Sunday, December 31, 2006

Awards Update

With New Year's Eve hockey games starting, I figured I'd update my top three for each trophy as of this moment as we close in on the halfway point:

Hart

1.Martin Brodeur- has done most with less. League leading six shutouts.
2.Marian Hossa- continues to play extremely well. Tied for second with 52 points.
3.Dominik Hasek- where would they be without him? Leads in GAA (1.82) and has won 10 of last 11.

Norris

1.Chris Pronger- Continues to dominate on blueline with 40 points and +21 rating.
2.Nicklas Lidstrom- Rock solid as usual with 34 points and NHL best +24 rating.
3.Scott Niedermayer- Smooth as silk D can flourish in any situation. 32 points, +10 rating.

Vezina

1.Martin Brodeur- Has all his team's wins. Ranks in top three in wins, GAA, save percentage and shutouts.
2.Dominik Hasek- First in GAA, second in shutouts and world's better than Osgood.
3.Chris Mason- Has flown under radar. Ex-Devil draft pick is playing like a No.1 and has stats (15 wins, 2.27 GAA, .929 save pct and 4 shutouts) to back it up. Will Vokoun get his job back?

Calder

1.Evgeni Malkin- continues to pace all rookies in goals (18), PPG (8) and points (36).
2.Anze Kopitar- right behind Malkin with 35 points while leading all freshmen with 24 helpers. A dynamic talent.
3.Matt Carle- leads all rookie defensemen with 21 points while getting almost 19:00 a night for playoff contender San Jose.

Selke

1.Todd Marchant- has returned as very effective checking line center who neutralizes opponents and is threat shorthanded (3 SHG).
2.Kris Draper- former Selke winner continues to be gritty reliable self for Wings chipping in three shorties and respectable +9 rating.
3.Jay Pandolfo- his linemate Mad Dog always gets all the kudos but the former BU standout is the overlooked player who makes that line so tough to play against.

Jack Adams

1.Ted Nolan- has comeback and proven he still can motivate players. Has Islanders playing solid hockey and competing for a playoff spot when they were expected to finish near the bottom.
2.Denis Savard- since taking over in Chicago, the former Blackhawk has injected life into a once dead Original Six club and has them in playoff contention.
3.Glen Hanlon- you look at that Caps team especially on D and wonder how they can be only a couple of points out of the postseason race. This team's work ethic is tremendous.

Plans for New Year's

I'm not totally sure what well be doing for New Year's. You can expect my inaugural attemp at Isles GameDay, when they take on Buffalo tomorrow at 4.

Tonight's Games:

Anaheim at Minnesota.
Kings and Wings.
Hawks and Jackets.
Battle of Alberta.
Sharks and Stars.
Canes and Phailures.

No webcasting for a few days, so without Center ice, there's no hockey to watch tonight.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

No Kidding Around, Win No Accident As Rangers and Caps Turn Back Clock In Old School Patrick Division Battle

I see Steve called it an "accident" that the Rangers actually won a game for the first time in over two weeks. Normally, I would agree based on how poorly this team has been going. But not tonight buddy. Was it also an accident that the Devils found a way to beat the Islanders? Sorry. Couldn't resist. :)

To say I was absolutely shocked with what I saw would be an understatement. It's almost as shocking as another lifeless New York team that wears blue leading 20-7 at halftime in D.C. against the other Washington team. Well they did win but not without making it an adventure. Meaning both teams won. Did hell freeze over? An investigation is underway as we write this.

What took place the Garden tonight was a miracle. The Rangers and Capitals battled old school in every sense of the word, turning back the clock to when the game wasn't soft and these two were bitter Patrick Division rivals. How good was it? By far the best game the Rangers have taken part in this season. Forget some of the other wins they've had. The first two against the Devils were nice. So were the couple of big ones out West at Anaheim and San Jose. But those take a back seat to how the club snapped their seven-game skid.

From the very opening shift, I could tell that something was different with Tom Renney's club. Instead of the passionless East/West pansy hockey which had been sucking the life out of them, the Blueshirts decided to come out and play a throwback North/South style which will suit them well when they visit The Meadowlands this Tuesday starting the New Year. Whether or not they do it is up to them. But this new classic style worked well and paid dividends in a 4-1 statement victory which energized fans for a change and didn't leave them blue during this holiday season.

So what was different aside from the unusual rough stuff and rock'em sock'em antics which had to have league commish Gary Bettman shaking in his boots? Well, for starters, there was a Petr Prucha sighting. Reunited for the second straight game with Opening Night linemates Matt Cullen and Brendan Shanahan, the slumping second-year winger scored twice (not a misprint). Both goals were the kind he scored last year en route to 30. The first came just 1:55 in when Prucha did the grunt work in front of the net finding a Karel Rachunek rebound and flipping a backhand home past Olaf Kolzig. It was his first goal in six games and got the team off to the kind of quick start they needed- also ending that long goal drought which lasted over seven periods.

Continuing to carry the play to a tired Caps team who was shorthanded due to the flu and playing their fourth game in five nights (can someone please explain why), the Rangers took the body and controlled play in a dominant first outshooting their opponents 16-5. Not long after a key Henrik Lundqvist stop on Alexander Semin, Nylander increased the lead to two when he tapped home Martin Straka's centering feed for his 13th. The play wouldn't have been possible without the work of underrated defenseman Michal Rozsival, who jumped into the play down low and created the seam for Straka to thread the needle to an isolated Nylander. A potential NHL All Star on the backline (no joke), Rozy earned a secondary assist.

In the second, the hardworking Caps raised their intensity level and tested Lundqvist, who was equal to the task swatting aside all nine shots which included four Caps' power plays. Lundqvist and the Ranger PK did a solid job killing them off. It seemed in this one a Ranger was in the right spot for a change, breaking up a play or getting in the path of an Alexander Ovechkin blast. Speaking of AO, he had an eventful night. It's worth noting that in the first during the first goal by Prucha, he was nailed by Darius Kasparaitis near the end of a long shift. While Ovechkin got retribution by nailing Nylander, Prucha put away the rebound. It was all part of another active night for the fiery Russian star who played his usual no-nonsense physical style.

Back to the second period where this game changed and intensified to a boil. During his shifts, goon Donald Brashear was pulling the usual antics nailing several Rangers including Rozsival and team captain Jaromir Jagr. That's always been how Brash plays. He makes you pay out there. The book on this Ranger squad is to be as physical as possible because they can't deal with it. So the ex-Flyer was only doing the smart thing in trying to mix it up and spark his club. On one shift in which he skated with Dainius Zubrus and Chris Clark, the always underrated big man almost setup the tying goal but Lundqvist held the post on Zubrus and froze the puck.

It was a little later in the period when things started to get heated. After third line energizer Ryan Hollweg caught a Cap near the boards, a hustling Brashear rushed to the aid of his teammate and punched Ryan twice with his glove on. Hollweg responded with a punch before Brash hit him square in the face with two more, drawing an additional two minutes for roughing. In essence, Hollweg did the job and went to the box with a grin. I can only hope he does the same thing Tuesday and goads Devil goon extraordinaire Cam Janssen into as silly a penalty. He's not as ornery as Brash yet. So we'll see.

With under a minute left in the second, the Rangers got a huge goal from out of all people Kasparaitis (again not a misprint). On a play made possible from hard work from Jagr who was much better tonight than the past three losses, No.68 took a Straka pass behind the net, drew a delayed penalty and two Caps and still setup a streaking Kaspar for his second goal in two Saturdays. He also tallied in that awful blowout loss at Toronto. This was different circumstances entirely and gave his team a three-goal margin.

Two seconds after the puck was dropped, retribution was saught from Ranger enforcer Colton Orr on Brashear. Sticking up for Hollweg, Orr took his lumps and predictably lost to the bigger man. No shame there. What was better was that it was for a great cause. If Orr does that when he plays, then he's winning a lot of points in my book. It's the only way Renney can justify keeping him in the lineup over Jarkko Immonen, who still should see PT over either Marcel Hossa or Adam Hall.

With the Rangers ahead by three in the third, that's when things got even more interesting for those tuning in. During a faceoff, Brashear snuck a short elbow into Jagr's kisser. The cheapshot was noted by the Czech, who returned the favor by taking down Brash and earning an interference minor. It got more troublesome for New York when Aaron Ward went to the box on a trip giving Washington a two-man advantage. But during it, it was a determined Blueshirts PK showing something they hadn't for quite some time. A spark. Rozsival hustling and even defensive enigma Thomas Pock breaking up plays. He also prevented an Ovechkin breakaway in the first. They killed off the penalties and got big cheers from the crowd.

But the best part of this old school game took place a couple of minutes later. During Jagr's retaliatory penalty, a ticked off Shanahan had words with Brashear between the benches. The message was delivered. Despite how poorly and inconsistent his Original Six club has played, the 37 year-old North American has been terrific all season. Already a fan favorite entering the game due to his team-leading 23 goals and 42 points which ranks third along with gritty play, Shanahan took it upon himself to challenge Brashear during his next shift before a faceoff. Maybe the big guy thought it was a joke. But when Shanny dropped the gloves, Brashear obliged and the two then traded blows to a raucous atmosphere. Truth be told, the future Hall of Famer who's scored over 600 goals didn't do badly. He took some shots from Brash but hung in there and got a couple of uppercuts in to the delight of the crowd. It really was fun to watch and see that for one night, the Rangers were sticking up for each other. After the scrap ended, the usual circus which is Brashear cheapshotted A. Ward by suckerpunching him in the face. Ward said something to draw such a reaction and got an unsportsmanlike conduct. But it was worth it in his book. He got the big teddybear tossed out of the game.

