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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