Blueshirts skate by lifeless Sabres in a sleep fest, Mr. Happy has a goal and assist in one-goal win, Chytil returns, Buffalo misery

Two points is two points. You don’t get style points for winning a hockey game. Even if it left a lot to be desired. The Rangers skated by the lifeless Sabres for a 3-2 win at MSG. They did what they had to do to defeat a miserable opponent who looked like they couldn’t beat a peewee team.

That doesn’t matter. It wasn’t memorable hockey played at 33rd and 8th. It didn’t have to be. Boosted by the return of Filip Chytil, who looked good despite not taking face-offs, they bounced back from Sunday’s ugly loss. It was a must win.

Now, they’ll try to get a victory for the first time this year against the Devils. They’re 0-for-2 so far. The Blueshirts have two more chances this Thursday and Saturday against their Hudson rivals, who are struggling. They lost to the Islanders 2-1 with a Miles Wood goal with 12.3 seconds left in regulation preventing a shutout. We’ll see if our side is more successful in the upcoming two-game series with both in Newark.

This tweet I posted doesn’t say much about tonight’s game. The mere fact the Rangers only could muster eight shots the final two periods against the Sabres isn’t encouraging. They got lulled to sleep in a very dull game.

Buffalo might be the worst NHL team. They’re leaderless due to captain Jack Eichel deciding to go through the motions. He really looks disinterested. Outside of setting up a Sam Reinhart goal to tie the game in the first wild minute, the much discussed number one center was invisible. I don’t want to hear any trade rumors about him the rest of the season. If that’s how he wants to play, count me out. I don’t think it makes sense for our team. That’s all I’ll say. He isn’t going anywhere until the off-season.

As for the game, what can be said? Pavel Buchnevich had his best night in a while scoring and setting up a goal in a good first period. He got the scoring started at the 28-second mark when Mika Zibanejad sent him in behind a putrid Sabres defense and he beat Carter Hutton with a quick snapshot. Adam Fox picked up a secondary assist.

But before Sam Rosen and the ridiculous Joe Micheletti could stop crowing over how this could be the night for Zibanejad to finally score a goal, the Sabres replied back on the next shift. On a quick counter in which Brendan Smith fell down, Eichel and Victor Olofsson combined to feed Reinhart for his eighth at 55 seconds to tie the score. All I could do was laugh.

Proving how bad they are, the Sabres donated the goal right back. Less than two minutes later off a Zibanejad forecheck, a Buffalo turnover allowed Buchnevich to steal the puck and patiently wait for Brandon Montour to go down. With Hutton dead to rights, Buchnevich shot in front with the puck deflecting off Alexis Lafreniere and in for his third at 2:36. It gave the 2020 top pick a three-game point streak for the first time in his career. He has a goal and two assists.

Things are starting to click for Lafreniere. He’s starting to look more comfortable playing with Buchnevich and Zibanejad. The improvement from the rookie left wing even saw David Quinn reward him with the most ice-time among Ranger forwards with 18:35. He was even out protecting the one-goal lead on the second to last shift of the game. That shows more confidence in an evolving young player, who’s finally starting to get it. The best sign to come out of the win.

In terms of storylines, there wasn’t a whole lot else. Chytil returning meant Jonny Brodzinski sitting out as a healthy scratch. However, with Kaapo Kakko finally removed from COVID Protocol, look for him to be cleared soon. When he is, someone else will sit. The candidates are Brett Howden and Julien Gauthier. I’m not going to comment on this. Let’s wait and see what Quinn decides. Here were how the lines looked:

Lafreniere-Zibanejad-Buchnevich

Kreider-Strome-Blackwell

Rooney-Chytil-Gauthier

Lemieux-Howden-Di Giuseppe

With Chytil unable to take face-offs, Rooney filled in. After having two strong games in a row, he didn’t win a single one in six draws. Not good. At least Zibanejad had a good night, going 8-for-11 while Ryan Strome broke even winding up 7-and-7. The top two centers combined for 15 of their 18 face-off wins. Overall, the Rangers went 18-for-44. Hardly a good outcome. The only thing Eichel did well was win draws going 10-and-8. Otherwise, you hardly noticed him.

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. The Rangers had one good period. They played well in the first period, eventually settling down to outshoot the Sabres 11-9. Afterwards, Buffalo held a 15-8 edge in shots the rest of the way. That won’t cut it against real competition.

To be honest, they were lucky to win this game. If not for Hutton completely missing a Chris Kreider long shot off a simple play near the midway point of the game, they could’ve lost. Kreider’s shocked reaction summed it up. His wrist shot that beat Hutton high glove proved to be the game-winner. Make it six goals and seven points over his last five games. He’s always been a streaky scorer. Right now, he’s hot. His best stretch has allowed the Rangers to win twice without exiled top scorer Artemi Panarin. He’s up to 10 goals.

Where are all the Kreider critics? Did they go into hibernation like hopefully winter? Let’s face it. This team doesn’t have many finishers. Where would they be without him? I’d rather not imagine. Even without a stitched ‘C’ on his jersey, it’s number 20 who is the emotional leader of this roster. He usually nails it when interviewed in this COVID Era. Win or lose, he tells it like it is. He might not have been made available following the game. Instead, Buchnevich and Igor Shestyorkin talked along with Quinn.

It was kind of interesting to see Mr. Happy answer questions from reporters via Zoom Conference. He didn’t smile once. This after a very good game in which he could’ve had a hat trick. He missed a great chance on a Zibanejad feed with an open net. He also had another great opportunity that went by the wayside at the end of the game. Maybe the Rangers should hire a shooter tutor on empty nets. If you’ve seen Buchnevich and Strome in action, it might be a good idea.

Listening to Quinn following the game, he basically acknowledged the obvious. That for whatever reason, they didn’t play close to their best game. He doesn’t seem to understand why his team looked like it has over the last two. I don’t know what to say. He’s the coach. You’d think by Year Three, Quinn would have more of a grasp on his roster. Even if it’s young, there are enough players he knows to get a good read on things. They better not pull that next game versus the Devils. They won’t be so lucky.

With the Rangers ahead by a pair, it was the Sabres who nudged closer in a sleep inducing second period. A Tobias Rieder long shot from inside the blue line went through a good Dylan Cozens screen past Shestyorkin to cut the lead to 3-2 with 3:39 remaining. Igor picked up the shot late due to traffic. Even though he was hard on himself during the postgame, I don’t fault him for that one. It was a good play by Rieder to shoot with Cozens doing the grunt work. Rasmus Dahlin and Rasmus Ristolainen picked up the helpers.

I know he didn’t face as overwhelming workload. But Shestyorkin made some key saves throughout. His best coming when he thwarted the hexed Jeff Skinner pointblank off a great pass. That critical stop kept the Rangers in front by a goal prior to Kreider sniping. There were other big stops as the 25-year old Russian netminder had a good night finishing with 22 saves to pick up the win.

It’s funny how Skinner never is used with good players by Buffalo coach Ralph Krueger. He was easily their best forward throughout. Playing mostly on the third line with Curtis Lazar, he had three shots and nine attempts. Some of the misses dangerous during the third when the Rangers only had three total shots. The crazy part is the Sabres themselves only had five. How do they expect to tie the game with such a lackluster effort? Even Teflon MSG analyst Steve Valiquette took a shot at them.

To summarize, Valiquette said that it looks like the Sabres have given up on the season. Think about that for a minute. They just got finished playing Game 20 of a 56-game schedule. They’re now 6-11-3 and dead last in the new Patrick Division. I refuse to refer to it as East. That’s ridiculous.

The Rangers themselves improved to 8-9-3 in 20 games. Hardly anything to write home about. They have 19 points to the Sabres’ 15. But when you watch Buffalo play, you begin to understand why they’re so bad. There’s not much fire. Give Cozens credit for accepting Ryan Lindgren’s challenge and throwing down. That kid has spunk. He even got the better of the exchange.

Who else on the Sabres played well? Not Eichel. Certainly not the misplaced Taylor Hall, who found himself with Kyle “Zero Goal” Okposo. What kind of circus are they running over there? They sat Casey Mittlestadt so Okposo and Cody Eakin could play. That’s insane. Mittlestadt actually had played well since returning. Surely, they can’t keep Krueger as coach. He’s misusing a lot of key guys they spent money on. No wonder Eichel wants out.

When I’m spending more time on the opponent than the Rangers, you know how bad it is. My best friend is a huge Sabres fan who has no hope. He barely watches them. Can you blame him? How many years can they keep missing the postseason and be in the Lottery? What is their plan? A 20-year rebuild? It’s absurd. That team has no structure and hideous defense. They lost guys to injuries including Jake McCabe and Will Borgen. It’s no excuse for how poorly they play.

The Rangers were lucky they played such a pathetic opponent. They got away with playing down to the competition. I’d rather play more competitive teams and win those games. The win over the Bruins was that. You know for as bad as they’re struggling, the Devils will be ready to go in less than 48 hours. They just aren’t scoring much. But I’m sure their eyes will light up when they see the Rangers logo. They’ve already handled us twice at The Garden. That was bad enough. This is a chance at payback.

