Saturday, April 25, 2015

Strong Start Just What the Mets Needed



Here's my latest for 


as of 4/23/15
The Mets Strong Start Was Exactly What They Needed




Mike
senior staff writer/Rising Apple

N.Y. Islanders: The (G)hosts of Fort Never Lose

From the desk of:  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB


Capitals lead series 3-2
I - NYI 4; WAS 1
II - WAS 4; NYI 3
III - NYI 2; WAS 1
IV - WAS 2; NYI 1
V - WAS 5; NYI 1

GAME SIX
Washington Capitals
vs.
New York Islanders
from
THE BARN
Uniondale, Long Island

New York Islanders: Offensive short circuit threatens to end Long Island's swan song.

Uniondale's dynastic players of a previous century are very much alive, albeit older, and silvery white in the whiskers.  They've spent the regular season revisiting their old stomping grounds, reminiscing about the glory years, and bidding farewell to the place where they made NHL history together.  

Their head coach, the great Al Arbour, and the architect Bill Torrey, are still reigning modern day titans of the sport.

In other words, Fort Never Lose harbors no ghosts.  There will be no on-ice assists from the great beyond, in what could be the final NHL game played at Nassau's Veteran's Coliseum.  The 2014-15 New York Islanders must devise, and execute a winning Game Six effort of their own volition.  They must either seize the moment, or, shut the Barn down.

Yes, the defense has been debilitated by injuries, which means Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy are getting heavily taxed.  But, despite allowing 4 goals in Game Two, and 5 goals in Game Five, the defense has not necessarily been the issue here.

The Islanders offense has short circuited.  They absolutely need more goals from what was the NHL's 4th most potent offense during the regular season.  Washington goalie Braden Holtby has limited the Isles to just 4 goals on 102 shots on goal in the last 3 games.  The Capitals on the other hand, have scored 8 times over the same 3 game span.

The power play in particular, is 0 for 12 in the series.

So, for the sake of one last Long Island hurrah, the Islanders must get this series back to Washington for a decisive Game Seven.


Mike

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: The Smurfs reestablish home ice advantage with Game 3 victory in Pittsburgh

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS



Rangers lead series 2-1
I - NYR 2; PITT 1
II - PITT 4; NYR 3

GAME 3 FINAL
Rangers    2
Penguins  1

NEW YORK RANGERS: The Smurfs withstand, and outlast, the big bad Penguins to recapture home ice advantage.

Killjoy is pissed off!

Someone check-up on Nick Fotiu.  If he was watching Game 3, it's very possible his head might have exploded in a fit of rage over what transpired Monday night in Pittsburgh.

Make no mistake, Alain Vigneault can take his three President Trophies, and stick 'em up his posterior!  I mean that (figuratively, of course).  Who, or what were the Vancouver Canucks?   In a word - SOFT!  That's my problem.  That's been my problem.  It's presently the Rangers problem, and it's a big problem, and it's been a growing problem for 2 years now.

This team is not the slow, brutish, neanderthal Blueshirts of yore; clearly.  Although they share a continued defensive tenacity, this team is fast, deep, balanced, and more skilled.   At the risk of it sounding like a bad word, they play with finesse.

That's another way of saying (traditional) west coast hockey.

That said, not one Ranger responded with any ferocity, or immediacy, or even offered the slightest expression of displeasure with Sidney Crosby's cheap shot on Henrik Lundqvist.  

John Tortorella would have beaten up Crosby himself.  The confrontation at the final buzzer was incredibly insufficient.

As far as I'm concerned, every Ranger player not named Lundqvist pretended to not see Crosby!!  Rick Nash witnessed Crosby's intentional hit, looked at him, and said, and did, nothing.  And that, my fellow Rangers fan, is unconscionable.

If you haven't noticed by now, you're either not into hockey, or you're already in baseball mode, or you were one of the referees, a Penguins fan, asleep, or you're an atheist - because every deliberate Penguins indiscretion that goes unpenalized has me screaming Jesus' name.

What started in earnest on March 31st against the Winnipeg Jets, trended throughout the remainder of the regular season, and has now been adopted as standard procedure among Rangers opponents. Teams are intent on disrespecting, abusing, administering cheap-shots, and beating up the Rangers, and for three straight games the Penguins have singled out Henrik Lunqvist.  The most blatant infraction was executed by Sidney Crosby in Game 3.

Pittsburgh's goon and thuggery have escalated from one game to the next.  Game 4 should no doubt provide yet another increased dosage of agitation and instigation - likewise in Game 5, etc.

In a bit of pre-series irony, I warned against the potential and questionable tactics of a one, Steve Downie.   It turns out, the Rangers needed to be leery of every Penguin but Downie.  Sidney Crosby is enemy number one.

Now.., on a more rational note, despite the opposition continually taking their liberties with impunity, the Blueshirts nevertheless continue to win games.

I guess that makes this all a mute point...?

Toughness...  Will it matter?




Mike

Monday, April 20, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Penguins Crash The Garden Party

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS



Rangers lose home advantage; Series shifts to Pittsburgh

Series tied 1-1
I - NYR 2; PITT 1
II - PITT 4; NYR 3
III - TONIGHT

GAME THREE
NEW YORK RANGERS
vs.
Pittsburgh Penguins
from
Steel City Ice Hut

NEW YORK RANGERS: The Power Play showed its uglier Side in Game 2; now just 2/12 in the series.  Meanwhile, the Penguins continue crashing the net with impunity.

At its best, the Rangers power play under Alain Vigneault gets defensive heads spinning and bodies scurrying in different directions in reaction to their movement with and without the puck.  They're most effective with quick crisp and frequent one-touch passing, lack of hesitation on their shot, and when establishing a presence in front of the net for rebounds.

...just like in Game One against the Penguins.

At their worst, they exhibit the old John Tortorella-ish dysfunction characterized by stationary positioning, over-passing and over-possessing, which inspire memories of the Garden crowd screaming, "SHOOoooT!" with every perceived opportunity gone by.

...just like in Game Two against the Penguins.

The Rangers power play is now 2/12 in two post-season games.

*      *      *      *

In Game 1, the Penguins continued what other teams had been doing to the Rangers lately - instigating through physicality.  The Rangers thwarted that plan, however, with a pair of early goals in the 1st period.  Derick Brassard cleaned up a Rick Nash rebound just 0:28 into the game, and Ryan McDonagh scored a PP goal roughly 15 minutes later.

The Pens otherwise played quite evenly with the Rangers for the remainder of the game.

Pittsburgh's physicality was one matter, but their undisciplined play was another.  They put the Rangers on the power play 5 times.  The Rangers were 1/5, but nonetheless cashed in on what turned out to be the game winner.

The Rangers defense effectively shut down Sidney Crosby and Ivegin Malkin en route to a 2-1 final score.  The two Pens forwards combined on just 3 shots on goal.

Blake Comeau pulled the Pens within a goal at the 6:15 mark of the 3rd period.  But, Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves on the night to seal Game One.

