New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils

Can Brad Richards revive Marian Gaborik’s career in New York?

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For one season, Marian Gaborik silenced critics who howled with laughter after the New York Rangers signed him to a risky five-year, $37.5 million contract. Gaborik played in 76 games in 2009-10 – not a small feat for the fragile winger – while tying a career high in goals scored (42) and setting a new high in total points (86). Gaborik was a consistent threat on a team that was very thin offensively that season, playing more than 21 minutes per game.

What’s to blame for Gaborik’s lousy 2010-11?

Of course, the question wasn’t ever really about Gaborik’s skill. The injury bug caught up to Gaborik to some extent last season, but even then, his lower productivity was noticeable. Even in other injury-ravaged seasons, Gaborik would approach or even best the point per game level. (He scored 23 points in his 17 games during his last season with the Minnesota Wild in 08-09.) Something was different in 10-11, though, as he only managed 22 goals and 48 points in 62 games.

When the NY Post’s Larry Brooks discussed Gaborik’s struggles, he pointed to injuries (Gaborik’s season was derailed by a separated shoulder and concussion issues) but also to a bevy of lackluster centers.

Fact is, Gaborik, who was limited to 62 matches primarily because of an early season separated shoulder and a late-season concussion, opened 21 times with Erik Christensen as his pivot; 21 times with Derek Stepan; 14 times with Artem Anisimov; five times with Vinny Prospal; and once with Chris Drury. Beyond that, Gaborik never started more than seven straight games with the same center, with that dubious milestone achieved with Anisimov from Jan. 16 through Feb. 1.

That brings up an interesting question: were Gaborik’s linemates that much better in 2009-10? Dobber Hockey’s line combination stats reveal that he spent the majority of his time with a combination of three players in 09-10: Erik Christensen, Brandon Dubinsky and Vaclav Prospal. Really, though, there are only two major differences between those combinations and the 10-11 ones: he enjoyed less stability and didn’t line up with Dubinsky very often, instead drawing time with Artem Anisimov and Sean Avery last season.

Can Brad Richards save the day?

Now, there’s no denying that having more consistent linemates (and having more time with Dubinsky, one of the Rangers’ best forwards) might have helped Gaborik’s cause, but does that explain him dropping from an outstanding 1.13 point per game average to .77, the third-worst rate of his 10-year career?

The more important question is the one Brooks posed, though: can Brad Richards revive the free-falling Gaborik? One thing seems tough to deny: Richards is leaps and bounds better than any center Gaborik’s ever played with in the NHL.

For the first time since Wayne Gretzky’s first year on Broadway in 1996-97, the Rangers have an elite play-making pivot. And while it would be an overstatement to suggest the Blueshirts decided to pay Richards $60 million as a free agent simply to form a partnership with Gaborik, it would be a gross understatement to suggest that the 31-year-old Slovak’s plight and needs weren’t significant factors in the signing.

“I respect all the players I’ve been with but I am very excited to get the chance to play with Richie,” Gaborik told The Post by phone yesterday. “I’ve watched him play throughout his career and always admired his game; the way he sees the ice, the way he moves the puck, the way he makes his teammates better.

How much does Richards improve his linemates? James Neal’s 2010-11 season might be the best recent example, although it’s important to note how small the sample is. Neal scored 21 goals and 39 points in 59 games playing primarily with Richards and (fellow 2010-11 All Star) Loui Eriksson in Dallas. After being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Neal’s numbers plummeted to one goal and six points in 20 games. While it would be silly to draw too many conclusions from that drop (especially considering the offensive troubles in Pittsburgh), it did seem like Neal’s production suffered without Richards sending him beautiful passes.

Lots of big “ifs” for next season’s Rangers

Glen Sather’s haphazard team-building leaves the Rangers with an annual slew of huge “if” scenarios. That said, the Richards addition makes the questions a bit more tantalizing than usual. The Rangers could have two strong offensive lines if they re-sign Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan, if Richards can find chemistry with Gaborik and if Gaborik can stay healthy.

