Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Puck

Tonight, 2009 ends for good. For us East coasters, it's less than seven hours till the ball drops. Apparently, that already has happened for one of our Battle teams.:P There actually is a game between the Habs and Cats now. And for any WJC followers, Tedenby and Josefson scored for Sweden against Finland. The big one takes place at 8 between USA and Canada in Saskatoon. I hope our boys pull it off silencing those nimrods who boo our team. But not holding out much hope there.

Three of four BONY teams do battle tonight. The Rangers visit the Candy Canes at 7:30 while the Islanders are in Ottawa at 7. And a possible Cup preview in the Windy City between the two best teams at present, the Devils and Blackhawks going off half an hour after the big game I'll be locked into. What? You really thought I'd be glued to my pathetic team after last night.

I'd say more but am about to head out and finally sign up for Planet Fitness. Part of my 2010 New Year's Resolutions. I want to thank Hasan, Brian and Underdog for their contributions and of course our fans. Without the readers, this blog would be useless. Thank you to all. Wishing a Happy and healthy New Year!

Quote of the Day: New Year's Eve edition

This comes via Tom Gulutti's Fire and Ice blog after last night's Devils win against the Penguins where (shock of shocks) the Penguins only got one chance on the power play last night to the Devils' four. Apparently some Penguins didn't like being treated as a normal NHL team for a night:

During a stoppage in play 9:25 into the second period, referee Dan Marouelli had a long conversation at the Penguins’ bench with head coach Dan Bylsma and then another talk with Crosby. Then, he came over to the Devils’ and spoke briefly with Lemaire. After Marouelli left, Lemaire smiled.

According to one Devils’ player, Marouelli said the Penguins were complaining about the penalties.

“[Marouelli] said they were complaining that we didn’t have any penalties,” the player said. “[Marouelli] said we were behaving well and hadn’t done anything wrong.”

Tonight Summed Up

This comes from the company man, John Giannone who covered that debacle.

jaygeemsg No life. No heart. No offense. No focus. No defensive help. No chance. Thus sums up the Rangers' night vs PHI. In short,worst loss of season.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Devils shut down high-flying Pens again at the Rock

So far this Devils season has defied belief - in more ways than one. On the plus side, the Devils continued to dominate the defending Stanley Cup champions this season, winning their fourth straight over the Pens at the Rock with a 2-0 shutout - Martin Brodeur's second shutout of Pittsburgh inside a week. New Jersey's win put them in first place in the NHL once again, and the shutout nosed them below Chicago for the league's lowest GAA. Coincidentally the Devils play the Blackhawks and old friend John Madden tomorrow night in a New Years' Eve special.

Pretty much the only real negative of this season has been the injury bugaboo. Whatever virus afflicted my Mets last season now seems to have spread to the Devils. It's even getting to the point where I'm questioning the medical staff a little. Normally the Devils don't rush guys back after all, in fact they usually hold players out of the lineup for more than the stated injury time. However David Clarkson was a quick healer, coming back to the lineup on the low end of the 4-6 week timeframe for his injured right fibula.

Perhaps the Devils should have held Clarkson out just a little longer since in his second game back tonight, he re-injured that right leg and is now out for the immediate future, along with defenseman Bryce Salvador who won't make the trip to Chicago after being injured Monday night. Paul Martin's odd faulty healing arm which is keeping him out another month only makes me shake my head more at the injury luck we've had so far.

Aside from the Devils' hospital bill though, things are all warmth and sunshine around Newark these days. Well, aside from the actual weather which was at least milder than yesterday. Incredibly, the Devils have already won the season series against the defending champs, with just two games left to play - both of them at home after the Olympic hiatus. During these four games of domaination, the Devils have outscored Pittsburgh 14-2, shut down their vaunted power play all thirteen times they've been put on the PK and have gotten two consecutive 30+ save shutouts from Brodeur.

Although I figured tonight's game against the Pens would be harder than the first three in Pittsburgh, I don't think anyone could have guessed that Nicklas Bergfors' goal 1:48 into the game on the Devils' first shot would stand up as the game-winner and the only goal that would beat either goaltender all night. At first glance it looked as if Brent Johnson just whiffed on a seemingly harmless shot from the boards by Bergfors on a bad angle, but it could have been tipped by defenseman Mark Eaton. I haven't had a good look at a replay but whatever the case, Bergfors is fast becoming a Penguin-killer with four goals and three assists in four games this season. Andy Greene and Travis Zajac assisted on Bergfors' thirteenth of the season, which gave the Devils a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

There would be a hint of drama early on when Zach Parise dared to check His Highness Sidney Crosby into the boards and a frustrated Crosby took a slash at Parise, which led to some words between the two star players. Not to mention a funny postgame interview with Stan Fischler where he intimated that Crosby's been jealous of Parise since their first NHL game (one that Parise dominated at the CAA and led to chants of 'Zach's Better!') and kidded Parise that he was better looking than the Pens' captain. Zach politely agreed with the latter then just realized what he did and laughed the comment off.

I had my own drama early in the second period when I had to do something I never do, leave my seat during play as I was hacking myself to death due to mucus that hasn't quite left yet since my earlier bout with the flu this month. Other than the fact I've been off IR for a couple weeks I've been fighting it all month between a sinus infection and red eye and a cough that likes to randomly show up when I'm at Devils games (once during the national anthem). When I returned I saw the Pens had piled up several shots on Brodeur already, but clearly by this time he was keeping the Devils in front.

Maybe I was too busy focusing on our increasingly vulnerable defense or my own issues but I didn't notice Clarkson had left the ice until the sth who sits next to me asked about the Devils' winger. Of course I didn't notice Salvador's injury Monday either, I really should start spending time counting the players on the ice every five minutes since that seems to be how long it takes for someone else to go down.

One of our earlier season injuries happened when Mike Rupp checked Jay Pandolfo into the boards in Pittsburgh, prompting his former teammates to cry foul. While I didn't think the hit was that dirty, there was no defending Rupp on a slash of Brodeur midway through the second. On the one hand I wish we'd seen this agression more frequently when Rupp was here but on the other I really wouldn't condone it anyway. Rupp and Brian Rolston wound up with matching minor penalties in the ensuing scrum, with Rupp being restrained by the ref from going after either Rolston or another Devil.

None of the histrionics could overshadow the game however, which evoked shades of Brodeur's duel with Cam Ward in Game 5 of the playoffs last year. While it wasn't quite that intense in terms of shots on net or game meaning, it certainly rated high for a regular season game. Clearly Brodeur was making all the saves needed but so was Johnson, who saved some of his best for the third period. Actually, his best friend the crossbar stopped Parise on a two-on-one but Johnson later robbed Zajac with the glove on what looked like a sure goal.

Seconds turned into minutes in the third, but the Devils wasted a golden opportunity to put the game away when back-to-back penalties by Chris Kunitz and Crosby gave the Devils a thirty-second two-man advantage and consecutive power plays. However, the Devils' PP turned into the power kill tonight with too much passing and not enough hitting the net with shots. In fact, Johnny Oduya conceded a great chance when his lazy turnover led to Evgeni Malkin charging in on a two-on-one but Brodeur made another sharp save.

Finally the game came down to the last eighty-six seconds. Why eighty-six? Well, after the Devils amazingly had a 4-0 edge in power play chances for most of the game, the Penguins finally got one of their own at that point, and with the goaltender pulled it was a virtual six-on-four. Even now however, Brodeur would frustrate the Pens and give credit where it's due - the maligned old man checking line did well when it mattered tonight, with Jay Pandolfo coming up with an important block that cleared the zone and Rob Niedermayer springing Jamie Langenbrunner for a breakaway on the empty net and the captain beat a dead-tired Malkin to score his ninth of the season and seal it with just twelve seconds remaining.

While I've been on record as showing concern for a checking line full of 35-year olds or having Colin White and Mike Mottau paired, at least for one night against an offensive powerhouse they all did the job. Backstopped by the all-time leader in shutouts of course. At least now every shutout at home is a record-breaker. Sure, Brodeur's breaking his own record at this point instead of Terry Sawchuk's but hey, history is history.

Notes: With the Olympics drawing closer, some Devils already know they're going. While Bergfors couldn't quite attain eligibility for the Swedish team, teammate Oduya did make it. In the biggest formality possible Brodeur made the Canadian team. Also, not surprisingly Patrik Elias made the Czech team although his being named captain was a nice honor, especially for one of my faves. Hopefully this time around he'll be able to enjoy the Olympic experience for more than a few minutes. Then again, seems that the most danger one has of being out of the lineup is to put on the red and white of the Devils.

BoNY Three Stars:
  1. Martin Brodeur (32 saves, 105th career SO)
  2. Nicklas Bergfors (goal, +1 and 4 SOG with 19:51 TOI)
  3. Brent Johnson (31/32 saves)

Fire 'Em All

Fire everyone! I don't care anymore. Funny enough, I voiced my displeasure about this team on our fantasy hockey site, stating hard cold facts about why it sucks to be a Ranger fan. Read if you like. There's no sense in rehashing. Though it was ironic that after a meal at the Play By Play with a buddy, I noticed Slats walking downstairs. Michael asked me why I didn't say anything and I replied:

"I have nothing good to say."

