Monday, March 10, 2008

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Battle of New York


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Rangers v. Islanders right now on MSG

End of the game - Avery added an empty net goal to make it 4-1 Rangers. Solid defensive game, Lundqvist came up big when he had to and the offense chipped in. The Rangers haven't lost in regulation in 11 straight now. Lundqvist also got his 30th win of the season. Congrats. Enjoy the rest of the night.

9:12 - Witt just went to the bench shaken up. He's had a barking right knee, so it could be something with that. This might be some kind of record, but in the two games this week, the Rangers and Islanders have fought each other zero times. I guess they needed DiPietro out there to start one of those. Al Montoya is down in the desert now, so maybe all will be calm.

9:05 - Another great shift by the top line for the Rangers. Avery, Jagr and Dubinsky all had chances. Blair Betts before that had a solid shift with a few hits. The Rangers have shutdown the Isle's offense so far this period as well, as they only have one shot on net.

8:50 - Much better start to the third for the Rangers. Marc Staal threw the puck at the net on the powerplay, Gomez deflected and it went in past Dubie. (I'm real tired of his name) It was all set up by Dawes' hussle. Dubie just robbed Jagr while Avery and Brendan Witt exchange words again. 3-1 Rangers.

8:31 - Wow. What a bad period by the Rangers. The Islanders came out with much more life. The best part of the Rangers' game was the penalty kill. They were outshot 13-3 in the period and rarely had offensive pressure. They will begin the third period on the power play off of a hard work play by Freddie Sjorstrum. He has otherwise been a little shaky this game. Dawes was robbed at the buzzer, as was Gomez. Need a better third period.

8:16 - Sean Berghenheim just managed to have a shot deflect off of Malik and Roszival and then past Lundqvist. 2-1 Rangers. Why don't the Rangers ever score those kind of goals. Big save by Lundqvist. All this after a beautiful penalty kill. Islanders are the better team this period.

8:09 - Malik's defense partner put the puck into the crowd in the defensive zone and took a delay of game penalty. Two man advantage for the Fishsticks for 51 seconds. Good penalty kill thus far for the Rangers.

8:05 - The pace didn't slow from period one to period two. A couple of opportunities for both teams leads to a holding penalty on the Blueshirts. Malik was the culprit.

7:39 - Jagr just rang one off the post. Then, a solid play by Malik (who?) led to a hooking penalty on the Islanders. One the powerplay, Dawes had a great opportunity and Chris Drury put one into the sprawling Dubielewicz. Anyone else wanna jump off the "I hate Marek Malik bandwagon with me?" He's starting to win me over again. 2-0 going into the break.

7:28 - Pretty goal just scored by Avery. Brandon Dubinsky dug the puck out along the boards, dropped it to Marek Malik, who fed Avery and Avery had a pretty deflection past Dubieleweicz. 2-0 Rangers.

7:22 - If you aren't watching this game, you are missing out. A strong shift by the Rangers' top line was countered by an even stronger shift by the Islanders' top line. Henrik Lundqvist had to make some good saves. Then Jaromir Jagr set up Sean Avery, who hit the post with the net wide open. Shanahan just took one of those weak hooking or slashing penalties. A tap on the stick and he gets called.

The Rangers and Islanders have started the second of the home and home this week, and already the Rangers are off to a 1-0 lead. Nigel Dawes fed Brendan Shanahan on a delayed penalty and Shanny went on a breakaway on Wade Dubieleweicz. The pace is a little faster than Tuesday's game, but it isn't very physical, yet. I'll be here updating as we go along.

Same lineups as Tuesday for both teams. Rick DiPietro is back with the team, but not in net. Petr Prucha, Ryan Hollweg and Jason Strudwick are the healthy scratches.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Rangers drop one to Isles in shootout.

In a game that was mostly dominated by the New York Rangers, the other New York team took away the two points. Derek's recap covers the stats, I'll provide some analysis from my point of view.

- Henrik Lundqvist spent the better part of a month at the beginning of the season bailing the poor Ranger offense out. When the offense was scoring one or two goals a game, Lundqvist stood on his head. Now he has some solid offense behind him (three goals yesterday, but the Rangers in the four goal range recently) and Hank is in a slump. Is that all it is? A slump? Let's hope so. The Rangers threw some serious money at him a month or so ago and it would a shame to have him turn into another Mike Dunham. Maybe he needs to be spelled a little more. Maybe he can't handle the 65-70 game schedule that Martin Broudeur handles year in and year out. Stephen Valiquette has proven to be a solid backup, maybe he needs to start a few more games. No matter what though, March is a month of Eastern Conference opponents for the Blueshirts. Lundqvist needs to get his act together.

- A lot of criticism on Tom Renney for using Michal Rozsival in the shootout last night. It wasn't the 15th round, but the fifth. Renney hadn't yet put out players such as Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan, Jaromir Jagr, Sean Avery or the secret weapon, Marek Malik. I'll be joining that group of critics, because to me, it just doesn't make sense. Maybe Renney thought that a different approach would throw Wade Dubielewicz off, or that Roszival saw something on the bench that he could try. Maybe Roszy's morale was dipped because of some shakey play recently (he played a good game yesterday, though) and wanted to try and boost it with a shootout goal. Maybe everyone on the bench went into an extreme sneezing fit and couldn't stop long enough to take a shot. Who knows? All that I know is that it was a poor choice. Is there any guarantee that one of the other guys on the bench would have scored? Absolutely not. I do think they had a better chance though.

- In a rivalry game of this calibre, I feel that the Rangers missed some of the energy that Petr Prucha and Ryan Hollweg bring to each and every game. Fredrik Sjorstrum was quiet, almost non-existent. With few penalties, Blair Betts was unnoticeable as well. Colton Orr threw some good hits, and got the crowd going. I have always been a fan of having a fourth line as a checking line. Shut down the opposing line for 45 seconds, throw some hits, have a scrap and forecheck hard. The Hollweg, Betts, Orr line was accomplishing that. Sjorstrum brings an element of scoring that a third line needs. With Ryan Callahan playing like a maniac recently, and Prucha waiting in the wings to get back in the lineup, I feel that you don't necessarily need Sjorstrum.

- Christian Backman started shaky again, but finished alright last night, and didn't even take a penalty. Not one.

