Jordan Eberle – Isles’ Unsung Hero

This was not an accident.

With the Islanders leading the sizzling Vegas Golden Knights by a slim goal in the third period last Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena, coach Doug Weight badly needed a cushion goal to protect the lead.

It was the kind of clutch situation that first-year Islander Jordan Eberle relishes as do his linemates Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier.

“Eberle is the glue of that line,” MSG Networks Islanders analyst Butch Goring told me. “He works so well with those kids.”

So, on what proved to be the game-winner they went to work, starting with Barzal confronting the puck-carrying Vegas defenseman Colin Miller along the right-side boards.

Barzal’s move forced a loose puck that conveniently ricocheted to Beauvillier, who was coming up on Mathew’s left. Whereupon the kid they call “Beau,” launched a tic-tac-toe play.

He skimmed a backhand pass from the faceoff dot to Barzal, now on his right. With radar-like precision, the NHL’s top rookie then flicked the biscuit between two Vegas defenders to Eberle.

[Watch Islanders-Maple Leafs Wednesday on MSG+ & MSG GO]

The ex-Oiler camped in the left slot, accepted the pass but, significantly, didn’t take a panic shot. Instead, he glided to the right, taming the puck before wristing a shot off the crossbar to beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

The time was 8:21 of the final frame. The save-the-win cushion fit perfectly as Vegas scored a late counter, but Eberle’s proved to be the winner as the Islanders continue their crusade for a playoff berth.

Jordan’s extra-second corralling of the puck before releasing his seeing-eye shot demonstrates not only what a goal-scorer’s goal looks like but also that the Regina, Saskatchewan native continues to be the club’s unsung hero.

“What Jordan did with the puck from the second it hit his stick,” explained Goring, “showed both his poise and confidence. He brings terrific offense to the team and chemistry to the line.”

Big-time attention? Well, that’s another story, as proven once the victory was sealed and two points delivered to the NHL. Author of the game-winner, Eberle was virtually a forgotten man.

Jaroslav Halak speaks with Shannon Hogan after recording 38 saves in the Isles' 2-1 over the Golden Knights in Las Vegas.

After the game, Jaro Halak‘s 38 superior saves grabbed the headlines with the sub-heads going to Barzal whose pivotal assist added to his rookie scoring lead. Even burly rookie Ross Johnston upstaged Eberle after scoring his first-ever NHL goal to put the visitors on the board.

Not long ago, I confronted Jordan about his playing effectiveness as opposed to the accompanying lack of attention for his innumerable good works. Affable, approachable and articulate, Eberle shrugged off the unsung-hero stuff like a pitcher nixing his catcher’s call for a knuckleball.

“I’m quite happy with where I am,” Jordan allowed. “I like it here and sure enjoy playing with the two young guys. I don’t feel that I need a lot of attention.”

[Watch Islanders-Maple Leafs Wednesday on MSG+ & MSG GO]

Like it or not, some kudos eventually find their way to Eberle’s stall right next to John Tavares‘ locker.

Obtained from Edmonton last Summer in an exchange for disappointing forward Ryan Strome, Jordan originally was designated as a winger on the Captain’s line.

After that experiment turned out to be something less than wonderful, the general staff decided to insert Eberle on the right wing alongside Barzal at center and Andrew Ladd on the other side.

As far as Andy and Matty were concerned, Jordy was like the cream in their coffee.

“He’s a super easy guy to play with,” said Barzal. “He’s so smart — so skilled — and we have the same kind of jump into holes. He’s always open.”

It stayed that way after Ladd was sidelined with injury and Beauvillier took over as if he had been drinking Superstar Juice. Eberle’s winner against Vegas simply was an example of how the trio has turned games around like perfectly meshed gears.

Most observers expected the Eberle scoring machine would remain intact once Jordan moved East but critics, such as Goring, see an extra added attraction to The Eberle Effect.

Goring: “What’s surprised me is his tenacity and willingness to generate a second effort. He’s dedicated to playing both sides of the puck; a 200-foot game.”

While it’s evident that Eberle has extracted the best from Barzal’s game, less noticed has been the positive effect Jordy has had on Beauvillier’s sudden ascent to stardom.

[Watch Islanders-Maple Leafs Wednesday on MSG+ & MSG GO]

Until Beau was inserted alongside the freshman and the vet, Anthony’s game was alternating somewhere between lost and found. But once the two Millennials were joined by the onetime Oiler, they began making beautiful music together. Often their speed and flair put them in a class with the Cap’n John’s first line; sometimes better.

Since the line’s formation eight games ago, each member of the trifecta has earned at least 10 points; Ebs himself has netted 3 goals and 7 assists while Barzal leads the trio with 14 points over the stretch.

Thanks, in part, to Eberle, Beauvillier tallied a head-turning eight goals in seven games, adding two assists in that time. Meanwhile, over 50 games, Barzal boasted 16 goals and 35 assists for a rookie-leading 51 points.

Barzal: “Ebs has become one of my best friends. It helps me being a young guy playing with a veteran like that. He makes me feel comfortable.”

