Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

As I sit here in this Huguenot Library, thoughts of the Islanders ending Sid The Kid's 25-game point streak are still fresh. Who'd have thought when I mentioned that the other day that it would be the once proud franchise which Sidney Crosby has victimized over and over that would finally put a halt to the streak and silence all the discussion prior to tomorrow's superhyped Winter Classic showdown versus Ovi's Caps?!?!?!?!?! Well, you know Mats Sundin is happy.

In all seriousness, it was a great run by the game's best player, propelling his Pens to the top of the league despite no games from Jordan Staal, who just might debut tomorrow in a unique setting at Heinz Field. Considering that the forecast calls for sub-50 temps with rain, there's still some doubt to whether it gets played. Does NBC shift it to tomorrow night or possibly Sunday? Per Twitter pal ScottyWazz, that's the window the network has for getting the 4th Annual Classic played. While Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have been front and center in the greatest rivalry known to mankind, not one iota about the 2nd Hockey Heritage Game to be played in Alberta with Calgary hosting Vancouver. It doesn't seem right. Especially how little respect our Canadian franchises get despite overwhelming support.

We get the importance of the Classic, becoming a larger than life signature event where the NHL gets to showcase its best in a unique setting, the way hockey was meant to be played. I also understand why NBC would want the two biggest stars going head-to-head for a ratings bonanza when they're going up against college bowl games. Canadian eccentric DanoSpun has been up in arms over the shocking development that the game again features teams in American markets. But if you're NBC as Battle originator Steve Lepore has mentioned, you must do what's best ratings wise. Though for such a marquee event, I do believe that an All Original 6 between the Rangers and either the Canadiens or Maple Leafs would work due to the classic rivalry along with the game's popularity. It's gonna draw. Whether the Rangers, Devils or Islanders get the game is another story. Especially in light of the dismal response to a blizzard that dumped over two feet of the white stuff.

With both the Devils and Islanders having early New Year's Eve games to close out 2010, what are your New Year's resolutions? Let's take a look at our list:

1.Martin Brodeur-a time machine
2.Henrik Lundqvist-a punching bag
3.Rick DiPietro-esurance
4.Jacques Lemaire-Big League Chew
5.John Tortorella-his own HBO show "Fonz The Hockey Coach"
6.Jack Capuano-a healthy roster
7.Charles Wang-a new arena
8.Ilya Kovalchuk-a DVD of his Thrasher highlights along with a new stick
9.Marian Gaborik-goals
10.John Tavares-a healthy Kyle Okposo
11.Garth Snow-a guide to good PR
12.Glen Sather-a Cuban for not screwing up yet and an Al Montoya bobblehead
13.Lou Lamoriello-a lifetime supply of Smuckers
14.Sean Avery-relevancy
15.David Clarkson-a DVD of highlights from last year and Anti-Avery Anxiety Med
16.Chris Drury-spiked Kool Aid
17.Patrik Elias-DVD from '06 1st round
18.Ryan Callahan-a Superman cape
19.Zach Parise-a much healthier 2011 and a raise
20.Brian Boyle/Brandon Prust-co-stars in the real life hockey version of Twins
21.Mike Del Zotto-DVD of rookie year and Bobby Orr DVDs
22.Travis Zajac-Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner (ZZ Popps)
23.Mark Streit-make his season debut
24.Michal Grabner-more goals and a shout out to the Canucks for letting him go
25.Marc Staal/Dan Girardi-1st All-Star selections
26.Brandon Dubinsky-the creation of his own Dubi Dubi Doo line
27.Jason Arnott-Game 6 '00 SCF at Dallas
28.Kyle Okposo-some luck so he can finally breakout
29.Derek Stepan-the Calder Trophy
30.Mattias Tedenby-a center who can get him the puck
31.Michal Rozsival-Game 3 '07 Conf Semis vs Sabres along with shot tutor
32.Alex Frolov-a pep talk from Alexei Yashin and Valeri Kamensky
33.Derek Boogaard-a new chin and pair of pom poms
34.Dainius Zubrus-some hands to go with his heart
35.Islander fans-new owner who cares about on-ice product
36.Devil fans-'95, '00 and '03 DVDs along with Adam Larsson
37.Ranger fans-a free game for blizzard and a run to the Conference Finals
38.Gary Bettman-a voice therapist
39.Colin Campbell-Tom Cruise's Lt. Daniel Kaffee to grill him with Joe Pesci watching intently
40.Pierre McGuire-an iron trap sent from Michael Keaton's Beetlejuice character
41.NHL-HBO to cover a team entire season further illustrating why hockey is the best sport
42.WJC-for more people in The States to care about one of the greatest tournaments
43.Darren Pang-a photo op with Scott Hamilton and a chance to call the Stanley Cup
44.Kevin Weekes-a job with NBC
45.Jack Edwards-a bottle of Jack Daniels
46.Sam Rosen-Versus games during playoffs
47.Doc Emrick-a new book entitled, "Doc-Isms" featuring the unique terms he uses to describe our game
48.Howie Rose-a winning team and a press agent
49.Joe Micheletti-a full mirror
50.Chico Resch-a buffet along with role in hockey version of "Back To School"

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Devils best not enough in latest Hudson clash

They skated. They forechecked. They took shots. They finished checks. They got big saves. These are all traits that made the Devils one of the best teams in the game spanning two decades. Despite all that, it still didn't matter in their latest defeat- a tough 3-1 loss to the Hudson rival Rangers last night in Newark.

Maybe Jacques Lemaire finally got his team's attention because they were a different club in the latest installment of the Hudson. Even if the affable vet coach declared it wasn't a rivalry until his team started winning. Despite outshooting the Rangers by a healthy margin (44-25), they dropped their sixth straight in the traditional carnival atmosphere at The Rock.

There were a lot of positives,” a frustrated Jason Arnott expressed after narrowly missing a potential tying tally with over two minutes left. “We played hard. It just didn’t go our way. We started doing more things that Jacques has been telling us and it paid off. If we play like that, we are going to win hockey games.”
It's been that kind of year for the Devils, whose anemic offense contributed to getting John MacLean fired. Despite a plethora of chances, they could only muster one goal on Henrik Lundqvist, who kept his teammates afloat finishing with a season high 43 saves. That included 20 stops in a busy second that saw the Devs at one point lead in shots 32-12 before the Rangers picked it up.

It feels better than playing well and losing,” said Lundqvist after his team improved to a league best 13-6-0 on the road. “As the game went on, I felt better and felt I had a chance to get to everything. I knew that in no way it was going to be an easy game. They’re not a bad team, despite their record.
A couple of days removed from dominating the Islanders with a season best 52 shots, the Blueshirts saw the tables turned with a hungrier Devil club getting an early Travis Zajac goal while taking seven of the first eight shots. Zajac got to a loose Mattias Tedenby rebound scoring his second in three games. The No.1 center has had a rough season since losing linemate Zach Parise but has points in four of his last five- playing a strong game yesterday. But before they blinked, Brian Boyle responded with his 14th caroming off Martin Brodeur's glove to tie it 47 seconds later.

After outshooting the Rangers 16-5 in the first, the rejuvenated Devils continued to pour it on. However, Lundqvist was equal to the task stopping them in their tracks. Eventually, his strong play allowed teammates to settle in. Once they did, it became a really intense game with both netminders called upon to make strong saves. As fate would have it, it was an innocent looking shot that doomed New Jersey. Off a faceoff win by rookie Derek Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky came around the net and dished for a cutting Michal Rozsival, whose one-timer deflected off Devil defenseman Andy Greene and in. It was heading wide but the unfortunate bounce was the latest sequence to beDevil their close rival.

“That’s par for the course for this year,” Brodeur said after the harmless shot went off Greene's arm for the bitter decider. “Just another bad goal, a bad bounce to bad us.”

The third was a battle from start to finish with each team going after each other like a couple of boxers. Speaking of which, it was prior to Rozsival's tally that Boyle fought Dainius Zubrus following a scrum. That was the turning point for the Blueshirts, who still drew praise from John Tortorella about how this team finds a way even when things aren't going well. In the final 20, nobody had to tell them what to do with the penalty kill coming up big three different times. Lundqvist finally got help with Boyle and do everything linemate Brandon Prust making life miserable for Ilya Kovalchuk. Marc Staal was strong, clearing numerous pucks out.

The Rangers had a big opportunity to put it away when Arnott took an extra for unsportsmanlike following a hold. To the Devils' credit, they did a good job killing it off with much more aggressive play than we've seen. On one shift, Henrik Tallinder had more positives than the entire season. Brodeur still had to make a couple of critical stops during the second half and also caught a break when Matt Gilroy's laser rang off the crossbar. Speaking of Gilroy, he had another strong game- looking particularly dangerous after Tortorella stuck him out for power play shifts.

Still nursing a 2-1 lead, the Rangers protected it well with strong play in the neutral zone. It was on the cycle that Chris Drury got nabbed for holding, giving the Devils one last chance to tie it. It was the Ranger PK which got the job done, albeit with a little help from the post after Lundqvist sprawled out to deny a pointblank chance- leaving Arnott looking to the heavens.

Tortorella used a timeout with over a minute left to stick Boyle, Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko out along with Staal and Dan Girardi. The sound strategy paid off with the Devils unable to get a sniff. Artem Anisimov and Dubinsky were out for the final shift, breaking up plays and forcing the Devs to go offside. Finally, Dubinsky salted it away off an Anisimov draw at center ice, sending his team best 16th into the open net with six seconds to spare.

"We knew that they had their struggles this year, but they’re still capable of turning it on,” said Dubinsky. “We didn’t want it to be against us. We expected them to come out hard. We can’t play our best every night, but with Hank back there, we found a way to steal this one.”


BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Brian Boyle, NYR (career high 14th goal, game best 6 SOG, fight)
2nd Star-Martin Brodeur, NJD (23 saves incl.11/12 in 2nd)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (season best 43 saves incl.20/20 in 2nd)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blizzard a cold reminder of what really matters



"I'll be home for Christmas," never seemed more appropriate for most of the Northeast than the day after Santa delivered goodies for everyone. Well, unless you were Jewish. While many of us were celebrating this special time of year at home with family and friends, it was business as usual for our hockey teams.

For the Islanders and Devils, that meant braving the naughty weather to play a game in Newark before many empties on just a brutal Sunday you won't soon forget. Whether it was watching the two New York (New Jersey) football teams drive you nuts though at least for Hasan there was better news on the way, or dealing with the more than predicted snow that dumped over two feet in our area, it wasn't the best of times. Especially for the New York Sanitation department who were blindsided, making it a miserable few days for most. Here in Staten Island, we got 30 inches or roughly an identical amount to the great '96 storm that saw school canceled for a week. What I remember most is having to wake up early the next day with Dad and somehow put together Sunday papers in my old stomping grounds. We managed.

Tell that to the Islanders who had to play consecutive days following the monstrosity- traveling on bus to Madison Square Garden for a Monday game against their archrival Rangers. A night removed from dealing the Devils another forgettable loss, they managed alright playing to a 2-2 tie in a seesaw first which saw Henrik Lundqvist turn into Mister Softee. Never a term any goalie wants to be associated with. Never the less, the franchise Blueshirt netminder recovered, stoning John Tavares with the game still knotted despite a flurry of activity for counterpart Dwayne Roloson. Perhaps the seasoned vet finally succumbed to a 34-8 barrage the final 40 minutes as his weary teammates had, finally losing their legs and wits from a sleepless journey. It probably explained Matt Gilroy's knuckler sinking under Rollie followed by Selke candidate Brian Boyle's harmless backhand that we've seen Lundqvist allow more than he should.

Despite John Tortorella's legit point about his team being sloppy in the middle stanza, the third may as well have been Roloson hit by heavy snow flakes. Rangers drifted everywhere as the poor affable goalie was left to fend for himself. There was little he could do as Derek Stepan improved his Calder candidacy followed by Brandon Dubinsky and Ruslan Fedotenko. It all added up to a 7-2 blowout with the Rangers registering 52 shots to the Isles' 20.

Pretty predictable considering the trying circumstances for a franchise that continues to have bad luck. Even top prospects like Calvin de Haan and Brock Nelson are leaving World Junior games hurt, adding to a list that's seen Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo out all year with franchise goalie Rick DiPietro once again playing Bill Murray's recurring role as Phil in Groundhog Day. Or in this extreme case, Scrooged. Another Murray classic. 'Tis the season.

With the club off, yesterday Garth Snow made a move sending defenseman James Wisniewski to Montreal for an '11 second round pick and conditional sixth. So, the well traveled blueliner moves again with the Islanders getting good value back. At least they got a day off before hosting Sidney Crosby and the Pens tonight at The Coliseum. Not much of a reward with Sid The Kid continuing his assault on the league, extending his point streak to 25 in a row with a two-goal, two assist performance in a 6-3 win over the Thrashers. During the amazing run that's the longest since Mats Sundin hit 30 with Quebec, the league's leading scorer has tallied 26 goals and 22 assists- sparking Pittsburgh to a 19-5-1 record atop the standings with an NHL best 52 points. Mission impossible it would seem for the Islanders.

Considering what they've been through already, at least it will be a return to normalcy. Something we all can relate to with streets finally being cleared. A chance to get back to our busy lives in time for the New Year. It could always be a lot worse. Something Long Island native Matt Gilroy noted in the MSG postgame when asked about how he's handled being out of the Ranger lineup, pointedly remarking how he visited a sick child at a hospital for Christmas. Keeping proper perspective, the former Hobey winner knows he has it good, getting to play the coolest game on Earth.

We aren't sick or cold, have roofs over our heads, food on our plate and also get to watch our favorite teams play hockey, cheering them. Next time, warm the spirit of someone who doesn't have it so good.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rolston assigned to Albany, likely to be put on re-entry waivers soon



If the Devils' nightmare of a season has become boring on-ice, it's getting interesting off it once again after today's announcement that winger Brian Rolston would be assigned to Albany with the intention on exposing him to re-entry waivers. Once Rolston reports to Albany he can be placed on re-entry waivers starting tomorrow at noon. If Rolston is claimed on re-entry, it would allow the team taking him to only be responsible for half the cap hit and salary on the 37-year old's $5,062,000 contract for the remainder of this season and next year.

Clearly his on-ice production this season (two goals, three assists and a -12 in 21 games) didn't merit anyone taking him off the initial waivers but perhaps someone will take a flyer on a former 30-goal scorer at half the price. If not, then the Devils have a decision to make - either keep him off the team and banish him to Albany or put him back on the Devils' roster. Either way, the Devils would be responsible for the full cap hit since Rolston signed his contract at the age of 35+.

Personally I wouldn't mind just leaving him in Albany for the year and trying to trade him as an expiring contract this offseason to a team like the Islanders that might need his salary to get above the floor, especially since with the uncertainty over Bryce Salvador ever returning and the latest setback on Zach Parise (he won't be skating until early March) it doesn't seem like the Devils even need to make a move to get under the cap this year at all. That said, I can understand just ending the Rolston saga now and Lou not wanting to send a two-time Devil to the minors outright. Having an additional $2.5 million of dead cap space next year isn't ideal but with the cap increasing and salaries coming off the books it can be managed, assuming Rolston does eventually get claimed.

Speaking of the Islanders, perhaps a strong clue to Rolston's next destination came today when the Isles traded defenseman James Wisniewski to the Canadiens for second and fifth-round picks. They're gonna need to replace his $3.125 million salary just to stay above the cap floor so anyone can predict the next logical step, especially with the Isles being first on the waiver claim list among the other 29 NHL teams.

Replacing Rolston in the lineup is a familiar face - Vladimir Zharkov - who was a Devil for some forty games last year and earned the distinction of doing all the 'little' things right (forechecking, backchecking, drawing penalties) except putting the puck in the net, which he still hasn't done in his NHL career. The young Russian is clearly a Jacques Lemaire favorite though since for some reason he was banished in Albany as career minor-leaguers like Stephen Gionta and Tim Sestito were called up before him by prior coach John MacLean, but after two games in Lemaire's return behind the bench 'Zharky' is back too.

Also, some contreversy was caused by the league's decision to play Sunday night's home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs (another desultory 4-1 loss) despite a blinding snowstorm that paralyzed the East Coast for two days - even shutting down a football game in Philadelphia! Various reports have anywhere from 2500 to 3000 fans braving the weather Sunday night and showing up for another dreadful loss where the Devils fell behind 3-0 by the end of the second period against the 28th place team in the NHL, one game after losing 5-1 to the 29th place team. Officially the attendance was listed as 5500, but who really knows.

I'm surprised it was even that high to be honest. I wasn't one of the crazy souls that risked life, limb and NJ Transit delays to show up to a Sunday night game between two last-place teams. Not when this storm was big enough to cause the entire state to shut down the next day. Even the players had a hard time getting out of the arena that night, with the Leafs' team bus getting stuck on the road, not to mention Devils Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac literally having to spend the night in Elias's car when they got stuck on 280 West. Fellow Devils Rod Pelley and Jason Arnott managed to get home really late at night - 2:30 for Pelley (who also helped other stranded motorists on the road Sunday night) and 4 AM for Arnott. A bemused Zajac had this to say about his strange night:

“This wouldn’t have happened in Winnipeg,” said Zajac, a Winnipeg native. “The entire state doesn’t shut down because of a little snow. We kind of got stuck a little bit. (Route) 280 got shut down and we were stuck in the middle of it when it happened. So, it was something where we couldn’t go anywhere and just slept in the car until 7 (a.m.).”

I understand why the game was played, NHL rules state that if both teams are in town on gameday then the game must go on but in the future maybe that rule should be amended a little, at least when you're dealing with a night game and all the potential problems that could ensue from train delays and road closings. I mean how much of an inconvenience can it really be to reschedule a December game with all of the off days built into the NHL season? Baseball has to reschedule dozens of games a year with far fewer off days to work with.

Then again, the NFL and Eagles got made fun of by mayor Ed Rendell for moving their Sunday night game to Tuesday, in part because of fan safety concerns. So maybe you can't win either way but there's got to be some way to have better safeguards in for the fans, players and arena workers. Particularly the latter two groups since they have to be there, fans really don't - they have a choice to not deal with the weather.

To their credit at least the Devils allowed the fans who were in attendance to sit in the lower bowl from early in the second period on, and also gave everyone with tickets - whether they were there or not - the option to exchange them for freebees to a future game this month (either next Tuesday or Sunday when we play the Wild and Lightning or on the 23rd against the Panthers). Even if that isn't particularly useful to season ticket holders who already have tickets it's more than they offered last year for a snowstorm against the Flyers, when you only got discounted prices to one of three upcoming games.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Rangers OutBolted in shootout

It took 11 rounds to decide. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they couldn't send the home crowd totally happy for the holidays. Despite a highlight reel game tying goal by impressive rookie Derek Stepan, who somehow managed to tuck a puck past Dan Ellis with little wiggle room, the MSG hosts couldn't get that one big shot or save needed to win the shootout- falling 4-3 to the Bolts.

Their second consecutive loss (0-1-1) against a top eight seed though disappointing, wasn't that bad. Not when you consider that the Blueshirts dictated most of the match with a consistent forecheck, outshooting the Lightning 37-24. Credit Ellis, who outplayed Henrik Lundqvist to the tune of 34 saves and one more stop in the skill competition for giving Tampa Bay their second straight win over Gotham in the season series. Not that it's a rip at our goalie who for the most part, was solid despite just 21 saves, including a few money stops in sudden death on Steven Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Remarkably, it was Victor Hedman, former Ranger Adam Hall and shootout hero Ryan Malone who solved King Henrik in only his second shootout. The club's third this season. A sharp contrast from recent years where they relied too much on it.

