Fit For A King: Lundqvist pitches 63rd career shutout in 3-0 win over Senators

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Kevin Hayes celebrates his goal with happy teammates during a 3-0 shutout win over the Senators. AP Photo via Getty Images

Two days after wasting a great performance from Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers rebounded by winning their sixth straight home game. A straight forward 3-0 domination of the Senators before a happy crowd at MSG. They played well in front of the King, who pitched his 63rd career shutout by making 20 saves.

The two-game losing streak is history. Coach Alain Vigneault gets credit for putting together a good game plan. Healthy scratching a ineffective David Desharnais and tweaking the third and fourth lines with one of my suggestions, he was able to roll all four while using three effective D pairs. For once, everything was in sync. Partially due to a tired Sens playing a back to back with travel. But that doesn’t excuse them for a lethargic showing that drew the ire of captain Erik Karlsson.

Vigneault reconstructed the lines. The top unit of KZB stayed intact. Kevin Hayes centered Rick Nash and Jesper Fast. J.T. Miller shifted to center while Michael Grabner moved up to the third line with Mats Zuccarello. Rookie Boo Nieves was on the checking line with Paul Carey and Jimmy Vesey, who still played a pivotal role on one of the goals while getting 3:14 of his 12:17 of ice time on the power play.

For a second straight game, the D stayed the same. Ryan McDonagh and Nick Holden paired up while Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk remain a thing. Marc Staal and Brendan Smith were the third tandem until Smith’s ejection on a controversial interference major on a huge hit that injured Senators’ defenseman Mark Borowiecki in the third period.

As expected, goals were hard to come by in a tight checking first where the Rangers had the edge in play outshooting Ottawa 10-7. Craig Anderson made some key saves early including a flat out denial on Nieves, who Vesey set perfectly up off a strong cycle. Anderson had won three in a row at MSG in the regular season. He also bested Lundqvist in last Spring’s Eastern Conference Semifinal showdown.

So, it wasn’t too surprising that the action was dull. Ottawa plays that defensive system under evil comic book character Guy Boucher. It stifles creativity. How soon before Matt Duchene realizes it’s a bad fit. He failed to register a point again. Since being acquired, he has no points and is minus-six. Hardly a upgrade over Kyle Turris thus far.

The second was the tell tale sign that the Rangers were clearly superior. That extra day off to prepare helped. They were strong defensively at limiting the Sens to the perimeter. They also were strong in the neutral zone and generated a consistent forecheck in the Ottawa end.

Eventually, it resulted in the game’s first goal. It’s funny how Sam Rosen mentioned to Joe Micheletti how he thought the first goal might be important. That’s what makes him so great. He has been around long enough to give a good insight on how the game’s being played.

Sure enough, some good work down low by Vesey and Fast resulted in Hayes sniping his fifth past Anderson top shelf at 4:46. Vesey threw a shot that deflected off a Senator right to Fast who centered for Hayes, who made no mistake. Just think if he used that shot more. He’s coming around. The increased defensive role is making him a better player. His penalty killing was vital later.

The Senators played a bad game hardly attacking enough to make Lundqvist sweat. When they did get shots through, he saw them. They also were lazy handing the Rangers a couple of power play chances to break it open. But they were unable to cash in for a third game in a row. It could’ve come back to bite them. But they played a complete 200 foot game.

The kind that produced sustained attacks which led to a Grabner tip of a Staal point shot from Zuccarello for a 2-0 lead at 4:52 of the third. Staal did a good job on that shift keeping the play alive. Zuccarello got the puck to him for the shot which Grabner redirected for his ninth. A splendid bit of a teamwork.

Prior to his goal, Lundqvist came up big when he denied Derick Brassard on the doorstep with a stack of the pads to kick out a rebound. The kind of save that’s made him a future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest Rangers.

Even when the Sens were handed a golden opportunity to get back in it, they couldn’t muster anything. In a race for a puck behind Lundqvist’s net, Smith came together with Borowiecki. At first glance live, it looked like Smith’s intention was to hit the attacking Senator defenseman and not play the puck. That’s probably what Tim Peel saw. Borowiecki didn’t anticipate getting crushed. He wound up on his back for a few minutes.

Smith was given the gate for a interference major with 12:28 remaining. The crowd booed showing their displeasure. They probably saw the replay before MSG showed it. Once it was shown, it was painfully obvious that both players were going for hits with the puck in the vicinity. Smith just beat Borowiecki to it with a clean shoulder. It was sad to see. But that’s hockey sometimes.

They made the wrong call. At most, it was a minor penalty for interference. It didn’t matter. The Rangers had to pick up a teammate for five minutes and did so in such a assertive fashion that it made you proud. The work of Hayes, Nash, Grabner, Fast, Staal, McDonagh, Skjei, Holden, Zibanejad and Zuccarello was masterful. They played with the kind of snarl that has often been missing. It was nice to see.

Zibanejad added a empty netter for his team best 10th with 2:29 left from Zuccarello and Chris Kreider. When the buzzer sounded, Lundqvist had his shutout to chants of “Hen-rik! Hen-rik!”

BONY 3 Stars ✨

3rd Star ⭐️ Brady Skjei 2 shots in 4 attempts, 2 takeaways, 2 hits, 6 blocks, +1 in 27 shifts-23:01 including 3:18 SH

2nd Star ⭐️ Kevin Hayes 5th of season, 2 shots, +1 in 21 shifts-15:24 including 3:22 SH

1st Star ⭐️ Henrik Lundqvist 20 saves for shutout number 63

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Rangers waste great performance from Lundqvist in 2-0 shutout loss to Blue Jackets

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Nothing got by Sergei Bobrovsky who pitched his first career shutout versus the Rangers with 36 saves in a 2-0 Blue Jackets win that sent the Rangers to a second straight loss. They’re 9-9-2 at the quarter mark with plenty of questions. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NBC Sports

This was one they’ll regret later. Game 20 was a old fashioned goalie duel between Henrik Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky. Each took turns making gigantic stops. Both former Vezina winners showed why at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.

Ultimately, the Rangers blinked in the second period. After playing the Blue Jackets on even terms in a fast moving first where both Lundqvist and Bobrovsky were called upon to make tough saves with the latter remarkable, they got severely outskated and outplayed- giving up 19 shots to only nine.

Zach Werenski’s goal was enough as Bobrovsky stopped all 36 shots in a 2-0 shutout to send the Rangers to a second consecutive loss. So after working hard to get back in it by winning six in a row, they’ve now dropped two in succession on the road getting outscored 8-3. At 9-9-2, there remain more questions than answers.

At the quarter mark, what are the 2017-18 New York Rangers? In the previous post, I documented the lack of center depth following top pivot Mika Zibanejad and second line center Kevin Hayes. It’s starting to become problematic. David Desharnais had a nightmare game with his line caught out for the Werenski winner. They were pinned in often. Eventually, Alain Vigneault broke it up by moving J.T. Miller around with Jimmy Vesey elevated to the Hayes line.