Not that Jordan has suffered from total media isolation. A full-length New York Times feature last December by Allan Kreda momentarily put the new Islander in the spotlight.

“Eberle’s shift to the second line,” wrote Kreda, “alleviated pressure on Tavares. Jordan plays with simmering intensity.”

When in a relaxed mood, Jordan plays the guitar — his wife, Lauren, who teaches voice and piano talked him into it — and does it almost daily.

“It’s something that takes me away from hockey a little bit,” he admitted. “Music helps since it means using a different side of the brain.”

Doug Weight talks about the Islanders effort and the solid performance from Jaro Halak in the impressive win over the Western Conference-leading Golden Knights.

While Ebs’ coach appreciates that music has charms, Weight is more interested in his ace’s work on ice.

“He’s been really solid and confident,” Doug revealed. “I call him a ‘quiet leader’ who has stepped up and accepted every role we’ve given him in a good way.”

In a sense, Ebs as an unsung hero is reaping benefits. Hockey editor and former scout David Kolb offered a compelling insight on that theme.

“With less scrutiny,” Kolb noted, “Eberle is not gripping his stick too tight and is shooting accurately, using the skill he has. Playing with Barzal, he has more time to shoot because the kid creates time and space with his speed and shiftiness.”

And, as we saw in Vegas, this is no accident!

[Watch Islanders-Maple Leafs Wednesday on MSG+ & MSG GO]

Posted on

Knicks Showcasing A Total Team Effort

5 Thoughts on the Win:

1. In arguably the best alternate jersey in NBA history — seriously, how do you top honoring the FDNY with that kind of swag? — the Knicks won consecutive games for the first time in six weeks.

“It must be the jerseys,” Enes Kanter said after his second 20-20 game of the season. “We showed grit, we showed New York grit . . . It was an honor to wear this jersey.”

As Fernando once said, “When you look good, you feel good,” and the Knicks looked mahvelous back on The Garden court after a seven-game road trip. Sure, these wins were against two struggling teams in the Phoenix Suns and the Brooklyn Nets, but there should be no apologizing right now. The Knicks have been struggling, too, and they needed this.

The offense hummed once again and continues to climb the NBA rankings as one of the most efficient in the NBA. The Knicks shot 50% from three (13-for-26) and reached 111 points, which has been their average over the last 10 games. Believe it or not, the Knicks are 22-16 when they score over 100 points.

But this is exactly why I ripped the boxscore out of Al Trautwig’s hands at halftime on MSG. Forget the offense, that hasn’t been the issue. For the Knicks, it’s been about defense, intensity and extra effort. You saw all of that in this game, even after Kenny Atkinson’s feisty, injury-riddled Nets kept pushing back.

During the trip, the Knicks allowed three straight games of 128 points per game. These past two games, however, the opponent has not reached 100 points. The Knicks haven’t held an opponent under 100 points in consecutive games since October.

Oh and you should know that they are 11-1 when they do keep teams under 100.

Kristaps Porzingis (28 points) even used a Wallyism in the postgame when he talked about answering every Nets run with a run of their own until the third quarter, when it was time to “step on their throat.” You had to see the smile of Wally Szczerbiak‘s face during the postgame when we heard that.

2. Before we worry about the Celtics, at least one rival has been handled this season. The Knicks completed a season sweep over the Nets with the win.

It may not mean much, considering the rebuilding Nets are not ready to compete just yet, but historically it has been a while since the Knicks could claim that kind of supremacy over their city rivals. In fact, the last time the Knicks swept this season series, the Nets played in New Jersey, Kenny Atkinson was a Knicks assistant and this blog was still appearing on the Newsday.com website.

That would be 2010-11.

So I guess bragging rights stay with the Knicks, but don’t we really want to see a day where both franchises are battling for the Atlantic Division and the East? That’s a real rivalry.

3. Kanter seems to be getting back to being that catalyst at the start of games. That’s what made him such a revelation early in the season: his huge first quarter performances that helped establish a presence on the boards and also scoring in the paint.

Kanter had 10 points and 11 rebounds in the first half and finished with 20 points, 20 rebounds and 5 assists in 30:28. It was the second time this season he had at least 20 points and 20 rebounds — remember his 31 point, 22 rebound effort on Christmas Day — and it was also his third straight 20-point effort.

He is the first Knick to post a 20-20-5 game since David Lee in 2009-10 and was the fourth player in the NBA to do it this season, joining DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now, what do those three other players have in common?

Yes, they’re each all-stars this season.

So with Kanter’s performance this season, coupled with the injury to Kevin Love, could Kanter get consideration from commissioner Adam Silver as an All-Star replacement?

If he would be selected, he’d be on LeBron James’ team.

“I might ask for a trade,” Kanter joked.

Silver has other candidates to consider, including Heat guard Goran Dragic, but Kanter is at least in the conversation. I think Dragic would get the nod over Kanter for two reasons: the Heat are fourth in the East and do not have an all-star representative, and do you really give the Knicks, who are in 10th in the East, two all-stars?