*      *      *      *

In Game 2, it was the Rangers whom looked lethargic.  Led by Sidney Crosby, the Penguins skated circles around the Rangers.  The Pens remained undisciplined however, putting the Rangers on the PP 7 times.  But, the Rangers only managed to score once with the man advantage.

The Rangers were seemingly off to another good start.  Derek Stepan opened the scoring at 17:05 of the 1st period.

Midway through the 2nd period, Brandon Sutter's PP goal tied the game.  Sidney Crosby then took over, scoring twice in the period at even strength.

Derick Brassard brought the Rangers to within 3-2 in the 3rd period, but was negated by Chris Kunitz' goal at the 9:41 mark.  Rick Nash scored an inconsequential with just 0:06 left in regulation.

Henrik Lundqvist only faced 22 shots, but only made 18 saves.

Meanwhile, the Penguins continued crashing the net with impunity.

*      *      *      *

They say it's not a series until the home team loses.  After two games at the Garden, the series is now tied at one.  Next stop, Pittsburgh.

It's Alain Vigneault's turn to make adjustments.




Mike

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Brooklyn Nets: Billy King's Last Stand

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH




2014-2015
National Basketball Association 
PLAYOFFS

TODAY

***GAME ONE***

BROOKLYN NETS
vs.
Atlanta Hawks
from
The Peach State

BROOKLYN NETS: Strike one; Strike two; Strike three and you're out...  Is this Billy King's Flatbush Finale?

How bad would it have been had the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics qualified for the playoffs, and not the Nets?  The answer, of course, is academic as the Nets open the playoffs this evening in Atlanta.

As a non-starter, however, this is the final season in which the Nets can fulfill their owner's manifest destiny, AKA - Mikhail Prokhorov's proclamation they'd win an NBA championship within five seasons upon assuming a control.

Give credit where it's due; sure.  Since the Nets move from New Jersey, Brooklyn qualified for their third straight post-season in as many seasons.  However, the situation along Flatbush Avenue has nevertheless deteriorated.

In Brooklyn's first season the Nets posted a fine 49-33 record, then lost a tightly contested 7-game opening round series against the Chicago Bulls.  Last season, the Nets posted a 44-38 record.  In the playoffs, they defeated the Atlantic Division winning Toronto Raptors in round one, then fell to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semis.

This season, in a very weak Eastern Conference field, Brooklyn fell to a below par 38-44 record, and 3rd place in the Atlantic Division.  They barely qualified for the post-season with a victory in their final regular season game (and with help from a Pacers loss).  As the 8th seed, they will be in Atlanta this evening to challenge the #1 seeded Hawks.

Lionel Hollins will be the third coach in as many years to lead the Brooklyn Nets into the post-season.  After Avery Johnson's dismissal shortly into year one, P.J. Carlessimo took over and guided Brooklyn towards its first post-season.  Jason Kidd was then given a clean slate the following season. After tossing assistant coach Lawrence Frank overboard, Captain Kidd righted a listing ship enough for a first round playoff series victory.

Few would argue Jason Kidd's attempted coup d'etat partly warranted his dismissal from the Nets.   So, off to Milwaukee he went.  The Bucks posted a 15-67 record last season.  Then, as the youngest team in the league, they improved to 41-41 this season under Jason Kidd to qualify for the Eastern Conference #6 seed.

Not incidentally, the Nets were 1-3 against the younger, more athletic Bucks this season.  On April 12th, the Nets 96-73 loss to Milwaukee tied their season low for points scored.  In January, the Nets put forth an even more pathetic 108-73 losing effort against Deron Williams' former (and equally more athletic) club.

Two seasons ago, the Boston Celtics initiated a full blown rebuilding, yet still managed to post a 40-42 record this season and qualify for the playoffs.  One might even argue general manager Danny Ainge's decision to gut the Celts was partly inspired by Billy King's generosity in offering Boston the Nets #1 draft picks for the foreseeable future in exchange for the aged Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, etc.

The two were no doubt positive influences on the Nets.  In fact, Paul Pierce made sure everyone knew that.  Now playing with the #5 seeded Washington Wizards, Pierce very recently sounded-off regarding the Nets (perceived) pathetic attitudes, lack of will and effort in practice, their overall team and individual defectiveness, and even singled out Deron Williams.

On a more positive note, prior to his trade back to Minnesota, Kevin Garnett was an extremely positive influence on Mason Plumlee that should benefit the Nets moving forward. A Duke/Coach K background, and a heavy dose of KG is a great foundation to build upon.

Saying the Nets backed-in, or limped into the post-season is being kind.

They nevertheless will challenge the Eastern Conference #1 seeded Atlanta Hawks, against whom they lost all four regular season meetings.  In December, the Nets were limited to just 75 points by Atlanta.  On April 4th, the Hawks posted a 32-point margin of victory over the Nets in Atlanta, then visited Barclays Center four days later, and beat them again by a 114-111 score.

The big three of this team; the big financial three if nothing else; have arrived at what should be their final go-around together.  The triad of Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson, have been the only measure of consistency for this team over three seasons.  The otherwise supporting cast members have entered and exited Billy King's commune via a fast and free spinning revolving door.

The results have been minimal; one playoff series victory in two previous post-season appearances.

Inconsistency, has been constant around here.  There's times when the Nets play inspired basketball, and look like legitimate contenders, but then suffer through episodes when they flat out suck.   Unfortunately, this season they played like second division dwellers more often than not.

The Nets have gotten off to bad starts in all three of their seasons in Brooklyn.  However, Lionel Hollins never quite orchestrated the January turn-around the Nets enjoyed in the previous two seasons.

The "season turn-around" didn't materialize until, arguably, late March.  Weeks and months of underachieving, heightened by tension over the benching of starters Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, rabid trade rumors, and another mid-season roster shake-up, all led up to a 27-39 record by March 18th.

The Nets went on to win 10 of their next 12 games, which included a 6-game win streak with victories over the likes of Cleveland, Indiana, and Toronto.  However, they struggled with a 3-4 record down the stretch and placed their potential playoff appearance in serious jeopardy.

I have argued Billy King should not have lasted this long - not after 4 head coaching changes, spending the team into salary cap and luxury tax oblivion, the yet unrealized damage this organization will suffer due to lack of control of their #1 picks through 2019-2020, the consistent lack of speed in transition or otherwise - basically non-athletic players, and dwindling win totals.

What should await the general manager should the Nets quietly bow out of the playoffs for a third straight season?

Part of the answer is complicated by the fact that no one is really sure of the owner's level of commitment towards retaining or selling the team.

All that being said, it's time to shock the world!

Let's go Brooklyn.

Let's Go Nets!



Mike

Friday, April 17, 2015

N.Y. Mets: Beasts of the East

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET




NEW YORK METS: Overcome injuries, suspensions, and comedy of errors, to post 7-3 record in first 10 games.

