Kevin Shattenkirk

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NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Bruins vs. Rangers; Lightning vs. Sharks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Wednesday night. In the early game, the New York Rangers host the Boston Bruins at 8:00 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here.

The Bruins are coming off a 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on Monday night. The victory was their second in three games. It appears as though they’re starting to get the ball rolling in the right direction despite being without some key pieces.

They’ve been forced to deal with a significant amount of injuries to key veterans, including David Krejci, David Backes and Brad Marchand. Starting goaltender Tuukka Rask and top center Patrice Bergeron have also missed games at different times in 2017-18.

“Guys are stepping up. They see their chance, they’re getting more ice time, getting more looks,” defenseman Zdeno Chara said after the win over the Wild, per the Boston Herald. “It’s great to see that guys are taking advantage of those chances, and they want to play and earn their ice time.”

Boston currently sits in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, but they’ve only skated in 13 games this season (no team has played in less games).

After getting off to a sluggish start, the Rangers have put together some positive momentum, as they’ve won four in a row and five of their last six contests.

Alain Vigneault’s hot seat seems to have cooled down (at least a little bit) now that the team has strung together a few wins.

One of the big reasons New York has been successful over the last week or so, is because their power play has starting cashing in on their opportunities. On Monday night, they scored three power play goals against Columbus. In their last five contests, they’ve gone 7-for-19 on the power play.

“We all have to be shooters first, and I think that’s the first thing that we tell each other,” Kevin Shattenkirk said, per the New York Post.

“I’m getting very clear lanes because everyone is shielding over to Mika (Zibanejad) because he is such a threat. So it’s important that I’m chipping in and getting my shots through, because at that time they’re going to have to pick someone.”

Despite being between the pipes for all four of the victories, Henrik Lundqvist‘s individual numbers are still lacking. He’s given up three goals or more in three of the four wins. He has a 3.07 goals-against-average and a .900 save percentage.

In the late game, the San Jose Sharks host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 10:30 p.m. ET. To stream that game live, click here. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning will kick off their three-game California road trip with a visit to the Shark Tank. It’s never easy for an Eastern Conference team to head out to the West Coast, but the Lightning are well equipped to do on-ice damage in any city.

The Bolts are off to an incredible 11-2-2 start. A lot of the credit will be given to forwards like Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, who have 25 and 23 points respectively in 15 games. But you can’t ignore the contributions they’ve received from Brayden Point, Vladislav Namestnikov, Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, Andrei Vasilevskiy and many others.

This team may have missed the playoffs last year, but they’re healthy and clearly on a mission. They’ve dropped just one decision in regulation since Oct. 9, and they’ve showed absolutely no signs of slowing down.

Tonight’s contest should provide us with an interesting special teams battle, as Tampa has the second ranked power play in the league, while the Sharks own the second best penalty killing unit.

San Jose has been a whole lot better on the kill this year than they were last year. To learn more about their remarkable improvement, check out this story by NBC Sports Bay Area‘s Marcus White.

The Sharks’ biggest problem is that they can’t find the back of the net with any kind of regularity. Their 36 goals rank 29th in NHL behind only Carolina and Edmonton.

On a positive note, they’ll come into this game having won four in a row. They scored just one goal in regulation during their 2-1 shootout win over Anaheim on Saturday night, but they scored four times against the Predators last Wednesday night.

Is the offense starting to come around? We’ll find out tonight.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Rangers go on a run, powered in part by Lundqvist, Shattenkirk

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The New York Rangers finished Saturday a stone’s throw from .500 (6-7-2), with Kevin Shattenkirk and Henrik Lundqvist ranking as key parts of their surge.

Perhaps everything’s going according to plan, and it merely is just coming together late enough to make people a little nervous?

Either way, the Rangers have now won three straight games after edging the comparably hungry Florida Panthers 5-4 in overtime tonight. There’s a larger trend of not-always-pretty but scrappy play, as they’re now 5-2-2 in their last nine games after a deeply discouraging 1-5-1 start to 2017-18.

While Alain Vigneault is likely breathing a sigh of relief after it looked like he was going from the frying pan to the fire as far as hot seats go, management must feel a touch vindicated to see a strong run from Shattenkirk. Tonight was maybe his best night of this run, as he scored two goals, including the overtime game-winner:

Shattenkirk took a “hometown discount” for stretches like these: he now has eight points (those two goals plus four assists) during a four-game point streak. They’ve been eventual bits of production, too, as he generated the primary assist on J.T. Miller‘s overtime-winner in Thursday’s 2-1 OT win against the Lightning:

The secondary assist went to (wait for it) Lundqvist. Now, the stupendous Swede isn’t shutting the door altogether each night, but that might just be the nature of the beast for this edition of the Rangers. Much like in 2016-17, this team may find themselves needing to win end-to-end thrillers, possibly forcing Lundqvist to take a Grant Fuhr-like demeanor.

