Saturday, April 30, 2016

N.Y. Mets: This Time Last Season Offense Began its Downward Spiral

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET




Mets winning streak hits lucky number seven against Giants.

FRIDAY NIGHT
Giants     1
Mets      13
FINAL
Mets set team record 
for most runs scored (12) in an inning.


N.L. East
1) Nationals  15-7
2) Mets          14-7


NEW YORK METS: Unlike this time last season, the Amazin's enter the month of May equipped with a more formibable line-up.
Last season, the Mets got off to a 2-3 start, then went on to win 11 games in a row.  After which they posted a 2-5 record over their next seven games, giving them a 15-7 mark for April, and placing them 4.5 games in first place ahead of the Nationals.

Since stumbling out of the gate this season with a 2-5 record, the Mets have since won 12 of their last 14 games.  With Friday night's 13-1 thumping of the visiting San Francisco Giants, their present winning streak is now up to seven games.

They are 14-7 thus far, with Saturday's game against the Giants being the final game of April.   They'll enter the day's action a mere half-game out of first place.  And that's a good place to be.

Last year's shortcomings started manifesting in May, when the Mets struggled to post a sub par 13-15 record.  While Mets pitching carried the team as best they could, the offense was only in the beginning stages of a two month long downward spiral.  By June, their woeful lack of hitting started negatively affecting the pitching, resulting in a combined 25-30 record through May and June.
They finally played .500 ball again during July thanks largely to Curtis Granderson, and Sandy Alderson's trade deadline acquisitions.

As of Friday evening's stats, Mets pitching will tentatively enter the month of May having allowed the National League's least amount of home runs, with the second most strikeouts, and the circuit's third best (2.81) ERA.  Although they sport the league's seventh highest batting average against, they at least own the 5th best (1.26) WHIP.

Offensively, the transformed Mets are one of only four N.L. teams with 30+ home runs.  They're first in the N.L. East in runs scored, but eighth overall.  As a team, they're slashing seventh in batting average, sixth in OBP, and fourth in slugging.

Said another way, this edition of the Mets is light years ahead of last year's crew, making the future so bright ... I gotta wear shades.  In May 2015, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Addison Reed, Jim Henderson, Antonio Bastardo, Steven Matz, were not yet members of the Mets.  Therefore, it is with great anticipation I await this year's start of May - and the transition into June, and Summer.

After Sunday's series finale against the Giants, the Mets will conclude this home stand with another series against the Braves.  After which the Mets will head westward with stops in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Colorado.

The Mets will then open their next home stand on May 17, when they'll host the season's first showdown against chief division rival, the Washington Nationals.

Friday, April 29, 2016

L.I. Ducks: Sweet and Sour Start

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE



OPENING DAY
Blue Crabs   4
DUCKS         6
FINAL


GAME TWO
Southern Maryland Blue Crabs
(LHP - Scott Snodgrass)
vs.
Long Island Ducks
(LHP - Jack Snodgrass)

YOU READ THAT RIGHT...
FROM
THE POND

Long Island Ducks: Anxiety Over Poor Start Eased by Opening Day Victory.

Opening Day was a success.  Long Island Ducks fans were treated to a 6-4 victory over the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the season's first game at Bethpage Ballpark.

Starter Bobby Blevins pitched 5 innings in posting his first win of the season, and Todd Coffey registered his first save.  Delta Cleary Jr, and Sean Burroughs led offensively with 2 RBI apiece.

Okay, terrific...

Unfortunately, Thursday night's Opening Day victory was only their second of this very young season, and merely tied them with these very same Blue Crabs for the worst start among this season's Atlantic League members.

For both Long Island and Southern Maryland, their respective 2-6 records gives this four game weekend series all the context we need.

With regard to the Liberty Division standings, the Ducks now trail the undefeated (8-0) Somerset Patriots by six games.  The Patriots swept Long Island in the opening series of the season at Somerset.  The migrating Flock then proceeded to drop 2 of 3 games in Connecticut against the newly minted New Britain Bees.

N.Y. Mets: The Always Something to Complain About Podcast



Here's our latest podcast at 


By close of business Thursday, the Mets had closed within one-half game 
of the first place Washington Nationals.

PODCAST:

An interesting show to say the least, with tons of obscure references:

Rich and I were joined by
Gary Mack of MetsMusings.com.

We've been humoring a young caller in recent weeks just to add a newer generation's perspective.  Funny thing is, at times he comes off sounding angrier and more grizzled than us old guys.
This week he inspired me to joyfully make repeated use of the word suck/sucks.
How liberating.

STUFF
The Dark Knight
Matt Harvey : Media :: Tom Seaver : writer Dick Young
Concerns over Travis d'Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki
Duffy Dyer and John Stearns

Somehow I pulled off referencing both Socrates and Ric Flair
in the same mind stream - really.
Wooooo!

Mike Piazza - Mike Vail - Ed Lynch
John Franco vs. Randy Meyers
Larry Bearnarth!
I defy you to recall the last time you heard him mentioned!

Terry Collins, Addison Reed, bowing at the altar of Michael Conforto,
and what to do with Wilmer Flores.

And don't forget, the original plan was bring up Dilson Herrera next year.
Is Neil Walker now altering that plan?



ICYMI
Here's my latest article for Rising Apple, 
as of 4/27/2016





Mike
senior staff writer/Rising Apple

Thursday, April 28, 2016

N.Y. Islanders: Flatbush manhandles Tampa in Game One

From the desk of:  FIVE FOR FLATBUSH



Islanders lead series 1-0
I - NYI 5; TBL 3
II - SATURDAY

New York Islanders: Let the bodies hit the ice; repeat three more times...