Despite several key injuries, the Mets have posted a 7-3 record over their first 10 games of the season.  The last five of those victories came consecutively over the Braves, a sweep of the Phillies, and by taking the series opener Thursday night over the Marlins.

And, of course, they took the opening series of the season from the Nationals.

All that has the Mets in first place of the N.L. East.

The atmosphere was electric as Matt Harvey returned to the mound at Citi Field for the first time since 2013, then earned his second victory of the season over the Phillies.  In 6 innings of work he fanned 8 batters, and exacted a measure  of revenge against the Phillies after two Mets batters were hit by pitches, when he plunked Chase Utley and glared at him on his way to first.  Just for the record, Utley homered twice in the game, once against Harvey in the opening frame.

Bartolo Colon, who makes his third start of the season Friday night, is so far 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA.  In 13 innings pitched, he has 13 strikeouts, and a 0.77 WHiP.

In the early going, Jacob deGrom has also demonstrated the effectiveness that earned him Rookie of the Year last season.

My eyes will be focused on Jon Niese this season, as to whether he is indeed recovered from shoulder issues that hindered his performance over the previous two seasons.  He has so far allowed 16 hits and 4 walks in 11.1 innings pitched.

With Bobby Parnell and Vic Black yet to return to duty, and Jenrry Mejia incurring an 80-game suspension for his recent positive PED/steriod test result, the Mets bullpen has nevertheless remained solid.

A late Spring Training trade acquisition, Jerry Blevins has performed very well in 5 appearances.  In 3.1 innings he fanned 4 batters, walked none, and has earned a victory and 3 holds thus far.

Jeurys Familia has earned 4 saves as the team's de facto closer.

At the plate, Lucas Duda is out to prove last year's break-out season was no fluke.  He leads the team with 38 at-bats, and is slashing .395/.439/.632, with 6 doubles, 6 runs scored, and 8 RBI, which accounts for a full 1/3 of all the Mets runs (41) scored so far.

Travis d'Arnaud is batting .297, and is tied with Duda with a team leading 8 RBI.

With 11 walks, a .390 OBP, and a team leading 7 runs scored in 30 at-bats, it can be argued Curtis Granderson is serving the lead-off spot well.  However, he is batting a mere .167 with no extra base hits.

*      *      *

What's old is new...  Jenrry Mejia went old-school in his choice of steroid.  

!Que Bruto!

*      *      *

Injuries continue to test the Mets' mettle:  Zack Wheeler; Josh Edgin; Bobby Parnell; Vic Black; and now David Wright.

*      *      *

Red Alert!  All 7 of the Mets errors this season have come up the middle - Wilmer Flores 3; Daniel Murphy 2; Ruben Tejada and Travis d'Arnaud one each.




Mike

Thursday, April 16, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Put Up Time For Rick Nash

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS




The Quest for the Stanley Cup starts....NOW!

TONIGHT

GAME ONE
Pittsburgh Penguins
vs.
New York Rangers
from
The 8th Avenue Ice House at 33rd Street
N.Y.C.

NEW YORK RANGERS: Rick Nash Needs To....  That's It, Rick Nash Needs To.

All King Henrik's horses, and all the President's Trophy men must begin their march back towards the NHL Finals tonight.  Anything less will be a major disappointment.

You know what I always say: You can't be disappointed with what you do not expect.

There's the rub...

The Rangers have evolved into favorites this season, and are now expected to win this year's Stanley Cup tournament.

Previously:


What is it going to take for Tex's Rangers to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in 21 years?

An obvious factor will be the performance of Rick Nash.  He seems well past his concussion issues, and is unhesitatingly playing physical hockey.  The on-ice results speak for themselves.  He posted a career best 42 goals this season.

But, all is not gold and glitter with him.  He caught fire right out of the gate, scoring 9 goals in October, and 23 goals through December.  From January through the end of the regular season, he posted 19 more.  In March. however, Nash only score 3 goals, and then 2 more in April.  That's only 5 goals in his final 19 games, after averaging 7.4 goals per month previous to March.

The 800-pound gorilla in the room is of course, Rick Nash's disappearance in two playoff appearances for the Rangers.  Last year Nash scored 3 goals throughout the tournament, all against the Montreal Canadiens - none in the 1st, 2nd, and Final rounds.  He tallied a mere 10 points in 25 playoff games.  In 2012-2013, he managed just one goal and 5 points in 12 playoff games under John Tortorella.

Rick Nash trailed only Alex Ovechkin in all the NHL this season in shots on goal.  All we can ask is that he continues creating opportunities, and fires the puck on net.  With a change of luck accompanying his improved demeanor, perhaps some shots will find net this post-season.

SIZE MATTERS:

Rick Nash anxiety aside, the Rangers have thrived with balanced scoring this season.  But, size still matters.  Kevin Hayse is only a rookie, however, he and Chris Kreider need to utilize their combined size and speed at post-season levels.  They need to factor differently than say, Martin St. Louis, MatsZucs, and Carl Hagelin, who have the speed, but lack the size.

Pittsburgh is chock-full-o-playoff experience, and pose a threat at all times.  The Pens are without their 2nd leading scorer (Letang).  Therefore, up the ante on defense.  Punish Sindy Crosby and Ivgeni Malkin.  Play big and hit hard.

PICK ME UP A 6-PAK:

The Rangers HAD the top three defensive lines in hockey.  They'll have the top three lines again once Kevin Klein returns.  The Rangers will be without Klein for at least Game One.  He's been out since March 11th, after suffering a broken arm while blocking a shot from Alex Ovechkin.

The Rangers allowed the 2nd least goals in the Eastern Conference this season, and were the 3rd in all the NHL.  The Rangers also posted a league high +60 goal differential.

LET'S DO THIS:

Let's Go Rangers!!!



Mike

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

N.Y. Islanders: Exercise Veto Power In Series Opener Over Washington

From the desk of:  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB




2014-2015
Stanley Cup Playoffs

GAME ONE
Islanders   4
Capitals    1
FINAL

New York Islanders: Brock Nelson Was In The Building...

Not only did their series opening 4-1 victory in Washington lay to rest any fears of a sloppy regular season finish bleeding into the playoffs, the visiting Islanders went into D.C. and arrested home-ice advantage away from the Capitals.

On this night at least, the Islanders weaknesses were their strengths.

Defensively, they kept the NHL's best Power Play scoreless in two opportunities.  They limited the Capitals to 25 SOG, with Alex Ovechkin (8) taking a near 1/3 of them.  Joel Ward was second with just 3 SOG.  The Caps lone score came with a minute left in the opening period by Marcus Johansson.

Jaroslav Halak made 24 saves for the victory.  Allowing last minute goals, however, are always quite distressing.  I'd also like to offer him some advice, which is to stay in net!  Don't play the puck, and everything should be fine.  Treat the trapezoid like a forbidden zone, and stay between the pipes.

There was one seemingly certain moment in the 3rd period when the Caps should have victimized Halak for being out of position, but, Washington failed to capitalize (pardon the pun), and generally mustered little all night.  They played with the ineffectiveness and speed of congressional urgency.

