Thursday, June 19, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: In Need Of A Blue Line Bruiser


NEW YORK RANGERS - Let The Rath Of Dylan Begin!

Despite Rick Nash's scoring woes in the playoffs, a lack of goals was not necessarily the reason why the Rangers lost to the Kings.  Three overtime losses made it plainly obvious that the Blueshirts need a big defenseman who can clear traffic from in front of the net, and whom also possesses a big shot from the point on power plays.

On that note, Anton Stralman probably had the best shot from the point (by a NYR defenseman) this season but is in no way the answer.  I do believe however that he played well enough to warrant a reasonable contract offer from Sather.

And on that note, any additional potential free agent signing will obviously cost money - lots of money.  How does Sather clear the space needed to facilitate such a deal?  For starters, John Moore is no longer needed. I'd make Raphael Diaz go poof, and I'm on the fence with regards to Kevin Klein.

I'll get into what forwards I'd consider sacrificing shortly.

This year's free agency period is less than two weeks away.  Pittsburgh's Matt Niskanen is perhaps the most notable defenseman on the list.  He will no doubt cause a bidding frenzy, and inevitably command major salad.  But I'm not sure he's right for the Rangers.  He is listed at 6'0" and 209 lbs., which does not exactly distinguish him in a line-up with Girardi, Staal, and McDonagh.

Coming off a career high 46-point season, while still only 27-years old makes Niskanen very attractive.  Pair him with Ryan McDonagh, and the Rangers are set for years to come.  Niskanen certainly handles the puck better than Girardi did against L.A.  He would also be a welcome addition on the power play.  But he's not going to be the one clearing bodies from Henrik's space.

As it currently stands, import Justin Falk is the Rangers largest blue liner.  Will he see more time next season. At 6'5" and 215 lbs., perhaps he should, right?

The Rangers also have their proverbial ace prospect in the hole.  It's time to let the Rath Of Dylan begin!   Dylan McIlrath was the 10th overall selection of the 2010 draft, and should be ready to bang bodies in the NHL next season.  He is listed as 6'5" and 215 lbs.  His game is well suited for clearing traffic and maintaining lanes of sight for Lundqvist.

So with that in mind, I would give still Matt Niskanen serious consideration.

I also have interest in (LAK) Matt Greene.  And why not?  He's still only 31 years-old, and listed at 6'3" and 232 lbs.  That's the kind of size that moves bodies.  Realistically however, the Rangers can only sign him at their price and terms, not his.  I'll pass on (LAK) Willie Mitchell though.

Montreal's Andrei Markov is good, but like Mitchell he's getting old, and has become injury prone, so I do not consider him much of an option.  However, I think (NYI) Dan Boyle could be a good complimentary fit for the Rangers.

The Forward$$$ - Glen Sather needs to clear cap space, and will most likely start by buying out Brad Richards.  It's the right thing to do.  In the salary cap era, his contract is an albatross.  Unfortunately, Mats Zuccarello and Brian Boyle may have priced themselves out of town as well.  MatsZuccs?  Yeah, it's all about the salad.

What say you?


Monday, June 16, 2014

L.I. Ducks: Monday Night Baseball Independent Style

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE

Monday Night Showdown
Long Island Ducks
Somerset Patriots
New Jersey

LONG ISLAND DUCKS: Liberty Division Race Heating Up.

After opening the season by dropping two of three games to Somerset, then another two of three to close out May, the Ducks found themselves 4 games behind Somerset on June 1st.

The Ducks then went on to post a 7-4 record but could get no closer than within 3 games of Somerset.

This weekend Long Island finally punched through.  Despite Sunday's loss to Somerset, by virtue of sweeping Saturday's twin bill the Ducks finally closed to within 2.5 games of the Patriots.  The two teams will play the final game of their four game set Monday evening.  With a victory, Long Island can close to within 1.5 games of 1st place, with 22 games remaining in the first half of the season.

With a victory, Long Island would also even their season record (4-5) against Somerset.

Were it not for realignment, the Ducks would presently have a firm grip on first place of the Liberty Division. But last year's championship series opponent now lives in the same division.  As we've seen, this makes Long Island's back to back title defense that much more difficult.

In Monday night's series finale, Jared Lansford will climb the hill for the visiting Ducks, and will be opposed by Somerset's Derell McCall.

*         *         *

Lew Ford continues to lead the Atlantic League in Triple Crown categories, with a .398 batting average, 11 home runs, and 47 RBI.  Adam Bailey is 7th in the circuit with 7 home runs, and Cody Puckett is 4th in the league with 30 RBI.

