In role reversal, more focused Blueshirts turn tables on Islanders

AP Photo by New York Rangers via Twitter

One thing we’re learning in the early going is that these two game series can turn very quickly. As putrid as they were on Thursday in a 4-0 defeat, the Rangers were way better than the Islanders in a Garden rematch that was every bit as lopsided. The Blueshirts exacted revenge by winning handily 5-0 to split the pair of games against their top rival.

The difference was noticeable early on. From the outset, they were the aggressor. Looking to establish a forecheck that was absent in the season opener, they were more active during shifts. The lineup changes worked for an irate David Quinn, who had to be much happier following his team’s complete effort.

This was more like it. A team playing with urgency taking it to the bitter crosstown rival. In particular, switching to Islanders master Alex Georgiev worked like a charm. The Rangers’ winningest goalie from ’19-20 didn’t show any signs of rust after a 10 month layoff. In his first action since dropping his last decision to the Avalanche on Mar. 11, 2020, Georgiev was very sharp throughout in stopping all 23 shots for his fifth career shutout. He improved to 6-2-0 versus the Islanders. In fact, he went 3-1-0 in all four meetings last year.

Even though they had the better of the play, the shots were 7-2 Islanders. That didn’t matter for two reasons. Georgiev was stopping everything and Pavel Buchnevich scored early on surprise starter Ilya Sorokin. His goal came off a Mika Zibanejad steal and feed that saw Buchnevich surprise the rookie Sorokin by firing a quick wrist shot under his glove at 2:12.

Making his first career NHL start in place of the injured Semyon Varlamov, who took a hard shot in warm-ups which sidelined him, the 25-year old KHL Russian import was a little shaky. For the night, he made 27 saves on 32 shots.

With three revised lines outside of the KZB Line of Chris Kreider, Zibanejad and Buchnevich, who was the best Rangers forward scoring his first two goals and assisting on another, they went with rookie top pick Alexis Lafreniere (+ 2 rating) on line two with Artemi Panarin (2 goals) and Ryan Strome (+1 rating). The third line consisted of Kaapo Kakko (1st goal of season), Phil Di Giuseppe (primary assist) and Filip Chytil (assist). The checking line consisted of Brendan Lemieux, Brett Howden and Julien Gauthier. It was a successful Garden recipe on Saturday night.

As for the new defense pairs minus Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Lindgren worked very well with a much more effective Jacob Trouba, who logged over 24 minutes and saw some power play duty. Adam Fox was fine with Jack Johnson, who didn’t make any glaring mistakes. Fox working double duty where he was featured on the point of the first power play unit. Brendan Smith dusted off his number 42 Blueshirt and was his usual gritty and physical self cast alongside a more relaxed K’Andre Miller. It worked out well in Game 2 of 56. The only issue is you can’t have half the defense receiving less than 16 minutes. That’s why DeAngelo should be back in for Tuesday’s match versus the Devils. We’ll see what Quinn decides.

Even though they took four minor penalties, the Rangers weren’t too undisciplined. Instead, it was the Islanders who were a step behind and kept handing their Manhattan rival power play after power play. Even though they only connected once in eight tries with Panarin finally breaking the drought in the third from Fox and Buchnevich, it gave the Blueshirts momentum while hurting the Islanders, who didn’t play well at all.

Mat Barzal took two penalties in the offensive zone that drew the ire of coach Barry Trotz. By the third period, the top Isles center was off the first line due to such lazy play. He was far from alone. It was a rough game for defenseman Noah Dobson. He turned over the puck a few times and was caught on for two goals against. Even Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield along with normally reliable duo Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier had off nights.

An Isles turnover resulted in the Rangers getting their second goal of the first period. Off a good defensive play by Smith, he made a perfect pass for a wide open Panarin to send him on a breakaway. The Bread Man didn’t miss. Moving in on Sorokin, he went high glove to beat the Islanders netminder for his first goal of the season. It was a perfect shot from a wonderful player, who had been quiet including on the power play before that moment. It got him going.

With Georgiev turning aside all 10 Islanders shots in a good period, the Rangers took the two-goal lead to the locker room. He got more run support in an inspired second where his teammates showed no mercy. After failing to convert on a pair of Barzal minors, the Rangers got it done at five-on-five. On kind of a strange play, Buchnevich came away with a loose puck and fired a hard wrist shot from a tough angle off the far goalpost and in for his second of the game. It definitely caught Sorokin off guard. That made it 3-0 at 5:57 of the middle stanza. It was unassisted.

The Rangers killed off a Kakko slashing minor right after to keep the momentum. Even though the power play still didn’t click, they continued to do damage at even strength. On a good shift from an active Chytil, who stole the puck in the neutral zone, he was able to get into the Isles zone and pass for Di Giuseppe. The quick counter led to Di Giuseppe finding Kakko open for a quick one-timer past Sorokin to increase the lead to four with 4:36 left in the second.

It was during the third that a clearly frustrated Ross Johnston lost it to earn a roughing double minor and misconduct after going after Smith and Lindgren. On the ensuing power play, some great passing from Buchnevich and Fox allowed Panarin to beat Sorokin pointblank with a great shot short side with 4:04 to go in the game. It put a stamp on the victory for the Rangers.

Georgiev stopped six more Islanders shots in the final period to pick up the shutout. It was well deserved for a player who more often than not has come through. It’s easy to forget he was undrafted and signed by the Rangers. His poise in net and maturity are probably why the team usually plays well in front of him. He also can move the puck up ice like Igor Shestyorkin, who got to watch his teammate deliver the first win of 2021. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if Georgiev gets the next start at home on Tuesday.

Three Stars of The Game:

3rd 🌟 Artemi Panarin, NYR (2 goals on 3 shots, +1 in 22:17)

2nd 🌟 Alex Georgiev, NYR (23 saves for 5th career shutout, 6-2-0 vs NYI)

1st 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (2 goals, 1 assist, GWG, team high 5 SOG, +2 in 20:36)

Notes: The third pair of Miller and Smith each went plus-three. … Lafreniere logged 16:31 with three shots, nearly setting up a goal. … Buchnevich and Zibanejad were featured as a penalty killing duo each logging over three minutes while doing a splendid job. … Attempts favored NYR 65-38. … For a second consecutive game, Isles blocked 20 shots. Face-offs were 31-25 Isles led by Jean-Gabriel Pageau (11-and-5). No Ranger was over .500 with Zibanejad winding up 11 up and 11 down.

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Devils stun Bruins at the buzzer

Sometimes you hear the phrase instant classic after a dramatic finish, this afternoon’s matinee between the Devils and the Bruins was certainly one of those games where that would apply. From a team perspective it’s too early to tell whether this afternoon’s 2-1 win over the Bruins will be a significant marker or a footnote long-term, but from a fan and individual player perspective it was huge in the short-term. To get three points off the President’s Trophy Bruins in the first two games after not having played for ten months is just what the doctor ordered to get some excitement back with the fanbase. And for the hero of the afternoon, scoring a buzzer-beater of a goal was quite the coming out party for Yegor Sharangovich.

