Thursday, April 30, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Oh no! Not you again! - Capitals; Game One

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS



2014-2015
National Hockey League
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

Round One
Rangers defeat Penguins 4-1
I - NYR 2; PITT 1
II - PITT 4; NYR 3
III - NYR 2; PITT 1
IV - NYR 2; PITT 1 ot
V - NYR 2; PITT 1 ot

* * * ROUND TWO * * *
Eastern Conference Semi Finals

Game One
Washington Capitals
vs.
NEW YORK RANGERS
from
Madison Square Garden
33rd Street @ 8th Avenue
NYC

NEW YORK RANGERS: Blueshirts put Evgeny Malkin and Sidney Crosby on ice; eliminate Penguins in five.

Washington Capitals prevail over N.Y. Islanders in Game 7; 
draw Blueshirts for 5th time in last 7 years.

Pittsburgh made the series much tougher than it looked in the boxscores.  Even Marc Andre Fleury deserved more credit than received by this blog.  However, when your top stars; Evgeny Malkin and Sidney Crosby; get shut down, the Penguins are sure to fail.

The Rangers did just that.

The Penguins tried thugging things up throughout the first four games of the series, and then needed to play it straight in Game 5 to no avail.  Henrik, the Rangers defense, and team speed proved to be the difference makers.

The Rangers were 15 points better than the Pens in the regular season, and it showed - not because the Blueshirts were overwhelming; they weren't.  The Rangers are still a team struggling to win games in 2-1 fashion and asking Henrik to stand on his head all these years later.  This series was no different.  All four Rangers victories over Pittsburgh; home or away; ended in 2-1 finals, with the last two games going into overtime.

That's something very familiar to Rangers fans.  However, the Rangers managed to dispatch the Penguins in a quick efficient manner - something they could never afford themselves in recent playoff history.

*     *     *     *

Derek Stepan opened the scoring in Game 5 with a 1st period power play goal - the Rangers third pp goal of the series.  They finished 3 for 20 in five games.

After PITT tied the game in the 2nd period, the teams skated to a scoreless duel in the 3rd - then into overtime they went for the second straight game.

In Game 4, the big rookie, Kevin Hayes scored at 3:14 of overtime to give the Rangers a 3-1 stranglehold on the series.

In Game 5, Carl Hagelin's burst of speed and game winning goal midway through overtime put Pittsburgh in the Rangers' tail lights.

Oh no! Not You Again?

This will be the 5th post-season encounter between the Rangers and Capitals in the last 7 years.

2009 - Capitals win series 4-3
2011 - Capitals win series 4-1
2012 - Rangers win series 4-3
2013 - Rangers win series 4-3
2014 - ?

The Rangers also dispatched the Capitals in 5 games back in 1994 on their way towards hoisting the Stanley Cup.

The last time the Capitals defeated the Rangers prior to the Cup was in 1991, four games to two.

Front and Center

Unlike the Penguins, what the first round demonstrated is that both Washington and New York can win despite considerably diminished output from Alex Ovechkin and Rick Nash, respectively.

Alex was limited by the Isles to a pair of goals and 3 assists over their 7 game series.  For the Rangers, Rick Nash scored a single goal, and had 4 assists in 5 games.  That's difficult for either fan base to digest, and perhaps the subject of my next post.....

Both team's top performers in the first round instead played up the middle.  In 7 games against the Islanders, center Niklas Backstrom registered a team leading 6 points; 3 goals and 3 assists; while centerman Evgeny Kuznetsov had 3 goals and 4 points.  At center for the Rangers, Derick Brassard scored a team leading 3 goals against the Pens in five games, while centerman Derek Stepan scored a pair and had an assist.

Life Without a Net

Advantage Lundqvist...

Henrik Lundqvist is fresh, having started only 43 games (46 games) this season.  Braden Holtby, on the other hand, played in an NHL leading 73 games, and made 71 starts in the regular season.  It makes sense then, that he led the league with 4,247 minutes.

According to (someone..) NHL Network, goalies who play more than 60 games in the regular season most often fall short of a Stanley Cup.




