In what was the final game last Friday before the extended All-Star break that gave them over a week off before returning to action on February 6 against Calgary, the Rangers went out on the right foot by defeating the Golden Knights 4-1 at MSG.
The important part is they responded to a tough overtime loss at Toronto by grabbing two points against a quality opponent on home ice. Even if Vegas slumped due to a lack of offense, the Rangers did what they needed to to stay in third place in the Metro Division.
At 27-14-8, they have 62 points through 49 games. That’s two mote than the fourth place Capitals, who have 60 in 53. They’ve played four more games. The Penguins sit in fifth with 57 points over 49. A point up on the Sabres and two ahead of the Islanders for the final wildcard.
The Rangers trail the Devils by six for second and are 14 behind the first place Hurricanes, who used third period comebacks to extend their winning streak to seven prior to All-Star Weekend. That commences in Florida with the Skills Competition tonight at 7 EST. It’ll be showed on ESPN, ESPN Plus and Sportsnet. The game is tomorrow at 3 PM on ABC/ESPN+, CBC and Sportsnet.
Three Rangers will represent the team in the sunshine state. Adam Fox, Artemi Panarin and Igor Shesterkin. Jack Hughes is the lone representative for the Devils, who probably deserved more. Such is how the ridiculous three-on-three format works. There are more players snubbed. Jesper Bratt, Dougie Hamilton and Vitek Vanecek all could’ve gone. Mika Zibanejad could’ve been there as well for the Rangers.
I’ll be blunt. I enjoyed the old format more. Whether it was East versus West or North America vs The World, it worked better than having a four roster three-on-three winner take all tournament. Though it is fun which is what today’s players enjoy.
Adding different skills that are hard to understand makes it confusing. At least from my vantage point. The shooting competition they had out by the water in Vegas was an interesting concept last year. Now, they’ve added more stuff. If I watch, I’ll probably wonder what the heck is going on. Here are the scheduled seven events:
Player assignments for all seven events of the 2023 NHL All-Star Skills™ presented by DraftKings Sportsbook are listed below.
- Upper Deck NHL Fastest Skater™
- Great Clips NHL Breakaway Challenge™
- Discover NHL Tendy Tandem™
- Enterprise NHL Splash Shot™
- Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting™
- Chipotle NHL Pitch ‘n Puck™
- GEICO NHL Hardest Shot™
As for the two semifinals and championship game, I have little interest. I have never been a big fan of three-on-three. There’s too many resets in the current overtime format. It’s pond hockey determining valuable extra points. If they didn’t reset so much, it would work better. I’ve seen some people suggest making a change to the rules. That I’m in agreement with.
Of course, each division is represented for the tournament. I’m just wondering who’s gonna beat the Pacific led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. While that division isn’t as strong, boasting the game’s most dominant force along with his sidekick should make them tough to beat. McDavid has a shot at 70 goals and 150 points. Figures we haven’t seen since ’95-96 when Mario Lemieux scored 69 goals and paced the league with 161 points while teaming with Jaromir Jagr (149).
It definitely will be exciting for the game to see what McDavid winds up with. There’s also Devils superstar Jack Hughes, who’s on pace for 50/50 in Year Four. He leads them in scoring with 33 goals and 31 assists for 64 points in 49 games. Hughes will garner MVP votes. Even if it’s McDavid’s award to lose, the young 21-year old American phenom with the cool personality is hard to ignore. That’s who the league should market the game around. Market. A foreign concept for the NHL who’s seen TV ratings slip on both major networks due to blackout restrictions and not enough hype.
As far as the Rangers go, too much of the focus last week was on what they didn’t do before winning the game against the Golden Knights. That’s their own fault. The organization never even had an explanation for what they did on Pride Night which celebrates the LGBTQ community.
In a puzzling decision prior to the game, the Rangers didn’t wear the rainbow themed jerseys or tape up their sticks during warm-ups to honor the very people who spent money for this advertised event. I say that with sincerity. Past events have gone on without a problem. I still have a rainbow colored Pride towel from March 5, 2020. A night better known for Mika Zibanejad tying a team record by scoring five goals in a memorable 6-5 win that included the overtime winner. Who knew life would change shortly after due to the pandemic.
Instead of donning the traditional rainbow themed colors for warm-ups, the Blueshirts wore their hideous knockoff Liberty reverse retro jerseys. According to a couple of players who the media spoke with including veteran New York Post columnist Larry Brooks, they were just hanging in the locker room. Neither could explain why they didn’t wear the rainbow themed jerseys or taped sticks which are usually auctioned off.
