Gauthier and Lafreniere turn the lights out to ruin Bruins’ Black Friday, Hunt makes an impact, Goodrow goes after McAvoy for dirty slew foot on Rooney, Marchand Panarin nonsense

Finally, the Rangers beat the Bruins in the traditional Black Friday match-up. Thanks to large contributions from their secondary players, they got the better of the bitter B’s defeating them 5-2 at TD Garden this afternoon.

It was enjoyable to watch them take apart the Bruins in a dominant third period. The latest win again saw the Rangers’ improved depth flex their muscles. No. Not Ryan Reaves. Instead, the key players were Julien Gauthier, Dryden Hunt and Alexis Lafreniere. They were directly involved in four of the team’s five goals including Artemi Panarin’s game-winner and a big insurance marker that finished off the punchless Bruins.

On a day where Igor Shesterkin was quite busy in a lopsided first period where he made half his 34 saves, the Rangers had the right response. After being outshot 17-5, they dictated the action by outshooting Boston 26-19 the rest of the way. That included a stronger second where they held the edge in shots, 19-12. Even though shots were even in the final stanza, it was misleading.

It was Gerard Gallant who got the best out of the match-ups in the deciding third. Not only did his recent move of Hunt pay dividends with a goal and assist. A key tweak in that final period results in the Panarin winner. Maybe it was a hunch. If it were, Turk’s instinct proved correct.

On a key shift that began in transition, Ryan Strome made a tough pass across for Gauthier, who was able to control the puck in his skate. In one sweeping motion, he made a perfect feed in front for a Panarin goal with 8:25 left. Had it been Hunt on the right side, that play never happens because he’s a left shot. Something Ray Ferraro alluded to during the NHL On ABC broadcast. It marked the first game on the network since 2004.

Less than five minutes later, Adam Fox sent Gauthier past a pinching Bruins defenseman on a two-on-one with Lafreniere. He used good patience waiting for the lone defenseman back to commit before sending the puck across for a quick Lafreniere snapshot past losing Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman (4 goals allowed on 30 shots). The goal was his first in five games. All five of his goals have come at even strength. That’s tied with Kevin Rooney for second behind team leader Chris Kreider, who has six.

Lafreniere’s fifth of the season made it 4-2 with 3:38 remaining. With how well Shesterkin is playing, that lead was insurmountable. Especially with how he denied them earlier in the contest. The Bruins aren’t exactly the Oilers. They rely too much on the Perfection Line. The trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak struck once in the second off a face-off.

That remains an issue for the Blueshirts. At some point, Chris Drury will have to address it. You can’t lose critical draws and be successful in the playoffs. No. It’s not too early anymore to talk about it. If they keep winning games, that’s where they’re headed. I’m going to remind everyone it’s only Game 20. They play in a tough division. With 52 games left, there’s still plenty of work to do. But you have to like where they are. A 13-4-3 record with 29 points is the ideal start for a team that hasn’t qualified for a true postseason since ’16-17.

The real positive out of the first quarter is how Gallant has gotten the depth players to contribute. It’s been the play of the bottom six forwards who have made a difference. We saw the other night what a true fourth line can do. Amazing what happens when the GM actually acquires gritty, high character players to fill that void. Isn’t it?

Ditto for the new coach realizing the chemistry the third line has. It took an injury to Sammy Blais to keep Gauthier in the lineup. It looks like he has a permanent spot. With two assists to set up the game’s biggest goals, the 24-year old former ’16 Carolina first round pick is blossoming before our eyes. He’s playing with much more confidence. Isn’t it astonishing what happens when an actual NHL coach keeps a line intact and doesn’t punish a young player for a mistake?

Who had Rooney and Lafreniere with more goals at this point than Mika Zibanejad? Who thought this team could win games without either Zibanejad or Panarin playing their best hockey? It’s almost like all the overreaction to the Pavel Buchnevich trade was just that. While he’s having success for the Blues which is nice, the team isn’t hurting. Adding Barclay Goodrow, Reaves and Hunt has had a positive effect. Blais had four assists before the ACL tear ended his season. They’ll probably make a move at some point if it’s needed.

As vocal a critic as I’ve been on Vitali Kravtsov, who scored number five for Traktor on Friday night in Russia, there’s no rush. If they can repair the relationship, so be it. There’s no reason to worry about that now. At the moment, the Rangers are paying good hockey. Believe it or not, it can be enjoyed without fancy stats like “expected goals.”

The only area that concerns me is winning face-offs. On that front, the Rangers didn’t get creamed in the circle. They won 24 and lost 32 to a good team on draws. That’s respectable. Bergeron did the most damage going 14-and-8. Zibanejad went 8-and-10 while Strome lost 6 of 8. It was actually Chytil (6-4), who was their best. He’s still got a way to go, but there’s been some progress.

In a first largely controlled by Boston, Shesterkin was under siege. At one point, to the shots were 17-3. That included the unassisted goal from Craig Smith. A play in which he undressed Jacob Trouba by skating around him and sniping his second past Shesterkin. Obviously, we’ve seen Trouba get beat one-on-one before. That’s an area he must clean up. Outside of that, he’s playing better than his first two seasons.

If they could’ve increased their lead on consecutive power plays, the Bruins might’ve had a different end result. Instead, the Rangers got key saves from Shesterkin, who was their best penalty killer. Sometimes, you need your goalie to bail out teammates. In this case, Chris Kreider and Fox. Boston went 0-for-3 on the man-advantage. Shesterkin stopped all eight power play shots. That wins in this league.

Having established nothing, the Rangers got a huge boost thanks to Strome scoring a late goal to tie the game with just 5.8 seconds remaining in the period. On a Hunt forecheck, he passed for Panarin, who quickly made a great pass for an open Strome who buried the opportunity at 19:54. Strome pumped his fist after it. He doesn’t score many because he’s primarily a pass first center. But it was good to see him get one. His third of the season proved critical. It gave them a lift.

Speaking of Strome, he’s been on a major roll lately. With a goal and assist, he increased his point streak to eight (2-8-10). Since the beginning of November, the key second center has 12 points (2-10-12) over his last 11 games. He’s only been held without a point once. The Calgary debacle on Nov. 2.

In the second, it was the Bruins who retook the lead thanks to what else but a face-off win from Bergeron. On a defensive draw, the fourth line was out. Unfortunately, Rooney was no match. Bergeron easily won it back to Marchand. He passed to a pinching Matt Grzelcyk, who easily found an isolated Bergeron for the finish at 6:51. Trouba moved over to play a different man. But K’Andre Miller didn’t switch. The Rangers trailed by a goal.

Despite being down for a second time, the Blueshirts picked it up. They applied pressure on a fragile Boston defense that isn’t that good. A stronger cycle allowed Hunt to score his second goal over the last four games. A Fox pass across for a low Ryan Lindgren shot rebounded off Swayman right to Hunt who slammed home the tying goal at 12:33. A simple yet effective play worked because the gritty Hunt went to the net.

On a good rush, Kaapo Kakko had Zibanejad for what looked like the go-ahead goal. But Swayman dove across to get the shaft of his goalie stick on the shot to rob Zibanejad. It was the save of the game. I know a few critiqued him for not burying the chance. But how about giving credit to the rookie goalie. It was a great save. If it was Shesterkin, our fans would be on their hands and knees.

A Panarin hi-sticking minor on Pastrnak off a neutral zone face-off handed the Bruins another power play. But they failed to capitalize. The score remained tied at two as the teams skated to their respective locker rooms. I felt pretty good about their chances.

The third was predictably tighter. There weren’t as many shots with each side getting seven through. Most intriguing was a play Kreider tried behind the Boston net. After receiving the puck from Kakko on the forecheck, he actually tried the Andrei Svechnikov lacrosse move. It nearly worked. Kreider thought he’d scored. He began celebrating to the puzzlement of both Sean McDonough and Ferraro. The play was reviewed. It clearly showed Kreider’s lacrosse attempt go off both goalposts and stay out. It was pretty close. That shows you where his confidence level is.

By that point, I was confident they’d get the next goal and finally win one of these cockamamie games. Sure enough, Gallant stuck Gauthier out with Strome and Panarin. The play he made to handle a Strome pass that handcuffed him was terrific. Somehow, he made the adjustment and sent a perfect feed for Panarin to hunt in with 8:25 to go. Splendid artistry.

Less than five minutes later, the third line struck. A Fox outlet trapped a Bruin to send Gauthier in two-on-one where he found Lafreniere who whipped a laser top shelf for a two-goal lead at 16:22. One thing about the former 2020 top pick. If he gets a great chance, he knows what to do with it. He was proven right in that fun postgame interview on his line. They got one to help salt the game away.

Leave it to the Bruins to muck it up late. On what was an absolutely reckless play, top defenseman Charlie McAvoy stuck his leg out and took out Rooney. That created an immediate response from Fox, who gave McAvoy a cross check. Barclay Goodrow responded with a two-hander that got called. McAvoy went for tripping and Goodrow for cross-checking with under a minute left.

My issue is it was dirty and dangerous. This was another example of a slew foot. McAvoy was caught out of position and took down Rooney illegally. They already lost one player for the year on such a cheap play. Not as if the damn league cares. They’re too busy going after other guys who don’t have a history such as Kevin Labanc. Where’s the consistency? Any slew foot should be an automatic review by the Department of Player Safety. No more of this garbage.

I don’t think McAvoy is that kind of player. Maybe the game situation was part of his frustration. But he must have a hearing. It would be a joke if he doesn’t get a phone call for that crap. That has no place in hockey. They talk the talk about cleaning up the sport. How about walking the walk for a change.

At least Trouba scored into an open net from his own zone to put the final nail in the coffin. Screw Boston! It’s too bad we can’t get another piece of this overrated team until next April 23-24. How ridiculous is that. Who do they have scheduling these games? A clown. But don’t worry. You’ll get to see our team play the Blackhawks twice a week apart soon. The schedule is a joke.

One quick comment on the shenanigans between Marchand and Panarin. Why did he even respond to him? Throwing a glove at Marchand while on the bench is stupid. It makes him look juvenile. Point to the scoreboard. The overreaction that’s receiving is typical of how everything is covered. Marchand got what he wanted. A response. That’s why he’s The Rat. His commentary on it was funny. Anyone going nuts over this needs their head examined.

I saw someone Retweet some expected nonsense. Those are fake statistics that don’t matter. If you can’t enjoy what this team is doing, you’re in the wrong line of work. I’m very happy with the Rangers. Now come the woeful Islanders. Losers of eight straight. They’ll get some players back for Sunday. So, I expect it to be more interesting. Bottom line. Send them home empty-handed.

THREE STARS ✨ OF GAME

3rd ⭐ Alexis Lafreniere, NYR (5th goal of season for key insurance)

2nd ⭐ Julien Gauthier, NYR (2 assists including the primary on Panarin’s game-winner)

1st ⭐ Dryden Hunt, NYR (2nd goal of season and an assist)

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Giving Thanks For Hockey

What are we thankful for? That’s always the question every Thanksgiving holiday season.

Honestly, I feel this should be asked everyday. When I reflect back to all the wonderful times shared and special moments spent with family and friends, it’s all about the little things.

That’s what I appreciate most. Knowing I have a loving mother and father along with the best brother anyone could ever ask for. The Inner Circle that mean so much to me. Whether in person or online that I’ve met or even reconnected with, that truly matters.

If you don’t realize that, it’s not too late to. I always think about that heavy scene in my favorite holiday movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles when Neal Page expertly played by Steve Martin, plays back some emotional moments with traveling stranger Del Griffith, who was magnificently played by the late John Candy.

He starts to piece together that Griffith isn’t who he thought. It’s then that he realizes on the train ride home to make Thanksgiving dinner that Del has nowhere to go. Instead of walking home from the station, he returns to find Griffith by himself with his suitcase.

