What’s up everyone and welcome to another blog here on BlueCollarBlueShirts.com. The biggest four-day weekend of the year has come and gone. I hope everyone made the most of it. Cyber Monday is tomorrow (or today, whenever you’re reading this.) If you haven’t noticed or been bombarded with emails already, Shop NHL is doing a 30% off sale. Since I hit $200 on a $10 bet at Belmont on Friday, I think it’s time I get me a Raanta jersey, even if it’s just for shits and kicks!
I didn’t do a recap of the Friday game in Philly due to the holiday and hanging out with friends for the game. I’m glad Lundqvist was able to bounce back with a solid performance. The biggest issue remains. He’s too inconsistent for the money. Sure, he had a good game against a non-playoff team in Philly, but he had his doors blown off & routinely has them blown off in recent years, against the upper-echelon playoff teams like a Pittsburgh or like a Tampa. People shouldn’t be jumping up and down whenever he plays well – it should be expected.
I will always be of the opinion that you can’t win a Cup with a Top 5 paid goaltender. A Stanley Cup winning team must be built from the first line down, not from the goalie out. That’s what we’ve seen in this new cap era. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That’s how I feel with the Rangers employing the highest paid goaltender in the league.
I’m not going to spend too much on tonight’s 2-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators, as there isn’t much to say. I do want to get into the “Rangers Report Card”, a gimmick I’ve been doing here the last few seasons. Let’s roll:
The Ottawa Senators, as a result of their 2-0 win against the Blueshirts on Sunday, have now won two games in a row, scoring two goals a game, in a successful back-to-back against Metropolitan opponents. Granted, it’s very early in the NHL season, with 75% of games left to be played, but I don’t think anyone had the Senators in second place in the Atlantic at all. Obviously, Tampa Bay was the sexiest pick of the whole Atlantic and many have them winning it all. Montreal was a question mark, as it all depended on how Price rebounded. Florida was thought of to do damage, but as I write this, the Panthers just fired their coach, Gerard Gallant. Go figure.
I hate these Sunday night games for reasons previously explained on this site. In short, everyone has work tomorrow and personally, Sunday’s are for football. My friend Tommy loves these Sunday night games because he’s a Jets fan and the Jets are usually out of it by late October. Tommy’s been trying to introduce people to hockey. The first Sunday night game he went to, he saw the Rangers roll the Lightning. His friend who went with him loved it and was begging to go again. Tonight, he took somebody else and that person was miserable. It really is a crap-shoot. You never know what you will see.
The big draw of this game, aside from it being a game at the Garden, was the return of Derick Brassard. After losing Carlos Hagelin the season before, Mats Zuccarello lost his other best friend, when the Rangers traded Brassard to Ottawa for Zibanejad. Despite the injury and with only 1/4 of the season played, it looks like a successful trade for the Rangers. However, I still feel bad for Zucc.
Put it this way – Zucc took less money to play here and be a Ranger. Something you can’t say for Henrik Lundqvist. As a result of Lundqvist’s contract, Zucc lost his two best friends on the team. The Rangers being in cap hell and overpaying for a goalie that doesn’t do anything better than his back-ups for 3+ seasons now, have not only traded Zucc’s two best friends, but also lost two great players. Ironically, one of those players, in Carl Hagelin, is Swedish and won a Cup. How ya doin’ Lundqvist? Perhaps Zucc can become best friends with Hank next and I can stop writing about Hank’s horrible NYR contract!
MSG and the Rangers did the classy thing by honoring Brassard early in the first period. Brassard, as he deserved, got a standing ovation. It would be the only thing Ranger fans had to cheer for all night, outside of a few Raanta saves.
That’s right, KING ANTTI RAANTA started in the Kingdom of the Garden of Madison tonight. However, his army of Rangers of thou great state of New York, came to a gun fight with knives. In fact, it wasn’t even knives they brought, it was plastic sporks. The Rangers lost 2-0 in an uninspiring affair.
Oh and let me pump the brakes on the basement dwellars that I have not yet blocked on twitter. People like to say what I say about Lundqvist and apply it to Raanta after a game like tonight. The only difference is Raanta makes $7.5 million dollars less than Hank! Say everything stays the same (I know, a tough variable to work with) and Hank loses 2-0. In theory, that loss cost you $7.5M more. That is why I say try to trade Hank (Yes I know he has a NMC, but if you bench him or ship him to Hartford, he’ll waive it) and improve the team. The Rangers need a blueliner, badly.
