HARD HITS: Hockey Day In America

It’s Hockey Day In America. Well, really it was kick-started last night with the big outdoor game played between the LA Kings and Colorado Avalanche at the U. S. Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The Stadium Series was won by the Kings 3-1 over the Avalanche. Tyler Toffoli scored the game-winner with 55 seconds left in regulation. He also scored into an empty net to become the first player to record a hat trick in an outdoor game.

The NHL has been playing these games for over a decade. Nobody ever had one. Think of all the talent too. Crosby. Malkin. Ovechkin. Kane. Toews. Pastrnak. Marchand. Bergeron. The list goes on. Toffoli is a good player who’s been part of a Stanley Cup with the Kings. He’s quietly had a nice season with 18 goals. Many expect the 26-year old forward to be available this trade deadline. He could have a new team in eight days.

Speaking of celebrating American hockey, nothing quite says celebration like NBC having the Penguins whip the woeful Red Wings 5-1 on national TV. Patric Hornqvist had three points (2-1-3) as the Pens chased poor Jimmy Howard, who fell to 2-22-2. The game should’ve been played at a neutral site. At least it might have given Detroit a better chance.

Why the Red Wings continue to be on NBC or their other network is insane. It’s like featuring the Knicks on ABC/ESPN or TNT. You just don’t do it or avoid doing so as much as possible. Outside of Pittsburgh, who’s going to watch? No disrespect to Hockeytown. But even they gotta be sick of seeing their inept team. Here’s hoping Alexis Lafreniere can save them. It’s not even a lock due to the lottery. Watch the Devils win again or Montreal somehow defy the odds.

Next on tap is an Original Six match-up between Boston and New York. The Bruins are trying to hold off the red hot Lightning for the league’s best record. They lead Tampa by a point coming into MSG for the third and final meeting with the Rangers. The Rangers have won a season high four in a row. They still have wildcard hopes despite playing in the wrong division. A win of any kind puts them up to 66 with 24 games remaining. That would put some more pressure on the Blue Jackets, who play later at the Devils. They and the Flyers each have 71 points. The Hurricanes trail by two and host leading scorer Leon Draisaitl and Edmonton.

The race is a crazy one. While you have as many as seven teams in the crowded Metro fighting for five spots, the Atlantic only has two playoff locks in the Bruins and Lightning. The Maple Leafs are third with 70 points. Four clear of slumping Florida. At this point given their latest blown three goal lead last night, you’d have to figure Montreal is out of it with Buffalo. The Habs are overusing Carey Price and continue to lose. They’re not good enough. The Sabres are a one man show thanks to American star Jack Eichel. He is a dynamic player that makes everyone better. If only he had more help.

There are other games taking place later today. That includes a rematch between the Predators and suddenly slumping Blues. Nashville got a big win yesterday 4-3 at St. Louis. They’ve played a little better under John Hynes. I wouldn’t be shocked if they found their way in. A classic home-and-home series between division rivals is always good. The Blues are trying to hang onto first place with the Avalanche and Stars on their tails.

Eichel and the Sabres host rival Toronto tonight. That’s always interesting. Can Eichel continue his hot streak versus American sniper Auston Matthews? Matthews is tied for the league lead with 42 goals. He and David Pastrnak each are up to 42 while Alex Ovechkin is stuck on 40 as he chases 700. Maybe he wants to do it at home.

The last game on a busy Sunday slate is the Blackhawks visiting the Jets. Both teams are out of the playoffs right now. Winnipeg is three points out with two games at hand on Arizona. Chicago trails the Coyotes by six with three extra games left. They blew out the Flames 8-4 in Calgary last night. The Flames are vulnerable due to no defense. They’re missing both Mark Giordano and Travis Hamonic. Neither David Rittich or Cam Talbot could save them from a Hawks onslaught. They are tied with the Coyotes in points (66) for the wildcard. They’ve played one fewer game. So, they’re in the first wildcard.

The Western race should continue to be unpredictable. With Nashville, Winnipeg, Minnesota and Chicago still alive for the playoffs, only the three miserable three California teams (Sharks, Ducks, Kings) are out of contention. The Sharks lost Erik Karlsson for the remainder of the season due to thumb surgery. Joe Thornton is expected to be moved in what’s likely his final season. Wouldn’t it be something if he went to a team and won a Cup?

While they continue to celebrate how far American hockey has come almost 40 years to the Miracle On Ice (Feb. 22, 1980), enjoy the stars that have emerged out of Team USA. From Patrick Kane, who could one day top all American players in goals, assists and points to the unreal hands of Matthews, who’s vying for the Rocket Richard, there’s a lot of talent to appreciate.

Eichel. Kane. Matthews. Those are the headliners followed by John Carlson, Kyle Connor, JT Miller, Max Pacioretty, Sean Couturier, Blake Wheeler, Johnny Gaudreau. Jake Guentzel would be near the top of he didn’t get hurt. He’s a great finisher. Chris Kreider is finally putting it altogether. This could be the year he hits 30 goals. Will it be as a Blueshirt?

Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes and Tony DeAngelo are emerging stars representing the stars and stripes. You have old reliable guys like Keith Yandle and Ryan Suter. Plus the always overlooked TJ Oshie, who came up big to help Ovechkin and the Caps win the Cup two years ago. Bryan Rust and Brock Nelson are emerging players. Even though he plays on a bad team, Dylan Larkin will be heard from. Torey Krug remains a underrated defenseman on the Bruins. Kyle Palmieri is on the Devils and remains a player that can get 30 goals. Wait till Jack Hughes matures.

Zach Werenski has had a great year for low scoring Columbus. His 17 goals pace all NHL defensemen. When he and fellow American teammate Seth Jones are healthy, that’s quite a tandem. Alex DeBrincat isn’t having the season he had last year, but he’ll rebound. Christian Dvorak is one of the most improved Coyotes. Eventually, Brady Tkachuk will be a household name in Ottawa. He’s tougher than brother Matthew, who is hated by many players.

As for goalies, Ben Bishop is as good as anyone. He got robbed last year for the Vezina. They gave it to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s an ace in net for Tampa. Connor Hellebuyck has to do too much for Winnipeg. John Gibson is one of the better puck stoppers. However, his team is awful. Jonathan Quick has the hardware with two Cups and a Conn Smythe.

American hockey is in great shape. Happy Hockey Day In America!

Body Checks

With Alex Georgiev playing again for Igor Shesterkin, the rumblings are growing louder that Henrik Lundqvist could waive his no trade and become a former Ranger a lot sooner than anyone expected. It makes sense. He’s not playing. It’s time to move on. Go elsewhere and chase a Cup.

I’ve said before that Anthony Cirelli has been a real key to the Lightning revival. He’s having a good season for Tampa. He’s the kind of gritty player they’ll need to go far this Spring. He won’t win it, but Cirelli should be up for the Selke.

Mackenzie Blackwood deserves mention for how well he’s played recently for the Devils. He pitched consecutive shutouts and allowed one goal in three starts. He’s another young netminder to watch. The clear-cut starter in New Jersey, Blackwood will need help from a blueline that remains sketchy.

Having been shutout in consecutive losses at Nashville and Vegas last night, the Islanders have to know they need to make a move by Feb. 24. There isn’t enough offense. It can’t just be Mat Barzal skating around in circles passing pucks to noted snipers Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield. When you’re counting on those kind of D along with Devon Toews for offense, that’s bad. Jordan Eberle gets a lot of chances, but isn’t finishing consistently. Josh Bailey is more playmaker and Nelson leads the team in goals yet wasn’t out there down a goal with Semyon Varlamov on the bench. Kieffer Bellows is a rookie.

Adam Fox is a American name that should rise on that defense list. He gets better and better each game for the Blueshirts. The pair featuring him and Ryan Lindgren is their best. Both will only be 22 entering their second year in the Fall. There’s still lots of season left.

Bruce Boudreau became the latest coaching casualty following a shootout loss to the Rangers. A game his Wild led 3-1 in with under 10 minutes left. How did they respond? By getting shutout to world beater Martin Jones and the Sharks on Saturday. It’s not just the coach there. Bill Guerin has his work cut out. Getting Karill Kaprizov signed out of the KHL would dramatically help the offense. The former fifth round pick in 2015 is 27-27-54 in 53 games for CSKA Moscow.

In a move that’s not surprising, the Devils moved captain Andy Greene to the Islanders for David Quenneville and a pick. He’s in his last year. So, the Isles D adds depth. Greene likely will supplant rookie Noah Dobson, who isn’t ready yet.

Hart Race:

1. Leon Draisaitl

2. David Pastrnak

3. Artemi Panarin

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Game #57 Kreider’s big game-winning goal late gives Rangers season high four-game win streak, Georgiev makes 36 saves to beat Blue Jackets

A pumped up Chris Kreider celebrates his 23rd goal of the season with Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox. It was the the winner in a 3-1 Rangers win over the Blue Jackets. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

For most of the deciding period, nothing was separating these teams. In a hotly contested divisional match-up, the Rangers had to rely on the hot goaltending of Alex Georgiev. They also did a solid job checking in front of him despite giving up 37 shots without a banged up Tony DeAngelo. Good thing Marc Staal was able to return from the flu. They likely don’t win without him or the effort Brendan Smith gave in his second straight appearance on defense.

The difference proved to be special teams. In the second period, the Rangers successfully killed off a double minor on Pavel Buchnevich for hooking and unsportsmanlike conduct. A questionable call that wasn’t nearly as bad as the phantom trip they made on Eric Robinson in the first which had John Tortorella fuming. He would have good reason to be upset with less than four minutes left in regulation when Chris Kreider scored as a power play expired to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead over the Blue Jackets.

In their third game over four nights all on the road, the Rangers made it a perfect three-for-three on a road trip by defeating the Blue Jackets 3-1 in Nationwide Arena. By getting the latest clutch goal from Kreider, who’s now up to 23 and 17 since 12/8, the Blueshirts are alive in the playoff race. They took advantage of an undisciplined bench minor on Columbus that had Tortorella letting out a few expletives. While his penalty killing unit kept the top Rangers power play unit to the outside, they ran out of gas at the end.

Mika Zibanejad had just enough time to find Kreider in his office for a quick one-timer that beat Elvis Merzlikins with 3:11 left. It seemed like the entire two minutes were spent passing the puck around. Artemi Panarin heard it from the crowd as he passed up two good opportunities to shoot. Instead, he passed for teammates. The timing was off. It looked like it would be a missed chance. I wondered why Buchnevich wasn’t out there. They could’ve used another lefty shot, and he had the only goal for the guests up till that point.