Meanwhile, Shanahan got a huge reception headed to the box and an even louder roar of approval when he got out during a break. This was New York hockey fans paying tribute to a throwback hockey player who throughout his accomplished 20-year career has done all the little things to win games. Those fans recognized that. It was also recognized by the beat writers who tabbed him the game's 2nd star despite not registering a point, rewarding his spunk.

Too many instances this year, the Rangers have been getting pushed around. For one night they pushed back and showed some life that I didn't believe they had. It continued with less than five minutes remaining when Orr delivered a cheapshot to Ovechkin, catching him not looking with his stick up, drawing a charging penalty before taking on Shaone Morrisonn who did the right thing stepping in for his superstar teammate. I don't approve of Orr's antics there. I'd rather it be a little cleaner with AO having the puck. But I also understand why Orr did it. If opponents want to go after Jagr, then our guys need to do the same thing to opponents. I hope they do this to that little pest Brian Gionta Tuesday. It's him and not Patrik Elias who is always in the middle of everything the first place Devils do. Gionta is the sneaky guy who slashes defensemen in front of the net and creates chaos for goalies. Making him pay the price is the least the Blueshirts need to do.

The good news after the Orr cheapshot which got him the rest of the night off and probably a one-game suspension is that nothing else ugly occured. The two teams instead traded late goals eight seconds apart when Prucha notched his second of the night for his first two-goal game of the season on a rebound via power play before Ben Clymer took a Lawrence Nycholat pass off a faceoff and got just enough of it to spoil Lundqvist's shutout bid. Why does that always happen to Ranger netminders? This team just doesn't know how to get their goalies shutouts. It happened way too frequently with Mike Richter and continues to happen with Lundqvist and even Kevin Weekes. Just once I'd like to see them play as boring a style as the Devils so they can pad their goalie's stats the way the Swamprats do for their future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. Oh well. Not on this night.

All in all, it was just nice to see the Rangers get back in the win column. It was good enough in this mediocre new NHL to vault the 19-17-4 Blueshirts (19-21 in regulation for those keeping score) back to seventh in the East with 42 points, one ahead of the Islanders and Bruins. The bad news is they've played three more games than the Isles while Boston still holds a ridiculous five games at hand. Can anyone explain that to me? What the hell kind of scheduling is that? That's something I'll never understand about this half ass backwards league. But whatever. It is what it is. It also means the Blueshirts are going to need a serious push in the second half starting with the game January 2nd to make the postseason a second straight year. We'll see what they're made of.

Happy New Year!!!!! Hope everyone enjoys it and stays safe!

Battle of NY PostScript: Devils 2, Islanders 0

Scoring Summary
1st Period
Devils - Brian Rafalski - 2nd of the Season, from Pandolfo and Madden at 5:21.
2nd Period - Nothing
3rd Period
Devils - Patrik Elias (PP, EN) - 15th of the Season, from Gomez and Oduya at 19:50.


Goaltenders
Devils - Martin Brodeur, 29 Shots, 29 Saves.
Islanders - Rick DiPietro, 35 Shots, 34 Saves. (1 EN Goal)

First of all, what a fantastic game. Say what you will about scoring being down, this proved that it doesn't matter how much scoring you have, it's the kind of excitement the game has. This is the game that made Devils-Islanders a big-time rivalry once more. This had fire, passion, energy, fisticuffs and general hatred that every rivalry should have. And they meet again in what, 5 days? Cannot wait.

This was a goaltenders duel in every sense of the word. Old guard vs. New guard. Canada vs. USA. New Jersey vs. New York. Brodeur vs. DiPietro. These two battled at every shot they faced, and played the game with the snarl you expect from those two. It's a shame that a fluke goal in the 1st period decided it.

After the Devils were unsuccessful on two early power plays in the first five minutes of hockey, things settled down, until Brian Rafalski took what seem to be a harmless looking shot. However, it went off an Islander stick, popped into the air, and then, same-day call-up Allen Rourke tried to get a glove on the puck. He did, but he knocked it back in the air, over DiPietro's shoulder and into the back of the cage. Rafalski's second of the year, the third goal from a Devils defenseman, and surely a memory for Allen Rourke that he will not soon forget.

Then, the goalies took over. It was end-to-end action all night. I did not want this game to end. If I was neutral in my rooting interests, I could watch this kind of hockey for the rest of my life. One notable play came late in the third, as a Devil had fallen down at the blue-line, the Sunkists had a 3-on-1 with Paul Martin back on the play as the lone Devil. He went down, dove to the puck, and stopped the play right there. A season's worth of insipid play was forgiven on that dive right there.

The Isles took a penalty with just under two minutes to go. This made it so difficult to get an extra attacker on. They got one chance when they finally did, but they turned it over, and Patrik Elias had about a lifespan to put the puck in the empty net. THE CAPTAIN did put it in, and extended his team scoring lead, and the Devils broke a 5-game losing streak against New York, and extended their lead in the Atlantic Division to 5 points over the Isles and Rangers, who accidentally won tonight over the Capitals.

Devil of the Night:

Marty Brodeur - Wanted to give it to Martin for the block, but Marty shows you again why he is the best.

Bum of the Night:

Brad Lukowich - Overrated. Simply overrated.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Immonen To Sit Again, Malik Still Out

In the Dumb and Dumber continuation of this Original Six laughingstock, Immonen will again sit out in favor of Orr, further showing how clueless Renney has become. He has lost his mind. It's time to fire him. He never gives any young players a fair shake. Meanwhile, Jagr continues to not lead by example by taking silly hooking penalties and blind giveaways. This organization just does not get it.

Meanwhile, Malik will miss yet another game due to his groin injury which means the defense should be in trouble once again. Oh boy. In other news, Bryce Lampman was sent down to Hartford for the 1,000th time. Why recall him in the first place if you have no confidence that he can play? It's so typical. He's been in the AHL forever. Would he really be a downgrade over jokes like Kaspar or Poti II? I don't know what to say anymore.

Rangers vs Capitals, MSG, 7 ET

The Rangers will attempt to lose their last eight in 2006 tonight in similar fashion to how they dropped their final nine to end last year's promising season. At this point, does anyone actually believe they won't find a way to fall to the grittier Capitals tonight at MSG? I thought so.

On a serious note, if you want to know how lost Dumb and Dumber Coach Tom Renney is, one game after benching top pivot Michael Nylander for the third period and replacing him with rookie Jarkko Immonen, he healthy scratched the Finn in favor of enforcer Colton Orr in yesterday's loss to Ottawa. And what was his explanation? According to Daily News beat writer John Dellapina, he was worried about Immonen "keeping up in high paced games." Say what? This is about as dumb an explanation as I've read. Especially when it was Immonen who played well between our two dead Czechs (Jagr and Prucha) against the Islanders. The same Immonen who injected some life into Matt Cullen during a five-game win streak (seems very long ago) which preceded this seven game skid.

I think Renney is delusional for scratching Immonen. A two-way player who actually has one more point in far less games played (1-3-4 in 11 GP) than Marcel Hossa (1-2-3 in 37 GP), Ryan Hollweg (goose egg) Orr (ditto) do. But does he reward the guy when his offense continues to struggle? Of course not. Welcome to Rangers World. Where Logic 101 doesn't apply!

Series Info: The Rangers and Caps have split the first two of the four-game series this season with New York taking the season opener on October 5th at MSG 5-2 while the Capitals turned the tables on them last month at Verizon Center by posting a 3-1 win on November 11th. The final meeting after tonight between the two clubs takes place in the nation's capital on February 10.

Overall, the Rangers are 74-78-18-2 against Washington in the all-time series. They take a 41-34-9-1 home record into play tonight.

Uphill Battle: Due to this seven-game losing streak, a once thought playoff lock, the Rangers (18-17-4, 40 pts) enter play third in the Atlantic five points behind the Devils and one worse than the Islanders. They were finally passed in the standings last night by virtue of Ottawa and Boston's victories which propelled them to 41 points, putting each Northeast club in a three-way tie for sixth in the East with the Islanders...Coming off a 4-3 loss at The Swamp to the Devils, Washington (16-15-7, 39 pts) enters play 10th in the conference right behind the Blueshirts. So to say this is a pivotal game would be an understatement considering what's been going on.

Keys To A Miraculous Victory:

-Limit top sniper Alexander Ovechkin (25 goals, 25 assists)

-Keep an eye on Alexander Semin (17 goals)

-Don't get scored on in the first minute like they did in Ottawa. It's no secret that this team's confidence is at an all-time low. They have been shutout back-to-back games and haven't found the back of the net since Aaron Ward did so at Tampa Bay in the second period to put them up three before a monumental third period collapse. So that's the last seven periods in which they haven't scored. Getting a lead is imperative.

