The New York Rangers sink deeper into the East Division cellar

New York Rangers, Mika Zibanejad

The New York Rangers suffered their fourth straight loss by one goal in losing to the Buffalo Sabres by the score of 3-2. The Rangers are now 1-4-1, firmly in last place in the East Division.

The loss ruined a couple of milestones in the games, as K’Andre Miller scored his first NHL goal off a rocket of a slap shot with just seven seconds left in the first period. Miller continues to be one of the few bright spots for the Rangers, leading the Rangers in plus/minus rating thus far this season and he has been on the ice for eight of the team’s 11 even-strength goals.

On Miller’s goal, Colin Blackwell recorded his first assist as a Ranger, and he has tallied a point in each of his first two games with the Rangers. Blackwell has been on a bit of a roll, registering seven points (two goals, five assists) in his last eight NHL games.

Chris Kreider opened the scoring for the Rangers with a goal set up by a stellar pass from Pavel Buchnevich.

Despite this, the Rangers could not overcome some key mistakes and so other noticeable deficits in their game to pull out the victory.

Some of the more glaring stats from the loss was that the Rangers were 0/3 on the power play and they lost a whopping 69% of the faceoffs in this game.

Mika Zibanejad talked about this issue in his Zoom post-game conference. When asked the question, Zibanejad answered the question after a long pause by saying “I think its…….I don’t know to be honest with you.” Zibanejad did follow up by saying that “centermen’s have to do a better job of not losing it clean, as a whole unit we need to work together. All around we have to be better.”

In his post-game Zoom conference, head coach David Quinn talked about how the NHL face-off stats can be misleading but did say that “with that being said, we were abysmal on face-offs tonight. it was incredible how bad we were on draws. It was a huge issue tonight. We were at 30% and it fell like we were at 10%.

The turning point to the game seemed to come when the Sabres’ Tobias Rieder scored his second goal of the season at 6:03 of the second period. The goal came two seconds after the Sabres killed off a minor for too many men on the ice when Rieder received a pass from defenseman Matt Irwin as the Rangers defensemen were caught too deep in their own offensive end.

“Boy did our bench get demoralized'” Quinn said after the game. “I mean you could just feel it, there wasn’t any life to our bench. We better cure this in a hurry.”

“in a hurry” is exactly right as the two teams will meet again on Thursday night.

 

 

 

 

New York Giants: Finding that ‘big-bodied, X-receiver’ in the middle rounds

The New York Giants need to bolster their wide receiver corps. After an inefficient season on offense from the Giants in 2020, general manager Dave Gettleman and co-owner John Mara vowed to add offensive playmakers in the 2021 offseason. Whether the Giants acquire an offensive weapon in free agency or the draft remains to be seen, though.

In March, the Giants are expected to be in the market for a top-tier free-agent wide receiver. Depending on how that goes, the Giants could double-dip or snag their first big acquisition at the position in April during the NFL Draft.

There are numerous options for the Giants to consider in free agency. Names like Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson, Corey Davis, and other top wide receivers are being projected to sign with New York. But the Giants might struggle to sign one of these playmakers at an affordable price. This could lead New York to look towards the draft.

The top, first-round wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft class have received most of the attention from Giants fans. But there are actually more lesser-known names that could be a good fit with the New York Giants in the middle rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Mid-round receiving targets

The Giants need a primary wide receiver. Many fans think the Giants would benefit most from getting a big-bodied, X-receiver. Currently, the biggest wide receiver starting for the Giants is Darius Slayton at only 6 feet 1 inch, 190 pounds. Arguing that the Giants need more size outside is fair.

But what sizeable options are there for the Giants in the NFL Draft? What if they cannot acquire one of the draft’s wide receiver prospects and have to wait until the middle rounds? Well, in that scenario, there are a few options for the Giants to consider.

Terrace Marshall Jr.

