Monday, December 31, 2007

Drury and Shanahan spark Blueshirts to third straight win

There was a very entertaining game which took place at 33rd and 7th Avenue last night. Because unlike the Knicks who still are everywhere you look at The Garden with NBA All-Star ballots for that pathetic bunch, the Blueshirts actually are becoming watchable again.

Yes. They're now finding the offense which was missing for most of the first half. For the third consecutive game, they scored at least four and posted a well earned come from behind 4-3 overtime victory over the Canadiens in what was an electric atmosphere last night.

That's cause you had your share of Montreal supporters who made the trip from up north to support their team. Tell ya one thing. They sure make it interesting. In fact, I had a French Canadian come up to me before warmups and he was speaking gibberish which couldn't be understood. Then even made a joke about basketball. Classic stuff.

It seemed to be the same kind of supporters who went home bitterly disappointed last April when their team collapsed to miss the postseason at the Islanders' expense.

They chanted "Go Habs Go, Go Habs Go," which got the attention of Ranger fans who returned the favor with "Let's Go Rangers, Let's Go Rangers."

Maybe this is what I like about Canadian games. It creates a chaotic atmosphere full of energy. And because the Habs entered leading our Rangers by two points for fourth in the conference, the fans were into it from start to finish.

The best aspect was that the game itself wasn't a snoozer. It was back and forth probably played more at Montreal's frenetic pace. Despite each team getting the same amount of shots (21 apiece) on goalies Cristobal Huet and Henrik Lundqvist, many were of the quality variety testing them and keeping fans on the edge of their seats.

The Rangers struck first when Scott Gomez setup defenseman Dan Girardi's seventh at 10:14. But the Canadiens got a late Andrei Kostistyn power play tally to tie it taking advantage of an undisciplined Marek Malik hook after a giveaway.

As Habs fans were singing their patented, "Ole, Ole, Ole" song the Rangers came right back 17 seconds later to re-take the lead when Gomez made a brilliant rush and fed Jaromir Jagr for his 11th making it three straight for a rejuvenated No.68 with a goal.

They took the lead to the locker room. Apparently, they forgot to come out for the second because it was all Habs. A lazy Martin Straka hook in the offensive zone led directly to another Montreal PPG. Off a Marc Staal backhand clear attempt which was gloved down by former Ranger Alexei Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec setup an open Kostistyn for his second of the night at 14:31.

Montreal went ahead 2:36 later on essentially another man-advantage when during a delayed call on Blair Betts, the Habs got the extra attacker out and worked the puck around down low before the Kostistyn brothers combined to find an open Plekanec for an easy goal within 12 feet.

After being outscored 2-0 and outshot 7-1, the Rangers came out much better in the third and would get the tying goal. But not before having an apparent Fedor Tyutin goal wiped out when Toronto ruled against what looked like the equalizer. Instead, the puck hit both the crossbar and right elbow of the post. To the naked eye live, it looked in and didn't make the usual sound. But it appears the league ruled properly in reversing the call.

The Rangers could've let down after that bad break but on this night, they weren't taking no for an answer. Off a key faceoff win, Chris Drury went to the net and found a loose rebound off a deflected Paul Mara shot and scored his 10th to tie the game with 5:51 remaining.

It was the king of play you come to expect from Mr. Clutch. He has struggled in his first season on Broadway but he was huge late.

In OT, Drury again factored in on the deciding marker. Off a Roman Hamrlik turnover, he pushed a puck ahead to a streaking Brendan Shanahan who did the rest beating Huet top shelf on a breakaway 66 seconds in for his team-leading 14th to send the Blueshirt faithful home happy.

It was a very good character win. And an important one at that as the team prepares for a crucial three-game Western Canada road trip with stops in Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton. They have yet to beat a Western team this season. That must change as the calendar year changes to 2008.

The win wouldn't have been possible without a key save by Lundqvist on Plekanec minutes before Drury's tying goal. He only made 18 stops but several of them were high calibre. That's what you expect from King Henrik- one of the league's elite netminders.

Three Stars:

3rd Star: Brendan Shanahan, NYR (GWG 66 seconds into OT)
2nd Star: Tomas Plekanec, Mtl (goal, two assists)

1st Star: Chris Drury, NYR (tying goal and assisted on winner)

Game Highlights

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ovechkin's four goals lift Caps over Sens 8-6

Alexander Ovechkin decided to join Russian comrade Ilya Kovalchuk in the 30-goal club this season. He just decided to do it with a vintage night Saturday against the East's best team up at Scotia Bank Place.

The exciting third-year 22 year-old from Moscow scored four goals and an assist in a high scoring 8-6 win over the Senators. It was his first career four-goal game.

Even more amazing was that he was coming off a leg cut suffered in an OT loss to the Penguins Thursday which needed stitches.

No matter as the former 2005-06 Calder winner pulled within two goals of league leader Kovalchuk who tallied once in a 5-0 Thrashing of Boston last night.

"Oh yeah, it was bothering me," Ovechkin later admitted to the AP. "It was a little bit of pain but it's OK, I feel pretty good tonight. My parents were here, they arrived from Moscow and I was excited. It was a great time."

No wonder he put on a show.

"What impresses me most is that he actually played tonight," Capital teammate Olaf Kolzig noted. "If you guys would have seen the gash on his leg and I know a lot of guys were, not begging him but leaning towards, 'Hey, you think you can play tonight?' He had a lot of courage and he put on a heck of a show."

The 14 total goals made for a tough night in net. Something Kolzig eluded to.

"It was definitely a ratings booster for the TV stations and I'm sure the fans got their money's worth, but I'm too old for these kind of games," he said. "It's going to force me to retire sooner than I want."

The game featured the first career hat trick for underrated Ottawa center Mike Fisher. He scored all three in the third period trying to lead a comeback from 5-2 down.

"It's frustrating to lose that one when we were kind of close and it was not a great game for us," Fisher said after tallying shorthanded, on the power play and at even strength to be tabbed as the game's 2nd Star in the loss. "That would have been sweet to be able to come back but overall we've got to be better. We can't put ourselves in that position."

Teammate Daniel Alfredsson also scored twice including on a penalty shot- becoming just the ninth shooter to beat a goalie in over 30 chances this season.

Caps' rookie center Nicklas Backstrom finished with a goal and two helpers as did Alexander Semin. Ex-Ranger Michael Nylander also scored twice in a wild game which saw nine players (Wsh-5, Ott-4) post multi-point nights.

It was Ovechkin's third career hat trick and first since Dec. 1, 2006 against Atlanta.

Here are the highlights:

Ovechkin's first career four-goal game

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rangers and Islanders have big nights

A couple of statements were made by the two New York teams on this big Saturday night. Both posted impressive wins to keep pace with the Flyers and Penguins (both winners as well) and gain valuable ground on first place New Jersey.

For the Rangers, the road treated them extremely well at Air Canada Center where they got five power play goals (five in 10 chances folks) including a season high four points (PPG, three assists) from team captain Jaromir Jagr in a 6-1 dismantling of the Maple Leafs.

This was about as good a performance as they've had all season. From Sean Avery's mouth saying how he hated Toronto due to how "hockey obsessed they are" even though he's from there to backup Stephen Valiquette (27 saves) performing great yet again in his home town to the unreal night the power play had, it all clicked for the Blueshirts on this night.

There's really not much to say. That's how convincing this win was. For whatever reason, the road team owned the season series with the teams splitting four games with the Rangers prevailing twice up north while the Leafs got the better of it on Broadway. Toronto technically took the series by virtue of their one point in a shootout loss to Valiquette.

But any way you slice it, this was a nice measure of revenge for that embarrassing 6-2 home defeat over three weeks ago on Dec.6.

They got the first six on the Leafs outskating and outchancing them by plenty. And the best aspect was all the penalties called on Toronto were earned and they buried their chances.

This was really a breakout game for Tom Renney's club who returns to MSG later this early evening to host the Canadiens who come in having won two in a row and are tied for fourth in the conference with New York and two other teams.

When Betts scores from Orr and there's a Petr Prucha sighting- yes twice the Czech tallied to double his goal output to four- you know it's your night.

Rookie center Brandon Dubinsky netted three assists and Scott Gomez continued to play well adding a secondary helper to hike his point streak to a career best 11.

