Deadline day is upon us

No recap from my end today, for starters I didn’t watch most of the game. First time I turned on Hartford vs. Binghamton it was the middle of the second period, saw 3-0 and laughed – then turned it off again. I only turned it back on in the third period when the Devils finally started playing and got it to 3-1 with ten good minutes before sagging again. Typically when two teams are playing out the string, the team that wanted the game more got it. This afternoon it was the Rangers. I’m sure Derek’ll like doing that recap anyway.

Can’t even blame us trading/sitting everyone since the Rangers did the same thing with their outgoing deadline rentals. For some reason I don’t remember outright scratching players before the deadline as a major deal in prior years. Maybe cause teams either did their business when they could or let things play out. I don’t remember too many cases of guys getting hurt before the deadline costing their teams a big return. Admittedly I did fear that with Marcus Johansson which is why I haven’t minded him sitting the last two games.

With defenseman Ben Lovejoy, he only had to sit one game before finding out his fate – traded to Dallas this morning for a 3rd round pick and defenseman Connor Carrick. Carrick sounds like a depth defenseman, my buddy Rudy called him a Lovejoy-in-training. For the crap Lovejoy got from Devils fans, that would be a good career outcome but he’s an RFA at the end of the season so he’s likely on an audition along with most of the other young guys and role players here down the stretch.

There aren’t a lot of highlight videos of guys like Lovejoy to go back on and remember, he wasn’t a highlight reel type of guy obviously. His impact was more with the guys in the room and on being one of the leaders of a young team. I do remember his seeing eye empty-netter in Game 3 of the playoffs last year to help sew up our lone win against Tampa Bay. While I do want him to have success, the Stars missing the playoffs only helps the value of our third-rounder. I’m not as invested in Lovejoy as I would be in say, Brian Boyle. Who also has a better chance at winning in Nashville anyway.

With two days to go before the deadline GM Ray Shero’s arguably done 2/3 of the heavy lifting (Lovejoy, Boyle) and only Johansson is still in limbo waiting to find out his destination. If I had a prediction I’d say he fetches a 2 and a 4 or a 2 and a meh prospect. Which is actually more than I thought he’d get a month ago before he surged. I still don’t think he gets a first-rounder back though. Centers and defensemen get first rounders back. Maybe the occasional goalie like Dwayne Roloson, which turned out to be a good deadline deal for the Oilers in 2006. Playmaking wingers don’t generally fetch firsts though. It does sound like there’s a lot of interest in MarJo. Too bad he only got going as a Devil after the team fell out of things this year, but at least he got it going soon enough to up his value a little more.

Other than the aformentioned big three there aren’t any other big UFA’s likely to be dealt. Clearly whatever value Keith Kinkaid might have had a couple months ago has evaporated in a string of goals allowed. Might as well keep the emoji-master and have him as a sacrificial lamb to play when Cory Schneider doesn’t, and just keep Mackenzie Blackwood in the minors. Perhaps Shero pulls a rabbit out of a hat and deals someone who’s not a UFA to change things up. Nobody saw the Adam Henrique for Sami Vatanen trade coming last year, and that was back in November. Arguably that trade’s been a draw so far, with both players helping their new teams to the playoffs last year, but falling on hard times this year either struggling (Henrique) or hurt (Vatanen) for teams under the bubble.

Personally I’m hoping Johansson’s traded tonight so I don’t have to pay any more attention to the deadline during work on Monday than need be. Of course I say that and Shero’ll throw something else down the pike at the last minute. Obviously at least ‘something’ (MarJo) will be done then or before, especially judging by John Hynes comment in the wake of the Lovejoy deal hinting that hopefully more was to come. He certainly wasn’t talking about buying for a team that’s nine thousand points out of the playoffs, although with all the picks Shero’s accumulating maybe there’ll be some draft-day buying using those picks as currency at least.

Might just comment on what else happens with the Devils at the deadline during the post-Monday game recap, assuming there’s enough to actually write about after we play the Habs at home in front of about ten thousand people. For those of you that subscribe to the Athletic, they have a couple of nice insider pieces on what goes into the deadline, one of them talking with Devil players that have been traded before to get the player perspective and another talking with a handful of NHL GM’s into what negotiating and prep work goes on behind the scenes before and during the deadline. I swore for months I’d never pay for news, but tried a subscription half off for a year and it’s worth it just for the hockey content considering the lack of hockey news (especially Devils-related) in the mainstream media these days.

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Gorton must hit it out of the park with Hayes and Zuccarello

Saturday, February 23, 2018

As we draw nearer to the conclusion of Monday’s trade deadline, more rumors are circulating about where players could wind up. From a Rangers perspective, fans continue to follow reliable sources on Twitter to find out the latest on Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello.

By reliable, I mean any hockey media professional with a blue check mark next to their name. It’s pretty obvious who I mean. I don’t have to spell it out. My advice to anyone who is locked in on the hot rumors is be careful who you believe. There are a lot of fake accounts spreading false propaganda to draw attention. Why I have no idea.

It’s almost like all the goofiness starts a few weeks before April Fool’s Day. Too bad the NHL continues to push up the deadline. Believe it or not, it used to be in late March. Poetically, Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan were acquired from the Blackhawks for Tony Amonte and the rights to Matt Oates (who?) on Mar. 21, 1994. They each played a dozen games while fitting in seamlessly. While everyone can point to MATTEAU MATTEAU MATTEAU, it’s worth noting his clutch tying goal in the closing seconds at Calgary on a backhand rebound in his Rangers debut on 3/22/94. That was a pretty big moment that left Sam Rosen and John Davidson speechless.

I only reference it due to the organization paying tribute to the 25th Year Anniversary of that special championship team. That was every bit as memorable for all fans including the younger generation who never got to truly experience that Stanley Cup.

Here’s something else. When current Team President Glen Sather brought in Martin St. Louis in the only captain for captain deadline trade with Tampa for Ryan Callahan, while sacrificing two first round picks and a seventh for a second, the blockbuster move came on Mar. 5, 2014. We all know how that turned out.

Don’t forget St. Louis struggled only scoring one goal with seven assists in his first 19 games. What followed was truly inspirational with an emotional St. Louis showing unbelievable heart and resilience following his Mom’s death. Who didn’t go nuts when he scored that first goal on Mother’s Day to lead the Blueshirts to a huge Game Six win? The Garden was rocking. It was unreal. They never trailed after the Game Four humiliation that resulted in St. Louis, Brad Richards and Henrik Lundqvist calling a players only meeting to send the message that the series wasn’t over. It’s fitting that all three locker room leaders played crucial roles in the franchise’s first ever comeback from 3-1 down against the hated Penguins, who they had never beaten in a series.

