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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Girardi‘s 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.
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.
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.
“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.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 30, 2017
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)
Weight: 198 pounds
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)
Weight: 176 pounds
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)
Weight: 201 pounds
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)
Weight: 200 pounds
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.
Rangers Need a Rally at Home
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.”
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.
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:
- 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.
- RECKLESS DECISIONS: Bad clears and passes helped the Senators to set up for key goals.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- RE-AWAKENED SCORERS: Reliable forwards who previously were foiled — Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan — lit red lights.
- BRADY SKJEI: The rookie defenseman scored two goals and excelled behind his blue line as well.
- PENALTY KILLERS EXCELLED: The Rangers killed all four of their penalties.
- 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:
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- MSG NETWORKS’ ANALYST JOHN GIANNONE: “Rangers pushed the pace and pushed their luck.”
- 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.”
- 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.
Hahn, Humpty & Canty Back on MSG
Get a different perspective on New York sports this summer with Hahn, Humpty & 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.
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!
Follow them on Twitter:
Alan Hahn: @alanhahn
Rick DiPietro: @hdumpty39
Chris Canty: @chriscanty99
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.
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.
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.
Check it out!
McDonagh vs. Karlsson, Hamonic Scores, Devs Ponder Future
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.
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.”
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 McLeod, Yohann 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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rangers-Senators: 20 Thoughts on Game 1
Well, you had to know it would likely be a fluky goal that would win a game like Game 1. Right?
1. Let’s discuss the game-deciding play. First of all, it appeared to me that the Rangers all thought it should have been icing and stopped skating for a moment. That’s on them. They have to play to the whistle. (Oddly, the linesmen blew another icing earlier when Chris Kreider was clearly ahead of the Ottawa defense and I thought goalie Craig Anderson even played the puck). Alain Vigneault said in his postgame remarks that they felt it was icing, then he watched it again, and it should have been icing. Again, that’s on the Rangers to keep playing until a whistle. They didn’t and they never recovered.
2. So the play goes to the corner. Derek Stepan has J.G. Pageau covered at the side of the net, but fronts him and doesn’t attempt to move him as the puck is in the corner; the two captains there. Erik Karlsson’s first attempt to get the puck to the net hits Ryan McDonagh’s skates, and as McDonagh turns to try and locate it, it caroms right back to Karlsson. The superb Ottawa defenseman – who reportedly practices such bad-angle shots – then fires through the screen of Stepan and Pageau, perhaps glancing off Stepan, then off the back of the noggin of Henrik Lundqvist and into the net for the game-winner.
3. That’s a big-time goal by a great player, and maybe he knows what he’s doing throwing it up top. Anyway, even if not expecting it to go in, there’s nothing wrong with putting a puck on goal with traffic there. I don’t believe for a second it was a “great play” … as in designed to go in off Lundqvist’s mask, a la Sidney Crosby late in the regular season. But it’s never a bad idea to cause chaos with a bad-angle shot – the Rangers rarely do, other than Rick Nash.
4. Years ago, a shot like that doesn’t go in because years ago, goalies stood and hugged the post. Now every single goalie plays on his knees, leaving that little soft spot open up high. Back in the day, guys like Pierre Larouche would smartly try to bank the puck off a goalie’s skates, which would create the same type of havoc. Maybe even more because if it didn’t go in, the rebound could go anywhere.
5. Tell you what, though. Take away the fluke goal and I think you’re looking differently at that game today. I thought the Rangers, for the most part, handled Ottawa’s trap fine. I thought they spent a lot of time in the offensive zone – even if it didn’t produce shots (How many posts did they hit? How many times did they miss the net? And a few times they over-passed it).
6. On one of the Rangers’ best chances, Anderson’s save on Brendan Smith from the high slot, ex-Senator Mika Zibanejad would have had a better chance, from much closer range, had he not been tackled by Kyle Turris in the low slot. Play on.
7. I thought the Rangers lost momentum during the game (yes it exists during playoff games, not from one game to the next) because of their special teams, which scored a goal and allowed one, but put the Rangers on their heels several times. Ottawa created most of its chances off three power plays in the first, which helped them pile up 21 shots on Lundqvist in the period.
