New York Hockey: Jordan Staal

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.

Dubinsky doesn't think Staal intended hit

February, 2, 2011

Not much from the fast-emptying Ranger locker room Tuesday night and not much reaction to Jordan Staal's mug shot to Brandon Prust either.

Big bro Marc Staal said he missed the punch and didn't want to comment until he had seen it.

"I don't know him, but I respect the Staal family," Rangers head coach John Tortorella said when asked if he was surprised by Jordan's retaliation. "I think you could tell when it happened, at least I thought so, that he knew he had made a mistake."

"It's tough, obviously that's an inexcusable play," Brandon Dubinsky said. "I don't think he intended what happened. But you do something, there's consequences."

Some quick context for the end of Dubinsky's quote. I believe he was referring to the ensuing penalty rather than insinuating there will be future consequences from the Rangers. I wouldn't expect this to endure at all. After the game, Marc and Jordan were chatting amicably, as you'd expect, in the player tunnel.

On playing against Jordan after skating alongside his brother Eric at the All-Star game, Marc said: "Obviously it's a little more competitive today. I had a lot of fun playing with Eric. It's always the same against those guys. We're all competitive and it's always a lot of fun."

Here's To Your Health
Both Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan said they felt good after tonight's game and didn't feel too rusty after missing time with injuries.

"The first period I was just trying to get my legs under me," said Callahan, who seemed to prove he was back at full speed with his game-tying PP goal. "[In the first] there were a few rough plays along the wall and the puck was bouncing on me. After I scored it settled me down a little bit and I thought there were a few other good shifts in the second when we were cycling. That's my game. Once we started doing that I started feeling confident and started playing well."

"A little nervous, a little jittery," Dubinsky said when describing his first few shifts tonight. "My legs were a lot better than I anticipated they would be. Hopefully it will be right back into the flow of things."

Dubinsky said his leg felt pretty good when he woke up this morning, despite pushing it for an hour and 45 minutes at practice Monday, about an hour more work than usual. That's when he knew he'd be good to go Tuesday night.

As Tortorella noted in the presser, he wasn't bashful about sending either player over the boards. Dubinsky led all Ranger forwards with 23:10 of ice time tonight, his third-highest total of the season. Callahan wasn't far behind with 21:07.

The Big Picture
As Tortorella pointed out, Callahan's goal gave the Rangers a big point tonight, particularly with the Hurricanes and Thrashers both losing. The Blueshirts are now just two points back of the Washington Capitals for the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference.

Overall, Tortorella felt pretty good about the way his team played, especially the chances the Rangers generated in the third period against a defense he considers to be among the NHL's best. The stats certainly back that up -- the Pens are No. 2 in goals allowed per game this season. Offensively, Pittsburgh lacked its two top fowards and lost another when Staal got tossed. Still, the Rangers did a good job in their own end.

"We held them to six scoring chances throughout the game," Tortorella. "Where we struggled through most of the game was trying to contain their transition. But I thought we defended well."

The power play remains a point of concern however.

"Our power play stunk, it was ridiculous, so we had to change it," Tortorella said, noting he liked the combination of Callahan, Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, with Mats Zuccarello at the point -- a lineup he employed later in the game. "It's a little risk/reward there, but I thought [Zuccarello] did a pretty good job setting up some plays. We've really struggled at gaining the middle of the ice and getting our shots through."

Rapid Reaction: Penguins 4, Rangers 3 (SO)

February, 1, 2011
Recap | Box score | Photos

WHAT IT MEANS: In front of a packed house that included New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia, the Rangers started strong but faded late, losing to the injury-plagued Penguins in a shootout after jumping out to a 2-0 lead. The loss evens the season series at two games apiece, with both Penguins wins coming at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers record falls to 29-20-4.

WORKING OVERTIME: After dominating much of the third period (they outshot the Pens 11-3) and earning all of the best scoring chances in that frame, the Rangers continued to outwork their opponents in OT but couldn't find the net, leaving the Blueshirts in a shootout. In their six shootouts this season, the Rangers had posted a very solid 5-1 mark with Mats Zuccarello scoring on each of his previous shootout attempts. MZA was stopped Tuesday, and so were the Rangers, with the Pens' Dustin Jeffrey accounting for the lone goal.

WHERE'D THAT LEAD GO? Up 2-0 and looking strong early in the second period, the Rangers conceded a power play goal to Jeffrey at the 5:30 mark and another when a bouncing puck caromed off several players rushing to the net and snuck past Henrik Lundqvist, with Pittsburgh’s Michael Rupp getting credit for the goal. With 5:48 remaining in the period, a low burning slapper from Zbynek Michalek was redirected by Chris Kunitz past Lundqvist and suddenly the Rangers faced a one-goal deficit entering the third period.

BROTHERLY LOVELESS: After playing alongside his brother Eric in Sunday’s All-Star game, Marc Staal squared off against Jordan Staal Tuesday. Alongside now-healthy D partner Dan Girardi, Marc matched up against his brother’s line to start the game, wasting little time before throwing a shoulder into his younger bro in the corner of the Rangers’ zone. That was just the start of the fireworks though. After Jordan got clipped by an elbow from Brandon Prust with 4:33 left in the second period, Staal retaliated with a punch square into Prust’s face, earning the younger Staal a 5-minute match penalty and an early shower, while giving the Rangers a spark they desperately needed to get back in the game.

HELLO AGAIN: Brandon Dubinsky gave the Blueshirts a pleasant surprise this afternoon when his X-rays showed the stress fracture in his foot had healed, and he rejoined the team Tuesday. Also freshly returned to the lineup, Ryan Callahan provided a nice gift of his own when he knotted the score at 3 in the final minute of the second period. And man, did the Rangers need it.

Prior to Callahan’s goal the Blueshirts had squandered eight-plus minutes of power play time without a goal and looked particularly brutal during the five minutes following Jordan Staal’s banishment.

WHOA-LSKI: Ever since coming to New York Wojtek Wolski has produced, regardless of his playing partners. Tuesday, on a line with grinders Brian Boyle and Prust, Wolski helped stake the Rangers to a 1-0 lead with a primary assist when Prust tapped in the rebound of the winger’s wrister from the slot. Wolski now has 3 goals and 5 assists since coming to the Rangers from the Phoenix Coyotes nine games ago. (For anyone wondering, Alexander Frolov contributed 7 goals and 9 assists in 43 games before going down with a season-ending injury.) With about four minutes remaining in the first period and matched with Derek Stepan and Callahan, Wolski absolutely dogged the puck, trapping the Pens in their zone for a solid 45 seconds and ultimately earning a delay of game penalty when an exasperated Brooks Orpik backhanded the puck over the boards in a clearing attempt.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Rangers welcome in the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, Feb. 3. The once-dismal Devs have rebounded from an atrocious start to the season, winning seven of their last nine, including Ws over the Penguins, Flyers and a pair against the Southeast-leading Lightning.

More to come from the locker room.