10 November 2011

NHL Road Trip 2011

More like a homestand than a road trip this year (bar one trip to the minors), but here is my usual comprehensive, analytical coverage of what promised to be the Rangers' six game losing streak.

Game #1: Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 New York Rangers
  • After finding my seat easily despite apocalyptic warnings about the layout of the partially-renovated Madison Square Garden, I find myself sat right behind somebody with the unfortunate appearance of a homeless Barry Melrose.
  • I then witness the impressive feat of a man managing to dump a beer over his own head after stumbling on the stairs.
  • The Rangers controversially opt to introduce the players individually at the home opener - not something that has occurred every year, mostly for boo-related reasons.  Accordingly, nobody gets booed (yet).
  • Apparently, a huge pro-Avery, anti-Tortorella banner is unveiled somewhere in the crowd.  Either I completely miss it, or it was behind me.  (Apparently, the banner was subsequently banned by the tolerant MSG staff.)
  • Against type so far this season, the Rangers actually put together a decent first period to lead 1-0, also having two other efforts chalked off for reasonably marginal contact with a very shaky looking Jonas Gustavsson in the Leafs' net.
  • While I did not feel the need to test any of the new facilities, I can only assume the bathrooms and concessions are of the highest standard since I was seemingly the only person in my section to leave their seat fewer than 18 times a period to visit the concourse while play was in progress.
  • Entirely not against type so far this season, the Rangers decide to exploit a very shaky looking Jonas Gustavsson in the Leafs' net by giving him practically no work at all the rest of the way, while Henrik Lundqvist allows a few weak goals for the first time in a while, despite also stopping two Phil Kessel breakaways.
  • Patient and moderate as they are, a sizeable chunk of the home fans use the late third period to start a "We want Avery" chant, seizing the opportunity to remind everyone that a lack of defensive depth and completely dysfunctional start from most of the point producing forwards can only be corrected by the return of a 3rd/4th line forward who scored three goals last year and the coach doesn't trust.
  • The Leafs' fourth goal from noted sniper Mike Brown with six minutes to go sees the New Transformed Exits brought to you by Chase at Madison Square Garden adequately tested for the first time.
Next up: An afternoon game against hated rival, the superstar-laden Ottawa Senators.  I can hear the booing already.

Game #2: Ottawa Senators 5-4 (SO) New York Rangers
  • An unseasonal October snowstorm means dangerous conditions have to be navigated on my journey to the game - dopey 5th Avenue tourists wielding umbrellas in the manner of a blindfolded Dan Carcillo.
  • I'm seated directly in front of one of the press boxes, tonight featuring legendary former Leafs GM, John Ferguson Jr, now scouting for the Sharks.  I successfully sell my hot dog to him for $300.  Not sure why I need a no-trade clause though.
  • Line-up news: MSG fan favourites, Erik Christensen and Wojtek Wolski are rewarded for their consistent work ethic and gritty play with the assignment next to Marián Gáborik for at least one shift (and probably one shift).
  • A predictably terrible first period from the Rangers sees them heavily outshot and 1-0.  One relatively quiet and quickly aborted "We want Avery" chant results.
  • Not for the first time (nor the last), the between periods puck shooting contest sees the participant mercilessly booed for his repeated failures.  He still has a better than 50% chance of playing on the Rangers top line for the rest of the game though.
  • Momentum shifts after Zenon Konopka pleases his many fantasy owners by getting five plus a game for performing his own renovation of the MSG glass using Artem Anisimov's face as raw materials (though the hit was actually not that bad, if at all).  The Rangers shock the world by putting away two (two) PPGs on the major penalty.
  • Despite another patchy performance at best, the Rangers work themselves into a 4-1 lead with eight minutes left in the game, the third goal by Gáborik from a great pass by Derek Stepan being the pick of the bunch.
  • Despite...something, the Rangers then work themselves into a 4-4 tie with three minutes left as, shockingly, the strategy of panicking and spending the rest of the game chasing the puck in their own end fails to pay dividends.
  • Milan Michálek scores the only goal in the shootout, the building erupts with joyous emotion.
Next up: An easily winnable game against perennial Western Conference doormat, the San Jose Sharks.  Right here on Versus!  Let's hope Milbury is in a Swedish prison wearing a visor attendance.


