Wednesday, April 23, 2014

L.I. Ducks: Somerset Patriots Prepare For Another Flock Invasion

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE





Open The Gates, And Play Ball!

2014
SEASON OPENER

FRIDAY
LONG ISLAND DUCKS
vs.
SOMERSET PATRIOTS
FROM
Some Park In New Jersey


LONG ISLAND DUCKS: More Bling Please...! Title Defense Begins Against A New Division Foe, But An Old League Rival.

The 15th regular season of Long Island Ducks baseball picks up where 2013 left off, against the Somerset Patriots.  Of course, the Patriots are five time Atlantic League champions, who last year knocked off the league's top team (the mighty Sugar Land Skeeters) in the Freedom Division series to advance and face the Ducks for the Atlantic League championship.

Long Island won the first two games of last year's final, but Somerset stormed back to tie, and force a decisive Game Five.  The Ducks ultimately prevailed, capturing their second consecutive (and rather improbable) league title, and the organization's third overall.

A slight league realignment has now brought the Patriots and Ducks even closer together.  Somerset moves to the Liberty Division this season, while the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs will shift to the Freedom Division.

Friday evening, Somerset will no doubt be looking to punctuate their 2014 Opening Day festivities by gaining a small measure of revenge over their Long Island rivals.

At the plate, the Patriots will once again feature Cory Smith, who hit 20 home runs, and knocked in 84 runs last season.  In the outfield, Aharon Eggleston batted .294, with 8 homers and 56 RBI.

On the mound, Josh Lowey returns to lead the starting rotation.  He led the Patriots with a 14-8 record, and 2.89 ERA last season.  He struck out 124 batters in 155.2 innings pitched.  He'll once again team up with David Harden, who posted a 10-2 record with a 3.38 ERA, in 101 innings pitched.

Relief specialists Roy Merritt and Jon Hunton return to anchor the Somerset bullpen.  Last season, Merritt got in 38 games and pitched 64.1 innings, in which he struck out 71 batters, and posted a   4-2 record, with 2 saves, and a 1.95 ERA.  The Patriots closer, Jon Hunton, posted a 3.00 ERA in 54 innings, and saved 37 games.

After their three game weekend series against Somerset, the Ducks will move along to Southern Maryland for a three game set against the Blue Crabs.  Long Island will then host their home opener on Friday, May 2nd, against the York Revolution.



Mike.BTB

N.Y. Rangers: Game 3 - Dan Carcillo Kicks Sand In The Broad Street Bullies Faces

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCHNER WITH THE GREATS





Rangers Lead Series 2-1
I - NYR 4; PHI 1
II - PHI 4; NYR 2
III - NYR 4; PHI 1
IV - FRIDAY @ PHI


GAME THREE FINAL
RANGERS   4
Flyers          1


NEW YORK RANGERS: Flyers Cheap Shots Failing To Rattle Blueshirts, Unless You're Benoit Pouliot That Is.....

When do you suppose Coach Vigneault will play Dan Carcillo?  I hope the answer is games Three and Four.  A game in Philly seems tailored for him..., no?  Doesn't the former Flyer have anything to offer, be it with his physicality, or on-ice composure in a familiar environment?  Put him in coach.  C'mon, let him bang some bodies. - Yeah, I said that.
DAN CARCILLO REVISITS WITH OLD FRIENDS IN PHILADELPHIA
BEARING GOALS AND TIDINGS OF ILL WILL.

Ray Emery finally played down to his abilities.  He let pucks get by him from up close, from far away, and from bad angles.  In other words, he was an equal opportunity Game Three failure.  The Flyers finally pulled him from net in the third period, and it's probably safe to say, the Rangers should expect to see Steve Mason the rest of this series.

For the first time this series, the Flyers out-shot the Rangers by a 32-23 margin.  After chiding The King in my last post, Tuesday night, Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant in stopping all but one shot. The Rangers also uncharacteristically put Philly on the PP five times, but successfully killed them all.  A stellar defensive effort, and Henrik's 31 saves were most certainly the determining factors of Game Three.

For the moment, the Rangers were able to seize back home ice advantage.

The rest, makes for a very colorful recap.

The Flyers crowd was taken out of the game early, by two Rangers first period goals.  Ray Emery gave up a bad angle goal in close quarters to Derek Stepan, on a Rick Nash feed from the far corner.  Then a little under seven minutes later, he gave up another on Dan Girardi's shot which was deflected in by Martin St. Louis.

Before the first period was through, the Flyers got one goal back, but nothing more.  Dan Girardi then cancelled it out with a booming second period shot taken from downtown Philadelphia, which Emery was helpless to stop.

Former Flyer Dan Carcillo provided the crowd with one final punch to the stomach, when he converted a great pass from Brian Boyle, and tapped it through the pads of Emery, to give the Rangers a 4-1 victory.  It was a marvelous turn of events for him.  After feeling dejected over committing a penalty, he scored right out of the box.  Back in the second period, he took a minor penalty for coming to the aid of Carl Hagelin.  Good man!  Good game.

Benoit Pouliot was clearly out of his mind though.  In fact, there was a point in the game when Pouliot and Carcillo were both going against everything Coach Vigneault preaches.  But, it may have served the Rangers well.  Winning certainly has a way of influencing perspective, and so I would say Carcillo and Pouliot both brought a high level of intensity, and even a measure of anger and raucousness, that perhaps Philadelphia needed to experience.

Once again, the Flyers resorted to their full repertoire of troglodyte tactics.  Wayne Simmonds continued his overall obnoxious behavior, and escaped the box after cross-checking Derek Dorsett in the face. Simmonds also continues to lead the Flyers in SOG.

Dan Carcillo took a deliberate shoulder to the jaw, which also went unnoticed by the stripes, who by the way, were particularly horrific this night.  If you were watching, how else can you explain Philly getting whistled only four times all game.  It was a ponderous performance by them.

Just prior to Philadelphia scoring their lone goal, I could have sworn Derek Dorsett and Simmonds agreed to drop gloves during their next shift, but the fight never materialized, unlike the series of punches Carl Hagelin endured during what the stripes deemed a non-fight against Jakub Voracek - an absolutely terrible job.

The Rangers are hopping a train back to New York City tonight, and will return for Game Four on Friday.  I don't blame them.  I wouldn't want to spend the night in Philadelphia either.

Enjoy a cold beer on the way home fellas.  Nice game.



Mike.BTB

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Latest For Rising Apple: Weighing Potential Mets Line-Up Alternatives




Here's my latest for









Mike.BTB
Senior Staff Writer/Rising Apple

N.Y. Knicks: Please Phil, Don't Stop!

From the desk of:  DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP



Taxi!  Airport please, and step on it.


NEW YORK KNICKS: "The Time Has Come For Change Throughout The Franchise..." - Phil Jackson.

