Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gone Too Soon

As November comes to a close, the hockey world is still mourning the loss of legendary coach Pat Burns, who was taken from us way too soon after a valiant battle with cancer.

Now comes the world of another hockey legend who left us way too soon.

Professional. Honest. Classy. Family. These are just some of the adjectives that are best to describe longtime Hall Of Fame columnist Jim Kelley, who lost his fight against pancreatic cancer today. He was 61.

Kelley spent the majority of his 30+ years as a columnist for the Buffalo News, and then went on to work with Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and others. Kelley was inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame in 2004, and is due to be enshrined in the Buffalo Sabres HOF on January 1st, 2011.

Kelley had a unique talent that is usually lost in today's dizzying sports writing world of beat writers and bloggers. Kelley was an eloquent speaker, writer, and did it all with an edge and honest approach that so many Buffalo Sabres and NHL fans around North America always appreciated.

His most 'infamous' moment (not because of his own doing) involved former goaltender Dominik Hasek during the 1996-1997 playoffs. After Game 3 against the Ottawa Senators, Hasek stated that he has a knee injury. The very next day, Kelley wrote a piece in the Buffalo News questioning his toughness, and in so many words, questioning Hasek's injury.

Hasek took a major exception to Kelley's article, and got into an ugly altercation with Kelley, berating him with words, and also pushed and shoved Jim. Subsequently, Hasek was suspended for 3 games and fined $10,000 for his actions.

What is funny is at that moment, I was annoyed with Kelley for calling out the Sabres best player. After time though, Hasek's quirky actions justified Kelley's take on the situation, at least from my vantage point. This incident teaches us a valuable lesson: Always look at the big picture when judging someone, and I was dead wrong about Jim at that time.

We can only hope as Sabres fans and NHL fans, that we are blessed to be able to read and hear another writer like Jim again. RIP Jim, and from here at the Battle Of New York, we send our condolences to the Kelley family, the Buffalo News, Buffalo Sabres, and to the NHL.

'Hockey Night in Buffalo' will never be the same without you.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Penguins doom Rangers

In what amounted to a tough night during their 3-1 loss to the Pens, Ranger forward Brandon Prust played with plenty of spark.

Simply put, it wasn't their night. Our heroes were outplayed by the Sidney Crosby Penguins who did most of their damage in a dominant second, posting a 3-1 win in Gotham. Perhaps we should have seen it coming. Henrik Lundqvist masked our recent struggles to complete a 2-1 road trip.

Did the schedule finally catch up? There's no question the Rangers have been very busy taking part in their 26th game over 48 days. Especially recently with the Thanksgiving trip and then playing the Pens tonight before facing a well rested Islander team for a classic home-and-home series starting Thursday. At least they'll have two days to prep. In between, John Tortorella's staff needs to work on getting back to basics. Our team turned over the puck too much and gave up a ton of scoring chances and odd-man rushes. Very un-Ranger like. They just weren't mentally sharp. It showed in how Pitt got their three goals.

1.Ruslan Fedotenko foolishly carries puck into no-man's land colliding with Marc Staal, allowing opportunistic Max Talbot to surprise from short range.

2.Unable to get off the ice during a dominant shift from Crosby, Staal misreads a play at the blueline taking himself out, allowing Sid's touch-pass to Pascal Dupuis back to The Kid for an awesome set up for a Kris Letang rocket.

3.Turnover leads to pesky Chris Conner getting to a Tyler Kennedy rebound off a skate and firing low through Mike Del Zotto, who again had a rough go. More on that later.

When you're running on fumes, lazy habits start to creep in. Tonight, our D was caught flatfooted a lot and our forwards were careless on the forecheck, leading to dangerous opportunities for Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. If not for Henrik, who stoned Geno on a two-on-one and denied other Pens, this one could've been ugly. None of the goals were his fault. He was a victim of uneven play. The middle stanza in particular where the Pens had the puck virtually the entire 20, tallying twice in a 75-second span while outshooting the Blueshirts 14-6. Puck possession was theirs. Even on a night in which faceoffs were close with our club actually winning 26-of-54, the road club from Pennsylvania was simply better, constantly using quick touch passes to get behind the defense.

Tortorella also changed lines a bunch, trying to find the right combos for Marian Gaborik, who ended a six-game drought with a quick wrister from the left circle courtesy of a great Michal Rozsival pass. Despite being tightly checked by four different Pen blueliners (Orpik-Letang, Martin-Michalek), Gabby was going. But credit Pittsburgh for not giving him much time and space. That along with Tort running out Erik Christensen, Fedotenko, Derek Stepan, Sean Avery, Brian Boyle, Alex "MIA" Frolov and even Brandon Prust resulted in little continuity. While I get the need to get the Big Ticket going, it was too much chaos, throwing our lines out of whack. Despite plenty of try, both Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan had rare off nights. Dubi was more noticeable while Cally only stood out for an absolute horrible call involving who else but the Chosen One. Kudos to the former for yet again calling out Sidney during a first intermission interview with MSG's Al Rotwig Trautwig. Thanks to cathybytes for providing the video.

Much has already been made of Crosby getting away with slew footing Callahan, who blind mice Brad Watson (what a shock) and Steve Kozari (who) amazingly called for interference. Yep. It was his fault that No.87 kicked the feet out making our future captain hold onto the gutless Pen captain while falling down. Clearly. Not to beat a broken record to death. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the game, extending his point streak to 13 (12-14-26). I can live with that. But the amount of cheap plays the league's leading scorer gets away with is mind boggling. He again slashed Dan Girardi following a whistle to no avail. How can someone so gifted be so dirty? Sure. They finally caught him for taking down Avery in the third but of course Prust also went to the box for elbowing. At that point, it didn't matter anyway. Our team simply wasn't good enough. That doesn't excuse the game's best from bending the law. Something teammate Matt Cooke often does right under Colin Campbell's nose.

The officiating wasn't bad. Even if they missed a few more infractions from the Pens, we only got that one phantom call on Cally. And you know there were probably others they just missed. Usually, the Rangers are effective at even-strength. Not tonight. The Pens were quicker and better in all three zones. Even if outside of that dreadful second, our guys fought tooth and nail with a hot club that's now won seven in a row. It just wasn't their night.

Outside of Gaborik and Rozsival, there wasn't enough oomph. When Prust and Boyle are more visible than Cally and Dubi, it's not a good sign. Prust again did all he could battling much bigger man Mike Rupp to a draw. Avery also dropped 'em with Tyler Kennedy getting a take down that briefly sparked the club. Afterwards, Rozy sprung Gabby and he notched his sixth with a lethal wrister past Marc-Andre Fleury, who wasn't tested. Sure. He stayed hot making 25 saves but never had to stand on his head. Kudos to the Pitt D.

Our powerless play struck again when during a stronger third, earning legit calls the first half, nothing got done. The Pens are ranked No.1 in penalty killing and eclipsed 30 straight after being perfect in three. Outside of the early PP spanning the first and second, it was dismal. The aforementioned Del Zotto stunk. I've said it numerous times but he's going through a sophomore slump. His decision making isn't fluid, allowing defenders to close. He logged more minutes than anyone (25:01) but didn't register one shot with a few getting blocked while others, including a nice Boyle set up with Lundqvist pulled, the kid flat out missed. DZ wasn't the only guilty party but five of 15 missed shots were from No.4. It's no secret he's shaky in his end but made one outstanding play, diving across to break up a two-on-one, blocking Crosby's pass to Malkin. If he's going to continue to be run out there, he must be better.

I'm at the point where I'd like to see Matt Gilroy given another look. Say what you want about him but Hobey was more active when Rozy was out, joining the play and taking shots. Gilroy has three assists in 18 games in a lot less time compared to Del Zotto's eight points (2-6-8). For whatever reason, Tort hates him. As Twitter PR spokesperson (sarcasm folks) Leahockey would say, "Give him a chance." At the moment, Rozsival is our best at getting involved. He was one of the few bright spots.

Now, it's time for them to get ready for the Islanders. A team that loves beating us. This back-to-back starting Thursday at The Coliseum and concluding at The Garden Friday are essential. No excuses.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Brandon Prust, NYR (fight vs Rupp, four hits, 7 PIM, energy all 17 shifts-13:43)
2nd Star-Brooks Orpik, Pit (six hits, three blocked shots, plus-one in 23:07)
1st Star-Chris Kunitz, Pit (2 takeaways, hit plus-one, solid all around play in 18:13)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

This team's got H-E-A-R-T

Ryan Callahan battles Shane O'Brien. The alternate captain came through again, tying a game up the Rangers rallied to win over Nashville 2-1 in a shootout.

Busiest schedule in the game. Check. Twenty-five games in 47 days. It doesn't matter. No matter how much this league tries to screw us (save me the NY bs-that's why we played tonight and get the Pens Monday while Islanders get five days off), these guys just don't quit. My Dad said it:

'They had no business winning this game.'

