Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rangers Agree To Terms With LW Marek Hrivik

The Rangers announced today that they have agreed to terms with undrafted free agent LW Marek Hrivik on a professional contract. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Hrivik, 20, is a native of Cadka, Slovakia and signed an Amateur Tryout Agreement (which is really just a fancy of saying a minor league contract) with the Whale earlier this year. After recording just one goal in eight regular season games with the Whale, Hrivik skated in nine playoff games and recorded five goals and four assists for nine points, which led the team.

You can read more about Marek Hrivik in the Rangers' press release here.

Hrivik is only 20 years old and has a bit of size on him at 6-foot-1, 197-pounds. He's put up monster numbers while playing three seasons in the QMJHL, including 29 G, 41 A, 70 PTS in 54 games this past season. It's basically a nice depth signing for the Whale with Mats Zuccarello unlikely to return next season. You may recall the Rangers made a similar move last offseason, when they signed undrafted free agent Jonathan Audy-Marchessault to an Amateur Tryout Agreement after putting up strong numbers in the QMJHL. Audy-Marchessault wound up posting 24 G, 40 A, 64 PTS in 70 games with the Whale this past season and, according to some, has legitimized himself as being a real NHL prospect with his strong showing in the pros.

The Rangers certainly seem to have some good scouts who do their due diligence watching up and coming youngsters playing in the juniors, and that's definitely not a bad thing.

Monday, May 28, 2012

News and Notes From Rangers Breakup Day; Dubi, Prust, Sauer Injury Updates

Some news and notes courtesy of various beat reporters on Twitter today from the Rangers' breakup day:

- Brandon Dubinsky said he suffered a high right ankle sprain in Game 7 of the Quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators and that he'll need another 6 to 8 weeks for the injury to fully heal. Yikes. I think we all assumed Dubinsky was playing at less than 100-percent, and major props to him for going out there and trying to give the team anything he had with the season on the line the past two games. Hopefully, Dubi can just erase this entire season from his mind because there was really nothing positive that came from it.

- When asked if he was playing injured, Ryan Callahan only said, "Everything's fine." I'm sure Cally was banged up and hurting, but he's not going to point to an injury and make excuses. Callahan is a warrior and there was nothing that was going to keep him from playing in the postseason.

- Speaking of Callahan, he said his wife gave birth to a baby girl named Charlotte, and everybody is healthy and well. Congrats to Daddy Cally!

- Brandon Prust played through a torn tendon in his left ring finger that he suffered in a fight with Zenon Konopka during the regular season. Prust, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, is a huge part of that gritty, tough attitude that this Rangers team has become famous for and I fully expect him to be back next season.

- Marian Gaborik said he may need to have surgery in the offseason for an undisclosed injury. He wouldn't reveal any other details beyond that, so I guess we'll just need to stay tuned and hope it isn't serious. Gaborik said he might reveal more about the injury within the next few days.

- Brad Richards said that he felt a lot more comfortable as the season went along and said it was good to get his first season in New York under his belt. He said he expects to be much better next season. Many Rangers fans will disagree considering his poor series against the Devils, but I thought overall Richards had a very good first season as a Ranger. There's no doubt he's already a team leader and someone who wants nothing more than to win a Cup here.

- Derek Stepan admitted that he wasn't as sharp as he could've been in these playoffs. Going deep into the playoffs hopefully will give Step a real feel for what playoff hockey is like and how he'll need to play going forward. Stepan had a very up and down season, but he's still a big part of the Rangers' future and someone they'll need to, no pun intended, step his game up going forward. He's now been to the playoffs twice in his two seasons in the NHL and the learning curve is just about over.

- Ruslan Fedotenko said he'll take some time to evaluate his future going forward, but his desire is to still win a Stanley Cup. He said he's open to doing another one-year deal with the Rangers or another team should he decide to continue his NHL career. I wrote a few days ago that I thought Feds' postseason play may have bought him another season with the Rangers, and I still stand by that.