Sometimes, no words speak volumes. I don't have much to say about tonight's 6-0 disgrace to the Flyers. It speaks for itself. How bad was it? Aside from allowing them to do whatever they wanted (Gagne hat trick, Leighton SHO), the lack of effort was so putrid fans started filing out after the first. I decided I wanted to stay to see what would happen. So, when Chad Johnson was thrown to the wolves by Tort, I was already second guessing the move when Brandon Dubinsky made one of the laziest plays ever, allowing Gagne to come in and beat the poor kid just 23 seconds into his first NHL action on you guessed it. His first shot.

This was no time to put such an inexperienced goalie in there. Henrik Lundqvist was hardly at fault for what transpired in a three-goal Flyer first. Even if he probably could've had Danny Briere's goal which made it 2-zip. The first one couldn't have happened to a better guy with Blair Betts returning to MSG where he helped bring respectability back to our franchise. And there was the hard working fourth line PK guy putting home a backhand off a weird bounce which Marc Staal- abysmal all night- totally misplayed. Could care less that it came on the enemy as I cheered. That must've felt sweet.

It would be so easy to use every word imaginative to describe how dead our guys looked. Dubinsky and Staal were brutal. That's supposed to be two of our better guys. Even the Great Gabby suffered. Avery did fight that punk Hartnell but whatever. This was so embarrassing, I headed downstairs after Gagne's second that made it 5-0.

I briefly went into Borders where we'd met Theo Fleury a while back when things were tolerable. How could they not bother to show against a bitter rival following the Islander disappointment? I've seen this before. Every Ranger fan has as part of the worst decade in like ever. There were so many two bit scrubs on those rosters, it's mind boggling. Did it actually happen? I don't know how we put up with it. Guess we're all suckers. No wonder we have gotten rid of so many games this year. You have to at least get some money back.

The lone highlight was talking with four Czechs who were in The Big Apple a third time, finally at their first Ranger game. Boy, you should've seen the looks as this disaster unfolded. I did interview one and will try to have it up at some point. Good stuff too. There also was some pretty gal too in front of me with her lame boyfriend. I bet it was her first game. She at least had beer. This team will drive ya to drink. It's costing between 8.25 and 9.50. I at least had my 9.00 Heineken purchased after I bought the pregame meal.

When we got home basically as the game ended after Gagne completed his natural trick, it said everything. I can't ever recall leaving that early. My brother wanted to go home after the first. There's nothing else. I said on Twitter last night I was sick of this team and wanted to adopt another team the rest of the season. Of course, nobody in our conference.

I'm leaning towards Rangers West the Coyotes because of Prucha, who btw scored his eighth in last night's shootout win won by Korpedo. Phoenix is the polar opposite of us because they put out maximum effort and are out to prove a point. It reminds me of us following the lockout when we were picked dead last and then Jagr guaranteed the playoffs. Renney also restored an identity. That us against the world mentality where everyone rallies can be quite a motivator. Look what's happening in the Desert. Also, Dave Tippet's a good coach and Shane Doan is the most overlooked star in the league. A Flyer fan told me he regretted trading Upshall for Carcillo. Haha. They really do play hard and it would be a great story if they got in.

Awwwwwwwwwwwwooooooooooo!!!!!! Werewolfs of London! Howwwwwwwwwlllllll!!!!!

WJC Update

If you haven't watched the WJC, it's not too late. The games are about to get better. USA plays Canada on New Year's Eve at 8. So, both killed the comp again yesterday with the Americans handing poor Latvia a 12-1 beat down while the host Canadians hammered Slovakia 8-2 in Taylor Hall's coming out party (hat trick).

Can anyone stop Canada? Their roster is like all All-Stars from Ryan Ellis to Jordan Eberle to Alex Pietrangelo to Nazem Kadri to Brayden Schenn to Patrice Cormier to Gabriel Bourque to Brandon McMillan to Colten Teubert to Jared Cowen to Brandon Kozun to Jake Allen. Did we mention Hall now is up to seven points? Yikes. And sadly, they didn't select other potential top pick Taylor Sequin. Scary.

In USA's predictable 11-goal rout, Ranger prospects Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider continued to turn heads with the American captain scoring twice and setting up two others while the Blueshirts' 2009 No.1 pick netted a hat trick, finishing it off in style on a penalty shot (wrister shortside). Just how good are they? Let's see how each does against the best tomorrow night in Saskatoon. Btw...Canada donned green jerseys in tribute to Sask and Robyn Regehr's wife presented the Star Of The Game. Damn. She's hot! Let's just say the Calgary defenseman is a lucky man.

Who else starred yesterday? Jersey product Kyle Palmieri (Ana) had four assists. Danny Kristo (Mtl) had a pair of goals as did Jason Zucker. Jeremy Morin had a goal and assist while Jordan Schroeder (Van) tallied two helpers along with Jake Gardiner, Philip McRae, Brian Lashoff and John Ramage. Okay. You get the point.

In the one competitive game, a more experienced Sweden handled Russia 4-1. Magnus Paajarvi Svensson (Tor) netted a goal and two assists while Andre Petersson notched two markers including a rocket thru a screen that restored a two-goal lead after Islander property Kiril Petrov converted a breakaway (forehand, far side). Daniel Brodin took full advantage of a sloppy turnover, beating Igor Bobkov with 14 and a half left for the final margin. Despite Russia holding a slight edge in shots (37-32), the Swedes were the much better team, playing better defense while also attacking more effectively. Though they each were kept off the board, Devil products Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson were superb cycling the puck well and generating chances. Especially the small but speedy Tedenby, who ironically donned No.9 reminding of another current Devil. So, plenty to like there.

Also standing out was defenseman Oliver-Ekman Larsson, whose superb outlets led to half the Swede output. The prettiest of which was Petersson's second off a sweet one-touch drop pass from Svensson that was started by Larsson. The Russians had ample opportunities to tie after captain Nikita Filatov (CBJ) setup Petrov with the best coming off the stick of 17 year-old Yevgeni Kuznetsov, which Jacob Markstrom (Fla) calmly tucked away for one of his 36 saves. The Swede D played Filatov physical trying to take him out of the game. But he did get involved with the assist and also a couple of other chances, finishing with an assist, four SOG and plus-one.

Also impressing us were Vyacheslav Kulemin and Vladimir Tarashenko up front along with blueliners Maxim Chudinov and Dmitri Orlov. A shame that Evgeny Grachev isn't getting to experience this great tournament, instead learning on the ropes at Hartford.

In the early game, the Czechs rolled over Austria 7-1 to get their first win. Vladimir Roth had four points (1-3-4) while Tomas Kubalik and Andrej Nestrasil each had a goal and two assists. Robert Kouzal added a goal and helper. Later today, Finland takes on Austria and the Swiss battle Latvia for a chance to pickup a victory. We're keeping an eye on New Year's with not only the USA/Canada clash but Swe/Fin and Cze/Rus with Switzerland taking on Slovakia and star Tomas Tatar (Det).

The competition should get better. So, if you want to catch some of the future, check it all out on NHL Network in The States.

Schremp shoots Islanders past Jackets

It was precisely a moment like this that the Islanders got Rob Schremp for. Scoreless through two rounds of the shootout, the man a million tricks in his magic bag skated from the red line, making a zillion moves before curling and dragging to wire a perfect forehand beyond Steve Mason's outstretched pads.Dwayne Roloson, who was quite busy making 41 saves, had to stop one more shooter. After staying with Rick Nash, he did the same forcing ex-Ranger Fedor Tyutin out of real estate and wide, giving the hosts the final home win of the decade in front of an excited Coliseum.

Islanders 2 Blue Jackets 1

It was the third win in four for the Isles, helping offset an unlucky 13th consecutive defeat to the Flyers.  Despite being outshot 42-25, Scott Gordon's club came out with the 'W', improving to 16-18-7 for 39 points. At exactly the halfway point, they're in a three-way tie for 10th just a point behind Atlanta and the Rangers for the final playoff spot while Montreal is seventh only two points up. Not bad position for a rebuilding club no one gave a chance. Unless you count Stan Fischler. Hey. We know him quite well and he always sees the glass half full. If you're the eternal optimist, you can argue why not based on the fact prize rookie John Tavares was held off the score sheet again, scoring once over the past 10.

The poor stretch by the Isles hasn't cost them due to how much parity there is. If JT91 and Kyle Okposo (assist) get untracked along with Mark Streit (0 G in last 21), why not? As long as Rollie keeps them in games, you never know. When asked to assess the first half, the durable 40 year-old netminder didn't hesitate to say he feels they can aim higher than the eighth seed, going as far as five or six. It's probably unrealistic but making the playoffs no longer is. And wouldn't that be great to achieve? In an Olympic Year, there's still a long way to go. When does Rick DiPietro return? He could be headed for another rehab stint in Bridgeport before the organization reassesses. As long as Roloson and Martin Biron play adequately, there's no reason to rush DP back.

As for the game, they'll take it. The Jackets were coming off a superb effort in a 1-0 OT shutout of Detroit after acquiring Milan Jurcina and Chris Clark from the Caps for Jason Chimera. Both new Jackets debuted, contributing to another solid effort like the one that snapped a nine-game skid. Despite controlling the first with an excellent attack that forced Roloson to make saves from in tight, they fell behind when Steve Mason lost sight of Okposo's 40-footer with the puck caroming high in the air behind him where Josh Bailey finished off his eighth at 10:04. Originally, it was credited to Okposo but later changed to Bailey from Kyle and Andy Sutton, who's played inspired this year.