The point is I don’t get the rush to have the deadline before the end of February. Of course, it’s very exciting and gets everyone talking, which is positive for the NHL. They want good PR. It’s a heck of a lot better than listening to NBC’s Pierre McGuire describe every fine detail of “Kris-to-fer Le-tang.” Nobody cares what high school he went to. FYI I am glad that puck didn’t hit McGuire because it could’ve seriously injured him. In this day of social media, there are way too many bad seeds who say the wrong thing after such incidents. Especially given how most fans feel about McGuire. Regardless of that, he’s still a knowledgeable hockey reporter, whose passion comes out between the benches. Look how many broadcasts copied NBC. You can get a lot of juicy information on what’s going on.

So, what does all this have to do with the original topic? Only that the trade drama is a lot of fun, anxiety and entertainment for everyone. Whether your team is buying or selling, you want them to be involved. It’s eerily similar to July 1. A date most hockey fans have circled on their calendars. Truth be told, we live for this stuff. The big trade, signing or extension gets our juices flowing. I’m ready. Are you?

The latest rumor involves Hayes going to Nashville for a package featuring 19-year old Finnish prospect Eeli Tolvanen. The only question I have is, is the source right?

If they are, full credit obviously. Everyone wants to be first in this business. However, let’s say it’s true. Why have the Predators done an about face on Tolvanen? Only a year ago, he was one of the hottest prospects in the game who was deemed untouchable.

What happened? As it turns out, the former Predators 2017 first round pick taken number 30 overall, hasn’t had a strong first year in North America. In 38 games for AHL affiliate Milwaukee, Tolvanen has scored just nine goals while adding 10 assists for a total of 19 points with a minus-10 rating. Hardly what was expected.

Not only has he been a disappointment. He wasn’t that noticeable during Finland’s gold medal victory at the 2019 Under-20 World Junior Championship. He didn’t score a goal and had four helpers in seven games. The four points tied for seventh on the team. He didn’t stand out like top European 2019 NHL Draft prospect Kaapo Kakko. Aleksi Heponiemi, Aarne Talvitie, Jesse Ylonen, Henri Jokiharju and Rasmus Kupari were more impressive.

It was a surprising tournament for Tolvanen. It could just be an off year for a kid who doesn’t turn 20 until the Spring. That happens. Rangers’ seventh overall pick Lias Andersson has been inconsistent in his first full professional year in North America. In 36 games with Hartford, he went 6-14-20 with an alarming minus-24 rating. However, part of that is the Wolf Pack are a bad team. His ’19-20 has been handled questionably from an organization that doesn’t have the best track record with first round picks.

But Andersson is back up with the Rangers and played a good first game in Thursday’s 4-1 home defeat to Minnesota. If you combine the seven NHL games he got into last season and the 22 this year, he has a combined six points (2-4-6) over 29 games. He isn’t a top nine forward yet. Interestingly, Filip Chytil is on the fourth line for the time being. Despite showing glimpses of talent with a few highlight reel goals, the 19-year old rookie who the team grabbed with at number 21 in the same draft as Andersson, he’s still learning.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Developing young players takes time and patience. Look at how first-year coach David Quinn has handled Pavel Buchnevich and Tony DeAngelo. Both had NHL experience and have responded well to the discipline Quinn Bin. DeAngelo enters today’s afternoon match with the Devils on a five-game point streak (six assists). Buchnevich has played his way back into the top six on a second line with the much rumored Hayes and Jimmy Vesey. He scored the lone goal the other day on the power play. Six of his 12 goals have come via the man-advantage. An area he excels at. It’s continuing to evolve at five-on-five where Quinn believes there can be improvement. I concur.

In a rebuild like the one the Blueshirts are fully committed to, they can’t afford a misstep. Current GM Jeff Gorton has to be right on both trades he makes involving Hayes and Zuccarello. The same for Chris Kreider if he’s really considering moving the very valuable power forward. Highly risky unless they hit it out of the park. That’s precisely what Gorton must do. The future depends on it.

Battle of New York’s Derek Felix can be followed on Twitter or at New York Puck on Facebook.

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The plot thickens for Zuccarello and Hayes

A day after losing streak home to Minnesota 4-1, the Rangers are gearing up to trade two of their best players. With Monday’s trade deadline at 3 PM fast approaching, it could happen anytime between now and then. That leaves a window of less than 72 hours for GM Jeff Gorton to finalize deals for Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes.

With Columbus deciding to acquire former Senator Matt Duchene for a package of two top prospects along with two conditional first round picks, that’s one less big name available for contenders. Here is the breakdown of the blockbuster trade between the Blue Jackets and the Senators.

It’s hard to believe Ottawa gave up so much last year for Duchene, who either could re-sign with Columbus, or go to unrestricted free agency on July 1. With the league’s fewest points, the Senators didn’t protect the lottery pick they gave up to Colorado. That means the Avalanche are poised to potentially win the lottery and possibly get either Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko this June. Yikes. At least the Senators got a good return for Duchene.

What it could mean for Mark Stone nobody knows. If the Sens are truly committed to a full rebuild, then expect Stone to go next. However, he’s interested in staying. For what price and term I have no idea. He would be a great addition to any playoff contender. We’ll see what happens.

As far as the latest news with Zuccarello and Hayes, they both played last night along with Adam McQuaid, who left the game with an “upper body” injury. Though coach David Quinn said it was precautionary and he could’ve returned. That’s the risk you take by playing rumored players who are expected to be moved.

In all likelihood, they played their final game as Rangers. Even with Quinn continuing to tell reporters that he’ll play a full lineup if the players are still around, he can now use extras Boo Nieves, Brendan Smith and Fredrik Claesson as replacements for Hayes, Zuccarello and McQuaid. Nieves was a healthy scratch due to 2017 number seven overall pick Lias Andersson coming back up from Hartford to play yesterday. Quinn was pleased with his game, which is more than you can say for most of the roster that didn’t do enough against the struggling Wild.

Only a power play goal from the resurgent Pavel Buchnevich (sixth PPG) prevented Devan Dubnyk from a shutout. Quinn even broke up the top line by flipping Jimmy Vesey with a slumping Chris Kreider, who is without a goal in eight straight entering Saturday’s match against the Devils. He took turns with Hayes and Buchnevich while Vesey worked with Zuccarello and Mika Zibanejad the final period. It didn’t matter. They were unable to help Henrik Lundqvist get a second consecutive win.

When the Devils visit the Garden tomorrow afternoon, it’ll be Alexandar Georgiev in net. The only question is what happens with Zuccarello, Hayes and McQuaid. It sure sounds like Zucc could be the first to go.

