Exhibition not worth continuing to watch, Dolan speaks and Buchnevich gets suspended a game, a guest appearance on my friend’s podcast

After two periods of passionless hockey, I’ve opted out. The forty minutes are enough. With the Rangers on their way to a fifth consecutive loss in uncompetitive fashion at Boston trailing 3-0, what’s the point?

Even diehard fans like myself have a breaking point. This is it. Seeing the relentless Bruins have their way by driving the net of poor Igor Shesterkin is mind numbing. It’s exasperating and doesn’t deserve our attention. If you’re a fan of this team, you have to feel ashamed at what you’re seeing. That’s if you haven’t tuned out.

Too many lost battles. Turnovers. No net front presence. Life is so easy for Bruins’ rookie Jeremy Swayman. He’s faced a grand total of seven shots in two periods. That included a 19-3 edge in shots from Boston during a listless second period. Mindless hockey. Granted. You have a few new faces thrown to the wolves including Jonny Brodzinski and Tim Gettinger. It’s not easy on the eyes like an IG model.

It’s really hard to gauge anything in these final two games. You have mindless Mika hardly noticeable during most shifts. He recently was with Colin Blackwell and Vitali Kravtsov, who came the closest to scoring until a great hustle play by Charlie McAvoy prevented an open net goal. Kravtsov has been visible along with the fourth line. So have Zac Jones and Adam Fox, who’s being forced to play too many minutes. Exactly why his production has dropped off. He should still be up for the Norris.

Without Chris Kreider, Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren, there’s no physical presence in the lineup. With apologies to the hardworking Players Player Brendan Smith, who deserves to return, it’s not enough. Libor Hajek has also continued to show improvement. I’d like to see him back. Shesterkin has not had much of a chance on the Bruins’ three goals. Two one-timers from Patrice Bergeron and McAvoy. Plus a clean breakaway by Jake DeBrusk.

It’s been another rough night for K’Andre Miller. He turned over the puck twice and has been caught on for two goals against. That included a misplay that David Krejci intercepted and wisely used the side boards to make a lead pass for a DeBrusk goal that made it 3-0. It’s not 4-0. How pathetic. Speaking of which, the shots were 28-7 entering the third.

Pavel Buchnevich was suspended a game for his cross check on Anthony Mantha that resulted in a major and game misconduct last night. I have no issue with it except for the ridiculous hypocrisy of NHL Player Safety. So, they won’t punish Tom Wilson, who’s a repeat offender. But will ban Buchnevich for one game when he had no reputation. Unbelievable. He had every right to slash Wilson for the garbage he pulled on Monday. Did he go overboard with Mantha? Sure. I find George Parros as despicable as MSG CEO James Dolan.

Speaking of Dolan, he gave Larry Brooks an exclusive interview in the NY Post. His quotes were very accurate. Even if Glen Sather was in his ear, Dolan labeled the disconnect that this roster had. It wasn’t constructed well. They sure have plenty of skating and skill, but lack enough will. It can’t only be the same few character guys (Kreider, Lindgren, Smith, Trouba). I’ll also mention Ryan Strome, Kevin Rooney and Brett Howden as guys who deserve credit for how hard they play. Ditto for Phil Di Giuseppe stepping in and fighting in that line brawl.

Given the influx of talent the young nucleus boasts thanks to lottery picks Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko, there’s plenty of reasons to be excited. When you include Kravtsov, Fox, Filip Chytil (even though I’m on the fence), Miller and Jones, what’s not to like? Don’t forget Shesterkin, Barron with Nils Lundkvist close to becoming a Ranger. That youth needs team toughness. They can’t get pushed around. That includes star Artemi Panarin, who has the rest of the season off.

I’m not suggesting bringing in a goon like Ryan Reaves. That isn’t what’s needed. You need hard grinders like Blake Coleman or Casey Cizikas to compete in this league. Accountable players who can provide the nuts and bolts. Imagine Brandon Tanev on this roster. Instead, he’s a Pen. Teams need that kind of combination of grit and skill. With new Team President and GM Chris Drury introduced at a press conference this morning, he sounds prepared to do what’s necessary to improve the roster. If the playoffs are the goal next year, then it should be an intriguing off-season. Drury was noncommittal to David Quinn. A Boston guy like himself. We’ll see what happens.

As for Drury, here’s some of what he told reporters thanks to Mollie Walker.

What Drury said is on point. They’ve accomplished what they set out to do in The Rebuild. Now, it’s time to put together a more complete roster that’s ready to compete over an 82-game schedule. One that won’t under achieve. The postseason is a must. They’ve built it back up. Credit goes out to Gorton and Davidson for key moves that improved the team for the future. The trades for Zibanejad, Strome, Lindgren. The trade to select Miller and acquire Trouba, who’s been severely missed despite all the gripes about his salary. Landing Fox from Carolina for a pair of second round picks. Having Lafreniere and Kakko fall into their lap. Of course, signing Panarin. How instrumental was JD? It’s hard to believe he’s gone. Sam Rosen must be heartbroken for his friend.

Walker hosts Up In The Blue Seats Rangers podcast with Ron Duguay. They had former enforcer and native Staten Islander Nick Fotiu on as a guest. You can listen on Spotify or Apple. I will afterwards.

The accolades for Walker and Brooks are true. They do a great job covering the team. This has not been a normal situation. From the COVID restrictions to the sudden dismissals of Gorton and Davidson, Walker admitted she was working on no sleep earlier today. That’s the kind of dedication these reporters have. Walker getting to interview Stan Fischler was a treat last week. Like me, she also interned for The Maven. A legend who long ago should’ve been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. What a shame. He’s a great man who now lives in Israel with his grandchildren. He still has the enthusiasm for the sport. The Fischler Report still is published along with his Java. I have nothing but love and admiration for Stan. It was thanks to him that I worked production truck for the Devils and then wound up at ESPN. Great times. Especially those production meetings with Stan telling the corny joke.

A brief summary of what Dolan told Brooks as to why now. He indicated that he’d been mulling it over for about 20 to 25 games. He noticed the same thing many of us did about this team. They were disjointed and lacked a key ingredient good teams must have to reach the playoffs. The truth is neither Gorton or Davidson addressed it after the Hurricanes’ humiliation. They were badly exposed. Bringing in Rooney was a solid addition. But more was needed and that must be addressed this summer. No excuses.

Dolan also admitted that those huge Islanders games were big. How could they not have been a factor in the decision to let go of two good hockey guys? They lost 6-1, 3-0 and 4-0. That is inexcusable. You cannot do that against your number one rival, who doesn’t have the talent they do. But is way harder to play against. They took away Zibanejad, Panarin, Strome, Buchnevich without breaking a sweat. Even Fox struggled. Semyon Varlamov pitched four shutouts. That’s absurd.

What all boils down to is this team isn’t there yet. They’ve now been shutout in three of their last five games. They lost 4-0. They weren’t shutout once last season. They’ve gone backwards. That can’t be overlooked. As easy as it is to criticize Dolan and his advisor Sather, which is nuts, they’re not wrong. Even former Stanley Cup hero Mark Messier got in on the act by critiquing the way the roster was constructed. He referenced needing to win in the back alleys. That’s what it takes to be successful in this brutal sport.

It isn’t like the old days when you had enforcers everywhere fighting all the time. It isn’t the era of Howe or Messier with the elbows up. Nor is it the era of the Broad Street Bullies or the 80’s and 90’s. There’s a lot more legislation despite the NHL incompetence. As far as fining the Rangers $250,000, whatever. You can’t go after a league employee the way Dolan did with Parros and expect to get off light. He doesn’t mind paying the penalty. It needed to be said. Even if there might’ve been a disagreement with Gorton and Davidson on putting out the statement. That’s not why they’re gone.