Despite being doubled up in SOG (14-7), they led after one. The second was similar with the offensively challenged Jackets trying desperately to break the Roloson wall, eerily reminding us of the Rangers. Hey. We can't score either and Rollie has played great against us. Ken Hitchcock's club again registered 14 shots but still hadn't beaten him. They led 28-15 but not on the scoreboard.

It didn't deter them from coming hard where finally, they got the equalizer thanks to a bit of luck. Off a great Rick Nash keep at the left blueline, the puck trickled right to R.J. Umburger, who made a quick move around the net and sent an innocent looking backhand wrap towards the net that might've deflected off someone past a surprised Roloson. As legendary Jiggs McDonald stated on MSG-Plus, "Just like that, we're tied." Umberger's ninth marker in the last 20 came from Nash and Tyutin, tying it 1-1 with 10:13 remaining.

Each club had power play opportunities to surge ahead but couldn't cash it in, including a late Islander one with 1:42 left after Freddy Modin foolishly tossed the puck into the stands. How Team Sweden chose him over an irked Mikael Samuelsson is beyond us. Even if he did score the lone goal Monday, he's not better than Sammy, who ripped his own country that also stuck Peter Forsberg on when he hasn't played in a big game in forever.

The game went to OT where the BJ's killed the remainder. In it, the Islanders got some good chances, forcing Mason to make five saves. That excluded a couple of posts including one from Tavares and another off the stick of Bailey late. It would go to the skill competition. Both goalies were strong with Mason and Roloson denying the first four shooters. That's when Schremp stepped out and put on a great stickhandling display before beating Mason, who never had a chance. Roloson then denied Tyutin, who actually was 2-for-5 entering, to seal the win in front of hockey legend Gordie Howe, who was in the building a night after watching the Devils defeat Atlanta at The Rock. Perhaps he also was on hand for the new Danbury Whalers earlier yesterday.

In any event, he saw an Islander win. Will he also be at The Garden later tonight for Flyers/Rangers? Or are we not worthy?

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Rob Schremp, NYI (SO winner, 2 hits, 3 takeaways, 9-3 draws in 19 shifts-16:26)
2nd Star-Dwayne Roloson, NYI (41 saves incl.28/28 thru 40, 3/3 in shootout)
1st Star-Josh Bailey, NYI (goal, 3 SOG, 2-2 draws, +1 in 15:39)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Statement Made: Sabres overcome 3-goal deficit versus Pens

Sometimes, there are those games which define you. For this year's Sabres, that came tonight versus the defending champs at HSBC. They fell behind three with the skilled Pens chasing probable USA starter Ryan Miller. However, it didn't matter thanks to Drew Stafford and Patrick Lalime, who sparked a great emotional comeback for a 4-3 win, finishing off the 2009 with a bang.

This was quite a statement by Lindy Ruff's club, who rebounded from a miserable first that saw them outshot 10-4, falling behind by two thanks to goals from Jordan Staal and Bill Guerin. Early in the second, it didn't get any better when Chris Kunitz scored his sixth from Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis only 88 seconds in putting Buffalo in a three-goal hole. At that point, Miller's night was done. He permitted three on 11 shots as Lalime replaced him. Following an AHL stint, the veteran who once took the Sens within a game of the Cup Final has been better since, winning two of three starts while nearly backstopping the Sabres past the same Penguins 10 days ago in a 2-1 gimmick loss. Here was a chance for redemption but he needed some support and got it from Stafford.

A healthy scratch at St. Louis, the third-year winger responded by ending a 15-game goal drought, tallying twice in a 2:09 span to get Buffalo back in it. The first came via a momentum shifting penalty shot, which was delayed in itself, due to a lengthy Toronto review on whether he scored previously on Marc-Andre Fleury. While they took time deciding the puck wasn't in, Stafford skated back and forth like a figure skater as comically described by legendary tandem Rick Jeanneret and Harry Neale. When the big moment finally came, he didn't waste any time, quickly beating Fleury five-hole to put the Sabres on the board at 12:46. Apparently, teammate Chris Butler knew where he was going and informed bench reporter Rob Ray, who was only too pleased to tell the audience after the big goal.

Suddenly alive, the Sabres took the play to the Pens, drawing even closer when Stafford got his second consecutive goal from Clarke MacArthur and Tim Kennedy, cutting it to 3-2 with 5:05 left in the stanza. While Stafford was taking care of the offense, Lalime was keeping the Pens at bay turning aside all 18 shots in a more active second that saw the clubs combine for 34 shots (Pit-19, Buf-15).

Down just one, Buffalo came all the way back thanks to a great rush by Stafford which resulted in a goal. Taking a pass from MacArthur, he flew down the right wing skating around Pen defenders before wisely flipping a feed across which Paul Gaustad buried with a backhand, tying the score with 12:32 remaining. Following a couple of key Lalime saves, Craig Adams got nabbed for boarding in the offensive zone, handing the hosts a power play. It took only 50 seconds for them to capitalize when Jason Pominville came out into the slot and wired a shot top shelf for his 10th. Tim Connolly and rookie Tyler Myers netted assists.

Now ahead, the Sabres played tactically against a dangerous opponent who tried to turn it on. The Pens buzzed on one shift with two and a half left but couldn't beat Lalime despite great pressure from Crosby and Co. Despite outshooting Buffalo 9-5 (38-24 overall), they didn't get anymore glorious opportunities with perhaps the best a Kris Letang shot which sailed wide with over two minutes to go. With Fleury pulled for an extra and both Sid The Kid and Evgeny Malkin out searching for the equalizer, the Sabres stood up to them with Gaustad taking Staal off the ice for matching slashes with 26 ticks left. No play further illustrated this than Myers clean takeout of Geno during a puck battle behind his own net with over 10 secs remaining. The kind of physical play that garners attention. One of our good buddies over at Twitter BanginPanger agreed.:

@BattleOfNewYork I've been critical of the fellatio of Myers, buttttttttt tonight, that was as good a game a Sabres d-man has played in ever
Pretty accurate assessment from a Panger fan. Who doesn't love Pang? We even kinda worked with him back at Bristol when ESPN actually still cared. I was one of those stat researchers for Remote Production. Fun days! The real Panger is also on there and can be followed as well.

As for the game's conclusion, one more Sabre clear off a faceoff was enough to finish off the best win of the season. When the buzzer sounded, a bunch of happy Sabres mobbed Lalime even kinda dancing and laughing. It meant plenty. I know the Pens have lost all three to the Devils in Pitt and try again in Newark tomorrow but this was a great victory for Buffalo because it shows that they mean business. Something even our Buffalo contingent can't ignore. ;-) Statement made!

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Jordan Staal, Pit (goal, 4 SOG, 8-9 draws, 4 PIM, +2 in 17:17)
2nd Star-Patrick Lalime, Buf (27 saves incl.18/18 in 2nd in relief)
1st Star-Drew Stafford, Buf (2 goals incl.PS snapping 15-gm goal drought, assist, team high 5 SOG, +2 in 15:05)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Parise gets off the schneid as Devils win

While Zach Parise's twelve-game goal drought heading into tonight was cause for observation (not concern), you just knew once he did get one it would open the floodgates. Sure enough, after he finally got on the board in the first period he wouldn't wait long for his next goal, scoring what proved to be the winner early in the third period of a 3-2 Devils win over Atlanta.

Tonight's lineup had a little bit of intrigue for David Clarkson's return meant someone would have to come out. Somewhat surprisingly, it was Vladimir Zharkov who would be scratched to make room for Clarkson despite the fact that the Devils kept him over defenseman Matt Corrente, leaving the team with only six healthy defensemen on the roster. I wasn't as surprised to see Andrew Peters again in the lineup over Illka Pikkaranen, given Jacques Lemaire's concern over the Thrashers' heavyweight Eric Boulton.

Unfortunately Peters' insertion proved to be disasterous. During his thirteen seconds of icetime, he misfired on a clear, lost a fight with Boulton...and worst of all got a game misconduct for not tying his uniform down. That kind of snafu should get Peters banished to Trenton (not even Lowell!), I'm sorry but if he cannot perform the one role he was inserted for - and being ejected less than two minutes into the game saw to that - then he doesn't deserve to wear a uniform at all. Especially given he's a lousy hockey player to begin with.

Oh well, enough about a player who doesn't deserve any more mention here - the game itself proved quite entertaining after that odd beginning. After his embarassing lack of a backcheck in Atlanta on the Devils' winning goal, Ilya Kovalchuk tried to make amends the only way he knows how - with a howitzer of a one-timer that beat Martin Brodeur after 9:43 of the first, giving the Thrashers the lead. However, just 63 seconds later star would answer star as Parise scored his first of the night, off a nice pass from Nicklas Bergfors who threaded the needle with a backhander that found Parise in front for a one-on-one with Johan Hedberg and the Devils' sniper put one home for his 16th of the season. Andy Greene also got an assist on Parise's goal and had another terrific night overall, playing a team-leading 26:38.