With the team getting healthier, they have a chance here to get back to NHL .500 and above. Get the next two games and they can get right back in it. The Flyers, Pens and even Caps don’t exactly look like juggernauts. There’s ground to make up. But it’s not too late. You can get back in it quickly with all these divisional match-ups.

That’s all I have to say. If they’re gonna make a run, now’s the time for it. Two against the Devils followed by a pair versus the Penguins. Assuming Panarin doesn’t return by Saturday, that’s another two games without him. It’s another opportunity for other Blueshirts to step up. We’re still waiting on you, Zibanejad.

Before I forget, Happy Birthday to Henrik Lundqvist! It was his 39th birthday yesterday. Hope he enjoyed it. It’s nice to see him back skating. Best wishes to King Henrik.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Igor Shestyorkin, NYR (22 saves including 14 of 15 the last 2 periods)

2nd 🌟 Adam Fox, NYR (2 assists, +1 in 23:47)

1st 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (goal plus 🍎, 4 SOG, +2 in 18:11)

Posted in NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Devils swept by Caps as the regression continues

There isn’t much good to say about this weekend losing another two games to the Capitals and failing to carry over any momentum from the wild Thursday win over the Sabres. Indeed that win proved to be the only one during this six-game stretch of only playing Washington and Buffalo. 0-3 against the Capitals is understandable, albeit still annoying. Sure they’re a better team than us but you’d think we could get a lousy point or two considering all three times we were in one-goal games in the third period. 1-2 against the Sabres is inexcusable considering they seemingly can’t even score a goal against anyone else. Maybe if we weren’t under NHL .500 and sinking I’d say okay maybe there were some moral victories to be had in the two games, specifically in rallying back from an 3-0 deficit in the Saturday game to come within inches of tying it. I’m tired of tauting moral victories though, especially when too many key guys have stopped contributing or have been negatives from the start.

I’ve been pro-Lindy Ruff for most of the season so really the first thing I’m seriously gonna ding him on was from today’s game, specifically playing Mackenzie Blackwood for a fourth game in six nights today. I mean we’re only in the middle of a schedule where we’re playing 43 games in 76 days or some ridiculous combination of numbers. Maybe it’s 46 in 73, I don’t care. Either way are we just ignoring this kid had COVID and had only played a handful of games in the previous eleven months? Sure maybe he’s not tired now but you’re managing a goalie for three months, not three weeks here. Blackwood also hasn’t been as good this week as he was earlier in the season or right when he came off the COVID list, today was his fifth straight game of allowing three goals or more. Goaltending isn’t just about how many shots you face in a game, it’s about the mental grind of staying on point game after game. This isn’t exactly the playoff stretch drive either, even in a short season.

It would also be nice to get the disappointing PK Subban off of the first power play unit and give Ty Smith some run there. When PK isn’t accidentally hitting his teammates with shots, he’s missing the net entirely. Not that he doesn’t have plenty of company in the latter at the moment. I get you don’t want to overload the rookie but it’s only another minute a game since he’s already getting PP2 time, and the second power play unit has been better than the first in recent games, though neither really did well today. At least our PK for penalty kill actually made it through the weekend without allowing a PP goal. Baby steps, although glass half empty it’s discouraging we still managed to give up eight goals even without our PK unit subverting us.

Losing teams find different ways to lose every game, that’s basically what we’ve gone back to being in the blink of an eye. Yesterday we got rolled in the first period and spent the rest of the afternoon in a futile jog uphill only to fall right when we got near the summit. Ironically the spectacular breakdown on a breakaway goal from Jakub Vrana that put us behind by two in the third period yesterday might have influenced today’s gutless third period when the Devils – again trailing by one going into the third – for the longest time managed only one shot on net. Sure, holding the Caps to zero shots over that same sixteen minute or so stretch was nice but I’m sure they’d take the tradeoff of only giving us one shot on net for much of the third period when we’re down a goal. At least try to press the issue sooner than the last five minutes. The fact we had so many ‘shot attempts’ in the third only serves to underscore the uselessness of that stat. What’s the difference if you attempt shots that don’t even get through to the net? When you put pucks on net at least you can score, but having blocked and missed shots help nothing.

Of course having injuries in a short, compressed schedule doesn’t help either. Right when poor Nico Hischier finally returns to the lineup and starts scoring (with his first goal of the season on Saturday) he gets hit up high in the mouth/nose area with a deflected puck off a 100-MPH Subban slapshot late in Saturday’s loss. He couldn’t have gotten hit with a Mike Mottau quality shot instead? I might have to explain that joke so look up Bobby Holik’s comment about how Mottau couldn’t hurt a fly with his shot and you’ll get the reference. Of course with the quick turnaround Nico missed today’s game. Almost as if the hockey gods were torturing us, we ended another loss to the Caps with another puck to the head of a key player injury – this time with Miles Wood getting hit on the ear from an attempted Zdeno Chara clear…sorry, I can’t think of a non-rhythmic way to put it.

I could rag on guys like Kyle Pamieri, whose horrible attempt on goal late in the game with only John Carlson’s turned body between him and an open net is symbolic of his struggles. Nikita Gusev getting a couple of junktime goals become much more annoying when he fails on an open net early in the third period of Saturday’s loss when a goal there could have tied the game. Subban’s offense has almost completely dissapeared other than the odd assist here and there, and his defensive game which was never strong to begin with has been more subpar as the season’s gone on. I want to give Sami Vatanen more time (and some PP time perhaps as well) but he hasn’t looked good the last few games either. As much as I love Travis Zajac we need more from him with two goals and three points in thirteen games. Really though what’s the point of going nuts over any of these guys? Other than Subban none of these guys are signed beyond this year and Subban’s only under contract through next year. None are going to be long-term solutions.

Which is why it’s more imperative we get guys like Blackwood, Jesper Bratt (one goal in eleven games this season), and Jack Hughes – just five points in his last twelve games – either producing or back on the beam. Hughes did start the season well, Nico was coming around before his latest injury and Ty Smith has started the season consistently well, all good signs but if they’re gonna engender hope in the fanbase for the coming seasons all the younger players need do to even more and get us out of what’s already become an extended bad spell of five losses in six games. If there was ever a bad time for the Devils to get fans back in the building, it’d be this week off a slump where we’re playing our two NY rivals. Is it possible we get 50% of Islander or Ranger fans in the building for a crowd of only about 1000 or so? Guess it depends on how many season ticket holders bought off the presale and how many individual seats had to be sold after it.

I’m not really in full rant mode but tbh part of that is how little I’ve watched of the last few games. Plus as excited as the hot start got me I never fully bought in, proof of that was just how negative I was after the first loss of the string (the initial Sabres game last week) when we were still 6-4-2. I’ve seen this script before, which is part of it. 2013 we started 8-3-3 and finished under NHL .500 in a 48-game season. 2016-17 we started something like 10-6-3 and finished with another 70-ish point season. 2018-19 we dominated our first four games outscoring the opposition 18-4 but fell off swiftly and severely after that. I already wasn’t expecting a lot from this team, the 6-3-2 start was a bonus in a way but now reality’s hitting hard, especially given this schedule will not give us any kind of a mental or physical break this season.

This season is ultimately only going to be as good as our younger players make it, especially with younger players being the majority of the team plus the amount of vets on one year contracts that may or may not get sold off at the deadline. For all the talk about how this year was different than last year we may well wind up with the same conclusion in the end – a massive liquidation sale of expiring contracts at the deadline followed by some junktime wins after we’re well out of the race. If anything I’m getting too tired and jaded of this script to complain about it.

Posted in Devils | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bruins shutdown Blueshirts in rematch, Georgiev okay

The rematch between Boston and New York two days later went to the bad guys up in Massachusetts. After getting outscored 13-4 in their last two losses including a 6-2 trouncing on Friday night, the Bruins responded resoundingly with a convincing 4-1 win at The Garden.

Unfortunately, it was expected. There was no way the Bruins were going to be as miserable. They’re too good a hockey team. Skating again without Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil, the Rangers were outclassed by a more focused opponent that were harder defensively and better at even strength. The end result was as predictable as a Mika Zibanejad shot hitting the back of the net. It was another mysterious disappearance from the imposter wearing number 93.

Instead of going back to Igor Shestyorkin, coach David Quinn stuck with Alex Georgiev for a second consecutive game. Unfortunately, an accident that saw Nick Ritchie fall down and cut him would eventually lead to Georgiev exiting for concussion protocol. Initially, he did stay in and allowed the game’s first goal to Charlie Coyle at 6:41.

Shestyorkin would enter the contest as his teammate was checked out. He only faced two shots, but one went in. Trent Frederic was able to deflect in a Connor Clifton shot at 18:14 for a back breaking goal that put the Boston guests up a pair after a period.

Following a first period that saw Ryan Lindgren respond by earning an extra two minutes for roughing with Ritchie after the incident, Georgiev returned to the net for the second. Afterwards, he told reporters he felt alright. He certainly played okay although he wasn’t happy about letting in the Coyle shot on the first goal. For the game, he made 31 saves including stopping 16 Bruins shots in a busy third that saw Boston outshoot New York 17-6. Coyle added a shorthanded empty netter with 1:55 remaining.