While he might not be a “mid-round” target, Terrace Marshall Jr. is an intriguing target for the Giants if he slips into the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Terrace Marshall Jr. played that complimentary, WR2 role in LSU’s offense in 2019. As the secondary receiver, Terrace recorded 671 yards and 13 touchdowns. Moving into a more expanded role in 2020, Marshall was legit, racking up 731 yards and 10 touchdowns in only 7 games.

Marshall averaged more than 100 receiving yards per game as the primary target in LSU’s 2020 offensive attack. Terrace Marshall is 6 feet 3 inches, 200 pounds. Marshall could be a solid big-body outside wide receiver option for the Giants, something they are currently lacking in their offensive scheme.

According to Joe Marino of The Draft Network, Terrace Marshall Jr. “offers terrific size, physicality, hands, ball skills, run after catch ability, route-running skills, and overall technical-refinement.” Terrace would be a perfect fit for the Giants if they go wide receiver in round two.

Nico Collins

When discussing outside wide receiver prospects with size, any writer would be remiss not to mention Nico Collins out of Michigan. Nico is the definition of size at the wide receiver position. He stands tall at 6 feet 4 inches and weighs in at a strong 215 pounds.

Nico Collins did not play football in 2020, opting out of the NCAA season due to COVID-19 concerns. But this big-play, vertical threat has been training for the NFL tirelessly. When watching Nico Collins, it is hard not to notice how he overbears opposing cornerbacks with his size and strength.

Nico may be big, but he is not big and slow. Collins has impressive speed and athleticism for a wide receiver his size. While he can be a bit slow or sluggish coming out of his breaks, he has the speed to get vertical and take the top off of defenses.

Nico Collins is a deep-ball machine in a big-play weapon. Five of his seven touchdowns in 2019 came on passes 20+ yards downfield. For this reason, though, Nico is not a top-round talent. He has a lot of developing to do at the next level. With proper coaching, Nico Collins could develop into a more complete wide receiver and become the focal point of an NFL offense.

Tamorrion Terry

One last name to keep an eye on for the Giants is FSU’s Tamorrion Terry. This is another wide receiver with supreme size. Tamorrion is tall and lanky, listed at 6 feet 4 inches, 203 pounds.

Tamorrion Terry is absolutely a project prospect. He is by no means a finished product and will not be ready to dominate the league in year one. But he has some tools that an NFL coaching staff might love to build with. His height, weight, and athleticism could lead an NFL team to fall in love with Terry as a late-round pick.

PFL’s biggest stars ready for new season

Professional Fighters League’s reigning champions along with its new big-name signees are all set for its 2021 season.

World champions Kayla Harrison, Lance Palmer, Natan Schulte, and Ray Cooper III will be back to defend their titles in the most innovative and fastest-growing Mixed Martial Arts league on the planet.

The PFL has also added former world champions Rory MacDonald, Fabricio Werdum, Anthony Pettis and boxing icon Claressa Shields and many more world-class fighters in what promises to be its biggest offering yet.

The new PFL season will be aired live on the ESPN family of networks beginning in April.

Innovative format

Since its debut three years ago, the PFL has taken the MMA world by storm. Along with the finest collection of athletes globally, the league has continued to grow its fight-night and in-cage technology through SmartCage and IBM.

PFL fighters will compete in regular-season fights to accumulate points that will determine who will advance to the playoffs. The survivors from six different weight classes will battle it out in an exciting knockout style format in the playoffs. Each champion will be rewarded with a million-dollar paycheck.

Return of the champions

Harrison, a former Olympic gold medalist, Palmer, Schulte, and Cooper III are among the select few who have already run the gauntlet of the PFL and cashed in.

MacDonald is arguably one of the top pound-for-pound fighters of his generation. He took note of the PFL’s innovations and signed with the promotion in 2019. The welterweight fighter will make his debut this year.

In 2020, the PFL roster grew with the additions of such fighters as Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira and Sung Bin Jo. It served as a precursor to the earth-shattering signings of Werdum, Pettis, and Shields.

