Tonight, it’s the Battle of New York. Well, sorta. It’s not quite the unique historic rivalry between Manhattan and Long Island. But the Rangers and Sabres get together at The Garden later for a Friday night game between two teams out of the playoffs.
While it pales in comparison to Rangers/Islanders, it’s the big city versus the more laid back upstate. If you’ve ever been to Western New York, you know what I mean. Having made the trip up to Buffalo once with Bills and Sabres close friend Brian, I know the big difference. Sports up there are unique. There aren’t any bandwagon fans. They love their teams in Buffalo.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 and a half years (September 11, 2005) since we went the long seven and a half to eight hours in Brian’s car when he still lived in Sayreville, New Jersey. Those were the days. I really enjoyed the trip and meeting some of the coolest Bills fans at the storybook tailgate before the Bills defeated the Texans in the season opener. Great stadium too if you like being closer to the action. We sat up. There’s not a bad seat in the house. I wonder what will be for the Bills in terms of getting a new stadium.
If I had to sum up Buffalo sports fans in one word, it would be passionate. They are as loyal a fanbase as there is. They’ve been through a lot. At least the football team seems to be trending in the right direction. As for the hockey team that still is located right across from the Buffalo News, it’s been a struggle.
Despite boasting one of the game’s brightest young stars in Jack Eichel, the Sabres are a bad hockey team. That doesn’t mean they can’t come into MSG and win. It’ll be interesting to see what they have to give following a home loss to the god awful Red Wings. It came in a shootout. But still, it’s Detroit. This exchange took place in the Buffalo locker room between Sam Reinhart and troll Mike
The way Harrington continued to badger Reinhart over the end of his shift where he didn’t exactly bust it to prevent a Dylan Larkin goal, was in poor taste. Sure. Reinhart could probably have hustled more. However, Buffalo fans aren’t fooled by this media troll. He’s basically their Larry Brooks.
Brian had some choice words for Harrington, who of course has him blocked on Twitter. I’m blocked by Brooks too and proud of it. These guys can dish it out, but they can’t take it. Guys like these two are washed up relics who need to be retired and at a bar. They like to stir the pot. Brooks continues to regarding the Rangers salary cap mess that could cost them Chris Kreider. A valuable player who could be retained if a certain goalie was scratched and asked out. Brooks wouldn’t dare ask that question. No reporter would.
As far as the 7 PM game, Alex Georgiev will make his first start in a week. I’ll be honest here. Nothing against him. But the way Igor Shestyorkin performed in the 5-3 victory over the Maple Leafs, I think I would’ve given him another start. I get why David Quinn wants to get Georgiev back in net. It’s not an easy situation they’re in. Maybe we’ll see Shestyorkin on Sunday against the Kings. That’s a 6 PM start.
If Georgiev plays well and then Shestyorkin does the same assuming he goes in two days, what happens with Henrik Lundqvist? Is he considering going to management and waving his no-movement clause?
In a Brooks column this morning, he hinted that Lundqvist’s prediction is coming true. He might not be here soon. As he draws nearer to his 38th birthday this March 2, it’s possible the three goalie system could be coming to an end. That all depends on Hank. I’m not going to assume anything here. Given how the organization bends over backwards for him, they’re probably afraid to have a serious discussion with the franchise leader in victories, shutouts and games played.
It’s all about public relations here. You have a split in the Blueshirt fanbase. More and more people are coming around. They see the writing on the wall. It’s time. When our friend Jon says it’s time, it’s time. He is the eternal optimist with all his teams which include the Knicks and Mets. That’s saying something. It looks like we’ll be watching tonight’s game at his place. Just like last week. Hopefully, it’s another good result.
In some strange way, the civil war between Ranger fans reminds me of the crap going on in Washington DC. I’m not going to go further there. I have my opinion. That’s where it stays. Everyone is entitled to their own. It should be more respected. If you know me, you know how I feel about the two party system.
That you have Blueshirt fans fighting over Lundqvist and other players who continue to contribute to the team, it’s pretty sad. Some of these people are out of their minds. They’d rather trade the best offensive defenseman in Tony DeAngelo since Brian Leetch due to his political beliefs. Hint. It’s the dumbest Rangers blog spreading this false propaganda. I could care less who our players support as long as they respect our country and what it stands for. I love DeAngelo as he’s not only becoming one of the game’s best offensive D. But his engaging personality is very popular with his teammates. That means a lot more than some foolish blogger acting like a spoiled hypocrite. They think their opinion is gospel. It’s not. That means they have a lot more in common with a dictator that I’ve seen referenced way too much.
In regards to DeAngelo and close buddies Ryan Strome and Brendan Lemieux, I’d love to keep all three. However, I want Chris Kreider to stay put. They aren’t going to get equal value for what he brings. He has remarkable chemistry with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, who as Quinn noted, is like a rollercoaster game to game. His description was dead on. Buchnevich is only effective when he’s physically engaged. He has been lately. Is it sustainable? He should continue to produce playing on that line.
If the Rangers subtracted Lundqvist, it would be much easier to keep Kreider. He will come in at around $7 million for at least six years if not seven. It’s his final big contract. Anyone who thinks he owes the Rangers anything is incorrect. He doesn’t. Kreider has been one of the best first round picks this team’s made since the turn of the century. They don’t hit on many firsts. As I’ve stated before, he’s not just about statistics. Though I’m glad to see him at just over a point-per-game since 12/8. He’s worked his butt off. This is a unique player with the size, strength and speed to impact the game. Add in the intangibles and leadership and you can understand why I want him to stay.
