Archive for January, 2012

Tweetleedeetleedeet…

January 31, 2012

Against my better judgement, I am now on Twitter…@HawkCrawford.

Please direct any complaints to Brian Ring!

Good Riddance, January

January 30, 2012

Hopefully three days completely away from hockey, at least for everybody except Jon Audy-Marchessault and Mats Zuccarello, will be just the tonic the Whale needs.

That, and maybe the end of the month of January, which could not have been much un-kinder to the Whale.

The team hit the First of the Year in first place by a margin of six points in the Atlantic Division, and now, after an 0-6-3-2 month, the Whale find themselves two points behind division-leading Bridgeport in a Northeast loop that has only a five-point gap between first place and fifth place.  Before Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Springfield dropped them into second, the Whale had held at least a share of first place since November 18, more than two months.

More important now are the conference standings, which show the Whale tied for, yikes, eighth place in the East, the last conference playoff spot, with Portland.  So is it time to start scoreboard watching?

It used to be easy, when for the most part you only had to keep an eye on what the other divisional teams were doing.  Now though, you’ve got to be concerned not only with trying to grab that first-place spot, and its attendant automatic top-three playoff berth, back from Bridgeport, but also no fewer than ten other conference teams that are within eight points, plus or minus, of the Whale.

It’s not like it hasn’t been agonizing, either.  Two more one-goal losses, one in overtime, over this past weekend, meaning that in this 11-game winless drought, five of the defeats have been in either overtime or shootouts, Saturday’s was by one goal in regulation and the other five have been by two goals.  They’re certainly not missing by much, but a quick gander at those conference standings are all it should take to know that things had better get turned back around fast.

One big positive in the midst of all this frustration, though, has been the size of the crowds lately.

Great Chris Rutsch Shot of a Great Crowd!

Saturday’s throng of 11,181 was easily the largest of the year, and ranked ninth all-time in regular-season, XL Center franchise history.  And five of the last seven home gates have topped 5,400.

And believe me, the guys notice.  I’m always getting asked by the players, “What kind of crowd are we going to have tonight, how many in the barn for this one?”  It really makes a difference, and the team genuinely wants to give the lively building a good show.  There is a palpable sense of disappointment among the group when they are unable to send a great turnout like Saturday’s home happy, and the spinning turnstiles add legitimate extra motivation to get the ship pointed back in the right direction.

Speed Kills

January 30, 2012

I remember Barry Melrose, who is one tough dude, both as a player and as a coach (as I knew him, when he coached the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings), saying that the only thing in hockey that ever intimidated him was speed.

Jonathan Audy-Marchessault

And Carl Hagelin and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault aren’t exactly a pair of intimidating guys to look at–Hagelin is skinny as a rail and looks like he might have stepped out of the Swedish version of Hanson, and from the press box you’d swear that Audy-Marchessault’s head barely reaches the crossbar–but I’m sure there aren’t many defenders out there who would really relish facing either one of them.  That’s because of, especially in the case of Hagelin, that great intimidator, foot speed.

Hagelin showed off his other gear again at the NHL Skills Competition Saturday, posting the fastest time in the Fastest Skater event, a lap of 13.218 seconds.

When Hagelin was named to go to All-Star Weekend, I figured he’d get the nod to participate in the Fastest Skater showdown, but I didn’t necessarily think he’d win it.  He might be challenging Ryan Callahan for the quickest, most meteoric rise ever by a Whale/Wolf Pack-groomed prospect.

Audy-Marchessault has different physique than the lithe Hagelin, more of a fireplug-type build, so maybe he doesn’t look as fast, but clearly the rest of the league thinks he is.  The Whale’s co-leading goal-scorer was tabbed to skate for the Eastern Conference in last night’s AHL Skills Competition Fastest Skater event, and though he didn’t make the statement that Hagelin did, he certainly acquitted himself well.  Audy-Marchessault logged the third-fastest time in the event, with a 13.932.

Hagelin Earns NHL All-Star Invite

January 26, 2012

Carl Hagelin’s rise to NHL impact guy status continues, with the news today that he has been added to the roster of rookie All-Stars for the upcoming NHL All-Star weekend.

Hagelin is pushing the top 10 in the NHL in rookie scoring, despite having played in only 29 of the Rangers’ 47 games, with 8-8-16.  And his plus/minus of +13 is tied for the league lead among first-year players.  Certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see him tabbed for the Fastest Skater event in Saturday’s skills competition.  He was easily the swiftest skater I have seen in the AHL this year.

And old friend Tim Kennedy has been traded again.  The Florida Panthers swapped the former Whale forward today to San Jose in exchange for defenseman Sean Sullivan.  Sullivan was playing in Worcester and Kennedy was in San Antonio, so it is likely that the Whale will be butting heads with Kennedy as a Shark later on this season.