4. So much for the idea that Frank Ntilikina may benefit from playing the G-League. Jeff Hornacek feels the 19-year-old would be better served staying with the big club and with Trey Burke in the mix, he can play Ntilikina off the ball to take pressure off him.

And what we’re seeing over the last few games is Burke and Ntilikina playing together in the backcourt, which allows the rookie to focus more on defense, which is his calling card. So far, the two have paired up over four games and played a total of 35 minutes together. The Knicks have scored 88 points with 21 assists on 35 field goals with just five turnovers and six steals.

Ntilikina looked comfortable again back home in The Garden. He also did something that will be very important if he’s going to play off the ball: knock down open shots. He hit 2-of-3 from downtown and also had five assists and a steal. Burke didn’t get to do much in 16:39, with just one field goal on four attempts and four assists.

Hornacek has really opened up the rotation lately. By halftime, 12-of the-13 players dressed saw action. Unfortunately, Ron Baker was in for less than a minute before he suffered a shoulder injury. There will be an MRI today to determine the extent of the injury.

5. So with a week to go before the NBA Trade Deadline, it’s very quiet on the Knicks front. I wouldn’t expect there to be much action. Fans always get excited around the deadline because rumors create scenarios that send the imagination into overdrive. But the reality is, right now, the Knicks are not in a place yet to be aggressive when it comes to roster moves.

Porzingis spoke earlier this week about how he hoped the team would be buyers at the deadline with an eye on adding pieces to help make a playoff push. That’s great, but at what expense? The days of trading away a first round pick are over and adding payroll would only be considered for a high end player who would advance the cause not just for this season but years to come.

Those guys aren’t available, at least not yet.

Patience is still the virtue, here.

So for Porzingis, look no further than this useless stat when it comes to help the Knicks need to make a push for the playoffs: the team is 15-13 when he scores at least 20 points.

As I type this, the Knicks (23-28) are five games back in the loss column to the 76ers for the final berth in the East. Obviously the teams to watch are the Wizards (28-22), who will be without John Wall until mid-March, at the earliest, and the Pistons (23-26), who just added Blake Griffin.

The Knicks can still control their destiny in some scenarios. They have two more games against Washington, but only one more against Detroit and have already lost two to the Pistons. As for Philly, there are still three more head-to-head matchups, including Feb. 12, just before the all-star break.

As Porzingis said, it is important for him to experience meaningful games and a playoff push late in the season. But what he needs to realize is, those meaningful games are happening right now.

Posted on

Rested Rangers Focused on Playoffs

Fifty games are in the books. The holiday break, the “bye” week, and the All-Star Break have all come and gone.

And now it gets real for the Rangers. Thirty-two games remain, with 19 of them on the road. So how do they react? How do they find the consistency they will need to get into the playoffs?

How will they gain a berth in a Metro Division that has eight teams vying for five playoff spots, six of those separated by two points heading into Monday’s games – and if you want to assume Pittsburgh and Washington are getting in, then six teams for three spots?

[Watch Rangers-Maple Leafs Thursday on MSG & MSG GO]

“We understand that our most important hockey is coming up right now and we need our best from everybody,” J.T. Miller said Tuesday.

“We should be rested up, ready to go for February, March … and obviously April. This is a big stretch of 32 games here for us and we understand we need everybody to bring their best, starting this week.

“It’s our push to the playoffs. That’s what it is. It’s our push. It’s going to be tight. It’s not going to be easy to get in. We know that every year, and we have a lot of good teams fighting for a couple of spots in the playoffs. So we can’t try to get in in one game. We’ve got to worry about this week and go from there. Everybody came back from the break in a good mood, ready to go, and we’re excited to get back.”

The Rangers hit the ice at practice Tuesday – everyone but all-star Henrik Lundqvist, who got an extra day off – with recalled (from Hartford) Tony DeAngelo and Peter Holland, and a newcomer, banger Cody McLeod, who is set to make his debut Thursday against Toronto.

It seems that the Rangers have been in fits-and-starts mode since the Christmas break, so other than long-term injuries to Chris Kreider and Kevin Shattenkirk, they ought to have plenty in the tank.

Kevin Shattenkirk discloses his meniscus tear, what his plan is for the remainder of the season and why he chose to have the surgery now.

“You know what? They’ve had enough time off,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “It’s time to play. We’ve got 32 games left here, it’s time to focus on playing well and getting points.”

[Watch Rangers-Maple Leafs Thursday on MSG & MSG GO]

There is a consideration coming this month, though. The Rangers are very likely, if not certain, to continue by the Feb. 26 trade deadline the rebuild program that began with the Derek Stepan trade last June, and they have an opportunity to move current assets for future ones.

“I’m not at all concerned about the white noise surrounding any trade period,” Vigneault said.

“As a player, you’re a professional. You’ve got to focus on what your game is, what you need to do. And as a coach and a coaching staff, you have to make sure that your players are focusing on the right things and working on the right things on and off the ice. That’s exactly what we’re doing.”

