Game #32: Quinn and Lundqvist blast team’s embarrassing effort in 4-3 overtime loss to Golden Knights

This one was totally embarrassing. Sure. The Rangers got a point, but it was only due to their determined goalie. Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant in the first two periods when for some reason, the rest of the team was either asleep or watching the woeful Giants play even worse football in a winter of discontent. Well, unofficially. We still got a few days left of Fall.

I know they’re not a good team. But when you give the kind of weak effort they did the first 40 minutes in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Golden Knights at home, you don’t deserve any breaks. There are no excuses. I don’t care how young they are, or how many rookies play. It’s unacceptable to be that lazy while Lundqvist is busting his butt. How many breakaways and two-on-ones did he face stop?

Both the goalie and coach blasted the way they played. So, they got a undeserved point thanks to remembering to show for the third. Chris Kreider scored the only goal. His team-leading 15th to force overtime. Like most of the 18 skaters, he was invisible in the first and second periods. There were only a handful of players who did something positive. Kevin Hayes (3 assists) because he always shows up ready to play. Something Lundqvist didn’t think they were at the start. I’ll add Pavel Buchnevich (primary assist), Filip Chytil, Mats Zuccarello (power play assist), Mika Zibanejad (power play goal) and Adam McQuaid, who returned after missing 21 games.

There really isn’t much to add. I think both Quinn and Lundqvist summed it up pretty well. They didn’t compete for two periods. Vegas is a much better team despite not being as good as last year. Call it a expansion hangover. But they skated circles around our guys. They ‘out-everything’d’ the Rangers. Quinn’s accurate description in a brief postgame.

The odd part is Buchnevich set up Brady Skjei for the game’s first goal early on. I don’t know if getting on the board gave them a false sense of security. But lately when they play at MSG, the Rangers go ahead and then fall apart. It happened against Winnipeg, who was way better. It happened on Friday in that discouraging overtime loss up three goals on the Coyotes. At least those losses waited until the third period for the implosion.

Maybe Lundqvist has spoiled them. Some of the saves he came up with including a two sequence dive and stone job to deny Wild Bill Karlsson, were ridiculous. He finished the game with 37 saves, again seeing over 40 shots. The cold truth is the game should’ve been over. The Golden Knights could’ve had 7-8 goals after two. The goalie is why they were only up 3-2.

Some games, you remember everything. Honestly, I don’t recall the goals they scored excited Alex Tuch’s OT winner because that’s still fresh. That’s how poorly the Rangers played. At one point, Lundqvist let his teammates know about it during a stoppage. To say he was animated would be a understatement. I’ve never seen him so mad after a game. Justifiably so!

It’s one thing to lose. Quite another to not give all you can like they did for far too long. Nobody said it would be easy. I don’t know about anyone else. I’m done saying the ‘R’ word. That’s an easy excuse. There are enough veterans who know better. With a leadership that still includes 2015 holdovers Hayes, Kreider, Zuccarello, Lundqvist, Marc Staal, and the injured Jesper Fast, whose effort you never have to question, they should be able to provide enough experience for the younger players. Zibanejad included. He never makes excuses. He’s very good at assessing things, becoming more of a leader.

Forget the highlights. I don’t feel like digging them up. It’s not worth discussing. There were far too many breakdowns. I’m not gonna single anyone out. Even easy targets.

But they got a point. Yay! Whoopdy damn do!

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd 🌟 Kevin Hayes, NYR (3 assists as he continues to pile up points and boost his value)

2nd 🌟 Alex Tuch, VGK (overtime winner from a impossible angle, assist, real good player who will only get better)

1st 🌟 Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (37 saves and many highlight reel due to his team’s ineptitude)

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Game #30 – Shootout Saturday: Predators 2, Devils 1 (SO)

In baseball there’s a saying that momentum’s only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher.  To a degree that’s true in the NHL as well with goaltending, but hockey also adds the travel element into things.  To wit, the Devils’ trek to Nashville last night coming off what should have been a momentum-gathering finish Friday against Vegas was always supposed to be a travel loss – even with the Predators missing a handful of key players with P.K. Subban, Victor Arvidsson and Fillip Forsberg all shelved while goalie Pekka Rinne got the night off.  Still, even without all of those players Nashville’s a deeper team, especially since we also had Taylor Hall miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury.  

Even taking everything into account, last night’s game wasn’t really decided on any of that in the end – but rather on our hideous power play, and almost as hideous shootout performance which dropped our extra-time record to 1-7 for the year.  Opportunities were there to win last night’s game, but going 0 for 4 on the man-advantage and 1 for 6 in the eventual shootout ensured we only got one point instead of two.  Although on the other hand we were fortunate to even get that one point, with Brian Boyle scoring our lone goal late in the third period – our fifth with the goalie pulled already this season!  For as horrible as we are on the 5-on-4 and 5-on-3 power plays, we seem to be brilliant on the 6-on-5 empty net situation, someone’s going to have to explain that dichotomy to me.

Other than the late tying goal and shootout of doom there really weren’t a lot of highlights to go over, I’m almost surprised there were enough to fill the nine-minute condensed game clip.  Then again I was only half into watching last night given it came right smack after watching the future of the football Jets (Sam Darnold) have another good game, though in a loss which helped draft position.  Not to mention I’m starting to get that winter run-down feeling – i.e. being sick.  And lastly I didn’t really expect the team to be able to carry over momentum, but to a degree they actually did – playing a mostly low-event game which suited the Preds just fine once they jumped out in front late in the first period with some dude named Freddy Gaudreau scoring a rebound goal.  I did a double-take when I saw Gaudreau’s name, the only active one I know is Johnny Hockey in Calgary.

The only other memorable moments of regulation until Boyle’s tying goal came in the second period when (shocker!) the Preds actually had a goal disallowed after Keith Kinkaid had his glove interfered with by Colby Sissons when Roman Josi’s rocket from the blue line was initially called a good goal on the ice.  So Toronto’s good for something after all, eh?  Ironically that might have been a more ticky-tack reversal than many that have gone against us over the last year, but I’ll take any help this team can get right now, especially from the refs since we’re owed a few.  At another moment in the second period right after one of our failed power plays, randomly there was some screaming over the PA system in Nashville I could hear over the TV during a stoppage, and I cracked to nobody in particular ‘whoever it was, must have been watching our power play’.

