Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sykora, Devils recall the glory days in 3-1 win over Sabres

For years, me and most Devil fans have made fun of the 'reunion tour' around here, as GM Lou Lamoriello has brought back former Devil after former Devil with limited success the second time around. Alexander Mogilny, Jason Arnott and Bobby Holik are all guys who had success as a Devil and helped win Cups - but returned long after their prime and were frustrating to watch...and we're not even getting into the Vlad Malakhov situation.

Then came Petr Sykora - whose departure back in 2002 was more contentious than most of the above, but whose return this year has been a far bigger feel-good story. After being out of the league for a year and not doing very much since the lockout, Sykora wasn't expected to stick when the Devils offered him a tryout contract. However, putting on the red and white has rejuvanated his career as he not only made the team, but has become an impact player playing left wing next to his old buddy Patrik Elias.

Last night's game against the Sabres provided a return to the good old days, as Sykora scored twice, Martin Brodeur made twenty-two saves in a solid performance and the Devils for once avoided a drama-free third period, winning 3-1 in a workmanlike performance. New Jersey's win upped their record to 20-15-1, gave the Devils their seventh win in ten games and moved them up to sixth in the East.

Nostalgia got off to a good early start midway through the first when Brodeur's clearing pass found a streaking Elias, who dropped the puck off to Sykora. Sykora then slithered one through Ryan Miller's pads for his ninth goal of the year. Having only seen the Sabres once this season I was curious to see how Olympic hero Miller was playing, since his numbers have been terrible this year. That goal is not one he would have allowed two years ago and is indiciative of his struggles right now.

However, there wasn't much Miller could do on either of the Devils' second-period goals. Elias found Sykora in the slot for a pinpoint wrister just 86 seconds into the middle frame, with defenseman Anton Volchenkov also getting an assist on Sykora's second goal of the game. He had his chances to get the hat captain Zach Parise remarked after the game, 'he could have had five'...but couldn't quite get the third. About four minutes later, the Sabres' Luke Adam could have cut the lead to 2-1 but the goal was disallowed due to a high stick. Perhaps we caught a break on that one from Toronto (for once), as I didn't think it was a high stick either in real time or on the one replay they showed on the board.

Instead of the game being 2-1, it would get to 3-0 a minute and a half later when Parise's beautiful deflection of a Mark Fayne shot gave the captain his team-leading 12th goal. However, an ill-advised boarding penalty by Eric Boulton led to not only four resulting misconduct penalties, but also to a Sabres power play goal when Thomas Vanek scored off a rebound. Despite two more Sabre power plays in that period (including a dubious high-stick call on Sykora), the Devils didn't let them get any closer in the second. Or the third...putting on an old-time display of how to play with the lead, the Devils only allowed six shots in the final period and play moved fast.

Fortunately, the only two puzzling moments of the game's final twenty minutes had nothing to do with the outcome. The first one came midway through the third, when Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique had what should have been a two-on-one chance but for reasons known only to him, Kovy skated towards Henrique instead of away from him, killing off any chance for a pass and opportunity. And somewhat surprisingly, in the final two minutes with the Sabres' net empty, Sykora was nowhere to be found. Even Parise said he wished Sykora was on the ice at the end. Why Pete DeBoer chose not to do this is unclear...but another unlikely Devil took the opportunity to nearly score a spectacular goal, as Brodeur's clearance missed the net by a couple of yards. With a two-goal lead, Marty was certainly trying for his third career goal but it wasn't meant to be.

At least the win, and Sykora's two goals were plenty of excitement for one night.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lundqvist blanks Islanders

The holiday season has been great for the Rangers. Riding a four-game win streak into the Christmas Break, they weren't about to have it snapped by the Islanders yesterday at MSG. The biggest reason why was Henrik Lundqvist, who turned aside all 28 shots en route to a 3-0 shutout for the club's fifth straight win.

