Game #73: Rangers lose again to Howard and Athanasiou led Red Wings

Once again, it was Groundhog Day for the Rangers. They saw their collective shadow against Jimmy Howard, Andreas Athanasiou and the Red Wings to lose 3-2 in the final meeting of the season. In fact, all three losses to Detroit came by identical 3-2 scores.

When it comes to our team facing Howard, they cannot beat him. Simply put, the long time Red Wings netminder who idolized Mike Richter, always saves his best for the team he grew up rooting for. So, it’s never surprising when he routinely makes 40 or more saves against them. In fact, I predicted 43 early on and the usual one goal win over unlucky counterpart Henrik Lundqvist. I was close. He finished with 41 to improve to 10-3-3 in 16 career appearances versus the Rangers. See NHL.com’s Dan Rosen’s tweet below.

Howard is a goalie I’ve always had a soft spot for. He came after all the Red Wings’ success. It looks like the affable veteran will stay put for another year with the only franchise he’s known. Good.

He isn’t a Hall of Fame netminder. However, the former University of Maine star has carved out a solid career in Hockey Town. He’s up to 241 career victories with 24 shutouts and respectable numbers across the board. The soon to be 35-year old on March 26 should be a lock for the US Hockey Hall of Fame. No small accomplishment.

I can’t count how many times the Rangers and Red Wings wound up in a one goal game with Howard and Lundqvist in net. But I’d imagine it’s been almost for the duration of their match-ups. That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change. If you’re an old school 80’s music fan, you know where I borrowed that from. ;).

Facing a team with fewer points than them, the Rangers came out fast and dominated the Red Wings with a 17 shot first period. That included the game’s first seven. They controlled much of the action except for the scoreboard. Howard wouldn’t cooperate turning aside all 17 Ranger shots with maybe his best stop coming on Chris Kreider, who acknowledged to playing through a hamstring injury since the Tampa game last month.

With a young lineup that included Hartford call ups John Gilmour and Vinni Lettieri, the Rangers made their share of mistakes. However, I liked the effort they gave. With coach David Quinn finally moving Filip Chytil to his natural position of center, and having Lias Andersson center the fourth line, it was a different look. Brett Howden also centered a line. Only leading scorer Mika Zibanejad had experience down the middle. That’s how it should be for the remainder of the season.

Former Islander center Frans Nielsen took advantage of a mistake to score his 10th from Detroit call up Taro Hirose in his NHL debut. Gilmour got turned outside in by Nielsen who broke in and went upstairs on Lundqvist for a 1-0 lead.

In between stoppages, I was also flipping to the big play in game for pseudo Alma mater Fairleigh Dickinson. Like Devils blogger Hasan, I too attended the FDU Madison campus. It was only for three semesters before I finished up at St. John’s. My school has a pretty big game tomorrow night against Arizona State. It’s a second chance.

I too was thrilled to see the kids from FDU Teaneck get the school’s first win in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. They’ll now meet West No. 1 seed Gonzaga. They earned it by coming from behind to beat Prairie View. It was exciting.

I know I’ve been neglecting our team lately. But I made sure to lock in and catch as much of tonight’s game as possible. I watched more than I have the past two weeks. It’s been a rough time for the team. They remain at only one win since the trade deadline that saw Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid follow Mats Zuccarello on the way out to playoff contenders. It still is like an out of body experience seeing Hayes in that weird No. 12 Winnipeg Jets jersey. He scored a goal in a win the other night. Zuccarello is now traveling with the Stars, who remain in the first wildcard. Hopefully, he’ll be back soon.

Detroit played a better second period. They took it to the Blueshirts in the first half. Ranger killer Athanasiou struck again for his 27th past a helpless Lundqvist at 4:30. After Kevin Shattenkirk got caught up ice, Chytil was too late on Nielsen’s tally with 2:44 left. That’s gonna happen. The 19-year old rookie is still learning. Ditto for Andersson, who’s also been caught on for some goals against. It is the development stage for the former 2017 first round picks.

Athanasiou was lethal during the season series going for four goals and two assists in the three Red Wing wins. One of the game’s fastest skaters, it’s all coming together for the center with the dangerous shot. Detroit might not be so bad if he continues to improve along with future captain Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Anthony Mantha and rookie Filip Zadina. Their defense remains shaky.

It wasn’t a lack of scoring chances for the Rangers against Howard because it never is. They got their looks throughout. At least for two periods, they couldn’t beat him. He stopped all 31 shots. I wondered if they would break through.

It took a power play drawn by Zibanejad on Bertuzzi (slashing) for them to snap the shutout. The power play has been a sore spot since the deadline. They were 1 for 32 entering this one. But this time instead of passing the puck around and firing blanks, a Shattenkirk rebound came right to Ryan Strome, who buried his 13th as a Blueshirt at 14:46 for an actual power play goal that drew them within one.

Pavel Buchnevich picked up a secondary helper. He continues to play well. Reunited with Kreider and Zibanejad, he was the most dangerous shooter. Unfortunately with Lundqvist on the bench, his one-timer from the slot deflected just wide. He was visibly upset on the bench after the speedy Athanasiou broke free and scored into an open net.

As it turned out, it proved to be the winner. That’s because some hard work on the forecheck from Lettieri resulted in a puck recovery from Howden, who got it to Neal Pionk for a quick one-timer that rebounded out to that sniper Brendan Smith for a well deserved goal with under 10 seconds remaining.

That was it for the game. On to the next one. Nine left.

Howell Honored: Prior to the game, the Rangers honored Harry Howell, who passed away on 3/10 at age 86. A 17-year Blueshirt who played the first 17 seasons on Broadway as a excellent Hall of Fame defenseman who won a Norris Trophy in ’66-67 before Bobby Orr’s dominance, he played for the Rangers from ’52-53 until the ’66-67 season when he posted a career best 13 goals and 40 points as a 34-year old to be recognized as the league’s best defenseman.

