1. 4.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tampa Bay Management Is Misunderstood

I have been a Berry Melrose fan for many years. Not only do I remember him mentoring Gretzky and The Kings to the best that team could do at that time, but he was THE ONLY reason to watch ESPN for years because, without him, there was no Hockey on that channel. So I am sorry he is gone from the Lightning bench because my personal sense of nostalgia says that decision suited my sensibilities.

And I am also an analyst for On Goal Analysis. So I instinctively know that the margin of error between a win and a loss and making or not making the playoffs is very thin. I also know that the seasons since the Lockout indicate that 2/3 of the NHL's playoff fate is decided by 1 January each year.

So I would offer that there is a distinct possibility that Lightning management understands this and decided that the play of the team was so substandard that things must be fixed right away or the team may be facing imminent Playoff disaster for this season.

Remember that last year's Capitals team is an example of how positive change can come from that big move - like replacing the coach - early in the season.

Also remember that management 'guaranteed' fans that Tampa Bay would be in the playoffs THIS season. They went out and bought a talented team. They are not the worst team in terms of goals against despite the SOGs they give up. Mike Smith has one of the highest save percentages in the league.

But they have trouble scoring and putting out enough effort on the ice. Just possibly, management believes what they promised should be delivered, know it is not, and need to correct those areas they believe can positively affect the "W" column.

Their method is General George Patton's management style of replacing those in command until he finds the one that can do the job. It is not a system, as some would suggest, of discarded people like so many limbs and digits on the floor on a SAW movie soundstage.

What the players that are NOT putting out should know is this management team is not afraid to suffer the slings and arrows of public pundits to grow a winner RIGHT NOW, like they promised. And that is not a bad thing to understand and respond to.

If you see Hockey as I do, that it is a battle each and every day to place a winning team on the ice that fights for the 'W,' then this could easily be viewed as a management team that, while unorthodox, is only lacking success at this point - which would be entering the playoffs this season - to prove that their style is just as much a winner as anyone else in the business.
Tampa Bay management is, at this moment in time in my opinion, simply misunderstood and they need only win to bring on a media epiphany.
1. 4.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A STARS Captain and His Boat

In my last post on the Stars I had mentioned Marty Turco's tendency to allow a goal in the last minute of the period....any period. Then the Stars played a pretty good game against the Phoenix Coyotes, but alas, the 2nd period saw Kevin Porter (PHX) score at 19:22. Argh.

The next game against the Chicago Blackhawks was the Stars' next chance to put together two wins in a row since last season. The 'Hawks scored at 19:23 of the 1st period, 19:30 of the 2nd period and again at 19:44 of the 3rd. Okay, yes, the last one in the 3rd was an empty-netter for Chicago, but...

Today we learn a Captain always goes down with the ship. Stars' captain Brenden Morrow is out indefinitely with a torn ACL. Perhaps 6 months....?

True, the StarShip Dallas is not down and out yet. But the captain is. So I offer a couple of thoughts.

Give the Captain's C back to Mike Modano for the rest of the season (or until Morrow returns, if he can). Mike has by far been the struggling Stars' best player so far this season. His stated goal of wanting to lead the team in points in this, his last season, is backed by his performance on the ice.

And the man is still the heart and soul of the first team to bring the Cup to the South. If you remember the 'drama' surrounding his C being given to Morrow a couple of years ago (the right choice at the time for the team's future) you should also realize how oh-so-glorious it would be for him to wear the Captain's sweater again in this, his final voyage. I do believe the sheer gravitas of the matter would be poetic enough. And just. And perhaps just what the team needs.

Not to mention the fact Modano's play merits this and it would probably come with less pressure this time around. Just a man who is the highest point-getter of all US born NHL players, an Olympian, and a Stanley Cup kisser who has played his entire career with one team captaining his team back to the playoffs for one final push to hoist the Cup again.

Legend is the word I am looking for here.

