Islanders-Lightning: How A Game 2 Loss Can Help the Islanders In Game 3
Playoff history repeating itself might just be a good thing for the Islanders as they look ahead to Game 3 against the Lightning Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
Jack Capuano‘s skaters split their first two games in Florida against the Panthers in the first round and then went on to capture the series in six games.
Not that John Tavares & Co. had wanted to drop a 4-1 (one open-netter) decision Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena. Their hope was to take two in Tampa Bay before bringing Round 2 up to Barclays Center.
It was a reasonable idea until the first period when the Lightning set up a detour, simply by playing in a great big way.
This time, the home club’s Ben Bishop did a good vacuum cleaner imitation in the Tampa Bay crease while Tyler Johnson (twice) Jonathan Drouin and Vic Hedman were the lamplighters.
Meanwhile, New York goalie Thomas Greiss was reduced from impregnable in Game 1 to pregnable the second time around.
Granted, from the Isles’ side, one out of two potential wins ain’t bad, but coach Capuano went in wanting more and leaves wondering about what might have been.
“The Lightning had more possession in our zone,” says the coach. “A few of our guys struggled and hopefully they’ll bring their A-game at home.”
Cappy predicts line changes and the second game effort virtually demands same. Neither Tavares, Kyle Okposo or, for that matter, any forwards excelled and the coach knows it.
“We have to get more shots,” Cappy reports. “We could have challenged Ben Bishop more.”
The most obvious Isles turnaround lessons to be applied for a Tuesday win, must be gleaned from turning-point errors made in Saturday’s match.
From New York’s early first-period power play to the Lightning’s first goal, Cappy’s crew made a medley of mistakes. Here are future cures for what were decisive blunders:
1. Fix the power play. It starts with winning the opening face-off, which the Isles failed to do on successive first-period man advantages. From those flaws on, the PP was NG, as in no good. Ah, but they did it right the third time around.
Nikolay Kulemin got the lone Islanders’ goal, which inspired a furious attack by Cappy’s crew. It was halted only by a first period buzzer. After that, overall team follow-up was lacking. Man-advantage chances later in the game were squandered in one way or another.
“The game was settled in the first period,” says MSG Networks analyst Butch Goring, “when the Islanders failed to take advantage of their power play. In the next game, they have to shoot the puck more; there was too much passing.”
2. Greiss, who gave up two goals on his first four shots, has to regain first game form. Drouin second’s goal was a backhander through the five hole with Greiss’ stick not in proper position.
“It was a huge goal for Tampa,” explains MSG Networks Rick DiPietro. “That’s one that Thomas would want back.” To his credit, Greiss’ game improved after that, but his shooters were firing cardboard bullets; only 20 shots and one power-play goal.
3. Better Breaks: Cal Clutterbuck‘s inadvertent collision with Nick Leddy led to a first-period goal. Victor Hedman’s second period power-play shot was going wide, but bounced off Cal de Haan‘s skate for a 3-1 Bolts lead.
“That goal was the result of a bad (refereeing) call (on goalie interference) against Clutterbuck,” adds DiPietro. NBC analyst Mike Milbury seconded the motion. Both were right. Significantly, the Islanders never were truly effective after that.
4. Regain the physical advantage. The Isles won Game 1 with ferocious two-period forechecking, keeping the Bolts off their game. They have to do likewise at the Flatbush Avenue rink.
5. Find third-period offense. The Isles third period assaults were few and ineffective. With only 3:48 remaining in the final frame, the Brooklynites had mustered just a handful of drives, none dangerous. At that point Cappy pulled Greiss for an extra skater.
6. More Nick Leddy: He’s the Islanders’ fastest skater and best end-to-end rusher. His club needs more of him on offense to counter-balance the Bolts’ Hedman.
“We’ve got to get more aggressive,” says captain Tavares. “We have to be better slowing them down. We have to be sharper moving the puck and shoot more pucks.”
The game’s chippiness was obvious, especially in the third period. One target was Johnson, the Bolts’ big-little man who had two goals and an assist. Try as they might, the Isles could not contain Johnson nor the revived, exceptionally crafty Drouin.
All things considered, Greiss needed a lot more help — defensively and offensively — than he received. Tampa Bay’s puck control rarely could be blunted after the first period and especially in the third.
Goring and DiPietro agree that the Islanders did not have the intensity that was required in Game 2.
“On Tuesday, the Isles need Thomas not to be good,” concludes DiPietro, “he has to be great.”
True enough, but he also needs goals.
“Going home to our building,” predicts Frans Nielsen, “will be a different story. We have to be tough to play against.”
Or, the simple but accurate Goring conclusion: “It was a lackluster effort; on Tuesday the Islanders simply have to find a way to win.”