The game also marked the debut of 23 year-old Norwegian Mats Zuccarello-Aasen. John Tortorella didn't shy away from playing MZA, starting him on the top line with Stepan and Brandon Dubinsky, who was instrumental in setting up the big goal that earned our club a point. Dubi played a strong game, around the puck on both sides making solid defensive reads against Bolt duo Stamkos and St. Louis late in regulation. As for Zuccarello who got nearly 18 minutes, he drew high marks from a pleased Tort who had a good chuckle when the gifted Olympian pulled off a triple deke to keep the shootout alive. MZA used his superb skating and skill to generate chances, including a shot from the left circle late which Ellis gloved. Despite his St. Louis-esque frame, the mighty mite didn't back down, even having a classic staredown with Hedman, who looked like a giant next to him. That kinda fight will benefit Zucc, who goes back down to Hartford to play the day after Christmas. It isn't known when he'll return due to the roster which largely depends on Marian Gaborik.

The club which has proven they can win without him played well enough to win. But a couple of mistakes wound up in their net from Stamkos and St. Louis. The Blueshirts fought back, scoring their two goals in 12 seconds off the sticks of Ruslan Fedotenko and resurgent Alex Frolov who finally seems to be getting it. With the game still tied late in the second, Lecavalier steered Tampa in front when he escaped a check to put home Pavel Kubina's feed. With Ellis standing tall, it looked like the Lightning would hold on. But Dubinsky and Stepan had other ideas, combining on the tying goal. A Matt Gilroy dump was turned over by a Bolt, allowing Dubi to free the puck and pass across to an open Stepan, who managed to tuck it in using the net and sliding it across the right post just passed the red line. A very poised play by the emerging Calder candidate. Our team doesn't score many great goals but that one should make NHL Network's Plays Of The Week just for the dynamic skill alone. Plus it came at a crucial moment.

Neither team could get another past either netminder with Lundqvist making two strong denials on Teddy Purcell late, forcing overtime. The four-on-four was exciting but both goalies showcased their skills forcing extras. Hedman (hi glove) and Erik Christensen (ridiculous Jussi Jokinen backhand deke tuck assisted by laughing Martin Biron) split a pair early. Then Hall beat Lundqvist stick side. A Stepan miss forced Henrik to keep the Lightning from making it three-for-three, setting the stage for Zuccarello. MZA didn't disappoint coming in fast before deking forehand, backhand, forehand putting it home with little real estate. A tremendous move which had Tort showing a rare grin. The goalies then took over with too many players going for moves instead of shots. Especially our guys who maybe got caught up in what our more skilled shooters did. Even Michal Rozsival tried a backhand deke. Gilroy also did but was rejected. Marc Staal's try was worse. Finally, Malone went conventional taking advantage of Lundqvist hanging in his crease- firing a perfect laser off the crossbar and in, allowing excited teammates to pour off the bench and mob him.

It was a well played game with only two minors. The Rangers see the Lightning again on New Year's Day following the Winter Classic. They'll hope the third time's a charm against the more skilled team they're battling for playoff position.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Artem Anisimov, Rangers (assisted on Frolov goal and played most spirited game)
2nd Star-Derek Stepan, Rangers (tying goal-10th of season forcing extras)
1st Star-Dan Ellis, Bolts (34 saves, 9/11 in shootout)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Devils fire MacLean, bring back Lemaire and get humiliated by the Isles



If I haven't already had it with everyone and everything associated with the 2010-11 Devils tonight was definitely the tipping point. Or rather this entire twelve-hour stretch which saw the Devils fire John MacLean, re-hire Jacques Lemaire for the third time and then get embarassed by the lowly Isles for the second time this season, dropping into sole possession of last place in the entire NHL. And for the coup de grace, word on Zach Parise is he won't even begin skating till March and might not come back at all this season. All of this in twelve hours, and this 5-1 loss coming on the heels of successive 7-1 and 5-1 defeats. Even AHL teams would be more competitive at this point.

Where to begin, well might as well begin with the predictable sacking of MacLean. It was only a question of when at this point, given the Devils' hideous record and MacLean's own inability to show any emotion or get his team to play any semblance of a system. I admit I had no use for him as a coach, and I'm not going to get all indignant about firing the man two days before Christmas. Yeah, it looks bad from a PR standpoint and brought back memories of the Jets sacking Joe Walton two days before Christmas way back when but let's be honest, everyday people get laid off around the holidays all the time. I figured it would happen at the end of the year when you could get a long-term replacement in here but if management wants to make a move based on the fact that we have six home games coming up in the next fifteen days and you want to appease the fans somewhat (along with the fact we'd fallen into last place as of this morning), well whatever.

What rubbed me the wrong way about this firing is once again a coach gets changed before any players get fired. WHEN IN GOD'S NAME IS LOU GOING TO START FIRING PLAYERS?!?!?! If he had even just traded someone like a Jamie Langenbrunner before making this move I'd be all in favor of it but without changing any of the players it comes off as more 'status quo', Lou's stock answer for most of this offseason when asked about the Ilya Kovalchuk saga. How many coaches does this group get to fire? In the last thirty years of professional sports, the Devils are literally the most unstable head coaching job, with an average of 1.2 years for each Devils bench boss. And most of that has been with Lou Lamoriello as the GM.

Not to mention Lou's replacement was Lemaire, the same coach who had been run off by this group just several months ago after the team played disinterested in most of the last four months of the season, specifically the playoffs. This same group that tuned him out is all of a sudden going to listen to him again?! Having Lemaire back in the same room with our 'captain' is just asking for disaster after all the problems that existed between the two last year. Yeah I know Lemaire will bring more of a structure than Johnny Mac and at least cares enough to yell at the refs or his team unlike our former coach but come on. This is just taking a bad situation and making it worse.

Just look at how the Devils responded to the firing tonight, with a disinterested first period against the league's second-worst team that saw them fall behind 3-0 with only three shots on net for the majority of the period. Apparently someone snapped in the locker room during the first intermission cause the Devils came out and actually gave effort (for the most part) the rest of the game, outshooting the Isles 32-6 in the last 40+ minutes. Of course the Devils being the Devils, the margin of defeat actually increased as they gave up a ridiculous shorthanded goal in the second period with hideous backchecking by Kovalchuk, who threw Josh Bailey right into goaltender Martin Brodeur, leaving a loose puck and a wide-open net for Frans Nielsen to put in a backbreaking shorthanded goal, just when it looked as if we might turn the momentum after Travis Zajac's early second-period tally.

To say the fans were on edge is putting it mildly...the boos for the team after their wonderful first period started with twenty seconds left. Marty was getting a ton of Bronx cheers after allowing the three in the first period (to go along with four in less than half a game in Atlanta and five against the Caps) and even Kovy was getting booed after his bad play on the shorthanded goal, and with expectations not even being close to met for the $100 million player offensively. Kovy's only impressive number is a negative one - a league worst -24 on the season. I wigged out on our captain after his hideous giveaway led to the Isles' first goal by Bailey, barely three minutes into the game. He looked uninspired by the coaching change, big surprise. Even Brodeur looked disinterested at times, allowing a couple of bad goals and making some Brett Favre-like who cares passes late in the game.

For his part, Lemaire was befuddled at the team's struggles.

“It looked like they had lost their ability to play the game, which is very strange,” Lemaire said after watching the Devils lose their fourth straight game and for the ninth time in the last 10. “I have never seen this in the past. Never.”

Join the club, Sherlock. At least he seems to understand the one thing that is definitely missing from the team right now:

“There is one thing that we can take care of and that is we are going to work,” Lemaire said. “I felt and I could see that it was hard because they had something else, that (look of) defeat that they have right now. I am not a psychologist but I can see things, I feel things. I could feel it.”

Recognizing that and actually getting a group that for the most part hasn't played hard in a year to do so are two different things. Until that happens, things are only going to keep getting worse before they get better.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gaborik out tomorrow, Zuccarello up

Given how Marian Gaborik's played lately, something had to be wrong. Regardless of all the line combinations John Tortorella tried to get the star sniper untracked, he wasn't going. Aside from two hat tricks this season, Gabby's only scored in three other games for his nine goal total. Hardly the kind of consistent production you expect from one of the game's most lethal scorers.

As it turns out, Gaborik may have been playing hurt. He's already been ruled out for tomorrow's pre-Christmas showdown with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and a Lightning club that's visiting Long Island a couple of hours from now. Taking his place will be Olympic standout Mats Zuccarello-Aasen who the club signed over the summer. The diminitive winger started the year with the new Connecticut Whale (formerly Hartford Wolfpack), getting out slowly. However, he's finally adjusted to the North American style and recently was on a tear, hiking his season totals to 13 goals, 10 assists and 23 points. So, the speedy 23 year-old Norwegian gets his shot. He does resemble St. Louis in size and style. Whether or not he plays like him remains to be seen.

Either way, we're about to find out what MZA can do. Who does Tort start him off with? Alex Frolov has been revitalized since playing with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust. The enigmatic Russian set up a nice goal off hard work behind the net, dishing off for rookie Derek Stepan's ninth in a 4-1 loss to division rival Philly. Perhaps he sticks with D-Step and say Sean Avery, who needs more ice-time with Ryan Callahan out till February at the earliest. I'd keep Brandon Dubinsky with Artem Anisimov but aren't sure who should join them. If you put Ruslan Fedotenko on the top line, then maybe Avery since he mixes it up. But he plays the left side just like Dubi. So, probably no go. Do they try Zuccarello there? It seems like a risk but that line must produce. There's size, skill and speed.

I wouldn't mind seeing Tort try MZA with Boyle and Prust since their size and strength should benefit him, making it a good fit. Those are our energizers who seem to work well with anyone. Why not give it a shot? But where does that leave Erik Christensen? Simply put, you can't have Christy and D-Step together because they both play the same position. Plus there's also Chris Drury and Christmas ornament Todd White. It wouldn't be fair to either Dru or Christy if their ice-time is reduced. Ditto Avery, who's the whipping boy.