It’s at this moment that he asks the obvious question on everyone’s mind in the movie. What is he doing here? When he tells him the hard truth, Neal does the right thing and invites Del to his home to spend Thanksgiving with the family.

That poignant moment where they walk back and his daughter answers the door with such excitement before finally hugging his wife (Laila Robbins) is so emotional as Del has that wonderful smile as the film ends. You come away feeling good as “Everytime You Go Away,” plays.

To me, that’s the essence of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah or any holiday or magical moment we celebrate. Every day has meaning. No matter how challenging it gets. I will always believe that was Candy’s best role. He had so many and was gone too soon. But as I like to say, “Legends Never Die!”

If we all have the heart of that lovable Del Griffith character, we can enjoy things more. Despite his home situation without his wife Marie, he is an upbeat person who’s happy go lucky. That quality teaches a cynic like Neal a life lesson. It makes him a little wiser as he says before the fateful train ride where he finally realizes the truth.

If we apply that philosophy to our favorite sport of hockey which isn’t perfect, we can sure be thankful it’s around. A welcome attraction or distraction from our daily lives. That’s why I really loved Hasan’s Devils game recap because he gave us the live game experience along with some funny anecdotes about which players on the Wild he didn’t know still played. Haha.

I’ve spoken on here how much I loved the 25 years I went to Rangers games at MSG. It wasn’t only about watching the play develop and calling a goal before it happened which I can still do at home on television. It also was the people we met who made the games more fun. Even during the Dark Ages Error, we always laughed at the bad comedy in our section.

What should we as hockey fans be thankful for in 2021-22?

1. How special Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are. They’re truly amazing players. McDavid is the best offensive player I’ve ever seen. Even better than Gretzky, Lemieux. To be that dominant is scary. Can you imagine him in the wide open era?

2. Draisaitl I believe is the best player. He’s not only on the same level as his special Oilers’ teammate. But he is excellent overall. He is the only Edmonton player to join Gretzky with 40 points in the first 20 games doing it in 19. He leads the league with 20 goals. That’s ridiculous. Can he keep going to 30, 40 or even the prestigious 50/50 Club? I’m rooting for it.

3. Alexander Ovechkin turning back the clock. The Great Eight is carrying the Caps minus Nicklas Backstrom. His start at 36 has been unbelievable. Not just for the 15 goals he’s scored as he tries to chase No. 99. But 18 assists match his ’21 output which was in 45 games. What a special player.

4. Troy Terry provided us with a potential new young star. His 16-game point streak was phenomenal. It finally ended against Nashville on Nov. 22. The former USA WJC hero has 22 points (12-10-22) in 19 games for the surprising Ducks. Hopefully, he can get back on the score sheet after being shutdown the last two.

5. Locally, how about Adam Fox. He’s proving the Norris he won in the shortened season wasn’t a fluke. What makes him so good is his IQ. His ability to read plays is tremendous. He’s got great vision and has become a Ranger staple. At a point-per-game so far, Foxy plans to do it over a full 82.

6. Lucas Raymond has been the brightest rookie for the Red Wings. It’s the number 4 pick from the ’20 NHL Draft that’s asserted himself as the early breakout star. With 20 points in 21 games, he’s got good chemistry with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi on the top line. Detroit finally seems to be headed in the right direction. Watch Raymond play and you’ll see why.

7. The outstanding teams such as the Panthers, Lightning and Maple Leafs, who all are competing for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. As impressed as I am with how the Leafs play compared to recent years, how can you not shake your head at the depth and talent both the Cats and Bolts have to overcome injuries to key stars? Thank God they’re not in our division of hell. To borrow a Hasan phrase.

8. Speaking of which, that division of hell is headlined by the ultra talented Hurricanes, who boast top center Sebastian Aho and emerging scorers Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas. Rangers South features six including Tony DeAngelo, who’s formed a good top pair with the overlooked Jaccob Slavin. Rookie Seth Jarvis is staying in Raleigh. Freddy Andersen is the netminder.

9. If there’s a gift that keeps on giving despite his team’s subpar start, it’s Patrick Kane in Chicago. He continues to be a wizard forming a deadly combo with Alex DeBrincat.

10. Logan Couture still is the leader of the Sharks. They’re off to a surprising start. Timo Meier is emerging again along with Couture, who remains a fun overall players to watch. Jonathan Dahlen has been a nice surprise. The son of Ulf can finish.

11. Credit goes out to Lindy Ruff, who has the Devils hanging around despite Jack Hughes having played two games. The addition of Dougie Hamilton has helped stabilize the defense. Pavel Zacha remains a scoring threat while captain Nico Hischier is the key setup man. Mackenzie Blackwood has been solid since returning.

12. Nazem Kadri has taken his lumps forever due to his playoff past. Without Nathan MacKinnon, it’s the former Leaf who’s been on a tear while leading the Avalanche back into the Central Division race. This is the best hockey he’s ever played. MacKinnon is due back soon.

13. Cale Makar is the new offensive dynamo. He might not be as polished as Fox, but the smooth skating defenseman is a rover whose nine goals are proof of how lethal he can be. A very exciting player to watch.

14. Elvis Merzlikins is doing his part to keep the overachiever Blue Jackets afloat in the tough Metro. He might not have the gaudy numbers of Jack Campbell, Jacob Markstrom, Sergei Bobrovsky, Igor Shesterkin, John Gibson or even Carter Hart and Tristan Jarry. But he’s backing up his promise for Matiss Kivlenieks, who must be proud watching upstairs.

15. Take in a Kirill Kaprizov shift and you’ll understand just how special his talent is. The super sophomore is the engine that makes the Wild go. Old friend Mats Zuccarello has amazing chemistry with Kaprizov and so far, Joel Eriksson-Ek is living up to the contract. If Kevin Fiala heats up, the Wild will be tough.

16. It’s nice to see a healthy Vladimir Tarasenko back and doing well for the Blues. Who knows if he’ll be traded? But the speed and skill is still there. How about having Pavel Buchnevich play with him. Yikes. The Blues are a good team. It still will be an uphill climb to make the playoffs in that division.

17. Chandler Stephenson is putting up the points for the Golden Knights, who are patiently waiting for Jack Eichel to debut in March. Stephenson was on the ’17-18 Caps who won the Stanley Cup. Think maybe they regret trading him?

18. Is there a more cohesive trio than Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk? They’ve dominated at five-on-five. Since Darryl Suter put them together, they’ve only been on for one goal against while burning opponents, who literally are seeing Flames. Calgary is for real.

19. Cy Young NHL Leaders

A. Andrew Mangiapane 15-2

B. Chris Kreider 15-3

C. Alex DeBrincat 11-3

D. Ryan Hartman 10-4

E. Brandon Saad 8-2

20. It’s nice to see Steven Stamkos back to playing at an elite level in Tampa. He’s overcome a lot of injuries. The 31-year old captain needs 12 points for 900. His next goal will be number 450. What if he’d stayed healthy?

21. Playing in Winnipeg, Kyle Connor remains in obscurity. A hidden American gem who can light the lamp with the best of them who’s a dynamic skater. When I saw him early in his career, I concluded he was better than Patrik Laine. Laine now plays in Columbus. Condolences to him on the recent loss of his Dad.

22. Pierre-Luc Dubois is reminding folks of the ability he has for the Jets. Hard to believe he and Laine went a pick apart in the McDavid ’16 Draft. Matthew Tkachuk was also in it as was underrated top Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who you can see this afternoon when the B’s host the Rangers in the Black Friday game on ABC.

23. If you can get Ducks games, watch just for Trevor Zegras. The Team USA hero has the tools to be a good one. He’s already scored some highlight reel goals.

24. I didn’t include Andrei Vasilevskiy in the list of goalies before. I still believe he’s in a different category. Forget the team he plays for. If you subtracted him off the Bolts, they’d struggle. They don’t believe in good backups. Vasy makes great saves look easy.

25. As bad as things have been in Montreal, here’s hoping Carey Price can successfully return soon and still be the elite goalie we saw carry the Habs to the Stanley Cup Final.

26. God bless Kevin Hayes, who scored an emotional goal for his brother Jimmy up in heaven. I can’t imagine what he’s going through. Hope he gets back on the ice soon.

27. Who had Tage Thompson with eight goals and Evan Rodriguez at seven helping their teams more than expected?

28. Pat Maroon has as many goals (4) as Mika Zibanejad or Artemi Panarin. Kevin Rooney has five on the same team. Is the apocalypse near?

29. Miro Heiskanen put on a tremendous defensive game against McDavid in a recent Stars’ win over Edmonton. He was so effective against the Oilers superstar that the Dallas skaters had more shots in the third period when up against his line with Heiskanen matched up. He doesn’t get the ink of the other defensemen. But Heiskanen is in that class.

30. If Alexis Lafreniere’s skating and skill catches up to his maturity and intelligence, the Rangers will have a very good young player. It hasn’t come easy for the former top pick. But he understands his role and demonstrated that he isn’t afraid of sticking up for a teammate. Admittedly, he said it was his first fight ever. The kid has a keen sense of humor.

31. The U20 World Junior Championships are a month away. An exciting tournament that features the best prospects, it’s a chance to catch a glimpse of the future. Shane Wright is the projected top pick for 2022. The center is expected to be an impact player. Don’t put crazy expectations on him.

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Devils thwarted by goalposts and a hideous PP in a pre-turkey shootout defeat

Last night was a rare game where I had the choice to either go or not go without worrying about eating money on tickets, since I’d already sold my regular section for last night’s game but still had a free pair in section 9 (well, free apart from the $7 I pay for parking a few blocks from the arena). Albeit they aren’t exactly the club seats I thought they were a while back, but still they’re lower-bowl seats that are close to my normal exit out of the building at least. With two other games this week and still somewhat getting over my booster shot side effects I was leaning toward not going, but pretty much pushed myself to going in part because last night was more of a de facto weekend game with having tomorrow off while Sunday night against the Flyers is more of a de facto weeknight game – 7 PM start time with work the next day – that I can try to sell for weekend prices.

I usually don’t choose to go to the nondescript out of conference game over a rival, but the NHL’s idiotic scheduling happened to give us both Flyer home games this season in a matter of a two-week span anyway. Plus with the NHL’s all-division schedule last year, we hadn’t seen the Wild at the Rock since pre-pandemic – i.e. pre-buying out the notorious duo of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. I was still vacillating on going right up until I got to the highway past Chatham, but at least the traffic wasn’t as bad as a normal weeknight going to Newark, despite going the long way while making a couple of stops along the way it only took me about 45 minutes of driving to get there (usually it’s like an hour getting in on a weeknight, and 35 minutes getting home).

In fact, despite my attempts to slow-play arriving I still got there 6:30 and much to my shock I saw 46 minutes on the pregame clock instead of 16 (which usually signifies the start of warmups). At first I thought ‘oh ****, this was a 7:30 game and I didn’t realize it, I screwed up here’, which did actually happen to me once before since 7:30 home starts are so rare now. Then I realized much of the crowd was already there and either near the ice or on food and drink lines so that’s when I thought something wasn’t right here. Did they really pull a last-minute switcheroo without advertising it? I took to Twitter and found out the shocking answer, that in fact the start time was delayed because the Wild were literally caught in traffic when the Holland Tunnel closed and the Wild players didn’t arrive at the arena until 6:26 PM. I mean really guys, I know it’s been a while since you’ve been here but come on now. I was alternately amused and annoyed. Devils coach Lindy Ruff was more of the latter:

Maybe the coach didn’t know the tunnel was actually closed on them or maybe he did. Either way I’ve never heard of such a thing happening before any professional game, NYC traffic or no NYC traffic. I’m not inclined to be sympathetic either, since in my rec leagues you have to forfeit if your team doesn’t show after fifteen minutes, but it was still somewhat amusing. Other than realizing I now had an hour to kill before the game instead of just a half hour. If I’d known this was going to happen I’d have brought my wireless earbuds into the arena and just listened to YouTube/podcast stuff. Instead I basically just walked around the arena for half an hour then stayed in line for the other half an hour (apparently most of our fans didn’t have any problems getting in either, figures) using some of my food and beverage card to try a lousy burger, though at least the fries were good. Not exactly worth $16 but I’m not a penny pincher when it comes to using a credit, especially since I don’t exactly plan on eating at every game anyway.