Here’s the deal – the Senators basically drew up a blueprint on how to beat the blueshirts. Steve Valiquette, on the MSG Network, talked about “Dumping” so much tonight, that I thought it was a plug for their new sponsor, Taco Bell. I’m like Vally, in the aspect that I enjoy good goaltending and defense. You had that in this game, although I know it’s boring to some. Of course, in a game where the Rangers are playing, I’m not hoping for good goaltending and defense from the opponent, but that’s what happened tonight.
The Senators prevented the Rangers from getting good looks on the five on five portion of the game. The most telling stat was that the Rangers went 0-4 on the PP. In two of the PP’s, they didn’t even register a shot. The Senators, on the penalty kill, formed a perfect diamond in front of goalie Craig Anderson and every time the puck moved, a Senator was there to make a play. The Senators did a fantastic and A+ job in not only closing off shooting lanes, but by shutting down skating lanes. There were a few plays where a streaking-to-the-net Ranger was about to get to Anderson, but at the last second, a Senator would step right up and throw the Ranger off his course.
The Rangers did make their passes, especially on the powerplay, but the Senators would allow these passes that really were going no where to connect. As the Rangers got the puck, a Senator was right there and the Rangers were forced to move the puck again before looking at the net, nevermind shooting the rubber. The Rangers have scored a ton of goals by blasting the puck and looking for a deflection or rebound. Not tonight. Give the Senators credit, as they’ve done something no other team has done all season and that’s shutout the NY Rangers.
While Ottawa’s defense deserves a ton of credit, so does goalie Craig Anderson, who made 33 saves in the shutout victory. Listen, after beating Talbot 1-0 (Final score was 2-0, but last goal was a late empty netter) and now beating the Rangers 2-0, I’m sick of this guy! Come on NHL, we all respect and have sympathy for what Anderson is going through with his wife. We all hope she recovers and we are all rooting for a comeback and a happy ending here. However, that doesn’t mean Anderson has to dominate the teams & players I root for! What Anderson is doing right now, with everything going on in his personal life, is just remarkable. Doesn’t mean I hope he has these games against the Rangers for the rest of the season! Save these performances for Pittsburgh, Washington and the Islanders!
Anderson was as perfect as could be tonight. His counterpart, another ex-Blackhawk, Antti Raanta also had a great game, giving up 2 goals on 20 shots. One goal can be pinned on the Rangers defense, the other a fluke.
The first goal came from Pageau, two minutes into the second period. Pageau was left all alone in front of Raanta and he blasted a puck from point-blank range at him. Raanta almost made the save too, but I’m not sure if even Carey Price could’ve stopped this.
The second goal was a powerplay goal off the stick of Mark Stone, also scored in the second period. This was fluky. The Rangers were on the PK. The Rangers went to clear the puck, but the puck hit a ref and went right to the Senators. If the ref wasn’t there, the puck would’ve been cleared. Stone quickly took the puck and wristed it to Raanta’s weak side. Just a tough one.
Of course, many on Rangers twitter are demanding the ref be fired, a rule change and everything else, but ref interference happens. It usually doesn’t burn you like this though. I’m sure the ref wasn’t thrilled that he became a factor in the game. It all happened so fast too, as the Senators scored within 8 seconds of the puck touching the ref. Perhaps the play should’ve been whistled and the puck moved to the dot between the blue and center line. I’ve seen pucks hit refs before, but never saw something like this. I’m sure I would’ve had a much more animated and vulgar reaction if this was a 1-0 playoff win for a team playing the Rangers. For tonight, a play like this happens so infrequently, that I can’t feign such a reaction. Perhaps though, looking into amending the rules on a play like this should be discussed. Imagine a Cup game ending because of this?