I couldn't agree more with Phil Jackson's decision to fire the entire coaching staff.  It was the right thing to do Knicks fans.  He was correct to declare - "The time has come for change throughout the franchise...."

You're damn right it's time!  Gut it Phil!

Let Phil Jackson put his footprint all over this organization, and then own it.  But please, don't stop there!  Steve Mills should be next.  Purge every last remnant of the old regime.  Knicks history, basketball history, even world history says that's the thing to do.  Gut it all!

The defects to this franchise go far beyond preventative, or even corrective maintenance.  Above all, this organization has been polluted under James Dolan's ownership.  All you need to know is what Steve Kerr intimated - he's skeptical of MSG's overall environment, conditions, and dark, corporate climate that permeate the organization.

Everything that ails this organizations starts at the top.  So, if indeed Phil Jackson has full, and absolute autonomy, then yeah, act like you own it.

There can only be one alpha, and it can not be a man who A) - knows nothing about basketball, and B) - is more interested in his band.  Yes, he is a business man.  No doubt.  That's why he needed Carmelo Anthony in his building, and trampled all over Donnie Walsh to get him.  But, the time has finally come to put the game, and the team, ahead of the star system and entertainment.

Too bad for Mike Woodson.  I hope he lands on his feet.  Over time, we grew to understand his flaws as a head coach.  But, he was a good guy who shouldn't have to bear full blame for players that either turned on him, or tuned him out.  That's an indictment more of the players, than anything Coach Woodson tried.

The day he took over, he said he was going to ride Carmelo Anthony.  That was a smart ploy considering Mike D'Antoni wouldn't.  To Melo's credit, by and large he stayed loyal to Coach Woodson.  The same can't be said of Tyson Chandler, and Amare Stoudemire in particular.



Mike.BTB

Monday, April 21, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: Flyers Put A Few Extra Eggs In Henrik's Basket

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCHNER WITH THE GREATS




Series Tied 1-1
I - NYR 4; PHI 1
II - PHI 4; NYR 2
III - TUESDAY
IV - NYR @ PHI
V - PHI @ NYR
VI - NYR @ PHI
VII - PHI @ NYR

GAME THREE
New York Rangers
vs.
Philadelphia Flyers
FROM
Broad Street


NEW YORK RANGERS: A Quiet Ninety Mile Drive To Think About What They've Done.

I Tried Protecting The King, But There's No Hiding From The Numbers

On a personal note, I hate Sunday afternoon starts!!!  Absolutely hate 'em!  I digress.

Game Two was nothing short of an opportunity lost (literally), and must be called for what it was. It was Easter, so, yeah, they laid a rotten egg in the Garden.  After spending two days wiping the yolk off their faces, they better get hot on stealing a game in Philadelphia in order to recapture home ice advantage, otherwise, well.......

That won't be easy.

So far, the Flyers were made to play the Rangers style of game, and in Game Two, the Rangers were made to play the Flyers style.

More so in Game One, but, to a certain extent, Coach Vigneault was able to escape the Flyers physicality while on home ice.  As the series shifts to Philly, the Flyers now obviously get final line change rights.  That means the Broadway Blueshirts better prepare for the Broad Street Bullies. Coach Berube can sic exactly who he wants after the Rangers defensemen, particularly in the corners, and decide who gets to instigate, and when.  Advantage Flyers.

That's not good news coming on the heels of Sunday's meltdown.  Most aspects of Tex's Rangers game failed them.  Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi didn't have particularly good days.  Both posted a minus-2 for the game.  But, there's no possible way to take them to task over it.  Not them - not after all they do otherwise.

It's not like Philadelphia refrained from committing penalties.  They banked plenty of goon minutes, again.  In fact, they committed 6 penalties in consecutive games.  While the Rangers rode the strength of two PP goals in 6 chances in Game One, they were only 1 for 6 Sunday.  But, that makes them 25% in two games, which is superior to their 18.2% mark during the regular season. On the other side of the puck, the Rangers have limited the Flyers to just 4 PP opportunities in two games, but to the Blueshirts dismay, Philly has cashed in twice.  Numbers suck, don't they?

Not all things, but you knew at least some things would change heading into Game Two.  Getting limited to 15 overall SOG in Game One was something the Flyers were certainly going to rectify. This time, the Rangers mustered 33 shots on goal to the Flyers 24 shots.  That brings the team totals up to 69 SOG for the Rangers, and just 39 for the Flyers - rather lopsided numbers, aye?

But, the scoring breakdown is unsettling - six goals for the Rangers, and 5 for Philly.  Three of the Rangers 6 goals have come on the power play, while Philly has tallied 3 of their 5 goals at even strength.

Somehow, and certainly not to my surprise, the Flyers continue making numerous mistakes, yet they now hold serve.  Meanwhile, the Rangers have played very disciplined hockey, yet can not afford even the slightest misstep.

Think about it.  Outside of Jakub Voracek's goal Sunday, the Rangers are actually keeping the Flyers first line in relative check.  Claude Giroux still does not have a shot on goal.  Scott Hartnell only has a pair, and none in Game Two.  And Voracek had no SOG in the opener, but got the Flyers going in the second period of Game Two, on one of only two shots he took.  Even the sticks of Vincent Lecavalier, Matt Reed, remain dormant.

But I guess you can't keep your eyes on every one.  Wayne Simmonds is the one Flyer finding daylight.  What Jakub Voracek started for Philly Sunday night, Simmonds ended with a lights-out power play goal at 19:34 of the final period.  Wayne leads the Flyers with 6 total SOG.

You know where this all is headed, don't you?  Henrik Lundqvist is getting outplayed by Philadelphia's backup goalie.  Damn.  I said it.  The numbers speak for themselves:

Philly vs. Lundqvist - 5 goals on 39 shots = 12.8%
Rangers vs. Emery - 6 goals on 69 shots = .08%

It's not like Henrik's skaters are failing him.  The Rangers main forwards are getting their chances against a very porous Philly defense.  In two games, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis have factored in the scoring, just as required.  When you include Rick Nash, the three have combined for 27 SOG.  Rick Nash leads the trio with 13 SOG, but is having an awful time finishing.  Brad Richards has 11 SOG and one goal.  So, the opportunities have been there, but the fact is, Ray Emery, particularly on Sunday, has stopped them cold.  Martin St. Louis has a goal in three shots. He was held without a shot in Game One.

Now what?  The answer might be simple.  Keep doing what you're doing, but with a more watchful eye on defensive detail.  Certainly, a marked increase in intensity over Game Two is warranted as well.  And as they say in the fight business, protect yourself at all times.

On that note, when do you suppose Coach Vigneault will play Dan Carcillo?  I hope the answer is games Three and Four.  A game in Philly seems tailored for him..., no?  Doesn't the former Flyer have anything to offer, be it with his physicality, or on-ice composure in a familiar environment? Put him in coach.  Let him bang some bodies.