My seat was not actually as good as I thought, of course there’s always that danger when you’re sitting in the lower bowl that if you’re too far down the opposite part of the arena can provide a bit of a blind spot, and that’s what happened last night. Sometimes I even had to look at the jumbotron to see what was happening when the puck was in the same side of the rink at the far end, which happened to be the end where the Devils attacked in the first and third period. Unless it actually is a club seat pair – which I have for two games later in the season – or other free upper bowl tickets, I’m not gonna bother moving from my seats the remainder of the season for the games I go to.

I also had to look at the jumbotron just to remind myself of who was ON the Wild, another consequence of not having seen them in the last two seasons or caring about their hot start with two of their more well-known players having been told to vacate the premises after GM Bill Guerin unceremoniously bought out Parise and Suter together, going out the way they came in. I was like, Dmitry Kulikov? Forgot he signed with them now. Jon Merrill? LOL, talk about being well-traveled at this point. Mats Zuccarello? Oh **** that’s right, he’s still there. Alex Goligoski…he’s really still playing?! Those were pretty much my real-time reactions. I recognized more names than I thought but half of them weren’t guys I knew were on the Wild beforehand, including goalie Cam Talbot who was last on Calgary before the pandemic, but is more well known (by me) for the start of his career with the Rangers and Edmonton.

One thing I did correctly remember is that Talbot’s usually been a pain in the neck for us, which is borne out by his career 7-2 record and 2.28 GAA against us, and it would prove to be more of the same last night. Although to be perfectly honest, last night was as unimpressive a 40-save performance as I can remember in quite some time. Either our shots were hitting the crest, or hitting the post but I don’t actually remember seeing too many OMG saves from Talbot throughout the game. Of course some of that could have been influenced by not having a great view of the attacking zone in the first and third periods, but you didn’t need the best view in the building to see that a majority of our shots in the first period were unscreened, short-side crest killers. We outshot the Wild 18-13 but it certainly never felt like we were controlling play, especially after we wound up falling behind on a goal from Ryan Hartman, tipping home a point shot from our old buddy Kulikov at 12:10 of the first to put me in an even more foul mood than the delay (and the cold as **** air near ice level with me wearing short sleeves) already had.

Pretty much the only thing that could possibly put me in a worse mood was seeing our own power play screw the pooch yet again, which is exactly what happened toward the end of the first period when the Wild ran their PK breakout better than we run our PP one, with a Jonas Brodin clear around the boards finding the stick of Frederic Gaudreau (I was also wondering when the Wild got a Gaudreau brother before finding out he wasn’t related to Johnny and Matt), who fed a perfect 2-on-1 pass through Dougie Hamilton right onto the stick of Nico Sturm for a one-timer goal NHL ’94 style. It wasn’t really a banner first period for Hamilton, who’d canceled out our last PP with a weak interference call that he was not happy about, taking out his anger by laying out the first Wild player he saw coming out of the box. Yet that wasn’t even the most annoying PP fail of the night…more on that later.

At least this game the Devils kept coming and didn’t let a ‘we did everything but score and then get scored on late’ first period obliterate them the way they did against the Panthers last week. Still the game continued to be frustrating. If it wasn’t the PP burning us, it was the goalposts, Damon Severson alone clanged at least two off the iron last night and the Devils as a team had literally five or six ping shots. After a low-event second period other than a couple of the aforementioned post shots, I was pretty much resigned to defeat though I couldn’t exactly leave at 2-0. Maybe I would have at 3-0 if only because the cold was starting to bother me and I was getting a bit of a headache again, now regretting the fact I pushed it last night instead of just continuing to relax.

My patience was running out with most of our forwards who’ve largely been passengers, including two thirds of our so-called top line – Nico Hischier who has just two goals in 17 games and 10 points going into last night, and Tomas Tatar who also has just two goals (none off a stick with a goalie in net) this season. To his credit, the captain cooled my annoyance with a difference-making third period, first finding Pavel Zacha from behind the net in his sweet spot just inside the left circle, where Zacha’s patented hard wrister found the back of the net to finally get the Devils on the board and give Pavel his eighth goal of the season.

Of course there was still more pain and frustration to come in the third period as Zacha found Hamilton at the end of a tic-tac-toe play for a wide open shot, but Hamilton flubbed it and the play died there. Even more annoying than that was when our powerless play struck again late in the third. Back-to-back Wild penalties gave us three straight minutes of PP time including just over a minute of a five-on-three, I almost mocked it when we called timeout before the 5-on-3…what’s the genius (meaning supposed PP guru Mark Recchi) drawing up now, I wonder? Clearly nothing that worked since our 5-on-3 was just one big, fat stinkbomb of nothing and our 5-on-4 after provided one final frustration when PK Subban hit both the post and crossbar with a shot and it stayed out. I realize NHL assistants don’t get fired in-season but this is getting ridiculous now, it’s one thing to be below average, it’s another to be hopelessly inept. Something’s gotta change with this powerless play, and I don’t just mean giving second-year defenseman Ty Smith a well-deserved healthy scratch after a poor start to the season. With just over five minutes left when the Wild penalties expired it felt like a fitting end to a frustrating game.

Except there was still more time left on the roller coaster that was last night.

Somehow our empty-net offense seems to function much better than our power play, despite being a man up on both occasions. That was the case again last night when Hischier was able to muscle a side pass over to Yegor Sharangovich, whose suddenly hot stick got the puck through Talbot for the tying goal with just 1:07 remaining in the game. If Sharangovich had been one of the passengers I’d been losing my patience with for much of the season, the last two games he’s looked more like the early 2021 version of Yegor with three goals and overall strong play that bumped him up to taking late-game and OT shifts. As usual, our best chance of winning the game was going to be the 3-on-3 but befitting the night it was, our best chance went by the boards less than half a minute into the OT when Hamilton hit yet another post. Shots-wise and just by the eye-test, we out played the Wild last night with a 42-27 shot edge – not even counting the five or six post shots – but when your power play is a net negative and you need like three times as many shots to get goals as some other teams do, nights like last night are going to happen.

Our shootout was destined to be more frustration piled on top of frustration, although briefly I thought the worm might be turning when Zuccarello actually hit the post on the Wild’s first attempt. Still, Kevin Fiala’s goal proved to be enough as none of our three shooters – Hamilton, Jesper Bratt, or the now out-of-the-doghouse Sharangovich – could find a way past Talbot in the skills competition. Seems like another world when our franchise dominated shootouts from 2005-2012, although on some level the shootout failures are endemic of the lack of scoring talent still on this roster. Ironic that this staff had little use for Alexander Holtz and yet he went down to Utica and regained his scoring touch immediately. I bet they don’t just throw him on the fourth line and see if he can score there the way they do at the NHL level. Hopefully Holtz will get a real chance down the road although I’m not sure it’ll be this season after the way they pulled the rip cord on him right away. Plus to be fair he does have a lot of non-scoring stuff to work on long-term. But it just gets frustrating seeing too many forwards who can make plays and not enough forwards that can actually cash in on them.

Can’t disagree with the coach here, although to be fair it was a borderline miracle we even got a point down 2-0 in the third with all the frustration involved in last night’s game. Still you can’t blow too many opportunities to get two points in the division of death. Case in point, the Isles – conference finalists the last two seasons – might actually be in danger of missing the playoffs after their brutal road trip to start the season with a COVID outbreak marring their initial homestand now that the NHL’s inexplicably making them play through while they postponed three Ottawa games in similar circumstances. I get you didn’t want to push back the Isles’ home opener even more and I could care less about the Isles in general, but really guys?

Before peacing out for the holiday weekend, I did want to offer some quick thoughts on the new third jersey, predictably booed when the new PA announcer introduced ‘the first third jersey in franchise history’ last night despite the number of fans who’d already bought one or did so before the night was over. A third jersey ostensibly heavily influenced by franchise legend Martin Brodeur. I’m not sure how much it’s fact and how much they’re just throwing him out there as a point man to insulate them against some of the inevitable backlash, but whatever. One thing they are telling the truth about is that this jersey’s been in the works for a while, judging by a season ticket holder pin they randomly sent out a couple of years ago with ‘Jersey’ in a very similar font.

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Let’s just start out with this, many people are going to be resistant to unasked for change just out of rote, especially when you’re dealing with a franchise with some amount of tradition and a well-received primary logo and jersey. That’s generally where I am. I don’t hate it the way I did when I first saw the leak a few days before the announcement though (and not because Marty was made to be the point person on this), even if all the different nuances they have to explain like the white stripes come off like…they’re trying too hard to pay homage to too many different things, yet doing it in such a subtle way nobody really notices it unless you give an explanation. It kind of feels faux intellectual-ish.

I’m not totally against putting just ‘Jersey’ on the front even though part of me wishes it was New Jersey in total, a lot of people – even locals – do refer to the state as Jersey in shorthand slang, so whatever. And to be fair I kinda like the jersey better once it’s displayed on players. MSG’s own Bryce Salvador is even going to wear one in the Macy’s parade, representing the NHL.

Ultimately in the end it’s a third jersey. Thirteen games a season feels like too much, but if they don’t touch the primary jersey in the end it’s whatever for me. So long as it’s not totally repulsive like the Stars’ old Mooterus jersey or totally self-owning like the Isles’ fishstick jersey, knock yourselves out. After seeing all the dopey Met and Jet alternate jerseys the last several years (and a few decent ones) I’ve become more desensitized to the whole concept of alternates.

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Rangers’ fourth line and Kreider turn Islanders’ Thanksgiving into cold turkeys, Lafreniere sends message to Pageau

It’s something they work on in practice. … The other part of if is the other guys don’t shoot enough from the outside.” Gerard Gallant on First Star Chris Kreider’s power play success at the side of the net in the Rangers’ 4-1 win over the Islanders on Turkey Eve.

It’s all about one thing. Winning. That’s becoming a good habit for the Rangers, who went into UBS Arena and gave their fans a whole lot to cheer about in a rousing 4-1 win over the Islanders at Belmont.

The satisfying victory on Turkey Eve gave them plenty to be thankful for headed into the holiday. It also ruined the Islanders’ Thanksgiving. It’ll be cold turkey for Jean-Gabriel Pageau, whose cheap hit to the head of Ryan Lindgren in the third period was answered immediately by Adam Fox. The game’s First Star Chris Kreider sure enjoyed that as he did a Hulk Hogan pose during the celebration at Fox as he and Ryan Reaves laughed at the Isles’ expense.

For the Rangers, there’s plenty to be happy about. They did what they had to in beating a struggling rival who were without 10 players due to COVID protocol and injuries. By taking care of business thanks to a pair of goals from team leader Kreider (9th PPG) and effective fourth line forward Kevin Rooney, they handed the Islanders a seventh consecutive loss in regulation. The Isles are now 0-3 at their new arena. They’re a shell of the team that reached Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Semifinals.

It doesn’t matter how many guys were out. You still have to go out and play the game for 60 minutes or more. That’s exactly what the Blueshirts did to earn their 12th win in 19 games (12-4-3). They now lead the Islanders by 15 points in the standings. Granted. They’ve played less games due to their long 13-game road trip. However, every point is crucial. Banking as many as possible early on matters.

