Monday, January 26, 2015

The Rivalry: Rangers vs. Islanders - III

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

The Rivalry - III


Islanders lead series 2-0
I - NYI 6; NYR 3
II - NYI 3; NYR 0
III - The Blizzard of 2015

Tuesday Night
New York Rangers
vs.
New York Islanders
from
Where the Lighthouse Project Should Have Been Built!
Long Island

* * * Snow Storm Permitting * * *

New York Rangers: Blueshirts Might Want To Start Growing Their Beards A Little Earlier Than Usual.

This Team is One Cheap Shot Away From Losing Their One Big Shot.

Along with Anaheim and Detroit, the Blueshirts are 8-2 in their last ten games, and looking to extend a 3-game win streak.

They are winning 61% of their games, owning a 27-13-4 record, good for 58 points.  

They're 6th in the Eastern Conference; Washington is 7th with 57 points; and Boston is 8th with 56 points.

They are tied with the Habs in the Eastern Conference for the least goals allowed.  However, they only rank fourth within their own division in goals scored.

The Rangers are running in a pack, and the saying is - only the strong survive.  There are 38 games remaining in their season.  They may get to the regular season finish line thanks in large part to a weak field, but, at some point they're going need more grit and grind in their game.

March looms as a pivotal month in their season.

For now, there's Tuesday's first game back after the break (if Mr. Freeze let's them play).  With a victory, the defending Eastern Conference champs can edge to within 3-points of the Metro Division leading Islanders.  

Their prospects for success improved Monday, when it was announced Kyle Okposo will miss the next 8 weeks with an injury.  

Bad break for the Isles; physical relief for the Rangers.

The last time they met, the Islanders held a tutorial on how to slow down the Rangers.  In both their previous meetings this season, the Islanders defeated the Rangers by 3-point margins, as Long Island's distinct size advantage weighed heavily in both outcomes.

New York Islanders: I Thought Everyone Was Taking A Break; So What The Hell Happened To Kyle Okposo?

Coach Capuano said what?

Kyle Okposo will miss the next 6 to 8 weeks with an undisclosed upper body injury.

The injury possibly occurred Monday.

In 46 games played, Okposo is the the Islanders second leading scorer with 44 points; one behind John Tavares.  He has 14 goals, and leads the team with 30 assists and 154 shots on goal.  

His absence also negatively affects Long Island's power play.  Okposo had 4 goals and a team leading 12 assists on special teams.

Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson are the team's second and third leading scorers.  Strome is second on the team with 25 assists, and Brock Nelson's 15 goals are second to John Tavares' 21 goals.

This injury should take the Islanders into March.  There's going to be a price to pay.  Their job now is to minimize the damage.  However, good teams have players who step up.  It will be interesting to see who Coach Capuano selects as Tavares' new wing man.

That said, the Islanders are manned to withstand Okposo's injury, and recover any lost ground in the final month of the season (I think).

After Tuesday's game against the Rangers, the Isles have two big games against the Bruins and Red Wings.

As I said in my last post - now comes the hard part.  

* John Tavares scored four goals in Sunday's All-Star game.



Mike

Friday, January 23, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Avoiding the Sniper in the Bushes

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS




3rd Place ~ Metropolitan Division
27-13-4 (58 points)

NEW YORK RANGERS: This Team is One Cheap Shot Away From Losing Their One Big Shot.

Did anyone catch the Flyers premeditated thuggery against the Penguins?

In their last game before the all-star break, the defending Eastern Conference champions defeated the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in overtime, and in doing so, secured 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division, and closed to within 5 points of the division leading Islanders.

After the Rangers fell behind Ottawa 2-1 after two periods, Chris Kreider tied things up at the 2:42 mark of the 3rd period.....  And into overtime they went.  Less than 3-minutes into the extra session, Carl Hagelin netted the game winner.

That was Kreider's 10th goal, and Hagelin's 9th goal of the season.  Appropriate that they should respectively tie, then win Tuesday's game, during a season in which so much more was expected of them.

More was certainly expected of Chris Kreider, now two seasons removed from John Tortorella's doghouse.  At 23-years of age, and listed at 6'3", 226 lbs., he was to bring the rare combination of size and strength, speed, and scoring ability to the ice.   However, in 41 games, he's only managed 84 shots on goal (when most of the league's top shooters are well beyond 100 SOG at this point).

He "only" has 10 goals and 14 assists, for 24 points - disappointing in and of itself, but, also because he spends an inordinate amount of time in the penalty box.  Foghorn Leghorn would say, "that boy, I say, that boy lacks discipline."  Tuesday night was no different,  He committed a senseless holding penalty in the 1st period.  On Sunday against the Pens, he was whistled for (careless) interference.   Kreider's penalty minutes double that of the next closest Ranger, Tanner Glass, whom understandably earns his minutes by administering the team's limited toughness.

Carl Hagelin's effort level is admirable as always.  His hustle hasn't translated very well to the back of a hockey card though - at least not in the way of elevating his game they way many thought.   While he's actually getting off more shots on goal per games than in his previous 3 years, Carl is lagging slightly behind his career averages.

With his speed came expectations that Hagelin would become a 20/25-goal scorer.  He had a career high 17 goals last season.  To date, Carl has 9 goals and 9 assists in 43 games.  At 26-years of age, his game doesn't seem where it needs to be.

How is the Ryan Callahan/Martin St. Louis trade looking?
  • Callahan: 15 G; 20 A; 35 points; (29-years old; priced himself off Rangers budget).
  • St. Louis: 14 G; 22 A; 36 points; (39-years old; an expiring contract).
Martin St. Louis is playing some of his best hockey now that he's back on the wing.  He is the team's 2nd leading scorer, but (salary cap wise) the Rangers will be hard pressed to bring him back.

The Rangers have a decision to make regarding Mats Zuccarello's free agency.  Plus, Derek Stepan, will also be a restricted free agent.

As the season progresses, it might become easier to decipher where the money to pay Stepan will come from.  But, sign him they must.  In 31 games played, Stepan has 32 points.  Despite missing 13 games, he is the team leader with 24 assists.

The club's budget also got a little tighter because they recently extended Marc Staal for another 6-years.   That's money well spent though, as the Rangers top four blue-liners are now all signed for several years to come.  And, they've earned it.  The Rangers presently rank 3rd in the NHL in goals against.

What money is left for Martin St. Louis and Zuccarello in the off-season, is growing increasingly questionable.

I would not turn away a younger (future Hall of Famer) Martin St. Louis, but I would pass on a 40-year old free agent to be.  I strongly feel the Rangers need to replace him, and Mats Zuccarello, with bigger, more physical players.

The New York Rangers are 6th in the NHL goals per game; 11th on the power play; and 12th on the penalty kill.