I didn’t agree with every change. Consider they trailed by a goal when Vigneault broke up the KZB line. They’ve carried them thus far. So why did Pavel Buchnevich get the short end of the stick after being one of the few bright spots? How did he go from Zibanejad and the underwhelming Chris Kreider to total obscurity? It makes no sense. Somehow, the evolving 22-Year old Russian with 16 points took only two shifts in a exasperating third period.

The first proved costly with Buchnevich taking a unnecessary interference minor in the offensive zone on a pick play. Even though the bench protested, it was the right call. It didn’t help that the Blue Jackets scored on the power play with new Ranger killer Artemi Panarin scoring for the third time in three games against them. He took advantage of a Hayes miscue. Rather than take the easy clear, he tried to pass the puck to Rick Nash. Disaster struck when Oliver Bjorkstrand intercepted it and got it over for Panarin who ripped a high hard one past Lundqvist for a crucial insurance marker with 12:46 left.

Astonishingly, Panarin has scored all three of his goals this season against the Rangers. Hard to believe. He still hasn’t found chemistry without Patrick Kane. That trade has not been good for the Blackhawks either with Brandon Saad ice cold following a hot start. It says here that Panarin will figure it out. He’s too good not to.

The thing that really irked me is the sad but basically accurate sarcastic prediction I made prior to the Panarin power play goal.

He didn’t see the ice again until the final minute when the game was over. He made a save on a empty net try by getting a piece of it with his body. What I fail to comprehend is why he gets penalized by the coach while Kreider (no shots in 18:00) never misses a shift. This is what drives fans crazy. Vigneault punished Brendan Smith, who finally returned after sitting out the last six games. Steven Kampfer was a healthy scratch. Smith was a minus-one in 14:25 while paired with Marc Staal. It’s going to take a while for him to get into a rhythm.

Vigneault tried Nash with Zibanejad and Kreider while Hayes worked between Vesey and the comatose Mats Zuccarello, who had one of those games where you barely noticed him. They’ve been more common. They really need him to get going. Three goals in the first 20 isn’t enough from one of the veteran leaders. I know he brings a lot to the table. But he should be more consistent. Hayes and Vesey each had good games five on five.

It looked like Miller saw time with Buchnevich and Desharnais for one shift. You also had Michael Grabner and Jesper Fast moved up. Grabner had four shots including a great opportunity which of course was swallowed up by the brick wall known as Bob in ‘Lumbus. There’s a reason he won his second Vezina. He makes the kind of acrobatic saves Dominik Hasek made a art form. It’s still a bit poetic that the Flyers gave up on him for Steve Mason, who now is the Winnipeg number one goalie. Straight up. It might go down as one of the worst trades. Especially if Bobrovsky can ever carry his anemic team to a deep run or Stanley Cup. John Tortorella has done a good job but they have yet to take that next step.

In a losing effort, Lundqvist made 40 saves. He really deserved better. This was vintage King Henrik. He faced a number of odd man rushes in a ugly second and made his own acrobatic saves that would’ve made The Dominator proud. But Werenski’s sixth from Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner at the 13:34 mark was enough to deal him a hard luck loss. The Panarin tally self inflicted by a poor decision from Hayes.

I’ll be curious to see what Vigneault does for Sunday’s match against the Senators, who are leading the Coyotes in the third at home currently. How will the team respond to back-to-back disappointing performances? It’s the same Ottawa that eliminated them. They will have a different look with Matt Duchene recently acquired in a blockbuster three team trade from Colorado. Kyle Turris is now in Nashville. That might be a good thing considering how he killed them last Spring. They certainly gave up a lot. We’ll see if they can slow down the red hot Mark Stone.

They’ll need better games from Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk. Neither distinguished themselves on Friday with in particular, the captain reverting to his early poor start the last two losses. When partner Nick Holden has been better in those games, that’s bad news for the team.

As far as the center issue, you cannot be serious. Boo Nieves deserves more trust than not being used in the third while Desharnais has his ice time cut. Deservedly so yesterday. This was the total number of shifts and ice time for each.

You cannot be successful in this league with only two centers you trust. If this continues, Vigneault will have no choice but to shift Miller to center. I would consider flipping Nieves and Desharnais due to the rookie’s size and two-way ability. I didn’t like the Desharnais signing. Now you’re seeing why. It’s almost as if Vigneault is begging Jeff Gorton to do something. Filip Chytil is currently injured. Vinni Lettieri could be a option if they eventually go that route. He has seven goals and three assists so far.

The Rangers can’t afford to go too much longer with this center situation. It’s hurting them.

BONY 3 Stars ✨

3rd Star ⭐️ Zach Werenski #CBJ GWG-6th, 6 attempts, 2 blocks, +1 in 27 shifts-18:47

2nd Star ⭐️ Henrik Lundqvist #NYR 40 saves including 18 of 19 in 2nd

1st Star ⭐️ Sergei Bobrovsky #CBJ 36 saves for 1st career shutout vs NYR

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Rangers have center weakness that must be resolved

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Kevin Hayes continues to progress as a second line shutdown center under Alain Vigneault. As he improves, so will the Rangers who still are thin at center after Hayes and Mika Zibanejad. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy SNY. 

By show of hands, who actually thought Mika Zibanejad would be a point-per-game replacing Derek Stepan as the top center? Well, with nine goals and 10 assists for a team-leading 19 points in the first 19 games, at least there’s that for the Rangers, who finally had a six-game win streak end last night in Chicago with the Blackhawks beating them 6-3.

The 24-Year old Zibanejad has more than filled Stepan’s shoes. Anchoring the cohesive KZB Line featuring Chris Kreider and emerging sophomore Pavel Buchnevich, he’s earning that new contract that pays him an average of $5.35 million over the next five years through 2022.

Without the production of that line, the Rangers would be sunk. Excuse the inconsistent defense for a second after it reared its ugly head at the United Center. The offense is reliant on Zibanejad, who quickly is becoming a team leader. He makes that line go along with the supremely skilled Buchnevich, whose eight goals and eight assists for 16 points place him third in team scoring. The third part Kreider does the heavy lifting in front and behind the net where he made a bullet pass for a Zibanejad finish in the first period on Wednesday night. He has yet to be consistent. He scored all five of his goals over a six-game span. At 5-4-9, he needs to pick it up.

Entering the year, coach Alain Vigneault knew it would be a challenge after losing a reliable player in Stepan, who he trusted in every situation. Such is life in the salary cap era. Players with big contracts are sacrificed before no-trade clauses kick in. That way teams can afford other key restricted free agents who are due hefty raises. Following the first round disappointment in 2016, Derick Brassard was sent packing to Ottawa for Zibanejad in a trade that also netted a second round pick which became Brendan Smith. He was a key cog in the club’s first round win over Montreal but has yet to get untracked after re-signing for four years at $4.35 million AAV last summer. Vigneault is looking for Smith to be better when he returns to the lineup tomorrow in Columbus.

By subtracting Brassard and Stepan the past two offseasons, the Rangers have drastically changed from the ‘13-14 and ‘14-15 rosters that made deep playoff runs. They’re no longer considered a Stanley Cup contender by most experts. It’s going to be harder to qualify for the postseason this time. The poor start guaranteed it.