About the packed NHL standings, and the comfort level or lack thereof it affords, Vigneault said, “I think there are a couple of teams, and without naming teams, there might be three or four teams right now, four or five, that are in a comfortable position. All the other ones, comfort? I don’t see it.

“I think this is going to be a lot of fun for guys who love the competition. I just look at the teams and how close we all are as far as what we put on the ice and it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to take your best effort, your best preparation. Everybody’s got around the same number of games left, so it should be good.”

Miller, who at times has been among the Rangers’ best skaters, and at times has found himself benched, was asked what it will take for the Rangers to find that consistency.

“Something we’ve talked about this year is good starts,” said Miller of one area that was a bit better on the just-finished four-game (1-3) Western trip.

“Obviously those could be more consistent. Just taking care of the puck. Other teams are going to get looks. That’s just the way the game goes. But you can’t give them their looks. They’re going to have to be able to make plays around you. I think when we make it easy on the other team is when it really hurts us.”

This is not a time for self-inflicted wounds. It is not a time for tentativeness. Or inconsistency. A playoff berth is right there, within the Rangers’ reach, and should be no matter what at the trade deadline.

It’s up to them.

[Watch Rangers-Maple Leafs Thursday on MSG & MSG GO]

Posted on

This or That: Chris Weidman

Test your Chris Weidman knowledge ahead of his very own episode of Beginnings, premiering January 30 after the Knicks Post Game Show!

Posted on

Kyle O’Quinn’s Hard Work Off The Court Paying Off

There were times last season when Kyle O’Quinn wasn’t K.O., the gregarious, cajoling, joking, heart-on-his-sleeve, hustling player that has been a locker room and fan favorite throughout his NBA career.

The Knicks were losing more than they were winning. O’Quinn’s minutes were inconsistent as first-year coach Jeff Hornacek navigated a new roster.

And the death of his beloved father, Tommie, in a 2015 car accident still gave him emotional pause from time to time.

O’Quinn knew it was time to go back to the basics, time to do the things that made the kid from South Jamaica, Queens and Norfolk State an NBA dream come true story.

An emotional Kyle O'Quinn visits his late father's "museum" for the first time since his death and talks about the impact he had on him.

“Kyle called and said he wanted to do everything he could to have the best season of his career,’’ Joe Abunassar, founder of IMPACT Basketball, and O’Quinn’s trainer for years told MSGNetworks.com.

“I knew Kyle would do the work. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever worked with. But we talked about him doing the work before we got on the court.’’

[Watch Knicks-Nets Tuesday on MSG & MSG GO]

When O’Quinn arrived at IMPACT’s California training facility in early July, he was at his ideal playing weight of 260 pounds.

K.O. was ready for whatever Abunassar and assistant Tyler Farias were going to throw at him. And they threw Aroldis Chapman fastballs at the 6-foot-10, 260-pound center:

Weight training, cardio workouts that consisted of grueling and relentless down-and-backs (“He doesn’t like the treadmill so we ran,’’ said Farias. “Boy did we run.”) pilates, pool work, footwork, full body workouts, running sand hills, Plyometrics, pool workouts, protein shakes, touch shot shooting drills and full court scrimmages with other NBA players such as Kyle Lowry and Jared Dudley.

The results?

O’Quinn is averaging career-bests in points (6.8), shooting (59.3-percent), rebounding (5.8) and assists (2.0) on 17 minutes per games. He’s cemented his place as Enes Kanter’s backup, no small task after center Willy Hernangomez was named to the All-Rookie team last season.

“I came in with a clear mind just expecting to really put a lot on myself,’’ O’Quinn told me. “I trusted in my work, you know, ‘Hashtag, Trust Your Work.’

“Just trusting in the work I put in in the offseason. And I got a good group of guys I can trust in, guys I can go to before games or after games and voice to them what I can’t voice to the media.

“It’s not always smiles but for the most part you, want to have a smile on your face for the fans because at the end of the day they’re supporting you up and down.”

O’Quinn’s value goes beyond the court. In addition to his shot blocking (1.1) and dirty work in the paint, O’Quinn has emerged as a locker room leader.

No teammate or reporter is safe from O’Quinn’s quick wit. He often usurps the Knicks’ terrific media relations man, Gregg Schwartz, by announcing when the locker room is closed to the media before games.

He drives a matte black pickup truck with the name ‘Black Ops’ proudly displayed on the front hood. When it comes to joking and cajoling, he could be a covert op.

“One of my jobs here is to try to bring a positive attitude every day,’’ O’Quinn said. “Guys rely on me to be an easy going, locker room guy and keeping a smile on my face will affect somebody else. You never know how much it might affect other guys until they leave or they really need you that day.

“They know they got to be on their toes. I’m not two different people but they know I’m going to bring something to the table.’’

O’Quinn, who will turn 28 in March and is in his sixth season, is smoothly making a transition to the veteran presence. He said his NBA experience has been similar to his career at Norfolk State.

