Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Rivalry: Rangers vs. Islanders - V

From the desks of:

The Rivalry - V

Metropolitan Division
1) N.Y. Islanders  43-21-4; 90 points
2) N.Y. Rangers    40-17-7; 87 points

Islanders lead series 3-1
I - NYI 6; NYR 3
II - NYI 3; NYR 0
III - NYI 4; NYR 1
IV - NYR 6; NYI 5

The Ice of March
New York Rangers
New York Islanders
Uniondale Ice House

Although Long Island's comeback effort against the Maple Leafs prevented this game from being a showdown for first place, Tuesday night's game should no less epic.  The Uniondale Ice House hasn't rocked like this in decades.  A March Rangers/Islanders showdown with very meaningful implications is finally back on the schedule.  The Rivalry is on again!

The Islanders escaped Toronto and bring a 3 point lead over the Rangers into this evening's game.

Long Island has achieved things this season not accomplished since their Cup years.  They have risen to every challenge, answered every call, handled every top competitor, responded accordingly when called for, and have otherwise been one of the consistently dominant teams of the conference - just ask the Leafs...

However, I feel all the pressure entering Tuesday night's clash is on them.  Thing is, the Rangers have three/four games in hand, and the Islanders know it.  Including Tuesday, the Isles have 14 games remaining, while the Rangers have 18 games left in the regular season.

The Islanders have been somewhat pressing recently to sustain their position atop the division.  It certainly seemed that way again when they trailed Toronto by a 3-1 margin in the 3rd period.  But, the resilient Isles scored twice more (3x in the 3rd period) to send the game into overtime.  John Tavares then won it with a power play goal.

Nick Leddy left the game with an injury, and might be a game time decision on Tuesday.

The Isles improved to 2-2 in March, and are 11-5-3 since February 3rd.

But here comes the competition.

Tex's Rangers are surging, and have drawn within striking distance of the division and conference leaders with a 12-2-3 record since February 2nd.

Entering Tuesday's game, Cam Talbot started 15 of the Rangers previous 16 games in Henrik Lundqvist's absence.  On Sunday, he posted his second shutout in his last 6 games; a 1-0 effort against the Flames, and a 1-0 overtime gem against the Blackhawks on Sunday.  Overall, he's made 24 starts this season, and now owns a 14-6-4 record, with a .921 SV% and a 2.33 GAA.

In the meantime, Henrik Lundqvist will surely have some rust to work off upon his return, but he will be well rested for a playoff run.

Jaroslav Halak will be making his 49th start of the season.  He set the Islanders goalie record earlier this season, and is presently 3rd in the NHL with 34 victories.  Thanks in part to the NHL's 3rd ranked offense, Halak owns a 34-13-1 record, but with a less stellar .911 SV% which ranks 26th among goalies with 30+ starts, and a 2.48 GAA which similarly ranks 22nd.

The Islanders indeed own the NHL's 3rd most potent offense.  John Tavares has done his best to minimize the loss of line mate Kyle Okposo.  Tavares now leads the NHL with 72 points, and is 4th with 33 goals.  The power play is a very respectable 11th in the league.

However, despite off-season upgrades, defense, with particular emphasis on the penalty kill, continue to haunt Garth Snow, Coach Capuano, and the Islanders.  They are 23rd in goals against, and a woeful 29th on the penalty kill.

Leading up to the trade deadline, the Islanders acquired goalie Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Mark Louis

The Rangers boast the NHL's 4th most potent offense, and the 12th best power play (both just a tick behind the Isles).  Within the conference, their +43 point differential is second only to Tampa.  With 38 goals, Rick Nash is 2nd only to Alex Ovechkin.

Defensively, the numbers suggest there is no comparison between teams.  The Rangers are the NHL's 3rd most stingiest team, and they rate 9th on the penalty kill.

Although the results remain to be seen, Glen Sather might have pulled off a pair of savvy trades in acquiring forward James Sheppard, and defenseman Keith Yandle.