When speaking of the Stanley Cup playoffs, I'll side with the team coming off a three day layoff over the team coming off a six day layoff every time.  That does not always ring true 100% of the time, but the odds are heavily in my favor.

Therefore, Game One's result came as no surprise to me.

Despite Tampa Bay jumping out to an early lead, I fully expected the Lightning to suck in Wednesday's series opener against the Islanders.  Sure enough, the Bolts, specifically Ben Bishop, did exactly that.

Tampa Bay, however, will not go down quietly.  In fact, the Lightning effectively removed six days worth of rust by the 3rd period.

The real series starts now.

That said, there is still much to extract from Game One.

Don't let the official game stats fool you.  The box score says Tampa actually out-hit the Isles by a 33-29 margin.  In truth, however, they were only bumping into people instead of actually throwing their weight around.  Despite the absence of Steven Stamkos, Tampa still wants to play in open ice.  They do not want the series devolving into an overly physical contest in the corners - which plays right into the Islanders hands.

Listen up Rangers fans!

When the Islanders come ready to hit, they punish.  They turn jerseys into sideboard art.  And on Wednesday, they hit everything in sight.  So the longer this series goes, crashing bodies like the Isles did in Game One will eventually take its toll on Tampa.

When the Rangers played Tampa in last year's Conference Finals, 
Alain Vigneault called off the dogs in Game Seven and got eliminated.  Now look at them.!
Jack Capuano took a puck to the face and stayed behind the bench ... just saying.

When a healthy Steve Bernier and Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas play the way they did in Game One, then throw in five hits from new kid on the ice Alan Quine, the Islanders become a scary team to deal with.

The Lightning will find no respite.  Flatbush simply has more PSI than Tampa can handle - (pounds per square Islander).

Behind the Mask

If you haven't caught on by now, or are not familiar with this Trolley, I am a Rangers fan (damn Smurfs!), which gave me an up close view of Ben Bishop during last year's conference finals.

He's a big dude.  His mere presence occupies an inordinately huge amount of net space.  He must be made to move laterally, because, to put it very simply, he sucks at it.  Bishop is a good quality goalie if allowed to remain stationary.  But make him start moving to his left or right, and he's doomed.

Thomas Greiss gets to use his get out of jail free card for allowing two goals in the 3rd period of Game One.

Just regroup, you're doing fine!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

N.Y. Islanders: John Tavares Plants His Flag on Flatbush Avenue

From the desk of:  FIVE FOR FLATBUSH



NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE PLAYOFFS
ROUND ONE

Islanders defeat Panthers 4-2
I - NYI 5; FLA 4
II - FLA 3; NYI 1
III - NYI 4; FLA 3*
IV - FLA 2; NYI 1
V - NYI 2; FLA 1*
VI - NYI 2; FLA 1*
*OVERTIME

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: It took four years, but Barclays Center finally enjoyed its first transcendental moment.

The Brooklyn Nets' lone post-season series victory 
was clinched in Toronto.

Let the record show that on April 24, 2016, a hockey team from Brooklyn won its first ever Stanley Cup Playoff series.

The folks out in Uniondale, Nassau County, and greater Long Island, however, waited 23 long years for their favorite team to finally win a playoff series again.  The waiting period for Flatbush Avenue's first modern transcendental moment, on the other hand, wasn't nearly as long.  After all, it has only been seven months since the Islanders hosted the Borough's inaugural season opener.

There was nevertheless plenty for all to celebrate this past Sunday throughout this stretch of land separated from mainland New York proper.

After splitting games One and Two against the Panthers in Sunrise, Florida, Barclays Center's first ever NHL playoff game ended with Thomas Hickey's overtime goal, giving the Islanders a 2-1 series edge.

In Game Six, Barclays rumbled and shook like the walls of Jericho upon witnessing John Tavares' game tying goal with just 0:54 left in regulation, then damn nearly crumbled after his series clinching goal in double-overtime.

With the Knicks, Nets, Devils, and the recently eliminated New York Rangers all idle, the limelight turned its focus squarely on Islanders' captain John Tavares, whom demonstrated why he's quietly been the metropolitan area's premier hockey player throughout his seven year career.

Simply stating Tavares registered nine points (5 goals, 4 assists) in six games against the Florida Panthers would be a major injustice.  The Islanders team captain led his team into the second round of playoffs with uncommon actions and supreme deeds.
  • Game One: His goal with 0:22 left in the 2nd period tied the game at two.
  • Game Two: He scored the Islanders only goal during a 3-1 loss.
  • Game Three: His first assist of the 2nd period helped bring the Islanders within 2-1 of the Panthers.  His second assist of the 2nd period helped the Islanders tie the game at three.
  • Game Four: He scored the lone Islanders goal (PP) in a 2-1 loss.
  • Game Six: He scored the game tying goal with 0:54 left in regulation, then stuffed in his own rebound with a wrap-around goal in double overtime.

Behind the Mask

All John Tavares' heroics would have been mere afterthoughts, however, were it not for the net minding of Thomas Greiss.  It took cartwheels and back flips, but the Isles' back-up goalie played like a season long starter against the Panthers, and for good reason.  He appeared in exactly half the Islanders games this season, and made 38 starts.  

Starting goalie Jaroslav Halak last played on March 8 against the Penguins.  Greiss then started 11 of the Islanders final 18 regular season games, before being thrust into Round One against the Florida Panthers.  Greiss posted a .944 Sv%, and a stellar 1.79 GAA in six games.  After surrendering four goals in Game One, Greiss limited the Panthers to 10 goals over the next five games, and held them to a lone goal in both games Five and Six.