Mike

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Mets are enduring poor defense up the middle



Here's my latest for 




Don't forget to stop by every week for my
Friday Night Recap


Mike
senior staff writer/Rising Apple

Brooklyn Nets: The Elation of Relavance

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH




Flatbush defends home court; Even series at two

Series tied 2-2
I - ATL 99; BKN 92
II - ATL 96; BKN 91
III - BKN 91; ATL 83
IV - BKN 120; ATL 115; OT
V - Wednesday Night

GAME FIVE
BROOKLYN NETS
vs.
Atlanta Hawks
from
Hotlanta, GA

BROOKLYN NETS: Monday Might Have Been Flatbush's Finest Day in the NBA.

Three regular seasons have been spent getting re-acclimated to being a professional town again.  The final wrinkles seem to be getting ironed out, as fans are finally feeling at home, in their home, with their team.

The team is presently in the midst of what is now Brooklyn's 4th ever playoff series, and may have finally struck their emotional resonance with the borough.  The Nets and its fans - Barclays Center - arguably might not have had a better night in their three years together than on Monday.

On April 15th this team finished the regular season with a sub par 38-44 record; a considerable decrease from the 49 victories registered in their first season along Flatbush Avenue.  That record included four failed attempts against the Atlanta Hawks.


  • In December, the Nets were limited to just 75 points by the Hawks.  On April 4th, the Hawks posted a 32-point margin of victory over the Nets in Atlanta, then visited Barclays Center four days later, and beat them again by a 114-111 score.

Despite their sub .500 record, the Nets qualified for the playoffs as a result of a weak field.  

Then came another pair of fruitless attempts to defeat the Hawks in the series' opening two games in Atlanta.  Both games were frustratingly winnable (aren't they all...), but the Nets nonetheless came up short, twice.  Pretty standard stuff considering no one on TV, radio, or in the tabloids predicted otherwise.

No shot failed to hit its mark more than that of Deron Williams, both literally and figuratively.

He has long been relegated to coming off the bench by Lionel Hollins; the media has effectively written him off; fans have been dismayed with his continuing propensity for injury, and they are generally displeased with his overall deterioration of play since becoming a Net, to say the least.

After scoring 13 points during a representative effort in Game 1, Deron then registered two hotly debated performances.  

In Game 2, he scored an alarming 2 points, but posted 10 rebounds and 8 assists during a tightly contested loss.  In Game 3, he scored an equally confounding 3 points, but pulled down 7 boards and had 6 assists.  The team, however, made their game winning push with him on the bench.

Williams was resoundingly criticized by the media for pulling a disappearing act, but Coach Hollins was not entertaining any of that, and in fact became irritated at the suggestion and chastised the entire pool of reporters.

On the one hand, you can't help but be empathetic to Deron's plight.  There is no denying the man plays hurt and doesn't make any excuse of it.  Joe Johnson offered that Williams is presently playing with severe tendinitis.

On the other hand, he was brought here, and handed over a large sum of money to be the franchise player, be their best player, and ideally lead this team through numerous playoff runs.  The results, so far, speak for themselves.

With their second straight victory at Barclays in Game 4, the Nets tied the series at two.  This is now a best 2 out of 3 games affair.

On April 14th, no one would have believed the Nets could be in this position.  The New Year turnarounds enjoyed in two previous seasons by P.J. Carlessimo and Jason Kidd during their time here was a period of disjointed play and force adjustments for Lionel Hollins.

But, the Brooklyn Nets just might have found the best time imaginable to finally get in lock step with their coach.

Deron Williams scored 35 points in 46-minutes during Monday's 120-115 overtime victory at Barclays.  He pulled down 5 defensive rebounds, had 7 assists, and 3 steals.

The crowd also handed in what was by far their best performance to date.


The Nets have achieved equal ground - albeit heading to Atlanta.  The Eastern Conference's #8 team is now tied with the #1 team in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

The Hawks also have absolutely no answer for Brook Lopez.

This all sort of wipes the slate clean, no?