Zuccarello is attracting a lot of interest. Who knows where he will wind up? It could be Calgary or Nashville. The best case scenario rather than seeing him play for a team in the Eastern Conference. With Boston deciding to risk the future by parting with Ryan Donato in a trade for Charlie Coyle from the Wild, they probably are out on both Zuccarello and Hayes. The Bruins decided to give up a good prospect and only a fifth round pick to rent a good player in Coyle, who’s underperformed. He should help them in a secondary role.

It’s also worth noting that McQuaid did practice. So, it looks like he’s okay. Regarding Zuccarello not speaking to the press following his on ice chat with Quinn, I don’t blame him. How would you feel? He’s given his heart and soul to this team the past six years.

Don’t forget how hard the journey has been. He went from an afterthought under former coach John Tortorella due to an injury in 2012, to a key piece who became an emotional leader for those teams in ’14 and ’15. The 2015 run still stings. Not just for how bitterly it ended. But for nearly seeing the end of Zuccarello’s career following taking a Ryan McDonagh shot off the helmet that caused a skull fracture and a brain contusion, leaving him unable to speak for several days. It’s still amazing that he made a full recovery, making a successful return to the sport. What if they had him against Tampa? Do they win Game Seven and then defeat the Blackhawks for the Stanley Cup? I still believe they could have. We will never definitely know the answer.

When the trade comes down either this weekend or Monday, it won’t be easy for Blueshirt fans. It never is when you come to love a player, who’s played with so much emotion, grit and determination. Not much different from former captain Ryan Callahan, who MSG vilified for wanting his and getting it with Tampa.

The only difference is Callahan was traded for Martin St. Louis. A Hockey Hall of Famer who in his brief time, became an inspirational leader following the tragic death of Mom France during the 2014 NHL Playoffs. The team rallied around St. Louis to come back and beat the Penguins in seven during the second round. They defeated the Canadiens in six before losing to the hated Kings for the Cup.

If only then GM Glen Sather hadn’t parted with so many first round picks. He did similar when he traded for Keith Yandle, who was underused by Alain Vigneault. The same coach who didn’t know what to do with Eric Staal.

The glory days are over. It’s been over for a while ever since that agonizing Game Six loss to Ottawa two years ago. It started with the trade of Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Coyotes for Tony DeAngelo (extended point streak to five) and that 2017 first round pick that became Andersson. They waited a year too long to fire Vigneault. But that’s all in the past.

Now, here we are 60 games into a rebuilding season knowing the end is near for Zuccarello and Hayes. Two good players who should fetch nice returns. A combination of prospects and high draft picks is expected. But that’ll be for the future.

No matter what you feel, it’s the end of an era. We’ve seen Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller go along with Michael Grabner and now retired Rick Nash. Once Zuccarello and Hayes go, only Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Jesper Fast and Chris Kreider will remain from those runs. That’s if they don’t unload Kreider too which would probably not be wise unless it’s overwhelming.

The only player they got back who performed well in the 2017 Playoffs is top center Mika Zibanejad. Stolen from Ottawa for Derick Brassard, Zibanejad is now the best player they have left. Already with 26 goals and career bests in assists (32) and points (58), he continues to be on pace for over 30 goals and 70 points. He’ll remain the top pivot they build around hopefully with Kreider extended and named the new captain.

Young prospects Filip Chytil, Andersson, Brett Howden, Vitali Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller, Igor Shestyorkin, Ryan Lindgren and hopefully Libor Hajek are some of the players that should be a big part of the club moving forward.

Who will be added over the next three days? The answer will be filled in.

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Game #61: Triple Thursday – Devils 4, Senators 0

In a season full of bad goaltending, ironically enough two of the best stories surrounding this season’s Devils revolve around positives in net. First, it was Mackenzie Blackwood’s debut – which to this point has been nothing short of a success with a 2.37 GAA and .926 save percentage in 13 games played. When Blackwood was sent back down to Binghamton to get more experience (and perhaps stay away from the dumpster fire here), it was to make room for the returning Cory Schneider, who at that point was persona non grata with Devil fans after going more than a calendar year without a single regular season win.

However, since Cory finally got off the schneid in the win column in Minnesota last Friday the tide’s finally turned back in a positive direction for the embattled goalie. A strong game in a victory against the Sabres on Sunday was followed by a shutout yesterday against a hapless Senators team (Cory’s first since 2017), who continued their tank that’ll only benefit Colorado in terms of draft position in the first round. After having seen Cory’s career low point against Vegas in December and another checkered game against the Wild just before the losing streak ended, I would have liked to have been there last night for the latest chapter of Cory’s Magical Redemption Tour.

For whatever criticisms I’ve had of Cory as a goalie in the last year or so, you couldn’t have seen what happened against Vegas in December and not feel good for him finally getting back in the good graces of the fans and earning confidence back from his team. Especially with the high class Cory’s shown in the face of all that’s been thrown at him in this last year or so, from his surgery to the losing streak and the criticism it’s engendered. He’s never finger-pointed or lashed out at the media.

Really Cory’s tenure has been checkered here from the outset, which was to be expected to a degree when replacing an all-time legend. Despite good play he was the goalie that couldn’t win games in Martin Brodeur’s last season here, then won just enough while playing well to damage the Devils’ draft position during the dark years transitioning from Lou Lamoriello to Ray Shero. Of course last year when the team finally was good for a minute and a half it was backup Keith Kinkaid and not Cory that was getting all the big wins down the stretch to get the team in the playoffs.

It’s too early to say that this recent stretch is a harbinger of things to come but in the back of my mind I’ve thought all along it would be nice to see what happened when Cory finally got the gorilla off his back of the losing streak. So far the returns have been splendid. Of course last night it helped facing one of the few (if not the only) teams worse than the Devils right now. Especially when coach John Hynes scratched Marcus Johansson and Ben Lovejoy for ‘precautionary reasons’ – re: the impending trade deadline. Of course the Senators did the same thing with Mark Stone and the now-traded Matt Duchene.

With essentially Belleville playing Binghamton last night, it was some of the lesser-name Devils that helped put the game on ice early on. After Travis Zajac opened the scoring at 11:45 of the first with his 14th goal, unlikely first goals of the season from stay-at-home defenseman Steven Santini and enforcer Kurtis Gabriel turned the game into an early laugher after twenty-four minutes. Especially after a first period where the Devils dominated, outshooting Guy Boucher’s troubled unit 14-4. Miles Wood padded the lead to four later in the second period giving the team further insurance, although Wood himself would later have to leave the contest due to injury. For the rest of the night Ottawa did give Cory some work, registering twenty-six shots in the last two periods – but the goaltender already had all the offense he needed to relax and play another outstanding game.

