How Will Rangers Cope Without Zibanejad?

The Rangers might be able to survive a reasonably short stint without Mika Zibanejad as their No. 1 center.

But can they make the power play go in his absence?

The team announced Thursday that Zibanejad is suffering from concussion symptoms. There, of course, is no timetable for his return.

[Watch Rangers-Hurricanes Friday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Zibanejad was originally hurt on a hit by Detroit’s Darren Helm late in Friday’s game at The Garden. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said the 24-year-old was checked out after the contest, felt fine, played the next game against Vancouver Sunday, then experienced symptoms prior to Tuesday’s morning skate.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault explains what happened with Mika Zibanejad and why the 24-year-old will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.

Vigneault called upon David Desharnais, who would have been scratched, around 5:30 and told him to take warmups. Zibanejad took warmups, too, and determined he could not play.

Desharnais slipped into Zibanejad’s spot between Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich and had three assists as that line combined for nine points.

“It’s a long season,” Kreider said Thursday. “Injuries are a part of it, but it’s obviously a tough one. It’s that ‘Next Man Up” mentality. Everyone has to fill the role to the best of their abilities and hopefully we get him back sooner rather than later because he’s an integral part of our team.”

As important as Zibanejad’s been as the new No. 1 center, his role is more critical for the power play, as that right-handed shooter from “Alex Ovechkin’s Office” in the left circle. Zibanejad has been on the ice for 14 of the Rangers’ 18 power-play goals and has five goals and six assists on the power play.

“It changes the look for sure,” said power-play quarterback Kevin Shattenkirk, the team’s only other righty shot on the first two units. “We need to realize that that play might take an extra second or two, and that’s something we worked on today – just the timing of it. But we need to make sure that that side is still effective and that we’re still getting shots from there and making sure teams are worried about it because it makes our power play a lot more dynamic.”

Vigneault said that Zibenajad’s absence changes the way the power play operates.

“Yes,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of right-handed shots. On one unit we don’t have any. And now we’ve gone from two to one, so it does change the dynamics and certain plays you can make. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to make the plays that are available and make them work, because the power play’s been a big weapon for us this year.”

Kreider summed it up with simplicity.

“Not discrediting anything Mika’s done on the power play, but the reason the power play works is because five guys are doing their jobs,” Kreider said. “So we just need whoever steps into that spot to do their job.

“Obviously Mika has a tremendous shot and has been hitting his spots, and is great on draws for us there, and you need to have that shooting mentality on the power play. So, you lose a guy like that you need the other guys to shoot more. You’ve got to continue to get pucks to the net because that’s what makes a power play successful.”

The Rangers did get some good news, that captain Ryan McDonagh will return after missing four games with an abdominal strain, as they start a spread-out four-game stretch against divisional opponents, starting Friday against Carolina at The Garden.

Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh says he's feeling ready to get back in the Blueshirts' lineup and looks ahead to Friday's game against the Hurricanes.

“Always nice to have him back on the back end,” Shattenkirk said. “He’s someone who plays all facets and all situations of the game and we’re obviously thrilled to have him back. He’s someone who’s going to instantly affect our team in a positive way.”

[Watch Rangers-Hurricanes Friday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

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Devils Make Dandy Deal for Vatanen

Poof!

Just like that, the New Jersey Devils have established themselves as serious playoff contenders.

And if there’s any doubt about that, well, forget about it. The trade General Manager Ray Shero pulled off, obtaining ace defenseman Sami Vatanen, 26, seals the deal.

[Official Press Release: Devils Acquire Vatanen From Ducks]

As one scout told me when he heard about the move, “The Devils now have a top-10 defense in the league.”

 

Exaggeration? Perhaps, but New Jersey is a mere point behind first-place Columbus — Devils have a game in hand — because of its surprising defense corps, starring rookie power-play quarterback Will Butcher.

Granted, you don’t get a battleship for a rowboat in this parity-filled National Hockey League. And that explains why Shero had to dispatch fan favorite and 2012 Rangers playoff-killer Adam Henrique, 27, to Anaheim.

Vatanen will make his Devils debut on Friday when New Jersey begins its three-game road trip against the Avalanche in Denver.

[Watch Devils-Avalanche Friday on MSG+2 & Download Free on MSG GO]

In addition to Henrique, Shero unloaded forward Joseph Blandisi, 23, who never secured a varsity spot, and New Jersey’s 2018 third-round Draft pick. However, there are “conditions,” which I’ll get to later. As for the boss, Shero is tickled pink.

“Sami gives us a right-shot, top-four defenseman who can play in all situations,” Shero explained. “It also gives us contract certainty on defense for the next two-plus years.”