From the look of it, it felt like an organizational decision that came from the top. This also took place on the same day Garden CEO James Dolan decided to go public for a rare interview on Good Day New York to speak out against having the MSG alcohol license revoked by the New York State Liquor Authority due to a public battle with lawyers who he’s not allowing into Garden events stemming from an investigation over the controversial facial recognition they’ve used since 2018. An owner who has been sober for 29 years, Dolan seems unfazed by the threat to ban alcohol sales.
“We’re going to pick a night, maybe a Rangers game, and we’re going to shut down all the liquor and alcohol in the building,” he said in an article that appeared in the New York Times.
He also had high praise for the Rangers who he feels are on the right track to winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1994. The last time he went public and praised our team, it came in ’11-12 when John Tortorella had the team in first place thanks to Henrik Lundqvist’s best season where he won the Vezina. Tortorella didn’t take kindly to the praise choosing to put the focus on continuing to win games.
They finished first in the Eastern Conference. After hard fought seven-game series victories over Ottawa and Washington in the first two rounds, they lost to the Hudson rival Devils in a gut wrenching six-game series best known for Adam Henrique getting the series clincher in overtime of Game Six.
I’d prefer not to discuss what Dolan said. He’s the reason the rebuild was cut short. That lack of patience could wind up costing the team in the future. Especially when pertaining to the cap. With Vitaly Kravtsov on the outs and AHL All-Star Zac Jones blocked by Ben Harpur, who recently signed a two-year contract extension, they both could be ticketed elsewhere for a high risk rental along with draft picks. That’ll depend on Chris Drury.
With Bo Horvat off the market due to a surprising move from Lou Lamoriello who acquired the two-way scoring center from the directionless Canucks for a package that included Anthony Beauvillier, Aatu Raty and a top 12 protected first round conditional pick (could become a 2024 first instead), the Islanders are hoping the 31-goal scorer can provide the spark to help them reach the playoffs. It’s a gamble with him still having to sign an extension by the summer.
The biggest names teams are connected to are Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko and Timo Meier with the latter supposedly high on the Rangers list. I just wonder what the cost would be for the 26-year old scoring right wing. He’s younger than the other two and would need to sign an extension to avoid the $10 million qualifier he’s guaranteed for ’23-24. Given the cap issues, it’s hard to see Drury being able to outbid the Hurricanes, who can use the LTIR to free necessary room with Max Pacioretty done for the year with another torn ACL. Sad. That could be his career.
Having covered a wide range of topics that occurred over the last week, I want to clarify where I stand on all the league initiatives that feel very dishonest. Truth be told, these nights are nothing more than a money grab. While it can be seen as good public relations, I fail to see how it’s helping following last Friday’s debacle. Someone in the Rangers organization made a decision to scrap part of Pride Night. While they still honored the gay, lesbian and Trans community by lighting up the Garden in rainbow colors and having a giveaway for fans who attended, it felt disingenuous.
I’m not one to get too much into politics. When it comes to sports, I’m of the mindset that the two should be separate. There’s a time and a place for it. I don’t think it’s helpful to have it in sports. That’s my personal opinion. It can create more harm than good. Something we saw play out over the outrage to what the Rangers did. Even if Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly released a vanilla statement which felt like an excuse for teams to do what they want.
Look no further than Ivan Provorov who decided not to participate in warm-ups for the Flyers during their Pride Night. I feel like this topic has been covered too much recently. Some in the media have had very skewed takes that cross the line. I won’t get specific because I’m not too comfortable discussing it. Let’s put it this way. You shouldn’t be burned at the stake for choosing not to participate in a politically charged event. I have more of a problem with how the Rangers went about it than one player who made a choice not to partake.
As for why the Rangers, who advertised this game as Pride Night which celebrates those who are LGBTQ, I couldn’t really explain why they opted not to wear the rainbow themed colors prior to the game. New York Post beat writer Mollie Walker had a blurb about it that she posted. There wasn’t anything specific on why they didn’t rock the rainbow colors or use the rainbow themed tape for warm-ups.
One player told The Post that he just saw the regular Lady Liberty jersey hanging in his locker and he did not know why the Rangers did not wear the originally planned warm-ups, which they have worn in the past “in solidarity with those who continue to advocate for inclusivity.”
Not much communication from an organization run under MSG that keeps things airtight. That’s how the operation is run. It’s unbelievable.
That this a story is a sign of the times. It shouldn’t be. By now, the NHL motto that Hockey Is For Everyone is well known. Though when even much worse controversial issues have come to the surface such as what happened behind the scenes with the Blackhawks and in Vancouver, it makes you wonder what’s going on at the top.
League initiatives are fine. But everyone is allowed to make a choice. That’s why not even Larry Brooks took issue with Provorov for using his religious beliefs for why he didn’t partake in warm-ups last week. Maybe there’s too much emphasis put on such polarizing topics. It takes away from the game we all enjoy.