In 1160 games, Howell finished with 82 goals and 263 assists for a total of 345 points as a Blueshirt. The 1160 games remain a franchise record.

In 2009, the club finally retired his No. 3 alongside Andy Bathgate’s No. 9 in a memorable ceremony.

MSG showed some highlights of Howell’s brilliant Rangers career along with a wonderful clip of him thanking the fans for all the support. He was a classy player that’ll be missed.

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Game #74: Troubled Tuesday – Caps 4, Devils 1

Welp another day, another Devils defeat. And also another day, another major Devils injury. If this season wasn’t so catastrophic, the predictability would be laughable. Of course the game is of (at best) secondary importance with Binghamton losing to a Caps team only half-trying by three goals. Honestly I didn’t really want us to help the Isles or Pens win the division anyway, for whatever that’s going to be worth in the playoffs. So losing had a double benefit – both in the lotto and screwing slightly bigger rivals. Whatever…eight more useless games left, we might as well just throw up the white flag before anyone else winds up in a body cast.

Tonight’s unfortunate walking wounded was Kyle Palmieri who left early, looking frighteningly limp trying to struggle off the ice early in the first period with an upper body injury, not to return. I picked a great game to go to for my first in a few weeks, eh? Actually I spent half my time there watching the FDU college basketball play-in game, at first on my phone during the first period, then when the feed stopped working I went down to the new mini-sports lounge during the intermission and had to stay there for the first few minutes of the second period as the game finished. My quasi-alma mater (I went to Madison, but Teaneck’s the sister school) earned their first ‘NCAA tournament win’ and entry into the main part of the draw in a thrilling finish.

Fortunately I missed the Caps’ second goal going back up the stairs during a stoppage early in the second period, heard it was a real beaut of a play by Connor Carrick though (sarcasm evident). Unfortunately goalie Mackenzie Blackwood also had an off night, allowing multiple ehhh goals around some good saves, guess the team’s suckiness is finally starting to rub off. Thank goodness he’s only got a few games left to play in this sad sack of a season. Just End The Season goes well with one of my other teams…what would be the equivalent for the Devils? Losing Season for the last two letters is as far as I’ve gotten so far, something else to ponder with gallows humor I suppose.

I did set a dubious new personal record tonight, earliest I’ve ever left a game. I was gonna hang in there till the second intermission at least but with the ‘national telecast’ 7:30 start I was less willing to stick it out once the Caps stuck the fork in us late in the period with a quick pair of goals to go up 4-1. Sadly I was far from the only one leaving at that point and it was actually a fairly well-attended game for a meaningless Tuesday night. Too bad none of the attendees were anyone I knew, so that was also less of a reason to stick around. At least it wasn’t a shutout I suppose, and the only goal came from Morristown native Kenny Agostino so that was nice anyway, amusing as well since it came with a mere second to go in the first period. Guess it was a good day for Jersey athletes, other than most of the ones in Devil sweaters pretending to be NHL players I suppose.

Sure enough, my decision to leave was justified given nothing else happened of worth the rest of the night. Thankfully at least no more goals went past Blackwood, unlike the Calgary fiasco a couple weeks ago. At this point we have to settle for small victories until the next time we get to hope for a big one…during the lotto for the second time in three years. Can we just rewind the clock to October when we destroyed this same Caps team 6-love?!

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Game #73: Sliding Sunday – Avalanche 3, Devils 0

In seasons past, Devils related countdowns would be the number of points left to clinch a playoff spot or a division title. Now the only countdown is the number of games left in the season (nine left) before we can finally put this corpse team out of its misery. It wasn’t even worth noting the other day when the Devils were officially eliminated from playoff contention, we’ve known that for months. I’ve never looked more forward to an end of the season than this one, especially since it seems as if with each game that passes by there’s more and more injuries to add to the ledger.

Thankfully the draft lottery will be held in short order after the season this year, a welcome change from prior years where it got extended weeks into the playoffs. This time, it’ll be before the playoffs even start, on my birthday ironically enough. At least a lottery win would be a far better birthday present than the Devils have given me some years – a 2008 playoff loss at home to the Rangers in the playoffs comes to mind.

Was there really any doubt how this game would turn out against a desperate Avs team against an undermanned Devils team playing a third game in four nights? As has been the case so often throughout this last month, the score flattered the team’s level of play with Cory Schneider making 31 saves, only letting two Tyson Barrie goals beat him. However, that was more than enough for another defeat in a 3-0 Avs shutout win. At least there were no new injuries as far as I know today, that in itself is a moral victory at this point. As it is, our injured list was practically enough to fill a suite at the Red Bulls soccer game the other day.

I bet broadcaster Steve Cangialosi is counting down till the days he can go back to doing the Red Bulls full-time as opposed to having to manufacture excitement for meaningless hockey. I’ve never gotten into MLS much but would rather watch one of their games at this point than the Binghamton Devils. Of course once this season mercifully ends it’ll be another 5-6 months before any kind of hockey, and the entire dynamic of the team could change this offseason for well-documented reasons it’s not even worth getting into now.

Right now my immediate concern is the Devils’ next thrashing game against the Caps on Tuesday, which I’ll probably be compelled to go to both because I haven’t managed to sell this pair of tickets, and just because I haven’t gone to the arena in a while or seen my arena friends. I haven’t seen my former seatmate Rudy or his sister in months, they’ve probably been to almost as few games as I have lately. It’d be nice to see another arena friend and her brother too, I haven’t seen Kristi since I sat with her for the first two periods of the Kings game last month before she went downstairs to sit with her family and the roof fell in on the game.

With the Caps still jockeying for position in the playoffs I don’t think they’ll turn the off switch just yet, again Alex Ovechkin and company can probably name their score. Which at least means an early exit from a weeknight game for me. My other two games left are both on a Saturday which is good at least, though I don’t expect either the Coyotes next weekend or the Blues the following weekend to be a win. That would finish my 2019 at 0-8, and emotionally that Blues game will end my season. Forget the stupid home finale the following Monday against the Rangers which I wouldn’t be caught dead at or the even more yawn-worthy season enders on the road at Carolina and Florida following that.

