NHL and its fans adjusting to a new normal

 

 

I don’t really want to write this blog but feel compelled to, because let’s face it – whether you have it or not, Coronavirus is affecting every aspect of our lives at this point – and if you don’t know what Coronavirus is by now, odds are you might already be in enough of a bubble to not have to worry about it.  This is a hockey blog so I’m obviously not going to get into political machinations and will only talk about how this is (and will) affect the rest of the hockey season all around the world as well as everyone’s personal lives.  Outside of the NHL you already have colleges like Harvard canceling the rest of their season already, many overseas leagues either have been or will be suspended, and the ones that aren’t may well play in empty buildings.  Inside the NHL so far you have the Sharks moving – if not outright canceling – the rest of their home games this month.

 

 

With word coming down literally as I’m writing this that March Madness (the NCAA college basketball tournament) is closing off its tournament to fans due to public safety concerns, it seems inevitable that the NHL’s upcoming games and playoffs will also be affected.  At this point it seems nothing is off the table.  Will the entire postseason be played without fans, or be suspended entirely?  It’s actually not unprecedented for the Stanley Cup to go unawarded due to health concerns, in 1919 the Spanish flu interrupted and eventually ended the Finals without a champion being crowned.  Until now, that’s been the only season in modern history other than 2005 – thanks again, Bettman – where the cherished trophy wasn’t awarded.

I have to say I’ve bounced between both extremes in terms of my mentality.  At times I have been guilty of the ‘now we’re getting a little too over the top here’ mindset while in general I am of the better safe than sorry approach.  Even if I still do think to a degree people have to live their lives, and not in fear.  This virus and the public alarm has at least temporarily changed even the most basic things about life such as curtailing public gatherings like big crowds at sporting matches, or parades – almost all St. Patrick’s Day parades are getting canceled including in Ireland itself.  For a while we all have to accept maybe your friend doesn’t want to hug or shake your hand.  And that stranger’s cough which can be an annoyance now becomes an alarm to get as far away as possible.

Even as arguably neccesary precautions get taken for the greater good, there’s a cost for many people whose jobs and lives are impacted by not being able to make a living.

 

 

It’s not just in sports obviously, it’s the cruise ship and airline workers who may get laid off, the teachers and students who won’t be able to complete their semesters, and any other profession or recreation that gets affected.  There’s no easy answer how to fairly compensate everyone for lost wages and unpaid leave.  Nobody feels bad for the billionaire sports owner who will lose a few gates over the next several months, but everyday people are going to be impacted by this as well and have the most to lose, both in terms of their ability to work and their personal health.

I’d like to say I have some message to calm everyone’s fears but that’s up to people more in the know than you or me.  Personally I haven’t changed anything major at the moment but it’s easy for me to say since I’m not personally in the high-risk (re: older) demo yet although who really knows what’s high-risk at this point with such a new virus and the lack of accurate testing so far.  In any case, you might want to be more careful if you have elderly relatives and friends around you.

I did kind of want to go to last night’s Devils game just because with the way things were heading it might be my last of the season with my next home game not till the 21st, but fortunately – given the way the Devils got smoked – I wound up doing trivia night with a couple of my friends instead.  If my last home game of the year winds up being the shocking win over the Blues last Friday I’d be fine with that at this point.  Already a season-ticket autograph session with P.K. Subban that was scheduled for tonight (a make-up since Subban couldn’t make the initial team autograph event) was canceled, and all fans who had RSVP’ed for the event will get an autographed picture via snail mail instead.

For now we just have to ride this out, hope things pass soon and in the meantime enjoy what we enjoy including the NHL from a distance, try to stick to being around the people you care about and be understanding if someone would rather Facetime or talk on the phone as opposed to in-person contact.  And if you are sick, don’t try to be a hero – stay home, take care of yourself and don’t endanger or worry anyone else.

Posted in NHL, Stanley Cup | 3 Comments

Rangers look to make it 11 for 12 on the road at depleted Avalanche without MacKinnon

Tony DeAngelo and Mika Zibanejad jump jump real high like Kris Kross during Zibanejad’s five goal game. The Rangers take on the Avalanche, who are without Nathan MacKinnon tonight. They still must show up ready. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

It’s another big game later tonight for the Rangers. Fresh off a satisfying 4-2 win at Dallas last night in which Mika Zibanejad scored number 40 to become the 20th Blueshirt to do so, they will face a very good team in the Avalanche.

Having won 10 of their last 11 on the road, they’ll need another good performance to come away with a crucial two points at Colorado. News hit earlier that star player Nathan MacKinnon won’t be available due to a lower body injury.

As dynamic a player as he is ranking in the top five in scoring with 93 points (35-58-93), it doesn’t matter. All you need for proof is how poorly the Rangers played in an awful 6-4 loss to the Devils, who don’t have the talent of the Avalanche. It’s imperative that they approach this game with the same intensity as last night.

For whatever reason, the Rangers are a better team away from MSG. They play with more urgency and attention to detail. They enter play 19-12-2 on the road. That included a franchise record nine-game road win streak that was snapped in Philadelphia. By returning to their winning ways yesterday, it shows that they’re more comfortable away from home where they’re 18-16-2.

With 13 games remaining, they have eight of their last 13 on the road. That includes the game tonight in Colorado and Saturday in Arizona. They then return to MSG for Calgary and Pittsburgh with a return trip at the Penguins to conclude a home-and-home series between 3/18-20. After that, they have Buffalo on the road, return home for Columbus and then hit the road again for a three-game road trip at Washington, Tampa Bay and Florida to conclude March.

Basically, all these road games along with three home sandwiched in between will go a long way to determining if the Rangers can qualify for the postseason. The final three April games are home for the Flyers, at the Pens for a third game versus them, and the home finale against the Blackhawks. It seems strange that that’s the final game. Facing a team in the other conference. Hopefully, it’ll mean something.

Now that I broke down the remaining schedule, anyone can see how tough it’ll be to make the playoffs. There are a lot of hard games against quality opponents. With the exception of the Blackhawks, who trail the wildcard by eight points, every other team is fighting for the playoffs. Only the Coyotes are out of playoff position with four more points than Chicago. They trail Nashville, Vancouver and Winnipeg by four with 12 games left. They also have to jump over Minnesota, who is one point out.

The point is there aren’t any pushovers on the schedule. Even if there were, we saw what happened on Saturday. It’s not only the Devils playing spoiler. The Kings have done it as well out West along with the Ducks. The Sabres just beat the Caps and even the lowly Red Wings won a game over the Lightning in a shootout.

When it gets to this part of the year, every team is playing hard. So, the Avalanche are without MacKinnon, Mikka Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Matt Calvert and Philipp Grubauer. Andre Burakovsky and star rookie defenseman Cale Makar are day-to-day which means they’re questionable for later.

None of it means anything if the Rangers don’t win the game. They’ll likely be facing the Pavel Francouz. A 29-year old veteran who’s played extremely well since Grubauer went down. He is 1-2-1 over his last four with 3.69 GAA and a .868 save percentage. So, he has cooled off. But overall, Francouz is 20-7-4 with a 2.43 GAA, .922 save percentage and a shutout.

Michael Hutchinson is the backup. Since joining Colorado, the journeyman is 1-0 with a 1.00 GAA and .944 save percentage. His only game came versus Detroit in a 2-1 win on Mar. 2. He made 17 saves.

Despite the injuries to key players, the Avalanche are fighting for the top spot out West with the Blues. They trail St. Louis by two points for first place. The Blues have 92 and the Avs have 90. Colorado has a game at hand with 13 left.

With MacKinnon out, captain Gabriel Landeskog has been on fire lately. One of the NHL Three Stars of the Week that highlighted Zibanejad’s five goal game with him named First Star, the 27-year old forward recently had a eight-game point streak (5-8-13) snapped in a 3-1 loss at the Kings. Since the All-Star break, Landeskog is 8-13-21 over 20 games. That’s half his production in an injury riddled year. Overall, he’s got 21 goals with 21 assists for 42 points in 53 contests.

If MacKinnon, Makar, Burakovsky, Rantanen and Kadri all are out, that leaves Landeskog as the only top six scorer on the Avs. However, they can’t be taken lightly due to good secondary scoring coming from Joonas Donskoi, JT Compher and Valeri Nichushkin. Tyson Jost has also picked it up and old friend Vladislav Namestnikov has been a good addition after coming over from Ottawa. He’s dangerous shorthanded and is 3-2-5 in eight games with Colorado.

I still say the Rangers made a mistake moving him after two games. They should’ve waited. Look at our secondary scoring for proof. Namestnikov has quietly put together a solid season with 16 goals and 14 helpers for 30 points with four shorthanded goals. That’s tied for the league lead.

The Avalanche still can get offense from the blueline thanks to Sam Girard and the always overlooked Ian Cole, who the Pens never should’ve got rid of. He’s a solid defender. Of course, the Rangers will see former fourth round pick Ryan Graves. A defenseman who never was given a chance despite some good play with the Wolf Pack, he’s blossomed into a top four physical D with a heavy shot that’s produced nine goals. He leads the league in plus/minus (42). Amazing that they gave him away for nothing.

Keep an eye on rookie Martin Kaut. A gifted rookie with two goals and an apple in eight games. Kind of forgotten is Erik Johnson, who once was taken number one overall by the Blues in 2006. Now a 31-year old veteran, he’s healthy and that means he draws most of the tough assignments. He’ll get the big minutes along with Graves, who normally pairs with Makar. Nikita Zadorov loves to bang the opposition with crushing checks. The Blueshirts better beware.

When you look at the Avalanche roster, you can understand why they’re so good. Even if there’s a discrepancy between MacKinnon and the rest if the scorers due to setbacks to Rantanen, who’ll be back, Kadri and Landeskog, who’s back on form, they’re well balanced. It won’t be an easy game. They’ve only lost nine games in regulation, entering with a 17-9-6 home record. Like the Rangers, they’re better on the road boasting a 24-11-2 mark.

On the news front for the Rangers, they’ve recalled forward Steven Fogarty from Hartford. As expected, it’s an emergency recall due to the lower body injury Filip Chytil suffered in the first period last night. He’s day-to-day.

If Chytil can’t go, then you’ll see Fogarty plugged in on the fourth line with Brett Howden likely centering Brendan Lemieux and either Kaapo Kakko or Phil Di Giuseppe. I’m curious to see what David Quinn decides following the two-goal game from Kakko, who got his second last night on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. Does he stuck with Di Giuseppe on the first line to start with Kakko on the third line, or does that change?