It marked their second win in three games over the Isles, who returned to The Garden a few days after a tough 4-2 loss Thursday. What an odd schedule. In any event, the superb play of Lundqvist along with Mike Del Zotto (2 assists, +3) and budding rookie Carl Hagelin (2 goals) were plenty in improving the Rangers to 22-8-4- vaulting them ahead of the idle Bruins for tops in the East. Their 48 points are one better than Boston, trailing only Chicago, whose 4-1 win over Columbus put them at 50. It's real exciting considering the injuries they've dealt with. With Marc Staal finally cleared for contact, it's anyone's guess when he'll return. In the mean time, John Tortorella continues to take a business-like approach, which should bode well with the new calendar year approaching.

By no means was it easy. The Islanders put up plenty of resistance. Tough guy Michael Haley instigated a fight with Stu Bickel, probably stemming from Bickel's dismantling of teammate Tim Wallace last Thursday. I didn't see any of the first due to visiting my Mom for Christmas. Based on a few of the tweets, it sounded like Jack Capuano's club earned some chances despite being outshot 12-7. I even thought we were down one. As I've stated repeatedly, throw out the records. The Islanders always come to play against the Rangers. No surprise they gave a strong showing in the two periods I caught between dinner and dessert with Lundqvist stifling them. His play has been unreal lately. King Henrik is right there with Jimmy Howard, who should comprise the goalies that challenge Vezina incumbent Tim Thomas. Somehow, our goalie isn't popular enough to be in the top five of All-Star voting. Can someone explain James Reimer first?

All-Star Games are the least of Henke's worries. He just goes about his business quietly and makes the saves. Along with Marty Biron (7-1), you can make an argument that it's the Blueshirts who boast the league's best tandem. While there would be some fun debate with Canuck fans and LA disciples, the most important aspect is that even when our team doesn't play great, they win. That's because players step up each night. Lately, it's been Del Zotto, who continued his amazing turnaround with a couple of brilliant plays for Hagelin's pair. The first saw the third-year pro undress Frans Nielsen with a Leetch-esque move and then fire a shot off Evgeni Nabokov, which Ryan Callahan rebounded right to Hags who deposited his fifth.

Before the same trio combined on an even better goal a period later, Lundqvist bailed out his teammates with sparkling work that included an Isles' flurry. He denied Wallace twice and then a third time with a cat-like glove leaving him befuddled. It's that kind of caliber netminding we're seeing from Henrik, who is a big advantage most nights. Great goaltending can cover a lot up. Especially when our forecheck's not ramping it up. Aside from stopping a dozen shots in the second, he also had plenty of help from top penalty killer Brian Boyle, who emulated a human backboard late to prevent Islander shots from getting through. Boyle and surprise Anton Stralman must've repelled a half dozen in the final minute, frustrating our Long Island rivals. It's that kind of effort that makes our team tough to play against. Boyle's unit with John Mitchell and Brandon Dubinsky were also the most effective on the cycle, energizing the crowd. It looks like for now, Dubinsky will stay put on the third line with the speedier Hagelin meshing with Brad Richards and Callahan.

Another tremendous read by Del Zotto led to some insurance from Hagelin. After a relentless forecheck that had the Isles pinned, he came back in the zone and slid a pass to Callahan, who sent the biscuit back to a cutting Del Zotto. With no hesitation, he centered for Hagelin, who buried his second of the night. Just all around great teamwork started by MDZ with our captain instrumental with Hags finishing. That's the kind of play we used to see religiously from Brian Leetch, who'll be suiting up in the Legends Game on New Year's Eve with Eric Lindros opposing them. Nobody would dare compare Del Zotto to Leetch. But his marked improvement has been a breath of fresh air. Without Del Zotto, no way are we sitting atop the conference.

The Isles didn't quit. Still able to attack with leading finisher Matt Moulson certainly doing his part along with John Tavares and P.A. Parenteau, they were denied by Lundqvist, including a big stop off a three-on-two. Milan Jurcina also tested him with his rocket but was silenced. The effort was there from Capuano's club but the lack of finish was evident. Lundqvist was a big reason along with a sturdy D that blocked 19 shots. How dedicated were they? As many as 15 skaters registered a block with no Blueshirt with more than two. Even Mike Rupp had one. Somewhat astonishingly, Dan Girardi didn't along with Dubinsky and Hagelin.

