Greetings and salutations everyone and welcome to another blog here on BlueCollarBlueShirts.com. Never a slow news day, never a slow news day.
So, do you want the good news or the bad news first?
Since this site has adopted a “glass half-full” mentality, let’s start with the good news, and then navigate the shallow waters of negativity.
As noted on Saturday’s “matinee” blog (linked below), which recapped the Rangers’ dominating performance over the Red Wings; the Blueshirts and Hurricanes were tied in points, with 104 each. However, the Canes still had one game in-hand, a game they’d play later on that night. The Canes got crushed, where they were soundly defeated by the Avalanche to a tune of 7-4.
In turn, the Rangers and Canes are now in a virtual tie for first place, with 104 points a piece after 76 games played each. However, the Canes own the tie-breaker, due to having one more regulation win than the Rangers. (The Canes have 42 regulation wins, the Rangers have 41 regulation wins.)
If you recall, not even two weeks ago, the Rangers and Penguins were neck-and-neck for second-place in the division. That now feels like ancient history.
Currently, and mathematically too, the Penguins are still alive for second-place in the division (97 points in 77 games played); but they’d basically need to win-out, and would need either the Rangers or Hurricanes to finish out the regular season on a losing streak.
While we’ll soon get into the Rangers’ issues with injuries (and yep, it’s not a good thing to root for and/or celebrate injuries); both the Penguins and the Hurricanes are banged-up big-time – and far worse than the Rangers, considering the fact that the Rangers have more depth than their Metropolitan rivals.
The Penguins, losers in nine of their last thirteen games played, are currently without starting goaltender Tristan Jarry. Both Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan and the organization have announced that Jarry has a “week-to-week” lower-body injury. Whether or not Jarry will be able to make it back for the first game of the playoffs is unknown.
However, the Penguins are no longer a team that the Rangers are concerned with. (At least not yet, as the Rangers could see them in the first round of the playoffs, which will depend on the final results of the regular season.) The Hurricanes, and first place division, are the two things that the Rangers are chasing.
The Hurricanes, who got molly-wopped on Saturday night, not only got crushed on the scoreboard – they also received some devastating injury news too.
During the game, team captain Jordan Staal got leveled after a clean hit by Cale Makar. Staal left the game and never returned. If that wasn’t bad enough, goaltender Frederik Andersen, who should finish the regular season as a Vezina Finalist (CZAR IGOR will win it), also left the game following an injury.
In a brutal third period for the team from Raleigh; Andersen showed signs of playing with some discomfort. It looked like he made matters worse towards the end of the game, as after making a tough save, it looked like he had trouble with his left leg. He had a tough time when trying to get off of the ice. Former Ranger Antti Raanta then closed the game for the Canes.
As of this writing, there’s no information available on the immediate futures of both Staal and Andersen. We’ll get a clearer picture later tonight, when the Canes play the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale (10PM EST).
Of the two, Staal’s injury looked like he was just shaken up. Andersen’s injury looked far worse.
The only thing we know for a fact right now is that the Canes have recalled goaltender Pytor Kochetkov from their AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves. That tells us that Andersen, who went for an MRI over the Easter holiday, won’t be dressed tonight. (It also tells us that the Carolina, at -420, is too big of a favorite – even with Arizona getting spanked by the Flames 9-1 on Saturday night.)
Going into Monday night, here are the updated Metropolitan Division standings:
With the problems in Pittsburgh and Carolina now covered, let’s get into some more good news.
Check out that standings graphic again. Now look at the New York Islanders – a team that now has the little “e” next to their name!
In some cruel irony for Islander fans, but music to my ears; on Easter Sunday, Barry Trotz’s boys weren’t able to resurrect themselves in Toronto, as pajama boy John Tavares and his Maple Leafs knocked off the Belmont Bozos 4-2.
As a result of the contest, John Tavares, the former Islander captain (one assist in the game), helped to put the final nail in the Islanders season.
