Interesting thoughts from Brendan Smith reveals a lot about his character

Brendan Smith is one of the older players on the Rangers. At 30 years old, the veteran is the fourth oldest Blueshirt behind elder statesmen Henrik Lundqvist and Marc Staal, and role player Micheal Haley.

Originally acquired from the Red Wings in ’16-17 to help the Rangers advance to the second round of the playoffs, he re-signed for four years with an average cap hit of $4.35 million through 2021. After struggling mightily in ’17-18 due to admittedly doing too much celebrating following his wedding, Smith carved a new role under coach David Quinn last season.

With the organization going in a different direction by committing to a rebuild, Quinn decided to try Smith up front as a fourth line forward. The odd move saw the defenseman adjust his style even putting up points through hard work. It likely saved his NHL career.

While many pundits wondered if Smith would be a buyout candidate along with Staal, the Rangers did neither. Instead, they freed Kevin Shattenkirk, who has since found a new lease on life with the Lightning. Where all Rangers seem to go. For the Shattenkirk crowd, it was the best move for all parties due to Adam Fox and Tony DeAngelo along with big acquisition Jacob Trouba, who ironically has struggled compared to the other two right defensemen.

A good training camp for Smith saw him rewarded by Quinn. He once again became a fixture on the fourth line. He won the roster spot fair and square due to his work ethic. While there are legitimate gripes about the butchering of Lias Andersson, Smith has proven to be an effective fourth liner due to the energy and grit he brings. Though not a long-term solution, he also doubles as a penalty killing defenseman. Quinn has utilized him right.

Some people might ask why is Smith still in New York. It’s quite simple. His commitment to the team along with his character and experience are viewed upon favorably. Just listen to him during this recent interview put up by the Rangers on Twitter.

The man gets it. He understands what the team must do to win hockey games. He also doesn’t sound like a player, who is going to accept mediocrity. He’s talking about how getting wins now is just as important as next March and April. He’s right. Even if the playoffs remain a long shot, Smith has the right approach.

They want to create a winning environment. You never hear Quinn pleased following a blowout loss like they’ve had to the Bruins and Senators. Both at MSG. A losing culture is unacceptable. They aren’t the other tenant, who is run like a circus. Thankfully, Dolan isn’t involved with the hockey team. He lets his hockey people run it.

As for Smith, I like his message. It’s one that you want the younger players to get. They looked a lot happier last night celebrating Kaapo Kakko’s overtime winner over the Pens. That’s how it should be.

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Game #16: Kaapo Kakko Night, rookie lifts Rangers to thrilling overtime win over Penguins

Adam Fox and Kaapo Kakko celebrate Kakko’s overtime winner highlighting a well deserved 3-2 Rangers win over the Penguins. AP Photo by Jim McIsaac via Getty Images

It took 16 games. Finally, Kaapo Kakko announced himself to the NHL. The number two pick of the 2019 Draft was sensational in recording his first career two goal game to highlight a thrilling Rangers 3-2 win over the Penguins in overtime.

That it came at the expense of the Pens made it more satisfying. A franchise that’s been gifted superstars Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. They were without Crosby, whose status remains uncertain for their next game. However, Malkin played. Kris Letang did not. The great defenseman never can stay healthy.

It doesn’t matter. This was a good win for the younger Blueshirts over a quality opponent that’s used to missing players and still finding a way. Over the past week, we’ve seen the growth and maturity of the 18-year old Kakko. An emergency first-year player who is starting to show what the hype was all about. The powerful skating, strength and scoring touch are something to behold. He was the best player at MSG.

If Kakko starred by lighting up the Garden with two great goals including a thrilling overtime winner, then Adam Fox was the costar. The 21-year old smooth skating, right defenseman continues to improve in front of our eyes. In this one, he extended his point streak to five by recording a goal and wonderful primary assist that set up Kakko’s first overtime winner. He’s 2-4-6 over the hot stretch while forming a cohesive third pair with close USA World Junior Championship teammate Ryan Lindgren. They’re the Rangers’ best tandem right now. Both are 21 and growing in stature.

Not to be outdone, Alexandar Georgiev returned to the net after getting the past three games off. Back in as a starter for Henrik Lundqvist, the 23-year old Bulgarian was very good throughout. The only two goals he permitted came in a flat second that saw the Pens carry the play. Georgiev made some key stops en route to 30 for the game and his fourth win in eight games.

Without some point blank saves including one on Brian Dumoulin in the dying seconds of regulation, there is no big Kakko Moment. This was his night. He was dominant on many shifts including a monumental one where the Pens couldn’t get the puck away from him. He hounded it and nearly set up a go-ahead goal in the third period with the crowd buzzing. What an exciting player.

The first period was as good a start as you can have. With the game still scoreless, Brendan Lemieux took a Tony DeAngelo pass in his own zone and made a great stretch pass that hit Kakko in stride for a clean breakaway. Once he moved in on Matt Murray, the dynamic kid from Finland went to his signature move by faking forehand and then going backhand deke around the Penguin starter’s outstretched pads. A beautiful tuck for his fifth of the season at 6:42.

I actually heard it on the radio called by Don LaGreca due to finishing my piece on Don Cherry and the toxic culture of social media. If you haven’t done so already, go read it. I got some very nice feedback from some followers including knowledgeable Canadian hockey fans. It was overwhelming. Just being able to interact with other people without it turning into a childish argument is progress. I think a lot of adults have a lot to learn.

The conclusion of the first was just as exciting. On a kind of a broken play where Filip Chytil lost the puck right to Artemiy Panarin, the Bread Man went to work and found a cutting Fox wide open for a laser short side, high glove on Murray for a 2-0 lead with 9.3 seconds remaining. It was another gem from Panarin, who tied the longest point streak of his career by extending to nine straight (4-9-13).

The Pens responded in the second period by getting two goals to tie the game up. The first one didn’t take long to materialize. On an extending shift from the Malkin line, he and Marcus Petterson combined to get the puck over to Justin Schultz. He skated in and from a tough angle was able to snap a wrist shot off the far bar and in at 1:13.

Over ten minutes later with Fox off for one of those annoying phantom hooks, a bad bounce allowed Dominik Simon to get the puck over for Jared McCann, who pounded it past Georgiev and home top shelf. His power play tally tied it up with 7:27 left in the stanza.

Despite the Pens holding a 11-7 edge in shots along with more puck possession, the score remained tied at two entering the third. In it, each team made it fun by using their skating to generate scoring chances. Neither sat back. There were a combined 20 shots with the Pens leading the way with a dozen to the Rangers’ eight.

While Georgiev held down the fort at his end, Murray did the same on the other. That included stoning Pavel Buchnevich on the doorstep and then turning away Brett Howden on a great Kakko feed. Both netminders were good. Murray finished with 24 saves.

In the three-on-three overtime, chaos ensued. It didn’t look good for the Rangers, whose three skaters were caught out for a long shift. But the Pens never could finish it off.

Instead, it was Buchnevich and Fox turning it around for a quick counterattack. As Fox carried the puck at center, the crowd anticipation was building. What followed was a brilliant centering pass for a Kakko tip in that won the game at 2:24 of OT. It touched off a nice celebration.

It was fitting that Kakko got the team’s first overtime win of the season. He was the best player and it was a game they deserved to win. He joined some exclusive company that includes some great names of 18-year old rookies to record a two goal game. Yes. Crosby and Patrik Laine are in that list. Nice job.

This was an enjoyable game with a nice result. Hopefully, they can build on it.

Battle Of Hudson 3 🌟

3rd 🌟 Brendan Lemieux, Rangers (primary assist on Kakko breakaway goal, 4 hits and 3 blocked shots in 15:06 for hard nosed player)

2nd 🌟 Adam Fox, Rangers (2nd of season plus 🍎, +2 in 19:03, five-game point streak 2-4-6)

1st 🌟 Kaapo Kakko, Rangers (1st career 2-goal game including OT winner at 2:34, 3 shots, +1 in 16:38)

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Don Cherry comes clean

AP Photo Detroit Free Press via Getty Images

By now, the hockey community knows that Don Cherry is no longer employed by Sportsnet. The less said about that network, the better. Ditto for lifelong partner Ron MacLean, who stood by and gave a thumbs up on set. Then buried his friend that helped him get his job back with CBC twice. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

The truth is Mr. Cherry is an 85-year old man who still has more energy and passion than people half his age. When it comes to the sport, Grapes has always given a hard hitting opinion on anything. A lot of the time, he was right. Particularly about the safety issues when it came to players getting hurt due to unsafe areas with no give like near the benches. He would illustrate how to block a shot without risking serious injury.

Of course, I always enjoyed his rants on face-offs. One time, I was over a friend’s house in South River, New Jersey when this quirky man who guided the Bruins to two Stanley Cup Finals in the 1970’s, went cuckoo over how important draws were. He screamed over and over again, “Face-offs! Face-offs! FACE-OFFS!”

It was one of the funniest things we’d ever seen on the Coach’s Corner. The always entertaining first intermission hockey segment on Hockey Night In Canada. There was no denying the chemistry between MacLean and Cherry. I wasn’t introduced to the back and forth banter until the 1990’s. Maybe it was due to not seeing anything like that before. Right away, it appealed to me. I couldn’t help but smile and chuckle at some of the stuff Cherry would say. But as a former successful coach, he had merit.

Even if you didn’t always agree with his controversial takes on Russian players (my biggest gripe), he had a point about having good old kids from Ontario on your roster. I remember one particular instance in which he went up and down the Maple Leafs roster. To say he was displeased would be an understatement.

When it comes to how I feel about building a competitive roster, I believe you need the right combination of skill, skating and physicality. It can’t be one dimensional. I watched the Canucks lose to the Bruins for the 2011 Stanley Cup due to not having enough grit. They didn’t push back enough against Boston, who had a prime Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara. It cost them their first Cup. The Rangers were similar under Alain Vigneault. Though it was more due to the hated Kings’ superior talent, size and physical forecheck. It was a winnable series had they not sat back and relied on Henrik Lundqvist.

All this stuff is part of the way Cherry thinks. He is right about one thing. You cannot allow your team to get pushed around. We saw it with the turn the other cheek Blueshirts too much as the AV Era wound down. Under former Boston University coach David Quinn, they no longer back down. There are more scrums and even some fisticuffs even if that part of the game is fading. You still need some truculence. Having character guys like Brendan Lemieux, Micheal Haley and even skilled yet tough defenseman Tony DeAngelo helps. Especially with a young rebuilding roster. They can’t allow the kids to take cheap runs without retribution. Accountability is important in hockey. It’s a team sport.

As far as Cherry goes, he came clean today. In his first public statement to the Canadian Press, Grapes was candid about what he meant. Sometimes, words come out wrong. We’ve all been guilty of this. My conclusion was that Cherry should’ve worded his commentary on wearing poppies differently. Something he admitted in an interview.

The thing I like is his sincerity. He knows he messed up. But he also stood by what he meant yesterday. This was all about wanting more Canadians to pay homage to the great soldiers who served on Remembrance Day. It’s definitely something he’s passionate about.

Anyone who has watched him over the years knows how much he loves the great servicemen and servicewomen that sacrificed for Canada. How many haunting images have we seen over the years presented by him over the outstanding people who mean more to our way of life than anything. That goes double for every US soldier. They are the true heroes. Seeing the images of fallen soldiers presented by Cherry, who spoke highly of each by presenting their names and talking about who they were, always left me choked up.

No matter what you feel about the man personally, he got it. I’ve seen an awful lot of misguided opinions from the same kind of people I don’t have any respect for. They’re the same ones who reduce themselves to personal insults, unfair labels and cheap attacks that have no place in society or on social media. This is what’s being pushed by many in the mainstream media. Where everything is front and center. In your face even if they don’t always get the story right.

There are way too many people who jump to conclusions. Who don’t realize the psychological damage they’re causing along with grief. They are nothing but bullies. Cyber bullying is a serious issue in schools. So too is bullying. Often, it’s not the bullies who are blamed when sickening tragedies occur. If people treated each other nicer and with more respect, it’s my opinion that a lot of these shootings would decrease.

The media doesn’t help. They immediately put up photos of the killers and their names. Never thinking for a second that it comes off wrong. It’s the victims that matter. Their families will never be the same. Who were the innocent victims. The question is who drove these mentally unstable people over the edge. It’s something that’s frequently ignored.

They all ignore mental health. But the stigma is real. I know. I suffer from chronic anxiety and depression. But I don’t have a bad bone in my body. Most importantly, my mind. I wish more people affected by this disease were like that. Not everyone is.

The way we treat people matters. I’ve disagreed with things Cherry’s said over the years. He’s not perfect. Now, he no longer is part of Saturday’s. It was always going to end. It just should’ve been done differently.

Communication matters. Until we get back to treating people with opposing viewpoints right instead of attacking them, we’re fighting a losing battle.

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The Lias Andersson Issue

Lias Andersson (with Brendan Lemieux above) has been handled poorly by the Rangers organization. AP Photo via Getty Images

Imagine having the foresight to see ahead and plan for the future. This is exactly what the Rangers did in the summer of 2017 when they traded Derek Stepan before his no move clause kicked in. General Manager Jeff Gorton packaged Antti Raanta with Stepan to the Coyotes in exchange for Arizona’s first round pick that became Lias Andersson at number seven and defenseman Tony DeAngelo.

That deal was consummated on June 23, 2017. At the time, it was a move that made sense. Following a disappointing second round series loss to Ottawa, it looked like the end of the window for that core to win under coach Alain Vigneault. It was an admission that the time had come and gone for a cohesive group that gave Garden Faithful some great moments.

Stepan was a big part of that. He centered one of the top two lines on the ’13-14 team that reached the Stanley Cup, and gave us a signature moment in a dramatic second round comeback from 3-1 down to stun the Caps.

Since we are in November, it feels somewhat appropriate for this Guns N’Roses line from one of my favorite songs, “November Rain.”

Nothing lasts forever

And we both know hearts can change

And it’s hard to hold a candle

In the cold November rain

Long gone are the glory days of Stepan, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Carl Hagelin, Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, Benoit Pouliot, Anton Stralman, Keith Yandle, etc. The only holdovers from the last run in ’14-15 are Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast. Richards, St. Louis, Girardi are all retired along with former Black and Blueshirt Ryan Callahan. Moore last played hockey for Zurich in the Swiss League. Pouliot last played for the Sabres.

Meanwhile, Brassard has been well traveled since his Big Game Brass days on Broadway. He’s now with the Islanders after going from the Senators to Pens to Panthers to Avalanche in very nomadic fashion. Zuccarello went from a rental with the Stars to signing with the Wild. Boyle has been all over the map since he set up Moore for the clinching goal that sent the Rangers to their first Cup Final in 20 years. He played for the Lightning, Maple Leafs, Devils where he became an inspiring story after overcoming Leukemia. Then the Predators and now the Panthers, who he scored his third goal for during Sunday’s 6-5 shootout win over the current Rangers. Yandle is a teammate. McDonagh is a key defenseman on the Lightning. Also a former captain.

To say things have changed would be understating it for the current Blueshirts under second-year coach David Quinn. In rebuild mode during Year Two, they’ve been up and down thus far literally. As the 7-6-2 record indicates, they’re the definition of mediocre. Not to diminish the early positive returns from Artemiy Panarin. It’s a work in progress.

There have been some bright spots over the first 15 games. We’ve seen the improvement of DeAngelo, whose ability to jump into the play and contribute has him ranked ninth among defensemen in scoring with 13 points (5-8-13). A net positive for the 24-year old who came on last season following a number of healthy scratches. He’s now established himself as a trustworthy top four defenseman, who can play the power play. Defense is still an area he must improve on.

He’s far from alone there. Featuring a few first-year players including Adam Fox, Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren on the back end, the Rangers are very young. The offense is coming for Fox, who Gorton wisely acquired the rights to from Carolina for a couple of draft picks. He’s got points in four straight entering tomorrow night’s home match against the Sidney Crosby less Penguins. Of the younger kids, Fox and Lindgren are the steadiest defensemen in their end. Lindgren just recorded his first NHL goal on Sunday. Hajek (2 assists) still is a little inconsistent despite the skating and skill he brings.

The positive side is Quinn is willing to give these guys some rope. That way they can learn from their mistakes. If only that applied to everyone. While we’ve seen 2019 second overall pick Kaapo Kakko start to find his footing with his fourth goal in the 6-5 shootout loss to the Panthers, there’s been nothing for Andersson. The 21-year old center the organization selected as part of the Stepan trade, remains stuck on the fourth line. He hardly plays enough under Quinn, who seems to prefer sophomore pivot Brett Howden. He centers the third line and is way more trusted by the coaching staff.

Nothing against Howden, who had a decent rookie season last year with 23 points (6-17-23) in 66 contests. But what is he? A good skater with a high IQ that allows him to kill penalties, the 21-year old from Calgary receives an average ice time of 15:45 per game. Over that span, he’s even gotten an opportunity to center the second line. A failed experiment that didn’t last long. So far, he has two goals and two assists in 15 games. They’ve treated him fairly.

They haven’t done right by Andersson, who was left answering more questions following yesterday’s match in which he didn’t even receive eight minutes. Quinn said it was just the flow of the game. Kind of a cop out. He’s used that same line before when Andersson doesn’t play enough. It’s a poor excuse. Why does he average 9:54 a night with about two minutes coming on the penalty kill?

What is the plan for Andersson? Is there one? Or is he stuck in a bad numbers game where the organization favors Howden due to trying to justify a trade with the Lightning? You know. The one that sent not only former captain Ryan McDonagh to Tampa, but JT Miller as well. Even if he was redirected to Vancouver, Miller seems to be doing real well in his new home.

The full trade was McDonagh and Miller in exchange for Howden, Hajek, now ex-Ranger Vladislav Namestnikov (Nick Ebert and 2021 4th Rd Pick), 2018 first round pick Nils Lundkvist along with conditional second pick Karl Henriksson, who looks like a steal. Overall, it could turn out to be a good trade in favor of the Blueshirts. Especially if Hajek improves and Howden. But it hinges on prospects Lundkvist and Henriksson. They could have a higher upside.

It’ll be interesting to see how things develop over time. When it comes to rebuilding, patience is required. Here’s the rub. In 81 NHL games, Howden has totaled eight goals and 19 assists for 27 points. That’s almost a full season. He hasn’t improved yet. Not if you’re basing it off what we’ve seen. He certainly works hard enough. But it comes down to production. He is getting every chance by the organization. Notice I didn’t say Quinn. I believe it’s the organization that wants Howden to succeed.

I want every young Ranger to. But not at the expense of Andersson, who they thought was worth taking seventh overall over two years ago. They liked him better than Casey Mittlestadt, who has more of a defined role on the Sabres. Martin Necas, Nick Suzuki and Robert Thomas were all available. Those are players with more skill than Andersson, whose tenacity and leadership qualities the Rangers liked. It’s not like he didn’t have a good World Junior Championship. Or did they forget his six goal, seven point performance to lead Sweden to silver. The medal he chucked over the glass in frustration.

Of course, the Rangers also selected Filip Chytil at number 21 of the same round. A player with a higher ceiling due to his unique combination of skating and uncanny ability to finish. The goal he scored on Sunday where he went around one player and snapped a perfect wrist shot gave him four goals in six games since his recall from Hartford.

While Chytil has looked like a different player after not making the roster out of camp, Andersson can’t escape jail. He remains centering the fourth line which now consists of Greg McKegg and plugger Brendan Smith, who’s been better than expected in a dual role where he doubles as a penalty killing defenseman. Yet people complain about that.

The same way they’re celebrating the demise of Don Cherry, who made an off color remark about wearing a poppy that was misconstrued due to how poorly he worded it in support of Veterans. How ironic that he’d lose his job on Remembrance Day. This is how intolerant society is becoming. I doubt he cares. He’s said far worse and is an 85-year old man, whose dedication to the sport and great Canadian servicemen will continue without hypocrite Ron MacLean and the hideous Sportsnet that caved in to the public outcry.

They should’ve just done it amicably a couple of years ago without it turning into a circus like the basketball team that plays at MSG. That’s my only take on the controversial matter. Things can always be handled better. They just aren’t anymore due to the overly sensitive PC culture on social media. I might be spending less time there.

Regarding Andersson, something has to give. Either they start playing him with better players on at least the third line, or shop him. This disturbing trend can’t continue. He’s being treated with kid gloves. It’s as if he’s never played hockey before. Something he’s done most of his life. This is why I don’t fully trust the Ranger organization when it comes to development. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’ve not only hurt Andersson’s confidence, but his trade value.

Manny Malhotra was handled similarly by a dysfunctional Rangers organization once before becoming a solid NHL player elsewhere. AP Photo via Getty Images

It reminds me of what the awful management did to another high first round pick in Manny Malhotra. He was treated similarly. Even after winning a Calder Cup with Hartford. I bet he couldn’t wait to escape that toxic environment. Even if it took until Dallas moved him to Columbus to get settled into a checking center role where he became a reliable face-off guy and penalty killer, Malhotra turned into a well respected NHL player who went on to a successful career.

History seems to be repeating itself. It really shouldn’t. This is a Rebuild. Andersson deserved to center the third line over Howden based on preseason. Instead, he’s persona non grata. Either play him and see if he can perform or free him from this chaotic madness.

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Game #15: Outclawed by the Panthers in a Texas Holdem style shootout, disappointing Sunday

Ryan Lindgren is pumped up after scoring his first NHL goal. The Rangers lost to the Panthers 6-5 in a crazy game that lacked defense, but had plenty of excitement. AP Photo via New York Rangers courtesy Getty Images

Rather than do a traditional game recap, I’m gonna break down today’s dizzying 6-5 loss to the Panthers in a shootout a bit differently. If you’re a poker fan, then this game was for you.

It felt like a Texas Holdem style shootout that broke out at MSG. Not a hockey game. Both teams threw all their chips in. It was the visitor playing for a second consecutive day that won the pot.

There’ll be no Lou reference from Major League regarding an actual “winning streak.” It didn’t happen for the Rangers, who were just too loose defensively. They played into Florida’s hands by getting into a track meet. To hear David Quinn describe it, he summed it up best.

One thing he said is his team has a lot of scorers. That is true. The problem is you can’t play like that and expect to win. He felt that the defense has been lulled into a false sense of security due to the goaltending of both Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev. Go look at their save percentages. Though Hank’s was hurt by Sunday’s shootout. He entered play with a .921 save percentage despite still being over a 3.00 goals-against-average.

The amount of scoring chances this team gives up is absurd. After having the Hurricanes fire the kitchen sink at Lundqvist, who bailed them out with 45 saves, the Rangers didn’t play well. How can anyone argue? They vacated their assignments and made life difficult again on Hank. He was sharp in a first period that unraveled late. He was making the stops on good Florida shots until the 18-minute mark.

A period that started out promising thanks to a splendid passing play between Artemiy Panarin and Ryan Strome to get rookie Ryan Lindgren his first career NHL goal, became a disappointing one due to a pair of Panthers goals in only a 30-second span. Consecutive goals from Aleksander Barkov and Dominic Toninato (who?) turned a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit after one period of play.

I’m not going to go crazy over Lundqvist finally giving in on a very good Barkov low snipe from the circle. He’s got that kind of talent. That’s five games in a row with a goal for Sasha after not scoring one. He’s a superstar on a good roster that still hasn’t figured out how to play under Joel Quenneville. The goal from Toninato was a total breakdown. They let MacKenzie Weegar and Dryden Hunt (who?) get in on Lundqvist, who went down to make a stop but couldn’t recover on the rebound by Toninato.

It was brutal. Maybe not quite like that disgrace from the Giants that I predicted when everyone had them beating the Jets in the Toilet Bowl. I listened to the radio call from a perplexed Bob Papa and Carl Banks while having the hockey game on mute. That way I could get both of worst best worlds.

I’ll be honest. As fun as it was to watch each team go goal for goal in a second that saw the Blueshirts win the old fashioned shootout 3-2, it was a bit frustrating. Filip Chytil scored a nice goal on a delayed call to tie it up. It was his fourth goal in six games. But a phantom hooking minor on a exasperated Strome, who also took a legit tripping minor in period one, resulted in a pretty play from Jonathan Huberdeau to Barkov to Evgenii Dadonov for a tic-tac toe power play goal that made it 3-2 Panthers. That was the goal of the game.

Then, Brady Skjei skated in and fooled Florida backup Sam Montembeault with a backhand from a crummy angle to tie it again 49 seconds later. A scrap between Greg McKegg and Toninato led to an extra two for roughing on the Panthers forward. A real good power play followed with Tony DeAngelo and Strome combining to set up an open Kaapo Kakko, who wisely skated into space before firing home his fourth at 7:31. It came two minutes after the Skjei goal.

Less than a minute later, the mystifying play continued. The lack of Rangers defense allowed Frank Vatrano to sneak behind and receive a Dadonov pass for a breakaway goal. He went forehand deke and backhand shelf on Lundqvist. As good a move and finish as you can have. Vatrano flies under the radar on that team. He’s good.

At that point, maybe it was due to all the craziness of both the football game on the radio and what felt like the longest period of hockey I’ve ever watched. I turned it off and fell asleep. I just figured both the Giants and Rangers were losing. I knew it. I didn’t miss much.

Chris Kreider scored a power play goal by neatly deflecting in an Adam Fox point shot for a 5-4 lead late in the period. Panarin drew the other assist. That gave him two more points. Both helpers. He’s a point machine. It doesn’t matter who he plays with. That’s why I say keep him with Strome and Jesper Fast whenever Mika Zibanejad returns. Let Kakko and the underrated Brendan Lemieux work with Zibanejad. Lemieux had a tough day. He took two shots on nice diving blocks and was in pain. Also was on for a couple of goals against. The Brett Howden line struggled at even strength. Howden lost 11 of 15 draws.

Speaking of Mika, they insisted it wasn’t a concussion when Patrice Bergeron reverse hit him two weeks ago. Does anyone believe the Rangers? They lie about almost everything when it comes to injuries to players. The timeline is never what it seems. It’s kinda ridiculous. And the NHL allows it. They let teams pull this crap due to the UBI and LBI abbreviations that every fan and reporter knows. It’s complete crap. That’s all I’ll say on that.

In the third, I caught the highlight of old friend Brian Boyle’s goal that forced extras. His third was what else but a good redirection while parked in front of Lundqvist. Keith Yandle took the shot. Boyle did what he does best. A smart signing by the Cats. Boyle also destroyed the Rangers on face-offs going 14-for-17. How dominant was Florida on draws? They embarrassed the Blueshirts by winning a ridiculous 76 percent (41-and-13).

That cannot happen in any game. You lose that amount of face-offs and you’re usually going to lose in regulation. The Rangers got lucky. They faced a bad backup and took advantage to score five times on him. You score that many and you should win. The blame Lundqvist crowd will be out in full force. Go and look at the goals and the highlights. He wasn’t perfect. Neither was Georgiev against Ottawa. But it wasn’t the goalie.

I haven’t even looked at the shootout until now. Vincent Trocheck picked his spot after going in deliberately. He beat Lundqvist glove side with a good shot to win the skill competition in Round Three. Hank allowed two goals on three shots. If you want to criticize him, you can there. Especially against Montembeault.

That’s a game you should win. But until the defense plays better, this is what you’ll continue to get. A mixed bag. And by that, I don’t only mean the six defensemen which apparently were down to five due to Lindgren missing some shifts. But also the forwards.

Don’t believe me? Watch how the Islanders play under Barry Trotz. Nobody says anything about the assistant coach either there. Trotz gets all the credit. This is basically for the Fire Lindy Ruff crowd. Let’s say they do can him. It’s still a young defense. There will still be issues. Anyone who thinks otherwise is out of their mind.

The Rangers got the Pens on Tuesday at home followed by the Florida trip with stops in Tampa Thursday and Florida Saturday. They get a day between each game. That’s not bad. I wonder if Quinn will go back to Georgiev against the Pens. We’ll see.

AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy New York Rangers

Battle Of Hudson 3 🌟

3rd 🌟 Evgenii Dadonov, Panthers (1-2-3, +1 in 19:38)

2nd 🌟 Chris Kreider, Rangers (4th of season on PPG plus 🍎, +2 in 20:28)

1st 🌟 Aleksander Barkov, Panthers (5th of season plus 🍎 in 24:27, 11/15 on draws, 4 shots)

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HARD HITS: How good are the Islanders?

Mat Barzal celebrates a goal in another Islanders win. They’re off to a hot start in Year Two under Barry Trotz. How good are they? AP Photo by Jim McIsaac via Getty Images

It’s Year Two for the Islanders under superb coach Barry Trotz. After surprising many by finishing second in the Metro Division and sweeping the proven Penguins in the first round last season, they’re off to a great start.

Counting Saturday’s 2-1 home win over the Panthers, that’s 11 wins in their last 12 games (11-0-1). Over that span, it included a 10-game win streak that saw the very disciplined and detail oriented Islanders outscore opponents 34-17. In eight victories, they scored at least three goals or more. The only two they didn’t were a 3-2 shootout win and a 1-0 shutout. Nine of the 10 wins saw them allow two goals or fewer.

Even in blowing a three-goal lead in the third period of a disappointing 4-3 overtime loss to the Pens on Thursday, the Isles haven’t lost a game in regulation since Oct. 11 to the Hurricanes by a count of 5-2. By rebounding to another one goal triumph yesterday on goals from Mat Barzal and Scott Mayfield, they showed their resiliency.

All one has to do is take a look at the standings. The Capitals are first in the division and Eastern Conference with 29 points in 18 games. They’re 13-2-3 and look like they’ll be tough to beat. However, so are the Islanders. They’ve played two less games (16). So with a 12-3-1 record, they have 25 points to keep pace with those Caps. The 25 rank second in the East. One ahead of Atlantic Division leader Boston. By comparison, the John Tavares Maple Leafs have 22 in two more games played.

Go look at the Isles goal differential and how many they allow. While the Leafs are just plus-three (60 GF, 57 GA), the Islanders are plus-14 (49 GF, 35 GA) to rank third with the Pens behind the Caps (+19) and Bruins (+18). Similar to last year, the Islanders are tops in goals against per game with a 2.19 average allowed. They’ve permitted a league low 23 goals at five-on-five.

The interesting aspect is Trotz’s club can get better on special teams. They rank seventh in penalty killing at 85.1 percent while scoring three shorthanded goals. The power play is a different story. The Isles rank 19th overall clicking at 17.9 percent (5-for-28). That includes a dreadful 1-for-18 (5.6 percent) at home. Even though they haven’t played much on the road, they’re 4-for-10 for 40.0 percent in five matches away. That might help explain their 4-1-0 road record.

For the most part, the Islanders have fared well despite having two home rinks. Even with them playing more games so far at NYCB Live Nassau Coliseum, they’re a combined 8-2-1 in the 11 home games played. All they do is win no matter what. Drake would be proud. We kid.

The question is how good are the Islanders. Well, when you look at the play in front of goalie tandem Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov, they’re getting the job done. In his ninth game (eighth start), Greiss made 37 saves while allowing only one goal to Aleksander Barkov. He’s won his last six decisions while permitting just 10 goals on 192 shots (.948 save percentage). That translates to a 1.67 goals-against-average (GAA).

Varlamov has been almost as good. He was a controversial signing by GM Lou Lamoriello due to replacing popular goalie Robin Lehner, who’s been putting up similar numbers on a worse Blackhawks team. They justified the move due to wanting to have the veteran Russian around to tutor top goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin. A third round draft pick in the 2014 NHL Draft taken number 78, he continues to excel for CSKA Moscow in the KHL. The 24-year old Sorokin has posted four shutouts and a 10-3-2 record, 1.24 GAA and .948 save percentage this season.

Prior to allowing four goals to the Pens in the third period and overtime, Varlamov had won five straight starts. That included a 27 save shutout over Buffalo on Nov. 2. Overall, he’s 5-2-1 with a 2.37 GAA and .928 save percentage. Solid numbers for the 31-year old veteran.

Even though they give up a lot of shots against per game (32.1) to rank 13th overall, neither goalie is complaining. That’s largely due to the Trotz system. If last year felt like a crash course in adjusting to go from the worst defensive team to the league’s best, then this time around the Isles are a well oiled machine. They’re so disciplined in how they play by limiting opponents’ chances to the outside. When they do give up a quality one, both Greiss and Varlamov are there more often than not to shut it down.

The neutral zone is like a maze for opponents to get through. They make it hard by clogging up the middle and taking away areas to skate into open space while being diligent defensively. You’re not getting too many free passes or easy access into the Isles zone. That’s a credit to how tough they are under Trotz. It’s not much different from how the old style 90’s Devils teams played under Jacques Lemaire. While it can be sleep inducing for foes, it’s very effective.

Let’s put it this way. Leading scorer Barzal ranks 56th among NHL skaters with 14 points (7-7-14). He’s the only New York Islander in the top 85. Josh Bailey is 86th with a dozen points (6-6-12). However, if you can hold opponents down the way they have, you don’t need to score as many goals to be successful. Note also that Barzal is picking up key goals and assists while being responsible defensively. He’s a plus-12.

When your best player is buying in, that bodes well. The great thing about the Isles is everyone gets a chance to be a hero. Even Cole Bardreau, who scored on a penalty shot in a recent win. He just got sent back down to Bridgeport, but that one goal will always be a special moment. That in a nutshell is this team. Jordan Eberle just returned yesterday and his one highlight was playing goalie for Greiss by making a diving save to prevent a goal. Not known for his defense, it was no problem for Eberle.

Since they’re so good at even strength, most of the roster is full of pluses. Only Bardreau (-1), Tom Kuhnackl (-1) and rookie Oliver Wahlstrom (-2) have minuses. Even Derick Brassard has been revitalized. Playing under Trotz, the former Ranger playoff hero has five goals and three assists. That included a recent five-game goal streak in which he went 5-1-6 and plus-six. Seven of his eight points have come since Oct. 24. Maybe there’s still hope for Big Game Brass, who was signed as a replacement for Valtteri Filppula.

You know what you’re going to get from vets Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Anthony Beauvillier, Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin, who remains out with an injury. However, it’s the continued evolvement of the defense led by sophomore Devon Toews (2-8-10) that’s making a difference. Adam Pelech and Mayfield continue to improve along with shutdown right defenseman Ryan Pulock. Vets Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy remain dependable while Trotz works in first round pick Noah Dobson. His development is a key moving forward.

So, can a good team with solid structure go deep in the playoffs? It’s hard to say. They don’t win with skill, but rather with will. There’s a lot of grit and determination to these Islanders. They’re the sum of its parts. Once, former Ranger coach Colin Campbell called the Devils a flock of interchangable parts. Or something to that effect. It was viewed as disrespectful. The funny part is it wasn’t. He was praising how well each player fit into their roles. It’s similar with the Trotz Isles.

I’m not ready to make any crazy prognostications. I didn’t even have them in the playoffs again. Let’s also remember that we haven’t reached the quarter mark yet. As good as they are right now, it’s too early to say for sure where they’ll be in a few months.

I still believe you need a bit more skill to be successful in the postseason. No disrespect to what they’ve accomplished. If they are indeed in the playoffs again, Lamoriello should do everything in his power to make a big trade that can ultimately make a difference. It’s very hard to sustain this level by outworking opponents when the competition picks up. That can work in the regular season.

I’m not sold on three rounds of the playoffs just to reach the Stanley Cup Final. The John Tortorella ’11-12 Rangers squeezed every ounce and they had considerably more talent before losing to the Devils in the Eastern Conference Final.

BODY CHECKS:

How much longer until the Devils pull the plug on coach John Hynes? They take two steps forward with good road wins in Carolina and Winnipeg. Then lose by a combined score of 9-2 to the Flames and Oilers in a failed tour of Alberta. What if they lose the final game of the Western Canadian swing in Vancouver later today?

Cory Schneider looks done. It’s a real shame. But the injuries have reduced him to a backup role behind second-year goalie Mackenzie Blackwood. Schneider’s lateral movement isn’t as good side to side which explains why he allows questionable goals. He’s a good team guy who’s always at his locker win or lose. It’s gotta be tough.

If you’re building a franchise, choose one player not named Connor McDavid.

A. Leon Draisaitl

B. Nathan MacKinnon

C. David Pastrnak

D. Elias Petterson

I only included Petterson because he’s proving already that his Calder season wasn’t a fluke. He’s over a point-per-game and is the focal point of an improved Canucks that also features captain Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes and goalie tandem Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko.

JT Miller seems to be fitting into Travis Green’s system so eight goals and 10 helpers with three power play goals by being the net front presence. Why didn’t he have that role in Tampa?

As great as Pastrnak is with his league-leading 15 goals, nine power play goals and 30 points which ties with Draisaitl for first in the scoring race, sidekick Brad Marchand remains a must watch player on that dominant top line with Patrice Bergeron in Boston. So low to gravity is the Rat that he’s nearly impossible to check and is the straw that stirs the drink. As his 10 markers, 18 helpers, 28 points, three game-winners with 35 penalty minutes prove, he’s a royal pain in the ass. And one of the game’s best players.

When I wrote a post devoted to Marchand for Hart a couple of years ago, I wasn’t kidding. Too bad he’ll never be popular enough with writers who despise his antics yet have no problem with rating MVP Nikita Kucherov continuing to deliver controversial hits like the low bridge he had that injured Sabres forward Vladimir Sobotka in Sweden. Hypocrisy, much?

If you haven’t already, do yourselves a favor and see The Russian Five movie that recently aired on NBCSN following Wednesday Night Hockey between the Rangers and Red Wings. What an emotional and uplifting tale it is of Russians Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, Sergei Fedorov, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Vladimir Konstantinov, whose injury in a limo following Detroit’s first Stanley Cup victory in 42 years, ended his hockey career. As they retell and I recall, it motivated the Red Wings to repeat as champs with a teary eyed ending following a sweep of the Caps turning into the emotional moment of Konstantinov being wheeled out with the Cup. It’s still one of those moments that gives fans chills. The whole two hour movie is done so well. It sure takes me back to a different time.

For my money, the Hart season Fedorov put together in ’93-94 where he was at the pinnacle going 56-64-120, remains the best ever season by a Russian hockey player. He led the league with 39 even strength goals while adding another 42 assists at even strength, totaling 81 ES points. He added 13 power play goals, four shorthanded and 10 game-winning goals. Number 91 was all world firing 337 shots and going plus-48 to win the Selke while sweeping the Hart and Pearson elected by the players. He was special.

John Carlson leads all defensemen with 28 points (10-18-28), turning it into a video game. This is the way it once was for Paul Coffey, who only played with some of the all-time greats with Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and then Detroit. His 28 points are 10 clear of Dougie Hamilton and 11 up on Roman Josi and Calder leader Cale Makar.

Erik Karlsson is minus-11 with a goal and 10 apples in Year One of that big new contract in San Jose. The injuries have taken a toll on the old 29-year old defenseman with a high pain threshold. It’s too bad he’s struggling so mightily. We called it. Teammate Brent Burns is not much better either with a minus-11 despite 16 points (3-13-16). No wonder the Sharks are where they are.

The Leafs remain a good team that’s flawed. Despite all their insane talent, they give up almost as many goals as they score. They added Tyson Barrie in an offseason trade with the Avalanche to improve the defense. However, Mike Babcock hasn’t figured out how to utilize him. Morgan Rielly puts up all the points from the blueline still. Mystifying.

At some point, Sergei Bobrovsky is gonna turn it around with Florida. He’s too good a netminder for this to continue. They’re winning in spite of him. Joel Quenneville is one of the best coaches. He’ll reel it in.

If both Ryan Strome and Tony DeAngelo continue producing, how do the Rangers not extend both? They’re part of the team’s early success. Neither is old. There’s nothing wrong with keeping good players to move your rebuild in the right direction.

I found it fascinating how Alexei Kovalev critiqued how he was handled by the Rangers. Especially in the short-lived second go round when Glen Sather acquired him back from Pittsburgh. Somehow, he was misused by playing out of position as a left wing instead of his normal right wing. He also wasn’t utilized properly on the power play. Funny. But even when they were making the playoffs under Alain Vigneault, he misused Eric Staal similarly. Hockey’s Different Here!

For more on Kovalev and Fedorov, go follow Gillian Kemmerer on Twitter @gilliankemmerer. She had two great interviews with each. Kovalev’s can be found here.

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Staal to miss at least two weeks due to ankle procedure, a message for misguided fans

When coach David Quinn indicated to reporters that some players were ‘banged up,’ he wasn’t kidding. Apparently, Marc Staal was one of those players. The veteran defenseman had minor surgery to repair an ankle infection that stemmed from what else but a blocked shot.

Staal will be out at least two weeks before being reevaluated. With a game tomorrow against the Panthers, the Rangers haven’t announced if they’re recalling someone. They’ll have to wait until later with Hartford playing Belleville tonight.

Of course, Quinn can always shift Brendan Smith back to his original position if someone has to come out of the lineup. Smith plays forward on the fourth line while working double duty as a defenseman on the penalty kill. For now, Brady Skjei will come back in tomorrow after sitting out his first game. We’ll see how he responds.

With Ryan Lindgren not giving the coach a reason to take him out, it’s a good bet that we’ll see a defense of Libor Hajek, Jacob Trouba, Skjei, Tony DeAngelo, Lindgren and Adam Fox. This is a opportunity to find out more about the younger blueline with Staal out. We’ll see how they do.

As for Staal, it just proves how misguided some of the fanbase can be. There are fools celebrating his injury because he’s not the same player he was. I’m not sure if they noticed. But the team won the last two games with Staal in the lineup. To be fair, that included Henrik Lundqvist making 45 saves at Carolina the other day.

The point is no matter what you feel for Staal, who’s only given his blood and guts for 13 years, being happy when a player is hurt is wrong. It’s classless and trashy. Childish behavior that’s been promoted in other spaces. The less said about it the better.

Given how hard Staal plays, it’s not a surprise that he played hurt. So too did former teammate Dan Girardi with an ankle that looked like a balloon under Alain Vigneault. The things heart and soul guys do to play is crazy. That’s the mentality of hockey players. They will play through pain. Not take games off for aches and pains like NBA superstars.

That’s why Staal has my respect. If you’re upset about the contract, take it out on Glen Sather. He also overpaid Lundqvist. That hasn’t helped either. For those celebrating his great game, remember one thing. He’s done it before the past couple of seasons. The key is being able to sustain it. The defense isn’t changing for him or Alexandar Georgiev. Neither are the forwards, who aren’t always in the right spot.

Good defense is about all five players. Not just the two defensemen as some would have you believe. Will they have more inconsistent performances that tax the goalies? Probably. At least number 18 won’t be blamed.

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Wheels come off in Alberta

Instead of the winning streak clip from Major League, I get to post this one after the last two games – and really 90% of this season.  I wanted to post the Japanese gardner ‘they’re still ****ty’ clip from Major League but had to opt for this cause this is a family blog after all and I couldn’t post an open swear word.  Unfortunately both sentiments apply to this current Devils team, which after flirting with NHL .500 came crashing back down to reality with two losses in Alberta to Calgary and Edmonton by a combined 9-2 score.  Now the Devils sit seemingly too far out of the playoff race to matter after just four wins in their first fifteen games.  Already – in early November.

A road trip that got off to a surprisingly good start in Carolina and Winnipeg hit a pothole almost from the moment they went up 2-1 in Calgary and proceeded to give up eight straight goals after that – four against the Flames, and four in a loss to the Oilers.  Even worse, this loser team tried to sell all the golden oldies of moral victory lines…we played well, it wasn’t as bad as the score indicated, yadda yadda yadda.  Hogwash.  Moral victories are for losers, and that’s what this team and this organization is right now.  Losers.  Just like the Oilers used to be (especially when Taylor Hall was there), always waiting for the next lottery to fix their problems.

To beat a dead horse even more, the staff’s problems with lineup decisions and tactics are one thing but both this general acceptance of losing and the lack of fight in the room to push back against it speaks to lack of leadership both from coaching and players.  When arguably one of your three best players this season (Sami Vatanen) gets elbowed and concussed out of the game in the first period with yet another cheap shot – reminiscent of Nikita Kucherov in the playoffs who gave Vatanen the first of a now-series of concussions with another bad elbow – and there’s no response to it at any point in the game don’t tell me about how well you played or how you deserved better from a 4-0 loss where you were outshot in the game and in the third period while trailing big.

All these games are just running together, so don’t expect many recaps going forward at this rate unless things start to change.  This feels like one clip from Major League I can post:

Honestly I do have to give the NHL (or the Devils) credit on one aspect…the time for games on this trip really hasn’t been prohibitive for East Coast fans watching.  Usually a West Coast trip has a ton of 10 and 10:30 starts on weeknights where I couldn’t even watch in the first place but in theory I could have watched any game on this trip, the Jets game started at 8 PM on Tuesday and both the Alberta games started at 9.  Notice I said could have.  This team just isn’t doing enough for me to bother with any game I’m not stuck going to.  Even after the two wins I had a feeling they’d hit the skids in Calgary so I didn’t bother watching.  I was going to watch last night except it was Cory Schneider’s turn to play which usually is an automatic loss, and sure enough that was the case again.  Not that it would have mattered who played when you get shut out by the immortal Mikko Koskinen.

Still, how can I think this is getting any better anytime soon?  Especially since it needs to get better soon to save the season before we start to sell our free agents (and that means Hall, Vatanen assuming he’s not out forever, and maybe even captain Andy Greene).  Perhaps the only noteworthy thing of the last few days is Shero met with Hall’s agent in Calgary over pizza.  However with the more the team loses, I’m that much more ambivalent over giving Hall what he wants long-term.  Sure he’s putting up points via the assist but he hasn’t really scored a lot of goals yet and he’s had some scary moments like a some turnovers and penalties in Calgary that led directly to two goals.  Maybe he was affected by whatever happened – or didn’t – in contract talks.  Or maybe he’s just checked out of what seems to be yet another losing season.

Not to mention if Hall thinks the fans were rough on him before, wait till the team comes back off the trip further buried in the standings with just four wins in their first fifteen games.  Every fanbase and locker room wants to keep up hope but really, where is it at this moment?  Let’s say 95 points winds up being the playoff marker for the last wild card which is actually slightly under where it’s been the last couple years in the East, the Devils would need 83 points in their last 67 games (sixteen games over .500 if you’re counting) just to hit THAT marker.  This team is going to play sixteen games over .500 with no coaching, their best defenseman out indefinitely – and yes the fact Vatanen has been the best defenseman is a problem considering P.K. Subban is still in the room, no locker room leadership and a so-called leader who’s more worried about what the home fans are doing than what the rest of the team is?  Not bloody likely.

And I’m sorry, people want to give GM Ray Shero a pass but he’s had five years now and has stuck with the same failed staff despite all the evidence that the coach cannot get this team out of a hole.  Our two best seasons under Hynes – his first year and the playoff season – we got off to great early starts, but once adversity hits we never respond.  Shero’s acquisitions (such as Marcus Johansson two years ago or Nikita Gusev now) look good on paper but don’t always work out.  There hasn’t been enough time to see whether most of the Shero and Paul Castron draftees are going to be viable NHL players, though Ty Smith not making this year’s team certainly put us behind the eight-ball organizationally.  With Connor Carrick injured and Mirco Mueller not ‘pushing the puck’ enough for this staff (i.e. actually caring about defense), we’ve been playing an AHL fodder guy in Matt Tennyson, and just when we’d finally got him out of the lineup for Mueller, Vatanen’s injury pushes Tennyson right back into the lineup giving up goals left and right because he pushes play at all the wrong times.

If you want me to believe something’s going to change, then something better change and I don’t just mean IR’ing Cory for the immortal Louis Domingue hoping he can put up a 2018 Kinkaid-like stretch.  You can’t just keep banging your head into a wall with the same personnel and same ‘tactics’ with no plan B to get around or through it.

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A scoring change on Buchnevich goal

After further review, the NHL made a scoring change to the goal Pavel Buchnevich scored during last night’s 4-2 Rangers win over the Hurricanes. What looked like the right wing’s third goal of the season on a great individual effort, will now be credited to teammate Filip Chytil.

So, the goal should now read Chytil with his third from Buchnevich at 1:15 of the third period. That goal made the score 3-1 and proved to be the game-winner. Here’s another look at it.

It’s still hard to tell. One angle makes it look like Chytil got a piece of it as Buchnevich released the backhand around Petr Mrazek. The other seems to indicate that it wasn’t touched at the conclusion. Who knows. It might be one of those goals that gets changed again.

For now, give Buchnevich another assist. He leads the Rangers with 10. That gives him twelve points (2-10-12). It’s still four points over the last two. Just all assists.

Chytil gets goal number three since his recall. That’s three in five games.

