From the NHL's official release:

ENNIS, SUTER AND LUNDQVIST NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK

NEW YORK (Dec. 15, 2014) – Buffalo Sabres center Tyler Ennis, Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter and New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending Dec. 14.

FIRST STAR – TYLER ENNIS, C, BUFFALO SABRES

Ennis shared second in the NHL with five points (1-4—5) in three outings, helping the Sabres (12-16-2, 26 points) post their third three-game winning streak of the season. He opened the week by recording the lone marker, his third career game-winning goal and first since Dec. 3, 2011, in a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings Dec. 9. He then matched career highs for assists and points in one game with three helpers in a 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames Dec. 11. Ennis capped the week with his 13th assist of the season in a 4-3 overtime triumph against the Florida Panthers Dec. 13. The 25-year-old Edmonton, Alta., native leads the Sabres with 21 points in 30 games this season. The 26th overall selection by Buffalo in the 2008 NHL Draft, Ennis has 77-110—187 in 297 career games, all with the Sabres.

SECOND STAR – RYAN SUTER, D, MINNESOTA WILD

Suter led all defensemen and tied for second in the League with five points (0-5—5) in three starts as the Wild (16-11-1, 33 points) gained four of a possible six standings points. He matched career highs for assists and points in one game with three helpers in a 5-4 comeback victory over the New York Islanders Dec. 9. After being held off the scoresheet in a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks Dec. 11, Suter capped the week with two assists – his third multi-point performance of the season – in a 4-3 shootout win over the Arizona Coyotes Dec. 13. The 29-year-old Madison, Wis., native ranks third on the Wild with 1-17—18 in 26 games this season. The seventh overall selection by Nashville in the 2003 NHL Draft, Suter also leads the NHL in average time on ice per game (29:27).

THIRD STAR – HENRIK LUNDQVIST, G, NEW YORK RANGERS

Lundqvist went 3-0-0 with a 1.30 goals-against average, .951 save percentage and one shutout to propel the Rangers (14-10-4, 32 points) into the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. He began the week with 32 saves in a 4-3 overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins Dec. 8. Lundqvist then posted back-to-back wins over the weekend, making 29 saves in a 5-1 triumph over the Vancouver Canucks Dec. 13 and stopping all 16 shots he faced in a 2-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers Dec. 14. With his performance, the 32-year-old Are, Sweden, native tied Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fluery for the most shutouts in the NHL this season (5). He also recorded his 55th career shutout to move past Bernie Parent and Ed Giacomin for sole possession of 20th place in NHL history.

Player Power Rankings: Steen up, Lecavalier down

December, 12, 2014
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FORWARDS

  • Trending up: Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues The 30-year-old winger has had a slow start, but he seems to be coming on as of late. Most recently, Steen chipped in with a three-point effort in a 6-3 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday night. Steen, back from a two-game injury hiatus, tallied a power-play goal to get the Blues on the board and then snapped a 2-2 tie in the third period as the Blues pulled within a point of the surging, first-place Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division.
  • Trending down: Vincent Lecavalier, Philadelphia Flyers You've gotta feel for the 34-year-old veteran, who was a healthy scratch for the fifth straight game Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils. Lecavalier has had a disappointing season, with a measly two goals and two assists in 16 games, leading many to speculate about his future. With a limited role under coach Craig Berube and drawing little interest in the trade market, one has to wonder whether Lecavalier is considering retirement.
  • [+] Enlarge Vincent Lecavalier
    Elsa/Getty ImagesVincent Lecavalier has been sitting in the press box for the past five games.

  • Surprise of the week: Cody Hodgson, Buffalo Sabres Not that he doesn't deserve to take a seat for his struggles, but man, what to make of the struggling forward, who has only one goal in 28 games in the second year of a six-year, $25.5 million deal? Both his ice time and production have dropped and he's paying the price. He’s not the only one being singled out for the Sabres, though. Head coach Ted Nolan benched veteran forward Chris Stewart this week, as well.
DEFENSEMEN
  • Trending up: Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers The 18-year-old rookie is playing with the type of poise well beyond his years while he continues to make his bold bid for the Calder Trophy. Ekblad, the first overall pick in the summer, has been on a tear for the Panthers, with seven points in the past five games. Ekblad is third among all rookies in scoring with 18 points on the season and is tied with fellow youngster Nick Bjugstad for the team lead. Good thing the Panthers chose to keep him around.
  • Trending down: Brian Strait, New York Islanders It's not really Strait's fault that he's been exposed. After all, he's shouldering more minutes with the Islanders' defensive depth taking a hit, but Strait is a minus-six in the past four games and has left Islanders fans counting down the days until Travis Hamonic and Johnny Boychuk return.
  • Surprise of the week: Eric Gelinas, New Jersey Devils Count me as someone who was surprised to see defenseman Gelinas scratched for Thursday's game against the Flyers. The young blueliner has the type of offensive potential the Devils need from their back end, and he has shown that he can get his shot through, yet he watched from the press box for the second consecutive game. I think Pete DeBoer is a tremendous coach, but sometimes the way the team handles young defensemen is rather baffling. Case in point: Adam Larsson.
GOALTENDERS