*image: nydn/getty

Monday, April 25, 2016

L.I. Ducks: Patriots pick up where they left off; sweep Flock to open season

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE



Patriots run Ducks out of town;
complete four game sweep.

Long Island Ducks: The Flock already sporting an early limp in their waddle.

The first series of the new season is now a matter of record.  The Long Island Ducks, however, remain the lone Atlantic League team still without a victory.  Although we're only talking about four games, Flock fans hope their opening weekend flop against the Somerset Patriots was not an omen of things to come.

Patriots fans would argue the team simply picked up where they left of last season, after winning the Liberty Division flag outright, then eliminating the Ducks from the first round of playoffs.

The Somerset Patriots completed a rather one-sided sweep of the Ducks with a 6-1 victory Sunday afternoon, while outscoring them 26-11 over the four games.

I have a saying - you can't win pennants in April, but you sure can lose them.  In a half-season format, the Ducks are now four games back of the leaders.  Just saying...

  • Batting lead-off - Fehlandt Lentini went 8 for 16 with a walk against the Patriots.
  • Souvenirs - Lew Ford, Cody Puckett, and Dan Lyons, all hit their first home runs of the season.  The Patriots hit 6 home runs against the Ducks.

Disturbing the Bees' Hive

Next stop on the Ducks 7-game season opening road trip is New Britain, where they'll play their first ever games against the newly created Bees baseball club.

The Camden Riversharks are no longer members of the Atlantic League ... as we once knew them.   The team was unable to reach a lease agreement with the owners of beautiful Campbell Field, thus necessitating their move to the state of Connecticut.  The team now operates as the New Britain Bees.

Opening Day at Bethpage Ballpark is scheduled for Thursday, April 28, against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.

The Starting Rotation

Coach Baez' initial starting rotation appears set.
  • John Brownell started Game One
  • Darin Downs started Game Two
  • Bobby Blevins started Game Three
  • Jack Snodgrass climbed the hill for Game Four

Next up - Right-hander Mark Blackmar, 23, is tentatively scheduled to pitch Monday's opener against the New Britain Bees.  He was originally drafted in 2011 by the Baltimore Orioles, where he spent four years in their organization making his way to A+ level.  Last season, he played a full AA season with the Chicago White Sox organization.  He pitches to contact, and posted a 3.71 ERA over 448.1 combined minor league innings pitched.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

N.Y. Rangers: The King's Horses and His Men Failed Henrik Lundqvist Again

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS


The King was a victim of over-taxation 
without blue line representation.

Penguins win series 4-1
I - PITT 5; NYR 2
II - NYR 4; PITT 2
III - PITT 3; NYR 1
IV - PITT 5; NYR 0
V - PITT 6; NYR 3

NEW YORK RANGERS: Where were the King's horses?   Where were the King's men?  And can these Blueshirts ever be Stanley Cup contenders again?

Our Liege ... the benevolent King Henrik was a victim of over-taxation without representation.

His NHL career is now 11 years long, in which he's made 685 regular season appearances.  He made 53 appearances as a rookie.  Then aside from the 2012-2013 labor dispute shortened season in which he started 43 games, and 2014-15 when he only made 46 starts due to injury, Henrik has otherwise averaged 68 games over the balance of 8 other seasons.

Under Tom Renney, Henrik routinely posted 70+ game seasons.  John Tortorella then made it a priority to manage Henrik's playing time more efficiently with the playoffs in mind, and limited him to an average of 65 starts a season.

Enter Alain Vigneault...

If you remember, last season Henrik only made 46 starts (as previously noted) due to getting hit in the neck with a puck, and a resulting vascular injury.  This season, at 34-years of age, Alain Vigneault had Lundqvist make his most starts since the 2010-2011 season (six seasons ago) when he was still only 28-years old.

Then add the 116 post-season games he's played since 2005-2006, with the Rangers missing the 2009-2010 playoffs being the only exception.

That's a decade's worth of extended hockey seasons.  However, he remained consistent throughout.   For his career, he owns a .921 Sv% and a 2.28 GAA.  Despite owning a losing record in the playoffs (55-59) he still maintained a .923 Sv% and a 2.25 GAA.

Now let's get to the heart of the matter.  The collective group of blue liners had perhaps their worst season together as Rangers.  Lack of support from his forwards was an equal factor.

This all has everything to do with the Rangers first round elimination against the Penguins.

During the regular season, Henrik Lundqvist posted his usual .920 Sv%, but his 2.48 GAA was the worst of his career.

Here's why...

Henrik Lundqvist led the NHL in most shots faced this season, and in turn was forced to make the most saves in the NHL.  

Those two facts fall squarely on the defense - just as well as sinking to 15th in the NHL in goals against, and all the way down to 26th on the penalty kill under Alain Vigneault.  The Rangers penalty kill against the Penguins was particularly inept, allowing 8 goals in 21 opportunities.  All the King's men could muster were 2 measly goals in 19 opportunities.

Otherwise, no goalie can withstand wave after wave of odd man rushes, plus all the unchecked traffic incidents Henrik is made to endure, and still expect to survive without negatively affecting the scoreboard.

The Rangers defensive effort during final two games against the Penguins were as negative as it gets.

Did Henrik Lundqvist have a bad series?

Yes...

However, none of this should strike anyone as a surprise.  Henrik Lundqvist himself was very vocal throughout the season regarding these very issues.


Friday, April 22, 2016

L.I. Ducks: Talkin' Quack ~ 2016 Season Preview

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE



ATLANTIC  LEAGUE
CHAMPIONS
2004      2012      2013

2015 
Overall Record
80-59

The Long Island Ducks 17th Season is Underway...

We left off with the Somerset Patriots eliminating the Long Island Ducks from last year's Atlantic League playoffs.

