2017 In Review and a Look Ahead to 2018 for the Islanders

As 2017 comes to a close, let’s look back at the year for the Islanders and forward to an exciting 2018.

A New Head Coach Is Named

In the first few weeks of 2017, the Islanders said goodbye to Jack Capuano and hello to Doug Weight, who took over behind the bench as the interim head coach. The team finished out the season winning six straight games, but came up one point short of getting into the playoffs.

When the season ended, the Islanders announced that Weight would remain the team’s head coach and it’s been fun to watch him continue to mold his team.

He’s had a strong relationship with many of the players for several years and seems to really connect with them. Weight is straightforward and expects a lot from the team. He is emotional, smart and has surrounded himself with a coaching staff full of former NHLers carrying invaluable playing experience.

It has been a strong start to the season, and as the Isles approach the halfway point, there are high expectations for 2018.

Given the head coaching job full time in the offseason, Doug Weight talks about the coaching staff he built and their strengths.

Anders Lee Is On Fire

Anders Lee hit his stride in December 2016 and hasn’t looked back since. The Isles’ top line winger is thriving and will ring in the New Year with 24 goals through 38 games. Yes, you read that correctly! What’s even more impressive is that he’s scored a total of 44 goals in 2017 AND that’s more than John Tavares! Lee shows no sign of slowing down and the combination of him with Tavares and Josh Bailey is rock solid for the Islanders.

An Early Gift for Islanders Fans

For much of 2017, Isles fans have worried about the future of the blue-and-orange. Specifically, where would their team play long-term? Well, that big question was answered the week before Christmas. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the Islanders won the bid to build a brand-new arena at Belmont Park. I think it’s a win for everyone!

[Fischler: Islanders Win Race Back ‘Home’]

The players will be taking the ice closer to where they live, and closer to their state-of-the-art practice facility. The fans will be able to get to and from the arena by driving or taking the train. This makes it an easier commute for those that live out in Suffolk County, many who have missed out on going to games in Brooklyn because of the distance.

The new location will still make it easy for fans living in the New York metro area, too.

I had faith that Jon Ledecky and the Islanders would find a way to get a deal done. Now, the anticipation of the new arena will keep us occupied in 2018!

The Isles will be headed back to Long Island, as New York state approved their bid to build a world-class facility near Belmont Park.

Now lets look ahead for what to watch in 2018.

Barzal-Arama

Mathew Barzal burst onto the NHL scene in October but in 2018, I think we will see the rookie at his best. He is dazzling to watch and knocked off several NHL firsts already. Barzal’s hat trick and an overtime game-winner in back-to-back games have many shaking their heads in wonderment.

[Ranker: Barzal’s Greatest NHL Firsts]

But he’s also one of the most competitive players I’ve encountered. I know they all have to be competitive to make it at this level, but there’s something special inside Barzal. He won’t be satisfied until he wins the Calder Trophy and helps the Isles to a long run in the playoffs. I feel as if we are watching a superstar develop right in front of our eyes.

Metro Showdown

Speaking of the 2018 playoffs, I know it’s a few months away but I don’t expect the race to loosen up at all. If you take a look at the standings, it’s tight with just a few points separating first and fifth in the Metropolitan Division. That’s without the Penguins in the picture.

My good friend and colleague Stan Fischler, predicts the Pens will be the team to fear in the second half of the season. I agree they will shift into high gear, but I think it will be a battle to the final game to solidify who’s in and who’s out of the playoffs. I have a good feeling the Isles will stay on course and make it to the postseason this go around.

In his latest Fischler Fourchecks, Stan Fischler looks at the NHL standings and looks at some of the surprises around the league.

O Captain! My Captain!

With the Belmont decision made the next big question for Isles fans is John Tavares. People ask me almost daily if I think he will stay or go. My answer has been the same since last season. I’m not worried at all.

Tavares has said time and time again that he likes playing for the Isles and hopes to work something out with the organization he was drafted by. I did speak with him at the Belmont Park press conference and had an even better feeling that he was in it for the long haul. I would be surprised if the captain made a decision public before the summer, but don’t sweat Isles fans. I think he wants what we all want … to win a fifth Stanley Cup for this storied franchise.

On a personal note, I’ll always look back at 2017 as one of the most exciting times in my life. I got engaged to my best friend, Brendan Gorey, at the end of March. We met at an Islanders game just two years before our engagement and my life will never be the same. We are looking forward to many years of happiness together and plan to get married in Ireland, July 21, 2018. I can’t wait to say YES! YES! YES!

Courtesy Charles Eames Photography
Posted on

Hockey Returns to the Great Outdoors

Pinpointing the time and place of the very first hockey game is about as easy as skating in mud but this much is certain; it was played outdoors on natural ice.