Nights like last Thursday and Saturday are why. Monday’s embarrassment is why. Sather liked the response by the team last night. A line brawl. Six fights in total. 100 penalty minutes combined in a wild first period. So did Drury. The truth is hockey guys love that part of the game. It’s not something we see often anymore. But there’s a time and a place for it. I thought the refs did an outstanding job keeping control of that game. They handed out misconducts and didn’t allow it to get out of hand. Kudos. The best officiated game all season was one with a crazy amount of penalties.

There is nothing left to add. If you want more on my view of the Rangers, please don’t hesitate to listen to me as a guest on friend Madison Miller’s Podcast. Plenty was covered including our speculation on Quinn and the off-season. Check it out below or find it on Spotify and Apple.

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Line Brawl highlights Fight Night at Garden as gutty Blueshirts respond to Wilson and Caps, Oshie hat trick deals a fourth consecutive loss

A full penalty box for the Rangers typified a spirited first period in getting some retribution on Caps’ forward Tom Wilson. There were six fights and 100 combined penalty minutes in the first. A 4-2 loss on home ice. AP Photo via Getty Images

The talk all day centered around what would happen following the ridiculous antics of Tom Wilson in an ugly loss on Monday. On just a wild and wacky Wednesday that saw both John Davidson and Jeff Gorton lose their jobs in stunning fashion, the Blueshirts showed a lot of guts against the tougher Caps.

Highlighted by a line brawl one second in that eerily reminded many of the classic line brawl the Rangers engaged in against the Devils in March 2012, they stood up to Wilson and the Caps. Players you wouldn’t expect to fight did. From the opening face-off, it was pandemonium at the World’s Most Vaccinated on 33rd and 8th Avenue. Kevin Rooney took on Nic Dowd at center ice. Colin Blackwell battled Carl Hagelin. The biggest surprise was Phil Di Giuseppe giving Caps tough guy Garnet Hathaway a good bout. The crowd loved it.

Of course, the fisticuffs weren’t done. In a crazy first period highlighted by six fights which crowded each team’s penalty box with 12 players combined, it was Brendan Smith who obliged a willing Wilson. He knew it was coming. A tough comer, he was held accountable for his actions on Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin, who is sitting out the last three games due to an injury. Smith isn’t in Wilson’s league. However, he hung in there and took his lumps. It was something the Players Player expected.

Even with Wilson off for fighting, it wasn’t done. This was old time hockey. As much redundant complaining as Pierre McGuire made alongside Kenny Albert due to the ridiculous NBC Sports Crapwork Network narrative about how the clueless George Parros didn’t suspend Wilson, this was always happening. It didn’t matter if the polarizing Caps’ power forward dressed. There had to be a strong response.

Even Anthony Bitetto got into the act when he went with Michael Raffl. It continued with Ryan Strome showing his true character by going with Lars Eller. He gave up a couple of inches, but did well by getting the take-down. Fight number six demonstrated that Strome backed up his words on the lack of supplementary discipline. He is a gamer. We’ve seen him stand up for teammates. A good quality.

In total, the six fighting majors combined with an instigator on Smith along with a misconduct largely contributed to 100 combined penalty minutes in the memorable first period. Both Rooney and Wilson also earned misconducts due to Pavel Buchnevich taking a whack at an incensed Wilson. Buchnevich was physically involved. In a career year, he was more interested in jousting with several Caps. It didn’t end either with him responding to a few Anthony Mantha taps by deliberately cross-checking him in the face to earn a five-minute major and game misconduct. It was part of an ugly night that also saw Buchnevich take consecutive stick fouls (slashing/hi-sticking) late in the first. He totaled 19 penalty minutes to earn an early exit.

Somewhat curiously, Wilson didn’t return for the second due to what the Caps termed an upper body injury. Was it really or did Washington coach Peter Laviolette feel his team would’ve been better off without the Wilson distraction? He heard plenty of jeers from a fired up crowd of 1,800 who sounded like a lot more. While it’s true he landed against Smith, he did take a slash from a fiery Buchnevich in the upper body. Maybe they decided to sit him out as a precaution. Especially with Alex Ovechkin unable to play after only taking one shift Monday before leaving. A playoff team, their health is more important than a meaningless game at MSG. One that had plenty of significance for the Rangers, who played their final home game. They lost their last three.

In truth, the Rangers didn’t play good enough. As far as the hockey portion, a lousy second period where they only had three shots on goal, allowed T.J. Oshie to score two power play goals. Oshie returned after missing Monday’s game due to the passing of his Dad. On an emotional night of rough stuff, Oshie led the Caps to a 4-2 victory by recording his fourth career hat trick. That included an empty net goal with 1:40 left in regulation. It was followed with an emotional moment with Nick Backstrom giving him a hug on the bench. He’s one of those honest hockey players that isn’t detestable like Wilson and some other Caps. Getting the hat trick was special for his Dad.

Oshie’s pair of power play goals came due to Buchnevich penalties. The first was 12 seconds into the second period. On it, Brendan Dillon made a good outlet pass for Oshie, who broke in and used Conor Sheary as a decoy before fooling Alex Georgiev with a shot through the wickets for a 1-0 lead. His second tally came after the Buchnevich idiocy where he used his stick on Mantha like a weapon. This time, Oshie outmaneuvered Adam Fox to steer in a Dmitry Orlov rebound for his 20th at 8:26.

With absolutely nothing happening from the Rangers’ side, a face-off win from Nic Dowd back to Orlov resulted in a John Carlson point shot that Dowd was able to deflect past Georgiev for a 3-0 lead at 14:48. This was a simple play that started with Dowd beating Strome clean. It is another example of how inept the Blueshirts are on defensive draws. Dowd just got to the spot to tip in a Carlson shot for his 11th.

The shots in the dismal second favored the Caps, 14 to 3. Sadly, I knew that was the total because the shot total in the first was 11. It barely moved. The play wasn’t inspired. Even if they showed the exact fire necessary to retaliate for Monday’s shenanigans, the foolishness of Buchnevich seemed to take whatever momentum out of them. The Caps were better at attacking and took advantage of bad penalties while outshooting the Rangers 14-3. Three Damn Shots. It reminded me of that classic scene from Major League where Bob Uecker goes off about the Indians lack of hits.

On a night where plenty of Blueshirts showed up, one key player was a ghost literally speaking. Mika Zibanejad did his usual disappearing act against a good opponent. I can’t remember one good shift. He was Missing Mika. A phrase I can’t take credit for. I’ll give it to Sean McCaffrey of bluecollarblueshirts.com. He has some good nicknames. As much as I like Zibanejad, there are too many shifts where you don’t notice him. This isn’t about the production. It’s about consistency. New Team President and GM Chris Drury has a very tough decision to make regarding Zibanejad either this summer or next year. He will face similar decisions on Buchnevich and Strome.

As bad as the second was, at least they didn’t get shutout by Vitek Vanecek. A good play started from Zac Jones up to Filip Chytil allowed the center to find a wide open Alexis Lafreniere for an easy finish into an open side for his 11th at 1:15. It was some excellent passing from both Jones and Chytil to find Lafreniere, who continues to improve. There’s brighter days ahead for the 19-year old teenager.

