Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Happy Birthday Mr. Hockey

Today's a special day for the hockey community. Legend Gordie Howe turns 82. Known better to us as Mr. Hockey, Howe personified what the game was about bringing passion to every shift. I've heard the stories about how tough he was from Dad when hockey was HOCKEY. Not the vanilla version we get these days. The all-time leader in games played (1,767) ranks second to Wayne Gretzky in goals (801) and third in points (1,850) trailing just the Great One and Mark Messier, whose rugged style was eerily similar to the original who never passed up a check and would greet opponents with frequent elbows, etc. Mr. Hockey also loved to drop 'em and soon the Gordie Howe Hat Trick became known as a goal, assist and a fight after No.9.

He played the first 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings leading the Original Six franchise to four Stanley Cups ('50, '52, '54, '55) while teaming alongside Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel to form The Production Line. After retiring at age 42, he returned a couple of years later to play with sons Mark and Marty who were each selected by the Houston Aeros of The WHA- leading them to consecutive championships. He also took league MVP at age 46, having the Gary L. Davidson Trophy renamed after him. In his final season of the World Hockey Association representing the New England Whalers who'd later become Hartford in NHL expansion, Howe along with son Mark teamed on a line with a teenage Gretzky in an All-Star Game format that saw the WHA All-Stars edge HC Moscow Dynamo in a three-game series.

After the league folded, Mr. Hockey had one more run in the NHL with the Hartford Whalers. At age 51, he played in all 80 games during the 1979-80 season and was invited by former coach Scotty Bowman to the All-Star Game which as fate had it, was at a familiar place he'd called home in Joe Louis Arena. Receiving two standing ovations, he didn't disappoint setting up one goal in his team's 6-3 win while again teaming with a 19 year-old Great One. Ultimately, Gretzky passed his childhood hero scoring No.802 for the Los Angeles Kings while also surpassing Howe as hockey's all-time leading scorer. If you want to see a great tribute, please click on the link below:

Hockey Legends: Gordie "Mr. Hockey" Howe

A look at some of the records Howe still owns:

-Most NHL seasons (26)
-Most reg. season games with one team (1,687)
-Most NHL/WHA GP (2,186)
-Most goals by a right wing (801)
-Most assists by a RW (1,049)
-Most points by a RW (1,850)
-First player to score over 1,000 goals incl. NHL/WHA playoffs
-Oldest player to play in NHL- 52 years, 11 days

Other Achievments:

-6-time Hart winner
-23-time NHL AS
-12-time 1st NHL All-Star Team
-Hockey Hall Of Fame (1972)
-6 Art Rosses
-Lester B. Patrick (1967)

Plenty more can be said about Mr. Howe, who lost wife Colleen last year to Pick's Disease. When it comes to the sport, nobody means more than Gordie Howe. Happy Birthday Mr. Hockey!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rangers awaken in time to edge Islanders

If tonight wasn't a microcosm of what's been a trying season, I don't know what is. The good news is the Rangers won to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. The bad is that neither the Devils nor Leafs cooperated. Notice we didn't mention Boston or Atlanta because they did what they were supposed to. Our team needed help from a loathesome rival and Brian Burke's guys north of the border. Unfortunately, the downside of Ilya Kovalchuk happened along with an ugly Toronto power play, allowing both teams ahead to hold serve. Patrice Bergeron's OT winner with 18.3 seconds left gave the B's 82 points- putting them into a three-way tie with idle Philadelphia and Montreal. Nik Antropov's 24th goal held up giving the Thrashers a 3-2 victory to move up to 80 points with five games left.

As for the Blueshirts, they awakened just in time to comeback and edge the Islanders 4-3 off the Meadowbrook. The club's third win in four (3-0-1) gives them 78 points, remaining two behind ninth Hotlanta and four out with six games to go. Boston's desperation 1-0 shutout OT triumph over New Jersey makes it less likely for John Tortorella's club to qualify for a fifth consecutive postseason. Amazingly, our post-lockout ('05-06 thru '08-09) is one of the longest active streaks, trailing the Red Wings who haven't clinched No.19 along with the Devils (lucky No.13 in a row). Calgary, who also looks like toast- has made the playoffs five straight seasons dating back to their miraculous run to the Cup Final pre-lockout. San Jose made it six. So, that puts us fifth. Correction: Per BroadwayBlue, we were tied with the Ducks. Loose translation: The Bettman dream has come true. P-A-R-I-T-Y

How to describe tonight's unpredictable/chaotic Ranger venture that allowed them to survive with their heads intact? Two words. Roller coaster. As evidenced in our prior rant, they couldn't have sucked any worse during a lifeless opening 20 minutes that were illustration A as to why this team doesn't deserve to make the playoffs. Anything they could do to foul up their situation beyond recovery, they tried. Lack of discipline. Be thy name Wade Redden leading to a fourth bench minor against your biggest rival, who of course were only too glad to cash it in via a seeing eye Mark Streit power play goal that went right past Henrik Lundqvist's glove. Lack of intensity. Allowing a much more determined Islander club hell bent on revenge to win every single battle in the uncompetitive first driving the NYR Twitter Universe mad. If only the nicolewesttts, JPLSs, NYRangerRealitys, carolena10s, howie9416s, antheiasnhenry5s snowkitten35s, EpicKaitlins played. There's only so much they can do. Instead, we watched in horror as a turnover led to Blake Comeau's marshmallow shot fooling Lundqvist. When the puck went off his pads and in off the post, it just screamed 'Classic tease.' Before the madness ended, my quick rant was up, almost daring them to wake up from the mushroom cloud they were stuck in.

Thankfully, Dwayne Roloson cooled off by permitting a Vinny Prospal stinker from a dreadful angle to give the Rangers life. Apparently, it also awoke Olli Jokinen who'd been as much of a help to our Drive For Five as Donald Brashear. The Jokester's first point since he was relevant (okay maybe not quite) got the juices flowing. And for the first time in weeks, he contributed a goal that tied it stunning everyone in the Coliseum. Even all the Ranger fans sitting near the glass had to be in a drunken daze wondering if they'd really witnessed it. He took full advantage of Kyle Okposo breaking his stick, stripping him of the puck before whizzing one upstairs for an unassisted tally.

By that point, the Islanders already blew their opportunity to take command of the game, severely misfiring on a two-man advantage following a brutal Brandon Prust hit from behind on John Tavares. Somehow, it was called just two for cross checking. In our view, it easily could've been five and a game. How they saw fit to call only a minor is beyond me. JT91 had no protection and could've gotten seriously hurt. But because he was able to get up and skate on his own power, a bush league call. Still, the Isles didn't do anything worth a dime with it and it wound up costing them the game. In fact, after outshooting their hated rival 9-4 over a dominant first, they were outshot 15-6 and outscored 3-zip in a dismal second that had to drive Scott Gordon nuts. For everything his club did right early, they reversed. Unable to convert on a couple of odd-man rushes, they watched Jokinen tie it and then left Marian Gaborik wide open for his 40th with 2:45 remaining, putting the guests ahead for good. Chris Drury outhustled an Islander to a loose puck behind the net and Aaron Voros centered it to Gaborik who snapped one through Roloson's wickets.

Gaborik's fourtieth is the second time in three seasons he's hit 40, also doing so in a healthy '07-08 with the Wild in which he established career highs in goals (42), assists (41) and points (83). In Game 70 for the Rangers, he became the 17th player in franchise history to score 40 and first since Jaromir Jagr's club record 54 in '05-06. Even with some of the slumps the Great Gabby's hit on an otherwise offensive starved team, Year One has been pretty good. The goal was his 80th point of the season. He needs three points to match a career best and four in the final half dozen to surpass it. He also played in almost every Olympic game for Slovakia scoring a few more while being hobbled. Not bad for a guy whose durability was severely questioned. The Rangers are going to need more from him if they're to have any chance.

Before the period's conclusion, Trevor Gillies took an ill advised roughing minor on Prust. After initially throwing him down post-whistle and then playing innocent, he twice went after Prust along the boards including a silly punch with his glove on, forcing the refs to call it. I think he saw the ice just once more. A late Islander shot a split second after the buzzer led to pushing and shoving from both sides involving P.A. Parenteau and Okposo. Playing his second game since a recall for injured Sean Avery, Parenteau again was effective in a scoring role for Tortorella. He later set up Marc Staal's decider. Michal Rozsival started it with a solid defensive play in his end before making a perfect outlet to Parenteau, who then cut and dished for Prospal leading to a two-on-one. He quickly moved the puck to an on-rushing Marc Staal, who caught Roloson moving with a quick low wrister that extended to 4-2 with less than 15 minutes left. Staal's sixth was his first since 1/19, ending a 25-game drought. The third-year blueliner was steady along with Rozsival with each logging big minutes throughout.

With nothing going on, the Islanders finally made it interesting when another odd Comeau offering went right past Lundqvist for his third multi-goal game in six weeks. He also had a hat trick on 3/2 vs Chicago and a pair on Valentine's Day vs Ottawa. No question the third-year forward's evolving into a solid player for the Isles. They have to be pleased with what they've gotten from the former '04 second rounder who improved to a career high 14 goals and 30 points tonight. Sean Bergenheim added an assist as did Mark Flood, who recorded his first NHL point. Congrats.