That’s precisely the moment Kreider scored the big game-winner to give the Rangers a season high four-game win streak. With Merzlikins off for a extra attacker, Ryan Strome won a key face-off and was the recipient of a good pass from Hartford recall Phil Di Giuseppe that allowed him to seal the victory into an open net with 1:11 remaining. His 14th goal gave him points in four straight. As he’s come back to life, so has the team. That’s five points (2-3-5) in four games during the winning streak.

Strome is Panarin’s center. It was important for him to get going after a slump. Up to 49 points including a career high 35 assists in 57 games, two more points will give him a new career best for a season. Previously, he recorded 50 points (17-33-50) with the Islanders in ’14-15 as a 21-year old in his second year. Back then, he was a former fifth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft with higher expectations. The last year and a half has changed him for the better. Getting moved from Edmonton for Ryan Spooner was a wake up call. He’s been a good Ranger producing at a respectable level. Up for salary arbitration this summer as a restricted free agent, will he be part of the future?

It all depends on how things shake out. It won’t be an easy decision for Jeff Gorton or John Davidson to make. DeAngelo is having a career year with 43 points (13-30-43) before missing his first game with a shoulder injury due to a hit he delivered last night at Minnesota. Both are extremely close and in line for significant raises.

Given the situation with Kreider, who’s now on a tear as he is on the verge of unrestricted free agency, the Rangers have a difficult choice to make. The chemistry between the trio of Buchnevich, Kreider and Zibanejad is unmistakable. Not just on the ice, but off it. They are a legitimate top line when Buchnevich asserts himself the way he has been. That’s why he’s been scoring goals. He’s turned his season around by listening to the coaching staff. He’s not giving away shifts like before. That includes defensively and physically where he’s been much more engaged.

While it’s a good development, this win isn’t possible without the brilliance of Georgiev. He was really locked in. Playing a second consecutive night against a team he’s had success against, he made plenty of key saves to make sure his team came out on top. It was a good goaltender duel between Merzlikins and Georgiev. Each had to make difficult saves throughout. But it was mostly Georgiev late due to facing a Jackets onslaught the final two periods. The only goal he gave up came on a fluky shot from the dangerous Oliver Bjorkstrand.

With over a minute to go in the second period, Bjorkstrand had a loose puck come right to him with Jacob Trouba right there. He snuck a backhand through traffic by Georgiev for his team-leading 19th to tie the game with 68 seconds left from Gus Nyquist and Scott Harrington. It was a smart play by a good player. The same guy who sniped two past Igor Shesterkin at The Garden including the winner with 34 ticks left in regulation during the last meeting.

Despite being badly outshot, the Rangers knew if they played better and could win a period versus a shorthanded Columbus team that doesn’t have much offense, they would come out with a win. That’s exactly how it played out.

Until the Jackets took the bench minor, it had the look of another closely fought one goal contest that would require overtime to decide a winner. The Rangers didn’t play great by any stretch. They relied heavily on Georgiev, who made some dandies including a big leg save on a Nyquist rebound point blank to keep it tied. He made Quinn’s decision to go back-to-back with him look good.

In the first, it was a Buchnevich tip in off a Trouba point shot that gave the Blueshirts an early 1-0 lead just 22 seconds in. His 13th goal gave him goals in two straight and extended his point streak to three (2-2-4). Since Jan. 21, Buchnevich has six goals and four assists totaling 10 points over the last 10 games. He’s a different player. Now up to 34 points, he has a chance to get 50 for the first time. His career high is 43 (14-29-43) coming in ’17-18. Last year, a strong finish resulted in a career best 21 goals (7 PPG) and 38 points in 64 games. By playing well, he’s boosted his value which I think means he’ll stay put. He doesn’t turn 25 April 17.

It was during the second that Columbus applied the pressure on the Rangers. They had a few good shifts and forced Georgiev into some tough stops. Then came the iffy Buchnevich hold on Zach Werenski that lead to an upset Buchnevich getting an extra two for arguing the call. Fortunately, the penalty kill got it done. They’ve quietly improved under assistant Lindy Ruff. When he got out of the box and to the bench during a stoppage, he gave Ruff and the killers a thumbs up. A sign of a maturing player.

It took some extra effort for Bjorkstrand to tie the game up with 68 seconds remaining. On a strong shift, a Harrington shot that Nyquist deflected went off Georgiev. The puck took a favorable hop to Bjorkstrand, who whirled around and threw a tricky backhand upstairs into the top of the net with Trouba on him. It seems like he and Brady Skjei are always out for these goals. I’m not going to kill them here. It was one of those plays. It took a lot of hustle for Bjorkstrand to score.

In the third, the Rangers cleaned it up by not taking any penalties. The only one they got was the four minutes on Buchnevich they killed. For the most part, the game was interesting due to it being mostly played at five-on-five.

Columbus definitely came out more aggressive looking for the go-ahead goal. It never came due to Georgiev. He was the number one star in my view. I haven’t looked at the official box score because the site is down. He got a break when Boone Jenner hit the goalpost on a shorthanded break. I don’t think it ever was going in due to Georgiev challenging him. But it still was oh so close. He credited the defense overall afterwards.

There were a couple of instances where Buchnevich created opportunities either for himself or teammates. But Merzlikins played well as he has since taking over the starting job on Dec. 27 for Joonas Korpisalo. He’s close to returning. Merzlikins finished with 25 saves.

It took a ill advised too many men on the ice penalty to beat Elvis. Even though they were unable to get much set up due to the stingy box the Blue Jackets played, the Rangers kept the puck in and continued to maintain possession.

That led directly to Adam Fox getting the puck over to Zibanejad, who centered for Kreider’s winner at 16:49. Fox played top unit with DeAngelo out. He’s now up to 31 points (6-25-31). He won’t be up for the Calder due to Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, Merzlikins And Victor Olofsson. But he’s been brilliant. Fox is a future star on the blueline who will be a top pair guy for a long time.

His rookie partner Ryan Lindgren flies under the radar due to the nuts and bolts. He took a puck to the mouth and kept playing during a huge defensive shift. They’re the best pair this team has. Ironically, they’re birthdays are six days apart. Lindgren AKA The Warrior turned 22 on Feb. 11 while Fox blows out 22 candles on the 17th. How’s that for irony?

Following the empty netter for Strome, Kreider drew a penalty on Nyquist. They passed the puck around until the final buzzer sounded giving them a well deserved victory.

At 30-23-4 (really 30-27) with 64 points, they find themselves seven points out of the wildcard. Columbus and Philadelphia are the teams they’re chasing. Carolina won 5-2 over the Devils to move up to 69 and pull within two. They still have another game to make up.

The issue for the Rangers is the division they play in. The Metro is so much better than the Atlantic. That’s why the stupid wildcard doesn’t work. No matter what, whoever finishes in third place in that god awful division automatically gets in. Even if the Rangers were to somehow finish with the identical amount of points or better and more regulation wins than say Toronto, it won’t matter. They have to beat out the teams ahead of them. Great system.

In terms of what they have coning up during President’s Week, there are the very tough Bruins visiting Madison Square Garden Sunday at 3:30 PM on NBC. Then Wednesday Night at the Blackhawks for another game on NBCSN. They then visit Carolina next Friday and go for the four game sweep. Is that a game Henrik Lundqvist plays in considering his mastery over the Canes?

They have one game remaining with the Blue Jackets on my Dad’s birthday, March 24. They lead the season series 2-1. They have a home-and-home series at the Flyers Feb. 28 and then in MSG Mar. 1. The last meeting is on April Fools Day at The Garden. Whether or not it comes down to that depends on the next five weeks.

Battle Of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers (13th of season, led team with 5 shots, +1 in 16:49)

2nd 🌟 Chris Kreider, Rangers (23rd of season at 16:49 for winner plus 🍎 giving him 29 points-17-12-29 in 28 games since 12/8)

1st 🌟 Alex Georgiev, Rangers (36 saves to win a second consecutive night)

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Georgiev to go again with Shesterkin out

When they drop the puck in an hour on Valentine’s Day at Columbus, it’ll again be Alex Georgiev starting for the Rangers. With coach David Quinn updating the status of new number one goalie Igor Shesterkin due to a minor ankle injury he suffered in a win over the Jets, he’s opted to give the prized rookie extra time off.

It makes sense. They don’t want to take any chances. Make sure Shesterkin is ready to go before bringing him back. He’s won six of his first seven starts and proven to be the best of the three goalies. If they feel he’s ready for Sunday’s matinee versus the Bruins, I have to believe he’ll be back in net.

For now, it appears Quinn is more comfortable with Georgiev as the backup than Henrik Lundqvist. This has all been covered before and it’s becoming annoying. I actually am surprised Lundqvist isn’t starting tonight considering it’s the second game of a back-to-back. Maybe it’s a signal of where things are for the soon to be 38-year old. He turns it on March 2.

Going with Georgiev a second consecutive night in a row is interesting. He was okay in last night’s come from behind win at Minnesota. He didn’t have much work finishing with 23 saves. However, Georgiev made some key stops including on a couple of breakaways. An area Lundqvist used to be money at.

Apparently, that 4-3 shootout win signaled the end for Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. He was given his walking papers today. He becomes the eighth coaching casualty. Yikes.

So, it’ll be Georgiev versus Elvis Merzlikins. The Blue Jackets are tied in points (71) with the Flyers for the wildcard. By virtue of three more ROW, they are in the first wildcard. Both teams have 23 regulation wins and 24 games left.

With their second three-game winning streak of the season, the Rangers enter with 62 points with 26 games remaining. They’re nine points out. So if they’re to have any chance, they need to win this game in regulation. The last one was the disappointing one goal home loss in which Oliver Bjorkstrand scored with over 30 seconds left at MSG. A game I was at.

The Jackets are without Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones. They’re trying to get in despite all the injuries they’ve had in an ultra competitive Metro Division. I wouldn’t write off the Hurricanes yet. But they’re clearly struggling since the loss of top defenseman Dougie Hamilton. They lack a true number one goalie. Lately, it’s been James Reimer over Petr Mrazek. Is that good enough to squeak in?

As for any crazy rumors of the Canes and Blueshirts talking about Lundqvist, I’ll believe it when I see it. Basically, I don’t believe it. I don’t see him getting moved.

I’m definitely curious to see how the Rangers come out. Don’t forget it’s also a back-to-back for the Blue Jackets, who were 4-3 losers at the Sabres due to a gigantic three-point night from star Jack Eichel. He’s unreal. Too bad he plays on such a bad team.