What’s ironic is you would think a game with just three goals wouldn’t have much excitement or many highlights, especially compared with the pond hockey that’s being played around the league so far in this wild, strange season. Yet even with a meager amount of goals, the fireworks started early in the afternoon when Kevan Miller dropped the gloves with Miles Wood on the first shift of the game. Wood, as you may recall got two goaltender interference penalties on Thursday night and apparently the Bruins were none too pleased about that, with coach Bruce Cassidy and at least a couple of players making reference to it after the game.

If you’re in the hockey world, you pretty much knew that there would be some repercussions and Wood answered the bell in more ways than one first with the fight, then by getting the last laugh with a goal later on in the period. During his first intermission interview with Erika Wachter, Wood was quite analytical about the fight itself.

Admittedly I’m only catching up on most of the first period stuff since I was slow to pick up the game. I did start watching in the second period though and the Devils were playing well for the most part, until the return of the power play of doom which struck late in the second period and was part of a double momentum swing. First, the Bruins had scored an apparent goal earlier but the goal was disallowed, and Boston picked up a minor penalty for a failed coach’s challenge. However, basically our entire PP unit got punked by Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron – mainly Marchand who beat a slow-footed Kyle Palmieri and got a pass off to Bergeron, who powered home a one-timer. There was plenty of blame to go around on that goal however, from PK Subban who played too passively on D to Jack Hughes and Pavel Zacha who were just floating around behind the play.

In a weird way I was looking forward to the intermission segment to see what Bryce Salvador had to say about the goal since there was so much you could dissect from that one, but apparently that was too negative for our broadcast lol. In any case the game was tied at one and stayed there through a tense period, although the Devils nearly won it on a power play at the end of regulation, finally putting together some good chances but failing to connect. Once we didn’t score on the PP it looked like it was going to be a reprise of the other night – team plays well but comes up short in the skills competition and only has two points to show for the first four games. Which wouldn’t have been terrible, but if you’re a young team looking to get some belief in yourself (and build some from the fanbase) you really need to steal some games early in the season.

Not only did the Devils manage to do earn the all-important two points, but they found the most dramatic way possible when Palmieri (who had a rough game otherwise) made a good play to get the puck up to Damon Severson, whose turnaround pass found a streaking Sharangovich for a breakaway toward the end of OT, and the unfazed rookie put it past Jaroslav Halak with just 1.7 seconds remaining before the shootout. From a personal standpoint I got as excited as I’ve been in quite a while for any of my teams. Not quite Ken Daneyko when Anssi Salmela scored in OT type excited – look it up on YouTube – but close enough.

It was reminiscent of one of my other favorite finishes – the Marek Zidlicky buzzer beater against the Panthers I even put in my top ten memorable games of the 2010’s in a blog last year. He actually scored with a similar amount of time remaining off a faceoff back in 2014, I think it was. Of course I was actually in the building for that one, which is part of what made it so memorable and I probably would have been for this game too but…2020-21. Oh well.

At least this game was won by guys you hope will be a part of the long-term solution around here, and that doesn’t just include the guys who combined on the winning goal. I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up Hughes getting his third assist in two games and leading all forwards in icetime, or rookie Ty Smith getting a point in his second straight game and playing a solid 17:28 overall. Not to mention Mackenzie Blackwood, who looks in midseason form (what ten month break?) with his second straight dominant performance. This time he only needed twenty-seven saves to keep the Bruins’ powerful offense at bay, only allowing three goals in the first two games.

Many of our 25-and-under players – Blackwood, Hughes, Wood, Sharangovich and Smith all getting off to good starts is the kind of thing that can build optimism back up in a fanbase that’s been battered by years of losing. Not to mention Sharangovich’s on-ice interview was a charmer. Put it this way, sometimes the less English you know the better. When Erika asked him about what he was thinking on the breakaway, Sharangovich said ‘I think I can score and I score’.

I couldn’t have put it any better myself.

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DeAngelo a healthy scratch for tonight’s rematch, a Quinn critique on Kakko

As expected, Tony DeAngelo will not play in the rematch at MSG versus the Islanders. David Quinn made his mind up and that’s all that matters.

It’s an early message to not only DeAngelo, who foolishly slammed the penalty box door shut and had a few choice words for the incompetent refs, who swung and missed on two goal reviews. At least a Quinn coach’s challenge saved them from themselves.

DeAngelo is an emotional player who plays with passion and energy. He has to know better. Even if the game was 4-0, you get let your emotions get the best of you. He’ll be back next week following NFL Divisional Round weekend.

I disagree with the coach on not sitting veteran Jack Johnson, who was brutal in his Rangers debut. He also is punishing ’19 first round pick Kaapo Kakko, who isn’t even on the power play for tonight’s game. Why did they take Kakko with the second pick if this is how he’s going to be treated? How is he supposed to improve?

Kakko will also switch to the third line with Filip Chytil, who he played with mostly last year. Will it be Julien Gauthier, who played well in the first game, or Phil Di Giuseppe? You don’t know with this coach. He doesn’t punish veterans. Not much different from previous Rangers coaches. I’m not gonna name names.

What we do know is the Blueshirts must play with a lot more urgency than that debacle that saw them outclassed by a well schooled Islanders. It doesn’t matter if there was no preseason. Nobody had one. The Avalanche and Oilers bounced back in their rematches. With the schedule the way it is, you have to pick yourself up and respond the right way.

Quinn spoke about not having the structure the Islanders had. Whose fault is that? Why did they look so unprepared? It’s true that they are a very young roster when you subtract Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist and add Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller. But the Senators had no trouble beating the Leafs last night with a similar roster that doesn’t have as much star talent. Oh. And their ’18 fourth pick Brady Tkachuk torched Toronto for a goal and two assists. Because he’s trusted and already becoming a leader.

You want your top draft picks to develop and become go to guys. Quinn has to put his young players in position to succeed. He hasn’t done it enough with Kakko, who must finish to be effective. There’s no reason for him to not play power play while Brett Howden and Brendan Lemieux suddenly are on the second unit.

That seems like an overreaction. The whole roster stunk. The score could’ve been worse if not for a few big saves from Igor Shestyorkin. Now, it’s Alex Georgiev’s turn.

I don’t know how locked in I’ll be to the second game. Part of that is due to my close friend’s team the Buffalo Bills, who I’d love to see beat the media darling Baltimore Ravens and advance to the AFC Championship Game. However, I’m sure I’ll catch most of the Islanders/Rangers. There will just be some channel flipping during the second and third periods.

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Lafreniere and Miller provide insight on what they learned from a tough NHL debut

There they were for all to see at MSG under the lights. Well, for most of us anyway, we had to settle for watching on TV and listening to Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti call the action of the season opener on Thursday night. Unless you’re a Garden employee or member of the media, you are stuck in the hockey version of quarantine.

It’s definitely different from past seasons. Even if this special one just started a couple of days ago, it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Sure. The NHL Playoff Bubble made us understand how unique the situation was for the 24 teams that participated last summer. But it’s not the same as taking in a hockey game at an empty home arena without the usual strong support of the fans. Something Hasan alluded to in one of his recent posts.