Even better, they got large contributions from the fourth line in the victory. It was the play of that new line with Barclay Goodrow added to Rooney and Ryan Reaves that provided the key goals at five-on-five. They won the battle. Even if they weren’t matched up against the Identity Line of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck.

It was Rooney scoring his fourth and fifth goals to record his first career two-goal game. It was Reaves acting like a playmaker with some splendid passing to pick up his first ever two assist game. The setup for the second Rooney goal that answered Andy Andreoff’s goal 20 seconds later restored the Rangers’ two goal lead to quiet the Islanders’ fans amongst the 17,255.

You also had Kreider for good measure erase any doubt when he finished off his team-leading 15th from Mika Zibanejad for the final margin with 8:58 left in regulation. His first goal coming 29 seconds into the second period to break a scoreless tie in vintage Kreider fashion on a perfect deflection at the side to beat Semyon Varlamov on the power play.

O’ Captain! My Captain! The 30-year old Kreider has never played better hockey. He’s not only off to an unbelievable start with 15 goals in 19 games. But he’s playing better overall by coming back defensively to break up plays and penalty killing effectively. He’s also hitting and showing great confidence in every facet.

In a lineup change which he hinted at, Gallant decided to move Kaapo Kakko up to the first line with Kreider and Zibanejad. It was interesting considering how well he played with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin in recording three goals and two assists over the past four games. I wasn’t crazy about it, but Turk stuck with it and Kakko rewarded him with a key secondary helper on the second Kreider goal. That extended his point streak to five.

Gallant flipped Dryden Hunt to the right side on the second line with Strome and Panarin. Without that other scoring right wing due to Alexis Lafreniere not being ready for a move off left wing or a top six role, Turk will continue to shuffle the deck. Sammy Blais was a good fit in the top six. He’ll be missed. It’s next man up.

Of course, this brings to mind the continued debate over Pavel Buchnevich. Some fans wish he was still here. While I get the point about the chemistry he had with Zibanejad and Kreider, it ultimately came down to Team President and GM Chris Drury deciding that he had to move Buchnevich due to his raise. He is signed through 2025 with the Blues at an average cap hit of $5.8 million.

Due to the organization knowing they had to sign both Zibanejad and Fox to hefty extensions that’ll currently has the team’s cap for ’22-23 at almost $71 million, there was little choice. It was either keep Buchnevich or trade Strome, who is a key fit as the center for Panarin. Without Filip Chytil having proven himself, it was too risky. Hopefully, he can continue to progress in his fourth season. Strome probably won’t be back next year.

I still maintain that they mishandled Vitali Kravtsov during training camp. He looks capable of helping them fill the Buchnevich void. Instead, he’s playing for Traktor in the KHL. They lost 7-6 in overtime to Moscow Dynamo yesterday. He didn’t have a point, but hit two posts including one in extras. We’ll see what develops with the Rangers and Kravtsov next Spring.

One thing that isn’t up for debate is the balance the team has. Even without either Panarin or Zibanejad hitting that extra gear, it’s the supporting cast chipping in. Rooney has five goals. One more than either Panarin or Zibanejad. Kreider has been the story with his 15 by far leading the way. There’s also Goodrow continuing to put up points with his primary assist leading to Rooney’s fourth. He’s up to nine points.

At some point, the stars have to perform like stars. Even though he has 19 points including 15 assists so far, Panarin has been too predictable so far. He was probably the only player I was disappointed with last night. He spent too much of the game on the perimeter and didn’t attempt many shots. He hasn’t been the same player. They need him to start burying a few and being the difference maker we saw in ’19-20.

At least both Fox and Zibanejad got points against the Islanders. Even if if took a mostly Bridgeport defense to do it, it was positive. Not that it was Fox’s best game. To their credit, the Isles did a good job limiting his time and space. He’s going to continue to get that attention. He doesn’t mind.

From a game standpoint, it was strange. Blame the refs. They made a lot of calls. A few were questionable. There were 11 total power plays. The Rangers went 1-for-5 while shutting out the Islanders in six chances. As good as the penalty kill was, the Islanders’ power play was brutal. They didn’t get many Grade A chances on Igor Shesterkin, who finally recorded his first win versus them. He made 20 saves.

In a by the book move, Barry Trotz opted for Varlamov due to his recent history against the Rangers. He didn’t have a win yet. For the most part, he kept his team in it with some key stops when it was 2-0. But he wound up allowing four goals on 21 shots to take the loss.

If it were me, I’d have gone with Ilya Sorokin. He started well. I’m not a coach. Trotz also played former Devils Kyle Palmieri and Zach Parise on the top line with Mat Barzal. They of a combined 1 goal. Barzal had no one to pass to. Gotta give Trotz an assist. Neither scares anyone.

Oliver Wahlstrom was on the third line with rookie Otto Koivula and Andreoff. Pageau (also 1 goal) centered their second line flanked by Anthony Beauvillier and Richard Panik. Neither line exactly posed a huge threat. It was the Identity Line and the unknown third line who were most effective.

For as many players as they had out, the Islanders put together a good first period. With the likes of Sebastian Aho, Thomas Hickey, Robin Salo, Grant Hutton and Paul LaDue added to Scott Mayfield on the blue line, they managed to keep the Blueshirts off the scoreboard.

When the officials weren’t getting duped for phantom calls, it was the Islanders who were the better forechecking team early. They got eight shots on Shesterkin, who was strong. The Rangers also had eight on Varlamov. It was the play of the third line of Chytil, Lafreniere and Julien Gauthier that were noticeable. So too was the fourth line when they got out for shifts.

At the start of the second, Barzal hooked into Rooney following the opening face-off to get an undisciplined minor for hooking six seconds in. That lead to Kreider finding a dead spot next to Varlamov for a great redirection of a Strome pass into an open side at 29 seconds. It was so predictable that I called goal as soon as Strome passed the puck for Kreider, who’s been money down low.

The march to the box continued. Strome picked up the first of two minors when he tripped up Hickey in the offensive zone. One of those needless penalties he has to avoid. While Hickey went down easily, it was a penalty.

After the Islanders did nothing with the power play, this time Barzal sucked Chytil into taking him down. It was embellishment. But they didn’t call it. So, the Isles were on another power play. Again, they barely did anything. There was over passing and little simplicity. Barzal also had a turnover that let the Rangers clear the zone for a change.

The odd part is there was so much special teams that even strength play was rare. For the game, shots were 13-12 Blueshirts at five-on-five. That’s how strange the game was. Overall, shots were even at 21 apiece. You can do the math for the rest.

A good Jacob Trouba hit on Pageau behind the Rangers’ net resulted in the gritty center retaliating by hi-sticking Trouba. It was a shift where he got himself in trouble in the corner, but then recovered with the big hit to put the Rangers on the man-advantage. Defensively, Trouba had a good game. He was the best defenseman followed by Nils Lundkvist, who showed more confidence.

Although they didn’t capitalize, the Rangers scored less than a minute after the power play expired. On just a great shift started by Reaves, he made a centering pass that deflected to Goodrow for one shot which was followed up by Rooney for a 2-0 lead at 14:28.

Another Strome penalty for interference on Beauvillier left him questioning the call with under two and a half minutes left in the period. It was very soft. As the Isles continued to fumble the puck around as if it were a grenade, they finally got the one chance they wanted. On a Kakko turnover, the puck came to Wahlstrom in front. One on one with Shesterkin, he went for a fake instead of shooting only to be stuffed.

Right after the save, Kakko hit Strome for a breakaway out of the box. But he was back checked well enough where his shot was denied by Varlamov with time winding down. The Rangers took a two-goal lead to the locker room.

Even with the Islanders lacking the firepower, you knew if the Rangers didn’t get the next goal, it would get interesting. It did when Andreoff got position on Lindgren and was able to tip in a Koivula shot for his first of the season. A Ranger special. It was also the first NHL point for Koivula. He was one of the better players on the home side. What does that say for their regulars?

But on the very next shift, the fourth line went to work. One thing I’ll say for Gallant. He has a good feel for his bench. He noticed what I did. That line was going. He sent them out and they again struck for the goal of the game.

Off an Islanders’ offensive draw they won back to Wahlstrom, three Blueshirts converged on him to force a turnover. Patrik Nemeth sent Reaves in on an odd man rush. What happened next was astonishing. Reaves completely faked out the defense before sending a perfect feed across for an easy Rooney finish at 4:12. That goal silenced the Islanders’ contingent.

Kreider would increase the lead to three 6:50 later. On a smart dump in from Kakko that allowed Zibanejad to come out with the puck, he quickly found Kreider in the slot for a quick wrist shot that beat Varlamov for goal number 15 at 11:02. That sealed it.

With the game decided, Pageau decided to get chippy. On a play where he had the puck, Lindgren absorbed a high hit from the Isles’ center. Right away, Fox jumped in and came to his aid. He punched Pageau and sent him to the ice. The replay showed that the controversial hit was a head shot. Pageau led with his shoulder that caught Lindgren in the helmet to drop him.

Of course, they missed the illegal check to the head. Gallant absolutely fumed at both officials. He was upset. So was the team. Out of that, they handed the Islanders a power play. Fox getting the only two for roughing up Pageau, who may as well be renamed Punkeau for his shenanigans. He intentionally did it. Very sneaky. A cheap play.

I doubt they’ll suspend him. Lindgren went to the room and was checked. He did return to the bench. A good sign. Hopefully, there are no setbacks. The Rangers are in Boston on Black Friday.

With things intensifying due to the dirty play, it was only a matter of time before it escalated. On another shift where Pageau was tripped by a furious Lafreniere, he went after him for his cheap hit. Here’s a kid still learning. He had no problem dropping the gloves and taking on Pageau, who went down. That is a great characteristic for a young player to have. The skating still needs improvement. But what Lafreniere did was commendable.

In the final minute with time winding down, Hunt didn’t like a Wahlstrom hit. So, he went back at him with a slash leading to more chaos. After Wahlstrom chopped back, Andreoff stepped in and pulled Hunt down by his jersey. That’s a clear third man in. Even if he was playing peacemaker, that should’ve been a minor on him. Instead, Wahlstrom got an extra for roughing with 14 seconds to go.

Perplexing. I’m not sure if it means anything. But Rooney was out for the remainder and attempted a shot. Obviously, Gallant put him out to try for the hat trick. But the game was over. Will there be any payback in the Garden rematch on Sunday?

We’ll have to wait and see. The Islanders should have players back for that game. That’ll probably be a more interesting game. This was an easy win. Even if they had to work for it, they put the Isles away.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving! Happy Turkey Day!

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Ryan Reaves, NYR (2 assist game for first time in career, 6 hits)

2nd 🌟 Kevin Rooney, NYR (first career two-goal game, 4th and 5th)

1st 🌟 Chris Kreider, NYR (2 more goals for 14 and 15, league best 9th PPG, dominant)

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Turkey Eve gives hockey fans plenty to be thankful for, Rangers face Islanders in first visit at UBS Arena

Every year sans last, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in America gives hockey fans plenty to be thankful for. With most teams off for one of the biggest holidays on Thursday, there are always a lot of games to choose from on Turkey Eve.

Tonight, there are fourteen games. That’s 28 of 32 teams in action. It’s a smorgasbord of puck starting at 7 PM. If you are celebrating with family or home, there’s lots of action in the National Hockey League. Combined with your usual college basketball holiday tournaments of you’re into that, it truly is the best time of year.

I’m thankful for hockey back where it belongs. In the Fall as cold weather temperatures make you think of Christmas. Of course, my birthday is just around the corner. Being a Sagittarius in December makes this holiday season extra special. I’ve always loved the autumn due to the weather finally cooling and the excitement surrounding this time of year. Combine that with baseball ending in late October, football (if you can call it that around here), hockey and basketball, there’s so much to enjoy.

