Brandon Dubinsky

Artem Anisimov (blue) pays the price to make a play against the hated New Jersey Devils (above).

Rangers’ coach John Tortorella recently announced that captain Chris Drury would return to the lineup tonight in Pittsburgh.  On its own, the declaration did nothing to stir our confidence.  Drury is a hard working guy, a stand up guy, but let’s be frank–he hasn’t lived up to his $35M contract and the last really clutch goal he scored was against, not for, the Rangers.  It was the way Torts said it that was such music to my ears, the song of angels to long time fans of the team.  The coach said Drury will play but that “no kids are coming out.”  Tortorella went on to say that it would be veterans who lose ice time and that a veteran would be a healthy a scratch, and that it was too bad for them.  “He’s the captain,” Tortorella would say.  “Everybody’s gotta sacrafice.”

On Sunday night the New York Rangers played perhaps their best game against a quality opponent in years, shutting out the Capitals 7-0.  It was the most lopsided shutout victory the team has had since 1970 (and my wife deleted it off the tivo before I saw the 4 goal 2nd period–an “important” American Idol will be deleted in retaliation).  The Rangers have a quality team because of the kids they’ve developed and refused to trade.  And a lot of them are kids no more.  Anisimov, the 6’4, 220 lbs. center iceman, may have slumped a bit as all players do, but he’s a leading scorer and a cog on the team’s best line, which flat out beats opposing units up physically on the wall and with its relentless cycle.  The line is so good that it allowed the Rangers to withstand almost a month without world class forward Marian Gaborik, and so good that on most nights since returning, Gabby has been a compliment and not that absolute focal point he’s been on every team he has played on in his life, including the Slovak national team that’s chock full of talent up front.

Defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi who had us pulling our hair out as recently as all of last year, have grown into cornerstones of the team, and now even look polished offensively.  Imposing rookie defenseman Michael Sauer won the Rangers a game last week in Ottawa with a well placed point shot in the clutch.  Team USA stalwart Ryan Callahan, perennially our extra effort award winner, does everything for this team but drive the Zambonie, and is loathe to miss a shift despite being a league leader in both hits and blocked shots.  We feel that Drury is keeping the captain’s C warm for him.

Derek Stepan has been a rookie sensation and now, playing consistently with Gaborik, expect him to flourish even more.  The core of youth has played so well that it can carry a guy like Michael Del Zotto, a sophomore defenseman who looks lost out there and who’s struggling very badly.  Then there’s team scoring leader and maybe the manliest man of the bunch, emerging star power forward Brandon Dubinsky, recently seen screaming at and giving the look of death to the Ottawa bench, last seen, kicking Alexander Ovechkin’s ass all over the ice on Sunday.  You think Dubinsky will be fired up tonight to face his best girlfriend Cindy Crosby, who cheaply and classlessly gave Ryan Callahanthe slew foot in the 2 team’s last meeting?

Whatever happens tonight, New York is bringing the right mix of size, speed, talent, toughness, and meanness to the party, even in the absence of behemoth enforcer Derek Boogard, who is still out with a shoulder problem.  The Rangers are seeking to win their second straight in Pittsburgh and to get a win over a Penguin team that last night had a 12 game win streak snapped by the Flyers.


Crack (,

Sean Avery (above) on top of Edmonton cry baby Ladislav Smid.

After Sunday afternoon’s Ranger’s blowout victory, defeated Edmonton defenseman Theo Peckham fumed that Sean Avery’s 3rd period actions precipitated a 5 on 5 brawl.  Peckham contended that Smid challenged the Ranger agitator to go, and that Avery’s reply was to the tune of ‘not now, next shift.’  Then Avery pounced on Smid and beat his face in.

Did Smid go down like that?  So what if he did?  Avery, when told of Peckham’s accusation, said “That’s what he said?”, unable to suppress the laughter.  Was he laughing at the assertion, or did the matter simply amuse him, however Smid went down?  Ace New York Post Rangers’ beat writer and hockey columnist Larry Brooks suggested on Monday that such an action was typical Avery and well within his nature.

As if that’s a bad thing?  Avery, the player who stirs the drink for the Rangers, went what seems like a whole season between stirring drinks, playing completely listless hockey for the Rangers last year, who failed to qualify for the playoffs, in what may have been #16’s worst season.  And after a November 4th tilt in Phily in which the Flyers once again bullied the Rangers up and down the ice, led by public enemy number one, Daniel Carcillo, this Rangers fan became disgusted, like many others, by the soft tone of the team.  Carcillo famously got Rangers’ star forward Marian Gaborik into a fight last year.  Sometimes a fight is unavoidable, but the Rangers response at having their best player targeted was nil.  Inexcusable.  And when Carcillo continued his antics in Phily 2 weeks ago, the Rangers did respond, but it was too little, too late.  The Rangers were already squarely off their game, and even admirable tough guys like Rangers’ heavyweight Derek Boogard and NHL middleweight champion Brandon Prust, who won fights after Carcillo’s dirty hit on Ruslan Fedotenko, were merely reacting.  They were not taking the initiative.

