The Tom Wilson game created all the hullabaloo, but by the time May 3 happened at the Garden, the decision already had been made to move on from the executive team of president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton.
And if there was one team responsible for the decision executed by Garden chairman Jim Dolan (other than the Rangers), it was not the Capitals.
It was the Islanders.
And the dates and games that Dolan likely circled were April 20, when the Blueshirts took a 6-1 beatdown at the Coliseum in a match when Jacob Trouba was concussed in the first period on a legal hit by Matt Martin; and April 29 at the Garden, when Ryan Lindgren was suspected to have suffered a third-period concussion in the aftermath of a collision the defenseman initiated with Cal Clutterbuck in a second consecutive embarrassment of a defeat, this one by 4-0.
(There was another humiliation to come two days later on Long Island in a 3-0 defeat in which Martin blithely elbowed Mika Zibanejad in the face without a semblance of retribution the rest of the way, but by that time the Rangers were a decimated and demoralized squad a week away from the end of the season.)
The Rangers’ inability to be competitive against the Islanders throughout the season, 2-5-1 while shut out four times and dominated physically, set off alarm bells throughout the organization. The Islanders, and specifically the Identity Line consisting of Martin, Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas, were the bullies on the beach kicking sand in the Rangers’ collective faces.
The Rangers were more physical than the Islanders and that’s why they scored the 4-1 victory, Larry Brooks writes.Robert Sabo
But not now. Not this year.
Because the Rangers not only took no guff from the Islanders at the new digs at Belmont on Thanksgiving Eve, they had the fourth line that dominated the action, oh yes they did in this 4-1 victory over the skeleton squad dressed in Islanders laundry.
The Blueshirts took the initiative. The Blueshirts responded, not once but twice when they believed that Ryan Lindgren had taken an uncalled headshot from J-G Pageau 13:37 into the third period — and the first responders were none other than Adam Fox and Alex Lafreniere.
“It’s like we were in the movie ‘Interstellar,’ ’’ said Ryan Reaves, who helped create two Kevin Rooney goals, the second of which came off No. 75’s stellar two-on-one backhand feed. “Parallel universe, I didn’t know what was going on. It was fun.”
You don’t have to tell me the Islanders took the ice with a skeleton squad, ravaged by a combination of COVID-19 and injuries that sidelined, among others, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara. But that’s hockey, Suzyn, or at least it’s hockey as administered by NHL headquarters.
Still, the two points the Rangers earned are not devalued. Still, the 12-4-3 Rangers moved a full 15 points ahead of the 5-9-2 Islanders, who have lost seven straight in regulation by three goals or more and have been outscored by an aggregate 31-7 through this nightmarish start to the season that may have nowhere to go.
And there is this, too: A year ago — yes, we’re time traveling again — the Rangers faced New Jersey at the Garden after the Devils had been shut down for two weeks and had practiced once in the interim. Guess what? New Jersey 5, New York 2.
“Every team has good players in the minors, good players that are hungry coming up into the system that you know want to prove themselves when they do make it up here,” said Reaves, whose fourth line with Rooney and center Barclay Goodrow has been on for three of the club’s last five goals at five-on-five. “You can’t take teams like that lightly because they’re sometimes the hungriest teams. If you take them lightly they’ll step on your throat.”
Rangers physically dominated in their win over the Islanders, including this fight.Robert Sabo
When Lindgren was belted on the boards by Pageau, Fox tracked the center and dragged him down. Later, Lafreniere confronted Pageau, the two dropping their gloves, the kid from Saint-Eustache picking up the first fighting major of his career as well as plaudits from his mates.
“I think we were all [proud of him],” said Chris Kreider, who scored two more to elevate his total to 15 in 19 games, with 11 in the last 11 matches. “That was awesome.
“He loves mixing it up. He loves playing with an edge.”
Jacob Trouba had another big-time game, with his pair including K’Andre Miller assuming more and more responsibility. The Blueshirts battled on the walls, they competed in the dirty areas. The fourth-line, per Kreider, “They were monsters.”
No. 20 was not talking about Clutterbuck, Martin and Cizikas.
Reggie Miller’s advice to James Harden bites Knicks
Reggie Miller reminded James Harden that he was a former MVP. Then the Nets star went out and played like it.
And the Knicks paid the price.
Harden’s dominance helped the Nets eke out a 112-110 victory before a sellout crowd of 18,081 at Barclays Center.
Coming off a horrible 4-of-15 shooting, seven-turnover performance in Saturday’s loss to Phoenix, Harden admitted he’s been struggling trying to strike a balance between scoring and facilitating with All-Star Kyrie Irving out.
Miller talked with Harden before Tuesday’s game, reminding him he’s a former MVP. “What do you mean you don’t know when to score and when to pass?” the Hall of Famer-turned-TNT broadcaster asked. “You never had this problem in Houston?”
Whatever Miller said worked. Harden had 34 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. He had 15 points in the first quarter and 28 by intermission, crediting Miller — among the greatest Knick-killers ever — with his outburst.
Reggie Miller and James HardenGetty Images; N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg
“Yeah, it was definitely that. Reggie is the one that got me going. He’s got me going for sure,” Harden said. “But yeah, it was just ultimate confidence, the best-player-in-the-league type of mindset. That was motivation before the game, something I needed.”
Harden even had a vicious follow dunk in a 14-0 run to start the third quarter, with a flex and celebratory roar that told the tale of this game.
“That might have been my first [follow dunk] of my career, 19 years, so I had to let it out,” Harden said. “It wasn’t that great when I looked at the highlight, but it felt great. That’s all that matters.”
Kevin Durant came into Tuesday’s game against the Knicks averaging 35.6 minutes. That’s 2.5 more minutes than he logged last season, and his most since 2015-16 when he was just 27-years-old with two healthy Achilles’ tendons.
Moreover, Durant has often been tasked with guarding the opponents’ top forward threat, and has been playing back-to-backs, two things the Nets spared him from last season. Nash and the performance team know they’ll have to look for spots to try to spell him.
“I’m a basketball player. I enjoy to play. I wanna play for 48 minutes. That’s just what it is,” Durant said.
The Nets sent Nic Claxton down to practice with Long Island, then recalled the young big as well as rookie first-round pick Day’Ron Sharpe from the G League before the game.
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.