The two wasted little time resuming their rivalry, opening the 2016 regular season with a four game weekend series at TD Bank Ballpark.

The season's first call to Play Ball was made Thursday, featuring Ducks ace John Brownell versus the quite familiar Patriots starter Mickey Storey.  The game remained tied at three through six innings of play, earning both starting pitchers a no decision.

The Patriots charged ahead with a five run outburst in the 7th, and added another in the 8th, giving Somerset a final 9-3 margin of victory.

Ducks off to an 0-2 start

Darin Downs climbed the hill for the Ducks Friday evening in Game Two, and was opposed by Somerset's Jeremy Horst.  Despite a solid effort from Downs, the Patriots claimed a 5-2 victory over the Ducks.

There are still a pair of games remaining in order for the Ducks to gain a series split.

Yes, that's concern you sense ... it's never too early.

And with that, the 2016 Atlantic League regular season is underway.


Long Island Ducks 2016 Season Preview


General manager Michael Pfaff enters the 2016 regular season with a roster not unlike last year's edition.

Of the positional players, second base is the lone unknown.  The other positional starters are either returning for a second season with the Ducks, or are more established Long Island veterans.

Player/coach Lew Ford's swan song is now in its 7th season!  At 39-years of age, he's either aging like a fine wine or drinking from the fountain of youth - your choice.  In 2014, Lew batted .347 in 544 at-bats, and last season batted .364 in 297 at-bats.  In 1,598 overall at-bats as a member of the Flock, Lew Ford has 547 hits for a .342 batting average.

If the Ducks were to ever consider naming a team captain, long time shortstop Dan Lyons surely would be the easy choice.  In 2015, he established career highs in several offensive categories, most notably his .462 slugging average, and his first ever .300 season average.

Long Island's offense will ultimately be characterized by the sum of its parts.  I'm not sure where they'll draw their power from.  Dan Lyons, Cody Puckett, Fehlandt Lentini, Delta Cleary Jr., and others ideally will combine to make this a fairly balanced line-up (...Kansas City Royals style).

The ace of the staff is still John Brownell, but the ranks are thinning.  After Bobby Blevins, the starting rotation is riddled with question marks.

Meanwhile, the names in the bullpen seemingly grow stranger by the season.  Manager Kevin Baez needs at least three relievers from among this new pack of virtual unknowns to emerge, and help him establish some sort of bullpen semblance.  Presently, all roles appear available.  Inquire within.

Starting Pitchers

Returning Pitchers: John Brownell, Bobby Blevins, Darin Downs
  • Southpaw Jack Snodgrass, 28, comes to Long Island via the San Francisco Giants organization.  He spent most of the last three seasons pitching at the AA level.  In 112 minor league appearances he made 88 career starts, with a 42-24 record, 4.00 ERA, and a 1.332 WHiP in 538.1 combined innings pitched.
  • Right-hander Nick Struck is entering his second season with the Ducks.  Last season he made 50 relief appearances, but over his minor league career Nick made 118 starts in 134 appearances.  The Ducks utilized him in relief again Friday evening against the Somerset Patriots.

Bullpen

Returning Pitchers: Patrick Crider, Bruce Kern, Frank DeJiulio Jr., Amalio Diaz
  • Right-hander Kevin Vance is 25-years young.  He spent five years in the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks organizations.  Last year marked his first touch at the AAA level.   Primarily used as a reliever, he owns a 3.81 ERA and 1.301 WHiP over 328.1 minor league innings pitched.
  • Right-hander Dan Blewett, 30, is a career independent league pitcher.  From 2010 through 2012 he was a starter, but after missing all of the 2013 season he returned as a reliever in 2014 with Camden.   In two seasons, 89 appearances, and 121.1 innings pitched for the Riversharks, he posted a combined 3.12 ERA, with 120 strikeouts, 40 walks, and 108 total hits allowed.
  • Right-hander James Lomangino, 24-years young, is a Long Island native and St. John's University alumni.  His career is still ahead of him.  He has but two brief years of experience to speak of while in the Colorado Rockies system.  He made 15 appearances playing Rookie ball in 2014, and 39 appearances in the South Atlantic League (A) last year.
  • Right-hander Todd Coffey last pitched in the majors in 2012 for the Los Angeles Dodgers.   He's an eight year MLB veteran (2005-2012) whom posted a career 25-18 record with 11 saves, a 4.10 ERA, and a 6.8 K/9 and 2.8 W/9 average in 438.2 innings pitched.  He spent last year with the Seattle Mariners AAA affiliate, where he posted a nifty 1.93 ERA, with an 8.2 K/9 average in 37.1 innings pitched.
  • Southpaw Jarrett Casey, 28, spent six minor league seasons in the White Sox organization with 48 appearances at the AAA level.  He totaled 160 minor league appearances, with a 4.18 ERA and a 1.363 WHiP in 383.2 total innings pitched.
  • Southpaw Eury De La Rosa, 26, is an eight year minor league, and foreign league veteran.  He pitched in parts of two seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012 and 2013, where he registered 44 appearances, 51.1 innings pitched, and an 8.4 K/9 average.

Behind the Dish
  • Matt Blanke is entering his second season with the Flock.  In 92 games and 326 at-bats last season, he slashed .282/.337/.411, with 15 doubles, 9 home runs, and 43 RBI.
  • Mike Dowd, 25, is a five year veteran of the Seattle Mariners system where he elevated to AA. He boasts a stellar defensive reputation and possesses an above average throwing arm.