Now tied at one, the fireworks would continue at 13:45 when Clarkson (obviously itching for a brawl after his long stint on the scratch list) pounded Atlanta's Chris Thorburn - the highlight of an otherwise spotty return for #23, who played just over eleven minutes but was a -2. Soon after, the Devils would grab a lead they wouldn't relinquish when Colin White contributed an unlikely goal from the point which appeared for a moment to be deflected by Parise, but instead the big defenseman would get his second goal of the season at 16:34 after assists from Bergfors and Travis Zajac.

After a shaky second period, the Devils started to gain momentum with a late penalty by Boris Valabik, which gave New Jersey a power play with fresh ice at the start of the third period. Parise and Patrik Elias took full advantage when Elias's cross-ice pass found Zach for an easy tap-in goal fifty-nine seconds into the third. Jamie Langenbrunner also assisted on the goal, which gave the Devils a 3-1 lead. Despite the Devils' defensive hiccups and Atlanta's offensive talent that two-goal lead looked safe - until Marty Reasoner scored on a wrister from just inside the blueline that beat Brodeur clean at 7:28 on a goal that looked stoppable.

Now up one, there were of course some anxious moments late but they were kept to a minimum as the Devils allowed only twenty-six shots on net in the game and no more than nine in any period. Winning at home after their loss to the Caps on Saturday, the Devils showed the holiday rust was starting to come off - perhaps just in time for their fourth meeting of the season with the Penguins on Wednesday before what surely will be a sellout crowd at the Rock. Even tonight's game nearly sold out as the post-holiday bump in attendance surely helped.

Notes: Just as the injury list was finally starting to thin out, Bryce Salvador left last night's game in the middle of the second period with a 'lower-body injury' after a hit by Boulton along the boards which led to Salvador taking a penalty. I should have noticed something was off when Salvador left the penalty box halfway through to be replaced by Clarkson, something I've never seen before but figured it was an equipment issue.

BoNY Three Stars:
  1. Zach Parise (two goals, +1 and 6 SOG with 20:24 TOI)
  2. Nicklas Bergfors (two assists, +2)
  3. Ilya Kovalchuk (goal, +1 and 5 SOG with 24:03 TOI)

Clarkson returns for Devils tonight

The Devils are on a losing streak. Well, if you count one loss as such, which Jacques Lemaire probably does, then yes. Especially off a 4-1 disappointment post-Christmas to Ovechkin and the Caps. All kidding aside, the Devs are atop the Atlantic, trailing only Washington by one for most in the conference with the Blackhawks leading the way with 55. Two ahead of Jersey, San Jose and Pitt. In Good Company was a decent flick starring Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace and stunning Scarlett Johansson. That's the team that plays in Newark tonight versus Kovalchuk and Hotlanta at the top of the hour.

Good news for New Jersey as they get David Clarkson back tonight. He missed a month due to a fractured right leg. Before the third-year right wing went down, he was having a breakout season with seven goals and eight assists for 15 points in 23 games. That includes three power play goals, two deciders along with 39 penalty minutes from the gritty 25 year-old Toronto native. Clarkie is a solid player who adds a physical element to the Devils. The best part is he can play any role. Whether it's second line or checking, the Randy McKay clone who was a huge lacrosse star brings great energy. Now, he returns to a club that boasts an impressive 26-9-1 mark into the final regular season meeting the third meeting versus an unpredictable Thrasher team that's dropped seven of 11, including an ugly 5-4 home defeat to these Devs recently.

Atlanta can score goals as evidenced by Kovalchuk, Nik Antropov, Maxim Afinogenov and Rich Peverley along with dangerous rover Zach Bogosian. You can't get into a run n' gun with them. Something that the Devs kinda did falling behind 3-1 after one in which Hotlanta chased MB30. Figure Marty to be sharp coming off a subpar game in which he permitted an odd softie that deflected off Mike Mottau and his glove.

As for Clarkson, he replaces Russian rook Vladimir Zharkov (6 A in 13 GP) in the lineup with D Matt Corrente back down to Lowell. Lemaire had top freshman Nicklas Bergfors playing with Rob Niedermayer and Jay Pandolfo in an attempt to improve the young Swede's defensive game. Perhaps Clarkson starts with Patrik Elias and resurgent Brian Rolston. Especially if ZZ Popp is back together based on yesterday's practice. Whereever he plays, a good team just got better.

UPDATE: Looks like he'll start on fourth line with Lemaire opting to keep Dean McAmmond between Elias and Rolston.

ZZ Popp



Canada dominating Swiss

In case anyone's watching NHL Network, the mighty Canadians are dominating the Swiss, leading 5-zip after two periods. We missed the first but caught plenty of a lopsided second that saw Canada score three straight in about 90 seconds (actually 2:36) against a Swiss team playing for the second consecutive day while the hosts were rested. Must be nice to be them.

Two of the three came on power plays with Nashville '09 pick Ryan Ellis setting up both 20 seconds apart. First, Nazem Kadri (Tor-'09) finished off a great pass and then on a delayed penalty, Ellis' left point shot was deflected home by Jordan Eberle (Edm-'08) on the doorstep. With the SOG discrepancy at 29-9, it was 5-zip thanks to Brandon McMillan (Ana-'08), who finished off his second on a play started by Islander No.1 pick Calvin de Haan with Eberle dishing across for a gimme. Speaking of the defenseman the Islanders traded up to get three different times (or 4), he looked good jumping up into the play and drawing a penalty. He did stay down for a bit before the trainer helped him but seemed fine. The Islanders are well represented at this WJC with an NHL leading seven players with many on the back end. That bodes well for a rebuilding club.

UPDATE: de Haan will not return due to precautionary reasons. Hopefully, it's true.

As for Canada's other two markers, both Alex Pietrangelo (Stl-'08) and McMillan tallied in the first. Braydon Schenn (LA-'09) and potential No.1 overall pick Taylor Hall each have helpers while Eberle paces Canada with three assists as the third begins. Devil '08 second rounder Patrice Cormier, who captains the club, is also playing well. He centers a solid checking line and has drawn a penalty and nearly scored. In the blowout of Latvia, Cormier had two goals and two assists. In assessing him, he's definitely a detail oriented player who can win draws and drives to the net. So, he should fit well in Jersey. At worst, he'll be a third line center. Possible second line potential.

We're headed down to watch the rout I mean third.

Caps make deal with Jackets

Updating that rumored trade, the Caps and Jackets have completed it. Washington trades defenseman Milan Jurcina and forward Chris Clark to Columbus for forward Jason Chimera. Looks like a good deal for the struggling BJ's. Jurcina is a physical D with size and Clark adds character to a roster that's dropped nine in a row. Chimera's a decent guy who brings energy and is interchangeable. But he's nothing special.

I'm really not getting this move from the Cap side. Unless Karl Azner is ready to be full-time, eh. I don't get it. Their blueline just got worse. They also dealt away their captain. So, do they hand over the 'C' to Ovechkin? Who knows. Want to give full credit to Bob McKenzie, Elliotte Friedman and Puck Daddy's Dmitry Chesnokov for nailing the player the Caps got. He said either Raffi Torres or Chimera. Good job buddy!

Prospal has scope done, could miss 3 weeks, Caps/BJs talking trade?

Per Jim Cerny on Twitter, Rangers forward Vinny Prospal had a scope done on his knee this morning and is expected out three weeks. This isn't too surprising considering how much he's slowed down since a great start. He hasn't been as visible recently, playing more on the perimeter. The bad knee might explain why. It's still a crucial loss for an offensively challenged team that depends heavily on the league's leading finisher Marian Gaborik.

In 38 games, Prospal has posted eight goals, a club best 24 assists and 32 points, placing second in scoring to the Great Gabby's 49 (26-23-49). The two have played a lot together, teaming up with rookie Michael Del Zotto to form the league's seventh best power play (21.6 percent), including third most potent at home (26.4). Twelve of Prosp's 32 points have come on it. He also has a shorthanded goal and two game-winners. Just how unbalanced is our scoring? Del Zotto's 20 is next trailing the Big Ticket by 29 with Ryan Callahan (9-10-19) and Ally (0 G, 4 A in last 18 GP) next in line. At least Brandon Dubinsky (3-2-5, +5 over past 3) is playing better.

How do they replace that production? Artie Anisimov's (7-8-15) been too streaky in Year 1.Since his fourth line demotion, Chris Drury's (3-2-5 last 5) showed signs. They'll need help from Sean Avery (4-10-14, 63 PIM) and Chris Higgins (4-6-10) with both playing better lately. If only Higgs could get rewarded. Aside from that, do the Blueshirts reinsert Erik Christensen instead of recalling someone from Hartford? It says here Christensen should be playing over Brian Boyle, who is a waste. We traded a third round pick for a guy who has no balance and zero talent. Great job Slats! At least Christy can skate and win faceoffs. He also can kill penalties and be used in the dreaded gimmick if needed.

If someone comes up, is it P.A. Parenteau again or Corey Locke? All indications are Evgeny Grachev (7-10-17 in 34 GP) isn't ready. Hey. He doesn't turn 20 till next February 20. There's plenty of time. I don't view this season as a must to make the postseason. What for? So, we can go out in four? Why not give Grachev a taste to see how he responds? We're not going anywhere.

