Game 3: Vigneault at it already benching Chytil, 11 F 7 D vs Habs, Lundqvist vs Price

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Well, it sure didn’t take Alain Vigneault long to sour on number one pick Filip Chytil. Having only played the talented 18-year old center less than 13 total minutes in two games, the stubborn coach will healthy scratch the kid for tonight’s home match against the Canadiens.

Vigneault has decided to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen. So, you can forget about having four balanced lines. He’ll mix and match by shifting J.T. Miller back to center. He was used there in the third period of last night’s 8-5 loss at Toronto.

With the D struggling, Nick Holden gets into his first game. How he’ll be used I have no idea. Both Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Smith struggled mightily Saturday. Each were victimized badly on a couple of goals.

What is the plan regarding the top four? New assistant Lindy Ruff tried Marc Staal with Ryan McDonagh and had Brady Skjei teamed with Kevin Shattenkirk by the second period. Both pairings were successful.

Holden is better suited for a offensive role due to his skating and shot. Staal and Smith must be in defensive roles with the latter needing a dramatic improvement to justify his three-year contract. DeAngelo has the big shot and should continue to see power play time.

As for the lines, figure Mika Zibanejad to stay together with Pavel Buchnevich. Does Chris Kreider stay put or work with Miller? We’ll see. Kevin Hayes now will center the second line. He could theoretically still play with Michael Grabner but with Miller at center, that combo won’t be together.

Who does Rick Nash and Jimmy Vesey play with? Vesey should be higher than the fourth line. He should receive more shifts. Similar to yesterday once Vigneault sat Chytil, who did nothing wrong in nine shifts (4:59). Nothing this coach does makes sense.

After getting chased for five goals in the first period, Henrik Lundqvist gets his third start. It’s a chance to redeem himself. He faces Carey Price who had his own bad start with the red hot Alex Ovechkin sniping four goals in a 6-1 drubbing.

So, it pits two star goalies against each other who both have something to prove.

Montreal also is making two changes. Mark Streit and Ales Hemsky come out. Brandon Davidson and Torrey Mitchell come in.

I’ll bet newest Hab Jonathan Drouin can’t wait to face our defense. He should have a field day. Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty are also keys to the Montreal offense along with pest Brendan Gallagher. No more Alex Radulov. He’s in Dallas. But Drouin should be a tough assignment.

It goes without saying that this is a game the Rangers should win. They need it. Whether or not they’re up to the task remains to be seen.

Shattenkirk and Mika Zibanejad have led an improved power play so far with them combining for four power play goals. That’s what ShattDeuces gives you.

This is the third game in four nights. Full review later.

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UnbeLeafable: Lundqvist chased as defenseless Rangers give up eight in 8-5 loss to Maple Leafs

So much for getting off to a quick start. In Game 2 of 82, the Rangers didn’t show much resistance to start the first period. It resulted in the very dangerous Maple Leafs scoring five goals on Henrik Lundqvist chasing him en route to a 8-5 win in Toronto.

That makes the Rangers two for two so far. In losing their first two games, they’ve allowed 12 goals. At least the home opener was competitive. In Lundqvist’s words, it was embarrassing. They didn’t backcheck and allowed the supremely skilled Leafs to do whatever they wanted.

Following a Dominic Moore deflection for the first goal, J.T. Miller got his first by deflecting home a Chris Kreider shot in front to even the score. Miller was one of the few bright spots notching a goal and assist. But that was only offensively.

The Leafs responded by scoring the next four. It started when Zach Hyman took full advantage of a bad turnover from Tony DeAngelo. He tried a pass that didn’t work landing right on the stick of William Nylander. He quickly got the puck over to Hyman, who tucked it in past a sprawling Lundqvist.

Jake Gardiner then proceeded to skate through Brendan Smith, Mats Zuccarello and Brady Skjei to go short side top for a power play goal increasing to 3-1. Lundqvist completely missed Nikita Zaitsev’s point shot with Smith partially screening him by going for a block. It was still stoppable.

It was pretty obvious that the Rangers couldn’t handle the Leafs’ speed. The crazy part is Auston Matthews didn’t score a goal. That’s how talented they are. He had a primary assist on a back breaking goal later. Thirteen different Leafs hit the scoresheet.

As if Lundqvist’s night couldn’t get any worse, he had his own teammate Michael Grabner put a puck past him to make it 5-1. He went to cover the puck when Grabner accidentally put it in his own net. A goal credited to Hyman.

Before the period let out, Kevin Shattenkirk scored a power play goal to give the team some hope. With 23 seconds remaining, his wrist shot from the right point got past Frederik Andersen thanks to a double screen from Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. Mats Zuccarello and Kreider drew assists.

Trailing 5-2, coach Alain Vigneault gave Lundqvist the rest of the night off. Ondrej Pavelec made his first appearance. To his credit, he was good. The former Winnipeg Jet made some key saves giving his team a chance for a comeback.

They certainly didn’t quit. It might not have been the result they wanted. But the Blueshirts showed a lot of heart rallying from a four goal deficit to tie the score in a dominant second stanza.

Mika Zibanejad stayed hot to start the season by notching his team-leading third goal. All three have come on the power play. Shattenkirk once again set him up for his big shot that found twine. Zuccarello assisted. He had a big night recording a career high four points.

With the defense struggling, new assistant Lindy Ruff changed all three pairs. He shifted Shattenkirk to the second unit with Skjei while surprisingly moving up Marc Staal to pair with Ryan McDonagh. He and Shattenkirk have struggled so far together caught on for too many goals against.

Staal stayed on the left side while the versatile McDonagh switched to the right. Astonishingly, the move worked. Staal played a very good game even factoring in on the next two Ranger goals. Not known for his offense, the proud veteran went to the front of the net on a delayed penalty and redirected a Zuccarello shot pass to cut it to 5-4. He showed some emotion afterwards.

Less than two minutes later, Paul Carey dug out a puck in the corner getting it to Miller. He dished across for a Staal one-timer which Zuccarello got a stick on to beat Andersen at 14:06 to tie the score. The league checked to make sure it wasn’t a high stick. Conclusive replays showed that the crafty Zuccarello got his stick below crossbar height making it a good goal. That gave him his first ever four point NHL game. Fitting for a team leader who finally gets to wear an ‘A.’

The comeback wouldn’t have been possible without a couple of huge stops from a sharp Pavelec. He played well. In relief of Lundqvist, he stopped 21 of 24 shots. Lundqvist allowed five on 17.

The third could’ve gone either way. But controversy impacted the game. Mitch Marner had a puck caught in his uniform as he gained the Rangers blueline. The play continued. Eventually, the Leafs spent a extended shift in the Ranger zone tiring them out. Finally, Marner fed a wide open Tyler Bozak in front for a one-timer past a helpless Pavelec. The entire five man unit got caught standing still including Miller and Shattenkirk, who were the closest.