Around the Diamond
  • First baseman Sean Burroughs was acquired mid-season last year from the Bridgeport Bluefish. Don't look to him for power, but have fun watching him hit nonetheless.  In 53 games and 190 at-bats with Bridgeport, he batted .321 last season.  In 37 games and 145 at-bats with the Ducks, he batted .366 with a .422 OBP.
  • If Long Island's opening game against Somerset was an indication, then Blake Barber, 26, appears to be this year's starting second baseman.  He spent the last four seasons primarily in the lower levels of the Miami Marlins organization.  He owns a .268 career average over 962 minor league at-bats.
  • Another native New Yorker, and St. John's alum, infielder Matt Wessinger, 25, spent last season with Bridgeport, and will likely compete for the second base job, but is more likely to play off the bench.
  • Rock steady Dan Lyons is back for his sixth season with the Ducks.  He is coming off a career season, in which he hit 28 doubles, 11 home runs, drove in 73 runs, and batted .301 in 465 at-bats.
  • Entering his third season with the Ducks, Cody Puckett will man third base.  He's a combined .286 hitter during his previous two seasons with Long Island, averaging 20 doubles, 9 home runs, and 65 RBI.

The Outfield
  • From left to right, continuity rules the day.  Delta Cleary Jr. is back to play left; the indefatigable Lew Ford will be in center; and Fehlandt Lentini, 38, will return in right.
  • Blake Tekotte will DH and come off the bench.  He spent the previous four seasons shuffling back and forth between the majors and AAA, accumulating 50 games of MLB experience along the way.
  • Anthony Vega, 25, is a product of the Baltimore Orioles system.  He came to the Ducks last season via the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.  He will provide speed and defense off the bench.


Last word: All hail Buddy Harrelson!


N.Y. Rangers: Penguins Push Blueshirts to Brink of Elimination

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS


COLOSSAL FLOP
Rangers Lose Pair at Garden

Penguins lead series 3-1
I - PITT 5; NYR 2
II - NYR 4; PITT 2
III - PITT 3; NYR 1
IV - PITT 5; NYR 0
V - Saturday @PITT

NEW YORK RANGERS: Blueshirts have allowed Penguins 19 power play opportunities, or 4.75 per game.  That screams of a lethargic team.

The longer this series goes, the more poorly Tex's Rangers play.

It's astonishing, really...

If anything, Game Four added insult to Henrik Lundqvist's initial injury (which hastened his removal from Game One).  This time, four unanswered Penguins goals were the cause.  But only Henrik's ego may have been bruised this time.  He faced 18 shots, but made just 14 saves before getting pulled at the 6:04 mark of the 2nd period.

Back-up Antii Raanta finished the game, and allowed one goal for an overall 5-0 whitewashing at the Garden.

GAME FOUR FINAL
Penguins   5
Rangers    0


In truth, ineptness has infected them all - so, please, let's keep Henrik Lundqvist as one of the least troubling items to rage against.  It's the overall play of the interchangeable fruitless five skating in front of him that has been most disturbing to watch, and even more difficult to explain.

How many times have we've seen the same distressed offensive zone set-up attempts result in losing the zone - a turnover - a break away the other way?

Exactly...

It's not Henrik's fault the Rangers led the NHL regular season in least time of offensive zone possession by a considerable margin.  They have chronic difficulty establishing the zone in the first place, then usually manage just one shot on net and done.  The playoffs have been no different.

There is little excuse this season when compared to last, when many blames Mats Zuccerallo's absence from the line-up a reason for Rangers misfortunes.  Kevin Hayse was not on the ice in Game Four?  Eric Staal was.

I offer that as a petty argument.  Point taken...

Nor is it Henrik's fault the Rangers lack a forward who is comfortable, and adept at playing behind the net - a supreme passer behind net is one of the more lethal assets on ice, and key to implementing an effective dump and chase when the neutral zone bogs down.

A game after Derek Stepan expressed displeasure with team strategy over their inability to break through the neutral zone, I saw little change in Game Four.  The same propensity to handle the puck, or the ill advised stretch pass still ruled the night.

Even then, they do not have wingers with booming shots striking fear from the dots, or the bodies willing to battle in the crease - or said another way, they lack forwards capable of wearing down (punishing..) opposing defensemen.  Some on this team can, but usually refrain because it does not fit within the framework of Vineault's system.  That said, I still can't comprehend why Rick Nash is so ... nashy?  Columbus fans warned us!  Now we know why?  Otherwise, getting pushed off the puck is old news.

To the Rangers credit, they have been out-hitting the Penguins.  But their overwhelming sluggishness is killing them.  That's a shame because Pittsburgh's Matt Murray is offering rebounds like cookies, but they're being scooped up by Penguins and carried the other way.

And as far as Rangers crashing the opposing goalie, well, once again, Alain Vigneault believes in a more civilized approach.

All of this leaves Henrik very little time for spectating at the other end.  Like I said in a previous post, this is like playing under Tom Renney again.  We're in a state of regression where everything falls on Henrik Lundqvist.  Moreover, this season Alain Vigneault taxed the King, now 34-years old, unlike any season since his 2010-2011 campaign.

Like I said, point fingers at the five skaters first.  It's evident the Rangers spend entirely too much time in their defensive end.  And when you do that, you're going to commit too many penalties, particularly when your forwards do a piss poor job of getting back on defense.

We also have to recognize Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have put in many long regular and post-seasons together.  They are now performing like beaten, battered, and bruised players - see Dan Girardi.   Time has clearly caught up, and even moved the opposition a step ahead of them.   Meanwhile, Ryan McDonagh is playing with a broken hand.

At the core of my frustration is a coach telling me Kevin Klein should play Game Four instead of starting Dylan McIlrath, or that Kevin Klein warrants 27 shifts?  And I'll ask again - Brady Skjei made seven regular season starts, and gets to start over McIlrath whom made 34 regular season starts and wins the tale of the tape?

