Focus Shifts to Game 3 For AV

“Everything is on the table right now!”

That was the most pertinent observation made by Alain Vigneault on Sunday afternoon during a media conference call.

Looking ahead to Game 3 of the Ottawa series, the Rangers head coach, offered several comments on particular players in terms of why or why not they were used in Saturday’s loss to Ottawa.

His most optimistic point was that the Blueshirts will have an extra day off prior to the Tuesday night tilt at The Garden, with his club down two games to none.

[Rangers-Senators Post Game Coverage on MSG Networks]

“I’m pleased we have that extra day because I believe it will be beneficial,” he explained. “It will allow us to check on areas where we can be better; allow us to work on things.

“We’re in the process of analyzing yesterday’s (Saturday’s) game because, no doubt, it was a tough loss.”

On a conference call with reporters, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault talks about some of the decisions he made in Game 2 and looks ahead to Tuesday's Game 3.

Pressed about why he gave some players — as an example defenseman Brendan Smith — less ice in the third period of Game 2,  A.V. insisted that it was “not play-related” and said that the blue-liner played with bite.

“Some players,” the coach pointed out, “get lost on certain shifts.”

While he allowed that “everything is on the table,” Vigneault said he “liked the looks of the three defensive pairings.

“I don’t see any changes,” he added.

That, however, is subject to change between now and the opening face-off on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Questioned about Ottawa’s second overtime winning goal, and the fact that defenseman Nick Holden got burned, “pinching” on the risky play, A.V. noted, “I’m sure, looking back, Nick would like that one back. But, then again, nobody is perfect.”

Regarding Jean-Gabriel’s Pageau’s four-goal performance — including the winning score — and the fact that Pageau is known for being a checking forward, Alain half-jokingly asserted, “We’re looking to put a checker on their checker.”

On a more optimistic note, Vigneault noted that — other than the first period of the first game in Ottawa — he seemed with pleased with his club.

“We’ve played some pretty good hockey,” he concluded prior to a meeting with his general staff.

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For the Rangers, It All Starts With One Win

“It’s a five-game series and we have to win four,” said nobody ever.

The Rangers’ task is daunting if you look at it in that light. But they won’t, mostly because they can’t and partly because they shouldn’t.

Trailing two games to none after Saturday’s loss in Ottawa, the Rangers have an extra day to rest (and try to forget) Sunday, then a day of practice before trying to turn the series Tuesday at the Garden.

The short-memory thing will be one key, the long-term memory will be another. The core of the Rangers team has completely turned around prior series in worse shape than this, and against better teams than Ottawa.

However, it won’t be easy. The Rangers had a two-goal lead three times, the last one with 3:19 left in regulation before losing 6-5 in double overtime on three consecutive goals by Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who would finish with four.

Four goals.

Reminds me of when Petri Skriko of Vancouver once did it against the Rangers, and Phil Esposito decided he had to play a 4-and-1, with a shadow on Skriko the rest of the game.

But I digress.

The point is, and I’m not trying to be Joe Positive here, but this is how I see it: The Rangers could be up 2-0 and at worst should be 1-1. They’re not.

[Rangers-Senators Post Game Coverage on MSG Networks]

The core of this team, though, has been in tougher spots and had bigger comebacks against better teams than this Ottawa team, which is still banging that “nobody gave us a chance” drum. Fact about Game 2, despite all the ways the Rangers came up short, is that Ottawa spent 57-plus minutes of regulation and good portions of the two overtimes playing as poorly, or worse.

These Rangers have twice (the only times in their history) since 2014 come back from three games to one to win three straight elimination games, against Pittsburgh and Washington. They have also faced elimination against Ottawa, down 3-2, in 2012, by winning Games 6 and 7, and did the same the following year against Washington.

So to suggest they’re toast down 2-0 and headed home against these Senators might be a tad premature.

With that all said, the Rangers have to clean up some things in order to avoid falling behind 3-0, and in order to maybe turn this series back into a series.

That starts with personnel. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault sat Pavel Buchnevich, who looked a bit overmatched in the neutral zone against the Senators’ trap, then in order to get a rotation going, sat Oscar Lindberg too. Never mind who those players are or what they were or weren’t doing, Vigneault’s team has always been at its best when it rolls four lines; has always played with its speed and depth as an advantage, when all 12 forwards are involved. And once the game goes to overtime, then into a second overtime, heavy legs can become a detriment, too.

That may not have been the case in Game 2, especially since the Rangers had plenty of chances to win the game in sudden death – Rick Nash with an open net, thwarted by Kyle Turris’s desperate stick lunge.

Fans, naturally, had a bigger problem, and it’s difficult to argue this point. Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith, who had a bad moment or two but were mostly very strong in Game 2, were skipped over for Nick Holden and Marc Staal. That pair struggled in both games, and it was Holden’s ill-advised pinch that led to the 2-on-1 and Pageau’s game-winning goal.

[Fischler: Rangers Need a Rally at Home]

It’s probably a slam-dunk that Buchnevich will come out for Game 3, likely replaced by Tanner Glass. That will set off a Twitter firestorm.

But those decisions or opinions are relatively minor compared to the main issue, which is Henrik Lundqvist’s play. Only one other time did the Rangers give him five goals in a playoff loss. He whiffed on Pageau’s first goal after Michael Grabner had given the Rangers an early lead with a short-hander. And when Staal slid to prevent a pass from Pageau on the winner, Pageau beat him glove side.