- On the Avery front. His agent said that he hopes to continue talks with Glen Sather as soon as the season ends. If Avery continues to play the kind of hockey that he's playing with Jagr now, and if Jagr is resigned, I don't see Sather passing on the opportunity to keep the chemistry that the top line has. They are productive as a unit, and Avery has been semi-successful with every combination that he has played with this season.

I kind of expect a lineup change on Thursday. Callahan and Nigel Dawes are playing out-of-their mind hockey right now, and will be safe. Maybe Prucha or Hollweg gets in on the fourth line. The defense will remain the same most likely, though. Renney might be tempted to keep everything the same, as the Rangers have come away with points in 11 straight games, their best run since 1995-96. We'll see what happens. I'll check in before tomorrow's rematch.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dubi and Tambellini give Isles upper hand

On a night where the Islanders were without All-Star netminder Rick DiPietro, the more desperate team from Nassau County came into the Garden and earned a 4-3 shootout victory over the Rangers.

They can credit backup Wade Dubielewicz and rookie Jeff Tambellini as both proved to be the difference between one point and the big two Ted Nolan's club badly needed to stay afloat in the Eastern playoff race. With the Sabres posting a 5-2 win over the eighth seeded Flyers, it allowed the Isles to pull within three of the final spot. Buffalo has 73 points and trails Philly by one.

Despite being largely outplayed, it was the Islanders who built leads of 1-0 and 3-1 courtesy of goals off the sticks off Blake Comeau, Sean Bergenheim and Trent Hunter. Somehow, the Blueshirts didn't score in the game's first five minutes when they swarmed Dubielewicz' net but fired either into the capable backup or wide.

Instead, they came out of the first trailing by a goal which Comeau banked off a Ranger defenseman. The Isles led despite being outshot 12-6. Usually, when you don't convert your opportunities in rivalry games such as these, it comes back to bite you. Let's just say that was the case as the Rangers were forced to play catch up almost the entire night.

That's because Henrik "Seven Million" Lundqvist played like he had lead up his ass. He stunk most of this game and was the only reason his team trailed by two goals in the second after a Nigel Dawes power play tally knotted it.

So, how long did it take for the Islanders to reclaim the lead? Just 41 seconds later when a Bergenheim wrister from 40 feet beat the just turned 26 year-old overpaid No.1 goalie who came up about as small as possible when DiPietro didn't play due to the death of his grandmother. Unlike a few intoxicated angry Ranger fans at tonight's game, condolences go out to Rick and his family.

If Bergenheim's eighth wasn't enough to draw fans' ire, then the next softie Lundqvist managed to give up really stung. Let's be brutally honest here. King Henrik is the worst puckhandling goalie I've ever seen. He makes Mike Richter look like Martin Brodeur. He should never ever be allowed to play the puck because he freezes up and becomes a detriment.

That's exactly how the Isles got their third goal two minutes later thanks to a dreadful giveaway. Even worse was the routine Hunter stinker Lundqvist allowed to sneak through. Garbage.

This is supposed to be the league's highest paid goalie? Can anyone explain how our clueless GM somehow bumped Lundqvist from $4.5 million to $7 million on average? What did he do to merit it? He's won one freaking series. Is he one of the better netminders in the league? Without question. But I never was a fan of handing out a longterm deal such as that and such a hefty raise which will hurt the team's cap space.

To their credit, the Rangers rallied thanks to Chris Drury's 22nd less than two minutes later. A shorthanded goal by resurgent rookie Ryan Callahan off some hard work by Scott Gomez got it tied with 14:13 remaining in regulation.

The game would wind up in a shootout only because a routine Ruslan Fedotenko wrister drew the far iron with our franchise goalie napping. Maybe he was daydreaming about all the millions of dollars and slutty models he'll conquer afterwards. I know. I really shouldn't but I've had enough of Lundqvist losing concentration at key moments this season. It really makes you wonder what's going on in that head.

You want a real goalie? Watch Brodeur with a no-name defense stand on his head most nights.

Lundqvist got off to a great start this season but has been hot and cold ever since December. I'm tired of the excuses.

Oh. And he also blew the skills competition when our coach finally bought a clue and stuck Dawes out there. Somehow, he got no OT shifts. The same amount as Callahan. Can anyone explain that? Almost like asking what Renney was thinking with eight seconds to go in regulation and an offensive zone draw and he sticks out the fourth line. Are you freaking kidding?!?!?!?!?! Why not use a timeout there and setup a play. Stick Drury out there along with your best forwards and go for the kill.

Not this coach. Btw...this is why I really can't see this team winning a Cup. Because of these kind of questionable decisions. You want to be one of the best. How about playing to win for a change?

The Isles do it. You want to know why? Cause they have no choice. They got a lot better scoring chances in the final five minutes before the OT.

How about the selection of Michal Rozsival as the fifth shooter? Huh? Where's Jaromir Jagr or Drury or Callahan? Any of them would've been better.

Truthfully, the hungrier team won tonight. They had the better goalie. Not the one who made just 15 saves on 18 shots and allowed Tambellini to beat him for the winner after Bill Guerin's tying one snuck through in Round Two.

Dubielewicz stole this game finishing with 27 stops. He did it to the Rangers when his team had to win last year and had that miraculous final week to sneak in.

He was better than Lundqvist. How sad.

You could ask a lot of questions based on tonight's game. And no. I don't give one iota about the brownie point because it's a garbage point. Especially when you lose to a shorthanded rival who really has no business being out on the same sheet of ice.

Given how the Rangers played, the goalie was to blame. And btw...I'm with Lenny on Christian Backman. He's softer than a Hostess Twinkie. Get this guy out. Wow. Is he brutal.

Three Stars:

3rd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (SHG-7th goal overall)
2nd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (let in two bad Isles goals and looked lost)
1st Star-Wade Dubielewicz, NYI (27 saves plus 5 of 6 in shootout)

Same lineup for the Rangers tonight

The Rangers and Islanders faceoff in seconds, with the Rangers fielding the same lineup as Sunday afternoon. Ryan Hollweg, Petr Prucha and Jason Strudwick will be the healthy scratches.

No Rick DiPietro tonight, as he's out due to personal reasons.

I'm extremely busy tonight, so no live blogging. Enjoy the game and I'll be back tomorrow.

