Friday, October 07, 2011

N.Y. Rangers ~ The Two Kings of Europe



October 7, 2011

Los Angeles Kings

Stockholm, SWEDEN

NEW YORK RANGERS:  Season Opener; Game One

take on the L.A. KINGS in EUROPE:

Ranger Fans..., we know this team.  We know them well.  We've been taking baby pictures for three years now.  This team is last year's version, just a year older, wiser and hopefully healthier.  With some new signings, we hope they'll be a little more lethal too.  And lastly, being a little luckier doesn't hurt either. 

I don't know your take.  I'm actively following this team since the mid-to-late 70's.  But there is already something tangibly different about this year's Blueshirts even before they take to the ice together in Sweden Friday to open the 2011-2012 season.  The franchise's 86th year of operation already has a certain character to it; un-felt, and unheard of during the Glen Sather regime.  It smells of youthful spirit, and cohesion; and unity; and stability; and as sappy as it sounds, it feels like family; -  A Blue Rink of Brothers.  And they have a dominant, alpha-male, head strong task-master for a coach, that continues to develop; promote; and demand accountability from his emerging grasshoppers.

Since coming on board, Coach Torts always talked about building up his core of young Rangers.  He has them.  Some of his boys are men now.  Specifically, Ryan Callahan is the newly named Captain.  The fact Brandon Dubinsky is still here speaks volumes about the "new" team building concept  being drilled into Glen Sather's thick skull by Coach (I believe that..).   And before I go there, the third and now most concerning member of Coach Torts' envisioned Core-Three is Marc Staal.  However when Marc is ready, for the three, the Broadway Spotlight is all theirs.

It's been eight months since our top-line defenseman fell victim to some overly aggressive love.  Marc Staal is still experiencing head-aches as a result of the hit he sustained thanks to his brother last season and has been dealing with concussion symptoms since.  Marc did not make the trip to Europe with the team for the remaining exhibition games and regular season start.  And no, his playing status isn't exactly clear; no pun intended.  Will he be rejoining the team when they get back state-side?  Yes.  But there's little debate in saying he is a fragile player right now.  The Rangers must proceed cautiously with their emerging defensive star.

Brandon Dubinsky stepped up his play in last year's playoffs.  And as a result, his presence and stature on the team grows exponentially because of it.  It wasn't just the playoffs that signaled an arrival of sorts for Brandon last season.  It was that mustache man!  After he grew that 70's porn-mustache, his game got a lot dirtier and sexier too.  But seriously speaking,  ...There's officially real scoring expectations on Dubinsky now.  It's time to be a consistent 30 goal man.  After all, what the Rangers lacked most last season was scoring.  But, the problem existed for many more reasons than just looking at Brandon Dubinsky.

Part of being offensively challenged also had to do with missing Ryan Callahan for what seemed like an eternity to Blueshirt fans.  But say hello to the Good Guy!  Our new Captain is Ryan Callahan; and rightfully so.  It was a natural fit and in my opinion came a year too late.  But here we are.  Callahan will wear the C on his jersey; and it is good.

If I may, I would suggest the Rangers made only one mistake.  Brandon Dubinsky should be wearing the other A along with Marc Staal; not Brad Richards.  It's nothing against Richards...(yet).  But, having built a team from the farm, up, like the Rangers have, and not bestow a player who's toiled, troubled, and stayed resilient under Coach Torts the way Dubinsky has, it seems to me the young Ranger Pride member should have been given(!) the responsibility of wearing the A and charged with a bigger role among his fellow home grown Blueshirts - as opposed to rewarding it to a carpetbagger named Richards based on his previous resume.

Artem Anisimov; Michael Sauer; Derek Stepan; Ryan McDonagh; Dan Girardi; Mats Zuccarello;  -These are the players who will skate, and support, and follow The Core blindly.  They are kindred.  They are True Blues.  Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle are the Tom Higgins's of la famiglia - they are the adoptive children we also love like blood brothers, who do all the family's dirty work in the corners and along the boards.

But no talk of the Rangers' Core or family feel is complete without Henrik Lundqvist; their liege.  The King is obviously Core member Four in Coach Torts' grand True Blue scheme.  King started the most games of his career last season.  Hopefully he and Marty Biron can establish a better pattern this season there-by keeping Henrik finely tuned early on and late into the season.  What matters most to me however is the consistent flow of traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist and the constant contact other teams feel free to make with our goalie.  That must drop dramatically.  And many players, not just the defensemen, need to police up the liberties teams take with our goalie.

Ranger Fans, that is your TEAM.  That is the body.  The rest are the accessories.