No Zamboni; no pipes crisscrossing under the arena floor; nothing but fresh air — preferably very cold — and a feeling of exuberance among all the stickhandlers.

That, hopefully, will be the case New Year’s Day when the Rangers encounter the Sabres at Citi Field on Monday afternoon for the 10th NHL Winter Classic.

What’s so special about NHL hockey in the Great Outdoors? Rangers legend Adam Graves offers an explanation:

“In 1991, I played in an outdoor exhibition at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas,” Graves recalled. “I loved it and only wish that the NHL had started this tradition during my playing days. It brings the big-leaguers back to the feeling they got when they were kids while it also captures the imagination of the fans.”

It’s hard to believe but the first-ever outdoor game between two NHL clubs was actually held on the Las Vegas strip! Take a peek at what went down when the Rangers took on the LA Kings in an exhibition game in front of Caesars Palace in September of 1991.

In a sense, basic training for this year’s Queens’ Classic took place for the Rangers on Central Park’s Lasker Rink in Harlem on Dec. 2.

Coach Alain Vigneault put his Blueshirts through a brisk practice that invigorated his players more accustomed to skating in the club’s Westchester facility in Greenburgh, New York.

For many of the Blueshirts — especially captain Ryan McDonagh — the breezes blowing over Flushing Meadows will be a throwback to their pond hockey youth.

For the first time in 30 years, the Rangers held a practice at New York City's iconic Central Park. Hear what the players had to say about the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“This brings back memories of when I was outside skating [in St. Paul, Minnesota] with my family, we’d put on the skates and be out there for hours,” said McDonagh.

“It was also good for goalies, or some of the guys who have not played in an outdoor game to get to play outside in Central Park and get a taste of the sun in your eyes, the glare, all that stuff that we’ll face as Citi Field,”

Speaking of goalies, skating outdoors in a big stadium is nothing new for Henrik Lundqvist. He was in goal for both Ranger games at Yankee Stadium when the Seventh Avenue skaters beat both the Devils (7-3) and Islanders (2-1) in successive efforts. In three outdoor contests, Lundqvist possesses a .925 save percentage to go with a perfect 3-0 record.

For pure New York City realism, the Rangers’ outdoor practice in Northern Central Park was preceded for some by a subway ride to the rink — a trio — Jimmy Vesey, Brady Skjei, and Kevin Hayes — in their playing gear, minus skates.

“We got off the subway in full hockey gear, and, yeah, there were some looks, but the fans were excited to see us. It was just like being out there with my dad and brother growing up,” said Hayes.

Nobody could have imagined how popular NHL outdoor games would be when the inaugural event was held in Edmonton on Nov. 22, 2003, between the Oilers and Montreal Canadiens.

“The best word to describe the feeling a hockey player gets when he plays outdoors is ‘passion,” explained Blueshirts 1994 Stanley Cup-winning goalie Mike Richter. “When I was a kid I couldn’t wait to get on the ice outside and play. The NHL has created an event where the energy and feeling are [the same] as we had in [our] childhood.”

The first Heritage Classic played in exceptionally frigid weather filled Commonwealth Stadium, encouraging the NHL to try an encore.

It took Bettman, Inc. five years before it developed the first official Winter Classic. The venue was Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo and pitted the Sabres against Sidney Crosby and his Pittsburgh Penguins.

Enhanced by a light snowfall, the melodramatic game was capped by a shootout winner delivered by Captain Crosby, himself.

The crowd of 71,217 reacted so enthusiastically the NHL was inspired to turn the classic into an annual event.

Ex-Ranger, Sabre and Islander Pat LaFontaine has a vivid recollection of the first Classic played in Buffalo during a snowfall.

“With the snow coming down,” Patty concluded, “and Crosby scoring the shootout winner, it was mesmerizing.”

Let’s hope that this latest version of the Winter Classic matches that and, maybe, even be better!

Posted on

Frustrated Porzingis Searching for His Mojo

5 Thoughts on the Loss:

1. Kristaps Porzingis looks worn down. His eyes are dim like the headlights of an old car that needs jumper cables and a fresh battery. He gave an honest effort in a physical battle with LaMarcus Aldridge and the Spurs, that can’t be denied. But by the end of the game, he was exhausted.

He fouled out after 34 minutes in the second game of a back-to-back that saw him play 39 minutes in Chicago.

[Watch Knicks Pelicans Saturday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

He’s tried to avoid talking about his frustration with how he’s defended and getting hit on the elbow as he shoots. He’s tried not to complain about how often he is hit, pulled and shoved in the paint. He’s a 7-footer who developed a post game and that comes with the territory.

But there needs to be a change to this mentality or KP will never get his mojo back.