Unfortunately for the home club, Comeau's second of the night which made it 4-3 with still 6:33 remaining was as close as they got. To Lundqvist's credit, he steadied following the poor first turning aside 18 of the last 19- finishing with 25 saves en route to his 31st win. The 3/25 victory over who else but Martin Brodeur and Co. allowed him to make NHL history, becoming the first goalie ever to win 30-or-more in his first five seasons. Even if gimmick induced, major props to Henrik for being the one rock we got. I get on him a lot but he's been essentially naked this season and is poised to finish with the second highest save percentage of his career. No small task.

The Islanders pulled Roloson late but never really threatened as the Blueshirts did a good job in their end, getting a nice clear from Prust who must've had a laugh afterwards due to the Islanders' failure to stick up for Tavares. Inexcusable if you're an Islander fan. For the Rangers, they at least remembered there was a game and saved themselves from humiliation and virtual elimination. But with the teams in front of them four clear and Atlanta showing no indications of collapsing, it looks like they might have to win out. Does even the most homeristic Ranger fan actually believe they can do that?

For now, they'll continue the six-game road swing to Florida with the next one at the Lightning Friday and then to Florida the following day. In desperation mode, they finished March with a 6-5-3 record.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Michal Rozsival, NYR (4 hits, 3 blocked shots, +1 in 27:51)
2nd Star-Blake Comeau, NYI (2 goals-career best 14, 4 SOG, +1 in 17:45)
1st Star-Vinny Prospal, NYR (18th of season, assist, 3 SOG, +3 in 20:28)

Devils suffer excruciating OT loss against Bruins

Suddenly, home-ice isn't so friendly to the Devils anymore as their 1-0 loss in the dying seconds of OT at the Rock against Boston was the third in their last four home games, though they did get the bonus point tonight as well as in last Thursday's shootout loss to the Rangers, their goalscoring continues to be a problem, as well as their defense (or lack thereof) in any clutch situation.
Maybe it's a measure of how bad things have gotten that I'm more glad I at least got effort tonight than annoyed they lost. Oh make no mistake about it, I'm plenty annoyed at a variety of things, chief among them this team's continued overpassing looking for the perfect play. Normally I'd say our meager twenty-one shots on net in 65 minutes was the result of not coming to play but in the case of tonight's game it was just not coming to shoot. Everyone from Vladimir Zharkov to Ilya Kovalchuk was passing up glorious opportunities all night. Not to mention Brian Rolston who got two terrific opportunities but took a slapshot from too far out on the first one and then on the second one fell down before he could even get a shot off, either trying to draw a call which wasn't going to come or just being clumsy.

There would be plenty of both on the night, clumsiness exhibited when Zharkov accidentally crunched Bryce Salvador against the boards in the third period, or when Kovalchuk nearly took out Patrik Elias's knee just before the fatal overtime goal. And as far as refs Kelly Sutherland and Dan O'Rourke go...ugh. This was straight out of pre-lockout reffing to put it mildly. Not that they favored one team over another per se just that they were letting literally everything slide and Boston certainly pushed the limit of what they could get away with more than the Devils.

I had a feeling we'd be in for a long night when Dean McAmmond had a terrific scoring opportunity in front early in the first, was tripped up by goaltender Tuukka Rask in plain view (outside the crease, mind you) and nothing was called. That would be a familar pattern, even sending mild-mannered Devils like Elias and Zach Parise nuts in the postgame. Elias, for his part got a game misconduct after the final whistle for breaking his stick and giving the refs a few choice words after Kovalchuk was basically mugged for ten seconds before finally being forced into a turnover which led to the only goal of the game while Parise showed his frustration after the game as well:

“I’m still wondering,” Parise said. “I can’t agree with it because I’m
lifting the guy’s stick. I can’t agree with the call. I don’t know if he saw it
from a different angle, but I think it was a tough call, especially when you’re
on the power play. It was really frustrating. There were a lot of things that I
thought could have been called that weren’t and things that usually aren’t
penatlies that were penalties.”
Parise was in part, referring to the penalty called on him during the third period when the Devils had a rare power play which they might have actually been fortunate to get on a delay of game call when Dainius Zubrus dove into the boards and I thought touched a puck that went out of play but instead Matt Hunwick was whistled for a delay of game. At the time I thought the quick penalty on Parise was payback for a questionable call and given the fact almost nothing else got called in the entire game I wouldn't be surprised if that were true. I mean you don't often see a game where not a single penalty is called in forty-seven minutes. I was seriously starting to wonder if the NHL had ever had a game without a goal or penalty in the same game.

When the Devils did finally get a power play midway through the third, they were ineffective as they've been for most of the last three months and the crowd booed. Now here is where I think the 16,000 plus in the arena were wrong to boo, granted the Devils weren't exactly lighting the world on fire in general but the power play has scored five times in their last four games, let's give them a little slack here.

Still there wasn't much else to inspire confidence during the game, other than Martin Brodeur's performance. Brodeur made 33 saves, including some pretty good ones. One in particular came early in the third period after Andy Greene got blown by him like he was stuck in mud and Brodeur just barely kept Michael Ryder's one-on-one attempt from going in. In contrast, we barely made Rask work with our lack of actual shots on net, being outshot in every single period with never more than seven in one twenty-minute span. Our best scoring chance in fact, never got on net officially as David Clarkson hit a post midway through the third off a terrific opportunity in the slot.

As the game dragged to overtime the cynic in me thought both teams just wanted the one point and to settle it in the extra session but really the effort was there on both sides, at least physically for us though we had our fair share of mental screwups. And Boston did have their own power play near the end of regulation we did well to kill off to even get the one point. Of course then came overtime and just when it looked like another skills competition was upon us, Kovalchuk got in trouble handling the puck, nearly taking out Elias and getting mugged by Mark Recchi before finally turning it over resulting in Patrice Bergeron's rebound goal when Paul Martin lost his stick and neglected to take a penalty that would have saved the game in the dying seconds.

Then again with the way tonight's game went it might not have even been a penalty anyway short of a triple axe murder.

BoNY Three Stars:

  1. Patrice Bergeron (goal, +1 and 5 SOG in 20:26)
  2. Martin Brodeur (33/34 saves)
  3. Tuukka Rask (21 saves, SHO)

Sound The Alarms

Apparently, the New York Rangers forgot to set the alarm clock. I warned that the Islanders would be hell bent on exacting revenge for last week's no-show. They've not even bothered to show. It's 2-0 thus far with undisciplined play- I mean you Wade "Stinking" Redden! Unsteady netminding. Yep. Henrik Lundqvist somehow gave up a clunker to Blake Comeau after replays showed that he probably should've had Mark Streit's power play goal. No push back. Lost battles. It's just embarrassing. Ranger Nation is disgraced by this.

Again, why should we have expected anything less from these jokers? FRAUDS!

Back from the Dead

Well, after a few days away, I'm finally back from the dead. Like the classic House Of Pain '94 tune, no pun intended. It's nice to have a funtioning computer again, even if it is psycho. Haha. One of these days, maybe I'll hit the jackpot and finally upgrade to a laptop. God knows I haven't had one since that first ESPN stint in Bristol nine years ago which had a sad ending. Word of friendly advice. Never stay in a Motel 6. :-P

There's so much going through my mind. Been doing lots of stuff here including fixing up the old room. When it's completed (still a long way to go), it'll be more hockey themed with two cool Team USA Olympic banners I picked up at Gerry Cosby's before the Islander destruction last week. Why does that game feel like so long ago already? Go away from here a few days and things sure change. Even if the Rangers' postseason chances continue to hang by a thread with another must win at Nassau Coliseum in a few hours on the second night of Passover. As for the banners, I got Ryan Callahan and Patrick Kane. Unfortunately, Cally's nicked up and might miss another game. How he has 19 goals on this roster minus a No.1 center is a miracle. What if someone could get the puck to him? He's no star but just a solid hockey player who on a good team, would be a tweener who could play third line and moved up if needed. A poor man's Jamie Langenbrunner.

Speaking of which, I was always a huge fan of the Devil captain and pined for us to trade for him back in the Dark Ages. Of course, we wound up with Todd Harvey instead. The Heartbeat was very rootable but just couldn't deal with the physicality which took its toll. While he eventually went elsewhere like they all do, the Devils acquired Langenbrunner and Joe Nieuwendyk from the Stars for '00 Cup hero Jason Arnott and Randy McKay. We all know how that turned out with Langs an integral part of New Jersey's third championship in 2002-03 teaming with John Madden and Jay Pandolfo to form a deadly checking line that produced while limiting opponents. That said, they don't win without Grant Marshall to Jeff Friesen in Game Seven ECF at Senators, signaling the end of Wade Redden's NHL career. Slats?!?!?!?!?! Simply amazing. I can't figure out what's crazier. That that unlikely combo came up roses for Lou or that our senile GM actually signed Tinman and then made that pathetic statement about him being the best first passer. Best first passer my ass! Maybe for opponents who are too busy blowing by him in hysterical laughter.