This is a flawed roster in which all sums of its parts must perform well. Otherwise, you get predictable ugly results like the awful third period that chased Henrik Lundqvist yesterday. It’s not only the D which is harped upon in many circles. It’s also the center situation. One which must be resolved.

After Zibanejad and improving two-way second center Kevin Hayes, it gets paper thin. As Hayes continues to progress in more of a shutdown role which could hinder his offense, David Desharnais is currently the team’s third center. The ex-Hab is a nice player who works hard enough but he’s also been skipped over in the rotation by Vigneault in some third periods. He has two goals and six assists thus far. Hardly enough production to merit him playing between J.T. Miller and Jimmy Vesey. When GM Jeff Gorton signed him, it was to be a fourth line pivot who could replace Oscar Lindberg. He’s not a top nine forward.

At some point, the organization must make a decision on how to upgrade the center position. It’s a glaring weakness against better competition. You can never have enough centers. With Desharnais on the third line and promising rookie Boo Nieves centering the fourth line, it’s an area of concern.

Vigneault prefers using Miller on the wing where he can create more off the forecheck. Currently tied with Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh for the team lead with 12 assists, Miller is very effective along the walls at recovering pucks, skating into open ice and finding open teammates. I can understand why the coach would be hesitant to move him back to center. It puts added responsibility on Miller and hurts his production. He’s currently 3-12-15 which ranks fourth on the team. He does need to shoot more and avoid missed assignments such as on one of Artem Anisimov’s three goals.

Michael Grabner remains on the checking line with Nieves and Jesper Fast. His eight goals are tied with Buchnevich. Half have come with an empty net demonstrating the trust Vigneault has in the defensively responsible winger with good instincts and game breaking speed. Grabner and Fast usually replace Buchnevich and Kreider at the end of games when protecting leads. A wise move by a coach that’s been often criticized for in game adjustments.

The issue is can this team survive with the current centers. Hayes scored his fourth goal last night. He’s getting better overall. But it’s taken away from his offense. He only has four helpers, meaning the team’s second center has only eight points. That’s crazy. Hayes no longer plays power play with one of the top ranked units producing at a high clip thanks to Shattenkirk, Zibanejad, Buchnevich, McDonagh and Kreider.

For Hayes, he must find offense five on five and continues to create it shorthanded as one of the key penalty killers. With Rick Nash heating up and Mats Zuccarello the playmaker, his production should improve. It’s a matter of time. He’s certainly showed positive signs over this last stretch. k

It really becomes about the bottom two lines. Are Miller and Vesey being shortchanged? Nothing against Desharnais. But wouldn’t he be better suited on the fourth line?

Whether it’s recalling a Vinny Lettieri or moving Miller back to center and sliding Grabner up, there needs to be marked improvement. Opponents are going to focus on taking away the KZB line. That will mean more from the supporting cast.

Shattenkirk has been instrumental providing the Blueshirts with a legit power play quarterback and offensive defenseman. He’s the best right shot they’ve had since Sergei Zubov. His ability to get shots through and find the open man make him a dual threat. It’s allowed McDonagh to be the second option with Brady Skjei third. McDonagh has a dozen assists while Skjei is 2-3-5 forming a good tandem with Shattenkirk at even strength.

Offense from the back end is important in today’s transition game where points are left open. The offensive boost has helped the Rangers.

With the team not rushing first round pick Filip Chytil, Lettieri or young blueliners Neal Pionk, Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Graves, they’ll remain patient. Development is the key before they summon anyone else from Hartford. That patience has worked with Nieves, who has adequately filled the fourth line center slot. He won eight of nine draws in less than nine minutes of ice time.

The question for management is how long will they wait to address the center hole. Trades are tough to make due to matching salaries. At first, I believe they’ll try to solve it in house. So Vigneault will continue to mix and match as he sees fit. If that means double shifting Zibanejad or shifting Miller, he will.

The next test is tomorrow at Columbus. While the focus will surround Smith’s return, keep a close eye on the center situation. It remains problematic.

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Blackhawks 6 Rangers 3: A Arty Party ends win streak

If you’re gonna lose, why not do it in style?!?! That’s what the Rangers decided on in a 6-3 loss to the Blackhawks at United Center. So went the win streak which ended at six.

No. They didn’t party like it’s 1999. But there was a Arty Party. Yes. Old friend Artem Anisimov doomed his former team by scoring a hat trick to help the mediocre Hawks get back on the winning track. He scored all three the same way. By finishing in front of the net. He’s always been a good player. So, I’m not too upset.

One thing should be perfectly clear. You can’t win every game. The winning streak was nice because it got them back in the division. It was gonna end. The bottom line is they wasted opportunities with a waste of a four minute power play that really came back to haunt them.

Henrik Lundqvist was sensational during a whirlwind second period when Chicago picked it up dramatically. They created all sorts of chances by pinning the Rangers defense in for long stretches. That included some tough shifts for Marc Staal and Steven Kampfer along with the fourth line. Somehow, they didn’t give up a goal with Patrick Kane ringing a backhand off the crossbar and Lundqvist balling them out.

Honestly, the goaltending from Lundqvist and Corey Crawford was splendid for two periods. They both made gigantic saves. If Lundqvist doesn’t allow a late goal to emerging rookie Alex DeBrincat which eluded him, do the Rangers fall apart in the third? It definitely swung the momentum despite Lundqvist playing his best period this season.

Sometimes, that’s hockey. Your goalie is playing lights out and lets in a clunker and it changes the game. The way they defended that second, it was a ominous sign.

They really should’ve had more than a one goal lead by that point. The Blackhawks hideous defense couldn’t handle the forecheck of the KZB line. Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider combined to set up Mika Zibanejad for the game’s first goal. A brilliant feed by Kreider for a sweet Zibanejad finish in front. He’s over a point-per-game so far and is proving himself as a number one center.

If there’s a weak spot, it’s the lack of center depth. After Kevin Hayes, who is developing into a shutdown second line pivot who has improved defensively, it gets really thin. David Desharnais is a nice player but is miscast as a third line center. Imagine if J.T. Miller and Jimmy Vesey had a real center. That would go a long way to strengthening a weakness.

Nothing against Desharnais, who works diligently and is crafty. But he should be on the fourth line. You can’t tell me he’s better than Boo Nieves, who is a great fit with Michael Grabner and Jesper Fast in line four. Maybe Alain Vigneault should consider shifting Miller back to center and moving up Grabner into the top nine to play with J.T. and Vesey. Desharnais could work with Nieves and Fast.

Until the organization either deems someone ready (Chytil, Lettieri) or swings a deal, center will remain a question mark. Fans will have to remain patient.

As for the D, it was a rough night. They self destructed in the third getting outscored 5-2. Lundqvist allowed three straight goals to Anisimov, John Hayden and Anisimov. There were total breakdowns from top defensemen who had performed better during the streak.

