What Latest Loss Could Mean For Rangers

Struggling forward Mats Zuccarello can't beat Carey Price during a Rangers' 1-0 shutout loss to the Canadiens. AP Photo by Mary Altaffer/Getty Images

Struggling forward Mats Zuccarello can’t beat Carey Price during a Rangers’ 1-0 shutout loss to the Canadiens.
AP Photo by Mary Altaffer/Getty Images

Tonight, the Rangers were shutout by the Canadiens 1-0 in a hotly contested game at MSG. It was their second straight loss out of the All-Star break. In six periods, they’ve scored one goal. That it came against two Stanley Cup contenders isn’t a surprise. The Islanders and Canadiens are two of the East’s best. Along with the Lightning and Bruins, they pose the biggest threats to the Rangers.

Offense hasn’t been an issue. However, it could become one due to the lack of secondary scoring. At this point of the season, coach Alain Vigneault hasn’t figured out what his third and fourth lines should be. The juggling of Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller continues. With only Carl Hagelin an established third liner while faceoff ace Dominic Moore is better suited for the fourth line, there in lies the problem. Lee Stempniak and Tanner Glass are role guys who shouldn’t play every night.

What it all means is that the Garden Faithful can’t be too confident about this team’s depth. Gone are Brad Richards, Brian Boyle, Benoit Pouliot, Derek Dorsett and Dan Carcillo. All were key pieces Vigneault could rely on last Spring. Offensively, they were much deeper including at center with Richards supplying offense and Boyle providing a smart defensive forward who could take draws. Pouliot was a perfect fit on the third line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. While Brassard has upped his level, Zuccarello has struggled in a top six role. He hasn’t provided enough offense and is costing himself in a contract year.

Most of the scoring has been provided by the top two lines with top sniper Rick Nash and true number one center Derek Stepan leading the way. Martin St. Louis has been a good mentor for Chris Kreider. Kreider is still learning the ropes. In tonight’s match, he challenged P.K. Subban, who ducked him and laughed in his face. Kreider is still developing. As for St. Louis, the production is fine but he’s been streaky. The former Hart winner was snake bit hitting a post and getting robbed by Carey Price in the third with the game still tied. He’s without a goal in seven straight.

As it is, the Blueshirts don’t have many finishers. Even with Nash doing his part, it is scoring by committee. So when St. Louis slumps and Zuccarello is ice cold, that puts too much pressure on Nash. There is still a learning curve for Hayes and Fast, who Vigneault favors over Miller. The former 2011 first round pick shows flashes but still is mistake prone which is why he doesn’t play every game. At some point, Vigneault must decide what makes better sense. Letting Miller learn from his mistakes or playing Stempniak and Glass over him while risking losing the second-year forward.

In the one-goal defeat, Glass provided toughness battling Brandon Prust to a draw. Not surprisingly, the game had edge. It was expected with the Habs wanting to make a point in their final visit to The Garden in the regular season. Max Pacioretty scored the lone goal catching Henrik Lundqvist napping. Price delivered the message by stopping all 24 shots for a shutout. The Habs’ number one goalie who was injured during last year’s Eastern Conference Final is in line for his first Vezina. That could depend on if Pekka Rinne returns for Nashville.

For the Rangers, it’s back to work for the Hurricanes who visit Saturday. With the Panthers and Bruins also on the horizon, it’s up to them to turn the page. They blew opportunities to gain ground in the divisional race. With 58 points in 46 games, they trail third place Washington by one and are four behind second place Pittsburgh. Even with their loss to Boston, the Islanders remain seven up and already have won the season series. What the Rangers want to avoid is a slump which could allow teams behind them to creep up. They’re still six clear of Florida and the suddenly resurgent Flyers trail by nine with four more games played.

In the mean time, they have to figure it out. Vigneault will continue to toss darts and see if he can miraculously fix the depth issue. With the trade deadline March 2, that gives general manager Glen Sather a month to figure out how to improve his team. A lack of a true third line center who can win faceoffs is a glaring hole. Who are the candidates? Antoine Vermette could be a target as a rental. On a bad Coyotes team, he has 31 points and is over 55 percent on draws. Martin Hanzal has the size and skill they lack but is locked up through ’16-17 on a great contract with an average cap hit of $3.1 million. I don’t see them moving him.

