Game #19 – Hurricanes 2, Devils 1

After yesterday’s hideous loss, part of me didn’t even want to bother with the aggravation I could sense was coming in Carolina today.  We never seem to do well in that building (and also seem to play a disproportionate share of our games there on the back end of back-to-backs), had Cory Schneider starting and once again Nico Hischier’s day-to-day injury was ‘not today’ in terms of a return after being teased for the last few days that his return was imminent.  Are we pulling a New York Mets with injury disinformation here?  With all that I predicted 6-3 yesterday afternoon.

After thirty seconds that prediction looked pretty good, unfortunately.

In many ways I didn’t recover emotionally from the hideous first thirty seconds of the game where we gave up not one, but two goals largely on defensive breakdowns with an assist to Cory allowing a weak five-hole goal on the first one, granted it was a partial breakaway but still a butterfly goalie’s gotta stop that.  I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen such a hideous start in the first minute of the game and it nearly earned me an instant click off the TV.  As it was I turned the radio on and muted the TV instead, which I should have done from the start.  Why I didn’t, I have no idea…much like I have no idea why the Devils decided to start the first thirty seconds of the game so loosely.

Amazingly enough that was the last goal Cory allowed today.  Although it’s typical in a way since he does tend to make saves when we’re trailing.  When we’re leading or tied is another story…be that as it may it’s hard to fault the goalie when you only give up two, and other than his playoff win last April he hasn’t given up fewer than three in any other game during 2018.  Baby steps.  It’s just a shame this team can never take Cory off the hook when he at least plays halfway decent

While the record itself is only slightly misleading since Cory did win a playoff game after all, it would be nice to put those dreadful splits in the past.  Too bad it won’t be today because the offense pulled a complete no-show against yet another mediocre (at best) team.  And it would have been nice if the coach wasn’t a big dummy today either.  To wit: 

  • Why is talentless Stefan Noesen – who’s been playing poorly this year – getting power play and late empty-net offense minutes?  When you have other big bodies with more talent that can ‘screen’ the goalie too.  This idea that you need a talentless oaf to screen on the PP saps half the advantage of having an extra skater and rewarding a suddenly hot Pavel Zacha (goals in two straight games!) with PP time would have been nice too.
  • Why was Ben Lovejoy getting an offensive zone faceoff shift with two minutes to go down a goal?  I get no Sami Vatanen in the lineup but you should just roll Greene-Severson and Butcher-Mueller as your two goal-to-get pairings rather than going with a total zero offensively in an offensive situation.  Heck, with an o-zone faceoff you should drop the hammer and put both Butcher and Severson on the ice.
  • Why did Jesper Bratt, who’s been pretty much the only player creating offense the last two games only get just a hair above eleven minutes of icetime this afternoon?  Sure, it’s his fourth game back from injury but come on we aren’t talking about a baseball starting pitcher on a pitch count here!
  • Why are we STILL using that stupid backpass zone entry on the PP that every team in the league knows and is just lying in wait for?  Yes in certain situations there’s a virtue to a back pass to keep the D honest but not when it’s your ONLY zone entry of choice.  This isn’t the 1960’s with the Lombardi power sweep, there’s no virtue to being too predictable when teams have detailed video and film on you.

Yes the injuries don’t help our recent predicament but memo to John Hynes and Rick Kowalsky (who I assume is in charge of PP personnel), when you’re missing talent, that’s when you need to use the talent you have more!  Losing stings but losing when there are correctable issues is twice as frustrating and now that we’re under .500 and in last place in the Eastern Conference the climb doesn’t get any easier.  While both the Rangers and Islanders have overachieved their way to hot starts, the Devils have underachieved their way on the wrong side of the playoff bubble and we’re just one game away from Lou Lamoriello’s typical twenty-game marker for grading a team.  At best I’d give this team a C- right now, and that isn’t going to cut it going forward.

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Game #20: Kreider and Lundqvist star in bounce back 4-2 win over Panthers

David Quinn wants his team to respond to criticism following ugly losses like the one to the Islanders on Thursday. The Rangers showed the same resiliency that’s defined the season, posting a hard fought 4-2 home win over the Panthers at MSG.

Through 20 games, a team picked by many to finish last in the division and be a lock for a top five pick, has a record of 10-8-2. They’ve done it by continuing to persevere under Quinn, who won’t tolerate soft play like we saw the other night. The demanding first-year coach sat out defenseman Brady Skjei after a poor effort from a young player making $5.2 million on average. No matter who you are, you will be made an example of if this coach doesn’t think you’re giving consistent effort. We’ve seen his message get through to Kevin Shattenkirk, Pavel Buchnevich and countless others, who found themselves missing shifts due to ineffective play.

What Quinn has been able to establish in the first quarter has been remarkable. He has changed the attitude and mentality by having higher standards. These Blueshirts won’t give in. Even when they aren’t always clicking on all cylinders in wins like tonight, they will work their tails off, scratch and claw.

In came Brendan Smith and out went Skjei. Wouldn’t you know it? Smith scored a goal in his return. It was a important one because it tied the game at two, in direct response to Aaron Ekblad’s power play goal with Vinni Lettieri off for interference. The penalty earned him a seat on the bench for an extended stretch. He only played 4:29 in nine shifts. Look for him to become the odd man out if Mats Zuccarello returns Monday. He missed his fourth game in the last five on Saturday night.

Newly acquired Ryan Strome made his Broadway debut on the third line with Brett Howden and Jimmy Vesey. Wearing number 16, which is Derick Brassard’s old number, he took 21 shifts for 16:42 all at even strength. He registered four hits and went 3-and-2 on face-offs. It’s not a bad suggestion to give him a look on the third line due to more skill than Jesper Fast, who replaced Zuccarello on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Vladislav Namestnikov.

If Zuccarello can play tomorrow, I wouldn’t mind seeing Fast slide down to the fourth line to work with Lias Andersson and Cody McLeod on a grind line. McLeod also didn’t see much ice-time receiving 6:17 in 11 shifts, but had six hits and went plus-one. Andersson set up Smith’s tying goal in the first period for his first point since being called up. He wound up with 13 shifts (6:42) with a plus-one and was 2-for-5 on draws.

It was another big night for Chris Kreider. The emerging leader posted a three-point game scoring his team-leading 11th goal and adding two assists to hike his point total to a club best 19 in 20 contests. This is the best hockey of his career.

Rookie Filip Chytil stayed hot scoring the game’s opening goal at 3:03 of the first on a nice feed from Kevin Hayes. He was able to beat Roberto Luongo from a sharp angle short side to become the first Rangers teenager to score in three consecutive games. He was moved onto the Hayes line with Kreider as I suggested. They were by far the team’s best line.

The early lead didn’t last long. Mike Hoffman continued his torrid play by ripping a perfect one-timer off a Evgenii Dadonov centering pass by Henrik Lundqvist at 4:40. The former Senator would later add an assist in taking his Panthers’ new franchise record point streak to 15 in a row.

With Lettieri in the penalty box, Ekblad drove a laser over Lundqvist from the point on a nice set up from Mike Matheson. Hoffman picked up the secondary helper. It was the third straight game Ekblad scored in.

