Little Gionta Becomes Big Man For the Islanders

  1. One play does not make a hero nor does a half-dozen games make a season but in a very short time, a very short hockey player has stirred the Islanders pot.
  1. Stephen Gionta is not very big, but for a diminutive skater, he plays big and his impact since returning to the Islanders’ lineup has been catalytic.
  1. One Gionta maneuver in the second period on Thursday night at Barclays Center says it all. Gionta produced a “Turning Point” assist in a game that suddenly tilted the match in the Islanders’ favor.
  1. The Little Guy energetically checked Rangers defenseman Marc Staal behind the Blueshirts’ net, relieved Staal of the puck and then skimmed a perfect pass to Andrew Ladd who beat Henrik Lundqvist.
  1. That goal provided the hard-pressed-for-a-playoff-berth Isles a lead that they never relinquished. What’s more, the records show that when Gionta is in the lineup the Brooklynites usually win. At the moment, the tally is 6-1 for Stephen.
  1. My point about the Rangers and the Trade Deadline is rather simple; Alain Vigneault ices an excellent club right now and one that’s building itself for a long playoff run. Therefore, why ruin the chemistry with a trade?
  1. But I know a few smart hockey folk who insist that general manager Jeff Gorton should swing a deal for a veteran defenseman. Someone like — but not again — a Keith Yandle.
  1. The Rangers’ Sunday afternoon combat with Washington will be as good a playoff test as the Blueshirts could expect.
  1. If Vigneault’s skaters beat the Capitals, it would put New York in a position to catch the D.C. front-runners. That’s presuming that the Caps sag a bit and the Rangers have a powerful homestretch hustle.

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  1. Some of the Blueshirt Faithful are bemoaning the fact that their Favorites may have to face either Washington or the defending Champion Penguins in the opening playoff round.
  1. To that I say, why worry? Better to beat the best than a Humpty outfit. Besides, that’s the way the NHL playoff format works and might as well make the best of it.
  1. Looking at Rangers vs. Caps in playoffs, I see New York winning even if it takes seven games.
  1. Braden Holtby is a fine regular-season goaltender. We all know that. But he has not shown me diddly in the post-season. Ironically, I see Holtby as coach Barry Trotz’s Achilles heel. And no doubt he’d deny it.
  1. It’s a home-and-home set for the¬†Islanders and Devils this weekend. Unless the double-dip is split, this dramatic duet will go a long way toward determining whether New Jersey or Brooklyn makes it to the postseason.
  1. Jimmy Vesey won’t win the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie-of-the-year, but what a find he is for the Rangers.
  1. Granted he hit the “wall” for a couple of weeks, and that was to be expected. But his performance — and key goal — against the Islanders proves he’s back on the rails, skating fast to the homestretch.
  1. If I’m Vigneault, the area I’d tweak is the club’s power play. The talent is there, but the execution needs work.
  1. If I’m John Hynes, I’d be probing for an answer to why the Devils blow hot and then ice cold, then hot and ice cold again. But there’s been too much of the latter.
  1. A cerebral exercise for Islanders fans: Pretend it’s October and someone told you that this season Anders Lee could score 30 goals and Jason Chimera might reach 20. How hard would you have laughed?
  1. The Lee-Chimera-Andrew Ladd revival is yet another reason why Doug Weight‘s arrival as head coach has made a positive change in the Islanders demeanor.
  1. Speaking of surprises on the Brooklynites, you have to put in a vote for Josh Bailey. My pal, Ace, should easily surpass his career 40-point season mark.
  1. Hynes offered an interesting bit of information to my Devils beat man, Leo Scaglione, Jr. The Devs’ mentor chats with Giants coach Ben McAdoo, who’s an avid hockey fan.

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  1. “I communicate with Ben,” says Hynes, “not so much about X’s and O’s but about dealing with the team. We talk about team culture, team rules, teaching styles and practice habits.”
  1. Betcha you didn’t know that Brooklyn-born Kevin Labanc looms as a Sharks future star right wing. He learned his hockey in Staten Island playing at Wolfe’s Pond Park.
  1. When the Devils last played San Jose, Labanc lined up for the opening face-off beside Montvale native Kyle Palmieri. Born in the now Hipster Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, Kevin eventually moved with his family to New Dorp Beach.
  1. None of the Met Area stickhandlers can boast rug-sized beards like those worn by San Jose’s Joe Thornton or Brent Burns but there have been more modest hair-carpets seen in our local dressing rooms and on the ice.
  1. My choices: A. The Devils’ Kyle Quincey who is getting closer to the Thornton class; B. Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello and, C. Cal Clutterbuck on the Isles.

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  1. The major difference I see between Weight behind the bench and the way it was with Jack Capuano is body language and tongue-lashing. Weight is more animated and has no qualms about giving a player a zinger. Maybe two zingers. Plus, DW will admit same in post-game chats.
  1. Sometimes post-game humor in a winner’s dressing room is priceless. Johnny Boychuk, a true wit, could do stand-up with all his precious ad-libs.
  1. After Thursday’ win over the Rangers, Johnny B departed from the chorus line fist-rubbing exchanges with his teammates. The defender “fisted” them all but with one exception.
  1. When Boychuk encountered heroic, little Gionta, Johnny give Stevie a bear hug. “It wasn’t easy,” quipped Boychuk, “because I had to find him first.”
  1. By the way, Gionta is no bigger than his older brother and Sabres captain Brian Gionta. When Brian played for the Devs I once kidded him and said, “You’re so small you’re the last one to know it’s raining!” (Brian took it well. Not sure about Stephen).