While the Devils outshot Nashville last night clearly the Preds had the better chances as evidenced by this in-game stat posted by Atlantic writer Corey Masisak during the second period:

Can’t say the third period looked much better in terms of us getting quality chances, although Marcus Johansson botched a beauty in the third period (about 4:30 or so on the highlight video) where he passed up a breakaway to try to find Nico Hischier trailing the play, but Nico lagged back looking for a rebound, expecting Johansson to shoot.  That miscommunication resulted in our not even getting a shot from a momentary breakaway/quasi 2-on-0.  Honestly I missed that play live but sounded bad so I had to look in the video to see if it was there, and it was.  Not quite as bad as Hall and Hischier’s OT 2-on-0 a while back but close.

Of the two goalies, Kinkaid had the better saves throughout the night but Jusse Saros shutting us out for 58 minutes was still frustrating, given the poor year he had coming into last night.  My buddy Rudy wryly noted during the pregame that right when announcer Steve Cangialosi was describing Saros as a quality backup, the production team posted his stats which included a GAA north of 3 and a save percentage south of .900.  Granted, that is still quality goaltending compared to what we saw in the first period last night (sorry Cory).  Finally we scored on Nashville’s XL-sized backup when again Johansson was involved in a 6-on-5 goal, this time getting the assist when his shot found Boyle – who went to the right spot in front to put home the rebound.

As bad as we are 5-on-4, we’re just that bad 3-on-3 this season as evidenced by our five OT losses.  Last night’s OT really wasn’t any better than the others only this time Kinkaid did yeoman work to keep the puck out of the net, especially when Kyle Palmieri caused a two-on-one leading to a series of in-close chances.  Johansson’s backhander that was easily stopped by Saros was probably the closest we came to scoring in OT.  As it was I wasn’t too unhappy to go to a shootout, especially with SO ‘specialist’ Drew Stafford in the lineup this time.

However, the shootout was about as bad as almost all of our OT’s, although it got off to a good start when Palmieri of all people scored a wrister (he’s generally not good in the skills competition), but Ryan Ellis scored soon after then it became a goalie show with seven straight saves between the two goalies before Ryan Johnasen scored what proved to be the winning goal in the shootout.  Somewhat contreversially John Quenneville got the final shot for the Devils and his failure was the worst of all.  Why not Blake Coleman or Brett Seney at least?  Those guys aren’t allergic to scoring like Quenneville (who missed the net a couple of times on glorious PP chances earlier in the game).

This is where I hate the shootout, overall it was a decent game for the team that probably deserved a tie but instead feels like a loss thanks to the skills competition and uncle Gary’s rules.  Not to mention loser points really aren’t going to catch us up in the playoff race at this juncture.  The three-point games all around the league make it twice as difficult to catch up from a deficit in the standings, when other teams get extra points from winning, loser points from getting to OT and when we give up extra points in OT.

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Barzal leads Islanders to 4-3 shootout win over Red Wings at the old barn

Mathew Barzal celebrates a goal during an Islanders 4-3 shootout win over the Red Wings at the old barn. AP Photo via Getty Images

Some home cooking was in order. Mathew Barzal had one of his best games of the season. The second-year center led the Islanders to a much needed 4-3 win over the Red Wings in the shootout at the old barn. He had a power play goal, primary assist and scored the shootout winner to give the Islanders their first home victory in the last three games.

Playing before a packed house of 13,917 at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum, the Isles deserved the win. It should’ve come sooner. They dominated the Red Wings throughout, outshooting them 46-15 in regulation. That included a overwhelming 21-4 margin in the third period.

It took a struggling power play six chances to finally cash in. Barzal tied the game at two with a power play goal that came with 8:57 remaining. They were finally able to take advantage of some undisciplined play from Detroit. On their third consecutive man-advantage of the third, Barzal delivered the big goal when he dug out a rebound and steered it into a open side for just his fourth of the season. Jordan Eberle did a good job in front distracting Detroit backup goalie Jonathan Bernier. The Red Wings challenged for goaltender interference, but it was upheld. Anders Lee and Nick Leddy picked up assists.

Continuing to apply pressure, the Isles got another key goal from the fourth line. On a sustained forecheck, Casey Cizikas scored his eighth from Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin to put them ahead 3-2 with 6:04 left. Martin got the puck in front and Clutterbuck pushed out a rebound right to Cizikas, who deposited it for the one-goal lead.

It looked like that would be enough to win. But after the Red Wings pulled Bernier for an extra attacker, former Islander Thomas Vanek tied the contest with 63 seconds to go. On a play started by Niklas Kronwall, Andreas Athanasiou redirected a centering pass for a open Vanek, who tapped the puck in. Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield vacated the front and bit. That allowed Vanek to get his fourth goal, giving him three points (goal, two assists) in the game.

Thomas Greiss barely had to anything in the first 60 minutes. However, he trailed 2-1 thanks to a Gustav Nyquist power play goal and a Trevor Daley bank shot that squeaked over the goal line, which video review helped overturn. In between, Barzal set up Anthony Beauvillier for his 10th off a great rush. He used the defenseman by passing underneath his stick for a Beauvillier tally that had tied it. But Daley’s goal with 14 seconds left in the first gave Detroit a lead they held until Barzal’s PPG.

In overtime, it was Greiss who came up with some big saves. The Red Wings possessed the puck for most of the three-on-three. They outshot the Isles 6-2. But Greiss was strong despite not being too busy. He deserves credit. He also turned aside all three Detroit shooters in the skill competition.

That included denying ex-teammate Frans Nielsen in the bottom of the first. He was bidding for his league best 50th goal in the shootout. But Greiss wisely cheated to a piece of Nielsen’s patented backhand deke.

Out came Barzal for Round Two. Using speed, he came in fast and then made a great deke on Bernier before tucking a forehand home for a crowd pleasing goal. Following misses from Vanek and Josh Bailey, Greiss delivered one final save when he successfully poke checked Nyquist to clinch the victory.

