No supplementary discipline for Lindgren

It’s not often I agree with a ruling by NHL Player Safety. I previously had written a critical piece on the hypocrisy of what they decide to review. That’s a consistency issue that will continue to be up for debate.

What isn’t is that after having a telephone hearing with Rangers rookie defenseman Ryan Lindgren regarding his hit that injured Avalanche forward Joonas Donskoi in the first period of Tuesday’s game, they decided against taking any supplementary discipline. Here’s the two part explanation on Twitter:

I think the key in their ruling not to fine or suspend Lindgren was that he didn’t take an indirect angle or go out of his way to deliver the check on Donskoi. He didn’t extend outward or upward as they explained. This was a good clean hit with shoulder to upper body contact that unfortunately caught Donskoi in a prone position to make head contact. It was unavoidable.

I’ve seen enough angry replies to the Tweet already. That is expected. Nobody wants to see a player get hurt. However, there was nothing dirty about Lindgren’s hit. It was similar to a few of Scott Stevens’ biggest hits.

There really isn’t a whole lot to add here. Lindgren was held accountable by Nazem Kadri, who immediately instigated a fight and bloodied the rookie. They also got that call right, giving Kadri 17 penalty minutes including an instigator and misconduct.

As I said previously, hitting and fighting are part of hockey. That isn’t up for debate. Hopefully, Donskoi isn’t out a long time due to the hit. If he’s cleared, Lindgren could return tomorrow. We’ll see.

The right decision was made here. Kudos to NHL Player Safety on reviewing it and realizing it was a clean play that was unintentional.

Posted in NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NHL Player Safety hypocrisy

During Tuesday night’s game won by the Rangers 5-3 over the Avalanche, rookie defenseman Ryan Lindgren delivered a vicious hit on puck carrier Joonas Donskoi that knocked the Colorado forward to the ice. On the play, Donskoi never saw Lindgren due to Filip Chytil.

The end result was Lindgren coming across and catching Donskoi with a clean shoulder check that ended his night. It was the kind of hit we used to see from Scott Stevens. The Devils legend was known for punishing players in fragile positions. Eric Lindros, Ron Francis and Shane Willis could all testify to that.

Following the game which also saw Nazem Kadri make a bee line for Lindgren to pummel him in a onesided fight that ended his night as well, Colorado coach Jared Bednar complained in his post game interview about the big hit. Not surprisingly, the NHL Department Of Player Safety has decided to review the hit to determine if there will be supplementary discipline.

My reaction to it was more about the inconsistency of Player Safety. Where were they after Ryan Ellis elbowed Pavel Buchnevich? A dirty play the respected Nashville defenseman only received a minor penalty on despite Buchnevich needing concussion protocol to make sure he was okay. They never bothered to review the hit.

If you compare Ellis’s elbow which was directly to Buchnevich’s head with Lindgren, who landed a shoulder to the upper chest and head of a prone Donskoi, you could make a case that the Ellis hit was worse due to it being an elbow that was a direct head shot. Here is the Lindgren hit on Donskoi:

The case for a suspension is that they can rule that it was an illegal check to the head. Even if Lindgren didn’t leave his feet and led with his shoulder, there was head contact. Though the principle point of contact was shoulder to chest with Donskoi in a prone position.

Regarding the particulars before tomorrow’s home match against the Devils, it is a telephone hearing. So if Lindgren does get suspended, it’ll likely be for one game. If that’s the case, the team could just shift Brendan Smith to defense and rotate him for some fourth line shifts.

The issue is when it comes to Player Safety, nobody knows what they’ll review and what they’ll ignore. They suspended Corey Perry for an elbowing major in the Winter Classic between Dallas and Nashville. That was warranted. If only there was more consistency.

In reference to Stevens, I don’t imagine he’d enjoy playing under today’s rules where there’s a microscope. He was the best open ice hitter who brought the intimidation factor. Hitting is part of the game. So is fighting. As we saw last night, sometimes they go hand in hand as Lindgren found out.

There will be a decision soon.

Posted in Column, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A night to remember for Shesterkin and Rangers

Igor Shesterkin gets some love from Henrik Lundqvist after his first NHL win. The Rangers defeated the Avalanche 5-3 at The Garden. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

The chants were different this time at Madison Square Garden. It wasn’t the familiar “Hen-rik, Hen-rik!”, we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. Instead, Ranger fans serenaded rookie goalie Igor Shesterkin with “Igor, Igor!”, chants in what amounted to an exciting 5-3 home win over the Avalanche.

On a night to remember, the 24-year old Russian netminder showed a unflappable mental fortitude after giving up two early Colorado goals on their first three shots. Neither were his fault. Another kid with a bright future, Adam Fox made a mistake that resulted in Hart candidate Nathan MacKinnon converting a mini break by finding the five-hole on Shesterkin for a 2-0 Avalanche lead.

How would he respond to the early adversity against one of the West’s best teams? Just fine. For the remainder of his first NHL game in a complex three goalie roster that the Rangers will worry about, Shesterkin stopped 28 of the next 29 shots to win his first start. He didn’t have to be spectacular. But was there when they needed him. Shesterkin made 13 saves in a busy third period to finish with 29 altogether.

Following Wonder Bread Man Artemi Panarin sealing it with an empty net goal from a brilliant Jesper Fast (3 assists), Igor received a nice moment when backup Lundqvist came over to congratulate him on his first victory. Hopefully, the first of many for the composed goalie the Rangers stole in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft.

For some fans like this one above, it was Lundqvist that made them a fan of the Blueshirts. If you’ve been around longer due to living in the Big Apple like myself, you understand better. Nothing lasts forever. This franchise has had their share of goalies who were special. From almost its inception, the Broadway Blueshirts have boasted great goalies throughout nearly a century of history. Names such as Lorne Chabot, Dave Kerr, Gump Worsley, Chuck Rayner and Ed Giacomin have been the guardians of the galaxy.

Even all-time great Terry Sawchuk finished his career on Broadway. Gilles Villemure shared a Vezina with Giacomin in ’70-71. When Eddie was placed on waivers by Emile “Cat” Francis, he opposed the Rangers as a Red Wing on a unforgettable night where fans chanted, “Edd-ie, Edd-ie, Edd-ie!” John Davidson took over and carried the team to the Stanley Cup Final in ’79.

Eventually, John Vanbiesbrouck became the next great goalie winning the Vezina in his second full season while backstopping the ’85-86 team to the Wales Conference Final. Beezer would share the net with Mike Richter for a few years before becoming part of the expansion Panthers. The Rangers wisely held onto Richter, who would bring the franchise its greatest moment as the unflappable goalie who was unbelievable during their fourth Stanley Cup in ’93-94. He would pass Giacomin for the most wins in franchise history and wind up with 301.

It took a few years until Lundqvist grabbed the mantle to become the next great Ranger goalie. He owns almost every franchise mark including wins (458), shutouts (63), games played (881), saves (23,414) and minutes played (51,577). He has a career 2.43 goals-against-average (GAA) and .918 save percentage. All kidding aside, nobody can dispute what King Henrik has achieved. A Vezina winner in ’11-12, the only thing missing is a Cup. Unfortunately, the window passed. We’ll always be left wondering about 2014 and 2015. That’s how close those teams were. 2012 will always sting.

