Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kovy gaffe and contreversial call burn the Devils

Before getting to anything else and the nonsense that was the third period of this afternoon’s game, I have to say this home-and-home with the Isles certainly lived up to the billing, at least in the respect that both games were competitive down to the final buzzer and each team had numerous chances to score. Not only did the teams split their weekend series, but there was controversy at the end of this afternoon’s game to boot. Basically these two games had just about everything you could want, including chippiness – most of it from the Isles’ John Tavares who really acted like a punk this weekend and got unpunished for it other than a chintzy fine for his two-handed slash on Zach Parise in yesterday’s game.

With the number of scoring chances in each game – particularly this afternoon’s contest – the fact that the scores were only 1-0 and 3-2 were a credit to Isles goalie Al Montoya (thrown right into a back-to-back off of injury) and Devils goalies Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg. Even though Hedberg threw a shutout yesterday, in many respects Brodeur was just as spectacular today – stopping at least two or three breakaways, including a staggering double save towards the end of the second period on Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo with his team trailing 2-1 at the time. After stopping Grabner on yet another breakaway, he had the presence of mind to throw up the glove just in time to stone Okposo trying to swat the rebound in.

That sequence seemed to give the Devils momentum going into the third period and when Ilya Kovalchuk sprung Adam Henrique on a breakaway, the super rookie again converted to tie the game at two. With a power play minutes later, it seemed as if the Devils were on their way to completing the comeback and getting the two points. Instead, a bizarre sequence began with Kovalchuk swatting the puck back into his own end, then after recovering it wound up trying to do his usual fancy-pants stickhandling right in front of Brodeur. Of course, he got stripped and gave up an easy breakaway chance for Grabner – who wouldn’t miss this time, giving the Isles their third lead of the game.

Even with his two assists earlier in the game (though it wasn’t like he made a particularly stirring play on either), that sequence finally proved enough for those in attendance, who booed the $100 million man mercilessly the rest of the game. Kovy even got booed during intermission when one of those taped messages popped up wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, and he got the Scott Gomez treatment with repeated boos when he had the puck on his stick. To this I say good. I’m not an advocate of booing your own players unless it’s a case of a lack of effort but Kovy’s repeated lah-de-dah giveaways that have led to shorthanded goals against tell me he’s not thinking, and therefore not trying. The experiment of him playing RW on a line with Henrique and Parise needs to end now as well. Kovy refuses to play off the right side, frequently drifting left and therefore shadowing Zach and blunting both their effectiveness. It’s telling that Henrique’s been by far the best player on that line.

Kovy compounded matters by acting like a baby later on in the game when Tavares again took a swipe at him and knocked him down in the corner, and again didn’t get called (when, exactly did Tavares become as teflon as Sid Crosby?) Kovy just sat in the corner and wiggled around like a soccer player. Eventually he drew an unsportsmanlike minor on himself, again hurting the team’s chances to win with just minutes remaining by forcing them to have to kill another penalty. And again, that’s not being a team player and boos only multiplied. It is amazing that even a schlep like Brian Rolston never got booed by Devils fans but Kovy drove everyone – including me – to the point of no return this afternoon.

Even with Kovy’s best efforts to give the game away, and some other people’s careless turnovers as well, the Devils still found themselves within one with five seconds remaining and a faceoff to the right of Montoya. Patrik Elias lost the faceoff but the puck somehow bounced right to Danius Zubrus by the boards, and Zubie threw it in front towards Parise, who whacked the puck in with barely two seconds left, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Except that Toronto decided to get into the act (again). After allowing an Isles goal in the second period despite contact with Brodeur and the net coming off its moorings – with a ‘review’ that lasted approximately thirty seconds – they took a couple of minutes then decided they saw enough evidence of a distinct kicking motion that they overturned the goal.

Really it was a dubious call (to put it mildly, since this is a family blog), the only ‘kicking motion’ came when Parise was falling to the ice and he had no way of knowing where the puck is when he is supposed to have kicked at it. You’re supposed to have no doubt when you overturn a call on the ice. I was so annoyed I didn’t even notice the captain’s frustration toward the refs after the play was overturned and when the clock ran down. In some ways I’m glad he went off, maybe it provides the spark for the captain to get going – though his anger was a bit misplaced since it wasn’t the refs who overturned the goal but the men eating donuts in Toronto.

As hideous as that ending was, the fact is the Devils would have gotten at least a point out of the game if not for Kovy’s umpteenth gaffe and this home-and-home confirmed something I’ve feared for most of the season…while the Devils have the best goaltending tandem in the league with Brodeur and Hedberg, they’re a bottom third team in the other two phases (offense and defense). They’re only going to go as far as Marty, Moose and a resurgent Elias can carry them. Not to mention the extra shootout points, that might be necessary just to get us in the playoffs. Unless some other people get going – like the captain and of course, the $100 million man, who’s starting to look like he can’t get it going under any coach besides Jacques Lemaire. Of course it would help if said coaches left him at his natural LW position. Even if that means (gasp!) putting him on the third line, since the Elias-Zubrus-Petr Sykora line is rolling and moving Parise off of LW is just as dubious. If Kovy’s not going to earn his icetime, then at some point we’ve got to take a stand. The fans have started to voice their displeasure, when does the team?

Game Preview: Rangers get ready for Flyers

Finally, the schedule picks up. Sure. Yesterday's 6-3 win over a disappointing Washington team was nice. Garden Faithful had to love the balance with just about everyone contributing, including rookie call up Carl Hagelin, who recorded his first NHL point- assisting on Brian Boyle's second of the season. In his NHL debut, Hagelin didn't look out of place alongside Boyle and ex-Leaf John Mitchell. Could this be another classic case of an overachiever? Stay tuned.

Today after 2, the Rangers return home to host the banged up Flyers. Despite injuries to Chris ProngerJaromir Jagr (oh well) and James van Riemsdyk, the Broad Street Bullies bring a 13-6-3 record in led by certain All-Star Claude Giroux. The orange and black are still loaded with pain in the ass Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen, Jakub Voracek and Calder hopeful Matt Read. In stunning news, Ilya Bryzgalov will not start for a second consecutive game with younger Russian Sergei Bobrovsky getting the call following a 3-1 home win over the Habs yesterday. Another overpaid goalie riding the pine and in Philly. Shocking. :P

If the contest spurs out of control, the Rangers don't have anyone to deal with the zany Zac Rinaldo (77 PIM). With crazy guy Andre Deveaux serving the second of a three-game suspension for elbowing Tomas Fleischmann, who thankfully was alright in Florida's 2-1 win over us on Turkey Eve, we really don't have anyone who can take on Rinaldo. That could spell doom because Rinaldo loves to run guys. Brandon Prust is just too banged up. It's a miracle he's even playing. Prusty is our ultimate warrior. I'd rather see him get some time off as he'll be important in the second half. Instead, he continues to play at less than 100 percent. Sean Avery has played well but is no match for Rinaldo. Besides, Avery's days of fighting are behind him. He's always been more of a pest anyway. Sean had a really good game Friday forechecking effectively and drawing a penalty in eight minutes.

John Tortorella plans to stick with a lineup that snapped out of a mini-slump in which it scored only two goals and lost both games. After exploding for half a dozen, who can blame him? Ruslan Fedotenko tallied twice and Artem Anismov also notched a goal as both left Brandon Dubinsky in the lonely '1' department. When will Dubi snap out of it? I know he's trying out there as I saw him working hard during yesterday's game. But he really needs to start earning that fat new paycheck. The difference between him and Ryan Callahan is two-fold as Captain Cally always busts it. In a game he had three assists, second and third efforts allowed him to get the puck to open teammates for big goals. That's why one's a leader and the other doesn't even have an 'A' despite being a key player to our chances. Dubinsky is better than this. It's time to wake up!

While the Dubi Watch continues, he's been passed on the depth chart by Derek Stepan, who more and more reminds of a young Chris Drury. D-Step just has the knack for the clutch play. He set up Marian Gaborik's team-leading 10th with a nice look away pass. The more we see the former Badger, the more it looks like he'll fulfill expectations. As long as Anisimov continues to mesh on that top line, they should remain together.

There are no changes today. Here are the lines that include a third consecutive start for Henrik Lundqvist, who despite allowing three, was on again Friday.


Del Zotto-Sauer


Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Showdown A Success

In case you missed it, the first ever Thanksgiving Showdown was a success on NBC. And boy, did they choose wisely featuring the Original Six Red Wings and defending champion Bruins in Beantown.

In what amounted to a clinic on how the game should be played, Detroit bested Boston 3-2 in a shootout- putting a halt to the Bruins' 10-game win streak. The game's best player, Pavel Datsyuk scored in the skill competition with the B's Nathan Horton forcing last licks. Vet Todd Bertuzzi ended it with a tricky deke and forehand finish just off Tuukka Rask's glove, giving the Wings a well earned win.

The teams combined for four goals during at times, a spectacular back and forth contest that saw each take turns controlling. Despite an off first, Detroit was in front on Valtteri Filppula's goal from Henrik Zetterberg and Ian White. However, some hard work from ex-Sabre Daniel Paille paid dividends when he and Horton forced Jimmy Howard into a turnover, allowing Paille to pull off a backhand deke into an open side for the equalizer.

Before the Bruin faithful could be seated, there was that guy Datsyuk turning a Bertuzzi backhand pass into a highlight reel go-ahead goal 35 seconds later. I've raved about #Datsyukian for years on how I believe he's the best player in the game. Sorry Sid. Nobody pays as much attention to detail and he's every bit as dangerous. On the goal, he skated around two players and then kicked the puck to his stick before finishing off a forehand deke past Rask. The artistry and imagination made it possible. Doc and Pierre raved about another shift where he again used his skates to move a puck. A third sequence occurred when he wisely kicked the puck out of harm's way with powerhouse Milan Lucic on the hunt. The hockey sense of Datsyuk is off the charts. It's why he's always up for the Selke. It was nice to see Pierre McGuire pay some accolades by mentioning the skilled Russian for MVP. In Mike Babcock's system, he'll never have the numbers of a Crosby, Malkin or even Kessel if he can maintain his unbelievable pace. Pavel doesn't need to. He simply never takes a shift off and doesn't quit defensively. The man can force a turnover that quickly and transition.

