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.