Games #57 and #58: The long nightmare is finally over

Perhaps it’s a good thing my recap streak ended yesterday. I just couldn’t even feign doing a writeup for the Devils’ latest fiasco in Chicago on Thursday where they blew another early 2-0 lead and once again Cory Schneider skated off a loser in a game that largely wasn’t of his own doing. Still, five unanswered goals against was one more depressing result in a year full of them, for team and Cory alike. I was unable to watch much of Thursday other than bits and pieces of the game coming apart in the third period, and just couldn’t watch tonight. Not only cause I figured on another disaster in Minnesota, but because I’d gotten little sleep the night before and really had no time for a recap anyway till I got home today where I just had to conk out. Catching up on sleep was more important than a meaningless game or complaining recap, hence my late-night blog (more than an actual recap) now.

When I initially saw the Devils won in OT on Twitter after waking up from my long nap/sleep, I was bemused. It was like oh whoopee, NOW they get a meaningless OT win. It was only after scrolling Twitter a little more that I found out the salient details – specifically that tonight’s starter Keith Kinkaid was pulled at 4-1 and Cory played well enough in relief for finally – FINALLY! – some good fortune to come his way as the Devils managed a stirring comeback to win 5-4 in OT that meant more to one player than anyone else on or off the ice.

Which isn’t to say that his teammates, the fans or team employees like Steve Cangialosi (listen to the emotional call above) also didn’t gain a lot of satisfaction from seeing that ridiculous twenty-one game regular season losing streak finally come to an end for Cory. In fact, to his credit Cory wasn’t whooping it up in an emotional fit after finally getting back into the win column at the NHL level since December…of 2017. I’m sure he had an ear-to-ear smile underneath his mask and understated reaction though. Much like the one screenshotted here with Cory the only possible recipient of the team’s helmet for unsung hero of the night.

Image

Obviously this game won’t mean anything to the standings – for us at least, for the Wild it’s another story. In fact you can already hear the moaning from the fanbase about the two points possibly decreasing our lotto odds. Still, this team needs to find out whether they can possibly get anything out of Cory for the rest of his contract before they’re forced to make a potentially onerous financial decision on him this offseason. I’ve said all along I’d like to see how Cory plays once he got the monkey (which grew into a gorilla) off his back, well now he’s done it and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.

And yes I’m aware the ‘winless streak’ comes with an asterisk because Cory actually did get a win that counted – in the playoffs last Spring. Still, you could tell the 0-for the regular season and 0-for-2018 weighed on everyone’s mind, so it mattered even though it was a bit of a manufactured stat. It’s useless to make the case it was a faux stat when it wasn’t. In some ways it’s telling Cory played his best hockey in 2018 during the playoffs when the 0-for the regular season stat was not an issue either way. You could tell it mattered to the team too with their nervous play in close games during the streak, from the bad offense against the Islanders last week to the own-goal fest in Anaheim earlier this season.

Yes, the waiting is indeed over for Cory and the franchise. Yesterday in Chicago no longer matters. Our comeback and five different goalscorers tonight to salvage two points out of the road trip are incidential to the only story of this weekend for the Devils and Cory Schneider. Even in victory the poor guy couldn’t resist some self-deprecating humor when being presented with the helmet during the postgame.

No apologies needed at this point…now it’s time to just play hockey for the rest of this season and see what this player and team can get out of the final twenty plus games of the campaign.

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Game #57: Georgiev wins his third straight decision as Rangers finally get secondary scoring in 6-2 win over Sabres

A picture is worth a thousand words. Can the Rangers freeze frame the goal above that Pavel Buchnevich set up Jimmy Vesey on highlighting a well deserved 6-2 win over the Sabres? That was a thing of beauty. I didn’t see it until afterwards due to skipping the first two periods in part to annoyance with Filip Chytil scratched and my allergy cold.

In any event, it was nice to see some different players come through in a victory. This team has been carried so much by the top line that they may as well have had an anchor attached to their backs. For once, they didn’t rely on the scorching Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider or sizzling Mats Zuccarello.

This one was won due to the role of the supporting cast. On a night Chytil sat out for Hartford recall Connor Brickley, the other three lines got on the score sheet in support of improving rookie Alexandar Georgiev, who made 31 saves to win his third consecutive decision. From the MSG broadcast at the happy conclusion that included plenty of ribbing of Vladislav Namestnikov for getting off the schneid, Sam Rosen noted that Georgiev has stopped 141 of the last 148 shots over his last four starts.

The final score is a little misleading. The Rangers entered the third period nursing a 3-2 lead. A desperate Sabres put on a surge in the first part of the period. Georgiev came up with a couple of gems, denying Rasmus Dahlin and Tage Thompson to keep his team ahead. In his last two starts, he’s made 86 saves on 89 shots. This was a strong follow up to a career high 55 stops in a 4-1 home win over Toronto last Sunday. Listening to him speak in the postgame, he’s very intelligent and good at analyzing the game for his young age. When top goalie prospect Igor Shestyorkin comes over, there will be no rush.

With Quinn again opting for the unusual 11 forward, seven defensemen alignment, that left Brickley and Boo Nieves on a make shift fourth line. As fate would have it, Nieves deposited a Brendan Smith rebound for his third at 4:09. Brickley was in front distracting Buffalo starter Linus Ullmark when Nieves scored the game’s first goal from that “forward” Smith.