Box score time, courtesy of ESPN.com:
1st Period Summary
|No scoring this period||0||0|
||Derek Stepan: 2 Minutes for Cross checking|
||Curtis Lazar: 2 Minutes for Roughing|
||Rick Nash: 2 Minutes for Roughing|
||2 Minute Bench Penalty for Too Many Men on the Ice (Served by Curtis Lazar)|
||Tom Pyatt: 2 Minutes for Holding|
2nd Period Summary
||Jean-Gabriel Pageau (3)
Assists: Tom Pyatt, Zack Smith
||Mark Stone (6) (Power Play)
Assist: Mike Hoffman
||Dion Phaneuf: 2 Minutes for Slashing|
||Zack Smith: 2 Minutes for Hooking|
||Marc Staal: 2 Minutes for High-sticking|
3rd Period Summary
|No scoring this period||2||0|
|No penalties this period|
As you see, the Rangers had plenty of shots. Both goalies were tested with some high quality shots in the first period. The Rangers could never kick it up a gear after the first period and simply had no puck luck tonight.
I don’t want to get too crazy about a loss in November but I just hope this isn’t a sign of things to come. The Senators just showed the whole league how to beat the Rangers and it won’t make a difference if Raanta or Hank is in net if the Rangers don’t score. Shut down the speed, dump and chase and interfere with everything just worked like a charm for Ottawa. It should be interesting to see if the Rangers rebound and if other teams copy what the Senators did. Of course, it also helped that Anderson was phenomenal tonight.
The Rangers draw the Hurricanes on Tuesday night at MSG. Lundqvist lost to the Canes and a back-up goalie last month. I would assume Lundqvist starts Tuesday. For the Rangers, this should be a rebound game and hopefully they explode with a 5 spot. The Rangers haven’t lost two regulation games in a row this season. No reason to start now.
Oh and for the fans blaming the Zibanejad injury & Buchnevich being out, cmon man! Sure, not having them sucks, but the Rangers are so deep at forward that they should be buzzing. Oh, and I’d still trade Lundqvist for a blueliner if I could!
The best thing about tonight’s game? This:
The above video shows some young fan, who went to the game asking for a Marc Staal stick. Staal gave it to him. While I think the kid could’ve shot higher, and ask for a Zucc or a Raanta stick, it was still nice to see hockey players being fan-friendly to kids. This kid has a story for life and will also become a Rangers customer for life. Great stuff on both ends.
Now on to something better, the Rangers Report Card:
Every season I like to put out a quarter, All-Star Break and Final Report Card. It’s also fun to revisit the grades as the season progresses.
I’m not going to lie – before I even start doing this, I don’t see any Ranger “failing”. When you’re the highest scoring team in the league and one of the top teams in the league, it means you’re doing a lot of things right. Call it being biased or whatever, but I don’t see how any Ranger deserves an F or a D. Well, maybe Lundqvist deserves the “D” for fucking this team’s salary cap!
Grades are given based on production, playing to their role on the team and contract. After all, we are playing in a salary cap world where teams are constantly giving up quality players, even players they drafted, to compete.
RANGERS REPORT CARD AT THE 2016-2017 QUARTER MARK
PAVEL BUCHNEVICH. Grade: Incomplete
It’s too early to judge the rookie Russian. I know that’s the point of this Report Card, but when you’re in and out of the line-up due to injury, it’s too small of a sample size. Before his latest setback, Buchnevich had 3 goals in 3 straight games and seemed to be putting it together. He is someone to revisit as the season moves along.
JESPER FAST. Grade: C+
Fast has been shuffled in the line-up and hasn’t found the same spark that he had for periods during last season. If the season ended today, I think Lindberg and Fast would be the last two people the Rangers would be worried about replacing if they were drafted by Vegas. It’s a long season so hopefully Fast turns the corner and continues his improvement.
MICHAEL GRABNER. Grade: A+
Anything less than an A+ for a guy who was supposed to be the “poor man’s Hagelin” would be undignified. Grabner is one of the league leaders in goals. He’s been amazing and playing like he’s being paid Rick Nash money. Can he keep it up? We can only hope. As of right now, he’s one of the best pick-ups in all of hockey, along with one of his teammates, who we will get to below.
KEVIN HAYES. Grade: A-
Hayes has improved ten-fold from last season. We all know about him losing weight and building muscle. Maybe he’s reinvigorated with long-time friend Jimmy Vesey on the club. Whatever it is, Hayes has made big contributions to the Rangers success this season. Let’s all hope Hayes grows into the player we all imagine he can be.
