A Lost Weekend for Blueshirts on Vic Hadfield Night

All Photos courtesy New York Rangers via Twitter.

It was a weekend to forget for the Blueshirts. First, they continued their road woes by being so uncompetitive in an all too predictable 5-2 loss at the House of Horrors up in Montreal. It truly was embarrassing. They were so bad that it took the Canadiens scoring the game’s first four goals before coach David Quinn used a timeout to gather his overwhelmed team together and let them know they are better than this.

Initially, it worked. After basically handing the Habs a 4-0 lead with Brady Skjei the main culprit on three, they responded by getting the next two goals before the second period concluded. Jimmy Vesey scored his ninth and set up Ryan Strome on the power play to cut the deficit in half. Strome is continuing to impress since coming over from Edmonton for Ryan Spooner. He almost had a second consecutive goal on a great set up from slumping freshman Brett Howden. However, Strome blew the wide open chance with half the net to shoot at due to shanking it off the outside of the post. Had he converted, who knows what could’ve been.

Instead, the Canadiens regrouped thanks to a boneheaded penalty by Skjei for delay of game. Of course, Montreal took advantage with rejuvenated forward Tomas Tatar rebounding home his 11th past a frustrated Alexandar Georgiev for a 5-2 lead. At one point in the second following a second consecutive Canadiens two-on-one from the same side, resulting in noted sniper Arturri Lehkonen making it 3-0 after a awful pinch by Skjei, the rookie goalie broke his goalstick against the cage. He learned from the best, Henrik Lundqvist. He expressed later that he felt he could’ve stopped it. None of the five Montreal goals were his fault.

The Rangers were badly outplayed, getting outshot 41-22, including 31-17 through two periods. They were defensively inept. A bad trend that started in the hideous 4-0 shutout loss at the Flyers on Black Friday. They haven’t been working smart enough. In dropping their fifth game in the last six on Sunday night, by blowing a 3-0 lead in the third period to the explosive Winnipeg Jets 4-3 in a shootout, the effort has been disjointed. It’s leading to inconsistency and being totally dominated like last night when the Jets outshot them 42-19.

It took Winnipeg a little longer to solve Lundqvist, who was remarkable on a special night the Rangers organization honored Vic Hadfield by retiring his Number 11 to the rafters. The gritty and tough physical left wing, who captained the team while doing the dirty work on the franchise’s best line, centered by Jean Ratelle and flanked by Rod Gilbert, was the first Ranger to reach 50 goals in a single season. Playing on the G-A-G (Goal-A-Game) Line, his best season came during ’71-72 when he achieved career bests with 50 goals and 56 assists for 106 points. That included 23 power play goals and another 27 at even strength. It also included 142 penalty minutes, seven game-winners and 44 of his 56 assists at even strength. That means he totaled 71 even strength points. A remarkable number.

Hadfield was accompanied by his linemates, Gilbert and Ratelle along with The Cat, Emile Francis. The list of retired numbers included Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Ed Giacomin, Mike Richter, Brian Leetch, Gilbert and Ratelle. His beautiful family was on the ice for the bone chilling ceremony. As usual, it was very classy from the Rangers. Check out the look the prideful man, who scored 262 goals and tallied 310 assists for 572 points as a Blueshirt, had as he hugged his grandchildren.

Hadfield meant so much to those teams that challenged for the Stanley Cup in the early 70’s. If only Ratelle had been fully healthy in 1972 when they lost to the powerful Bruins led by Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. The Rangers lost the Stanley Cup Final in six games. My father was there when Orr skated the Cup. Crazy. He still harbors ill will towards Francis for breaking that team up. Hadfield was unceremoniously dumped to the Penguins following ’73-74 for Nick Beverley on May 27, 1974. Hadfield was still productive into his mid-30’s scoring 31 goals and 30 with Pittsburgh his final two full seasons. A knee injury against Toronto ended his career in 1976.

After going 8-5-13 during the ’71 Playoffs, Hadfield put up seven goals and nine assists for 16 points in ’72. He certainly did his part. Gilbert had 15 points and Bobby Rousseau led the team with 17. Other notables included Bill Fairburn, ’71 overtime hero Pete Stemkowski, Brad Park, Walt Tkaczuk, Ted Irvine, Bruce MacGregor and Dale Rolfe. Ratelle came back from a broken ankle, but was ineffective versus Boston. He had one assist in six games. Ironically, the break came on a Rolfe shot that he tried to redirect in a game against the California Golden Seals in March of ’72.

Me being intrigued by history including being a JFK conspiracy theorist, I find it ironic that Ratelle would break his ankle when he couldn’t be stopped. Gilbert suffered the same fate in ’68. At the time, Ratelle had tied Gilbert’s franchise record point streak at 13. I guess it was truly an unlucky number.

The GAG Line still has a NHL record for most total points combined as a line. That’s because they stayed intact for six years until Hadfield was traded in ’74. The special ’72 season saw them total 312 points even with Ratelle’s injury that kept him out the first two rounds.

So, how can I go back to assessing the Rangers blowing a three-goal lead in a brutal third? Well, I’ll be honest. I enjoyed writing about the history of the G-A-G Line. They were amazing. I wish I could’ve seen them play. That must’ve been truly special. Don’t forget Gilles Villemure was the other goalie behind Giacomin. They shared the Vezina in ’70-71.

The Rangers scored three times on 11 shots against Connor Hellebuyck. He’s having a miserable year with over a 3.00 GAA and below a .900 save percentage. That continued on goals from Jesper Fast (first since Opening Night), Marc Staal and Chris Kreider (team best 14th on the power play). While the goals Fast and Kreider scored Hellebuyck had little chance on, he allowed Staal to beat him far side with a clear sighted shot. A term Steve Valiquette uses on MSG. It still was a pretty good shot by Staal, who drove it off the far post and in for his second in four games. He also assisted on Fast’s tally. Not bad for the veteran who had only one goal in 72 games last season.

The problem was the Rangers got little attack time throughout. There was a huge discrepancy in territorial play. Even with a nice edge in faceoffs (39-23), it didn’t matter due to Winnipeg. They have TMT. Too much talent. Even without concussed defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, they came at the Rangers in waves. Boasting arguably the league’s best talent that features Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, they are flat out scary. The amount of speed and skill they have is insane. Nikolaj Ehlers and Thrashers hold over Bryan Little are no slouches either.

With an all out attack that allows defensemen such as underrated Josh Morrissey to activate, they can swarm you. Imagine what Lundqvist had to deal with. He was the only reason this was competitive. He robbed Connor twice in the second and denied other dangerous Jets several times.

A god awful Brendan Smith penalty opened the door. It didn’t take long for Scheifele to finish a Wheeler pass right in the slot. Jack Roslovic took advantage of the Rangers defense which was preoccupied with other Jets players in front of Lundqvist. While that was going on, he cut to the middle away from Lias Andersson and fired a bullet for another Winnipeg goal. Two goals within 2:26 changed the whole complexion.

Lundqvist continued to come up with miraculous saves to keep his team in front. The Rangers had a few solid shifts where they got the puck deep including one from veteran Matt Beleskey. A Hartford recall, the 30-year old played on the fourth line with Steven Fogarty and Vinni Lettieri. Tim Gettinger was sent down. That’s okay. Let him develop more. Beleskey can supply the role Cody McLeod filled. It’s interesting to note that they’re 1-4-1 since his injury. Just saying.

The best chance to regain a two-goal lead came from Filip Chytil. He made a good move out of the corner, but missed. There wasn’t much else going on offensively.