In fact, with the Stars having traded Philippe Boucher to retain Daryl Sydor (for the third time) from Pittsburgh, it occurred to me perhaps we could see a line of old.

Imagine, if you will, Sydor and Zubov on the points in a power play with forwards, Jere Lehtinen, Mike Modano and Brenden Morrow. Call it the Legacy Line.

Ah, but there's the rub, gents. No more Morrow for a while. And in the same post on the Stars' site today where the MorrowNews is delivered, they also mention the recall of Landon Wilson.

That should help. No knock on Wilson but, yikes. This is a team struggling to find an identity and the puck at the same time. Something has to happen.

I also discussed in my previous post the potential for a shake-up in the future if the ship weren't righted. Well, the Boucher trade happened (most observers think the Penguins got the best of the trade, but the Stars need the familiar veteran for his locker room/bench voice and wisdom as much as his skills) but we may not be done with what is quickly becoming an 'experimental' year for the Dallas Stars.

In light of all of this, the OGA writers have conferred and we submit the following after learning of Morrow's injury:

Isn't Brendan Shanahan (free agent) still working out and looking for a team?

Give the Big C to Modano, tell him it's his to lead, get Shanny on the phone, tell him Avery misses him and get the spark ignited in Dallas.

You're welcome, internet. We'll take your comments below.
1. 4.

Friday, November 14, 2008

STARS Not Stellar

Remember the rumors last year at the trade deadline about Marty for Marty (Turco for St. Louis)? Well, a Tampa Bay forward did come to Dallas and a Dallas goalie did go to Tampa. Brad Richards for Mike Smith, essentially.

Richards had a fantastic first game in Dallas with 4 assists, setting up departed Nik Hagman for a hat trick in the process. But he cooled down quickly, made some contribution during the playoffs and very much looked forward to playing an entire year in his current system and new teammates.

To add to the brewing excitement of the 08-09 NHL season, the Stars added controversial free agent, Sean Avery during the summer. I have read nobody in the organization was too excited about Avery other than Co-GM Brett Hull who sees similarities in the maturing Avery and Hull's own, younger self.

And Coach Dave Tippett is the leader among active coaches for most wins and in his first year of a recently extended contract.

So what dramatic change is this team waiting for before they submit and commit to the cause of winning? I hope they are not second-guessing themselves on the Richards acquisition, especially in light of current netminder issues.

It sounds to me like some identity issues need to be sorted out for this team.

Turco is and has been one of my favorite goalies for a while and I think he is revolutionary in the way he plays the game. But I read him complaining about all the D-Men trying to block shots, essentially trying to be extra goalies on the ice instead of committing to good defensive play. It is the type of play you see when a team is struggling with their confidence in their netminder.

Interestingly enough in view of Turco's thoughts, Marty has played like a defenseman most of his career (puck-handling, backhand plays, playing it along the boards, deking opposing defenders while handling, etc.). Most of the time, historically, it has helped Dallas having a 3rd DMan in the back, especially when facing an opponent using DumpNChase offense.

But more and more, Turco seems to make mistakes more than glorious plays with his style. Not to mention his uncanny ability the last couple seasons to either:

a) let in the first shot of a game (sometimes the second if the first one bounced off him) and

b)let in a goal within the last minute (mostly last seconds) of ANY of the three periods. Marty, Marty, Marty....

So Marty has been frustrated by the defensemen playing goalie and the goalie likes to play the third defensemen. Big problem in the fundamentals of hockey.

It's time for Turco to remind us all of what an incredible goalie he is and bring his A-game back front and center.

The Stars began the season acting like playing the regular season is a burden. They just wanted another go at the Conference Finals game. Bummer about those 82 games that give a team the right to be invited to the party.

I think they have already addressed this, though and have been trying to re-tool and re-focus. But how do you do that when hockey fundamentals are not right and in place?

Remember the start of last season? They were losing most games and then the Doug Armstrong firing and co-GM deal shook it all up. The players responded and started to win. Are the Stars effectively waiting for the shakeup now before they will start to play? One has to wonder seeing the talent on this team and the bottom feeding of the standings they do each night now.