I know how this will sound. But moving Jesper Fast to clear some room for Kreider wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Who’s more valuable? It’s not even close. Apologies to the hardworking Fast, who brings a consistent work ethic to the lineup no matter what line he plays on. But what is he? At best, Fast is a 15 goal, 35 point guy who is a effective two-way forward that kills penalties. He’s not a kid anymore. He is 28. Is he much cheaper than Kreider will be? Sure. But he’s going to want at least $3 million on that next contract. Probably a little higher.
As much as I like Jesper, he’s replaceable. It’s like our buddy Anthony Cinque said to me the other night at the game. If you can’t replace him, then you’re in trouble. There’s gotta be a cheaper alternative within the organization. Lauri Pajunemi? Why not. Brett Howden plays penalty kill and looks more comfortable at left wing than center. But he has stone hands. That’s what they got from Tampa for JT Miller…
Personally, high character guys like Fast are what playoff contenders want. His speed and grit are good characteristics for teams going for it. He can play a bottom six role, penalty kill which he’s very good at, and slide up and down the lineup. Friend Madison Miller believes he’s worth a third round pick. I don’t want anymore picks unless Kreider goes. They need roster players. But Fast is likely at best worth a late two. Maybe you get a fringe prospect.
So, as it pertains to tonight, I don’t know what to expect. The Sabres are a mediocre team that has a top 10 player, a good second-year offensive defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin, a good right wing in Reinhart, and streaky finisher in Jeff Skinner. They have other guys like Rasmus Ristolainen on a crowded defense that’s not that good. But little else. Jimmy Vesey plays for them. So does Evan Rodriguez. That’s not a ringing endorsement. Marcus Johansson is on them too stealing money. Kyle Okposo still plays. So does Conor Sheary. I guess Sidney Crosby can make anyone look good. Think Rob Brown and Mario Lemieux. You get the picture.
They sure miss rookie Victor Olofsson. He’s good. It’s easy to forget he had 35 points in 42 games. The 24-year old Swede would’ve been up for the Calder against Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes. Adam Fox is one of the better rookies too. But don’t forget goalies Ilya Samsonov and Elvis Merzlikins. Even Mackenzie Blackwood deserves mention despite how bad the Devils are. He shutout the Flyers last night with 46 saves. Dominik Kubalik is also in the mix due to his 21 goals.
Last night, Jonas Johansson made his first NHL start for Buffalo. I doubt you’ll see him later. It’ll probably be Carter Hutton. And no. It’s unacceptable for the Rangers to lose to him. We know the history. Linus Ullmark is out with an injury. He has 16 wins and a .914 save percentage on the Sabres. That’s good.
The Sabres have been taking it on the chin lately from aggravated fans. They have their reasons. From knockoff throwback jerseys they had some of their most memorable players wear to an ownership that hasn’t gotten it done. Yeah. I’d say there’s plenty of ammo for unhappy Buffalo fans. They last made the playoffs in 2010-11. That’s absurd. A once proud franchise that always seemed to appear in the postseason has missed it in 10 of the last 12 years. Holy mackerel. Lindy Ruff is the last successful coach they know. Yes. That Lindy Ruff.
They’ve gone through general managers, owners and currently don’t have a Team President. It isn’t a good situation. You have to think they’d have serious interest in Chris Drury to run the operation. He’s the assistant GM for the Rangers, who wouldn’t let him interview for a job last year. They love him. Would Buffalo be willing to pay a draft pick for Drury? They need more stability. Is GM Jason Botterill the right fit? He’s only in Year Three. They can’t keep firing people. Ralph Krueger coaches them.
What about the Rangers? Well, they go for a second consecutive win and fourth in five. They are up to 56 points. Tonight is Game 53. They are two points better than the Sabres, who will play Game 55. If you’re an eternal optimist like Jon is, you still believe there’s a chance at the playoffs. But as I told him last night via a phone call with my brother Justin, they have to subtract players due to this summer. He wants Lundqvist scratched. The thing they won’t do. He knows what must happen.
The Rangers trail the Hurricanes by nine points for the final wildcard. By virtue of their predictable comeback win over the lowly Kings in which Kieffer Bellows scored his first two NHL goals, the Islanders moved past the Blue Jackets into third place with 68 points. Columbus is 11 clear of our team with 67 in the first wildcard. Despite remarkable play, they’re not out of the woods. The Leafs have 63. One behind third place Florida and two out of the last wildcard. The Flyers also have 65, but don’t have the first tiebreaker which is regulation wins. They have only 20 compared to our team’s 23.
So, assuming the lineup is the same, I have to think Strome and Artemi Panarin are back together with Fast. That would mean Filip Chytil with Kaapo Kakko and Lemieux. Howden would stick with Greg “Keg Man” McKegg and Phil Di Giuseppe on the new fourth line.
At this point, there’s no reason to use Brendan Smith anymore due to Ryan Lindgren finally killing penalties. He’s been a good team guy. But it’s time. They need an improved fourth line. Continue to take a look at Di Giuseppe and Howden. I still don’t get why Boo Nieves can’t be here. Or even Steven Fogarty.
Vitali Kravtsov had two assists in a 7-4 Wolf Pack win on Wednesday night. At some point, I’d like to see him up. But don’t rush him. He hasn’t proven himself yet. Let him earn it like Bellows did with Bridgeport. My guess is you won’t see Kravtsov until the final nine games.
As for the defense, it’s not changing. Brady Skjei and Jacob Trouba are back together. Lindgren and Fox comprise the second pair. DeAngelo and Marc Staal are the third pair. But you know DeAngelo will get more ice time due to what he brings. Ditto Fox. Those are the best skaters.
I’ll be curious to see if Georgiev can continue to stay sharp following a layoff. That’s a wrap. I’ll have more later.