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Looking back at the Rangers’ first 30 games




Looking back at the Rangers’ first 30 games

The 19-7-4 Rangers have exceeded expectations, collecting the fifth-most points in franchise history through the season’s first 30 games.

Currently sitting in playoff position, at third in the Metropolitan Division, the Blueshirts have put themselves in an optimal spot. Their .700 point percentage is tied for third in the NHL, as is their 19 wins. Other statistics tell a promising story as well, such as their 2.53 goals-against average, the fifth lowest in the league, and their power-play (25.6) and penalty-kill (84.3) percentages that rank sixth.

“You look at the standings, we’ve been doing pretty well,” Mika Zibanejad said. “I think we’ve been taking a lot steps from the last few years. Not only coming together as a group off the ice, I think on the ice, as well. We have more of a clear [idea] of how we play and how we should play, what really works for us. We go back and forth about did we play the full 60 minutes or not, or did we start slow or didn’t have a good second or whatever. But I think we’ve been finding ways to win and I think it’s just strong efforts throughout this time.

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“We talked after 10 games about how we were playing and we got points anyways, but I thought after that we’ve been stepping up our game and been more consistent. I think that’s a good sign. We still got another 52 games to go, just keep building and keep getting better.

Mika Zibanejad celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal.
NHLI via Getty Images

“Obviously, the first goal is to make the playoffs and I think we’re doing a good job going toward that. Obviously there’s things that we can do better and improve, but overall, I’m happy this far.”

Adam Fox leads all NHL defensemen, along with the Lightning’s Victor Hedman, with 31 points. Artemi Panarin’s 33 points is tied with the Panthers’ Jonathan Huberdeau for the sixth-most in the league. Chris Kreider ranks second in the NHL with 11 power-play goals, behind only the Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl.

Of course, Igor Shesterkin and his .937 save percentage is the highest among NHL goalies with a minimum of 15 appearances.

“The morale of the group is definitely higher,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said this week. “Obviously, winning games helps with that a lot. But guys just seem happier coming to the rink. There’s a smile on a lot of guys faces. You recognize when things aren’t going well for someone, and we have guys there to pick them up and cheer them up and keep them positive.

“It’s just been a good atmosphere to be around. There’s been, I’d say, some contagious, positive energy.”

Here’s a look back:

The Rangers looked like a playoff-ready squad when they took the ice against the Bruins, a team that has qualified for the postseason the past five years. After answering each of Boston’s goals in the first and second periods to take a 2-2 tie into the final frame, the Rangers exploded for three goals from Panarin, Trouba and Alexis Lafreniere. The Bruins are one of the few top-tier teams the Rangers have beaten handily this season.

Jacob Trouba (8) is congratulated by center Mika Zibanejad (93) and defenseman Patrik Nemeth (12) after scoring an empty net goal against the Bruins.

Runner-up: 4-0, vs. Columbus, Oct. 29

The entire three-game stretch of losses in Canada in early November should be listed under this category, but the defeat to the Oilers sticks out for several reasons. The Rangers had blown a two-goal lead against the Canucks a few days earlier, which made it that much more jarring when they did it again in Edmonton. Despite carrying a 4-2 lead into the third, the Rangers gave up three in the final 20 minutes — including the highlight-reel goal from Connor McDavid that ultimately forced overtime. Draisaitl ultimately stole the win in OT, but it was McDavid’s undressing of four Rangers skaters that replayed on every hockey broadcast for weeks. The Rangers then went to Calgary and were lit up 6-0.

Runner-up: 7-3, vs. Colorado, Dec. 8

The Rangers came dangerously close to losing to one of the NHL’s worst teams in the Coyotes, who have a league-low six wins and a mere 14 points. Not only did they give up a shorthanded goal in the first period, but the Rangers trailed 2-1 halfway through the third. It wasn’t until the self-inflicted implosion from the Coyotes, who were called for two penalties late in the game including a too-many-men infraction, that the Rangers were able to bury two power-play goals to pull out the win.

Runner-up: 4-3, vs. Florida, Nov. 8 after giving up three third-period goals

Best moment: Ryan Lindgren’s last-second goal vs. Buffalo

There were certainly plenty of runners-up for this one, like Nils Lundkvist toppling over in pure elation after scoring his first NHL goal or Lafreniere getting into the first fight of his hockey career against Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau. But it was hard to top when Lindgren stunned Sabres netminder Aaron Dell when he cheated up the ice and buried the go-ahead goal with seconds left in regulation to give the Rangers a 5-4 win on Nov. 21. That victory was the first of a season-high seven-game winning streak.

Ryan Lindgren reacts after scoring the game-winning goal in the last few seconds of a game against the Sabres at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 21, 2021.
Ryan Lindgren reacts after scoring the game-winning goal in the last few seconds of a game against the Sabres.
NHLI via Getty Images

Runner-up: Lafreniere, a Quebec native, scored go-ahead goal Oct. 16 in 3-1 win over Canadiens in his first game at a sold-out Bell Center.

Surprise impactful player: Kevin Rooney

With six goals, Rooney is tied with the likes of Trouba, Lafreniere and Ryan Strome for fourth-most on the Rangers. He has just one less than Zibanejad and two less than Panarin. That alone qualifies Rooney as a surprise impactful player, but the 28-year-old has contributed much more than just a few extra goals. Rooney continues to be an effective penalty killer, logging the third most shorthanded minutes on the team (behind Barclay Goodrow and Lindgren). He’s also been a staple on the fourth line, which has assumed heavy forechecking responsibilities and acted as an energizing unit.

Runner-up: Dryden Hunt

Biggest disappointment: Sammy Blais season-ending ACL tear

Losing Blais was a major blow. When Blais was clipped by Devils defenseman P.K. Subban on Nov. 14, the Rangers lost a hard-nosed player who was effective, with and without the puck. Not only was he making a noticeable impact on offense and the physical side of the game, but Blais was one of those players head coach Gerard Gallant could plug onto any line to give it a boost. He finished with four assists in 14 games, however, his contributions went well beyond the score sheet. With Blais is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of this season, the 25-year-old winger likely won’t be able to command as much money as he would’ve if he continued playing the way he was.

MVP: Igor Shesterkin/Adam Fox

There is no wrong answer for this one, as Shesterkin and Fox have both played a big part in the Rangers’ explosive start.

Adam Fox (23) and goaltender Igor Shesterkin stop a shot on goal during a game against the Florida Panthers, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.
Adam Fox (23) and goaltender Igor Shesterkin stop a shot on goal during a game against the Panthers.

Shesterkin likely has meant more to the Rangers than any other goalie has meant to his team. With a 13-3-2 record, one shutout and a .937 save percentage, Shesterkin has had a Vezina Trophy-worthy start. While his numbers have been impressive, it’s the amount of wins he’s stolen that has the Rangers declaring him their most valuable player.

Fox has somehow elevated his game after winning the Norris Trophy last season. The impact he has on both sides of the puck is always noticeable. In addition to averaging over 24 minutes a game, the 23-year-old defenseman and his partner, Lindgren, draw a bulk of the matchups with opponent’s top lines.

Runner-up: Artemi Panarin

The Rangers recalled defenseman Jarred Tinordi from his conditioning assignment in AHL Hartford. … Goalie Dylan Garand, the Rangers’ 2020 fourth-round pick, signed his three-year, entry-level contract Thursday.


Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death




Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence




Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers




Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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