Mike

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

N.Y. Islanders: Washington Capitals Veto Uniondale Extension

From the desk of:  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB




Washington wins series 4-3
I - NYI 4; WAS 1
II - WAS 4; NYI 3
III - NYI 2; WAS 1
IV - WAS 2; NYI 1
V - WAS 5; NYI 1
VI - NYI 3; WAS 1
VII - WAS 2; NYI 1

Long Island is eliminated from their last ever Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Islanders will now commence their move to Brooklyn;
Barclays Center will be their new home.

New York Islanders: The Washington Capitals played like an experienced Game 7 team, and knew how to finish.  These modern day Uniondale Islanders did not.

The end of an era has come.

The 43rd and final season of New York Islanders hockey in Uniondale is complete.

Mark it down - on April 27, 2015, in front of a raucous Long Island crowd, the last official game played at the much disparaged Barn was a 3-1 first round playoff victory over the Washington Capitals.

It's now time for the unceremonious task of melting the ice and disassembling the rink where a historic four consecutive Stanley Cups were hoisted, for there will be no more NHL hockey played at Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum ever again.

Two seasons ago, these upstart Islanders nearly knocked off the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.  Last season, however, they were unable to overcome a dismal start and inevitably failed to qualify for the playoffs.

To that point, a close knit group was nevertheless gaining valuable experience together, and their ability to score was never in question.  The Islanders rolled out four strong lines very effectively, and continued doing so through this season.

What the Isles desperately needed last off-season was to improve their defense and upgrade the goalie.  General manager Garth Snow did just that.  In two rather stunning transactions, he acquired defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, and solidified his goal situation by acquiring Jaroslav Halak,

By the midway point of the regular season, the Islanders were riding high atop the Eastern Conference.

Sputtering down the home stretch, and entering the post-season as the #5 seed is a minor, rather inconsequential factoid in the bigger picture.

Because....

Say what you will about numerous injuries to Long Island's blueliners.  The Islanders were no doubt depleted, but not debilitated.  Defense, and/or Jaroslav Halak's goal tending, were not the decisive issues in the end.  In fact, Jaroslav performed brilliantly Monday evening.  Instead, the Islander's #4 rated offense short circuited down the stretch against the league's #7 defensive rated team, and the league's 14th rated penalty kill.

Aside from Cal Clutterbuck's empty-netter to seal Game 6, the Islanders were limited to just 7 goals in the final 5 games of the series.  Worse, they were 0 for 14 on the power play in the series.

When the Boston Bruins won their most recent Cup, they were similarly atrocious on the power play, but played brilliantly at even strength.

Just saying...

The Washington Capitals clearly looked, and played like the more comfortable team.  They looked every bit more experienced in Monday's Game 7 situation than did their competitors.  And when the Islanders finally mounted a comeback to tie, the Capitals demonstrated how to finish.

The Islanders, on the other hand, looked like exiles; strangers playing in a strange land.  Washington D.C. may have well been 2000 light years from home considering their days in Long Island and the Barn were ending.

They were every bit of the inexperienced Game 7 competitors they appeared to be.

Content to sheepishly clear the puck from their defensive end, the Isles only took a ponderous 3 shots on goal in the 1st period, 4 SOG in the 2nd, and 4 more in the 3rd, for a total of 11 shots on goal for the game.

The first two periods were particularly mystifying to watch.  No team is winning a Game 7 like that.

When the Islanders finally decided to play in the 3rd, they scored.  Washington, however, was more practiced in the art of closing.


Blame?

I know John Tavares had a questionable game...  Tough call.  I wouldn't go there.  The Isles are four lines deep...., right?

Dare I say Islanders fans take a pass?

No finger pointing - for as long as the bitter taste of this defeat lasts all off-season and fuels a bigger and better effort next season in Brooklyn?

I'm a Rangers fan, so what do I know...

The Long Island/NYC rivalry WAS great.

And so, with all deserved respect..., Potvin Sucks!




Mike

Sunday, April 26, 2015

N.Y. Islanders: Defenders of Fort Never Lose Marching Toward Washington for Game 7

From the desk of:  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB



Don't lock The Barn doors yet!  Moving Day has been put on hold..