Superficially, the disposing of Henrique is a shocker since he’s been a fan favorite and quasi-legend since his overtime goal on May 25, 2012 against the rival Rangers, which gave the Devils a 4-2 series triumph in the Eastern Conference Final.

Realistically, the trade was a natural for New Jersey because the Devils had become fortified on offense, especially at center. That made Henrique expendable.

The return of Travis Zajac has been a major asset at pivot, along with top 2017 Draft pick Nico Hischier, 2015 first-rounder (sixth overall) Pavel Zacha and ultra-dependable Brian Boyle.

“Acquiring Vatanen meant I had to give Anaheim quality assets,” asserted Shero, “and we know he’s been a key member of our organization. We appreciated his contributions on and off the ice.”

Ever-hustling, Blandisi always seemed on the cusp of contending for a regular role but was never able to cement a permanent spot on the varsity.

“Going to the Ducks gives Joe a great opportunity with a quality organization and I, personally, am happy for him,” Shero said.

More reason for the high command’s happiness is the fact that once-unknowns such as Brian Gibbons, Jesper Bratt, Miles Wood, Blake Coleman and Hischier have delivered much more offense than anyone anticipated.

Likewise, the emergence of Butcher as a Calder Trophy candidate was totally unexpected after a slow start to training camp. The freshman is averaging 16:04 of ice time and that figures to soar based on his assets.

Once the season began, Butcher stratospherically rose to the top as power-play prodigy. After 24 games, he has two goals and 16 assists for 18 points. He’s also plus-seven in the plus-minus ratings.

What makes the Devils’ virtually instant transformation from supposed preseason haplessness to one of the League’s best clubs is that defense was supposed to be the clubs Achilles’ heel.

In its preseason preview, The Game’s bible, The Hockey News noted that “depth” on defense “is a crisis in the back end.”

But with captain Andy Greene, New Jersey’s balance wheel on the back line, and the maturation of Damon Severson, Steve Santini and John Moore, the Devils feel confident about their defense.

 

Getting back to the trade, here are the “conditions” of the Devils’ third-round pick:

-If Anaheim signs Henrique to a new Standard Player Contract for 2019-20 prior to their own third-round pick of the 2019 Draft, Anaheim will transfer their own third-round pick in the 2019 Draft to New Jersey.

-If Anaheim signs Henrique to a new Standard Player Contract for 2019-20 after their own third-round pick of the 2019 Draft, Anaheim will transfer their own third-round pick in the 2020 Draft to New Jersey.

-If Henrique does not re-sign with Anaheim, no pick will be exchanged.

It’s worth noting that the Vatanen acquisition gives coach John Hynes a formidable blue line power-play combo with Sami on one side and Butcher on the other.

A native of Jyvaskyla, Finland, Vatanen was Anaheim’s fifth pick (106 overall) in the 2009 Entry Draft.

He made his North American debut in the 2012-13 AHL season with the Norfolk Admirals.

That same year he moved up to the Ducks, playing eight games.

The following year he played 48 games and his most productive campaign was in 2014-15 when in 67 games he got 12 goals, 25 assists and 37 points. That year he was a plus-five in the plus-minus ratings.

Can he propel the Garden Staters into the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign?

That would be nice since New Jersey went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final — thanks in part to Henrique!

[Watch Devils-Avalanche Friday on MSG+2 & Download Free on MSG GO]

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Devils Acquire Vatanen in Exchange for Henrique & Blandisi

***Courtesy of the New Jersey Devils***

The New Jersey Devils today acquired defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional third-round pick in the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for forwards Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and New Jersey’s third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. The conditions on the pick are as follows:

-If Anaheim signs Henrique to a new Standard Player Contract for 2019-20 prior to their own third-round pick of the 2019 Draft, Anaheim will transfer their own third-round pick in the 2019 Draft to New Jersey.

-If Anaheim signs Henrique to a new Standard Player Contract for 2019-20 after their own third-round pick of the 2019 Draft, Anaheim will transfer their own third-round pick in the 2020 Draft to New Jersey.

-If Henrique does not re-sign with Anaheim, no pick will be exchanged.

Quote from Devils’ Executive Vice President/General Manager Ray Shero:

“In acquiring Sami, we bring on a right shot, top-four defenseman who can play in all situations. This move also gives us contract certainty on the back end for the next two-plus years. When acquiring a defenseman like Vatanen, you have to give back quality assets or players in return. That is the case in this situation with Adam and Joe. Adam has been a key member of our organization for nearly ten years since he was drafted. His contributions both on and off the ice will always be appreciated by our organization and fans. For Joe, this is a great opportunity with a quality organization like Anaheim and I am happy for him.