Here’s a concise five-point plan to achieve that goal:
1. Have a better start; score first.
2. Play with desperation; the way the Lightning did on Saturday.
3. Stop Drouin and Johnson in particular.
4. Brock Nelson must be re-invigorated; his shot and size can turn the series back in the Isles favor.
5. Control the pace from the opening face-off.Posted on
New York Giants 2016 NFL Draft Review
With six selections in the 2016 NFL Draft, the New York Giants addressed a number of needs. Take a closer look at the newest Giants below:
ELI APPLE, CB, OHIO ST. (1st Round, 10th Overall)
The Giants continued their offseason retooling of their defense by taking cornerback Eli Apple in the first round.
- Apple is listed at 6-foot-1 and 199 pounds.
- A native of Voorhees Township, New Jersey, the 20-year-old won a national title with the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2015.
- Apple played in 28 career college games and recorded 56 tackles and four interceptions.
- Apple earned Second-Team All-Conference Honors last season.
QUOTE: “[Apple] is a young, physical, combative corner,” said coach Ben McAdoo. “We like his size, we like his length. He’s smart, he interviewed great. His best football is in front of him and that’s what we like about him.”
STERLING SHEPARD, WR, OKLAHOMA (2nd Round, 40th Overall)
Big Blue added another weapon for Eli Manning by taking wide receiver Sterling Shepard from Oklahoma with their second-round selection.
- Shepard is listed at 5-foot-10 and 191 pounds.
- Shepard’s father, Derrick, was also a wide receiver and played for the Redskins, Saints and Cowboys.
- In 49 games with the Oklahoma Sooners, Shepard averaged 14.9 yards per catch.
- Shepard tore up the Big 12 in his senior season with 86 receptions, 1,288 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
QUOTE: “We think he’s a terrific young receiver and NFL ready,” said GM Jerry Reese.
WATCH: STERLING SHEPARD HIGHLIGHTS
DARIAN THOMPSON, S, BOISE ST. (3rd Round, 71st Overall)
The Giants added yet another piece to their secondary by selecting safety Darian Thompson out of Boise State.
- Listed at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, Thompson is native of Lancaster, California.
- Thompson is a ball-hawking safety and tied a Mountain West conference record with 19 career interceptions.
- He earned an Associated Press Third Team All-American nod in his final season with the Broncos.
- Thompson finished second on Boise State with 65 tackles in his final season.
QUOTE: “Darian can tackle in the open field and can play in a variety of different looks,” said coach Ben McAdoo.
WATCH: DARIAN THOMPSON HIGHLIGHTS
B.J. GOODSON, LB, CLEMSON (4th Round, 109th Overall)
Big Blue kicked off the third and final day of the 2016 NFL Draft by bolstering their linebacker corps with the selection of B.J. Goodson.
- Goodson is listed at 6-foot-1 and 242 pounds and led all linebackers at the scouting combine with 30 bench press reps.
- In his senior season, Goodson earned All-ACC honors after recording 108 tackles and 5.5 sacks leading Clemson to an undefeated regular season.
- He is set to become the fifth native of Lamar, South Carolina to play in the NFL and attended the same high school as former Clemson and Steelers LB Levon Kirkland.
QUOTE: “B.J. Goodson can play any of the linebacker positions.” said GM Jery Reese.
PAUL PERKINS, RB, UCLA (5th Round, 149th Overall)
New York added another member to their backfield by selecting versatile running back Paul Perkins.
- He is listed at 5-foot-10 and 208 pounds and was born in Mesa, Arizona.
- Perkins led the Pac-12 in rushing as a sophomore (1,575 yards) and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in his junior season before declaring for the 2016 NFL Draft.
- In three seasons at UCLA, he rushed for 3,491 yards (third all-time in school history) and also caught 80 passes, a school record for running backs.
- His uncle Don Perkins was an All-Pro running back for the Cowboys in the 1960’s and his father Bruce played two seasons for the Colts and Buccaneers as a fullback.
QUOTE: “Paul Perkins has an NFL pedigree and is the hardest working guy on the team.” said VP of Player Evaluation Marc Ross.
JERELL ADAMS, TE, SOUTH CAROLINA (6th Round, 184th Overall)
With their final pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Giants selected tight end Jerell Adams.
- Listed at 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds, Adams ran a 4.64 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, the fastest among tight ends.
- Over his four-game career at South Carolina, Adams had 66 receptions for 977 yards and 7 TDs.
- Adams also excelled in the classroom and is a two-time member of the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll.
QUOTE: “Jerell Adams is a big kid who can really stretch the defense down the seam.” said GM Jerry Reese.
WATCH: JERELL ADAMS’ HIGHLIGHTSPosted on
RED BULLS CRUSH FC DALLAS
Courtesy of the New York Red Bulls
HARRISON, N.J. (April 29, 2016) – The New York Red Bulls defeated FC Dallas at Red Bull Arena on Friday evening, 4-0.Lloyd Sam opened the scoring in the first half, while Sacha Kljestan, Mike Grella and Felipe finished off the visitors with second half goals.