True. But you know what. The same could be said for the Devils who thanks to Johan Hedberg's heroics, beat the East's best team. Forget the Caps. They're soft. Sometimes, you don't have it. For our team, it'd have been easy to mail it in after Dan Girardi missed a bouncing puck that led to Colin Wilson's goal in the first. Not this team. They fight. Even when they're running on fumes which ironically enough I am as well, they battle to the end. So, when they still were being shutout late in the second, I figured they wouldn't solve Pekka Rinne. Here's what's great about Twitter. You can vent and sometimes, it works. My actual tweet before Ryan Callahan tied it up:

all game our guys have not gotten inside and even tested Rinne ho hum
To jubilation when Cally scored for a second straight night off a Mike Del Zotto rebound with an assist from a gritty Brandon Dubinsky:

yes! and just as i say that, finally a gritty goal yeah Cally!!!!!!!!!!!
Sometimes, it works. Tonight, they proved me wrong. And you know what? I've never been happier to eat crow. Serve it up charcoal barbecued. No Gaborik. No problem. Another back-to-back. Who cares?!?!?!?!?! As Kevin Laws of NYRangers365 alludes:
are now 6-0 in the 2nd game of back-to-back's... That's solid!!
It's not always about style points. Sometimes, it just comes down to old fashioned grit and determination. Our guys want it. They're not the most talented or prettiest. But that's how they must play to win. A night after blanking the Panthers with 40 saves, Henrik Lundqvist was stellar, shutting down the Preds following Wilson's early goal to give our boys a chance. Even if unlikely shootout hero Erik Christensen drove ya nuts not putting away a sweet Cally dish across, they were only in that position because the goalie remembered who he was. As one-time Ranger Christopher Higgins noted last night in Sunrise, he's one of the top three netminders. So, every stop he made down one was critical. And best of all as we again got abused in the faceoff circle (25-35), he left no rebounds, including all seven of Shea Weber's blasts when Callahan wasn't laying out. The same Henrik who was falling apart with 10 three-or-more games has now turned aside 69 of 70, doing his part to spark the club which must find its second wind before Monday's tilt against the best player in the game, Sid The Kid.

The last time we saw the whiny Pens, they got help from the refs to avoid a shutout, nearly breaking our backs when the evil Matt Cooke of all people put them ahead. But Marc Staal scored shorthanded with Lundqvist pulled and then Callahan buried the winner from Dubinsky calling it the "easiest goal I've scored." It'll take that yeoman effort to make it two-for-two against the league darlings. Also, a healthy Gaborik would help. One that can light the lamp.

There's a lot also to be said for how our team stands up for each other. Another game in which Boogey couldn't go and a rejuvenated Sean Avery took the brunt of it against tough SOB Jordin Tootoo after they came out of the box. Then Brandon Prust stood up to Shane O'Brien getting some revenge. That's the passion this team has exhibited and why they're back to four over (14-10-1) hanging around behind the two Pennsylvania rivals in the Patrick. So, Pitt brings a six-game win streak in along with Crosby fresh off his sixth career hat trick, having a 12-game point streak (12-13-25). So what! Staal, Girardi and Eminger will be ready. And Rozy will too after returning (22:22). Mike Sauer continues to grow and DZ is learning. Before I wrap this up, some food for thought:

31 A. Frolov 2 SOG in 15:50 2 PIM

97 M. Gilroy 3 SOG in 5:14

Bench Frolov and play Hobey!

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Jordin Tootoo, Nsh (decision over Avery, 9 PIM along with lots of energy)
2nd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (tying goal w/6:56 left in regulation-2 cons. games with goal along with usual grit)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (29 saves incl. at least final 25, 69 of 70 stopped last 2 games)

Devils call on the Moose to rescue them again

Okay, it's time to eat crow. After the fiasco that was the Devils-Sabres game in late October, I didn't think Johan Hedberg would be a useful player for us this year. Describing his play as useful this week would be underselling it, as a matter of fact - and today was his best performance yet as he stopped 40 of 41 Flyer shots and then three of four in the shootout to give the Devils a desperately needed victory. There's just not enough superlatives you can throw at Hedberg right now, during this week the veteran backup stopped 114 of 118 shots (plus six of seven in two shootouts, both won) while playing all four games in six days with his team in absolute desperation mode.

Just how desperately did the Devils need Hedberg today? A determined Flyers team outshot an even more shorthanded than expected Devils squad 41-25 - and 38-15 after the Devils actually got ten of the first thirteen shots (helped by a four-minute power play in the first period which predictably came up empty). Despite that scary edge in shots, the game finished in a 1-1 tie after 65 minutes because of Hedberg, and Adam Mair's shortside goal on Brian Boucher in the first period that gave the Devils their only goal.

I referred to the Devils being more shorthanded than expected, well needless to say I wasn't in the mood to see Patrik Elias's name on the scratch list. Expecting to hear about another injury, my exact words were 'What the ****'s his problem now'? Turns out this was not another injury situation but in fact him being there for the birth of his kid as his wife went into labor. At least he can enjoy the little one for a few days before the Devils' next game on Thursday against the Habs. Elias's absence did cause the Devils to play with only nineteen skaters, a scenario the team's become all too familiar with due to the early season cap nonsense.

With Elias out, the Devils needed more than ever for $100 million man Ilya Kovalchuk to have an impact. At least he showed some spark that's been lacking in the last few games, getting eight of the team's twenty-five shots on net, but once again failing to light the lamp despite being shifted to a line with Travis Zajac and Mattais Tedenby. Oh, he had his chances...forcing Boucher to make a couple of nice glove saves that were reminiscent of his tone-setting stop in Game 1 of the playoffs on Kovalchuk glove-side, and most frustratingly his best chance came in the overtime when Zajac sprung him for a mini-breakaway but once again Kovy lost the puck off his stick, only recovering to shovel a weak shot on net.

Not that Kovy had a monopoly on near-misses, among others Brian Rolston had his own breakaway late in the second period that he clanged the iron on. However, most of this game watching the Devils and Flyers was like seeing an AHL team play an NHL team. While the Flyers were frequently completing tape-to-tape passes up and down the ice, we struggled to complete two short passes in a row and usually passed it backhand to backhand. Where they cleared the puck quickly, we struggled just to get it out of the zone with bad decisions and bad execution. Perhaps that can just be attributed to all of the upheaval in the lineup but still you have to figure even AHL players can complete simple passes.

Still, while everything else around him was collapsing, Hedberg stood tall and kept the Devils' fragile 1-0 lead late into the third period, despite a rising shot total that approached 40 in regulation. However, the dam finally burst after an Andy Greene penalty led to a Danny Briere power play goal off a rebound, tying the game and sending it to overtime and eventually the shootout. In the shootout, Kovy ended a frustrating afternoon with one more near-miss by clanging the Devils' first shootout attempt off Boucher and then off the post.

After Hedberg stopped Claude Giroux and Briere while Boucher stopped Tedenby, Nikolai Zherdev beat Hedberg with a shot through the legs that gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead with one shot left to the Devils. And I was in suspense as to who was actually going to take it, after all our main shootout aces in Langs and Zach Parise were already on the shelf with Elias (who also frequently goes in the shootout) unavailable. Turned out Johnny MacLean's pick was Jason Arnott, and it proved to be the right one as Arnott beat Boucher high with a wrister to tie it. With Mike Richards clanging one off the post, Travis Zajac was up next with a chance to win it, which he did - beating Boucher and giving the Devils their fourth straight home win - yes, really!

Now with four days off before playing the Habs at home, the Devils can at least gargle the bad taste out of their mouths from the collective no-show on Long Island yesterday and get some satisfaction from winning three of four this week, even if two of the wins could be directly attributed to Hedberg's brilliance in goal.

Busy Saturday, Rangers visit Music City

It's a busy Saturday for three of our Battle clubs and it gets started now when the Devils renew the I-95 rivalry with the hated Flyers. Seventeen points separate them but when these teams get together, anything's possible. Hasan is at The Rock. Hope he gets a pleasant surprise. Especially without Patrik Elias, whose wife went into labor. Can the Devs cool off the Flyers?

Also in action six hours later are the Sabres, who are gunning for two in a row following their 3-1 home win over the Maple Leafs. Thomas Vanek continues to swing a hot stick netting his ninth and Ryan Miller returned from a groin injury to stop 35 shots, improving to 23-8-0 with a 2.19 GAA and a .931 save percentage against his favorite opponent. It should be even tougher when they visit the Bell Centre to battle the first place Canadiens, who should be steamed following a home loss to the Predators in a rare Alex Auld cameo. Carey Price has been awesome this season, making Hab fans forget Jaroslav Halak. It could be a battle of elite in net if Miller gets two straight starts. Does Buffalo have what it takes to get the better of Les Habitants?

Meanwhile, the Rangers conclude their three-game road trip with a visit to Music City to take on those Predators. After a good start, Barry Trotz' club has slipped to last in the ultra competitive Central. Eight points separate them from first place Detroit. They do it by committee with Cal O'Reilly pacing them with 13 points while more familiar names Steve Sullivan and Patric Hornqvist follow suit. They've gotten strong play from Marcel Goc but key cogs Shea Weber and J.P. Dumont have struggled as have second-year center Colin Wilson and Martin Erat. Both Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback are capable of shutting it down in net. Considering the Rangers don't have a lot of success in Nashville, figure it to be tough with this being the second of a back-to-back. An area our team has excelled at. Can they follow up Henrik Lundqvist's bounce back 40 save performance in a 3-0 shutout over the Panthers with another 'W,' to return home 2-1 before the hated Pens visit Monday?