I wonder what both Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller were thinking as they were introduced by MSG public address announcer Joe Tolleson to the pumped in fake crowd noise. These remain strange times for everyone. For Lafreniere and Miller, they made their NHL debuts at an empty Garden. It had to be a little bittersweet. That’s the harsh reality for almost every player currently. In most cases, there won’t be fans. How can there be in Dallas once the Stars are cleared to play? It doesn’t make sense. Nothing does.

As excited as they had to be to finally make their Rangers debut, it was different for both kids. Lafreniere is the 19-year old teenage rookie sensation who went number one overall a three months ago. He didn’t look out of place. Even if it was a tough day at the office with the more experienced and better structured Islanders taking care of the Rangers to easily prevail 4-0, it’s a moment he’ll never forget. He’ll have better nights ahead.

Miller is 20 and surprised many pundits by making the team. He was so impressive that coach David Quinn scrapped his idea of trying Tony DeAngelo with Jacob Trouba. Instead, it was Miller paired with Trouba against a hard forechecking opponent that is tough. There were some mistakes made. Way too many from more experienced players including Trouba, who was culpable on the first Anders Lee goal.

There were far too many passengers in a humiliating performance that irked many observers. The realization is for Lafreniere and Miller, they learned a valuable lesson in their first game. Something each referenced when discussing it with the press via Zoom Conference. They understand how much harder it’ll be if they and the team want to be successful.

“The National Hockey League is a tough league to win in. This first game is a great example of that. Every game’s gonna be a battle, and you have to play the full 60 minutes,” Miller pointedly stated.

Obviously, they know that ugly display was not even in the ballpark if they want to be taken seriously. The good part is they get a do over by facing those same gritty Islanders tomorrow night again at Nassau Coliseum The Garden. I’m still adjusting to this new schedule. It’s up to the leadership to bounce back. That means Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome and Trouba. These are the guys Quinn is leaning on. Even Pavel Buchnevich is taking on more responsibility by killing penalties with Kreider, who needs to have the same urgency at five-on-five that he had shorthanded.

It’s also easy to forget that Igor Shestyorkin is still classified a rookie. So, it wasn’t fun for him either allowing four goals on 33 shots. That included at least one he would like back. Take your choice between the Lee goal and the Mat Barzal tally. Shestyorkin did play much better following the tough start by making some acrobatic stops. He’ll have Saturday off.

Getting the call will be Alex Georgiev. A goalie who’s had success versus the Islanders. We’ll see how the team responds to the early challenge. Quinn wasn’t making any excuses for what happened in the first game. Fans or no fans. It’s the same for each side. Counting the dismal three game sweep against the Hurricanes last August where they looked lost, the Rangers haven’t won a game in 10 months. They didn’t exactly finish the ’19-20 regular season well. It’s time for the 18 skaters and goalie to show up ready to play.

Whatever Quinn determines with the defense even if DeAngelo sits for Brendan Smith, they have a job to do. They’ll also be without Kevin Rooney following a collision with Isles enforcer Ross Johnston. So, it could be Phil Di Giuseppe coming into the lineup for Rooney. Hopefully, he didn’t suffer a serious injury. He’s listed as day-to-day for now.

What we do know for sure is Quinn liked Lafreniere’s aggressiveness enough to swap him with Kaapo Kakko, who again fizzled. If only he’d hit the net on a perfect Strome setup. Kakko isn’t as fluid a skater as the speedier Lafreniere, who plays a North American game. Perhaps that’s the thinking with the change. He’ll shift to right wing to play with Strome and Panarin. We’ll see how long the combination lasts. Quinn is like Tom Renney when it comes to line juggling.

At the start, Kakko will draw in with Filip Chytil and either Julien Gauthier or Di Giuseppe. Even the beat writers are confused as to who will play with who.

If Quinn wants more urgency, he’s got their attention. Whether or not it works remains to be seen. What will be interesting is to see how the young pups respond. Both Lafreniere and Miller are keys to the season. We’ll see if they can make a positive impact in less than 24 hours.

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Misguided Blueshirts punish DeAngelo for first game

Maybe it shouldn’t be so shocking. The Rangers clearly don’t like Tony DeAngelo. It doesn’t matter that he led the defense in basically every offensive category. He gets no love from half a foolish fanbase that’s so far removed from the hockey part that you question their sanity.

Truth be told, it wasn’t a good night for DeAngelo or most Blueshirts. They embarrassed themselves in a 4-0 loss to the Islanders. The less said about it, the better. Following an awful Jack Johnson turnover, DeAngelo was beaten outside by Mat Barzal for a goal on Igor Shestyorkin.

Barzal would later strip Adam Fox clean from behind and walk in on a breakaway and get stoned by Shestyorkin. Yet you don’t see Fox being punished when he was just as bad. The best defenseman from the forgettable Season Opener was K’Andre Miller. And he wasn’t great. There were nerves which you’d expect for a 20-year old making their NHL debut.

It didn’t explain the lousy turnover from Jacob Trouba that resulted in Miller left by himself to defend an Isles two-on-one and watch Anders Lee beat Shestyorkin for their second goal. Miller did the right thing taking the pass away. His goalie couldn’t come up with the save.

DeAngelo probably didn’t do himself any favors by overreacting to a minor penalty by slamming the door on the penalty box to earn an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. Not a wise move. Even if his teammates got the job done. Here’s a question for coach David Quinn. If he was so upset with DeAngelo, why did he play over 19 minutes? Why not bench him for a period?

Instead, DeAngelo looks like he’ll be sitting up in the press box for the Rangers/Islanders rematch tomorrow night. He was working with the Taxi Squad while veteran defenseman Anthony Bitetto took his place in line rushes. For some inexplicable reason, Quinn had Johnson with Fox in practice. Yikes. Ryan Lindgren was moved up to work with Trouba. The one pairing that makes sense because it can become a shutdown tandem.

What will the third pair be for Saturday? Likely Miller and Brendan Smith, or Bitetto. That’s at least what it looks like. With DeAngelo likely being punished for the first abysmal game where the Rangers looked like they saw ghosts, Fox worked with the top power play unit. A unit that stunk it up. Artemi Panarin did nothing. Chris Kreider was not effective. Neither was Ryan Strome. Mike Zibanejad shot the puck, but was rusty after missing most of the abbreviated camp due to quarantine. DeAngelo didn’t get that shot through on Semyon Varlamov, who could’ve pulled up a lounge chair. That’s how easy his 24 save shutout was. The 28th of his career.

Is DeAngelo culpable for getting beat by a excellent player to the outside on the Isles’ third goal? Sure. Was he foolish losing his discipline by getting an extra two in the third period? Absolutely. However, he was far from alone.

I fail to see how keeping Johnson in the lineup makes any sense following his really poor Rangers debut. The dump in that somehow wound up on the stick of Cal Clutterbuck was awful. It setup the Barzal goal. The foolish holding minor he got in the first two minutes set the tone for Brock Nelson tallying on the power play. It didn’t take long for Trouba to make a bad pinch and watch helplessly as Lee scored the second goal 1:11 later.

