Steven McDonald Award Goes To Adam Fox

Adam Fox is presented with the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. AP Photo by New York Rangers via Getty Images

In an emotional ceremony befitting of this year’s winner, NYPD detective Conor McDonald made an emotional speech in presenting Adam Fox the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award.

With Conor McDonald speaking through a mask behind the netting alongside his wife and Mom Patti, the son of former detective Steven McDonald spoke about how this award is more significant than the hero his father was. It’s about the brave men and women of the NYPD who lay it all on the line every day. He mentioned Officer Anastasios Tsakos, who tragically passed away due to a drunk driver on Tuesday night. It was very emotional.

Once he discussed what the Steven McDonald Award embodies, Conor McDonald explained why Fox deserved to win the prestigious trophy. Mentioning that it he’s a Long Island native, you knew who was winning the Award. Pointedly saying, “He’s the best defenseman this season,” McDonald announced Adam Fox as this year’s winner. To cheers from those who are in attendance at Madison Square Garden, Fox accepted the award and said thank you to the McDonald Family.

There’s no doubt that Fox has been brilliant in his second year. Playing remarkably well all season, he’s been the most consistent Ranger and a leader. With five goals, 42 assists and 47 points along with a plus-23 rating to match his jersey number and age, Fox is in the running for the Norris Trophy. If he wins it, it would be deserving. The competition will come from Victor Hedman, Shea Theodore and Kris Letang.

While it’s nice to think about individual accomplishments, let’s be honest. It pales in comparison to team achievements. I doubt Fox cares about that as much as MSG Network. That’s all they talk about. Fox’s effort both offensively and defensively has merited all the praise he is receiving. It’s the way he handles the puck under pressure that is notable. What a special player he already is.

Congratulations to Adam Fox on winning the Steven McDonald Award! Now go out and lead the Rangers to a comeback victory against the Islanders, who as usual are being a thorn in the side of this mystifying team. It’s embarrassing so far. I hope I have something better to write later than what’s happened so far. Let’s hope so.

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Shestyorkin backstops Rangers to much needed win over Sabres, Lafreniere scores winner, Smith the Players Player plays pivotal role

Make no mistake about it. The Rangers are still alive thanks to the brilliant goaltending of Igor Shestyorkin. Without some gigantic saves in a 3-1 win over the scrappy Sabres, this easily could’ve been a bad loss. Instead, he made 36 saves on 37 shots to help the team keep pace with Boston.

In a strange game that had peaks and valleys, it was Shestyorkin whose star shined brightest under the spotlight of the World’s Most Vaccinated at 33rd and 8th. In a puzzling first period that saw the Sabres dominate play, it was Shestyorkin who made 16 saves to keep the game scoreless. He held a sub-par Blueshirts in after they only got six shots on Buffalo rookie netminder Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

Following the ho-hum first, the Rangers finally showed some urgency in a much busier second period. Instead of the passive aggressive style they’re known for, they took a different approach. The end result was a 20 shot period where they tested Luukkonen early and often. That effort paid dividends when offensive dynamo Brendan Smith scored the game’s first goal unassisted at 2:22. On a strong shift from first-year defenseman K’Andre Miller, he carried the puck deep before losing to Dylan Cozens. Cozens tried a low percentage pass up the middle that went right to Smith, who wisely blasted a shot through a screen to beat Luukkonen. The goal was his fifth tying a career high set with Detroit. Smith had a superb night and would be a factor later.

Not much happened in a listless first which saw the Rangers turn over pucks and allow a more aggressive Sabres to sustain an attack. They were on their heels most of the period. I counted only two good offensive shifts from the guys in the Broadway Blueshirt. It sure looked like it was the Sabres who were the desperate team trying to cling onto faint playoff hopes. It was hard to understand. The best thing that can be said is they escaped to the locker room with the game scoreless.

After the goal, the Sabres came back with a strong shift. Something that impressed Sam Rosen. Honestly, it was expected. The good news is they didn’t score a minute or two following the Smith tally. Something we’ve grown accustomed to. The period would see a lot of shots with the teams combining for 32. The Rangers outshot the Sabres 20-12. Most of the play was strictly five-on-five with no penalties called for almost two full periods. Unfortunately, the lone exception allowed Buffalo to tie it in the waning seconds.

Before that, the Rangers had several opportunities to expand the lead. That included an absolutely dominant shift from Adam Fox. He totally controlled the puck possession and had the Sam Reinhart line caught on for a lengthy 2:15 marathon shift. In the period of the long change, a visibly tired out Sabres could not get the puck out. This led to a few shots on Luukkonen who did his part. After only facing six in the opening period, he faced 35 the rest of the way. He was strong in stopping 38 of 41 shots in his MSG debut. That included a how did he save that later on Fox that had him shaking his head. It appeared that his shot went off the Finnish goalie’s mask and out of play.

Despite flat out dominating a good chunk of the play, the Rangers couldn’t get the next goal. That left the door open. Sure enough, following a failed clear, Filip Chytil took a needless tripping minor penalty on Reinhart with over 30 seconds remaining in the period. On what can best be described as a brutal sequence, both top penalty killing forwards Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad made passive stick checks on Reinhart. Undeterred, he got the puck over to Casey Mittlestadt who fed him a perfect pass for an easy one-timer past Shestyorkin with 3.2 seconds left to tie the game. This was mind numbing. It was bad enough Chytil took a lazy penalty. But then Reinhart made both Buchnevich and Zibanejad look bad on his 22nd goal and fifth in the last three games.

I don’t know about anyone else. But the way that period concluded, I was not a happy camper. In such moments, they can ill afford to give up such goals. How many times have we seen this team allow goals in the final minute of a period over the past few years? It’s the same tired story. It still happens too frequently. It doesn’t seem to matter that the starter is now Shestyorkin with Henrik Lundqvist unable to play for the Capitals due to not being cleared by his doctor. Bummer. I hope he can get clearance to return for one more season. It would suck for him not to be able to go out on his own terms. Enough about that.

All I cared about was the third period. I wasn’t the only one. Steve Valiquette is normally very calm in studio. Even he was on edge and had pointed words for the Rangers about how they had to play better in the third. Finish the job. To their credit, the Sabres play hard under interim coach Don Granato. The way they talk about him, you’d think he was the second coming of Scotty Bowman or Toe Blake. When even Valiquette sounds off the alarms, you know it’s put up or shut up time for this team. Fortunately, they did enough right to get the win.

With the game and their playoff hopes hanging in the balance, the Rangers could count on Igor Shestyorkin. He was money all game. From his six stops on the ever dangerous Jeff Skinner to denying Tage Thompson, he was terrific. I can’t underline how vital he was. No Shestyorkin. No two points. There would be basically nothing to play for. Instead, even with the Bruins winning 3-1 over the Penguins, they have hope. I don’t want to get into it yet. Leave it for later.

In a game where David Quinn started to mix his lines up, you found Alexis Lafreniere moved around. He took a shift with Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. He eventually would wind up with Ryan Strome and a very quiet Artemi Panarin. Let’s just put it this way. Panarin, Zibanejad, Buchnevich, Chris Kreider and Strome hadn’t done enough up to that point. Quinn didn’t use Vitaly Kravtsov a lot in the third. He also limited Zac Jones. This was him shortening up the bench and trying to get his horses going. Thankfully, it worked. Fox was on the ice a lot out of necessity. He nearly played 27 minutes. It didn’t matter. That’s how brilliant he was. Only Miller received over 21 minutes on the blue line with him putting forth his best effort in quite some time.

The Rangers finally got their first power play when Skinner held Libor Hajek. With Quinn mostly relying on the five man unit of Fox, Kreider, Panarin, Strome and Zibanejad, they moved it around good. However, they were unable to beat Luukkonen. So, the game remained tied. Not long after, Kevin Rooney boarded Drake Caggiliua from behind. With him about to go to the box, Cozens challenged him. He started it. They each fought near the benches before being separated. What I didn’t understand is why it wasn’t even up. Cozens should’ve received two for roughing with each off for seven minutes. Instead, they gave each offsetting fighting majors with Rooney serving the extra penalty for boarding. Mindless. Thankfully, the Sabres didn’t convert on their second power play. I would’ve been livid.

Following the successive kill, Lafreniere would make something happen along with Strome. Having told Strome prior that they would get one, Lafreniere was prophetic. After Fox got the puck behind the net to Strome, he was able to escape a check and make a great centering feed for a perfect Lafreniere one-timer that Luukkonen had no chance on. His big go-ahead goal came with 10:11 remaining. It was his 10th of the season. Quinn continued to heap praise on the top pick for his improvement. His maturity and confidence are big pluses. What a time for a huge goal. Fox drew the secondary helper for assist number 42. Strome finally ended a four-game drought without a point.

With Shestyorkin continuing to hold off the Sabres with some clutch stops, it was the Players Player who impacted the game. I’m referring to Brendan Smith. On just a great open ice hit, he absolutely freight trained Thompson at the Rangers blue line. Incensed, Thompson went after Smith and cross-checked him. Smith sold it like a fine actor and then looked at the official for the call. An enraged Thompson tried to goad Smith into an even up penalty. But he wasn’t biting. That’s why I love Smith. He has gone from an afterthought to a key member of the top six. I would love to see him re-up this summer. That’s up to him. What a great T-E-A-M player.

Already on the power play, the Rangers got a little help from Caggiula, who took a delay of game minor with Buchnevich pressuring him. The Sabres felt Buchnevich deflected the puck. But it didn’t look like it. That gave the Blueshirts a five-on-three. Even though they didn’t score with Panarin firing two wrist shots wide, they continued to possess the puck. Still on the five-on-four, they finally got the look they wanted. On a Strome pass to Kreider down low, he whirled around and made a great backhand feed across to a wide open Zibanejad, who fired in a wrist shot for his 20th at 13:49. It was the sixth season he’s scored 20 or more. A sigh of relief came over me. It was 3-1. Crisis averted.

From there, the Rangers closed out the Sabres to earn the all important victory. They’re now up to 58 points with six games to go. What lies ahead are two MONSTER games against the hated Islanders. I don’t have to tell you what must happen. With the Isles getting shutout 1-0 by the Capitals to drop all three games to them, they’re only five points up on our team. Believe it or not, this is a golden opportunity for the Rangers to reel in the Long Island nemesis.

I’m only going to state this once. In order for that to happen, they must play much better hockey to win the upcoming two-game series that begins Thursday night at MSG and ends Saturday at Nassau Coliseum. There’s nothing else to say. If they want to accomplish it, they must adjust their style and prove they can outwork and out-grind the Islanders. As futile as their offense is at times, they are battle tested and a good team. They humiliated the Rangers a week ago, which looked to have buried them. Especially after that Flyers loss. Instead, the Blueshirts have won three in a row and are still alive like Jason or Michael Myers. How many lives do they have?

It’s real simple. Win these two games in regulation. That would give them a realistic chance. In order to accomplish it, Zibanejad must not disappear like he has in the previous six. Don’t believe me? Take a look at his statistics versus the Islanders. Even Fox only has one assist in the season series. The best players must show up. Will Quinn give Alex Georgiev the next game? He seems to have the Isles’ number while Shestyorkin has had some uneven games. That’s a great question. I think he’ll definitely be in for one of the two. If they don’t win Thursday, none of it will matter. It’s time to go to something classic. “Win. Win!”