Stay tuned. As brilliant as Artemi Panarin has been with his 94 points ranking fourth in scoring, he’s gone a season high seven games without a goal. The Bread Man is still setting up teammates with nine assists over that span. However, he’s not shooting the puck as much. Part of that is due to how much attention he’s been getting. Opponents are keying on him and taking away his shot. The other aspect is his reluctance to shoot. He’s always looking for the backdoor pass which he’s so good at. They can use a goal off his magic stick tonight.

Ryan Strome is also in a slump without a goal in six and only one helper. He’s still shooting, but they haven’t been going in. They can sure use big nights from the unique combo of Panarin and Strome.

The encouraging part is the secondary scoring has picked up thanks to Howden, Kakko and Greg McKegg. They’ll need to continue chipping in. Most of the scoring is coming from Tony DeAngelo (15-38-53) and Adam Fox on the back end. Fox is now up to 40 points, meaning he and DeAngelo are the first pair of Blueshirts defensemen to record at least 40 points or more since the dynamic duo of Brian Leetch and Sergei Zubov. That’s insane.

It would be nice if Jacob Trouba contributed. He’s been stuck on seven goals for the longest time. He certainly shoots the puck enough leading the defense with 167 shots. More alarming, Trouba doesn’t have a single point since the Brady Skjei trade. He gets a little power play time on the second unit, but his primary job is to shutdown opponents. Playing with Brendan Smith is a big adjustment from Skjei, who was a better skater that could carry the puck out.

Between the two, I gotta be honest. Smith has been better than Trouba. They’re both minus-12. But I like how Smith has played despite his lack of foot speed. However, he makes up for it with his compete level. Needless to say, Trouba’s ice time is down with the coaching staff managing Smith, who’s the sixth defenseman despite being paired with Trouba. Both kill penalties.

They’ve leaned more on Fox and Ryan Lindgren, who is continuing to gain a reputation for his physicality and tenacity. DeAngelo remains with Marc Staal, whose minutes have gone up in some games. Quinn at times has tried Fox with DeAngelo. A unique offensive skating pair I like. But they can’t do it too much due to the defensive aspect.

In regards to what Quinn decides as far as who starts, that’s entirely up to him. He can stick with his original plan and start either Alex Georgiev or give Henrik Lundqvist the biggest start of the season. Or he can reverse course and tab Igor Shesterkin following his 31 save performance where he looked like himself. Don’t forget they have two days off before the Coyotes.

I’ll update things later.

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Game #69 Kakko scores twice and Zibanejad reaches 40 goals in key win over Stars, Shesterkin 31 saves, Rangers 40 Goal Club

Igor Shesterkin gets some love from Marc Staal after a big 4-2 Rangers win over the Stars. They remain three points out of the wildcard with 13 games left. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

Needing a win, they came out desperate. In a big game to start a do or die three-game road trip, the Rangers showed up ready to play in Dallas. Showing the urgency and resolve necessary after suffering the worst loss of the season, the Rangers earned a 4-2 win over the Stars.

They did it through hard work and much more determined play. For whatever reason, this team plays better away from MSG. Just call them the road warriors. They’ve now won 10 of their last 11 road games. Even though it got hairy late, they left no doubt who the better team was tonight.

It only took 19 seconds at the start for them to put the ugly 6-4 home loss to the Devils behind them. On just a wonderful opening shift, Artemi Panarin led rookie Adam Fox for a big goal on a good wrist shot past Dallas starter Ben Bishop. It was his eighth.

Continuing to play well, the Blueshirts were more focused defensively. They played much better in front of rookie Igor Shesterkin, who was much sharper throughout. After getting chased for the first time in his young NHL career, Shesterkin bounced back by making some key saves en route to 31 stops to improve to 10-2-0. He didn’t have to stand on his head, but flashed the leather on one glove stop and got across on a couple of others when things got interesting.

These were the Rangers who’d won all those games in February to get back in the playoff race. Continuing to carry the play, they increased the lead to 2-0 when Mika Zibanejad made some more team history. On a good rush from Pavel Buchnevich and Brendan Lemieux, he steered in a Lemieux feed for his 40th goal of the season at 10:12.

The goal made Zibanejad the 20th Blueshirt to score 40 in a season. The last Ranger to do it was Rick Nash. Marian Gaborik also did it. So did franchise record holder Jaromir Jagr when he scored 54 in ’05-06 to break Adam Graves’ record of 52 set in ’93-94. I just gave you five of the 20 Rangers who reached the mark. Name the other 15. I’ll have the answer later.

One thing I know for sure is Zibanejad is the first Blueshirt to get 40 in 56 games. He missed 13 earlier in the season. Where would he be if he hadn’t missed time? In the Rocket Richard race and possibly the Hart conversation with Panarin. That’s insane. He deserves all the credit for what he’s done. Just give him the ‘C’ next Fall. I know you can make a compelling case for Chris Kreider, who skated this morning for the first time. His timetable remains the same. So, don’t get too excited.

With the Stars offense really struggling to do anything at five-on-five, the second half of the period got chippy. Following a Jacob Trouba tripping minor on Mattias Janmark to put Dallas on the power play, a clean Ryan Lindgren hit led to Stars finisher Denis Gurianov lose his mind. He started up with Lindgren following the play to earn an extra two minutes for roughing, which negated the power play only 24 seconds in. It was dumb. There’s no other way to put it.

If there was one mistake David Quinn made, it was having Marc Staal out with Tony DeAngelo during the ensuing four-on-four. I didn’t understand why. You’re up two in enemy territory. You may as well go for the kill. I would’ve sent out Fox with DeAngelo, Zibanejad and Panarin. They would’ve had a good chance to score. At one point, they still toyed with the slower skating Stars, but were unable to connect despite some strong puck possession.

When they did test Shesterkin, he was ready. Unlike Saturday night, the 24-year old rookie was composed. He made some good saves in traffic and showed off that quick reflex glove. He also denied Henrik Lundqvist killer Blake Comeau by holding his ground. I don’t have to remind anyone what the history is between Comeau and Lundqvist. He would later trip up Buchnevich for a late Ranger power play which they were unable to connect on. It would’ve been nice to get a third goal before the end of the period.

In control, the Rangers continued to look a couple of steps ahead of the Stars, who heard groans from their crowd. They’re a good team, who plays close to the vest under interim coach Rick Bowness. He’s done a very good job turning things around for Dallas, who will be a tough out in the postseason just like last year. Just ask the Blues. The issue is their offense is so bad that it puts a lot of pressure on the defense and two goalies. In this case, Bishop and Anton Khudobin. You wonder if that style can be successful.

Dallas was without Alex Radulov, who was out sick and had to stay away from the team. He skated on his own at practice. All part of the Coronavirus which I’ll get to. It’s changed the way sports are covered. Reporters are no longer allowed in any locker room. This also goes for other major sports including the NBA, MLB and MLS. In fact, the big Indian Wells tournament was canceled for tennis. A real bummer for players who traveled and all the employees who were going to work. My friend Brian Sanborn and his wife had tickets to the final. Now, it’s kaput. How sad.

This is how it is. There’s even talk that the Sharks could postpone home games due to the risks of the virus. It really is crazy. You could have situations where teams play in front of empty arenas. I have no idea what direction this will take. Even if I feel there’s a lot of fear being created by the media, my best advice to anyone is to use precaution. Wash your hands. Use hand sanitizer. Dry properly. Limit handshakes. It’s definitely a strange time. I’m not gonna change who I am. But yeah. This is a serious health issue and unpredictable due to new cases and testing.

I hope they find a resolution to the Corona. Speaking of which, I think the actual beer is overrated like Mat Barzal. Any drink you need a lime in or a piece of fruit isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Give me a pint of Guinness or a Dos Equis. Or an Amstel Light. I don’t drink often. I’m big on alkaline water and tea. But sure. On occasion, a cold brew isn’t bad.

How to steer this recap back in the proper direction. Well, be safe out there. Okay. Now that I said my piece, let’s get to the biggest development in this win. In a game Filip Chytil left due to a lower body injury that’ll keep him day-to-day and should prompt an emergency recall from Hartford for tomorrow’s game in Colorado, there was a Kaapo Kakko sighting. After going 98567811445 games without a goal (really 14 for those keeping track), the rookie forward broke out with not one, but two goals in the crucial second period to break open the game.

On the first, some hustle from Brett Howden combined with the slickness of Jesper Fast, who Quinn double shifted, allowed Howden to pass across for a wide open Kakko who had a open net to shoot at. It had to feel good. He acknowledged so afterwards. It’s been a struggle for him, but Quinn told reporter Vince Mercogliano he decided to put Kakko back on the third line an hour before the game. He said he liked the look of the lineup better with Kakko there while Julien Gauthier went back down to the fourth line. It was a candid answer.

Kakko’s ninth was his first goal since Feb. 9. It really was a great play by Howden, who hustled to keep the play alive for Fast, and then took a pass and threaded the needle for the Kakko finish. Howden has quietly raised his game. While there will continue to be complaints over his production and silly metrics from stat nerds, the sophomore has been more involved lately. I like what I’ve seen from him. Let the same trolls continue to cry. They’re never satisfied.

Brendan Smith didn’t like a late hit he got following a whistle. Clearly agitated, he found a dance partner in Stars captain Jamie Benn a couple of shifts later. Benn might not be as productive as he once was. But he’s a true leader who doesn’t back down from anyone. Prior to the face-off, he and Smith talked and decided to drop their gloves. Benn is a tough comer. Give Smith credit for engaging him and doing well in a slow developing scrap. Good thing Benn shook off the linesmen so they could go. I like that.

Benn was trying to awaken his dead team which hasn’t played well recently. They went a crazy amount of time between scoring five-on-five goals. This is a team that doesn’t score much as it is. They scratch and claw for every inch. In the game Monday, they didn’t have it. Frustration showed. There was some edge to this one. A couple of minutes later, Lindgren mixed it up with Andrew Cogliano with each sent to the box for slashing.

While Shesterkin did his job on one end, it made the Rangers’ job easier. Quinn rewarded Kakko by moving him up to the Zibanejad line with Buchnevich. On a very effective shift, he got his second of the game. On a good play by Fox and Zibanejad, they worked the puck down low for Kakko, who had Bishop dead to rights. He was able to tuck in a backhand into a open net for his 10th at 17:18. That made it 4-0.