MIke.BTB

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Today For Rising Apple: Podcast - The Weekend Recovery Show, Or, Rant Talk Radio!



After attending Sunday's extra-inning victory over the Atlanta Braves,
fellow staff writer and friend, the Converted Mets Fan - Sam Maxwell and I, co-hosted 
the 70th episode of the Rising Apple podcast.




Sure, we talked about the game, Curtis Granderson, the rest of the outfield, Jose Valverde, Wilfredo Tovar and the Mets shortstop situation.  But, we also talked about cheap owners, baseball's old time alpha managers, Citi Field, the 1970 season, Gil Hodges, - you name it, and more.

We even went off campus and talked New York Knicks versus Brooklyn Nets basketball.

I do not usually link these, but I basically turned this particular episode into a 1 1/2 hour rant!

Enjoy.

Or, as I later named it - Rant Talk Radio.




Mike.BTB
Senior Staff Writer/Rising Apple

Today For Rising Apple: Noah Syndergaard Taking His Lumps In The Pacific Coast League



Here's my latest for







Mike.BTB
Senior Staff Writer/Rising Apple

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Brooklyn Nets: Game One - Raptors Foiled By THE TRUTH

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH




2013-2014
NBA PLAYOFFS ~ ROUND ONE
GAME ONE FINAL:
NETS     94
Raptors  87

BROOKLYN NETS: "The Truth" - Paul Pierce Offers Up A Lesson In The Fine Art Of Closing Out Playoff Games.


Nine of Paul Pierce's Fifteen Points Came In The Final 3:30 Of The Game.

Paul Pierce finished unlike any Brooklyn Nets player ever has prior to his arrival.  Game One in Toronto demonstrated exactly why Billy King rolled his dice on Pierce, as well as Kevin Garnett. In the final 2 minutes of the game, the ball was in their hands, and they delivered Brooklyn to victory on the road against a tenacious Raptors team.

From the onset, the Toronto crowd heckled Kevin Garnett - KG SUCKS! - and he did.  Garnett couldn't buy a shot.  The Nets opted to get him the ball early, but he missed the Nets first three attempts of the game.  He was only 1/5 for the game, and 3/6 from the line.  But, his 1st basket came in the 3rd quarter, a free throw, which tied the game 51-51 at the 9:02 mark.  Then, his first field goal of the game was nothing short of clutch.  He gave the Nets a 79-76 lead with 3:30 left. Looking back, they were two of the several stabilizing moments in the game.

Kevin Garnett led the team with 8 rebounds, 7 defensive.  But more than anything, he combined with Paul Pierce in handling the ball with very sure hands in the closing three minutes of the game. His ability to gain the high elbow, and pass back and forth with Paul Pierce on the wing, without panic, exemplified their respective playoff experience at its finest.

For all Kyle Lowry's and Deron Williams' efforts, the respective back courts were still playing to a stalemate with less than 5:00 left in the game - 32 points each.  That's exactly when Paul Pierce started taking over.

Nine of Paul Pierce's 15 points came in the last 3:00 of the game.  With 2:57 to go, Paul Pierce's three-pointer opened up an 82-76 lead.  He followed on his next possession with a layup to make it 84-78 Nets.  At 1:30, he jumper made it 86-78 Nets.  After Greivis Vasquez responded with a three, Paul Pierce answer back with another jumper to give the Nets an 88-81 lead, with just 51.5 seconds left.

Once the Raptors resorted to fouling and stopping the clock, Brooklyn ensured the ball was in Joe Johnson's hands.  Mr.Big Shot nailed 4 free throws in the closing seconds to secure a 94-87 Brooklyn victory.

While Pual Pierce provided the finishing touches in Game One, it was Deron Williams and Joe Johnson who spent Saturday's opening game in the trenches.

Joe Johnson led all players with 45 minutes, while Kyle Lowry was a close second with 44 minutes. Johnson tied for the game lead with 24 points.  Joe also pulled down 8 rebounds, and distributed 8 assists.  He was 62% from the field on 8/13 shooting, and a perfect 8/8 from the line.

Deron Williams issued his opening statement with conviction, and won small victory over Kyle Lowry, who finished with 22 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds.  Deron Williams tied Joe Johnson with a game high 24 points.  He also had 3 assists and a rebound.  Deron was 40% from the field on 8/20 shooting, and 6/6 from the line.

The Nets got out-rebounded again.  Mason Plumlee put himself into foul trouble, and through three quarters, the rebounding disparity was considerable.  Garnett, Joe Johnson and Andray Blatche closed the gap somewhat, but Toronto won the battle by a 45-37 margin.  The Nets had absolutely no answer for Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, who dominated the glass with 18 rebounds, and also added 17 points, and 2 blocks.

The Raptors also distributed six more (22-16) assists than Brooklyn.

Brooklyn suffered from poor shooting from several members: Garnett 1/5; Blatche 2/5; Mirza Teletovic 1/6; Marcus Thornton 0/4.  That equates to 20% FG average.

Toronto may want to limit their turnovers (17) in Game Two, but at the same token, several Nets just need to improve their accuracy.



Mike.BTB

N.Y. Mets: Sandy Alderson Finds A Match; Trades Ike Davis To Pirates

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

  


NEW YORK METS: Now, Pittsburgh Likes Ike.  The Long Running Davis Dilemma Is Over.

We hardly know ya, but one can only hold out hope for so long.

The lengthy off-season process which began with haste during the GM meetings, finally culminated Friday night, when the Mets beleaguered first baseman was sent to the Pirates in exchange for (rhp) Zack Thornton, and a player to be named later.

Whether Ike Davis finds success in the Steel City is inconsequential when pitted against the reasons why he was traded in the first place.

He followed up a fine rookie debut in 2010, with a lone burst of power in the second half of the 2012 season.  Otherwise, his time in Flushing as been defined by ineptitude at the plate, or so it seemed.  He was consistently hovering near the Mendoza line, and last year, averaged a strikeout in 32% of his plate appearances.

No one is sure what really "happened" to Ike Davis.  What we do know, is that he was never the same after colliding with David Wright on a pop up near Citi Field's mound in 2011, and injured his lower leg and ankle.  Then came a bout with the obscure Valley Fever.  Then, he was felled by an oblique injury.  None of that however, really explains anything.

Nonetheless, during five baffling injury riddled seasons in Flushing, Ike Davis never seized the moment, or the first base job for that matter.  For his part, Lucas Duda has demonstrated better plate discipline and consistency than Ike, and so the club ultimately placed their favor with him.

Many Mets fans, including myself, had high hopes for Ike.  Davis was the Mets #1 pick, and the 18th overall selection of the 2008 draft.  We thought the Mets had their clean-up hitter for years to come.  Many of his home runs were majestic, with some even reaching the Shea Bridge.  But, he never quite got his game together, and fell out of favor with Sandy Alderson.