Despite Vitaly Kravtsov doing some good things offensively along with Kaapo Kakko, the Rangers never came any closer. At least they played a respectable third against a shorthanded Caps, who were down one skater entering due to more Evgeny Kuznetsov nonsense. I wouldn’t be shocked if they trade him during the summer. He doesn’t seem to be as emotionally invested.

There was still some edge. You had Hathaway try to get at K’Andre Miller. Miller was fortunate not to suffer a severe injury. His leg collided with Mantha which sent him down awkwardly. It looked serious. But he was able to return, only missing one shift. He will need to improve his skating and defensive awareness. He’s definitely missed dependable partner Jacob Trouba.

You also had Oshie tapping rookie Morgan Barron after a good defensive play. Nothing came of it. Barron had a good game. Playing in the fourth line role, he scored his first NHL goal after Oshie netted the empty netter for his hat trick. On the scoring play, Libor Hajek passed for Jones, who made a great feed in the slot for a Barron wrist shot that beat Vanecek with 1:16 remaining. Jones scooped up the puck for Barron. A pretty cool moment seeing two young players celebrate a milestone. For Jones, the assist gave him first multi-point game of his career. He had two helpers and continues to get better.

As time wound down with some fans chanting, “JD, JD, JD”, for the very popular former Ranger, broadcaster and Team President, it was the final time the Rangers skated off the Garden ice until next season. One that should hopefully prove to be more normal with the anticipated October 12th start date. So, it’ll be a shorter off-season. But a longer postseason followed by the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, NHL Draft and free agency in late July/early August.

It’s hard to believe there’s only two games left on the 56-game schedule. Games 55 and 56 will come versus the Bruins. That’ll include the final game on Saturday afternoon at 3 PM. Thursday night will be the penultimate game. Both will be in Boston. It would be nice to not finish the year on a six-game losing streak. During the current four-game losing skid, the Rangers have been outscored by a combined 17-5. All against playoff teams. If they do go out in a whimper, it’s hard to see Drury retaining David Quinn. Even given their relationship, how can anyone justify keeping him?

That’s a story for another day. It won’t be long before we soon know. What we do is that it’s still important for the kids to keep gaining valuable experience they can take with them into the summer. That way they can better prepare for what’s ahead.


3rd 🌟 Brendan Smith, NYR (fought Wilson, 17 PIM in 13:42 for the Players Player)

2nd 🌟 Zac Jones, NYR (1st career multi-point game with 2 🍎, +2 in 18:40)

1st 🌟 T.J. Oshie, Caps (4th career hat trick, 19th, 20th, 21st goals, 7 SOG, 8 for 10 on face-offs in 22:06)

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Dolan fires Gorton and Davidson in shocker

On the day before the game everyone’s been talking about, both GM Jeff Gorton and Team President John Davidson were fired by MSG CEO James Dolan. It’s a move that’s sent shockwaves through the hockey world.

While both hockey insiders Darren Dreger and Elliotte Friedman speculated that the timing of the firing might have to do with the PR statement the team released yesterday in response to George Parros not suspending Tom Wilson, it sounds like it’s unrelated. In a quick blog Friedman put up, his sources hinted that Dolan had been growing impatient with the rebuild. They have missed the playoffs for a fourth straight year. The Letter went out in February 2018.

Wow! Holy bleeping bleep! If it is indeed the case that the owner who has stayed away from the decision making of the hockey team felt they should be a playoff team, he might have a point. It was right there for the Rangers last week. Beat the rival Islanders twice and they could’ve been a point back. Instead, they were humiliated. Being outscored 7-0 on the heels of a 6-1 Isles’ blowout a week prior couldn’t have sat well. Those three games cost them any shot at making the postseason.

Here’s the bigger question. With Chris Drury tabbed to take over in dual roles as Team President and General Manager, what’s next? There is still a game to play in a couple of hours. The one many were covering. Will the Rangers answer the bell? They’re without Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren for the remainder of the season. Chris Kreider remains out. As everyone knows, Wilson injured star Artemi Panarin to finish his year. If Mason Geertsen isn’t playing, who’s going to go after Wilson? Brendan Smith? There isn’t much toughness on a current roster that’s young.

Here’s the other thing. If Dolan can suddenly dismiss Gorton and the well respected Davidson, who both did a good job rebuilding the roster, what does that mean for coach David Quinn? Is he gone once the last game is played versus Boston? While he has overseen a young roster and done an admirable job, the top players haven’t always seen eye to eye with him stylistically. He has been overly critical for weeks over the East/West style that hasn’t worked against the Islanders. His in game decisions have left some question marks. So too was keeping Julien Gauthier out of the lineup for 14 straight. Will Quinn survive? Is a different voice needed to get this team to the next level?

I’ve always maintained that for as good a guy as Quinn is, eventually it would be a no nonsense coach who guides the team back to the postseason. Maybe Dolan is thinking the same thing. Scary. Nobody trusts him. Not after how bad the Rangers once were. That’s history. Perhaps he sees the great job Tom Thibodeau has done with the Knicks and believes a more experienced coach could get similar results with the Rangers. The talent is there. It’s the other intangibles that aren’t.

If Quinn isn’t retained after the season ends in Boston, who would Drury hire? Two names come to mind. John Tortorella and Gerard Gallant. They are tougher on players and there are consequences when even veterans make mistakes. As much as I like Tortorella, I don’t think he’s the right fit. They’ve been there and done that. On the other hand, I believe Gallant is a very good coach who got raw deals in Florida and Vegas. Of course, this is all speculation. We don’t really know what will happen.

It is very shocking that this happened. On the day of the Rangers’ final home game centered around Caps’ thuggish power forward Tom Wilson, both Gorton and Davidson are sent packing in embarrassing fashion. 😳 If they weren’t already being discussed enough, now the Rangers are front and center.

Dolan has turned up the heat. Who knows what’s in store. Things just got a lot more interesting.

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NHL Player Safety drops the ball on Wilson chaos, Rangers statement isn’t enough

The Rangers are missing a key element that must be corrected by management this off-season. Will they dress Mason Geertsen in the rematch versus the psychotic Tom Wilson and the Caps?

As usual, leave it to NHL Player Safety to drop the ball completely. In one of the most perplexing decisions that lacks any common sense, they fined Tom Wilson $5,000 for the chaos he created during the second period of Monday’s game. So, the known head hunter who had an evil grin after what he did to Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin, gets off easy. Of course he did. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge of “Player Safety.” Business as usual.

It is astonishing that they gave Wilson the maximum fine and completely ignored what he did to Panarin. A player who’s one of the league’s biggest stars got his hair pulled and was rag dolled while being slammed dangerously to the ice by an out of control lunatic. Imagine if Wilson pulled this nonsense with a good old Canadian boy like Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby. There would be serious repercussions.

The Rangers responded to the ridiculous ruling by George Parros by calling him out in a very pointed statement. It was released on their official Twitter account. Here’s what was said below.

I have no problem with the statement they put out. It’s about time someone calls out the joke that is NHL Player Safety. Here’s the thing. Does anyone think it will change? I don’t believe so. How many times can a repeat offender such as Wilson run roughshod before he seriously hurts someone or even worse? The league doesn’t give a damn about protecting its players. That’s the true shame of it all. Yet another black eye for hockey. No wonder it isn’t covered as much as the other major sports. However, when cheap shots like the ones Wilson delivered on Buchnevich and Panarin happen, the NHL is front and center for the wrong reasons.