They are winning 61% of their games, owning a 27-13-4 record, good for 58 points.  The Rangers are 6th in the Eastern Conference; Washington is 7th with 57 points; and Boston is 8th with 56 points. Florida leads the best of the rest with 50 points.

On December 8th, the Rangers embarked on an 8-game winning streak, and overall, won 13 of 14 games through January 10th.  They marvelously punctuated their run on the west coast with impressive victories over the Ducks, Kings, and Sharks.

Their net minding and defense, speed, special teams, and particularly their passing, were impeccable.

However....,

Upon their return to Eastern Conference competition, the Islanders slowed down the Blueshirts, and   thumped them rather handily at MSG.  The Bruins did the same in Boston.  Both teams provided a rude welcome back to east coast hockey.  That's because both opponents bring size and physicality on all four lines.  The Rangers do not.

Physicality does not mean fighting.  It means; clearing the defensive crease of traffic and establishing position in the opposing crease; it means retrieving pucks in the corners; it means winning the battles along the boards; a strong cycle and puck possession; it means finishing checks and turnovers, and not getting pushed off the puck so easily...., etc.

Rick Nash, however, has demonstrated a change in his on-ice demeanor; he's utilizing his size and strength more than in previous seasons.  He is headed to the all-star game, while in the midst of an MVP caliber season.  At the break, he is tied for the league lead with 28 goals.

That said, team physicality also means having Rick Nash's back.  He's a big boy and can take care of himself.  But, no one ever sees the sniper in the bushes.  The more physical Eastern Conference teams routinely target him.  If anything should happen to Nash, if he should miss considerable time, the Rangers are doomed.

I recently called the Rangers a one-trick pony this season.  Here's why:

Rick Nash - 162 SOG
Carl Hagelin - 96 SOG
Chris Kreider - 91 SOG
Martin St. Louis - 90 SOG

The Islanders Johnny Boychuk (a defensemen for Pete's sake) has more shots on goal than all but two Rangers, yet doesn't even crack the Islanders top six!

Islanders:
Kyle Okposo - 154 SOG
John Tavares - 146 SOG
Brock Nelson- 115 SOG
Ryan Strome - 106 SOG

Lighting:
Steven Stamkos - 158 SOG
Tyler Johnson - 125 SOG
Nikita Kucherov - 111 SOG
Ryan Callahan - 105 SOG

Penguins:
Evgeni Malkin - 142 SOG
Sidney Crosby - 130 SOG
Patric Hornqvist - 120 SOG
Kris Letang - 119 SOG

When the Rangers resume play next Tuesday, they'll face the Islanders in Uniondale, where they'll have an opportunity to close to within 3-points of the division leaders.

They'll perhaps be looking to gain a small measure of redemption as well.  The last time they met, the Islanders held a tutorial on how to slow down the Rangers.  In each of two previous meetings this season, the Islanders defeated the Rangers by 3-point margins, as their distinct size advantage weighed heavily in both outcomes.

For as well as they've been playing, the Rangers are nonetheless running in a pack.  They say only the strong survive.  That said, can they distinguish themselves and separate from the pack in the second half?

We'll see.  After all, we wouldn't want our team to fall from defending Eastern Conference champs to an 8th seed.  Right?

They're 8-2 in their last 10 games, which presently makes them one of the hottest teams in hockey (along with Detroit, and Anaheim from the west).

In 2nd place of the Metropolitan Division are the Pittsburgh  Penguins, who seemly continue to win, yet appear to have lost a great deal of their toughness during the off season (with Sidney Crosby paying the price).  The Rangers handled the Pens this season, taking the series 3-1, but so have the Isles, and so have the Devils for that matter.

Then there's what happened in the Penguins/Flyers game.  So far, Philadelphia is playing some rather inconsequential hockey this season, which makes them all the more worrisome.  They admitted their thugoonery was premeditated.  On another level, they were typically shameless.

The Rangers have one more game with them on February 28th.  Circle that date on your calenders, because after that, the Rangers most grueling month of their schedule comes in March, when they will have to play 15 games (9 road games) in 31 days against Detroit, NYI, Boston, and two against Washington, and from the west, Los Angeles, Anaheim, two against Chicago, with the month kicking-off against Nashville.

By the end of February, the Flyers should be floundering like fish out of water.  But since when has that ever stopped the Flyers (of any decade) from stupidity on ice?  That means, as previously speculated, Rick Nash is a potential target.  I have no doubt the Flyers will somehow use the Thanksgiving home-and-home sweep at the hands of the Rangers as some sort of motivation to fuel their misguided and recklessness behavior.

Think not?  If the Flyers, somehow, get close enough to sniffing an 8th seed by then, think again. They are presently 12 points out.  If they get to within 6 points, watch your back.



Mike

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

N.Y. Islanders: Now Comes The Hard Part

From the desk of:  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB




2nd Place ~ Eastern Conference
31-14-1 (63 points)

New York Islanders: Eastern Conference Finally Catches A Break From Isles; Nothing Like An All-Star Game To Halt Their Momentum.

How do you bounce back from a 6-4 loss to the Canadiens?  By thumping the Flyers, 7-4, and reclaiming first place in the Eastern Conference (Tampa then played, and took over the #1 spot by a point).

The 1989-90 season was the last time the Islanders found themselves in 1st place by the all-star break.  When they reached 15 games over .500 earlier this season, it marked their best start since their Stanley Cup years.

It's been that kind of a season.  Ironically, it comes in the team's last year playing in Uniondale.   This coming October, the Islanders will inaugurate their first season in the Borough of Brooklyn.  For the moment, however, they seem intent on giving Long Island one last raucous June before they go.

They're young, strong, playing smartly, with confidence, and turning away league contenders faster than they can lace up.  Among their gains are triumphs over the Rangers; Bruins; Lightning; Penguins; Capitals; and Red Wings.  Out west, they've bested the Ducks; Kings; Blackhawks; Sharks; Jets; and Flames.

No team is perfect though.  The Habs and Blues both defeated the Isles a pair of times this season.   Otherwise, the Islanders have shown they can play with anyone.

By Tuesday morning, the Islanders led the NHL with 31 victories, and scored the 2nd most goals (3.15 per game) in the circuit; a mere goal behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.

All that scoring has shined a generous light on this year's goalie, and the Islanders defense; their two major weaknesses over the last two seasons.

If we take things at face value, Jaroslav Halak ranks 11th in (goalie) total ice time, his 2.41 GAA ranks 12th among goalies with 30+ starts this season, while his .910 SV% ranks 25th among goalies with 20+ starts.

However, the stability Halak has brought between the pipes alone, has so far made him worth every cent of his four-year, $18 million dollar pact.  He's 11th in the league with 34 starts, while his 25 victories are tied for 2nd with Anaheim's Frederik Andersen.  His four shutouts also rank 4th.