The game felt over, but Phil Di Giuseppe took a unnecessary tripping minor on Janmark. The undisciplined penalty came with 15 seconds remaining in the second. Following a couple of good saves from Shesterkin to start the third period, Miro Heiskanen set up Roope Hintz for his 19th at 1:23 from Corey Perry. That allowed the Stars to convert on the power play and give themselves a chance.

They played more aggressively in the period. With life breathed in, they tested Shesterkin more often. He was up to the challenge. However, Cogliano was able to finish off his third on a nice setup from Heiskanen and Joe Pavelski to cut it to 4-2 with still 8:08 remaining.

Even in a game they were comfortably in front by four, you cannot relax. That’s how quick things can turn around. They took their foot off the gas pedal. Suddenly, Shesterkin made an acrobatic glove save to keep a dangerous shot out that would’ve cut it to one. He made 11 saves on 13 Dallas shots in a busier third.

A bad Smith tripping minor of Perry with 4:30 left in regulation made things more dicey. You have to question why they were in the situation they were in. They should’ve put it away before it got to this part. Fortunately, the penalty kill led by Shesterkin got it done.

Eventually, Bowness would pull Bishop for a six-on-five with over two minutes left. But even as the Stars pressed the attack, the five Rangers which included Howden, Fast, Zibanejad, Staal and Trouba never buckled. The three forwards made some key blocks and broke up passes down low to keep the Stars at bay.

When the clock ran out, they had the win they so desperately needed. With the Hurricanes winning to move ahead of idle Columbus for the first wildcard and the Islanders getting a point in a wild 5-4 shootout loss in Vancouver, the Rangers remain three behind the wildcard with both Carolina and the Blue Jackets each having 81 points. The Isles have 80 and are one out despite only 24 regulation wins. It’s ridiculous how many extra points they benefited from. Ditto Columbus.

It is what it is. The Rangers now have 13 games left. They can only focus on one game at a time. Up to 31 regulation wins which is one better than the Panthers, who they’re tied with in the crazy wildcard chase, they must get wins. It’s not going to get any easier. They’re at the Avalanche on Wednesday night. The same team Shesterkin started his run against two months ago.

I’m curious to see if Quinn changes his tune. Shesterkin looked much better in the victory at Dallas. He wasn’t overworked. The Rangers defended well. Would the coach reconsider? He told reporters he planned to start either Alex Georgiev or Henrik Lundqvist in the second game of the back-to-back. Is anyone comfortable with either backup playing right now when every game matters?

I’m not. I don’t like what I’ve seen from Georgiev lately and Lundqvist doesn’t inspire much confidence. I would go back to Shesterkin. That’s me. It’s not my decision. It’ll be interesting to see what Quinn decides and which player they call up assuming Chytil can’t go.

For now, they’re still alive. Keep winning.

Battle Of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Adam Fox, Rangers (8th goal plus 🍎, all he does is product while playing responsibly in his end, better than the other 2 rookie D up for the Calder)

2nd 🌟 Kaapo Kakko, Rangers (2 goals to end a 14-game drought for numbers 9 and 10 in the pivotal 2nd)

1st 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (40th goal to become 20th NYR to reach the mark plus a 🍎 in another scintillating performance)

Rangers Trivia: Name the 20 Rangers to score 40 goals in a single season.

I gave you five.

*Mika Zibanejad (40 in ’19-20 with 13 games left)

Rick Nash (42 in ’14-15)

Marian Gaborik 42 in ’09-10 & 41 in ’11-12)

Jaromir Jagr (54 in ’05-06)

Adam Graves (52 in ’93-94)

Pat Verbeek (41 in ’95-96)

Mark Messier (47 in ’95-96)

Mike Gartner (49, 40 & 45 in ’90-91 thru ’92-93)

John Ogrodnick (43 in ’89-90)

Tomas Sandstrom (40 in ’86-87)

Walt Poddubny (40 in ’86-87)

Pierre Larouche (48 in ’83-84)

Ron Duguay (40 in ’81-82)

Phil Esposito (42 in ’78-79)

Pat Hickey (40 in ’77-78)

Jean Ratelle (41 in ’72-73 & 46 in ’71-72)

Vic Hadfield (50 in ’71-72)

Rod Gilbert (43 in ’71-72)

Steve Vickers (41 in ’74-75)

Andy Bathgate (40 in ’58-59 won Hart)

*current season

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Game #68 Scrappy Devils humiliate listless Rangers in costly loss, chase Shesterkin

Fredrik Claesson celebrates his goal that made it 3-2 in a four goal second that powered the Devils past the Rangers 6-4 bringing a harsh reality to the playoff push. AP Photo credit New Jersey Devils via Getty Images

This always had the feel of a trap game. Unfortunately, the Rangers fell into the trap door in embarrassing fashion. In what amounted to the worst loss of the season, the Devils humiliated the listless Blueshirts 6-4 at The Garden.

The fourth defeat in five games to a team that played AHL caliber players on defense was a total meltdown. You want to talk about coming down off a emotional high. From Mika Zibanejad etching his name in franchise lore with his five goals saving the team to household names like John Hayden, Kevin Rooney, Fredrik Claesson and Dakota Mermis, this was devastating.

I warned anyone who would listen that these aren’t the same Devils who the Rangers beat up the last two times. Apparently, the message didn’t sink in. The players stunk it up and cost themselves a chance to gain ground in the wildcard race. They may as well throw the tape in the garbage, or burn the DVD.

It was that bad. I’m not even going to bother with the stupid wildcard in a flawed point system that doesn’t reward the best teams. Why bother? It’s not like they could be when it was the Devils who supposedly were playing the second of a back-to-back. The Rangers had Friday off. Did they do too much partying? At times tonight, they looked hungover.

The Devils have been playing very well under interim coach Alain Nasreddine. They actually got back to NHL .500 and are up to 68 points. Only eight behind our team if you can believe that. Look at their roster. It doesn’t even compare. The job Nasreddine has done with that team is remarkable. They don’t have high end talent, but work their butts off.

That was the difference. Even though they’ve won a lot of games over the past month, how many were really complete efforts? Let’s face it. The Rangers have relied heavily on Igor Shesterkin with some help from Alex Georgiev before he came back to earth. If not for the young goalies making a ton of saves due to all the shots and scoring chances they give up, this team would be screwed.

In particular, Shesterkin covered up a lot of mistakes. He spoiled us rotten. Did they really expect him to not be rusty after a two week layoff? The truth is they panicked by rushing him back due to Georgiev needing a mental break. It didn’t help matters that they’ve lost total faith in Henrik Lundqvist because he would’ve been a good candidate for Saturday’s game. So what if he’s not the same goalie. Sometimes, you can’t just avoid playing him altogether.

By running Shesterkin back out following a quick recovery from a rib fracture in a car accident, they only hurt themselves. He wasn’t sharp and allowed a couple of bad goals. For the first time in his brief NHL career, the 24-year old Russian proved human by getting chased for five goals on 23 shots in two periods.

It happens. Expectations were through the roof and he had delivered. That’s why they even got within two points of the playoffs. Now three with 14 games left and a very difficult three game road swing at Dallas, Colorado and Arizona. That’s going to make or break the season.

When they traded Brady Skjei to Carolina for a first round pick, I understood the context of why. It was due to wanting to subtract his contract and free up necessary room to re-sign key free agents this summer. However, when you change your mind and decide to go for the playoffs, it’s awfully tough to replace a skating defenseman who logs important minutes. Especially given Skjei’s age. He isn’t a consistent player. He’s continued to have his struggles as a Hurricane. However, his ability to skate the puck out helped Jacob Trouba more than some fans realize.

Brendan Smith is a heart and soul guy who gives tremendous effort. He’s way more physical than Skjei. However, he cannot play the key minutes while mismatched with Trouba, whose own struggles have gone overlooked. His play has not improved since Skjei departed as some would have you believe. The truth is for how tough he is physically, Trouba has his flaws. He’s not a great skater and needs a better partner to make it work.

It’s not so much that Skjei is some All-Star. It’s that by subtracting him for cap considerations, they risked missing the postseason. Even after re-signing Chris Kreider, whose fractured foot hasn’t helped, the blueline was going to become an issue. It wasn’t great with Skjei. It’s worse now due to Smith playing too much along with Marc Staal, whose play has dipped. He’s playing more minutes with Tony DeAngelo. They’ve been on for more goals against. It’s not a coincidence either that rookie tandem Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox have shown some inconsistency. There’s much more pressure on them to deliver. Both are only 22.

This isn’t an excuse. On paper, the Rangers have overwhelming talent and depth compared with the retooled Devils that subtracted Andy Greene, Blake Coleman, Wayne Simmonds and Sami Vatanen. They also are without Will Butcher and have made several call ups including one-time Ranger Claesson, who did in his former team with a crushing go-ahead goal that made it 3-2 less than two minutes into the second period.

Give the Devils credit for totally outworking, outhustling and outplaying our flat team, who looked like they went through the motions. David Quinn noticed it. He used his timeout after Claesson put the Devils ahead 3-2 which followed up Kyle Palmieri’s second on just a brutal defensive sequence 44 seconds into the awful period. The Devils outscored the Blueshirts 4-0 to turn around a 2-1 first period deficit into a comfortable 5-2 lead after two.

To paraphrase what Quinn said in his presser, they wanted it a lot more. It showed. Even early on prior to Filip Chytil getting his first goal in seven games on a nice pass from Julien Gauthier, it was the Devils winning battles and testing Shesterkin early. He made some good saves before Chytil got his 14th from Gauthier and Fox at 5:34. A good play started by Fox, who got the puck to Gauthier. He circled the net and centered for an easy Chytil finish by Mackenzie Blackwood.

However, in a telltale sign that something wasn’t right, Shesterkin gave it right back by giving up the near goalpost on a sharp angle Palmieri shot at 6:22. If there was a signal that he wasn’t himself, that was it. It was the worst goal he’s allowed. He really had to be good too due to the gaps in coverage. The defense and forwards were not on the same page. This was as poor as they could play. They lost more battles and gave away so many pucks in the neutral zone that it looked like a peewee team.

In a wide open first where defense was optional, the Rangers got that goal right back less than a minute later when Zibanejad and Fox worked a textbook give and go that resulted in Zibanejad’s sixth goal in four periods. His 39th of the season was set up by Fox blocking a clear and then a hustling Pavel Buchnevich diving to keep a loose puck alive. Fox then took a Zibanejad feed and passed it right back for a one-timer past Blackwood for a 2-1 lead.