While we're on the subject of our roster, it looks like Mike Del Zotto could be riding the pine Thursday. He had a dreadful showing Saturday, committing two mistakes that led to goals against- finishing minus-three. What has to be remembered is that this is a 20 year-old defenseman in Year Two. As much as I've been on his case, the Blueshirts have to be careful how they handle MDZ. It's been a tough year for the former '08 first rounder, who's registered just two goals and seven assists for nine points but has an Even rating. It's not that he isn't trying. The 71 hits and 58 blocks attest to the young blueliner's competitiveness. He hasn't looked confident with the puck, forcing diagonal passes that get picked off and fumbling the puck at the point leading to shorthanded odd-man rushes.

I've maintained that Matt Gilroy has looked better recently and deserves another chance. Why Tort won't give him a go on at least the second power play unit remains a mystery. Sure. They've gotten surprising results from top tandem Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. But the lack of a true quarterback has haunted this club since Brian Leetch left. Our guess is Michal Rozsival gets first crack with D-Step.

If anything, tomorrow's game should be more interesting. And right before the post-Christmas Garden confrontation with the Islanders.

DiPietro on IR, Mottau's season over

If only something would go right for the Islanders. Injuries continue to haunt the once proud franchise. Having already lost top defender Mark Streit for almost the entire year and still minus top power wing Kyle Okposo since training camp, the club will now skate without No.1 goalie Rick DiPietro. This time, DP will miss time due to swelling in his right knee. Quoting Yogi Berra, "It's deja vu all over again," for the career Islander.

The Islanders also lost veteran blueliner Mike Mottau for the rest of the season due to a torn labrum in his right hip after finally being cleared for physical activity following an eye injury which sidelined him for 10 games. The former Devil underwent successful surgery. In 20 contests, he had three assists while logging important minutes on the Isles' back end. Kind of a shame since as it turned out, he was a lot more important to the Devils than first thought. Credit the one-time Ranger draft pick for turning his career around, carving a niche which makes him serviceable.

As for DiPietro, this is nothing new. He's missed significant time before for the same issue, even being shutdown. In 14 games, DP is 4-6-4 with a 3.68 GAA, .880 save percentage and a shutout. Hard to believe that it was over two years ago that he was an NHL All-Star before hip problems forced him to have season ending surgery. It's been an emotional rollercoaster since for the former No.1 overall pick out of BU 10 years ago. A look at some of the stints spent upstairs tells the sad tale:

12/26/08-missed 27 games due to knee surgery
1/2/09-missed 3 games (groin)
4/12/09-missed last 41 games of season due to swollen right knee
1/4/10-missed 33 games due to knee surgery
4/11/10-missed final 22 games of season (left knee injury)
12/21/10-swollen left knee-IR

He sat out during Monday's home shootout loss to Phoenix. Rookie Nathan Lawson debuted making 32 saves. Despite holding up well, he couldn't prevent Martin Hanzal from tying it late and ultimately was lit up in the skill competition- particularly by Kyle Turris, who did a fancy move kicking the puck off his skate before roofing it over Lawson.

The Islanders host the Lightning tonight. So, it doesn't get any easier for Jack Capuano's club that remains 30th overall with 18 points, trailing only the Devils. They'll face them tomorrow night at The Rock in a game before the Christmas Break. That should be interesting.

Does Lawson get the call again tonight? We don't see why not. May as well see what the kid can do.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Devils' fall of discontent continues into winter

If there were any believers out there that the Devils could still turn things around, the last three games should have proved otherwise beyond any doubt. Successive 3-1, 7-1 and 5-1 losses at home to Nashville and on the road against Atlanta and Washington drummed home to the point to everyone that this is a lost season. Certainly the team's played like it is now a lost season the last couple of games. Thankfully I saw none of tonight's loss in Washington as I was out to the movies. And Saturday's game in Atlanta I shut off after the first period, though I did tune back for a few minutes too many in the third period.

Only one of those games really annoyed me though...I thought we gave effort against the Preds even though we only managed to get nine shots on goal in the first forty five minutes of the game. Our accuracy was particularly bad that night and we were facing a good defense. No shame there. However it seemed like that game was finally the tipping point for vets that have known nothing but chasing division titles who are now staring down a long, black abyss.

Specifically two things annoyed me in Atlanta, the first was starting Martin Brodeur over ex-Thrasher Johan Hedberg. Is it really neccesary anymore to play a 38-year old Marty in the second end of a back-to-back on the road? When we're more than double digits under .500 and hopelessly out of it and Brodeur's just coming off a major injury?! Typical of this organization, even now we're letting Marty dictate playing time. Just give Hedberg an opportunity to shine where he played a few years for crying out loud. Our esteemed head coach gave Mike McKenna, a career AHL goalie more respect than he has Hedberg all season...case in point Hedberg being pulled after less than two minutes against Montreal.

Of course by the time he did get in it was 4-0 and the horse was out of the barn. Even Chico Resch was saying that Hedberg should see the ice at the beginning of the second period, when we'd given up three in the first but Johnny MacLean stubbornly left Brodeur in until the fourth goal went by. Granted, Hedberg was no better when he got in but really, what's the difference? Either way the offense stinks and the defense isn't much better regardless, so why run a 38-year old into the ground?

As a team, the Devils hit rock bottom in Atlanta - not only by losing 7-1 but also for the coup de grace, giving up a hat trick to Eric Boulton (yes, really), the career enforcer who'd never so much as had a multi-goal game. At that point I was mad at myself for turning it back on late in the third period, just to get a head start on the postgame. I tuned it on right in time to see Boulton's third off a misplay from Hedberg behind the net. If that isn't rock bottom, I'd hate to see what is...losing 10-0 to the Rangers? Actually falling into last place below the ECHL-quality Islanders?!

I never would have thought the latter possible but it just may happen now. When you have a veteran team who's known nothing but success (in the regular season at least) that is in a hopeless situation, that's the worst kind of season you have to endure as an organization. At least if you have young kids you've got hope and they're learning how to play at the NHL level. The only neophyte we have with any promise - Mattais Tedenby - has basically been given the shaft by MacLean. Heaven forbid he actually score some goals and create some excitement.

Our other rookies, including defensemen Matt Corrente and Mark Fayne just flat can't play at this level. Early-season revelation Matt Taormina has all but dissapeared after having a setback from a high-ankle sprain suffered more than a month ago. Same for teen center Jacob Josefson, who hasn't been cleared to practice yet after his wrist injury was supposedly a 6-8 week prognosis. He's been out for two months now.

At least we will find out whether MacLean can truly coach at this level, cause even if he manages to coach another fifteen years after this odds are he'll never have the kind of challenge he's facing now - to get a veteran team to play for pride when all is lost, and to develop the youngsters (supposedly his trademark last year) when they do come back into the lineup. Though I wanted him fired earlier in the year and still don't like what I've seen from him, really it wouldn't have been fair to can him after 20-30 games. Even in professional sports nobody gets just 20-30 games. I know Barry Melrose got 16 for the Lightning a few years ago, but that was a dysfunctional organization and he was already a known quantity as a coach with prior NHL experience anyway.

And who knows, maybe down the road once this team's shaken off the depression over missing the playoffs they'll play for some pride down the stretch. Surely, not all of them will be here - maybe a couple or more will move on just before the trade deadline and maybe it'll be a full youth movement by the end of the season. That would at least add energy to a lifeless team, though it doesn't help matters when MacLean continues to do nutty things like putting career AHL'er Tim Sestito on a line with Kovy and Tedenby. Can we just once have a coach that doesn't pick his lines out of a hat?!

One thing I want to make clear though, I'm not for an outright tank...I don't think your players learn anything by constantly losing (at least some of them have to be here next year, no matter what) and no draft pick is a sure thing anyway. And I'm just flat tired of losing, it's now been a full calendar year of it. With four games coming up that I have to attend I shudder to think of what the crowd will be like for those games - especially with one of them being a Ranger game and at least another being a near-sellout around the holiday weekend.

Oh well, at least my football Jets have meaningful games in December and hopefully beyond. And there's still plenty to watch hockey-wise for entertainment, specifically HBO's 24-7 series on the Penguins and Caps leading to the Winter Classic. I'll probably have thoughts on that at a later date though.

Calder Hopefuls

As we approach Christmas, there's plenty to be jolly about. Especially when it comes to this year's exciting rookie crop. While all the hype surrounded Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, some other fresh faces have come in and taken the league by storm. While maybe no one is on last year's level that saw Buffalo blueliner Tyler Myers steal the show away from last year's top three picks John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene, there's probably more depth this season, making for an even more exhilerating race. Who will take home the Calder? Let's look at 10 hopefuls!


BATTLE CALDER TOP 10

1.G Sergei Bobrovsky, Flyers-Seemingly out of nowhere, the 22 year-old undrafted Russian netminder has been a godsend for first overall Philly, posting a 15-5-3 mark with a 2.44 GAA and a .919 save percentage. He's responsible for 68.2 percent of the Flyers' 22 wins which are tied for the league lead with Pennsylvania rival Pittsburgh. If goaltending was a question mark entering due to Michael Leighton on IR and Brian Boucher as the only proven guy, that's no longer the case. Ochenb xoposho to the Pyccku!

2.C Logan Couture, Sharks-While it's true the 21 year-old '07 first rounder got into 25 games last season, fact is he's become one of their most reliable finishers. Not easy to do when you're behind Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau. Amazingly, it's Couture who's 17 markers pace a club that's underachieved thus far. In fact, the 17 tie him for fifth best in the league. His five game winners lead all rookies. He also has five power play goals (leads rookies) and his plus-eight is second best to teammate Ryane Clowe. It's hard to ignore the rookie scoring leader (17-7-24). If the Sharks make the playoffs, Logan's fingerprints will be all over why.

