Radek Dvorak

Week 9 Wrap-up

by Jim Samuels

Who would’ve thunk it ? Twenty nine games into this young season and The New York Rangers are not only tops in the Atlantic division, but are leading the Eastern Conference with an eye-popping 37 points. This team, still very much a work in progress, has seemed much more committed to the cause and have finally bought into head coach Ron Low’s defensive system. After having gone over two years without a shutout, red hot Mike Richter recorded two in the same week sandwiched around an outstanding 45-save effort by here-to-stay rookie sensation Dan Blackburn in a 3-1 Ranger win over Montreal, north of the border on Saturday night. 

Coming off back to back losses to Washington and Anaheim the Blueshirts faced a tough week with four tilts against eastern conference foes. They began the week in Buffalo against the Sabres and got off to a rather inauspicious start. Usual suspect Igor Ulanov’s propensity to make maddening passes through the neutral zone once again cost New York, as the free agent signee lazily flipped the puck across the middle of the ice straight to the stick of Buffalo forward Dennis Hamel who broke in alone on Richter for the first goal of the night. 

After more undisciplined play put the Blueshirts down two men (and eventually two goals), the team began to mount a comeback. Late second period scraps that saw Sandy McCarthy take on Eric Boulton and Steve McKenna tangle with pugilist Rob Ray seemed to spark the Rangers. Eric Lindros tallied just before the end of the second period and despite being outshot 34-18 the Rangers trailed just 2-1 heading into the third. As the teams traded power plays, Mike Richter was outstanding once again, keeping the Rangers in the game as they tried to find some offense. Finally, with Richter at the bench for an extra skater the Ranger Captain found Mike York alone in front, and the diminutive winger beat Martin Biron with just eight seconds remaining to send the game to overtime. Despite an up and down, exciting extra period the Blueshirts gladly settled for a hard earned point. 

New York was 2 for 6 with the man advantage while killing 6 of 7 Buffalo power plays. Richter made 47 saves to run his record to 11-5-2. The Rangers are 2-0-1 in three matches against the Sabres this season. Ulanov, whose inconsistent play has irritated the coaching staff throughout this young season, was benched following his first period gaffe and hasn’t seen the ice since. 

On Thursday the Rangers returned home to face the Carolina Hurricanes, who had beaten the Blueshirts twice in Raleigh earlier in the season. With a little revenge on their minds the Rangers came out flying as Petr Nedved opened the scoring beating Tom Barrasso mid-way through the first period for a 1-0 lead. Theo Fleury tallied two second period goals in just over a 2:30 span to give the Rangers a 3-0 lead. Finally paying attention to detail in their own end, the Rangers allowed few quality chances as Richter, starting his third consecutive game, faced only 16 shots through two periods. 

The Rangers broke the game open in the third as Mike York added his 11th of the season and the vastly improved Vladimir Malakhov scored a power play marker to close out the win. The 5-0 win marked Richter’s first shutout since he blanked the Phoenix Coyotes way back on February 26th, 1999. 

The Rangers outshot the ‘Canes by a 30-22 margin and went 1 for 3 with the man advantage while killing all five Carolina power plays. Steve McKenna continued his hard nosed play taking on Chris Dingman in an uneventful second period scrap. Richter made 22 saves for the shutout to improve his record to 12-5-2. 

On Saturday night the Blueshirts traveled North of the Border to face the Canadiens in Montreal. The Rangers started quickly as Zdeno Ciger opened the scoring at 5:04 of the first off a nifty feed from Radek Dvorak. The Rangers swarmed early on, peppering Canadiens netminder Jose Theodore, but were unable to extend their lead as an apparent goal by Eric Lindros was disallowed when Montreal defensemen Sheldon Souray knocked the net off just prior to the puck going in. 

Montreal began to find their game and pressed the Rangers throughout the latter stages of the first period but Dan Blackburn was up to the task turning aside several point blank chances including a magnificent stop on a breakaway by Donald Audette. The Canadiens tied it mid-way through the second on a goal by Yanic Perreault off a net mouth scramble that saw Blackburn make three outstanding saves before Perreault finally banged the puck home. 