Despite having lost a tough game tonight at the Garden to the Bruins 3-2, the Rangers are playing much better hockey, and it has started to seem that the Rangers are more ready to respond to physical challenges.  For one, Sean Avery is noticeable once again, and if he has to sucker punch someone to be that, then let’s get to sucker punching.  The Rangers, a team stocked wth young players, have begun to give their tougher stock more ice time, like Brandon Prust, who arrived here from Calgary as a four minute man, but now plays a regular shift, even killing penalties.  So what if he got caught up ice on the tying goal with 2+ minutes to go in Pittsburgh?  It’s going to happen.  But you have to have confidence in guys.  And Tortorella does.  To the coach’s credit, because it hasn’t always seemed that way, which is why we’ve been critical of him.  And when you play Brandon Prust for 15 minutes instead of 4, that’s 11 more minutes on the ice for a guy who had approximately 40 fights last year, increasing the odds that he will keep opposing scum honest, in a way that the Sean Averys and Daniel Carcillos of the world can not be contained.

The Rangers went down 2-1 Monday night in a blink, after protecting a 1-0 lead for almost the entire 2nd half of the game.  Perhaps an even dirtier player than Carcillo, Cindy Crosby, seemed to commit at least 2 obvious stick infractions that were not called.  Is there ever a call that doesn’t go Crosby’s way?  The kid has a Stanley Cup ring on account of a blown call, after all.  But young Ranger power forward Brandon Dubinsky, now with 11 goals, seems to genuinely have a thing for Crosby, and has made it a point to pursue the Pittsburgh star, stalking him for the precious opportunity to rearrange #87’s face.  And Dubinsky beatifully set up both the tying and winning goal, in a most improbable win in the Rangers first game in Pittsburgh’s new arena. 

For the first time in a couple of years, the Rangers seem to have a squad that may be more than timid, in terms of going on the ice and taking respect, though Theo Peckham surely doesn’t seem to think so.  The real test of mettle for the Rangers will be the next time they face the Flyers.  As for Peckham, it’s a flipping hockey game, Theo.  When you come to the Garden these days, don’t be surprised if you get punched in the face, regardless of any alleged gentleman’s agreements.


Crack (,

Marc Staal (above).

The New York Rangers made the most significant move of their off-season recently, announcing that a long rumored deal with the club’s top defenseman, Marc Staal, had been agreed to by both sides.  The 23 year-old defenseman who anchored the unit last year, averaging 23 minutes of ice per game, will receive $ 19.875 M over 5 years, under the terms of the existing collective bargaining agreement.

The deal should be viewed as a win for the Rangers, not only because they were able to get cost certainty with regard to one of their best young players, but also because the deal takes Staal one year past his earliest eligibility to become an unrestricted free agent.  The Rangers effectively bought Staal out of one year of free agency–a major coup in today’s NHL landscape, at a very affordable cap charge of approximately $ 3.9 M per year.

Rangers’ fans griped at the NHL draft when President and General Manager Glen Sather termed the negotiating gap between Staal and the team as a “chasm.”  Especially after last year’s acrimonious holdout between Brandon Dubinsky and the Rangers which caused the young forward to miss 8 days of training camp. 

Here are Staal’s career stats:

 Recent Career
 Year Team GP G A Pts +/- PIM Hits BkS PPG PPA SHG SHA GW SOG Pct  
 2007-08 NYR 80 2 8 10 2 42 N/A N/A 0 0 0 1 0 78 .026  
 2008-09 NYR 82 3 12 15 -7 64 N/A N/A 0 1 0 1 1 96 .031  
 2009-10 NYR 82 8 19 27 11 44 178 97 0 0 0 0 2 78 .103  
 Career Totals (Full) 244 13 39 52 6 150 178 97 0 1 0 2 3 252 .052

Staal, who at times has been disappointing, for the most part has impressed.  It must be kept in mind that he is a young player who broke into the NHL at the age of 19.  Usually the Rangers display a talent for ruining their young guys, but Staal, who has strong NHL bloodlines (brothers Eric and Jordan have already won Stanley Cups), is probably the most sound first round pick the Rangers have made since Sather left Edmonton to preside over the Rangers.  Though the selection of Staal was bittersweet for the Rangers, who lost valuable draft positioning and a spot in the NHL’s lottery because of a lockout which cost them a crack at megastars Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.  Despite New York being one of the worst teams in the league prior to the lockout, since the lockout was so protracted, the draft was not conducted in reverse order of record, as it should have been, and instead, the draft order was selected randomly.  The Rangers were awarded the 15th pick overall, and then traded up 3 spots to select the 6’4 defenseman.

Staal has only missed two games in his NHL career, and has participated in every game over the last two seasons.  The signing puts the Rangers about $ 4 M over the NHL’s salary cap, but the Rangers are expected to clear $ 6.5 M in cap space when the players report to camp.  At that time, total bust Wade Redden is eligible to be waived–a move greatly anticapted by Rangers’ fans everywhere who are completely disgusted with the veteran Redden’s disinterested play, as well as the 6 yr/$ 39 M contract Redden signed in July of 2008.

The Rangers finished one point out of the playoffs last year, and watched the 8th seed Philadelphia Flyers advance to the Stanley Cup finals.

–Crack (,