I don't think a shakeup is in order...yet. With a breakdown of team identity and fundamentals, it is time for Leadership. In other words, the man I called perhaps one of the league's best young Captains needs to take it to a different level. He needs to shake it up in the room, outside of the rink and on the ice. I think basic training would do the trick w/ Drill Sergeant Morrow whipping his own butt in shape as well as his teammates'. Brenden Morrow has a work ethic to be admired and it's time to infect this team with it.

And don't be surprised when it happens. The Dallas Stars have faced a few identity issues since the team on the ice hoisted the Cup in 99 and have overcome. Remember, most did not expect them to make the playoffs last season, much less be one of the last 4 teams skating.

But this season is not quite new at this point as the league closes in on the 20Game mark. It's time to get going in Dallas. Otherwise, the other 66 games that are definitely on the schedule will feel like a real burden, indeed.
1. 4.

Habs Family Tree Revealed

How fitting that, in their 100th year of existence, the Montreal Canadiens should finally learn the identity of their father. On a Thursday night in Boston, the Habs found the answer to the question, "Who's your daddy?" Boston was 0-10-2 in their previous 12 games against Montreal, but that streak went out the window with the opening faceoff. Over the past three seasons, the B's have won just 34.8% of the 2nd game of back-to-back sets, but it just didn't matter last night. The Bruins outshot the Canadiens, 31-28, and that was the only aspect of the game that wasn't lopsided. Boston scored the first four goals of the night before Saku Koivu ended Manny Fernandez' shutout bid with 6:26 remaining in the 2nd period.

Speaking of Fernandez...was Coach Julien trying to send a message to his own team by starting Manny, rather than Tim Thomas (the hottest goalie in the NHL not named Luongo) against Montreal, or was Julien sending a message to the Habs? Either way, it appears that both teams got the message.

The following clip is a perfect summation of the entire night:

Note to Montreal (and Mike Komisarek in particular): Father's Day is June 21, and it's never too early to shop for a nice tie.
1. 4.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pittsburgh vs Detroit ('did you see that game?')

Last night's marquee NHL match-up between the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins was rife with potential drama with this game being the first time the two teams had seen each other since the conclusion of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals last season.

Marian Hossa, who left the Penguins during the summer to sign with the Cup Champs, Detroit (despite pleas from Sidney Crosby to re-up with the Pens) was to be in the spotlight with his new team. Hossa played a good game and had two assists with the Wings leading the Pens 5-2 with about 15 minutes remaining in the 3rd period.

The spotlight then shifted to young, Jordan Staal.

Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin brought new life back to the effort when he slipped a wrister past goalie Chris Osgood and pulled the Pens within 2.

Just over a minute later, Jordan Staal scored and the game was feeling brand new at 5-4. But Detroit's Jiri Hudler scored two minutes later and it seemed Detroit would stake a claim on this game and quash any comeback efforts.

With just over 4 minutes remaining, Staal scored again and then with less than 30 seconds remaining, and the extra attacker on the ice, Staal netted the third Pittsburgh goal in a row for the hat trick and to force overtime.

During OT, while Detroit began transitioning from the defensive zone and into neutral ice, Jordan Staal began back checking and, looking like Mike Modano, simply took the puck away from Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, turned it around and fed the puck to Ruslan Fedotenko who put it past Osgood for the game winner. Simply incredible. Jordan Staal took ownership of the 3rd period with 4 consecutive points while delivering 3 goals and a primary assist on the OT game winning goal.

The Penguins won 7-6 in OT. 13 Goals scored in the game billed as the rematch of last season's Stanley Cup Finals. Huge drama centered around famous names and a very memorable comeback made for an exciting hockey game last night...and a good night for the NHL and the fans, too. Although Hossa was the big name thrown about yesterday, it's Staal's name they take away in the headlines today. Just remember it's the Jordan version of the 4...because you will see it more and more.