Maybe they’ll manage to at least give me one good performance out of the three. Then again with the games I’m going to myself this week it’ll be easier to be agnostic and rationalize a bad result. It’s harder for me to root against the team when I’m sitting with other people, that’s why I demurred going to one of the final Jets home games of the year which turned out to be an entertaining game, for a predictably dull Devils game. Because I was going to be sitting with mostly Jet fans and didn’t want to go when I wasn’t 100% invested in the result. I’ve managed to avoid the meaningless Devil games lately but with the season coming to a close might as well suck it up and do a couple more trips there before another forced break.

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Game #72: Nothing Wild about latest Rangers loss to Minnesota

A beaten Henrik Lundqvist can only look on as the Wild celebrate a goal in the latest Rangers loss. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Minnesota Wild.

Like I stated before in the previous game recap, there’s nothing fun about these games now. Sure. The Rangers have yet to be mathematically eliminated from the postseason. But with 10 games remaining, that’ll soon come. They can only get to 89 points with the lowest ROW in the Eastern Conference. So, the tragic number is basically down to five. Once Carolina and Columbus reach 90, it’s officially over.

Last night, the latest defeat came to a desperate Wild by a count of 5-2 in St. Paul. Unlike Friday’s loss to Calgary, coach David Quinn felt the team didn’t ‘cheat the game.’ He was understandably upset with the players after losing to the Flames because he felt like they’ve fallen into some bad habits. That might be true. However, it’s not easy right now. No matter how you slice it, this is a younger roster that lost three key veteran players including two of its best forwards.

Understandably, there’s been a drop off in their play. You don’t like to see it. But when the power play continues to fire blanks with the latest 0-for taking them to 1 for their last 30, it’s no coincidence that it’s coincided with the trade deadline moves of Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello. With only a handful of players able to perform on the man-advantage, the timing has been off. It doesn’t help that they’re not shooting the puck. There’s been way too much passing and turnovers that lead to easy clears.

In allowing 46 shots to an average Minnesota team fighting for their playoff lives, it sums it up. The current crop of Blueshirts are very bad. Give them credit for being competitive in one goal losses to the likes of Tampa and Washington. Lately, the roof has caved in. They went 0-3-1 on the four game road trip with their only point via an overtime loss to mediocre Edmonton. To quote Brendan Lemieux, “It sucks.”

That’s what Lemieux says often following losses while at his locker. He’s certainly been a good addition to the group. A gritty, physical and hard working player who can get underneath the skin of opponents, the former Jet has been a lightning rod for a rebuilding team that will need that type of good character guy moving forward.

You tend to notice him during shifts because he’s very active. Even when he’s not scoring, Lemieux is mixing it up with opposing players such as Minnesota heavyweight Marcus Foligno during a scrum. Too bad the refs wouldn’t let them go. They weren’t beating them on the scoreboard.

It was another night where the Rangers were outgunned. The Wild aren’t a high scoring club by any stretch. But they have enough good players to make a difference in a big game they needed. They’re chasing both the Coyotes and Stars. They’re two behind Arizona and trail Dallas by three with 10 games left. That should be a good race to follow with the Blues only two points up on the Stars for third place in the Central Division. Plus the Blackhawks, Avalanche and even the Oilers are still in it.

Minnesota got two more goals from deadline steal Ryan Donato. The son of former NHLer Ted Donato is making the Bruins look foolish for trading him. Meanwhile, ex-Wild center Charlie Coyle has yet to register a single point. That’s hard to believe. It’s not like he’s a bad player. He has struggled this year. You would’ve thought a scenery change would help on a playoff contender. Boston is winning games without him.

Donato is up to 11 points (4-7-11) in 12 games since coming over. At the time the deal was made, I was shocked Boston gave him up for Coyle. I guess they didn’t want to overpay for a better center such as Hayes by parting with another first round pick. They lost the Rick Nash trade, which was rather unfortunate. I forgot to mention that he and his family were recently back at MSG to drop the puck before the Devils game. That was nice.

A good young player who looks like he’ll be a capable scorer, Donato continued his roll by converting on a two-on-one from Pontus Aberg for a 1-0 Wild lead. He used Aberg as a decoy before beating Lundqvist short side. Prior to him getting his second of the period, a miscalculation by Minny starter Devan Dubnyk led directly to Mika Zibanejad scoring from a strange angle into an open net 80 seconds later for his team-leading 28th. Dubnyk misplayed a puck turning it over right to Kevin Shattenkirk, who got it to Zibanejad for his odd bank shot off Dubnyk that hit the far corner of the vacated net.

In a period where Henrik Lundqvist was under siege facing 18 Minnesota shots, he had no chance on a Luke Kunin shot that Donato redirected for a 2-1 Wild lead at 16:05. On the play, rookie Filip Chytil got caught napping by letting Donato sneak behind him for the deflection. Chytil has really struggled defensively during his scoring slump. He had a tough game finishing minus-three.

Of course, there was an own goal in this game. Why wouldn’t there be? Eric Staal had a pass attempt go off a sliding Neal Pionk right between Lundqvist, who was anticipating the pass across. That was the only goal in the second. Lundqvist made some good stops to keep his team within two.

In the third, a sloppy Chris Kreider turnover forced Brett Howden into a slashing minor penalty while Lundqvist denied a Brad Hunt scoring chance. Blame Kreider for not knowing better. It was a lazy play from a veteran who’s hit the skids. Since the deadline, he’s now 0-for-10 in goals with only two assists. He remains stuck on 26 goals. Will he snap out of it and find his way to 30 in the final 10 games? It would be a bitter disappointment if he didn’t.