Whatever you feel towards Wilson, who surely deserved a lengthy suspension for his latest assault on the ice, this is also about the brutal nature of the sport. It’s why it’s still important for the players to police themselves. Even with the instigator and officials abusing the misconduct penalty which sure wasn’t sufficient enough on Monday night, it’s up to the NHL teams to have enough sandpaper on their roster to address such thuggery. There’s no place in the game for what Wilson did. It’s unacceptable that no Ranger went after him. That is an indictment on the one dimensional roster they have. That must change before next season.

It’s my contention that this wouldn’t have happened if Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren and Chris Kreider were dressed for Game 53 of 56. Wilson knew he could run around and not face the consequences. With his team trailing by a goal on a penalty kill, he decided to take matters into his own hands. On the scrum where Buchnevich poked away at Vitek Vanecek in search of a rebound, that’s commonplace in hockey. There usually is a strong response from players defending their goalie. What isn’t is an unhinged Wilson taking down Buchnevich and punching the defenseless player. Then turning Panarin into a doll after he showed more guts than brains by jumping on Wilson. The end result was a despicable tug of Panarin’s hair and an unwarranted cheap shot that could’ve severely injured him.

Wilson is a loose cannon who clearly has anger management issues. Even after serving a seven-game ban for his ferocious hit on Boston defenseman Brandon Carlo that concussed him, the 27-year old who admitted that he has to tone it down, remains a ticking time bomb. Having been fined multiple times and suspended five times including serving 14 games of an original 20-game ban for his dangerous head shot on Oskar Sundqvist during the preseason, it’s impossible to defend his actions. While he is an effective power forward who is a key part of the Capitals, Wilson must be made accountable for his actions. If the Department of NHL Player Safety won’t do it, then it’s up to the Rangers to respond. They can recall tough defenseman Mason Geertsen for Wednesday night’s eight and final meeting against the Caps. David Quinn didn’t tip his hand following practice.

Judging off the current roster without Kreider, Lindgren, Trouba and now Panarin, the team has an empty spot to fill for the rematch. It would make perfect sense to dress Geertsen and have him settle the score with Wilson. Outside of Brendan Smith, they lack the kind of sandpaper needed to handle a Wilson or Matt Martin, whose elbow on Mika Zibanejad early on in a recent game, prompted no response. Why would there be? This is how the current roster is constructed. Team President John Davidson should be paying attention. This can’t continue in Year Four of the Rebuild. The ’21-22 season must be all about qualifying for the playoffs. That also means being able to adjust their style to deal with the grind and grit of the Islanders, who took the final three meetings by a combined 13-1 score. It also means being harder to play against. That includes seeing the Washington grinders like Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway, Daniel Sprong have their way in the 6-3 loss at home.

Hiding behind a statement which accurately ripped into the NHL for their incompetence isn’t enough. The Rangers must become tougher. That doesn’t mean signing a goon like Ryan Reaves. You can find versatile hardworking and honest players who are capable of forechecking, finishing checks and standing up for fallen teammates. Think the Isles’ Identity Line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. Cizikas is an unrestricted free agent this summer. So too is key Lightning two-way forward Blake Coleman. These are the kind of high character players the Rangers must look into.

With a very young roster that’ll continue to feature Panarin, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitaly Kravtsov, Filip Chytil (if he isn’t moved), Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller, Zac Jones, Igor Shesterkin and likely Nils Lundkvist, the organization must find the right balance to protect their young core. If that means sacrificing a player like Chytil or seeing if there’s a taker for Mika Zibanejad or Ryan Strome, they must explore those options. This is a close-knit team that gets along well and really is likable. It still needs no-nonsense guys who can handle themselves. Tony DeAngelo was one of those guys. So too was Brendan Lemieux. It’s just a point on where the Blueshirts are.

Would I love to see Geertsen get a crack at Wilson. Absolutely. Ditto for Smith even if that’s probably not going to end well. With three games left before the off-season, the Rangers have nothing to lose. Making a statement is crucial for the future of the team. For too long, they’ve been pushed around. It dates back to the days of the Alain Vigneault Era. Where turn the other cheek was too accepted. At least they had a Daniel Carcillo, Derek Dorsett or Tanner Glass. Even Dylan McIlrath took up for Ryan McDonagh in a rousing scrap at center ice with well respected Wayne Simmonds, who injured the former captain.

The game has evolved. Nobody is denying that. You can still find versatile players who can contribute offensively, hit and drop the gloves when the situation calls for it. Hopefully, the Rangers will learn from Monday’s ugliness. They better.

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REPORT: Panarin expected to miss remaining three games

According to a report from the well trusted Elliotte Friedman, it looks like Artemi Panarin might be done for the rest of the season. It was during the second period when the Rangers’ top scorer got involved during a scrum with Caps’ pest Tom Wilson. He drove Panarin face first into the ice. He didn’t return to the game.

Panarin picked up two assists prior to the fracas with Wilson, who delivered cheap shots on Pavel Buchnevich, Ryan Strome and then Panarin. The Rangers were calling it a lower body injury following the game. What that means is anyone’s guess. It could be a leg injury or who knows. If Friedman is correct, don’t expect to see Panarin the remaining three games.

Obviously, with the rematch not until Wednesday night, this allows the NHL enough time to decide what kind of supplementary discipline Wilson should face. Having already been suspended earlier this season, he could be facing a lengthier ban that could extend into the playoffs. A repeat offender who can’t seem to stay out of trouble despite being a key contributor to the Caps, it looks like Wilson could earn the entire first round off.

If he is suspended, then the Rangers won’t be able to get retribution for Wilson’s disrespectful actions. However, the calendar could be circled the next time they meet the Caps in ’21-22.

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Lack of Toughness exposed by psychotic Wilson in an embarrassing loss to Caps

Capitals thug Tom Wilson went nuts during a scrum in the second period without any response from the Rangers. AP Photo via Getty Images

There was a brief moment in the second period where Alexis Lafreniere set up Kaapo Kakko for a beautiful goal that had fans excited about the future. A brilliant play from Lafreniere, who patiently held onto the puck and stepped around Zdeno Chara before making a wonderful backhand pass for a sweet Kakko finish that made it three straight goals for the Rangers.

At that point, they led after trailing by two early Caps’ goals. Mika Zibanejad remembered to show up with two goals including one on the power play off a great Ryan Strome feed. Then, you had the 2020 top pick combining with the 2019 second pick on a highlight reel goal that put the Blueshirts in front 3-2. For that one moment, you felt good about the team even though they were missing the postseason.

It all vanished into thin air rather suddenly. Once Tom Wilson decided to bully Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin following a save from Vitek Vanecek, they got exposed by the NHL version of Max Cady. Unhinged following a roughing minor on Adam Fox that resulted in a Zibanejad power play goal, the psychotic Wilson went after Buchnevich post whistle. After knocking him down to the ice, he punched a defenseless Buchnevich face down. It was a mugging on 33rd and 8th.

That wasn’t all. After Strome got involved in the scrum, Artemi Panarin jumped on top of Wilson, who was only too happy to manhandle the Rangers’ leading scorer. He threw him down to the ice and delivered a cheap shot on Panarin, who left the game with a “lower body” injury. Mind you this all happened while the Rangers were on a power play. Wilson’s despicable actions had no repercussions. He was assessed a double minor for roughing and misconduct, earning 14 penalty minutes. They didn’t eject him. Instead, he had a evil grin standing up in the penalty box like he was a proud guilty criminal on trial.

The ugly display was sickening. Wilson took both Buchnevich and Panarin off what became a five-on-three power play. Brendan Dillon was also involved with Buchnevich and got two for roughing. That’s where the complexion of the game changed. While Wilson got off easy for his chaotic antics, the Rangers were unable to score on the abbreviated five-on-three. Even if it was for only 27 seconds, they never made the Capitals bully pay.