Tonight's Game2Watch would have to be the late game in the league, when the Avs step onto the Canucks' home ice and the goalie-captain Luongo seeks his 4th straight shutout. OGA knows The Colonel is pulling for Luongo if only for the fantasy points...

The Frozen Pill also looks forward to healthy rivalry between the 'Canes and Caps tonight. More later...
1. 4.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Detroit Red Wings at 10

Dateline: Anaheim, CA, 29 October 08: Through the first ten games of the 2008/9 season, the Detroit Red Wings are at +3 against the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC), with a record of 7-1-2. As a result of their efforts, the Red Wings have become the third team to clinch a playoff berth and are Chasing Stanley. PLUS: The Wings are currently scoring at a torrid pace, averaging 3.70 goals/game (2nd in the NHL)...Just as you might think, the Power Play is en fuego, as well, showing opponents that crime doesn't pay 31.8% of the time (2nd)...Detroit is also putting more pucks on net than any other team, with an average of 39.3 shots/game...The Red Wings might be the best counter-punching team in the NHL, demonstrating the Alternate Scoring Response (ASR) 6 times in 5 games...Hossa's play through the first ten games has been nothing less than inspired - his 5G, 9A speaks volumes about his desire to hoist the Cup next June....MINUS: While the Wings seemed to score at will, they've allowed opponents to put far too many pucks in the net, as their 3.30 goals against/game average attests (24th in the NHL)...Detroit's 21st-ranked Penalty Kill hasn't helped, shutting down opposing power plays just 78.4% of the time...Part of the blame must fall on Osgood, who has been sub-par in the early part of the season, as his Goals Against Average of 3.21 (27th in the NHL) and Save Percentage of .884 (28th) indicate...In 07/08, the Wings allowed a league-best 23.5 shots/game, but this season, they're allowing 29.1 shots/game (13th)...While the Red Wings continue to win games, they're not dominating opponents - 5 of the Wings' 7 victories have been by one goal.

Through the next ten games, expect Detroit to play along or slightly below the PQC. The Red Wings face a tough travel schedule, beginning Games 11-20 with a trip to SJS and VAN. They return home to face NJD and PIT, then head to Florida for games against TBL and FLA. After a brief stop at The Joe for a tilt with EDM, the Wings again head west, for three games against EDM, CGY and VAN (again). OGA is still waiting for the "Stanley Cup hangover" to kick in, and the combination of travel to both coasts and the quality of opponents might just be the catalyst. Post-Lockout, the Wings have found themselves an average of +4.5 against the PQC at Game 20, but they will be hard-pressed to maintain that average in 08/09.
1. 4.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Atlanta Thrashers At 10

Dateline: New York, NY, 30 October 2008. The Atlanta Thrashers have completed their first 10 games and, while not eliminated, are Dusting Off Clubs.

The Thrashers are currently finishing Games 1-10 below their historical Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC) average by a -1. Their play places them at OGA's rating of Dusting Off Clubs. Despite the fact that the Thrashers have not failed to tell us in their first 10 games how their season is going to end since the Lockout, this ranking indicates that ATL is not eliminated, but they are on a path that will make that happen if they cannot put a halt to their losing ways. With a 7-0 loss to PHI, ATL's losing goal differential is a -1.22. Without that 7-0 loss, the differential is only a -.5 goals which is a deficit that, similar to the Thrashers' current PQC rating, is not insurmountable. PLUSES: The play of Center BRYAN LITTLE on the Thrashers' top line who has the only GWG from this period and is their leading scorer; SOG from HAINSEY and SCHNEIDER on the blueline; NHL top 10 in team SOGs; and competitiveness that led to defeat of BUFFALO and took DETROIT to a 3rd period EN goal. MINUSES: Injury to BOGOSIAN; SOG against makes ATL 29th in the NHL; less than 75% on the PK.