Enough about my favorite player. There were quite a few of them, including the ageless Nick Lidstrom actively using his stick to stifle Boston chances. Patrice Bergeron also was stellar, notching the tying goal at 7:52 of the third after super soph Tyler Seguin forced Henrik Zetterberg into a turnover. Again. Good on McGuire mentioning how great all around Bergy is. He really should be up for the Selke but never will have the numbers to qualify. There are many great two-way players including last year's deserving winner Ryan Kesler, the Kings' Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar to name a few. Tomas Plekanec is another player who goes unnoticed. Aside from Carey Price, the man is the Canadiens.

Thanks to splendid goalkeeping from darkhorse Vezina candidate Howard on a day I didn't start him, the contest needed a shootout. All the University Of Maine alum did was make 41 saves, including highway robbery late with the game up for grabs. He really is tremendous and bares watching while Vezina incumbent Tim Thomas and certain candidates Pekka Rinne and Henrik Lundqvist get all the credit. The goaltending is out of this world. Rask wasn't too shabby either, finishing with 29 saves.

There are plenty of games going on including Devils-Islanders, Rangers-Caps and Sabres-Jackets. Blake Comeau was waived by the Islanders and picked up by the Flames. I know he stunk this year and fell out of favor. But giving up on a former second rounder who had 24 goals the year before and was a PK fixture just seems a bit perplexing. Especially when they took a flyer on vet Brian Rolston. I don't get it. We'll have more tomorrow on the games.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Devils set for mass reunion against Isles in this weekend's home-and-home

After approximately one-quarter of the season, it's somewhat surprising that as of this point, the Devils haven't played either of their New York rivals yet this season. That's set to change in a big way this weekend however, as the Devils and Islanders get set for a home-and-home showdown with a weird 3 PM start time on Long Island tomorrow afternoon when some of us (including me) actually do have to work, and a more normal 1 PM start time on Saturday at the Rock. Both teams are going in opposite directions right now, with the Devils off to an 11-8-1 start after winning four of their last six, while the Isles are stuck in the basement once again after a 5-10-3 start and losses in their last three - including a 5-0 loss in Pittsburgh where they served as the props for Sidney Crosby's storybook comeback.

Despite the records, you can always count on a good effort from the Isles against their neighbors. Even if the Isles preceded their loss in Pittsburgh with a 6-0 blanking at the hands of the Cup champs, and followed it by losing a two-goal lead against the Flyers. Three players in particular will want to do well against the Devils this weekend - Mike Mottau, Jay Pandolfo and Brian Rolston. Mottau left the Devils last season as a free agent and became one of the few players to play for all three NY-NJ teams, long-time Devil Pando is attempting a comeback after a year away from the game and two-time Devil Rolston was 'traded' to the Isles for the right to buy out Trent Hunter's contract. Hey, at least we gave Hunter a tour of the building in his week-long tenure as a Devil.

Last season's games, in particular showed the competitiveness between the two teams, as all were memorable in different ways. Eerily, the two teams first met the day after Thanksgiving in an afternoon matinee on Long Island last year, a dubious game that saw the Devils lose 2-0 to an Islander team that came into the game on a fourteen, yes fourteen-game losing streak. Our second matchup at the Rock just before Christmas was even more embarassing, as the Isles whipped us 5-1 in a matchup of the two worst teams in the NHL, sending us to the bottom of the league in Jacques Lemaire's return to the bench.

Eventually things started to improve under Lemaire, and the Devils for a rare time in recent memory actually handled the Isles up in Nassau easily in late January, with even Vladimir Zharkov scoring his first career NHL goal in a 5-2 win. As both teams started to get competitive and make improbable late-season runs, the final three games of the season all took place in March, with the Devils beating the Isles in a stirring shootout win 3-2 on the 6th at Long Island. Rolston of all people 'called his shot' by standing up at the bench, convincing Lemaire to use him and subsequently scoring the winner in the skills competition. Back at the Rock six days later, the two teams went to OT again before Anssi Salmela's winner gave the Devils another 3-2 win and was perhaps Steve Cangelosi's best single goal call at the mike. Finally both teams fell out of it in mid-March but they both played one more spirited game, once again won 3-2 by the Devils at the Rock though this came in regulation on March 30.

As far as this year's teams go, the records may be different right now but the Devils' 11-8-1 start has by no means been easy, with five of those wins coming in the shootout including what was a somewhat ugly game against the Columbus Blue Jackets last night. That game was only the second home contest I've missed all year, as I was uptown at a friend's birthday dinner. When I saw the recap that Martin Brodeur had 36 saves, including 17 in a third period where we were outshot 17-3 I just shook my head. Thank goodness Brodeur, fellow goalie Johan Hedberg (winner of all the previous shootouts) and star wingers Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk have all been money in the skills competition. God knows Parise and Kovalchuk have gotta carry their weight somehow, since they're not scoring much in the first sixty-five minutes of the game.

It didn't occur to me that anyone other than Brodeur would have been the first star of the game but when I got home and saw that Jackets enforcer Jared Boll was somehow named first star, after playing only six minutes plus and 'scoring' the tying goal off his skate, I was dumbfounded. It's like there's a rule in the media voting that the first star must automatically go to the guy who scored the tying goal in a tie hockey game (since the shootouts aren't taken into consideration with the three stars), irrespective of how the game actually went. On the brighter side, Danius Zubrus played in his 1000th NHL game and celebrated by scoring his team's only goal in regulation.

While timely goaltending, penalty killing and shootout scoring is getting the Devils by for now, the Isles are stuck in netural with nearly all the goalies they've stockpiled for depth shelved by injuries. When everyone was healthy, it was an unwieldy mess with Al Montoya (last season's late sensation), vet Evgeni Nabokov after he was forced to report, and the perpetually hurt Rick DiPietro splitting time. That's not even including prospect Kevin Poulin, who played some last year and is also on the shelf. Amusingly DiPietro's the only one who is still standing, at least as of now. It's as if his fragility is a disease that's now become contagious to the other netminders. Faceless Anders Nilsson was thrown to the wolves against the Pens but it's likely DiPietro will get at least one of the two games this weekend.

Despite the invasion of ex-Devils to Long Island, they haven't done much to stop the losing with Rolston having just two goals, two assists and a -6 in 17 games (shocking, I know). Mottau - coming off a serious eye injury last year - has played twelve games without a point and is a -5 himself. And Pando has just one goal with a -5 in 19 games. Then again, the only Isle skater of consequence who isn't a minus something is Frans Nielsen, an E after his 19 games played. With just thirty-eight goals in 19 games, the Isles' scoring woes are even more pronounced than ours, though our scoring and specifically the power play has at least started to improve from awful to merely average-below average.

After playing the last four games and winning three of them, look for Brodeur to sit tomorrow in favor of Hedberg and probably be back in there Saturday at the Rock, the Devils' last home game before yet another four-game trip - at Colorado, Minnesota, Winnipeg and Toronto. In other lineup news, the dissapointing Nick Palmeri (3 G, 3 A, -5 in 19 games) finally got sent down today. Happy Thanksgiving, Nick :P

All in all, the Devils are in the middle of a ten games out of twelve stretch on the road, and not playing in the same rink more than once in a row. Still, there's no excuse for the Devils to not at least split the home and home, which I sort of expect anyway. Yeah, the games will probably be wars but if you're a playoff team you have to beat last-place teams the majority of the time. So far, the Devils have played a very tough schedule, as I'm getting reminded constantly when I'm skeptical about the team's chances. Now's their chance to start making hay against some of the lesser lights.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Crosby Magical Return dooms Islanders

All eyes were on the game's biggest superstar last night in Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby's long wait was over with the Penguin captain finally returning to the ice for the first time since two concussions last January. Much like his boss Mario Lemieux, who cameback in epic fashion victimizing the Maple Leafs, Sid The Kid emulated Super Mario with a virtuoso performance at a soldout Consol Energy Center- scoring twice and setting up two more goals in a dominant Pens' 5-0 blowout of the Islanders.

Maybe it shouldn't have come as any shock that such a great player would electrify the home crowd at the Isles' expense. On his opening shift, he nearly assisted on a goal but linemate Chris Kunitz hit the post. It didn't take long for Crosby to put on a show, flying past two Islanders including defenseman Andrew MacDonald before roofing the game's best backhand top shelf on poor Swedish rookie Anders Nilsson, who shouldn't have started his first NHL game in the first place.
I saw for a few seconds they were a little flat-footed,” Crosby said. “I was able to get some good speed built up when I got it. I knew I had a chance to go wide.”
How do you throw a green 21-year old kid into that building off a 6-0 humiliation versus Boston where they honored Jiggs McDonald and Ed Westfall? Even more mindless is why Nino Neiderreiter didn't play. With vets like Brian Rolston underperforming, wouldn't it make sense to give the ex-Devil a night off and keep their '10 first rounder in for energy? The Islanders are still in a rebuild. If Jack Capuano can scratch Kyle Okposo or Blake Comeau, he can also make an example of a leader who's not getting it done.

