost in the Rangers strong run through December has been the inconsistent play of second-year defenseman Michael Del Zotto. Del Zotto, sidelined by the flu earlier in the month, has been a healthy scratch on more than one occasion as coach John Tortorella tries to instill a hunger in the offensive blueliner.

Fellow second-year defenseman Matt Gilroy has stepped in to the fray, netting his first goals in 65 games during a 7-2 win over the Islanders on Monday night. Gilroy, the 2009 Hobey Baker Award winner with Boston University, has displayed a similar inconsistency after a fast start to his first season, often scratched in favour of emerging blueliner Michael Sauer.

Inconsistencies are to be expected from the young Blueshirts, especially those who have made the transition from college to pro hockey without skating in the minor leagues. Gilroy hasn’t played a single game for the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, whilst Stepan too made the instant move from the University of Wisconsin to NHL hockey this past summer. The rookie centre will undoubtedly hit a wall at some point during the second half of the season, but for now his form - and, more pertinently - his consistency have been a welcome surprise.

This weekend the Blueshirts face the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers back-to-back on their annual swing through the sunshine state. To expect two wins would be foolish irrespective of current form, but both will provide tests that the Rangers must pass if they’re to continue to feel comfortable about their chances this season.

December 29th, 2010

Rangers/Devils pre-game.

New York Rangers (21-14-2) @ New Jersey Devils (9-24-2) (7PM EST)

The New York Rangers will look to end 2010 with a bang as they pay a final visit across the Hudson River to take on the slumping New Jersey Devils tonight. The Devils sit at the foot of the National Hockey League with a dismal 9-24-2 record bolstered by a 5-game losing skid heading in to tonight’s contest. In contrast, the Rangers have had an excellent month, defeating Pittsburgh, Washington, Phoenix, Ottawa and the New York Islanders three times en route to 21-14-2 record, good enough for sixth in the Eastern conference.

The Devils are 1-9 across their last 10 games, whilst the Rangers sit a respectable 6-3-1 in their last 10. The Blueshirts thumped their cross-city rival Islanders 7-2 on Monday night and will look to hand another rival a similarly hefty defeat this evening. Martin Brodeur and Ilya Kovalchuk continue to underperform at both ends of the ice for the Devils, something Ranger rookies Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello will be all too keen to take advantage of. Zuccarello plays his third straight game since his initial call-up from the AHL pre-Christmas, whilst Stepan will be looking to score for the fifth straight game as his rookie year goes from strength to strength.

Michael Del Zotto again misses out for the Rangers due to a nagging groin problem, whilst Marian Gaborik should be OK despite leaving practice early yesterday. Matt Gilroy plays again after a 2-goal night against the Islanders on Monday.

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Projected lines; New York.

Mats Zuccarello - Derek Stepan - Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky - Artem Anisimov - Chris Drury (C)
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Sean Avery - Erik Christensen - Alexander Frolov

Marc Staal (A) - Dan Girardi
Steve Eminger - Michal Rozsival
Michael Sauer - Matt Gilroy

Projected lines; New Jersey.

Ilya Kovalchuk (A) - Travis Zajac - Mattias Tedenby
Patrik Elias (A) - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner (C)
Tim Sestito - Dainius Zubrus - Vladimir Zharkov
Rod Pelley - Adam Mair - David Clarkson

Colin White - Henrik Tallinder
Anssi Salmela - Anton Volchenkov
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne

December 28th, 2010

Rangers outgun, outscore Islanders in big win.

The New York Rangers outshot their rival Islanders by a 52-20 margin en route to a dominant 7-2 win Monday night. Mats Zuccarello bagged his first NHL point, fellow rookie Derek Stepan scored for the fourth straight game and Marian Gaborik finally found form in a 1+1 night as the Blueshirts powerplay finally clicked.

Dwayne Roloson made 45 saves for a beleaguered Islanders side clearly struggling on the second of back-to-back games, the visitors failed to muster much offence outside of a pair of goals the Blueshirts would doubtless like back. Rob Schremp beat Henrik Lundqvist with a weak, floated wrister over the catching glove, whilst a defensive breakdown allowed former Ranger PA Parenteau to bank home a loose puck to Lundqvist’s side for a 2-1 Islanders lead halfway through the first period.