“This also says a great deal about our other forwards in Binghamton and those who have taken the next step in New Jersey. I am excited they continue to push and provide us quality depth and competition from within.”

Vatanen, 26, currently has one goal and three assists in 15 games with Anaheim. He will meet the team in Colorado and wear jersey #45.

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Knicks Breathe Sigh of Relief on KP; Kanter Ignites Team

5 Thoughts From The Win:

1. The X-Ray machine in a back room under the lower bowl of The Garden has taken pictures of some famous body parts over the years. But the most important to date is the last one it took: the right ankle of Kristaps Porzingis.

Apparently, replays of the injury were more gruesome than what was seen on the x-rays.

“It didn’t look pretty,” Jeff Hornacek said of the injury.

[Watch: Hornacek’s Post Game Press Conference]

All Porzingis was doing on the play was what Hornacek wants out of his team on every play: give extra effort. It was a race for a loose ball that was headed out of bounds. Porzingis lunged for it and just as he stepped, Heat forward Justise Winslow stepped hard right on KP’s foot. It forced his ankle to buckle and the Knicks’ star immediately fell to the floor.

He then slapped the hardwood in frustration.

“It was painful, obviously,” he said after the game. “It wasn’t like crazy pain. I always try not to show emotions when I get hurt.”

I was frantically texting everyone I could to get the prognosis as KP was helped off the court and into the tunnel to the locker room. Fans all around The Garden were quiet for a while. Some around me quickly referenced the game Carmelo Anthony stepped on the referee’s ankle two seasons ago, which led to an injury that derailed a 20-20 start. There are many who are still scarred by the last two seasons, which included good starts that eventually led to a tailspin out of playoff contention by the All-Star Break.

But just as all hope seemed lost, as KP limped to the tunnel, I noticed him pass a fan wearing a Willis Reed jersey. Inane details like this seem to catch my attention.

OK, so Porzingis didn’t limp back out that tunnel to a roar of the crowd, but that possibility did exist.

“I was actually pretty close to coming back in,” he said. “I wanted to come back in … but the doctor recommended to stay out and we made the decision I should not go back out there.”

There was no need for him to go back out there. His teammates rallied together after the injury and built a 21-point halftime lead and they were up by 30 in the third quarter. The Knicks don’t play again until Sunday afternoon, so there is plenty of time for Porzingis to heal and be ready for the Orlando Magic.

[Watch Knicks-Magic Sunday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Porzingis acknowledged this timely break in the schedule, and The Unicorn informed us he’s also part-lizard “because I recover so quickly.”

Lizards heal themselves by shedding skin. Some can even regenerate an injured tail. There is no record of lizards self-healing ankle injuries.

Yet.

2. Henceforth, we shall refer to it only as The Enes Kanter Trade.

In Oklahoma City, they may be using harsher verbiage.

If his three-game absence with the back spasms didn’t show how much the Knicks missed his presence, his 22-point, 14-rebound effort — in just 25 minutes, by the way — against the Heat provided added emphasis.

With KP gone after the first 2:30 of the game and Hassan Whiteside given the night off on a back-to-back, Kanter dominated the paint and the glass. He almost always wins every rebound battle and shows off nifty footwork for some easy scores down-low.

“I didn’t play in three games,” he said, “so I was just excited and hungry.”

So hungry that after the game he said he was ready to bite someone’s ear off.

It showed. He had 18 points and 13 rebounds by halftime and had this hilarious exchange with MSG’s Al Trautwig when they discussed Tim Hardaway Jr.‘s spectacular buzzer-beater.

I might have asked this question once before, but it deserves repeating: name me the last player to wear this uniform with as much joy and pride as Kanter. Can you remember the last time someone loved being a Knick as much as he does?

In the meantime, what’s going on in OKC can’t be ignored. They lost by 20 to the Orlando Magic and have now dropped three straight and are 8-12 on the season. In the power forward matchup with Melo, Aaron Gordon went for 40.

3. Joakim Noah didn’t dress for the game but already put in a full day’s work up in Westchester, where he played for the Knicks’ G-League affiliate in an effort to work his way back into game shape. Noah played 22 minutes for the Dub-Knicks with 9 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and a blocked shot.

Joakim Noah was back on the floor Wednesday in a rehab stint with the Westchester Knicks. See how the Knicks' center performed in G-League action against the Maine Red Claws. '

He still has a ways to go, but it certainly says something about his determination to show the organization — and fans — that he is willing to do anything to get back into good graces. After signing that four-year, $72 million contract in July 2016, Noah has missed a lot of time due to injury and was suspended 20 games for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy.