Nilsson was in for all five Pittsburgh goals, including a nifty Crosby pass that allowed immortal Brooks Orpik to beat the '09 third round pick clean, banking one in off the post. Cleared for his first game, Sidney certainly took some contact with second-year Isles' defenseman Travis Hamonic knocking him down with a clean check against the glass, which he got right up from and continued. The best news of all for the Pens and for the NHL that's made him the face of hockey. Funny enough, he wasn't screaming 'Oh yeah' when he scored his first of the season, which was bleeped out. If you were gone so long with doubts as to whether you'd even comeback, you'd probably feel the same emotion. Nobody can deny Sid's impact. At 24, he has already won a Cup, Hart, Art Ross, Rocket Richard and Olympic gold with one of the greatest goals in international history. A Canadian hero who has done it all. That he is finally back where he belongs is very exciting for the league and the fans, who hopefully get to see No.87 for a long time.
"It's significant when any League's top player returns to action," Toronto GM Brian Burke said via Twitter. "Welcome back Sid. Good luck as you get underway.
"'Yup, this leagues still a joke for me.' - Sidney Crosby 4 minutes into first game back," in a TSN piece today.
The great players make it look easy. Exactly what Crosby did to the struggling Islanders, who fell for the sixth time in their last seven (1-5-1). Capuano's club has been outscored 11-0 the past two contests. They're 2-6-1 in November with the Flyers tomorrow, a back-to-back with the Devils post-Thanksgiving and a visit to Buffalo to conclude the month. There's still time for them to get back on track. But at 5-10-3, the Islanders sit dead last in the East with 13 points- trailing eighth Washington by 10. The good news is the gap isn't that large between fifth Buffalo (24 Pts) and them. Time is ticking.
"We have to take a good look at ourselves. We didn't compete the way we needed to. We're a better team than we showed tonight. We have to be held accountable for our play," veteran Steve Staios lamented after getting victimized by Crosby for a seeing eye backhand that somehow found twine for his second of the night.
For Nilsson, he was under siege predictably against a high powered Pens' attack that features Evgeni Malkin, who finished off his sixth on the power play and later made an incredible feed to Steve Sullivan that increased their lead to 4-zip in the second. Just over two minutes into the third, Crosby showed off his strength by skating away from the bigger Staios along the wall before throwing a backhand that deflected past a helpless Nilsson.
"Of course the tempo and speed is a lot quicker up here, almost like night and day compared to the AHL," Nilsson admitted after making 31 saves in his second appearance. We apologize for stating that it was his NHL debut in yesterday's preview. "It's going to take some adjustment before I am used to everything up here."
The Islanders have no choice with Evgeni Nabokov sidelined for a month with a groin injury while backup Al Montoya was also put on the IR with a hamstring problem. Amazingly, incumbent starter Rick DiPietro is healthy and probably should've gotten the call under such a chaotic situation. Sure. A costly mistake led to a Nathan Horton tally Saturday but come on. Perhaps DP could've bounced back and kept it competitive. Kyle Okposo returned from a three-game hiatus. The once promising power wing was again held off the score sheet and remains stuck with a goose egg in goals. The organization also recalled David Ullstrom from Bridgeport for his first NHL action with the former '08 fourth rounder delivering four hits in over 13 minutes, while finishing minus-two.

John Tavares had a great night in the faceoff circle winning 15-of-23 but none of his six shots beat Marc-Andre Fleury, who recorded his 21st career shutout. Fleury matched his jersey number with 29 stops. Afterwards, the player everyone came to see still handed him the game puck for the milestone. Pretty cool.

“I thought we had a decent start, it’s just I think [Crosby’s] goal gave them a big lift and they had some momentum from the power plays and they took it to us early in the second and we couldn’t come out of that,” Tavares pointed out.

Notes: The news wasn't good for NYI D Mark Eaton, who left the game with a sprained left MCL. ... Malkin had a goal and assist while Crosby linemate Pascal Dupuis added three helpers. ... Crosby took 21 shifts, tallying his first four points (2-2-4) in less than 16 minutes. He also dominated on draws going 14 and 7. ... Tavares and captain Mark Streit combined for 10 of the Isles' 29 shots.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit (29 saves for 2nd shutout of season-21st career)
2nd Star-Evgeni Malkin, Pit (PPG-sixth of season, assist in 17:45)
1st Star-Sidney Crosby, Pit (2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, +3 in season debut)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Devils' embarassing meltdown in Florida mars a winning road trip

If you'd asked me before this stretch whether I'd have taken a 3-3 record playing the Caps in a home-and-home followed by four road games against Boston, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Florida I would have signed up for that absolutely. That said, these last few games have seen some troubling signs for the Devils. Even before blowing a 3-0 lead tonight in Florida and losing in regulation 4-3, you could see this coming for about a week. After all, the Devils gave up three third-period goals in Boston, including one in the last three minutes, getting no points out of a game they otherwise played well. In Tampa, the Devils came perilously close to blowing a 3-0 lead that game before Dwayne Roloson's late puck blunder finally gave the team breathing room late. And even a game where the Devils won somewhat comfortably in Buffalo, they leaked away a couple of unneccesary goals late and made the final few minutes more anxious than they needed to be.

Of course, none of that compared to tonight's disaster. This is one where I'm glad I wasn't watching the whole game, in fact I was out and didn't have my phone on me so I didn't know what was happening the first 50 minutes. When I saw the early third period score of 3-2 Devils, I was like great. It was only later that I realized we'd actually been up 3-0 after blitzing the Panthers in the first period before giving up the two to make it a nail-biter. Of course I cringed when the Devils surrendered a 4-on-3 shorthanded goal (yet another power play of doom) by Stephen Weiss. And after giving up yet another late goal in the final three minutes to lose the chance to even get one point, I was ticked. I would have been better off just seeing the score and not knowing what happened. Of course I couldn't have stayed away from the 'how' forever.

Adding to the bad news, the Devils lost Anton Volchenkov early in the game to an upper body injury and had to play with five defensemen for most of the contest. At times in the third period, they were playing with four given our continuing parade to the penalty box. Henrik Tallinder and Bryce Salvador both took delay-of-game penalties, with Salvador's proving the killer as Tomas Fleischmann scored the winner. Florida's top line of Fleischmann-Weiss and Kris Versteeg abused the Devils all night, which is a bad sign going forward. If you can't shut down a one-line team, how are you going to stop good offenses? As good as Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg have been, even they can't survive long behind defensive 'efforts' like this.

I use the word effort loosely, as even coach Pete DeBoer admitted after the game the team stopped playing after the first period. It was a game that the coach definitely wanted to win in his 'homecoming' after being fired by the Panthers last year. Instead, it was the new-look Panthers who walked out with the two points and a win that signaled they would be a pain in the neck all season. If you assume that the Penguins, Flyers, Sabres, Bruins and Capitals make the playoffs, that only leaves three spots for the other ten teams in the conference. Florida's showing they want to be one of those teams, perhaps pulling a surprise season out of their hat the way their in-state rivals Tampa did last year. Certainly the Rangers have gotten off to a good start as well. It's going to be nip and tuck just to get in and the Devils won't get in with more fiascoes like tonight or the third period in Boston.

Oh and one more thing...a message to the captain. Now it's time to stop sulking and pick it up. I was perfectly willing to write off Zach Parise's start to the fact he only played one game in eleven months - until I saw Sidney Crosby's line of two goals and two assists tonight (memo also to Alex Ovechkin, who's been stinking it up for my fantasy team the last two years: that's a real superstar). While Crosby lit it up in the first game, the captain's going backwards with a -2 and two shots on net tonight, and a -1 and one shot on net two nights ago. If you're sulking about Ilya Kovalchuk getting the big money and you not, or mentor Jamie Langenbrunner leaving under bad circumstances then maybe we shouldn't be giving you the big money after this year. With each passing game, I'm buying the Parise's gone hype more and more and it looks like he's counting down the days too. When David Clarkson looks 100% better than you as a hockey player, that's bad.

Crosby Returns Tonight against Islanders

Ever since he's been out due to back-to-back concussions last January, Sidney Crosby has been much debated. The game's larger than life superstar was having a special '10-11 season when he took an unsuspecting blind shot from David Steckel in the Winter Classic, which was followed up by a hit from behind in his next game from Victor Hedman. Why such a brilliant player was allowed to return so soon we'll never know.

The great news is that he's finally fully recovered and got the okay to play tonight at Consol Energy Center in front of what should be wild Pens fans when they host the Islanders. As usual, the struggling Isles will try to play spoiler. They're secondary to the face of the game for better or worse. There's no denying Sid's talents which were on display in every arena last year. In half a season, the numbers were jaw dropping.

41 Games 32 Goals 34 Assists 66 Points +20 Rating 10 PPG 3 GW 1 SHG 19 PP Pts

The production was last seen in '96 before the neutral zone trap, clutching and grabbing took over the game, slowing it down to a crawl. And no. You can't blame one team. In the glory days, the Great One, Super Mario, the Golden Brett and No.68 led a more wide open game where maybe D wasn't the primary focus along with goaltending. It was fun. Even guys like Pat Lafontaine, Adam Oates, Alexander Mogilny and my fave Sergei Fedorov flourished. There was the Finnish Flash shattering Peter Stastny's rookie record with an eye popping 76 goals and 132 points. Pavel Bure scoring at a ridiculous clip. Even defenseman Brian Leetch eclipsing 100 points with Ray Bourque right behind.

That's the kind of special season Sid The Kid was putting together but it came to a halt. Even if I'm not a huge fan with him playing in our own Patrick Division, of course I wanted to see how it would finish along with the rest of the hockey world. Instead, he became another concussion victim, taking as much time as he needed before being cleared for full contact last month. Remember all those crazy rumors about Crosby returning for last playoffs? Sheesh. You don't toy around with a head injury. We don't want to see another Lindros, who was one of my favorite players back in the day. Sid is 24 and has so much ahead of him. Same with Marc Staal, who looks like he might miss the entire season after lingering effects from PCS limited him to the sidelines. The Ranger defenseman nobody's been paying attention to was just cleared for light activity.

I won't be home to catch Crosby's return with work instead. But of course will catch the highlights along with the psychoanalysis of every Sidney shift. Sometimes, I think they made him too big. A great player no doubt. Dominant. Yes. And we all hope he's the same and never has another setback. At least that's my view. I never wish injury on anyone including Matt Cooke.

So, the Islanders must contend with all the hoopla in a couple of hours. Can they wreck the party? I'm just not sure how I feel about throwing a rookie netminder into the fire. It seems nuts for Anders Nilsson to make his NHL debut against one of the league's best teams. Then again, Jack Capuano will try almost anything to get his team going, following a 6-0 humiliation to Boston on a night they honored long-time broadcast team Jiggs McDonald and Ed Westfall. I probably would've started Rick DiPietro and also not healthy scratched young pup Nino Neiderreiter. If anyone can explain what's going on with a team expected to compete for the playoffs, please step up to the plate.