It wasn’t until his junior and senior seasons that he emerged as a leader. In 15th-seeded Norfolk State’s 86-84 upset of Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, O’Quinn scored 26 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and became the quote of the tournament.

“We even messed up my bracket,” he said.

That’s when O’Quinn began working with Abunassar, who saw a profound change in the big man over the summer.

“He became a real pro,’’ Abunassar said. “I’ve never seen a guy make a leap on the court before they make it off the court. Kyle did that.’’

[Watch Knicks-Nets Tuesday on MSG & MSG GO]

Posted on

Islanders Will Rock the Barn Once Again

It’s Christmas in January for Islanders fans who have clamored for a return of their favorite team to Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Granted that it will only be a partial — 12 game — plan for 2018-19 but, according to the details laid out Monday by Governor Andrew Cuomo, there will be at least 48 preseason and regular season games there in the following two seasons.

[Watch Islanders-Panthers Tuesday on MSG+ & MSG GO]

The governor, who as a young man watched the Islanders at “The Old Barn,” made the announcement at the recently re-designed Coliseum that will hold 13,900 for National Hockey League games.

It has been made clear that the rink off Hempstead Turnpike will only be a stopgap home for the team co-owned by Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin until the proposed state of the art arena opens in Belmont.

[Fischler: Islanders Win Race Back Home]

If current plans jell, the Belmont sports palace could be ready by 2021. A beaming Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky accompanied the governor at the press gathering.

“Long Island’s Islanders; that’s who they are and that’s where they belong and that’s where they’ll be,” Cuomo emphasized.

“The Islanders coming back to the Island is like the cherry on the cake because the Island is coming back.”

“Islanders fans owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Cuomo,” added Ledecky.

Sports business author and commentator Evan Weiner told The Maven that Cuomo — “a big project guy” — was the facilitator-coordinator who enabled several groups to eventually unite behind the Brooklyn-Nassau-Belmont blueprint.

“Cuomo delivered,” said Weiner who writes a daily column called The Politics of Sports Business. “What this does now is bring the Islanders franchise closer to home as well as the players — who all live on the Island — closer to home.”

For a time, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman opposed having the Islanders play home games in Uniondale. But upon further review, he sought ownership input and, once he got that from Malkin and Ledecky, eventually softened his stance.

Along with other league officials, Bettman toured the Coliseum earlier this month to determine what necessary improvements had to be added in order to meet big-league standards.

Following up on that, Bettman indicated at an All-Star press conference in Tampa Bay on Saturday which areas had to be improved at the revitalized Coliseum.

“There are a variety of things that have to be upgraded,” Bettman insisted, “whether it’s the locker rooms and training facilities and the like. We’re in touch with the Islanders on these matters.

“The thing is that the Coliseum has been given a nice refresher in terms of the way it looks, but it’s still the Nassau Coliseum.”

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly pointed out that the league has a Planning Environment Sub-Committee which met in Tampa Bay. Dan Craig, who oversees ice-making, was one of the officials who participated.

“They briefed our group on some of the things that need to be done,” said Daly. “Not major fixes but, to the Commissioner’s point, it’s not a long-term facility.”

Specific areas that will require improvement include closed luxury boxes, converting the dressing rooms into proper NHL dimensions and — no less important — wiring for telecasting home games as well as for the visitors.

Certainly, even a dozen games at the Coliseum would be a travel boon to players such as John Tavares and Josh Bailey, both of whom played in the All-Star Game. Like their teammates, the Captain and his wingman live close to The Old Barn.

In addition, the club’s ultra-modern practice facility is just a slapshot away from the old rink which Captain Tavares enthusiastically has referred to as “a special place.”

John Tavares reflects on participating in his fifth NHL All-Star Game and comments on the reports that the Isles will play some regular season homes games at the Nassau Coliseum.

Writing for Newsday, Mark Herrmann in Tampa Bay, asked ex-Isles coach Peter Laviolette — now running the Predators bench — what he best remembered about The Old Barn.

“It was physical,” said Laviolette, “and there was so much emotion and so much energy there.”

The Maven’s memories are no less emotional. Along with Spencer Ross, I worked the first telecast from the Coliseum in March 1975 prior to the Islanders historic playoff victories over the Rangers and the Penguins.

Under the SportsChannel banner, I was there for all four Stanley Cups starting in 1980. I still get goose pimples thinking about Game 4 against Edmonton in 1983, culminating with Denis Potvin lifting the club’s fourth Cup.

Nostalgia aside, there’s still work to be done both physically and legally before the Islanders can call The Barn their home again.

Modernizing the ice plant and improving luxury suites are on the agenda, not to mention the club finalizing a deal Tuesday so that the Isles can opt out from their 25-year Barclays Center Arena deal that began in 2015.

Nevertheless, all signs indicate that the move from Brooklyn to Belmont — with a stopover in Uniondale — has the green light to make it all happen.

“The Islanders are on track to build their new home,” Bettman concluded, “and that’s one of many highlights of the season to date.”