The truth is the Rangers stunk collectively. They were a miserable hockey team in Game 1 of 56. They didn’t look like they belonged on the same ice as the Islanders, who are so well coached by Barry Trotz that they can put you asleep. Essentially what they did. Outside of some improvement from the Blueshirts in the second when Toronto and the refs jobbed them out of a goal which Trouba looked to get a piece of to put it in past Varlamov, there wasn’t much. It was the JV versus the Varsity.

For the team to reverse the result from last night, they’ll have to be a lot harder to play against. More North/South style which Kreider alluded to in the postgame via Zoom. He felt they relied too much on East/West and weren’t good enough. It showed. They took too many penalties and were very lackadaisical.

If Quinn’s early message to DeAngelo works, great. It doesn’t seem fair. He’s subtracting one of his best skaters who is a key contributor. If this was an organizational call due to outside crap, then it’s ridiculous. There isn’t anything else to add.

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Opening Night: Bruins beat Devils 3-2 after shootout

During training camp, the Devils’ team slogan was ‘eNJoy the ride’ with an accent on the NJ logo for t-shirt purposes. As corny as it might have sounded at first blush, there was a very real message in it…this season will be like no other before and hopefully after, with many unique challenges. Enjoy the ride is also an implicit reminder to just be glad hockey is back. Indeed, Opening Night proved to be one wild ride indeed.

Of course that ride was more like a roller coaster valley in the first period, as the Devils were dominated by a frightening margin not inherent in the 1-0 score. Fans and teammates alike had only Mackenzie Blackwood’s performance to thank for the Devils still being in a game after a period where they looked like a high school team playing the ’76 Canadiens. Perhaps some of that was the inevitable rust of not having played competitively – aside from a couple of team scrimmages – in ten months, while the Bruins played two playoff rounds (ten games) plus preliminary games during the bubble postseason. There could also have been a more emotional factor to that first period, as coach Lindy Ruff observed both in the locker room and after the game (per Miles Wood).

Wood himself typified the up-and-down nature of the team’s performance with the down being two goaltender interference penalties which (to his credit) he termed selfish after the game, while the up was a team-leading five shots on goal including a sweet breakaway goal that tied the game in the third period when the Devils were still trailing by that 1-0 deficit. If the Devils had one thing out of last night’s game they clearly need to work on it’s their PK, which gave up both regulation goals to Brad Marchand in the first and Nick Ritchie in the third, the latter coming just a few minutes after Wood’s goal had tied it up.

It was an interesting mix that coach Ruff threw out for the PK at times, which included rookie Yegor Sharangovich – who didn’t disappoint despite failing to get on the scoreboard, he certainly made an impact to the tune of drawing three penalties including one that canceled out an early Bruins power play in the first period. Fellow rookie Ty Smith also made his mark after a shaky opening period, playing 17:09 and finishing with a +2 after his memorable first NHL goal. Not exactly a work of art, as his point shot ricocheted like five different times (I’m not exaggerating) before finally getting past Tuukka Rask to tie it up again the shift right after Ritchie’s goal had put us behind again. As Doc Emrick once observed though, ‘they don’t ask how, they ask how many’.

Eventually the game crept into OT where the Devils at least assured a point. They could have easily had two, but Kyle Palmieri flubbed a breakaway where he also had Jack Hughes as a trailer, while Travis Zajac also just missed a tap in off a rebound with seconds remaining in the three-on-three. For his part Hughes also overcame a shaky first period (this is a theme) to have a strong game overall getting assists on both goals, including some nice body positioning on the first to get the puck to Wood for his breakaway. Of course the dreaded shootout went as so many shootouts have since 2012, where we failed to score at all – even broadcaster Ken Daneyko openly wondered why every shooter was coming in slowly with no speed – and Marchand’s goal in the third round was enough to get the Bruins the extra point and Marchand the post-game interview with Erika Wachter much to my horror. I guess there’s a lot of pooled material each team’s broadcast has to use this year, but still that wasn’t a great visual and I muted it until the next commercial break.

While I stuck with the TV telecast for the most part, I did want to sample the online stuff the Devils were offering up which included their own pregame and postgame as well as some ‘in-stadium jumbotron’ experience during the games, which was mostly just some of the arena stoppage games they put up plus promos. It was nice being able to scroll backward through the live feed and watch the online pregame when the TV one was on commercial, though there wasn’t much to the online pregame other than lineup discussion which was fine. Postgame I actually liked the online one, which included all the interviews with Blackwood, Smith, Wood and coach Ruff whereas the TV one was just analyst-based. So at least they both brought a different element and weren’t redundant.

As will be the case so many times this year, the Devils will play a two-game ‘series’ against the Bruins with the second game being tomorrow afternoon. It’ll be interesting to see how these series turn out since generally teams only play back-to-back when it’s really close travel for a home-and-home, so there’ll be some adjustments made by both teams. Baby steps were the order of the night for the second youngest roster in the league, after the team’s improvement in the last forty-five minutes and with Blackwood and Smith getting the 2nd and 3rd stars (Marchand got the 1st star) – although I should also give some dap to PK Subban for playing a shade over thirty minutes last night. Coach Ruff even joked he was trying to get him in shape, but if you look at our lineup it was inevitable that either he or Damon Severson would be playing big minutes considering Matt Tennyson was our third RD, and thankfully played just ten minutes last night.

Devils Three Stars:

  1. Mackenzie Blackwood (35 saves including 15 in a tilted first period)
  2. Jack Hughes (two assists, three SOG in 21:50)
  3. Ty Smith (first NHL goal, +2 in 17:09)
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Islanders take sloppy Rangers to school

If this were a prize fighting match, they would’ve stopped it early. It wasn’t even close. The Rangers stumbled and fumbled literally against a superior Islanders, who skated away with a routine 4-0 shutout victory at an empty MSG.

It was the Islanders by TKO. On a special night for top pick Alexis Lafreniere and 20-year old defenseman K’Andre Miller, they couldn’t do enough to overcome a very sharp Islanders. They were the harder working team who were better in the corners, in front and defensively. It all added up to a 24 save shutout for starting goalie Semyon Varlamov, who was barely tested.

The final shots read: Islanders 33. Rangers 24. But it really wasn’t a fair fight in a lopsided first that saw the Long Island rivals dominate play at even strength and on special teams. They put up a three spot in a great period. It wasn’t as close as the shots (10-9 Isles) indicated. The Rangers came on towards the end to make it respectable.

There were far too many undisciplined penalties by the guys wearing the classic Blueshirts. Following player introductions even without fans, it didn’t take long for the Islanders to make themselves right at home. New Rangers defenseman Jack Johnson took a holding the stick minor with the game not even two minutes old. On a little bit of a break, Anthony Beauvillier had his shot bounce off Adam Fox right to Brock Nelson for a power play goal.

Before they even could get into the game, the listless Rangers turned over the puck resulting in Islanders captain Anders Lee surprising rookie goalie Igor Shestyorkin with a wrist shot that squeaked through. It gave the Isles two goals within a 1:19 span. The guilty party was Jacob Trouba, who got caught pinching at the Islander blue line. With only Miller back, he gave Lee the shot which a shaky Shestyorkin didn’t stop.

Already down a pair, coach David Quinn sent out Lafreniere with Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier. An aggressive Lafreniere nearly had his first goal. He buzzed around the Isles’ net looking to stuff in a backhand. But Varlamov covered up. The teenager didn’t look fazed like some of his older teammates. Although he only had one shot in 18 shifts (15:27) with a hooking minor that Lee scored on to put the game out of reach later, he looked confident. Quinn even used him on the penalty kill. He tried different combinations due to how many penalties they took. Both Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider each killed penalties.

Nothing worked. In an inauspicious debut, Johnson had a forgettable night. After being off while the Islanders scored on the power play, a simple dump in at center ice turned into an adventure. Somehow, Johnson had the puck take a funny hop right to Cal Clutterbuck, who fed Mat Barzal in transition for a pretty goal that made it 3-0.

Barzal skated by Johnson and put a juke move on Tony DeAngelo, who could only watch the dangerous Isles’ top center beat Shestyorkin high glove side inside the goalpost. It was a good shot, but one he should’ve had. That goal typified how brutal the Rangers were. It felt like preseason for them while the Islanders did whatever they wanted.

They took more undisciplined penalties including a lousy change that resulted in a bench minor for too many men on the ice. Quinn looked thrilled to death on the bench. At least the penalty kill improved as it went on. They didn’t allow the Isles anything on three consecutive power plays. There was even a very strong shift from an aggressive Kreider working the puck deep and killing 15 seconds. Buchnevich also showed more hustle when used.

For the most part, the Blueshirts had a much better second against a conservative Islanders, who chose to sit back. But with the top power play unit in particular failing to get anything accomplished, they didn’t test Varlamov enough.

It was actually the Rangers’ play at five-on-five that improved. With Quinn mixing up his lines, he had Julien Gauthier on for a shift with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin. Gauthier was the most consistent forward in the second. His grit and sheer hustle were noticeable. If anything came out of this game, he deserves more ice time. Gauthier received 10:12 in 16 even strength ahifts with two shots and four hits.

A frustrated Ryan Lindgren took an unnecessary run at Jordan Eberle by getting his shoulder up on the Islander who was headed to the bench. It was called a charging minor. Lindgren likes to play aggressive and I don’t mind the physicality. It just wasn’t the right moment. At least they bailed him out.

There were opportunities to get back in it. Varlamov made a good save on a quick Mika Zibanejad one-timer off a turnover. He got across and didn’t let up any rebound. He played well throughout. Zibanejad looked rusty in his first game. He missed most of training camp due to quarantine. He was not sharp and it showed. That line with Kreider and Buchnevich never got going. They were bottled up by the Islanders, who were splendid defensively. They blocked 20 shots including four apiece from defensemen Andy Greene and Adam Pelech.

The Blueshirts generated chances off the forecheck. Something that was absent in the first. The problem was Varlamov, who made half of his 24 stops in a busier second. He also caught a huge break.

The Rangers appeared to score on a play in tight before the whistle blew. Kevin Rooney was parked in front of Varlamov with Trouba poking at the loose puck behind the net. They celebrated because they knew it went in. However, they got screwed by the NHL on the intent to blow the whistle rule. One that needs to be adjusted. MSG replays clearly showed the puck cross the goal line before the whistle went. It was an absolutely horrendous miss by Toronto. It could’ve swung the momentum. That summed up an empty night.

Fresh off a line change following Kaapo Kakko somehow missing the net on a great setup, Lafreniere took a hooking penalty. This time, the Islanders were successful with Eberle passing for Lee in front with the puck going in for a four goal Islanders lead. Originally, Lee was credited with his second. But they appear to have changed it. It now reads Eberle PP from Lee and Noah Dobson at 14:54. I thought Lee got it by just getting enough of the puck with Trouba on him. I guess we’ll have to take another look. On second look, it should be Lee’s goal. Here it is.

That goal finished off the game. The Islanders played like a five man unit. At one point, with the Rangers fishing for a rebound on a big Varlamov save, the guys in the white and orange with navy blue jerseys all converged on the net and wouldn’t allow a Ranger near the puck. That’s how you know it’s a Barry Trotz coached team. They’re fundamentally sound. They can put you to sleep. That’s essentially what happened to the Blueshirts. They never had a chance.

The only noise that was made was by the little used Brendan Lemieux at the conclusion of the period. He swung his stick to at Jean-Gabriel Pageau leading to some chaos after the buzzer. It probably was a slash that went undetected. Instead, they called Lemieux for embellishment after Pageau roughed him up. It was mostly frustration.

For reasons only known to Quinn, Lemieux was sparingly used getting only 10 shifts for a game low 5:23. On a team that’s not hard to play against, that’s inexcusable. They must become a four line team. Even if Lemieux isn’t killing penalties, I don’t get it. Trotz has no trouble finding eight minutes for enforcer Ross Johnston, who looked concerned after accidentally having his leg collide with Rooney in the third.

Surprisingly, there were no fights. Only a boring final period that couldn’t end soon enough. They got dominated by a better team. The effort must be a lot better in the rematch on Saturday at Nassau Coliseum. If it isn’t, it could be a rough start.

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Zibanejad in for tonight’s season opener versus Islanders

The last time the Rangers faced the Islanders, it was electric at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island. The Islanders had rallied to force overtime in a huge match. The building was loud and full of fans from both sides of a great rivalry. How I wish that were true for tonight’s season opener at MSG tonight. Ditto for the rematch at the Coliseum in two days.

Before we get to the current situation, let’s remember that final meeting from last season. On Feb. 25, the Rangers visited the Islanders knowing they needed two points. They were behind in the standings. After winning three straight, they came in hot while the Islanders were slumping. It made for a compelling match.

The game saw the crosstown rivals go back and forth. Early on, it was the Rangers who jumped out in front. On goals from Mika Zibanejad and Greg McKegg, they led by a pair. But a late second period tally from Rangers killer Jean-Gabriel Pageau made it interesting. Pageau remains a gritty player who scores clutch goals like he had to help his former team Ottawa eliminate the Rangers in that last postseason with Henrik Lundqvist in 2017. That feels like a lifetime ago.

A Brett Howden goal with over 11 minutes left should’ve been enough to put the Islanders away in the third period. But not the scrappy Barry Trotz coached Islanders. They kept coming at Alex Georgiev, who was in goal again due to his record versus the top rival. He was very good turning aside 42 of 45 shots.

However, the pesky Isles scored twice in the final 6:37 to force overtime. A Jordan Eberle power play goal and a Brock Nelson goal with 18 seconds to go tied the game up. The Islanders had the momentum. None of that mattered in a frantic three-on-three extra session that lasted just 28 seconds.

On a steal from Artemi Panarin, the Bread Man went to work. He stuck with a puck as three Islanders chased him down and sent a perfect back pass to a blind spot for Zibanejad, who did the rest. He scored a thrilling overtime goal to beat Semyon Varlamov and send the Blueshirts to a huge 4-3 win. They won once more at Montreal for a season best five-game win streak. They won nine of 10 to get back in the wild card race.