Brendan Shanahan scored his club-leading 13th on an absolute rocket on a five-on-three. Avery not only infuriated the Leafs drawing a power play but basically danced on their faces with an unreal no-look backhand pass to help Prucha snap a 17-game long drought.

"It's a miracle," the very happy Czech expressed to the Associated Press later. "I was waiting for it a long time, and I just want to keep scoring ... and get some confidence."

"My confidence was shaken just in front of the net and I couldn't score a goal," he added. "The one thing that was missing from my game was points. I'm just glad I did it tonight."

A great thing for the Rangers which hopefully Prucha can build on. Now if only they could get Ryan Callahan untracked.

Even Marek Malik is looking better these days since being reinserted. He's actually worked well with Paul Mara and is making quicker reads and decisions instead of complexing things in his end.

Two wins in a row is nice. But three straight before a new calendar year would constitute a winning streak and cause for optimism.

One other quick point. Nik Antropov has had a great season for the Leafs but how many times did we have to see the lanky Russian chop down Rangers with his stick coming high and slashing Prucha or Chris Drury without an arm going up?!?!?!?!?!

That's what's wrong with the officiating these days. They're so obsessed with calling every hook legal or imagined but are missing much more serious blatant infractions which can cause injuries.

Wake the hell up already NHL!

Now to the Islanders who had a great win of their own at an energized barn on the Hempstead Turnpike- posting a 5-2 victory on home ice to make it four straight over the first place Devils this season.

To be perfectly honest, this was quite an entertaining game which included a couple of great scraps. Every time we flipped it on, there was lot of stuff going on. A lot of edge out there with plenty of battles contested. You could see how badly each team wanted it.

I really enjoyed the Mike Rupp-Andy Sutton fight. That was awesome stuff. I only wish I had caught the one between David Clarkson and rejuvenated Islander captain Bill Guerin. Even Mike Comrie and Mike Mottau got into it in the first!

You didn't hear any moans or groans from the crowd. I wonder why. ;)

The Isles really played well the first 40 minutes and led on a shorthanded tally by defenseman Chris Campoli and a second period power play goal from Marc-Andre Bergeron.

They seemed in complete control for most of the second until Devils' leading scorer Zach Parise took a Brian Gionta touch pass and converted a mini-breakaway beating Wade Dubielewicz to the backhand for only his second goal in the last 10. It was very timely because it came with just 25 ticks left giving his team a much needed lift after being outshot 14-6 in the stanza.

When John Madden scored his 12th to knot it just 3:59 into the final period, the Devils clearly had the momentum and began taking it to the Isles generating some really good chances. But Dubielewicz was up to the task stopping 12 of 13 New Jersey shots on his way to 27 saves and the game's 3rd Star.

The goalie allowed his team to find their composure and finally a great individual effort by Trent Hunter resulted in Sutton's deciding marker with 8:17 remaining.

With his team changing, Hunter held onto the puck and gained the Devil zone. Then he maintained control until the change was complete and dropped a pass to Mike Sillinger, who in turn fed a cutting Sutton for a quick one-timer past Martin Brodeur for his first as an Islander.

"I think it's my first (game-winner) ever," Sutton acknowledged later on.

"Guys like Trent Hunter and Mike Sillinger deserve a lot of credit for the way they handled the puck. Hunter had it, and got it back to Silly. I
just tried to be there, and Silly found me and I just shot it as hard as I

It really was just a smart play by Hunter and one which had Brent Sutter seething.

"When you play a team you haven't beaten yet in your division this year, you'd think there would be more of a sense of desperation to want to play one of your better games," the first-year Devil coach pointed out.

"For 30 minutes, we were a very average hockey team.
Then we woke up and played well the next 20 minutes. Then it looked like we
never learned how to play defensive zone coverage

Of course, he was right. His team had plenty of incentive to come away with a 'W.' But the Fishsticks wouldn't allow it to happen Saturday as Sutton also assisted on Sean Bergenheim's insurance tally with 4:58 left which put it away.

Comrie added an empty netter to pull the Isles within five points of first despite being tied with the Flyers for last in the division. It just tells you how close things are in the Atlantic.

All in all, a good night for the two bitter New York rivals as we approach 2008.

Devils cannot beat the Isles this year.

The New Jersey Devils have problems on Long Island. Last season it was Miro Satan that pretty much owned them Devils; especially on the shootout. So far this season, the Devils cannot figure out the team at the bottom of the division.

The Islanders got out of the gate early with a nice goal from Chris Campoli. Then the rough stuff came into play. First it was Tim Jackman who wanted to get at Mike Rupp after a hit on Blake Comeau. Then after a huge hit by Mike Comrie on Mile Mottau, the two talked it over during a comercial break and decided it would be best if they dropped the gloves and worked it out with their fists.

Marc-Andre Bergeron put the Isles up after his attempted pass deflected off of Andy Greene's stick and right through Brodeur's legs. Andy Sutton and David Clarkson talked all game and we all knew that they were going to go sooner or later. After a faceoff, Clarkson lined up with Bill Guerin and they dropped the gloves. If that wasn't enough Tim Jackman and Mike Rupp lined up on hte ensuing faceoff and decided to go, until Andy Sutton realized that he wasn't going to get at Clarkson. Sutton ended up dropping his gloves as well and pushing Jackman out of the way to fight Rupp instead. Jackman obviously obliged because Sutton towers over him by like 12 feet.

After all of the fireworks were done, the Devils decided to make a comeback. Fearless Freddy Meyer got crossed up with Brendan Witt and Zach Parise cruised in on Wade Dubliewicz unscathed for a beautiful top shelf goal. Mike Comrie left John Madden wide open in front and he put home an easy rebound. That's the last time the Devils would see the back of the net.

With the score knotted at two Trent Hunter did a beautiful job of keeping the puck in hte offensive zone and fed Andy Sutton who was coming off the bench for a slapshot goal. It was Sutton's first goal as an Islander. Constant pressure from the Isles kept the Devils from getting any quality chances. Both Parise and Madden had great chances during an Islander defensive breakdown, but hte boys buckled down and started playing like htey wanted to win. Another great job by the fourth line kept the puck deep and during a change a few shots and constant pressure paid off as Sean Bergenheim picked up a loose puck and scored to make the score 4-2. Mike Comrie added an empty netter to seal the deal.

Final score was 5-2 Isles. They have not lost to hte Devils all season. Andy Sutton scored his first goal as an Islander and recorde the Gordie Howe Hat Trick with a goal, assist and a fight. Mike COmrie was an assist short of the GHHT as well. Isles can take this win and smile. Its probably one of hte best games they have played all season. They host Carolina on Monday and hopefully Rick Dipietro will be ready to play.

Game updates

The first 20 are complete in Toronto and Long Island. The Rangers got first period goals from Blair Betts and Jaromir Jagr (PPG) to take a 2-0 lead into intermission.

Meanwhile, the Islanders are up one on the Devils thanks to a shorthanded tally by defenseman Chris Campoli. Richard Park got the primary assist as the Fishsticks killed all three New Jersey man-advantages. Wade Dubielewicz stopped all 10 shots.

The Betts rare tally in the Ranger game came off a nice play by Colton Orr, who freed up a puck behind the net to the hardworking fourth line center, who slipped a backhand wraparound past Andrew Raycroft.

Jagr's second goal in two straight was via the power play as No.68 found a loose Michal Rozsival rebound for his 10th. He's playing much better which bodes well for the Blueshirts.

Toronto native Stephen Valiquette was sharp in stopping all eight Leafs shots.

Orr cameback battling to a draw with Leafs' goon Wade Belak.

Overall, about as solid a road period you could've asked for. We'll see if they can keep it going with the target on Sean Avery's back.

In other action, Atlanta is up three on Boston. No. Ilya Kovalchuk hasn't tallied but one-time Ranger Pascal Dupuis has along with Slava Kozlov and Bobby Holik.

The Caps lead the Sens 2-1 after a period with Alexander Ovechkin netting his 27th.

Buffalo and Pittsburgh are scoreless.

More later.

A busy Saturday

It's a very busy schedule today as usual on a hockey Saturday. Already one game of impact in the Atlantic Division went final as the Flyers got a goal and two assists from the red hot Joffrey Lupul in a 4-2 road victory over slumping Tampa Bay.