[Video: Noah Determined to Redeem Himself]

There was media speculation that the Knicks should buy out Noah’s contract and use the stretch provision — which spreads out the buyout cap hit over two-times the remaining years — just to open up the roster spot. But he has asked for a second chance rather than just taking the money and running away.

Noah is setting a good example here, as well, by using the G-League as an opportunity to get into game action and rhythm that he can’t experience with the big club behind Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn.

Maybe Willy Hernangomez, who has struggled lately, should take notice?

4. Believe it or not, we’ve hit the quarter mark of the season. The Knicks are above .500 (11-10) and tied for the last playoff spot in the East with the Washington Wizards.

It’s a jumble right now in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff standings, as six teams are bunched up within a game or two of each other between 5th place and 10th. The Knicks are 1.5 games behind the 76ers (12-8) for 5th and 2.5 ahead of Orlando (9-13) in 11th place.

Statistically-speaking, the Knicks are among the best in the NBA in several offensive categories:

FG% – 47.1% (7th best)
FT% – 79.5% (6th best)
Assists – 23.4/game (5th best)
Offensive Rebounding – 10.8/game (7th best)
Total Rebounding – 45.1/game (10th best)
2nd Chance Points – 15.0/game (2nd best)

They also rank well in a few key defensive categories:

Opponent PPG – 103.8 (11th lowest)
Defensive FG% – 43.8% (4th best)

The issues:

Turnovers — 16.2/game (7th most)
3PT Shooting – 35.4% (21st)
3PTA – 23.5/game (28th)
3PT Defense — 36.9% (12th highest)

Turnovers are correctable. But the three-point situation on both sides of the ball really stands out. The team has struggled to defend the three-point line because of their aggressive help defense to stop dribble penetration and pick-and-roll plays. And at the other end, they don’t counter the high volume of threes that opponents take against them by looking for the three-ball themselves.

Hornacek’s offense in Phoenix was consistently among the league leaders in three-point attempts because it was a big part of his system. It makes sense since he was known to be a three-point shooter in an era where the three-point shot was only just starting to become a weapon used by teams.

The key to unlocking more three-point attempts is dribble penetration and kick-outs and those are things the Knicks’ guards haven’t been able to do consistently this season. Based on personnel, they might not ever be a team with a heavy reliance on the three-point shot.

5. Kanter is averaging 14.1 points and 10.4 rebounds through the first quarter of the season. Name the last player to average a double-double for the season with the Knicks while scoring at least 14 points per game.

Hint: he actually did it in consecutive years.

Answer: David Lee averaged 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds in 2009-10 and 16.0 points and 11.8 rebounds in 2008-09.

D-Lee last week announced his retirement via Instagram.

An epic night celebrating my retirement with my friends and family! Thank you to my amazing fiancée @carowozniacki for planning the surprise!

A post shared by David Lee (@dlee042) on

His career began with the Knicks as the third first-round pick taken — 30th overall — by the team in the 2005 NBA Draft, along with Channing Frye (8th overall) and Nate Robinson (21st). Andrew Bogut was the No. 1 overall pick, but the star of the draft class is Chris Paul (4th overall, New Orleans). When you look back on it now, David Lee turned out to be one of the best players of his draft year.

[Watch Knicks-Magic Sunday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

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Giants Get a Chance to Evaluate Davis Webb

A streak of 210 consecutive starts will come to an end for Giants quarterback Eli Manning this Sunday.

But for Davis Webb, this is the opportunity he’s been waiting for.

Ben McAdoo shares where Davis Webb fits in to the Giants depth chart and how he's approaching the game plan with Geno Smith starting.

At some point during this season’s final five games, the 22-year-old will get a chance under center, as Big Blue gets to kick the tires on the draft pick and bring along his development. The decision to bench Manning, the most successful quarterback in franchise history, is being hotly debated in light of the Giants’ disappointing 2-9 record.

But the silver lining to this all is that the Giants will get a chance to evaluate Webb, their third-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. For the rookie, who has yet to see a single snap this season, preparation for this week’s game at the Oakland Raiders is no different than previous weeks.

“It doesn’t affect my preparation,” Webb said. “I’ve said this before, I get up here pretty early and I stay here pretty dang late and I always prepare like if my opportunity came tomorrow, I’d be ready and I approached it that way since the day I got here,” Webb said on Tuesday. “It doesn’t really affect much, but right now, I’m going to be the best teammate I can be for [Eli] and Geno [Smith] and we’re going to try to help us win our game on Sunday. But, it doesn’t affect anything.”

[Read More Giants Thoughts]

His pedigree is certainly solid.

