I don’t know whether I should laugh or pound my head in frustration right now because apparently my opinions on hockey are inferior to those of Ken Campbell of The Hockey News (THN) fame. They (my opinions) must not be as strong as Campbell’s because he is being paid to express his while I am able only to write in my free time as a hobby. In case you missed it, here is a recent piece by Campbell for THN.
Hopefully you click on the link and read it in full but in case you were too lazy to do so I will provide a brief summary while addressing some individual points.
Campbell titles his piece, “Rangers shot-blocking mentality bad for NHL.” Yes, that’s the direction he took it. After claiming his position had nothing to do with how he feels about Torts, and then blathering on and on about how his coaching style has transformed from his time in Tampa, from the “safe is death” mantra the Lightning lived by to the affability of Torts in his early days as Lightning head coach, Campbell talked about how he felt as a fan about the Rangers series with Washington.
“If you found the Rangers seven-game second round series against the Washington Capitals to be compelling hockey, then good on you. A lot of people, present company included, found it frustrating to watch and devoid of excitement beyond the fact there was so much at stake.”
Okay, purely by virtue of me being a Rangers fan I suppose I might find interest in a series involving my team where others might find it lacking in the excitement department. I won’t argue what individual fans might find exciting or not.
However I find it interesting he implies the responsibility is the Rangers alone for creating a series “devoid of excitement,” in his opinion, when it was in fact the Capitals that engaged in more of the enjoyment-killing shot-blocking Campbell no longer enjoys watching. I went back through the box scores of each game tallying up the number of blocks and the Capitals dominated the Rangers in blocked shots recording 169 to the Rangers 111 in the series. Why no mention of the Capitals as being at least partially to blame then?
He then follows up with why he has gone from being able to appreciate a good shot-block to thinking the Rangers use of that tactic as a defensive weapon may indeed be the end of entertaining hockey as we know it.
“Part of the reason for this is I’ve grown to hate blocked shots. It didn’t used to be that way. There was a time when the blocked shot was an art, a thing of beauty, executed only by those players who could summon the courage to sacrifice their bodies to keep a puck from getting to the net. These days, though, there is no gallantry involved in blocking shots, otherwise everyone wouldn’t be able to do it. Protected by the best equipment the game has ever seen, players are no longer the least bit hesitant to put themselves between a slapshot and the net because they know there’s almost no chance they’ll get hurt.”
Where to start? There is almost “no chance” of getting injured or hurt blocking shots anymore? Tell that to Ryan Callahan Mr. Campbell. Maybe you remember the gritty Rangers forward bravely blocking a Zdeno Chara slapshot late in a contest during the 2010-2011 season in a must-win game for the Rangers, a game they led at the time by the slimmest of margins. That block would result in a broken right leg for Callahan but the victory he helped ensure with that block propelled the Rangers into the postseason. Of course Callahan would miss the duration of that season and all five games of a meek first-round playoff loss to Washington with the broken leg.
Then again earlier this year in a game against the Devils, Callahan blocked an Ilya Kovalchuk shot and suffered a “bruised foot,” as the Rangers called it. He would spend two different stints, seven games total, out of the Rangers lineup. Fortunately his absence would not cost the Rangers in the standings.
We can also talk about Mats Zuccarello, the diminutive Norwegian-born winger who suffered a fractured wrist blocking a shot late this season against Buffalo. He has yet to play in a single postseason contest as a result.
You want more proof: How about this pretty picture posted to the Twitter account of Chicago defenseman Sami Lepisto and the attached tweet, “This is why I shouldn’t be blocking slap shots!!”
So players don’t get hurt anymore blocking shots, huh?
Next Campbell singles out the Rangers as the biggest offender in his eyes in ruining the sport.
“And nobody does it with the frequency the Rangers do, which doesn’t seem to make sense since conventional wisdom suggests they have the best goaltender in the league and if Hart Trophy voting is any indication, one of the top three players in the world. What’s more, they pay him $6.9 million a year to stop pucks, then have their players stand in front of him and do it for him.”
