N.Y. Sports Today, Pt.3: The NHL
So here is an attempt at talking about hockey. New York hockey for that matter. In last week’s NFL piece, I went off on how sports writers never acknowledge the Buffalo Bills as part of the New York sports world. This week I’m pulling my “hypocrisy card” and will only mention the Buffalo Sabres eight words before the period in this sentence. There’s just no need for it, nobody cares and at the end of the day, it’s the NHL, so nobody really cares. We do have the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders in the city though and both teams are looking to make runs in the playoffs.
The franchise has taken it’s name-sake for granted and decided to no longer play their games in Long Island. Now they play in Brooklyn’ Barclays Center, which holds fewer seats, which is fine because there are fewer hockey fans in Brooklyn anyhow. The move has not been a popular one with it’s loyal fan-base and it’s players. The team apparently still holds practices in the Syosset section of Long Island because they don’t want to pay rent (or even look for) a practice facility in Brooklyn. In the players’ defense – driving back and forth from Brooklyn to Long Island is a mobile death-sentence of sorts. The Islanders’ best player John Tavares has 52 total points with 24 goals. Tavares is a talented player and at 25 years old, was thought to be part of the future of the Islanders but it’s come up recently that he’s “fed up” with the team and somewhere down the line he expects to work a trade that will get him to Toronto. Even more intriguing about him wanting to play in Toronto is the apparent “team up” he wants to happen there with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos. Regardless of what Tavares wants in his future, he’s currently playing for a team that he has yet to lead out of the first round of the playoffs. As reported by Justin Weiss of EliteSportsNY, it’s been Tavares and defense men Nick Leddy (24 years of age) who have been “leading this team for the last couple of weeks.” Weiss adds that the Isles wouldn’t be anywhere near as good if not for their penalty kill unit which is tops in the NHL. It’s tough being a second fiddle team in New York. All the Islanders have to do is ask the NBA franchise they share the building with, it’s all too familiar a story for them as well.
Currently, the Rangers are hoping they can get Rick Nash and the NHL’s best goalie Henrik Lundqvist back on the ice by the weekend. Nash has been nursing a bone bruise for about two months and Lundqvist is trying to return after being struck in the throat a week ago. Lundqvist’s injury was alarming for the fact that Henrik missed significant time last season with a vascular neck injury. While the Washington Capitals are running away with the Metropolitan division, the Rangers are on par with the Atlantic Division leading Tampa Bay Lightning, who the Rangers lost to in the playoffs last season. Now, in his tenth year, center Derick Brassard is having his best season yet, with a team leading 24 goals scored and 26 assists. Not to be outdone is teammate Matt Zuccarello who in his fifth year is on pace to having his best season with 22 goals and 29 assists. If these two can continue to do their damage to opponents with Nash in the lineup than the Rangers should go deep again. Chris Wengert of ESNY wrote about the shaken confidence of J.T. Miller, who as he put it “followed up a hot streak, with a disappearing act.” Miller has been demoted to the fourth line, which means the 24 year old may see little to no time come playoffs. Of course, it’s barely about goals-scored with the Rangers, it’s always been about Henrik Lundqvist. If the playoffs started today, the Rangers would face off against the cross-town rival Islanders, who have owned the Rangers, beating them the three times they’ve squared off this season. Put quite simply, the Rangers are in “win now” mode while the Islanders have nice young squad – for now.