There are other areas Sather might want to address. Upgrading on the blueline is a possibility. Neither John Moore nor Matt Hunwick are regulars with each better suited as extras. Size has also come into play against the Islanders and Bruins. The Rangers aren’t big or overly physical. That along with the being thin at center and depth are legit concerns. We won’t get a definitive answer for a while.

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Rangers Not On Par With Islanders

Henrik Lundqvist is all alone as the Islanders score in their latest win. AP Photo by Kathy Willens/Getty Images

Henrik Lundqvist is all alone as the Islanders score in their latest win.
AP Photo by Kathy Willens/Getty Images

There was another big game last night between close rivals. The Rangers and Islanders haven’t been good at the same time in decades. In 2014-15, both seem on a collision course for their first playoff series in 21 years.

Coming off a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers were expected to contend. Following significant upgrades, the Islanders were expected to improve. Instead, they’re sitting atop the division and conference while their crosstown rivals are behind trying to climb the standings. The teams have met three times. Every game has gone to the Islanders. After sweeping the first two at MSG, they outplayed the Rangers again taking the first of three meetings at Nassau Coliseum by a score of 4-1 Tuesday night. In three games, they’ve outscored the Rangers 13-4.

”A loss is a loss. It’s disappointing,” defeated goalie Henrik Lundqvist acknowledged after making 34 saves. ”They outplayed us. They came out well and did a lot of things well. A game like this, you need something to go your way.”

For the third time, Lundqvist was left to fend for himself. Simply put, the Rangers have not proven they can handle the Islanders aggressive forecheck. For an experienced team that is capable of shutting down opponents, they look exposed against a bigger, stronger rival. Compared to the Islanders, the Rangers are small relying on team speed and skill. Against the Kings, they were unable to deal with their similar size and strength.

The Islanders are four lines deep and finish checks. They play with ferocity. A key part is their fourth line with bangers Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin creating chaos. Fittingly, Martin scored a big goal as a result of their line outworking Derek Stepan’s line. They took advantage of a match-up that had Dan Boyle and Matt Hunwick out. One that was inexplicable considering how poor the Rangers were on faceoffs. The Islanders dominated winning 38 of 62 with Casey Cizikas going 13-and-5.

Unlike past years, the Islanders aren’t just John Tavares, who scored a 5-on-3 goal late to pad the Isles’ lead to four. With the emergence of second-year forwards Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome, they didn’t miss Kyle Okposo last night. General manager Garth Snow went out and added depth bringing in Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, who tallied the first goal last night. Rookie Anders Lee plays on the third line. Josh Bailey and Frans Nielsen are holdovers. How deep are they? Michael Grabner isn’t even a regular.

The Islanders defense is also much improved thanks to key additions Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy. Nobody will ever put Boychuk in the Norris category but he’s had a better season than Ryan McDonagh. With two helpers, he upped his point total to 24. A steady two-way defenseman, Boychuk is in the final year of his contract and is earning $3.6 million. He’s in for some payday. He has become the leader of a blueline that features Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan. If they want to have staying power, the Isles must re-sign him.

It also helps that Snow acquired Jaroslav Halak significantly upgrading in goal. Halak was 10 seconds away from shutting out the Rangers in two straight. He finished with 40 saves and of course was frustrated that Carl Hagelin beat him with a rare power play goal late.

”Obviously it’s disappointing, but we got a win,” Halak told reporters. ”It’s not like it was a 1-0 game. “Hopefully next time I’ll have more luck next time in the end.”

Goaltending is no longer an issue on Long Island. Though it’ll be interesting to see how Halak performs in the postseason. Since a run to the Conference Finals with Montreal in 2010, he’s only appeared in two playoff games with St. Louis in 2012. The team in front of him helps. The Isles’ forecheck takes pressure off. When they’re attacking, they don’t have to worry about defending. The Rangers had some success the final two periods getting 31 shots on Halak. Most were from the perimeter without traffic. If they want to compete with them, they must get the jersey dirty and make life more difficult on the Islander goalie.

