Mitch Beck, who covers the Hartford Wolf Pack for Blueshirt Bulletin in Howlings, and who writes the humorous "Zoning In" column for our monthly print publication, attended a Ranger season subscriber event on Monday night. Here is the Ranger-related portion of Mitch's account of that event:
About 250 season ticket holders gathered in the lobby of the Theater at Madison Square Garden to share an evening of conversation with the Rangers' coaching staff, hosted by MSG broadcasters John Giannone and Dave Maloney. Also in attendance, though he did not speak, was Ranger fan favorite Adam Graves. The evening opened with each coach discussing their personal background, how they came to the Ranger organization, and the roles they play in preparing the team -- Perry Pearn handles defense, special teams, and conditioning, while Mike Pelino works with the forwards and scouts opponents (Pearn added that his responsibilities include making sure Tom Renney dresses properly).
Topics ranged from the silly -- "Who is the best dressed Ranger? Colton Orr and Scott Gomez -- at least since Sean Avery took him shopping" and "Who keeps the locker room loose? Jason Strudwick, of course Ryan Hollweg with his dancing, and Avery" -- to the serious. The questioning was as varied as the ages of those in attendance. The coaches were direct in their replies, as direct as they could be, and did not shy away from any questions.
It didn’t take long for the power play to come up. When it proved to be the first question, the coaches joked that were curious how long it would take to get to that. Pearn summed it up sharply: the "top skill players are not playing to their top skill level, and for us to be successful they need to be." He added that the team was suffering "from confidence issues team-wide." For the the five on three to be more effective, Pearn felt the point men need to move back a bit, though not as much as some fans think. That was a problem that they were working on. He pointed out that the newest style of four-on-five penalty killing was to keep three players in a triangle as if they were two men down and have the fourth defender rove, pressuring the points and chasing the puck.
Regarding specific players in New York (for assessments of Hartford players, and there was a lot of talk about them, see Howlings), Marcel Hossa was the first to come up. Pearn, who did a lot of the talking, said "confidence is his biggest issue." If he could resolve those issues within himself, they project him to be a regular third line player because his defensive ability is "very strong" and "he is capable of putting 10-12 goals a year in the net. He just has to believe it, and right now he doesn’t."
Dan Girardi, Pearn said, "has been the biggest surprise of the past three years, especially how good he is without the puck. He has made the most dramatic change from his first development camp to today." He then compared Girardi to another player he coached earlier in his career -- Wade Redden. Pearn said Girardi "is certainly comparable with that first outlet pass, which is such an important factor, as Wade."
On Brandon Dubinsky, Tom Renney said, "We like what we are seeing in him. He knows the blue paint area and has a very high hockey IQ. He plays the game with some snarl and he’s certainly not afraid to challenge anyone as you’ve seen. We’re working on him with that." When someone proposed that Dubinsky reminded them of a young Walt Tkaczuk, Renney responded, "I can see that -- it’s a fair comparison. But let’s not put that kind of pressure on him just yet."
Asked about the goaltending and how good Steven Valiquette has been, Renney remarked, "Steve has won over his teammates and they feel confident when he’s in the net. It speaks volumes to Steve’s commitment as well as to Benny Allaire’s work with both he and Henrik." Asked if that has caused him to revise his original estimate of how many games Lundqvist would play, he said, "Absolutely. We originally had him slated to play between 70 and 72 games, but I can see it being less than that, sure."
Other issues discussed included the stick salute, which Renney said "was started by the players. Since we have so many Euros on the team, they are used to that -- that’s how it’s done there. They did it on their own and I hope they continue that here." Renney noted that he was the last coach to lead an amateur team into the Olympics in 1994 and that he is opposed to NHL players in the Olympics, saying, "The NHL product is compromised. If players get hurt it can ruin a team’s season, and there is certainly a letdown when they come back -- it takes time to refocus the team." He should know, having witnessed what happened to Henrik Lundqvist and his wide contingent of Czechs during the 2005-06 season, the Olympics derailing a white hot Ranger team.