FRyan McDonagh gave away the puck leading to Anisimov’s first. He took a Kane feed and beat Lundqvist with Zibanejad and Buchnevich out of the picture. Kevin Shattenkirk had a bad shift afterwards which allowed Hayden to score 46 seconds later for a 3-1 lead.

Anisimov then made quick work of a Mats Zuccarello tripping minor by finishing in front 12 seconds in for a power play goal that made it four straight Chicago goals. It happened that quickly.

At that point, Vigneault gave Lundqvist the rest of the night off by inserting Ondrej Pavelec. Yes. He’s actually still part of the team. You wouldn’t know it with the King getting all these starts due to no back to backs. It was the right move.

The move sparked the Rangers. Hayes was able to beat Crawford from Zuccarello and Rick Nash a couple of minutes later. He deserved it. He was the best Ranger skater. A few minutes later, Nash was able to sneak a backhand through Crawford to suddenly make it 4-3 with over eight minutes left. It’s nice to see Nash finishing again. He’s up to seven goals.

The Rangers applied pressure on the fragile Hawks defense. They came close a couple of times but were unable to tie it.

It was a great Hawks counter started by Richard Panik that resulted in Anisimov’s hat trick. Nick Schmaltz made a perfect pass in front for a nice Anisimov deflection past Pavelec to make it 5-3 with 3:48 remaining. McDonagh got beat badly on the Arty Party as hats rained down. It was a stunning turn considering how well the captain had played.

Jonathan Toews added a empty netter to wrap it up.

There really isn’t a whole lot else to add. The Rangers were due for a stinker. It didn’t happen until the ugly third that saw Lundqvist get chased.

Even though they were outplayed in the second, they were far too reluctant to shoot the puck. The Hayes unit had a few great opportunities and didn’t get a shot on odd man rushes. They made one too many passes. The Hawks countered by simplifying their game and getting shots through. Eventually, they got to Lundqvist.

Sometimes, the Rangers are their own worst enemy. That was the case tonight.

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Devils’ wild and crazy comeback in Chicago

Sometimes out of nowhere, games just happen where you have to pinch yourself to make sure this wasn’t some Dallas-like dream or a figment of your imagination.  During the first period when the Devils fell behind 4-1 in Chicago after seventeen minutes, it looked like this could be an even worse runaway than I feared coming in, one of epic proportions.  Especially losing Mirco Mueller to an UBI early in the game, and afterward he was spotted with his left arm in a sling.  I was already getting worried about goalie Keith Kinkaid getting Valiquetted (i.e. being left in to die and allow double-digit goals), and the internet joke was that his usual postgame emoji recap would contain just one – the one for taking a dump.  For the better part of twenty minutes, our struggling team with five healthy defensemen seemed like the salve a talented but struggling Blackhawks team needed.

Then IT happened.

At first the ‘it’ was just Miles Wood, who scored the team’s first two goals and kept the team within shouting distance at the end of the first period down 4-2.  Still, I would have given Kinkaid the hook at that point – especially with the game becoming theoretically winnable.  Coach John Hynes did leave Kinkaid in though, and fortunately the team that came out of the locker room was the one that blitzed the league the first eleven games of the season.  My disbelief level rose as the goals piled up.  First Andy Greene scored with assists from the fourth line, then came goals from Nico Hischier, Taylor Hall and Brian Gibbons.  Literally within twenty minutes the Devils had turned a 4-1 deficit into a 6-4 lead.  On the road, in Chicago on a back-to-back.  Of course given the way last night’s game went the Hawks had to respond at least once and they did in what could have been devastating fashion with a Brian Boyle penalty leading to Patrick Kane’s power play goal with just seconds remaining in the period.

Yet once again the Devils showed their character and instead of being devastated by this last turn of momentum they came out of the locker room again shot out of a cannon in the third, controlling play for a good chunk of the period – especially early when they swarmed the Hawks and previously inconsistent fourth-liner Wood completed his career night with the hat trick early in the third period (capping a FOUR-point night).  This time, the insurance wasn’t needed as the Devils played the third period with a lead the way they seldom have this season, agressively and competently.  Even when the Hawks emptied the net early the Devils allowed few quality chances and eventually put away a 7-5 win that evoked images of the 1980’s.  If I didn’t know better I’d swear it was Chico Resch and Darren Pang in net in Chicago Stadium.  I don’t normally recap individual games anymore, but last night’s ridonkulous game deserved one.  Of course I could have just gone full emoji like Kinkaid.

Bonus points if you can figure out 90% of the emojis and who/what they’re referring to without looking them up.  I know I can’t.

With no other games until their second trip into Toronto already this season on Thursday, the Devils have at least given themselves and their fans something to be pumped up about in the interim.  One game has (at least temporarily) brought back the good feelings from the team that hit the ice in October and further strengthened their tenous hold on first place.

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Devils remain in first after skittish homestand

This latest homestand for the Devils – especially the last two games – is a classic glass half full or half empty study.  Do you as a fan harp on the fact that hey the Devils are 10-4-2, are still exceeding the modest expectations for the season and got the (bare minimum) three points they needed out of these last two games on the homestand?  Or do you harp on the fact they blew another yet late lead against the Oilers on Wednesday and then had to rely on a great performance from Cory Schneider and a lucky bounce on Damon Severson’s first period goal to scratch out a horribly tough 2-1 win against a bad Panther team who really dominated the Devils at times last night, especially outshooting us 17-4 in the third period of a back-to-back on the road for them?!

I guess you can tell which side I’m leaning judging by the tone of the lead, despite getting a much-needed win last night, the last few games have still been very troubling for the Devils.  Sure shot signs of a mediocre (at best) team are when you play down to the level of competition – see last night – and when you never seem to click in all three phases of the game at once.  When the offense was doing better earlier in the season, the goaltending and defense struggled, frequently both in the same game.  When the goaltending did well last night, the team struggled both offensively and defensively.  And the team’s struggled to establish any kind of home-ice advantage in Newark, although the home record of 5-3-1 is just okay, the games themselves have all been a struggle except for Opening Night, even games against the lowly Coyotes and Panthers went down to the death.

One of the few Devils not struggling is Brian Boyle, who scored the opening goal Wednesday and had an unusually emotional reaction (see YT above) although not surprising given everything involved – it was Boyle’s first goal since his leukemia diagnosis, not to mention his first goal with a new team at home.  Yet the end of last night’s game proved to be just as important for him and the team in many ways, when Boyle won two key faceoffs in the defensive end during the final, tense moments.  Before the final faceoff with 1.5 seconds to go I had visions of the astonishing Bruins/Kings OT finish from earlier in the season dancing in my head but then calmed myself with the knowledge that it’s Boyle in the dot, and he’ll know what to do.  Sure enough he won the faceoff away from traffic and the final buzzer mercifully sounded.