It was the Islanders’ third home game at the Coliseum. They dropped a 2-1 decision in a shootout Monday against the Penguins. This time, they were on the right side in improving to 2-0-1 at the old barn.

Josh Ho-Sang made his season debut. The former first round pick received 12:24 including 3:57 on the power play with two shots. The Islanders (15-12-4) remain two points behind the Penguins (4-3 winners over Kings in overtime) for third place in the Metro Division. They are at the Avalanche on Monday with stops in Arizona and Vegas this week.

BONY 3 STARS:

3rd 🌟 Thomas Vanek, DET (tying goal, two assists, +2 in 10:19)

2nd 🌟 Jonathan Bernier, DET (45 saves including 34/36 in 2nd and 3rd)

1st 🌟 Mathew Barzal, NYI (4th of season, assist, shootout winner, 7 shots, +1 in 23:53 including 6:24 PP)

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Stepan’s Revenge: Rangers blow three goal lead in 4-3 overtime loss to Coyotes

AP Photo courtesy Getty Images

Stepan’s Revenge: Derek Stepan scored the overtime winner against his former team as the Coyotes rallied from three down to beat the Rangers 4-3 in overtime.

AP Photo courtesy Getty Images

It’s been a long time since Derek Stepan scored in overtime. In fact, his last one was a memorable goal that sent the Rangers to the Conference Final in the Spring of 2015 on a late May night. The former Ranger delivered a less dramatic goal to win the game for the Coyotes last night at MSG. He was just as excited due to where it came, celebrating a good shot that got the better of former teammate Henrik Lundqvist – completing a comeback from 3-0 down to send Arizona to a 4-3 win in overtime.

It’s been a tough second year for Stepan in the Desert. He entered the contest with only six goals and seven assists on a struggling Coyotes team without starting goalie Antti Raanta for the rest of the season. My fantasy hockey jinx with goalies is strong. At least Cory Schneider hasn’t been a member of my awful team for a month. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Roberto Luongo.

These days, the Coyotes are working in rookie Adin Hill. He’s only 22 and has performed well thus far. Of course, he lost his last two decisions as soon as I picked him up. But when your best goalie is Thomas Greiss with the other options the woeful Vancouver tandem and Craig Anderson, you have to draw the line somewhere. My team is so far out of it that I’m committed to keeping Hill and seeing what he has.

Naturally, when he fell behind 3-0 on three Rangers power play goals (Yes! It’s not a misprint), my first reaction was, ‘It bleeping figures!’ Either way, I didn’t care. It was nice to see the power play back thanks to the successful returns of Pavel Buchnevich (PPG) and Mats Zuccarello (primary assist). They certainly didn’t disappoint.

Arizona kept taking undisciplined penalties. Buchnevich got right back to work when he buried a Filip Chytil pass for an easy one-timer into a open side for the game’s first goal. Jimmy Vesey did some good work behind the net working the puck to Chytil. He came out and made a great pass for the first of three power play goals.

Zuccarello would factor in on the second. It was his slap pass in front to a cutting Kevin Hayes for a tip in that put the Blueshirts ahead by two. With the first period winding down, Nick Cousins tried to lift his team by challenging Brendan Smith to a fight in the last minute. Smith dropped him like a bad habit. Each were assessed matching five-minute majors.

Five minutes into the second, a third bad Arizona minor penalty led directly to Mika Zibanejad getting off his wicked release from the left circle for his 10th of the season. Off a face-off win, Hayes and Neal Pionk worked the puck over to him and he did the rest, beating Hill short side for a 3-0 lead at 5:48. The third Rangers’ power play goal came only seven seconds in.

A mistake by Pionk changed the momentum. Following a successful kill of a Brady Skjei slashing minor, the second-year defenseman got beat outside in by Christian Fischer. With Fischer driving hard with the puck to the net, Pionk shoved him into Henrik Lundqvist. With the net off and play whistled dead, Pionk went after Fischer. His overreaction and fight with Fischer resulted in a unsportsmanlike conduct minor served by Buchnevich.

It was exactly what the Coyotes needed to get back in the game. Jordan Oesterle took a Clayton Keller feed and beat Lundqvist in the slot to cut it to 3-1 with 9:18 remaining in the second. Ex-Hawk Nick Schmaltz started the play by getting the puck to Keller, who skated and drew defenders before finding Oesterle for the big goal.

Up to that point, Arizona had little going. One more goal would’ve put them away. Instead, the Rangers let them off the hook. Following Pionk’s bad penalty that got the Coyotes within two, the home team blew a golden opportunity to put it away. They had a five-on-three, but failed to convert on it. That wasted chance was one Zuccarello lamented following his first game back.

Given a reprieve, the Coyotes gained confidence throughout. They began carrying the play. Finally, Josh Archibald scored off a pass from Stepan to make it a one-goal game with under seven minutes left in regulation. On the goal, our ‘number one’ defenseman Skjei took himself out of the play with a snow angel. It’s been a microcosm of his season. Despite the strong skating, the third-year player hasn’t come close to delivering after the Rangers gave him a big contract. It’s concerning.

With over three minutes remaining, Oliver Ekman-Larsson got all of a slap shot after skating into the Rangers zone to surprise Lundqvist. His shot went high glove and smack off the far post to the the score. Just like that, a three-goal lead was gone. It was their own fault. They got careless.

In overtime, it was fun to watch. Both teams got great scoring chances. None were better than Keller’s breakaway. Off a Ranger turnover, he broke in from his own zone on Lundqvist and tried a fancy forehand deke. However, an acrobatic Lundqvist didn’t go for it. He slid across and stacked the pads to rob Keller.

But in the final minute, Stepan played the hero. On ice he’s familiar with, the Coyotes number 21 took a Schmaltz pass and gained the Ranger zone. With Skjei backing up, he patiently waited for him to move into Lundqvist’s path. Stepan then released a perfect wrist shot through a Skjei screen that beat Lundqvist for the OT winner at 4:28. Nice celly too.

It was a disappointing defeat. One they must learn from. Afterwards, David Quinn pointed out how they haven’t put together a consistent 60 minutes since before Thanksgiving. Ironically, their best game came in a Turkey Eve laugher over the Islanders at home.