When Marian Gaborik put the finishing touches on the victory, shooting into a vacated net with 2:28 left, all that was left was that zero thing. They weren't about to allow the Islanders to spoil it. With his third shutout of the season, Lundqvist recorded No.38. He trails all-time franchise leader Ed Giacomin (49) by 11. All this before 30. Maybe the next step's coming.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Carl Hagelin, NYR (2 goals incl. GW, No.'s 5 & 6, 5 SOG, +2 in 13:21)
2nd Star-Mike Del Zotto, NYR (2 assists-17 tied for team lead with Stepan, +3 hikes rating to +25)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (28 saves for 3rd shutout, career No.38)

Notes: Rangers (22-8-4) embark on a three-game road trip with stops in Washington Wednesday, Florida Friday before visiting Citizens Bank Park for the much anticipated Winter Classic Jan.2. Early forecasts hint at the possibility of rain, which could affect the start. ... Both teams combined for 62 hits with each having 31, including a game high seven from Isles' bruiser Matt Martin. Stralman paced the Rangers with six. ... Faceoffs were even (25-25). Derek Stepan won eight-of-15 while Tavares went 9-2. ... Islanders (11-17-6) return home to host Calgary Thursday and Edmonton on New Year's Eve.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Devils' roller-coaster ride continues into the holiday

Even when I'm not spending my days coughing up a lung as I have been this week, I've never been fond of roller coasters. Just don't have the stomach for them, never have and never will. Even a small, kiddie roller coaster and a big pirate ship rocking back and forth scares me to death. When I see my friends ride the twister at Coney Island and the ridiculous rides at Great Adventure I wonder how the heck they do it.

Perhaps that's why games like last night drive me up a wall, when the Devils were in complete command after two periods against a struggling Caps team, then melted down in the third...blowing a 3-0 lead before eventually falling back on their one saving grace - the shootout - to finally win a game that should have been a coast job. Before last season's tale of two halves, most Devil regular seasons over the last fifteen years have been smooth ferry rides to the playoffs with few choppy waters. This year has been a whole new animal though. Not only don't you know what you're getting game to game, you don't know what you're getting period to period with this team. Which leads to the ultimate emotional roller-coaster.

Of course my present condition isn't helping my mood much, although I was happy with what I saw the first two periods last night. Unlike most of our recent matchups with them (and goalie Michael Neuvirth, unbeaten in five starts against us before last night), we took it to the Caps early and often. Early on though it did look like Neuvirth was doing his best Henrik Lundqvist impression, stoning us on several terrific chances. It took us until early in the second period to finally break through when an Ilya Kovalchuk slapper cracked the forcefield on the opposition net - on a power play, to boot! Minutes later, Kovy factored into another goal, feeding rookie defenseman Alex Urbom with a sweet pass, and Urbom deked out Neuvirth to double the Devils' lead.

Things were going so well last night, even Chico Resch was adroitly ad-libbing out of his mistakes. After Urbom's goal, he said 'There's nothing like scoring your first NHL goal....pregnant pause upon realizing or being told that it was actually Urbom's second....except following that up with a beauty for your second NHL goal!' When Adam Henrique tipped home a Matt Taormina shot to make it 3-0 midway through the second, I'll admit it, I thought the game was on ice. I've seen enough Devil games this year that I should have known it wasn't the case but it wasn't so much that I had confidence in the Devils. Instead, it was seeing the Caps pack in the tents time and again when they get behind big - like Game 7 against the Pens or any number of games against the Rangers the last few years where they went down 5-0, 6-0, 7-0.

Maybe I should have known we were in for it when Deb Placey made a comment during the second intermission about Martin Brodeur working on a shutout. Considering Marty has only had one game where he's even allowed one goal this year, and our late-game defensive woes, it's a little premature to start counting down to the shutout. Sure enough, the Caps got the memo about how we wet our pants in the third period of games and started coming. After a narrow miss seconds earlier, the Caps executed a beautiful tic-tac-toe play with Brooks Laich getting open in the crease and slipping one past Brodeur to get the Caps back in the game.