Derick Brassard continues to have the best season of his career.  He scored the game winning goal against the Blackhawks Sunday.  In 61 games played he now has 14 goals and has established career highs with 37 assists and 51 points - both of which lead the team.  Last season, he scored a career high 18 goals in 81 games.


Monday, March 09, 2015

Brooklyn Nets: Fading Away

From the desk of:  THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

Now 11-games under .500, and fading fast...

BROOKLYN NETS: Look what the Utah Jazz did to Flatbush, again.

Let us tell no lies.

The 2011 trade bringing (then) 26-year old point guard Deron Williams to the Nets was a no-brainer. Negotiated under the cover of night, the transaction even stole headlines away from the Knicks upon their acquisition of Carmelo Anthony.

Despite being limited to just 55 games in 2011-12, Deron Williams' 21-ppg was his best rate as a pro, which continued ratifying the trade as a coup.

Then came the team's relocation to Brooklyn.

Beset by ankle problems throughout, Williams averaged 18.9 points and 7.7 assists in 2012-13, then fell precipitously to just 14.3 points and 6.1 assists per game last season.

Now 30-years old, Deron Williams underwent surgery to both ankles this past off-season and was off to a spirited start this season.  However, he has since been relegated to playing off the bench by Coach Hollins, and is presently only averaging 13.2 points and 6.2 assists per game.

His former team, the Utah Jazz were in Brooklyn Sunday featuring forward Derrick Favors - one of the players packaged in exchange for Williams.

Favors, 23, played a game high 38-minutes and shot 50% on 8/16 from the floor.  He was second on the Jazz with 22 points and 8 boards.  Deron Williams on the other hand, played 30 minutes and was only 2/5 from the floor.  He registered 6 points, 4 assists, and 5 rebounds.

The Jazz 95-88 victory over the Nets Sunday improved their record to 26-36, while the defeat dropped the Nets to 25-36 this season.  At first glance, the teams look relatively even.  The observant fan, however, knows otherwise.  While the Jazz are 10 games under .500, they are young, rebuilding and improving.  The Nets, however, are now 11 games under .500, and devolving at a accelerating rate.

The New Year turnaround experienced under both P.J. Carlessimo and Jason Kidd has failed to transpire under Lionel Hollins.  Despite impressive back-to-back victories over Golden State and Dallas, and additionally strong victories over Toronto, L.A. Clippers, and Washington, the Nets have posted a 10-20 in 2015.

They have now dropped 3 in a row, and are now 11-18 at home.  They've fallen into a second place tie in the Atlantic Division with (another rebuilding team) the Boston Celtics.  They're additionally 2.5 games behind the Indiana Pacers in the race for the Eastern Conference 8th seed along with Boston, both of whom trail Miami.

Even Jason Kidd's team, the Milwaukee Bucks, widely considered a pre-season afterthought, are presently the 6th team in the conference with a (surprising) 33-29 record.

Brook Lopez was finally reinserted back into the starting line-up on Sunday, and responded with 19 points and 10 rebounds.  It was his second straight double/double, as he scored 19 points and pulled down 13 rebounds against the Suns.

While Brook was back in, Joe Johnson was strangely out.  In a very peculiar move, Coach Hollins had Joe Johnson on the bench and put the ball in Jarrett Jack's hands for the final, and potentially game winning shot in regulation time against Phoenix.  Jack's shot rimmed out, and the Nets eventually fell apart in overtime.

Joe Johnson is playing out of position and his game is suffering as a result.  That being said, Lionel Hollins has truly been a brutal presence for Brooklyn's envisioned big three; Johnson, Williams, Lopez.

Obviously, the problems confronting this organization lay above Hollins.  This team was constructed to win in the very near term, but will clearly fail in their five year mission to win a title.  Instead they are fading away, and other than negotiating a sale of the team, the deep pocketed owner now appears indifferent to affecting change.

Translated - Billy King continues unfettered in his present capacity.

That's sad, because all indications say he engineered a bottom third club with little chance of improving.  The Nets are 23rd in scoring, 22nd in rebounds, 27th in assists, and 18th in points allowed.

