Devils dud of a deadline weekend

Let’s face facts, our deadline more or less ended with the Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac trade to the Islanders last weekend. All that was left to do was shift some deck chairs on the Titanic. Sami Vatanen was waived, then claimed by the Stars. Good for him I guess, at least now he’s on a team with a theoretical chance of making the playoffs – presuming he’s actually a part of the team enough to play. Nikita Gusev had his contract terminated and caught on with the Panthers on a one year, $1 million deal. What a fall from the guy who was ‘the best player outside of North America’ last offseason, but at least like Vatanen he might get a chance to play meaningful games now. So will Dmitry Kulikov, sent to Edmonton for the laughable price of a conditional fourth rounder, which bumps up to a third if Edmonton wins their first-round series (against Winnipeg that might be less than 50-50).

At least the Devils made an acquisition to replace one of the outgoing bodies on defense, dealing a third rounder they initially got in the Taylor Hall trade last year to the Caps to get defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler. It’s a bit of an easy, lazy comparison to bring up Mirco Mueller, another young Swiss defenseman passed over on his initial team and acquired as a bit of a reclamation project here. Mostly because we paid a lot more for Mueller – a 2nd rounder, 4th rounder and Jon Merrill (left unprotected in the expansion draft due to trading for Mueller). Not that Merrill’s great but at least he’s still in the league, and getting dealt at the deadline to the Canadiens to improve their depth for the playoffs. Still it’s kind of embarrassing that we didn’t get anything at all other than Siegenthaler’s RFA rights to make our defense worse for the rest of this year – dealing a third for him and maybe getting back a third for Kulikov is at best a wash for 2021.

Ironically the best thing from a Devil perspective that happened all day was the trade of Jakub Vrana from the Caps to the Red Wings in the interesting Anthony Mantha deal. Vrana’s always been a Devils killer so I’m not sorry to see him get exiled out of the division. Not that this deadline was ever going to be about this year for us, but at a certain point it’s just giving guys away for the sake of giving them away, as much as GM Tom Fitzgerald pushed back against this characterization when meeting the media and explaining why Ryan Murray (among others) was not dealt:

Well sorry Tom but you gave a couple of guys away as it was. I know a fourth rounder is ‘better than nothing’ for a pending UFA but come on now, it’s just a lottery ticket at best. Not that I have a huge problem with any of his moves specifically other than the way he handled Palmieri – if he was going to lowball him on a contract offer then he should have been dealt along with Blake Coleman (also a FA after this year) at last year’s deadline. If you were going to keep Palm, then it was foolish to think some lowball offer was going to sign him before FA. If you’re committed to keeping him, then you’re committed to offering market value. There was no reason to keep him on a clearly rebuilding team this year if he wasn’t going to be a part of the future and there’s no reason to think he was going to be part of the future if you weren’t going to offer him pretty much what he and his agent think he’s worth.

It’s almost anyone’s guess what our lineup will look like once all the dust settles tomorrow and we start our week-long four-game(!) series with the Rangers. Will Nico Hischier finally get back in the lineup? Probably. Will Pavel Zacha play? Far less likely. It would be nice to see a lineup where Zacha can finally go back on the wing but…that’s 2021 for you. I’d almost forgotten about this four-game series, it’s interesting timing with it being smack after the deadline. While the Rangers aren’t quite in the playoff chase they also aren’t totally out of it either, four points back of the last spot, though Boston has two games in hand and just fortified its roster by finally getting someone to take one of their lowball offers for a forward acquiring the ghost of Taylor Hall.

So maybe if we pull ourselves together and rise up (chuckle) for a game or two we can play spoiler, that’s about all we have left to hang our hat on results-wise. I have to admit the prospect of sticking it to the Rangers and Nico’s likely return may actually get me to watch a couple of games this week. A still Nico-less Devils didn’t really do enough on their own to get me fired up with two dud losses to the Penguins. It will be interesting to see some of the newer guys play and eventually make their debuts. Even first-rounder Alexander Holtz might come over – probably for AHL action – now that his team’s season is over with in Sweden. Hopefully there will be something to enjoy out of this week though, since our next date of import is as usual draft lottery day.

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Despite comeback, Rangers suffer a crushing loss to enemy Islanders in overtime, Chytil turnover leads to Pulock winner, Kravtsov records first NHL point

In the first of many match-ups between Russian comrades, Igor Shestyorkin lost to Ilya Sorokin in a frustrating 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders. It wasn’t his fault. The blame falls on the veteran leadership of the Rangers, who couldn’t take advantage of a great opportunity to gain valuable ground. AP Photo by New York Rangers via Getty Images

In an epic battle between heated rivals at Nassau Coliseum, the extra point went to the enemy Islanders on Ryan Pulock’s goal that defeated the Rangers 3-2. It was a crushing loss. This was a golden opportunity to sweep the Islanders and gain even more ground with the Bruins getting humiliated at home by the Capitals 8-1. Instead, the Rangers only earned one point to remain four out of fourth place in the East Division.

So, they screwed up just enough to blow a valuable point when both the Flyers and Bruins lost in regulation. That final playoff spot is there for the taking. It doesn’t seem like either Boston or Philly want it. All the Rangers have to do is put together a good stretch and they could squeak in. One-goal losses like tonight hurt. Especially when they put themselves in position to win.

With the Bruins acquiring Taylor Hall from the Sabres to bolster their offense, the Rangers have 15 games left to beat out Boston, who even with Hall and adding defenseman Mike Reilly, don’t impress me much. Neither do the Jekyll and Hyde Flyers, who gave up three straight goals in a brief span to lose to Buffalo. Even as a skeptic, I think our team can make the playoffs. That’s how mediocre the teams they’re competing with are. Whether they do or not remains to be seen.

They played the Islanders toe to toe and could’ve won the Battle Of New York rematch in Long Island. In truth, the Rangers took the Isles’ best shot in a lopsided first period and were still standing. In what he admitted was a very hard decision, coach David Quinn went with starting goalie Igor Shestyorkin after Alex Georgiev again won the other day over the Islanders. There was no wrong choice. He could’ve rolled with the hot hand. Instead, Quinn supplied New York hockey fans with the first of many match-ups between Russian comrades Shestyorkin and Ilya Sorokin. The battle of former KHL stars didn’t disappoint.

In another interesting subplot, Islanders coach Barry Trotz reinserted Oliver Wahlstrom after he sat out two consecutive games. That meant the first head to head battle between 2018 first round picks Wahlstrom and Vitaly Kravtsov. Don’t forget it was the Rangers who chose Kravtsov at number nine over Wahlstrom, who the Islanders were happy to take at number 11. Both had good games. But it was Kravtsov who finally was rewarded for his hard work by recording his first NHL point. He was also moved up by Quinn to the struggling first line. That paid off immediately. More on that in a bit.

On the eve of Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline, the blood rivals met for the fifth time in eight meetings. Following a convincing 4-1 win on Friday in which they dictated the terms, the Rangers had to play more in the trenches against a more physical Islanders. This one had a lot of battles and some edge. Colin Blackwell didn’t mind laughing at the expense of taller Isles defenseman Scott Mayfield during a scrum. He is that player on our side that gets underneath the skin of opponents. It’s why I’ll continue to suggest keeping him.

If they do make a move by the 3 PM deadline later today, it’ll likely be minor due to the situation. This isn’t a Win Now team nor is it a Sell At All Costs one. Maybe a Julien Gauthier gets rerouted since he’s become the odd man out. I’m not even sure Brendan Smith will go anywhere. However, if I were a contending team, I’d be interested due to what he brings. It won’t cost a lot. Smith had himself a good night along with partner Libor Hajek. Believe it or not, that third pair scored both the Rangers goals. They deserved it.

As for what took place in the old barn, it was disappointing on so many levels. The first line had a miserable game. They were so bad during a one-sided first period that saw the Islanders outscore them 2-0 while leading 17-8 in shots, that Quinn had seen enough.

In particular, Chris Kreider was the culprit by taking a bad delay of game minor penalty that led directly to a Kyle Palmieri power play goal less than two minutes in. Palmieri’s first as an Islander in his third game only took 23 seconds to score on the Kreider gift. He was able to beat Adam Fox to a Brock Nelson rebound and bury it home for his ninth at 1:47. Josh Bailey helped set it up to pick up an assist.

For most of the period, it was the Islanders carrying the play with their forecheck. They won puck battles and controlled the boards unlike the game on Friday. When they play that heavy game, it’s to their advantage. The Rangers are better at using their team speed and skill to make plays. The faster the tempo, the better. This one had hitting with the Isles leading in hits 27-21. Their Identity Line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck were effective. So too was the newly formed third line featuring Palmieri with Wahlstrom and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Not coincidentally, they would factor in on a big goal to close the first.

With the Isles also trying out Mat Barzal on the left wing with former Devil Travis Zajac taking face-offs, Jordan Eberle was on his usual right side. The new combinations Trotz used worked. He kept Bailey with Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier, who was dangerous late in regulation. At least they kept the pesky water bug off the score sheet.

What it all meant was the Islanders peppered Shestyorkin in a busy first period. He had to make a lot of good saves with traffic. There was a superb glove stop in which he got it up in time to get most of a high labeled shot from staying out. There was a rebound, but it was kept out. He also had to contend with Wahlstrom, who loves to shoot the puck. He got three good shots off that Shestyorkin denied. Velocity isn’t a problem for Wahlstrom, who plays more of a power forward style than Kravtsov, who had another strong game.

Speaking of Wahlstrom, he took a bad penalty when he cut down Blackwell from behind. Unfortunately, the Rangers power play was in royal suckage mode. The all too predictable first unit didn’t establish enough to test Sorokin, who was making his second start versus the Blueshirts since they lit him up in the second game of the season. He stopped all eight shots he saw in a low pressure first. It must’ve been enjoyable to watch counterpart Shestyorkin have to work way harder for his 15 saves.

Aside from how ineffective Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich were, neither Ryan Strome or Artemi Panarin had a good night. Strome has become too predictable with his penchant for over passing while Panarin doesn’t shoot the puck enough. They’re very good together, but someone please explain to me how Panarin wound up with zero shots? Strome had two and neither were memorable. Both need to be more selfish. Strome is left open a lot because opponents know what he’ll do. That needs to change.

With the exception of Kravtsov, who started with Kevin Rooney and Brett Howden, along with the Kid Line that had Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere together, there were too many passengers in the first 20 minutes. That included Fox and partner Ryan Lindgren, who weren’t as sharp as they usually are. When that happens, it’s usually trouble.

