Thursday, February 28, 2013

N.Y. Rangers: The Smurfs Are Back


NEW YORK RANGERS - Three Boarding Incidents Within The Last Seven Games Draw No Response From Blueshirts.

Fire John Tortorella?  Stop Yourselves!

Fire John Tortorella?  Is that where we're taking this?  If you're one of those saying that, do you really mean it?  Or, are you just upset with the way things are going so far?

When Boston's Milan Lucic boarded Rick Nash, and when Ottawa's Chris Neil took a run and boarded Brad Richards, and when Montreal's Max Pacioretty took another run against the Rangers and boarded Ryan McDonagh, at no time did a Rangers player stick up for their team mate.  Not one.  No response.  When the Canadiens crashed Marty Biron - nothing.  At least Mike Rupp would have answered.  And you know what I already think about losing Brandon Prust.  The Pruster would have fought anyone and everyone.  By now it is well known the Rangers led the league last season in fighting majors.  But did you know the Rangers led the league in getting into fights within five minutes of the start of a game?  It's true.  That's what you call setting a tone.  That's what you call sending an early message to your opponent that the Rangers aren't getting pushed around.  But that was last year's message.  This season the Blueshirts are getting pushed off the puck like a house dog gets pushed off the sofa.  Yeah, I'm still hung up on Brandon Prust because he's what this team needs.  His work on the forecheck, and being physical enough to not get knocked off the puck, and maintaining possession have very real value to me.  Just not to Glen Sather.  Additionally, J.T. Miller, Darroll Powe, and Chris Kreider find themselves in an unfortunate condition.  At the moment they are not the ideal players that can camp in front of the net.  That's on Glen Sather.

John Tortorella has made a big adjustment this season.  Problem is, it did not come on the ice or behind the bench.  It came in front of a microphone.  Torts is being much more tolerant of the media, and has even offered them coherent post-game analysis, minus his disgust for fielding questions, and impatience for what he perceives as hockey ignorance.  But in truth, I would rather have the grumpy Torts back, if he would please make adjustments to his style.  An equal reason the New Jersey Devils are in first place this season is because they can play two, and three different styles of hockey, and still beat you.  You can talk system all you want, but on this side of the Hudson, the Rangers have  only one style of hockey.  John Tortorella wants his team to play one way - like grunts.

Style and implementation - it is time for John Tortorella to play with set forward lines.  He takes his six top forwards of the game, and rides them through the night.  I said his six top forwards, not his two top lines.  He did this in Tampa as well.  He rode Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Brad Richards into the ground in order to win a Cup; not relying on too many other skaters along the way.  So this is old hat for Coach Torts.  But it is indeed time for Coach to set lines, and let them grow accustomed to one another.  He must be a little more tolerant of mistakes, and slow the traffic of players coming in and out of his dog house.  Sometimes, you just have to win games by a 5-4 score, or a 4-3 score.  Sometimes you just have to let your guys play, and outperform their mistakes.

John Tortorella gave two waves of young Rangers prospects a system to work with.  But the coach has skilled players now who need to be released like hounds.  I don't believe Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik were meant to be grunts.  It is a very limited system to play in which one costly mistake can ruin a whole game's effort.

A change is clearly needed.  But firing John Tortorella is not the answer.  Coach is part of the solution.  But yes, he needs to evolve his thinking, and make philosophical adjustments.  Make them quick, for the Rangers forecheck has all but faded away.  They also consistently over-commit behind the red line in their own zone and get burned time and time again for it at the other end.  And the power play is 7 for 63 this season.  That kind of stuff is on Torts.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

N.Y. Mets: Matt Harvey And Zach Wheeler Joined At The Hip

From the desk of:   HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

NEW YORK METS - The Senior Half Of The Amazin's Latest Attempt At A Dynamic Duo Pitches Today.

Mets top pitching prospect Zach Wheeler made his 2013 Spring debut Saturday afternoon against the Washington Nationals.  He pitched two innings, and in a word - impressed.  Over the ensuing twenty hours or so, sports radio, tabloids, fan blogs, and Twitter, were all abuzz over what they saw.  In two innings pitched, Zach allowed one hit, issued one walk, and struck out back-to-back batters with a runner on base.

The talk surrounding Wheeler now needs a considerable cool down.  But that might have to wait till Tuesday at the earliest.  Many will want to spend all of Monday letting their imaginations run wild in the thought of a dynamic one-two punch the Mets seemingly are putting together.  For on Sunday afternoon, Matt Harvey will make his Spring mound debut as well.

Mets fans and the media already got their initial taste of Matt Harvey last season.  After Harvey's 59.1 innings pitched in 2012, and after just two innings and two strikeouts for Wheeler yesterday, it very fair, if not fun, getting caught up in what the two can accomplish together.  But to include them in conversation regarding great Mets pitching combos of the past is going too far.  Amusing as it is pondering Harvey and Wheeler in the same ilk as Seaver/Koosman, and Doc and Darling, the Mets young unproven duo isn't even in the same conversation with Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen or even Paul Wilson.  Of course, just based on pure MLB experience alone, they aren't even Craig Swan and Pat Zachry yet.  For they are yet to wear major league uniforms together in the same season.  However consensus says, that will change this summer.

The radio voices and scribes; the supposed custodians of reason; have spoken.  One of them wants Wheeler in Flushing right away.  I'm not singling anyone out.  It is too early for that.  There is no denying however, METropolis is already abuzz over what they saw on Saturday.  But I will only appeal to Mets fans, remove those thoughts from your mouths and shut your brain.  Learn your lesson from Generation-K; stay level headed about our newest situation.

The club already announced Zach Wheeler will begin the 2013 in Las Vegas.  That's good.  Despite what we saw yesterday in St. Lucie, Zach still has control issues to contend with.  He has 323 innings of minor league experience.  Matt Harvey was pushed into the bigs after just 245 innings pitched.  On both counts, I thought the number was low.  But when I looked back at the numbers, it seems my fears are unfounded.

Just using the names mentioned as an example, Tom Seaver broke into the bigs after just 210 minor league innings pitched.  Doc Gooden, the ace of the 1980's staff, made his MLB debut after 269 innings.  Their respective partners, Jerry Koosman and Ron Darling, threw considerably more.  Jerry Koosman tossed 467 minor league innings before joining Seaver.  Ron Darling pitched 382 innings before arriving in Flushing.  In between, lie Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler.

Just for fun, Steve Carlton threw 306 innings in the minors.  Bob Gibson threw 451 innings.  The "Dominican Dandy" Juan Marichal, threw 655 innings in three seasons of minor league baseball.  Nolan Ryan threw 291 innings in the Mets system.  More recently, Pedro Martinez threw 419 innings in the minors.  Justin Verlander is a freak - one minor league season split between A and AA; 118.2 innings pitched.


N.Y. Rangers: Canadiens Bounce Blueshirts From Conference Top Eight


NEW YORK RANGERS - You Can't Blame Canada For The Broadway Blueshirt Dilemma.
Instead of methodically creeping forward,
the weight of our big blue glacier is bearing down on the Rangers.

Canada offered no quarter.  On a snowy night in the Great White North, Tex's Rangers were once again lost for direction.  And for the second time in five days, the Eastern Conference #1 seed  reminded the Blueshirts just how far off the beaten path they really are.  When the Rangers wake up in the morning, they will find themselves injured, depleted, and separated from the leaders - all eight of them.

Two games against the Canadiens; two losses -  With a loss to the Sens sandwiched in between, the Habs twice defeated what used to be a number eight seeded team.  Saturday night's loss effectively removed the Rangers from the Eastern Conference top eight clubs.  The Philadelphia Flyers now lead the Rangers by a point.

The Blueshirts' defense suffered major casualties.  Michael Del Zotto was already a pregame scratch. Ryan McDonagh had to leave in the second period after getting crunched into the boards from behind.  And Dan Girardi needed help off the ice in the third period after blocking a puck with his ankle.

On the forward lines, Rick Nash is still suffering from a mysterious, top secret injury.  Brad Richards still can't play hockey.  Carl Hagelin has cooled off.  Marian Gaborik was the latest to be shown the bench.  No Rangers player could find the back of the net.  And not one Blueshirt had more than three shots on goal.

Between the pipes, Montreal's Carey Price faced eighteen shots and stopped them all.  Martin Biron started in net for the Rangers.  He faced seventeen shots, letting three get by, all in the second period.