Yet, Billy King stayed relatively put at the deadline (or arguably got outclassed by his competitors), so it's no surprise the situation continues to worsen.

If that wasn't enough, by negotiating the team's draft picks he's effectively compromised the near future as well.

That puts the real Nets turnaround light years from now.


Saturday, March 07, 2015

N.Y. Rangers: Glen Sather Earns Assist At Trade Deadline


39-17-7 (85 points)
2nd place Metro Division
4th place Eastern Conference
#3 Conference Scoring
#2 Conference Defense

NEW YORK RANGERS: Glen Sather Earns Two Points For Making Savvy Trades At Deadline.

Hello, Killjoy here again...

Had I written immediately after the Rangers defeated the Predators, this narrative might have sounded very differently.  But I didn't.

At the time, the Rangers beat a team that lost their previous 2 games.  Nashville has now lost 5 in a row, and were outscored 19-10 over that stretch.  Taking it further, the Predators are 2-7 in their last 9 games, and not only did they lose to the Rangers, they fell to the Devils and Islanders as well.

That's another way of saying the western conference Predators appeared more fearsome from afar, because the team that recently visited the metropolitan area looked and played like pussycats.   They're obviously in the midst of a poor spell.

Trending?  The Rangers also failed to follow up two key victories in a proper manner.  They left a point on the ice against the Canucks after defeating the Islanders, and left another point on the ice against the Red Wings after the Predators.

It's hard to pooh-pooh a quick taste of first place though.  With 3 games in hand and one game left against Long Island, Tex's Rangers have the Islanders fixed in their cross hairs.

They'll proceed forward surprisingly well refortified too.

While I anticipated a quiet trading period for the Rangers thinking Glen Sather generally handicapped himself with his overall salary cap management, he somehow still managed a day worthy of appreciation.

The Rangers acquired offensive defenseman Keith Yandle, along with Chris Summers and a 2016 #4 pick from Phoenix in return for prospect Anthony Duclair, defenseman John Moore, a 2015 #2 pick and a 2016 #1 pick.

Even Killjoy is very high on this trade.

John Moore in particular was becoming a liability, and failed to mesh with Kevin Hayes or Dan Boyle to form an effective third line.  Thus the addition of Yandle corrects a major malfunction - the third defensive pair.  This now gives the Rangers three very solid reliable lines, potentially improves the power play, and perhaps the overall offensive contribution from the blueliners as well.

The money works too.  Keith Yandle will not be an unrestricted free agent until the 2016-17 season, and Phoenix is absorbing half of his salary cap hit.

Of course, it's always nice to have motivated sellers like the Coyotes to deal with.  Nevertheless, this is a good trade for both teams.  Phoenix is going full-blown rebuild and secured themselves a top prospect to move forward with.  The Rangers were arguably a defenseman and a big center away from being true Eastern Conference favorites, and were in position to move such a touted prospect as Duclair to facilitate such improvements.

In a separate trade, the Rangers also acquired James Sheppard and Carl Klingberg for Lee Stempniak.

Klingberg is an inexperienced 24-year old winger taken early in the 2nd round of the 2009 entry draft.  The hook, and someone I think can be a real sleeper is center James Sheppard.  He was the 9th overall selection of the 2006 entry draft taken by Minnesota.  He's 26-years old, and listed at 6'1" and 215 pounds.  He'll fit nicely on the 4th line, and provide much needed size.  However, the knock on him is that he does not use said size effectively.  He better learn quick - he's in the Eastern Conference now.  But, I would certainly agree he's an improvement over Stempniak in both size and potential contribution.

Glen Sather still wasn't done.  Although odd, his initial effort to trade Mats Zuccarello instead wound up becoming a 3-year contract extension for the small forward.  I'm not sure I agree with resigning MatsZucs, but I seem to be in the minority.

The Rangers have now played 15 games and earned 21 points in Henrik Lundqvist's absence.  Cam Talbot has started 14 of those, and thus far posted a 9-2-3 record, which includes a shutout over the Flames.  The Rangers have averaged 3.3 goals for him, while Talbot has limited the opposition to 2.6 goals per game.