New York Hockey: Eric Staal

W2W4: Rangers vs. Hurricanes

March, 18, 2013
At a glance: Securing only two of 10 points in the past five games, the Rangers return from a four-game road trip looking to snap a three-game losing streak; they face the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night at Madison Square Garden in the clubs’ first meeting of the season. The team’s recent stretch has been worrisome, as three listless losses have left them outside the playoff picture in the East. The Blueshirts are in 10th place with 28 points, just three points behind the eighth-place Hurricanes.

Trade rumors swirling: The more Marian Gaborik struggles, the more his future with the Rangers comes into question. With only one goal in the past 14 games, Gaborik’s name has been bandied about as the April 3 trade deadline approaches. Coming off a 41-goal season, Gaborik (eight goals, nine assists) has scored in only five of the Rangers' 27 games. After this season, the 31-year-old sniper has one more year on a five-year, $37.5 million deal.

Top line reunited: In an effort to spark Gaborik and the Rangers’ overall offense (outscored 9-2 in the past three games), coach John Tortorella reunited the team’s trio of top forwards. Gaborik skated on the left wing with center Brad Richards and right wing Rick Nash during Monday’s morning skate.

Brother act: Monday would’ve marked the first time in their NHL careers that Marc, Jordan and Eric Staal were on the ice together in the same game, but one brother will be missing from the group. Marc remains out indefinitely with an eye injury suffered earlier this month. His younger sibling, Jordan, was traded this summer from Pittsburgh to Carolina, where he joined the eldest Staal brother, Eric, on the Hurricanes.

Staal streaking: Speaking of Eric Staal, the Canes' captain enters MSG on a four-game point streak, with five points (one goal, four assists) during that span. Staal leads Carolina with 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists) although former Capital Alexander Semin is not far behind. Semin is also riding a four-game point streak (two goals, four assists); he has eight goals and 21 assists in his first season with the Hurricanes.

Similar slump: Although the Canes still retain a grip on the last playoff spot in the East, they are also trying to halt a mini-skid of their own. Carolina has dropped its past two games -- a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and a 3-2 defeat to the Capitals on Thursday.

NHL realignment amps up rivalries

December, 6, 2011
Welcome to the new world order, eh?

Monday night, the NHL Board of Governors unveiled a drastic plan to re-map the league into four new conferences and do away with the current 15-team Eastern and Western conferences and their three sub-divisions.

It's a move that will reduce travel for teams in the West, as well as drastically increase the emphasis of regional rivalries ... and the competition for playoff spots.

In the interest of time, we won't rehash the new-look NHL; if you haven’t read about it yet, be sure to do so before you read on. Also, ESPN Insiders should take a look at Craig Custance's Realignment Winners and Losers article.

Here, we're going to examine how the new plan impacts the three New York area teams. And for starters, the playoff push may have just gotten a lot harder.

The Rangers, Devils and Islanders will be playing in the hardest of the four new conferences next season. That's not just an off-the-cuff claim; it's based on cumulative team point totals since the 2004-05 lockout.

Take a look at the new group we’ll call the "Atlantic Division Plus-2": The Rangers, Isles, Devils Penguins, Flyers, Capitals and Hurricanes. Since the lockout, those teams have combined to send 27 of a possible 48 teams to the playoffs, the highest percentage of any of the new conferences.

(The westernmost of the new conferences -- Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, L.A., Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver -- also sent 27 teams over that span, but is comprised of eight teams.)

Moreover, teams in the Atlantic-Plus 2 averaged 92.2 points in the standings over that time span, also the best showing of the new conferences -- just better than the aforementioned westernmost conference by a tenth of a point.

So what's that mean for the New York teams? One quick conclusion will be new heights for already intense rivalries.

Only four of the seven teams in the Atlantic Plus-2 can make the playoffs, meaning there will be a team left home in 2012-13 that has qualified for four of the past six postseasons. With intra-conference teams meeting six times a season, each and every one of those games will carry the utmost importance. And once the postseason rolls around, the intensity will reach a new high, as the top four teams battle head to head to reach the league semifinals.