Vigneault saw something. He went for a offsides challenge to try to negate the goal. Considering the replays showed Marner with a puck in his paraphernalia, it’s hard to conclude that he had clear possession. Joe Micheletti didn’t think so. Neither did my friends as we watched it in my buddy’s house in South River. It really should’ve been reversed. Interestingly, Vigneault agreed with the ruling.

Instead, they held it up giving the Leafs a 6-5 lead. Typical Toronto. Even in a game the Rangers had no business being in, they got screwed. All due to the Toronto bias. Not only did it put the Rangers behind, but due to the new rule on a failed offsides challenge, they were penalized. Exasperating is one way to describe the NHL.

Kevin Hayes made it worse by taking a slashing minor handing Toronto a goal. You can’t give them that many opportunities. Matthews got his one assist when he made a brilliant one touch feed leading Nylander in on Pavelec, who had no chance on a brilliant backhand that caromed off the crossbar right to Leo Komarov which made it a two goal swing. That was it.

Nazem Kadri added another PPG for final bookkeeping. In total, there were nine power plays. The Rangers went 2 for 3 while the Leafs were 3 for 6. So of the 13 total goals, five were scored on the power play.

It would be very easy for me to kill the Rangers for last night. They weren’t ready and didn’t compete. The lack of backchecking was disturbing. So was the defense. In particular, Smith who was caught out for three goals against. He didn’t have a good preseason. I wouldn’t worry. He’s only signed for three years.

They can’t expect Staal to have good games consistently. He was by far their best defenseman. Not good. I think they should keep Shattenkirk with Skjei, who at this point is a better defensive defenseman than McDonagh. Skjei keeps opponents honest. Use McDonagh and Shattenkirk for offensive zone starts.

What will they do against Montreal tonight? Would you really keep Staal with McDonagh? Smith and DeAngelo can be a third pair. So can Staal and DeAngelo, who could be in the press box for Nick Holden.

My only gripe is the lack of confidence Vigneault has in Filip Chytil. He didn’t even play five minutes last night not taking one shift in the third. How is he supposed to learn? It’s on the coach to play the kid more. He’s got unique skill that the team lacks. Before it gets to nine games, let’s see what he can do.

Three NYR Stars:

Marc Staal-goal, assist in 32 shifts-18:51, played well

Ondrej Pavelec-3 GA on 24 shots, made some timely stops unlike Lundqvist to give the team a chance

Mats Zuccarello-career high 4 points-1-3-4 in 27 shifts-17:26, terrific competitor

Honorable Mentions: Paul Carey, Kevin Shattenkirk, J.T. Miller

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Devils win entertaining home opener marred by injuries

In an unusual Saturday afternoon season-opener, the Devils entertained the fans in the present and showed plenty of promise for the future in a wild 4-1 win over the Avalanche where Cory Schneider returned to pre 2016-17 form with a 40-save performance that still only merited a third star as rookies dominated the day for the red and black, earning the first and second stars of the afternoon.  Surprisingly, neither rookie was named Nico.

Even though he didn’t score any points, 18-year old #1 overall Nico Hischier still dazzled offensively and defensively, showing the hockey sense beyond his years that propelled him up to the top of the draft board in June.  Ironically, Hischier was overshadowed to a degree by fellow rookies Jesper Bratt and Will Butcher on this day, with 2016 sixth-round pick Bratt – still just 19 years old himself – scoring his first NHL goal on a beautiful snipe late in the second period that snatched momentum back after an unsettling few minutes (more on that later).  Amazingly enough, Bratt’s already gained enough trust from the staff to play nearly five minutes on the penalty kill in his NHL debut, logging 16:49 of icetime in all situations, finishing with two points and earning the second star on the night.  And Butcher, despite playing barely over twelve minutes still made his presence known, showing the potential to be the best power play QB the Devils have had since Marek Zidlicky.  His three assists earned him the game’s first star against the organization who once drafted him.

Butcher facing the Avs and one-time Devil draft pick Alex Kerfoot going up against us after the offseason each signed with the other organization was one of the interesting side stories headed into this afternoon’s season opener for the Devils.  While Kerfoot did get a point in his first NHL game the other night, Butcher’s three assists tonight one-upped that for a debut performance.  Speaking of debut performances, five other Devils made their team debut with mixed results.  PTO camp invite Jimmy Hayes did well in his first game after signing a one-year deal, scoring the second goal and registering four hits and seven SOG in 13:40 of action.    Unheralded Brian Gibbons played 5:05 shorthanded among his 14:36 of icetime and did a solid job on the PK as did most of the team, killing off all six Av penalties, albeit the Avs’ lone goal came just a second or two after one of those penalties expired late in the second period.  It wasn’t neccesarily the best afternoon for more heralded acquisitions Marcus Johansson or Mirco Mueller but better days should be ahead for both.

Then there was Drew Stafford, who had a solid camp but didn’t make it through his first period of the season before leaving with a lower-body injury.  If rookies were the lead story for the Devils today, injuires were unfortunately 1A.  Even captain Andy Greene had to miss most of the second period due to an unspecified injury, and his absence showed as the Avs had their most dominant stretch of the game during that time.  With Greene in the locker room and Butcher not getting much 5-on-5 time, most of the second period the Devils were just rolling four defensemen and that seemingly caught up with some guys.  Perhaps the most damaging injury however, was to Kyle Palmieri – who took a knee-on-knee hit from Av defenseman Erik Johnson late in the second period.  Surprisingly, Johnson only got two minutes in the box while Palmieri was forced out of the game.  Coach John Hynes had no update on either player, indicating more would be known tomorrow.  Needless to say our already thin RW depth chart can’t afford to lose one or both top six wingers for an extended period of time.

Apart from the injuries, it was an otherwise satisfying afternoon on an unusually warm day for October hockey.  Adam Henrique scored the season’s first goal at 4:04 off a feed from Butcher on the power play.  For most of the first period and a half the Devils dominated on the shot counter and eventually extended their lead with yet another power play goal, when Hayes showed some good hand-eye coordination stuffing in the rebound from a Butcher shot that missed the net, again on the power play.  However when the Avs morphed into the Flyers started gooning it up without two of our more physical players in the lineup (Miles Wood and Dalton Prout) the team had no answer for it.  Johnson’s hit on Palmieri was the nadir of what was a chippy ten-fifteen minutes that briefly turned the tide after Carl Soderberg scored to make it 2-1 and Palmieri’s injury gave the Devils a costly power play.