It's a mystery how healthy scratch Kyle Okposo still hasn't scored a goal or how in the world Blake Comeau could be without a point and a minus-11 thus far. Jay Pandolfo has more goals than either and just as many (1) as Josh Bailey. Pandolfo will play because he always brings it. And maybe that's part of the problem. In a season where your best players outside John Tavares and Matt Moulson aren't visible, it speaks to how problematic things have become on Long Island. Even Michael Grabner only has five goals, which is hardly enough. Captain Mark Streit has 11 points but is a club worst minus-12. The only reliable defenseman has been sophomore Travis Hamonic, who also has suffered with just two helpers and a minus-eight.

When does it change for the Islanders? Is another coach going to be fired? One who demands accountability and is a fun interview cause he pulls no punches. Or is it time for Charles Wang to look at Garth Snow or even himself for how disorganized his team looks? All this and they have to face the Sidney Crosby Circus along with deserving teammates Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal, Kris Letang, Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin, who all should represent the Pens at the All-Star Game.

Just in case you didn't know based on the zillion reminders, the game is being picked up by NBC/Versus, which dumped a better game honestly in classic rivalry Boston/Montreal. But what would you expect from a league that needs to have NHL On The Fly run over and over again on TSN run NHL Network? If they had any brains, they'd just pick up the CBC feed and not screw over fans who want to see the Bruins and Habs in Round Three of the nastiest rivalry. Oh well. So much for common sense.

So, what shall tonight bring? Will Crosby score? You would think so. How much will he play? How soon before the non-Pens fans put the TV on mute? Over/Under by the middle of the first period. Regardless of the overkill, it's great that he's back. Now, we can go back to hating him. ;)

House Of Horrors kills streak

Alright. By show of hands, who's surprised our seven-game run came to an abrupt halt at the hands of the Canadiens? They don't call it the House Of Horrors for nothing. Let's face it. The Rangers rarely have success when they visit Montreal. If they burned the place down (no offense Habitants), I wouldn't shed a tear the same way I didn't when the Devils moved out of the old Meadowlands for their fancy home in Newark. Another arena that owned us.

Entering Saturday's humiliation, the Blueshirts had run off seven straight and figured to be well rested for what was the Canadiens' third game over four days. Instead, an angry Habs' squad still steaming from a 4-3 loss to the Islanders Thursday handed our team its lunch in a very uncompetitive 4-0 loss. It was over quickly. Oh. Sure. They methodically took the Rangers apart, getting one in the first, one in the second before doubling up in the third for the final margin.

John Tortorella's lackluster club never established a forecheck and allowed the Canadiens to control from start to finish in what amounted to an exhibition. There was no hitting. No checking. No shots even though the scoreboard said that Carey Price stopped 17 for his second consecutive shutout, which was good for my fantasy team. This truly was unwatchable unless you're as diehard as my favorite Habs tweep @vivianmtl, who enjoyed what she saw. And why not? Considering how it was reversed when we beat them at the renovated MSG, it was payback. I honestly thought the rest would be an advantage instead of a hindrance. For whatever reason, our team was flat and paid dearly.

Erik Cole abused Michael Del Zotto by blowing past him and going top shelf on Martin Biron for a power play goal, which took advantage of an atrocious call on Ryan McDonagh. There were at least three others that mystified throughout. Not that the Rangers deserved better. They were listless. Biron allowed a bad second goal to Mr. Hacks, Brian Gionta right through the wickets with no other Hab in sight. The puck seemed to break part of his equipment which was taped. Let's just say it was one of those nights. It was the first of two for the Habs' captain, who later was set up by Scott Gomez for the exclamation point. I wish I was kidding but a scene from Back To The Future actually took place. Yes, even Gomez (2 assists), who was part of a lopsided deal for McDonagh and ex-Blueshirt Chris Higgins, showed up. He still hasn't scored a goal in his last 60 games.

The ice was so tilted that you half wondered if the guys wearing the red, white and blue had switched jerseys with the Blue Jackets. I kid. Hey. They won the other night! Or perhaps it rubbed off on the New York Giants yesterday. :P Biron certainly was forced to make a number of quality stops just to give the Rangers a chance before the roof caved in. Another phantom call on Ryan Callahan that still hasn't been discovered led to the Habs' best forward Tomas Plekanec blasting one thru traffic for 3-zip. Cole and local product Max Pacioretty drew assists.

I don't know why I watched the third, still tired from my shift. I even shaved hoping it would bring luck. Instead, I took the pain as Gomez turned back the clock, hooking up with Gionta for a goal that may as well have been in 2003. It was fitting. Two ex-Devils who gave us nightmares with one bowing out of Manhattan with a forgettable second year. Though some fans would have you believe those teams could score.

And so, ended another trip to Hell. House Of Horrors be damned. No eight-game win streak, which would've been nice. Like Al Pacino's character John Milton character in Devil's Advocate near the end says to Keanu Reeves' Kevin Lomax about his run of trial victories:

"Maybe it was your time to lose."
It was nice while it lasted. Now, the Blueshirts can get back to work at practice for a traditional game Turkey Eve at Florida before a visit to D.C. on Black Friday against struggling Alex Ovechkin and the Caps. Two good tests. The Panthers can skate and score with anyone. Or as I refer to them, Hawks South is getting it done led by Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg, who have combined with Stephen Weiss to form a dangerous offense. The always overlooked Tomas Fleischmann is also producing. If our team skates in quicksand two days from now, they're screwed. Henrik Lundqvist will be back in. We'll see how they close out a good month.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Yanick Weber, Mtl (assist in 21:14- made great pass that led to Cole PPG, solid overall)
2nd Star-Brian Gionta, Mtl (2 goals, 5 SOG, +2 in 19:15, Mr. Hacks tormented us)
1st Star-Erik Cole, Mtl (PPG-sixth for game winner, assist in 17:56, dominant)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Devils pound Enroth, Sabres with rare goal outburst

Heading into their fourth game in six nights, the Devils had started to get their offensive attack going a little with three goals the night before in a tough loss at Boston, and with Ilya Kovalchuk coming back after a five-game absence the offense looked to keep trending upward in Buffalo. However, the Devils were also playing their fourth game in six nights, in four different cities - and against an opponent that was not only five games over .500 but still hopping mad after Boston's Milan Lucic took out starting goaltender Ryan Miller with a hit that surprisingly went unpunished by discipline czar Brendan Shanahan.

All of which made their five-goal outburst against the Sabres rather surprising. Especially since it came against Jhonas Enroth, a backup who was 6-0 on the season and 13-0-1 in the calendar year of 2011. Not to mention I can't remember the last time the Devils' offense erupted for five goals - perhaps last January when we had a couple of those games. Five different players scored, including our three key guys - Kovy, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias. Martin Brodeur also had a strong game in goal with 29 saves - many of the eye-popping variety - after going through a rare stretch of sitting two games in a row when healthy enough to play.

Another rarity for the Devils this season has been getting off to quick starts. Three times this season the Devils have had to rally from two goals down to win (all on the road), but tonight they were the agressors, jumping out to a two-goal lead inside of 5:21. Parise opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal just 2:06 into the game, when some tremendous work by Adam Henrique led to the Devils' rookie centerman winning the puck away from two Sabres and getting it out to a wide-open Zach Attack in front, where Parise beat Enroth with a turnaround slapshot for his sixth goal of the season. Special teams continued to benefit the Devils early, as Kovy would also get on the board in his first game back, with a power play goal no less. Brodeur started the play in his own end with a long pass to Elias, who got the puck in the zone and fed Kovy, who finished the play off with a nice move to get around a defenseman and put a hard wrister past the Sabres' goalie for just his third goal of the year.

After getting off to an early lead, the Devils looked like they were gearing up to run Buffalo out of their own building during the first fifteen minutes but back-to-back dumb penalties by Ryan Carter eventually cost New Jersey, with Tyler Myers of all people scoring on the second of those power plays at 18:56. The Sabres' big young defenseman - who was recently scratched in part due to his lack of agressiveness when Miller went down - attacked the slot and beat Brodeur after Jason Pominville found him wide open in front. Myers continued to throw his weight around in the second period, hitting Danius Zubrus with what looked like an intentional head shot that amazingly went unpunished. Thankfully Zubrus was okay, on a night where the veteran winger would join a select group by playing his 1000th NHL game.

It was during the latter part of the first period and beginning of the second that the Sabres played some of their best hockey, but Brodeur held the fort until finally getting some offensive help from two of the younger Devils. Henrique won a faceoff in the offensive zone back to Mark Fayne, whose seeing-eye wrister beat Enroth at 8:36 for the defenseman's third goal of the year (we have a defenseman that can score the occasional goal?! That concept's been foreign around here for a while).

Despite the fact the Sabres got twelve shots in the second period and thirteen in the third, Brodeur kept them at arm's length, and the Devils actually increased their lead early in the third when Elias scored his seventh goal, off a feed from Petr Sykora on a 3-on-2 at 3:09. Now up 4-1, and just when it looked like it was going to be an easy night, Myers again beat Brodeur - this time with a shortside goal at 7:35 to pull the Sabres back to within two. Just when the crowd started to get back in it though, Andy Greene alley-ooped a long pass to David Clarkson, who found himself on a breakaway and beat Enroth with a nifty backhand for his sixth goal of the year just forty-eight seconds after Myers had scored.

Up 5-2 with Brodeur in command, again it looked like it was going to be a rare laugher, and Lindy Ruff even waved the white flag a bit by removing Enroth for Drew McIntyre. However, on the tail end of a Devils power play with just a few minutes left in the game coach Pete DeBoer got too cute by putting the fourth line (and enforcer Cam Janssen) out on the ice, to try to give his regulars a shift off on the tail end of a fourth game in six nights. It wasn't putting the fourth line out I had a problem with, since Buffalo initially matched up with Patrik Kaleta and the Sabres' enforcers - but the minute the power play ended and Buffalo got their scorers on the ice, the Devils' fourth line should have gone off too. However, Cam and company stayed out there and it was a Janssen turnover that led to Jordan Leopold scoring at 15:07 to again get the Sabres within two.