Of course, the Wild took full advantage with a wonderful power play goal scored from Jared Spurgeon. He was the beneficiary of a great passing play started by Zach Parise to Kevin Fiala. Down low, Fiala found enough room to thread the needle to a wide open Spurgeon for a nice one-timer that beat Lundqvist upstairs. It was the defenseman’s 13th. Without Matt Dumba, he quietly leads Minnesota D with 13 goals. The point gave him his first 40 point season. A former Islanders sixth round pick in 2008, Spurgeon has always been a good player. He’s only listed at 5-9, 167. Maybe he’ll finally get recognition.

Encouraging is the continued improved play from third-year right wing Pavel Buchnevich. He’s been one of the only bright spots during a brutal stretch that’s seen the Blueshirts go 1-5-4 since the trades. On a very patient play by Tony DeAngelo in the neutral zone, he waited before making a soft backhand lead pass for a cutting Buchnevich, who gained the Wild zone and split the D before sending a good backhand through the five-hole of Dubnyk to make it 4-2 with 11:04 left in regulation.

It was Buchnevich’s fifth goal in the last eight games. He’s up to 17. Despite missing a month, the 23-year old Russian has a shot at 20 goals. Considering how his season had gone with the Quinn Bin part of the process along with a broken thumb, it would be a good accomplishment for a player who doesn’t always think shot. His 17.7 shooting percentage ranks second behind Ryan Strome (19.0). It’s safe to say that he’s learned more in one year under Quinn than he ever did under former coach Alain Vigneault. The improvement is a result of him listening to Quinn and being more aggressive. There’s hope that he can turn out to be the player first thought of. That’s a good thing for the future of the team.

That was as close as they got despite 41 saves from Lundqvist, who could only shake his head following J.T. Brown’s empty netter that was way too easy. I laughed at it.

I guess that’s all you can do sometimes. All the losing becomes numb. If you can’t have a sense of humor when you watch, what’s the point? When your team becomes like Benny Hill, you may as well find something to smile about. There’s only 10 more games to go. Thank God.

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Game #71: Playing out the string isn’t fun as Rangers Flame out in Calgary

I’ll be honest. As the season winds down, it gets harder and harder to watch these games. The Rangers are a very bad team since trading Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes. They compete hard, but it isn’t always smart. So, you get what you see. A team that’s won only once since the trade deadline.

In what amounted to a total Flameout, they were no match for the Flames last night. In falling to 1-4-4 since two of their best players were traded plus Adam McQuaid, they were taken apart by Matthew Tkachuk in a 5-1 loss at Calgary.

Tkachuk is the kind of gritty, skilled and tough young power forward the Rangers lack. He’s impossible to move in front of the net, has great hands, and makes teammates better. It’s no surprise that the third-year forward had a field day against a weak defense. The older son of USA Hockey Hall of Famer Keith Tkachuk put up five points in the Calgary victory. He posted two goals and three assists with a plus-five rating in a dominant performance by the budding 21-year old star.

There wasn’t a huge discrepancy in shots. For the game, the Flames finished with 32 shots while the Rangers had 25. It was what Calgary was able to do against our team on the goals that showed the large disparity in talent. They have some of the game’s brightest stars that include 92-point man Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm and my Norris pick Mark Giordano. Top tier talent can cover up question marks like the two goalies, David Rittich and veteran Mike Smith. I’m curious to see if they can win in the Spring despite inconsistent netminding.

What’s ironic is that for a game I hardly was able to tune into due to visiting my Mom for a nice dinner, as soon as I got in the car for the drive home, I correctly guessed that the score was 3-1 Flames in the second period. I don’t know how. Maybe it was just intuition. Calgary is a good home team and are fighting with the Sharks for the West’s top seed. The Rangers are playing out the string. There a huge contrast.

I know they’re not mailing in these games. But when you have a even younger team that has issues scoring and defending, it makes life very difficult on both Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev. They can only do so much. To their credit, they both entered yesterday with around .909 save percentages despite the unfair high goals-against-average. Their jobs aren’t easy right now. Given how well the mature 22-year old Georgiev handles things, it would be a mistake to toss him aside and throw Russian goalie prospect Igor Shestyorkin to the wolves next season. He could suffer from culture shock after playing for such a good KHL team.

There wasn’t much Georgiev could do on most of the Calgary goals. Judging from the highlights, there were some key mistakes and blown coverages by the Blueshirts. On the game’s first goal scored by Gaudreau when he got behind the defense to convert a breakaway for his 34th goal, it was as simple as Neal Pionk getting caught on a pinch and being unable to recover. A great Tkachuk flip pass from in front of his own net found Gaudreau to spring him. With Pionk scrambling to catch up, the supremely skilled Gaudreau went to the nifty inside out backhand, forehand deke to undress Georgiev for a 1-0 Calgary lead at the 10-minute mark.

Interestingly, Pionk had a good response 70 seconds later when he scored his first goal since Dec. 22 before Christmas. He went 30 games since his last goal. During a four-on-four with both Gaudreau and Brendan Smith off for matching slashing minors, Pionk jumped up into the rush taking a perfect cross ice feed from Ryan Strome to blow a laser past Rittich for his sixth. It was a nice play by Strome, who got into the Calgary zone and waited before finding an open Pionk for the goal.

The second period didn’t see many total shots. In fact, after getting outshot 13-6, the Rangers held a 9-5 edge. The difference being that the Flames scored on two of their first three shots. The first goal was a Tkachuk special. Like his Dad, he parked himself in front of Georgiev with nobody near him. That resulted in a Giordano shot being redirected by Tkachuk for an easy goal. Tony DeAngelo was the closest player. You can’t let a player with Tkachuk’s grit and skill skate to a wide open spot and not expect a bad result.

Less than two minutes later, Tkachuk’s fingerprints were all over the third goal scored by Garnet Hathaway. On it, he received the puck from Derek Ryan behind the net, then came out and centered for a Hathaway deflection for a 3-1 lead. This one saw Filip Chytil lose his man with both Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk occupied. A simple breakdown by a rookie forward. He wasn’t alone.

In the third, Michael Frolik had all day to pick up his own rebound and beat a sprawled Georgiev for a 4-1 lead. Lias Andersson didn’t pick him up. It was a rough night for Andersson, who went a minus-three in the game with countryman Jesper Fast. Andersson had no shots on goal in 10:31 of action.