In yesterday's win, Derek Stepan continued his surge, scoring his sixth goal off a Sean Avery rebound, extending to a six-game point streak (3-4-7). Since Nov.14, the rookie pivot has nine points (3-6-9) over the last eight, putting himself right back into the Calder race. The former Badger has become the No.1 center. No easy task at the age of 20, fitting in with Marian Gaborik and new linemate Brandon Dubinsky. The Rangers would like to see more goals off Gabby's stick with the star right wing silent in five. Since his hat trick against the Oilers, he's scored only once over seven. Meanwhile, demoted linemate Alex Frolov is in John Tortorella's dog house, getting only nine minutes Friday. While the enigmatic Russian baffles, Ryan Callahan finally ended a five-game drought with a nifty deflection of a Erik Christensen pass for a power play tally. Also encouraging was seeing Brandon Prust get rewarded for all his hard work when he scored his first of the season shorthanded, beating Scott Clemmensen through the wickets.

The Rangers could use Arty Anisimov to reappear on the score sheet. He's been blank in three and only has a goal over seven. Tort flipped him with Brian Boyle, who took over the second line.

Updating injuries, Michal Rozsival might return tonight after skating this morning. Who he replaces remains a question. Probably Matt Gilroy even though I think he's looked better. Derek Boogaard also skated.

Thus far, the Devils on an Adam Mair goal are surprising the Flyers 1-0. They're playing a man short minus Elias. Brian Boucher has been busy making nine saves while Johan Hedberg has stopped all four. They lead by a goal with 7:14 left in the first. We'll have updates on everything later. Headed over to John's for some puck in South River. Catch ya later.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Islanders end winless streak at 14

Islander scorer Jesse Joensuu is congratulated by Radek Martinek. His goal proved to be the difference in a 2-0 shutout of the Devils, helping the Islanders finally end their 14-game winless streak.
Finally, the Islanders had something to be thankful for. On the day after Thanksgiving, they defeated the Devils 2-0 before 10,897 at Nassau Coliseum, mercifully ending their winless streak at 14 (1-11-3). Rick DiPietro stopped all 29 shots including 13 in the third period for the club's first win since Oct.21 at Tampa Bay. Making his third consecutive start, DP was strong facing a Devil onslaught in the final 20 to preserve an emotional victory for interim coach Jack Capuano, who finally won his first game in five tries (1-2-2).

The Islanders built a two-goal lead thanks to unlikely scorers Jesse Joensuu and Rob Schremp, who entered with a combined one goal. Joensuu finished off a nice passing play 92 seconds in with Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner assisting to give the Isles the lead. They outshot a flat Devil team 13-5. The Devil struggles continued. By the time Schremp buried a wrist shot past Johan Hedberg at 5:15 of the second, shots were 18-8 favoring the Long Island hosts. Blake Comeau and James Wisniewski notched helpers. Two players who've slumped during the franchise's second longest streak without a win. They avoided matching a 15-game winless streak (Nov.22-Dec.23, 1999).

New Jersey finally started to come on in the second half getting eight of the last nine shots in the second. However, they still trailed by a deuce headed to the third. John MacLean's team came out with more urgency in the final stanza, swarming the Islanders. They quickly peppered DiPietro with seven shots the first five minutes but couldn't solve the Islander franchise netminder, who was up to the task, sliding over to deny rookie Mattias Tedenby off a nice set up from Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias. He also thwarted Ilya Kovalchuk pointblank with the lost Devil $100 million man firing a rebound wide. Kovalchuk had a rough day taking a minor while having all four of his offerings shutdown by DiPietro. The 27 year-old Russian hasn't lit the lamp in six straight, registering only an assist with a minus-four rating. It's no secret that the Devs need better from their top sniper, who remains stuck on four goals. MacLean tried Adam Mair in place of rook Alexander Vasyunov on the right side. Mystifying.

In a period controlled by the Devils who had plenty of chances to get back in it including a botched five-on-three that probably left Hasan sick from the turkey and stuffing, they didn't come close. Despite a 13-1 SOG edge, it didn't matter. The Islanders did a good job sacrificing their bodies, blocking 27 shots including a half dozen apiece from stalwarts Mark Eaton and Radek Martinek. Sadly, the dozen they combined for were one better than the entire New Jersey roster. If you subtract Anton Volchenkov (3 blocks) and Patrik Elias (4), the rest of the 16 skaters had five, typifying what was missing from a team that came in on its first two-game win streak.

The Islanders were more desperate. Even in only taking two shots on Hedberg the last half of the contest, they won most of the battles. Under Capuano, they have been more competitive earning points against Atlanta and Columbus before finally breaking through to get the monkey off their backs. Maybe loaning Josh Bailey to Bridgeport after the third-year pivot went 13 straight without a point lit a fire to the rest of the club. They did the little things that win, playing more physical with 31 hits compared to the Devs' 14. Only one Islander didn't make the stat sheet. They needed to be on the Devils, especially when back-to-back penalties to Dylan Reese (interference) and Wisniewski (double-minor hi-sticking) gave their opponent a great chance to get back in it.

Instead, the Devils failed miserably, living up to their paltry road power play record of just one goal. Believe it or not, they rank pretty high at home. The five-on-three was discombobulated with the trigger man Jason Arnott instead of Kovalchuk. Twice, he missed wide with one even caroming out. Kovalchuk played the right side and was hardly a factor, getting one low one-timer through which DiPietro snuffed out. The Islander PK outworked the Devs, hustling to loose pucks and clearing them out when their foes didn't do it themselves with questionable decision making. Pumped up by their team's desperation, the crowd gave them a loud cheer when the second of Wisniewski's penalty was over.

It seemed to take the wind out of New Jersey's sails. They hardly tested DP the final six and a half, partially due to the Islanders' grit. As time wound down, it was finally over with an emotional DiPietro jumping up and down like a kid into the arms of happy teammate Zenon Konopka. He told Deb Kaufman how much the streak had weighed on them and pointedly thanked the fans twice for continuing to support them. A great day to be an Islander. Not so good if you were a Devil.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Rob Schremp, NYI (2nd goal of season, +1 in 20 shifts-13:57)
2nd Star-Mark Eaton/Radek Martinek, NYI (
1st Star-Rick DiPietro, NYI (29 saves incl. 13/13 in 3rd for 1st SHO of season-1st since Jan. also vs NJD)

Holiday turkeys

Normally I’m coming home from work to relax before the Devils game where more often than not this year I get annoyed with the team, but today I’m coming home from work already ticked off at this joke of a team after their embarrassing no-show on Long Island during a holiday weekend matinee. Yes, you have to say the Islanders were due for a win after fourteen straight games without one and Rick DiPietro's getting almost Henrik Lundqvist-like with his ability to shut out the Devils.

All that said, there was absolutely no excuse for this team to come out the way they did in the first twenty minutes. I could have (and did for a while) turn off the radio when the Isles scored inside of two minutes, on a goal where both defensemen got caught up ice according to Matt Loughlin. This is just something that’s not done even if you’re mentally asleep and that told me all I’d need to know about this afternoon’s game. Masochist that I am though, I eventually tuned the game back on and the Devils continued to no-show right through the first period where they got outshot 13-4.

I’m sorry, if you’re getting outshot 13-4 by the Islanders you’re not trying. This is an Islanders team that was way under the salary floor even before injuries hit and is literally icing an AHL roster right now other than goalies DiPietro – who really hasn’t shown the form of his earlier career against any other team – and Dwayne Roloson. If today had been one of ‘those’ games where we outshoot the Isles 45-20 and still lost I would have been annoyed but not disappointed, but to come out like that when you need every game to try to get back in the playoff race is just flat inexcusable.

I hate to go back to this again, but this is the kind of game that gets coaches fired. Just ask current assistant Larry Robinson, who got canned in 2002 shortly after the Devils lost to a still expansion-ist Atlanta team (though they at least had an Ilya Kovalchuk with a pulse). I would bet money on it that something’s going to happen when - not if - the Flyers run us out of the Rock once again tomorrow afternoon, a game I’m unlucky enough to be going to. It’s as if I can already see what’s happened before it actually does. We lose 5-1, 6-2, the near sellout crowd boos for most of the game and starts ‘Fire Mac!’ chants and with a few days off before our next home game against Montreal something’s going to give and I can no longer complain if it involves the coach. When you can’t get your team to show up for an absolute must-win it’s just shameful.

If I have to hear the Devils just aren’t any good talentwise I’m going to scream. Even without Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner and Martin Brodeur right now they’re certainly more than good enough to put out something other than the garbage they left all over the Nassau ice. Right now, and really for this entire calendar year the Devils are every bit the disgrace that the Jeff Torborg Mets were, the ’95 Jets with Rich Kotite and the pre-lockout Rangers. This is no longer a team, it’s a collection of high-priced talent that isn’t doing jack with historically bad results to show for it.

There’s really not much else to say about today’s game except sure enough, the second period wasn’t much better as the Devils gave up another goal and continued to sleepwalk through long stretches, before finally waking up in the third period and as has been their forte, dominating without getting a goal to show for it – which included an embarrassingly inept five-on-three wrapped in the middle of a double major penalty on James Wisniewski (probably the only current Islander defenseman I’ve ever heard of with Mark Streit and ex-Devil Mike Mottau on the shelf, among others).