Is she wrong here? I think not. This is a money grab. That’s all it is. If anyone who represents the gay community purchased tickets to this publicized event, they have every right to be upset. It’s false advertising. Only the higher ups know the truth. And we know they’ll remain silent.
I’ve covered this hard topic enough. How to go from that to going over an important victory that put more smiles on most faces who root for this team.
In looking back at the 4-1 victory, the Rangers did exactly what they had to. They beat a slumping Vegas team that can’t put the puck in the ocean without oft-injured star Mark Stone. Jack Eichel was hardly noticeable except for one good scoring chance that surprise starter Jaro Halak stopped.
Halak was in due to his perfect career record versus the Golden Knights. He didn’t disappoint making 33 saves on 34 shots to earn First Star honors. He remained a thorn in the side of Vegas. In fact, he’s now won five straight decisions and six of seven since starting the season 0-5-1.
During his five-game winning streak, Halak has posted a 1.80 GAA with a .938 save percentage. If you go back to a 34 save outing on Nov. 30 in a win at Ottawa, he’s 6-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA and .925 save percentage. A splendid turnaround for the 37-year old from Bratislava.
While Halak took care of his end, Chris Kreider reminded fans how critical he is to the team. He scored a puck luck goal for number 20. Vincent Trocheck threw the puck towards the net and it banked off Kreider to give him his eighth season of scoring at least 20 goals as a Ranger. He was in the right place at the right time.
For all the ridiculous criticism he received after looking off in his first three games back, the 31-year old power forward continues to provide consistent scoring in Manhattan. Since being taken at number 19 in the first round of the ’09 Draft, Kreider continues to produce. He’s moving up the all-time franchise list in goals. His 249 place him eighth, trailing Mark Messier by only one goal to move into a tie for seventh. Once he passes the Captain, Kreider can chase down Camille Henry (256) and Vic Hadfield (262) to move into the top five.
The new line that had Kreider and Barclay Goodrow with Trocheck were instrumental in getting the win over Vegas. Trocheck would tally from Goodrow a few minutes later for a big goal in the final minute of the first period. It was his first goal since Jan. 1. Despite not fitting with Artemi Panarin, Trocheck has 34 points (14-20-34) and a team best 56.5 face-off percentage (439-and-338) with 115 hits. He is better suited for Kreider and Goodrow or Jimmy Vesey because they play a North American style.
Phil Kessel tallied for the Golden Knights less than five minutes into the second. It shouldn’t have counted. William Carrier got away with taking down Alexis Lafreniere. Instead of there being a call, play continued. That allowed Kessel to take a pass from Carrier and sneak a shot from a sharp angle by Halak on the near post. A bad goal. But considering how well he played, we’ll let it slide.
The other highlight was rookie Will Cuylle accepting Keegan Kolesar’s challenge at the start of the second period. Two seconds in, they battled to an entertaining draw at center ice. The crowd certainly loved it. Cuylle has that in his game. He’s got size, strength and toughness. Not a bad way to make your Garden debut.
The fourth line didn’t play a lot. Cuylle, Julien Gauthier and Jake Leschyshyn didn’t get too many shifts. Gauthier was under six minutes while Cuylle came in at 6:31. Leschyshyn saw over nine minutes including some penalty killing duty. They nearly got burned early in the third. Cuylle was pushed off the puck in his end, leading to a good chance that Halak made a key stop on.
Halak’s best save came when he dove across to deny Kolesar, who was all set up. The kind of big stop the veteran backup was brought in for. They’re gonna need him when they return for the final 33 games. There are eight sets of back-to-backs.
When they did get a power play, the Rangers couldn’t cash in. The top unit continues to struggle. They’re way too predictable. Opponents sit on that Mika Zibanejad one-timer from the left circle and are well schooled on the play down low for Kreider, who’s had tough luck connecting on the five-on-four.
I would make one switch, moving Filip Chytil onto it and shifting Trocheck to the second unit. That would provide the first unit with another lefty shot. It’s very right centered due to Fox, Panarin, Zibanejad and Trocheck with just Kreider working in front. Chytil has excellent chemistry with Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko on PP2. But he deserves to be moved up.
The second unit would get a better face-off man in Trocheck who has a nose for the net. I like the decision to play K’Andre Miller on the left point. He can get his shot through and makes good reads. Jacob Trouba has a heavy shot. But would be better off utilized at five-on-five and the penalty kill. Braden Schneider feels like a better option. He has five goals and is a good skater.