The three straight goals were scored in a span of 1:44. It was total madness. If there was a turning point, I’d say it was the failure of the team to capitalize on two power plays. With a chance to go up two which I knew was real crucial, the Rangers didn’t. They came close once on a Artemi Panarin pass to Ryan Strome, but his shot stayed out due to a big block in front. I thought Panarin could’ve shot. He was held in check the entire game going minus-one with two shots and no points for the second game over the last three. The Devils did a great job on him by taking time and space away.

I said to Jon that those two power play failures would come back to haunt them. Just how the first was played where the teams traded chances, I could tell what kind of night it would be. I never felt comfortable. Shesterkin didn’t look it either. It was not surprising.

As if to confirm what I saw, Palmieri struck for his second (25th overall) 44 seconds into the second. It was as simple as a Mermis shot he threw at the net that Shesterkin fumbled. With Miles Wood pawing away, the puck came to Palmieri for the rebound home to tie the score. Nobody covered him. Zibanejad was guilty as were both Lindgren and Fox, who lost the battle behind the net.

A very bad turnover from Gauthier inside the Devils zone led directly to a odd man rush. On a three-on-two, Nikita Gusev patiently found the trailer Claesson by himself where he fired a unscreened wrist shot past Shesterkin at 1:36. It was his first goal since scoring as a Ranger last year. How sad. Nobody was even close by. Of note on the play, Trouba went to a covered man in front to leave the space wide open. It was an awful read by the $8 million man. In related news, prospect Nils Lundkvist scored his ninth goal in Sweden. Picture a young mobile defense on the right side with Fox, DeAngelo and Lundkvist. Oh well.

Maybe they can shift DeAngelo to the left side. I don’t see why not. He was there late in regulation paired with Fox when Quinn was desperate for offense. They didn’t look bad together. That’s their best two skating defensemen. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing how DeAngelo would do next to Trouba, who needs a better skating D to team up with. I suggest moving Smith down to third pair with Staal, who shouldn’t get more than 16 minutes. Instead, we got Lindgren with Smith.

Though he didn’t have to be great, Blackwood made all the key stops to help his team win the game. His best came when he robbed Buchnevich with a kick out on a one-timer during a Ranger power play. At the time, Mike McLeod was off for tripping Zibanejad. The issue was they didn’t get much setup time or shots. It was one and done. The special teams stunk. What can I say? It was a nightmare.

Even though the shots said the home team held a slight edge 14-11 in the disastrous period, it was misleading. The Devils kept most Ranger shots to the outside and did a good job blocking some. They were much better throughout.

On a terrible pinch by Fox, he took a tripping penalty by taking down Nico Hischier, who was looking to break out of the zone. On the only Ranger penalty, the suddenly slumping penalty kill allowed Travis Zajac to get position and redirect a Hischier feed by Shesterkin for a power play goal that made it 4-2 at 16:19. PK Subban helped set it up. On the play, Zibanejad fell down. Once that happened, it spelled doom. The Devils worked a perfect play with token resistance.

With the small Devil contingent cheering their Stanley Cup game which it was, they got even more excited when a Severson point shot somehow was put in by Hayden just 25 seconds later for a 5-2 lead with 3:16 remaining. It was a really good play by Hayden, who managed to get his stick on it. It was also another goal Fox and Lindgren were on for. Like I said, they struggled. It’s becoming more noticeable. They’re young. They aren’t perfect.

While Jon tried to be positive following that awful period, I knew better. The game was over. Based on how much harder the Devils played, there was no way they were blowing a three goal lead. I hate being negative, but I’m a realist. I called the Zajac goal and the Hayden right before they happened. I watch too much hockey.

The Devils played great. They not only were everywhere, but played like their lives depended on it. I wish I could echo the same for the Rangers. They were nowhere to be found. There was barely a pulse. No consistent forecheck. Way too easy for the opponent to get out of their end. They won puck battles all night. They were ready to play while our side was not. I don’t care if they scored two of the first three goals. They were loose and very sloppy.

In a sign that Quinn knew it wasn’t Shesterkin’s night, he made the change to Lundqvist. We know he hasn’t played much at all. We also know he was very bad last Sunday against the Flyers. I think that more than anything scared the coaching staff away from trusting the once franchise goalie from starting in a big game. It’s pretty sad how far he’s fallen.

The crowd cheered when he was announced in goal by PA announcer Joe Tolleson. The same fans who chanted, “Ig-or, Ig-or,” earlier cheered Lundqvist and chanted “Hen-rik, Hen-rik!” I understood why. I think the cult of Lundswiss knows this is it for him. I’ll credit Sean McCaffrey for that funny nickname. Those are the Lundqvist or die loyalists. He came up with a hilarious moniker for them. You can’t debate these people. That’s all I’ll say.

To his credit, Lundqvist was sharp making a excellent save to deny Jack Hughes on a breakaway. The rookie tried to beat him five-hole. But this time, Lundqvist closed it up. There was no Swiss cheese this time for Hughes to aim for on his deke and backhand try. He made a few other good saves. He only faced five shots due to the Devils sitting back. But he was sharp unlike last week.

With the Devils very disciplined in the neutral zone and their end, the Rangers couldn’t muster much at five-on-five. Even with Quinn mixing up his line combos, nothing worked. New Jersey was that good and the Rangers that bad. What can you do? It totally sucked and a lot of other bleeping words. You get the idea. Even Jon concluded that they looked like they were going through the motions. When he can see it, that’s bad. He’s the eternal optimist. He was furious. I was more disappointed than anything because I saw it coming. Don’t ask me why.

The Devils play so much harder for Nasreddine than they ever did for John Hynes, who might get the Predators in the playoffs. That doesn’t mean much. They needed a coaching change and to rid themselves of overrated star Taylor Hall. Buyer beware.

Past the halfway point, I wanted our team to get a goal just to make it interesting. They obliged when Buchnevich fed Smith for a shot that Greg McKegg tipped in for his fifth with 6:18 left in regulation. It was a very good play by Buchnevich to get Smith the shot and superb work from McKegg, who was the one Blueshirt who didn’t embarrass himself. He deserves credit for how well he’s played since Kreider went down. On a forgettable night, the Keg Man wound up with a goal and assist for a plus-two in 8:13. He was the only bright spot.

Even in a game he scored in to end a scoring drought, Chytil was minus-two which means his line was victimized for three goals. That’s horrible. The third line has been an unmitigated disaster. It doesn’t matter if Kaapo Kakko plays on it or not. They stink defensively. The defense I already killed in this harsh assessment of a post. I’m angry. Between Daylight savings and the stupid plastic and paper bag shenanigans that inconveniences paying customers, I’m in a great mood.

Thankfully, this post is coming to an end. Quinn did go for the early pull of Lundqvist with three minutes to go down two. It didn’t result in much. The decision making wasn’t good enough. Lousy puck management and coverage usually results in ugly losses. This sure applied.

The Rangers run has been a lot of fun because it was so unexpected. Kinda like the Mets last year before they flamed out. I’m not throwing in the towel. But the schedule is murder. They’re really going to have to turn it up to stay in it. Even with Columbus losing and the Panthers winning, it won’t matter unless they play a whole lot better. Can they? Sure. This was the low point.

Following Zajac scoring his second into a vacated net to make it 6-3, DeAngelo had a shot go off Connor Carrick and in past Blackwood at 19:17 from McKegg and Brett Howden. It was his 15th goal. Too little, too late.

When you come out flat like they did, you get what you deserve. Now, it’s onto Dallas. Make or break road trip with the Pens on deck following it.

Battle Of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Damon Severson, Devils (2 🍎, +2 in 21:24)

2nd 🌟 Travis Zajac, Devils (2 goals including a power play goal plus empty netter for Devil lifer)

1st 🌟 Kyle Palmieri, Devils (2 goals for numbers 24 & 25, the Devils best player set the tone)

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Shesterkin to start for Rangers versus Blackwood and Devils, Islanders lose to Hurricanes on controversial rule

They confirmed it earlier. Well, David Quinn did when he named Igor Shesterkin tonight’s starter for the Rangers when they host the Devils at the top of the hour.

Opposing him will be Devils rookie Mackenzie Blackwood. It’s definitely a good goalie match-up between first-year netminders. Blackwood leads all rookies in wins (21), games started (41) and games played (45). The 23-year old had a six-game winning streak snapped in an overtime loss at the Kings on Feb. 29. He also dropped his last start at Vegas.

Blackwood will face the Rangers for the fourth time this season. He’s 1-2-0 with a 3.88 GAA and .872 save percentage. However, he’s been much better as I noted above. So, it should be an intriguing match-up versus Shesterkin, who only comes in 9-1-0 with a 2.23 GAA and. 940 save percentage. His last start came 14 days ago in a nerve racking 3-2 comeback win over the Sharks on Feb. 22. He made 44 saves to steal the game.

Shesterkin has an NHL record four wins in his first 10 starts of 40 saves or more. The key tonight is will he show any rust. You hope not. Considering how big a game it is with the Hurricanes benefiting from a controversial uphold of a Vincent Trocheck overtime power play goal following what looked like a high stick by Andrei Svechnikov to stun the Islanders 3-2 in overtime, the Rangers trail both the Islanders and Blue Jackets by three points for the wildcard. They’re also a point behind the Canes, who are up to 77 points due to their strange win.

Here was the reason for why the NHL upheld Trocheck’s goal which was on a rebound following the odd Svechnikov high stick at shoulder height off the crossbar:

In regards to the explanation, this is a new rule they put in place this season. It’s still confusing. I thought it was no goal and felt the Isles got jobbed.

As you can tell, there are differing opinions. Who the heck knows what’s a goal and what isn’t anymore? They did rule it a good goal on the ice. Islander replays on MSG showed Svechnikov’s stick above crossbar height. But if it’s not directly put in by the player if it’d at shoulder length, apparently the rebound is allowed if a teammate puts it in.

It’s puzzling. It seems that the league makes up rules as they go along. The Islanders got one point to tie the Jackets in the standings. Columbus is at Edmonton later.

In regards to tonight’s game with a very tough road trip coming with stops in Dallas, Colorado and Arizona, I’m nervous. This is a classic trap game. The Devils have been playing spoiler for a while. The Rangers better not take it lightly and they had better tighten up defensively unlike Thursday night when Mika Zibanejad bailed them out.