With Lundqvist now 37 and turning 38 soon with one year remaining on his contract, the time has come for Shesterkin. Whether you spell it that way or Shestyorkin, it’s his turn to grab the keys. That’s how it works in sports. Nobody lasts forever. Even the great Martin Brodeur concluded his career in an odd St. Louis Blues jersey that never quite fit. If he chooses to stick around for 500 wins, it’ll likely be in another jersey for the prideful Henrik.

What they have to feel good about is how composed Shesterkin was following an odd redirect goal from JT Compher and MacKinnon doing what he does. He made a big save on a Colorado power play with Jacob Trouba off for interference. It was a point blank opportunity that he denied.

By that point, the resurgent Chris Kreider had gotten one back with a neat redirect of a Ryan Strome pass for a power play goal. Following a successful penalty kill, it was Mika Zibanejad who was able to beat Colorado starter Philipp Grubauer thanks to some strong work from Fast and good playmaking from Tony DeAngelo (2 assists). Zibanejad got his 17th to tie the score. He was brilliant throughout going 1-1-2 with superb penalty killing along with face-off dominance (17-for-23) while logging 25:32. Zibanejad deserves to be the next captain.

Then, we had some nastiness when rookie Ryan Lindgren caught an unsuspecting Joonas Donskoi with a ferocious hit against the boards that knocked him silly. Before play could be whistled down, Lindgren received a beat down from Nazem Kadri, who bloodied him with a fistful of rights to the face. Neither Lindgren (upper body) nor Donskoi (upper body) returned.

I had no real issue with what Kadri did. He got the instigator for dropping the gloves first to stand up for a injured fallen teammate. Even though I tend to frown upon players fighting over clean checks like the one Lindgren delivered that flattened Donskoi, I understand why Kadri did what he did. It had no real effect on the rest of the game.

The Rangers didn’t score on the power play. However, they had the better of the play. In particular, the recently formed third line of Filip Chytil, Brett Howden and Kaapo Kakko. Since Brendan Lemieux went down with a fractured hand, Howden has been shifted off center to the left wing by coach David Quinn. He’s looked much better on the wing while playing with Kakko, who seems to be more effective on the third line centered by the improving Chytil. In fact, Howden hit a post and nearly set up Trouba for a goal if he hit the net. When Lemieux returns, I’d keep Howden where he is.

Playing for the second straight night after being shutout 1-0 by the Islanders, Colorado looked a bit off. They weren’t as sharp, showing some wear and tear in the second game of a back-to-back. However, part of that was due to how the Blueshirts played. They had a hard forecheck for once by controlling puck possession and cycling effectively. Appreciative fans responded with cheers for the effort. This was a welcome change for a team that normally struggles at even strength.

Following a near miss shorthanded on a terrific set up from Zibanejad, Brady Skjei scored his sixth on a good point shot that came off some splendid work from Panarin and Fox. The much critiqued left defenseman played arguably his finest game of the season. Paired with Trouba, Skjei logged 27:12 while doing a good job against the dangerous Colorado line of MacKinnon, Mikka Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They actually limited their scoring chances by taking time and space away. It was a refreshing change.

Perhaps having Shesterkin debut energized a team that needed a win in the worst way following a 0-3 road trip at Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. They deserved a better fate against the Canucks, but Alexandar Georgiev allowed Tyler Myers winner late. He was a healthy scratch. With three goalies, someone has to sit in the press box for now. Strange. But with the Rangers unable to send down Georgiev without passing through waivers, this is the current situation.

Despite playing well for Shesterkin, a hiccup allowed Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky to work the puck over to a vacated Compher for his second to again tie the score at three at 11:32. DeAngelo went the wrong way and no forward covered for him. Those kind of miscues are still gonna happen from time to time. The defense and forwards must get on the same page.

However, a key face-off win by Strome led directly to him finishing off a Fast pass that Panarin (goal and two apples) helped set up for a 4-3 lead 2:07 later. That line combined for eight points after taking the collar the last two games.

With Strome in the penalty box for interfering with forgotten former Blueshirt prospect Ryan Graves, Shesterkin came up big by denying a golden opportunity in tight with a quick pad save. He stopped three Colorado shots on that power play. As the game went on, he got stronger. That included flashing his butterfly like glove to the crowd’s delight. His rebound control was excellent.

An errant hi-stick from Calder hopeful Cale Makar to Pavel Buchnevich gave the Blueshirts one more man-advantage. But they were unable to cash in. As fate would have it, it came down to the frantic final few minutes for Shesterkin. He passed with flying colors.

So too did the team due to doing a good job protecting the house. They kept most of the Avalanche shots to the outside. It was a strong effort without Lindgren, who missed the remainder of the game following his dust up with Kadri. Quinn used Brendan Smith for some shifts on defense. But he leaned heavily on workhorses Skjei and Trouba.

With Grubauer off for an extra attacker, eventually Fast made a smart defensive play to get the puck out of harms way to Zibanejad, who dished it for Panarin. He exited the Ranger zone and took his time before firing his team best 23rd into the open net for the final margin.

It was a nice way to end a good game. A memorable one for Shesterkin. He was also presented the Broadway Hat in the locker room. Welcome to the show, kid!

Battle Of Hudson 3 Stars:

3rd 🌟 Igor Shesterkin, Rangers (29 saves on 32 shots including 28 of last 29 for 1st career NHL win in debut)

2nd 🌟 Jesper Fast, Rangers (3 🍎, +3 in 17:43)

1st 🌟 Artemi Panarin, Rangers (empty net goal for 23rd plus 2 🍎, 8 shots, +3 in 19:07)

Posted in NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Igor Shesterkin’s Time Has Finally Come

Following an empty three game road trip in Western Canada, the Rangers made a big decision yesterday that could have a long-term impact on the franchise. They decided it was time to finally call up top goalie prospect Igor Shesterkin. He will make his first career NHL start tonight against the Avalanche.

Having successfully come over to North America where he dominated the AHL with the Wolf Pack to be named one of two All-Stars along with defenseman Joey Keane, the recently turned 24-year old Russian netminder will be in net to face one of the league’s best offenses. Considering they were shutout 1-0 on Monday night at the Islanders, Colorado should have plenty of motivation.

By giving Shesterkin this game, the Rangers organization isn’t shying away from testing their young goalie right away. It’ll be a baptism by fire when he faces a team that features Hart candidate Nathan MacKinnon, Mikka Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri and Calder candidate Cale Makar. It should present a unique challenge for the rookie who earned this opportunity by dominating the AHL by posting a 15-4-3 record with a league best 1.93 GAA, .932 save percentage and three shutouts.

So, when the Blueshirts kickoff the second half at Madison Square Garden later, there will be plenty of curiosity and excitement to see if Shesterkin can hold up versus one of the NHL’s top teams. The former 2014 fourth round pick selected number 118 overall doesn’t lack confidence. Both he and the team feel he’s ready.

Forget all the sideshow theatrics of a columnist who wants to create a fake storyline due to there now being three goalies on the NHL roster. There is no controversy here. Shesterkin earned it. The most important thing is for the organization to find out if he can handle the weight of expectation and pressure with becoming an NHL goalie. If he proves himself, then it helps the Rangers decade what’s best moving forward.

For those who argue that goaltending is the least of their problems, both Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev have sub 3.00 goals-against-averages and similar save percentages (Hank .910/Georgie .909). While they’ve done alright given the high volume of shots and scoring chances they’ve faced, neither has made enough of a difference to lay claim as a number one goalie. One makes too much money while the other is actually a couple of months younger than Shesterkin.