However, with Quinn opting to double shift Kreider in place of Lettieri on a shift with the fourth line, he combined with Andersson to find Smith open for a shot that beat Luongo high to the short side from another weird angle. The future Hall of Famer had a bad game allowing a couple of soft goals. He struggled to cover shots to the stick side, allowing four goals on 24 shots. In his two outings this weekend, he gave up 10 goals on 60 shots.

Only one goal was scored in the second. It was another of the odd variety with Namestnikov sneaking a seeing eye shot off a Zibanejad face-off win off Luongo and just over the goal line. The puck took a funny hop high in the air where Luongo couldn’t control it. The referee on the back of the net made no hesitation, indicating a goal for Namestnikov. Following a video review, they confirmed the call on the ice giving Namestnikov a deserved reward with his second goal for a 3-2 Rangers lead.

The Panthers certainly had their chances. They applied pressure throughout. However, a sharp Lundqvist was up to the tall task. He made big saves in the final two periods, turning aside all 28 shots he saw. Florida outshot New York 28-12 in the second and third. Overall, they held a 41-24 edge and out attempted the Blueshirts 79-47. That didn’t matter further to the brilliance of Lundqvist, who made 39 saves en route to passing Jacques Plante for seventh all-time in wins with his 438th. Next up is Terry Sawhuk in sixth with 445.

In the third, Kreider put it away by scoring a nice power play goal off the rush. After Chytil drew a tripping minor on Vincent Trocheck, Lundqvist started the play with a outlet for Neal Pionk. His pass for Kreider in the neutral zone trapped two Panthers, allowing Kreider to cut in and Beat Luongo top shelf to the short side at 7:56. A well executed simple play that worked.

Next up are the Stars. Then the Islanders visit MSG on Turkey Eve for a rematch.

Three Rangers Stars

3rd 🌟 Brendan Smith goal (2nd), 5 attempts, 4 blocked shots, +1 in 25 shifts (20:28)

2nd 🌟 Henrik Lundqvist 39 saves including 28/28 last 2 periods for 438th career win passing Jacques Plante for seventh all-time

1st 🌟 Chris Kreider goal (11), two assists, 2 shots, 5 attempts, 2 takeaways, 2 hits, +2 in 24 shifts (15:11)

A nice touch by MSG to recognize Larry Brooks following his induction.

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Game #18 – Red Wings 3, Devils 2 (OT)

Another weekend, another matinee Devils game.  So far the team’s played five times in seven weeks on either a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon.  My feelings on matinees as a season ticket holder are mixed.  So long as it’s 1 PM like today instead of noon like the Panthers game a few weeks back, I can at least have lunch before driving up to the Prudential Center.  Plus at least unlike weeknights the drive up is typically quicker on a weekend, although I did get backed up a little bit with construction on Broad Street so I missed the pregame skate, but did still have enough time to at least walk around the arena before going to my seat for the intros.

For once I wasn’t completely dreading this game after beating two division foes this week, although still mindful of the fact we lost to Detroit not that long ago.  I was still a bit perturbed over the case of the dissapearing Devil players, with Nico Hischier again missing a game after all signs seemed to point to him coming back today.  Hischier remained on the injured list along with with IR’ed Sami Vatanen, Brian Boyle and Steven Santini.  With all of the injuries it led to some interesting combinations, starting with Mirco Mueller playing on his offside with Egor Yakovlev going into the lineup and once again putting Jesper Bratt on a line with the unholy duo of Pavel Zacha and Marcus Johansson.

Yet it was that second line – specifically the two farmhands – that wound up having some of the best moments of the game, starting with Zacha opening the scoring for the game and potting his first of the season late in the first after a perfect cross-ice pass from Bratt even Zacha couldn’t miss, capping off a dominating first period by the guys in red.  To give the Devil his due, Zacha actually looks a bit rejuvanated since coming back, in particular since he started playing with the dynamic Bratt, whose return has sparked the offense a little.  I wish I could say the same for Zacha’s other winger, but as bad as NoJo was last year, he’s been that much worse this year.  I would say the concussions have taken something out of him (maybe they have) but he wasn’t even doing well last year before getting hurt.

Yet, in spite of NoJo things looked good early with the Devils outshooting the Wings 20-4, though that dominance was a bit illusory since we were still giving up high quality chances, and once again goalie Keith Kinkaid’s posts proved to be better at repelling pucks than most NHL goalies.  Good thing for that, cause this team’s defensemen really have a problem defending two-on-ones, specifically they don’t actually take away the pass or the shot.  The book says to take away the pass but for whatever reason giving up multiple two-on-ones today brought this glaring fact into light – these defensemen just don’t seem to know how to play two-on-ones correctly.  Basically all of them let the pass through or backed off to such a degree they gave up a wide-open slot attempt, and either forced Kinkaid or the post into a great save.  Our loose defense on two-on-ones would finally come back to bite us at an inopportune time much later in the game.

Before then, things still looked good even if the refs were more than inclined to cut the Wings a break.  In sixty-five minutes of hockey despite a lot of dominant stretches where the Devils put forty shots on Wings goalie Johnathan Bernier, somehow New Jersey failed to draw a single penalty call in their favor.  How often does that happen?  Usually when the shots on goal are that high that means one team’s outskating the other and eventually draws the benefit of the whistle.  Not today though, of course to be fair the refs seemed inclined to call nothing period given they only gave Detroit one power play themselves.  Abdicating your responsibility in officiating the game only helps the team willing to get away with more though, and that was the team in white.

It’s not even worth harping on that though, we still had our own chances to put away the game once and for all against a mediocre team who didn’t even get to Newark till late last night due to travel issues.  Specifically when Blake Coleman took advantage of a Wings‘ power play with yet another shorthanded goal late in the second period.  While there’ve been precious few reminders of the glory days in recent years, you could definitely see a lot of John Madden in Coleman.  Perhaps #20 is actually more talented than Mad Dog.  Once we killed off that penalty I had hope we could take this game home.  Until Luke Glendening (who?) found an open space in the slot for a momentum-killing one-timer goal with just under two minutes remaining in the second period.  Now I could sense the choke coming, especially with this team already having lost three other multi-goal leads this season and third-period leads too numerous to count.

While I missed the first several minutes of the third period walking around the arena with a friend I hadn’t seen for a while (she wanted popcorn and we had to go downstairs again after already coming back upstairs), I did get back to my section in time to see Bratt and Zacha nearly put the game away, but this time Bernier stoned Zacha in front.  After surviving yet another two-on-one thanks to the friendly goalpost (after Ben Lovejoy completely abandoned Dylan Larkin to take the other guy on the play leaving the shot too wide open), finally Kinkaid was victimized by his own defenseman – the aformentioned Lovejoy who pushed Glendening into the goaltender while Michael Rasmussen’s shot went past him, as once again this team gave up a late third-period lead.  It could have actually been worse as the regulation buzzer sounded with a wide open Wings player lurking in front for a pass.  Two more seconds and we could have been looking at a Hurricanes playoff-type finish.

What we would get was bad enough, as the Wings dominated overtime and settled the issue on one last two-on-one that this time Damon Severson botched by getting caught in no-man’s land – not close enough to Anthony Mantha to stop the pass or to Larkin to stop the shot, ballgame over.  I can’t blame Severson though, the guy played over twenty-six minutes pressed into first-pairing duty and did admirably well throughout the game.  It isn’t his fault this team obviously isn’t coached well enough on the basics by John Hynes or specifically defensive coach Alain Nasreddine.  It also isn’t his fault the refs missed one final Red Wing penalty – a trip of Brett Seney in the faceoff circle.  In some ways it was a fitting all-around end to a hideous matinee, other than me getting to see my friend and her fiancee again.  Perhaps worse than the lost point is blowing another third-period/multi-goal lead.  Even with our defensive issues, we still have a goalie playing at an above average level, it shouldn’t be this bad.