In the next 10 games, the Thrashers historically gain about six wins. They tend to play three games in either Overtime or on to the Shootout in this stretch. Games 11 - 20 are played between 1 - 25 NOVEMBER and half of them are played at home. The Thrashers will play all but one game against the Eastern Conference, including a home-and-home against CAROLINA. Their matchups also include, with the 30 October game against the NEW YORK RANGERS, a complete run through the Atlantic Division. So it is not an easy 10 game period to skate through. In order to stay in the hunt for the playoffs, ATL will have to turn around the six, one-goal losses they suffered in the season's opening stanza and make one-goal games a win instead of a loss.
1. 4.

San Jose at the 10-Game Mark

The following is a recap of the 'Summary' and 'Looking Ahead' portions of the San Jose Sharks G10R. The G20Reports will become available for purchase at the OGA Store in mid-November so please check back often at www.ongoalanalysis.com for information regarding your favorite team's play as measured against our Playoff Qualifying Curve...!

The SHARKS are currently…CHASING STANLEY! San Jose is now the second team in the 2008-09 NHL Season to clinch a playoff berth per the On Goal Analysis Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC). Since the lockout, this is the Sharks' strongest start (PQC Rating of 8.0, +3.0 above the PQC) and the Sharks' previous starts were all within or just above the PQC.

OF INTEREST : San Jose scored NO GOALS in 1st periods in the first 6 games. Then in Game 7, they blow it up for 4 goals in the first period alone while allowing 3! They then return to establishing their defensive play in each game with low scoring first periods with 1 goal in GM8, 0 in GM9, and 1 goal in GM10 in 1st periods.

The Sharks have been aggressive under the new offensive system with coach McLellan and are 2nd in the NHL for shots on net (avg. 37.3 per game). As noted, the San Jose defense has been tightened up and they lead the NHL, early in the season, with the best shots-against average (23.0 per game). The Sharks have been able to control the puck in both zones (league-leading Faceoff percentage : 57.7%) and this has been key to dominating games on both offense and defense. The Sharks now join the New York Rangers as the first two teams we call 'IN' the playoffs and Chasing Stanley.

In the next 10 games, the SHARKS are likely to…continue to establish their dominance on offensive chances and stellar defensive play. The team is relatively healthy and their historical performance against the PQC shows them winning more games in the second 10-Game segment in 2 of the 3 previous seasons. If they continue to outshoot their opponents (sometimes dramatically so) they may be able to settle in a fairly high playoff seed despite their historical major drop in production between the 50 and 60-Game mark.

The Sharks will play 6 of their next 10 at home and their opponents will all be Western Conference teams. Don't think it's too soon for this team to be thinking about dethroning Detroit as the best team in the West and perhaps even eying the President's Trophy. Youngster Devin Setoguchi is already making a mark (on fire!) and has spent time on the first line. Patrick Marleau is also off to a much better start this season than the previous and the new defensive acquisitions appear to be just what was needed to front the veteran workhorse netminder, Evgeni Nabakov.
1. 4.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pittsburgh at the 10-Game Mark

The following is a recap of the 'Summary' and 'Looking Ahead' portions of the Pittsburgh Penguins G10R. The G20Reports will become available for purchase at the OGA Store in mid-November so please check back often at www.ongoalanalysis.com for information regarding your favorite team's play as measured against our Playoff Qualifying Curve...!

The PENGUINS are currently…Playing IN THE CURVE when compared to the OGA Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC). Their first 9 games of the season were all against Eastern Conference teams, familiar foes and helped Pittsburgh to another strong start, paying +1 against the PQC The pre-season brought questions as to how the Pittsburgh defense would hold up missing their top two D-men, Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney.

While picking up points in the standings, the Pittsburgh defense has also allowed 30 or more shots in 7 of 10 games and on two occassions, more than 40 (49 vs NJD and 44 vs NYR). Exactly half (50%) of their first 10 games have required OT and/or a Shootout to determine the victor but the Penguins are showing they are anxious to build another winning season.

