New York Hockey: MSG

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.

W2W4: Capitals vs. Rangers

November, 9, 2010
The Blueshirts are hoping to warm up what has been an unhappy home this season, with just a 2-4-1 mark at MSG. The Washington Capitals won't make it easy on them however, entering the contest with a league-leading 20 points in the standings and riding a four-game winning streak.

Here are three keys to keep your eye on when the puck drops.

Michal Neuvirth
The young netminder has been sensational for the Caps in the early going, generating a little Calder buzz in the process. Neuvirth is not the biggest goalie you'll see, but he may be one of the most positionally sound. He plays angles as well as any goalie I've watched, which means the Rangers must make him move to get the puck by him. Rebounds could provide particularly fruitful opportunities, as the Caps' D isn't always sharp when it comes to clearing them away from the crease.

The Forecheck/Cycle
Brandon Dubinsky thought the team did a lousy job on the forecheck in Sunday's loss to the Blues, but it could pay big dividends if they can keep the pressure on Tuesday night. The Caps will likely try to match Mike Green and Jeff Schultz against the Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan line whenever they can, but on the road, that trio will almost surely see time against the rookie pairing of John Carlson and Karl Alzner, as well as the rather sluggish skating duo of Tyler Sloan and John Erskine. That latter pairing has had trouble clearing the Caps' zone. If the the Rangers can get a good cycle going with Sloan and Erskine on the ice, I'd bet it results in some good scoring chances if not a goal.

With all of the Caps' offensive weapons, zone time and puck possession will be key and it starts at the faceoff dot. The Rangers have been getting killed in the circle this season (45.2 percent, 28th in the NHL) and lost 38 of 54 draws Sunday. With Green, Carlson, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin frequently looking for shots off of faceoff wins, at a minimum, the Rangers must make sure they don't lose draws cleanly. Of course, winning a few draws wouldn't hurt either.

The blog will be at the game tonight, so look for a Rapid Reaction right after the final horn. A notes and quotes post will follow later tonight.

W2W4: Maple Leafs vs. Rangers

October, 15, 2010
The Rangers open their home schedule against one of the NHL’s biggest early-season surprises: The 3-0-0 Toronto Maple Leafs. Here are three things to watch for on the ice Friday night.

Clarke MacArthur

The Toronto forward has four goals through the first three games, leading the team with five points. Is he a breakout star in the making or the Tuffy Rhodes of the NHL’s 2010-11 season? So far, MacArthur has been providing the secondary scoring behind top sniper Phil Kessel and, along with Kris Versteeg, reinvigorated what was an awful offense in 2009-10.

The Captain Returns

Chris Drury makes his season debut Friday night, presumably on the top line, although we won’t have that absolutely confirmed until the pregame skate. Erik Christensen has not been ruled out for the game, despite suffering a leg injury against the Islanders on Monday. Should Drury end up skating on the top line and excel while Christensen sits, it could be interesting to see the postgame fallout. With head coach John Tortorella hesitant to break up his No. 2 and 3 lines, it could mean that Christensen may be fighting for his job when he returns to health.

Fast Start

Part of the reason we won’t know the line combos until just before game time is that the Rangers have bagged the practice in an effort to end the bad habit of falling behind early at home. As Larry Brooks points out in the Post, the Blueshirts fell behind 13 times within the first seven minutes last season. Obviously that means you’re fighting up hill the rest of the way, and since the Rangers’ attack isn’t exactly nuclear powered, it can be a big handicap. With a full three days between games, expect the Rangers to press hard for the first goal tonight.

Morning Links

Kovy to 'debut' as Devils battle Rangers

September, 23, 2010
The Devils come to the Garden to open the Rangers' preseason tonight. With the game airing at 7 p.m. ET on MSG-Plus, here are five factors to keep your eye on.

The Money Line
Apt, no? Ilya Kovalchuk is swimming in it. Zach Parise is playing for more of it with a new contract. Travis Zajac may have to be traded in desperation because the Devils lack cap space. If, as expected, they retain Zajac and this line plays to its vast potential, then the troublesome investment in Kovalchuk will have paid off handsomely. Tonight is expected to be their first test together, after Tom Gulitti reported the trio will suit up at MSG.

Tedenby’s time to shine
The Devils’ top prospect, Mattias Tedenby, didn’t suit up Tuesday, which likely means he’ll make his preseason debut at the Garden tonight. If New Jersey's top two lines hold, it appears Tedenby is battling for a role on the third line. How he handles himself in the physical game could tell more about his future than his skill with the puck.

It’s an A-Bomb, from Ur-Bom!
Like his fellow rookie Jacob Josefson, Devils D Alexander Urbom impressed Tuesday night in Philly. Though he may not get a sweater tonight, a second viewing in short order could bode very well for Urbom’s roster chances. A solid showing tonight could bode even better.

The Forward Formerly Known as MZA
Mats Zuccarello mercifully shortened his last name (dropping Aasen, much to the delight of NHL jersey makers), and he can continue to shorten his odds of making the Ranger roster with a strong showing tonight. Seeing how he handles himself on the smaller ice against a sound defensive team like the Devils should be a good indicator as to whether last season’s Swedish league MVP is NHL-ready. The New York Times has more on the Norwegian Hobbit Wizard.

Stepan’s time to step up
Rangers rookie Derek Stepan struggled centering the top line in yesterday’s scrimmage, according to the Post's Larry Brooks, but he still may have the most talent of any pivot in camp. Head coach John Tortorella is expected to try some different players in the top C spot throughout the night. It will be interesting to see if Stepan -- or anyone else -- can seize the opportunity.

While the Devils’ lineup is still up in the air, here’s the roster the Rangers will put on the ice, via the Post:

Defense: Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michal Rozsival, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer, Alexei Semenov

Forwards: Marian Gaborik, Alex Frolov, Brandon Dubinsky, Erik Christensen, Brandon Prust, Brian Boyle, Tim Kennedy, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Boogaard, Dale Weise, Ruslan Fedotenko

Goalies: Martin Biron, Chad Johnson

Morning Links


Rangers preseason schedule

August, 31, 2010
Rangers training camp opens Sept. 17 at the MSG Training Facility, which means real live hockey isn't far behind. Here's a quick look at the team's preseason schedule.

Day Date Opponent Site Time
Thursday Sept. 23 New Jersey Madison Square Garden 7 p.m.
Saturday Sept. 25 New Jersey Prudential Center 7 p.m.
Sunday Sept. 26 Detroit Joe Louis Arena 5 p.m.
Wednesday Sept. 29 Detroit Madison Square Garden 7 p.m.
Friday Oct. 1 Ottawa Madison Square Garden 7 p.m.
Saturday Oct. 2 Ottawa Scotiabank Place 7 p.m.