  • Trending up: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets That's right, "Bob" gets the top spot once again, as the netminder helped lead his basement-dwelling Blue Jackets to their fifth consecutive victory with a 39-save effort in a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night. Bobrovsky has given up only nine goals during the team's five-game winning streak, giving the Blue Jackets life as they try to climb back up the standings.
  • Trending down: Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues Could the young netminder be rattled by veteran Martin Brodeur's addition? Allen, considered by many to be the goaltender of the future in St. Louis, has had a few shaky moments in the past week. First, he was pulled last Saturday after giving up three goals on 12 shots in the first period. He then coughed up a two-goal lead to the Isles in Thursday's game before recovering to hold on for the win with a strong third period. Allen has posted a save percentage under .900 in five of his past six starts.
  • Surprise of the week: Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg Jets The backup netminder might very well be making a push for the starting job. The 24-year-old undrafted goaltender has won four of his past five starts for the Jets and has impressive numbers. Hutchinson leads the league in both goals-against average (1.67) and save percentage (.941), giving Ondrej Pavelec legitimate reason to feel worried.

Unveiling ESPN.com's player power rankings

December, 5, 2014
12/05/14
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FORWARDS

  • Trending up: Brad Richardson, Vancouver Canucks: The 29-year-old capped a strong week with a three-point effort in the Canucks' 3-0 shutout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night. Richardson has six points in the last four games and the Canucks have recorded three wins during that span.
  • Trending down: Paul Stastny, St. Louis Blues: So far, Stastny's first season with the Blues has been disappointing. Hampered by injury and inconsistent with his play, the Blues' most significant acquisition of the summer has only three goals and eight points in 18 games. As Blues coach Ken Hitchcock bluntly stated before Thursday's game: "He needs to play better."
  • [+] EnlargeKris Versteeg
    Bill Smith/Getty ImagesKris Versteeg has had a nice couple of weeks.

  • Surprise of the week: Kris Versteeg, Chicago Blackhawks: After last season's struggles, Versteeg is showing naysayers that he can still produce. The 28-year-old is on quite the tear, with six assists and seven points over the last three games.
DEFENSEMEN
  • Trending up: Dennis Wideman, Calgary Flames: Another key contributor for the Flames in their compelling effort this season, the veteran blue liner has chipped in offensively with five points in the last three games. Wideman tallied twice in the Flames’ 4-3 overtime win against Colorado.
  • Trending down: Michael Del Zotto, Philadelphia Flyers: Despite the Flyers' struggles, Del Zotto appeared to be one of the bright spots (perhaps the lone one) on the blue line, but that ended abruptly this week when Flyers coach Craig Berube benched him Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks along with veteran forward Vincent Lecavalier. At 24, Del Zotto is on his third team. Consistency is king and it's still a work in progress for the young defender.
  • Surprise of the week: John Klingberg, Dallas Stars: Hard to find too many positives for a Stars club that is absolutely floundering, but the young Swede has proved to be a promising talent during an otherwise dismal season for Dallas. Klingberg is earning more and more responsibility from coach Lindy Ruff and is turning heads around the league. Even after a 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night, Klingberg finished with a plus-3.
GOALTENDERS

  • Trending up: Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders: In perhaps the Islanders' most important move of the offseason, general manager Garth Snow addressed the team's biggest need by signing Halak to a four-year deal. The move has paid dividends for the Islanders, who are now all alone in first place in the Metropolitan Division after a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators Thursday night. Halak made 20 saves to record his 11th straight win to set a franchise record.
  • Trending down: Anders Lindback, Dallas Stars: It's been a bit of a horror show for the Stars' backup this season, so it's no surprise that he was waived Wednesday and subsequently sent to the AHL, with Jussi Rynnas called up in his place. Lindback is 0-5-0 with an .861 save percentage and a 4.64 goals-against average.
  • Surprise of the week: Ilya Bryzgalov, Anaheim Ducks: And a pleasant surprise at that, as the NHL is always much more interesting when the colorful Russian netminder is around. The 34-year-old goaltender joined the Ducks on a tryout and is expected to sign a deal with the team. Let's face it, we all stand to benefit from this.



3 stars: Halak, Callahan, Ramo

December, 1, 2014
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From the official NHL release:

HALAK, CALLAHAN AND RAMO NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK

NEW YORK (Dec. 1, 2014) – New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak, Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan and Calgary Flames goaltender Karri Ramo have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending Nov. 30.