I wondered if they could hang on. Would the Jets pull Hellebuyck for a six-on-five? It never even reached that point. Instead, like a flash, Ehlers breezed into the zone with Kevin Shattenkirk backing up. That spelled doom. Ehlers wisely aimed a low hard shot that Lundqvist couldn’t control. The rebound went right to Little, who buried it to tie the score with 2:30 remaining. There was nothing the Rangers could’ve done differently. They had numbers back. But the rebound went right by Fredrik Claesson before he could react. It was a set play.

It could’ve been worse. They could’ve not gotten a point like the Capitals, who mystifyingly blew a five-goal lead on home ice in a crushing 6-5 loss to the Ducks. The three-on-three was a joke. If you thought what Scheifele and Company did to the Devils was bad, you should’ve seen what this overtime looked like. A total mismatch. Winnipeg had eight shots on Lundqvist, who basically stood on his head robbing Connor and Laine just to take it to a shootout.

Mika Zibanejad (2 assists) scored on his patented forehand deke snapshot on Hellebuyck in Round Two. But Laine went high bar and then Jimmy Vesey missed. That left it up to Scheifele, who finished it by going low underneath the glove of a dejected Lundqvist, who reacted negatively to a silly question from true pro John Giannone.

He asked about the first Winnipeg goal swinging the momentum. Lundqvist looked at him strangely and said what everyone was thinking:

“Momentum?!?! What game were we watching? They owned us.”

I know Giannone has a tough job, made harder by the production truck. But that was totally a bad time for such an awkward question. He had a look of death on his face. Think Adam Sandler in my favorite movie of his, The Wedding Singer.

I got nothing else to add.

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Right Where They Belong: Islanders give fans an emotional 3-2 win over Blue Jackets in return to Nassau Coliseum

Photo courtesy of New York Islanders via Twitter.

They had waited and waited for this day. Ever since it was announced that the Islanders would play some of their home schedule back at the Nassau Coliseum, Saturday, December 1 was marked on the calendar by diehard fans. And so if you bleed orange and dark blue, do yourself a favor and watch the nice tribute video above on their return. Even as a rival fan who gets the passion Islanders fans have for this franchise on Long Island, I enjoyed it.

When they played that final time in the first round of the 2015 Playoffs, they sent those fans off happy with a 3-1 win over the Capitals in Game Six on Apr. 25, 2015. A tough first round series they lost in seven two days later. This is what the final home introduction sounded like for that game.

As a Rangers fan and blogger, that’s the first time I watched that. Honestly, I think what they did was awesome for those fans. I’m a huge fan of classic video montages showcasing the team’s history. It was fun to see and gave me a new perspective on the Long Island side of the rivalry.

The Islanders are Long Island. They are that New York team who played their home games off the Meadowbrook Parkway and Southern State. I never attended a game there. I have been to the arena four times. Once for the old Barnum and Bailey Circus with my cousin. Twice for Monday Night Nitro with my brother. Once with the legendary Maven, Stan Fischler on a very cold winter day for a special Isles shoot.

It might be an old arena getting a new look. However, ask my Dad about seeing a game there. He’ll tell you there isn’t a bad seat in the house with great sight lines. Of course, the old narrative of it being a dump has been more played out than a hot take from a Corsi enthusiast. Sure. It’s not beautiful. But it doesn’t have to be. If you poll most old Rangers fans on the renovation, it’s been unsuccessful. The new MSG has lost its luster and become way too corporate. You can’t even walk downstairs anymore in the arena. From the over priced food to the lack of atmosphere due to increased costs, it’s no longer full.

One thing about old arenas and stadiums. They have appeal and a built in history. I’ve never been to the new Stadium to see the Yankees. I know just from watching, it doesn’t measure up. Nothing compares to the old Stadium. That was the House that Ruth built. Not the Golden Palace. At least when I went to Citi Field once, it felt like a baseball stadium.

For three years, the Islanders have played home games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It’s not a good arena for hockey. Why they chose to partner with the Nets never made any sense. It was never gonna work. That’s a basketball venue. It also is a inconvenience for loyal Islanders fans, who were accustomed to driving to see their team play. Public transportation isn’t bad. But when most of your fanbase is from Long Island, it’s not around the corner. You’re talking about the Long Island Railroad and the MTA. With unrealistic ticket and food expenses, they were never going to draw.

It won’t be until 2021 that the new arena in Belmont will be completed. Construction isn’t expected to begin until Spring next year. So, the Isles have another two seasons following this one splitting home games between Brooklyn and Long Island at the old barn.

Judging from the way the crowd and team responded to their first game back at the Coliseum on Saturday night, it was amazing. The energy that was on display from the stands to the ice was unbelievable. When fans have that kind of love for a team, it shows why they never should’ve moved in the first place. Shame on all the corrupt politicians in Nassau County for not seeing how much the Islanders mean to those fans.

Even when they fell behind the Blue Jackets by a pair of goals, I never got a sense the Islanders were out of it. With plenty of “Let’s Go Islanders, Let’s Go Islanders,” chants reverberating throughout a packed arena, it was the new captain Anders Lee, who got the first goal in classic Lee fashion. Parked in front of Columbus starter Sergei Bobrovsky, he had a Jordan Eberle rebound carom off him and just over the goal line. Initially, they waved it off. But there was no doubt it would get reversed. When it did, Lee’s ninth goal was announced to thunderous cheers.

The Isles were back. You knew it was only a matter of time before they got the game tied. Sure enough, Anthony Beauvillier got free in open space and steered in his own rebound from Josh Bailey and Scott Mayfield, tying the score at two. That was two goals in a 4:25 span. No doubt spurred on by the enthusiasm in the building.

There’s something about fans and old arenas. They’re louder. Maybe it’s the fact the seats are right on top of the ice unlike most new state of the art facilities. The acoustics are completely different. It was similar at Yankee Stadium when I went to games with Justin and Ivan in the early 90’s before they were good. That was when they drew like 18,000. The energy in the place always gave you a different feeling. You genuinely felt you made a difference when they did something good or won. I was at Dwight Gooden’s no-hitter. I know about this.

That’s exactly how it sounded at NYC Live/Nassau Coliseum before 13,197 screaming and adoring fans the other night. Once Lee scored to get them on the scoreboard, you knew they were coming back to win. There was no way they would be denied. Much like that 3-1 victory versus the Caps over three years ago to force a Game Seven. Players feed off that energy.

It was Ryan Pulock, who patiently held onto the puck skating around the net to feed a wide open Casey Cizikas for the game-winner with 12:51 left in regulation. The reaction from the crowd told the story. Even if you grew up hating this team like I have, you had to feel good for the fans. That is their team and always will be.

Everything from the organ playing to the crowd for old familiar chants for winning goalie Thomas Greiss worked. When a proven coach like Barry Trotz admits that playing in that arena meant a lot and could be worth an extra 12 points due to the home ice advantage, you begin to understand exactly why the Isles belong in Nassau Coliseum. They have another 20 games left at the old barn.

The same place that blew the roof off when popular cult hero Shawn Bates scored on this emotional penalty shot against Curtis Joseph to win Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal versus the Maple Leafs. Listen to the eruption and play-by-play call of Howie Rose.

Here also is how it sounded on ESPN2. A classic seven-game first round series I worked on as a statistical hockey researcher for ESPN back in the glory days.