I’m headed over to Jon to watch this one. I’ll have a full review later.

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Rangers face improved Devils in another big game, Shesterkin could return, DeAngelo talks with Zibanejad and trolls fans

It’s without a doubt a big Saturday for the Rangers. Entering play two points out of the second wildcard that the Islanders are clinging onto, they know any misstep now could prove costly. That’s why the Devils visiting The Garden tonight is dangerous.

Not in the conventional sense. But with the close Hudson rival having improved under interim coach Alain Nasredinne, they’re no longer a pushover. So, if the Rangers take them lightly, it’s at their own risk. The Devils are fresh off a 4-2 home win over the Western leading Blues, who just went into MSG and beat the Blueshirts 3-1 to sweep the season series.

New Jersey has nothing to lose. Playing spoiler, they’ve quietly turned their season around. Even without Taylor Hall, whose new team the Coyotes are in danger of missing the playoffs, The Devils play hard for Nasreddine. They’re getting excellent goaltending from rookie Mackenzie Blackwood, who leads all first-year netminders in wins (21) while putting up respectable numbers that include three shutouts with a 2.71 GAA and .916 save percentage on not the best roster. He will be in net later.

Will it be Igor Shesterkin for the Blueshirts? Having already taken full part in team practice with no restrictions despite the rib fracture suffered in a car accident less than two weeks ago, the 24-year old Russian could be ready to go tonight. If he is, it’s the best case scenario for the Rangers with Alex Georgiev tailing off the past three starts. Despite having his worst game of the year, he was bailed out by the remarkable five goal game from Mika Zibanejad on Thursday night. A performance so good that it should merit first star of the week honors.

Tony DeAngelo got in on the fun by interviewing Mika yesterday on reviewing the instant reaction of clueless fans when he was acquired from Ottawa for Derick Brassard. This segment is priceless! Between DeAngelo’s humor and Zibanejad’s calm reaction to the hate and his smile, it’s one of the best productions the Rangers have given us.

If it is Shesterkin, it’ll be interesting to see if he can stay sharp after missing two weeks. He’s won nine of his first ten starts while putting up NHL records. No rookie had ever started this well and had four 40-plus save games that they won. It’s very impressive. Especially the poise with which he plays with. He’s the real deal. If he is back, you hope they’re not rushing him. Long-term is more important than short term even in a playoff race.

On your usual hectic Saturday, you have the Islanders hosting the Hurricanes at 1 PM. A game that’ll draw considerable interest from our fans. Who do you pull for? Carolina of course. Even if they have one fewer point than the Rangers, you don’t want the Islanders getting any points. They have 78 with a game at hand. So in spite of being winless in five (0-2-3), they’ve managed to pick up three points. You don’t want a three point game.

Carolina has more games left, but still have the unstable goalie situation. Petr Mrazek is getting closer to returning. The Canes can score goals, but aren’t as explosive since the loss of defenseman Dougie Hamilton. I’ve seen some of our fans point out that they haven’t won since Brady Skjei was traded there. It’s a bit unfair to blame the former Ranger for their goalie issues. David Ayres is looking better by the day.

Other games of interest include the Canadiens at the Panthers, the Caps at the Pens and the Flyers putting their eight-game win streak on the line against the Sabres. By virtue of one more win in regulation and overtime (ROW), Washington still leads the division. Both the Caps and Flyers each have 87 points while the Pens have 84. The Blue Jackets don’t play until 10 PM with a visit to red hot Edmonton. They’re locked into the first wildcard with 79 points, but only 14 games remaining.

The Panthers are still in play for both the wildcard and third place in their division due to the Leafs losing 2-1 at the Ducks. They also lost to the Sharks. Yikes. Toronto still leads the Cats by five points with 79. They only have 13 left. Florida has 74 points and 15 left. So, I guess you root for Montreal. They have 71.

There’s been a lot of overreacting to David Quinn deciding to flip Kaapo Kakko and Julien Gauthier. When the game begins after 7 PM, it’ll be Gauthier on the third line with Filip Chytil and Brett Howden. Kakko will start on the fourth line with Greg McKegg and Brendan Lemieux.

This isn’t a big deal. Kakko wasn’t good defensively the other day on for three goals against. Even though he had an assist on the Zibanejad power play goal for his fourth of the night, Kakko wasn’t good. He got moved down in the third period actually. That’s why when I see a few of our fans outraged by the change, it’s obvious they’re not paying attention. I was at the game and picked up on it. These people are either spending too much time on their phones or following biased blogs that overemphasize analytics.

We have to keep in mind that Kakko is 19. It’s his first year. While his offense has picked up (maybe not production wise), he still is inconsistent on the backcheck. You can’t have that at this crucial time of year. Especially in the playoff race. Who ever would’ve believed they would be here two months ago? Even following the All-Star break, in seemed far fetched to think they could make a run. Here they are with 15 games left only two points out with the first tiebreaker of regulation wins (30) in their favor.

No Chris Kreider again. But we know that. Quinn is right about this group. They’re resilient and have plenty of character. Even if it started badly with consecutive losses to the Flyers, they played the Blues toe to toe only to lose in crushing fashion. Then won a wild game over the Ovechkin Caps 6-5 in extras due to Zibanejad’s theatrics. I’ll never forget it. Nobody who was there will.

The lines for the start will only have the one tweak.

NYR Lines

Phil Di Giuseppe-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich

Artemi Panarin-Ryan Strome-Jesper Fast

Brett Howden-Filip Chytil-Julien Gauthier

Brendan Lemieux-Greg McKegg-Kaapo Kakko

Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox

Marc Staal-Tony DeAngelo

Brendan Smith-Jacob Trouba

Igor Shesterkin

Alex Georgiev or Henrik Lundqvist

I don’t know that yet. Nobody does. Usually, it’s Lundqvist who backs up. But what if Shesterkin does start and has to come out? Who would you rather have in relief? I don’t like asking these questions because I don’t want to jinx it. But it has to be considered.

I would imagine the power play units will look like:

Panarin-Strome-Buchnevich

Zibanejad-DeAngelo

Lemieux-Chytil-Kakko

Trouba-Fox

If you’re wondering what the Devils still have, Kyle Palmieri is the top scorer with 23 goals and 43 points. He usually plays with Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. But last game, they actually tried Miles Wood on the left side and had Hughes on a different line. Nikita Gusev quietly has 42 points (12-30-42). He’s normally on the third line due to defensive deficiency. He’s a good power play threat due to his playmaking.

Jesper Bratt has 16 goals and 16 helpers. He is similar in style to Carl Hagelin. A speedster with good two-way capability, the Swede works hard and can create opportunities due to that quick transition. Hischier has 34 points in 56 games. It’s another disappointing year for the former first overall pick with injuries and roster subtractions hurting his production. At some point, he needs to stay healthy and fulfill his potential. A solid two-way center, he’s capable of becoming a 60 point player who can play all situations.

Pavel Zacha shows flashes of what made him a high draft pick. But his lack of finish is hard to fathom. The 23 assists are fine, but eight goals including three on the power play and two shorthanded means he isn’t getting it done at five-on-five.

Keep an eye on Joey Anderson. A tenacious worker who captained Team USA at the WJC a couple of years ago, he could become a gritty third liner due to his work ethic. He’s 4-2-6 in 16 games.

Travis Zajac is still around. While it’s been a tough season with the checking pivot only coming in with 23 points, he’s a hardworking two-way center who kills penalties well and can win big face-offs. You know what he is. At this point, he’s Mr. Devil replacing former captain Andy Greene, who’s now with the Islanders.

Damon Severson is the best offensive defenseman they have this season. He’s always good at jumping into the play. He has a good shot and nice offensive instincts. His eight goals and 29 points pace all Devils defensemen. That includes three on the power play. Defensively, he is bad. I’m not just talking about the minus-22 rating either. He can be beat in transition and in front of the net.

In his first year as a Devil, it’s been anything but successful for PK Subban. Seven goals and nine assists for 16 points with a minus-17 in 66 games isn’t what was expected. While he has come around lately, Subban is going to have be much better if he’s still part of it next season.

Not long ago, Will Butcher once put up 44 points (5-39-44) in his rookie season in ’17-18 to help get them to the playoffs. That included 23 power play points (3-20-23). Now 25 in Year Three, 20 of his 21 points have come at even strength. What is he? His role has changed. Maybe Hasan can shed some light on why. UPDATE: From Hasan’s preview, Butcher had thumb surgery. So, we won’t be seeing him until next season. That’s how out of the loop I am on the Devils blueline. My bad.

Believe it or not, Fredrik Claesson is part of the Devils blueline playing alongside Connor Carrick. Recently recalled, he had an assist on a Carrick goal against St. Louis. Dakota Mermis recorded his first NHL goal the other day. I know nothing about him.

This is who the Devils are. Yet they’re winning games due to good goaltending from Blackwood and even Cory Schneider. They are more scrappy.

Final thought:

Jack Hughes 7-14-21 -24

Kaapo Kakko 8-13-21 -26

So much for great expectations. Get the book.

Posted in Devils, Game Preview, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Devils-Rangers…for pride and more

At the Prudential Center last night for the depleted Devils’ shocking win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues, I was texting a friend about the game and at one point he said, ‘they better play like this tomorrow’.  My interest in this season is such that it didn’t immediately register who we were playing tomorrow.  In fact I didn’t know at all, but his tone clued me in.  Looking at the schedule for confirmation, I found out my inference was correct.

Yep…we’re playing the Rangers.

While I’m not following the Devils on a day-in and day-out basis these days, I’m still paying enough attention to the sport in general to know the Rangers have been surging toward a near-miracle playoff berth.  Nobody expected them to make the postseason this year, least of all Derek, but I figured their days of rebuilding were over once John Davidson took over and brought in Artemi Panarin in a big splash move that harkened back to Ranger offseasons of yore.

Unlike most of their previous July 1 big splashes though, Panarin’s been worth every dime this year as his transcendent season (93 points in 66 games) has him in contention for the Hart and the Rangers on the brink of a playoff berth just two points behind a suddenly sagging Islanders team.  Perhaps the Rangers’ second most important player – at least lately – has been rookie goalie Igor Shesterkin, who’s given them a Sean Burke in 1988-like spark, going 9-1 in his ten starts before a recent car accident shelved him.  Fortunately for them, it looks like the rookie goalie will be back just in time for tonight’s all-important game, and a showdown with fellow rookie Mackenzie Blackwood.