Long Island's Shaun Garceau leads the league with 6 victories, followed by John Brownell with five.  John Brownell and Garceau are also tied for the league lead with 53 strikeouts.  Bobby Blevins ranks fourth with 45 strikeouts.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: Off-Broadway Rocked While It Lasted


NEW YORK RANGERS: That Was Still The Most Fun We've Had In The Last 20 Years.

I watched all the games, but was too busy to load many thoughts aboard the Trolley...  Just as well, because I was short on words.  I mean, outside of obvious and nitpick issues, this was a difficult series to reconcile.

The Kings played very well, and lost Game Four.  The Rangers played very well (for the most part) and lost three games in overtime.  What a tough way to go down.

I refuse to put anything on Henrik Lundqvist because the Rangers did little to clear traffic in front of the net. They continued to let L.A.Kings loiter, and it cost them dearly.  At the other end, Jonathan Quick was insanely good when it mattered.  The Rangers created more than their fair share of high quality chances, but Quick rose to the occasion each time.  In hindsight, it still hard to say if a productive power play and/or Rick Nash could have changed much.

You might say we're still getting adjusted to Alain Vigneault and what his style has meant/means to the Rangers.  After a rough start, we eventually enjoyed a fine season, and locally the Rangers were clearly the rage of Spring.  Off-Broadway was rockin'.

Now what?

Two conference championship series and one Stanley Cup appearance in the last three years ensures only Glen Sather decides when he leaves office.  That said, several personnel decisions must be made.

A troublesome summer lies ahead.


Monday, June 09, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: Game Three - Clear Up That Traffic


Kings Lead Stanley Cup Series 2-0
I - LAK 3; NYR 2*
II - LAK 5; NYR 4**
** double overtime

Los Angeles Kings
Madison Square Garden
33rd Street at 8th Avenue

NEW YORK RANGERS: No Harm Until We Lose At Home,

I agree there is certainly something uplifting about a raucous home crowd.  However, there is way too much concern over the Madison Square Garden crowd, and what role they'll play in Game Three.

Why doesn't everyone just leave that to us - the fans.  We decide who gets crap, and who and what makes us happy, and when.  That goes for anyone who thinks (or thought) the crowd is an issue, to include Mike Keenan.

Just stop.

How about protecting a lead?  How about closing out a game?  How about avoiding overtime?

My silence or screaming from section 411 isn't going clear traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist.  Marian Gaborik scored Game Two's tying goal because he was allowed to loiter around the net unhindered.  The game winning deflection (in double overtime) came because Dustin Brown was loitering in front of the net unhindered.  That stuff is problematic, not the crowd.

We're playin' with these guys.  The Rangers just keep shooting themselves in the foot.  To their credit, they've had numerous chances in both games, but Jonathan Quick rose to the occasion.

Speaking of which, without scoring from Rick Nash, it is unlikely the Rangers can maintain a 3 or 4 goal per game clip.  The man has 76 SOG in 22 playoff games, with only 10 points (3 goals) to show.  Playing the Kings requires all hands on deck.  Last game, might have been his best.  But, no goals, and that's been the difference.

Win tonight, and we have ourselves a series.  Just do it.


Saturday, June 07, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: Gotta Deal With The Bounces Boys


Kings Lead Stanley Cup Series 1-0
I - LAK 3; NYR 2*

New York Rangers
Los Angeles Kings
LaLa Land

NEW YORK RANGERS: Los Angeles Kings Enforce Murphy's Law Against Visitors.

The 64:36 mark of Game One produced one of those unfortunate moments players dread - when bad luck descends upon them.  Despite all the physical and mental preparations they put into their craft, there are no preventative measures athletes can take to ward off bad luck.

Just as the puck hopscotched Girardi's stick, two Blueshirts were turning up ice along the near and far boards.  That left three fore-checking Kings in the Rangers zone against Girardi.

Why dwell?  If the Rangers come away empty in Los Angeles, then we can revisit Game One, and I do mean all of it. There were too many inconsistencies from one period to the next that warrant more attention than Dan Girardi's 4th period misplay of an uncooperative puck.

Certainly no one can blame Dan Girardi for the Rangers getting woefully out-shot in the 3rd period by a 20-3 margin.  And Derek Stepan's turnover was no less costly.

Otherwise, there were no surprises in Game One.  The Kings did to the Rangers what they've been doing throughout the playoffs - coming back from being down.  When they need game tying goals, they get them.   When they need game winning goals, they get them.  When they've needed victories, they've gotten them.   No lead, game or series, has been safe.  Game One was no different.

