Garden Thoughts on Rangers and Sens


Written on 10/04/2009 by Jim Cerny

It struck me last night as I sat in the press box high above Madison Square Garden, that the first Rangers' home opener I covered as member of the media was 20 years ago---October of 1989!

There have been some very memorable ones for sure, most notably in 1991 when Mark Messier skated out in pre-game introductions to a thunderous standing ovation, just days after being acquired from the Oilers in a trade that would change the course of franchise history. There was a bevy of former Ranger captains on the ice that night to welcome Mess, who dramatically undid a safety pin on his jersey during pre-game ceremonies to display the "C" on his blue Rangers sweater as the crowd absolutely came unglued.

Then, of course, there was the home opener on January 20, 1995---the team's '94 Cup banner raising delayed by the lockout. It was a bit over the top, but to see the Stanley Cup lowered from the rafters on to a table at center ice was pretty cool. And to witness the emotion on the faces of the long-suffering Rangers Faithful as the banner was raised was very special.

And personally for me, perhaps the most memorable Rangers' home opener I worked was on October 3, 1997. That night I stepped into the full-time role as the play-by-play broadcaster for the New York Islanders, and, as luck would have it, the first game of the season was a New York-New York battle at MSG.

I had served as the back-up play-by-play Voice of the Isles for a few seasons to that point, and had been host of the club's pre-game, in-between-periods, and post-game shows. My goal, though, was to land a pbp gig of my very own, and that opportunity was finally afforded me in the summer of '97. And to have my maiden broadcast at The Garden---the building I grew up in as a kid---made the whole experience that more special.

Nonetheless, there I was at MSG last night for the Rangers 2009-10 home opener against the Ottawa Senators, reminiscing a bit, albeit with Blue Man Group performing a drum routine during the pre-game festivities!

Some observations from last night's game (but first some trivia...can you name the longest-serving captain currently in the NHL? answer below...):
  • The Rangers were not introduced to the crowd individually as is usually done on an opening night. Instead they were introduced collectively as "the 2009-2010 New York Rangers", and skated on to the ice as a group. Clearly that is John Tortorella's touch, an opportunity to stress the team ahead of individual players. Nice touch by the Rangers to skate to center ice and salute the fans with raised sticks prior to the game, the same routine they do after each home win at MSG.
  • It's only two games, but Brandon Dubinsky looks awfully comfortable playing on a line with veterans Vinny Prospal and Marian Gaborik. That line scored four goals in the Rangers 5-2 win last night, with Dubi netting a pair to go along with an assist. I thought that Torts said exactly what I was thinking after the game, "He just has a different look about him, even when he's not playing, just how he is handling himself." I have observed the same thing since Dubinsky ended his contract holdout a couple of weeks ago.
  • Torts on the Prospal-Dubinsky-Gaborik line: "The thing I like about it, and that is our top line right now, I think it's one of the hardest-working lines, too, which is very important."
  • Both the Rangers and Senators allowed far too many odd-man rushes, and as Torts said of his team, "We have to button up some things", but boy was that fun hockey to watch! Both teams were uber-aggressive in pushing their respective offensive games, and goalies Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers and Pascal LeClaire of Ottawa both had to make a basket-full of great saves. There were probably more odd-man rushes----both for and against---in last night's game than in the first 20 or more Rangers games I covered a year ago when the team played a much-more buttoned down style under Tom Renney. Last night was fun stuff for the paying customer---and those of us in the media---to watch.
  • Though Dubinsky (photo above) was selected as the game's No. 1 star, in reality that honor belonged to Lundqvist, who was sensational in goal, in particular in the second period when the Senators blitzed him with 20 shots, and he denied all but one. Somehow the Rangers managed to outscore the Sens 3-1 in that middle 20 minutes. No matter how much this team improves offensively, Lundqvist remains the single most important Ranger.
  • I thought LeClaire had a very strong first period, most notably when he stopped all 13 shots he faced during the first period. Eight of those shots came during Rangers power plays and were of high-quality. In the second, the Rangers may have found a bit of an achilles heel in LeClaire's game, twice beating him up high over his gloved hand.
  • The Rangers power play was 0-5 last night, and is 0-9 to start the season, but there is no reason for the team to panic. They are moving the puck well, controlling the attacking zone, and creating excellent scoring chances. "But again, you have to score," noted Torts, who did praise his team's power play, as well.
  • Ottawa wisely re-signed the rugged Chris Neil in the off-season, but he logged only seven-plus minutes last night as Cory Clouston shortened his bench once the Sens fell behind. Still, Neil was credited with a game-high six hits in that span.
  • Very quiet debut for Alex Kovalev. Ottawa signed him to a nice free agent deal in the off-season, and other than being whistled for the game's first penalty, he was pretty invisible with his 20 minutes of ice-time.
  • And congrats to Rangers 19 year-old rookie Michael Del Zotto, who scored his first National Hockey League goal in only his second NHL game. And it was a timely score, too, coming with under a minute to go in the second, right after the Sens had cut the Rangers lead to 2-1. "That made it that much bigger, the fact that it was such a big goal, a little insurance goal there," Del Zotto told me after the game. "And the fact that we got the win made it even better." Torts was lukewarm about DZ's all-around game over 11-plus minutes, but did add, "I am happy for him scoring a goal."
My complete game story can be found over at the Rangers official team site.

Trivia Answer: Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson, who scored his club's first goal last night, is the longest current-serving captain in the NHL. He was appointed Sens captain in October of 1999.

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