The biggest issue the Rangers face is their lack of identity on the bottom two lines. Alain Vigneault has mixed and matched all season but has yet to find the right combo. Rookie Kevin Hayes shows promise. The former Boston College standout has six goals and 10 assists in 42 games. He doesn’t get power play time. The problem is he can’t win faceoffs which is the club’s Achilles heel. It’s hard to convert a wing to center in their first year out of college. Dominic Moore remains their best faceoff guy and he anchors the fourth line.

The loss of Brian Boyle and Brad Richards have magnified the situation. They also lost key puck possession cog Benoit Pouliot, who’s having a resurgence now that he’s healthy with Edmonton. Along with the subtractions of gritty physical presences Daniel Carcillo and Derek Dorsett, the Rangers are no longer four lines deep. Even with Vigneault rolling all four, he can only count on his top six to perform consistently. Rick Nash has carried them and Stepan has been huge. Derick Brassard has been mostly good but still has bad games like Tuesday where he reminds you that he can’t be the top center.

Mats Zuccarello has been the most disappointing player. Asked to play a more significant role, he has failed to fulfill expectations. The popular Norwegian with the giant heart has only seven goals and 23 points so far. Playing with Nash, his production should be better. There are too many instances where he doesn’t shoot. A very heady player, Zuccarello is unselfish to a fault. Sometimes, the creativity can lead to overkill. His turnover led to the Isles’ first goal. A pass for Brassard that trapped all three forwards. In his walk year, he can’t expect a big increase in salary unless he has a good second half. Keep in mind he, Brassard and Pouliot were the third line last year exposing favorable match-ups.

The Rangers need better play from McDonagh, who’s been inconsistent. Whether it’s the shoulder or whatever, he must play like one of the game’s premier defensemen. The guy we saw last Spring has been missing. Three goals in 34 games for the 27th team captain is putrid. An appropriate term to describe his coverage on two of the Isles’ goals. He and partner Dan Girardi have had average years. They must raise their level. Only Kevin Klein and newly re-signed Marc Staal have been up to par. After a good offensive spurt out, Dan Boyle has struggled mightily. He’s showing signs of age and the pseudo sixth combo of Matt Hunwick and John Moore aren’t good enough.

Not only must Rangers architect Glen Sather get a center but also must upgrade on D. As currently constituted, it’s hard to see this team being able to beat the Islanders in a series. They have also struggled with the Bruins and Lightning. All are deeper. Depth isn’t what it was. That was expected due to the cap. They were going to lose pieces. Unfortunately, Sather’s replacements aren’t fitting in. After a good start, Lee Stempniak has been in and out of the lineup. Tanner Glass is what he is. A three-year mistake who’s destined for Hartford. If they waive him, there’s zero toughness on a vanilla roster. That’s a problem.

It isn’t about the regular season. Rather the postseason. While the Rangers boast plenty of experience, they are a flawed team that can use some upgrades. Unless Slats can plug the holes, it’s going to be a tough climb. Only this time, they have to contend with the Islanders who might just be the best team in town.

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Islanders Outclass Rangers Again

Matt Martin puts away a goal in another dominant Islanders' win over the Rangers.  AP Photo by Kathy Willens/Getty Images

Matt Martin puts away a goal in another dominant Islanders’ win over the Rangers.
AP Photo by Kathy Willens/Getty Images

Let the record show that statistics don’t always matter. In tonight’s third Battle Of New York installment of five, the Rangers won on shots-on-goal registering 41 to the Islanders’ 38. It didn’t tell the whole story. When push came to shove, the first place Islanders who took over the Conference lead were superior. They again outclassed their crosstown rivals winning by a 4-1 margin in front of a playoff-like atmosphere at Nassau Coliseum.

It was the Islanders who were the aggressors. They used their size and forecheck to take advantage of some awful turnovers to build a two-goal lead. After a good push by the Rangers at the start, the Long Island hosts took over. They forced the action and continued getting dangerous scoring chances on Henrik Lundqvist, who was brilliant in defeat. He had to deal with more traffic than Jaroslav Halak, who continues to play the role of Billy Smith on the best Islander team since they last played for the Cup.