The victory propels New York into fourth place of the Eastern Conference standings with a 3-6-0 record. The Red Bulls are now 21-17-5 all-time versus Dallas and 12-8-2 all-time at home.
New York broke the deadlock in the 37th minute on a creative free kick. Two players stepped over the ball, Kljestan whipped in a cross to the back post and Sal Zizzo, alone in space, headed the ball to Sam for a close-range finish.
Kljestan doubled the Red Bulls’ lead in the 53rd minute. Dallas’ goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez was caught off his line and Sam floated a shot from distance towards the open goal. The shot deflected off the crossbar, but fell to the charging Kljestan who buried the shot.
In the 71st minute, Grella scored his third goal of the season, thanks to an assist from Felipe. The Brazilian sliced in a cross to the Glen Cove native, who headed home for his third of the year, tied for most on the team with Felipe.
Defender Justin Bilyeu, New York’s first round draft pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, made his professional debut as an 80th minute substitute.
Felipe finished off the match with a strike from distance in the 83rd minute. Rookie Homegrown Player Alex Muyl passed off to the Brazilian who ripped his shot into the top left corner to seal the win. Muyl’s assist was the first of his professional career.
With Sam’s goal, the 20th of his career, he became just the fifth player in franchise history to total 20 goals and 20 assists for the Red Bulls. He joins the company of Thierry Henry, Clint Mathis, Amado Guevara and Dane Richards.
Goalkeeper Luis Robles, the franchise record holder for shutouts, earned the first clean sheet of the season. The shutout was the 29th of his Red Bulls career.
New York hits the road for two more Friday night matches, a rematch with Orlando City SC on May 6, and the first meeting of 2016 with D.C. United on May 13. Both matches will be on UniMas and Red Bulls Radio on TuneIn. All of the broadcasts are available in English and Spanish.
The Red Bulls are next home on Wednesday, May 18, against the Chicago Fire at 7:30 p.m.Posted on
For the Islanders, Stats Show The Greiss Is Right
What if someone asked you in January, “Which New York area goaltender would last the longest during the 2015-16 Stanley Cup Playoffs?” Your answer probably would have been one of two of the NHL’s best in Henrik Lundqvist and Cory Schneider. However, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are anything but predictable, which allows for unheralded players like Thomas Greiss to make a significant impact.
John Tavares is an incredible talent, but the biggest story for the New York Islanders during the team’s first-round series victory over the Florida Panthers was the effort between the pipes by Greiss. During the six-game series, the Isles had an expected goal differential of .469. The Panthers drove the play for the majority of the series, but could not chase Greiss. Based on the pre-shot movement and location data, Greiss was expected to register a .919 SV%, but instead, he delivered a .941 SV%. For a series that featured three overtime games, Greiss’ performance was a major influence on the result.
Greiss isn’t a goaltender that can overcome his environment long-term like Lundqvist and Schneider, but when placed in the proper situation and structure, his skills can compliment a defense.
Throughout the playoffs, Greiss has been elite when the Islanders place him in situations where information gathering is easier. In these situations, Greiss has been significantly above average, registering a .968 SV%, which is significantly above the league average of .949. He has also been elite when he is forced into desperation saves when the opposition attacks the slot line.
Success on clear-sighted looks is the most important aspect of a goaltenders game because these shots make up the bulk of their workload. The Islanders were able to continually provide him with these looks against the Panthers as 88% of his shots came in this environment. This is higher than the league average of 84%. We can see below how allowing Greiss to gather the maximum amount of information can lead to success.
Clear sight, no backside pressure and no extra variables (like sticks or bodies in front of him) will allow him to maintain positive results. This number will prove extremely hard to maintain as the sample increases. During Carey Price’s MVP season, he had a clear sight save percentage of .963.
Greiss has also been spectacular when the play has broken down around him. The Islanders have exposed him to the league average distribution and he has continually delivered above average results throughout the postseason. The slot line feed is the most dangerous shot a goaltender can face. Lack of information creates a scenario where the goaltender needs to move in a desperation manner to maximize his net coverage without being able to calculate the depth or angle of the incoming shot. League average goaltenders are successful on 65% of these shots. Through seven games, Greiss has been successful on 75% of these shots. Lundqvist, the best goaltender in the league against these types of opportunities, has a career save percentage of 73.9%.
The only aspect of the game in which Greiss has struggled has been secondary opportunities off rebound shots. He has been placed in these scenarios only seven times, about half the amount of the average distribution, but has surrendered three goals. The Islanders have done a good job of boxing out opposition attackers by trying to pick up these high-quality secondary chances, and Greiss has been the beneficiary.
In Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Bolts were the better puck possession team and superior puck moving team, as they entered and exited their zone more efficiently. This lead to the Islanders struggling to insulate Greiss like they had against the Panthers in the first round. Instead of 88% clear-sighted looks, Greiss faced an average distribution of 84%. Greiss faced four high-quality slot line feeds and stopped three. He faced one rebound shot and it resulted in a late goal by Valtteri Filppula. The result, Greiss delivered a slightly above average performance of .917.