The rumor about the team opening next season in Prague is still just talk. Many factors need to be taken into account before they fully commit, a big one being whether Jagr and other Czechs are still Rangers next season. Renney himself is not in favor of going -- when he coached in Vancouver, he said, they played a game in China and it took him a while to get his team back on track after that. He said he would prefer to have some part of training camp there and perhaps an exhibition game or two, but not a regular season game.
Lastly, Renney spoke about some of the changes the NHL has made. He thought that the removal of the red line was long overdue, but that he is not in favor of tinkering any more. "The changes to tradition would be bad," he said, especially resizing the nets or some other proposals that are rumored to be out there. One of the lighthearted moments of the evening was the result of the large representation from Section 419. The coaches felt that was the place to hang out. Overall, the evening was light, informative, and friendly, and the buzz from those in attendance was that they were all satisfied that their questions had been answered.
Ron Boesgaard, who pens Blueshirt Bulletin's "Views From the Blues" column every month, sent in this report:
I was at the season subscriber event in the Theater Monday night. Tom Renney, Perry Pearn, and Mike Pelino fielded questions from the audience. John Giannone and Dave Maloney were onstage with them and emceed the event. A fan asked about Marcel Hossa and talked about his lack of production as a first line player and how he has only scored during a couple of short streaks. Pearn said Hossa skated in the shadow of his brother and that Marcel just lacked the confidence to take his game to the next level. Pearn also inferred that Marcel was running out of time to find a way to get that confidence and start to play and score commensurate with his talent.
All in all an interesting evening. I got Dave Maloney and Adam Graves to sign my "Losing the Edge" book. I said hello to Mitch Beck and listened to Ms. Hurley ask a few questions of Tom Renney [see Margaret's take at My Blueshirt Heaven]. All three coaches said they preach "playing in the paint" over and over and over again to their charges and are hoping their "work in progress" will finally get that to sink in. They said the team was going to have to learn how to score the dirty goals in order to win in the playoffs. Bottom line: Pearn said the loss to Buffalo made the players understand what was needed to get to the next level and everyone would draw on that this year. Pelino said the team would get stronger every month. Renney said they were laying the foundation for a very good team for years to come.
Pearn, who was with the Senators while they were building a contender, said he talks to his friends back there frequently. He was told that Ottawa currently has just one or two players at their AHL affiliate that could play in the NHL. He then stated that there are eight or nine guys in Hartford the Rangers think can make the jump in the next few years. He said that was exceptional. Renney said the commitment Artem Anisimov has made to learning English and acclimating himself to North America has been exemplary and that the kid is doing everything right to make his way to the NHL. He also said Anisimov is paving the way for Alexei Cherepanov to come over next season and "possibly spend some time in Hartford." This was all good stuff. My brother and I and the other people from section 404 in attendance thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Ryan Callahan and Marek Malik are both ready to return from their injuries, according to reports in Blueshirts Blog, Rangers Report, and Newsday from yesterday's Ranger practice. Callahan stands a good chance of getting back into the line-up, with Marcel Hossa looking like the odd man out -- at least that's how they lined up at practice. But Renney is not ready to disrupt his successful defensive pairing, so Malik may not make an immediate return to action. Renney is especially loathe to cut the playing time or responsibility level of Marc Staal, who has emerged in Malik's place alongside Michal Rozsival on the Rangers' top pair.
In other Ranger news, Sam Weinman of the Journal News spoke to Martin Straka (hear the full interview at Rangers Report), the Post spoke to Scott Gomez about shooting the puck more, and CBS Sports is, like the rest of us, waiting for Gomez and Chris Drury to bust out. Hartford is reeling from a string of injuries, writes Bob Crawford at WP.com, yet Bruce Graham and Mike Busto (the latter returning from injury) have been assigned to Charlotte (see Howlings). WP.com also has Wolf Pack Weekly. At Prospect Park, Jess reports that there is no dearth of scoring among Ranger prospects in Canadian juniors. First rounder Bobby Sanguinetti gets all of the attention in these parts, but Blueshirt Bulletin and Prospect Park want to direct your attention to Ryan Hillier, a third round draftee who is having a career season with the Halifax Moosehead, having already put up 18 goals. We are planning to run Jess's interview with Ryan in the December issue of Blueshirt Bulletin.