3.RW Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes-The most daunting thing about the seventh overall pick is that the former figure skater rose up the charts where the Canes scooped him up and haven't regretted it. The 18 year-old Markham, Ontario native has a gift, combining superb skating with a ton of skill. He victimized Henrik Lundqvist already with a highlight reel goal. For so long, it was just Eric Staal that teams had to worry about. Now, there's another talent who looks legit, giving them a nice 1-2 punch. Word of advice to defensemen. Don't get Skinned!

4.RW Jordan Eberle, Oilers-The 20 year-old '08 first rounder who the Oilers stole 20th overall should be quite familiar to puckers. He dominated the WJC scoring big goals for Team Canada, leading them to golds and a silver in last year's championship classic against Team USA. If not for Eberle's late heroics in regulation, current Cap rook John Carlson never gets to play ultimate hero. To think in one game, you also had Ranger freshman Derek Stepan, who led everyone in scoring. That's three top rookies. Keeping with Eberle who scored one of the best goals this season in his NHL debut, the speedy right wing who plays a like ex-Devil Brian Gionta has wheels to burn. His two shorthanded goals rank second to Boston first-year player Brad Marchand (3). For years to come, we'll be talking about Hall to Eberle and also triumverate member Magnus Paajarvi Svensson (4-10-14). Eberle is third in rookie scoring with nine goals and 13 assists with his 22 points right behind club leader Ryan Whitney.

5.D Kevin Shattenkirk, Avalanche-Somewhat under the radar with Cam Fowler getting most of the accolades in Anaheim, the 21 year-old from Greenwich, Connecticut has been one of the biggest reasons why Colorado is proving that last year was no fluke. Selected in the '07 first round 14th overall, Shattenkirk has really emerged since scoring a second straight game against the Rangers in a home win. During a brilliant stretch in which he recorded points in nine consecutive games, Shattenkirk netted 13 points (4-9-13) including four of his five goals. Since, he's been a consistent threat, aiding Norris candidate John-Michael Liles. His 19 points (5-14-19) pace all rookies- two better than Fowler.

6.G Anders Lindback, Predators-With top goalie Pekka Rinne going down, another unheralded Swede who was taken in the seventh round has gotten the chance to shine in Music City. This rags to riches story seems too good to be true for the 22 year-old goalie taken 207th overall two years ago. In his first season, Lindback's been brilliant winning nine of his first 13 starts between the pipes, helping lead Barry Trotz' latest surprise up a crowded West. Their 40 points are tied for fifth with Anaheim while trailing Detroit by four for the division. Lindback is 9-2-2 with a 2.27 GAA, .927 save percentage and two shutouts. That's more than half Nashville's 17 wins for an unknown. Though to hear rookie countryman and Devil Mattias Tedenby tell it, he really impressed at home in the Swedish Elite League. Could we have another Lundqvist? Rinne's hoping not.

7.C Derek Stepan, Rangers- Where would the Rangers be without the heady 20 year-old from Hastings, Minnesota who started with a bang becoming only the third player to post a hat trick in his NHL debut. The gritty American with superb vision and instincts was selected in the '08 second round 51st overall. He starred for both Wisconsin and Team USA, doubling as the captain that led our country to its second WJC. After his hat trick, D-Step hit a rough patch that saw his ice time dwindle under John Tortorella. But he's worked his way back up, earning more responsibility including playing the right point on the power play. Locked in a three-way tie for fourth in rookie scoring with 19 points (9-10-19), Stepan already is his team's best center. Look for him to see more time with struggling star Marian Gaborik. Once USA 'mate Chris Kreider gets here, the Rangers will become a lot more interesting.

8.LW Taylor Hall, Oilers-It's taken some time for the first overall pick to settle in. Once he has, the talented 19 year-old who's living a dream playing in his hometown for the rival Oilers, has been as advertised. His 10 goals trail only Couture with all of them coming since Oct.28 when he finally found twine at Columbus, also recording his first two-point game. Hall owns five multi-point contests including a career high three assists and a plus-three rating in a recent 6-3 home win over the Blue Jackets. He also had his first two-goal game in Toronto. A night he won't soon forget. Four of his 10 have come this month with over half since over the last 13 contests. The top pick will only get better along with a new crop of Oilers who will put the franchise back where it belongs. Beware Colorado and Vancouver!

9.D Cam Fowler, Ducks-When the gifted scoring defenseman was passed over by a slew of teams including the Rangers who went for more rugged Dylan McIlrath, most curious observers couldn't fathom why. After all, this was a player who impressed at the WJC, showing off his gamebreaking speed and playmaking ability on a deep USA roster that won it all. Ironically, gold medal winning teammate and goalie Jack Campbell was taken by Dallas before Anaheim finally allowed the 12th overall pick to exhale. Considering that a great player in Scott Niedermayer who retired that he reminds us of, maybe it was a blessing in disguise, giving Fowler extra incentive. Nobody's saying he'll fill those big shoes but the 17 points (3-14-17) with seven on the power play along with 40 blocked shots is a nice start for the Michigan kid. Imagine what he, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan can do. Yikes.

10.G Michal Neuvirth, Capitals-Entering the year, the 22 year-old Czech who was selected in the second round four years ago was expected to split time with incumbent Semyon Varlamov. Having impressed with nine wins and a .914 save percentage in 17 appearances (16 starts) last season with the injury prone Varlamov in the press box, you can't say he's inexperienced. With his teammate again missing significant time, Neuvirth (pronounced New-worth) is largely responsible for the Caps hanging in despite a brutal stretch that was just snapped in Ottawa with the goalie making 24 stops in a comeback win. Of the club's 19 victories, he's won a lucky 13- accounting for 68.4 percent. With Varlamov finally healthy, it'll be interesting to see how Bruce Boudreau uses the young duo. Our guess is he'll go with the hot hand in what's suddenly not a given they'll win the Southeast.

That concludes our first series of rookies. Many other first-year players are deserving of inclusion. So with that, our honorable mentions.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

11.LW Bryan Bickell, Blackhawks-9-9-18, 17 PIM, 17 hits
12.LW Tyler Ennis, Sabres-7-9-16, 16 hits, 78 SOG
13.D P.K. Subban, Canadiens-2-9-11, 2 PPG, 33 PIM, 49 hits, 35 blocked shots
14.D John Carlson, Capitals-3-12-15, +6, 32 PIM, 70 blocks, 32 hits
15.LW Magnus Paajarvi, Oilers-4-10-14, 55 SOG
16.C Alex Burmistrov, Thrashers-5-8-13, +3, 23 PIM, 30 hits, 55 SOG
17.C Jake Dowell, Blackhawks-4-9-13, +8, 40 PIM, 46 hits, 18 blocks
18.C Brad Marchand, Bruins-4-8-12, 3 SHG, +5, 34 hits, 53 SOG
19.C Mark Letestu, Penguins-6-9-15, 2 PPG, 28 hits, 73 SOG
20.C Tyler Seguin, Bruins-5-6-11, +2, PPG, 54 SOG
21.LW Mattias Tedenby, Devils-4-4-8, 2 PPG, 4 PPP, 10.5 Pct.
22.RW Michael Grabner, Islanders-7-3-10, 16 hits, 9 blocks, 47 SOG
23.C Phillippe Dupuis, Avalanche-3-7-10, +6, 19 PIM, 52 hits, 10 blocks
24.C Kyle Wilson, Blue Jackets-4-5-9, 10 PIM, 12 hits
25.RW Evgeny Dadonov, Panthers-2-4-6 in 6 GP, +6, 10 SOG

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Week Observations

Almost amazingly, we're about to celebrate a special time of year. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas bring out lots of Kool Aid smiles and holiday cheer. Even for this Jewish blogger who celebrated Chanukkah right before my birthday a couple of weeks ago, I admit to loving this festive time where anything seems possible. As passionate hockey bloggers, we are really fans first who root as hard as we can for our teams. Sometimes, you win and sometimes you lose. While we can go overboard at moments over some game a la yesterday's Giant choke against Mike Vick and Desean Jackson, it's worth pointing out that those of us who write about the sport we love are lucky. We all come from good families and have roofs over our heads. Imagine the great ordeal those less fortunate must go through everyday. Especially when it's ice cold.

So, while your teams may not be giving you much to cheer about, just remember it's not the end of the world. I can think of much worse things. We must appreciate every day we have because sometimes, you just never know. I lost a great friend earlier this year who was the kind of enthusiastic, happy go lucky person who made everyone around him better. It's still very difficult that he's not around. Many of our core only knew him for over a year but in that span, we discovered a special human being with amazing qualities, which made it feel like a lot longer. Every day, I think about you Lyndzay. You're always there. I love you.

Christmas is a time to be with ones you love and care about. A time to have fun and create new memories that we hold onto forever. Yes, we celebrated it when me and Justin were growing up. Many great moments that will never go away. I'm glad I can be around close friends that are like family. Being that we don't have much left, it means plenty. I'm real excited that Brian is coming in during the holidays. We will have more great times that to quote Sam Rosen, "Shall last a lifetime." If only I could get away from that year. Haha.

Other than the Rangers, this season hasn't treated Battle fans too kindly. As someone who sat through many forgetful nights during a brutal stretch that shall not be repeated, I can only sympathize with what Islander and Devil fans are going through. It's not easy. Sometimes, I wonder how we dealt with all the losing. All the jokes. NHL fodder. If that happened now, I don't think I'd tolerate it. In all those years, I can't ever recall the Rangers winning nine of their first 32 or losing 24 of 30 to start a season. To think the Islanders won four of their first seven before plunging like the great Stock Market crash in 1987. Not even the most negative Islander fan could've predicted that. The Devil start is well devilish and we don't mean that in a Satanic way. The numbers are so miserable that they're not worth repeating. At least Ilya Kovalchuk is scoring again. So, what do you say to our resident Devil writer who's not used to this? Stick it out. If anything, they keep losing and they're guaranteed to land a top 3 pick. For as poorly as Lou Lamoriello has handled the post-lockout cap, he's still got a solid Draft record. You know he won't sit still as the season slips away. Changes are a comin' in Newark.