In rewatching Game 7 of that closely fought intense series, they really should’ve won. The Leafs held on to win 5-3 to take the series at Air Canada Centre. They had enough experience and skill to prevail thanks to key performances from Alexander Mogilny, Gary Roberts and Joseph. The same series that public enemy number one Darcy Tucker low bridged Michael Peca in Game Five, knocking him out of the remainder. It really shortened the former Islander captain’s career. It was dirty. That was a very different era of hockey where anything went. Personally, I don’t think all the artificial changes they made have been good. Some had to happen like Player Safety legislating dangerous hits. But other stuff I still don’t understand.

I’m really happy for Islanders fans. They finally get to go back to Nassau Coliseum and cheer on their team. Even if it’s not every home game, it’s good to see. It won’t last forever. But moments like Saturday are special. Hearing what it meant to some players including the game’s number one star Cizikas, is bone chilling. A nice touch by Trotz having the fan favorite fourth line of Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck start the game.

The franchise’s first ever captain, Ed Westfall was in the house. The crowd was alive. And the old barn was on fire. Just the way it should be. The Islanders were back. Right where they belong.

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Game #25: Sloppy Saturday – Jets 4, Devils 3 (OT)

After a total unmitigated disaster and tease to end all teases like tonight, where to start?

Start from the pregame I suppose, where I was seriously debating not going to this game, but an inability to sell my pair of tickets combined with just flat-out talking myself into going on a weekend night rationalizing (correctly as it turned out) I’d at least see a couple of friends at the arena led to a last-minute change of heart.  I don’t actually mind sitting by myself during the games since I zone in and hardly talk during play but pregame and intermission especially is another story.  When I’m not with anyone I wind up walking the concourse more than using my phone during breaks in the action.  I do wind up using my phone more if the game itself is annoying me though.  While I didn’t see anyone in the pregame I did wind up running into an arena friend during the first intermission and one of my better friends was sitting in my section so I wound up talking with her after the second period and OT.  So at least the night wasn’t going to be a total loss.

As for the game I was fully expecting a beatdown from the Jets which would be lunacy if we were talking about football, but not so much here.  Especially after they destroyed us in Winnipeg a few weeks back, and have had a lot of success against this team in recent years.  And why not with a bigger, stronger, more well-coached group?  They are one of the best teams in the league, and the Devils right now…are not.  Even with Keith Kinkaid in goal instead of hopeless Cory Schneider which tells you all you need to know about what the Devils think of their goaltending situation when Kinkaid is starting a back-to-back in different cities, after arguably his worst game of the season last night.

Of course at least with Keith you have the illusion of thinking you’re going to win.  And through the first period it was actually the guys in red who were the far superior team.  Maybe home magic would carry the day once again?  Sure looked like it after Marcus Johansson of all people made a nice block at one end of the ice, then scored on the other end.  If there is a bright spot in recent games (besides the Energizer Bunny named Blake Coleman) it’s the sudden return to life of #90 on the scoresheet, really for the first time as a Devil other than his great game against a bad Sabres team early last year.

With the Devils being the Devils however, they couldn’t extend the lead despite dominating the first period.  Of course two early power plays failed spectacularly as usual, and a botched play by Mirco Mueller in the second period led to a goal and might have earned him a return seat in the scratch box.  First Mueller held the puck forever on a three-on-two without shooting or passing it cross-ice, finally dropping it back to Miles Wood who of course missed the net.  It would have been nice if Mr. I only care about offense now that I got my contract actually you know, hit the net.  Then Mueller compounds his role in botching the 3-on-2 by falling out of the play on the defensive end, probably lost an edge on bad Prudential Center ice but whatever the case neither he or Sami Vatanen could prevent Blake Wheeler’s perfect feed to Mark Scheifele to tie the game.

All that as it turned out was merely a prelude to an insane third period and OT.

Actually most of the third period was an utter bore – there’s no other way to put it…for the better part of fifteen minutes the Devils went through the motions and finally, inexorably the Jets took the lead midway through the period when we had almost the slowest possible lineup we could ice with Brian Boyle, Drew Stafford, Andy Greene and Ben Lovejoy on the ice all getting their eyes rolled around in their sockets by the Jets’ superior skating and passing.  Really, go to NHL.com and pull up this goal (or go about two minutes in to see the brief highlight of it), you’ll laugh at how silly everyone on the ice is made to look.  Our wonderful defense and system also looked silly on Winnipeg’s third goal of the night where all five skaters got caught on the left side of the ice leaving the front of the net wide open for Andrew Copp to score off his own rebound, seemingly putting the game away.

To exacerbate my anger at the team even more, the refs seemingly stopped calling things in the third period as if it was 1998.  Kyle Palmieri got held for so long seconds before Copp’s goal earning resounding boos from the crowd, that was so bad even an NFL ref would call that holding.  Finally the Devils got another power play, not that it was going to matter with five minutes left with our powerless play 0-for-our last whatever, I lost count.  Things got so bad with the man advantage coach John Hynes finally scratched the struggling Will Butcher, but even that didn’t jolt the first couple of power plays earlier in the game.  While I was texting one of my other friends who sits across the arena from me that I didn’t think we were getting a goal he predicted we’d get one now that the game was all but out of reach, then lose 4-2 on an empty-netter.

He seemed to be right when finally the power play jolted to life thanks to the mini-Energizer bunny in Jesper Bratt.  My reaction at this point was more amusement than anything else, now figuring Rudy’s prediction to be on the money (as usual).  It seemed only a matter of time when we pulled the goalie with just over two minutes remaining that Winnipeg would score the empty-net goal to seal things up, just like the Caps did last night and many other teams have done this season.

Except this time the Devils flipped the script and jolted what was left of the crowd (many of whom had left after the Jets’ third goal) back to life after Taylor Hall scored, culminating a netmouth scramble that seemed to last several seconds – minutes it seemed to me.  Hall actually made a play that almost defied belief, leaping over the goalie’s pads to get in postion to swat home a rebound and redeemed himself from an otherwise poor game.  Now they had me again…after a very brief goalie review that scared the dickens out of me, especially when I saw skates making contact with the goalie in the crease.  This time even Toronto didn’t mess things up for us and the goal stood.  I was legit excited, as much as for any goal this season.

By all rights now, the Devils should have, HAD to win this game really – even with the dreaded 3-on-3 OT looming.  And winning this game could have been the spark that saved a struggling team’s season.  On the team’s first shift it looked like they were finally going to break the curse when Hall and Nico Hischier got a 2-on-0 break on Jets goalie Laurent Brossoit.  This was going to be the moment…that we would get kicked in the teeth irrevocably.  Everyone in the building thought a goal was inevitable, but Hischier passed the puck too far away from the net and Hall never returned the pass.  Yes, two of the Devils’ three most high-profile offensive players somehow managed to screw up a 2-on-0. 

3-on-3 or not, I don’t remember ever seeing a two-on-the goalie breakaway fail before.  I remember way back in 1999 when Martin Brodeur stopped an initial 2-on-0 shot against the Penguins in Game 7, but they scored off the rebound anyway.  Now the air was sucked out of me and probably the rest of the building.  Yet OT still went on, while we had one or two more good chances the Jets seemingly ended the game themselves a couple minutes later when Kinkaid stoned uberscorer Patrik Laine, then gave the puck away in the slot to Kyle Connor for another prime scoring chance but bailed himself out with a sterling glove save.  So sure did that shot look to be a goal both me and Rudy across the arena were out of our seats ready to leave the premises until realizing incredibly that Kinkaid had kept that puck out.  At this point the game had jumped the shark. 