So, there's an important game tonight. Why am I not talking about it? Well, if you're a suffering Ranger fan because we all know this franchise is going the wrong way like my favorite John Candy character from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, what makes you believe they'll win tonight? This team hasn't been able to get it done. Montreal. Boston. St. Louis. Toronto. Why will it be any different against what figures to be a fired up Islander squad hell bent on putting the final nail in the 2009-10 coffin off last week's stunning no-show at Mediocre Square Garden? For those logical reasons, I just can't get too excited for this. As I've said before, these guys remind me of the sadsack loser teams we had pre-lockout. I already made the '02-03 comparison when the same Isles gave us every chance but our team choked. This time, it's the Flyers who apparently are Devil kryptonite and the Bruins, who get that same team they can't beat making for two must watch games at 7. How many fans will be laughing at the chaos? Hopefully, it won't make us pour more wine.

A few other thoughts:

-Congrats to the Coyotes on making the postseason. What an amazing job Don Maloney's done. Even if he'll always get flak for Hugh Jessiman, the former Ranger assistant GM deserves kudos for helping turn around the troubled franchise in the Desert. It began last year with his deadline deal of Derek Morris here for Petr Prucha and Nigel Dawes (Cgy). Morris returned at this year's deadline and aids a strong blueline led by rejuvenated Ed Jovanovski and emerging Keith Yandle. Adrian Aucoin was a brilliant move. Matt Lombardi's turned Olli Jokinen into a joke. Key pickups Lee Stempniak and Wojtek Wolski have boosted scoring minus Scottie Upshall. Radim Vrbata loves Phoenix and so does expected Jack Adams winner Dave Tippett. Great hire by Maloney, who can thank the NHL for forcing Gretzky out. Sad. Lauri Korpikoski has more of a role than Enver Lisin ever will on Broadway. Then there's Ilya Bryzgalov, whose play is Hart worthy. Where would they be without him? Even Ranger reject Jason LaBarbera has panned out. From risky moves like Stempniak who's pumping in a goal-a-game probably leaving Brian Burke speechless- to underrated signings like Vernon Fiddler and Taylor Pyatt, it's all worked out for the 'Yotes, whose 100 points are a franchise record. Truly a dream season with the first playoffs since '01-02 still to come. We'll also be having a special feature on these Coyotes very soon. Stay tuned.

-It's awfully hard to ignore what Jimmy Howard's doing in Detroit. Even if the just turned 26 year-old rookie netminder looks like he'll edge Tyler Myers and Matt Duchene for the Calder, he's every bit as worthy as chief Vezina contenders Bryzgalov and Ryan Miller. It's hard to ignore the 22 straight starts and amazing post-Olympic stats that have the former University Of Maine star 11-2-1 with a 2.11 GAA, .923 save percentage plus a 33 save shutout in a 1-0 skill competition road win over the Predators Sunday. Not a bad way to celebrate 26 a day later. In his first full season, the former '03 second round gem (64th overall) from Ogdensburgh, New York has gotten into 57 games (55 starts) while posting a 32-15-9 mark with a 2.24 GAA (3rd NHL), .926 save percentage (4th NHL) and two shutouts. His 32 victories rank 10th with unflappable Martin Brodeur pacing the league with 41 wins- one better than Bryzgalov and Evgeni Nabokov. Miller is fifth with 38 wins trailing Jonathan Quick (39).

Aside from Bryzgalov and Miller who both deserve to be nominated for the Vezina, there's not a clearcut third choice. Brodeur's got solid numbers (41 W 2.37 GAA .912 Save Pct 7 SHO) but hasn't been as consistent. Nabokov (40 W 2.39 GAA .923 3 SHO) has had another good season but is supported by one of the league's best offenses. Though many will contend his D isn't as good as years past. What about Craig Anderson (36 W 2.60 GAA .919 7 SHO), who has the Avs on the verge of the playoffs? Neither Miikka Kiprusoff nor Roberto Luongo will be included even if Kipper has had a nice bounce back year while Louie has gone in the tank since winning gold in Vancouver. Jaroslav Halak doesn't have enough starts and Tomas Vokoun plays for Florida. It could be that Howard is the best of the pack, carrying the load in goal with Chris Osgood riding the pine. For a first-year player to perform this well with the team needing every win to keep their playoff streak intact, it speaks to the maturity. Good on Detroit for not rushing J-How.

-Every time the Hart is discussed, it's Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, who are one goal apart in an exciting Rocket Richard race that also includes super soph Steven Stamkos (45 goals). Nobody is more lethal than Ovechkin, whose top seeded Caps have a remarkable record since he became captain. Meanwhile in Pitt, Sid The Kid's putting together his best campaign with a career high 47 markers and 94 points placing third behind Ovie (46-54-100) and Art Ross leader Henrik Sedin (28-73-101). Crosby's had to be better because Evgeni Malkin hasn't been himself. Even if injuries are part of it. AO has overwhelming support on the league's highest scoring team (287 GF) from Nicklas Backstrom (29-61-90), Alex Semin (35 goals), Mike Green (17-54-71) plus strong castmates Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann and Mike Knuble. It's Crosby who's accounted for 20.5 percent of his team's 229 goals while AO counters with 16 percent of the Caps' 287. In games he's missed, they've won still scoring at a rapid rate (53 GF in 10 GP, 7-2-1 record incl. 2 losses to NJD).

What of Sedin's career year that's seen him hit the century mark with a league leading 73 helpers? Impressive stuff while twin brother Daniel missed 18 games but has returned producing ridiculously (75 Pts in 57 GP). Most notable is that neither has done much on the power play, meaning the bulk of it came at even-strength helping support their plus/minuses (Henrik-33 Daniel-32). One could argue Ovie's league-leading plus-43 as evidence of the mighty Russian's improvement. Will the suspensions hurt in the public eye of a player who's won the last two MVPs? Hard to say. It's clear that these are the three top candidates offensively speaking. Where does that leave Bryzgalov and Miller, who are front and center backstopping pedestrian offenses (Phx-198 GF Buf-211 GF)? One could cite similar with Brodeur on a Devil team that's produced 197 goals. The bigger question is has Zach Parise supplanted him as the team's most important player? If Parise went down, it's probable that they'd fall apart speaking to how much the Devil leader in half a dozen offensive categories could be sorely missed. When you look at their offense, a Devil fan can say why isn't Zach Attack a candidate? They wouldn't be wrong either. Good thing they got Ilya Kovalchuk (8-12-20 in 20 GP).

No doubt deciding this year's Hart is tough because all three offensive standouts are worthy as are the aforementioned goalies who give their teams a chance every night. Crazy as it sounds, Duncan Keith would've been a good candidate before Chicago started losing. Perhaps the lack of a No.1 goalie is finally showing. Patrick Kane's had a great season but is he really more valuable than Keith or Jonathan Toews? San Jose trio Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley all play together and boast Nabokov, Dan Boyle, captain Rob Blake along with an overlooked cast of Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe, Devin Setoguchi, Manny Malhotra and Jason Demers that get little fanfare. The Sedins have Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson, Mason Raymond along with arguably the best D plus the overrated Luongo.

The Sabres are led by a finally healthy Tim Connolly, Derek Roy, Myers, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. Not exactly earth shattering for Miller who gets it done. How do you ignore a .930 save percentage? Two more wins and he reaches 40. Even if shootout induced sans MB30, it's still impressive. Did anyone have Bryzgalov leading the league in shutouts (8) with 40 W's on a franchise minus an owner who's leading scorer Doan has 53 points? In our book, that's the deciding factor. Yep. We say Ilya Bryzgalov deserves the trophy. Even with Tippett behind the bench, it's impossible to ignore the 'Yotes emergence. Buffalo was expected to be good and the Caps, Pens, Canucks and Devils were always going to be there. He deserves to be the first netminder to win the Hart since Jose Theodore swept MVP/Vezina in '01-02 for Montreal. Yep. That guy.

-Norris Race:

1.Duncan Keith
2.Mike Green
3.Drew Doughty

-Selke Race:

1.Ryan Kesler
2.Jordan Staal
3.Mike Fisher

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Devils' roller-coaster continues

After a first half of the season where the Devils were remarkably consistent, the story since New Year's has pretty much been the same - win one, lose one, win one, lose two...the inconsistency is just mind-boggling. I would say it reminds me of the 2000-01 team in the way they just completely give away games and think they can turn it on whenever they want except for the fact the 2000-01 team was ridiculously talented and actually could pull that crap off for the most part, until the very end of the '01 playoffs. This team cannot do that but play like they think they can.

For two and a half months now, the Devils' longest winning streak has been a grand total of TWO games...and they only achieved that one lousy time. Other than that, our longest winning streak has been one game, for half a season almost now. Our latest no-show in Philly tonight was particuarly galling, for it was our fifth loss in six games to the rival Flyers and came just twenty-four hours after a really good win in Montreal, a game that I thought showed maybe just maybe we were turning a corner after our blowout win against the Jackets and a point against the Rangers that should have been two.

