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Islanders, Rangers Trending in Opposite Directions in Early Part of Season

(Photo via NYRangers.com)

(Photo via NYRangers.com)

 

Two separate teams. One big city.  Both teams sport blue at home; one with red support, the other orange.  Both teams with some of the most passionate hockey fans the NHL has ever seen; both teams’ goal celebrations require fan participation, and the crowd is more than happy to oblige.

Prior to the season, I must admit – I thought one team was going to be a serious playoff contender come Spring 2017.  As for the other, I was not totally sure where it would stand.  But before I begin, I must preface with the fact that both teams have only played ten games thus far, 72 more games of shinny to be had.

Over the summer, I outlined the strengths and weaknesses of the New York Islanders and New York Rangers.  For the Islanders, I boasted youth on their behalf, and (regrettably) glossed over their three-goalie tandem, not predicting what a potential mess it could serve.  I did however mention that Jaroslav Halak was seeing his time in Brooklyn mirror a previous stint with St. Louis.  With the Blues, it was Brian Elliot and Jake Allen breathing down the back of his neck waiting to pounce on the opportunity to eliminate his presence on the goalie committee.  With the Isles, it’s Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube.

Jaroslav Halak (Isles Blog(

Jaroslav Halak (Isles Blog(

Jaro’s agent, Allan Walsh of Octagon Hockey, publicly voiced his displeasure with Isles’ GM Garth Snow’s decision to run a three-goalie squad.  Bless Walsh for representing his client zealously, as every attorney takes an oath to do.  But, shame on him for calling out Snow on Twitter because that decision totally backfired on Halak (or did it?).  Now, Snow has given notice to 29 other teams (and I suppose Las Vegas as well) that the Halakness Monster is available for trade.  It is not out of the realm of possibilities that this is what Halak wanted, but then again, players that want to be traded generally go straight to management and request one themselves.  Players don’t need their agents embarrassing their GMs on Twitter, of all places.  You wanna chirp?  Do it behind closed-doors.  As if the rest of the squad didn’t have enough to deal with in their slow 4-6 start to the season, now they have to deal with the distraction of the speculation as to where Halak will end up if he doesn’t stay in Brooklyn (I’ll get to that later).

P.A. Parenteau evidently wasn’t the man Snow was looking for when he needed to fill the right void on the top line with John Tavares as he was waived prior to the season’s start.  Evidently, neither was Andrew Ladd, who has been relieved of first-line duties while Coach Jack Capuano now has to figure out where eighteen players will play and with whom.  Paranteau, who was claimed off waivers by the Devils, now has three goals and an assist in eight games to start the season.  Ladd has just one assist and is a -3 rating in ten games.  It’s the same old situation for the Isles.

But there is a silver lining in this cloud that hovers over the Barclay’s Center.  Anthony Beauvillier now has a goal and four assists in his first nine games in the NHL.  So if the Islanders don’t bounce back from their subpar performance thus far, Isles fans should find solace in the fact that the young prospect pool is getting that much better.

But where will Halak end up?  Is Snow just bluffing?  Hypothetically, if Halak is dealt, it is doubtful he ends up in the Eastern Conference.  But out west, plenty of squads are looking to bolster their crease, at least for the time being, if not long-term: Arizona Coyotes, Calgary Flames (hello again, Brian Elliot?), Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings (Jonathan Quick and Zatkoff are injured), and the Winnipeg Jets.  Perhaps if Halak stays eastward, the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes could use an upgrade in net.  The bottom line is, if Jaro is moved, both teams involved in the deal would have to do some serious salary cap maneuvering to get the deal done, and Allan Walsh will still be left unsatisfied that his client is constantly having to compete for the clear starting job.  Earth to Walsh: every player must compete for a roster spot; this is professional sports!  I digress…

In the short-term, the Kings make the most sense as a landing spot for Halak.  Peter Budaj may have been the best AHL goalie last season.  But that does not mean he can maintain a solid performance in the NHL until Quick returns.  But so far, he’s 7-4.  Long-term, the Dallas Stars make a lot of sense, but cap space is extremely limited there, especially with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi’s cap hit.  If Halak is willing to settle on a backup role and try to work his way up as starter again, more teams will be more viable trade options for the Islanders.  Then again, if Halak is willing to accept a backup role, neither he nor his agent should be too upset with him splitting time between Greiss and J.F. Berube in Brooklyn…

Rick Nash (Getty Images)

Rick Nash (Getty Images)

Just across the Brooklyn Bridge and into Midtown Manhattan, we see a totally different story.  In my summer article pleading for Jeff Gorton to save the New York Rangers, I highlighted a long to-do list for the players to do their part.  I noted that if most of these objectives could not be accomplished, the Rangers were not looking pretty.  Well, Rick Nash is off to a great start, with three goals and five assists.  Chris Kreider sat four games with neck spasms, but in his six games, he has nine points already.  Mats Zuccarello has three assists and five goals, two of which came on an already-impressive power play.  JT Miller leads the team in points with ten.  Four players share second place with nine points – newly acquired young stud Jimmy Vesey, Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Rangers’ Captain Ryan McDonaghKevin Hayes seems to have gotten over his sophomore slump by contributing three goals and four assists.

Rangers had a few sloppy starts by allowing goals scored within the first two minutes of the game four times.  But not to worry – these are kinks that can and will be worked out.  In fact, the Rangers came out victorious in three of those four games.

After much criticism last season, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have certainly benefitted from a long offseason to recover.  Defensively, Girardi is a +6 and Stall is a +2 (again, I know it is still very early in the season, but so far, so good).  Offensively, Girardi has four points and Staal has two.  Brady Skjei has been superb as well, using his size to effectively, currently leading the team with twenty hits.

Pavel Buchnevich was forced to sit out half the games with back spasms, but his creativity and speed will no doubt prove contributory to the Rangers’ success.  In the meantime, the Rangers have scored three or more goals in seven of their first ten games this season, keeping Papa John’s very busy.

In the city that never sleeps, at least Jaroslav Halak will have some company as he is kept up at night wondering where he will end up tomorrow.  As for the Rangers, resting Henrik Lundqvist in favor of the 2-0 Antti Raanta a little bit more will prove most beneficial come April.  Until then, the Rangers are in action Thursday night against the red-hot Edmonton Oilers at the Garden, while the Islanders play host to the Philadelphia Flyers in Brooklyn.

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Evan is the Hockey Editor for DoubleGSports.com. He provides coverage of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers, as well as some league-wide content.
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