Caps and Jackets Talking? The big talk on Twitter today is that the Caps and Blue Jackets are in rumored discussions possibly involving Nikita Filatov. Can I just ask why one of the best offensive clubs needs more and would risk dealing away from a suspect blueline that could use another piece? They did just extend Alexander Semin for a year at $6 million. Personally, I'd trade Semin for a shutdown D or a goalie. If the Caps added either, they become the favorites to come out of the East.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

USA blanks Swiss 3-zip

It ended a little while ago in Saskatoon. Despite largely controlling play with a huge SOG edge (49-22), Team USA still had to grind out a 3-0 win over the feisty Swiss in their second preliminary, improving to 2-0. The guys in classic American road dark blue jerseys with the red, white and blue USA logo did alright in a back-to-back, earning a much needed rest before the third game Tuesday against a Latvian team that got roasted 16-zip by Canada on the tourney's first night.

Before we get to our side, let's heap plenty of praise Benjamin Conz's way. The Swiss netminder was outstanding, stoning American players in a busy second to keep his team afloat, trailing by just one into the third. He finished with 46 saves, deservedly tabbed as the Player Of The Game to cheers from a biased Canadian crowd that booed our guys at every turn. I've always disliked their fans for how they treat our players. Openly rooting against us is one thing. But booing when we score and win is pathetic. It lacks class. I can just see our fans treating their players such a way when it comes back to The States in Western New York next year. Kudos go out to Conz for a virtuoso performance that opened eyes. Can he repeat it against heavy favorite Canada? One can only hope. I'd love nothing better to see them lose and watch their self-centered fans have egg on their faces.

As for the game itself, credit the Swiss for making things interesting. They played well in a seesaw first where they outshot the Americans 14-11. Conz made some good stops but Jack Campbell was superb facing some dangerous chances that included two mini-breaks off great seam passes. In his first start, he did fight the puck early, just getting a piece of a Swiss shot that trickled through before being swept away by a teammate. He also got help from an inspired penalty killing unit that thwarted an extended 5-on-3 thanks to some stellar work from defenseman David Warsofsky, who kept Swiss players away from the front of the net. The effort from the forwards was excellent too with nice work from team captain Derek Stepan, Ryan Bourque, Jordan Schroeder and Tyler Johnson, allowing Campbell to see the shots in escaping early penalty trouble.

Following an even stanza, Team USA began to dictate with their superior skill and puck pursuit style. Stepan had a great chance but a lightning quick Conz right glove robbed him point blank. Earlier, teammate Kreider also was denied off some good work behind the net. However, the 2009 Ranger No.1 pick got on board for the game's first goal while on the power play. Stepan helped set it up, dishing across to defenseman Cam Fowler, whose one-timer was redirected past a fooled Conz.

Up one, they kept coming in bunches but couldn't beat Conz, who wouldn't allow his team to fall down more despite being outshot 23-5. He was strong against Stepan, Danny Kristo and in particular Schroeder, who he flat out stoned twice in succession. That calibre of goaltending also forced shots high and wide like a mini-break Ryan Bourque got, eerily reminding us of Slovakia's Jaroslav Janus last year. That's how good Conz was in this one, giving hopes to the anti-American sentiment. :P

What we observed with the Swiss is that they are a good skating club who can find the seam. However, they're just not as developed offensively. It was pretty evident on their bland power plays which made it easy for USA. Even with returning captain Lucas Sbisa running the point, it didn't matter. I can only recall one instance where a player made a great individual effort, coming with a full head of steam and skating around the net before firing a good tester which Campbell calmly gloved. One name which did standout was Nino Niederreiter, who went to the box. When I heard the Atlanta announcer say it, it sounded like Niedermayer. Cool name.

Due to Conz, Switzerland hung around until offensive defenseman Matt Donovan buried a Bourque backhand feed for his second of the tournament for a little breathing room with 7:25 left. The play was made possible by Smithtown's Kyle Palmieri, whose breakaway was stopped. But Bourque followed up, finding an open Donovan, who slammed one home from the right circle. If the first 40 were about the studs, the third featured the supporting cast with Jerry D'Amigo, Philip McRae, Jason Zucker, Jeremy Morin and A.J. Jenks putting together effective shifts. One of which resulted in the third tally when Jenks easily putback a Morin rebound on a play started by Warsofsky with just over three minutes remaining.

In a period which saw USA limit the Swiss to three shots, Campbell earned the shutout with 22 saves as teammates congratulated him. Defenseman John Carlson also got chances offensively but it was Kreider who received Offensive Player Honors, rewarding him for some strong play which had to impress panicked Ranger fans, who already were unfairly labeling him the next Jessiman. He opened some eyes with his quick wheels and willingness to get dirty. Something the current roster doesn't have enough of. Hopefully, it's a good sign of things to come.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Cam Fowler, USA (assist, 3 SOG, +1)
2nd Star-Chris Kreider, USA (GW-1st of tournament, team best 5 SOG, +1)
1st Star-Benjamin Conz, SUI (46 saves incl.22/23 in 2nd)

WJC USA vs Swiss

In case anyone's interested, Team USA is playing their second game in the WJC already. Last night, they beat Slovakia 7-3 paced by Ranger prospect Derek Stepan's goal and two helpers. The Wisconsin Badger is the captain, donning the familiar No.21. He's a solid overall center who uses size well, makes heady passes and smart in own end, as evidenced during extended PK shift in first where he gave his stick to a D to help kill off 5-on-3. The kid's style is similar to Travis Zajac. A lot to like. The Rangers are also well represented with 2009 top pick Chris Kreider (#20), Ryan Bourque (#17) and unsigned Luke Walker (#14) all participating.

Smithtown product Kyle Palmieri (Ana '09 No.1) is also participating, playing with Jordan Schroeder (Van '09 No.1) and Bourque. There is no score so far with superb coverage on NHL Network for anyone interested in checking out the future. Swiss are a pretty good team with solid skating and good passing as evidenced by a few seam passes for breaks. Lucas Sbisa is the team captain and looks like he should still be up with the Ducks. Their goalie has played well too.

We'll give more of a review later. Second is on. Also, the Isles are about to drop the puck versus the Flyers looking to end the Philly domination at The Coliseum.

Back to reality

After three straight losses to the Devils this season, Washington came into last night's game with something to prove in the teams' final meeting in the regular season (inconcievable considering we're not even halfway through yet). Plus, the Devils' holiday break was almost five days compared to the Caps, who last played Wednesday night. And eventually the Devils' insane road record - 13-2-1 going into last night's game - was going to be deflated to a degree.
So I suppose last night's 4-1 loss was kind of inevitable in a way. Post-holiday hangover if you will. Not a good thing to suffer from when playing against Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Washington's version of Batman and Robin either scored or helped set up three of the four goals last night, starting with Ovechkin's 25th of the season at 4:09 of the first to jump-start his team and a fired up home crowd. Incredibly, the Hockey Night Live! crew said that was Ovechkin's first goal against Martin Brodeur in four years. Even with Brodeur's injury last season and Ovechkin missing two games earlier this year it's still hard to believe we've held him in check that long.
Probably another reason why we were due to get knocked from pillar to post, although in truth it's not as if the Devils came out flat. Maybe they got caught in too much of a run-and-gun game in the first period which favored the Caps. Both teams combined for twenty-nine shots on net although it was probably two of the most harmless-looking that led to the other goals of the period. Matt Bradley doubled the Caps' lead at 13:54 when his wrist shot hit off of the ill-fated Mike Mottau's skate and stick before popping over Brodeur's head. Brodeur got a piece of it with his glove but not enough as his agressive play hurt him in that instance. I like Mottau and he's been good for us the prior two years but it might get to the point where you have to at least platoon him and Mark Fraser when Paul Martin finally comes back, he's been that bad over the last month plus (and Fraser that good).
With the Caps still up 2-0 and the zealous sellout crowd already chanting 'Marty!' the Devils managed to cut into the lead late in the period with their own unlikely goal. Rod Pelley took yet another floater of a shot from the point, and this time it hit John Erskine in front and went past third-string goaltender Michael Neuvirth at 17:18, giving Pelley his second goal of the season - both on similar-looking plays. Illka Pikkaranen got the lone assist on the goal, as the fourth line at least continued to contribute last night.
Now down 2-1, the Devils started to feel the holiday blues in the second period as they were outshot 19-5 by the Caps - despite getting the first three power plays of the period! Between the Devils' power play failures, they gave up the crucial third goal when Backstrom scored at 9:52, beating Brodeur in front after Ovechkin and Alexander Semin set up the play with assists. If anything they were lucky to only be down 3-1 after two given the shot disparity and finally giving up a couple of power plays themselves toward the end of the period, including a minute-long 5-on-3 that they were fortunate to kill off against a high-powered Caps team.
However, just after the second of the Devils' penalties expired, Mike Green got open inside the blueline and rifled one of his lasers past Brodeur. Just thirty-nine seconds into the third, the game was over as a contest. Even with third-stringer Neuvirth in goal, a surprise starter for the third straight game over a clearly out of favor Jose Theodore. For his part, the kid played well making 29 saves. Ironically his best may have come in the second period when he stoned the still-cold Zach Parise in front after it looked like Parise had a sure goal that would have tied the game.
While the Caps fans might have been a bit silly with the Marty chants after he'd already gone 3-0 against them this year gotta give them props for cheering the standings when their jumbotron showed an updated version with ten seconds left that had the Caps first in the East. I'm not sure that would have gotten a similar reaction at the Rock...but then again we've had enough reminders over the years that first in the conference in December - or April means nothing once the playoffs start.
Certainly this odd season series will have little effect on a possible playoff matchup considering the three and a half (at least) months that have to pass by before that happens. Especially since, as the Caps and some dour NJ writers will point out, Ovechkin missed the two regulation wins by the Devils and only played in the 3-3 tie in Washington which we won in a shootout, and last night's game. While that's true, the fact is we're still missing key players ourselves - one of whom (David Clarkson) might be back either Monday or Wednesday.
It'll be interesting to see who comes out of the lineup and gets sent down...odds are it's Vladimir Zharkov - both because of convenience (since he can be sent down without going through waivers) and because for as well as the kid's played he just hasn't found his scoring touch just yet up here. Plus honestly nobody else really deserves to come out right now. Even Pelley and Pikkaranen have been improved on the fourth line since the latter got sent down and the former was scratched. Dean McAmmond's been a revelation so far. Unfortunately Jay Pandolfo continues to be overused, I still think he has a place but he can't be a shutdown winger anymore at 5-on-5.
Whatever happens, hopefully the team shakes off the holiday rust for the Thrashers on Monday night.
BoNY Three Stars:
  1. Alexander Ovechkin (goal, two assists, +3)
  2. Nicklas Backstrom (goal, two assists, +3)
  3. Michael Neuvirth (29/30 saves)