Since I don't believe in making predictions for these games, I am going to add a special bonus line suggestion for what I would do to fix the offense. The lines obviously need to change and there needs to be a switch in the way they're constructed. Here's what I'd try:

Prucha-Nylander-Jagr- It's no secret that Prucha is ice cold. Sticking him with Jagr might snap him out of it.

Straka-Immonen-Shanahan- Immonen has to be the 2nd center on this offensively challenged team. Straka is the club's most interchangeable forward.

Hossa-Cullen-Ward- In order for this team to have any success, Cullen must be the third center. I'm all for recalling Dawes or Callahan and trying them on this line if Hossa and Ward don't cut it.

Hollweg-Betts-Hall- What you have here is an energy line which can be sent out each shift to provide a lift. And it also puts Betts in the proper place centering the fourth line. When Ortmeyer returns, slide him in place of Hall and you got the HBO line in place of HMO. A hardworking line.


Strange but True: Since defenseman Marek Malik left with a groin injury during the first period of a 6-1 Devil loss, this team has been lost. They also imploded in the final two periods of that same game and have gone on to drop five more. Big Bird is missed severely.

Martinek Out;Rourke Recalled

Radek Martinek will miss the next 4 weeks with a broken foot. The Isles have called up D-Man Allen Rourke from Bridgeport.

Colin White will be out for tonight's showdown, many news reports have claimed.

NHL TONIGHT:

Not that you should be watching anything but Devs-Isles, but the Rags host DC tonight (7PM, MSG).

Buffalo and Atlanta have a showdown of Division leaders.

Battle of Ontario: Toronto hosts Ottawa on HNIC.

Montreal visits Tampa on HDNet.

St. Louis may sellout tonight against Colorado.

Nashville won't sellout vs. Boston.

Phoenix and San Jose rematch after Phoenix's upset at the Tank on Thursday.

Edmonton battles Vancouver on HNIC.

Battle of New York Game Day: Devils vs. Islanders, 7:00 PM, FSNY/FSN2, Radio Disney/Bloomberg

Image:VS-Logo.png
(21-13-3, 45 Pts, 1st Atlantic, 3rd East) (19-14-3, 41 PTS, 2nd Atlantic, 7th East)
7:00 PM
Nassau Mausoleum

TV: FSN2 (Devils Broadcast), FSNY (Isles Broadcast), Check NYOverFlow.com for Channel Listings of FSNY2.
Radio: Radio Disney AM-1560 (Devils Broadcast), Bloomberg 1130 (Isles Broadcast)

Last We Met:

As Doc Emrick said, "There are some games where the turning point is the [national] anthem. That was one of them." The Islanders embarrassed the Devils (In front of a crowd of about 65), who could only muster 16 shots. 5 different scorers for New York, who were lead by Alexei Yashin with a goal and three assits, and the Icelanders took the only meeting of the season so far, 5-2. Zajac and Parise scored for NJ.


Next Meeting: Next Thursday at The Swamp, followed by a game on 1/13 at the Mausoleum.

Leading Scorers
New Jersey
#26 Patrik Elias 14-22-36
#9 Zach Parise 14-16-30
#14 Brian Gionta 15-14-29
#15 Jamie Langenbrunner 14-14-28
#23 Scott Gomez 6-21-27

New York
#55 Jason Blake 21-17-38
#79 Alexei Yashin 12-22-34
#81 Miroslav Sata 10-15-25
#25 Viktor Kozlov 13-11-24
#18 Mike Sillinger 10-14-24

Goaltending
New Jersey
#30 Martin Brodeur 21-12-2, 2.17, .922%
#40 Scott Clemmensen 0-1-1, 3.60, .878%

New York
#39 Rick DiPietro 16-11-1, 2.66, .917%
#1 Mike Dunham 3-3-2, 2.83, .916%


Key Matchup
#14 Brian Gionta (NJ)
vs.

#55 Jason Blake (NYI)

The two small, gritty American forwards will be key to either team geting out to an early start, which--with the goaltenders involved in this one--may be the most important element of this contest. Gionta's recently picked up his game, and Blake's always a threat to score, so it'll be interesting to see who gets off and running first.


Game Analysis

This game is probably bigger for the Islanders than it is for the Devils. After getting shutout by the Senators, they need a big pickup against the best team in the division. For the Devis, it's more about pride. The Islanders absolutely humiliated them the first time around. They need a win to show the Isles who they are.

Prediction: Isles 3, Devils 2.

Isles Hanging Tough

Well, this is my inaugural weekly column covering the Isles and I'm excited about that. What a season it has been so far. After a summer of much discontent that read like a script from Days of Our Lives, the team partially assembled by Neil Smith and the Gang of Four (or is it five?) has done quite well for itself, due to several factors, not the least of which is the coaching performance tendered by Ted Nolan. He has got the team motivated most nights (with the exception of the Carolina game last week in which the team barely broke a sweat and looked out of synch for all 60 minutes) and the guys look well coached. They are in position, playing the game that suits their style, not trying to do too much, but playing hard nosed and getting dirty in the corners. And how about Alexei Yashin. Wow, the guy is doing it all, not only scoring but playing a really spirited defense as well. And Jason Blake has been outstanding, really coming into his own, especially with Yashin next to him.

While the season is looking up, I think Garth Snow knows that the team still has an uphill battle to make the playoffs and then thrive there. Both trades of Zhitnik and York are telltale signs that Garth is is filling the piggy bank so he can spend and fill a hole or two. But where are the holes? The obvious need is a second line scoring center with speed. Sill is a good 3rd line center and Kozlov is a better winger than center. Bates is really a 4th liner at this stage of his career. If possible, this type of acquisition would benefit the team sooner rather than later. But it will probably happen closer to the trade deadline as teams will be less willing to part with high quality guys until they get a better sense of their chances of making the playoffs and being able to contend. Who to watch for? I would keep a very close eye on Tampa Bay. TB is not going to continue paying 4 guys 21 million dollars to languish near the bottom of the conference. If this continues, look for Jay Feaster to unload either Lecavalier or Richards, with my bet on Richards. He would be a very nice fit on the Isles second line and make everyone around him more productive with his set up skills.

Who would the Islanders have to give up? I think any package would have to include a young defenseman. Over the next few weeks I think we will see Campoli play a few more games and then when Freddy Meyer has recovered from his injury, he will take that spot for the short term. I think you will see one of the two moved before the deadline. To sweeten the deal, don't be surprised to see Hunter go as well as a draft pick. The Islanders arguably need a top tier quick, scoring D man as well, but they probably won't get one this year and will wait until next summer to focus on that.

Today's game against the Devils should be a good test for the Isles. The Devs are playing much better lately with nine wins in December. Let's see if DP can outplay Brodeur.

Happy New Year to all - see you next week.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Turn Out The Lights

This team sucks! Heck. I already concluded that last week. But to get a grand total of ZERO GOALS in consecutive games and lose by a combined score of 3-0 to the Islanders and Senators speaks volumes for how pathetic Tom "Dumb And Dumber" Renney's club is.

It's one thing to get blown out because your team defense sucks. But quite another to not score one freaking goal in six consecutive periods! Not when you have guys like Jagr, Shanahan, Straka and Nylander as part of your roster. This is inexcusable and the low point. At what point do they finally pull the plug on Renney and make a change? What's it going to take? A losing streak of 12 or 13 games?!?!?!?!?! Good god. They won't make any changes either. That's the sad aspect for a team that once was eight over .500 in regulation in this mediocre new NHL. Btw that was only two weeks ago before they got their asses handed to them by Toronto 9-2 and New Jersey 6-1 on the Lost Weekend. They haven't recovered.

How bad is this club? Henrik Lundqvist played well for the most part tonight but allowed a questionable goal redirected by Daniel Alfredsson to squeeze right through his pads less than a minute in. I know what the Lundqvist clan will say. How can you fault him for a deflection? If you saw it, it trickled through his pads. He was still in perfect position but didn't close it up in time.

And that right there was enough for a sad Blueshirts team which suddenly can't score goals. They even turned a five minute Chris Neil charging major into a fire drill registering two routine shots and hardly getting any attack time at all. And did Renney actually try some new personnel with the same old guys not able to move the puck quick enough to get chances? Of course not!

I didn't see much of this game. But the one highlight was Colton Orr beating Brian McGrattan in a scrap. Orr showed a lot of mettle in that fight against a bigger guy, taking his lumps before getting the better shots in to get the win. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the lineup which has become so predictable it's hard to even watch anymore.

To tell you how little I think of this team, there was a point in the third where the game got blacked out due to technical difficulties. Nobody seemed to care here in Old Bridge. That's all you need to know.

So, the fading Rangers on life support try to make it an eight game slide tomorrow against the Caps to end a year which was once promising. Remember when this team was better than the Devils in February before the Olympics? Bueller, anyone? That team self destructed and dropped their final nine. Now, they look to end a year which was a positive for the organization in stunning similarity. How typical of this franchise.

Pretty soon I believe Renney will look like this classic picture of from Home Alone:



But hey. Renney "has total faith" in this team and believes they don't want to be a perennial loser. Now might be a good time for the way too nice coach to take a good look in the mirror.

