Saturday, January 19, 2008

Devs lose again, Pens lose game and Crosby plus a random thought

I didn't see a lot of it but the Devils managed to lose at home to the Panthers. That's like the Knicks losing to the Harlem Globetrotters. Even though if you've followed the Knicks at all, it actually could happen. But the Devs losing another bad Florida team who didn't even start All-Star netminder Tomas Vokoun is inexcusable.

That might also be why frustrated first-year coach Brent Sutter came away shaking his head after his first place club blew a one-goal lead after two periods by permitting a couple of Panther goals in a 1:17 span. It was the first time in 2007-08 his team lost after holding a lead after 40 minutes were played.

It happened when ex-Ranger Radek Dvorak notched his fifth off a loose rebound in front just 2:28 into the final stanza to tie it. Another solid shift by Florida generated David Booth's deciding tally 77 seconds later. Off a productive cycle, the second-year forward was positioned perfectly in front when a Ruslan Salei right point shot caromed off the back boards to him for his 13th.

The two quick goals were enough thanks to a 31 save effort from Anderson who stopped all seven Devil third period shots in notching only his second win in six starts this season. That included a key stop on the pesky Brian Gionta from about 15 feet out with about two and a half to go.

From there, the Panthers did a solid job outworking the normally gritty Devils by winning the puck battles along the boards. They didn't allow a quality NHL club to generate the kind of chances they needed late to force overtime.

It all added up to a career milestone for veteran coach Jacques Martin who became the 10th coach to win his 500th NHL game behind the bench. Congrats go out to him. The 500 are the second most on the active list with only former Ranger (current Calgary) coach Mike Keenan having more.

"I've been very fortunate to work in this league, the best league in the world and to have some good players to coach," a pleased Martin expressed to the Associated Press afterwards.

"Everybody was working hard tonight and it was good to see a turn for the better," Anderson said of the comeback win. "It's good to go against a future Hall of Famer, play head-to-head with him and get the win."

Not surprisingly, the classy Brodeur took time out to praise his counterpart.

"After not playing many games, he made some big saves," the future Hall of Famer pointed out. "This was a real bad loss for us. Up 1-0 in your building, you have to find a way to squeak it out."

As FSNY color analyst Chico Resch always says, it certainly wasn't Marty's fault. In fact, this was one of the best games he's played this season making several acrobatic highlight reel saves. Just ask Florida's Richard Zednik, who was robbed point blank by a sprawling Brodeur at least three times in the first two stanzas.

It's hard to say what was better. Brodeur's unreal stop on Zednik during the first with an open net where he somehow kicked out the puck with his legs at the last split second. Or was it the two-save sequence in the second where he denied the struggling Panther once in front on a backhand and then somehow like a cat made an amazing left glove save as the crowd stirred ripping the puck away like a cat.

Amazing stuff from one of the all-time greats.

Judge for yourself:

Brodeur amazing in defeat

He might've been on the losing side in finishing with 25 saves but he's never played better.

The Devs' only offense came from resurgent second-year pivot Travis Zajac, who found a Jamie Langenbrunner rebound for his fifth goal in the last seven 70 seconds into the second.

The problem right now for New Jersey is that leading scorer Zach Parise has gone dry. As usual, the 23 year-old kid's effort is there as he helped setup Zajac's goal and got a few chances himself. The North Dakota product just isn't burying his opportunities. He's now 0-for-8 in 2008 with his last goal coming in a 5-2 road defeat to the Islanders on Dec.29.

If you go back further though, Parise's goalscoring struggles are pretty evident. Since a two-goal four point night in a come from behind 4-3 home win over Boston, he's lit the lamp only twice in the last 18 contests.

That's just not enough from the Devs' best threat around the net. Especially with normally reliable veteran forwards John Madden and Jay Pandolfo shelved due to injuries.

Sooner or later, you figure the law of averages will catch up and Parise will get some breaks because he certainly works hard enough. When they do, the Devils will be tougher to deal with in a pivotal stretch which sees them have 14 of the next 17 at The Prudential Center.

The good news for the Devs was they didn't lose any ground in the division because the Pens were shutout by the Lightning 3-0 at home. Sidney Crosby left the game with a sprained ankle suffered in the first and previously unbeaten Ty Conklin was finally solved for three with ex-enforcer Andre Roy out of all people tallying once and setting up two other Bolts' goals.

Pittsburgh's record is 0-2-2 without Sid the Kid. They're obviously not going to have the 2006-07 Hart recipient for a while. So, this is a huge loss.

"Sid is a big part of that team," Vincent Lecavalier said after being held off the scoresheet and remaining in a three-way tie for the league lead in scoring with Crosby and Atlanta sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. "For them to win, someone else is going to have to lead, and I think (Evgeni) Malkin is going to have to do that."

"Right now, since we lost our leader and our captain, I'm going to try my best and raise my game," the second-year Russian star admitted after being kept off the scoresheet. "I'm going to try to do a little more."

Malkin is the Pens' second leading scorer with 52 points. He had been pretty hot lately with 12 goals and three helpers in the last 12 games before last night. The Pens will need the 2006-07 Calder winner to continue to step up.

The impact of Crosby's injury won't only be felt by his teammates but by the league as well due to the fact the All-Star Game is around the corner scheduled for Atlanta on January 27.

That's just great. The game's most popular player who easily was the leading vote getter seems certain to be unable to participate. Well, maybe that frees up a spot for his teammate Malkin, who should be going anyway.

The most important thing here is that No.87 recovers quickly in time to help his team get into the postseason for a second consecutive year. The last thing the league needs is a Pittsburgh second half collapse. Having the most marketable star player in the playoffs is very important. Especially for the game in the U.S. It would also help if rookie Patrick Kane somehow led a second half surge by Original Six Chicago. They won their second game in a row in a shootout over the Avs after a long winless streak.

And now for one final random thought on WFAN Devils' radio play-by-play man Matt Loughlin. I like Matty a lot and have even worked with him when he was a studio host between intermissions. A role which suited the likeable studio anchor well. The Matt and The Maven segments were classic. Even if you hated the Devs, you watched to see what they would say. Steve Cangialosi is boring.

They need Loughlin back between periods because to be perfectly frank, he's brutal to listen to calling these games. You can almost never tell what's happening. If a goal's about to be scored or if it's a save. There's almost no way to distinguish.

It's not Matt's fault because he's an employee of the Devils and tries his best to make the games exciting. And because of his awkward style, it's at the very least an interesting listen. Half the time I find myself chuckling at some of his calls.

He's just not a natural play-by-play announcer. This falls on the Devil organization. For whatever reason only known to GM Lou Lamoriello, John Hennessey was let go a couple of years ago. I don't really know what was wrong with the former River Rats' playcaller but he definitely wasn't as confusing as Loughlin.

Right now, the Devils have the worst radio broadcast in the entire league. It's flat out embarrassing that this is what airs on WFAN in New York. Do the hockey fans a big favor and put Loughlin back with Stan Fischler and find a real broadcaster.

It's for the best. Matt is just overmatched.

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