This day was coming. So even if there aren’t any goalie starved teams ringing Jeff Gorton’s phone off the hook to inquire about Georgiev, this is all about the future of the franchise. The Rangers have approximately six weeks to decide what they’re doing. Today is January 7, 2020. The February 24 trade deadline will be here before you know it.

Goalie is an organizational strength. Tyler Wall continues to impress with UMass Lowell in his senior year. Olof Lindbom is only 19 playing in Sweden a ways away. Adam Huska is now the starter for the Wolf Pack. Eventually, the team has to make tough choices. The Seattle expansion hits in 2022. Around the same time Lundqvist has his contract expire and Georgiev could be left unprotected if he’s still a Blueshirt.

There are more tough decisions coming up. That’s not what this post is about. I’ve referenced it before and will again in future posts.

Tonight is an exciting day for the Rangers and their loyal fans. It’s a glimpse into the future. For better or worse, Shesterkin or Shestyorkin will likely be the goalie leading this team by 2022. Who knows. Maybe if Wall pans out assuming he works out, that could be your Blueshirts tandem.

Don’t let any alarmists more concerned about the three goalie system, ruin it. This is a good thing. Hope is too.

Posted in Column, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgiev gives up late goal to Myers in tough loss to Canucks, Rangers go 0 for 3 in Western Canada, Kreider Appreciation, Vancouver Retro 90’s Night invokes memories

Marc Staal battles a Canuck along the boards. AP Photo credit Vancouver Canucks via Getty Images

Encouraging is that unlike the first two games, they played well in Vancouver. However, the Rangers still managed to lose a tough one to the Canucks 2-1 in British Columbia. They went empty by going 0 for 3 on the Western Canada road trip. It was disappointing.

Despite outplaying their old Western rival they beat in ’94 to win the Stanley Cup on Retro 90’s Night at Vancouver, the Rangers could only muster one goal on 37 shots against Jacob Markstrom. The Canucks starting goalie who was elected to his first All-Star Game, was the difference throughout finishing with 36 saves. He went 2-0 versus Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev by stopping 74 of 77 shots in a clean season series sweep. He improved to 6-2-1 for his career versus the Rangers.

It wasn’t so much that Georgiev was bad. He stopped 25 of 27 sent his way including 14 of 14 in a busy second period. However, the two goals he allowed were preventable. The first was a bad rebound of a Loui Eriksson shot he sent right on the stick of Antoine Roussel for another early goal scored by an opponent at 1:46.

In the third period of a dead even game, it was mostly Blueshirts. They carried most of the play by forechecking deep and generating quality scoring chances. For one night at least, coach David Quinn rolled four lines. They outshot Vancouver 14-6 in the period. But Markstrom made some big time saves to give his team a chance to steal it.

That they did. Following a bad icing from Brady Skjei, Vancouver captain Bo Horvat won an offensive draw back to rookie Quinn Hughes. He passed for teammate Tyler Myers, who snuck a slow high wrist shot over a kneeling Georgiev for the go-ahead tally with 1:29 left in regulation. It was one of the rare times the normally stand up goalie was caught down by a good shot that beat him stick side. A crusher for sure.

For a second game in a row, the top line of Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast were held in check. When the wonder Bread Man doesn’t hit the score sheet, it’s problematic for the team. They don’t have enough scoring depth to offset it. Panarin has been bread and butter the whole first half. His 22 goals, 33 assists and 55 points easily outdistance Strome (11-26-37) for the team lead in scoring. Hopefully, he can find his form when they return home this week.

Mika Zibanejad also went without a point for a second consecutive game. If he and Panarin aren’t doing the scoring, the Rangers will be hard pressed to find consistent offense. On a night they were much better defensively while establishing a consistent attack, it went for naught due to Myers’ late heroics.

The only offense came from Pavel Buchnevich. He’d been in another scoring slump. However, after taking a vicious hit in the corner, Buchnevich went to the net and was the beneficiary of a fantastic strip and dish across from the underrated Chris Kreider to tie the score at 7:59 of the first. Kreider made the whole play possible by using his big frame to steal the puck and find an open Buchnevich for a put away into an open side. That gave the 24-year old Russia n his seventh goal (first in seven games). He ends the first half with 23 points (7-16-23) including a goal and assist in his last two. Will it finally get him going?

As for Kreider, he has picked it up. While the dozen goals in 41 contests aren’t great, the 14 assists give him a respectable 26 points, which ranks fifth in team scoring. Don’t forget he sacrificed some of that for the ultra skilled Panarin. Since being reunited with Zibanejad, the 28-year old American has played better. From Dec. 8 on when he scored a goal in a win at Vegas, Kreider has 13 points (6-7-13) with a plus-four rating over the past 13 games. Exactly a point-per-game.

He’s back to being the player he can be. No matter what happens on February 24, Kreider has been one of this team’s most dependable performers for nearly a decade. Some fans take him for granted. Not everything he does during shifts shows up on the stat sheet. Or beloved Corsica. If they do move on from him come next month’s trade deadline, he will be sorely missed. There aren’t many players like him who can do the grunt work. His leadership will also be missed.

Of course, the organization has to do what’s best for the future of the franchise moving forward. If only Jeff Gorton didn’t commit so much money towards Skjei. In a perfect world, I’d keep Kreider. But his price is going to be around the same ballpark as former teammate Kevin Hayes. We’re talking at least six years at a likely AAV of $7 million. He’ll turn 29 by the end of April.

With other decisions on Group II free agents Strome, Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux, whose straight forward physical style is missed, they’re caught between a rock and a hard place. Fast can be re-signed for an affordable cost of three or four years for around $3.25 million on average. He’s also up like Kreider. Do the math. They can’t keep everyone.

If Lundqvist ($8.5 million) and Marc Staal ($5.7 million) were coming off the books this summer instead of next year, that would free up enough space to keep almost everyone. Nothing should change for either senior Blueshirt. I’d like to see what AHL All-Star Igor Shesterkin can do. They also have to decide on Georgiev, who’s been alright. But there’s only so much he or an aging Lundqvist can do. Shesterkin is the real deal. I hope we see him soon.

Ironically, last night was Kreider’s 500th game as a Ranger. The former ’09 first round pick taken number 19 is closing in on 300 career points. His assist gave him 151 to go with 145 goals for a nice total of 296 points. Remember when he came fresh out of Boston College where they won a national championship, and he debuted during the 2012 NHL Playoffs? He had yet to play an official regular season game, but fit in well scoring five big goals while adding two assists during the club’s run to the Eastern Conference Final. He went 5-8-13 two Springs later in the gut wrenching Stanley Cup loss to the Kings. It was his tying goal in Game Five from USA buddy Derek Stepan that saved the Rangers against the Capitals in Round Two.

Throughout it all, Kreider has been here for all of it. Maybe he didn’t quite hit the 30-goal mark or 60 points as I believed he would. Go look at his goal totals. 21 in ’14-15. 21 in ’15-16. 28 in ’16-17. He had 16 in 58 games during ’17-18 where he recovered from rib resection surgery due to a blood clot. He had a refreshing new outlook following it. You know he hits 20 if he doesn’t miss 24 games that season. In ’18-19, he hit 28 for the second time in his career. His 52 points were one off a career best 53 set in ’16-17.

Is Chris Kreider a great Ranger? No. However, he has been a very good player, who improved under former coach Alain Vigneault. The net front presence became his trademark along with screening netminders and tipped pucks for goals. Nobody is better at that than him. They keep a stat for it. You think there won’t be a lot of interested teams if he’s available. The Pens lost top finisher Jake Guentzel for the rest of the regular season. They could come calling. So could the Avalanche or Blues.