At this time, I present to you the following graphic, a graphic that is so perfect – which also means that you now know that I didn’t make it! Take a gander:
To quickly recap, in a time-span of the last 48 hours, not only did the Rangers find themselves in a virtual tie for first-place in the division; but their biggest rival was eliminated from playoff contention too! Put that in your Easter basket!
What should also be mentioned here, is that because the Islanders (and where I begrudgingly say the following too) did play well and made a go of it late – they will most likely finish this 2021-22 regular season as the best team of the Eastern Conference to NOT qualify for the playoffs. (The less said about last season, the better – as yes, I’m aware – the Rangers were in this same boat at this time last year.)
In other words, as the top team to not qualify for the postseason – the Islanders had their draft lottery odds diminished.
Currently, the Islanders are the thirteenth-worst team of the league, which means that twelve other teams will have better odds come the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery. (And you know that the NHL will try to rig that draft for Montreal, but that’s a topic for another time!)
For a team that’s full of old players, and bloated contracts too – it’s very unlikely that the Isles will get help come draft time.
But hey, they’ll have that brand new building in pristine condition come next season, as they’ll get no usage out of it during the warm months of the year!
So that’s all of the good news.
Let’s now get into the bad news, where really – it’s truly not that bad.
After all, last time I checked, the 2022 version of Kaapo Kakko isn’t the 1972 version of Jean Ratelle, nor is he the 1979 version of Ulf Nilsson neither.
After taking Easter Sunday off, the Rangers reconvened for practice at 11:00AM Monday morning, where right away, the team announced that Kaapo Kakko was no longer “day-to-day,” but “week-to-week” instead.
Obviously, this is a bad break for Kaako, who as discussed during Saturday’s blog, was just coming back after missing 31 games with a wrist injury.
And while I’ll have Gerard Gallant’s full interview from Monday for you below; during the interview, Gallant said, “I fully expect him to be back for the playoffs.” In addition, Gallant, just like any one of us, also said how it had to be tough for Kakko right now.
Gallant, who is somewhat as reliable as Dr. Anthony Fauci whenever he speaks of player injuries; the head coach also said that he thought there was a chance that Kakko could return just in time for the Rangers final three games of the regular season, where the team will play all three of them at M$G.
If Gallant, who would describe a “Mortal Kombat” severed head fatality as “day-to-day,” could get Kakko back for the final games of the regular season – then of course, that would be great news.
However, it’s very easy to cast doubt here, due to not only Gallant’s prior medical diagnoses, but because of Kakko himself.
In fact, friend of the blog, Costa L., described Kakko’s latest ailment to me as a “weak-to-weak” injury. (I include this dig because I found this joke to be funny, and laughter is always the best medicine!)
If Kakko can come back for the games next week, it will allow him to find his game (again), in games that won’t be as important as playoff games.
If Kakko can’t return until the playoffs, it will be a tall order for the young Finn.
For a player that struggles to get going, he’s going to have to find his peak level against tough competition. No matter who the Rangers playoff opponent will be, an opponent we won’t know until the end of next week – whoever it is, they will be a tough out. There are no easy wins come playoff time – especially when the games become more physical.
I don’t think this has to be said, but to be clear – the Rangers are better with Kakko than they are without him.
Even if Kakko does have these long spells without scoring – at the very least, he’s another body and another option for Gallant.
(And yes, and as noted on this site before – I’m also aware of Kakko’s last four goals – two against crappy Arizona and two more against faltering Philly. We haven’t seen him stand out against great teams yet, great teams that the Rangers will play, starting this May.)
While who knows when Kakko will play next, what we do know is that the Rangers have been fine without him. In fact, they’ve been really good without him – which isn’t a knock on Kakko, it’s just to say that the team has really embraced the “NEXT MAN UP” concept all season.
With Kakko out for at least the next three games (Jets, Islanders and the Bruins), it allows Alexis Lafreniere to return to the third line, a third line where he has had success – ever since being first installed there following the NHL Trade Deadline.
And in a way, and at this point of this 2021-22 season – aren’t Kakko and Lafreniere pretty much interchangeable?
