Rangers Primed for Bout Against the Blue Jackets

(Editor’s Note: The Blue Jackets had their 16-game winning streak come to an end Thursday night against the Capitals)

  1. Make no mistake — the Rangers’ visit to Columbus on Saturday night will be THE test of all tests for the Blueshirts so far this season.
  1. For starters, it will be the Battle of the Brains, pitting the cerebral talents of John Tortorella against Alain Vigneault.

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  1. Torts has choreographed the NHL’s hottest club while the Rangers have rebounded smartly with a critical win in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a better scenario than the Saturday tilt.
  1. Hopefully, Devils defenseman Andy Greene will have recovered from his injury to skate against the Maple Leafs on Friday night at The Rock. The Captain stands among the NHL’s foremost iron men.
  1. A pair of former Sleeping Giants — Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes — have reawakened, big-time. That helps explain the Blueshirts’ laudable 27-13-1 mark. Let’s not forget that Kreider was Tortorella’s top whipping boy when Torts ran the Blueshirts.
  1. Credit Vigneault with finding the formula to extract the best out of Kid Kreider; not to mention the new NHL Goal Machine — alias Michael Grabner.
  1. From a purely goaltending view, the Islanders waiving of Jaroslav Halak was a case of addition by subtraction.

The Islanders put an end to their glut of goaltenders by placing Jaroslav Halak on waivers and going with Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube as team's two netminders.

  1. A three-goalie system only works out of necessity. That was the case as Garth Snow attempted to move Jaro. And when Halak wasn’t claimed on waivers, his next destination had to be Bridgeport.
  1. With one road win (over Buffalo) under their belt, the Isles resume action on Friday night in Colorado. If they can manage a W at Pepsi Center this could be the start of something big under the new Greiss-In-Goal regime.
  1. The Game’s bible, The Hockey News, is running a Las Vegas Mock Draft. Among the local players mentioned as likely heading to Nevada’s expansion franchise include the Rangers’ Kevin Klein, New Jersey’s Jon Merrill, and the Isles’ Shane Prince.
  1. It was good to see ex-Islander Randy Wood at The Rock on New Year’s Eve. Randy was there to see his son, the much-taller Miles, skate for the Devils.
  1. Asked by MSG Network’s Deb Placey to compare his game with his son’s, Randy shot back, “Miles got lucky; if I had his size, I’d still be playing.”
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  1. Miles knows he has to improve his NHL savvy. “I’ve learned that I have to slow it down out there; read out the play and not have to use my speed all the time.” But that speed resulted in a key Sergey Kalinin goal against Boston. Fast Miles outsped the Bruins’ D and skimmed a perfect pass to SK who scored.
  1. The Maven asked a former non-Ranger-ex-NHLer to explain in 10 seconds or less the Blueshirts’ key to success. His answer: “They roll four good lines. But they’d better hope that Rick Nash returns healthy. They need the big guy.”
  1. It’s always pleasing to note that former nice guy Met Area players are doing well. Two of them include goalie Al Montoya, just signed to a contract extension by the Habs and Boston’s Dom Moore who keeps rolling along.
  1. Dr. John McMullen, who bought — and then brought – the Devils to New Jersey will be honored before Friday night’s game at The Rock. The Doc was as straightforward as any sports boss and was eternally dedicated to his native Garden State.
  1. Doc Mac will be the first inductee into the Devils’ “Ring of Honor” and McMullen’s favorite general manager, Lou Lamoriello, will be on hand as part of the festivities. It was Mac who had the foresight to bring Lou to the Devils after Lamoriello’s outstanding work at Providence College.
  1. One of my favorite Doc Mac vignettes took place when MSG Networks’ Devils producer Roland Dratch and The Maven visited McMullen in Doc’s office. The beauty part was that McMullen had his big, pet dog — a Lab retriever named Bubba — alongside him at Doc’s desk. Throughout the interview, Mac fed Bubba lunch — a plain bagel!
  1. Not to be a homer but Jimmy Vesey still has a shot — more than half a season — at winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year. His primary obstacles are named Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Zach Werenski.

Steve Valiquette breaks down Jimmy Vesey's game and Vesey talks about his increasing level of confidence.

  1. Without looking, tell me who has the best plus-minus rating on the Rangers; and no cheating.
  1. No, it’s not Derek Stepan at plus-14 nor Hayes at plus-13. Nor Grabner at a stunning plus-15. But it IS none other than a defenseman unknown here at the start of the season. Nick Holden; plus-16.
  1. If that’s not a stunner, how about the guy with the best plus-minus on the Isles? Another D-man, Dennis Seidenberg, at plus-17.
  1. Here’s hoping that Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera have found their respective positive niches with the Islanders. Two top guys who could help from here to the finish.
  1. Seth Helgeson deserved his latest promotion to the Devils. He not only provided toughness and physical presence in his previous two games this season with New Jersey, but he also dropped the mitts with the Flyers’ Dale Weise.
  1. Power-play outages are hard to figure. Early in the season, the Devils had one of the best man-advantage units. More recently the average has plummeted to one of the worst. That could be due to Taylor Hall‘s two injuries. With TH back, this all could change for the better.
  1. My choice as the opposition player for Rangers-Devils-Islanders to most fear when it comes to inflicting a hard hit is Tom Wilson of the Capitals. His latest victim was New Jersey’s likable defenseman John Moore.
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  1. As a result of Wilson’s hit from behind, Moore was carted off the ice on a stretcher with a concussion. Remarkably, there was not even a minor penalty call.
  1. Freeport, New York reader Rob Taub reminds me that Wilson torpedoed ex-Isles defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky with a head shot that concussed Viz and helped speed the end of Lubo’s career.
  1. The leader so far for the Best Long Beard award among the locals has to be New Jersey’s Kyle Quincey. He’s getting close to the Brent Burns-Joe Thornton rug-like effect.
  1. If there’s one player among the locals who has had a career turnaround, it’s the Isles’ Anders Lee. Since the end of November, he has emerged as one of the NHL’s top goal-scorers. His one-handed goal in Winnipeg was magic.
  1. So how did this happen to Lee? What’s the answer? How about the fact that he’s on John Tavares‘ line. Or, the simple fact that he has found his confidence.
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  1. Let’s not overlook Josh Bailey, who has been the Isles’ best winger — second on the team in points and power-play points. Only Tavares has more of either…
  1. Is it time to revisit the visor versus full face shield debate? Ask Greene. Wearing a partial visor, the Devs’ defenseman took a puck to the face — too close to his eyes —  and you need only ask Rangers’ defenseman Marc Staal about that.