Series tied 3-3
I - NYI 4; WAS 1
II - WAS 4; NYI 3
III - NYI 2; WAS 1
IV - WAS 2; NYI 1
V - WAS 5; NYI 1

GAME SIX FINAL
Capitals   1
Islanders  3

New York Islanders: Long Island's Swan Song Takes Flight To The Nation's Capital For A Game 7 Showdown Against Caps.

The Islanders are barnstorming to Washington intent on extending Long Island's final season of NHL hockey.  With a Game 7 victory over the Capitals Monday night, the Nassau Coliseum would be ensured of at least two more games, not to mention a second round match-up against the New York Rangers.

But, if Saturday's clash against the Caps indeed belatedly turns into the final game at the old Barn, it was a fine one.

Coach Capuano must first be credited for making adjustments after Game 5's debacle.

The captain, John Tavares then led the way with a 1st period goal at the 6:56 mark.  However, when the stripes whistled Tavares for slashing at 19:27, John Carlson converted an Alex Ovechkin feed for a game tying power play goal with just 0:05 left in the period.

After a scoreless 2nd period, Long Island's hero emerged midway through the 3rd.  At the 10:33 mark, Washington overplayed John Tavares in the corner, leaving Nikolay Kulemin all alone to work the puck through Braden Holtby for a 2-1 Islanders lead.

Cal Clutterbuck sealed the Islanders victory for their frenzied fan base with an empty-netter 0:53 shy of the final buzzer.

Once again, the Islanders did a fine job minimizing Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, whom combined to take just 4 SOG.  However, Troy Brouwer, John Carlson, Joel Ward, and Evgeny Kuznetsov all registered 5 or better.

Working overtime on the blueline, Johnny Boychuk logged 27:00 minutes, and Nick Leddy put in 28:59 minutes of ice time.

Washington's lone score came with a man-advantage.  Otherwise, Jaroslav Halak effectively outlasted Braden Holtby, facing 39 shots on goal and making 38 saves to extend Long Island's run by at least one more game.

Game Six was a very physical affair, that devolved all the way through the final buzzer, and beyond.
A total of 8 penalties were assessed at the tail end of the game; 4 for Washington, 4 for the Isles.   Cross checking and roughing penalties came standard, but only Cal Clutterbuck was levied with a 10-minute misconduct.

An empty-net goal aside, the Islanders have scored just 6 times in the last 4 games.  John Tavares has 2 goals in the series, and may very well need to score another on Monday.  Meanwhile, the power play is now 0 for 13 in 6 games.  Ideally, the Isles need a goal from their special teams now more than ever in order to off-set any potential (Game 7) scoring by (WAS) what is still the #1 power play in the league.

Should the Islanders fall in Game 7 at Washington, they may as well pack a bag full of remorse for their trip to Brooklyn over losing Game 2 in Braden Holtby's absence.  Although 3 pucks found net, the Islanders must ponder having only mustered a mere 21 shots on goal.  That made back-up goalie Philipp Grubauer's performance good enough.

At the other end, and after a fine 1st period, the Isles played poorly in front of Jaroslav Halak whom faced 35 shots (18 in the 2nd period), and allowed a pair of 2nd period goals, and another pair in the 3rd.

The balance of Long Island hockey now lies in the success or failure of Game 7.  The move to Brooklyn either commences post haste by midnight Monday, or gets delayed through another round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The New York Rangers await the winner of this series.

One last Rangers/Islanders post-season battle would be epic.



Mike

Long Island Ducks 2015 Preview: Back to the Finals or Bust

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE




The 18th Regular Season of Atlantic League Baseball is Open For Business.

PLAY BALL!

Long Island Ducks Open Their 16th Regular Season With a Victory Over York.

The Long Island Ducks commenced their 16th season of professional baseball on the road Friday evening, with a 5-2 victory over the York Revolution.

Right-hander John Brownell climbed the hill for Long Island and pitched a gem.  He faced 23 batters in 7-innings of work, allowed no runs on just 2 hits, walked one batter, and fanned 4 to earn his first victory of the season.