It looked like they were going to escape down a single goal thanks to Shestyorkin. But a bad line change from Kreider allowed the Islanders top line to coast up ice thanks to a flying Barzal, who quickly got the puck over to Eberle. With the trailer Pageau coming on, Eberle passed across for a wide open Pageau one-timer that beat Shestyorkin with 7.6 seconds left in the period. In a word, brutal. The defense backed up. It was the K’Andre Miller/Jacob Trouba pair. They got no puck support from the second line. A miserable way to end a nightmarish period.

Unhappy with his top two lines, Quinn wised up and started the third line for the opening face-off of the second. The chemistry between Lafreniere and Kakko is undeniable. They play well off each other. It’s also boosted Chytil’s play. Even though he can’t win face-offs, he’s a good offensive player. If you stick him with talented youngsters who possesses the skill of Kakko and Lafreniere, it works. Lafreniere took four face-offs and won three. Keep an eye on that.

Occasionally, Kravtsov got mixed in place of Kakko following a power failure. They actually had chances with Martin in the box. But again couldn’t finish. Panarin tried a touch pass for a Strome deflection that Sorokin calmly covered up. Zibanejad messed up his one-timer.

As for Kravtsov, he was creating scoring chances for linemates and himself with good overall play. Eventually, Quinn bumped him up to the struggling first line. He came close to earning his first point when he all but setup Buchnevich in front, only to see Buchnevich shoot the puck into the goalpost. The net was wide open. It was frustrating. The encouraging part was Quinn really liked what he saw.

So, Kravtsov stayed up on that line while Kreider worked with Howden and Rooney. He definitely responded by being more active. That included a vicious hit near the boards that made the Islanders crowd moan. Kreider led the Rangers with six hits. He needs to do that. Maybe the wake up call will spark him. Of course, the demotion didn’t change his power play minutes. Quinn just isn’t willing to reward the kids who are outplaying the vets. That includes Zibanejad, who is back to being in first half mode.

While Kravtsov stayed up, Blackwell was used on the second line and sometimes the fourth. He always plays the game honestly. That’s why fans have taken to him. It isn’t just the surprising production with the 12 goals. It’s how he hustles and puts himself in good spots. He’s also versatile enough to take draws and penalty kill. He plays second power play because he’s earned it. That’s where three of his dozen goals have come. This gritty player finishes checks and goes to the hard areas without any issue. No wonder he challenged the much bigger Mayfield post whistle and talked trash. I sure hope he stays.

With the Rangers still trailing by two, it was that Kid Line that finally swung the momentum. On a hard forecheck from Lafreniere, Chytil and Kakko, the cohesive trio combined to set up Hajek for his second goal. He took a Kakko feed up top and took a wrist shot that took a favorable bounce off two Islanders right past Sorokin for a huge goal. Kakko and Chytil got the assists. It was nice to see Hajek get rewarded. He played a very good game with Smith.

Not even two minutes later, another strong play from Kravtsov led to Smith evening the score with his third. On a smart cycle, Kravtsov passed in front for Zibanejad, who had the puck carom off him right to a pinching Smith, who was only too happy to bury it at 12:16. It was Kravtsov’s first NHL point in his fifth game. That gave the Blueshirts two goals in 1:53 to tie the score. With the Bruins trailing on the scoreboard 6-0 to the Capitals, the Rangers had rallied back to put themselves in a winning position.

They really tilted the ice during the second. Maybe it didn’t show in shots which they led 10-6. But the attempts were way higher. The new lines Quinn used by adjusting worked. This time, it was Sorokin who had to come up with some tough stops. Outside of maybe one good shift by the Islanders fourth line late, they hardly did anything.

The game would hang in the balance during a tense third. Unlike the first two periods, it was played on more even terms. As expected, each side tightened up knowing the next goal would probably win. So, you got what you expected.

For the Blueshirts, they might regret not taking advantage of a second bad Martin tripping minor when he took down Smith. They certainly had a lot of puck possession on the power play. As usual, not enough shots found the target. It was very frustrating. Fox tried a wrist shot for a Kreider tip that didn’t work. He also attempted another one and Kreider couldn’t get his stick on it, making it an easy save for Sorokin. There also was the all too predictable Zibanejad one-timer right into the teeth of the Isles’ penalty kill that led to a clear. How about the Zibanejad wide shot where Sorokin was out of position completely? All he had to do was hit the net. Brutal.

Also of note, Trouba had the most shots on goal with five. Since when does that happen? If he’s leading the team in shots, that’s not a good sign. Not a criticism either. Only an observation. Panarin never registered one. Kreider only had one on net. Buchnevich and Zibanejad each had two, but screwed up quality chances. Kakko never hit the net either. Strome had two with his other five attempts not connecting. You’re not going to win most nights when your top players are shooting blanks.

A Fox hi-sticking minor on Clutterbuck handed the Islanders a power play. However, it was so slow moving and bad that they never got a single shot on Shestyorkin. The Rangers did a great job on the penalty kill. Especially Miller and Trouba, who had active sticks. The forwards didn’t allow much setup time either. In fact, Buchnevich came close to getting a shorthanded break. Too bad he didn’t. The puck wouldn’t concentrate. It was bad ice for both sides. You had a lot of pucks bounce on players.

The refs missed a Howden high stick that would’ve given the Islanders a late power play. Butch Goring certainly was bellyaching for it enough. But he happened to be right. It was a brutal miss. Not that I think they would’ve scored. Our penalty kill is very good.

Late in regulation, Wahlstrom attempted a difficult turnaround shot that Shestyorkin made a good pad save on to keep it out. The intensity picked up when during a Rangers forecheck, Mayfield and Buchnevich got into it behind the Islander net. I didn’t realize Mayfield was getting the original for roughing. Maybe Buchnevich shouldn’t have gone back at him to be taken off for hi-sticking. There was only 1:29 left when it occurred.

Getting one more power play could’ve made a difference. It also would’ve carried over to give them a four-on-three. Instead, overtime started with the awfulness that is three-on-three. Following a tentative shift from the trio of Zibanejad, Panarin and Fox, out came Strome, Chytil and Miller. I don’t know why, but I didn’t like it. I liked it even less when Strome allowed Barzal to get a head of steam and nearly set up Zajac for the winner. Only a sliding Shestyorkin denied him to freeze play.

Then, they stayed on for the defensive face-off. Why Chytil was still out I don’t know. He’s not a good defensive player. When he and Miller got mixed up behind the Ranger net, I had a bad feeling. Chytil came out with the puck along the boards. There was enough time to chip a backhand clear off the boards. Instead, he hesitated which allowed him to get trapped. Zajac easily took him off the puck. Then Barzal found a cutting Pulock for the overtime winner right by Shestyorkin at 1:13.

Photo credit to Brian via Getty Images

It was a brutal end to a frustrating game. Two points would’ve meant a lot. Instead, they settled for a lousy one to remain four behind the Bruins, who still have 17 games left including a whole bunch against the Sabres. The same rival they acquired Hall and Curtis Lazar from for Anders Bjork and a second round pick.

Boston did well in adding Hall and the gritty Lazar, who will help them. They gave up a third round pick to Ottawa for defenseman Mike Reilly, who should help their struggling blue line. They gave up eight goals in an 8-1 loss to the Caps. The Bruins have the Islanders twice this week while the Rangers get the Devils four times. This is the make or break week to get something done. We’ll have a better idea of things by next week.

There isn’t anything else to add to the one-goal loss to the bitter rival. It was another winnable game. One I feel they should’ve won. Too bad some of the best Rangers didn’t play up to standard. They gotta be better. And if they continue to look out of sorts, Quinn shouldn’t hesitate to use the kids more. They’re the ones busting their ass. Play the guys who deserve it. It’s sure to be a positive experience beneficial to their careers. The future is now.

Instead of a three stars, I’m gonna do something new.

Three Goats Of The Game

3rd Goat Ryan Strome, NYR (edges out Zibanejad, lost 7 of 13 draws, 2 SOG, -2 in 17:20, must shoot puck more)

2nd Goat Artemi Panarin, NYR (0 SOG, didn’t make a difference, -1 in 19:07)

1st Goat Chris Kreider, NYR (bad penalty and line change cost team two goals, in a funk)

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Georgiev conquers the Islanders again in good bounce back win, Panarin responds and kids step up

It was the play of the kids including goalscorer Alexis Lafreniere celebrating with Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil that sparked the Rangers to a good 4-1 win over the Islanders. AP Photo by New York Rangers courtesy Getty Images

Over the course of 24 hours, the Rangers flipped the script. Coming off one of their most disappointing losses at home, they went into Long Island and handed the blood rival Islanders only their second loss in regulation on home ice.

In a resounding performance, it was the more youthful Rangers who had more left in the tank. With both teams playing for the third time in four nights, it was the Manhattan team that earned a hard fought 4-1 win over their Long Island rivals. They were hungrier to the puck and matched the Islanders’ work ethic throughout to pull within five points of fourth place Boston. The Bruins have three games at hand.

Let’s toss that playoff stuff aside. There is a lot more positive to emphasize than the team’s miniscule postseason chances. For starters, it wasn’t just Artemi Panarin rebounding with a strong game that saw him set up two goals. It was also about the kids the Rangers are building around.

They got real good performances out of Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, K’Andre Miller and newcomer Vitaly Kravtsov. The five who are all 21 and younger, combined for two goals and two assists with a plus-six rating and 11 of the Rangers’ 35 shots. Also, they finally ended Semyon Varlamov’s mastery. He entered with a shutout streak that stretched into the second period of his third start versus the Blueshirts.

It was Lafreniere who finally scored on Varlamov when he got to a rebound in front and put in his seventh goal at 6:05 of the second period. That gave them the lead against a good defensive team that is much harder to play from behind. The scoring play was made possible thanks to good passes from both Kakko and then Chytil with a persistent Lafreniere out-hustling the Islanders for the all important first goal. Overall, the Kid Line had a good night with the trio of Lafreniere, Chytil and Kakko combining for three points and a plus-six.

The impressive play from the youngsters wasn’t the only story. Backup goalie Alex Georgiev continued his dominance of the Islanders. Entering with only two regulation defeats and great numbers versus the Rangers’ top rival, he looked like he didn’t miss three weeks. Instead, the unflappable stopped 31 of 32 shots to again conquer his favorite opponent. Georgiev improved to 7-2-0 versus the Islanders for his career with a stupendous .944 save percentage (238 saves on 252 shots). That includes only one goal allowed on 55 shots faced in two starts this year. Insanity.