Unfortunately, to date, the story remained an old one this season ... the Rangers collectively can not clear sufficient traffic from Henrik's space, and Coach has an aversion to playing Dylan McIlrath.

Why not start both Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath?  At this juncture, Alain Vigneault really has nothing else to lose but another game, a playoff series, and his job - but not before he's made to answer why his team got eliminated in the first round.

Seems to me, then, Alain Vigneault needs Dylan McIlrath if the Rangers are to pull off a miraculous three game sweep.  Don't get me wrong, the forwards need to put their big boy pants on, and score.

As noted, the Rangers now must sweep the next three games or make earlier than expected plans for summer vacation.

I just call it like I see it.  Trolley Riders know I've been down on this team all season.  So, I'll only offer this...

I have little doubt Henrik will be on top of his game for Game Five.  So, please, give the man some help in front.  Then, just get shots on goal from any angle, converge on net, and get Matt Murray out of his element.  Then make sure you clean up the garbage.

Yeah, that requires taking a stick in the back at times, and it hurts.  But do it anyway!


  • Too Much To Ask For?  With Evgeni Malkin back in the line-up, can the Rangers keep their eyes on him, Patric Hornqvist, and Sidney Crosby?  After four games, so far the answer is no.
  • Too Much Too Ask For?  Readers might misunderstand me when I say - if Mats Zuccs continues being the Rangers best forward, they are in big trouble.  That's to his credit, considering Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Kevin Hayse, etc., are the ones whom should be making headlines.  Can Rick Nash lead the Rangers through a series ... just once?
  • Too Much To Ask For?  How about a power play goal, huh?  The Rangers are now just 1 for 16 in four games.  The Penguins have 7 goals in 19 opportunities.  That's a problem Keith Yandle was brought in to address, remember?


Thursday, April 21, 2016

N.Y. Islanders: Playing From Behind Becoming a Trend

 From the desk of:  FIVE FOR FLATBUSH


Series tied 2-2
I - NYI 5; FLA 4
II - FLA 3; NYI 1
III - NYI 4; FLA 3*
IV - FLA 2; NYI 1
*OVERTIME

New York Islanders: Putting the "Flat" in Flatbush ... Panthers looked quicker; send series back to Florida tied at two.

It's the ones you never see coming - like the Panthers' Alex Petrovic.

But Florida created that problem for the Islanders.  The Panthers have Flatbush heads turning on a swivel.  They're skating and moving the puck more quickly than are the Isles, and do not seem much intimidated by them either.

GAME FOUR FINAL
Panthers   2
Islanders   1


The Islanders were sluggish out of the gate in Game Four, with only 5 shots on goal through the opening period.

In the second session, mistakes cost each team.  The Panthers struck first, converting Matt Martin's tripping infraction into a 1-0 lead.  Then at the taboo 19:04 mark, Florida got whistled for an untimely tripping penalty.  John Tavares made them pay at 19:44 with his third goal of the series.

When opportunity came Petrovic's way near the blue line, he responded with the tie breaking goal at 9:25 of the third period.  He only scored two goals in 66 games this season, but he's sending this series back to Sunrise, Florida, tied at two nonetheless.

#Trending

  • The Islanders and Panthers have played 12 regulation periods.  The Isles have been shut out in half of them.  The Panthers have been shut out just twice.
  • The Isles have yielded the first goal in each of the four games played.  Moreover, Florida has scored the opening goal within the first five minutes of the game three times this series.
  • The Isles scored three game tying goals in Game One, and another in Game Four.  They only have one go-ahead goal, scored back in Game One.
  • In each of the Isles two losses, they were limited to just one goal.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

N.Y. Rangers: I find their lack of shots disturbing

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS




Home Ice Advantage Melts Away After Game Three Loss

Penguins lead series 2-1
I - PITT 5; NYR 2
II - NYR 4; PITT 2
III - PITT 3; NYR 1
IV- THURSDAY

NEW YORK RANGERS: Blueshirt fans have little respect for Marc Andre-Fleury to begin with ... but this inability to put shots on net against second and third string goalies is ponderous!

After going with third string goalie Jeff Zatkoff in games One and Two, the Penguins turned back to second stringer Matt Murray for Game Three at the Garden.

The Penguins and Rangers have now utilized two goalies each.
  • PITT has thus far faced 82 shots on goal, made 75 saves, with 7 goals allowed.
  • NYR have thus far faced 91 shots on goal, made 83 saves, with 8 goals allowed.
Do the math.

After a scoreless opening period (video review negated a Chris Kreider goal), the 2nd session started out promisingly for the Rangers when the ghost Rick Nash scored a rare playoff goal in the opening minute.

In truth, however, the Pens could have started a circus bear in net, and it would not have mattered.   The Rangers mustered little to nothing in the way of offensive threats, registering just 17 shots on goal all game, and just four in the final period.

Four...

They should have spent all of Wednesday feeling embarrassed about themselves.

After Game Three, Derek Stepan blamed (his word) stubbornness for their offensive malaise, which is a word I've been using to characterize Alain Vigneault for three seasons now.  But where my usage stems from Coach's reluctance to play Dylan McIlrath (whom was a healthy scratch.. again), and his "turn the other cheek" mentality, Stepan was referring to their failure in changing strategy against Pittsburgh's neutral zone play.

Continual stick handling into a brick wall was indeed stubborn of them - but, pretty is as pretty does.   Unfortunately, dump and chase hockey remained a foreign concept.