They moved temporarily into a second place pending what happens with Rangers-Leafs and Sabres-Pens later tonight.

Meanwhile in Colorado, the Avalanche continue to hold a 1-0 lead over the league's worst team the Kings in the final stanza. Defenseman Jordan Leopold has the only tally.

Speaking of the Avs, they'll be without team leader Joe Sakic for eight to 12 weeks. The franchise player who's in his 19th season with Quebec/Colorado underwent hernia surgery yesterday.

The classy 38 year-old captain of the Avalanche has been one of the best players in the league and helped lead them to two Stanley Cups. He's out for the 14th consecutive game today and should be missed despite his team's impressive 8-4-1 mark since his injury.

"A huge loss for us," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville expressed to the Associated Press Thursday. "Obviously, a player of his abilities and what he brings to the organization and the team on a game-by-game basis is irreplaceable. I think in his absence over that last stretch we've done a good job. But I don't think we should feel like it's going to get any easier going forward or anybody's going to feel sorry for us without Joe in the lineup."

Sakic's 1,611 career points place him eighth on the NHL's all-time scoring list. In 24 games this season, the 38 year-old veteran pivot has seven goals and 15 assists totaling 22 points.

He needs just six helpers to reach a career milestone of 1,000. His 617 goals rank 14th best in league history.

"After with the doctors we believe this procedure will enable me to return to the lineup," Sakic said in a statement released by the Avalanche.

Hopefully, we'll get to see more of one of the quietest superstars who just goes about his business on the ice and leads by example.

Best wishes for Joe in his recovery.

As Lenny mentioned earlier, the Rangers visit Toronto tonight for a HNIC clash. The Leafs hold a 2-0-1 edge in the regular season series with the Blueshirts looking to gain a measure of revenge on Toronto. The last time they met, the Leafs beat the Rangers 6-2 at the Garden. There will also be the reunion between pests Sean Avery and Darcy Tucker. So you know this could be an eventful one tonight.

Meanwhile, the first place Devils aim for four in a row as they visit Nassau Coliseum. The Islandes so far have owned them winning all three games with New Jersey just gaining a point in an OT loss. But the Devs have improved since then and it's likely that Wade Dubielewicz will again get the call in net for the Fishsticks.

The Pens and Sabres also will be meeting for the first of a home-and-home series at Mellon Arena with the much anticipated Hockey Heritage Outdoor Classic taking place on New Year's Day up in Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium with faceoff scheduled for 1 ET/10 PT on NBC.

We'll have more later.

On the money

** Just something I missed last night, but Nigel Dawes was in fact returned to Hartford, where he will continue to learn how to kill penalties as well. It's too bad Renney can't just admit that the team is better with him in the lineup. **

Truer words haven't been said. Sometimes, this organization makes you really wonder what the heck they're thinking about.

Rangers take on Canada this weekend (Updated at bottom)

The Rangers kick off the first of a week's worth of games against Canadian teams tonight against Toronto. The game will certainly be filled with emotion, particular revolving around everyone's favorite pest, Sean Avery. Expect him and Darcy Tucker to renew their friendship at some point in this game, probably sooner than later.

Tomorrow the Rangers move on to the Montreal Canadians. The Canadians have been up and down all season, but are led with solid goalkeeping from several rookies. Christobal Huet may get the start tomorrow, but that's just speculation at this point.

Expect no lineup changes for tonight's game. The only difference that may happen would be Marcel Hossa being inserted on the fourth line, but that is only going to happen if Colton Orr cannot skate. He was still a little scratched up from his collision with Matt Cullen. If he's in, he will also probably check to see how Wade Belak's family is and how his holidays are going.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I will not be around for much of the weekend. I will check in on Monday with a recap. I will be recording both weekend games and will be watching them when I come back. Believe me, I would much rather be here. Enjoy the games, and I'll talk to you on Monday.

** Just something I missed last night, but Nigel Dawes was in fact returned to Hartford, where he will continue to learn how to kill penalties as well. It's too bad Renney can't just admit that the team is better with him in the lineup. **

Friday, December 28, 2007

Devils get shootout win, Are they legit plus more on Kovalchuk's hot start and crowded East

The Thrashers are one game under .500 (18-19-1) with their 37 points placing them 13th in the ultracompetitive Eastern Conference.

That's one fewer than Philly, the Isles and Leafs who are all tied for 10th. It's also two behind the ninth place Panthers who fell at home to the Canadiens 5-1 tonight. And the Thrashers are even just three points fewer than a ridiculous four-way tie for fifth (NYR, Bruins, Pens and Sabres).

With their second straight victory, the Habs have 42 points moving into sole possession of fourth in the East.

This is the parity that Gary Bettman envisioned when he locked out the players for a historic entire season in 2004-05.

Oh btw...the slumping Bolts and Caps who share last in the conference also have 33 points and can easily get back in the mix with one three-game win streak. That's all it will take.

So, is this much uncertainty good or bad for the league? From a fan perspective, it certainly makes things interesting.

Are the Devils really the second best club to Ottawa in the East? Debatable. On one hand with their come from behind 2-1 shootout win at home over Buffalo, they're playing well and lead the Atlantic by five points. On the other, they're not scoring much but finding ways to pull games out.

So, which is it? Tough to say. Did you know that their record against the division is only 6-6-3? Including tonight's win on a Zach Parise shootout tally which stood up thanks to three big stops from Martin Brodeur, the Devils are a combined 12-5-0 against the rest of the conference comprising the Northeast and Southeast.

Makes ya wonder, huh? You look at their goal differential (89 GF, 86 GA) and there's not much separating each column. But you don't get extra style points for how you pick up the two points. Just as long as you come away with the 'W,' you'll be in good position.

Their next game is against one of the teams they haven't beaten yet in the Islanders. But they'll probably again be without starter Rick DiPietro who's missed nearly the last couple with a knee sprain.

Fyi...the Rangers own the division's best record (10-4-0) with three of four defeats coming to those Fishsticks who are second best (8-5-0).

NYR vs rest of East: 8-8-3
NYI vs rest of East: 9-11-1

Note: The Devils are 3-2-0 vs West while the Rangers are 0-3-1 and the Isles 1-0-1.

There's your difference folks.

So, who now believes decreasing from eight games each against divisional foes is a good thing?

Just saying. We already had our solution to this problem. Too bad league brass aren't listening.

Now for a little more on Ilya Kovalchuk's sizzling start and how he compares:

From The Stat Wizards At The Elias Sports Bureau:

Kovalchuk First To 30Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk became the first NHL player to reach the 30-goal plateau this season when he scored the first of his two goals in the Thrashers' 5-3 loss to Florida last night.

This is the first season in which a player has scored 30 goals before the end of December since 1999-2000, when the Penguins' Jaromir Jagr reached the mark on Dec. 30.

The last season in which a player was the first to score 30 goals at an earlier date than Kovalchuk it this season was 1997-98, when Anaheim's Teemu Selanne did it on December 22.

First NHL player to score 30 goals (since 1997-98)

2007-08 Ilya Kovalchuk, Atl. December 27
2006-07 Teemu Selanne, Ana. January 18
2005-06 Ilya Kovalchuk, Atl. January 6
2003-04 Rick Nash, CBJ January 24
2002-03 Markus Naslund, Van. January 8
2001-02 Jarome Iginla, Cgy. January 17
2000-01 Markus Naslund, Van. January 24
1999-00 Jaromir Jagr, Pit. December 30
1998-99 John LeClair, Phi. January 30
1997-98 Teemu Selanne, Ana. December 22

Well, would you look at that? It's the fastest to 30 in a decade since The Finnish Flash accomplished it five days quicker with the Ducks.

If Kovalchuk continues his torrid pace and somehow gets the Thrashers into the playoffs, forget all the other candidates for the Hart. The Russian sniper will deserve to win it because he's not on a good team.

So, you can argue the exploits of Henrik Zetterberg, the Sens trio, Sidney Crosby, Brodeur, Jarome Iginla, etc.

It's so much more difficult to score at that clip these days. Not with how athletic the goalies are and how fundamentally sound players are. Coaching and team defense is so much better that it intimidates even the league's best from challenging goalies from even 15-20 feet in. It seems to always be about moving them laterally and making one too many passes.