Until the next loss tomorrow. Oh well.

Devils PostScript: Devils 4, Washington 3

Scoring Summary
1st Period
Washington - Lawrence Nycholat - 1st NHL Goal, from Ovechkin and Zubrus at 5:25.
Devils - Scott Gomez - 5th of the Season, from Elias and Martin at 18:53.
2nd Period
Devils - Sergei Brylin (PP)- 8th of the Season, from Rafalski and Parise at 6:22.
Devils - Scott Gomez - 2nd of the Game, 6th of the Season, from Gionta and Elias at 13:31.
Washington - Brooks Laich (PP) - 4th of the Season, from Nycholat and Beech at 16:50.
3rd Period
Devils - Patrick Elias - 14th of the Season, from Gomez and Martin at 6:43.
Washington - Alexander Semin - 17th of the Season, Unassisted at 19:14.

In what this blogger called a "must-have" game for the New Jersey Devils, they played their game. Once again playing in front of a season-high crowd --16,297--this holiday season, the game was driven by Martin Brodeur making some very key, very spectacular saves on the Capitals at points in the third period, and once again --timely scoring-- but this time, it came from the guys you want tickling the twine.

It started auspiciously enough for New Jersey, seconds after failing to capitalize on a Power Play, Washington brought it ahead and got the puck to the left point where young Lawrence Nycholat --a call-up from Hershey for this flu-ridden Washington team-- just ripped a shot that hit a Devil stick in front (The overrated Brad Lukowich maybe?) and passed Marty Brodeur.

The Devils answered late in the period on Scott Gomez's 5th of the season. It's about time that Gomer's started putting 'em in the back of the cage. Remember when he was a 30-goal man? Oh yeah, it was LAST YEAR GOMER! Pick it up and learn to shoot it again. Now, I know he was injured but, still, he needs to be encouraged to shoot the puck.

The Devils got their second goal early in the second period. After a Paul Martin shot, Zach Parise and Sergei Brylin both had rebound tries, and Sarge's backhand landed in the net. For Brylin, it was his 8th (Another sign that Gomer should be scoring more) and the man I hope will be the last Devil to ever wear #18 (More in a column next week) got the Devs their first advantage.

It was extended seven minutes later, when Scott Gomez did what every hockey coach tells you to do from about, oh, 4 years and up: "Go to the net, and good things happen. Now go play or something while I finish my JD..." oh, wait that's another story. ANYWAY...he went to the net and redirected the rebound from a Gio shot into the net. After a lengthy review from the crack (not on crack) staff at the Heavens of Mt. Continental, it was ruled Gomez's 6th to make it 3-1 NJ.

The guy who's name sounds like a chocolate and was called up from the chocolate making capital of the world --Lawrence Nycholat from Hershey--figured again in a goal, when he again, just took a shot, and it was redirected off of Brooks Laich's skate and past Brodeur. It was 3-2 heading to the third.

That's when Gomer used his newfound fascination--shooting the puck--to fool the young Washington defense. He fake a shot and brilliant slapped it over to THE CAPTAIN, and, at a terrible angle, ripped it right across into the net. You couldn't have placed it better than Elias did, and it was 4-2.

The Caps struck 1 final time before regulation expired, when Alex Semin ripped a shot home from the point. Many thought either Ovechkin or Chris Clark tipped it en route, but for now it's Semin's 17th unassisted with :46 to go in the game. The Devils held off any of the Caps further efforts--including a buzzer stop by Marty on The Visor-- and got points #44 and #45, winning 4-3. They are 4 points ahead of the Isles, with the showdown coming tomorrow night.

Rangers at Senators, MSG, 7:30 ET/4:30 PT

Being that I don't have much time cause I have to run out for a special get together with friends including seeing an old buddy in Jersey, I'll make this quick.

Losers of six straight in bad fashion, the Rangers (18-16-4, 40 pts) need a win in the worst way at Ottawa (19-18-1, 39 pts). Ironically, the Sens have also been inconsistent and are one of the teams the Blueshirts are battling for playoff positioning. So it's a huge potential four point swing game between two underachieving Eastern Conference teams. The Sens are fresh off their 2-0 shutout of the Islanders while the Rangers limp into this one after a couple of days off to contemplate their latest defeat of the same 2-0 variety to those Islanders.

Season Series: The Rangers won the only meeting thus far at Scotiabank Place 3-1 back on December 9 one day after my birthday. Henrik Lundqvist played one of his best games, stoning the Sens a number of times and Jaromir Jagr scored a goal which proved to be the winner. Fedor Tyutin finished it off with a shorthanded empty net. The Sens will be without their top two centers Jason Spezza (team leading 44 points) and Mike Fisher (9-15-24) for this game. Their offensive leader Spezza will miss approximately a month while Fisher is day-to-day. So the question is can the Rangers sweep the two games up there? We'll see. The final two meetings take place at the Garden January 11 and March 13.

Keys to a Win:

-Shutdown Sens' sniper Dany Heatley (20 goals) and Daniel Alfredsson (9-22-31).

-Don't turnover the puck. Ottawa comes at you with speed and their D loves to jump in and create odd-man rushes.

-Stay out of the box. This is self explanatory. You don't want to put the fast moving Sens on the power play.

-Get a lead. If they can get the early jump and make Ottawa play from behind, it should help a lot.

Will they get it done? Who knows with this team anymore? They need this badly though because Washington comes in tomorrow before they visit the Devils. It doesn't get any easier.

Welcome!

To our new Islander blogger Rob. He will be doing once-a-week columns on the Isles, but we are still looking for a GameDay and recap blogger! Please contact us if interested.

Devils GameDay: Devils vs. WSH, 7:30 PM, FSNY, WFAN 660

Before we begin tonight's edition of GameDay, I'd like to show you a new friend of ours, his name is "The Rock".





That is as of 1 week ago, at the Prudential Center in Newark. Boy, will she be a beaut!

Anyway...

New Jersey (20-13-3, 43 Pts, 1st Atlantic Division, 3rd Eastern Conference) vs. Washington (16-14-7, 39 Pts, 3rd Southeast Division, 9th Eastern Conference)
7:30 PM
The Swamp of East Rutherford
TV: FSNY
Radio: WFAN 660

Last we met: Marty pwned Ovechkin. 'Nuff said. Well, I guess, THE CAPTAIN, Zajac, THE ZACH and GIO scoring in a 4-1 win is cool. But seriously, Marty with total Ovechkin pwnage.

Season Series: 1-0 Devils

Next Meeting: A home and home 2/25 and 2/26.

Leading Scorers
New Jersey
#26 Patrik Elias 13-20-33
#9 Zach Parise 14-15-29
#14 Brian Gionta 15-13-28
#15 Jamie Langenbrunner 14-14-28
#23 Scott Gomez 4-20-24

Washington
#8 Alex Ovechkin 25-24-49
#28 Alexander Semin 16-17-33
#9 Dainius Zubrus 14-19-33
#17 Chris Clark 14-14-28
#18 Matt Pettinger 10-7-17

Goaltending
New Jersey
#30 Martin Brodeur 20-12-2, 5 SO, 2.15 GAA, .923%
#40 Scott Clemmensen 0-1-1, 0 SO, 3.60 GAA, .878%

Washington
#37 Olaf Kolzig 12-9-4, 0 SO, 3.09 GAA, .912%
#1 Brent Johnson 4-5-3, 0 SO, 3.50 GAA, .893%


Key Matchup
#8 Alex Ovechkin (WSH)
vs.

#30 Martin Brodeur (NJ)

Marty's shut the door on Ovechkin consistently since the first the two met. He's scored only twice in the 5 games they've played, and neither were anything to write home about. Plus, the "Visor Incident" seems to have given Marty the extra impetus to step up versus A.O. so it should be interesting to see how the two combat each other tonight. It may be the first time in a while that Marty's had a true personal rival, though I suppose when your a goaltender, everyone's your personal rival.


Game Analysis

This is a must have game for the Devils. They need to get at least a point from these Caps, as they host the Icelanders on Saturday, and that's a team that was outclassed by Ottawa of all clubs two nights ago. With the Isles in close quarters in terms of points, a win is absolutely imperative tonight for New Jersey.

For the Devils, they simply have to do what they always do when they're winning: Get scoring from anywhere on the forward ranks, get the usual stellar goaltending from Marty (But why oh why do I feel were getting Clemmy tonight?) and have defense not stink to high hell as much as they're capable of and they'll take home a "W". For Washington, the key his additional scoring, as usual. Zubrus, Pettinger, Semin and co. must all chip in. Brian Pothier needs to run the power play efficiently, and the Caps will have a shot.

Prediction: Devils 3, Caps 1. Devils goals from Madden, Gomez, and Langenbrunner.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

10 Questions with...John Buccigross

This is a new feature that we are doing here at BoNY. We are taking writers throughout the hockey world and giving them 10 questions on the Rangers, Devils and Islanders. We hope to have a lot of great guests.