Nevertheless, Jonathan Quick demonstrated he will allow goals.  But two Rangers goals in regulation time is insufficient against the Kings.

They simply need to score more.  It's unlikely Henrik Lundqvist will be pitching any shutouts against the Kings.  Therefore, the players on this team paid to score goals, must score goals.  That means Rick Nash.   He was not brought in at such a high cost to be inconsequential.  Defending him for doing all the little things is falling on deaf ears.

The power play must also reemerge.  The Rangers are operating with a much lower margin for error, and therefore must maximize any and every opportunity they receive.

Despite being careless with the puck, the Rangers still demonstrated they can compete with the Kings.  As Brad Richards said, they need to clean that up.  So let's just drop the puck on Game Two, and see where that gets us.


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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Let's Go Rangers! Stanley Cup Finals - Game One Tonight



NEW YORK RANGERS: Stop Pinching Yourself Or You'll Go Blind.

Okay, maybe not, but Game One is finally upon us.  It's really happening.

Broadway versus Hollywood.
East Coast versus West Coast.  
New York City versus the City of Angels.

Whatever you call it, may the better hockey club win.

Can the Rangers compete with the L.A.Kings?   You're damn right we can.

Of course, this will be a showdown between two of the NHL's elite goal tenders - Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick.  Coming off their respective conference series, Henrik appears to have the hotter hand, as Quick demonstrated against the Blackhawks that he will surrender goals.

But, it will take all King Henrik's horses, and all King Henrik's men in order to pull of victory in Lord Stanley's tournament.  For now, all the Rangers need to do is win a game in Los Angeles and bring the series home to 8th Avenue.

Can the Rangers win with Rick Nash still not scoring?  They have so far, but how long can they get away with it?  Besides the power play, and what on earth happened to Cam Talbot, I have no other real issues.  In fact, I feel the Rangers are getting better the more they play together.

After several fruitful drafts, the L.A. Kings are just a very smartly put together hockey team.  A few seasons ago, they made a financial commitment to their young group of core players, which opened up a window for success that has so far yielded it's second Cup appearance, and should remain open for another two seasons to come.

The L.A. Kings have orchestrated absolutely stupid comebacks throughout these playoffs, as did the Rangers against Pittsburgh.  Both teams are going to roll four lines, and both teams are deep defensively. While the Kings are perhaps bigger, the Rangers have the edge in speed.  If the Kings forecheck is able to zero in on players, the Rangers will pay.  If the Kings look to take the body, and miss because of New York's puck movement and speed, the Kings will pay.

That said, I expect this series to go seven games.

Let's drop the puck, and...

Let's Go Rangers!


L.I. Ducks: Brownell And Blevins Provide One-Two Punch Over Lancaster

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE

LONG ISLAND DUCKS: Realignment Has Turned The Somerset Patriots Into This Year's Problem.

Only a sweep over the Patriots would have truly made a difference, nonetheless this past weekend's series against Somerset was an opportunity lost.  By dropping two of three games, the Ducks fell a fourth game behind the Liberty Division leading Patriots.

If you remember, Somerset took two of three from Long Island in the season's opening series.  The Ducks are now 2-4 versus the newly transplanted Patriots this season.

For now, Long Island seems to be going with Plan B - beat up on the rest of the competition.

Ducks hurler John Brownell set about initiating that plan Monday night.  John last pitched against Lancaster on May 28th, earning his 3rd victory of the season in 6 modest innings of work.  As a result, Brownell missed the series against Somerset.

In Monday night's series opener against the visiting Barnstormers, John Brownell turned in his finest performance of the season, needing a mere 2:42 to complete his gem.  Making his 8th start, John pitched his first complete game of the season, allowing 2 earned runs on just 4 hits and one walk.  He fanned 9 batters, and now leads the circuit with 43 strikeouts.  He improved his record to 4-3, and lowered his ERA from 4.81 to a 4.33 mark.

The Ducks provided Brownell with 9 runs of support, led by 3 RBI from Brandon Lyons.  Cody Puckett went 3 for 5, as did Joash Brodin, which included a double, triple and 2 RBI.

The Patriots also won their Monday night game over York, and so Long Island entered Tuesday's action 4 games out of first.

Bobby Blevins then climbed the hill Tuesday at Bethpage Park, and was opposed by Lancaster's Chris Schwinden.