Game #3: San Jose Sharks 2-5 New York Rangers
  • Right off the opening faceoff, Brandon Prust and Ryane Clowe "tangle".  Approximately 10 minutes of pirouetting and helmet punching ends with the pair almost landing on top of Pierre McGuire in his usual spot licking Mike Richards' shoes between the benches. 
  • News of Sean Avery's impending recall and the Rangers not actually losing at the time make the (mostly failed) attempts to start the "We want Avery" chant more confusing than ever.
  • Ryan McDonagh: 1-0.  Scott Gomezhahahahahahahahahahahaha.
  • Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan somehow exploit Colin White's legendary footspeed to make it 2-0 in the first; the Rangers looking strangely competent.
  • However, it's tied midway through the second period, the tying goal by Logan Couture coming at the end of a shift of six or seven minutes of the crack Jeff Woywitka-Steve Eminger pairing being trapped in their own end by the Sharks' top line.
  • Not tied for long as, befitting of a player who looks like Joe Sakic for one game every two months (Joe Sakic's wife for the rest), Erik Christensen makes two great passes on goals by Ryan Callahan and Artem Anisimov.
  • In the final minute of the second period, Callahan makes a spectacular stretch/dive from behind the net to poke home a rebound and give the Rangers the unassailable three-goal lead that has not been assailed by a Rangers opponent in, oh...two days.
  • The third period is largely a non-event.  Shame.
  • In front of me tonight:
    • Firstly, your typical MSG BlackBerry Man.  Not even a glance towards the ice during the entire first period.  Doesn't return to his seat for the third.
    • Replaced in the third by a fan in a Patrick Marleau jersey wearing an "Occupy Madison Square Garden" sign around his neck.  Loses marks for not sitting with a friend in a Jeremy Roenick costume holding a bag of guts.
  • After the game, Joe Thornton bizarrely (given he was fairly anonymous in defeat) decides to call the Rangers the softest team the Sharks played on their road trip.  With the two teams not meeting again this season (neither team has a chance of winning the Western Conference Final series), this appears to be Jumbo Joe's Halloween equivalent of knocking on the Rangers' dressing room door and running away.
Next up: Logistics and apathy permitting, a two games in one day odyssey spanning a morning (!) AHL clash in Bridgeport, CT - now not featuring the star Avery attraction - and an evening (zzz) dull-fest in tropical Newark, NJ.


A travel snafu prevented my planned attendance at the Devils-Leafs game in the evening.  I hope Marty Brodeur's return performance was as amusing for those in person as it appeared to be on TV.

Game #4: Connecticut Whale 3-4 (OT) Bridgeport Sound Tigers
  • A 90-minute train journey from Manhattan for an 11am faceoff.  Not my usual kind of trip.
  • The reason for the early start: Some sort of schoolkids promotion.  So, a few thousand kids in the stands make the atmosphere one part hockey game, nine parts Justin Bieber concert.
  • A completely indecipherable P.A. system and unfamiliarity with many of the players will make it tougher than normal to keep up.  And to know when the building is being evacuated.
  • Line-up news:
    • The Whale are now Avery-less (must've been publicised somewhere), but still feature recent Ranger demotions Tim Erixon, Kris Newbury and Mats Zuccarello-Aasen.  The mini-Fishsticks include Nino Niederreiter and the overwhelmingly talented Trevor Gillies.
    • Kevin Poulin versus Cam Talbot in net - no start for Chad "Dos Nueve" Johnson (apparently "Tres Cero" in the minors)
  • Why does the typeface on Calvin de Haan's nameplate say: dE HAAN?
  • The Whale's first goal (Jonathan Audy-Marchessault from Mats Zuccarello-Aasen and Tim Erixon) smashes the record for most letters combining on a goal I've seen.
  • Gillies (who doesn't appear to even get a regular shift at this level) takes an appropriately dumb penalty, leading to the stuff of nightmares: Wade Redden as the PP quarterback.
  • The between period T-shirt toss produces a painfully shrill noise.
  • A fight between Micheal (sic) Haley and Stu Bickel is broken up almost as soon as it starts, while doing so, the linesman presumably screaming "Won't somebody please think of the children?!"
  • The Whale take a 3-1 lead early in the third, the goal (Jonathan Audy-Marchessault from Mats Zuccarello-Aasen and John Mitchell) smashing the record for most letters combining on a goal I've seen, if falling just short on the syllables equivalent.
  • Showing impressive dedication to becoming Rangers, the Whale then blow their lead over the last 11 minutes and lose in OT, the Tigers' Tim Wallace completing his hat-trick on the winner.
Next up: Back to MSG for yet another intense clash for the Rangers against a hated divisional rival, the Anaheim Ducks.


Game #5: Anaheim Ducks 1-2(SO) New York Rangers
  • Back in the cheap moderately less obscenely expensive seats for this one.  Hence, not surrounded by corporate no-shows / BlackBerry idiots.
  • Instead, I'm sat next to somebody who talks loudly non-stop for the entire game, none of which is about the game or hockey generally, except for: "I ****ing hate the ****ing Montréal Canadiens.  Not only are they from Montréal, but they are ****ing Canadians."
  • After a pretty poor game between the two teams in Stockholm four weeks ago, much of this one is similarly uneventful, the Ducks mustering only two shots in the first period.
  • The Rangers open the scoring through the increasingly Paul Coffey-like Jeff Woywitka, before the moustache-free George Parros is again engaged in a not-at-all-staged fight on the restart, the Bahama Bomber, Andre Deveaux taking the place that Mike Rupp filled in Stockholm and proving less like a Parros punchbag.
  • It's tied after 40 minutes thanks to Bobby Ryan wiring a screened wrister high past Henrik Lundqvist.
  • A more eventful third period sees the Ducks carry most of the play, Ryan Callahan missing a shorthanded breakaway with no Duck skater within 60 feet of him (his only breakaway/shootout move failing him), and both goalies playing well.
  • A fairly crazy OT session somehow ends without a winner, before the completely unexpected sight of Marián Gáborik (2-for-19 career record coming in) scoring in the shootout and Bobby Ryan this time not fanning the final attempt past Lundqvist.
Next up: Having not played a Canadian team for an incredible stretch of two games, the Rangers face the ****ing Montréal ****ing Canadiens.  Will the MSG crowd get the chance to shower the usual acclaim on returning hero, Scott Gomez?


