by Jim Samuels
It seems strange to say that a team is searching for something to build on at this early juncture of the season, but that is exactly where the Rangers find themselves heading into Montreal for Monday’s match against the red-hot Canadiens. The Rangers hope to have found exactly what they were looking for during Saturday night’s rousing come from behind 2-2 OT tie in Ottawa against the Senators. After starting the week on a down note at home in an uninspiring Garden loss to Jaromir Jagr and the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, the Rangers took their show on the road on Saturday and came away with a hard earned point that could easily have been two. But even such small accomplishments qualify as big news in Rangerland these days.
The Rangers arrived in Ottawa with a proverbial bad taste in their mouths, fresh off an embarrassing defeat filled with undisciplined penalties that drew the ire of not only head coach RON LOW and GM GLEN SATHER, but that of NHL disciplinary czar Colin Campbell. In the aftermath of Wednesday’s Garden debacle, Campbell put a crimp in the wallets of Rangers defensemen DALE PURINTON and IGOR ULANOV. Both players were suspended for 7 games and slapped with hefty fines totaling over $200K when all was said and done. No appeals were planned as both players served the first games of their suspensions against Ottawa on Saturday. Campbell did the Rangers a favor in suspending Ulanov, who has looked absolutely lost at times, making even the simplest of plays seem complicated. Hitting the side of the net with wrap around clearing attempts and falling into pre-occupied Ranger netminders has become commonplace for the 31 year-old off-season free agent acquisition.
Rookie goaltender DAN BLACKBURN was left to clean up the mess created by the Blueshirts low energy, uninspired effort Wednesday night against Washington. Making his NHL debut, Blackburn was called upon to make several outstanding saves as pugilist Dale Purinton’s overzealous “Swing first ask questions later” approach put the Rangers in an early hole. After being outshot 13-1 over the first 15 minutes, many of them spent shorthanded, the Rangers found themselves behind 3-0 after one period. Finally getting into a rhythm and being able to play some 5 on 5 hockey, left winger ZDENO CIGER opened the scoring for the Blueshirts, tallying his first NHL goal since March 30th 1996, off a beautiful feed from BRYAN BERARD to make it 3-1. Then, eight minutes later, RADEK DVORAK scored to cut the deficit to one, but that was as close as the Rangers would get as Slava Kozlov scored the back breaker early in the third to ice the game for the Caps.
Determined to snap out of Wednesday’s Garden malaise, the Rangers put forth a much more spirited effort on Saturday. They overcame a two goal deficit, created in large part due to a lazy, half hearted backhand pass by bumbling defensemen VLADIMIR MALAKHOV. The gaffe which took place just inside the Rangers blueline, occurred when the puck was thrown softly through the middle of the ice, right onto the stick of Daniel Alfredsson who skated in alone and beat a helpless MIKE RICHTER for a 2-0 Senator lead. The loss of Captain MARK MESSIER, who left mid-way through the second period appearing to have sustained an injury to the rib cage area, caused head coach Ron Low to further juggle his lines. Low’s juggling paid off as he reunited Czech-mates Dvorak, Ciger and PETER NEDVED, a move that jumpstarted a dormant Rangers offense.
After MIKE YORK pulled the Blueshirts to within one with just under nine minutes to play, Ciger won a battle for a loose puck just to the side of Senator’s netminder Patrick Lalime and fed Nedved who one-timed it into the open side knotting the score at two with just over four minutes to play. The overtime featured several scoring opportunities for each team, the best of which was a breakaway by THEO FLEURY who seemed to have Lalime beaten only to lose control of the puck just outside of the crease. Here’s a look at some individual performances over the past week: WEEKLY REPORT CARD: ERIC LINDROS: Beginning to back off defender’s with outstanding speed through the neutral zone. After quiet game against Caps he and Fleury seem to be starting to build some much needed chemistry.
PETER NEDVED: Scored game tying goal against Ottawa after sleepwalking through Washington game. Low must find a way to get Peter more involved in penalty kill situations.
MIKE YORK: Defensively sound, offensively challenged centerman may find home on Lindros’ wing. Needs to find scoring touch around the net to insure icetime.
MICHAL GROSEK: Strapping winger must be consistent with his physical game. Has had trouble getting the puck out of the defensive zone, but has forechecked well thus far.
ZDENO CIGER: Set up Nedved’s game tying goal with nice work down low, otherwise has been average at best.
THEO FLEURY: Continues to take ill-advised penalties but is definitely getting involved every shift, needs to break mini goal drought before it begins to wear on the diminutive winger.
BARRETT HEISTEN: Spunky high energy shifts shouldn’t be so few and far between, gets involved physically and speed makes him very effective on the forecheck.
MANNY MALHOTRA: Was inexplicably benched on Saturday, needs to play to be effective. When icetime gets cut he tries to do too much in his limited role.
SANDY MCCARTHY: Hulking winger always seems to create havoc, either a scoring chance or drawing a penalty. Also needs to get more icetime to be effective.
ANDREAS JOHANSSON: Speedy Swede was moved back to center and did quite well on draws against Ottawa. An excellent penalty killer that can create offense when shorthanded.
RADEK DVORAK: Had a good week recording a point in each game, outstanding speed backs off opposing defensemen, also needs to get more work on the PK.
MARK MESSIER: Had an extremely quiet couple of games before getting injured on Saturday, Hate to say it but the Captain has looked his age thus far.
BRIAN LEETCH: Has looked awful defensively, fighting the puck every step of the way. Needs to make simple play more often.
BRYAN BERARD: See Leetch, seems tentative keeping pucks in at the opposing blueline, has started to jump into the play with a little more confidence.
DAVE KARPA: Probably the Rangers most solid defensemen over first four games. Excellent shot blocker, makes the simple play.
IGOR ULANOV: Struggled mightily against the Caps, playing woefully with no confidence what so ever. Thankfully was suspended for seven games, hope he uses time to get his game together.
VLADIMIR MALAKHOV: Had quiet beginning to season prior to inexplicable gaffe against Sens on Saturday, can’t believe Low didn’t sit him down for a few shifts after that one.
PETER SMREK: Had solid game after sitting out previous two, always calm with the puck. Needs to play with more confidence which will come with more icetime.
DALE PURINTON: Meant well in needlessly coming to teammates aid Wednesday against Caps, put Rangers in hole they never got out of. Willing fighter, just needs to pick his spots a little better.
DARREN VAN IMPE: Stepped in and played very controlled game against Sens, is definitely NHL caliber defensemen and will likely stick with the big club. Relatively large contract only thing that got him through waivers.
COMING UP: Rangers could only muster one of a possible four points against two eastern conference foe’s during the past week. They’ll need to play much better this week in games against the Canadiens in Montreal on Monday and at home against the Devils on Wednesday. Blueshirts conclude the week with back to back games, starting with the Atlanta Thrashers visiting the Garden on Friday followed with a visit to Tampa Bay on Saturday. See you next week.