With one more game before the deadline it’s likely we’ve already seen the last game of Johansson and Lovejoy as Devils. That’ll provide more of an opportunity for guys like Santini – who’s trended downward since early last season but should finally get some extended run in the lineup to grow. Ironically they play the Rangers tomorrow afternoon, a game that’s normally highly anticipated but with both teams out of contention and more concerned with working the phones before Monday’s deadline, there couldn’t be more of a meh feeling for a Devil-Ranger game. Assuming Cory plays it’ll be nice if the team (whoever draws into the lineup) actually shows up tomorrow and maybe he can somehow keep this roll going.

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Game #60: Throwback Tuesday – Penguins 4, Devils 3

As has been the case so often with the 2018-19 Devils, looking backwards has been more fun than looking at the present. That was the case again last night when the Devils had ’90’s night at the Prudential Center, which was similar to last month’s ’80’s night in that they had the CAA-style scoreboard, the CAA goal horn with throwback music and references sprinkled throughout from a cover band playing ’90’s hits during intermission to the commemorative David Puddy bobblehead fans got walking into the arena, complete with facepaint.

If you’re a Seinfeld fan, a Devils fan or both you know who David Puddy is – a character that was one of Elaine’s boyfriends who had to ‘support the team’ by dressing in facepaint and lettering his chest, among other things. Funny how one half-hour episode twenty-five years ago can still have such resonance and actor Patrick Warburton (who played the one-off role on the show) is a cult hero with fans even today, making frequent appearances including during the team’s first Stanley Cup banner raising at the old CAA.

Even though I was not a big Seinfeld fan I’ve seen the episode multiple times and I couldn’t help but smile at those particular references, the bobblehead or even the actor himself faceplanting by the Devils bench, perhaps intentionally (after all the dude is an actor). Yet my favorite part of last night was the well-done five-minute intro video before Puddy’s on-ice appearance dropping the puck, which really hit on a lot of what I knew growing up.

I won’t spoil it – I’d rather everyone just take a look at the video first after reading the blog, but suffice it to say it was very creative and will appeal especially to computer and video game users, which entails a vast majority of us who grew up in the ’90’s. And it also had a nice musical score at the end, which is a fitting callback for all hockey fans.

Of course as was the case on ’80’s night and the throwback jersey games this year, the ancilary stuff was terrific and the game wasn’t. Suffice it to say, we’ve lost all the throwback jersey games this year as well as on ’90’s night and ’80’s night. Perhaps we were due to lose to a Penguins team that we’d pretty well owned this season (3-0 before last night), a rare bright spot in a dissapointing year. Early on, I was hoping for a you can’t beat us chant by the end of the game as we took the lead twice in the first period – only to give it up twice, and things didn’t improve after that.

Pittsburgh dominated the second period, scored a soft goal on Keith Kinkaid to get a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, and while the Devils put sixteen shots on Matt Murray in the Penguin net during the third I demand to see video evidence of half of them. Really, the last two periods were a snorefest until Murray allowed his own ridiculously soft goal to Miles Wood with five minutes left to pull the Devils back to within 4-3, but Blake Coleman’s costly late penalty eschewed just about any shot of a comeback.

So much for putting together a sustained winning streak. At least Marcus Johansson helped his increasing value at the deadline with a spectacular strip of Phil Kessel and quick goal in front to give the Devils their second goal of the night in the first period. With only two games left before Monday’s deadline time is getting short for GM Ray Shero to solicit offers on Johansson and defenseman Ben Lovejoy – our two most high-profile UFA’s remaining now that Brian Boyle’s already been dealt to Nashville.

There is the chance Shero could sign Johansson to an extension before the deadline as well but any kind of long-term deal would be a risk given Johansson’s injury issues the last couple of years. It’s more likely he’d be dealt for a solid return and just take the chance you could either re-sign him if need be or get another depth winger elsewhere before next season. Pretty much everything will be on Shero’s offseason shopping list at this point – defensive help, forward depth, possibly a goalie although Cory Schneider’s recent streak provides a glimmer of hope maybe, just maybe he’ll be a viable option next season along with promising Mackenzie Blackwood.

Whatever happens, I doubt it’ll be as wild as the 2003 deadline where then-GM Lou Lamoriello dealt for depth guys like Pascal Rheaume, Grant Marshall and Richard Smehlik while rumors were flying over a potential Scott Gomez for Teemu Selanne deal that got nixed. Even hours after the deadline when Gomez and defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky were mysteriously scrached there was speculation it was part of a late-announced deal or at least precautionary in case both players did get dealt. As is the case with a lot of Lou stuff, we’ll never know the full truth. Just like we’ll never know what the ending of the Sopranos really meant.

Typically fans were up in arms over Lou acquiring nothing but plugs – and losing 4-2 to a terrible Thrashers team that night only added to the fan angst – but typically Lou knew best then and now, as those plugs helped the team to their third Cup in nine years while Selanne had to wait another several years before finally winning one of his own in Anaheim, ironically due to some help from ex-Devil Scott Niedermayer (who recently got his number retired in Anaheim). It’s hard to see anything Shero doing in the next few days leading to a Cup anytime soon but you have to start somewhere I suppose.

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Game #59: Lundqvist carries determined Blueshirts to 2-1 victory over Hurricanes

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Blueshirts won a game thanks to Henrik Lundqvist. For the affable 36-year old veteran, it was payback. Facing the same opponent that spoiled the fun following the 25 Year Anniversary celebration of the ’93-94 Stanley Cup team, he turned back the clock with a vintage performance by making 43 saves to carry the Rangers past the Hurricanes 2-1 in Raleigh. Take a look at the two save sequence to deny Justin Williams above.

Wow. With Curtis McElhinney pulled, it sure looked like a desperate Carolina team was about to force overtime. Only Lundqvist prevented it with two straight acrobatic stops by stacking the pads like Johnny Bower. None were bigger. In his 41st game, he had to stop 18 Canes shots in a busy third period with many following Vladislav Namestnikov’s game-winner at 6:10 after a power play expired. It was his 17th victory of the season, moving his goals-against-average under 3.00 (2.97 GAA). Win number 448 moved him within six of Curtis Joseph for fifth all-time.

This was his fifth start in February. Previously, he went 0-3-1 with a 3.04 GAA and .900 save percentage, allowing 12 goals on 120 shots. His last win came on Jan. 31 when he had 19 saves at New Jersey. If you went off the previous meeting versus Carolina on that special Friday, 2/8, he certainly was good enough in making 30 saves. But the Rangers were shutout 2-0 by Petr Mrazek.