Lundqvist, who was really strong in Game 1 but lost it on a fluke screened goal from the corner by Erik Karlsson, admitted he didn’t feel he was moving well throughout Saturday’s game. Two of the goals were deflections, one was an uncontested dunk, one appeared to be a screen. The other two he has to stop and a 5-3 lead has to turn into a win.

No way around that. To win four of five, Lundqvist is going to have to find the top of his game, as he did for most of the Montreal series. Otherwise, there’s no chance.

Yes, the Rangers need to clean up a bunch of things defensively – and they can’t have another late meltdown, as they did in Game 2 against Montreal, as well, when a 6-on-5 advantage looks like 9-on-5.

The onus is hardly only on the defense. The Rangers’ offense came alive in Game 2, but it was built on a pair of short-handed goals. Their power play still provided plenty of letdowns and their top-nine forwards can still do a lot more.

Most important is, in both of their Game 2s this year, and plenty of times during the season, the Rangers lost leads largely because they stopped spending time in the offensive zone. They’re careful to get pucks out of their end, but too often chip-and-change, sustaining no pressure in the opponents’ end late in games. Which, Mark Messier used to say, is “like punting on first down.”

The Rangers were effective against Ottawa’s dreaded trap in both games in terms of getting through the neutral zone with good passes and/or good decisions, then going to work on the Senators’ defense, which has its own weaknesses. They also saw that a turnover in or near the neutral zone can be turned into trouble quickly, i.e. Dan Girardis interception on the first Pageau goal.

They proved that they can really open up and dictate the pace of the game if they can get a lead on Ottawa, which isn’t nearly as sturdy an opponent when it can’t sit back.

That trap can cause another problem … it’s boring. Snore-inducing. If Ottawa is allowed to play with a lead or in a tied game, it’s going to be difficult for The Garden crowd to be a factor in a game with no pace. So, yes, the lead will be important in many ways.

The Senators might be banged up, too, with several of their players, including Erik Karlsson, spending some of Game 2 in the trainer’s room.

You hope it’s not the worst news, but Clarke MacArthur – who missed most of the last two seasons with concussions – left the game early after a clean hit by Ryan McDonagh.

McDonagh – last shift of regulation notwithstanding – played another monstrous playoff game, by the way.

On Saturday, the Rangers cleaned up their penalty kill, though they continued to test it to often, and they were plus-2 in goals while killing. They’re going to have to minimize the number of minor penalties – especially the needless ones – if they’re going to get back into this series.

To do that, they’re going to have to figure out a way to win one game, the next one. Then do that again. But it starts with one, and it will start with better decisions all around and adjustments by individuals and the group. Or it won’t start at all.

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Who Will Devils Take With 1st Pick?

The New Jersey Devils didn’t enjoy a particularly successful regular season, but their offseason has gotten off on the right skate.

Guess what?

The Garden Staters will have the No. 1 pick in the 2017 National Hockey League Draft.

This positive turn of events occurred on Saturday night after General Manager Ray Shero‘s sextet won the league’s Draft Lottery.

Devils Ray Shero GettyImages 042917

“This is a great day for our franchise,” asserted Shero. “And to pick first overall, to have that for our Devils, fans, and organization, is great news.”

New Jersey beat out the Philadelphia Flyers, who captured the runner-up slot and the Dallas Stars who came in third.

How about the odds Shero’s club had to beat.

According to the NHL, the Devils had an 8.5 percent chance of coming out on top. Which means that New Jersey will be picking Number One for the first time.


Ironically, the team with the best chance of winning was the Colorado Avalanche since they had the best odds. The Avs came out with the fourth slot.

Shero will make his picks on June 23 and 24 at Chicago’s United Center.

What are Ray’s most likely choices? Here are a few worked out by my man in Newark, Leo Scaglione, Jr.

1. Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon (WHL)

Nolan Patrick Brandon Wheat Kings GettyImages 042917

Height: 6’2”
Weight: 198 pounds
Born: 9/19/98
Hometown: Winnipeg, Man.
2016-17 Stats: 20 G, 26 A in 33 games played

Despite injuries that limited him to 33 games, the Brandon Wheat Kings captain has remained the favorite because of his solid 200-foot game.

2. Nico Hischier, C, Halifax (QMJHL)

MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 30: Nico Hischier #18 of Team Switzerland skates during the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship preliminary round game against Team Denmark at the Bell Centre on December 30, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Team Switzerland defeated Team Denmark 5-4 in a shootout. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Height: 6’1”
Weight: 176 pounds
Born: 1/4/99
Hometown: Naters, Switzerland
2016-17 Stats: 38 G, 48 A in 57 games played

The Swiss-born Halifax Mooseheads star totaled 38-48-86 in 57 games. One scout reports: “Nico is quick and finds the holes. His hockey IQ is great.”

3. Gabe Vilardi, C, Windsor (OHL)

LONDON, ON - MARCH 26:  Gabriel Vilardi #13 of the Windsor Spitfires celebrates a goal against the London Knights during Game Two of the OHL Western Conference Quarter Finals at Budweiser Gardens on March 26, 2017 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Knights defeated the Spitfires 5-2 to even the series 1-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Height: 6’3”
Weight: 201 pounds
Born: 8/16/99
Hometown: Kingston, Ont.
2016-17 Stats: 29 G, 32 A in 49 games played

This Windsor Spitfire center has come on strong in the past few months. His size [6-2, 193 pounds] makes him attractive along with his speed and laser shot. Over 49 games this past season, his totals were 29-32-61.

4. Owen Tippett, RW, Mississauga (OHL)

LONDON, ON - DECEMBER 9: Owen Tippett #74 of the Mississauga Steelheads skates with the puck against the London Knights during an OHL game at Budweiser Gardens on December 9, 2016 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Steelheads defeated the Knights 7-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Height: 6’0”
Weight: 200 pounds
Born: 2/16/99
Hometown: Oshawa, Ont.
2016-17 Stats: 44 G, 31 A in 60 games played

A right wing with the Mississauga Steelheads. What makes him attractive to Shero is the fact that he has been a teammate of New Jersey’s 2016 selections, Mike McLeod and Nathan Bastian. Tippett’s speed and excellent shot garnered him 44 goals, 31 assists and 75 points in 60 games this past season.

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Rangers Need a Rally at Home

Senators 6, Rangers 5 (2 OT)

The Ottawa Senators can be beaten in the playoffs as proven by two first-round losses to Boston.

It’s just that the Rangers haven’t found the formula so far. Although, as the late, great Yogi Berra would have observed, “It’s getting late early.”

For the Blueshirts, that is, they return from Ottawa and prepare for their counterattack on Tuesday night at The Garden after a shocking 6-5 loss in double-overtime.

[Rangers-Senators Post Game Coverage on MSG Networks]

Compounding the despair is the fact that the New Yorkers owned a two-goal lead with only 3:19 remaining in the third period. Jean-Gabriel Pageau then fired two more behind Henrik Lundqvist. The game-tying counter then came at 18:58 with goalie Craig Anderson pulled for an extra skater.

The prime culprit was Pageau with a four-goal night, including the second overtime game-winner.

By losing on Saturday afternoon-early-evening at Canadian Tire Centre, the New Yorkers are now down 2-0 and must figure a game plan that will solve the Senators’ speed, resiliency and, obviously, Pageau.

[Boyle: Karlsson Makes Sens Dangerous]

Defusing the Senators’ offense is a must, now that the double overtime sudden-death defeat is in the books. Furthermore, coach Alain Vigneault must figure out how to stop the bleeding.

OVERVIEW: This is getting serious. Confident with two straight wins at home, the Senators are riding a bounce-back sequence. The Rangers face the double-dip challenge of stopping the versatile two-way threat, Erik Karlsson and sizzling hot Pageau. Granted, The Garden should be hospitable for New York but the Rangers have to prove that their defense can tighten — back checkers included — while their scorers can maintain a pace regained in Game 2. Both teams will have the benefit of a two-day recuperative period, although it’s debatable which team will benefit most at this point in the second playoff round

WHAT WENT WRONG:

  1. LACK OF KILLER INSTINCT: Nursing a two-goal lead late in the third period, the Rangers failed on a power play and then failed to hold the two-goal lead.
  1. RECKLESS DECISIONS: Bad clears and passes helped the Senators to set up for key goals.
  1. BAD PINCH: In the second overtime, Rangers defenseman Nick Holden gambled with a pinch along the right boards in the Ottawa zone, but failed to keep the rubber inside the blue line. That enabled Pageau to giddyap on a two-on-one. With the hottest stick — and three goals already on the board — he whipped the winner high over Lundqvist’s left glove.
  1. LACK OF EARLY DISCIPLINE: The Blueshirts took three straight — at least two avoidable — penalties in the first period alone. Although Ottawa failed to score on them, it fatigued the visiting team despite the shorthanded goal by Michael Grabner.
  1. LACK OF POSSESSION: After giving up the 1-0 lead and throughout the first period, Ottawa maintained puck control with very little offense generated by the Rangers. But the Blueshirts rallied and began pumping goals up to the 5-3 lead only to blow it in the fading moments of regulation time. The Rangers’ downfall was possession and that was exploited by the Sens.
  1. LACK OF KARLSSON CONTROL: Too often, Erik Karlsson was allowed to cross into Senators ice with virtual impunity. “The Rangers,” said ex-NHL coach and GM Mike Milbury, “we’re giving Karlsson too much respect.” As the game unfolded, the Rangers punished him with checks but could not completely erase his effectiveness.
  1. FAILED POWER PLAY IN FIRST OVERTIME: The Rangers had a chance to win the game in the first overtime period when ex-Blueshirt Derick Brassard was hit with a two-minute penalty. New York failed to generate any real dangerous thrusts.
  1. LACK OF PAGEAU CONTROL: The French-Canadian sharpshooter scored four goals. All season long he only tallied a dozen red lights in 82 games. ‘Nuff said.

WHAT WENT RIGHT:

  1. RE-AWAKENED SCORERS: Reliable forwards who previously were foiled — Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan — lit red lights.
  1. BRADY SKJEI: The rookie defenseman scored two goals and excelled behind his blue line as well.
  1. PENALTY KILLERS EXCELLED: The Rangers killed all four of their penalties.
  1. GRABNER GOOD BOTH WAYS: Kid Lightning put New York ahead 1-0 in the first period on a penalty kill at 4:16.

OVERVIEW: Once again, from the opening face-off, the Senators crossed into enemy ice with unusual ease. Lundqvist was tested from the start and appeared a bit off his game on the first dangerous Ottawa shot, although he did make the save. Burdened with protecting the first-period lead, Lundqvist was fooled on the Sens’ tying goal by Pageau; an eminently stoppable shot. The play began by an errant Rangers pass by Dan Girardi. It was the portent of things to come as King Henrik had an off-night. Meanwhile, after two games, Guy Boucher’s club has been playing with unstoppable confidence.

WHAT THEY SAID:

  1. RYAN MCDONAGH: “It was a tough way to lose a game, but the series is not over. It stings, but it’s good that we have two days off because we’ll need a day to get over it. Then we take it one step at a time and not give up.”
  1. MSG NETWORKS’ ANALYST STEVE VALIQUETTE: “Henrik got beat twice on clean chances on Pageau’s first and fourth goals. McDonagh and Dan Girardi were both on the ice for Ottawa’s third and fourth goal; which shouldn’t happen. Rangers had plenty of scoring opportunities in the two overtimes. The Rangers have been down before and recovered.”
  1. DEREK STEPAN: “I don’t think we sat back; just a little hesitant. I just think we were a half-a-step behind on their two late goals in regulation. We can adjust.”
  1. MSG NETWORKS’ ANALYST RON DUGUAY: “On the winning (Pageau) goal, you have to give credit to the shooter because that was a good shot; right by Hank’s ear. There were a lot of broken plays. It was a game where anything could happen. The Rangers have to believe that they are better than Ottawa.”
  1. ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “I never felt the game was slipping. We were playing a real good game; doing what we needed to do and they made the most of their opportunities. We didn’t back up; we spent a lot of time in their end, had a couple of good looks but just came up short. We’ll regroup and get ready for the next one. They capitalized on the opportunities but we didn’t give them much. (Regarding Lundqvist’s game) Like the rest of our team, he (Lundqvist) tried real hard.”
  1. MSG NETWORKS’ ANALYST JOHN GIANNONE: “Rangers pushed the pace and pushed their luck.”
  1. HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “We played well enough to win this game and clearly they got the bounces in the first two games. This is really tough, giving up those last two goals (in regulation). I wasn’t good enough to come up with the extra save. It will be tough but we’ll move on and focus on Game 3. We sort of had it under control but they got two deflections. I wasn’t moving as well as I would have liked. Now I have to re-charge.”
  1. J.G. PAGEAU: “Our team shows a lot of character. We have to keep working and keeping it simple as I did (in Game 2).”

COMING ATTRACTIONS: Game 3 of the series is slated for Tuesday night at The Garden. Starting time, 7 p.m.

BOTTOM LINE: After blowing a two-goal lead so late in the game — and coming home down by two games — the Blueshirts have no choice but to make the most of Garden ice. They have rebounded before — as in the Canadiens series — but will require tighter goaltending from  Lundqvist. This is a major challenge for the general staff as well as the Rangers’ veteran leadership to inspire the club to get back on track.

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Hahn, Humpty & Canty Back on MSG

Get a different perspective on New York sports this summer with Hahn, Humpty & Canty!

The all-New York sports radio show will air Monday through Friday on ESPN Radio from 10 AM to 1 PM, featuring Alan Hahn, Rick DiPietro, and Chris Canty.

Later on, a ‘best of’ from the three-hour-show will air on MSG from 7 PM to 9 PM, Monday through Thursday. The show will also be available on MSG GO.

Catch up with Alan Hahn, Rick DiPietro and Chris Canty as they return to their radio show talking all New York sports.

Be sure to come back to MSGNetworks.com/hhc for various video, editorial, and interactive features. Such features include recaps, polls, weekly quizzes, trivia, and more!

[Press Release: MSG Network to Televise “Hahn, Humpty & Canty”]

Follow them on Twitter:

Alan Hahn: @alanhahn

Rick DiPietro: @hdumpty39

Chris Canty: @chriscanty99

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Rangers Aim To Even Series in Ottawa

Game 2 of the Ranger-Senators Eastern Conference semifinals is all set for this afternoon with Ottawa holding a one-game advantage in the best of seven series.

While many may opine that opening game turned on a “fluke” goal by Erik Karlsson I would offer up the creativity and imagination of Karlsson being an important consideration, as this was the third goal of this type scored by the Senator captain on the season. Great players put themselves into a position of allowing luck, fluke or whatever to play a role. Karlsson is a great player.

One final thought on the game winner. Little things do lead to big things. Fifteen seconds prior to Karlsson’s game-winner Senator defenseman Marc Methot outreached Rick Nash by inches at the blueline to keep the puck in the Rangers end of the ice. Had the puck advanced, who knows how this one would have turned out. But the puck wasn’t advanced. The margin for error is that thin come playoff time.

The Rangers need to pay a little more respect to the speed and skill of Ottawa. While much was made prior the opening game of the series and after Game 1 of the speed bumps created by their style in the neutral zone, not enough credit has been given to Ottawa’s “O” makeup. The Senators have a number of players who can make a play, and we saw what a difference that made for the Rangers in their opening round against Montreal. I would not get drawn into the rhetoric that this is a one-dimensional opponent. They aren’t.

[Rangers-Senators Post Game Coverage on MSG Networks]

3 KEYS TO GAME 2

1. Defensive Zone

The Rangers need to be quicker to the puck and smarter with the puck in their own end of the ice. Getting to a better position to make a play with the puck faster than the opponent allows you a better chance of heading up ice with better numbers.

2. Neutral Zone

While I didn’t think that area was as big a factor as some, Ottawa still hits the reset button for their game in the neutral zone when all else fails. The Blueshirts need speed and support in this area to continue to move up ice. Trying to beat this opponent one-on-one and with long distance passes won’t work.

3. Penalties

Penalties always play a role one way or another. Not-so-smart infractions will end up costing you. A lazy slash, too-many-men on the ice, and a penalty while on the power play, all in the first period of Game 1 were clear examples of unnecessary penalties. The Rangers need to be smarter when it comes to taking a penalty.

COVERAGE

Don La Greca, Sam Rosen, John Giannone and I will have the call this afternoon on ESPN 98.7 FM. Pregame at 2:30. Puck drops a little past 3. MSG Network will have complete post game coverage.

Check it out!

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McDonagh vs. Karlsson, Hamonic Scores, Devs Ponder Future

1. When the Rangers challenge the Senators in Game 2 at Ottawa, we’ll be treated to another Erik Karlsson vs. Ryan McDonagh — Captain against Captain — main event.

2. Those two premier defensemen each starred, each scored a goal and captivated the crowd in Game 1. The only trouble was that Karlsson scored that crazy goal, which happened to be the winner.

3. When the book, “All-Time Most Bizarre Playoff Goals,” is written, the cockamamie Karlsson game-winner will top the list.

4. Either the Senators’ captain is the luckiest shooter in the hockey world or he’s secretly Sweden’s Billiard Champion.

5. The pity of New York’s Game 1 loss was the manner in which Henrik Lundqvist lost one of the best games he’s ever played in his long, illustrious career.

6. I can’t think of another goalie who — after such a depressing loss — would conduct such a classy, articulate post game interview the way King Henrik did with MSG Networks’ John Giannone on the MSG Networks postgame show.

[Rangers-Senators Post Game Coverage on MSG Networks]

7. Heading into Game 2, Alain Vigneault and his general staff must figure how to bisect the Senators’ “trap” and unleash the guns of Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello & Co.

8. Let’s face it, Ottawa is a better team than Montreal, especially on defense. It’s not only Karlsson, but tough Dion Phaneuf is in his prime while Marc Methot and Cody Ceci — you’ve got to love that name — are no slouches either.

9. Do Not Overlook Department: While the media keeps wondering where Dan Girardi will play next year, the Rangers’ workhorse backliner continues to play fine playoff hockey. Yes, yes, even in the offensive zone.

10. You may have heard this one before, but I don’t mind repeating that Brady Skjei has been playing more like a six-year vet than a full-fledged rookie.

11. A few of my colleagues believe that in their opener, the Blueshirts should have delivered more physical punishment to the Senators. Hearing that makes me wonder when — or if — Tanner Glass will return to the active lineup.

12. Ray Shero left Devils fans guessing when he reviewed his club’s season and questioned his sextet’s “pride, tenacity and pushback.” Without naming names, the G.M. added, “Some guys had a chance to prove that this year. They won’t be back.”

13. Miles (Mile A Minute) Wood isn’t one of them nor Taylor Hall, nor Joe Blandisi and John Quenneville. Tough call figuring who The Boss has in mind, but we’ll find out in the Expansion Draft.

14. New Jersey’s season-finishing 3-17-4 coincided with a serious drop in Cory Schneider‘s performance and the Devs goaltender was the first to admit it. Next issue is what management sees in terms of puck-stopping improvement since it’s questionable whether backup Keith Kinkaid will be back.

15. My man at The Rock, James Mauldin, advises, “Here are some names to look for next season; Michael Kapla, Michael McLeodYohann Auvitu and John Quenneville.”

16. For those fans who do not like the current playoff format, here’s Commissioner Gary Bettman’s reply: “The purpose of the format is to accentuate rivalries and you get your best rivalries in divisional play.”

17. One of the most overlooked — yet significant — hockey prizes is called the “NHL Foundation Player Award.” It’s the league’s community award with two finalists this year including Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic.

18. With little fuss or fanfare, Travis has been in the fifth season of “Hamonic’s D-Partner” program. He started the program in honor of his father, who passed away when he was 10-years-old. During each Islanders home game, Hamonic invites a child or family, who have lost a parent unexpectedly, to attend a game. As his guest, they get to high-five the team as the players take the ice and watch the action from Hamonic’s personal seats. After the game, the guest(s) meet Hamonic, receive autographs, take pictures and Islanders gifts.

19. What sets Hamonic’s program apart from others is that he sits down with each family and they share stories about their lost family member(s) and how they are and have coped with the situation. The program strives to provide comfort and guidance as Hamonic and some of his biggest fans heal together.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Travis Hamonic #3 of the New York Islanders high-fives a young fan during warm up in a camo jersey for Military Appreciation night prior to the start of the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Barclays Center on November 14, 2016 in Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

20. One scout’s X-Ray of Zuccarello: “He can be impactful in ways other than the obvious. The little guy is fearless in getting in the grill of some of the more verbose opponents. Also, he has a better than average shot. He should shoot more than making the extra horizontal or diagonal pass.”

21. The most successful teams have a “brand” and the Rangers are one of them. Here’s how Alain Vigneault defines it: “Part of our identity is to play fast with and without the puck. We need that identity even though physicality is part of the playoffs. But our number one thing is to play a fast, high-tempo game — and get out of our end.”

22. Devils legend Martin Brodeur may have the Assistant G.M. title on his St. Louis door, but Marty appears more valuable as goalie coach. Puck-stopper Jake Allen’s turnabout from sieve to star is due in part to the Marty memos.

23. MSG Networks hockey analyst Steve Valiquette has found a fascinating new way of examining the ice game. In an interview with my sidekick Liz Mirovich, Valley points out that shots taken in pre-game warm-ups often are from the wrong places.

24. “In warm-ups,” Steve explains, “players skate in unimpeded and shoot on the goalie. The truth is that that kind of shot only happens once every two games. That kind of shot has less of a chance to go in than one taken just to the right of it; just outside the slot.”

25. There’s logic to Valiquette’s point and yet he seems to be the first to identify it. “The reason why practice shots from between the two circles are less useful is that — during a game — players in that area are being checked. There are sticks on them and they don’t have the time or space to get the shot off.”

26. Imagine the challenge Pavel Buchnevich faces each game since he never learned English until arriving here and still has an interpreter — Kristina Piseeva — available for him after every game.

27. Our Liz Mirovich happens to be a Russian linguist and obtained some tender words about rookie — and New York — life from Buchnevich. “It was a difficult year for me. It started out pretty well, but then I got injured and it took a long time for me to recover. I practically didn’t see the team and they didn’t see me. Our relationships were lost. Now, I feel closer to the guys. Before, it felt like I was on the team but I wasn’t.”

28. Prior to the second playoff round, Mirovich asked Buchnevich about living in a metropolis such as Manhattan. “Overall,” he explained, “I like it very much. But I want to find a quieter neighborhood. Being this was my first year, I didn’t know the what, where, how of the city.”

29. Reader — and Devils fan — Howard Sachs writes about an Ilya Kovalchuk return to the NHL: “I believe that New Jersey will sign him to a one-year $5-$6 million contract. Then Ray Shero will flip him for a pretty good pick or prospect. If I’m another G.M., I would explore that kind of deal.”

30. You have to wonder whether Garth Snow would be interested in Kovy and — just for the sake of fantasizing — wonder how John Tavares and Kovy would work together.

31. Until there’s a Tavares resolution, I continue to do random polling among Islanders fans and most believe that the Captain will remain an Islander. (Remember, these reactions are purely gut feelings and do not represent what JT nor his agent are thinking.)

32. Good for Garth Snow re-signing vet D-man Dennis Seidenberg, who played smart and emerged with the team’s best plus-minus which is amazing when you think about it.

33. Not that A.V. needs advice behind the Rangers bench today, but reader Gus Vic offers this: “Watch Ottawa try to clog the neutral zone to a crawl. From there it’s simply a matter of Rangers using speed to chip and forecheck.”

34. P.S. Easier said than done!

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NHL Playoffs: Devils News and Second Round Thoughts

In this week’s Q&A, Ken Daneyko talks about a potential Ilya Kovalchuk return, the NHL playoffs, and the NHL Draft Lottery.

MSGNetworks.com: We’ll start off this week with some Devils-related news: According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Ilya Kovalchuk is looking to return to the NHL. The Devils hold his rights and he can only sign with another team if all of the other teams in the NHL approve of it. What’s your take on the situation and what do you think Ray Shero will do should Kovalchuk decide to come back?

Ken Daneyko: Well, obviously it’s still speculation. I guess we’ll find out more as the offseason for the Devils goes along here, but [Kovalchuk] is certainly an asset. Realistically, he’s not going to get approval, so that’s probably out of the question.

mavens-haven_kovalchuk_20150401.jpg

From what everyone’s saying — and I’m just reading what everyone else is reading — Kovalchuk is Devils property. He’s a very gifted guy and there’s circumstances that we don’t know about when he left to go back to play in the KHL, but he’s a great talent and can score 20 goals with his eyes closed, even at age 34. I still think he’s got some good years in him. Either way, if in fact he decides to come back, it would just another asset and that can only be a positive.

MSGNetworks.com: Moving on to the NHL playoffs to more Devils connections. We saw ex-Devil Vern Fiddler score the game-winning goal in Game 1 of the Predators-Blues series. What was your take on that game and what do you expect from these two teams?

Ken Daneyko: We’ve talked about it time and time again – unlikely sources that score big goals. [Predators coach] Peter Laviolette pushed the right button by putting Fiddler in the lineup and he comes up with a big, timely goal. That’s what you need to be successful.

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 28: Nashville Predators center Vernon Fiddler (83) skates out for a face off during a regular season NHL game between the Boston Bruins and the Nashville Predators on March 28, 2017, at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeated the Predators 4-1. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Game 1 was a good game, it was close and the Blues were able to battle back after falling behind. But to me, Nashville has that “It” factor, a little bit of swagger going on where things are going their way. They’re playing hard, guys are performing and their defense, led by P.K. Subban, is playing terrific hockey. They’re a team that’s awfully tough to contain.

It’ll be interesting to see what St. Louis does to respond. I think it was the first time these playoffs we’ve seen Jake Allen struggle. He was remarkable in Round 1 and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds in Game 2 after what you consider to be a subpar game. That’s going to happen with any young goaltender. It’s the mindset of how you bounce back after allowing a game-winning goal that wasn’t the prettiest. He made the wrong decision to try and lunge for the puck to poke check it instead of holding his ground.

MSGNetworks.com: Moving on to the other Western Conference series and more Devils connections. Adam Larsson scored twice for the Oilers in their Game 1 win against the Ducks. Watching from afar this season, what was your take on his play in Edmonton after spending five years in New Jersey?

Ken Daneyko: Being an Edmonton native, I was preaching the virtues of Adam Larsson to Oilers fans during the offseason when the big deal for Taylor Hall happened. It’s a trade that I would still do in a heartbeat for the Devils because the team needed an exceptional offensive talent like Hall.

Devils Taylor Hall Road Stock 121716

On the other end of it, Edmonton needed that type of defensive element. It’s a trade that I think both teams won.

You don’t expect Larsson to have such an offensive game with three points, but he continues to just get better and better. Like I said to some people who were tweeting me not liking the trade, I thought he was going to settle the Oilers’ back end down and give you good, smart hockey in his own zone. That’s something the Oilers probably needed. He’s got a little more offensive upside than he’s shown and at times, he showed with the Devils. He had a big Game 1 and he’s played very well.

Everyone looks too often at statistics and don’t know that there’s more to it when it comes to winning. It’s having the right pieces and elements to be successful. You need guys on the back end to be very sound defensively and I knew that Larsson was going to be that.

MSGNetworks.com: Let’s move on over to the Eastern Conference and the sexiest series of the second round – Pens vs. Caps. What was your take on Game 1 where both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin scored in Pittsburgh’s win?

Ken Daneyko: It’s always a marquee matchup when these two teams get together. So far, Washington hasn’t found a way — in the playoffs — to beat the Penguins and they couldn’t have played better in Game 1. They still found themselves on the wrong end.

It’s going to take an almost perfect effort for Washington to beat Pittsburgh. They played really well, but they made a couple of mistakes and that’s what the Penguins do. Washington outplayed them, out-chanced them and outshot them, but Pittsburgh being the opportunistic team, were led by the best player in the world turning it up for about a minute to start the second period.

Penguins Crosby Playoffs Stock 041616

The work ethic of Sidney Crosby is second to none. He scored twice, but he also backchecked ferociously on plays and helped to break up a two-on-one chance for the Caps. If you leave the door open for the Penguins, they’re going to take advantage. The Caps can’t make untimely mistakes and take untimely penalties because the Penguins are going to capitalize. It’s going to be a terrific series if Game 1 was any indication.

MSGNetworks.com: On to the other series in the East where we saw Ottawa take Game 1 against the Rangers. It was a close game with great goaltending that was decided by a freak goal. What was your reaction to it?

Ken Daneyko: It certainly was a hard-fought game and a good game as we expected. Both goaltenders were spectacular and I look at it from a Rangers standpoint that you lost a game where Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding. That’s difficult to take, but you like a lot of things that you did.

But you have to give Ottawa credit and Erik Karlsson proved to be an X-factor in Game 1. He’s one of the best players in the game today and you can say it was a sharp-angle shot, you can say it was a screen, you can say it was a lucky bounce. Great players find a way to get it done in big spots.

That’s what Karlsson does and that’s why he’s a game changer. In this type of series where top guys have to be your top guys, Ottawa has one in Erik Karlsson. Good things happen to players that talented and it’s not a coincidence.

[Chris Boyle: Why Karlsson Makes Sens Dangerous]

Everyone talks about the Senators’ defensive system, the 1-3-1 trap and how stifling it is. People have a misconception about Ottawa and think that they sit back. They don’t at all! They have a lot of good players when they go on the attack and they were able to fire over 40 shots in Game 1. I know a lot of those were on the power play, but they have plenty of guys that can create offense and sustain pressure in the offensive zone.

MSGNetworks.com: Finally, the NHL Draft Lottery is Saturday. What’s your hope and aspirations for the Devils’ chances to land a high pick?

Ken Daneyko: Well, the higher the pick, the better! It will give them more options in the future and let’s hope it turns out for the best wherever they pick. It’s about time they get some luck and somehow, someway they get a top pick.

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Giants Opt For Tight End Over O-Line in Round 1

The New York Giants on Thursday may have gotten the right player and the right position in the first round of the NFL Draft, but to me, it comes at the wrong time.

Evan Engram may go down as one of the best receiving tight ends in Giants history. He may have a productive career and he could well end up being a great fit for this team. But he wasn’t the best fit and he’s not the player to take the Giants to the next level.

This was a luxury pick at No. 23 for the Giants, who didn’t need to take a tight end in the first round of the draft. While tight end was an area where they needed to add depth at some point in free agency or later on in the draft, what this team needed was a player who could get them over the hump and past last year’s NFC Wild Card disappointment.

They got a very good player with a high upside. What they needed was an offensive tackle to shore up the worst part of their team. It’s the same need in 2016.

Carl Banks, David Diehl and Bob Papa give their thoughts on Evan Engram after the Giants selected the tight end with the 23rd pick in the NFL Draft.

Sitting at No. 23, only one offensive tackle was off the board when the Denver Broncos took Garett Bolles three picks earlier. There was still Cam Robinson on the board, the four-year starter at Alabama and a player who could start at either tackle position for the Giants. Also available was Ryan Ramczyk, short on experience but a player with tremendous upside.

But the Giants went with a tight end who happens to be a tremendous athlete and has impressive numbers from the NFL Combine. The question now is: Will quarterback Eli Manning have time to throw to his new target?

Engram is a nice player and instantly upgrades their offense. Yet he’s of little use if the man throwing him the ball is in a pocket that’s collapsing around him.

Their Achilles’ heel is the offensive line. The Giants came into the offseason needing to make some upgrades and needing an offensive tackle. They did not address that in free agency and now head into Day 2 in the same predicament.

Truth be told, there may not be an offensive tackle ready to start in Day 2 unless the Giants are willing to move up in the second round. If that is the case, then taking a tight end in the first round might not be worth the cost of using multiple picks to move up in the second right to take a tackle.

So in essence, the Giants doubled down on Ereck Flowers, their first round pick from two years ago. He is the Giants starter by default at left tackle.