Jesper Fast had gone 13 straight games without a goal since Jan. 10. He finally broke the drought when he got credit for his eighth from Namestnikov and Tony DeAngelo for a two-goal lead at 14:03. The checking line of Fast, Namestnikov and Ryan Strome had a very good night. They combined for three goals and two assists with a plus-eight rating. Quinn raved about the cohesive trio afterwards.

Quinn expressed a little frustration that his team didn’t get rewarded in the second when the Sabres got back in it thanks to a pair of goals from top sniper Jeff Skinner (35th and 36th), sandwiched around a goal of the year candidate. That would be the unbelievable strength shown by Buchnevich behind the Buffalo net when he was able to make a great one handed pass in front for a cutting Vesey, who buried his 13th while falling down to the ice. That was a terrific play by both, who have stayed on the second line with Kevin Hayes (2 assists). Quinn liked how they finished the game, but reminded everyone that they must be more consistent defensively.

A Skinner power play goal from Sam Reinhardt and Dahlin cut the lead to one at 16:56 of the second. As bad as the Sabres are defensively, where would they be without Skinner? The former Hurricane is on pace for 50 goals in his contract year. Having acquired him last off-season, it’s imperative that they re-sign him. He will not come cheap.

At one point in the third, the shots favored the Sabres, 9-4. However, they couldn’t find the equalizer against a sharp Georgiev. His biggest save came following a scary giveaway from Kevin Shattenkirk. The right defenseman lost the puck in front right to Thompson, who fired from about 20 feet out right into Georgiev, who didn’t budge. Asked by MSG’s John Giannone about it after the game, he said he had it all the way. He was in perfect position to bail out Shattenkirk, who otherwise had a good night finishing with an assist and plus-four rating with DeAngelo.

With an injury ending Brady Skjei’s night in the second, Quinn had to rearrange the pairs. Smith moved back to defense while DeAngelo and Shattenkirk played well. Marc Staal worked with both Shattenkirk and Adam McQuaid. It all worked out.

On a superb extended shift in the Buffalo end, the Hayes line did a number on the Sabres. They cycled the puck for seemingly ever until Shattenkirk got the puck over to a open Hayes, who fooled everyone in the building with a brilliant slap pass for a open Buchnevich tip in with 4:01 remaining. His 11th goal gave him a two point night and goals in two straight. That gave the Rangers a key insurance marker.

Eight seconds later, Namestnikov got a belated Valentine’s Day gift from Ullmark on a giveaway for a empty netter that gave him his first goal since Dec. 18. A very thankful Namestnikov looked to the heavens as if to say thank you as he got plenty of taps from happy teammates, who appreciate how hard he works. It had been 23 straight games without one since he got his last in a win over Anaheim. Poetically, that was also a three-point game.

He would add his second also into a vacated net with Ullmark on the Sabres bench with 58 seconds left for the final margin.

Notes: When asked about Skjei’s availability for Sunday, he said he was “day to day.” They don’t think it’s serious. My guess is they’ll hold him out as precaution and shift Smith to D with Chytil returning for a more traditional 12 forwards, 6 D in Pittsburgh. … In the third, DeAngelo had a two punch knockdown of Kyle Okposo. Given Okposo’s history, it wasn’t too smart. Hopefully, he will be okay.

BONY 3 STARS:

3rd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (11th of season plus a helper giving him 2-1-3 in the last two games)

2nd 🌟 Jeff Skinner, BUF (2 goals for #’s 35 & 36 for the big finisher chasing Ovechkin)

1st 🌟 Vladislav Namestnikov, NYR (2-1-3 to finally erase a 23-game drought for hard working and deserving player)

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Chytil becomes latest victim of the Quinn Bin

When the Rangers visit the Sabres tonight in Western New York, Filip Chytil will not be in the lineup. The talented 19-year old rookie who’s played in 55 of the team’s 56 games, is a healthy scratch.

For whatever reason only known to disciplinarian David Quinn, Chytil finds himself as the latest victim of the Quinn Bin. At this point of the season, it’s hard to understand why. Even if the first-year coach is right about the 2017 first round pick.

It is true that his play has slipped. He hasn’t been as engaged recently. However, I don’t see the point in having him sit out for AHL recall Connor Brickley. A 26-year old journeyman who’s totaled 17 points and 33 penalty minutes in 67 career NHL games with the Panthers.

It doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the development or lack there of at the Siberia of the AHL, Hartford. Quinn gave Vinni Lettieri two games of which be barely played on the fourth line before going back to the ugly 11 forwards, seven defensemen lineup that hasn’t been successful. 2017 first round pick Lias Andersson is struggling since being sent back down to the Wolf Pack. Maybe he’s frustrated with the situation. It’s not good.

On the season, Chytil has 10 goals and nine assists for 19 points. He’s shown flashes of brilliance highlighted by a pair of beautiful rushes that resulted in identical goals against the Bruins and Blackhawks. He barely played the other night at Winnipeg, receiving a inexplicable nine shifts with just over six minutes of ice time.

