Even the Islanders’ good news comes with bad news.
Two-and-a-half hours before the puck dropped in the Islanders’ 4-1 loss to the Rangers, general manager Lou Lamoriello appeared on a Zoom call to announce that the Isles hadn’t received any additional positive COVID-19 tests. But just after 7 p.m, the team announced that Noah Dobson would miss the game, saying the defenseman was day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
That left the Isles with three pairings that might as well be playing in Bridgeport: Robin Salo and Scott Mayfield, Sebastian Aho and Grant Hutton, Thomas Hickey and Paul LaDue. Mayfield is the only player of that group who started the year as a regular.
The Isles got to this point through a combination of COVID-19 and injury. In the former category: Adam Pelech, Andy Greene, Zdeno Chara. In the latter: Ryan Pulock and Dobson.
“It’s not really a challenge to get up to speed and everything cause I feel like everybody’s doing — all the coaches, players, staff — are doing a good job of helping us out if there’s questions or whatever,” Aho said. “But of course it’s challenging in the way that we have a lot of guys that have gone down right now but we have a lot of good guys that [have] stepped up at the moment.”
Noah DobsonRobert Sabo
The lack of familiarity was exposed with miscommunications a number of times, and a defensive breakdown led directly to the Rangers’ third goal when LaDue turned it over in the neutral zone, leading to an odd-man rush on which Kevin Rooney scored.
Another call-up, Otto Koivula, had a neutral-zone turnover of his own that led straight to Rooney’s second-period goal.
Nothing about the team’s situation is ideal right now. After Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Rangers, the Islanders have lost seven straight and are free falling out of the playoff race. They didn’t plan to be so dependent on players who were supposed to be on the AHL roster.
But here they are. And on Wednesday, it bit them.
“It doesn’t matter what lineup we put out there,” coach Barry Trotz said. “You’re in the NHL. You can either get it done or you can’t.”
Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s frustration boiled over with 1:51 to go in the game, when he dropped the gloves with Alexis Lafreniere after getting tripped, possibly in retaliation for his hit earlier in the period on Ryan Lindgren. Both players were called for five-minute fighting majors.
The Islanders transferred Pulock from IR to long-term IR in order to stay cap compliant.
Koivula made his 2021-22 debut after a call-up earlier in the day. Centering the third line with Andy Andreoff and Oliver Wahlstrom, Koivula played 11:28 and finished with one shot and one hit. LaDue also dressed for the first time this year, playing 12:33 and finishing with one shot and two hits.
Semyon Varlamov’s streak of 168:26 without giving up a goal to the Rangers ended with Chris Kreider’s second period goal.
Yankees haven’t fixed anything in disappointing start to offseason
No obligation for any of us outsiders to turn up the heat on the Yankees. Just turn back to what the ultimate insider, Hal Steinbrenner, said last month after bringing back his manager Aaron Boone:
“As a team and as an organization, we must grow, evolve and improve. We need to get better. Period.”
With one day to go before Major League Baseball, barring a miracle, locks out its players and shuts down all transactions, that sits as one mission seriously unaccomplished.
Doesn’t mean it can’t happen by Opening Day 2022, whenever that occurs. It sure as heckfire hasn’t occurred yet, though.
At Tuesday’s deadline to tender contracts, the Yankees made news with their lack of news, a distressing development for their fans already anguished by the team’s decision to stand back as big names like Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Starling Marte and Max Scherzer came off the board in a pre-lockout frenzy, the last two going to Steve Cohen’s Mets. Steinbrenner’s club retained Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit and Miguel Andujar, each candidates to be non-tendered in the realm of public speculation if nowhere else, along with other slam dunks like Aaron Judge, Jordan Montgomery and Chad Green.
Keeping Sanchez justifiably generated the biggest headlines and most social media agita, and to reiterate my opinion, it’s a significant mistake to bring back the source of so much tension and drama, no matter how much of that reflects New York’s drawbacks as much as Sanchez’s own, no matter if he can dominate offensively for a month. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman spread the word this week that he was working on a trade for a catcher. Perhaps such a transaction still can occur to find a better partner for Kyle Higashioka, although now the Yankees find themselves on the hook for about $8 million, albeit only a portion guaranteed, to Sanchez.
Gary Sanchez and Brian CashmanChristopher Sadowski. USA Today Sports
Voit, too, appeared in jeopardy after a miserable, injury-plagued 2021 during which he went to the plate 241 times, a mere seven more than during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign when he won the big-league home run title. He’s back, for now, maybe as much as a designated hitter option (with Giancarlo Stanton preferring the outfield) as first base. Andujar, meanwhile, has totaled -1.9 wins above replacement — that’s 1.9 wins below replacement, if you prefer, as per Baseball-Reference.com — since he finished second in the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year voting. He has tallied three straight seasons of sub-replacement performance. Yeesh.
The Yankees haven’t answered their questions at shortstop or center field, and they could use another starting pitcher (they offered one year and $25 million to Justin Verlander, who accepted two years and $50 million from the Astros) plus some more bullpen depth. Moreover, the Yankees jettisoned the speedy trio of Greg Allen, Andrew Velazquez and Tyler Wade after acknowledging their desire to get more athletic.
There hasn’t been a first act this discouraging since the start of “Superman III.”
Now, before you plunge yourself into a months-long funk as the sport goes dark, don’t miss the key words there: First act.
Even after this past week’s flurry of activity, the free-agent pool features a bevy of appealing options from shortstop Trevor Story to Swiss Army knife Chris Taylor to high-end starting pitcher Carlos Rodon to a pair of lefty-hitting ex-Cub first basemen, one of whom (Anthony Rizzo) handled New York quite well, the other of whom (Kyle Schwarber) thrived in Boston. The A’s have not yet begun to sell off their veterans, including first baseman Matt Olson. And if the Yankees somehow wrested Freddie Freeman from the Braves, my hunch is you’d be just fine with Andrelton Simmons manning shortstop until Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe are ready.