New stars

Werdum has risen to the top of the heavyweight division on more than one occasion, beating the likes of Fedor Emelianenko and Cain Velasquez along the way.

On the other hand, Pettis is also a former lightweight champion who has also competed at welterweight. His resume includes victories over Benson Henderson, Charles Oliveira, and Donald Cerrone.

Meanwhile, Shields is aiming to become the PFL’s crossover star. She will continue her quest inside the boxing ring while also beginning her career as a mixed martial artist this year. The three-division boxing world champion has been training at the world-famous Jackson-Wink MMA gym in New Mexico in preparation for her much anticipated PFL debut.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

After her big knockout win at UFC 257, what’s next for Marina Rodriguez?

Heading into UFC 257, all of the attention was on Amanda Ribas (10-2) when it came to the PPV opener. Ribas had a ton of hype behind her and many believed that she was the next big thing at strawweight.

However, Marina Rodriguez (13-1-2) was ready to make a statement at UFC 257. Despite both of these strawweight contenders being ranked around the same spot, all of the attention was on Ribas.

For Ribas to win, she was going to need to get this fight to the ground. Rodriguez has incredible standup skills, but she’s been in trouble when facing good grapplers. With that in mind, she really struggled in the first round at UFC 257.

In the first round, Ribas was able to land a takedown. Once on the ground, Ribas controlled Rodriguez for the majority of the round and landed some nice shots. However, the second round was a completely different story.

Ribas didn’t go for a takedown in the second round. Instead, she stood in the pocket with Rodriguez and she paid for it. Seconds into the round, Rodriguez dropped and hurt Ribas badly.

Rodriguez followed up with some shots and Herb Dean seemed to step in. She moved away to celebrate the win before realizing that the fight wasn’t stopped. Rodriguez then stepped right back in and finished Ribas off with a vicious elbow to close the show at UFC 257.

What’s next after UFC 257?

On the biggest stage against an opponent with a ton of hype, Marina Rodriguez performed at her very best. Her knockout win at UFC 257 is the biggest win of her career and it’s huge for her position in the strawweight division.

The new rankings just came out today and Rodriguez has moved up to sixth in the UFC’s strawweight division. With that big win on that stage, it appears that Rodriguez will get a big name in her next fight.

In looking at the strawweight division, I think a good fight for Rodriguez would be Michelle Waterson (18-8). Waterson is coming off of a big win over Angela Hill back in September and since 2018, she’s only lost to former champions.

The Karate Hottie is currently ranked two spots behind Rodriguez at eight. However, she has a big following and she’s a big name. The winner of that fight would be in a great position to challenge someone in the UFC’s top five.

New York Yankees: According to a poll Yankee fans want Brett Gardner in 2021

New York Yankees, Brett Gardner

After the New York Yankees hired Corey Kluber’s services, traded for Jameson Taillon, and accomplished their number one goal of re-signing DJ LeMahieu, they still need to deal with filling holes in the bullpen. Another issue out there of interest to Yankee fans is whether the team will bring back centerfielder Brett Gardner for another year. They refused his option for 2021 but have said recently that they have reengaged with Gardner and his agent to see if a deal can be reached.

After hearing the pros and cons of sportswriters and Yankee fans alike, I decided to conduct a non-scientific poll among Yankee fans in Yankee groups on Facebook.  Members of Yankees groups are probably more Yankee involved and more knowledgeable than the average fans. I put up the poll for only five hours, but in my experience, after a sizeable number (572) answer the poll, it seldom changes much no matter how long it left up.

I put up the question: Should the Yankees sign him up. The options I gave were: 1. Yes, sign him up, 2. No his time is passed, and 3. One day contract so he can retire a Yankee. The overwhelming number of Yankee fans want “Gardy” back on the team (391), no his time has passed (109), and 68 said to bring him back on a one day contract so he can retire a Yankee. Responders also added two categories. 2 said he should be coach, and 12 said he should be brought back on an incentive basis with a low salary.