Thankfully the team was able to at least make the Avs pay on the scoreboard one more time, with a Taylor Hall feed finding a wide open Bratt, who sniped it past Johnathan Bernier shortside for a huge goal in the final thirty seconds of the period, restoring the Devils’ two-goal lead.  In the third period the Devils looked for the kill but Bernier held the tide off with a pair of unbelievable saves on Hall and Damon Severson, the latter who was robbed with a diving post-to-post midair save that barely missed going over the line.  A critical double-minor penalty on Johansson proved to be the pivotal point in the game, just not in the way I feared as the penalty happened.  Somehow wave after wave of penalty killers – including the thirty seconds on a delayed penalty before the puck was finally touched – did the job keeping the Avs off the board.  Guys like Gibbons, Blake Coleman and kids like Bratt, Hischier and Pavel Zacha all contributed to the team’s enormous special teams advantage.

Not only did they kill off all six penalties and score on three of four power plays, they also administered the coup de grace to the Avs shorthanded with six minutes left thanks to John Moore, who has a habit of scoring big goals.  For one night at least, the Devils could feel good that their work in training camp and at the draft table over the past few summers is starting to show some tangible results.

 

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NHL Preview and Predictions

Nick Bonino, Kris Letang, Carl Hagelin, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby

Pittsburgh Penguins’ Nick Bonino, facing camera at top, is mobbed by teammates after scoring against the Washington Capitals during overtime of Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals, Tuesday, May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh. The Penguins won 4-3 to advance to the next round. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The new season has already gotten going. Due to my taxing schedule along with a hockey draft, I’ve been unable to put up a preview with predictions. Here’s a quick outlook on a new year.

The Pens are trying to three peat. It hasn’t happened since the great Islanders dynasty when they won their third of four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-82. The Oilers dynasty nearly won three in a row but for a Steve Smith own goal that prevented them from having the chance in ’86. They would win the next two totaling four Cups with Gretzky. Messier led them to number five in ’90.

In ’91 and ’92, the Lemieux/Jagr Pens repeated. Astonishingly, the 45-year old legendary Jagr will play what could be his final NHL season after signing in Calgary. What can one of the all-time greats add to a good Flames roster that’ll again compete with Edmonton, who are led by rating Art Ross and Hart winner Conn Smythe?  It’s like old times.

Once, Number 68 looked like he’d be a Pittsburgh Penguin for life. He even was team captain when he led them to a first round upset of the Devils on one leg. Then Mario returned for one more crack in ’00-01 helping Jagr capture the scoring title. A talented roster that reached the Conference Final before falling to defending champ New Jersey.

Here we are all this time later end it’s again the Pens featuring the game’s best player. Sidney Crosby is a three-time Cup champion and two-time Conn Smythe winner having won everything in a illustrious career including Olympic gold, the Hart, Art Ross and the Rocket Richard. He’s already in that category of elite at 30. Like Lemieux, he’s had a super sidekick in Evgeni Malkin to help win three Cups.

It’s still insane that a Canadian bias exists that omitted Malkin from last year’s top 100. The skillful Russian has done it all like his more popular Canadian teammate. Even with his own injuries similar to Crosby, he’s way over a point-per-game for his career with the three Cups, a Conn Smythe, league MVP and Art Ross. If he ever stayed healthy for a full 82, he could get back to the century mark.

Can the Pens three-peat? It’s Matt Murray’s team. He’s already won in his first two years and can reach elite status. Without Marc-Andre Fleury (44 saves in Las Vegas’ first ever win Friday), there is more pressure. Antti Niemi backs up. He was already chased in a lopsided 10-1 humiliation at Chicago. The Pens are off to a poor start having allowed 15 goals in a overtime loss on banner night and the forgettable game against the Blackhawks last night. Will all the games played and miles catch up? Kris Letang can help if he stays healthy on the back end.

The Lightning could pose the biggest threat. A healthy Steven Stamkos returns along with Ryan Callahan. They also added former Pens hero Chris Kunitz. A four-time Cup winner who knows what it takes to win. Dan Girardi still looks odd in a Bolts jersey. Young 19-year old Mikhail Sergachev made the roster. Acquired from Montreal for Jonathan Drouin, he’s expected to bolster the Tampa blueline which features Norris candidate Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman. Nikita Kucherov could be in line for a MVP season. He nearly carried the Lightning to the playoffs last season. Tyler Johnson and Ondre Palat make them dangerous. It falls on Andrei Vasilevskiy to assume the mantle in net. If he can, watch out.

Columbus should be a handful with Artemi Panarin added to a core of Alex Wennberg, Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski lead the blueline. Sergei Bobrovsky is the last line of defense. The rating Vezina winner is a difference maker. Keep a eye on former 2016 first round pick Pierre-Luc Dubois, who already scored in his NHL debut. A 5-0 shutout of the Islanders.

Toronto is expected to be even better. Auston Matthews could hit 50 goals in Year 2. William Nylander and Mitch Marner should improve. Toronto added Patrick Marleau, who even at his advanced age can still motor notching two goals in his Leaf debut. There’s also James van Riemsedyk, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov and Nazem Kadri. Honestly, the Leafs’ scoring depth is scary. A defense led by Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner remains a question. Nikita Zaitsev is solid but basically swapping Matt Hunwick for Ron Hainsey makes no sense. At least top goalie Frederik Andersen knows what to expect in Year 2.

Do the Caps have anything left following another second round flop? Alex Ovechkin already recorded a hat trick in a win. He must score more with Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams gone. Nick Backstrom and Evgeni Kuznetsov form a dynamic center duo. Washington is counting on Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana (2 assists) to pick it up. T.J. Oshie stayed. He will be a huge player. I’m not liking the blueline. John Carlson will produce offense but at what cost? Matt Niskanen is their best overall. Dmitry Orlov the most underrated. After that, it hinges on unproven guys like Taylor Chorney and Christian Djoos. What does Brooks Orpik have left? Braden Holtby is one of the game’s best goalies. But he’ll be under siege.

Which one of the Hurricanes, Devils or Flyers will become a wildcard contender. The short money is on the candy Canes as long as Scott Darling solves their goaltending issue with Cam Ward backing up. Jeff Skinner and Sebastian Aho will torch opposing goalies. Williams is back to where his Mr. Game 7 status really began. Martin Necas is a new face to watch. Teuvo Teravainen and Elias Lindholm must perform more consistently. Justin Faulk and Jacob Slavin lead a mobile defense that could make strides with Noah Hanifin in Year 3.

What to make of the Islander situation? They’re leaving Brooklyn after this year. A failed experiment that was never gonna work. It’s Belmont or they’re gone. It would be a death knell on Gary Bettman’s watch if the Islanders are forced to leave. John Tavares remains without a contract past this year. He doesn’t want to have open discussions now. With so much uncertainty surrounding the franchise, will he go to July 1 and leave? How much will Eberle help? Anders Lee is a legit 30-goal man who could Post even bigger numbers. Is this the year Brock Nelson breaks out? With Thomas Greiss allowing five on Friday and Jaro Halak likely in against the Sabres for the home opener tonight, can they coexist? What are the Islanders? A playoff team or a team that remains incomplete with their captain possibly gone.