Although the Caps dominated the third, outshooting the Devils 9-4, we still had our chances to put it away. After narrowly escaping serious injury when a shot deflected to his chin earlier in the game, Anton Volchenkov nearly scored his first goal as a Devil (in his second season!) when he ripped one that just clanked off the post. When Jason Chimera - who also beat us with a crucial goal in the teams' last matchup here - outmuscled Brodeur to stuff in the Caps' second goal at 12:48, you could just feel the balloon deflating. With time ticking down, the Caps executed a blind backdoor play, and it was Chimera - again (when the hell did this guy become a Devil killer?!) - that tied the game with just 1:42 left. I was so disgusted I was half hoping they'd lose in regulation at that point. The last time that happened though, it took the team a while to recover from a 3-0 meltdown in Florida.

It was all the Devils could do to hang on for the seemingly inevitable shootout. If we've been consistent in one thing this year (besides our inconsistency), it's been the skills competition. And again, they came through with Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias getting the goals, while Brodeur made a highlight-reel stop on Alexander Ovechkin to thwart the Caps. While you can look at the Devils' record of 19-14-1 and say good job, the fact is they're 8-1 in the shootout, which means only eleven non-shootout wins (ten in regulation). What you hope for if you're a Devils fan is that these shootout wins are giving them a stay of execution until the defense gets healthy, then hopefully team straightens out its play late in games.

For now I guess I'll just be thankful it's not a disaster on par of last year, though I'm not kidding myself thinking things are all hunky-dory right now.

Rangers fly past Philly in Round 2

I haven't been to many games this year. Unlike past seasons, I've hardly seen Ranger games in their entirety due to my work schedule. However, they have a pretty impressive record when I barely watch. :P Even the last second win at Phoenix proved the theory that sometimes, getting updates via Twitter is pretty fun when you can't watch. However, this week before Christmas, I got a little holiday treat with back-to-back home games against blood rivals. The end result was a bit sweeter than my birthday present thanks to Dom Moore and the Bolts.

First up were the Islanders, who always play us tough. Toss the records out whenever they meet. Especially at MSG. Quite honestly, the Rangers got away with a 'C' effort and held on for a two-goal win thanks to an odd goalie pull by Jack Capuano. Unless Evgeni Nabokov simply screwed up, it made no sense that he went to the bench when the team barely had the puck. Goalies shouldn't leave for the extra attacker until it's in the other end and you have possession. The reaction of favorite Isle tweep Reina De La Isla summed it up. Not much makes sense on the Island these days. We'll just leave it at that.

Still, it was our second consecutive win following two sub-par showings versus Dallas and at St. Louis that in particular, drew John Tortorella's ire during the first intermission on the second episode of HBO's 24/7. What I admire about the mild mannered coach is he doesn't mince words. "If you don't play hard, you're not playing," wasn't quite the unique mind of Ilya Bryzgalov, who compared his shepherd to a hot blonde girl that left teammates speechless. I still love the part where Jaromir Jagr moves to a different table to eat due to teammates razzing the Russian netminder about his views on the universe. Then, Jagr says he can't eat alone. So, Bryz joins him.

Speaking of Bryzgalov, he opposed Henrik Lundqvist in one of the biggest regular season games I can remember tonight. Tortorella wisely rested Lundqvist Thursday with Marty Biron stopping 24 and garnering 2nd Star honors for his seventh win. It also happened to be Brandon Dubinsky's best outing with a highlight reel end-to-end goal in which the Isles turned into pylons. Pretty disgraceful. I mentioned in a preview before the Devil game that he usually turns it up against the black and red. Ironically, he was strong and what do you know? He scored and set up John Mitchell's empty netter yet somehow didn't receive a star with instead the much improved Mike Del Zotto (GWG) earning top star while Artem Anisimov got third star. At least his teammates rewarded him with the Broadway Hat. Good stuff.

Dubinsky continued his upswing with another outstanding effort while Lundqvist (28 saves including some big ones early), shooting star Marian Gaborik (NHL-leading 21st on a breakaway), Derek Stepan and folk hero Stu Bickel (2 assists-4 Pts and 2 scraps already) contributed to a convincing 4-2 win over the Flyers- pulling into first place. It also marked Jagr's return with some undeserved boos No.68's way. But what can you expect? He's a Flyer and sometimes, fans have short memories. At least this one doesn't. I don't boo.