The thing about both our goalies is they often have to stand on their heads for this team to win hockey games. Sometimes, their best isn’t enough. Alexandar Georgiev found that out on Sunday at Pittsburgh in a wild and crazy 6-5 loss. He made 35 saves, but allowed six to the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

I think when you look at Lundqvist’s impressive record and statistics throughout his career when he makes 40-or-more saves in the regular season, it speaks volumes. What a great goalie he’s been for this franchise. It still is sad that the team hasn’t won a Cup with him. But he certainly gave them their best chance three different times.

I have no idea what will happen when his contract expires in 2021. He’ll be 39 by then and a free agent. I do expect him to re-up for at least two more years. He’s loyal to the Rangers sweater, and takes good care of himself. Nobody can predict a future that’ll include top Russian goalie prospect Igor Shestyorkin (Shesterkin). He’s expected to finally sign an entry level contract following the conclusion of the St. Petersburg SKA season. Who knows if he’ll be here right away due to Georgiev proving he’s fully capable of backing up. The team also has college prospects Tyler Wall and Adam Huska. I don’t know anything about Olof Lindbom. The Swedish netminder they took in the second round last year.

For now, let’s enjoy these kind of games from Lundqvist while we still can. If only he could get a shutout. This was the sixth time he allowed one goal this season. In those starts, he’s now 5-1-0 with a 1.00 GAA while stopping 192 of 198 shots (.970 save percentage).

My favorite part of his reaction was referring to the last two minutes as, “Organized chaos.” Classic Henrik! 🙂

It’s true they got the ‘W’ due to his brilliant play. But also, how about the two goals they got from grinders Connor Brickley and Namestnikov? Both drove hard to the net and were rewarded for their grunt work. Brickley got his first as a Blueshirt by hustling to the front of the net and putting in a rebound past McElhinney from Filip Chytil and Tony DeAngelo.

Referee Wes McCauley made the mistake of waving it off due to thinking it was put in illegally. However, the replay clarified that it was a good goal. A great response to Jordan Martinook getting the Canes on the board 47 seconds earlier in the second period.

Namestnikov’s winner came just after a power play expired with 13:50 left in the third. Following a brutal shift by the top unit, out came the second unit for the remainder. Like they’ve been doing lately, they moved the puck around quickly and got something set up. Finally, Pavel Buchnevich had a low shot leak out to Jimmy Vesey, whose rebound also wasn’t controlled by McElhinney. That allowed Namestnikov to deposit the loose change for his seventh (third in three games). A good all around play by not only those three, but also from DeAngelo and Ryan Strome.

Despite some undisciplined Carolina penalties including a Brock McGinn trip on DeAngelo that gave the Rangers a 41-second two-man advantage, they couldn’t capitalize. The first unit was again not up to speed. Mika Zibanejad was on the wrong side. By the time he switched places with Kevin Shattenkirk, it was too late. Shattenkirk had a shot blocked and cleared down by the diligent Carolina penalty killers. It was a opportunity wasted.

They also failed on a Justin Faulk delay of game. Even in a strange period that saw Chris Kreider called for interference with Mats Zuccarello having a goal correctly disallowed for pushing McElhinney into the net, they still were ahead one due to the end of their first power play.

Secondary scoring has been a issue throughout the season. So, it was nice to see different players come through for a second time in the last three games. In the 6-2 win at Buffalo, you had Namestnikov getting a pair along with goals from Vesey, Buchnevich, Jesper Fast and Boo Nieves. It can’t always be the same guys scoring. Zibanejad and Zuccarello had help for a change. So too did a snake bit Kreider, who’s without a goal in seven straight despite four assists. Maybe he’s pressing with 30 goals within reach. Hopefully, he gets off the schneid next game against the Wild.

This was a good win. One that highlighted the Rangers brightest star.

BONY 3 STARS:

3rd 🌟 Tony DeAngelo, NYR (picked up an assist giving him points in four straight totaling 5 assists, played well in 22:05)

2nd 🌟 Vladislav Namestnikov, NYR (scored the game-winner for his 3rd goal over 3, has quietly increased his value if he’s traded)

1st 🌟 Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (43 saves on 44 shots including the key sequence on Williams late to preserve his 448th career win)

Notes: As expected, Brady Skjei returned to the lineup after missing the Pittsburgh game. He was solid overall pairing with Adam McQuaid, logging 21:47 including 2:29 shorthanded with two shots on goal. … Even though he was kept off the score sheet due to having a goal wiped out, Zuccarello led all NYR skaters with 22:57. Zibanejad got 22:02 and Kreider received 21:25 as David Quinn rode his horses. … Even though he picked up a helper on the Brickley goal, Chytil finished with a team low 7:18 on the fourth line. The point gave him 20 as a rookie. He’s the first teenager to register 20 points as a Blueshirt since Alexei Kovalev back in ’92-93. The only difference is Kovalev turned 20 on Feb. 24 that season when he finished with 20 goals and 38 points. Chytil doesn’t turn 20 until Sep. 5.

… With Quinn able to play Fast after he was absent Sunday due to the flu, he went with the more traditional 12 F and 6 D. Fredrik Claesson was a healthy scratch. Neal Pionk was held out again for precautionary. … In defeat, McElhinney turned aside 24 of 26 shots. … Shot attempts were 93-50 Canes. The Blueshirts blocked 23 shots and Carolina missed the net 26 times. DeAngelo blocked a game high five. … Face-offs were 27-25 NYR with Kevin Hayes 8-and-3 while Nieves went 6-and-3. For Carolina, Greg McKegg was 5-and-1 while top scorer Sebastian Aho went 9-and-8.

… Rangers (26-25-8) are up to 60 points with 23 games to go. They have home games against the Wild and Devils Thursday and Saturday with one of those two likely the final one for Hayes and Zuccarello. Prior to Monday’s trade deadline, they visit Washington on Sunday for a third game over four days. Both weekend games are matinees. … With Montreal winning and Columbus losing, the Canes remain a point out for the second wildcard with 68 points.

WILDCARD RACE

1.Canadiens 60 GP 71 Pts 30 ROW

2.Blue Jackets 59 GP 69 Pts 33 ROW

3.Hurricanes 60 GP 68 Pts 30 ROW

4.Sabres 59 GP 63 Pts 24 ROW

5.Flyers 60 GP 63 Pts 26 ROW

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Game #58: Zuccarello and Hayes boost value in 6-5 Rangers loss to Penguins, Deadline a Week Away

When you lose games, there are no consolation prizes. Sure. The Rangers didn’t quit as coach David Quinn alluded to following a 6-5 loss to the rival Penguins at PPG Paints Arena earlier today. Ultimately, the comeback fell short with goals from Kevin Hayes and Mika Zibanejad coming too late to undo some hideous defensive lapses that allowed Pittsburgh to break open a 3-3 game.