[+] EnlargeJaroslav Halak
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesJaroslav Halak is on a roll for the Islanders.
FIRST STAR – JAROSLAV HALAK, G, NEW YORK ISLANDERS

Halak posted a 3-0-0 record with a 0.95 goals-against average, .964 save percentage and one shutout to help the Islanders (17-7-0, 34 points) win three of four starts and complete their best November in 34 years. He opened the week by earning his 33rd career shutout, stopping all 21 shots he faced through overtime – plus another two in the shootout – in a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers Nov. 24. Halak then made 25 saves in a 3-2 overtime win against the Washington Capitals Nov. 26 and closed the week with 34 saves in a 3-1 triumph over the New Jersey Devils Nov. 29. With the victory, Halak extended his personal winning streak to a career-long nine games (1.18 GAA, .956 SV%, 3 SO); only Billy Smith has posted a longer such streak in Islanders history (Jan. 23 – Feb. 25, 1982: 10-0-0). The 29-year-old Bratislava, Slovakia, native is 12-4-0 in 16 appearances this season, ranking in the top 10 in the NHL in wins, goals-against average (2.13), save percentage (.926) and shutouts (3).

SECOND STAR – RYAN CALLAHAN, RW, TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Callahan registered 3-2—5 in two games, tying for third in the NHL in goals and fifth in points to power the Lightning (16-6-2, 34 points) to a pair of victories and a share of first place in the League standings. He notched 2-1—3, his second multi-goal game of the season, in a 4-3 win over his former team, the New York Rangers, Nov. 26. Callahan then posted 1-1—2 for his eighth multi-point performance of the season in a 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators Nov. 29. The 29-year-old Rochester, N.Y., native ranks second on the Lightning with 11 goals and places third with 21 points in 19 outings this season; he didn’t score his 11th goal until his 40th contest in 2013-14. Since joining Tampa Bay at the 2014 Trade Deadline, the Lightning are 14-0-0 when Callahan finds the back of the net.

THIRD STAR – KARRI RAMO, G, CALGARY FLAMES

Ramo went 2-0-0, stopping all 58 shots he faced to record a pair of shutouts and lead the Flames (15-8-2, 32 points) to two wins in three outings. He made 32 saves for his first shutout of the season in a 2-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks Nov. 26. Ramo then posted 26 saves in a 3-0 triumph over the Arizona Coyotes Nov. 29 to extend his personal winning streak to four games, one shy of his career long set Jan. 22 – March 24, 2014 (5-0-0). With his performance, the 28-year-old Asikkala, Finland, native doubled his career total for shutouts (2 SO in 96 GP prior to last week). He has a 6-2-1 record with a 2.28 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in 10 appearances this season.
There's something to be said about whether you're a person who views life as a glass half full or a glass half empty.

There's been much talk in New York of late about why the Rangers have been inconsistent so far this season, and we're not here to say they haven't been.

But I would suggest the Rangers deserve credit for just keeping their heads above water over the opening quarter of the season when you consider their blue-line injuries.

You're talking about a team that went nearly all of November without star captain Ryan McDonagh and went five weeks after the opening game of the season without Dan Boyle, missed John Moore for five games while he was suspended, while Kevin Klein also missed a pair of games. There were long stretches when just Marc Staal and Dan Girardi were regulars on defense.

To put it in perspective, when it comes to missing McDonagh and Boyle for that long, consider how you think the Montreal Canadiens would have fared without P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov for the same length of time, even if the Boyle and McDonagh injuries overlapped for only two weeks.

[+] EnlargeMartin St. Louis
AP Photo/Matt SlocumMartin St. Louis has helped keep the Rangers in the discussion.
So, for the Rangers to have kept themselves a sliver over .500 during the opening quarter can easily be seen as an impressive show of survival, their season still very much alive and not shot down like a few other teams who couldn't overcome injuries early this season.

With McDonagh and Boyle both in the lineup Friday afternoon in Philadelphia, the captain's first game back since suffering a shoulder injury Nov. 1, you saw a glimpse of what we should see more of from the Blueshirts moving forward.

They handled a fragile Flyers team rather easily Friday, Boyle scoring his second goal in his past two games to open things up, Martin St. Louis getting career point No. 1,000 on his ninth goal of the season in the second period and Rick Nash crushing the Flyers' hopes with a short-handed goal in the third period.

Better things are ahead for Alain Vigneault's crew now that Boyle and McDonagh are both in the lineup at the same time. Count on it.

The Flyers? Oh, my.

This is a team playing like it is afraid to make a mistake. No confidence.

Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are having terrific seasons, but otherwise, there are fingers to point all over the place on this roster.

More than 20 games into the season and the Flyers are still trying to define their identity which to me is frightening for a team that should be better.

"I think our biggest issue has been our consistency," Flyers GM Ron Hextall told ESPN.com over the phone Friday evening. "You look at the Detroit game the other night, we played very well in the first period, and very well in the third period, albeit from behind, but the second period we played poorly. If we played 60 like we did 40, we would have won the game. Our consistency has been an issue game to game, period to period and at times even shift to shift."