Brett Gardner is the longest-serving Yankee player and one of the most respected and loved players on the team. After eleven years in the majors with the New York Yankees, Brett Gardner had one of his best seasons with the team.  He is already the veteran heart and soul of the New York Yankees. For those that think Brett is washed up, he had an above-average season. In 2019 he had 123 hits and 74 runs batted in, his third-best RBI record with the Yankees. He also hit a career-high 28 home runs, making him a power threat. Gardner was clutch in many of his hits. His speed on the bases and in the field was as good as ever.

If his 2020 season were as good, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion, but it wasn’t. He, like many other players, didn’t have the season they would have like to have. Gary Sanchez with a .147 batting average and Gleyber Torres hitting only 3 home runs after 38 in 2019 are good examples. In many articles, I have said that a player’s evaluation should not be based solely on their performance in the bizarre 2020 season. Apparently, the New York Yankee front office did consider Gardner’s 2020 season in not exercising his 2021 option.

I believe that eventually, the Yankees will sign him up for the season if the price is right. They still need to beef up the bullpen.

 

 

NASCAR’s iRacing Pro Invitational Series to return in 2021

NASCAR and iRacing announced on Tuesday that the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series is returning in 2021. This move will help fill empty TV slots that were previously scheduled to air practice and qualifying for real-life races. It also just gives fans more new racing content.

2021’s series is 10 races long, and events will complement the real-life races. It’ll feature a mix of tracks, including some of the new circuits on NASCAR’s schedule. FS1 will air the first five races, and NBCSN will air the series’s final five races.

Like 2020, 2021’s Pro Invitational Series will feature some of NASCAR’s best on the simulator. William Byron, Timmy Hill, Denny Hamlin, and Alex Bowman all won events last season during the COVID-19 shutdown, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see those four drivers participate.

The first race of the season is scheduled for Wednesday, March 24th, at Bristol Motor Speedway with the dirt configuration. FS1 will also air races at Talladega, Darlington, and COTA. The venue for the final FS1 race hasn’t been decided.

“FOX Sports embraced the eNASCAR iRacing Invitational Series in the spring as a way to keep race fans entertained, but we quickly realized it was a product and collaboration that we would continue to explore,” FOX Sports Executive Producer, EVP/Head of Operations and Production Brad Zager said in a press release. “The product is best-in-class, it delivers NASCAR to an even broader audience and, let’s face it, it’s a heckuva lot of fun.”

Although iRacing returning to TV in 2021 is exciting, real-life racing is just around the corner. Speedweek at Daytona is just two weeks away, with the Busch Clash kicking things off on the DIS road course on February 9th on FS1.

New York Giants: Early free-agents contracts Gettleman should be pro-active with

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

The 2020 NFL season did not go as planned for the New York Giants, but the franchised showed promise. Big Blue managed just a 6-10 record and was one game away from playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wildcard. Giants’ head coach Joe Judge seems to have his team on the right track for the future.

The Giants are a player or two away from being a force in a wide-open NFC East. The first chance the G-Men will be able to build the roster will come on March 17th. New York is projected to have more than $13 million over the salary cap, but the team should have their eye on a few top targets this offseason.

Here are three players the New York Giants should consider signing or re-signing this offseason:

DE Leonard Williams

If there is one player Dave Gettleman needs to re-sign this offseason, it has to be Leonard Williams. Gettleman is so invested in Williams, but that is not the main reason why he deserves a big deal.

Williams deserves an extension for being one of the best players on the Giants last season. Big Will proved to be the game-wrecker the Giants’ defense needed. He appeared in all 16 games for New York, finishing with 57 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and 14 tackles for losses. Not only did Williams have a monster season, but he is also a scheme fit for Patrick Graham.

“We love him in the building, he’s a great teammate, he’s fun to coach,” Judge said, per Steve Serby of the New York Post. “He makes your job a lot easier in terms of coming to work and enjoying your job, but then also making plays on the field, ’cause really, players make coaches good or not.”