The issue for the Blueshirts was they couldn’t match the Bruins’ intensity. To hear Brendan Smith put it during the Zoom Conference, they didn’t get inside enough on a stingier Boston defense that checked harder. He also indicated that they knew the Bruins would come more prepared off the previous two losses. He felt they needed to be grittier. Something that remains an issue for this team. It helps explain why they can’t put together a consistent stretch of good hockey. It’s a lesson to be learned.

The entire second period was played at five-on-five. It was Boston that held the edge in shots, 12-6. There was a lot of physical play. The Bruins like to take the body. On Friday, it was the Rangers that out-hit them. In this one, the Bruins had 43 hits to the Rangers’ 37. They were led by both Brad Marchand and Sean Kuraly, who each had five hits. It was Lindgren and Brett Howden that paced the Rangers with five apiece.

When there needed to be a well executed scoring play, it was Bruins ace center Patrice Bergeron winning an offensive draw back to Marchand. He got the puck to David Pastrnak, who found defenseman Charlie McAvoy open for a one-timer that beat Georgiev at 10:20 for a 3-0 lead.

It was that kind of game. Rather than go to Rangers killer Jaro Halak, Boston coach Bruce Cassidy stuck with starter Tuukka Rask. It wasn’t his fault on Friday. The team stunk. So, Rask got a second consecutive start. He was hardly tested. Through two periods, he stopped all 15 shots. Rask only faced 21 total with just the gritty Colin Blackwell beating him halfway through the final period off a great back pass from improving rookie Alexis Lafreniere. That was it.

There wasn’t much special teams. For once, every Ranger played over 11 minutes. Quinn rolled all four lines and played the three defensive pairs. He still didn’t get much from Zibanejad, who at this critical point looks lost. He wound up registering three shots on goal. But there are too many shifts where you hardly notice him. Even reuniting Zibanejad with Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich didn’t produce much.

With not much happening, K’Andre Miller made an outlet for Lafreniere. The top pick skated into open ice to gain the Boston zone. He then backed up defenseman Brandon Carlo and dropped the puck for Blackwell, who moved in and fired a pea past Rask to the blocker side for his fifth with 9:13 left in regulation. It was a nice play by Lafreniere, who picked up an assist for the second straight game. The first time in his NHL career he’s posted points in consecutive games. He played well and was noticeable on the forecheck, nearly setting up Ryan Strome for a chance.

As for Blackwell, he continues to be a revelation for a team that can use more players with his hustle. Not the biggest guy who perhaps is 5-9, he brings it every shift by skating hard and winning puck battles. He’s also producing. The fact he has five goals while Zibanejad has two with none at even strength tells you everything. Blackwell is making a case to stay. Will the Rangers protect him? It’ll be an interesting decision.

Following the goal, his momentum carried him into former Ranger Greg McKegg to knock him down. He didn’t take kindly giving Blackwell a chop. Somehow, the refs also penalized Blackwell for roughing when he really did nothing. Both went off for matching minors to make it four-on-four over the next two minutes.

Somewhat disappointingly, Quinn didn’t use Lafreniere or Blackwell until the four-on-four was expiring. Instead, he predictably went with his top four forwards including Zibanejad. Of course, nothing happened. Why would it? There’s something wrong with him.

When Craig Smith got an unsportsmanlike conduct for going after Kevin Rooney, it handed the Rangers a power play with less than four minutes left. We knew at some point Quinn would lift Georgiev for a six-on-four advantage. But he again sent Zibanejad out with the top unit. He was so inept that he misfired wide on a perfect set up. It’s increasingly frustrating to watch him struggle. He didn’t play as much receiving 17:29 (2:59 on PP).

With Georgiev on the bench for the second half of the power play, the Bruins predictably scored a shorthanded empty net goal to seal the victory. Kuraly got the puck over to Coyle, who fired it from the center of his own blue line straight into the net for his second of the game at 18:05. That concluded the scoring.

There isn’t anything to add. I didn’t see the first two periods, but the highlights were easy to catch. At least Georgiev played well. He made some good saves in the third to give his team a chance. Plus Lafreniere had another good day. He got over 16 minutes. Close to two more than his average. And set up the only goal.

Before it ended, Lemieux was sent out to avenge Georgiev. With a second left, everyone knew what was coming. He asked and the much bigger Ritchie obliged. The game ended with Lemieux taking his lumps against Ritchie. It had to happen considering what Ritchie did to Shestyorkin two games ago. That’s making him accountable. Give Lemieux credit for hanging in there.

Once it ended, the teams separated and left the ice. That’s the way it should be. It doesn’t make the defeat any better. It proves how far the Rangers need to go. They played well winning three of four entering play. But exited losers in two of the last three.

The question for the coaching staff is if Chytil is ready for Tuesday against the Sabres, would they consider giving Zibanejad a night off? I don’t think they have the guts. A game off might give him a mental break. He’s been brutal. There’s no other way to slice it.

If Chytil returns and Kakko is cleared, that opens up two spots in the lineup. Jonny Brodzinski would come out. Who’s the other candidate? Is it Howden, who Quinn likes? Or perhaps Phil Di Giuseppe. Another hardworking player who fits the bottom line well.

I am in favor of scratching Zibanejad. They can’t keep giving him all these minutes if he can’t produce. Maybe a game off would be for the best. The Rangers got the Devils this Thursday. They haven’t beaten them yet. Mackenzie Blackwood has outplayed our goalies.

You can’t say the next two games aren’t winnable. The Sabres are down starting goalie Linus Ullmark, a few defensemen and captain Jack Eichel returned from whatever injury he had today. They’re currently trailing 3-0 to the Flyers. Buffalo is one of the worst teams in the NHL.

It goes without saying that the Rangers must win on Tuesday. No excuses. As for the Devils, they play teams tough. Especially our team. Lindy Ruff has done a good job. Pavel Zacha has a 10-game point streak including an assist today. However, they are beatable.

If there’s to be any chance of a season, the Blueshirts need both games. We’ll see what happens.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd Star David Pastrnak, Bruins (2 🍎, 4 SOG, +2 in 15:12)

2nd Star Charlie McAvoy, Bruins (goal and 🍎, +1 in 22:21)

1st Star Charlie Coyle, Bruins (2 goals on 5 SOG, 6-for-9 on draws, +2 in 15:52)

Posted in NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strome’s three-point night and Kreider highlight convincing 6-2 Rangers’ win over Bruins, Lafreniere picks up first NHL assist

Alexis Lafreniere waves his stick up to the very loud and supportive 2,000 fans who made a difference in the Rangers’ 6-2 win over the Bruins at MSG. AP Photo by New York Rangers courtesy Getty Images

This was way different from the last time these teams met. Playing without Artemi Panarin for a second consecutive game, the Rangers beat up the Bruins soundly by posting a rousing 6-2 win before 2,000 fans at a lively Garden. They made their energy felt and the Blueshirts fed off it by totally outplaying a listless Boston team that just lost 7-2 last night to the Islanders.

It was a terrific game by the good guys on Broadway. They didn’t show any carryover from the ugly nature of the Flyers game. Two nights later, it was a different team. They showed up ready from the outset by getting a few shots on Tuukka Rask and leveling their wounded opponent with some huge hits. Ryan Lindgren set the tone with a clean check on David Pastrnak against the boards that gave the fans something to cheer about. It was a chippy game where they didn’t back down.

In winning for a third time over the last four games, the Rangers set the tone by going right at a team that loves to play physical. Between the noise following the national anthem which a few players referred to including number one star Ryan Strome, and the huge Lindgren hit on Pastrnak, they were ready to play. Coach David Quinn even was surprised by how much of an effect the support of 2,000 fans had on the team. It was evident by how they responded.

One key was getting K’Andre Miller back. He really stabilized the defense by playing a steady game while paired with Brendan Smith. What a difference a young and poised player can make. The gifts the 21-year old possesses are special. He recovers quickly on plays and makes good reads. It helped big time. Even with Jack Johnson remaining in the lineup over Anthony Bitetto to work with Libor Hajek, the blue line was way better. That was highlighted by the very active Lindgren and skilled partner Adam Fox, who assisted on a pair of goals.

Alex Georgiev had an easy night. He wound up making 31 saves, but there weren’t many tough ones. That’s how well the team played. Both the D and forwards were on the same page. That made it a winning proposition for Georgiev, who did give up some rebounds in a busier second period. However, his teammates did a good job clearing the front of the net. Something that indicated they played with more structure.

As much as the victory was about Strome, who recorded his eighth career three-point game (goal plus two assists), and Chris Kreider (goal, assist to give him six points over last three), it also included some noteworthy performances from the supporting cast.

Start with Julien Gauthier, whose quick turnaround shot with traffic went in and out of the net so fast that the refs couldn’t tell he scored his second career NHL goal at 13:16 of the first period. It was a wise decision to surprise Rask with a good high shot short side that his teammates knew went in to halt play. Both of his goals have come against the Bruins. But this one came in a win. He seems to deserve a permanent spot in the lineup. That includes when Filip Chytil comes back and maybe Kaapo Kakko and hopefully Panarin. We’ll see what happens.

How about the improvement from Alexis Lafreniere? The top pick looked much more comfortable in front of the home crowd by playing a very effective straightaway game. In the same period, he nearly had his third goal when he stole a puck in the neutral zone and came in two-on-one and faked Rask out by going to a backhand that unfortunately hit the crossbar. He also almost set up one later in the stanza. At the start of the second, a nice drop from Kreider allowed Lafreniere to record his first NHL assist with a great pass that set up a Strome goal. The best Rangers’ center at the moment going high glove on Rask for his sixth at 2:32.