After spotting the Barnstormers a 2-0 lead in the 2nd, Blevins kept Lancaster scoreless long enough for the Ducks to comeback with 6 runs in the 6th inning and put him on the winning side.  Blevins pitched 7 innings in all, allowed 2 earned runs on 7 hits and just one walk.  He struck out 7 batters to bring his season total up to 41, which ranks 2nd in the circuit behind team mate John Brownell.

Lew Ford, who has struggled of late, broke out with a 4 for 4 night, while the Ducks cranked out 17 hits in 40 at-bats en route to an 8-4 final.

This evening Long Island hosts the Lancaster Barnstormers for the third of their four game series.  The Ducks Shaun Garceau will climb the hill at Bethpage Park, and will be opposed by Cody Scarpetta for the Barnstormers.

The York Revolution romped over Somerset on Tuesday.  However, the Patriots won their matinee game Wednesday to reestablish a 3.5 game over the Ducks.

Realignment has certainly put a new twist into this season's (1st half) division race.  So far, Somerset's 4 victories over the Ducks are the difference.  In ten more days, the Ducks and Patriots will square off again in a four game weekend series.  Till then, the Ducks need to keep pace with Plan B.


Sunday, June 01, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: After Thirty-Five Years, It's Time To Ooh La La Again



Rangers Defeat Montreal 4-2
I - NYR 7; MON 2
II - NYR 3; MON 1
III - MON 3; NYR 2
IV - NYR 3; MON 2
V - MON 7; NYR 4
VI - NYR 1; MON 0


NEW YORK RANGERS: ...And Lord Stanley Said, Let There Be Hockey In June!


Payback - for Ken Dryden and the 1979 Montreal Canadiens, for Patrick Roy and the 1986 Montreal Canadiens, and for any other game we ever lost to the Montreal Canadiens.

I don't expect my fellow Blueshirt brothers and sisters to understand unless they've been there, but the team that lost to the Habs in the '79 Cup finals always remained a little more dear to me than the 1994 Stanley Cup champions.

Don't get me wrong.   I attended the '94 playoffs, and felt what every other Ranger fan felt when our boys lifted the Cup for the first time since 1940.  I went to the parade, saved my ticket stubs and made a scrapbook with all the local news clippings.

I was clearly older by then, and there's the rub.  The revisionist history (even back then) is hard to ignore. For all intent and purpose, the 1994 Rangers raised the (Eastern) Edmonton Oilers 6th Stanley Cup championship trophy, only this time at MSG.

Mark Messier was clearly the Messiah, and Adam Graves became a great Ranger his own way.  Then outside of homegrown heroes like Brian Leetch and Mike Richter, most of those Rangers were mercenaries - but very good mercenaries.  We all knew GM Neil Smith created a win now situation by trading away the club's youth, but we fans were okay with that.  Mike Keenan was perhaps the biggest reason why.  But Coach left shortly thereafter, and Neil Smith went on to make several more questionable moves.  After Wayne Gretzky's swan song, the lights off-Broadway went out for a while.

I guess, when you're younger, you're much more impressionable.  I was 10, 11, and 12-years old when the Blueshirts of Ron Greschner, Phil Esposito, John Davidson, the Maloney Brothers, Ron Duguay, Don Murdoch, and all those guys sparked my passion for Tex's Rangers and hockey in general.  Phil Esposito?   Yeah, I was too young at the time to grasp the trading of Brad Park to the Bruins.

I was more part of the Ooh La La generation:

As a late teen, the Smurfs of 1986 were just that, a 4th place, but likable band of smallish blue shirted skaters named Tomas Sandstrom, Mike Ridley, and Mark Pavelich, whom overachieved in advancing to the conference finals against Montreal.  The Beezer was at the height of his popularity, but many years after the fact, fans were still deliberating over the trade to acquire Barry Beck.

It's been 20 years since Mark Messier skated to center ice in MSG to accept Lord Stanley's Cup from Commissioner Bettman, and 35 years since my childhood heroes beat the New York Islanders, and advanced into the 1979 Cup finals.

This era, these Tortorella-Vigneault Rangers, stand to change everything.  My son was 3 1/2 years old in 1994.  His welcoming into the Blueshirt Brotherhood came later in the careers of the Four Horsemen of the Impossible (Richter, Messier, Leetch, Graves).  So this is his first Cup series.

I started taking him to Rangers games regularly after the lockout, in Henrik Lundqvist's rookie season.  Since then, we've experienced many highs and lows together, but obviously none quite like this.

He hates Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils like I learned to hate ALL the Islanders in my youth.  In fact, he chides me for not having the same disdain towards the Devils as him.  But because the Islanders have fallen on hard times over the last two decades(!), that rivalry does not resonate with him as it does with me.