For the 25-year old Bulgarian, he stayed composed in his first start since Mar. 19. There weren’t many rebounds to be found for an Islanders team that likes to get bodies in front. When there were later in the game, the Blueshirts did a good job clearing them away. That included a couple of shaky moments early in the third. Nursing a one-goal lead, Georgiev casually misplayed a puck right to Casey Cizikas, who had Cal Clutterbuck in the slot. But his one-timer drew iron. He also allowed a rebound on a low shot, but it was cleared out of harm’s way.

The attention to detail was much better from the Rangers in a game they had to have. After making a mess in a downtrodden 5-2 loss to the Penguins, they really clamped down. This was the kind of edge they need to play with more consistently. Even if they don’t qualify for the playoffs, it’s about better work habits and improvement down the stretch. There are 16 games remaining including a rematch against the Isles Sunday at Nassau Coliseum. The fun part is the bitter rivals still have four left. These are the battles the younger players can learn from.

The best part is Rangers coach David Quinn played everyone. He wasn’t hesitant about playing his fourth line which included the very poised Kravtsov, who continues to look good during his shifts. It doesn’t seem to matter that he’s playing with Kevin Rooney and Brett Howden, who recently made his return to the lineup in place of Phil Di Giuseppe on Thursday night. On one early shift, Kravtsov made a good defensive play, finished a check and hustled to keep a puck in to eventually lead to a shot on goal. He also nearly had his first NHL point on a nifty backhand feed to Rooney, who was robbed by Varlamov in the third period. His skating and overall play had been good. The points will come soon.

With Quinn happy to roll his lines, that meant less ice time for the top six. Not one Rangers forward reached 20 minutes with Panarin leading the way with 19:21 all at even strength. That’s because aside from an obvious boarding minor on Mika Zibanejad for hitting Jean-Gabriel Pageau from behind, the referee tandem of Wes McCauley and Brandon Blandina called a good game. They let the teams play. There were no tacky calls to annoy fans. Just lots of five-on-five which is how it should be.

The first period saw the teams skate well and combine for 20 shots. The Rangers led 13-7 for the opening 20 minutes. The problem was they weren’t generating any traffic on Varlamov, who tracked the puck well. If he saw it, he was stopping it. So, it very much went like the previous two games they lost to him. Their one victory coming when they blitzed rookie Ilya Sorokin in the second game of the season. Now that he’s played well, it’s quite possible Islanders coach Barry Trotz could go to Sorokin to face Russian friend Igor Shestyorkin tomorrow night.

As for Georgiev, he turned aside all seven shots he faced in the early going. The astonishing thing was how sharp he looked. You would never have known that he hadn’t played in three weeks. He didn’t seem fazed. Maybe it’s the level of confidence he has against the Islanders. Georgiev even had the goalpost on his side with both Brock Nelson and Nick Leddy clanging high shots. The Nelson one was a redirect off the crossbar. Later on at a key point, he had a goal wiped out due to his stick being just a shade too high. It was the proper ruling.

It was in the second that the Rangers finally started to make it harder on their opponent. Able to sustain a forecheck, they outworked their stingy opponents for the game’s first two goals less than four minutes apart.

Lafreniere cashed in for his seventh by putting in a loose puck past Varlamov. The greasy goal came when Kakko made a good pass in front from the right wall. The puck then came to Chytil, who pushed it towards Lafreniere, who did the rest to give the Rangers a rare lead against Varlamov. Plus the Islanders don’t usually play from behind at home. It was unfamiliar territory.

The improved play continued when the trio of Ryan Strome, Panarin and Colin Blackwell combined for a pretty goal finished off by Blackwell for a 2-0 lead at 10:01. On the quick moving play down low, Strome moved the puck to Panarin, whose one touch feed took a favorable bounce off an Isles’ skate right to Blackwell for a nice snipe high short side for his career best 12th. He continues to flourish for this team. Forget about moving him. He’s the kind of role player this team needs to hang onto. Even if it’s fourth line. He can be moved up when needed while playing power play and penalty kill.

Soon after, Nelson thought he scored on a excellent deflection of a low shot to beat Georgiev up top. However, the refs signaled no goal after Georgiev protested. They then went upstairs to video review which confirmed that Nelson’s stick was just a tad too high when he made contact with the puck. It was pretty close.

Undeterred, the Isles kept coming. It was finally a strong Mat Barzal forecheck that forced Ryan Lindgren into a rare turnover. The Islanders top center quickly retrieved the puck and sent it up top for an Andy Greene one-timer that beat Georgiev through traffic to cut it to 2-1 with 5:07 remaining. It was Greene’s first goal as an Islander since being acquired by Lou Lamoriello last year. The seeing eye shot sailed by Kravtsov and Jordan Eberle, who was in the vicinity. They changed it to Eberle before switching it back to Greene.

Although they led in shots 16-12 during another fast moving period, that was the only goal that beat Georgiev. He made 22 of his 31 saves during the first two periods. It speaks to the concentration he had. Maybe it’s the Isles colors. He picks up the puck very well against them. How else can you explain his dominance of them? Quinn knew. He had no hesitation about going back to Georgiev following a three week layoff. Give DQ credit. If he gets critiqued when they lose badly like the other night, then he deserves his due when the team succeeds.

The start of the third was nervous time for the Blueshirts. They immediately allowed the Isles’ Identity Line to forecheck and get an early shot on Georgiev. That would be the checking unit of Cizikas, Matt Martin and Clutterbuck. Not long after, Georgiev casually played a puck he should’ve froze. The turnover nearly led to Cizikas setting up Clutterbuck for the tying goal. He can thank the far side of the crossbar for it not happening. It was dangerously close. If you do beat a team often, you need a little bit of puck luck. He had that.

After the Isles initial push that was expected, the Rangers pushed back. They stopped backing up. Utilizing their biggest team strength which is their speed, they started to turn the tables on the Islanders. Suddenly, the shots were 4-3 in favor of the Broadway Blueshirts. They stood up and responded the way you have to against a good team.

With Butch Goring making excuses about the Isles looking tired due to it being their third game in four days, the younger Rangers outplayed their counterparts which included Travis Zajac donning a strange number 14 and Kyle Palmieri in his customary 21. There were no excuses from the guys wearing white.

On just a dominant shift that saw the second line control the puck down low, they tired the Isles out to the point of exhaustion. This was a relentless shift that saw the Rangers at their best. Moving the puck back and forth like a magnet, they kept firing away at Varlamov. His defense couldn’t get the puck out. On this shift, Miller was brilliant. A great keep kept the play alive. Eventually, Panarin took a Kakko pass behind the net and moved it to Jacob Trouba at the point. His pass across was right into Miller’s wheelhouse for a one-timer past a stunned Varlamov for a huge insurance marker with 8:12 left in regulation. Miller’s first goal in eight games. He was terrific all game. A well deserved reward.

Not long after, Kravtsov had a burst to create a two-on-one. He made a really good backhand feed to Rooney for what looked like a sure goal. But Varlamov made a great lateral save to keep it out. He was good even if his team didn’t play their best. However, this time the Rangers beat him for three on 35 shots.

A welcome change from the pass, pass, pass crap they did on Thursday. That didn’t prevent Pavel Buchnevich from trying two ridiculous cross-ice passes into the teeth of the Islanders defense when on one play, he had Chris Kreider wide open in front. Buchnevich has had a very good year and is second behind Kreider in goals with 15. Sometimes, he’s too unselfish. He can’t always defer to Zibanejad. Either shoot the puck or make a simpler play. I’m curious to see what they decide to do with him. I doubt he’s getting moved.

With over three minutes left, Trotz decided to go for it down two goals. Why not? His offense struggled all night versus Georgiev. As they attempted shots, it was the scrappy Blueshirts who sacrificed to block them. They wouldn’t allow anything to get through. They blocked 16 paced by Trouba’s five. For all the criticism he’s received, he does the nuts and bolts. He also is a steady influence on Miller, who’s having a good rookie season. Maybe some fans should remember that key part. I understand they pay him too much. But he’s definitely helped Miller this first year. Anyone who thinks otherwise is lost.

With an empty net to shoot at, the Rangers didn’t take any foolish icings. They defended well highlighted by Panarin passing up a low percentage shot that would’ve never hit the net and led to a defensive draw. He took the out instead and didn’t ice the puck. A smarter play.

Eventually, a loose puck came to Zibanejad, who decided to lob a clear down. He wasn’t going for the Isles net. However, the puck took a Rangers bounce and landed dead center for the empty netter with 72 seconds remaining. That gave him 14 goals. An unassisted tally that was a total surprise.

When the game ended, there were no pleasantries exchanged. Instead, it was only the happy Rangers pouring off the bench to congratulate Georgiev on the win. It had to feel good. He hasn’t had the best year, even losing starts to the charismatic Keith Kinkaid. His days as a Ranger might be coming to an end. I was happy for him. How can you not be? With how it started following the shutout against the team he owns. The Tony DeAngelo incident. The spotty play. He doesn’t play the puck as well since then. I hope that gets fixed. He’s a good guy.

Overall, as upset as I was following the Pens loss, that’s how satisfied I was with this victory over the Islanders. Beating the Isles is always fun. Especially with them having the dominant record they have at the Nassau Coliseum. It was only the second time they lost at home in regulation. They fell to 17-2-2.

While everyone talks up their playoff aspirations, it was nice to see our team silence that along with the chatter from their fans. Some of who were part of the 1,400 in attendance. Bring on the rematch. Let’s see if the Rangers can follow up a good win with another versus a good team. Expect it to be tough. You know they’ll try to take Panarin away and cut the ice in half unlike Friday night.

This will be the last game before the Trade Deadline on Monday. I don’t expect the Rangers to do much. They are not far enough out of it to be sellers and aren’t exactly a playoff lock. They sure aren’t buyers. I only wonder if they’ll pawn off the well respected Brendan Smith, who could net a mid round pick. He plays the game hard enough for a contender to consider it. Would Boston or Washington be interested? Or is it an Edmonton or Winnipeg?

They also have a logjam at forward. With Kravtsov proving ready, what do they decide to do with some of the role players? By that, I mean Rooney, Di Giuseppe and Howden, who’s still young enough to stick around. When will we finally see Morgan Barron? The same for Tarmo Reunanen, who has an assist in his only NHL game. These are better questions for GM Jeff Gorton, Associate GM Chris Drury and Team President John Davidson. We’ll find out what they’re thinking by Monday afternoon.