Our first guest is a friend of the blog and to the NY Hockey Report, ESPN's John Buccigross.
John joined the ESPN conglomerate in 1996 as an ESPNNews anchor. He quickly rose through the ranks, and became the regular host of NHL 2night from 1998 until it's cancellation in 2004. He currently is a regular host of SportsCenter. He is a very good guy, and was nice enough to give us his take on 10 of the most random, interesting issues on the local hockey scene.

Steve Lepore: Do you think the Devils are a more exciting team to watch Post-Lockout, or are you among the many that believe they still play boring, 1-2-2 hockey?

John Buccigross: The Devils have been pegged as a boring team because they never have had a terribly flashy player. An iconic offensive player. The Canadiens of the 70's had Lafleur and Shutt, the Islanders had Bossy and Trottier, The Oilers had Gretzky and Messier, the Penguins had Lemieux and Jagr, the Wings had Yzerman, the Avs had Sakic and Forsberg. The Devils Hall of Famers are on the back end: Brodeur, Stevens, and Neidermayer. I think that might be part of the perception. Joe Nieuwendyk is the only lock Hall of Famer among Stanley Cup winning forwards on the Devils. And Nieuwendyk only played two years for the Devils and had three goals in twenty two playoff games

SL: Who has been the better captain so far: Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, or Alexei Yashin?
JB: Wow, what a question. Jagr is the best player and that probably matters the most. Alexei Yashin tries hard and appears rather likeable. I've always loved Elias. I don't think he is Captain material for the most part however. He'd be better off if someone else was I think.

SL: Who is the better goaltender: Rick DiPietro or Henrik Lundqvist?
JB: I think long term, Rick DiPietro can do more. He is the closest thing to Brodeur in terms of style. He doesn't have Marty's humilty and warmth, but he is going to be good for a long time.

SL: Who do you feel is the most responsible for the Islanders' resurgence?
JB: Ted Nolan, without a doubt.

SL: Do you think the Rangers have tuned out Tom Renney?
JB: I think the Rangers have a rancid defensive corps and one line that can score 5 on 5. The same deal as last year. If they make the playoffs they are one and done.


SL: Let's say the Devils ice their usual, playoff-caliber team in 07-08: How many times do you think the Prudential Center (Newark Arena) will sell out out of 41 regular season games?
JB:
11 times.


SL: How much longer until the Isles are considered a serious target for relocation?
JB: Nassau County entered into the Coliseum lease agreement with Spectacor Management Group in 1979. The original 30-year lease was extended in 1986 to July 31, 2015. So, at least 9 years. It's a cool place to live for a rich owner, so I think they are there for good.


SL: Which NY Area Team has a bigger need to upgrade on the blueline?
JB: You are right, all three have to. But the Rangers are the worst [on defense].


SL: You're going to watch 1 more hockey game before you die. Who's calling it: Doc Emrick, Sam Rosen, or Howie Rose?
JB: I really like all three. THey are happy, energetic, enthusiastic broadcasters. I'll take Doc.


SL: What has happened to Petr Prucha?
JB: Soft players with not enough courage eventually get weeded out.


THE BONUS QUESTION...

SL: Tell us about your new book...
JB: My book with Keith Jones comes out in February. It's about Keith's life in hockey. I hope it doesn't suck. I'm scared.

Random Thoughts

From time to time, I'll do this and let you know what I'm thinking. In this segment, I'm going to focus exclusively on the struggling Rangers' problems:

-Among the problems is team captain Jaromir Jagr. Despite being in the top three in scoring, the sometimes moody Czech who finished a close runner-up to San Jose's Joe Thornton for last year's Hart Trophy seems to be in a rut. The body language hasn't been good and might be a reason the dynamic winger has been held off the scoresheet the past two games. The more alarming aspect is that outside of a two-goal effort in a loss to the Islanders over a week ago, he's only hit the back of the net in two other games this whole month. That just won't cut it. Sure, Jagr has been a target of team defenses and will continue to be. But he has the size, strength and skill to combat it. He took the same punishment last year and played like an MVP. With his club struggling, it's no time for sulking. He needs to lift his game.

-As has been well documented, the team's third and fourth lines aren't giving the kind of support Jagr and Brendan Shanahan need to relieve some pressure. Just how bad is it? Here's a breakdown of the lack of production:

Ranger Big Four (Shanahan, Jagr, Straka, Nylander): 69 goals
Rest of Forwards: (Cullen, Prucha, Betts, Hall, etc): 29 goals

And right there is the problem. There's just not enough support.

-Aside from the lack of offensive balance up front, the defense has issues. Other than Michal Rozsival, nobody has been consistent. I'll cut Aaron Ward some slack because he's playing through injuries and always gives a solid effort. Fedor Tyutin has been up and down but shows potential. If he could just find some consistency, he could be really good. Outside of those three, it's a struggle. Especially with Marek "Big Bird" Malik still out due to a groin problem. I know nobody is going to want to be reminded but the two times Malik has gone down, this team has fallen apart defensively. It's not so much that he's a great defenseman as much as he's a steady player who pairs well with Rozsival and alleviates some pressure. As I also noted on my show last night, it's little secret that Karel "Poti II" Rachunek and Darius Kasparaitis have struggled mightily. When do they make a move and upgrade that horrific third pair?

-With Jed Ortmeyer finally recovered from a pulsonary condition, the gritty underrated wing and PK specialist should be returning to the lineup soon. And boy can they use him. Nobody ever realized how vital he was. But this is a guy with so much heart who plays the game all out and hustles every shift. He's definitely sorely missed. Hopefully getting him back can provide a spark for this lifeless bunch.

-If the other third and fourth line forwards continue to struggle finishing, the Rangers need to get Ryan Callahan and Nigel Dawes back up here. Both have more talent and upside than guys like Hall, Hollweg, Hossa and Ward to name a few. It wouldn't hurt to try to inject this roster with some young energy.

-The Rangers will visit Ottawa tomorrow before returning home for the Caps Saturday night to finish the year. They definitely need a win just for their confidence. Remarkably, they're not out of the playoff picture due to the East's mediocrity. So if they can string together a couple of solid efforts, they can right themselves. It has to happen soon.

NY Hockey Report Show Archive

Hey puck fans. Last night, I cohosted the NY Hockey Report Show with guest cohost and diehard Isles' fan Patrick Hickey. Among the topics covered were Rangers-Islanders, breakdown of both teams along with some discussion of the Devils plus the NHL realignment proposal and some WJC. Patrick also surprised Derek with his violin for all Ranger fans. It was a fun show to do.

Here's the show archive:

www.broadcastmonsters.com/NewyorkHockey/nyhockey122706.asx

Battle of NY Update: After Tuesday

Here are the standings:

NYI 4-0-0, 8 PTS
NYR 2-3-0, 4 PTS
NJ 1-3-0, 2 PTS

NEXT 5 Games:
12/30 NYI at NJ, 7:00 PM (FSNY/FSNY2)
1/2 NYR at NJ, 7:30 PM (MSG/FSNY)
1/4 NYI at NJ, 7:30 PM (FSNY/FSNY2)
1/9 NYI at NYR, 7:00 PM (MSG/FSNY)
1/13 NJ at NYI, 7:00 PM (MSG/FSNY)

Tomorrow Night's Hockey

Carolina-Buffalo's on the Webcasting Docket, on Comcast.net and Yahoo.com at 7:00 PM.

Detroit at Columbus again?!

Philly and Tampa meet up for those who get HDNet.

LA at Edmonton is on Yahoo.com at 9.

Phoenix at San Jose.

Game Of Night

Usually this will cover the locals. But I felt inclined to give a few thoughts on the unlikely game which took place between Western Canada bitter rivals Calgary and Vancouver.

In a wild back and forth game which had it all, the Canucks cameback to beat the Flames 6-5 in OT. When I flipped it on the Center Ice feed, it was 2-0 Canucks. Apparently they played a strong first period and led on the strength of goals by each Sedin. Have I mentioned how great these two twins are? Splendid stickhandlers and puckmovers who are so underrated it's sad.

When we flipped it back on again after watching the Stars hang on for dear life to edge the Avs 5-4 in another weird game (Stars scored the last three), the Flames had comeback to tie only to see Vancouver go ahead once again on a Matt Cooke soft backhand which beat Miikka Kiprusoff. A few minutes later came one of the niftiest plays you'll see shorthanded. Off a three-on-two rush, Willie Mitchell adeptly setup Brendan Morrison, who tipped home his pass for a pretty shorthanded goal to restore the two-goal lead. It's also worth noting that that goal came on only their second shot of the period at the time meaning Kipper hadn't made a save. Weird to say the least.

So Vancouver was in control right? Wrong! The Flames got quick goals from Kristian Huselius (2nd of night) and rookie David Moss (3rd in 3 games since recall) less than 2:00 apart to quickly tie it. Btw...it's worth noting Roberto Luongo looked pretty bad on both. I'm sure TSN studio analyst Mike Keenan was grinning from ear to ear after explaining why he couldn't re-sign the netminder and opted to trade him for what now is a failed return. Has anyone seen Todd Bertuzzi? Last we saw Alex Auld, he was being lit up like a Christmas tree and had lost his starting job to ageless wonder Ed Belfour. Bryan Allen now is the best part of this deal. Yikes. As my favorite Weezer song says, "Say It Ain't So." I'll admit I was wrong about that deal. Dead wrong.