Without Kyle Okposo, the Isles didn’t miss a beat. They outshot the Rangers 17-10 in a frenetic first period that felt like a series preview. The Blueshirts generated chances but were their own worst enemy with sloppy play leading to Islander dominance in the neutral zone. Most alarming, it was their best players who were victims. Top pair Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi struggled mightily. McDonagh was on for two goals against including a ugly sequence that saw the Ranger captain lying on the ice as Mikhail Grabovski put away a wonderful Josh Bailey set up from Johnny Boychuk at 18:05.

The goal was well deserved. The Isles had been controlling play forcing Lundqvist into a string of difficult saves. If not for the former Vezina winner, this would’ve been over early. They easily could’ve had 4 or 5. That’s how careless the Blueshirts were. That included lazy backchecks from forwards and costly turnovers. Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello had forgettable nights. Neither distinguished themselves and dragged Rick Nash down. As a unit, they went a combined minus-six. It wasn’t by accident.

Once again, the Islanders fourth line struck. Leading by one, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck took advantage of dreadful coverage from mismatched third pair Matt Hunwick and Dan Boyle- combining to set up Matt Martin for an easy finish in front. No one covered him including Jesper Fast, who seems lost. Not sure what Alain Vigneault’s fascination is with this guy who gets third line duty over J.T. Miller, who clearly is more noticeable.

The wheels came off when Ryan Strome came down the right side and centered a pass off a Blueshirt past a helpless Lundqvist increasing the Isles’ lead to 3-0 2:11 later. On the play, McDonagh again was caught kneeling. He had one of his worst games. There have been instances where the first-year captain doesn’t look like himself. There have been too many times where he’s gotten beaten. Afterwards, he seemed pretty down and annoyed. That is one way to sum up a frustrating night. Lundqvist admitted that they haven’t played their best as a group yet against the Islanders.

Trailing by three, the Rangers picked it up. Using their speed, they did a better job controlling play. It resulted in two power plays and 18 shots in the second. But Halak was able to see everything. On an early man-advantage, they were too deliberate moving the puck allowing Islander penalty killers to recover and get in passing and shooting lanes. The best chance came from Derek Stepan, whose unscreened one-timer was eaten up by Halak. That is the difference. The Islanders do whatever it takes to make it difficult on Lundqvist while the Rangers haven’t gotten the jersey dirty enough. Halak was good but he never had to deal with a sea of Blueshirts. Unless that changes, it’s hard to see them beating the Isles in the playoffs.

Even as they continued to test Halak in the third, it didn’t matter. He stopped everything. With under 10 minutes left, Islander fans began chanting “You Can’t Beat Us!”

They’re right. As currently comprised, this soft cast of Rangers can’t beat their team. They’re too small and don’t have enough depth or size to match up. You can add defense with how weak Hunwick or John Moore are. Nothing against either. But they’re not sixth defensemen. It’s up to Glen Sather to plug the holes. How he’ll do it remains to be seen.

Islanders Celebrate: The Islanders celebrate Mikhail Grabovski's goal in the first. AP Photo by Kathy Willens/Getty Images

Islanders Celebrate: The Islanders celebrate Mikhail Grabovski’s goal in the first.
AP Photo by Kathy Willens/Getty Images

Adding insult to injury, John Tavares tricked Lundqvist by looking pass on a power play and then firing one past him for a 4-0 Islanders lead to put a exclamation point on their third straight victory against the Rangers. A brilliant play by one of the best players who has moved into the Hart race. Tavares is up to 22 goals and 46 points on a potential President’s Trophy winner. You better believe he deserves inclusion.

The end of the game saw a bit of edge. Marc Staal didn’t take kindly to a clean hit from Martin. It was a little high. Staal was one of the few Rangers to show up. He was very active on both ends and went back at Martin. Eventually, Tanner Glass stepped in for him leading to matching roughs and misconducts. Exactly what you have Glass in for. He’s not good at much else. Too bad the refs didn’t let them go.

At the very least, the Rangers were finally able to end a long goal drought against Halak. On a power play, Carl Hagelin scored a rare PPG from Fast and Dominic Moore with 10 seconds to spare. Halak banged his goal stick against the cage due to losing the shutout. It was a cheesy way to lose it. Especially in a game he played well in stopping 40 shots while earning the game’s second star.