This is the third game in four nights for the Blueshirts. They can actually run the table on the three game road trip. We’ll see if they’re up to the difficult task.

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Some Lundqvist Thoughts

The end is nearing for Rangers legend Henrik Lundqvist.

Knowing that the end is approaching for Henrik Lundqvist, I put up a tweet last night that sums up my thoughts on what he’s meant to the Rangers.

It’s easy to take for granted how great he once was. Henrik has been a special athlete in this city who became a symbol of what we want all our players to reach. All the great moments should never be forgotten. Number 30 was king of the city while other teams were mere afterthoughts. He’s as competitive a person as I’ve seen. That’s why his regression has been hard. Not every fan is handling the reality well.

February 24 is coming soon. Even if he stays due to the NMC, it’s knowing that the situation won’t improve. Igor Shesterkin is the clear cut number one goalie. Alex Georgiev may or may not stay. That depends on what the organization decides is best. Does Lundqvist want to end his career this way? Or is there a chance he will reconsider. A buyout is possible which would again take up dead cap space for two more years.

While we don’t know what the future holds, the all-time franchise leader in wins (459) and shutouts (64) along with games played (885) will one day have his jersey retired. He’ll join goalies Eddie Giacomin and Mike Richter. Two of the best in Rangers history. Only Richter has a Cup. The other two came close, but weren’t as lucky.

In the coming days and possibly offseason, there will be more on Lundqvist. A gem of a seventh round pick taken 205th in the 2000 NHL Draft that made good.

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Game #56 Buchnevich goal sparks Blueshirt comeback over Wild in shootout, Georgiev steps in for Shesterkin, Zibanejad and Panarin deliver

Mika Zibanejad beats Alex Stalock in Round One of the shootout to help give the Rangers a come from behind 4-3 win over the Wild. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

Hockey can be funny sometimes. All it takes is one lucky bounce to turn a game around. That’s precisely what happened for the Rangers in a weird but hard fought comeback win over the Wild via a shootout. They mounted a two goal rally with under 10 minutes left in regulation to pull out a 4-3 win in St. Paul.

Considering how frustrating most of the game was against a stingy and disciplined Wild fighting for every point in a very close Western race, let’s give the Rangers some credit. They never quit. Even when things weren’t going their way, they kept pushing forward after falling behind 3-1 following a unlucky second period.

After coach David Quinn revealed that Igor Shesterkin is the number one goalie, they had to hold him out of tonight’s schedule due to the ankle injury he played through in the win at Winnipeg. We’ll see if he gets back in tomorrow at Columbus, who should be steamed over a bad 4-3 overtime loss at Buffalo.

Instead, Alex Georgiev got the call in net. Henrik Lundqvist backed up and took a photo for a lucky fan prior to the game. At this point, he knows what the deal is. It can’t be easy. But it is what it is. The organization has to do what’s best moving forward. I’ll have more on that in the coming days. It deserves its own post. Especially when it comes to the memorable era of Lundqvist for better than a decade.

I know much has been said about it in this space and other spaces. Pro or con, this day was coming. Especially once Shesterkin established himself just like he had at Hartford following an unbelievable time back home for St. Petersburg SKA in the KHL.

Georgiev is now the other young goalie for now in this complex three goalie system. He worked hard to prove himself after a good second half in his rookie year. Even though his numbers aren’t great like Shesterkin, he’s done enough to become the backup. Where does that leave Lundqvist? In a dicey situation. One that looks headed to a resolution sooner or later. Whether it be at the Feb. 24 trade deadline, or this summer with a potential buyout possible, it looks like we’re nearing the end of Henrik’s days in a Rangers jersey. Whatever happens, what the 2000 seventh round steal accomplished should never be forgotten. No great era of Rangers hockey or three deep runs without him.

Upward and onward, Georgiev came into a tough spot and did a good job. He didn’t have to be great, but when they needed the saves to keep them in it, he gave it to them. For the night, he finished with 23 stops. None bigger than the denial he made on Eric Staal on a rebound by getting a toe on the rebound. He also stoned Mats Zuccarello on a breakaway by closing up the five-hole.

For the longest time, they turned Alex Stalock into Brodeur or Hasek. It was quite frustrating. The only goal they had on the Wild backup turned starter was a perfect Tony DeAngelo cross ice pass for Panarin, who rifled home number 29 over two minutes after Ryan Donato had beaten Georgiev with a backhand that looked to deflect off a out of position Brady Skjei. Congrats to Mikko Koivu on career assist number 500. I have his jersey somewhere in here. When is Skjei ever not screwing things up defensively? He and Jacob Trouba have had their issues. Right now, Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox are the team’s best pair.

Most of the play was five-on-five the first two periods due to the refs letting the teams play. That resulted in many battles which was interesting. You had Ryan Hartman and antagonist Brendan Lemieux get into it during a scrum with Lemieux pulling his head back like he was Crosby. That made me laugh. He’s such a punk, but if he’s on your side, you love him. They each got matching minors. That lead to four-on-four. The only time it happened.

It was a little after the penalties expired that the Wild retook the lead. On some good sustained pressure by their checking line, Jonas Brodin took a pass from Jordan Greenway and beat Georgiev with a high one-timer glove side for a 2-1 lead with 3:17 left in the first. It was a good play started by Matt Dumba to Greenway, who was able to find Brodin open for the shot. Filip Chytil didn’t do a good enough job covering him. The puck might’ve deflected. That’s an area he needs to work on.

If the Wild had the better of the play early, the Blueshirts were sharper during a good second period. They definitely tried to use their superior skating and speed to get in on the forecheck. Something Skjei alluded to during a first intermission interview with John Giannone. But nothing was getting by Stalock. Despite Panarin creating good opportunities for his line with Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast, Stalock held the fort. He got lucky too on a couple of saves with a giveaway nearly causing a goal. Chris Kreider also had a rebound for an open net, but a Wild player prevented another goal.

Pavel Buchnevich was very noticeable throughout. He was aggressive again shooting the puck and recovering pucks. However, nobody was having any luck. It just felt like one of those games where nothing goes right. Even with Kaapo Kakko thinking shot more, Stalock denied him. In a period that had some physical edge to it due to how well it was officiated, it was Minnesota who got the only goal when Greenway somehow got free to tip in a Brodin shot at 17:53 for a 3-1 lead. It looked like that would be a backbreaking goal. Brodin had been the best Wild player with a goal and assist.

The Wild defense is good. They have Brodin, Dumba, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon. A great top four who all played over 23 minutes for coach Bruce Boudreau. It’s strange that they are dangling either Brodin or Dumba with the latter especially good. He missed a ton of time due to injury. But he looks to be rounding into form. I understand they want forwards back. They also can use a goalie.

The frustration continued in the third. Following a big save from Georgiev on Donato, Trouba and the forward got into it. Each went off for matching roughs. Where was that urgency during the shift that saw Donato get behind for a breakaway with Georgiev coming up large? At least a hustling Trouba got some back pressure on Donato late to make the save easier.

Chytil finally drew the game’s first penalty when he continued to work hard in the Wild corner until defenseman Carson Soucy gave him enough crosschecks to earn a minor. As mad as he was, the Rangers sixth ranked power play may as well have declined it. It was hideous. They did absolutely nothing against the 30th rated penalty kill. That in itself was shocking given how the Wild play. You’d think their kill would be better than that. It looked like it. They didn’t allow one shot on goal to Sam Rosen’s amazement.

Zibanejad then interfered with Dumba to put Minnesota on the power play. They weren’t able to make it work. In fact, a bad Skjei tripping minor on Marcus Foligno gave them another crack at it with under eight minutes left. However, the Rangers did a nice job of penalty killing. Even minus a flu-ridden Marc Staal, who Brendan Smith subbed in for, they got the job done to give themselves a chance.

Prior to that big penalty kill, a fortunate bounce turned the game around. On just a bizarre sequence, a loose puck saw three Blueshirts all in the vicinity near Stalock. With Zibanejad, DeAngelo and Buchnevich all in the area, the puck took a favorable bounce off Buchnevich and into the Wild net for an unassisted goal at 11:51. I’m still unsure what happened. However, the right guy scored the goal. All night, Buchnevich was hustling and getting chances. He put himself in the right spot for his 12th to pull the Rangers within one. He’s been playing his best hockey. Good for him.

Once they got through the Skjei penalty, I wondered if they could somehow get this impossible game tied. Incredibly, they did. Georgiev was pulled with a couple of minutes remaining. On a surprisingly quick play where Fox got the puck to Panarin, he threw a innocent looking shot pass for Zibanejad, who calmly redirected it like a bunt into an open side from the slot. It was stunning. It also was a very skilled play for Zibanejad to pull off. He’s up to 24 goals. That play tied it with 1:06 to go in regulation.

Georgiev had to face one last try from the Wild. The game would go to overtime. In it, the Rangers controlled most of the three-on-three. Quinn rewarded Buchnevich with an OT shift with Chytil, who was denied by Stalock on a rebound. The Wild goalie also robbed Trouba of the game-winner on a give and go pass from Zibanejad. He coolly gloved the high Trouba shot.

Georgiev had his best save on a flying Kevin Fiala. Wow. He was dangerous in the overtime, creating the Wild’s best opportunities. He definitely is starting to resemble the player he was in Nashville before a horrific injury. The Wild should feel good about his development.

Unfortunately, the three-on-three didn’t decide things. It went to a shootout. It was only the third one for the Rangers. They came in 0-2. I thought it would be advantage Wild. But once Quinn sent out Zibanejad, he erased doubts by going to his patented backhand short side top on Stalock. Following a good aggressive stop from Georgiev on Donato, out came Panarin.

Artemi Panarin has Alex Stalock on a string after a series of fakes to score in the second round of the shootout. Was it legal? They counted it. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

In the second round of the shootout, here came the Bread Man putting on the kind of dangling and puck wizardry that would make Sugar Ray Leonard proud. He kept moving until he beat a shocked Stalock on a very patient forehand deke. I wondered like Joe Micheletti if it would count. Did his momentum stop? You’re not allowed to for the goal to count. I thought it would be overturned. Instead, they said good goal to boos and a confused look on Boudreau. Even some friends thought it wasn’t a goal.

At that point, it didn’t matter. The Rangers were ahead, 2 nil needing one more stop from Georgiev. Boudreau went with shootout ace Zach Parise. The veteran made a great move opting for a fake to the backhand and pulled the puck to a gaping net. But it rang off the crossbar to give Georgiev and the Blueshirts the win. That’s how it goes sometimes.