On special teams, the Habs were 1/4 on the power play.  But the one PP goal Montreal scored may have inflicted the most damage of all.  The trainers room is sure to be filled Sunday morning treating a rash of sore necks after the Habs had the Rangers PK heads swivelling, their bodies spinning, ankles twisting, and their sticks flailing at air.  Montreal's quick, accurate, one touch passing, made the Rangers PK look down right inept - What a clinic in power play hockey!  The goal needed to be seen.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

N.Y. Mets: Johan Santana and Mets at the Crossroad

From the desk of:   HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

NEW YORK METS - Johan Santana Places The Team In A Classic Quandary.

.....and Johan wanted to pitch in the World Baseball Classic.  He pitched in the 2006 inaugural Classic, but has missed the last two tournaments due to injuries.  The Classic shouldn't really concern Mets fans.  Johan Santana's health should, and for numerous reasons.

As a precaution, the Mets delayed Johan's first Spring Training climb up the mound.  The club is stressing this move was not precipitated by injury.  Sandy characterized this as the club merely wanting Johan to keep improving his arm strength.  Now here goes my problem with semantics again.  Didn't the Mets shut Johan Santana down last season as a precaution, and so that he may rest, and recover strength, and enjoy the benefits of a regular off-season routine?  So the question begs asking then - how much arm strength has Johan Santana recovered since September 2012, to the present day?  Obviously, not nearly enough.  The GM even offered Johan is not as far along as the club anticipated.  Naturally, the next question is - Is Johan feeling anything other than freedom of motion; i.e.; pain, discomfort, stiffness, or unease?

Last year at this time, many wildly speculated the club was trying to hasten Johan's return so as to have him pitch Opening Day, and thereby increase Fred Wilpon's gate; for that was the owner's condition, and the fans' emotional state.  I myself thought it very strange the Mets made an announcement so early in camp that Johan would indeed pitch Opening Day.  Why the rush I thought?  Why not let Spring Training play itself out first?  But one thing is true and verifiable in this blog.  Last year I thought the Mets were making a huge mistake rushing Johan Santana back so soon.

As it pertains to Johan Santana's 2012 season, it is debatable whether I was wrong about rushing him.  Other than being somewhat hittable, and issuing a high rate of walks and home runs, Johan demonstrated the "old Johan" wasn't that far away.  His innings and strikeouts were right where the Mets wanted them to be.  Then of course, came the no-hitter.  Terry Collins was visibly upset, and conflicted after the game for fear he over-extended Santana, by allowing him to pursue the Mets first ever no-hit game.  I believe Johan threw 134 pitches that evening.  Many point to that night as the moment Johan's season started to tail-off.  There is another faction who believe Johan's season started to tank after he rolled his ankle.  Which ever the case or cause, the official basis for shutting Johan Santana's 2012 season was fatigue, and for the sake of getting rest.  The club insisted then, the end of Johan's campaign was not brought on by a recurrence, or an additional injury to his surgically repaired shoulder.

At least this year, the Mets are taking a more cautious approach with Johan Santana.  If his workouts need to be altered, so be it.  If his season needs to be delayed, so be it.  That is a very cut and dry situation for me.  That is the attitude I wished the Mets had employed last season regarding Johan.  This is why my pessimism and skepticism are kicking in.  All of a sudden, Jon Niese represents the caliber of pitcher worthy to make the ceremonial Opening Day start.  Whereas last season, outside of Johan Santana, the Mets (the owners in my opinion) weren't overwhelmed with their other options.  In fairness, and in a different context, R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese were still a campaign away from break-through seasons.  However, I still think naming Johan the Opening Day starter so early in camp last season was a contrived display of confidence, and an attempt to dupe the fans collective perceptions.

Johan Santana's 2013 salary consumes an obscene portion of this season's payroll.  If you include Johan's buyout, he is due up to $31 million dollars this season.  Johan will clearly become an ex-Met.  The question is how soon?  There is much to keep in mind as it pertains to his 2013 regular season and future.  His injury/health is clearly an ongoing issue.  He will be thirty-four years old in March.  His 2013 salary is extremely prohibitive.  And in short time, he stands to become a free agent.  How can the Mets move a guy like that?  The answer is - easily.  Just eat the contract and pay him to play for another team.  The money is already earmarked and effectively spent.  I still believe Sandy Alderson can entice a contending team to surrender one or two prospects for a good; not great; Johan Santana.  Truth is, any return realized in a trade involving Johan Santana is a good return.  One good, respected prospect; will suffice.  Two would be great, but unlikely.  That said, Johan Santana should be viewed as a movable asset, and nothing more.  So it would behoove the club to take very good care of him, and ensure Johan gets back on the mound in working order, even if that takes Johan and the team beyond April, and into May.


Friday, February 22, 2013

B'klyn Nets: Flatbush Fails To Claim Share Of Atlantic Division Lead

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

BROOKLYN NETS - Houston's James Harden Provided The Insanity At Barclays Center.  Jeremy Lin Did Little.

Nets Fail To Capitalize On Knicks Loss To Toronto Raptors.
Remain One Game Out Of First Place.
Rockets  96
NETS     86

The Nets roster remained in tact, and will move forward as they were.  Kris Humphries and MarShon Brooks are still on the team which means Billy King couldn't acquire anyone at the trade deadline to help alleviate Deron Williams' burden, or pain.  The team's overall poor outside shooting went unaddressed as well.  Moving forward, P.J. said Deron Williams will be hobbled by ankle problems the rest of the season.  On Friday night, Joe Johnson was scratched due to an injured heel.

Without Joe Jo on the floor, the Nets shot 49% from the floor in the first half against LINsanity and the visiting Houston Rockets.  After two quarters, Brook Lopez was 7 of 12 with fifteen points.  Deron was 4 of 8, with ten points and four assists.  Only problem, the Rockets shot 58.1% from the field in the first half.  Jeremy Lin had five assists and Chandler Parsons led the Rockets with ten points.  Houston took an eight point, 61-53 lead into the half.

Seven and a half minutes into the third quarter, the Nets tied Houston 64-64.  At 5:38, Brook Lopez tied the game again at 68-68 with a floater in the lane.  With 3:37 left in the third quarter, P.J. called a time out with his team down by a 73-68 margin.  A turnover by Lopez was converted at the other end for a 75-71 Houston lead.  But Lopez came back and dropped a deuce to make it a 75-73 game with 2:00 left.  After Deron Williams lofted a brick, James Harden made it a five point game.  Then Deron heaved another brick, and Harden hit again, making it an 83-75 game.  It was only natural then, James Harden appropriately closed out the quarter hitting one of two shots from the line.  The buzzer sounded with the Rockets holding an 84-75 lead.

A minute into the fourth quarter, the Rockets were up by twelve.  At 10:25, Houston buried their fourteenth three-pointer of the game to cap a 15-0 run.  Houston was 58% from three point land at that point, and shooting 54.7% from within the arch.  Brooklyn's FG% was dropping, and lay at a 43.7% mark.  By 8:10, the Nets had closed within ten points.  Andray Blatche stormed the lane and dunked at 7:54 to make it an eight point game.  He then put up an air ball and came up with a steal.  Brooklyn went on a 9-0 run and closed within 92-87 with 5:00 to go.  At the other end, James Harden pushed the ball hard on Bogans, got a friendly rim, and the foul, to make it a 95-87 game.  Mirza Teletovic nailed a trey from the left corner to get the Nets within three points with 3:37 left.  Teletovic then turned on the ultra-hustle, diving and fighting for a loose ball - and got kicked in the head to boot.  In fact, he was having a fine quarter pulling down defensive rebounds and giving the Nets possessions.  Keith Bogans missed a three point attempt with 2:10 left.  But Houston's Carlos Delfino would knock one down to make it a six point game.  Then Carlos Delfino did it again with another two.  At 0:39, James Harden pushed the stake through Brooklyn's heart.  He buried a three point shot, and got the foul, putting Houston ahead by a 105-96 score.  After he made his free throw, this game ended in a 96-86 final.  The Nets lost by ten.

In the  end, it was James Harden who provided the insanity for Houston; not Jeremy Lin.  Harden finished with twenty two points; fourteen in the second half; and none bigger than his points in the closing two minutes.  Jeremy Lin was limited to nine points, and handed out a team high six assists.  Houston shot 53.2% from the field, and 52.3% from beyond the arch.  They hit 16/30 three pointers.  The Nets only hit 10/30 three point shots for 33.3%, and ended 44% from the field.