So back to this wacky ending. After Daymond Langkow scored a PPG to put Calgary ahead, Vancouver's Ryan Kesler responded a minute later to force OT. In it, a Sami Salo point shot deflected off a Flame taking a wicked bounce past Kiprusoff to give the Canucks the unlikely win.

It was refreshing to see an NHL game end in OT as opposed to the predictable shootout which is becoming more the norm. More so than anyone foresaw. Paging Bettman.

This was a great game with the kind of intensity you wanted to see. And oh. Dion Phaneuf struggled mightily in this one. Maybe he's not Norris material quite yet. But boy, I'd take him on my roster anyday as I would the Sedins and Jarome Iginla. The problem for the league is simple. These players all play in Western Canada.

But hey. It sure was great to see!

Post Ranger Syndrome Strikes Islanders Again

I am not a believer in this. Maybe because I'm not a Fishstick fan. But for whatever reason, their team never seems to be able to follow a big win over the Rangers with another triumph.

Don't believe me? It happened again tonight in Kanata, Ontario where the Islanders were shutout by Ottawa 2-0. Was it a case of poor effort? Not really. But from watching this contest, the Isles were a step behind the well rested Sens. Might the Rangers have taken something out of them? Haha. I'll leave that to the audience to decide.

Either way, the Senators got a Mike Fisher first period tally off a broken play in which a Daniel Alfredsson pass deflected to an isolated Fisher who stuffed it home into an open net.

Trailing by a goal and outshot 12-3 in a lethargic first, the Isles picked it up in the second but couldn't solve Ray Emery. When two Islanders were penalized and then the bench was assessed an additional minor with less than eight minutes left in the game, it looked like it was curtains. But some gutsy penalty killing especially from Brendan Witt and clutch netminding from Rick DiPietro (two pointblank robberies of Dany Heatley at the doorstep) allowed the Isles to see the light. Could they kill off the 5-on-4 and then possibly tie the score? Unfortunately, they fell a second short when Chris Kelly redirected an Andrej Meszaros point shot to put the contest out of reach.

And so the Islanders couldn't take advantage of their game at hand on the idle Devils and tie them for first. The Isles will now have the next couple of days off before hosting that New Jersey team they have owned lately. In the only match-up of the season, the Isles routed the Devils 5-2 at CAA. It should be interesting to see who comes out on top. And in general, which team wins this all important season series because the way things are shaping up with the fading Rangers (six straight losses), Penguins (five straight defeats) and Flyers (franchise worst 10 straight losses) the Atlantic could come down to those remaining seven head-to-head games.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

My Midseason Awards

Hart Trophy
Sidney Crosby (PIT)
Martin Brodeur (NJ)
Jaromir Jagr (NYR)

Calder Trophy
Dustin Penner (ANA)
Evgeni Malkin (PIT)
Matt Carle (SJ)

Norris Trophy
Scott Niedermayer (ANA)
Chris Pronger (ANA)
Dion Phaneuf (CGY)

Vezina Trophy
Martin Brodeur (NJ)
Mikka Kiprusoff (CGY)
Dominik Hasek (DET)

Selke Trophy
Mark Mowers (BOS)
Jere Lehtinen (DAL)
John Madden (NJ)

Jack Adams Award
Denis Savard (CHI)
Randy Carlyle (ANA)
Ken Hitchcock (CLB)

Tonight in Hockey

The BoNY world will have it's eyes turned to Isles-Sens (7:30 PM, FSN NY, WBBR 1330) as the Icelanders have a chance to tie NJ for the Atlantic Division lead.

For our Canadian friends, TSN (HD) has a doubleheader, starting with Montreal-Washington at 7:30, and Calgary-Vancouver at 10:00.

Atlanta visits Pittsburgh, as the Pens look to rebound.

Philly looks to return to at least mediocrity against the 14th place Panthers.

Both Comcast.net and Yahoo.com have live streaming of Avs-Stars at 9pm.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Devils PostScript: NJ 3, PIT 0

Scoring Summary
1st Period - Nothing
2nd Period
Devils - Travis Zajac - 8th of the Season, from Langenbrunner and Parise, at 1:23.
3rd Period
Devils - Jay Pandolfo - 5th of the Season, from Brylin and Madden, at 15:58
Devils - Brian Gionta - 15th of the Season, from Elias and Martin, at 17:58

In front of the Devils' largest home crowd yet this year (16,156), they had one of those games that they've had over the years where, they have to show the league that they are the New Jersey Devils. I call this an NFA game, or No F***ing Around. It's pretty much any game where Marty has a shutout and score 3 or fewer goals. This was tonight.

After a scorless first, early in the second, the line of Langenbrunner, Parise, and Zajac got caught up in a broken play, not far off from last week's Atlanta home game, and it was one of those cases where Zajac found the puck on his stick and just shot it, and it went past Marc-Andre Fleury.

It should be noted right now that Sidney Crosby is a little bitch. After a perfectly legal Janssening of Brooks Orpik, Crosby comes in and suckers Cam once. Crosby should've been given 4, and it wasn't the last time these Penguins played dirty tonight, but we'll get to that later.

As the game moved on, it became very apparent, as it tends to happen in an NFA game, that the Penguins would not win, and very likely not score. Not a boring game by any stretch, the Devils just continued to shut down Pittsburgh, and Malkin and Crosby at every turn.

Late in the third, Jay Pandolfo scored on a pretty pass from Sarge at 15:58. Then, Brian Gionta showed that he's ready to get hott again, taking a nice backhand feed from THE CAPTAIN and rifling a backhander to the shelf. It was one of the nicer goals you'll see all year, and it stayed 3-0.

Toward the end of the game, Jordan Staal came in on a forechecking assignment and stuck his leg out and tripped Marty Brodeur. A melee ensued, and Staal should be fined for intent to injure. I know Marty embellishes sometimes, but this was a clear and direct attempt to take Brodeur out.

Marty's OK, Devils win it 3-0.

I assume Derek's gone and killed himself, I know I would if I were him.

Nothing Doing As Slump Hits Six

It's sad to admit but the Islanders are just better than the Rangers. In many ways, it reminds me of last year's Blueshirts who silenced critics which picked them near the bottom by working hard and coming together for a cause. That's the Ted Nolan Isles. Nolan who hadn't coached in nine years due to a well documented battle in Buffalo hasn't lost his touch and already should be the leading Jack Adams candidate. Btw...he won it once coaching those pesky Sabres.

Entering the season, everyone poked fun of the Islanders due to zany owner Charles Wang. Wang hired and then fired ex-Ranger architecht Neil Smith this past summer and replaced him with former backup Garth Snow. Then he gave former top overall pick Rick DiPietro a 15-year contract. It read like a circus. Naturally, the Fishsticks were treated like last year's Rangers with hardly anyone respecting them due to Wang. I guess people including myself forgot that sometimes, all it takes to motivate a team is all those doubters plus the best coach in the Atlantic by a mile.

The fiery Nolan who finally got his second chance gets results. Captain Alexei Yashin works his butt off every shift. So does Devil castoff Viktor Kozlov. Players such as Chris Simon, Mike Sillinger, Brendan Witt and even Tom Poti fit in. If this sounds like a nightmare, it isn't. It's really true. Go up and down the Islander roster and you'll be hardpressed to name a more balanced team in the division. They get contributions from everyone by outworking opponents. The grit and physicality was obvious tonight when they once again made misplace Ranger captain Jaromir Jagr look invisible.

You want to know the difference between the bitter rivals. Just look at the stat sheet from tonight's Isles 2-0 win:

Jagr was held to no shots through two periods and finished with five even though none were of the quality variety due to solid checking from Witt and underrated defense partner Radek Martinek. While No.68 sulked throughout and did little, the Isles' dynamic duo of Yashin (6 SOG, 1 assist) and energizer Jason Blake (21st goal and 10 SOG) were everywhere. It was a sharp contrast in what was a tightly contested game.

Remember when Yashin had that "lifetime contract" and no coach could get anything out of the quiet but friendly Russian? Not anymore. He now wins every battle including in the defensive end. It's no wonder he's now up to a +17 rating. Think the coach hasn't had an impact? Think again. Nolan knows how to motivate his players. Kozlov, who was an afterthought on the Devils (even scratched for fourth liner Cam Janssen in the playoffs) already has as many goals (13) as he had all last season along with 24 points. He is playing much harder and using his size to create problems for opponents.

Aside from the fact that the Rangers don't have the necessary grit or physicality in the corners to deal with the improved Islanders, they also are now coming up short in goal. Go figure. Remember when DiPietro sucked and was a laughingstock? Not anymore. In tonight's game, it was the moody Isles' goalie who made every big save and recorded his second straight shutout (28 saves) and fourth of the season. Meanwhile, Henrik Lundqvist who was brilliant at times let in a questionable goal to one of those Isles' role players Arron Asham on a slapper late in the second. That was all it took. Sure, the Asham shot came through Ranger defenseman Karel Rachunek but it also was one Lundqvist needed to stop. Instead, he suffered a concentration lapse and let it go through him. So while he did make 36 saves and played well, it wasn't enough because the Isles played the kind of overall game the Devils are known for. That's how much they're on the same page. They're a confident bunch unlike the Blueshirts who are seemingly lost and "Falling To Pieces" much like a Velvet Revolver song.