After three years at Texas Tech, Webb transferred to Cal for his final season. He threw for nearly 4,300 yards and 37 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

He certainly is not a finished product, but the 6-foot-5, 230-pound signal caller has some intriguing tools to develop. The Giants announced that Smith will start on Sunday, but promised that Webb will see time over the next few games as the season comes to a close.

Over these past five games, Webb will benefit from Manning being there to guide him along and easy his learning process. The consummate teammate despite Tuesday’s gut-punch news of his benching, Manning promised to be in the trenches with Webb and Smith.

“I told Geno I’d be here for him and I sat down with him today, and going over the script and going over plays to just make sure he’s comfortable with everything and knows how to go out there and give him a chance to be successful,” Manning said.

Webb called Manning the “best teammate I’ve ever had in my life.”

Ben McAdoo addresses the emotional reactions from fans and media alike who are perturbed at the Giants' decision to replace Eli Manning with Geno Smith as the starting QB.

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Surprise Packages Carrying Locals

When the first puck was dropped to launch the 2017-18 training season, a small forward from Braintree, Massachusetts named Brian Gibbons was not even on the Devils‘ depth chart.

And why should he have been?

Undrafted, the New Englander previously had been discarded both by the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. At age 29, he looked like a career minor leaguer.

Gibbons might as well have been auditioning for a remake of “The Invisible Man” when he showed up in Newark in September because all eyes were on top draft choice Nico Hischier as well as Hobey Baker-winner, defenseman Will Butcher.

Likewise, not much could be deduced about Mathew Barzal‘s future when the Islanders opened camp since he had been a two-game stint a year ago after his first audition for the big club.

Then again in early autumn, nobody populating the Rangers‘ Westchester training base was quite sure whether Pavel Buchnevich would be much better than finishing 14th on the Blueshirts’ scoring list as he had in 2016-17.

Gibbons, Barzal and Buchnevich; Put ’em all together and they spell Surprise with a capital ‘S’.

Exhibit BG is Gibbons who not only leads the Newark sextet with 11 goals and four assists after 24 games, but boasted a team-leading plus-12 in the Plus-Minus minutiae.

Which raises the question, how in Gary Bettman’s name did he become the Devils’ top goal-scorer?

“With me,” Gibbons insisted, “it starts with hard work; not only in the games but the practices as well. I don’t take any time off and try to be as consistent as possible.”

MSG Networks’ Devils play-by-play man Steve Cangialosi admitted his surprise that Gibbons quickly moved ahead of such veteran aces as Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri in the club’s goal-scoring race.

[Don’t Miss the Rangers, Devils & Islanders in Action Friday on MSG Networks & Download Free on MSG GO]

“Brian’s shot is special,” Cangialosi explained. “When he bears down, he really puts something on the puck. He became the team leader in plus-minus and got to 10 goals faster than any other player on the team.

“Can he keep up this pace for 82 games? Probably not, but the fact is that Gibbons has been a perfect fit on the Devils’ roster. And playing regularly with Blake Coleman — his linemate in the minors — has given John Hynes a comfort level.”

Gibbons’ ever-hustling, overtime game-winner in Detroit on Saturday night raised Hynes’ comfort level yet another notch while his zest-filled team continued to confound the critics.

The same could be said for what Barzal has done for the Islanders, game in and game out, both with goal-scoring and creative playmaking.

While Gibbons was scoring his game-winner against the Red Wings, Barzal did a Kid Lightning imitation skating around five Senators to set up Jordan Eberle‘s game-winner for a six-game point streak. He added another assist in Tuesday’s win against Vancouver to extend it to seven.

“For starters,” said MSG Networks’ Islanders analyst Butch Goring, “Mathew’s head works as fast as his skates. Time and again we’ve seen him buzz past defensemen and get in position to either shoot or deliver a pass.

“It’s hard to imagine that his jump from Juniors this time around has been seamless. All things considered, he should improve even more as the season progresses.”

Having spent last season refining his game with the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds, Barzal has converted uncertain skeptics into true believers after a quarter season-plus as one of the most exciting Islanders rookies since Mike Bossy.

“As for winning the Calder Trophy,” Barzal told me in answer to my question about his chances to win the rookie prize, “I don’t even think about it; just want to get better at my game.”

Ditto for Bucky Buchnevich, who scored a grand total of eight goals all last season. This second time around, he reached that mark before the month of November had concluded — and Bucky was just warming up. He’s at nine goals this season after tallying Tuesday night against the Panthers.

The aforementioned trio merely represents only a portion of Rangers-Islanders-Devils surprises sprinkled across their respective Metropolitan Division rosters.