First, let’s acknowledge that since he had the ankle and knee injuries, he has not been the same player that dominated the league over the first quarter of the season. He averaged 27 points a game on 46% shooting and 40% from three in the first 20 games. Then came the ugly ankle injury, which he suffered on a hustle play in a freak accident, on Nov. 29 against the Heat.

Five games later, he felt a tweak in his knee in Brooklyn against the Nets on Dec. 14. Another two games were lost and he returned to an 0-for-11 performance in the win over the Celtics. While the Celtics always play KP tough, it was clear he wasn’t right.

In the five games since he returned from the knee injury, Porzingis is shooting 34.4% from the field and 27.3% from three. His average over that time is 18.6 points per game.

He’s not moving like he did early on for obvious reasons and with the way teams are manhandling him in the post, it’s clear he needs to be more active in moving and using screens than playing Melo-ball on the post. The game isn’t all about how fast you play, especially not for big men. But perhaps KP will get more out of playing faster and utilizing what makes him the “unicorn” that he’s been labeled: his athleticism.

Wally Szczerbiak and Alan Hahn take a closer look at Michael Beasley’s double-double and Kristaps Porzingis’ matchup against LaMarcus Aldridge in the loss to San Antonio.

KP can fill the lane on the break and finish. But we rarely see him use that same skill set in the halfcourt. According to NBA tracking statistics, KP averages 4.47 MPH on offense. Compared to other star forwards, that’s a little slower than the standard of comparable players such as Kevin Durant (4.61) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (4.53), but it is faster than LeBron James (4.01) and, of course, Carmelo Anthony (4.13).

Could KP benefit from cutting and curling more on the wing for catch-and-shoot situations and pounding less on the post where double-teams close in on him? Both require effort, but one is less bruising than the other. Plus, with the defenses focused so much on him, they’ll be chasing more which could open up the other side of the floor for his teammates.

It’s at least worth a try.

We should also point out that no one is feeling the effects of playing without Tim Hardaway Jr. more than Porzingis. He has been out since KP’s ankle injury. That’s 14 games for the team and 10 for Porzingis. He’s shooting just 40% from the field in those 10 games without Hardaway Jr. Defenses no longer have to keep an eye on Tim and his quick-strike ability.

Recently I’ve heard someone say of Porzingis that there needs to be “more workhorse and less show pony” but I don’t think that’s the issue. This isn’t a lack of effort by KP, this is simply him wearing down under the weight of responsibility. Not to mention injuries.

After the loss in San Antonio, Kristaps Porzingis talks about the challenges the Spurs present.

2. You know what else would help Porzingis? Pulling defenders out of the paint with the three-point shot. But the three-ball is just not something this team utilizes. They take the fewest threes per game in the NBA (21.7) and use the three-point shot at the lowest rate (only 26.5% of their shots are from beyond the arc) of any team in the league.

When asked if he wished his team took more threes, Jeff Hornacek smirked.

“Of course,” he said.

His teams in Phoenix relied heavily on the three-point shot. He, himself, was a terrific three-point shooter in an era before the three-ball became such a big part of the game.

So why is it the Knicks do not use the three-pointer as a weapon?

“Some of them we’re passing up,” he explained. “Others we’re not getting the penetration sometimes to kick it out.”

And there it is. So much of today’s game that involves the three-point shot is based on kick-outs on drives. The Knicks don’t have anyone who can get into the paint and create movement on defense that opens up shots for shooters.

The Knicks have a few good three-point shooters, such as Courtney Lee (43%), Doug McDermott (40.8%), Porzingis (37.6%). In fact, those three are among the best in the league in catch-and-shoot three-point shots. Lee makes 45.3%, McDermott hits 42.4% and Porzingis is at 40.2%.

The best in the league is Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver, who hit 46.4% of catch-and-shoot threes. But in today’s NBA it’s less about percentage and more about volume. What good is shooting over 40% from three if you’re only taking two or three a game?

“On our break,” Hornacek said, “we’ve got to be able to let it fly.”

Here’s another area where the absence of Hardaway Jr. is felt. While he doesn’t shoot a high percentage of catch-and-shoot threes (36.1), he certainly isn’t shy about letting it fly. Hardaway Jr. takes 7.2 threes per game, which by far leads the team. Despite missing the last 14 games, his 152 three-point attempts this season still lead the team. He has 11 more attempts than Porzingis and 17 more than Lee.

One aspect that could unlock the team’s three-point ability is a catalyst to break down a defense for more kick-outs and more transition threes. This might be the most important need on the wish list before the trade deadline.

Jeff Hornacek gives his take on what he saw from his team and in particular Frank Ntilikina in the road loss to the Spurs.