Sadly I was actually praying for the shootout, especially since Hynes had restored shootout specialist Stafford into the lineup, I figured our better chance to win was the skills competition.  Despite the end-to-end action it looked as if we’d get our first chance at the shootout lottery this year, until Hischier culminated a nightmarish OT by failing to clear the puck out of the defensive zone with less than half a minute remaining, then getting stripped from behind and falling down out of the play so Vatanen was left alone to defend a 3-on-1, with the predictable end result of Schiefele putting home his own rebound.  At least one team knows how to score with a two-man advantage on the goalie.

I wouldn’t say Hischier lost the game himself, but his disasterous OT was the ugly end of a lot of disasters tonight.  Really this team didn’t even deserve the loser point after how they sleepwalked through the third period.  And get that moral victory junk out of here, this was another point lost that could have, should have been won.  We’re six points out of a playoff spot in a bad East where seemingly nobody else is out of the race.  At this point we’d be doing well to have our hideous 3-on-3 record cost us a playoff spot the way our 0-13 shootout record cost us a spot in 2013-14.  We just might match that level of futility in the 3-on-3 though. 

This was seriously the most gutted I felt walking out of that arena since Game 3 2012.  To lose that game after the way you tied it (and after already having been teased in a similar but somehow less annoying fashion against the Isles a week or so back), with this team in the dire straits it is felt like it went from a potential season-saver to a season-ender.  Now I’m wondering if I should no-show Monday the way I wanted to no-show Saturday.  Odds are most of my other friends aren’t going to be at that game.  On the bright side, the odds are probably better I’ll be out of there after two periods with the game 5-1 or 6-1 – no matter who’s in net we’ve been destroyed by Tampa this year.  And really how can this team respond from a loss like that?  Especially with the utter lack of a system and brainpower this group has as a unit.

And to top this night off I come home to see the news of the Mets’ dopey Robinson Cano trade being official.  With the Jets being a disaster, the Mets’ agent GM getting duped and horrendously overpaying in a trade for his biggest-name former client and the Devils being a mess tonight’s a night where I think about WFAN host/fan Joe Benigno and his oft-repeated line about how he doesn’t want to know anything about sports in his next life, should he have one.  Right now that sounds pretty good to me.  

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Who’s responsible for the Devils mess?

They gave it the old college try late. But a desperate Devils rally fell short against the Capitals tonight. Instead, goals from Nico Hischier and ex-Cap Marcus Johansson weren’t enough to prevent a pair of empty netters from Alexander Ovechkin and the game’s number one star, Nicklas Backstrom. The underappreciated playmaking pivot recorded a hat trick with an assist for a four-point game, highlighting Washington’s 6-3 win over the Devils on home ice.

The Capitals are very formidable. They’re defending champs for a reason. It was on full display Friday. There’s no shame in losing to them. But it’s been happening way too frequently for the Devils, who find themselves near the bottom of the division. In fact, they’re tied with the Flyers for the fewest points (22) in the Eastern Conference. A Florida overtime win over the rejuvenated Sabres got them back to NHL .500 with 24 points. So, it’s now old I-95 rivals Philadelphia and New Jersey who find themselves in a dicey situation.

As our Devils blogger Hasan is well aware, it’s been all downhill since a perfect 4-0-0 start. Since then, the Devs are only 5-11-4 with a disastrous 14 of a possible 40 points. That is unacceptable. Especially for a team that was coming off a feel good ’17-18, surprising many by making the playoffs. Taylor Hall was unbelievable carrying them to take home his first Hart Trophy, edging Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon. They both were sensational, but Hall’s performance was a little more valuable. His 93 points (39-54-93) were 41 more than then rookie Hischier (20-32-52).

As clutch as Hall was highlighted by a ridiculous 26-game point streak (18-20-38), he had help from teammates. Kyle Palmieri rounded into form after missing 20 games to finish with 24 goals and 20 assists. Eleven were power play goals. He also was second in game-winners with his five trailing only Hall’s team best seven. Hall paced them in power play goals with 13.

The ’17-18 Devils featured key performers such as Brian Boyle, who scored a good chunk of his 13 goals in the first half. An inspirational leader, who valiantly overcame cancer, #BoyleStrong continues to deliver signature moments this season. How about his first career hat trick in a road win at Pittsburgh on Hockey Fights Cancer night? He also scored another goal when the Devils hosted Hockey Fights Cancer recently.

Blake Coleman became a valuable checking forward who scored 13 goals, including three shorthanded goals to tie ex-Devil Brian Gibbons for the team lead. As a team, they totaled 12 shorthanded goals, turning the penalty kill into a weapon. Coleman has continued his renaissance this year with two more shorthanded goals pacing the team. He already has eight goals and looks poised for a breakout year.

The problem is that other key pieces aren’t getting the job done. Last season, Miles Wood was a big part of what was right, registering a career high 19 goals with 13 helpers for 32 points and 84 penalty minutes. That included a hat trick. This year, he’s been invisible with a disappointing two goals and four assists. There isn’t a more disappointing player on the roster.

With a goal tonight, that gives Johansson four points (2-2-4) over the last four games. He didn’t play in the overtime loss at Florida. Another example of the Devs failing to get the extra point in three-on-three. They basically let Mike Hoffman beat Keith Kinkaid twice. Only the second counted. Johansson has only nine points so far. When GM Ray Shero acquired him in 2017, it was because of what Johansson did with the Capitals. He scored 20-or-more goals twice and topped 40 points five times including a career high 58 (24-34-58) in ’16-17. But a dirty cheap shot by former teammate Tom Wilson cost Johansson most of last season due to a concussion.That wasn’t his fault.

Wilson is a troubled player with a bad reputation after serving 16 games of an original 20-game suspension for a ugly hit on Oskar Sundqvist in preseason. The Blues forward played in his 16th game tonight after missing the rest of preseason and the first seven this season. As for Wilson, it took just nine games for him to get into trouble. In tonight’s game which he had a goal in, a late hit on rookie Brett Seney from behind resulted in a match penalty for a illegal check to the head. After watching several replays and slowing the controversial play down, he didn’t contact the head, but rather the back of Seney’s right upper shoulder and side. It was a reputation call that will now result in an automatic suspension and in person hearing. This is how it’ll be for Wilson, who does himself no favors.

The good news was Seney was able to return. He finished with 9:45 of ice-time with three shots. However, his teammates didn’t take advantage of Wilson’s latest loss of discipline. Yes. They failed to score on a major penalty that spanned the end of the second period and start of the third. The power play was basically split up with the first 2:21 to conclude the second, followed by the remaining 2:39 to start the third.

Rather than draw even in the game which saw Travis Zajac score shorthanded from Coleman to end a six-game pointless streak, the Devils lost their discipline in the third. A Wood double minor for butt ending was followed by a Sami Vatanen hook to hand the dangerous Caps a two-man advantage. Already victimized by Andre Burakovsky for a breakaway goal that squeaked off Kinkaid and in, Backstrom found plenty of shooting room to fire home his second of the night for a 4-1 deficit.

Hall set up Hischier to cut it to two with 7:25 left. Johansson scored his fourth from Hall and Hischier with 1:50 remaining. However, it only took Ovechkin 20 seconds to gather a loose puck in from 150 feet and fire it down for an empty netter just as Kinkaid left the ice. Backstrom added one more for the final margin.