The Rangers had already rallied back from a 3-1 second period deficit to tie the game on goals from Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Strome at even strength. However, a double minor on Sidney Crosby for hi-sticking Neal Pionk proved to be the turning point. Handed a four-minute power play that still had 3:47 left at the start of the third, the Rangers failed to capitalize on the golden opportunity.

Instead, momentum shifted towards the Pens, who played the final period with more urgency due to their situation. Believe it or not, they entered the day out of the playoffs, trailing Montreal and red hot Carolina for the final two wildcards. Following a successful penalty kill, Kris Letang went around Filip Chytil and fired a laser past Alexandar Georgiev for his second of the game at 4:36 from Crosby and Jake Guentzel. That set off three consecutive Pens goals over a 5:19 span.

Evgeni Malkin then scored twice including a highlight reel backhand inside the far goalpost that Georgiev had little chance on. On the play, he had Hayes on him man to man and was able to pull off the fancy spin-a-rama and perfect shot to give Pittsburgh a three-goal lead with 10:05 left in regulation.

Even though Hayes had a goal and assist to further boost his trade value, his line didn’t play well. In particular, linemates Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey. They were caught puck watching on a couple of goals. Neither are consistent defensively, and both have yet to become good enough offensively to get away with lazy coverage.

It’s a team issue. Tony DeAngelo also struggled despite picking up an assist. He got caught behind the net with two forwards on one goal against. Chytil had similar issues in his return to the lineup with Jesper Fast out due to the flu.

While it’s nice that they scored four of five goals at even strength, even outshooting the Pens 37-33 at five-on-five, the Rangers allowed five of the Pens’ six goals there as well. That just won’t cut it against anyone. Especially the ridiculously skilled Penguins.

Deciding against starting Henrik Lundqvist due to a losing streak in the regular season that dates back to 2015, Quinn opted to stick with the hot hand, Georgiev. Considering how well he had played coming in, he deserved a second consecutive start (third in four). Unfortunately, he was hung out to dry much like Lundqvist has been against the Pens. The result was predictable. Especially a day after they had a tough 5-4 home loss to Calgary.

After Letang started the scoring on a shot that took a favorable carom off Kevin Shattenkirk, Zuccarello struck back in the final minute of the first period with one of his own. He had a pass deflect off Pittsburgh forward Teddy Blueger for his 10th at 19:20 from Hayes and Shattenkirk.

In what was an admittedly bad period for referee Francois StLaurent, who actually apologized to Quinn about the first two periods, the Penguins got two goals in a row from defensemen Marcus Pettersson and Brian Dumoulin. Pettersson scored on the power play when he took a good cross ice feed from ex-Panther Nick Bjugstad and beat Georgiev with a good wrist shot for a 2-1 lead. Less than three minutes later, it was Dumoulin who made it 3-1 at 14:09 from Crosby and Pettersson.

But on the next shift, Zuccarello got his second of the game only 26 seconds later to cut the deficit to one. On a dominant shift from the top line, Chris Kreider set up a quick shot from Mika Zibanejad that Pittsburgh backup Casey DeSmith had no idea where the puck was. With the puck sitting near the goal line, a hustling Zuccarello pushed it in for an easy goal. That’s seven points over the past four games, and a remarkable 22 (7-15-22) over his last 14. In fact, since picking up a helper at Vegas on Jan. 8, he has 23 points in 16 games played.

Before the dominant run with Zibanejad and Kreider, he had really struggled. In his first 30 games which included separate stints on the injured reserve due to a groin strain, Zuccarello had just 14 points. He’s now up to 37 (11-26-37) in 44 contests for the season. Rangers GM Jeff Gorton recently began contract talks with Zuccarello and Hayes. However, both are expected to be moved before the Feb. 25 trade deadline. There are many teams said to be interested including Pittsburgh for Zuccarello. I would hate to see him wind up there. Carl Hagelin hurt enough.

Still trailing by a goal in the second, Strome got them even by getting to a loose puck and firing home his eighth (seventh as a Ranger) unassisted to tie it at three with 2:15 left. He’s been a solid depth player for the team since Gorton stole him from Edmonton for Ryan Spooner. Strome quietly has points in the last four, giving him 15 (7-8-15) in 39 games as a Blueshirt. While it’s not a whole lot of production, he’s proven he should be kept for next season when he enters the final year of a contract that pays him $3.1 million through 2020.

Then came the Crosby double minor that knocked out Pionk (precautionary) for a disappointing third. Quinn dressed Fredrik Claesson for the first time since 1/12. He replaced Brady Skjei, who was held out following a injury considered not serious in the team’s 6-2 win at Buffalo on Friday. Quinn hinted that Skjei could be back for Tuesday at Carolina. Brendan Smith played mostly forward in 11 shifts (7:40) on the fourth line.

With a young, rebuilding team, defense is always problematic. Especially when the Rangers don’t have that dominant number one who can anchor the back end. When Adam McQuaid and Marc Staal are your most dependable, it explains why they’re still so far away. There are peaks and valleys for the younger crowd that includes DeAngelo, Pionk and Skjei, whose play has steadied thanks to McQuaid. You know what you’ll get from the solid but steady Claesson.

Shattenkirk recorded two assists in the one goal defeat for his first multi-point game since way back on 11/21 against the Islanders. He’s got four assists over the past three games for his best stretch. I don’t know if that makes him tradable. His defense remains spotty. Is there a contender that would be willing to roll the dice on the nice 30-year old veteran, who’s still owed $10.6 million the next two seasons thru 2021? His pricey cap hit of $6.65 million makes him hard to move unless the Rangers pick up a good chunk. Is Tampa really interested due to the sophomore slump Mikhail Sergachev is having? I don’t want any more of our players on Rangers South.

Figure McQuaid to be dealt by the deadline. He certainly has necessary playoff experience and plays the game with physicality and edge. Something a Toronto can use. I could see a reunion with Boston. The trade talk is only going to heat up with exactly a week to go. So far, it’s been minor action such as former Rangers favorite backup Cam Talbot moving to the Flyers for Anthony Stolarz (Edmonton). Spooner got moved from the Oilers to the Canucks for veteran Sam Gagner. Haha.