Kovalchuk's season so far is special and it will be a joy to follow and see where he finishes for this blogger. I'm rooting for him to get to 60! How about you?

Friday afternoon Blueshirts news

Nothing overly exciting happening so far, but I wanted to report the most current events.

- There will be no discipline for either Colton Orr or Sean Avery following the game against Carolina. With Avery, the incidents gets filed under a special category, and two more like instances will result in a mandatory one game suspension. I think that's fair. No complaints from me here.

- Talks between Columbus and the Rangers got hot last night, cooled off later, and now are said to be dead. Adam Foote has a full no trade clause, which I missed on my first read through, and Columbus has said they are no longer in the market for a winger. They are said to still be interested in Brandon Dubinsky, but I'm glad nothing is happening with this trade. The San Jose Sharks were said to be trying to get into the mix last night, but that fell through as well.

- Tom Renney is practicing the same line combinations as Wednesday night, which means Nigel Dawes would again be in the press box. Renney did say that he would prefer not taking the trip with 23 skaters, which means that Dawes may be playing this weekend, but in Hartford.

Now that this trade talk is done, for now, here's a question for anyone out there. What would you do to better the Blueshirts before the trade deadline? Trade some youth for a proven veteran? Trade a slumping veteran for some youth? Trade Marek Malik for two Hannah Montana tickets? Leave a comment with any ideas.

Ilya Red Alert

I didn't even realize it but with two more goals in a 5-3 home loss to visiting Florida, Thrasher superstar Ilya Kovalchuk now has a league-leading 31 goals in 37 games this season.

That's just awesome. I mean we're talking a frenetic pace on basically an average team at best. The 24 year-old Russian who was selected by Atlanta first overall back in 2001 has always been a special talent. In terms of skating and finishing ability, he's about as good as it gets in this league. With blazing speed, a rocket of a shot and an arsenal of moves, Kovalchuk is a ton of fun to watch.

When he's going, it's like a breath of fresh air. His team might be kind of disappointing but the Russian sniper is putting in a Hart-like effort in his sixth season. Maybe if he sneaks them into the playoffs, he'll come away with the hardware.

He definitely deserves the recognition for what he's done thus far.

Kovalchuk in 2007-08: 37 GP, 31 goals, 19 assists, 50 points, 8 PP, 2 SHG

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Random thoughts

Reading the well thought out post by Lenny on last nite's win got me thinking as well about something I forgot to include.

Like he already said, I love Sean Avery and what he brings to the Rangers. Their record with him is something like 15 over .500 since the agitator was acquired from LA last season.

However, he was completely out of control near the end of the game and deserved four minutes for his childish antics. If you saw how that was handled along with the bogus major call on Colton Orr, then you already know how awful a job the officials did last night.

I can't seem to comprehend why it's so damn hard for two referees to get together with two linesmen and get important calls like those right.

There was no excuse for it. I have always been consistent with my hatred of the two ref system because the more you watch it, the more inept these guys seem. Maybe they have too many guys who shouldn't be doing these games. I don't know. But it's not going away anytime soon.

I am for protecting the players from potentially serious injuries such as the one Matt Cullen might've sustained (concussion?). But if the refs are letting their judgment rely on the impact/severity rather than whether the play was legal, then they're off course.

The harsh reality is that hockey is a vicious sport where these kind of freaky collisions occur. When you have two players skating at top speed in opposite directions, it's darn near impossible for them to stop and prevent such incidents.

I think the way the rules are sometimes getting interpretted is bogus. Like MSG color analyst Joe Micheletti stated to Sam Rosen, "You can't make up calls."

It either did happen or didn't. The league really needs to take a closer look at how their officials make potentially controversial calls which have to frustrate players, coaches along with diehard fans who know the game.

It's not rocket science. There are too many instances where the NHL keeps trying to spin the wheel as if it's going to all fall into place. Maybe they never heard of this but sometimes, less is more. Simplify. It will make everyone happy.

I also saw that MSG came to their senses and settled up with former Ranger skater Courtney Prince. Maybe the length of that embarrassing $11.5 million lost to former employee Anucha Browne Sanders actually stood in the way of more sheer stupidity by Garden CEO Jim Dolan.

Well, good for her! You have to believe she was telling the truth. I might support how my team is run which thankfully is nothing like the circus the Knicks have become but anytime Dolan loses is a good day.

Just in case your wondering, there are plenty of games on tonight's schedule including the rejuvenated Isles aiming for four straight at Eastern leader Ottawa. A very tall order.

Here's tonight's sched:

Florida at Atlanta 7 ET/4 PT
Toronto at Philadelphia 7 ET/4 PT
Islanders at Ottawa 7:30 ET/4:30 PT
Montreal at Tampa Bay 7:30 ET/4:30 PT
Washington at Pittsburgh 7:30 ET/4:30 PT
Columbus at Nashville 8 ET/5 PT
Detroit at Colorado 9 ET/6PT*
Anaheim at Edmonton 9 ET/6 PT
Minnesota at Phoenix 9 ET/6 PT
Calgary at Vancouver 10 ET/7 PT

*Watch live on yahoo

Mike Ribeiro had a goal and two more assists in the Stars' 8-3 rout of the Wild. That's now 20 goals, 22 assists for a team-leading 42 points along with a +11 rating. The former Hab has five power play goals, three deciding markers and has only taken four minor penalties. Here's the kicker. He's scored his 20 on just 51 shots (39.2 percent).

Last season, he was good in year one after coming over for Janne Niinimaa finishing with 59 points (18-41-59). This season, the guy's off the charts. Scary enough, he'll turn 28 next February. Do you think just maybe the Canadiens wish they had that deal over?!?!?!?!?! I recall saying at the time that it seemed like a little much for basically a fourth or fifth defenseman and was laughed at. Who's laughing now?

I don't think it's the Canadiens. Meanwhile, the 32 year-old Niinimaa isn't even on an NHL roster after tallying just three assists in half a season with Montreal while finishing a minus-13.

If anyone is following the 2008 World Junior Championships (WJC), team USA defeated Kazakhstan 5-1 yesterday in their first preliminary game in Group B. Former Islander 2006 No.1 pick Kyle Okposo had a goal and an assist. The 19 year-old St. Paul Minnesota native was in his second year of college with the Golden Gophers when he decided to leave school and sign with the Islanders. He'll turn pro when the WJC concludes which should be a boost to the Fishsticks.

Flyer prospect James van Riemsdyk also had a goal and an assist in the win.

Canada is already 2-0 in Pool A after 3-0 and 2-0 shutouts of the host Czech Republic and Slovakia respectively.

Kyle Turris scored twice via the man-advantage in support of Steve Mason who stopped all 22 shots in Canada's second blanking in two days. Yikes.

In their first win over the Czechs, teenage phenom John Tavares tallied twice. Keep a close eye on this kid who doesn't turn 18 until next September. Kings' netminder Jonathan Bernier made 44 saves for the shutout.

For more info on the tournament, please refer to the IIHF official site.

Jagr leads Blueshirts to win

How often have we said that this year? Well, Jaromir Jagr finally broke out of his goal scoring drought last night in a 4-2 win over the Hurricanes with a pair of goals. Derek has all of the rest of the scoring in his post below, so here are some more thoughts and happenings from me:

- The collision between Colton Orr and Matt Cullen was scary, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was not intentional. I don't even think Orr was looking to even hit him as hard as he did. The main brunt of force came when Orr's head hit Cullen's head, and then when Cullen hit the ice. It's unfortunate to see things like that, and even more unfortunate that the officials had to jump to the conclusion that it warrented a game misconduct. Petr Prucha has been on the receiving end of blows high or led with elbow that I swore he would never get up from, but this was completely different. Cullen suffered a possible concussion, needed three stitches and has a broken nose. Orr is scraped up as well. Speedy recovery to Cullen.

- Speaking of Prucha, there's a chance you may not see him in a Ranger uniform much longer. According to several sources, there is a deal in place with the Columbus Blue Jackets to send Prucha over for David Vyborny. There would be more to the package, with the names of Nigel Dawes, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Marek Malik and Paul Mara all being mentioned. Adam Foote is the only other name I have heard coming to us other than Vyborny. Vyborny is said to be very good friends with Jagr, which could help with chemistry. Either way, this will not happen until midnight at the earliest, as that is when the Christmas trade freeze is lifted.