Brook Lopez finished with twenty seven points and six rebounds.  Hobbled by both ankles, Deron Williams scored fifteen points and led all players with thirteen assists.  Reggie Evans led all players with thirteen rebounds.  Mirza Teletovic had a nice night off the bench with twelve points and five important rebounds in the fourth quarter.

Friday night offered Brooklyn an opportunity to tie the Knicks for first place in the Atlantic Division.  Up in Toronto, the Knicks had their troubles.  They lost 100-98 to the Raptors.  Instead, the Nets will end the night the way they started, with no new faces on the roster, and one game behind the Knicks for first place in the Atlantic standings.


N.Y. Rangers: Blueshirts Escape Ottawa With A Point


NEW YORK RANGERS - In Rick Nash's Absence,
Captain Callahan Tried Doing It All, And Almost Did.

Sens Back-Up Goalie Ben Bishop Outlasts King Henrik
During Seven Rounds of Shoot-Out.
Blueshirts Still Holding On To Eighth Seed
Thursday Final:
Senators      3

Skating without Rick Nash for the second straight game, the Rangers earned a precious point on the road - their tenth in their last seven games.  The Rangers are 6-3-1 in their last ten games, and 8-6-2 on the season.  So why aren't I happier?

The Rangers fell behind early; too early; six and a half minutes into the game early; to the Ottawa Senators, who took the Rangers to seven games in last season's playoffs.  Both teams then continued to do very little other than scar the ice until the third period.  Midway through, Ryan Callahan finally got the Rangers on the board, with a game tying, power play goal.  It was Ryan Callahan's third pp goal this season, and only the Blueshirts seventh of the year.  Roughly one minute after Callahan's goal, Ryan McDonagh put the Rangers ahead.  But hold on there Tex!...  At 13:19, Brian Boyle got whistled for holding.  And you know what comes next.  The Sens Mike Zibanejad scored a power play goal to tie the game at two-all.  Both teams spent the overtime session scarring up the ice some more.  Then into shoot-out they went.  By the time they finished after seven rounds, the Rangers were losers of two out of three shoot-outs in their last five games.

The Rangers scoring only came after Sens goalie Craig Anderson was taken out bowling pin style, by a free sliding Chris Kreider.  One of the league's top goalies left the game with a sprained ankle.  That just added to an already ruinous injury situation for Ottawa.

Marian Gaborik led all Rangers with seven shots on goal in thirty one shifts.  He and Derek Stepan led all forwards in ice time.  Taylor Pyatt was next high man with five shots on goal.  Brad Richards  only managed two shots in twenty five shifts.  Called up from Connecticut to help out, Brandon Mashinter fired off one shot on goal in nine shifts.  In twelve minutes of even-strength ice time, Chris Kreider managed no shots, administered four hits, and eliminated one goalie.

The greatest shoot-out goalie in the known universe has looked normal in his last two extra-curricular challenges. Granted, the Rangers needed to do a better job when you consider it took seven rounds to decide a winner Thursday night.  Six Rangers - Gaborik, Stepan, Richards, Hagelin, J.T. Miller, and Kreider, all failed to score in the shoot-out.  Where was Marek Malik when we needed him?  Ryan Callahan, the Captain, again, was the only Blue-shirt to slip one by Sens back-up goalie Ben Bishop.

Otherwise, King Henrik faced thirty seven total shots, allowing two regulation time goals.  On the game's opening Ottawa score, Dan Girardi fell and buffed the ice, leaving Henrik stranded by himself against Jakob Silfverberg, who converted a short-hand opportunity.  And there ya go.  That upset me most, because this game followed one of the Rangers more pathetic performances of the season on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden against the Canadiens.

On Saturday, the Rangers will face the Canadiens again in Montreal.  The Habs are number one in the Eastern Conference; tied with the New Jersey Devils with twenty four points.  They lead the Northeast Division by two points over Boston.  By gaining a desperately needed point against the Senators, the Rangers maintained their number eight seeding in the Eastern Conference with eighteen points - only one point better than Tampa Bay.  The Rangers will get a chance to clash with the Lightning shortly, this coming February 28th.  In the Atlantic Division, the third place Rangers trail the first place Devils by six points.

* The Rangers still aren't saying what ails Rick Nash.  He missed a practice prior to last week's game against the Capitals, but did in fact play against Washington.  He then missed the last two games against the Habs and Sens.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Brooklyn Nets: Need Bigger Hook Than Humphries To Catch Josh Smith

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

BROOKLYN NETS - May Not Have Enough To Get A Deal Done....With Anybody.


Nets Sweep Home and Home Versus Milwaukee:
Tuesday Final - The Shots Heard 'Round The Borough
Wednesday Final - Nets Pull Within One Game Of First Place

Let us not kick Billy King on this one.  Last summer, Kris Humphries needed to be signed at the time.  Coming off last season, Humph was looking like a good fit on the Nets.  Problem was, prior to this season, he was a good enough player on a very bad team.  With minutes coming his way and Deron Williams feeding him the ball, he put together an enticing season in Brook Lopez' absence.  As a new free agent, Billy King rewarded him with a two year $24 million dollar contract, mostly out of necessity.  Presently, Kris Humphries is struggling this season to carve out a niche for himself with options such as Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans on the Nets bench.  Now, the GM is trying everything possible to move him, and his contract, before today's 3pm trade deadline.

The Nets need someone who can hit the outside shot with consistency.  Billy King is trying to package Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, and perhaps a number one draft pick to anyone who will listen.  That's the best the Brooks can do without disrupting the greater team.  The biggest rumor surrounds Atlanta's Josh Smith.  Apparently, the Hawks are motivated to part with Smith.  Problem is, the Hawk's GM is said to want nothing to do with Kris Humphries.  Both players are in the last year of their respective deals, and make similar money.  They both play the forward position.  But the Hawks perhaps seem to be looking for someone they can retain, and not Humph, with phantom numbers and his expiring contract.  In his ninth season, Josh Smith averages a career 15.2 points per game.  In his last seven seasons, he is averaging 16.7 ppg.  He is a career 46% shooter as well, which is precisely what the Nets need.  Smith will not turn twenty-eight years old until December.

Kris Humphries just turned twenty-eight years old this month.  Prior to signing his current deal, he averaged a double-double in two previous seasons.  In 2011-2012, he averaged 13.8 ppg, and eleven rebounds.  Kris is mentioned in a second trade rumor involving Boston's Paul Pierce.  Similarly, Boston is interested in Atlanta's Josh Smith with Paul Pierce as the hook.

Unless any team is willing to accept Kris Humphries as part of a trade, and barring anything relatively minor, it appears as if the Nets will be standing pat this afternoon.  The Dwight Howard to Brooklyn rumors seems all but dead now.  However, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith continues to say the deal could still go down.


Brooklyn Nets: Pull Within One Game Of First Place

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

BROOKLYN NETS - Sweep Home and Home from Bucks.


Like night and day - or in this case, from night to night, or like I said the other day - from quarter to quarter, the Brooklyn Nets were stricken for portions of the game by a bad case of poor shooting percentage, out in cold Milwaukee.  Then like flicking a switch, they turn it on.

Half way through the third quarter, the Nets were behind by ten points.  They were trailing 64-54, and shooting 33% from the floor.  Brook Lopez was only 3/13 shooting.  Deron Williams and C.J Watson were keeping things respectable.  Deron had twelve points and five assists to that point.  And C.J. Watson had eleven points off the bench.  Meanwhile, Milwaukee was launching shots with a 58% rate of success.  The Bucks were out-scoring the Nets in fast break points by a 21-6 margin, and out-scoring Brooklyn 30-16 in the paint.  The Nets were getting out-rebounded, and the Bucks handed out more assists.  For a second consecutive night, Brandon Jennings was leading all scorers.

Brooklyn made a series of defensive stops, and Crash actually scored a pair on transition during a 9-2 Brooklyn run, which closed the Nets gap to five points, in a 66-61 game and 3:40 to play in the third quarter.  At 3:07, Brandon Jennings buried his twenty sixth point of the evening making the score 71-61, and giving Milwaukee a ten point lead again.  From that point, Brandon Jennings would not score again until there were less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter.  The third quarter ended with the Nets behind by a 76-68 score.