Out west, the Oilers are expected to be strong contenders to make it through. McDavid is only getting better. Already with an Opening Night hat trick, he’s a locomotive. After reaching 100 points in Year 2, he could be in line for a 40-goal, 120 point campaign. The speed at which he does things is amazing. Sidekick Leon Draisaitl makes the Oilers a similar problem that Crosby and Malkin do out east. Cam Talbot could win the Vezina. Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroon provide the beef. How will former Islander Ryan Strome fit in? He was acquired for Jordan Eberle. Is the defense good enough? Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson and Darnell Nurse lead it.

They’ll face strong challenges with Stanley Cup runner up Nashville remaining a big favorite as long as Pekka Rinne holds up. Juuse Saros was first off for tonight. Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson lead a talented group up front with potential breakout candidate Kevin Fiala fully recovered from a horrific leg injury that ended his postseason. The blueline remains the best in hockey led by Roman Josi and P.K. Subban. Mattias Ekholm and ex-Hab Alexei Emelin will be crucial until Ryan Ellis gets back in January.

Anaheim should again challenge. They fell short against Nashville, who prevailed in a good Conference Final even after Johansen went down. Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler lead the way at center. Corey Perry will look for a bounce back. Richard Rakell could hit the 40-goal mark. Jakob Silfverberg remains underrated. Cam Fowler leads a balanced back end that includes Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm along with up and comers Josh Manson and Brandon Montour. John Gibson could become one of the game’s best netminders by year’s end. Ryan Miller backs up.

Many expect the Stars to improve along with Winnipeg. Both can score in bunches but their wide open styles could be a detriment due to questionable defenses. Dallas added Marc Methot via a trade with expansion club Las Vegas. He can help a D corps that features offensive minded John Klingberg. Alex Radulov is a good fit up front with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza. It hinges on Ben Bishop.

The Jets can score with anyone. Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and uh lethal finisher Patrik Laine will be a nightmare for opponents. Bryan Little and newly re-signed Nikolaj Ehlers can fly. Looming from the point is Dustin Byfuglien. Jacob Trouba is their best defenseman. He is tough one on one and can leave a mark. Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers form the top four. Goaltending depends largely on Steve Mason. A streaky netminder who can be inconsistent. Connor Hellebuyck is the understudy. Don’t be surprised if he pushed Mason.

The Blues and Wild remain good teams who are being overlooked. The Wild boast one of the game’s best goalies in Devan Dubnyk along with Ryan Suter anchoring a solid D which includes Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba. Scoring is by committee with Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle leading the way. How much does a broken down Zach Parise have left to give?

St. Louis has electrifying Vladimir Tarasenko along with Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz and ex-Flyer Brayden Schenn. Injuries to Steen and unlucky Robby Fabbri (done for season) have led to some not even picking a good team for the playoffs. Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko headline the D. Jay Bouwmeester starts on IR. Jake Allen regained his form after some work with legend Martin Brodeur. He remains a goalie who’s capable of bigger goals.

San Jose and Los Angeles are on the way down with aging rosters. They’ll need their goalies to perform. Both Martin Jones and Jonathan Quick are excellent. But there are question marks surrounding each team.

Keep an eye on Arizona. They should be exciting with young rookies Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome. Derek Stepan centers Keller and Max Domi. A line which could become a hallmark. Christian Dvorak is in Year 2. So is Lawson Crouse. Anthony Duclair needs a good year. Niklas Hjalmarsson was added to the D with Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Jason Demers was also acquired. He and Alex Goligoski form the top four. How will Antti Raanta do as a starter? He missed the first game. They blew a 4-1 lead with Louis Domingue in. Raanta has his big chance.

There are many good rookies to watch. Keller and Strome from Arizona. Devils first overall pick Nico Hischier, who looks ready for the show. Charlie McAvoy is a headliner on the Boston back end to watch. Mathew Barzal could have a impact with the Islanders. Where does Alex DeBrincat fit on Chicago? Second overall pick Nolan Patrick is centering the Flyers’ second line. Hopefully, he stays on the ice.

Even the Rangers are looking at first round pick Filip Chytil. A talented Czech who is the youngest player in the league. He will get at least nine games to prove himself. Hopefully more minutes than the home opener.

Now it’s time for some division rankings and predictions.

METRO DIVISION

+1.Blue Jackets

*2.Penguins

*3.Capitals

*4.Rangers

5.Hurricanes

6.Islanders

7.Devils

8.Flyers

ATLANTIC DIVISION

+1.Lightning

*2.Maple Leafs

*3.Bruins

*4.Senators

5.Canadiens

6.Panthers

7.Sabres

8.Red Wings

CENTRAL DIVISION

+1.Predators

*2.Blackhawks

*3.Blues

*4.Wild

*5.Stars

6.Jets

7.Avalanche

PACIFIC DIVISION

+1.Oilers

*2.Ducks

*3.Flames

4.Kings

5.Sharks

6.Coyotes

7.Golden Knights

8.Canucks

EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS

First Round

M1 Blue Jackets over WC1 Rangers

M2 Penguins over M3 Capitals

A1 Lightning over WC Senators

A2 Maple Leafs over A3 Bruins

Second Round

M2 Penguins over M1 Blue Jackets

A1 Lightning over A2 Maple Leafs

Conference Final

A1 Lightning over M2 Penguins

WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS

First Round

C1 Predators over WC1 Stars

C3 Blues over C2 Blackhawks

P1 Oilers over WC2 Wild

P2 Ducks over P3 Flames

Second Round

C1 Predators over C3 Blues

P1 Oilers over P2 Ducks

Conference Final

C1 Predators over P1 Oilers

STANLEY CUP FINAL

A1 Lightning over C1 Predators

 

NHL FUN PREDICTIONS

Hart-Nikita Kucherov

Art Ross-Connor McDavid

Conn Smythe-Victor Hedman

Norris-Victor Hedman

Vezina-Cam Talbot

Selke-Nick Backstrom

Calder-Clayton Keller

Lady Byng-Jaromir Jagr

Rocket Richard-Patrick Laine

Jack Adams-Rick Tocchet

First Coach Fired-Paul Maurice

Most Goals-Laine 60

McDavid Points 45-80-125

Matthews 51 goals 42 assists

Breakout Player-Anthony Rantha

Best FA Signing-Stars Alex Radulov

Best Rookie Signing-Devils Will Butcher

Best Trade-CBJ/CHI-Panarin/Saad

 

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Rangers Preview: New look roster faces challenges

Henrik Lundqvist

The waiting is over. Let the 2017-18 season begin. It already did for some teams Wednesday night. A new season got going at MSG for the Rangers who hosted the Avalanche Thursday.