With already four points, Tkachuk closed the night by getting his career high 32nd from Mikael Backlund. It was another play down low that saw the crafty Backlund pass for a wide open Tkachuk for a easy put away past Georgiev. The five points give him 10 over the last three games. He went for a hat trick and assist in a win over Vegas, while scoring a goal against the Devils in between. That gives him six goals and four helpers during Calgary’s three-game winning streak.

For the Rangers, they don’t have much time to think about it. To conclude the four-game road trip, they visit desperate Minnesota later. The Wild sit three points out of the second wildcard held by the amazing Coyotes. They’ll be desperate to get a win tonight.

I don’t know how many games this roster will win down the stretch. They struggle offensively. Only once have they topped two goals in the nine games since the deadline. The 4-2 come from behind home win over the Binghamton Devils. The power play has been dreadful. Since the departure of Hayes and Zuccarello, they’re 1-for-27 in the nine games. The one coming from Pavel Buchnevich on Wednesday at Vancouver to break a shutout.

Most alarming, the offense from top stars Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider have leveled off. Zibanejad has three points (1-2-3) since Zuccarello was dealt. Kreider has two assists over that span. One lousy goal from your two top scorers in nine games isn’t going to get it done.

What’s more? Ryan Strome (3-3-6) and Vladislav Namestnikov (2-3-5) have been more productive. So have the Odd Couple of Buchnevich (4 goals) and Brendan Lemieux (2-3-5 with 31 PIM). Jimmy Vesey has no points in the last eight following three consecutive two-point games while filling in for Zuccarello prior to the trade on the top line. Chytil has just one helper and remains without a goal since 2/6.

Basically, the Rangers are a very boring team right now. They can’t score enough goals and have too many defensive breakdowns. If they fail to sign a star free agent like Artemi Panarin or Jeff Skinner this summer, they have a chance to be even worse next year. They could be in the mix for Alexis Lafreniere. That would be helpful for the long-term more than wasting a lot of money on a very good offensive player that’ll enter his 30’s by the time the team gets good again.

With a unpredictable situation in net due to the Lundqvist dark shadow lurking as 2021 draws nearer, the organization will be faced with a very hard decision in two years. Do they re-sign an aging Lundqvist or move on with possible replacement Shestyorkin or Georgiev if he’s still around? Lundqvist will be 39 by then.

You don’t want an Eli Manning situation. As great as he’s been, the truth is the franchise leader in wins and shutouts isn’t the same goalie. He can’t carry an inferior team that’s probably at least two years away from competing for the playoffs. Until the offense and defense improve via some of the prospects they have, it’s a long climb back.

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Game #72: Funky Friday – Devils 3, Canucks 2 (SO)

After sleeping 3-4 hours in each of the previous three nights, the last thing on my mind was the Devils’ game in Vancouver last night. Finally getting up this morning after a much better night of sleep, it occured to me I knew nothing of what went on in the game. For some reason I thought this would be one of the random games we did win though, especially not checking out the result during it this time. Didn’t really run to check this morning but once I did finally get out of bed I did, and was bemused to find out it was a Devils comeback win in Vancouver. Not only coming from two goals down in the third period but having Damon Severson of all people end a fourteen-round shootout with a horrible deke goal that somehow went in.

Between that shootout goal and Tanner Pearson’s ‘goal’ off of Mackenzie Blackwood early in the third period there was some bad goaltending for a game that wound up 2-2 going to the shootout. Yet in the same game also some really good goaltending with Jacob Markstrom making 31 stops in the actual game and another five in the skills competition, earning the third star. And though Blackwood pulled a quasi Marty Brodeur-Sandis Ozolinsh move giving up a goal off his own stick in the third period, he showed both the mental toughness to bounce back from that shutting the door the rest of the way, as well as just not letting the Calgary fiasco affect him beyond that game. Both are a tremendous checkmark in the plus column for mental toughness.

Among the other guys who’ve stepped up recently is Severson himself, in eight March games he’s averaged 23 minutes of icetime a night with increased responsibility on the PK. He’s also put up three goals and seven points with an even plus-minus on a bad team, finally showing some of the consistent flashes of stardom he really hadn’t since his first ten-twelve games as a callup five years ago. You figure at least a couple of the AHL guys will step up showing they want jobs and Kevin Rooney’s been one of them, filling the tweener fourth-third line center role nicely and has been even doing well with extra icetime recently, putting up four goals in his last eight games. Even fellow Morristown native Kenny Agostino’s joined in the fun recently with two goals and five points in his last four games, taking advantage of a second chance in NJ.

With just one game left on this monster six-game road trip, you have to say the Devils achieved their realistic goal of two wins. Even if the Calgary and Ranger games were also winnable though frittered away – in Calgary’s case in frighteningly inept fashion. It’s not likely the Devils walk into Colorado and get two points out of that game with Colorado fighting for their lives to stay alive in the playoff hunt. Then again the Avs did just lose to a struggling Ducks team at home. I still don’t really want to get into the reverse standings at this point, especially since the Devils’ most recent wins have put them a full five points clear of the bottom three, while they’re still four points in front of the Ducks (albeit with a game in hand) for fourth best lotto odds. Wake me if the Devils somehow get three or more points out of this week, if that. Our homestand is a gauntlet with the Caps, Bruins and suddenly hot Coyotes this week before a game against the lowly Sabres next Monday that would be in the winnable column.

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The fallout from the latest call against Rangers and fan backlash

It takes a lot of incompetence to mess up games the way the NHL continues to. This isn’t only a Rangers problem. It’s a league issue that threatens to tarnish the great sport we’re so passionate about.

Hockey is played at a very high tempo. The speed and skill of the current game has never been better. Showcasing the best players is easy. With the amount of exposure coming from the very successful outdoor games, the networks can highlight the league’s brightest stars. Though it’s perplexing that Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane seem to always play in those games while Connor McDavid is stuck in Edmonton with Leon Draisaitl.