The point of emphasis is that more fans should appreciate Kreider while he’s still a New York Ranger. I critiqued him like many too. However, I understand what he brings. There haven’t been many successful Rangers first round picks. He got to see former teammate JT Miller last night. After not fitting in with Tampa, Miller has been a much better player in Vancouver. He plays top line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser while playing a similar role to Kreider. He has 40 points (15-25-40) in 42 games. I’ve seen criticism over Kreider not having similar production. Has he ever played with that kind of talent? Miller didn’t exactly light it up with Nikita Kucherov or Steven Stamkos. He never showed up for any playoffs either.

This is one of the biggest issues I have with our fan base. They’re so unappreciative. So arrogant that it defies logic. If Kreider was Russian like Buchnevich, he’d be beloved. I’m not making this up. There is a inner circle of people who call themselves ‘fan bloggers.’ Only they’re hardly objective. One such nuisance is still trying to argue for Buchnevich over Strome due to some lazy excuse that he’s played with Panarin. Who’s more valuable? The $3.1 million bargain who’s formed splendid chemistry while shifting to center, or the inconsistent moody right wing, who doesn’t always bring it. There’s only a two-year age gap. These people who swear only by metrics and nerdy charts should be outlawed. They don’t watch each shift and aren’t objective.

Buchnevich doesn’t play a lick of defense and avoids physical contact like the plague. That means he must produce. Otherwise, he’s a wasted investment that Gorton should look to trade. This isn’t criticism either. It is the truth. Strome can play center while being trusted at five-on-five, power play and penalty kill. Buchnevich is used in the top six at even strength and on the power play. If he showed more of an impulse to shoot the puck like his strong finish last year, his production would go up exponentially. His goal boosted his confidence as he was one of the three best Blueshirts on Saturday.

Now, let’s see if Buchnevich can follow it up. If he does, then there will be cause for excitement. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be a 25-goal, 55-60 point player. Quinn has given him every opportunity. Right now, his current pace is 14 goals and 46 points. He has to do better than that. That’s why fans are so divided on him.

I want to praise the Vancouver Canucks for bringing back the classic skate jerseys that defined them in the 90’s. I’ve always felt that cool logo along with those futuristic colors were their best uniform. Picture Pavel Bure flying down the ice for a clean breakaway goal on one of his patented forehand dekes. Or Cliff Ronning making a perfect pass across to Greg Adams for a one-timer past Mike Richter. Or captain Trevor Linden dragging Leetch while scoring a nice shorthanded goal. Or Kirk McLean making a sprawling save as he did throughout their surprising run 26 years ago. Those were cool teams.

Don’t forget Alex Mogilny once wore that Jersey and scored over 50. Too bad Bure was out hurt. They had some good rosters. I never understood why they moved on from that era by changing the logo when Mark Messier traded in his Blueshirt for a Canucks jersey. Neither decision ever made sense. The roster would be destroyed when Bure was traded to Florida in a move for Ed Jovanovski. Mike Keenan also wound up there after his shortlived disaster with the Blues. Yikes.

I guess it just goes to show you what a low down dirty rat Keenan was. He was negotiating with Detroit supposedly while the Rangers were still trying to win their first Cup in 54 years. Crazy. Then, the chants of “One More Year”, at the Canyon Of Heroes parade in City Hall while you could tell Keenan was gone for St. Louis. Forcing that regrettable trade involving Esa Tikkanen and Doug Lidster with Iron Mike for classic underachiever Petr Nedved. A player Messier couldn’t stand. Plus they had that asshole nut job Colin Campbell taking over so he could treat Alex Kovalev like crap. What a buffoon. He was carried by Gretzky in ’97 along with Richter and Leetch. I think that’s part of why Messier left. It wasn’t his team anymore. He couldn’t be upstaged.

It’s hard to believe I rehashed that wild and crazy era of Rangers hockey. One in which they should’ve wound up with at least another Cup if not for some awful moves by Neil Smith sans Messier.

Maybe the Canucks having a throwback night is why. It’s a lot more fun to write about than the current Rangers, who dropped their third straight game. They’re headed for another season without playoffs. That’s the reality of where they are.

I’m most looking forward to today’s gold medal game between Russia and Canada at the IIHF Under 20 World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic. That should be fun. Alexis Lafreniere tries to bring Canada back the gold against a experienced and talented Russian roster that got a breathtaking overtime winner from Ivan Zubov to stun Sweden 5-4.

That’s where I’m at. If you get up, put on NHL Network and watch it. It’ll be fun. Nils Lundkvist will be on the TV along with Karl Henriksson in the bronze medal game versus Finland earlier. Lundkvist looks to have a bright future on Broadway. He’s good. Another right defenseman.

Posted in NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A telling Gif from Thursday’s loss on Skjei struggles, The harsh reality Blueshirt fans must face

I didn’t catch it. However, other fans did. Following an undisciplined minor penalty by Brady Skjei, coach David Quinn had some interesting words with assistant coaches David Oliver and Lindy Ruff on the Rangers bench.

Kevin DeLury caught it and then highlighted what Quinn was saying to Ruff about Skjei. The much maligned fifth-year defenseman who had another forgettable game in the team’s 4-3 loss at Calgary.

The Go Rangers Radio podcaster, who once ran the best blog about the team, definitely is on to something. It doesn’t take much to figure out what Quinn told Ruff. He was done with Skjei for Thursday night. A game in which he also finished minus-two. He didn’t see another shift the rest of the third period.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens moving forward. Given the situation, I doubt you’ll see Marc Staal get over 22 minutes of ice time when the Rangers visit Vancouver tomorrow night. With both Ryan Lindgren and Skjei struggling, Quinn had no choice but to double shift the veteran left defenseman. He was the only steady player of the team’s trio.

Would the coach consider healthy scratching a defenseman for Libor Hajek, who has been skating with the team on the road trip? That’s possible. However, I’m afraid that if he gets in the lineup, it’ll be for Lindgren, who received less than 13 minutes due to a second consecutive bad game. Not Skjei, who will be given more leeway due to his standing.

I’m not suggesting I agree if that’s what Quinn does. But the issue here is Skjei is trusted by the coaching staff to log more important minutes than Lindgren, who at last check is still a 21-year old rookie that plays alongside fellow 21-year old freshman Adam Fox on the third pair. With Fox recording a career high three points on all assists last night to give him five helpers in the past two games, he has been a productive player for the club. His 22 points (5-17-22) rank second among Rangers defensemen behind Tony DeAngelo (8-21-29). Jacob Trouba also has 21 points (6-15-21).

Offense from the blueline isn’t an issue for the Rangers. Team defense is. They aren’t very good at protecting the front of the net or stopping opponents in transition as was evidenced on Thursday night. Puck management is part of the problem. It doesn’t only apply to the six D, but also the 12 forwards.

Artemi Panarin had arguably his worst game as a Ranger, going minus-three with three shots. His ill advised back pass trapped Trouba and Skjei, directly causing a breakaway goal scored by Johnny Gaudreau. His line got victimized three times including on a Flames odd man rush started by Gaudreau that linemate Sean Monahan finished for the game-winner. The three forwards including Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast didn’t do a good enough job getting back. Neither did Lindgren, who got caught napping on Noah Hanifin’s feed down low for the Monahan tally.