Islander fans have been here way too frequently. Even that brief stretch where they made the postseason didn't produce a single first round triumph, meaning the once proud franchise of the Cup Dynasty (1980-83) has almost ceased to exist. There always seem to be distractions. Whether it's bad owners like John Spano or Charles Wang's Lighthouse fantasy to the mysterious dismissal of former PR man Chris Botta's credentials, it's always something. Of course, many could point to former GM Mad Mike Milbury for where they are. His trade of Roberto Luongo to Florida and drafting of Rick DiPietro are the stuff of legend. If only that were positive. Now, it's basically John Tavares by himself while Matt Duchene lights it up on a good Colorado team. Sure makes ya wonder if this team is hexed. I don't know what to say to an Islander fan. They have been put through so much that it makes James Dolan's Garden Empire look like the Yankees. Just root for your team and hope it turns around. They can't be this bad forever.

Meanwhile, it's not much better for Brian's Sabres who after an uninspired start, sit in 11th eight points behind eighth Boston. Part of it was rating Vezina winner Ryan Miller missing some games. He hasn't been as sharp either. Still, I can't think of a better netminder I'd want for one game. Miller is fully capable of getting hot and carrying this team to the playoffs. Thomas Vanek had a dreadful beginning but had turned it around recently scoring like the go to guy he gets paid to be. However, the club has dropped three of four and Vanek hasn't lit the lamp, posting only an assist while going a miserable minus-six. There was a horrible 6-2 loss at Florida in which Miller was bad as was their D. In the one win over the Bruins, classic tease Drew Stafford scored his third career hat trick. With underachiever Tim Connolly suffering a broken nose thanks to getting slammed hard into that unprotected rim Don Cherry always justifiably rants about, he'll miss the next two home games against Anaheim tomorrow and Florida later this week. Can a team that doesn't score many goals turn it around? Jason Pominville hasn't been the same since his concussion. They also need better from Tyler Myers. What to tell Bri who's been through this before? Not much. He's always echoed that management never does enough to make them a true contender. Off last year, it's hard to disagree.

Meanwhile, the Rangers don't play till Thursday. In their big showdown Saturday with the first overall Flyers, they fell 4-1, done in by ex-Ranger Nikolay Zherdev- who converted a breakaway out of the penalty box thanks to an amazing Mike Richards 125 foot outlet. It was another poor showing for sophomore D Mike Del Zotto, who misplayed a puck leading to the second goal and was out of position for another en route to a minus-three afternoon. What can be done about his play? He turns over the puck way too much and is weak around the net, making it harder on steadier partner Michal Rozsival. Who'd ever thought it'd get to that? Henrik Lundqvist couldn't be faulted unless you wanted to pin him for a rebound which Zherdev finished from an impossible angle, concluding the scoring. Marian Gaborik remained invisible while teamed with both Erik Christensen and Derek Stepan, who later was shifted to a different line and converted his ninth off a nice Alex Frolov feed. I don't get it. Gabby returns and outside of his second hat trick versus Edmonton, he's lifeless. Frolov has been much better since his trial with energizers Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust. Maybe it's time to stick Gaborik with them. Prust is like our mini-Cally. Tort needs to get Sean Avery more ice-time. Maybe reunite him with Gabby and Christy. Regardless of the result that was kind of tainted due to the refs taking away Dale Weise's first goal in an impressive debut that included a near miss and a win over pest Daniel Carcillo, the Rangers have made their fans happy this Winter. In a conference where there aren't many clearcut teams outside of the Big Four (Flyers, Pens, Caps, Habs), there's no reason our team shouldn't be playing meaningful hockey in the Spring. Once Ryan Callahan returns, they should be dangerous.

So, there's at least one team with a pulse as we get ready for stockings, presents and candy canes. There's still time for that to change. He's making a list. He's checking it twice. He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town. Or as The Boss would say:

Santa Claus is coming to town! Santa Claus is coming to town! Santa Claus is coming to toooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwnn!!!!!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Big Week concludes tomorrow in Philly

In what's been a big week for the Rangers, they complete it in Philly tomorrow where they'll battle the league's best in an old Patrick showdown. Or shall we say throwdown. The bitter rivals have met once with the Flyers prevailing a month ago. A lot's happened since as both clubs have played good hockey, climbing up the standings.

First overall Philadelphia boasts plenty of scoring led by quartet Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Claude Giroux and Daniel Briere. There aren't many holes in a well balanced roster that boasts big and mean Chris Pronger anchoring a blueline that includes Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn. With surprising rookie Sergei Bobrovsky getting the job done in net and Brian Boucher doing his part, these Flyers are a force to be reckoned with. It's no wonder they ended the Penguin win streak at 12 thanks to a late goal from pest Scott Hartnell. They can play you any way, also boasting their own Sean Avery in Daniel Carcillo plus former Rangers Blair Betts and Jody Shelley. Even Nikolay Zherdev's contributed 11 goals, albeit in spurts. James Van Riemsdyk's also been lighting the lamp recently. This is Philly's best team since the '96-97 one that went to the Finals before getting blitzed by Detroit. It's their best chance to end a 36-year drought since the Broadway Bullies dominated in '74 and '75.

So, how will the Rangers deal with it? Nothing seems to faze this pesky bunch. Not after hammering the Caps Monday, then exploding for four goals in the final 10 minutes in a character building win at Pittsburgh, limiting Sidney Crosby to an assist for the second consecutive game. Then there was last night's come from behind 4-3 shootout home win over an angry Coyote team who no showed against the Devils. The perfect streak in second games of back-to-backs was in jeopardy when the Blueshirts came out flat with Martin Biron allowing a pair of softies in the first six minutes. But the backup battled through making big saves to keep his team in it.

That's what we've come to expect from a resilient club that never is out of a game. Never was there a more defining example that in Pittsburgh after losing emotional leader Ryan Callahan for six weeks with a broken left hand from what else but blocking a shot. They fight till the buzzer. Something Brian Boyle alluded to along with mini-Callahan Brandon Prust. Losing Cally stinks. But all year, they've faced obstacles overcoming no Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal or Chris Drury and also holding up okay without Michal Rozsival, who's playing some of his best hockey as a Ranger. After setting up two goals including one from Alex Frolov, Rozy set up Derek Stepan's tying goal late that forced only the second skill competition for our heroes. It was the clean faceoff win by a sharp Drury in his second game back that allowed them to tie it. They lost Callahan and Drury replaces him in many facets playing with Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky while providing great penalty killing and winning faceoffs. Something that's plagued us all year.

I said it the other night when Cally went down. It's an opportunity for other players to step up. Then Erik Christensen displays that skill with a laser over Brent Johnson and also wins the shootout yesterday with a fancy deke. Frolov, who's been much better since being moved to the Boyle/Prust line, gets dirty and notches the winner versus the Pens, setting off an explosion with Anisimov wiring his ninth and Boyle putting the exclamation point on the finest win of the season. There's the dominance of All-Star candidates Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, who are fulfilling expectations since the new contracts. Both adding offense to their game while getting better defensively, limiting time and space from skilled players such as Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin. There's Prust outhustling Jason LaBarbera to a loose puck and scoring a gigantic shortie with five seconds left in the second, giving our team momentum they ride into the third. And what about an overtime they dominated, getting numerous chances to end it with Boyle trying to atone for two penalties the 'Yotes scored on. The coach hates the shootout. The improvement in four-on-four has stood out. If only Marian Gaborik would remember that his job is to bury a few.

This is a T-E-A-M. In every sense, they come together standing up for each other with Mike Sauer throwing down and Sean Avery standing in for anyone. How great was it when he pulled Arron Asham away from Henrik Lundqvist after another cheap stick and dropped 'em. Did we mention Prust, who has become so valuable, takes on all comers? This is the kind of team the Garden Faithful have wanted for years. One that bands together and rallies around each other. They've made life easier on Lundqvist, who occasionally has to make big saves like the few he made against the Pens, holding them at one. It's no longer about the goalie but rather centered around a solid mix with a good core featuring home growns Callahan, Staal, Girardi, Brandon Dubinsky, Mike Del Zotto, Sauer, Stepan and Anisimov. Holdovers Rozsival and Lundqvist understand that as does Drury. Where would they be without Boyle and Prust? Remember how much we roasted Slats for that third round pick last year? No more. What Boyle has done is way above anyone's expectations. Hire the figure skating coach. The transformation has a two-way center capable of neutralizing the opposition. Come to think of it, that sounds like exact requirements for the Selke. Forget all the fancy names who will get preferential treatment. Boyle should be up for that award!

When it comes to Extra Effort, Callahan has always gone above and beyond the call of duty making officer Steven McDonald proud. You could say that about many Rangers this time. Boyle and Prust are my top two choices. They really exemplify what this team is all about. When John Tortorella singles out Prust after admitting they didn't know much about the 'throw in' in the Joke-in-en trade, it tells you everything. Sometimes, a player only needs a change of scenery to blossom. Before he arrived on Broadway, Prusty was used primarily on the fourth line by Phoenix and Calgary, playing sparingly as an enforcer. Who knew? You can't make it up.

There's no doubt these Rangers won't be intimidated by what the Flyers bring tomorrow. They'll battle. Compete. Fight. Because that's what they do. A shot at running the table this week against good competition. I've never been prouder to be a Ranger.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Devils' big names shine in shutout of Phoenix



During the early part of this season, there have been way too many nights where as Lou Lamoriello has pointed out on more than one occasion: 'Our best players haven't been our best players, for whatever reason'. Well tonight was at least a temporary reprieve from the nightmare that has been 2010 for the Devils - our best players in fact, were our best players tonight. Ilya Kovalchuk's first multi-goal game as a Devil (in 56 games), Patrik Elias's two assists and Martin Brodeur's 113th career shutout spurred New Jersey to an impressive 3-0 win over the Coyotes.