The two points give the Rangers 62 and their second three-game winning streak of the season. The problem is they play in the wrong division. Even after getting trounced 5-0 by the Predators, the Islanders remain in third with 72 points. A Flyers 6-2 win over Florida combined with a point for the Blue Jackets have them tied with 71 for the two wildcards.

That means the Rangers are still nine out. Even with games at hand including a stern test at Columbus on Friday night, they need help. If they played in the Atlantic, they’d be only six behind the Leafs, who were 3-2 losers to the Stars in regulation. They remain in third with 68 points. Florida is blowing all these chances. A win would’ve tied them in points. The Canadiens are more alive than our team. It doesn’t seem fair. But this is the playoff system they set up.

I guess it is what it is. If they continue to win with tough tests in Columbus and at home for the Bruins on Sunday at 3:30 PM, then it gets interesting. The team still has some hard decisions coming no matter what. Let’s enjoy how they’re playing for Quinn. The growth is evident. Twenty-three more points until the 85 I predicted.

Battle Of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Jonas Brodin, Wild (goal and 🍎 with a +1 rating in 23:57, very underrated defenseman)

2nd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers (scored a momentum turning goal for 12th while leading team with 5 shots, a different player)

1st 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (game tying goal with 1:06 left in regulation, plus the shootout winner)

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The latest on Bouwmeester, NBC Sports wusses out on Roenick, Buchnevich has fun with TSN, Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame ceremony

It’s been a busy day in hockey. At last check, everyone’s thoughts were with Jay Bouwmeester after he collapsed following a shift on the Blues bench. For good reason.

It turns out that the 36-year old well respected defenseman had a heart attack. If not for a defibrillator and heroic trainers, we’d be talking about a horrible tragedy. It’s hard to believe this happened. However, medical emergencies do sometimes even with professional athletes. Thank god they saved his life.

All the best wishes go out to Bouwmeester, his family and the St. Louis Blues. All we can hope is he makes a full recovery and can live a long time spending the rest of his life with his family. That’s all that matters.

The Ducks and Blues made the only decision possible last night. To not continue playing. The game will be made up at a later date.

In different news, it looks like NBC Sports Network has decided to move on from Jeremy Roenick. He was suspended for making unprofessional remarks about coworker Kathryn Tappen.

That happened a while ago. It was in an interview with the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast that he mentioned a threesome with Tappen and his wife Tracy. Of course, he wasn’t serious. But it was still inappropriate and insensitive which Roenick apologized for last month. He called Tappen “one of the most professional sports personalities I know.”

I’m not going to condone what he said. It obviously wasn’t smart. Even if he was joking while on a podcast, it wasn’t the wisest decision. He definitely regretted it and still does. However, for NBCSN to not give him another chance seems hypocritical and thin skinned. They employ Mike Milbury. Here is Roenick’s disappointed reaction to the news that he won’t be back:

Short and sweet. He could’ve took a shot at his former employer, but what good would it have done? This is how it is in today’s PC world. Cancel culture isn’t healthy due to it being reactionary.

People make mistakes they regret. We are only human. It just seems like the way we’re headed is bad. But NYC has no problem freeing hardened criminals back out on the street due to the ridiculous bail reform law.

Roenick will be better off for it and land on his feet. I would guess either FS1 or his own podcast like Don Cherry and Ron Duguay.

During last night’s 4-1 win at Winnipeg, Pavel Buchnevich had some fun with the TSN camera crew. As they were walking off to the locker room between periods, he sarcastically said, “Number 12,” in reference to his name on the silly TSN trade deadline list. Then added, “Number one,” while pointing to teammate Chris Kreider, who told him to shut up in Russian.

Stick tap to Ryan Mead AKA Church of Kakko above for the great catch. Buchnevich doesn’t do interviews with reporters who cover the team. It’s probably due to him not being comfortable. But it looks like be speaks perfect English and has a good sense of humor.

Why not? Things have been going much better for him. Since being reunited with KZB Line members Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, he has eight points (4-4-8) over the last eight games. While still a streaky player, the 24-year old Russian forward does better when he’s more active during shifts. He’s been shooting the puck and taking the body. When he does both, he’s much more effective. I don’t see him going anywhere. He has one more year at a cap friendly hit of $3.25 million.

And finally, for those hockey fans who wanted to see the nice pregame Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame ceremony inducting Thomas Steen and Randy Carlyle, here it is via the official website in a tweet I sent out.

It’s not over the top because it didn’t have to be. It was a nice thing for the Winnipeg Jets to do. Honoring past greats who actually were original Jets shows appreciation for what those players gave. Thank god we have the Winnipeg Jets back.

A big boo goes out to MSG Network for not airing any of the ceremony. Even if it had nothing to do with our team, they could’ve at least shown highlights of the Jets unveiling the numbers. Instead, you had a useless segment involving Steve Valiquette and Anson Carter talking about nothing.

We already knew the storyline about Jacob Trouba returning to Winnipeg. Sam and Joe also talked over the ceremony without an MSG camera showing the background of it. Brutal. I love Sam and respect Joe, but good god. It was a waste of TV.

I long for the days of classic MSG when you had Bob Page and Mike Crispino hosting SportsDesk. They were true pros and pulled no punches. The Network has gotten progressively worse since they ditched The Vault that showed old games of both the Rangers and Knicks. There is only one small egotistical person to blame.

At least we have social media which can be good for something. Good job by the Jets having the nice ceremony on their site. It was wonderfully done.

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Game #55 Shesterkin survives injury scare to make NHL history in 4-1 win at Winnipeg, Kreider pumps in two more goals to increase value, hearts with Jay Bouwmeester

The Rangers celebrate a Chris Kreider power play goal that made it 2-0 end route to a 4-1 statement win at the Jets in Winnipeg. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

The Rangers went into Winnipeg and came out victorious at very loud Bell MTS Place. On a special night in which the Jets honored past great players Thomas Steen and Randy Carlyle by inducting them into their Hall of Fame, it was the Blueshirts who spoiled the fun by posting an impressive 4-1 victory.

It was their second win in a row and third over the last four. In fact, since returning from the break, they’ve won five of seven to move up to 60 points in 55 games played. Coupled with a Flyers 5-3 loss at the Islanders due to giving up a Ryan Pulock goal in the final minute after rallying to tie it, the Rangers find themselves in an interesting position.

With the Hurricanes losing and Florida winning at the Devils 5-3, the wildcard picture is tightening up. The Isles win allowed them to jump over idle Columbus back into third place with 72 points. The Blue Jackets are in the first wildcard with 70 while the Jekyll and Hyde Flyers are at 69. Each has 25 games left. Carolina sits two back with a game at hand and the Panthers are three out with 26 left. They also stayed within two of Toronto, who got a huge break on a controversial disallowed Jacob Chychrun goal before winning in overtime over Arizona. All I’ll say is it’s classic Toronto. See my tweet below.

If that’s goaltender interference on Derek Stepan when he’s clearly outside the crease with Jack Campbell coming out to challenge, I don’t understand the rule. He did make a little contact before the shot, but not with his skate. It seems like the Coyotes got screwed. They are fighting for the playoffs too. This one benefitted the NHL’s chosen team.

Moving on. I want to send my very best wishes and prayers to Jay Bouwmeester. He collapsed on the Blues bench during the first period of their game against the Ducks. His life was saved by a trainer who used a defibrillator. Thank god. I don’t need to remind anyone what happened over a decade ago to Alexei Cherepanov in the KHL. Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis also come to mind.

Some things are much bigger than hockey. Let’s hope Bouwmeester makes a full recovery and can live a productive and healthy life with his family. The hockey community are thinking about him tonight.

I think it goes without saying how much everyone cares. This isn’t about sports. It’s about life. Having attended a wake the other night for a friend’s father, I am very sensitive to this stuff. I just want the very best for Bouwmeester going forward.

It’s hard to even transition to reviewing the game. But I will do the best I can. This was the first road start for Igor Shesterkin. The 24-year old Russian netminder passed his road test with flying colors. He hit a bit of a speed bump when Tony DeAngelo accidentally shoved Andrew Copp into him to send the rookie goalie to the ice lying on his back. It was panic time for Rangerstown.

Igor Shesterkin is down on the ice following an accidental collision with Andrew Copp due to teammate Tony DeAngelo pushing him from behind for interference. He would leave the game due to concussion protocol and later return to make 42 saves in the Rangers win over Winnipeg. AP Photo credit New York Post via Getty Images

The strange part of this whole thing is DeAngelo took his penalty at 8:12 of the first period. Shesterkin was able to get up and continue. It wasn’t until several minutes later that Rangers trainer came out to take Shesterkin off the ice due to the concussion spotter making a phone call. Like Sam Rosen wisely pointed out, why did it take so long?

The Rangers weren’t happy following the game. In any event, Shesterkin showed no signs of being hurt. He was sharp afterwards and really composed like usual. Henrik Lundqvist came in and made one good reactionary save on a one-timer. He played the remaining 6:04 of the first finishing with that one save. A credit to how well the team played.

With less than a minute left in the period, a heads up play by Pavel Buchnevich sent Chris Kreider in behind the Jets defense. The sizzling hot left wing flew in and went to his patented backhand tuck around Connor Hellebuyck for his 21st goal with 35 seconds remaining. It was a beauty. His bread and butter move to give him 15 goals and 26 points in his last 26 games. He wasn’t done. Apparently, this happened before in the same exact building nearly five years ago. Wow.

The game also marked the return of Jacob Trouba to Winnipeg since asking for a trade last summer. Booed early on, the Jets did recognize him with a nice video tribute during a stoppage turning jeers to cheers. He gave them five and a half good years. Brendan Lemieux also made his return without as much hoopla.

They cheered when Trouba took a incidental tripping minor penalty on Kyle Connor at the 16-second mark of the second. However, a strong penalty kill along with an impenetrable Shesterkin easily killed off the second Jets power play.

Continuing to play a good road game, the Rangers went to work on the power play. With Gabriel Bourque off for hooking Brady Skjei, it only took them 16 seconds to set up Kreider for his second of the game. On a good play from both Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome, a quick low shot off Hellebuyck rebounded out to Strome, who found Kreider for his 22nd at 7:30. It was his 10th goal in the last 12 dating back to Jan. 7. He’s playing the best hockey of his career. There aren’t enough adjectives.

Since 12/8, Kreider is up to 16 goals with 11 assists for 27 points in his last 26 games. That means that 27 of his 40 points have come since then. That’s also 16 of his 22 goals. That’s absurd. He is in full beast mode. It’s like his season didn’t really begin until my birthday. Pure coincidence.

