By Bruce Berlet
Wolf Pack Grads Continue To Excel on Broadway
Wolf Pack graduates from Asylum Street continue to make vital contributions for the parent team on Broadway.
In the Rangers’ 3-2 victory over the Bruins on Saturday night, center Artem Anisimov scored the first goal and won a team-high nine of 17 face-offs. Defenseman Marc Staal scored the winner 48 seconds into the second period on an assist from right wing/alternate captain Ryan Callahan, who notched his 100th career NHL point. Rookie defenseman Michael Sauer, who missed much of the last two seasons with the Wolf Pack because of injuries, recorded his first NHL point, the primary assist on Alex Frolov’s first-period goal, which came 27 seconds after Anisimov scored. And left wing Brandon Dubinsky had an assist on Anisimov’s goal.
Then in a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night, Callahan scored his first goal of the season, the game-winner on a power-play deflection of Dubinsky’s shot, and then assisted on an empty-net goal by Dubinsky, who shook off a thunderous third-period check by Matt Corrente to score with one second left. Callahan has at least a point in each of three consecutive victories that have put the Rangers two games above .500 for the first time this season (4-2-1).
Dubinsky leads the team in scoring (four goals, three assists), average ice time for forwards (21 minutes, 41 seconds) and won seven of 12 faceoffs when he moved from left wing into the circle. Defenseman Dan Girardi is tied for second in the NHL with a team-high 24 blocked shots and ranks third in average ice time (24:03).
With leading scorer Marian Gaborik (separated left shoulder), versatile Vinny Prospal (knee) and captain/Trumbull native Chris Drury (broken finger) sidelined three to six weeks, the Blueblood Line of Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan has been the best for the Blueshirts. And the Staal-Girardi pairing is No. 1 on defense, though they have been split up at times the last few games.
When asked after Sunday’s victory about doing the little things needed to win, Callahan said, “That’s what I try to do. I try to be good on the puck, be really good on the forecheck, take the body and do what I can. Obviously, I want to chip in with the goals when I can, too, but when that’s not going well, you definitely have to concentrate on the other things, and when you do that, you start to get bounces toward the net and start getting more chances. … I try to go out there and lead by example, finishing checks and blocking shots. If guys are jumping on board with it, that’s great. And I think everyone has bought into the system we’re trying to do – hard on the forecheck, sacrificing ourselves for the team. These three games, I think we’ve seen that.”
Rangers coach John Tortorella gushed about Callahan, an All-Star with the Wolf Pack who Hartford and New York fans love for his grit and tenacity, as demonstrated by making four of the Rangers’ 21 blocked shots against the Devils.
“He does everything,” Tortorella said. “And I’m happy for him that he gets the winner. You watch him block shots, you see the things he does on the wall, everything about him. I like the way he stepped up in the locker room in between periods there (in Boston on Saturday night) when we taking all those penalties. It’s the most I’ve heard him say in the locker room since I’ve been with him. So I think he’s embracing being a leader on this club, too. It’s good stuff.”
Good, indeed, for a fourth-round pick – and reminiscent of the best third-round pick in Whalers history, Kevin Dineen. Callahan has been the Rangers’ de facto captain in Drury’s absence, and Dineen was captain of the Whalers and scored the last goal in franchise history in a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 13, 1997.
The bigger Anisimov from long sessions in the gym with Rangers strength and conditioning coach Reg Grant has made the biggest improvement in his second season with the Rangers after being an All-Star with the Wolf Pack in 2008-09.
“He’s gotten a lot stronger,” Callahan told the New York Post’s Jay Greenberg in a story that appeared Tuesday. “This summer he put on a little meat, and it’s helped his game tremendously, holding on to pucks for that extra second.”
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Anisimov has three goals and two assists and drawn comparisons to former Montreal Canadiens standout Peter Mahovlich, not Hall of Fame brother Frank. No one knows if Anisimov regularly scores 20 or 30 goals, but having a skilled, gritty center with enough size to go against big centers is something that Rangers fans have begged for for years.
“He’s still just a puppy as far as his body goes,” Tortorella said. “You see him bring the puck to the net and he’s impressive. And he’s already one of our better defensive players. I think about him a lot, want to make sure with he and (rookie center Derek) Stepan that we don’t miss the steps in the growing process. I took a couple shifts away (in Sunday’s game) because I worry about that. I just want to make sure I am careful not to give him too much. Last year, I thought I knocked him down a bit when I put him in the second line. He was very honest with me about being nervous and you could tell.”
Anisimov, a second-round pick in 2006, had an honest answer when asked about increased responsibility, from being part of the first power-play unit with Gaborik and Prospal out, to helping protect one-goal leads in the final minute against six attackers with Drury sidelined.