As was widely predicted, Washington goalie Braden Holtby was not good.  He faced 26 shots and failed to stop 3 of them.  The Islanders then tacked on an empty-net goal to seal Game One.

What Islander fan isn't excited to see Brock Nelson scoring again?  After a scorching first half, he's cooled considerably since New Year's.  He posted 20 regular season goals this season, but only 6 since January (another 6 goals were scored back in October).

On this night, Brock Nelson found the net twice.  He opened the scoring at the 6:06 mark of the 1st period, then capped-off the Isles victory with his second goal into an empty net.



Mike

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Sizing Up The Penguins

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS




Tex's Rangers Set All-Time Franchise Record
with 53 Victories and 113 Points
(53-22-7; 113 Points)
*
President's Trophy Winners
Metropolitan Division Champions
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS

NEW YORK RANGERS: Alain Vigneault does not like sending messages, however, he might have to make a preemptive strike this series.

The Rangers rather manhandled the Penguins this season, to the tune of a 3-0-1 record.

The Penguins were not the team we've been accustomed to; clearly.  Pittsburgh finished 4th in the Metropolitan Division with a 43-27-12 record, just barely good enough for 8th in the Eastern Conference ahead of Boston.  They, like the Islanders, sputtered in the second half of the season.

Off-season personnel changes altered the make-up of this team, and perhaps not necessarily for the better.  They're also beset by injuries, most notably on defense, and specifically to Kris Latang.

Despite still being led by Sidney Crosby and Ivgeni Malkin, the Pens offense only ranked 19th in the NHL.  Brandon Sutter upped his offense, and Patric Hornqvist additionally stepped in to fill the scoring void left behind by James Neal and Jussi Jokinen.  However, Crosby's production was down considerably as well as that of Chris Kunitz' from last season, and Malkin has had trouble staying on the ice with consistency.

Otherwise, Pittsburgh boasted the league's 10th best defense at even strength, and were even better on the penalty kill - 3rd best.  Their power play rated 10th best.

Those numbers may mean little against the Rangers.

There's a strong case to be made for the Pens potentially winning at least one more Cup during the Sidney Crosby/Marc Andre Fleury era.  Deserved or not, there isn't a starting goalie I've held a lesser opinion of over that time.  In 62 starts this season Fleury posted a 34-20-9 record with a .920 SV% and a 2.32 GAA.  In his playoff career, he owns a 52-40 record with an inflated 2.68 SV% and a reduced .905 GAA.

Marc Andre Fleury is by far, the #1 reason why I believe the Rangers will take this series in five games.  



You know what I always say: once is an event, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a trend.

The Capitals were the most recent to do it; the Devils did it; the Blue Jackets did it too.  And, don't think I forgot about the hit Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien put to the back of J.T. Miller's neck.  I can count off every incident over the last two seasons.

Of course, I'm talking about cheap shots.

In their attempts to chase down the faster Rangers, Pittsburgh can ill afford to have any of their remaining healthy blue liners spending time in the box for stupid penalties.  As noted, Latang is already out of the playoffs (with concussion symptoms).  Therefore, I say the Rangers better have their heads on a swivel, and keep an eye on forward Steve Downie.  Despite registering one his more productive seasons, Downie should not factor into the scoring much, if at all, which makes him the perfect person to instigate, and take runs at Rangers players.

Tanner Glass will be looking on with eyes wide open, I'm sure.  I'm also sure he is looking forward to being quite physical with his former team.  Alain Vigneault does not like sending messages.   However, he might have to make a preemptive strike this series (if the situation call for such action) and afford Glass some extra ice-time for the sake of keeping his own players healthy.  Downie averaged 12:26 minutes per game; Glass 10:15 minutes.



Mike

Monday, April 13, 2015

N.Y. Islanders: Long Island's Final Quest To Revel In June

From the desk of:  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB




47-28-7 (101 points)
3rd Metropolitan Division


NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Long Island's final NHL journey begins Wednesday in Washington, in the revisited Drive for Cup Number Five.

That's a wrap.  The 42nd, and final regular season of NHL hockey in Long Island is done.  Come October, the next Islanders regular season home game will be played in Brooklyn.

The last regular season home game at the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum was a deflating shoot-out loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets that prevented the Isles from hosting a first round play-off series.  That, however, didn't stop the party atmosphere in Uniondale Saturday night, nor did it diminish an otherwise great season, and the John Tavares led renaissance in Islanders hockey.

The task of marching Long Island hockey fans through to one last month of June begins Wednesday and Friday night against the Capitals in Washington.  The Barn will get its next chance to rock when the series shifts to Uniondale on Sunday for Game Three.

Before the playoffs even start, the 2014-15 regular season should not go under spoken.

The Islanders posted 101 points this season - breaking the century mark for the 8th time in their history, but, for the first time since the 1983-1984 regular season when Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers snapped Long Island's "Drive For Five" Stanley Cup run.

That was over three decades and a full generation ago.  Many Isles fans weren't even born yet, or most of those who lived through, and remember the good old days are nearing retirement age or drawing social security by now.

The Isles seemingly had something going with some furious hockey against the Penguins in the 2012-13 playoffs, and looked forward to the following season with great anticipation.  In 2013-14 however, they got off to a brutal start which, despite a gamely effort down the stretch, they were unable to overcome.  They posted a disappointing 34-37-11 record, and finished 8th in the Metropolitan Division.

There were obvious issues that needed addressing in the off-season, with none more pressing than the situation between the pipes.

If you remember, last season's 3-headed monster featured 38-year old Evgeni Nabokov, Anders Nilsson, and Kevin Poulin.  The three combined on an .898 SV%, and a 3.00 GAA.  Nabokov led the pack with 38 starts, and posted a 15-14-8 record with a .905 SV%, and a 2.74 GAA.  Poulin made 26 starts, and posted an 11-16-1 record, with an .891 SV%, and a lofty 3.29 GAA.

General manager Garth Snow acquired Jaroslav Halak in the off-season for a 4th round pick, then signed him to a 4-year, $18 million dollar pact.  The stability Halak has brought between the pipes alone, has so far made him worth every cent.

Yes, he experienced a somewhat alarming finish.  Allowing a ponderous game-winning goal against the Flyers, and a let-down against the Blue Jackets in the Barn's regular season finale were not ideal ways to inspire playoff confidence.

What Jaroslav Halak needs at this very moment is rest.  Halak started 57 games this season.  It was said recently on the NHL Network that goalies whom start in excess of 60 games fair quite poorly in the playoffs.   Halak's workload puts him at the edge.

However, any discussion regarding Halak's defects must account for the porous defense being played in front of him, and a particularly poor penalty kill.  They respectively share responsibility for Halak's .914 SV% and a 2.43 GAA.

