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It’s funny, last night we won, and all I could do was focus on the negative feelings I had about being force-fed Voros, and tonight we lost, and all I could think about was all the positives I saw out there. Paging Mr. Backwards, your car is double parked. I think the big thing to recognize here is the Rangers have played 3 preseason games so far this year, and in each of the games about 1/2 of their expected opening night roster was nowhere to be found, and in 2 of the 3 games the opposition played nearly their entire opening night roster. Let’s not forget that folks, it’s important to recognize. Tonight we were missing Drury, Prucha, Dubinsky, Callahan, Staal, Rozsival, Lundqvist, Mara, Fritsche and Voros. That’s basically your entire 2nd and 3rd line, your starting goalie, and 1/2 your defense.

Why do I bring up this blatantly obvious fact? As a prelude to why I was so happy. 3 game, and in each of them we can say without a doubt, we were the better team by and large. The mistakes were there for sure, but if you look at the games as a whole, we badly outplayed the opposition in all 3 games, tonight outshooting the super-offensive Lightning a staggering 40-18. This is after outshooting the Senators 38-22 and 36-19 in back to back games. Again, recognize this is with nearly 1/2 the team not playing, and with the opposition putting out nearly complete teams in 2 of the 3 games.

Wow.

Standing out tonight were Scotty Gomez and Nikolai Zherdev, each for drastically different reasons. Tonight I saw the Scott Gomez of the beginning of last season. A guy trying to do way too much with the puck, and not realizing that sometimes it’s ok to slow up to wait for a better play. Often times Gomez would skate into a pack of 4 opposing players, and turn the puck over for a rush against. NHL.com has the stat at 2 giveaways, but I counted 3 in the second period alone, so I know that is just flat out wrong. Zherdev on the other hand, while he continued to overhandle the puck, and flubbed a few passes, still looked superb to me. Combining his ability to dangle with the best of them, with a surprising work ethic and feistiness one generally never sees from a superstar offensive russian, certainly not in the preseason anyway. Zherdev threw at least one big hit at Martin St. Louis (though again NHL.com surprisingly shows 0 hits), and also was pushing back rather than turning the other cheek as most of our superstars have seemed to do over the years. Unfortunately the trio of Naslund, Gomez and Zherdev continued their maddening overpassing of the puck. Their passing, while beautiful, and absolutely lethal in picking apart the defense, always seemed to have just 1 pass too many. Which is, in this case, backed up by the stats of having 7 shots between the 3 of them (granted Girardi and Redden had 12 shots themselves, and always seemed to be playing with the top line). The fact of the matter is, those 3 created enough chances to have 7 shots A PIECE rather than 7 shots collectively. Naslund in particular was maddening in his overpassing. The guy has a hell of a quick release, he needs to be more selfish. I think this is the new team shyness most players suffer through in their first year on a new team. Where they don’t want to seem selfish, but instead hurt the team with overpassing. Hopefully he will get over it, and quick.

Another standout was Michael Del Zotto, a guy I absolutely trashed when the Rangers picked him. He certainly has looked NHL capable, but I for one still do not think keeping him with the club makes any kind of long term sense. Let him truly dominate in the OHL, maybe next year, if he forces his way up, you relent, but give him a taste, make him extra hungry, and let him dominate down in the lower levels. He is only 18 years old, and appears to be a true gem. Don’t screw this up by wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

Truth be told, the most impressive prospect so far through these 3 games has been Corey Potter, who right now would be my pick to be Paul Mara’s partner. Potter has looked superb in his own zone, and fantastic with his passing ability. Kalinin was fine today, but Potter was better. This is really turning into an interesting horse race for the final 2 defensive spots (3rd pairing with Mara, and 7th defenseman). Id say right now Kalinin is behind Pock and Potter, which is really incredible if you ask me. Both Pock and Potter have looked quite good, while Kalinin has been Malikesque in looking great, average, and terrible, often on the same shift.

Lauri Korpikoski also had a superb game playing a 2-way game, but throwing his body around, and also generating some offense. About on par with Korpedo has been PA Parenteau, who oozes offensive talent, but whose defensive awareness has really raised my eyebrows. I think Parenteau is also suffering from Naslunds disease though, he looks to want to pass the puck way too much when he has some good scoring chances. Dane Byers and Hugh Jessiman looked superb as bash brothers playing on different lines. They both threw the body liberally, both crashed the net, and Byers used his physicality to draw a double minor from Ryan Malone who did not look good at all in this game. I would say Dane Byers has impressed me about as much, if not more in this game than Voros has in his 2. This does not mean in any way that I think Byers should be given a spot over Voros. All I am saying is, they both look about the same, (though I would say Byers has impressed me more with his balance and physicality) so don’t pencil Voros in just yet.

Freddy Sjostrom had a good game as well, registering 8 shots on goal, including a goal off of a nice feed from PA Parenteau. I think he still is in jeopardy of losing his job, but it is far less critical today than it was yesterday.

Right now Blair Betts and his offensive ineptitude has really stood out to me more so than anything. On a team where everyone is looking to crash the net and shoot, or pass. Betts still looks to dump the puck in and change rather than crash the net. On the few chances he actually did have, he badly handled the puck and was unable to register a shot on goal despite having at least 2 chances within 10 feet of the goal. I would say Betts is probably quite scared right now because Korpikoski looks like he could handle 4th line duty with Sjostrom and Voros/Byers just fine. Remember, Korpedo played a lot of center last year, and is versatile enough to play anywhere, and he kills penalties as well, don’t forget that.

On the defensive end Wade Redden and Dan Girardi looked about 90% great with 10% of putrid mixed in there. The putrid was on one goal where they both were terrible in their defensive positioning. First Redden gets caught flat footed yet again, and then Girardi fails to pick up his man on the rebound chance. But outside of that, I felt both were superb out there. They got involved in the offense, they generated a goal for Girardi with an assist going to Redden, and they had the aforementioned 12 shots on goal between the 2 of them. Also Redden showed his superb first pass by springing someone for a breakaway, I want to say it was Sjostrom, but it could have been Korpikoski or Parenteau, frankly I forgot, so all I can say is, it was a terrific pass by Redden, even though it didn’t end up as a goal.

Bobby Sanguinetti looked very good as well in this game, making no big mistakes, and taking the body when it was given to him. He looked a little more settled down and assertive out there. He and Del Zotto look fantastic on the power play, this is the future of this organization for sure. Staal, Del Zotto, and Sanguinetti are going to be the Rangers big three for the next 15 years, mark it down now.

Finally in goal, Wiikman was fine out there, even though he gave up 3 goals. There was nothing he could really do on any of them. 2 of them were absolute bullets on the Power Play, and another was a rebound after he made a superb initial save bailing out Redden on the previously mentioned blunder. Valliquette was strong as well with not many difficult shots to stop, and not any bad plays to mention. I think it is obvious that Wiikman is the more talented goalie between the 2 of them, but I think the Rangers will ride out Valliquette this year, and pass the torch of backup goalie to Wiikman next year (barring injury). This allows Zaba to get enough games in him to take the torch as Hartfords #1 next season.

See you tomorrow for the game against the Devils everyone.


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