Every year sans last, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in America gives hockey fans plenty to be thankful for. With most teams off for one of the biggest holidays on Thursday, there are always a lot of games to choose from on Turkey Eve.
Tonight, there are fourteen games. That’s 28 of 32 teams in action. It’s a smorgasbord of puck starting at 7 PM. If you are celebrating with family or home, there’s lots of action in the National Hockey League. Combined with your usual college basketball holiday tournaments of you’re into that, it truly is the best time of year.
I’m thankful for hockey back where it belongs. In the Fall as cold weather temperatures make you think of Christmas. Of course, my birthday is just around the corner. Being a Sagittarius in December makes this holiday season extra special. I’ve always loved the autumn due to the weather finally cooling and the excitement surrounding this time of year. Combine that with baseball ending in late October, football (if you can call it that around here), hockey and basketball, there’s so much to enjoy.
For tonight’s entree, you have a classic rivalry renewed when the Rangers visit the new digs at UBS Arena to battle the Islanders. For almost half a century, these teams have collided. Whether at Penn Station in Madison Square Garden or Long Island at the Islanders’ former home Nassau Coliseum, it’s always provided fans from both sides a unique blood rivalry. A fascinating match-up.
Regardless of where they are in the standings or who’s out which unfortunately for the Islanders is the case due to several key players in COVID protocol, it usually doesn’t matter. For the Rangers, it’s an opportunity to step on a wounded team who’s struggling. The Islanders have dropped six in a row including the first two in Belmont.
In addition to no Adam Pelech, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Ryan Pulock, Kieffer Bellows, Ross Johnston, Andy Greene, Zdeno Chara, they’ll also be without second center Brock Nelson. He suffered a lower-body injury against Toronto during the first period of a 2-0 loss. Another big hit for the Isles, who are having all sorts of trouble scoring and keeping pucks out of their net.
Despite their opponent being down many starting players, the Rangers have one job to do. Win the game. They can’t worry about who the Islanders are without. Something Ryan Strome alluded to in an interview regarding the first of four meetings. He talked about how they will focus on themselves and how they play. If they play the way they are capable of, then they’ll come away with two points and turn the Isles into cold turkeys.
Even minus those players, Barry Trotz’ club gave Calgary a tough game on Saturday. Don’t let the final score fool you. The Flames got big saves from early Vezina candidate Jacob Markstrom and a pair of empty netters to win by three. Even in the recent defeat to the Leafs, they only were down a goal until an empty netter sealed it. It wasn’t a good effort as the Isles only forced Toronto backup Joseph Woll to make 20 saves in the shutout defeat.
There’s still Mat Barzal and noted Ranger killer Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Of course, the former Senator enters with only one goal. You know he’ll want to change that against his favorite opponent. The Blueshirts must prevent him from crashing the net in front of Igor Shesterkin, who gets the start. He’s never beaten the Islanders. At 0-4-1 having allowed 18 goals, the Rangers’ ace goalie must flip the script.
Anthony Beauvillier is also back for his second game. He is always a pest for our side to handle. The Rangers must avoid neutral zone turnovers that can feed the Islanders’ transition. That’s where guys like Barzal, Beauvillier and Pageau make their living. Especially the very speedy and shifty Barzal, who hasn’t gotten much help. Kyle Palmieri has one goal so far. He’s become a bit cheap. Watch out for him.
The one line that is still intact is the Identity Line consisting of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. The hard-nosed edgy checking unit that’s caused the Rangers headaches. This time, Gerard Gallant should be able to match the physicality due to Barclay Goodrow, Kevin Rooney and Ryan Reaves. If they want to mix it up, Reaves is there to answer the call. But he picks his spots. He’s quite effective on the forecheck and hits hard. It’s too bad Sammy Blais is out for the season. This is the style of hockey he would be perfect for. What a bummer.
Regardless, there’s enough grit to combat the Islanders. Dryden Hunt is another scrappy forward who’s been solid under Turk. He was even moved up to the first line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider for the third period last game. It was a penalty he drew that lead to Jacob Trouba scoring on a delayed call in the hectic 5-4 win over Buffalo. A game that saw four goals scored in 1:22. Eventually, Gallant lifted the struggling Alex Georgiev for Shesterkin in the third. They responded with a stronger period with Ryan Lindgren getting the buzzer beater with 0.4 seconds left.
After it sounded like Gallant might stick with Hunt on the top line, he hinted after the morning skate that there could be a surprise tweak. Could it be Julien Gauthier? He’s been much better the past few games, scoring a great goal and able to use his speed to drive the net for chances. If so, perhaps Hunt shifts to the third line with Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere. We’ll see later.