Well, if the plan is to bury him on the fourth line after he was in the top nine, showing chemistry with Kevin Hayes, then he may as well watch from the press box. Even if I disagree with it, I don’t want to hardly see Chytil get shifts in Game 57 of 82 in Buffalo. It’s counterproductive.

I don’t particularly care for the seven D rotation. Outside of Brady Skjei, whose play has steadied since being teamed with Adam McQuaid, it frustrates me that Tony DeAngelo makes one mistake and he’s replaced by Neal Pionk on the top pair with Marc Staal when they’re not as effective at five-on-five. DeAngelo needs to play with Staal. Pionk isn’t as talented and has done nothing since mid-December. DeAngelo is steadier, stronger and more skilled.

Watching the veteran tandem of Brendan Smith and Kevin Shattenkirk is like watching Staal when Alain Vigneault had him mismatched with Nick Holden. How many mistakes are the overpaid tandem allowed to make? It’s bad enough Shattenkirk has thirteen points and a ugly minus-13 rating for the money he’s making. Both are slow in reacting and are an eye sore. Hopefully, this experiment ends soon when Fredrik Claesson returns. That’s how dire the D situation is.

Following tonight, the Blueshirts visit Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon. Then conclude the four-game road trip at Carolina on Tuesday. Hopefully, Chytil will respond well to the benching and get back to earning more ice time.

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Recognize The History: Classic Rangers teams, players and traditions need to come back

In thinking about the atmosphere at last Friday’s special celebration of the 25th Year Anniversary of the 1993-94 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers, there’s one thing that still stands out. It’s not what you might think.

Truth be told, we can’t get back that epic feeling of jubilation and look of astonishment on our parents’ faces from that championship team ending 54 years of curses and frustration that hot summer night on June 14, 1994. However, just seeing that roster reunite six days ago at the since renovated MSG brought back the images and anxiety of that season.

Seeing fan favorite John Davidson return to the Garden ice, reunited with Sam Rosen for the special ceremony, meant everything. The crowd chants of “JD, JD, JD!” were deafening. It was a tribute to the classy former Rangers goalie from the ’78-79 team who became a fixture in the broadcast booth with sidekick Rosen for Rangers games.

I don’t think I’ve ever told this story before in this space. Here goes. We went to a Flyers/Rangers game at MSG in the mid 90’s. This was still in the early stages of our fandom attending games after patiently waiting on a list. It’s when the building still sounded alive. The updated version is way different with our section up in the Blue Seats becoming transient due to the escalating costs. If you sit in one of the last two rows like my family, you still get a discount due to the limited view without the scoreboard. The overhang from the Chase Bridge is why. Those tickets below us have risen as have other seats above and lower with unreasonable food expenses. I rarely spend money at games. It’s a waste.

Getting back to that Flyers game. It was a Friday night because I distinctly remember that Davidson had one of those 3 PM afternoon games on Fox the next day. How do I know this detail? I was separated from my father and brother at the game. My seat was in the old press box area beneath the broadcast booth. In fact, it was Pat Verbeek’s seat if I’m not mistaking.

Following the game, I climbed over the railing into the section right next to where Davidson and Rosen broadcasted. Now that I recall correctly, it was the ‘95-96 season. The only full year Verbeek spent on Broadway after being acquired from Hartford at the ’95 trade deadline for a package that included Glen Featherstone, Michael Stewart and a first round draft pick that became future Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The Whalers also received a fourth round pick in 1996 that never made it. Of course, they gave away Giguere as did Calgary.

That one full season, Verbeek was terrific playing on the top line with Mark Messier and Adam Graves. He had 41 goals and 41 assists totaling 82 points with 129 penalty minutes and plus-29 rating over 69 games. That included a team best 17 power play goals with six game-winners. One of which I witnessed on my 19th birthday. An overtime win over the Red Wings that was set up by Messier and Brian Leetch on a rare two-man advantage back in the era of five-on-five in OT.

You either got a point for a tie, two points for a win or skated off with nothing but a loss. There was no such thing as parity. Try telling the younger generation that’s become accustomed to the Bettman point regardless of the final outcome. That’s why so many teams play for that free point. They know the second can be earned artificially during the chaotic three-on-three or the bleeping shootout.

The final part of the story from that night on a Rangers win over the hated Flyers was I waited outside the broadcast booth to see if either Rosen or Davidson were still there. Sure enough, out came JD, who was nice enough to sign a few autographs for lucky fans. I still have his signature in the Rangers ’95-96 Team Media Guide downstairs. He was in a rush due to a tight schedule that included catching a late flight to wherever he was going to work for Fox along with Doc Emrick.

I think the reason it stands out was because back then, it was a simpler time for fans to meet even the broadcasters. Now, the booth is closed off to the classic few diehards that are left over in the Blue Seats. In the old days before the renovation, you could walk from the beginning of the 400’s past that booth and to your seats. Ours were in Section 411. I had this tradition of playfully giving a knock at the door of that booth as I passed by. I guess it was a good luck ritual.

