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20mar07_antropov

Dear Glen Sather: This dude is a beast. Love, 5-hole.com

It’s that time of the season again.  Yes, the annual trading frenzy as fading teams try to get something worthwhile for their unrestricted free agents.  The NHL trade deadline is March 4.  Take a look at this list of the top 50 UFA’s from the 8 worst teams in the league.  I like the Maple Leafs’ big power winger Nik Antropov.  And, with a cap hit of just over $2 million, I hope the Rangers like him too.

Let’s take a look at the games tonight.  We have some good matchups (i.e. Rangers-Ducks, Wings-Coyotes) and some complete mismatches.  Speaking of mismatches… in my opinion, the standard play for the *Gimmie* is to bet on the biggest mismatch, which would presumably be the safest bet.  Tonight, we have the Canadiens taking on the Thrashers (#5 vs #29) and the Capitals playing the Senators (#4 vs #28).  While we all agree on the picks (Habs and Caps), none of us picked either team as our gimmie.  Does that mean we smell upsets?  Or do we all just hate the Habs and we’re just too afraid to pick the inconsistent Caps on the road?  In other news, Eric picked the Hurricanes as his gimmie against the Penguins.  He must know something I don’t.

On to the picks!

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I'm converting.

I'm converting.

In this edition of 5-hole.com Pick ’em, we feature our first ever dueling gimmies.  That’s right… I picked the Devils and made them my gimmie, while Eric picked the Blue Jackets as his gimmie.  (Note to MSG Plus: we expect a commission for bumping up the ratings for tonight’s game).

In other news, this woman decided to emulate Chris Simon (or would it be Marty McSorley?)  Either way, not the best role model.  Maybe she was outraged at the lovely C-cups on the Virgin Mary.  (Ed note: niiice. I like.)

On to the picks…

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I guess you could call this a Season Preview but we’ll just call it the Game Preview. Also, today is my birthday!

Back on October 5, 2005, the New York Rangers played a game for the first time in over a year. The NHL was finally back after a lock-out that led to the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season.

It had been 8 years since the Rangers had last made the playoffs–when they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals–and the idea that the Rangers were going to end the drought was ludicrous. That year, almost every “expert” had picked the Rangers to finish 30th in the NHL.

Honestly, did you have much faith in that team? Look at the lineup they sported for the 2005-2006 season opener against the Flyers:

Rucinsky-Nylander-Jagr
Straka-Ruccin-Hossa
Moore-Betts-Ward
Hollweg-Lundmark-Ortmeyer

Rozsival-Malik
Poti-Strudwick
Tyutin-Kasparaitis

Weekes
Lundqvist

Admit it. You looked at that team and thought, “We’re screwed!” But Slats was keeping his word; the Rangers were rebuilding. We couldn’t expect greatness in the first year. Honestly, I would have been content no matter what happened that season. But what happened that year stunned everybody.

The Rangers sat in first place in the Atlantic Division until the very last day of the season when they were passed by both the Devils and the Flyers. More importantly, for the first time since 1997, the Rangers had made the playoffs and Jaromir Jagr broke the Rangers single season records for both goals (54) and points (123).

Now fast forward to this season. The Rangers come into the game with a 2-0-0 record with two wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning last weekend in Prague.

Here is the line up that the Rangers sported for the first two games of the season:

Naslund-Gomez-Drury
Dawes-Dubinsky-Zherdev
Prucha-Korpikoski-Callahan
Voros-Betts-Orr

Rozsival-Redden
Girardi-Kalinin
Staal-Mara

Lundqvist
Valiquette

Only two, yes two, players from the 2005 opening night roster are still on the team. Only one of them actually played in that game! Petr Prucha was called up from Hartford soon after the start of the season and stayed up for most of it. But still that is only 3 players that remain from the October 5, 2005 to October 4, 2008. Speaking of Petr Prucha, of all the players currently on the roster, he has the most games played and most goals scored as a Ranger.

Looking ahead to this season, the Rangers are a younger, faster, more offensive minded team that can still shut things down when needed. The problem is that almost every offseason move the Rangers made is counting on the player playing better because of a change in scenery. So far, Naslund and Redden have scored goals. Zherdev has shown how wonderfully he can control the puck but has not finished. He does have the potential to set up many goals for Brandon Dubinsky. I really hope Zherdev doesn’t end up like Matt Cullen did with the Rangers.