Otherwise, Jaroslav posted a 38-17-4 record, and greatly outperformed the previous situation in net.   In fact, Halak posted an 11-game winning streak that eclipsed the franchise mark set in 1982 by Billy Smith.

Garth Snow's two other key acquisitions addressed the defense.  In a pair of heralded acquisitions, he secured blue liners Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy.  Offensively, they combined to score 19 goals, 53 assists, and 72 points.

However, they were brought here to bolster the defense.  Last season, the Islanders finished 28th in the league with a 3.18 goals against average.  This season, they finished 23rd in the league.  They finished last season with a 78.1% penalty kill rate; this season, 78% for 26th in the league.

Despite what can be viewed as marginal results, Garth Snow still deserves as much credit today as he did when he first secured these three players.

The Islanders started the season on a roll.  They posted a 25-11-1 record during the 2014 portion of the schedule, and on January 13th, they defeated the New York Rangers at MSG to put them 15 games over the .500 mark for the first time since the Cup era.

Exactly half way through the regular season, the Islanders were in first place of the Metropolitan Division with a 27-13-1 record; one point ahead of the Penguins.  With 55 points, they trailed only Tampa for the Eastern Conference lead.
  • The 1989-90 season was the last time the Islanders found themselves in 1st place by the all-star break.
Other teams got the message - the Islanders were good, 4-lines deep, and tough.  Of course, the hard part was finishing.

Scoring was never an issue.  At even strength, they were the 4th most potent offense in league.  John Tavares missed out on the NHL scoring title by one point.  He finished the regular season with 38 goals and 48 assists for 86 points, and is a leading MVP candidate.

The Islanders stumbled down the stretch, posting a troublesome 7-9-4 record in their final 20 games.   They slipped in the standings, finishing the regular season 3rd in the Metropolitan Division, and 5th in the Eastern Conference.

So, how long this run lasts is anyone's guess at this point.

Long Island's last journey begins Wednesday in Washington in the revisited Drive for Cup Number Five.



Mike

Sunday, April 12, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist, Seizing a Legacy

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS


Tex's Rangers Set All-Time Franchise Record
with 53 Victories and 113 Points
(53-22-7; 113 Points)
*
President's Trophy Winners
Metropolitan Division Champions
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS

With Saturday's victory over the Capitals in the regular season finale, the Rangers punctuated the finest regular season in franchise history.  Their 53rd victory and 113th point surpassed the club mark set by the 1993-1994 Stanley Cup winners.  They captured their third ever President's Trophy.

Blueshirts Enter Playoffs With Best Goalie Tandem In NHL.  But, Only One Can Play.

It was perhaps fitting that Can Talbot was able to win the President's Trophy clincher after his exceptional work in net during Henrik's absence.  Talbot started 23 of 25 games missed by Lundqvist, and posted a stellar 16-4-3 record, with 3 shutouts.

The Rangers finished with 53 victories this season and Talbot owned 21 of them, with perhaps last Tuesday's win being his biggest.   For the season, Talbot was 21-9-4 with a .926 SV% and a 2.21 GAA, which qualified for the league's 4th best mark.

It's somewhat of a shame he won't continue playing into the second season.  But, this is after all Henrik Lundqvist's team.

Despite injury, Henrik won 30 games for the 9th time in his career while only making 45 starts, and lost the fewest games since his rookie season.  He posted a 30-13-3 record this season with a .923 SV% and 2.26 GAA.  Lundqvist made 7 starts upon his return from injury, and posted a 5-2 record.

Henrik and Talbot both registered 5 shutouts each.

Lundqvist, 33, has taken the Rangers to a pair of Eastern Conference finals, and one Stanley Cup series.   In 92 post-season starts, however, the King owns a sub-.500 43-48 record, but with a consistent 2.24 SV% and a .922 GAA.

Many are curious as to whether Cam Talbot can fair better, but are unlikely to find out.  Henrik Lundqvist did tweak his knee against the Capitals during Saturday's season finale, but remained in the game and finished seemingly unhindered.

As we head into the playoffs, the naysayers will be out in full force pointing out Henrik's post-season record, and voicing their desire to see Talbot between the pipes.  Of course, the other side of the puck is that he is healthy, rested, and has sufficiently shaken off the rust after missing 25 games.

Henrik Lundqvist must now get the Rangers back into the Finals, and by finally winning a Stanley Cup, seize his legacy.



Mike

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

N.Y. Mets: First Strange Decision of the Season

From the desk of: HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


New York Mets: First Game Of Season Produces First Questionable Decision.

One game into the season and we have our first controversy - Lineup Gate - that Monday's lineup was largely influenced by Sandy Alderson and was an exercise in Money Ball philosophy.

C. Granderson
D. Wright
L. Duda
M. Cuddyer
D. Murphy
J. Lagares
W. Flores
T. d'Arnaud

Why have a manager then.., to make sure they don't bat out of order?  Or, as I've heard, to get the best hitters the most at-bats?

*sigh*

Did the Mets need to create a controversy so early?

Curtis Granderson was signed to provide power, not bat lead-off.  And after gearing-up Juan Lagares to bat lead-off all Spring, they bat him fifth?

Brought to you by your resident over thinkers...

What I took away from game #1:

Bartolo Colon and the Meta were able to wait-out Max Scherzer until the Nat's became the first team to blink.

Lucas Duda and Travis d'Anaud coming through with a pair of big, late, clutch hits, making the Nationals pay for their defensive miscues.

Wilmer Flores made a solid play ranging to his right, and making a long throw to first base ending the game.

Down Goes Mejia:

The man already has one Tommy John surgery on his resume.  Mejia has now been placed on the DL with (inflammation) pain in his elbow.  An MRI showed no ligament or structural damage.

This might only be a short term setback, but this nevertheless makes the 3rd compromised pitcher for the Mets after Zack Wheeler and Josh Edgin.  Even then, the Mets newly established depth still seems able to absorb this loss as well.



Mike

Monday, April 06, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: The Derek Stepan Show

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS



Metro Division Champs
51-21-7

NEW YORK RANGERS: Derek Stepan Puts An End To Columbus Blue Jackets' 9 Game Win Streak, And Moves Blueshirts Closer To Clinching The President's Trophy.

The Columbus Blue Jackets entered Monday's game winners of 9 in a row, and 12 of their last 13 games.  Even then, they still trailed the Detroit Red Wings for 8th in the Eastern Conference by 12 points.  Their season was already effectively over - except for former Rangers Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, whom almost crashed the party-like atmosphere at Madison Square Garden.

Martin St. Louis put the Rangers ahead in the 1st period, but Columbus came right back and tied the game.  Dan Girardi then put the Rangers ahead again in the 2nd period, but Columbus again responded in kind.

Near the midway point of the 3rd period, the one time crowd favorite Brandon Dubinsky gave Dan Girardi the slip, and put the Blue Jackets ahead for the first time in the game by a 3-2 margin.

Artem Anisimov failed to convert a golden scoring opportunity with Lundqvist badly out position, but lifted the puck out of play instead.  Outside of some other rather miraculous saves by Lundqvist, Anisimov's whiff was an omen of things to come.

