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Rangers/Devils Observations

October 6, 2009   ·     ·   Jump to comments

Last night was the first of six between bitter Hudson rivals. The Rangers prevailed over the Devils in Round One in Newark. Round Two is a little over two weeks away at MSG on October 22. We’ll be in our usual Sec.411 seats for another intense battle.

In the mean time, let’s assess what happened yesterday.

NYR/NJD Observations

-As we noted in last night’s column, rookies Mike Del Zotto (G, A) and Matt Gilroy (1st goal-GW) had big games, contributing to all three Ranger goals. Offensively, they were superb making excellent reads. Decision making was key. Each also looked more comfortable 5-on-5 which is vital in their development. Already with two goals and an assist, it looks like Del Zotto plans to make it tough for the club to send him back to London after the nine-game limit. As for Gilroy, you can see why Glen Sather signed the former Hobey Baker winner. He possesses the kinda skating and offensive instincts the franchise has lacked since Brian Leetch. Still, it’s an unfair comparison for the 25 year-old BU product. Fans must remember that.

-The biggest plus we saw on the other side was the play of David Clarkson (2 A), who was directly involved in both the Devils’ tallies. The third-year rugged forward continues to show marked improvement. His attention to detail took advantage of a Dan Girardi neutral zone turnover, pushing the puck back in where Jay Pandolfo set up Rob Niedermayer’s first. Following some hustle from Zach Parise, Clarkson also made a nifty backhand feed across for a Travis Zajac slam dunk on the power play. Aside from a couple of nice plays, the usual work ethic was there from that “career minor leaguer.Sean Avery might want rethink that when he finally sees his pal.

-It took three games but finally Ales Kotalik (PPG) did something to earn his ridiculous contract, blasting a deadly one-timer off the post and in for his first goal as a Ranger. The former Sabre should just be called a “power play specialist” because he won’t produce much at even strength. Though at least for one night, he did compete even throwing his body around and making a great defensive play in the waning second with the Devils searching for the equalizer.

-The Devils had to like what they saw from the younger Niedermayer (G), who scored his first by beating Henrik Lundqvist with a perfect high shot from the right circle inside the crossbar. The checking center won’t be expected to score much but it was certainly an impressive finish for the newest Niedermayer who was solid also going 7-of-14 on draws with a plus-one in 15:42.

-Brandon Dubinsky was strong again for a third straight game centering the top line which while not finishing, were dangerous during some shifts with their excellent cycling. Overall though, it was the third-year pivot who stood out with a solid two-way game that included going 12-7 in the faceoff circle along with three hits and some excellent PK work (3:28). The more you watch him, the more confident he looks. No wonder he got the most minutes (23:37).

-Can’t help but admire the effort of Pandolfo (A, +1) whose days are winding down for the only logo he’s ever known. The man came to play Monday as his great hustle showed beating Marc Staal to a loose puck, then making a sweet dish to Niedermayer, who may as well have been former buddy John Madden. We’ve seen that before. Looks like the vet wants to stay a while.

-Christopher Higgins played well. While his line was victimized early due to Girardi’s poor read and Staal getting outmuscled, the Smithtown native did a lot of good things throughout thanks to a word that will never be associated with Scott Gomez. H-U-S-T-L-E. The ex-Hab didn’t register any points but his work ethic was very good, leading to two scoring chances including one shorthanded in which he went around Parise- forcing Martin Brodeur to make a good save with the contest even early in the second. He also nearly had the Rangers’ fourth goal off a nice Chris Drury setup and caught Parise with a clean shoulder. Something we’ve never seen on the Devil top threat.

-Dainius Zubrus played a strong game for the Devils, using his size in the third to get a couple of good scoring chances including a nice tester on Lundqvist, which he fought off. He really isn’t a second center but did alright between Brian Rolston and rookie Nicklas Bergfors. If only his linemates had played better.

-Is it too early to start eating crow on the unpopular Donald Brashear? The big man acquitted himself well against a familiar foe, using his size and strength to draw a penalty. The crash line of Brash, Brian Boyle and Aaron Voros were good, establishing a consistent forecheck everytime John Tortorella put them out there. But in particular, it was Brashear who led the way, even getting a scoring chance which he missed wide. The new enforcer also was responsible not going with Andrew Peters during a scrum that saw his team get a power play. Good stuff.