Besides, carrying three first basemen became untenable.  This trade is addition by subtraction. Josh Satin's role will normalize, and Lucas Duda will no longer pose a potential traffic jam in the outfield.

This is the second time Sandy Alderson has found a trade partner in Pittsburgh.  Last season, Alderson acquired Vic Black and Dilson Herrera from the Pirates, in exchange for John Buck and Marlon Byrd.

Matt Harvey is now the lone player remaining from Omar Minaya's top draft picks.  Mike Pelfrey was drafted #1 in 2005.  With a pair of Comp-A picks in 2007, Omar selected Eddie Kuntz and Nathan Vineyard.  Ike and Reese Havens were both selected in the first round in 2008, along with Comp-A pick, Brad Holt.  And of course, Matt Harvey was drafted in 2010 with the Mets #1 pick.




Mike.BTB

Brooklyn Nets: Jason's Kidds On The Hunt For Canadian Raptors

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH






Nets and Raptors Split Season Series 2-2
I - BKN 102; TOR 100
II - TOR 96; BKN 80
III - TOR 104; BKN 103
IV - BKN 101; TOR 97


2013-2014
NBA PLAYOFFS - ROUND ONE

GAME ONE
BROOKLYN NETS
vs.
Toronto Raptors
FROM
The Great White North

BROOKLYN NETS: Toronto's Coach Casey Said Beware What You Ask For.  The Flatbush Hoops Playoff Hunt For Canadian Raptor Starts Now!

Here's what concerns me heading into today's Game One against the Toronto Raptors - the Nets ability to defend Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

They represent two of the Raptors top three scorers.  If Toronto's back court starts raining down from the perimeter, running up and down the floor, and generally proves too much for Brooklyn's aging legs, stubbed toes, and creaky ankles to handle, the Nets will be in for a long series.

Jason's Kidds might be better off keeping this game in the paint, securing rebounds, and imposing a physical half court affair upon the Raptors.  Controlling the tempo, utilizing their size, and getting to the line will work against Toronto, despite the Nets being accused of featuring a predictable offensive philosophy.  That's an issue for another series.  For now, this match-up is a matter of Toronto's ability to thwart Brooklyn's decided experience advantage.

Toronto's ignorance, coupled with their overall youth and athleticism, are additional wild cards to beware.  The pressure is on Brooklyn to win, not the Raptors.  Despite winning the Atlantic Division title, the Toronto Raptors are free to play unencumbered by lofty expectations.  It is the Nets who are favored to win this series.

Last season, the Nets wilted in the playoffs, because let's face it, they had no backbone.  What the Nets have now, are players who know how to close out games.  The only question is, will their bodies let them?  Nevertheless, no player on either team can match the playoff experience Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett possess.

That's exactly why GM Billy King made the move to import both veterans.  Coach Jason Kidd is also tremendously experienced (as a player that is...) at managing the closing moments of a playoff game.  The Nets should be well prepared for this aspect of play.

The Nets 5-5 record in April provided every reason why they should prevail over the Raptors, while also putting on display every reason why the Nets can just as easily lose this series in miserable fashion.  Maybe the joke is on us, and Jason Kidd did forego the final games of the season for sake of looking ahead towards the playoffs.

Deron Williams did not play in the first two games of the season series.  In the first meeting, Kyle Lowry scored 24 points, and had 5 assists.  In the second meeting of the season, Kyle Lowry was limited to 12 points and 4 assists.  However, DeMar DeRozan dropped 26 points, pulled down 7 rebounds, and had 5 assists.

In the third meeting, Deron Williams played 29 minutes off the bench.  He scored 9 points, but led the floor with 11 assists.  Kyle Lowry however, led all scorers with 31 points, while DeRozan sat out with an ankle sprain.  In the final meeting of the regular season, Deron Williams made his first start against the Raptors, and scored 18 points, with 5 assists.  Kyle Lowry scored 21 points, with 7 assists and 8 rebounds.  DeRozan scored another 14 points, but was outdone by Shaun Livingston that night, who scored 18 points.  The same will be expected from Livingston throughout the series, with the hope his sprained toe is up for the task.

There is growing concern whether Deron Williams can still push an offense up the floor with speed. He forced the action in Utah far more than he has with Brooklyn.  Ankle problems have clearly affected his style since his arrival.  These days, he most often settles for walking the ball up the floor.

Shaun Livingston might be a better option for that role, while Williams plays off the ball.  In any event, this post-season will be Deron Williams' chance to prove his naysayers wrong.  He has been experiencing increasing criticism, and is now in position to change his narrative once again.

Three is always better than two, and so, Joe Johnson stands out as someone who could break the Raptors back in crunch time.  After all , that's when he's best.  The triad of Johnson, Livingston and Deron Williams should prevail.

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said, if in fact the Nets tanked a few games in order to set up a match-up against his club, that they had better be careful of what they asked for.

On that note, let the games begin!  The Hoops of Flatbush playoff run, starts now.



Mike.BTB

Brooklyn Nets: The Borough's 2nd NBA Regular Season Is In The Books

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH





Season One; 49-33
Season Two; 44-38


BROOKLYN NETS: That's A Wrap On The Second NBA Regular Season In Kings County.

The second NBA regular season of Kings County basketball is complete.  The Brooklyn Nets ended up with a 44-38 regular season record, which, considering their awful start, was quite an impressive achievement.

The early season Nets hardly lived up to the pre-season hype.  They lost their first game of the season to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and things just got worse from there.  In the month of November, the club posted a 5-11 record, and endured a pair of losing streaks, three and five games long.

Another poor 5-9 record in December seemed to be the least of the club's troubles.  Inner turmoil threatened to sabotage Jason Kidd's inaugural season as head coach.  He and assistant coach Lawrence Frank engaged in a heated exchange over philosophy, roles, and matters of control.  In effect, Coach Kidd was forced to seize his own team, and stripped Lawrence Frank of his bench role, and relieved him of his overall coaching duties.  Kidd then reassigned Frank to crunching numbers behind the scenes, and compiling scouting reports.

Compounding problems, on December 20th, center Brook Lopez played his final game of the season.  He first rolled his ankle in November.  Then, after a total of just 17 games, Lopez was ultimately felled by yet another season ending foot/ankle injury.  At the time, he was the team's leading scorer, averaging 20.7 points per game, with 6.0 rebounds.

Deron Williams also missed considerable time early in the season, as ankle issues continued to dog the point guard.  He missed 19 calender days from late November through early December, and another 2 weeks in January.  Once Deron Williams returned, he was back for good.

After Coach Kidd adjusted the starting line-up by shifting Paul Pierce to the four, and inserting Shaun Livingston into the starting line-up, the Nets started turning their season around.

Flatbush posted a 10-3 record in January, highlighted by a pair of five-game winning streaks.  In February, they came down to earth somewhat, but still posted a strong 7-5 record.  In their final game of the month, they closed within two games of .500, with a victory over Denver.

