Is This Rangers Team a Juggernaut?

  1. My enthusiastic preseason appraisal of the Rangers’ 2016-17 season drew many derisive chuckles from the critical social media crowd. But The Maven is having the last laugh now. The big question: Is this Rangers team a juggernaut?
  1. Listening to the wise St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock after his Blues got walloped on Tuesday night you would think the answer is an emphatic YES. “That’s a helluva team,” says Hitch, “and playing great team hockey plus well-coached.”
  1. In show business and sports there’s such a thing as a “Build-up To A Letdown”, but not in Jimmy Vesey‘s case. His six goals are a reason he’ll give Toronto’s Austen Matthews a run for the Calder Trophy.

Rangers Vesey Home 100616 Stock

  1. When it comes to winning hockey, the little things mean a lot. One good example is the Blueshirts’ successful power play; much better than last year’s version. But why?
  1. Coach Alain Vigneault points to the addition of Mika Zibanejad as the addition that has turned the PP machine moving with perfectly-meshed gears. “Mika is a right-handed shot where before we had just Step (Derek Stepan). There are now ‘one-touches’ as far as passing and shooting.”

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  1. The Devils‘ three-game road trip, starting Thursday night in Florida should be a good barometer of coach John Hynes‘ club’s strength. This much is certain:  workhorse-goalie Cory Schneider has maintained his All-Star quality play.
  1. New Jersey’s sleeper-forward so far is Sergey Kalinin who’s snugly fit on the fourth line with Vernon Fiddler and Nick Lappin. Kalinin is one of the best forecheckers the Devs have had in years.
  1. Now that the nine-game deadline for rookies has been reached, there’s no doubt that Pavel Zacha will be retained by general manager Ray Shero. The Czech center plays a solid two-way game. Meanwhile, Hynes is working on Zacha’s strength in the second of back-to-back matches.
  1. One word best describes a Taylor Hall rush — electrifying.

Devils Hall Home Stock 11216

  1. Devils rookie defenseman Yohann Auvitu won’t win either the Calder nor Norris Trophies but the native of Ivry-Sur-Seine, France has dazzled with his offensive prowess.
  1. The Islanders have three straight home games, starting Thursday night against Philly, then Edmonton (Connor McDavid) on Saturday followed by Vancouver, Monday. How they handle this trio will be meaningful.
  1. Jaro Halak‘s agent may have meant well going public with his beef against the three-goalie system, but in situations such as that, he would have been wiser to keep the matter between himself and the club’s general staff.

Islanders Halak Road 101216

  1. Despite what you may have heard — mostly from goaltenders — it never has been fully proven that a “three-goalie-system” works or does not work.
  1. Furthermore, teams such as the Kings, Bruins and Senators already have been minus their netminding pair. That meant scrambling for a goalie; something the Kings still are doing.
  1. We all knew that the addition of Dennis Seidenberg would bolster the Isles’ defense but who expected the vet to produce three goals so fast?
  1. Vesey offers a concise explanation of his rip-roaring’ start: “AV is putting me in all the right situations and with two good guys, Derek Stepan and Rick Nash. And, I’m getting confident.”
  1. Schneider has emerged as one of the most important contributors to the NHL group assigned to trimming goaltending equipment. This has been a long-running work in progress, but the Devs’ ace reports progress.
  1. Discussing the matter with my sidekick, Leo Scaglione, Jr., Schneider reveals: “The (new-design) pads are getting manufactured and the companies are getting the goalies’ specs. Equipment companies had to create new molds and re-design their whole production system. Had to get measurements just right.”
  1. What everyone wants to know is when the new equipment will be seen in real games? Schneider predicts: “When all the goalies get the pads and have for about a week; and also the pants which are starting to head out now. The process is underway.” (P.S. Revised chest protectors come next season.)
  1. Matt Martin’s return to Barclays Center last Sunday was warmly received by the Brooklyn crowd. Meanwhile, Isles fans — and The Maven — remain puzzled as to why he exited for Toronto. So, I put the following question to him:

Matt Martin tells Shannon Hogan how he's adjusting to being a Maple Leaf and shares his emotions on returning to Brooklyn to play the Islanders.

  1. “Specifically, why did you leave?” When Matt finished his verbal dance around the answer, I shot back, “Was it money?” This time he grinned and just begged off answering.
  1. Lou Lamoriello also was at the Leafs-Isles game. Larrupin’ Lou will not only go down in NHL history as one of the best executives but also the Best-Dressed General Manager.
  1. Here’s why Brady Skjei will only get better: He’s calm and creative with the puck and knows when to make the right play.

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  1. Frankly, I was surprised that no team picked up Dylan McIlrath when he was waived. That’s good news for the Rangers since the big guy has time to improve his game at Hartford and, perhaps, return to Seventh Avenue.
  1. Reader James Mauldin of Levittown on Hynes: “He’s poised on the bench, strong-minded in practice and a pleasure to deal with from the media side. Not to mention his players adore him and love playing for the man.”
  1. Hynes on how to prepare for road games now that his Devils play the Panthers on Thursday, Lightning on Saturday and Hurricanes on Sunday; their first Metropolitan Division game: “It’s managing what we’re doing up to the games.”
  1. Want more specifics, Hynes has ’em: “What players do nutritionally, rest-wise and recovery-wise to give them the best chance to perform at a high level. Same thing with our coaches; managing rest, practice and meetings to make sure — like the players — we have the energy, emotion and mental toughness.”
  1. Nobody is happier than The Maven as I watch Dan Girardi silence his critics with fine play all over the 200-feet long rink. Dan’s goal in the blanking of St. Louis has upped his goal total to two.

Vigneault: Girardi Has Hip Flexor Injury

  1. Girardi has his own theory about the Rangers’ surge: “We’re playing good defense first and that leads to our chances to go on offense. The opposition is making cross ice passes; some desperation plays and we’re taking advantage of them.” (Which is all well and good but we’ll see what happens with Connor McDavid and Oilers in town on Thursday night.)
  1. Visiting reporter Alan Greenberg who covers the Panthers, gives this objective critique of the Rangers after seeing them beat the Blues: “Based on my preseason opinion, I never thought I’d say this, but the Rangers are a powerhouse. Strength from all four lines with new acquisitions. Rick Nash is enjoying a fast start and Lundqvist is back on his game.”
  1. As part of the Blues’ 50th-anniversary celebration, the club will retire the jersey of Bob Plager on Feb. 5. Plager developed by the Rangers and played tough defense in his first NHL stint, from 1964 to 1967. My favorite memory was a one-on-one, no-jersey-grabbing slugfest with none other than Bobby (The Golden Jet) Hull. (I gave the decision to Plager on points, but it was close!)