Don’t forget to tune into ESPN tomorrow for the Frozen Four Championship between UMass and St. Cloud State. They’ll crown a first ever champion in college hockey. Plus you get to see Zac Jones wearing his number 24 for UMass. He is a player to watch on that aggressive blue line. Jones scored in the Frozen Four semifinal against Minnesota Duluth. He was a third round pick taken number 68 in 2019. Keep an eye on him.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Alexis Lafreniere, NYR (7th goal of season, team high 5 SOG, +1 in 12:58)

2nd 🌟 Alex Georgiev, NYR (31 saves, 7-2 vs Isles with .944 save percentage)

1st 🌟 K’Andre Miller, NYR (4th goal, 3 SOG on 6 attempts, 2 hits, 2 blocks, +2 in 23:53)

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A Covid Shot to the playoffs, Vaccinated Rangers turn into the gang that can’t shoot straight in a brutal loss to grittier Penguins

Filip Chytil somehow missed this golden opportunity to score in a frustrating second period that swung the momentum towards the Penguins, who wanted it more in a 5-2 win that crushed the Rangers’ playoff hopes. AP Photo by Spittin’ Chiclets via Instagram

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Try the one above on for size. Look at how wide open Filip Chytil is with a gaping net to shoot at during the second period. Tristan Jarry is not in the picture. It’s just Chytil and the net that he misfired on.

That photograph courtesy Spittin’ Chiclets on Instagram was an accurate indicator of a exasperating night of hockey played at 33rd and 8th. The Rangers couldn’t duplicate their performance from Tuesday. Instead, they saw their shadow in an all too predictable 5-2 loss to the Penguins at The World’s Most Masked Arena. Well, maybe I should change that to World’s Most Vaccinated Arena.

The big news item coming into tonight’s rematch was that the Rangers’ players received their Covid vaccinations. Never mind that they only got the first shot, which wasn’t advertised. Why would they when they’re pushing this month long process? Apparently, they got the least effective one shot deal by Johnson and Johnson. Yikes.

The truth is you need two shots to be fully vaccinated. Something I don’t understand or pretend to know anything about. It’s a better question for physicians and anyone in the Healthcare medical field. If I do decide to do it, that’s a personal choice. I won’t be revealing it on a public blog. For professional athletes or people who are around others daily, it makes sense to get it. Being safe is the wisest decision. I always am cautious and take precautions when I go out.

Here’s the kicker. If the Covid shot is anything like what happened to the Rangers, uh oh. 😐 They were shot alright. As in their playoff hopes. Combined with the Bruins defeating the Capitals 4-2 and the Jekyll and Hyde Flyers getting a point in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Islanders, they look like burnt toast. As in you can forget about the playoffs, which was never realistic if you recall what John Davidson said before the season.

The real frustrating part is how mediocre the division is. The Bruins are skating by. The Pens are winning the hard way. Even the Caps and Isles aren’t perfect. And the Flyers are the most absurd team in hockey. Blown out several times including twice by the Rangers, who put up touchdowns or hit a couple of three-run home runs. Yet that team is still considered better record wise than our Blueshirts, who are their own worst enemy.

They can either show up and put on a clinic or mystify like a classic INXS song. There’s no in between with these schizo, bipolar Rangers. I wish someone told expert scribe Larry Brooks that before whatever column he wrote in Thursday’s NY Post. It’s hard to sustain the level of offense we’ve seen in some of the wins. Not even the best teams score six to seven goals daily. Even the defending champion Lightning have had lulls.

When you beat up a close rival the way they did the Pens by an 8-4 count, you better believe they’re going to come with a stronger effort. Contrary to popular belief, the ’21 Penguins aren’t as fast or skilled as the Blueshirts. If it’s a track meet, it favors the guys who wore the Statue of Liberty jerseys. The adjustment from Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan was simple. Close down the neutral zone and muck it up in the corners. That’s exactly the style the Rangers aren’t good at.

Making matters worse, David Quinn didn’t play his fourth line enough. They are the grinders. In a meat and potatoes game where Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad couldn’t even be found on a milk carton, this was the type of game you need your supporting cast for. Is it any wonder Kevin Rooney scored the second goal to at least make it respectable? I know what good buddy Sean M would say of Bluecollarblueshirts.com. He scored in garbage time. Technically, that’s true. But there was still enough time left at 4-2 down with 6:12 remaining.

They weren’t good enough. After a listless start that saw the shots at one point 13-1 in favor of the hungrier Penguins, here’s how I’d summarize the crap we got. Lost battles. Missed shots. Vanishing acts. And Covid shots that made the Rangers look like they were suffering some aftereffects. I’m kidding on that last point. You catch my drift. They stunk it up.

Where shall we point to for why they were outclassed by a better Pittsburgh team that has proven they don’t need to win fancy without Evgeni Malkin or Kasperi Kapanen? How about the Zibanejad blank he fired off the side of the net on a two-on-one shorthanded rush with Pavel “Deferment” Buchnevich? I think you know what I mean with Buch, who easily could’ve took the shot and scored that goal. But it is so Rangers to make the extra pass and then watch Zibanejad miss a gimme in an otherwise awful period.

Or was it the Chytil flub? On a great hustle play from Kaapo Kakko, who did everything right to set up Chytil for a wide open net. Instead, Chytil missed. The photo above doesn’t lie. Take a good look. This is something that has been a daily occurrence with this team. They are the masters of failing to score on empty nets. Mike AKA Esquire could cite a billion examples. If you don’t take advantage of your chances, you lose. It doesn’t matter who it is. In this case, two of the three Rangers’ top three centers.

Panarin decided to opt out completely. I guess his Covid shot had an adverse effect. He was abysmal. Ryan Strome wasn’t heard from. Oh. He was out there for shifts with different line mates by the time the third period was around. The portion where Coach Quinn put his lines in the blender. I swear this part of the blog isn’t sponsored by Vitamix which I put to good use to make smoothies.

Photo taken by Derek Felix

At least my smoothies never disappoint like our hockey team. Even the normally unflappable Adam Fox looked like pond scum defensively. It happens. He’s a terrific player and has already established himself as one of the best defensemen. But the notion he’s winning the Norris is absurd. He deserves to get votes. The 12-game point streak continued with an assist on the Rooney goal. He’s right there with top Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who’s only won one Norris. Anyone other than Hedman would be an insult to hockey. I have Fox in the top three with Hedman and Shea Theodore. Charlie McAvoy and Sam Girard in the top five. Watch them give it to Darnell Nurse. He’s got the gaudy statistics.

Here’s the thing. It can’t always be the top guns in these crucial games. Sometimes, you gotta get it from your secondary players. I wish Quinn understood that. By the third period, he had moved up Colin Blackwell and Vitaly Kravtsov with Zibanejad. Those two earned the promotion. It seems that the 21-year old Kravtsov is quite ready for the NHL. He once again nearly got on the score sheet by making a good play behind the net that lead to a good scoring chance. It drew a penalty. Kravtsov puts himself in the right areas driving the net while also being defensively responsible. No wonder he was flipped with Blackwell onto the second line at one point.

Speaking of Blackwell, he continues to silence the doubters. A guy who isn’t more than five-foot eight knows exactly where to go on the ice and make himself available like he did for the Rangers’ one power play goal. It was again scored by the second unit which the coaching staff finally rewarded after PP1 continued its mystifying pass, pass, pass nonsense. It’s amazing how simplicity can result in goals. Like the patience and spacing the second unit used with Kakko and Buchnevich setting up Blackwell for his 11th (3rd PPG) from the slot that got the Rangers even in the second. The idea that Blackwell shouldn’t stay is absurd. He is the new Jesper Fast. A gritty overachiever who outworks opponents.

I’ve pretty much outlined what went wrong and the little that went right. When the game got to 4-1 on just more laziness by the team, I flipped to the Flyers and Islanders. That’s how incensed I was. Of course, that bore and snore fest made me switch back to Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti, who was irate at Zibanejad for a very lazy clear attempt that resulted in a fluke Pens goal from Kris Letang. His shot ricocheted off Chris Kreider and in past a shell shocked Igor Shestyorkin. That critical goal answered the Blackwell tally.

The game really changed afterwards. On a night where our stars no-showed, Radim Zohorna haunted the Rangers. I’ve never heard of him before. But for a big forward, he sure skated well and made things happen. Zohorna scored his second goal and set up a pivotal Evan Rodriguez power play goal that put the Penguins up 3-1 during a wasted second period.

At the moment, Brendan Smith got an extra two for roughing with Sam Lafferty. I don’t even know why they call extra minors. Half the time, they aren’t justified. Smith wasn’t finished with Lafferty, engaging in an entertaining scrap a few minutes after he returned. I guess his Covid shot riled him up. At least he looked like he cared. His partner Libor Hajek got undressed by Zohorna in the first for his goal. At that time, Micheletti said Hajek was a step behind. He was being generous. It was a horrible read.

If not for Shestyorkin, the Pens would’ve been up by more. That’s how lackluster the Rangers looked. They were shot to use an appropriate term. I’m sure Dr. Anthony Fauci was as proud as MSG Network was. They celebrated this as if it were some huge achievement. It’s great to take positive steps to be healthy from this dangerous virus that’s continuing to spread like wildfire in Vancouver. So much for flattening the curve. You still don’t know what to expect. Hopefully, this will all end soon.

In a game that saw Shestyorkin stopped 27 of 31 shots including a dozen in a lopsided opening period, he really got no help. Too often, the more attacking Penguins were allowed to do what they wanted. Their approach was simple. Move the puck quickly. Cycle effectively. Get shots through with bodies to the net. The polar opposite of how the Rangers play.

That included lovable Pens captain Sidney Crosby, whose best opportunity came when he sent a short side wrist shot by Shestyorkin that rang off the near goalpost and stayed out. Even on a night he didn’t score, Crosby was visible. He would later draw the ire from the fans who attended for taking a lousy goalie interference penalty when he deliberately knocked into Shestyorkin. You would think they’d be happier because it gave the Blueshirts a power play. Instead, these yo-yo’s were chanting, “Crosby Sucks!”

And what if our team had capitalized on that power play gift from an all-time great who would be well on his way to 2,000 points if he didn’t miss 200 games? I don’t think these same misguided fans would’ve chanted such nonsense. Crosby’s selfish penalty negated a Pittsburgh power play. One drawn by this Zohorna fellow, who completely turned around a shot Fox who like I said, didn’t have it defensively. Had the Rangers scored on the abbreviated power play, it could’ve turned around the game. But they didn’t. It just wasn’t their night. I know how that sounds. But if you are on the MSG Rangers Playoffs Or Bust waving the pom poms, you had to realize what kind of game it was.