While admittedly, a two game sample size isn’t much; Kakko, on the third line against Philly on Wednesday night, scored two goals. On Saturday, the game following the win over the Flyers, Lafreniere, who started the game on the fourth line but was bumped up to the third line after Kakko’s injury; then scored two goals himself against Detroit.
And before you scream at me – yes, I get it – Kakko and Lafreniere should one day become prominent members of the Rangers’ top six. At least that once was the plan and expectations. However, today, and as the Rangers soon enter the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs – it’s about what’s best for the team – and not what’s best for an individual player.
Perhaps one day, and as soon as next season, Kakko and Lafreniere will become everyday players of the Rangers’ top six. However, those days aren’t today.
As head coach Gerard Gallant knows, and as general manager/team president Chris Drury knows – the Rangers have to go with what’s working. You can’t throw away this golden opportunity (the playoffs) by forcing Lafreniere and/or Kakko into roles where they haven’t developed into just yet.
There are a lot of things working out for the Rangers right now. That includes Frankie Vatrano on the first line and Andrew Copp on the second line. That also includes veteran Barclay Goodrow on the third line, and for the reasons as previously discussed on this site.
At this time, here is the latest edition of “TURK TALK,” where the head coach opened up his interview by talking about the Kakko injury:
Aside from his comments about Kakko, Gallant also praised Alexis Lafreniere, and said that he was happy about #13’s highlight reel goal from Saturday.
If there was any other big takeaway, as Gallant, and as usual, also hit his “one game at a time” phrase; the head coach said that unless Chris Kreider asks for rest (which Gallant said that he didn’t expect), then Kreider will play in every single one of the final six games remaining of this 2021-22 regular season.
In other words, “CK50” will have every opportunity in his quest to snap Jagr’s franchise record of 54 goals.
And to be fair, “in his quest” isn’t exactly the best choice of words. All Kreider cares about is winning. If he gets 55 goals, that’s great – but the biggest goal of them all is the Stanley Cup – and not an individual/franchise milestone.
Also speaking to the media on Monday were the two BFF’s, Jacob Trouba and Andrew Copp:
Not much was truly learned from these interviews, outside of the fact that Andrew Copp is no longer a resident of Trouba’s bed and breakfast. However, both interviews are worth listening to if you have the time – even if a lot of it feels repetitive.
And it’s a good thing that these interviews sound repetitive.
After all, the Rangers can finish in first place. A lot is going right. There’s nothing rocking the boat right now and at this point – it’s all about remaining healthy for the playoffs and after that – winning sixteen games during them.
At this time, a quick rapid-fire of topics before closing out.
Up first, we have some more information on the 2022 Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award:
When it comes to the history of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, there is no true “set date,” or “set game,” when presenting the award.
In the past, the award has been presented during the final home game of the season. Other times, it’s been presented during the penultimate home game of the season. Then again, you also had a season like the 2019-220 season, when the award was presented via a Zoom call.
On Sunday, the Rangers announced that the award would be presented on April 26th – the Rangers third-to-last home game of the season. I thought this was a spectacular move, and a strategic one at that.
As you should all know by now, on that date, the Rangers will host the Carolina Hurricanes, in a game which could determine who finishes in first place.
By presenting the award prior to this game, in theory (and I’m sure this is why Chris Drury selected this date, as he knows what’s what and he isn’t a dummy), it should give the Rangers some extra juice, pep and motivation.
The Rangers could’ve waited to present this award had they desired. They could’ve even presented it during the final home game of the season, as a way to cap off a tremendous campaign.
However, in my eyes – this is Drury looking to give his team every edge imaginable prior to playing Carolina.
And in case you’re new here, and as noted before – I feel like Chris Kreider will win the award, while Barclay Goodrow remains my dark-horse candidate.
Either way, there are easily eight-to-ten players who are worthy of winning, which is a great problem to have – especially when you consider that last year’s winner, Adam Fox, was the only candidate.
How about some playoff talk before wrapping up?
Just like kicking the Islanders whenever they are down, I also enjoy kicking around the ANALytical goofs too! After all, let’s face it – ANALytics were created by geeks and fringe players, as a way to earn a paycheck. It allows them to make a living off of the game they love – even if their junk is as useless as a newspaper’s horoscope.