It’s interesting that the one time NHL broadcast partner NBC decided to feature McDavid, it was against the Binghamton Devils the other day. Of course, the schedule makers and networks can’t predict the future. There isn’t a time machine like in Back To The Future. They didn’t know Taylor Hall would be hurt and need arthroscopic surgery. I get the logic of having them televise a game between the Devils and Oilers. They figured the rating Hart winner Hall would be leading a good team into Edmonton to face his former team. It didn’t play out that way.

To be blunt, NBC does a lousy job when it comes to McDavid. Don’t use the easy excuse that it’s due to Hockey Night In Canada. Of course, Canadian partners TSN and Sportsnet will get first crack at the star talent in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal and Toronto. Ottawa used to have those guys, but are in a rebuild that could take awhile.

As far as the troubling pattern of NHL officials unable to get together and make the right calls during games, it’s become a problem. There are too many instances where refs and linesmen are impacting games with controversial calls such as the match penalty Brendan Lemieux received on Wednesday night. That they can conference just as they did eight days prior when it came to Mika Zibanejad, and get it so wrong is frustrating.

It’s downright insulting to passionate hockey fans, who have followed the game long enough to see the changes in how it’s called. Whether it’s missing blatant infractions while continuing to call the league mandated soft hooks and holds, or overreacting to a injured player like Antoine Roussel was following the incidental Lemieux hit, more and more fans along with reporters are getting annoyed with the direction of the game.

They can cite many examples of positive things. Whether it’s commissioner Gary Bettman talking up revenue being up or the fact scoring has dramatically increased, it ignores the fact that there are issues that have become legitimate concerns for viewers.

The truth is the league has become soft. I’m not saying it should go back to the days where fights happened way more often along with melees. Nobody wants to see that. However, every once in a while, it’s good to see a tough player stick up for a teammate. Not the staged fights that still exist. With the instigator having been around for quite some time, you don’t have players policing themselves. A gripe that allows certain agitators to hide behind the rules.

It puts more pressure on the officials to make hard decisions. They aren’t perfect. Nobody is. They miss things and we complain. They also get more stuff right than most people give them credit for. Sometimes, we forget that they’re human. People make mistakes.

I feel the problem lies in how rules are interpreted. With the needed addition of Illegal Check To The Head and interference majors, they’re trying to prevent ugly incidents that were all too common. Think Matt Cooke and Raffi Torres. It also includes current Capital Tom Wilson, who plays the game on the edge.

The league is disciplining players more by handing out longer suspensions like the one Wilson served for his awful cheap shot on Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist during a preseason game. They’re even starting to go after culprits who use their stick dangerously. That’s a positive development. Let’s put it this way. Even though he wasn’t deliberately going to take out Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson, Chris Kreider got lucky that his elbow on the Calder favorite didn’t result in a suspension. He was fined $5,000. Chunk change, which infuriates fans because it happens way too often.

I wonder where the game is headed. How many times are the four officials left guessing on what they saw due to the speed of the game? How many more teams have to suffer indignities like the Zibanejad major and game misconduct that was rescinded? Calls such as the one on Lemieux decide games. Granted. The score was already 3-0 Canucks. The Rangers still had to successfully kill off a five-minute penalty.

Is it time for such tough calls to be reviewed by Toronto? I’m not sure that’s the answer. The NFL does it with certain hits that are penalized 15 yards. They want to make sure they are right. Given where the current state of the game is, it’s a possibility.

When former players like Jeremy Roenick speak out, it’s very telling.

JR played during a tougher era. I guess for right now, it is what it is. It really takes the emotion out. My reaction was anger at first followed by the way too predictable shake of the head. That’s not a good thing moving forward.

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Games #70 & 71: Alberta Edition

I guess it’s true…even the worst offenses in the NHL are capable of getting hot for a couple of games or so. If you’d given me an under on 3.5 goals for these two games in Calgary and Edmonton I probably would have taken it. So it just figures the castoff Devils would score ten goals combined the last two nights. Of course a lot of good it did us in Calgary, where the Devils turned a surprising 4-3 lead after two periods into a horrifyingly bad 9-4 defeat with poor Mackenzie Blackwood being left in for all six unanswered third-period goals. Less said about that game the better, except that hopefully it doesn’t lead to a hangover effect for the rest of Blackwood’s season. His save percentage got bumped down all the way from the .930’s to .919 off of that one game.

Can’t say I watched much of either game although I was following both games somewhat online. In fact, I didn’t bother turning either game on. I knew we’d blow the Calgary game after wasting a shocking early 3-1 lead (just like we blew the Ranger game after a surprise early 2-0 lead), even if a suddenly hot Travis Zajac scored late in the second to give the Devils back the lead. Even following the third period meltdown from a distance was annoying though. It was a clear quit job from early in the third on, and every skater owed an apology to Blackwood after that game, even if he likely wasn’t at his best either.

I really was starting to think in terms of 0-6 on the road trip and 0-19 to end the season after the Ranger and Calgary games. If you can’t even win games where the other team takes you lightly and you get a multi-goal lead, when are you going to win them? Guess just like in October, the Oilers provided a good tonic for that. Amazing to think we opened the season in Sweden against Edmonton with a dominant 5-2 win that kicked off a dominant 4-0 stretch where it looked for all the world as if this team was actually going to take a step forward from its breakout 2017-18. If the mainstream media gave a crap about the Devils you could write a book about how a team that outscored its opponents 17-4 over the first four games completely collapsed after that.

Clearly we don’t have anywhere near the same team now than the one we brought to Sweden who took names and kicked Oiler butt. Shockingly for one night though, the result was the same despite icing an AHL lineup against a team desperate to stay in the playoff hunt out West. In the latest edition of ‘I made my NHL debut for the Devils’, defenseman Colton White played his first game last night when Egor Yakovlev took ill before the game. He played a decent 13:10 with a +1, hooray for him I guess but he’s got some work to do to force his way up even a bad pecking order on defense.