Okposo's big night lifts Islanders past Rangers

The Islanders continued to dominate the Rangers at MSG, winning for the ninth time on Broadway over a lucky 13 (9-3-1). The hero was Kyle Okposo, who snapped an 18-game drought by netting the overtime winner with 47 seconds to spare, lifting the Kings of 33rd and 7th to a 3-2 win over their bitter rival.

It felt like a pretty big relief. To get the win that way, it felt pretty good,” the pleased 21 year-old Islander forward said after a goal and two assists in a dominant performance versus his favorite opponent. Figures that I didn't start him. “I’ve played pretty well. I think I’ve been playing like that for quite some time, but the puck was just not going my way. Tonight it did.
It looked like the Isles would take care of business in regulation. Especially after getting a goal in each of the first two periods, taking a two-goal lead to the locker room thanks in large part to Okposo, who entered last night with only one assist in his last half dozen. Nothing stopped him from tormenting a weak Ranger D which couldn't deal with his line flanked by Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey all night. The former 2006 seventh overall pick's size wreaked havoc as he and linemates combined for six points (2-4-6) and a plus-six on a night John Tavares was relatively quiet without a shot.

In the game's opening shift, the Rangers came much harder than they did over a week ago. However, Dwayne Roloson was sharp and remained that way throughout, finishing with 36 saves. His goaltending along with an odd call on Sean Avery for unsportsmanlike after he took a hit from behind before pounding Bruno Gervais allowed the road team to get their post-Christmas legs. What ensued were some sloppy play from the hosts, who turned it over at the blueline to setup the Isles' first goal. Off a Dan Girardi one-timer that had no chance, predictably getting blocked, the Rangers never recovered, allowing the trio of Bailey and Okposo to easily feed Nielsen for a tap-in at 7:45.

It only turned uglier as the Rangers continually turned the puck over in the neutral zone while not testing Roloson in an odd stanza that saw each club register five shots, making paint dry on the old Garden walls behind us. In between, there also were two more bizarre calls, including a Brian Boyle delay of game which canceled out a Jon Sim hold of the stick. I realize there was only one referee due to the dreary rain storm, but if he held Boyle's stick first, how does our two-bit scrub wind up in the box as well? Anyway, the latter was another from the Avery Rules in which he got nabbed for goalie interference despite being pushed into Roloson outside the paint. Something John Tortorella alluded to later. Bettman hockey.

I didn't see much of the second due to a lengthy and more interesting debate with one of the best fans in our section about how screwed this team really is due to the contracts Slats can't get out of. We discussed pretty much everything from not bringing back Zherdev to our failed drafts along with the lack of a No.1 center who could help a ton. I won't bother naming the guy who came up. While the fun debate heated up with even a cool security guard weighing in along with my Dad, the Rangers butchered a power play- somehow permitting a shorthanded goal to scrub Blake Comeau. That half his markers and three of just 11 points have come at our expense would be so sad if it wasn't so predictable. Apparently, Mike Del Zotto and Ally (new female name for this joke) Kotalik turned it over at center and Okposo sprung Comeau for a clean break, which he cashed with a nice backhand deke five-hole for 2-zip with less than 16 minutes left in regulation.

Almost immediately, the "Fire Sather" chants started which we paid no mind to. What's the point? At this rate, the inept Slats will never lose his job. But the cost will continue to go up even if they miss the playoffs. Normal in Loser Vi$ion. With Roloson shutting the door on 15 Ranger offerings, it looked like we'd suffer another humiliation. But that quickly changed as our guys decided to put their hard hats on and make a game of it, outshooting the Isles 15-5 in the third. They got results thanks to hard work with Brandon Dubinsky playing one of his best games as a Ranger, scoring twice to force OT. His first came off some solid work from Chris Drury, who teamed with a shaky Michal Rozsival to get the puck to the net where it rebounded out to Dubi for a gimme, cutting to 2-1 with 13:53 left.

Suddenly, the Blueshirts came in waves, making life difficult for Roloson, who still dealt well with the traffic getting a piece of tougher shots and also having a post or two on his side (Dubinsky and Del Zotto).The Islanders took two penalties including an undisciplined bench minor with over three minutes remaining. But our power play couldn't cash. When Tort opted not to pull Henrik Lundqvist for a six-on-four, it looked like the effort would be wasted. But as I stood there with a nice family with kids watching downstairs near the Play By Play, some great work from Dubinsky resulted in the equalizer.

With Henrik off for an extra attacker, Del Zotto hustled to keep the puck in with over a minute to spare, pushing it into the right corner. Dubinsky then outmuscled Andy Sutton for the puck, eventually getting it to Ryan Callahan. Cally then worked a give-and-go with Rozsival before firing at the left circle, which an open Dubi deflected home with 46.6 to go, giving the kids something to cheer about. It was the only chance they had because Rollie was stopping everything. Nice to see some of our core guys get rewarded on a night Gaborik was held in check despite five shots.

"It makes it a little harder," Dubinsky pointed out. "Your juices are flowing, you've got the momentum, you're excited about tying the game and getting a point. You want to fight to get that second one and use that energy.

"We had some chances, but unfortunately they found a way to get one past Hank."

Unlike most typical four-on-fours where the damn gimmick determines the extra point, both New York clubs went for it, giving us an entertaining five minutes. The way these games should be decided. The Rangers pressed but a sliding Roloson made a great stop on a Callahan redirect and got some help from snake bit Chris Higgins, who overskated a gimme. We talked a lot about him and everyone agreed that the guy has a tremendous work ethic, winning tons of battles at even strength or PK. It's a shame he can't get one because he really gives great effort. His luck must change if this team is to make a push over this next six weeks prior to the Olympic Break.

Unfortunately, as usually happens when you miss opportunities to win it, it comes back to bite ya. With the kids thinking shootout (even I was), the Ranger tandem of Rozsival and Marc Staal backed in too much, allowing Okposo and Nielsen to gain the blueline. What followed was a nice pass play with Mark Streit working as a forward down low, quickly feeding a vacated Okposo for an innocent looking wrist shot from 45. But the puck changed direction off a sliding Gaborik fooling Lundqvist for the winner. Still one he should have had. Just watching the replay and seeing his reaction afterwards, you could tell how much it burned him inside. Sometimes, it's those kind of shots that decide these games.

While Tortorella was right that his team didn't quit, fighting hard to comeback from two to earn a point, it wasn't enough. Against the Islanders in our building, it isn't about silver linings. Once they tied it, they had to win it, making it five straight. Instead, a sour taste was left with again the little brother stealing our thunder. Even if a whiny Isle fan bitched about getting a bloody nose (probably cause he was mouthing off), we came out losers. Four of six games have been played against the guys from Long Island and the Rangers only have one win to show for it. Three lousy points and 0-2 at MSG with one more left. Islander fans who went cheered loudly and should because once again, even on a night their team got only 22 SOG, they found a way to win.

Okposo's big night.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Dwayne Roloson, NYI (36 saves incl.28/30 in periods 2 & 3)
2nd Star-Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (2 goals incl. GT w/47 secs left in regulation, 5 SOG, 2 hits, 12-4 draws, +1 in 23:59)
1st Star-Kyle Okposo, NYI (OT winner-snapping 18-gm goal drought, 2 assists, 3 SOG, 2 hits, 2 blocked shots, +2 in 17:05)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rangers/Islanders Christmas MSG Spectacular

Later tonight, the Rangers and Islanders do it again at MSG in a Christmas Spectacular. Well, albeit a day late due to the holiday break. Still, it's as good as it gets in this town as the two bitter rivals do battle for a third time in two weeks with each splitting a home-and-home last time out.

For the Blueshirts, they should have the embarrassing 2-1 Garden defeat weighing on their minds. Ever since, they've won four straight playing better hockey- particularly the last two. The Isles finally ended their losing skid prior to the break thanks to rookie John Tavares. They can take solace knowing that MSG is their home away from home, bringing an 8-3-1 record over the past dozen. Home ice never matters in this heated rivalry. So, the Rangers must come ready.