Tangibly the Devils have little left to play for this season, but interim coach Alain Nasreddine has gotten more than expected out of a largely motley crew of dissapointments, castoffs and AHL lifers that still remain in the wreckage of our season-ruining October and November.  Nasreddine’s gone 18-15-8 in exactly a half-season worth of games, and that’s almost entirely been after the Taylor Hall trade, and lately without Sami Vatanen (injury/trade), Andy Greene (trade) and Blake Coleman (trade).  Who even knows who the GM’s going to be after April, let alone the coach?  Still, Nasreddine is making a case for not just having this job but for getting an opportunity elsewhere even if the Devils don’t hire him full-time.

You need only to look at last night’s game to see how unlikely the Devils’ surge has been.  In goal was Cory Schneider, demoted to the AHL for two straight seasons and speculated as a buyout candidate this offseason despite two years at $6 million remaining on his deal.  Even in junktime I wasn’t expecting much from Cory at this point, but since returning from Binghamton he’s 3-0-1 in his four starts, all strong games including a shutout at Anaheim and the first star last night in the Devils’ first win against the Blues in six years(!!!).  Scoring our second and third goals were defensemen Dakota Mermis and Connor Carrick – who, what?  Mermis has mostly been an AHL lifer and cast off from the Coyotes while Carrick has been a journeyman fringe defenseman who seems to have found a home here for the time being, signed through next year.

Without the traded Vatanen and Greene, or the injured Will Butcher (lost for the season after thumb surgery), the Devils’ defensive group last night included the likes of Mermis and Mirco Mueller playing 20+ minutes, our journeyman third pairing of Carrick and the recently acquired Frederik Claesson playing their fourteen plus minutes, and career middle-pairing D Damon Severson logging prime #1 defenseman icetime (25+ minutes).  Somehow it all worked against the defending champs, who unlike last year’s desperation winter surge to the postseason are just looking to fine-tune down the stretch this time, and get the Central Division title with the #1 seed out West for the playoffs.

Up front, our main guns have been struggling lately but Jesper Bratt’s sick first period goal and Joey Anderson’s empty-netter helped pick up the slack, not to mention every person on the D AND Cory all registering at least a point.  Whether it’s young players like Bratt and Anderson who the organization wants to develop, or role players looking to earn jobs for next year such as John Hayden and Kevin Rooney – who lost what would have been a sweet goal on an incidental contact goal overturn, and potentially another on a quick whistle in the third period – most of the current lineup at least is playing as if they need to prove something, which almost invariably they do.  You don’t crash out of the playoffs by December if you have a lot of sure things on your roster.

To that end, playing against teams like the Rangers fighting for a playoff spot in potential spoiler games can help both the player’s development and management in evaluating them.  Coach Nasreddine even said as much when giving his reasoning for playing Cory at home last night, and Blackwood at the Garden tonight in a big showdown game.

It’s not often fans get geeked up to play spoiler, unless it’s against a rival like the Rangers.  Make no mistake though, the Devils will have an impact on the East playoff race one way or another with no fewer than seven of their final fifteen games against the Rangers, Islanders, Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and Panthers (including two apiece against the Islanders and Hurricanes).  So far this season the Devils haven’t spoiled much other than their own season since October, losing their two most recent games against the Rangers in blowout losses.  And for an additional kernel of motivation, the Devils can amazingly enough get back to NHL .500 with a win tonight, however much that means considering our 12 OT/SO losses (27-28-12).

I’ll probably have the game on which is more than I can say for most of our remaining games, but how long I keep it on will probably depend on our start.  If this is going to be an actual back-and-forth playoff game as you might expect in a big rivalry showdown, then I’ll probably stay into it – especially after last night’s surprisingly fun game.  If it’s turning into another walkover for the Rangers, then it’ll be a quick click of the remote.

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Game #67 Mika Zibanejad Night! Becomes third Ranger to ever score five goals in a unbelievable 6-5 overtime win over Caps on Pride Night

Mika Magic: On a special night, Mika Zibanejad became just the third Ranger to score five goals in a game. His overtime winner on a breakaway gave the Blueshirts a huge 6-5 win over the Alex Ovechkin Caps at a wild MSG. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

In all the years attending games, I can’t recall one quite like the one we got last night at MSG. A night that began celebrating Pride for acceptance of others became a one man show at The Garden.

Fittingly, it was Mika Zibanejad Night. The red hot top center made history by becoming only the third Ranger to score five goals in a game. In doing so to win a remarkable game in overtime on his signature move backhand top shelf for an emotional 6-5 win over the Caps, Zibanejad joined Don Murdoch (Oct. 12, 1976) and Mark Pavelich (Feb. 23, 1983) to record five in a game.

It was astonishing. Not only because of how wild and crazy the back and forth game was with the Caps refusing to go away. The significance of his virtuoso performance in a game the Rangers desperately needed made it that much more special. If you didn’t think he was a superstar, now do you believe? Five goal games are rare. For him to do it under these circumstances with the team chasing the Islanders for the playoffs is unbelievable.

Zibanejad became the first player since Patrik Laine to record a five goal game. Over a decade ago, Marian Gaborik did it to the Rangers while playing for the Wild. Yes. He scored his five on Henrik Lundqvist, who was frozen like a pizza on the fifth goal. I’ll never forget it.

Plenty of great players have done it. Wayne Gretzky did it four times. So did Mario Lemieux including a memorable five goal game at the Devils and another memorable one versus the Rangers after returning from Hodgins Disease. Sergei Fedorov, Mats Sundin and Peter Bondra also did it. So did Joe Nieuwendyk. Jari Kurri recorded one and Bryan Trottier did it twice.

Now, you can add Zibanejad’s name to the historic list. He scored goals 34, 35, 36, 37 and 38 to pull within two of 40. The last time a Ranger reached 40 goals is when Jaromir Jagr was on his way to setting a new single season franchise mark with 54 goals in ’05-06. Since Jan. 31, Zibanejad has 20 goals. Over that same span, if you go back one game when he tallied two assists on Jan. 21, he’s 20-14-34 in 20 games. He’s up to 71 points (38-33-71) in 54 games. That’s with missing 13 games. Where would he be had he not missed that time?

What he’s doing is phenomenal. Right now, Zibanejad is one of the hottest scorers in the league. He is proving at age 26 that he’s going to be well worth his next contract. The good part is he’s signed through 2022 at a bargain of $5.35 million AAV. When next year rolls around at this time, the Rangers should be into discussions for an extension for their potential next captain. It’s either Zibanejad or Chris Kreider. At this point, I’m sold on Zibanejad, who says all the right things at his locker win or lose. An easygoing player that’s fun to root for, he gets it. It’s nice to see him fulfilling his potential.

In terms of what transpired at the building by 33rd and 8th Avenue, it didn’t start well. In a battle of Russian goaltenders, Alex Georgiev was called on early to make a couple of big saves. With Pavel Buchnevich off for holding in the offensive zone, the second-year netminder was sharp in denying a point blank opportunity late in the penalty kill. A bit later, he made a gigantic stop on Richard Panik to deny him on a breakaway. He came out and challenged before shutting it down to cheers.

For as good as those early saves were, the first goal he allowed was bad. On a simple Washington forecheck, former Blueshirt Carl Hagelin came out and used Marc Staal as a screen to sneak a tricky wrist short short side for a 1-0 lead at 7:05. It was a smart play by a heady player. Georgiev didn’t cover the short side and got beat. Nick Jensen and Ilya Kovalchuk got assists.

Trailing by one, the Rangers got a reprieve when Kaapo Kakko drew a tripping minor on Nic Dowd. Following the top unit methodically moving the puck around, Tony DeAngelo finally got the puck over for an Artemi Panarin low shot that Zibanejad redirected in at 9:01 for the tying power play goal. It was a great tip in by him to start off his big night.

The team would get another chance on the power play a few minutes later when Dowd again took a bad penalty for a hold on Staal. This time, they wouldn’t capitalize. Despite good puck movement from the in sync top unit with Pavel Buchnevich replacing the injured Chris Kreider, the game remained tied headed to the second.

Prior to the period, we saw the legendary Kenny Albert twice. He warmly greeted us and joked about the one and only Fuzzy, who’s still with us in spirit. He definitely loved Fuzzy, who’s best known for being on the Oh Baby video of the 1993-94 New York Rangers. Kenny is a class act. I’m so glad he represents our team and this city. Ditto for Sam Rosen. Both their calls were phenomenal on Zibanejad’s fifth goal.

In what amounted to a crazy second, the teams combined for four goals and 29 shots. It was wide open with little defense played. The Rangers would retake the lead at 5:29 when Adam Fox set up the second of the game for Zibanejad. On a strong shift from the first line, Phil Di Giuseppe made a good play in the neutral zone to get the puck to Buchnevich. After he gained the Washington zone, they went to work to draw a delayed penalty. Moving the struggling Caps defense side to side, Fox whistled a superb cross ice feed to Zibanejad from a unique angle where he absolutely rocketed a one-timer by Samsonov for his 35th. It was a remarkable shot that foreshadowed his big night.

After both clubs failed to convert on the power play, the Caps new line featuring Ilya Kovalchuk, Panik and Lars Eller connected. They badly victimized the Rangers third line. You could feel it coming. An Eller pass across for a Kovalchuk one-timer beat Georgiev high to the short side to tie the game at two with 7:59 remaining.

It was a rocket from the Russian who once was top dog prior to Ovechkin. Kovalchuk has 10 goals this season while playing for three teams (Kings, Canadiens, Capitals). The once certain Hall of Famer has 443 career NHL goals and 433 assists for 876 points over 924 games. Had he not gone home to play in the KHL, it would be different for the 36-year old veteran. It was his choice to waste whatever was left of his prime by ditching the Devils.

With the game knotted at two, the period became even crazier. The Blueshirts once again had a dominant offensive shift to reclaim the lead for a second time. On sustained pressure with Staal involved, he got the puck to Panarin. Drawing defenders, he made a perfect pass across for an easy finish from a pinching DeAngelo, who got his 14th at 14:42. He’s very good at reading and reacting. When on the ice with Panarin and Zibanejad, he’s lethal. It would be a harbinger of things to come.

But before anyone could get comfortable in their seats, the Caps got it right back 16 seconds later. A Panik pass for a Michal Kempny one-timer went high short side again on Georgiev. The goal was later changed to Garnet Hathaway, who got a piece of it for his ninth to tie the score just 16 seconds later.