Don’t expect the second line to change. Especially with Turk having shown enough patience for Kaapo Kakko to finally get going. With a four game point streak that’s resulted in all three of his goals and two assists on the season, he recently expressed to a home newspaper that he no longer has to worry about making a mistake like under former coach David Quinn. That’s because Gallant trusts Kakko. That’s given him confidence to play his game with Strome and the gifted Artemi Panarin. It’s paying off.
In terms of the defense, Adam Fox continues to lead the offense with the kind of reads he made on Monday when he quickly passed for Mika Zibanejad, who had Lindgren for the winner. A nice reward for a good partner who provides the nuts and bolts. He knew he could jump up with so little time left. The improved play from K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba have helped steady the top four. Although many complain about Patrik Nemeth, he’s a no frills player who blocks shots and the coaching staff trusts.
As far as Nils Lundkvist goes, it takes time to adjust to the smaller North American ice surface. I do see positive signs when he plays. The skating and ability to get out of trouble are noticeable. He is capable of contributing offensively. He’s still searching for his first NHL goal. With two assists, he’ll be back in tonight. I prefer to see him play over Jarred Tinordi, who’s a depth player. Would I like to see Libor Hajek get in the lineup? Sure. It still makes no sense why they kept him. Especially if he’s not gonna play.
It looks like it could be Semyon Varlamov for the Islanders in net. If it is, whatever. I could care less about his good career numbers versus the Rangers. After an injury kept him out at the start, he hasn’t looked good. Watch him make 37 saves later. Personally, I’d go with Ilya Sorokin. He’s played well and is like Shesterkin for the Broadway side, the future for the Long Island side of the rivalry.
If there’s a player on the Isles to watch, it’s Oliver Wahlstrom. Taken right after the Blueshirts selected Vitali Kravtsov in 2018, he’s got the big shot and the skating to be a factor. He enters with five goals and no assists. So, he’s pitching a Cy Young year so far at 5-0. The leader in that category probably is Brandon Saad (8-1). If you want to throw Kreider (13-3) in there, be my guest. As it pertains to Wahlstrom, I really like his game. They will set him up on the power play. He’s up on the second line now. Though I have no idea who will replace Nelson. Maybe they’ll bump up Pageau.
In this game, you’ll notice some unrecognizable names dressed for the Isles. They will also ice the other Sebastian Aho on the blue line along with prospect Robin Salo. No relation to Tommy. Veteran forward Richard Panik should play. He’s still a decent skater with a good shot. I almost forgot Zach Parise. He still is tough in front of the net. But the former Devil has been snake bit. No goals so far. Be wary of him.
As for appetizers at 7 before the throwback 7:30 puck drop at UBS, you have the Devils hosting the Wild. The Devils have played solid minus Jack Hughes, who finally practiced in a no contact jersey. He’s getting close. Mackenzie Blackwood is likely to be in net opposed by former Ranger Cam Talbot. Minnesota has been rumored to be after J.T. Miller. Why the Canucks would shop him I don’t know. He’s been their best player aside from Thatcher Demko. With Vancouver, J.T. has 137 points in 141 games. He wins face-offs. No. I doubt the Rangers would be interested in a reunion. Why mess with chemistry?
I still cannot believe that new Devils third jersey. Yikes. What were they thinking? I hope Martin Brodeur wasn’t behind that. It looks hideous. I know everyone is obsessed with the black jersey. But why couldn’t they at least go with the classic Devils logo on the front? There’s no red or white. They could’ve done a tribute to the Christmas ornaments that were cool. Red with green and white was nice. I’m not a designer. But I’m perplexed.
Here are your other games with the early ones joining Wild/Devils at 7.
Bruins at Sabres
Flyers at Panthers
Canucks at Penguins
Canadiens at Capitals
Jets at Blue Jackets
Blues at Red Wings
Rangers at Islanders
Golden Knights at Predators
Ducks at Avalanche
Oilers at Coyotes
Maple Leafs at Kings
Hurricanes at Kraken
Senators at Sharks
Idle: Blackhawks, Stars, Lightning, Flames
There are no games scheduled on Thanksgiving. The Rangers will again be in Boston for their traditional Black Friday game against the Bruins. That is on at 1 PM on ABC. Then, they will again play the Islanders Sunday night at 6 PM. By then, they’ll have some players back. Take care of business tonight. Or wind up with cold turkey 🦃.
Enjoy the games. Wishing Hasan and everyone else a very Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!