Brad Richards is like having a nice set of rims on your ride.  For some people, it's the difference between scoring, and going to bed frustrated yet again.  Was he a good signing?  It was a necessary signing.  Which makes the first question moot.  However, the contract we signed him to is insane and utterly inane.  It's our side of the Hudson's version of the Ilya Kovalchuk signing.  But you know what?  Blame Gary Bettman for that.  This is what teams are finding necessary to do these days in order to lock up "star" players.

But was he a good signing?  I don't know.  We've been down this road before under Sather.  Go back to Eric Lindros, fast-forward to Scottie Gomez and Chris Drury, and ponder everyone in between.  Will Richards be the next one of those?  Let's freakin hope not.  What I trust with the acquisition is that Coach Torts trusts him.  And for now, that will have to do.  If he rewards us with 30 to 35 goals and makes things happen (anything happen) on our Power Play - that hasn't happened since Sergie Zubov manned the point, it will undoubtedly have been worth it.  Anyone who can breath life into a dead PP is surely worth a nine year deal.  No?  I just can't get myself beyond his contract.  It's a ponderous deal.

He will no doubt be on the first line with the team's returning avatar; Marian Gaborik.  The hope is last season's lack of anything from him was an aberration.  The Rangers are hoping the 40-goal Gaborik is the real Gaborik, and returns to the team this season.  The other hope is that he and Brad Richards will mesh together.

Who will the third member of that Richards/Gaborik line be?  I guess we're going to find out Friday (locally at 1pm).  I still feel Avery could have been that guy.  But that's behind us now.  Besides, Coach Torts said, "..we have better players than him..."  The fact remains someone is still going to have to win battles and feed those two guys pucks.  I just can't help remembering how effective Avery was at winning battles along the boards and in the corner, and what a tremendously good passer he was from from behind the goal line.  Wojktek Wolski is a big dude who can throw his body around and score some.  But he's not a first line answer on the wing.  It may not sound like a good idea, but Ruslan Fedotenko might actually be a very effective fit for them.  I doubt Coach goes that way.  And breaking up Prust and Boyle is a mistake in my opinion.

Will Coach reunite Callahan/Anisimov/Dubinsky on the second line?  I'd like to see it.  And maybe try Wojtek Wolski with Prust and Boyle?  Then again with Torts, none of this matters.  He's usually mixing and matching five minutes into a game anyway.  He's a hot-handed Coach; plays the hot players.

Michael Rupp is now the new Vinny Prospal who skates a little better.  Even though Prospal lost a bunch of time to injury last season, in my view Rupp is a huge downgrade in the steadying influence department.  But he's still a smart player who's been on teams that have done nothing but win.  The former Devil/Penguin and guys like him are useful and prove savvy late in games when perhaps a younger player is unsure as to how to close out games.  Mind you, he is only thirty-one years old.  But that's where a guy like Rupp will help most.  He'll give the team 'calm and cool' off the bench while testosterone is raging in the younger guys and they do ill advised things late in games.

On Defense, for as long as Marc Staal is a question, Ranger Fans be suffering head-aches also.  If Staal is OK and plays, that means Steve Eminger gives us depth on the blue line.  If Staal is compromised, and Eminger has to take on a bigger role and more minutes, that's trouble.

It's also high time Dan Girardi stepped up his physicality.  He no doubt will block a ton of shots.  That part of his game is admirable.  But he absolutely needs to use his body more.  I get he's young.  But like I said in opening, he's a year older now.  If he has to go to GNC and start using it.  Time to man-up son and give Henrik room in front of his net.

I really like the McDonagh/ Sauer pairing.  Or, do I just really really like the Michael Sauer part of that?  We have third-pair options on the blue-line.  But our fourth pair is a something short of a mystery to me.  That's another thing we'll find out in Friday's game.

What's most stunning about this year's team is that I dare to think Glen Sather has quite possibly assembled his best team as GM of the Rangers.  This team has a very interesting mix going.  And the most important part of this current team's construction has been the patience the organization has exercised and adherence to the plan.  A great majority of that plan, and instigation to adopt it and stick to it, I still feel comes from Coach Tortorella.  But because the name on the GM's door says Sather, the dollar goes in his tip jar.  Silver-back Sather aside, it's still worth saying, I already like the dynamic of this season's edition of the Broadway Blueshirts. 

We aren't a clear Stanley Cup contender.  But I do think we will be watching a more assertive, smarter, and cohesive bunch that comes along with another year of maturing together; with 'together' being the key word.  I'm not making any predictions for the team.  We know what kind of team we are already.  However, this edition should accomplish more than has been won here during Glen Sather's reign.  That would entail getting beyond the second round of the playoffs. 

The question this season is the same as last  -  Can we, and will we score more goals?  Our big money top line center acquisition will go a long way towards answering that question for us.  So let's drop the puck and see. 

We'll commence the season on an extensive road trip starting in Sweden as time is needed for clean up and making Madison Square Garden habitable again during the on-going renovations.

Let's go Rangers!


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