The problem when you play good teams like the Caps is they make you pay for every mistake. I saw it a week ago in a Rangers’ home loss to these Caps, who still were without Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie. It didn’t matter. They took full advantage of a dreadful second period to score three in a row. Even after Ryan Strome tied the score in the third, John Carlson set up Brett Connolly’s winner.

The moral of the story is if you have a chance against a good opponent, you better take it. The Devils didn’t and paid for it dearly on the scoreboard. Even if they came back, it reminded of how they’ve played too many nights so far. You have to play 60 minutes. Inconsistency won’t get it done. Whether it’s Wood underperforming or Will Butcher’s sophomore slump, the Devils need these players to step it up soon. If not, it’s gonna be a long season.

Which brings us to the issue with this roster. Whose fault is it? Of course, you can point to some players not playing up to par. Stefan Noessen was a fixture last year, going 13-14-27 with a plus-12 rating. This season, he’s fallen back to earth. In 17 contests, he has two goals and two assists. Noessen was a healthy scratch at Washington.

Pavel Zacha returned from a brief stint in Binghamton and scored three goals in two games. The 21-year old center is a former 2015 first round pick taken sixth overall ahead of notables Ivan Provorov and league leading scorer Mikko Rantanen. Who knew? Zacha is a good skater, but still is searching for consistency in his third year. He’s got four goals so far, but hasn’t recorded an assist in 19 games. The last three without a point despite skating with more purpose. It doesn’t mean he won’t become a good player. Some prospects take longer to mature. The Devils are counting on him to improve production.

Maybe that’s where Shero went wrong. By expecting too much out of Zacha. His first two seasons in the NHL were almost identical. He went 8-17-25 in 69 games last season. In ’16-17, he was 8-16-24 over 70. Counting the four markers he has this season, Zacha has 20 goals and 35 assists totaling 55 points in 160 career games. There’s not much to add here.

Only Damon Severson has performed up to expectation on the blueline. His three goals and 11 assists for 14 points pace all New Jersey defensemen. Vatanen has a goal and nine helpers. Both he and Severson are each minus-seven. Butcher has only a goal and seven assists despite being a minus-two. In his rookie year, 23 of his 44 points came on the power play. He still did okay at even strength going 2-19-21. Thus far, six of his eight points have come on the power play (6 PPA). The Butcher is being depended upon for offense. He’s their best skater and offensive defenseman.

Andy Greene isn’t a top pair guy anymore, but supplies grit. His 68 blocked shots lead all Devils. He still gets over 21 minutes a night. Vatanen has 34 blocks and 30 hits. Ben Lovejoy isn’t going to give you much either, but will finish checks. Mirco Mueller is the sixth defenseman. A defensive defenseman, the ex-Shark sat out a couple of games for Yegor Yakovlev. A move from coach John Hynes that didn’t make sense. Mueller returned on Friday night finishing plus-one in 15:04.

What’s problematic for this roster is that outside of Hall, Palmieri and Hischier, there aren’t any impact players who can make a difference. Unless the supporting cast is chipping in regularly, the Devils won’t have much success. With two assists, Hall raised his point total to 26 (7-19-26) in 24 games. Right in line with where he was at this point last year. Palmieri has a dozen goals to pace the club with a team-leading five power play goals. But he’s cooled considerably since a hot start. That means Hall must pick up the shooting. His 84 shots lead the team, but he’s been more unselfish this year using his shot as a decoy to find the open man. Don’t expect him to remain at a 8.3 shooting percentage. The same way it’s unlikely Palmieri can sustain a 16.4.

What must happen is the skaters must pick up their play both offensively and defensively. There are too many games where they leave Kinkaid hung out to dry. He didn’t have much chance on three of the four goals he allowed on 29 shots against one of the league’s elite teams. He made a mental mistake on the Wilson goal. Maybe he could’ve stopped Burakovsky, who blew past Severson and Greene like they were standing still. Kinkaid has played the role of starter with the winless Cory Schneider reduced to a little used backup. The 29-year old Kinkaid has been a workhorse getting into 20 games while winning all nine games for the Devils with three shutouts, a 2.79 GAA and a .910 save percentage. He can’t do it by himself.

Schneider will likely get the start tonight against the Winnipeg Jets in Newark. The way Patrik Laine has been going lately, yikes. In general, a rested Jets team is scary. So far, Schneider is 0-5-0 with a 4.27 GAA and .863 save percentage in six games. At some point, he has to stop the bleeding. He’s not being paid $6 million per year to be used for mop up duty. The scary part is the 32-year old is signed thru 2022.

There haven’t been many sparks. Jesper Bratt has played well since returning from a broken jaw. The second-year forward has been a solid player complementing Zacha on the second line. In 11 games, he has seven points (2-5-7). His speed certainly helps. He also plays penalty kill.

With Joey Anderson having successful surgery on his broken ankle, he’s out indefinitely. The 2016 third round pick is a hard worker, who is capable of developing into a solid third liner. 2016 first round pick Mike McLeod made his NHL debut on Friday, but only received eight shifts (5:36). Hardly enough time to do anything. He went 1-and-5 on faceoffs.

Here’s the thing. Shero hardly spent any money last off-season. He opted to stick with mostly the same group that Hynes got to overachieve last season with 97 points to squeak into the postseason. They were no match for the Lightning, falling in five games. Ironically, Schneider replaced an ineffective Kinkaid to win Game Three. However, the Bolts took the next two games to eliminate them.

Basically, it’s up to the current roster to turn it around. By the looks of the East, nobody is running away aside from the Maple Leafs and Lightning. As well as the Sabres have played, it’s hard to see them sustaining their current level. The Bruins are a one line team with a mess of a defense that’s actually being carried by Jaro Halak. Go figure. Aside from the Caps and Blue Jackets in the Metro Division, nobody else has played well. Even the Penguins have struggled due to a shaky defense and the injuries and inconsistencies from Matt Murray. The Rangers and Islanders have played better than expected. The Hurricanes have come back to the pack.

It wouldn’t take much for the Devils to move up the standings. But is there any help on the way? Probably not. Is Hynes suddenly a bad coach with the same personnel? I don’t think so. It’s up to the players to perform better.

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Game #24: Capital punishment – Caps 6, Devils 3

Perhaps the best way to describe tonight’s game is frustrating, yet typical of the 2018-19 Devils so far.  I was just as in and out of the game as the team was, my attempt to take a pregame nap to make up for my lack of sleep last night failed, so I turned the game on but my interest was fleeting throughout, with good reason.  I didn’t exactly expect a repeat of our 6-0 pasting of the Caps in October, we were a different team them seemingly.  And a different team at home in general given our home-road splits are now reaching hilarious proportions.  I figured on a back-to-back they’d give Keith Kinkaid the first crack especially after he was in net for that shutout win, and there was at least in theory something noteworthy to watch with the NHL debut of former first-round pick Michael McLeod.

There was no redeeming part of this 6-3 loss though, not even McLeod’s debut.  I mean really, what’s the point of calling up a kid to play a whole 5:36 on the night?  If you want someone to earn a spot as coach John Hynes professed to, well give them a chance to do so.  I get there was a lot of ‘special’ teams play in this game but if anything that’s just more of a reason to give guys like McLeod a chance, because the special teams were just flat out garden variety trash, specifically the powerless play.  OTOH Miles Wood’s 7:40 was well-earned, he’s been – to be kind – dissapointing this season, his yearning to be more of a scorer (and recent alarming statement that he thinks he’s playing well despite subpar production and poor play away from the puck) seemingly taking away the sandpaper parts of his game that got him his four-year contract in the offseason.