Through 31 games, the Rangers are 14-13-4 with 32 points. However, only nine victories have come via regulation or overtime. Despite having a better record than the Blackhawks and a few other doormats such as the Kings, the nine ROW this team currently has are the fewest in the NHL. If not for the artificial shootout, their record would be much worse. A better indication of who they really are.

Nobody should be surprised. This isn’t the most talented roster. They have some good players. But no game changers. Lundqvist can only do so much. He’s performed miracles, but it’s too much to ask any more.

For the sake of the future, they’re better off losing these games and getting no points. The flawed NHL system allows for too many three-point games, creating a false illusion. Gary Bettman’s vision of parity has never been greater. Too bad the fools at NHL headquarters won’t fix the point system. It’s a joke.

All these extra loser points do is drag our team further away from the big Draft Lottery in 2019. Jack Hughes could wind up in Chicago or Hollywood. A sickening thought considering how many Stanley Cups those two teams have combined for this decade.

I know I’m far from alone on what’s wrong with hockey. I’ll bet our resident Devils blogger would prefer to lose games like Friday. Even if you somehow sneak in as a wildcard, it’s for the right to get destroyed by Tampa Bay, Washington, or Toronto.

The truth is many players we see on the roster likely won’t be here in a few years. Don’t become too attached. Encouraging is that the highly anticipated World Junior Hockey tournament is on tap after Christmas. It’s the best prospect tournament we get to see with games on NHL Network.

Hopefully, the Rangers will have enough common sense to assign Chytil to the Czech Republic. Who cares if he misses a few NHL games? This season doesn’t mean anything.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd 🌟 Kevin Hayes, NYR (power play goal, assist, 7 attempts, even rating in 25 shifts for 17:29)

2nd 🌟 Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI (game-tying goal, 9 attempts, +1 in 27 shifts for 24:22)

1st 🌟 Derek Stepan, ARI (overtime winner, assist, +2 in 33 shifts for 20:09)

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Game #30 – Freaky Friday: Devils 5, Golden Knights 4 (OT)

If ever a game was going to drive me to Lloyd Bridges in Airplane! type mania it would have been tonight’s roller coaster of emotions at the Prudential Center.  No I don’t smoke, drink, sniff glue or do amphetamines, but a game like tonight may well have caused me to start – if any of that stuff had been readily available during what can only be described as an emotional, wild, disjointed game.  Really, tonight’s game was more a tale of two games in one.  Any emotion you could possibly feel as a fan was encapsulated in both the local games tonight with one team falling behind by three goals early and coming back to win late, while the other went up by three goals early and lost in OT.

Given the way both teams have played so far this season, I would have penciled in the Rangers for the former scenario and the Devils for the latter if you had given me a blind choice before the night of how each game would turn out.  Particularly given the Devils 0-6 OT record before tonight, which has already been the source of some consternation this year.  Already in the middle of a bleh week personally, I wasn’t amused to learn that the Devils were heading into tonight’s game with Cory Schneider in net, and without Taylor Hall due to an unspecified lower-body injury that’ll cause him to miss at least tomorrow night’s game in Nashville along with tonight’s tilt against the defending Western Conference Champs.

While I’ve dreaded all year what would happen if Cory started at home, even I couldn’t have forseen just how badly this would turn out for him personally.

I was actually relieved when Cory was NOT booed during the intros, or at least I didn’t hear any from a late-arriving but still rowdy Friday night crowd.  It wouldn’t take long for the DEFCON 1 scenario to occur however, as Alex Tuch scored a horrible wraparound goal just 79 seconds into the game and things didn’t improve much thereafter.  Even as early into the game as it was it seemed as if both the crowd and the team itself collectively went ‘here we go again’, and Vegas overran the Devils in the first ten minutes.  It was bad enough when Wild Bill Karlsson scored on a two-on-one to double the Golden Knights’ lead, but the coup de grace came when William Carrier’s trickler went off of Cory’s glove and through his pads for his most embarrasing goal of 2018 yet, and I’m not exaggerating.

Now sound turned into fury and the boos rained down from all sides.  I’m not proud to say I joined in, but in my case it was more of a frustration boo than just a pure ‘go to hell’ one although at that point they were all the same for the poor guy.  I was just overall frustrated with Cory’s career as a Devil, frustrated with the team and its dissapointing season.  I did not, however cheer when Cory was pulled and Keith Kinkaid came in less than halfway through the first period (unlike the rest of the crowd who roared as if we scored a big playoff goal).  How could I?  This is probably the end of the man’s career, or at least his career as a Devil.  I did also notice how Cory sped down the tunnel, and I didn’t think he was injured or going down there to sulk over being pulled.  I don’t doubt for a second he had other emotions bubbling up at that moment.

Though I pitied Cory at that moment I was still disillusioned and even briefly pondered a super-early exit but thought better of it.  And not so surprisingly, the team’s play picked up after Cory was (for lack of a better word) emasculated by the crowd and his own play, but even that annoyed me to no end.  You couldn’t give an effort when this poor guy was struggling but now you decide to play down three goals?  Not that things improved on the scoreboard right away, the power play was horribad as usual in the first period earning more boos, as well as the final buzzer of the opening twenty minutes.  I don’t regret joining in those boos, to be honest – the team earned every one of them.  If you’d told me what was going to happen the rest of the game I would have thought you were playing me for a gullible fool.

Even when Travis Zajac finally scored (and on the power play no less!) early in the second I still wasn’t amused.  It was going to take more than that for the team to get my heart back into the game.  Especially when just as Zajac’s goal was being announced, Karlsson scored again on the Golden Knights’ own power play.  Seeing as this now was two straight home games we’d given up a killer goal while having one of our own goals be announced I not-so-kiddingly told my friend next time they need to hold off the goal announcement till a stoppage in play.  Midway through the second period Miles Wood finally made himself useful again this season, getting to the front of the net scoring a goal off a nice feed from Blake Coleman.  While my friend Rudy didn’t like his overexhuberant goal celebration jumping against the boards I actually didn’t mind it, figuring he was trying to fire up the crowd and the team.  Not to mention I’ve seen too many emotionless goal celebrations this year. 