Even though it’s been a struggle lately for him, Lindgren has been a pleasant surprise for a team that lacks enough grit and physicality. He’s played in 30 games so far after debuting last year. His improvement has been a bright spot that’s not discussed enough. A classic stay at home defenseman who plays with an edge similar to former Blueshirt Mike Sauer, Lindgren has improved his skating and positioning to form a solid third pair with the smoother skating and more offensive minded Fox.

If Quinn so chooses to give him a night off in the press box, so be it. It’s part of the learning process. As for Skjei, the mistakes are glaring. No longer a kid as he was under former coach Alain Vigneault, who took his share of heat for not using Skjei higher than the third pair, he’s proven to be correct about the former 2012 first round pick. He was only protecting the defenseman from tougher match-ups. Now, he’s exposed on the top pair while dragging down Trouba, who has to do too much.

In a perfect world, Skjei would be on the second pair. However, the rebuilding Blueshirts aren’t in that position. They must manage young players like Lindgren, Fox and DeAngelo. Ditto for Hajek, who hasn’t proven himself despite the organization believing he’s as good as advertised due to GM Jeff Gorton trading away Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller to the Lightning in a trade that also netted Brett Howden.

The best aspect of the trade could be yet to come with 19-year old defenseman Nils Lundkvist possibly a year away. He’s playing for Sweden at the World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic with recent second round pick Karl Henriksson. Both have performed well. Lundkvist has five assists and Henriksson is 1-2-3 as an 18-year old center. Sweden will face Russia in one semifinal tomorrow. The other semifinal pits Canada against Finland, who ousted Team USA 1-0 in the quarterfinals.

Former 2018 first round pick K’Andre Miller (0-2-2) had a disappointing tournament. Recent third round pick Zac Jones (1-1-2) was more impressive. Perhaps 2019 second round pick Matthew Robertson has the brightest future of all the team’s defense prospects. He’s a left defenseman who the team didn’t hesitate to sign following a eye opening camp.

What does all this have to do with Skjei, who Gorton mistakenly gave an average cap hit of $5.25 million through 2024? Just that the contract looks very bad right now. Sure. The skating defenseman will put up points as his 17 attest. However, once Staal comes off the books next year, Skjei will replace the second most tenured Ranger as the worst contract on the roster. Not withstanding the $8.5 million cap hit they’re also on the hook for Henrik Lundqvist through 2021. But both Staal ($5.7 million AAV) and Lundqvist can come off the cap, freeing up lots of space if the organization sticks to the long-term plan.

What happens if Skjei doesn’t improve? It’s still up to the 25-year old American to find consistency under Quinn. He can’t keep getting turned around like a turnstile for goals against, or continuing to take unnecessary penalties. An area Quinn has been pretty consistent at emphasizing. He even benched Kaapo Kakko for an offensive zone holding minor in a game he was very good in posting a goal and assist. It might’ve come at the expense of winning.

The only player who doesn’t seem to get punished is Pavel Buchnevich. A polarizing fourth-year pro that’s similar to Skjei. They expect more than six goals in 40 games. The 22 points isn’t an improvement either. If the Russian right wing, who’s being given every chance to succeed in the top six, doesn’t pick it up during the second half, he could become trade bait.

When one looks at the Rangers closely which includes metrics that involve Corsica, it’s ugly. Even if you are objective like me and remember to include the zone starts, there aren’t many positives. A whole lot of negatives due to this team not possessing the puck enough. They aren’t a good forechecking team. That includes face-offs which remains a sore spot.

There have been games they won which were stolen by Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev. If the goalies don’t perform at a high level as was the case for a frustrated Georgiev in Edmonton and Lundqvist, who wasn’t all that bad at Calgary, then the Blueshirts have no chance most nights.

They aren’t good enough yet. Unless so-called ‘vets’ like Skjei drastically improve, there won’t be any playoffs for a third straight year. Something I pretty much expected coming in. Even with Panarin, Zibanejad and continued revelation Strome performing at a high level, it’s not enough to carry this team. Don’t forget D Day is coming on Chris Kreider.

If you subtracted the Bread Man, they’d likely be near the bottom of the league. Maybe not Red Wing bad. But in the mix for the NHL Lottery that features top Canadian scoring prospect Alexis Lafreniere.

Don’t look now. But the Devils are only six points behind for seventh in the Metro Division. There aren’t many bad teams either. Just a lot of mediocrity. The Rangers could drop back down into the bottom six that includes the Devils (36), Senators (37), Ducks (38), Kings (38), Sharks (39) and Red Wings (23). Their 42 points tie them with Chicago and Nashville. The Sabres and Wild each have 43.

The truth is we have to be realistic about the situation. It’s probably not going to get better. At 19-17-4, the Rangers have probably overachieved up to this point. Especially if you measure everything by charts as some stubborn fan bloggers do. This isn’t that kind of team. You have to judge each player by how they’re performing. By actually you know. WATCHING each shift.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings. I’m not expecting much.

Posted in Column, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quinn’s baffling decision to bench Kakko unjustified in 4-3 loss at Calgary

Mikael Backlund beats Henrik Lundqvist for a crushing shorthanded goal that came three-on-five. The Rangers lost 4-3 to Calgary. AP Photo Credit Calgary Flames via Getty Images

The New Year is only two days in going on three. I’m already perplexed by the continued head scratching lineup decisions of David Quinn. This is no longer about the weird line combos that may as well have channeled Tom Renney.

Rather, it’s about how the second-year Rangers coach is handling certain players. For the first time in a month, Kaapo Kakko was having a good game. Having already picked up an assist on a power play goal, the 18-year old second overall pick finally erased a 19-game scoring drought by having a wrist shot deflect off a Flame in front to tie the score at three in the second period.

Unfortunately, his goal and assist weren’t enough to prevent Quinn from mysteriously benching him in the third following a minor penalty in the offensive zone. It wasn’t a good penalty to take. However, it was the impressive play of the third line that comprised kids Kakko, Filip Chytil and Brett Howden that had the team in position to grab a point. However, by skipping over Kakko for fourth line forward Greg McKegg late in regulation down a goal, Quinn only hurt the team in a frustrating 4-3 loss at Calgary.

I was so annoyed by his response about wins and losses to Brett Cyrgalis that I went off in a Tweet below regarding the way Quinn mishandled the last few minutes off the Rangers’ second straight defeat in Alberta.

I understand that sometimes, Quinn wants to set a good example by benching players following undisciplined play. He finally sat Brady Skjei (minus-2 in 16:32) for some more unsteadiness and a penalty of his own in the third. The top left defenseman got what he deserved. That meant that Marc Staal was moved up to the top pair with goalscorer Jacob Trouba.

For a second consecutive game, Ryan Lindgren struggled. He failed to take Sean Monahan on what turned out to be the game-winner with 11:38 remaining in the second period. Calgary used a quick transition with Johnny Gaudreau making a bullet pass to Noah Hanifin at the point on a three-on-two rush. Hanifin passed for an open Monahan in front and he beat Henrik Lundqvist upstairs for his 14th to answer Kakko less than three minutes later.

Astonishingly, that was it for the scoring. The same two teams who hardly play structured defense, didn’t get another goal in the second half of the contest. A sharp contrast to the seven they had the first 28:22 including a combined five in a old fashioned Western shootout during the first stanza.

Defense was indeed optional in that opening period. So apparently were common sense and checking. It was an inauspicious start again for the Rangers. A horrible back pass trapped Trouba which allowed Gaudreau to get behind and have a clean breakaway from center ice. He smoothly moved in and patiently opened up Lundqvist to go five-hole with a nice backhand off a deke for his 11th unassisted at 4:15.