The players have already been reamed out by Hextall, they've had a players-only meeting, what's next?

One would think likely a trade or two. I don't think Hextall can afford to wait much longer before acting.

But he's preaching patience, saying he won't make a move for the sake of it.

"We're not looking for a short-term fix," Hextall said. "We're looking for today and tomorrow but also for the future. So, we're not going to do something short-term that’s going to hurt us down the road.

"In saying that, if something is there that makes sense, we're certainly going to look at it. There's been more talk lately [with other teams], but nothing that makes sense for us at this point."

Before we ended the phone call, Hextall wanted to stress one last thing.

"On paper, our team is better than our record," he said. "But at some point we have to pick it up and get going here. And I think it comes down to the individuals playing better and coming together as a team. There's more in our room than we're getting. But we need to find it in a hurry."
From the official NHL release:

CARTER, SCRIVENS AND NIELSEN NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ OF THE WEEK

NEW YORK (Oct. 27, 2014) – Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter, Edmonton Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens and New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending Oct. 26.

FIRST STAR – JEFF CARTER, C, LOS ANGELES KINGS

Carter tied for the League lead with six points (2-4—6) in two outings to help the Kings (6-1-1, 13 points) complete a perfect six-game homestand for the first time in franchise history. He opened the week with 1-1—2, including his 54th career game-winning goal, in a 2-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Oct. 23. Carter then set a career high with three assists and matched a career high with four points in a 5-2 triumph over his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Oct. 26. The 29-year-old London, Ont., native has compiled 5-7—12 and a +12 rating in eight games this season, including an even or plus rating in each contest. Playing alongside Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, the trio known as “That ’70s Line” has combined for 16 of the Kings’ 21 goals (excluding shootout tallies) and a +32 rating in 2014-15.

SECOND STAR – BEN SCRIVENS, G, EDMONTON OILERS

Scrivens posted a 3-0-0 record with a 2.33 goals-against average and .920 save percentage to lead the Oilers (3-4-1, 7 points) to their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 26-29. He made 22 saves in a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning Oct. 20, a season-high 32 saves in a 3-2 triumph over the Washington Capitals Oct. 22 and 27 saves in a 6-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Oct. 24. The 28-year-old Spruce Grove, Alta., native is 3-3-0 with a 3.31 goals-against average and .882 save percentage in seven appearances this season. This marks the second time in Scrivens’ 79-game NHL career that he has posted a personal winning streak of at least three games; he won a career-high four consecutive games from Nov. 14-19, 2013, while with the Los Angeles Kings.

THIRD STAR – FRANS NIELSEN, C, NEW YORK ISLANDERS

Nielsen tied for the League lead with four goals in three games to power the Islanders (6-2-0, 12 points) to a pair of victories, helping the team match its best eight-game start in the last 31 years (2001-02: 6-0-1-1). He collected one assist in a 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Oct. 21 and then chipped in his first goal of the season in a 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins Oct. 23. With the game tied 4-4 after 40 minutes, Nielsen scored three third-period goals – including the game-winner – to record his first career hat trick and lift the Islanders to a 7-5 triumph over the Dallas Stars Oct. 25. The 30-year-old Herning, Denmark, native has 4-4—8 in eight games this season; he posted a career-high 25 goals, 33 assists and 58 points in 2013-14.

Rangers recover, rally past Islanders

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
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NEW YORK -- Let’s not go calling the Rangers an offensive juggernaut just yet, but the Blueshirts recovered from a blanking Monday night to notch a trio of goals and edge the Islanders 3-2 in a come-from-behind win Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum.

And if Tuesday’s match was a glimpse into what the team can do with a somewhat-healthy roster, there is still hope for the team to live up to its preseason expectations.

The return of Carl Hagelin proved vital to a Rangers squad toiling at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The 25-year-old winger, who missed the first ten games of the season with a shoulder injury, gave New York a totally different speed element than they had to start the year.

He created turnovers, chased down pucks and helped generate offense in his season debut, skating on a line with veteran center Brad Richards and Benoit Pouliot.

“He’s just so good [at] forcing turnovers, obviously, but down low -- that was just his first night -- but we had so much more zone time down low and beneath the hashmarks and controlling it because he’s so good at darting into the holes,” Richards said. “It’s good for me, too, to have him back ... it was fun.”

Hagelin assisted on Pouliot’s game-winner with 6:14 to play in the third period and was happy to contribute after a long couple of weeks on the long-term injured reserve list.

“It’s so exciting to get back,” Hagelin said. “[I] had good energy. We were able to create some chances for the team and I’m just glad we got the 'W.'"

[+] EnlargeBenoit Pouliot
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesBenoit Pouliot, left, netted the game-winning goal in the Rangers' 3-2 victory over the Isles on Tuesday.
It wasn’t just Hagelin’s line that was productive for the Rangers. The troupe of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello set the tone in the first period, swarming goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and hemming the Islanders into their own end.