As Hasan noted, this is Act II of a topsy turvy Olympic year. If each wants to be taken seriously, they must come out quickly before the Vancouver Olympics hit in early February. We'll be in our Sec.411 Row F seats for this one with a full recap coming later.

Don't forget the WJC starts up today with Team USA battling Slovakia at 8 tonight!

Part two of Devils' season begins in DC tonight

In this Olympic year, I kind of consider this Devils season as a three-part trilogy. Normally it's a two-parter (pre and post-All Star break) but this season there are really three...from Opening Night up to the holiday, from the holiday to the Olympics then after the Olympics to the end of the season. I consider the Devils' first 35 games as a seperate entity because it's nearly half a season after all, plus Martin Brodeur was able to put all of the individual records in his column, setting the rest of the season up to be only about how the team plays.

Could the first part possibly have gone any better for the Devils? Certainly not record-wise, where the Devils were 26-8-1, going into their four-day holiday hiatus on a five-game winning streak, with the best record in the entire league. Of course injury-wise things could have been a little better in one sense, especially with the news that Derek chronicled about Paul Martin being out another four weeks (which comes as little surprise to this blogger). Not to mention David Clarkson and Danius Zubrus being on the mend still, but at least Clarkson's skating with the team and may even be back as soon as Monday's home game against the Thrashers.

There was even a silver lining in the MASH unit though, the Devils found out that young players like Vladimir Zharkov and Mark Fraser can play in the NHL and are closer to being full-time contributors than even the team thought. Not to mention players who weren't expected to play a big role such as Andy Greene, Rob Niedermayer or even recent fourth-line standout Dean McAmmond (not even on an NHL roster Opening Night) all stepped up and were the biggest surprises of the first part of the season. Particularly Greene, who's gone from healthy scratch at the start of the season to playing at an All-Star level. Or perhaps at an Olympic might just work out that Greene replaces Martin on the Team USA roster but that's a long way off still.

Also among the breakouts were Clarkson himself - seven goals and eight assists in 24 games before his injury and rookie Nicklas Bergfors (12 G, 11 A in 35 G), who incredibly leads the team in power play goals by a wide margin with eight. I figured he'd replace Brian Gionta just fine, especially the Gionta that's been a mediocre player at best the last couple years but the former first-round pick who's spent the last four years in Lowell is proving he's more than ready for the responsibilities the Devils have entrusted him with this year.

Of course to have such a good record, you need your stars to play well and just like last season Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac are pacing the team in points though they haven't always played together this year. Even with Parise's recent eleven-game goalless streak, he's averaging a point a game and hasn't been a liability defensively - the mark of a complete player. Patrik Elias is also playing like himself after being hurt the first month of the season and rusty in his first few games off the injury list. Elias's return has also revived Brian Rolston, who's put up 13 goals in 34 games and is finally starting to live up to his FA contract and his reputation of being a legit top six player on the Bruins and Wild.

Defensively, people keep harping on the fact the Devils no longer have a Scott Stevens, pine for the ghost of Scott Niedermayer to return and lament the loss of Martin - but once again the team's in the Jennings race for fewest goals allowed. A good chunk of the credit has to go to this disrespected unit. I've already touched on the contributions of Greene (who's surprisingly replaced Martin all by himself and with added offense to boot) and young Fraser who's handling the #6 role just fine and getting decent enough minutes - usually around 12-15 per night.

Bryce Salvador's perhaps the unsung hero of the team, playing 20+ a night himself, blocking shots while defending top forwards and occasionally dropping the gloves himself. Despite having only eight points in 35 games he's a +10, putting him only behind Fraser and Greene among d-men in that category. Colin White's also provided good defense in his 35 games and the former hothead's cut down his penalties to a ridiculously low 6 PIM's, unthinkable for those who saw him play in Albany and when he first came up! Mike Mottau's logged more minutes than he's been used to, and has played better recently after a really rocky few weeks. After a slow start to the season before his injury Johnny Oduya's picked it up since coming back - though he still hasn't provided enough offensively with just one goal in 20 games, he's further stabilized the blueline defensively and also proved he could play good hockey without Martin.

Granted, when you talk about defense and the Devils allowing the second fewest goals in the league it all starts with Brodeur - having another spectacular season with a 23-8-1 record in 32 starts with a 2.1 GAA, .920 save percentage and three historic shutouts. With the Devils in first and the Olympics looming will Brodeur play fewer games down the stretch? I'll believe it when I see it. Even with Yann Danis playing well in his three starts, going 3-0 with a 2 GAA and .930 save percentage, the Devils haven't shown any inclination to alter their yearly plan of letting Brodeur play 75 games. I've already touched on this mindset in other blogs so I won't do it here.

Coaching-wise? Maybe the sequel can live up to the original, at least in the case of Jacques Lemaire who's had an impact this year reminiscent of when he first came to the Devils in 1994. While he doesn't have to show the team how to win this time around, he's sure had to do a lot of coaching with all the younger players and veteran castoffs that have had to be thrust into bigger roles than they were projected for. Not only have the Devils not skipped a beat, they've continued to excel.

For another organization, Lemaire would be a Jack Adams candidate but not here. I don't think any Devils coach will get serious consideration for that award until after Brodeur and GM Lou Lamoriello leave since it usually goes to a team that overachieves in relation to what they were supposed to be at the start of the season. Especially with all the other surprise stories around the league - Atlanta, LA, Phoenix and Colorado for starters. Still, he and his staff which include three of his former players - Scott Stevens, Chris Terreri and Tommy Albelin as well as right-hand man Mario Tremblay - have made their presence known. Lemaire hasn't been as rigid as he was during his first tenure but he hasn't let bad habits fester either.

So now the second part of the season begins in earnest, with five games over eight nights in three cities - starting with the matchup in DC against the Caps, against whom the Devils are looking for a season sweep, then we play the Thrashers at home on Monday. Predictably an improving Atlanta team is still giving us fits, splitting the two games though they looked a lot better in the early-season meeting at the Rock than they did recently down south. Next Wednesday comes our fourth showdown of the season with the Penguins, but surprisingly it's the first one in New Jersey as the Devils swept the Stanley Cup champs in Pittsburgh this season and then the following night on New Year's Eve, the Devils roll into Chicago to take on the league's best defensive team in the Blackhawks. Finally next Friday the Devils finish this strenuous stretch in Minnesota, against Lemaire's long-time team.

Hopefully part two is at least almost as good as part one was.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

1st Annual All Battle Christmas Team

Getting into the holiday spirit, we want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Channukah, Kwanza and Festivus during the best time of year! Appreciate what you have and celebrate life. Enjoy all that it gives us. I'm very appreciative for a loving Mom, Dad and the best brother anyone could ask for. Plus all my friends who enjoy my chaos. I love being able to have fun and raise the roof and give 'em some proof cause ya 'll know I speak the truth like Babe Ruth! ;-)

Haha. Okay. That crazy ass rhyme was for Channukah Harry and Santa and his little helpers. Now, to other things puck related. So, when we went to Freehold with our quite jovial Buffalo blogger, we hit up Dick's Sporting Goods and I bought an Eric Lindros stick and puck for 17 and change. Yes. I've never played hockey before. However, I am getting fit and want to also get a net and tape for my first ever stick and fire some shots in the back during this icy winter. Maybe me and Just can play catch like the good 'ole days. :) I'm really in a good mood. It all feels right. Speaking of puck, it's time to honor those who haven't been naughty the most through the first chunk of the season. In our first annual All Battle Christmas Team, we're going to select those players who deserve the best this holiday season has to offer. So, get out your Sabre, Devil, Islander and Ranger stockings!

1st Annual All Battle Christmas Team

G-Ryan Miller, Sabres 31 GP 21 Wins 1.99 GAA .935 Save Pct. 4 SHO

D-Andy Greene, Devils 32 GP 5-16-21 4 PIM +11 4 PPG 3 GW 

D-Tyler Myers, Sabres 36 GP 3-16-19 10 PIM +6 PPG 5 PPP 

LW-Zach Parise, Devils 35 GP 15-25-40 8 PIM +20 2 PPG 13 PPP SHG

C-John Tavares, Islanders 38 GP 16-12-28 10 PIM 8 PPG 15 PPP 2 GW

RW-Marian Gaborik, Rangers 35 GP 26-23-49 14 PIM +10 12 PPG 19 PPP SHG 2 GW

Since we were accounting for all four Battle clubs, we did our best to balance it out. Miller over Marty because he's the reason Buffalo is where it is. If it ended today, he'd sweep the Hart and Vezina. Something, sadly Jose Theodore last did. Sabre fans recall a certain Dominator owning the sport a decade ago. Brodeur is having another fantastic season and will be in the hunt. Also tough was taking JT91 over the trio of Prospal, Roy and Zajac. All have had good seasons but the Wiz Kid is pacing his club in key offensive categories as a teenager, keeping them afloat which must be factored in. Greene was a no-brainer for how well he's performed, going from a healthy scratch to the Devs' most valuable player so far, beating out MB30 and The Zach Attack. Myers was a better choice than Del Zotto due to playing on a better team. Plus he's a little better overall. Rounding out our list is the Great Gabby, who's been everything advertised, earning every cent. The Rangers are four over with the Big Ticket in the lineup. Without, they'd be dead last.

Congratulations to all. May they get everything on their Christmas Wish List tomorrow!