I can’t say the Devils were really much better on defense against the Oilers, but it is the Oilers after all – the same team that can somehow still screw up while having Connor McDavid. They even allowed two power play goals to US for heaven’s sakes. It was an inverse of a first-half season game where the other goalie was the one giving up all the bad goals, but hey Mikko Koskinen actually got a GM fired by signing his extension so what’s a few more bad goals? Hooray for Cory Schneider actually outplaying Koskinen and Jersey native Anthony Stolarz, who was no better. I honestly forgot he went to the Oilers in the Cam Talbot trade.

As you would figure would be the case, when you score six goals with an AHL lineup a lot of them are going to come from unexpected sources like Kevin Rooney and Kenny Agostino. Perhaps the most shocking of all was the embattled John Quenneville finally – FINALLY! – getting his first NHL goal this season and only his second in thirty-two career games. Sadly I don’t even remember the other one (two years ago). All the better Quenneville’s goal turned out to be the game winner, maybe he can actually make something of his last ten games this year and get back in the mix for a spot next season.

I paid even less attention overall last night than I did against the Flames, but part of that was the score since it seemed even the Devils couldn’t blow a 5-2 lead once they got it. I did get a little nervous at 5-3 in the second but I still was expecting to wake up to a win, which finally happened despite the desperate Oilers playing both McDavid and Leon Draisaitl nearly twenty-seven minutes apiece. At least we were able to play spoiler to one team I suppose, as the Oilers went from four points back to six in a crowded but mediocre Western Conference.

I’ll worry about the lottery another day. Right now, with ten games left it looks as if our range will be from 2-6, as in anywhere from the second best chance to win one of the three drawings for a top three pick to the sixth best odds. With our chances to win any game dwindling with each new injury and illness, I was just glad we weren’t going to end the season with nineteen losses in a row. Still would rather get a couple of wins in the last ten games, especially the Saturday games I’m going to next weekend and on the 30th. Hard to get greedy though, either you get a non-inept team or better lotto odds. Such is the life of a team out of it – again – well before Spring.

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NHL officials mess up another game

The final score read: Canucks 4 Rangers 1.

To paraphrase what coach David Quinn had to say regarding an embarrassingly brutal five minute match penalty on Brendan Lemieux, he said they gift wrapped two Vancouver goals. Otherwise, he chose not to say anything else as to why there was no explanation on what really was a unfortunate hockey play by Lemieux, who hit Canucks forward Antoine Roussel as he was leaning downward in a tough position.

I’m in full agreement with 4everBlueshirts blogger Zak on the latest controversial call going against the Rangers. Simply put, it was not a penalty. Just as the hideous major and game on Mika Zibanejad wasn’t, which the incompetent league confirmed by rescinding it. It is unbelievable how bad the officiating is. I don’t pin the blame on the two referees and two linesmen. But rather the NHL for programming them to make reactionary calls on plays like the one involving Lemieux and Roussel.

An incensed Lemieux slammed his stick on the bench and the furious look on Quinn’s face told the same sad story. The New York Rangers lead the league in apologies. What will the NHL say this time? Oh. We’re so sorry for royally screwing you again!

I can’t anymore with this crap. The game has become so soft due to all the rule changes and how it’s interpreted. I get the need to protect players from actual dangerous hits predatory in nature that have no place in hockey. They’ve even punished guilty parties for irresponsible stick swings with suspensions. That’s a step in the right direction.
However, when you see plays you know aren’t even penalties suddenly becoming majors and game misconducts due to the four officials huddling up, it’s become a joke. Not every time is a player who’s down on the ice injured a direct result of an illegal check.

We are past the point of these calls being predictable. They’re borderline absurd. It’s insulting to hockey fans who want enjoy the game live or on TV. I didn’t even watch much of the 4-1 loss due to being emotionally invested in my Alma mater St. John’s getting a huge win over DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament to advance to tonight’s big quarterfinal versus Marquette.

The games don’t matter at this point. Sure. You want to see the team continue to compete hard for Quinn with young players evolving. It’s sad when I know without watching that top pick Lias Andersson isn’t playing enough. Even with the penalty fest that included two major penalties on Rangers (Chris Kreider elbowing and game), it’s disappointing that Quinn continues to roll out eight goal Jesper Fast when he’s not 100 percent while Andersson rides the pine.

It’s even worse when I finally get the chance to watch them pass the puck around the perimeter aimlessly and waste a five-on-three by not even getting a stinking shot on goal. At least Pavel Buchnevich scored his career best 16th on a late power play from Mika Zibanejad to avoid the shutout.

Seeing a flustered Henrik Lundqvist pull out a second consecutive Canucks goal from of all people, Tyler Motte on a breakaway (you gotta be kidding) is enough to make one sick. This came right after Brock Boeser made one of his patented one-timers from the off wing for a 2-0 Vancouver lead with Lemieux gone. Motte got his second in 11 seconds on the chaotic Lemieux call that was jaw dropping.

It’s beyond explanation how the officiating can continue to be so horrifically bad. I am not putting it on the refs, who are trying their best each night. Whether it’s the game being too fast or what I believe to be terrible reactionary calls due to poor interpretation of the rules, something MUST change. If it doesn’t, I might pack it in.

When I tweeted that I was done with the season once the Rangers play their final game in April, I was dead serious. The NHL has done the impossible. They’ve lost a passionate hockey fan for their beloved Playoffs. I will not watch a game for the first time since I’ve been following the sport. That’s over 30 years of love out the window.

I don’t love the sport like I once did. The NHL hierarchy is to blame for this mess. So, I’ll take a Spring break for once. I do have a suggestion. Maybe have informative meetings with the officials showing educational videos on what is a penalty and what isn’t. Accidents will happen at the speed the current game is played at. They simply have to do a better job moving forward.

If they don’t, it’s their loss.