Ironically, the best trade executed was by Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford. He exchanged forward Daniel Sprong to the woeful Ducks for D Marcus Pettersson. Look how well that’s worked out. With a goal and assist, he’s up to 12 points (2-10-12) and a plus-eight with 31 penalty minutes in 34 games as a Penguin. Sprong has been okay too for the Ducks putting up 9-4-13 and a minus-seven in 29 games. He was a healthy scratch in their 5-2 win over the Capitals on the night they retired Scott Niedermayer’s jersey.

When it comes to the market, it all depends on who’s available along with team needs. How much are they willing to pay. Factor that in with available cap space and it complicates things. Ottawa could make both Matt Duchene and Mark Stone available. Both are having big seasons in walk years. It sounds like Duchene will likely go with the Senators concentrating their efforts on keeping the popular Stone. A good point-per-game two-way right wing, Winnipeg is rumored to be very interested. Ryan Dzingel also could have good value. With 22 goals, he’s one off his career high set last year.

We still have no idea what the Blue Jackets are doing with Russian duo Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers would love to acquire both as a package deal. But why part with any good roster players like Jonathan Huberdeau when they can wait till July? I think Columbus has no choice but to keep both for one playoff run. They’re not even a playoff lock due to the chaos. But their fans have never seen the franchise advance out of the first round. With both the Caps and Pens no longer certainties, I would roll the dice.

The Islanders continue to lead the Metro Division despite little scoring. The Hurricanes are doing it with offensive balance since adding Nino Niederreiter, and surprising play from journeyman Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek.

There are so many teams still alive that it’s impossible to predict what will happen. It’s gonna be a wild roller coaster ride in the next seven days.

BONY 3 STARS:

3rd 🌟 Evgeni Malkin, PIT (2 goals for #’s 17 & 18, 7 shots in 18:03)

2nd 🌟 Mats Zuccarello, NYR (2 goals for #’s 10 & 11, +1 with a game high 8 shots in team-leading 24:44)

1st 🌟 Kris Letang, PIT (2 goals for #’s 14 & 15, +1 in game high 25:30)

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Game #59: Satisfactory Sunday – Devils 4, Sabres 1

For one of the rare times this season, the Devils are on the verge of one of Lou Brown’s winning streaks (i.e. more than two in a row). In fact today’s 4-1 win over the Sabres coming on the heels of the wild comeback in Minnesota represented the first back-to-back wins for New Jersey in over a month. Now fully over the curse, Cory Schneider didn’t have to wait nearly as long for his next win. In fact, he went just two days between wins Friday and today compared to over a calendar year between his last pair of wins.

Certainly Schneider deserved this one too with a strong 34-save performance in another game where the Devils were outshot by a wide margin (35-24) but for one of the few times this season the Devils got ahead and stayed ahead, even getting Cory some rare tack-on goals in the third period of a game that was tight throughout. Scoreless in the first, the Devils struck twice in the second first with a lucky bounce off Miles Wood, who did make his own luck driving to the net for his sixth goal of the year. Then Jesper Bratt continued his own quiet hot streak (eight points in his last eight games) with a power-play goal to double the lead, also getting his sixth goal.

Only Sam Reinhart kept Cory from having a chance at a shutout late in the second period, and made the game a nailbiter for most of the third until Kyle Palmieri’s rifle beat Sabres goalie Carter Hutton with less than six minutes remaining, and even with the general negativity of the season I felt at that particular time it was going to be a happy recap. Even when Damon Severson was a bit unlucky in taking a penalty late in the third, Joey Anderson scored a seeing-eye empty netter seconds after the Sabres pulled Hutton for the 6-on-4 advantage.

I could have gone to this game but had already traded it in earlier towards my credit for next season. My error was thinking this was a normal Sunday night game that was more or less a weeknight game, without taking into account the holiday on Monday which goosed the amount of people willing to go to a Sunday night game, and thus demand. So I could have sold this one off for normal value after all, though you wouldn’t have known it from the prices before the last day or so when they spiked.

Of course I never take President’s Day into account cause I never have it off myself. I missed the dopey sock promo too, but seeing pictures of them I didn’t even like the design quite frankly. My only quasi-regret is my close friend wanted the socks but I told her I likely wasn’t going to this game, oh well. I’m already going to the game Tuesday as is, and want to keep my amount of meaningless Devil games attended at a minimum. Especially since all of my games in 2019 have been unmitigated disasters. Hopefully Cory’s new mojo carries over for at least one more game when I will be at Tuesday’s showdown with the playoff bubble Penguins.

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Games #57 and #58: The long nightmare is finally over

Perhaps it’s a good thing my recap streak ended yesterday. I just couldn’t even feign doing a writeup for the Devils’ latest fiasco in Chicago on Thursday where they blew another early 2-0 lead and once again Cory Schneider skated off a loser in a game that largely wasn’t of his own doing. Still, five unanswered goals against was one more depressing result in a year full of them, for team and Cory alike. I was unable to watch much of Thursday other than bits and pieces of the game coming apart in the third period, and just couldn’t watch tonight. Not only cause I figured on another disaster in Minnesota, but because I’d gotten little sleep the night before and really had no time for a recap anyway till I got home today where I just had to conk out. Catching up on sleep was more important than a meaningless game or complaining recap, hence my late-night blog (more than an actual recap) now.

When I initially saw the Devils won in OT on Twitter after waking up from my long nap/sleep, I was bemused. It was like oh whoopee, NOW they get a meaningless OT win. It was only after scrolling Twitter a little more that I found out the salient details – specifically that tonight’s starter Keith Kinkaid was pulled at 4-1 and Cory played well enough in relief for finally – FINALLY! – some good fortune to come his way as the Devils managed a stirring comeback to win 5-4 in OT that meant more to one player than anyone else on or off the ice.

Which isn’t to say that his teammates, the fans or team employees like Steve Cangialosi (listen to the emotional call above) also didn’t gain a lot of satisfaction from seeing that ridiculous twenty-one game regular season losing streak finally come to an end for Cory. In fact, to his credit Cory wasn’t whooping it up in an emotional fit after finally getting back into the win column at the NHL level since December…of 2017. I’m sure he had an ear-to-ear smile underneath his mask and understated reaction though. Much like the one screenshotted here with Cory the only possible recipient of the team’s helmet for unsung hero of the night.

Image

Obviously this game won’t mean anything to the standings – for us at least, for the Wild it’s another story. In fact you can already hear the moaning from the fanbase about the two points possibly decreasing our lotto odds. Still, this team needs to find out whether they can possibly get anything out of Cory for the rest of his contract before they’re forced to make a potentially onerous financial decision on him this offseason. I’ve said all along I’d like to see how Cory plays once he got the monkey (which grew into a gorilla) off his back, well now he’s done it and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.