Shortly following the goal, Calgary ran into penalty trouble when both Sam Bennett and Derek Ryan took minors 49 seconds apart. That gave the Blueshirts a five-on-three. What should’ve been a gimme turned into anything but when more ridiculous East/West passing garbage resulted in yet another breakaway goal for the Flames. Somehow, they allowed Mikael Backlund to score a shorthanded goal three-on-five unassisted at 7:16. He too went backhand five-hole on Lundqvist, who needed to make that save.

Trailing by two, finally the Rangers woke up. Rather than do the pass, pass, pass, grenade routine, they simplified their strategy. Adam Fox, who heard it throughout the night due to not signing with Calgary that drafted him, passed the puck to Pavel Buchnevich, who then fed Trouba for a simple wrist shot that beat former Blueshirt Cam Talbot. It was his sixth.

Still on a five-on-four man-advantage, more simplicity from Fox set up a quick Kakko wrist shot that Talbot mishandled, allowing Chytil to backhand the rebound out of mid-air home for his 10th at 8:07. That gave the Blueshirts back-to-back goals on the power play 25 seconds apart. Both accomplished by the second unit that just made simple and intelligent reads. Nothing fancy about it.

But before the first ended, Ryan was able to score his seventh from Dillon Dube for a Calgary 3-2 lead at 13:18. It was another Skjei mishap that allowed Ryan to score on a wrist shot past Lundqvist due to the defenseman deflecting the puck past his own goalie. This has now happened three times with Skjei. No wonder Lundqvist gave him the death stare.

I don’t care who is in net. Right now, it doesn’t matter. The Rangers are playing awful hockey. They may as well be headless like the Scarecrow from The Wizard Of Oz without a brain.

On what was a forgettable night for the top line of Artemi Panarin (-3), Ryan Strome (-3) and Jesper Fast (-3), it was the Kids Line that got the game tied up at 5:46 of the second. On Fox’s third assist of the game, Howden fed Kakko for a shot that took a favorable bounce off a Calgary defender and in for his seventh to make it 3-3. Boy did he need it.

But on a night they never led, the Rangers fell apart in one giant swoop on another bad shift for the Panarin line. They got caught deep while Gaudreau started a great passing play with Hanifin to combine on Monahan getting the game decider at 8:22. Lindgren missed a few shifts after the blunder. He only played 12:15.

With Quinn later sending a message to Skjei, it meant Staal played a throwback game by receiving 22:12 while getting double shifted for part of the third. Partner Tony DeAngelo logged 22:19 while Trouba paced all Blueshirts with 24:18 and seven shots. Fox got 17:58 while assisting on all three Ranger goals. A good bounce back for him following a poor New Year’s Eve game in the weird 7-5 loss to Edmonton.

The Rangers never could find the equalizer. Their offense stalled in the final period. For a while, Calgary held them to five shots. Again, Joe Micheletti was critical of the team for not taking more shots. Talbot isn’t good anymore. He didn’t have to be. Aside from a nice sliding denial to thwart Panarin, he was steady enough to finish with 24 saves to outduel Lundqvist (4 GA on 29 shots).

Perhaps most perplexing was Quinn deciding to play McKegg for a late shift in place of Kakko, who disappeared following his holding minor on Rasmus Andersson with less than eight minutes left in regulation. This wasn’t a good decision. It was shortsighted. If this is how he’s going to coach, what’s the point of having a ‘Rebuild?’

On one hand, DQ says it’s about wins and losses. On the other, he benches our future star when he’s having his best game in weeks for a well respected veteran, who gives an honest effort. No disrespect meant towards Keg Man. I like what he brings. But he doesn’t possess the skill or talent of Kakko. It was a ridiculous move by an out of touch coach that seems in over his head. This isn’t college.

Kakko deserved more than the 12:59 he got. So did Lindgren, who following a cross-check to the back of the neck of Milan Lucic not only got the expected stickwork back. But also a cheap shot that bloodied him. Somehow, the same officials from the Edmonton debacle I heard about gave each player matching minors. How is that fair? The refs are Chris Schlenker and Brad Meier.

It gives me no joy to mention the referees. But they definitely messed up. Lucic should’ve received an extra two which would’ve negated the Flames power play. Utterly ridiculous.

Even though the shots wound up 10-9 Flames in the period, I’m not suggesting that the Rangers deserved to win or even get a point. Anytime you allow an opponent to score a shorthanded goal two men down and get consecutive unassisted breakaways, it’s embarrassing. All four Flames goals were the direct result of careless play, abysmal puck management and poor coverage by the Blueshirts.

You’re not going to win many games playing as loose as they did. If they think that’s gonna work when they visit Vancouver where former Blueshirt JT Miller is a top line player with uber talents Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, they got another thing coming. Don’t bother making the trip unless they decide to be fully committed to this winning style of hockey Quinn is referring to.

As far as Buchnevich, I have no use for a player who hates being checked and doesn’t finish checks enough. His indecisiveness and sourpuss expressions after not scoring aren’t a good look. This is a fourth-year player approaching 25. Either he gets it or they move on. Twenty-two points including only six goals in 40 games isn’t enough for the bridge deal they gave him. He should be better by now.

I don’t understand why Quinn continues to force feed him with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. KZB isn’t what it once was. Buchnevich is bringing them down. I am left with more questions about the coach as we approach the halfway point of the season. That isn’t good.

Battle Of Hudson 3 Stars:

3rd 🌟 Adam Fox, Rangers (3 🍎 in 17:58)

2nd 🌟 Kaapo Kakko, Rangers (7th of season plus 🍎, +1 in 12:59)

1st 🌟 Johnny Gaudreau, Flames (11th of season plus 🍎, +1 in 17:39)

Posted in NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New year brings new hope

Despite a 5-2-1 stretch heading into the new year I remained skeptical about the Devils’ ability to maintain their recent run, especially with a schedule that doesn’t get any easier heading into the long All-Star break in a little over two weeks.  Particularly facing an Islanders team that has been among the best in the league this year, and beat us all four times last year after the Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz braintrust took over on Long Island.  Even when the Islanders have had bad teams, Nassau and Brooklyn have both usually been a house of horrors for us anyway.  And oh yes, #1 overall pick Jack Hughes had to miss tonight’s game due to injury – though it didn’t prevent him from making the shootout winner two days ago in a stirring New Year’s Eve victory over the Bruins – another team that’s had its way with us in recent years.

I also had to miss tonight’s game, not due to injury but a prior commitment.  Nobody was more surprised than me when I did check the score with seconds to go in the third period when the last I’d seen of it was after the Islanders had scored in the second to take the lead and had another goal waved off due to interference.  This Devils team is showing a fight they haven’t for much of the season though (really since the 2018 playoff run), bookending goals from PK Subban and Nico Hischier late in the second period and early in the third.  Subban’s blast was something we really haven’t seen from the former Norris winner all season and he’s finally starting to look like the Subban of old as opposed to an old Subban, while Nico continues to mature before our very eyes, picking up the scoring pace after his own slow start.

Even with a third-period lead, the early-season Devils were certainly no lock to win a game like this but give credit where credit is due, a rookie coach (Alain Nasreddine) has them playing with purpose and a little more structure, while a rookie goalie (Mackenzie Blackwood) is shutting the door the way no other Devils goalie has since Keith Kinkaid’s six-week spurt in 2018.  Although other rookies like Cale Makar have been statistically more impressive, Blackwood is starting to get some consideration for the Calder trophy, as he only played 23 games this year so he’s technically eligible.  A fact that surprised both me and coach Nasreddine in his presser after the Bruins shootout win.