The Islanders have won a bid to build a new 18,000-seat arena near Belmont Park. Watch the full press conference, as the team embarks on an exciting new venture in its future.

The results of my random poll of Islanders fans ranged from approval of switching some games to Uniondale all the way up to ecstasy, especially for those living in Suffolk and Nassau counties.

Typical was the response from North Hills resident Jake April who currently attends Mitchell College in New London, Connecticut.

“I was so excited when I heard about it,” said April who hosts a weekly sports radio talk show at college. “As a former Coliseum season ticket-holder, I can’t wait to hear and feel its special atmosphere again.”

Andrew Taub of Freeport, another season-ticket-holder at the old Coliseum and now Barclays admitted that there were some travel “discrepancies” going to the games in Brooklyn.

“This is a dream come true for the Long Island fan base,” Taub enthused. “The Islanders will have attendance like they never had before.”

Joseph Lore of Bethpage agreed. “The Coliseum may have been an ‘Old Barn’ to outsiders but to me it was ours and we loved it.and embraced the place.”

Finally, there was Islanders fan Jared Fleming of Massapequa Park summing up today’s developments, “Coming back to our Long Island roots will be the perfect bridge to Belmont!”

[Watch Islanders-Panthers Tuesday on MSG+ & MSG GO]

Posted on

Knicks End Road Trip On a High Note

5 thoughts on the win:

1. Let’s get right to the useless stats because this game was an about-face from what we saw on this trip. After three straight games allowing over 120 points per game — 127, 123, 130 — the Knicks held the Suns not just under 100, but under 90.

It tied for the lowest point total the Knicks allowed this season, which goes back to the Nov. 20 win against the Clippers (same final score). It was also the first time in 10 games that the Knicks held an opponent under 100, going back to the Jan. 7 win in Dallas (100-96).

[Watch Knicks-Nets Tuesday on MSG & MSG GO]

Are the Suns bad? Yes, they’re bad. In fact, they’re not just bad overall, they’re the worst home team (8-17) in the NBA. As usual, there were a lot of Knicks fans in Phoenix, so the Knicks enjoyed some support in a game that at the very least salvaged a tough seven-game road trip with a 3-4 record.

The Suns made threes (11-for-33) and were really bad from two (22-for-61) and this game was over after the Knicks opened the second half with a 14-2 run to go up 16 in the longest third quarter in the history of basketball.

That third quarter took forever.

It also saw the early exit of Devin Booker, the Suns’ leading scorer, who picked up his second technical foul of the game with 4:03 left. The second T came after he shoved Enes Kanter, who let out a needling “Whoo!” in Booker’s ear after Kanter spiked his drive attempt.

Booker had a bad game all around for Phoenix, with two techs and an infuriating Flagrant-1 on Tim Hardaway Jr. (more on that later). Give credit to Courtney Lee, who took on the challenge of defending Booker (4 for 12, 12 points, -24).

2. So what inspired this sudden change of attitude? A players-only meeting that was held during breakfast.

“Lance, he held everybody accountable in that meeting,” Lee told MSG Network’s Rebecca Haarlow after the game. “When he spoke, everybody listened.”

Lance Thomas talks with Rebecca Haarlow about what he said at the Knicks players-only meeting and how the team responded.

We’re hearing a lot about these players-only meetings around the NBA. They usually happen around this time of year, when the schedule becomes a grind and the All-Star break is still a few weeks away. It’s not just the struggling teams, either. Two of the top teams in the East, the Cavs and Celtics, each had team meetings to air out issues and try to get back to the focus of early in the season.

We’ve outlined all the issues here over the last few blogs on this trip. Almost all of them came down to one simple element: effort. The Knicks issues involved turnovers, loose balls, giving up offensive rebounds and weak-side defense. We weren’t talking about selfish play and poor shooting. This wasn’t a slump in talent, it was an absence of effort.

That’s fixable.

“We just challenged everybody,” Lee said. “Whatever you’re doing out there, just take it up another level.”

Remember Herb Brooks: “Gentlemen, you don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.”

Courtney Lee gets the walk-off interview with Rebecca Haarlow, speaking on how the Knicks performed in Phoenix, guarding Devin Booker, and the clubs meeting earlier this morning.

3. Enes Kanter gave a throwback performance to earlier in the season, when he was a catalyst at the start of games for the Knicks with his energy, effort and toughness. Kanter poured in 15 points in the first 11 minutes of the game as he dominated Greg Monroe, who started in place of Tyson Chandler (illness).

Kanter finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but it was more than just his stats that made an impact on the game, it was the return of his bravado, which had not been up to the standard of earlier this season. Kanter had been brooding for a while about his playing time and role, especially late in games, and it took away from the big personality that Knicks fans fell in love with earlier in the season.

But in this game, Enes the Menace was back and it was great to see. He goaded Booker into that second tech and effectively ended the game by getting the Suns’ best player off the court. He talked tough, played tough and, naturally, he kept it going on social media after the game:

Suns forward Jared Dudley took the bait.