A few other notes to consider:

Net Gain: The Atlantic was one of three existing divisions that stayed intact and gained teams. Instead of potentially waving goodbye to the Penguins, as some realignment scenarios envisioned, the Atlantic's "founding five" gained two solid squads in Washington and Carolina.

Star Power: New York-area fans will now get to watch Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin 18 times each per year on the MSG family of networks, and that doesn’t include national broadcasts.

Stars on the Horizon: In the "old" Atlantic Division, the Islanders seemed to have a monopoly on top-of-the-draft talent. No longer. The Canes will bring Jeff Skinner and dynamic D-men Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy with them, while the Caps could introduce their next high-profile Russian prospect, Evgeny Kuznetsov, as early as next season.

Family Ties: Starting in 2012, all four Staal brothers will play in the same division -- if youngest brother Jared should get the call up to the Canes. In case you're wondering, there will be a 42 percent chance that a Staal brother will reach the NHL semifinals each year.

Familiarity: Not every player in each conference will be related, but it will feel like it after a few seasons. After six regular season games and a pair of playoff series against intra-conference teams, secrets should be few and far between.

No Trap Games: Speaking of frequent foes, how glad is everyone that they won’t have to watch Tampa's 1-3-1 trap six times a year? (Somewhere, Chris Pronger is raising his hand.)

The Unexpected: You can reference the past as often as you like (and I have), but the only way to truly predict how this new format will shake out will be to watch it in action. Of course, we still have this mildly interesting 2011-12 season in front of us as well. The NHL sure has a way of keeping things interesting.

Team Staal falls; Lundqvist makes history

January, 30, 2011
Since you're no doubt already up to speed on the "whats" and "whens" of the 11-10 Team Lidstrom All-Star Game win, here's a little more from the "whos." Here's what the three New York-area members of Team Staal had to say in the postgame scrums.

Historical Hank

Henrik Lundqvist was unaware that he had entered the record books as the first all-star goalie to face (and stop) a penalty shot. "Wow, so I guess I'm part of history," Lundqvist said after signing the game jersey of tonight's teammate Alex Ovechkin ... who brought on the penalty shot by throwing his stick to try and waylay the breakaway of Matt Duchene.

Lundqvist hadn't seen much of the Avs' sophomore center, so he didn't have much to draw on before stopping the attempt by sliding his left leg out to block the bottom left corner of the goal mouth.

"I didn't have anything on him. I just try to do the same thing every time [on penalty shots]," Lundqvist said. "I just try to be patient and make him make the first move."

Brotherly Love

Marc Staal may not have been the driving force between the crowd's appreciative chants of "Go Team Staal" but he thought it was pretty neat nonetheless. "Obviously it wasn't for me," Marc said, before noting that he gave his brother some flak between the second and third periods. "I told him he was letting everyone down by not scoring a goal."

Not that defense is ever the focus of the All-Star Game, but Marc may not have been arguing from a position of strength. Through two periods he sat at a game-worst minus-4. He later rallied in the third to cut his rating to a more acceptable minus-2. His brother Eric also scored a pair of goals in the final frame.

Staal noted it was a little weird to watch his defensive partner jumping deep into the offensive zone quite a bit. Normally paired with the stay-at-home Daniel Girardi back on Broadway, Staal was tonight matched with dynamic Pittsburgh Penguins D Kris Letang. "It was a little unusual but he scored a couple of goals. It was fun."

The Devil's Work

Patrik Elias spent his All-Star Game skating with Carolina Hurricanes fan-favorite Jeff Skinner, better known as Bieber on Ice. The team-first vet from New Jersey spent most of the game trying to set up the rookie for a goal that would have brought the roof crashing down, but the 18-year-old just couldn't convert a number of great scoring chances. Perhaps he was blinded by all the flash bulbs.

