This is one I caught most of. In what's predictably a tight Atlantic, the Devils and Penguins essentially had a last place battle last night at Mellon Arena.
Coming off another tough one-goal road defeat against the Islanders, the Devils responded by earning a 3-2 victory over a sinking Pens' team which at the moment can't seem to get out of its own way- dropping their fourth straight to a division rival since bombarding the same New Jersey team 5-0 a week ago at The Rock.
Pittsburgh, who was one of the feel good stories last year thanks to Hart Trophy winner Sidney Crosby and talented Calder winner Evgeni Malkin and shorthanded rookie threat Jordan Staal has now dropped eight of their last 10 (2-7-1) to fall to a disappointing 7-10-1 thus far. Staal has failed to score shorthanded this year and isn't contributing much these days with only a goal and assist with a minus-eight rating. Complicating matters is the dreadful display from No.1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (4-7, 3.56 GAA, .893 Save Pct) who after a breakthrough '06-07 could be losing his top netminder status to newcomer and ex-Vancouver backup Dany Sabourin (3-3, 2.18 GAA, .912 Save Pct).
Not surprisingly, it was Sabourin who was in net for their latest loss last night in what was really a back and forth contest between a couple of desperate clubs. Unfortunately for him, a Georges Laraque turnover in the New Jersey zone when he centered to nobody instead finding Brian Gionta which set off a three-on-two odd man rush which resulted in a botched pass for Sergei Brylin right to a cutting Patrik Elias, who was able to bury his first goal in 12 games for the deciding tally. Yes. Even the former struggling Devil captain couldn't miss that gimme, afterwards looking to the ceiling as if thanking the heavens for his good fate with over five minutes left in the third.
It helped my fantasy team too. So I'm not complaining much. About damn time!
It was pretty timely because the Devils were in the process of blowing a two-goal lead and maybe onto a really bad loss. They had gotten early first period tallies from Travis Zajac and Zach Parise and some solid netminding from backup Kevin Weekes (23 saves). But a Crosby tally 26 seconds into the second along with a Evgeni Malkin power play blast halfway through the third knotted the score putting the outcome in doubt.
The Pens came hard in the third outshooting the Devs 11-6 and outchancing them by plenty. Only some strong saves by Weekes allowed them to escape. The former Ranger backup has played very well in winning two of three starts so far. Goaltending controversy?!?!?!?!?! Before Steve freaks out, JUST KIDDING!!!!! But you got to admit he's been brilliant exceeding expectations while Martin Brodeur got a much needed night off to prepare for the Rangers in hopes of becoming the second goalie to win 500 for a career behind only idol Patrick Roy.
Do I really have to tell you how I feel about the No.1 New Jersey netminder predictably getting Monday off? Seems to be pretty staged if you ask me. Who says the Devils aren't aware of such things anyway?
Here's hoping Henrik Lundqvist, Scott Gomez and everyone's favorite idiot Sean Avery put a damper on Wednesday night in what should be an electric building in Newark. We'll be keeping a close eye on the action while hosting the New York Hockey Report from 9-10. Hope some of you tune in for our game updates and hockey analysis.
A final thought on the Pens. How is it possible that coach Michel Therrien can continue to team Crosby and Malkin on the top line while Staal and Erik Christensen continue to fizzle? It makes little sense at all. Talk about throwing all your eggs in one basket. Ex-Devil Petr Sykora has nobody to play with. Mark Recchi can still skate but he's getting up there and Gary Roberts just isn't as intimidating anymore. Ryan Malone is a hard working gritty player but he's not a top line player. If ever a team needed a change, it's this one.
For those who missed a special Hockey Hall Of Fame ceremony with maybe the best inductee class ever featuring Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and Ron Francis along with hockey builder Jim Gregory, you missed a great night up in Toronto. So glad for the NHL Network because they showed the entire thing and the speeches were wonderful.
Stevens got through his thanking Lou Lamoriello for giving him a chance to win and family, pointing out how he couldn't have done it without his high school sweetheart.
Messier predictably teared up throughout a lengthy 20-minute speech thanking Glenn Anderson (should be in the Hall people) and Adam Graves for having his back. Though the best part was his use of a Mike Richter quote at the end about it not being about how far you go but what you get out of it. Too many parents take the fun out of it for their kids and forget that aspect. I really liked the message.
I also enjoyed MacInnis and Francis who both made well thought out speeches pointing to teammates and family for their successes on the ice. A common theme throughout. I have to say Gregory's speech was funny. Once a GM of the Maple Leafs during a brilliant 48-year career which is still going as he oversees stuff for the league, he remarked how he wished he had had one of the four entering during his eight years with Toronto and deadpanned that "he'd still be working for the Leafs," drawing laughter from the crowd.
It was just so nice to see this along with that special HHOF pregame ceremony they did at Air Canada Centre before the Rangers' 3-2 shootout win over the Leafs Saturday night. When you get to see Hall of Famers such as Andy Bathgate, Rod Gilbert and Lanny McDonald come out as part of the festivities, you realize how cool and how much the game means to Canada.
It's what I love so much about our game. The recognition!
Congrats to everyone.