(Perhaps you’d instead want to compare Lundqvist to an NFL cornerback who must adopt a mindset of letting that last deep bomb go.)

Now, it’s dangerous to get too excited if you’re a Rangers fan.

Even with this win, New York is currently ranked second-to-last in the viciously competitive Metropolitan Division, and the Rangers’ lead over last-ranked Carolina is deceptive. The Hurricanes have generated 10 points in 11 games as of this writing, while the Rangers have 14 … but in 15 regular-season games.

That was part of the reason why there was rebuild-on-the-fly talk, and there might be some again if the Rangers slip once more.

Vigneault & Co. still have a lot of work to do, but if nothing else, the Rangers saved some face, and possibly their season. For now?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Should Rangers consider a mini-rebuild?

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Last night, Darren Dreger appeared on NBCSN to discuss possible changes for the New York Rangers, from replacing Alain Vigneault to making trades.

The video above is interesting, but it’s clear that the Rangers have more questions than answers. Allow a suggestion, then: the Rangers should make like the 2012-13 Sharks and essentially run a “mini-rebuild.”

As a reminder, the Sharks traded Ryane Clowe to the (gulp) Rangers for a bucket of picks and sent Douglas Murray to the Penguins for two second-rounders. Hot take: San Jose won those trades.

Now, the situations aren’t precisely the same (example: the Rangers employ Glen Sather, so they can’t swindle him), but New York should evoke the spirit of those trades. Rangers GM Jeff Gorton should peel off the Band-Aid for big rewards, much like Sharks GM Doug Wilson. Those decisions were braver then than they appear now.

And that is where the fun starts. Let’s ponder a few questions the Rangers must ask themselves.

Fire AV?

Under certain circumstances, the Alain Vigneault question is more complicated than frustrated Rangers fans might believe.

Still, if you’re undergoing even an abbreviated rebuild, AV might not be the right fit. And, yes, even good coaches sometimes have limited shelf lives before players sour on them.

They already began a pivot, in a way

Also, while the moves were made to afford Kevin Shattenkirk, the Rangers already moved Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta out of town, with futures coming back. They got a boom-or-bust prospect in Anthony DeAngelo and the pick that became Lias Andersson in that trade.

In a way, this could just be a continuation. And, hey, there’s already some talk about the draft lottery.

Easy calls

  • Rick Nash: His mammoth $7.8 million cap hit will expire after this season, making it a challenge to move, unless Gorton gets creative. The Rangers could retain some of his salary, or better yet, take on some cap hits in exchange for assets.
  • Michael Grabner: While Nash is expensive, Grabner’s deal is as thrifty as he is swift. How many contenders wouldn’t want to add a speedy scorer with some gas in the tank (Grabner is 30) when you consider his $1.65M cap hit? The greater cost would come in the picks and/or prospects that would need to go the Rangers’ way.
  • Would anyone want Marc Staal? Have the Rangers called Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, whose blind spot seems to be declining, rugged Rangers?

Tougher considerations

  • Mats Zuccarello: The pint-sized wonder always seems to sneak up on you. Many might assume he’s had a quieter season … yet he has 10 points in 13 games. Sneaky.

Zuccarello has two years left, but at $4.5M, plenty of teams might view that at as plus. Really, it comes down to keeping him if you expect to contend again soon or shopping him if you see this as a “process.”

  • Young forwards who need new deals: J.T. Miller, Jimmy Vesey, and Kevin Hayes are three players in their mid-20s. They might be the sort of guys who are integral to your future, assuming this is a blip rather than a longer rebuild. Maybe you decide to keep two and trade one. Perhaps they’re all players you can sign to team-friendly deals.

Either way, the Rangers need to at least consider the futures of those three, among other young (and young-ish) players.

  • Ryan McDonagh – I wouldn’t do it, but his bargain $4.7M does expire after 2018-19.

Do not move

Let’s just use this as an opportunity to mention that Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Brady Skjei shouldn’t be moved unless there’s an offer of just astounding quality. (In other words, unless Peter Chiarelli calls?)

There are also guys you wouldn’t be able to trade: Henrik Lundqvist and probably Shattenkirk. Also, probably Staal, but the Rangers should send a call to Tampa just to make sure.

Long story short, the status quo isn’t tenable for the Rangers. With that in mind, they should take a bold approach, ultimately aiming higher than merely trying to make the playoffs.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL players got weird for Halloween (beyond McDavid as Trump)

via Patrik Laine's Instagram
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To some, there’s no topping Connor McDavid‘s Internet-disrupting turn as U.S. president Donald Trump this Halloween. Check out this post for the fallout on all of that.

Then again, that might come down to taste/how much you weigh in timely references, as NHL players and teams have really gone all-in on Halloween this year. In fact, there’s little chance that this post will cover every fake-blood-crusted costume and zany bit, so feel free to share more in the comments or via Twitter.