That team didn’t play well afterwards losing three in a row and five of seven before the NHL pause. Yet found themselves a couple of points out due to the Islanders reeling with the Panthers also in contention. Despite only winning twice in their final 10 games including the forgettable sweep at the hands of Carolina in the Qualifying Round, one of those victories was highlighted by a memorable performance from Zibanejad.

On Mar. 5, he became the third Ranger to score five goals in a game by doing so in dramatic fashion. Following Alex Ovechkin completing the hat trick to force OT, Zibanejad won the crazy game 6-5 on a breakaway going backhand top shelf at a loud Garden. An exciting moment.

At the time when the regular season was stopped, Zibanejad was on fire with a career high 41 goals. In 57 games, he was 41-34-75. Remarkable numbers for the first line center. That included a team best 15 on the power play and 23 at even strength. Three came shorthanded. He had six game-winners. He was a force with Panarin playing on the top power play while dominating at five-on-five with KZB line mates Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich.

After having COVID-19 which kept him in quarantine until he was cleared to return to practice, Zibanejad is good to go for tonight. That’s great news for the Rangers, who want to get off to a good start versus a good opponent fresh off its first Conference Finals appearance since ’93.

Tonight marks the debuts of Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller. There is plenty of excitement surrounding the team. We will finally get to see Lafreniere in his new number 13 Blueshirt jersey show what he can do against a tough defensive minded opponent. He’ll get introduced to a unique rivalry. Ditto for Miller, who’ll start with Jacob Trouba on the number one pair. There will be nerves.

At least for later, it’ll be Igor Shestyorkin finally facing the Islanders in net. He’ll oppose Varlamov, who is the Isles’ starter for now with highly touted Russian Ilya Sorokin the backup. Interestingly, he and Shestyorkin are best friends off the ice. On it, they’re competitors. Whenever they face off against each other, it’ll be storybook. All of Russia will be watching. Could it happen Saturday? Who knows.

A heated rivalry still features some mainstays including Kreider, Zibanejad, Buchnevich and former Islander Ryan Strome. The Isles boast more seasoned vets in Nelson, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Mat Barzal, Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck, Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield, Nick Leddy and ex-Devil Andy Greene. Their experience could be a difference.

It’s still about putting on that jersey and once you do, you’re in the battle. Panarin knows that. So do Ryan Lindgren, Adam Fox, Trouba, Tony DeAngelo, Brendan Lemieux, Howden, Brendan Smith and Strome. Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil are still learning. Lafreniere and Miller will be baptized into the rivalry once the puck drops. It’s probably good that they’ll work double-duty versus the Islanders to start their NHL careers. It’ll help prepare them for the grind.

The excitement will begin around 7:10 PM EST. Maybe a few minutes later depending on what the Rangers do with player introductions and fan oriented stuff for all the people who won’t be there physically, but will be in body, mind and spirit.

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Opening Night thoughts

Well, the NHL is finally back in the Metro area tonight after a number of games around the league last night, as all three locals return to the ice tonight with the Devils taking on the Bruins at the Rock while the Isles take on the Rangers at the Garden. In any other season, having all three teams open the season in Newark and Manhattan respectively would have NJ Transit buzzing with fans going to the games. Hopefully there’ll be nights like that again in 2022 and beyond.

Over these last ten months everyone has moments of clarity when it dawns on them they’re going to miss something that’s become part of their routine. For me, one of those moments was realizing that tonight will be the first home opener I haven’t attended since 2005. Ironically that’s the home opener that’s most seared into my head from a positive standpoint, in large part because it was the season opener after the long, dark lockout of 2004 thus it was our first game in eighteen months – and also because of who was involved since we were playing the Penguins when Sidney Crosby played his first NHL game. It was also the debut for highly touted Zach Parise for us, and round one went to the Devils 5-1 as the crowd had fun chanting ‘Zach is better!’ after our prized rookie had a goal and an assist in the big win.

I was actually looking through YouTube to see if somehow there were highlights of that game but I could only find the pregame intro which – given the circumstances and the fact Doc Emrick is narrating the first couple of minutes is worth the watch anyway – other than tonight that was our longest break between games for a very different reason.

Looking through the various seasons to see just what we did on our home openers you realize a lot of these games – even classics like our 7-6 shootout win over the Leafs the following year or our 6-0 demolition of the Capitals just a couple seasons ago – generally fade into the background, partly due to what happens the rest of the year. It takes something either really good or really bad to be memorable after a long season when you go to nearly thirty games a year and the team has 82 games overall. In that vein I’m not even going to discuss 2010 or last year, which both fall into the category of cataclysmic openers which had ramifications long after the game.

Our Rock opener in 2007 wasn’t great on the ice either as we lost 4-1 to Ottawa, but definitely memorable since it took us waiting through a nine-game road trip get us to that much anticipated night. I can’t say I miss much about the Meadowlands even though I did see a Stanley Cup win there in 2003, the fact I was only a season ticket holder a couple seasons there versus every season at the Rock probably contributes to that place feeling more like home to me. Not to mention the ease of walking around the building and driving in and out of it compared to East Rutherford, where you were elbow to elbow at times going around the concourse at the CAA, and frequently it took fifteen minutes or more just to exit the complex, while where I park just outside of the Rock it’s a straight shoot out to the highway.

Another opener that stands out from a more positive standpoint is 2017 where our 4-1 win over Colorado was a showcase for a lot of our rookies – Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt and Will Butcher. That win, and the young blood contributing to it kicked off an emotional 9-2 start during our surprising playoff season. Home openers generally are more memorable when they are the actual season opener but that isn’t always the case every year, as in the aforementioned Rock home opener example.

Tonight would have been very memorable to be at in person given it’s our first game in ten months, I suppose that’ll just make it more so in another nine months when we’re presumably able to attend next season’s opener. Maybe we’ll be able to attend games later in the season, who knows – I pretty well doubt it. I’ve already given a season preview in the last blog, not so much a prediction though you could probably glean it from its tone, I pretty much agree with Derek’s division predictions though. Now that we’re at Opening Night I wanted to strike a more positive tone before the season starts though. Especially since I tried to watch the team’s final scrimmage, my attention wavered with the on-ice stuff after the first period but listening to our current radio guys Matt Loughlin and Chico Resch do their thing was a kick. God knows the last time I listened to them do a full game.

Yes there are a lot of reasons to be apprehensive about this season for Devils fans but here I wanted to focus on the positives. The ten things I’m looking most forward to with hockey’s return, not entirely in order of preference but more the order that I think about them:

1. Watching my actual team play live again for the first time in ten months, nothing more needs to be added here.

2. Our improving social media content – which on some level makes me annoyed we couldn’t have this level of coverage when the team was actually good, but listening to the podcasts every week and watching some of the online stuff including a few of the daily ‘camp recaps’ is actually a more entertaining season preview than most years just watching one or two preseason games. Supposedly there’ll be a postgame show online every night now, while I’ll probably default to watching the TV one more it’ll be a nice follow-up viewing the next day or so for certain games.