At least until tomorrow assuming Cory Schneider plays the back-to-back.  If he plays it’ll be a 6-2, 6-3 type of game, book it.  And if Kinkaid plays his fourth game in six days in November on a travel back-to-back that’s a pretty telling sign of what they think of Cory.  Same as I do at this point, evidently.

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Rangers deal Spooner to Oilers for Strome

It didn’t take long for the Rangers to sour on Ryan Spooner. After only putting up two points (1-1-2) in 16 games, he was dealt to the Oilers for Ryan Strome.

Spooner came over from Boston in the Rick Nash trade that also netted D prospect Ryan Lindgren, Matt Beleskey and a 2018 first round pick that became D prospect K’Andre Miller. Following a good start where he tallied four goals with 12 assists in 20 games under former coach Alain Vigneault, he never established himself under David Quinn.

The 26-year old forward spent too much time on the perimeter and became the odd man out despite being given every chance. The Rangers’ $4 million headache who’s signed through 2020 is now Edmonton’s problem. Maybe their style will be a better fit for the pass first center/wing.

Now, Strome replaces Spooner on the roster. A former Islanders’ fifth overall pick in 2011, he’s had his own problems finding consistency. Acquired by the Oilers before last season in exchange for Jordan Eberle, he registered 13 goals and 21 assists for 34 points in all 82 games in ’17-18. He is signed through 2020 at an average cap hit of $3.1 million. So, he earns $900,000 less than Spooner.

A right shot who can play center or wing, he only has a goal and assist so far in 18 games. His metrics are a lot better than Spooner, who was under 40.0 Corsi. Part of that is how he was deployed. Strome is 53.5 for the season. The issue is production. He was averaging 14:25 per game in Edmonton. Ice-time wasn’t a problem. It comes down to being able to contribute.

This is a guy who once totaled 50 points (17-33-50 in his second season for the Islanders. Since, he’s been basically a 30-35 point player who has been puzzling. Adding another right shot makes sense. The Rangers are very left shot heavy with only Mika Zibanejad a big scoring threat up front. No disrespect to Jesper Fast, but as hard as he plays, he can’t score. Don’t get me started on Vinni Lettieri.

It’ll be interesting to see how Quinn uses Strome. With Filip Chytil having success after being moved up to the first line and power play with goals in consecutive games entering tomorrow’s game against the Panthers, where does Strome slot in? He is an upgrade over Lettieri on the fourth line. Adding some skill to that line currently centered by rookie Lias Andersson can only help. You know what you’ll get from Cody McLeod, which is more than Spooner gave them.

Good riddance!

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Game #19: Islanders again beat the Rangers in wild 7-5 shootout

How would I describe the latest Rangers’ defeat at the hands of their kryptonite, the Islanders? Like this following their 7-5 home win on a snowy night that was highlighted by world beater Anthony Beauvillier’s first career hat trick.

I had a few other choice words following a very frustrating second period that saw them melt on the ice at Barclays Center. Let’s just say some of it isn’t fit for print. How many times can this team lose to their biggest rivals? Better yet. Why must they turn mere mortals into superstars every time they lose to this team? Beauvillier had only one goal entering tonight’s match. He quadrupled it. Thomas Greiss played the role of Jaro Halak by stopping everything when the Islanders needed it. I forget how many shots he faced. I don’t care like looking.

It would seem to me that if they actually got off to a good start by getting the game’s first two goals from Chris Kreider and Fredrik Claesson 35 seconds apart, things totally unraveled. They let the Isles score six of the next seven goals. It was embarrassing. Islander players were allowed to get open and score on tips without paying the price. No Ranger knocked them down or lifted their sticks.

Following a Kreider rebound goal of a Neal Pionk shot and a Claesson laser through a Jimmy Vesey screen high glove, here came the gritty Isles. First, Beauvillier parked himself in front after Tony DeAngelo let him go so that he could tip home a Thomas Hickey point shot. Just 63 seconds later, Brock Nelson did the same exact thing off a Nick Leddy shot with token resistance to tie the score.

Then came the absurd with veteran referee Dan O’Halloran erroneously sending Mika Zibanejad off for a four-minute double minor for high-sticking Leo Komarov. But when they returned from the break, MSG conclusively showed that it wasn’t Zibanejad who cut Komarov. But rather, his own teammate. With Quinn hot under the collar at the awful call, his team picked up Zibanejad by successfully killing off the double minor.

The ineptitude of the officials was just getting started. A brutal giveaway from Vesey, who tried one of those low percentage passes up the middle inside the Islanders zone, led directly to Valtteri Filppula and Hickey combining to lead Beauvillier for a breakaway goal short side on Henrik Lundqvist for three consecutive Islanders goals. Awful would be how to describe it.

Trailing for the first time with the useless Vinni Lettieri in the box for interference, Kevin Hayes scored his second shorthanded goal of the season to tie the score at three. Following a good defensive play, he broke out and used Claesson driving the net to shoot through a screen to beat Greiss for his fourth at 3:21 unassisted to answer Beauvillier 57 seconds later.

But then came an atrocious call by the refs, who may as well have been wearing blue and orange Isles colors. Somehow, they whistled Skjei for interference after Anders Lee just fell to the ice. The minor penalty drew the ire of a fuming Quinn. He was already not happy. Of course, Beauvillier completed the hat trick when he was allowed to easily redirect Johnny Boychuk’s wide shot past Lundqvist for a 4-3 Islanders lead. Marc Staal was occupied with Jordan Eberle while Pionk lost his man for an easy goal.

It wasn’t like the Blueshirts didn’t have opportunities to tie it. They sure did following another soft call on Nelson for a phantom hold on Brett Howden. Already having cashed in once on Kreider’s early power play goal, they worked the puck around and got some great looks. However, Greiss would t allow them to even it. He made at least a half dozen big saves with his best coming on Hayes when he got just enough of his shot to send it off the crossbar. That close to tying the score.

Instead, the Islanders capitalized on a Kreider minor for tripping on yet another deflection. This time, it was Lee who got free and tipped home a Leddy shot for a 5-3 lead with 5:56 left in the period.

Alexandar Georgiev replaced a blameless Lundqvist for the third. He made a couple of big saves, but was left to fend for himself while Komarov could e had a ham sandwich while steering in a rebound from Filppula and Beauvillier, who recorded his fourth point.

Suddenly down 6-3, the Rangers didn’t give up. Instead, they fought back on goals from Kreider (top shelf for team best 10th) and rookie Filip Chytil’s second in two games on a rebound from Vladislav Namestnikov and Kevin Shattenkirk to make it 6-5 with 2:29 left in regulation.

But that’s as close as they got. They didn’t even set up a shot with Georgiev on the bench for an extra attacker. Instead, Cal Clutterbuck sealed it with an empty netter from Nelson at 19:39.