Moving on, penalties have been a decisive factor.  The Rangers are a mere 1 for 12 on the man advantage, meanwhile, have allowed Pittsburgh 4 goals in 13 opportunities - one in each game played and a pair in Game Three.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

N.Y. Islanders: Boisterous Barclays Crowd Celebrates Historic O.T. Victory

From the desk of:  FIVE FOR FLATBUSH



The First Ever NHL Playoff Game in Brooklyn
was an O.T. Thriller!

Islanders lead series 2-1
I - NYI 5; FLA 4
II - FLA 3; NYI 1
III - NYI 4; FLA 3*
IV- WEDNESDAY
*O.T.

GAME FOUR
Florida Panthers
vs.
New York Islanders
FROM
Flatbush Avenue
BROOKLYN

New York Islanders: Smells Like Team Spirit...

Chalk one up for Garth Snow ... whom was slighted last off-season for not having more prospects at the team's disposal.  His detractors argued Brock Nelson alone does not a youth injection make.

The Isles then proceeded to post their second straight 100 point season.

Just saying...

Now all of a sudden his 2013 draft choices are the latest rage.  That's when he selected defenseman Ryan Pulock with the 15th overall pick of the 1st round, and center Alan Quine in the 15th round.   This season he additionally brought in Ottawa's former 2011 2nd round selection, 23-year old center, and native New Yorker, Shane Prince.  None hadn't even appeared on the Islanders radar until late February.

But just like that, the Islanders had youth running wild in Barclays Center - but not before the Panthers took a crowd demoralizing 2-0 lead, scoring goals within the opening minutes of both the 1st and 2nd periods.

The three novices nevertheless helped keep the Islanders within striking distance of the Panthers until late in the 2nd period when the top line of Tavares-Nielsen-Okposo finally took over.

At 5:21, Ryan Pulock converted a power play to make it a 2-1 game.  However, the Isles sustained another punch in the gut when Florida scored just two short minutes later.  They regrouped, and just beyond the midway point Shane Prince cashed in a Pulock feed making it a 3-2 game.

Then at 16:12 of the 2nd, Florida got whistled for a rarely called clipping penalty.  Within a minute of the infraction Frans Nielsen netted the game tying goal off feeds from John Tavares and Kyle Okposo,

... and making the Flatbush Avenue Ice House rock like a Teen Spirit video.

However, the best for Barclays was yet to come, as they were additionally treated to their first ever playoff overtime.  The outcome officially became a thriller at the 12:31 mark when Thomas Hickey scored on assists from Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey, capping off a youth inspired comeback, and an important Game Three victory.

In the meantime, Flatbush Avenue roared.  Shortly thereafter they were having their performance commended by the players.  Both continue venturing into uncharted territory together Wednesday night in Game Four at Barclays Center.

  • Suffice it to say, Brooklyn's historic first ever NHL Stanley Cup playoff game was a hit.  The place was packed to 99% capacity - obstructed seats and all.
  • The Isles have solid efforts on the penalty kill to thank for their 2-1 series edge, after fending off 6 of 7 power plays through three games.  Their own power play was clicking, scoring two goals in Game Three, and going 3 for 9 to date.
  • The Panthers and Islanders have now scored 10 goals apiece.  Through three games, Thomas Greiss, 30 years old, has so far faced 115 shots, made 106 saves, with 9 goals allowed for a .922 Sv% and a 2.83 GAA.
  • The Islanders were correct to wear their traditional uniforms for Game Three.  The question is will they don their alternate Brooklyn black uniform for Game Four?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Other Ghosts of Flatbush: Brooklyn Americans Hockey Club





As part of their celebrating the New York Islanders inaugural season in the Borough, the Brooklyn Historical Society recently concluded a Winter long exhibit featuring the former NHL Brooklyn Americans Hockey Club.

The New York Americans were established in 1924, two full seasons before Tex's Rangers laced up their first pair of skates.  Although both teams played in the same building (old Madison Square Garden), competitively speaking, by 1941-1942 they were leagues apart.

Ownership attempted to gain a foothold in Brooklyn, and played as such during the 1941-1942 season.  However, the outbreak of WWII (particularly Canada's initial participation) took a heavy toll on their roster which necessitated the Americans to suspend operations the following season.  When ownership applied for reinstatement in 1946, the NHL denied them in favor of retaining a balanced six team circuit, but more precisely, because the junior member Rangers claimed eminent domain.







Under head coach Art Chapman, the 1941-1942 Brooklyn Americans placed last with a 16-29-3 record in a seven team circuit.  The New York Rangers finished first in the standings, but it was the Toronto Maple Leafs whom captured the Stanley Cup that season.

British born defenseman and Brooklyn All-Star Tommy Anderson was Team Captain.  He led the Amerks with 41 points and won the 1941-1942 Hart Trophy.

Left winger Norm Larson led the team with 16 goals.

After appearing in 12 games as a rookie (1940-1941) with the New York Americans, goalie Chuck Rayner played his first full NHL season for Brooklyn.  When the team suspended operations, he went on to enjoy an eight year stint with the New York Rangers, for which he was elected to Hockey's Hall of Fame in 1973.



















In truth, owner Red Dutton only moved team practice to the old Ice Palace on Eastern Parkway, and merely re-branded them as Brooklyn.  The Americans, however, continued playing their home games as tenants at Madison Square Garden.

They made a total of five playoff appearances while branded as New York.

In their last ever home game, the Brooklyn Americans defeated the eventual Stanley Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs by a 6-3 final score.  The last game in the New York/Brooklyn Americans 17-year history came two days later on March 17, 1942, in which they lost 8-3 to the Bruins in Boston.