Giving the Rangers their first power-play goal of the night, Kreider corralled a puck with his back to the net, spun and swept it past Nabokov for a 1-0 lead at 12:30.

Kreider’s reaction was a mixture of elation and relief when he tallied his first goal of the season. The jubilant celebration was a stark contrast from the dejected sigh he offered Monday night when recalling an open net that he failed to score on after being robbed by Peter Budaj.

“Those are the ones you always remember, and I think you’re better for it,” Kreider said, smiling now in his postgame comments. “I’m not going to get discouraged about that.”

The Rangers’ execution on the power play was also a marked improvement. Thwarted on all five opportunities in Monday night’s frustration fest versus Budaj and the Habs, the unit went 2-for-4 Tuesday. Their second power-play marker, which came on a blast from defenseman Ryan McDonagh, erased a 2-1 Islanders lead to knot the score 4:59 into the first period.

What was the difference from one night prior?

“Execution,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “They executed. They wanted the puck. They shot the puck. They were a lot crisper.”

It was Vigneault’s choice to give the nod to backup netminder Cam Talbot -- providing starter Henrik Lundqvist the night off rather than have him play in back-to-back games -- and the 26-year-old again proved himself capable.

Talbot, who has won two of his three starts this season, stopped 22 of 24 shots.

The two points gained in Tuesday’s visit to Long Island were critical considering the Rangers' position heading into the match. A mere point ahead of the beleaguered Buffalo Sabres before Tuesday’s win, the Rangers moved to 13th place in the Eastern Conference. More importantly, they are now only three points back from a playoff spot with a game in hand.

“It’s good for everyone. After last night, we came in here, ready to play and that’s exactly what we did,” Pouliot said.

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 3, Islanders 2

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
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What it means: Blanked for the third time this season Tuesday night, the Rangers finally found some offense in their first match of the season against the division rival New York Islanders. The Blueshirts rallied from a 2-1 deficit to top the Isles 3-2 at Nassau Coliseum thanks to Benoit Pouliot's game-winner in the third period. The outburst doubled the team’s goals per game average and provided them with a critical two points. The Rangers improved to 4-7-0 while the Islanders fell below .500 at 4-5-3 in what was supposed to be Thomas Vanek's grand debut as an Islander.

Kreider breaks through: Kreider’s boisterous goal celebration was a stark contrast from the scene one night prior, when he could only shake his head at the open net he saw before being robbed by Habs netminder Peter Budaj in the team’s 2-0 shutout loss to Montreal. Kreider corralled a rebound, spun and swept the puck past Evgeni Nabokov for a 1-0 Rangers lead and his first goal of the season.

Some good looks: The best chances the Rangers had Tuesday night were generated from Kreider’s line. Along with linemates Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, the trio used their speed to pressure the Islanders’ defense and generate some quality looks against Nabokov.

Charged up: Stopped in five power-play opportunities Monday night, the Rangers’ specialty teams unit showed signs of life Tuesday. The Blueshirts tallied twice with the man advantage; Ryan McDonagh’s third-period blast tied the game at 2 at 4:59.

Another injury: Just as the Rangers get Carl Hagelin back from a shoulder injury, they lost another forward in Tuesday’s match. Veteran center Dominic Moore, also a key cog for the team’s penalty-killing unit, left the game with an upper-body injury and did not return. Moore played 4:23 in the first period. The Rangers are already hobbled with injuries to captain Ryan Callahan (thumb) and Rick Nash (concussion). Neither player is expected to return soon.

New kids on the block: Though it was supposed to be Vanek’s night as the two-time, 40-goal scorer made his Islanders debut, it was another pair of newcomers who notched the first pair of goals against the Rangers. Cal Clutterbuck scored his first as an Islander, beating Cam Talbot top shelf off a right-wing rush in the second period. Fellow offseason acquisition Peter Regin was credited with the team’s second-period goal with less than a minute in the frame, though it actually bounced off Talbot’s glove and then Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi.

W2W4: Islanders vs. Rangers

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
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At a glance: Tuesday marks newly acquired Thomas Vanek's first game as a New York Islander and the two-time 40-goal scorer will be thrown right into the fire with a rivalry clash against the New York Rangers. The Rangers head to Nassau Coliseum having been blanked by the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night -- the third shutout loss of the season for the Rangers. Neither the Islanders nor the Rangers have enjoyed the start they expected. GM Garth Snow made a splash Sunday night, shipping core member Matt Moulson and two picks to Buffalo in exchange for Vanek as an attempt to shake things up for his middling club. The Rangers' return home to Madison Square Garden on Monday did not yield the results they hoped, either. The anemic loss dropped them to 3-7-0 on the season, which leaves them in 15th place in the Eastern Conference just one point ahead of the lowly Buffalo Sabres.