(Also realize not every Halloween dream was realized. Ask Mitch Marner.)

As you might expect, P.K. Subban came up with a clutch costume, and maybe a little nightmare fuel. Just a lot to unpack here:

Dude, what?

Subban’s teammate Roman Josi went pretty generic with a zombie riff, but made up the difference with how elaborate it got:

🎃

A post shared by Roman Josi (@rjosi90) on

The instinct was to make fun of Erik Gudbranson for such an outdated costume as Austin Powers, but the follow-through is inspiration for anyone who wants to dust off an aging reference:

Oh behaaaaave…🤓

A post shared by Erik Gudbranson (@guddy44) on

Then again, Eric Gryba went for a KISS theme, so maybe there are lot of old souls in the NHL?

(Aside: are hairy chests making a comeback?)

Hey, Henrik Lundqvist might be off to a tough start, but at least he provides some comic relief:

There’s King Henrik, and then there’s his teammate Kevin Shattenkirk, who embraced a love of “Game of Thrones” as going with “The Night King.”

Amazing work by @itsbphelps transforming me into the Night King for Halloween! #winteriscoming #thrones 📸: @itsjlev

A post shared by Kevin Shattenkirk (@shattdeuces) on

Kris Letang also got into the “GoT” spirit.

(This is probably a good opportunity to remind you that hockey players have the sort of time and resources many of us lack when it comes to knocking Halloween out of the park.)

Not sure what to say, Vladimir Tarasenko. Not sure what to say.

Повязали🤷🏼‍♂️👮🏼‍♀️

A post shared by Vladimir Tarasenko (@vt9191) on

Most Marc-Andre Fleury costume possible? Arguably.

Nazem Kadri reminds us of an artist on the ice sometimes, so Bob Ross is a good fit. (We’ll assume Maple Leafs teammate Matt Martin took a day off from looking like Brad Pitt.)

"Make love to the canvas" – Bob Ross

A post shared by Nazem Kadri (@43kadri) on

Finally, Patrik Laine haunts our dreams, instead of mainly scaring goalies with his shot:

🎃🎃

A post shared by Patrik Laine (@patriklaine) on

(Hey, at least we did a public service and provided none of the “It” costumes. Don’t say we never did anything for you.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Add the Rangers’ poor start to list of surprises early this season

AP
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Last October, the New York Rangers were the highest scoring team during the opening month of the 2016-17 season.

Rick Nash was at the time enjoying a resurgence while Jimmy Vesey‘s pro career was off to a fine start, helping New York to a strong record out of the gate.

The Rangers started this new season almost two weeks ago, and so far they’ve experienced the opposite end of the spectrum. Goals have been difficult to come by, with New York having scored only 13 times in six games, and that has hindered their record to just 1-5-0. They’re currently sitting on a three-game losing streak with the Pittsburgh Penguins in town tomorrow night.

The start of a new season always brings about surprises.

Where do we begin?

— The New Jersey Devils are among the higher scoring clubs right now, and being led offensively by two rookies not named Nico Hischier.

— The Vegas Golden Knights have enjoyed the best five-game start for an NHL expansion franchise since 1967-68, with four wins.

— Outside of their season opener, the Edmonton Oilers so far look nothing like the team that shrugged off a lengthy playoff drought and made it to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final.

— How many hat tricks have there been now?

You can add the Rangers’ start to the list as well.

Mika Zibanejad, who has been put into the No. 1 center role, has five of the team’s 13 goals so far and only one of his tallies has come at five-on-five. Meanwhile, Nash, the highest paid forward on their roster at $7.8 million this season and a pending unrestricted free agent, has just one goal through six games, albeit with a team-high 25 shots on net. So far, no points for Vesey.

After losing in the second round of the 2017 playoffs, the Rangers made a number of changes to their roster, with Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein and Oscar Lindberg all being moved through trade, buyout, retirement or the expansion draft. They brought in Kevin Shattenkirk and Anthony DeAngelo, and added diminutive center David Desharnais on a one-year deal, and there is usually an adjustment for new players in a lineup when it comes to the roles they are put into, as well as forward or defensive combinations.

Dating back to their most recent loss on Saturday, head coach Alain Vigneault liked what he saw from his team for just over half the game, but missed opportunities, costly mistakes and an opportunistic Devils team proved too much for the Rangers.

The Rangers are in the midst of a six-game home stand, with seven of the final eight games this month at Madison Square Garden. This was seen as an opportunity for them to gain early ground in the standings, but three straight losses have set them back.

It’s still probably too early to read too much into a poor start or great start for any team or player. It won’t get any easier, though, when the Rangers host the Penguins tomorrow. And another loss would only add to the growing unpleasantness of this early season surprise.

————

Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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