To call tomorrow’s game a must-win is being too generous of our chances to actually win the game, especially after CALGARY of all teams beat the Flyers in a shootout today. Unlike our team, which seems to enjoy wallowing in misery - they’re not going to stand for two subpar results in a row. They actually have leadership, not to mention coaching (gee, too bad Lou didn’t even give Peter Laviolette an interview when he was sitting out there). However, let’s call it like it is - it absolutely is a must-win for Johnny MacLean. I’m not a betting man but again, I’d wager serious dough the other shoe drops by Monday if we endure the embarrassment I expect.

And from what I’ve seen from this team since January there’s no reason to expect anything different from tomorrow’s game.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rangers hit by Lightning Bolt

How fast is Steven Stamkos? Well, perhaps in hockey terms, he's the NHL's equivalent to Usain Bolt. The league's best offensive player continued to dominate, scoring and setting up two others in a 5-3 Lightning win over the Rangers which wasn't that close.

Just how bad were the Blueshirts? In keeping with the Thanksgiving tradition which most families will be celebrating, they were turkeys, getting completely outplayed by a much quicker Tampa club that dismantled the PK which came in having killed 24 straight. If there's such a thing as automatic, it's the Bolts' power play which boasts top scorer Stamkos and one of the game's best quarterbacks, Martin St. Louis. Naturally, our flat team took penalties and watched like Tinmen as they showed them how it's done. Moving the puck like a magnet, they connected three times, including an identical pair off Stamkos rebounds by Ryan Malone, who proved to be a headache.

The Rangers never established anything, falling behind quickly when Malone was allowed to bang into an irate Henrik Lundqvist and stuff home a rebound. Aside from forgetting to show the first 40 minutes, the road club was treated like garbage by the blind mice in stripes. Fairly appropriate considering how many times our goalie was mugged. Since when is it okay to skate into the crease and bang into the netminder without even attempting to get out of the way? This occurred at least four times and not a darn thing was done. Hell. They even nabbed Henrik for unsportsmanlike conduct (diving). They already stunk, getting only seven shots on Mike Smith the first two stanzas including a measly one the first 13-plus of the second.

Aside from our top line (Frolov-Anisimov-Gaborik) taking the night off, the Lightning had the puck most of the game due to total faceoff domination. I forget the numbers but I think we won like 22 and they had more than double. Do the math. It just doesn't compute. Our faceoffs have been an issue all year but they've escaped due to a great work ethic. Something that wasn't there.

From the goal out, it was a nightmare. To be fair, Lundqvist was left to fend for himself. He did let up a bad rebound on Malone's second PPG and should've had Steve Downie's one-timer from 40 out which ended all doubt, putting Tampa up 4-zip. It would late be credited to Brett Clark, who was to Lundqvist's side. Maybe he snuck a stick in but eh. It wasn't a good goal. Perhaps John Tortorella's decision to rest our franchise backstop backfired. He had a five day layoff. Whatever the reason, Lundqvist again wasn't what he needs to be allowing three-or-more for like the ninth 10th time. Disturbing.
I didn't even see the fifth goal but I'm assuming there wasn't much he could do. He is a stand up guy and admitted there were at least two he felt he made the wrong plays on but otherwise felt good and liked the way he responded in the third, including denying Malone's bid for a hat trick. Too bad nobody kicked the stuffing out of him.

With the Islanders and Devils more interesting, we kinda went away from this one. I also picked up a futuristic honoring my friend Lyndzay who's no longer with us eight months now. His family came in from Atlanta for Turkey Day. Getting back to the game, before I left Steve Eminger out of all people scored snapping the shutout off a nice setup from Derek Stepan. One of the few Rangers who competed. You can figure out the others. Tort threw his top line under the bus. Particularly Gaborik, who must be better. Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky always show as do Eminger, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, who deserves to be an All-Star. Too bad he won't get a sniff while Sean Avery racks up votes in the meaningless exhibition. If only Avery contributed on the score sheet. When the hell is the last time he drew a penalty? I know Tort doesn't use him properly but come on. He's underachieved. Besides, he's got a target on his back which apparently hit again because he had the audacity to stand up for a fallen teammate. So, the dopes tossed him (17 PIM). Probably was phoned in by the NHL Police.

At least they made it interesting late thanks to a Brian Boyle shorthander while I was out, texted by my Dad. That's TEN!!!!! TEN GOALS for Brian Boyle while a dog like Frolov is stuck on five. Congrats to the Boston kid. All the hard work has paid off. What a year. One other point which I mentioned in pre-game tweets. I wouldn't have matched the Arty line against Stamkos. Tortorella screwed up using them against the best line in hockey. Not shockingly, they got exposed. Why not try Boyle's energy do everything unit with Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust? God forbid we match our scoring lines against lesser lites giving ourselves a chance. The strategy made zero sense.

I know our D didn't play great but this was more a product of too many guys up front mailing it in. Sloppy turnovers and lazy penalties doesn't add up. Combine a lethal PP and it can get bad in a hurry. I know he hasn't gotten much of a shake from the coach but Matt Gilroy has played well. I'd really like to see him stay in the lineup when Michal Rozsival potentially returns in Friday's match at Florida. He probably won't because they refuse to sit Mike Del Zotto, who if he's not contributing is still a project in his end. I wish Joe Micheletti would just shut up already!

One miracle did take place in this travesty in the form of a five-on-three goal. Yes, this happened when Gabby setup Stepan, who ripped his fifth cutting it to 5-3 with like a minute and change left. D-Step now has eight points over seven games and got rewarded with 21+ minutes while Anisimov (9+) and Frolov (12+) rode the pine. That's what I admire about Tort. He will make examples of guys. Arty hasn't been good lately. They need better. And Fro has been a mystery all season. At least in Jersey, it's understood why his Russian comrade Ilya Kovalchuk can't score.

Trailing by two with under 60 seconds remaining, Tort pulled Lundqvist for a six-on-four. Gabby nearly cut it to one but his shot was blocked, allowing the Bolts to finally escape.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Derek Stepan, NYR (PPG plus assist)
2nd Star-Ryan Malone, TB (2 power play goals)
1st Star-Steven Stamkos, TB (league leading 20th of season, 2 helpers)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hedberg leads Devils to ugly shootout win over Calgary

Yeah, I know there's no such thing as an ugly win - especially when you're 6-13-2, beggars can't be choosers. That said, color me unimpressed by the team's performance tonight on home ice two nights after a dominant win over Washington. It wasn't so much that the game was tough (a 1-1 tie before the shootout), I kind of expected that. What I was dissapointed in was the team's approach, particularly once we got the lead it seemed as if we played to hold on to a 1-0 lead and you really can't do that with two AHL defenders and Andy Greene, whose plus-minus is indiciative of his scary defensive play right now. Also, towards the end of regulation we were definitely playing for overtime with multiple icings down the stretch. Somewhat embarassingly, we didn't even muster a single scoring chance in the entire third period.

So how did we win? Look no further than our young-old Swedish connection of 38-year old Johan Hedberg and 20-year old wunderkid Mattais Tedenby. Hedberg was strong again in goal, making 25 stops in regulation and overtime, as well as stopping all three Calgary attempts in the shootout. Tedenby was largely responsible for the Devils' lone goal of the game when his shot glanced off of David Clarkson, who was credited with his fourth goal of the season at 13:06 of the first. To his credit, Clarkson has continued his strong play of late, going to the net more and finally looking like the player of two years ago again.

And while I'm praising the Swedes, a tip of the cap for Henrik Tallinder, who's played 25+ minutes the last two games and been matched up against Alexander Ovechkin and Jarome Iginla, helping to keep both off the board. Perhaps his learning curve of the system has finally been overcome. Paired with Colin White and with a forward core of Brian Rolston, Travis Zajac and Clarkson the fivesome have become our newest version of the 'checking line'. With Tedenby combining with vets Patrik Elias and Jason Arnott to give us a semblance of a scoring line, at least things are starting to come together a little bit up front - though goals weren't much a part of the equation tonight after our five-spot against the Caps Monday.

Still, the team as a whole played prevent offense too much and though Hedberg held the fort for the longest time eventually the Flames were going to get a goal, and it came early in the third when Rene Bourque's deflection found its way through at 1:18. With the game tied, it was all the Devils could do to hang on and force overtime, taking numerous icings late and finally getting a much-needed point. In overtime, the Devils had a glorious chance to get two when Mark Giordano's penalty gave New Jersey an overtime power play. Despite several quality chances though, the Flames and backup goalie Henrik Karlsson stood tall (pun intended with Karlsson's size) and killed off our power play.

Finally, it came to the shootout and deja vu as Ilya Kovalchuk was selected to go first for us. Our last shootout attempt came at home, with Kovalchuk's well-documented flub against the Sabres becoming highlight fodder on sports shows around North America. This time however, he kept the puck and rifled one of his patented wristers past Karlsson for the first, and as it turned out only goal of the shootout. Ironically Tedenby lost the puck on the second shot, leading me to wonder aloud if someone else's shooter would ever lose it during a shootout. Thankfully we didn't need them to, as Hedberg stopped all three attempts from Niklas Hagman, Alex Tanguay and Brendan Morrison to preserve a much-needed win.