In March, they finally busted through.  On the 3rd of the month, they achieved .500 for the first time of the season with a victory over the Bulls.  In their very next game, they went over .500, with victory over the Timberwolves.  Brooklyn went on to post a pair of three game winning streaks, and one four game streak, and finished the month with a stellar 12-5 record.

Between January and March, the club posted a 29-12 record, and improved their season record to 39-33, which was a 17 game swing from their record at the end of December.

Flatbush ended the April portion of the regular season with a 5-5 record - their worst mark of the new year.  They wound up losing four of their last five games, and their last two in a row.  They additionally finished five victories shy of last year's mark.  However, most would agree, this team is far better equipped for a playoff run than last year's edition.  While many in the media accused Jason Kidd and the team of tanking their last 5 games, in order to align a first round series against Toronto, Jason Kidd merely says he was resting players, and trying to get them healthy for a playoff run.

Just be careful of the soda on the court please.

When the NBA playoffs begin this weekend, the Brooklyn Nets will be the only local team representing New York City.  Their opponent will be the Atlantic Division champs, Toronto Raptors.  Back in October, no one would have thought that.   The Knicks and Nets were pre-season favorites to win the division.  Of course, with a losing record, the Knicks failed to even qualify for the playoffs, while the Nets finished 2nd in the division standings.

At 15.8 points per game, Joe Johnson posted his lowest scoring average since his rookie season. However, his .454 shooting percentage was his 4th best mark.  Make no mistake, Joe Johnson was money this season.  He did not take those confounding nights off, that pockmark his career.  He's been present, and nothing short of clutch this season.

Deron Williams was limited to 64 games this season.  He averaged 14.3 points, and 6.1 assists per game.  Like Joe Johnson, those were Deron Williams' worst averages since his rookie season.  In his final 23 games however, Williams averaged 16 points per game, and 7 rebounds.

Shaun Livingston's play this season presents one of Billy King's largest off-season dilemmas. Somehow, the GM must find a way to retain Livingston, who, after signing for the veterans minimum, will become an unrestricted free agent.  Any player debate regarding team MVP must include him.  He played 76 games, but after Coach Kidd inserted him into the line-up, Shaun started 54 games.  In his 36-minutes per, he averaged 11.5 points, and 4.5 assists.

Paul Pierce averaged less than 30-minutes for the first time in his career.  In fact, he averaged a full 8-minutes below his career 36-minute average.  At 36-years of age, he still impacts games.  Per his 36-minute averages, he gave the Nets 17.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game.  This season, he became only the 18th player in NBA history, to achieve 25,000 points in a career.  Paul is presently the 4th leading active scorer in the league.

Heading into the post-season, the Nets are well positioned at center with the emergence of Mason Plumlee, the return of Kevin Garnett, and with Andray Blatche leading a very strong cast off the bench, which also features Mirza Teletovic and Alan Anderson.

Billy King's 2013-14 acquisitions should not go under spoken.  As noted, Shaun Livingston became invaluable to the Nets this season.  The signing of Andrei Kirilenko, who has played steady minutes lately, is showing how effectively smart he is on the floor.  Marcus Thornton has been flat-out huge since his trade deadline acquisition, and will be coming off the bench launching back-breakers.

Perhaps more so this season than last, the Nets enjoyed a distinct home court advantage.  Arena attendance was strong, and the crowds were Brooklyn loyal and loud.  Barclays Center averaged over 17,000 per home game.   The Nets rewarded their fans with a 28-13 record, and at one point, won 15 consecutive games at home.

With a 44-38 record for the season, that means the Nets struggled on the road.  Indeed, they posted a troublesome 16-25 record away from Flatbush.

Brooklyn's second ever NBA post-season starts Saturday.





Mike.BTB

Friday, April 18, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: Blueshirts Draw First Blood

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCHNER WITH THE GREATS




SERIES PREVIEW

Rangers Lead Series 1-0
I - NYR 4; PHI 1
II - SUNDAY
III - NYR @ PHI
IV - NYR @ PHI
V - PHI @ NYR
VI - NYR @ PHI
VII - PHI @ NYR


NEW YORK RANGERS: Blueshirts Take A Passive Aggressive Approach In Game One Victory Over Flyers.

The NHL's second most penalized team came into Madison Square Garden and behaved as expected.  They were typically undisciplined, and played with agendas instead of with skill.  They wasted no time in taking their obligatory first period run at Ryan McDonagh.  Later in the game, Adam Hall also took a run Derek Dorsett.

The Flyers put the Rangers on the power play six times Thursday night, and the Rangers made them pay on the penalty the Flyers perhaps intended least.  With the score tied at one in the third period, New York literally drew first blood, when Jason Akeson's high stick caught Carl Hagelin in the mouth.  Akeson was called for a double-minor, and the Rangers seized a 3-1 lead with a pair of goals on the ensuing power play.

But that didn't stop the Flyers.  Claude Giroux and troglodyte, Zack Rinaldo, kept Philadelphia's third period indiscretions skating along.  Both were whistled for respective slashing penalties, and before the night was through, Brayden Schenn was shown the box after administering a cross-check.

The Rangers were called for one infraction all game.  Of all people, little Mats Zuccarello was called for roughing in the second period.

Andrew McDonald got the Flyers on the board with the team's first shot on goal.  His slap shot from the high slot got deflected, and beat Henrik Lundqvist.  Immediately after the goal was scored, Ryan McDonagh applied a well deserved cross-check into the back of Claud Giroux.  That would be Philadelphia's last goal of the night.  They managed just 14 more shots on goal, and just one in the third period.

The Rangers tied the game at the 10:53 mark of the first on Mats Zuccarello's goal.  What you won't see in the box score however, is how Martin St. Louis battled in from of the net to make Zuccarello's goal possible.  Martin St. Louis also had two assists on the night.

In the second period, Brian Boyle had a brilliant chance in front of the net, but was thwarted by goalie Ray Emery.  Boyle had perhaps his best game in well over a month.  His problem is, he just can't finish.  He is a fine grunt though, and his line continues to grind out scoring opportunities.

It is quite possible, Thursday night was Brad Richards' finest game of the season, and maybe even his best as a member of the New York Rangers.  His go-ahead goal in the third period was clearly the turning point of the game.  He also was the primary assist on Derek Stepan's and Carl Hagelin's third period goals.  Brad totaled 6 SOG.

Rick Nash also assisted on Derek Stepan's goal, and led the Rangers with 7 shots on goal.  In all, the Rangers peppered Ray Emery with 36 shots on goal.

So, where do the Flyers go from here?  I certainly expect them to intensify goon tactics in Game Two.  However, continuing along that strategy may very well cost them dearly.  And, the reason is because, in watching Thursday's game, I do believe I saw another trick up Alain Vigneault's sleeve on the power play.  The Rangers unveiled some rather new moves, and looked exceptionally sharp.  Give the coach his props on that count.

