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Let’s be realistic here

March
30

No, really, I love the suggestion the reason I haven’t criticized Sidney Crosby is out of fear of repercussions.

What exactly do you think happens—one cross word on No. 87 and Gary Bettman himself comes to confiscate your laptop?

Look, I’m in agreement that Sid the Kid has, shall we say, a flair for the dramatic, and I’ll even concede that may have had an outcome on the game today (that said, if any of you for a second wouldn’t want Crosby on your team, you are Chris Simon-crazy). But I also stand by my original premise that Pittsburgh’s impressive arsenal of skill players is problematic for a Rangers defensive corps that can occasionally be caught flat-footed
Do I think the Rangers could beat the Penguins in a seven-game series? Absolutely. But I also think one of the Rangers’ great strengths this season has been their ability to manage the tempo of games. With the Penguins, and especially with Sir Laurence Olivier at center, that isn’t always the case.

But let’s see if tomorrow is a different story….

Posted by Sam Weinman on Sunday, March 30th, 2008 at 8:08 pm | del.icio.us Digg
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Suddenly finishing higher than seventh seems awfully important

March
30

Maybe the Rangers have a winning record against Pittsburgh this season. But the first period today illuminated why they would be better served avoiding a first round match-up against the Penguins.

There’s just too much firepower there to contend with, and it obviously has the potential to pull the Rangers off their games.

Of course the other side to consider is the Rangers would have to deal with the Penguins at some point. And maybe they’d be better off against Pittsburgh before Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa REALLY learn to play together…

Posted by Sam Weinman on Sunday, March 30th, 2008 at 12:25 pm | del.icio.us Digg
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Sean Avery says he doesn’t need to pay for it

March
29

Perhaps it’s fitting that the song playing on my way to the rink today was Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy.”

That would likely be the best way to describe Sean Avery, although until recently, I always thought it was for relatively mundane reasons such as trash-talking and dating the occasional Hollywood starlet.

But then came today’s Daily News, which says Avery is one of 2,000 names on a client list of a Manhattan madam.  Of course, you should know Avery vehemently denies this, and given his demeanor at practice today, it doesn’t seem to be bothering him too much.

“I certainly have a lot of enemies, I know that,” Avery said when asked how his name ended up on the madam’s computer spreadsheet. “But I do know if I was ever to venture into one of these establishments, I wouldn’t use my own name. I think that would probably be stating the obvious.”

Whether it’s true or not, the Avery issue does have the potential to be a distraction to the Rangers as they seek to lock down a playoff spot—not to mention perfect fodder for fans in opposing arenas. But Avery said it was only worth a laugh with his teammates, and that no one from the coaching staff or the team’s upper management has even approached him about it (although Glen Sather did make a rare appearance in the dressing room after practice).

“It certainly could be a tri-state player that maybe started this whole conspiracy theory,” Avery said.

Like I said before, never a dull moment…..

**************************************************************

Blair Betts rode the bike hard at practice today wearing a pair of Crocs, and according to Tom Renney, is showing enough progress to possibly resume skating as early as Monday.

Posted by Sam Weinman on Saturday, March 29th, 2008 at 11:28 am | del.icio.us Digg
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Oh yeah, he’s pretty good, too

March
28

The consensus is that Scott Gomez was the star of last night’s win, and rightfully so: not only did the Rangers’ leading scorer set up both goals on the power play, he was buzzing around all night, and did it all with while gritting his teeth through the pain of bruised ribs.

game8.jpg

And yet if you want a window into the personality of another vital contributor to last night, consider the scene around Chris Drury’s locker after the game.

For several minutes Drury was asked about Gomez, about Nigel Dawes, about the importance of the win. I was one of those people who asked Drury what the team drew from Gomez’s performance, and yet never once did anyone suggest—and of course, never once did Drury himself think to mention—that he may have had an even bigger game with three assists and a typical array of clutch defensive plays (and let’s not forget that Drury would have had a fourth assist if not for Marty Brodeur’s glove save on Ryan Callahan’s breakaway).

The hockey player’s code is that you don’t pat yourself on the back, and to Gomez’s credit, he, too, tried to downplay the importance of his effort last night. But no one takes that to a greater extreme than Drury, who seems like he’d rather pull his fingernails out than talk about all that he does well pretty much every night. In fact, the only time that I can even think about Drury wanting to elaborate on his own play was when he was struggling earlier in the season, and he felt the need to stress he wasn’t doing enough.

Point is, if you want to question whether Drury is worth $7 million a season, that’s fair. That’s an obscene amount of money for someone who’s not quite a superstar.

But other than Henrik Lundqvist, there might not be a player the Rangers will rely on more than they will with Drury this spring. And there definitely isn’t a player who better embodies what this team wants to be about.

***************************************************************

Apologies to the web people at my place. I was wrong when I said my story didn’t run online today, because here it is.

Posted by Sam Weinman on Friday, March 28th, 2008 at 2:20 pm | del.icio.us Digg
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Actually, Jagr decides, it never hurts to talk

March
28

As I noted today (although my story is curiously not online this morning) and John Dellapina elaborated on, Jaromir Jagr reversed course from yesterday’s morning skate and said he would at least hear out representatives from Omsk about a return there next season.