The Rangers responded quickly as the FLY line teamed up for a pretty goal just over a minute later as Lindros set up York breaking down the wing to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. Blackburn was outstanding, turning aside 20 of 21 Montreal shots in the second period. The Rangers held on in the third as Montreal threw another 18 shots Blackburn’s way but the rookie sensation was up to the task stopping them all. Mike York added his 13th into an empty net to ice the game for the Blueshirts. 

The game was marred however by a couple of ugly incidents, hard hitting defensemen Tomas Kloucek was assessed a match penalty for intent to injure when he was involved in an open ice knee on knee collision with Jan Bulis of the Canadiens. Bulis was helped off the ice and did not return. Kloucek was exonerated however, as the league issued a statement saying they would not seek any disciplinary action against the Rangers defensemen. Then, late in the third period Donald Audette had his right wrist inadvertently stepped on by Radek Dvorak which caused a deep gash in his wrist/forearm area. Audette, in obvious pain skated immediately to the Montreal dressing room for medical attention, he is expected to be out for several months. 

The Rangers were 0 for 2 with the man advantage and killed off 3 of 4 Montreal power plays. Blackburn made 45 saves to record his fourth win. The appearance was Blackburn’s 10th of the season which now costs him a year of waiver ineligibility, which for seemingly squash any talk of Ranger deals for a backup goalie. 

The Blueshirts closed out the week with a Garden match against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday. A rather uneventful first period saw the Rangers outshoot the Lightning 8 to 2 as neither team generated much offense. To their credit the Rangers stayed patient and did not allow the Lightning to lull them to sleep as has happened during so many other Lightning visits to the Worlds Most Famous Arena over the past few seasons. 

The game remained scoreless until mid-way through the third period when Brian Leetch took advantage of what little open ice there was to find and rifled a slap shot from just inside the blueline past a screened Nicolai Khabibulin for the only goal the Blueshirts would need in a 1-0 win over the Lightning. Mike Richter was outstanding once again, turning aside 20 shots en-route to recording his second shutout in as many games. 

Richter has not allowed a goal in the last 148:49 and improved his record to 13-5-2. The Rangers outshot the Lightning 27-20 and were 0 for 3 with the man advantage while killing all four Tampa power plays. The Blueshirts have split two games with Tampa this season. 

OUTLOOK: The Rangers have surprised everyone going 17-9-2-1 over their first 29 matches and find themselves leading the eastern conference with 37 points. This team, much maligned last season for their porous defensive play have finally bought into the theory that defense wins. The Rangers have given up just 20 goals over the past 10 games, six of them coming in the 6-2 debacle in Washington. Remarkable for a team that had give up 100 goals last season through 29 games compared to this season’s downright stingy 75. The 25 goal improvement is the biggest reduction in the league, the Rangers have gone from 30th to 19th in goals against over the past 3 weeks. 

Mike Richter, who had his personal seven game unbeaten streak stopped in a 3-2 loss to Anaheim last week, his first loss since October 31, had an unbelievable month of November posting a 7-1-1-0 mark. He has also posted a 20-3-8-0 mark in the last 31 matches in which he has faced 40 shots or more. 

Petr Nedved has seemed much more interested since his return from a concussion last week. Nedved seems to have been energized since being reunited with Czech-mate Radek Dvorak, playing a more physical game and has seemed to be much more conscious of his defensive game since his return. 

The win over Tampa was the Rangers 10th on Garden ice.  The Blueshirts did not record their 10th home win until January 14th last season. Rangers are 11-1-0 when scoring first. 

THE WEEK AHEAD: The Rangers travel to Washington to face the Caps in what should be a high energy match on Tuesday before returning home on Thursday to open a home and home with the Toronto Maple Leafs which concludes in Toronto on Saturday.

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