Not only was tonight a loss but honestly it wasn't even a game worth recapping. It was about as much a 'contest' as most of the Atlanta-Ranger playoff series was a couple years back, until this year the only playoff experience for one Ilya Kovalchuk. Showing his hunger, Kovalchuk was about the only Devil to show up tonight, getting the Devils' only goal of the night (of course far too late, in the third period after we were down 4-0) and playing 23:59 with 5 SOG.

Even Martin Brodeur looked flat, after it also looked like he'd turned a corner predictably he had another off night although perhaps he shouldn't have been playing a fourth game in six nights against a team he hasn't done all that well against this year, after the team went from Montreal to Philly overnight. Sure enough, Brodeur gave up a couple of bad goals early and was relieved by Yann Danis in the third period. Granted I figured he would sit Tuesday so I wasn't too up in arms about playing Marty in Philly but now that Danis played the third period it's almost a certainty Brodeur will play Tuesday anyway.

Of course he had plenty of company in the goat department, specifically slow and slower (alias Colin White and Mike Mottau), who were on the ice for the first four goals against tonight - yes four straight goals. Granted, Mottau's played better since the Olympic break until tonight and White I don't think is a problem in and of himself but lemme get this straight, Bryce Salvador can make one bad mistake and get benched for the last half of a game, even the coach's pet Brian Rolston can get scratched for a game but Mottau can make any number of screwups and never get called on it?

At least their icetime actually got cut a little as both played just over fifteen minutes, better that pairing should be split up entirely though. I'd like to see White with Andy Greene and Salvador with Mottau as the third pairing but somehow I doubt it, since for some unknown reason White and Mottau seem to be hermetically attached just like John Madden and Jay Pandolfo used to be. On the plus side, Lemaire did at least spread around the icetime a little better tonight although some of that was a function of the score.

Not that line combos or who plays more would have done much good tonight, considering the Flyers scored in the first minute of each of the first two periods, the last minute of the second period and after the Devils finally reminded Brian Boucher it wasn't 2000 with Kovalchuk's goal, gave up a fifth goal less than a minute later. Whether this team wins the Jennings Trophy or not you just cannot trust it in a big spot. Especially when they even make someone like Wings washout Ville Leino look good. Honestly I looked at the Flyers' forwards before the game started and thought wow, they only have about one and a half lines. So much for that, the Flyers' bad goaltending (Boucher is now the third Flyers goalie to beat us this season) or their overall bad play going into tonight's game.

An expected consequence of the loss was it moved us back behind the Penguins in the division race, though we still have that lovely game in hand it's hardly going to matter unless the team picks it up. Although at this rate I'd rather avoid the division and risk playing Ottawa and Montreal in the first round than finish second and play Philly or the Rangers - one team and one goalie we can't beat.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Devils clinch playoff berth after nailbiter at the Bell Centre

Okay so I was slightly premature the other night and the Devils' OT loss against the Rangers wasn't quite enough for them to clinch a playoff berth, but they turned the trick tonight with a hard-fought 4-2 win in Montreal and will be playing postseason games for the thirteenth straight year, a streak second only to Detroit. When MSG+ showed the graphic before the game of the six longest postseason streaks I couldn't help but notice the bottom three teams on the list were all in danger of missing the playoffs this year (Anaheim, Calgary and the Rangers) and only the Devils and Wings had streaks longer than six seasons. That's a rare form of consistency that should be appreciated.

Of more immediate concern for the Devils was their 2-12-1 record in their last fifteen road games coming into tonight's tilt in Montreal against a red-hot Canadiens team, not to mention the Penguins' afternoon victory that put them back in first place by two points though the value of winning the division is still questionable at this point given the ambiguity of who we'd be facing. Plus with the Sabres streaking as well, at this point you could only really be talking about the difference between the #3 seed and the #4 seed, which isn't nearly the big deal that the #2-4 difference is, since being the #2 seed guarantees home-ice for at least two rounds of the playoffs (should the team get that far) while the #3 doesn't neccesarily do that.

Aside from all that, the team's first concern should have been just playing better than they did the other night against the Rangers. I'm sorry, I can't agree with Chico Resch that the loss was a positive the other night. We're not into moral victories around here, certainly not against a rival team that's below you in the standings. Still, they did some good things offensively to be sure and built off that tonight as well with Jacques Lemaire's latest shuffling of the top two lines resulting in Patrik Elias going in between Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner with Travis Zajac going between Ilya Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston. For a rare time this year, Lemaire's left some lines intact for two straight games although there were a couple of lineup changes with Rod Pelley playing over Jay Pandolfo and Vladimir Zharkov (remember him?) in favor of Andrew Peters.

With Montreal coming out juiced up at home, they swarmed Martin Brodeur early and often during the first period, putting the first six shots on net but as usual the HOF goalie to be stepped it up another notch in his hometown and would keep the Devils afloat until their suddenly effective power play broke the tie at 8:11 with Zajac and Parise starting a play that resulted in a nice pass from Parise to Elias in front and Elias made a move to control the puck then roofed it over Jaroslav Halak from the side of the net for his 15th of the season. Having Elias heat up is certainly a good sign heading towards the playoffs, and his goal changed momentum though at times both teams played pond hockey in the first period as the Devils put up fourteen shots to the Canadiens' thirteen.

Both teams also showed their intensity in that opening period with David Clarkson challenging giant Hal Gill to a fight (which resulted in a cautious draw), and then Langenbrunner standing up to Montreal captain Andrei Markov, with both getting matching roughing minors. For Clarkson though, it was about the only real action he'd see on the night as he played 8:47 which was only second lowest on the team to Pelley's 7:56. Zubrus also barely clocked in at ten minutes once again, but I suppose I can't complain too much given the alternative - playing the third line over the top two lines, which at least Lemaire isn't doing this year unlike his predecessor last season.

Early in the second, the Devils' power play scored once again, as a Kovalchuk shot rebounded to Langenbrunner who turned around and fired blind, finding a miniscule opening between Halak's pads for the captain's 18th goal at 1:59. Also getting an assist on the goal was Andy Greene, as the Devils took a 2-0 lead. As usual however, a two-goal lead is the most dangerous one for New Jersey and finally Montreal made a dent in the Brodeur wall at 5:15 when ex-teammate Scott Gomez found Andrei Kostitsyn in front for a one-timer in the slot, cutting the Devils' lead to 2-1. Fortunately the defense would hold up tonight for the most part, and on one of his rare shifts, Zubrus made an impact when he put his big frame in front and a Paul Martin shot bounced off him and past Halak for Zubrus's 8th goal of the yeat at 15:19, with Zharkov even getting an assist as well.

During the pregame the other night, Lemaire touted Zharkov as a hard worker who had skill and deserved another chance. While all that's true, it's still tough to keep running someone out there who doesn't yet have a goal in his first 35 NHL games but that said, he was pretty decent in his 9:13 for someone who hadn't played in three weeks and even got a shift in the final couple of minutes. Of course that cut into Clarkson and Zubrus's playing time but hey, to be fair you might as well find out if the kid can play since odds are Peters and fellow enforcer Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond won't see much icetime in the playoffs.

Now down 3-1, the Canadiens seemingly had us right where they wanted us as it took them just ninety seconds to cut the lead to one yet again, when a Kostitsyn pass found the skate of Tomas Plekanec in front and bounced in off Brodeur, setting up a nervous third period where the Devils got only four shots on net and had to withstand a couple very good Montreal chances in the final minutes. Still, I don't think we went into a shell entirely, sometimes you just have to say the other team is good and is going to get their opportunities. Of course Brodeur stood tall again, and when it came down to the final minutes it seemed like it was deja vu as the Elias line was out there with Colin White and Mike Mottau as the defensive pairing.

Fortunately there was no icing this time, and Martin did get on the ice for the final shift as well as Zajac but the empty-net goal that sealed it with ten seconds left came after Kovalchuk made a nice play to get the puck and in position for a goal. Then much to everyone's surprise he drop-passed one off to Rolston at the last possible moment to give him a shot at the empty net, which he took advantage of firing one just between two Montreal defenders for his nineteenth goal of the year. Everyone, including me, Chico and Doc Emrick was wondering why Kovalchuk would get the puck for Rolston after a seemingly random goal but it turned out that Kovalchuk knew it was Rolston's 700th NHL point. Not the sexy milestone that Brodeur's 552 is to be sure, but is just another little example of how Kovalchuk is proving he can fit in and doesn't have the ego you would associate with some other star players.

Ironically tomorrow night's game against a suddenly fading Flyers team is of keen interest across the river, as the Rangers (despite a tough OT loss tonight) have an opportunity to catch Philly with a home-and-home series looming in the final weekend. Of course it also interests all of Pennsylvania, as the Penguins will be looking for an odd bit of help from their in-state rival to stay tied in points with the Devils, although they would still technically be behind since New Jersey has more wins.

BoNY Three Stars:

  1. Martin Brodeur (25/27 saves)
  2. Andrei Kostitsyn (goal, assist, +1 in 20:14)
  3. Ilya Kovalchuk (two assists, +1 in 20:52)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Devils get just desserts in shootout loss to Rangers

If you have sunny-side view of things as a Devils fan, after last night you'll point out that we're back in first place, that the Devils were the better team last night and could easily have put five or six past Henrik Lundqvist again and that even if a mere formality, the Devils officially clinched a playoff berth with the Thrashers' OT loss in Toronto.
Reality paints a harsher picture, though.