I mentioned at the start of this article that last week’s celebration invoked images I haven’t thought about in well, over 20 years. Like the classic MSG intro video for Rangers games shown above. That was always the best. Would you believe it if I told you I found a classic one from Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final. The only one I might add that mattered. It still gives me chills and makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

If you’re old enough to recall that moment of anticipation and crazy nervousness and excitement, then you know what I’m talking about. The only thing that comes close is being in the house for Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final in 2014 when they closed out the pesky Canadiens. That was pretty special. I videoed the ending celebration on my old mobile phone. I got John Amirante doing both anthems. It’s up on my YouTube channel. If only that team had won.

I think we all feel the same way about that run. It was special. But they came up short with me screaming at the top of my lungs during sudden death against that annoying team that won. Notice the anger. I still can’t believe they blew all those chances that night. Oh well. At least we got ’94.

Unfortunately, not everyone does. The younger generation of Rangers fans either weren’t alive or doesn’t even remember it. I feel sorry for them. You have no idea when you will ever experience a championship for this still jinxed franchise. Four Stanley Cups in nearly a century is sad. So too is the fact it’ll be one Cup in the last 79 years since 1940. There’ll be no playoffs for a second consecutive year. I have no idea when the rebuilding team will be back. As Henrik Lundqvist ages without the kind of supporting cast needed to seriously challenge like the recent teams in ’14 and ’15, reality begins to set in.

Pretty soon, both Kevin Hayes and cult hero Mats Zuccarello will be gone to help other teams compete for the Cup this Spring. No matter what a too loyal columnist says in regards to the ever popular Zucc, he will be dealt to help further along the rebuilding process. If after everything he still wants to return, he’s more than welcome to this summer. There are risks. We’ll have to wait and see.

I wonder why MSG did away with the ultra cool intro that always got me and other loyal fans pumped up for Rangers hockey. It doesn’t make any sense. Then again, many decisions James Dolan makes regarding the Rangers and a shameless basketball team that shall not be named due to utter frustration, remain mystifying.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I loved the SportsDesk featuring the no nonsense Bob Page or likable Mike Crispino. The quality of MSG programming has gone down hill for quite a while. The production for live games is still second to none. But I do not understand much when it comes to how Dolan runs things.

Nothing against the new MSG theme for games. But it pales in comparison to the cool video montage and popular songs we got back in the day. It needs to come back. If they ever decide to properly honor Brad Park with a jersey retirement, then it’ll finally be time to recognize the many contributions of Rangers legends Bill and Bun Cook along with Frank Boucher, Bryan Hextall, Dave Kerr, Lester Patrick and Lynn Patrick.

There are some traditions that should never die. It’s worth remembering the franchise history from an era when the Rangers won three of their four Cups. That would educate fans and serve as a reminder of how far back this team goes.

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Game #56: Rangers fall to Winnipeg 4-3 despite good effort

Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast look on from the bench during the Rangers’ 4-3 loss at Winnipeg. AP Photo courtesy NYRangers via Twitter.

It would be easy to point out that losing to Winnipeg was predictable. Sure it was. However, in a puzzling league where Detroit went into Nashville and swept the season series (not joking), it was possible for the Rangers to come out with a win at the madhouse known as Bell MTS Place. Instead, they suffered another tough loss by a score of 4-3 to the Jets in front of 15,321 screaming fans at the best home ice advantage in the NHL.

There’s no shame in losing to a quality opponent who is still considered a strong West contender despite some inconsistency. I haven’t been too impressed with Winnipeg. They had a subpar road trip losing badly at Montreal and lowly Ottawa before taking the final game in Buffalo. They have great talent, but something’s missing.

Maybe that’s where a Kevin Hayes or Mats Zuccarello comes in with the February 25 trade deadline less than two weeks away. Given how much Patrik Laine has struggled, Hayes sure would look good in Winnipeg white and blue. We’ll have to wait and see.

One thing I do know. There’s been a lot of silence from the Rangers regarding the future of Zuccarello. A popular player who loves it here, he could go first with Hayes likely going right to the 3 PM buzzer. They might not be the only two. Adam McQuaid, who also likes playing in Manhattan, could be on the move. It sounds like they would like to keep him. But teams are interested.

As for the game, the Rangers gave a good effort following a poor first period that saw the dangerous Jets outscore them 2-0 and outshoot them 19-10. Winnipeg can do that to anyone. Especially at home where they’ve lost just six times in regulation. In fact, their last regulation home loss was on Dec. 29. They improved to 21-6-3 in their 30th game at The Peg.

The start wasn’t ideal. Mark Scheifele scored a pair against starter Henrik Lundqvist in a lopsided first that mostly was played at five-on-five. After three days off, Lundqvist wasn’t sharp. He let in a stoppable Scheifele shot from a sharp angle that clearly ticked him off. He banged his stick in frustration.

A Winnipeg onslaught followed. Credit to Lundqvist for settling down to make some big saves, including a point blank denial on a redirect try. He certainly was peppered. The seven D, 11 forward lineup didn’t help matters. I have no clue why Vinni Lettieri was called up if coach David Quinn was gonna sour on him after two games. Unless Ranger brass really believes they can fetch something for Brendan Smith. They actually got a seventh round pick back from the desperate Canucks for Marek Mazanec. Holy moly. He likely has more value than either Smith or the disaster that is Kevin Shattenkirk. It’s sad.

The Rangers did get the only power play of the first. But the first unit was not good. It wasn’t until the second unit came on that actual shots were attempted. A good rush by Tony DeAngelo nearly led to a tying goal. However, Connor Hellebuyck robbed Pavel Buchnevich with a nice glove save on a quick one-timer from the slot. We would hear from Buchnevich later. It was one of his better games.

Unfortunately, the Buchnevich near miss along with the four blind nice ignoring a Dustin Byfuglien can opener, allowed the Jets to avoid a two-man disadvantage. Instead, Scheifele got his second of the stanza with a deadly snipe on a odd man rush by changing the angle to beat a screened Lundqvist high to the far side at 18:36. Blake Wheeler made the play by dropping for Scheifele and then driving the net with Smith to give his lethal teammate all the time he needed. A well executed play by two great players.

The second period was totally different. It was all Blueshirts. They skated with purpose and poise. Attacking the Jets, they got the only two goals early and late while holding a 17-9 edge in shots. It was a impressive response from a team that never quits under Quinn. He won’t allow it.

After an off first in which they were victimized twice, the top line came right back with the kind of strong play we’ve come to expect. Mika Zibanejad was right in the middle of it again. The red hot number one center scored a weird one from Chris Kreider and Zuccarello at the 38 second mark to cut it to 2-1. On a good cycle from his linemates, he took a Kreider pass and threw a shot towards the net that went in for his 24th of the season.

Despite Jesper Fast and Neal Pionk each taking interference minors over five minutes apart, the Rangers penalty kill got the job done. It was a frustrating game for the hard working Fast, who took a cheap shot from the dirty Byfuglien. He left to get checked out before returning. Not penalized in the first for an obvious infraction, this time Byfuglien went to the sin bin for his ridiculous elbow that stunned Fast. The best part is the Blueshirts made him pay on the scoreboard.

Having scored in the first minute of the period, they decided to also score in the final minute to tie the score. After watching the top unit pass, pass, and pass the puck aimlessly with Shattenkirk rarely looking at the net and Zibanejad for some reason on the wrong side, I finally got my wish. Out came the second unit. They didn’t disappoint. A simple and smart play by Strome resulted in Buchnevich getting his 10th at 19:19. Taking a DeAngelo pass at the right point, Strome made a nice shot pass for a open Buchnevich, who redirected the puck past Hellebuyck to make it 2-2. It was his first goal in nine games. His last two came in a 1/15 home win over Carolina.

Buchnevich should be much better than his stat line of 10-9-19 in 39 games this season. He has the skating, shooting (when he does) and playmaking instincts to become a more consistent scorer. As Quinn has demonstrated in a few benchings, it really is up to him. Over the last 10 games, Buchnevich has six points (3-3-6). The issue is it’s not every night he’s producing. It’s spread out. If he can ever find the consistency, only then can he become the top six forward fans want him to be. He turns 24 on April 17. Buchnevich is a Group II free agent this summer. A prime candidate for a bridge deal.

With the score tied, Wheeler got nabbed for a incidental tripping minor on Brady Skjei with 18 seconds left. Quite honestly, it wasn’t a penalty. His skates accidentally caught Skjei’s causing him to fall. The officiating is not so good. They miss blatant infractions and call ones that aren’t, which drive knowledgeable fans like the loud ones in Winnipeg nuts.

With still 1:42 remaining on the power play to start the third, Zibanejad got another odd one for number 25. On what was a strange play, he took a feed from Shattenkirk and fired a shot that changed direction twice off two Winnipeg defensemen. The puck went off both Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey with Zuccarello in front distracting Hellebuyck to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead at 57 seconds of the third period. That goal puts Zibanejad into first place ahead of Kreider, who remains on 24. Neither have ever reached 30. That should change.

Before they could get too comfortable, Scheifele made a good play feeding a vacated Joe Morrow (really) for a quick one-timer that eluded a unscreened Lundqvist to tie it back up at 5:22. Fittingly, it was Morrow’s first. Of course it was.

With the crowd still buzzing, the Jets converted a odd man break when Mason Appleton (who?) turned into Dale Hawerchuk by centering for Andrew Copp for his sixth right through Lundqvist at 7:21. Just like that, two Winnipeg goals in a 1:59 span gave them a 4-3 lead. On the game-winner, Vesey was late on the coverage with both Skjei and McQuaid right where they should’ve been, defending the front of the net. Just inexcusable. How often are our forwards not in the right spot? It’s not always the D.

The Rangers certainly deserved a better fate in this one. They held a 10-8 lead in shots in the third. So, following the brutal first, they outshot the Jets 27-17 and 37-36 overall. Hockey doesn’t make much sense. Alexandar Georgiev stopped 55 of 56 shots on his 23rd birthday in the 4-1 home win over Toronto. His 55 saves were only fewer than Mike Richter’s franchise record of 59 by a Ranger in regulation.

Oh well. The team now gets two days off before traveling to Buffalo. They face off at 7 PM Friday. Then come the loathsome Penguins in Pittsburgh on Sunday for one of those annoying early 12:30 matinees on NBC. Maybe they can invent some new excuses for any Evgeni Malkin is so dirty. Glad he got at least a game for his stick swing that luckily missed Michael Raffl.

