2010-11 NHL season preview: New York Rangers

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for lundqvistpads.jpgLast season: (38-33-11, 87 points, 4th in Atlantic Division, 9th in Eastern Conference) The Rangers fell a shootout win short of making the playoffs then watched as the Philadelphia Flyers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. Ouch. The team depended a lot on young players, Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist and that formula wasn’t strong enough to win them a cup.

Head coach: John Tortorella is the hot-headed type who’s a great fit for New York … at least from an entertaining press conference standpoint. The jury’s out on him as a coach, though, as that Lightning Stanley Cup victory is looking more and more like an anomaly as every year passes.

Key departures: D Wade Redden, F Olli Jokinen, F Aaron Voros, F Donald Brashear. Technically Redden isn’t out of the Rangers organization, but let’s face it, he won’t play with the big club again at that $6.5 million annual cap hit. If GM Glen Sather looked at Olli Jokinen as an expiring $5 million contract, then maybe Sather deserves a little more credit for being with it.

Key arrivals: F Alex Frolov, F Derek Boogaard, D Steve Eminger, F Todd White. Frolov isn’t the most consistent player, but the Rangers got him on a solid, one-year deal. He could pay dividends at his price while Boogaard is wildly overpaid at $1.6 million. No big improvements in the Big Apple, but that’s what happens when your salary cap is managed so poorly.

gaborikanddubinsky.jpgUnder pressure: The Rangers’ training staff is under pressure, because if Gaborik goes down with his typical array of injuries, New York’s offense is shot. Gaborik played an unusually high amount of games last year, but can he do it again?

Protecting the house: Lundqvist is a truly elite goalie. The Swedish netminder keeps the Rangers afloat despite the fact that they’re rarely strong in any other area. The team historically leans on him too much, though, so it’s great to know that they added a solid backup in Martin Biron. Maybe Lundqvist won’t suffer from his annual tough patch if he can have a little rest here and there.

Redden isn’t an enormous loss, but this defense is far from elite. Marc Staal is a nice player, but he might not be a great choice for a No. 1 guy. Really, the team is a collection of second and third pairing blueliners beyond Staal, with Matt Gilroy, Dan Girardi and Mike del Zotto being the other prominent defensemen.

Top line we’d like to see: Frolov-Brandon Dubinsky-Gaborik. Boy, are the Rangers weak up the middle or what? Some might put Chris Drury on the top line, but Drury plays better against second or third pairings (something you love to hear about a guy who makes $7 million per year, naturally). Frolov and Gaborik might skate a lot with each other in reality, unless the team wants to spread its offense out.

Oh captain, my captain: Drury carries Bobby Holik’s torch as a character guy getting paid like a megastar in New York. He is above average to great in the “little things” categories like winning draws, killing penalties and blocking shots. That might not make him worth the money, but it earns him clout as a leader.

Thumbnail image for boogaardparros.jpgStreet fighting man: Boogaard is the ‘Boogey Man’ for good reason; he is huge and terrifying. Sure, his punching ability doesn’t warrant a $1.6 million salary, but he should beat a lot of people up in the suddenly staggering Atlantic Division.

Best-case scenario: Lundqvist wins his first Vezina Trophy because Biron lets him avoid the occasional back to back game. Gaborik stays healthy and helps Frolov enjoy a 30-goal rebirth. Sean Avery impedes the progress of other people rather than himself and his own squad. The team makes a nice run to the Eastern Conference finals as some of the favorites are upset by underdogs.

Worst-case scenario: Gaborik struggles with his usual injury troubles while Frolov drifts in and out of relevance. Avery alternates between self-destructing and getting injured. The Rangers defense cracks in front of a beleaguered duo of Lundqvist and Biron. The Rangers end up missing the playoffs but aren’t bad enough to earn a good draft pick, either.

Keeping it real: Lundqvist is strong enough to help the Rangers remain competitive, but the team around him is very weak. I think the most realistic outlook is a slightly peachier version of the worst-case scenario. Chances are they’ll end up just a touch better than the Islanders, with a fourth-place finish in the Atlantic and a 10th or 11th spot in the East.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, having talent like Lundqvist and Gaborik bumps you up one point in my eyes, so let’s give the Rangers a 2. The splendid Swedish stopper will have to play out of his mind for the Rangers to be a serious contender, though.