Not that I was fired up though (yet).  I still figured this was going to be a typically too little, too late surge especially when Vegas nearly made it 5-2 at the end of the second period, but a couple of big saves from Kinkaid and a nice stick play from Andy Greene on an open net kept the Devils in the game.  After being dominated early in shots on goal (which I believe was 7-1 in favor of Vegas when Cory was pulled), the Devils would outshoot the Golden Knights 41-15 the rest of the night and eventually caught some breaks they needed in the third period.  First, Kyle Palmieri scored on a wraparound which made me think we were back in the 1980’s with both starting goalies allowing simple wraparound goals.  Then Marc-Andre Fleury got a taste of Devil goalie medicine when his own defenseman swatted a Brett Seney shot past him into the net for an own-goal with just over five minutes remaining, tying the game and sending everyone – including me at last – into a frenzy.

With everyone in the crowd firmly behind them, they had one more chance to do something on the power play but despite some good chances couldn’t get another one, and narrowly avoided disaster when Sami Vatanen gave up a two-on-one on the PP.  Even though they failed to get the win in regulation, the Devils earned themselves a standing ovation at the end of sixty minutes.  Was this really the same game where they were booed to the high heavens in the first period?  As Chico Resch wryly noted on the postgame, ‘I was just happy for the fans (after the comeback)…they were so angry during that first period’.

Of course the comeback would have lost something if this turned into just another OT/SO loss and next-to-useless loser point.  Although after the great comeback and what it took just to get to OT, I observed that if they didn’t win now in OT, they never would this season.  Inexhorably and finally, the Devils would get the job done in OT through a magnificent play from the resurgent Marcus Johansson and teen prodigy Nico Hischier – with Johansson threading the needle to find Hischier in front and Hischier, while being hauled down to the ice somehow got enough on the puck to muscle it past Marc-Andre Fleury for the winning goal.  Finally, our OT futility was over.

Or was it?!

In perhaps the most preposterous plot twist in a night full of them, the refs and the league let the Devils and the fans celebrate for a couple of minutes, with the Devils going through their entire postgame ritual of celebrating, skating around the rink and lifting the sticks to the fans from center ice before going off…and only then did Toronto call down and say the goal was under review due to possible offsides.  Everyone there flipped their lid, at least the ones not already on their way out of the arena.  I joked coach John Hynes was probably at the podium already for his post-game presser, which wasn’t too far from the truth since he was well into the locker room before being informed the play was under review.

Thankfully, after a couple of anxious minutes the refs ruled that Nate Schmidt played the puck back into his own zone, canceling out the potential offsides and the unbelievable result stood.  I’ll leave the angst over whether Cory should be sent down (narrator: of course he should), and how the team can make this result stick in Nashville tomorrow for someone else to comment on.  It is noteworthy some AP reporter was the first one to actually ask coach Hynes in the postgame if sending Cory down was a consideration.  While it’s a fair question, it’s perhaps odd timing after such a huge win.  At this point I’m not sure anything short of a change of scenery – beyond just a stint in Binghamton – can fix Cory if it’s even possible.  If what happened the last fifty plus minutes of the game didn’t happen this blog would have a very different, far more melancholy tone, especially given what this game could mean for Cory’s future going forward.

Clearly the net is Kinkaid’s going forward, despite an injury scare that had some paranoid we’d have to put Cory back in during the second period.  I figured if worse came to worse – just wheel Keith out in a wheelchair and let his good fortune continue, which it did tonight with yet another post shot.  Not to mention a trickler that almost went through him the same way the third goal went through Cory, although in Keith’s case the puck stayed on the line and was eventually cleared.  Speaking of luck, maybe the returning John Quenneville’s actually the lucky charm.  After all the team’s 5-0 when he plays and he’ll surely draw in again tomorrow with Hall missing and Stefan Noesen on IR.

It is too bad the team has to play again (and going on a road trip all the way to Nashville no less) on a back-to-back and not have enough time to savor tonight’s win.  Still if this team’s going to get back in the race they have to find a way to win in less than optimal circumstances.  Tonight was a good example of how that can be done.

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Game #29: Messy Monday – Sharks 5, Devils 2

Much to my chagrin I did actually stay up till the finish last night’s Devils game in San Jose, which always looked like a sure loss and even more so after two quick goals given up in the first period put us behind the eight-ball to stay in a predictable 5-2 defeat.  Not that the Devils were the primary reason I stayed up since I paid no more attention than having them as background noise, but it’s still ironic that of the three WC games I ‘watched’ the most time prohibitive.

My initial plan was to watch for a period then go to bed although I might have let a positive first period influence the decision.  And for about twelve minutes things looked good early as the Devils got the first several shots and caught a break when Drew Stafford’s trickler went through Martin Jones for a 1-0 lead.  I thought only we were supposed to get bad goaltending?

But of course we would get bad goaltending too, even with Keith Kinkaid in net this time.

As down as I am on Cory Schneider after his 2018, even I know goaltending isn’t the whole issue, but by the same token goaltending certainly isn’t doing anything to help solve the team’s woes either.  While Cory’s struggles are well-documented, Keith’s also turned back into a pumpkin after a scintillating February-October over parts of two seasons, and we’re slowly finding out Keith is nothing more than a platoon goalie and not an everyday starter.

Timo Meier’s goal that got the Sharks on the board was both a iffy goal and another WTF was our defense doing moment – this time staff favorite Egor Yakovlev, who peeled off Meier giving him more space to cover another Shark skater who was already being covered.  Another rebound goal where fittingly Pavel Zacha was left in the dust in front of the net (our favorite bust, who went three picks before Meier is still stuck on four points for the season) gave the Sharks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

My plan to go to bed during the first intermission was foiled by a dose of hilarity over a low-scoring fantasy football playoff win I stole, essentially with a late junktime score from Dalvin Cook.  Ironically I had the football game on until the Devils were underway then turned it off when I was about nine points behind my game in the middle of the fourth quarter.  I didn’t even check the score till the first intermission when I saw to my utter disbelief I won by less than a point.