Ducks right fielder, Bryan Sabatella, led off the game with a base hit to left off York starter Shawn Hill, then promptly stole second base.  After advancing to third on a wild pitch, Sabatella scored the season's first run on Lew Ford's ground out to second.

The Ducks added to their lead in the 4th, on first baseman Jon Griffin's 2-run blast off reliever Matt Neil.  In the 6th, third baseman Cody Puckett's home run gave the Ducks a 4-0 lead.  And in the 7th, Lew Ford's sac-fly scored Bryan Sabatella to cap off Long Island's scoring.

Right-hander Ryan Kussmaul pitched the 9th to earn his first save of the season.

Saturday Final:
Ducks  1
York   3

The Revolution evened the series on Saturday, with a 3-1 victory over starter Mark Rogers and the Ducks.  York scored their runs in the bottom of the 4th, on a 3-run home run by left fielder Brandon Jones.

Rogers pitched 5 innings, allowed 3 earned runs on 5 hits, walked just one batter, and fanned 4 batters in his first loss of the season.

Long Island's lone run came in the second inning, on Cody Puckett's 1-out ground rule double, and an RBI single by Jon Griffin.

Long Island Ducks: 2015 Preview - Back to the Finals or Bust.

No one needs reminding - the Long Island Ducks failed to qualify for the playoffs last season, thus snapping a run of three straight Atlantic League championship series appearances.  After losing to York in the 2011 finals, the Ducks rebounded to win consecutive titles in 2012 and 2013.

One might argue that newcomers to the Liberty Division, the Somerset Patriots, upset the established order of things.  The Somerset Patriots and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs were realigned prior to the 2014 season.

The Ducks finished second behind the Patriots last season with a 73-67 overall record; 12 games back.  Even the Ducks 41-29 first half record was still 6 games back of Somerset.  Long Island then struggled in the second half to post a 32-38 record, and ended the season losing 7 of their last 10 games.

The Somerset Patriots, meanwhile, posted a league best 85-55 record, but were upset in the division round by the eventual champions, Lancaster Barnstormers.

The bar was nevertheless reset, leaving GM Michael Pfaff with plenty of off-season work to do insofar as closing the gap with Somerset.

Some of the notable names gone from last season's roster include the very productive Adam Bailey, Fehlandt Lentini, and pitchers Shaun Garceau, Bobby Blevins, and Jared Lansford, just to name a few.

In fact, only four players remain from the Ducks last championship: Lew Ford, John Brownell; Eric Niesen, and Dan Lyons.  Four other returning players only made their Long Island debuts last season.
 
The rest of this year's roster will be populated by fresh faces.

Kevin Baez enters his 5th season at the helm, and perhaps faces his toughest challenge to date.   He'll need to draw on his unique experience as a former Ducks player whom helped his team win the 2004 Atlantic League title, and whom then guided the Ducks to a pair of titles in only his 2nd and 3rd years as field manager.

Here is a tentative look at the 2015 Long Island Ducks.

STARTERS

  • John Brownell, the only returning starting pitcher from last season, is entering his 4th season as a member of the Ducks.  He made 29 starts last season and compiled over 200 innings pitched. He posted a 13-9 record with a 3.61 ERA, with just 54 walks and 130 strikeouts.
  • Mickey Jannis, 27, spent his first 2 season in the Tampa Bay rays system, and has pitched in the Frontier League and Atlantic League since.  He was a full time starter last season with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, posting a 4-1 record in 10 starts, with a 2.37 ERA in 57 innings pitched.
  • Ian Marshall, 28, made 27 starts for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs last season, and posted a 10-10 record with 4.09 ERA over 156.1 innings pitched.  He also relieved 10 games in the Australian Baseball League.
  • Mark Rogers, 29, is a long-time Brewers farmhand, who started 18 games last season for the Lancaster Barnstormers.  He suffers from control issues, but posted a modest 5-6 record, with a 4.17 ERA over 86.1 innings pitched.
  • Amalio Diaz, 30, is a 10-year minor league veteran of the Mexican circuit, the Frontier League, and 7 seasons of affiliated ball in the Angels system.  He owns a career 4.39 ERA in 757.1 innings.  In 267 appearances, he started 84 games, relieved in 183 games, and finished 74 games.

