My Saturday morning started off fresh and early, right about the time those of you on the East Coast were probably just getting to bed or were already asleep. It was game day and I had two game day practices to attend…and a hockey game.
During the Rangers’ practice, Mike Pelino and Benoit Allaire set aside a few players to do additional work with, three of which ended up being scratches for the night. Let me explain who and why. Patrick Rissmiller, Fredrik Sjostrom and Dan Fritsche were among the five skaters putting in extra time on the ice after everyone else left practice. Frankly, these three did not prove they should have a spot on the roster in Saturday night’s game. Rissmiller, in particular, is incredible as a rebounder, but is the worst and slowest skater on the team.
I watched Pelino offer up the bad news to Rissmiller after all of the other players left the ice. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s scratched from the roster permanently. He just isn’t fast enough to keep up with the game, but he does have some noteworthy skills.
As for the other two, well, they didn’t quite win a spot on the roster. And I do mean “WIN.” They had to fight for that spot by running a few drills during practice where they competed against each other. You needed to be there to hear and see what was going on. It was quite humorous, and we were all laughing over it (we meaning me and the guys on the ice, the other reporters left when the rest of the team left the ice – they didn’t stay around for the special practice).
For those wondering about the goaltender Miika Wiikman, I do not believe he is NHL ready. He could use another year perfecting his game. He’s still a young player, tires easily, and he needs to conquer his weakness, which is the top right shelf. Every player going up against him was able to score each time they went to his weak spot. He stops the puck every place else, except when the puck heads into that one spot.
After practice, I spent the next few hours at O2 Arena networking with the NHL staff and talking to the broadcasters (who I got to know before and during the game…gotta love the broadcasters from Tampa Bay). There was an ongoing joke about the ale in the Czech Republic. “You can’t call it Canadian Ginger Ale,” the Lightning broadcasters were saying all night long. I’m sure the fans back at home heard it once. I heard it a few times throughout the day.
What’s good about networking with the broadcasters is that they offer up insider information that isn’t readily available to the public. One player we discussed was Vaclav Prospal (aka “The Mayor”). He is currently the number one Czech celebrity in the NHL right now, which explains all of the attention he received back on Thursday night, before the Lightning headed off to have dinner with the Czech Ambassador. I heard he was the highlight of the evening (you can read up on the details at the Lightning’s website).
Getting to the details of the game, the Rangers struggled during the first ten minutes of the game. “The first period was a bit of a scramble,” Markus Naslund told the press after the game. “We’re starting to find each other. We need to learn to read off of each other.”
Henrik Lundqvist added that “the first period…was an important time for me to play well. It’s an important time for playing good. It helped me to relax throughout the rest of the game.”
I noticed that Rangers Captain Chris Drury was having an off night. Perhaps it was nerves, being as this game was a very important game. Or maybe he should have skated in the morning practice (the first line had the morning off). Many of us waited for him to come out to talk to the press, but he was nowhere to be found.
His other linemates were ready and willing to talk about being nervous for this first game of the season. “The older you get,” Gomez replied. “You just want the season to begin.”
“I played my first game here,” Naslund stated after his first regular season game as a New York Ranger. “I was a little nervous coming into it.” He also commented that scoring the first goal of the game at 18:09 in the second period helped boost his confidence and calm his nerves.
Henrik Lundqvist chimed in saying, “It’s more pressure on you when it’s a more important game. I was more mentally prepared for this game then any other game I’ve played so far this year.”
The Rangers had a total of seven power plays and were only able to score one goal on the man advantage. Brandon Dubinsky’s power play goal was also the game deciding goal for the night after Tampa Bay scored their first goal of the game during the third period at 3:58 from Martin St. Louis (which ironically came just minutes after they showed St. Louis at home with his family during the intermission). Dubinsky’s goal came with a little over five minutes left in regulation.
“When you get that many and you’re not scoring,” Gomez said trying to remain positive about the 1-6 power play ratio. “There’s always room for improvement.”
Gomez informed us that Martin Straka will be in attendance at Sunday night’s game. “Straka is probably one of the best leaders to play with,” Gomez said.
Olaf Kolzig will be in goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning during Sunday night’s game.