To this day, I haven’t heard any prior Stanley Cup champion, whether they be a head coach, player, general manager, etc; ever talk about the value of analytics during their respective playoff run.
What I always hear about is team chemistry, the human factor, working hard, battling, physicality, heart, and of course – some fortunate puck bounces along the way too!
Since many Ranger fans may have forgotten what the playoffs are all about (it’s been five years), and will soon be subjected to Sieve Vagistat’s nonsense during the first round of the playoffs (M$GN will carry the first round; ESPN and TNT will carry the later rounds when the Rangers get there) – that’s why I wanted to share with you what Martin St. Louis and Theo Fleury had said.
And really, if I had the access, and could interview every Stanley Cup champion ever – I’m sure they’d all echo what St. Louis and Fleury said – and not the crap that spews out of the mouth of Sieve Vagistat.
As I always say on this site – I’m still waiting for a head coach and/or player to thank their analytical department after winning the Cup.
I’ve just never seen this post-game interview ever:
“WE COULDN’T HAVE WON THIS CUP WITHOUT CLEAR SIGHTED ANALYTICS GIVING US EXPECTED DUMP STATS!”
Funny enough, guess which NHL team gives real money to Sieve Vagistat’s Clear Sighted Analytics company? The Toronto Maple Leafs – who once again, and in my opinion, will be eliminated during the first round of the playoffs this year!
While I’m having my fun at Vagistat’s expense here (and trying to get you to laugh too), don’t lose the point being made either – analytics, which are always worthless, become even more worthless during the playoffs.
Do you know who knows this? Chris Drury, who loaded up on depth players and size for this playoff run.
And of course, having the best goalie in the league helps out too, which CZAR IGOR most certainly is!
One last parting shot (literally) and I’m done.
While I was telling you that the Rangers were going to be good all season; this is what ESPN was saying in October, during their 2021-22 Metropolitan Division predictions:
While the Hurricanes were a good pick, 13 of the 22 “experts” predicted the Islanders to win the division! For shame, FOR SHAME!
Only one person from the ESPN panel predicted the Rangers to win the division. That man? “The Messiah” himself, #11 Mark Messier! Let’s Go Rangers!
My first plug of tonight’s blog – the mandatory plug for my book, “The New York Rangers Rink of Honor and the Rafters of Madison Square Garden”.
As mentioned previously, the book is now available in hardcover, in paperback and in Kindle formats. To purchase a copy of the book, visit this link:
For those still looking for signed paperback versions of the book, I have re-ordered more copies. I now have a few signed copies for sale at $25 a pop (includes shipping price) through me directly. Here is all the information on that:
Here are my last few blogs, in case you missed them:
NYR/DET 4/16 Review: Gallant Shuts Up Doubters; Rangers & CZAR IGOR Shut Out Detroit, 4-0 Hits Again, Lafreniere’s Best Game Yet, Kakko Injured and Update, Goody Got It, Virtual Tie For First Place, M$GN & More
The New York Rangers Continue Their Chase For First Place; Detroit Plays Spoiler, Turk Talks; Lafreniere a Fourth Liner? Goodrow, 94th Anniversary of First Stanley Cup, NYR Podcasts, RIP Mike Bossy; #22 Story & More
NYR/PHI 4/13 Review: Cheesesteak Flyers Eat Two Kakko Tacos; “Gritty” Georgiev Shuts Out Philly For Sixth Straight Win, Rangers Handle Biz Despite Poor Power-Play; Win 4-0! Lafreniere/Gallant, Goodrow = TEAM PLAYER, NHL on TNT > M$GN & More
If you haven’t already, subscribe to this blog for the next update:
Up next: Tuesday night, as the Rangers will host the Winnipeg Jets. Be aware for “OLD FRIEND MORGAN BARRON JOE!” Be aware for “OLD FRIEND NEAL PIONK” too!
As always here, thanks for reading and…
LET’S GO RANGERS!