Of course focusing on third and fourth-liners is missing the forest for the trees, you need your best players to be your best players and they certainly weren’t tonight.  Kinkaid had one of his few truly awful games since becoming the full-time starter in February and may have just bought Cory Schneider his first home start of the season tomorrow – yippidee doo dah.  Our new ‘top’ pairing of Andy Greene and Damon Severson?  Just look at how bad both guys were on the third goal, or Severson and Sami Vatanen were on the first goal, the team in general was seriously making pee-wee level mistakes tonight with multiple bad line changes in the first period while the Caps had the puck in the neutral zone that got Hynes to nearly lose his voice on the bench:

Clearly this team is mentally going through the motions far too often this season.  Even emotionally it seems like this team just isn’t actually enjoying themselves this year.  Just look at the reactions when they score, there’s little celebration even when they actually score important goals like Travis Zajac’s shorty to cut the Caps’ lead to 2-1 in the middle of the second period.  Whatever happened to this team after its 4-0 start where they outscored teams 17-4 is a mystery comparable to Jimmy Hoffa’s dissapearance or JFK’s assassination conspiracy theories.

What’s not in doubt is too many players have been dissapointing and there’ve been way too many mental mistakes this season, both of which go back to coaching.  As a Jets, Mets and Devils fan I’m having more than my share of bad coaching at the moment.  I used to think Hynes was actually better than Todd Bowles or Mickey Callaway, and he may still be – but by default.  At least Hynes has some passion and can fill out a lineup card.  Not that any of that helps if your players show zero emotion themselves, or any aptitude for actually taking care of the basics like not going off for line changes when the other team has the puck in the neutral zone, or not letting one player split the D continually down the middle of the ice.

That’s not even getting into the worst aspect of coaching from the standpoint of tonight – the powerless play which hit its nadir in the late second and early third period failing to score on a five-minute major when (who else?) Tom Wilson hit Brett Seney from behind late, earning a match penalty and likely another suspension in an already long rap sheet.  If I ever complained about Geoff Ward’s power play last year, well the ‘Miss Me Yet?’ meme certainly qualifies now.  Geoff, my  apologies…it may have been inconsistent and ugly at times but you actually at least could coach an NHL power play.  His replacement Rick Kowalsky on the other hand looks as bad coaching a power play as hapless John MacLean did coaching the 2010 Devils.  With three failed power plays besides the major, the powerless play went eleven minutes getting a putrid four shots on goal and zero goals.

I vowed if the team didn’t score on the five-minute power play at least once that I was turning the game off and I did but only after Greene and Severson parted the red sea and let Andre Burakovsky walk in, beating Kinkaid with a shot that he got some of, but not enough of.  I figured it was over then, and while Kinkaid got no help from his defense there he also botched a play early in the second period leading to goal number two, and gave up a shortside shot to Nicklas Backstrom on the fourth goal later on – albeit it was a 5-on-3 (what a novelty, a team that can actually score a power play goal!).  Nico Hischier and Marcus Johansson scoring late cut the deficit to 4-3 amazingly enough and got me to turn it back on – just in time to see Johansson give the puck away carelessly for the first of two Cap empty-net goals that sealed the game.

Honestly I don’t even feel like going tomorrow.  I’d rather sell my tickets but secondary market prices are plummeting so I may have to either eat it or bite the bullet and go…as it is I’m going Monday for the Brian Boyle Masterson poster giveaway as much as anything else, but I’m not expecting to stay long if that game goes as most of our recent games against Tampa have and it’s 5-1 middle of the second period.  Certainly this weekend is going to put our home-road splits to the test and if we start losing at home, then the proverbial crap is going to hit the fan.

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A few thoughts on Zuccarello

As many of you already know, a recent podcast in Mats Zuccarello’s home country of Norway caused some white noise on social media. The English translation of a interview he did made it sound like he’s waiting for the Rangers to trade him. He also indicated how much he loves playing here.

However, there’s the likelihood that Zuccarello will be traded and become a rental for a playoff contender. If the controversial interview is to be believed, it’s something he would be open to. A change is probably best for the popular pint sized right wing with the giant sized heart.

The Rangers are committed to rebuilding by continuing to give younger prospects a chance. As many as six rookies have dressed including former 2017 first round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil. Both are learning on the job as regulars in their first full season. Other first-year players include Steven Fogarty, Tim Gettinger, Brett Howden and Alexandar Georgiev, who gets the start tomorrow night at Montreal.

In regards to Zuccarello, who’s led the team in scoring the past three years and four of the last five since ’13-14, the emotional 31-year old veteran has given everything to the Blueshirts. A classic overachiever, whose work ethic is unquestioned, it’s been a tough start to possibly his final season on Broadway. He’s only played in 17 games, totaling three goals and seven assists for ten points. A groin strain continues to plague him. He missed his ninth game last night with the team getting shutout 3-0 by Ottawa. He won’t play at Montreal.

For a prideful player who only missed nine combined games the past four years, it has to be extremely frustrating. He tried coming back twice in road losses to the Islanders and the Flyers. Perhaps Zuccarello rushed back due to what’s going on in the back of his mind. He earns $4.5 million in the final year of his contract. You know he wants to be 100 percent and play. There’s a lot on the line. Even if his future isn’t here, he’s playing for a contract.

Who knows what he’s thinking about? I think it does a classy player, who’s been a true professional, a incredible disservice by using the Norwegian story and taking it at its word. Zuccarello deserves better treatment than that. He shouldn’t have to go through a team spokesperson to deny the rumor, which convinced Post scribe Brett Cyrgalis to correct something in his story that appeared the other day.

I could’ve used the same information and done a post on it. But I didn’t feel comfortable. Maybe other bloggers enjoy that kinda banter for clicks. That’s not who I am or what I am about. I have never done it for those reasons. I blog because it’s my passion. I enjoy providing my thoughts on the Rangers and hockey.

Out of respect for the players, I don’t think it’s fair to use a translation from a interview that appeared in Europe. Especially during the season. I feel bad for Zuccarello. He has been a breath of fresh air. A huge part of the success here that led to a Stanley Cup Final appearance and a Conference Final with a serious injury almost ending his career, he’s been an inspirational team leader.

Whatever happens over the next three months, enjoy Zucc for what he’s continued to bring.

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Game #26: Awful in Ottawa

To be perfectly honest, I skipped this one due to the special ESPN 30 For 30 on the final days of Bob Knight at Indiana. It had gotten good reviews and I wanted to see it. So, rather than watch a very predictable loss on the road, I made the right choice.

The Rangers were awful in Ottawa. They sadly were shutout by struggling veteran Craig Anderson (27 saves) in a 3-0 loss to the Senators. I knew going in what to expect. You don’t dress a defenseman like Brendan Smith as a forward due to being short a man. It makes no sense. I don’t know why coach David Quinn didn’t just do what I suggested. Work the extra D into the rotation and just double shift a good player when Steven Fogarty and Tim Gettinger get on the ice.

I also never understood why Quinn broke up his best line. Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider and Filip Chytil have been rolling. Even when they aren’t scoring, the cohesive trio generate quality chances. You don’t change the one line that’s been going. Even if Mika Zibanejad doesn’t have ideal linemates, he’s proven that he can go against the top scoring lines head to head. Why not bump Jimmy Vesey to that line and keep Jesper Fast on it? Both he and Zibanejad just had good games on Monday. For Fast, it was two straight games with an assist. It’s ironic that he got screwed out of a goal due to a quick whistle.