While Sidney Crosby only has 3 goals in the 1st 10 games, Evgeni Malkin has been one of the 3 stars in 4 of 10 games they have played. Pittsburgh has enjoyed a light schedule with the only back-to-back game being the NHL openers in Sweden. They then enjoyed almost a week off and have had plenty of time betwen games with a light travel schedule. Now they are on the road and it will be a good test of team chemistry, but they have dropped the first two games of this road trip.

In the next 10 games, the PENGUINS are likely to…have a 2 to 2.5 point correction on their playing trend towards the PQC. In two of the previous three seasons, their play has dropped considerably and they wound up below the PQC by the 20-game mark. The Penguins will continue to enjoy a lighter schedule as they do not have their first back-to-back game until late November. In the next 10 games, they will split their time between home and the road. Defenseman Hal Gill, left the previous game and his return is questionable at this time. For the Penguins who are already missing key components to their defense, this may put an increased focus on smarter defensive play from their top line of Crosby and Malkin. The effect on scoring, if it goes down, would mirror previous performances against the PQC in fewer numbers of wins.
1. 4.

Boston at the 10-Game Mark

With a record of 5-2-3 and 13 points through their first ten games, the Bruins are currently IN THE CURVE and cannot be called IN or OUT of the playoffs at this time. PLUS: The B's current PQC rating of 6.5 is +1.7 better than their post-Lockout average for the first ten games of the season, so they're clearly off to a good start. The Bruins' PP (8th in the NHL - 20.5%) has helped, as has their 2.40 Goals Against average (9th in the NHL)...With 5G, 8A in ten games, Savard is the B's leading scorer...Lucic, Kessel and Ryder all tied for 2nd in team scoring with 7 points each...Thomas with 1.95 GAA, .939 Sv%, back-to-back shutouts in Games 9 & 10...Wideman top scoring B's D-man, with 2G,3A. MINUS: Last season, BOS had the 28th-ranked PK in the NHL (78.6%). Through ten games in 08/09, the Bruins' PK is ranked 29th in the NHL (73.2%). Also in 07-08, BOS allowed an average of 30.5 shots/game, good for 22nd in the NHL. The B's have picked up right where they left off, allowing 30.5 shots/game in 08-09 (18th in the NHL)...0G, 3A, -3 for Chara...Overall, a good start for BOS, but they must fix their broken PK in order to climb in the standings.

In the next 10 games, the Bruins will face a serious test. Post-Lockout, the B's have improved by an average of +.83 against the PQC during Games 11-20. This season, however, they will be playing the majority of the next ten games against some of the top teams in the league: CGY, BUF (2x), MTL, and NYR. In addition, the Bruins face an up-and-down DAL team, who could play on any given night like last season's Western Conference runners-up or this season's chumps, as well as a CHI club that stumbled out of the gate, but is playing with new-found intensity under a new head coach. Boston will also have TWO opportunities to redeem themselves against a TOR team that stormed back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the B's, 4-2, on home ice. Two factors which should work in Boston's favor during Games 11-20 are that they play 6 of 10 at home and have only one back-to-back set during that timeframe. With that in mind, look for the Bruins to play along, or slightly above, the Playoff Qualifying Curve through the next ten games, but don't expect OGA to call them IN the playoffs before Games 21-30...unless the PK improves and the B's get more scoring from their D-men.
1. 4.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Anaheim Ducks At 10

Dateline: Columbus, OH, 27 October 2008. The Anaheim Ducks have completed their first 10 games and are playing In The Curve.

The Ducks are currently finishing Games 1-10 period below their historical PQC average by .83. Their play places them IN THE CURVE, a middle-of-the-road ranking. Anaheim fans need not be too nervous, however, as play over the three years since the Lockout indicates the Ducks build momentum through the first 30 games, increasing their win total every 10 games. The Ducks lost their first four games with an average deficit of 2.25 goals against. That frustrating phase was followed by a 5-1 record with an average winning margin of a bit over one goal, which is certainly not dominant, but equals notches in the "W" column. PLUSES: Secondary scoring by the likes of PAHLSSON, MOEN, SUTHERBY, PARROS, MARCHANT and HUSKINS have been the difference in several games; the beginnings of scoring by the top line in Game 8 at OTT. MINUSES: PENALTIES! This team continues to take too many penalties which assisted in their undoing in the first four games as 7-of-17 goals against came via an opponent's PP; and being outshot by opponents five-of-10 games, but when outshot, by a decent margin.