-The ZZ Popp line was good in spurts coming on strong in the final period. Great hustle from Parise kept Ryan Callahan from clearing the puck, leading to the Devils’ first second power play goal of the season. He then dished off to Clarkson, who found Zajac all alone for his first. Even when he doesn’t score, the Zach Attack finds a way to stay active. He only knows one way to play and that’s why he’s got an ‘A.’ Parise also had a little bad luck deflecting a point shot off the pipe that would’ve tied it. Zajac was also good scoring and winning 12-of-22 faceoffs in 22:45. However, captain Jamie Langenbrunner took the night off. With Patrik Elias still out, they must carry the workload.

-A negative for the Rangers was Girardi, who again struggled. He was responsible for both Devil goals with his turnover leading to the first and failure to take out Langenbrunner along the wall proving costly. It was totally the wrong read and way too passive. Sure, he did some better things as the game moved along including three hits and a game best four blocked shots in 20:28. But he must be more consistent. Especially paired with Staal as Tort’s top tandem. Speaking of Staal, his failure to win the battle against Pandolfo was brutal, helping lead to a quick timeout in which they got chewed out. Otherwise, he was fine tossing his weight around. He still looks uncomfortable on the point. Someone please get the message to the coach.

-The biggest negative we saw for the Devs was their D. In a choppy game in which neither blueline impressed, New Jersey struggled with the Ranger attack. Their coverage on all three goals against was sloppy with the first two off faceoffs in which they never recovered. Gilroy’s winner was unacceptable with him isolated as they scrambled around. They also couldn’t handle Marian Gaborik’s line. Even on a quiet night for the star, he still found Gilroy late for the crusher. Paul Martin escaped serious injury on a knee on knee collision with Drury which teammate Johnny Oduya stood up for. Though we’re still mystified as to how he wound up with four minutes, leading to Kotalik’s tying PPG. Oduya was up and down while Martin was strong in 26-plus. He also jumped into the play but was guilty of overpassing. Colin White and Dubinsky wrestled each other down during one shift. Cory Murphy didn’t help the PP but went plus-one. Mike Mottau was shaky and Bryce Salvador okay.

-Since we’ve already documented four D on the Ranger side, we’ll focus on Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden. Rozy still looks shaky. He’s a turnover waiting to happen. Encouraging was that he improved late playing better with Redden than we saw most of last year. He still is a bad fit for this system because he doesn’t make good reads. He was caught forcing Dubinsky to take a penalty. His passing in the third was good. At least that’s a start. As for Tinman, he played a solid game but also was guilty of a poor pinch. Otherwise, we like what we saw. Redden is playing better so far which might be due to Gilroy. He was probably the club’s most consistent last night playing a responsible 22:49. That must continue.

-The Devil fourth line did nothing. Out of Rod Pelley, Peters and Ilkka Pikkarainen, Pelley was the only noticeable player. But he still took a penalty as did Pikkarainen, who had a forgettable debut. We would’ve gone with rookie Matt Halischuk instead. As for Peters, if he’s not fighting, it’s a waste as our Buffalo contingent knows.

-The Rangers need more from Artem Anisimov, who played under nine minutes. The 21 year-old Russian rookie did try a couple of shots but clearly hasn’t been as effective as he looked in exhibition. Maybe it’s the linemates with the vanilla Kotalik and Enver Lisin, who’s only been good on the PP. When Avery returns Thursday in D.C., we’d flip Kotalik and Callahan. Let Ales play with Drury and stick two of the club’s grittiest with Anisimov which could create a spark. As for Lisin, he does show skill but unless he finishes, he’s a liability. So, he sits.

-Finally to the goalies. Yet again, Lundqvist outshined Brodeur finishing with 25 saves including 18 for 18 the final two stanzas. While he didn’t have to stand on his head, King Henrik made timely stops when his team needed it. The two glove saves off faceoffs including a nice one on Murphy were solid. He did what he had to do to get the ‘W’ but also didn’t face as many odd-man rushes. As for Marty, he was better in making 23 stops including a couple of nice ones on Higgins. But, he still should’ve had Gilroy’s as it was unscreened and thru the five-hole after the Devil all-time great’s stick failed. On what figures to be a lowscoring club until Elias returns, those are the big saves he must make. We won’t kill him for Kotalik’s blast because the coverage stunk and it was a rocket.

-And the two coaches. The edge went to Tortorella, who chewed out his flat club after only 84 seconds. You could feel the timeout coming as soon as the Devils scored off some putrid play. When they continued to attack while his team didn’t compete, it was obviously the right call. Think Tom Renney would have done it? :-P As for Jacques Lemaire, it was like he never left. The chewing gum vet did use his timeout to diagram a play on an abbreviated 5-on-3. Maybe it would’ve worked if Rolston had hit the net with a one-timer that went high and wide. Something he did way too much of during his first stint under the familiar coach. Last night, Tort won the battle. Give him an assist for the win.

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