If the New York Giants re-sign LW, they will probably not have enough money for Dalvin Tomlinson. The Giants have to choose if they want a dominant run stopper in Tomlinson or if they want a premier 3-4 pass rusher in Williams. The Giants should take the pass rusher, no questions asked.

Williams will likely earn in the $18-20 million per-season range. It would be wise of the Giants to get a deal done before the start of free agency.

WR Curtis Samuel

If the New York Giants want to bring the most out of quarterback Daniel Jones, they need to prove the pieces they have around him. Receiver/RB Curtis Samuel could be that sneaky piece the Giants’ offense needs.

Samuel had an impressive 200 rushing yards, 851 receiving yards, and five total touchdowns in the 2020 season. With Samuel’s production, he will not be a budget option. He is projected to make $12.4 million annually, according to Spotrac.

However, Samuel will not command money like Allen Robinson or Kenny Golladay would in free agency. He will be a bit of a cheaper option and way younger. If the Giants are able to add the 24-year old to their roster, the Giants could boost both their rushing and passing game in 2021.

LB Matt Milano

Judge and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham forged an impressive defensive unit in 2020, and with a few additional pieces, it could be championship-caliber. Adding a rangy, run-stuffing linebacker like Matt Milano to pair up with Blake Martinez could take this defense where it wants to go in 2021.

Milano dealt with injuries in 2020, only was limited to 10 games. But in 2019, he was healthy. He played in all but one game in 2019 and produced. He finished with 101 total tackles, nine passes defended, and 1.5 sacks.

Something most people do not know about Milano, he played safety in college. For a linebacker, he has elite pass coverage skills. He could pair up beautifully right next to Martinez.

Signing the 26-year-old could be difficult given New York’s cap situation. He’s projected to have a market value of a little under $14 million annually, according to Spotrac. But if the Giants wanted to sign an elite edge rusher or cornerback this offseason, this option would be a bit cheaper as well.

 

New York Giants: Kyle Pitts mocked to NYG by Mel Kiper Jr.

New York Giants, Kyle Pitts

Mel Kiper Jr. has one of the more respected mock drafts every year, and so far, he has the New York Giants taking tight end Kyle Pitts. The Giants already have one starting tight end who is considered to have big potential as a receiving target, of course. But Evan Engram hasn’t done everything the Giants have wanted since drafting him, and some think the team will take a chance on bringing in another tight end in the draft.

Pitts has a similar scouting report to Engram when he came out of college. Both players are at the tight end position but are expected to make an impact in the receiving game for their teams and are considered to have the skills to play out wide as a receiver.

What does Pitts bring to the table?

Here’s what Kiper had to say about the fit with the Giants, who he has taking Pitts at eleven overall.

At 6-foot-6, Pitts has the size/speed traits to line up out wide, in the slot or next to an offensive tackle. And he showed off his ability after the catch by averaging 17.9 yards per reception with 12 touchdowns. Pitts is not a traditional tight end, but he’s a skilled offensive threat. And with Evan Engram on the roster, too, the Giants would have two of the most athletic — and versatile — tight ends in football.

While it’s true the Giants would have multiple weapons at tight end if they kept Engram, it does seem like a strange pick. After all, there’s needs on the defense and even on offense, such as wide receiver. Having another tight end would help, but ultimately it’s hard to imagine the Giants would take a tight end over a possible number one receiver.

After all, even if Engram has too many drops, he fills the position with an above replacement level of play.

Still, the Giants not exactly needing another tight end hasn’t stopped Pitts from being mocked to them by multiple sources. And that likely won’t stop unless the Giants give some indication that they’re looking to another position – an unlikely pre-draft outcome.

The New York Rangers lose Filip Chytil for 4-6 weeks

Filip Chytil, New York Rangers

The New York Rangers have announced that forward Filip Chytil will be out four-to-six weeks due to an upper-body injury sustained in Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh. The incident happened in the second period when Chytil collided with the Pens Evan Rodrigues. Chytil attempted to continue but left the game for good after one shift.

