Steve Rucchin wears one of three A's for the Rangers. But he was nowhere to be found after last night's shocking come from ahead 3-2 OT loss to the Flyers. Jaromir Jagr and Michael Nylander were part of a massively blown line change that allowed Joni Pitkanen to score the game winner, but they didn't shy away from the media glare afterwards. Coach Tom Renney has no choice, he has to face the press after each game, but he did not shy away from taking personal blame for blowing the line change. Tom Poti does not wear an A, but he spoke to the press after the game even though he was the one who blew the coverage when Mike Richards scored the game tying goal in the final moments of regulation time.
But Rucchin made himself scarce -- no, non-existent. If only he was non-existent in the game, that would have been better than what he indeed accomplished. Two goals up with ten minutes to play against a team that hadn't scored in over 120 minutes with an unbeatable Henrik Lundqvist in net, there was no way the Rangers could lose this game. That's where Rucchin comes in. On his way to another dismal night on face-offs (a team-worst 3-7), Rucchin lost a defensive zone draw. As if that wasn't bad enough, he then stuck out his skate and deflected Pitkanen's point shot over Lundqvist, who was poised to make a routine save on the long unscreened shot. That gift goal put the Flyers back in the game, gave them a chance, brought them to life. Without that goal, the only question is whether the final score would be 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, or 3-0 Rangers.
So where was Rucchin after the game? He was there after the Buffalo game, crowing to the world that too many of his teammates failed to show up for the game, apparently oblivious to the fact that he was foremost among them. This time, everyone showed up and played a whale of a game -- except for him. He blew it. He lost it. And he wasn't there to face the music afterwards.
In a game in which both teams were throwing bodies around, at first in equal doses, but eventually in the Flyers' favor to the tune of a 40-25 edge in hits, Ryan Hollweg sat in street clothes. You wouldn't have wanted to bench the guys he normally goes in for -- Marcel Hossa played another strong game in limited ice time, using his body to throw checks, separate opponents from the puck, and get into shooting position, and Ville Nieminen rose to the challenge after several sub-par games by leading Ranger forwards in hits with four. But what about Rucchin? Hollweg could have helped the team in this game, where Rucchin only hurt.
The 6'3 215-pound Rucchin has been credited with 10 hits in 49 games -- that means only once every five games on average does he deign to even finish a check let alone hit someone. How can a coach abide that in a player of his size on a team desperate for toughness wherever they can find it? After earning a reputation in Anaheim as a good face-off man (he was 54% in his last two full seasons there), Rucchin is an abominable 46.6% as a Ranger, with some single-game performances that are simply awful, including this one. And it's not as if he has made up for with offense -- his 19 points in 49 games ranks him down with the defensemen and checking forwards despite his being second line center much of the season, and his five power play points in over 120 minutes of power play ice time is as counterproductive as just about everything else he has done. Factor in his salary, his age, and his negativity as an alternate captain, and you have to wonder what Rucchin has done for this team that has earned him immunity from the type of accountability that has effectively motivated some other players.
Jaromir Jagr didn't want to look at this game negatively -- he was satisfied with the team's overall performance. But he has to face facts -- the Rangers haven't been able to get over this hump against the best teams in the league, finding ways to lose against them even when they outplay them. And this was a seriously depleted Flyer team that has slumped badly of late. With Lundqvist playing as well as this, no less than a win is really acceptable. Someone noted that Kevin Weekes would have been roasted for allowing an overtime goal like this one, but the truth is that a) Lundqvist has earned some slack, b) the shot was a perfect top corner bullet, and c) it was a four on two rush.
It was four on two because no one was ready to replace Nylander when he came off the ice. Why he came off after only 20 seconds without having gotten the puck deep was perhaps a mistake. Renney blamed himself for not having someone ready to replace him. He was more worried about replacing Jagr, who was way behind the play, practically unable to skate after a hard 1:20 shift. Replacing Jagr wouldn't have made a difference -- a timely change for Nylander would have placed a defender right in Pitkanen's skating lane, as Renney noted. But as Jagr said, what was the use of dissecting the overtime goal when you should never have let the game get to that point?
Martin Rucinsky had his right shoulder massively wrapped after the game, but he said it was nothing important when asked about it afterwards... Lost in the shuffle was the clutch penalty kill by the Rangers late in regulation time... Also lost in the shuffle was Poti's positional blunder on the Richards goal... One of the cheapest shots we've seen in a long time was Donald Brashear hitting Rucchin high and hard while he had his head up from a high-stick. Three Rangers jumped him in retaliation, but no penalty was called other than the high-stick. In the new NHL, it seems that anything goes -- except even the most minor of hooks. The cross-checking, interference, elbows, and post-whistle roughness was all quite fine with the officials in this game, but we're still waiting to see what exactly was done wrong on some of the penalties that were called.
Rangercentric game reports from the News, Journal News, Post, Times, and Newsday. Philly-area game reports here, here, here, and here. AP report has some extra stuff. Ville Nieminen will give the Rangers an even ten Olympic participants, according to notes in the News and Journal News.