What we do have in common is the Glen Sather era.  (Sigh)  To my son's credit, he did not like John Tortorella.  I did.  He liked the hiring of Alain Vigneault.  At the time, I didn't.  So chalk one up for the kid.

Back in 1994, my wife of five years was quite indifferent to our (then) 54 year plight, and my personal 15-year odyssey getting back to the Cup finals.  After spending the previous 20 years of my life furiously rooting for the Rangers, I was confronted by a strong headed mommy wanting to take our little pookie to Disney World, right in the middle of the Stanley Cup finals no less.  The significance of 1940 meant nothing to her.   Needless to say, I watched the Rangers lose games Five and Six in a Florida hotel room with two people too pooped to stay up and watch with me.

The wife has come a long way since then.  She started out understanding the basics - icing, off-sides, the power play, and stuff like that.  But ever since the lockout, she expects to attend games and becomes quite the vocal one.   She even has her own ticket connection now, and attended the Pittsburgh series without me.

Go figure.

Today, she is at the point where good play is recognized, strategy is questioned, and poor play gets trashed. But where is she exactly?  She enjoyed a good cry this morning while reading Dominic Moore's background story in the Sunday paper.  I think it safe to say blue blood finally courses through her veins.

In 1994, I suffered through the Rangers and Devils Game Seven double overtime thriller as both my son and wife slept.  Twenty years later, the wife and I celebrated the end of Game Six against Montreal together.  (If she only knew how I felt in 1979).  I then waited till 2:00am for my son to arrive home from work so we could have another mini celebration. be continued.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

N.Y. Mets: Third Estate Of Flushing Celebrates Anniversary

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

NEW YORK METS: Sandy Alderson Can Only Hope The Club's May Malaise Is Over.

It was the best of months.  It was the worst of months.

One third of the season has passed.  Controversy is on the rise.

Although Sandy Alderson's winter ended with mixed reviews, the Mets nevertheless started the 2014 campaign well.  But the refreshing, feel good atmosphere created by a solid opening month (in which they posted a 15-11 record) ended on Wednesday, April 30th, with delivery of the now infamous email - the one foolishly asking fans to sign a pledge of loyalty.

The backlash was immediate and intense.  What had generally been a very patient fan base to that point, felt insulted and responded with vitriol.  The local media was quick to condemn the move as well.  Soon after, even Ron Darling made the sports radio rounds admitting he failed to properly research marketing's open letter before adding his signature.

Just over a week ago, in what appeared to be a reactive measure, the Mets hired a gentleman named Harold Kaufman to be their new executive director of communications.  A smart decision I thought, believing the Wilpon's image is presently at an all time low, and that an objective executive influence could potentially help reconcile the great disconnect between ownership and fans.

Or, so I thought.

Last week, David Newman, the Mets senior vice president of marketing and communications, was quoted in the N.Y. Times as saying,
"Kaufman will help bring the Mets exposure in fashion, food, entertainment and lifestyle — things that target different audiences in addition to the sports audience.”
Oh.  Excuse me.

I guess the Third Estate of Flushing need not apply.

On a business level, many companies/corporations engage in this kind of courtship.  So it's no big deal. However, as it pertains to the Wilpon's sports audience, the majority of us "loyal" fans should be so lucky.

Attendance is up only slightly this season, but nowhere near levels needed to reduce ownership's nearly one billion dollars of debt.  Unless imagined or real personalities such as Oscar de la Renta, Emeril Lagasse, Beyonce or Martha Stewart willingly link themselves with a sub.500 club, and additionally coerce thousands of their rich friends to fill the Pepsi Porch, the left field stands and upper deck, I do not see where this strategy benefits the Mets.

In what is fast becoming the anthem of 2014, if the Wilpons would just put a better product on the field, all the designers, chefs, comics, Kardashians, and lowly fans, will come.

However, the Mets chose to follow a more taxing plan.  Mr. Autonomous - Sandy Alderson continues to insist increases in payroll must be funded by considerable increases in attendance.  That's a very interesting game of chicken he and ownership are playing, that I am confident they'll lose.

*          *          *          *          *

May also brought the firing of hitting coach Dave Hudgens, which I believe was warranted.  I agree with Sandy Alderson's assessment.  The team's situational hitting was depressing.  It's pointless debating what separates good hitting coaches from bad ones, as something clearly needed to be done about this particular situation.