3. Frank Ntilikina had a nice game in his first head-to-head battle with his countryman and childhood idol, Tony Parker. Ntilikina had 9 points and a career-high 11 assists along with three steals in 31:43. The two spoke on the court afterward.

Ntilikina quietly said the experience was “exciting” but quickly added, “We lost, so it kind of makes me feel sad.”

Good answer. One thing we’ve learned about this kid so far is he is all about being aware of the team first than himself.

Before the game, Parker raved about Ntilikina’s potential as a 19-year-old and added: “I don’t know if New York will be patient.”

As frustrating as it can get during a losing streak, we have to keep reminding ourselves that this is a 19-year-old rookie who is learning on the job. And yes, he’s learning.

“I’m still far from where I want to go,” he said, “and where I feel I can be.”

Frank Ntilikina gives his thoughts on going up against one of his idols in Tony Parker and recording a career-high 11 assists in the game.

4. Let’s talk more speed analytics here. Earlier we talked about Porzingis playing faster in the halfcourt offense to see if it can free him up for easier scores and less physicality. Is Ntilikina another player who needs to speed it up?

It is not an exact science. The NBA’s tracking data reveals those who play fast, but wouldn’t you say John Wall is one of the fastest players in the NBA? If that’s true, the tracking doesn’t tell us this. In fact, Wall is one of the slowest point guards in the league, according to the data, at an average of 3.71 MPH in games and 3.83 on offense.

Even Melo (3.79) plays faster.

But that could be the result of the Wizards’ offense. They are 12th in the league in Pace (97.2 possessions per 48 minutes) so they’re not exactly a walk-it-up type of team.

The point I’m trying to make is this isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of argument.

In Ntilikina’s case, however, it’s worth considering, especially with how much Hornacek implores his team to play faster in transition. If Frank’s favorite player is Tony Parker, then perhaps he should emulate him a little more with the ball.

Parker, since returning from his offseason injury, is still one of the fastest guards in the league at 4.76 MPH overall and a blazing 5.11 MPH on offense. Ntilikina is tracked at 4.39 MPH and 4.74 on offense. Could Ntilikina look to push the ball more often and attack? Yes. Is that part of his game right now? No.

But that should start to become part of his mentality as he makes the transition from the European game to the NBA. His unselfish mentality — the instinct to look for teammates rather than his own offense — can also be counter-productive. Sometimes it’s also unselfish to attack more so the defense has to focus on stopping you, which opens up opportunities for your teammates.

The catch is he has to have the ability to score when he’s in attack mode. Ntilikina needs more confidence in his handle and his finishing ability at the rim. That may take an offseason of work before it becomes part of his game.

The other player who you’d love to see playing faster is McDermott. This season he is working on being that guy who is in constant motion and available for quick catch-and-shoot situations in the mold of Kyle Korver.

McDermott this season is averaging 5.05 MPH on offense, which is outstanding. Korver, for instance, averages 4.84 MPH on offense. Klay Thompson averages 4.91 and Danny Green is 4.93.

J.J. Redick, when healthy, has been great for the 76ers. He’s flying around the court at 5.14 MPH on offense.

What do they all have in common? They’re all shooting over 40% on catch-and-shoot threes. That’s a great weapon to have.

5. After an exhausting slugfest with the Spurs, the Knicks have another Battle of the Big Men on Saturday night with the Pelicans and Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. The Knicks are built for these matchups with Porzingis and Enes Kanter, so it should be interesting. The Pelicans score a lot but they also give up a lot of points as well.

Cousins is having a monster year with 26.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, while Davis goes for 25.7 points and 10.3 rebounds with 2.0 blocks per game. Davis has spent more time around the basket while Cousins has become an inside-out threat with 6.3 three-point attempts per game.

So, who guards whom? Do you put KP on Davis — two long, athletic players — and have Kanter pound with Cousins? Sounds legit, until Cousins moves Kanter away from the basket on the perimeter and that takes your best rebounder out of the paint.

This game will be all about one-on-one battles because the minute you help off, that could lead to easy scores. The Pelicans, with Rajon Rondo, move the ball as well as anyone in the league and shoot the ball very well.

[Watch Knicks Pelicans Saturday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Posted on

Ron Baker Does The Little Things

Ron Baker saw the two little boys sitting baseline at a recent Knicks game and he remembered what it was like to be that age, to be starstruck by the stars at Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State.

Baker jogged to the Knicks locker room at The Garden, grabbed a pair of sneakers and socks, and delivered the goods to Sammy and David ‘Squirmy’ Turkowitz.

“Their eyes were as big as saucers,’’ Baker told MSGNetworks.com. “It was cool. Sometimes the little things are what matters most.’’