Speaking of faceoff-winning centers, perhaps the best Devils news all week is that Travis Zajac was cleared to play and is just days away from a return to the lineup after it was once thought he’d be out through December.  His return can’t come too soon given the concussion to Marcus Johansson and the slump/benching of Pavel Zacha pushing the Devils back down to a two-line team with two fourth lines.  Really a one and a half line team since after a good first few games to start the season Adam Henrique is once again on the back of a milk carton.  If you could just combine Blake Coleman’s grit and brains with Henrique’s talent you’d have an even better version of Kyle Palmieri.  But it’s not a good thing when an 18-year old kid who’s done well enough in general (but scored his only two goals in one game this season) is your #1 center.

And while I do blame Henrique and Zacha for not playing well enough to take some pressure of Hischier, in the case of Zacha it seems to me as if his recent two-game benching was excessive and unneccesarily put the team in peril in games they flat needed to do well in.  If you’re going to bench Zacha two games for not being assertive enough or whatever fine, then bench John Moore for the utter stupidity he showed last night unneccesarily playing a hand pass that led to the Panthers’ goal, and whiffing on a puck that forced a Cory attempt to clear it himself to prevent a breakaway, predictably leading to near disaster.  The argument they need Moore in the lineup doesn’t wash when they’ve also sat Damon Severson and Mirco Mueller, plus this current team needs Zacha in the lineup too.  Playing the likes of Jimmy Hayes and Stefan Noesen over Zacha is further hamstringing an already injury-weakened lineup and turning one of the strengths of the team early (team speed) into a weakness.

You also wonder what happens with the lineup once Zajac comes back now that Zacha’s in the doghouse.  The natural solution would be to shift Zacha or Henrique to LW then perhaps move Brian Gibbons over to RW.  Will Zacha play over Hayes and Noesen once Zajac gets back (or even tonight in Chicago for that matter)?  If not they’d just better send him to Albany Binghamton right now and let him play big minutes and hopefully learn the way they want him to play.  Defensively they played the six guys you generally want them to play last night although like I said I’d sit Moore a game for being a dumb schlep, and it’s not like the best six or most ideal six man configuration was all that great against the Panthers last night, with the exception of Steven Santini who’s basically taken on the Adam Larsson role of a couple seasons ago, being on the shutdown pairing with Andy Greene.  But none of Larsson’s thirteen ‘hits’ in the game against us at Edmonton last week were anywhere near as eye-popping as Santini’s ice-clearing takeout of Alexander Barkov last night.

That hit fired up the home crowd so much they not only gave Santini an ovation for that, but again afterward when the Jumbotron merely showed a shot of him on the bench.  Other than Santini evoking the memory of Scott Stevens and Palmieri’s laser of a power play one-timer goal in the second period, there was really very little memorable about last night’s game other than a few of Cory’s saves including one astonishing leg stretch to keep a loose puck in the crease out when Mueller coughed up the puck with a lousy turnover late in the second period.  And though the win might give the team some temporary relief they go right from the frying pan into the oven facing the Blackhawks in Chicago on a short turnaround tonight.  Granted the Hawks haven’t been playing well either but they still have more than enough talent to roll us with another ‘effort’ like last night.

Yes the team’s still in good position to begin this road trip, remarkably still in first place though more tenously by the day.  However, the problems of the last two weeks need to get ironed out soon or things will get a lot worse before they get better.

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Nash stars in latest win extending Rangers’ streak to six in a row

Edmonton Oilers New York Rangers

Rick Nash is congratulated by J.T. Miller after one of his two goals highlighting a 4-2 win that extended the Rangers’ winning streak to six. AP Photo via Getty Images

It’s funny how things work out. In my last piece, I discussed how Rick Nash deserved better than the four goals he had- expressing confidence that he’ll turn it around. Low and behold, Nash was front and center in the Rangers’ 4-2 win over the Oilers at home. That made it six in a row as the winning streak continues.

After such a awful start, it’s the Rangers who are the hottest team. The latest victory upped their record to 9-7-2 giving them 20 points to tie the Devils and Penguins for a share of first in the Metro Division. Both play later.

It should be noted that it took this streak to get the team back in it. The game’s second star Henrik Lundqvist isn’t satisfied. He spoke to reporters following the win appropriately donning a Army hat as the organization honored veterans on Veterans Day.

The encouraging part is that they know they’re not out of the woods. Not by a long shot in a deep division that should be nip and tuck all season long. With the Devils, Blue Jackets coming back to the pack and the Pens and Caps not as good as last year, it’ll be a close race throughout. Not to mention the Flyers’ improvement along with the Islanders. Only the Hurricanes have struggled so far yet five total points separate first from last.

Don’t look now. But the Rangers have won five straight at MSG. The streak started with the big third period against the Golden Knights. They haven’t stopped since. Turning home ice into a advantage is important. It lets opponents know it won’t be a easy building to play in.

They’re now able to get off to better starts. They did so in the win over the Bruins and did it again today against Edmonton. Nash scored the game’s first goal by burying a Kevin Hayes feed off a two on one rush. A good play started by Mats Zuccarello, who trapped a Oilers defenseman to create the goal. He and Hayes were two players I mentioned in my previous post. Both had great afternoons. Hayes had a assist and was a strong two-way presence while Zuccarello recorded two helpers.

In order to be successful, it has to be a total team effort. It can’t always be the same guys. The KZB line didn’t factor in at even strength. Neither did J.T. Miller. It was the Hayes line that was their best at five on five. They were matched mostly against the scary Oilers top line of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon. Ryan McDonagh and Nick Holden drew the assignment doing a fantastic job. That five man unit was out late before Alain Vigneault stuck Michael Grabner with Jesper Fast out alongside Mika Zibanejad in the last minute. It worked with Grabner sealing it with a empty netter giving him seven goals in his last eight.

The Rangers were far from flawless in the early 1 PM matinee with the Knicks later at the place on 33rd and 7th. A failure to clear the zone by Pavel Buchnevich resulted in Darnell Nurse keeping the puck in. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins fed call up Jesse Puljujarvi in the slot for a quick wrist shot that beat Lundqvist to tie the score. Puljujarvi was dangerous throughout hitting a goalpost and forcing Lundqvist into some difficult saves. The 2016 first round pick looks like he wants to stay with the Oilers.

A bad second period at five on five put them in a hole. With Edmonton tilting the ice, they began to dictate play. Using their speed and forecheck, they generated a lot of chances. Lundqvist held strong to keep the game tied until a Steven Kampfer hooking minor led directly to a McDavid power play goal. The Oilers captain and last year’s Hart winner was able to get to a Milan Lucic feed down low and beat Lundqvist to give his team the lead at 10:06. Oscar Klefbom added a secondary helper.

Unable to get through the neutral zone, the Rangers got some much needed help from Edmonton who came unglued with a couple of undisciplined penalties. The first was Brad Malone a few feet from his own blueline throwing the puck out of play for delay of game.

Some remarkable passing resulted in Buchnevich getting his seventh goal in the last eight. His eighth of the season was perfectly set up thanks to some splendid teamwork from Zuccarello and Shattenkirk. With Buchnevich coming on a change, a hustling Zuccarello made a nice pass across for Kevin Shattenkirk, who then found a cutting Buchnevich with a bullet touch pass for a easy tap in past Cam Talbot to tie the score at two with 4:50 left.