Grab your popcorn. This is just getting started.

Ohhh snap!!!! (Dudley does have a Dad-bod thing going though).

Jared was basically flailing with that response. Kanter didn’t need to continue, but Knicks and Suns fans went at it all night long on the thread.

4. Tim Hardaway Jr. was back in the lineup after sitting out in Denver as part of the recovery plan from his stress injury. He played 35 minutes, which means his minutes restriction is officially over.

He also made it clear he has no intention of missing any more time, no matter what happens. Timmy was looking like the Black Knight from “Monty Python and The Holy Grail” throughout this game. No matter the injury or how bad it looked, he just kept coming back.

“Just the will to win,” Hardaway said.

“Just a flesh wound!” said the Black Knight.

Hardaway Jr. finished with 15 points on 6 of 13 shooting, despite twisting his ankle badly when he landed early in the game and then falling head-first into the basket support in the third quarter after the Flagrant-1 by Booker.

That’s toughness, for sure. It’s also the determination of a guy who sat out six weeks and doesn’t want to miss any more time.

Tim Hardaway Jr. reflects on the Knicks' road-trip ending win over the Suns and explains how a team meeting helped stabilize the team before the game against Phoenix.

5. More Trey Burke, please. He scored 18 points in 18 minutes on 8 of 14 shooting and that’s after starting the game off 1 for 5 with a couple of bad turnovers. Burke was yelling at himself for his early blunders, which made Hornacek smile. Apparently, Burke and Hardaway are one in the same when it comes to rage in the huddle and intensity on the court.

The Michigan Wolverines backcourt needs to become a thing, doesn’t it? Burke absolutely shredded the Suns in pick-and-roll in that fourth quarter. Even Hornacek, who has been resistant to making a dramatic change in the lineup that would take minutes away from either Jarrett Jack or Frank Ntilikina, had to admit Burke’s play can’t be ignored.

“When he plays like that,” Hornacek said, “we got to find time for him.”

Jeff Hornacek holds his post-game press conference after the Knicks' 107-85 win over the Suns in Phoenix.

Before the game, Hornacek called Burke’s role a “game-to-game decision” based on matchups and how effective the other guards are playing. Ntilikina, as we’ve seen on every game of this trip since Brooklyn, was careless with the basketball and did not shoot the ball well. He saw only nine minutes of action.

Hornacek has an idea of playing Ntilikina off the ball to perhaps take pressure off his suspect handle and let him focus on defending two guards. The one issue there is when you’re off the ball, you need to be able to knock down open jumpers. Can he do that?

Despite the issues on the trip, perhaps the Knicks had two epiphanies that will impact the rest of the season: 1. the re-discovery of their effort level on defense and, 2. the arrival of Burke, a scoring point guard who needs to play.

[Watch Knicks-Nets Tuesday on MSG & MSG GO]

Posted on

New Giants Coach Wants Players Sold-Out To Football

After a season where the New York Giants had the most losses in franchise history, it appears that getting an injection of heart and fight is a top priority for head coach Pat Shurmur.

It is something that this team desperately needs, coming off a 3-13 season when the locker room concerns dominated the headlines.

The Giants certainly have had their share of moments off the field over the past year, ranging from a celebrity boat party the week of their Wild Card game two seasons ago to multiple suspensions of star players this past year. Throw in an alleged locker room “cancer” and a fist through the wall of the locker room in Green Bay, and this is a team that in many ways turned on itself and now needs direction.

Direction, and perhaps a little heart and fight.

The Giants folded during much of last season under then-head coach Ben McAdoo, finally showing some backbone over the season’s final month when Steve Spagnuolo took over. As such, a top priority for Shurmur is going to be how to turn around a roster he said has lots of “very talented players” but failed to compete for the playoffs.

Shurmur appears to want players who are sold-out to football, perhaps less concerned about hanging out with celebrities and more focused on the game.

In his own words, Pat Shurmur explains the type of coach Giants fans are getting in him.

“We need to have a tough, gritty team that knows how to compete. I think what’s important is when we put the roster together, we want to first accumulate 90 players that love to play football. Now, certainly, they’re going to have to have the skill and ability to do it, but we want to put together a group of 90 and then eventually get to 53,” Shurmur said Friday during his introductory press conference.

“I think sometimes the good answer for a young player is, ‘I really don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have this game.’ And I think it’s the absolute greatest game in the world. And so we need to find guys that love to play the game, and then we’ll decide whether they’re good enough, and then we’ll take it from there.”

Pat Shurmur talks about his relationship with Eli Manning and where he fits in with this Giants team now and in the future.

One of those key players is going to be wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who missed the second half of this past year due to injury.

As talented as any wide receiver in the league, Beckham’s struggles have been with emotions and focus as he enters his fifth year in the league. If he can harness that, he has a bright future. But well-documented distractions and meltdowns have led to a plateauing in his production.

If Beckham can settle in and fully buy into his vast potential, then the sky is the ceiling for the player and franchise. He’s a difference-maker, a play-maker with a unique ability to be clutch and come up with game-changing plays.