Martin has minor surgery, out at least 4 more weeks

Recently, our NJD blogger Hasan was pondering what was really up with defenseman Paul Martin. Apparently, he knew as yesterday the Devils' top blueliner underwent minor surgery for the broken forearm he was recovering from. The 28 year-old who can turn unrestricted next summer suffered the injury two months ago in a game versus Pittsburgh after blocking a Bill Guerin shot.

In nine games this season, Martin has tallied two assists with no penalty minutes. The Devils have been fine without him thanks to inspired play from Andy Greene along with surprising Mark Fraser. Helping ease the loss, Johnny Oduya just returned last week, adding more insurance for big minute men Greene, Bryce Salvador and Colin White. With the Devs atop the NHL standings with 53 points in three less games than the Pens, Martin doesn't have to rush back. However, his Olympic aspirations of participating in a second straight Winter Games for Team USA took a hit.

No question that My Favorite Martin was expected to be one of the staples on the American blueline with former Devil 'mate Brian Rafalski. Hopefully, he'll return in time. Otherwise, maybe Keith Ballard replaces him. Another possibility might be Greene. We'll have more Team USA discussion as it gets closer. A few of Martin's American teammates should be represented in top sniper Zach Parise, potential captain Jamie Langenbrunner and possibly a resurgent Brian Rolston.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rangers Prosp Into Christmas

Last week's humiliation feels like a long time ago. Perhaps the Rangers took it to heart. Since, they're a perfect four-for-four including tonight's big 4-1 home win over the Panthers, tying them for eighth in the East with 39 points. It allowed them to Prosp into Christmas feeling a lot better about themselves than seven days prior. Vinny Prospal snapped a 14-game goal drought, tallying twice and Chris Drury scored for the third time in four while also assisting on Marian Gaborik's highlight reel shorthanded goal as the Blueshirts got the last four- improving to 18-16-3 with smiles all around.

"These games before the break, you don’t want them to think it’s Christmas too early,said an almost smiling John Tortorella.I thought we played well. Everyone contributed. It was more of a complete game than we’ve had in a while.

Amazing what a few wins can do for a team's psyche. It was also vital to do it again on home ice. Amazingly, they'd gone a month having entered with the league's second worst home record (7-9-1). Predictably, the bitter 2-1 defeat to the Islanders was fresh in their memory banks and something many players admittedly emphasized. The No.1 Star of the game Henrik Lundqvist certainly didn't flinch when answering John Giannone's question after another stellar night, finishing with 33 saves. That's six consecutive games he's permitted two-or-less. Most notably, the emotional leader of the team has been unbelievable during the win streak, stopping 136 of 141 (.965 save percentage). Quite a statement from the affable Swede we critiqued earlier. The difference. Now, he's making momentum turning saves like a trio when the game was hanging in the balance with each club deadlocked at one.

He’s the most important player on our team,” praised The Big Ticket. “If he comes up with the big saves, it gives us confidence and gives us a boost. He gives us the chance to win every night.

The Panthers came out quickly getting nine of the first 13 shots, including Victor Oreskovic putting in the game's first goal just 4:09 in. Dominic Moore went wide on Mike Del Zotto and backhanded a low shot off Lundqvist which caromed out. But Michal Rozsival fanned on clearing, allowing Oreskovic to rebound it home. But the Rangers bounced back thanks to some superb work from Enver Lisin, whose hustle negated an icing. Eventually, he and Sean Avery helped setup an open Drury for a one-time blast past Tomas Vokoun to tie 2:13 later. A great response. By the end of the period, shots wound up Florida 10, Rangers 9.

With the game knotted, Lundqvist did his best work in the second turning aside all 15 Panther shots, including two sizzlers on Rotislav Olesz and a great kicksave on a dangerous Greg Campbell chance. While he was taking care of business in front of his own net, Prospal finally scored for the first time in 15 games. On a power play, he worked a give-and-go with Del Zotto getting the puck to Gaborik who was stopped point blank by Vokoun. However, the rebound was still there and a sneaky Ryan Callahan kicked the puck to Prospal for the putback, leading to him raising his arms and thanking the heavens in relief. Certainly a good sign because they need him to get going again. He'd been too quiet during the malaise. It would get even better for Vaclav later.

“It was great to see Vinny score a couple of goals,” the Great Gabby added of his linemate.
It’s just special every time you score two goals,” a pleased Prospal explained while looking forward to a snowy Christmas rather than Florida sunshine. “I’m not a guy who scores 40 every year. It feels great to finally come out of it, and not just score one, but two in a game like this.

Once again, the middle stanza was similar to the first with both clubs attacking and getting chances as they combined for 29 total shots (Fla-15, NYR-14). While the shot totals were high, encouraging for the Rangers was that they didn't make many glaring mistakes and gave Lundqvist a chance to see every one, including a sliding stop to rob a Panther on the doorstep. The D held up with John Tortorella opting to re-team Marc Staal with Dan Girardi, helping silence Florida's top line of Michael Frolik, Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton. The strategy paid off with the trio going a combined minus-six despite 14 of their club's 34 shots.

The Rangers came close to scoring near the second's conclusion before I headed out to a classic ice cream parlor for some mint chip and cookie dough. As I drove back, it was nice to discover that Prospal had increased the lead to two only 23 seconds into the third off some nice work behind the net by Brandon Dubinsky, who played another assertive game. That must continue post-Christmas when they host the Islanders at The Garden Saturday and beyond. Staal also got another reward with a secondary helper. He really has played much better and is starting to look like the shutdown guy who was so confidence in his second year.

As I got in with it still 3-1 thanks to some splendid PK work that held a lethal Florida man-advantage in check (0-4), I had some ice cream and then watched a great sequence started by Callahan and Drury. Their effort was exceptional. Forcing turnovers, a persistent Drury finally stripped the puck and looked ready to get a breakaway drawing a delayed penalty. With Callahan changing quickly, Gaborik flew off the bench and retrieved the puck, going wide before somehow finding a hole via a backhand for his league-leading 26th. A back breaking shorty that put it out of reach. How he scored from such an angle still baffles. If there's a video, we'll put it up. Here it is:

Great PK Effort Leads To A Great Gabby SHG

To their credit, Florida didn't quit but none of the nine they took bothered Lundqvist, who heard the more familiar, "Hen---rik, Hen---rik, Hen---rik" chants from the Garden Faithful. His 158th career victory allowed him to pass Dave Kerr for fifth winningest all-time on the franchise list.

The last four games we have been more physical, more aggressive. The puck is starting to bounce our way a little bit,” Lundqvist noted after giving fans a brief scare when Florida D Keith Ballard accidentally kneed him in the head. “I think I am playing really well, but the guys playing in front are playing really, really well. They are making really good decisions.
With the Isles coming in along with the Flyers before a New Year's Eve tilt in Raleigh, the coach knows how big it is to reestablish a home ice advantage.

"We are not going to get where we want to be if we don’t establish our game at home,” Tort accurately expressed. “And I thought we did it the right way tonight in our home building. We have quite a few home games coming up here, so hopefully this is a step in the right direction.”

Hopefully, that trend will continue.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Vinny Prospal, NYR (snapped 14-gm drought w/2 goals incl.PP GW, 4 SOG, 3-3 draws, +1 in 16:53)
2nd Star-Chris Drury, NYR (tying goal, assist, 3 SOG, 2 takeaways, 2 blocked shots, 11-12 draws, +2 in 19:15)

1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (33 saves incl.15/15 in 2nd, 136/141 stopped during win streak)

Fla-NYR Preview: Panthers visit Garden tonight

In half an hour, the Rangers will skate against the Panthers in what amounts to an important swing game. Florida's been hot lately winning four of five to launch into the eighth spot with 39 points- two ahead of the ninth Blueshirts. After sweeping a three-game road trip against the Islanders, Flyers and Canes, it should be a good measuring stick to see where they are. Especially in a topsy turvy East that changes daily. Indeed, every point counts. Winning's the thing. Can they get it together on home ice where their 7-9-1 mark is second worst in the league. That remains to be seen. Florida isn't a bad road team going 10-9-2 thus far, including a 3-2 win at MSG on Nov.21. The Rangers did take the second one in the gimmick four days later. This is the third of four meetings with the final one coming in Sunrise April 3.

Florida has some good forwards with speed that can make life difficult. Stephen Weiss is following up his best season with an even better one. Though nobody talks about him for Team Canada, which is already stacked to the decks. Weiss has company in Nathan Horton, who finally is shooting the puck and seeing results. He's always had power forward potential but has never been consistent. Is this the year it comes together? A good cast includes second-year Czech Michael Frolik, Rotislav Olesz and savvy vet Steve Reinprecht. Scary aspect is Cory Stillman has been out a month and David Booth has missed almost the whole season due to a concussion.

The Cats also boast an underrated blueline that features Team USA hopeful Keith Ballard, who does a lot of things well. There's also Bryan McCabe to watch on the power play. Dennis Seidenberg has been solid and Russian freshman Dmitry Kulikov is a future star. Tomas Vokoun is healthy again in net and will likely oppose Henrik Lundqvist, who's been much better lately permitting two-or-fewer in eight of his last nine starts. So, it figures to be a good test for the Big Ticket and Co. Brian Boyle returns. Erik Christensen and Aaron Voros are the scratches. Hopefully, these are the lines:


Del Zotto-Girardi

The Puck Stops Here


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