Through seven games, Greiss has delivered a performance well beyond expectations. But as always with small samples, they tend to regress to the player’s true ability. When we consider that he has been the equal to Carey Price on clear-sighted shots and Lundqvist on slot line feeds, it’s safe to assume that Greiss will move closer to the league average performance.
However, he will probably have some positive movement in his rebound save percentage. A continuation of his current success will be reliant on the Islanders slowing down the Lightning in the neutral zone, limiting their zone entries with speed and funneling clear looks into him like they did against the Panthers.Posted on
Islanders-Lightning Game 1: A Quick Turnaround, A Fast Isles Win
Having survived “The Dreaded Three-Goal Lead” and an injured coach, the Islanders look ahead to Saturday’s Game 2 in Tampa Bay and the possibility of coming home with a 2-0 series lead.
To do so, they must retain the aggressive mentality that galvanized a four-goal onslaught that knocked Vezina Trophy candidate Ben Bishop out of the crease in Game 1.
The ultimate 5-3 victory, after a breathtaking finish and open-netter by Cal Clutterbuck, added another chapter to this astonishing Islanders saga.
“The Game 1 win sets the table for Saturday,” says MSG Networks analyst Butch Goring. “It gives them a ton of confidence.”
With a pair of first-period goals, Shane (Kid Lightning) Prince once again proved that he was more than a throwaway Trade Deadline pick. He became a MAJOR contributor at the time when the Isles were on the heels early in the game.
Let’s not forget that this was another comeback win since the Lightning struck first with an early opening-period score.
But the game’s see-saw quickly moved to the visitors’ side when Travis Hamonic beat Bishop from the right side to tie the count at 1-1.
“We did a good job of putting pucks on the net,” recalls Hamonic. “Looking ahead, we’ll have some tape and study for Game 2.”
Rest assured that the Lightning’s general staff will be examining the 33 saves out of 36 shots Thomas Greiss faced.
The statistics may lie, in a sense, since they fail to depict the many extraordinary saves — one with the knob of his stick — delivered by Greiss.
“He’s my MVP,” says MSG Networks analyst Rick DiPietro. “Thomas makes tough saves look easy.”
Clearly, Game 1 was a perfect encore for the erstwhile backup whose stature rises with every win.
“Confidence?” Greiss muses. “I just go forward, looking ahead to Game 2.”
Looking backward, it was scary for Islanders fans to view the manner in which the Lightning peeled away what was a third period three-goal Isles lead, down to two goals and … finally, one.
“The big thing is that when they made that push,” remembers Hamonic, “we held on.”
Clutterbuck’s open-netter hermetically sealed the victory and allowed the Isles to seize home-ice advantage from the Bolts.
It might not have been possible had Jack Capuano not shuffled his lines. Minus injured Josh Bailey, the coach re-inserted Ryan Strome into the lineup alongside Prince and Brock Nelson. They instantly clicked like watch-works.
“It was nice to get back on the ice again,” enthuses Strome, who finished with two assists and a plus-1 rating. “What [the line] did in the first period was be opportunistic. For Game 2, we’ll have to tighten up a bit.”
Those last words suggested that Cappy will be working on a better defensive effort from the back liners to forwards.
“We have to check on their play away from the puck,” adds the mentor. “What I like is their quickness and speed. Hey, that line played hard and it was nice to see them rewarded.”
John Tavares was not surprisingly integral to the victory effort. His second period power-play goal sent Bishop to the bench and turned out to be the eventual game-winner.
The Captain likes his team’s jump and the ease with which Capuano was able to roll lines. JT also is aware of the challenge ahead on Saturday.
“We know they’re going to respond and we have to be ready for them,” Tavares said.
Cappy was not quite ready for the errant puck that flew over the boards. It bounced off Kyle Okposo and struck the coach on the left side of his nose. His face covered with a towel, Jack was hustled to the infirmary for repairs.
Assistant GM-coach Doug Weight took over and, coincidentally, the home club began its intense comeback to a point where it appeared that the bromide about “The Dreaded Three-Goal Lead” would deflate the Isles.
“I got a little bit of a headache,” says Cappy. “But I wanted to get back, especially when I heard their arena horn go off and they were only a goal behind.”
Once again, the Isles turned the defensive screws and tightened up enough to eventually clear the zone after which Clutterback found the open net.
“Cal,” says DPietro, “is one of the most important players in that lineup and proved it again. So did his linemates.”
The so-called “Fourth Line” with Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas pounded the Bolts players relentlessly and it took a toll on the home club.
Whether they continue that bombardment in Game 2 could be decisive and Cappy knows that.
“Our team has been through a lot,” Capuano notes. “On Saturday, we want to back up this effort with a strong one. My team has a strong mind set.