That's a major improvement over last season's 3-headed monster featuring 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.   Kevin Poulin has one appearance for the Islanders this season.  Chad Johnson has been Halak's back-up this season, and so far has a 6-5-0 record in 13 games.

Garth Snow's off-season blue line acquisitions have also played huge roles in anchoring the Islanders defense.  Both Johnny Boychuck and Nick Leddy are tied for 6th in the NHL with a +15, while combining on 11 goals and 32 assists, for 43 points.

Defensively, Long Island presently ranks 21st in the league with 2.78 GA.  Last season, they finished 28th in the league with a 3.18 goals against average.

Moving forward, the Islanders must now do something to improve their penalty kill.  They've shown no improvement over last season's 29th ranking.  Although they moved up a notch to 28th this season, the fact is, they've regressed.  They finished last season with a 78.1% kill rate.  This year, they're killing penalties at a reduced 74.4% rate.

It's been a great first half of the season for Coach Capuano and the Islanders.  Other teams have gotten the message; they're good.

 Now comes the hard part; finishing.



Mike

N.J. Devils: First Half Had Few Credible Highlights

From the desk of: ALL MOTHER LEEDS CHILDREN



So far, the firing of Peter DeBoer has failed to fan the flames.

1st Half ~ 7th Metropolitan Division
17-22-6 (42 points)

NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Lou Lamoriello Has Been Slow To Address An Aging Roster; Team Headed Towards 3rd Season Out Of Playoffs.

The Devils are in their third season since posting 102 points in 2011-12, and reaching the Stanley Cup finals against the Kings.

Last season, they fell to a 35-29-18 record for 88 points.  This season, gaining 80 points is questionable.

That's what happens when Martin Brodeur's Devils' career comes to an end; when Ilya Kovalchuk walks away from the NHL and still leaves behind a nearly $7 million dollar salary cap hit in 2014-15; when the organization fails to retain guys like Zach Parise, David Clarkson, and if you want to go back a little further, Brian Gionta, etc.

Instead, Scott Gomez is back.

Just saying...

Newark's 1st half highlights have so far been few, however, credible.  The Devils own victories over the Capitals, Penguins, a pair over the Lightning, and they defeated the Kings in Los Angeles last Wednesday by a 5-3 final.

Monday night, they turned in another impressive victory over the San Jose Sharks to end the first half of their season.  The team's leading goal scorer, Mike Cammalleri, broke a 2-2 tie in the second period with his 15th goal of the season.

But, despite their recent outbursts against L.A. and San Jose, it's no secret the Devils have trouble putting pucks on net, much less scoring goals.

Leading the Devils, Jaromir Jagr entered Monday night's game against the Sharks with 99 SOG this season.  Next was Michael Ryder with 83, followed by defenseman Marek Zidlicki with 76 shots on goal.  By comparison, the Islanders have 4 players with 100+ shots on goal, and another two players with 90+ SOG.

It's no wonder then, they rank 27th in the league in goals.  Their top three scorers; Jagr, Adam Henrique, and Mike Cammalleri; have only scored a combined 34 goals.  Henrique (10) and Cammalleri are the only Devils in double-digits.  By comparison, the Isles have 5 skaters in double digit goals, and the Rangers have three.  The Rangers Rick Nash has 28 goals, the Islanders John Tavares has 21, and as noted, Cammalleri leads the Devils with 15 goals.

Jagr leads the Devils with 25 points, and 16 assists.  He's played in 43 of 47 games this season, and averages 18:23 minutes a night.  On January 3rd against the Flyers, Jaromir Jagr became the oldest player in NHL history to register a hat trick.  He will turn 43-years old next month, and one has to ask how much longer can the Devils lean on him in the manner they do?

If Lou Lamoriello can negotiate a satisfactory deal, he should move Jagr to a willing contender, and begin adding more youth around Adam Henrique, and his young defensemen like Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas.

The Devils are now 5-5-1 since Lou Lamoriello fired Peter DeBoer; a marginal improvement over their 12-17-7 record prior to his dismissal.

Lou Lamoriello is indeed famous for firing coaches.  I'm sure last season's 18 OT losses, failing to make the playoffs the past two seasons, and this year's poor start inspired Lou to make a move.  Peter DeBoer, however, deserved better.  Many aging players and matters of retention are Lou's problem, and Lou's only.

In just over 3 seasons, DeBoer posted a 119-88-42 record, had them playing ferocious hockey through various stretches of his tenure, and led them to the finals.

Highlight:

With a goal and two assists on January 6th against the Sabres, Patrik Elias scored the 1,000th point, and registered the 600th assist of his NHL career.


Mike

Monday, January 19, 2015

Brooklyn Nets: The Woes of Flatbush

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH



Outside of a Kevin Garnett headbutt, 
the Hoops have been doing little rumbling in Flatbush.

BROOKLYN NETS: Time For Hollins and the Hoops to Get Out of Town and Regroup.

With forty-one games in the books, the Brooklyn Nets are at the halfway point of the season.

If the playoffs started today, the Nets would qualify as the Eastern Conference 8th seed.  That's a small consolation though.  Along with the Miami Heat, they are presently the only two qualifiers with losing records in a very weak field.  That makes them nothing more than the best of the rest; hardly a contender.

The Nets have a 17-24 record, which in today's NBA is actually good enough for 2nd place in the Atlantic Division; nine games behind the Toronto Raptors.

In closing out the first half of their season Saturday night against the Wizards, with less than a minute left in the game and the Nets down by only five, I saw Coach Hollins implement no particular plan, and a team playing with no particular enthusiasm, or clue.

After the game, Jarrett Jack said they were tired.  That might have been true for him, otherwise, yes, Barclays fans are getting worn down by a tired situation.

Sensing the Nets desperately needed to get out of town, the schedule makers mercifully sent Coach Hollins and the Hoops out west this week for games against the Kings, Clippers, and Jazz.

The damage, however, has been done.  Friday's victory over Washington on the front end of a home-and-home snapped their 7-game losing streak.  Saturday's loss nonetheless became their 8th loss in their last 9 games; made them 2-8 in the new year; and dropped them to 8-14 at home.

They have exactly three highlights this season; an overtime victory over the Spurs, an impressive win over the Bulls, and perhaps Friday's victory over the Wizards.  They otherwise failed to sustain, following the San Antonio victory with a 3-game losing streak, and following that Bulls victory by losing 8 of their next 10 games.

What comes next is anyone's guess.

What we do know, is that this team is a slow, plodding, nonathletic, non-rebounding mess.  They lost a ponderous game to Philadelphia earlier this month, and for a third straight season own an amateurish record against winning teams.

