Random Thoughts: Emotional Stepan on tribute, Golden Knights hot start, Kucherov MVP pick, Devils comeback kids


This year, I don’t have as much time to write due to a busier schedule with subbing. It will only get more hectic once I enroll in school in January. Teaching has a lot of responsibilities but it’s worth it. I’m happier even as my team struggles for wins in October. We’ll see how the Rangers do tonight at another scuffling team in the Canadiens.

There have been some good early stories so far. Plenty for passionate puckers to get behind. Let’s start with the positives and later note some surprises that weren’t expected.

1.The best story is the play of expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights. Sporting unique threads and cool logo, it’s astonishing how quickly a new team has come together. These are players who were on different rosters. Full credit must be given to coach Gerard Gallant for the chemistry his guys have. They’ve definitely been motivated by the awful tragedy in Las Vegas. Indeed, they are #VegasStrong.

Seeing all the players introduced with the heroic first responders was one of the most emotional and coolest moments ever. In times of tragedy, sports can unite everyone. We experienced it in these parts following 9/11. What the Mets and Yankees did for the city was amazing. The Mike Piazza home run and the memorable ’01 Yankees winning three in a row against Oakland and Arizona with the latter some of the greatest postseason baseball ever seen at the old Stadium. They won even though they ultimately lost.

2.That the Golden Knights have gotten off to a 8-1-0 start including winning six of their first seven at T-Mobile Arena proves one thing. It’s not always about talent or style. But how you play. Watching them as much as I’ve been able to, one thing becomes abundantly clear. They play as one unit. It’s not only a rejuvenated James Neal, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault. But key role guys like David Perron, Luca Sbisa, William Carrier, William Karlsson, Cody Eakin, Oscar Lindberg, Nate Schmidt, Colin Miller and emotional Vegas leader Deryk Engelland being factors. They’re a T-E-A-M.

3.Even more shocking is that they continue to get strong goaltending. Despite losing starter Marc-Andre Fleury and backup Malcolm Subban to injuries, Swede Oscar Dansk has come in winning his first three decisions including posting the first shutout in franchise history on Nevada Day. A 7-0 whitewashing of the Avalanche. They’ll now embark on a six-game road trip including a visit to MSG on Tuesday. They won the first two road games. It’ll be interesting to see how Vegas does on the trip.

4.Derek Stepan returned to the place he called home for seven years. It wasn’t all storybook with the former Rangers top center guilty of a turnover that led to former linemate Chris Kreider’s early goal, finishing minus-three in another loss for the hapless Coyotes. It was a emotional night for the classy centerman who the franchise stole with the 51st overall pick in 2008. A very successful Ranger who finished with 360 points (128-232-360) in 515 career games on Broadway. That included a plus-109 along with memorable moments during playoff runs like these two that we’ll never forget.

Don’t forget Stepan’s pass to Kreide that tied it to force sudden death in Game 5. I remember telling my brother they needed a miracle to come back and tie that one against Braden Holtby. They showed tremendous heart rallying from the brink of defeat to win the last three games and advance to a second straight Conference Final. It doesn’t happen without Mr. Clutch.

It still gives me chills. I know I’m not alone. Aside from beating the Canadiens to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, that’s still one of the greatest games I’ve seen. It’s probably the second best series the Rangers have played in my lifetime. The first being the memorable seven-game classic in ’94 against the Devils.

5.The video tribute which MSG Network neglected to show infuriating fans by going to commercial. Thank god for the Coyotes feed and kudos to the NHL for tweeting it out in entirety. Look how much it meant to Stepan.

Pointing to his heart after waving his stick in salute to appreciative fans who’ll never forget what he meant to the franchise. My favorite player from those teams. I feel for him with Arizona. A awful team that enters tonight’s match at New Jersey winless (0-9-1). You are sorely missed.

6.Which brings me to another point. Maybe it’s time for a select few NYR fan bloggers to stop pinning the blame for season failures on one or two players. The scapegoating is tired as is the Blame AV for everything. Maybe it’s time for us to look at the roster. That includes Henrik Lundqvist, who’ll sit out a second straight night in favor of Ondrej Pavelec. It even includes Mats Zuccarello, whose focus has been elsewhere on too many shifts.

7.I’ve been a staunch supporter of Nikita Kucherov. In fact, I picked the electrifying 24-year old Russian to win the Hart. Apparently, he’s taking it literally by leading the league in goals (12) and ranks behind teammate Steven Stamkos for second in scoring with 19 points. He is signed thru 2019 at a bargain basement cap hit of $4.767 million. He’ll earn $5.5 million in ’18-19 before turning restricted. Any guesses on what kind of contract he’ll receive? It could be somewhere in the neighborhood of $10-11 million AAV over seven or eight years. The scary aspect is he’s worth it.

8.Even a week off can’t prevent the Devils from being the comeback kids. They did it again to the Senators on Friday with 19-year old rookie Jesper Bratt scoring this mesmerizing shootout winner despite giving up two goals to the resilient Sens in the final two minutes.

I had no idea how good Bratt was. Full marks to Devils blogger Hasan. A sixth round pick by the Devils in the 2015 NHL Draft, he continues to be a big part of their impressive 7-2-0 start. It’s not just about talented first overall pick Nico Hischier or former Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher. But about smart signings by GM Ray Shero adding vets Drew Stafford and Jimmy Hayes to bolster the forward depth. Now, Adam Henrique centers the third line behind Pavel Zacha and Hischier. So, without Travis Zajac, they aren’t missing a beat with surprising Brian Gibbons continuing to provide a spark. John Moore is Mr. Overtime. Keith Kinkaid has played well with Cory Schneider finally back tonight after the arrival of his second kid. They just dealt Scott Wedgewood to the desperate Coyotes.,

9.Even better news is that Brian Boyle is finally practicing. The well respected veteran who’s battling leukemia could soon return and make his Devils debut. A quality high character player who will provide even more incentive and leadership to the locker room. We are all #BoyleStrong!

10.Biggest disappointment? We’ll go with the Stanley Cup Western favorite Oilers. They were supposed to build off last Spring with MVP Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Cam Talbot leading them within a win of the Conference Final. Instead, they’ve severely underperformed going 3-5-1 thus far with just 20 goals scored and 28 allowed. While McDavid is over a point-per-game, 5-5-10 isn’t what was expected. Draisaitl missed time with a eye injury that caused concussion-like symptoms. He just returned registering three assists in Edmonton’s 5-4 comeback win over Dallas. That’ll help immensely. But no one else is doing much. Patrick Maroon remains productive as McDavid’s sidekick with 3-4-7. Milan Lucic has one goal and Ryan Strome remains mystifying after coming over from the Islanders for Jordan Eberle. They haven’t gotten much from Zack Kassian and Talbot’s been inconsistent. There’s plenty of room for improvement for a young team that’s feeling the pressure.

11.Finally, a couple of mesmerizing plays that could qualify for plays of the year candidates by McDavid and Justin Williams.

That’s Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook who he did that to. Wow. TMT!

He always has had a flair for the dramatic. Enjoy a full slate of Saturday games!!!!!

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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