See, none of that matters when you blow nine hundred scoring chances, three different leads (again!) with the final blown lead coming inside the final twenty seconds of regulation and your coach is a cross between a mad scientist and just plain mad. Last night it was definitely the latter with a series of bizarre decisions that didn't help at all and unless these issues get sorted out it's not going to matter whether the Devils win the division or the Rangers miss the playoffs, since we'll be joining them golfing in late April.

Admittedly I had a bad feeling about this game from the start. I don't think it was Jacques Lemaire's decision to bench both Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond and Rod Pelley in favor of Andrew Peters and Jay Pandolfo but it didn't help. You bench two kids playing well for two players that aren't in a rivalry game at home? Why are we getting cute with the lineup after putting in six goals? It's just like how Lemaire couldn't resist changing around the lines after back-to-back multi-goal performances in wins over the Penguins and Rangers earlier this month, it's just mind-boggling.

I think the real source of my pre-game consternation was the fact I knew Lundqvist wasn't having two bad games in a row against the Devils, not to mention my 2-9 soon to be 2-10 record going to Devil-Ranger games since the move to Prudential Center (one of the wins being that meaningless last regular season game a couple years ago, the other the crazy 8-5 game with Scott Clemmensen in net). A hideously bad power play in the first few minutes only added to my impending feeling of doom, it was a wake-up call back to reality after our three power play goals Tuesday night as we couldn't even gain the zone against an excellent PK.

Fortunately the Devils did come out well in the first period, holding the Rangers to just four shots on net and taking the lead when a Brian Rolston slapper rebounded right to Ilya Kovalchuk in front, and he put home the rebound for his 38th of the year at 5:21. Kovalchuk was flying in the first period and after his four-point night on Tuesday I thought okay, this is the game we finally see the real Kovalchuk. Despite six shots on net and about twenty-three minutes of icetime however, it never really materialized.
Too bad, because the frustration started shortly after Kovy scored, with Jamie Langenbrunner missing two glorious chances in the first, a number that would baloon to about six or seven before the night was over, Patrik Elias putting a shorthanded breakaway attempt right into Lundqvist's pads early in the second and Zach Parise having a goal waved off for directing the puck into the net with his arm later in that period.

When you monopolize scoring chances and don't come through, eventually the roof's going to fall in and the refs were no help after the first period either, ignoring about seven or eight obvious Ranger penalties and not giving us the benefit of the doubt on anything including a contreversial icing near the end of the game that proved decisive. More on that later though, on the Rangers' first power play they showed us how it was done with the man advantage when Brandon Dubinsky scored at 7:32 to tie the game - the first time.

After a leaky second period where they allowed fourteen shots on net and took almost back-to-back penaties maybe we were fortunate to still be tied, but we were getting our chances and finally Elias would rifle in a one-timer off a nice David Clarkson pass at 3:53 to break the tie early in the third. Danius Zubrus also got an assist on the goal, which is interesting because I barely remember him being on the ice last night at all and sure enough his TOI was a mere 10:32 last night.

Granted, when Lemaire did allow him to play he had a few nice shifts but for some reason known only to him, Lemaire's put Zubrus in the doghouse the last several games after he'd started playing by far his best hockey as a Devil. It's not just a matter of playing coach's pet Rolston over him which is bad enough, Zubrus didn't even get time on a rare Devils power play where one of our fourth-liners (can't remember who but think it was Dean McAmmond) was playing RW over him and I was beside myself, where the **** is Zubrus?!

That wouldn't be my last ounce of frustration with Lemaire on the night but for now my main concern was the leaky defense, which allowed the Rangers' fourth line to tie the game at 9:40 when Artem Ansimov scored a Marian Gaborik-like goal and both Ranger enforcers Brandon Prust and Jody Shelley (who did lose to Peters in the obligatory first-period fight) got assists. Perhaps that explains Shelley's bizarre presence on the ice in the final couple minutes after the Rangers fell behind again when Langenbrunner finally - finally! - put a slapshot past Lundqvist for his seventeenth goal of the year at 12:37 off assists from Elias and Andy Greene.

While I can't say I ever thought the game was over I was comfortable with the way the Devils played from in front, trying (not recklessly but still trying) to get the fourth goal instead of sitting back and it worked - until the final minute when the Parise-Elias-Langenbrunner line went to crap on a shift and eventually took an icing with less than thirty seconds left that later some, including Ken Daneyko on the postgame, thought shouldn't have been called.

Be that as it may, not managing the final minutes to have at least one of your rare halfway decent faceoff men on the ice (either Travis Zajac or Rob Niedermayer) to go against Chris Drury was just not thinking ahead. Having Elias and Langenbrunner as your main faceoff options is just asking for trouble and sure enough Drury wins the faceoff and eventually scored the back-breaking goal with seventeen seconds left off a rebound in front. Another consequence of the icing was it kept our slow and slower defensive pair of Colin White and Mike Mottau on the ice as well, so once again as the Devils blow a late lead - see Game 7 last year - Paul Martin's somehow left on the bench.

After that goal and seeing the Bruins' loss to a lousy Tampa Bay team on the scoreboard the result seemed clear, it was just a matter of how the Rangers would win it. Enter the skills competition when Erik Christensen (a scrub before this season who's turned into an All-Star against the Devils) scored a nifty goal off both posts and the crossbar that was at first waved off but I knew we weren't lucky enough to have that one miss going in. That would be all the Rangers needed as Lundqvist stopped Parise, Elias and Zajac in succession and we got our deserved defeat.

Of course in the postgame all people wanted to know was why Kovalchuk didn't take the shot. Have any of these second-guessers actually watched the Devils since the Olympics? Really? Kovalchuk's god-awful in the skills competition and was an epic fail on a penalty shot against the Penguins just two weeks ago. Why doesn't John Tortorella get questioned on not having Gaborik as one of his three shooters, couldn't be because they won anyway could it? I guess one coach wasn't right to bench his star in the skills competition but the other was.

Besides there are more than enough things to criticize Lemaire for without defaulting to that silly one. Every player we put out has had some success in the shootout, they didn't last night including Parise having about the easiest shot I've ever seen another goaltender have to make a save on from his stick. Bottom line, we blew three leads for the second straight game against the Rangers and could have easily put the game away before finally blowing it at the end of regulation, overtime point or not we deserved that humiliation in front of a crowd that was actually as pro-Devils as I've ever seen at the Rock for any Devil-Ranger game. Pity.

BoNY Three Stars:

  1. Henrik Lundqvist (35/38 saves)
  2. Patrik Elias (goal, assist, +1 and 6 SOG in 24:28)
  3. Chris Drury (goal, +1 in 23:27)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Man bites dog: Devils' PP the difference in 6-3 win

After the Devils' latest frustrating loss to a non-playoff team on Saturday night came a mini-contreversy when Zach Parise criticized the fans for booing a power play that has been struggling for months. A cynic might say that actually did help the players after last night, for the Devils managed to score not one, not two but three power play goals in a 6-3 win over the Blue Jackets last night. I hope we didn't use up two months' supply in one game! Seriously though, maybe the booing did help in an odd way for instead of overthinking the power play the Devils came out angry and determined to do something about it.

Parise himself led the way, as he usually does - scoring off a rebound from a Jamie Langenbrunner shot at 13:01 for his 34th of the season. Far too often this season I've been on the Devils for not going to the net with the man advantage but it wasn't a problem on their first goal last night as both Parise and the captain crashed the net. After an otherwise bleh first period, the Devils led 1-0 going into the second, and would score their second power play goal very quickly when a Patrik Elias shot rebounded right to Paul Martin, who put the puck into an open net just 74 seconds into the second period for Martin's second goal of the season. Both of Martin's goals have come in the week's time since the defenseman's return to the lineup and Elias also got his second point of the night after an assist on the first goal.

Despite Elias and Langenbrunner's contribution on the first two goals, both would be made to look silly at 3:40 of the period when Kristian Huselius stickhandled his way around both forwards and then slid a pass to a wide-open Antoine Vermette who fired one past Martin Brodeur to cut the lead in half. Later in the period the game would hang in the balance when Dean McAmmond looked like he was having a roid rage moment jumping Mike Blunden, but actually looking at a replay he was justified to do so after Blunden hit him up high along the boards plus after telling McAmmond he was willing to fight Blunden didn't drop the gloves, a Sean Avery-like cheap shnooker.

Amazingly we got the extra penalty out of all that (a double-minor at that!), and just over a minute later Rob Niedermayer's penalty gave the Jackets an extended five-on-three. Fortunately Brodeur and the remaining PK'ers killed off 43 seconds of that before a Huselius penalty canceled out the rest of the four on three and most of the double-minor remaining to McAmmond, who also got a ten minute misconduct penalty. Hockey justice was served as on the brief Devils power play that followed, Parise dished off to Kovalchuk on the side of the net and instead of firing a one-timer he waited for a couple of seconds and somehow slipped a wrist shot past Steve Mason shortside at 12:32 for his 37th goal of the year and second point of the night after a secondary assist on Martin's goal. Mike Mottau also got an assist on Kovy's sixth goal as a Devil.