I’m not gonna hand out any stars following that debacle. Even if I liked the way Hayes, Kreider and Claesson played along with Mats Zuccarello (7 shots) and Chytil, it’s not enough to sing their praises. Especially when they reminded me of Bill Murray’s Phil character in Groundhog Day. I’m too disgusted. I’m tired of losing to that team.

I’ll end this rant with our coach’s classic reaction to O’Halloran apologizing before the third.

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Game #17 – Devils 3, Flyers 0

Much like most of the tri-state area I was unexpectedly snowed in tonight so for once I was glad to have a Thursday night game.  As always division games are nervewracking, especially going to Philly with all the shenanigans that tend to happen as their players and fans eternally try to live up to the Broad Street Bullies moniker.  Not to mention our meltdown in Philly a few weeks back started our spiral from the penthouse to the outhouse and is a part of the reason we were just 1-7 on the road going into tonight’s game.  Oh, and top center Nico Hischier missed his second straight game due to injury while top defenseman Sami Vatanen missed the final two periods after a reportedly ugly ankle injury in the first period.  I say reportedly because I opted to listen to the radio again so I didn’t actually see the injury or most of the highlights.

Yet, due to a ridiculous amount of puckluck (the Flyers somehow failed to score off of five post shots), a goal actually being disallowed by the refs against another team with the subsequent review both going our way for once plus strong goaltending by Keith Kinkaid all propelled the Devils to a – ahem – gritty 3-0 win, finally giving the Devils a winning streak for the first time since the 4-0 start early last month.  So far, the team is now 2-0 on the road when I listen to Matt and Chico, 0-7 when I watch or don’t watch other road games.  Just saying.

From Matt and Chico’s description it sounded like an unusually subdued crowd in Philly, no doubt due to #storm2018 that evidently stunned the East Coast.  Even leaving for home at 2:30 just a couple of hours after the storm started you could see things were going to be bad, in part because the salt machines weren’t on the roads before or during the storm until it was too late since most forecasts around here had called for 1-2 inches and slush, maybe freezing rain at night.  So far it looks more like 6-8 inches and despite having a couple of slippery moments on the road I was a lot more fortunate than some of my friends, judging off of Facebook it seems as if three hours was a normal commute in North Jersey today.

Superstition aside maybe it’s just as well that I didn’t watch the game, it seemed like a hair-raising affair that belied the final score given the ridiculous amount of posts the Flyers hit while we continually botched our own chances including Kyle Palmieri missing an open net and Pavel Zacha of course inventing ways not to score.  Fortunately some of the other kids stepped up in the first period on a play started by a ridiculously good hip check from Vatanen to cause a turnover, leading to a bang-bang play with Brett Seney feeding Joey Anderson in the slot for a one-timer goal, the first of Anderson’s career.  Despite the best efforts of both teams that 1-0 score remained through the third period.  Although an apparent Flyers goal was waved off in the first period due to James van Riemsdyk committing a shrewd goalie interference.  For all the crap I give the refs (and it’s deserved) it sounded like it was a subtle play that thankfully this crew saw in real time. 

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity the Devils managed to get an insurance goal in the third on a Palmieri wraparound where he and the ref somehow collided after the play but actually it was Flyer goaltender Brian Elliott who gimped off the ice due to injury, evidently he pulled something during the play.  Despite some puckhandling shenanigans from Kinkaid late he overcame them with his terrific puckstopping to preserve his third shutout of the season.  For once, the Devils managed to hold a third-period lead without blowing it which may actually be a first, at least of our third-period leads that were under three goals.  Also shockingly Blake Coleman scored an empty-netter to seal it, since usually our empty-net offense stinks.  Not so shockingly, Wayne Simmonds tried to start up crap with Damon Severson with the game out of reach late but thankfully for us the refs precluded a fight and sent both players off with matching misconducts.

Of course there was no update on Vatanen postgame, leaving a cloud over this latest win.  With Steven Santini also on the shelf, pickings are thin among our RD options.  Heck, pickings are thin among our D options period.  As the saying goes though, there’s nothing to worry about until there’s something to worry about.

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Classic Rivalry continues tonight in Brooklyn

In less than an hour, the puck will drop on another installment of a classic rivalry. That’s always been the case whenever the Rangers and Islanders get together. A unique blood rivalry between New York teams that dates back to 1972 when the Islanders entered the league, Rangers and Islanders is as good as it gets in hockey. At least in this area.

This season, the two teams will meet four times. In fact, tonight’s match at Barclays Center in Brooklyn is basically a home-and-home series over the span of six days. The Isles will pay a visit to MSG next Wednesday on Turkey Eve. Interestingly, the schedule makers did a cool thing by scheduling the remaining two games as a classic home-and-home series in early January. Here is the breakdown:

11/15 NYR @ NYI 7 PM

11/21 NYR vs NYI 7 PM

1/10 NYR vs NYI 7 PM

1/12 NYR @ NYI 1 PM

In a odd twist, the Rangers will be done with the Islanders before they play the Devils for the first time in late January. I’ve never seen that before. It’s too bad these old school rivals don’t face each other more during the season. I feel they should play at least six times. But the unbalanced schedule doesn’t allow for it. Why not minimize the other games against the other Eastern divisions to two? One at home and one on the road. Just a suggestion.

As for recent history, it hasn’t been kind to the Blueshirts. In ’17-18, they didn’t win one game last season going 0-3-1 against their kryptonite. The Islanders outscored them 16-6. Even worse, the Rangers have yet to win a game at Barclays Center in three years, bringing an 0-5-1 record into tonight. In fact, they have only won once since 2016-17 taking the home opener. The Isles own the Rangers, who are 1-9-2 over that span. Pretty crazy yet somehow typical and predictable.

The Islanders take these games seriously. It’s like their Stanley Cup. Or has been lately. With Barry Trotz in charge and Lou Lamoriello running it, these are different times. They bring a 9-6-2 record into the game with their 20 points good for second place. The Rangers under new bench boss David Quinn are playing well. They bring a 9-7-2 mark in with an identical 20 points, but in one more game played that puts them in third. They haven’t lost in regulation in the last seven games, going 6-0-1 over that stretch, including a comeback 2-1 home win over Vancouver on Monday. A game highlighted by goals from 19-year old Filip Chytil and 20-year old Brett Howden. The Isles are fresh off a 5-2 home win over Vancouver on Tuesday. Mathew Barzal had two assists and Cal Clutterbuck scored his first goal in 53 games. Brock Nelson notched his eighth.

All-time, the Rangers lead the series with a 125-113-19-9 record in 266 games. The fourth column indicates OT losses with the third column signifying ties between the two clubs under the old NHL format before ’05-06. If you added up the overtime and shootout losses, the Rangers would be 125-122-19. A better indication of how close the rivalry is.

For the Rangers, there is only one change to the lineup with Mats Zuccarello returning after missing the past three games due to a groin injury. He replaces a ineffective Ryan Spooner, who’s still stuck on two points. Zuccarello moves back onto the top line with Quinn opting to keep Chytil there with Mika Zibanejad following his successful game on Monday that resulted in his first goal along with the game’s first star. Vladislav Namestnikov slides down to the second line with Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider. Lias Andersson centers the fourth line. Brendan Smith sits out a third consecutive game. Henrik Lundqvist gets the start.