Despite some anxious moments toward the end however, the Devils did hang on for the two points and a 5-3 win, giving them their second win in three games on their brutal five-game swing. Their only loss came when they got nosed out by the defending Stanley Cup champs last night in an entertaining game - though I missed all but the last ten minutes of it since Tuesday's free movie night for me and my friends - where Nick Palmeri of all people scored twice and Clarkson got one as well, but eventually the Bruins' third-period assault finally beat an otherwise stellar Johan Hedberg. After the game Bruins' coach (and ex-Devil coach) Claude Julien tweaked us a bit by suggesting we were playing for the tie, rather than trying to win. I guess it's not possible for his own terrific team to dominate a third period at home without the other team sitting back, god knows his own team's done that enough times.

There certainly was no sitting back tonight, much to the surprise of Pierre McGuire, who couldn't stop gushing about our more agressive system. As much as Pierre loves the Devils (and particularly GM Lou Lamoriello), it is too bad VERSUS didn't give us Doc Emrick doing the play-by-play for tonight's game. Twice in two weeks, I've been hoping to see him on their telecasts and each time we've gotten a different group although at least pros Dave Strader and Ed Olcyzk are better than the immortal John Forslund-Keith Jones tandem that did last week's Canes game. Not that I can complain about VERSUS with all the gaffes our own telecast has been coming up with this year. Thank goodness I've been at most of the home games and missed a lot of the road telecasts for different reasons.

If things aren't the same in the booth, at least they're getting closer to resembling the old days on the ice. At 9-7-2 however, there's still a lot of work to do, with the Florida portion of our trip still upcoming before we return home next Wednesday.

Richards breaks Isles' back as Rangers run streak to seven

There it was. Matt Moulson injected some life into his struggling team. After he buried a John Tavares saucer pass for a power play equalizer, Nassau Coliseum was alive. There were the Islanders, who entered with only one win in 10, all knotted with their longtime nemesis from Manhattan. The Rangers rolled in winners of six straight. None of that mattered when one of the game's best rivalries was renewed. You could feel the intensity both on the ice and in the stands where noise was at a feverish pitch. It didn't matter what the teams' records were in the second grudge match of six. This was no holds barred.

That's how you could describe almost any game the Rangers and Islanders play. Battles all over the ice. Hitting. Scrums. Fights. Penalties. Goals. Goaltending. Yes, last night's latest installment had all those key factors which exemplifies exciting hockey that's on the edge. Unfortunately for the Long Island hosts, they fell just a little short again, dropping a tough 4-2 decision for their 10th defeat over the last 11. Challenged by their coach Jack Capuano, the Islanders gave a valiant effort. However, the latest big ticket Ranger star delivered the crushing goal late that decided it. The Rangers signed Brad Richards for such moments. Richy Rich didn't disappoint notching the game-winner with 4:55 left in regulation. The Islanders came oh so close with Andrew MacDonald hitting a post in the dying minute but couldn't get one more past Henrik Lundqvist, who was brilliant finishing with 31 saves.

It’s frustrating,” Capuano lamented after his team's latest defeat. “We played one of our better games. ... We have to get secondary scoring to win."
That's been a huge problem for the Isles who fell to 4-8-3 and sit dead last in the East with 11 points. Fifteen games in, a club many felt would challenge for the playoffs is already digging a hole. They trail eighth Ottawa by eight points with defending champ Boston turning it around. It could be a long climb with New Jersey and Tampa Bay likely to be in the mix. Don't discount Carolina either. In an improved conference with early surprises Toronto and Florida, the Islanders can ill afford to have another lull like last year that got Scott Gordon canned.

"It's frustrating. These are the ones you really have to learn from. [The win] was right there [for the taking]," second-year blueliner Travis Hamonic said. "We had it. We made just one mistake and it ended up in our net. At the end of the day we have to learn from that, and now this one is put away. It's a bad feeling. This is a feeling we don't want anymore."
While the Rangers are sitting pretty in a three-way log jam behind first overall Pittsburgh while tied with fifth Philadelphia, the Isles have their work cut out on a pivotal homestand. It shouldn't get any easier when Montreal and Boston visit tomorrow and Saturday before Capuano's club travels to Pittsburgh where Sidney Crosby could be awaiting if the latest rumors are true about a possible return this weekend. They also host the Flyers and Devils next week with a home-and-home in Newark following Black Friday. The Isles end the month with a visit at Buffalo. Not an easy game in the sched. Especially when you're not finishing. Outside of leading scorer Tavares' line, they've been firing blanks.

It didn't help that they ran into one of the game's best in Henrik Lundqvist, who aside from a softy to Frans Nielsen, stood on his head. King Henrik made acrobatic stops, including a signature header before diving across with the right glove to rob an Islander of a certain goal. The Islanders also got brilliant netminding from Evgeni Nabokov, who couldn't quite make it two for two against the Blueshirts despite 26 saves. A few were sparklers, including a sprawling stop to deny Derek Stepan's stuff try with the Isles' goalie down and out. The problem was Josh Bailey's feeble clear attempt cost them dearly. Tied at two with dueling chants from a galvanized crowd, one mistake decided it. Bailey tried going up the middle but his soft backhand was easily intercepted by Brandon Dubinsky, who quickly dished to an open Richards who did the rest- blasting one upstairs with Ryan Callahan screening a helpless Nabokov.

"Whenever you play in this building, it’s up and down, and you never know what’s going to happen,” Ranger coach John Tortorella said. “Richie has had some big plays for us early on here. I thought that it was probably one of his better games.”
We signed him for nine years. That’s exactly why we signed him,” Lundqvist noted of Richards' heroics. “A guy like that, he has a tendency to step up at the right time. His focus is good when it comes down to the final minutes, when you need that extra play. It’s great to see.”
Early on, Sean Avery got the party started scoring for the second consecutive game when he steered home his own rebound. His sudden emergence was rewarded with the once exiled Ranger getting 12 minutes, including a big shift late where his forechecking kept the Islanders pinned in. Nielsen replied back less than three minutes later when his high wrister trickled off Lundqvist's glove, squaring it. Hamonic and P.A. Parenteau combined to spring Nielsen for his fourth. Avery renewed pleasantries with Mike Mottau following matching roughs. Apparently, the ex-Devil can't let go. So, the two fought 69 seconds into the second. It wasn't the only scrap with Brandon Prust battling Islander enforcer Matt Martin 1:45 later.

Though the Isles were better in the second testing Lundqvist, an unlikely source scored the lone goal when Steve Eminger of all people took a brilliant Callahan cross-ice feed and beat Nabokov five-hole. “I saw him creeping in a little bit,” Callahan said. “I was trying to buy him a little bit of time to get him back there. I saw him and made the pass.”

The Rangers had a golden opportunity to salt it away but failed on an extended five-on-three late in the second with Richards hitting goal post. Credit the Isles' penalty killers with outstanding work, blocking a few shots that never reached Nabokov, who was there when needed. That left the door open. After the Blueshirts failed on another power play in the third, two straight penalties finally bit them with Moulson getting his fifth from Tavares and Nielsen to level it with 13:02 remaining. That allowed Richards to play the hero late. A mad scramble late didn't tie the game despite several chances. Eventually, Callahan scored into an open net with under a second left, icing it.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star: Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (31 saves)
2nd Star: Frans Nielsen, NYI (goal-4th of season, assist)
1st Star: Brad Richards, NYR (GW w/4:55 left)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Video Of Day: Lucic hit on Miller

Last night in Beantown, things got a bit chaotic between the Sabres and Bruins. During the first period, Milan Lucic collided with a scrambling Ryan Miller, who came out of his net to just beat the Boston power forward to a loose puck at the faceoff circle. Naturally, Miller and his teammates were incensed afterwards with the former Vezina winner having some harsh words for Lucic.

The question is was the two minute charge he received enough? In watching the video several times, Lucic is picking up steam on a mini-break when suddenly he looks up and sees Miller, who moved the puck. Was there enough time for him to avoid the goalie? Everyone knows Lucic plays a fierce game, bowling over anyone in his path. Should the Buffalo netminder be any different for wandering so far out of his crease? Was it a deliberate attempt to injure or was Miller in a prone position? Maybe a bit of both. We'll have more insight tomorrow on the controversial hit.

Oh btw...the Sabres never responded, getting blitzed by the B's 6-2.

Devils show resilience in weekend split with the Caps

After Friday's 3-1 loss to the Caps in regulation and with the team falling in an early 2-0 hole last night, I was setting up to write another blog either during the game or this morning. One about how the Caps were showing us how far we were from being a good team, that wins over Winnipeg and Carolina were illusory, and the Caps games were providing a severe reality check. I was that convinced we were getting curbstomped last night. How could you not be, with the Caps' talent compared to ours right now? Not to mention the fact we were outscored 5-0 from the first period Friday to the first period Saturday.

Yet, somehow for the third time this season we came back from down two on the road against a playoff team to take the mighty Caps to a shootout, where a surprising winner from David Clarkson gave the Devils an unexpected two points from the nation's capital and our third road win this season whencoming from two goals behind. For whatever issues this team has right now, effort and resilience haven't been among them. Neither has goaltending, as both Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg turned in strong performances against a terrific offense.

Granted, Friday we weren't really outclassed per se, but with our offensive struggles you're just not going to beat the Caps scoring one goal. Even with Brodeur looking strong in net until he got beat with a deflection by Alex Ovechkin late in the second period to tie the game then the Devils' power play of doom cost the team in the third period when a Mattais Tedenby turnover and a bad line change by Clarkson led to Jason Chimera getting a one-on-one chance against Adam Larsson. Chimera deked out the rookie badly, and easily beat a helpless Brodeur for what turned out to be the winning goal. Though the Devils played well for forty minutes, for all intents and purposes the four minutes of power play time at the beginning of the period where we didn't score and gave up a short-handed goal decided the game.