That says it all. Now let’s get it done.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd ๐ŸŒŸ Brendan Smith, NYR (5th of season to match career high, 3 hits, one big penalty drawn, 4 SOG, +2 in 20:22)

2nd ๐ŸŒŸ Alexis Lafreniere, NYR (10th of season for game-winning goal at 9:49 of 3rd, +1 in 14:57)

1st ๐ŸŒŸ Igor Shestyorkin, NYR (36 saves on 37 shots including 16 for 16 in big 1st)

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Zibanejad’s hat trick and Kakko pair enough to hold off Sabres

Mika Zibanejad’s hat trick highlighted a 6-3 Rangers’ win over the Sabres. The top center had a big day against the improved Buffalo team who never quit despite falling behind 4-1 and 5-2. His third three-goal game of the season along with a pair of goals from Kaapo Kakko were enough to get the victory at 33rd and 8th.

Coupled with a Bruins’ 1-0 loss at Pittsburgh, the Blueshirts are still clinging on to miniscule playoff hopes with seven games remaining. They’ll have to win out and hope Boston continues to lose. It isn’t likely. The Bruins have nine left including two with the Sabres and two against the awful Devils, who dropped their 10th straight in brutal fashion to the Flyers. The only thing that matters is wins for the Rangers. They want the last two games against Boston to matter.

Facing an opponent who have played better under interim coach Don Granato, the Rangers knew they couldn’t afford to mail it in. The Sabres came in fresh off beating Boston 6-4. They’ve been respectable since the coaching change. That work ethic showed in the early going. They got some shots on Igor Shestyorkin, who was solid during a strange period where the shots were 12-11 in favor of the Rangers.

The first goal of the game came on a good play in transition. Ryan Lindgren pushed the puck up to Alexis Lafreniere, who gained the Sabres zone and skated into open ice. He found a trailing Zibanejad for a perfect pass that allowed him to fire a wrist shot past Dustin Tokarski far side at 4:49. A well executed scoring play from Lafreniere and Zibanejad. It was his 17th of the season. He was just getting started.

Before they could get too comfortable, it was the Sabres who responded less than 90 seconds later when Jeff Skinner was able to stop a Colin Miller shot and fire a backhand past Shestyorkin to tie the game at 6:16. This was a good play by a former 40-goal scorer. Skinner has struggled to finish. However, his work ethic hasn’t gone away. He was dangerous in a couple of other games against the Rangers. The goal was his sixth from Miller and rookie Jacob Bryson at 6:16.

After the Sabres evened the score, the play was okay. Nothing special. One theme that didn’t change was Adam Fox being split up from Lindgren. Fox mostly took shifts with Libor Hajek while Lindgren and Zac Jones worked together, leaving K’Andre Miller mostly with Brendan Smith. There were good shifts and bad with most of the negative in a puzzling third period. That’s what you get with this team. For all the cliches about them being a playoff team if Artemi Panarin didn’t miss time or Zibanejad didn’t look lost early on, there are too many lapses during games that better explains their record. Every team has injuries or off ice issues. Enough with the excuses.

In the second half of the first period, it was all Rangers. They scored twice and easily could’ve led by more when it concluded. One young player who had been cold in the goal department was Kakko. He had picked up a few assists, but entered without a goal in his last 10. That changed thanks to a great read from Fox. After receiving a pass from Filip Chytil, Fox made a diagonal feed to Kakko for a spectacular finish. Unlike other instances where he’s not ready to shoot, Kakko released a good one-timer from an angle and past Tokarski, who had no chance. It was his seventh from Fox and Chytil at 12:02 to give the Rangers the lead.

Over five minutes later, Zibanejad would get his second of the period on the power play. He drew an interference minor on Rasmus Dahlin. It took the Blueshirts 53 seconds to convert. After the Sabres took away Chris Kreider on the man-advantage, they didn’t close out Zibanejad in the slot. Fox moved the puck over to Panarin. Instead of shooting, he wisely found Zibanejad in the middle for a perfect deflection that went top shelf on Tokarski with 2:50 left. The assist was Fox’s 40th of the season. He would later add a third. He leads all defensemen with 41 helpers and 46 points. At a plus-23, there is every bit a good chance he’ll be nominated for the Norris. Unlike the MSG broadcast with them feeding Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti stats every nanosecond, I won’t take any personal joy if Fox wins. It’s an individual award. Any fan would trade that for the playoffs. Enough with the propaganda. We all know and appreciate how good Fox is.

Early in the second period, things didn’t get any better for the Sabres. On what can only be described as a horrible goal to give up, Tokarski completely misplayed a Zibanejad shot by letting it go through him at 2:05. His hat trick came due to a quick lead pass from Fox up to Pavel Buchnevich. He then was able to make a pass to Zibanejad that the center had to adjust on. He made a good move to create a shooting angle and just let it go. Right through the wickets of Tokarski, who wanted it back. That quickly, it was 4-1 Rangers. Some hats were tossed on the ice from the 1,800 pleased fans in attendance. At the bench, Buchnevich had fun at Zibanejad’s expense by placing a hat on his helmet. I loved the reaction of Lafreniere when he got the third goal behind the Buffalo net. It was basically, “Wow!” He had another good game. Things are moving in the right direction for the top pick.

As usual, the game wasn’t over. Consecutive minor penalties on Ryan Strome (tripping at 10:49) and Buchnevich (hi-sticking at 12:53) allowed the Sabres to grab the momentum. After killing off the Strome penalty, the Rangers’ penalty kill was unable to bail out Buchnevich. With only six seconds remaining on the power play, Victor Olofsson drove a one-timer past Shestyorkin for his 13th to make it a two-goal game with 5:13 left in the period. Casey Mittlestadt and Sam Reinhart set it up to pick up the assists.

In particular, Reinhart would be a thorn in the Rangers’ side for the rest of the game. He is an restricted free agent this summer. Let’s just say he has really boosted his stock. A year away from unrestricted status, the 25-year old has shifted back to center and done well without Jack Eichel. If he became available, Reinhart is the kind of player I’d like to see the Rangers in on. I won’t say anything else because it’s not the right time.

As for the last five minutes go, it wasn’t good enough. The Sabres used the momentum from the Olofsson power play goal and really took it to the Rangers. Every time his line was out there, Reinhart was a factor. He’s a good player who’s been overlooked due to Eichel. Rookie Dylan Cozens also looked good throughout. A former teammate of Lafreniere when they won gold at the 2020 WJC, he centered the top line and generated chances. At one point, he and Lafreniere got tangled up during a shift for a while. It definitely distracted Rosen, who never even saw Vitaly Kravtsov trip up Dahlin in the third period. It was a bad look. We all love Sam. But it really is time. Ugh.

Shestyorkin had to contend with 14 Buffalo shots in that second. That’s because his team isn’t consistent shift to shift. You never know what you’re getting. It’s like they stop playing and allow the opponent to take control. Even though this wasn’t his best game, credit Shestyorkin for making some key saves to hold off the Sabres’ charge. They might not have won if not for the goalie. He finished with 31 saves on 34 shots. Too many from primary areas. Don’t let the 6-3 final score fool you.

The third was tense. The Sabres weren’t going away. That much they proved. They’re a lot tougher to play now. They’ve beaten both Pittsburgh and Boston. There’s a reason they’re about to pass the Devils in the standings. Even with some of the obvious defensive flaws, they gave the Rangers all they could handle. Expect the rematch to be similar.

Fortunately, Kakko picked a good time to have one of his best games in his two-year career. With Anders Bjork off for taking down Smith, the Blueshirts went to work on their third power play. Having already converted on one of two, this time the production came from the second unit. One that featured Lafreniere, Kakko and Jones. On a Jones setup for Buchnevich, Tokarski left a juicy rebound. With both Lafreniere and Kakko in the vicinity, it was the 20-year old second-year Finn who steered in the rebound for a huge power play goal at 7:06. It was his second two-goal game of the year with both coming against Buffalo. The best part was Jones earned his first NHL point with an assist.

I know I’ve been tough on Kakko. Over the last 12 games, he has nine points (3-6-9). A good improvement for the 2019 second pick. He still needs to get more shots on goal. An area that will need to be better in Year Three. However, Kakko is finally getting rewarded for his hard work. That’s significant. When over half his 16 points (8-8-16) have come over the past month, that’s encouraging. It means he’s doing better. The overall play has been a constant. Let’s see how he finishes the last seven games.

Not surprisingly, the Sabres came back strong. For whatever reason, the Rangers again took their foot off the gas pedal. Reinhart had a couple of great chances. That followed a Chytil turnover at the Buffalo blue line. Something that can’t happen. After a good forecheck where they applied all kinds of pressure, Reinhart hit the crossbar. The Sabres stayed with it with Dahlin setting up Reinhart for his 21st goal at 10:34. Once again, it was a two-goal game. Too close for comfort.

Things got edgier when Kravtsov took down Dahlin with 5:31 remaining. That was the same exact shift where Lafreniere and Cozens got tangled up, leading to both Rosen and Micheletti not paying attention to the penalty. Mindless. The Rangers penalty kill came through. That left only three and a half minutes for the Sabres to work with.

With Tokarski off for an extra attacker, Strome took a needless hooking minor on Reinhart at center ice with 1:32 left in regulation. He had an atrocious game. No points for a fourth consecutive game and two lousy penalties. The kind he has stayed away from. The irony being he won eight of 13 face-offs. A sore spot for him. Go figure.

With the Sabres on a six-on-four, this allowed the Rangers to take free shots at the empty net. Brett Howden won a defensive draw and a battle to get the puck over to Kevin Rooney. Rooney fired the puck down straight into the net for the team’s eighth shorthanded goal. As was noted on the telecast, a few of the shorthanded goals have come courtesy of empty netters. That doesn’t matter. The penalty kill has been splendid all season. It’s a reward for the hard work they put in.

That goal allowed them and fans to breathe easier. They rarely make it easy. Whether or not a Miracle On 34th Street happens over the next two weeks, that must change in Year Four. Assuming David Quinn stays. There’s no reason to think he won’t be back. I haven’t always agreed with his lineup decisions. But he’s remained patient and done a good job managing the new players. That can’t be overlooked.

Let’s enjoy the rest of these games. Whatever happens happens. Now, the Rangers return to the ice Tuesday against the same Sabres for the eighth and final meeting. That same night, the Bruins are at the Penguins. I don’t need to spell it out. Following that game, it’s a pair against the despised Islanders. I want to see how they play those games. Some key players haven’t performed well versus the blood rival including Zibanejad, whose scored 14 of 19 goals against bottom feeders. It also includes Fox (1 assist) who has done much better versus every other division opponent. If they want to give us something, go out and win those games.

That’s all. I think I said plenty in that last paragraph. Seven games remain. The Rangers are 25-18-6 through 49 games with 56 points. Let’s see if they can finish strong.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd ๐ŸŒŸ Sam Reinhart, Sabres (21st goal plus ๐ŸŽ, 8 of 9 on face-offs in 21:02)

2nd ๐ŸŒŸ Kaapo Kakko, NYR (2 goals for numbers 7 and 8, +1 in 13:05)

1st ๐ŸŒŸ Mika Zibanejad, NYR (goals 17, 18, 19 for 3rd hat trick of season, 7 SOG, 8 of 16 on face-offs, +1 in 17:41

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When it rains, it pours

In what’s become a weekly, or at least semi-weekly ritual of bemoaning the current state of the Devils it seemed fitting to open with a Charlie Brown clip, and not just because it’s raining outside this morning. I’d like to sit here and stress the positives but quite frankly there really aren’t many at this point. Even that nutty junktime surge against the Penguins on Tuesday night when they somehow turned a 6-0 rout after two periods into a missed it by that much 7-6 defeat seems a bit laughable, when you can’t even get to OT after a six-goal third period because you just sucked that badly in the first two. Not to mention that game came on the heels of our futile late-game surges against the Rangers in the previous two losses.