And yes I’m aware the ‘winless streak’ comes with an asterisk because Cory actually did get a win that counted – in the playoffs last Spring. Still, you could tell the 0-for the regular season and 0-for-2018 weighed on everyone’s mind, so it mattered even though it was a bit of a manufactured stat. It’s useless to make the case it was a faux stat when it wasn’t. In some ways it’s telling Cory played his best hockey in 2018 during the playoffs when the 0-for the regular season stat was not an issue either way. You could tell it mattered to the team too with their nervous play in close games during the streak, from the bad offense against the Islanders last week to the own-goal fest in Anaheim earlier this season.

Yes, the waiting is indeed over for Cory and the franchise. Yesterday in Chicago no longer matters. Our comeback and five different goalscorers tonight to salvage two points out of the road trip are incidential to the only story of this weekend for the Devils and Cory Schneider. Even in victory the poor guy couldn’t resist some self-deprecating humor when being presented with the helmet during the postgame.

No apologies needed at this point…now it’s time to just play hockey for the rest of this season and see what this player and team can get out of the final twenty plus games of the campaign.

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Game #57: Georgiev wins his third straight decision as Rangers finally get secondary scoring in 6-2 win over Sabres

A picture is worth a thousand words. Can the Rangers freeze frame the goal above that Pavel Buchnevich set up Jimmy Vesey on highlighting a well deserved 6-2 win over the Sabres? That was a thing of beauty. I didn’t see it until afterwards due to skipping the first two periods in part to annoyance with Filip Chytil scratched and my allergy cold.

In any event, it was nice to see some different players come through in a victory. This team has been carried so much by the top line that they may as well have had an anchor attached to their backs. For once, they didn’t rely on the scorching Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider or sizzling Mats Zuccarello.

This one was won due to the role of the supporting cast. On a night Chytil sat out for Hartford recall Connor Brickley, the other three lines got on the score sheet in support of improving rookie Alexandar Georgiev, who made 31 saves to win his third consecutive decision. From the MSG broadcast at the happy conclusion that included plenty of ribbing of Vladislav Namestnikov for getting off the schneid, Sam Rosen noted that Georgiev has stopped 141 of the last 148 shots over his last four starts.

The final score is a little misleading. The Rangers entered the third period nursing a 3-2 lead. A desperate Sabres put on a surge in the first part of the period. Georgiev came up with a couple of gems, denying Rasmus Dahlin and Tage Thompson to keep his team ahead. In his last two starts, he’s made 86 saves on 89 shots. This was a strong follow up to a career high 55 stops in a 4-1 home win over Toronto last Sunday. Listening to him speak in the postgame, he’s very intelligent and good at analyzing the game for his young age. When top goalie prospect Igor Shestyorkin comes over, there will be no rush.

With Quinn again opting for the unusual 11 forward, seven defensemen alignment, that left Brickley and Boo Nieves on a make shift fourth line. As fate would have it, Nieves deposited a Brendan Smith rebound for his third at 4:09. Brickley was in front distracting Buffalo starter Linus Ullmark when Nieves scored the game’s first goal from that “forward” Smith.

Jesper Fast had gone 13 straight games without a goal since Jan. 10. He finally broke the drought when he got credit for his eighth from Namestnikov and Tony DeAngelo for a two-goal lead at 14:03. The checking line of Fast, Namestnikov and Ryan Strome had a very good night. They combined for three goals and two assists with a plus-eight rating. Quinn raved about the cohesive trio afterwards.

Quinn expressed a little frustration that his team didn’t get rewarded in the second when the Sabres got back in it thanks to a pair of goals from top sniper Jeff Skinner (35th and 36th), sandwiched around a goal of the year candidate. That would be the unbelievable strength shown by Buchnevich behind the Buffalo net when he was able to make a great one handed pass in front for a cutting Vesey, who buried his 13th while falling down to the ice. That was a terrific play by both, who have stayed on the second line with Kevin Hayes (2 assists). Quinn liked how they finished the game, but reminded everyone that they must be more consistent defensively.

A Skinner power play goal from Sam Reinhardt and Dahlin cut the lead to one at 16:56 of the second. As bad as the Sabres are defensively, where would they be without Skinner? The former Hurricane is on pace for 50 goals in his contract year. Having acquired him last off-season, it’s imperative that they re-sign him. He will not come cheap.

At one point in the third, the shots favored the Sabres, 9-4. However, they couldn’t find the equalizer against a sharp Georgiev. His biggest save came following a scary giveaway from Kevin Shattenkirk. The right defenseman lost the puck in front right to Thompson, who fired from about 20 feet out right into Georgiev, who didn’t budge. Asked by MSG’s John Giannone about it after the game, he said he had it all the way. He was in perfect position to bail out Shattenkirk, who otherwise had a good night finishing with an assist and plus-four rating with DeAngelo.

With an injury ending Brady Skjei’s night in the second, Quinn had to rearrange the pairs. Smith moved back to defense while DeAngelo and Shattenkirk played well. Marc Staal worked with both Shattenkirk and Adam McQuaid. It all worked out.

On a superb extended shift in the Buffalo end, the Hayes line did a number on the Sabres. They cycled the puck for seemingly ever until Shattenkirk got the puck over to a open Hayes, who fooled everyone in the building with a brilliant slap pass for a open Buchnevich tip in with 4:01 remaining. His 11th goal gave him a two point night and goals in two straight. That gave the Rangers a key insurance marker.

Eight seconds later, Namestnikov got a belated Valentine’s Day gift from Ullmark on a giveaway for a empty netter that gave him his first goal since Dec. 18. A very thankful Namestnikov looked to the heavens as if to say thank you as he got plenty of taps from happy teammates, who appreciate how hard he works. It had been 23 straight games without one since he got his last in a win over Anaheim. Poetically, that was also a three-point game.

He would add his second also into a vacated net with Ullmark on the Sabres bench with 58 seconds left for the final margin.

Notes: When asked about Skjei’s availability for Sunday, he said he was “day to day.” They don’t think it’s serious. My guess is they’ll hold him out as precaution and shift Smith to D with Chytil returning for a more traditional 12 forwards, 6 D in Pittsburgh. … In the third, DeAngelo had a two punch knockdown of Kyle Okposo. Given Okposo’s history, it wasn’t too smart. Hopefully, he will be okay.

BONY 3 STARS:

3rd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (11th of season plus a helper giving him 2-1-3 in the last two games)

2nd 🌟 Jeff Skinner, BUF (2 goals for #’s 35 & 36 for the big finisher chasing Ovechkin)

1st 🌟 Vladislav Namestnikov, NYR (2-1-3 to finally erase a 23-game drought for hard working and deserving player)

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