It’s also worth noting that during a four-on-four, the Rangers managed to let Mike Matheson get behind them for a breakaway. But Shestyorkin turned him aside. Matheson is a good skating offensive defenseman, who isn’t exactly known for his defense. He seems to be utilized better by Pittsburgh than in Florida, who expected too much.

The backbreaking goal came from Jason Zucker. On this one, it was another awful defensive sequence by the Rangers. With Strome on with Panarin and Chris Kreider, Rodriguez got the puck to Zucker who abused Jacob Trouba before finishing his sixth in front for a 4-1 Pittsburgh lead with 9:31 left. Game. Set. Match.

If I were to go back to a key part of the loss, it’s not only the Zibanejad and Chytil fired blanks. Late in the second, Kreider got a step on Cody Ceci to break in on Tristan Jarry. Ceci tripped him up from behind to negate a scoring chance. The refs made the right call by awarding Kreider a penalty shot with 2:01 remaining. Let’s just say it wasn’t the greatest attempt. Had he converted his third career penalty shot, it’s a one-goal game and the team has momentum entering the third. No surprise that Kreider is 0-for-3 on those penalty shots. At the end of the second, there was this discovery by Gillian Kemmerer.

So, our team got the vaccination and the equipment manager had this epic fail on the spelling of Kravtsov? Covid shots don’t work for the Rangers. Maybe they should’ve spelled it in Russian. I would rather see that like the back of my Russia 🇷🇺 Ovechkin jersey.

КРАВЦОВ = KRAVTSOV!

In some more encouraging news, I had my routine allergy shots the day before. Two in each arm. And no reaction. My arms never have any. I am told that if I choose to get the vaccine, it must be a week’s time between shots. That would mean no allergy shot for seven days. My allergies are bad too. I restarted them after a two decade hiatus last Fall due to my eyes getting really bad. I think it’s the humidity and pollen here. Living in NYC isn’t good for people who are allergic to trees, ragweed, pollen, dust and now cats. Yes. I am allergic to cats yet my last name is Felix. It might explain why I’m afraid of them. So much for being Felix The Cat 🐈.

It would be easy to have done a more conventional game review. But I was so upset with it that I opted not to. At one point, Rosen politely said, “Panarin has been very quiet.” That was Sam’s way of calling out Panarin for not having a good game. Outside of one one-timer that didn’t hit the mark on the power play and a good recovery following a giveaway where he got the puck back, you didn’t notice him.

Give credit to the Pens. They didn’t allow much open space. Brian Dumoulin also is a very underrated defensive defenseman who gets no credit. He had a real good hit early, but there was no response because it was clean. I wish that’s how hockey was played. If it’s a good hit, then play on. Hit back on the next shift. That’s the kind of honesty the game is lacking. We’ve seen Rosen call this out plenty. You can feel the frustration from him and Micheletti when a team responds to a clean hit by overreacting.

As far as the game’s Three Stars, I think I’ll let the Pens Twitter speak instead.

It’s a quick turnaround for the Rangers, who play their third game in four nights when they visit the Islanders off the Southern State in Nassau County. The same Islanders who won in the shootout thanks to Brock Nelson in Round Four and the goaltending of Ilya Sorokin. He’s the goalie Shestyorkin will be compared with. They’re both 25 and from Russia. Both KHL stars. Each with bright futures having good rookie years even if Igor’s numbers suffered thanks to the inconsistency from his team.

After getting five straight games, Shestyorkin gets Friday night off. It’ll be Alex Georgiev (remember him) in net for the Rangers. I would guess the Islanders would start Semyon Varlamov given how well he does versus them. It is a back-to-back. But Sorokin has played so well that he should get one of the two games this weekend. We know Shestyorkin will be back in on Sunday.

Georgiev last played on March 19. A hard luck one-goal loss to the Caps. He has good career numbers versus the Islanders. He’s only lost twice and posted two shutouts including a 23 save one back on Jan. 16. We’ll see if he can miraculously stay sharp as he has before during layoffs.

What I do know is this two-game series preempts Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline. What the Rangers do in these two games could determine how they approach the rest of the schedule. Sweep the series and get help. Then at least they can dream. But it’s the biggest Rivalry. Expect it to be tough with the Isles stealing Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from Tom Fitzgerald, who may as well still be a New York Islander after his quote about wanting the number 32 pick in the upcoming Draft. Imagine how Devils fans feel seeing that.

I think I’ve said plenty for one night. Until the next time.

Congrats go out to Zac Jones of UMass. They advanced to the Frozen Four Championship after dominating two-time defending champion Minnesota Duluth in overtime 3-2. Jones showed good promise by scoring a goal on a sweet wrist shot and made a good stick check to break up a chance. He definitely looks to have a bright future.

UMass will play St. Cloud State on Saturday for the title. Neither school has ever won the Frozen Four. So, history will be made. With no Rangers game on Saturday night, it might be worth the time to tune into the championship game. I think it’ll be on ESPN2.

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When your team trades away a player you love

Photo by @njdlove (Sarra) via Twitter.

I’ll be honest. As a fan of the Hudson rival Rangers, I have it better. These days are tough ones for Devils fans, who have seen their once proud team fall on hard times.

It isn’t easy to miss the playoffs and see popular players get moved before the NHL Trade Deadline. For the Devils, last year it was captain Andy Greene who traded in the red and black for dark navy blue and orange of the rival Islanders. The gritty defenseman nearly helped them advance to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup appearance since I was not even eight.

When news came down last night about another trade between the Devils and Islanders, it wasn’t surprising. Kyle Palmieri was expected to be dealt after sitting out the last two games as precaution. Given the nature of the relationship between former Devils architect Lou Lamoriello and Tom Fitzgerald, you knew Palmieri to the Islanders made sense once they lost captain Anders Lee for the season. It left a hole. One Palmieri can fill.

What we didn’t know is that Fitzgerald would get the popular career Devil Travis Zajac to wave his no-movement clause to trade in the Jersey Shore for the Long Island Sound. Hasan covered it well last night. It was easy for the well respected veteran two-way pivot to accept a trade to the Islanders. He is reunited with Lamoriello and teammate Greene, who fits the Barry Trotz defensive system like a glove. That Palmieri is also going made it easier.

Zajac was so excited about the move that he feels the new team he’s joining capable of winning a Stanley Cup. He wants to win. Zajac came close once in the 2012 NHL Playoffs when he helped lead the Devils to a Stanley Cup Final after defeating the Rangers in the Conference Final. Ultimately, they came up short against the Kings.

There haven’t been many opportunities since that run. With Zajac turning unrestricted this summer, it’s another chance to chase a Cup. He joins a hardworking team that plays the way most old Lamoriello clubs have. With Trotz emphasizing the tight checking system and forecheck that makes life difficult on opponents, it’s a good fit. Zajac will bring the experience and grit while Palmieri should improve the Islanders offensively. He’s a good power play guy. Something they can use due to his big shot.

The truth is it doesn’t make this trade any easier for New Jersey fans to take. I know people who love their Devils and were heartbroken over the Zajac part of the deal. As I recently mentioned, he was a career Devil who played in 1,024 games all in the Garden State. His 202 goals and 348 assists that totaled 550 points are good numbers for a former first round pick in ’04 selected 20th overall. He’s played well lately going 3-1-4 in the last four games. On a low scoring team, the 35-year old center had 18 points (7-11-18). Now, he moves to the Islanders where he’ll center Josh Bailey and Palmieri tonight.

When it comes to the trade deadline, there is heartbreak and emotion for fans who grow attached to players. Even when the Rangers dealt former captain Ryan Callahan to the Lightning for Martin St. Louis, I was crushed. The man known as Captain Cally was one of my favorite Rangers due to how hard he played. He was a classic overachiever who would sacrifice his body for team success. The blocked shot on a heavy Zdeno Chara shot that broke his arm to preserve a home win over the Bruins remains a memorable image.

Once I got over the loss of Callahan and embraced St. Louis, it became easier. The Rangers had a great run in 2014. They made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to those same annoying Kings. The team rallied around the death of St. Louis’ mother France to storm back and stun the Penguins, rallying from a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in franchise history. They had St. Louis for two Springs and nearly reached consecutive Finals.

There’s a big difference here for the Devils, who are in full rebuild mode. In moving Palmieri and Zajac while generously picking up half their remaining salaries to help the Islanders, they picked up a 2021 first round pick and conditional third along with two AHL players. Not the best return for a top six player and proven veteran center who can play in any situation while taking key face-offs. It’s a buyers market.

It was perplexing to read the quote from Fitzgerald indicating he was rooting for those former players to win a Cup with a rival. Maybe the Islanders aren’t the Rangers or Flyers. But they’ve taken the Devils’ lunch money in most recent times. That shouldn’t sit well with their fans. Especially with former GM Lamoriello there with Greene and now Palmieri and Zajac. Are the Islanders planning to raid the Devils some more in the future and rename themselves the New York Devils?

Fans love players. Especially ones who are honest working like Zajac, who went from centering the top scoring line of ZZ Pop featuring Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner to becoming a steady checking pivot who is reliable on key draws and kills penalties. He also played power play for the Devils. He is a smart center who knows where to go on the ice.

It’s no wonder Twitter friend Sarra (njdlove), who is celebrating a birthday today was so upset over the trade last night. I don’t blame her. These trades are hard on loyal fans who support these players and their team religiously. She loved ZZ Pop. Zajac was the last link to the scoring line. He was also along with Palmieri players fans identified with.

I don’t know how they feel about their former favorite players chasing a championship for the Islanders. I happen to agree with Hasan. You don’t root for the first round pick to turn into a number 32. At least it’s not something I’d say publicly. While it’s classy to want the former players to succeed, Fitzgerald came across as a guy who’s still playing for the other team. He was an Islander. That was mind-numbing.

The Devils are likely to still be busy. Perhaps Ryan Murray goes or Dmitry Kulikov. Each are supporting defensemen who can help teams. Last year, Sami Vatanen returned a conditional third round pick (Nico Daws) and Janne Kuokkanen. We’ll see if anyone else leaves Newark.

For the fans, it’s not easy. These are the emotions most of us have when a big trade goes down involving players we love. Alexei Kovalev was my favorite player. When he was dealt to the Pens for Petr Nedved, it was emotional. Ditto for all-time franchise great Brian Leetch.

That’s what makes the trade deadline hard. We all have been victimized by it. Unless you’re a Vegas fan. Talk about spoiled. One day, even they’ll experience the heartache of losing a favorite player.