“Let’s face it, this will be a long series and we just won one game. Some of our goals had eyes and we also had puck luck.”
They also retained the sharpness developed in the opening series win over Florida. A quick turnover in series did them a lot of good.
“It helped us to play this series right away,” Okposo said. “We played smart hockey.”
Survival hockey as well. They managed to get through the three-goal lead hex, a wounded coach and an avalanche of late third-period shots that fell around Greiss.
So, it’s on to Saturday and a seven-point key to victory:
1. Keep firing shots at Bishop, whose confidence may be shaky.
2. Suffocate the Lightning’s offense in the neutral zone, as was done in Game 1.
3. Keep pounding the home club with body checks.
4. Score more on the power play which could have been more effective.
5. Be the more desperate team.
6. Continue to be opportunistic.
7. THOMAS GREISS must stay big.Posted on
Stop And Smell the Roses, Rangers Fans
While the 2015-16 Rangers season came to a disappointing end Saturday in Pittsburgh, the Blueshirt faithful should take a step back and appreciate the last five years — a Golden Era in the 90-year history of this franchise.
The Rangers current core group has given their fans so many wonderful memories. Eighty-one playoff games since April 2012 — one game shy of a full regular season and more than any other NHL team. Only two other clubs (Chicago and Los Angeles) have played more than 50 playoff games during the same stretch; only 11 others have played more than 30.
The 81 postseason games (41 at MSG) includes: Seven Game 7s (6-1 record), nine overtime victories – the first two comebacks after trailing a series three games to one in franchise history – three trips to the Eastern Conference Final and one appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
The last five seasons rank up there with the greatest stretches in club history:
- 1928-33 (six seasons): Four appearances in the Stanley Cup Final (two championships) in an 8-to-10 team league.
- 1971-74 (four seasons): Nine playoff rounds, including a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1972 and three other trips to league semi-finals (14-to-16 team league).
- 1979-86 (eight seasons): Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1979, semi-finals in 1981 and 1986.
- 1992-97 (six seasons): Presidents’ Trophy in 1992 and 1994, Stanley Cup Championship in 1994, Conference Final in 1997.
- 2012-16 (five seasons): 13 playoff rounds, 81 postseason games, three trips to Eastern Conference Final, appearance in 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
To steal a quote from my MSG Radio partner Dave Maloney, only one team wins at the end of the season. Twenty-nine other teams go home without the Lord Stanley’s Cup — 14 who miss the playoffs, and 15 who are at the wrong end of the handshake line.
So, my message to Ranger fans is this: Enjoy what we have witnessed over the last five seasons, and here’s to a great 2016-17 campaign.
Have a terrific summer!Posted on
For just the second time in franchise history, the Islanders face the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
See how both teams match up by checking out our tale of the tape and stay tuned to MSG Networks for complete post game coverage following every game.
Maven’s Ravin’: 34 Thoughts As Second Round Gets Under Way
1. Goalies just don’t get it. They belong in the crease, not minding their defensemen’s business by wandering behind the net where they often botch up plays; usually with careless clearing passes, but more than that.
2. If you don’t believe me, ask Detroit’s Petr (The Hiker) Mrazek who ruined the Red Wings in Game 5 against Tampa Bay. The Wings goalie went behind the net — didn’t get the puck — but Lightning’s Alex Killorn did and that was THAT for the Motor City skaters.
3. It took the playoffs for Islanders prospect Alan (New Reliable) Quine to prove that he will belong on Brooklyn’s team next season. The ex-Bridgeport Sound Tiger perfectly fits the tune, “You Came To Me From Out Of Nowhere.”
4. Sometimes you can tell about how a playoff series will evolve from the first game’s outcome and other times you cannot.
5. One match that proves you can was Game 1 of the Rangers-Penguins series. Pitt beat Blueshirts with third-stringer Jeff (Not Exactly Mister Zero) Zatkoff in goal. Series ends, four games to one for the Pens.
6. With Jonathan (Just Loving Tampa) Drouin finding his true game, the Lightning no longer have to sweat over Steven Stamkos’ future.
7. I’m convinced that when the playoffs end, Stamkos will leave Tampa Bay and sign anywhere but in the state of Florida. Despite the blood clot that has sidelined him, Steve figures to get a $9 million deal from Toronto or elsewhere.
8. Of the many Rangers postmortems at locker-cleaning day, those delivered by Henrik Lundqvist and Dan Girardi impressed me most.
9. King Henrik was upfront, candidly honest, accepting blame for his playoff performance; never using the opening playoff game eye injury as an alibi. His promise to be super-motivated next season also struck a chord.
10. Girardi has been a Blueshirt warrior among warriors, paying the price with wounds galore. Dan believes that he has more good hockey in him and I, for one, will second that motion.
11. Leave it to clubhouse jester Mats Zuccarello to produce the perfect squelch: “We’re a team that expects to be playing hockey when there’s good weather outside!”