Passive aggression might get the Rangers through these first two games at the Garden.  But when the series shifts to Philadelphia, and Flyers coach Craig Berube has the advantage of final line changes, the Flyers will be better able to isolate their targets, and goon it up.

If playoff hockey has taught us anything, it is that mistakes cost their respective teams plenty.  So far, Philly leads in that respect, while New York holds the advantage.

Smarter 1; Tougher 0.




Mike.BTB

Today For Rising Apple: The Friday Night Recap - Aaron Harang And Braves One-Hit Mets In Homecoming



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Mike.BTB

Today For Rising Apple: Binghamton Mets Review




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And, don't forget to return later tonight for my Mets Friday Recap.




Mike.BTB

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: Round One - Bring On The Flyers!

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS



2013-2014
National Hockey League
STANLEY  CUP  PLAYOFFS


Eastern Conference Quarter Final:

GAME ONE
Philadelphia Flyers
vs.
NEW YORK RANGERS
FROM
Madison Square Garden
33rd Street at 8th Avenue

I - PHI @ NYR
II - PHI @ NYR
III - NYR @ PHI
IV - NYR @ PHI
V * PHI @ NYR
VI * NYR @ PHI*
VII * PHI @ NYR*


NEW YORK RANGERS: The Broad Street Bullies Bringing Their Neanderthal Hockey League Style Back To The Garden.

Previously - King Henrik: Kingdom For a Cup

If it was scoring Tex's Rangers lacked in previous post-season runs, I have news for you.  We got duped again.  As I stated in my previous post, the 2011-12 Rangers scored 226 regular season goals, which ranked 13th in the league.  This year's Rangers may have improved the power play under Alain Vigneault, but they only scored 218 regular season goals, which dropped them to 18th in the league.  In a backhanded way, that speaks of their diminished even strength capabilities, doesn't it?

But, these are Glen Sather's retooled Rangers now - not to be confused with the rebuilt Rangers of two seasons ago.  This will be Martin St. Louis' 1st, Rick Nash's 2nd, and Brad Richards' 3rd time through the playoffs as members of the New York Rangers.  

Mats Zucarrello and Derek Stepan led the team with 59 and 57 points respectively.  But, let's put the onus where it belongs, shall we?  Together for the first time, it is incumbent upon Richards, Nash, and St. Louis, to generate much of the Rangers scoring from here on out.  They must be difference makers every night.  They certainly weren't brought here to be high priced accessories to Mats Zucarrello and Derek Stepan.  Were they?

Brad Richards is turning 34-years old in May.  He gave the Rangers 20 goals this season, which isn't far off his average.  However, outside of last year's shortened season, he posted a career low 31 assists.  Although he joined Stepan and Zucs as the only three Rangers to exceed 50 points, his 51 points were also his lowest over a full 82 game season.

Rick Nash, 29, remains an anomaly.  He missed 17 games this season, and still managed to lead the team with 26 goals, but only tallied 13 assists, and 39 total points.  In only 44 games last season, he still managed 21 assists.  Nash and Richards were the two lone Rangers to reach or exceed 20 goals this season.

Martin St. Louis will turn 39-years old in June.  Yet, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.  He's had a marvelous career, and was having a very good season, right up until Glen Sather got his hands on him.  The Rangers seem to have that effect on players; Chris Drury; Scott Gomez; et al.

Yet the fact remains, all but one of the Rangers 218 regular season goals were scored by someone other than Martin St. Louis.  In 19 games since arriving off-Broadway, he scored one goal.  At the very least, St. Louis must make up for the loss of Chris Kreider.  Without Kreider, the Rangers lost a measure of size, speed, and scoring, which Martin needs to compensate for in the upcoming tournament.

*

The Rangers bring the NHL's 15th rated (18.2%) power play, versus Philadelphia's 7th ranked (84.8%) penalty kill.  The other way, The Flyers boast the 7th ranked (19.8%) power play, versus the Rangers 3rd (85.3%) ranked penalty kill.

The Flyers boast the league's 8th ranked offense, but scored just one more goal than they allowed this season.  The Rangers had a +25 differential, and ranked 18th with 2.6 goals per game.

Philadelphia ranked 20th in goals allowed, while the Rangers placed 4th in the league.  In the Eastern Conference, only the Boston Bruins allowed less goals than New York.

*

The BlueLiners will have their hands full.  The Flyers feature 7 players with 20 goals or more. Wayne Simmonds led the team with 29 goals, while Claude Giroux led the team with 58 assists and 86 points.  As a team, they scored 236 times.  Only 3 Eastern Conference teams scored more.

But, as we know, the Broad Street Bullies are brutish about their business, so I'm sure a return to the good 'ol days of the Neanderthal Hockey League looms ahead.  The Flyers are going to instigate, agitate and aggravate, all series long.  I expect them to be raucous, and obnoxious.

Glen Sather stripped the team of its toughness, or so says me.  We will now see to what degree. The Flyers already possess an ability to push most Blueshirts off the puck as it is.  But I would also advise Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Mats Zucarrello, Rick Nash, and others, to have eyes installed in the backs of their heads.  Laser beams wouldn't hurt either.  The Flyers dress up at least four expendable troglodytes who serve no other purpose but to accumulate penalty minutes and frequent the box in an unfair exchange of on-ice talent. 

And I fully expect Philly to come crashing down on net, namely Henrik Lundqvist.  Allowing Philadelphia to create its signature brand of chaos in the crease could wind up being the Rangers ultimate downfall.  Very simply, the Rangers must meet the Flyers physicality.

It is in these type of matters where I feel Alain Vigneault needs to exert himself more.  At some point in this series, he will need to send his own message to the Flyers.  After all, he's the only one who decides who goes on the ice, when, and why.




Mike.BTB

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Brooklyn Nets vs. New York Knicks; East River Showdown-IV

From the desks of:
THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH  and  DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP



EAST RIVER SHOWDOWN - IV


Knicks Lead Series 2-1
I - NYK 113; BKN 83
II - BKN 103; NYK 88
III - NYK 110; BKN 31

TONIGHT

GAME FOUR:
New York Knicks
vs.
Brooklyn Nets
FROM
BARCLAYS CENTER
Flatbush Avenue


THE BATTLE OF THE BENCHES: The Big Inner City Showdown Is Not Likely To Feature Many Starting Players.

Back in October, I bet all Knicks and Nets fans had this game circled.  This was widely projected to be an epic NBA battle for first place of the Atlantic Division.  The league slotted the game for prime-time coverage, and said see you then.

Now, here we are....  Over the last six months, this match-up has devolved into a meeting of the meaningless.  The Nets did what they needed to do, but the Knicks didn't hold up their part of the bargain.

There is only be one real matter at stake, and that would be Brooklyn's ability to clinch the 5th seed with a victory.  They'll likely enter the post-season as the Eastern Conference 5th season anyway. You never know though.  Facing the Bulls or Raptors is still undetermined. 