Game #6: Montréal Canadiens 3-5 New York Rangers
  • Beaucoup trop de partisans des Habitants ici.
  • I'm surprised to see that somebody actually purchased one of these monstrosities:
    (Meaning the style of jersey.  Nobody would be stupid enough to pay lots of money for an actual Gomez, right?)
  • Bad news for the Canadiens Rangers is that Gomez is still injured and will not play.  The Rangers do ice the best two players involved in the Gomez trade: Ryan McDonagh and No Gomez.
  • An interesting start, as Mike Blunden flattens a speeding Brandon Dubinsky by the Habs' bench, sparking a huge get-together.  "Clean" hit from Blunden, had it not been for the fact that he jumped off the bench early to make the hit.
  • After Ryan Callahan and Blunden fight and a separate one between Mike Sauer and Petteri Nokelainen (the latter two receiving game misconducts), we emerge with a 5-on-3 PP for two minutes to the Rangers, on which Erik Christensen capitalises.
  • Well into the game, we finally see a shift for returning hero, Sean Avery.  First time I've heard grown men squeal with excitement at MSG.
  • The first period ends 3-0 Rangers, the third goal a particularly good one, a shot block by Dan Girardi leading to a rush the other way, capped by a great pass from Derek Stepan to a streaking Michael Del Zotto to beat Carey Price.
  • As expected, the Habs score early in the second period and pull to within a goal midway through the period on a 5-on-3 PP of their own, courtesy of Brian Gionta's wonky sense of balance as much as anything worth penalising.
  • After surviving more than one shot off the post and some dangerous rushes from the apparently not-dead-yet Erik Cole, things become more comfortable for the Rangers as Brad Richards wires one past Price late in the second.
  • The game tightens up considerably in the final frame, but a frantic finish is ensured once Gionta get his customary goal against the Rangers with two minutes to go.
  • Captain Callahan eases nerves with the empty-netter, the puck amusingly being followed into the goal by Garden crowd favourite, P.K. Subban, spinning on his derrière.
Next up: The homestand and my trip ends with the visit of Dystugien Bufflin and the Jetlanta Thrasherpegs.


Game #7: Winnipeg Jets 0-3 New York Rangers
  • Predictably, far fewer Jets jerseys in the crowd than there were Canadiens jerseys last night.  The fans must have opted to spend all their ticket money to sit under a leaking ceiling on Long Island.  Understandable choice.
  • During the anthems, somebody unfurls a banner reading: "2012 END FED RON PAUL".  I'm not heavily into U.S. politics, but it seems odd that Ruslan Fedotenko's contract status would be such a prominent issue for Republicans.
  • After the excitement of last night's game, it seems back-to-back games for both teams is showing.  The first period is unremarkable, notable only for one crazy sequence in Marty Biron's goalmouth in which the puck is stopped on the goal-line two or three times and ends up with every player on the ice bar Jets goalie Ondřej Pavelec either in or right around the crease.  Dustin Byfuglien does a passable impression of an NFL fullback leaping over the pile at the goal-line, but cannot force the football to break the plane.
  • The second period is almost equally unremarkable, notable only for Derek Stepan's PP goal to open the scoring.
  • A bit more interesting in the third.  Three quick Jets penalties, give the Rangers the opportunity to get booed for failing to score on an extended 5-on-3 PP.  (Actually not that bad a PP - Pavelec mostly responsible for the lack of scoring.)  Then Marián Gáborik converts on a 2-on-1 rush led by the recently excellent Derek Stepan.
  • Late Jets pressure is pretty sporadic and Gáborik seals the game in the last seconds with a lob wedge backhand empty netter.  Biron earns his first shutout as a Ranger and continues his strong start to the season.
  • Signs of the tenuous strength of the financial support provided by Winnipeg fans are revealed when two of them duck the fare barriers at the crowded subway station rather than face the outrageous $2.50 cost.
So, another winning record for the Rangers during my trip.  They look a far better team than the one that struggled throughout the majority of the seven-game international road trip that preceded the homestand, if still a bit fortunate to earn as many points as they did.

Still a few questions to be answered too, such as:
  • When will Marc Staal recover and return to the line-up?
  • Will Dan Girardi die of exhaustion if that doesn't happen soon?
  • When will "Sausage Boss by Andrew Carmellini" finally open at MSG?

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