It’ll be Year 5 for coach Alain Vigneault. He’s lasted the original five year contract he signed back in 2013 replacing John Tortorella. Over that time, he’s guided the club to a Stanley Cup Final, two Conference Finals and four postseasons. In fact, they’ll look to extend their consecutive playoff streak to nine.

That’s if everything goes according to plan. Gone ar former core pieces Dan Girardi and Derek Stepan. The Blueshirts are counting on a select number of younger players retained along with key addition Kevin Shattenkirk to replace them. Shattenkirk will be a big factor on the blueline and power play.

GM Jeff Gorton also added Tony DeAngelo in a trade that sent Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Coyotes which also netted seventh overall pick Lias Andersson. Despite a solid preseason, management decided he was better off being loaned back to HV71 Jonkoping in Sweden to help further his development.

However, 21st overall selection Filip Chytil made the roster as a 18-year old. A gifted Czech pivot who will start on the second line with Rick Nash and new alternate captain Mats Zuccarello, the still growing Chytil will get the chance to prove he belongs. If he is worthy, the Rangers could keep him past the nine-game minimum and let his first year of a entry level deal kick in. So, there’s palpable excitement.

Along with camp surprise Paul Carey and Andrew Desjardins, the Rangers will have a different look. David Desharnais gets the opportunity to replace Oscar Lindberg, who was lost in expansion to the Golden Knights.

Henrik Lundqvist remains the most important player. Coming off his worst statistical year, the proud 35-year old veteran has something to prove. With capable backup Raanta gone, look for Lundqvist to shoulder the load. He’ll be asked to play more than last year. As the Swedish King goes, so do the Rangers.

Let’s delve further into this year’s roster which will eventually include versatile checking forward Jesper Fast. He’s not expected back until the end of the month.

FORWARDS: It’ll be up to Mika Zibanejad  (2 goals in opener) and Kevin Hayes to lead the way. They’re the top two centers with old reliable Stepan in Arizona. Zibanejad got out quickly with a pair of power play goals in a 4-2 home loss to Colorado. The chemistry between him, Chris Kreider and key second year Russian Pavel Buchnevich is still there. Buchnevich will try to stay healthy and improve while Kreider is being counted on to lead the team in goals. Hayes is anchoring J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner. A cohesive trio that can do damage in transition.

It’ll be interesting to see if Chytil sticks. He’ll need more trust from Vigneault, who didn’t play him enough in the first game. Zuccarello is like an extra captain. A tremendous playmaker who always sticks his nose in, he plays much larger and is wiling to win the battles. Nash has gone to the net a lot. It’s a contract year for the injury prone power forward. He still possesses the wheels and skills to make things happen.

Until Jesper Fast returns around Halloween, Desharnais will start with Jimmy Vesey and either Carey or Desjardins. The former Hab center still has good speed and skill. But he was used on the second power play over Chytil in a special team’s game. Once Fast is back, that’ll strengthen that line. Vesey shouldn’t be on the fourth line. It says here he’ll earn a promotion into the top nine and be a key contributor.

DEFENSE-Obviously, Shattenkirk is home to help the back end. A terrific power play quarterback, he already paid dividends with a no look pass for a Zibanejad rocket. His skating should fit in well with the speed and transition game Vigneault emphasizes. He is being paid to make it work with McDonagh as a top pair. Their first game was forgettable with each victimized on Avalanche goals. They’ll need to be more defensively responsible. Much hinges on the top pair.

Brady Skjei is in line for a big second year. A smooth skater who can contribute offensively while throwing his weight around, he beefed up while working out with McDonagh in the summer. At the moment, he isn’t being used on the power play. Rather the penalty kill where he’ll no doubt have a bigger defensive role on the second pair with Brendan Smith. Smith isn’t shy about the rough stuff. So, they should be tough to play against. We’ll see how Skjei fares against better match ups. He was sheltered in his rookie year.

Marc Staal remains despite all the wear and tear. His minutes will be managed now that he’s on the third pair. Right now, he is with DeAngelo, who showed a willingness to mix it up in a good camp. DeAngelo is the younger and faster skater with a big shot. He’s been focused on playing better in his end. If that happens and his offense comes, the Rangers could have another young D with lots of upside. It remains to be seen what the plan is for Nick Holden. In his last year with a very affordable contract , he could be moved. Especially if Neal Pionk and Ryan Graves continue their progression.

GOALIE-It starts and ends with Lundqvist. He must bounce back from the most disappointing season of a brilliant career. The franchise all-time leader in games, wins, shutouts and minutes played knows there’s more pressure. No one knows what to expect from Ondrej Pavelec. He won’t match what Raanta did. That means Lundqvist has to perform at the level he demonstrated before. If he can’t, the playoffs become a uncertainty.

COACH-Vigneault is in Year 5 having signed an extension. He gets results. But some of his personnel decisions remain puzzling. The pressure is mounting with veteran coach Lindy Ruff taking over the defense as a assistant. Scott Arniel remains as does Benoit Allaire.

Prediction: The playoffs aren’t guaranteed in a tough division. But there are still enough quality players to make the cut. Pencil them in for a wildcard.

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Brian the Buffalo Psychic! Sabres blogger accurately calls the Eichel extension

Jack Eichel

Occasionally, we bloggers get something right. Even if we’re joking. Earlier this morning, loyal Buffalo fan Brian said that Jack Eichel signed a contract extension worth an average of $10 million over eight years.

When he said it in our friendly and sarcastic Facebook chat, I played along figuring it was another joke by the master. Who can blame Brian for taking a gallows humor approach? He roots for the Sabres and Bills. So far, so good.

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Keep in mind this was in the morning before 10 Pacific. Brian lives in Southern California. So, I didn’t know how to react. Of course, he had been saying Eichel will leave and reference the Bettman conspiracy which favored Toronto and Edmonton over Buffalo in recent drafts involving Eichel/Connor McDavid and current Leaf super soph Auston Matthews. 😱

So imagine hours later, I get a call from a stunned Brian, who reveals that the proposed deal he proclaimed actually turned out to be true. I had no clue since I wasn’t on Twitter. Instead, preparing for a wild and crazy Yankees/Twins wildcard game. I’ll probably be in bed by the time this ends. I got my second subbing assignment tomorrow.

The words were all too real. “I can’t believe it. Eichel signed for what I said,” while noting that he had no prior knowledge. “Jeremy Roenick just tweeted it. He’s staying.”

In what’s been a emotional year for my best friend’s family, I couldn’t be happier for him. He deserves it. So do the loyal and passionate Sabres fans. It may as well include the Bills with them being a surprising 3-1 leading the AFC East with Hasan’s Jets 2-2 in a tie with the bumbling Patriots.