Late in the second top pivot Michael Nylander took a careless high sticking double minor after getting his stick up on Martinek and drawing blood. It gave the Islanders a 4:00 power play which spanned the second and third periods. Though they didn't connect on it, they continually recovered the puck and got chances (another contrast between the two teams where as the Ranger PP was so predictable the Isles defensed it perfectly) forcing Lundqvist to make some tough stops. And because unlike their opponents who got to pucks and cleared them out, the Rangers couldn't do that and ultimately paid the price when ex-Ranger whipping boy Poti setup Blake, who ripped a perfect slapper into the far corner as time expired. Right there, you knew the game was over. The Rangers hadn't shown an ability to penetrate the Isles' D and get the kind of sustained attack needed to beat a sharp DiPietro.

So with his club struggling to find offense, Coach Tom Renney decided to make an example of Nylander and not give him a shift in the final period. Look. I am all for benching players. But what was more vital? Sitting his top playmaking center or getting a win? He always could've sent the message by healthy scratching Nylander the next game at Ottawa Friday night. Hey. It worked last year. Nylander took some bad penalties last December and sat out before returning and picking up his game. What's Jagr's excuse though? If he were anymore invisible, I would've thought he was in street clothes.

It just seems like the magic which Renney had last year is gone. The one good thing he did was give rookie Jarkko Immonen and slumping sophomore Petr Prucha ice-time with Jagr. Of the three, Immonen was the one in the middle creating stuff. There's really not much else to say about this game.

Maybe the coach will say his guys tried harder and played smarter which is true. But the bottom line is they lost once again and couldn't get anything going. This club is very fragile to begin with.

I am going to make one comment regarding the coaching changes in Columbus and St. Louis plus Chicago. Look at how those teams have responded since. They're all competing better and winning more. The Hawks suddenly could make the postseason while the Blue Jackets and Blues are playing much harder under no-nonsense style coaches in Ken Hitchcock and Andy Murray. Now I like Renney and will always respect him. He's genuine. But he isn't tough enough for this club to go anywhere. They need a different voice. Someone who will not be afraid to ruffle feathers. I can't believe it but I am advocating the return of Mike Keenan to Broadway. This team isn't built to miss the playoffs. When you have as many vets as they do plus superstars such as Jagr and Shanahan, you are expecting to contend. Right now, this club is lost under Renney.

There might be a lot of time left in the season but it's slipping already and is eerily similar to how last Spring ended. For all his theatrics, Keenan has won here and usually can get the most out of a team that's build the way these Rangers are. It's time for Glen Sather to stop smoking his 1,000,000th cigar and make the move. Keep Renney in the organization. Bring back Iron Mike!

Rangers set to Battle Isles Again, 7:35 PM MSG

With only a few minutes from game time, I'll make this brief as I have been busy taking care of some other holiday stuff.

To say this is a must-win game would be an understatement for a struggling Ranger club which has dropped five straight in awful fashion including blowing two consecutive second period leads in Southern Florida.

Aside from that, the improved archrival Islanders have taken the first two games (7-4 and 4-3 at MSG) in strong fashion. So there should be plenty of motivation. It's worth noting that recently the Rangers have played extremely well at Nassau Coliseum. So can they summon up the demons and take a step to getting back on track? We'll see.

Coach Tom Renney has shaken up the lines. Here are the Ranger lines for the start:

Ward-Nylander-Jagr
Cullen-Straka-Shanahan
Hollweg-Betts-Hall
Hossa-Immonen-Prucha

Renney likes the hardworking Ward and is rewarding the gritty winger by playing him on the top line. Ward has had some chemistry with Jagr (especially when Nylander was out). So this just might work. I like the second line idea of utilizing Straka's speed to help Shanahan out. Cullen also has good speed and should mesh well. The real questions as usual are the third and fourth lines. Can they step up and contribute? That remains to be seen. Will Renney have enough faith in the young fourth line comprised of a trio all 25-and-younger? He has never shown confidence in rolling four lines this season. It would be a refreshing change if he gave them at least enough shifts to make an impact. They need about 11-12 shifts IMO.

Henrik Lundqvist will get the start. He'll look to bounceback as will the team. If the Blueshirts are to have success, they must shutdown Alexei Yashin (33 pts in 26 GP) and Jason Blake (20 goals). If they don't, it will be another tough night.

Devils GameDay: 12/26 vs. PIT, 7:30 PM, TV: FSNY2, Radio: WFAN 660

New Jersey (19-13-3, 41 PTS, 1st Atlantic Divsion, 3rd Eastern Conference) vs. Pittsburgh (15-13-6, 36 PTS, 4th Atlantic Dvision, 12th Eastern Conference)
7:30 PM
The Swamp

TV: FSN NY 2
Radio: WFAN660/NHL.com/WFAN.com

Last We Met:

1st of December, after an early Eric Christensen goal, Devils take control and win it 5-2. Malkin scores as well, but Patrik Elias is the story with a goal and 2 assists, and is finally looking to get out of big slump.


Season Series: 2-1 Devils.

Next Meeting: February 16th at The Swamp.

Leading Scorers:
New Jersey

#26 Patrik Elias 13-19-32
#9 Zach Parise 14-14-28
#15 Jamie Langenbrunner 14-13-27
#14 Brian Gionta 14-13-27
#23 Scott Gomez 4-20-24

Pittsburgh
#87 Sidney Crosby 17-38*-55*
#71 Evgeni Malkin 17-16-33
#8 Mark Recchi 9-21-30
#55 Sergei Gonchar 5-22-27
#19 Ryan Whitney 4-16-20

Goaltenders
New Jersey
#30 Martin Brodeur 19-12-2, 2.21, .920%
#40 Scott Clemmensen 0-1-1, 3.60, .878%

Pittsburgh
#29 Marc-Andre Fleury 14-9-4, 3.14, .897%
#41 Jocelyn Thibault 1-4-2, 3.24, .898

*-League Leader

Game Analysis:

It really shows how much parity there is in hockey when a team like Pittsburgh is still contending hear at Christmas. Sad fact is, they are a pretty decent hockey club, you can't not be with Crosby and Malkin, but other then that magic duo, they are either not fully developed (Whitney, Welch, etc.) or way past their prime (Recchi, Gonchar) and that's not something a hockey team should feel pressured to win with every night. The Devils are fully capable of dominating Pittsburgh if Michel Terrien is dumb enough to put Crosby and Malkin together on a line, because Madden and Pandolfo would take care of them. However, Malkin doesn't do very well individually, so if they're on two seprate lines, it might not be too much of a worry for NJ. Otherwise, they just need to get balanced scoring and they'll be fine.


Prediction: Devils 4, Pittsburgh 2.

Christmas Elite Part II

We left off with our top three Hart hopefuls at this juncture of the holiday season. So let's see who are the leading candidates thus far for three other significant awards:

Vezina:

1.Martin Brodeur- Take the two-time Vezina winner and all everything goalie away from an offensively challenged Devils team and they would stink. How does a team which has scored only three more goals than they've allowed (92 GF, 89 GA) have 19 wins and sit in first? The answer is Brodeur, who has accounted for all 19 victories (2nd in NHL) while posting a respectable 2.21 GAA, .920 save percentage and is tied for second with four shutouts.

2.Miikka Kiprusoff- The rating Vezina champ once again is the key to any chance the Flames have making the postseason and going far. He's kind of similar to Brodeur in that he plays on a team which doesn't score much (95 GF) but given up even less (82 GA). Kipper has 16 of their 17 wins and as usual is right up there in GAA (2.17 ranks 5th), save percentage (.926 tied for 3rd) and shutouts (4 ties him for 2nd).

3.Jean-Sebastien Giguere- We're giving the former 2003 Conn Smythe winner the nod over The Dominator for now because he plays on the best team. Many questioned whether Giggy could recapture that special form. Especially after he looked pretty ordinary the last couple of seasons. But this year, the magic has returned. Entering a season uncertain to beat out Ilya Bryzgalov for the No.1 job, Giguere has been splendid thus far. He leads the league with 23 wins while posting a 2.12 GAA (tied 3rd), .926 save percentage (T 3rd) and has a share for second with four blankings. It's hard to ignore.

Norris:

1.Chris Pronger- Okay, so he plays for the best team and has freaking Scott Niedermayer helping out on another No. 1 pair. But how do you ignore what the former 2000 Hart/Norris winner has done thus far. He paces all blueliners in assists (31), points (38) and his +20 rating ranks third among D. All this while playing more disciplined (28 PIM).

2.Nicklas Lidstrom- Year after year, few players are better at the position than the four-time Norris winner. The 36 year-old Swedish legend is one of the most consistent players of his time. Even age can't seem to get in the way of the type of impact player No.5 continues to be anchoring the Red Wing blueline. His 31 points (9-22-31) rank fourth among D while placing second behind Tom Preissing with a +22 rating. Lidstrom also has seven power play goals and once again has been very disciplined (26 PIM). Can he tie Orr?