The only slowdown was when during a mix-up in coverage resulted in Brad Marchand starting a scoring play by dishing across for David Pastrnak, who in turn made a good shot pass for an open Patrice Bergeron tap in that made it 2-1 just 1:30 later. On the play, Smith made a bad read stepping up to leave Fox by himself. His snow angel didn’t prevent the pass and left only Colin Blackwell back to cover two players in front.

Interestingly, the game stayed 2-1 for a while. With the Bruins upping their intensity, they started to get more shots through. Georgiev made the key stops to keep it a one-goal contest. When the goalies weren’t busy in a period that saw the teams combine for 31 shots (16-15 Boston), there were plenty of physical battles during and after shifts.

Of course, Marchand was involved. He dished it out and took plenty of it from the Rangers, who weren’t going to allow the pest to get them off their game. Something he successfully did to Mika Zibanejad last time out during warm-ups.

The officiating was iffy. They twice got the wrong guy on penalties. First by sending Kevin Rooney off for an errant Johnson high stick. Then it was Marchand who earned a minor for roughing when it was really deterrent Jack Studnicka, who stepped in and knocked down and bloodied Lindgren during a scrum. Marchand did give Lindgren a crosscheck in response to a hit.

Regardless, the Rangers couldn’t take advantage of it on the power play. Too much deferring to Zibanejad for his usual blanks that either miss the mark or get blocked. Everyone knows by now what the top unit is doing. The other strategy is for Fox to get a wrist shot through with Kreider screening. The frustrating part was Lafreniere didn’t get out much on the early power plays. Quinn preferred to stick with his first unit even though Strome wasn’t a shooter. They made a key adjustment later that lead to a better result.

With almost every forward except Zibanejad playing well, you had four good lines getting into the Boston end and forechecking. That included the effective third line centered by Rooney which had Brendan Lemieux and Jonny Brodzinski on it. The fourth line led by Gauthier, Brett Howden and Phil Di Giuseppe was strong throughout. Just to note, they changed the Gauthier goal to Di Giuseppe. He must’ve gotten a piece of it.

Both bottom lines saw extended duty during the third when Quinn opted to rest Zibanejad for approximately eight minutes. The start of his shifts were 5:11 and 13:24 when he returned. A wise move since he wasn’t doing much.

There was more dirty work during a competitive middle period. They nabbed Lemieux for roughing during another scrum. It really was just a board battle. The penalty was questionable. The good news is that while the annoying Joe Micheletti tried to push the lame narrative that Lemieux can’t take those penalties while other more established players do with regularity and he says nothing, the penalty kill got the job done. They’ve really been a great unit. They allowed two to the Flyers in eight chances last game. But for the most part, have been superb. Credit the personnel and assistant Jacques Martin.

Off a face-off in the Bruins’ end, Marchand took a bad penalty when he carelessly high sticked Kreider to earn a trip to the sin bin. It was again more of the same as Quinn rolled with his five man unit. He watched Zibanejad have one-timers blocked or stopped by Rask. It didn’t fool anyone. It was a wasted two minutes off the clock. Lafreniere should’ve replaced Zibanejad by that point. At least Boston didn’t gain any momentum from it.

In the offensive zone, Nick Ritchie lazily tripped up Smith to hand the Blueshirts another chance with 1:18 left in the period. With it still a one-goal game, finally they did something thanks to the gritty Blackwell. On a Strome pass up top, Fox had his one-timer redirected in by Blackwell for a power play goal for a 3-1 lead with 1:08 remaining. That really was the beginning of the end for the Bruins.

On the very next shift just a dozen seconds later, Kreider had a sharp angle shot deflect off Charlie McAvoy and in for his team-leading ninth at 19:04. Strome picked up the lone assist giving him three points. Over the last four games, he has seven points (2-5-7). He’s up to 13 for the season. While a mistaken faction get on his case, it’s Strome stepping up his game while Zibanejad tries to find his. Right now, your best center is Strome. He’s doing it without Panarin. A positive sign. They’ve needed it.

By the end of the period, the Bruins were visibly frustrated. Before its conclusion, Johnson decked Trent Frederic from behind with what amounted to a dirty crosscheck. Frederic responded with a slash as things heated up. Each received matching minors and went to their respective locker rooms. Frederic was basically trying to goad the Rangers into bad penalties during the third. To their credit, they didn’t take the bait.

If there was gonna be a Boston comeback, it never materialized. Playing for a second night in a row after the Islander debacle where they got blitzed 5-0 in the third, they put up token resistance against a locked in Rangers. A Fox nice pass across for a Buchnevich tip in made it 5-1 at 1:45. It was a simple give and go where Buchnevich went unchecked by both John Moore and Jakub Zboril for his ninth goal.

They weren’t done. On a Smith pass for an attacking Rooney, he had plenty of time and space to center for a sliding Brodzinski, who was able to get his stick on the puck to score his first despite being tackled by McAvoy less than two minutes later. Just like that, they scored four straight goals to turn it into a laugher.

Nothing else happened. It was just quiet shifts by Boston, who may as well have skated with their tail between their legs. Although Marchand would convert his 300th career goal on a weak Georgiev rebound of a Pastrnak shot a few minutes later, that was all they got.

It was a very satisfying win for the Rangers. They’ll see the same Boston team again in 36 hours. The question is will the suddenly slumping Bruins show up at around 12:30 PM on Sunday. The game will be televised by NBC and called by Kenny Albert.

Thank God. Neither Micheletti or Sam Rosen even realized Zibanejad missed a few shifts by design. He didn’t look particularly good when he returned for a power play, turning over the puck for an easy Boston clear. Quinn rewarded some of the role players with a shift on the man-advantage including Smith and Rooney. Why not. They deserved it.

If Chytil returns, who comes out? I would think Brodzinski. But he scored a goal. They seem to continue to run out Howden, who works hard. He just can’t score. But he’s a center that can take draws. Though it’s been considerably less lately with Rooney establishing himself as a trusted checkout center. We’ll see.

Maybe Kakko will be cleared too. It’s not too serious according to MSG. As for Panarin, your guess is as good as mine. I would expect Igor Shestyorkin to be back in net versus Jaro Halak. A bit of a nemesis for the team. It would be nice to see them light him up and get back to NHL .500.

Enjoy tonight. This was fun.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Alexis Lafreniere, NYR (recorded 1st career assist, 2 SOG in 6 attempts, +1 in 14:19, played like a top pick)

2nd 🌟 Adam Fox/Ryan Lindgren, NYR (4 total assists, 4 hits and 4 blocked shots, combined +5 rating)

1st 🌟 Ryan Strome, NYR (6th goal plus 2 🍎 for 8th career 3-point game, 5 SOG, +2 in 16:12)

Posted in NY Rangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chytil close to being ready as Rangers take on Bruins tonight and Sunday as fans return

For the first time in nearly a year, there will be fans at Madison Square Garden when the Rangers host the Bruins tonight and Sunday. A limited capacity crowd of approximately 2,000 spectators are allowed to attend the home games. They’ll have to wear protective masks and be socially distanced due to the pandemic rules.

To me, that hardly sounds like fun. But if people want to go and support the team or as we’ve seen this week with the Knicks, God bless them. I just hope they’re truly safe and don’t have any health issues.

Personally speaking, I don’t think it’s worth the risk. If you’re like me and have trouble breathing through the masks for long periods due to anxiety or other health related issues, there’s no option. That is too bad. The daily stresses of mental health have taken a toll on many people.

I’m sure the players will get a lift from the supportive fans who will attend this weekend. Maybe it’ll help struggling first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere. He has two goals and no assists so far in his first 17 games.

The Rangers bring their 6-8-3 record into play against the very tough Bruins. They should be in a foul mood after getting spanked 7-2 by the Islanders on Thursday night. They gave up five unanswered goals in the third period. So, expect a better effort from a good team that’s lost three of their four games in regulation to the Isles. The other coming recently to the Devils.

In the first two match-ups earlier this month, Boston swept the pair at MSG by scores of 3-2 (Brad Marchand in overtime) and 1-0 (Jaro Halak shutout). The Rangers were without Artemi Panarin in the rematch that turned nasty. It featured three scraps including Pavel Buchnevich mixing it up with Jeremy Lauzon, who’s out with an injury. You also had Trent Frederic acting psychotic following losing to Brendan Lemieux, insisting they do it again. The rematch could come later. If not, you have the early matinee on Sunday.

Whatever the case is, the Rangers need to win hockey games. They were able to squeak out a shootout victory at the Flyers and beat the Capitals for a second time. But instead of following it up with an actual winning streak, they were too sloppy and undisciplined in an ugly 4-3 loss to the Flyers in a rematch. Igor Shestyorkin was hung out to dry. He faced multiple breakaways and did his best to keep his team in it despite giving up a bad short side goal to Kevin Hayes that held up as the winner.

