From the desk of: RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS
NEW YORK RANGERS: Blueshirts Pass Big Eastern Conference Tests With an Earlier Win Against Montreal, and a Big Win Friday Against Carolina.
Ask and Ye shall receive. Friday night's game against Carolina was exactly what I was talking about. We need to separate ourselves from the same old end-of-season pack of teams who annually need to skate their brains out just to gain an eighth place finish. The pack of teams I speak of includes Carolina, Montreal, Toronto, Buffalo, Tampa, and lately New Jersey too - along with others. And then, there's us. Now, I wouldn't exactly say Carolina is among the League's elite teams. But the former Stanley Cup champs always seem to be in our way or breathing down our necks late in March and in early April. And Montreal has simply finished the last few years ahead of us.
We have some good, early Western Conference wins behind us. Fine. And if the San Jose Sharks think we're soft, I think our Western Conference wins as well as those teams are soft too. That's why when Montreal came to town and we pushed them around, it was important. Check. That's why when Carolina and Eric Staal entered the building Friday, and by the third period we were drubbing them too, it was important. Check.
Let the Blueshirts take a well deserved three day break before facing the Islanders next Tuesday. As winners of six in a row now, they've done well. But the two games against Montreal and Carolina in particular, have done the most to shape my early opinion of the team. And it is good. Not only are the Rangers on a six game winning streak, they have now joined the twenty point club with Friday's win (21 points). And more importantly, they are winning on home-ice early in the season.
Nothing about Friday's game pleased me more than watching Sean Avery stage a clinic on how the game of Hockey should be played. When his head is on right, he's a tremendously dangerous player. And in one play which resulted in his first goal of the season, he showed so many of his lethal attributes as a game changer. Did you see him pounce on a puck at mid-ice, turn on a burst of speed while leaving some Carolina player behind him with broken ankles, stick handle, then go top shelf for a goal, and finish off the play by jumping aside and dodging Cam Ward to avoid contact with the goalie? I did! And it was very good.
Since Avery's return to the Rangers, there have been a few fights and trips to the penalty box. For sure. But they were within the context of the game. Otherwise, his skating, his tireless work on the fore check, his ability to win pucks against the boards and keep the puck down low, and exceptional passing earned him time on the third line Friday. Avery left Coach Torts no option but to ride him, and to his credit, Coach Torts afforded our embattled forward more ice-time. Even his post-game comments, if you red or heard them, really sounded wise beyond his years and straight out of the mouth of a ten-plus year veteran. This isn't man-crush type stuff on my part. As a fact, this was one stellar night for Sean Avery. The hope is there's more like this to come.
Brandon Dubinsky's break out goal comes in a close second to Avery's game. He, like Avery, finally scored his first goal of the season. With that out of the way, hopefully Brandon's goal scoring starts to surge because the Rangers still need every goal they can get. And at this point, the Rangers have every right to expect twenty-five plus goals from our now young veteran forward. But if his play in the third period against Carolina was any indication, then better days are indeed ahead for Brandon Dubinsky.
And by the way..., did you see your Captain slide head first through the slot into Cam Ward like a bowling ball...., and score!? And did you see Cam Ward take two whacks with his goalie stick to the back of Ryan Callahan's leg afterward? I did! That swine!
One of the things this team needs to improve upon from these last two season is our ability to finish off opponents in the third period. Friday's game concluded with a final twenty minutes to be proud of. In recent years, and what's clearly evident this season so far is the third period has been the genesis of so many games that end up in shoot-out. We're not usually operating with multi-goal leads and as a result, late mistakes, the slightest misplays, and meltdowns prove ruinous despite fifty-five minutes or so of meticulous Hockey. And you know the saying as well as the fact - there are no shoot-outs in the playoffs. So putting the Hurricanes to bed convincingly in the third period sat very well with me. I mean, forget the playoffs. - We just can't continually keep putting Henrik in that situation. So the third period? Yeah, it was good.
Eric Staal got quite an ear full from the Garden Fans, particularly every time he touched the puck. But the crowd reaction was not nearly as bad as I thought it could be. Was it because the Fans held back somewhat because after all, that's Marc's brother? Or maybe he got over-looked during a great Rangers' third period in which the fans were too busy celebrating four goals?
Hey! Hey! Hey!