While the offense itself has been bad for a long time, it's just unreal how bad the power play is. As of this point in the season (fifteen games) the Devils have five power play goals - while giving up three shorthanded ones. So basically the Devils have a net of two power play goals for the entire season. Some other teams can get two power play goals in a single game, as foreign as that concept seems to us. Funny how Kovalchuk's misadventures at the point were dissected to kingdom com but without Kovy and Patrik Elias taking his place at the point, the power play has been just as bad...with Elias doing his best Kovy impersonation by slipping and losing the puck at the point constantly.

My mood Friday wasn't helped by the two mongloids sitting behind me in 120 who were screaming nonsense the whole game, the Devil fan of the pair in particular was annoying - calling for the Moose after Brodeur gave up the shorthanded goal early in the third period, as if he was gonna stop the play once Chimera deked out Larsson and had all day in front? Not to mention later in the period when the same bozo said rather causally that 'Kovy isn't really hurt, he got tweaked up a little bit and DeBoer's benched him the last couple games'. They weren't the only clowns I had to deal with, walking back to Penn Station after the game and using the turnstile, some idiot decides to spin it around real fast - with me still in it. Thankfully I got out of there just in time and almost shot the guy a look but stopped myself and just did a slow burn.

I wonder if the goofball who wanted Moose was paying attention last night in the first period when Moose gave up two quick goals - one on an Adam Henrique turnover and the other by Chimera again, after the Caps showed us what an NHL power play was all about (though later the goal was ruled to have been scored a second after the power play ended, keeping our PK numbers near pristine). Not to mention the clowns who said we played better for Moose than we did for Marty, after Moose's winning streak earlier in the year. All this conspired to put me in a bad mood and I was just hoping we would somehow find a way to win in Boston to avoid a three-game losing streak and slipping back under .500.

Then, strange things started to happen. Our defense stepped it up big-time, allowing the high-octane Caps a mere eight shots on goal after the first period, including two in the second period - while the Devils' offense creeped back into the game. First, Elias and Petr Sykora turned back the clock to combine on another classic Sykie goal, with Elias winning the faceoff right onto Danius Zubrus's stick, and Zubrus quickly passed the puck back to Sykora for a one-timer, almost a carbon copy of Syk's other goal this season. Sykora's goal at 12:18 cut the deficit in half and gave the Devils momentum, but even then I wasn't sure we could get a positive result out of this game. That is, until we got an unlikely contribution from our fourth line, with defenseman Bryce Salvador of all people finding Ryan Carter in the slot for an oddly perfect deflection past Michael Neuvirth at 18:54.

Though that goal was Carter's first as a Devil, it needs to be said he's had a positive impact since he's gotten here, filling in at center and providing a touch of a physical presence...not to mention adding another capable penalty-killing forward on a unit that was already doing well. Still, when you get a rare goal from the fourth line you need to take advantage. And the Devils did, though at times it felt like the Caps dominated more in the third period than the 5-4 shot total indicated, the team did manage to overcome a late penalty on Zubrus to take the game into overtime. In OT, each goalie only had to face one shot but Hedberg's save was a doozy, robbing Dennis Wideman with the glove on a wide-open one-timer. A Parise deflection got stopped by Neuvirth just before the buzzer, sending the game to a shootout.

Things began predictably with Hedberg stopping Matt Hendricks of all people, and Parise scoring first to give the Devils a 1-0 advantage. Ovechkin tied it with a wrister, and Henrique missed the net badly on his attempt (this was the same guy that scored two breakaways last Saturday?!). Hedberg then had to stop Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin to give the Devils a chance. After Elias got stopped himself, Pete DeBoer's next choice was an interesting one - Clarkson. With the number of important goals he's scored already this year, including a breakaway against the Leafs, why not? Despite that and the fact he had converted on his only other shootout attempt, I was still surprised and amused that he wound up getting the winner, beating Neuvirth with a backhand deke.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The GAS Line burns Senators

Ever since John Tortorella moved Artem Anisimov up with Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik, the cohesive trio have had something going. An unlikely combo due to three different styles has proven dangerous for opposing goalies. Last night in Kanata proved no different with the newly formed GAS Line burning the Senators for all three goals in the Rangers' fifth consecutive win- a 3-2 count avenging a bad home loss on Oct.29.

The new name which one Ranger tweep came up with looks like it'll stick for at least the time being. Gaborik (2-1-3), Stepan (1-2-3) and Anisimov (2 helpers) combined for eight points, including some magic on one of Gabby's goals where the emerging second-year former Badger made a perfect no-look feed for an easy tap-in. Of course, we're talking about Stepan, who is everything once thought.

"The way we are playing, doing the right things and staying with the details is the biggest thing. We've got to continue to play hard and use our legs to create things," Stepan told Blueshirts United after the three-point outing gave him seven points over the last three.
"First of all we had a good forecheck and kept our legs moving. Second of all, when we get the puck, guys are confident to make a play. We are winning the battles, getting in their first, and I think that's how we created our goals," Gaborik pointed out after notching his team-leading eighth and ninth markers along with an assist. Gaborik is tied with Claude Giroux, Joe Pavelski and James Neal for fifth in goals behind league leader Phil Kessel (11) with Thomas Vanek, Sens' goalscorer Milan Michalek and Steven Stamkos placing second with 10 each.
Considering that I missed the game due to work, it was nice to see our team respond to Michalek's 10th after he dusted Jeff Woywitka to open the scoring early in the second. Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson drew assists. Less than a minute later, Stepan and Gaborik combined on the aforementioned nice set up with No.10 finishing it off. Not long after that, an aggressive forecheck from Anisimov behind the Sens' net allowed him to steal the puck, walk out in front and force a scrambling Craig Anderson to make a save. With the American vet out of position, Stepan snuck in and backhanded the rebound into an open side for his third.

Despite getting outshot 21-11 through two periods, the Blueshirts led by one entering the third. Back in net, Henrik Lundqvist was sharp finishing with 29 saves for his fifth win of the season. The King got more support when the GAS Line combined for Gaborik's second of the night thanks in large part to ultimate warrior Dan Girardi, who logged 28 big minutes. Enough can't be said about Danny G, who always seems to be in the right spot. If he's not blocking shots, he's making a smart defensive play like the one that turned into an odd-man rush with Anisimov skating it out before getting it to Stepan, who then headmanned Gaborik on a two-on-one. Gabby patiently waited, faked pass and then roofed one top shelf. The great play turned out to be the game-decider with Nick Foligno making it interesting late.

"I think we have high confidence right now, and we need to grow this confidence every game to play even better as a line," Anisimov explained after his pair of assists improved him to six points in three. The third-year Russian has emerged from a sluggish start to lead the Blueshirts with eight helpers. "We need to keep an eye on the back of each other. If someone makes a mistake let's come back and go hard for him."

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star: Artem Anisimov, NYR (2 assists, plus Broadway Hat)
2nd Star: Derek Stepan, NYR (goal-3rd, 2 helpers)
1st Star: Marian Gaborik, NYR (2 goals-8th/9th, assist)

Notes: There were two scraps with little used Sean Avery battling former Isle Zenon Konopka while Andre Deveaux took on Jared Cowen. We'll try to find video of each and get it up. ... Newest Ranger Anton Stralman skated with the team today at practice. Might he make his debut tomorrow? ... Brandon Dubinsky remains without a goal in the first 14. That along with the lack of finish from Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust remains the only drawback.

This Staal's Clean: The Rangers have won five straight improving to 8-3-3. They return to MSG tomorrow to battle Eric Staal's Hurricanes. Some have discussed it as a revenge game for the hit Eric laid on brother Marc Staal, who remains sidelined with PCS. However, it was clean and at the end of a period. Just from some of the quotes the elder Staal had about his brother the other day, it has really affected him. Though it's hard to explain his minus-16 rating these days. Our team needs to treat it like any other game. Carolina fell to the Devils the other night and aren't playing well. But they still boast hot shot super soph Jeff Skinner along with Staal, plus Cam Ward. At the end of the year, they'll probably be there. The Blueshirts can't take them lightly before traveling north of the border to Toronto for a Saturday Hockey Night In Canada showdown with the Leafs.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More Henrique heroics help Devils squeeze by Canes

After scoring a game-tying goal in Philadelphia on Thursday and two breakaway goals including an overtime winner against the Jets at home on Saturday, there wasn't much rookie Adam Henrique could do to surpass that. Except perhaps adding yet another game-winner late in the third period of last night's game against the Canes, which prompted chants of 'Henrique! Henrique!' from the home crowd, the rookie's fourth huge goal in the Devils' three-game winning streak.

Last night couldn't have been a much better night for me at the Rock, especially since I got my season ticket holder one-game upgrade into the club section. For those who don't know, the clubs at the Prudential Center are the padded black seats in the lower bowl from blueline to blueline on each side of the ice. The main lure of them however, is the free food and soft drink (plus hot drinks like coffee and hot chocolate) that you can get in the two lounges throughout the game. As I described to my friend - who was experiencing the clubs for the first time - it's like a ginormous barbeque. I think both of us are still recovering from all the food, drink and snack we had last night.

Technically it wasn't a free upgrade, since I had to trade my regular seats in for the club seats inside one of the towers an hour before the game but hey, $22 apiece (my season ticket cost) for a view just several rows from the ice and free food and drink throughout? A total steal. There was just about everything me and my friend could have wanted from sushi - one of her favorites - to chicken fingers and fries to pizza, hot dogs, lamb, cheesesteak sandwiches, numerous snacks like cookies and zeppoles and literally too many other things to name. Both lounges have a few private bathrooms as well. The view was pretty good too, though as is often the case with the lower bowl you can't see certain spots very well the closer you get to the ice, for us it was along the boards where the view was lacking a little.