Instead, Quinn made a rookie mistake with the lineup by trying to use Smith for two periods on a perplexing fourth line. He slid Fast down to the third line with cooling rookie Brett Howden and bumped Lias Andersson up. Vesey moved onto the Hayes line with Chytil while Kreider and Ryan Strome played with Zibanejad. It backfired. That line was awful. They were victimized by the Sens on two goals. Strome forgot to take the man in front on the first goal, and a lazy Zibanejad turnover led directly to Magnus Paajarvi going high blocker on Henrik Lundqvist for a 2-0 lead. Of course, I caught that part during a commercial break. Ugh.

I didn’t turn the game back on. I knew it was over. Even from the little I caught, I could tell they were getting outskated and out worked. Right as I said that came the Zibanejad failure to clear the zone followed by Paajarvi’s goal. Marc Staal couldn’t take the pass away getting caught leaning. Lundqvist should’ve had the shot. It was bad all around.

As for Matt Duchene scoring a gimme on a great sequence in the third for the third Ottawa goal, it was awful by the Rangers. They looked dizzy getting turned around with Tony DeAngelo nowhere near Duchene. It was a tough night for him. He was on for all three Senators goals. The funny thing is Quinn didn’t staple him to the bench. That dubious honor went to Kevin Shattenkirk, who never took a shift in the third period. Why him? Quinn said that will remain between them twice in the post game. Oh boy.

I have no idea why. Maybe he just felt like letting Smith take regular minutes in the D rotation. Fredrik Claesson played regularly in his return to Ottawa. From looking at the score sheet, it looked like he had a active game. But when Staal is tied for the team lead with three shots, it doesn’t say much for the offense.

The Rangers may have been credited with 27 shots on goal. But it sounds like it was an easy shutout for Anderson, who still has a GAA around 3.50 while raising his save percentage to .902. Quinn didn’t sound too impressed with his team. Neither did Staal or Lundqvist, who emphasized doing the little things better away from MSG.

They have a road problem. The loss was their second straight on the road by a shutout. Calvin Pickard did it to them last Friday. You know. The former Flyer who was claimed on waivers by the desperate Coyotes due to another one of my awful goalies getting hurt. I’m referring to Antti Raanta. Between him and Roberto Luongo, I think I should make goaltending optional.

The Rangers are a abysmal 3-7-2 on the road. They stink away from MSG. Of course, that means they’re much more successful at home boasting a 10-4-0 mark. Not too surprising considering the youth. It’s good that they win at home. But they must learn how to win on the road. Next up is the House of Horrors. Montreal on Saturday.

Sunday is the special home game honoring Vic Hadfield. The original Number 11 goes up to the rafters in a special ceremony, joining GAG (Goal A Game) linemates Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle. Doors open at 4:30. The game starts after 6 against Winnipeg.

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Namestnikov and Zuccarello not on road trip

When the Rangers visit the Senators tonight in Kanata, Ontario, they’ll be without two of their starting forwards in the top nine. Both Vladislav Namestnikov and Mats Zuccarello didn’t make the road trip that also includes a stop in Montreal this Saturday. 

Zuccarello will miss another game due to a groin strain that’s nagging him. So much for it not being serious. He’s played in two games since 11/6. He took part in games versus the Islanders and Flyers eight days apart. Both losses. The most recent was on Black Friday in a 4-0 shutout defeat in Philly. Ironically the only win they’ve posted lately. They fired GM Ron Hextall following an ugly loss to the Maple Leafs. Then, followed it up by blowing a two-goal lead in a bad 4-3 home loss to Ottawa on Tuesday. 

While the Flyers are in turmoil by also letting go of assistant GM Chris Pryor and assistant coach Gord Murphy, the Rangers will be shorthanded up front in the home-and-home rematch against the Senators. Unless they make a recall from Hartford, it looks like coach David Quinn will dress a lineup with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. 

Namestnikov was in concussion protocol due to a hit he took during the team’s 4-2 win at home on Monday. He is 2-7-9 in 24 games with a minus-six rating. While the numbers aren’t all that impressive, he’s brought more intangibles to the table since an early healthy scratch. He’s been more active on the forecheck and used his body physically. He has recorded 33 hits and 16 blocked shots. Quinn has used him on the penalty kill. Hopefully, the injury isn’t serious. 

Assuming Quinn goes with seven D, then everyone that’s active on the roster will play. That includes Fredrik Claesson, who got Monday night off following a rare poor game in a loss to the Capitals. 

It’ll be interesting to see how Quinn uses his D. He will have the luxury of rotating guys in and out for shifts. Kevin Shattenkirk has played mostly with Claesson. He has also seen time with Brendan Smith. Marc Staal has formed a good pair with Neal Pionk. They match up often against top lines. Pionk usually carries the load due to playing power play and penalty kill. 

Brady Skjei has improved since he missed two games. His skating has picked up along with his checking, which is what Quinn wants to see. He has played with both Tony DeAngelo and Smith. My guess is it’ll be a mixed bag depending on game situation. 

I would expect Henrik Lundqvist to start. He was superb on Monday with Ottawa coach Guy Boucher crediting him for making some good saves. Considering that they had two days off, Lundqvist should be ready to go. I wonder if Quinn plans to use him for the Canadiens on Saturday. The House of Horrors hasn’t treated him well. We’ll see. 

Even though they are still near the bottom of the conference with 23 points, the Sens continue to pile up goals due to Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, Thomas Chabot and impressive rookie Brady Tkachuk. As they proved on Tuesday night, they’re never out of a game. Tkachuk scored twice and Duchene notched a highlight reel game decider by batting in his own rebound with a unbelievable backhand out of mid-air. 

The Senators are a fun team to watch. They have some good young talent for the future. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Stone and Duchene. Both can become unrestricted free agents next summer. I have to believe they’ll go all in on keeping Stone, who likes playing for them. Duchene will probably leave. 

Ottawa is shaky defensively and hasn’t gotten consistent netminding from veteran Craig Anderson. But they are 7-4-2 on home ice. The Blueshirts are only 3-6-2 on the road. 

Faceoff is shortly after 7:30 PM. 

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Game #25: Andersson scores key goal as Blueshirts end skid at two with 4-2 win over Senators

The most important part of tonight’s game was what the Rangers did before and during it to honor cancer survivors. They went out and won a hard fought game on Hockey Fights Cancer night. The Blueshirts ended their skid at two by defeating the Senators 4-2 at MSG.

In improving to 13-10-2, they had to like a few things that came out of the win.