3. No matter how pessimistic you are there’s always that ‘everyone is 0-0’ anticipation and what happens if we win a game or two to start a shortened season? Yes I know it can be illusory – just look at 2018 for an example where we started the season in a dominant fashion, then crashed and burned after the first four games. Still if there’s ever a season where we could use even some illusory optimism the first few games, it’s this one.

4. Even though it’ll be different watching games this year without a crowd in the sport I’m most used to crowd interaction (since I only go to a handful of Met games a year and a Jet game once in a blue moon), seeing the TV crew again will be nice and no doubt help with the transition. Although Steve Cangialosi and Ken Daneyko aren’t prime Doc and Chico they both have their own place in the fabric of Devils lore. Cangi’s been covering the team in some capacity since I’ve started watching while Dano’s been playing or broadcasting pretty much every season since then and before.

5. Our off-ice crew is also worth watching. Erika Wachter simp jokes aside, it’ll be nice to see her host the pregame and interview players of the game after wins again. Even if this year it’ll look a little different than the traditional post-ice interview. And as much as I like Cangi and Dano, Bryce Salvador is a better analyst on and offline. He could actually coach if he wanted to, I’m selfishly glad he doesn’t want to for the time being.

6. Even though I don’t listen to the radio as much I’m definitely going to make the effort to listen to a few this year. Matt, like Steve is a longtime employee who’s covered the team since I’ve started watching so he’s definitely one of us. Of course Chico is a national treasure, a point I was reminded of listening to the scrimmage broadcast. And he isn’t gonna be around forever, as much as he’s omnipresent throughout all eras of Devils history – we’ve already dodged one attempted retirement, so we might have to be extra attentive to enjoy him while he’s still around.

7. If there’s one beacon of hope on the ice right now, it’s goalie Mackenzie Blackwood who’s the unquestioned starter now in his second full season with the team. Whatever problems the team had on the ice, Blackwood kept the team competitive in most games last year after a slow start for him and everyone else. Just 24 years old, there’s reason to hope his best days are still in front of him.

8. My biggest hope off the ice is the new coaching staff, led by Lindy Ruff. Initially cool on his hiring, I quickly warmed up and it wasn’t a hard sell since I always liked the guy when he was in Buffalo anyway, and he’s generally kept his teams competitive while getting the most out of his younger players in both Buffalo and Dallas. If there’s ever a season where you need a steady pro to guide a turbulent ship it’s this one, with all the challenges this season will present on and off the ice.

9. You always want to see all the new acquisitions and rookies going into a season, of which we have plenty. Among the vet acquisitions (not counting the welcome return of Sami Vatanen) are Ryan Murray, Dimitry Kulikov and Andreas Johnsson while rookies and younger players looking to make a name for themselves include camp stand out Yegor Sharangovich and the much-anticipated debut of defenseman Ty Smith. Nathan Bastian, Jesper Boqvist and 2020 trade deadline acquisition Janne Kuokkanen are also younger players looking to keep full-time spots this year.

10. If we’re gonna go anywhere long-term, we’ll need our #1’s to step up. Although Nico Hischier’s season debut will have to wait eventually he’ll hit the ice for his fourth season, hopefully he’ll be able to make the jump from good to great in the near future. For our other #1 in Jack Hughes, it’ll be interesting to see how he plays with some much-needed extra muscle on his frame after the long layoff. Him making the jump to a solid regular would be a welcome addition after a rookie campaign where his production and consistency was lacking.

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New look Rangers even younger headed into 2021 season

Expectations will be much higher for new starting goalie Igor Shestyorkin and a young, talented Rangers roster featuring top pick Alexis Lafreniere and former first round pick K’Andre Miller.

AP Photo by New York Rangers via Twitter Copyright 2021

This is indeed a new era for the New York Rangers. Youth will be served on Broadway. For better or worse, the new look Rangers are moving forward with even more young talent into a shortened 56-game NHL ’21 season.

The action will be fast and furious. All 56 will be played inside the newly created East Division. Well, really the old Patrick times two. You have mainstays such as the Capitals,Devils, Flyers, Islanders, Penguins and the Rangers competing against each other. Add in the Bruins and Sabres. That makes this division even tougher. With a more regional schedule featuring multiple match-ups versus the same opponent due to COVID-19 restrictions, it’ll make for compelling hockey. Hopefully, there won’t be too many cancelations like the NBA. The Stars have already been hit hard. They won’t start on time.

It gets going right away for the Blueshirts on Thursday night at what will be a hauntingly empty Madison Square Garden. They’ll battle the archenemy Islanders for the first of two meetings of eight. The second one is at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday in Long Island. It’ll be a good test for a younger 22 man roster that now features top pick Alexis Lafreniere and 20-year old defenseman K’Andre Miller. Both will make their NHL debuts.

If you think it’s only about winning with third-year coach David Quinn behind a bench that includes dynamic duo Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, then you are not thinking clearly. Sure. They’d love to win as much as possible due to the dynamic skills of Panarin and Zibanejad along with the leadership of power forward Chris Kreider.

However, it will hinge more on the development of kids like second-year right wing Kaapo Kakko and 21-year old third line center Filip Chytil. If they can become more consistent along with key top line right wing Pavel Buchnevich, then maybe they can surprise some by finishing in the top four to qualify for the playoffs.

It’s the younger core which features Igor Shestyorkin, Alex Georgiev, Tony DeAngelo, Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren who’ll determine what kind of year they have. Yes. I haven’t forgotten depth forwards Brett Howden or Brendan Lemieux, who if all goes well will comprise two-thirds of the fourth line. They’re counting on unproven right wing Julien Gauthier to start on the third line with Chytil and Lafreniere, who’ll be worked in slowly by Quinn. The 19-year old wiz kid from the Province of Quebec will see power play time on the second unit.

If you’re not excited for Lafreniere, who’ll wear number 13 and make it very lucky, then you may as well go watch the Edmonton defense or Chicago. This is the kind of young future star that this team hasn’t had. He’s a special talent who accomplished so much by winning MVP at the ’20 World Junior Championship for Canada with 10 points (4-6-10) in only five games, that he didn’t return to play this year. It wasn’t worth the risk for the Rangers. Look what happened to Kirby Dach in a tuneup. How unfortunate for the Blackhawks. They sure could use him.

It’s easy to light up thinking about what Panarin can do for an encore after putting up 95 points (32-63-95) in 63 games in his first season as a Blueshirt. The 29-year old Russian is a brilliant player who’s a puck wizard. He can skate into open space and find teammates or hit twine with his shot. He made Ryan Strome so much better. Strome is a key player to watch. Can he continue to produce alongside the Bread Man? They’ll have a new casting mate in Kakko, who looks to erase the nightmare that was his first year. He should get plenty of opportunities. Don’t forget he went second in ’19 behind Jack Hughes. Now, we’ll see how much work he put in.