Rangers Lineup

Chytil-Zibanejad-Zuccarello

Kreider-Hayes-Namestnikov

Vesey-Howden-Fast

McLeod-Andersson-Lettieri

Staal-Pionk

Skjei-DeAngelo

Claesson-Shattenkirk

Lundqvist

Georgiev

For the Islanders, they’ll be missing a couple of key players, who give the Rangers fits. Casey Cizikas (lower body), Matt Martin (lower body) and Andrew Ladd (lower body) all were placed on the injured reserve. Stephen Gionta was recalled from Bridgeport along with former first round pick Michael Dal Colle (7-7-14 with Sound Tigers). Gionta will take Cizikas’ spot on the fourth line while Dal Colle will sit out. Thomas Greiss gets his second straight start.

Islanders Lineup

Lee-Barzal-Bailey

Kuhnackl-Nelson-Eberle

Beauvillier-Filppula-Komarov

Johnston-Gionta-Clutterbuck

Leddy-Pulock

Hickey-Mayfield

Pelech-Boychuk

Greiss

Lehner

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HARD HITS: Parity gives underdogs a chance in unpredictable league, Brodeur and Marty St. Louis inducted

A look at the current standings tells a story. The 2018-19 NHL season is unlike most. With few exceptions, most teams are struggling. Both the Capitals and Golden Knights would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today. Each having issues fulfilling lofty expectations. It’s normal when everyone is gunning for you.

The good news for teams like Washington and Vegas is we are not even at the quarter mark. Thanksgiving comes out early next week. By the 22nd of November, that’s usually the first measuring stick for evaluation. While other teams including the inconsistent Penguins and God awful Kings complete trades such as Carl Hagelin for Tanner Pearson in hopes of providing a spark, other disappointing clubs have fired coaches, including the once mighty Blackhawks, who gave three-time Stanley Cup champion Joel Quenneville the pink slip. The Kings sent John Stevens packing, and are still atrocious without Jonathan Quick.

Last year, not one coach was dismissed. This year could more than make up for that rarity with Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle, Edmonton’s Todd McLellan and Blues bench boss Mike Yeo also on the hot seat. Whether it’s due to injuries, poor defense, lack of depth, or inconsistent goaltending, there are plenty of reasons why teams underachieve.

In a very perplexing Metro Division, you have both the Capitals and Penguins leaving the door open for early surprises to hang in the race. Even the first place Blue Jackets aren’t clicking on all cylinders. The Flyers have picked it up lately, but remain incomplete. Could the rebuilding Rangers or rival Islanders stay in it longer than expected? What about the disappointing Devils, who are basically two faced? Lethal at home and miserable on the road. There’s an opportunity here for someone to step up.

With the Hurricanes dramatically cooling off due to scoring and goalie issues, it’s anyone’s guess what might happen. For now, you have a wide open division where all eight teams could remain competitive for a while.

How long can the Blueshirts defy the odds? They bring a 9-7-2 record into Brooklyn for Thursday night’s big rivalry game against the equally surprising 9-6-2 Islanders. Both clubs have new coaches. However, there’s a huge difference between David Quinn and Barry Trotz. While each was brought in to change the culture, which so far they’re having success doing, Quinn is a rookie coach from the college ranks out of Boston University. Expectations are lower on Broadway due to the younger roster he has to work with. Don’t tell veteran Henrik Lundqvist that. He’s been brilliant so far as have rookie revelation Brett Howden along with emerging team leaders Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes. With improvements from youngsters Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo, things are looking up.

As for the Islanders, it’s a unique partnership between Trotz and Lou Lamoriello. They weren’t brought in not to get immediate results. When you make such radical changes to get two proven winners, it’s not without increased expectations. There is much more accountability and discipline. Most of Lou’s moves have worked thus far, including reuniting Matt Martin with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. Even Valtteri Filppula has been a bright spot providing scoring depth to assist a top six of Matt Barzal, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle and the struggling Anthony Beauvillier. Can a team with Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner stay in contention? We’ll see.

Neither classic rival is perfect. The Rangers do it with resiliency by finding a way. It isn’t always pretty. It helps when kids like Filip Chytil and Howden chip in for the two goals in Monday’s 2-1 home win over the Canucks. The Islanders give up a ton of shots. Sometimes, they call on Greiss or Lehner to do the heavy lifting. Not much different from the Blueshirts with Lundqvist most nights. Timely scoring helps.

Recent history shows that the Isles get up for these games and often prevail. Will Quinn’s young roster flip the script in the first of four meetings in Brooklyn?

The Devils are probably the strangest local team to figure out. With a record of 7-8-1 with a disappointing 15 points in 16 games for last in the division, they have really struggled. Since a perfect 4-0-0 start, they’re only 3-8-1 since. Part of the problem is a lack of consistency from game to game. They sure clean up at home. A 6-1-1 mark that was boosted by an impressive 4-2 win over the Penguins on Tuesday, highlighted by a two goal, two assist performance from MVP Taylor Hall, got John Hynes’ club a much needed victory following a brutal road trip that produced one win in seven games. On the road, they’re a dismal 1-7-0. That can’t continue.

It’s worth noting that the one victory was over their favorite opponent, Pittsburgh. They dominated the Pens thanks to a symbolic hat trick from inspirational leader Brian Boyle. Fully recovered from cancer, the proud veteran recorded his first career hat trick on Hockey Fights Cancer night in Pittsburgh. It was meant to be like a higher power. Boyle has six goals so far, going above and beyond for New Jersey. An injury has him on the injured list. 2015 first round pick Pavel Zacha was recalled with the injury bug also hitting top center Nico Hischier. Zacha remains without a point so far. At some point, he needs to prove he can play at this level. Especially given some of the players taken after him in that draft.

Kyle Palmieri has been terrific pacing the club in goals (10), power play goals (5) and game-winners (2). Hall may finally be finding his ’17-18 form with the four points moving him up to 19 (9-10-19) for the season. Hischier is 3-9-12 so far in 15 games. He can play better. The Devs have to be pleased with the performances of Travis Zajac (7-6-13), Damon Severson (3-9-12), Blake Coleman (5 markers) and Jean-Sebastian Dea (3-2-5). With Jesper Bratt (2 assists) recently returning, they need more from Marcus Johansson, Miles Wood, Sami Vatanen and Will Butcher. Is Keith Kinkaid the answer in goal with Cory Schneider still struggling, or does Hynes find a way to re-establish Schneider?

While it’s the land of confusion in the Metro, the Atlantic Division is clearly better. So far, the Lightning and Maple Leafs are right where they belong due to star power, balanced scoring, elite blueliners and steady goaltending. Even without Auston Matthews, Toronto boasts John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly with the lethal trio a big part of a high wire act in support of Frederik Andersen. The Bolts do it with more balance thanks to emerging stars Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde, who support scary combo Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. With Victor Hedman back healthy and Ryan McDonagh performing well along with J.T. Miller and starter Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa is a handful.

The real surprises are the play of the improved Sabres and Canadiens, who could be starting to dip without ace defenseman Shea Weber. He’s due back soon, which could aid a struggling defense unable to help Carey Price, or Antti Niemi. Buffalo could have more staying power due to the dynamic duo of Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner. They are dominating with vet Jason Pominville. Now that Sam Reinhardt and Casey Mittlestadt are starting to come alive, Buffalo could be even better than expected. Especially if both Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark continue to play well. We are still waiting for a good stretch from top pick Rasmus Dahlin.