Through 2 1/2 seasons in Brooklyn, the Nets are 110-95, and fading.  They won 49 games in their inaugural season, then dropped to 44 victories last season.  They need to go 23-18 the rest of the way just to reach 40 wins for a 3rd straight season, and go 24-17 just to finish the season with a .500 record.

For too long now, their two franchise players have failed to stay healthy.  This season, their limited play on the floor earned them seats on Coach Hollins' bench until further notice.

Worth mentioning is that Lionel Hollins is Billy King's 4th head coach in less than three seasons, and in an indirect way, Billy King's harshest critic.  The man minces no words when criticizing King's creation to the press.  During a recent post-gamer, he said the Nets identity was that of a bad shooting team.

Lines like that leave little room for interpretation.

Gerald Wallace; Paul Pierce; Shaun Livingston; Andray Blatche; Reggie Evans; Andrei Kirilenko; Marcus Thornton just to name a few - including the present collection - it's been three seasons of revolving rosters with no end in sight.

In the process, Billy King has this team financially capped out through next season, and has compromised the draft for years to come.

Their #1 pick in this summer's draft is expected to be swapped with the Atlanta Hawks - the #1 team in the Eastern Conference.

The Nets future drafts are no less compromised.  Boston owns the Nets 2016 #1 pick, and the Clippers have a right to swap #2 picks.  In 2017, Boston holds the right to swap #1, while the Nets #2 went to Atlanta.  In 2018, Boston owns Brooklyn's #1, and their #2 is potentially lost to Philadelphia. Philly also owns their 2020 #2 pick.

You would think such circumstances would inspire ownership to get involved, if not trigger a mushroom cloud rising over Flatbush.  But, instead of lashing out at his overly expensive, woefully under performing team, and at the GM responsible for putting this mess together, Mikhail Prokhorov is reportedly bailing out on Brooklyn.

The trade deadline is one month away, and with an apparent lack of oversight, Billy King is seemingly free to continue running a muck.

Woe is Flatbush.


Mike

Saturday, January 17, 2015

PIGSKIN 2014: Championship Weekend



PIGSKIN


Football Sunday
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND

Regular Season Results:
On Vacation! 

Scoreboard:
Final Regular Season Record:  107-100-5
Wild Card Record:  0-4
Divisional Round:  2-2
Overall Record:  109-106-5
BAGELS in the Basket:  -2


National Football League ~ The Final Four
Friday Line ~ NYDN

* * * AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE * * *
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS -6 1/2 (Baltimore Colts)
Win; 45-7 Patriots

This is a rematch of the 2006 championship game,
won by the Colts 38-34 in Indianapolis.

This is New England's 11th trip to the AFC Championship game since 1970, 
their 8th trip since the 2001 season, and their third in a row.  

The Colts last played for, and won the AFC championship in 2009 over the Jets.
This is Baltimore/Indianapolis 5th trip to the AFC title game since 1970.

I gave Andrew Luck and the Colts respect all season, but turned on them as soon as the playoffs started.  They in turn made me eat my words, but I'm not about to pick them over Tom Brady and the Hoodie.  Sorry Colts fans, but I still feel Indy is a one trick pony.  I think their running game has overachieved in Ahmad Bradshaw's absence, and I feel their defense has overachieved as well.  

I know - they limited the Bengals to 10 points in round one, and held the Broncos to 13 points last week.  Well, the Bengals are notorious for wilting like boiled noodles in crunch time, and Peyton Manning was playing with a torn quad.  I can't see Indy's defense neutralizing The Gronk (as if) without opening up another part of the field for Tom Brady.  

There's the rub.  Who do you like better in a shoot-out?  This Sunday, I side with the Master over the Grasshopper - or, did you not see Brady recover from a pair of 14-point deficits against the Ravens defense?   

Defensively for New England, expect them to bend, but not break.  Andrew Luck is good......, for an interception a game, and last week he threw a pair against the (defensively minded John Fox coached) Broncos.  Belichick will devise something to perhaps induce two more.  

I've been following Bill Belichick's career since his days here as defensive coordinator of the Giants.   He's the most prepared and adaptable head coach in football.  The 1/2 point also made this an easier pick too!  Nuf ced.


* * * NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE * * *
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS -7 (Green Bay Packers)
Loss; 28-22 Seahawks, O.T.

The Seahawks lost the 1983 AFC title game to the Los Angeles Raiders; 30-14.  
This is Seattle's third NFC title game, and their second straight.

After their glory years of the 1960's, the Green Bay Packers did not return to the (post merger) NFC title game again until 1995, which began a run of three straight.  They've been to the NFC championship game twice more since then, for a total of 5 appearances.

Offense wins in the regular season, but in this game, defense wins championships.  

I'm not a doctor, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn last night.  Aaron Rogers' calf (injury) is still not 100%, and any treatment he's been receiving might have gone for not - as in.., NOT playing on grass this weekend will only hasten any potential pain or cramping.  Plus, flying to Seattle, albeit from Green Bay, won't help either, as prolonged altitude promotes dehydration.  

Therefore, it should be somewhat easier for Seattle's defensive front to find Rogers in the pocket.   Then of course, Rogers must risk throwing into the Legion of Boom.  

Green Bay's secondary doesn't pose nearly the same threat.  Whether Russell Wilson keeps the ball and rushes, or puts in the air, he will limit mistakes, and keep Green Bay's defense on the field longer than Aaron Rogers would prefer.  

For whatever reason, the Packers have been a terribly different team on the road, and Seattle is perhaps the worst place for a visiting team.  Seattle's 12th Man is surely going to bring the noise, particularly in this championship game setting.  

And, don't forget, if not for a reversed call on the last play of the game, the Dallas Cowboys beat Green Bay last week.  

All that said, it's still going to be tough for Seattle to cover 7-points, but with a turnover, I think it's the smart way to go.  They've been on a roll since Thanksgiving, and they're the defending Super Bowl champions.



Mike

N.Y. Islanders: Kyle Okposo's Four Goals TKO Penguins

From the desk of:  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY TEAM



Metropolitan Division
1st   NYI    30-16-1  61-points
2nd  PITT  26-11-6  58-points

New York Islanders: Kyle Okposo's 4 goals elevate team to the 60-point club; take 3-point lead over Penguins in Metropolitan Division standings.

The Isles remain in 1st place of the Metropolitan Division 
over the Pittsburgh Penguins,
and lead the Eastern Conference by 1-point over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They're also the first Eastern Conference team to reach 30 victories this season.

Look what the Islanders did to the Penguins, again!

After losing to the Pens in their first meeting of the season, the Islanders have now rolled Pittsburgh in their last three meetings to take outright ownership of the Metropolitan Division.