One has to wonder if a trade like that is what the Blueshirts need. Does Prucha need a change of scenery? Is Vyborny the answer to our scoring woes? Should we be giving up on Marek Malik for Adam Foote? Simply put, no. Prucha keeps trying and eventually the puck will bounce his way and he'll be back to scoring 20 goals a season. Jagr and Vyborny might be good friends, but why break up Martin Straka, Scott Gomez and Jagr. They have finally clicked as a unit and are playing great hockey. Vyborny is in no way a first line player either. Adam Foote was fantastic in his prime, but he is coming to the end of his career. Injuries and inability to keep up with the speed of play are right around the corner. Don't do this trade. I see nothing changing from it, especially if we give up on other players like Callahan, Dawes and Dubinsky also.

- Sean Avery and Andrew Ladd deserved to be thrown out last night. Looking at some message boards, people were saying how Avery had no choice. Avery may be my favorite player for the Rangers right now. I even got a new jersey for Christmas with his name on the back, but it's hard to stick up for him in this instance. Ladd should have skated away, but he goaded Avery into a litte more. I don't think any suspensions are warrented, and really there was not much harm in what happened, but you can't muscle your way through a linesman. Another one should have grabbed Ladd as well, but hopefully nothing comes down from the Toronto offices.

All and all it was a good game yesterday. Little fiestiness, scoring, defense and Henrik Lundqvist looks like he is back on track. This kind of intensity will bring around plenty of wins. There are two games this weekend, Saturday at Toronto and Sunday against Montreal. Then the Rangers take on Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver to finish the Canadian tour. I'll weigh in before then, especially if a trade goes down.

A good night for both New York teams

The Rangers and Islanders returned to the ice after the Christmas break. Each had very exciting wins in front of their home supporters.

Losers of three straight and fading with a 2-6-2 skid entering last night's challenge against Southeast leader Carolina, the Rangers were up to the challenge scoring three times in the third period to post a come from behind 4-2 victory before Lindsay Lohan and Garden friends.

The last time they faced Peter Laviolette's club, the Blueshirts got their asses handed to them in an ugly Dec.3 4-0 defeat which began their slump.

Tom Renney's team came out much sharper outshooting the Canes 13-5 in the opening stanza. But 2006 Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward was up to the challenge keeping the contest scoreless.

For the fourth straight game, the Rangers scored first when struggling team captain Jaromir Jagr found a loose Marc Staal rebound to convert at the doorstep off a three-on-two snapping a 10-game goal drought- his longest since 1998. The goal was setup by Scott Gomez (two assists) who was flying all game and extended his point streak to 10 matching a career best.

But the lead only lasted 2:10 when the Canes' Scott Walker tallied shorthanded off a nifty setup from ex-Ranger Matt Cullen.

Before Carolina went ahead, Colton Orr caught Cullen with his head down nailing him with a high shoulder hit which saw the pivot laid out for a couple of minutes before teammates helped their groggy teammate off the ice.

Maybe due to the injury, the officials decided to assess Orr a five-minute interference major and game misconduct as part of a new rule instituted by the league for this season.

Was it legit? Probably not. Cullen had just released the puck when he hot caught. It actually could've been worse because from several replays, it appeared the two forwards who were coming in opposite paths were going to have a scary collision similar to the one Brendan Shanahan and Mike Knuble had last February resulting in Shanny's concussion and Knuble missing time for a broken orbital bone.

The Ranger enforcer appeared to lift his right hand to brace himself. Not surprisingly after the impact, Carolina defenseman Mike Commodore came to the defense of his fallen teammate and lost a decision to Orr.

To their credit, the Rangers killed off the major and seemed to have momentum. However, a lazy Michal Rozsival high sticking minor gave a good opponent another chance. The Canes cashed it in when the older brother of Marc, Eric Staal redirected a Dennis Seidenberg point shot past Henrik Lundqvist for Carolina's first lead.

The Rangers were awarded a man-advantage on a Tim Gleason interference with three seconds left in the second drawn by Shanahan. All night, their special teams had been a nightmare making fans wondering if they'd ever get it righted. The final 20 proved to be different as they tallied not one but two PP goals in less than a six minute span to go ahead.

First, a routine Shanahan shot from the right circle was deflected home by recent invisible man Chris Drury, who actually played a solid game. Dan Girardi got into the act for his sixth when his right circle shot beat Ward. Drury and Shanahan picked up the assists.

Up one against a more aggressive foe who will take chances, the Rangers did the wise thing getting some insurance from a suddenly resurgent Jagr, who took a Gomez pass and quickly one-timed it off the backhand for his ninth for a 4-2 lead with 10:05 left.

The play was once again all the team's leading scorer. There was some discussion that the ex-Devil didn't play hard in all ends. Well, that hasn't been the case on Broadway. For two months, the playmaker has been his team's best forward. This time, he victimized Trevor Letowski stealing the puck and dishing for No.68 who finished the NHL version of a lay-up.

It did get interesting in the final 60 seconds when Carolina had a six-on-three advantage with Ward pulled for an extra attacker but Lundqvist made an incredible save, somehow reaching out with his pad to rob a stunned Ray Whitney of a sure PPG which would've put the outcome in doubt.

It's certain to be on the highlight reels. So check it

King Henrik finished with 20 saves but some were of high quality because the Canes are good even if they don't have Justin Williams the rest of the season.

This was a good win for a desperate team which needed it to get back on track. I could say more but maybe another entry or Lenny fills in and gives us more analysis.

The Rangers weren't the only local team to have an exciting victory. That's exactly what transpired over by the Coliseum where Ted Nolan's gritty club fought tooth and nail with the Leafs to pull out a 4-3 overtime victory- their third win in a row and pulling into third ahead of idle Pittsburgh due to fewer games played.

Due to the half hour difference, I wasn't able to catch a ton of this game but from the looks of it, it was extremely up and down with plenty of entertainment. And I don't mean Hillary Duff cheering on her bf Mike Comrie's two markers including the OT winner with nine seconds left.

Btw...I must say she looked very nice with the hat on. She dressed better than Lohan.

So, how wild was this one? The Islanders and Leafs combined for five first period goals.

Alex Steen got it started when he was left unchecked to tap-in a Matt Stajan feed at 6:13. But Andy Hilbert came right back only 51 seconds later when he stuffed in a Chris Campoli wide shot which caromed right to him for his third in four.

After Mark Bell again put the Leafs in front, Comrie struck for his first of the night when the playmaking pivot took a Richard Park feed and then beat Andrew Raycroft on a breakaway going to the backhand.

Islander captain Bill Guerin was the beneficiary of some more grunt work by Park putting home his own rebound for No.10 to give the Isles a 3-2 lead with 48 seconds left.

There was no scoring in the second as the teams combined for just 11 shots with Toronto getting seven. However, the Islanders had a new man in net as backup Wade Dubielewicz was forced into duty due to a knee injury Rick DiPietro suffered.

With his team on a power play in the third, the Isles' backup gave up the tying goal courtesy of a laser of a Steen wrist shot shorthanded off an odd-man rush 1:15 in. It was Steen's second of the game.

The rest of the period saw each team taking chances to try to go ahead but each netminder was up to the task forcing OT. It was probably one of the best periods of overtime I've seen. Somehow, the refs awarded the Leafs a power play on a cheesy call.

With a four-on-three, they opted to pass around and look for the best setup instead of firing from all cylinders. The strategy nearly paid dividends when a Mats Sundin one-timer went off the post. That's when a great sequence occured.

With Dubielewicz sprawled out, somehow he robbed Tomas Kaberle and made a couple of more big saves (five in OT).

Former Islander Jason Blake was back and had been booed all night even though he was a very good Fishstick. Silly fans. On one late shift in the third, he nearly setup the winner. But it just wasn't his night. With not much time remaining, No.55 tried to make a play at the Islander blueline but instead Park stripped him of the puck forcing a turnover which proved costly.

Then, Park came two-on-one with Comrie. His deflected shot rebounded out to Comrie who stuffed it home for the thrilling OT winner with just nine ticks left as all the Islanders poured off the bench to congratulate their teammates.

They certainly deserved to win and even I admired it even though it was a bitter rival.