You can say we were – ahem – competitive in four of our last five games, whatever being competitive means once you fall behind 4-0, 3-0, 3-0 and 6-0 in all of those games. YOU STILL LOST THE GAME! It reminds me of an infamous Mike Francesa rant on WFAN when Yankee fans wanted to go gaga over Joba Chamberlain striking out a bunch of guys in a mediocre four-inning start or whatever it was. At some point you have to have actual results beyond advanced stats while just blaming lousy third-string goalies and other outside factors, while going 1-11-1 this month including a nine-game regulation losing streak (all against the Penguins and Rangers). Even Lindy Ruff sounded like he was ready to go full John Tortorella on his goaltending after the wacky loss to the Penguins.

I do agree inasmuch as it doesn’t help your young kids develop when every mistake and even some non-mistakes wind up in the back of the net. Aaron Dell has been noncompetitive all season and Scott Wedgewood has crashed down to earth and then some, the 80-foot dribbler he allowed in the first period on Tuesday (the third goal in the 6-0 deficit) was quite possibly the worst I’ve seen in the last several years – which is saying something considering the state of our backup goaltending over that time. Ruff has even been quick to call out Mackenzie Blackwood at times this season, and while Blackwood’s been too inconsistent for my taste, you can see the difference in having an NHL goalie yesterday versus not having one the rest of this week when Blackwood’s injury kept him out of the first two Penguin games.

Still, this team’s problems go way beyond the goaltending, especially after we lost two of our top three (remaining) defensemen due to COVID and injury. Somehow PK Subban avoided the surge of COVID cases that derailed the Devils season in February, but the timing of him finally getting it now couldn’t have been worse for the team considering breakout rookie Ty Smith has also been on the shelf this week with an unspecified body injury, and coach Ruff didn’t sound too optimistic about him coming back anytime soon.

Even with all our defensemen healthy and pre-trade deadline liquidation, the special teams has been an utter joke this season. 29th on the PP looks downright great compared to our dead last (by a mile) on the PK. Currently we’re at 69.5% on the kill, only one other team – the Flyers – is even below 75%, much less 70%. There’s only so much of this you can blame on the lack of practice time and coaching. At a certain point you just have to keep it simple, s…you know the rest. Especially with said lack of practice time. You can excuse it for being below average but not historically bad like this. You don’t need great talent or great coaching to have a competent PK.

It’s not as if we’ve been much better 5-on-5 though, we’re 27th in goals per game and 29th in goals allowed per game. Our young forwards are supposed to be the backbone of the team – and right now they are the ‘whole’ team – but it would be nice to get some goals when we aren’t already at like a 1% chance to win a game. Even when you want to get excited about something like Nolan Foote getting a goal and assist in his first two NHL games, the Devils take the starch out of that by demoting him back to the taxi squad, presumably for long enough so that he doesn’t play in the seven games where his ELC will start this year.

Are we in MLB or the NHL here guys? I mean what’s the point of GM Tom Fitzgerald calling Foote up with thirteen games left if you’re only going to play him ten minutes apiece in two games, then sit him after he actually produces points? It’s not as if we’re loaded with forwards that need icetime, especially before Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt returned to the lineup this week. But sure Fitzy, Devil fans are really dying to see you continue to audition the awful Andreas Johnsson in a top six role (four goals and ten points in 47 games) just because you acquired him and he’s got two years left on an almost unmovable contract.

At this point the only thing good about 2021 is it’s almost over, with just nine games left. It’s too late in the season for me to be impressed by any sort of junktime surge. Maybe if they win seven of nine and look competent in doing so, but does anyone really see that coming? Even if five of our games are against the Flyers, who are also struggling. Two non-playoff teams in a series of meaningless games is the definition of unwatchable, rivalry or no rivalry. Our other four games are against the Bruins and Islanders (two apiece), but by the time we play them next week they may well have clinched playoff spots already. So basically all nine of our remaining games will likely be glorified preseason games. Am I really supposed to get excited if we finally gain some traction against one team whose goaltending is possibly even worse than ours and another team we’ve had a weird hex over all season? You can pretty much count the Islander games as losses now, whether they’ve clinched or not.

Of course a useless junktime surge still beats the alternative, which is just continuing to get embarrassed on a nightly basis. We are now on the verge of falling behind a Sabres team that just had an eighteen-game losing streak not too long ago. Then again we could theoretically match it by the end of the season. I don’t want to hear about draft picks and improving our draft position when we have two now-healthy #1 overalls in the lineup, and our best healthy players at this point may well be a couple of middle-round guys (Bratt and Yegor Sharangovich). Not when one of my other sports teams just jettisoned its #3 overall pick after three years to draft another QB at #2 overall this offseason. Any ‘process’ is only good if it eventually leads to somewhere out of the wilderness.

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Lafreniere Leads The Way Past Flyers

This was a lot better than the previous night. On Garden Of Dreams Night, it was one of the kids who stood out for the right reasons. How appropriate considering all the good will MSG and the Rangers do for the Foundation that helps underprivileged children.

Alexis Lafreniere led the way with a goal and assist to help the Rangers post a 4-1 win on home ice in front of some of those kids at The Garden. His second multi-point game of the season was instrumental in helping the team respond to Thursday’s 3-2 disappointment that all but ended any playoff hopes. Even with the Sabres holding off a Bruins’ comeback, they’re still six behind with eight to go. Basically a Kentucky Derby long-shot at this point.

Let’s forget that part. Concentrate on what went right Friday night. For starters, the Rangers played more inspired hockey. At least they decided to give a better effort than the prior two forgettable games. Coach David Quinn spoke about how it was uncharacteristic for the team to not respond to a bad loss after Thursday’s discouraging defeat at the World’s Most Renovated Arena. Maybe it had more to do with the players realizing how crushing Tuesday night was. It was a big letdown.

There was only one change to the lineup. Quinn opted to go with Alex Georgiev in the second game of the back-to-back. Georgiev rewarded that trust by making 26 saves on 27 shots. That included some real gems in a busier third period where he turned aside all 11 Flyers shots. His best work came with the team protecting a one-goal lead. There were a few sparklers with Georgiev denying Sean Couturier and James van Riemsdyk to keep the Rangers in front. He’d also deny a couple of Flyers point blank after Lafreniere scored his ninth goal.

From the beginning of a more tightly contested game between the classic rivals, Georgiev was sharp. His best stop in the first period came on Jakub Voracek, who got the winner from the identical spot in the first game. Instead, Georgiev gloved the shot and Voracek gave him a stick tap as a show of respect. Steve Valiquette said when he played during his 46-game NHL career, that wasn’t common. A career we hear a lot about. I won’t cover it the way Long Island buddy Sean McCaffrey does on bluecollarblueshirts.com. He finds the humor in it along with the mindless heat craps maps, or as I like to call it. Chartographology. I at least found the segment funny with John Giannone joking around.

Whatever we think of the broadcast, MSG deserves a lot of credit for how much attention they pay to these kids. They sure deserve it. It’s always nice to see the cool features they air on how involved the players are off the ice helping out in the community. We don’t get to see it that often. One thing I love about hockey players is how kind they are. Whatever is happening on the ice or behind closed doors, they have good hearts. I’m glad they used model citizen Adam Graves for reference. There is simply no classier Ranger than him. He once was a guest speaker at our local Jewish Community Center dinner function when I was a teenager. Gravy as we refer to him is the ultimate person. I didn’t catch the feature they ran on Chris Kreider, but I’m glad he scored his 20th goal. He gets a lot of flak yet remains a good finisher for this team and an even better human being away from the rink.

To the fans who are able to support by bidding on Rangers items including autographed sticks and fancy voicemails from Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti, kudos to out to you. If I could, I would. Especially for the worthy cause. Every year, I donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and to the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. Hopefully one day when things are better, I’ll be able to give more to such great causes. We should always appreciate what we have. There are always people out there less fortunate. Especially these days. As passionate Rangers fans or whatever team you root for, it’s important not to lose perspective. Cheering for our teams should be fun. It’s a welcome distraction from everything else going on.

One noticeable difference in the first two periods of last night’s game was the lack of shots. Each team made a concerted effort to limit the scoring chances. There was more emphasis on defense and better structure. For example, the first period saw the teams combine for only 13 shots in favor of the Flyers (7-6). That was a sharp contrast from the wide open first they had 24 hours earlier where they combined for 25 shots.

There wasn’t much in the early going. Unless you prefer two to three combined shots in the game’s first part fun. It was expected after how much the Rangers got away from their structure. Even the Flyers buckled down. The most noticeable Rangers line was the fourth. Vitaly Kravtsov started with Kevin Rooney and the hardworking Brett Howden, who does a lot of things that don’t show up on the score sheet. They’re an effective trio due to the capability to forecheck with the skilled Kravtsov creating more opportunities. One such chance saw him have a two-on-one down low. But his pass didn’t work. It looked like he didn’t get good wood on it. He was very effective throughout.

On another strong shift, Howden got a step on former Ranger Kevin Hayes, who hooked him to lead to a power play. On it, the top unit didn’t get much established during the first half. However, they stuck with it. On a strong rush from Adam Fox, he got the puck over to Artemi Panarin. Instead of shooting as he had previously with his one-timer going wide and out of the zone, he opted for a wrist shot that was really a great pass for an open Kreider, who redirected the puck in past Alex Lyon at 6:02. The goal was his 20th and team-leading 11th on the power play. It’s the sixth time in his career he’s hit 20 goals.

For a player who’s critiqued due to his streaky scoring, Kreider is consistent. To think it’s only a 56-game schedule. He hasn’t missed a game. If this were a full 82, he’d be on track for his first 30 goal season. Is he perfect? No. But who else has this team produced that performed well during the postseason and scored as much as Kreider? He has 177 career goals including 58 power play goals. Kreider is 177-168-345 in 571 games all as a Ranger. He must be doing something right. One thing I know about him is the game doesn’t always come easy. He told me it once a long time ago when he was on Twitter. Getting off social media was the best thing he could’ve done. We are a tough fan base, who don’t realize how hard these guys work. That’s a lesson I learned from that experience.

Before Joe Tolleson could even announce the goal, here came the Flyers right back on a fluky goal from leukemia survivor Oskar Lindblom to even the game just 45 seconds later. On what amounted to a strange play around the net, Voracek was able to get the puck in front where it took a favorable carom off Lindblom and by Georgiev at 6:47. Libor Hajek was in the area along with Filip Chytil. This one was unlucky. I thought it might’ve also deflected off Chytil. Whatever the case, you had a tie score.