After the game, Elias said he and his other linemate, Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche, made a concerted effort to try and get the wunderkind a goal.

"Yeah, we were trying hard. Maybe a little too hard," Elias said. "I almost pulled a groin muscle trying to spring him on a breakaway."

Elias is fine though and is very, very impressed with Skinner, one of the lead candidates for this season's Calder Trophy.

"He's great at going to the net and he's got such strong legs, which is what makes him so good," Elias said.

While the youngster didn't score, Elias did put a goal on the board, the first All-Star Game goal of his decorated career. "I grabbed a puck after the game," Elias said. "It's my first, and you know, it could be my last."


In case anyone is actually interested in the final game stats:

Marc Staal: Minus-2, 1 SOG, 17:01 TOI
Patrik Elias: G, A, 1 SOG, 15:44 TOI
Henrik Lundqvist: 11 saves, 14 shots faced in 18:36 TOI

Six (kinda silly) All-Star observations

January, 30, 2011
For those who have never been to an All-Star Game weekend, the emphasis is about 10% on the on-ice action and 90% on the fan-friendly environment off of it. There's been plenty to do and see for hockey fans in the great town of Raleigh, N.C., where I've done my part to support the local economy by indulging in a little Carolina BBQ goodness.

While we wait for the game to get underway in about 30 minutes, here are a few quick observations from the weekend thus far.

1.) Michael Grabner skates with the speed of a well-caffeinated ice leopard.
Seriously, he's fast. In last night's skills competition he blew past fleet-footed rook Taylor Hall twice to earn Team Staal three fairly meaningless points in a similarly meaningless competition. While at first glance his physical gifts may have given him the wins, I wouldn't underestimate the cunning strategy he used to claim the races. "I just wanted to go out there and skate as fast as I could," Grabner answered in response to the incisive, post-race question of "what was your approach?" It was a bold plan and it paid dividends for the Isles' rookie.

2.) Marc Staal skates with the speed of a large pack animal. This isn't to say the Rangers' D-man was particularly slow -- heck, his brother thought enough of him to put him in the fastest skater competition after all -- but I think he lost his race by the largest margin for any non-goalie. But let's just say that if there were a pride of Grabners skating down a pack of Marc Staals, the Grabners aren't going to go hungry.

3.) Jeff Skinner is a rock star. You've probably heard the Justin Bieber comparisons by now. Lame as they may be, they're kind of accurate. The 18-year-old Carolina Hurricanes rookie is the youngest all-star in NHL history and the fans in are absolutely in love with this kid -- granted the 18 goals he's scored this season have helped just a wee bit. He signed autographs at the fan fest Saturday and the line had to be 200 yards long, with most fans wearing the rookie's jersey. If for no other reason than the kid's marketing potential -- and believe me there are plenty of other reasons -- the Canes have themselves a dynamite pick from the 2010 draft.

4.) Club ideologies carry over. Typical of his big-market team, Nicklas Lidstrom "out-spent" Eric Staal by about $400K when you combine all player salaries on their All-Star fantasy rosters. Gary Bettman needs to tighten the cap for the next game.

5.) Pigs are much more attractive to me when they're on a bun and smothered in Carolina BBQ sauce. That is all.

6.) More creativity can't hurt. Look, it's nice that Team Staal and Team Lidstrom honor their distinguished captains by carrying their monikers. But wouldn't it be better if these fantasy teams had actual fantasy team names? Fans should be able to nominate team names and then vote on the winners. I bet you'd get some pretty funny entries.
NEW YORK -- The Rangers' first half of the season would've been good enough to place the Blueshirts in the playoffs. After Wednesday night's 2-1 overtime victory vs. Carolina, the Rangers were in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

But if the Rangers want to ensure themselves of a return to the playoffs after missing out on the fun last season, head coach John Tortorella needs to see more from his team in the second half of the season.