If that weren’t enough, Edmonton’s Maroon took a needless elbowing minor when he caught McDonagh on the chin. Of course, he protested. It was hilarious. As if to prove a point, the Rangers lethal power play went to work. Now one of the league’s best thanks to the Shattenkirk addition along with better units used by assistant coach Scott Arniel, they made Maroon pay for his idiocy.

This time, it was some great hustle from David Desharnais that got the play started. While being pressured along the boards, he made a soft pass for McDonagh who kept it in at the right point. The captain then made a very good pass across to Brady Skjei. He skated with the puck before firing a textbook centering feed for a Nash redirect past a aggressive Talbot for the second consecutive power play goal. That gave them a 3-2 lead. The play itself was mesmerizing. It was some of the best passing on a Ranger power play in recent memory. Think the fun Tom Renney Era with Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Michael Nylander, Petr Prucha and Michal Rozsival.

The power play swung the momentum. The third was a marked improvement. Knowing full well who they were up against it, they played a stellar final period. They outplayed Edmonton and outshot them 12-7. They didn’t go backward or in prevent mode. But rather kept going forward. If not for some good stops by Talbot along with some near misses from Zuccarello, the game doesn’t come down to the final minute.

Playing a smarter aggressive style while continuing to execute defensively by taking away the Oilers time and space, the Blueshirts made life easier on Lundqvist. He wasn’t called on much to make many difficult stops. His toughest coming on a Klefbom point shot with Talbot pulled in the last 30 seconds. He was able to see the puck as Holden tied up Lucic in front.

It was the kind of attention to detail we’ve been waiting for. A last second desperation shot from Klefbom was blocked by Fast and intercepted by Grabner, who fired in his eighth into a vacant net with two seconds left.

NYR 3 Stars ✨

3rd Star ⭐️ Mats Zuccarello 2 assists, 5 shots, won all kinds of battles, 2 blocks, +1 in 26 shifts-19:02

2nd Star ⭐️ McDonagh-Holden assist, held McDavid/Draisaitl to 2 combined shots 5 on 5 and minus-4, plus-2 with McDavid’s goal on power play

1st Star ⭐️ Rick Nash 2 goals-5, 6 including game winning PPG, 5 shots, 8 attempts, 2 takeaways, +1 in 27 shifts-19:00

Notes: Jimmy Vesey missed a majority of the second period and some of the third after accidentally taking a Zack Kassian skate to his mouth. He lost a few teeth but returned with a full cage because as Vigneault noted, “That’s Hockey.”

… NYR outshot EDM 34-29. Oilers outattempted the Rangers 54-48. … Stat of Game: Takeaways NYR 17 Miller 4, Hayes 3 EDM 7 Nugent-Hopkins 3. … Oilers won faceoffs 33-29 with Draisaitl 8-and-5 while Nugent-Hopkins went 12-and-12. Hayes led the Rangers going 11-and-8. Desharnais was 4-and-2 and Boo Nieves 3-and-3 in 14 shifts-7:32. … Rangers face the Blackhawks in Chicago this Wednesday. They’ll get some time off. … The Devils host the Panthers and Islanders are at St. Louis. The struggling Sabres are in Montreal.

Video of Night: Look who was in the building!

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With five wins in a row, Rangers righting the ship despite imperfections

They’ve now won five in a row. After a dreadful beginning that put Alain Vigneault’s job in jeopardy, the Rangers have suddenly caught fire with the current longest winning streak in the league.

It started with a superb performance in a 2-1 overtime win in Tampa. Even though they rallied to beat Vegas prior to beating the Lightning, that was the game that signaled the turnaround. They were sloppy in the home win over the Golden Knights. Facing the league’s best featuring lethal tandem Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, they were air tight while outplaying the Bolts. They got the reward in OT on J.T. Miller’s highlight reel goal.

It remains their most complete effort. They were able to make it three straight in a chaotic contest that also needed three on three before Kevin Shattenkirk won it over the Panthers 5-4. See the great patience and saucer pass from Rick Nash.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wZGSLjJ3s5o

The fourth consecutive victory came at home 5-3 over the Blue Jackets. Another quality opponent who entered with just four regulation losses. They’re one of the teams the Blueshirts will be competing against in a deeper Metro Division for the playoffs. That was decided in the third period by special teams. The Rangers scored three power play goals with Shattenkirk, Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich scoring to drive former coach John Tortorella cuckoo. Michael Grabner tallied twice including off a brilliant feed from Miller.

Last night’s 4-2 win over the Bruins on Rivalry Night wasn’t perfect. They played a very good first period scoring three times to build a 3-1 lead. Buchnevich was at it again scoring a wonderful goal off a beautiful deke from a great angle around Zdeno Chara top shelf. He then was involved in the first of two goals from Jimmy Vesey, who got both his tallies from in front within a 29-second span.

He became the first Ranger to score two in a row that quickly since this memorable third period come from behind win post-lockout by legendary number 68. A great rivalry game to be at. Hard to believe that was that long ago. Here’s Jaromir Jagr still playing and he scored his first goal and assisted on another for Vegas last night. Ageless.

The game has changed since then. It’s so much more a puck possession style emphasizing skating and playmaking. That’s why players are more selective with their shots on a sustained forecheck. It further explains the Rangers’ current style under Vigneault. They love to skate into space and use the boards to chip pucks behind the net. It forces defenses to do more work. At the start of the season, they weren’t able to cycle the puck consistently. There wasn’t enough support. During the win streak, that’s changed.

A player who exemplifies this style is Buchnevich. Only 22, the second-year Russian has improved dramatically. A back injury limited him to eight goals and 12 assists in 41 games in ‘16-17. He room part in five postseason games tallying a assist. A stronger player this year with the bad back behind him, he’s been a constant. Gaining more confidence, Buchnevich has turned it on lately. After starting on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Kreider, he spent some time on the fourth line to everyone’s protests. He did well enough during the losses for Vigneault to return him to the KZB line.

One thing overlooked by some NYR bloggers in the community is patience. In those first six games, that line only scored once at even strength. They produced mostly on the power play where Vigneault kept Buchnevich on the top unit. That part was forgotten. The Rangers want to control five on five. The KZB line wasn’t and had been victimized by the opposition. That’s why it got broken up.

With the team continuing to struggle with three wins in the first dozen games, Vigneault’s job status was uncertain. The rumors had started that he needed to win the home game against Vegas to survive. In fairness, key players such as Kreider, Miller and Nash weren’t performing. Neither was Grabner, Shattenkirk, McDonagh or Lundqvist. If your best players aren’t your best, you’re going to have a hard time winning games.

That’s changed entering today’s matinee against Edmonton. Vigneault reconstructed the lines with his best move putting KZB back intact. They’ve since taken off with Buchnevich in particular, the catalyst. A electrifying player with superb speed and plenty in his arsenal, he’s thinking shot more and getting rewarded. He’s scored some big goals including the pretty one against Boston where he emulated Alexei Kovalev by faking Chara out completely and then going high cheese on Tuukka Rask.

