Stranger Nation’s Midseason Reviews: Forwards Edition

As usual, a great job by SN.

The goalie was erratic at best, the defense was inconsistent, so one would surmise somebody on this team must be playing well in order to for the team to rack up all those wins. The forwards started out like gangbusters, then faced some injuries and finished slowly at the break. This forward group has the most skill in the Top 9 since I can remember. Whether they combine that skill with consistency and solid 2-way play to perform well into the spring is the big question. Good news is most of these players are early in their careers so the future is bright. Smart to hold on to some of those draft choices…

NYR Forwards: Grade B+ [editor’s grade: A-]

Rich Nash – Grade: B- [B]
The power forward looked to rebound this season and was off to a promising start but a mix of injuries and desire to shoot from any angle no matter how poor has left him at a pace to pot only 26 goals. In December prior to his injury, he was playing with a burning desire and high level of skill only seen in spurts and, sure enough, it was short lived. While a solid 2-way player, the need is for big goals and power forward play at the highest level. Will forever be the barometer of team performance based upon his contract and pedigree. Needs to step it up to another level or two in the 2nd half.

Derek Stepan – Grade: B+ [B]
Consistent center with proven durability and solid productivity in a season where 2 of the other 3 centers in the top 9 were injured. Much rather pass than shoot and while compiling the points, he gets the most prime ice on the team so he should be producing. WYSIWYG with Step; steady 2 way play getting more out of his natural ability than anyone else on the team. 1 goal on the PP’s first unit stationed in OV’s office is not enough production, but solid PK and responsible D play as pivot is very helpful. Centered Kreider and Zucc to lead team in December when 3 starters were out in top 9. [no mention of face offs?]

Chris Kreider – Grade: B+ [B+]
Started out great in October, slowed down in November along with an injury but has come on to be on a pace for over 30 goals for the first time in his career. He has all the physical tools, but missing something between his ears that leads to some questionable plays along with unofficially leading the team in off-sides calls. Needs to play more aggressively and enforce his will around the crease. Has become a beast on the PP.

JT Miller – Grade: A- [A]
Only 23 years old and has come into his own featuring an all around game that allows AV to place him up and down the Top 9 at forward or center. On pace for 26-33-59 and has also added PK duties to his game. Still tries to force a pass through the middle but there are much less of those mistakes. Probably their most physical player on the wall and has an attitude that points toward future captaincy.

Kevin Haze – Grade: B+ [A-]
Haze is another one of the Young Americans in the forward group that has a unique skill set on the offensive end. While he has the size, the physical aspects of the game are not his forte, much more interested in dangling the biscuit and making a great feed. Needs to become a little more selfish for the teams’ sake and rip the puck at the net. Was the pivot for the teams’ most productive line with Miller and Grabner. Was on pace for 22-37-59 prior to injury before ASG. Has played only with two and a half seasons so far, so reason to believe he will only improve.

Mats Zuccarello – Grade: A- [A-]
The little Norwegian has once again been in the middle of offensive production while making small strides (pun intended) on the defensive side of the ice. Still wanders down to low and gets out of position in Dzone but has been used on the PK and seems more engaged on both ends of the ice. Has not missed a game in a season where the team has experienced a rash of injuries and has put up 23 points in 26 games during December and January albeit only 2 goals. Will not approach the career high 29 goals from last season but is team leader in points and on pace for 48 assists.

Michael Grabner – Grade: A+ [A+]
Wow, just wow. This guy has been a godsend using his amazing speed and keen off-puck play to be the most electric player on the team. Leading goal scorer with 22 and on a pace for 36 goals and 50 points (career high is 34) with no PP time. Grabner is very responsible in D-zone and fast as lightning through neutral zone. This speed is creating match up problems and his ability to go from defense to offense in the blink of an eye. Just Wow.