12. A year ago today — after another early Sharks playoff ouster — the talk in San Jose was that GM Doug Wilson either: A) Should be fired; B) Would be fired.
13. Thankfully for the Wilson family — and San Jose’s nattily-attired hockey club — Doug’s skaters returned the favor by not only making the playoffs, but knocking off Los Angeles in the process.
14. Among Wilson’s wise moves was accenting leadership. He endorsed Joe Pavelski as captain, promised faith in Joltin’ Joe Thornton and named the under-appreciated Peter DeBoer as coach. All delivered handsomely. By the way, Pavelski and Thornton tied for club lead at plus-25.
15. Speaking of underrated signings that made a difference, how about Wilson adding our old friend from Devils days, Paul Martin on defense. Quietly efficient, Paulie played 72 regular season games and finished plus-13.
16. Another coach you have to feel good about is Civil War historian Ken (Call Me Hitch) Hitchcock, who finally nudged his Blues past the first round the hard way; beating the Chi Champs.
17. Hitch’s prize defenseman, Colton (Dr. I.Q.) Parayko — apart from having one of the best names in the NHL — happens to be finishing three courses online at the University of Alaska.
18. Parayko must be a genius because he’s studying for school while immersed in the playoffs. Heading for a degree in Business Administration, the Edmonton native is taking: International Business; Business Continuity Strategy; and Sports Marketing. Colton could start by marketing himself.
19. Remember when — in 2011-12 — hockey savants wondered whether a concussed Sidney Crosby ever would play hockey again? And if so, could he regain best-player status? Apparently he could and, magnificently, did.
20. Kings GM Dean (No Relation to Ernie) Lombardi guessed that high-priced Milan (Not In Italy) Lucic would be a playoff difference-maker for Los Angeles. The difference was that San Jose was just as big, faster and more tenacious on the puck than the Kings.
21. On the other hand, one difference why the Bruins are playoff spectators is that they no longer had Fightin’ Mad Milan on their roster.
22. Jaromir (Fountain of Youth) Jagr will return for yet another remarkable NHL season in Florida. Why not? Double J not only led the Panthers in scoring, but finished plus-23. As Cats TV analyst and ex-Isles Hall of Famer Denis Potvin notes, “Playing alongside Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau is a thrill for Jags.”
23. LETTERS: My man in Pittsburgh, Vince Comunale, capsulizes the upcoming Penguins-Capitals classic-in-the-making thusly: “All regular season games between the two rivals were like playoff games. This series should be played at a feverish pace; all-out war.” (I love it since hockey is a war game on ice)
24. Why are the current Blackhawks like the 1999 Red Wings? Answer: Back then, Detroit hoped to win a Cup by last-minute roster adds — and failed. Check off first-round-and-out Chi, as my buddy Gus Vic did: “Dale Weise had minimal impact and Tomas Fleischmann was invisible.”
25. Emigrating from Detroit to Moscow, Pavel Datsyuk’s next season figures to be playing for CKSA team and a couple of years down the line PD will wind up in the Hall of Fame.
26. Every month it seems as if the Coyotes are going somewhere in Arizona other than Glendale. But a new deal that places AEG Facilities arena-management firm in charge of Gila River Arena appears to solidify the Yotes base right where it is now.
27. When a team such as the Bruins miss the playoffs, a scapegoat must be found. Ergo: Veteran assistant coach Doug Houda wound up with the pink slip. Others believe that higher-ups, and not DH, should have been booted.
28. Among other things that the Islanders first-round upset over Division-leading Florida proved is that the noise-level generated at Barclays Center is as deafening as it was in Nassau Coliseum. YES, YES, YES!
29. Also impressive about the arena at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues hub is the across-the-board courtesy and helpfulness among the employees at Isles games.
30. Analytics are well and good in this ultra-modern era, but they can be deceptive. Exhibit A is the Corsi statistic on Isles-Cats. Florida beat New York in team Corsi. Which is fine, but the Panthers are playing golf now and the Isles still playing hockey.
31. Keep your eye on Ray Shero‘s moves to bolster his Devils. There figure to be some pleasant surprises between now and training camp.
32. If you can’t wait for the June Entry Draft, just bear in mind that the Top-2 entrants — according to many scouts — are A) Auston Matthews and, B) Finnish-born Patrik Laine.
33. For those teams who cannot grab either Matthews or Laine know that one of the best under-the-radar Unrestricted Free Agents will be Troy Brouwer. Ever-reliable Jim (Edmonton Journal) Matheson reports that the Red Wings “will go hard” to sign him.
34. Finally, one last thought on the Panthers. The sad part is that ever-valiant captain Willie Mitchell could not play because of post-concussion symptoms. I miss that warrior.Posted on
Islanders-Lightning Series Preview: Is Tampa Bay Unbeatable? No!