Of course, nobody made Wilson accountable for his actions when he returned two minutes into the third period of a tie game. Tied due to the gritty Washington fourth line completely manhandling the Rangers’ Zibanejad line on a dominant shift. Nic Dowd easily took the puck away in the corner and then Garnet Hathaway had three cracks at it before his backhand rebound beat Igor Shesterkin on just an awful shift. One where K’Andre Miller got beat and then both Zibanejad and Vitaly Kravtsov were lost in coverage. Hathaway’s game-tying goal from Dowd came with 90 seconds remaining in the second period.

Most humiliating was that the Rangers had no response to Wilson in a pathetic third that saw the Caps outscore them 3-0. Remarkably, it was the Capitals that scored four unanswered including a Wilson empty netter that was a fitting way to end an ugly game. Wilson got the last laugh. Who cared if he absorbed a couple of clean checks from Kevin Rooney and Colin Blackwell. Like that’s going to bother him. He picked up a goal and assist along with 16 penalty minutes including the chaotic scene that boiled over in Rangerstown. It was downright sad.

Playing without tough customers Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren and power forward Chris Kreider, the Rangers had no one who could respond to what Wilson did. Maybe just Brendan Smith. But he had his own issues when a flubbed pass up the middle allowed Daniel Sprong to score unassisted at 4:37 of the third on a shell shocked Igor Shesterkin. That proved to be the game-winner.

It was mostly the Caps’ grinding secondary scorers that did in the Rangers. Dowd scored and set up a goal. Conor Sheary scored a goal set up from ex-Flyer Michael Raffl and the universally loathed Wilson. Former Blueshirt Carl Hagelin assisted on a goal and was on for another as part of the very effective Washington fourth line. Hathaway got his sixth on a ridiculous defensive sequence that may as well have been a bad flashback to the prehistoric times during the Dark Ages (’98 thru ’04). Then you had Sprong getting his 12th on a gift from Smith.

This game was all about the lack of toughness the Rangers don’t possess. As humiliating as the Islanders debacles were in getting shutout by a combined 7-0, this was worse. They were so Charmin Soft that MSG Network may as well have gotten KFC And Carvel to sponsor this fiasco. Because that’s what it was. A total and complete FIASCO! You talk about a sad result. They went out like a bunch of chickens. It doesn’t make me happy to say that.

I want to see this team respond. They have one more game against the Caps. If Mason Geertsen isn’t recalled to go after Wilson ‘if’ the joke that is NHL Player Safety doesn’t discipline him, what does that say for the Rangers organization? On Pride Night no less, they got the pride kicked out of them by one player. What pride was there in seeing this team pushed around? I’m sick of it! Many loyal fans are.

I don’t care what is said about Wilson. Trying to compare him to a Raffi Torres or Matt Cooke isn’t applicable. He lost his cool. But let’s not act like he committed an assault. He’s a polarizing player who enjoys getting away with this crap. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times the NHL suspends him. I want him to be accountable for his actions. If the Rangers have any backbone, Geertsen will be in the lineup on Wednesday. I want retribution. An eye for an eye. Mobb Deep style. I don’t normally advocate violence. What I would like to see is Mason Geertsen versus Tom Wilson. One on one. That’s the only way to settle these disputes. Not through suspension. Think Wilson won’t try it again next season?

If John Davidson and Jeff Gorton don’t address the lack of team toughness and grit this off-season, then they’re completely lost. This vanilla cupcake stuff doesn’t work. You can’t have Wilson running around going after our team’s best players. Even the mild mannered Steve Valiquette called him out for this crap. He even texted former Blueshirt enforcer Colton Orr and revealed what he said. Then Valiquette called Wilson an idiot. There was nothing wrong with it. It sure beats his usual statistical Chartographology analysis. Sometimes, you must pull no punches. That’s exactly how Dave Maloney reacted as well. What was Wilson thinking? His asinine cheap shots could lead to a suspension which might include the first round. But does anyone think Player Safety has the balls? We know better.

It’s very hard to recap anything else about this game. It truly is an embarrassment to fans of this team. They want to say thank you for sticking with them on Fan Appreciation Night? Then get Geertsen up and go after the punk Wilson. And win the damn game. Enough of the cliches about going out the right way. This was PAAAAA–THHHH—ETTTT—-IC!

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A telling quote from Strome, important off-season is ahead for Blueshirts

There are plenty of building blocks for the Rangers who have a bright future led by Adam Fox. The maturity of young players such as Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere will help determine if they can reach the postseason next year. AP Photo by Rangers via Getty Images

Following last night’s 3-0 shutout loss to the Islanders, Ryan Strome was made available to the media in the postgame. He had an interesting assessment on why the Rangers struggled to win games against their Long Island rivals.

“They are built to have a good playoff run, and it’s a good lesson for us. “Anytime we play these games, it shows what it takes, I think, moving forward. I don’t think we need to play like these guys, but I think there’s a lot of good attributes they have that we can learn from.”

Strome added that the Islanders take away the middle and don’t beat themselves. Something coach David Quinn lamented in his press conference. While both he and Strome noted that it wasn’t as bad as Thursday’s no show at home, one point that hit home was the team’s struggles with getting pucks out of their zone.

The Islanders were harder on the puck and forced the Rangers into some mistakes that created long shifts. One such instance saw rookie Tarmo Reunanen pinned in his end for two minutes. Even though they didn’t score, such extended play wears on an opponent. Especially when they’re trying to come back. The Isles’ Identity Line had good sustained pressure due to their physicality. One shift led to Cal Clutterbuck hitting the goalpost.

It’s that attention to detail for Barry Trotz’s club which make them hard to play against. Especially for a team with the speed and skill of the Rangers, who rely too much on the East/West style. While it’s fun to watch when it works, hard nosed defensive teams like the Islanders make life difficult. They take away the passing lanes and minimize the stretch passes that lead to odd-man rushes and breakaways. Something the Blueshirts didn’t have much of. Even Mika Zibanejad was caught from behind by Nick Leddy, who lifted his stick to negate a chance.

Like a broken record, Quinn has preached playing a more simple game against the Isles. That means chipping pucks in and recovering them. Something Strome pointed out. Playing more of a North/South style is less risky. It can lead to more forecheck pressure and force opponents to play in their end. The lack of forecheck in the two games was their own doing. Only the fourth line was willing to do what it took. An indictment on the top six that features Artemi Panarin, who had no shots on goal in the two losses. He found little operating room and was ineffective.

It should be noted that Zibanejad had a team high seven shots on Semyon Varlamov last night. So, he did get some opportunities unlike previous match-ups. But there was no finish. One goal and two assists in the eight-game season series was hardly enough from the 28-year old top center. In the eight games, he registered 30 shots with only an empty net goal. While he had a shooting percentage of 30.4 against the Flyers (7 goals on 23 shots), Zibanejad wound up with a 3.3 against the Islanders.

Even Panarin found it tough to be consistent. He didn’t miss any games versus the Rangers’ Kryptonite. In eight matches, the Bread Man went 2-2-4 and a minus-six versus the Islanders. Disappointing production for an elite player who usually is able to make a difference. This wasn’t last year when he made a diving pass back for a great Zibanejad overtime winner at Nassau Coliseum which closed the gap for the Rangers prior to the stoppage. In three games versus the same opponent last season, Panarin dominated with three goals and five assists. Zibanejad went 2-3-5 in four meetings. What a difference a year makes.