N.Y. Islanders: Flatbush Ave Braces for Brooklyn's First Ever Stanley Cup Playoff

From the desk of:  FIVE FOR FLATBUSH



Series tied 1-1
I - NYI 5; FLA 4
II - FLA 3; NYI 1
III - SUNDAY

GAME THREE
Florida Panthers
vs.
New York Islanders
FROM
Barclays Center
BROOKLYN

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: A bit of thanks for the team which brought NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs to Brooklyn...

For one season (1941-1942) the old New York Americans moved to Brooklyn.  World War II canceled their second season and essentially caused them to suspended team operations, but not without a promise from the league they'd be allowed reinstatement.  When ownership reapplied in 1946 after the war, the New York Rangers blocked them, thus ending NHL hockey in Brooklyn.

After a 73 year adjournment, the Islanders bring the first ever NHL Stanley Cup playoff game and series to Kings County.

A quest that started back in 1985 after winning four consecutive championships in Uniondale, the Islanders' Drive for Five resumes tonight, only this time along Flatbush Avenue.



ICYMI

If the Islanders want to get by the Panthers, 
they must slow them down!

This is a team that posted back-to-back 100 point seasons.

Don't get me wrong, the Islanders can skate along side Father Time Jaromir Jagr, and his young band of Florida sunshine.  Game Two may have been just one of those things ... after all, they peppered 37-year old Robert Luongo with 42 shots.

The Isles, however, have been playing without their own starting goalie, Jaroslav Halak.  Backup Thomas Greiss has been in net the first two games.  Since Jaroslav last played on March 8, Greiss started 11 of the Isles final 18 games, in which he posted a 4-7 record.  The Isles were outscored in those games 34-29 (including the decisive goal in shoot-outs).  Greiss' worst moment to date may have come on March 25, when the Isles fell to Tampa by a 7-4 margin.  He faced 41 shots that evening, allowing 6 goals.  In the 3rd period, he allowed a pair of even strength goals within 23 seconds of each other, and three goals overall.

After two games in Florida, the Islanders have been outscored by a slim 7-6 margin.  That's too close for comfort, and something the Islanders' forward lines must change - not necessarily Greiss, or any potential return of Halak.

That said, defensive issues have long been a point of contention for Coach Capuano and the Isles.   Look no further than Game One, when five goals barely held up.

John Tavares brought the Islanders to within a goal of Florida at the 16:27 mark of the 3rd in Game Two.  The Isles nevertheless fell short, with the emphasis being Tavares (and his line) can not carry the Islanders by himself - he/they can, but he can't ... not in the playoffs ... and not with this kind of depth.

Quick item - Brock Nelson must continue being a leading scorer for the team.

Otherwise, the Islanders strength is their depth of forward lines, from the first to their fourth units, and their overall physicality.

Lean on that.  Lean on them.  Grind the Panthers down to a crawl.  The Islanders let the Panthers skate around a bit too much in Game Two and paid a price.  Said another way, it's time to make wall paste art out of Panthers jerseys along the side boards of Barclays Center.

That falls on all four lines, but, particularly the fourth.




An early goal and big hits will go a long way towards educating an only somewhat newer Brooklyn fan base in playoff hockey etiquette, and what is expected of them tonight at Barclays Center.

To all you Long Islanders coming into Brooklyn aboard the LIRR, I hope this playoff run makes all your efforts worth while,

.....for as long as it doesn't come at the expense of Tex's Rangers - whom are incorrectly referred to as an Original Six member.  The Americans came first and got screwed.

Just saying...

Stanley Cup Playoffs - Brooklyn is in the house.

Friday, April 15, 2016

N.Y. Rangers: New York, New York, a desperate hockey town...

From the desk of:  RAISE GRESCH WITH THE GREATS



In Henrik We Fret

NEW YORK RANGERS: Henrik Lundqvist received an inadvertent stick to the eye because the Blueshirts did not, and do not, clear the crease well.

Clear out the traffic, and Henrik never gets Marc Staal's stick to the eye.  This goes hand in hand with allowing Pittsburgh to administer Lundqvist a snow shower.  It's not like we can suit up Henrik with even more equipment and pads, so the Rangers' defense had better come up with a better plan for protecting their liege.



On that note, Alain Vigneault had defenseman Brady Skjei lace up the skates.  The man is 6'3" and listed at 215 lbs., which is fine, aside from the fact he only participated in 7 regular season games. Meanwhile, Dylan McIlrath is 6'5" and listed at 230 lbs, and played in 34 regular season games.

My question, then, is - if you were head coach, which of the two would you have started to open the playoffs?

Personally, Brady Skjei was never a consideration for me.

Alain Vigneault's aversion to Dylan McIlrath continues.


2015-2016
Stanley Cup Playoffs

GAME ONE FINAL
Rangers     2
Penguins   5


Henrik Lundqvist exited Game One after the 1st period, and is doubtful for Game Two due to swelling around his eye.  Otherwise, Henrik and the Rangers say there is no damage/injury to speak of.

The Rangers, however, were already down 1-0 when Antti Raanta took over.  Sidney Crosby then made things look too easy in giving the Pens a 2-0 lead in the 2nd.  Both Pittsburgh goals were of the taboo variety - meaning they were both scored within the final two minutes of the period.

Despite Derek Stepan's best efforts, things naturally got worse for Tex's Rangers in the 3rd.

Question #2 - What's the only type of goal worse than one scored within the last two minutes of a period?

Bingo! A short handed goal!  Scored by none other than Tom Kuhnhackl ...

Who?

It doesn't matter ... Patric Hornqvist continued turning the rest of the 3rd period into his personal showcase anyway, netting the game's first goal, then completing a hat trick with two more goals in the 3rd.

Jackie Robinson Day 2016