With a matchup against the Islanders Friday afternoon on Long Island comes an opportunity to extend our modest streak further, since the Isles are working on a whopper of a losing streak - fourteen in a row and counting, though a couple of those were OT/SO losses. Either way, I'd gladly take another two points. Hopefully the team shows a little more willingness to play in the offensive zone against a ridiculously undermanned opponent. Especially with a game against the Flyers Saturday that I don't expect us to get anything out of, then again I didn't expect diddly-poo from the Caps game either.

Funny, with all the hulabaloo about Brent Sutter's return to the Rock in the media this week I don't feel much like commenting on it now. I hate to admit this but I will...I think Sutter handled everything about as well as he could have this week given the circumstances - not ducking the tough questions, heaping praise on GM Lou Lamoriello and coach John MacLean, calling Lou a father figure and stating he thought Johnny Mac would be a good coach for the organization and that he still talks to both here and there. He even cracked a joke with former teammate Chico Resch in the pregame, after Resch's comment about being old friends, Sutter quipped, 'well you're old, I'm not'.

Everyone knows the circumstances of Sutter's departure and quick arrival in Calgary to work under brother Darryl, but I'm not bitter at this point - though admittedly it's largely because Sutter's tenure in Calgary hasn't gone all that great with the Flames missing the playoffs last year for the first time in six seasons and having a losing record so far this year. Plus unlike the other turncoat coach in my sporting life, at least Sutter didn't trash the Devils every which way on the way out the way Bill Belichick has the Jets for the better part of a decade (nor has he won as much as Billy B, of course).

All that said, I didn't care much for Chico calling the criticism of Sutter a media creation and saying it's not a big deal with the fans. Okay he wasn't booed by a sellout crowd a la Scott Gomez or Sean Avery, but let's face it - a midweek game against Calgary isn't going to be an attendance magnet anyway. Plus you only get to boo the coach once, in the pregame introductions and not everyone's in their seat by then. There is a lot of bitterness and rightly so, especially since Sutter did take an NHL job less than two weeks later. Not that I don't expect Chico to defend his friend and former teammate, but it got a little much at times. I don't care what the Flames need to do Chico, we've got our own problems.

At least our first winning streak since early April provide a bit of relief for everyone associated with the Devils going into Thanksgiving, for the moment.

Mattias Tedenby Penalty Shot Goal

                                        Another highlight from Monday took place in Newark where the Devils exploded for three goals in the first en route to a 5-0 blanking of the Capitals, getting a much needed win for John MacLean. Jason Arnott tallied twice and Patrik Elias had a neat power play redirect of a Mattias Tedenby shot as New Jersey got 30 saves from Johan Hedberg for his 15th career shutout. However, the play of the game took place late in that first when Ilya Kovalchuk sprang the Swede rookie for a breakaway. John Erskine took him down leading to the most exciting play in hockey. The penalty shot! As he had in a Saturday loss at St. Louis, Tedenby made no mistake flying in before going to his bread and butter, sneaking a backhand deke past Braden Holtby for his second consecutive game with a goal. In only six games since being recalled from Albany, the 20 year-old speedy wiz is showing why the Devils took him in the first round two years ago (2008-21st overall). With a goal and helper, he's 3-2-5 thus far and has taken 20 shots. He's been used mostly with Arnott and Elias but might Mac try the gifted right wing with Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus? It might be worth the risk if it helps the Devils' $100 million man get going. The Devils host Benedict Arnold's Flames tonight in what should amount to a very intriguing match. You know the fans will be ready for Brent Sutter. Can the Devs finally win two straight? We'll see.

Staal's hit on Stajan

In case you missed it during Monday's 2-1 Ranger win over Calgary, Marc Staal caught Matt Stajan flush with a clean shoulder KOing the Flame center with 10:21 left in the third. As Stajan makes a backhand pass with his head down, the fourth-year Ranger defenseman follows through with a left shoulder across the ex-Leaf's right shoulder, connecting with the chin. The refs got it correct not calling a penalty on the play which in no way was malicious. Simply put, Staal caught him and made certain it was from the front. No question it was lethal. However, there was nothing wrong with it and reminded us of classic Scott Stevens across the Hudson. You hope Stajan will be okay going forward. But for Staal, this is exactly what we need to see more of. We're not advocating injuring guys here but just playing physical. It's the way this team plays and why they've had success. Tonight, they get tested by leading scorer Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. We'll see if Staal, Danny G and Co. are up to the challenge on Turkey Eve in St. Pete.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hedberg turns boos to moose calls in dominant Devils performance

Even two hours after the Devils wasted the defending President's Trophy winners 5-0 I'm still at a loss to explain where this performance came from. After all, the Caps - despite being down to their third-string goaltender Braden Holtby - still led the NHL with 30 points in their first 20 games while the Devils had only mustered twelve in their first twenty (avoiding last only thanks to the Islanders' thirteen-game losing streak), with most of our roster on IR or MIA. Our coach has been under fire, and our superstar hasn't been living up to his contract. Plus the game was in New Jersey, where the Devils had exactly one home win this year, which came in OT against one of the few teams even worse than us.

So naturally the Devils picked tonight to throw up their most dominant performance of the season, scoring all of their goals in the first 27:48 of the contest. In fact, our three first-period goals represented as many as we scored total on our most recent three-game road trip (all losses), and as far as I can remember our first three-goal period of the entire season. Last night, I wasn't kidding when I told my friend I was worried we'd lose this and the Flyers game on Saturday by three goals at best.

Before the game, the Devils honored the late Pat Burns with a video tribute to the tune of Sarah McLachlan's 'I Will Remember You' followed by a moment of silence. During the intermissions they played the Hockey Night in Canada tribute to Burns during the first and the MSG+ one from Saturday night during the second. Of course, the Devils wore a black patch with the initials 'PB' on their jerseys - with the intent of using the jerseys for four home games before auctioning them off and donating the proceeds to a cancer hospice in Burns' memory.

Despite yet another tough loss in St. Louis on Saturday, the Devils came to play tonight, in a big way - getting on the board at 5:49, when a beautiful deflection from Patrik Elias off a Mattais Tedenby shot gave us that rarest of accomplishements: an actual power play goal! Not to mention just having the lead, those have been few and far between this year too. Perhaps that goal loosened the team up as they had maybe their best period of the season, holding the high-flying Caps to just four shots on net and scoring three goals on our nine. Jason Arnott would score our second of the game and his seventh of the season on a wraparound at 16:15 after defenseman Tyler Sloan got tangled up with Holtby in front of the net.

Just two minutes later, Caps defenseman John Erskine hauled down Tedenby on a breakaway, resulting a penalty shot - which the young Swede converted with poise, giving him his third goal in a six-game old NHL career thus far. Early in the second period, Arnott got his second of the game off a rebound from an Elias shot at 2:43, with Andy Greene getting his second assist of the night. Danius Zubrus concluded the scoring just over five minutes later, getting his third of the season and the rout was on. When the score got to 5-0, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau finally used his timeout. Too little, too late.

In general, the rest of the game became about goaltender Johan Hedberg, as the Caps outshot us 26-14 in the final two periods but Hedberg stood tall under pressure, including a nice glove save on Alexander Semin that was Brodeur-esque. Sure, most of his saves came after the game was out of hand but really Hedberg was under a different kind of pressure from the start, after being benched for third-stringer Mike McKenna in St. Louis on Saturday. McKenna played well in that game, only giving up the flukiest of goals - a goalmouth scrum where the ref should have blown play dead five seconds before the goal, a fluky bounce off the boards and a brilliant deflection of a shot that was several feet wide - and Hedberg was getting no guarantees from coach Johnny MacLean that he would play by rote while Martin Brodeur was out.

Perhaps someone else would have taken the benching Saturday as a snub, or sulked when the crowd jeered him during his first (disasterous) start of the season against the Sabres, giving up four goals on twelve shots. To his credit he took the high road both times, not criticizing the fans or the coach. Maybe he had no other choice - despite improved play since his ill-fated first start, Hedberg still came into the game with just one win, a 4.53 GAA and .855 save percentage overall. Still though, Hedberg is a proud veteran and you couldn't help but feel good for him in the final minute when the crowd alternated 'Hedberg!' chants with moose calls as the veteran Swede finished off his 15th career shutout.

At least tonight was a reprieve from a nightmarish season so far, but if the team's ever going to turn it around perhaps this kind of dominance against a good team will spark it. Three of our other wins came by one goal against bad-mediocre teams and our 3-0 shutout of Montreal a few weeks back was nowhere near as dominant as this one (especially with being outshot by a wide margin in that game). With games against a subpar Calgary team Wednesday and the aformentioned Islanders on Long Island Friday come our best chance of the season to actually put together a win streak. Finally, they know they can score goals - well except Ilya Kovalchuk , whose subpar game was the only blemish on a near-perfect night at the Rock.

Now it's time to stick it to Brent Sutter and the Flames Wednesday and try to at least see if we can start to turn this thing around in the right direction.

Mar--rttty makes it two in a row

They chanted Mar---rrtttyy, Mar---rrtttyy at the Garden tonight. Who says backups don't get love? Make it two in a row for Martin Biron. Indeed, the backup put on a show, making 31 saves in lifting the Rangers to a 2-1 win over the Flames for their second consecutive win.