The big takeaway from the latest one-goal loss was the improved play from streaky power forward Chris Kreider. He was flying literally during that game and recorded his third career hat trick. Two came on the power play and one at even strength. All within a few feet of Brian Elliott. Kreider has four goals over two games and now leads the team with eight. He’s certainly raised his level since the Panarin news broke on Monday. He remains out with not much in the way of updates. Hopefully, that issue goes away soon. It doesn’t sound bad.

Regardless, the Rangers must prove they can win without Panarin. They’re 0-3 this season when he doesn’t play. Counting the only game he missed last year, that’s 0 for 4. Obviously, it’s a big loss. He leads them in points with 18 including 13 helpers. He’s so dynamic that he’s a scoring threat in almost any shift. Opponents must game plan for him.

Without the Bread Man, it’ll continue to fall on the aforementioned Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, who had an up and down game on Wednesday. The good was he set up two goals thanks to his shot. The bad being he failed on two breakaways and lost 12 of 14 draws in the dot. Zibanejad still is without an even strength goal. We’re talking about over a quarter of the schedule played.

The Rangers could be getting some good news soon. Filip Chytil has finally been cleared and practiced yesterday full contact. He has been sorely missed. The 21-year old center was off to a good start with two goals and an assist in five games. He was looking more confident with and without the puck. It’s important to get the third line pivot back. That would give the team three scoring lines. Chytil is such an upgrade over the offensively challenged Brett Howden. He’s not expected to go tonight. But Sunday is a possibility. It depends if he’s ready.

Without Chytil and again no Kaapo Kakko or K’Andre Miller due to COVID Protocol, it could very well be the same lineup we saw the other day. That could mean little used Jonny “Soda” Brodzinski on the fourth line. I don’t see why they can’t try Morgan Barron.

The same for Tarmo Reunanen after how bad the defense looked outside of Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and Brendan Smith. There’s not enough pop coming from the back end. It remains problematic when David Quinn must ice a lineup with Jack Johnson, Libor Hajek and Anthony Bitetto, who didn’t look as good on Wednesday.

UPDATE: K’Andre Miller was taken off the protocol list. That is good news. He should be in tonight.

Truth be told, Miller makes a difference. His skating and poise are missed. Hopefully, he’ll be back soon. They’re already down Jacob Trouba and the dismissed Tony DeAngelo, who continues to wait at home doing nothing. It isn’t a coincidence that the scoring from the defense has regressed since his departure. I know so many people couldn’t wait for him to go, but wouldn’t you say Marc Staal is missed? Badly.

I’ve caught some Hurricanes games. Former Blueshirt Jesper Fast is fitting in nicely over in Raleigh. He’s up to three goals with a couple of assists playing in the top nine. Coach Rod Brind’Amour even rewarded him with power play time where he scored one and set up another PPG. Good for Quickie. They never replaced him. From a leadership standpoint, he’s missed. He was also that versatile two-way forward who the coaching staff could slide up and down the lineup.

Colin Blackwell is a revelation thus far. He’s filled in nicely. Quinn is using him in the top six minus Panarin and Kakko. He’s even earning power play time and helped assist on Kreider’s third goal versus the Flyers by throwing the puck towards the net. Never a bad play. If only more Blueshirts had that simplistic approach. Paging Pavel Buchnevich and Ryan Strome. Both could have more goals if they thought shoot first. Strome hasn’t buried some scoring chances while Buchnevich is too pass happy.

The Bruins remain without David Krejci. A key second line two-way pivot behind Patrice Bergeron. They do still have Charlie Coyle who remains overlooked. He’s solid overall and is effective. They’re looking for more offense from Jake DeBrusk. A streaky scorer with a nice touch. He’ll be featured on the second line and power play.

Of course, Bergeron will center Marchand and power forward David Pastrnak. The Perfection Line. Kinda cheesy if you ask me. Why not something more Boston such as the New England Clam Chowder line or Beantown Line? It’s not a good nickname. It comes off forced. They’ll definitely be motivated off last night.

Charlie McAvoy anchors the defense. He really is blossoming into one of the game’s most complete defensemen. Big, strong and physical, the right defenseman also combines smooth skating with smart defensive positioning and is a good offensive contributor due to his booming shot. He hasn’t missed a beat since Zdeno Chara departed for Washington.

Given that Halak threw a fit after being in for all seven Islander goals which led to him breaking his goal stick, it’ll be Tuukka Rask for the B’s tonight. I’m sure the Rangers will see their Kryptonite on Sunday at high noon.

Maybe they can take advantage of Boston being short some guys. Their defense hasn’t been as good lately. That requires a strong forecheck with persistence and net front presence. If they can win the board battles, then it’s possible they can win. But they’re down significant pieces which puts a lot of pressure on the top guns.

Will anyone take up for Shestyorkin after Nick Ritchie bumped him last time?It should make for an interesting game. Face-off is approximately 7:08 PM with coverage on MSG starting at 6:30. We’ll see if the crowd makes a difference.

Posted in Game Preview, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Devils rally to salvage a split with Sabres despite still problematic special teams

Despite the Devils’ 6-3-2 start my confidence in this team was – and is – exceedingly fragile. Even after their first loss to the Sabres last week, I feared the worst and it seemed as if the worst was happening with a three-game losing streak heading into tonight’s third game against the Sabres in a week span, and being stoned (again) by Linus Ullmark in the first period when he started out hot with a fifteen-save first. Of course, we caught a break in that one of those saves – a ten-bell one on Nico Hischier – injured the Sabres goalie and he didn’t return after the first period. Sabres’ franchise center Jack Eichel was also a last-minute scratch after warmups with a lower body injury.

If we couldn’t beat the Sabres without Ullmark or Eichel that would have been extremely problematic, but we were up against it after falling behind in the first period, predictably due to more PK hijinks. No not our hideous penalty kill but a PK Subban turnover behind the net that wound up on the stick of Riley Sheahan for an easy goal in front. Of course the actual team PK was no better either, giving up goals in both the second and third period as our historically bad penalty kill continues to roll along.

Fire This Is Fine GIF by MOODMAN - Find & Share on GIPHY

It’s really hard to pinpoint who to scapegoat for this unmitigated disaster, but when you’re at about 60% as a team and falling sixteen games into a season that’s not just bad, it’s historically awful. It just seems like a perfect storm of awfulness right now – having to replace key PK’ers like Blake Coleman, Andy Greene and even Kevin Rooney in a short season without much of a camp to implement the system or without practice days in-season to adjust and fine-tune things. Do we finger Lindy Ruff, whose PK’s have been bad all over the map the last several years? Assistant Alain Nasreddine, who was surprisingly kept after an outside hire (Ruff) this offseason?

Obviously the players themselves get some blame too, but what can really be done at this point? If you fire Nasreddine, how is a new coach going to implement a system in a season where you’re only playing games with few off days, and your so-called practices consist of Zoom calls and iPhone diagrams? You could try to switch around personnel but that’s already happened to an extent with most of the regulars back in the lineup, but things are only getting worse. It might have to fall on GM Tom Fitzgerald to make some roster tweaks at this point.

Fortunately the Devils showed the resilience tonight they have for much of the season and somehow overcame their awful PK, the ‘somehow’ best translated as a newly constructed line of Hischier, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha. Hischier predictably had struggled his first few games back after being on the shelf, Bratt had no goals in his first eight games and Zacha had been demoted to the fourth line as recently as a few games ago coming off the COVID break, but putting all of them together produced magic tonight. Bratt got the Devils on the board early in the second (and got off the schneid) with what can best be described as a video-game goal

After the Devils’ penalty fail put them behind again in the second period, Miles Wood tied the game early in the third period – first by earning a four-minute power play, then he got rewarded for his trouble by getting a nice rebound goal in front. It would be Hischier who put the Devils in front with a nice effort play a couple minutes later, diving to keep the puck in the zone then getting back to the net and taking advantage of good puck possession and a nice pass from Zacha to also score his first of the year. Of course the penalty fail lived down to its name once again with Sam Reinhart tying the game at 15:30. Thankfully the Bratt and Zacha combo re-ignited in OT when Bratt drew the defenders and left a drop pass for an open Zacha, who didn’t waste a golden chance to end the game and score his fifth of the season (and his third point of the game overall).

I may have to eat some crow on Zacha soon, quietly he’s had 10 goals and 26 points in his last 35 games from the end of January last year to now. I’m still not a full believer, but shockingly it’s the quiet Czech winger (seemingly now moved there from center) who leads the team in points with 12 in 15 games this season. For all the players like Damon Severson, Ty Smith and others who have had an obvious jump in their games post-coaching change last year, why can’t Zacha be another one of those guys who breaks out with this staff?

One thing’s for sure, tonight’s win couldn’t have come soon enough for the Devils’ ticket reps with sales on March home games beginning for season ticket holders today and the general public tomorrow. For a cliffs notes version of things, while prices are normal enough all things considered it’s the fact you have to buy at least two tickets with them being totally digital and non-transferable that’ll probably keep me out of the building this season. Not that I’m looking to flip tickets in this environment mind you, but it’s hard to find people willing to go to games under these circumstances. I don’t mind going by myself in a normal season – but I’m not going to go myself if I have to buy two tickets in a staid environment. Plus technically all you’re supposed to be part of the same household to use so-called block tickets but I have no earthly idea how they’d ever enforce that.