Gibbons is flourishing alongside Hischier, Butcher and a Swede named Jesper Bratt who could have been mistaken for a Rockefeller Skating Rink ice guard before donning his gear this year. Now, he’s a Devils star forward.

“Each of them has been a pleasant surprise,” admitted Devils GM Ray Shero, “Gibbons especially because of all his goals and Butcher because defense is a tough position for a rookie even though Will’s a Hobey Baker-winner.

“Granted we had high hopes for Hischier since he was picked first overall in the draft. But he stepped right in at center after we had lost Travis Zajac and Brian Boyle before the season even started.”

After 24 games, Butcher had totaled 16 assists, a pair of goals and a plus-seven rating while also quarterbacking New Jersey’s power play.

None of this was obvious at training camp where newshounds wondered whether the former University of Denver star would justify his signing. To put it bluntly, he was no more impressive than snow in a Zamboni.

“With a flick of the switch on opening day against Colorado it suddenly happened for Will,” Cangialosi said. “It showed me that he’s going to be a full-time top-four defenseman for his entire career.

“Butcher is especially effective on the power play and that’s because the Devils’ PP is a mirror image of what he was doing with coach Jim Montgomery at Denver; only now he’s passing to the likes of Taylor Hall and, when healthy, Kyle Palmieri.”

A rookie free-agent signing in the offseason, Will Butcher has made an early impression with the Devils. The defenseman explains why he signed in New Jersey and talks about how he's adapting to life the in the NHL.

With Hischier it’s been a different story since he’s only 18-years-old and feels the pressure of a first overall draft pick who immediately was inserted on New Jersey’s top line.

“Coach Hynes trusts Nico,” said Cangialosi, “and trusts his hockey IQ. And we have to remember his age and the fact that he’s only now in his developmental years.

“Not only has he stood up to the pressure, but this kid from Switzerland has been an impact player. I can only imagine how good he might be at age 22.”

Without the terrific trio — Gibbons, Butcher, Hischier — the Devils might well be buried somewhere south of the Metro Division instead of being a point out of first place.

A similar scenario, but with a different cast, has unfolded in Brooklyn where — for the first time — the Islanders have gleefully watched once-reviled Josh Bailey turn into an awe-inspiring ace, as in his nickname.

[Fischler: Bailey’s Patience Pays Dividends]

“I’m just playing my game,” Josh told me after scoring an overtime-winning goal against Philadelphia last week. “It doesn’t hurt that I have a guy like John [Tavares] feeding me the passes.”

Less headlined but no less valuable, Andrew Ladd surreptitiously has become the forward GM Garth Snow hoped he’d be when signing the left wing to a free agent contract last year.

In December 2016, Handy Andy was just trying to acclimatize himself to a new team and had a struggle doing so while he was at it.

The 2017-18 edition — with a plus-9 rating — has become infinitely more confident and productive. A perfect example was the game-tying goal he scored late in the third period last Friday night in Philadelphia.

Precariously camped in front of the Flyers’ net between two enemy defender, Ladd managed to get his stick on a typical radar pass from — who else? — Barzal before depositing it in the receptacle.

Just because a player is making the big dough a la Ladd, it does not mean his good work should be deleted from the “Surprise” category.

The same holds for Mika Zibanejad on the grounds that The Z-man was a question mark in terms of being able to carry the center-ice load after Derek Stepan‘s move to the Coyotes.

In fact, Mika’s performance through the season’s 24 games — 11 goals, 11 assists — has exceeded expectations in the sense that he’s been the Blueshirts leading scorer in both goals and points.

Consider the close Metropolitan Division race: the Devils (14-6-4) and Islanders (15-7-2) both trail the Columbus Blue Jackets by a point at the top of the division.

Closing in on a Wild-Card spot is the sizzling Rangers (24 games, 13-10-2, 28 points), who threaten every team above them.

Blend all these facts together and you have a sensible idea why all three Met Area teams have a nifty shot at making the playoffs.

Better still — and making hay in the postseason as well.

How’s that for a surprise?

Major league, all the way!

[Don’t Miss the Rangers, Devils & Islanders in Action Friday on MSG Networks & Download Free on MSG GO]

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Rangers Morning Skate Report (11/28)

In case you missed it, our John Giannone and Dave Maloney looked ahead to tonight’s matchup against the Panthers.

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Revitalized Devils Aim to Achieve Higher Standard

In the latest Dano on the Devils Q&A, Ken Daneyko explains why Monday night’s loss to Panthers has a silver lining

MSGNetworks.com: It was a tough one-goal loss for the Devils [Monday night] and it looked like their slow start was one of the biggest reasons for the defeat. What was your take on the game?

