Yesterday’s afternoon game was the return of the NHL on ABC. In the old 3 o’clock window that I previously mentioned from my days spent at ESPN in the trailer providing Stat paks for the production crew, the Rangers and Penguins did battle in the Steel City on Saturday.
Considering that the rivalry dates back to the classic Patrick Division in the old Wales Conference where I’m reminded of Messier, Leetch, Graves and Richter doing battle against Lemieux, Jagr, Francis and Barrasso, it was the right choice by ESPN/Disney for hockey’s return to ABC. Unfortunately, there’s no Gary Thorne, Bill Clement or John Davidson to provide the commentary that made those games compelling. Yes. Thorne is missed on ESPN these days. He really was the voice of National Hockey Night. Great energy mixed with the right flair.
Now, we get Sean McDonough and Ray Ferraro. McDonough is a pro. So, I don’t mind him on the call. Ferraro is excellent on color and has been at it a while in his seamless transition from successful hockey player to good analyst.
It’s definitely a bit strange seeing Steve Levy as a studio host instead of calling the B games which he was really good at. He sets things up with Chris Chelios and Mark Messier. Messier is a natural at providing insight. Chelios is okay. It’s not quite John Saunders (God bless him) and Barry Melrose.
That’s how long ESPN has been away. Bob Wischusen works with Brian Boucher on most of the B games. Wischusen is well respected and we know Boucher from his work at NBC. I like the addition of Leah Hextall, who is better between the benches than on the call. She has ties to Bryan Hextall, who played on the 1939-40 Rangers Stanley Cup championship team. He was her grandfather. Pretty astonishing.
Bryan Hextall scored the Cup clincher in overtime to lead the Rangers to a six-game series win over the Maple Leafs. At that time, it was the Rangers’ third Cup. As we know, they’ve only won one since. Partially due to playing all their playoff games on the road due to the circus. Something that didn’t change until the recently passed Hall Of Famer Emile Francis took over as GM in 1964. Without the Cat, who knows how long it would’ve took to make that change.
Now that I’ve provided some background to ESPN/ABC and their return to covering hockey which also includes John Buccigross on some games and hosting The Point, let’s get to yesterday’s game. One that was won by the Pens 1-0 in a playoff style contest that had plenty of checking and scrums.
Admittedly, I didn’t catch any of the second period. However, I caught the first and could tell early what kind of game it would be. Based on the Devils’ 6-1 humiliation of the Pens on home ice, I fully expected them to come out and play much better. So, when our side didn’t score early on Tristan Jarry despite an 8-1 lead in shots that included a power play, I knew it would be tough. As it turned out, they never solved Jarry, who had a great game finishing with 27 saves for his fourth shutout of a bounce back season.
I also caught most of the third period where the game was decided on a controversial call. I had just returned to the TV when Ryan Lindgren was sent off for a “hooking” minor penalty on Sidney Crosby. I’m going to be clear. I used to hate Crosby like most of our fans because he’d embellish and complain to get calls like the one they made in a well played game. I don’t think that was the case here. This was on the refs for not noticing that Lindgren made a legal stick lift on Crosby who went down with the two close together.
The play in question was harshly criticized by many circles on Twitter including from people I follow. When even Mollie Walker questions the penalty, that should tell you something. She did in her story that appeared in today’s New York Post. Good blogger friend Sean McCaffrey was pretty outspoken about it. It didn’t gel with how such a fiercely contested game was officiated.
Of course, the Penguins took full advantage of the hooking and converted when Evgeni Malkin made a great shot off a Bryan Rust pass where he one-timed it against the grain past a moving Igor Shesterkin. It was a perfect shot. Not many can make that. He did.
Crosby made the play along the wall to set up the goal. He is a generational player who recently scored his 500th career goal versus the Flyers. I respect him and appreciate what he’s been. An all-time great. At this point, he’s not working the stripes or diving. That’s why I don’t pin it on him. That’s misguided. He didn’t make the call. Look at Tom Chmielewski (who?) and Steve Kozari. They decided it.
Still, the Blueshirts played well enough to win. They controlled enough of the third to create scoring chances on Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, Jarry made the key stops. That included one on Artemi Panarin prior to the Malkin power play goal. He also thwarted Chris Kreider a few times during the game. Sometimes, credit the goalie for coming up big. Jarry did. That included a power play where Marcus Pettersson repeatedly cross checked Dryden Hunt while he was down until they finally were forced to make a call.