As for the rest of the period, outside of Ryan Lindgren not backing down from Patrik Laine when the two exchanged pleasantries to get matching minors for slashing and cross-checking, it was played exclusively at even strength. Mostly at five-on-five. To their credit, the Rangers didn’t give the free wheeling and ultra skilled Jets the time and space they wanted to make plays through the neutral zone. They love high tempo.

Shesterkin didn’t have to contend with breakaways or many uncontested break ins. The Blueshirt defense saw to it that the dangerous Winnipeg stars which include Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor and Nik Ehlers were kept in front of them. They allowed Shesterkin to see most of the shots. He stopped them. He’s very mature and technically sound. If the puck hits him, it’s not going anywhere. Laine found that out a few times. He had a game high seven shots with Ehlers right behind with six good ones.

We like to kill our team when the defense doesn’t get it done. But I have no complaints for any of the six D. That includes Brady Skjei and Trouba. They were good along with emerging five-on-five pair Lindgren and Adam Fox. There was a lot to like. Marc Staal also had a better night and DeAngelo recovered from his bad penalty that nearly decapitated Shesterkin.

There was one extended shift for the trio of Strome, Artemi Panarin and Jesper Fast that got them going. DeAngelo was a key factor during it nearly setting up a goal with an excellent pass in the slot. The Winnipeg crowd groaned their displeasure. Defensively speaking, the Jets can be forechecked. They rely heavily on the top pair of Neal Pionk and Josh Morrissey. Pionk logged 26:51 for coach Paul Maurice, who also double shifted Laine (25:35), Scheifele (26:01) and Connor (26:04). Wheeler also got 20:49 while Morrissey received 21:12. The big name forwards and Pionk got a bulk of it on the power play with all going over six minutes.

Maurice doesn’t have much choice. He’s still without several regulars including Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault, Luca Sbisa and Tucker Poolman. If they make the playoffs, Maurice should get Jack Adams consideration. Don’t forget the whole Dustin Byfuglien debacle either. He’s free to sign with anyone.

I’ll be brutally honest. Outside of Jack Roslovic, who I am interested in, and Sami Niku, they aren’t that deep. That’s why high character guys like Lowry, Perreault and Copp, who’s healthy, matter. They sure could use Little. But he remains out indefinitely due to a perforated eardrum and vertigo. It doesn’t sound like they’re going to be getting many guys back soon except Sbisa, who’s day to day.

If Hellebuyck didn’t make some tough stops, this would’ve been a rout. He’s played extremely well without much help from his defense. He came in with a .920 save percentage. He deserves a medal for it. Without him, they would be sunk. He’s responsible for 24 of their 29 wins. Backup Laurent Brossoit hasn’t provided much relief.

As much as we want to heap praise on Igor for making NHL history as the only goalie to record 40 saves or more in three wins of the first seven starts, he didn’t have to stand on his head. He did wind up with 42 saves overall including 11 for 11 shorthanded and 31 of 32 at even strength. Eighteen stops came in a busier third when the Jets finally turned up the heat after falling behind by four.

Sure. There were a couple of strong denials pointblank like on Laine down low on a broken play. However, his defense including the forwards were more responsible and made life easier. There weren’t any jailbreaks. There was a quiet confidence to how the team played in front of him. It’s almost as if they know they have a good chance to win. There was no panic.

Instead, it was the Jets who imploded at the start of the third. On the first shift, Panarin got into open space in transition and made a good back pass for a Fast shot that went right to Strome, who found the rebound and put it past Hellebuyck at 53 seconds for a 3-0 lead.

The hot air went out of the Winnipeg balloon. Not even a minute later, Hellebuyck misplayed a puck to Buchnevich, who was stopped. However, he had plenty of time to retrieve the loose puck behind the net and send it back in front for Zibanejad to finish for number 23 at 1:28. It was Buchnevich’s second apple of the game. He’s been a different player since the second half began. It started before the break. Why can’t he have this level of consistency more often?

Even with the explosive Jets down 4-0, I never felt they had any chance at a comeback. Game. Set. Match. It was like Novak Djokovic in Australia, or Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Or even a young Lundqvist in his prime where you knew the opponent had no hope of a comeback. Unfortunately, he doesn’t belong in the same sentence as the other two tennis legends. I’m just illustrating a point.

Shesterkin has this aura about him already. All he does is win no matter what. The Drake punchline. Yes, Ehlers caught a break when his shot took a lucky bounce off Lindgren in front for his 20th at 4:35 as the Winnipeg power play expired. Kaapo Kakko was in the box for hooking due to a Filip Chytil turnover. If Fil gets the puck in deep, there’s no penalty. But he didn’t. A learning experience for him. Kakko nearly made it two straight games with a goal on a power move to the net, but couldn’t elevate the puck over Hellebuyck.

I felt Phil Di Giuseppe had another solid game. He didn’t hurt himself while playing with the kids on the third line. Even Brett Howden was noticeable defensively providing valuable minutes shorthanded. He also won four of six draws.

The only area they team struggled was on face-offs. Winnipeg went 29-and-20 paced by Scheifele (12 for 20). Copp (7 and 4) and Wheeler (7 and 5) were also good. For our side, only Howden had a winning percentage while Zibanejad finished an even 10 and 10. Strome went 4 and 7 while Chytil struggled losing 8 of 10. If they do make the decision to move on from Strome to re-sign Kreider, Chytil is going to have to improve.

Even though the Jets outshot the Rangers 44-32 (19-11 in 3rd) and wound up with 81 attempts to our team’s 50, it was mostly by design. They played more defensively in the final period and let Shesterkin do the work. However, it’s not like they didn’t generate shots or chances. The Jets had no answer for either top line. Panarin could’ve done more damage. He was dangerous as the game wore on.

Even though the Bread Man isn’t putting up as many points, the Blueshirts are becoming a better team. They’re no longer a pushover. You can see the confidence growing in the young kids such as Chytil, Kakko, Howden, Fox and Lindgren. Just by sitting Brendan Smith and promoting Di Giuseppe, it allows Quinn to have a semblance of a fourth line he can trust with Lemieux not playing a top nine role.

There’s an awful lot to like about this win and the direction the team is taking. Things are finally looking up.

Battle of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Ryan Strome, Rangers (goal number 13 and apple for first multi-point game since Jan. 9)

2nd 🌟 Igor Shesterkin, Rangers (42 saves on 43 shots in 53:56 to improve to 6-1-0)

1st 🌟 Chris Kreider, Rangers (2 goals for numbers 21 and 22, 16-11-27 in last 26 games)

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Trouba and Lemieux return to Winnipeg, Shesterkin gets his first road test as Jets honor the past

Tonight at 8 PM, the Rangers kick off a three-game road trip at Winnipeg. Having rebounded from a dismal effort in a disappointing 3-2 loss to the Sabres with a 4-1 home win over the woeful Kings, the Blueshirts step up in competition against the Jets, who hold the final wildcard with 63 points in the West.

They’ve played one less game (57) and have one more regulation win (22) than the Coyotes, who also have 63 points. The playoff race is so wild in the Western Conference that only three teams (Ducks, Sharks, Kings) are out of it.

In fact, with the Oilers losing captain Connor McDavid for at least two weeks, they’re going to have to survive without him. They have 64 points (25 regulation wins) which keep them in second place in the Pacific with Vegas third. They also have 64, but have only 25 games left and 22 regulation wins. Then comes Calgary also with 64 and just 19 wins in regulation.

The whole playoff tiebreak system is confusing. By putting more emphasis on regulation, it’s only created more of a problem. I thought just going by regulation and overtime wins (ROW) was fine. Now, you have teams like the Rangers, who have won more games (24) in regulation than almost every team ahead of them. What does it matter when they continue to hand out free points for reaching overtime? If they really cared about winning in regulation, teams would get zilch for losing in extras like the old days. That would force them to play to win in 60 minutes and separate the contenders from the pretenders.

If you follow the Eastern race closely, then you know it looks bleak for the Rangers. Despite a 27-23-4 record (27-27) and 58 points with 24 regulation wins (more than Pens, Leafs, Isles, Blue Jackets, Flyers, Canes, Habs), they trail the final wildcard by 11 points with 28 games left. This is Game 55 later. Even crazier, they have a better record than Montreal (27-24-7), who suffered a damaging one goal loss to the Coyotes last night due to a Jacob Chychrun goal with a minute to go in regulation.

The Canadiens only have 24 games remaining with just 17 of their wins in regulation. Yet they’re much closer to the playoffs due to the Leafs at 66. Five points out for third place in the weak Atlantic. It’ll be interesting to see what happens between the Leafs, Panthers and Habs down the stretch.

While all this is nice, it doesn’t help the Rangers because they play in the much tougher Metro. A division where the Pens and Isles are jockeying for second with the slumping Caps suddenly within reach. They got thumped at home yesterday 5-3 by the Islanders in a game that was never close. Alex Ovechkin remains on 698 goals with no home games until a week from Thursday. That means he’ll likely hit 700 on the road.

While you have the top three all within reach of each other, there are the overachieving Blue Jackets also at 70 points like the Isles locked into the first wildcard. They cost themselves a point due to a terrible play by Zach Werenski in overtime that allowed Brayden Point to steal the puck and set up Nikita Kucherov for the winner on the red hot Lightning. They’re only three out behind Boston. Columbus has 23 regulation wins, but only 25 games left.

Then you have the Jekyll and Hyde Alain Vigneault Flyers, who were big winners last night over the Panthers and recently blew the doors off Washington following a 5-0 home humiliation to the Devils. They are in the second wildcard with 69 points and 26 left. Trailing them are the Hurricanes with 67 points and a game at hand. They’re a unpredictable team due to the uneven tandem of James Reimer and Petr Mrazek. If ever a club needs a goalie (Henrik Lundqvist???), it’s them. They’re also without All-Star Dougie Hamilton.

So, the Rangers are basically blocked due to the division they play in. They have to make up a deficit of 11 points in their last 28 games. Even worse, they still have 17 road games (16 after tonight) to play. They enter 11-11-2. They haven’t been dominant at home either going 16-12-2. With only two home games left this month coming both on the weekend and 11 total, they’ll have to go on a serious run away from MSG.

Complicating matters is that GM Jeff Gorton and Team President John Davidson have important roster decisions to make in the next two weeks. The Feb. 24 trade deadline will be here before you know it.

With Chris Kreider and his agent finally in discussions to see if they can figure out a way for him to stay, everything is hanging in the balance. With 25 points (14-11-25) over the last 25 games, you know how I feel about Kreider. He’ll be 29 after the season, but it’s obvious he still has a lot to give.