Meanwhile, the Knicks were officially eliminated from playoff contention.  To their credit, they delayed the inevitable with a very strong month of March.  This evening however, several players will simply continue auditioning for Phil Jackson.  Carmelo Anthony's situation is an entirely different matter.

Andray Blacthe in all likelihood needs these last two games to audition for Jason Kidd's playoff squad.  The offensively oriented, defensively challenged center is now behind Mason Plumlee on the depth chart.  With Kevin Garnett back in action, three centers officially became a crowd.

This will be the final regular season at Barclays Center, where the Nets own a 28-12 record.  My main concern for tonight will be the crowd.  It had better sound decidedly pro-Brooklyn.

Thank you very much.




Mike.BTB

Monday, April 14, 2014

Brooklyn Nets: We Don't Need A Stinkin' Marketing Strategy

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH





BROOKLYN NETS:  Ted In Murray Hill Can Stick It!

Just Win Baby!

This is perhaps where a few Nets players need slight correction.

RE: The Brand

The rivalry; battle for the city; battle of the boroughs; whatever your pleasure - the Nets need to worry about one thing, or 2.7 million, if you will.  As a Brooklynite, I would tell them, the city (because no one from here calls it Manhattan) matters very little to us.  Outside of necessity, such as work, or in my case, in-laws, most people from HERE despise having to go....THERE.  To real Brooklynites, born and raised, Manhattan is actually quite an inconsequential place.

In more recent times, that sentiment has only been exacerbated by the previous two city administrations.  But, I digress.

To Paul Pierce, and his thoughts of "taking over the city" and Deron Williams, who views the playoffs, minus the Knicks, as an opportunity for the Nets to expand their brand, I would simply suggest, get your minds out of the Chelsea gutters.

Pierce, from Oakland, went to high school in Inglewood.  He knows what it's like trying to escape San Francisco's shadow.  But this ain't Oakland.  This isn't Boston either, where the Celtics play for everyone east of Hartford.  Although Deron was born in West Virginia, the Dallas, Texas area is where he calls home.  Texas is a huge place.  So, I get where he's coming from.  There's room for nuthin' but expansion out there.  My only point is, What Happens In Brooklyn, Is For Brooklyn.

Advice - Do not spend too much time seeking converts throughout the city.  Just take care of your house.  That means playing for the name on the front of your jersey, not Bill and Ted from Murray Hill.

I don't blame them.  Since 1946, teams and players have been coming to New York City to play the Knicks.  Then, with the advent of the ABA, the Long Island and New Jersey Nets hosted games on the outskirts of the city.  No doubt, old habits are hard to break.

More advice - Forget "the city" ..... Aim high man!  Kings County is no new kid on the block.  One in every seven people in the USA traces their family back to Brooklyn.  You'z guyz (we) don't need no stinkin' marketing....

In the words of the late, great, member of Brooklyn's vanguard - Just Win Baby! - Al Davis.

The sooner they learn it's Brooklyn First, the sooner they'll learn..... it's Brooklyn First.

I went to Coney Island last weekend.  What's in your back yard?




Mike.BTB - from Bensonhurst

Brooklyn Nets: Welcome To (Billy) King's County

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH




SUNDAY NIGHT FINAL:
Magic   88
NETS   97
Flatbush Improves Season Record To 44-36,
and 28-12 At Barclays Center.

BROOKLYN NETS: Mirza Teletovic and Mason Plumlee Lead Bench Assault Over Magic; Deron Williams Returns With 16 Points.

At present, the overriding sense of the Nets seems considerably better than it did this time last season.  That's somewhat odd considering the team will not match last year's 49 victory total, and Brook Lopez has missed most of another season, yet technically remains the team's leading average scorer.

Despite Sunday's 97-88 victory over the Magic, the next two games against the Knicks, and Cleveland should change little in the Eastern Conference standings.  Brooklyn appears settled into the 5th seed behind the Toronto Raptors, and ahead of the Washington Wizards.

The fact last year's team lost the opening round of the playoffs in seven games to the depleted Chicago Bulls escapes no one.  It was a disappointing ending to say the least.  Gerald Wallace didn't even know what his role was.

This season, Jason Kidd placed everyone exactly where they needed to be.  Except maybe for LeBron James, the Nets have certainly gained league wide attention this season with the way they've surged since January.  But on April 19th, the Nets odyssey to justify all Billy King's off-season maneuverings truly begins.  The general manager has made no secret of where he believes this team should finish.  The owner still has one year left on his championship mandate, but Billy King wants to win now.

In my more pragmatic view, this team must advance to the second round, and still perhaps may need to advance into the conference finals in order for the season to be deemed successful.

BILLY KING'S SUCCESS IS CONNECTED TO THE FOOT BONE

While the Nets are a somewhat versatile, and very deep team when healthy, if Deron Williams doesn't lead them, the Nets won't get far.

According to his 36-minute averages, Deron is averaging 16.0 points, and 7.0 assists this season. But when you start any argument with a cushion, it means you're hiding something.  As such, his regular per-game averages are not as forgiving - 14.3 points, and only 6.2 assists per game.

Observant eyes have watched Williams' game devolve over the last three seasons.  He has yet to recapture his level of play of just two seasons ago, and, his days in Utah are but a dot in the rear view mirror now.  At 29-years old, the burst in his first step is seemingly all but gone.  Ankle problems have no doubt had their effects during his time with the Nets, and he just missed another two games with a sore foot.  All told, he will have missed roughly 20 games this season.

Things may be looking up though.  Over his last 22 games, Deron Williams has averaged 33.6 minutes, 15.1 points, and 5.7 assists.  Over that stretch, he scored 20 points or more 6 times.  He had only done that 7 times in his previous 40 games spanning October through February.  While his numbers still aren't on par with his Utah days, he is nonetheless making modest improvement at the right time.

Sunday evening was Deron's first game back after missing the previous two.  He played 35 minutes against the Orlando Magic, scored 16 points, and had 5 assists.  So, at least there's been a level of consistency about him.

Out of anyone associated with the team, Deron Williams' and Billy King's reputations seem poised to suffer the most.  Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Kidd all have rings, and should be able to walk away from any potential defeat untarnished, and with relative peace of mind.

Billy King, however, failed to achieve a championship with Allen Iverson in Philadelphia, and four years ago, decided to invest max money, and make another run with Deron Williams, who in turn committed to staying in Brooklyn.

After years spent building up to this moment, failing again in Brooklyn, may be harder for him to compartmentalize.  Deron Williams is equally under the microscope, and is expected to perform like the franchise player Billy King thought he traded for.

They both bound themselves to the Borough of Brooklyn, and now both bare the majority of responsibility for winning Flatbush their first NBA title.