At 10:46 of the fourth quarter, Marshon Brooks nailed a big three which brought the Nets within one point.  At the 10:00 mark, Brooklyn enjoyed its first lead; 77-76; since very early in the first quarter.  A pair of Marshon Brooks free throws made the score 79-76 Nets.  The Nets shooting improved to 42% in the second half.  And the Nets started to flex themselves on the defensive boards.  By the seven minute mark, the Nets were up to 52% shooting from the floor.

After Milwaukee tied the game at 81-81 all, Kieth Bogans nailed a huge three-pointer at the 5:40 mark.  Kris Humphries soon followed with a mid-range jumper, drew a foul, and converted the three point play to put Brooklyn ahead by an 87-81 score.  The Nets had played the previous three and a half minutes with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez on the bench.  And speaking of the bench, by the 2:50 mark of the fourth quarter, they had amassed forty five on their forty seven points of the night.  As Brooklyn kept up their defensive rebounding, Andray Blatche Blatche was busy putting the Nets ahead by an 89-81 mark.

Deron returned to the floor and hit a trey at the 1:50 mark, making the score 94-83 Nets.  A couple of turnovers and lapses in defense made P.J. Carlesimo call for a time out.  With 0:32 seconds left, the Nets were still clinging to a 94-92 lead.  C.J. Watson drove the lane with 15.5 seconds left and scored two huge points for a 96-92 lead.

With 4.4 seconds left, the Nets nearly blew an in-bounds pass to Deron Williams.  The Nets maintained possession, and with 3.4 seconds left, Milwaukee fouled and sent Williams to the line.  But Deron only made one of two free throws, leaving the door open for the Bucks in what was then a 97-94 game.  Incredulously, Deron Williams was called for a questionable foul on a three point attempt.  But Milwaukee's Monta Ellis missed all three free throws, and Brooklyn rebounded the last shot to secure a three point win.

In the end, it was Milwaukee's shooters that went cold in the fourth quarter.  At one point, they were 2 of 16 from the field.  The Nets pulled themselves together, and finished shooting an even 40% for the game.  The Nets swept both games of the home and home.

Deron Williams led the Nets with twenty three points and eight assists.  He was 7/16 from the field.  C.J. Watson was big off the bench with seventeen points.  Andray Blatche posted a double-double with twelve points and twelve rebounds.  On the night after toasting the Bucks, not once, but twice, with last second shots, Joe Johnson was limited to eight points on this night.

The Nets are winners of their last four in a row.  They now sport a 33-22 record this season.  The Brooklyn Nets are now just one game behind the Knicks for first place of the Atlantic Division.  The Knicks by the way, got crushed by the Indiana Pacers by a 125-91 score.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Brooklyn Nets: The Shots Heard Round The Borough

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

BROOKLYN NETS - Joe Jo Blows The Roof Off Barclays.

Take that....!  And THAT!  Joe Johnson nailed a fourth quarter, last second, three-point shot to tie Tuesday night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks.  Then with the final seconds ticking away in over-time, Joe Jo nailed the game winning shot.  Barclays Center exploded and claimed its first signature Nets moment of the new calender year.

That's the way the Nets second half starts - with a 113-111 overtime win over the Bucks.  Significant?  Yes, considering Milwaukee abused the Nets in two prior meetings this season by margins of nine, and fifteen points respectively.  Brooklyn will be in Milwaukee tonight for the back end of a home and home.

The Nets are now 5-0 in overtime games, and 4-0 at home.  Their lone OT road win came against Washington.  The biggest overtime victory came over the Knicks in the first game between them back in November.  The first OT game Brooklyn played this season resulted in a big win over Boston.  The Nets also own overtime victories against the Clippers, Pistons, and Pacers.

Last night, Brandon Jennings was the game's high scorer with thirty four points.  The Nets however had five players in double digit scoring.  The man of the night, Joe Johnson, led the Nets with twenty four.  Deron Williams and Brook Lopez each chipped in nineteen points.  Off the bench, C.J. Watson contributed eleven points, and Andray Blatche dropped fourteen.

There was good team ball distribution.  Deron Williams led all players with nine assists.  Joe Jo and Gerald Wallace each had five assists.  Reggie Evens and Brook Lopez tied for game high with nine rebounds.  The Nets out-rebounded Milwaukee by a 49-43 margin.  Nets received a team effort on the boards.  Blatche, Joe, Humph, and Crash combined on another twenty four rebounds.

The Nets start the second half by shooting considerably better than they have in past games.  They shot an improved 47.3% from the floor.  Milwaukee also shot 47%, but Brooklyn killed them from three point land.  The Nets hit 10/19 for 52.6% shooting.  The Bucks only hit 7/20, for 35% from behind the arch.

Milwaukee Bucks
Somewhere Cold
Go Brooklyn!


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

N.Y. Rangers: Blueshirts Going Without Rick Nash Versus Habs


Montreal Canadiens
33rd Street and 8th Avenue
Sunday Final
Capitals   1
Rangers   2

NEW YORK RANGERS - Hello Pruster!  Good To See You.


Darroll Powe is going to miss time with a concussion.  He left the ice in the second period of Sunday's game after coming together with Washington's Matt Hendricks, then hitting his head on the ice.  He found favor with Coach Torts since being acquired from Minnesota in the Mike Rupp deal.  Rick Nash is also scratched from tonight's game against the Canadiens.  He played Sunday against Washington after missing practice, but apparently still has a lingering issue.  The club has made no comment.

The Rangers will now be relying on recently recalled Chris Kreider and Brandon Mashinter to fill in.  Brandon Mashinter was acquired from the Sharks last month and offers the Rangers size on the wing.  And Lord Stanley knows the Rangers need it.  A reminder of that will be in the building tonight.  Hello Brandon Prust!!  It will be good to see him again.  This is Brandon's first game back at Madison Square Garden since accepting Montreal's offer in the off-season.  Brandon led the Rangers in fighting majors last season.  The physicallity he brought to the ice is clearly lacking in the Rangers game this season.

Carl Hagelin continues to be the Rangers top forward.  He now has five goals in his last four games. Derek Stepan's goal came on a power play.  It was the Rangers sixth power play goal of the season. Henrik Lundqvist was sharp Sunday against Alexi Ovechkin and the Capitals.  He faced twenty eight shots, stopping all but one.  The Rangers on the other hand, unleashed forty shots on goal against Braden Holtby, but only came away with two goals.

The Rangers enter tonight's game against the Northeast Division leading Montreal Canadiens with a record of 7-1-2 in their last ten games.  They scored twenty eight goals over that time for an average of 2.8 per game.  With Sunday's win, the Rangers broke a tie with the Philadelphia Flyers for third place of the Atlantic Division.  The Rangers now have seventeen points this season, only five games back of the New Jersey Devils.


Monday, February 18, 2013

N.Y. Mets Camp: Three Potential Surprises

From the desk of:   HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

The Odds On Long Shots Always Pay Big When You Hit.


With only fifty five MLB games on his resume, Brandon Hicks is a relative unknown commodity. But he strikes me as an intriguing player because he hit with power in two straight seasons at AAA as a middle infielder. In 2011, while playing in the International League he hit eighteen home runs in 361 at-bats.  In 2012, while playing in the Pacific Coast League, he again hit eighteen home runs, this time in 328 at-bats.  In six minor league seasons, his .334 OBP is rather stellar when his .241 batting average is taken into account.

Even as a role player, Collin Cowgill stands to receive substantial playing time in both center and right field.  His MLB experience equals seventy four games over the last two seasons.  While in Arizona's system, he posted a solid season in 2010 while playing at AA.  Then in 2011 playing AAA, in 395 at-bats, he hit thirteen home runs and drove in seventy runs.  He batted .354 for the season, had an OBP of .430, and posted a .554 slugging average.  Last season playing for Oakland's AAA affiliate however, his overall production slipped.  Collin still stayed solid against lefties.


All of a sudden, Greg Burke is the latest rage.  His only season of MLB service came during the 2009 season.  But there just may be something to this right handed pitcher.  Prior to the 2012 season, Burke tossed one season of independent ball.  He then averaged a 4.16 ERA in six minor league seasons.  He was converted into a submariner style pitcher in time for the 2012 season.  Last year in twenty three games with AA-Bowie, he made twenty three appearances and pitched 29.1 innings.  He posted a 1.53 ERA, and a 0.852 WHiP.  In twenty one games for AAA-Norfolk, he pitched 35.1 innings, and posted an identical 1.53 ERA.  He WHiP climbed slightly to a 1.019 mark.  Terry Collins can't stop talking about him.