Hopefully there will be enough fans in the building next Tuesday to make themselves heard. I might have to wait till October for that, ideally this season can be a stepping stone to bigger and better things from next year on when I have already paid for season tickets, but things aren’t gonna get any easier for the moment with this schedule and our PK woes. Next up another two-game ‘series’ with the Caps, who put up a cool three PP goals on us in a single game last weekend. Hopefully it won’t be that bad at least this weekend…

Posted in Devils | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Flyers spoil Kreider’s third career hat trick due to undisciplined Rangers, Quinn plays favorites

This was the definition of ugly hockey played between old rivals. There was nothing great about the rematch the Rangers lost to the Flyers by a frustrating 4-3 score. It was not a Picasso by either side. In the end, the bitter rival was able to hold on for a one-goal win. That means it’s another one-goal loss for a team that can’t win these kinds of games.

In losing, they didn’t string together three consecutive wins. No winning streak for an inconsistent team that doesn’t have the look of a playoff one. They have a lottery feel to them again. Not to sound a broken record. But it’s getting tiresome. The lack of discipline cost them dearly. There were too many bad penalties and sloppy turnovers that led to either Flyers’ goals or odd-man rushes and breakaways.

The goaltending wasn’t good enough either. In spite of some huge saves, Igor Shestyorkin let in two stoppable shots including the back breaking Kevin Hayes goal that gave the Philadelphia hosts a 4-2 lead after two periods. The Flyers better than they were last time. They also weren’t awful like the Lake Tahoe humiliation against Boston. Bad news for the Blueshirts, who now must go to Boston and face those Bruins twice this weekend.

The Rangers spoiled Chris Kreider’s third career hat trick. He had his best game of the season by scoring all three of the team’s goals in similar fashion. By doing the dirty work in front to beat Brian Elliott on three rebounds. He gave up a bundle. But only Kreider was able to cash in for his sixth, seventh and eighth goals of the season. Suddenly, the streaky power forward has four in the last two games to surge ahead of both Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome for the team lead. He took no personal joy in the tough loss.

It’s hard to win any game when you take as many undisciplined penalties as they did tonight. The Rangers shot themselves in the foot literally. They took a ghastly eight penalties and turned it into a battle of special teams. Even though they connected twice on five of their own power plays, they permitted a pair of power play goals to the Flyers on those eight chances. Way too many for them to play a shorthanded Philly team at five-on-five. Something Kreider emphasized afterwards in the Zoom Conference.

They also never led. Coming out unprepared for some reason, they watched the Flyers get the first four shots on Shestyorkin, who bailed his flat team out. At one point, the shots favored the Flyers 10-1. The interesting aspect is he made some good saves including during a bench minor (one of two under the coach). But after a great kill and a splendid job by a tired third pair of Jack Johnson and Brendan Smith with the Kevin Rooney checking line not giving up anything, Shestyorkin let in a stoppable shot from defenseman Erik Gustafsson at 7:48. He picked it up late with maybe Libor Hajek bothering him. But he wasn’t fully screened.

With not much happening early, Mika Zibanejad drew a holding minor on Sean Couturier. It only took the Rangers four seconds to tie it up. Off a clean Ryan Strome face-off win back to Adam Fox, he passed across for a Zibanejad one-timer that rebounded right out to Kreider, who deposited goal number one. Just a simple play all started by winning a draw.

However, a slashing minor from Jonny Brodzinski resulted in the Flyers retaking the lead with 4:29 left in the first period. On a bit of a broken play, a Shayne Gostisbehere wide shot took a carom right back to the Flyers. With Nolan Patrick in the area, the puck came back to Gostisbehere, who fired it home for his first on the power play. The returning Claude Giroux picked up the second of three assists after missing extensive time due to COVID-19. He played very well in setting up three of the Flyers’ four goals.

The Rangers had a late power play opportunity of their own. But weren’t able to cash in. They went to the locker room trailing 2-1. They allowed 15 shots to an opponent who averages right around 23 for a full game. Not having K’Andre Miller hurt the defense. But the Flyers were still playing without Travis Konecny, Jakub Voracek, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom and defenseman Justin Braun, who didn’t play after just being taken off the COVID Protocol list.

Here’s the point. It would be easy for fans and the media that cover this team to make excuses for losing a winnable game. They are without Panarin, Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Jacob Trouba and now Miller. But let’s be honest. The Flyers were down even more key guys. They got 39 shots on Shestyorkin. That is unacceptable.

It’s also unfathomable how many easy break ins they had. Shestyorkin may not have had his best game. But if it weren’t for him on some of these wide open scoring chances with no Blueshirt anywhere near a Flyer, this could’ve been more lopsided. Give Shestyorkin credit for making 35 saves including a last gasp pad stop to deny Giroux. He was a little shaken up after it. But he stayed in there. It was that big save along with an outright denial on Joel Farabee that gave the Blueshirts a chance.

There’s also this development. Given the current state of the defense, wouldn’t it help to have Tony DeAngelo still part of the mix? Instead, $3.725 of the $4.8 million is wasting away on the salary cap. Thanks to David Quinn not being able to handle the polarizing offensive defenseman. Nobody will tell me otherwise.

Not when this coach continues to send out Buchnevich and Brett Howden every shift. Both went unpunished for committing lousy turnovers. Buchnevich made many bad passes throughout including a mystifying one with under 10 seconds remaining when a shot on the shaky Elliott was needed. It summed up his night.

If you have a coach who’s going to play favorites and then complain about what his team didn’t do, he definitely deserves some of the blame. It’s always the same players who miss shifts when they screw up.

Brendan Lemieux didn’t because he’s been playing well. However, it’s hard to explain what he was doing out on the final shift. He mishandled the puck deep in his end to run some time off for the Flyers. It didn’t make sense. At least Alexis Lafreniere got a shift late. He was the extra attacker when Shestyorkin was lifted with a minute and a half left.

The penalty trouble continued to hurt the Rangers in the second period. A Brendan Smith hooking minor led directly to James van Riemsdyk scoring his ninth (seven PPG) by converting a perfect Farabee feed for a 3-1 lead at 4:05.

Even worse, consecutive penalties from Julien Gauthier (hi-sticking) and Buchnevich (delay of game) handed the Flyers a two-man advantage for 98 seconds. Astonishingly, they didn’t score due to Shestyorkin. He got the job done along with the penalty kill.

The Rangers were able to draw within one thanks to their own power play goal. On this one, it was another good play by both Strome and Zibanejad. Strome got a pass across for a Zibanejad shot that went right to Kreider for a tap in at 8:03 for goal number two. It was Zibanejad’s second assist. The first multi-point game of the season for him. He definitely felt better. It showed in his play. If they are going to do anything for as long as Panarin is out, it’ll fall on both Zibanejad and Kreider, who both played well. That is a positive sign.

I wish I could say the same for Buchnevich. He had a miserable game. Too many lazy turnovers. Not enough shots. Plus a clear into the empty stands that put them down two men. The ending one of mystifying proportion. But he never missed a shift. Of course not. There’s no consistency.

There also were chances created by Colin Blackwell and Strome. But neither could finish. Strome hit another goalpost. He does that a lot. He also sometimes over passes when he should simplify his game. He could have more goals. Blackwell works extremely hard. He is in the right spot a lot and makes things happen. But he too couldn’t hit the net.

That is why he’s not a top six forward. But he’s being used that way out of necessity. He flat out blew a great pass from Fox in the slot sending the puck wide. However, he would factor in on Kreider’s third of the game later.

With the pace of the game very fast, there was little defense. Each team traded chances. For a while, it felt like the game would be tied. Momentum was on the Rangers’ side. But a blown coverage during a Flyers’ transition allowed resulted in former center Kevin Hayes scoring his seventh with 6:23 remaining.

On the scoring play started by defenseman Philippe Myers, Giroux skated into open space and passed for Hayes, who had the presence of mind to catch Shestyorkin off his goalpost. He wisely fired a sharp angle shot high short side into the upper portion of the net for the game decider. A crusher for sure. He seems to always factor into the Flyers’ wins over the Rangers. The ghost of Purple Hayes haunting the Blueshirts.

The frustrating part is for as well as he played, that goal is the one Shestyorkin would want back. No screen. From a bad angle. He just wasn’t set. He’s given up such goals more often in his true rookie season compared to when he came up last year. It’s correctable. He will have to work on it with goalie coach Benoit Allaire.

The final period was another head scratching one. On good sustained pressure by the Strome line, an attacking Blackwell smartly threw the puck towards the net with both Ryan Lindgren and Kreider in front. The puck went off Lindgren right to Kreider for an easy put away to complete the hat trick at 3:27.

It was a good play from Blackwell, who continues to pile up points. Since joining the team, he’s recorded three goals and three assists totaling six points over nine games.

Sadly, that’s as close as they got. There were rebounds to be had. But Elliott made some good recoveries to prevent them from tying it. He also had to contend with a flying Kreider down the left wing making a bid for four. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. You had NBCSN commentator Keith Jones telling Brendan Burke that he couldn’t understand why Kreider doesn’t score 40 goals. Maybe if he paid closer attention. I’d settle for 30. Something he’s come close to, but never reached. Stick to the Flyers.