For tonight’s entree, you have a classic rivalry renewed when the Rangers visit the new digs at UBS Arena to battle the Islanders. For almost half a century, these teams have collided. Whether at Penn Station in Madison Square Garden or Long Island at the Islanders’ former home Nassau Coliseum, it’s always provided fans from both sides a unique blood rivalry. A fascinating match-up.

Regardless of where they are in the standings or who’s out which unfortunately for the Islanders is the case due to several key players in COVID protocol, it usually doesn’t matter. For the Rangers, it’s an opportunity to step on a wounded team who’s struggling. The Islanders have dropped six in a row including the first two in Belmont.

In addition to no Adam Pelech, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Ryan Pulock, Kieffer Bellows, Ross Johnston, Andy Greene, Zdeno Chara, they’ll also be without second center Brock Nelson. He suffered a lower-body injury against Toronto during the first period of a 2-0 loss. Another big hit for the Isles, who are having all sorts of trouble scoring and keeping pucks out of their net.

Despite their opponent being down many starting players, the Rangers have one job to do. Win the game. They can’t worry about who the Islanders are without. Something Ryan Strome alluded to in an interview regarding the first of four meetings. He talked about how they will focus on themselves and how they play. If they play the way they are capable of, then they’ll come away with two points and turn the Isles into cold turkeys.

Even minus those players, Barry Trotz’ club gave Calgary a tough game on Saturday. Don’t let the final score fool you. The Flames got big saves from early Vezina candidate Jacob Markstrom and a pair of empty netters to win by three. Even in the recent defeat to the Leafs, they only were down a goal until an empty netter sealed it. It wasn’t a good effort as the Isles only forced Toronto backup Joseph Woll to make 20 saves in the shutout defeat.

There’s still Mat Barzal and noted Ranger killer Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Of course, the former Senator enters with only one goal. You know he’ll want to change that against his favorite opponent. The Blueshirts must prevent him from crashing the net in front of Igor Shesterkin, who gets the start. He’s never beaten the Islanders. At 0-4-1 having allowed 18 goals, the Rangers’ ace goalie must flip the script.

Anthony Beauvillier is also back for his second game. He is always a pest for our side to handle. The Rangers must avoid neutral zone turnovers that can feed the Islanders’ transition. That’s where guys like Barzal, Beauvillier and Pageau make their living. Especially the very speedy and shifty Barzal, who hasn’t gotten much help. Kyle Palmieri has one goal so far. He’s become a bit cheap. Watch out for him.

The one line that is still intact is the Identity Line consisting of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. The hard-nosed edgy checking unit that’s caused the Rangers headaches. This time, Gerard Gallant should be able to match the physicality due to Barclay Goodrow, Kevin Rooney and Ryan Reaves. If they want to mix it up, Reaves is there to answer the call. But he picks his spots. He’s quite effective on the forecheck and hits hard. It’s too bad Sammy Blais is out for the season. This is the style of hockey he would be perfect for. What a bummer.

Regardless, there’s enough grit to combat the Islanders. Dryden Hunt is another scrappy forward who’s been solid under Turk. He was even moved up to the first line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider for the third period last game. It was a penalty he drew that lead to Jacob Trouba scoring on a delayed call in the hectic 5-4 win over Buffalo. A game that saw four goals scored in 1:22. Eventually, Gallant lifted the struggling Alex Georgiev for Shesterkin in the third. They responded with a stronger period with Ryan Lindgren getting the buzzer beater with 0.4 seconds left.

After it sounded like Gallant might stick with Hunt on the top line, he hinted after the morning skate that there could be a surprise tweak. Could it be Julien Gauthier? He’s been much better the past few games, scoring a great goal and able to use his speed to drive the net for chances. If so, perhaps Hunt shifts to the third line with Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere. We’ll see later.

Don’t expect the second line to change. Especially with Turk having shown enough patience for Kaapo Kakko to finally get going. With a four game point streak that’s resulted in all three of his goals and two assists on the season, he recently expressed to a home newspaper that he no longer has to worry about making a mistake like under former coach David Quinn. That’s because Gallant trusts Kakko. That’s given him confidence to play his game with Strome and the gifted Artemi Panarin. It’s paying off.

In terms of the defense, Adam Fox continues to lead the offense with the kind of reads he made on Monday when he quickly passed for Mika Zibanejad, who had Lindgren for the winner. A nice reward for a good partner who provides the nuts and bolts. He knew he could jump up with so little time left. The improved play from K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba have helped steady the top four. Although many complain about Patrik Nemeth, he’s a no frills player who blocks shots and the coaching staff trusts.

As far as Nils Lundkvist goes, it takes time to adjust to the smaller North American ice surface. I do see positive signs when he plays. The skating and ability to get out of trouble are noticeable. He is capable of contributing offensively. He’s still searching for his first NHL goal. With two assists, he’ll be back in tonight. I prefer to see him play over Jarred Tinordi, who’s a depth player. Would I like to see Libor Hajek get in the lineup? Sure. It still makes no sense why they kept him. Especially if he’s not gonna play.

It looks like it could be Semyon Varlamov for the Islanders in net. If it is, whatever. I could care less about his good career numbers versus the Rangers. After an injury kept him out at the start, he hasn’t looked good. Watch him make 37 saves later. Personally, I’d go with Ilya Sorokin. He’s played well and is like Shesterkin for the Broadway side, the future for the Long Island side of the rivalry.

If there’s a player on the Isles to watch, it’s Oliver Wahlstrom. Taken right after the Blueshirts selected Vitali Kravtsov in 2018, he’s got the big shot and the skating to be a factor. He enters with five goals and no assists. So, he’s pitching a Cy Young year so far at 5-0. The leader in that category probably is Brandon Saad (8-1). If you want to throw Kreider (13-3) in there, be my guest. As it pertains to Wahlstrom, I really like his game. They will set him up on the power play. He’s up on the second line now. Though I have no idea who will replace Nelson. Maybe they’ll bump up Pageau.

In this game, you’ll notice some unrecognizable names dressed for the Isles. They will also ice the other Sebastian Aho on the blue line along with prospect Robin Salo. No relation to Tommy. Veteran forward Richard Panik should play. He’s still a decent skater with a good shot. I almost forgot Zach Parise. He still is tough in front of the net. But the former Devil has been snake bit. No goals so far. Be wary of him.

As for appetizers at 7 before the throwback 7:30 puck drop at UBS, you have the Devils hosting the Wild. The Devils have played solid minus Jack Hughes, who finally practiced in a no contact jersey. He’s getting close. Mackenzie Blackwood is likely to be in net opposed by former Ranger Cam Talbot. Minnesota has been rumored to be after J.T. Miller. Why the Canucks would shop him I don’t know. He’s been their best player aside from Thatcher Demko. With Vancouver, J.T. has 137 points in 141 games. He wins face-offs. No. I doubt the Rangers would be interested in a reunion. Why mess with chemistry?

I still cannot believe that new Devils third jersey. Yikes. What were they thinking? I hope Martin Brodeur wasn’t behind that. It looks hideous. I know everyone is obsessed with the black jersey. But why couldn’t they at least go with the classic Devils logo on the front? There’s no red or white. They could’ve done a tribute to the Christmas ornaments that were cool. Red with green and white was nice. I’m not a designer. But I’m perplexed.

Here are your other games with the early ones joining Wild/Devils at 7.

Bruins at Sabres

Flyers at Panthers

Canucks at Penguins

Canadiens at Capitals

Jets at Blue Jackets

7:30 EST

Blues at Red Wings

Rangers at Islanders

8 EST

Golden Knights at Predators

9 EST

Ducks at Avalanche

10 EST

Oilers at Coyotes

Maple Leafs at Kings

Hurricanes at Kraken

10:30 EST

Senators at Sharks

Idle: Blackhawks, Stars, Lightning, Flames

There are no games scheduled on Thanksgiving. The Rangers will again be in Boston for their traditional Black Friday game against the Bruins. That is on at 1 PM on ABC. Then, they will again play the Islanders Sunday night at 6 PM. By then, they’ll have some players back. Take care of business tonight. Or wind up with cold turkey 🦃.

Enjoy the games. Wishing Hasan and everyone else a very Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!

Derek

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Battle Of Hudson

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Lindgren wins wild game with 0.4 seconds left to save Rangers against Sabres, Georgiev pulled by Gallant

This won’t go down as a classic by any stretch. Despite an unreal ending that saw Ryan Lindgren play the unlikely hero with his game-winning goal coming with 0.4 seconds remaining to lift the Rangers to an ugly 5-4 win over the Sabres, it wasn’t a Picasso or Renoir.

The truth of the matter is the Blueshirts played down to the competition on Hockey Fights Cancer night before over 17,000 at MSG. Apparently, many people wanted to see this game on a football Sunday. They drew more fans for the lowly Sabres than better competition. Strange but true.

Any time they honor the courageous people who have battled cancer, it’s special. This is probably the best thing the NHL does. Hockey Fights Cancer is meaningful. So many have fought it and lost the fight. Those who have survived are heroes in every sense. They deserve the recognition they receive. It’s why I support the Jimmy V Foundation every year.

In a memorable speech at the 1993 ESPY’s, Jim Valvano said, “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are gonna last forever.

The moving speech still gets to me all these years later. I’m glad they have that doubleheader at The Garden and honor Jimmy V. When the big night returns soon, they’ll dedicate it to Dick Vitale. The longtime ESPN college basketball analyst is battling lymphoma. You know there won’t be a dry eye in the house on December 7. I really love and respect Dickie V. He will call his first game Tuesday night when Gonzaga faces UCLA. Good for him!

Normally, I’d never waste that amount of space on basketball in a hockey blog. But the whole Hockey Fights Cancer night got me going. It made me think about why it’s so crucial to have such special games. If you can donate money to a charity like Cancer research, please do. It’s a worthy cause. I try to do so for that and less fortunate kids at St. Jude.

Sometimes, sports takes a back seat. Now for the game. I’m glad the Rangers found a way to win over Buffalo. It would’ve been embarrassing to lose to them. No disrespect meant. The Sabres play hard for coach Don Granato. That much is apparent. They give it their all. They just aren’t good. The abysmal defense on the Lindgren goal was proof. You cannot allow that to happen when you’re so close to getting a point. It was truly an awful way to lose a game.

At the end of the day, the right team won. Take the two points and move on to the next one. That’s going to be quite interesting when the Rangers visit UBS Arena for the first time to renew a 50 Year old rivalry with the skidding Islanders. They are 0 for 2 at their new arena in Belmont. Having been shutout by Toronto on only 20 shots, you know they’re going to be angry when this big Turkey Eve game is played. Don’t forget it’s the Islanders down several regulars with Brock Nelson leaving tonight’s game with an unknown injury. The bottom line is the Rangers better go into that new arena and get the win. No excuses.

How do you describe a game that went from being tied 2-2 to suddenly 4-all when both New York teams combined to score four consecutive goals within a 1:22 span? Absurd. There was no defense or anything remotely good about the hockey during that putrid stretch in the second period.

In general, the entire second was a calamity. So too was troubled backup Alex Georgiev, whose play has gotten worse this season. It wasn’t that good to begin with in ’21. For whatever reason, Gerard Gallant went to Georgiev for the game after his team had some extra rest due to COVID canceling the Ottawa game. Still, you would’ve expected a better performance not just from Georgiev, but the team overall. They weren’t good. For the fans who gave a Broadway cheer after Igor Shesterkin made a rare save in a lopsided third, don’t ignore the way the team played. It wasn’t good enough.