There’s really not much more to add. Right now, the Islanders are a better team. They’re four lines deep and are bigger and stronger. They know how to play the Rangers and are in their heads. There are two meetings left. One in February and the other in March. Right now, they’re the best team in the Metropolitan Division. They are still three up on the Pens, who won and now seven clear of the Rangers. It won’t get easier for them with the Canadiens visiting MSG Thursday.

NY Puck 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Calvin de Haan, NYI (assist, 4 SOG, 3 hits, 2 blocked shots, +3 in 19:51-developing into shutdown D)

2nd Star-Johnny Boychuk, NYI (2 assists, 4 hits, 6 blocked shots, +2 in 20:58-best defenseman on ice)

1st Star-Matt Martin, NYI (4th of season, 12 PIM, 7 hits, +1 in 19 shifts-15:08-4th liner with real impact)

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Martin Brodeur retires from playing

Today, the clock officially started on Martin Brodeur’s Hall Of Fame eligibility (and first-ballot induction) in 2018, as the long-time Devil goaltender officially announced his retirement as a player earlier this afternoon, ending a career that can only be described as legendary with 691 wins, 125 shutouts, three Stanley Cups and one distinctive hybrid style of goaltending that probably will never be duplicated.  While Brodeur will remain in St. Louis for the rest of the season and work as an assistant GM to Doug Armstrong, all parties have indicated that Marty will soon be back in the Devils’ organization after this year and work in their front office.

Everyone knew this day was coming eventually, honestly to me emotionally the home finale last year truly felt like the end of an era, even if it wasn’t quite the end of Marty’s career.  Whatever you may think of Marty going to St. Louis for a handful of games after two decades of wearing one uniform, as the man himself said he’ll always be a Devil and for today I’ll leave it at that, cause today should be more about celebrating his career.  In a way, it was fitting to me that the news of the Continental Airlines Arena closing came the same day Marty took a leave of absence from the Blues to ponder his future – with Brian Elliott healthy for them, there was no place for Marty on their roster so today’s announcement seemed inevitable from that day.  Marty and the building he called home where he won his three Stanley Cups in were both intertwined and symbolic of an era of Devils hockey that now seems to be gone for good.

Plain and simple, a list of the Devils’ greatest moments in history will almost all involve Marty somehow.  And vice-versa, a list of Marty’s greatest moments is pretty much a list of the Devils’ greatest moments.  For a franchise that has only been around 33 years, the fact that Marty played twenty of them (well twenty-one if you count his brief spell in ’91-92 as a raw newcomer), and all as a big part of the franchise’s greatest successes ties Marty to the Devils in a way few athletes – even fellow legends – are tied to their teams.  Whether on TV or live I’ve seen many of Marty’s greatest moments.  Even deciding what YouTube I should use for this blog was hard.  Do I go with highlighting a team accomplishment such as winning the 1995 and 2003 Cups at home, or an individual achievement like setting the NHL record for wins, or even the fantastic goal he scored in the playoffs in 1997 against his boyhood team the Montreal Canadiens?  Not to mention the countless number of great saves there are to choose from.

Actually at first I was going to post video from his Devil finale last year, but figured in the end that would be too melancholy so I picked scoring the goal against Montreal with an excited Doc Emrick and Chico Resch on the call.  As great as Marty was as a goaltender, you could compile a list of best saves for anyone and compare anyone’s great saves (one of my personal faves wasn’t available on YouTube, when Marty stopped Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux back-to-back at their peak on a clip that used to be played during Devils highlights on MSG)…but what truly set Marty apart was not only the fact he was a hybrid of the butterfly and stand-up styles of goaltending, but that he could play the puck well enough to where the trapezoid was put in specifically because of his skill.   Mostly his great puckhandling led to breakouts that helped the offense and prevented wear and tear on his defense, but on occasion Marty would score his own goal…though of the three career goals he’s credited with – yet another record he holds – this highlight in 1997 was the only one he actually physically put into the net.