The Bruins are about where we expected. It’s just odd how important Jaro Halak has become due to off ice issues with Tuukka Rask. Now that he’s returned, figure him to get back into form. The top line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand continues to dominate. Pastrnak leads everyone with 17 goals while Bergeron is in the top five in scoring. Keep an eye on sophomore Jake DeBrusk, who popped two more goals in last night’s 6-3 loss at Colorado. If Zdeno Chara misses time, that’ll hurt.

Since Roberto Luongo returned, the Panthers are quietly back to winning games. Luongo is the key to Florida along with Sasha Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov, Keith Yandle and Vincent Trocheck, who’s yet to get going. Mike Hoffman has been a huge addition with his current 13-game point streak matching Pavel Bure for the franchise record.

Even Detroit has recovered from a poor start thanks to the play of Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Gustav Nyquist and Mike Green. Give them credit. Ottawa isn’t that bad due to stars Mark Stone and Matt Duchene playing for contracts. Thomas Chabot is everything I thought he was when he starred for Canada in the World Juniors, and Brady Tkachuk is the real deal. Ryan Dzingel continues to score goals.

While parity remains, the Predators are playing lights out. Written off by many pundits due to Winnipeg and the Sharks adding the underwhelming Erik Karlsson, Nashville is the best team so far. Vezina winner Pekka Rinne could repeat. Roman Josi has been superb as have Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and P.K. Subban. They have plenty of balance up front and on D. It’s just whether they can get it done next Spring.

The West is so tough with uber talented teams such as the high scoring Jets and streaky Sharks to contend with. Winnipeg remains scary due to the combination of forwards Mark Schiefele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Nik Ehlers, along with rover Dustin Byfuglien. Connor Hellebuyck has yet to match the level he was at last year.

You have second tier contenders Minnesota and Colorado with the latter boasting the best scoring line in the sport. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog torched the Bruins on Wednesday, combining for eight points (3-5-8) in their three-goal home win. With a goal and two helpers, Rantanen is up to a league-leading 29 points (7-22-29). He was taken tenth overall in 2015 behind Zacha. MacKinnon (12-14-26) is tied with Oilers wizard Connor McDavid (10-16-26) for second along with Bergeron (9-17-26). Pastrnak (17-8-25) rounds out the top five. If the Avalanche continue to get strong netminding from Semyon Varlamov along with improved offense from Alex Kerfoot and Sam Girard, they could be a handful.

There are questions surrounding Alberta rivals Edmonton and Calgary. The Oilers boast the game’s best player in McDavid, who teamed with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, are scary. Do they have enough secondary scoring and defense to reach the playoffs? What about the odd goalie situation with Mikko Koskinen having one less win (4) in five starts than starter Cam Talbot (5) in 13 starts?

The Flames will go as far as their potent offense led by Johnny Gaudreau will take them. Even with the addition of Elias Lindholm, and the return to form from Mark Giordano, they can’t rely on starter Mike Smith. Virtual unknown David Rittich has performed better.

The most exciting team is the Canucks led by Calder front-runner Elias Pettersson. He’s a special talent. The gifted Swede is so good with the puck, he makes you reimagine images of Peter Forsberg. It’s hard to believe the Canucks got him at number five overall in 2017. The Rangers had him ranked number one on their list, but had to settle for Lias Andersson. Petterson is a breathtaking player worth the price of admission. It’s too bad Brock Boeser is injured again. So is Sven Baertschi. With a core featuring Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Boeser and soon Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko, things are looking up in Vancouver. Just don’t expect them to sustain their current level. The record is misleading. If only Jacob Markstrom were a NHL caliber starter.

Dallas boasts gifted rookie Miro Heiskanen. Taken third overall in the same draft, the Finnish defenseman is sure to improve in his first season. He will be leaned on with top D John Klingberg out. The Stars remain a top heavy team due to Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov. Is Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin good enough to get them back in the postseason?

The Blues have the talent up front by adding former Sabre Ryan O’Reilly to a nucleus that includes Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn. But even with depth additions David Perron, Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon, it comes down to Jake Allen in net. Chad Johnson has never been a starter. They should be a playoff team.

If the Golden Knights can continue to get consistent production from future power forward Alex Tuch, that’ll take some pressure off the top line of William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault. Without Paul Stastny and Erik Haula, they need more from Max Pacioretty. Cody Eakin provided a lift with two goals in a laugher over the woeful Ducks. Nate Schmidt is due back soon. Marc-Andre Fleury recorded career shutout number 51.

I’m not sure how good the Coyotes are. They won’t win consistently until Antti Raanta returns. Darcy Kuemper isn’t good enough. Since he returned, Alex Galchenyuk has been good. However, Max Domi has been great for Montreal leading them in scoring with 22 points. A change of scenery works sometimes. It’s one of those trades that’ll be good for both sides. I’m not sure I would’ve invested so much money in oft-injured defenseman Jakob Chychrun. Only 20, he has the talent, but remains unproven. He better stay healthy. Michael Grabner has been a spark plug with three of his four goals coming shorthanded. He, Brad Richardson and Derek Stepan have combined for eight of the Coyotes’ league best nine shorthanded goals. For a lowscoring team, it’s uncanny. They’ll need more production five-on-five from Stepan and Clayton Keller. Dylan Strome only has two goals and three assists so far. They need some of the kids to step up. Still no Christian Dvorak either.

BODY CHECKS

*I’ve never seen Martin Brodeur so nervous as he was during his Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Normally so calm, cool and collected, the legendary netminder who holds records in wins (691), shutouts (125), games played (1,266) along with three Stanley Cups, four Vezinas and two Olympic gold medals, was clearly very emotional making his speech on Monday in Toronto. Reduced to tears when reflecting on how much his Dad Denis and Mom Mireille meant to him, the popular Devils legend thanked them along with his wife, kids and brothers. He made special mention of teammates Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko for what the bond they shared together in winning three Cups for New Jersey. Those defensemen helped define a remarkable era of Devils hockey under Lamoriello and former coaches Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson and Pat Burns.

While he didn’t mention every teammate probably due to anxiety, it was interesting to see the human side of a great champion who never blinked in clutch moments. From the opposite end of the Hudson rivalry, I always appreciated what Brodeur brought. First with Mike Richter and then with Lundqvist, who interestingly enough, he admitted he enjoys watching now that he’s retired. Congrats to him on a well deserved honor.

*Also joining Marty was Martin St. Louis. A classic overachiever who never gave up on his childhood dream to make the NHL, the former Hart winner became a great player for the Lightning, helping lead them to their only championship in ’03-04 under coach John Tortorella, who he credited for believing in him. St. Louis scored his biggest goal in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final at Calgary to send the series back to Tampa where a pair of goals from Ruslan Fedotenko clinched the Cup. He praised his centers that included Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and current Lightning captain Stamkos.

While he only spent a short time here in the Big Apple, St. Louis gave a special shout-out to the Rangers for making him feel so welcome, especially during tough circumstances with the passing of his Mom France during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. I’ll never forget the goal he scored on Mother’s Day at a loud MSG in a Game Six win over the Pens. I knew they would win Game Seven and finally get the monkey off their back. It was fitting that St. Louis had a hand in Richards’ series clinching goal. Almost as if it were fate. That whole run was amazing and due in large part to the kind of emotional leader Marty was. Even though they fell short that year and the next, those will forever be two memorable Springs for this loyal Blueshirt fan.