It’s not easy to understand what changed. At one point, the Rangers were 2-2 in the first four head-to-head meetings this year. However, they proceeded to drop the last four including a crushing overtime loss. Over the final four games of the season series, they were outscored 16-3. In all eight games, the team that scored first won. Maybe the most mind numbing number is how many total goals the Rangers got in the six losses. That would be a grand sum of three. They were outscored 22-5 and shutout four times. All by Varlamov, who’s done most of his damage against them. He leads the league with seven shutouts.

The sad part is had they played better in any of the final three meetings, maybe the Blueshirts are very much alive for the postseason. Instead, they could be eliminated completely on Monday. Either a point from Boston or any kind of loss to Washington will officially end the season. It’ll be a long summer. One the key players will be left to wonder about.

How can they get better? That’s a tough question for GM Jeff Gorton and Team President John Davidson. Are they looking to make an adjustment to the roster that could finally get them back in the playoffs for the first time since ’16-17? If not and they stay the course, are they banking too much on the young players improving enough to get through the grind of a likely return to an 82-game schedule?

We know the leadership must be better. If not, the rebuild will be at a crossroads. The Letter was sent out three years ago. While the organization subtracted key parts of a successful roster that advanced to a Stanley Cup Final and was within a period of returning, they did a good job restocking the farm system. It’s Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Igor Shesterkin, Vitaly Kravtsov and Filip Chytil who are very much the keys to the future. K’Andre Miller and Zac Jones will be part of that core which should include Nils Lundkvist. Will Brett Howden still be here along with newcomer Morgan Barron? What about Libor Hajek and Tarmo Reunanen? Chytil could be a potential trade candidate.

The bottom line is there are many questions that’ll get answered this off-season. The Rangers can’t be on the outside looking in next year. They have to take the next big step. The postseason becomes a necessity. If Quinn is returning, there will be a lot more pressure. That goes for management too. It’s up to them to make the right decisions.

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Rangers blanked again by Varlamov as grinding Islanders clinch playoffs in final game at Nassau Coliseum

Unlike Thursday’s travesty which was a total humiliation, tonight was predictable. Skating without physical cogs Jacob Trouba, Chris Kreider and Ryan Lindgren, the Rangers were no match for the Islanders. Behind 28 saves from Semyon Varlamov, they blanked the Rangers 3-0 in the final game between the archivals at Nassau Coliseum.

It clinched a playoff berth for the Islanders. It also was the second straight shutout for Varlamov over the Rangers. Astonishingly, he shut them out four times this year. There isn’t much to say. In eight meetings, the Rangers won only two versus their number one rival. They finished 2-5-1 against them. That included three straight losses in regulation. They were outscored 13-1.

In between beating up on the division cupcakes, they lost three games in bad fashion to a stingy, tight checking opponent that limits time and space. That’s the major difference between the two teams. Until Rangers management addresses the lack of grit and grind, it’ll remain the same. They can’t compete with the Islanders, who struggle against the Caps and Pens. But have zero problem with our soft team.

In actuality, it wasn’t a fair fight. Without Trouba and Lindgren, the defense got exposed badly. So did the team’s youth. Particularly K’Andre Miller. It wasn’t a good game for him. His partner Zac Jones fared better. He looks like a good skating D who can find offense while using his speed to recover. One rookie has only been here a week while the other has played all year. Make whatever conclusion you want.

With the exception of one scoring chance he created when the game was decided, it was another no show for Artemi Panarin. So much for him making a difference in these big games. Swarmed by Barry Trotz’s flock of interchangeable parts, Panarin went a second game in a row without a shot. His line with Ryan Strome and Vitaly Kravtsov were on for two goals against. That included Ranger killer Anthony Beauvillier scoring the first of a pair 4:39 in. A play where both Kravtsov and Strome got lost in coverage.

There wasn’t much to like. Although they didn’t quit like the MSG embarrassment, the Rangers were unable to make a dent in the Islander defense or Varlamov. It was the NHL debut of Morgan Barron. He wore number 47 and played the left wing in place of Brett Howden (broken leg) on the fourth line. He was one of the bright spots along with Kevin Rooney and the out of jail Julien Gauthier, who actually was the team’s most noticeable player. This after missing 14 straight games because he couldn’t crack the lineup. He drew a penalty and created a scoring chance out of sheer hustle. If only more Blueshirts had followed suit.

In the rematch, Alex Georgiev got the nod against Varlamov. It didn’t matter what his career record was versus the Islanders. They got to him early thanks to a blown coverage and scored three times on 25 shots. It wasn’t his fault. The team lost too many battles early which made life tough for Georgiev. He dealt with traffic all game and was forced to make hard saves while Varlamov had another easy night.

On the game’s first goal, Nick Leddy and Josh Bailey combined to set up Beauvillier in the circle. After both Strome and Kravtsov failed to check him, he released a good wrist shot that snuck in far side for his 12th goal. Ironically, he now has 12 career goals against the Rangers after getting another in the second period. A good player, he does his best work in these rivalry games. If only that were true for Panarin and Mika Zibanejad.

With little physicality, it showed. The Rangers had no grind to their game. If you can’t win the one-on-one battles through the neutral zone, you’re toast. There was a lot of nothing going on. Once the Islanders got the first goal, the game was over. They are great front-runners. The fact is they hardly lose when they score first. Combined with a great record on home ice, it looked like the JV versus the Varsity. Without Lindgren, Tarmo Reunanen was reinserted into the lineup. He looked alright in 17-plus minutes. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes. A positive for it being his second NHL game.

On a quiet night where the refs decided to put away the whistles, that favored the more physical and plodding team on Long Island. The only power play in the first was drawn by Gauthier on Kyle Palmieri. But with a chance to tie the score, the top power play unit couldn’t get it done. They wound up with four shots on goal. But you never got the sense they’d score. Not with Panarin doing nothing. And not with Adam Fox again turned into a non-factor. As well as he’s played against the rest of the division, Fox wound up with only one assist in eight games. The Islanders have a way of shutting down players.

Shortly after Palmieri returned, a misplay at the Isles blue line allowed Mat Barzal to steal the puck from Brendan Smith. Taking off like a rocket, he broke in and beat Georgiev on a breakaway by going to a backhand tuck at 16:22. The issue was a risky pass from Miller that put Smith in a bad spot. Bailey forced the turnover and that allowed Barzal to score uncontested for his 15th. Joe Micheletti went nuts over the poor puck decision. The kind of high risk pass that doesn’t work against the Islanders. East/West nonsense.

At that point, there really was no reason to watch. Of course, I kept it on. I’ll be honest. When Beauvillier made it 3-0 only 62 seconds into the second period, I thought about turning it off. If the Islanders had gotten a fourth goal, I would have. It just isn’t fun watching your bitter rival beat up on the team you cheer for. Especially given the circumstances. The final game of a near 50-Year rivalry at that old barn and this is what we got. It really was mind numbing.

When Steve Valiquette is making good points about how they defend and screen out their own goalie by giving opposing shooters more room like on goals 1 and 3 for Beauvillier, it really hits home. That’s how far away this team is. The talent is there. But the will isn’t. Nobody stepped up in these games without Kreider or Trouba. I’m not referring to the kids either. Alexis Lafreniere wasn’t intimidated by the Isles. He set up a good chance for Pavel Buchnevich. It was a quiet game for the top pick. But he didn’t look out of place.

Until the late stages, Kaapo Kakko wasn’t heard from. He got one power play shift. Of course, he was set up but missed. I couldn’t understand why Kravtsov saw no power play time. What’s the point of overusing Colin Blackwell? The season is over. He hasn’t exactly been filling the score sheet. Not a whole lot makes sense. That’s my biggest criticism of Quinn. At this point, it’s time for change. Especially with the elimination number at one.