In relief of DiPietro, Dubielewicz finished with 22 saves earning 2nd Star while Comrie (10th and 11th goals) was the No.1.

If you love hockey, then this was a lot of fun to watch. So do yourselves a favor and check out the

It is late and I sorta need to sleep cause I have work tomorrow.

So if we were handing out three stars for the locals, it would be:

3rd Star-Jagr/Gomez
2nd Star-Dubielewicz
1st Star-Comrie

See ya'll later!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Games Tonight plus some other thoughts and NHL news

The Rangers and Islanders return from the Christmas recess in an hour. The Blueshirts host the Hurricanes looking to snap a three-game skid. They've dropped four of their last five on Garden ice.

The Islanders are a couple of points behind the Rangers with two at hand and host the Maple Leafs. This should be sort of special as former Islander Jason Blake returns for the 7:30 ET start due to TSN. Figure a video tribute for the gritty wing who's battling Leukemia.

As for our poll, it's hard to fathom that Zach Parise has eight of the nine votes. Sure, he's good but he is up against pretty stiff competition. Zach's a very good player but he's not having a better season than Mike Richards. And what's more. Richards is a guy who can play any situation- particularly dangerous shorthanded and will drop the gloves. Will we ever see Parise do that? That remains to be seen. It should be a fun debate for the future as to which young emerging forward you'd rather have.

What's even more odd is that Sidney Crosby has no votes. Granted, this is a BONY blog but come on people. You'd have to be oblivious not to realize the rating Hart winner's impact. The Pens have been a weird team all 2007-08 yet find themselves five points behind the division-leading Devils because Sid the Kid (16-32-48) is once again carrying his inferior team.

I would've expected such a poll to be a little more balanced. Heck. All five guys are having good seasons leading their respective teams. Take Scott Gomez away from the Rangers and they'd be plain offensive. Ditto Rick DiPietro on the league's lowest scoring team. He might not get the press which Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist receive but let's be honest here. The Islanders aren't a great defensive team while the other elite netminders have better teams in front of them who play eerily similar boring styles to be effective.

It's very difficult to narrow it down to one player per team but we had no choice. You easily could put Marty and Henrik in. They'll both most likely be nominated for the Vezina with Vancouver's Roberto Luongo.

Now to a couple of news items around the league:

1.The Red Wings have given top defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom a two-year extension worth $15 million through 2009-10. This is a no brainer as the league's top blueliner continues to defy logic. At age 37, the five-time Norris winner shows no signs of slowing down. The Swede ranks second among defensemen with 32 points and his 29 assists are tied with Stars' defenseman Sergei Zubov.

With 900 career points in 15 seasons, Lidstrom is the highest scoring Red Wing defenseman. Amazingly, he was selected by them in the third round back in 1989.

"Nick has been the best defenseman in the world for several years," Detroit GM Ken Holland noted to the Associated Press earlier today. "He's a great captain and role model who does everything right, both on and off the ice."

Just how great is he? In 1,212 career games, he's totaled 205 goals and 695 helpers for 900 points along with a gaudy +360 rating including +22 this season.

The man is so consistent and can work with almost anyone on the blueline. He's been there for all three Stanley Cups and also taken home a Conn Smythe. We're talking about one of the greatest defensemen to ever play. From the beginning of his career through, Lidstrom has quietly gone about his business dominating on the blueline since his rookie season in 1991-92.

Congrats to the career Red Wing on a deserving Christmas gift.

2.The Caps dropped the "interim" label on new coach Bruce Boudreau. Since he was promoted from AHL affiliate Hershey taking over for Glen Hanlon, the Capitals have posted a respectable 7-5-3. That's a solid improvement from the 6-14-1 mark they had when Hanlon was axed.

Though their 13-19-4 overall record still leaves them last in the conference, they have gotten more offense increasing from 2.2 goals/game to 3.0 GF/gm.

This seems like the right move going forward.

Enjoy the games tonight. We'll be sure to have some updates later.

Monday, December 24, 2007

BONY Christmas Report Part III: Islanders

ISLANDERS (17-15-2, 36 pts)

Mike Comrie (34 GP, 9-16-25): Though the playmaking pivot leads the NHL's lowest scoring teams in points, there's a reason why the talented 27 year-old is with team five. Because he doesn't always come to play as his minus-12 rating says. He's capable of much more.

Grade: C

Miroslav Satan (34 GP, 10-12-22): The talented 33 year-old Slovak has always been a streaky scorer. Such continues to be the case on an offensive challenged team where he's lit the lamp in consecutive games and has a six-game point streak (3-3-6). If only he were consistent.

Grade: C+

Bill Guerin (33 GP, 9-8-17): The veteran power forward has finally come around after a brutal November in which he had only one point. He does play hard but unless he's finishing plays off, the Islander team leader isn't doing enough.

Grade: C

Ruslan Fedotenko (32 GP, 6-10-16): Remember when he was a playoff hero for Tampa? Guess that was the high point. He got out to a good start but has done little since. No goals in his last 16 and taking a roster spot.

Grade: D

Josef Vasicek (34 GP, 10-6-16): What a great signing by GM Garth Snow. This guy uses his size well, is a good skater, plays hard and has been rewarded where he's tied with Satan for the club lead in goals. Can play in any situation as his club-best two shorthanded markers point towards.

Grade: A

Chris Campoli (34 GP, 3-12-15): After an injury riddled '06-07, the third-year blueliner already has two more goals and one more point than he did all last season. Most of the points came early. So the Fishsticks could use one of their better skating D to get more involved.

Grade: B

Trent Hunter (34 GP, 6-9-15): If the 27 year-old power winger from Red Deer had a better scoring touch, he'd have more goals. Shots aren't the issue (104 SOG) but putting a few more in is. He's a tenuous worker and an effective penalty killer. Got to improve that plus/minus (-12) too.

Grade: C

Mike Sillinger (34 GP, 7-7-14): After a slow start, the 36 year-old veteran center has come around. His main job isn't to provide offense like he did last year with a surprising 26 goals and 59 points. It's to be solid overall. The minus-eight isn't good but it's a product of the team. He takes many important draws and plays PK.

Grade: B-

Richard Park (34 GP, 6-5-11): In year two on the Island, the speedy forward continues to bring a solid work ethic to the club and chip in with some offense. If every Islander played like him, they'd be higher in the standings.

Grade: B+

Marc-Andre Bergeron (21 GP, 3-7-10): If the ex-Oiler isn't providing offense from the back line, he's a total waste which is why Ted Nolan has healthy scratched him quite a bit. Morphing into Zarley Zalapski isn't a ringing endorsement.

Grade: D-

Bruno Gervais (33 GP, 0-9-9): The 23 year-old from Quebec continues to mature in his third season. He already has established new highs in assists and points. It's in his end where he's responsible (plus-two) and will play physical. There's much to like here.

Grade: B

Radek Martinek (34 GP, 0-8-8): I'll stand by what I've always said when watching this team. The Isles are a tougher team to play against when he's in. So far, he's had good luck and not missed a game. A solid skater who moves the puck well and doesn't stand out.

Grade: B

Andy Hilbert (34 GP, 3-4-7): Until recently, it looked like the Lansing Michigan native might never score. He's a good enough skater and has a decent shot. Unfortunately, he has stone hands. Hard to believe Boston took this guy in the second round seven years ago.

Grade: C

Sean Bergenheim (30 GP, 1-6-7): I like how hard the 23 year-old from Helsinki plays. He is an agitator who is solid in the corners like most Finns. But he also has a penchant for taking silly penalties. If he becomes more disciplined, could develop into a solid third liner.

Grade: C+

Bryan Berard (18 GP, 2-3-5): The former Calder winner in his first go-round with the club returned after making the club on a tryout. The skating is still there as are some of the skills. But he's basically a PP specialist who can't play in his end (minus-eight). Sorry to say but it might be time to hang it up.

Grade: D

Brendan Witt (34 GP, 1-4-5): The 32 year-old veteran blueliner out of Saskatchewan plays the game with an edge and will usually come out with the puck in the corners. So far, his penalty minutes (37 PIM) are down from last season (131 PIM). And that's probably good cause his team needs him out there.

Grade: B

Andy Sutton (34 GP, 0-4-4): The ex-Thrasher is a lot like Witt except that sometimes he gets caught out of position as his minus-eight attests. He's big, physical and mixes it up frequently (53 PIM). But sometimes, he'll take the ill advised penalty which can cost.