For all the Georgiev hate, it feels a bit insincere for fans to do that. He’s part of the team at least for now. Does he need to be better? Absolutely. Seeing him shake his head after a long Rasmus Dahlin shot snuck past him to give the Sabres the lead at 4-3 was disheartening. That was the only real soft goal.

It was late in a mind numbing, sleep inducing first period that Rasmus Asplund was allowed to put in a Zemgus Girgensons rebound with Kaapo Kakko in the box for holding. But a very effective Filip Chytil drew an interference minor on Jacob Bryson with under 60 seconds left. Artemi Panarin made a perfect centering feed for a Chris Kreider one-timer in the slot past Buffalo third stringer Aaron Dell at 19:37. It was the team-leading 13th for Kreider, who set a new career high with his eighth power play goal in just his 18th game. He’s been phenomenal.

The second was strange. Speaking of which, what on earth convinced Gallant to reinsert Jarred Tinordi over Nils Lundkvist again? Libor Hajek was recalled following his two week conditioning stint. He would’ve been a better option than Tinordi, whose lousy turnover allowed Vinnie Hinostroza to score unassisted at 2:26. It was a horrible play.

A few minutes later, a strong shift from the fourth line got the crowd back into it. I had felt that Gallant needed to put out Ryan Reaves to wake up the team. He plays with urgency as do his line mates. On a good shift behind the Buffalo net, Dryden Hunt drew a delayed call. On it, the Rangers held onto the puck for a while. Eventually, Jacob Trouba would score on the six-on-five when he was allowed to put in a rebound of a Panarin shot at 8:03. Chytil got an assist. He was their best player. Even though Panarin wound up with three assists, it was Chytil who was front and center during shifts. He’s growing. The goals should come.

Following the Trouba goal, things went haywire. On a good Panarin outlet for Ryan Strome, the second line center patiently waited before working a give and go with Kakko, who had all night to move to the middle and easily beat a helpless Dell for his third in four games at 12:07. It was a strong move from a more confident player. But the coverage on it was nil. Defense optional. That allowed Kakko to increase his point streak to a career best four games (3-2-5). He looks more comfortable now.

But before PA announcer Joe Tolleson could even announce the goal, Tage Thompson was allowed way too much time and space to fire a laser through a screen to beat Georgiev high glove side to tie the game at three 50 seconds later. Not only did he have a player in front, but Tinordi screened him. This was a brutal defensive sequence. Not much the goalie could’ve done.

Before you could relax, the Sabres made it two in a row when Thompson and Victor Olofsson combined to set up Dahlin for a clear one-timer from the point that Georgiev whiffed on 15 seconds later to groans. This was the one goal you could pin only on him. He was visibly frustrated.

Now trailing by a goal, it was the Rangers’ turn to respond quickly. That they did when K’Andre Miller had a shot get past Dell with Reaves in front. On this shift, Gallant had Barclay Goodrow with Reaves and Kevin Rooney. He decided to move Goodrow down to center the fourth line while rewarding Hunt by moving him up to the top line with Zibanejad and Kreider. Hunt earned it.

It still isn’t exactly a fluid situation. They don’t have a top right wing to fill the void left by Pavel Buchnevich. Unless Alexis Lafreniere improves or Gallant considers trying Julien Gauthier there after another effective game, it looks like an eyesore. Vitali Kravtsov would look good in that spot. He scored twice for Traktor on Sunday. He’s up to four goals already. It makes you wonder what they were thinking. At some point, Chris Drury must address this hole. Don’t expect it anytime soon.

The four goals scored over 82 seconds were a rarity. It’s not often you see that many goals over such a brief span. That’s how bad the teams played along with the goalies. Though I’d still say Georgiev only gave up one bad goal. Not three or four as some of the fairweather fans would have you believe. I felt after he was replaced by Shesterkin to start the third, they were disrespectful. Fans like that are part of why I shake my head now.

For two periods, the Blueshirts didn’t dominate an opponent that isn’t on their level. They let them hang around. All the Sabres had to do was steal the third for a win. It’s a good thing that didn’t happen.

Instead, the Rangers played much better in front of Shesterkin. They outshot Buffalo 13-4. Most of the period was spent in the Sabres’ end. They tested Dell, who made a few good saves to give his team a chance at the win. Despite allowing five goals including the crazy Lindgren winner with under a second to go, he played okay. Dell finished with 31 saves.

There weren’t many penalties called. Strome got nabbed for a trip on Girgensons, who definitely did a good acting job to sell it. No wonder Strome shook his head as he went to the box. It should’ve been two each. Strome for tripping and Girgensons for Unsportsmanlike Conduct (Embellishment). Good thing the Rangers killed the penalty off. Shesterkin only had to make one save.

As much time as they spent attacking in the Buffalo zone, the Blueshirts couldn’t seem to put the game away. Chytil was around the puck a lot. He wound up with five shots. So too did Gauthier, who looks like a different player. Their line with Alexis Lafreniere has been quite effective. I doubt Gallant will change it. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing Gauthier get a look on the first line. If not, try Chytil. But he’s showing improvement overall and even on face-offs where he went 5-and-5.

Despite dominating the period, it looked like the Rangers were destined to go to three-on-three overtime. However, some sheer determination from Kreider in the waning seconds changed that. On a play behind the Buffalo net, he outmuscled Thompson to free up a loose puck for Adam Fox, who got it to Zibanejad. Having previously been taken down, he made a perfect pass across for an easy Lindgren finish before the buzzer.

It happened that suddenly. Just a great play all around by the skill players. All started by Kreider. He didn’t get credit for an assist on the game-winner. But it was his extra effort that turned it into a winning play. O’ Captain! My Captain!

As nice as it was to see Lindgren get the goal, it was Kreider making a critical play. He’s been on it since the start. He’s always battling around the net. He also could’ve had another when his redirect of a Trouba point shot hit the crossbar. That’s how well he’s played. Even more, we’re seeing a different Kreider, who is coming back strong defensively. He deserves a lot of credit. He’s leading by example.

It’s always better to win than lose. Especially coming off a tough one-goal loss at Toronto. These are the games they need to win. You still gotta take care of inferior competition. It allows them to enter the big Thanksgiving Eve game versus the Islanders 11-4-3. That’s 25 points out of a possible 36. You can’t argue with the results.

Now come the Islanders. They’re struggling mightily. They have a hard time scoring goals and are making costly mistakes that wind up in their net. You know they’ll be up for this game. They don’t want to lose another home game and drop seven consecutive games. They already are getting booed out of UBS Arena.

I’m only going to say this once. The Rangers are the healthier and better team at the moment. They have two days to prepare. This must be a win. It should be in regulation. Given the recent history, I want to see Zibanejad, Panarin and Fox produce. They gave us nothing last year versus Barry Trotz’ club. The Islanders are down Ryan Pulock and could still be without ace defenseman Adam Pelech.

Just win. Nothing else needs to be said.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Rasmus Dahlin, BUF (goal plus 🍎, 4 SOG, +2 in game high 26:58)

2nd 🌟 Filip Chytil, NYR (assist, 5 SOG, 5 of 10 on draws in 15:12, really looking improved)

1st 🌟 Chris Kreider, NYR (13th goal including career high 8th PPG, hard work set up Lindgren winner at 19:59, the true captain)

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Devils’ turnaround in Tampa earns a vital two points

Momentum is a funny thing sometimes – you just never know when it can shift in a period, a game or even a season for players and teams alike. We saw several examples of this in Tampa this afternoon for a rare Devils matinee that didn’t suck, although in November a 4 PM start barely qualifies as a matinee, even in Tampa. Still, the task looked daunting at the outset whatever the start time, with the Devils now trying to snap a three-game losing streak against the two-time champs. Things looked even more daunting when the Devils fell behind 3-1 early in the second period, then predictably botched a couple of power plays that could have gotten them closer before the end of the middle frame. You could easily see things spiraling out of control with the Devils playing only teams with a winning record the rest of the month, I was almost tempted to turn the game off and get the carving knives out after they quit in Florida and slogged their way through much of the first two periods at Amalie Arena (wish it was still the Thunderdome…at least it’s not gonna be Crypto Arena though).

Given all that, what happened in the third period is just unexplainable. To be exact…four unanswered goals to stun the champs 5-3, led by a sophomore skater who had been clueless and hopeless all year suddenly finding his game with three points (including two goals), and a still-young goalie who looked bad for the first game and a half of this trip before rallying to make a ton of key saves down the stretch – including an unfathomable two-on-zero stop.

Maybe it’s a good thing I saw very little of the first four periods or so of this Florida trip. I could have watched Thursday but never turned it on, and it was just as well after a frustrating first period where the Devils put up a supposed twenty-two shots on net (I say supposed if only cause I find it hard to believe both teams got 40+ shots in a regulation game, especially in Florida which has a history of overcounting shots but I digress), but only were able to score one goal by Dougie Hamilton. Even that fragile lead got blown to the winds after a crushing soft goal given up by Mackenzie Blackwood with seven seconds remaining in the period. Of course the result was predictable from there as the Panthers ran riot scoring three goals in the first 8:15 of the second period getting Blackwood pulled, and the Panthers’ Carter Knight had as comfortable a 45-save win as you could get in those final two periods.

With that game and the team’s previous two losses as a backdrop, I wasn’t particularly anxious to turn on this game against Tampa either, one I more or less expected to be a rout. Instead of all things, I was watching the end of the Red Bulls’ playoff game (with our broadcaster Steve Cangialosi on the play-by-play) and it only served to make me glad I’m not as emotionally invested in MLS after the way their season ended. Early on, it didn’t look like I was going to be proven wrong about the Devils game as they fell behind 3-1 early in the second period after sloughing their way through a first period being outshot 9-4.

At least one Devil who showed some signs of life – finally – was Yegor Sharangovich, who got his first goal of the season in that opening twenty minutes. After a rookie season where he was the toast of the town with 16 goals and 30 points in 54 games came a hellish sophomore slump with just three assists in thirteen games, a -2 and declining icetime, even being a healthy scratch for two games recently until Tyce Thompson’s unfortunate long-term injury got Sharangovich back in the lineup. Not that he’s been the only sophomore who’s struggled after a fine rookie season, with guys like Janne Kuokkanen and Ty Smith also feeling the varsity blues this year. Still, it was nice to see Yegor finally get off the schneid. Not that I thought we’d be seeing the start of a volcano eruption or anything.

Mount Devilsuvius still lay dormant for much of the second period, and Victor Hedman’s bad-angle goal didn’t exactly engender a lot confidence from me in Blackwood finding his game anytime this afternoon, particularly after he just got pulled in Florida two nights prior. Maybe it was fair to question Lindy Ruff sending him out for the Panther game a few nights after getting his bell rung at the Garden. It’s hard to say where things started to shift, the Devils put together some good shifts and offensive chances toward the end of the second period but it felt more like the beginning of a tease than the beginning of a potentially season-saving period.

Our third period eruption was triggered by a likely source – rookie Dawson Mercer, who just continues to impress with his sixth goal and eleventh point in the first sixteen games of his career. It’s not even just his stats but his hockey sense that continues to impress above all, as his goal came off a brilliant move where he faked a wraparound then put on the brakes at the last minute to stuff the puck in short-side against Andrei Vasilevsky.

Not that even our brilliant rookie would have been enough to lead the Devils back into the game without what turned out to be the most important moment of a nail-biting final twenty minutes, a jaw-dropping save from Blackwood on a two-on-zero breakaway. You don’t even see two on zero breakaways unless perhaps sometimes goes wrong in the three-on-three OT. Whenever I see a two on zero breakaway I think of where the Devils’ season died in 1999 against Pittsburgh in Game 7, with Martin Brodeur actually making one save on a two-on-zero before the Penguins stuffed home the rebound and drove another nail in our coffin that year. On this day, Blackwood actually did his legendary predecessor one better, when his glove save prevented a 4-2 Lightning lead that would have almost certainly ended our comeback just as it began.