The best chance was Lafreniere finding Buchnevich open for a point blank opportunity against Varlamov. He was thwarted by the Isles starter. That was it. The Rangers had 10 of the 14 shots in the third. It didn’t matter. They never had any chance of scoring. It was a clinic by the Islanders defensively.

I said this wouldn’t be long in a tweet. I wasn’t kidding. There’s nothing left to say. At least they competed. But if there aren’t any changes in the off-season, I don’t think I’ll be alone in wondering why. They can’t roll back the same roster. It’s not good enough.

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Rookie standout helps Devils take two from Flyers

Finally, the long local nightmare is over. The Devils’ losing streak mercifully – and barely – stopped at ten straight games after a wild home win over the Flyers on Tuesday where they blew 3-0 and 4-3 leads. Fortunately, the Devils counterpunched quickly with Yegor Sharangovich’s 12th goal of the season just eleven seconds after the Flyers tied it in the third period, and they went on to win 6-4 in a game that must have been more of a relief than a celebration for everyone involved. When Miles Wood was asked earlier in the week what his individual goals were for the rest of the season he answered ‘honestly, my goal’s just to win a game right now’. Not quite Jim Mora on an emotional scale, but certainly similar in terms of meaning.

As so often happens once the pressure of ending a long dry spell is over, the team relaxed on Thursday and pumped home five goals on just nineteen shots in their second straight win over the Flyers. Wonder of wonders, both games were at the Prudential Center where the Devils have only won six times all year, two of them coming this week. It was the amazing Sharangovich who got the Devils off and running on Thursday, after scoring the winner in Tuesday’s game he added two more in the first period the other night. Even more shockingly, both goals were on the power play – a sore spot for the Devils and their fans all season. Back to back games, the Devils managed to win in regulation and never fell behind. Though it was just an afterthought at this point, eliminating the Flyers from postseason contention is a nice reward for a young team that is hanging in there in a hopeless cause.

A team meeting, that was held after one of the most desultory losses of all last Thursday in Pittsburgh seemed to help matters. Again, surprisingly it was the 25-year old Wood (who’s earned more of a leadership role this season) that summed up the current state of the team well:

“We all called the team together. And I was basically saying that these last 10 games are a tryout for each player on this team. You can’t take a game for granted, and that’s exactly what I said. This is the best league in the world, we’re all here to play hockey but at the end of the day, they’re trying to find out which players they want to keep here. And I basically said this is it, this is your 10-game tryout. See what you can do in the last 10 games.”

To be fair, it was also good timing to have a meeting right before your only NHL goalie in Mackenzie Blackwood returned to the lineup last Saturday. For whatever ills the Devils had in the previous few games it’s hard to expect anyone to compete when you know the third-rate goaltending’s gonna spot the other team a field goal before the game starts. Ironically you’re seeing this in the team we played this week too, the Flyers’ goaltending has been awful all season though unlike the Devils right now, they’ve almost completely checked out on the season. I’d hardly call Blackwood great in his post-injury starts but you can certainly see the difference with both goaltending itself and the team at large merely having an NHL-caliber player in the net.

It was telling that coach Lindy Ruff played Blackwood in a back-to-back immediately after returning to the lineup, and said he would play the vast majority of games remaining in the season. Coach Ruff was clearly getting tired of substandard goaltending putting the team behind the eight-ball, not to mention desperate to finally break the losing streak. Which they should have last Sunday before finally breaking through at the Rock this week. Perhaps the only good thing about this season’s current predicament is when the team does win you can invariably point to younger guys playing well as a main reason why.

Pavel Zacha, back at home on the wing has contributed a goal and an assist in back-to-back games. Fortunately now that we have all our centers back, the staff can finally admit the obvious, that Zacha is a winger going forward and not a center where he’s just never produced the way he has on the wing this year. Wood, Jesper Bratt, Jesper Boqvist and Mikhail Maltsev also scored goals in the Devils’ modest two-game winning streak over the Flyers as did journeyman Connor Carrick whose two-point effort on Tuesday represented his first points of the season, including this crucial goal in the third when the Devils were reeling.

Of course if there was a such thing as a ‘combined first star’ for the two wins, it would be Sharangovich – who scored three goals in the two games upping his season total to 14. He may not win the Calder trophy that’s earmarked for Kirill Kaprizov in Minnesota, but if there was an award for most value from a rookie draft pick, the 2018 fifth-rounder Sharangovich would be right in the mix for that. For a guy who only had ten goals and twenty-five points in 57 AHL games last year, this season’s pro breakout in two leagues was completely unexpected and in many ways underappreciated. If you combine his NHL and KHL numbers, Sharangovich has put up 31 goals and 51 points in 82 professional games this season. Not bad for a 22-year old who wasn’t even supposed to make the team this year.

It’s also nice to have a player whose professed goal for the rest of the season is to ‘score more goals’. For too long the scale between playmakers and scorers on this team has been tilted too far toward playmakers and not enough to actual scorers. In many ways Sharangovich has given us what Kyle Palmieri was supposed to have given us this season, although he’s not quite up to the 55-point level peak K-Palm gave us, he’s certainly provided the goalscoring of previous seasons K-Palm. His breakout, Zacha’s finding himself on the wing and Bratt’s improvement has made our outlook for wingers a bit better going into next season at least. On a team where the top two centers are set, that’s not insignificant.

Of course for all the young forwards we have, we still need to beef up the defense. Although Ty Smith’s had a terrific rookie season (.5 PPG), even he’s still playing somewhat protected minutes. Damon Severson continues to be what he is, someone whose skill set is there but is very inconsistent in practice, and those were our best two defensemen available this week. Against a better team with actual NHL goaltending I’m not sure we’d have broken the losing streak yet, with PK Subban still in recovery from COVID, rotating other guys in and out of the lineup. Prospect Kevin Bahl even made his NHL debut the other night, after an uneven first full season in Binghamton. Our defensive struggles surely haven’t made Blackwood’s life any easier, as he’s arguably taken a step back this year because of the one-two punch of COVID combined with our penalty kill/overall D – particularly post-deadline.

I’m not sure what the D can really do over the final May stretch of six games to make me feel better about their prospects for next season, but if the forwards continue to play well and Blackwood doesn’t completely implode, I suppose that’s all you can ask for what’s essentially become the beginning of the 2021-22 preseason.

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The Time is Now for Rangers to give kids a real look

Coming off the worst loss of this 56-game season which pretty much ended any playoff aspirations, the Rangers have five games remaining. With the pressure off following the 4-0 home debacle, they’ll try to move on.

That begins Saturday evening at Nassau Coliseum where they’ll meet the rival Islanders for the final time off the Meadowbrook Parkway. The next time they’ll see their blood rival, it’ll be at the new state of the art UBS Arena at Belmont Park in November 2021. It really looks like the end for the classic rivals playing at the old barn. It would be nice to go out the right way with a win. Especially after the last two lopsided defeats by a combined 10-1.

With that stated, this is a chance for the Rangers to give a real look at the young players who’ll be what it’s all about when the franchise is finally ready to compete. That would include Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Vitaly Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller, Zac Jones and Morgan Barron, who was finally recalled from Hartford. He’s expected to make his NHL debut later today.