Kovalchuk's goal seemed to loosen him up, as he'd actually not been having a very good game up to that point, passing when he should have shot (not to mention stickhandling, then losing the puck when Rick Nash lost his stick on one of the power plays) and missing the net when he did shoot although watching a replay to his credit he did make a good play backchecking on a breakaway early in the second, lifting the stick of R.J.Umberger before he could get a good shot off. It wouldn't take long for Kovalchuk to have his next positive impact on the scoresheet, getting open in the slot for a turnaround shot and rifling one that deflected off Travis Zajac and in at 15:40, giving the Devils a 4-1 lead for Zajac's 22nd of the year. Martin continued his strong game with an assist for his second point of the night, and played a team-leading 22:20 showing that he is indeed back in form now.

Zajac's puckluck continued when a Mike Mottau shot from the point bounced off his glove with just 53 seconds left in the second period for his second goal of the night, neither with the aid of a stick. Kovalchuk also added another assist for his fourth point of the game, which is kind of scary (for everyone else) to think about considering he had a shaky first thirty minutes and still put up four points. Still, even with a 5-1 lead the Devils gave me some anxious moments, starting with a spectacular defensive breakdown 33 seconds after Zajac's goal when four Devils got caught in the offensive zone - three on one side of the boards and Andy Greene got turned around on the ensuing two-on-one which saw Derick Brassard's feed find Jakob Voracek for a goal which took away some of the momentum from an otherwise great four-goal period.

While our 11-4 edge in shots during the third period suggested we took control from then on, it felt anything like that at the time, especially when Huselius scored in close six minutes into the third to make it 5-3 and really get me worried. Fortunately Parise wasn't finished with his highlight reel for the night either, executing a 180 degree spin in front of the net and roofing a pretty shot past Mason for a spectacular second of the night, making it 6-3 at 12:52 and effectively finishing the game. Elias and Langenbrunner got the assists on the goal but that was all #9's skill. Seconds from the end of the game Parise came oh so close to the hat trick on a late power play but it wasn't to be.

Almost lost in the shuffle of my recap was another impressive fight from sudden fan favorite Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond during the second period with Columbus scrapper Jared Boll. Three nights after the marathon bout with Cam Janssen, Leblond held his own with another proven fighter - this after Boll had challenged him earlier in the period during a scrap but Leblond apparently was smart enough to realize that because of McAmmond's 'fight' which had already taken place both would get thrown out if they dropped the gloves. So they waited, and eventually dropped them seconds after Kovalchuk's goal. Leblond lost his helmet during the fight but not his nerve and now seems to have carved out a fairly solid place in the lineup.

More importantly last night's win put the Devils back into first place by percentage points and gave Brodeur the eighth 40-win season of his career. With a showdown against the fading Rangers tomorrow, it would behoove the Devils to keep up the hot streak if they want the division since the Penguins' schedule softens up considerably the last couple weeks of the season aside from a couple of matchups with a Caps team that's on Indianpolis Colt-like cruise control after lapping the field for first in the East.

BoNY Three Stars:

  1. Ilya Kovalchuk (goal, three assists, +2 in 21:47)
  2. Travis Zajac (two goals, +1)
  3. Zach Parise (two goals, assist, -1 and 8 SOG)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

3D Vision Suckage

As most of you know by now considering all the Garden propaganda that naturally focuses on anything else but tomorrow's meaningless showdown between the Islanders and Rangers, Wednesday March 24 is the first ever 3D televised hockey game. With nothing else to talk about, MSG has milked this for all its worth, inviting fans who aren't disgraced to purchase tickets for 20 a pop at the "Exclusive" Viewing Party in WAMU Theater.

Much like the gates which don't open at 6 due to lame security losers who like to bust our balls (no joke), it's scheduled to open at the same time where they probably won't act like douches because that only seems to apply to us loyal suckers inside the World's Most Mediocre Arena. Be that as it may, it does sound like an ultra cool concept for interested puckers to see our sucky team battle the only true rival for draft position. Tonight's Bruins' 4-0 dethroning of Atlanta pretty much guarantees our first playoff miss post-lockout, returning us to the Dark Ages. I've already gone on record as guaranteeing no postseason for next year as well because I fail to see how it can be fixed enough to compete. Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and the rest of our prospects better pan out or we're looking at another lengthy stay on the golf course.

None of this will stop talking heads like Al Rotwig, John Giannone and Joe Micheletti from going on and on about how "totally awesome" the Rangers and Islanders look in 3D. Unless you attend the Viewing Party which will as usual celebrate our past with special guests Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Ron Greschner, Ron Duguay, Nick Fotiu and poor Dark Ages victim Dan Blackburn, you'll likely get shutout. According to the official team site, the only other way to catch this Garden exclusive is to already own 3D TV sets. Cablevision subscribers will be allowed to view it on a separate MSG channel. Not really sure what that entails but my guess is you'll find out somehow.

As for us, we'll be in our normal 411 seats bagging on this latest sham that covers up how embarrassing the season has been. To not make the playoffs in such a pathetic conference speaks for itself. With any luck depending on my schizo pc which seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown (haha), I'll have the recap of another sleepless night. Likely one of my last in the building with the April Flyer game probably the end of a 14-year run. Well, counting my first ever hockey game which was a 2-1 overtime win over the Red Wings on my birthday thanks to Brian Leetch setting up Pat Verbeek, it's 14 and a half years.

If this is really it, I will miss the enthusiasm from our section along with some of the greatest fans the sport has who live and die with this team. I'm biased but 411 has the best hockey fan who I'll put up against anybody. If he were running our team, we wouldn't be in this predicament. It's the regulars who have made it such an enjoyable experience. Even if there haven't been a lot of huge moments sans Michal Rozsival's triple overtime Game 3 winner and the five-game revenge on Marty, it's always been a blast. I can't thank the people around us enough. I'll also miss warm-ups, greeting opposing broadcasters, John Amirante and of course viewing the game from all the way at the top because there's nothing like taking it in live while watching plays develop. You can't get that as much sitting up close nor the energy the true diehards bring. I'll also miss the ushers who do their best and usually with a smile unlike the loser Dolan security who think they own the place, doing so by emulating Scrooge. Yeah. Anyone who's seen those two ugly dirtbags knows who I'm referring to.

Regardless, a special thank you to my Dad for making it all possible. You have always been there for me and Justin. Even when times got tough, you've always understood and gotten it. For that, I can never repay you. For Jazzy Jim, tomorrow may be about 3D Vision Suckage but for us, it's about being able to watch/enjoy the game in your company along with Just's pal Mike.

Happy Birthday Dad! Don't forget to make a wish and blow out the candles when we get home. :-)

Sid is just a Kid

All-Star. Hart Trophy. Stanley Cup. Gold Medal Olympic Hero. Golden Boy. Nobody can deny the special talent of Sidney Crosby. At 22 years of age, the Penguin leader has accomplished plenty already, silencing cynics like us that can't stomach him along with co-bloggers Hasan and Brian.

While the ever popular "Crosby Sucks" spreads to every arena outside Mellon Arena who hear no evil see no evil from their hockey God, frustration mounts at what he's allowed to get away with daily. In between all the goals, assists and points, Sid The Kid shows off his bad side getting underneath opponents' skin, which usually involves using his stick illegally. Most would agree that's putting putting it mildly. It doesn't seem to matter who he faces. The league co-leading finisher loves to chop opponents while programmed referees turn their backs. Fans in the metro area who rarely get along can at least agree one this sore subject. Crosby sucks. The missed slashes and repeated hacks that are just as reckless and disrespectful as an Ovechkin shove from behind are ignored.

Nobody will ever accuse Sidney of being a dirty player. However, such antics like he childishly displayed at the conclusion of tonight's nationally televised Versus game in a Cup rematch at Detroit show a different side than the lovey dovey character we get shoved down our throats. While it's true his success benefits the NHL and NBC which most feel stands for Nothing But Crosby, would it kill the powers to be to take a closer look at the wonder boy following another stick incident? His team lost 3-1 to Henrik Zetterberg, who flat out dominated finishing with two goals and an assist while shutting down Sid. It's easy to talk Crosby-Ovie 24/7, but it's this writer's opinion that Zetterberg and Red Wing teammate Pavel Datsyuk are better overall players. This isn't a knock on the super-hyped rivalry. Just an objective take that the guys who wear the Winged Wheel along with ageless wonder Nicklas Lidstrom don't take a back seat.

Apparently, Sid vehemently disagrees. How else to explain the latest cheap shot, repeatedly shoving his stick into a furious Zetterberg as the buzzer sounded at The Joe, signaling the latest big win for a Detroit outfit who refuse to go away. Perhaps their inspired play which saw a heroic Zett backhand rifled past Roberto Luongo with 0.3 left to spare in Vancouver has intimidated San Jose and Chicago, who've eerily lost enough allowing the miracle Coyotes to catch up. As for the Pens' captain, maybe he was just taking out his frustration following a no point, minus-two game against one of the best two-way players we've ever seen. After being stifled by Calder front runner Jimmy Howard seconds earlier, his latest tantrum didn't sit well with the rookie netminder who defended his teammate by challenging Crosby, who typically backed off.