The question is at what cost and for how long. Can a player of his nice combination of size, strength and speed be effective into his 30’s? If he can be kept even if the price is $7 million AAV over seven years, that makes the team more competitive than say getting an unproven top prospect and late first round pick back.

I’ve seen some people say that Kreider’s price went up due to what the Wild got for Jason Zucker.I wish I agreed. The difference is Zucker still has three years remaining on a deal that averages out to $5.5 million through 2023. That’s why the Pens were willing to pay 2018 second round pick Calen Addison with a 2020 first round pick in addition to total waste Alex Galchenyuk, who’s been passed around like a bad blunt. I didn’t want to use a more offensive analogy.

As much as I like Zucker, who’s a year younger than Kreider, he’s not as good a player. But the recently turned 28-year old American forward has hit 33 goals and 64 points, doing so in a career year of ’17-18 that got him his contract. Since then, he’s only scored 35 goals in 126 games. His point production has also dipped. He had 42 points in 81 games last season and was at 14-15-29 in 45 GP this year with Minnesota.

Even though they’re hanging around in the Wild Wild West, the Wild did the right thing here. They know they need to rebuild on the fly. Even if they’re stuck with those identical contracts Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have. Both are still their best players along with Eric Staal. Kevin Fiala has come around finally. They made a mistake giving Mats Zuccarello that contract. Yikes. We dodged a major bullet.

As much as I love Zuccarello, I’m not unrealistic. The Rangers did the right thing last year moving on from him. And they might have it a home run landing Matthew Robertson in the second round of last draft. Especially if he becomes that top pair left defenseman the organization lacks. They should not rush him. If it takes two or even three years, so be it.

Don’t forget K’Andre Miller is close to turning pro. His transition will be a key part of the revamping of the blueline which may or may not include leading scoring defenseman Tony DeAngelo. I hope he stays.

I’m more open to the idea of moving Ryan Strome because he will never have more value. The issue is if he goes, that means Filip Chytil must take over the second center slot full-time. Is he ready for that kind of responsibility? He’s not great on face-offs and I still believe he would be better suited on the wing due to his scorers instinct. But recording his first two assist game over the weekend is a plus. It should be a confidence builder.

If you move on from the versatile Strome, who David Quinn trusts enough to use in all situations, that’s hard to replace. It’s him and Mika Zibanejad who take all the key draws. Even as they improve, the Rangers remain one of the worst face-off teams. But they do have some good set plays in the offensive end that have resulted in goals. That tells you there is growth.

Brett Howden remains a fourth liner until proven otherwise. He is more than capable of killing penalties and taking draws. However, he doesn’t have good hands and hasn’t proven himself enough to earn a top nine role. Tonight, he’ll play on the wing again with Greg McKegg and Brendan Lemieux. That’s your fourth line.

Meanwhile, Quinn’s liked what he’s seen from Phil Di Giuseppe to give him an extended look on a cohesive third unit with Chytil and the suddenly emerging Kaapo Kakko. For a fringe NHL player at 26, he possesses good speed and a shoot first mentality. I don’t know if he’s the long-term answer. But I have no problem with the coaching staff giving him a opportunity. He’s earned it.

Of course, with this being Winnipeg, it’s the big return of both Jacob Trouba and Lemieux. Lemieux came over in the Kevin Hayes trade last year with the same first round draft pick (Ville Heinola) that went back to the Jets along with Neal Pionk for Trouba. Even if he had expressed a desire to stay, the Jets likely couldn’t have retained him. However, Trouba knows what to expect tonight. The boo birds will be out in full force. As for Lemieux, he respects his former team and knows they gave him a chance. They certainly miss his grit. His agitating physical style will be on display. I wouldn’t be shocked if he got into a fight or a two minute exchange of roughs. That’s who he is.

We know that Trouba has been a disappointment in Year One for the Blueshirts. I knew he was never going to match the 50 points he had on a much more talented and deeper team. I was realistic. I figured he’d be good for double digit goals and around 40 points. The 23 he has with the minus-10 rating are disappointing any way you slice it. You can’t only blame Brady No ‘D’ Skjei. Trouba is supposed to be better than this. You can even make the argument that since his hot start, Skjei has been better. That speaks volumes.

The bigger headline is Quinn deciding not to worry anymore about Lundqvist’s ego. He’s gonna go with the hot hand. Right now, it’s rookie Igor Shesterkin over both Hank and Alex Georgiev, who’s only gotten one start since the break. Not exactly ideal for him. He also relieved Lundqvist in one game.

The truth is the 24-year old Shesterkin or Shestyorkin is ready for this. In six starts, he’s 5-1-0 with a 2.34 GAA and .933 save percentage. All he does is win. It doesn’t matter who it’s against. He dominated both the KHL and AHL already. Now, he’s handling the pressure of the NHL.To be fair, I like how they’ve used him. They let Shesty get adjusted by playing him on home ice. Now, it’s time to test him on the road in a hostile environment with great fans, who will be extremely loud. Particularly due to Trouba. How will Igor fare under such madness? I think it makes for great theatre. The Canadian spotlight will be on too. That’s even more fun.

Given their current situation, I expect the Jets to come out firing. They boast some of the best elite talent up front. Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, emerging star Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and Nik Ehlers are formidable. Pionk has fit seamlessly under Paul Maurice, who’s wisely used him in a more protected offensive role. His zone starts are over 56 percent in the offensive zone. His 37 points (6-31-37) lead the Jets on the back end and dwarf Trouba, who of course is used in a more defensive role by Quinn.

Josh Morrissey remains overlooked despite being a good skating left defenseman who excels as a 24-year old. Those two see the nuts and bolts of the action with Maurice relying on Dmitri Kulikov, Nathan Beaulieu, Tucker Poolman, Anthony Biteto, Luca Sbisa and newbie Sami Niku. Niku is a player to watch.

Shesterkin will oppose top Winnipeg netminder Connor Hellebuyck. He’s been much better than last year winning 24 games with a 2.67 GAA and. 920 save percentage. At 26, Hellebuyck is one of the best American goalies in hockey. He was a fifth round pick in 2012. His win totals over the last three years are 44, 34 and 24. Only Ben Bishop and John Gibson are better currently representing America. Jonathan Quick has the hardware.

It’s Alumni Night for the Winnipeg Jets. Both Thomas Steen and Randy Carlyle are in the house. They’re both being honored tonight before the game. Each will be inducted into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame. They’re very deserving. Steen was a career Jet who totaled 817 points (264-553-817) in 950 games as a popular center. Carlyle was a former Norris winner who came over from Pittsburgh and was a very good defenseman in the last half of his career for Winnipeg. He used to put up offense but sacrificed it in the late stages of an outstanding career for Phil Housley, Teppo Numminen and Fredrik Olausson. In 564 games as a Jet, Carlyle had 306 points (80-226-306) and was a three-time NHL All-Star.

The Jets will wear their Heritage jerseys as a fitting tribute to the two former players. I love it. These are nice.

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Game #54 Shesterkin stops 42 to outduel Quick, Fil and Phil two assists each, Kakko scores to highlight 4-2 Rangers win over Kings

Igor! Igor! Rookie Igor Shesterkin acknowledges the fans following 42 saves to grab the game’s first star in a Rangers 4-1 win over Winnipeg. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

It’s always interesting to see how a team will respond to a bad loss. It’s no secret that they were far from good enough on Friday night versus the Sabres. Tonight, the Rangers had a better response thanks in large part to great goaltending from rookie Igor Shesterkin. He finished with 42 saves to outduel Jonathan Quick in a 4-1 win over the Kings at Madison Square Garden.

Making his sixth start (all at home), the maturing 24-year old Russian netminder showed plenty of poise and extreme focus in improving to 5-1-0 so far. He’s really setting the bar high. That’s the sign of a physically gifted goalie who looks ready to grab the mantle from Henrik Lundqvist. When they needed him, Shesterkin was there to make the key stops. That included 25 the first two periods with some nice ones on a Kings power play in a busy second.

Shesterkin was at his best in the third. Even though they don’t possess a lot of weapons outside of Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, the Kings came hard in search of the equalizer prior to Kaapo Kakko scoring a beauty from Filip Chytil and Phil Di Giuseppe. That erased a 13 game drought for the improving Kakko, who picked up his third point in four games. Prior to that, he’d gone 10 straight without a point since a goal and assist effort at Calgary on Jan. 2. His confidence is growing.

It’s these kind of positives that has Ryan Strome excited. He ended a three game scoreless drought by picking up a primary assist on an Artemi Panarin goal that came with 2:48 left in regulation to put the game away. Jesper Fast made the key defensive play to get the puck out to Strome for a two-on-one. He made a smart decision shooting low on Quick for the rebound right out to Panarin, who deposited it for his team-leading 28th. It was his first goal in five games since Jan. 31 versus Detroit.

Listening to Strome’s assessment on how sometimes goals can be hard to come by, he’s right. It isn’t an exact science. You can create a glorious chance only to be robbed by a hot goalie while later on, a teammate gets a nice bounce to score. What I really like is what he said about getting contributions throughout the lineup. He gave credit to the two Phils. In this case, Fil and Phil with both Chytil and Di Giuseppe having two assists on an improved third line. Let’s give Di Giuseppe credit as his skating and aggression has been a good fit thus far. It was the 26-year old journeyman’s first two points in his fourth game. A nice reward for a guy who works hard.

The win was also a milestone of sorts for Chytil, who recorded his first two assist game. It took him a while. In career game number 129, the 20-year old forward took a step in the right direction. For the season, he’s up to 12 goals and eight assists giving him 20 points in 45 games. The dozen markers are a new career high. He needs three points to match his career best of 23 from ’18-19. He went 11-12-23 over 75 games last season. He knows that’s how they have to play to be successful.

With Shesterkin delivering his second 40 save or more performance in six starts to join elite company above, it looks like coach David Quinn is leaning towards sticking with him for Tuesday at Winnipeg. If he does, it would be riding the hot hand while giving Shesterkin a new experience on the road. Plus it would be another good test against a playoff team that boasts some lethal weapons. Winnipeg plays a similar style to Toronto due to a talent pool that includes Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and Nik Ehlers. Plus old friend Neal Pionk leading the offense from the back end.

He definitely is going to get one of these big three road games that also includes a visit to Minnesota and a back-to-back in Columbus to conclude the trip. That’s three games over four days before returning home for Boston next Sunday. There’s also this telling quote from Quinn on the emerging rookie backstop.