Stanley Cup Finalists last spring, the Tampa Bay Lightning were given the second-best chance — after Anaheim — to win The Mug this June before the season started.
That was the word from our sport’s bible, The Hockey News, alias THN as the Islanders and Bolts prepare for the second round opener on Wednesday night in Florida (MSG+ will have complete post game coverage after the game).
“There’s no reason to believe Tampa’s young core and kinetic offense won’t keep it in the Cup hunt,” THN predicted.
Actually, there are many reasons to believe that Jack Capuano‘s contingent can contain the Bolts vaunted offense and solve its goaltending behemoth, Ben Bishop.
Reasons A, B, and C comprise Tampa’s missing persons — Captain Steven Stamkos, defenseman Anton (Remember Me) Stralman and irritating forward J.T. (Just Trouble) Brown.
That terrific trio notwithstanding, the Lightning — coached by the very astute Jon Cooper — still present a formidable foe.
Except for the NHL, Cooper has won a championship at every level he’s coached. After getting within two wins of the Cup last year, Coop is champing at the bit.
“The pilot light’s been lit,” he warns and his club’s relatively quick five-game first-round triumph over Detroit underlines his point.
Ditto for the Islanders whose confidence has been reinforced by a unique set of histrionics — some call it a “sports miracle” — that constructed the six-game first-round upset of the Panthers.
That said, let’s examine the matchup and then get to precisely how the Brooklynites can march into the third playoff round:
TAMPA BAY: Minus sharpshooter Stamkos, the Bolts still boast an awesome arsenal with accurate cannons manned by Nikita Kucherov — deadly vs. Detroit — Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. The 11th-hour addition of 2013 third overall pick Jonathan Drouin — he appears to be playoff-ready — somewhat offsets the loss of Captain Steven.
Add to that the ever-reliable Alex Killorn-Valtteri Filppula duet and ex-Rangers Ryan Callahan-Brian Boyle and it’s evident that the front line is experienced, varied and threatening right down to the fourth line. The Bolts’ offensive success comes from the depth of the forward group.
ISLANDERS: Like their enemy, the Isles have lost offense, including Anders Lee, Mikhail Grabovski and possibly Josh Bailey. So far,John Tavares has been IT up front with some meaningful help from Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen. Rooke Alan Quine has added spark along with speedy late-season acquisition Shane Prince.
What’s imperative is more oomph from the likes of Brock Nelson and, if he’s returned to the lineup, the erratic Ryan Strome. The upside is there but — to succeed in this series — they must intensify their compete level to make a difference. The Marauders — alias “The Fourth Line” of Cal Clutterbuck–Matt Martin–Casey Cizikas — awakened in Game 6 vs. Florida. That unit could tilt the series in New York’s favor.
LIGHTNING: Victor Hedman, drafted right after Tavares in 2009, is head and shoulders over most NHL back liners, both physically and talent-wise. His two-way excellence is complemented by Brayden Coburn and Jason Garrison, who packs a mighty point shot. The rest of the primary unit — Matt Carle, Andrej Sustr Nikita Nesterov — is effective, but hardly overwhelming.
ISLANDERS: Tenacity and sagacity are the keys. Against Florida, virtually every defender had challenges clearing the zone yet they often were in the right spot to make the big play when it counted. Nick Leddy, in particular, has grown into an offensive star.Travis Hamonic has been “Ole Reliable” while Thomas Hickey, though undersized, compensates with smarts and guts. To win this series, the Isles need Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan to bring their A-Games. Marek Zidlicky‘s heroics in the last two games could win him a return spot vs. the Bolts.
LIGHTNING: Never before has Tampa featured such depth, starting with Ben Bishop, followed by Andrei Vasilevskiy. Bishop’s size and experience can be intimidating, but low shots can be his nemesis. Over three games this year, the Isles beat him a dozen times, but he produced a .950 save percentage against Detroit and is at the top of his game.
ISLANDERS: Thomas Greiss has grown from a trivia question to an early Conn Smythe Trophy candidate. He was the difference-maker as the club’s last line of defense against Florida, besting Roberto Luongo. Cool, calm and collected, he’s ready for another challenge.
LIGHTNING: The power play potential is immense with Hedman at the point and the Johnson-Kucherov-Drouin unit up front; the second outfit — Callahan-Palat-Kilorn ain’t bad either. Suffice to say that the Bolts penalty kill was the best in the first round.
ISLANDERS: Having gone 5-for-21 in the first round, the power play can work but more shooting is necessary. Tavares-Okposo-Nielsen know what they’re doing and Boychuk’s piledriver shot is terrific — when on net. The shorthanded unit remains one of the NHL’s most reliable.
LIGHTNING: Cooper’s brilliance is demonstrated by the manner in which his club has succeeded without Stamkos-Stralman, not to mention the agonizing Drouin holdout. Wise, patient and thoughtful, Cooper has been to the Final and knows the score.