The Rangers dealt Kennedy to Florida at the trade deadline last winter in the deal that brought Bryan McCabe to Broadway.  Kennedy had 12-30-42 in 53 games with the Whale last year and was tied for second on the team in points at the time of the trade to the Panthers.

Same Lineup for Rangers, Johnson Returns

January 25, 2012

Same playing roster for the Rangers in last night’s 3-0 shutout of Winnipeg at Madison Square Garden, except for Chad Johnson replacing the flu-stricken Martin Biron as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup.

Wojtek Wolski and the recently-recalled Erik Christensen were healthy scratches.  Stu Bickel’s ice time increased marginally from the 4:27 he logged in Saturday’s overtime win in Boston, but the big D-man still got only nine shifts for a total time of 5:43.

John Mitchell scored a goal and had a great chance for another, and by the end of the game was playing on a line with Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan.

And how about Lundqvist not even being supposed to play before Biron got sick, and pitching his fifth shutout of the season and second in the last four games?

Johnson, meanwhile, was returned to the Whale from his emergency recall after the game.

 

Biron Under the Weather, Johnson Recalled

January 24, 2012

Just got notification that Chad Johnson has been summoned to New York.

Bad luck for Martin Biron, who was supposed to get the start for the big club tonight, but has been taken ill.  So Henrik Lundqvist will make his fifth straight start and eighth in the last nine games.

Sounds like the Whale will not bother to bring in another goaltender, as this is the Rangers’ last game before the All-Star break and they expect Johnson to come right back to Connecticut.

I’m Baaack…

January 24, 2012

My keyboard has taken a little hiatus here, while our web gurus complete the cool new look of the site, but now the curtain has been swept aside again on my little corner, and we are back open for business.

Just in time to ruminate on the first big hiccup in what had been a nearly unimpeachable effort by the Whale through the season’s first 30-some games.

After a 5-2 win New Year’s Eve over Springfield, the Whale were nine games over .500, matching a high-water mark for the season, and were only two points off the Eastern Conference lead.

But since then…well, let’s not jump off the bridge just yet.

OK, the Whale are without a win in nine games since that calendar year-closing victory over the Falcons, matching the longest winless run in franchise history, but they do have points in nearly half of those games, with two overtime losses and two shootout defeats, and none of the losses have been by more than two goals.

And whereas in the first half the Whale pulled out more than one game that they trailed for much of, and maybe had no business winning, they have coughed up a couple during this drought that they definitely should have won.  The first game of the streak was a shining example of that, a 5-4 overtime loss in Portland in an afternoon game January 2.  The Whale were in complete control for most of that game, and led 3-0 as late as the 16:00 mark of the second period before the worm began to turn.  And even after the Pirates came all the way back, Connecticut still took a 4-3 advantage into the final minute of regulation, only to see Portland score a power-play goal with 30 seconds left to tie it (after the Whale had killed 59 seconds of five-on-three) and win the game on another man advantage with 33 seconds to go in overtime.

Also notable was a rematch with Springfield January 7 at the XL Center that saw the Whale score three goals in the third period to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead, against a Falcon club that was 0-5 against the Whale on the year.  The tables turned in that one in the final 3:25 of regulation, in which the Falcons scored twice, including the tying goal with 35 seconds left and Springfield goaltender Mark Dekanich on the bench for a sixth attacker.  That goal came after a Whale clearing attempt failed and a desperate Falcon pass squirted through Kelsey Tessier’s legs right to Martin St. Pierre between the hash marks.  That game ended up being a 5-4 shootout loss, and looking back, when something like that happens you think the fates might be going against you, and that has certainly been the case since.

And the Whale power play, which was on a torrid streak before Andre Deveaux’s (pictured) three-game suspension, is 1/19 in the five games since the first one Deveaux missed.  You have to figure that is going to turn around sooner than later, with the likes of Brendan Bell, Tim Erixon, Kris Newbury, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, not to mention Deveaux, having been among the top power-play guys in the league for much of the year.  And hopefully Mats Zuccarello is not too far from returning.

Finally, and this is textbook glass-is-half-full thinking, consider that the Whale, who are in the midst of a five-game homestand and have still played six more road games (24) than home games (18), are actually unbeaten in regulation in nine straight XL Center outings, 5-0-1-3 over that span.

McDonagh Reportedly OK, Sauer Back to Drydock

The latest out of New York seems to be that Ryan McDonagh did not suffer any serious injury as a result of the hit he took from Boston’s Andrew Ference in overtime of Saturday’s Ranger win, and should be able to go tonight when the parent club hosts Winnipeg in the Blueshirts’ last game before the NHL All-Star break.  That is certainly good news for the whole organization, but is tempered by Michael Sauer, in John Tortorella’s words, being “backed off” after suffering a recurrence of post-concussion symptoms.  There had been optimism about Sauer progressing toward a return, after he was able to participate in a couple of practices last week.