Picture the KZB Line buzzing during a strong shift with the cohesive trio of Kreider, Zibanejad and Buchnevich combining for a signature goal. Consistency is the key for both Buchnevich and Kreider, who are slow starters. They don’t have that luxury this year. Not with four point and three point games up for grabs nightly. Zibanejad makes it go with his superb skating and ability to both finish and set up teammates. Kreider is one of the fastest skaters in transition. For his size, he can fly. He also brings the intangibles by going to the hard area in front where he makes his living. Buchnevich has the playmaking capability and works well with Zibanejad and Kreider. It’s about second effort with him.

If the top six works, then it becomes about the bottom six forwards. How Quinn handles the third and fourth lines will be important. Until proven otherwise, Chytil and Gauthier are not finished products. Lafreniere is the new kid on the block. He can push them to be better. Hopefully, it’ll work out so we don’t have to contemplate the Pierre-Luc Dubois to Manhattan rumors from an impatient faction of fans have already started. Not if I can help it. It’s hogwash. He’s a Blue Jacket for now. Let’s focus on our team.

The fourth line might not be asked to do a lot if those top three lines are going. But it’s still crucial to have a checking unit you trust. Especially without too many off days. Even with there not being many back-to-backs, they need to become a four line team. That way they’re harder to play against. Howden and Lemieux should be able to handle that role while also killing penalties. Phil Di Giuseppe will complement them at the start. They all got to play last year. There’s speed, smarts and grit. We’ll see how they do.

Former Devil Kevin Rooney is a solid extra who can step into the lineup and win draws while playing penalty kill. He’ll definitely see some action. Maybe Morgan Barron will too. For now, the former Cornell center is on the Rangers’ Taxi Squad. The 22-year old from Halifax is a former sixth round pick in ’17.

Jacob Trouba will lead a young defense that includes new freshman partner Miller. It’ll be trial by error. We’ll see how well Trouba works with the former Badger. Can it be any worse than former partner Brady Skjei or Brendan Smith? Don’t answer that. Smith is the extra defenseman for now. Let’s hope it stays that way.

In order for the Rangers to be successful, they need the cohesive tandem of Lindgren and Fox to prove they are fully capable of neutralizing the opposition. They’ll see plenty of time against opponents’ best scoring lines with Quinn balancing it out. He’ll give Trouba some of the responsibility. He might not have had the best first year after coming over from Winnipeg. But it wasn’t an ideal situation. Trouba improved towards the end by playing the hard edged style he’s known for.

Both Fox and DeAngelo will be the focal point of the team’s transition. Each are superb skaters who read the play well and know when to jump into the rush. They’re also terrific passers with DeAngelo dynamic in that department along with his accurate shot. Fox is the more reliable defensively, which is why he has a chance to be special. Just remember, it’s only Year Two.

Regarding DeAngelo, he deserves to be recognized for how much he improved last season. He also was a great teammate who is just as happy for everyone’s success. He along with Strome were two of the first Rangers to stick up for Miller during an unfortunate incident with a Zoom Conference interview that became sad. Along with Trouba, they supported their future black teammate during a tumultuous time for the organization.

It’s time to put to rest all the negative propaganda being spewed from fraudulent blogs, whose only purpose is self-serving and toxic. Those aren’t true fans. If you play for the Rangers, we all root for you. It’s the logo on the front. Nothing else matters. This shouldn’t have to be said.

For DeAngelo, he also will have higher expectations too. He plays first power play and will be utilized more offensively by the coaching staff which now includes Jacques Martin running the defense. He knows a thing or too about the position. That’s not a knock on current Devils coach Lindy Ruff, who became a ridiculous scapegoat by unrealistic skeptics. We’ll see how Martin deploys the third pair of veteran Jack Johnson and DeAngelo.

Johnson is the replacement for popular locker room leader Marc Staal. Good luck to him in Detroit. He’s going to need it. We understand that Johnson has limitations with his skating due to the physical style he’s played. He’s another high character guy who will give his all every shift. Just as long as he doesn’t get caught out too long in his end. But he’ll deliver hits and block shots. Things the team will appreciate. We’ll see how it goes.

If the blueline is a problem, they’ll need Shestyorkin and Georgiev to save them literally. By now, we all have come to grips with the expected departure of the ever popular Henrik Lundqvist. It’s still shocking that he’s not playing this season. He had successful heart surgery. All we can do is send our best wishes to him and hope that second game against Carolina wasn’t the final one of his great NHL career. Let’s hope for the best.

With Lundqvist gone, it’s Shestyorkin’s net with Georgiev a good supporting act. Their time is now. It’ll be the 25-year old Shestyorkin who’ll be the number one goalie responsible for how the season goes. We might even get a treat and see an all Russian netminder Battle of New York between KHL stars Shestyorkin and newest Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin. He’s expected to backup behind Semyon Varlamov.

It’s easy to forget that Shestyorkin has only 12 NHL regular season games of experience and one forgettable qualifying game which could’ve made for a good EA Sports NHL ’21 poster if you are a fan of Hurricanes star center Sebastian Aho. Shestyorkin has excellent rebound control and a quick glove. He also is like a third defenseman in that he can move the puck up ice. A huge contrast from Lundqvist. It’s up to him to live up to expectations.

Georgiev is actually the younger goalie. He doesn’t turn 25 until February 10. However, this is his third full season. No longer a third wheel, he’s the backup to Shestyorkin who Quinn will count on. An aggressive netminder who’s good on breakaways and has a good glove, he’s technically sound. If Shestyorkin struggles, they won’t hesitate to go to Georgiev.

If they are to be successful, the Rangers don’t want to make it a habit of relying on each goalie to bail them out. If they’re both seeing over 30 shots with regularity and even 40 plus, that doesn’t bode well. It’s one thing for Shestyorkin and Georgiev to cover up mistakes during a tough stretch. Quite another if it becomes a trend.

The truth is it’s going to be crucial for these Rangers to spend more time in the opposition’s end than defending their own. That means a sustained forecheck, fewer neutral zone turnovers and less mistakes when they defend. They’re notorious for having issues clearing the zone. That can’t happen. The breakouts need to be better and both the D and forwards must be on the same page.

This isn’t as easy a year for Quinn. While the division is quite challenging with the Bruins added to good teams in the Caps, Flyers, Islanders and Pens, who looked quite susceptible in their first game versus Philadelphia Wednesday night, it won’t be a picnic. It’s up to Quinn to deliver results. Before last year’s stoppage, the Rangers were streaking. They were in playoff contention.

It’s about building off last season. The whole thing is not to dig themselves an early hole. It won’t be as easy to climb out of. Every game counts. It isn’t 82. It’s the same 56 as Joe DiMaggio’s baseball record hitting streak. It’ll take a total team effort to make the playoffs with only the top four qualifying due to the old divisional format. That means having enough success in these eight game match-ups versus old rivals and the Sabres. A team that should be a rival given the location. Or did you forget Game Five in ’07? I haven’t.

Whatever happens, it should be fun to have hockey back. We’ve missed it. There’s a unique opportunity here for the Rangers to do something. It won’t be easy. But the excitement surrounding this year’s team is palpable. Buckle up.

Prediction: 6th place in Patrick Division

No record or points. It’s too hard. I think they’ll be competitive and might even go to the final frantic week with the Islanders and Penguins. Let’s hope they prove me wrong.

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