Two things on the critical power play. The Pens did a good job taking away the Mika Zibanejad one-timer. They also limited time and space for Kreider. That forced the Rangers to move the puck around more for shots. That included a great opportunity for Adam Fox. But Jarry somehow saved it by getting his blocker on a high labeler. I don’t know how he saw it. He also denied a Jacob Trouba one-timer and allowed no rebound.
I thought Pittsburgh really defended well in front of Jarry the rest of the third. They back checked and made it tough for the Rangers on entries. Even though they had 10 shots in a very evenly played period with the Pens getting 11, they never found the equalizer.
Shesterkin also made a few sparklers to give his team a chance. That included a point blank denial on Jake Guentzel following a good Pittsburgh forecheck that forced Trouba into a turnover. He was so calm on it like he is most of the time. That’s what makes Igor so good.
It’s too bad the game didn’t go to overtime. Imagine a scoreless game between two rivals who could meet in the first round decided in extras. This was the first of four meetings. They’ll see the Pens three more times. The next one is March 25 at MSG followed by March 29 in Pittsburgh. The final meeting is April 7 at The Garden.
With the Hurricanes winning already today and where the Pens and Rangers are in the standings, I really think this will be your first round series. Home ice could be important. The Rangers have two extra games remaining. They enter tonight’s match versus the Canucks a point behind the Pens. They’re currently playing Columbus. At the very least, let’s keep pace.
J.T. Miller returns to MSG again. It’ll indeed be Miller Time at the world’s most vaccinated. Miller paces Vancouver in scoring with 57 points (20-37-57) in 51 games. The 28-year old versatile forward is over a point-per-game. He’s been on a roll lately. He checks in with 11 points over the past five games highlighted by a four-pointer in a home rout of Calgary. In that one, Miller scored on his first NHL penalty shot, leaving Flames’ backup Dan Vladar’s jockstrap in the stands.
A superb player, Miller’s name has been attached to the Rangers for some time. He once played here before the sell off by JD and Jeff Gorton where they got nothing back for both Miller and Ryan McDonagh. Amazing how bad that trade turned out. Nils Lundkvist can’t even break the lineup and probably doesn’t have a future due to Braden Schneider and Zac Jones. Brett Howden has rebounded with a solid year in Vegas. Libor Hajek is essentially an 8th defenseman. Vladislav Namestnikov went from Ottawa to Detroit where he’s still a solid secondary forward I think Chris Drury should consider to upgrade the third line. I don’t think we’ll ever see Karl Henriksson. Yikes.
As for Miller, he has another year remaining on a contract that pays him an average of $5.25 million on the cap. He earns $6 million for ’21-22 and $4.5 million in ’22-23. Obviously, his asking price will go up when he hits unrestricted status at 30 next year. He turns 29 on March 14. Would I make the trade for him? It all depends on the cost. It’ll be more than people think. He’s a better player and point producer than Tyler Toffoli, who the Flames added. If you think they’re getting him for Lundqvist, Vitali Kravtsov and a first, I doubt it. They probably would ask for Brennan Othmann or Will Cuylle. They also reportedly have interest in Schneider, which is a non-starter for me.
It’ll be Alex Georgiev reappearing in net tonight for the Blueshirts. We’ll see if he stayed sharp enough.
One final point. Why is it okay for the NHL to punish Brad Marchand for repeat offenses, but not another established star like Nathan MacKinnon? The six games Marchand got for his lunacy were justifiable. You can’t react that way by going after and punching Jarry and then hi-sticking him. It was ridiculous. He needs to wise up.
As for MacKinnon, he can do whatever he wants. At least that’s how it looks. Ask Nolan Patrick and Vegas. Or the linesman who MacKinnon whacked. WTF?!?!
This is why the league can’t be taken seriously. Zero consistency. MacKinnon delivered a blindside hit to Patrick’s head. Anyone that knows Nolan Patrick’s history knows how reckless it was. And MacKinnon got nothing. Not even a slap on the wrist. Brutal.
That’s all for now. I’ll have something later on tonight’s game. Enjoy it.