Let’s just overlook for a moment the fact it was again the Smith-Damon Severson pairing causing that breakaway against and savor a ten-bell save. If you’re going to come from behind you pretty much need your goalie to be perfect and Blackwood stopped twelve of the Lightning’s thirteen shots that period. We’ll get to the other one in a moment, but back to the comeback which got another boost with yet another highlight-reel play, after PK Subban’s brilliant 150-foot pass from his own goalline to the far blueline sprung Jimmy Vesey for a breakaway goal that tied the game at three and gave Vesey his fourth goal of the year. Give PK credit too, he hasn’t lived up to his reputation in his first two years as a Devil but is playing better so far this season with nine points in sixteen games so far this season, and improved defense as well.

Now with the offense cooking, it would be yet another impressive skill goal to give us the lead, or more specifically a skill zone entry from Jesper Bratt, corralling the rebound from his own shot and finding an open Sharangovich short-side, where his heavy shot went through Vasilevsky as if it was last season when seemingly everything was finding the net. Sometimes I’m skeptical of the whole ‘once one goal comes then a bunch will come’ cliche but maybe it’s true for Yegor. He also had an assist on the Mercer goal, matching the rest of his season point total in a single game. Our three goals which turned a two-goal deficit into a lead came over the span of just eight minutes, twenty-two seconds.

It didn’t even take thirty seconds for the Devils to nearly lose the lead when Brayden Point split our top defensive pairing and Ryan Graves’ tripping penalty resulted in a penalty shot. Almost as if trying to draw out the suspense, the game was stopped for several minutes as the officials tried to determine if the puck had somehow crossed the goalline underneath Blackwood (it didn’t). I half joked maybe this delay would ice Point, but I also hoped it wouldn’t ice our goalie. Maybe neither happened, but fortunately for us Point’s shot clanged off the post…bullet dodged, for the moment. With just under five minutes remaining, a Hamilton penalty meant we had to kill off one of the best PP’s in the league without our best defenseman, and after we already gave up a PP goal in the first period to old buddy Pat Maroon scoring a Maroon-type goal, taking out the trash from a rebound in front. Fortunately our third-period PK did a better job at holding the lead and killed this one off.

Despite everything that we’d done in the third period, I was still nervous about killing off the empty net situation after seeing a couple go awry already this season. Fortunately we wouldn’t have to kill off the 6-on-5 for very long, Graves’ shot/clear looked like it was going for an icing just wide of the net but a hustling Tomas Tatar canceled out the icing and put home the rebound for his second goal of the season and the Devils’ fourth of a stunning third period. It’s too soon to say whether the Devils’ 5-3 win was a season saver or a defining moment, but there were certainly important things that came out of this game. Sharangovich was more engaged at both ends of the ice and got his just reward on the scoresheet, while giving the rest of us hope that maybe he wasn’t just a fluke or merely a product of Jack Hughes last year. Certainly Blackwood holding the fort in the final half of the game restored some confidence just when I was starting to wonder when the coach was going to start giving Jonathan Bernier more games in net.

Of course more needs to be done for the Devils to sustain their good start to the season, starting with the special teams. Granted the PK got an important kill in the third but they weren’t exactly spotless today, and the PP took an 0-for the Florida trip. Our other sophomores need to pick up our game, but Sharangovich’s afternoon gives me hope that maybe the others can come alive soon as well. And we need to get off to a better start in games, it seems as if either we start well without much to show for it or we start poorly, but either way the results have to improve so we aren’t constantly scrambling late in games. It’s hard to complain in the big picture about ten points in their last nine games against tough competition though.

Author’s note: Speaking of hot teams and putting a bow on my previous blog, Utica not only tied but surpassed the AHL record for wins to start a season with twelve, kudos to them!

Devils Three Stars:

  1. Mackenzie Blackwood (31 saves including a 2-on-0)
  2. Yegor Sharangovich (two goals, assist in 15:19 of icetime)
  3. Dawson Mercer (goal, +2 in 19:29 of icetime)
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Zibanejad in COVID Protocol as Rangers prepare for Sabres

Don’t expect to see Mika Zibanejad tomorrow night when the Rangers host the Sabres. The number one center is in COVID protocol. Colin Stephenson had the first update followed by Mollie Walker and Vince Mercogliano.

During practice, Greg McKegg was in the middle of line rushes for Zibanejad. That means he worked with Chris Kreider and Barclay Goodrow. That’s only for today. Things can change for Sunday’s game on Hockey Fights Cancer night at The Garden.

Let’s hope it does. Nothing against McKegg, who has filled in admirably when he’s been recalled. But he’s a support player who should be used in a secondary role. That’s how the Rangers have for the most part utilized the Keg Man. In a third or fourth line role.

Assuming Zibanejad is COVID positive, that means he won’t play. An obvious hit to the lineup. Especially the top six. Although he hasn’t scored like he needs to, his 14 points (4-10-14) rank fourth in team scoring. That trails Kreider and co-leaders Adam Fox and Artemi Panarin.

Ryan Strome is fifth with 10 points (2-8-10) thus far despite missing four games. He’s currently on a five-game point streak (1-5-6). Obviously, the second line pivot needs to continue to produce. Hopefully, he and Panarin can carry the offense along with the resurgent Kaapo Kakko (2-2-4 in last 3).

Without Zibanejad, there’s two suggestions. One would be to shift Goodrow to center. He can play first line with Kreider and another forward. Julien Gauthier comes to mind. However, Filip Chytil would be the obvious choice to move up to anchor the top line. He has looked good and it would be an opportunity to see what he can do.

They can have Kevin Rooney move up to the third line while keeping Alexis Lafreniere and Gauthier intact. That’s another idea. Have McKegg center Dryden Hunt and Ryan Reaves on the fourth line. But knowing Gerard Gallant, he’ll likely keep Rooney with his fourth line line mates to start tomorrow’s game. He can always adjust.

The good news is Zibanejad did travel back to New York. If it’s only precautionary, maybe they’ll get lucky. I doubt it. They’re facing Buffalo. Why take any chances?

The next game is on Thanksgiving Eve when they visit the Islanders at the brand new UBS Arena in Belmont. That opens tonight with the Isles hosting Calgary. That would give Zibanejad a few days to recover.

The Rangers will again travel to Boston for their traditional game against the Bruins on Black Friday. It was moved up to national TV. So, it’s a 1 PM start. The cool part is you get afternoon hockey on a Friday during a holiday. That’s always fun.

Even better, the Islanders visit MSG the following Sunday on Nov. 28. So, you get the best rivalry with a pair of games four days apart during holiday season. Exactly the way it should be. The final two meetings aren’t until April. Those could be significant.

For now, it looks like the Rangers will be without Zibanejad. Every team has to deal with injuries or COVID issues. It has hit Ottawa hard with today’s game canceled. Who knows when they’ll return to action. Pittsburgh had also played without coach Mike Sullivan recently.

It is what it is. Good teams find a way to overcome setbacks to win games. We’ll see what the Rangers are made of.

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Strong push comes up just short for Rangers in playoff style loss to Maple Leafs, Strome calls out face-offs

Sometimes, there are games you lose that you can learn from. That’s precisely what the Rangers should take out of a hard fought 2-1 loss to a very good Maple Leafs in Toronto.

In coming up just short in their comeback attempt, the Blueshirts had a four-game winning streak snapped. Even though it’s a frustrating loss considering the chances they had late, there are positives from this game. One in which both Ryan Strome and coach Gerard Gallant talked about the kind of game it was. Playoff caliber.

“I think if we played like we did in the third the whole time, we would’ve given ourselves a better chance,” analyzed Strome following the loss. “But I don’t think we were too bad. … I thought we played hard, we did a lot of good things. I don’t think we gave them too, too much.”

Although Strome was correct to call attention to the lost face-offs in the postgame highlighted above, he did acknowledge that it was a good game. It was much closer fought than the previous meeting which Igor Shesterkin stole by making 40 saves. Something Gallant liked. Of course, they’ll want to improve on face-offs. The Leafs dominated them by winning a ridiculous 80 pert of draws (37 to 9). That’s not a misprint.

“Good game, good hockey game,” Gallant said afterwards. “Pushed at the end, tried to get the tie. We had two or three good chances. Fell a little bit short, but we came in here last time and got outplayed bad. Tonight, it was a pretty even game.”

Despite that insane edge, Gallant focused on the way his team played. They sure got after Toronto in an entertaining third period. Trailing by two on a pair of Morgan Rielly goals including one on a rare power play (only two in the game), the Rangers turned it on. After being held to 14 shots in the first two periods, they matched that total in a hectic third.

Leading the way was the newly minted third line. For a second consecutive game, Filip Chytil was in the middle between Alexis Lafreniere and the suddenly emerging Julien Gauthier. Their ability to get pucks deep and forecheck created momentum. Following scoring his first goal the other night, Gauthier attempted nine shots with five reaching Leafs’ starter Jack Campbell. He was front and center.

A good shift from that line gave the Rangers momentum. Having not been able to crack a stingy Leafs’ defense, finally they did thanks to a smart play from Strome. On a forecheck with Kaapo Kakko, Strome wisely threw a shot at Campbell from a tough angle. Unable to control it, the rebound came right to fourth liner Dryden Hunt, who buried it for his first goal as a Ranger. It was a nice reward for a hard-working player. He got plenty of love at the bench including from Chris Kreider.

Now trailing by one with 16:30 left, the Blueshirts picked up their play. For most of the night, they were unable to establish anything off the rush. They also had little forecheck due to a lack of possession time. That can be attributed to the face-off issue. But as Gallant explained to reporters who tried to get him to overreact to one game, the Leafs are one of the best face-off teams in the NHL. It was one of those nights. They have dominated the Rangers on draws in two home games. There’s one match-up remaining on Jan. 19 at MSG.

Finally with some momentum from the Hunt goal, they carried the play. Stringing together three straight offensive shifts that pinned Toronto in, they nearly tied it. However, Campbell prevented it with some strong goaltending. He was on from the beginning. His best work came during the second when he made four huge saves including denying Gauthier in tight and gloving a Kevin Rooney shorthanded bid. He also stifled Artemi Panarin on a mini- break and shut him down on a point blank shot.

Speaking of Panarin, he didn’t have too many opportunities. But a K’Andre Miller backdoor feed just missed connecting. If he gets it clean, it’s likely in the back of the net. Although he had four shots on Campbell, the one instance he didn’t shoot the puck near the end was frustrating. With a clean look at it from the left circle, he over passed for Kreider, who couldn’t handle the puck which went out of play. Sometimes, Panarin needs to be more selfish.

Probably the turning point of the third was a wise decision Leafs’ coach Sheldon Keefe made. Displeased with his team’s sudden backpedaling, he used a timeout to help the home team regroup. He really laid into his players and got the message across.

One thing that was noticeable in the final frame was the Rangers’ compete level. If they were shutdown by the improved Toronto defense the first two periods, they sure battled to win loose pucks and apply more pressure on a tough opponent late. Comparatively speaking, the two Original Six rivals combined for 27 shots with the slight edge to the Rangers 14-13 in a way more open third.

Shesterkin made his best saves in the final 20 minutes to keep the Blueshirts in it. That included a dazzler on John Tavares and another key stop to deny Mitch Marner. Outside of Rielly, who beat him twice with one from long distance through traffic and the other closer in on the power play after the skilled Leafs’ defenseman went around Jacob Trouba, Shesterkin was good. He made 28 saves on 30 shots.

As noted above, there were only two power plays. One for each side. Unfortunately, the Rangers lost the battle of special teams. They failed to score on their only power play which came less than a minute after Rielly notched his first of the game with Wayne Simmonds helping screen Shesterkin. Although the man-advantage got setup time, they only had one shot. Not enough to threaten the league’s third ranked penalty kill.