I would have liked to have listened to the last few seconds on the radio but as it’s very rare to catch a game on WFAN anymore, I still have to remember to turn it on my phone with the dopey internet streaming signal.  Maybe I’ll watch some of the replay tomorrow or not since I just realized the game was on NBCSN and not MSG, in any case it has been a while since the Devils have had a win like this over the Islanders.  Though not a hated rival per se, they’ve been an annoying gnat over the last several years and it’s only been exacerbated by Lou resurfacing there after being pushed out as Devils GM, then leaving the Leafs after his contract expired.  Lou’s success in both Toronto and with the Islanders has only thrown our failed rebuild into further stark light.

For one night at least, we showed we weren’t their patsies though.  And have now improved to 6-2-1 in our last nine games, starting to inspire shades of both the 2010-11 Devils’ second half run and the 2019 Jets’ second-half surge.  Really our season is starting to parallel with my Jets in a startlingly similar fashion.  Lose a horrifically epic opener at home, setting the tone for a dreadful first half then rally in the second half, too late to make a difference for this season but hopefully not too late to carry some momentum into next season.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of a good second half would be Nasreddine, who’s making a case for full-time employment and making me start to order crow from the menu.  I criticized his hire as GM Ray Shero just not wanting to admit that his own vision and system have failed, so he just changed the voice hoping to buy more time – but sometimes changing the voice can be important too.  Especially since Nas seems more patient and aware of what’s going on.  While there is a clear difference between a junktime surge and winning when it matters, we probably aren’t going to get winning when it matters the rest of this season anyway.  What we do need out of the second half is for our veterans like Subban and Travis Zajac to show they aren’t washed up while younger players continue to develop.

For now I’m glad I just have some level of excitement back.  After selling my tickets to Saturday’s game a few days ago just wanting to get rid of them and also having plans Saturday night, part of me wishes I could go now.  But as it is I’m going Tuesday during our return match against the Isles on Retro Night, and am still gunshy after only seeing two wins in my eleven home games in attendance (one of them a game against the Penguins which Blackwood stole, that didn’t feel like a win) and a myriad of blown leads.

Not to mention questions still remain…will we ever find a way to get wins from a goalie not named Blackwood? (since we still have only one win in twelve non-Blackwood starts)  What will happen closer to the trade deadline with other FA’s to be like Sami Vatanen, Andy Greene and Wayne Simmonds barring a miracle Blues-like surge back into the race against the odds in a brutal Eastern Conference?  Yes they’ve already traded Taylor Hall, but more and more that’s starting to look like addition by subtraction in another parallel to 2010, where another coach firing and the trading of our sulking captain (Jamie Langenbrunner) was the impetus for the second half surge.  Even the knowledgeable Trotz acknowledged as much in the pregame:

Somewhat surprisingly, Arizona’s started to struggle after acquiring Hall as well, though that’s less consequential to us other than determining the position of the first-round draft pick we eventually get from them.  It’s ironic if trading Hall did spur the team on, since the team was clearly carried by Hall in 2017-18 and struggled largely without him in 2018-19 but that combined with the coach firing has jolted a new energy in the room that hasn’t been around much lately.  For now that’s about all we can hope for.

Posted in Devils, NY Islanders | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Year’s Eve comeback falls just short

It’s been officially 2020 for nearly five hours. Admittedly, I didn’t get to see any of the game last night. Like some people, I was out doing New Year’s Eve stuff with my brother and our friends. Needless to say, we had more fun than the Rangers did in a wild, crazy and strange game they lost at Edmonton by a score of 7-5.

I’m not about to do a long recap of a game I missed. With the exception of updates from Justin and Twitter, I never thought they’d ever come as close as they did. This was a game they trailed by a touchdown in. The Oilers got three in the first period with James Neal scoring only 11 seconds in. They would add three more in the second, highlighted by Neal cashing in his third for a hat trick on a power play. Edmonton scored three power play goals.

By the time they made it 6-0 on a broken play Josh Archibald scored on with the Rangers running around, an incensed Alexandar Georgiev broke his goalie stick before being lifted for Henrik Lundqvist. From viewing the highlights above, it wasn’t his fault. This was a total meltdown by the Rangers. Both rookies Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox struggled. It was their worst game since coach David Quinn paired them up.

There also was an oops play where Mika Zibanejad had a Edmonton pass go off him right to Leon Draisaitl for a goal on the penalty kill. That was the kinda night it was. There was more going on than just the first six Edmonton goals that chased Georgiev. Fans on my timeline were irate over the officiating. That included a couple of people who cover the team. It sounds like the Blueshirts got the short end of the stick.

To their credit, they never quit. A great feed from Artemi Panarin set up Chris Kreider for his 12th with less than 30 seconds left in the second. Panarin nearly willed the team back to a historic comeback. He would record a goal and three assists to give him 55 points. It’s astonishing what the Bread Man is doing. There are no words. MVP caliber.

Somehow, the Oilers nearly blew a six goal lead on home ice. They led by five entering the third period. They’re not exactly great defensively and haven’t been getting consistent goaltending. There’s a reason they have fallen to fourth in their division and are now clinging to a wildcard.

Ryan Strome reminded his former team of how foolish they were by giving him away for Ryan Spooner. He finished off a Fox pass across that Panarin started with a excellent pull up and feed to the rookie defenseman, who set up Strome to make it 6-2. Strome then fired a shot that looked like his second straight goal. But Marc Staal was in front and had the puck deflect off his stick. They changed the goal to Staal from Strome and Panarin.

It got even more interesting when Panarin skated unchecked and surprised Mikko Koskinen with a quick wrist shot that beat the Edmonton starter short side, high glove to cut the deficit to 6-4. There was still plenty of time left. At that point, Justin put it on his phone. I could hear Sam Rosen calling the Zibanejad goal that just crossed the goal line to make it 6-5. On it, he fired a shot that Koskinen gloved. However, his glove was over the line resulting in video review confirming the goal that made it a one goal contest.

With Lundqvist pulled for an extra attacker, Panarin made the only mistake he did in an otherwise brilliant period. Instead of shooting from the left circle, he forced a pass in the middle that was easily intercepted for an Oilers empty netter that finished off the comeback attempt.

Basically, Edmonton held on for dear life to pull out a bizarre 7-5 win. I never got sucked in. I figured being down six goals was too much to ask. Even if Kreider got one back to make it 6-1 before the conclusion of the second.

Let’s give them a lot of credit. Sure. It’s still a loss that had a lot of ugly moments including an infuriated Quinn mouthing off to the officials following an extra minor to Lindgren he didn’t like. The problem was Edmonton had already scored, meaning the coach showed no composure by earning an unsportsmanlike minor to put a dangerous opponent back on the power play. The end result was two goals in like 15 seconds. Connor McDavid set up Neal for his hat trick. Brutal. Oddly, that was McDavid’s only point.

Even if the officials aren’t doing you no favors, you have to show more poise than that. Quinn yapped and waved his arms. A no no. Predictably, the refs put their whistles away in the third.

There’s nothing much else to add. It’s a New Year. A new decade. It’s 2020. Hard to believe 1990 was 30 years ago. I feel old. Let’s hope a new Roaring 20’s brings more excitement for everyone.