- Something that went under the radar yesterday and wasn't talked about much was what Andrew Gross reported on Michael Sauer. Gross wrote that the Rangers can't count on Sauer for next season and it's possible the concussion he suffered in December might be career-ending. Michael's older brother, Kurt, had his NHL career cut short because of concussions. It's definitely some scary stuff. Sauer had a long history of being injury prone in the minors, but I don't think he ever had a history of concussions before suffering this one. It would be an absolute shame if he never fully recovers considering how important of a defenseman he was developing into for the Rangers the last season and a half. It would also create a need for the Rangers to go out and acquire a right-handed defenseman to step into the second or third d-pairing. It should be worth noting, though, that a lot of this is completely speculation and there's nothing concrete from Sauer or anyone in the Rangers organization about Sauer's condition. The team has given no official update in months.

Report: Zuccarello To Sign With KHL If No NHL Teams Come Calling

It didn't take long for Rangers news to start trickling down. A day after their season ended yesterday, word leaked out on Saturday that RW Mats Zuccarello had reportedly inked a two-year deal with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. Zucc's agent denied those rumors,though according to Katie Strang of ESPN, Zuccarello apparently will eventually sign with Metallurg Magnitogorsk if no teams offer him an NHL contract

Zuccarello will officially be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, when his two-year deal with the Rangers expires.

Zucc certainly won't get paid any more by a team in the NHL than what KHL teams are willing to pay him, so the fact that he's holding off on accepting a deal to play in the KHL tells me he really would love for an NHL team to give him another opportunity at cracking an NHL lineup somewhere. We'd heard rumblings over the past few years that Zuccarello wanted a trade or to be released from his contract so he could go back to play in Europe, though both he and Glen Sather denied those rumors on several occasions. Nevertheless, I get the impression from everything I've read that Zuccarello simply is tired of playing in the AHL, and I can't say I really blame him. He's proven he can dominate in Europe and the minors, but when it comes to the NHL his play has been very inconsistent. I definitely don't see a place for him on the Rangers going forward, and I think if he had any value to other NHL teams they would've explored trading for him last year. But teams can never have enough forward depth, so we'll see what happens.

I've never been that high on Zuccarello and have always felt like he was a long shot to make it in the NHL because of his small size. When you're a small player you have to have such good hands and puck control to make up for it, and Zucc really didn't flash much of either outside of a few times. I certainly hope he latches on with another NHL team, though, and can continue living his dream of playing in the NHL.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rangers Season Ends With 3-2 Loss To Devils In Game 6

It was over before it felt like it even started. After falling behind 2-0 in the first period, the Rangers rallied to tie the game in the second period before playing a scoreless third period and then heading to overtime. As has been the case all postseason long, every Rangers fan's stomach was in knots knowing that the next goal would decide the game, and more importantly, perhaps even the Rangers' season. I still hadn't even settled in when I saw a mad scramble in front of the net and before I knew it, the game was over. The series was over. The season was over. It seems like most times you have that type of chaos in the crease the ref will blow the play dead because he'll lose sight of the puck, but of course the Rangers couldn't catch that break. After all, if things came easy for the Rangers we all wouldn't have grown to love this team as much as we have this season.

I wanted to write about the game last night, but honestly, after the way it ended I just couldn't bring myself to it. It was just like the Marian Hossa overtime goal against the Penguins that eliminated the Rangers in the playoffs a few years ago, only this time it was much worse. I haven't looked at a replay of the goal to break it down, and probably won't. I'd like to go as long as possible without seeing that goal if I can. I needed some time to reflect on the game, the playoffs, and the Rangers' season as a whole and I knew anything I wrote wouldn't come across the way I wanted it to because of the sour mood I was in after the game.

Click below to read more on my thoughts on the game, the series, and the Rangers going forward.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Rangers vs. Devils, Game 6 Tonight At 8 p.m.

Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals is set to begin in just about two hours from now, and the Rangers will be looking to stave off elimination and force a Game 7 back at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. The Devils, on the other hand, would like nothing more than to end this series tonight so that they can get at least a few days off before the Stanley Cup Finals start on Tuesday, where the Los Angeles Kings are laying in wait for whoever wins this series.

There's only one lineup change expected tonight, and that's Steve Eminger returning to the lineup in place of Stu Bickel, who had a brutal game on Wednesday and would be a healthy scratch for the second time in the past three games. The Devils are expected to dress the same lines they had in Game 6.

Overall, from what I've been reading it seems like this Rangers team is a confident bunch heading into tonight's game. They're not overly confident, but they've already been in this scenario three times this postseason and are almost veterans at this point in facing elimination games. So all the heart-racing, down-to-the-wire moments they've given the fans over the course of the last few weeks do actually have some positives to them. John Tortorella likes to talk about gaining experience playing in these types of games, and the team is certainly getting all the experience they needed and then some. This team is battle-tested and has proven they relish games like tonight. The Black and Blueshirts style that the Rangers play with is certainly, in my opinion, the type of style you want to play in elimination games because of how important and how tough every single shift is.

Click below to read my thoughts on tonight's game and the keys to victory for the Rangers tonight.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rangers vs. Devils, Game 5 Tonight From MSG; Dubinsky and Prust Return To Lineup

As the Rangers and Devils get set to drop the puck for a pivotal Game 5 in about a half hour from now, the Rangers will get two added boosts to their lineup with the returns of Brandon Prust, who was suspended for Game 4, and Brandon Dubinsky, who hasn't played since suffering a right ankle injury in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. John Tortorella, of course, hasn't officially announced that Dubinsky will return tonight, but all indications from practice this morning were that Dubinsky will be in the lineup for John Mitchell. Stu Bickel, who was a healthy scratch in Game 3 and dressed as an extra forward in Game 4 to replace Prust in the lineup, is also expected back in the lineup tonight at defense while Steve Eminger takes a seat.

Here are the projected lines for tonight's game:

Carl Hagelin-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov-Brian Boyle-Ruslan Fedotenko
Mike Rupp-Brandon Dubinsky-Brandon Prust

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Marc Staal-Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto-Stu Bickel

I would expect that John Tortorella will be mixing and matching his lines often and early tonight to try and create some different looks to throw the Devils off guard.

As for the gameplan itself, I really don't think it's any different than it's been for any game in this series. The Rangers have to use the home crowd to their advantage and get pucks to the net. Martin Brodeur, in my opinion, has been average in this series and some of the goals he's let in have been brutal. If the Rangers just get pucks to the net and feed off the energy in Madison Square Garden tonight then they have a chance to really rattle Brodeur early. The absolute worse case scenario would be a repeat of the Rangers' performance in Game 4, where they just looked unprepared and disorganized. They usually tend to follow up those games with much better performances and raise their intensity, though, so we'll see what happens.

Also of note is that Mats Zuccarello also fully-practiced this morning for the first time since fracturing his wrist, but it's not clear if he'll be in the lineup tonight. Truthfully, I don't see Torts putting him in for anybody in the lineup unless an injury occurs or someone has a truly abysmal performance tonight.

One player to watch is Michael Del Zotto. Del Zotto, of course, had an awful game on Monday night and was benched for a majority of the second and third periods following a few awful giveaways. Torts said after the game that Del Zotto's grandmother died recently and Game 4 was his first time playing since it happened, so I think it's safe to say his mind was on other things, and rightfully so. But I expect Del Zotto to come out determined and with a renewed fire tonight. The Rangers will certainly need him to be back to himself or else they'll be forced to give more minutes to Stu Bickel and Anton Stralman late in the game, which Torts typically likes to stay away from.

We'll see what happens. Gametime is 8 p.m. so the time for talk and analyzing is just about over.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rangers vs. Devils, Game 4 Tonight From Newark

As the Rangers look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Devils in Game 4 tonight from Newark, they'll be without Brandon Prust (one-game suspension) and Brandon Dubinsky (right ankle). Prust was suspended one game by the NHL yesterday for elbowing Anton Volchenkov in the back of the head in Game 3 that went unpenalized, while Dubinsky has been sidelined with a right ankle injury since Game 7 of the Quarterfinals against the Senators. Dubinsky practiced with the team today, but evidently isn't ready to give it a go yet.

That means swingman Stu Bickel will make his return to the lineup tonight after being a healthy scratch in Game 3 for Steve Eminger. Bickel will dress as a forward on the fourth line, where he appeared a few times earlier in the regular season when the Rangers were banged up. I thought Bickel handled himself pretty well in the limited time we saw him as a forward, but the truth is that he probably won't be playing more than three or four minutes anyway.