Late in the 3rd period with Henrik Lundqvist pulled from net, Derek Stepan scored at the 19:32 mark on an assist from Chris Kreider to send the game into overtime.  Then with the extra session winding down, Stepan scored the game winner at the 4:10 mark to give the Rangers their NHL leading 51st victory of the regular season.  Stepan also registered an assist to give him 3-points on the night.

  • Derek Stepan now has 3 goals and 5 points in his last 2 games.
  • The Rangers are now 3-0 with Martin St. Louis back in the line-up.  They posted a 4-4 record without him.
  • After losing his return game against Boston, Henrik Lundqvist has now won 4 in a row.


The Rangers now have 109 points, which ties their 2nd best all-time franchise mark.  The Rangers club record is 112 points set by the 1993-94 team.  

The race for the President's Trophy is down to the Rangers and Anaheim Ducks.  The Rangers have 3 games remaining, while the Ducks have 107 points, and only 2 games left to play.  By securing one point against the Devils Tuesday evening, the Rangers would clinch the Eastern Conference title. With a 2-point victory, Tex's Rangers would clinch the President's Trophy.



Mike

N.Y. Mets: Play Ball..!

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET



SEASON OPENER

New York Mets
vs.
Washington Nationals
from
D.C.

NEW YORK METS: The 54th Season of Metropolitan Baseball opens in Washington against the National League East favorite, Nationals.
"I wanna walk before they make me run..."  - stuff Keith Richards would say.

Let's get to .500 first!  Then, we can consider this team's play-off worthiness.

I often say, you can't win pennants in April, but you can surely lose them.  The start of the 2015 season is set to play a huge role in the final standings.  Starting Monday, and through May 10th, the Mets will play 26 of their first 31 games against the N.L. East (with 5 inter-league games against the Yankees and Orioles).

Beginning with Monday's season opener, the Mets will play the Nationals 7 times.  The Mets posted a depressing 4-15 record against them last season.  Their mission in 2015, then, is to close the gap.

The Mets will also play Miami 7 times, then Philadelphia and Atlanta 6 times.  A strong start, therefore, would position them in a very competitive situation come Mother's Day.

Once again, I expect the Marlins to be a maddening opponent for both the Mets and Nationals this season.  The Phillies and Braves however, will be locked in a race for last place.

Two things are certain regarding the 2015 Mets: pitching is clearly their strength, and the defense is highly suspect.  

The big unknown centers around the offense.
  • The division winning Nationals posted a .253 team batting average in 2014, while the Mets collectively hit a mere .239, which ranked 13th out of 15 teams.
  • The Mets were tied for 9th in 2014 with 125 home runs.  The Rockies led the circuit with 186 home runs (but that's because they play in the world's largest pinball machine).  Otherwise, the "windy city" Cubs were 2nd with 157 jacks.  The Nats were 4th with 152 home runs.
  • The Nationals placed 3rd with 686 runs scored, 57 more runs than the 8th ranked Mets.
The heart of the Mets line-up will tentatively consist of David Wright, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, and Michael Cuddyer.  Can this quartet collectively hit 100 home runs?  I think it's reasonable.  Likely?  Injuries might dictate that.

That leaves Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores, and Travis d'Arnaud, potentially tipping the balance between the Mets having a National League top third offense, or an inadequate one.

While Juan Lagares in particular should be credited for drawing walks and posting an OBP above .400 during Grapefruit League play, he is being asked to lead-off, which is a skill and a slot he's not ideally suited to fill.  That being said, I feel there is a lot more to Juan Lagares than meets the eye - just not at the top of the order.

Last season, Travis d'Arnaud said he learned his lesson after a demotion to Las Vegas.  He made a correction at the plate, returned to Flushing, and wielded a productive bat thereafter.  That's the d'Arnaud the Mets need this season.  If he doesn't feel threatened by Kevin Plawecki's ascension through the Mets farm system, he should be.

Meanwhile, the Mets hope Wilmer Flores can compensate for any defensive shortcomings at shortstop with his bat.  Fans are divided as to whether he can do just that.  While his bat is not necessarily in question, pairing him up the middle with Daniel Murphy justifiably raises anxiety levels.



Mike

Saturday, April 04, 2015

N.Y. Rangers Dance Past Devils For 50th Victory of Season

From the desks of:  
RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS  and  ALL MOTHER LEEDS CHILDREN

Battle of the Hudson - III


Rangers lead series 3-0
I - NYR 4; NJD 3*
II - NYR 3; NJD 1
*overtime

SATURDAY NIGHT FINAL
Devils     1
Rangers 6

NEW YORK RANGERS: Metropolitan Division Champions Continue March Towards President's Trophy.

All Henrik's horses, and all the President's men....

Killjoy said be careful what we ask for - lest we forget 1992!  He also said not to forget 1970 through 1973 either.

Thing is, Killjoy just can't get that hit Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien laid to the back of J.T. Miller's neck!  That no Ranger responded to the vicious hit makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.   After the game, Coach Vigneault appeared angrier than did any Ranger player on the ice.  But, under Alain Vigneault that's old hat at this point.

These Rangers are not the grunts they were just a few years ago, that subdued teams with the grace of a troglodyte and the force of a glacier.  It's hard to say if that team could have slowed down this present team.

Vigneault's team at least advanced to a Final series; Tortorella's did not.  Both editions, however, were stymied by an inability to score one last goal.

This team is younger, much faster, more skilled, and except for some recent struggles on the power play, more balanced.  I get it.  But, they're smaller.  Unless they grow exceptionally thick beards for the playoffs, I'm nonetheless leery of a glass jaw.

(Although.....) That seems to have played less of a factor this season than in years past, as overall physicality in the conference is down.  The Bruins, Flyers, Devils, Leafs, Penguins..., all were shorter in the tooth this season.  The playoffs, however, are another animal - cute cuddly teams need not apply, particularly Smurfs.

I'm on record saying the Rangers should not have extended MatZucs, and should let Martin St. Louis walk as well.  My point of contention has always been their size, and the way they get pushed off the puck.  However, whenever I bring it up, MatZucs has another good game (with a rather brilliant assist on Rick Nash's 42nd goal of the season against the Devils).

The Rangers are additionally a better team with Martin St. Louis on the ice.  Out since mid-March, the team's drop off in play was noticeable.  The Rangers posted a 4-4 record without him.  They defeated the Panthers in his last game before missing time with a knee injury, defeated the Wild in his first game back, and walloped the Devils on Saturday.  That's no coincidence.

Two very key players moving forward will be Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider.  Hayes, the 22-year old rookie is making a name for himself.  He has 9 goals and 13 assists for 22 points in his last 31 games, while averaging just under 13:00 a game.   He's listed at 6'5", 225 lbs., and playing with growing confidence.