He’s been a consistent force. With seven goals and seven helpers for 14 points, the former 2013 third round pick taken 75th overall has made a quantum leap. Fourth in team scoring, he’s driven possession and been a x-factor on the improved power play. Half his production has come on it.

Shattenkirk has also finally adjusted settling into a nice pair with Brady Skjei. He’s been instrumental with his 16 points placing second behind team leader Zibanejad (8-10-18). Eight of Shattenkirk’s 16 have come on the power play. Incredibly, it’s even higher for Zibanejad, who has managed 10 of his 18 on the man-advantage including  club best five PPG’s. Kreider’s been hot lately scoring five times in the last seven contests. Not surprisingly, three have been on the power play with most of the work in front. When he hasn’t finished, he’s been busy screening goalies for big goals. That is one of the biggest differences along with the Shattenkirk addition. Zibanejad is shooting more and hitting the target while Buchnevich continues to excel on the first unit.

McDonagh quietly has turned it around with 11 assists. He is more assertive since being paired with Nick Holden. There are still moments where the captain gets caught napping like on two Boston goals the other night. But his play has picked up. He had a dominant shift with the team protecting a one goal lead which resulted in a Grabner empty netter. On that shift, he was out mostly with Marc Staal, who’s been more positive so far. Vigneault has managed him better using him on the third pair with Steven Kampfer while giving the vet penalty killing shifts and key ones like with McDonagh late the past two wins. The work load isn’t as challenging for the prideful alternate captain.

Speaking of Grabner, he’s up to seven goals while playing on the fourth line with Jesper Fast and rookie Boo Nieves, who returns today after missing two games due to the flu.

There are many positives for the 8-7-2 record. Fast is one of them with his extra effort resulting in big goals and crucial penalty kills. He wins those board battles that don’t go in the stat sheet or on charts. He’s so undervalued. There isn’t a defensive situation you can’t plug Jesper in. He usually comes on late with Grabner to protect leads. Another smart move by Vigneault, who didn’t look like he’d survive the start of November.

Lundqvist has also been better during the win streak making timely stops including some huge ones Wednesday when the Bruins made a strong push the final two periods. He does still allow the odd goal at times but his play is coming around. They don’t beat the Bruins without the Swedish King.

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Miller is another player who’s been impactful. His playmaking continues to improve. The best passing forward on the team leads with 12 assists including a couple of dazzling ones that set up goals. The one handed pass to Grabner from the ice remains the best so far. He’s not turning over the puck as much, playing a more complete game. Miller is 3-12-15 with most of his success at even strength. Ten of his 15 points are five on five. This while playing on the wing and sometimes at center.

They haven’t gotten enough from Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes. Zuccarello remains a fan favorite due to his penchant for mixing it up with much bigger foes. He’s also led the team in scoring the past two seasons scoring and mostly setting up big goals. He’s easy to root for. Usually, his heart and hustle is prominent. But his play has been disjointed so far with three goals and eight assists for 11 points thus far. Not what’s expected from a team leader.

It doesn’t help that the slumping Hayes is his center. With just one goal and six points, is there a more puzzling player? Praised for his strong skating and puck possession, he’s failing in the second line role. Though his defense has improved, the Rangers need more offense from the lanky pass first Hayes. That he has as many goals as helpers speaks volumes. He’s playing with Zuccarello and Nash. Two very skilled players who should make it easier for Hayes to succeed. The second line can’t be a zero.

When you have guys like Grabner and Fast doing more in reduced roles, it’s not a good sign. Even the recently demoted David Desharnais has more points (8) than Hayes. Hayes plays penalty kill and has done a solid job there. But he must pick it up along with Zuccarello. It can’t always be the KZB line or the same guys every night.

Nash has played better but remains at four goals and three assists. He gets chances every game. He has to start burying them. I still have faith in the guy with the tremendous character to score 25 goals. He can get hot.

Vesey got a big part within 29 seconds against Boston to double his total to four markers. It’s just about staying with it and keeping good work habits. Vigneault likes what he brings. But he must continue to work hard in all facets or he’ll see his ice time reduced. He’s a restricted free agent next summer. So there’s plenty of incentive.

Looking at the current roster, they still can use another center. Oscar Lindberg is missed. He’s done well so far in Vegas. Derek Stepan is also a big void as long as Hayes doesn’t perform consistently. Zibanejad has more than filled Stepan’s shoes as the top center. But it’s what’a behind him that is a concern.

Jeff Gorton is in the market for a trade. But trading in the salary cap era remains very difficult. He can also use another defenseman until Brendan Smith gets his ass in shape. It’s hard to see their play being sustainable when they’re relying on Holden for big minutes and Kampfer in a third pair role. Both have been solid but for how long?

So there are imperfections that can be fixed. It’s not all roses as the team skates for a sixth straight win against the dangerous Oilers duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl with former Blueshirt Cam Talbot in net against Lundqvist. Do they watch Ryan Nugent-Hopkins closely? The Oilers aren’t scoring much after the top line. Nugent-Hopkins has been a bright spot.

At some point, the Rangers will make a move. Don’t expect it to be Filip Chytil or Neal Pionk/Ryan Graves from Hartford. They’ll remain patient and let them develop. Vinny Lettieri could be a option but it’s his first pro year. Nieves has done well so far with three helpers coming in a impressive season debut. He brings something to the table. That strong work ethic that allows Vigneault to roll four lines. He doesn’t trust Paul Carey.

We’ll see where this month goes as Thanksgiving approaches.

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Limping Devils face their first gutcheck of the season

Obviously, it’s still early in the season and the Devils are for the moment cruising along fine with a 9-4-1 record after getting three of a possible six points on their Western Canada swing, although they returned home and laid a predictable dud against the Blues last night.  Amazingly enough, their 9-2 start to the season was the best opening eleven games in team history.  However, the last two home games against the Oilers and Panthers in this brief homestand are important if the Devils want to keep their cushion at least through Thanksgiving before facing another challenging road trip through Chicago, Toronto, Winnipeg and Minnesota starting this Sunday.  While I’m loathe to say these two games are must-win, at some point the Devils are going to have to establish a home-ice advantage to maintain their good standing (where they’re just 4-3, compared to 5-1-1 on the road so far), and if you’re going to have a good home-ice advantage, you need to beat bad and struggling teams in Newark.

Granted, the Devils failed miserably in Edmonton dropping a 6-3 decision last week, but despite that game the Oilers are still off to a subpar start to the season while the Panthers are a rudderless ship in general.  Yes, the Devils have had a couple of key forwards missing during this stretch but should get one of their key cogs back tomorrow night when Kyle Palmieri is set to return from his second IR stint of the year.  Palmieri’s absence was truly felt last night against the Blues where a power play that was potent early in the season was a dud without his shooting threat.  Perhaps to a degree the power play was also rusty, since they didn’t exactly get the benefit of the refs’ whistles in Western Canada (just three power play attempts to show for three games).