N.Y. Mets: Terry Collins Or Wally Backman - Will 2013 Decide?

From the desk of:   HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


THE MANAGER - Terry Collins Still Has No Contract Beyond This Season.  Sandy Alderson Offers No Quarter.  Meanwhile, Wally Backman Patiently Waits For An Opportunity To Lead A Mets Renaissance.

It has become abundantly clear Terry Collins is entering the 2013 regular season as a lame duck manager.  Sandy Alderson picked up the club option for the 2012 season just prior to the 2011 season ending.  Entering his second campaign as field boss, that allowed Terry Collins to operate the club with a certain measure of authority.  So far however, with Coach Terry's contract set to expire after the 2013 regular season, there has been no definitive word from the Mets general manager regarding an extension.  And for the moment, I would even venture to say Sandy Alderson is not making Terry Collins' contract a high priority.

Almost everything Sandy Alderson has done to date has "2014" stamped all over it.  No uniformed member of the Mets, player or coach, aside from David Wright and Jon Niese, is signed beyond the 2013 regular season.  In the Mets case, that makes for a rather intriguing dynamic.  Collins is not your typical lame duck candidate.  He is not necessarily surrounded by high priced divas, stubborn minded veterans, malcontents, or aging malingerers.  Instead, Collins is charged with a group of unsigned, untested, and unproven talent, who are as fearful for their jobs, as much as they might perceive their manager to be.  In other words, it appears the general manager is letting them all sink or swim in Flushing Bay together.

Outside of the Yankees Billy Martin, it is my experience as a New Yorker, fans do not necessarily go to the ball park to see their club's manager in action.  Billy Martin was a very unique man in that respect, and a marvelous field general to boot.  His star power was as big as any player's on the teams he skippered, including Reggie's.  If you're of age, you also know Billy was quite the volatile character.  And on many occasion, his nature got him in trouble.  Wally Backman for the first time since Billy Martin, can potentially bring that kind of sizzle, smarts, and drama, back to New York baseball, only this time for the boys in Queens.  Not incidentally, both were second basemen.

After a string of bad luck and questionable incidences, then getting jettisoned from baseball by the Diamond Backs, the Mets; Fred Wilpon; gave Wally an opportunity to get back into baseball.  Since then, Wally has quietly put in his time with the organization.  In 2013, Wally Backman returns for a second season managing the Mets AAA affiliate, which is now in Las Vegas.  Prior to that, Wally managed the Mets affiliates in Binghamton and Brooklyn.  It was in Brooklyn where Wally Backman semi-triumphantly made his return to New York City.  If that served as a litmus test, then Backman wound up being wildly popular with Cyclones and Mets fans...again.

As owners of the Brooklyn Cyclones, that fact was not lost on Fred and Jeff Wilpon.  But as for managing the big club, the outstanding issue was always if the Wilpons would ever invite such potential controversy into their dugout.  For they have developed a reputation for shying away from such conditions.  A few years ago, they infamously banned newspapers from the club house so as to not let players read the bad pub being written about them.  But I would venture to say, yes, the Wilpons would give Wally Backman a chance to manage the Mets.  I would never have given such a notion much credit.  But like I said, I remember Billy Martin.  I feel Mets fans would indeed venture out to Citi Field to see Wally skipper their club.  And according to Fred's finances, we now know success is commensurate to attendance.  By 2014, the roster will be quite different, if not better, and possibly resembling something like the 1984 team Wally played for.  The matter of Mets manager however, now seems to fall into Sandy Alderson's realm of  "autonomous"  authority these days.  But in almost any scenario short of making the playoffs in 2013, Terry Collins is sure to feel as if Wally were in the dugout standing right next to him.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Best Forward Line In NY/NJ Area Hockey Is...?

From the desks of:

Which Metropolitan Area Hockey Club
Sports The Best Forward Line?

New York Rangers  -  New Jersey Devils  -  New York Islanders

At this time last season, the New York Islanders had the best forward line in hockey.  The trio of John Tavares, Matt Moulson, and Kyle Okposo, wound up cranking out ninety one goals last season.  This season, Tavares and Moulson have been joined primarily by Brad Boyes.  Kyle Okposo has been put on, then taken off the line this season.  Truth is, last season didn't go as smoothly as Kyle  would have liked.  And presently, his game is skating in sand again.  Okposo is an enigma who remains woefully inefficient for his talent.  He has one goal and four assists so far.  So, Brad Boyes, the team's third leading scorer, has been getting most of the wing action on the first line.

Last week on Valentine's Day, the Isles' line of Martin/McDonald/Cizikas put the Rangers forward line of Gaborik/Callahan/Richards under house arrest, completely shutting them down on MSG ice.  While they took care of the Blueshirts top trio, John Tavares' line took care of the rest.  In his last two games against the Rangers and Devils, Tavares has four regulation time goals; a hat trick against the Devils, and a game tying goal, as well as a shoot-out winner against the Rangers.  John Tavares now has eleven goals in his last ten games.  Along with nine assists, he has twenty points this season.

Matt Moulson is not far behind.  He has seventeen points this season, and leads the team with ten assists.  Together, Matt Moulson and John Tavares have combined to score eighteen goals, assist on nineteen others, and have thirty seven points between them.  If we add Brad Boyes' four goals and eight assists, the line has produced forty nine points.

In New Jersey, David Clarkson continues to give the Atlantic Division hell.  He is out to prove last year's thirty goal season was no fluke.  With ten goals already in fifteen games, Clarkson is well on his way.  He plays on the second line along side Patrick Elias and Adam Henrique.  With six assists, David Clarkson has sixteen points this season.  Patrick Elias is having a renaissance season.  He has four goals, and leads the team with fifteen assists, and nineteen points.  Adam Henrique was a late comer to the ice after first having to recover from off-season surgery.  In ten games, he has contributed four goals and two assists.  Combined, this line has scored eighteen goals, assisted on twenty three more, and have produced thirty one points.  The Devils first line however, is now comprised of recently re-acquired Alexi Panikarovsky, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Travis Zajac.  Kovalchuk and Zajac have combined on eight goals and twelve assists, for twenty points - mostly by Kovalchuk's doing.  Coach DeBoer has at times included Adam Henrique, David Clarkson and Stephane Matteau on this line.

The Devils lost a lot of production with Zach Parise's departure to Minnesota.  Ilya Kovalchuk's goals are down if only somewhat since his Atlanta days.  This is due in part for having sacrificed somewhat to fit into the Devils system.  Being the Devils are in first place, the Devils philosophy clearly trumps personal achievement.  And so, Kovalchuk should be fine.  He recorded his 800th NHL point recently.

The Rangers top line - the Rangers have no top line.  Not with the way Coach Torts mixes and matches throughout games.  As a Rangers fan, I would like for Coach to set his lines and stick with them.  In a shortened season, sometimes thinking needs to bend and adapt to circumstances.  There is little time for experimentation right now.  That said, Brad Richards has made setting the forward lines a bit of a task.  His struggles have reached prolific levels, and so Brad Richards was shown the bench last week versus the Islanders.  He was skipped over during numerous third period shifts, and  additionally sat out a power play opportunity before Coach returned him to the ice for overtime.  Much more noticeable than Brad's shortcomings however, was the way John Tavares and his line skated circles around the Rangers on Valentine's Day from literally the beginning of the game, all the way to the end.

Coach Torts started the season stacking the first line with Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik.  But when the third and fourth lines crumbled, the GM tweaked the roster, while Coach relented and spread forwards around.  Brad Richards now skates on one of the top two lines with Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan.  The three have combined to score twelve goals, assist on thirteen others, and produce twenty five points.  Marian Gaborik is the team's leading scorer with six goals, four assists, and eleven points.  While Brad Richards is the provider of two scant goals, and eight assists.

The Rangers other-other first line is presently comprised of new stud import, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, and Carl Hagelin.  Rick Nash's numbers look like the rest of the Blueshirts - average.  He has three goals and eight assists.  Though his numbers aren't reflective of his skill, his overall play has met fan's expectations so far.  However, the relentless Carl Hagelin has been the Rangers best forward lately.  He too sits at eight points for the season.  But he has four goals in his last three games.  Even if you mix and match the Rangers three top forwards, they still wouldn't equate with the production the Devils and Islanders top lines are pumping out.