Posted in NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tony DeAngelo is a breath of fresh air

Ryan Strome, who had four points, gives good friend and teammate Tony DeAngelo a handshake after his overtime winner gave the Rangers a 5-4 win at Toronto. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

In what turned out to be a great weekend for the Rangers, they managed to sweep the Hurricanes and Maple Leafs over 24 hours. After recording two assists in a 5-3 home win over Carolina on Friday, defenseman Tony DeAngelo capped off consecutive victories by scoring the game-winner in overtime to beat Toronto 5-4.

One of the best Blueshirts aside from headliners Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, DeAngelo continues to produce for this team that’s now climbed back into the wildcard race. In withstanding a late Leafs push that included Auston Matthews tying goal with under a minute left in regulation, the Rangers improved to 19-15-4 with 42 points through 38 games. Counting Sunday night’s games, they trail Hurricanes by six points and Flyers by five.

At this point, the super talented Lightning are on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Their latest win keeps them within a point of third place Florida in the mediocre Atlantic Division where only the Bruins are a virtual lock. You have to believe the Bolts will surge ahead of both the Panthers and flawed Leafs into second. That would leave Toronto and Florida to battle it out with the perplexing Canadiens and possibly Buffalo for a top three spot. Whoever isn’t third will battle a bunch of Metropolitan Division teams for the two wildcards.

While we don’t know how it all will shake out, DeAngelo is proving that his breakout year in ’18-19 isn’t a fluke. Following establishing career bests in assists (26), points (30) and penalty minutes (77) in a career high 61 games while learning about discipline under David Quinn, the 24-year old from Sewell, New Jersey is one of the biggest NHL bargains. A gifted player who makes $925,000 finds himself among the top 10 in D scoring with 28 points.

That already includes new personal bests in goals (8) and game-winners (2) with the latter category both coming in three-on-three OT. He’s in elite company with Rangers legend Brian Leetch for overtime winners. In recent memory among Blueshirts, not many defensemen have put up the kind of numbers DeAngelo could wind up with. Former captain Ryan McDonagh had 43 points (14-29-43) during ’13-14 when he was coincidentally the same age (24). We know how good he was. We’re not comparing.

However, by taking the qualifying offer from GM Jeff Gorton during training camp, DeAngelo bet on himself. He will again be a restricted free agent next summer. By continuing to perform well under Quinn while establishing himself as a reliable puck moving, offensive defenseman, his price is increasing. What will it take to keep him? There’s no way DeAngelo takes less money than he’s worth this time. It presents an interesting dilemma for the organization.

They are rebuilding while remaining competitive most nights. While there have been a few hiccups which you should expect for the NHL’s youngest roster, the Rangers aren’t out of it yet. The next month including a challenging three game stretch in Western Canada that begins at Edmonton on New Year’s Eve, will help determine what they decide. That includes a very hard decision on Chris Kreider, who’s finally picked it up in a contract year. Quite a few playoff contenders have interest in renting him. If they move on from the invaluable Kreider, he’ll be very difficult to replace.

Jesper Fast is also unrestricted in July 2020. However, the versatile two-way forward will come much cheaper. For how hard he plays and how he’s used, Fast might be worth keeping. He’s a team leader and brings a consistent work ethic to the rink. He only earns $1.95 million and is an affordable $1.85 million against the salary cap. Even a rebuilding team can use that sorta player moving forward.

There will also be decisions on Brendan Lemieux and DeAngelo friend Ryan Strome. Strome continues to excel on Broadway. Since Gorton stole him from Edmonton for Ryan Spooner last year, the 26-year old forward has proven he can shift from right wing back to his natural position of center without missing a beat. When Zibanejad went down, Strome stepped up by forming solid chemistry with Panarin.

Even when Quinn has gone away from it, he’s discovered that some combos work better together. Ditto for Zibanejad and Kreider, who’s back on track. On Saturday, Strome had two goals and two assists to highlight an exciting overtime win up North. For a second consecutive night, he shot the puck more and was rewarded for it. That included blowing a slapshot by Toronto starter Frederik Andersen. In the two straight wins, he’s 3-2-5 and plus-four. Though all five points came at even strength, Strome’s addition to the first power play unit helped result in a power play goal for Zibanejad against Carolina. Unlike the indecisive Pavel Buchnevich, who’s struggling with his confidence, he knows what to do with the puck.

With things going well for his teammate who is third in team scoring with 35 points (10-25-35), DeAngelo has continued to throw overwhelming support towards Strome. Even on social media where he called out a Rangers blogger, who highly emphasizes analytics, Tony Dee stood up for his friend. You don’t usually see too many professional athletes too active on Twitter. But the personable DeAngelo is quite the character.

Even new beat writer Vince Mercogliano was amused by his commentary. Clearly, DeAngelo was referencing the 48 shots the team gave up to the dangerous Leafs, who also attempted 90 altogether including 21 that were blocked by gritty Blueshirts and another 21 that missed their mark completely. The Rangers had 38 shots on goal. Only 18 didn’t make it to the Toronto net.

It’s not advisable to allow that many shots daily. Especially with the Leafs owning the Blueshirts in the face-off circle where they dominated by winning a ridiculous 47 of 69 for 68 percent. That means the Rangers only won 32 percent which translated to the Leafs having the puck more. They were able to make up a two-goal third period deficit on goals from Pierre Engvall and Matthews.

That stated, the Rangers didn’t play a bad third. They had eight shots on goal. But didn’t score the insurance marker needed to avoid a Leafs comeback. This was your typical Toronto game where defense was optional. Unlike the past Monday’s meeting, the Rangers came out on top thanks to a very patient Panarin, who waited for the right exact moment to thread the needle for a cutting DeAngelo, who beat Andersen at 52 seconds of OT.

If not for a monstrous diving save from Alexandar Georgiev and a interesting decision to keep play going by moving the puck to Strome, who went behind the Ranger net to get out of dodge, the play never happens. Strome made a good outlet pass for Panarin, who turned on the jets to make it a two-on-one with overtime hero DeAngelo.

Of course, an ecstatic Tony Dee showed his excitement as he and happy teammates came off the ice into the winner’s locker room.

He is well liked too. His personality keeps things loose. When they did a team poll on which Ranger is the funniest, most chose him. This is a young man with a lot of character, who’s never backed down from a challenge. He has overcome a tough start to his professional career to become a dependable player Quinn and his coaching staff can lean on. Don’t forget he was a first round pick by Tampa. He showed a little bit with Arizona, who had enough defensive depth to part with him and their 2017 seventh overall pick to acquire Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta.

Regardless of what he thinks politically, the team must do what’s best for them moving forward. Personally, I think any fan or media member who tries to openly campaign against DeAngelo due to his political beliefs, are very thin skinned and lack good judgment. Nothing has anything whatsoever to do with each other. This is the PC world we live in. Where every word is put under a microscope and over analyzed by people who need to move on.

Too much of athletics is now associated with politics. That’s the last thing I’ll say on it. I root for the logo on the front of the jersey. If DeAngelo can continue to perform at a high level and help the Rangers win hockey games, I’m happy. That’s what it’s all about.

One thing I have come to appreciate is his honesty during interviews. Similar to buddy Strome, DeAngelo is very good at analyzing games. Whether it’s following good wins or tough losses, he does a nice job breaking things down. He continues to also show a keen sense of humor as seen above with the female reporter who asked about his confidence. At the end of the day, you had some pretty pleased players in the room.

They’ll look to keep it going tomorrow to end 2019 the right way. You can bet DeAngelo will be right in the middle of it.

Posted in Column, NYRangers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment