Rangers Searching For Answers And Their Identity

That which doesn’t kill you?

The Rangers know it’s early, and that 1-5 isn’t necessarily fatal. But they also know, and understand quite well, that game No. 7 on Tuesday (vs. the defending Stanley Cup champions no less) means it’s getting late.

“When you win games and you’re on winning streaks, it’s easy,” Rangers alternate captain Rick Nash said after practice Monday. “It’s easy to come to the rink. It’s fun. But I believe this is when you build character. It’s not an easy time right now but we’ve got to get through this and usually when you come through things like this, you come out stronger.”

Rick Nash talks about the Rangers’ 1-5 start and how the team can get stronger through this early-season adversity.

Since a 8-5 loss in Toronto nine days ago, the Rangers have made marginal improvements defensively. On the whole, they haven’t done anything particularly well, though.

All the facets intertwine. Good defense with smart puck movement translates to offense, just as turnovers lead to defensive trouble and just as a decent forecheck – spending time in the offensive zone — means less time having to defend. Vice versa applies as well.

[Watch Tuesday’s Rangers-Penguins Game at 6:30 PM on MSG and Download Free on MSG GO]

Perplexing the Rangers most of all is the play of their forwards in all of those facets, which bottom lines at two even-strength goals in five games, not counting the Toronto fiasco.

The totals for Nash (one), Mats Zuccarello (one), J.T. Miller (one), Kevin Hayes (one), Chris Kreider (zero), Jimmy Vesey (zero), Pavel Buchnevich (zero) and Michael Grabner (zero), aren’t nearly good enough. Mika Zibanejad has five goals, but four of those on a power play that has also now stalled.

J.T. Miller talks about how the Rangers can get back on track.

“So, I don’t think our one-on-one battles have been good enough and I don’t think our five-man forecheck has been good enough,” Nash said. “We’ve had spurts where we’ve been good, but too many other spurts where we haven’t been and it’s been hurting us.

“I think one thing that’s quite evident is the circling in the neutral zone. Our D have the puck and they’ve got no open man. Guys are coming off the wall. I think in past years when we were at our best, we would D-up, chip it in and get on that forecheck.”

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has juggled and juggled his lines and his defense pairs, hoping something creates a spark. But even when things click, as they did for the first 25 minutes or so against New Jersey in a 3-2 loss Saturday, it doesn’t last.

Alain Vigneault talks about the adversity the Rangers are currently facing.

“For me, I see this as we’re being challenged,” Vigneault said. “We’re facing some adversity as a group. The solution lies in that room right now and as a player, you’ve got to control what you can control – your hard work, your preparation. You’re making sure that every day you’re analyzing your game properly so you can focus on the areas that you need to improve. That’s where coaches come in, giving them the right feedback, and if we get our guys to improve their games individually, the team’s going to benefit.

“But I see a strong group that, right now, this is going to help with our identity. We’re searching for different roles. It’s going to help with our identity, it’s going to help with our character and it’s definitely going to permit our leadership group to establish themselves. And right now, everybody in that room knows they’re part of the solution and we’re working extremely hard to put it together.”

That leadership group lost two alternate captains during the offseason – Derek Stepan and Dan Girardi – and needs to figure this out.

“We’ve put ourselves in a bit of a hole here, so it’s definitely a shock,” Nash said. “But at the same time it’s reality and we’ve got to deal with it and try to get out of it.”

[Watch Tuesday’s Rangers-Penguins Game at 6:30 PM on MSG and Download Free on MSG GO]

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Katie Smith Named Liberty Head Coach

**COURTESY NEW YORK LIBERTY**

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 16, 2017 – WNBA legend Katie Smith has been named head coach of the New York Liberty, Team President Isiah Thomas announced today.

During a conference call with the media, Katie Smith talks about becoming the head coach of the New York Liberty and how Bill Laimbeer has influenced her.

One of the most decorated players in the history of the women’s game, Smith becomes the 7th head coach in franchise history. Smith retired following the 2013 season in New York, and spent the last four years as an assistant coach with the Liberty, having been promoted to Associate Head Coach prior to the 2016 season. She takes over for Bill Laimbeer, who served as Liberty head coach for the last five seasons, guiding the team to a 92-78 (.541) record, including 3-straight WNBA Playoffs appearances.

“It is a privilege to have the opportunity to promote Katie Smith – unquestionably one of the best to ever play the game of basketball – to head coach of the New York Liberty,” Thomas said. “Katie has transitioned from an all-time great player to phenomenal coach during her time with the Liberty, which has included the most successful stretch of basketball in franchise history. Katie’s leadership, dedication, and acumen make her the ideal coach to lead our team as we continue to strive towards the ultimate goal of bringing our fans and the city of New York a WNBA Championship.

“I want to thank my teammate and friend Bill Laimbeer for everything he has done in guiding the New York Liberty over the previous five years,” said Thomas. “Bill is one of the finest coaches in our league’s history and has done an outstanding job in establishing the Liberty as a perennial WNBA championship contender. We wish Bill all the best in the next stage of his career. He will always be a part of the Liberty family.”

“I am excited for this opportunity to continue to work with the amazing women of the New York Liberty in a new role,” said Smith. “I want to thank James Dolan, Isiah Thomas, and Madison Square Garden for entrusting me to lead this team, along with Bill Laimbeer for all that he did to bring me along over the past four seasons, and prepare me to become a head coach in the WNBA. I am grateful to have the opportunity to take on this next challenge in my career.”

Following a 17-year professional basketball career, including 15 seasons in the WNBA, Smith retired following the 2013 season with the Liberty as the all-time leading scorer in women’s professional basketball history, scoring 7,885 points. She was a seven-time All-Star and two-time First Team All-WNBA selection, winning WNBA Championships in 2006 and 2008 with the Detroit Shock.

During the WNBA’s 20th season in 2016, Smith was voted as one of the top-20 best and most influential players in league history. Her success extended to the international level, having won three Olympic Gold Medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008, and FIBA World Championships in 1998 and 2002.

Since Smith joined the coaching staff prior to the 2014 season, the Liberty has an 81-55 (.596) overall record, including 66-36 (.647) over the past three seasons, posting 3-consecutive 20-plus win seasons for the 1st time in franchise history, with 3-straight trips to the postseason.

The Liberty has led the WNBA in rebounding and defensive field goal percentage in each of the last three campaigns, while forward Tina Charles has become the 1st player in franchise history to earn 3-consecutive All-WNBA 1st Team accolades.

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Formidable Devils a Force to be Reckoned With

The Devils may not possess all the goods when it comes to being a Stanley Cup contender, but after five games, the Garden Staters cannot be ruled out as a mere pretender either.

Not by a long shot or a slap shot.

As they move on to a Tuesday night meeting with the Lightning at Prudential Center, the Devils certainly appear to be on a mission of gaining respect, being reliable and, most of all, winning hockey games.

Having beaten the Rangers, 3-2, on Saturday night at The Garden, John Hynes‘ skaters continue to display gumption, goal-scoring and green rookies who are playing as confidently as veterans.

What’s more their Long Island-born backup goalie, Keith Kinkaid — on one victory alone — proved that GM Ray Shero was wise to retain him in favor of other prospects.

“He saved us in the first period,” said Hynes, “kept the score nothing-nothing.”

[Watch Thursday’s Devils-Senators Game on MSG+ and Download Free on MSG GO]

The Rangers outshot New Jersey, 14-3, over the first 20 minutes and seemed so top-heavy in command that New York seemed en route to a rout.

Sure enough, Rick Nash put the Blueshirts ahead early in the second period. But the visitors had regained their skating legs and confidence by then.

This was translated into the tying goal by Adam Henrique midway through the middle frame. Miles Wood put the Devs ahead, 2-1, at 16:41 of the second on a deflection of defenseman Ben Lovejoy‘s Hail Mary-drive from the right point.

Without regular top centers Travis Zajac and Brian Boyle, Henrique has become the main man at the pivot while working with such starry youngsters as Will Butcher and Jesper Bratt.

“The kids all have been awesome,” said Henrique. “Since Day One of camp, they’ve all bought in and are all smart players who see the ice well. They’re a big reason why we’ve gotten off to a good start and will have success this year.”

Henrique — like others in the winners’ room — paid tribute to Kinkaid, who played the best game of his young life as an NHL goalie. Key was his surviving the Rangers’ blitz in the first minute of the game and first period overall.

[Read More From Stan Fischler]

“I always want to see the puck early and often,” Kinkaid explained. “In the first minute, the Rangers already had four shots. It could have been a whole different game there.

“For me, the first period was a little draining but, thankfully, the second wasn’t as hard. We re-evaluated after the first and really took it to them.”

But it was the wizardry play of rookie Butcher who crafted the Devils’ third — and winning — goal on a power play one minute into the final period.

Will’s feather pass to Drew Stafford enabled the forward to burst in the clear to beat Ondrej Pavelec with a backhander in close.

Butcher currently leads NHL rookies with eight points; all on assists. For Stafford, it was his first goal as a Devil.

“After the first period,” Stafford recalled, “we knew we had to be better; starting with myself. Every one lifted each other up and were able to get back to competing — working. It was as simple as that.”

[Watch: Get to Know New Devil Drew Stafford]

While the season is far too young to realistically appraise a team, the Newark sextet (4-1) has given the naysayers pause to change their minds. Particularly impressive is the fact that Hynes-men played three out of five games on the road.

Rested after losing against Washington Friday and boosted by Kinkaid’s strong effort, Cory Schneider appears to have regained the winning goaltending form that was missing in the homestretch last spring.

All things considered, Hynes has a formidable one-two punch in goal proven by the fact that Kinkaid’s first-period heroics were the talk of New Jersey’s clubhouse.

“Keith gave us a chance to win from the beginning,” Stafford said. “The Rangers were desperate, came out and out-shot us. We eventually rewarded him by finally playing the way we did.”

Arguably Kinkaid’s best save was on a Nash breakaway in the third period. Keith was screened by Kevin Shattenkirk‘s goal at 19:03 with Pavelec on the bench for an extra skater. But the Devils smothered any further Rangers opportunities.

New Jersey’s defense has blended experience and youth. Captain Andy Greene is being relied upon to lift his game a notch. Greene led both teams in minutes played with 25:44.

“Without Travis and Brian we’re winning on resilience and not going through what we did last year,” said Greene. “We have a better feeling coming into this year. It’s nice to be rewarded for the way we’re playing.”

The backline find could very well be Free Agent Catch Of The Year, defenseman Butcher. While he remains in the physically “smallish” category, the question will be whether he can maintain his efficiency over a full season.

Another feather in  Shero’s cap has to be the acquisition of right wing Marcus Johansson, the ex-Washington ace. He figures to give Taylor Hall and Henrique much-needed support.

Hynes decision to push his skaters into a more up-tempo style impressed critics as the Devs peeled off other victories over Colorado, Buffalo and Toronto.

Even Maple Leafs tough-talking coach Mike Babcock raved about the Garden Staters after his club was beaten at home, 6-3.

“The Devils skated us into the ground,” said Babcock. “And they won all the stick battles.”

That Hynes is icing a younger, faster team has been apparent. Rookie — Top Draft pick — Nico Hischier has fit in snugly at center with a so-far-so-good appraisal.

Immensely talented and blessed with tons of skill, the Devils hope that No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier can realize his potential in New Jersey.

More surprising has been previously unknown Bratt, a Swedish 19-year-old left wing who didn’t even make The Hockey News Devils depth chart or even its Top 10 Prospects list.

After the club’s first five games, Bratt has totaled three goals and three assists for six points, mostly working on a line with Johansson and Pavel Zacha.

“Jesper,” noted Hynes, “has been our biggest surprise.”

It’s possible that the critics-be-darned Devils will maintain their positive equilibrium based on their determination, dedication and direction.

Or, as Babcock noted after losing to the Jerseyites: “Life is so simple — if you do good things then good things will happen.”

So far, so good for the Hynesmen; good enough for eight out of a possible 10 points.

Imagine if Zajac and Boyle were in the lineup!

[Watch Thursday’s Devils-Senators Game on MSG+ and Download Free on MSG GO]

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Vote: How Many Islanders Will Record a Point in Tonight’s Game?

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Vote: Will Rasmus Ristolainen Record an Assist?

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Vote: How Many Goals Will the Sabres Score Against the Kings?

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Vote: Will the Islanders Get Their First Road Win in San Jose?

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Vote: Will Ondrej Pavelec Win His First Start as a Ranger?

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Vote: Will Nico Hischier Score a Goal?

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October One, From Arda Ocal

The Vegas Golden Knights are doing a lot of things right, on and off the ice.

The team is 3-0, the first time ever that an expansion team has won three straight to start their first season. James Neal has like 470% of VGK’s goals. Marc-Andre Fleury is solid in net.