In a more jovial mood, I stayed up for the second period but I didn’t expect the hockey game to go any better and it didn’t.  Some dude name Simek got his first career NHL goal floating a shot through multiple bodies and a screen to make the game 3-1.  Perhaps the only good news of the last couple periods is this time Andy Greene actually scored a brilliant goal into the other team’s net for a change, though it was more the work of a hot Kyle Palmieri that created a goal off a well-timed pinch. 

Of course the one-goal deficit wouldn’t last as Meier scored yet another goal shortside, almost in an identical spot to the first except this time from the left faceoff circle as opposed to the right.  Normally I disdain the ‘we should have drafted player X’ hindsight of NHL drafts but forget about Matt Barzal, we’d even be much better off with Meier over Zacha.  At 4-2 I had to go to sleep now, except this time it was the hot stove baseball rumor mill and a wild Mets-Yankees rumor which made the rounds I’m not even going to get into.

So then that and checking all the stuff from the winter meetings kept me up through the second intermission.  At a certain point amusment over the Devils’ game itself was the only thing left keeping me awake.  Of course a typically low-energy Devils team put up scant resistance in the third period and the game drew to its inevitable conclusion, but at least I did see the best moment of the night clearly or rather the most amusing.  With just over five minutes left the Devils committed an icing and then got hit with a delay of game penalty for god knows what, taking too long for the faceoff?  Coach John Hynes, perhaps in part out of frustration over anything else gave the officiating crew a piece of his mind:

I was lipreading in live time and he definitely used some ‘colorful’ language.  Perhaps the most predictable event in a predictable game came when the Sharks scored eight seconds into the power play.  This staff can get bent, it takes us eight minutes to maybe get a power play goal.  With that goal, my night mercifully ended and the Devils’ season was that much closer to ending.  Sure three points out of six on the West Coast isn’t terrible but you need more than not terrible when you’re puttering around the basement of the Eastern Conference in December.  I don’t even check the standings cause it’s too depressing at this point.  All I’m looking at is next game which is Vegas at home on Friday, weeee that’ll be another barrel of laughs now that last year’s surprise finalists are playing well again.

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Game #30: Rangers struck by a Lightning Bolt in 6-3 loss

Well, who didn’t see that coming? The Rangers aren’t in Tampa’s class. So, they got struck by a Lightning Bolt in a predictable 6-3 loss. It came in the form of a Steven Stamkos hat trick. He scored numbers 13, 14 and 15 to highlight the Lightning home win. Ryan McDonagh also scored to add further insult to injury.

There will be nights like this. Especially against quality competition. There’s a reason Tampa Bay is now a NHL best 24-7-1 with 49 points. They are a handful. Even with veteran backup Louis Domingue filling in for Andrei Vasilevskiy, it doesn’t matter. Not the way the Bolts score goals. They have so many weapons. What’s gonna happen when they face the Maple Leafs in a all too likely Conference Semifinal due to the silly playoff format?

Stamkos got two of the three goals on the power play. That’s where he’s always been most dangerous. He possesses that lethal right-handed one-timer from the off wing in the circle that can do damage. It’s fun to watch if it’s not against your team. So, after Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead, it was bad news when Marc Staal took down Nikita Kucherov, who had a step coming out of his own zone.

What came next was the patented Victor Hedman pass across for that filthy Stamkos one-timer by Henrik Lundqvist. J.T. Miller picked up the secondary assist. To their credit, the Rangers played a good first period by getting two of the three goals. The second again came from Hayes on a play created by him off diligent checking. He pressured the puck behind the net for a steal. Then went to the dirty area to deposit Jimmy Vesey’s loose change for his second of the game. He could’ve had a hat trick if he looked shot more.

A Neal Pionk tripping minor resulted in another Stamkos power play goal from Hedman and Brayden Point at 6:19 of the second. That tied the game. At that point, it was 2-2 against the league’s best. Given their track record away from MSG, you take it. McDonagh made it 3-2 from Point and Kucherov. I didn’t see that one. I was out at a friend’s with Justin. I didn’t miss anything. The Rangers had their usual second period on the road, getting outscored 2-0 and outshot 16-5. Through two periods, shots were 29-13.

They didn’t give up because there’s no quit in this group under coach David Quinn. It stayed a one-goal game for a bit in the third. However, a rare Fredrik Claesson misplay in his own end led directly to a Anthony Cirelli unassisted goal. Claesson lost control of the puck, resulting in Cirelli taking a pass from Erik Cernak (who???) and quickly going forehand deke on a surprised Lundqvist. That made it 4-2 with 9:43 left.

On the very next shift, we flipped back from watching the Baseball Winter Meetings just in time to see Stamkos one-time home his third for the hat trick. That put it out of reach. It’s funny that the Lightning captain has become an afterthought due to Point and Kucherov. He just isn’t. The problem is you can’t stop everyone. Not when you take bad penalties like the Rangers took.

Jesper Fast did cut it to 5-3 on a Filip Chytil set up with 2:26 to go. But it just teased the ending. Hayes passed up a open shot with Lundqvist pulled. He passed for Pionk, who couldn’t keep the puck in. It was a low percentage play. Not long after, Cirelli backhanded a empty netter for the final margin with 39 seconds left.

There isn’t much more to add. Though we did find out Kevin Shattenkirk got hurt. Oh great. It could be more missed time for the free agent bust who came home. Why didn’t they let the Devils have him? Sorry Hasan. I’m tired of seeing him do nothing for the money he makes. Oh well.

The good news is they have off until Friday when Arizona visits MSG without Antti Raanta. I won’t say anything else about it. It’s too aggravating.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd 🌟 Anthony Cirelli, Bolts (2 goals-7th, 8th)

2nd 🌟 Kevin Hayes, NYR (2 goals-6th, 7th, 5 shots, +2 in 20:25)

1st 🌟 Steven Stamkos, Bolts (hat trick-13, 14,15 including 2 PPG’s)

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Rangers face tough test at East leading Lightning

Tonight, the Rangers have a very tough challenge ahead when they visit the East leading Lightning. If they play like Saturday night, it’ll be a disaster. You can’t play one good period like they got away with in the wild and wacky 5-4 shootout win over lousy Florida.