I'm ultimately pleased that Hudgens' pre-occupation with Keith Hernandez' on-air criticisms, as well as his sensitivity to players getting booed, have been removed from the dugout.  I feel such worries are symptomatic of a loser.  Sorry to put it so plainly.

However, I do believe Hudgens when he intimated that Sandy Alderson's hands are financially tied.  When Alderson claims 100% responsibility for the roster, and defends maintaining one of MLB's lowest payrolls for two straight seasons as he did recently on the radio circuits, I simply do not believe him.

In my opinion, the general manager is still defending ownership.  Unlike the situation with Frank McCourt and the Dodgers, I tend to think Commissioner Selig offered Alderson's services as a way of maintaining a hands-on/hands-off approach with his New York National League club.

On that note, Friday marked one month since the club sent out that idiotic email.  Happy belated anniversary.

The month of May is now done.

Let June begin!


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Saturday, May 24, 2014

L.I. Ducks: Flock Whitewash Skeeters For 5th In A Row

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE

LONG ISLAND DUCKS: John Brownell Shows Old Form.


That's the reigning championship series MVP we remember.  John Brownell turned in a vintage performance Friday night in Sugar Land, Texas - shutting out the Skeeters in 7 full innings of work, while allowing 8 scattered hits, walking two, and fanning 7 batters.

Brownell earned his second victory, and lowered his ERA from 6.00, down to a 4.86 mark.  He also took over the league lead in strikeouts with 32 in 37 innings pitched.

The Long Island Ducks scored a pair in the 4th, and two more insurance runs in the 7th en route to a 4-0 whitewash of the Sugar Land Skeeters.

Kieth Castillo's double in the top of the 4th, plated Randy Ruiz and Adam Bailey with the game's first two runs.  Later, Dan Lyons reached on a one out single in the 7th, and came all the way around to score on Fehlandt Lentini's single, and an error by the pitcher.  Another passed ball spelled the end of Sugar Land's starting pitcher, Matt Wright.  Ramon Delgado entered in relief, and promptly unleashed a wild pitch allowing Lentini to score.

The bullpen handled the rest.  Eric Niesen took care of the 8th in relief of Brownell, tossing a scoreless frame and fanning two.  Leo Rosales closed out the Skeeters in a non save situation.

The Ducks are now winners of 5 in a row, and improved their season record to a 15-11 mark.  The Somerset Patriots were defeated by the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, allowing the Ducks to pull within 1.5 games of 1st place.


Friday, May 23, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: The Habs Strike Back


Rangers Lead Series 2-1
I - NYR 7; MON 2
II - NYR 3; MON 1
III - MON 3; NYR 2*

NEW YORK RANGERS: A Very Costly Loss At The Garden...

When you expect to lose (at least) a game or two, does it matter how it happens?  Well, deep down the answer is yes.  But I digress.

Game Three was marked by not one, not two, not three, but four deflection goals.   You can't prepare for that.  Where P.K. Subban is concerned, that's what you call dumb luck.

Overall, the Rangers had several excellent chances.  But give credit where it's due.  Montreal's Dustin Tokarski was excellent in net making 35 saves to outlast Henrik Lundqvist, and get the Habs back in the series.

Honestly, who didn't expect Brandon Prust to continue seeking retribution for Carey Price, or to just continue doing the things he used to do so well for the Rangers?  I'm not necessarily sure he was known as a head hunter while with the Rangers.  But the intent behind his hit upon Derek Stepan was very, very questionable.  There was no call for Brandon's 1st period hit on Stepan, but, I'm not trying to be hypocritical of the situation.  I blame the refs instead.  They sucked - for both teams.

The league caught up to Brandon Prust this afternoon however, and handed down a two game suspension.   As a result of Brandon Prust's blind side hit, Derek Stepan's jaw was broken, which required surgery, and is additionally suspected of having suffered a concussion.

I also find Prust's cheap shot curious.  Could Brandon Prust still harbor resentment towards Stepan for holding out and getting paid, while Prust, who did all the team's dirty work, was unable to strike a deal with Glen Sather?  I find that curious indeed.

Circling back to the refs, by letter of the law, Dan Carcillo's 10 game suspension was warranted.  That last elbow did him in.  He would have escaped with just a penalty otherwise.  But I will question why the ref took such forceful hold of him, which triggered Carcillo's ire.  In fact, Carcillo was already in the process of putting distance between himself, and the fight between Prust and Derek Dorsett, when grabbed.

The substandard officiating is in no way limited to these instances.  Nuf ced.


