The Blackhawks begin the final month of 2022 at the most famous arena on the planet, Madison Square Garden. Turning the figurative and literal page to December could give the Blackhawks a fresh start after an ugly November. But (checks roster and upcoming schedule) they’re still going to need to skate a strong game to win any of the three on this trip.
- The Rangers lost, at home, to Ottawa in overtime last night. They are in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and outside of the playoff picture entering Saturday’s action (they have the same 27 points as Detroit but the Wings have three games in-hand). That’s noteworthy because two of the three teams in guaranteed playoff spots in that division are the Devils (first) and Islanders (third), neither of whom was viewed as much of a Cup contender as the Rangers yet are playing better than the Blue Shirts.
- That’s also noteworthy because the Rangers’ offense ranks 20th in the NHL (2.96 goals/game). They ranked 17th at 3.05 per game last year, so the difference isn’t enough to be considered headline-worthy, but the Devils (2.99 — 19th last year) now rank fourth in the NHL (3.75) and Islanders (2.79 — 23rd last year) are up to 15th (3.16) this season. And if there’s any city in professional sports where teams get performance envy it’s New York.
- The Rangers have been consistently tied to Patrick Kane trade rumors from the get-go, but I’ve been writing for a couple years now that the Islanders could/will make a strong play for 88. Lou Lamoriello has coveted Kane for a decade, and Kane loves Matthew Barzal. When I wrote about the possibility of an Islanders-Kane move previously New York fans barked “the Islanders aren’t good enough to make that move.” Well, entering Saturday they’re one of five teams in the Eastern Conference with at least 30 points.
- If the Islanders are indeed going to make a run at Kane, and they’re already in front of the Rangers in the standings, that would lead me to think the Blue Shirts really need to get some things sorted out and make a run here to make things interesting. They already traded Ryan Reaves out of town (an interesting move with a heart-and-soul guy). But will they make any more changes between now and the deadline to open financial space and clean a locker stall for 88?
- You know what could be a best-case scenario for the Blackhawks? A New York bidding war for Kane if/when he decides it’s time to move on. Because I think there’s a legit shot he considers either team, and there’s a reason for both to want/need him to make a run. The one thing the Rangers have the Islanders can’t match? Artemi Panarin.
“I feel like [Artemi Panarin] was probably one of the players that came in that was maybe more gifted, talented than me,” Kane told Scott Powers after practicing at Madison Square Garden on Friday. “It was like, now all of a sudden, there’s a guy in practice that’s more talented, and you start watching him and realizing that he can push you in different ways, just by watching him in practice or being around him on the ice now.”
- The Rangers will be in their Lady Liberty Reverse Retro jerseys tonight. And the Knicks host a game at MSG before the Blackhawks and Rangers take the ice. So good luck to the crew making that happen.
- One of my bold season predictions for this year was that Arvid Söderblom would lead Blackhawks goaltenders in wins. Thus far, the Blackhawks have only won six games so it’s been hard to earn a dub but Alex Stalock — who has been out for a few weeks and doesn’t appear to be getting any closer to a return — leads the team with three. Söderblom has two, but continues to look like the best goaltender in the organization.
- Ben Pope at the Chicago Sun-Times talked to Hawks goalie coach Jimmy Waite about Söderblom’s game and Waite offered a comp that may sit well with the Blackhawks’ fan base. Waite sees some Corey Crawford in Söderblom. But, as Waite also notes, the plan wasn’t to have Söderblom on the NHL roster much/at all this season; the Blackhawks signed Stalock and acquired Petr Mrazek so Söderblom could get another year of seasoning in Rockford. But (as I predicted before the season) injuries altered that plan.
“We just have to make sure we’re careful,” Waite told Pope. “And that was the plan this year — to be careful and not bring him up too quick. We had some injuries, but still we don’t want to push him too hard. But he keeps playing well, so we keep putting him in net. He deserves it, too.”
- Ah, the good ol’ days…
- I heard a mention of this story while listening to NHL Network Radio on XM while waiting for one of my kids to leave school yesterday. Calder Anderson, Nolan Ritchie, Jake Chiasson (an Edmonton pick in 2021) and Ben Thornton of the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) spent some time volunteering at a local Samaritan House earlier this week. When the four players went for a bit of site seeing afterward, they noticed a man on a bridge. The four young hockey players talked him down and saved his life. This is a legit feel-good story from the hockey community.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than that,” Brandon head coach and general manager Marty Murray said. “What happens if they drove by or they didn’t get out of the car to talk to that gentleman? That makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up for sure.
“I told them after practice [on Wednesday] that’s a lot bigger than hockey and what they did was heroic. It was real mature of those guys to do what they did.”
- Finally, the baseball world is going to be staring at a collection of superstar shortstops for the second straight winter. This year, there are traditional Winter Meetings taking place, which could be a game changer for when some/all of them sign. And the Cubs are interested in… well, pretty much all of them. Here’s the update on who’s talking where and about what and how much and all that stuff.