New York Hockey: Blueshirts

W2W4: Capitals vs. Rangers, Game 4

April, 20, 2011
Yes, there is hockey being played in this series. After a two-day hiatus that has riled fan bases on both sides, the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals resume their first-round playoff series at Madison Square Garden. Here’s what to watch for when the puck drops in what is sure to be a rowdy and raucous affair Wednesday night.

Can you hear me now?

Verizon has a serious sponsorship opportunity at the Garden tonight after the Monday comments of Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau. The words may have been throwaway lines on talk radio, but they will almost certainly ignite the MSG crowd. Note to fans bringing small children tonight: Bring earmuffs.
With an electric environment likely, a fast start will be big for both teams. While the first goal is always important, the surrounding circumstances could raise the stakes for tonight’s initial marker.

Let’s get physical

Though Boudreau was critical of the officiating in Game 3 and what he saw as the Blueshirts targeting the head of Mike Green, the Rangers’ punishing play worked directly to their advantage. The Sean Avery-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust line generated a sustained forecheck and definitely irked the Caps with some hits after the whistle, and some of them certainly went unnoticed or uncalled by the referees. With the topic generating a lot of ink and pixels over the past two days, I’d expect Wednesday night’s crew to be particularly vigilant. If the Rangers want to continue their chippy approach, they’ll need to do so carefully, lest they find themselves on the short end of the Caps’ highly skilled power play.

Special teams

Speaking of the power play, the Rangers still need to see some improvement from theirs. Brandon Dubinsky’s "ugly" game-winning goal largely got the unit off the hook, but the Blueshirts struggled to produce with the man advantage throughout Game 3. Most noticeable was the failure during the 5-on-3. Whether it’s Bryan McCabe, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Matt Gilroy, Marc Staal or someone else entirely, whoever is manning the point on the power play needs to make quicker decisions with the puck. Too often the Rangers point men held onto the biscuit instead of pulling the trigger on a quick shot or sliding it along to an open teammate. That allowed the Caps to get settled in shooting lanes and obstruct scoring chances. Quick puck movement will open things up, and tire out the Caps’ PK.

Gaborik and the trade deadline

February, 22, 2011
Few details have emerged concerning the status of winger Marian Gaborik. To date there’s still no clear cause for the injury -- John Tortorella initially said he didn’t think Gaborik sustained the concussion during Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers -- and his return is not yet known.

To fill the void in the Rangers forward corps, the team recalled C Kris Newbury from Hartford. Newbury has been up and down throughout the season, posting one assist in eight games with the Blueshirts.

The Deadline Cometh

Once rumored to have interest in Edmonton Oilers/Hershey Bears D Sheldon Souray, the Rangers did not place a claim on the hulking D with the smoking slap shot by Monday’s noon deadline, nor did any other NHL team.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported yesterday the Rangers were turned off by the extra season remaining on his contract.

That’s not to say the Rangers will continue to sit on their hands before the Feb. 28 league trading deadline. While the talented, but very, very young, blueliners have held their own since the trade of Michal Rozsival for Wojtek Wolski, it was thought GM Glen Sather may attempt to bring in a more veteran D to steady the group come playoff time. According to ESPN’s Rumor Central, Bryan McCabe has had his name mentioned in conjunction with the Rangers.

But now that Gaborik is down and his return is uncertain (see Sidney Crosby for just how iffy concussions can be) it seems more imperative than ever that the Rangers try to improve their offense. The only problem is that it’s seemingly a weak market for forwards and particularly centers.

If made available, and healthy, Brad Richards of the Stars would headline the class -- but also carry a huge price tag. While the Rangers’ system is better stocked than it has been (No. 9 according to Hockey's Future), it doesn’t quite trump the prospects boasted by the Los Angeles Kings and Washington Capitals, two teams also in desperate search for a boost to the front line.

Ales Hemsky, Stephen Weiss (availability unclear) and Tim Connolly have also had their names emerge in trade rumors. Across the Hudson, Jason Arnott’s name has also surfaced.

Time will tell if any of them will be wearing a blue sweater before the start of March, but my bet is the Rangers will try to make a deal of some kind.

Stepan is center of attention

September, 20, 2010
As camp started this weekend, Derek Stepan took center stage, assigned to the team's top line with Marian Gaborik and Alexander Frolov for the Rangers' first scrimmage. While it's still extremely early to read too much into the move, it did seem to pay off. Stepan scored a goal and set up one of Frolov's three scores.

The momentum keeps building for Stepan who previously turned in a solid showing at the Traverse City prospect tournament. It's no guarantee that Stepan will start the season centering the Rangers' top line, or even that he'll beat out a deep group of vets for a spot on the roster, but Stepan's situation is holding everyone's attention early on. More on the matter below.

Morning Links

Staal signs; Redden all but done?

September, 16, 2010
The Rangers have signed Marc Staal to a five-year contract extension with a cap hit of $3.975, ensuring one of the league’s best young defensemen will skate on Broadway through the 2014-15 season.

With the signing, the Rangers’ currently sit a little over $4 million over the cap ceiling as training camp begins. Though it has been rumored all summer, it now appears inevitable that defenseman Wade Redden -- who carries a $6.5M per season cap hit by himself -- will enter camp assured of being placed on waivers and demoted from the team.

With Staal back on board and Redden likely gone, the stage is set for a camp showdown for the final two defensemen spots on the Ranger roster. It is thought that Staal, Michal Rozsival, Dan Girardi, and Michael Del Zotto already have the top four slots locked up, leaving the battle for Steve Eminger, Matt Gilroy, rookie Ryan McDonagh, AHL veteran Mike Sauer and camp invitees Garnet Exelby and Alexei Semenov.

Camp officially begins tomorrow for veteran players, though many have already arrived at MSG Training Center.

Morning Links
  • Jesse Spector of the Daily News has more on the Staal signing, as well as the increasing expectations for Girardi after he re-upped this summer.
  • The people have spoken and want to waive Redden in order to get under the salary cap following the Staal signing, according to the unscientific Twitter poll conducted by Spector. The scibe notes that the only teams that could even afford Redden’s gargantuan contract under the cap are the Islanders, Thrashers and Avalanche. I made this point earlier when talking about the Devils’ trade candidates following the Kovalchuk signing: Just because a team has cap space, don’t assume their willing to spend it on an abysmal contract. (FWIW Spector isn't implying the interest of those teams, just the available cap space.) Redden’s deal is almost universally regarded as the worst in the NHL.
  • Blueshirt Banter uses advanced metrics to see how Redden’s removal will impact the defense.
  • Larry Brooks asked Redden’s agent if he’s been in contact with European teams as an alternative to Hartford, but he declined comment.
  • Henrik Lundqvist guarantees the Rangers will make the playoffs this season.
  • The Rangers' prospects closed out the Traverse City Tournament with a 7-2 shellacking of the Stars. Seven different players scored for the Blueshirts, including top prospects Derek Stepan and Evgeny Grachev. The production from those two has to be encouraging to the talent evaluators of the scoring-starved big-league club.
  • SNY Rangers Blog summarizes Lundqvist's Wednesday interview on WFAN.
  • Alexei Semenov is just happy to be here, per Ranger Rants.