L.I. Ducks: Flock Flying High After Completing Four Game Sweep Of Blue Crabs

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE

LONG ISLAND DUCKS: Flock Off To Go Mess With Texas.

Led by the bats of Cody Puckett and Adam Bailey, the Long Island Ducks completed a four game sweep of the visiting Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.  The Ducks rapped 13 hits against their opponents, and only fanned once in gaining an 8-3 victory in Thursday night's series finale.

Puckett was 2 for 4 with a double, a home run, and 3 RBI.  Bailey went 3 for 3, and likewise produced a double and his team leading 5th home run of the season to go along with a pair of RBI.  Lead-off batter Fehlandt Lentini also had a productive night at the plate, going 3 for 4, with a walk, an RBI and 2 runs scored.

Making his third start of the season, Jared Lansford climbed the hill for Long Island, and was opposed by Southern Maryland's Ian Marshall.  Jared pitched 5 innings, allowed 2 runs (but none earned) walked 3 and struck out 3 to earn his first victory of the season.  Ian Marshall was knocked out of the box after just 2.2 innings pitched, and allowing 5 earned runs on 8 hits.

The Blue Crabs picked up their third run of the game in the 6th off reliever Steve Garrison.  Otherwise, Josh Lansford continued his scoreless innings streak in the 7th, while Jon Meloan and Jeremy Accardo finished out the bullpen's contribution with 2 scoreless innings of work.

Defensively however, this was not one of Long Island's sharpest games, as they committed 4 errors.

With a 7-3 record over their last 10 games, the surging Ducks have transformed themselves into hottest team in the division, and now boast an overall 14-11 mark.  They remain 2.5 games behind the division leading Somerset Patriots (17-9), whom were Thursday night winners over Camden.

The Flock were forced into a hasty departure from Bethpage Park, as Friday evening they begin a four game Memorial Day Weekend series against Tracy McGrady and the Sugar Land Skeeters in Texas.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

L.I. Ducks: Flock Takes Third Straight Over Blue Crabs

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE

LONG ISLAND DUCKS: Stong Bullpen Work And Cody Puckett's Bat Lead Flock To 12-Inning Victory, And Third Straight Over Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.

The Ducks are roughly 1/6 of the way through defense of their back to back titles.  They've spent the last three nights getting healthy against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, with a trio of victories to get them above the .500 mark again with a 13-11 record.

Had Southern Maryland and the Somerset Patriots not switched divisions this season, Long Island would be in 1st place of the Liberty Division.   Just thought I'd throw that out there.

Pre-Game Stuff:

Entering Wednesday night's action, Blake Gailen of the Lancaster Barnstormers was the only A.L. player still hitting above .400, otherwise Ducks veteran Lew Ford entered the night 2nd in the circuit with a .375 batting mark, while his 22 RBI ranked 3rd, just 3 behind the league leader.

Lew Ford and Adam Bailey led Long Island with 4 home runs each.

On the hill, 3 of the league's top 7 strikeout leaders were Ducks.  Prior to Wednesday's game, Bobby Blevins led the league with 27, and John Brownell was tied for 2nd with 25 strikeouts.  Reliever Eric Niesen was 7th with 22 strikeouts.

Jeremy Accardo leads the Ducks with 3 victories.  However, Brownell, once again expected to fill the role of staff ace, is struggling with a 1-3 record, and an unsightly 6.00 ERA.

In the bullpen, Leo Rosales leads the circuit with 9 saves, and prior to Wednesday's game had a 1.59 ERA, while Josh Lansford has yet to allow a run in 11.1 innings pitched.

*          *           *           *

In the third of four games against the Blue Crabs from Bethpage Park, Fernando Hernandez climbed the hill for Long Island, and pitched effectively over 7 full innings.  He allowed a pair of earned runs on 7 hits, only walked one, and fanned three before departing to a no-decision.  His ERA rose slightly from a 2.16 before the game, to a 2.28 mark.

Southern Maryland scored single runs in the 5th and 6th innings to take a 2-0 lead.  Long Island then got one back in the bottom half of the 6th on Adam Bailey's two out single.

That's the way it stayed till the 9th.  Playing in his first game as a Long Island Duck, catcher Jan Vasquez homered over the right field wall to tie the score at two, and into extra innings they went.

Relievers Leo Rosales, Jeremy Accardo, and Eric Niesen then combined on 3 innings, surrendered no runs, no hits, and fanned four.  Circling back, in relief of Fernando Hernandez, Bret Lorin pitched the 8th and 9th innings, and surrendered no runs on one hit.  Leo Rosales lowered his ERA to a 1.46 mark.