3.Scott Niedermayer- I really wanted to put Dion Phaneuf here and maybe by the end of the year, the super second-year soph will be because he means a lot to Calgary. But it's hard to ignore what Niedermayer (6-24-30, +8, 3 PP, 1 GW) continues to bring to Anaheim. He's such a presence on the ice. One of the smoothest skaters, the former 2004 Norris winner just glides out there and can be used so many ways. Defensively he's solid. Offensively he is like an extra attacker roaming whereever he wants. How Randy Carlyle uses him on the power play is terrific. It kind of reminds me of how the Rangers utilized Brian Leetch. The best part about the Ducks' captain is he can get back in an instant. It's really fun to watch.

Calder:

1.Evgeni Malkin- Everyone knew how much a special talent he was before he came over finally to team up with Sidney Crosby and talented rookie Jordan Staal in Pittsburgh. The size and hands are one thing but the speed in which this talented Russian can make plays in any zone is worth the price of admission. The former '04 second overall pick is special and hasn't disappointed thus far- leading all rookies in goals (17), points (32) and PPG (7) while tying for first with Paul Stastny in game winners (3).

2.Anze Kopitar- While most know who Malkin is, not everyone is aware of how gifted this kid is. The first Slovenian to make the NHL has turned into a steal for the Kings. Somehow 10 GMs passed him up in 2005. Want to know why? Cause his home country had never produced an NHLer. Pretty crappy reasoning. If a player has his talent, it shouldn't matter where they're from. Watching the way this crafty pivot can skate is a thing of art. He's got all the moves and the presence to go with it. It's no wonder he's first among freshmen in helpers (21) and right behind Malkin in scoring (32 points). Kopitar is a top talent who should be marketed playing in LA. But will he?

3.Paul Stastny- I remember watching him play a little in college and leading Denver University to the NCAA championship. I knew he would be a very good player and couldn't understand why the Rangers and a bunch of other teams passed on him in the first round and watched the Avalanche get a steal with the 44th overall pick in 2005. And thus far, Peter Stastny's son hasn't disappointed. Centering the Avs' second line, his 26 points (9-17-26) tie him for third with John-Michael Liles in team scoring. Those 26 points place the smart playmaking center third among rookies. He definitely has a lot of upside.

With the Christmas rankings out of the way, I'm left wondering if Ranger Coach Tom Renney had too much spiked egg nogg for Christmas. Apparently, Renney is not troubled at all by his team's alarming play of late which has resulted in a five-game slide including back-to-back blown third period lead of two-or-more to Florida and Tampa Bay. He still has "faith" and even mentioned the Cup. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt. Make no mistake about it. Renney's Blueshirts have issues. They have an inconsistent second-year goalie who's struggling to match last year's amazing season. They have a moody superstar who's not playing like a captain. They have a schizo team D which panics once the opposition scores. They also have zero physicality and no scoring from the third or fourth lines. How can Renney be confident right now? Sure. He doesn't want to say he doesn't have faith because it might make things worse. But come on. If the Rangers don't put out the effort tonight at Nassau Coliseum and come out with a much needed victory, what will the coach say next? That they tried and are on the verge of coming out of this funk? Unless he's applying for a star role in a Dumb and Dumber sequel, Renney needs to right the ship quickly before this morphs into another Ranger debacle from 1997-04.

Hope everyone out there had a very Merry Christmas and got what they wanted. Just a heads up for the diehard puck fans. Center Ice will be airing the Team USA-Germany WJC game at 9 ET/6 PT today. If you want to check out some of the best prospects, it's worth tuning in for.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Why No Xmas Pucks?

Couldn't the NHL take advantage of everybody's feelings of cool weather and do a doubleheader on NBC X-mas day? Or even better: How about a game airing right before football. You wanna attract a crowd? Have a doubleheader beginning at 12, do 15 minutes of pre-game for football, and then get to the game. Boom, as John Madden would say, you've just promoted hockey more than any amount of commercials could ever do. First, show a big market game (Wings and Rags for example) at noon to garantee a respectable audience for game 1. Then, at 2:30, showcase Crosby and the Pens vs. the fun to watch Dallas Stars, and you get a great transition into the Cowboys game.

12:00 NY Rangers vs. Detroit
2:30 Dallas vs. Pittsburgh
5:00 FOOTBALL Pregame
5:15 NFL On NBC


I think we'd all enjoy that.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Elite

Okay...I want to wish everyone who celebrates a Merry Christmas. Hope ya'll get what your heart's desire and enjoy what's always a very special day along with a great time of year!

That out of the way, I thought it would be a nice idea to do our own Christmas elite lists. In no particular order:

Christmas Elite Top Five Teams:

1.Anaheim- Possessing the league's best record (27-5-6, 60 pts), the Ducks have it all including two future Hall of Famer Norris winners on the blueline in captain Scott Niedermayer and former Blue Chris Pronger. One of the best netminders in J.S. Giguere and a well balanced attack up front which features Hart candidate (not a misprint) Teemu Selanne along with young risers Andy McDonald, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Just wait till top prospect Bobby Ryan gets there!

2.Buffalo (25-7-3, 53 pts)- Despite injuries, the 2006 Eastern Conference Finalist Sabres have continue to play well and stay ahead of the pack in an ultracompetitive conference. After dropping two straight for the first time all season, Lindy Ruff's boys sent a message to the rest of the league by dismantling the Predators in Music City 7-2. They can beat you with speed, speed and more speed. Probably the best countering team, the Sabres feature the NHL's most underrated star Daniel Briere along with Maxim Afinogenov, Chris Drury and super soph Thomas Vanek. With Ryan Miller rocksolid in net and Brian Campbell and Henrik Tallinder teaming again on the blueline, this team looks extremely tough.

3.San Jose (25-11-0, 50 pts)- Flying under the radar, the Sharks are playing some good hockey. Featuring rating Hart winner Joe Thornton and emerging leader Patrick Marleau, San Jose can come at you with a lot of speed and skill. If Jonathan Cheechoo gets going, watch out. They also have an underrated blueline which includes Christian Ehrhoff, Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren which make them tough to score against (77 GA). With Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala playing lights out in net, Ron Wilson's bunch is a serious contender.

4.Nashville (24-9-3, 51 pts)- Despite the loss of No.1 goalie Tomas Vokoun, Barry Trotz' rising club continues to play well thanks to some solid backstopping from Chris Mason along with a balanced attack up front (Sullivan, Kariya, Erat, Legwand, Arnott) which includes rookie Alexander Radulov. Where this team could be superior is on D where they boast some great talent. Aside from vets Marek Zidlicky and Kimmo Timonen, youngsters such as Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are emerging as threats. If Vokoun returns healthy and they continue to get balanced scoring, this could be the year the Preds break through.

5.Montreal (21-9-5, 47 pts)- They don't score a lot of goals (112 GF) but then again they don't have to because of their goaltending (97 GA). Cristobal Huet is proving last season wasn't a fluke while backup David Aebischer has been okay. While the offense is limited up front (Koivu, Ryder, Kovalev, Samsonov), they are getting support from Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov on defense which takes some pressure off. Toss in emerging Long Island product Chris Higgins up front along with Alexandre Perezhogin and promising rookies Guillaume Latendresse and Maxim Lapierre (3 goals in 4 games since recall) and things are looking up for Guy Carbonneau's Habs.

Hart Race:

1.Marian Hossa- The second-year Thrasher has always been one of the NHL's best kept secrets. The ex-Senator was always a star but nobody ever put him in the MVP category until now. He's been Atlanta's best player and currently is tied with Alexander Ovechkin for first in goals (24) and ranks only behind Crosby and Jagr in scoring with 48 points. Not just a threat on the power play (13), the dangerous Hossa recently burned the Devils for two shorthanded goals. He's a complete player on a division-leading team that's looking to make the playoffs for the first time.

2.Teemu Selanne- What is it about teal which brings out the best in The Finnish Flash? For the second straight season, he's been brilliant. Clearly the offensive leader of a talented Anaheim club, Selanne leads the team in scoring with 45 points (19-26-45) and is tied among Duck forwards with a +17 rating. While 11 of his 19 goals have come on the PP, a majority have been clutch as his six game-winners pace the league. He's been a real leader on a young rising club.

3.Dominik Hasek- Okay, I know what you're thinking. Why nominate the moody Dominator when he's taken home this award in his illustrious past with Buffalo and dominated the Vezina? The Red Wings' goal differential (99 GF, 77 GA) is a huge factor here. The Wings are not as good as Anaheim, San Jose or Nashville but every night that Hasek plays, he gives them a chance to win. There's a reason they've got 47 points and won 21 games and it's in net with what was supposed to be a washed up 41 year-old goalie. For those who point out that the D is very good, while that is true, Hasek still has to be on his toes and stay focused eerily similar to Brodeur in New Jersey. In a recent win there, Hasek was brilliant. He currently leads the league with five shutouts, a 1.85 GAA and his 18 wins tie him for third with Marty Turco. Not bad for a guy who was on the way out before Ken Holland gave his agent a call.

Coming later today: The Norris, Vezina and Calder races all heat up!

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