Sammy (left) and Squirmy (right)

That last sentence has stuck with me as we approach New Year’s Eve. Maybe a once-a-year-resolution isn’t the only way to go. Maybe it’s about the little things – every day.

“I was always around kids when I was growing up,’’ Baker said. “I spent a lot of time at the community center in Scott City. Players from the schools in Kansas would go barnstorming in the summer.

“I met Wayne Simien, Nick Collison, and Kirk Hinrich, who was my idol growing up. They gave me their autographs. When you’re a kid, athletes are your heroes and for them to take the time to give me an autograph and talk for a few minutes, it’s something I’ll never forget.’’

Neither will Sammy, 11, and Squirmy, 7.

Their dad, Norman, said Squirmy tried on the socks as soon as they got home. No word on whether they’ve come off.

Sammy placed the sneakers on a high shelf at home to prevent them from being touched by human hands.

“They both were shocked and surprised,’’ Norm Turkewitz said. “They could not believe it. Now they watch Knick games, looking and following Ron Baker and of course looking at his shoes. He has two fans for life.’’

The Knicks (17-18) will look to snap a season-high four game losing streak tonight when they play at New Orleans. The Knicks are 2-12 on the road. The Pelicans (18-17) are 9-8 at home.

[Watch Knicks-Pelicans Tonight on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

The game will feature a showdown between two of best young big men in the game – Kristaps Porzingis and Anthony Davis. Baker is on the road trip and should see some minutes as the Knicks continue to play without the injured Tim Hardaway Jr.

Baker has another unique insight to kids. His mother, Ranae, is in her 30th year teaching elementary school in Kansas.

She teaches her students the same lessons she taught her children: In addition to the ABC’s, she’s big on doing the little things. Do enough of them, do them often, and good things can happen.

[Robbins: Baker Brings Small Town Toughness to Big City]

“Playing in the NBA is a privilege,’’ said Baker. “It’s like driving. It’s a privilege to drive. You do your work. You pass the test. You’ve earned the right to drive. It’s a privilege.

“It’s the same thing playing in the NBA. You do your work. You make a team. You keep working because it’s such a privilege. I never forget that.’’

Baker has endured a challenging second season. The Knicks used their first round draft pick on point guard Frank Ntilikina and signed veteran lead guards Jarrett Jack and Ramon Sessions.

The injury bug also has bitten. A sprained ankle and a sprained shoulder he suffered playing in the G-League have prevented him from being 100-percent for several weeks.

He’s averaged 3.4 points in 15 minutes per game. He’s played in just 16 of 35 games and has yet to start. Last season he appeared in 52 games, starting 13 and averaged 4.1 points in 16.5 minutes.

Baker refuses to use the logjam at point guard or the injuries as an excuse. In fact, he has never seen a glass that wasn’t half full.

“I think it’s just about how you go about your life,’’ Baker said. “It’s nice to do the big things when you can but to me, it’s more about doing the little things every day.

“You never know what effect that will have on someone. You never know how it will affect you. That was something I learned when I was a kid. The little things can mean a lot.’’

[Watch Knicks-Pelicans Tonight on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Posted on

Gettleman Lays Out Philosophy in Opening Presser

Dave Gettleman spoke with clarity and a bit of brutal honesty, as the newly appointed New York Giants’ general manager was unveiled before the media on Friday.

It will be Gettleman’s job to rebuild a team that was expected to challenge for the Super Bowl this year. It’s a team that somehow managed to instead secure a top-five pick in next spring’s NFL Draft.

The first priority for Gettleman will be finding a head coach.

[Watch Giants-Redskins Post Game Coverage Sunday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Gettleman has a strong background with the Giants’ organization that includes over a dozen years working in their personnel department before becoming general manager of the Carolina Panthers in 2013. Now with the Giants, he will be looking for the team’s third head coach in what will be a span of four years.

“I really believe that the head coaching job is a CEO position. It really is. You look at the great head coaches and I’ll tell you right now, there ain’t a dumb one in the group,” Gettleman said Friday during his press conference.

New Giants GM Dave Gettleman shares his thoughts on Eli Manning and if he thinks he'll be on the team next season.

“They’re all leaders. They all know how to lead men. And, that’s what you need. You need intelligence. You need leadership and on the assumption that you hire an intelligent guy, you’re going to have a guy with vision. Those are critical components you’re looking for. There are a million pieces to it because it is, you know, you think about a head coach. You think of all the things he’s got to juggle. I mean, there’s a ton of stuff going on. I’m sure that they all once a week probably say, ‘Gosh, I wish I could be the offensive coordinator.’ Whatever it is. Just pick the position he loves to coach. ‘Man, I’d just love to get with my linebackers. Just for a week.’ It’s a load. It’s a load. You got to be able to handle that load.”