Proving how funny the period was, the Rangers replied back in timely fashion. Over a minute later on a sustained forecheck, Lafreniere was able to keep a play alive that led to the go-ahead goal from Pavel Buchnevich. On the play, the puck came to Lafreniere who absorbed a hit. While going down, he still had enough strength to put a good pass on Mika Zibanejad. Zibanejad moved it to Buchnevich, who cut in and waited for Lyon to go down before beating him up top for his 20th at 7:56. It was a good play by all three, but wouldn’t have been possible without an active Fox leading the rush. His aggression created the goal. Something Micheletti noted on the MSG replay. The reason Fox is so good is that he finds open areas to skate into making himself available in the offensive zone. He leads all NHL defensemen in assists (38).

So in a period where shots were at a premium, the two sides scored on three of four which put the Rangers ahead 2-1 less than eight minutes in. Funny how that works. A little past the halfway mark, Georgiev made consecutive stops on van Riemsdyk and Travis Sanheim from distance. He showed excellent focus. Late in the period, some strong puck pressure from Lafreniere where he checked Ivan Provorov forced the Flyers defenseman to throw the puck out of play for a delay of game minor. It was good persistence from a more confident player, who in my opinion had his best game so far. Unfortunately, the power play got nothing done. The Rangers took the one-goal lead to the locker room.

The chess match continued in the second period. It was the Rangers who had a good surge in the early portion. Chytil made a nice move to create a good opportunity, but was turned away by Lyon. In a carryover from the end of the last game, Kreider played with Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. Quinn wanted to give Lafreniere an extended look with Zibanejad and Buchnevich. It sure paid dividends. Another in game adjustment was moving Kravtsov up to the second line. He helped create a chance for Rooney that Lyon stifled to keep it at 2-1. With Kravtsov up with Panarin and Ryan Strome, Colin Blackwell shifted to the fourth line. I’m in favor of seeing Kravtsov get more time on the second line on Sunday against Buffalo. That’s up to Quinn.

Following another splendid save from Georgiev to deny Couturier on a tip in try, the physicality intensified. There had been a few hits during the second. It was an incidental hit by Rooney on Couturier in which he braced himself for a leg on leg collision that caused a commotion. The gritty Scott Laughton came to Couturier’s aid and dropped the gloves with Rooney in a welterweight bout. Rooney landed early with Laughton connecting late for a draw. I didn’t mind the fight. It was understandable. Whenever there’s a leg on leg collision, there’s usually a response. Accidental or not. Each got five for fighting with no loss of man power.

If there was a key moment, it came following a Rangers’ bench minor. They haven’t taken many, but the look on Quinn’s face was vintage Scrooge. The smoke was coming out of his head. During the Flyers’ five-on-four, Couturier came very close to tying it. However, his wrist shot hit the goalpost and stayed out. On just a bad read in the neutral zone, K’Andre Miller took down Voracek for an easy tripping minor that handed the Flyers a five-on-three power play.

Despite being down two men, the trio of Zibanejad, Brendan Smith and Ryan Lindgren did a tremendous job. Zibanejad had a diving block to get a critical clear. It still came down to Georgiev, who made a few key stops including a huge one to stone van Riemsdyk. He was superb. Without his brilliant play, the Rangers don’t win. Particularly in the pressure packed third period.

During it, the Flyers picked up their play. Looking to funnel more pucks to the net, they certainly had the better of the play. When they weren’t forcing Georgiev to come up with tough saves like the huge one to rob Couturier, they fired high and wide. The Rangers were a little looser defensively. Fortunately, Georgiev was seeing everything extremely well. The only goal that beat him was a fluke. He easily could’ve had a shutout. That’s how locked in he was. His work earned him the game’s First Star. A nice reward for a good team guy.

On a strong offensive shift from the new first line, Zibanejad and Buchnevich were able to get the puck over to Lafreniere near the net. From a tough angle, he was able to score by putting the puck in up top for his ninth goal at 9:24. Just a great play from a very skilled player, who’s getting better all the time. For his work, he received 17:49 from Quinn. Lafreniere deserved it along with the goal. He quietly has been playing better for a while. You can see what the hype is about. He’s very good around the net and has been on the puck much more. In the postgame, he discussed his confidence level while sporting a full beard. The kid’s only 19 and looks like a lumberjack.

Following that goal which gave them breathing room, the Rangers had a couple of breakdowns that led to dangerous Flyer opportunities. In particular, Miller struggled on a couple of shifts. He let Jackson Cates get behind him for a clean look at Georgiev, who turned him away. He then denied Nicolas Aube-Kubel to get a stoppage. That two save sequence was incredible. Georgiev basically made consecutive stops while off balance and was able to keep the puck from getting through his five-hole. In fact, the Flyers thought they scored. Instead, there was no goal following the stoppage. That’s how good he was in this game.

Georgiev also had to contend with an attacking Travis Konecny banging into him following another save. That was due to Konecny beating Miller, who then gave the Flyers forward a light shove right into his own goalie. Fortunately, nothing came of it. There was a whistle and no penalty. Miller must make better reads and tighten up. He definitely needs some work. Hopefully, someone will teach him to use that size and play better positional defense. If he can improve those areas and bring more of an edge like Marc Staal, then I won’t be concerned. He’s certainly capable of better.

As for Zac Jones, I thought he looked more confident in his second game. The skating is superb along with the way he jumps into the rush. You can see why they’re excited about him. Only 20 and wearing number 6, Jones looks like a kid. Micheletti said he looks seven on the telecast. That was funny. Jones saw many shifts with Lindgren, who when he didn’t play with Fox, was better than the last two. Quinn tried Libor Hajek with Fox. That was okay. Jones also saw shifts with Smith. He played 13:42 and received 61 seconds on the second power play unit. He looks poised. There’s obviously a lot to like, but a long way to go.

Earlier in the game, Chytil had a breakaway that Lyon stopped. Throughout, he played well. Very active during shifts, this is the player that shows flashes of his potential. He would eventually get rewarded thanks to a good cycle. Hanging onto the puck while playing with Kakko and Panarin, Chytil kept moving until he found enough of an angle to surprise Lyon for a short side goal off his glove to make it 4-1 with 6:20 remaining. His eighth goal snapped an 11-game drought. All smiles, Chytil has a goal and two helpers over the last four. A positive sign.

That goal finished off the Flyers. In taking the eighth and final meeting, the Rangers finished the season series tied. Each team won four games. Now, they’re done with the Flyers, Devils and Penguins. What’s left of the eight are two with the Sabres, two against the Islanders, a pair with the Capitals and the final two versus the Bruins. Not to sound like a broken record. But the Rangers would give anything for that final two-game series to have playoff significance. With Boston still having 10 left including more games with the Sabres and Devils, I doubt that will be the case.

The Rangers’ next two are against Buffalo. They’ve played much harder since the coaching change. Keep an eye on Casey Mittlestadt and Rasmus Dahlin. Both are different players now. Sam Reinhart has quietly put together a good campaign. Don’t expect it to be easy. Boston has the Penguins twice.

That’s gonna do it for now. Thanks to my Wi-Fi, I didn’t finish this until now. See you all much later.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd ๐ŸŒŸ Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (20th goal, assist)

2nd ๐ŸŒŸ Alexis Lafreniere, NYR (9th goal plus ๐ŸŽ in 17:49)

1st ๐ŸŒŸ Alex Georgiev, NYR (26 saves on 27 shots including 11 for 11 in great 3rd)

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Flyers spell the end for underwhelming Rangers, top stars MIA, Shestyorkin hung out to dry, Zac Jones makes NHL debut

This was it. At least for the postseason chances. You can forget it. The Rangers followed up an awful loss to the Islanders with an underwhelming performance in a 3-2 home loss to the Flyers at 33rd and 8th.

Don’t let the final score fool you. This was a game they blew during the first half against a susceptible opponent. Rather than take advantage of the one-goal lead Brendan Smith provided, the Blueshirts failed miserably. Their offensive stars were no-shows. That includes Artemi Panarin. His goal that came with Igor Shestyorkin pulled for the team’s first six-on-five goal was too little too late. Afterwards, the team didn’t apply enough pressure on Brian Elliott, who was excellent to earn the victory for the hated Flyers.

Not only did they suffer another one-goal defeat. But the red hot Bruins no longer lose. Since adding Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly, they’re a perfect 6-0 after blitzing the Sabres 5-1. Boston is now eight up with 11 games remaining. The Rangers have only nine. The last chance was that awful Islander debacle where they should’ve left Anthony Bitetto. Unfortunately, David Quinn made the mistake of sticking with Bitetto over Libor Hajek. That was perplexing when he made it and hurt the team once Matt Martin likely concussed Jacob Trouba.

As bad as Bitetto was, the more pressing issue is the play of the top six forwards. In a move that might not have been the right one considering how well the KZB Line played against the Flyers, Quinn decided to move up rookie Alexis Lafreniere to play with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. That meant Chris Kreider was dropped to the third line where he played with Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. The slumping Kreider being on that line is understandable. But the timing didn’t make sense. Neither did elevating Lafreniere over Vitaly Kravtsov, who’s shown chemistry with the top line. It was a miscalculation from Quinn.

The biggest story was 20-year old rookie defenseman Zac Jones making his NHL debut. In less than 10 minutes which included power play time on the second unit, he paired mostly with Ryan Lindgren. This was probably due to Quinn feeling Lindgren would be better suited to help Jones ease in. He got a shift early to get his feet wet and made a quick change. Another questionable move was breaking up Adam Fox and Lindgren. Neither distinguished themselves. However, they’re better together than apart. Without Trouba, Quinn mixed up his pairings including trying the struggling K’Andre Miller with Smith. Hajek worked mostly with Fox. He looked okay after missing the previous two games. Not even the people that cover the team understand why Bitetto got two games over Hajek. Both Mollie Walker and Larry Brooks were critical on the Up In The Blue Seats podcast that featured special guest Brad Park. It was a good listen.

One of the biggest issues last night were penalties. The Rangers took too many getting called for six to hand the Flyers one too many power plays. Even with a strong penalty kill, it was too much to ask. Simply put, you can’t take that many penalties and expect to win. They were too undisciplined. Particularly in a very lackadaisical second period where things unraveled. Only the sensational play of Shestyorkin kept them even through two periods. He faced a heavy volume of quality Flyers’ chances and did his part. The only goal that beat him was of the fluke variety with an Ivan Provorov shot deflecting off Miller before going smack off James van Riemsdyk’s face and in for only his second goal over the last 20 games. That power play goal swung the momentum.

Aside from untimely penalties that killed any momentum they had, you also saw multiple players in the Broadway Blueshirt blow wide open shots that could’ve resulted in goals. This happened several times. Even Panarin had Elliott dead to rights on a power play, but fired his wrist shot right into a desperate Elliott’s glove. Buchnevich had not one, but two opportunities. The better chance came after Elliott denied his first bid. But his rebound was too low and easily shut down by the Flyers netminder. You also had Brett Howden misfire a shorthanded shot from Kevin Rooney wide. I can’t explain Kakko anymore. He was all set up on a power play. Of course, he flubbed the shot sending it wide. The FINNish isn’t there yet. He remains stuck on six goals.

The game didn’t start out badly. Unlike the grinding style the Islanders play, the Flyers play a much more wide open skating game under Alain Vigneault. They’ve really struggled since March. A point that was made by the MSG broadcast. When you have guys like Van Riemsdyk, Travis Konecny, Kevin Hayes and Scott Laughton in funks, you can’t open the door. While the latter two didn’t get on the scoreboard, it felt like Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti were rooting for it. I can’t understand why they must mention the slumps of the opponent. Sure enough, it worked for Van Riemsdyk, who did in the Blueshirts. They jinxed their own team. Holy moly.