In a 5-2 win over Minnesota, he got plenty of support. This time, Biron had little margin for error. The 33 year-old from Quebec was strong in netting his third straight victory on home ice. Amazingly, he has three of the five wins at MSG. Think Henrik Lundqvist is jealous? I don't think he cares as long they win and thankfully, John Tortorella made the right decision, giving his starter a couple of extra days to prepare for leading sniper Steven Stamkos, who added to his total with No.20 in Tampa's 21st game. Something tells us Henrik will be on his toes Wednesday in St. Pete.

While Lundqvist got another night off, he watched Biron stand tall against a gritty Calgary team intent on mixing it up with our guys. In the first, rookie defenseman Mike Sauer boarded Stefan Meyer from behind and immediately was challenged by Tom Kostopoulos. A few minutes after matching minors, the two squared off. It was the first of two scraps for Sauer, who also accepted Meyer's challenge and gave as good as he got. He later played another stellar game making some key defensive gems. In between the fisticuffs, the Rangers carried much of the play once leading in shots 8-1 before Calgary found their legs. The game remained scoreless after one.

Matt Gilroy gives kudos to Brian Boyle for his ninth goal.

Brian Boyle snapped the scoreless tie 2:08 into period two when his centering feed for Ruslan Fedotenko banked off Brendan Mikkelson and in past Miikka Kiprusoff. Defensive stalwart Dan Girardi started the play with a good defensive read forcing Calgary into a turnover. He then sprung Boyle and Fedotenko on a two-on-one. Boyle faked shot but his pass turned into goal No.9, ending a four-game drought. Coincidentally, the longest of the season. The look on Fedotenko said it all. That line with former Flame Brandon Prust was tremendous, getting pucks in deep while also being defensively responsible. The scrappy trio really have become a fixture. They all play physical and do little things that win.

Before the crowd could settle in, the Flames assumed control with their tenacious forecheck pinning our D in much of the second. However, it would be off a turnover in the offensive zone that led to Jarome Iginla staying hot, tying things up. The power forward who got off to such a miserable start entered with five goals in the last two including a hat trick in a rout over Detroit. He continued his tear when all three Ranger forwards got caught deep, including Ryan Callahan. Skating three-on-one, Jay Bouwmeester dished across for an Iginla layup, responding 3:08 later to Boyle's tally. Matt Stajan added a helper. Unfortunately, his night ended abruptly later courtesy of a clean Marc Staal hit.

With Calgary continuing to get chances off their cycle, Biron held the Blueshirts in making 10 saves to give his team a chance. The stanza turned when Callahan landed a thunderous check on Bouwmeester that drew the ire of Curtis Glencross. No stranger to rough stuff following last year's dangerous cheapshot that concussed Chris Drury at The Saddledome, he twice went after Callahan. It was the second dopey shenanigans where he crosschecked Cally high from behind that cost his team. Sure. He got two minutes but that was the kind of play that doesn't belong in the game. There was nothing wrong with Ryan's hit. Even Sean Avery had to answer for a similar hit before igniting a brawl against Edmonton. Remember when clean hits were respected? Not anymore.

Callahan, who simply was firing up his team, drew a penalty. On it, the Rangers took full advantage. Off a clean faceoff win (not a misprint) by emerging rookie Derek Stepan, Girardi stepped into a wrist shot which went off Kiprusoff and in for a power play goal. It was Girardi's first PPG and first goal in 19 games. Stepan's assist gives him six points over the last six games. When he came out of the box, Glencross warned to Callahan that it wasn't over. A punk move. He was probably just sulking because his stupidity wound up being the difference.

Nursing a one-goal lead, the Rangers played a spunky third against the feisty Flames who tried virtually everything to tie it. Biron was outstanding, stoning Iginla three separate times on the doorstep leading to chants of his name. The closest Calgary came was a dangerous sequence that saw Biron down and out after a couple of saves. But Brendan Morrison partially fanned on his shot hitting the side of the net to even more cheers. The Flames threw 15 shots at Biron and he got them all. When he wasn't busy, his teammates helped him out with solid defensive plays with both the D- particularly Steve Eminger- and forwards coming back to break up opportunities. The Blueshirts got their sticks in passing lanes and Eminger took a hard Iginla one-timer on a power play by laying out. He really has risen since Michal Rozsival went down.

The highlight of the third though came when Staal absolutely leveled Stajan drawing oooh's and ahhh's. After making a pass, Stajan didn't have his head up and Staal made him pay by coming across with a clean right shoulder knocking the former Leaf to the ice. Prust played peacemaker. The hit wasn't delivered with malicious intent. Staal made sure to direct it from in front and not the side. Not shockingly, Stajan didn't return. Hopefully, he'll be alright. On the next shift, Iginla ran Staal as the physicality increased. Considering that these two teams rarely see each other, there was plenty of intensity making for a chippy and entertaining affair. One of the better 2-1 games you'll see.

With less than nine minutes left, Tortorella sent out Derek Boogaard for one whale of a shift. He was looking to go with Tim Jackman and took and landed some heavy hits. With a buzz in the air, Jackman tried to sucker Boogey into taking a penalty but he only dropped his gloves before retrieving them and backing off. Very sensible by the big man who's gaining notoriety.

The Rangers came close to making it 3-1 but Callahan's wraparound was thwarted by a sliding Kipper. As the final couple of minutes hit, the crowd energized sensing the moment. Their heroes wouldn't break on this night, playing smart defensive hockey. In particular, Brandon Dubinsky helped seal it with some great work and one last break-up at the blueline made it official. A well earned 'W' on home ice.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Jarome Iginla, Cgy (9th of season, 5 SOG, 4 hits, 6-2 draws, +1 in 21:50)
2nd Star-Dan Girardi, NYR (2nd of season-1st PPG, assist, 3 SOG, 2 hits, 3 blocked shots in 24:28)
1st Star-Martin Biron, NYR (31 saves incl. 15/15 in 3rd for 3rd home win, 5th of season)

Ranger Preview: Biron in again tonight versus Flames

Martin Biron gets the nod again in net when the Flames pay a visit to MSG tonight. The vet backup's done an admirable job thus far, allowing John Tortorella to rest Henrik Lundqvist more. As noted, King Henrik wasn't sharp the last two outings letting in a few questionable goals in losses to Boston and Colorado in which he got yanked.

He understands the decision and how he must perform when he gets back in against dangerous leading scorer Steven Stamkos and Tampa Bay when the Rangers hit the road for three games beginning on Turkey Eve.

"I don't want to be selfish. It's about the team. Marty played well the other night and we won. I think I can be more consistent," Lundqvist told The Record's Andrew Gross via Twitter. "It's about making better decisions. It starts in your head.

With Tort going with the hot hand, it allows our franchise netminder to get more rest and also work on technique with goalie coach Benoit Allaire. As Elissa (sarcasmpucktail) alluded to in her post, the last time they rested him two straight he came back with his best effort, stoning the Pens in a wild 3-2 overtime win in which he shut them out for 57 minutes. With the annual Thanksgiving trip to the Sunshine State with stops in Tampa and Florida before traveling to Music City for a date with the Predators, it's understandable why Lundqvist is being saved. The schedule is picking up and we need him to be mentally fresh.

For Biron, it'll be a good test against the inconsistent Flames who can go from blowing out teams like in their 7-2 rout of Detroit to losing games badly. You never can tell with Brent Sutter's club. Jarome Iginla is finally hot scoring five over two games including a hat trick versus the Wings. Alex Tanguay has turned back the clock, putting up points in bunches. So, they present a stiff challenge for Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. How much will Steve Eminger see of the duo?

As for Olli Jokinen and Ales Kotalik, neither will play with the Jokester serving a three-game suspension for a cheapshot while Ally remains sidelined with an injury. But the best player in the trade Brandon Prust, who battled through a charley horse to play a whale of a game the other night, gets to face his former 'mates. The rugged winger called the trade the best thing for his career where he's seen an increased role, also serving as a PK fixture. Good for Prusty.

I'll catch what I can after basketball scrimmages in Park Slope and maybe the gym. See ya later.

Byfuglien makes it unlucky 13 for Islanders

They played better but it still wasn't enough. Dustin Byfuglien's big blast at 1:30 of overtime proved the difference in the Thrashers' 2-1 win, extending the Islander losing streak to an unlucky 13. At least they earned a point. Only the second time during their worst stretch of hockey since a 14-game winless slide 20 years ago (2/13-3/15, 1990).

We had several chances to win, club leader Matt Moulson said after calling out some teammates during Saturday's 4-1 home loss. “We have to score goals. … You can’t take comfort in getting just one point.

The team's offensive woes have seen them score just 12 times over the last 11 games. On a night Rick DiPietro returned to the net for the first time in 18 days and was surprisingly sharp, only Michael Grabner lit the lamp late in the second, deflecting home a Frans Nielsen shot for a 1-0 lead with a period left. But they couldn't hold it with one-time Ranger Nik Antropov blasting one past DiPietro on the power play 2:25 into the third.