Nobody blocks as many shots as the Rangers, huh. That’s curious considering they finished only 4th in the NHL in blocks this season, behind the Islanders, Wild and Canadiens.
The second part of the paragraph’s opening sentence appears to either be a veiled suggestion Hank is not as good as his reputation makes him out to be or that the Rangers needlessly employ shot-blocking as a critical element of their team defensive strategy. All I can say is the results speak loudly here in the postseason in favor of their style. The Blue Shirts currently allow the second fewest goals against per game in the playoffs behind the molten lava hot L.A. Kings. Maybe the idea that a team of players, regardless of their respective individual salaries, is able to work so closely together to accomplish a common goal, that goal to be to keep the puck out of their net, perhaps that concept is alien to Campbell.
Campbell goes on to explain further why he doesn’t like the Rangers.
Secondly, I can’t stand the Rangers because they don’t even pretend to press the issue when they get ahead by a single goal. There were times during their series against the Capitals when I thought Karl Alzner was going to let the clock run out standing behind his own net with the puck, while the Ranger forwards circled around the Capitals zone. Whatever happened to forechecking? Are teams like the Rangers so spooked with the prospect of getting caught up ice that they can’t bring themselves to try to create a turnover?
I will admit that the Rangers will play somewhat conservatively at times with a late lead. However they still stick to their game plan which includes forecheck pressure. Think back to the third period of game seven of the Washington series where the Rangers just flat dominated with an 11 – 4 shot advantage over a team, the Capitals, that should have been pressing with everything they had to net the tying goal. Yet the Rangers were pressuring in the offensive and neutral zones not allowing the Capitals easy entry into their offensive zone.
That was repeated in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals against New Jersey. The Devils controlled play for much of periods one and two but the Rangers ramped up play in the third period of a tied game netting three goals and outshooting the Devils 10 – 4. They didn’t sit back after Dan Girardi broke the tie just 0:53 into the last frame.
I guess Campbell would rather watch high scoring games with end-to-end chances for both teams similar to the Penguins – Flyers first-round series. The problem is those games were plagued by defensive miscues, poor goaltending and overall sloppy play. Nothing aggravates me more as a fan of hockey than sloppy play and that Penguins – Flyers series was one of the sloppiest series I’ve ever watched.
Campbell closes with a comparison of this Rangers club with the Devils squads of the 1990’s – early 2000’s.
“And yes, I do see an enormous amount of irony in the fact that I would rather see the Devils, who invented and perfected turgid hockey, triumph over an organization that has traditionally been more about star power and panache. But it’s almost as though the two teams have transposed themselves. The Devils are far more compelling to watch with their relentless pressure on the puck, their ability to spring forwards loose and their willingness to at least try to beat a defenseman one-on-one.”
The Devils of the period Campbell cites actually get a bad rap. Yes, they popularized the dreaded neutral zone trap that stifled scoring chances and defined an era of low-scoring hockey to the point the league tried to legislate it away during the CBA negotiations of 2005. But it wasn’t the neutral zone trap that was the problem with hockey during this time; it was the interference, the clutching and grabbing in the neutral zone the officials were no longer penalizing properly that led to decreased scoring and “boring” hockey.
I also find it strange that refers to the Rangers “star power and panache” of years gone by as if it was a good thing. Remember the Rangers have been guilty too often in the past of building their club around expensive stars yet enjoyed little in the way of on-ice success despite their massive payrolls and “star power.” Now that the Rangers have developed a strong, young, home-grown core they are both winning games and being credited by the pundits for the way they’ve constructed their squad. What do you want, Campbell; a team of overpriced, ineffective stars or a hard-working young team that has a chance to win a Cup?
Fortunately I am far from the only hockey fan that appreciates the Rangers play and doesn’t see their style as a harbinger of doom for tomorrow’s NHL. Presumably as a retort to Campbell’s column, his THN colleague Rory Bolyen posted this piece. I must say I agree completely with Bolyen.
Playoff hockey is always exciting. The style employed by this Rangers club has led to a lot of wins in the regular season and a deep run into the playoffs. Winning playoff games is exciting for the Rangers fan base and really that’s all the Rangers should be worried about doing.
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