In a first period that saw the two teams combine for 25 shots (NYR 14 PHI 11), each goalie got the job done. They sure were on throughout. Elliott and Shestyorkin did their part. Otherwise, it would’ve been much higher scoring. You also had some close calls with Kakko and Chytil hitting the goalpost. On the other end, Flyers first round pick Wade Allison showed a nose for the net. He forced Shestyorkin into two superb saves. Allison was good in only his fourth NHL game. If he plays the way he did Thursday night, he’ll do well.

With the teams skating five-on-five, Kakko got a step on Phillipe Myers, who reached in with his stick and slashed him behind the Flyers net. That handed the Rangers the game’s first power play. Although they didn’t score during it, enough momentum was generated. That led to the first goal from offensive source Smith. Five seconds after it expired, Chytil and Miller were able to get the puck over for a good Smith shot that beat a screened Elliott at 9:55. The goal doesn’t happen without Howden going to the net and taking away Elliott’s vision. He jumped up and the Smith shot went through his legs and in. It was his fourth. The trouble is like Tuesday, he was the most noticeable player offensively. I like what Smith brings. But he can’t be their best player.

Any chance to increase the lead was turned away by a sharp Elliott, who finished with 33 saves on 35 shots to earn the game’s First Star. He deserved it. His best save was the one on Panarin later. However, the pair of stops he made on Buchnevich from a dangerous area were superb. He also denied Panarin twice late in the first.

Shestyorkin had two good saves on a Flyers power play with Smith off for interference on Claude Giroux. After the Howden near miss shorthanded, he went to work by stoning Allison in front and stopping Sean Couturier. Previously, he had to contend with an Ivan Provorov shorthanded bid following a Zibanejad turnover. I like how he challenges shooters. When he’s not coming out of his crease to play the puck like an extra defenseman, Shestyorkin is very composed in net. Unfortunately, he was hung out to dry despite making 33 saves on 36 shots.

One player who again was noticeable when he was on the ice was Kravtsov. Always very active, he had a nice takeaway with time winding down in the opening period. Even though it didn’t lead to a last second attempt on Elliott, Rosen praised Kravtsov for the effort. I don’t see why he isn’t getting more shifts. He makes the most of what Quinn gives him. Of course, all the special teams didn’t help which explains why Kravtsov only received 10:14 all at even strength. It’s interesting how he wound up a plus-one in a game where the top guns couldn’t get much done. I feel Quinn should’ve bumped him up. Not just for one shift with Zibanejad and Buchnevich either.

In the second period, you had some questionable officiating that really left me wondering what game they were watching. Of course, there were missed penalties. But that paled in comparison to ruling that Kreider was beaten out for an icing. He slowed down, but sure looked like he won the race. It’s no touch icing. Equally as mystifying was an icing the Rangers didn’t get. It sure looked like they should’ve gotten it. Maybe the four stripes need their eyes checked. The no touch icing rule is one I’ve never been a fan of. I understand why it’s there. But there are too many WTF moments that make fans question what is an icing and what isn’t.

Penalty trouble began when Kreider received an iffy holding minor on Nicolas Aube-Kubel. Shestyorkin made another splendid save on an Allison tip in. But while they were on the power play, Smith’s hustle led to a perturbed Konecny taking a hooking minor to even it up. That meant some four-on-four. Eventually, the Rangers had an abbreviated power play. Both Panarin and Zibanejad were stopped by Elliott, who was tracking the puck well. He also had a good stop on Colin Blackwell earlier with the overachiever waiting too long before pulling the trigger. That summed it up.

By the halfway point, Jones had three shots on net. He definitely is a good skater, who can create offense through transition. He possesses more speed than Miller, who had another tough one. He needs work on his skating and using his big frame. Jones looks to have a higher ceiling offensively. He sure knows how to get his shot through. There were moments where he had to make quick recoveries defensively. He didn’t hurt himself in the 9:45 he received.

A somewhat tough minor on an incensed Fox changed the game. He was called for hi-sticking Jakub Voracek after making contact with his neck. My issue with the call was how easily Voracek went down. It was pathetic. He took a dive that would’ve made Greg Louganis proud. I honestly felt it should’ve been two and two. Sure. It was a penalty on Fox by the rulebook. But Voracek embellished and I didn’t care for it. Predictably, that allowed the Flyers to tie the game.

Only 13 seconds elapsed when the weird scoring play occurred. On what can best be described as an accident that went in the Flyers’ favor, a Provorov shot went off Miller and then banked right off Van Riemsdyk’s face at the side of the Rangers net. The puck took a funny bounce to sneak by a visibly shocked Shestyorkin, who had played very well. Of course, that would be the one to beat him when he was snatching perfect redirections with his lightning quick glove. He really can flash the leather. The Yankees and Mets should take note.

As the dreadful second moved into the final few minutes after the Flyers tied it, one thing was clear. The Rangers were getting killed on face-offs and their defensive structure was nowhere to be found. How many times can defensemen get caught up ice leading to odd man rushes? Shestyorkin was stopping everything. It even included a penalty shot in the final minute when Hajek hooked Joel Farabee from behind. The right call. But Farabee was given nothing by a very cool Shestyorkin, who patiently kicked away the backhand attempt. It was the first penalty shot he’s faced in the NHL.

Surely, the Rangers would get momentum from such a clutch save in the third. Not so fast. Instead, the Flyers continued to apply pressure on the defense. They were all over our team, who played too loose in front of Shestyorkin. By that point, Quinn started mixing and matching his lines. Nothing seemed to work with Elliott emulating Bernie Parent.

The difference was the continued ineptitude of the Blueshirts to stay out of the box. On just a long shift where he had issues along with his teammates, Miller finally took a bad penalty when he hi-sticked Couturier and drew blood. That meant a double minor for the Flyers.

After they killed off the first half, the Rangers lost a defensive draw clean. On it, Hayes won it back to Provorov for a point shot that a wide open Van Riemsdyk redirected in for his second of the game at 10:29. On the play, he beat Lindgren to the front of the net to get the greasy goal that proved to be the game-winner with 9:31 remaining.

Less than four minutes later, Voracek dusted the Rangers when he took a Couturier lead pass and got behind the defense for a point blank opportunity. He made no mistake rifling in a wrist shot past Shestyorkin for a 3-1 Flyers lead with less than six minutes left. Shayne Gostisbehere drew the other helper on another dreadful play where the Rangers looked like chickens without heads. Jones and Hajek were on for the goal along with Zibanejad, Lafreniere and Buchnevich. It was ugly and finished off the Blueshirts.

Although they got one back thanks to a shocking well executed face-off play started by Zibanejad to Fox who moved the puck across for a Panarin rocket with two minutes exactly left in regulation, they never threatened Elliott following that goal. It was bitterly disappointing. What a tease. The Flyers defended well enough in front of Elliott to get the win.

There isn’t anything else to add. This was not what you wanted to see. Usually, this team finds a way to respond to bad losses. And the game the other night was a total embarrassment that exposed them. As fun as the Rangers are to watch, they can be grinded down. That has to change starting next season which is expected to be around Oct. 12.

With nine games left including the rematch at MSG tonight for the eighth and final meeting with the AV Club, it should be about seeing what the kids are. They’re too far behind to make the playoffs. I want to see the kids have an increased role. That’s what it should be all about now. We’ll see what they bring in the rematch.

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An Islanders Embarrassment: Blueshirts stink up the Long Island Sound, Quinn’s puzzling Bitetto move backfires, Trouba likely concussed by Martin in a total annihilation, A message for the Rangers organization

This was pathetic. Humiliating. Embarrassing. Awful. Horrible. Disgraceful. Distasteful. Soft. Weak. The Rangers’ performance on Tuesday night in Long Island should’ve been sponsored by Hostess. That’s how cupcake soft they were. That actually might be an insult to cupcakes. Even Charmin wouldn’t sponsor the 6-1 annihilation they suffered at the hands of the Islanders.

Not only did they get their ass kicked. But there was zero fight from a team that thought they were in the division playoff race. Instead of continuing to push back following a promising final half of the second period in which Brendan Smith scored and Semyon Varlamov shutdown Brett Howden twice, they simply gave up. It was discouraging. A game where a win could’ve meant cutting the deficit behind the blood rival Islanders to six with 10 left turned into a laugher for the Islanders fans who showed up at Nassau Coliseum.

So, there goes the fraudulent four-game win streak which saw them beat up the Devils. A team that showed way more heart despite their inexperience in nearly erasing a 6-0 deficit in a 7-6 loss to the Penguins. What does that say for the Rangers, who easily could’ve lost Sunday’s game after leading by three? Don’t bother.

If they thought they could half-ass it against the grittier Islanders, they thought wrong. The East/West style didn’t work against a bitter rival intent on sending a message. By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Rangers went off in a whimper, knowing full well Boston remained undefeated with Taylor Hall. They now trail the Bruins by six. Forget the games remaining or anything else.

So much went wrong. From David Quinn deciding to stick with Anthony Bitetto, who made Sunday’s unimpressive return look Norris caliber. I’m glad New York Post reporter Mollie Walker asked him the lineup question after a dreadful showing by Bitetto that would make Kevin Hatcher and Wade Redden drool. Bitetto was so bad, it felt like every time the Islanders scored, he was on the ice. I honestly felt bad for Smith, who also was charged a minus-three despite being one of the few bright spots. Guilty by association.

How do you think Igor Shestyorkin felt after this pummeling? It wasn’t a fair fight. The Islanders were ready from the very beginning. They won every battle and eventually took over the game after Shestyorkin only allowed one goal in a turnover ridden first period. It was a baker’s dozen for a Rangers team that couldn’t complete a pass or hang onto the puck. They made so many mistakes, it begged the question if they got any sleep. This was ridiculous.

Even if the final shot count read Islanders 28, Rangers 26, it meant very little. Shestyorkin kept them in for as long as he could. He made some excellent stops to keep the more aggressive Isles off the board in the game’s first 17 minutes. That included a couple of point blank chances in which no Ranger was in plain sight. He was on his own.

The Islanders finally beat Shestyorkin when off a good cycle from Anthony Beauvillier, Jean-Gabriel Pageau found Josh Bailey positioned perfectly in front of Bitetto to tip in a pass for an easy goal at 17:42. I’m not sure what Bitetto was doing. But he was no help at all. I still can’t explain why Quinn kept him in over Libor Hajek, who’s a better skater that’s improved. What did he think? That because Bitetto is a Long Island native with family and friends possibly there, it was the best move for the Rangers. It was nonsensical. I questioned it before the drop of the puck.

By that point, Jacob Trouba was done for the evening courtesy of a clean, hard hit from Matt Martin. Moments earlier on the same shift, Trouba caught Martin with a check against the glass. However, Martin returned the favor with an even tougher hit in the corner that injured Trouba. He tried to get up, but fell back down. Visibly woozy from the heavy check, he was helped off the ice by Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay to the locker room. It was clear he wasn’t coming back. It sure looked like a concussion. We know he was in concussion protocol. It didn’t look good.