Since arriving in the NHL, the Islanders top line featuring John Tavares has competed with every one of the league's best forward trios.  With so many other issues befalling the Islanders however, no one hardly seems to notice.  The Islanders are presently winners of two in a row.  The John Tavares/Matt Moulson combo has spent the last two games providing the other two area hockey clubs with a tutorial in first line scoring.  The Islanders clearly sport the top line in the NY/NJ hockey area.  In a more closely contested comparison, the John Tavares/Matt Moulson combo also holds a slight points scored advantage (39/35) over the Devils David Clarkson/Patrick Elias duo.  The top Rangers combo?  I'm a fan.  Why would I want to embarrass them?

Islander fans can only help but think, if only there was a correlation between first line play, and positioning in the standings.  But the papers say the Islanders are in fourth place, two points behind the Rangers, and eight points behind the Devils.  The Rangers, with by far the most unsettled forward lines of the three teams, play as Coach Torts dictates.  While in New Jersey, the Devils just continue to adhere to their system, and win.


Islanders vs. Devils Final - Saturday Night Fervor


Devils       1
Islanders  5
Islanders and Devils Finish Season Series Tied 2-2
I - NJD 2; NYI 1
II * NYI 5; NJD 4
III - NJD 3; NYI 0
IV - NYI 5; NJD 1
Isles Wreck Devils; Tie Season Series.  John Tavares Nets Hat Trick.  Evgeni Nabokov Helps Push Long Island By Philadelphia in Atlantic Division Standings.

Brooklyn's foster hockey club played an outstanding game in Long Island last night.  In their final regular season meeting, John Tavares and the New York Islanders overwhelmed the first place New Jersey Devils.  Long Island out-shot the Devils, threw more hits, had more take-aways, and won more face offs, en route to a 5-1 victory.

With Johan Hedberg in net for New Jersey, the Islanders unleashed a second period barrage led by the John Tavares line.  Within a span of 2:20 minutes, John Tavares scored twice, and his line mate, Matt Moulson, added a third goal just before the period ended.

In the third period, Marek Zidlicky scored his first goal of the season, to get New Jersey within two goals.  But at the 14:40 mark, John Tavares completed a hat trick by scoring his second power play goal of the evening.  Then at 19:25, Michael Grabner got credit for a Devils assisted goal, completing Long Island's 5-1 victory.

John Tavares now has eleven goals in his last ten games.  Matt Moulson has seven, and Michael Grabner has six.  The Islanders also continued their prowess on the power play, scoring three times in six chances.  Only two Eastern Conference teams have more goals than the Islanders.  Ivgeni Nabokov was stellar in net.  He faced thirty three shots, and allowed only the one second period goal to get by.

The Pittsburgh Penguins did not play Saturday, and so the Devils remain in first place of the Atlantic Division by a point.  The Penguins play Sunday.  The Devils are off.  By virtue of two less losses, the Islanders slipped past the Flyers into fourth place.  The Islanders and Devils split their season series with two wins apiece.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

N.Y. Mets: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

From the desk of:   HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

Welcome to Met Year Eleven A.D. - After Doubleday.

We pick up the Saul B. Katz Dilemma
on Day 3656 in the Age of WILPONianism...
For those of you not familiar with the Saul B. Katz Dilemma, it is a continuing docudrama.  In proper form, I use it as a metaphor to describe the state of utter chaos which has existed ever since Fred Wilpon bought out his former partner, Nelson Doubleday. The Saul B. Katz Dilemma is to watch the prophecy unfold - the one where Nelson Doubleday predicted the Wilpons would drive the Mets into the ground. Saul Katz then, is to Igor as Mr.Wilpon is to Dr. Frankenstein. Poor loyal Saul Katz is subservient and helpless to stop him from creating the monster... Hence, his dilemma.

Today's Episode:
NEW YORK METS - Wilpon E. Coyote; Super Genius.

Let the 2013 charade season begin.  The owner blew smoke spoke.  And it was more foolery.

Over the last two years, much of what we've heard from ownership, and to a lesser extent from Sandy Alderson (when he engages in ownership protectionism), has been fluff, spin doctoring, dis-information, crowd control, and appeasing ACME propaganda.  What we've never gotten from Mr. Wilpon in particular is an apology, and whole truths, or price breaks.  Or, maybe I am just caught up in a battle of semantics and voodoo math versus a super genius.

The embattled Mets owner offered his State of the Wilpon Family address on Friday.  In it, he declared La Famiglia and their greater empire free of debt, and that by next off-season, the club will be ready to spend, however smartly, once more.  Doesn't that conflict with a certain arrangement they made in January?  Didn't the Wilpons just secure $700 million dollars in new financing?  What is new financing considered then?  Is that not still debt by another name?  And out of that amount, wasn't roughly $160 million to be spent operating the club?

Being the new financing came from their stake in SNY-TV and against personal investments, this means the owner is bleeding the books and co-mingling his money.  The owner said baseball, and owning the Mets, is a break even business for him.  He is not in it for the money.  As long as the club breaks even, he's satisfied as long as he can provide a competitive team and ticket holders keep things moving along.  How noble of Mr.Wilpon - the one whose goal is to play meaningful games in September.

I would have preferred the owner say nothing.  We have heard too much, and at the same time, nothing at all.  Instead, show me.  Or as the commercial goes - Just Do It.  For some time now, we have listened to the owner minimize over and over again how the Madoff matter did little to harm operations.  Mr. Wilpon now explained they needed to ensure the banks got paid first.  That's all....  That's bending the truth, and re-interpreting reality.  In plain truth, he owed banks and creditors lots of money, his assets were embroiled and frozen in a scandal, and his ball park revenue was down.  It's all related, boss man.  But there-in lies the liberation of Fred and Jeff Wilpon, and Saul B. Katz.  They no longer owe banks.  Now they owe money to their assets.  To you and me, it's like taking a 401k loan.  In the drug world, it's called smoking your profits.  And if Mr. Wilpon thinks I'm going to believe his latest declaration of financial reincarnation, he must be high.  What then, of all the secretaries and other staff employees the Mets laid-off?  I'm sure they have mounting debts too.  Will they be financially liberated as well?  But the problem wasn't the Madoff matter, right?  It was the evil bankers all along who got those employees laid-off...

Based on the promise of four million fans per season, ownership is just as desperate for 3.5 million fans or better, to show up, as they were since the day they pitched the banks to help build Citi Field.  Without those kinds of attendance numbers, ownership remains in as precarious a situation as ever.  They may have weened themselves off the banks.  But for two straight seasons, ownership has been dipping into their own holdings to salvage the ship.  Last season, Fred, Jeff , and Saul Katz all reached into their own pockets to purchase several shares of the team's $20 million dollar stakes.  Now they are hedging against SNY and investment vehicles.  The $700 refinancing package can theoretically pay for itself.  But that doesn't detract from the fact all other creditors fled ownership like roaches in the kitchen light.  The Wilpons seem down to their very last wiley plan before they start losing real ownership of ACME this team.  But that's just the way I see things.


Devils vs. Islanders - IV


Saturday Night Hockey
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
Long Island, N.Y.
Devils lead Series 2-1
I - NJD 2; NYI 1
II - NYI 5; NJD 4*
III - NJD 3; NYI 0

New Jersey Devils - David Clarkson and Patrick Elias Continue Giving Atlantic Division Hell.

Friday night, David Clarkson continued his assault upon the Atlantic Division.  At 10:43 of he third period, his redirection goal put the Devils ahead 4-3, after falling behind 3-1 to Philadelphia in the first period.  Travis Zajac opened all scoring just 0:40 seconds into the game.  Then Philly scored three unanswered goals before the period was through.  The Flyers took eleven first period shots against Martin Brodeur.  However, Brodeur regrouped, and kept Philly off the scoreboard the rest of the way.

Just 0:26 after dropping the puck on the second period, Alexi Ponikarovsky made it a 3-2 game.  At 15:40 into the period, Patrick Elias scored his fourth goal of the season to tie the game at three all.  Ilya Kovalchuk assisted on all three Devils goals.  In the second period, Martin Brodeur faced another eleven shots, with far better results.