It isn’t fun. It’s always going to be the fans who are affected most.

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BREAKING: Devils trade Palmieri and Zajac to Islanders for 1st rounder, conditional 4th and two AHL players

Welp local GM’s Tom Fitzgerald and Lou Lamoriello got the trade deadline off to a roaring start on a quiet Wednesday night with if not a total blockbuster, than certainly a meaningful trade for fans of both rival teams. I found out about this trade via a text from my friend who only said ‘Zajac wow’…I put two and two together figuring we didn’t have a game so this must be a trade, immediately went on Twitter and had a whoa moment when I saw the whole scope of the deal.

First of all let’s just boil the trade down for what it is, the two players we got back are nothing more than AHL filler to replace guys we’ll have to call up to replace Palmieri and Zajac in the lineup at the NHL level so they’re not even worth profiling. And the fourth round pick is basically a lottery ticket. It’s a conditional third if the Islanders make the Stanley Cup Finals, but Lou can defer giving it to us until 2023 so that’s not a big deal either. It’s basically two stalwarts, albeit rentals for a seemingly low first-rounder. I’d almost rather have traded them separately and gotten quantity back since we don’t know about what kind of quality a first-rounder in a weak draft even is but this deal does at least have the odd benefit of being like a bandaid ripoff. Having to deal with both of them leaving at once is probably better than one at a time, stretched out over days.

I’ve already said my goodbyes to Palm in a previous blog, with Travis it’s more of a pure emotional sadness than a tangible loss since he isn’t the player he once was and likely would have moved on one way or another after the year with this organization still in a neverending rebuild. That said, fifteen points in his last eighteen games as a Devil wasn’t exactly terrible by any means. You just knew he’d wind up on the Islanders if Travis was willing to waive his NTC anywhere both because they’re local and plus he was always a Lou guy – honest, smart, hard-working and knows how to play a 200-foot game. As a first-round selection way back in 2004, Zajac was the longest-tenured Devil, and the only one left who has any frame of reference to the days when the Devils were actually consistently good.

Even as a 21-year old rookie in 2006, Zajac never seemed out of place in the NHL and put up a very respectable 17 goals and 42 points in 80 games during his rookie campaign, but it was his third and fourth seasons where he really blossomed – and in many ways peaked on the PZL line with fellow linemates Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner. For that two-year stretch they were the team’s top line and Zajac looked like an elite player in the making with back-to-back sixty plus point seasons. Incidentally they were also his only two years with 20+ goals, but after Parise got hurt in ’10-11 and Langenbrunner’s game declined, Zajac himself eventually settled into the role of top middle six center, who won faceoffs and took all the top defensive responsibilities in terms of facing other teams’ best lines and piling up countless PK minutes but generally topped out with point totals in the high 40’s.

Zajac actually has one claim to Devils fame that’s easily forgotten, replacing Ken Daneyko as the iron man for the longest consecutive games played streak in franchise history from his first season through the end of 2011, playing over 400 games in a row. Ironically the streak ended when Zajac injured his achilles in an offseason workout before the 2011-12 season, and he only played 15 games at the end of the regular season when the Devils bounced back from a poor year to return to the playoffs. Zajac was his usual dependable self in the postseason though, putting up 14 points in 24 games on the Devils’ unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Finals including arguably the biggest goal of the postseason – because without his memorable winner in Game 6 of the first round against the Panthers, there is no Adam Henrique series winner against Florida or against the Rangers later on.

If memes were a thing back then (maybe they were) Zajac’s running man celebration after the goal would have been one of them. I was at the arena that day and just felt relief that the Devils were not going to be eliminated at home the way they were for three straight years from 2008-2010. Little did I know what was to come after that. Unfortunately for us and for Travis, that playoff run would be his high point on the ice before and after. Still, he represented the franchise well and with high class for years after, never complaining as things went to crap around him and wanting to be a part of this team turning it around. It just wasn’t to be however.

I’d like to root for him – and Andy Greene – to win with the Islanders but it’s just too difficult, especially with the Devils south connection being harder to stomach now. I now have a frame of reference to know what Derek was dealing with when the Lightning started becoming a haven for ex-Rangers. Not to mention having the Islanders’ first and second rounders gives us a tangible reason to root against it happening. I get both Zajac and Kyle Palmieri deserved a classy sendoff but I couldn’t help but cringe the first time I saw this Fitz quote:

I get you don’t ever want to admit you’re rooting for the pick to be as low as possible and want to wish two class individuals well, but I never recall hearing another GM so overtly rooting against his own interests in the name of being magnanimous, no matter what player left any franchise. Especially when dealing with a quasi-rival. I was a little queasy about that until I was reminded that Fitz may in fact only BE the GM the rest of this year anyway, due to the weird Elliote Friedman rumor from earlier in the season that while Fitz is signed for multiple years, the contract only specifies him as being the GM this season. So maybe I can’t begrudge him too much if he doesn’t actually care where the pick lands lol, if he’s auditioning for a GM spot elsewhere or is transitioning into another role here under a different team president.

Sorry Fitz, sorry Travis but I’d rather have a first-rounder in the teens than see you and your buddies on Long Island win. Especially since that’s all this franchise is about, future planning at a time where things couldn’t possibly be worse on the ice, losing our fourth game of the season last night to a team with only nine wins all year. Pardon me if I’m not jumping for joy that we inevitably lose two of our key figures to a rival team for one late first-round pick in a crapshoot of a draft and a bunch of filler. I suppose it’s fine valuewise, depending on your philosophy – would you rather have one first, or a 2nd + pick/prospect for Palm in one deal and a 2nd or 3rd for Zajac in another? This year’s draft I might almost rather have the multiple swings at bat over a first with questionable value, but most would disagree. Either way I’m not gonna begrudge the deal but I’m in no mood to celebrate it either.

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Everything works for Quinn in a blowout of the Penguins, Fox records three points to push Norris candidacy and Panarin dominates

It all worked for the Rangers in an 8-4 thumping of the Pens. AP Photo by New York Rangers via Getty Images

Some nights, everything works. That was indeed the case for coach David Quinn. Every lineup tweak paid off as the Rangers thumped the Penguins 8-4 at 33rd and 8th.

How dominant were they offensively? Eight different players scored. The Rangers put up a four spot on both Pittsburgh goalies. They chased Pens starter Tristan Jarry by scoring four times on 11 shots in an explosion first period. Even though the Pens had 45 shots on Igor Shestyorkin, it was the Rangers who were opportunistic by scoring their eight on 25 shots. Casey DeSmith was treated similarly with New York scoring four more on 14 shots in doubling up the Pens.

In hammering their old Patrick Division rival, they kept themselves within striking distance of the Bruins. Boston were 4-2 winners over the Flyers to stay five up on the Rangers, who jumped into fifth place. With 18 games left, they are 18-15-5 with 41 points. The Bruins have 46 with 20 games remaining. The Rangers have to keep winning. It’s a simple formula.

Given how they embarrassed the Pens, you have to think they’ll be out for redemption on Thursday. They were very bad defensively, hanging out their goalies to dry. That even included Sidney Crosby getting caught by Pavel Buchnevich, who went around him for a shot that Mika Zibanejad rebounded past Jarry for his 13th goal. At that time, it made it a 2-0 game.

For as much criticism as Quinn has received for his lineup decisions, tonight was a huge success. The line tweaks worked. That included season revelation Colin Blackwell getting a gift for his 10th goal when his pass banked in off Mike Matheson to open the scoring at 1:35. He also would later add an assist making him one of nine Rangers to record at least two points.

While the offense was clicking on all cylinders due to say a different approach that actually included shooting the puck on the power play, Igor Shestyorkin was good again during a first period that saw the Pens outshoot the Rangers 18-11. It didn’t matter due to the poised rookie netminder who finished with 41 saves in his fourth consecutive start. He also was credited with a shot on goal.

With the Rangers’ end taken care of by their emerging first-year goalie, they went to work by taking apart the Penguins. A good opponent that entered third in the East Division with 50 points. You wouldn’t have known it.

Even Crosby, who’s been on a pretty good roll, was susceptible. A lazy turnover inside the New York blue line allowed Buchnevich to steal the puck. With the future Hall Of Famer back, Buchnevich wisely attacked Crosby by skating around him to get a good shot on Jarry. The rebound came right to Zibanejad, who finished a backhand upstairs for a two-goal lead at 7:28.

The Pens continued to unravel. Over two minutes later with the Rangers on the power play, Chris Kreider and Adam Fox got the puck over to Artemi Panarin in the left circle. With no other option, he used a defenseman as a screen and fired a high shot short side for the first of three power play goals. It was a good shot by an unselfish player who too often thinks pass. This was a welcome change.

Following Jared McCann getting one back on a Pittsburgh power play, Matheson and Alexis Lafreniere got into it during a scrum. Each received two minutes for roughing. After Matheson started with him, Lafreniere stuck up for himself. A good quality for a young player to have. He would go on to have a good game scoring his sixth goal during the second period.

With his team ahead two in the final minute, Zibanejad drew a holding minor on Brian Dumoulin. That would prove to be big. Just 11 seconds into the man-advantage, Ryan Strome shot the puck for a change and got the desired result for his 12th. On the scoring play set up by dynamic tandem Fox and Panarin, Strome took a low wrist shot that Jarry never tracked due to a great Chris Kreider screen. He didn’t get a point, but his net front presence was as good as an assist.

Leading by three, the Rangers relied on Shestyorkin during a lower scoring second. After killing off a Ryan Lindgren hi-sticking minor penalty, they got some huge insurance from Lafreniere over halfway through the contest. On just a dominant offensive shift from the 19-year old top pick, he was able to put in a rebound from Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko at 12:20. That made it 5-1.

But before they could relax, Matheson surprised Shestyorkin with a wrist shot past his glove 16 seconds later to make it 5-2. That was it for the scoring in the period, allowing the Rangers to take a three-goal lead into the third period.

Having already connected twice, the Blueshirts made it a hat trick of goals on the power play. With Jake Guentzel in the box for a hold, it was the second power play unit that came through. Following the top unit reverting by being more deliberate instead of in shoot first mode, Kakko recovered a loose puck and Blackwell passed up top for a Jacob Trouba shot. His shot took a favorable bounce when it went off Kris Letang and then Kakko’s stick for his first power play goal of the season. His sixth from Trouba and Blackwell made it 6-2 with 13:50 left. With an assist on the Lafreniere tally, Kakko fared well on the third line producing a goal and assist.