There were some questions heading into this season about Dubinsky. Would he have the dreaded sophomore slump? Would he be able to produce without Jagr on his wing? We’re only 2 games into the season, but Dubinsky doesn’t look like he’s going to hit the proverbial wall any time soon. He was arguably the best player on the Rangers throughout the Preseason and has skated very well with new linemate Nikolai Zherdev.

Some other young players that must prove themselves are Nigel Dawes, Ryan Callahan, and believe it or not, Petr Prucha. Dawes and Callahan will most likely thrive in a faster and more offensive minded environment. As will Prucha who is scratched for tonights game. But Tom Renney has to give Prucha more ice time. At least some more time on the Power Play.

As for any predictions, I think the Rangers will fight for control of the Atlantic with the Penguins for the majority of the Season. They will probably end up finishing in second place in the division which is good enough for 4th or 5th in the Eastern Conference.

Tonight, the Rangers will hold their true home opener against the Chicago Blackhawks. This team made a big splash in the free agency market by signing Brian Campbell to an 8 year contract for about $56.8 million. They also improved in goal with the addition of Cristobal Huet. This team is young and looking to prove themselves. They were very close to making the playoffs last season and you can be sure that New Captain Jonathan Toews and Sophomore Patrick Kane will skate circles around our defense at least once.

Hopefully the Rangers can find their scoring and break out against Huet who they have been fairly good against in recent memory.

I will be at the game and I might snap some pictures. I’ll post them later tonight if I can along with the recap.

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I just really want the Penguins to lose.

The NHL finally gets a Stanley Cup Finals between two major teams that non hockey fans might actually watch.

I hope Niklas Kronwall does this to a couple penguins.

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The Philadelphia Flyers showed they were still very much alive last night when they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 to stave off elimination. The Penguins now lead the series 3-1. The Flyers scored three goals in the first period to jump out to a 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission. Things got pretty interesting in the last few minutes thought. The Flyers were out to prove that they aren’t going away easy. After Hatcher basically beat the crap out of Malone (the refs stopped the fight before the overmatched Malone got seriously injured), the Flyers’ best player (Mike Richards) told Sidney Crosby to shut up. With his fists.

For any fellow Rangers fans that aren’t sure who Mike Richards is, just think of Brandon Dubinsky in about 1-2 seasons. Also throw in the ability to fight well.

I wonder if the Flyers have possibly gotten into the Penguins heads. Don’t forget, this is the same exact thing that happened in the second round to the Rangers. They were down 3-0 and kicked some ass in game 4. The game ended with a couple slewfoots and a few scrums too. Maybe the Rangers were getting into the Penguins’ heads! The series headed back to Pittsburgh and we all know how it ended up.

I think the Flyers have a better chance to bring this series back to Philly than the Rangers had to bring it back to the Garden one round ago. Throw in the fact that the Flyers are getting back their two top defensemen (Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn) for game 5 and things are looking pretty good for the Flyers.

***

I think Marc and I are gonna hold off on wrapping up the Rangers’ season and playoffs until after the Stanley Cup has been won. We aren’t sure how we want to do it (team as a whole or player by player by coach). Regardless, we will be posting news and opinion throughout the offseason so keep checking the site for updates.

Also, if you have any thoughts, comments, suggestions, criticism, or work for the Rangers (or the NHL) and want to help us out with an interview please don’t hesitate to email us at 5holeblog@gmail.com.

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The question is: am I referring to the Red Wings or the Penguins?

Red Wings vs. Penguins looks like a foregone conclusion for the Stanley Cup Finals, which should make hockey fans, TV executives, and the NHL all happy.

Both teams are playing on a different level from everyone else.  The Penguins have an incredible 11-1 record in the playoffs, with their only loss coming against the Rangers in game 4 of that series.  The 11-2 Red Wings, meanwhile, are riding a 9-game winning streak and look pretty much unstoppable.

The only question left for the conference finals is whether both teams will sweep.  The Red Wings and Stars play game 4 tonight in Dallas, while Pittsburgh and Philadelphia play their game 4 tomorrow in Philly.

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