With all the food and drink in the clubs, we happily arrived at the arena 6:30 for a 7:30 game, saw both lounges and had plenty of time to eat and look around before the opening faceoff. While the Devils played well in the first period, they couldn't beat nemesis Cam Ward - who made sixteen saves - and wound up giving up a shorthanded goal when Patrik Elias of all people slipped on the point, leaving Brandon Sutter streaking down the ice for a breakway goal, which I predicted seconds before he scored. He had enough time to pull a Danny Briere and stop for five seconds before doing what he wanted in front of Martin Brodeur (he actually beat him with a quick wrister).

Despite the power play futility throughout the game (0 for 3 in the game, including a missed 5-on-3 chance), the Devils kept fighting and Danius Zubrus eventually scored on a nifty deflection at 10:56 of the second period, though we had to wait a few anxious minutes as the goal was looked at by the video review boys in Toronto. They couldn't determine whether Zubrus deflected the puck above the crossbar, so the call on the ice stood. Elias and Anton Volchenkov got the assists on Zubie's fourth goal of the year.

Going into the third, it was anyone's game. Our second goal provided a Back to the Future moment with Elias assisting Petr Sykora, who scored on a hard wrister from beyond the faceoff dot, reminiscent of a couple of Syk's goals against us in the 2003 Finals. This goal was Sykie's second, and gave us a 2-1 lead at 2:37 of the third. Instead of sitting on the lead, the Devils traded chances with Carolina in a suprisingly up-tempo game. For a brief while, it reminded me of Game 5 in 2009 with both goalies alternating eye-popping saves. Just when I was starting to think we were playing too up tempo with a slim lead, we wound up paying for it when Joni Pitkanen fired a wrister towards the net at 6:06 that beat Brodeur, with the help of Henrique's stick. Ironically, the rookie looked like he could be the goat by deflecting Pitkanen's shot past Marty, tying the game.

With barely three minutes remaining, Henrique atoned for his mistake, with lots of help from Zubrus, whose board work started the offensive possession that led to Henrique scoring on a wraparound at 16:41, giving the Devils the lead. Zubrus and Mark Fayne got the assists on Henrique's fourth goal. To think, the rookie centerman had zero NHL goals a week ago. Showing some defensive poise down the stretch, the Devils didn't give up too many chances to the Canes after that, and their surprising faceoff prowess (going 38-18 as a team in the dot, including a couple of key defensive zone wins late) helped keep the lead and the two points safe and sound.

Notes: While Ilya Kovalchuk missed his second straight game due to injury, Andy Greene returned to the lineup in Mark Fraser's place. Fraser and Rod Pelley were both put on waivers over the weekend, presumably since they had been put on waivers and recalled earlier in the season, with the stipulation that the Devils either needed to send them down or expose them to waivers again in thirty days. Both cleared waivers again, and neither factored into the game much, with Pelley only playing 2:46 and Fraser again a healthy scratch. After Zach Parise, Zubrus had the most icetime on the team, having a rare 23-plus minute night.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Video Of Day II: The Gift Of Gabby

Against the Ducks last week, the Rangers had difficulty solving Jonas Hiller, who was brilliant. Much like their first meeting in Stockholm, the two teams were tied at 1-1, requiring a skill competition to decide the winner. In Sweden, Bobby Ryan's fanned shot was enough to get the better of hometown hero Henrik Lundqvist. This time, King Henrik got support from teammates Erik Christensen in Round One and Marian Gaborik in Round Three. After ageless wonder Teemu Selanne knotted it, it came down to a rejuvanted Gabby against Hiller. Historically, Gaborik had never been good entering only 2-for-19. However, he sparked things up with a highlight reel shootout decider, electrifying MSG. Lundqvist's stop on Ryan earned a measure of revenge. But it was the gift of Gabby that will be remembered.

Video Of Day: Henrique Wins It In OT

Sometimes, somebody else's bad luck can work in your favor. Jacob Josefson's misfortune has been rookie Adam Henrique's blessing thus far with the 21-year old center not only scoring his first goal recently but also recording his first multi-goal game in style. Already with his second after Winnipeg rallied late to force overtime, he took a Zach Parise pass and turned on the jets, beating Ondrej Pavelec for his first ever OT winner Saturday at The Rock. Pretty exciting moment for the former second round pick. Congrats.

Wolski to have surgery

The news wasn't all good for the Rangers, who look to extend a four-game win streak to five with tomorrow's visit to Kanata against the Senators. Aside from Mike Rupp needing arthroscopic knee surgery, forward Wojtek Wolski requires abdominal surgery to repair a sports hernia which should keep him out at least four weeks. New York Rangers President And GM Glen Sather made the announcement yesterday.

The 25-year old Wolski was acquired from Phoenix Rangers West last Jan.10 in exchange for Michal Rozsival. In 37 contests after being acquired, he tallied 19 points (6-13-19) for the Blueshirts the rest of '10-11 while adding a goal and two helpers in a first round loss to Washington. This season, a groin issue limited him to just half a dozen games with the Polish former 'Yote reinjuring it in a win against Anaheim. He had two assists.

With Wolski and Rupp both placed on IR, Sean Avery has seen limited fourth line duty in two games. Look for the organization to recall Mats Zuccarello and retain Andre Deveaux, who has been better than first thought. The 27-year old enforcer recorded his second NHL point in Saturday's win over Montreal, helping set up a goal. It was his first point since '08-09 when he got in 21 games with the Leafs. He also took part in one game in '09-10 for his hometown team who he'll likely see this Saturday at Air Canada Centre.

Staaling For Time: There's nothing new to report on defenseman Marc Staal, who continues to suffer PCS stemming from brother Eric Staal's clean hit at the end of a period in a game versus Carolina last February. It's looking like the Rangers will place him on LTI with the arrival of Swedish defenseman Anton Stralman, who recently signed for a year and $900,000. Stralman still needs to pass some medical tests before he can play. So, he won't travel with the team for tomorrow's game at Ottawa.

Monday, November 7, 2011

4-1-1 Homestand: Great weekend provides home cooking

At the beginning of the newly renovated Garden, it looked like the Rangers would tease us. After dropping one to the improved Leafs, they blew a 4-1 third period lead against the Sens- falling in a shootout. That put our record at a bizarre 3-3-3 with games still against the Sharks, Ducks, Canadiens and newly reformed Winnipeg Jets.

With John Tortorella's continued odd line combos, something finally worked when the Blueshirts responded to two consecutive San Jose goals that tied a pivotal game by getting the next three, including the Goal Of The Week scored by captain Ryan Callahan, recapped on NHL Network yesterday by Kathryn Tappen. Sparkling goaltending by popular backup Martin Biron got the team going. It was followed by a repeat versus Anaheim but this time Henrik Lundqvist prevailed in the shootout thanks to shooting stars Erik Christensen and Marian Gaborik, whose beauty gave them two straight wins.

With the team feeling better about itself thanks to some high character performances from club leaders Callahan, Lundqvist, Gaborik and ultimate warrior Dan Girardi, it set up a big weekend with Les Habitants and their legions of fans invading Manhattan the other night with Winnipeg right behind. In the coolest, most chaotic atmosphere of the season, the Rangers came out strong scoring the first three on Carey Price in a dominant first period that saw them score a power play goal (Christensen) and two others (Girardi & rejuvenated Mike Del Zotto who donned the Broadway Hat afterwards) while outshooting the Habs 16-3. But before you could breathe at the beautifully minted place which happened to be my '11-12 inaugural debut, Montreal reversed momentum with goals from Max Pacioretty and Andrei Kostitsyn much to the delight of a strong Habs contingent that even had fans in our section and 412 with one waving a Montreal towel. Precisely why these games have superceded Isles, Devs, Flyers and Pens as the most entertaining in my view.

The Canadiens were dangerous the rest of the way, outshooting us 25-12. Lundqvist, who fought the puck a bit, had to deal with breakaways and odd-man rushes- making some tough stops while also having his best friends, the crossbar and goalpost at his disposal. Part of the issue for the Rangers was the ejection of Mike Sauer following a wild first period scrum that featured a pair of fights with Captain Cally pummeling Mike Blunden in retaliation for Brandon Dubinsky. With things breaking up, Sauer squared off with Petteri Nokelainen, also getting the decision to loud cheers.

Between the crazy Habitants driving our area nuts and the scraps, it was some kinda time. The predictable "USA, USA" chants were a result of their traditional "Ole, Ole, Ole," led by an energized row in front of us. Real funny kids with one even telling me he went to the same high school as Pacioretty at Taft in Conneticut, referring to the Habs' pest in a way not worth repeating. However, he also added that Patch tore it up and praised his play. We agreed that he's a solid player. One worth keeping an eye on for Montreal. If only they had kept Ryan McDonagh. Thanks again Bob Gainey. Speaking of which, he continues to excel alongside Danny G. The skill the former Badger possesses is something to behold. He makes great reads, anticipates well and is now jumping in offensively. There's a lot to like about this kid, who is really mature and is making a lot of experts look good for ripping the Scott Gomez trade, which was better known for the return of now rejuvenated Canuck Chris Higgins.

With our team on its heels most of the second, Brad Richards stepped up with a momentum swinging goal late in the period by beating Price with a wrister from the left circle, restoring a two-goal lead. With McD, Danny G, MDZ and Steve Eminger logging the bulk of the minutes, it was enough for our team to hang on even though known killer Brian Gionta made things interesting with Price pulled. McDonagh and Dubinsky combined to set up Callahan for his sixth into an open net, sealing it. A fun night. I'll have a review of the building and update on our Section 411 in a latter post.

After coasting to a 5-3 triumph the night before, the Rangers gave a complete team effort in a 3-0 shutout of Winnipeg. Its first game in 16 years at MSG. Only then the names were a lot different with Cup hero Mark Messier still leading us instead of finishing the NYC Marathon yesterday in 4:14:21 at age 50 for a great cause. The man is so admirable. He personifies what our city's all about. Congrats to all the runners who ran, including the champions in the men's and women's field.