8. Michael Grabner, early on, hit a post as the Rangers seemed to be handling Ottawa’s 1-3-1 without much issue and seemed to be speeding around Ottawa’s defensemen. Each goalie had to make an early save off a lousy turnover behind the icing line. Kevin Hayes’s slashing penalty was a result of a turnover in the neutral zone and didn’t prevent a chance for Derick Brassard. That’s what happens against that style of play. The 70 feet or so from just inside one blue line to just inside the other blue line are where turnovers and transitions happen.
9. Then Lundqvist flat-out robbed Mark Stone on Alex Burrows’ power play rebound. Holy shish kebab! Somehow, Stone was wide open, and only needed to lift the puck, but Lundqvist swam across the crease to stop him. Then Grabner had a short-handed breakaway and fired wide … maybe Anderson got a tiny piece. The Rangers took a too-many-men penalty yet again, and Lundqvist came up with three more saves. So the penalty kill was 2-for-2, the game still 0-0, but Ottawa was surging because of it. The Rangers had to kill one more, to Brady Skjei, and Hayes nearly took yet another one before the period ended scoreless.
10. Lundqvist stopped Pageau right off the bat to open the second, after McDonagh’s semi-successful snow angel. Pageau took a penalty. The Rangers’ power play wasted another chance.
11. But it was the Rangers’ power play (now 2-for-19) which struck first, after Grabner’s speed spun around Cody Ceci, who took him down. Mats Zuccarello, their best power play forward by far, worked the wall and got the puck to McDonagh, who blew a shot through Kreider’s screen and past Anderson for a 1-0 lead.
12. Grabner had a ton of chances, one right after Vigneault had to use his timeout following consecutive icings, from Oscar Lindberg. Grabner was again robbed by Anderson, followed by a Lundqvist pad save on ex-Ranger Viktor Stalberg flying past Nick Holden.
13. Skjei took a careless penalty behind the net, had his man wrapped up with just one hand on the stick – and yes, the Montreal series you could get away with assault, but in Game 1 here, there were some touchy-feely penalties — and the Rangers’ PK finally folded. As with the Karlsson goal later, there was some luck involved. A Turris shot hit Lundqvist in the shoulder and bounced high, over Marc Staal. Fortunately for the Sens, it also bounced over the stick of Burrows, who was skating away from the net and landed on the stick of Ryan Dzingel, who was headed toward the net. Staal, spinning and needing to cover two men, couldn’t cover either, and Dzingel shot it through him and past Lundqvist. 1-1.
14. Early in the third, Lundqvist made a glove save on Dzingel breaking in behind Skjei. At that point, the Rangers were not completing passes, not creating a forecheck. Didn’t seem bothered by the trap so much, but didn’t execute. Later in the period, the Rangers went fancy-boy over-pass mode, and accomplished nothing, then followed with a few consecutive cycle shifts in the Ottawa zone, and created a bunch of chances. Coincidence? Stop.
15. Lundqvist was marvelous, but he sure caused some problems with his puck-handling in the trapezoid. So did Anderson.
16. Brassard vs. Zibanejad. Has more ever been made of a swap of second-line centers? Brassard reminded me of how jacked he used to get to play Columbus, which only made me wonder why he didn’t play that way more often. But he was moving and effective in all three zones in Game 1.
17. For seven playoff games now, the Rangers haven’t gotten nearly – not even close to – enough offensive production or even chances from their top-nine forwards. That’s going to have to change. There were a lot of shots in Game 1, both sides (attempts 69-64, Ottawa; on goal 43-35, Ottawa) and the Rangers got one goal. Not going to get the job done with that, and you have to figure some of these games are going to be more bogged down than that.
18. God, Ottawa’s boring. Worse than John Tortorella’s Rangers teams at their shot-blocking worst.
19. Home-ice advantage update: Despite Ottawa’s home win, road teams are 26-20 in these playoffs.
20. I will repeat what I usually predict for playoff series – because most go this way, particularly those involving the Rangers: I expect it to be 1-1 after two games, 2-2 after four.