Midway through the third period, David Clarkson struck for his club leading tenth goal of the season.  With a minute and a half left in the game, Steve Bernier put a feather in the Devils cap with his fourth goal of the season.  Patrick Elias picked up two assists in the period.

Philly out-shot the Devils by a 28-19 margin.  David Clarkson led the Devils with six shots on goal in twenty four shifts.  With three points on the night, Patrick Elias now leads the Devils with eighteen points, and fourteen assists.  The Devils have three forwards with double digit points.

The Devils are now 9-2-3 for the season, and winners of six of their last seven games.  They still lead the Atlantic Division with twenty one points; one point better than Pittsburgh; and own the best goal differential in the division.  Martin Brodeur won his seventh game of the season, and the 663rd of his career.

B'Klyn/New York Islanders - Rumor; Wang Wants To Sell Team.

On Saturday, the New York Post reported owner Charles Wang might possibly be selling the team.  This latest development comes on the heals of the Islanders not being able to secure an arena deal in Nassau County, and announcing the team will move to Brooklyn to play in Barclays Center beginning with the 2015-2016 season.  The club has not commented.  But why shouldn't he sell?  The Islanders have lost/cost him a fortune to operate.  One man can only take so much.  With his hopes to build the Lighthouse Project in Nassau County long extinguished, there really is no reason for him to hold onto the team anymore.

On the ice, the Isles snapped a five game losing streak Thursday night, with a comeback, shootout victory over the New York Rangers.  The Rangers jumped out to an early 2-0 first period lead.  But the Islanders stormed back in the second period to take a 3-2 lead.  John Tavares scored the tying goal.  In shootout, he beat Marty Biron for the game clincher.  John Tavares has eight goals and eight assists to lead the team.

The Islanders are 5-7-1 (11 points) this season, and currently occupy last place in the Atlantic Division; ten points behind the Devils.


Brooklyn Nets: A First Half Struggle For Respect

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

BROOKLYN NETS - It's Halftime At Barclays Center.

For the denizens of Kings County who aren't familiar with the NBA calendar, this is called All-Star weekend.  The first half of Brooklyn's inaugural season as a member club of the National Basketball Association is complete.  In his fourth full season on the court, Brook Lopez will be the Nets lone representative in this season's mid-winter hardwood classic.  Brook Lopez is currently the NBA's highest scoring center, averaging nineteen points per game.  Not incidentally, he is also the Nets highest scorer.  The big man is averaging 7.4 RPG, and 2.2 blocks this season.

As for the rest of the Nets, over the first half of the season, they are either still learning how to play with one another, or, they are a very flawed team.  The truth probably lies somewhere in between.  But for now, many are calling the Nets merely the best of the rest.  And it is hard to argue with that assessment.  They have defeated damn near every team (18-2) with a sub .500 record.  However, against the league's better clubs and contenders, the Nets have struggled mightily.  Against them, they have only achieved a 13-20 record.  That places a distinct cloud over Brooklyn's playoff aspirations.

The Nets enter the break with a 31-22 (.585) record on the season.  They currently occupy second place in the Atlantic Division, 2.5 games behind the New York Knicks.  Brooklyn is the fourth seed behind the division leaders in the Eastern Conference standings, and one half game better than the Chicago Bulls.  The Brooks have a 16-8 record under P.J. Carlesimo.  With three more victories, the Nets will tie a five-season high, when they last won thirty four games back in the 2008-2009 regular season.  They won a combined forty six games in their last two seasons in Newark, and fifty eight games in the last three.  This season, Brooklyn stands a chance to win fifty games.  Twenty nine games remain in the regular season.  The Nets are 18-2 versus teams with sub .500 records. Seventeen of their remaining games will come against them.

So where do the Nets go from here?  For Mikhail Prokhorov, that is the billion dollar question.  The Nets are at the exact mid-point of the owner's five year plan.  From here on out, it is playoffs or bust.  Most feel the Nets are indeed a post-season contender, but question how far can they go.  That could be problematic for a few people.  In dismissing Avery Johnson himself after being named coach of the month in November, the owner offered a glimpse as to how much autonomy may really exist under him.  Therefore, Mikhail Prokhorov's doomsday clock is ticking on Billy King's reign, and his Lugs of Flatbush. 

The Lugs of Flatbush are a slow, plodding, deliberate, team.  When they face the right opponent, they thrive playing a half court game and crashing the boards, which they do very well by the way.  They like to look for Brook Lopez down low, and usually outscore their opponents in the paint.  When they get that going, they then let the mid-range jumpers and three-pointers fly.  But when the Nets play against up-tempo teams, and can't slow them down, and get forced into playing transition basketball, they look lethargic.  Truth is, Brooklyn has no transition game, or quickness out of their starters, to speak of.  Even when the Nets do play their style of basketball, they are still a wildly erratic shooting team from the field.  From game to game, from half to half, and especially from quarter to quarter, they suffer horrible bouts of inconsistency, not just in their shooting percentage, but through lapses in defensive play as well.  As Deron Williams intimated very recently, that's when the finger pointing starts and team cohesion leaves the building.  Both Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace have been very vocal regarding their team mates' attitudes, moods, and effort.  And were it not for consecutive wins over Indiana and Denver, that is where the first half leaves off.  It is not entirely fair to speak that disparagingly of them however.  Just when they get embarrassed by the better teams around the league, they respond with a #5 overall ranked defensive effort, and change the running conversation again; as they did with the previously noted victories over Indiana and Denver.

Those last two wins incidentally came without Deron Williams on the floor.  The Nets point guard will not be participating in this year's all-star game, not because he is currently nursing two ailing ankles.  Instead, he will not be playing because he is arguably under-performing this season.  Deron's current 7.6 assist per game average is his lowest mark since his 2005-06 rookie year.  Between 2006-07 and the year he was traded to the Nets, Deron averaged 10.3 assists per game.  In his first season with the Nets (12 games after the trade), he averaged twelve assists a game.  Over the last season an a half, he has only averaged 8.1 assists per game.  Deron Williams clearly then, needs to do a better job distributing the ball.  More, he needs to start playing like the star guard the Nets thought they were acquiring from Utah.  That may sound harsh, for Deron seems only a slight adjustment away from playing to that level.  But he has been the first to admit his short-comings.  This is not the first time Deron Williams is dealing with ankle issues.  So his situation warrants more observation.

But you don't need binoculars to see his points are down this season as well. After averaging twenty points per game the last two seasons, Deron is currently only averaging 16.7  points per game - his lowest average since his second year in the league.  In his season and a half as the Nets point guard, Williams has posted the worst two FG% of his career.  He was a .463% shooter with Utah.  With the Nets, Deron Williams FG% has dropped to a .389 mark.  I am not necessarily holding the Nets last season in New Jersey against his record.  But with Billy King's revamped roster heading into this season, the case for Deron Williams weakened.  Bettering their shooting percentage alone will improve the team's overall fortunes immeasurably.  Deron Williams is a part of that.

But a few more things need to happen before the Nets are considered true Eastern Conference contenders.  Among them, the other half of Brooklyn's pricey back-court needs to exert himself just a little more than he does.  Outside of his contract, Joe Johnson is a hard guy to knock.  He has proven to be a clutch shooter.  He has won games with last second shots.  No problem there.  However, Joe needs to establish more of a presence throughout the game like he did against the Denver Nuggets recently, with nine assists and twenty six points.  At thirty-one years of age, the Nets may never get the shooter he was in Atlanta.  But Joe Johnson is not old, and should be closer to that player than he is.  In his last two seasons with the Hawks, he averaged eighteen points a game.  In the five seasons prior to that, Joe was a twenty-plus point scorer.  In his first season with the Nets, albeit in a shared back-court role with Williams, Joe Johnson is averaging 17.0 points per game.  And as with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson's shooting percentage has slipped since joining the team.  He was a 45% shooter in seven seasons with the Hawks.  This season, Johnson is shooting 42% - his lowest mark in ten years.

The Nets have done respectable work on the glass.  They rank 15th in the NBA in rebounding, pulling down 42.2 per game.  Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche have that covered off the bench.  At the point, C.J. Watson did admirable work in D-Will's absence against the Nuggets.  He pumped twenty five points into the Nets win, and also had six assists.

