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Slow start dooms Rangers, shutout by streaking Predators




Slow start dooms Rangers, shutout by streaking Predators

This time they were not able to get away with it when they got away from their game. 

“We played a game the other night [in Buffalo] where it was more wide open, more space, less physical and we convinced ourselves that we were going to play a bunch of teams like that and we could play more wide open,” Chris Kreider said after the Rangers were beaten 1-0 by Nashville at the Garden on Sunday. “We didn’t play particularly well the other night and won and we carried that into this game. 

“We weren’t getting into enough battles, we weren’t winning enough battles, they were finishing all their checks, they were winning all their battles. It took us 20 minutes to figure that out. It just can’t happen.” 

The first-period effort was dreadful, the Rangers went a stretch of 10:24 without generating a shot, never mind a chance, but it took the team far longer than 20 minutes to get fully engaged in this one, even after Philip Tomasino recorded the game’s only goal at 1:44 of the second period. 

Philip Tomasino celebrates his first period goal.
NHLI via Getty Images

Indeed, it took Jacob Trouba’s huge hit on Luke Kunin down the left-wing wall at 16:29 of the second period to ignite the Blueshirts, who did for the most part carry the play thereafter but could not beat Juuse Saros. 

“I thought there was a little more energy in the building for sure,” said Trouba, who has unleashed three throwback hits in the last four games. “I think as the game progressed we started playing better, some of it was a factor of them protecting the lead but I thought we skated better as the game went on. 

“It was kind of a midpoint, I guess, but I thought it was kind of progressing that way anyway.” 

Alexandar Georgiev
Alexandar Georgiev reacts after allowing the only goal in the Rangers’ loss to the Predators on Sunday.
John Munson

Asked if he heard the crowd chanting his name, the defenseman said, “A little bit, I couldn’t make it out. I thought it said, ‘Igor.’ ’’ 

Head coach Gerard Gallant seemed as dissatisfied with his team’s performance as he has all year, saying, “It’s not good enough, we just didn’t do enough, that first period they hemmed us in our zone and we didn’t pay a price to win the board battles and in the end it cost us.” 

Gallant juggled line combinations in the third period that had essentially remained intact for the previous eight games. And he benched Alexis Lafreniere, who got just 9:18 for the match that included two shifts in the third period. 

Lafreniere did not get on for the final 10:14, during which time Gallant had Filip Chytil between Kevin Rooney and Barclay Goodrow and elevated Julien Gauthier up for a couple of top-six spins. Indeed, it was Gauthier — not Chytil, not Lafreniere, not Kaapo Kakko, who himself got only 3:23 in the third and just 12:08 overall — who was on for the final 1:34 as the extra attacker after Alexandar Georgiev vacated the net. 

“I just wanted to give him a seat,” Gallant said when asked about Lafreniere. “He wasn’t alone.” 

Alexis Lafreniere was benched for the final 10:14, recording just 9:18 throughout the match.
NHLI via Getty Images

The Rangers had been riding high with seven straight victories before they were buried by the Avalanche at home on Wednesday. They escaped with the minimalist 2-1 victory in Buffalo on Friday before this. So, three consecutive subpar efforts for the team that has scored four goals at five-on-five through this stretch that marks the first time this season the Rangers have lost two out of three in regulation. 

There was a push late in the second after Trouba put his right shoulder into Kunin, Saros denying Mika Zibanejad on a close-in backhand that might have represented the Rangers’ best chance at even strength. The Blueshirts carried the momentum into the third period and manufactured a glorious opportunity to tie it on an early power play, but Saros made a spectacular doorstep save on Ryan Strome from the right side on a cross-ice setup from Kreider. 

But though they carried the play, recording 10 straight shots over a five-minute stretch beginning with the man-advantage, the Rangers never really came all that close again against a now 17-10-1 Nashville team that was without both Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene. 

 “I didn’t like any of the game, to be honest with you,” Gallant said. “We played too soft, we didn’t play a hard enough game. It was a man’s game and we didn’t play it.”

No, it was not. And now, with a back-to-back coming up in Colorado and Arizona on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, perhaps the Rangers will recognize that less than their best won’t be enough as the season progresses.


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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