It doesn’t change anything. The outcome was still 4-2 in favor of the Rangers due in large part to Henrik Lundqvist (45 saves). He’ll be in net Sunday for sure when the Panthers visit MSG for a odd timed 1 PM matinee.

Why would the schedule makers do that? Granted. The Giants and Jets are both miserable. But they play the same time. Strange.

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Game #14 Lundqvist turns back the clock to highlight good win at Hurricanes

Brendan Smith shares a smile with winning goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was brilliant making 45 saves for a Rangers 4-2 win over the Hurricanes. AP Photo by Gregg Forwerck via Getty Images

This was a throwback performance. A blast from the past. Henrik Lundqvist reminded even the harshest skeptics that he can still steal a game. He was remarkable really in stopping all 22 shots during a lopsided first period against a good team. The end result was a 45 save night that sparked the Rangers past the Hurricanes 4-2 in Raleigh.

Making his second consecutive start following a strong game against the Red Wings, Lundqvist rewarded David Quinn with the kind of goaltending we saw during his peak. He was in a zone all night. Never more so than the first which saw Carolina attack at from all angles. Boosted by two power plays, they turned the Rangers end into a shooting gallery. However, despite a wide edge in play that included a 22-6 advantage in shots and a ridiculous attempts margin of like 30-8, they couldn’t beat Lundqvist.

As usually happens when a team is dominating play and runs into a hot goalie, it’s the opponent that scores. Give Joe Micheletti credit for calling it. After a barrage of miraculous stops from a locked in Lundqvist, Ryan Strome found Artemiy Panarin open in the slot for his eighth to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Jesper Fast’s hustle behind the net set the play up. Strome was able to center for Panarin, who was left unchecked by Dougie Hamilton for the all important first goal.

Speaking of Panarin, I want to single him out. He signed a huge deal with the Rangers worth an average cap hit of $11.6 million. The recently turned 28-year old Russian scoring forward has been brilliant so far. With a goal and assist, he extended his point streak to seven. Over that span, the Bread Man has lived up to his name by pumping in four goals and six helpers for 10 points. He hasn’t missed a beat without Mika Zibanejad. They’d already been split up at five-on-five.

Now, Panarin has formed good chemistry with Strome, who’s proving capable of filling the void. His primary assist gave him a dozen points (5-7-12) in the last nine games. He’s exactly a point-per-game with 14 in 14 games. Given how well they’ve played together along with complement Fast, why break them up? That’s a question better asked for Quinn whenever Zibanejad returns. The Rangers don’t play again until Sunday afternoon against the Panthers.

If you want to pay homage to how well Lundqvist played, you also have to say that Quinn made some good changes for tonight. In finally sitting out defenseman Brady Skjei, who’s not been up to speed, he has again proven that it doesn’t matter what your salary is. If you aren’t going, you will sit. I wonder if Skjei will ever get it. By that, I mean become the player management thinks he can be. They invested $5.3 million AAV. I would expect him to be back on Sunday. But if he is, who comes out?

By reinserting rookie Ryan Lindgren, who worked with Adam Fox on the third pair, Quinn had Marc Staal with Tony DeAngelo while Libor Hajek remained alongside Jacob Trouba. It would be completely honest to admit the defense struggled mightily. You cannot get outshot like they did and expect to win consistently. After being outshot 22-6 in the first, they picked it up and competed harder. The Rangers were outshot 25-13 the rest of the way. For the game, they were out-attempted 90-38.

So, before we get too excited over a second win in a row, let’s keep it in perspective. This cannot be a repeat against the equally dangerous Panthers this weekend. A team that can explode due to their elite talent. However, as evidenced in a 5-4 overtime loss to Alex Ovechkin and the Caps, defense is still an issue under veteran coach Joel Quenneville. Florida will be on the heels of a back-to-back due to visiting the Islanders on Saturday. That should be interesting.

For so long, Quinn has continued to shuffle his lines. However, he seems to have settled on some combos that are gelling. Not only the Panarin, Strome, Fast line. But there is a lot of chemistry between Filip Chytil and Pavel Buchnevich, who had a second straight good game by notching his third goal and adding a helper. That gives him four points in two games. He set up Chris Kreider the night before. I really like what I see from that trio. They definitely are bringing the speed and forecheck. Keep them together.

That also goes for the suddenly effective third line of Brett Howden, Brendan Lemieux and improving rookie Kaapo Kakko. For all the gripes over Kakko staying on the third line, he’s excelled there by improving his forecheck to create offense. He’s also getting better defensively. Kakko is competing harder by using his size and strength. He’s been throwing the weight around too. That’s what you want to see. Even though he didn’t hit the score sheet, he was very good throughout. In 13:53, Kakko led the team in shots (4) while drawing a minor penalty on Brett Pesce, and helping to create an empty net goal for Fox that sealed the victory.

What happens when Zibanejad is ready? I would seriously think about having Kakko and suddenly effective deterrent Lemieux move up to play on that line. That way the other two lines stay intact. Lemieux seems to make things happen. He creates space and is a distraction. He had a very strong game drawing a penalty and finally getting rewarded for his hard work with a power play goal on a nice redirection of a Tony DeAngelo shot that made it 2-1 at 18:04 of the second period.

That was a great response to Hamilton tying the game by going to the front and deflecting in a point shot from D partner Jaccob Slavin 3:32 earlier. Hamilton has seven goals and plays like more of a forward than defenseman. He is very good offensively. A perfect fit in coach Rod Brind’Amour’s system.

The crazy aspect is that for all the point blank chances they got that a quick Lundqvist shutdown, it took a subtle play for the Canes to get on the board. The Blueshirts had the hot goalie. That was enough to in Lemieux’s words to MSG’s Dave Maloney between periods, “Steal it.”

Aside from an outstanding individual effort from Buchnevich in which he finished a check to steal the puck and then took it hard to the net for a backhand and in with Chytil in front of Petr Mrazek at 1:15, the Rangers relied on better attention to detail to earn the win. They’re now 5-4-1 versus teams over .500. They’ve also beaten Winnipeg, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Nashville. They’re only 2-2-0 against losing teams.

For a while, it looked like the 3-1 lead would hold. However, a fluke goal from Carolina captain Sebastian Aho that went off a Ranger got past Lundqvist to cut the deficit to one with 4:02.

They never panicked. Some good forecheck shifts allowed them to kill time. After Mrazek was pulled with over two minutes remaining, the Rangers were smart defensively. Particularly after clearing their end. They were tough in the neutral zone and used good team speed to force turnovers. Both an active Kakko and Panarin applied pressure until the puck was coughed up.

Fox ended matters with his second against the team he was acquired from with 1:25 left. He gets better all the time. So does DeAngelo. Those have been the best defensemen.

This was a good win. We’ll see if they can make it three and get that “winning streak.”

Battle Of Hudson 3 🌟:

3rd 🌟 Artemiy Panarin, Rangers (team-leading 8th plus 🍎, +1 in 18:11, leading scorer with 8-8-16 in 14 GP)

2nd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers (3rd of season plus 🍎, +1 in 17:20, 1-3-4 over last 2 GP)

1st 🌟 Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (45 saves including 22 of 22 in a chaotic 1st, the best game he’s played in two years)

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