Despite a pair of goals from Sidney Crosby, and with Bryan Trottier in the building, Long Island overcame a 2-0 1st period deficit on Kyle Okposo goal in the first, and with Ryan Strome's game tying goal midway through the 2nd.  But, Sidney Crosby struck with just 0:05 left in the 2nd to put the Pens ahead again 3-2.

The third period then turned into Kyle Okposo's personal showcase.  He tied the game at three with his second goal at the 6:41 mark.  At the 11:51 mark, Okposos's go-ahead goal capped off a natural hat trick.  But, he wasn't through.  At the 17:29 mark, his fourth goal of the evening, and 12th of the season, came on an Islanders power play.

This was the first hat trick of his career.  Kyle scored 4 times in 6 shots on goal.

Michael Grabner scored into an empty net to give the Islanders a 6-3 victory over the stunned Penguins.

John Tavares and Josh Bailey registered 3 assists apiece.

Both teams threw their bodies around in this game.  Defenseman Simon Despres led the Pens with 8 hits, while Islanders blue liner Johnny Boychuk levied 5 hits.  Long Island's crash lines made a clear difference.  Pittsburgh's Zack Sill and David Perron led with 5 hits each, while Matt Martin issued 8 hits, and Cal Clutterbuck 7 hits.

The Islanders have now won four straight games.

*Goalie Jaroslav Halak will join John Tavares at the NHL all-star game.



Mike

Friday, January 16, 2015

N.Y. Giants: Steve Spagnuolo is Back in the Saddle Again

From the desk of:  DO IT FOR THE DUKE




The Architects of Super Bowl XLII

NEW YORK GIANTS FOOTBALL: Steve Spagnuolo Returns For Second Stint As Minister of Defense.

For a change, the fan's minister of choice is coming back to reclaim his position as defensive coordinator of the Giants.

He returns like Winston Churchill.  When the blitzkrieg raged in Europe, and London's buildings burned, they went running back to Churchill for leadership and direction.

It's not like Steve Spagnuolo was fired after the 2008 season though.  He was merely following a coach's traditional career progression.  It's a natural then, that he should be welcomed back.

But, you know what they say - any executive who caters to the fans will surely become a former executive in a seat among them.

In this instance, it was Coach Coughlin's call; a loophole!

Coach knows he must produce a winning season in 2015, or risk having his own Big Blue career end. So, Coughlin is relying on the best man he was able to secure, but more importantly, someone he can trust.  That just so happens to be Spags.  If you think about it, the timing was perfect.  In any event, Coughlin's applied desperation heading into 2015 is a good condition for us Giants fans.  It means urgency has re-entered the building.

After six long seasons away from the organization he helped lead to victory in Super Bowl XLII, Steve Spagnuolo is back.  He's the guy I wanted.  I do not think many Giants fans are overly concerned with his lack of success with the Rams, and Saints.  All that matters is that he helped this team win a Lombardi trophy before departing.

What Steve Spagnuolo did better than any Giants defensive coordinator since John Fox was get the most out his linebackers.  Granted, Fox had Jesse Armstead, and in 2007 Spags had Antonio Pierce to work with.  However, Spags got the most out of guys like Kawika Mitchell, Chase Blackburn, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Danny Clark.  In fact, Kiwanuka was never the same since Spags left, and may not make the team this coming season.

Let's face it, for a team with such a rich linebacker tradition, the recent gaggle has been somewhat embarrassing.   At least this time around, it seems Spags will have a talented Devon Kennard leading his linebacker corp.

Speaking of linebackers, Pepper Johnson was an interesting candidate.  As one of the many feared linebackers in Giants history, he helped this organization win some hardware as well.  He's also paid his coaching dues.  Pepper not only played under Bill Belichick, but served for many seasons as a position coach on Belichick's staff.  I do not doubt there is a ton of knowledge packed into his head.

But, the choice has been made, and I'm pleased with the decision to hire Steve Spagnuolo.   What displeases me, however, is that linebackers coach Jim Herrmann gets to keep his job, and that to my knowledge, no audit has been conducted on defensive line coach Robert Nunn's recent work.

The Giants also hired former Rams defensive coordinator (2013) Tim Walton to replace Peter Giunta as corner backs coach.  I'm still a little curious to know why it is Peter Giunta should get fired, but David Merritt (safeties coach) should retain his position.

At face value, Tim Walton strikes me as a positive hire.  Of course, what the secondary needs above all else is health, but on an entirely other level, consider the unit already improved through a matter of subtraction; Perry Fewell and his perplexing, overly layered, ineffective system are gone.



Mike

N.Y. Rangers: Welcome Back to the Eastern Conference

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS




Outscored 10-27 in 6 games against Isles, Lightning, and Bruins


NEW YORK RANGERS: You Shall Not Pass!

You can beat the Kings (who got spanked by the Devils), and beat the Ducks, and Sharks; that's fine. But, you can't come home and stink the joint up like they did - I mean, losing by a combined 6-0 in two home games at least deserves a dirty look, and a WTF(?), dude.


C'mon.

vs. Islanders
Loss; 3-6
Loss; 0-3

All they did was show how to bog down the Rangers speed.

vs. Bruins
Loss; 0-3

All they did was cross-check, board, and fight their way to handing the Rangers their second straight shutout defeat at the Garden.

vs. Lightning
Loss; 1-5
Loss; 3-4
Loss; 3-6

There you go.

All roads out of the conference go through Long Island, Boston, and Tampa, and to date, all three have been closed off to Tex's Rangers.

That's all I got.



Mike

Thursday, January 15, 2015

N.Y. Knicks: London Braces For A Royally Bad Show

From the desk of:  DUTCH PANTS CAN'T JUMP




The Knickerbockers are well on their way 
towards the franchise's first ever 60-loss season.
If they keep up this rate of futility, 70 losses is not out of the question.

NEW YORK KNICKS: Team Half Way Through Historically Inept Season; Phil of the Future Said, Blame Me.

...Okay, Phil.  Consider it done.

He nailed it when he spoke of this team's loser mentality though.

I became a fan of this team just after the championship years; right around 1974-75.

That year, they posted their first losing season after eight winning campaigns, and a pair of NBA titles.

Just my luck, right?

I watched that team either retire, or get dismantled.  I caught the back end of the careers of Earl the Pearl Monroe, Bob McAdoo, Dave DeBusschere, and agonized over the trading of Clyde Frazier.

I also watched their team mate, Knicks president Phil Jackson's playing career fade into the sunset.

I caught Red Holzman as coach, when Willis Reed took over, and when Red Holzman came back.

I dealt with the disappointment of Michael Sugar Ray Richardson, lived through the Hubie Brown days, and felt a sharp pain when Bernard King went down.