It was midway through the game that a Hunt trip on veteran Jason Spezza handed the Leafs their one power play. Still up a goal, they were able to convert thanks to some strong work up top. With Kreider so close to clearing the puck out, both Tavares and Auston Matthews combined to keep the puck alive. Eventually, with Mika Zibanejad out of position, Matthews got the puck over to Rielly, who made a great move one-on-one to get past Trouba and go five-hole on Shesterkin from the slot for a power play goal at 10:59 of the second.

That was a big goal. Especially in a hotly contested game where neither side was giving up much room at even strength. It was the kind of game you’ll see if this team is indeed in the playoff hunt. There’s no reason to think they won’t be. But it was evident throughout that the Leafs keyed on both Zibanejad and Adam Fox. Neither were factors with Fox held without a shot. He was blanketed completely while Zibanejad had three shots. Even Kreider was held in check. Credit Toronto for a stingy game plan.

While Fox didn’t have his best game, it was the steadier play from Miller that opened eyes. Coming off a good game, the second-year defenseman made good decisions with and without the puck. He used his reach to break up a couple of chances including a nice recovery to deny Marner. He also again showed off his strong skating by jumping into the rush. Had his centering feed for Panarin connected in the third, who knows. Maybe the game goes to overtime. Miller’s sudden progression is a positive development.

Another one is the sudden turnaround from Trouba. Yes. He was on for both Leafs’ goals. However, he was all over the ice when things heated up. He made good pinches and had five shots on goal. On an off night for Fox, Trouba was leading the charge offensively. He got one of the best chances to tie it, but an aggressive Campbell came out to make a good glove save on his shot. He wound up playing the most minutes (23:44) over Fox (22:44).

Gallant rode his top guns with Panarin (20:49), Zibanejad (20:50) and Miller (20:25) seeing over 20 minutes. The latter earned the extra ice time with his superb play. Something Joe Micheletti picked up on, referencing it as his best game this season. You’ll get no argument here. Given his skating, I think it’s fair to say that Miller has some untapped potential. I believe he’s capable of contributing more offensively. We’ll see how that evolves.

It was also good to see rookie Nils Lundkvist get a few more shifts. A good skater with offensive instincts, he was more effective at five-on-five than two nights ago. The Rangers also trailed. So, Gallant was looking for offense. But overall, I thought this was one of Lundkvist’s better games. He made some solid plays in his end and was active throughout. He’s still learning the game.

While he received 15:26, old Sweden teammate Rasmus Sandin logged 14:31 for the Maple Leafs. They once paired together for Sweden at the World Junior Championships. Interestingly, they were taken one pick apart in 2018 with Lundkvist going number 28 followed by Sandin at 29. Both have bright futures.

If there was a gripe as the game got late, I didn’t understand why Gallant had his fourth line out with the third defense pair against the Matthews line. There were less than five minutes left and they got caught on defending against the Leafs’ most dangerous scoring line. At that point being down a goal, shorten the bench or double shift a Panarin or Zibanejad. It would’ve made more sense than cringing at the prospect of Matthews or Marner finishing them off.

They never stopped pressing for the equalizer. After Fox had a shot blocked out of play, it looked like the game was over. Following a predictable Tavares face-off win, the Leafs appeared ready to get the puck out. Instead, they didn’t. Somehow, a loose puck came right to Strome with a second remaining. His shot was stopped by Campbell as the buzzer sounded. It would’ve counted. A crazy ending to a well played game.

If you’re looking for any other positives, make it three straight games with a point for Kakko. He picked up the secondary helper on the Hunt tally early in the third that made it a game. Kakko is definitely looking more confident with and without the puck. But he went without a shot. He can’t get shut out.

Lafreniere didn’t register a shot either. Though he had a decent game on the cycle while being credited with two hits including a heavy one on Ondrej Kase late that definitely grabbed attention. He’s been more active on both the forecheck and back check since being teamed with Gauthier. I wouldn’t change that line. I like what they’re bringing with Chytil playing with more poise. Keep them intact.

If there’s one concern out of this game, it’s the lack of finish from Zibanejad and Panarin. They’re not being paid just to distribute the puck. The fact is both have four goals over the team’s first 17 games. Lafreniere has as many and he’s still figuring it out. Rooney has one less goal. Only Kreider has held up his end of the bargain with his 12 goals by far leading the team.

Even Strome must pick it up. While he extended his point streak to five (1-5-6), it would be nice if he thought shot more. He can’t always be content to set up Panarin. His game has picked up. I also loved him going at Michael Bunting twice. He’s very accountable as we saw in the postgame interview. He only won one draw out of 13, which he called “pitiful.”

If the Rangers are going to get where they want to, their top players must score more goals. The supporting cast is better even without Sammy Blais. But they need the leaders to lead the way.

Instead of traveling to Ottawa for another one of those afternoon specials on Saturday, they have an extra day off before hosting the Sabres Sunday night at 6 PM. It’ll be Hockey Fights Cancer Night. I wonder why they are having it at 6 on a football Sunday. Even if both local teams stink, people love their NFL. It won’t help with attendance which has suffered.

Speaking of Buffalo, they got absolutely rolled by Calgary 5-0 at home. The Flames are good. Interestingly, they’ll test their luck in the first ever home game at UBS Arena tomorrow night against the Islanders. That should be interesting. I would expect the Sabres to be a lot better on Sunday. They play hard for coach Don Granato. The Rangers can’t underestimate them. They must bank the two points.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Igor Shesterkin, NYR (28 saves including 13 of 13 in 3rd)

2nd 🌟 Jack Campbell, Leafs (27 saves including 13 of 14 in 3rd)

1st 🌟 Morgan Rielly, Leafs (2 goals including PPG in 2nd for GWG)

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Down on the farm: Utica’s 10-0 start showcasing some of the Devils’ future

Most of the time, it’s hard for me to really get invested in the Devils’ minor league team considering games are not easily accessible on or offline without paying an additional streaming package. And seeing as I don’t even watch all eighty-two Devils games as it is, it’s hardly worth it to get a streaming package for the minor league team as well (especially one that had largely struggled for the better part of the last decade). Still, it’s hard to totally ignore what’s going on in Utica right now with the Devils’ AHL affiliate upping its record to a perfect 10-0-0 in their first ten games of the season.

I did think that kind of start – now just one game off the AHL record of eleven straight wins to begin a season – merited a blog here, even if I’m still tripping over the fact that the team name is Utica Comets instead of Utica Devils…both because we’d been just tagging our AHL affiliate with the Devils name for the most part since the days of the Albany River Rats, and also because franchise legend Martin Brodeur got his start in the AHL with what was then known as the Utica Devils. It could be coincidence that we’ve returned to Utica once Marty got back in the organization at the management level, or perhaps not.

It’s hard to even find highlights of Utica, the one posted above was from almost three weeks ago. I’m the first to admit the extent of my familiarity to what’s going on with the minor league team is the research I’m doing for this blog, plus hearing about the players who’ve been called up to this point, such as goalie Nico Daws who had two starts here in just his second post-draft season, and including the latest callup today, 22-year old winger Fabian Zetterlund (3G-6A-9 points in 10 AHL games). Not to mention Alexander Holtz, whose hot start in the AHL (five goals in four games) prompted his initial call-up here.

Part of the Comets’ success can be attributed to having an experienced coach, as Devils assistant GM Dan MacKinnon made a wise hire of longtime NHL and AHL coach Kevin Dineen to be behind the bench for Utica. Dineen coached in the NHL for the Panthers from 2011-13 (and was on the other end of our back-and-forth seven game first-round series in 2012) after a long NHL playing career, and since then has been both an NHL assistant and AHL head coach, so he clearly brought experience from all points of view to the organization.

When it comes to the players, Utica has obviously gotten contributions from a lot of sources but so far the goalies stand out. Daws has won his six starts in Utica with a GAA of 2.17 and a save percentage of .936, and the 20-year old has come a long way since he wasn’t even picked in the draft two and a half years ago. After also getting his first NHL win against the Sabres in October, it’s been a heady month plus for the 2020 3rd round pick. Yet so far it’s been #2 goalie Akira Schmid who’s had the better splits in his four starts (1.23 GAA and .957 save percentage). Schmid was a 2018 5th round pick, and had been in the USHL since being drafted until this year when he – like Daws – got his first AHL action. Not sure I’d consider Schmid a legit prospect yet, but he’s still only 21 himself. A lot of unheralded goalies pop late, so who knows. Clearly the success of Daws and Schmid were a big reason the Devils felt they could move on from vet Scott Wedgewood.

In front of any good goalie is generally a good defense, among the Comets’ defensive leaders are 2019 2nd rounder Nikita Okhotyuk, and Coyotes 2018 2nd rounder Kevin Bahl – dealt to us in the Taylor Hall trade – who made his NHL debut with seven games last year. Both players fit a renewed emphasis within the organization on developing big players who can contribute to complement our young, skill players already in the organization at the AHL and NHL levels. Reilly Walsh, a 2017 3rd rounder from Harvard, is in his second season in the AHL and so far has 6 goals and 21 points in 43 AHL games. If there’s an offensive threat from the blueline for Utica, it’s Walsh who put up 58 points in 63 games during his last two years of college. So far our only AHL defenseman to see action at the NHL level is Colton White, who’s bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL the last few years and looks to be settling in as organizational depth on D.

Generally when you have a successful AHL team you have at least a couple of career ‘lifers’ there, guys who are among the best players in the league but for one reason or another can never crack the NHL. Chase De Leo would qualify as such a player, joining Utica this year after playing under Dineen in San Diego the past few seasons. After a decent NHL camp he was optioned down again, and has twelve points in seven games so far. Having just turned 26 with all of five NHL games to his credit, his prospect days are long past but sometimes it’s good to have guys who are around because of a love of the game. You really have to love the game to be riding the AHL buses with next to no chance of cracking the NHL.

Another guy in that vein is A.J. Greer (3G-4A in ten games), an organizational role player who was dealt to us in the Kyle Palmieri/Travis Zajac trade with the Islanders last year. Greer leads the team in PIM’s with twenty-six so you know he plays with an edge and every team – NHL or AHL – needs that. Also adding goalscoring is 27-year old Joseph Gambardella (six goals in nine games). Of course the nucleus of your team should be younger players, and the Comets clearly have/had that with no fewer than four forwards meriting NHL callups so far…Zetterlund, Holtz, Jesper Boqvist (eight points in seven games at the AHL level) and Tyce Thompson (four goals and seven points in seven games before his callup). That’s not even counting a guy like Marian Studenic who looked fine in his time here, then got puzzlingly sent down and has put up four points in his first three games since clearing waivers.

It is fair to wonder long-term how Utica will be affected by so many callups, particularly at the forward position, but such is life as an AHL fan and another reason why it’s hard to get into watching their games. Perhaps players like 2019 3rd rounder Graeme Clarke (25 points in 40 AHL games) or another Coyotes import Nate Schnarr (eight points in eight games so far this year) can continue to step up to fill those voids. It would be nice to see more from one-time Lightning first-rounder Nolan Foote (two points in ten games so far) after he was one of the two main pieces in the Blake Coleman trade. It does help that the other one was Dawson Mercer, who’s likely never going to see the AHL except maybe on a rehab stint someday. Perhaps some late season PTO’s among drafted players whose own seasons ended – whether from college or in a foreign league – will help down the stretch, albeit almost anyone can say that.

Ironically, Utica can tie the AHL record for wins to start the season tonight at Rochester, who set the record themselves with eleven straight victories at the start of 1984-85. Wherever the win streak ends, hopefully this year there’ll be an extended Calder Cup playoff run for the kids to benefit from and continue to develop.

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