*I don’t have much to add about commissioner Gary Bettman. While I understand why he’s in, all I can think of are the three work stoppages along with skipping the recent Olympics. He’s been non-committal to 2022. There are positives and negatives with him. He’s certainly grown the game globally with expansion and popular games in Europe along with the money grab, Winter Classic and other Stadium Series. But he still remains an unpopular figure who gets booed when presenting the Cup. It’s become a punch line with Bettman playing the bad guy with his dry sense of humor. No wonder he was a lawyer.

*I wish I could add more on the other two inductees as players, but I don’t know enough about either. I know Larry Brooks made it for his many contributions as a writer and hockey columnist. At least we didn’t have to see him speak. He’s definitely not afraid to critique the league, frequently going after Bettman and Seventh Avenue. I wonder if he and the commissioner are on good terms. Brooks is a lifer. I’ll say that. Some of his Sunday Slap Shots columns that appear in The New York Post are good. Then there are other moments where he pushes the envelope like he did that one time with Wade Redden, which annoyed Tortorella. It led to this memorable moment:

They did hash things out afterwards. Two crazy characters. Hockey needs those. That’s why I watch Don Cherry and Ron MacLean on Coach’s Corner. The same reason I loved Stan Fischler and got him after interning. Personality is something the game doesn’t always have.

*Before he retired from the NHL to go home and finish his career playing for St. Petersburg SKA in Russia, Pavel Datsyuk was my favorite overall player. No explanation necessary. Now, it’s Patrice Bergeron for the same reasons. Neither will ever win a scoring title or MVP/Pearson. They don’t have to. They’re both so special overall as complete two-way centers who do everything well. Both have multiple Selke Trophies and are defined by the quality players they are. Datsyuk an integral part of Detroit’s last two Cups and runner-up when he was hurt in the classic series rematch seven-game loss to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin Penguins. Bergeron a key part of the Bruins’ only Cup since Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito headlined the Boston outfit in the early 70’s. Bergeron and the Bruins fell short a couple of years later in a six-game loss to the Patrick Kane/Jonathan Toews Blackhawks. Both are future Hall of Famers.

*Players who somehow have been kept out of the HHOF: Alexander Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick, Sergei Zubov, Steve Larmer. All deserve inclusion.

*John Gibson is probably the best puck stopper in the game. Too bad his team isn’t good in front of him. If it were, he’d win the Vezina.

*Congrats to Jumbo Joe Thornton on scoring number 400 in a exciting Sharks’ 5-4 win over the Predators in San Jose. He joins an exclusive group of all-time greats who reached 400 goals and 1,000 assists.

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Game #16 – Devils 4, Penguins 2

After a disasterous 1-6 road trip (with a whopping 34 goals allowed, I might add!) dropped the Devils under .500, I can’t say I was feeling too confident in any type of bounceback while making my trek to the Rock last night.  Even if we were facing the rival Pens, who we managed our lone road win against in a desultory game for them last week.  Along with the Devils playing poorly, they also had to deal with a couple of injuries to the center position – Nico Hischier being day-to-day with a wrist issue while Brian Boyle got put on IR after running into the machine known as Dustin Byfuglien in Winnipeg.  Two of our top four centers being out neccesitated a quick recall of Pavel Zacha, who – while he’d been reportedly been playing better in Binghamton – still hasn’t scored a goal at either level this year.

Given this backdrop, Travis Zajac’s quick goal less than thirty seconds into the game was more of a welcome surprise for me than anything else, and maybe a bit of a panacea for the team who played some of their best hockey of the season the first twelve-fifteen minutes of the first period.  Of course I didn’t think this was going to be as easy as the game in Pittsburgh and sure enough, all it took was the Penguin power play showing off its skill to even the match, with Sidney Crosby threading the needle with a pass through Andy Greene’s legs that was deflected home by Phil Kessel (with an assist from defenseman Ben Lovejoy).  Crosby and Kessel were to prove pivotal in both that goal, and seperate contreversial events still to come.

With the game tied, momentum swung back Pittsburgh’s way, but Keith Kinkaid held the fort down again the way he did during last season’s stretch drive until the MVP started to make his presence felt.  Taylor Hall already had the primary assist on Zajac’s goal, but his pass to a wide open Damon Severson on the Devils’ second goal was more of a classic ‘assist’, and after Severson ripped the puck home you should see Hall’s excitement for the defenseman getting his third of the season.  Compare and contrast that goal reaction with the ho-hum businesslike approach of Zajac’s goal in Toronto!

After re-taking the lead the Devils played better though not quite as dominantly as in the first, and were fortunate after they gave up a shorthanded two-on-one when Kinkaid made a tremendous double save on Bryan Rust, sweeping his glove back after the initial save to keep the puck from trickling over the line.  For their part the Devils could have extended the lead but Miles Wood could not corral the puck when all alone in front of Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith, and was likely distracted by the goaltender’s poke-check attempt.  They really should have extended the lead in the final two minutes of the period when an unfortunate series of events confused the heck out of seemingly everyone in the arena, especially me.

All I really saw was Will Butcher’s tremendous stretch pass finding an open Jesper Bratt who stayed onside according to the near official, and beat DeSmith for a breakaway goal.  Well okay I did see Kessel jumping Brett Seney behind the play but figured they at least let us play advantage the way they do in soccer.  I did not hear the stupid quick whistle that replays showed went off as Butcher’s pass was finding its mark.  Clearly nobody on the ice heard the whistle from the far side of the ice and with the crowd buzzing during Bratt’s breakaway chance some of us in the stands didn’t either.  I didn’t even notice the officials waving off the goal and was celebrating as the PA guy ran the entire goal song.  A nice Penguins fan sitting next to me quietly pointed out they disallowed the goal and I was incredulous.

Honestly it took a few minutes for both of us to catch up to what the hell happened.  He thought it might have been an offside, then I thought they were dinging us for a penalty.  Technically there was a penalty on Seney (how?!  He got jumped!) and having simaltenous penalties stopped the play, but since Kessel committed a double minor we actually got what turned out to be a meaningless power play out of the bargain.  Yet even the more aware Penguin fan next to me didn’t realize it was a Devils power play and thought there were too many men on the ice for a faceoff towards the end of it.  Strange sequence.  Perhaps even diabolical too, it seems unfair that Kessel could jump Seney and because the player was defending himself it canceled out a legitimate breakaway chance.

Or maybe the refs were just looking for an excuse to cut the NHL’s golden team a break.  It sure looked that way in the third period after another contreversial goal decision went the Penguins’ way.  This time it was on a play where (who else?) Crosby that gained a step on Blake Coleman and drove to the net.  Crosby’s initial shot was stopped but he lost control and took out Kinkaid with a slide, leaving the goalie defenseless to stop Jake Guentzel’s rebound putback.  Honestly I thought that was just an unfortunate break before seeing the replay, but Crosby made no attempt to stop and lost his footing.  At the very least the goal should have been ruled out for incidential contact but NOOOOO…this is the NHL and this is the Penguins.

Toronto and the refs’ excuse was that Coleman shoved Crosby, causing the contact.  Horsecrap…yes he did shove Crosby before the shot (basically with the force that a first-grader shoving anyone would provide) but that had absolutely nothing to do with him falling down or losing control.  Again it was just a convenient excuse to play favorites.  Even the nice Penguins fan next to me knew that was horsecrap and should have been disallowed.  Mine and the rest of the crowd’s sense of injustice was now keyed up, although in my case it manifested in sarcastic laughing more than actual anger.  I’ve seen this movie before, after all.