It is a Giants organization that desperately needs some hope and a reason for belief. A year ago, the Giants were 11-5, riding the coattails of the league’s second-best scoring defense. A return to the playoffs was a foregone conclusion, but the season hasn’t exactly played out that way.

Bob Papa breaks down Dave Gettleman's resume as he returns to the New York Giants organization.

Some curious decisions by the former general manager have the Giants at 2-13 and eyeing this rebuild.

Gettleman won’t get into specifics of the process – he can’t yet without thoroughly evaluating the roster and the talent that initially will be at his disposal – but he’s simply promising to sit down and look at everything.

John Mara introduces Dave Gettleman as the new General Manager of the New York Giants.

“First of all, you can’t make promises, right? Number one, there are some really good players on this roster,” Gettleman said.

“It’s funny. When I was in Carolina, I’m a first-time GM, the first three weeks were a blur. So finally Friday of my third week, I get my clicker in my hand, and I have the DTs, and I watched film for two weeks, my eyes were bleeding. They finished the season fairly strong and in my estimation, it wasn’t fool’s gold. So I have to look at this team, look at the players on this team with that same eye. I’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to all sit down together, personnel department, and figure it out. And I know from watching, there are some quality players on this roster. We’ve got to fix the O-line, let’s be honest. Let’s not kid each other. I told you at the top, big men allow you to compete and that’s what we’ve got to fix.”

[Watch Giants-Redskins Post Game Coverage Sunday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Posted on

Rangers Begin Life Without Kreider in Detroit

The Rangers are in Detroit to take on the Red Wings in the second of three meetings on the season for these two original-six franchises.

The Blueshirts prevailed 2-1 behind Mats Zuccarello’s OT winner and Henrik Lundqvist’s 40 saves when the teams last met at The Garden in November. Which stands to reason I suppose, when you acknowledge that nine of the last 17 contests between the Rangers and Red Wings have been decided in overtime.

Tonight’s game for the Rangers marks the first and only regular season visit to the new Little Caesar’s Arena. The venue anchors a $2.1 billion sports and entertainment district in downtown Detroit. The Ilitch family, of Little Caesars Pizza fame, deserves a tremendous amount of credit for their leadership role in driving this vision to reality. It is a spectacular development and will play a crucial role in the continued rebirth of one of America’s great and important cities.

[Watch Rangers-Red Wings Tonight on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Henrik Lundqvist will assume the starter’s role in net once again after watching his backup Ondjei Pavelec beat Washington in a shootout, 1-0, in the teams’ last outing. The King will be seeking his 423rd career win, which would tie him with Tony Esposito for eighth on the league’s all-time wins list.

Against the Caps, Pavelec was solid once again, getting the all-important two points for his club. He looks to be increasingly more comfortable in goal, minimalizing movement and controlling the puck with a veteran presence. A+ goaltending during the regular season may very well be the determining factor when it comes to postseason participation. Lundqvist and Pavelec have been providing that A+ netminding.

The Rangers will play without Chris Kreider, who will be sidelined indefinitely due to a blot clot issue. Complaining of a lack of feeling in his right hand after the first period against the Caps, head medical trainer Jim Ramsey quickly shut down the big winger and here we are.

The Rangers move forward without a player who many suspect could be playing better. I would be careful concluding such. He is a dominant force who creates space and intimidates the opposition with his size and speed. Throw in about 25 goals a year and you have a very, very good NHL player. Understanding and recognizing a player for who he is and what he brings, as opposed to what he could be is important from a perspective point of view. Chris Kreider is a shining example of such. He will be missed. Count on it.

[Carpineillo: Replacing Kreider Won’t Be Easy For Rangers]

3 KEYS TO RANGERS-RED WINGS

1. D-Zone

The Rangers are coming off a solid win that was largely predicated on an all-hands-on-deck presence in their own end of the ice. The Wings will come after the Blueshirts with a little more speed than Washington, so an equally dedicated commitment to defending will be important tonight.

[4 Facts to Know for Rangers-Red Wings]

2. Get After the Red Wing Defense

The two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach, Fred Shero was once quoted as saying it was important to, “take the shortest route to the puck, and be angry when you get there.” An attitude to be adopted against a Red Wing defense corps that is not overly mobile or overly physical.

3. 5v5

If numbers mean anything the goals for/goals against differential sure favor the Rangers. At even strength, the Blueshirts are +6 while the Red Wings are
-16. Most of the game is played 5-on-5 and going in, the Rangers have a decided advantage.

[Watch Rangers-Red Wings Tonight on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Posted on

5 Facts You Probably Don’t Know About NHL Outdoor Games

January 1 will mark the 10th NHL Winter Classic. This year’s edition will take place at Citi Field in a tilt between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres.