Eichel is entering his final year of a entry level contract. With McDavid getting paid, the pressure was on Buffalo to get it done. Now that they have, it’s time to focus on a new season with a fully healthy 20-year old franchise center ready to assume the mantle and lead them back to relevancy.

The former 2015 second overall pick out of Boston University missed 21 games in Year 2 due to a ankle sprain sustained in practice prior to the start of ’16-17. He still managed a career high 57 points going 24-33-57 over 61 contests. Basically, a point-per-game clip despite the time off from a tough injury.

They’ll look to improve upon a 78-point season that ranked last in the Atlantic Division. In a competitive division that’ll feature the healthier Lightning along with the Leafs, Canadiens, Senators and improved Panthers and Bruins, it will be challenging.

Can Eichel lead Buffalo into playoff contention? He should have help from a recovered Kyle Okposo along with key additions Benoit Pouliot and returning Buffalo playoff hero Jason Pominville. Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella have been added to a blueline anchored by Rasmus Ristolainen. Jake McCabe and Zach Bogosian will be key factors.

Much still depends on number one goalie Robin Lehner, who while talented has been inconsistent and injury prone. They’ll need him to be better than 23 wins in 59 games. Chad Johnson is a capable experienced backup who can be counted on to fill in.

With a new GM and new coach in former Nashville assistant Phil Housley comes a new system. It should be interesting to see how quickly the Sabres adjust.

If they surprise, Captain Jack will lead the way. Now, Western New York can breathe easier knowing their franchise player is locked up. A great day for Buffalo. An even better one for my forever best buddy Brian. 😀

 

 

 

 

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Devils end successful preseason with optomism

Clearly everyone knows that every game this month has been meaningless in terms of the 82-game marathon about to start in October and a lot of times preseason records are misleading.  Yet with this Devils team, there’s cause for real optomism after a 5-1-1 preseason (with the only regulation loss a Devils B team going up against the Isles A team in a split squad game).  In preseason, it’s not about results in terms of wins and losses but more in terms of who’s doing well…in this case results were indiciative of many younger players stepping forward and showing they’re ready for the big-time.  For a Devils organization coming off a last-place finish, five straight years out of the playoffs and having the de facto #1 center get hurt in offseason training, these seven games provided a welcome dose of sunshine.

If anything about the results did stand out from the team percpective, it’s the increased goalscoring and the fact four of the five wins were no-contest games.  Two 4-1 wins over Washington, at 4-1 win at Montreal and the 8-1 win over Ottawa during the Kraft Hockeyville game that could have opened some eyes – from people that actually got to watch it.  Because of the inane blackout enforcement rules, most Devil fans couldn’t watch that game though – due to the split-squad game with our B team at Barclays Center also being televised the same night.  Another NHLN preseason telecast got blacked out during the preseason too, not that I was dying to watch all the preseason games (especially after going to the first one on Monday where top overall pick Nico Hischier scored that sick goal which set the tone for the preseason), but really why are we bothering with blackout technicalities for preseason games?!

Pretty much the odd telecast rules were the only thing about the preseason worth even an ounce of angst though.  No major injuries occured – though 2016 first rounder Michael McLeod got injured late in camp he seems to have avoided anything catastrophic, and will likely start the season back at juniors anyway after other players have stepped up in camp more than he did.  He’s still 19 and has plenty of time though…but for guys like sixth-rounder Jesper Bratt that doesn’t seem to apply.  Bratt’s also 19, selected in the same draft and unheralded until camp this year where he broke out in a big way with two goals and three assists in four games, with a strong 200-foot game reflected in his +6.  Other youngsters have staked their claim for jobs and expanded roles in the forward core as well – 2015 first-rounder Pavel Zacha (5 points and +1 in 4 GP)  has shown he looks to be on the verge of a breakout in his second NHL season, earning a top six slot with a strong camp.  2014 first-rounder John Quenneville came on late in camp but might still start the season in the AHL.  Even talented pest Joseph Blandisi showed he could take a step forward and push for a consistent top nine role this year.

Yet overshadowing all of them is Nico, both in terms of pedigree and in terms of play during camp.  If the other guys opened eyes, Hischier made jaws drop to the floor during the preseason, starting with that memorable goal against the Caps.  His point totals (seven points in 4 GP, including four goals) don’t even do him justice, it’s the hockey sense he showed that proved early on to the coaching staff that this kid at least deserved an opportunity to start the season in the top six as an 18-year old.

How he’ll react to an 82-game professional season is a natural part of growth, but you see the talent, desire and brains to be a star and that’s something this franchise could desperately use on and off the ice.

Amazingly it wasn’t just the forwards that looked improved this preseason.  Both major defensive additions in Mirco Mueller (traded from Sharks) and Will Butcher (signed as a college FA) had positive camps and even Blue Jackets castoff Dalton Prout showed plenty of improvement, recognizing the changes he needed to make to stick as an NHL player and earning a look in what’s suddenly a crowded room for defensive hopefuls.

Although clearly the Devils still have questions in their top six, competition can only help in the long run.

It isn’t just the kids that look energized in camp either – new addition Marcus Johansson seems to be fitting right in so far with six points in four exhibition games, cheap castoff signing Drew Stafford’s tied for the team lead in goals and points with Nico and earned a top six spot on the right side himself, while holdover Kyle Palmieri is playing with a chip on his shoulder after comments earlier in the preseason how the Devils had become soft and easy to play against:

A main player on the team showing overt honesty, combined with the other changes that were designed to get younger and add grit + speed this offseason is so far looking good.  Granted, am I going to sit here October 5 and moan and groan if we lose our season/home opener to the worst team in 2016-17 (Colorado), of all teams?  Sure.  While this team’s proven it’s ready for the regular season now they have to take that next step and show they can take a step or two forward in the regular season.  This division’s still going to be a tough nut to crack, especially in the head-to-head games.  And clearly the fans don’t believe yet with thousands of tickets still available for next Saturday afternoon’s home opener.

Speaking of the opener being a week away, I really don’t get the ten day layoff between the last preseason game on Wednesday and the opener next Saturday.  This is an NFL-like delay between the end of exhibition games and the start of the regular season.  I hope this team will be able to keep the edge they showed preseason during what amounts to a bye week plus.  Only having gone to the Prudential Center once during preseason for the very first game I’m anxious to get back there, especially once the giant new scoreboard is finished.  While the 2 PM start is weird, at least I don’t have to eat at the arena and can get home in time for dinner, although it’ll be a late dinner if the preseason whistle-happy refs show up for the regular season!