Also during this stretch John Hynes continues to prod his younger players, scratching Damon Severson last night (and having him skate with the fourth pairing in practice today) while Pavel Zacha may be the next underperforming younger player to see pine after being an extra forward in practice today.  I can be down on Severson at times but hardly think he’s been bad enough to warrant two straight benchings.  Especially when the alternatives are Ben Lovejoy and Mirco Mueller – although granted Lovejoy was fine in Calgary while Mueller had been improving before taking a step back last night.  Even Will Butcher hasn’t exactly been great defensively though he’s a neccesity for the power play – when we actually receive power plays.  I do think sitting a game for Zacha is warranted although the continued blind loyalty to keeping Jimmy Hayes in the lineup is questionable at best.

Our forward lines have been compromised by both Palmieri’s absence and the sidelining of Marcus Johansson due to a concussion.  Not to mention the lines also get juggled further when Hynes decides to go with the 7-11 lineup (seven d-men, eleven forwards) because we continue to insist on trying to rotate eight guys.  Yet the offense hasn’t completely shut down aside from last night, scoring nine goals in three games on the Canada swing.  It’s still been the defense and goaltending that’s been the bigger issues for the team, although Cory Schneider did play a lot better last night only allowing two goals despite facing a shooting gallery – particularly in the third when the Devils collectively hit tilt and suffered the post-trip letdown.  Still, there were times in Canada when both Cory and Keith Kinkaid struggled.  You can possibly deal with goaltending and defensive issues if the offense is going to continue to put up 3-4 goals a game but I’m not yet convinced we keep up the sizzling offense we’ve shown the first month of the season.

Haven’t felt much like writing lately so I’m not going to give much of a recap of the last four games, then again as with all the Western road trips my viewing was sporadic at best.  Wednesday I did watch the last several minutes of the 2-0 shutout in Vancouver but spent most of the night watching Game 7 of the World Series.  Friday I napped and missed the first two periods of the game in Edmonton, figuring for some reason the game started at 10 or 10:30 instead of 9, but it was just as well given the game got away from the Devils by then.  I did watch Sunday’s game in Calgary and was at last night’s game sitting in a mostly family and friends crowd, which was a bit inevitable given three November home games in five days.  I’ll miss tomorrow’s game but I will be at Saturday’s game against the Panthers.  In a best case we’ve won two in a row and gotten Palm back before the next big road trip.  Further slipping up this week could be problematic though.

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Game 16 Rangers score 3 power play goals in 5-3 comeback win over Blue Jackets

Make it four in a row. The Rangers used a four goal third period to come from behind and defeat the Blue Jackets 5-3 last night at MSG.

They did some damage scoring three power play goals to complete a nice comeback win that got them back at .500 (7-7-2). Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich notched big goals as they made the Blue Jackets pay for some undisciplined penalties.

I didn’t see the first due to one of the silliest and craziest things I’ve ever done. I left my debit card at the store where I work. I didn’t realize it until I was at the bank getting ready to take out money. The panic set in. Then I drove back in 20 minutes flat. Luckily, they had it. I couldn’t thank them enough.

On the way back, I flipped on Kenny Albert and Dave Maloney for the start of the second just in time to hear Artemi Panarin and Josh Anderson score to put Columbus up 2-0. The second sounded like one Henrik Lundqvist would’ve wanted back.

To their credit, the Rangers fought back thanks to some utter brilliance from J.T. Miller. On a rush up the left boards, he had the presence to send a one-handed backhand feed while down all the way to a wide open Michael Grabner, who beat Sergei Bobrovsky in front to get the crowd back in it. It was a huge momentum turning goal.

They spent the rest of the period pressing Columbus for the equalizer and nearly had it before time ran out. Miller fed Shattenkirk for a last second shot that deflected wide. Bobrovsky also made some tough saves.

The first of three Columbus penalties wound up in the back of the net. With Panarin off for high-sticking Ryan McDonagh, Shattenkirk took a Mats Zuccarello pass at the right point and let go of a perfect wrist shot that beat Bobrovsky through a great Kreider screen. That tied the score at two.

But with the momentum following a close call in the Columbus end, Boone Jenner outmuscled Shattenkirk to the net forcing Lundqvist into a save. The puck caromed behind the net where Brandon Dubinsky set up Oliver Bjorkstrand to put the Jackets back in front.

But a real good hit by Steven Kampfer on Zac Dalpe in terms neutral zone led to him retaliating with a elbow minor. That was the turning point. Such a bad penalty by a fourth liner had to infuriate John Tortorella.

As if to stick the knife in, the Rangers tied it again right off a good faceoff win by Mika Zibanejad. He won it back to Buchnevich for a quick shot that went off a Jacket body right to Kreider in front for a easy rebound goal. His fifth in the last six games.

With the crowd revved up, David Savard took a third straight bad penalty when he’s tripped up Grabner in the offensive zone. The look on Tortorella was priceless. His team basically imploded.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Pavel Buchnevich

Pavel Buchnevich beats Sergei Bobrovsky on the power play for the game-winner in the third period of a Rangers comeback 5-3 win over th3 Blue Jackets. AP Photo via Getty Images

It took the Rangers just 12 seconds to score the go-ahead tally. On a wonderfully constructed play, Buchnevich and Zibanejad worked a give and go with Zibanejad finding a wide open Buchnevich with a great saucer backhand feed for a one-timer into a open side for his sixth coming with 8:33 left. Buchnevich celebrated with a cool right pump of the arm. His go to.

Columbus didn’t quit. They spent some time in the Ranger zone with some sustained pressure. But Lundqvist made a couple of big stops and his teammates got out of trouble.

With Bobrovsky pulled, Alain Vigneault wisely stuck his best two defensive forwards on with Zibanejad to protect the lead. Out came Grabner and Jesper Fast. They got the job done with Fast making a defensive play and pass to the speedy Grabner, who pushed the puck ahead to himself for a empty netter with 49 seconds remaining on a delayed call. It would’ve been a goal anyway.

All in all, a rewarding victory for a suddenly rejuvenated team that’s turned the page. Next up are the hated Bruins visiting the Garden on Rivalry Night tomorrow. That should be fun. The intense disdain between Boston and New York is well documented. Although it’s not what it once was in the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s, no two cities hate each other more.

The Bruins come in playing well having beaten the Wild 5-3. They’re 6-4-3 and could be one of the teams the Rangers fight for the wildcard. They’ll be without Brad Marchand, who’s day to day. That sucks for my fantasy team. But it’s a rebuilding year. I’m kicking myself for not taking Clayton Keller. At least I have the Devil duo of Nico Hischier and Will Butcher along with Mikhail Sergachev.

It’s nice to see the Rangers respond to the poor start by stringing some good performances together. Since Vigneault was on the firing line, he’s done a much better job with the lines and even made a vet accountable with Brendan Smith sitting out a third straight due to his hideous play.

Kampfer and Nick Holden have been fine. Holden has actually worked well with McDonagh. He has points in the last two. The odd couple of Kampfer and Marc Staal are together. They were fine last night. Shattenkirk and Brady Skjei are a thing that should remain.

Onto the next one.

Play of the Game

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