I was also one of the fans chanting - Fire Al Bianchi - and of course, endured the tenure of Isiah Thomas.

Who could envision this organization getting even worse, and making those seem like the good old days?

The present day Knicks have lost their last 15 in a row, and 25 of their last 26 games.  So far, they own an overall 5-35 (.125) record this season.

They need to post a 15-27 record the rest of the way just to avoid becoming the first ever Knicks team that failed to win at least 20 games in a season.  With Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith already gone; Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani, and anyone else not named Melo on the endangered list; not to mention knee surgery looming for Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire struggling with his own knee problems; there are few who believe they can pull it off.

Another way of putting this into perspective: this franchise has never suffered the indignity of a 60-loss season, although they came close several times.

Before my time on this planet, the Knicks of the early 1960s were terrible (and only played 80 games a season):

  • 1960-61; 21-58 (.266)
  • 1961-62; 29-51 (.363)
  • 1962-63; 21-59 (.263)* All-Time Franchise Worst
  • 1963-64; 22-58 (.275)

The good times didn't roll in until the late 1960s and early '70s, when they moved into present day Madison Square Garden.

Then I came onto the scene as a young fan, and watched the 1970s close out with some pretty funky basketball.

After Red Holzman's last hurrah in 1980-81, Hubie Brown rode Bill Cartwright and Bernard King to a pair of playoff appearances before the franchise tanked again (after Bernard King's knee injury).

  • 1984-85; 24-58 (.293)
  • 1985-86; 23-59 (.280)
  • 1986-87; 24-58 (.293)

Then, with Patrick Ewing, Mark Jackson, and Charles Oakley, coached by Rick Pitino, things started getting markedly better.  The Knicks made the playoffs every season from 1988 through 2001.  Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy led them to respective NBA Finals, but each fell short of a title.

Then came the Isiah Thomas era.  I'll say this in his defense: I was agreeable with his initial appointment, and at the time, totally on board with rebuilding the Knicks (which knowingly required patience).  However, his time here requires an entirely different conversation.  His relationship with James Dolan was a sad and destructive time in Knicks history.

What we need to know for this post, is that under Zeke, the Knicks twice matched Hubie Brown's mark for team futility:

  • 2005-06; 23-59 (.280)
  • 2006-07; 33-49 (.402)
  • 2007-08; 23-59 (.280)

The funny thing is, a team composed of Zach Randolph, David Lee, Nazr Mohammed, Trevor Ariza, Jamal Crawford, and even Nate Robinson, would destroy this year's Knicks, even with a healthy Melo and Amare on the floor.

I digress....

Of course, then came the sacrificial season under Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni.  But, not even that season stood to be as bad as this unfolding one seems to be headed.  If you remember, at one point Donnie Walsh stripped the roster down to just 8 or 9 bodies, while he and D'Antoni pulled the plug on Stephon Marbury's playing time, and even reduced him to civilian clothes.

  • 2009-10; 29-53 (.354)

Thursday's game is the official mid-point of the Knicks season, and they'll mark the occasion with a game in London, England, against Jason Kidd's Milwaukee Bucks.

Since when is trying to avoid a 16th consecutive loss considered exportable, much less prime, entertainment?

What on earth did the Brits ever do to the NBA to deserve this match-up?  We screw them the same way with NFL games.

Blimey!

...Cause in sleepy London town there's just no place for........the New York Knicks.  No.  Get down! - stuff Mick Jagger might say.


Mike

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Rivalry: Islanders Show Rangers Who's Number One

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


THE RIVALRY


Islanders lead series 2-0
I - NYI 6; NYR 3
II - NYI 3; NYR 0
III - @Long Island
IV - @ Long Island
V - @ Long Island

Look What The Long Islanders Did To The Rangers..., Again!

That's twice this season the Islanders have beaten the Rangers by a factor of three.

The majority of Tuesday night's much anticipated game took place in the Rangers end.   Whatever offense the Rangers mounted, usually resulted in a blocked shot, a turnover, or otherwise ended quickly.  To their credit, they did hit 3 posts, but this ain't horseshoes, Tex.

The Islanders had 19 SOG in the 2nd period alone, and out-shot the Rangers 44-27 for the game; the most shots on goal the Rangers have allowed this season.

In the battle of net minders, Jaroslav Halak wound up making 27 saves, and faced just 6 shots in the 3rd period en route to a shutout.  At the other end, Henrik Lundqvist was pulled in favor of Cam Talbot after falling behind 3-0 after two periods.  Henrik faced 32 shots in two periods.

During intermission after that 2nd period debacle, Ron Duguay said the Rangers looked tired.

Okay Ron, I'll play.  The Rangers wrapped up their west coast trip on Saturday, flew back home, and had an extra day off to shake whatever jet lag....

Perhaps the Rangers were tired because they kept having to back peddle after numerous neutral zone turnovers, or a general lack of puck possession, and having to chase the Isles in transition.

Asst. Coach Ulf Samuelsson was a little closer to the truth.  After the 2nd period, he said the team's energy level was down, the Rangers were too slow, and that their execution was poor.

I'll buy that.

After the game, Ryan McDonagh said they didn't work hard enough.  I'll buy that too.

Dan Boyle said Long Island shifted into another gear, particularly in the 2nd.  That's troublesome.

Now here's my angle.

Plain and simple - the Islanders were more tenacious to loose pucks, and more physical around the net.

Matt Martin and Johnny Boychuk led with 6 hits each.  Boychuk put one particularly big hit on Rick Nash, and Derek Stepan was a game casualty with an undisclosed upper body injury.  Meanwhile, Lee Stempniak was the lone Rangers forward with at least 4 hits.

Fact is, Long Island's four lines are generally bigger than those of the Rangers.  If anything, the Rangers unfortunately waited for time to expire before finally showing a backbone (thank you 38-year old Dan Boyle).

The Islanders already had one goal waived off.  Then on Long Island's first official goal, Dan Girardi (6'2'' 203lbs.) could do little in the way of preventing Anders Lee (6'3" 230lbs.) from establishing position and cleaning up a rebound.

Michael Grabner, who is still getting his game legs back, likewise created disruptive traffic in the crease on Nikolay Kulemin's goal.

Frans Nielson's interception and shorthanded goal was just..., just...,

We know the Rangers are not a physical team.  Now the Islanders just wrote the book on how to neutralize their speed.

That's also troublesome.

The series will shift to Long Island for the remaining three games of this series.



