2005-11-04 / Sports

The NY Hockey Report – Welcome To The Sin Bin

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist


NEW YORK – Everyone enjoys hockey again. And what’s not to like? More scoring. More open play. Exciting comeback wins.

Oh, and more penalties.

The New York Rangers and New York Islanders have had a tough time adjusting to the new rules of the NHL. On many nights over the first month of the season both teams have been taking too many infractions, which curtail the offenses by keeping the top scorers on the bench, put pressure on the goalies, keep the penalty kill on the ice too long…

And raise the blood pressures of both coaches.

“Annoyed is not a strong enough word,” said Isles coach Steve Stirling after his team visited the penalty box 13 times in a 4-3 win over Atlanta.

“I can’t even verbalize it right now, I am so hot,” echoed Rangers coach Tom Renney two nights later when his Blueshirts took 11 penalties in their 3-1 win over the Islanders.

Part of the problem is lack of the obstruction rules, which no longer allows certain play that has been a part of the NHL in the past. Players now can’t clutch and hold like they have done and the cause has been a lack of concentration from both teams.

“There are tough penalties, which can make a statement and I mean that in the spirit of the game,” Renney said. “Then there are others which are lazy and selfish and those are the ones we have to take our game plan.” Some of these penalties come from poor play not from the penalized player, but his teammates around him. Stirling said some of the calls against his team were a lack of team effort which causes one player to put a hit on when there would be no call if more than one man defended.

In 13 games the Rangers have 198 penalty minutes and the Islanders sat in the sin bin 239 minutes for their 12 games. Neither leads the league [Atlanta has 305 penalty minutes in 12 games], but it does put pressure on the goalies. Fortunately Rick DiPietro and Henrik Lundqvist has been top notch and that keeps the teams in games, but credit should also be given to the penalty kill units, since they have prevented many shots from either being taken or going through to the net.

“We tired to look to try and see why we were successful in the beginning of the year and why we gave up some power play goals,” Rangers’ forward Jed Ortmeyer, a major member of the penalty kill, said after the Islander win. “We focused tonight and we had to because that was a big part of the game.”

But strong penalty killing only goes so far and if the Rangers and Isles keep giving 20 minutes of power play time to the opposition, it will come back to haunt them. Both coaches feel five or six penalties a game is enough.

“Six penalties is a big step for us,” Stirling said after his team cut down on their infractions in last Tuesday’s 4-3 win over Boston. “We have do it two or three or five games in a row, so we can get rid of that.” Renney added: “If we are playing five-on-five and we take four to six penalties, we will play a strong brand of hockey.”

With a good start from the Rangers and a decent beginning from the Islanders, both teams can be successful if they can cut down on the penalties.

*****

Last Tuesday, the NY Hockey Report went to Nassau Coliseum to specifically talk to former Ranger Brian Leetch, since his Bruins came into town. Unfortunately, Jason Blake took care of that by checking the Ranger legend and injuring his knee. Understandably, Leetch, who wasn’t talking to the media, but briefly mentioned his knee was sore. He will be out of the lineup for 4-6 weeks.

“He’s a big part of our offense and a big part of our defensive core,” Bruins captain Joe Thornton said. “Hopefully we get him back as soon as possible.”

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