Although I was admittedly a bit blase about hockey returning when camp opened given recent results and the fact this looked like a rebuilding year, the Devils’ strong performance in camp coupled with my other sports teams being a dumpster fire along with all the nonsense going on outside of sports (and bleeding its way into sports) has upped my anticipation for October 4.  Not to mention a new fantasy league I’m in where I was able to select every single Devil prospect of consequence for my farm – aside from Butcher – and drafted a strong team around them.  I’m also in another fantasy hockey draft tomorrow night, my long-time league where I finally got back over the hump to win a title last year.  Maybe I’ll do my own fantasy post next week during the long interim for the heck of it although the actual season does start Wednesday.

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Preseason: Islanders tip Sabres 3-1, Barzal looks good, NHL should start sooner

The Islanders have quietly gone about their business this preseason. In their second to last tuneup, they went to Buffalo and defeated the Sabres 3-1.

They have yet to lose in regulation improving to 5-0-2. The odd question is why play so many games in exhibition.  Their eighth and final game comes Oct. 1 against the Flyers. It is a lot to play when there’s still a full 82-game slate.

To be honest, I feel that preseason is too long. It’s dragged out. The Rangers wrapped up the other night. Other teams are still playing. What for? To risk injuries to key players. That is why I’m on record as suggesting they should cut the preseason. It shouldn’t last more than six games.

With the NBA caving to their spoiled superstars by moving the season up and having no four games over five days, why can’t the the NHL have that kind of forward thinking? Instead, they’re busy adding more rules that confuse players, coaches and fans. It’s high time the league considers starting sooner. Maybe that would reduce so many back-to-backs and three in four days.

Theres no reason the playoffs can’t start earlier. The NHL is its own worst enemy going against the NBA. If they ended in late May around Memorial Day weekend, it would be better. But that’ll never happen under the current regime.

As for the game, it was a snooze fest. Aside from the four goals, it seemed like it was in slow motion. At least the parts I caught between the Hurricanes beating Duke. I was more locked in on that. Even though there were stretches where that was boring.

Mathew Barzal has been a bright spot for the Islanders. He does things at a very high level. The former 2015 first round pick taken sixth overall is ready. Only 20, he is that center who can support John Tavares. A blazing fast skater with tremendous vision and hockey instincts, he deserves to center the center the second line.

It’s where Islanders coach Doug Weight has him. Barzal rewarded him by setting up all three goals. He assisted on linemates’ Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle’s markers. He also got the primary helper on Nikolay Kulemin’s empty netter.

He’s performed well throughout camp. With just two NHL games of experience last season, that shouldn’t be a problem for ’17-18. Even with a roster that includes Brock Nelson, Lee, Eberle, Josh Bailey and Andrew Ladd to go with Tavares, Barzal belongs. At the very least, he’s in the top nine getting power play time.

If he works out, you could be looking at a 50-point rookie who could contend for the Calder. He has the skill set. His talent should improve a offense that at times was non-existent under former coach Jack Capuano. They were much better under Weight. Weight knows a thing or two about offense having been a similar playmaking pivot throughout a superb NHL career.

After the Isles and Sabres traded goals with Lee and Sam Reinhart sniping, Barzal and Lee combined to set up a beauty from Eberle. The ex-Oiler acquired by GM Garth Snow during the summer for Ryan Strome, scored on a nice backhand upstairs. He has that kinda skill. Perhaps a fresh start is exactly what Eberle needs after getting run out of Edmonton following a disappointing postseason. It was their first in a decade and he got abused by Western Canada. The media can be a nightmare.

A combo of Lee, Barzal and Eberle could do damage. That would mean Tavares starts with Ladd and Nelson. A solid top six which would leave a potential third line of Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier and Joshua Ho-Sang. The fourth line likely could be a combination of Casey Cizikas, Nikolay Kulemin, Jason Chimera with Cal Clutterbuck, Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier, Alan Quine and Shane Prince competing for two spots.

Jaro Halak looks like he’ll retain the starter job over Thomas Greiss.

The Isles still have 18 forwards and eight defensemen in camp. The blueline competition is between Scott Mayfield, Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. The starters should likely be Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Calvin de Haan, Dennis Seidenberg, Thomas Hickey with Mayfield ahead of Pulock and Pelech.

With still 28 players left, the Islanders must cut five to get down to 23 by next week. There should be some hard decisions.

If Barzal sticks and Ho-Sang produces, the Isles should improve offensively. It’s wait and see.

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Rangers down to 25: Chytil in line to debut, Andersson to Frolunda, DeAngelo in, Carey over Lettieri?

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Chytil Time? It could be Filip Chytil’s time to shine on Broadway in one week where the exciting 18-year old Czech could make his Rangers NHL debut at MSG. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy nydailynews.com

Eight days away from the home opener against the Avalanche, the Rangers cut down from 32 to 25 players. A day after sending Brandon Halverson and Gabriel Fontaine down to Hartford, they made some more moves.

That included loaning first round pick Lias Andersson to Frolunda in Sweden. The 18-year old center selected seventh overall in the recent 2017 NHL Draft showed he is close to being ready. But it was a numbers game for a young player who can improve offensively to go with his smart two-way defensive game. Hardly a surprise.

There was one surprise with the team opting to keep Andrew Desjardins for now. He’s still on a PTO remaining unsigned. Paul Carey impressed the coaching staff enough to stay. Due in large part to waivers, the 29-year old is still with the club while they designated my favorite new player Vinny Lettieri.

Tony “Don’t Call Me Anthony” DeAngelo looks to have solidified a spot on the blueline. He sure played well defensively even though his offense suffered. Let’s hope the talented kid from New Jersey rediscovers that scoring touch. Steven Kampfer also remains giving the club eight D.

What does it mean for Nick Holden? You have to think Mr. Serious, Jeff Gorton is working the phones. Holden has a cap friendly deal with a hit of $1.65 million in his final year. Not this kind of hit:

He’s coming off a good season in which he produced career bests in goals (11), assists (23) and points (34) with a plus-13 rating over 80 contests while going 2-2-4 in the playoffs. At 30, the left shot skating D who plays the right side should have some value. We’ll see if he stays or goes.

In the mean time, Neal Pionk and Ryan Graves were optioned to Hartford. No surprise. Also not making the cut is Boo Nieves. What does that mean?

It looks like the other first round pick Filip Chytil is going to make the team as an 18-year old. There’s no denying his skill set. The young Czech can do things offensively most Rangers can’t. He’s got a higher skill level than our other centers.

At the very least, he’s earned the opportunity to play the minimum nine games to see if he’s ready. The good news is under the current CBA, if he plays only nine games the first year of the ELC doesn’t expire. Oh btw. How’s this for confidence in the kid?!?!

Imagine Chytil starts on Opening Night between Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello on the second line while Kevin Hayes stays between cohesive linemates Michael Grabner and J.T. Miller on the third line! That’s a Dream case scenario for everyone. Chytil makes things happen due to the size, speed and unique skills he possesses. There’s a Jagr-like quality about him. I’m not comparing them. I’ve noticed how the puck sticks to Chytil’s stick like a magnet and he knows how to play instinctively. It’s exciting.