In the next 10 games, the Ducks historically gain between five and six wins. They tend to play almost three games in either Overtime or on to the Shootout in this stretch. Games 11 - 20 are played between 29 OCTOBER and 19 NOVEMBER and Ducks fans will be happy as nine of 10 games are played at home. The Ducks will have a chance to put a tally in the "L" column for last years' Stanley Cup Champions in Game 11, and book end that with a visit by OVECHKIN, SEMIN and the Capitals at Game 20. Anaheim will also have two games against the Kings and their first against Dallas since Game 6 of last years' Playoffs. So far this season, the Ducks are 2-0 on Fridays and will have an opportunity to extend that record three more times. They also play three games on Sundays where they are 0-2 and will be looking to reverse those misfortunes. To lessen their collective team stress in games, they will have to cut back on penalties taken and continue to see scoring from their top line.
1. 4.

NYR: The First Ten Games Summary & Look Ahead

The RANGERS are currently…CHASING STANLEY! With a record of 7-2-1 through their first ten games, the Rangers are playing just over two games above their historical winning average, and OGA calls them the first team of the 2008-09 season to clinch a playoff berth. PLUS: At 90.5%, the NYR Penalty Kill is currently 5th in the NHL…Allowing an average of 26.5 shots per game (7th in NHL)...Tied for 2nd-best win pct. when opponent scores first (.750)...1.90 GAA good for 3rd in NHL...Voros: 5G, 4A, +3, 13 PIM...Dubinsky: 4G, 6A, +3, 15 PIM, 3 GWG...Girardi: 1G, 6A, even, 4 PIM, 3 multi-point games...Lundqvist: 5-2-1, .926 sv%, 2.01 GAA...Valiquette: 2-0-0, .939 sv%, 1.44 GAA...Voros-Dubinsky-Zherdev line most effective through 1st 10 games...Stellar netminding has made up for occasional defensive lapses. MINUS: PP at 14.6% and Goals/Game average of 2.50 are both 23rd in NHL...Faceoff win pct. of 49.2% is 20th in NHL...Drury: 0G, 2A, -3, 4 PIM...Dawes: 1G, 0A, even, 2 PIM...At times in the early going, the Rangers have been surprisingly flat - most notably in first ten minutes against DET, and against Chicago's Kane-Toews line. Overall, New York is off to a great start. To have a serious shot at the Cup, though, they'll need consistent secondary scoring.

In the next ten games, the RANGERS are likely to…extend their lead over the PQC. Post-Lockout, the Blueshirts have a combined record of 21-8-1 in Games 11-20, and will be aided by a relatively easy schedule: They play 6 of 10 at home, with no road trip longer than one game. Also, those road trips are all in the Eastern time zone (at NYI, TOR, WSH and NJD). The Rangers do not play any back-to-back games during this period, so Valiquette will be lucky to get more than one start. At home, New York will host PIT (minus Whitney and Gonchar), ATL, a woeful NYI club, struggling TBL, EDM and BOS. This should be a good time for the Rangers to get their Power Play going (they've had good puck movement, but they're not finishing as often as they should AND have already allowed two SHG), get Chris Drury going (28 shots, 0 goals), and accumulate as many points as possible, as the schedule only gets tougher from here. Look for Aaron Voros to firmly establish himself as a Fan Favorite at MSG, and make the loss of Avery look like a very smart move by GM Glen Sather.

Follow the Blueshirts' progress through the season on The OGA Blogs and with the NYR Game 20 Report, on sale at The OGA Store 15 November. Until then, Big Tex says, "Let's Go RANGERS!"