DiPietro, who finished with 33 saves for his most in two years, came up large with under seven minutes left in regulation when he stoned Jim Slater on a breakaway, flexing his right pad to keep it tied. Unfortunately, a breakdown during OT allowed Byfuglien to get loose in the slot and bury the winner. On the play, John Tavares fell down at the blueline which gave Big Buff plenty of room to use his wheels to skate in and step into a perfect laser high blocker that sent Atlanta fans home happy.

I’m not sure what happened,” DiPietro said. “He made a nice shot. ... It’s unacceptable for us. We need to win games. There are no excuses. … It’s frustrating, because we know what we’re capable of doing.

He [DiPietro] was our best player,” praised interim coach Jack Capuano who slipped to 0-3 since relieving Scott Gordon. “He was outstanding. He was what I thought he was going to be.

The Islanders have been outscored a preposterous 48-18 during the futile stretch which interrupted a 4-1-2 start. Under Capuano, the offensive woes have continued with the team only able to muster four goals while giving up 10. At some point, it has to stop. Their effort was much better yesterday. Unfortunately, they ran into a hot goalie in Ondrej Pavelec who's allowed just three in three straight starts. His best save was a highlight reel one on P.A. Parenteau with under five minutes to go in the third. The Isles were on a power play and a Mark Eaton shot rebounded right to Parenteau, who quickly fired for what looked like a sure goal only to see a sprawling Pavelec somehow reach with his glove to snatch it away. The former Ranger could only look skyward in disbelief. The Atlanta goalie made 28 saves in posting a second consecutive win.

DP expressed even more to MSG's Rob Carlin via Twitter on how difficult it's been on the team:

This eats at us. This is keeping guys up at night and making us sick to our stomachs."

The Islanders also lost vet defenseman Mike Mottau to an eye injury. The ex-Devil was struck by a puck in the right eye and taken off on a stretcher to an Atlanta hospital where he remained before returning home this afternoon. Hopefully, he'll be alright.

"First off, you pray that (Mottau) is alright and that it's nothing career-threatening or anything like that," concerned teammate Mark Eaton told Newsday. "Hopefully we'll get some idea pretty soon that he's alright."

If he does miss time as expected, he'd become the fifth Islander regular on the blueline to sit out joining top D Mark Streit, Milan Jurcina, Jack Hillen and Andrew MacDonald. It's hard to compete when you are injury-plagued. This happened last year too. Makes ya wonder if there's a curse.

In the mean time, the Islanders get two days off before hosting the improved Blue Jackets on Thanksgiving Eve followed by the equally struggling Devils on Black Friday for an early 1 PM start. Hopefully, they'll finally score enough to get the monkey off their back.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Del Zotto, Rangers rebound in win over Wild

Marian Gaborik's return to Minnesota was a success with the former Wild star notching a helper while playing with more edge in the Rangers' 5-2 win at Minnesota, ending a two-game losing streak.

Resilient. That's how I'd describe this team. What we got the night before in Colorado wasn't who these guys are. In John Tortorella's brief postgame in which Dolan crony Sam Rosen kept pushing the envelope, he indicated that they had another game the next day and would try to play much better. That they did with even some improvement from Mike Del Zotto, who actually scored on the power play in a 5-2 over the Wild at Excel Energy Center- making Marian Gaborik and Derek Boogaard's returns a success.

You’d like to think we’re developing a little bit of mental toughness in trying to grind through and stop the bleeding after a game like last night,” a much happier coach expressed.
We’ve had tough training camps and it shows,” pointed out Del Zotto who snapped a 19-game drought with his power play goal only his second goal and first since Oct.11. “Our conditioning is at peak level right now, and it’s been working for us.

What I liked most was that much like the season, many different Rangers contributed with five different scorers and 12 of the 18 players dressed making the score sheet. Quintessential hockey from our team in a game they had to have, ending a two-game skid. Both Gaborik and Boogaard factored in equally. This isn't a misprint. Boogie played an inspired game against his former club, finishing checks and even laying a big hit that set up the first goal by Artem Anisimov. As for Gabby, the former Wild star heard the boos as expected but didn't let it affect him, playing aggressively throughout despite little room. He assisted on Alex Frolov's winner to put an exclamation point on a great second that saw our heroes outscore the Wild 3-zip while outshooting the St. Paul hosts 17-4.

"Great feeling. Now this is kind of over with,” No.10 said after it was over. “I had been thinking about it for a while. Quite frankly, I was nervous to be on the other side.
 “It was a different kind of nervousness,” he added after hiking his season point total to nine in nine games. “When I got that first shift under my belt it was fine for me.
Though he didn't score against his former team thanks to Niklas Backstrom making a couple of good saves on half his team-leading four shots, Gaborik played with purpose, landing two hits on former 'mate Greg Zanon while helping out defensively. He also drew plenty of attention at the blueline, which helped Frolov sneak a wraparound by Backstrom with a minute left in the middle frame. That kind of assertiveness helped the Rangers improve to 5-0 in the second of back-to-backs this season.

We always play well in the second game because I think the will and commitment to stay with the system in how we play remains strong,” noted Boogaard after his physicality resulted in a goal along with three hits in eight shifts along with a plus-one. After a tight first which saw each team test the goalies, the Boogey Man went to work with a clean takeout of Robbie Earl keeping the puck alive for Minnesota native Mike Sauer, who dished across for Matt Gilroy, whose shot rebounded out to Anisimov for a layup. It was his sixth goal and first point in four games with Tort flipping him with Erik Christensen, who actually showed a pulse between Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan.

"Boogey made the play that made the first goal,” said winning netminder Martin Biron who got the start for Henrik Lundqvist, making 26 stops for his third win in four starts . “He crushed that guy [Earl] along the wall and he brought the physicality we were looking for in our game. He might have played one of his best games. It’s great to see.
Mike Del Zotto receives congrats after scoring on the power play.

In a period they dominated, the Rangers also got an assist from the refs when they wrongly sent Brent Burns off for a phantom trip. The brutal call led to rookie Derek Stepan making two great plays before setting up Del Zotto's goal. With Gaborik on dropping the puck for Dan Girardi at the point, Stepan dragged his skate to stay on-side to collective groans. A play that looked offside initially wasn't with another kid from Minnesota making good in his return home with a great cross-ice feed for an open Del Zotto, who took his time burying it for a two-goal lead at 14:54.

Not too many times am I going to get back to play in Minnesota and play at the Xcel, so every time I do it will be something special,” the former '08 second round pick mentioned after improving to 2-0 with Mom watching in the stands. “(Tonight) is something I won’t forget.” Of his 10 points, nearly half (1-3-4) have come in front of family with also the memorable NHL debut in which he became the third player to record a hat trick in the season opener at Buffalo. Even more uplifting is that D-Step's got five points in the last five games and is fitting in nicely with Gaborik and Frolov- giving the coach no reason to take him off the top line.
Speaking of Frolov, he finished off his fifth (1st in four games) thanks to Gaborik and Girardi, who combined on the crusher with smart plays. First, Gabby drew three Wild defenders at the blueline. Then Girardi pushed the puck down for the crafty Russian, whose stuff try banked in off a Wild stick.

Dubinsky increased to 4-0 thanks to a great individual effort. The third-year Alaskan blocked a Cal Clutterbuck shot and forced him at the blueline, then slipping through for a clean breakaway in which he deked Backstrom forehand for his team-leading 12th. A good sign as it was just his second over the last eight after starting on fire with 10 in the first 13. He's still managed four points over the past four (2-2-4) for a club best 19 points (12-7-19).

Leading by four and on another power play, the Blueshirts sagged. On a night he mostly stood out for the right reasons, including stronger defensive play even if Joe Micheletti drove us nuts with his banter, Del Zotto made a poor read at the point missing a hip check on attacking Minnesota penalty killer Kyle Brodziak. Brodziak made no mistake centering for one-time Ranger Matt Cullen, who buried his fourth for the first shorthanded goal allowed by our team. Exactly the kind of mistakes Del Zotto must stay away from. Easily correctable in practice. Cullen's fourth from Brodziak and Burns gave the crowd life. But a damaging blow came 80 seconds later when Brandon Prust, Brian Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko put together an impressive shift leading to Feds' fourth.

Prust, who was a game-time decision following a charlie horse that saw him limping during the morning session- played with vigor all game. He was even struggling in warm-ups but still convinced Tort to play him. The throw in in the Olli Jokinen trade has turned into a player, always working hard and becoming a fixture on the improving PK which blanked the No.1 power play in four chances. He epitomizes what this team is about. On the goal, he worked the puck to Boyle who then got it to Fedotenko, whose quick backhand beat Backstrom, restoring a four-goal lead with 5:52 remaining. Though Martin Havlat got one back from a bad angle on Biron 63 seconds later, there was little doubt about the outcome.

It was great to get that kind of win for all the guys we have that had ties to this area,” Biron diplomatically said of Gaborik, Boogaard, Stepan, and Sauer with the improving first-year defenseman having as many as 35 supporters in attendance. “And it was good to stop the bleeding after the way we played (Friday) night.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Brandon Prust, NYR (assist, 2 hits, +1 in 19 gritty shifts-16:03)
2nd Star-Mike Sauer, NYR (assist, 3 blocked shots, +1 in 22 shifts-15:55)
1st Star-Dan Girardi, NYR (2 assists, 3 blocked shots, 6 hits, +1 in 33 shifts-24:34)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gaborik and Boogaard return to Minnesota

Later tonight, two players make their returns to Minnesota. Both Marian Gaborik and Derek Boogaard will be in the Ranger lineup when they visit the Wild at Xcel Energy Center for what's expected to be a Wild atmosphere.

