Islanders, Devils Climbing? Whither Once-Rampaging Rangers?

  1. When a team such as the Islanders obtains nine out of a possible 10 points, it’s fair to say that the club is — at the very least — playing improved hockey.
  1. And when coach Jack Capuano‘s sextet repulsed enough Rangers counterattacks at Barclays Center last Tuesday night to win, 4-2, the Brooklynites image-change upwards was noticeable.
  1. But captain John Tavares — ever the realist — told me what is apparent to most Isles-watchers; and that is, reaching the .500 mark is one thing. Climbing higher in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division is another story.

John Tavares speaks to Stan Fischler after scoring a power-play goal in the Islanders' 4-2 win over the Rangers.

  1. That said, the most important aspect of any rash NHL team judgment is to remember that the 82-game season is a marathon and not a sprint.
  1. Likewise, panic stories — it always happens — when the Rangers fail to break speed records in the Eastern Conference are not to be taken too seriously.
  1. Alain Vigneault‘s Blueshirts — like every other NHL outfit — is being riddled with injuries. The toll is evident, especially with Mika Zibanejad so pivotal to the offense.
  1. What it all comes down to is a test of A.V.’s depth. Or, to put it another way; who can do what when elevated from Hartford.
  1. The Maven’s view is that right now the Rangers could use a bit more bristle and the Wolf Packer who could provide same is none other than our old, hitting pal, Tanner Glass.
  1. Across the Hudson, Travis Zajac — unofficial captain of the Devils‘ offense — was heading toward a career year when he suffered a broken nose against Vancouver. Undaunted, the Winnipegger eventually returned wearing a full-face shield.
  1. A prideful fellow native of the prairies, Damon Severson, put his verbal stamp on the zestful Zajac with this pithy observation: “Travis is a Western Canadian, so I knew he would return to the action.”
  1. Coach John Hynes credits the Zajac renaissance to a changed mindset. Travis is determined to attack more than just being an A-1 defensive center. With typical modesty, Zajac opines, “The players around me are better and make me look good.”
  1. After Taylor Hall legally hit Vancouver’s Philip Larsen, the Canuck hit the ice and remained motionless. Led by boisterous Michael Chaput, the visitors assaulted Hall, no matter how fair Taylor’s hit happened to be.
  1. This prompts a warning from fellow Devils chronicler Leo Scaglione, Jr. in a critique of the Vancouver reaction to Hall’s physicality: “Players should NOT have to defend themselves after clean hits. But it keeps happening.”
  1. Not only does it keep happening, but in the Canucks-inspired melee, Larsen’s own players came within inches of further injuring him as they tried to pile on and hurt Hall (Was this a case of macho hockey getting out of hand or what?).
  1. The Devils managed to keep their heads above water during Hall’s sabbatical and remain in the playoff hunt. Their test of tests so far this season will be on Sunday when they invade The Garden to take on the Rangers.
  1. If there’s any concern in New Jersey — very minor at the moment — it’s all about Cory Schneider‘s puck-stopping which is below his normal excellent average.

New Jersey Devils' Cory Schneider in action during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  1. Schneider has to be better if New Jersey is to reach the postseason and nobody knows it — nor articulates it — better than Cory. Whether it’s focus or what, I don’t know, but The Man is dedicated to improving so we’ll see how it goes on Friday night at The Rock against St. Louis.
  1. The other challenge for coach Hynes is finding the best defenseman to team with captain Andy Greene.
  1. A year ago, the Adam Larsson-Greene combo was the Devils’ best with the Swede unobtrusively being one of the top shutdown D-Men in the circuit. A suitable replacement has yet to be found.
  1. Confidence is everything in sports and that explains the positive turnaround in Anders Lee‘s game.

Islanders Lee Penguins Bonino 113016

  1. If you can believe this, one source of Lee’s broken confidence was being scratched from Game 7¬†of the 2014 playoffs. Seems like ancient history but, Anders appears to have returned to his robust, goal-hungry ways. I’ll check him out on Thursday night at Barclays Center when the Blues come to Flatbush Avenue.
  1. You never hear about awards for comeback ability. But there could be one given to Travis Hamonic (returned way ahead of time from a broken thumb); Dennis Seidenberg (barely missed a beat after suffering a broken jaw); and Cal Clutterbuck who takes a beating every night and rebounds for the next test.
  1. We all hoped for — and expected — better things from Reid Boucher. But it didn’t work out for him in New Jersey and nobody feels worse about that than Hynes.
  1. Or, as the Devils’ coach puts it: “Reid is a great kid, worked hard and was a pleasure to coach.” Hopefully, Boucher will find a happy home playing for the Predators.
  1. “Momentum” is one of the most beaten-to-death hockey terms. If any local team should have developed it this past week it’s the Islanders; especially after their Tuesday night win over the Rangers. The Isles’ “momentum” test comes up Thursday against St. Louis at Barclays Center. We shall see.