JOSH JOORIS. Grade: Incomplete
Jooris spent some time on the injured reserve and was the odd man out when the Rangers were at full health. Needs more time with this team and the system to give him a grade.
OSCAR LINDBERG. Grade: C+
Oscar seemed like he was going to be a rookie phenom last season, but petered out as the season went along. Lindberg is another odd-man out, like Jooris, when the team is fully healthy. Perhaps time in Hartford would strengthen his game, because playing sparingly isn’t doing him favors now.
JT MILLER. Grade: A-
Miller continues his growth and perhaps can become a cornerstone for this team in years to come. Not only is he becoming popular with the fanbase, he is producing points regularly. Miller is a steal for what he’s being paid and if he keeps this up, the Rangers may have to pay some coin to keep him here.
RICK NASH. Grade: B
I would’ve given Nash a higher grade, but you know, $7.8M a season for a guy who doesn’t give you the same production as his peers making similar money will sour you on a guy. Nash is like Lundqvist, where at the end of the day, he will be judged on what he does in the playoffs. Nash can score 40+ goals a season, but if he turns up flat in the playoffs, Ranger fans will be enraged. However, for this report card, he’s played well, but can do better. He needs to convert on his breakaways.
BRANDON PIRRI. Grade: A
Remember, contracts are part of my grading system. Like Grabner, Pirri has been an absolute steal and a feather thus far in the hat of GM Jeff Gorton. Pirri has been one of team’s best scorers and has assimilated well to his new environment. As many who have done it will tell you, playing in MSG is no easy task. Pirri has taken to MSG like a fish in water.
MATT PUEMPEL. Grade: Incomplete
Can’t judge a guy off two games, but hey, he PUEMPED UP THE VOLUME against Philly. That was good!
DEREK STEPAN. Grade: C+
Derek Stepan gets paid way too much money to not be scoring goals. He’s always been a team leader and you hope to see him finding the back of more nets as the season goes along. He’s done it before and there’s no reason to think he won’t.
JIMMY VESEY. Grade: B
The Rookie who chose the Rangers is off to a solid start, perhaps potting the prettiest NYR goal of the season, against Holtby in Washington. Another steal of a contract for Gorton, although this one was handed to him on a silver platter. The World is Yours #26, let’s see what he does with it!
MIKA ZIBANEJAD. Grade: B+
Z-Bad, until his recent injury, had fans forgetting all about Brassard. Well until tonight at least! Z-Bad has been a perfect addition to the line-up. Another great pick-up for Gorton, even if the move was met with some outrage at the time.
MATS ZUCCARELLO. Grade: A+
We all know I’m biased when it comes to Zucc. That said, he’s been the best player on the team. He scores. He passes. He is gritty. He will fight. Good things happen when he touches the puck. He is the heart and lifeblood of this team, and that includes Lundqvist. I’ll tell you what – as I noticed last season, I am starting to see more 36 jerseys than 30 jerseys at MSG these days. He’s the player the men love because of his play and the player women love for his looks.
ADAM CLENDENING. Grade: Incomplete
I liked what I saw out of the former Oiler in the pre-season. However, AV prefers Holden’s game. I don’t see it, but I’m also not around these guys on a daily basis like AV is. One thing that was recently mentioned on the Jim Cerny podcast was that Girardi was supposed to get more rest during the season so he would be 100% for the playoffs. Clendening got that one start. Girardi has been playing much better than last year, so maybe AV doesn’t want to disturb that. However, for this Report Card, it’s tough to judge Clendening on his limited ice time.
DAN GIRARDI. Grade: B
The iron man of this team, Girardi is a veteran who has been through plenty of battles. He’s even scoring too. Girardi, along with Staal, Nash and Lundqvist belong on the Rangers Mount Rushmore of bad contracts, especially the way the last two seasons ended, but he seems healthy for the first time in years. Time will only tell if he can keep it up.
NICK HOLDEN. Grade: C+
AV is in love with the guy and Ranger fans are still trying to figure out why. We all heard the story about Patrick Roy raving to AV about him. We haven’t seen why yet. The Rangers are in desperate need of a blueliner and if they can get one, Holden would be the odd man out.
