By Neil Keefe
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I miss school for nights like Tuesday night. Nights when the forecast is calling for snow and I spend my entire night watching The Weather Channel and scouring the internet for every last piece of information as if I were an actual meteorologist trying to determine whether or not I’m looking at a school cancellation or a 90-minute delay.
There wasn’t a better feeling than deciding to go all-in on my own forecast and choosing to not do the book report due the following day by gambling that school would in fact be closed. Growing up in Guilford, Conn., I became scary good at knowing the state’s cities and towns in alphabetical order to know how many more schools before “Guilford” would come across the school closings ticker on the bottom of the TV of the local newscast.
Many times I left my grade in the hands of the superintendent hoping they would decide that we would just go an extra day in June when there isn’t any homework and teachers are showing movies rather than showing new ways to find the value of “x.” I was basically the Tom Coughlin of challenging when it came to predicting snow days, and I wasn’t always right, but more often than not I came away with an extra day to work on the book report I had yet to start.
With snow crushing the tri-state area on Tuesday night and all of the talk in the area focused on the J-E-T-S and their divisional playoff game against the Patriots on Sunday, and the Yankees trying to make good with their fans by entertaining the idea of bringing in Justin Duchscherer (I do like this idea), it was just another devastating day in what has become a cold winter for Yankees and Giants fans.
But there’s always the Rangers and Knicks and on Tuesday night the two teams that call the Garden home provided a getaway for any fan who can’t stand the fact that there’s a real chance Sergio Mitre (who probably shouldn’t be in Major League Baseball) might be in the $200 million Yankees rotation, and for anyone that might not be able to take another contradictory and outlandish press conference from Rex Ryan.
I haven’t given enough attention to the Rangers this season. Partially because the Yankees and Giants have already given me enough material to take me through 2011 and we are just 12 days into the year. And partially because the 2010-11 Rangers are exactly like every Rangers team of the last few years: good enough for the No. 5 or 6 or 7 seed, but not good enough to make it out of the second round. If you showed me the standings from 2006-07 and 2010-11 on January 12, I probably couldn’t tell you which year is which given the Rangers place in them. I’m not sure this season is going to end any different than the last few.
Sure it would be nice for a Stanley Cup run this summer, just as the baseball standings are beginning to take shape and just as the Knicks return to the playoffs for what seems like the first time in my lifetime. But when hoping for the Rangers to score three goals in a game becomes as hopeless as asking the Yankees to score runners from third base with less than two outs, I’m not sure a championship run is in the cards.
For nearly six hours on Tuesday night, my TV was on MSG with the Rangers hosting the Canadiens and the Knicks following with a game in Portland. After a long hiatus from talking about the Blueshirts I decided that now is as good a time as any to revisit some familiar issues with the Rangers and bring up some new ones. Here are five things that I thought about at length during and following Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Canadiens.
How good is Henrik Lundqvist and why is he making only his second All-Star Game appearance?
I stand by my belief that Henrik Lundqvist is the best goalie in the NHL and has been for a while now. I am confident that if he was on the 2008-09 Red Wings, they would have won the Cup, and if he was on the Red Wings, they would probably be looking at their fourth in a row and we would be looking at the an unstoppable dynasty. The only problem is that he doesn’t play for the Red Wings. He plays for the Rangers where scoring goals is unheard of and odd-man rushes are as common as Amtrak delays.
On Tuesday, Lundqvist was again spectacular. Two goals against on 38 shots might not seem like much, but we have an Eli Manning situation here where you have to watch Lundqvist every game to understand just how good he is. The one difference is that Lundqvist is better at his position than anyone else, while the same can’t be said for Eli. But if you did watch the Rangers on Tuesday, you would have seen several shorthanded 2-on-1s for the Canadiens and an improbable amount of times when white shirts were able to get behind the defense and crash the net coming into the zone. At one point in the first period, I honestly thought that the Canadiens were playing “Rebound” against Lundqvist.
Lundqvist is the best and most important player on the Rangers and the sole key to deciding how far this team can go this season. I still hold out hope that at some point Glen Sather will make a move or two that will make this team an actual contender, and I hope these moves come before he uses up all of Henrik Lundqvist’s prime and his career. The King deserves better than that.
Is Mats Zuccarello my new favorite player?
My favorite player in the NHL is Brian Gionta though Chris Drury (fellow Connecticut native) and Marian Gaborik (was fastest in the league while with Minnesota) are close in the standings. I have watched Gionta since his days at Boston College when I got to see him play against Yale in New Haven twice when he made a mockery of NCAA hockey with his scoring ability. Listed at 5’7″ (most likely an exaggeration), it was remarkable to see what Gionta was capable of as the smallest player on the ice at all times, and now he is looking at his seventh straight 20-goal season, including the impressive 48-goal season in 2005-06.