Vanek debut: Less than two days after being traded from Buffalo, Vanek will wear a different team's sweater for the first time in his NHL career. Isles fans are keen to see what sort of chemistry he can forge with superstar center John Tavares, who lost his longtime linemate in the Moulson deal. The success of the deal will likely hinge on whether Vanek, a pending unrestricted free agent, decides to re-sign with the Islanders, so the campaign to sell him on the merits of his new club begins Tuesday. The pressure's on for Vanek, too, considering that his counterpart in the trade was impressive in his Sabres debut. Moulson scored two goals in Buffalo's 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars.

Help on the way: The Rangers are in dire need of some help considering their injury-plagued lineup and it appears they will get that Tuesday, when Carl Hagelin is eligible to come off the long-term injured list. Hagelin, who had surgery on his left shoulder this summer, adds offensive skill and a much-needed speed dimension to a Rangers squad struggling for offense. The Rangers are last in the league with a mere 1.50 goals per game.

A look at the numbers: Now that each team has 10 or more games under their belts, let's take a gander at some advanced stats that could be telling. According to HockeyAnalysis.com, the Rangers' middling Corsi percentage -- 49.0 percent -- and Fenwick percentage -- 48.6 percent -- suggests that they might not be as bad as their record implies. Their PDO, a stat designed to predict regression (and the opposite), also indicates they could be on the upswing. Meanwhile, the Islanders are in the bottom four teams for both Corsi and Fenwick rating, despite the fact that they have the better record at 4-4-3.

Talbot in net: Rangers backup goaltender Cam Talbot is slated to get the start Tuesday, according to the reports from Tuesday's morning skates. That means Rangers coach Alain Vigneault opted to give starter Henrik Lundqvist -- who returned Monday after missing two games with an unspecified injury -- the night off as opposed to using him in back-to-back nights.

Hagelin nearing return to Rangers

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
12:03
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NEW YORK -- The Rangers are sending Jesper Fast down to the minors, a good indication that Carl Hagelin is ready to return from the long-term injured reserve.

Hagelin, who missed the first ten games of the season while rehabbing his surgically-repaired shoulder, is eligible to come off LTIR on Tuesday, when the Rangers face the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

Though Rangers coach Alain Vigneault didn't commit to Hagelin's return after Monday's 2-0 shutout loss to Montreal, he did admit that the young Swedish winger brings them a "speed dimension" that can help bolster an anemic Rangers offense.

Controversial calls can't excuse Rangers' O

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
12:01
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NEW YORK -- The Rangers cannot afford to employ excuses in the wake of the 2-0 blanking they suffered at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens in Monday’s home opener at Madison Square Garden. Their offensive response was, again, lacking as the team fell to 3-7-0 on the season.

The Blueshirts have been blanked on three consecutive occasions by the Habs dating to last season. And while Canadiens goaltender Peter Budaj was superb in stopping all 27 shots he faced, the Rangers need to focus on finishing.

As it stands, they are in 15th place in the Eastern Conference with a mere six points, just one more than the downtrodden Buffalo Sabres. The Rangers are dead last in the league with a paltry 1.50 goals per game.

And that can’t be explained away with one night of tough calls.

But there were some legitimate gripes to be made about the officiating in New York's latest loss. To be fair, Montreal could’ve blasted the refs for some suspect calls, too.

[+] EnlargeBrian Boyle
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsBrian Boyle's roughing call allowed the Habs to take a 1-0 advantage over the Rangers in the second.
With the Rangers on the losing side of the ledger, however, a second-period roughing call on Brian Boyle proved the most costly. Though officials seemed to think the hulking forward caught Brendan Gallagher up high with an elbow, a replay showed no such contact.

With Boyle in the penalty box, the Habs made easy work of the Rangers’ penalty kill, executing a surgical passing sequence that left goaltender Henrik Lundqvist all alone as Tomas Plekanec deked him and backhanded the puck home with 3 minutes, 26 seconds to play in the frame.

“From his angle it looked like I probably hit him in the head,” Boyle said of the official's view of the incident with Gallagher. “That was pretty low to the ice and it’s unfortunate that we get scored on, but again, there’s plenty of time for us to generate offense and score ourselves and we didn’t do it.”

In the third, the Rangers went on the power play with the chance to tie the game, only the man advantage was negated 21 seconds in when Chris Kreider was whistled for an interference penalty that had fans practically screaming for blood.

Kreider was trying to hold the blue line as two Habs defenders, skating backward, got tangled up with each other and toppled to the ice. Kreider made incidental contact, but it was enough for the official to send him off for two minutes.

He talked to the officials after the call. The explanation he received?

“When they’re backing up, it’s their ice. I can see them coming so I need to make some effort to move out of the way,” Kreider explained. “I guess it’s on me to see where they are.

“There might have been some calls we didn’t like, but there are always going to be calls we don’t like,” he added.

And to top off the night, the Rangers were in the midst of a late-game attempt to knot the score and push it into overtime when the officials upheld a video review of Alex Galchenyuk's goal with 2:51 left in regulation.

The initial call on the ice, a good goal, stood after review of the play. Lundqvist strongly disagreed.

“If that’s not a kick, I don’t know what a kick is,” he fumed. “Seriously, there needs to be some sort of consistency in the calls.”

The Rangers won’t get far if they blame the stripes moving forward, though. The team’s offensive effort needs improvement, and soon.

“We need to find a way to get a couple in,” said defenseman and alternate captain Marc Staal. “You can’t win a game without scoring any goals.”

Hank gives Rangers a chance in return

October, 28, 2013
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NEW YORK -- New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made his return in Monday night’s home opener and played well, but got no support from his offense.

Lundqvist, who missed the last two games due to an undisclosed injury, made 25 saves, but the Rangers were shut out for the third time this season in a 2-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden.

[+] EnlargeHenrik Lundqvist
Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty ImagesHenrik Lundqvist gives Sweden a big advantage in the Olympic tournament.
“He gave us a chance to win,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “He didn’t have a lot of work to do, but when he did he was sharp.”

Lundqvist (2-5-0, 3.25 goals-against average) was glad to be back. He just wished the result would’ve been different. The Rangers (3-7-0), who rank last in the NHL in goals per game (1.5), have understandably had a tough time scoring with wingers Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin all out due to injury.

“It’s fun to play here again,” Lundqvist said. “I think we did a lot of good things. We just hoped for an early goal for us to get the energy and confidence and get the building going. It was kind of a tight game, but it was a disappointing loss.”

Lundqvist never had a chance on both Montreal goals.

Tomas Plekanec gave the Canadiens the lead 16:34 into the second period on the power play when he took a nifty back pass from Michael Bournival, moved in all alone and patiently backhanded the puck by Lundqvist’s outstretched left pad.

“It was the wrong player, wrong place there,” Lundqvist said of Plekanec, who leads Montreal with six goals. “He was very patient and I hoped for a shot. I kind of took the angle away and that’s why I was kind of late coming across, but he made a good move. I wish I got a better push there. He’s a really good player.”

Then, with just 2:51 remaining in the final period, Alex Galchenyuk cashed in on a 2-on-1. Lars Eller's pass deflected off Galchenyuk’s right skate and past Lundqvist. Lundqvist felt the goal should’ve been disallowed because he felt Galchenyuk used a distinct kicking motion to put the puck into the net, but the officials disagreed.

“If that’s not a kick, I don’t know what a kick is,” Lundqvist said. “Seriously, there needs to be some consistency with the calls. I think that’s my opinion. It’s just a frustrating goal there that kind of kills the whole game and it is what it is. It would be very interesting to hear their explanation for it just to know moving forward what the rule is.”

Lundqvist would like to play in Tuesday’s road game against the New York Islanders, but Vigneault would not disclose his starter.

“I’ve been resting, but we’ll leave it up to the coaches and we’ll see,” Lundqvist said.

Rapid Reaction: Canadiens 2, Rangers 0

October, 28, 2013
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Well, just because the New York Rangers are home, doesn’t mean all their problems are solved. Granted, the Blueshirts had some legitimate gripes with the officiating and Montreal Canadiens backup goaltender Peter Budaj was superb, but the Rangers didn’t get it done in a 2-0 shutout loss to the Habs in their home opener at Madison Square Garden. Henrik Lundqvist made some excellent saves in his first game back after missing two games with an undisclosed injury, but Budaj was better in turning away all 27 shots faced. With a critical stretch of games at home ahead, the Rangers can’t afford to burn away points or employ excuses. With Monday’s blanking, the Blueshirts fell to 3-7-0 on the season.

Questionable calls: Rangers fans’ disgust with the officiating reached a crescendo in the third period, when Chris Kreider was sent to the penalty box for a phantom interference penalty in which Raphael Diaz collided with a teammate at the blue line and went tumbling to the ice. The penalty negated the bulk of what would’ve been a prime scoring opportunity for the Rangers on the power play.

Playing with fire: After killing off Montreal’s first three power-play opportunities, the Rangers’ penalty kill surrendered one late in the second with Brian Boyle in the box for a suspect elbowing call. A surgical passing sequence by the Habs left the Rangers helpless as Tomas Plekanec deked Lundqvist and beat him with a deft backhander to take a 1-0 lead with 3:26 remaining in the period.

Help on the way? Though coach Alain Vigneault wouldn’t commit to it Monday morning, it is possible that Carl Hagelin will be back for Tuesday’s match against the Islanders. That would be a huge boost for the Rangers, considering the injuries that are hindering the team right now. Already without the grit and physicality of Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash’s size and skill, the Rangers look like they can use Hagelin’s speed ability to hunt down the puck. The young forward will certainly provide the Rangers with a different dynamic, including a more aggressive forechecking presence.

Up next: Rangers at Islanders, Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Critical stretch for Rangers starts Monday

October, 28, 2013
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Finally home in a revamped Madison Square Garden following a demoralizing nine-game road trip to begin the season, the Rangers are in dire need of some wins.

This next stretch -- five of the next six games at MSG, the other just a short bus ride away at Nassau Coliseum -- will be a critical juncture for the Rangers' season. Desperate to rack up points and gain some ground in the Eastern Conference standings, the 3-6-0 Blueshirts need to start with a strong effort in Monday's Original Six matchup against the Montreal Canadiens.

Although their injury-plagued lineup still presents some challenges, New York will have Henrik Lundqvist making his return after missing the past two games with an undisclosed injury.

Even though the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner has been shaky thus far (3.45 GAA, .890 save percentage), his presence in nets still provides the team the best chance for success ahead.

"It's a good feeling to be back here," Lundqvist said. "I think everyone's really excited to be in front of our own fans and get some momentum here."

Lundqvist, who was battling through the aforementioned mystery injury during at least a portion of the road trip, said he feels confident that the issue will no longer be a problem.

Whatever was hampering him has improved over the past week and he doesn't anticipate it affecting him further.

"The last couple days it's been going in the right direction. That's all you can ask for," Lundqvist said after the team's Monday morning skate. "Now it's behind me so I'm looking forward to playing."

The Rangers are coming off a morale-boosting performance in Saturday's overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings -- a win in which Derick Brassard notched the game-winner with time winding down in OT.

"It felt pretty good, especially with the win," said Brassard, who struggled to find his game early this season. "I want to help the team with my offense."

Lack of offensive "pushback," as coach Alain Vigneault put it, was a consistent problem for the team during its early-season travails. In the past three games, however, the Rangers have notched a respectable eight goals.

During that span, they've also played a bit more conservatively. Instead of falling victim to the mistake-riddled eyesores out West, the team is playing more structured and "close to the vest."

"Slowly and surely, players are starting to understand what they have to do to be more consistent," Vigneault said.

Monday's match also marks Vigneault's debut at the Garden, a date on the calendar he has been eagerly anticipating since being hired as John Tortorella's successor this summer.

"I've been waiting for this for quite some time."

Moulson-Vanek trade is a gamble for Isles

October, 28, 2013
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It'll take time for the dust to settle on Sunday night's stunner of a trade -- and it would be unfair to assess the winners and losers of the deal at this point -- but there was a fair amount of criticism for the Islanders after general manager Garth Snow shipped Matt Moulson and a pair of picks to Buffalo in exchange for Thomas Vanek.

Yes, the Isles acquired a two-time 40-goal scorer who has the potential to make some magic with star center John Tavares, but they made a significant gamble to do so.

Thomas Vanek #26 of the Buffalo Sabres
Jen Fuller/Getty ImagesSabres co-captain Thomas Vanek, a two-time 40-goal scorer, was traded to the Islanders on Sunday night.
If Vanek and Tavares enjoy the type of chemistry Snow hopes and expects, that'll be a start, but the real barometer of whether the deal was worthwhile will depend on whether Vanek decides to re-sign.

Considering the 29-year-old winger is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this July, he could turn out to be nothing more than a very high-priced rental. It's also worth pointing out that there has been significant speculation that Vanek could land with the Minnesota Wild this summer -- a notion that should not be discounted given his ties to the area.

Vanek is skating on a line with Tavares and Kyle Okposo on Monday, but what sort of success will they have together? Vanek's numbers speak for themselves, which is why Snow viewed the former University of Minnesota standout as an offensive upgrade, but it's hard to deny the chemistry forged between Moulson and Tavares in their four years together on Long Island.

Here's where things will be interesting to watch.

I'm not suggesting that Snow should pander to his star player, and Tavares isn't the type of person to demand that treatment, either. However, I do think there needs to be consideration given to the fact that Moulson is, for all intents and purposes, Tavares' comfort blanket both on and off the ice. They are best friends and linemates who have rarely played apart. Heck, Tavares is even the godfather to Moulson's 14-month-old daughter, Mila. Do you risk upsetting your franchise player and disrupting a very productive tandem for a player who may be around for less than a season?

That's the chance Snow took, and he'll have to stand behind that should it not pan out.

Also, know this:

Moulson was not unhappy in Long Island. To the contrary, he was surprised to hear about the trade and upset to leave his teammates. He had plans to be a part of the team's future; he did not want out.

The Islanders and Moulson's camp did not have any substantive talks before the trade, but that doesn't mean it had become a toxic situation. Not by a long shot. Moulson was in line for a significant pay raise, but he also knew that he would not be making more in annual average value than Tavares should a long-term deal been worked out.

Now, he's out of town before such talks even transpired.

The Isles rolled the dice. Maybe it pays off, maybe it does not. Until then, they parted with a core, character guy whose chemistry with the team's star player was a known commodity. They did so at a high price and a high risk.

Is that criticism deserved? You bet.

ESPN.com's Craig Custance also offered his take here. A very good read with strong insight and analysis.

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