ISLANDERS: No coach knows his players and which buttons to push better than Cappy. His ability to spring his club into the second round says volumes about his leadership growth.
LIGHTNING: Built on speed and skill, the club is able to play the game fast and has a roster sprinkled with players with a strong hockey sense.
ISLANDERS: Tavares has proven his leadership qualities. His message to his mates should be that they got hot at the right time against Florida and could do it again.
LIGHTNING: Jonathan Drouin.
ISLANDERS: Shane Prince.
HOW THE ISLANDERS CAN WIN THE SERIES:
1. Tavares continues his imposing scoring performances.
2. Greiss stays on course.
3. Kucherov and Johnson can be problematic; if they aren’t, advantage Isles.
4. This from Gus Vic: “If the Islanders Fourth Line hits the Tampa defense relentlessly — and Greiss continues to be stellar, the Isles can win the series.
We shall see.
Islanders in seven
For Rangers, It’s Wait ‘Til Next Year
Scabbards are affixed to skates. Equipment is packed away and sticks are gathered in what is an annual hockey ritual.
And so it was Breakup Day on Tuesday at the Rangers practice facility in Westchester where the players and media schmoozed about what was accomplished, what-might-have-been — and was, among many other things.
Naturally, the ancient Brooklyn Dodgers theme from more than a half-century ago was revived; Wait ’til next year.
“It (looking to 2016-17) starts tomorrow,” said Derek Stepan, one of the most consistently productive Rangers all season. “I believe so much in this group. We played some really good hockey.”
And so they did, especially down the homestretch when the Blueshirts won-lost record was encouragingly far over the .500 mark. But there were flaws and veterans such as defenseman Marc Staal were aware of them.
“We didn’t get it going this year as consistently as we wanted,” Marc allowed. “Against Pittsburgh, we were just outplayed. But I like our group and the guys we have in this room.”
Skaters who have been around — Derick Brassard for one — realized that out of 30 NHL teams only one annexes the Stanley Cup.
“I remember standing here last year (after losing to Tampa Bay) and this season,” Brassard recalled. “It’s disappointing; an awful feeling. At the end of the day we got beaten by a good team.
“For whatever reason we didn’t play our style of hockey and we didn’t play at our best. We’re going to try to learn from it, go on to next season and try to be better.”
Like his teammates, Brassard remembered how the Rangers rebounded from the first game defeat in Pittsburgh and tied the series in the second contest.
Brassard: “We were right there after tying the Penguins and had a chance to go back in front of our fans and take care of home ice. But we couldn’t put anything together at home and thinking about it feels awful right now.”
Alain Vigneault candidly admitted that changes will be made and every player will be re-evaluated. What must be avoided are impetuous moves in the wake of the club’s first round playoff exit.
“We need to calm down,” said the coach, “and analyze what has to be done.”
Among the first orders of business will be treatment for the wounded including those who played hurt such as Dan Girardi, who conceded that 2015-16 was not the season he wanted it to be.
“I’m 100 percent sure that I can come back and be the player I used to be,” the defenseman replied when asked about his future. “Obviously this year wasn’t the best for me or for the team. I’ll use the summer to be ready.”
Ditto for Ryan McDonagh. Of all the injuries, the Captain’s hand wound had a more devastating effect on the Blueshirts in the playoffs than any other. The good news is that — according to Ryan — no surgery will be necessary.
“It will be a few weeks before it’s fully healed,” McDonagh revealed. “For me it was frustrating not to be able to play (in the playoffs) the way that I needed to and expected to for the team.”
The Captain also conceded that the defense would have to be tightened next season.
“That (better defense) will be a big focus going into next season and it’s going to have to become a strength again for this team. We learned a painful lesson in the Pittsburgh series, giving up goals the way we did.”
Rick Nash reiterated his passion for New York and desire to remain a Ranger. “I love this city,” he declared, “and this organization. It’s a fun team to be a part of, but I know I can’t control what’s going to happen in the summer.”
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who sees things clearly and sees them whole, invoked 20-20 hindsight in his X-Ray of the homestretch and playoffs.
“We were over 100 points going into the playoffs” The King asserted, “and I felt like we were right there with them (Penguins). Game 3 was a big one and not being able to win that one hurt us big-time.
“Give the Penguins credit. They were smart and fast; the hottest team coming into the playoffs. We needed everything and more to beat them and were not able to get to that level this time.”
Henrik oozed with confidence about his future.
“This game is a lot about determination and how much you want it. I want it as bad now as I did 10 years ago; maybe even more. That will be my biggest motivation moving forward.”
Coach Vigneault figured that “a week to 10 days” will be required before the general staff convenes for a roster evaluation.
“We’re at a stage now where we need to look at some changes,” AV said. “With any NHL team the status-quo is not possible and not what is needed. You need to keep changing pieces and bringing in different players to add to the dynamic.
“Our core guys have been together for a while. It’s certainly time to look at what we can do to improve.Posted on