Mike

N.Y. Rangers vs. N.Y. Islanders; The Rivalry - Game 2

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


The Rivalry - II

Isles Lead Series 1-0
I - NYI 6; NYR 3


Isles Lead Series 1-0
I - NYI 6; NYR 3

TONIGHT
New York Islanders
(28-13-1  57 points)  1st place Metropolitan Division
vs.
NEW YORK RANGERS
(24-11-4  52 Points)  3rd place Metropolitan Division
from
33rd Street & 8th Ave
NYC

With 4 games remaining in this series (including tonight) there is every reason to believe this long dormant rivalry will finally heat up again.  The last time these teams met was in the opening week of the season.  Long Island put a 6-3 spanking on the Rangers at MSG.

The Blueshirts have won 5 in a row in which they've outscored their opponent by a 22-8 margin.   They're back home, fresh off an impressing west coast trip, in which they defeated the Ducks, Kings, and Sharks by a combined 11-5 score.

The Islanders are winners of two in a row.  Tonight marks the final stop of their 7 game road trip, in which they've posted a 4-2 record so far.

The Rangers are 4th in the league with 3.1 goals per game, and 5th in goals against.  Their PP is 10th, and their PK is 11th.

Long Island is 7th in goals per game, and 21st in goals against.  Their PP is 15th, and their is PK 26th in the league.

With 26 goals so far this season, Rick Nash was selected to be the lone Ranger at this year's NHL All-Star Game.

John Tavares leads the Isles with 19 goals, and will likewise be the lone Long Island representative at the all-star game.

In net, King Henrik is back in the New York groove after a slow start this season.  In 31 games, Henrik has posted a 20-8-3 record, with a 2.26 GAA (which matches his career mark), and a .918 SV% (which is just slightly below his career .920 mark).

Jaroslav Halak, the Islanders difference maker this season, is right on par with Lundqvist.  In 30 games, Halak has a 22-8-0 record, with a 2.29 GAA, and a .914 Sv%.

Speaking of difference makers, where would each team be without their respective 30-year old defensemen; the Rangers without Kevin Klein, and the Islanders without Johnny Boychuk?



Mike

Brooklyn Nets: Hollins, Harden, Howard and Head-Butts

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH




Waiting for the other sneaker to drop?
Trade Deadline ~ February 19th

BROOKLYN NETS: The Hoops of Flatbush Rumble with Houston Rockets; Kevin Garnett Head-Butts Persona Non Grata Dwight Howard...

....but Nets still lost.

Unlike the first two seasons in Brooklyn, the new calender year hasn't yet ushered in a successful turnaround like many hoped.

After ending 2014 on a high note with a decisive victory over the Bulls, then winning their first game in January over the Magic, the Nets have since gone 0-6 to establish their longest streak since moving to Flatbush Avenue.

Their best effort during this recent stretch came against the Mavericks, that is, until they petered out in overtime.  Then of course, a pathetic loss to the moribund Sixers was an especially bitter pill to swallow.  The Pistons loss followed, which brings us to Monday night's latest meltdown.

Brooklyn scored 28 points in the 1st period, dropped to 24 points in the 2nd, and scored just 18 points in the 3rd.  They scored 29 lightly defended points in the 4th, which infers Houston's 113-99 victory was already well in hand.

Brooklyn actually scored more fast break points and more points in the paint.  Rebounds, free throw attempts, and most other pertinent game stats were relatively even.

Their demise however, came from beyond the arch.  Led by James Harden, the Rockets launched 40 three-point attempts, and connected on 40% (16) of them.  Otherwise, the Rockets took 86 shots from the field and the Nets ended with 84, but attempted 19 less three-pointers than Houston.

James Harden exploited Bojan Bogdanovic en route to a game high 30 points, and tied Brooklyn's Jarrett Jack with a game high 6 assists.

Kevin Garnett earned his 8th career ejection when his temper got the best of him early in the 1st quarter.  After getting called for non-shooting foul on Howard, Garnett gave Howard a slight shove.   Howard shoved back more authoritatively.  Garnett then threw the basketball at Howard.  When the two drew closer for a sure confrontation, Garnett head-butted Howard, and Howard landed a retaliatory slap to the neck.

After Garnett's ejection, the home crowd and Mason Plumlee took good care of Howard thereafter.   In his first trip to Brooklyn since the whole "2012 Dwight Howard to Flatbush" drama played out, the Rockets center got booed every time he touched the ball, and ended the night with just 8 points and 5 rebounds.  Mason Plumlee (one of the few bright spots on this team), meanwhile, posted his 9th double/double of the season, with a team high 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Forced into early action off the bench, Brook Lopez scored 12 points and pulled down 6 rebounds in 24 minutes.  His opponent, however, had his way against Lopez in Kevin Garnett's absence.   Houston's Donatas Motiejunas was 8/11 from the floor, with a team high 11 rebounds, and a complimentary 18 points behind Harden.

If The Coach Yells Loud Enough, The Owner Just Might Hear Him

With Lionel Hollins, owner Mikhail Prokhorov is getting the best raw analysis of his basketball enterprise without the extra added cost of paying him overtime.  Proactive and image conscious corporations pay small fortunes to outside consultants for this very type of harsh critique.

Prior to Monday's game, Coach Hollins was asked if the team is still searching for an identity.  He answered very matter of fact -  ...the team has an identity; they're a bad shooting team.

(They actually shot 46% from the field Monday night, but......)

If the truth hurts, then the Nets players should be hooked on pain medication by now.  Coach Hollins has been brutally honest in his assessment of this team throughout the season, and his words only cut deeper with each passing game.

Make no mistake, he does speak the truth.  My only question is, how long will Billy King allow his coach to openly mock (!) the team he assembled?

Because the Eastern Conference is polluted with garbage 10 teams playing .500 basketball or below, the 16-22 Nets still have a solid hold on 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, and still rank 8th in the conference.  If the conference were only slightly better, the Nets would surely be worse.

That said, the trade deadline is just over a month away.  What's a general manager to do?

Better question is, considering the present cost of this team, the salary cap hell they're in, the lack of a return on that money, and lack of draft picks, and the fact that the team is on its 4th coach in 4 years, what's an owner to do?

Think about it - Coach has basically intimated throughout the season how this team sucks, to the point where, the owner just might agree with him.



Mike

Saturday, January 10, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: West Coast Wonders

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS





NEW YORK RANGERS: Break Up The Blueshirts!

They went into Anaheim, and ruffled the "mighty" Ducks - then traveled 45 more miles back to the dungeon of their summer time hell; Los Angeles; where they revolted against the Kings with a 4-3 victory.

They've been winning with defense, a good forecheck, speed, an effective power play, and timely goals.

Who are these guys?  And what have they done with my team?

Since December 1st, Tex's Rangers have been playing ice melting hockey.  They ended November with an 11-8-4 record.  Since then, the Blueshirts have gone 12-3-0, which includes a run of 8 straight victories.  They ride another 4 game streak heading into Saturday night's game in the San Jose aquarium.