In the bottom of the 12th inning, Joash Brodin reached on a one out single.  After advancing to second on Randy Ruiz' base hit, Brodin came around to score on Cody Puckett's game winning double.

Eric Niesen earned the win in relief - his first.  He now has 24 strikeouts to place him 4th among the league leaders, and like Josh Lansford, has yet to yield a run in 13.1 innings pitched this season.  He additionally has only issued 6 walks and allowed 5 hits.

Lew Ford raised his average to a .376 mark.  Joash Brodin was 3 for 5, and scored the Ducks first, and winning run.

Southern Maryland used 7 pitchers and the Ducks 5, who all combined to issue just 3 total walks for the game.

The Long Island Ducks will attempt to sweep the four game series on Thursday.  The Somerset Patriots fell to the Camden River Sharks, allowing the Ducks to pull within 2.5 games of 1st place.

After Thursday's game, the Flock will migrate to Sugar Land, Texas, for a Memorial Day Weekend four game series against the Skeeters.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: All Hail King Henrik The Lucky


Rangers Lead Series 2-0
I - NYR 7; MON 2
II - NYR 3; MON 1
III - Thursday Night

Montreal Canadiens
New York Rangers

NEW YORK RANGERS: Let The Blueshirt Bacchanalia Begin

With the incremental, methodical power of a glacier and the rogue intentions of a pillage thirsty viking, the New York Rangers entered the 2011-2012 Eastern Conference finals as the number one seed.

During the regular season, that team led the league in fighting (and fighting majors), and were especially feisty inside the first five minutes of any game.

Generally speaking, Tortorella instituted a strict defensive strategy, that mandated finishing checks and blocking pucks.  He demanded a stiff fore check, and capitalizing on opponent's mistakes.  Offensively, he was about possession, cycling the puck in an effort to create chances, and gobbling up rebounds.  In other words, grunt style hockey.

In watching the present day Rangers, one might be surprised to find out that Tortorella's team scored more regular season goals than this year's team.  But as we know, it only got Tortorella and those Rangers so far.

Alain Vigneault's team scored more regular season power play goals than did Tortorella's group of two years ago.  Improving the PP was one of the main reasons for hiring him.  The even strength results were odd, but most likely stemmed from having to learn a new system.

After five straight victories and taking a 2-0 series against the Montreal Canadiens, that system now appears to be in full effect.

Some of John Tortorella's tenets live on in the form of blocking shots and a solid fore check, etc.  But Coach Vigneault has handled the club very differently than his predecessor, or even from the way he himself handled the Vancouver Canucks prior to his dismissal.

Alain Vigneault presently trusts his 12 forwards equally.  With regards to combinations and time on ice, he roles out 4 lines with unwavering consistency.  Tortorella either trusted you, or not.  He picked his top five forwards of the night, and mixed lines throughout a game.  His top two forwards routinely clocked in 25:00+ minutes a night, where you'd be hard pressed to find a forward getting more than 20:00 minutes under Vigneault.

If you were among the untrustworthy and forbid, committed a mistake under Tortorella, there were huge ramifications.  Benoit Pouliot and Chris Kreider in particular, would have never been able to play through their mistakes.  Dan Carcillo would have been an unlikely contributor against the Flyers as well.

Chris Kreider has made a huge, if not dramatic impact since his return, enough to help the Rangers comeback from a 3-1 series dilemma against the Penguins, and propel them to a 2-0 lead against the Habs.   Since Kreider's return, his speed and physical play have so far gone unanswered.

The collective speed with which Kreider, Carl Hagelin, Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello, and a few others are playing with is a far cry from the recent "ice age" to say the least.  The accurate open ice passing and skating also mark the team's biggest transformation.  And, they've shown toughness when they had to.

Yeah, I was down on this team throughout the year and all the way through game four against the Pens.

Would this style have worked against the Boston Bruins?  Who cares.  So far, it's working against the Montreal Canadiens.

After sucking the life out of the Montreal Museum, Tex's Rangers are back home in Madison Square Garden for games Three and Four.

As John Davidson used to say, Oh Baby!

A response to P.K. Subban's foolishness awaits.  Staked to a 2-0 series lead, I expect Thursday night's gathering at 33rd Street and 8th Avenue to be at its raucous best, with torch and pitch fork in hand.

Let the Blueshirt Bacchanalia commence early in Joe Louis Plaza, enter the building, fill the seats, sections and levels, then during the anthem and opening face-off, and on through the night, revel, and chant King Henrik The Lucky's name in praise.