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
could.
"


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
before."


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.

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