Ken Daneyko: Teams, coaches and players never try to make excuses. With that said, it was the Devils’ seventh game in 11 nights, so that had to play a factor. For whatever reason, they just were off, especially for the first 40 minutes of the game. They weren’t as good as they expect from themselves from an energy standpoint.

Bryce Salvador and Deb Placey review the action from the Devils 3-2 home loss to the Panthers.

But in a way, that could be viewed as a great thing. They’ve raised their standards significantly from last year and they were disappointed with the performance against Florida. You can also take something positive out of their third period. Cory [Schneider] gave them a chance and without him, the scoreline could have very different heading into the third. They were able to hang around, find some life and energy and tied the game twice. As you’re watching the game, you’re thinking they can at least get out of there with a point. Unfortunately, they gave up the third goal.

I thought Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, the guys who scored the goals, were two of the better Devils on the ice. The youngsters are continuing to do some good things and those guys gave them a chance to win.

You just chalk it up as one of those games. They played a desperate Panthers team and they didn’t have as much have as they would have liked in the tank, mentally and physically. But you have to take heart in the fact that they showed no quit.

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MSGNetworks.com: You mentioned Cory Schneider, who was one of the biggest reasons why the Devils were able to stay close vs. Florida. We talked about how important Cory would be for the Devils this season and so far, the results have been very solid: A 9-5-3 record with a 2.78 goals against average and a .919 save percentage. How would you rate his season so far?

Ken Daneyko: Cory has been good and has made the saves at key times in games. That’s exactly what you want from your goaltender. Really, both goaltenders have been very good this season, Cory and Keith [Kinkaid]. Nowadays, you have to have two quality goaltenders and both guys have been solid so far this season.

They’re going to need that the rest of the way especially with how tight the league is. Certainly, the Metropolitan Division is playing out that way and it’s so good this year. There are going to be a lot of one-goal games and the Devils have been doing their share of winning those one-goal games lately. Unfortunately, they fell one short [Monday].

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Noah’s Back, Kanter’s Not As Knicks Drop To .500

Blazers 103, Knicks 91

1. While listening to Jeff Hornacek‘s post game media address, I immediately thought of one of Herb Brooks’ memorable lines to his team in the movie, “Miracle.” It was the famous “Again” scene.

“You think you can win on talent alone? Gentlemen, you don’t HAVE enough talent to win on talent alone.”

Hornacek essentially said the same thing when assessing what he called a “low energy” game by his team against Portland.

“We are not the team that is going to come out there, play and then turn it up later,” he said. “We have to do it from tip-off … We can’t think we are anything other than a team that has to go out there and play all 48 minutes of a game.”

The Knicks have now lost three straight and are 10-10. It’s still a better record than anyone predicted before the season (especially after the 0-3 start), but when you consider they were looking at an 11-7 record up 17 points early to a bad Hawks team on Friday, to be .500 right now is a disappointment.

Once again, Enes Kanter‘s absence was felt. He missed a third straight game with back spasms and you can tell it’s driving him mad. He went out and sat on the bench for the second half. He said he will try to practice Tuesday with the hopes to be cleared to play Wednesday night against the Miami Heat.

2. Give credit to Portland for getting after it defensively. This is a team that was finishing up a six-game road trip and already won four games. Often you will see a team get complacent and the getaway game is always a coach’s nightmare. But the Trail Blazers worked the entire night and the Knicks offense sputtered badly. They had just five assists at the half and only 13 for the entire game.

We’ve mentioned several times that you can’t take for granted that the Knicks won 10 games out of 14 with 34-year-old Jarrett Jack as the starting point guard and a 19-year-old Frank Ntilikina as the backup playing the bulk of the minutes in the fourth quarter. In a league where the point guard position is the most critical and most difficult to defend, the Knicks had to know it would catch up to them eventually.

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Teams are pressuring the point guards handling the ball because neither Jack nor Ntilikina possess the one-on-one skills to break down a defense and get to the rim. As a result, the offense is slowing down and there is far less flow. It leads to a clunkier offense that isn’t getting easy shots or open looks like we saw earlier in the season before team’s had a scouting report on the Knicks.

Jack has done an admirable job filling the role as starting point guard, but he struggled enough against Damian Lillard that Hornacek had to go to a third point guard, Ramon Sessions, for a while until he re-inserted Ntilikina for the remainder of the game.

The team entered the season knowing there was a priority on finding a good fit at that position. There were calls made to Phoenix for Eric Bledsoe, but the asking price was too high. They have Trey Burke in Westchester and teams can start signing G-League players to 10-day contracts starting Jan. 5. In the meantime, the search continues to find someone who can help create offense from that position.