The timing is curious, to put it mildly. On one hand, Jagr says it’s not the right time to be discussing such matters with the Rangers in the middle of a stretch drive. But he also plans to do just that when Omsk GM Anatoly Bardin comes to New York next week—with another purpose of the trip to talk to the Rangers about a transfer fee for Alexei Cherepanov.

Either way, it’s looking more and more like Jagr’s tenure in New York will end after this season. The only way I see that changing is if the Rangers make a spirited playoff run and the captain proves himself to be indispensable in helping the team get over the hump. Otherwise, we might have to savor his various idiosyncrasies while we still can.

Meanwhile, in other news:

  • In addition to playing what may have been his most impressive game as a Ranger, Scott Gomez went public with his preferred nickname for Nigel Dawes: “Black Magic” (hardly politically correct, I know, but as a minority in hockey himself, Gomez may have some latitude). This, mind you, was after trying to get his teammates to call him, “Blood and Guts,” and after his failed attempt to pin the name “The Big Smooth” on Brendan Shanahan earlier in the season. Shanahan shut that one down himself. “Actually, I prefer Brendan,” Shanahan said at the time.

  • Dawes scored his second big goal on Martin Brodeur in eight days, with last night’s backbreaker (get it?) following his shootout clincher in Newark last Wednesday. “At least he can’t say I fanned on this one,” Dawes said.

  • The Rangers are off today, and reconvene tomorrow before heading to Pittsburgh. I’ll check in later..

  • Posted by Sam Weinman on Friday, March 28th, 2008 at 8:41 am | del.icio.us Digg
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    The circus is in town

    March
    27

    Update, 7 p.m.: Gomez in, Prucha out. Discuss amongst yourselves…

    Update, 6:45 p.m.: Gomez looks good in warm-ups. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t play. Confirmation later…

    And no, I’m not talking about Sean Avery.

    I’m talking about the actual circus. You know—clowns, elephants, the inevitable bad dreams that followed (OK, maybe that was just me). It was only this morning that all that was here, and Garden crew is still working on the ice surface as a result. So if you were under any delusions that tonight was going to be some high-scoring, up-and-down affair (and if you were expecting that, by the way, I would then ask where you’ve been for the last 15 years or so), you might want to reconsider.

    gomez.jpg

    Point is, if ever there was a night when the Rangers want to avoid falling behind, it would be a night when they’ll be trying to stickhandle through elephant footprints on the way to Martin Brodeur

    With that in mind, some notes:

  • Still no word on Scott Gomez, and to hear Tom Renney tell it, it really might come down to how Gomez looks in warm-ups. “I might watch the first one ever tonight,” the coach said.

    Naturally, Gomez wants to play, and when he walked into the room a few minutes ago, he hardly wore the expression of a player who plans to spend the evening eating hot dogs in a luxury suite. My guess is he plays, but that’s just me trying to read between the lines.

  • I just got my ballot from the NHL for a host of post-season awards, including Hart Trophy, Calder Trophy, Lady Byng, and NHL All-Star, and All-Rookie teams. I make no promises, but my plan is to do a more thorough job on this than last year, when if memory serves, I filled it all out in a half-hour from my hotel room in Atlanta.

    More in a bit…

  • Posted by Sam Weinman on Thursday, March 27th, 2008 at 4:32 pm | del.icio.us Digg
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    Gomez to be a game-time decision; Jagr to wait until end of the season

    March
    27

    So Scott Gomez took part in the morning skate and left the ice with most of the regulars—all indications that the team’s leading scorer will be back in the lineup tonight against the Devils.

    But according to Gomez and Tom Renney, that decision hasn’t been made—or at least it’s not ready for public consumption.

    “It’ll be a game-time decision. I’ll take warm-ups and go from there,” Gomez said. “Like I said, it’s up to the coaches. But if I can go, I can go. You don’t want to sit out at this time of the year.”

    The question isn’t whether Gomez can risk further damage to his ribs, because the feeling is he can’t, but rather how much pain he can tolerate. If he’s at all compromised, Renney will likely hold him back one more game. But either way, the fact that this is even being discussed shows Gomez has made significant progress in even the last 24 hours. Because yesterday at this point, there was virtually no chance Gomez was going to play.

    As for what this does to the lineup, Renney said he’ll have two lineups made up—one with Gomez in it, one with him out. No word on who would be scratched, but you’d like to think Petr Prucha’s return lasts more than one game. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Colton Orr who is given a breather, but we’ll have to see.

    Regardless of what happens up front, Marek Malik and Jason Strudwick will be the scratches at defense.

    *******************************************************************

    And then there’s Jaromir Jagr, who responded to questions about a pending meeting with Omsk general manager Anatoly Bardin with usual comic flair.

    “I said a long time ago I have to finish the season. Whatever happens after that, I don’t know,” Jagr said. “We’ve got a long ways to go. I’m here. I know you don’t see me in some games, but I’m still here.”

    I asked Jagr if he has any meetings set up with Bardin.