John Tortorella, of course, hasn't confirmed that Bickel will dress as a forward tonight, but here's what you can likely expect the lines to look like:

Carl Hagelin-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov-Brian Boyle-Ruslan Fedotenko
Mike Rupp-John Mitchell-Stu Bickel

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Marc Staal-Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto-Steve Eminger

Henrik Lundqvist

Obviously, expect those lines and d-pairings to change numerously later on in the game based on where exactly the Rangers find themselves in the scoreboard come the third period.

In regards to Prust, just to give you an idea of how screwed up the NHL disciplinary system is, here are my quick thoughts on Prust's suspension: I don't think he should've been suspended at all, but I'm actually surprised he wasn't suspended more than one game. By now we all know there doesn't seem to be any consistency with suspensions Brendan Shanahan hands out, so I'm not quite sure how the elbow Prust threw was, according to the NHL, just as lethal as when Matt Carkner dropped his gloves and punched Brian Boyle square in the face several times or if it was any worse than Alex Ovechkin leaving his feet and clearly aiming for Dan Girardi's head in the Semifinals. But, as I said, there's really no rhyme or reason for the way suspensions are handed out, so we just have to continue living with this ridiculous system.

 The game starts at 8 p.m. It would certainly be great for the Rangers to go up by more than one game for the first time this postseason, but it's gotten to a point now where I really have no idea what to expect from the team. For whatever reason they just play differently when their backs aren't up against the wall. I just hope that isn't the same case tonight. Taking a 3-1 series lead back to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday would be huge, and I really believe it's imperative the Rangers show some killer instinct in these playoffs to put teams away and not let them hang around.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rangers Set For Game 2 Wednesday Night Versus Devils

After taking a 1-0 series lead in last night's 3-0 victory over the Devils at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers will look to do something they haven't done all postseason long on Wednesday night, and that's go up by two games in a series. So far in the playoffs the Rangers are 3-0 in Game 1 and 0-2 in Game 2. A win tomorrow night obviously wouldn't guarantee a series victory, but it sure would make things a lot easier for the Rangers to take the first two games of the series at home.

Click below to read more on my thoughts of last night's game, and what the Rangers will have to do to pull out a victory in Game 2.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rangers Lose Game 6, Will Play Game 7 Saturday Night

Here we go again. The Rangers and Capitals will meet in Game 7 on Saturday night after the Caps fought off elimination and defeated the Rangers 2-1 tonight. I'd like to say that the Rangers played a hard fought game and just couldn't come out on top tonight, but if I did I'd be lying. The Capitals just looked like the better team from the start, and the Rangers looked like they were sleepwalking.

Click below to read more on my thoughts on Game 6, and what the Rangers need to fix and do differently heading into Game 7.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rangers Stun Capitals 3-2 In OT, Lead Series 3-2

I'll admit it - I was in the middle of writing a new blog post about the Rangers being down in the series 3-2 and having to face back-to-back do or die games for the second consecutive series in this year's playoffs. But with 6.6 seconds left Brad Richards made me, and I'm sure many other writers and bloggers, make good use of the backspace key and start over from scratch. Because with their backs against the wall and seemingly on the verge of losing a game in which the Rangers vastly outplayed the Washington Capitals, the Rangers reminded everybody why, to steal a phrase from the MSG Network ad campaigns, it really is different here.

Joel Ward, who was the cult hero of the Capitals for scoring the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 7 in the Eastern Quarterfinals to eliminate the Boston Bruins, took a double-minor with 22 seconds left in the game when his stick came up and caught Carl Hagelin in the face. The Rangers had a two man advantage with Henrik Lundqvist pulled, and the series completely changed after Brad Richards somehow got the puck past Braden Holtby and just inside the far post to tie the game at two during a mad scramble at the side of the net. Then, 1:35 into overtime, Marc Staal capped off an improbable comeback with a rocket from the point for another power play goal after a big faceoff win by John Mitchell that nearly tore the roof off of the newly renovated Madison Square Garden to give the Rangers a 3-2 series lead and leaves them one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Tonight was another game in which the Rangers took us all on another roller coaster of emotions. There was excitement, anger, disappointment, sadness, then back to excitement, and then, finally, relief. Basically, it was just another typical New York Rangers playoff game.

Click below to read more on tonight's game, including why Chris Drury's name was being tossed around on Twitter in regards to tonight's game.