With the team easing up, Guentzel was able to get one back less than two minutes later for his 17th from Matheson and Letang. But with Buchnevich off for tripping to hand the Pens a power play, it was the Blueshirts who continued to toy with their opponent.

On an outstanding play from a hustling Zibanejad, he outworked a couple of Pens before finding a wide open Fox for a shorthanded goal at 10:22. That gave the emerging Fox three more points. With five goals and 31 assists for 36 points, he’s now tied with Victor Hedman for tops in defense scoring. You better believe Foxy is a Norris candidate. He deserves all the accolades he receives.

How bad were the Pens? On the very next shift, they watched Panarin send Chytil and Buchnevich on a two-on-one break. Chytil easily set up Buchnevich’s 15th for an 8-3 lead with 9:14 remaining. Buchnevich leads the team with 13 even strength goals. His other two have come shorthanded. The assist gave Chytil a two point game. It was also Panarin’s fourth point. The Bread Man went 1-3-4 to hit the 40 point mark. Truly astonishing given all the time he missed due to that Russian hoax.

Dumoulin closed the scoring by getting his first of the season with 1:24 left. Let’s just say the Rangers didn’t exactly put the clamps down. It happens in games like these. It’s only human to let up. They lit up the Pens for eight goals on 25 shots with three PPG’s and a shorthanded goal. So many shots went in that it turned Quinn’s decision to stick Blackwell on the second line while sliding Kakko back down to play with Chytil and Lafreniere look like a genius move. That line played well.

So too did Vitaly Kravtsov despite getting fourth line duty with Kevin Rooney and Phil “One Goal” Di Giuseppe. Kravtsov didn’t register a shot, but nearly came out with the puck from behind the net to create a chance. He seems to know where to go including defensively. Kravtsov also is physically involved. So, no points. But enough positives to like what we are seeing from the 21-year old wearing the cool number 74.

Even Trouba had two assists in the victory. This was a nice win. Even if Quinn warned that he didn’t like the way they played defensively. A valid point. For the time being, the Rangers are still in the playoff hunt. They can’t afford any slip-ups. There’s no reason not to stick with Shestyorkin for Thursday’s rematch. It’ll be the eighth and final meeting between the teams. The Rangers will look to even the season series in regulation wins. They’re 2-3-2.

Both the Flyers and Rangers are an identical 18-5-5 through 38 games. But the Rangers hold the first tiebreaker with three more wins in regulation (15). Along with a much better goal differential, that has them in fifth place.

With a day off to prepare for the MSG rematch, the Rangers will have the Pens again Thursday while Boston is at Washington and the Flyers visit the Islanders. They’ll see their bitter Long Island rivals this weekend.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, NYR (13th goal plus 🍎, 3 SOG, 12 for 22 on draws, +1 in 18:05)

2nd 🌟 Artemi Panarin, NYR (1-3-4, 2 SOG, +2 in 15:31)

1st 🌟 Adam Fox, NYR (shorthanded goal for 5th with 2 🍎, +2 in 22:12)

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Thoughts on Quinn’s lines for Rangers vs Penguins

Yesterday, it was reported that coach David Quinn went with different lines during practice in preparation for the Penguins. The Rangers have the Pens the next two games. So, it’ll be a big test.

Considering that they’re still playing meaningful hockey due to the Bruins continuing to be inconsistent after blowing a two-goal lead in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Jekyll and Hyde Flyers, it’s understandable why the Rangers would believe they can sneak into the postseason. They trail Boston by five points with 19 games left. The Bruins will again play the Flyers tonight.

With the Blueshirts needing to take care of business against an improved Penguins, who rank third in the division with 50 points, Quinn once again had Colin Blackwell take rushes with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin on Monday. That means that Kaapo Kakko was moved to the third line with Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere, who Quinn praised for his improvement. He has looked more confident lately. We’ll see if he can keep it going.

The issue is Vitaly Kravtsov finds himself on the fourth line after Quinn recently admitted that the 2018 first round pick isn’t that. Based on his debut that saw him get better as the game went on in a tough shootout loss to the Sabres, it doesn’t make sense for Kravtsov to be on the checking line with Kevin Rooney and Phil Di Giuseppe, who could be getting back in for Julien Gauthier. Equally as puzzling if true.

Quinn showed enough faith in Kravtsov that he received over 10 minutes while with Chytil and Lafreniere. The first round pick trio did nothing wrong. In fact, Kravtsov was on late in regulation with Mika Zibanejad and nearly had his first goal on a diving rebound that Linus Ullmark denied. That would’ve been something.

The question is are the Blueshirts doing this because they feel Blackwell gives them a better chance to win now. Probably. He’s been a pleasant surprise scoring nine goals including seven times at even strength. The other pair coming on the power play on deflections. He’s certainly opened some eyes. At 28, what is Blackwell’s future? He’s signed through next year for $725,000. They probably figured he’d be expendable for the upcoming Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft.

A good secondary player who Quinn has utilized similar to former plug Jesper Fast, Blackwell has provided secondary scoring that the team couldn’t have expected. He was an afterthought entering the season. Now, he’s a regular who can be moved up and down the lineup while playing second power play and killing penalties. Blackwell can shift to center to take draws if needed. Although Rooney has that area covered. Another solid secondary piece that could be available with the Trade Deadline approaching.

Of course, the reaction from most observers is why demote Kakko to the third line when he seemed to have chemistry with Panarin and Strome. Most are perplexed by seeing Kravtsov on the fourth line following a promising start in which he didn’t look out of place.

As much as the future is promising, it appears the team is prioritizing the playoffs over development. They want to make it. Certainly understandable considering where they are. However, if they don’t fare well versus the Pens and then the Islanders before next Monday, that’ll go up in smoke.

One thing to note is that just because Blackwell is penciled in on the second line doesn’t mean he’ll stay there during Game 38 of 56. Quinn has shown a tendency to shift players around depending on who’s going. So, maybe you’ll still see Kakko or Kravtsov on the second line at some point later tonight.

The only lock is that the first power play unit will continue to get the bulk of the minutes. A five man man-advantage that features Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Panarin, Strome and Adam Fox. Will they be more proactive and attempt more shots instead of passing up opportunities? That remains to be seen.

Whatever happens, Igor Shestyorkin will make his fourth straight start. Finally, he’s being given the keys. He’s played well as he continues to evolve into the starting goalie. It certainly isn’t his fault the team lost to the Sabres over the weekend.

The team must play better overall. Quinn emphasized winning those puck battles and managing the puck. Something they didn’t do a good enough job with. If they want to make it interesting, they’ll need their best effort versus the Pens.

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Devils trade deadline preview

With yesterday’s news that Kyle Palmieri was being scratched for precautionary reasons a clear signal that a trade is the next step for player and team, today’s as good a time as any for the inevitable Devils deadline day preview. So far pre-deadline has been unusually quiet around the NHL – especially given the quarantine time once you trade for a player, but I’m sure moves will still be made in the next week up until next Monday’s deadline. Before talking about our new normal of being sellers, first a few words on Palmieri, whose Devils career can only be described as an unqualified success from an individual standpoint.

In a lot of ways I’m sad about Palmieri being traded over more than just the fact we’ll be hard pressed to replace his production as a Devil. For starters, he was one of the few Jersey-born hockey players who played a tangible role for Jersey’s hockey team. Jim Dowd was a lifetime ago and – other than one shining moment in 1995 against Detroit in the SCF – really didn’t have that much of an impact as a Devil overall. For a fanbase and a state that has a perennial inferiority complex in comparison with New York, Palmieri was a point of pride for Devils fans during some dark years for the franchise as a whole, in part because of his upbringing and personality along with his production as a Devil.

Palmieri’s imminent trade is also emotional from the standpoint that he was the first big move in the post-Lou Lamoriello era of Devils hockey. Yeah I know Lou was still technically team president then, but it was Ray Shero who moved 2nd and 3rd rounders (initially acquired – ironically enough – in a deadline sale of Jaromir Jagr) to get an unheralded winger from Anaheim. Palmieri had scored 14 goals in 57 games during his last season in Anaheim, stuck in a bottom six role on a good team. Maybe the only person who knew what kind of player Palmieri could be was his former GM Bob Murray, who made an unusually revealing admission after dealing K-Palm:

For us Palmieri – even more than #6OA pick Pavel Zacha – was the first on-ice presence of the new-era Devils and he more than did his part over the next five seasons, scoring 132 goals in five seasons including 30 in his first season as a Devil. As a consistent 50-55 point, 25+ goal player per full season, K-Palm was consistent offense on a team otherwise lacking it, outside of Taylor Hall’s MVP year. He never embarrassed the franchise on or off-ice and frankly, part of my bitterness towards the team this season is over the fact they never really seemed interested in making an honest effort to re-sign K-Palm.

I get all the arguments against re-signing him, he’s 30 now and no doubt wants a longer-term deal than the Devils are willing to commit plus he’s also having a bit of a down year this season (who isn’t on this roster? We all know the big reason why, i.e. the COVID ‘break’ that torpedoed whatever chance we had of an enjoyable season this year). But when you’re leaking talent faster than you’re replenishing it and you don’t have much of a veteran presence as it is on the roster, I don’t really see a big downside to re-upping him at this point. Even if the back end of his deal craters a la Mike Cammalleri, so what? It’s not like we’re spending up to the cap regardless and have other contracts coming off the books – which I’m gonna get to at the tail end of this blog.

Obviously Tom Fitzgerald has made his choice, Kyle and his agent have also made theirs to test FA over taking a short-term offer so we have to live with it and hope the GM can manage to replace the scoring K-Palm’s given us in another 2-3 years after flipping him for more futures, if that. I certainly wish him luck wherever he goes this Spring, maybe not so much after depending on where he signs (hah!). K-Palm isn’t the only expiring contract that could be dealt but he’s by far the biggest name among them, with apologies to franchise stalwart Travis Zajac, who I’m not even sure gets dealt this year at the deadline. He did use his NTC to nix a deal last year after all, but maybe his attitude toward waiving is different on an expiring contract with the team clearly out of the mix. Travis being dealt would also be emotional for me, albeit understandable at this point. There’s been no effort to re-sign Travis either, nor did I expect any at his advanced age with so much of the future tied up in our two #1 OA centers, Travis would probably have a more reduced role on this team assuming Nico Hischier is healthy in 2021-22.