Not included are Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and Igor Shesterkin. The organization already knows what they are. Particularly Fox, who’s already become a special player to build around on the blue line. You can add the same for Shesterkin, who should finish in the top three for the Calder Trophy. The 25-year old Russian looks to be a future top goalie. It’ll be interesting to see if Alex Georgiev will stay as the backup. Having recovered from a slump, it would be wise to protect him. He’s likely to get the nod in goal against an opponent he’s done well against.

While there’s been so much hoopla surrounding Broadway star Artemi Panarin, his showing on Thursday night was the worst of the two-year run so far. The Bread Man didn’t have one shot on goal and was blanketed by a disciplined Islanders defense. It wasn’t his best game. That can also be said of Mika Zibanejad, who at least had a few shots that got through on Semyon Varlamov. However, the top center only has an empty net goal and two assists in the season series. He wasn’t much better versus the Penguins, going 2-1-3 with a minus-seven rating in eight games.

The 28-year old Zibanejad is extremely likable and says the right things. He admitted that the Isles are tough and frustrate them. While that’s true, it doesn’t explain his performance against them. It’s very hard to understand his uneven year. COVID might’ve played a role in the first two months. A year away from unrestricted status, is it in the team’s best interest to give Zibanejad a long-term contract that could pay him upwards of $8.5 to 9 million into his 30’s? That’ll be left for management.

If Panarin and Zibanejad are the 1-2 punch currently, then Pavel Buchnevich and Ryan Strome are the next two key forwards along with Chris Kreider. Kreider was badly missed on Thursday. There was no pressure on Varlamov, who didn’t have to contend with any net front presence. Neither Buchnevich or Strome established themselves. Buchnevich is having a career year. Due a raise as a Group II free agent this summer, will he be kept or dangled by GM Jeff Gorton to potentially upgrade the lack of grit? As for Strome, he will also turn unrestricted next year. The decision making by the organization will help shape the roster for the future beyond 2022.

For most of the season, coach David Quinn has relied heavily on the Fox-Lindgren tandem along with the top six for the bulk of the scoring. That includes the power play where he has leaned on the top unit that’s mostly featured Fox, Panarin, Zibanejad, Kreider and Strome. The other day, they decided to utilize Buchnevich in Kreider’s spot. Needless to say, it wasn’t effective. Even though they only had two power plays, it hinged too much on the top guns. In a game where nobody was going with it out of reach, would it have hurt to see what Lafreniere, Kakko, Chytil, Kravtsov and Jones could’ve done? Those are the kids who deserve more of a chance in the final five games.

We already have learned how confident Lafreniere has become. His game has taken off since being moved onto the Zibanejad unit with Buchnevich. The 2020 top pick has shown enough improvement in his game to demonstrate why he’ll become the on ice leader in the next two years. It’ll be as much about him as Fox. With 10 goals and eight assists including 2-2-4 over the last four games, the 19-year old Canadian isn’t shying away from the battles during and after whistles. With four of his 10 goals game-winners, Lafreniere has what it takes to become a star.

Even though he’s only credited with a goal and two assists due to the NHL taking a helper away from him, the 21-year old Kravtsov looks to be very poised with and without the puck. It hasn’t mattered which line he’s played on. Even with Quinn using him on the fourth line mostly with Brett Howden and Kevin Rooney, his skating and skill set show a mature player who makes teammates better. He should continue to have an increased role in the last five games. Kravtsov was used on the Kid Line with Chytil and Kakko. They were a lot more effective than the top two lines.

The statistics have Kakko at eight goals and eight assists in 44 games. Although he’s shown improvement with his overall game and skating, there will be more expectations on the 20-year old former second pick in 2019 to perform at a consistent level. Toss out the metrics. It will be about an increase in shots and production. Make no mistake. While the second-year Finnish right wing has worked hard, Kakko must become a better scorer next season. If not, then maybe he’ll never become the player he’s supposed to be.

There are moments where Chytil gets fans out of their seats with his explosive skating and scoring chances. Over the first part of his career, that’s produced some exciting goals off the rush. The 8-12-20 in 37 contests are okay. If you prorated it over 82, he’d top 40 points. A marked improvement from what he’s done thus far. A promising player who’s still just 21, the former ’17 first round pick still has areas to work on if he’s to become a reliable top nine forward. That includes face-offs and board battles where he struggles. Is Chytil truly a center? Face-offs have been a team issue again. When does the organization bring in a face-off coach who can help improve the centers on key draws? Brian Boyle fits the bill. I’d love to see the former Ranger back teaching an important part of the game.

If we already have a good idea of how good Fox is and appreciate how tough Lindgren is even though we’re unlikely to see him after that hit with Cal Clutterbuck that saw Lindgren injured due to the plexiglass, it’s time to find out more about Jones. An excellent skater with offensive instincts, he needs to get more power play time. It’s also time for Quinn to play him more at five-on-five. See what he can do. He did it with Libor Hajek, who’s at least proven to be an NHL defenseman. The smooth skating Jones is a player with upside.

When it comes to Year One for Miller, the 21-year old defenseman shows flashes of the potential he has. At times, he uses the 6-5, 210 pound frame well by delivering checks and blocking shots. The 85 hits and 69 blocks are nothing to sneeze at. That proves Miller can become a good top four defenseman. There are moments where he relies too much on that reach. That sometimes gets him caught out of position. Taking the right angles and utilizing more of the physicality are areas he must improve on. The skating at times can also be an issue. However, he has the capability to jump into the rush and create offense. The Wisconsin product must become a two-way player the Rangers can rely on.

With the injury to Lindgren, we could see Tarmo Reunanen again. The forgotten player who picked up a helper on a Panarin goal in his first game. He looks like more of a good skating left defenseman with offensive instincts. Given that it’s only a matter of time before top European D prospect Nils Lundkvist signs, what exactly is his role? Is there a future on Broadway or perhaps another NHL city due to the numbers game? The same can be echoed for Matthew Robertson. There are a lot of young defensemen in the Rangers system. We know Jacob Trouba isn’t going anywhere. His physicality, grit and veteran leadership are missed in the games we’ve seen against the Islanders. He has formed a good partnership with Miller on the second pair. Undoubtedly, the top four should remain intact for ’21-22.

The play of well respected veteran Brendan Smith cannot be ignored. He has been a solid contributor for this team. Even if he never lived up to the contract they gave him after the 2017 Playoffs, somehow Smith has persevered to fill whatever role they’ve asked him to. From being a part-time fourth line wing to moving back into the top six, he has been a good leader on and off the ice for a young team. When interviewed, Smith always has good things to say. He’s never a bad quote. Is there a place for him when his contract expires? He would likely be asked to accept a lesser role as the sixth defenseman until a kid grabs it. I feel he could attract interest from other teams due to what he brings. The Players Player brings edge and plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s been an unsung hero this year. Whatever he decides, good luck to him.

The Rangers know what Brett Howden is. Even though he’s never followed up his rookie year with consistent offense, the hard work he puts in make him a solid player. The thing is he’s the best face-off guy the team has. Only he’s played a lot of left wing due to the strong play from Kevin Rooney. It’s not about numbers with Howden. He provides the intangibles by sacrificing for the team. Whether with a good check or key block, he’s always willing to get dirty. I have changed my mind. I would keep him because of the North/South mindset he has. With Barron ready to play, we’ll get a look at him. I see nothing wrong with having both on the roster entering next season.

When it comes to the youth movement, there’s a lot to like. At this point, I expect Julien Gauthier to wind up with the Seattle Kraken in the Expansion Draft. It would be best for his career. He looks like the odd man out. That’s too bad. They can’t keep everyone. The question is what other moves will the team make in the off-season. That will be the focus in a future piece as the season winds down.

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Derek Felix

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