Without Trouba, who is the physical force that leads the team, Quinn had no choice but to balance five defensemen for the rest of the evening. It didn’t go well. On the Isles’ first goal, Bitetto was paired with Adam Fox. None of the three forwards which included Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Colin Blackwell were much help. They got pinned in and were scrambling. Bitetto simply didn’t take Bailey, who returned to the Islanders lineup for healthy scratch Oliver Wahlstrom.

Making matters worse, with time winding down in the period, Ryan Lindgren got caught napping. Brock Nelson dusted him to get a clean look at Shestyorkin, but luckily his last second shot missed at the buzzer. Lindgren would struggle all game. I don’t care what his plus/minus was. He had one of his worst games. It just didn’t work for him. Fox struggled too as did the very passive K’Andre Miller. I like him, but at some point Miller must start using his size. He stick checks too much and sometimes gets caught out of position. He’s only a rookie. I hope that area will improve moving forward.

All of the really ugly stuff happened once Trouba exited. Coincidence? I don’t think so. As much as unrealistic fans criticize him due to the contract, Trouba provides the nuts and bolts. He plays very strong defense and had been playing well coming in. He hits with ferocity and blocks shots while doing a good job paired with Miller. Without him, the Rangers got exposed. Assuming he’s out for the Flyers game, it’ll be interesting to see what Quinn decides. We know Hajek will be back in. But might we see Zac Jones?

As putrid as the first was, I thought the Rangers would come out better in the second. Boy. Was I wrong. They continued their disappearing act. It got even uglier. On just a horrid defensive read by Pavel Buchnevich, who had one of those mindless games where he kept turning over pucks, his incapability to get a puck out resulted in the Islanders increasing the lead to two. With the top line pinned in, Kyle Palmieri and Nick Leddy combined to find an open Nelson for a nice deflection upstairs on a helpless Shestyorkin at 1:38.

That goal signified what was about to happen. My emotion was a bit down. I did some yelling at the TV begging the team to stop with the turnovers. They lost so many pucks, it looked like football on ice. Where your team fumbles or trips all over itself. There was a lot of over skating and a poor lack of execution. This was tough to watch.

It didn’t get any better when Smith tripped up Palmieri behind the Rangers’ net. On the first two power plays, the Isles only got two shots on Shestyorkin. They also were so abysmal on the second attempt that Zibanejad and Buchnevich created a shorthanded chance back in the first. If only they had converted. That the Rangers killed a Fox hi-sticking minor so easily with the four leftover defensemen of Lindgren, Smith, Miller and Bitetto was a credit to the forwards and the unwillingness of the Islanders to shoot the puck.

However, their third attempt would be significantly better. With face-off losses piling up, the Islanders were allowed enough setup time. Following a shot block, Jordan Eberle recovered a loose puck and moved it over to Noah Dobson. His attempt went off a player in front right to a wide open Beauvillier for an easy one-timer by Shestyorkin for a 3-0 Isles lead at 5:45. This was about as unlucky a bounce as you’ll see. The bottom line is when you are outworking your opponent, you get those breaks. The Rangers got what they deserved.

By that point, I knew the game was over. The Islanders are a very difficult team at home and even tougher to come back on. If not for Shestyorkin, it could’ve been a lot worse. The first period probably should’ve been 3 or 4-0. That’s how inept the Blueshirts were. They continued to look asleep until Beauvillier was sent off for hooking Blackwell. On the ensuing power play, the top unit moved the puck around nicely. They attempted some interesting shots with Ryan Strome looking for a tip and Zibanejad coming close on another deflection. But they never beat Varlamov.

As bothersome as that was, I was equally as frustrated with the two missed calls the Islanders got away with. One was a blatant trip on Vitaly Kravtsov where he went down. The linesman wasn’t even looking. It was right in front of him. How did he not see it! Even worse was Pageau boarding Lindgren from behind into the glass. No call. Play on. What a freaking joke!

Those have to be called. I can’t stand Pageau for obvious reasons. I really wish Lindgren had gone after him when the game got out of hand. I also would’ve been okay with anyone challenging Martin to take up for Trouba. Save me the nonsense about it being a clean hit. He likely won’t be back anytime soon. That’s a big blow. Even if the odds are stacked against them, losing Trouba hurts.

Somewhat curiously, the Rangers finally began to wake up during the second half of the game. While they were getting zilch from the Zibanejad line and the Artemi Panarin line, the fourth line provided a spark. In another active shift from Kravtsov where he used his speed and grit to get to a loose puck, behind the net, the first-year Russian moved the puck up to Smith. He took a shot that Kevin Rooney was able to get a piece of to beat a surprised Varlamov for his seventh with 8:56 remaining. That made it a two-goal deficit.

Another goal before the period was out and maybe we could get our hopes up for a comeback. The Rangers did play better in those 10 minutes. Of the four lines, it was the fourth line that was the most effective. However, Zibanejad got a great scoring chance. Sent in on a breakaway, he was one-on-one with Varlamov. He made his move and shot. However, Varlamov calmly made the big save to keep it 3-1. Had he scored there, we could be talking about a different game. It just didn’t go in. At least Zibanejad had shots. Panarin was nowhere to be found. Neither was Kreider or Buchnevich. Strome had a quiet night. Blackwell had a few attempts, but missed.

If there was a turning point, it came late in the second period. On another strong shift down low by the fourth line, the puck came to Brett Howden in front. He had two cracks at it. Twice, Varlamov robbed him by shutting the door on both point blank opportunities with under 90 seconds remaining. If either go in, again who knows. I get that he has stone hands. My feeling is he was in too close. If he could’ve lifted the puck, Howden scores and nobody’s complaining. When you get those chances, it can’t be your 12th forward.

The truth is the top six stunk. They were shutout. I thought that Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech had a good game. He was making a lot of good defensive plays and blocked four shots. As a team, the Isles blocked 25 shots. That’s a lot. Andy Greene had seven blocks by himself. In regards to that top six which Quinn broke up in the third by trying Panarin for some shifts with Zibanejad and Buchnevich, it didn’t matter. They were on for five goals against out of the Islanders’ six. Actually, that means the top two lines were victimized on all five of the Isles’ even strength goals. Brutal.

Entering the third period, the Rangers trailed by two. Next goal would tell a lot. All we learned is that they looked drunk or out to sea. On another long shift for the Islanders that saw the Beauvillier line do whatever it wanted, they skated circles around the Strome unit that had Panarin and Buchnevich on with the pairing from hell. And was it any great shock that Bitetto got victimized again when a Beauvillier pass connected with the loathsome Pageau for a wrecking ball of a one-timer Shestyorkin had no chance on. That made it 4-1 bad guys.

Around two and a half minutes later, Bailey got his second of the game from Beauvillier and Greene to put it out of reach with 9:45 left. This time, it was Kreider on with Strome and Blackwell while Lindgren was paired with Smith. Lindgren got beaten badly on it. It wasn’t his night.

At that point, I’d seen enough. Of course as I flipped back, there was Eberle celebrating his 15th goal after scoring on a breakaway 66 seconds later. He was allowed to go backhand deke and tuck without any resistance. Of course he was. Smith and Bitetto were on the ice. I have no idea why Quinn felt this was his best lineup. In two games back after missing a boat load of action, Bitetto has been on for five goals against. All at even strength. I wasn’t kidding when I said this.

Harsh. Sure. It isn’t easy to return to the lineup after so much time off. I know he had a back issue. My whole question was the timing. Why mess with success? Does Quinn actually believe Hajek’s game merited two in a row off? Or was the hit he absorbed the real reason? He looked to be improving while having chemistry with Smith, who’s the ultimate team player. It was a very questionable move that looks worse. When pressed by Walker, Quinn went with the standard response. It’s too early to determine the lineup.

There’s nothing else to add. This game was a total nightmare. I was concerned going in due to the way they played the last two against Binghamton New Jersey. You can’t get away with that against a battle tested team like the Islanders. They’re not known for scoring goals, but their work ethic is strong. This was a disaster.

Now, the Rangers have the Flyers for two. Forget that for a minute. I want to discuss how the official Rangers Twitter account never even bothered to put up the Rooney goal which Kravtsov set up on a good Smith shot. Neither did the Rangers On MSG feed. It’s one thing to get your ass kicked on the scoreboard. But quite another for them to not even bother. They never have any postgame anymore. But they’ll put up this instead over something everyone is in agreement on.

I’m not going to go there for obvious reasons. The decision rendered was exactly the one I expected. There’s no need for the organization or any other one involving sports to rehash it. It shouldn’t need to be reemphasised. What troubles me is that they continue to do this. The New York Rangers are a class organization from top to bottom. They honor plenty of hot button issues in season. Screw the political correctness. It’s overkill.

At the end of the day, that guy got exactly what he deserved. By that, I mean the cop. I don’t want to name names because it’s the same old stuff. They don’t care if a seven-year old black girl dies by gunshot at a McDonald’s drive-thru waiting for a freaking Happy Meal with her Dad in Chicago. Enough already! Especially the hypocritical losers who have to politicize everything. It is a national embarrassment. They don’t care. Not about the families. That’s the real disgrace.

One day, the blind sheep will wake up. When I finally give up on professional sports, you’ll know why. Unfortunately, that day is coming soon.

THREE GOATS OF GAME

3rd ๐Ÿ Artemi Panarin

2nd ๐Ÿ Anthony Bitetto

1st ๐Ÿ David Quinn

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Patrick Marleau makes NHL history by passing Gordie Howe for the most games ever played

An emotional Patrick Marleau acknowledges the crowd in Vegas at T-Mobile Arena after playing in his NHL record 1,768th game to surpass hockey legend Gordie Howe. The San Jose Shark has been the epitome of class and durability during an outstanding 23-year career. AP Photo credit San Jose Sharks via Getty Images

Last night in Vegas, history was made. Patrick Marleau played in an NHL record 1,768th game to become the all-time leader in games played. The Sharks forward passed hockey legend Gordie Howe to achieve the memorable honor.

Taken second overall behind former San Jose teammate Joe Thornton in the ’97 NHL Draft, the 41-year old center from Saskatchewan has had a long distinguished career playing 23 years in the NHL. A player who’s topped 20 goals or more 15 times including hitting 30 or better six times and eclipsing 40 once, Marleau has scored 566 goals with 630 assists for a total of 1,196 points in a modern day NHL record 1,768 games.

Having played for the Sharks three different times including the first 19 seasons, Marleau has scored 522 of his 566 goals in teal. That also includes 588 of 630 assists along with 1,110 of 1,196 points. Of the 1,768 games played including Monday’s record breaker versus the Golden Knights, Marleau has participated in 1,596 games as a San Jose Shark. That means only 172 came in a different jersey. He played 164 games in Toronto before getting traded to Carolina, who bought out the final year of his contract.

That allowed Marleau to re-sign with the Sharks where he played 58 games before being dealt to the Penguins as a rental in ’19-20. He got into eight games before the pandemic ended the regular season. After hitting free agency, it set the stage for the Sharks to bring back the most popular player in franchise history for a third time this season. He’s played in all 45 games in ’21 recording four goals and four assists. The astonishing thing about Marleau is how durable he’s been. He hasn’t missed a game in over a decade dating back to ’08-09 when he was 29. In fact, he’s now played in 899 consecutive games. An amazing achievement.