Even though the Nets scored a season high 119 points against Denver, they can stand to add a consistent outside shooter.  The NBA trade deadline is February 21st.  The Nets apparently seem anxious to rid themselves of Kris Humphries and his contract.  He clearly has not been the player the Nets thought they signed to a two year deal.  Truth is, he was an able player, playing huge minutes on a bad team.  With better players around him now, he has struggled to smooth out his game, and find a niche, or fill a role.  Word is, the Nets are reluctant to part with Mirza Teletovic.  Trade rumors involving the Nets and Lakers, and the future of Dwight Howard still have not gone away.  The Lakers' GM has stated they will not be trading their star center.  Due to the Nets cap situation, if Howard still indeed wants to play for Brooklyn, a trade is the only way to make that happen.  In light of the way Brook Lopez has developed, the Nets just might be inclined to stay put regardless of what Dwight Howard wants.

Enjoy the All-Star game, and let's go Brook Lopez.


Friday, February 15, 2013

N.Y. Rangers: Brad Richard Shown Bench In Third Period


Thursday Night Final:
RANGERS       3
Home From The Game - First Reaction
NEW YORK RANGERS - Brian Boyle Plays A Good Game At Brad Richards' Expense.  Coach Torts Benches Richards In Third Period.  Kept Him Off Power Play Shift.

Aaron Asham and Eric Boulton Drop Gloves at 5:25 of First Period

John Tavares didn't just tie the game in the second period, and win it for the Islanders when he put a puck behind Martin Biron in the shoot-out.  John Tavares and his line dominated the time they spent on the ice, and skated circles around the Rangers.  I should know.  I was at the game.  What's more, that was the second consecutive game he outplayed every Blueshirt skater.

In the context of a forty eight game schedule, Thursday night was a melt-down.  What else do you call a game in which the Rangers ended the first period up 2-0, then surrendered three straight goals before Carl Hagelin, who through pure effort, bailed them out with a rare power play goal, and a regulation tie?

I noticed Chris Krieder and Stu Bickel did not play.  But Brian Boyle was back on the ice for the first time in three games, and it came at Brad Richards' expense.  Coach Torts put a leash on his forward after a horrific attempt at a cross ice pass was intercepted at the defensive blue line.  On one hand, Brian Boyle was playing an exceptional game.  However, it was clear, Brad Richards had entered the in-game dog house.  This was right in line with Brad Richards' overall greater struggles this season.

Richards was benched for the first half of the third period.  He additionally was skipped over during a third period power play shift.  During the night, Brian Boyle skated with Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik instead.  Richards was reunited with Gaborik in overtime.

The Islanders win their first game in their last six tries.  The Rangers three game winning streak comes to an end.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Rangers vs. Islanders: The Rivalry - Game Two


Thursday Night Hockey
The Rivalry - Game Two
Rangers Lead Series 1-0
I - NYR 4; NYI 1
Atlantic Division:
#1 - N.J. Devils        8-2-3
#3 - N.Y. Rangers   7-5-0
#5 - N.Y. Islanders  4-7-1
New York Islanders
Madison Square Garden
33rd Street and 8th Avenue
B'klyn/New York Islanders - Lack of Defense Is Getting Offensive.  Poor Goal-Tending Is Outright Insulting.
Doesn't anybody here know what defense is all about?  Good Grief!  Offensively speaking, Brooklyn's foster hockey club is doing many things right this season.  But their defense and goal-tending have been so wrong.  They are second to the Pens in the Atlantic Division with thirty six goals, and place seventh overall.  John Tavares is their triple crown scorer.  He leads the Islanders with fifteen points, on seven goals and eight assists.  The Isles also own the NHL's 5th rated power play and rank fourth on the penalty kill.  Yet, they are last in the Atlantic Division in goals against, and rank 29th worst overall.
This current five game losing streak the Islanders are on started when they dropped the back end of a home-and-home against the Devils.  They then lost to the Penguins and the Rangers.  You can't find fault with the Islanders offensive effort in their Saturday loss to Buffalo - not after taking forty three shots on goal against Ryan Miller.  The Sabres goalie was just unconscious.  But Evgeni Nabokov needed to do better.  He only faced fifteen shots all game.  The Isles limited Buffalo to single digit shots in all three periods.  Yet, Nabokov let three pucks get by him in a 3-2 loss.  For the season, he is sporting a troublesome .897 Sv% and an .300 goals against average.
Over those four losses, Islanders scoring dropped off.  They only scored five goals, including getting shut-out by the Devils.  This past Monday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, Long Island's  scoring reignited.  The Islanders had five power play opportunities and converted on four occasions.  However, Rick DiPietro allowed Carolina four third period goals, and six goals overall, in a game the Isles were leading 3-2 after two periods.  That was DePietro's second start of the season, and his second loss.  Combined, Rick DiPietro has faced fifty seven shots, and allowed ten goals, for an awful .833% save percentage.
Slumping to a 4-7-1 record, the Islanders currently reside at the bottom of the Atlantic Division, four points behind the Flyers, and six points behind the Rangers.
NEW YORK RANGERS - Tweaking Roster Starting To Pay Off.  The Big Blue Glacier Is Starting To Lurch Forward.
One quarter of the regular season is done.  Since starting the season 0-2, the Rangers have posted a 7-3 record, and are currently riding a three game winning streak.  They scored twelve regulation time goals over that span - a marked improvement upon their season output so far.  Entering tonight's game against the Islanders however, they still remain at the bottom of the Atlantic Division in scoring.  They are currently 15th in the NHL.  Defensively, the Rangers rank 11th in goals against.
Thanks to Carl Hagelin with three goals in the team's last two games, the Rangers are showing signs of a break through.  Derek Stepan is starting to score, the Captain scored his third goal in nine games, and they received secondary scoring from Stralman, Asham, and J.T. Miller's first two NHL goals.  Unfortunately, Brad Richards, and to a lesser degree Marian Gaborik, continue to circle in holding patterns.  Yes, they both have nine points apiece in twelve games played respectively.  But those two are required to do so much more, and in a word, they are, not.  However, Rick Nash is starting to deliver on the hype, and is turning into everything Rangers fans anticipated he could be.  With each passing game, he gets more and more comfortable.  Through finding comfort, his skill is starting to prevail.  He recently scored only his third goal, but leads the Rangers in assists and points.  Marian Gaborik still leads the Rangers with six goals.
Coach Torts isn't the only one who thinks the accumilation of too-many-men on the ice penalties are egregiously ponderous.  Well, Coach said they "sucked!"  I just say ridiculous.  The Rangers are now up to six infractions.  That is more than they should have all season.  And Lord Stanley knows Tex's Rangers can't live life killing penalties.  Defensively, the Rangers rank 11th in goals against this season.  That is a considerable drop off from last year's effort.  On the penalty kill, they rank 13th at the moment, which also reflects a drop off from last season.  The Rangers 4-3 S.O. win over Boston shows how scoring can make mistakes like J.T. Miller's too-many-men infraction go away.  Later in the second period, Derek Stepan gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead, and all seemed well again.  When the Rangers aren't scoring, a mistake like that kills.
One aspect of the Rangers game that has remained consistent since last season has been the futility of their power play.  They currently own the 29th worst unit in the league.  As mentioned above, the Islanders recently scored four power play goals against Carolina.  They Rangers have four power play goals all season..!  Ryan Callahan has two of them.  The Islanders by the way, have thirteen power play goals this season.
Last Time They Met: Feb. 7, 2013 - Rangers 3; Islanders 1.
When they last met one week ago, J.T. Miller scored his first ever NHL goal just 1:29 into the game.  Twelve and one half minutes later, Marian Gaborik scored his sixth goal of the season.  Half way through the second period, John Tavares brought the Islanders to within a goal.  At the 18:11 mark, J.T. Miller answered for the Rangers with his second NHL goal of the night, and of his (then) four game career.  His power play goal made it a 3-1 game.  Just prior to the third period ending, Ryan McDonagh scored, unassisted, to close out a 4-1 victory.
Henrik Lundqvist faced twenty eight shots, and made twenty seven saves, to earn his fourth (of six) win of the season.  Evgeni Nabokov faced twenty four shots on goal, and only managed to save twenty one.
For a game, the Rangers and Islanders changed roles on the power play.  The Rangers were 1 for 2 with the man advantage.  The Islanders floundered, going scoreless in five attempts.
Happy Valentine's Day...Chump!