KEVIN KLEIN. Grade: B
Klein, who was never much of a goal scorer to begin with, shocked Ranger fans ever since being acquired for Michael Del Zaster. He was tallying goals left and right. This season, with his questionable hair style for a tough guy (Don’t tell him I said this though, I like my face in one piece!) has been solid defensively. Perhaps it’s hoping for too much to see the offense we’ve seen from him in seasons prior. Sadly, with the expansion draft coming up, I think this may be Klein’s last season as a Ranger. I hope I’m wrong.
RYAN MCDONAGH. Grade: A+
Full disclosure – I’m a big fan of Captain Mac. However, not only is he tallying points this season, he’s been a monster defensively. I almost knocked him down to just an “A” for that disgusting “fight” loss to Sidney Crosby, but I won’t hold it against him. He’s been great all season and I’m happy to call him “Captain”.
BRADY SKJEI. Grade: A-
Skjei not only gets a high grade for nearly averaging an assist every night & being an integral part of the defense, but he has a super team-friendly contract. We all said last year that once Dan Boyle was a goner, that Skjei and McIlrath would be a big part of this Rangers defense. While unfortunately, it didn’t work out for “The Undertaker”, it is working for Skjei, with 25% of the season down.
MARC STAAL. Grade: B-
Staal hasn’t been bad really, but $6.9M for a guy who isn’t doing anything superior to his peers making the same money makes you gassy a bit. Have I mentioned on this site how much I hate the NHL Salary Cap? Staal, like Girardi, looks healthier than last season, but I don’t think Staal has ever 100% recovered after the eye injury. At least it wasn’t Bryan Berard bad.
HENRIK LUNDQVIST: Grade: B-
I know many of you probably just scrolled to this first, just to see what I would grade the overpaid one. He’s played well, but the same things plague him that I’ve been talking about for years. He’s not better than his replacements. He’s not worth the money. He’s too inconsistent. His contract sucks. He’s played well, but not as well as the other top starting goalies in the league. We all know his grade doesn’t mean shit. His whole career, as it’s been ever since he’s become an elder star in this league, is how he does in the playoffs. What should concern Ranger fans is that he struggles in games (usually benched) against the top teams in the league. His recent 10 games against Pittsburgh alone should scare NYR fans. The road to the Cup for the Rangers will go through Pittsburgh.
ANTTI RAANTA: Grade: A+
I can hear it on twitter already – “you only gave Raanta an A+ because you hate Hank, waa waaa waa!” Raanta has been phenomenal this season and has proved all my goaltending theories. Let’s just compare Hank and Raanta for a hot minute:
Better stats? Raanta
Do the Rangers win more games because Hank starts over Raanta? No.
Is Raanta a fucking steal for $1M a season? HELL YES.
I will always give the players credit, but I believe Raanta is playing his best hockey because he is under the eye of Benoit Allaire. Raanta did hit a rough patch at this time last season. Let’s see how he responds this year.
COACH ALAIN VIGNEAULT. Grade: A
Vigneault, once again, has this team at the top of the standings and setting all types of records. I hope for AV’s sake and mine too, that all of this recent success translates into the only thing that matters – the Stanley Cup. In AV I Trust!
GENERAL MANAGER JEFF GORTON. Grade: A
I hated Sather. Despised him. I even hated his moves more than Hank’s contract. That said, his protege has done a lot of good work, despite the handcuffs of his mentor’s horrible deals. 25% into the season and fans have him as Executive of the Year already. While I would slow my roll on that talk, the fact is, Gorton has took some risks (Bailing on Yandle, trading Brassard, banking on Raanta) and cashed in. Gorton also dipped into some penny stocks and saw those stocks go boom in Pirri and Grabner. We still got ways to go, but at this point in the season, Gorton looks Golden.
TEAM OWNER JAMES DOLAN. Grade: F-
Just because. I’m surprised Dolan hasn’t figured out a way to have Isiah Thomas running this team.
That about wraps it up for tonight. Depending on my schedule, I should be back Tuesday night with a recap. I’m debating about attending. I just hate paying for tickets to watch Hank shit the bed. Hopefully he can handle a bottom feeder team. As of now, I’m just looking forward to going to Chicago next week and checking off another Original 6 team arena off my bucket list!
Win or lose, as always,
LET’S GO RANGERS
@NYCTHEMIC on the twitter