If that doesn’t tell you what’s up, I don’t know what will. Igor continues to get better while receiving more “Ig-or, Ig-or!”, chants from the appreciative crowd. At one point, I had the ESPN Radio feed on. As the fans supported Shesterkin during a stoppage with the new chant, Dave Maloney was quick to note how that used to be for Henrik Lundqvist. He still gets the “Hen-rik, Hen-rik!”, chants from the same crowd. It’s just not as common. So, while I get what Maloney was saying while adding, “How quickly some forget,” I’m going to respectfully disagree with Maloney on this one.

It’s not that we’ve forgotten what Henrik has meant to the franchise. For over a decade, he was the man carrying the teams to the playoffs and beyond with some memories The Garden will never forget. I was in the building for his huge elimination games against Ottawa and Washington. I was also there for what he did in Game Six while again staring at elimination against the Penguins during that stirring 3-1 second round comeback that was inspired by Martin St. Louis. As huge as he was in scoring that first goal on Mother’s Day when the building shook, Lundqvist shut the door by allowing only three goals the final three games. Pittsburgh never led again after Game Four.

It was Lundqvist, who was there to make a ridiculous acrobatic save on Thomas Vanek in Game Six which led to Dominic Moore scoring the series clincher from Brian Boyle to shutout the Canadiens 1-0. One of the greatest moments ever. It’s hard to believe we were there when they won the Wales Trophy and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals. That series was heartbreaking for everyone. No wonder I can’t stand the Queens Kings. But I am a fan of Jonathan Quick, who grew up a Ranger fan.

There was the unbelievable 3-1 miracle to stun Braden Holtby and the Caps in the same round in 2015. Lundqvist had a lot to do with it. But he needed a little help from his friends in Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh and ultimate hero Derek Stepan. If only it didn’t end so somberly against Tampa. I don’t blame the goalie. I still think Alain Vigneault got outcoached and didn’t make enough adjustments despite a battered defense. You cannot get shutout at home in Games Five and Seven. What a bizarre series. I knew they were winning Game Six. Ask my Dad and brother.

Look. We can’t go back anymore. These were truly great moments along with Lundqvist winning the Vezina and Olympic gold. He has the franchise marks in minutes played, games, starts, wins, shutouts, etc. Number 30 won’t be forgotten despite how tough I’ve been in this space. I appreciate everything he gave this team. He wore the jersey proudly. But even he has to know by now what’s up. He said it himself a week ago when he finally got that shutout at Detroit. It feels good to contribute. He’s a competitor. Nobody likes to sit on the sidelines wearing a ball cap.

If Alex Georgiev really isn’t going anywhere, then what’s the point of Lundqvist staying? So he can get a start or two every three weeks. I’ve heard fans say how good he is as a mentor. Do they realize this team has the best goalie coach in the league? Benoit Allaire deserves so much credit for what he’s done. And Shesterkin is 24. Not 19 or 20 like Carter Hart. He’s played professionally and had lots of success. He’s mature enough to handle it and is fundamentally sound. It kind of reminds me of a young Henrik when he finally came over in 2005. He was a proven winner for Frolunda. It’s eerily similar.

There. Now that I’ve said my piece, maybe finally fans and even some critical friends can understand that I’m not some spoiled fan who takes things for granted. I enjoyed all of Lundqvist’s success. The past two to three years have been sad and depressing for fans to watch. Some can’t accept it. I’m the same person who ripped Mark Messier II because as thankful as I was for 1994, he blocked players from developing and took up too much responsibility. Or did you forget how Glen Sather paid Bobby Holik $9 million a year to be their checking center? What a joke that was. Jamie Lundmark was shafted. He still should’ve had a better NHL career once he escaped New York. It was like Jason to young prospects back then. Or did you forget what became of Jozef Balej following his memorable setup on Messier’s final goal versus the Sabres?

We sometimes need a dose of reality when it comes to things. That includes our favorite athletes and sports teams. I’m a realist. If Lundqvist told John Davidson and Jeff Gorton that he would be open to a trade by waiving the NMC to take one last shot at winning elsewhere, I wouldn’t hold it against him. Loyalty can be blind. Mats Sundin went through the same thing in Toronto. He refused to let the Leafs trade him. Eventually, he turned up with the Canucks the next year. They lost with him and he retired. Maybe Henrik should have a chat with his Swedish friend.

On March 2, the King turns 38. He’s not getting any younger. Not playing only hurts him more. It’s like what Martin Brodeur recently told Larry Brooks in an interview. Goalies like Lundqvist must play to find a rhythm. The three goalie system doesn’t help. He should go. But any trade with that contract would be complicated. He’s got another $8.5 million cap hit through next year. They’d have to pick up a huge chunk.

All this Lundqvist talk is tough. But I had to do it. The reality is Shesterkin looks ready to be that guy. If Georgiev can back up, that’s two very affordable contracts minus most of what they pay Hank. You’re talking about freeing up the necessary space to keep Chris Kreider and retain Strome as well as Tony DeAngelo. It’s worth it. Plus Tyler Wall is coming. Goalie is the least of this team’s concerns.

So is defense despite the flawed rhetoric on it which really is due to Brady No ‘D’ Skjei and Jacob Trouba. Adam Fox is an ace and Ryan Lindgren is old school. DeAngelo is a offensive machine with amazing vision. Marc Staal is done after next year. Nils Lundkvist is coming and K’andre Miller will be closer. Matthew Robertson is probably at least two years away. Would they take a look at Joey Keane? What about forgotten man Libor Hajek? They are going to have options.

If you’re looking at the forwards, we only are sure on Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. We don’t know what’s going to happen with Kreider or Fast. Pavel Buchnevich is at best a 50 point guy who is an adventure. Kakko will only get better and fulfill expectations as he gets stronger and faster. He’s got the tools. We don’t know yet on Vitali Kravtsov, who we should see by late March or April. They don’t want to burn a year off his ELC.

No. We don’t know enough about Lauri Pajunemi either despite his impressive season back home. Brendan Lemieux is what he is. A guy you can plug anywhere who agitates with his physical style that will take on all comers. But he’s a third liner at best. Probably better suited for the fourth line like Brett Howden. I’d like to see Lemieux kill penalties. Chytil looks more like a wing than center due to his defensive issues and inconsistency on face-offs. I believe he can get 30 goals as a wing. But who else plays center? It’s already weak even with Zibanejad and Strome ‘if’ he stays.

I pretty much have assessed the roster here. Screw the conventional recap. Nobody needs to know that Greg McKegg scored his third goal to open the scoring. The Keg Man is what he is. A part timer that is better suited for the role he had with the Hurricanes. He shouldn’t play daily on the fourth line. I do respect his work ethic. He’s a pro. Micheal Haley had surgery to repair an injury. Whatever. He’s not part of the future. Best of luck elsewhere.

Brendan Smith should just be off the roster. There’s no longer a point. He’s another high character veteran that I respect the hell out of. How many players would play a dual role as a fourth liner and double as a penalty killing defenseman? That’s commendable. It didn’t work out the way anyone envisioned after he came over and helped them advance over Montreal.

As disappointed as I was that Skjei cost Shesterkin a first shutout due to whatever the hell he was doing on former Leaf Trevor Moore’s goal that cut it to 2-1 with 9:13 remaining in regulation, at least Shesterkin didn’t let it bother him. He made the saves to keep it there until Fast cleared the puck out for the Strome and Panarin two-on-one rush with the Bread Man rebounding home a Strome shot past Quick at 17:12 to erase any doubt.

Chytil calmly got the puck over for DeAngelo in the middle so he could fire it down for his lucky 13th with 2:11 remaining. It was a good night. Even if it was far from perfect, the Rangers responded well. They’re now up to 58 points and 24 regulation wins with 28 left. Nine points out.

They’ll now test themselves on the road against three hungry teams chasing the playoffs. It’ll be Trouba’s return to Winnipeg on Tuesday. How will he be received? I’m sure there will be a video tribute and a mixture of cheers and jeers. He wanted to leave, but also was too expensive for them to keep. They haven’t missed him. It’s ironic that Neal Pionk has been better. However, his role is different. Let’s be fair.

I’m looking forward to this game. Winnipeg has one of the loudest arenas in the league and great fans. There should be plenty of energy. They won a big game tonight 5-2 over the Blackhawks. That puts them up to 63 points as the first wildcard a point up on the Flames.

If it is Shesterkin versus Connor Hellebuyck, even better.

Battle of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Filip Chytil, Rangers (first career 2 assist game, 4 shots, +2 in 11:24)

2nd 🌟 Jonathan Quick, Kings (37 saves including some gems to keep his team in it)

1st 🌟 Igor Shesterkin, Rangers (42 saves on 44 shots to improve to 5-1-0)

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HARD HITS: Malkin somehow still gets overlooked

AP Photo credit sportnet.ca via Canadian Press

Imagine being one of the game’s brightest stars on a team you helped win three Stanley Cups, a Calder, a Conn Smythe, a Hart Trophy and two scoring titles. All this list of achievements and hardly anyone pays attention to you.

That’s the life of Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. The 33-year old Russian superstar will always play in the shadow of popular teammate Sidney Crosby. It makes sense. Crosby was the Next One. Taken first overall by the desperate Penguins in a strange 2005 NHL Draft following the lockout, Sid The Kid had been hyped to be the next great player. He was Canadian and had the face and cool demeanor fans could identify with.

When you look at Crosby, the franchise player and captain of the Pens has been everything advertised. He overcame a serious concussion at only 23 that made people wonder if he’d ever get back to the level he was at. It’s easy to forget he had 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games before his 2010-11 season ended. We didn’t see him much the next year either. It took a while for him to get back to the star player we respected, but loved to hate due to his antics that included embellishment, cheap shots and whining.

As he matured, Crosby grew out of that label. He’s thankfully not that player anymore. Though the “Crosby Sucks, Crosby Sucks”, chants are still fresh at Madison Square Garden. Those used to be awesome games to go to. They were fun and the atmosphere was great. Yes. You had your share of Pens fans turn out supporting Crosby and Malkin, or the other polarizing star Kris Letang. It’s still hard to believe he never won a Norris. He’s gone through his share of setbacks and battled back.

It’s ironic when you look at the Pens’ three best players, they’ve all missed a lot of time. How many more points would Crosby or Malkin have if they’d been healthy? They have three Harts between them with four Art Rosses, three Conn Smythe Trophies, a pair of Rocket Richards (Crosby) and four Pearsons. All the hardware is incredible. No wonder Sid and Geno draw comparisons to Mario and Jaromir in the Burgh. Had Lemieux been healthier, they wouldn’t have just won the back-to-back Cups that Crosby and Malkin matched. I still would take Lemieux and Jagr over them. But that’s a fun bar debate.