BULLPEN

  • New closer, Ryan Kussmaul, 28, is a 7 year minor league veteran out of the Chicago White Sox system.  In 327 career innings, he owns a 2.64 ERA, with an impressive 10.3 K/9, and a 3.1 W/9 average.
  • Lefty Eric Niesen returns for his third season with the Ducks.  He was originally drafted by the Mets in 2007, and pitched some in Boston's system.  Last season, he made 59 appearances for the Ducks, and posted a 4-3 record with a 3.06 ERA over 53 innings, with an 11.0 K/9 average.
  • Hector Ambriz, 30, has 3+ years of MLB experience.  In 106 innings, he owns a lofty 5.35 ERA.  In 8 seasons of affiliated ball, he owns a 4.27 ERA over 638 innings pitched.
  • Matt Soren, 23, was born, and went to high school in Roslyn, N.Y.  He spent 2013 in the Phillies system, then last season pitched for the New Jersey Jackals.
  • Bruce Kern, 27, is another local kid, who played his college ball at St. John's University.  He's a 5 season product of the Colorado Rockies system, where he posted a 3.78 ERA over 166.2 innings, with an 8.0 K/9 average.
  • Southpaw Patrick Crider, 27, played his all 5 years of his pro career in the Frontier League, where he posted a 3.00 ERA in 195 innings pitched.  Last season, he posted a 1.43 ERA in 50.1 innings, with an 11.1 K/9 average.
  • Frank DeJiulio Jr., 26, spent 2 seasons in the Anaheim Angels system before joining the Ducks this year in spring training.
  • Carmine Giardina, 27, is another local kid out of Manhasset, Long Island.  He is a product of 4 seasons in the Angels system.  Last season at (AA)-Arkansas, he made 49 appearances, and posted a 4.45 ERA in 56.2 innings, with a 7.1 K/9 average.
  • Lefty Tommy Organ, is 23-years young.  He returns for a second season with the Ducks.  In 20 appearances last year, he posted a 2.29 ERA over 19.2 innings, with an 8.2 K/9 average.
  • Sergio Perez, 30, is another back for a second season with Long Island.  In 20 appearances last season, he pitched to a 2.37 ERA over 19 innings, with 13 strikeouts and a save.

Long Island Ducks Opening Game Lineup;

RF - Bryan Sabatella
LF - Erik Komatsu
CF - Lew Ford
C - Jose Morales
3B - Cody Puckett
1B - Jon Griffin
2B - Blake Davis
DH - Evan Crawford
SS - Dan Lyons

  • Bryan Sabatella, 30, is a veteran of 9 independent league seasons.  He batted .307 in 371 at-bats last season for Kansas City of the American Association, and played 3 season with the New Jersey Jackals of the CanAm league previous to that.
  • Erik Komatsu, 28, has a lot of stickers on his luggage.  After 8 seasons playing affiliated baseball, he makes his first venture into the independent circuits.  He bats left, will draw walks, and keep his strikeouts low.  He has a career .279 average and a .376 OBP.  He'll provide the Ducks with solid defense.
  • The people's champion, 38-year old Lew Ford, is back for his 6th season in Long Island.
  • Catcher Jose Morales, 32, comes to the Ducks via the Camden River Sharks.  He brings 4 years of major league experience behind the plate.  As a switch hitter, he has a career .283 minor league average, and has thrown out 25% of would be base-stealers.
  • Cody Puckett, 28, is back for a second season with the Ducks.  Last season, he batted .298 with 10 home runs and 77 RBI.
  • Jon Griffin is 6' 6", 230 lbs., and is still only 26-years old.  He is a veteran of 5 minor league seasons spent in the Arizona Diamondbacks system.  In 589 combined at-bats at the AA-level, he hit 20 home runs with 90 RBI.
  • Infielder Blake Davis, 31, is making his Long Island debut after 9 seasons of affiliated baseball; 7 in the Baltimore Orioles system.  His last 6 seasons were spent mostly at the AAA-level.
  • Evan Crawford, 26, returns for his second season with the Ducks.  He played 15 games last season, and batted .378 which included an 8-game hitting streak.  In 2013, he played in the Frontier League.
  • Old reliable, shortstop Dan Lyons, 30, returns for his 5th season with the Ducks.