If this is what they’re thinking, then David Desharnais slides down to center the fourth line with Jimmy Vesey and Carey, who beat out Matt Puempel. He was placed on waivers at noon.

The extras are injured forward Jesper Fast (now 17 due to Jean Ratelle jersey retirement) and Desjardins. Prospect Steven Fogarty remains too even though injury has prevented him from taking part in camp.

Regarding the practice lines, it’s also interesting to note that they have Marc Staal working with DeAngelo, who had a better camp than Holden. He’s on the extra pair with Kampfer. That says plenty about what they think of DeAngelo.

If the projected lines for today are in fact the lineup for October 5, color me excited. Hell. I’m pumped!

 

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Preseason Games 5-6: A split with Flyers, Lettieri on roster? DeAngelo 7th D? Gorton on Andersson/Chytil

The final two preseason games have come and gone. In a home and home series with the Flyers that saw each team win in overtime, what did we learn?

Vinny Lettieri is pretty poised to make the roster. The 22-year old former Golden Golpher who used a nine game AHL experience with the Wolf Pack definitely delivered on his promise to come in and win a spot.

Despite being a little undersized going 5-10, 182 pounds, he uses the frame he has along with tremendous speed to make things happen on the forecheck. He didn’t just do a good job skating and protecting the puck. He made plays by scoring a power play goal and making a great touch pass to a open David Desharnais for a PPG in another showing.

There’s plenty to like about Lettieri, who also hopefully gets to keep that cool number 95 jersey. It makes sense to stick him on the roster with him being a crafty, aggressive right shot who isn’t gun shy like the rest. A perfect fit on a checking line replacing still recovering PK ace Jesper Fast. That versatility should make him a fan favorite.

Assuming he made it, that leaves GM Jeff Gorton and coach Alain Vigneault with a tough decision. Do they go with 14 forwards or eight defensemen? Based on the options they have with Neal Pionk, Ryan Graves and Steven Kampfer, it looks like they’ll go with seven D and 14 F. The other two spots are starter Henrik Lundqvist and backup goalie Ondrej Pavelec.

Let’s say for argument sake they decide Boo Nieves can fill the fourth line center slot that was vacated by Oscar Lindberg. With the club seeming to like Desharnais, who was very good in exhibition, as a third pivot with potential linemates Michael Grabner and Jimmy Vesey, that would leave one opening.

Based on a interview Gorton did with MSG’s Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti, it looks like he’s leaning towards sending first round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil back to Europe due to development. At the least, they could decide to see what either can do in nine games. Andersson is already a good two-way player who Vigneault used in a checking and PK role. Already over 200 pounds, the soon to be 19-year old Swede who the team acquired with the seventh overall pick as part of the Derek Stepan/Antti Raanta deal that also netted DeAngelo, has an NHL body. But there might not be adequate room.

Of course, I would prefer to watch Andersson and the supremely skilled Chytil, who looks like a potential steal after going number 21. But realistically, neither would get the ideal ice-time that would be best for their development. At the very least, these kids showed what they are capable of which should excite the fans and organization. Something the very serious Gorton alluded to. Hint: he didn’t smile or flinch once with Sam or Joe.

With a week until the season opener at MSG next Thursday, Oct. 5, the Rangers will trim the roster further. There’s still 32 players. So, nine must go. They designated Brandon Halverson and Gabriel Fontaine, who showed some good speed and energy for a 20-year old first year pro. I think he’ll make a nice third liner.

The breakdown is 20 forwards and 10 defensemen. One surprise has been Paul Carey. A 29-year old with NHL experience. He has impressed Vigneault with his battle level and put himself in position scoring a goal the other night on a nice Vesey pass. He’s probably still a long shot to make it.

Andrew Desjardins will be released from his PTO. He was suspended for the final two preseason games due to his match penalty on Miles Wood. It might’ve been overkill with Wood not keeping his head up. But Desjardins never got going.

Bobby Farnham certainly made some noise with his usual edgy play. He’s a gamer who brings that physical element. It won’t be enough but maybe he goes down to Hartford and becomes a mid season call up when necessary.

Steven Fogarty is listed but didn’t play. I’m not sure why. Matt Puempel was not overly impressive even though he got into a couple of scraps. He could be a waiver candidate.

On D, Marc Staal struggled. He just can’t skate fluidly and has lost balance due to the injuries. He can still penalty kill but I really wonder what the plan is. It’s a sad reminder for the veteran who like former teammate Dan Girardi, has given his heart and soul. He’s not an everyday player.

DeAngelo was actually better defensively showing a physical edge even dropping the gloves. He’s never been known for his defense but really emphasize a two-way game. Something he relayed to Amanda “Gorgeous” Borges prior to Tuesday night:

He deserves to be in the rotation. He did look for more shots but wasn’t able to convert. As far as Pionk, there’s a lot to like. He’s a superb skater and another right shot who thinks offense. But I was pleased with his battle level getting out of his end. Some fine tuning in Hartford can only help unless Gorton trades Nick Holden. Wonder what AV thinks?!?!

Kampfer remains a solid citizen who can fill in accordingly like he did last year. He doesn’t do anything to drive you nuts. He’s smart and knows how to play. Always a good depth player to have.

What I do know is Ryan McDonagh-Kevin Shattenkirk and Brady Skjei-Brendan Smith are givens as the top two pairs. Though I didn’t feel Smith had a great camp. He’ll need to do better to justify the contract Gorton gave him.

After that, the third pair remains problematic. If they don’t move Holden for a fourth or fifth round pick, then he’s one half of that potential nightmare pair we saw too much of. I would much rather see Holden-DeAngelo or Pionk if Holden stays.

And that’s the thing. Unless he stunningly retires, Staal isn’t going anywhere. How confident can we be if he’s still getting into 50-plus games? Exactly.

The defense wasn’t good to begin with. They gave up way too many chances and shots in the Flyers back-to-back. Lundqvist held up because he’s still capable. Pavelec didn’t allowing four with the Travis Konecny OT winner not one of his highlights.

I have no idea how Pavelec will perform. That’s why AV left the window open on how many games Lundqvist could get. Pavelec can make the very difficult save impressing you but then give up one that has you puzzled.

How much will they miss Raanta? He only won 21 games and posted one more shutout (3) than HL. There can’t be a repeat for the Swedish King or there’s no playoffs in an improved Metro with the Atlantic also better.

There are more questions that won’t get answered until it starts up. The Rangers didn’t score a lot in preseason. But it was PRESEASON. Other teams including the much improved Devils have.

What does it all mean? I don’t know. Regardless, I’ll have more in future posts including a NYR preview along with some Islanders, Sabres and the NHL Predictions. Stay tuned.

Derek

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