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Lias Andersson should play in these games

Sorry. There won’t be a recap of tonight’s 3-2 overtime loss in Edmonton. There’s no point. Speaking of which, that’s all the Rangers do these days is get one lousy point due to the lame NHL system. So, they’re now 1-2-5 in the last eight following Connor McDavid setting up Leon Draisaitl for the winner.

How bad is it? The team’s best player in the game, Brendan Lemieux referred to the three-on-three as, “It sucks to lose in the skill competition.” That’s all it is. A form of entertainment for fans to enjoy seeing extra points decided unless the five minutes aren’t enough. Then it’s that other annoyance.

Lemieux by the way posted a goal, assist and this fight below to record a Gordie Howe hat trick. He continues to play extremely well while fitting in perfectly with linemates Brett Howden (goal ended long drought) and Pavel Buchnevich (career high five hits).

That’s it for the game portion. The points don’t matter. What’s most important is the continued development of the young players. That’s why it’s extremely mystifying that 2017 first round pick Lias Andersson was a healthy scratch. The number seven overall pick isn’t getting enough ice time. When he plays, the 20-year old Swede continues to center the fourth line. Coach David Quinn also has given him some penalty kill shifts.

At this point with 13 games remaining, it’s ridiculous that Andersson doesn’t play more. When are they going to find out what he is capable of? They’ve wasted the first year of his entry level contract by treating him like a yo yo between Hartford and New York. Hardly ideal for a player GM Jeff Gorton took over Casey Mittlestadt as a key part of the Derek Stepan trade that also sent Antti Raanta to the Coyotes in exchange for that number one pick and defenseman Tony DeAngelo.

It’s understandable for fans of the Blueshirts to be frustrated. Some have already jumped to conclusions regarding Andersson when he’s hardly gotten enough ice time. By taking eight to nine shifts on the fourth line and logging around eight minutes, that’s hardly ideal for a player who performed well at the 2018 World Junior Championship for Sweden, who lost the gold medal to Canada. It might be hard to remember, but that same center scored six goals and added a assist while captaining the Swedes to a silver medal he tossed away in frustration.

He doesn’t possess the world class skill of Filip Chytil, who the same Rangers took with the 21st overall pick in the 2017 Draft. In his rookie season, the 19-year old has scored 10 goals and added 11 helpers for 21 points in 65 contests. He got into nine games last year going 1-2-3. The Czech has had his ups and downs recently becoming part of the Quinn Bin for a few games. But he has demonstrated some of the talent the organization believes he possesses by scoring a few highlight reel goals.

Andersson is a grittier player who works hard during shifts. It’s his work ethic that got him taken so high. While there remain doubts about what his ceiling is, it’s worth noting that only a handful of players from that ’17 Draft have played in the NHL. The count is up to 24 with 17 coming from Round One, including Andersson and Chytil. Ironically, Chytil’s 24 points place him seventh in scoring behind Robert Thomas (25 points), Mittlestadt (26), Miro Heiskanen (28), Nolan Patrick (57), Elias Pettersson (58) and Nico Hischier (96).

The point here is it’s too early to judge Andersson, or anyone from this class. That even includes Patrick, who the Flyers took second overall behind Hischier, who’s performed well for the Devils after going number one. Pettersson went number five to the Canucks. Based on his rookie year that has him as the Calder favorite, one could argue that he should’ve gone higher. But don’t forget it’s Year One for him.

Regarding the Rangers’ refusal to give Andersson a real look, it doesn’t make sense. There’s no way Connor Brickley should be playing over Andersson in Game 68 of 82. That’s a joke. It’s a wasted opportunity having him sit out this late in a season where the team isn’t playing for anything. With 69 points, they’re not making the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

If it truly is a rebuild as they insist, then Andersson has to play. Not only as a checking line center. They need to see what they have. He’s only gotten a small look in the top nine. So, he remains at a goal with four assists for five points in 29 games. That’s after going 1-1-2 in seven last Spring.

Jesper Fast is a hard working player, who is a solid leader that always brings it every shift. The fact he’s playing hurt and continuing to receive regular turns in the top six with only eight goals is absurd. Nothing against him. But it’s ridiculous to keep playing him that many minutes while Andersson rides the pine.

I understand what Quinn’s doing. He’s establishing a certain criteria that all his players must earn to be moved up. He even benched Chris Kreider recently by sticking him on the fourth line. Kreider only took two shifts in the third period of a game last week, and got a shift in overtime. The same Kreider has gone seven straight games without a goal. He’s stuck on 26 with 13 games left. He can’t be 100 percent.

Here’s the thing. At this juncture, the coaching staff know what they have in vets like Fast, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ryan Strome, Jimmy Vesey, Kreider and leading point getter Mika Zibanejad. They continue to evaluate Howden, who got his fifth goal in game number 53. Howden is definitely a player Quinn likes. The soon to be 21-year old center who was acquired as part of last year’s blockbuster deadline deal with Tampa, likes to hang onto the puck and remain patient before making plays for teammates. He’s gotten a lot more of a chance than Andersson.

There are still those remaining 13 games to give Andersson a chance to earn more of a look than he’s received. If he is indeed part of the future, what do they have to lose? Do they really view him similarly to Boo Nieves, who’s 25 and just got a one-year contract? That would be very disappointing and short sighted.

This can’t be handled like past Rangers’ first round picks who we hardly knew. Manny Malhotra. Cough. Jamie Lundmark. Cough. Lauri Korpikoski. That is part of the team history. So, for every Kreider, J.T. Miller or Marc Staal, there have been classic cases of the franchise changing its mind on young players they thought highly of. Don’t forget they once traded up for Pavel Brendl and gave away Marc Savard to grab Lundmark. Oops.

As for Quinn’s reasoning on why DeAngelo sat out, that’s better left unsaid. DeAngelo is the best defenseman they have. It would be a shame for him to waste his talent due to off ice issues. He has to know that. Who would you rather see? The highly skilled DeAngelo or Neal Pionk. Next question.

Hopefully, Quinn removes the handcuffs off Andersson. Time is wasting.

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