The Richards-Gaborik scenario will cost more than $14 million in cap space and $19.75 million in salary during the 2011-12 season, but at least there’s a better chance that they won’t waste $7.5 million on an ineffective Gaborik. Still, if Sather hadn’t sidestepped a million bullets already, one would have to wonder if he will still be the Rangers’ general manager if the team the Rangers miss the playoffs this year.

Report: ‘Lots of Dion Phaneuf trade chatter’

Dion Phaneuf
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This isn’t the first time Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf has come up in trade rumors — far from it — but since it’s TSN’s Bob McKenzie putting it out there, we should probably listen.

“Hearing lots of Dion Phaneuf trade chatter,” McKenzie tweeted this morning. “Starting to think he could actually be dealt before the deadline.”

Phaneuf has three goals and 21 assists in 51 games this season, while logging an average of 22:02 in ice time. The big factor in trading the 30-year-old is his contract — he’s signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $7 million. 

Responding to McKenzie on Twitter, TSN’s Darren Dreger seemed to suggest Ottawa as a potential landing spot. The Sens, as we’ve noted recently, have had all sorts of defensive issues this season.

In the past, Detroit has come up as a potential destination for Phaneuf, though the Wings reportedly withdrew their interest in June.

NHL on NBCSN: Slumping Wild look to get back on track against Stars

Dallas Stars left wing Antoine Roussel (21), from France, scores a goal past Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) in the third period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in St. Paul, Minn. The Stars won 6-3. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2015-16 campaign tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the Dallas Stars at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

If you’re a fan of the Minnesota Wild, the last few weeks probably haven’t been pleasant.

The team has been slumping badly since the beginning of the new year, and late January/early February has been no different.

The Wild come into tonight’s game having dropped five straight decisions to the Sharks, Coyotes, Islanders, Rangers and Blues.

Minnesota has just 10 goals during the losing streak, which means their top offensive players aren’t producing.

Head coach Mike Yeo tried to shake things up on Saturday night by scratching Thomas Vanek and Jason Zucker, but that didn’t work. The Wild were thumped, 4-1, by the St. Louis Blues.

After playing their last three games on the road, Minnesota hopes to get a boost from their home crowd.

“One thing for sure, [there are] mixed feelings about coming back home,” Yeo said on Monday, per the Star-Tribune. “Right now, obviously, a little home cooking would be nice for us. But I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little nervous for tomorrow. Certainly I think our fan base is a little restless — more than a little restless right now. And they expect more from us. And they deserve more of us.”

Things haven’t been as bad in Dallas, but the Stars are coming off an embarrassing 5-1 home loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

“It was a huge game,” forward Vernon Fiddler said, per the Morning News. “We talked about it before the game, what it means, and then we lay an egg. It’s unacceptable. There’s a lot of disappointed guys in here.

“After a big loss like that, you want to respond. We all have to be better and take a look in the mirror and expect more of ourselves.”

Prior to Saturday’s loss, the Stars had won three straight games.

Could this be a trap game for Dallas?

They won’t have to wait long to get another crack at the Blackhawks, as they’ll be shipping out to the United Center on Thursday, but they have to take care of business in Minnesota first.

The Stars are five points behind Chicago for top spot in the Central Division. Dallas has three games in hand.

Habs lose Petry to lower-body injury

Montreal Canadiens v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Three
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The Montreal Canadiens will be without a key piece of their defense on Tuesday when they take on the Lightning.

Jeff Petry, who sits tied with P.K. Subban for the lead in d-man goals this year (with five), has suffered a lower-body injury and won’t be in the lineup tonight.

Petry missed the last half of the third period of Montreal’s win over Carolina on Sunday, which could be related to the injury in question. He finished with just 16:03 TOI, well off the 21:21 he averages per game.

The loss could be a big one for the Habs, who’ve won two straight for the first time since November. Petry often played on a pairing with Alexei Emelin and was on the club’s second power-play unit.

With Petry out, it’s possible that Nathan Beaulieu could draw back into the lineup.