It’s interesting when you look at Crosby and Malkin in terms of their career numbers. At the moment, Crosby is at 1246 points (456-790-1246) in 969 games. That averages out to an impressive 1.28 points-per-game. Malkin has totaled 1059 points (408-651-1059) in 893 games. He entered the NHL a year after Crosby in ’06-07. Malkin has a excellent 1.18 points-per-game average. Somehow, the NHL On NBC forgot to include him in this list since 2000. Well, actually it is only from 2000-09. Minimum 300 games. However, Malkin would have had a 1.26 ppg in 242 games because of the cutoff.

Now, if they didn’t do such a cutoff, he’s included. Or had they say done since the century, Malkin is right up there. It’s almost like NBCSN wanted to single out Crosby and exclude Malkin. I don’t get it. No three championships in the Steel City without him. They’re one of the best dynamic duos we’ve seen. Both should be appreciated.

To me, it feels like Malkin isn’t as loved. Maybe that’s my view looking on the outside. Is he Crosby? No. He’s not as complete a hockey player. If you were to ask me who the game’s best player is, I’d still answer Crosby. No disrespect to Connor McDavid or current teammate and scoring leader Leon Draisaitl. Neither are as good defensively. Crosby does it all. That’s why his team is successful.

Malkin is quietly having a great season. Of course, he missed time because he always does. However, he leads the Pens in scoring with 57 points (17-40-57) over 41 contests. So, that’s 13 games he hasn’t played. Why do you think Bryan Rust is so productive? He’s currently got a team-leading 22 goals including 15 even strength with 23 assists for 45 points in 40 games. Hint: it’s got something to do with Number 71.

Malkin makes players better. Just ask Phil Kessel if he misses playing with his former linemate. A proven scorer only has 12 goals and 32 points in his first year with Arizona over 57 games. That’s still better production than Alex Galchenyuk (5-12-17 in 45 GP). Yikes.

The Penguins are currently second in the competitive Metro Division with a record of 34-15-5. Their 73 points trail the first place Capitals by four for the division. Only the Caps (77), Bruins (80) and resurgent Lightning (75) have more points in the East than the Pens.

A team that looked to be in trouble when Jake Guentzel was lost for the rest of the regular season due to shoulder surgery. Especially on the heels of Crosby missing two months. He returned on Jan. 14 and immediately put up four points (1-3-4) in a blowout win over the Wild. In nine games since his return, the Pens captain has five goals with eight assists for 13 points. His team is 6-3-0 since.

However, the thing is that when they were without Crosby and Guentzel to start the new calendar year, it was Malkin who carried them along with the surprising goaltending of Tristan Jarry. As usual, Malkin raised his game following Crosby’s injury in November. Interestingly, he missed almost all of October before being the same player he’s always been, producing 56 of his 57 points over 39 games.

That’s who he is. A future Hall of Famer just like the great Crosby, who could one day be ranked among the all-time best. I believe he will be in the discussion no matter what he finishes up with. Malkin will reach 500 goals in a few years while Crosby will get there sooner. He’s at 456 right now. Malkin has 408. When they’re both done, they could each wind up with 600 goals and at least 1500 points. Crosby will likely be closer to the all-time greats on the scoring list.

It shouldn’t be forgotten how special Malkin is. Even if he has had his moments that drove me nuts due to the edge he plays with, I still respect him for the career he’s had. It shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Body Checks

Peep the latest from Tony DeAngelo being a comedian in the Rangers locker room while teasing friend and teammate Ryan Strome.

That kind of character is great. Not everyone gets the team concept due to irrelevant stuff that doesn’t matter. Once he hits 50 points and 15 goals, how much will DeAngelo ask for this summer? Strome will eventually snap out of his slump and hit new career highs. They’re both likely to want at least $5 million. The Blueshirts face tough decisions ahead.

I’ve already mentioned Chris Kreider enough that I may as well be his agent. Say it again. Since Dec. 8, Kreider has 14 goals and 11 helpers for 25 points in 24 games entering tonight’s special 6 PM start versus the Kings.

The Lightning finally woke up. Now, they’re winning games consistently and closing the gap on Boston, who had a terrible 3-1 loss at Detroit today. With the Bolts on fire, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point are heating up along with Steven Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevskiy. However, take a closer look at Tony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat. It’s those gritty two-way forwards who are having a good impact. They’ll be key factors if the Lightning finally figure it out this Spring. Ditto for Stanley Cup winner Pat Maroon.

Tampa could be in the market for a defenseman with Ryan McDonagh out. For now, they’ll rely on stud Victor Hedman to log the big minutes with help from Mikhail Sergachev, Kevin Shattenkirk and Eric Cernak.

With his league-leading fifth shutout the other night before permitting two late third period goals to the explosive Avalanche in a tough 2-1 home defeat, how do they ignore what rookie netminder Elvis Merzlikins is doing in Columbus? Since taking over for injured starter Joonas Korpisalo, he’s got 12 wins and his GAA (2.19) and save percentage (.930) are remarkable. Columbus doesn’t score a lot of goals. Elvis has to be in the Calder conversation with front-runners Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes. With apologies to Ilya Samsonov, Dominik Kubalik and Adam Fox, those are my top three.

Rookie Nick Suzuki is quietly having himself a nice season for Montreal, who got a big come from behind 2-1 win in overtime over the top nemesis Maple Leafs in a great Original Six match-up at Bell Centre last night. Marco Scandella tied the game up late in regulation and Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a Suzuki rebound to beat recently acquired goalie Jack Campbell. With 61 points and Carey Price finally rounding into form, the Habs are back in the playoff race. They’re five behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division and trail the final wildcard by six points. The problem is they only have 17 regulation wins (first tiebreaker) and have just 25 games remaining. Having so few wins in regulation is gonna hurt. They’ll have to play great hockey down the home stretch to beat out the teams ahead of them. That could include the Panthers, whose 24 reg. wins, are more than even the Pens and Blue Jackets.

The whole tiebreak system is crazy. You have the Islanders with 68 points locked into the first wildcard, but with only 20 reg. wins while the Hurricanes are at 67 with 22 wins in regulation for the second wildcard over the Flyers, who have 67 but one less regulation win (21). Each have 27 games remaining. The Isles are at an advantage with 29 games left. The Panthers have 28 to go with 64 points. Two behind the Leafs and three off the second wildcard. This is sure to be a wild race.

Right now, James Reimer has outplayed Petr Mrazek to become the number one goalie in Carolina. Is that a good enough tandem for the talented Hurricanes to get in? They boast two young stars in Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov. Plus leading scorer Teuvo Teravainen, who they stole from the Blackhawks. They have great skaters who can really get up and down the ice. But without a reliable starter in net and Dougie Hamilton out, it’s going to be tough. Do they really have interest in Henrik Lundqvist, who has the NMC? Or is that just another silly rumor?

I still don’t see any scenario where Lundqvist waives it. He loves it too much here. Unless they healthy scratch the 👑, I can’t see him going to management and asking out. They haven’t had the guts yet to talk to HL30 about the complex situation with tonight’s starter Igor Shesterkin and second-year goalie Alex Georgiev. Dicey.

Who wants to win the wild and crazy Pacific? Four total points separate first place Vancouver, who boasts the best overall roster, from fifth place Arizona. You have the Canucks with 65 points headlined by Elias Pettersson, JT Miller and injured finisher Brock Boeser. There’s the explosive Oilers with 64 thanks to the McDavid/Draisaitl duo along with gritty forward Zack Kassian and underrated two-way pivot Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Then the Jekyll and Hyde Golden Knights, who have abandoned Marc-Andre Fleury in most games. Not much on defense.

Calgary is pretty similar except they have the polarizing Matthew Tkachuk, who gets underneath everyone’s skin. Mark Giordano is out now and the goalies are Cam Talbot and David Rittich. Then there’s the Coyotes, who even after adding Taylor Hall don’t score enough goals no matter who’s in net. They have the best goalies even with Darcy Kuemper out. Antti Raanta is very capable and even understudy Adin Hill is decent. But unless they score more, what a failed trade that could be with the Devils. Hall is a rental who can leave.

It’s pretty insane to think as many as 11 teams are still alive out West. That includes the whole Central with Winnipeg (61), the Predators (59), Wild (58) and Blackhawks (58) bunched up. Your wildcards are Calgary with 62 and the Jets with 61. The same 61 the Coyotes have, but with one more regulation win (21) and one less game played (56). Nashville, Minnesota and Chicago each have 28 games left. So, they can make up ground. Are any of them good enough? I would take the Preds, who have underachieved. Maybe Pekka Rinne can get hot and Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson can earn their money.

Finally, there’s this as the Rangers get ready to host LA:

Jacob Trouba 53 GP 7-16-23 -9 44.1 CF (56.7 D Zone starts)

Neal Pionk 56 GP 6-30-36 +5 50.9 CF (55.3 O Zone starts)

Trouba $8 million AAV

Pionk $3 million AAV

One turns 26 after the deadline. That would be Trouba, who the Blueshirts traded for by sending Pionk and the same first round draft pick they received with Brendan Lemieux, back to Winnipeg so they could select Finnish defenseman Ville Heinola. Pionk turns 25 this summer and is on a much more reasonable contract. He was expendable due to DeAngelo and Fox. Plus Nils Lundkvist is coming soon.

I like Trouba and would do it again. The thing is he’s on a worse roster and doesn’t have the ideal left D partner like he did in Winnipeg. He also doesn’t have Dustin Byfuglien ahead of him. That was last year when he posted career bests in assists (42) and points (50). He cashed in as most do in contract years. He’s a hard-nosed physical player who can skate and log the important minutes on Broadway.

That all stated, he must be better for this contract to make sense. Right now, it doesn’t. Did you know his salary is $12 million for this season? Nobody cares because now, all we do is look at the cap hit. It’s still too high just as I went on the record and said when it was signed. In reality, Trouba is a solid defenseman who isn’t worth over $6.5 million. But that was the market. In no world is he Erik Karlsson or Brent Burns. Speaking of which, how is that working out in San Jose?

Trouba must be more consistent. He entered tonight with no points over his last six. But his main job is shutting down the opposition. There have been too many instances where he’s been caught out of position like the god awful goal Jimmy Vesey scored to clinch Friday’s disgrace. We’ll see where it goes.

Kudos to Mackenzie Blackwood for making the Devils respectable with back-to-back shutouts. That’s one more shutout than the $8.5 million man has since 2017. I had to.

Kieffer Bellows will be good because the Islanders didn’t rush him. He has a scorers instinct. Take note.

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