Marian Gaborik scored for the first time in four games, one-timing Marc Staal’s cross-ice pass past Roloson during a late first period powerplay, whilst Chris Drury and Brandon Prust both hit the post seconds later as the Rangers were denied a first period lead. The Blueshirts scored six unanswered goals as the game became something of a mercy beating for the listless visitors, Matt Gilroy scoring his second of the night before Brian Boyle, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko and Stepan completed the rout.

Henrik Lundqvist made 18 saves in a straight-forward victory, his 15th and the Rangers’ 21st of the season. The Blueshirts sit sixth in the Eastern Conference with a 21-14-2 record and will look to strengthen that marker further when they head in to New Jersey tomorrow night.

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Points of note -

#1 - Derek Stepan continues to impress in his first season with the Rangers. Stepan scored for the fourth straight game last night, recording his 16th point in the Rangers last 22 games. He looks comfortable at the point, works well with the majority of his team-mates and has already become something of a clutch scorer for the young Blueshirts.

#2 - Mats Zuccarello has put together a pair of strong performances over the course of his first two games. The pint-sized Norwegian plays big and doesn’t shy away from hard work. His secondary assist on Stepan’s goal might not seem much, but Zuccarello has shown far more than anyone could have expected over his first 120 minutes in a Rangers jersey.

#3 - Henrik Lundqvist, for once, was bailed out by his forwards after giving up another soft goal last night. Rob Schremp’s floated wrister should never, ever have beaten Lundqvist and is a prime example of ‘The King’ perhaps not being at his best when the opponents shot-count’s on the small side. Nonetheless, they owed him one.

#4 Brian Boyle scored his 13th goal of the season last night, a tremendous feat for a guy that’s worked hard to reinvigorate his career after a stale couple of years. He identified an issue, worked on it and is now reaping the rewards; long may it continue.

December 27th, 2010

Rangers/Islanders pre-game.

New York Islanders (9-18-6) @ New York Rangers (20-14-2) (7PM EST)

The Rangers return to action after the Christmas break as they host the rival Islanders at Madison Square Garden tonight. The game goes ahead in spite of the heavy snowstorms across the East coast over the past 24 hours, with the Islanders looking to win their fourth straight against a Ranger team that’s sat idle since before Christmas. The Blueshirts lost an 11-round shootout to the Tampa Bay Lightning on December 23rd and have had four days to stew over a defeat that perhaps should never have been.

Marian Gaborik returns to the side after missing the last game through injury, though Michael Del Zotto misses out again despite recovering from the flu. Mats Zuccarello skates in his second consecutive game after his recall from the Connecticut Whale yesterday, whilst Matt Gilroy continues in defence and Henrik Lundqvist gets the likely nod in goal. Dwayne Roloson stopped 38 of 39 shots in a 4-1 Islander win over Montreal last night, stretching the visitors to 4-0-1 in their last five outings.

Lundqvist, rather interestingly, hasn’t yielded a home goal to the Islanders in over a year, securing back-to-back shutouts in 2-0 and 5-0 wins over the last year. Kyle Okposo was the last Islander to beat Lundqvist at Madison Square Garden, a feat impossible to repeat as he continues to sit out the season with a torn labrum. 

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Projected lines; Rangers.

Alexander Frolov - Artem Anisimov - Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky - Derek Stepan - Chris Drury (C)
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Sean Avery - Erik Christensen - Mats Zuccarello

Marc Staal (A) - Dan Girardi
Steve Eminger - Michal Rozsival
Michael Sauer - Matt Gilroy

Projected lines; Islanders.

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - P.A. Parenteau
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen (A) - Josh Bailey
Blake Comeau - Rob Schremp - Jon Sim
Bruno Gervais - Zenon Konopka - Matt Martin

James Wisniewski (A) - Milan Jurcina
Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Mark Eaton (A) - Jack Hillen 

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