I think Mats Zuccarello could be what Brian Gionta has been for me if given the chance. With basically the same build as Gionta and the scoring ability that you have to be born with, Zuccarello brings the same sense of excitement and anticipation as Gionta when he’s on the ice. Tuesday night was just the ninth game of Zuccarello’s NHL career, but you can see how much more comfortable he has gotten with his decision making since his debut, and he is taking shots and chances that he wasn’t taking even a week ago as the new guy in town.
My favorite player title is Mats Zuccarello’s to lose.
After six years of campaigning for the Rangers to get rid of Michal Rozsival, they finally did! So, let’s take a minute to celebrate that! But there is still a lot of work to be done with this young defensive group.
After the first period, Mike Sullivan was congratulated for having Marc Staal selected for the All-Star Game, but no one questioned the man in charge of the Rangers defense as to why the Canadiens were dominating below the hash marks and inside the slot for most of the first period. It’s easy for Mike Sullivan to look like he’s doing his job when Henrik Lundqvist is in net.
I’m glad that the average age of the Rangers defense is 24.9 (thanks to Brian Monzo for that fact), but the only problem is that it would be good if Henrik Lundqvist weren’t four years older than that average. Sure it would make for some miserable seasons at the Garden (not like we haven’t seen those before), but I’m scared that by the time the young defensive group becomes an elite unit in the league, Henrik will be on his way out his prime and starting to get benched like Martin Brodeur.
Can we finally fix the NHL All-Star Game for good?
There are few people more excited about the new way the teams will be decided for the NHL All-Star Game than me, but there are probably just a few people in general excited about the 36 players the league’s hockey operations department selected to play in the game. I haven’t decided exactly who I would cut from the roster for the NHL Slightly Above Average Players Game, but I know that having Ales Hemsky and David Backes showcasing their talents isn’t good advertising for the “casual fans” that Gary Bettman has been seeking approval from since the day the lockout ended.
On Tuesday when Brandon Dubinsky scored a pretty goal in the first period when he went around Hal Gill (who hasn’t?), Joe Micheletti jumped to Dubinksy’s side when he nearly blew out the speakers on my TV yelling at Sam Rosen, “He’s upset he didn’t make the All-Star team!” To be fair, Dubinsky is having a career year (17-20), and probably should be on the team over some players that did make it, but I don’t know if even Brandon Dubinsky should be in the “All-Star Game.”
I like the idea that the NHL has made the game more like a pickup game with their captains and picking teams, but any format in which Alex Ovechkin has to be picked by the committee because the fans didn’t vote him in needs some adjusting. Maybe it’s time that the players just picked the rosters since the fans and the league office seem incapable of doing so.
Will Gary Bettman answer my phone call?
Gary Bettman is always looking for ways to increase his fan base. He’s moved cold weather teams to warm weather, he’s added instigator rules and tie downs on jerseys and locked out the league for an entire year. He’s changed the rules to increase scoring, allowed head shots to take place with little consequences and even painted a trapezoid on the ice behind the net to make sure the best goalies can’t use some of the skills that make them the best. OK, so maybe all of his ideas are horrendous, but come on, at least he’s trying! Give the man an “A” for effort!
I might not have the answer to every problem that Gary Bettman has created since he started his mission in 1993 of trying to make sure the NHL is extinct by 2020, but I have one way to increase the interest in the tri-state area for anyone who might have not grown up playing hockey or wouldn’t know what channel to find a Rangers or Devils or Islanders game on if there was a gun to their head.
My proposal is to let Joe Micheletti and Chico Resch call every Rangers-Devils from now on. Sure, it would be devastating to lose the magical voice of Doc Emrick for these special games, but I guarantee that there would be a brawl in the booth within the first five minutes of the game, as the game would sound like it’s being called by a Rangers fan and a Devils fan sitting at a bar with Chico yelling, “Ohhh Joe, what a save by Martyyy there!” and Joe making excuses for the Rangers.
And it doesn’t have to stop there. We can have Joe Micheletti do the color for a Rangers-Bruins game and let Jack Edwards (who still has never seen a Bruin lose a fight) do the play-by-play. I’m an Andy Brickley fan, but I think even Brick would step aside to see the spectacle that Jack and Joe could bring in a game based upon who could be the bigger homer. If regional networks are going to let this type of broadcasting take place then why not let the NHL capitalize on it?
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