Pavel Buchnevich – Grade: Inc./B+ [A-]
The kid suffered a mysterious back injury that has left him out for over 30 games but in the small sample size, his skills and ice awareness has been very impressive. Always seems to be in the right place at the right time and possesses a very deft touch on his passes. The future is bright but with a need to get stronger and avoid any additional issues with his back.

Mika Zabinajad – Grade: Inc./B [A- before injury, C+ after, averages to a B]
Another of the injured forwards who suffered a ghastly leg injury but has recently returned. On a pace for 41 pts in less than 60 games, the center has the skills to be a very productive player down the stretch. He is very smart with puck and particularly adept on the PP. His booming righty slapper needs to start finding the net more and he can disappear for stretches during games but he’s good both in D-zone and on the dot. Need for him to put it in the next gear for the balance of the season.

Jesper Fast – Grade: B [C-]
Defensively responsible under-sized 4th line forward who AV likes to play higher than his hands would warrant in the lineup. Recent injury coincided with the two schedule breaks so no major time off and is on pace for 20 assists which is quite impressive on the 4th line.

Jimmy Vesey – Grade: B+ [B-]
The summer’s coveted prize from BC started off gangbusters but has hit the college rookie wall and his playing time has been relegated to the 4th line. On a pace still for 20 goals but he had 8 markers in the first 24 followed by only 4 in the next 25. The tools are in evidence including a drive to the net which is hard to teach and almost harder to watch as he has been getting smacked around some. Eventually will need to settle into a regular top 9 role but the glut of forwards will keep his ice time down.

Brandon Pirri – Grade: C [D]
The gun for hire reclamation project came in with nothing to lose and AV fell in love with his quick lefty slapper on the PP. Pirri has been good on draws as well, but is not a 4th line forward unless he plays for an AV coached team. Be interesting to see if he still is allotted a starting role if the recent poor team play continues. Biggest issue is he is not a great skater so his game will always be hampered by a lack of wheels and ability to make proper turns.

Oscar Lindberg – Grade: B- [B-]
Oscar started out coming back from a hip injury and seemed to feeling affects early in season and only started to round into form in December and January. He has been the odd man out as AV tries to construct an offensively focused 4th line. Oscar has not produced in the points department, but plays a ‘heavy’ game and is solid on the dot.

Matt Puempel – Grade: C [D]
Pumps was claimed at the beginning of the season and offers AV another offensively focused player to use on the 4th line. Has contributed 6-1-7 in 29 games with 3 of those goals coming in one game so the experiment hasn’t proven itself out yet. Seems to have the tools and wheels but needs to play with top 9 talent order to get the most out of him and no room on this team’s top 9.

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173 thoughts on “Stranger Nation’s Midseason Reviews: Forwards Edition”

  1. I think you did a great job SN who could have done better Brooks? Who’s in net tonight The former King, Aanti, or Girardi?

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  2. “I was just mixing up the candies to see if I could get something going,” Vigneault said.

    Think being a little generous to Step. Rather see The Machine than Pirri on that 4th line. Also Pumpernickel on 3rd and Fast on 4th until K Bongs returns. Finally, I would not give Zuc more than a B. A lot of his assists are not primary and his shooting % is a dismal 4.4%.

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  3. I don’t expect anyone to agree but it isn’t going matter what Gorton does or doesn’t do at the trade deadline. The Rangers are not winning a cup. Having said that this is the time to trade Nash and Zucc. It may not help us go deep in the playoffs but it is the right move for the future!

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  4. I originally was OK with SN’s C for Puempel, but then when I saw he had played in 29 games already, I had to lower my grade to a D. I had no idea it had been that many. That means, outside of one hat trick, he’s got a 3-1-4 in 28 games.

    But now, having actually looked up his stat lines, he’s only played 16 for the Rangers, with all of his points coming in those 16 games, so I can bump him up to a C.

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  5. SN,
    Great job as usual. I also disagree with the Zucc grade. His numbers lie. Watching Zucc with my eyes tells me he has not been that good this season. He often overstays his shifts. Often freelances in his own zone, causing the team to run around. To many times to count he has dipsy doodled in the neutral zone and given up the puck. As great a passer as he is, he slows down faster players by holding on to the puck to long. Making his line mates games less effective. I have found Zucc’s game this year to be on the selfish side, almost as if he is saying, you traded away my good friends, so screw it. Also scoring 1 goal with a goaltender in net, over a 30 game stretch cannot be overlooked.

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  6. It has nothing to do with his numbers or value to the Rangers RR2. He’s 29 soon to be 30 time to move him for youth. with or without him not winning a cup. His value is high move him and Nash!

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  7. BDL, you can’t blame Zuke for how he’s deployed. I agree that the linemates he is put with are often not the ideal choices for his style of game (again, I imagine his perfect linemates as the Sedins). If Hayes shot the puck more, I think they would pair well together.

    The goals, yes, absolutely are a problem. But I think something like his abnormally low shooting percentage will come up to the mean. It’s not like he’s a career 7% shooter and this is a year right in line with his normal production. He’s an 11% shooter over his career, including this year. I expect it to normalize and for the puck to go in more often.

    While you think he freelances in the defensive zone, I think his defensive play has actually improved.

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  8. St. Pete, I wasn’t discussing the merits of trading him, just the number argument that Beezle made.

    As for trading him and Nash (assuming you could even get him to waive his NMC), what’s the plan? You don’t just aimlessly rebuild; there has to be a plan to build towards something. How many years are we rebuilding for? And if you are rebuilding, why half ass it? Why not trade anyone over 27? By the time you’re done rebuilding, anyone older than that will be on the backside of their career.

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  9. Zucc has never been a prolific scorer. The year they signed him away from Europe I believe he only had 11 goals. He’s a set-up guy.

    If you trade him away then who takes his place? Fast? Pirri? I assume you would want defensive help in return. If you trade him away for another forward, why bother?

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  10. I find it interesting that the one player you can’t mention in terms of trade (or at times, criticism) is Zucc. I wonder if it is because of his story: 5-foot-7(on a good day) undrafted player who makes good? I like LINK like as much as the next person, but it does seem that he gets more of free ride than anyone. I know all about the assists, but when any other Ranger goes through goal scoring droughts like he does, they get torched. Of course, if he shot more and passed less he’d score more.

    If you could get a top four-ish Defenseman in a reasonable package that included Zucc you have to consider it. As BDL wrote, Buchnevich can replace him. Also read a story that the KHL might reduce the number of teams so you might have a couple of wingers available through that avenue. There are a couple of Russian forwards mentioned, unfortunately their names slip my mind.

    Others might suggest dealing one of the younger forwards (Vesey, Hayes etc.) but we still don’t know what their potential is going to be – and that includes THE Kreider. This might not be popular and I expect to get hammered for it, but Zucc is what he is. He has pretty much topped out in terms of what kind of player he is going to be – and that is not meant as a bad thing. He is what he is as a player.

    Some might say say move Stepan and you might not be far off given that his NTC will be kicking in soon. I know he gets his balls busted around here, but if I am trading him I am trying to make a Ziba/Brass type deal with him rather than getting a D-man.

    Could move Nash, but his limited NTC and his salary make it hard to get anything of significance without taking on a worse contract.

    As for help on defense, can’t we see what Chris Chelios is doing these days? 🙂

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  11. I assume Hank is in net tonight. Do we hold our collective breath waiting for the first Buffalo shot since there is a good chance it will go in? He really was fighting the puck on Tuesday. Lots of juicy rebounds and that the Dan Blackburn double blocker play on the third goal. got to pray he turns it around, but, he has been in a funk for a while now.

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  12. Charlie – I don’t think it is a problem in terms of which d-man goes. McDonagh (cause) and Staal/Girardi (contracts) are untouchable. Any other blueliner is fair game if you are going to get someone of the caliber of, let’s say, Jacob Trouba. Odds are the Jets are going to want a young prospect so Klein and Holden are out, Grund isn’t good enough so that leaves Skjei. If the ‘Peg does Zucc and Skjei for Trouba as the main part of a deal, then I think long and hard about it.

    If the Jets say Zucc, Ryan Graves and 2017 1st for Trouba, a 2017 2nd and little somethin’-somethin’, I am all in because from what i am reading the 2017 Draft isn’t all that strong. If the rangers ever swung a deal like that, it is Truck-Trouba as your first defense pair with Staal/Girardi/Skjei/Holden/Klein rotating in and out as Gerund becomes Captain of the Black Aces.

    As our Fearess Leadrer wrote, you trade a Zucc in a hockey deal that makes sense for the Rangers now and in the future. You don’t deal him for a rental like Cody Franson (1st name that came to mind).

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  13. I have no interest in selling Zucc. If the right trade is not there, I have no problem with keeping Zucc. He is after all, a very good player.

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  14. I found the KHL information – it was part of Elliotte Friedman’s most recent “30 Thoughts”. Here writes:

    “Hearing there is more than the usual amount of scouting going on with KHL players. That league is considering going with fewer teams next season, so NHL clubs are readying for the possibility of some extra players being available. Just like last year, the bigger names are St. Petersburg’s Evgeny Dadonov (56 points in 48 games) and Vadim Shipachev (68 points in 45 games), but it will cost millions to bring them over.”

    Shipachev will be 30 this year and has never been drafted in the NHL. Dadonov, who will be 28 this year, was a Florida draft pick in 2007 (71st) and has played 55 NHL games (10-10-20) with the Panthers (parts of three seasons 2009-2012).

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  15. ORF, you’ve assumed correctly. Lundqvist tonight. Raanta back to NYC to be with his wife. Hellberg recalled to be backup (and hopefully not play).

    Based on Hellberg’s NHL career to this point, his next shot faced will be a goal.

    Based on Lundqvist’s season, his next faced will be a goal.

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  16. Iginla always reminded me of Mark Messier. What a great player Iginla used to be. I always liked him. Always wanted him as a Ranger….when he was younger.

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  17. A very simple move Gorton could make would be to get a steady 4th line banger to play with Oscar and Fast. Leave the misfit toys (Pirri, Pumps) on the black aces in case of Top 9 injury.

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  18. @RR2: On Zuc – a) his stats are inflated by secondary assists. Not that those are bad but as you note, primary more important. b) on primary assists, yes he is tied for 9th. But there are 34 skaters with 10 or more. c) looking at primary/60 mins, he is #24. d) his shooting % is a really low 4.4% e) goals/60 mins he is #354. So as much as we all like the guy and love the story, I think he’s more deserving a B ignoring intangibles.

    And as I made the spread sheet… #1 in goals/60 is… BeepBeep! (1.792) #8 is Buch, #13 Zib, #14 THE, #47 Nash (1.041) #62 Hayes (0.977) Cindy is #3 at 1.650

    All the above for those w/ at last 200 TOI and 5/5 from statshockey

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  19. Zucc has good cap hit, team’s best passer and unfortunately one of our grittier forwards…heart and soul guy …no one is untradeable but they would need to get something more than a supporting defenseman

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  20. I don’t know where you are getting a 4.4 shooting percentage from. I see 7%, and a little over 8.5 at 5 v 5.

    Also, the numbers you listed for assists all support him tremendously. tied for 9th in primaries, with 12. Only 34 players in the entire NHL have at least 10 and he’s got 12! He’s 24th in the entire NHL for primaries over 60? That’s amazing!

    He’s got 9 goals. It’s not a great number by any means, but As I noted earlier, I think it’s more bad luck than bad play. He’s a career 11% shooter who is currently shooting at 7%.

    So, even without the intangibles, this is an excellent player. The things that are really holding him back this year are his shooting percentage and the PP.

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  21. Call it a gut feeling, but I think you’ll see the Rangers at least attempt to acquire Michael Stone from Arizona. I don’t picture Shane Doan being involved because of the E Staal deal last season, but I think that may be their man. Maybe Hanzal would be in the mix if they feel like they need a Brian Boyle type center for the fourth line.

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  22. I don’t understand the fascination with Trouba. I don’t think he’s any better than any of the starting six on the Rangers. Yes, I don’t see an improvement over Staal, Girardi or Klein. JMO, though. I’ve only seen a few of his games, but I was not impressed. The only thing he has over the 3 mentioned is that he’s younger.

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  23. Cory Perry has 9 goals and 27 assists this season. He makes 9 million dollars as does Ryan Getzlaf who has 7 goals and 32 assists. And you think Zucchini is a problem?! Lol be glad you aren’t Duck fans

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  24. RR2,
    It’s not that he has 9 goals, it’s that he had 7 of them in the first 17 games! 2 goals! Count em, 2 frigging goals since.

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  25. @RR: 4 goals on 90 shots 5 on 5 = 4.4%. You are using ‘all situations’ which is 7% (same as G). I’m not sure why we should be surprised if one of our 1st/2nd line forwards is in the top 25 in assists? I would hope we have at least one given that there are 30 teams! (Note: Step has 10 PA and JT 9 in the 5/5 category, both with far fewer minutes). Please don’t take this as somehow bashing Zuc, I’m not. He’s having an ok season and I do like the guy, but I think we could and should expect a little more.

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  26. Trouba is a righty shot playing behind Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers. If he were a lefty shot, he’d be on their top pair.

    I never meant to say Zucc’s a problem. My point is that he seems to skate by whenever blame gets assessed.

    You are also pointing out Perry on a horrid year. Zucc’s high in goals is 26. Perry has gone 27+ eight years including the last three and it probably would have been nine in a row if not for the strike in 2012/13.

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  27. By the by, I am not advocating trading LINK. I am just a bit bored at work and looking to stimulate some hockey conversation. I am hoping that my wonky eye gives me the chance to watch tonight. Have to admit that it came in handy with that stinker against CBJ.

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  28. Don’t get me started on Jesper Fast. 1 goal in hi last 34. 3 all season. Going back to last season, I think it something like 3 goals in his last 70 games.

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  29. Trouba is firmly in his team’s top 4. He gets the second most minutes on defense behind only Byfuglien. He’s got 3-12-15 in his last 17 games, all but 1 assist being at even strength. He’s a good player who is getting better.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Myers still hurt? Never understood, outside of his reach, the fascination with that guy. Why did Jets get him and then resign him no less with Tuba on the way up.
    I guess pre-contract Bid Daddy insurance but WTF on roster management.

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  31. You don’t have to sell me on Trouba, RR2, I think he is going to be a stud. But you are not getting him for Zucc. That’s Miller, or Hayes, well you get the idea.

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  32. BDL, frankly, I don’t think it’s any of those guys. They don’t need forwards. They need defense (if they ship out Trouba) and goaltending. Their forwards corps is actually really impressive.

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  33. Fire hydrants are actually better than most of our defensemen. You can’t park in front of them unless you are prepared to pay the price.

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  34. Shea has some value now; I would move him for Trouba and a #2 if needed in a heart beat as long as Graves is servicable.

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  35. RR2,
    I have never really thought the Jets were a match for the Rangers. I have mentioned this before, but I think the Wild are a good match for the Rangers. They are deep on D, and could use some more scoring. Zucc would be a good fit there.

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  36. I just saw the new 4th line in practice:
    Butch – Oscar – Pumps
    oy vey; tell me Fast is up on 3rd again?!?
    Butch should be with Grabber and JT

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  37. Other than Suter, the Wild have Dumba, Folin, Brodin, and Scandella. With Riley, I believe in the minors. Dumbs, and Frolin are right shots. Dumba is probably a reach for Zucc, but the other I think could be had.

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  38. Insofar as trading Zuck, you really can’t because the steaks are too high and he can’t reach the top of the stove.

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  39. Just read SN post and was surprised to see that Nash “scored” almost the lowest among all our forwards B-. Tiny notch above Pimple. On the bottom 3. Really??? Otherwise, pretty solid writing.
    I missed that… – what happened with Anti wife?

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  40. 4ever, he was on fire before being injured. Since then his offense has tailed off. I had him at a B but would have had him higher if he had kept up his play.

    Raanta and his wife had a baby girl.

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  41. What will happen on the Sabres first shot, or more to the point, the first shot through an attempted screen? Will the D clear the slot to let Lundqvist see the shot? Will he try harder to locate the puck if they don’t? Pins and needles…

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  42. I only hope that pain inflicted as the result of his intense play, will not going to discourage him from continuous efforts.

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  43. Hank was sharp, I’d say we carried the play. Some great chances squandered again but we got away with it, tonight.

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  44. As I said, it looks like Hank is really mentally weak – when and if he let in first quick, early, soft goal, he is mentally ruined, unable to keep further concentration, taking in more. When he makes saves on first couple tough shots, he is become confident good self.
    My vote: Hank, Miller, {Nash/Grabner/Kreider}.

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  45. Returning from a lovely evening out on the lovely town of Seattle. Loved the score but let’s get down to the important Bonehead business: Which Ranger sucked the most? 😉

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  46. Just finished the game on dvr, no time to go back and read comments (will do that tomorrow)…I voted hated, shampoo boy, and beep beep…in no particular order.

    HM to machine

    I’m going to bed, night wankers.

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  47. Good morning wankers! We definitely need more of this Hank than the other! Hope he can keep it together. I know it was the Sabres but hey beat him twice already so he needed this. Confidence to state the obvious is between the ears! Has anybody else noticed Kreider letting up on his checks? What’s up with that? The guy has the ability to be leaving bodies all over the ice. On the subject of JT he is really rounding out going to be something special he’s only 23!

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  48. Just thought I would mention that Chris Kreider now has three consecutive 20 goal seasons. The one season he did not score 20 was his first full season, he scored 17 in 66 games.

    Liked by 1 person

  49. LOL @ Norm

    No Go Time thread. No review. What a HAV!

    So, now Hank is going to star in the sequel to the movie Split. I like this personality the best.

    I thought JT had a nice game. McDonagh also. Nash was pretty forceful. Grabner was good, but on that shorthanded 2-on-1 he should have shot the puck. Kleiner had a decent game.

    For Norm…who sucked…um Fast….yeah it has to be Fast. Why? I don’t know. Just because.

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  50. Once again, the forwards slack back and let Buff D dump it in from red line and D is forced to start every rush from 2000 ft away with a forechecker in their face.
    Is this approach is intentional with coaches thinking this ‘structure’ supports the D by squeezing the neutral zone space and preventing forwards to come into Ozone with speed.
    .
    Who is faster now, Girardi or Klein? DeKlein is struggling to keep up but not afraid to play body once in Dzone.

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  51. I have no idea how WordPress works, but is there any way you can pre-set a “Go Time” post ahead of time so you don’t even have to worry about it?

    Remember, this HAV is better than the alternative – NAV 🙂

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  52. Just got re-employed, coos, was celebrating. (I had been out of action for a while, subbing, which sucks as much as Fast.) I was inspired by Carp to get back in the saddle!

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  53. (Soon we will move up from the muddy bottom of Lake Union, where we’ve been living in a cardboard box, dreaming about plastic cutlery.)

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  54. I’m not sure the jets wouldn’t be interested in sideshow bob, might like the thought of him setting up laine

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