Now tied 2-2 where it should have been 3-1 Devils, the team at least showed a sense of resolve it hadn’t for much of the season, and it was the mighty Hall who gave the Devils back their lead on a breakaway goal just four minutes later.  Even the Devils’ Facebook feed was trolling the refs with their post showing the Hall goal.

When sometimes it looks like it’s #NJDvsEverbody, don’t get mad or get even.  Get the lead.

#NJDvsEverybody indeed.  I almost lost it late in the game when in the final two minutes Patrik Hornqvist was crying for a delay of game on Joey Anderson, and I probably wasn’t the only one thinking or saying ‘you’ve gotten enough breaks tonight ****head, be quiet’.  At least I had a more reasonable Penguins fan next to me than my friend sitting a few rows in front, whose fiancee is a Penguins fan (while she’s obviously a Devils fan).  While a nice guy in normal settings evidently he fits the stereotype of a spoiled Pens fan during games whose team can do nothing wrong.  Which I’m sure makes for an interesting dynamic during these Devil-Penguin games.

Thankfully for one night it had a 2017-18 feel at the Rock again, and it wasn’t the refs or the Penguins who’d have the last word – it was the Devils themselves, who after several anxious minutes finally sealed up the game with a Hall empty-netter in a finish befitting the pregame commemoration of the franchise’s greatest (Martin Brodeur) being inducted into the Hall of Fame last night.  Marty gave a short, but emotional speech on Monday that made Dick Vermeil look emotionally restrained.  Oh I kid cause I love.  No speech last night, but instead a spotlight at center ice before an honorary pre-game faceoff with Crosby, who got the predictable boos raining down from the skies.

Overall a fun night, and my own record at home is surprisingly 3-0 this season (the Devils themselves are 6-1-1 at home, though that includes the overseas game and 1-7 on the road).  Hopefully last night’s game and the emotional way the team won it serves as a springboard to start turning things around.

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Game #18: The kids get it done in deserved 2-1 Rangers win over Canucks

The kids are alright. A classic Beatles song is the perfect way to describe a Rangers 2-1 win over the Canucks at MSG. On a emotional night the organization paid tribute to all the men and women who served on Veteran’s Day, the team persevered to earn a hard fought one-goal victory on home ice.

In improving to 9-7-2, the rebuilding Rangers find themselves in second place in the Metropolitan Division. They have done it with good effort and sticking with it. There were some ugly moments in the game with the Canucks taking advantage of a mistake to take the lead. They nearly doubled it on another turnover, but Michael Del Zotto had his goal over turned due to his shot ringing off both goalposts and staying out. That kind of sums up his career.

Credit must be given to Cody McLeod, who fought Darren Archibald following Nikolay Goldobin’s first goal since opening night for Vancouver. McLeod not only won the fight, but had a strong message for his teammates. He yelled at them to wake up and said, “Let’s get going!” That kinda stuff is important to a young team when they’re struggling during a course of a game. They were flat to start the second period and needed a wake-up call.

Sometimes, luck helps. I thought for sure Del Zotto had scored on a good set up. But he hadn’t. That as much as anything helped the Blueshirts turn it around.

There was another key adjustment by the rookie coach that had an impact. Entering the match, David Quinn started rookie Filip Chytil on the fourth line. Ryan Spooner was on the top line and power play. That didn’t sit well with anyone who’s seen Spooner baffle with inconsistent play. Quinn didn’t wait around for Spooner to wake up. Instead, he made the change we all had been calling for. With Mats Zuccarello missing a third consecutive game with a groin issue, up went Chytil to the first line with Mika Zibanejad and Vladislav Namestnikov. Down went Spooner to the fourth line with McLeod and Vinni Lettieri.

Chytil had been the best forward all night. He made things happen, nearly scoring his first goal earlier on a great chance. He also set up a good scoring chance with a nice pass. It was obvious that the 19-year old Czech was hungry for the puck. Finally, on the power play, he made it happen when he pounced on a Neal Pionk rebound to score his first of the season at 12:42 to tie the game. It was well deserved. Chris Kreider and Pionk drew the assists. Kreider screened Jacob Markstrom and Pionk picked up his sixth power play assist.

It definitely turned the tide. The team played with more energy to outshoot the Canucks 10-7 in the second. A period that had lots of action and plenty of grit. There also were a few penalties including a bad one from Zibanejad. But a penalty to Markus Granlund 13 seconds later offset it. He was also called for one later with the team clinging to a one-goal lead. It was a bad call with Jake Virtanen embellishing it to give the Canucks one last chance. Something Steve Valiquette alluded to in the postgame.

In between viewing the Hockey Hall of Fame class on NHL Network with some great speeches from all the inductees including Marty St. Louis, Willie O’Ree and later an emotional and nervous Martin Brodeur, I caught the highlights of two big saves. Markstrom denied a Kreider bid on a break, and Henrik Lundqvist stoned lethal Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson from the right circle. Petterson may have been kept off the score sheet, but man is he fun to watch. Remarkably, he was at the top of the Rangers’ list in the 2017 NHL Draft with Lias Andersson second. If only he had slipped two more spots. No disrespect to Andersson, who looks like he’ll be a good one, working his tail off.

The defenses were stingy in the third. There wasn’t a lot of room. Credit to both teams for tightening up. As it turned out, the game-winner came from another young player with under nine minutes left.

Brett Howden has been nothing short of brilliant in his rookie season. While not as gifted as Pettersson, the do everything center does so many things well. Quinn and the coaching staff fully trust him to play in any type of situation. Off some hard work from his line, he took a Jimmy Vesey pass and surprised Markstrom with a quick one-timer for his fourth goal to give the Rangers the lead with 8:41 remaining.

Following a abysmal hooking call on Zibanejad with 1:15 left, the Rangers penalty kill got the job done. That included some strong work from Jesper Fast and Marc Staal to get a couple of crucial clears. The four skaters were very disciplined at the end, keeping Vancouver to the outside. Finally, Pettersson gave himself enough room to shoot low into Lundqvist, who also turned aside Bo Horvat on a rebound as time expired.

For Lundqvist, it was a fitting way to tie Jacques Plante in wins (437) for seventh on the NHL all-time list. He finished with 25 saves including stopping all 11 Vancouver shots in the third to preserve the win.

Three Rangers Stars 🌟

3rd 🌟 Henrik Lundqvist 25 saves including 11 of 11 in 3rd to tie Plante for seventh all-time in wins (437), 6-6-2 with a 2.54 GAA and .923 save percentage this season

2nd 🌟 Brett Howden 4th goal of season, game-winner with 8:41 left, +1 in 23 shifts (16:59) including 13:41 even strength, 2:20 power play and 58 seconds shorthanded

1st 🌟 Filip Chytil 1st goal of season on power play, game high 6 shots, 2 takeaways, Even Rating in 18 shifts (14:08) including 11:27 even strength and 2:41 power play

I guess Sam Darnold wanted to see what it’s like to have a good coach in a young rebuild.

Lundqvist climbing the list.

The Rangers rocked camouflage jerseys during warmups in a special Salute to The Troops.

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