INFIELD

C - Jose Morales
1B - Jon Griffin
2B - Blake Davis
SS - Dan Lyons
3B - Cody Puckett
INF - Reegie Corona
C - Mike Blanke

  • Reegie Corona played with the Lancaster Barnstormers last season.  The first 8 years of his career were spent in the New York Yankees organization.   He is a switch hitter, and in 3,009 minor league at-bats he owns a dual slash of .255/.328.
  • Catcher Mike Blanke, 26, is a 5 year product of the Chicago White Sox system.  In 1,317 career at-bats, he slashed .254/.322/.396 with 33 home runs.  Defensively, he throws out runners at a 33% career rate.  He also made 13 relief appearances last season in the R-Pioneer League, and posted a 4.72 ERA in 13.1 innings pitched.

OUTFIELD

LF - Bryan Sabatella
CF - Lew Ford
RF - Erik Komatsu
OF - Evan Crawford
OF - Anthony Vega

  • Anthony Vega, 25, is a local kid from Patchogue, N.Y., originally from the Bronx.  He is a 3 year veteran of the Baltimore Orioles system.  He played college ball with the Manhattan Jaspers.

Offensively, the 2015 Ducks seemingly will lack in the power department.  Even if Lew Ford can elude Father Time and repeat last year's 15 home runs, an uptick from Cody Puckett is still sorely needed.  Newcomer Jon Griffin, is obviously being looked upon to supply slugging as well.  Jose Morales has value in the middle of the order as a switch hitter, but I don't know how long he'll last as the clean-up hitter.

Starting pitchers John Brownell, Ian Marshall, and Mickey Jannis, could have the makings of a solid front three.  Last season, Brownell set franchise marks in starts and innings pitched.  Ian Marshall will pitch the series finale this afternoon in York.


Mike

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Strong Start Just What the Mets Needed



Here's my latest for 


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




Mike
senior staff writer/Rising Apple

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

From the desk of:  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mike

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

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

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS



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

GAME 3 FINAL
Rangers    2
Penguins  1

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

Killjoy is pissed off!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toughness...  Will it matter?




Mike

Monday, April 20, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Penguins Crash The Garden Party

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS



Rangers lose home advantage; Series shifts to Pittsburgh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*      *      *      *

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

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

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

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

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

*      *      *      *

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the Penguins continued crashing the net with impunity.

*      *      *      *

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

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




Mike

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Brooklyn Nets: Billy King's Last Stand

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH




2014-2015
National Basketball Association 
PLAYOFFS

TODAY

***GAME ONE***

BROOKLYN NETS
vs.
Atlanta Hawks
from
The Peach State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's go Brooklyn.

Let's Go Nets!



Mike

Friday, April 17, 2015

N.Y. Mets: Beasts of the East

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*      *      *

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

!Que Bruto!

*      *      *

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

*      *      *

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




Mike

Thursday, April 16, 2015

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

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS




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

TONIGHT

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

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

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

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

There's the rub...

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

Previously:


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

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

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

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

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

SIZE MATTERS:

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

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

PICK ME UP A 6-PAK:

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

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

LET'S DO THIS:

Let's Go Rangers!!!



Mike

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

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

From the desk of:  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB




2014-2015
Stanley Cup Playoffs

GAME ONE
Islanders   4
Capitals    1
FINAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Mike

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Sizing Up The Penguins

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those numbers may mean little against the Rangers.

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

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



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

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

Of course, I'm talking about cheap shots.

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

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



Mike

Monday, April 13, 2015

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

From the desk of:  BROOKLYN'S FOSTER HOCKEY CLUB




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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Mike

Sunday, April 12, 2015

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

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henrik and Talbot both registered 5 shutouts each.

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

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

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

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



Mike