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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Preseason Wrap Up: Frolunda/Slovan/Zug and The End of Sean Avery

Holy hell, what a week! I thought I could coast through the rest of the preseason but this team just refuses to stop making headline news. Between the three televised games in the Europe, the cuts and the waived players, our New York Rangers are staying busy. As excited as I am to look ahead to Friday, let’s take a minute and wrap up the Rangers’ preseason action.

Last Friday’s game against Swedish club Frolunda was essentially Henrik Lundqvist celebration night. The pregame ceremonies, the extended ovations, the alternate captain’s A on Lundy’s chest, it all felt more like a spectacle than an actual game. The home team’s tenacity didn’t help that cause either. Frolunda looked weak and unwilling to battle physically. A Ranger victory felt like pure formality, even when the teams were tied at one at the end of the first. Goals from Kris Newbury, MDZ, Christensucks and Rupper put the game out of the reach for the Swedes, who were led by Henrik’s twin brother Joe-El “Don’t Call Me Joel” Lundqvist. Zuccarello had a hell of a game and continued to impress with two great assists, but many point to the larger ice surfaces as the reason he seems so at home out there. Too many penalties was once again a problem. This team needs to stay disciplined if they want to avoid falling behind in games. Even these European power play units are making us look like high schoolers down a man. Regardless, it was Henrik’s night. No one wanted to ruin the homecoming, including the Frolunda players.

Sunday afternoon saw the Rangers in Slovakia battling HC Slovan. If the Frolunda game was a feel-good affair with a party atmosphere, this game felt like a funeral. Gaborik’s homecoming brought back recent memories of Pavol Demitra’s death, and the Slovakian audience seemed subdued because of it. The MSG feed kept showing a giant portrait of Pavol with a #38 R.I.P. written underneath it. The travel was finally starting to take its toll on the Rangers who came out looking flat and took a ton of penalties. Slovan capitalized on one odd man opportunity and grabbed a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission. The Rags came out flying in the second and put in 2 straight goals on a 5-on-3 man advantage. MZA’s tally was completely the work of Brad Richards; just watching what he does on the PP, even without the puck, makes you understand how a true quarterback runs the show. Boyle’s goal was also on the power play and showcased the big boy’s improving hands. He made no mistake flipping a Dan Girardi pass into the top shelf of Slovan’s net. Anisimov scored the third goal after a brilliant shorthanded forecheck from, who else, Brandon Prust. Prusty bowled over the Slovan goalie and found Artie in the slot for an easy open netter. McDonagh finished off the scoring with a slick wrister in the third and the Rangers left Slovakia with a 4-1 win.

And when I say they left Slovakia, I mean they literally left as soon as the game was done. Gabbaslab wasn’t given much of a chance to chill with his attending friends and family and he sounded a little bummed because of it. Regardless, the Rangers had a game in Switzerland the next day so it was on to the land of ski slopes and war time neutrality. The contest against EV Zug was the last of the preseason, but it was also the most exciting to watch. The crowd was absolutely out of control. A little over seven thousand turned this hockey game into a full on futbol match. Drums, singing, chanting, groans, moans and excited cheers didn’t stop for the full sixty minutes. The first period was insane. Biron let in three in the first, including one absolute stinker that trickled through his glove and into the net. The Rangers tied things up after scoring two goals in the final two minutes of the period. The Zuggernauts scored two quick goals in both the second and the third to bring the game fully out of Ranger reach. Regardless of the score and how flat the Rangers looked, it was one hell of a hockey game. EV Zug played offensive straight up and down. Their passing was north/south and they went hard to the net for second opportunities. At least 3 of the game’s goals were pure highlight reel material. 8-4 was the final, the first loss for the Rangers in Europe. It’s hard to get hung up on this one when the real stuff is only days away. Bring on the regular season, baby!

But wait! Before Friday rolls around we’ve got some serious news to deal with. Sean Avery is no longer a New York Ranger. OK, OK, so he’s cleared waivers and is now subject to a Hartford demotion, but we all know it won’t go that far. Sean is not a minor leaguer. He’s a New York based restaurant baron with a passion for fashion and the big city lights. Asking him to go to Hartford would be like asking Monet to paint lilies in Iceland. Ain’t gonna happen. Europe is a possible option, according to his agent, so we’ll see where he winds up in the long run. This decision from the Rangers front office is a polarizing one, probably the first issue in a while where not everyone sees eye to eye. Let’s breakdown the booting of Sean Avery, shall we?

The number one reason for this move is the cap situation. I’m a writer; I hate math. Cap crunching and waiver numbers make my head hurt, so I look at it as simply as possible. Avery’s contract costs more than Christensen’s, so ditching the Vogue Rogue gives the team more space to sign another defenseman. It’s pretty black and white when you only look at the numbers, but I just don’t feel satisfied with that simple dollars and cents explanation. Torts said that EC gives him more options (power play and shootout specifically) and so he’s more valuable to the team’s overall goal. Fine, whatever, I can accept Avery’s gap in top six skill. But in reality, these two underachievers were battling for the 13th forward spot - the healthy scratch position. Who the fuck cares if your press box pony boy can score in the shootout, the dude doesn’t dress! Sure, he’ll be there to jump in for an injured top six forward but is Erik Christensen really the kind of kid who can sit for ten games and then come out roaring? Does he have the mental maturity to understand that every time he touches the ice he should be injecting fresh life into a tired squad? Can he be a catalyst for energy and excitement? I don’t freaking think so.

You need a 13th forward who can understand his role. He needs to sit, wait and work hard until his team needs the spark. Maybe we lost a forward for a week or two, maybe we just look flat for five straight games, but we need someone to hop into the lineup and give it some life. That’s Sean Avery! He’s a veteran guy who would have done anything to help his Rangers. He loves men’s suits, so sitting in the press box modeling new Kenneth Cole threads would not have bothered him. He is a pure energy player. He’s exactly the kind of weapon you want in your not-always-on-the-ice arsenal. I just don’t get it. Judging by the spot they were fighting for, I just don’t understand the logic. How is he battling for the final roster spot and then getting healthy scratched? How is he supposed to prove himself to Torts, who we know has always hated him? Just doesn’t compute. Oh well. I guess that’s why I’m not GM of the Rangers… yet…

So long Sean. I hope you find success in whatever it is that you do, whether it’s hockey, fashion or food. Between the goofy tinted glasses, the allegations of racist remarks and the arrest in LA, you never let it get boring. You single-handedly legalized gay marriage in New York. You pissed off Marty Broduer like no one else ever could, and for that, we will always consider your career as a Ranger a successful one. Thanks for the memories and come back soon. We’ll still chant your name like you never got waived.

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