If you’re heading to the home of the Mets on New Year’s Day, here are some random facts to keep in your back pocket to bring up between whistles:

1. The first outdoor game involving an NHL team was an exhibition at a prison!

MARQUETTE, MI – FEBRUARY 2: Gordie Howe #9, Dutch Reibel #14 and Ted Lindsay #7 of the Detroit Red Wings line up for the faceoff during an outdoor game against the Marquette Prison Pirates on February 2, 1954 at the Marquette prison in Marquette, Michigan. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Not even kidding. In 1954, the first outdoor game in the NHL was held in Michigan involving the Detroit Red Wings. Their opponents that day? The Marquette Prison Pirates. Gordie Howe, Sid Abel, Terry Sawchuk and five other Hall of Famers all suited up and played in front of 600 prisoners at Marquette State Prison. There was even a “trophy” on the line.

So how did this even come about? The seeds were planted in a visit to the prison by Wings GM Jack Adams and captain Ted Lindsay a few months earlier. Prison Warden Emery Jacques suggested, on a whim, that next time they bring the entire team and play a game. Adams (probably jokingly) said sure, if you cover all the costs and build a rink. Jacques called his bluff, and on February 2 the next year, it actually happened.

If you’re curious, it definitely wasn’t a competitive game. The Wings went up 18-0 in the first period. Sawchuk switched sides and played for the prison team for the rest of the game. The third period ended up being a “throw your sticks in the middle to pick sides” kind of scrimmage.

After the game, Adams noted to the players, “This is a great day. The only trouble is, you guys sure have made it tough for me to recruit any of you.”

2. The second outdoor game included a 23 on 5 pile up for two periods against the Boston Bruins in Newfoundland

1955-56 Boston Bruins team photo (Courtesy HockeyGods.com)

You can guess it was another exhibition game, also under interesting circumstances. When the Bruins missed the playoffs in the 1955-1956 season, the team set off on a goodwill exhibition hockey tour into neighborhoods that may not typically see live NHL hockey. This was the norm for teams not battling for Lord Stanley’s Mug.

The B’s travels brought them to Newfoundland, where they played all around “The Rock”: St. John’s, Gander, Cornerbrook. The most iconic stop that year, however, was in Conception Bay. On top of being the first NHL team to visit that part of Newfoundland, the Bruins also became part of the first NHL outdoor game in Canada.

Since the teams knew the exhibition games were more for the entertainment of the crowd than the actual score, this outdoor tilt featured 23 local players on the ice at once facing five Bruins in the second and third periods (somehow it still didn’t go well for the Newfoundland natives).

Also, Sawchuk, who was in his first season with the Bruins, became the first player to play in the first two outdoor games involving NHL teams.

3. The Rangers were involved in the very first outdoor game involving two NHL teams

It took 35 years, but the NHL finally saw another outdoor game in 1991… of all places, in Las Vegas.

Yes, long before the Golden Knights joined the league and won over the hearts of Vegas hockey fans (let’s be honest, fans all over the league), the parking lot at Caesar’s Palace was the scene for an exhibition game between the Blueshirts and the Los Angeles Kings. The temperature at the start of the game was 85 degrees, sometimes vaulting to 95 throughout, which made for quite the interesting experience, especially for the crew preserving the ice surface (not to mention the grasshoppers and flies that eventually swarmed the ice, thinking it was water).

Al Trautwig hosted an edition of “MSG Vault” about this very game, including how the ice was made and game highlights:

It’s hard to believe but the first-ever outdoor game between two NHL clubs was actually held on the Las Vegas strip! Take a peek at what went down when the Rangers took on the LA Kings in an exhibition game in front of Caesars Palace in September of 1991.

4. Both the Rangers and Sabres have participated in a Winter Classic before

The Sabres hosted the very first Winter Classic on January 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium (now New Era Field), the home of the Buffalo Bills, in Orchard Park, NY against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The game is remembered for the crazy amount of snow that made for a compelling atmosphere. The Penguins won 2-1 in a shootout with Sidney Crosby netting the S/O winner in front of a capacity crowd of 71,217 (still today the second largest attendance for an NHL game).

The Rangers traveled to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia (home of MLB’s Phillies) on Jan 2, 2012 to meet the Flyers in the annual game in front of 46,967. The Blueshirts would win the tilt 3-2, which included Henrik Lundqvist stopping a penalty shot late in the third period to preserve the one-goal lead.

5. The Blueshirts are undefeated in regular season outdoor games

The Blueshirts are 3-0 including a sweep of the “Stadium Series” in January 2014 at Yankee Stadium, defeating the Devils 7-3 and Islanders 2-1 in the span of 3 days.