Speaking of Chytil, he stayed hot by scoring a huge insurance goal with 5:40 left in regulation to help put the punched Knights away. After getting a Schneider pass, he made a great solo effort by first attempting one shot and then doing a spin around backhand that took a carom off a Vegas defenseman past Adin Hill.
It was brilliant. Chytil showed off his speed and extra effort to net his fourth goal over the last three games. He’s up to 29 points for the season. The 16 goals rank third on the team behind Zibanejad (22) and Kreider (20). Thirteen of the sixteen have come at even strength. That trails only Kreider (14) for the most on the team. It’s well deserved for a more mature player who has raised his value. He should cost between $4.5 to 5 million as a restricted free agent this off-season.
Jimmy Vesey would add his ninth into a vacated net to put the finishing touches on the victory. It’s been a good return for the veteran forward. He’s trusted to play in a checking role and kill penalties. I still don’t love having him play on the new first line with Zibanejad and Panarin, who so far are like oil and water. Can Panarin play with anyone not named Ryan Strome? A lot of people were wrong about Strome. He complimented Panarin’s game well.
At this point, it looks like Vitaly Kravtsov will be traded. It isn’t his fault that Gallant doesn’t like him. He needs a fresh start. My guess he’ll get packaged in a deal as they draw nearer to the trade deadline. Hopefully, they hang onto Zac Jones. I think it would be a mistake to give up on him. He’s already played in the NHL and remains close.
Does any other team damage the value of former first round picks like the Rangers? When it comes to the forwards, it certainly applies. Lafreniere had a strong game with Chytil and Kakko. He seems to have more confidence when he plays with them. It’s more instinctive because they know where each other are. Keep them together.
As for upgrading the roster, I’d look at improving the fourth line. Jake Leschyshyn isn’t a long-term fix. How is a waiver wire pick-up playing over a former first round pick? Don’t answer that. Gauthier also has seen his shifts dwindle since returning. Some reward for a player who surprised many by scoring six goals in the first half.
As much as they would love to fill a void on right wing to maybe help Panarin, the Rangers might be better off adding depth pieces to solidify the bottom line and the blue line. Tyler Motte is available. Not saying I want a return. But he’s a good fit on the fourth line. Plus he can kill penalties. In a perfect world, you’d have Goodrow between Cuylle and a grinder like Motte.
I still believe Tarasenko would come cheaper than an aging Kane or Meier. San Jose will have plenty of suitors including the Devils, who can offer Alex Holtz as part of a package. But it all depends on what the cost is and how much salary is picked up.
The Rangers have some room to work with. But is one player really going to put them over the top? Can they win with Panarin, who’s in decline despite pacing the club in scoring with 50 points (12-38-50). He’s a minus player due to being a turnover machine.
What about the potential for former first round pick Brennan Othmann to come over from the OHL to the NHL? It depends what Peterborough does in the playoffs. Othmann turned 20 on Jan. 5. He might need some pro experience with Hartford before debuting. There’s also the likelihood the Peterborough Petes go far. Othmann probably won’t be an option.
The better question is where would he play. The Rangers lack scoring right wings. Kakko leads all RW with nine goals and 23 points in Year Four. Vesey and Goodrow can play the right side. But neither are consistent scorers. Goodrow is on pace to surpass last year’s career best total of 33 points. He’s 9-14-23 thus far. The versatile forward can play anywhere. Vesey has been used similarly with success.
Scoring remains an issue at five-on-five. That’s where most playoff games are played. It’s a battle of attrition. If the special teams were better for the Blueshirts, whose power play ranks in the middle of the pack, that would help. There are questions as to what moves Drury should make.
They have Igor Shesterkin in net and Adam Fox anchoring the back end. Two elite players. Unless Panarin can raise his level, it’s hard to see this team going far. Currently, they are locked into a 2/3 match-up against the rival Devils. Even with the better goalie and the game’s best defenseman, it wouldn’t be easy.
Not with the game-breaking speed and skill the Devils possess led by Hughes. If the series were to happen, he’s the best player. Their team speed and skill have given the Rangers fits. Of course, it’s much different in a best of seven series. Grit and experience usually factor in. The Rangers have that edge. If I had to guess, a Battle Of Hudson first round series would go at least six games.
We’re still a long way off from that. So much can happen. Both teams are chasing the Hurricanes in the standings. Each trying to guarantee themselves a top six spot to avoid the wildcard. Whoever winds up in the final spot will see the Bruins. A terrific team that doesn’t look to have any weaknesses. They also are looking to upgrade.
It’s already been a week since the Blueshirts played hockey. A long layoff that makes as much sense as the current NHL playoff format. Good on Sidney Crosby for saying what we’re all thinking. It should be 1-8.
Until next time. If there’s any other news, I’ll return this weekend.