In looking at what Marleau has done throughout his long career, he’s played in four different decades starting in the 90’s when he debuted as a Shark on Oct. 1, 1997. At the time, he was 18 years and 16 days old making him the youngest player to make their NHL debut in the previous 76 years. Basically, that dates back to World War II. There’s only one player who played in more decades. That would be Mr. Hockey, who skated in five as a Detroit Red Wing, Houston Aero and then a New England and Hartford Whaler. You could also make a case for legendary Jaromir Jagr, who is still playing in the Czech Republic for Kladno at 49. Technically, he’s also skated in four decades. A living legend.

There are many nice things to say about the classy Marleau, who got choked up when talking about all the games he’s played during an emotional Sharks postgame that even featured former San Jose color commentator and current pre and postgame analyst Drew Remenda. Seeing Marleau tear up while telling Remenda how much he loves playing hockey was special. He added, “There’s nothing else like it.”

That’s how much the game means to him. It was a real nice touch by the Sharks’ rival Golden Knights, who honored him last night. Each player shook his hand and congratulated him. Both teams stayed on the ice and gave him stick taps in salute. This was a great moment for hockey that showed the sportsmanship and class the sport has. In a physical game where we’ve seen some battles cross the line, there is still respect shown. We see it during the Stanley Cup Playoffs and during record-breaking games such as yesterday.

Although the Sharks lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Golden Knights, Marleau got an overtime shift and was their first shooter in the skill competition. Robin Lehner padded away his low shot. Wearing his trademark number 12, Marleau had one shot on goal in 17:21. The Sharks have 11 games remaining on the season. These could be the final 11 he plays.

When I think of Patrick Marleau, I’m reminded of the fast skater he’s been. He always had great speed and a good shot that could beat goalies. That skating is why he can still play. I’ve always enjoyed watching him. He had a lot of skill and was a smart player who could play in his end. A very enjoyable to watch on breakaways. When he scored, Sharks play-by-play announcer Randy Hahn would get excited and say, “He Scoooooorreeess! Pat-rick Mar-leau!” Talk about a great broadcaster. He’s been one of the best. I loved him and Drew before he left to do regional games for the Oilers.

Is he worthy of the Hockey Hall Of Fame? Hard to say. Marleau has won no major awards. The Sharks fell short of winning a Stanley Cup in 2016 when they lost to the Penguins. At 38, he had five goals and eight assists for 13 points over 24 games during that run. To think he and Thornton got to team up for over a decade. The top two picks from that ’97 Draft. It was pretty cool.

I have nothing but admiration for Marleau. He’s been a classy player as has Thornton, who now hopes to chase that Cup in Toronto. Who knows if this is it for both. However, last night was all about Patrick Marleau. Congratulations to him on his record setting game. One that probably will never be broken.

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Birthday boy Zibanejad gets winner to repel Devils comeback as Rangers sweep to stay in race

If you were to look at the final score which read, Rangers 5 Devils 3, you’d assume that this was a routine win. It was anything but. For the second straight game, the Rangers built a big lead only to have the Devils come back. Only this time, it was a three-goal lead and the determined opponent rallied for three consecutive goals to make them sweat it out.

At the end of the day, they found a way to win. Birthday boy Mika Zibanejad scored the winner on the power play with three minutes left in regulation. His power play goal rescued the Blueshirts, who were badly outplayed in the third period. Give the Devils credit. They used a late goal in the second period from Mikhail Maltsev to build momentum for a strong comeback with Jack Hughes in the penalty box. While he served an extra 10 for a misconduct, they rallied back on early third period goals from Marian Studenic (1st NHL goal) and Nico Hischier to tie the game.

It really looked like the Devils were going to win following Hischier’s tying goal with 14:30 remaining. They had the better of the play and tested backup goalie Alex Georgiev, who responded with some enormous saves to keep his struggling team afloat. Ironically, he left the game earlier due to a left knee issue. But was able to return. In an earlier game at The Prudential Center, it was Igor Shestyorkin who had to be replaced briefly by Georgiev before being deemed okay to continue. Strange stuff. In both instances, the Rangers came away with the win.

Afterwards, David Quinn had some interesting quotes about getting the final game to sweep the four-game series against the Devils. He had emphasized how these games wouldn’t be easy. That the players on the other side are playing for jobs and trying to make a good impression. He also was quick to note that the Sabres beat the Penguins at the very same time. They won 4-2 and have been playing better since making the coaching change. The point being is that you can’t take these games lightly. The Rangers nearly blew a 4-0 lead on Saturday before two late empty net goals from Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider. They flirted with disaster today, but were fortunate.

If not for Ryan Murray accidentally getting his stick up on Kaapo Kakko with 4:10 left, who knows what could’ve happened. The Devils were the better team be a lot in the third. They had the better chances and more shots. In the end, it didn’t matter. Georgiev stopped Andreas Johnsson on a tricky move in tight. He made the key saves until Murray took the minor for hi-sticking. That allowed Zibanejad to atone for passing up on a wide open shot moments earlier. He was able to beat Mackenzie Blackwood from the slot for his 16th on a good pass from Ryan Strome. A play that was too easy due to the amount of space the Devils’ penalty kill allowed. Adam Fox drawing the other assist on the game-winner. A nice birthday present for Zibanejad.

Strome was able to get credit for an empty net goal after the refs awarded him with the goal due to being hooked from behind at 19:35. Colin Blackwell got another assist by wisely moving the puck ahead for Strome, who recorded a goal and a helper to boost his point total to 44 in 45 games played. He has seven over the last three games. All wins of course. Sidekick Artemi Panarin added two apples as he continues his torrid pace. He was bottled up by a stingy Devils defense for most of the third. But managed to clear the zone to Blackwell for the Strome goal that ended the day.

It could’ve been easier. The Rangers built a three-goal lead in the strength of a Kreider power play goal (team-leading 10th), Vitaly Kravtsov even strength goal (first of career) and Alexis Lafreniere’s eighth which also came at five-on-five. Try telling Larry Brooks that two of the first three goals came from the kids he tried to bury during a ridiculous question with Quinn in the postgame. He truly looks for any negative he can find. Never mind that Kravtsov scored a beauty from Brett Howden after he forced a turnover. Ditto for Lafreniere, who was able to beat Blackwood on a backhand one-on-one after good passes from Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. Look at the punishment Lafreniere endured from Matt Tennyson.

While it’s true they were caught on the two Devils’ goals in the third, they’re not finished products. Brooks can stick it where the sun don’t shine. How come he didn’t ask about Zibanejad failing to pick up Maltsev for the rebound goal at 18:55 of period two? What a two-faced fool.

The bottom line is it wasn’t only the younger players who looked like they saw ghosts for most of the third period. It was everyone. Zibanejad. Panarin. Kreider. Etc. They all looked bad turning over pucks with the silly East/West crap that sometimes can get you in trouble. I also didn’t understand why Anthony Bitetto played for Libor Hajek. He got turned around badly on the game-tying Hischier goal. That’s what caused it. Unless Hajek was hurt after he took a hit from behind yesterday, he should be in the lineup over a guy who hasn’t played in a while. Maybe Quinn wanted a physical element in case the game got out of hand. If that were true, how come they let the Devils run around and take liberties in the second period? There was no response. That can’t happen. They were bumping into Georgiev without paying a price.

I’m only pointing out that it bothered me. Granted. The Rangers hardly are tough. They traded Brendan Lemieux to free up room for Kravtsov. So, it is what it is. You still have to handle that stuff when opponents start crap during and after whistles. Yes. There were some big scrums on Saturday when all 10 players got together. That’s better. The Devils showed frustration. A natural reaction to losing. Hughes got a misconduct after tripping up Bitetto. It was understandable. It would’ve been nice if the Rangers had scored on the power play to make it an even harder game to come back in. The power play went 2-for-6 scoring early and late when it was needed to close out the Devils. They only had to kill one penalty. So, they won the special teams battle. That proved to be the difference in the game.

All three New Jersey goals came at even strength. Maltsev got his fifth he was able to get into position and score on a diving backhand rebound after a P.K. Subban shot was deflected by rookie Yegor Sharangovich to force Georgiev into a difficult first save. Maltsev beat Zibanejad to the spot to get the comeback started. It changed the momentum.

In the third, some sloppy puck work in the neutral zone allowed Andreas Johnsson to make a pass that Maltsev tipped ahead for Studenic, who got behind Bitetto and Brendan Smith to beat Georgiev on a clean wrist shot high to the stick side at 1:53. It was his first NHL goal. Maybe Georgiev could’ve had that one. But his defense did him no favors. In particular, Bitetto who needed to be more aware of where Studenic was.

With it now a one-goal game, it was pretty obvious who was in control. It was all Devils. They won all the battles and outhustled an asleep Blueshirts, who must’ve thought they could take the period off. They looked like zombies. There were so many turnovers and sloppy play. It was inevitable that the Devils would tie it up. That didn’t take long. On a play where nobody did anything right, Nolan Foote (1st NHL point) passed for Nick Merkley, who easily found Hischier for a quick one-timer into an open side at 5:30. On the play, Bitetto was again out of position with both Chytil and Kravtsov not able to close out Hischier for the Devils’ third straight goal. A good play by them. A very bad one for the Rangers.

Unlike yesterday when he took a timeout to settle down his club once the Devils made it 4-3, Quinn didn’t burn one. Instead, he kept sending his players out to try to get the period and game turned around. It was ugly for a while to watch. They looked out of sorts. It almost felt like the Devils would find the next goal and get an empty netter to complete the comeback. But that never came. Not even with Hughes back and beating a slow reacting K’Andre Miller to the inside only to get turned away by Georgiev. That was probably the biggest save. He did also deny Johnsson later, but Hughes is a lot better and way more dangerous.

The best chance for the Rangers came on a good defensive play from Kakko. He stole a Hughes pass and had plenty of time to get a good shot off in the slot. However, it missed high and wide. Those are the ones he needs to bury. If he wants to become a consistent finisher in the NHL, Kakko must score on those opportunities. It’s frustrating when he doesn’t. He has had a lot of chances due to his overall improvement. However, he remains stuck on six goals and seven assists. We need to see more from the big Finn soon. He’s still only 20 and learning the game. Similar to Hughes. Eventually, the top two picks from that hyped 2019 NHL Draft have to become consistent scorers. That’s the expectation for both.

The Devils handed the Blueshirts some power plays. Studenic took a holding minor a couple of minutes after Hischier tied it. But the Rangers were unable to do anything with it. It was the New Jersey penalty killers who got the job done to easily kill the penalty off. At that point, they had more jump and were better focused.

With Georgiev doing his part by making a few critical stops, Murray accidentally got his stick up just enough into Kakko for the Rangers’ sixth power play. After Zibanejad tried a low percentage pass for Panarin that never had a chance, the puck went out of the zone. As I was burying him, they regained entry. Then Fox got the puck over to Strome, who fit a pass into an open Zibanejad for a quick wrist shot that beat Blackwood top shelf at the 17-minute mark. It was way too easy. That power play goal gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead with three minutes to go.

This time, they didn’t blow it. It looked like it would be hard. The Devils had some puck possession in the Rangers’ end. But with Blackwood lifted, they never found the quality chance needed to tie the game. Instead, some good defensive work from Panarin and Blackwell allowed Strome to get ahead and be awarded his 14th goal. That sealed it.