(Yes, you want Sanchez gone, even if the Yankees figure out how to clone Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Jeter. Understood. And I still don’t see Carlos Correa or Marcus Stroman as fits.)
That Steinbrenner issued his mandate despite his team qualifying for the 2021 playoffs underlined the frustrating journey to a quick October exit. Growth, evolution and improvement still reside on their to-do list. If they can’t accomplish those goals in time, an angry owner will represent the least of their problems.
Tom Thibodeau, Julius Randle ‘pissed’ at refs after Knicks’ loss to Nets
The Knicks’ first game following the benching of Kemba Walker didn’t end with a victory, but it came with promise in taking the first-place Nets down to the final seconds in a 112-110 thriller at Barclays Center.
However, instead of taking the close defeat and gleaning the positives, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau and Julius Randle railed about the officiating while overshadowing the Knicks’ move to Alec Burks (25 points, five assists) as the starting point guard.
There was a lot of holiday whine in the postgame in Brooklyn.
Thibodeau ended his press conference early, saying he’s “pissed’’ and “something’s wrong,’’ referring to the foul calls. Randle then said the officials need to brush up on basketball.
Both Thibodeau and Randle could be fined by the NBA after the Knicks shot 12 free throws to the Nets’ 25.
Randle picked up a late technical foul during a timeout arguing his case and then needed to be restrained after the final buzzer.
Julius Randle and Tom ThibodeauGetty Images; N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg
It’s not the first time Randle had an incident at Barclays Center, as last season he was fined for charging at referee Scott Foster after the game.
“You saw what happened, everyone saw what happened,’’ said Randle, who scored 24 points. “No need for me to talk about it. Everybody saw what was going on.
“I’m not going to talk about them. I’m going to talk about the game and what the players are doing. I’m not going to talk about those guys. They clearly don’t understand the game.’’
Told the Knicks shot just 12 free throws to the Nets’ 25, Randle said, “I shot two, right? Yeah.’’
Randle talked to the officiating crew after the game and got further incensed by the explanations.
“I don’t know what they’re watching or seeing,’’ Randle said. “I’m aggressive attacking the paint. I can’t be penalized for just being stronger than people. That’s the answer I got today.
“They said certain contact doesn’t affect me like it affects other players because I’m stronger so they missed the calls. It pissed me off even more, to be honest. It’s not how you officiate the game.
“You know when smaller players guarding bigger players, they get away with a lot more. But certain things are more blatant. If you just slap a guy, I don’t care who it is, it’s going to affect him.”
Julius RandleN.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg
The Knicks’ moping was started by Thibodeau, who was asked about the Nets’ final possession in which Mitchell Robinson was called for a clear hacking foul on a driving James Johnson that produced the winning free throws.
“I don’t know,’’ Thibodeau said, pausing.
Unsolicited, Thibodeau then mentioned the discrepancy in free throws and Randle taking just two shots at the line.
“I don’t care how the game is called,’’ the Knicks coach said. “I really don’t. You call it tight, call it loose. But it’s got to be the same.
“I want to watch the film. But something’s not right. I’m watching what’s going on both ways. They’re a good team. But I know Julius was driving the ball pretty darn hard. And I’m pissed. Thank you.”
Last week, Thibodeau made an offhanded remark about the officials missing a foul call when Robinson got a concussion against the Rockets.
The TNT broadcast crew never made the officiating or foul calls an issue the entire broadcast.
Randle said he has to curtail his technicals though mouthing off probably doesn’t win friends among the striped shirts.
“I can’t let my techs affect whether we win or lose,’’ Randle said.
Devils whipped by Sharks in Jack Hughes’ return to lineup
The Devils had no answers for the San Jose Shark’s top gun.
Sharks’ leading scorer Timo Meier scored twice, James Reimer made 32 saves and San Jose defeated the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Tuesday night at Prudential Center in Newark, spoiling Jack Hughes’ return.
Noah Gregor, Jacob Middleton and Erik Karlsson also scored for the Sharks, who have started their five-game road trip at 2-0.
Tomas Tatar and Jesper Bratt scored for the Devils, and Mackenzie Blackwood had 26 saves.
Gregor opened the scoring at 4:26 of the first, beating Blackwood for his first goal of the season. Radim Simek and Marc-Edouard Vlasic assisted.
Middleton made it 2-0 at 4:14 of the second period with his second goal this season, with assists going to Gregor and Alexander Barabanov.
Meier poured it on to make it 3-0 midway through the second on the power play, and Karlsson followed not long after to make it 4-0 San Jose.
Jacob Middleton scores a goal on Mackenzie Blackwood during the Devils’ 5-2 loss to the Sharks.USA TODAY Sports
Despite having Hughes back in the lineup for the first time since the second game of the season, the Devils offered a minimal offensive attack against the Sharks until the third period.
Tatar ruined Reimer’s shutout bid with his fourth goal at 9:12 of the third. Pavel Zacha and Devils captain Nico Hischier assisted, the 100th career assist for the 22-year-old.
Bratt then made it a 4-2 game with his sixth goal at 12:49, and Andreas Johnsson had the lone assist.
Meier’s second goal of the game (his team-leading 11th goal of the season) came with three minutes left in the third.
The Devils announced earlier Tuesday that the 20-year-old Hughes agreed to an eight-year, $64 million contract extension that starts next season after his three-year entry level pact expires. Hughes was the first overall pick by the Devils in the 2019 draft. He missed 17 games after suffering a shoulder injury on Oct. 19 against Seattle.