"I knew it was him without turning around,” Zetterberg pointed out while Sid retorted, “I don’t think that’s where he [Howard] should be. “I don’t know what he was doing over there.” The same thing even Henrik Lundqvist did following your continued lack of respect for your peers.

Pittsburgh roughing - 2 min 20:00, S. Crosby
Detroit roughing - 2 min 20:00, J. Howard
Detroit roughing - 2 min 20:00, H. Zetterberg

So, what do you think happened? All ref tandem Tim Peel and Brian Pochmara saw fit to do was handout matching roughs to Zetterberg and the guilty party who got away with crosschecks while also giving Howard two as well. You guessed it. Somehow, the Red Wings wound up with two extra minutes. Even if it was only a matter of book keeping, it summed up the serious double standard that few have the gall to write about. When will Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell finally take action against their guy? Is it going to take one of those unnecessary whacks which finally injures another to penalize the face of the league?

Between you, me and the lamppost, that day probably will never come. In a game that's pushing radical changes to prevent head shots like the one Crosby's teammate Matt Cooke delivered and got away with on poor Marc Savard, they refuse to notice what Sid does after whistles. No discipline. Not even a warning. Makes plenty of sense given how it's run.

If you didn't know any better, you'd swear Bettman and Campbell are the real life version of Lloyd and Harry. Who knew? Dumb & Dumber truly do exist. No wonder their kid runs a muck.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On Road To B'ruin

If one were to grade the Rangers' performance in a must win versus a mediocre Bruin team that's hanging on, it would be an F. Once again, they flunked out this time by a score of 2-1 in Beantown. Once, this Original 6 match-up was great with plenty of fanfare. Not anymore. After 20 sloppy minutes, NBC execs had to be shaking their heads in disgust. It had about as much appeal as watching paint dry.

What does it say about this league when this is what you get for the final spot? At least Boston has an excuse. What's the Rangers? Don't answer that. Credit the Bruins for doing what they had to in getting a badly needed win even if it was only their second at TD Northbank since the Winter Classic. Coming off a disgraceful performance in the Matt Cooke game which even drew the ire of Cam Neely, the B's were hungrier winning every battle. They finished every check and forced our Hostess Twinkies lineup into more turnovers than at the bakery I just ordered my Dad's birthday cake from.

Miserable and lifeless would be a good way to describe our heroes, who did their best Invisible Man act in what Garden shill Don LaGreca described as the "biggest game in over 10 years." Apparently, the so-called ESPN 1050 pregame host must've conveniently forgotten Game Five EC Semis at Buffalo 2007. Embarrassing. How much can you insult our intelligence? The Jagr Era at least produced two exciting first round wins, including the five-game revenge that drove the Devils and Marty into early tee times. Say what you will about Tom Renney but those teams cared. The Post No.68 Error has been a disaster. We're not advocating bringing him back as it would probably turn into Messier II. The day Savior cut ties with JJ, that was the end. Back to the Dark Ages of teasing the Garden Faithful.

How hard has it been? Watching this team has turned into a chore. Just like it used to be. A sad tale that's been rearing its ugly head from the ashes as this season's gone on. As we've openly stated in this space, more and more fans aren't opposed to seeing this team go in the tank for a better draft pick. If only Jazzy Jim gave a damn instead of pushing this bogus 3D M$G Extravaganza Wednesday against the Islanders, charging 20 more dollars to con more suckers. Anything to screw over a way too loyal fanbase that will continue to shrink next Fall as more season tix aren't renewed.

Updating my situation, unless something drastically changes this summer, I'm not returning. I've had enough. I'll save my family money and myself some as well since I always donate to the cause. A lost one. I don't see it getting any better next year. Mark it down. 3/21/10 at 6:36 ET. Derek Felix of Battle Of New York guarantees the Rangers miss the playoffs again, finishing even lower. The worst aspect is nothing will even change. Business will go on as usual as if everything's right. M-E-D-I-O-C-R-I-T-Y. Dolan Vision.

While many guys wearing our colors didn't bother to show- a list which is too long for me to bother with- Henrik Lundqvist did everything possible to give his teammates a chance. He made plenty of strong stops keeping it scoreless for more than half the contest, including stoning Daniel Paille's penalty shot following an undisciplined Artem Anisimov wrap job. I've been one of his defenders all year because it's unrealistic to expect him to light it up in Year 1. But there's too many instances where he struggles. The skill is there for the lanky 21 year-old Russian but he needs to seriously bulk up so that he has more of a role next go round.

The Rangers had opportunities thanks to a few ill advised Boston penalties, including an unnecessary Zdeno Chara hi-sticking double minor. Four minutes with their best player off the ice. Leave it to the Booshirts to botch the entire thing, not even registering a shot on Tuukka Rask. I've echoed it many times but you just can't make this stuff up.

When the Bruins stayed out of the box, they were the aggressor banging bodies and generating more off the attack, forcing Lundqvist to be really good. It remained scoreless until another sad reality took place where our boys actually turned immortal Andrew Ference into Bobby Orr- allowing him to set up washed up Miro Satan for the game's first goal with 3:47 left in the second. In a pathetic display, they all went to Ference, who was on a bad angle along the left wall with both Marc Staal and Michal Rozsival forgetting completely about Satan, who snuck in for the easiest goal he's ever scored and relevancy. Unbelievable. That same player who Pierre McGuire trashed accidentally banged into one of our guys for a lazy interference minor with 26.5 seconds left.

Leave it to Olli Jokinen to take a selfish rough before the buzzer, ending a power play in which they wouldn't have scored anyway. Speaking of the Jokester, he is garbage. He has been invisible in these games and hasn't scored since 2/12. Ser---ious---ly. To think I actually thought he'd be important to Calgary this year. What an absolute waste. He took one shot and was in the box three different times. Great job! No wonder the Flames took Chris Higgins and Ally.

Trailing by one, the Rangers had maybe one or two chances to draw even with Rask stifling Marian Gaborik and Sean Avery ringing one off the post. They just didn't create much. Losing Ryan Callahan for the third didn't help. On one shift late in the second, he out-hustled Chara to negate an icing but took a hit, skating off awkwardly. It's being termed a "lower body" injury.

During first intermission, McGuire and Mike Milbury alluded to how much pressure's on Lundqvist to be perfect. He finally succumbed to the pressure permitting Dennis Wideman's backhand from the slot that made it 2-0 with less than 10 minutes left. On the play, the aforementioned Jokinen over skated leaving Wideman vacated where he took a Vladimir Sobotka pass and fooled Henrik for his fourth. Milan Lucic added a helper. Game. Set. Match. So what if Mike Del Zotto got his eighth when his point shot deflected off Lucic to foil Rask's shutout bid with 3:04 to go. The Rangers weren't coming back because they're incapable.

Sure, this was a team that we’re chasing and we needed those points,a dejected Vinny Prospal said. “It’s a big loss for us, but, on the other hand, we can’t just say it’s over.

I'll say it for you. Season over. On the road to B'ruin.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Dennis Wideman, Bos (GW w/9:40 left in 3rd, 3 SOG, +1 in 17:24)
2nd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (29 saves, falls to 28-26-8 w/2.46 GAA, .918 Save .Pct)
1st Star-Tuukka Rask, Bos (23 saves for 17th win in rookie year)

Did someone say important?

FIFTEEN. That's the total number of shots the Rangers have gotten on Tuukka Rask through two periods in the "biggest game of the season versus Boston. In a game they trail 1-zip after turning immortal Andrew Ference into Gretzky, that included a four-minute power play that had Zdeno Chara off for an errant stick on countryman Marian Gaborik. How many shots do you think they got? Zero.

Embarrassing. Humiliating. Disgraceful. Lackluster. Passionless. Pointless. That's how to describe the joke Ranger hockey has become. Olli Jokinen. You were acquired to boost our offense. Not to demonstrate why you're on your fourth team in less than two years. That penalty was exactly what Pierre McGuire termed, "Selfish." At least Chris Higgins tried.

In a game where Henrik Lundqvist has given you every chance stoning Daniel Paille on a penalty shot, they've come up with nothing. Why is it going to change in the third? This is what they are.

Devils leave points on the table yet again

Despite the Devils' perfect record against the Penguins, they haven't been able to stay on top of the Atlantic for very long post-Olympics. For every win over Pittsburgh, there's been at least one bad loss to follow it, and in a nutshell the Penguins are just playing much better against the rest of the league than we are. New Jersey's had their opportunities to regain control of the division but when you lose to crappy teams like the Islanders twice, the Leafs twice, Edmonton and last night another non-playoff team in the Blues - well you get your just desserts.

Everything was right there for the Devils last night after the Canes' overtime win against Pittsburgh. With two games in hand, all the Devils needed was a win at home to get back atop the division. Over the last few months, the Prudential Center has been very beneficial to the Devils, but last night that didn't matter. Neither did the inspired fight between Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond and fan favorite ex-Devil Cam Janssen. It's sad when a first period fight that's an even draw turns out to be the most inspired moment all night for the home team, but that's not to take away from the bout between those two. It was one of the best hockey fights I've seen in quite some time, with both guys landing shots, not giving an inch and it lasted over two and a half minutes, finally ending when Janssen got his helmet knocked off.