The team is setting the bar for entertainment (including Cirque Du freaking Soleil being the first intermission performance at game 1) and social media (many fans already rank their Twitter account as the funniest account in all of sports).

But it was the pre-game ceremony that really left an impression on the hockey world.

The events of 10 days prior, ‘October One,’ were still fresh in the minds of those in Las Vegas, Americans, and hockey fans. The franchise promised that though this was the first home game in franchise history, this was ‘not about them.’ No ads were seen on the boards, only “Vegas Strong.” Every fan in the arena received a Vegas strong rally towel as well.

The pre-game ceremony began with a video showing the first responders, standing tall, defiant, in the wake of tragedy.

These first responders were also in the arena, announced one by one by the Golden Knights public address announcer. EMT’s, RN’s, firefighters, doctors, police officers. The announcer added a terrific subtlety as he announced their names, as if they were the home team. He gave their names an extra emphasis, even more so than the Golden Knights players that accompanied them.

Survivors of the tragedy joined owner Bill Foley at center ice for the ceremonial puck drop. Then, the Arizona Coyotes joined the Golden Knights for the national anthem, standing behind them, in a show of #VegasStrong (just like the Dallas Stars had done in Dallas on Friday).

The arena observed 58 seconds of silence for each life lost during the shooting. The arena was so quiet, you could hear the camera shutters of the professional photographers capturing the moment on the broadcast.

At the 59th second, a graphic appeared on the ice that read “Vegas Strong” with the names of all 58 victims.

Deryk Engelland then took the microphone to address the crowd, admitting later in the broadcast that he initially hesitated to do so, but thought it was best. Engelland, a long time Vegas resident, said that he met his wife in Vegas and his kids were born in Vegas. He thanked the first responders and grieved with the victims and their families, stating “We are Vegas Strong.”

The Golden Knights succeeded in presenting one of the most touching and fitting ceremonies in recent hockey memory. Classy, indeed.

This ceremony particularly hit home for me, as I was at the Mandalay Bay as the horrific events unfolded in that hotel, after attending a Golden Knights preseason game.

Here is my account:

(Parts of this account appeared in a printed edition of the Toronto Sun newspaper on Sunday, October 8th)

“Plan the parade on Freemont street!”

That’s what my buddy Mikey yelled after the Vegas Golden Knights scored a goal against the San Jose Sharks. It’s a time-tested hockey joke. Whenever a team scores a goal, proclaim that team is going to win the Stanley Cup and begin the planning of the championship parade immediately. Even if it’s still the preseason like it was.

We met friends at the game, wearing Vancouver Canucks colors. One of them had on an unmistakable bright yellow jersey, the ‘V’ jersey as they are affectionately called. You could spot that jersey a mile away.

After the game, we sauntered over to an Irish Pub. I had the ribeye pasta, not a combination I’m used to seeing on a menu, so I thought, “Why not?” What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Soon after, we wandered around the seemingly endless winding corridors of stores between hotels. As we walked into the Mandalay Bay, we saw drops of red liquid on the ground. We immediately joked that someone lost valuable red wine, “what a shame to lose alcohol like that!”

As we went down the escalator towards the main lobby, we saw a lineup of police officers. This didn’t seem out of the ordinary. After all, officers are seen everywhere in Sin City. As we approached the entrance, one officer told us we couldn’t go outside. Something was happening. We weren’t told what. We assumed that it might have been a medical emergency. Maybe someone drank too much. Maybe there was an altercation. Maybe that wine back there was actually blood from a fight?

We made our way back upstairs, trying to figure out where to go next. Another nightclub? What about an arcade bar? That would be fun. We’re big into video games, we could spend hours trying to beat each other at NBA Jam…

“Gentlemen, you cannot walk any further”, said a security guard.

“Why not?” we inquired.

“There is an active shooter situation in progress.”

The next 5 seconds felt like an hour. Thoughts swirled in my head. A what? Is this a joke? A shooter, like with a real gun? Is there more than one? Where are they? Is one behind us right now? Where should we go?

“The best course of action is to stay here and look for safety,” the same security guard advised.

We began to backpedal. Some people around us ran to a nearby food court and hid under tables. A few opened the doors of a movie theater and locked it behind them. A group of men scurried into the women’s bathroom, thinking the shooter would never think to look in there.

I just kept spinning. My mind was spinning, but I was physically spinning. Trying to look everywhere just in case someone with a gun was running towards us. We looked for any children or disabled persons who might have needed extra help. Everything seemed under control for now.