In his first year on Broadway, Gaborik missed the initial return with an injury but heard boos from the Minny crowd. It doesn't figure to change for the former Wild No.1 pick who spent the first part of his career with the expansion club, totaling 219 goals and 218 assists for 437 points in 502 games over eight seasons. While many allude to Gabby's five-goal game against the Rangers ironically enough two years ago, the highlight was when the talented Slovak helped carry Minnesota to the Conference Finals in 2003- netting nine goals and eight helpers for 17 points before falling to the Jean-Sebastien Giguere led Ducks.

Unfortunately, the superstar would be marred by injuries, including controversy his final year when fans questioned if he was sitting out too long under a coach he didn't like in Jacques Lemaire. For more on his Wild career, good Tweep Hockette had plenty to say on Gabby and Boogie's returns on a bizarre night that' ll include fans being handed out Marian Gaborik bobble heads commemorating the franchise's 10-year anniversary. Yikes.

As for Boogaard, he was a cult favorite and should be well received. Even if all he can do is fight, albeit not as much in his final Wild days, he's gotten more favorable reviews from a quartet of Minny bloggers who discussed the big night with Puck Daddy's Sean Leahy earlier today. Will Boogie drop 'em against a former teammate? Hard to say. New enforcer Brad Staubitz is much smaller and probably out of his league. Cal Clutterbuck not only delivers thunderous hits but now leads the Wild with seven goals, including three over his last four. It's unlikely that Colton Gillies would dress. Perhaps rook Matt Kassian (6-5, 252) will get his shot.

How will Gaborik feel? Will he be able to perform in an arena that treated him well for so long? His team needs a spark following the embarrassing 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Avs. By far the worst loss of the season. The Rangers were barely competitive, giving us only a strong second half in the first where returning Colorado starter Craig Anderson made a few sparklers. But they came out dead in the second from goalie out with Henrik Lundqvist permitting three clunkers on 16 shots to get pulled by John Tortorella, marking his second straight poor outing. Tonight, King Henrik gets to watch Martin Biron, who was expected to start regardless. Can he provide a lift?

They'll need to play with more edge against what's sure to be a fired up Wild club out for redemption. Historically, the Rangers don't play well in this building. And they always seem to go into funks whenever they lose in Colorado. Especially around Thanksgiving. Are we about to see it rare its ugly head again? This team has proven they will compete, which is why last night was so disappointing. It was the first time they really looked like they quit. There also was the continued Mike Del Zotto regression in which the second-year defenseman had some dreadful turnovers and was on for four goals against, finishing minus-four. It's way past the point of motivational speeches. He needs to either be benched or sat out when Michal Rozsival returns.

We'll see what our team comes up with. They're paying tribute to Pat Burns in Montreal right now. God bless him!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rest in peace Pat Burns (1952-2010)

I've been sitting here struggling how to write this blog for a few minutes now...oh we all knew this day was coming at some point, but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with the loss of Pat Burns to cancer tonight, ending a six-year fight that inspired the hockey world. It's often said of people when they pass on that they were unique and irreplaceable. In the case of coach Burns, nobody ever doubted the validity of those sentiments.

Just from a pure hockey sense, he was a character. Tough and demanding on the one hand, while possessing a deadpan sense of humor and personality on the other, I followed his career long before he ever became a Devils coach. Just when I was getting into hockey in the early 90's, Burns was leading the Leafs to two straight Conference Finals, in the first one having a memorable screaming match with opposing coach Barry Melrose that showed his competitiveness.

Ironically enough it was a book by Stan Fischler called simply 'Coaches' (written in 1995) that opened my eyes to just what type of individual Burns was. Everyone who follows hockey knows that Burns became the only coach to win three Jack Adams awards for Coach of the Year, and on three seperate Original Six teams, to boot - Montreal in 1989, the Leafs in '93 and Boston in '98. Maybe not as many hockey fans also realize that Burns actually worked as a cop in the Gatineau police force in Montreal for sixteen years and became a detective-sergeant, working undercover when almost by accident he got into coaching.

After filling in for a friend coaching Bantam and Midget hockey, he eventually impressed enough to land a head job with the Hull Olympiques Junior team, coaching players such as Luc Robitaille. As fate would have it, Wayne Gretzky bought the Olympiques and convinced Burns he had a future in coaching. So it was that Burns finally retired from the police force and sure enough, Gretzky proved a prophet when Burns first became a head coach of the Canadiens' AHL outfit in Sherbrook, then promoted to the head job in 1989.

You couldn't have scripted much of a better start to Burns' career as he won the Jack Adams in his very first season and led the Habs all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they eventually lost in six games to Calgary. Ironically enough it was Gretzky who torpedoed his next big chance to win the Cup in Toronto, when his hat trick in Game 7 of the Conference Finals stopped the Leafs a game short in 1993. After losing in the Conference Finals again to Vancouver the next year, Burns eventually moved on as the Leafs rebuilt and wound up in Boston, winning his third Jack Adams.

Still, it looked as if he would come up short of his dream of a Stanley Cup after Burns got fired from Boston and was out of the NHL for two years. As he so eloquently put it later on, 'I was in the mountains in New Hampshire when Lou called'...Lou being of course Lou Lamoriello, GM of the Devils who was unhappy with a team that had underachieved in 2002 and wanted a disciplinarian to restore order in New Jersey.

That would prove to be a marriage made in heaven, or hell as some Devils fans might put it with a wink and smile. Although not as talented as the '95 and '00 versions that won Stanley Cups, the '03 team won a special place with me for its heart and determination. Despite doubters along the way, the Devils edged out the Flyers by a single point in a tough division race that earned New Jersey an important second seed, which kept them away from the tougher part of the draw that year. While the Flyers would slough it out with Toronto and eventually fall to conference powerhouse Ottawa, the Devils gained confidence with relatively easy five-game victories over the Bruins and Tampa Bay during the first two rounds.

Still, the Devils would eventually have to face Ottawa, acclaimed the best team in the league that year and Canada's best chance at seeing a team win the Cup in a decade. Without home-ice that series, the Devils still raced out to a 3-1 lead - but reached a moment of truth after the Senators won Games 5 and 6, beating us in overtime of Game 6 for our only home loss during the playoffs that year. In Ottawa for Game 7, the Devils had the worst start you could have when Magnus Arvedson scored a soft goal inside a few minutes and star center Joe Nieuwendyk, hurt late in Game 6 was unable to go anymore after trying to play through a couple of shifts.

It was at this point that Burns came up with perhaps the most important motivational magic of his career during the first intermission, telling his team that 'there's a guy in there (Nieuwendyk) who's won a couple of Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe and he's got tears in his eyes cause he can't help you guys out'. In hockey terms this was as close to 'Win one for the Gipper' as I've ever heard, and sure enough the Devils would rally back to take a second period lead, then with the game tied 2-2 in the final two minutes of regulation Grant Marshall and Jeff Friesen combined to win the game, with a Marshall pass going through the legs of Wade Redden and Friesen putting it home for one of the many important goals he would score that postseason.

Although the Devils would face surprisingly stiff opposition in the Finals against the Mighty Ducks, who won all three of their games in Anaheim the old coach would finally have his first Stanley Cup win as Burns and the Devils held serve at home, thanks to the coach's near flawless line-matching and a boisterous crowd at the old Continental Airlines Arena. Not to mention a decent amount of talent and a lot of heart. Perhaps it's fitting that Marshall and Friesen combined for the most important goal of the playoffs, since neither had a particularly distinguished career before that moment and both flamed out pretty fast afterward. Just another example of how great coaching can bring out the best in everyone.

Unfortunately, real adversity was just around the corner when at the end of the 2004 season Burns first found out he had colon cancer, then liver cancer in 2005 prevented his return to the Devils' bench and forced his retirement. Still, Burns remained part of the Devils family, scouting and consulting all while he was fighting cancer for the remaining few years of his life. Just when it seemed as if the worst was behind him, Burns found out he had lung cancer last year and from then it seemed only a matter of time.

Yet it was how he fought the good fight that most people will remember in the end. Burns even managed to get behind the bench one more time, in 2008 when he got named to the coaching staff of the Canadian team for the IIHF World Championships but more than even that, he was determined to live his life on his terms - initially forgoing treatment when the final cancer was discovered and doing as much work as he could for the Devils and hockey. Towards the end, he was still doing commentaries for CKAC, a French-language Montreal radio station. Fortunately he lived long enough to see groundbreaking on Pat Burns Arena in Quebec, scheduled to open in Stanstead college sometime in 2011.

While Burns himself lived life without regrets, many who respect and admired him no doubt do regret the fact that he will not live long enough to see his career be honored with his eventual induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Still, anyone who knew him or followed his career will be looking forward to the day when it eventually happens. Perhaps the biggest honor any of us can bestow on the coach though, is by remembering who he was as a person and following his example. Hopefully you're healthy and happy wherever you are now, Coach.

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