The exact injury has not been revealed as the NHL does not reveal details about injuries, something that they r started last summer when the league announced that teams will be barred from disclosing injuries or cases of the coronavirus beginning with the move to Phase 3 of the coronavirus protocols after an agreement with the NHL Players’ Association.

The injury was also costly for the Pens as head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters that Rodrigues would be out “longer-term with a lower-body injury.” Rodrigues appeared to injure his knee in the collision.

It is unclear who will replace Chytil on his line but his loss hurts a team that has started slow out of the gate. Chytil’s play has been one of the bright spots for the Rangers in the first five games of the season. After Tuesday’s skate around, Brett Howden told the media via Zoom that the Rangers are not sure what the lines will look like as a few things need to be worked out.

 

 

 

Islanders’ Noah Dobson proving to be as advertised

When the Islanders traded Devon Toews to Colorado back in October, there was reasonable concern that replacing him wouldn’t be easy. But the Isles stood firm in the notion that sophomore Noah Dobson could do the job.

Five games into this season — and sure it’s a small sample size — Dobson has proven he was more than worthy of the faith the brass and coaching staff instilled in him. More than that, he’s been as advertised as the same player they Isles drafted 12th overall back in 2018.

“He’s been around pros for a year, he’s got a little bit of experience and he’s had time to get stronger as a young man training properly, head coach Barry Trotz said last week in praising Dobson. “He’s been practicing playing some games. He’s just grown. He’s ready to take on a real big piece of ice time this year. With the best interest of the Islanders and going forward, we knew we had to get him ready for this year. It wasn’t about last year, it was about this year.”

Dobson’s good start has been a bright spot for the Isles here in the early going. Minus the second game of the year at MSG, the argument can be made he’s been the team’s best defenseman outside of Nick Leddy. Right now he’s tied with Leddy for tops on the Isles for points as a d-man.

On Thursday, he recorded his first multi-point game of his NHL career. Dobson followed up that excellent performance on Sunday, when he was clearly the team’s best skater in their 2-0 loss in New Jersey. The 21-year-old played a career-high 22:22 and had two shots.

In both of those standout games too, the Isles’ power play looked more aggressive, which is something fans have been clamoring for and can be attributed to Dobson’s presence. Their first power play in Sunday’s game, the Islanders had six shots with Dobson manning one of the points.

Dobson was always known as a power play threat back in juniors, and now we’re seeing why. He hasn’t been afraid to shoot and makes quick decision with the puck on his stick. And as much as Ryan Pulock is the de facto power play QB, he’s become the second coming in a way.

But it’s not just from an offensive standpoint where Dobson is thriving. Defensively he looks extremely comfortable now that the training wheels are off.

The Isles sheltered Dobson last year in the games he played, and for good cause. He wasn’t ready for big minutes yet. That’s become a thing of the past so far as he’s been paired with grizzled veteran Andy Greene. The duo have been building chemistry with each other dating back to when the Isles returned to play in the summer.

The biggest thing is just confidence and comfort level,” Dobson told reporters before last Thursday’s game. “The more you do anything, the more comfortable and confident you get. This year, I feel like I’ve got a lot more confidence with the puck and I’m trying to make plays.”

Islanders’ g.m. Lou Lamoriello said that he feels Dobson has “outstanding potential”. At this stage, it’s hard to disagree with his analysis. He’s just one of the several young players the organization is banking on to be difference makers not only this year but beyond.

There’s still a long way left to go in this season, but Noah Dobson is looking like he’s the real deal.

The Islanders are facing the Capitals for the first time tonight since they eliminated them in five games in the bubble playoffs. The Caps are now coached by Peter Laviolette who last season got called out by Trotz for his handling of the late game power play when his Nashville Predators blew out the Isles 8-3 at the Coliseum.

Could we see some fireworks because of that situation? It would be welcome.

Another factoid to add is that the home team has won each matchup the last two seasons between the Isles and Washington. No such thing as home-ice advantage in this matchup.