Kreider, 23, is listed at 6'3", 226 lbs.  After averaging just 2 goals per month over the first three of the season, Kreider has averaged 5 goals a month since January.  But, the Rangers need more.  The sophomore winger is just too big, too fast and strong, and too skilled to continue being an occasional, if not marginal presence.

Rick Nash has now scored 40 goals in three different seasons.  He scored his career high 42nd goal of the season Saturday night, 10 years after posting his first 40-goal season while still with Columbus.   His present team high 28 plus/minus is also a career best.  He has played this season with a ferocity not seen since prior to his latest battle with concussion symptoms.

However, while the Rangers were streaking in March, Nash cooled off significantly from his season long scoring binge.  He only registered 3 goals and 5 points for the entire month.  So far, he has 2 goals in 2 games in April which is a very welcome sign.  The memories of last year's playoff disappearance still haunt us all.

Henrik Lundqvist allowed a lone third period goal to the Devils with less than four minutes left in the game.  After losing to Boston in his return to the net, the King has now won 3 straight over the Jets, Wild, and Devils, to improve his season record to a 28-12-3 mark.  In his last 3 games, he has allowed 5 goals on 98 SOG.

The Rangers have another 4 games left to play in 6 nights, which means Cam Talbot could conceivably make one more start this season.

Henrik is now 337-207 for his career, with a .921 SV% and a 2.26 GAA.  In the playoffs, Henrik owns a 43-48 record, with a near identical .922 SV% and a 2.24 GAA.

With a 6-1 drubbing over the Devils Saturday night, Tex's Rangers secured their 50th victory of the season for only the 4th time in their history.  They have reached 107 points.  This is the 8th time Tex's Rangers have eclipsed 100 points in a season.  The Rangers club record is 112 points set by the 1994 Stanley Cup champions.  Eight points remain for their taking, although they would set a franchise record with another 6 points.



Mike

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Rivalry: Rangers vs. Islanders - V

From the desks of:
RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS  and  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB

The Rivalry - V


SHOWDOWN
Metropolitan Division
1) N.Y. Islanders  43-21-4; 90 points
2) N.Y. Rangers    40-17-7; 87 points

Islanders lead series 3-1
I - NYI 6; NYR 3
II - NYI 3; NYR 0
III - NYI 4; NYR 1
IV - NYR 6; NYI 5
V - TONIGHT

The Ice of March
New York Rangers
vs.
New York Islanders
from
Uniondale Ice House

Although Long Island's comeback effort against the Maple Leafs prevented this game from being a showdown for first place, Tuesday night's game should no less epic.  The Uniondale Ice House hasn't rocked like this in decades.  A March Rangers/Islanders showdown with very meaningful implications is finally back on the schedule.  The Rivalry is on again!

The Islanders escaped Toronto and bring a 3 point lead over the Rangers into this evening's game.

Long Island has achieved things this season not accomplished since their Cup years.  They have risen to every challenge, answered every call, handled every top competitor, responded accordingly when called for, and have otherwise been one of the consistently dominant teams of the conference - just ask the Leafs...

However, I feel all the pressure entering Tuesday night's clash is on them.  Thing is, the Rangers have three/four games in hand, and the Islanders know it.  Including Tuesday, the Isles have 14 games remaining, while the Rangers have 18 games left in the regular season.

The Islanders have been somewhat pressing recently to sustain their position atop the division.  It certainly seemed that way again when they trailed Toronto by a 3-1 margin in the 3rd period.  But, the resilient Isles scored twice more (3x in the 3rd period) to send the game into overtime.  John Tavares then won it with a power play goal.

Nick Leddy left the game with an injury, and might be a game time decision on Tuesday.

The Isles improved to 2-2 in March, and are 11-5-3 since February 3rd.

But here comes the competition.

Tex's Rangers are surging, and have drawn within striking distance of the division and conference leaders with a 12-2-3 record since February 2nd.

Entering Tuesday's game, Cam Talbot started 15 of the Rangers previous 16 games in Henrik Lundqvist's absence.  On Sunday, he posted his second shutout in his last 6 games; a 1-0 effort against the Flames, and a 1-0 overtime gem against the Blackhawks on Sunday.  Overall, he's made 24 starts this season, and now owns a 14-6-4 record, with a .921 SV% and a 2.33 GAA.

In the meantime, Henrik Lundqvist will surely have some rust to work off upon his return, but he will be well rested for a playoff run.

Jaroslav Halak will be making his 49th start of the season.  He set the Islanders goalie record earlier this season, and is presently 3rd in the NHL with 34 victories.  Thanks in part to the NHL's 3rd ranked offense, Halak owns a 34-13-1 record, but with a less stellar .911 SV% which ranks 26th among goalies with 30+ starts, and a 2.48 GAA which similarly ranks 22nd.

The Islanders indeed own the NHL's 3rd most potent offense.  John Tavares has done his best to minimize the loss of line mate Kyle Okposo.  Tavares now leads the NHL with 72 points, and is 4th with 33 goals.  The power play is a very respectable 11th in the league.

However, despite off-season upgrades, defense, with particular emphasis on the penalty kill, continue to haunt Garth Snow, Coach Capuano, and the Islanders.  They are 23rd in goals against, and a woeful 29th on the penalty kill.

Leading up to the trade deadline, the Islanders acquired goalie Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Mark Louis

The Rangers boast the NHL's 4th most potent offense, and the 12th best power play (both just a tick behind the Isles).  Within the conference, their +43 point differential is second only to Tampa.  With 38 goals, Rick Nash is 2nd only to Alex Ovechkin.

Defensively, the numbers suggest there is no comparison between teams.  The Rangers are the NHL's 3rd most stingiest team, and they rate 9th on the penalty kill.

Although the results remain to be seen, Glen Sather might have pulled off a pair of savvy trades in acquiring forward James Sheppard, and defenseman Keith Yandle.

Derick Brassard continues to have the best season of his career.  He scored the game winning goal against the Blackhawks Sunday.  In 61 games played he now has 14 goals and has established career highs with 37 assists and 51 points - both of which lead the team.  Last season, he scored a career high 18 goals in 81 games.




Mike

Monday, March 09, 2015

Brooklyn Nets: Fading Away

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH



Now 11-games under .500, and fading fast...

BROOKLYN NETS: Look what the Utah Jazz did to Flatbush, again.

Let us tell no lies.

The 2011 trade bringing (then) 26-year old point guard Deron Williams to the Nets was a no-brainer. Negotiated under the cover of night, the transaction even stole headlines away from the Knicks upon their acquisition of Carmelo Anthony.

Despite being limited to just 55 games in 2011-12, Deron Williams' 21-ppg was his best rate as a pro, which continued ratifying the trade as a coup.

Then came the team's relocation to Brooklyn.

Beset by ankle problems throughout, Williams averaged 18.9 points and 7.7 assists in 2012-13, then fell precipitously to just 14.3 points and 6.1 assists per game last season.