  1. Lias Andersson scored his first goal of the season. A well deserved one on a hardworking shift.
  2. Marc Staal scored his first too. Always nice to see. He earned the Broadway Hat with another solid effort.
  3. Mika Zibanejad ended his goal drought at seven. It had been a while since the team’s leading scorer got one. After having some bad luck with the goalposts, he had an easier time stealing a puck and putting it into an empty net for his first goal since 11/10 at Columbus. He had a goal and assist in the victory.
  4. Henrik Lundqvist had a superb night making 29 saves including some clutch ones in crunch time to pickup his ninth win. It was a better ending than the crazy first that saw a shot hit his mask and then wait helplessly until a official noticed his mask was off with an Ottawa shot thankfully deflected before going into a net as play was whistled dead.
  5. Chris Kreider got his team-leading 13th that proved to be the game-winner on a nice cross ice feed from emerging rookie Filip Chytil. Kreider is tied with Zibanejad for the team lead in points with 21. He continues to lead by example on and off the ice, looking very much like the future captain.
  6. Tim Gettinger had a second straight active game playing on the fourth line with Andersson and Steven Fogarty. His size is a good fit on that line. He added five more hits in eight shifts (7:30), giving him 10 in his first two games.
  7. Brady Skjei had a strong game overall. In 25 shifts (19:00), he skated well recording three shots, two hits, a takeaway and blocked shot while finishing plus-one.
  8. Jesper Fast had an assist, giving him points in two consecutive games. Although he remains stuck on that one goal way back on Opening Night, he continues to work hard. It’s nice to see him get rewarded.
  9. How about that move by Ryan Strome skating to the middle for a dangerous shot that banked off Andersson in front for the go-ahead goal that made it 3-2? That takes skill. Strome has it and looks like a steal for Ryan Spooner. A good trade by Jeff Gorton.
  10. Vladislav Namestnikov showed toughness throughout absorbing a couple of tough hits, including one from Ottawa defenseman Thomas Chabot late that led to Zibanejad’s goal. David Quinn said he was talking afterwards. Vladdy doesn’t get enough credit for what he brings. You have fools like Boomer Esiason talking trash during games about players he doesn’t like, which is unprofessional for a former star athlete turned morning radio host on WFAN. This is the same clown who took a shot at Pavel Buchnevich for his off-season and Tony DeAngelo last season. Stick to football!

I have never been a fan of Boomer ever since he gave us the cold shoulder entering the old side entrance of MSG for his old show. He’s a fraud. I wish more people had the guts to call him on it. Just because you have a show in the city doesn’t give you the right to be so ignorant. He’s supposed to be a Ranger fan. Root for the team and support everyone.

I would add more on the game, but I’m not feeling well. I’ll just say it was entertaining. Mark Stone is very good, but gets no recognition. He scored both Ottawa goals.

Brady Tkachuk had two assists and was a pest. Still think Ottawa made a mistake there? He will be a dominant power forward in no time. In 13 games, Tkachuk is 7-6-13 with 17 penalty minutes and 37 shots and a 18.9 shooting percentage. I would’ve packaged all three of our first round picks to take Tkachuk at number four.

One last note. The Blueshirts got David Quinn’s message, attempting 62 shots with Ottawa blocking 21. That’s more like it!

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Game #23: Florida meltdown – Panthers 4, Devils 3 (OT)

Now these losses are starting to run together, figuratively and literally.  Back-to-back days in the sunshine state, back-to-back brutal losses, which granted even in our good years is par for the course with this team.  This latest loss was particularly diasteriffic though, playing a struggling Panther team without goalie Roberto Luongo, who also recently lost talented pivot Vincent Trocheck to a long-term injury.  If yesterday was a typical Cory 2018 special, today illustrated all the other reasons this team is going to crash and burn out of the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons, a severe step back for this organization.

Yeah I know we’re still late in November, I know the East is mediocre yadda yadda yadda but when you as a team blow five two-goal leads in twenty-three games, when you blow countless late third-period leads or ties and can’t buy a win in the 3-on-3 OT then you just don’t have what it takes to hang with the better teams in the conference – or really with any team at the moment.  What game is an easy win for this team right now?  They couldn’t beat an Ottawa team in disarray after Ubergate, they can’t beat a mediocre Panthers team that lost three in a row since the Trocheck injury, playing their backup goalie, they’ve lost to a supposedly hideous Wings team twice and probably saved Jeff Blashill’s job for the time being.  Things aren’t getting any easier this weekend when we have the Capitals (road), Jets and Lightning all in a four-day span which are three more likely losses to add to the pile of suck that’s building.

As far as tonight goes, while I didn’t watch the first period, the real action started with the second period anyway when Miles Wood (tipping a Sami Vatanen shot home) and Blake Coleman (with his usual short-handed brilliance) scored to give the Devils a 2-0 lead.  Would this finally be a time the Devils could put a two-goal lead in the bank?  Eh no…Coleman’s shorthanded goal only provided a temporary band-aid which flew off after Travis Zajac took a second penalty giving Florida an extended 5-on-3.  Unlike us, they actually know how to convert a 5-on-3 goal, and did just that with mere seconds remaining on the first penalty to add insult to injury.  A Jared McCann goal minutes later completed our latest multi-goal lead meltdown, which also seems to be par for the course for our trips to Sunrise.  Maybe Adam Henrique’s double-OT goal in the playoffs used up all our good juju there for a generation, we haven’t even won a game there in the last few years since.

Of course it looked like we may actually break that spell in the third period when Jesper Bratt scored off another tip of a Vatanen shot, but there’s nothing quite as scary as the Devils in a tight third-period game – and once again our glass jaw showed itself with an assist from John Hynes’ idiotic lineup decisions, specifically scratching Mirco Mueller again in favor of Egor Yakovlev.  It was Yakovlev who not only played the tying goal badly when Johnathan Huberdeau scored 6-on-5 but then compounded it with another screwup, allowing a breakaway that nearly lost it for us in regulation.  Are we really jumping the shark looking for puckmoving from every member of the defense at the expense of actually, you know playing defense?  Not that Mueller’s great but he’s certainly a better option than Yakovlev at this point in the area where it matters most for a defenseman.  Are we a developmental team or a team trying to win?  Do we even have a system?

It sure doesn’t seem like we have a system for the 3-on-3 OT which is always a harbinger of doom for this year’s team.  For good measure, we actually lost tonight’s game twice, first when an apparent goal went past Keith Kinkaid but it turned out was only like the seventeenth post shot he was saved by in the last two weeks (including that end-of-regulation breakaway).  Clearly the magic chipotles are doing their trick.  But even the magic chipotles were no match for this team’s defensive inepititude and a subtle pick play on Bratt that Hynes bitterly complained about in the postgame.  For his part, Zajac took the responsibility for not stopping the pass on that decisive goal but really that was just the end of a lot of disasters.

One thing I’m starting to wonder is if we have a living, breathing GM right now?  It would be nice to hear from Ray Shero at some point – granted I don’t expect a state of the union off every losing streak but we’re past a quarter of the season.  It would be nice to if not hear the GM, at least see some evidence from him that this kind of braindead hockey won’t be tolerated around here forever.  I might be among the masses calling for Hynes’ dismissal if I had a viable alternative at the moment.  If you look to the outside obviously the pipedream is Joel Quenneville, but that’s all it is – a pipedream.  He’d have his pick of better jobs where he’ll likely get more say in personnel than he would here.  Do we really want Disco Dan: The Sequel after Dan Bylsma arguably cost Shero his job in Pittsburgh and flamed out in Buffalo too?

Just promote an assistant is the common answer you might hear, but what assistant are we promoting?  Rick Kowalsky and Mike Grier are literally in their first season as assistant coaches in the NHL, that’s not ideal for an in-season takeover.  Defensive ‘coach’ Alain Nasreddine is the only guy with experience on the staff but since the D’s been a huge part of the problem I’d rather stick with the Devil I know over the one I don’t.  Promoting the AHL coach is another in-season option that usually gets bantied about but our coach in Binghamton is Mark Dennehy, who’s in his first season at his current level of hockey.  Clearly the staff wasn’t exactly put together with a mind we would need a coaching change this year, especially after Hynes did a good job last year but something’s clearly missing now or a lot of somethings.

I do still like Hynes regardless, but something’s gotta change around here and soon unless Shero and ownership are content to let the season go completely off the rails by New Year’s.

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