Tonight was a game the Devils badly needed just for team morale if nothing else, coming in off a five-game losing streak and more contreversy when Brian Rolston was waived, not claimed on waivers and then played 17+ minutes tonight - all within the last 36 hours. Just another example of the chaos that's clouded the team since this summer's shenanigans. To his credit though, Rolston handled a tumultuous couple of days in a first-class manner despite the appearance to some (including Jamie Langenbrunner) that he was being singled out for the Devils' struggles.

Whatever Rolston's future holds, at least all was right in Newark for a few hours as the Devils got out to an early lead and never looked back. Kovalchuk got his first of the game and sixth of the season at 5:30 after a nice feed from Danius Zubrus set the big guy up for a slapper from near the left faceoff circle that beat countryman Ilya Bryzgalov . At 13:18, the Devils went into even more rarified air, extending their lead to two when rookie Mark Fayne's shot from the right point found its way in past a screen set by Langenbrunner for the defenseman's first NHL goal, with Elias and Travis Zajac getting the assists. How rare was the Devils' two-goal lead? As Steve Cangelosi pointed out to Zubrus during the first intermission, it was the first time in nine games the Devils had more than a one-goal lead.

After a quiet second period which saw no penalties or goals, the Devils all but put away the game early in the third after back-to-back penalties by the Coyotes gave the Devils fifteen seconds on a five-on-three. Despite our improved power play in recent weeks, normally we're pretty bad with the two-man advantage but I did have the thought before this one that maybe with so little time we'd get one since we didn't have time to overthink. Lo and behold, Kovy scored what was almost a carbon copy goal - only this time it was Zajac feeding him towards the left side for a slapshot, giving the Devils a commanding 3-0 lead and putting a big smile on the talented Russian's face for one of the few times this season.

Sure, Phoenix had their chances and got 29 shots total on Brodeur but finally shaking off the rust that had clearly affected him last weekend, the perennial Vezina winner was in peak form tonight. To their credit, the Coyotes kept going right to the end and even had a power play in the final minute and a half but this time the Devils' defense stiffened and preserved the shutout. Amazingly, this was only the Devils' fifth regulation win in thirty tries (ninth win overall; the other four came in OT and shootouts).

Perhaps the most encouraging signs from the win - besides Brodeur regaining his game and Kovy finally putting a crooked number on the board - were the multi-assist games from Elias and Zajac. Elias has been heating up lately with three goals and three assists in his last five games, leading the team in points and after a nightmarish start of his own, Zajac also has six points in his last five games. Our special teams have been pretty good, going 7-20 on the power play and killing off all nineteen penalties against us. Not to mention the team's finally starting to get healthier. Finnish defenseman Anssi Salmela played his first game of the season tonight and didn't look too bad playing fifteen minutes. Fellow defenseman Mark Fraser and centerman Jacob Josefson are also on the mend and should be back soon.

Whoever's in the lineup Friday against Nashville should only have one thought on their minds, getting two in a row. Don't think about the playoffs, you can't win ten games in one night. Don't think about getting five goals to up your scoring closer to its normal levels...just win, win and win.

Preview: Rangers visit Crosby Pens tonight

It's a big night for MSG. Today, the Garden's two winter teams have pivotal games against bitter rivals. With this being a hockey blog, we'll focus more on the Rangers' third meeting against old Patrick Division rival Pittsburgh instead of the much anticipated Knicks-Celtics battle in Beantown on MSG.

There's no doubt that these two teams hate each other. Especially the war of words between Brandon Dubinsky and Sidney Crosby following the Pens' 3-1 win in the Big Apple a couple of weeks prior. The match featured a Crosby slew foot on emotional leader Ryan Callahan, who somehow got nabbed for phantom interference after being taken down by the league's best player. Dubinsky has never been shy about how he feels towards his former junior rival, disapproving of the Pitt captain's sneaky antics between whistles. It's no secret that Sid The Kid isn't afraid to mix it up, often delivering hacks and whacks which go undetected. A few blatant slashes which are potentially dangerous. That has rubbed Dubi and in particular our fanbase the wrong way. Call it sour grapes. But from our vantage point, it looks like the league's Golden Boy is getting the 'star treatment.'

Even Alex Ovechkin hasn't gotten this kind of love. Perhaps it's because the Cap sniper is more reckless, even getting suspended last season. Or maybe it's because Crosby is the very low key superstar the NHL wants to promote with a clean image that can easily be respected. For as much as Sid whines when things don't go his team's way, you'll never see him lose his cool in the locker room or postgame a la the Great 8 after that Olympic meltdown in Vancouver. Along with the league's leading scorer (26-27-53) being Canadian, it's easy to see why he's so well marketed. For as exciting as Sid's rival is, Ovi will never be portrayed that way. Instead, the leading Cap must shed the unfair label as a playoff choker while Crosby gets the accolades for winning a Cup, making two Finals, winning a Hart, Art Ross and Olympic gold thanks to one of the greatest goals in interntional history all by age 23.

There's no denying his unique talent which sparked a recent 12-game win streak before Pennsylvania rival Philadelphia snapped it with a 3-2 win last night. Ironically, the dominant stretch came following a 3-2 overtime loss to the Blueshirts in a wild game that saw the Pens get all six power plays and not beat Henrik Lundqvist until there were three minutes left, scoring two straight only to see All-Star candidate Marc Staal tie it shorthanded. Dubinsky set up Callahan for the OT winner, giving the Rangers their best win of the season. Since, Crosby's taken off passing Steven Stamkos for the league lead in goals and putting up an amazing 19-game scoring streak which continued yesterday with two assists on Evgeni Malkin goals. During it, he's totaled 38 points including a ridiculous 20 goals that featured two hat tricks in three games sandwiched around a one assist effort in Pittsburgh's win over the Rangers.

Can Staal and partner Dan Girardi keep him in check? They're emerging into a shutdown tandem capable of neutralizing the opposition. Ovechkin was left frustrated in a 7-0 rout Monday. The team's best performance. Lundqvist was also strong making 31 stops. So, are they up to the challenge with Geno also back having scored twice? It will take another gigantic effort from our heroes to make it two in a row and a two-game losing streak for the hated rival. If you want to see it, you'll have to find MSG2 due to the Coyotes/Devils being on the second network instead.

There should be fireworks. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lou sending mixed signals about direction of the Devils



So let's see, yesterday Devils GM Lou Lamoriello calls a quasi-press conference to declare that there will be no changes and the team we have is the team that we'll move forward with...and today he waives Brian Rolston? That's a faster misdirection than when he said Jacques Lemaire would return as Devils coach in '10 and then Lemaire 'resigned' three days later.

For his part, Lou claims that the decision was cap-related though why we need to do this now is a bit of a mystery unless Bryce Salvador's a lot closer to returning than we've been led to believe. And the only way waiving Rolston actually gives us cap relief - barring a trade which obviously isn't happening - is either if someone claims him straight up (not likely) or we assign him to Albany, then put him on re-entry waivers so that the cap hit gets divided between us and whoever claims him, which is probably the only realistic scenario to get any cap space this year out of Rolston.

Of course Rolston's two goals and two assists in fifteen games this season doesn't exactly scream that he needs to be here and perhaps giving young skaters like Mattais Tedenby and the rehabbing Jacob Josefson more icetime going forward is part of the reason why Rolston's become expendable in the GM's mind. Certainly there are on-ice reasons as well as cap considerations towards dumping Rolston. Plus there obviously needs to be a change in the culture of the locker room though if you believe Lou, Rolston wasn't a negative in that aspect.

“There is no better person in the room, no one with a more positive attitude,” Lamoriello said. “That’s what makes decisions like this so difficult. But I have to make some decisions. I can’t justify the payroll where we’re at with the results we’ve had and this is one of the decisions.”

So what are the financial considerations that merit releasing Rolston this afternoon, as opposed to say earlier in the season when we were playing with fifteen players or later on when we actually are closer to getting our higher-priced players back from injury (Salvador and Zach Parise)? While it's true Anssi Salmela will be playing his first game of the season Wednesday, adding his $625k salary to the roster is hardly a backbreaker. Perhaps Josefson and defenseman Mark Fraser are also close to returning, though the three of them combined only equal two million in cap space, and we still have six million plus on IR. Since we were about three million over the cap before the season I'd think there would still be enough room to bring all three back and maintain a full roster, especially since you're replacing league minimum guys like Stephen Gionta and Olivier Magnan.

There are only two scenarios I can think of where the Devils need cap space in the next few weeks - one I've already stated, that Salvador is in fact closer to returning than any of us know (which would definitely amp up the timetable) and the other one being that Lou wants to start negotiations with Parise on an extension and needs to clear a little more cap space next year to kick that off so the winger can be inked before this offseason where potential offer sheets and a bad season for the team might impact Zach's future plans.

For his part, Rolston admitted that going on waivers didn't come as a total surprise and publicly said that if he was sent down to Albany he would report (not a big shock considering the $7 million or so left on his deal, he wouldn't get more than $2 million perhaps if he refused to report and went on the open market). And Lou finally said something that was obvious to a lot of us if not this offseason, at worst a month ago:

“I thought we would come out of it,” Lamoriello said. “I thought we were coming out of it, but then we went back. Maybe my patience was a little too patient.”

Yet in almost the same breath Lou said that if Rolston wasn't claimed by noon tomorrow he would be in the lineup for tomorrow night's game against the Coyotes. Perhaps it's a bluff...but with Rip Van Lou's lack of real activity so far I'll believe Rolston's off the team when I see it.

Islanders a mess

The Islanders remain a mess under new coach Jack Capuano, having dropped six straight after falling 5-0 at Nashville last night. With only one win over the Devils that ended the miserable 14-game winless streak, it's hard to conclude that any progress is being made since the coaching change.