Now 30-years old, Deron Williams underwent surgery to both ankles this past off-season and was off to a spirited start this season.  However, he has since been relegated to playing off the bench by Coach Hollins, and is presently only averaging 13.2 points and 6.2 assists per game.

His former team, the Utah Jazz were in Brooklyn Sunday featuring forward Derrick Favors - one of the players packaged in exchange for Williams.

Favors, 23, played a game high 38-minutes and shot 50% on 8/16 from the floor.  He was second on the Jazz with 22 points and 8 boards.  Deron Williams on the other hand, played 30 minutes and was only 2/5 from the floor.  He registered 6 points, 4 assists, and 5 rebounds.

The Jazz 95-88 victory over the Nets Sunday improved their record to 26-36, while the defeat dropped the Nets to 25-36 this season.  At first glance, the teams look relatively even.  The observant fan, however, knows otherwise.  While the Jazz are 10 games under .500, they are young, rebuilding and improving.  The Nets, however, are now 11 games under .500, and devolving at a accelerating rate.

The New Year turnaround experienced under both P.J. Carlessimo and Jason Kidd has failed to transpire under Lionel Hollins.  Despite impressive back-to-back victories over Golden State and Dallas, and additionally strong victories over Toronto, L.A. Clippers, and Washington, the Nets have posted a 10-20 in 2015.

They have now dropped 3 in a row, and are now 11-18 at home.  They've fallen into a second place tie in the Atlantic Division with (another rebuilding team) the Boston Celtics.  They're additionally 2.5 games behind the Indiana Pacers in the race for the Eastern Conference 8th seed along with Boston, both of whom trail Miami.

Even Jason Kidd's team, the Milwaukee Bucks, widely considered a pre-season afterthought, are presently the 6th team in the conference with a (surprising) 33-29 record.

Brook Lopez was finally reinserted back into the starting line-up on Sunday, and responded with 19 points and 10 rebounds.  It was his second straight double/double, as he scored 19 points and pulled down 13 rebounds against the Suns.

While Brook was back in, Joe Johnson was strangely out.  In a very peculiar move, Coach Hollins had Joe Johnson on the bench and put the ball in Jarrett Jack's hands for the final, and potentially game winning shot in regulation time against Phoenix.  Jack's shot rimmed out, and the Nets eventually fell apart in overtime.

Joe Johnson is playing out of position and his game is suffering as a result.  That being said, Lionel Hollins has truly been a brutal presence for Brooklyn's envisioned big three; Johnson, Williams, Lopez.

Obviously, the problems confronting this organization lay above Hollins.  This team was constructed to win in the very near term, but will clearly fail in their five year mission to win a title.  Instead they are fading away, and other than negotiating a sale of the team, the deep pocketed owner now appears indifferent to affecting change.

Translated - Billy King continues unfettered in his present capacity.

That's sad, because all indications say he engineered a bottom third club with little chance of improving.  The Nets are 23rd in scoring, 22nd in rebounds, 27th in assists, and 18th in points allowed.

Yet, Billy King stayed relatively put at the deadline (or arguably got outclassed by his competitors), so it's no surprise the situation continues to worsen.

If that wasn't enough, by negotiating the team's draft picks he's effectively compromised the near future as well.

That puts the real Nets turnaround light years from now.



Mike

Saturday, March 07, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Glen Sather Earns Assist At Trade Deadline

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS



39-17-7 (85 points)
2nd place Metro Division
4th place Eastern Conference
#3 Conference Scoring
#2 Conference Defense

NEW YORK RANGERS: Glen Sather Earns Two Points For Making Savvy Trades At Deadline.

Hello, Killjoy here again...

Had I written immediately after the Rangers defeated the Predators, this narrative might have sounded very differently.  But I didn't.

At the time, the Rangers beat a team that lost their previous 2 games.  Nashville has now lost 5 in a row, and were outscored 19-10 over that stretch.  Taking it further, the Predators are 2-7 in their last 9 games, and not only did they lose to the Rangers, they fell to the Devils and Islanders as well.

That's another way of saying the western conference Predators appeared more fearsome from afar, because the team that recently visited the metropolitan area looked and played like pussycats.   They're obviously in the midst of a poor spell.

Trending?  The Rangers also failed to follow up two key victories in a proper manner.  They left a point on the ice against the Canucks after defeating the Islanders, and left another point on the ice against the Red Wings after the Predators.

It's hard to pooh-pooh a quick taste of first place though.  With 3 games in hand and one game left against Long Island, Tex's Rangers have the Islanders fixed in their cross hairs.

They'll proceed forward surprisingly well refortified too.

While I anticipated a quiet trading period for the Rangers thinking Glen Sather generally handicapped himself with his overall salary cap management, he somehow still managed a day worthy of appreciation.

The Rangers acquired offensive defenseman Keith Yandle, along with Chris Summers and a 2016 #4 pick from Phoenix in return for prospect Anthony Duclair, defenseman John Moore, a 2015 #2 pick and a 2016 #1 pick.

Even Killjoy is very high on this trade.

John Moore in particular was becoming a liability, and failed to mesh with Kevin Hayes or Dan Boyle to form an effective third line.  Thus the addition of Yandle corrects a major malfunction - the third defensive pair.  This now gives the Rangers three very solid reliable lines, potentially improves the power play, and perhaps the overall offensive contribution from the blueliners as well.

The money works too.  Keith Yandle will not be an unrestricted free agent until the 2016-17 season, and Phoenix is absorbing half of his salary cap hit.

Of course, it's always nice to have motivated sellers like the Coyotes to deal with.  Nevertheless, this is a good trade for both teams.  Phoenix is going full-blown rebuild and secured themselves a top prospect to move forward with.  The Rangers were arguably a defenseman and a big center away from being true Eastern Conference favorites, and were in position to move such a touted prospect as Duclair to facilitate such improvements.

In a separate trade, the Rangers also acquired James Sheppard and Carl Klingberg for Lee Stempniak.

Klingberg is an inexperienced 24-year old winger taken early in the 2nd round of the 2009 entry draft.  The hook, and someone I think can be a real sleeper is center James Sheppard.  He was the 9th overall selection of the 2006 entry draft taken by Minnesota.  He's 26-years old, and listed at 6'1" and 215 pounds.  He'll fit nicely on the 4th line, and provide much needed size.  However, the knock on him is that he does not use said size effectively.  He better learn quick - he's in the Eastern Conference now.  But, I would certainly agree he's an improvement over Stempniak in both size and potential contribution.

Glen Sather still wasn't done.  Although odd, his initial effort to trade Mats Zuccarello instead wound up becoming a 3-year contract extension for the small forward.  I'm not sure I agree with resigning MatsZucs, but I seem to be in the minority.

The Rangers have now played 15 games and earned 21 points in Henrik Lundqvist's absence.  Cam Talbot has started 14 of those, and thus far posted a 9-2-3 record, which includes a shutout over the Flames.  The Rangers have averaged 3.3 goals for him, while Talbot has limited the opposition to 2.6 goals per game.



Mike