Penguins – Senators Game 7 goes to double overtime, try to breathe

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Try to breathe. Maybe meditate during this overtime intermission, if you need it.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators didn’t just need overtime to decide who would win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final. It turns out that, despite an angry Penguins crowd, that they’ll need double OT.

There were plenty of big chances during that span of “free hockey.” You could probably argue that Phil Kessel was the most frustrated player during that frame; he was unable to score but generated some golden opportunities.

One really looked like it might have beaten Craig Anderson:

Wow. This one likely stings more for Kessel, as he had a ton of time and space but missed the net.

Kessel wasn’t the only player to get chances. There were a ton in this first overtime as both teams took thrilling swipes at victory. Still, number 81 provided some of the most memorable moments.

You can watch Game 7 live on NBCSN. The game can also be viewed online and via the NBC Sports App. Here is the livestream link.

Brace yourselves, Senators – Penguins Game 7 goes to overtime

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It’s dangerous to assume much of anything in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators seem like they’re taking turns flipping the script.

After the Senators received the only two power-play opportunities through the first two periods, Phil Kessel drew a call on Dion Phaneuf. Justin Schultz almost immediately reminded us of part of the reason why his presence had been so sorely missed, scoring an authoritative 2-1 tally.

Here’s that goal:

There seemed to be a possibility that officiating would be a huge sticking point, as some didn’t like that call and Guy Boucher was incensed when a whistle was blown when Phil Kessel was hit in the ear with a puck. Penguins haters probably felt especially irritated since the Penguins scored while Zack Werenski was down (and bloodied) during a somewhat similar exchange earlier in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Some will bring that up, especially once we find out how this one will end, but Ryan Dzingel shifted the focus to how the Senators just won’t quit as he scored soon after that 2-1 goal to tie it 2-2, the second time Ottawa’s fought back (quickly) from a seemingly huge Penguins goal.

Watch that goal above, then hold your breath as this game goes to overtime.

You can watch Game 7 live on NBCSN. The game can also be viewed online and via the NBC Sports App. Here is the livestream link.

Video: Marc Methot’s impressive hip check on Evgeni Malkin

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So far, the Ottawa Senators are getting their way in Game 7, as their 1-1 contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins has been a grinding, sometimes stifling affair.

This sets the stage for a dramatic finish, as the two teams are locked up by that 1-1 score heading into the third period.

With a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line, everyone’s pushing hard, and sometimes that means delivering hard hits.

All things considered, you’d be hard-pressed to top Marc Methot‘s hip check on Evgeni Malkin from a degree-of-difficulty standpoint.

Hip checks are already endangered species in the NHL because it’s just so difficult to lineup in this speedier, more skillful game. But to do it in a tied Game 7, against a driven Malkin, in your own zone? That’s borderline audacious. Then again, Methot’s fighting through that gruesome finger injury (along with … maybe other things given playoff secrecy), so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

Check it out in GIF form, too:

Some Penguins fans are grumbling about that not being a penalty, and that’s a debate for the comments. Most of us can agree that it was an impressive feat either way.

You can watch Game 7 live on NBCSN. The game can also be viewed online and via the NBC Sports App. Here is the livestream link.

Calm, then storm: Penguins, Senators trade Game 7’s goals in 20 seconds

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Here’s hoping that you didn’t take a poorly-timed break in the second period.

For much of Game 7, the Ottawa Senators have been able to slow down the Pittsburgh Penguins, resulting in a contest that went scoreless for what sometimes felt like ages.

Chris Kunitz changed that, long after missing on a golden opportunity shortly after Mike Sullivan decided to put him on Sidney Crosby‘s line. Kunitz finished a nice rush play to make it 1-0 9:55 into the second. Check out that goal below.

Guy Boucher didn’t have to deploy “attack mode” very long, as Mark Stone stunningly tied it up 1-1 just 20 seconds later. That surprising tally can be seen in the clip above this post’s headline.