 

Rangers ‘are doing a lot good things’, extend winning streak to three games

New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider (35) reacts after giving up a goal to New York Rangers J.T. Miller (10) in the third period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in New York. The Rangers defeated the Devils 2-1. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
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NEW YORK (AP) The New York Rangers are starting to make a stretch run, and they are doing it with a couple of key players sidelined.

Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves and the Rangers posted their first three-game winning streak since November with a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Monday night.

What made the win so impressive was that New York turned in one of its top performances in a long time despite playing without captain Ryan McDonagh (concussion) and forward Rick Nash (bone bruise).

“The way we are playing, it’s paying off in different ways,” Lundqvist said. “Guys are playing really well and scoring big goals at the right time, and as a group, I feel like we are doing a lot of good things.”

The Rangers were exceptional with their forechecking, either pinning the Devils in their own end or making steals to set up scoring chances.

Kevin Klein, who broke a thumb last week, scored for the first time in 28 games and the streaking J.T. Miller scored for the ninth time in 10 games while the Rangers beat the Devils for the first time in three games this season.

This win was New York’s fifth straight victory at Madison Square Garden, and the Rangers are 7-3 in their last 10 overall.

“What we did tonight was everyone just kind of stepped up and ate a few more minutes out there,” veteran Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said. “We weren’t too flashy out there. We kept is simple, kept the play in their end as long as we could. It was a good effort.”

Cory Schneider made 35 saves for New Jersey, which lost its third straight (0-1-2). Travis Zajac scored a short-handed goal with 2:17 left to spoil Lundqvist’s shutout bid.

“In the end we showed some signs of life,” Schneider said. “We made it a game when short-handed no less. We didn’t give up, but I think we waited about 50 minutes too long to have that urgency and drive.”

While the score was close, the Rangers totally outplayed New Jersey in what was a test with McDonagh and Nash out.

Zajac scored with the Rangers on their fifth fruitless power play. That and Schneider’s goaltending made the final minutes interesting.

After Zajac scored on a 2-on-1 with Adam Henrique, Lundqvist had to make a skate save on Lee Stempniak to keep New York ahead.

Lundqvist had a relatively easy night before that. His best saves came late in the second period. He stopped Reid Boucher 1-on-1 after the forward was set up by Zajac. The Swede also stopped a flurry with less than six minutes left in the third, making a pad save on defenseman Andy Greene on a shot from inside the right circle.

Klein broke his right thumb late in a loss to the Devils on Tuesday and then sat out one game. He got his first goal since Nov. 3 and fourth of the season early in the second period.

“He’s a real strong guy and he is obviously playing through something right now,” Girardi said of Klein. “He shows the guys how much he wants to win and everyone follows that lead. We are all rallying around everyone here, trying to put a few wins together. It feels good.”

Mats Zuccarello did most of the work on Klein’s goal. He got between two Devils for a loose puck along the right boards, cut across the crease and found Klein in the left circle for a shot into an open net. Marc Staal got his first assist in 18 games on the play.

Miller extended his career-best goal total to 17 when he scored at 4:37 of the third period. He took a drop pass from Derick Brassard and beat Schneider.

“Tonight is one of those examples where I am just trying to get the puck on net,” Miller said. “I’m really not thinking about scoring from there and it happens to go in.”

Schneider withstood two Rangers’ power plays and 17 shots in a scoreless first period. Derek Stepan had a breakaway in the period and Keith Yandle had four of the seven shots by New York’s defensemen.

“It’s a stinker. There’s nothing you can take from this game,” Devils defenseman John Moore said.

NOTES: Rangers C Kevin Hayes was assessed a 10-minute misconduct penalty during a power play for pitch-forking a broken stick over the glass into the stands. … D Damon Severson and Fs Stefan Matteau and Tuomo Ruutu were healthy scratches for the Devils. … New Jersey will retire goaltender Marty Brodeur’s jersey on Tuesday. … D Dan Girardi skated in his 698th career game with the Rangers, tying Mark Messier and Steve Vickers for 11th place on the franchise’s career games played list. … With McDonagh missing the game, only Miller, Staal, Zuccarello and Yandle have played in all 53 games for the Rangers. … The Devils have not beaten the Rangers three times in a row since 2013.