New York Rangers

Blackhawks’ woes more performance than personnel: McKenzie

Chicago Blackhawks fans shouldn’t expect general manager Stan Bowman to trade his way out of his team’s current funk, at least not in the short term.

The Blackhawks, losers of six of their last 10 games, are wallowing outside the playoff line in the Central Division 19 games into the current campaign.
NHL Insider Bob McKenzie dropped by the NBCSN studio on Wednesday and suggested that Chicago’s woes stem from a performance issue, and not an issue of available personnel.

“They got to get the power play going, they got to tighten up defensively,” McKenzie said. “While everybody is ready to throw everybody under the bus, in terms of the fans and the media for the way the Blackhawks have played team defence, the reality is they can play a lot better and that the expectation is they will play a lot better.”

McKenzie added the Blackhawks could look within, but bringing someone up from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, would be exposing another player to waivers or demoting a player who doesn’t need a demotion.

“They don’t want to put (Alex) DeBrincat down, they down want to put (John) Hayden down, they don’t want to put (Nick) Schmaltz down, so the guys that are the easiest to send to the minors are not really the guys you want to send to the minors,” McKenzie said. “You’ve got eight defensemen and 13 forwards right now. It’s tough to make a move.

Meanwhile, McKenzie shed some more light on the continued absence of New York Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith.

Smith, who has been a healthy scratch for the past five games, struggled like many of his teammates as the Rangers went for a dump to start the season.
But the Rangers are now winner’s of six straight and McKenzie suggested that Smith could sit longer if the team keeps adding ticks to the win column.

“He gets scratched and then the next game the Rangers win, and they win again, and they win again and they keep winning,” McKenzie said. “What basically happened was he picked the worst possible time to be a healthy scratch and the team absolutely took off.

“A winning lineup is a winning lineup and (head coach) Alain Vigneault isn’t going to break it up.”

Smith, who signed a four-year, $17.4 million contract with the Rangers at the end of June after being acquired at last season’s trade deadline, has since lost his job, at least in the interim, to Steven Kempfer, who is paired with Marc Staal.

“He’s got to sit until the Rangers lose and Vigneault decides a change needs to be made, or there is an injury or one of the other six guys playing ahead of him doesn’t play very well and then when he gets his opportunity, he’s got to make the most of it,” McKenzie said.

“(The Rangers) believe, long-term, that he’s going to be fine. It will be up to him and the pressure will be on him when he does get back into the lineup.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.

NHL on NBCSN: Rangers look to push win streak to seven games against ‘Hawks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Wednesday night, as the Chicago Blackhawks host the New York Rangers at 8:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

Things have been going (really, really) well for the Rangers of late. They’ll head into tonight’s game against the Blackhawks having won each of their last six games. During the streak, they’ve taken down the Golden Knights, Lightning, Panthers, Blue Jackets, Bruins and Oilers.

Veteran goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who struggled out of the gate, has been between the pipes for each of the six victories.

“We’ve had a great run here, but because of our start we’re not in a great position,” Lundqvist said, per the New York Post. “So it’s important that we understand the importance of the next six games and the games after that. I’m happy that we put this streak together because we were putting ourselves in the race, but we’re still not in a great spot.

“But we are doing a lot of good things and that brings a lot of confidence to the group.When you have that, it’s easier to make good decisions under pressure and make better reads. Guys are coming up with big plays at the right time.”

On the other side, things haven’t been going as well for the ‘Hawks, who have dropped three of their last four games, including an ugly 7-5 loss to the New Jersey Devils (Chicago had a 4-1 lead in that one).

Scoring has been an issue for for them this season. They’ve scored 53 goals so far (ranked 16th in the league), but 10 of those came in the first game of the year against Pittsburgh and five came in the second game against Columbus. From the third game of the season until  this point, they’ve only found the back of the net 38 times in 16 games.

“We’ve never been in this spot,’’ head coach Joel Quenneville said, per the Chicago Tribune. “Finding that consistency and putting ourselves at the top of the division has always been there. Now that we’re not there, how we’re handling it is a good test for us.’’

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.

Jimmy Vesey lost a tooth in his lip

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New York Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey was hit in the mouth by the skate of Edmonton Oilers forward Zach Kassian on Saturday afternoon, leaving his mouth a bloodied mess and knocking out a couple of teeth.

Where did those teeth go you might be wondering?

Somewhere on the ice? Picked up by an ice crew member or swept away by the Zamboni only to be Lost forever?

Nope. They are still attached to his mouth. Sort of. They were lodged in his bottom lip.

Notice the X-ray.

That makes it look like there is only one tooth stuck in his lip but Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said after the game he actually has two in there and that “they are going to find a way to take them out.”

Vesey played 11 minutes in the Rangers’ 4-2 win.

NHL fines Killorn, Hayes, Stamkos $5,000 for water-squirting antics (Video)

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Some water bottle-related controversy during Thursday night’s New York Rangers overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning has resulted in three fines.

Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos of the Lightning and Rangers forward Kevin Hayes were each docked $5,000 by the NHL for “unsportsmanlike conduct” early in the third period.

Not long after Killorn had a goal taken away due to goaltender interference, he was getting ready for a neutral zone face-off when Hayes squirted him with water from the Rangers’ bench. Killorn waved his stick at Hayes and a brouhaha ensued, which led to a J.T. BrownSteve Kampfer scrap.

After spending a few moments arguing with an official, Stamkos tried to return the favor but ended up hitting MSG Network’s John Giannone, who was stationed inside the glass at Amalie Arena.

Giannone, who took a puck to the face during a game in 2013, is used to the dangers that come with the territory of working between the benches. At least this time it was only water.

The $5,000 fine is the maximum under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement and the $15,000 will benefit the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy

Former Ranger Dan Girardi ready for ‘weird’ game against old team

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Dan Girardi spent the first 11 years of his NHL career with the New York Rangers, but that all changed this summer when the team decided to buy out his contract.

For those of us on the outside, the decision was a lot less surprising. Stay-at-home defensemen with big contracts are becoming more and more rare, so the fact that the Rangers wanted to move on from the inflated contract wasn’t exactly shocking for the average hockey fan.

Still, being forced to leave the only team you’ve ever known couldn’t have been easy. Now, he’ll get the chance to suit up against his former team for the first time, on Thursday night.

Most players pretend like this is just another game, but not Girardi, who told NHL.com that Thursday’s game is “still going to be weird” even though it’s being played in Tampa, not New York.

The Lightning have more overall depth than the Rangers, so they’ve been able to use Girardi in a much more limited role than he had been playing with New York in the past. Between 2007-08 and 2015-16, the 33-year-old was averaging over 20 minutes of ice time per game. In his first season with the Bolts, he’s playing just 16:33 per game, which is probably just right for him at this stage of his career.

“Definitely, it’s kind of a different role,” Girardi said. “They want me to still come in and play my game, but I’m not leaned upon to be the top guy. I’m paired with (Braydon) Coburn and we’re still playing some hard minutes against top lines, [but] my job is to be really good defensively and if I can contribute on offense it’s great.”

Obviously, contributing offensively isn’t his forte (he has one assist in 13 games), but he’s been a decent fit with his new squad.

Girardi’s CF% is under 50 percent at 47.6. But considering he isn’t great with the puck on his stick and that he starts in the defensive zone 57.4 percent of the time, those are fair numbers for the veteran. During his final three years in New York, his CF% was 46.3, 41.3 and 44.

For those wondering when Girardi will get a chance to go back to New York for the first time, that’ll come on Mar. 30, 2018.