Grade: C

Chris Simon (26 GP, 1-2-3): When the rugged enforcer played in Manhattan, many Ranger fans including myself liked him. He played the game hard and that's probably why his coach, GM and teammates have been so supportive after his latest incident. However, it's inexcusable for him to have a repeat offense after what he did to Hollweg last March. He deserved the remainder of the season and really needs to do some soul searching. I pray he gets help and returns a better person.

Grade: F

Blake Comeau (3 GP, 1-1-2): It's a little too early to grade the rookie who the Isles selected in the second round three years ago. So far, so good though.

Grade: Inc

Tim Jackman (13 GP, 0-2-2): The 26 year-old from North Dakota is on his fourth team already in four seasons. At this point, he's basically an extra forward who will come in when needed to provide some energy.

Grade: C

Darryl Bootland (4 GP, 0-1-1): Another depth forward who can play chippy.

Grade: Inc

Jon Sim (2 GP, 0-1-1): On a team that's scored just 79 goals, the speedy 30 year-old veteran forward could've done well. Instead, he's out for the season recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.

Grade: Inc

Ben Walter (4 GP, 0-0-0): He was acquired from Boston for former first round pick Petteri Nokelainen (4-1-5 in 24 GP). Does anyone find it a little odd that the guy the Isles got was taken three rounds later in the same draft?

Grade: Inc

Shawn Bates (2 GP, 0-0-0): Another important role player who the Fishsticks could use. Right now, he remains out with a hip injury.

Grade: Inc

Aaron Johnson (5 GP, 0-0-0): The first-year Islander blueliner remains out with a knee sprain. Will he get a chance?

Grade: Inc

Jeff Tambellini (8 GP, 0-0-0): The Islanders are still waiting for the former Kings' first rounder to become a regular. He was a great college player at Michigan but that doesn't always translate in the pros.

Grade: Inc

Freddy Meyer (4 GP, 0-0-0): At one point with the Flyers, his career looked promising. Now he's just AHL fodder.

Grade: Inc

Rick DiPietro (32 GP, 16-13, 2.44 GAA, .912 Save Pct, 2 SHO): The former 2000 first overall selection out of BU continues to improve in his fourth full season as starter. Without him, the Isles would be cooked. His stickhandling is almost on par with Brodeur now but occasionally he still gets a little carried away. He's extremely competitive and hates losing.

Grade: B+

Wade Dubielwicz (4 GP, 1-2, 4.72 GAA, .846 Save Pct): Dubi was the feel good story at the end of last regular season miraculously backstopping the club into the playoffs. So far, he's been unable to duplicate that success in limited duty as a backup.

Grade: D

Ted Nolan: The coach who somehow wasn't nominated for the Jack Adams last year continues to squeeze whatever he can out of this unimpressive group. Not long ago, they looked like they were going to fade completely out. But under Nolan, they probably won't because he won't let them. He needs to tone down the act of playing his team against everyone. It won't do them any favors.

Grade: B

BONY Christmas Report Part II: Rangers

RANGERS (17-15-4, 38 pts)

Scott Gomez (36 GP, 9-22-31): After slow start, the former Devil has been the team's best offensive player. If not for his production, this offensively challenged team would be in huge trouble.

Grade: B+

Jaromir Jagr (36 GP, 7-20-27): The most talented player has been plain offensive at times. His penchant for taking shifts off and not battling through physicality in the defensive end is inexcusable. And the seven goals (2 PP) is awful for a guy who's scored 30-or-more in 15 straight seasons. Has shown signs of snapping out of funk with five helpers in last four games. Must start finishing or this team will continue to underperform and struggle just to make playoffs.

Grade: D

Brendan Shanahan (36 GP, 12-13-25): Got out to slow start which had many questioning if he was done but the likeable 38 year-old veteran has proven he still has it pacing the club in goals and power play goals (6). Aside from that, he works extremely hard and gets it.

Grade: B

Chris Drury (36 GP, 8-16-24): After a career season in his contract year where he put up 37 goals, the former Trumbull Connecticut Little League World Series star has struggled mightily. Sure. He wasn't going to match last year's output but can anyone explain the team his minus-nine rating or lack of chemistry? Mind boggling for a player with solid reputation.

Grade: D-

Michal Rozsival (35 GP, 9-13-22): The 29 year-old overlooked Czech continues to anchor the blueline logging big minutes and contribute mightily. His nine goals pace all NHL defensemen so far. In fact, it's one off last year's career high of 10. On pace for new career marks. His asking price continues to sky rocket.

Grade: A

Martin Straka (21 GP, 6-8-14): There's little doubt that Jagr missed the 35 year-old vet who is a perfect complement. At first struggled when he returned from injury but is heating up with eight points (4-4-8) in his last six.

Grade: B-

Daniel Girardi (36 GP, 5-5-10): The improved offense (4 PPG) has been a surprise. However, the 23 year-old Ontario native who was so steady last season is clearly struggling as his minus-nine would point out. Maybe it's from playing his first full season in the league. He can play better in his end.

Grade: C+

Sean Avery (15 GP, 2-7-9): Just returned from second injury and looked pretty good in last night's loss. As usual, the agitator mixed it up and got involved. It's clear that the team plays better when he's in the lineup. So what will he command next summer?

Grade: A

Brandon Dubinsky (36 GP, 3-6-9): The 21 year-old rookie from Alaska is a superb skater who's not afraid to mix it up (31 PIM). Very effective in corners. Lately, his offense has suffered (0-2-2 for month). If the team is to get balanced scoring, they need the former 2004 second round pick to contribute more.

Grade: B-

Petr Prucha (35 GP, 2-6-8): Two goals on only 46 shots speaks to why the Blueshirts aren't scoring enough. Considering that the 25 year-old got 52 in his first two seasons, it's flat out pathetic. Maybe the most disappointing player who was deservedly scratched last night.

Grade: F

Fedor Tyutin (36 GP, 4-4-8): The 24 year-old Russian is a solid asset on the blueline who works well with Girardi. He also is the team's most physical with the hip check a specialty. The offense is nice because he has a good shot. Still needs to be more consistent in end.

Grade: B

Marcel Hossa (27 GP, 1-5-6): I supported the 26 year-old Slovak last year due to his hard work ethic and he rewarded that faith with great first round against Thrashers. But he suffers from Prucha syndrome (39 SOG) in that he often passes up shots and skates around the net. It's not like he has a bad shot. He's a good forechecker who's being misused by the staff. Either stick him in a checking role or trade him.

Grade: D

Paul Mara (30 GP, 1-5-6): For some reason, he was sat out last night for Marek Malik, who took his place alongside Jason Strudwick. His defense seems to have gotten better which is a credit to the staff. But where's the offense? He certainly has a potent shot and needs to make better use. A solid team guy.

Grade: C+

Marc Staal (36 GP, 2-4-6): There are games where you see why the younger brother of Eric and Jordan was selected so high by the club in 2005. His hockey instincts are excellent and for a rookie on the blueline, he's adjusted quite well to his first pro season. But he's still going to struggle at times like last night. It's all about being patient which the staff has been. He's going to be really special.

Grade: B

Nigel Dawes (21 GP, 5-1-6): What does he have to do to get a real chance from this organization? He owns Brodeur and five goals are sadly tied for seventh best. If other guys aren't producing, they need to give him more ice-time because he's scored at every level. His speed is good and isn't afraid of anyone despite Gionta-like size.

Grade: C+

Marek Malik (16 GP, 0-3-3): The veteran favorite target of fans for everything wrong was clearly struggling and had to be affected by the boos. Last night, he was reinserted and played a very smart game. Still, he sure looks like the odd man out and probably needs a change.

Grade: D

Blair Betts (36 GP, 1-1-2): How could you not love this guy? He'll sacrifice his body any time and is the team's best penalty killer. His skating is decent and his line is showing more chemistry. It's ashame they don't get rewarded for their hard work cause that's how the other three lines should be playing.

Grade: B

Jason Strudwick (30 GP, 1-1-2): Strud is another fan fave who clearly has improved skating-wise and now can be relied upon to play every night. Who didn't love when he beat the Pens from Mara in OT? He's also a great team guy who will scrap (34 PIM). The epitome of hard work.