You don’t get any extra style points for winning. That’s something Quinn alluded to afterwards. Sure. It didn’t come easy because it wasn’t supposed to. Steve Valiquette said they have to finish periods better on the MSG postgame. The only thing I agree on. He’s right about that. In these games, you can’t take your foot off the gas pedal. If you let up for a minute like the Rangers did towards the end of the second, it can swing the momentum. The Devils were way hungrier in the third and probably deserved a better result. Lucky for the Rangers, Murray took that penalty and Zibanejad scored.

This could’ve been a very bad loss. Instead, it allowed them to hold serve. With the Bruins not losing anymore after Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron took apart the Capitals in a 6-3 afternoon win, all the Rangers can do is take care of business. Something Zibanejad pointed out to Devils broadcaster Matt Loughlin. They can’t worry about that. Now at 52 points, they should be hoping for a Flyers win over the Islanders. At last check, it was scoreless. If that happens, it really emphasizes the big game on Tuesday.

They’re all big now. Any slip up and they could be toast. At least it’s fun to watch. They’re giving it everything. That’s all you can ask for. With 11 games left in this high speed chase, the Rangers know they can only take care of what’s in front of them. There’s the Islanders Tuesday and then a pair versus the Flyers. One game at a time. We’ll see what happens. Enjoy it.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd ๐ŸŒŸ Alex Georgiev, Rangers (25 saves on 28 shots in 57:41)

2nd ๐ŸŒŸ Nico Hischier, Devils (3rd goal, 7 SOG, 8 of 13 on face-offs in 17:13)

1st ๐ŸŒŸ Mika Zibanejad, NYR (game-winner on his birthday, assist, 10 of 18 on face-offs in 21:02)

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Buchnevich highlights latest win over Devils by becoming the first Ranger to score a hat trick on their birthday

Today was the birthday of Pavel Buchnevich. He celebrated his 26th birthday in style by making a bit of team history. Buchnevich became the first Ranger to score a hat trick on their birthday. A cool thing for the guy I voted for the Steven McDonald Award. I know he probably won’t win due to Team MVP Adam Fox. But if we’re talking about unsung heroes, then Buchnevich is that guy on this team.

In scoring goal numbers 17, 18 and 19 with the final one being needed as the Rangers held off a Devils rally for a 6-3 home victory, Buchnevich passed Chris Kreider for the team lead in goals. Both Buchnevich and Kreider got empty netters to clinch the team’s third consecutive win with all three coming at the Devils’ expense. They’ve now beaten the Hudson rivals five times in a row. With the final meeting of the eight-game season series tomorrow at 3 PM, they’ll go for a four-game sweep this week against a shorthanded team that isn’t on par with them.

No disrespect meant to the Devils. I think if you read Hasan’s critical post earlier, you know how bad it is for the Jersey side of the rivalry. After subtracting Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, Dmitry Kulikov and Sami Vatanen at the recent trade deadline, they are now without co-leading scorers Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt. So, the Rangers are doing what they have to do to stay afloat in the playoff chase. By holding serve, they cut the deficit back to four on the suddenly hot Bruins, who haven’t lost since adding Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly. Boston has an extra two games left. They also play tomorrow.

At this point, I don’t care who the Bruins play. That doesn’t matter. What does is who the Rangers play. All they can do is handle their business. That means coming away with two more points on Sunday in Newark. What they should’ve learned by now in two of these three games is the Devils aren’t going to roll over. They could’ve today after falling behind by four early in the second period when Artemi Panarin scored for the fourth time in the three games. Instead, they finally got to Igor Shestyorkin and made things interesting late.

So, they needed Buchnevich to score into an open net to record his first career NHL hat trick. Captain Happy was all smiles. Why not. He’s proven himself in a big year. Whatever decision they make this off-season, it’ll be an important one with Buchnevich being a restricted free agent a year away from unrestricted status. I don’t see how they don’t keep him. Losing a player of his caliber would hurt. He’s finally found the consistency that was lacking in the early part of his career. Credit David Quinn for expanding his role to include penalty killing. One that’s seen Buchnevich grow into more of a leader. His three shorthanded goals lead the team. Even if two are of empty net variety, the coach trusts him to be out in critical situations.

With a glut at forward, the Rangers will have decisions to make. Colin Blackwell picked up another point by assisting on a Buchnevich power play goal in a three-goal first period. For a change, they took advantage of some Devils penalties to convert on two power plays including a five-on-three where Ryan Strome scored a rare PPG in front. Strome is usually a decoy. But he moved into position to finish off a Mika Zibanejad pass that made it 2-0. The second line center had a good day too by recording three points (1-2-3). That included leading Panarin for an early goal 32 seconds into the second to make it 4-0. Panarin registered his eighth game of three points or more by tallying four points (1-3-4). That gives him seven points over two and eight versus the Devils in three games this week.

Following a better start from the Devils, who tested Shestyorkin early without success, it was Buchnevich who opened the scoring when he put away a Zibanejad cross-ice feed to finish off a two-on-one at 7:26. Panarin caused a turnover with a steal to set up the play. The goal came against backup Aaron Dell, who got the start in place of workhorse Mackenzie Blackwood. I think Lindy Ruff just wanted to give him an extra day off following Thursday’s debacle. You have to think he’ll get the start tomorrow.

Penalty trouble hurt the Devils in the first period of this game. After Brett Howden drew a holding minor on Damon Severson, the Devils were caught with too many men on a penalty kill. That means they somehow had five skaters out due to a bad change. It was pretty obvious listening to MSG radio analyst Dave Maloney call attention to it. It sounded like all five Rangers skaters let the officiating crew know. With both Severson and Nick Merkley off with the latter serving the bench minor, that gave the Blueshirts 1:16 to work with.

Following some saves from Dell, the Rangers kept the puck in on the two-man advantage. Eventually, Panarin and Zibanejad combined to set up Strome in front for his 13th at 10:27. By converting there, they still had a five-on-four. This time, Quinn went to his second unit which is gaining more trust. They had some good results recently. More of a shooting unit, they were able to get the second power play goal in 1:21 when Buchnevich got to a rebound in front and deposited his 18th for a 3-0 lead with 8:12 left in the period. Blackwell and K’Andre Miller notched the assists.

In a period that saw them outshoot the Devils 16-9, they could’ve had more. That’s how it went following a slow start. With three minutes remaining, Brendan Smith came to the aid of Libor Hajek after he was boarded by Nathan Bastian. Smith and Miles Wood each received matching roughing minors while Bastian got the extra two. The Blueshirts were unable to convert the late power play. Something they hadn’t gotten a lot of. In an interview with Michelle Gringas during intermission, Strome noted that it was a welcome change. He also knew they had two games without a single power play. He’s always a good interview because he has interesting things to say. I would love to keep him. But I’m not sure it’s in the cards. We’ll see.

Since they were going well with me listening to the game, I kept on the radio to start the second. When Panarin was able to take a Strome lead pass and beat a helpless Dell upstairs, I figured the game was over. How much can one tune in to see the same thing against a struggling opponent? Honestly, that’s how bad the Devils are right now. The Sabres could reel them in. They’ve played much better under their interim coach. Only five points separate Buffalo from New Jersey.

If the rest of the game didn’t interest me, it’s because at 4-0 up, I never felt the Rangers would blow it. Plus the Devils are so anemic offensively and had shown nothing against Shestyorkin. I wasn’t feeling well. So, I tuned out. In the back of my mind as I closed my eyes, I pictured a 6-3 win with the Devils finally scoring a couple on Igor. Call it intuition. I’m not a psychic or a fortune teller. I just figured that’s what the final score would wind up being. So, you can imagine my amusement when I logged on and checked the box score.

I’ll admit I wasn’t happy that the Devils got three in a row to make it a one-goal game. But it was predictable. You go ahead by four with hardly over a period played and it’s easy to relax. So, they sat back. We have to remember that this isn’t a finished product yet. It’s still a young roster. They’re going to make mistakes. It’s not like they’ve been consistent in the three games. They were lucky to escape Newark with the 3-0 win. It wasn’t until Panarin scored in the third that you felt safe. The Devils couldn’t solve Shestyorkin despite playing well. That happens in hockey with a hot goalie. And he’s definitely that.

After Mike McLeod snapped his shutout streak to make it 4-1 with under eight minutes left in the second, the Rangers took a three-goal lead to the the third period. Or as hockey historian Stan Fischler loves to say, “The dreaded three-goal lead.” He always said that was the worst lead in hockey.

I still have fond memories interning for Stan at his old apartment in Harlem on 110th Street. It was like a hockey library and train station being there. That was over 20 years ago. It’s hard to believe. I learned from the best. Without Fischler, I never wind up doing two stints at ESPN as an NHL researcher for Remote Production between ’00-01 and ’01-02. I lived in Bristol, Connecticut once. That was fun. So was working Devils production truck during ’00-01 before that gig. I have a lot of good stories to tell. For another day.

Taking a look at the third period, it’s easy to see what happened. The Rangers got careless. They had a lapse in concentration and it allowed the Devils to score twice during a four-on-four in 64 seconds on goals from P.K. Subban (who still can blast it) and promising rookie Yegor Sharangovich. It can happen that quickly. The opponent never wants to be blown out. Ruff wants his very young roster to work hard and not fall into bad habits.

They might not be all NHL caliber players. But you still have to play honest when facing the likes of Jack Hughes, Sharangovich, Janne Kuokkanen, Nico Hischier, Wood, Ty Smith, Subban, Severson and McLeod. The Devils boast some good young players and as much criticism as he’s received, Subban hasn’t mailed it in. He’s not what he once was, but still must be accounted for.

So, it became a game in the third. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Especially with one more against these guys in less than 24 hours. I was happy for Buchnevich that he got the birthday hat trick to ice the game. He deserves it. It wasn’t too long ago that I was very critical of his inconsistency. Plenty of observers felt similarly. Buch deserves a lot of credit for how hard he’s worked to become a complete player. Whatever money he gets in the future, he’s earned it.

It’s also nice that they had Kreider out in the last minute. It’s been a tough go for him the last month. Just being able to score his 18th into an empty net should help his psyche. The thing about him is he’s a sensitive guy who over thinks things when it’s not going well. The game doesn’t always come easy for him. So much of sports is mental. Maybe that goal will get him going. They need him for these final dozen games. No matter what that brings.

This is an exciting team for fans to follow. They are playing good hockey. They can score goals and get good goaltending thanks to Calder candidate Igor Shestyorkin. They can defend too when they play the right way. They are four lines deep and have three defense pairs now. Even if Ryan Lindgren (2 assists) and Adam Fox do the heavy lifting along with Miller and Jacob Trouba. The special teams are good with a top five penalty kill and a decent power play. They have the best goal differential in the division.

If they ever found their way in, the Blueshirts would be a dangerous opponent. I get the impression the Islanders don’t want any part of them. Not saying they lost intentionally. They’re not good offensively. But would you want to draw the Rangers a month from now? This is a better team than the one that got dusted by the Hurricanes in last year’s Play In Series. All they can do is continue winning and hope for help.

Whatever happens, let’s enjoy it. This team will be one to reckoned with very soon.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd ๐ŸŒŸ Ryan Lindgren, NYR (2 ๐ŸŽ, 3 SOG, +3 in 21:40)

2nd ๐ŸŒŸ Artemi Panarin, NYR (16th goal plus 3 ๐ŸŽ, 4 SOG, +2 in 17:48)

1st ๐ŸŒŸ Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (1st career hat trick on birthday making Rangers history, goals 17, 18, 19, 5 SOG, +1 in 19:28)

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