They got eight shots on Elliott. Only one went in. Shestyorkin stopped all 10 Flyer shots with none bigger than him getting across to deny Giroux after he stripped Anthony Bitetto of the puck in the Rangers’ end. Yikes. That is how I’d sum up the bottom four defensemen. They were bad. There was too much room and a lot of blown coverages.

You had a Howden pass to nobody except the opponent, who went the other way before the Rangers recovered. It was mind boggling. Of course, Howden never missed a shift. Quinn had to get him out there. Howden and his two glorious assists. I’m tired of it. He isn’t worth playing when the roster gets healthy.

If for some reason he plays over Blackwell, Rooney or Lemieux, Quinn should be given his walking papers on the spot. Stop trying to justify what’s been a lousy trade. He’s not any better than Lias Andersson, who does have a goal for the Kings in a similar role. What’s the difference? One is Canadian and the other Swedish. Maybe those getting excited for Nils Lundkvist shouldn’t. I’m more excited about Zac Jones.

What would it take for this organization to recall Tarmo Reunanen and just put Jack Johnson on waivers? It’s not like anyone will claim him. You can’t have only one defenseman able to create offense. That’s the dire situation without DeAngelo. What’s their record since he was dismissed? It’s not good. Neither is the offense. There isn’t enough coming from the back end. A team strength a year ago now an apparent weakness. Reunanen has offensive skills. Why not see what he can do?

It’s hard watching Lemieux fumble the puck around with the net vacated. It’s tough seeing Fox as the only defenseman this coach trusts to be out late trailing by a goal. It’s a lot to ask. He played an excellent game. His assist being his first point in seven games. He could’ve had more if Blackwell or other teammates buried their chances. But it’s not a winning formula.

Trouba is missed because despite some shortcomings, he’s a trusted top four defenseman who can log important minutes at even strength, play penalty kill and even the power play. Add Miller to that list and it becomes very hard to be successful.

It’s even worse when this team somehow takes a second too many men on the ice minor by getting caught with seven out thanks to Buchnevich. I have no idea why a rushing Buchnevich tried a low percentage pass to a covered teammate that allowed the Flyers to run out the clock. It’s exasperating. At times, he can play well and please fans.

Then, there are other instances where you question why they think he’s a top six forward. Would you sign him for the $5 million he’ll command this off-season? He only has four goals. The eight assists are nice. But he is too much of a one trick pony. I don’t think he’ll ever get it here. They should trade him before it’s too late. Get Vitaly Kravtsov signed.

Gauthier played a shade over seven minutes. Why even bother? I get he took a penalty. But it’s absolutely ludicrous the way Quinn handles him. He praises Gauthier when he does something good like score a goal or draw a penalty. But he rarely plays him. Why not? Is Phil Di Giuseppe better? Is Howden? Where is the logic?

The Rangers fell to 0-4 without Panarin. They’re 0 for 3 this season. There’s nothing else to add. Next up are the first place Bruins. They don’t care who’s out. They will show no mercy if the Rangers don’t bring their A game. They did play them tough in the first two at MSG. But lost. They only scored twice and were blanked by Jaro Halak last time. You better believe he’ll get one of the games.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Shayne Gostisbehere, Flyers (power play goal plus 🍎, 6 SOG in 9 attempts, +1 in 20:48)

2nd 🌟 Claude Giroux, Flyers (3 🍎, game high 8 SOG in 11 attempts, 8-and-3 on face-offs, +2 in 20:54)

1st 🌟 Chris Kreider, NYR (3rd career hat trick- 6th, 7th, 8th, two power play goals, 4 SOG in 19:32)

Posted in NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

K’Andre Miller on COVID Protocol List, out for tonight

K’Andre Miller is a late scratch for tonight’s game at the Flyers. The rookie defenseman was added to the Rangers’ COVID Protocol List, joining Kaapo Kakko.

Obviously, that’s not good. Now, you have to be a bit concerned about the team. Already thin on players due to injuries to Jacob Trouba and Filip Chytil, who’s close to a return, the Rangers are also playing without Artemi Panarin until he gets things straightened out with his family back home. Hopefully, everything is okay.

Losing Miller means Jack Johnson gets back into the lineup. Hopefully, he won’t make any big mistakes that cost the team. What this means is the Rangers blue line is now relying on a bottom four of Brendan Smith, Libor Hajek, Anthony Bitetto and Johnson. Oy. I guess that means even more shifts for Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren.

The thing is they also face the Bruins twice over the next four days. Once on Friday night and then at noon this Sunday. So, you hope Miller isn’t out for long. It doesn’t mean he’s positive for COVID-19. It could mean he was in contact with someone that was. So, they have to be careful and make sure. I’m sure he was tested. It really is a complicated process.

The game can be seen on NBC Sports Network. It’ll be interesting to see how the Blueshirts respond to this challenge. They’re already minus Panarin and Kakko, which means that David Quinn had to tweak the lines. Jonny Brodzinski is on the fourth line.

Igor Shestyorkin makes the start where he’ll oppose Brian Elliott as expected. The veteran netminder is starting for the Flyers due to Carter Hart’s struggles. He’s had some success against the Rangers. Philadelphia gets back Claude Giroux.

I’ll have more later.

Posted in Battle News, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Canadiens become first team to make coaching change by firing Julien

In a big shakeup, the Canadiens announced this morning that they’d relieved head coach Claude Julien and assistant Kirk Muller.

Julien becomes the second ever Montreal coach to be fired twice. The other is Michel Therrien, who Julien replaced for the second time. How’s that for consistency? Of the two, Julien has been the more successful NHL coach guiding the rival Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011. He’s won 667 career games including 201 in two stints with the Canadiens.

Julien took over for Therrien during ’16-17 after being fired by Boston. It was the second time he relieved Therrien with the first coming during ’02-03. Over his second term, the veteran coach posted a 129-123-35 record for Montreal. He went 72-62-10-15 between 2002-03 and ’05-06. The first two years coming during the dead puck era which included a fourth column for overtime losses.

After surprising the Penguins and taking the Flyers to six games on the strength of goalie Carey Price and rookie Nick Suzuki last summer, expectations increased when GM Marc Bergevin added quality depth by signing leading goal scorer Tyler Toffoli, Corey Perry, Joel Edmundson and acquiring veteran Jake Allen to backup Price. All have performed well with Allen surprisingly outplaying Price, who has a sub .900 save percentage.

They got off to a great start by winning seven of their first ten games with only one loss in regulation. However, the Habs had slumped lately by losing six of their last eight to fall to 9-5-4.

The final straw came in last night’s crazy 5-4 shootout defeat to the Senators. A controversial one that saw video review not count captain Brendan Gallagher’s apparent game-winner with just over two seconds left in regulation. The explanation the refs gave is that Gallagher’s skate contacted Ottawa goalie Matt Murray and ruled that he didn’t have enough time to reset for Gallagher’s redirection. It’s one that angered Gallagher and Montreal fans to the point where it’s still being debated.

Julien’s odd choices in the shootout which included Perry over Suzuki might not have mattered. By most accounts, it sounded like the Canadiens had made up their minds to move on from the bench boss. It had been rumored that his job was on the line due to the recent slump.

It’s still surprising that of all the NHL coaches, Julien became the first one to become a casualty. Especially given the Canucks’ struggles under Travis Green. The Sabres haven’t been playing well either under Ralph Krueger, who healthy scratched Jeff Skinner again during last night’s 4-1 win over the Devils. And the Blue Jackets can’t keep goals out of their net under what looks like a defeated John Tortorella. They’re scoring a lot more since the additions of Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic. But the defense has fallen apart and key goalie Elvis Merzlikins just went on the injured reserve.

All of these coaches could be next in line to lose their job during the shortened 56-game season. Until the recent wins at the Flyers and Capitals, Rangers coach David Quinn could’ve been on that list. If they can win tonight again at Philadelphia, who’ll have Claude Giroux back from COVID Protocol, that would be three in a row. An actual winning streak. Something they haven’t done yet. They enter play 6-7-3.

At the moment, they’re without leading scorer Artemi Panarin due to the outside distractions created by former coach Andrei Nazarov. It’s a story not worth repeating. I broke it all down in the last post. How long they’ll be without the Bread Man remains to be seen.

Even in an abbreviated Covid year full of postponements and rescheduling, coaches aren’t safe. If your team underperforms, you could be next to meet the axe. That’s how today’s coaching carousel works.

Dominique Ducharme will take over for the Habs behind the bench. Ironically, former agitator Alex Burrows was added to the coaching staff. If you recall, his biting incident during the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals against the Julien coached Bruins was well documented. Burrows played for the Canucks and ended his career with the Senators, who effectively ended Julien’s second stint with Montreal.

The Canadiens sit in fourth place I’m the North Division. We’ll see how they respond to the coaching change.

Posted in NHL | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Panarin takes ‘Leave of Absence’ due to smear campaign from former Russian coach, how losing Panarin impacts the Rangers

In a earth shattering story Larry Brooks of the New York Post broke early on Monday that became headline news, Artemi Panarin has taken a ‘leave of absence’ from the Rangers to deal with a horrible rumor spread by a former Russian coach who doesn’t have much credibility.

The rumor was started by former NHL goon Andrei Nazarov, who coached Panarin while he played with Vityaz Chekhov of the KHL. He accused the Russian star of physically assaulting an 18-year old girl as a 19-year old. Based on the lack of evidence which excludes a victim as part of the accusation that mentioned Panarin paying off $40,000 Euros to keep the rumored girl silent, it sure sounds strange.