BONY 3 STARS:

3rd 🌟 Joe Morrow, WPG (game tying goal and an apple)

2nd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, NYR (two more goals for a team leading 25 as he continues to prove he’s a legit number 1 center)

1st 🌟 Mark Scheifele, WPG (two goals for #’s 29, 30, and a primary assist)

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Game #56: Terrible Tuesday – Blues 8, Devils 3

These days I might as well just recap games with Harry Doyle soundbites. Watching Major League would be better than just about any Devils game in the second half of this season. Seemingly the tank is in full force as guys are being almost randomly ‘rested’ (Blake Coleman being the latest to come up with a mysterious upper body injury out of nowhere before tonight’s game), our best goalie is in the minors and a game like tonight only makes me more happy that’s the case, and there’s absolutely zero accountability left for stinking up the joint.

Although there does seem to be some accountability for calling out a teammate playing like horsecrap, since according to beat guy Chris Ryan and others watching the game, goalie Keith Kinkaid had some words for Damon Severson during a stoppage in play after two of his many gaffes led to a couple of goals against. Perhaps that’s why coach John Hynes left in Kinkaid to die giving up all eight goals tonight in a game that was never close where the Devils were thoroughly outplayed, outworked and outcoached – what else is new?

Funny thing is 8-3 actually makes the game sound closer than it was. It was 7-1 before two useless junktime goals in the third. Being outshot 31-11 in the first two periods is indiciative of both the talent level and compete level now. While the Blues may be playing much better than they were early in the season, if a team like this can smoke us imagine what the true beasts of the league would have done tonight…it really could have gotten into double digits. I’m not sure that’s ever happened in Devils history. Well come to think of it one obvious example of that comes to mind – the Mickey Mouse game. As it is, the last time we gave up this many goals to the Blues was in 1985 when we were more or less an expansion-caliber team.

I’d say that describes the team on the ice now except Vegas reset the bar for what an expansion team is last year. As far as individual performances, on the one end Alex Pietrangelo had an insane +/- of +6 for the night, scoring two goals and an assist. On the other you have to look far and wide to find someone that didn’t stink. Mirco Mueller had a goal and was actually a +1 in nearly twenty minutes of icetime. Guess that’ll get him benched or thrown on the injured list before Thursday’s game. If Kinkaid was shell-shocked after Tuesday’s game against the Kings just imagine what he must be going through now. Lordy.

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This date in Rangers History

Monday marked the 51st Anniversary since the Rangers played their final game at the Old Madison Square Garden. Here’s a classic photo of that night.

I’ve always marveled at how old pictures are always better. This action shot above is a perfect example of that. It’s wonderfully captured. There’s definitely something unique about the classic photograph from the past. It’s art.

I often wonder what it would be like if the Rangers still had their own arena to play in. Would it be a better home advantage? Instead, they share MSG with the woeful Knicks. The Garden has so many big events. From concerts to prize fighting to other shows, they’re always busy. I guess it would be cool to have just a hockey arena revolving around the one franchise that’s delivered a championship since I’ve been alive. Even if it has been 25 years, at least we got 1994.

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Game #55: Birthday boy Georgiev treats Rangers to 4-1 win over Maple Leafs with incredible 55 saves

Happy Birthday 🎂 Alexandar Georgiev! I mean really. What else could the just turned 23-year old rookie goalie have done in carrying the Rangers to a surprising 4-1 win over the mighty Maple Leafs to conclude a homestand?

Georgie was spectacular. On his birthday, he treated himself to a incredible 55 saves to turn the Leafs away at a way too loud Toronto contingent at The Garden. There are many other adjectives to describe his performance. Brilliant, super and unconscious are three that fit.

Good for him. I’ve seen quite a few unappreciative fans claim that Georgiev sucks. Maybe the only thing that sucks is their utter ignorance for just how hard it is for both goalies to play on a nightly basis with a roster that gives up way too many shots and quality chances. On a night Henrik Lundqvist got another break before the team flies out to play at Winnipeg on Wednesday, Georgiev had to deal with some bad penalties.

Facing a scary Leafs power play, he was the team’s best penalty killer, as coach David Quinn summed up. As crazy as it sounds, Toronto got 23 shots on goal in four power play chances. That included a ridiculous seven on their first that followed leading scorer Mika Zibanejad striking for his 23rd goal just 28 seconds in on a follow up past Toronto backup Garret Sparks. A play set up by linemates Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider.

Leading early, they were tested immediately following a Brendan Smith minor for tripping at the 2:26 mark. It was a shooting gallery for a laser focused Georgiev, who turned aside John Tavares and Nazem Kadri a lot during the game. Kadri led all skaters with 12 shots followed by eight from Tavares, including a point blank opportunity in the third that had him staring at the ceiling.

That’s how dialed in Georgiev was. At one point in the first period thanks to a unnecessary Kreider minor in the offensive zone, the Leafs led in shots 22-6. By the end of the period, the Rangers had closed within 22-14. At five-on-five, they didn’t play too badly. Even on the second of a back-to-back, the Leafs wound up with 33 of their 56 shots at even strength. But the Rangers did a solid job by getting 27 of their 30 shots at even strength. That included all four goals.

Ironically, it was a rare mistake that allowed Kasperi Kapanen to tie it with a unassisted goal at 10:35. An errant Tony DeAngelo pass came out of the zone right to Kapanen, who made a good move and shot for the only blemish on Georgiev.

However, following a successful kill of a Kreider interference minor, he came out of the penalty box and was directly involved in Jimmy Vesey’s first goal in 10 games. Ryan Strome fed Kreider, who cut in and perfectly set up a wide open Vesey for a laser top shelf past Sparks for his 12th at 14:05. He’s been getting chances the past few games, but it hasn’t been going in. Finally, he ended a nine-game drought. Vesey has been better since Quinn moved him up to a line with Kevin Hayes and Pavel Buchnevich.

The Leafs onslaught continued in a crazy second that remained scoreless thanks to more clutch stops from Georgiev. He denied all 17 Toronto shots while facing several more on consecutive power plays before the halfway mark.

Frustration boiled over for Leafs forward Zach Hyman, who responded to a incidental Neal Pionk hit that knocked down top scorer Mitch Marner. He challenged and Pionk accepted. It wasn’t much of a fight. They both served five-minute majors despite some mild protests from Rangers fans. Pionk was back in as a seventh defenseman replacing Vinni Lettieri. He took DeAngelo’s place on some shifts with Marc Staal late in regulation due to DeAngelo having a off night.

Despite getting outshot 39-23 through two periods (56-30 overall), the Blueshirts competed hard during each shift. They stayed out of the penalty box in the final period.

Georgiev continued to baffle the Leafs, who fired 17 more shots on net without any success. Even with the annoying “Go Leafs, Go!” chants from what was a embarrassing amount of Toronto supporters, it didn’t matter. They got nothing. That included a point blank opportunity for Tavares with a perfect rebound that Georgiev got across on to stone him. A remarkable save by the Bulgarian backup that got more support from appreciative fans.

On some good work by Zuccarello, Adam McQuaid added the big insurance marker with 9:01 remaining. His point shot changed direction past Sparks at 11:59 for his second goal in the last four games. A nice reward for a hard working player, who likely will be moved soon along with Zuccarello and Hayes.

Speaking of which, some solid defensive play allowed Hayes to match his jersey number with an empty netter at 19:40. If this was it for either him or Zuccarello, they’ll be missed. The Rangers only have two home games left before the Feb. 25 trade deadline in two weeks. Crazy stuff.

BONY 3 STARS:

3rd 🌟 Adam McQuaid, NYR (key insurance marker for 2nd goal in 4 games for gritty veteran with character)

2nd 🌟 Mats Zuccarello, NYR (2 primary assists and more grunt work from one of the most popular Rangers)

1st 🌟 Alexandar Georgiev, NYR (a remarkable 55 saves on 56 shots including 23 of 23 on the power play to give himself a birthday present)

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Game #55: Sleepy Sunday – Devils 3, Hurricanes 2

Welp clearly I went to the wrong weekend game, at least judging by the end result. Of course judging by shots on goal, particuarly in the second period where the Canes dominated play it really wasn’t that much better of a game than yesterday’s snooze-fest other than the actual result. Clearly the goaltending was better, as at least Keith Kinkaid sometimes can make the big saves to hold a lead. Certainly the offense was better, not only given that three goals > two but the two early markers in the first period gave the team a cushion they almost, but couldn’t quite blow.

I actually watched more of this game than I thought, which is to say more than zero. I tuned in long enough late in the first period to see Marcus Johansson’s first goal that made the score 2-0, then next really started watching the last 10-15 minutes of the third long enough to see Johansson’s second goal of the night off a spectacular feed from Jesper Bratt, then a 6-on-4 Canes goal late that gave me some PTSD flashbacks to playoffs past with a frantic finish as the team held onto a one goal lead and their lone win of a four-game homestand.

I’m not even sure why I was as invested in the team winning as I was today. Maybe I was just tired of seeing bad hockey and worse results. Not as if the game meant anything to us though it certainly matters to Carolina being in the thick of the playoff chase. Perhaps that had something to do with it, playing spoiler to a rival. Much like Derek still feels animosity to the Kings for 2014, I and many Devil fans still have a little extra loathing for the Canes who ended our seasons in 2002, 2006 and 2009 – each playoff defeat more excruciating than the last. Even if ghosts of playoffs past like Cam Ward and Eric Staal are long gone, the uniform is still enough to annoy me. Plus Rod Brind’Amour is behind the bench so there’s that too, along with their stupid over the top victory celebration that’s gone from being fun to being contrived.

At least we prevented them from doing their victory celebration at the Rock, beating them in both their games here so far. Even playing spoiler isn’t as important as how the team wins games. Super soph Nico Hischier got the first star without scoring a goal, although he did put up three apples (assists). Pavel Zacha scored the first goal on the power play early in the first period, Bratt’s assist I already documented so the younger guys played well for the most part. Even recent Wild castoff Ryan Murphy played well in his first game as a Devil, getting an assist on the Zacha PP goal. It also doesn’t hurt when guys play up their trade value like Johansson. Some might say Kinkaid as well but I’m dubious of just about any goalie’s trade value at this point, especially one with the ugly splits he has.

Ironically my last home win in attendance was Mackenzie Blackwood’s shutout of the Canes just before the new year. Still waiting for my first live win in 2019, likely I’ll be waiting till March unless they beat the Penguins on ’90’s throwback night. By then, there’ll probably be another few new players on the roster as guys get dealt by the late February deadline. Before then comes a tough three-game roadtrip through St. Louis, Chicago and Minnesota in a four-day span before rolling back into the tri-state area for the rest of the month.

I’ll probably follow from even more of a distance on the trip than I do the home games. After all it’s tough to get motivated for games that mean little. I could say the same thing about the players and the coaches, but hey this is why you get paid the big bucks. Not to mention it’s their jobs and reputations on the line out there, not ours. And I’m not motivated by anti-winning yet either, maybe in the last few games I’ll care about the damn lottery (a la Jets-Packers late in the season where I passed up a chance to go to that game with friends in part cause I was too ambivalent about the actual result by then), but until then there’s still too much time left in the season for that and too many guys need to show they’re worth something either for next year or deadline dealings.

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Game #54: Sad Sack Saturday – Wild 4, Devils 2

In an already bad season for the Devils this has been a pure week from hell. As a message board post succinctly put it, we lost to and got a goal scored on us by both Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, and in the middle lost to Lou Lamoriello’s new team who also happens to be an area rival. Lordy. Like most Devil games over the last couple of months, this afternoon was completely unwatchable. I couldn’t tell whether it was us playing the Wild or the 2000 Devils playing the Leafs in that famous six-shot playoff game. Too bad I was contractually obligated to watch.

Honestly the only reason I didn’t sell this pair of tickets is because I’m already passing on a lot of other games this month as it is. Plus Saturday afternoon games are a more likely vehicle to find people to socialize with, as today proved. I ran into one couple who I hadn’t seen in a couple months and sat with them for most of the final two periods and got to meet up with another friend postgame who I hadn’t seen in years. Ironically the latter guy I’d met through adult dodgeball so he got to congratulate me on my team’s win a couple days ago. As usual the best things about going to Devil games no longer have anything to do with the hockey. At least it’s not the gambling lounge for me, though I suspect it might be for a few other people.

Even our early-season home success seems like a distant memory now, as the last home win I was in attendance for was back in 2018, making me 0-3 in the new year with every one of them fairly convincing losses – though the Leafs game and today was illusory close for a while, in neither game did I really feel we had a shot once we got behind given how both teams dominated us. Somewhat fittingly, the one real good stretch we had after the first period when Jesper Bratt scored early in the third period to pull it to within 3-2, Frankencory struck again allowing yet another soft 1980’s style unscreened slapshot goal through the pads to give the Wild back it’s two goal lead which might as well have been twenty.

Coincidentally that’s also the number of consecutive regular season losses for goaltender Cory Schneider. If Thursday’s game was one step forward, today was two steps back as he lost his stick on the Wild’s first goal early in the game, then had that disasterous momentum-killing fourth goal against. Not that this team really deserved to win having just a few good minutes between spurts early in the first and third. Still you would have liked to have seen Cory make Thursday’s game stick from an execution standpoint. Seeing Cory try to get off the schneid was one of the few things that was s keeping my interest in the actual game, especially with our dissapearing lineup.

As Derek posted a few days ago, we did trade Brian Boyle to Nashville, starting the inevitable pre-deadline selloff. I haven’t commented yet in the blog but like I said in the comments section of his post, he had an unusual impact for a guy who was a fourth-liner here less than two years, and not just cause of the whole cancer thing. Although certainly everyone’s reaction to both his disagnosis and the way he handed it bonded him with the fanbase and his teammates at warp speed, people also respected the player and person he is, ask any of his other teammates during his various stops in his career including the Garden. Just like only a handful of players can gain respect from both the Mets and Yankees fanbases (David Cone and Curtis Granderson come to mind), only a handful have universal respect from Ranger and Devil fan alike, Boyle’s certainly one of them.

Starting the selloff isn’t the only factor that’s decimated our lineup though. As the season continues to go further and further down the drain, the injuries continue to mount. Taylor Hall, Sami Vatanen, Stefan Noesen and now Miles Wood all weren’t available due to various injuries. I might even be missing a couple but I don’t really care to look at the moment. Marcus Johansson got hurt in a seemingly scary fashion in the third, but perhaps the only good thing about today’s game is he was able to come back later on. That and the return of rookie Joey Anderson who had a brutal leg injury early in the season. Selfishly that’s part of the reason I was glad we traded Boyle three weeks early, might as well cash out your expendable assets once you get a fair price in case injury hits. Plus in Boyle’s case he gets a deserved chance at a Stanley Cup, so it was a win-win situation there.

Sadly the events of this week pretty much ensure the next game I bother to watch will be the one I attend on the 19th, when they have ’90’s night at the Rock against the Penguins. While I’m not as big on the David Puddy bobblehead as some, at least it’ll make it a hot ticket to go and clearly the Seinfeld bit will be the headliner in spotlighting the ’90’s just like Ghostbusters was for ’80’s night. Maybe the team will even show up since it seems the only times they ever have after the first four games are when they see Penguin jerseys.

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