THIS IS NO ORDINARY FLATBUSH AVENUE BENCH

While the pressure is certainly on Deron Williams to perform, the weight of the world actually is not.  Shaun Williams is expected back in time for the playoffs, and together with Joe Johnson, Flatbush still boasts one of the more potentially formidable back courts in the league.

Mirza Teletovic led all scorers Sunday night with 20 points off the bench, and pulled down 6 rebounds.  With Teletovic and Mason Plumlee at the forwards, and Andray Blatche at center, there are very few teams in the league that can sub-in entire front courts quite like Brooklyn can.  One of the best things these guys do is get to the line.

Throw Andrei Kirilenko into the mix, while still having a quality two-threat like Marcus Thornton, and the Nets bench almost suffers from an embarrassment of riches.

Kevin Garnett is back, and played extended minutes against the Magic.  Since his return, the battle of the boards has turned back in the Nets favor.  Kevin pulled down 7 rebounds (5 defensive) in 19 minutes.  The Nets out-rebounded the Magic by a 43-31 margin.

Mason Plumlee held down the fort well in Garnett's absence, and continues to be the big man on campus.  His work along the offensive baseline has been highly productive, and his confidence is soaring.  Against the Magic, there were two instances where he was a little lackadaisical with the ball, and turned it over, but that's correctable.  Paying more attention to detail should rectify that. Otherwise, Mason pulled down a game high 11 boards with 5 coming on the offensive end, and completed another double-double with 17 points in 26 minutes off the bench.  The rookie will enter into his first NBA playoffs on the heels of playing his best ball of the season.


Two Games Left In Regular Season:
Tuesday - vs. N.Y. Knicks
Wednesday - @ Cleveland



Mike.BTB

Sunday, April 13, 2014

N.Y. Rangers: My Kingdom For A Cup

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS


NEW YORK RANGERS: New Coach, New System, Same Condition - Henrik Lundqvist Must Bare The Weight Of Blueshirt Nation On His Shoulders.

On Saturday, Henrik Lundqvist completed his 9th full season in the National Hockey League.  He compiled a 33-24-6 record in 64 games.  Henrik led the NHL with 24 victories last season, but that came during a lockout shortened regular season.  Otherwise, Henrik, 32, has now surpassed 30 victories 8 times in his career.  Martin Brodeur owns the record with 14 seasons of 30+ victories.

If you remember, the regular season didn't start that well for Henrik and his kings men.  They were forced to start the regular season on a seven game road trip in which they only compiled a 2-5 record.  The Rangers went 8-11 in November, and 10-15 in their first 25 games, while allowing an average of 4 goals per game.

After their poor start, things started smoothing out by mid December.  That the team finished the season with a 45-31-6 final record and 96 points, speaks extremely well of Henrik's, and the team's recovery under Alain Vigneault over the final 57 games of the season.

This was obviously a milestone season for Henrik Lundqvist.  He achieved his 300th career victory, and won his second Olympic gold medal as net minder for Team Sweden.  He then went on to break Mike Richter's club record to become the New York Rangers all-time leader in victories.  Shortly thereafter, he broke Ed Giacomin's record, becoming the club's all-time leader in career shutouts.

While a poor start pollute his numbers somewhat, Henrik nonetheless finished with a .920 SV%, and a 2.36 GAA.  Both rival his worst postings over the last five seasons.

His career best 1.97 GAA, not coincidentally, came two years ago in the season New York made their glacier-like grind into the Conference finals under John Tortorella.  Of course, Tortorella was much more mindful to minimize traffic in front of Lundqvist.  Coach Vigneault, and his physically-lite squad, have allowed much more chaos and contact in the crease than Torts would ever tolerate.

The numbers speak for themselves.  Under Torts, the Rangers won 51 games, and captured their first division crown since the '93-'94 season.  Henrik posted a career best 39-18 record that season, with a career best .930% save percentage - good enough to earn his first Vezina Trophy.  In his last season under Torts, Lundqvist posted a similarly impressive .926% save percentage, and a 2.05 GAA.

In my lifetime, three Rangers goalies have competed for Lord Stanley's Cup.  Mike Richter played in two conference finals, and of course, won a Stanley Cup.  He is the lone Cup winner.  Between 1967 and 1974, Ed Giacomin participated in 5 semi-finals, and competed for one Stanley Cup. John Davidson also advanced into a pair of semi-finals, and competed for a Cup in the '78-'79 season.

However, Henrik Lundqvist is still joined with John Vanbiesbrouck, as Rangers Vezina Trophy recipients, who were stopped short of a Stanley Cup appearance in the conference finals.

Henrik's '13-'14 .920 SV% exactly matches his career playoff save percentage.  His 2.28 career playoff GAA is slightly above his career 2.26 regular season GAA.  In 67 playoff games with the Rangers, dating back to Tom Renney, Lundqvist owns a below .500, 30-37 career record.

This will be Henrik Lundqvist's eighth playoff appearance.  A lack of overall scoring short circuited the Rangers two season ago in the conference finals versus the Devils.  This time, the Rangers have Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis on the roster.  In name, history, and deed, they are considered difference makers.

Over the last three seasons, the Rangers team defense has ranked 3rd, and 4th, under John Tortorellaa, and 4th again this season under Coach Alain Vigneault.  That said, and despite the loss of Chris Kreider, having Nash and St. Louis should theoretically improve the Rangers scoring this time around, as well as their overall chances of gaining Cup success.  No?

Obviously, Martin St. Louis was a trade deadline acquisition.  He's played 19 regular season games for the Rangers, but only tallied one goal and 9 assists.  For Tampa, Ryan Callahan finished with 6 goals and 5 assists.

That's not the only Blueshirt anomaly.  During the '11-'12 season, the Rangers ranked 13th in the NHL with 226 goals.  In last season's shortened season, the Rangers scored 130 goals, which ranked 12th.  This season, the Rangers scored 218 goals, dropping them to 18th in the league.

Alain Vigneault certainly improved the Rangers power play, yet the team took a curious, subtle step backwards.  At even strength, they palled in comparison to Tortorella's Rangers.

Over the years, so much of the Rangers fate has been placed in Henrik Lundqvist's hands.  Time and again, he's been asked to outshine his team's greater deficiencies.  In recent years, he has come under increasing media scrutiny for not being able to carry the Rangers on his back to ultimate Stanley Cup glory.  Instead, these days more is being made of three 1st round eliminations, and three 2nd round eliminations.

This season is no different.  Once again, King Henrik is being asked to reign over Lord Stanley's tournament, this time, with the hope Glen Sather sufficiently improved the Rangers scoring potential.

However, since getting ousted by the Devils two fateful post-seasons ago, Glen Sather has systematically eradicated the team's overall toughness and grit.

Everything comes at a price.  The Stanley Cup Playoffs are no different.

For Henrik Lundqvist, there's also a legacy at stake.  At this point, I'm sure he'd gladly trade in his kingdom for a Cup.




Mike.BTB