"We’re going to have to be a better team. We're going to have to work on the details because the games are going to be tougher. I think we're in the right direction. I know we're in the right direction, but there's a fine line between winning and losing hockey games," Tortorella said.

"No matter what is going on with your club -- and I'm really excited about a lot of things going with the team -- there's a fine line between winning and losing, and that comes down to details."

The Rangers will look to hone in on their details and are optimistic about their chances of earning a playoff spot as they head into the second half. The Rangers are currently six points ahead of last season's pace and eight points ahead of ninth-place Carolina in the playoff battle.

"We know where we are and we know what we need to do in order to be a team that's gonna push for not only going into the playoffs but we have an opportunity to fight for our conference here, with how tight the Eastern Conference is," center Brandon Dubinsky said. "We just have to keep pushing."

The details of the game comes down to execution and preventing mistakes. Tortorella used the example of Eric Staal's game-tying goal for Carolina coming off a mistake against Brian Boyle's line Wednesday.

"That's what happens the second half of the year are the small things, and we have to continue to work on that and remain with our personality as a team," Tortorella said. "That's what we were tonight and be consistent with it."

Dubinsky said at the beginning of the season, there were questions about what type of team the Rangers would be this year, but at the midway point, he believes the Rangers have found their identity. The Rangers play a scrappy, hustling style of physical hockey with plenty of players contributing to their success instead of one or two stars leading the way.

While Tortorella said the team lost its identity for a bit, he believes that Wednesday night's hard-earned 2-1 overtime win was a step in the right direction of regaining it.

"It's a good group and we're not the most talented group in the world," Tortorella said. "The thing that I think is going to have to carry us through is to play as a team and that's what I think has given us our first-half start here is I think we've played really well as a team."

Last season ended in the most heartbreaking of fashions, a shootout loss to the Flyers in the last game of the season that put the Flyers in the playoff and kept the Rangers at home. It was the first time the Rangers missed the playoffs since the 2004-05 lockout.

So far, the Rangers are putting themselves in a position where they won't have to fight for a berth on the last day of the season.

"I feel really good about this team and the way we work and everybody shows up every night to work really hard and we’ve been winning a lot of tight games because of that and when you work hard you’ll get bounces," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "You can’t win every night but when you work really hard you will definitely win more than you lose. It’s also fun to watch everybody blocking shots and stand up for each other."

W2W4: Islanders vs. Hurricanes

November, 3, 2010
The Isles will try to end their four-game slide in Carolina tonight where Eric Staal and the Hurricanes are battling a two-game skid of their own. Both squads will show off some of the top young skaters tonight with rookie Jeff Skinner currently leading the Canes in the scoring department. Here are three keys to spy when the puck drops.

Hey, Look! Someone's Healthy!
Formerly injured center Rob Schremp will make his season debut tonight after battling a bum back. On the sidelines he missed out on the team's early success and has been unable to help when things started to sour four games ago. Expect him to come out with a lot of energy between Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau on the second line tonight. And did someone say line combinations?

New Look Lines
With Schremp's return, head coach Scott Gordon will roll out some new line combos. According to Chris Botta of Islanders Point Blank, here's how they looked at practice:

Moulson - Tavares - Parenteau
Bailey - Schremp - Comeau
Weight - Nielsen - Grabner
Martin - Konopka - Hunter/Gillies

Perhaps the changes will wake up Bailey and Comeau who have been quiet lately. Bailey in particular has no points and is averaging just one shot on goal since returning from the hip pointer he sustained against the Maple Leafs Oct. 18. Comeau's been getting his shot off, but he's also sporting a minus-5 rating over the past three contests.

The Islanders should have a big edge in the faceoff circle tonight considering the Canes are flat out awful on the draw. Through their first 11 games, Carolina has claimed just 37.4 percent of their faceoffs. Look for the Isles to own the time of possession edge tonight. And if they can turn that edge into offense, look for them to put their losing streak behind them.