I thought of doing a memories list the way I did with the CAA, but really there are too many to count when it comes to Marty’s career.  I could bother to figure out the number of Brodeur wins I’ve attended but my guesstimate is that I’ve been to at least a hundred of Marty’s 691 career wins and maybe twelve-fifteen shutouts, not counting playoff stats of course.  Perhaps during the next storm or faux storm I’ll figure out the totals (since I keep almost all my ticket stubs).  Obviously some stand out…one of the first games I went to I referenced in my CAA post where Marty shut out the Bruins, then coached by Pat Burns, and of course there was the St. Patrick’s Day game in 2009 where Marty set the NHL record for wins against the eventual Cup champion Blackhawks.  In an interesting coincidence I was sitting in section 120 then, two years before I would become a season ticket holder there.  I’d bought the tickets weeks before it was obvious what the game could mean but did it intentionally cause I just wanted to sit behind Marty’s net, which turned out to be a fortuitous decision having a birds-eye view of him clipping the net out of a historic game.  Come to think of it I could have just posted a photo of that, but my images aren’t as good as AP’s anyway.

Of course there were many playoff memories, particularly for me in 2003 and 2012 since I was at both the Cup clincher in 2003 and the Eastern Conference clincher in 2012.  In many ways both games and runs embody what Marty was all about as a player and competitor.  Marty showed perserverance during the 2003 Finals after a memorable blunder in Game 3 that turned the series and ending the series on the highest of highs with a Game 7 shutout at home.  2012’s run proved his longevity as he went deep in the playoffs as  a 40-year old goalie who’d already played the most games in NHL history, winning two straight OT games against the Panthers in a seven-game thriller followed by wins against the Devils’ two biggest rivals in the Flyers and Rangers.  Eighteen years to the day after going to the Conference Finals as a rookie and coming up just short against the Rangers all things came full circle in Marty’s career with that Game 6.

While you can’t sum up Marty’s career merely with numbers and records, his numbers and records are more impressive than any goaltender who’s ever played the game.  Whether he’s the best that’s ever played is I suppose up for debate but certainly he’s in the conversation, which was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams in 1994 when I started watching hockey consistently.  Through three lockouts, two decades and a ton of coaching changes Marty and GM Lou Lamoriello were the constants throughout it all.  Once dismissed as merely a ‘product of the system’, Marty proved he was a lot more than that later in his career when he won four Vezina trophies, two of them after the departures of HOF defensemen Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer.  Not only his talent but his durability also made him a legend, playing nearly 1500 NHL games which is also by far the most by any goaltender.  Certainly Marty can leave with no regrets, having accomplished everything in hockey there was to accomplish between records, Cups and Olympic gold.

Even though this chapter of Marty’s career is now over, his hockey career as a whole surely isn’t, given his interest in wanting to become part of management and the promise of a job waiting for him after the season back in New Jersey.  Time will tell whether he’ll be anywhere near as good in management as he was as a player, few are though Steve Yzerman in Tampa is proving it’s possible.  However it turns out, I’m looking forward to seeing his jersey lifted to the rafters next year and watching his Hall of Fame induction speech.  Having watched Marty his whole career that’s going to resonate with me the way it hasn’t with any other player and probably never will again.  As much as I loved Ken Daneyko he wasn’t a legend and I didn’t see his entire career.  Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer were legends but I didn’t see their entire careers either.  Nobody on either of my other sports teams (Mets/Jets) can come close to having both Marty’s stature and longevity.  Maybe that’s what makes it so hard to believe it’s finally over other than the after-the-fact celebrations.

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Rangers and Islanders to play tonight

Tonight’s game between the Rangers and Islanders is on as scheduled. Even with a winter storm delivering over a foot of snow last night into the morning hours, the two bitter rivals will play at 7 EST in Uniondale.

The Islanders lead the Metropolitan Division by three points over the Pens and five over the Rangers. They have taken the first two games of the season series sweeping a pair at MSG. There are three remaining match-ups all at Nassau Coliseum.