Posted on

Replacing Kreider Won’t Be Easy For Rangers

Chris Kreider is one of many athletes who are fond of saying “next man up” when an injury strikes.

Now the “next man up” will be replacing Kreider for an indefinite period of time.

The Rangers’ 26-year-old left winger was diagnosed with a blood clot in his right arm after he left Wednesday’s 1-0 shootout win over Washington in the first period.

[Watch Rangers-Red Wings Tonight on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Blood clots aren’t broken bones or sprained joints – the timetable for return, or even for medical clearance for contact, varies from case to case. Unlike those other injuries, too, blood clots can be life-threatening and career-altering.

Many NHL players have gone through blood-clot issues, from Steven Stamkos and his Tampa Bay teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy – who had surgery and missed two months – to Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis, a former Ranger, whose career was cut short due to blood clots.

So the concern for Kreider is mostly about his well-being, about his health.

Replacing Kreider the player won’t be as easy as “next man up” though. When he’s on top of his game, Kreider is a rare blend of speed and power, with a hard shot. You don’t find those combinations very often.

Also, like the concussion Mika Zibanejad suffered, Kreider’s loss could affect the power play. With Zibanejad, the Rangers missed his right-handed shot on the power play. With Kreider out, they will be without a power-play specialist who has worked hard and excelled at two areas – retrieving pucks – especially off faceoffs – and more importantly, the skill and fortitude of setting screens in front of opposition goalies.

Fortunately for the Rangers, they have Rick Nash, who can fill those roles but that will leave a hole in the second unit.

The Rangers survived the loss of Zibanejad for nine games (going 5-3-1), and they have in the past gotten through serious injuries. None more notable than Henrik Lundqvist’s blood vessel injury in 2014-15, during which backup Cam Talbot took the reins in goal and guided the Rangers to the Presidents’ Trophy.

Kreider had 11 goals and 22 points while in playing all 37 games this season.

“Just before the first period (Wednesday), he felt some swelling in his arm,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Thursday. “The docs checked him out and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Then between the first and the second, it got to a point where this was out of the ordinary, so they sent him to the hospital to have it checked out and found this out. He’s going through some other tests today.”

Vigneault mentioned Jimmy Vesey, a power forward and, like Kreider, a left winger as someone who has been wanting more ice time and will have to fill in some of Kreider’s role. Also, the team is waiting the return of the injured Jesper Fast, who isn’t expected to play this weekend, but could make the two-game trip to Arizona and Vegas.

Vinni Lettieri, who had an impressive training camp, was recalled from Hartford (AHL) Thursday as the Rangers prepared for a visit to Detroit Friday and then the Winter Classic against Buffalo at Citi Field on New Year’s Day.

Lettieri is a good skater and, importantly, another right-handed shot. Vigneault also said Lettieri, unlike many of his forwards, has a “shoot-first mentality.”

“He’s been playing well,” Vigneault said. “A young guy that came in and I think everybody remembers the skill set and the speed during training camp. He’s had some very good moments in Hartford. He’s a young player that our coaches there and our scouts feel is a good prospect, and he’s going to get his first look at the NHL.”

Lettieri, the next man up in this case, practiced on the second power-play unit Thursday.

[Watch Rangers-Red Wings Tonight on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Posted on

4 Facts to Know for Knicks-Spurs

The Knicks continue their road trip in San Antonio against the Spurs.

Live coverage begins at 8 PM on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.

1. GOING BACK-TO-BACK

After losing a heartbreaker in Chicago Wednesday, the Knicks are in action tonight for their seventh back-to-back of the season.

They are 2-4 in the second game of back-to-back sets so far.

2. ROAD WOES

The Knicks lost their third consecutive road game Wednesday, dropping their record away from The Garden to 2-11.

It doesn’t get easier tonight, as the Spurs boast the NBA’s best home record at 16-2.

4. THE RETURN OF THE CLAW

Kawhi Leonard is back on the court after missing the first 27 games of the season.

Leonard has appeared in five games and scored a season-high 21 points in a season-high 26 minutes Tuesday against the Nets.

4. LINEUP SWAP?

Doug McDermott got the start last night at small forward over Lance Thomas.

McDermott played a season-high 37 minutes but had just 3 points on 1-6 shooting.

Don’t be surprised to see Thomas back in the starting five tonight to lock down Kawhi Leonard.

Posted on

Chris Kreider Out Indefinitely

**Courtesy New York Rangers**

NEW YORK, December 28, 2017 – New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton announced today that forward Chris Kreider has been diagnosed with a blood clot in his right arm and will be sidelined indefinitely.

Kreider has skated in 37 games with the Rangers this season, registering 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points.

Posted on