Grade: B

Colton Orr (36 GP, 1-0-1): The club enforcer (60 PIM) will take on anyone while sticking up for teammates. You don't see many opponents taking liberties with our stars these days. Aside from that, his skating is much better to the point where he can forecheck and play the body. If he wasn't on the minus-side (-11), grade would be higher.

Grade: C+

Ryan Hollweg (35 GP, 0-1-1): Like tough linemate, Hollywood plays extremely hard throwing hits and will occasionally drop 'em though it's not role. The best aspect is that he's not catching guys as much out of position for bad penalties. He seems to have adjusted. Ashame he didn't score off a nice setup last night. Of course, he and the line need to get some breaks. They deserve it.

Grade: C+

Ryan Callahan (19 GP, 1-0-1): While it's true the Rochester native has comeback from injury, he clearly needs to start contributing. It's not like he's incapable. The work ethic is there as is the physicality. I view him as a mini-Avery without the temperament.

Grade: C

Ivan Baranka (1 GP, 0-1-1): Was called up earlier this year and looked alright netting first career assist. Figure him to be with club next Fall.

Grade: Inc

Thomas Pock (1 GP, 0-0-0): The Austrian defenseman got into one game and was a minus-two before being sent back down. It looks like his future is elsewhere.

Grade: Inc

Greg Moore (2 GP, 0-0-0): The other part of the Chris Simon trade with Calgary is having a nice second pro season in Hartford. He looks to be a solid forechecker and has size. He'll battle for a spot next training camp.

Grade: Inc

Henrik Lundqvist (32 GP, 16-13, 2.21 GAA, .915 Save Pct, 6 SHO): King Henrik came out of the gate great unlike last year. But lately, he's struggled much like the team in front of him. Still, they'd be done if not for the 25 year-old Swede who's going to compete with Brodeur and Roberto Luongo for the Vezina.

Grade: B+

Stephen Valiquette (6 GP, 1-2, 3.04 GAA, .889 Save Pct): The 30 year-old backup has done admirable job when called upon. Though he had rough go of it in recent home loss to Phoenix. A good team guy who has improved under Benoit Allaire.

Grade: C+

Tom Renney: In his third full season as Ranger coach, the well liked coach tries to keep an even outlook on things. He never seems to panic and right now his team is going through a rough 2-6-2 stretch. A few of his decisions have been questionable lately. Maybe he needs also to be tougher when his best players aren't performing. This team should be faring better. So he has to take a hit. Even if I respect him.

Grade: C

BONY Christmas Report Part I: Devils

Happy Holidays everyone! Whatever you celebrate, I hope you get a lot of nice stuff and it treats ya real nice.

That all said, with the two-day Christmas break upon us, I figured I'd take a look at each team and give a little quick hitting analysis on who's been naughty and nice.

We'll start with the first place Devils.

DEVILS (20-13-3, 43 pts)

Zach Parise (35 GP, 15-20-35): Without him, the Devils would be sunk. He is so important to their offense and has the hardest work ethic. Never takes a shift off.

Grade: A

Brian Gionta (36 GP, 11-15-26): Numbers are a little low due to slow start because of Elias but lately, the Mighty Mite has been more involved.

Grade: B

John Madden (36 GP, 11-11-22): Much like when they lost Bobby Holik across the river, Mad Dog has taken it upon himself to contribute more. He's really exceeded expectations.

Grade: A

Patrik Elias (34 GP, 8-12-20): The streaky Czech has shown signs lately like the OT winner last night. His team best five GW is valuable but the team really needs him to be more consistent if they're to do anything.

Grade: C-

Dainius Zubrus (36 GP, 6-12-18): Started out very badly but has come around and been in on a few goals. Still, for what they invested in him, he needs to be more than a secondary option.

Grade: C

Jamie Langenbrunner (19 GP, 5-11-16): The eighth team captain came out like a house of fire not missing a beat from injury sparking the club's revival. Has cooled lately but that's expected. Still love how he plays.

Grade: A

Travis Zajac (36 GP, 5-10-15): The second-year pivot comes to play every night but the lack of finish is alarming. They could use a little more scoring from the North Dakota product.

Grade: C+

Jay Pandolfo (24 GP, 8-5-13): The likeable vet who was nominated for the Selke last year was playing very well much like his PK partner Madden before a groin injury stopped his consecutive games played streak at 307. Another guy who has excelled under the new coach.

Grade: A

Paul Martin (32 GP, 1-11-12): He doesn't chip in as much as you'd expect from the blueline for the kind of skater he is but that's not his job. He is very underrated in his end. A solid unspectacular guy who doesn't do much to hurt club.

Grade: B

David Clarkson (35 GP, 4-5-9): A solid skater who provides good energy when his team needs it. Always finishes checks and isn't shy about dropping 'em as his 84 PIM would attest. Like his game. If he could hit the net more, that would be nice.

Grade: B

Karel Rachunek (28 GP, 1-6-7): Hasn't hurt club in first season coming over from the Rangers. He has a great shot but doesn't use it enough. He does get PP time. If he could do more offensively, that would help. Is still prone to mistakes.

Grade: B-

Arron Asham (35 GP, 4-3-7): Much like he did with the Isles, the fourth line pest has provided a lift when needed and even chipped in with a couple of deciding markers. Also will fight. A good team guy who understands role.

Grade: B

Sergei Brylin (36 GP, 3-4-7): The other remaining member from all three Cup teams works hard out there and tries his best. But his offense is a little down. He is capable of more.

Grade: C

Mike Mottau (31 GP, 1-5-6): The former Hobey Baker winner has been about as good as expected. Wasn't supposed to make team but has adjusted to the NHL game finally and done nice job.

Grade: B

Johnny Oduya (29 GP, 0-5-5): The second-year blueliner is basically insurance. A decent skater who has his moments but that's about it.

Grade: C

Rod Pelley (36 GP, 2-3-5): Rookie is a decent skater who is defensively responsible. Kind of reminds of a young Pandolfo. Offense a bonus.

Grade: B-

Andy Greene (33 GP, 1-3-4): A solid puckmoving D who is capable of more offense. He really needs to use his shot. Defensively, he's been okay.

Grade: C+

Sheldon Brookbank (24 GP, 0-3-3): Another surprise on the blueline who hasn't hurt team. Also will scrap (44 PIM).

Grade: B-

Vitaly Vishnevski (35 GP, 1-2-3): Very physical D who loves to catch players with their heads down. Got off to bad start but has steadied. Can be beat to the outside.

Grade: B-

Nicklas Bergfors (1 GP, 0-0-0): The former 2005 first round pick was an emergency call-up for one game and still needs fine tuning at Lowell.

Grade: Inc

Michael Rupp (19 GP, 0-0-0): Is an extra forward with size who's not afraid to mix it up. Lately, he's been scratched with the Devils playing seven D.

Grade: C

Colin White (16 GP, 0-0-0): Might be the most important defenseman on club. The team's resurgence coincided with the physical stay at home D's return. His skating has improved and he understands role and plays very hard.

Grade: A

Olli Malmivaara (2 GP, 0-0-0): Got into a couple of games out of necessity and didn't hurt club going plus-two.

Grade: Inc

Martin Brodeur (32 GP, 18-12, 2.23 GAA, .914 Save Pct, 3 SHO): After an awful beginning, the three-time Vezina and Cup winner has returned to form backstopping the club to a 1-0 OT shutout last night (30 saves) in Calgary. It's amazing how durable the 35 year-old vet is.

Grade: B+

Kevin Weekes (5 GP, 2-1, 2.31 GAA, .919 Save Pct): The likeable backup who came over from the Rangers understands his role and has performed well. It's got to be tough because he probably could still be sharing the load elsewhere. A good team guy.

Grade: B+

Brent Sutter: It didn't start out well for the first-year coach who's very much like his brothers Darryl and Brian. His style is eerily similar to Calgary coach Mike Keenan in that he's not afraid to pull punches and call out players as he did with Elias. In New Jersey, his tough love has worked as the team has exceeded expectations leading the very competitive Atlantic by five points. You wonder if his style will last because players have a tendency to tune out these types of coaches. It's working so far and that's what matters.

Grade: A

The Puck Stops Here


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