“Well, he’s a tremendous player. I went through the evaluation process at the time I was in Philadelphia and he was high on our draft board. We loved him as a player, and really pre‑draft stuff, we loved everything about him. I’ve watched him play and compete, and when you throw all the other stuff out and you watch him on the field, he’s outstanding,” Shurmur said.

“So it makes sense to throw him the football. I’m just going to say that right away. If I didn’t acknowledge that, then you’ve definitely got the wrong guy up here. But I think what needs to happen now is I need to get to know him. I need to get to know what makes him tick, and I get to ‑‑ I need to talk to him about what it is that we’re looking for for a guy that plays for the New York Giants. And I think those are the things that go back to relationship building that need to happen very, very soon.”

Posted on

Rangers Have Chance to Reset at All-Star Break

The Rangers get a chance to catch their collective breath after a much-needed, and certainly imperfect win in San Jose salvaged an otherwise winless four-game road trip.

That is, the Rangers other than Henrik Lundqvist, who has been overworked and will now face the additional stress of a three-on-three all-star tournament this weekend — and three players (Tony DeAngelo, Vinni Lettieri and Peter Holland) who were sent to Hartford to play games during the break.

When they return, it will be February and the season’s dog days, three and a half weeks until the trade deadline, after which the roster may look decidedly different.

[Watch Rangers-Maple Leafs Thursday on MSG & MSG GO]

Thoughts:

1. Alain Vigneault sure seems to know how and when to push J.T. Miller’s buttons. And Miller sure seems to need his buttons pushed, and usually responds the right way. Vigneault sat Miller on the bench for the last two periods in Anaheim Tuesday, after a pair of ghastly turnovers led to goals.

Miller responded, with the game-winning goal and two assists in the 6-5 win in San Jose Thursday. It didn’t hurt that his centerman, Kevin Hayes, returned from a leg injury, helping that line (with Mats Zuccarello) put up a pair of goals and five assists.

“Played a simple, smart game,” Vigneault said after the win.

“Of course (it feels good),” Miller said. “It’s amazing – you just sit back and look at how simple you have to play sometimes and that’s when the ice really seems to open up. You know, it’s when you stop (moving) your feet and looking for plays and making something out of nothing is when you get yourself in trouble. I just went back … to try to play my game and create a little room for us.”

The kid is nothing if not honest about his play.

J.T. Miller credits a simple approach to his three-point night in the Rangers' 6-5 win over the Sharks.

2. Speaking of honesty, Lundqvist on Tuesday and Ondrej Pavelec on Thursday both assessed their performances in goal as not good enough. Pavelec, after the team hung on to win after Miller had made it 6-4 late and Tomas Hertl scored for the Sharks in the final minute to cut it to 6-5, had this to say: “To be honest, I had nothing to do with the win.”

Not sure if I’d go that far, but the Rangers have lived with exceptional goaltending for a long time, and to get a pair of stinkers was surely surprising.

Henrik Lundqvist talks about giving up three goals on seven shots and the Rangers effort in the loss to the Ducks.

3. So the Rangers claimed (very) tough guy Cody McLeod off waivers from Nashville. In today’s NHL, where staged fights and flat-out goons are naturally becoming extinct, was this a necessary move?

I’m going to sing my usual song on this, and sorry if it straddles two sides of the same fence. I don’t think having a tough guy deters other teams from taking liberties. Last week, Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang got clobbered while Ryan Reaves, who was brought in to deter such actions, was on the ice. If I’m not mistaken, Dylan McIlrath was on the ice when Matt Beleskey broke Derek Stepan’s ribs a couple of years ago. Deterrents don’t really exist.

Having said all of that, the players feel better, more comfortable, somehow protected, by having a tough guy in the lineup. The Rangers loved having McIlrath and/or Tanner Glass in the lineup the last couple of seasons. And if the players feel better, if it allows them to play better, then is it worth having those rugged fellows in uniform?

4. I’m not pumping the Rangers’ tires here, but I kind of agree with the notion – sold by Vigneault, the players, MSG Networks’ Steve Valiquette et al. – that they didn’t play terrible hockey on the 1-3 trip. But their mistakes in Games 2 and 3, in LA and Anaheim, were enormous and terribly timed and almost all of them ended up in the net. You could say the same for the San Jose win. Yes, it could have been a 0-4 trip. Yes, it also could have been 2-2 or better just by eliminating a couple of the colossal mistakes.

Suffice it to say, the Rangers have a lot of areas to improve when they come out of the break.

5. Is it just me, or does it seem the Christmas break, the “bye” week and the All-Star break are much too close together? Fits and starts. It could be worse. There could be an extended Olympic break this year.

[Watch Rangers-Maple Leafs Thursday on MSG & MSG GO]

Posted on

Rank The 2018 Metro Division NHL All-Stars

It’s NHL All-Star time and we challenge you to rank the Metropolitan Division All-Stars!

Use the arrows below to rank your favorites …

Posted on