Still, emotion was lacking for the Devils once again at the start of the game and the one and only goal last night was evidence of this as a bad (and idiotic) line change with under twenty seconds left in the first period led to a two-on-one opportunity and Alex Steen roofed an unscreneed slapshot that quite honestly I felt Martin Brodeur should have had. As Jacques Lemaire said after the game though, you don't really deserve breaks when you don't work hard.

You have to work all the time. If you work all the time, you’ll get the bounces.
As soon as we started to work, we didn’t get the bounces and the guys got
frustrated...It’s the excitement to play, the life that we don’t see. You want
to finish first. You want to finish as high as possible. You get a chance to win
a game here. Just play hard. Get excited to play. And we didn’t see that.
Quite frankly I'm at the point where I'm tired of excuses too. Seventh game in eleven nights, playing a team that's more desperate yadda yadda yadda. I don't want to hear it, not when we've given away so many points against the dregs of the league. When you beat your main competitior in the division six straight times you should be leading the way no problem, instead the Devils are fortunate they've been so dominant head-to-head, otherwise the division would be long gone and we'd be fighting just to get home-ice. Especially when you consider every one of the Penguins' 90 points came against teams other than the Devils while New Jersey only has 74 in non-Penguin games, so clearly they've played much better against the rest of the league than we have.

It's not entirely a coincidence that the team's struggles started when the power play blew up. For the first half of the season the Devils actually had one of the better power plays in the league (haha) and were a machine at that point. Since then, the team's floundered and having the worst power play in the league is a main reason why. Things have gotten so bad that last night Zach Parise of all people criticized the sellout crowd for booing the power play. Now personally I find it hard to boo lack of execution but when you don't shoot the puck at all then yeah, I get as frustrated as anyone. You can't score if you don't shoot after all, though by most accounts - I only got to see about half this game - the power play was actually better last night at taking and creating chances which is all you can ask at this point.

And yeah, Blues backup Ty Conklin made some good saves but come on now. Ilya Kovalchuk had yet another maddening near miss when he got stoned on the doorstep of an open net by St. Louis forward Brad Boyes. Travis Zajac also hit a post, among other opportunities the Devils almost converted on but the bottom line is if you can't do any better than one goal in two games against the lousy Leafs and Blues defenses and you think you're going to do anything in the playoffs, well guess again. You can't play the Penguins every round after all.

In fact, the Devils' first-round opponent right now would be the Flyers, who they're 1-3-1 against this season. Goaltending issues or not, they've played very well against us this year and as the last three nights have shown you don't need a great goalie to stop a below-average offense and horrendous power play. What gnaws at me about this team is we should be better offensively, there's no two ways about it. With Kovalchuk, Parise, Zajac and Patrik Elias, among others, there's no reason at all we should still be struggling to score goals against bad teams and have to fumigate the arena after every power play.

Next up for the team is Tuesday's home matchup against Columbus, and there will be no schedule excuses after two days off at home. I would say we have to lay the lumber to the Blue Jackets, except quite honestly we don't blow any team out - at all. Most of the Pittsburgh games came closest to being laughers but really two and three-goal games aren't usually routs. Even our 6-1 win over the Islanders in November couldn't be classified as a laugher since it was 2-1 with ten minutes left.

With only eleven games left now before the tournament, it's about time to show some consistency and shape up around here.

BoNY Three Stars:

  1. Ty Conklin (29 saves)
  2. Alexander Steen (goal, +1)
  3. Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond (fight, 4:35 TOI)

Islanders blanked by Quick

If they fall short in their bid for a postseason, the Islanders will look back on the past 24 hours in California. A night removed from a heartbreaking 5-4 overtime defeat to Saku Koivu and Anaheim, the Long Island club was blanked by Los Angeles 1-zip at Staples Center. Jon Quick turned aside all 26 in backstopping the Kings past Scott Gordon's club- dealing them a second consecutive tough loss.

Unlike Friday when the roof caved in with the team blowing a 4-2 third period lead before Koivu won it 14 seconds into OT, the Islanders never led against another desperate club attempting to qualify for their first postseason since 2001-02. Terry Murray's bunch entered with 85 points- four better than Calgary and Detroit, who pulled off another magic rabbit out of the hat in a thriller against Vancouver courtesy of Henrik Zetterberg. With Nashville also pulling out a 1-0 OT decision in Columbus, the pressure was on LA to hold serve. Thanks to Brad Richardson's tally midway through the first period, Quick was able to make it stand up, moving the Kings past the Preds into fifth out West with 87 points. One better than idle Colorado, who fell to seventh with the Wings three back and ninth Calgary five out.

While that was good news for their opponent, it sure did nothing for the Islanders who remained at 68 points tied with red hot Carolina, who came back to beat Pittsburgh courtesy of Jamie McBain's OT winner with under a second left moving them into a three-way 11th place tie with the Lightning (3-1 loss to Caps) and Isles. Technically, Gordon's club ranks 13th by virtue of one more game played (72-71). Trailing eighth Boston by six with only 10 left, they'll actually have to root for the Rangers later today in the NBC Of The Week. They'll need the enemy to win in regulation. Go figure. While March Madness is taking place in another sport, there's plenty of madness going on in the NHL where you had Calgary fans rooting for the Canucks tonight to no avail.

No doubt these are desperate times for a young Islander team led by rookie John Tavares, whose five-point game in a win over those Nucks a few nights ago gave them life in this wacky race. If only they'd held onto that two-goal lead a night before, which ultimately saw a furious Gordon walk out of a press conference following the dreaded third period question. Sure. They got a point but at this pressure packed time of year, you need every single one. Especially with the wins tiebreaker. Their 29 victories are two less than Boston, the Rangers and Atlanta, who go Niclas Bergfors' 20th (7th as a Thrasher) in a 5-2 home triumph over Philadelphia to pull within a point of the Bruins.

The odds are stacked against them but stranger things have happened. Aside from Carolina, nobody's playing well. If the Isles can put together one more good stretch, who knows? They don't play again until Wednesday's Garden 3D clash against the Rangers before returning home for a tough back-to-back against Calgary. They'll then visit Columbus before seeing the Blueshirts once more on March 30. In other words, those games will have even more significance. Of a possible 20 points that could take them to a max of 88, they'll likely need to go 8-1-1 to give themselves a realistic chance. Not bad for a team written off before the season in Year 1 Of JT91. Believe it or not, 85 could do it for that final spot. In '02-03, under the guidance of Peter Laviolette, the Islanders squeezed out 83 to hold off the Rangers.

Can a similar miracle take place? While they'll need plenty of help, the Islanders will need to play their best hockey. One point will no longer do. And zero like they got Saturday are a no no. Sure. They competed hard against a solid team who also want to steal some of the spotlight from Kobe's Lakers. But despite coming close with Tavares setting up Kyle Okposo on the doorstep with nine seconds left, it wasn't enough.

Unfortunately, Richardson's lone tally stood up. The only goal was set up by Wayne Simmonds, who dug out a loose puck and found his teammate in the slot for a wrister which beat Dwayne Roloson at 13:35 of the first. The Isles did get chances but weren't able to solve Quick, who also got help from his best friend the goalpost on a Tavares shot early in the second. Late in the stanza, the rookie had another glorious chance denied when his backhand was shutdown by the sprawling Kings' netminder. It was that kind of night.

We had some glorious opportunities, but they got the best of us,a disappointed former King and leading Islander finisher Matt Moulson expressed. “One big mistake cost us the game.
Roloson, who played a stellar game himself turning aside 25 of 26, thwarted Jarrett Stoll's shorthanded bid to keep it a one-goal deficit with under 16 minutes remaining. It wasn't a good night for the Islander power play which fired blanks in four chances against a hot PK that's now killed 24 straight.

The penalty kill is just really about work and execution,” LA captain Dustin Brown said. “We’ve kind of gotten into a groove with short shifts.
For New York, it would come down to the wire with Gordon pulling Roloson for an extra skater with over a minute to go. The Kings killed most of it with stellar work in the neutral zone. However, finally a Mark Streit dump with under 35 ticks left gave his teammates a chance to recover the puck along the right wall. A great hustle play by Richard Park kept it alive where Tavares got the biscuit behind the net and quickly threaded a no-look backhand feed to Okposo. But Friday's multi-goal scorer couldn't beat Quick, who was in perfect position to snuff out the dangerous opportunity.

Needing to win the draw for one last shot, the Isles couldn't as LA won the puck and cleared the zone as time wound down- dealing them another hard defeat. Now, they become spectators and will have to hope for help from the Rangers until they meet Wednesday. Insanity.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Brad Richardson, LA (game-winner-11th of season, 0 goals in '09-10)
2nd Star-Dwayne Roloson, NYI (25 saves in 45th start of season)
1st Star-Jon Quick, LA (26 saves for 4th SHO of season-8th career)

The Puck Stops Here


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