It was again the third line that got victimized. In particular, Kaapo Kakko had a rough night defensively. He was on for three goals against and eventually found himself on the fourth line in the third with Julien Gauthier replacing him in the top nine. It had to be done. Kakko didn’t let it affect his game.

By this point of the game that already had six total goals, both goalies were shaky. Georgiev clearly was fighting it while counterpart Samsonov was having similar issues. A harmless Fox floater late in the period he fumbled out of his glove before covering it up for a face-off. Georgiev made sure to squeeze a long shot and secure it for a similar draw. It was the battle of the Russian Enigmas.

The issue at that point was the Caps were doing more forechecking and getting shots through with traffic in front. Their superior depth gave them an edge despite playing for the second time in two nights. If the Rangers wanted to win this one, they had to take a similar approach against Samsonov.

Before I could even look up after getting into my seat in the last row of our section, Zibanejad had scored 12 seconds into the third to complete the hat trick. Stunned, I wondered how he could’ve scored that quickly. A giveaway from Evgeny Kuznetsov resulted in a turnover right to Buchnevich, who set up Zibanejad for his third goal of the night. Hats flew everywhere onto the ice along with the flashy rainbow colored Pride towels they handed out and even wigs.

This was insane. It reminded me of when Ivan and me attended Dwight Gooden’s no hitter in 1996. They gave away socks. When the final out was recorded, we all tossed the socks onto the field in celebration. Of course, Joe Tolleson got on the PA system to ask fans not to throw the rainbow towels down. It was comical. They rarely have giveaways probably for this reason. As for me, I’ll gladly giveaway my Pride Night towel to someone who wants it. Yes. I took a picture. It’ll be included in this recap. I also got some funny video of the fan of the game. A cool Garden employee celebrating Zibanejad Night.

At 4-3 up, I knew what to expect. They made matching calls on Brett Howden and Jonas Siegenthaler. It was much ado about nothing. A waste if you ask me. At this juncture, it felt like the Rangers backed off. I told my Dad the Caps were tying it. He disagreed. Sometimes, I can just tell. The same way I called the mind numbing Oliver Bjorkstrand winner in a crushing loss late in regulation, sure enough Ovechkin finally did something.

On some good pressure during the four-on-four, John Carlson got the puck to Kovalchuk, who made a nice pass across for Ovechkin in his office. It was easy pickings as he ripped one of those patented wrist shots by Georgiev high glove for his 46th of the season at 9:22. The goal came less than a minute after my prediction. You cannot sit back against a team with their talent. The Rangers got burned.

With the game now 4-4, the Rangers went back to work right away nearly untying the score again. Buchnevich created a chance. They forced Samsonov to make some difficult saves. The Caps completely lost discipline. They took three straight penalties to hand the Blueshirts three consecutive power plays.

First, Eller roughed up Brendan Smith during a scrum that drew the ice of the crowd. It sure looked like the refs missed a boarding penalty. That’s what caused all the commotion. Eller wound up with the only penalty. The Rangers had two great chances to go ahead. Zibanejad setup Buchnevich for a one-timer that Samsonov kicked out with a toe save. His best of the game. On the same man-advantage, Panarin went to Zibanejad for a wide open shot that just missed. Had it hit the net, it was in. Never a bad thing to go to the hot hand.

There was also another great opportunity for Zibanejad off a centering feed, but his rocket shot went over the top. He sure was feeling it. He’s been in a zone since January. The amount of goals he’s scoring and the points he’s racking up make him a threat everytime he’s out for a shift. He’s dangerous. If he didn’t miss those 13 games, he could be in the Hart conversation with teammate Panarin. At this point, I’d be shocked if Leon Draisaitl doesn’t win. He’s got 110 points. Edmonton looks like they’re going back to the playoffs.

Right after Eller left the box, Carlson took a dangerous penalty by cross-checking Brendan Lemieux right in the face. We all know Lemieux is a royal pain in the ass. He’s been frustrating me with his penchant for dumb penalties. However, he also draws a lot due to his agitating nature. The Carlson cheap shot looked deliberate. He was lucky to only receive two minutes. I feel the league should’ve reviewed it. I doubt they did.

On another power play with the game still hanging in the balance, the Rangers couldn’t get the go-ahead goal. Instead, a more aggressive Washington penalty kill attacked and forced turnovers for easy clears and even a shaky play from Georgiev, whose play with the puck has become scary. It’s Henrik Lundqvist bad. A total adventure. That’s clearly a confidence issue. He’s had several misplays recently. They have to work with him on it and doing a better job tracking pucks on the short side.

Astonishingly with Carlson two seconds away from returning, they nabbed Eller for a high stick on Jacob Trouba, who sold it by going down easily. I thought it was a weak call. Especially given the power plays they already had. The Caps bench didn’t like it.

Once it was a five-on-four, the Rangers weren’t getting much done. However, a quick counter which really was a two on two saw Kakko do the right thing by taking the shot from the left circle. Initially, Samsonov made the save but it rebounded strangely with the puck taking a Ranger bounce off the back boards right to Zibanejad, who easily slammed it home for goal number four to make it 5-4 with still 1:42 left in regulation.

Despite our section and the fans going nuts, I didn’t know what would happen next. I think I kinda knew the Caps would tie it. It was that kind of game. There was too much time left. Sure enough, they pulled Samsonov for the extra attacker and gained the blueline with ease. That is an issue. Then, they began forechecking and firing away. Again, there was a opportunity to clear the zone. Only the Rangers couldn’t. Another sore spot.

Eventually, Kovalchuk passed up top for a Carlson shot that Georgiev couldn’t control, allowing a bad rebound right to Ovechkin, who buried it home for his NHL tying 47th with just over 43 ticks left in regulation. He’s amazing. He did nothing for two periods, but came to life and got the Caps even twice. 705 goals and counting. I think he’ll chase down Gretzky.

The game would go to overtime. It was fitting. This was as exciting a regular season game as I can remember. I’ve never seen a game where two teams went back and forth like this. There have been other great games like Gretzky’s last and Messier’s final one in which he scored. There was the classic goalie duel between Lundqvist and Brodeur where they each got shutouts with both making a ton of great saves. But never anything quite like last night. This was special.

A special game deserved a special ending. When David Quinn sent Zibanejad, Panarin and DeAngelo over the boards for the opening shift of the three-on-three overtime, I stood up behind our row and said get the puck to Mika. I felt if he got a clean look, he’d win it. On a smart DeAngelo recovery in the Caps zone and pass back to Panarin in the neutral zone, I saw the play developing before it happened.

Zibanejad was open for a perfect lead pass from Panarin that caught Tom Wilson. He powered through as Wilson tailed him. Once he broke in and went to his signature forehand deke, I knew it was Game Over. He is automatic on that backhand and hit nothing but twine top shelf to win an exhilarating game 33 seconds into extras for his fifth goal of the night. It touched off a celebration on the ice and in the stands where I jumped up along with other pumped up fans. This doesn’t happen in a regular season game. It felt like the playoffs.

It was a rare moment that was special. Everyone who went knew what they witnessed was terrific. A truly magnificent and memorable Garden moment. Mika Zibanejad became the third Ranger to record five goals in a game to join Murdoch and Pavelich. And he did it in clutch fashion by winning the all important game in OT to pull the team within two points of the Islanders, who somehow lost 4-3 at Ottawa.

This was as clutch a performance as you can ask for in their situation. It would’ve been crushing to lose after Ovechkin tied it back up for the fifth time. The same way it would’ve had the Islanders beat our team last week in overtime after rallying from two down in the final six minutes at the Coliseum. Who won that one? Zibanejad on a rocket from Panarin. Same common denominator. I don’t think you can ask for more than what we got last night.

I was too out of it to finish this game review last night. But it deserved this kind of attention. It was a great game to be at. I feel lucky. I don’t attend as many games as my family. So, to be there for that was awesome. Celebrating as if it was Game Six versus Montreal in 2014. Or Game Five against these Caps in 2015 when staring at elimination. Or the dramatic Brad Richards tying goal and Staal power play winner in sudden death in 2012. Or Marty St. Louis scoring that emotional first goal on Mother’s Day versus the Pens. Or Derek Stepan beating the Caps in Game Seven. A game my family attended. I went nuts at home.

There are 15 games left. It’ll be tough. The Devils are next up tomorrow. They’ve been playing well of late. It won’t be easy. The Rangers had better be ready to play. They need it with what’s coming up. There’s a road trip that includes visits to Colorado, Dallas and Arizona. All hard games. But as Zibanejad noted after his big night, they’re all going to be tough now.

I don’t know when Igor Shesterkin will be ready to come back and start. But if he’s the goalie and there’s no reason to think he’s not for now, Georgiev must raise his level. The last two games haven’t been good enough. He knows it. They will need better play from him to get this done. It’s right there for them. Especially with the Isles in free fall and the Hurricanes on the ropes following another loss to the sizzling Flyers.

This is the most exciting Rangers team since the Jagr years. They’re the underdog who’s not supposed to be in this position. Two points out with the first tiebreaker. It’ll be fun no matter what happens. Enjoy the ride.

Battle Of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Artemi Panarin, Rangers (3 assists including the great lead for the Zibanejad 5th goal to win it, it’s not often he’s overshadowed, praised his teammate calling him elite afterwards)

2nd 🌟 Ilya Kovalchuk, Caps (easily could go to Ovechkin, but Kovalchuk was the best Cap recording a goal and 2 🍎 while playing like he used to)

1st 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (a record 5 goals including the dramatic OT winner at 33 seconds to join Don Murdoch and Mark Pavelich as the only NYR to have 5 goal games, utterly brilliant on a night he could’ve had even more)

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Shesterkin getting close as Rangers face a must win versus Caps

Losers of three straight, the Rangers desperately need tonight’s game versus the Caps. With 16 games remaining, they trail the second wildcard Islanders by four points. By virtue of a point in a 3-2 overtime loss at Calgary, the Blue Jackets moved up a spot to the first wildcard last night.

Columbus has 79 points with 14 games left. They’ve lost 11 times in the three-on-three OT. They have only 24 regulation wins. The Islanders have 78 points with 17 left and only 24 regulation wins. They visit Ottawa tonight. A game they should win. The Rangers are at 74 with 30 regulation wins. But unless they can make up ground, that all important first tiebreaker won’t matter.