    “We’re going to go to dinner and all that stuff….I’m just kidding,” Jagr said. “I don’t have any plans.”

    Jagr then pointed out that maybe Bardin was coming to New York only to talk about Alexei Cherepanov. Maybe, it was noted, the two European wings have been traded straight up from one another.

    “Good trade,” he said. “It would be good for the Rangers.”

    Jokes aside, I wouldn’t doubt the fact that Jagr would listen if his old team wanted to talk. He originally said that it was the first he had heard about Bardin coming, then corrected himself later and said he had heard “something” about it.

    But I don’t think he would have any sort of conversation about next year while the Rangers are still playing.

    Posted by Sam Weinman on Thursday, March 27th, 2008 at 11:08 am | del.icio.us Digg
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    Gomez on the ice

    March
    27

    Scott Gomez is on the ice for the optional morning skate, and even sustained some contact courtesy of Jason Strudwick (and his mustache).

    Where that leaves him for tonight remains to be seen.

    Meanwhile, thanks to Blueshirt Bulletin for pointing out a report out of Russia that says Avangard Omsk general manager Anatoly Bardin is coming to New York to talk to Jaromir Jagr about returning to the Russian Super League.

    More on that, if there’s anything to it, later….

    Posted by Sam Weinman on Thursday, March 27th, 2008 at 10:11 am | del.icio.us Digg
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    Powering through

    March
    27

    No one likes excuses. For instance, I could tell you that I’ve averaged about four hours of sleep over the past week (bad combination: 2-month-old baby, wife back at work, late-ending games), but I doubt anyone’s going to muster much sympathy.

    And along the same lines, I’m fairly certain the Devils aren’t too broken up over the Rangers being without Scott Gomez tonight. Because just when you think your team is in a bad way, the Devils have mustered just three goals in four games, and have only a tenuous hold on home-ice advantage with the season drawing to a close.

    And now we have this new twist by way of Larry Brooks at the Post—a growing rivalry between Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur. The rivalry itself has been in place ever since Lundqvist emerged as a star in net two seasons ago, but it’s taken on an added layer thanks to Brodeur’s comments about his counterpart a couple of months back in Sports Illustrated.

    “The way he plays is not something I like too much,” Brodeur said back then. “Lundqvist is weird.”

    It’s all so very eighth grade, which is exactly what makes it so entertaining. But given where we are in the season, it’s not like this game tonight needs any more drama than it already has.

    ****************************************************************

    Today is an optional skate for the Rangers, so I’m not expecting much in the way of news. But I’ll check in later regardless.

    Posted by Sam Weinman on Thursday, March 27th, 2008 at 8:42 am | del.icio.us Digg
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    Two sides of the argument

    March
    26

    In watching, and then later inquiring about the Rangers power play struggles of late, there seems to be two problems that pretty much completely contradict one other.

    First, there’s….

    The coaching staff is too inflexible with personnel. By this I mean the coaches have been adamant about using certain players and not using others, even if the results suggest otherwise. How else to explain Fedor Tyutin at the point for most of the year? Or Petr Prucha and Ryan Callahan watching the power play from the bench (or worse, the press box)? All season long observers have been clamoring for different changes to the power play, but for reasons that are not always apparent, Tom Renney and Co. have maddeningly stayed pat.

    That, at least, is one way to look at it. The other side to consider is….

    The coaching staff is too impatient with personnel. It was Brendan Shanahan who made the point today that the power play units have been switched up so often this season, those units haven’t been afforded the opportunity to develop chemistry.

    “If you’re not scoring, they’re going to change the power play up and you lose a little bit of continuity there,” Shanahan said. “What you want is a power play that works early and that you play all season long with so you know where people are and power play passes are instinctive. But we haven’t done anything to earn that sort of power play where they don’t change it because we haven’t got enough pucks to the net.”

    So which one is it? Actually, it’s probably been a little bit of both. Fact is, there have been some moves that seem obvious to outsiders that the coaches have bypassed all season long—perhaps because they don’t see it, perhaps because they don’t want to.

    But there have also been times when a combination has shown signs of promise but is quickly abandoned.

    Of course, let’s not place all the blame on the coaches. It is the players who have often bypassed clear shots in the interest of something more inviting; and it is the players who even when they do shoot, have hit posts, missed nets, and sent shots right into a goalie’s midsection.

    The power play comes and goes. I still believe that. With the Rangers, however, it’s been gone for a while now.

    Posted by Sam Weinman on Wednesday, March 26th, 2008 at 3:58 pm | del.icio.us Digg
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    Beat reporters Sam Weinman and Josh Thomson share their thoughts on the Rangers and the world of hockey.
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    About the authors
    Sam WeinmanSam WeinmanThe lead golf writer and Rangers beat reporter for The Journal News and LoHud.com, Weinman, 31, has placed among the top three in the Golf Writers Association of America writing contest in three consecutive years, including a first-place finish in 2004. READ MORE
    Josh ThomsonJosh Thomson Josh, who is 26 and a native of Carmel, graduated from Boston University in 2002 and began working for The Journal News the following March.
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