The alleged ‘incident’ was supposed to have took place in Latvia. But Nazarov might’ve gotten his timeline wrong according to hockey reporters close to the situation. He also said it happened in Russia. It sounds like a made up story by a bitter former Russian coach who supports Vladimir Putin.

Panarin has been very vocal that he doesn’t like Putin, even posting a photo in support of potential Presidential candidate Alexi Navalny on his Instagram last month.

To be honest, I don’t care about any of this stuff. I think it’s unbelievable that a pathological liar like Nazarov can make up some ridiculous rumor about the Rangers’ best player. What makes it worse is that his false accusation has been shot down by the media close to the situation. We’re talking about something that likely didn’t happen from a decade ago.

Furthermore, Brooks added to his original story that this has nothing to do with Putin. It was all Nazarov, who not only was the definition of an NHL scrub, but a total washout as a coach in Russia. He sounds deranged and probably should be in a mental asylum.

The truth is Brooks is good at his job. So too is Mollie Walker as many hockey fans are discovering. By far, they do an outstanding job covering the sport for The NY Post. Of course, there have been times where I didn’t see eye to eye with Brooks. But he is willing to put himself out there. He went the extra mile to shoot down the garbage the disgraced NYR blogger put out about Tony DeAngelo on a despicable site that has lost every ounce of credibility. A fictional piece from start to finish that used terms I won’t repeat.

I feel vindicated that I challenged that lunatic and haven’t followed that blog for a long time. I’m glad K’Andre Miller played the role of peacemaker in the altercation between former Blueshirt DeAngelo and Alex Georgiev. It also was predictable that the whole phantom puck story about Miller’s first NHL goal that DeAngelo collected and gave to the team staff, blew up in their faces. Even though I don’t follow them, I’m well aware that there hasn’t been a peep since. That is a positive development for the blogger and social media community.

I’ve said before that Brooks can be a polarizing reporter. But when push comes to shove, he is well connected to the Rangers organization. He wouldn’t just make something up. That’s why I have to laugh at the fools who went after both him and Walker for discovering the truth on the DeAngelo situation with the team. He actually was well liked by some teammates due to his character.

Not the one that management dealt with. I don’t think he was handled correctly after they gave him that contract. It seemed like David Quinn never liked him or knew quite how to handle the controversial offensive defenseman. But it is what it is. I can report that he’s kept a very low profile on his Instagram account since.

My thoughts on the Panarin situation are different because they’re way more serious circumstances. The fact he needs time away from hockey due to the silly nature of this crap speaks to how concerned he is about his family back home. From all accounts thus far, nobody has a bad word to say about the 29-year old superstar who finished third for the Hart Trophy last year. I’ll be blunt. When you look at how bad the Rangers are when he misses games, there’s no way the Bread Man shouldn’t have won league MVP.

I could care less how many goals and points Leon Draisaitl put up. He’s great. I would rate him ahead of Connor McDavid due to being more complete. McDavid is the greatest skater I’ve ever seen in transition. He can do things at such a high level that it’s mind boggling. Special players are the Oilers duo who still must prove it in the playoffs.

As for Panarin, he isn’t as big in stature. However, the way he can create space and find open teammates is a special gift. Just imagine if he increased his shooting more like he did in his return versus the Flyers. He finished with eight shots in 16 attempts. He works extremely hard and is a proven performer who does it in a more quiet fashion due to the language barrier.

It’s a shame fans won’t get to see him for an undetermined amount of time. But family comes before everything. Especially making sure they’re all safe back home. Nobody truly knows what is going on. Russia is very different from America. Even if I see things that are happening here that I don’t agree with, it pales in comparison to what goes on in Russia.

It makes me think back to my childhood when I was afraid of the former Soviet Union. Those were scary times. I’m instantly reminded of Sting’s memorable song, “Russians,” where he sings about how he hopes they love their children too. There are some great lines in it. None better than this part:

There is no monopoly in common sense

On either side of the political fence

We share the same biology

Regardless of ideology

It came out in 1985. It still was very relevant. Especially during the era of President Reagan’s second term. How he handled the seriousness of foreign policy and the relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev led to the end of the Cold War. The fact they were on such good terms bode well for the future of democracy. Eventually, the Berlin Wall was finally no more by 1989. Something nobody believed would ever happen.

It’s hard to express in words what a relief that was. It’s ironic that during the same time period, Russian hockey players started coming over to play in the NHL. They included Igor Larionov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Sergei Makarov and several others who made an agreement to still represent their country. However, a much riskier proposition was the first ever defection when future star Alexander Mogilny left to play in North America. A great player who deserves his place in the biased Canadian Hockey Hall of Shame Fame.

In these times where Putin rules with an iron fist, you can never be certain what’s going on. However, a lot of stuff that’s expressed is spread mostly by North American media, who like to blame Russia for everything. It’s utterly ridiculous. I highly doubt they’re coming after Panarin because he isn’t as loyal to Putin as Alexander Ovechkin. Slava Malamud raises a strong point about how differently Panarin is being treated as compared to Ovechkin. It is hypocritical.

Regardless of him speaking the truth about a complex situation, here’s what I think. You better believe that miscreant Nazarov pulled this stunt intentionally to try to sabotage Panarin as part of some psychotic plan to keep him off the Olympic team next year. That’s assuming the Winter Games are on by that point. We haven’t even had a Summer Games that was supposed to take place last year. Something they’re still planning for later this year.

Is that with masks and social distancing or are we ever going to get back to some semblance of normalcy? Don’t count me among the group celebrating the ‘return of fans‘ to arenas. That’s a joke. Just from a cost standpoint without considering the risks or PR factor, it’s cringe worthy.

There’s still so much that must be accomplished in regards to the COVID-19 vaccination they’re promoting. It isn’t so easy to get it for everyone. How can it be? It’s so great a population that it’s no wonder things are the way they are. I can only hope and wish for the health and safety of everyone. It’s pretty scary.

The pandemic also makes it harder for players to return. Filip Chytil just was taken off COVID Protocol, which means he’s finally getting closer to returning for the Rangers. They sure can use him. However, he and Kaapo Kakko remain out for Wednesday’s return match against the Flyers.

How will that affect Panarin? I pretty much have concluded that he’ll miss at least two weeks. That could mean six to seven games. But will he have to also do a 14-day quarantine? If that’s the case, then he could be gone for a month.

At 6-7-3 with 15 points and only four wins in regulation, the Blueshirts have to start consistently winning games. They’ll have to do it without Panarin. A tall order unless the leadership that includes Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and to a lesser extent Ryan Strome get going. Strome has been better than both. He also is very vocal including in support of Panarin after the Rangers released a statement.

For the time being, they’ll have to do it without their meal ticket. Zibanejad, Kreider, Strome, Pavel Buchnevich and Adam Fox are the names who must pick it up. I included Fox because he’s been stuck on seven points for a while. In fact, the heavily relied upon Fox has no points in six with a minus-three rating. He’s getting over 25 minutes a night which includes power play and penalty kill while matching up with partner Ryan Lindgren most of the time against opponents’ best scoring lines. Without Jacob Trouba, more has been asked for out of K’Andre Miller, Brendan Smith, Libor Hajek and Anthony Bitetto, who finds himself on the second power play unit.

Without Kakko, Quinn decided to split up Buchnevich and Kreider. Buchnevich will start with Zibanejad and rookie Alexis Lafreniere. Kreider will flank Strome and Colin Blackwell. The third line should comprise Kevin Rooney centering Brendan Lemieux and Julien Gauthier. However, Jonny Brodzinski is expected to play. Brett Howden could wind up with Phil Di Giuseppe and Gauthier. Igor Shestyorkin is the confirmed starter for the Flyers game.

The challenging part is they don’t know how long Panarin is gone for. Even with early indications that things are okay, nobody knows how much time he needs away from the rink. He doesn’t like missing games. But this is a special circumstance. The Rangers’ top scorer who’s posted 18 points (5-13-18) in 14 games despite missing a pair due to an upper-body injury, came back in and immediately contributed to two straight victories at the Flyers and Caps. He’s that important.

If they’re a good team, they’ll prove it. The last time they faced Philadelphia, they were still without Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Jakub Voracek, Scott Laughton and two other regulars. They just got embarrassed by the Bruins in the second game at Lake Tahoe on Sunday. Carter Hart was brutal and has struggled so far. It will probably be Brian Elliott in net.

Following that game, the Rangers finish February with two versus the Bruins. Considering the fireworks we saw in the last game that was a Boston shutout at MSG highlighted by Buchnevich taking on Jeremy Lauzon and Lemieux fighting Trent Frederic, it could have a lot of nastiness. Don’t forget lone Boston goalscorer Nick Ritchie bumped Shestyorkin, who didn’t take kindly to it. There are two games to respond.

Here’s the thing. This team must learn to win without Panarin. They haven’t yet in the few games he’s missed since joining the team. It’s time for that to change. Maybe a little adversity can motivate them further. There’s an opportunity for the rest of the roster to step up.

We’ll see if they’re up to the challenge.

Posted in Battle News, Column, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment