New Year’s Resolutions for New York’s Teams (Part 1)

2013 was an absolute nightmare for all sports in New York City. That’s pretty hard to do, considering there are nine teams in the area in the big four sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL). The Yankees and Mets both missed the playoffs, the Giants and Jets were an embarrassment, the Knicks and Nets were dismissed abruptly in May and now are struggling in a bad East, and all three hockey teams are very mediocre. No championships, just one division title, and five playoff absences.

So, each team has a New Year’s resolution as they all try to build for a better 2014 and try to bring home some championships to the greatest city in the world. I’ll start with teams that are still playing (the two NBA teams and three NHL squads)

 

Brooklyn Nets: Make the playoffs without Lopez?

The Nets were embarrassingly dismissed from the playoffs last May by the Chicago Bulls sans Derrick Rose. So, their Russian owner decided to make another big splash in the summer.

After trading for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Nets became instant favorites in the Atlantic division and were expected to challenge the Miami Heat. Coached by former Net great Jason Kidd, the team featured a starting five of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Pierce, Garnett, and Brook Lopez. Along with a bench featuring Andrei Kirilenko, Jason Terry, and Reggie Evans, expectations were as high as the C-word (championship. What, were you expecting something else?)

However, the seasons has so far been a total disaster, a 10-20 start leaves them 12th in the Eastern conference. Matters are even worse with All-Star center Brook Lopez out for the year with a broken foot. Lopez has been one of the most productive big men in the league, averaging over 19 points per game since 2009. Still, with the Eastern conference being total garbage, the Nets are still only 2.5 games out of a playoff spot, so all hope isn’t lost – yet.

 

New York Knicks: Don’t panic or make any bad moves

The Knicks have been even worse than the Nets this season. After getting outplayed and outhustled by the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the 2013 playoffs, they made really just one big move: A trade for Andrea Bargnani, a seven footer who shot below 40% from the field in 2012-13. So far this season, it’s been an absolute nightmare, a 9-21 record leaves them second to last in the East. Injuries, inconsistencies, and organizational madness had cursed the Knicks like usual, but it’s as bad as it can be.

The resolution for the Knicks is to not panic. They’re still a few games out in a terrible conference, so a big winning streak will get them going again. They can’t, I repeat, CAN’T make any of their usual desperate trades, giving us whatever assets they still have (Tim Hardaway, Jr. has been a revelation, second among rookies in three-pointer percentage and fourth in PER). All hope is not lost yet, but a coaching change may be necessary for survival this season.

New Jersey Devils: Stop relying on the old guys so much

A year after returning to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Devils collapsed during a lock-out shortened season doomed by a late 10-game win-less streak. This year, they’re still not great but they’re hanging in there in a mediocre Metropolitan division. They’d probably be near the bottom of the division if not for the heroics of two 41 year-old legends: Jaromir Jagr and Martin Brodeur.

Jagr continues to be amazing, leading the time in both goals and assists and has has 34 points, nine more than Patrik Elias. Brodeur continues to be consistent, playing to an 11-8-3 record with a 2.31 GAA and .906 save percentage. Still they’re going to need more than them to make the playoffs. Jagr is only one of two double digit scorers for the Devils, and Adam Henrique has just 18 points in 41 games. More firepower needed.

New York Islanders: No sleep til Brooklyn?

The Isles made the playoffs the first time in six years in 2013, pushing the top seeded Penguins to six games. From there, the future looked bright with John Tavares leading the way. Things seemed to get brighter after they traded for Sabres scorer Thomas Vanek. However, they have tanked again this season, currently last in the Metro division and second worst in the Eastern conference.

The primary problem for the Isles is the lack of toughness and zero consistency at goalie. Have to wonder when it’s going to get better, and it won’t at Nassau. The team will move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn after the 2015 season, so hopefully that helps big time and increases their revenue, allowing them to surround Tavares with better talent.

New York Rangers: Put the puck in the net!

With a new offensive minded coach running the show with the King, many expected the Rangers to be one of the elite teams in the East and perhaps compete for the Cup. However, it hasn’t exactly panned out, as they’ve been hovering around .500 for weeks and barely in the playoff picture. They’re 8th in the league in power play percentage, but just 27th in goals per game.

Why? Well, the offense hasn’t been exactly great. Rick Nash has been slow and lazy after dealing with a concussion. They’ve been carried by rookie Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello. Good, but not enough, it seems. Center-wise, Derek Stepan and Brad Richards have been strong points-wise, but they haven’t scored much. Time to start taking better shots and put the damn puck in the net. It’s maddening.

There hasn’t been much consistency on the blue line other than Ryan McDonagh, who is breaking out as one of the elite defense-men in the NHL. The defense overall has been horrible, and Henrik Lundqvist is having his worst season (2.77 GAA and .906 save % aren’t bad, but not the King’s caliber.

Part 2 will come later, covering New York’s MLB and NFL squads are all four missed the playoffs in 2013.

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Healing of Injuries and Emergence of Stars Lifting Rangers’ Hopes

The return of Cally and Hags has immediately sparked the offense

It’s been a tale of two seasons in the first sixteen games for the New York Rangers. With the finishing touches still being put on the newly renovated Madison Square Garden, the team played its first nine games on the road, five out west. Thus, they stumbled to a 2-6 record, getting outscored 31 to 12. Even with the team playing under a new system and coach in Alain Vigneault, it’s inexcusable to play like that, especially if you’re a team that expects to be serious contenders for the Stanley Cup.

The only explanation and silver lining at the time for the Blueshirts was the piling amount of injuries the team has sustained to key players. Captain Ryan Callahan and speedster Carl Hagelin both had shoulder surgery in the offseason, knocking them out for quite a while. Callahan returned earlier than expected, but returned to the IR after breaking his thumb on October 16th.

A week earlier, winger Rick Nash sustained a concussion on a hit by Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart, a moment that epitomized the Rangers’ embarrassing 9-2 loss in San Jose and overall the entire opening trip out west. Nash, New York’s leading scorer last season, has been out ever since and there is no telling when he’ll be back.

The Rangers’ start was as disastrous as can be

Fortunately, the dust is finally starting to settle. The Rangers have won six of their last eight, a complete reversal to climb within the top three of a horrible division. A lot of it has to do with the return of dominant goal-tending by Henrik Lundqvist, who missed a few games due to an unknown injury. He’s allowed just five goals in his past five games.

Plenty of the credit however, is due to the offense as they’ve outscored their opponents 20 to eight over their last six games, an average differential of two goals per game Compare that to being outscored 26 to 12 over the first eight games of the year, a 1.75 average differential per game.

You could thank the return of Hagelin and Callahan for this new-found offensive success. Hagelin made his return and season debut on October 29th against the Islanders and has four goals and three assists in the seven games while tallying a +6 rating. Callahan returned this past Monday and has tallied two goals and two assists while putting up a +4 rating in three games. He’s also brought back his invaluable defensive presence, blocking six shots and tallying 14 hits.

Still, saying Hagelin, Callahan, and Lundqvist are the reason this team’s improved performance still isn’t telling the whole story. A few unlikely faces have stepped up and have delivered for the Blueshirts with the injuries and struggles of their normal stars.

After the team waived long-time backup goaltender Marty Biron, they brought up 26 year-old rookie Cam Talbot to fill in for the injured King. In four starts since the call-up from Hartford, he’s delivered four very good performances. He’s 3-1-0, as he’s stopped 111 of 119 shots on goal, good for a 1.97 GAA. If he keeps us solid play backing up Lundqvist, all the better. They need a competent backup to keep the pressure off Hank.

Leading the Rags’ offensive surge is the shining new line of Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, and Chris Kreider. Desperate for a spark, Coach Vigneault put the three together after Kreider was called up from Hartford on October 21st. Since the overtime victory in Detroit that started this run, the trio that fans on Reddit and Twitter are creatively dubbing Run-D.M.C. (Derek, Mats, Chris) have combined for six goals, 14 assists, and a +11 rating. The Rangers’ patience for all three is starting to pay off.

Kreider and Stepan, teammates for the gold-winning Team USA at the 2010 World Junior Championships, have paired with Mats Zuccarello to form a very productive line.

Another guy who is breaking out over this stretch is Ryan McDonagh. The 24 year-old is surprisingly the team’s third leading scorer and he too has been apart of this six of eight streak, picking up three goals, four assists, and a +4 rating. Like Callahan, he’s been bringing physical play as well, blocking eight shots and collecting nine hits. Twice on Monday he sent Corey Perry into the bench in 12 seconds, g

etting under the Ducks’ star’s skin.  He’s clearly been the team’s best defensemen and his play could earn him a spot on Team USA.

The only guy that remains that the Rangers need is Nash. They need to be patient with him, but when he comes back, whenever that is, it’ll make the Rangers and even more dangerous opponent. Even with him out, they still have enough to score and win games.

Recapping This Past Week of New York Sports (4/15-4/21)

Another busy week in the world of New York sports. It’s probably the busiest time of the year for sports. I love it!

Monday, April 15th: Mets got snowed out again, this time in Colorado. With Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby, Raymond Felton, and J.R. Smith all out, Knicks fell in Charlotte 106-95 but 29 year-old rookie Chris Copeland shined with 32 points on 12-25 shooting. Nets came back from 17 to top the Wizards. Filling in for Deron Williams and Reggie Evans, Kris Humphries and Andray Blatche put in 20 each in Brooklyn’s victory.

Tuesday, April 16th: On the celebration day of the man he was named for, Robinson Cano hit a 426-ft HR to win it for the Yanks, with the last #42 saving it. Yanks honored Boston by playing their arch-nemesis’s theme song “Sweet Caroline”. Rockies swept the Mets in doubleheader, the second in extras. Islanders topped Panthers 5-2, Rangers dropped 4-2 decision in Philadelphia

Wednesday, April 17th: Mets got postponed yet again. Travis Hafner hit a pinch-hit HR to give CC Sabathia and the Yankees the win. Knicks and Nets wrapped up regular season with home victories.

Thursday, April 18th: Devils finally snapped 10 game winning streak with Marty Brodeur’s 667th career win. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 34 of 35 shots as the Rangers destroyed the Panthers 6-1 win. Rockies finished the sweep over the Mets. The Yankees couldn’t capitalize on Francisco Cervelli’s game-tying HR in the ninth and failed to sweep Arizona.

Friday, April 19th: In the Mets’ return to Flushing, Matt Harvey out-dueled Stephen Strasburg and improved to 4-0 in the Mets’ win of the Nationals. Andy Pettitte earned his 3rd win in return to action as the Yankees beat Toronto 9-4. Rangers eliminated the Sabres in blowout 8-4 win in Buffalo.

Saturday, April 20th: Knicks and Nets each opened their playoff runs with victories as the ‘Bockers held the Celtics to eight points in the fourth quarter. Brooklyn dominated the Bulls from the get-go. Mets allowed two HRs to Bryce Harper in close 7-6 loss. The Yankees wasted Hiroki Kuroda’s latest stellar start but still earned the win as the Blue Jays literally threw the game away.  Isles earned a big shoot-out win in Winnipeg to get higher in the standings.

Sunday, April 21st: The Jets traded star cornerback Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Rangers eliminated the Devils from playoff contention as well as got some ground of their own Yankees couldn’t sweep the Blue Jays as they blew a two run lead in the sixth. Dillon Gee earned his first win of the year as the Mets took two of three from the Nationals.

Recapping This Past Week of New York Sports

Very busy weekend in New York, with the NBA season starting to finish off, the lock-out shortened NHL season getting close to finishing, and MLB’s season getting into the swing of things. This is probably my favorite sports month of the year. NBA playoffs start this Saturday, NHL not too far away. Yanks and Mets just getting started.

Monday: Matt Harvey shut down the Phillies, the Mets hammered Roy Halladay. The Yankees put up 11 in Cleveland’s home opener. The Rangers dropped a 4-3 decision in Toronto.

Tuesday: Dillon Gee gave up three HRs in an 8-3 Mets loss in Philly. Andy Pettitte was again brilliant as the Yankees flattened the Indians again, 14-1. The Knicks clinched their first division title since 1994, winning their 13th in a row. The Nets kept the pace in a victory against the Sixers. The Islanders cruised to a 4-1 win over the Flyers to keep ahead in the playoff chase.

Wednesday: Mets again got crushed in Philly, surrendering five runs in the 1st inning. Yankees got rained out in Cleveland. Deron Williams scores 29 in a Nets win in Boston. Rangers picked up a big shoot-out win over the Maple Leafs back at the Garden. Devils fall behind 4-0 against the Bruins and can’t come back.

Thursday: Knicks’ 13 game winning streak was snapped by the Bulls in an overtime loss in Chicago. Yankees again got rained out in Cleveland. Evgeni Nabokov stops 30 of 31 shots in a 2-1 Islanders victory over the Bruins.

Friday: Mets scored 10 in the first two innings to cruise to a 16-5 win in a snowy Minneapolis. Yankees scored unusual triple play in 5-2 win over Baltimore as CC Sabathia picked up his second victory. Devils’ winless streak reached nine in a 2-0 loss to Ottawa. Carmelo Anthony scored 31 points and 14 rebounds in 30 minutes in a Knick victory in Cleveland. Deron Williams scored 33 points for the Nets in an eight point win in Indiana, Brooklyn’s 4th in a row.

Saturday: Matt Harvey took a no-hitter into the 7th in a 4-2 Mets win. Phil Hughes gave up three HRs in a 5-3 Yankee loss. (I was there). Rangers and Islanders played an epic game at Nassau, with Dan Girardi scoring the game winner in overtime in a 1-0 Blueshirts victory. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 29 shots for his first shut-out.

Sunday: Mets’ finale in Minnesota was canceled due to the weather. Knicks  clinched the 2nd seed in the Eastern conference. Nets fell in Toronto, forcing them to take the 4th seed. Hiroki Kuroda tossed a complete game shut-out in the finale against Baltimore on Sunday Night Baseball.