Do that against the more structured and talented Bolts and it won’t bode well. Not when they’re facing a very high scoring team that boasts two of the top players in the league in high flying Nikita Kucherov and top finisher Brayden Point. Point centers Kucherov and Tyler Johnson on the new Triplets line. They’re even harder to stop. With Point among the league leaders with 21 goals and 39 points, and Kucherov on a tear that has the lethal Russian up to 44 points (12-32-44). Johnson is the forgotten guy, who sneaks up on you with a dozen markers and 10 assists.

Steven Stamkos has quietly improved since a slow start. The Lightning captain enters with 30 points (12-18-30), playing mainly with Yanni Gourde. It can either be J.T. Miller or Ondrej Palat on the left side. The problem is whoever is on the third line gives them an advantage. They also have a good rookie in Mathieu Joseph, who has nine goals. A good forechecker, he finished checks and capable of contributing.

Alex Killorn, Cedric Paquette, Ryan Callahan and Anthony Cirelli are all solid secondary pieces who play in checking roles, including the penalty kill.

Tampa is led by Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh on the blueline. Imagine having two great left skating D on your first two pairs. The Rangers had McDonagh until that deadline deal with Miller that netted rookie Brett Howden, prospect Libor Hajek and a first round pick. They are committed to the rebuild. Too bad they couldn’t pry Cal Foote or Taylor Raddysh. Both are doing well in the Bolts’ AHL affiliate in Syracuse.

McDonagh is having a Norris kind of season. While he won’t put up the gaudy numbers of Morgan Rielly or Thomas Chabot, the former captain is playing sound two-way hockey like he did in New York City. He leads Tampa defensemen with 18 assists and 20 points along with a team best plus-18 rating. Mac is happy to be on another Stanley Cup contender.

It’s gotta be odd being reunited with former teammates Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, Callahan with Miller joining him on Rangers South. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun for those guys. Hopefully, it results in a Cup. They deserve it.

The funny thing about the Lightning is they’re doing all this winning without one of their best players. Starter Andrei Vasilevskiy remains out due to injury. It’s been all Louis Domingue in net. The former Coyote has 13 wins in 17 starts. His numbers aren’t great, but they don’t have to be as long as he gets good run support and makes key saves. So, he has a 2.95 GAA and .906 save percentage without a shutout.

In other words, the Rangers should be able to get to him. They’ll have to possess the puck and have some attack time in order to do so. The way the Lightning play with all their skill, it’ll be some test for a team still without a road win in regulation or even three-on-three overtime. They are pretty successful in shootouts winning four times away from MSG.

So, do they have a chance? Well, the odds are better than Jim Carrey’s memorable Lloyd character with Mary in Dumb and Dumber.

The game starts soon. We’ll get back to you later.

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Game #28 – Stupid Sunday: Ducks 6, Devils 5 (SO)

Just when you think you’d seen it all, a game like yesterday happens where it’s so preposterous you start believing in divine intervention and curses.

Yesterday wasn’t just another frustrating loss after regulation (this time in a shootout), dropping the Devils’ season record to 0-6 in extra time.  It’s a loss that has to get the team thinking it’s cursed in overtime, and Cory Schneider vexed in getting a win period.  Cory starting is the reason I really didn’t watch much of this game – I just couldn’t deal with seeing him for a full game, and the first period seemingly justified that decision when the team scored three goals, including two by Kyle Palmieri playing against the team he started his career with…but it only led to a tie at the end of the first period because of our usual bad goaltending and bad defense.  To wit:

  • Goal #1: Long-range screen that Cory couldn’t adjust to
  • Goal #2: An own goal off of Stefan Noesen that was only the prelude to worse ahead
  • Goal #3: A short-side special which you could argue was the only bad one Cory allowed during the hockey game.  Even on that goal, Damon Severson dissapeared drifting toward the offensive zone on a delayed penalty rather than covering down low.

I was actually half-expecting to see that Keith Kinkaid was coming in for Cory after that first period, especially since the game was still winnable given the Devils were scoring against Ducks backup Ryan Miller.  But no, the only one benched was Noesen – for the entire second period after not only that own goal but for poor play in general.  Even when Brett Seney scored off a rebound in the middle of the second period which got Miller pulled in favor of John Gibson, I didn’t really believe we were going to win the game.  How could I?  A one-goal lead going into the third period is basically like playing with a tie.

Yet not even I could believe just how we were going to blow this one.

I didn’t actually turn it on until I saw it was midway through the third period and I saw the game was already tied…figures.  For some reason I kept it on long enough to see the coup de grace hideous goal of the night – from Andy Greene.  After killing off a Ducks penalty, Schneider actually made a great save off a rebound, only to be upended by his own defenseman who unconscionably tried to swat the puck over the net with his stick and wound up perfectly depositing the puck IN the net.  If you just want to see this goal, FF to about six minutes of the game highlight above, you’ll laugh if you don’t cry.  My annoyance turned into utter disbelief when I found out the tying goal was also deflected past Cory by another Devils defenseman (Ben Lovejoy).  These weren’t just unlucky deflections or brilliant bank plays Wayne Gretzky-style, these were actual, honest-to-goodness own goals.

Seriously now, did Cory drink some of Jobu’s rum before the season?

I turned it back off till the end of regulation when once again Marcus Johansson came up with some 6-on-5 magic to tie the game in the last minute, salvaging a point and another chance to finally get Cory off the win schneid in 2018 (no I’m no longer counting the playoff win, especially since the team themselves seems bothered by Cory being 0-for-2018).  I had to watch the OT even though I knew what was coming.  Ironically Cory actually made a handful of great saves to finally get the Devils through OT to a shootout, but the shootout proved no luckier than 3-on-3 has been this season as Palmieri and Taylor Hall fired blanks while Cory gave up two shootout goals, and once again lost in his personal 2018 from hell.

While it’s hard to really have sympathy for Cory given his record and the fact five goals went in plus two in the shootout, fact is 99% of the time when you score five goals and give up ‘only’ one clunker you should win a game.  This is just never going to end, is it?  Maybe when 2018 ends.  You can tell the team themselves is pressing just by the fact they somehow scored three own-goals on Cory.  I’ve never seen that in hockey or soccer before, and I never want to again.