BATTLE OF NEW YORK

Islanders vs Rangers Head To Head (2014-15 Regular Season)

10/14 NYI 6 NYR 3

Goalscorers: NYI Boychuk, Tavares, Okposo, Nelson, Grabovski, Leddy NYR Nash 2, Brassard

Goalies: Halak 40 saves Lundqvist 6 GA on 27 shots

1/13 NYI 3 NYR 0

Goalscorers: NYI Lee, Kulemin, Nielsen

Goalies: NYI Halak 27 saves SHO NYR Lundqvist 3 GA on 32 shots in 40 Mins, Talbot 12 saves

1/27 NYR vs NYI

2/16 NYR vs NYI

3/10 NYR vs NYI

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Okposo Expected To Miss Six To Eight Weeks

Kyle Okposo (inset) celebrating a 4-goal performance will miss 6 to 8 weeks for the division-leading Islanders. Getty Images

Kyle Okposo (inset) celebrating a 4-goal performance will miss 6 to 8 weeks for the division-leading Islanders.
newsday.com Getty Images

The Islanders were dealt a huge blow to their division hopes. Forward Kyle Okposo is expected to miss six to eight weeks due to an “upper body injury.” The 26-year old right wing has been one of their best players in what’s been a dream season. He leads the team in assists (30), shots-on-goal (154) and ranks second behind linemate John Tavares in points (44).

Most notably, Okposo recorded his first career four-goal game in a come from behind 6-3 home win over the Penguins on 1/16. In that contest, he scored three times in the third period as the Isles again proved that they’re for real. How good has the former 2006 first round pick been? He had seven points (5-2-7) over his last three games and 12 (6-6-12) in the last 10.

After establishing career bests in goals (27), assists (42) and points (69) in ’13-14, he was on his way to an even better season. Currently under a contract that averages a cap hit of $2.8 million through 2015-16, Okposo is a bargain. He is earning $3.5 million this season and will make $4.5 million in the final year of the deal. Obviously, he’ll be due a raise as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2016.

With Okposo out, it’s up to other teammates to step up. The Isles boast improved depth in Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey, Nikolay Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and rookie Anders Lee. They also possess arguably the best fourth line in hockey featuring bash brothers Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin along with Casey Cizikas. In his place, there should be room for penalty killing ace Michael Grabner to provide a lift.

With the season likely to resume later this week due to a blizzard which should cancel tomorrow’s Battle Of New York showdown against the Rangers, the Islanders will have to get by without Okposo. With 36 games left, they lead the Pens by three points, the Rangers by five and the Capitals by six.

In the hunt for the East’s top seed, they’re tied with the Red Wings for second trailing the Lightning by a point. Home ice would be huge for them. In the final year at historic Nassau Coliseum, they’ve dominated going 16-4-0 outscoring opponents 73-52. On the road, they’re 15-10-1 outscored 76-72.

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NHL Suspends Rinaldo Eight Games

Earlier today, the verdict finally came out on Flyers’ goon Zac Rinaldo. During last week’s Flyers’ home win over the Penguins, he viciously boarded defenseman Kris Letang from behind receiving a major and game misconduct. For a repeat offender who even had the audacity to joke about his hit being a ‘turning point,’ he received eight games. Here is the official press release from the NHL media site.

NEW YORK (Jan. 26, 2015) – Philadelphia Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo has been suspended for eight games, without pay, for charging and boarding Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang during NHL Game No. 684 in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Jan. 20, the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety announced today.
The incident occurred at 15:36 of the first period. Rinaldo was assessed a major penalty for boarding and a game misconduct.
Rinaldo is considered a repeat offender under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and, based on his average annual salary, will forfeit $73,170.72. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
As someone who believes that the league goes too light on such incidents, I feel Rinaldo should’ve gotten at least 10 for his actions. There’s no place in hockey for such dirty hits. Sure. Letang stood still and watched his pass. However, he was defenseless and injured.  Encouraging is that it looks like he’ll return for Pittsburgh’s next game tomorrow against Winnipeg. He practiced and no one was recalled.
Regarding Rinaldo, I just don’t get the point of the Flyers having him on their roster. What exactly does he do well? He can hit but continues to put himself in these situations which are a headache for the NHL Department Of Player Safety. It is the third time he’s been suspended. His last ban being four games last April.

“I changed the whole game, man,” he remarkably stated to reporters last Tuesday. “Who knows what the game would have been like if I didn’t do what I did?”

At 24, you’d think he would know better than to open his mouth. Discussing the hit is fine. But to even conclude that is despicable and lacks decency. For better or worse, this is the Flyers’ history dating back to the Broadstreet Bullies. In a year where they likely won’t make the postseason, Rinaldo’s illegal hit along with the usual penalty fest against their interstate Pennsylvania rival will probably be the highlight of the season. There’s not much else to say.

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