3. Lillard loves The Garden. He acknowledged in his walk-off interview with MSG Network’s Rebecca Haarlow that it’s his favorite gym in the NBA. Lillard is that type of player who thrives on the big stage and craves the lights. But what makes him special is how classy his game is and how easy it is to appreciate, even as an opponent.

He put up 17 of his 32 points in a spectacular third quarter that looked so easy for him.

Shouldn’t he be a bigger star? What’s amazing is that here is one of the most talented point guards in the NBA who has a great personality, and is a talented rapper, and he’s gone three straight years without an All-Star appearance.

Is this because he plays in Portland, where his games are rarely seen on national television and on much too late for viewers in the Eastern and even Central time zones? Is this because he is in the conference loaded with superstar guards like Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and James Harden?

And with the Trail Blazers, will he ever have a team good enough to contend with the Warriors, Rockets, Spurs and Thunder in the West?

None of this will affect his financial value. That’s already set, which is why he’s locked into Portland through his prime years. Lillard signed a five-year, $151 million contract extension in the summer of 2016, so he’s certainly paid like a superstar.

But when does he get the recognition around the league as one of the best players in the game?

Where would you rank him among the top point guards in the NBA? I have him fourth, behind Curry, Westbrook and Kyrie Irving. He and John Wall are close and, no, I haven’t forgotten about Isaiah Thomas, I just need to see him play this season to figure where he fits after the hip injury.

4. Joakim Noah had a moment on The Garden floor and, to be honest, despite playing less than 3 minutes in his season debut, there was one defensive sequence that could be used in the film room. Wally and I showed it on the Wally Wall in the post game show.

The former Defensive Player of the Year may not be as mobile or athletic as he once was, but he understands angles and positioning and that was on display during that possession we highlighted. Sure, it was a relatively insignificant possession in the grand scheme of the game, but the point is to show what the bigs need to do to help the guards in pick-and-roll coverage. Noah put on a clinic and the Knicks got the stop. As he screamed and pumped his fist, you could see how much it meant to him to be back out there.

Over the last few years, the Knicks have had some bigs who were pretty good in pick-and-roll defense, from Tyson Chandler to Robin Lopez. Noah was once one of the best in the game, but injuries took away a lot of the quickness he had that made him so effective. If anything, he did prove to have good muscle memory in his brief debut.

“For not playing in a while — we wanted to get him out there and use that energy — he did a nice job,” Hornacek said. “He drove the ball to the hole and got a bucket. Like I’ve said before, Jo has played great in preseason and practices and he got an opportunity to get a few minutes in there tonight.”

Now comes the question: Does he deserve more? We’ve already made note of the difference-maker that Kanter has become with his energy, effort and toughness alone. Can Noah provide some of that — and, of course, his defensive foundation — off the bench behind Kanter?

That would mean cutting the minutes of Kyle O’Quinn, who has had a strong start to the season as the backup center. It would also mean Willy Hernangomez would be buried once again on the bench.

In regards to Hernangomez, he may want to consider a G-League stint. It was hard watching him once again get picked on defensively by the opponent. He looked demoralized out there and teammates were trying to talk him through it, but even they started getting frustrated with him.

Perhaps a few games in Westchester, with a focus on pick-and-roll coverage, footwork and learning to anticipate plays rather than react to them, would do him some good.

5. Is this a slump for Kristaps Porzingis or is this another part of his education on how to be a star when teams now game-plan specifically to stop you? This was a guy averaging 30.4 points per game after the first 11 games of the season and shooting 51% from the field and 41% from three-point range. Those kinds of numbers will put you on everyone’s radar.

But over the last 7 games, KP’s efficiency has dropped exponentially. He’s averaging 21.7 points per game, which is still a very good scoring rate, but he’s shooting just 37.5% from the field and 37.8% from downtown.

This is exactly what he had been preparing for all summer with his offseason workouts: Endurance. KP displayed an unstoppable arsenal of moves and is still showing the ability to get his shot off against any defender. But some of those tough shots he was making in the first few weeks of the season are not going in lately. Is that a credit to the defense or just simply being off the mark?

We are at a point where fatigue set in last season for him and that was an area he was determined to improve during the offseason.

Last season after 18 games, KP averaged 21.4 points on 49% shooting and 40% from three. From that point until the end of the season, his numbers dipped to 16.9 points on 43% shooting and 33% from beyond the arc.

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Who Said It?

Try to guess the face behind each of these quotes, featuring the Knicks Michael Beasley with Kyrie Irving, Taylor Swift and Kanye West.

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