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A Birthday win! Rangers claw Panthers in shootout 5-4

What would a birthday be without some hockey? Well, in my case, not as fun. The Rangers played on my birthday. This time, it came on the road that hasn’t been too friendly. They entered tonight’s match with only three wins in their first 13 away games. Naturally, all three were via the shootout.

Was it any surprise that the fourth road win came in the shootout by a score of 3-1 against a frustrated Roberto Luongo, who stormed off the ice following a Rangers 5-4 win in the skill competition? Of course not. It was amusing and confusing action with over 15,000 fans that included plenty of Rangers jerseys at BB&T Center.

For the Blueshirts, it was essential to come away with the second point. Something Henrik Lundqvist touched on in a fascinating postgame. He really is a great team guy, who takes responsibility when he feels he let in a couple of bad goals. I didn’t view it that way. Besides, he more than made up for it in a lopsided overtime that looked like a cardinal copy of what Winnipeg did last weekend. The only difference is all three Rangers shooters torched Luongo to end a three-game losing streak.

It wasn’t a Picasso or Renoir. That’s okay. We have to be patient and understand that this is a young team that will make mistakes. In some games, they can overcome them. In others, not as much. I know coach David Quinn will point out the mistakes to his team. Especially the two bad penalties by vets Marc Staal and Mika Zibanejad, which resulted in predictable power play goals from one of the best scoring opponents on the man-advantage. If Florida had a better defensive system under second-year coach Bob Boughner, they would be much better.

Look at who the skill they boast in goalscorer Aleksander Barkov, Mike Hoffman, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov. Keith Yandle picked the Ranger penalty kill apart recording a power play goal and power play assist. He had a great game, finishing with a goal and two assists. Huberdeau recorded his seventh multi-point game, going 1-2-3. Hoffman had two helpers and both Barkov and Aaron Ekblad tallied. So, every key player for the Cats got on the score sheet.

The Rangers took a quick 2-0 lead on goals from Zibanejad and Vladislav Namestnikov. Zibanejad was able to get to a rebound of a Kevin Hayes shot that Jimmy Vesey got a piece of for his ninth. With Chris Kreider off for a head scratching offensive zone minor for interference, it was the penalty kill that delivered. Following a Fredrik Claesson clear, Hayes outhustled and out-muscled Barkov to feed Namestnikov in front for the team’s seventh shorthanded goal. Only Namestnikov’s third of the season. But he has worked hard and made a nice forehand deke for his first career shorthanded goal past Luongo.

After playing a superb first period limiting the Panthers to seven shots, the Rangers reverted in a dreadful second. Florida has been a good second period club, scoring and giving up a lot of goals. An indication of why they’re mediocre. They can score if you open the door. A Staal interference minor 11 seconds into the second opened it up. It took the Cats only 46 seconds to score on the power play. A Yandle shot from the right point beat Lundqvist with Barkov in front. I thought he may have tipped it, but Yandle got it. He leads the league in power play points. Do you think our former coach realizes how badly he misused him?

A few minutes later, Huberdeau tied the game with his eighth from Yandle. They took advantage of a Zibanejad mistake. However, the Rangers came back 2:14 later to retake the lead thanks to some excellent work in front from Matt Beleskey. After Brady Skjei took a Tony DeAngelo pass, he didn’t hesitate to shoot the puck, which Beleskey redirected for his first of the season in just his second game. Superb job by him. The fourth line had some strong shifts. Beleskey definitely earned another game. Steven Fogarty was solid too. Lias Andersson was okay.

Before the period concluded, a very bad Skjei turnover allowed the Cats to tie it at three. Ekblad converted his seventh from Huberdeau and Dadonov at 18:20. DeAngelo went down and that didn’t prevent the pass across for the easy Ekblad goal. Frustrating in a bad period that saw Florida outshoot the Rangers 13-5. They outscored them 3-1.

Claesson scored unassisted early in the third to give them another lead. But they couldn’t hold it. On their fourth power play with Zibanejad off for tripping Huberdeau, Florida spread it out. After working the puck around for seemingly ever, they tired the four Ranger penalty killers out. Hoffman and Yandle combined to feed Barkov in the slot. He stepped out and drove a snapshot past Lundqvist that went high glove, inside the goalpost. He used Neal Pionk as a screen too with the puck changing direction for his 11th on the power play with 9:09 left in regulation.

There really wasn’t much in terms of offense the rest of the period. The Rangers only mustered 10 shots in the final 40 minutes after getting a dozen in the first. That won’t get it done. They were lucky to take it to three-on-three and even luckier to win in the shootout.

If not for some amazing saves by an acrobatic Lundqvist, they never have the opportunity to steal the extra point. Florida’s skilled skaters overwhelmed them until the near end. Namestnikov thought he won it with over 11 seconds remaining, but it was clear as day that as he took the puck to the net, it went in off his glove. Well, it was clear to everyone in the arena except Joe Michelleti. LMAO he may want to try out a new pair of glasses.

So, it went to the skill competition. In it, the Rangers shooters knew that Luongo would expect their usual moves. Both Zibanejad and Kevin Shattenkirk changed it up to catch Luongo by surprise. Instead of deking and going forehand high glove, Zibanejad went backhand instead for an easy goal in the top of the first. Following a Barkov miss, Shattenkirk beat Luongo with a wrist shot low instead of deking. After Huberdeau extended it by going five-hole on Lundqvist, Hayes put on a series of fakes before tucking home a forehand to leave Luongo irate.

Game. Set. Match. The Rangers improved to 14-12-3 with 31 points. They still only have nine wins in regulation or overtime. But they remain a pleasant surprise due to being relentless. It might not always be pretty, but it doesn’t have to be.

BONY THREE STARS:

3rd 🌟 Keith Yandle, Panthers (5th of season, 2 helpers against former team)

2nd 🌟 Kevin Hayes, Rangers (2 assists plus the shootout clincher in another good game while shifting to the wing on the top line)

1st 🌟 Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers (11th goal, 2 assists giving him 17 points over his last 8 games)

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