It is precious to say that the Giants followed their draft board and took the best player available. It is also naïve to ignore the biggest deficiency on this team for a second straight offseason and hope that things will be different this go around.

Head Coach Ben McAdoo gives his thoughts on the Giants' first-round selection of tight end Evan Engram.

At 36-years old, Manning isn’t getting any younger, a reason why the Giants went out and got a free agent star wide receiver in Brandon Marshall this offseason. They need to make a run with this group at the Super Bowl while they still have Manning and they got Marshall to add with Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard for a deadly set of receivers. The Giants didn’t need a tight end to take the next step and win the NFC East, to get into the mix of becoming a Super Bowl team.

Instead, what they needed was someone who could come in and change the dynamics on the offensive line.

It is the kind of move that is a huge gamble, especially for a team that seems close to being ready for a run at the Super Bowl. The pieces are there, almost at least, to be very good for the next season or two. The quarterback is in place, the defense is much-improved and the play-makers are in place. A complimentary piece, an offensive lineman to make this whole thing click, was what this season was crying out for.

They didn’t need a difference-maker as much as they simply had to find a talent to fill a need, to upgrade the weakest part of their team at tackle.

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Laimbeer Liking What He’s Seen in Camp

Calling it the most ‘effort’ camp he’s had in three years, Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer scaled back practice on Wednesday. Instead of going twice a day, the Liberty practiced once, and that practice was cut by about 40 minutes.

Don’t fret, Liberty fans. William Laimbeer Jr. has not gone soft.

He still put the Liberty through a high-paced, one hour and 40 minute practice after going twice a day on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

“We’re further along than I had expected,’’ Laimbeer said. “We have so many new, young players that I wasn’t sure what to expect. I appreciate their effort.

“This the most effort camp I’ve had in three years. They earned the right to get a little rest.”

Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer talks about having a lot of young players in training camp and what the coaching staff hopes to instill in the team.

Laimbeer has a lot to evaluate. He has the WNBA maximum 15 players in camp.

Five probable roster spot players — Epiphanny Prince, Kiah Stokes, Kia Vaughn, Amanda Zahui B and Shavonte Zellous remain overseas competing in their other pro league playoffs.

The downside, obviously, is assessing player combinations. The upside is several players are making the most of their opportunity to catch the eye of the coaching staff.

Laimbeer said forwards Cierra Burdick and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe and guard Lindsay Allen have made positive early impressions.

Burdick is entering her third WNBA season, but her first with the Liberty. At 6-foot-2, 172 pounds, she has a solid foundation from her playing days at the University of Tennessee.

“She plays smart,’’ said Laimbeer. “She’s a fundamentally sound player that makes the correct play.’’

Raincock-Ekunwe is an intriguing player. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound forward from Canada has played with the Canadian national team, giving her experience most rookies don’t possess.

“She’s quick and really athletic,’’ said Laimbeer. “And she understands the game. Some of that probably comes from playing on the national team.’’

Allen, the All-American guard from Notre Dame, was the team’s top draft pick in the WNBA Draft. She was selected with the second pick in the second round, No. 14 overall.

Liberty Lindsay Allen Practice 042317

“Lindsay has overcome that initial shell shock most rookies go through,’’ Laimbeer said. “She’s starting to settle down and let the game come to her.’’

[ROBBINS: ALLEN LOOKING TO MAKE A SPLASH]

The Liberty opens its preseason schedule next Tuesday and Wednesday, when it plays the Los Angeles Sparks and the Chicago Sky at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.

Laimbeer likely will have to make some cuts following those two games as some of those players complete their overseas commitments and return to the Liberty. Until then, Laimbeer is focusing on the players he has and the questions that remain unanswered.

The biggest decisions Laimbeer faces are at point guard and small forward. The first question he must answer is whether or not he prefers one player to play the majority of minutes or if he’s OK utilizing the strengths of several players, especially at point guard.

Laimbeer answered yes and no on that issue. He has options at both spots.

“I don’t know yet,’’ Laimbeer said. “We’re too young in the process that any player has jumped out, ‘Oh my gosh, look at her.’ We said going in that this was going to be a competitive camp and that’s what’s it has been.’’

Laimbeer has another advantage. The roster potentially contains enough versatility that he doesn’t have to go with a traditional small forward or point guard.

At lead guard, Sugar Rodgers, a fearless 5-foot-9 player from Georgetown has developed great chemistry with star Tina Charles. But Rodgers isn’t a traditional lead guard.

May 24, 2016: The New York Liberty hosts the Atlanta Dream at Madison Square Garden on school day.

Brittany Boyd was second on the team with 119 assists. Bria Hartley was acquired in an offseason trade and could swing from point to shooting guard.

Lindsay Allen, the top draft pick, is a true lead guard although Laimbeer has been pleasantly surprised by her shooting. Epiphanny Prince, fully recovered from reconstructive knee surgery, is an attack guard but don’t discount her passing and handling.

Small forward also offers intriguing possibilities. Two of the players Laimbeer mentioned as early eye-openers, Burdock and Raincock-Ekunwe, could be slotted at small forward.

Rebecca Allen is very much in the mix. And Zellous did a lit bit of everything last season.

So how does Laimbeer and his staff figure it all out? The back-to-back preseason games next week will expedite the process.

“Back-to-back games can wear you down,’’ Laimbeer said. “All of these players deserve a chance to show what they can do. Everyone will get a chance.”

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