Tuesday, March 30, 2010

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

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