Also on expiring contracts are defensemen Dmitry Kulikov, Ryan Murray and Sami Vatanen. I doubt a struggling Vatanen gets us the haul he did last year when we managed to pry a 2nd rounder and Janne Kuokkanen from the Hurricanes. This year he probably will fetch a mid-round pick at best. Murray’s play has been up and down this year, it’s hard to say what his value will be, especially considering we only acquired him for a 5th rounder this offseason to begin with. Maybe with salary less of an issue closer to the deadline that alone lifts his value, and defensive defensemen do tend to bring back a pretty penny at the deadline…which brings me to Kulikov who may well return the most (other than Palmieri, probably) in a trade. Kulikov’s numbers certainly don’t jump off the page – just two assists in 35 games – but he’s been solid defensively for the most part, and his advanced numbers if you value them seem to be in his favor. He’s another guy I’d prefer to re-sign given our lack of depth on defense, but there’s seemingly been no movement on that end either and the organization continues to be fine with a ‘process’ managing style.

As many as all five could be moved although I shudder to think of the state of our D if they are – Will Butcher, Matt Tennyson and random prospect A as their replacements would be yuck-worthy, I doubt anyone else will be dealt in the next week unless some hockey trade happens or a Blake Coleman-type deal falls out of the sky. We do have to keep enough guys signed on the roster to be eligible for the expansion draft, among other concerns. Nikita Gusev just recently passed through waivers unclaimed so that’s a pretty good indicator of his value on an expiring $4.5 million deal. Our only other FA’s are our backup goalies.

I’m not expecting anything game-changing in return for Palmieri, Kulikov or anyone else but this team could definitely look very different down the stretch of the season. Ironically, in what’s now likely to be one of Palm’s last appearances in front of the media as a member of the Devils he talked about the kid who’s likely to be his replacement in the lineup – prospect winger Tyce Thompson – a 2019 4th rounder recently signed to an ELC out of Providence College. Our stated plan for Thompson is to have him watch a few games, get a couple of practices in then jump in the lineup. That screams of ‘we’ll see you after Palm leaves at the deadline kid’. As much as I roll my eyes at the all kids lineup, it will be interesting to see a few new faces down the stretch.

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Devils’ rally too late in frustrating one-goal loss to Caps, who sweep the season series, Palmieri expected to be traded

It was another frustrating loss for the Devils against the Caps. Despite outplaying them by a significant margin, the Devils still couldn’t find a way to get a win against the Caps. Instead, a third period rally was too late in a 5-4 loss on home ice.

In doing so, they didn’t win a single game against Washington over the 56-game schedule. It’s sadly true. Even on an off day, the Capitals had enough offense to hang on for a one-goal win to complete an unthinkable season series sweep of the eight games. Alexander Ovechkin scored a goal on the power play and assisted on two others to help the Caps finish 8-0 versus the Devs. New Jersey only earned two points to finish 0-6-2. At least the nightmare is over.

The eighth and final meeting between the rivals was different. The Devils outshot the Capitals 39-19. That included leading in shots by a healthy 31-12 margin after two periods. It didn’t matter.

The Caps were opportunistic against Mackenzie Blackwood by scoring five times on 19 shots including three for 12 over the first 40 minutes. Following a Travis Zajac goal that started the scoring, it was the Caps who got the next three on goals from T.J. Oshie (breakaway), Conor Sheary (deflection off Damon Severson) and Ovechkin (rebound).

Zajac had a good game. He scored twice by converting one-timers off superb feeds from Nick Merkley (2 assists). Merkley was in the lineup due to Kyle Palmieri being sat out as just a precaution. It appears the veteran right wing might be on the move come next Monday at the NHL Trade Deadline. His agent confirmed it after the two sides couldn’t reach agreement on a contract extension.

The big news obviously is more important than the game. The 30-year old forward from Smithtown, New York has been a good Devil. Originally acquired by the club from Anaheim on June 26, 2015 for a ’15 second round pick (Ryan Gropp) and ’16 third (Rem Pitlick), Palmieri has scored 20-or-more goals in five of six seasons. That included posting a career best 30 and 57 points in ’15-16.

Although it’s been a challenging year after getting out of the gate slowly, Palmieri still has 17 points (8-9-17) on an offensively challenged team. If he doesn’t play another game, he’s done well producing 140 goals with 126 assists for 266 points in 397 games as a New Jersey Devil. A good top six player who’s hit double digits in power play goals (11) four different times, he would be a welcome addition for a playoff contender. Given the fact it was going to be hard to retain him as it played out, it’s better for the Devils to get what they can for Palmieri, who should have quite a few teams bidding on him.

On a rebuilding club that features several rookies along with teenager Jack Hughes, who finally ended an eight-game pointless drought with an assist on Yegor Sharangovich’s eighth goal late in the second period that pulled the Devils within a goal, GM Tom Fitzgerald’s job is to continue to improve the talent pool. Some of the young players have shown flashes. With top prospects Alexander Holtz and Dawson Mercer players the franchise is banking on to help Hughes and oft injured former top pick Nico Hischier, the formula is simple. Continue to get as much as you can for expendable assets.

This was a winnable game. But the Devils had some breakdowns and didn’t get the saves they usually do from Blackwood, who entered the game seeing at least 40 shots the past three starts.

After Zajac buried a Merkley feed in front for his sixth at 3:17, the Caps responded thanks to the dangerous Oshie. Taking an Ovechkin pass in transition, he exploded past Devil defenders and dusted Blackwood with a nice backhand top shelf to tie the score at 9:16. The game remained even through one despite the Devils having a 17-5 edge in shots.

Some credit must be given to Ilya Samsonov, who made several big saves to give his team a chance. His best came when he robbed Severson later with a cat reflex glove save that sent the Devils defenseman off the ice to take out some frustration. Samsonov made 35 saves.

During the rest of the action, the abysmal Devils special teams really hurt them. But before that point, Conor Sheary scored his eighth on a strange play. Taking a pass from Friday’s hero Dmitry Orlov, he had his shot ricochet off Severson up in the air and past an unsuspecting Blackwood at 3:21 to give Washington the lead. Chalk it up to bad luck.

A Dmitry Kulikov hi-stick on Ovechkin a few minutes later led directly to the Great Eight tying Brett Hull for second all-time in power play goals. Instead of scoring from his office, he snuck in and was in the perfect spot to outmuscle Zajac to steer in a rebound of a Nicklas Backstrom shot that Blackwood mishandled. It was one he should’ve had. Instead, Ovechkin deposited it for his 265th power play goal. He trails only Dave Andreychuk (274) on the all-time list.

The Caps gave the Devils some power play chances. The best opportunity came for Hughes when he was all set up on a good cross-ice pass from Pavel Zacha. One-on-one with Samsonov, he fired a good shot right off the near goalpost and out. That’s how close he was to finally ending his goal drought. To his credit, he stuck with it and would help set up a Sharangovich even strength goal with 2:18 remaining in the second.

On a innocent looking play, Hughes and Ryan Murray combined to get the puck to the speedy Sharangovich in the neutral zone. He did the rest by coasting into the Caps zone and ripping a good wrist shot past Samsonov for his eighth. It ended a five-game goal drought. Somewhat interestingly, the primary assist gave the defensive oriented Murray nine for the season. He also picked up helpers on Zajac’s pair giving him 10. Not known for his offense, the three assists extended his point streak to three. Over that span, he’s recorded six helpers and gone plus-six. Still just 27, the former Blue Jackets first round pick has been a solid pickup. Murray is unrestricted this summer. Will he become available?

Trailing only by one, the Devils made life harder on themselves at the start of the third. On the power play with Lars Eller off for slashing Severson, they managed to allow a shorthanded goal to Carl Hagelin. Severson got trapped at the Caps blue line by Brenden Dillon of all people. It turned into an odd-man rush with Garnet Hathaway setting up a Hagelin one-timer past Blackwood for his fourth at 2:41.

Then Ovechkin made a great play that resulted in the game-winner. After taking an Orlov outlet, he broke in two-on-one and made a nice dish across for Evgeny Kuznetsov, who buried his seventh at 5:31. The goal put Washington in command up three with under 15 minutes left in regulation.

However, the Devils never gave up. On a good forecheck from behind the net, Zacha put the puck out in front where Jesper Bratt was able to finish off his fourth to cut it to 5-3 with 9:45 remaining. That gave Zacha 20 points on the season. He hasn’t been as good lately. But he’s improved under coach Lindy Ruff.

With over four minutes left, Murray and Merkley combined to set up Zajac for his second of the game. It was another good one-timer from the well respected veteran pivot that made it a one-goal game with 4:07 left. Zajac is in the final year of his contract. The 35-year old has played his entire career with the Devils. His two tallies give him 202 for his NHL career. The former ’03 first round pick has played in 1,023 games and produced 549 points (202-347-549) while being a responsible two-way pivot the team can rely on for face-offs and to kill penalties. Will he be back? He has 17 points. Not bad for a locker room leader on a low scoring team.

Unfortunately, that’s as close as the Devils got. They couldn’t find the equalizer on Samsonov late with Blackwood on the bench. A somewhat curious decision by Ruff and his coaching staff was opting for P.K. Subban and Sami Vatanen with an extra attacker. Vatanen is a serviceable player. But he shouldn’t be used in that situation. Rookie Ty Smith should be. That oversight makes about as much sense as Barry Trotz never using rookie Oliver Wahlstrom on any six-on-five for the Islanders.

This isn’t about one coach here. They’re all the same. For some reason, experienced coaches don’t fully trust their young players enough. Smith is the best defenseman the Devils got. He has 19 points and is in the upper echelon for the Calder that’ll probably go to Kirill Kaprizov. There was no reason for Smith not to be out for that final shift. His last one came with 2:15 remaining and lasted 39 seconds.

How coaches manage their young players when it’s a rebuilding team playing out the string is vital. They should’ve found a way to get Smith back out there. It didn’t help that the Devils had problems creating anything. Instead, both Kulikov and Vatanen took shifts.

Next up for the Devils are the hot Sabres. They’ve got points in their last four games including two wins. The first game is Tuesday in Newark with the return match Thursday up at Buffalo. They then have the Pens to close the week on Friday and next Sunday. That’s four games before the April 12 Trade Deadline. By then, we’ll have a better idea where Palmieri is going.

I’m sure Hasan will get into more on Palmieri and the trade deadline stuff.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Evgeny Kuznetsov, Capitals (game-winning goal plus 🍏 in 13:09)

2nd 🌟 Travis Zajac, Devils (2 goals for numbers 6 and 7, +1 in 19:25)

1st 🌟 Alexander Ovechkin, Capitals (19th goal on power play tying Brett Hull for second in PPG’s with 265, 2 🍎, 3 SOG in 17:09

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