Ovechkin hits 50 in style

There are nights where you are lucky to be a sportsfan. For our sport, this was one of those special nights courtesy of Washington Capital sniper Alexander Ovechkin.

The 22 year-old league leading finisher entered yesterday's home contest against Boston needing one goal to reach the 50-goal mark for the second time in his already brilliant career. By the end of the first period, he already had a hat trick to become the third Washington Cap to reach 50 for a season joining Peter Bondra and Dennis Maruk.

It capped a terrific night for AO and teammates as they stormed the Bruins 10-2 putting up a touchdown in the opening stanza. After former Canuck Matt Cooke got the scoring started, Ovechkin tallied twice only 50 seconds apart to put his team up a field goal.

The electrifying Russian completed the first period trick when he skated in front and buried an Alexander Semin centering feed past poor Boston No.1 goalie Tim Thomas.

"Today, everything just went to the net,” a relieved Ovechkin explained to the AP of snapping a funk where he had only one goal in the last eight. “You are going to score (in) lots of games, and some you (won’t). I always tell myself not to think about goals and to just play how I can.”

It wouldn't get much better for the sixth ranked B's, who saw their six-game win streak end in humiliating fashion. They were outscored 4-2 in the final 40 minutes with Ovechkin adding two assists for a five-point night while rookie pivot Nicklas Backstrom notched a goal and three helpers.

For Ovechkin and teammates, the big game came just in time and allowed them to cut idle Southeast Division leader Carolina's lead to three with 15 games remaining (one more than the Canes).

“Just wait, we have lots of games left, and one game can mean nothing,” he pointed out . “We just have to continue to do what we did today, and try to play the same way on Wednesday.”

Amazingly, only three Caps didn't register a point including deadline pickup Sergei Fedorov, who somehow finished minus-one. Ovechkin's big night allowed him to pass fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin for the NHL scoring lead. He now leads the league with 90 points (52-38-90) while Malkin has 88 (37-51-88).

Monday, March 3, 2008

Big win for the Blueshirts and Monday afternoon update

As a Ranger fan, it pains me to see any starting goalie get pulled early in a game. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but you have to admit, yesterday's game was an extremely entertaining game. Derek has a great wrap up below, so I won't go into too much detail. I'll just throw out some quick hits:

- Freddie Sjorstrum has looked great in his first two games as a Ranger. It pains me that Ryan Hollweg is the odd man out, but he certainly brings a hardworking, productive element to the fourth line.

- Christain Backman earned himself some boo-birds in yesterday's game after taking two more penalties, but then got a reprieve when he scored later on. I agree that the first penalty was a bit of nonsense, and the second one was also a little questionable, but he has not impressed so far. He's not a physical player, so maybe he's trying too hard to impress his new team. He has shown brief glipses of being able to step up an make good offensive plays, so maybe he builds on the second half of last game and starts to win over the New York crowd and critics.

- Sean Avery broke off contract talks with the Rangers today, citing that they were too far apart monetarily. In the beginning of the season, Avery was asking for $3 million a year, which was steep. With his resurgent play of late, and his newfound chemistry with Jaromir Jagr and Brandon Dubinsky, along with the edge and aggitation that he brings to the table for the Rangers, I don't see a deal not getting done. Glen Sather would be stupid to let him walk and join another team, especially one in the Eastern Conference. $2.5-$3 million seems reasonable to me to resign him for three or four years. With Marek Malik, Paul Mara, Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Michal Rozsival and Brendan Shanahan coming off the books after this season, there's money to spend.

The Rangers are back in action tomorrow in the first half of a home and home series against the Islanders. Should be fun, and I might step in for some live blogging for one or both of the games as well. I'll update again before tomorrow's game.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rangers take fourth straight via shootout

Not surprisingly, the big Atlantic match-up between the Rangers and Flyers needed extra time to decide who would get the two points. That it required a shootout also wasn't very startling as neither team could get the kind of opportunity necessary to win it in OT.

Courtesy of shootout tallies from Brendan Shanahan and rookie Nigel Dawes, the Blueshirts prevailed 2-0 in the skills competition to take the game 5-4- notching their fourth win in a row and improving to 7-0-2 in the last nine.

Backup goalie Stephen Valiquette came on in relief of Henrik Lundqvist and was sharp repelling 17 of 18 Flyer shots to improve to 3-0 against them this season. In his previous couple of wins, he permitted zilch. Today, the Flyers' best forward on the day Jeff Carter solved him by chipping a backhand on the doorstep for his second of the day (23rd overall) with 8:11 remaining in regulation.

The Rangers outshot the Flyers 3-2 in a closely fought overtime sending the crucial contest to the shootout. It wouldn't take long to decide. Though Martin Biron was razor sharp in relief of an ineffective Antero Niittymaki stopping all 21 Ranger shots he saw, the same couldn't be said for the skills comp.

Last time it was Shanahan and Chris Drury who victimized the former Buffalo netminder in Philly. This time around, the 39 year-old Shanny again beat him by patiently waiting before ripping one top shelf past Biron's glove.

Flyer defenseman Kimmo Timonen's forehand deke try was poked away by a diving Valiquette. Then Tom Renney opted for Dawes, who was previously 0-for-1 in an eventual SO win over the Devils. The improving 23 year-old Manitoban didn't disappoint faking before tucking a backhand through Biron's five-hole to give the Rangers a commanding 2-0 lead.

Carter had been money all day but this time, his shot rang off the post and stayed out allowing the Rangers to come out on the ice and congratulate Valiquette.

The win temporarily pulled the team within four of division leader New Jersey. If the Pens win against the Thrashers, they'll have 81 points and move out in front. They were leading 2-1 at last check in the second.

Three Stars:

3rd Star-Stephen Valiquette, NYR (17 saves in relief)
2nd Star-Brendan Shanahan, NYR (assist, shootout winner)
1st Star- Jeff Carter, Phi (2 goals in 23:10 TOI)

Carter draws Flyers even

Jeff Carter remains red hot as he got his second of the contest by getting to a rebound and backhanding it out of mid-air past Valiquette to tie it at four.

It was off another four-on-four. Maybe the Rangers should be worried as another key one is coming up because Avery took a dive to draw a penalty.

There's four and a half left in regulation.

Two periods complete

Things kind of settled down. The Rangers got the only goal of the second from Backman. Valiquette made a couple of timely stops including getting across to stop Daniel Briere. He's been sharp but the Flyers also missed the net with high shots a few times.

The Rangers take a 4-3 lead into the third with a pivotal power play to start with. They'll have the full two minutes to work with thanks to some hard work by the Drury line. Look for the Flyers to take some chances shorthanded. They have good SH players even without injured top star Mike Richards. Carter made one happen in yesterday's road win over the Islanders. It was later credited to Mike Knuble. Though I can't see how.

It should be an interesting third.

Here are the numbers for Lundqvist and Niittymaki:

Lundqvist- 8 shots, 5 saves
Niittymaki- 14 shots, 10 saves

Backman nets 1st as Ranger, Flyers make change too

Maybe Backman heard me as well as he just notched his first as a Ranger off a very nice setup by Brendan Shanahan converting a four-on-three rush by wristing one past Niittymaki.

Apparently, John Stevens had seen enough of his starter as well and followed Renney's idea by replacing Niitty with Martin Biron. So, it's now a battle of back-ups at the Garden in this big Atlantic match-up.

Colton Orr just battled Jesse Boulerice to a draw. This was a really good scrap as both traded rights and landed. What an entertaining game so far.

What else will happen?

Valiquette in goal to start 2nd

Apparently, Tom Renney read my mind and decided to make a change in net to start the second replacing Lundqvist with Valiquette.

We'll see if the change sparks the Blueshirts.

Shootout taking place at Garden

Apparently, the two teams forgot to bring their defense and goaltending as six total goals were scored in the first period at the Garden.

Vaclav Prospal got his first as a Flyer just over a minute in but Marty Straka banked one off the post and in to tie it. Braydon Coburn put home a rebound for a power play tally to give the Flyers another lead only to see deadline pickup Fredrik Sjostrom notch his first as a Ranger.

Paging Doc Emrick. It's Fredrik! Not Patrick. Sjostrom's goal came in transition as he hustled to the front and got three cracks before getting a goal for the fourth line. Nice to see some hard work pay off.

Ryan Callahan continued his turnaround taking a Straka feed and beating Antero Niittymaki with a quick one-timer while uncovered in front. Great play by Straka but it was Marek Malik who made the defensive play which started it.

If only Malik and partner Michal Rozsival didn't make a poor read for the third Philly goal. Rozy made a bad mistake stepping up during a four-on-four which allowed Jeff Carter to get a step on Malik and flip a soft backhand past a sleeping Henrik Lundqvist. Apparently, he forgot to set his alarm clock. Maybe they should've started Stephen Valiquette. He owns the Flyers with consecutive shutouts (both in Philly).

Also, Christian Backman again has looked awful taking two more undisciplined penalties. He better adjust soon or that trade's a dud.

Second period coming soon after this Sean Avery feature, who's enjoying his Broadway stay on and off the ice. With him playing his best hockey of his career, how much money will he get this summer? Maybe it's better not to think about that one if you're a Ranger supporter.

Important game for the Blueshirts today

The Rangers take on the Flyers in about 20 minutes in an all important game. Philly sits one point behind the Rangers in eighth place. The Rangers are two points behind the Bruins for sixth place, and trail the Devils by only six points for first in the division. With 13 games remaining against the Atlantic Division, these points are extremely important.

Henrik Lundqvist will be in net for the Rangers. Colton Orr is back in the lineup as expected, and to make room for him, it is Ryan Hollweg sitting out. Fredrik Sjorstrum will again skate on the fourth line with Blair Betts and Orr. The remaining lines and defensive combinations remain the same, as Petr Prucha and Jason Strudwick are also both scratched.

Good to see the game on NBC again, but I prefer the voices of Sam Rosen and Joe Michelleti to Doc Emerick and Eddie Olzchek. Just personal preference. Enjoy the game, I'll recap later.

Les Habitants edge Devils to take over East lead

All season long, the Canadiens have been proving critics like myself wrong. That didn't change one iota last night where they used a Andrei Kostistyn power play tally with 5:43 left to get past the Devils 2-1 up in Montreal, taking over first in the Eastern Conference.

The difference was the lethal No.1 ranked Habs' power play which connected twice in six opportunities while the Devs took a collar for a second consecutive night to drop their third straight. After picking up points in nine straight, they're 0-2-1 in their last three and haven't been finding the back of the net with any regularity. Something which top netminder Marty Brodeur eluded to afterwards:

“They didn’t give us much, we barely had three or four really good scoring
chances on [Carey] Price. We’re just having problems scoring goals and creating
chances of late, and it was the same thing tonight."

It was also the second game in a row his team permitted two power play goals against. Something which can't become a common occurrence if the Devs are to come out on top down the stretch.

Rookie goalie Carey Price outdueled Brodeur in net finishing with 31 saves. The well spoken 35 year-old Montreal native turned aside 23 of 25 but just didn't get much support in dropping to 34-14-5 for his brilliant career against the hometown Les Habitants.

The Devs outshot the Habs 13-8 in the opening stanza but the contest remained scoreless until Montreal double threat Mark Streit got to a loose puck in front steering one home on the backhand past Brodeur for his 12th 6:11 into the second. Montreal captain Saku Koivu and leading scorer Alex Kovalev notched assists.

But New Jersey drew even 7:26 later thanks to resurgent sniper Brian Gionta, who got to a loose rebound in front and stuffed one into an open side for his 18th (5th in last 10). Defensemen Mike Mottau and Colin White added helpers.

Then it would be the goalies who stood tall to keep the contest knotted. First, a sprawling Price robbed Patrik Elias on a one-timer which was labeled. Then Brodeur kicked out the right pad to deny Kovalev's 35-foot right wing wrister late in the second. He also thwarted checking center Maxim Lapierre's pointblank rebound early in the final stanza. Another big glove save from in close kept the Habs off the board with less than eight minutes left.

However, the Canadiens would finally go back in front thanks to some nice passing down low. During a five-on-four man-advantage which Chris Higgins just kept on-side, Tomas Plekanec was setup in front but missed. A hustling Andrei Kostistyn got to the loose puck behind the net and beat Brodeur with a wraparound for the deciding tally. It was his 20th of the season.

The Devils did generate a couple of chances in the final five minutes but Price stood tall denying Jamie Langenbrunner's rebound try from in close. He also got a glove on a Karel Rachunek blast to preserve the win- pushing the no longer surprising Canadiens a point ahead of both NJ and Ottawa (5-4 winners over the Pens) for tops in the conference.

"It is a pleasant surprise for us and for a lot of people,” a pleased Koivu pointed out afterwards.
“There were some question marks for this team because of the young players
coming from the minors, but those guys have done an excellent job coming in here
and wanting a big role, not being happy just to be in the lineup.”

The loss was another opportunity lost by the Devils to increase their division lead with the Pens losing despite three more points from NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin.

With the Flyers going into Long Island and posting a 4-1 win thanks in large part to a crushing shorthanded goal by Jeff Carter, suddenly the Atlanta is extremely tight. Seven total points separates the first place Devs from fourth place Philly which makes today's early 12:30 matinee at the Rangers even larger. Especially with both teams making up their extra game.

Essentially, the winner will pick up a couple of points and get even closer to the idle Devs. Meanwhile, the second place Pens could pull ahead with a home win over the Thrashers.

Both the Rangers and Flyers are aiming for their fourth straight wins. So it should be quite a battle at the Garden in what's an NBC game.

As for the Islanders, they really hurt themselves by falling to the Flyers because a regulation win would've put them in a three-way tie with Philly and Buffalo for the eighth spot. Instead, they're four behind the suddenly resurgent Flyers and trail the Sabres by a couple of points which makes the upcoming home-and-home against the rival Rangers huge. It could possibly make or break their season.

There's a lot more puck today. So I should be around to update everything accordingly.

Enjoy the games along with what's a fun and unpredictable playoff race.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Devs a no-show in shutout loss to new look Caps

It wasn't much of a night for the first place Devils. With a chance to increase their conference lead, instead they didn't show up ready for hockey easily being shutout 4-0 by the new and improved Capitals at The Prudential Center.

Despite a strong start by Marty Brodeur, the Devs couldn't muster much against ex-Jacket Sergei Fedorov and new Capital goalie Cristobal Huet. Instead, their power play fizzled firing blanks while finishing 0-for-3. Meanwhile, the opportunistic Caps cashed in on both of theirs including NHL-leading goalscoring D-man Mike Green, who whistled one past Brodeur off a nice Alexander Semin feed a little more than halfway through the scoreless contest.

Brodeur came up with what looked to be a large stop on a Tom Poti pointblank chance from 35 at the end of the second. Unfortunately, his teammates drew zero inspiration instead getting badly outworked and outplayed by a hungry Washington squad hell bent on catching the battered Hurricanes for the Southeast Division.

The end result was:

Caps 3 Devs 0

SOG: Wsh-13 NJ-2

Though the Devils again held league leading finisher Alexander Ovechkin off the scoreboard, the Russian still setup one-time Dev Viktor Kozlov's 17th just 43 seconds into the final stanza. They would tack on a couple of more with Semin notching his 20th off a Poti setup and then out of all people, Washington enforcer Donald Brashear got into the act.

Unchecked, the noted tough guy buried a Matt Bradley pass in the slot for his fourth to put the exclamation point on a stunning Caps' statement with 2:55 to go.

Notes: The Devils finished with only 18 shots and went only 20-for-47 in the faceoff circle. ... Fedorov registered his first point as a Cap with a secondary helper on Green's deciding tally in the middle stanza. ... Rookie pivot Nicklas Backstrom tallied two assists. Poti also had two assists as well. ... Deadline pickup Bryce Salvador logged over 20:00 in his Devil debut on the blueline finishing minus-one. ... Brodeur turned aside 25 of 29 in defeat.

Tops in the East on line in Montreal: The Devs will look to rebound when they visit the Habs up in Montreal with tops in the conference on the line. Usually, the Montreal native Brodeur shines in those. The Habs are coming off a 6-2 rout of Buffalo in which Tomas Plekanec notched a hat trick and leading scorer Alex Kovalev tallied four assists. We'll see what happens.

Devils @ Capitals 2/24/08

Marty Brodeur stones Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps ice cold in his team's 2-1 OT win. Possibly some of the best saves he's made in his brilliant career.

The rematch is tonight at The Rock!

Hunter sparks Isles past Thrashers

While the Rangers were busy continuing their winning ways down in Raleigh, another resurgent New York team was getting it done in Atlanta.

Despite blowing a 3-0 lead and a 4-3 one late, the Islanders came out with an important 5-4 OT victory over the Thrashers last night courtesy of Trent Hunter's stick. The 27 year-old grinding right winger who recently re-signed with the club for a five-year $10 million deal (bargain much?) notched his ninth of the season just 69 seconds into the extra session to give his team their third consecutive win and seventh in the last nine.

For some reason, after Atlanta won a defensive draw, they had a brutal turnover allowing Islander pivot Josef Vasicek to steal the puck and find a wide open Hunter all alone in front. He knew what to do burying one upstairs past Kari Lehtonen to keep his club's playoff chances very much alive.

Hunter also assisted on Vasicek's 14th in the first as the Isles got the first three of the topsy turvy contest before a furious Atlanta second period rally knotted it up. When recently re-upped top center Mike Comrie notched his second of the game and 20th overall 3:17 into the final stanza, it looked like the Islanders would win in regulation. However, Rick DiPietro allowed a softie to Holik from 45 feet out with 1:22 left which forced OT.

DiPietro definitely wasn't on top of his game as it wasn't the only bad goal he gave up. Still, he came up with a few big stops in regulation as well which is what made the couple of softies mystifying.

Fortunately for the normally unflappable No.1 goalie, Vasicek to Hunter helped bail him out as his team got a huge two points to stay within a couple of points of eighth place Philly, who won 3-1 over the slumping Sens.

You really have to give this team a ton of credit. Given all the injuries to key personnel such as Brendan Witt, Mike Sillinger, Andy Sutton and Chris Campoli, somehow Ted Nolan's club is still hanging in there.

They have a really vital weekend with back-to-backs at home against the Panthers and Flyers before a crucial home-and-home versus the bitter rival Rangers next week.

These games could go a long way to determining their fate.

Some notes:

-Andy Hilbert notched a goal and an assist. He's done alright after such a dreadful start to his second season in Long Island.

-Defenseman Bryan Berard tallied two primary assists. The former 1996-97 Calder winner still has pretty good vision and can get involved offensively. The Isles need him to do it more consistently down the stretch.

-Deadline pickup Rob Davison assisted on one goal for his first point as an Islander. It was the ex-Shark's first point of the season in 19 games.

-The Atlanta defense was brutal guilty of some pretty costly turnovers which led directly to three NYI goals including Hunter's deciding tally.

-New Thrashers Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen combined for just an assist and a minus-four rating.

-Eric Perrin converted a shorthanded penalty shot pulling off a nifty forehand deke to get the Thrashers on the board. The ex-Bolt also registered an assist.

-Both teams combined to go 0-for-10 on the power play with the Isles taking the collar in seven opportunities.

Drury, Rangers continue to roll

Chris Drury is known as Mr. Clutch. Lately, the first-year Ranger has been exactly that notching his club-leading sixth game-winner to help lift the resurgent Original Six club to its third consecutive win by a count of 4-2 over the Hurricanes Thursday night at the RBC Center.

With his team out in front by two on the strength of first period tallies courtesy of red hot rookie Brandon Dubinsky and the sizzling Sean Avery, the 31 year-old Trumbull Connecticut native continued his torrid play by picking up the loose change of a Marc Staal shot and depositing it past a frustrated Cam Ward to make it 3-0 just 2:14 into the second.

At that juncture, the Blueshirts were dominating their shorthanded opponents, taking full advantage of a team without captain Rod Brind'Amour, Justin Williams along with top defender Tim Gleason. Shots at one point were 22-7 New York.

However, the Canes got back in it thanks to left wing Erik Cole's first of two on the night 5:25 later. Jaromir Jagr lost an edge in the defensive zone failing to clear the puck. Cole was the beneficiary taking a Bret Hedican pass and firing a tricky shot which looked to deflect past Henrik Lundqvist to get his team back in the contest.

Carolina carried that momentum forward as they started to dictate the play with their aggressive cycle forcing Lundqvist to make some tough saves with traffic in front. Early in the third, the Rangers ran into penalty trouble. A dubious high stick on Marc Staal (really Ranger newcomer Christian Backman) which drew blood led to Cole's second of the night.

It came via the odd variety again. After getting past Dan Girardi, Cole was backchecked by Blair Betts, who managed to get a piece of the puck but the kid from Oswego, New York stuck with it and got his stick on it to push it past Lundqvist for his 17th to cut it to one with 15:06 remaining.

Would the Rangers have another Montreal-esque meltdown? It wasn't a good start for Backman who went to the box for holding giving Carolina another man-advantage. However, thanks to some splendid penalty killing from Drury, Brendan Shanahan, the resurgent Marek Malik and a steadier Michal Rozsival, they managed to keep the Canes at bay.

Not long after the Carolina PP expired, a huge goal by Shanahan allowed his teammates to breathe easier. Off a pair of nice passes from Scott Gomez and improving freshman Nigel Dawes, the 39 year-old veteran finisher knew exactly what to do with a glorious chance on a three-on-two from 15 feet out. Top shelf. Or as legendary Sabres' play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret likes to say, "Where Mama hides the cookies!"

Shanny's 21st restored order at 7:28 allowing his team to survive a Carolina onslaught (13-2 SOG). He remained tied with Drury for the team lead in goals.

Notes: Dawes notched two helpers to make it three consecutive games with at least a point going 2-2-4. ... Lundqvist was strong finishing with 26 saves to win his 29th of the season. One more victory would make it three straight seasons of at least 30-or-more. ... Drury extended his point streak to seven (4-4-8). Since a Jan.31 4-0 shutout win over the Flyers, he's notched nine goals and six assists for 15 points with a plus-eight rating. ... With his 11th goal, Avery now has eight points (6-2-8) in his last seven contests with a plus-seven rating along with 19 penalty minutes. ... Phoenix pickup Fredrik Sjostrom debuted on the fourth line logging 11:27 of ice-time registering one shot. Petr Prucha was a healthy scratch.

Some quick thoughts:

-The lines all look really good right now. So, I wonder when Prucha will get his opportunity. He's coming back from an injury. I'd like to see Tom Renney fit him in on the fourth line with Sjostrom and Betts and see how it looks to have actual guys who can skate and finish around the net.

-Backman had a night to forget twice bringing his stick high at an attacking Cane. He also was turnover prone and looked very tight. Hopefully, he'll get adjusted to a new system.

-Lundqvist did give up two odd goals but he really played well in this one and was the difference. Especially when the Canes turned it up.

-Sergei Samsonov looked like a different player. It's no doubt that the Russian who once won the Calder has been revitalized since the Canes took him off the Hawks' hands. But now, he's back to being very dangerous. He had all sorts of chances and if not for Lundqvist, easily could've had a couple of goals.

-The officiating was very shaky as they missed a few blatant infractions on the Canes, who resorted to dirty late hits including one from new pickup Tuomo Ruutu and rookie D Tim Conboy. Responding to a cheap hit which should've been a penalty, Ryan Callahan took on Conboy losing a bout. I liked the character he showed. These rookies will do that.

-Dubinsky has four goals and four helpers totaling eight points and 24 PIM in the last six games since being moved to Jagr's line. Speaking of No.68, he notched an assist in the win.

-Since returning to the blueline, Malik's 1-2-3 with a plus-five rating in five games. He really looks like a different player. Instead of sitting back, he's being much more aggressive and making quicker reads. He's even playing physical which is nice to see.

-With the Bruins, Flyers and Islanders all winning, the Rangers remained seventh in the conference. Now comes a big stretch against the Flyers on Sunday before a pivotal home-and-home versus the Isles with Boston and Buffalo also on the horizon.

Just gotta keep the formula simple and keep winning.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rangers vs Hurricanes preview

Not much new to report for the upcoming game. In a couple of minutes, the two newest Rangers will be making their debuts for the Blueshirts.

Petr Prucha is ready to get back into games, but Tom Renney didn't want to play him tonight to give the newest acquisitions a game with their new teams.

Colton Orr is still experiencing chest pains when skating, so he is still considered day-to-day.

Henrik Lundqvist will be in net for the Rangers, Cam Ward for the Hurricanes. The 'Canes are 7-0-1 in their last eight home games, so tonight will be a challenge for New York.

Enjoy the game.

Paddock firing predictable

Remember when John Paddock was coaching the Wolf Pack and was thought to be the solution here??? Well, that same guy who left the Ranger organization a few years ago to work with Ottawa's AHL affiliate Binghamton got predictably canned yesterday.

His first season coaching the Senators didn't start out bad by any means as the Stanley Cup runner-ups got out of the gate quickly building a double digit conference lead. However, as time has gone on, the once thought overwhelming Eastern favorites came back to the pack like a runner in a marathon who goes out too fast and then fades.

So, what happened to Ottawa under Paddock? Well, for one thing, goaltenders Ray Emery and Martin Gerber were average at best. Unable to provide consistent efforts in net, they showed the one real weakness in the Sens. Or maybe it was just my hex I put on them after I was pretty convinced that the Stillman/Commodore deal addressed the depth issue up front and on the blueline that it might cover up the two sieves.

In my book, Paddock mismanaged his two goalies as you never knew which would start. How's a team supposed to feel comfortable when they don't even know who the No.1 goalie is? It definitely didn't help that he still hadn't made a decision on who it would be for the first round.

While he was toying around which couldn't have been beneficial for team chemistry, teams like the Devils, Penguins and rival Canadiens were getting superior goaltending and picking up more points suddenly creeping back into the race for the conference's top spot and home ice.

Part of what also hurt the Sens was that stars Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson all missed time. As they go, so does the team. The terrific trio is the most lethal scoring line in the game for a reason.

What might be most troubling is that even with all three now finally healthy and contributing, the lack of goaltending continues to plague the Sens. Another red flag had to be the 5-0 drubbing they suffered at the hands of bitter nemesis Toronto. To lose that badly before the deadline at Scotiabank Place to your biggest rival who's not even contending is about as low as it gets.

Why didn't GM Bryan Murray pull the plug then? Instead, he waited another game to see his talented team get blanked a second straight this time 3-0 to surprising Boston, who vaulted ahead of the Rangers for sixth by virtue of one more win and extra games left.

You still look at that Ottawa roster and wonder who's going to beat them in a seven-game series? It all depends on Emery and Gerber. The blueline is certainly solid enough with top defenders Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips. I still wouldn't trust Wade Redden in a big game, especially against a big physical team (see 2007 Cup Final vs Anaheim). Commodore's a good pickup as he plays tough in his end and takes the body.

Forwards such as Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette are vital cause they make things happen. Stillman thus far has fit in. So the scoring should be fine.

Will Murray going back behind the bench be enough to light a spark under his struggling team? Can they just flip the switch? I've seen this before with the 2000-01 Devils. A team so talented that they definitely should've repeated. Not putting away Carolina hurt later on and they never had enough killer instinct to beat the Avalanche.

Are the Sens suffering from the same thing? Just maybe. They still have to go out and perform. The East is much tougher than it looked a couple of months ago. The Habs, Pens and Devs are all capable of going far. Keep an eye on the Rangers too. If they get in, they're very capable of doing something big.

So, am I discounting the Southeast winner? Looks that way. The Canes have shown a lot of heart continuing to win despite all the injuries. You figure it will catch up. Are the Caps ready to take that division? Given all the moves they made, they better. I think they're still another year away.

We're going to find out plenty over the next six weeks. It should be a wild ride. Fasten your seatbelts!

The local deadline review

Now that the deadline has come and passed with special thanks to buddy Lenny for further updating a busy Tuesday while I was busy rocking out at the Garden to Clapton and Winwood, it's time to review how our metro area teams did.

So without much fanfare, let's get started:

Rangers- they addressed a couple of needs by acquiring depth forward Fredrik Sjostrom from Phoenix and netting defenseman Christian Backman from John Davidson's Blues for just a fourth round pick.

While there has been deserved harsh criticism for dealing away 2004 first round selection Al Montoya in the Sjostrom/Josh Gratton deal, just chalk it to up to what this organization does best with most first rounders (Marc Staal the exception). Ruining them. Nice job yet again destroying another top prospect. Montoya was an AHL All-Star twice and had nothing else to prove remaining at Hartford and should've been the team's backup with due respect to Stephen Valiquette. They needed to find out what the former Michigan Wolverine star could do and get his value up instead of watching it plummet like the infamous Stock Market crash in 1987.

The kid needed a change of scenery. Problem for him is he's blocked by Ilya Bryzgalov. So he'll again have to wait his turn. Best of luck making a career. Maybe he should work on becoming a cook or salsa dancer cause there's probably not much of a future out in The Desert.

Backman should be a suitable replacement for the injured Paul Mara and Sjostrom is the kind of player who can improve the fourth line making them a semi-threat once in a while.

Grade: B-

Devils- most of their fans came away predictably disappointed by the small deal Kool Aid provider Lou Lamoriello made in acquiring depth blueliner Bryce Salvador for former enforcer/team mascot Cam Janssen. When are Devil fans ever satisfied? Haven't they learned anything over the years about how Lou works?

That he could even get a semi-decent return for a nobody is proof that he serves the spiked Kool Aid around the league well. Who knows? Salvador isn't what I'd call bad. He can play physical and is an upgrade over Vitaly Vish-crapsky. Anyone's better than that waste. Even Karel Rachunek looks like a Norris candidate compared to Mr. Hooking Minor.

Maybe this wasn't the deal Dev fans wanted but it could only help what's still a questionable defense at best which Martin Brodeur is bailing out on a nightly basis with arguably the best goaltending of his stellar career.

I don't see how the offense needed that much. Unlike nimrod Mark Everson who really must hate his job, I don't see how their O is really that bad. Parise, Zajac, Elias, Langenbrunner and Gionta are all good and four are proven playoff performers. And Madden and Pandolfo have been great all year and are capable of stepping up as is top D Paul Martin. Maybe they could've used one more offensive D-man but no way was Buffalo trading Brian Campbell to an Eastern rival.

Grade: C+

Islanders- as predicted here, Garth Snow was more prudent in his second deadline after last year's Ryan Smyth bomb which ultimately hurt the Fishsticks more than helped. He traded for San Jose defender Rob Davidson and did alright getting a third round pick from Anaheim in return for Jekyll & Hyde offense only Marc-Andre Bergeron.

Snow also wisely moved unpopular enforcer Chris Simon to the Wild for a sixth rounder. He was roundly booed by the Islander fans when he returned from his latest suspension. So, he definitely had to go. To get anything at this point for a guy who's clearly lost a few braincells is a plus. The Isles reportedly are still high on prospect Jeff Tambellini. Hopefully for their sake, they'll be proven right. Besides, it's much better to get him up.

I didn't really get why they re-signed Mike Comrie for $4 million. He's one of those guys who should be much better for what they're paying. Even if he paces them in points, it just made no sense. My co-host Gary Harding must've been thrilled. Wouldn't they have been better off getting something for him? Snow wanted to keep most of his roster intact and see if they can somehow miraculously make the playoffs a second consecutive year.

Davidson is just insurance with the D bruised and battered.

Grade: C

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Trade deadline fallout for the Blueshirts

A brain fart in my last post had me say Erik Christianson and Colby Armstrong went to Ottawa. Not true. Nor will they be getting lost in a bigger market, as obviously Atlanta is not a bigger market than Pittsburgh. Both should become stars of their team there, although it might take a few years.

Moving on...

- Christian Backman skated with Marc Staal at practice today. Backman is wearing the uber popular Igor Ulanov's number 55. Hopefully he'll be a little more productive for us than Igor was.

- Fred Sjostrum is wearing Jan Erikson's number 20, and should skate on the fourth line tomorrow night in Carolina.

- Colton Orr and Petr Prucha are likely to both sit tomorrow, along with Jason Strudwick. Strudwick has ultimately been sent to the bottom of the defense depth chart with Marek Malik's resurgent play. It's only been two games for Malikenstein, but let's hope he can keep up the work he's showed the last couple of games.

- Josh Gratton and David LeNevue were sent to Hartford yesterday. Neither will be called up unless injury strikes hard for the Rangers.

In other news, Ottawa fired their head coach tonight. John Paddock led the Senators to a 36-22-6 record, which was good for second in the division. Bryan Murrey, who led Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, returns to the head coach position.

I'll check in again tomorrow before the game, but expect the same lines as last game with the exception of the new additions for tomorrow's tilt against the surging Hurricanes. Until then...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Busy deadline raises questions

It was a crazy deadline this year. In all 24 trades were completed, second most in history. Here's the chart, as per

Team Player/Compensation
Marian Hossa, F
Pascal Dupuis, F
Erik Christensen, F
Colby Armstrong, F
Angelo Esposito, C
2008 first-round pick
David LeNeveu, G
Fredrik Sjostrom, F
Josh Gratton, F
Conditional draft pick
Al Montoya, G
Marcel Hossa, F
Chad Kilger, LW
2008 third-round pick
Alexandre Giroux, LW
Joe Motzko, RW
Brandon Bochenski, F
Future considerations
Jan Hlavac, F
2008 seventh-round pick
Jean-Sebastien Aubin, G
2008 seventh-round pick
Brad Stuart, D
2008 second-round pick
2009 fourth-round pick
Jay Leach, D
Brandon Segal, RW
2008 seventh-round pick
Marc-Andre Bergeron, D
2008 third-round pick
Hal Gill, D
2008 second-round pick
2009 fifth-round pick
Chris Simon, F
2008 sixth-round pick
Christian Backman, D
2008 fourth-round pick
Matt Cooke, LW
Matt Pettinger, LW
Sergei Fedorov, C
Theo Ruth, D
Adam Foote, D
2008 or 2009 conditional first-round pick
2009 conditional fourth-round pick
Brad Richards, F
Johan Holmqvist, G
Jeff Halpern, C
Jussi Jokinen, F
Mike Smith, G
2009 fourth-round pick
Cristobal Huet, G
Second-round pick
Ruslan Salei, D
Karlis Skrastins, D
2008 third-round pick
Brian Campbell, D
2008 seventh-round pick
Steve Bernier, F
2008 first-round pick
Cam Janssen, F
Bryce Salvador, D
Andrew Ladd, F
Tuomo Ruutu, F
Wade Belak, F
2008 fifth-round pick
Martin Lapointe, F
2008 sixth-round pick
Rob Davison, D
2008 seventh-round pick
Feb. 25

Vaclav Prospal, F
Alexandre Picard, D
2009 conditional draft pick

Clear winners: Pittsburgh and San Jose. In my opinion, the Penguins are now the team to beat in the NHL. Their backline got more physical with Gill and their power play may now be unstoppable. If Ty Conklin and Marc-Andre Fleury can stay healthy and consistent, they'll be tough to beat. Campbell to San Jose really helps that team on the blueline.

Clear losers: Islanders, Edmonton and Atlanta. The first two for the mere fact that they did nothing of note. Getting rid of Simon was a good move for the Islanders, but losing Bergeron is tough. Edmonton had chances to move several players, and didn't. Atlanta got some good youth back, but they did nothing to be good this year. Armstrong and Christiansen might get lost in the bigger market up in Ottawa.

Other thoughts:

The Rangers made some weird moves. I understand the players they traded (Montoya and Hossa) as both were expendable. Hossa has been limited due to injury and Montoya's stock was just falling in Hartford. The players they got are questionable though. Backman should help out the blueline, but is in no way the shutdown defenseman the Rangers were looking for. He'll be physical and chip in a point or two every five games, but that's if he stays healthy. Sjostrom needs to play on a 2nd or 3rd line on a mediocre team. He will play on the 4th line, if he plays at the NHL level at all for the Rangers. This pushes Ryan Hollweg out of the picture, who cannot be replaced in terms of sheer energy. Gratton is a strange pickup, as he goes straight to Hartford. He fights and, well that's it. He doesn't do much else. LeNeuvue has a lot of upside and has worked with Benoit Allaire, who is very high on the kid. Hopefully that pays off.

Would have rather had Bryce Salvador, who went to the Devils. Good pickup by them, especially since they only parted with Cam Janssen.

Washington got better as well with Federov and Huet. Ridding themselves of Pettinger isn't a bad thing either. He was a bust so far this season.

Thoughts? Agree or disagree? Let's hear some other thoughts. I'll check in later on.

The Puck Stops Here


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