Back from Break and Into 'Hell’ (Jersey)

After a lengthy six day break, where the Rangers boasted ocean side photos, it’s back to the action in Jersey tomorrow night against the New Jersey Devils. I sure hope Stalberg, Lundqvist, Zuc and Brassard soaked up enough rays to keep sparking energy into the Blueshirts for the second half of the season. 

Last time the Blueshirts met the Devils on 10/18, Lee Stempniak surged ahead in overtime with Adam Henrique to score the winning goal in a 2-1 Devils win. Not. Cool. The goalies boasted saves in the twenties, Lundqvist with 22 and Schneider with 26. 

The Rangers have won their past 4 matches in the last six and center, Derick Brassard scored 5 points (including two goals) in the January 25th match-up against the Buffalo Sabres. It was an impressive feat, only achieved by former Captain and current traitor (I kid, I kid), Ryan Callahan. Brassard has had a pretty great momentum this year, but J.T. Miller is the one truly on fire, and he seems to be achieving his goal of showing something impressive and making a statement every game. 

With Nash out with a bone bruise on his left knee, all the forwards are going to need to step up their aggression and speed to elevate their chances at the net. A current trend for us has been an inability to score, despite some phenomenal chances… Hayes. Hayes… I’m looking at you. We simply can’t afford to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. It’s not productive and the playoff race is very real right now. We are three points above the Islanders and four above the Devils but that margin small and getting smaller with every contest we don’t capitalize on. 

The Devils have been doing well as of late, until a 2-0 shutout by the Penguins on the road snapped a four game winning streak. Former Ranger Star, Carl Hagelin, had an assist with the Penguins that night - breaking Blueshirt hearts everywhere. Cammalleri will be sorely missed with an upper body injury Tuesday night. He leads the Devils with 38 points and 14 goals. Personally, I’ve got my eyes on Kyle Palmieri for the Devils. The former Duck has 3 goals and two assists in the past five games. After watching him in person in Anaheim, I know he can pack some heat and with Cammalleri out, I’m sure he’ll be raring to go. 

On the Rangers, I’ve got my eye on a couple players for different reasons. 1) Oscar Lindberg. Hello Oscar. What’s been going on with you? After a super hot start to the season, Lindberg has only one goal as of late but has been desperate to make things happen in front of the net. He’s due for an offensive come back but his green-nature in the NHL is showing as the rigorous 82 game season enters its second half. I’m also going to be watching Derek Stepan, assistant captain. He spoke to Nash’s absence, saying he’s a quiet top-six leader that will be greatly missed. Accurate, but Stepan himself has been making some strong offensive drives to the net and with him being more rested than Captain, Ryan McDonagh’s All-Star appearance, I’m expecting him to step even more strongly into a leadership role the rest of this week. 

Side note: I’m going to be at MSG for the game on Thursday which blows my mind. I’m here in NYC on business and just lucked out that there was a home game on my last full day here. Being a SoCal resident, this game is so special to me and I will probably cry the whole time. Sorry. 

Anyway, thanks to all of you who have followed this passion project of mine. Can’t wait to see where it goes from season to season. 

Let’s Go Rangers!!

Suspend him or not: Radko Gudas clobbers Daniel Catenacci

It feels like Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas flirts with supplemental discipline once a month these days. It’s hardly a coincidence, as he deliberately plays on the edge every night. It’s what makes him a tough brick of a man to play against, and it’s also what has him courting significant trouble so often.

He was suspended in December for a hit to the head of Mika Zibanejad but has also landed on the right side of the law after several other incidents this season, including a blow to the head of Viktor Stalberg in October and a hit on Lucas Lessio that got Gudas ejected but not suspended for clipping a couple weeks ago.

The latest Gudas incident: this huge blow on rookie Buffalo Sabres center Daniel Catenacci Thursday night. Behold:

Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe opted for street justice and immediately threw down with Gudas afterward. In today’s era of every-big-body-check-results-in-an-instant-fight, the fisticuffs were the least surprising thing in the world. The question is, though: did Gudas technically do anything wrong?

Rule 48.1, illegal check to the head:

A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted.

In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered:

(i)  Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward. 

(ii)  Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.

(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.

Based on the league’s definition of an illegal check to the head, Gudas arguably did not break a rule. He didn’t pick Catenacci’s head. He didn’t angle himself toward Catenacci’s head. Gudas didn’t extend his limbs to generate extra force, either. And Catenacci clearly did put himself in a vulnerable position prior to the contact.

Here’s where things get very tricky. In a sense of “feel,” Gudas’ play seems dirty. It “feels” like he had time to get out of the way. But the NHL’s Department of Player Safety can’t operate on feel. It has to operate within the rules, within the collective bargaining agreement. So while Gudas could face a significant ban as a repeat offender, the educated guess here is he gets off again, even if we’ll all want to take a shower upon learning the news.

When Matt Cooke ruined Marc Savard’s career in 2010, it caused an outrage. At the time, though, rule 48.1 didn’t exist. Per the rules, Cooke hadn’t committed a suspendable offense, and that’s why he got off. It took a new rule to make future Cooke-like hits illegal. And while Gudas likely gets off on the grounds of breaking no rule, it’s fair to wonder if the NHL should consider amendments down the road to broaden the definition of, and properly punish, any predatory behavior.

So for anyone outraged if Gudas doesn’t earn any supplemental discipline: blame the rules, not the DOPS. It’s fair to wonder if a play like Gudas’ should be illegal, but, for now, it probably isn’t.

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin

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