Talk of Rangers Playoff Foe; Promising New Faces for Devils, Isles

1. With the curtain soon to drop on the regular season, it’s perfectly natural for Rangers fans to wonder about first-round foes for the Blueshirts. The Maven’s theory is not to worry – take what you get and beat that team.

2. Right now, the Blueshirts could be facing either the Montreal Canadiens or the onrushing Ottawa Senators in the opening tourney. The Maven says that Alain Vigneault‘s skaters could beat either Canadian club.

3. If it happens to be the Habs, New York should take them and here’s why: The Rangers are better offensively, better on the road, better at penalty-killing and have been more battle-tested.

4. When it comes to goaltending — Henrik Lundqvist vs. Carey Price — it’s a draw provided that Hank returns healthy and rested. As for back-ups, Antti Raanta tops Al Montoya, by a lot. Habs may have an edge on D, but not by much.

5. As for the Senators, coach Guy Boucher has done wonders, but he can only do so much and he simply does not have enough to beat the Seventh Avenue Skaters. Vigneault, Inc. is four lines stronger; slightly better in goal since Craig Anderson can be a game — not playoff — stealer.

6. Other Blueshirt assets over the Sens include defensive depth and playoff experience. My projected Rangers playoff “Darkhorse Heroes” are Mika Zibanejad and J.T. Miller.

Rangers Miller Zibanejad McDonagh Pirri Zuccarello 102316

7. The Devils promotion of forward John Quenneville fulfills The Hockey News‘ preseason projection that he’s a star-in-the-making. Smart and skilled, Quenneville was picked 30th by New Jersey in the 2014 Entry Draft.

8. John Q happens to be the second cousin to Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. It seems like ancient history, but Joel was a mainstay on the New Jersey defense in the 1982-83 season, the Garden Staters first NHL campaign.

9. And if you’re wondering why the Devs promoted John Q, the kid has been starring for Albany. Last Friday, he buried the shootout winner against Binghamton. A night later, he ripped a wrister past Jaroslav Halak, leading Albany to another win. Oh yeah, the Islanders Johnny Boychuk is his uncle via marriage!

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 17: John Quenneville #17 skates up ice against the Toronto Marlies during AHL game action on December 17, 2016 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)

10. If you’re wondering which Ranger has the most surprising plus-minus rating, go with rookie Brady Skjei at plus-15.

11. On defense; definitely Nick (No Holds Barred) Holden with plus-14. And to think GM Jeff Gorton got The Amazing Nick from Colorado for a fourth-round pick in 2017. Is that hockey highway robbery or what?

12. Forgotten by many — not by me — is that the Rangers are right behind Columbus and doing so minus Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi, not to mention King Henrik.

13. If Joshua Ho-Sang isn’t the most exciting Met Area new face, I’d like to know who is. Reminds me of when Mike Bossy came to the Islanders and Al Arbour taught Boss defense. It will be ditto for Doug Weight and the rookie.

14. Josh has a fascinating background. His Dad is from Jamaica and his Mom — she’s Jewish — is from Chile. She’s from Russian and Swedish parents. Joshua’s great-grandfather is Chinese.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 27: Josh Ho-Sang celebrates with his dad (L) and a family friend after being selected 28th overall by the New York Islanders during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft at Wells Fargo Center on June 27, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA – JUNE 27: Josh Ho-Sang celebrates with his dad (L) and a family friend after being selected 28th overall by the New York Islanders during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft at Wells Fargo Center on June 27, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

15. This from avid Islanders-watcher Robert Taub: “Whether the Isles make or miss the playoffs, the seasons of Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera are remarkable. Both had a tough start then settled in and have become key forwards; both justifying Garth Snow‘s signing the pair.”

16. Home ice advantage is about as hard to figure as logarithms. Earlier this season, The Garden was a House of Horrors for visiting teams. Not lately. Go figure; I can’t.

17. MSG Networks Steve Valiquette is a wizard. He’s actually making hockey analytics make sense to me. Better still, Stevie Wonder is making a business out of it.

18. A phone call from Derek Stepan to future Hall of Famer Marty St. Louis helped the popular center break out of his goal-scoring slump. (Hey, ain’t that what former teammates are for — to help the varsity?)

19. Looking backward, I had a wonderful time covering the two Yankee Stadium NHL games in 2014 — Rangers-Isles, Rangers-Devils. Whether it happens or not, I’m tickled that fans are talking up a possible Rangers-Sabres Citi Field match in a 2018 Winter Classic.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 25: General view outside Citi Field on June 25, 2016 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

20. Looking forward, the Devils have 11 picks in the 2017 Entry Draft.

21. Speaking of the Draft, The Hockey News is touting Windsor Spitfires center Gabe Vilardi as the “Hidden Gem” in the June Draft.

22. In that regard, Spitfires GM Warren Rychel says this of Vilardi: “His hockey sense is off the charts. His work ethic is as good as anyone we’ve had in years.”

23. Expect Keith Kinkaid to get a handful of Devils starts from here to the season’s end. Worth noting, New Jersey’s backup becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. Plus, he did well beating Philly on Thursday night at The Rock.

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 16: Keith Kinkaid #1 and Joseph Blandisi #64 of the New Jersey Devils celebrate after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers on March 16, 2017 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

24. One Ranger I predict will have a BIG playoff is Rick Nash and not because he’s 6-foot-4, 212 pounds. Rather, Rick just looks like he’s in mint condition and loving it.

25. Since returning from injury, Nash has been redoubtable at all points of the rink and gets less attention for that than he deserves.

26. It’s becoming evident that Johnny Boychuk is missed bigger-than-big-time on the Islanders defense. Before his injury, the warrior was having a superior season.

27. What an MSG Networks double-treat — John Tortorella in Brooklyn vs. Islanders on Saturday and in Newark vs. Devils on Sunday. Watching Torts on the bench is half the fun.

28. The Winnipeg Jets couldn’t believe that last Tuesday’s game against the Devils in Newark was postponed because of the snowstorm. One of the Winnipeggers quipped, “We get snow like that every Tuesday. If we cancelled games the way they did in Newark, we’d never have a home season!”

29. Quote of The Week from ex-Rangers coach/general manager Emile Francis: “Your power play can win you games and your penalty-killers can save you games!”