Joe Thornton calling the Rangers the softest team he's ever played several years ago never left my mind.  The Sharks wound up getting their fishtails kicked that night, and the Rangers have handled them pretty well since.  In fact, Thornton has missed the Sharks last 4 games because his poor little shoulder has a boo-boo.

...still gotta play the game though.

TONIGHT
NEW YORK RANGERS
vs.
San Jose Sharks
from
West Santa Clara Street Aquarium 

The Other Side of the Puck:

The Rangers, I'm afraid to say, strike me as a one trick pony.  I hope I'm wrong, but...

Prior to Saturday's game, Rick Nash led the team with (25 goals and) 138 shots on goal.  The next closest were:
  • Carl Hagelin - 80 SOG.
  • Martin St. Louis- 74 SOG.
  • Mats Zuccarello - 74 SOG.
  • Chris Kreider - 74 SOG.
Let's look no further than the two Eastern Conference leaders: The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders.

Tampa Bay Lightning/Leaders SOG:
  • Steven Stamkos - 146
  • Tyler Johnson - 117
  • Nikita Kucherov - 97
  • Ryan Callahan - 93
New York Islanders/Leaders SOG:
  • Kyle Okposo - 135
  • John Tavares - 121
  • Brock Nelson - 108
  • Ryan Strome - 90

The Rangers are 4th in the conference in scoring, and 2nd to Montreal on defense.

I don't know what all this means, but I rest my case.



Mike

N.Y. Islanders: Halfway Through, Long Island Is Number One

From the desk of:  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB




27-13-1 (55 points)
1st place, Metropolitan Division
2nd place, Eastern Conference

New York Islanders: The Power of John Tavares Compels You.

Exactly half way through the regular season, the New York Islanders are in first place of the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the Penguins.  With 55 points, they trail only the Tampa Bay Lightning (58 points) for the conference lead.

They've scored the most goals in their division, and the third most in the conference behind Tampa and Toronto.

Friday night, the Islanders hooked up against the Newark Devils at The Rock.  Entering the game, the Isles went 2-2 during their recent trek into Canada, with both losses (particularly to Edmonton) coming on the back end.

Friday Final:
Islanders  3
Devils       2
OT

Islanders lead series 3-0

Three points by John Tavares helped Long Island snap that two game skid, as the Isles fought their way to a third straight victory over the Devils this season.

After a tightly contested 1st period, Travis Zajac gave Newark a 1-0 lead midway through the 2nd.

Shortly after Zajac's goal, Matt Martin felt his team needed a swift skate in the posterior, so he took it out on the Devils Mark Fraser.  Fraser had a tight, jersey grip inside jab going, while Martin relied on hooks and straight rights.  After the two connected on their share of haymakers, Martin dropped Fraser to the ice with one last shot to the head.

John Tavares then took care of the rest.  A minute into the 3rd period, he was credited with a secondary assist on Josh Bailey's game tying goal.

At the 7:23 mark, old/new Devil Scott Gomez put Newark back on top, but roughly 6-minutes later, John Tavares scored his 18th goal of the season to knot the game at two.

....and into overtime they went.

At 2:57 into the extra session, a forechecking John Tavares picked defenseman Adam Larsson's pocket along the boards behind the Devils net.  By 3:01, Tavares was circling back towards net, and at 3:03 put a move on Adam Henrique and Peter Harrold that had them standing still.  At 3:05, John Tavares put the puck passed Devils back-up goalie Keith Kinkaid for the win.

The Devils entered the game with a 3-4 record since firing Peter DeBoer on December 26th.  Prior to the firing, the Devils were stumbling along with a 12-17-7 record.

Roster Problems?

After two stints on injured reserve, Michael Grabner returned to the ice on Tuesday against the Canucks.  In two games back, he has 4 SOG.  For the moment, defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky is on IR, which made room for Grabner.

This situation will need some weeding out, but at who's expense?

TONIGHT
New York Islanders
vs.
Columbus Blue Jackets
from
Some rink in Ohio

(Penguins @ Habs)



Mike

Today for Rising Apple - Career at a Crossroad: Mets Prospect Cesar Puello



Here's my latest for 







Mike
Senior Staff Writer/Rising Apple

PIGSKIN 2014: Divisional Round Weekend


PIGSKIN


Divisional Round Playoffs

Regular Season Results:
On Vacation! 

Scoreboard:
Final Regular Season Record:  107-100-5
Wild Card Weekend Record:  0-4
Overall Record:  107-104-5
BAGELS in the Basket:  -2

Yes, I was perfect last week.  I lost all four games.

Divisional Round Weekend
(Friday Line ~ NYDN)

PATRIOTS -7 (Ravens)
After paying the Ravens respect all season, I disrespected them by getting caught up in Big Ben and the Steelers.  Shame on me.  Pittsburgh got spanked, but I'm going to disrespect Baltimore again by taking the Pats at home.  I just don't have the cojones to bet against New England.  I don't necessarily like the rust a bye week can cause, but I like Tom Brady against the Ravens secondary.  New England's defense should also perform better than Pittsburgh's did.  Joe Flacco must contend with Darrelle Revis this week.
Loss; 35-31 Patriots

SEAHAWKS -11 (Panthers)
At least the Panthers redeemed themselves as division winners with a victory.  However, Cam Newton's Wild Card party is about to get crashed by Seattle's 12th man, and the Legion of Boom.   Last week, Arizona's QB situation continually put the Cardinals in bad situations, and the Panthers took full advantage.  But there's a reason the Panthers posted a losing record and will bow out of the playoffs this week.  They're physical enough, but not as skilled as the Seahawks.  Seattle is peeking, and will make few mistakes.
Win; 31-17 Seahawks

Cowboys +6 (PACKERS)
Tony Romo defeated a very good Lions defense; Green Bay's defense is not as good as Detroit's.   You know where I'm going with this... Behind Dallas' offensive line and the running of DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys have the ability to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field, and smash mouth their way to victory.  If they indeed establish the run, Dez Bryant will be freed up to wreak havoc.  Aaron Rodgers is still suffering from a sore calf, and is likely to do less scrambling than normal, which might keep him within range of Dallas' pass rush.  Even if the 'Boys do not win, I still like them to cover.
Win; 26-21 Packers

BRONCOS -7 (Colts)
Andrew Luck is another dude I gave respect to all season, only to turn my back on him last week against the Bengals.  Andrew Luck picked Cincy apart, however, I can't help but think how ridiculously unreliable the Bengals have been in their biggest games.  No one disappoints like they do, and last week was just their latest all-time low.  That said, I'm still down on the Colts because of a soft defense, and a diminished running game.  So, I'll take Peyton Manning over the great bearded grasshopper.
Loss; 24-13 Colts



Mike