Both the Panthers and Canadiens are also in action on a busy Thursday night. Florida has 73 points including 28 regulation wins with 16 left. They host the league-leading Bruins in a big game. The Panthers can also still chase down the Maple Leafs for third place in their division. They’re five points behind idle Toronto, who have 15 left. Montreal is up to 71 points and still believes they can sneak in. With 14 left, they only have 19 wins in regulation. They host the Lightning.

Perhaps the forgotten team in this wildcard chase are the Hurricanes. Still without either Petr Mrazek or James Reimer, they’re counting on Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg in net. They’re 0-2-1 so far with truly ugly numbers. Maybe they should put a phone call into the Marlies and Leafs organization regarding the availability of David Ayres. I’m not kidding. The Canes have 75 points with 18 games remaining. If they put it together, they could make it. They are in action visiting the surging Flyers.

Here’s the scenario. A Flyers win of any kind and a Rangers win in regulation over the Caps and suddenly it’s the Alain Vigneault Flyers in first place of the Metro. They’ve reeled off seven in a row including a 5-2 win at Washington last night. The Pens are also playing when they invade Buffalo. They ended their six-game losing streak by blowing out the Senators 7-3 on Tuesday night. They have 82 points with 17 left. That’s three behind the Flyers, four behind Washington and three clear of Columbus.

You got all that? There’s a lot on the line later for the Rangers. They can’t afford to drop another game. It could really hurt in the standings. Especially with the Isles having a favorable match-up and other teams they’re competing against also playing. Win and they’re very much alive with 15 to go. They have the edge in the first tiebreaker.

It’ll be Alex Georgiev making his second straight start and fifth in six with Henrik Lundqvist backing up. He’s looking to rebound from letting in a tough wraparound goal to Brayden Schenn in a heartbreaking 3-1 home loss to the Blues the other day. It wasn’t all on him. The team didn’t score at five-on-five for a second consecutive game. That won’t work. They have to get in gear quickly.

On the encouraging front, Igor Shesterkin took part in the morning skate and has been upgraded to day-to-day. Some very good news for the team. He even spoke a little English while having fun.

It’s hard to believe he could be ready by the weekend. Given the situation, the Blueshirts sure can use him. While it’s hard to pin the last three losses on just goaltending alone due to how poorly they played in the one game Lundqvist got, Shesterkin is a difference maker. My hope is he isn’t rushed back. Don’t take that risk. He’s going to be special.

As far as tonight goes, it’s Georgiev versus Ilya Samsonov. So basically, an all Russian match-up. Even though technically, Georgie is from Bulgaria. He has represented Russia at the World Championships. So, two young netminders looking to spark their teams.

Do we see any changes to the lineup? Does coach David Quinn consider moving up Kaapo Kakko to the first line next to Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich? No disrespect meant to Phil Di Giuseppe, who brings a strong work ethic. But I’d prefer to see Kakko due to how he’s looked recently. He’s due.

I would keep Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast intact. But again, Quinn loves to make in game adjustments. He can mix it up. You can see Panarin with Zibanejad and either Buchnevich or Fast. Maybe even Kakko. But then a lot changes. Filip Chytil can play with Brett Howden and Kakko like they have been, or wind up with Buchnevich or even Brendan Lemieux, who isn’t the same since a broken wrist.

I am in favor of seeing what Julien Gauthier can do in a more expanded role. He has the speed and power forward instincts. But he remains on the fourth line with Greg McKegg and Lemieux, who you can plug anywhere. I wonder how Gauthier would look with Zibanejad.

Defense I can’t see changing much. Tony DeAngelo needs a big game. So does Jacob Trouba. Adam Fox of course has to be involved. I’m curious to see Ryan Lindgren when he comes up against 700 Goal member Alex Ovechkin. They both love to hit. Of course, Ovechkin is like a freight train. Lindgren is like a combo of Mike Sauer and Darius Kasparaitis. Yes. I didn’t feel like making the popular Jeff Beukeboom comparison. Lindgren has that same edge to him as Kasparaitis and most recently and too briefly, Sauer.

So, what’s the key to winning? Keep the Caps off the power play. They have too many weapons that can hurt you. Not just Ovechkin in his office. But T.J.Oshie, who’s been hot of late in that slot area. The always dangerous John Carlson at the point for the one-timer or pass over to the Great Eight. Nicklas Backstrom, who is both playmaker and capable of sniping from the right circle if you give him time. Plus Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has great speed and skill in transition. The pesky Tom Wilson in front where he makes his living.

The Rangers want to play the Caps at five-on-five. Make them work. They played the night before. Generating a forecheck can tire them out. The defense hasn’t been good even after the addition of Brendan Dillon. Panarin should see a lot of him and probably Dmitri Orlov.

Of course, you always have to keep an eye on Jakub Vrana. A dangerous skater who makes his living in transition. He can fly and has great hands. Despite how they’ve played lately, Washington is deep.

It’ll take another full 60-minute effort to win. Stay disciplined. Especially Strome, whose penalties have been killing the Rangers. Reputation or not.

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The crazy world of NYR Twitter

Here is a small sample of the wacky world of NYR Twitter. A place that knows no bounds. Where anything can be Tweeted and get likes, RT’s while drawing crazy attention pro or con.

This was said yesterday at some point during the tough 3-1 Rangers loss to the annoyingly stingy Blues at The Garden.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert here. I only consider myself a passionate Rangers fan blogger who gives unbiased opinions on the hockey team. Some are proven right while others aren’t. From time to time, I’ll give my two cents and make suggestions. Sometimes, David Quinn listens. Other times, he doesn’t.

Unlike other popular NYR blogs that only focus on our team, I try to keep perspective. I’m a bit older than some of the younger crowd known as millenials. I don’t pretend to know it all. I don’t make up rumors for clicks. I stay grounded. I think whether it’s me or Hasan contributing posts on our respective Hudson rival teams, we try to do it the right way. Professionalism counts. Even if we’re not making a penny.

I’ve seen the above person on social media give some good and bad takes on what the Rangers should do. In this case, I think they’re way off base. Vitali Kravtsov isn’t getting recalled from Hartford anytime soon. At 20 in what’s been a rollercoaster of a season, the fact is the former 2018 first round pick has five goals in 35 games for the Wolf Pack. Fourteen points (5-9-14) isn’t enough even if reports indicate Kravtsov is improving. You probably won’t see him until the bitter end. Why burn a year off his ELC?

The key to development is being patient. The Rangers have with Kravtsov and 2019 second overall pick Kaapo Kakko. Though the 19-year old Finnish right wing hasn’t spent a single minute in Hartford when at one point it could’ve benefited him, they’ve stuck with the kid. By continuing to play him mostly on the third line with the chance to learn at five-on-five, he’s been more noticeable lately. I know it’s frustrating that he only has eight goals with 12 assists over his first 62 NHL games. But that was once Leon Draisaitl.

Not everyone comes into the league and takes it by storm like Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, Kane and McDavid. There are your high lottery picks who don’t establish themselves in Year One. Draisaitl had nine points his rookie year for Edmonton. He needed six games in the AHL before figuring it out his second year. Now, he’s part of the Oilers Twins. The dynamic duo of Draisaitl and McDavid are leading the Oilers back to the postseason. That four goal, five point game Draisaitl had should have clinched his first Hart. Sorry to Artemi Panarin, who will hit 100 points, but probably won’t get the Rangers to the big dance.

Kakko will be fine. Even if some manic panic Rangers fans are overreacting to the lack of finish. I’ve noticed more positives in his play since February. He’s even showing improvement defensively despite a team worst minus-23 rating. If he continues to create chances with his line, that’s a good sign. He’s shown more of a willingness to absorb hits and go to the net. Eventually, they’ll start going in.

In regards to the suggestion to break up Panarin, Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast, not at this moment. Filip Chytil has still not proven enough to center the second line. Neither has Kakko even though I’d hoped he would play with the Bread Man. Patience remains the key to good development. Had the organization applied that philosophy with Ryan Graves, maybe they’d be stronger on the left side of the blueline after dumping Brady Skjei to free up necessary space this summer.

As it is, Brendan Smith hasn’t played badly despite being teamed with disappointment Jacob Trouba. Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox remain the best tandem. Lately, Tony DeAngelo has seen a dip in play and Marc Staal has been up and down. The latter was steadier on Tuesday while DeAngelo had an unforced giveaway that led to a Blues power play they connected on. A tacky slash on Strome. The only penalty any Blueshirt took.

I don’t get the suggestion to send down Brett Howden. He’s finally playing good hockey. The secondary depth center has been contributing offense. Whether it be a big goal in a win at the Islanders or a nice assist recently despite the three-game losing streak, the second-year player is finally upping his level. He’s been more noticeable on the forecheck while continuing to do a sound defensive job on the penalty kill. A sore spot lately with the team having a dip that’s coincided with the departure of Skjei to Carolina.

With the team in a playoff race and 16 games still remaining including a huge one against the Caps, who were 5-2 losers to the red hot Flyers, the Rangers only have two recalls left. They aren’t going to be making any changes unless forced to.

GM Jeff Gorton updated the timetable for Chris Kreider, who suffered a fractured foot on a blocked shot against the Flyers. It’s four to six weeks for the key power forward, who they really could’ve used versus the stingy Blues. That rare combination of size, strength and speed along with the net front presence would’ve come in handy the other night. Instead, they’ll continue to try to figure it out without the 24 goalscorer.

With Igor Shesterkin still a couple of weeks away, it’s Alex Georgiev who must deliver in net. He will once again get the nod on Thursday against the Caps. Though he stopped 19 of 21 shots on Tuesday, he would love to have the Brayden Schenn wraparound goal back that banked in off his skate. A bad break at an inopportune time. It’s up to the 24-year old sophomore to keep the team afloat.

Tomorrow night is as much as a must win as possible. Even with teams around them losing, it’s up to the Rangers to start winning games again. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what the Blue Jackets and Islanders do. The Hurricanes have two games at hand with 18 left. They remain without starting goalie Petr Mrazek, who’s expected to be out another week. That means they are still without an NHL goalie.

The race to the finish will continue to be unpredictable. It’s still in the Rangers’ hands to determine their playoff fate. That will mean stepping up in competition and beating good teams such as the Caps, Pens and Flyers down the stretch.

It isn’t time to panic. The postseason was never supposed to be an option. That they’re in the race is exciting for fans and the players, who are getting valuable experience that’ll help them in the long run. Enjoy it for what it’s worth.

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