Winnipeg didn't have Teemu Selanne, which still even after all these years, doesn't feel right. And there was no Keith Tkachuk, Alexei Zhamnov or Teppo Numminen either with all represented by the now Phoenix Coyotes franchise which is struggling mightily at their fancy arena in the Desert. Instead, a list of former Thrashers led by ever improving '10 first rounder Alex Burmistrov with Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane and overlooked goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who was heroic in defeat much the same way Jonas Hiller was in his visit here. The first was kind of a drag with the teams combining for 13 shots, probably a bit tired from the night before.

However, it picked up the rest of the way with chances for both sides. A lack of discipline on Winnipeg's part allowed our team to go ahead thanks to a wonderful power play goal. Brad Richards started it with Del Zotto dishing across for intended target Gaborik. But the puck went off Gabby right to a wide open Derek Stepan, who buried his second. D-Step was sensational, latter setting up Gaborik's first of two in the third, while earning First Star. Despite all the penalties that allowed the Blueshirts to have back-to-back two-man advantages, they couldn't put another past Pavelec, who other than a stone job on a flubbed Christensen shot, didn't see as much rubber as he should've. Both Richards and Gaborik misfired and also made some poor choices. Fortunately, it didn't cost us.

Despite generating quality chances, it remained a one-goal contest with Pavelec's splendid play allowing his team to stay alive. When they finally tested Marty Biron, the unflappable vet was perfect stopping all 23 in his path, including a few sparklers. I'll tell ya. The former No.1 for Buffalo and Philadelphia was a great move by Slats as was Tort favorite Ruslan Fedotenko. We love to bash the GM and justifiably so for not one advance past the second round during a lengthy tenure. But he's also made some good moves that have worked out. Even if Mike Rupp needs arthroscopic surgery for his knee that will sideline him, there's Crazy One Andre Deveaux making the case to stay, earning his first NHL point the other night.

In the third, our guys didn't sit back, instead forcing Pavelec to be good by firing 14 shots. Okay. Only 13 counted due to the empty net. But you get the point. Artem Anisimov, who's been in Tort's doghouse, was elevated to the top line and didn't disappoint. A day after netting two helpers, the enigmatic Russian made a strong defensive play along the wall that sprung D-Step and Gabby on a two-on-one. Anisimov cleared it to Stepan, who waited and headfaked before dishing across for Gaborik for a lay-up. Gabby's reaction was priceless. D-Step has that knack and more and more reminds me of Chris Drury. A guy with a high IQ who makes the big play when the game's on the line. He's so solid defensively and his physical game is coming. But it's Derek's vision that really stands out. His patience with the puck is fun to watch. Another non-first rounder who we stole in the second round that looks like a keeper. His poise is why I'm genuinely excited about D-Step.

I guess it’s just an instinct to find the shooter on the line, and Gaby is quite a shooter,” Stepan said. “You look at Step, his game is really stepping out, no pun intended there,” Tortorella added to some chuckles. “The game is clear to him, you can tell. I think he’s allowing himself to play.
"We showed some resilience, some battle and some heart,” Biron noted after notching first shutout in two years. “It’s hard when you go on the road for that amount of time because sometimes there’s a let-down feeling that we’re home and it’s going to be a lot easier. There was none of that. It was a lot of hard work that has paid off in the end and that has to keep going.

There's a lot more to be happy about with a team that finally seems to be gelling. Now, they hit the road mostly with a stop in Ottawa Wednesday before a quick return home for the Canes Friday with a visit to Air Canada Centre Saturday. Sure. Brandon Dubinsky remains without a goal but it'll come. Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust were better Sunday too. Another plus. The Rangers should be pleased with reeling off four straight to conclude the big homestand 4-1-1 (4-2 really). Now, comes another challenge.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Devils go overtime again to beat Winnipeg

With all of the focus on guys like Adam Larsson, Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson, Nick Palmeri and Mark Fayne as young players who were being counted on to contribute to the Devils this year, few factored Adam Henrique into the mix. Skeptics might have included the Devils themselves, who relegated Henrique to the fourth line early in the season, then sent him down to Albany after a couple of weeks.

Right now though, Henrique's contributing just about as much or more than any of the aformentioned players. After his game-tying goal against Philly on Thursday, he scored two critical breakaway goals last night including the OT winner to lead the Devils past Winnipeg 3-2. Just as importantly, he's stepped in to fill a gaping hole down the middle after the Devils were sent reeling by injuries to Travis Zajac and Josefson.

While the Devils went overtime last night, my day in Newark started early as I attended a rookie season ticket holder orientation. Technically I'm not a real rookie since I've been an erstatz sth for the past four years but it is the first year I have these tickets on my account, and I was curious to see what the fan reps had to say. I did learn a couple of things I hadn't known before, such as the fact you could pay for discounted parking for a specific game (I thought it was only available for the whole season). And when some irate older guy wanted to know why the team starts games at 7 as opposed to 7:30, the VP of ticket sales basically said that the schedule was made in consultation with the NHL and that fan feedback would be helpful in having more ammo - as he put it - to go to the NHL with and perhaps request different start times.

Personally I think if the majority of games started at 7:30, you'd have just as many people complaining about how they can't get home till after 11 on a weekday, and that it's too late to take kids. That's why I think the best solution is some kind of mix between 7 and 7:30, give both the early and late crowd what they want. Selfishly, I'd rather see 7 PM starts almost every night (except on Tuesday when I get upgraded to club seats, the later start time gives me and my friend more time before the game to eat at the arena lol). Then again it's not a problem for me to make it at 7, and for a lot of people it is though like I said if you had games at 7:30, there'd be people protesting that too.

Anyway, after meeting the reps and getting a tour of the arena it was 5 PM and I still had two hours. We were allowed to leave and come back, so I went to Penn Station but nothing was open but McDonald's and a pizza place all the way back by the entrance. I didn't feel like eating much anyway so I just ate there and then came back to the arena around 6, looking for people I knew and milling around for an hour, and then I got to my seat in 120 just before the opening intro. Much to my surprise, I had actual leg room last night, as the seats around me weren't filled up though it seemed like a better crowd than the reported 15,000 - certainly rowdier than the other night.

Things got interesting during stoppages of play too, with some of the attempted giveaways. During the second period, some Devils fan got three trivia questions right and won a Ken Daneyko autographed stick, with a catch...he could trade the stick in for what was in the 'mystery box', a Let's Make a Deal type thing. Inexplicably, the guy traded in the stick and right then I said to the guy next to me 'I hope this isn't Taylor Swift concert tickets'. So what was in the box? A Taylor Swift DVD lol. The poor guy had such a sheepish look on his face. Turned out the Devils let him keep the stick anyway, I guess they figured getting publicly embarassed was bad enough for the guy. Then in the third period, another fan clearly tanked a question that he didn't want to get stuck with the sponsored giveaway for, picking Anton Volchenkov when one of the clues was 'Played for the Swedish national team'.

Around all this and meeting people during both intermissions, an interesting game took place. A game in which for two periods, it looked like it would turn out to be a rare easy night for the Devils. Though they didn't score in the first period, they gradually got their game legs - as did Martin Brodeur, who looked much better last night than the rusty version of MB30 did on Wednesday. Finally, the Devils broke through on the scoreboard early in the second when Danius Zubrus's feed found a wide open Patrik Elias for a one-timer that Elias sent past Ondrej Pavelec for his sixth goal of the year at 4:08. Also getting an assist on the goal was Bryce Salvador, who not only got his first point in the NHL since 2009 but also wound up playing 24:16 in his best game since his return, and wore the second assistant captain's A in the absence of Ilya Kovalchuk, to boot.

In what turned out to be a harbinger of things to come, Zach Parise sprung Henrique for the first of his two breakaway goals at 12:59, putting the Devils up 2-0 in a game that you figured the Devils could be businesslike and figure out a way to win in the third period. I missed the first five minutes of the period socializing with people I rarely see but nothing much happened until I got back towards my section and had a good standing view of a great Parise chance that just missed, followed by a screened shot by Winnipeg's Mark Flood beating Brodeur at 6:43 to spoil the shutout and get things hairy. Even then, I didn't get the impending feeling of doom I sometimes get when the Devils start to blow a third-period lead. The next ten minutes flew buy and despite the 2-1 score it did look like it was heading towards a business-like win.

Then, a series of unfortunate events conspired against the Devils. At the time I was annoyed at Volchenkov and Ryan Carter for standing around just before Jim Slater scored, I thought they assumed the puck went into the netting and the play was over but what actually happened is a puck got deflected high up into the air and both of them just lost it. I was so annoyed at this apparent lollygagging I didn't even notice that Volchenkov was in fact, in position to clear it before he obviously got hooked by Blake Wheeler (of course, it wasn't called) leading to a turnover and Slater of all people getting the goal. For it was Slater who did the nonsensical pest move in the pregame of shooting a puck into the Devils' end of the ice before warmups began. Apparently the refs realized their mistake and gave the Jets a ticky-tack penalty minutes later - which even Chico Resch made a sarcastic comment about on the telecast, saying it was nice to see 'consistency' from the officials - but our power play couldn't take advantage and the game went to overtime.

After seeing four shootouts in the season's first eleven games, I was getting a bit tired of it (especially after Danny Briere's nonsense goal the other night), despite our success in the skills competition so far. Fortunately we only needed one breakaway goal to win this game, as Parise sprung Henrique yet again just 1:28 into the overtime and again Henrique beat Pavelec one-on-one for the dramatic winner that put the Devils back over .500 at 6-5-1. Apparently Henrique's heroics have even surprised his teammates, as the captain would say later:

“I don’t think there’s much question now that he’s here for good,” Parise said. “It has to be a lot of fun for him. I didn’t know Adam had that kind of speed. He’s much faster than I thought.”

Speed - and goalscoring - are definitely two things this team needs going forward.

Notes: In addition to Kovalchuk, Andy Greene was also shelved due to injury and missed his second straight game. Rod Pelley and Mark Fraser played in their place, with Fraser winning some more brownie points from me by dropping the gloves with Chris Thorburn immediately after a goalmouth scrum smack in front of Brodeur, though he wound up a -1 in fourteen minutes after the contreversial non-call before the tying goal.

The Puck Stops Here


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