“Trust is everything for me,” he said.
The Rangers return to action Wednesday night when they host the Atlanta Thrashers at 7:05 in the second game of a three-game homestand.
Nylander’s Season Is Over
Former Whalers and Rangers center Michael Nylander had successful surgery to fuse together the C-5 and C-6 vertebrae (C-1 is the highest toward the head) in his neck Monday, ending this season but apparently not his career. The 38-year-old Nylander will need an estimated six months of rehabilitation to return to the ice after sustaining the injury in the second period of the Rochester Americans’ 4-1 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins on Saturday night.
“He’ll definitely have to do some soul-searching when he has recovered,” Amerks coach Chuck Weber told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “The little bit I do know him, I don’t think this is the way he’ll want to go out.”
Nylander was injured when he was checked from behind along the right-wing boards by Griffins defenseman Brendan Smith. Nylander fell into the boards at an awkward angle on a hit that appeared to be legal, with no penalty assessed. Nylander immediately knew he was seriously injured as he skated right to the bench, leaving behind his equipment and a slew of expletives.
“Thankfully this happened without neurologic deficit, he didn’t lose feeling,” Dr. Robert Bronstein, the Amerks’ team physician, told the Democrat and Chronicle. “A cervical spine injury can be catastrophic. This is why we clamor at the youth hockey levels right up to the pro levels that you can’t hit from behind. … The higher the level, the worse it becomes because more nerves can be involved. If everything goes as expected, he (spinal specialist Dr. Robert Molinari) feels he would be able to go back and play.”
The 19-year pro veteran, loaned to the Amerks in late September by the Washington Capitals, is in the final year of a contract paying him $3 million this season. The Amerks’ parent club, the Florida Panthers, paid about $1 million to the Capitals for him to play in Rochester. Since Nylander won’t receive medical clearance until around May 1, the Panthers have started a search for a replacement. … A day after beating the Wolf Pack, the Binghamton Senator lost 2-1 in a shootout with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who remain the AHL’s only unbeaten team at 6-0-0-0, with five wins being by a one goal. Former Wolf Pack center Corey Locke got the Senators a standings point with 10.6 seconds left in regulation, spoiling John Curry’s bid for a shutout. Chris Conner scored in the eighth round of the shootout, and Curry then stopped Jim O’Brien, who assisted on Erik Condra’s goal that beat the Wolf Pack. Curry had 37 saves, and the Senators’ Barry Brust stopped 36 of 37 shots, making him 122-for-126 (.968 percent) in his last three starts. … Former Wolf Pack wing Alexandre Giroux, the two-time defending AHL goal-scoring champion, scored with 1:02 left in overtime to give Oklahoma City a 3-2 road victory over Hamilton on Sunday in a game nationally televised on Canadian Broadcasting Company and the NHL Network. Giroux, who is with the Barons this season after winning consecutive Calder Cups in Hershey, notched his fourth goal and eighth point of the season to remain tied with Brad Moran (three goals, five assists) for the team scoring lead. … Milwaukee Admirals left wing Linus Klasen was named AHL Player of the Week for getting three goals and three assists in two victories and a loss. Goalie Dov Grumet-Morris was the Wolf Pack nominee after making 22 saves in his team debut in a 2-1 overtime loss to Syracuse on Saturday night.
Andrews To Receive Patrick Award Wednesday Night
Congratulations to AHL president and CEO David Andrews, who will receive much-deserved recognition Wednesday night when he accepts the Lester Patrick Trophy from the NHL and USA Hockey for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
Andrews will receive one of hockey’s most prestigious awards for 16 years as leader of minor-league hockey’s top league after seven years as the Edmonton Oilers’ director of AHL operations, including the Cape Breton Oilers’ 1993 Calder Cup championship season. He previously was a senior consultant with SportCanada and head coach and director of hockey operations for the Western Hockey League’s Victoria Cougars. He was inducted into the British Columbia Hockey Hall of Fame (2005) and the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame (2006).
The native of Nova Scotia will be honored with Boston Bruins legendary right wing Cam Neely, Boston College coach Jerry York and Boston University coach Jack Parker. The trophy was presented to the NHL by the Rangers in 1966 to honor the memory of Patrick, who spent 50 years in hockey as a player, coach and general manager. In 20-plus years with the Rangers, Patrick won two Stanley Cups as head coach (1928, 1933) and one as the general manager (1940). Former Rangers coach and GM and Whalers GM Emile Francis received the award in 1982.
Enjoy your special night, Dave. You earned it and deserve it.