Moments later, the doors we were trying to go through earlier burst open. Dozens of people, terror on their faces, running for their lives. They whisked past me. Eyes wide, some crying. A mother was holding her child, fleeing as fast as she could.

In this moment we could only assume that there was a gunman behind them.

We ran with them. A security guard caught our attention and urged us to run towards the parking lot.

We went down a set of escalators and walked into a closed aisleway towards the parking lot. Looking down, more drops of blood. This time it was unmistakable. It was fresh, like it had dripped from a wound seconds earlier.

We made it to the open parking lot. There were about 30 of us now, in a group. That’s where we first saw the footage. A man pulled out his phone and showed us a video on social media. We saw Jason Aldean playing on stage, then pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop. At first, it sounded like it was part of the show, perhaps a fireworks display that went off too early. Then, a couple of screams. Aldeen and his band leave the stage. The camera cuts back to people on the ground, lying still. One man is administering CPR.

Before we had time to think about how this could have happened, another security guard rushed towards us.

“YOU NEED TO LEAVE HERE NOW!”

He went on to explain that the Mandalay Bay was right behind us, in full view. What he knew was there was an active shooter on a higher floor of the Mandalay Bay, possibly on the 30th floor or the roof, and could see us congregated in a group and open fire. We needed to disperse immediately.

A few people ran and ducked behind some cars, some under them. We decided to walk away from Mandalay Bay, hoping it was only one shooter. We didn’t know if that was the best idea, maybe it was, but we did know we wanted to be as far away from that area as possible.

Especially because one of them had on an unmistakable bright yellow jersey, the ‘V’ jersey as they are affectionately called. You could spot that jersey a mile away.

Police sirens filled the air and a helicopter’s circled high above as we walked down a ramp, away from the building. We made sure to have whatever buildings we could between us and Mandalay Bay, getting more at ease the further we got. We decided to walk back towards T-Mobile Arena, where we had been earlier, to see if we could hail a taxi. We thought maybe cabs wouldn’t be picking anyone up at the moment, because of the high risk.

As we walked at our hurried pace, we noticed a lot of people stopped, almost unphased, taking video. As if, perhaps, something was going to unfold in front of them. I wondered in that moment if that was all worth it. Maybe that’s just part of the job. There were many reporters in high-risk areas as well. I couldn’t help but think of how they must have felt, needing to go in when everybody else is wanting to get out.

We got lucky and one cab stopped. As we got in, he was hearing all the news on his CV radio. He looked at us and said, “you guys are my last fare, I’m going home.”

Finally into safety, I update everyone and am checking Twitter and the local news for updates. The death toll rises from two, to 20, to 50. Hundreds injured. The south side of the strip is completely shut down. I cannot believe I was right there. How close was I to the shooter(s)? How close did I come to getting shot tonight?

LAS VEGAS, NV – OCTOBER 3: A message of condolences for the victims of Sunday night’s mass shooting is displayed outside the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, October 3, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Late Sunday night, a lone gunman killed over 50 people and injured over 500 people after he opened fire on a large crowd at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival. The massacre is one of the deadliest mass shooting events in U.S. history. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

I call my fiancee to let her know I’m OK, she had been asleep and didn’t know what was going on. Friends and family start messaging, making sure I’m not hurt. A few affiliate networks across the country and internationally ask for interviews. This is all so surreal. I came to Vegas to host an esports tournament and somehow ended up in the middle of the largest mass shooting in US history.

Exhausted, I manage to get an hour of sleep. I wake up, checking the news for more news. There was one shooter, he is dead. My flight is still on time, I can go to the airport. Driving towards McCarran International on the highway, we pass by the Mandalay Bay. I get chills thinking of what went down only a couple hours ago.

When I land back in Newark, I get a text message from one of my best friends in a group text. They had been planning my Bachelor party in the next few months. The text read, “I guess we’re not going to Vegas anymore.”

I literally cannot stop thinking about those that were affected on October One. This absolutely leaves a permanent scar in my mind. We got out unharmed, hundreds did not. Good vibes, positive thoughts, prayers. If you can, give blood. Give money. Give time, volunteer. Even when the spotlight fades and the news cycle begins to cover something else, consider those that are left struggling to their new reality. Be great to each other and help however you can.

#VegasStrong

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