How does all the losing affect John Tavares, who himself is having a tough sophomore year? The former '09 No.1 overall pick has eight goals and six assists for 14 points along with a minus-19 rating in 25 games. However, he missed time with a concussion and doesn't exactly have much around him outside top finisher Matt Moulson, who paces the club with 10 markers and 16 points. Frans Nielsen is second with 15 points (4-11-15)- also matched by James Wisniewski (2-13-15) and Blake Comeau (5-10-15). Tavares is tied with ex-Ranger P.A. Parenteau (4-10-14) for sixth with 14 points.

If you're an Islander fan looking at the stat sheet, you're wondering why Tavares isn't on top and where the heck is Josh Bailey. A player Garth Snow traded down to get. To say it's been a rough season for the third-year pro would be an understatement. Bailey got out alright but went into a dreadful slump that eventually saw the club demote him to Bridgeport where he got hurt. It has all gone wrong for the projected second line center.

Then there's Kyle Okposo, who can't seem to stay on the ice. The emerging power wing is a big part of the team's future and seemed poised for a big season. Instead, he remains out after having right shoulder surgery, having not even debuted. On a club without much depth, that was a big blow as was the loss of top defender Mark Streit after a freak accident in practice back in preseason. The Islanders remain without more than half their starting blueline with both Milan Jurcina and Mike Mottau also on the mend along with Mark Eaton. Injury prone Radek Martinek finally missed a game last night with an arm problem.

All the injuries which occur every year like Bill Murray's Groundhog Day character Phil having the same day repeat over and over again, makes one wonder if this franchise is hexed. Between the whole screwy arena lease which hampers them along with owner Charles Wang's agenda oriented Lighthouse Project and Snow's execution of Islander blogger and former PR man Chris Botta cause he dared criticize the team, it's like a night at the circus. And we don't mean Barnum & Bailey or even James Dolan's clowns at MSG, who sadly look good compared to what's going on on the Island.

Even as a rival fan, I throw my hands up in the air at how the Islanders can ever turn it around and field a competitive roster. They are so bad right now that it's almost got an expansion feel to it. This is a franchise that's been around for five decades and once were league darlings with an Islander Dynasty spanning 1980-83. Hell. Even '84 though they fell short of winning No.5 against the Gretzky and Messier Oilers. This is a franchise that hasn't won a single round since that miraculous '93 run to the Conference Finals before Patrick Roy's Habs took them out.

Then, there's the mystery of Rick DiPietro and if he'll ever be the same following all the surgeries. When he gives up a goal off a faceoff because his head's down and it turns into the winner in a wild Atlanta game that featured over 1,200 Quebec Nordique fans cheering wildly at each 15 minute mark, it begs the question when is enough enough? With only five wins and a measly 15 points in 28 games, they have last all to themselves, having been outscored 98-59. The sad aspect is they started the season in first before the roof caved in Metrodome style. Apologies state of Minnesota.

So, the next time a Yankee fan complains (I am one) about Cliff Lee stuffing them for the Phillies, please. Even Mets fans have it better. Though you wouldn't know it by the way the new regime's operating. It might be time to put a giant HELP sign in front of Nassau Coliseum. Maybe then Gary Bettman will finally notice.

Devils waive Rolston

The Devils finally made a move today, waiving veteran forward Brian Rolston. The 37 year-old Rolston who returned to New Jersey three years ago, has two years, $5.062 million remaining on his contract. In 15 games this season which was hampered by a sports hernia, the '95 Cup winner has two goals and two assists for four points.

Regardless if he clears waivers or retires, Rolston's salary will count against the Devils cap because he's over 35. TSN's Bob McKenzie who broke the story on Twitter, also notes that he can be put on re-entry waivers which might give a better chance of someone claiming him. They'd be on the hook for half the salary/cap hit.

For Rolston, this could be the end of the line for a gritty Team USA star who played in two Olympics ('02, '06) including the memorable silver at Salt Lake, falling to familiar face Martin Brodeur and Team Canada. In his second stint with the Devils, Rolston totaled 37 goals and 36 helpers for 73 points over 159 games. That included 16 power play goals and six game-winners. Unfortunately, he was a disappointment after huge success with Minnesota. But as so happens with many aging vets, their play levels off, which is why the deal never made any sense to begin with.

In what's become a trying season with New Jersey sitting 29th with just eight wins and 18 points in 29 games trailing eighth by 18, the finger has to be pointed at President/GM Lou Lamoriello, who for all his success erred in handing out too many contracts like Rolston's with many including no-movement clauses. Something which has been a theme in Hasan's posts. Henrik Tallinder has been an epic fail thus far, posting a minus-16 rating. But he's far from alone with megastar Ilya Kovalchuk stuck on five goals and 14 points with a minus-18. Leading scorer Patrik Elias has only lit the lamp six times and top center Travis Zajac (3-10-13) hasn't been the same since Zach Parise went down.

There haven't been many bright spots. Swedish rookie Mattias Tedenby has shown flashes but has cooled off. Anton Volchenkov has been steady since returning from a broken nose. Jason Arnott leads the club with nine goals but is hardly the same player who scored the most memorable goal in franchise history 10 years ago. Dainius Zubrus (4-8-12) tries but the harsh reality is that his salary ($3.4 M) is hardly a bargain. Captain Jamie Langenbrunner's struggles are well documented. What can Lamoriello do? Surely, he couldn't have predicted Andy Greene stuck on a club worst minus-19 or Kovalchuk firing blanks.

What does it mean for Parise, who turns restricted this summer a year away from potentially leaving the only place he's known? It remains to be seen if such a poor season will impact what Zach Attack does. He's their most important player. The Devils can't afford to lose him.

Waiving Rolston starts the process for a prideful GM who never gives up. Most definitely, the Devils are better off getting younger moving forward. The playoffs seem like a pipe dream. Uncommon around these parts since '95-96. For now, all the Devs can do is continue to play hard under first-year coach John MacLean. Their next chance to snap a five-game skid is tomorrow at home versus the Coyotes. The Preds visit Friday and then New Jersey goes to Atlanta to face one of those teams they're chasing. It's like chasing a dream.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Rangers make statement in Cap destruction

It's not often we see the Rangers hammer opponents. Especially this hard working club short on talent outside the star goalie and star forward. The reason fans love this team is because they come to the rink ready to go to work. More often than not, they've given the Garden Faithful reasons to cheer and get excited.

Last night was no exception. Truth be told, even I didn't foresee our resilient club putting up seven on a good Cap team going through a slump. However, my gut told me they would respond off a tough 3-1 road loss at Columbus in which Henrik Lundqvist let down teammates. The one aspect that any Ranger fan can appreciate is how tough our guys are. They bounce back. No wonder I was confident as they took the 7-0 record in the second of back-to-backs at Madison Square Garden. As we made our way into the building, I guaranteed victory to startled looks on Dad, Justin and Mike. Why? Because whenever it seems this team's backs are to the wall following a disappointment, they show who they are. Credit John Tortorella for building the character and confidence we're seeing.

I didn't have us winning 7-zip. I figured Lundqvist would be better because for as much as I get on him when he allows softies, the man has a ton of pride. He takes losses to heart. Even ones which aren't his fault as evidenced in an MSG loss to Ottawa a week prior. He wants to lead this team. So, I had no doubt he'd be primed last night stopping all 31 shots his way (accurately predicted btw) en route to shutout No.5 and the Swede's 29th in his career. It's easy to forget that during the blowout that delighted the place to the tune of a standing ovation following a dominant second period, it was only 1-0 before the skies opened literally on Washington. After solid citizen Brandon Prust made it 1-zip, the King was there to stop Alexander Semin. He made a few pivotal stops before our team put up a four spot.

There wasn't one player who didn't show with even Alex Frolov continuing to improve since being put with energizer duo Prust and Brian Boyle, who emerged into a playmaker. Everyone contributed. Marc Staal was a beast, scoring a shorthanded goal and setting up a Gaborik tally while keeping Alex Ovechkin in check. Partner Dan Girardi a block machine, repelling any shot that came his way during one Cap power play where it seemed seven or eight were blocked with Boyle and Prust doing the job at the points. This was a masterpiece. The way we want to see our heroes play. When Artem Anisimov blew one past the poor Cap goalie who Bruce Boudreau didn't pull, it ended a nine-game point drought. I also felt he was ready to break out following a good performance realigned with Draft Linemates Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan.

Marc Staal kept a puck alive and fired for Gaborik, who tipped home his ninth making it 3-0. Then, Dubinsky got into the act backing up the matador Cap D before faking pass, then firing thru the wickets for his team best 14th. The party wasn't over. Not when Boyle came with a full head of steam shorthanded with Staal, making a sweet dish to our suddenly emerging franchise defenseman who had an even sweeter backhand deke finish, increasing to five.

This was Le Magnifique with apologies to Super Mario. There was also Dubinsky standing up for Girardi after Ovechkin came late. And Ovi accepted the challenge and the two threw down with Brandon getting the takedown to roaring approval. Imagine Sidney Crosby answering the bell to Dubi. We can dream with Wednesday's grudge match approaching. With the game decided, Sean Avery avenged Mike Sauer with a clean right earning the decision. To the haters, say what you want. But there isn't any teammate Avery won't stand up for.

There also was Dubinsky and Callahan hooking up for a beautiful goal from Cally in front. Then, there was No.24 racing in two-on-one with Dubi and ripping one off the far post to hit double digits. All on a night nothing went wrong. Spear the few knuckleheads who cheered when a Semin shot hit Ovechkin. The act of a few fools doesn't give any hockey writer/blogger the right to unfairly label an entire fanbase. Unfortunately, there are these types everywhere. And I'll bet if Avery was the victim in enemy territory, it would likely be worse. Don't rain on our parade because of a silly few who don't have common sense. There are plenty of knowledgeable Ranger fans who know how to act and were appalled by the folly of those losers.

It doesn't change what the guys wearing the cool third threads did. Now, they get to test it against the mighty Pens. We can hardly wait.

The Puck Stops Here

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