For a guy that's been away for three years in the KHL, it's safe to say Jagr's still got it. He was the most dangerous Flyer while teaming with recovered teammate Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, who form the league's best line. Stellar work was turned in by Dan Girardi (Superman), Ryan McDonagh and Del Zotto, who's been our best defenseman lately. His defense in particular has improved leaps and bounds. Plus he's showing more and more confidence offensively. No shock that he's on the score sheet with regularity. Full marks to our third-year blueliner, who undoubtedly has worked very hard. Without his turnaround, no way are the Rangers only behind the Bruins in the East, who only dismantled Florida 8-zip. Can anyone beat them?

If not for Lundqvist during the first half of the opening period, who knows what the outcome is? I noticed in warmups how sharp he looked with a rare seat at center ice, which also had quite the atmosphere. This was easily the most buzz in the building in quite some time. Even before the action, you could feel it. Flyer fans showed up in Lindros, Roenick and Hartnell jerseys ready to support their heroes. However, it wasn't their night. Despite a strong start in which Philadelphia controlled the tempo, they couldn't sneak one by Lundqvist, whose rebound control was as good as I've seen. He made a couple of sprawling stops on chances created by Jagr, who was everywhere. Just his size and reach gave the D fits. But as usual, they bent but never broke.

Perhaps a bit lagged from the previous night, the Blueshirts didn't get their sea legs until an anticipated rematch between Brandon Prust and Flyer freshman Zac Rinaldo got everyone up. For the second straight time, Prust got the better of the pup with the refs doing a good job stepping in. Physicality picked up highlighted by a clean hip check from Anton Stralman (uh really) that the crowd oohed and ahhed at during a replay. Tortorella specifically singled out Stralman for his steadiness despite not the best reputation. He also made a great outlet that sprung Gaborik for his breakaway goal early in the third that put us up three. Since Mike Sauer, Steve Eminger and Jeff Woywitka went down, the club has gotten inspired performances out of Stralman, Bickel and rookie Tim Erixon. Credit the organization down in Connecticut for teaching them the system.

For a while, nothing separated each team. Brian Boyle even had a hug fest with Tim Sestito. By that time, the Rangers were ahead two thanks to great deflection goals by Stepan (8th) and obscure pick Ruslan Fedotenko (first point in 10 games). Sometimes, you just have a hunch. Before opening faceoff, I tweeted that Feds would score a big goal. Pretty eerie how that works. A bit different than saying if Gaborik scores in the third versus the Devils, we'll win. Fedotenko hadn't done anything in a while and I just went with gut instinct. His goal went to video review because it went in and out quickly with play continuing. But we could tell it was in. I still am mesmerized by Stepan's tip of a Bickel shot that Bryzgalov had no chance on. He really couldn't be faulted on the first three with two great plays and Gaborik beating him on a break.

The Flyers finally made it interesting following Gaborik's 21st when they converted a power play thanks to a pellet from Andrej Meszaros (5th) set up by Matt Carle and Hartnell. It cut it to 3-1 with under 10 minutes left. With Philly pressing for another, the tide turned thanks to No.1 Star Ryan Callahan, who notched a power play goal that finished Philly. If ever a shift demonstrated why he's our captain, it was the one in response with Matt Read unwilling to take a hit from the bigger man, allowing Captain Cally to win the battle and his line to swing momentum. Moments later with Max Talbot off, there was our fearless leader doing the dirty work to put home a Girardi rebound for his 13th. Del Zotto added his 15th helper. That's what makes Callahan special. He'll never be the most talented but he never takes a shift off and simply outworks the opponent. The epitome of this team.

Sure. A video review confirmed that Jersey native James van Riemsdyk notched his ninth late after misguided "First Place" chants. But that was as close as they got. The Rangers improved to 2-0 versus the Winter Classic host with the next meeting on January 2, which everyone will be watching. It should be a doozy.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Stu Bickel, NYR (2 assists, 6 hits, +2 in 9:04)
2nd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (28 saves)
1st Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (PPG-13th of season, tremendous leadership)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nieds night and other Devil thoughts

Hello everyone, I'm back...finally with my computer up and running. Still sick, to be sure but after sweating off a fever I'm at least up to writing now. Even if I'll be a scratch for the game tomorrow (planned to go see the boys play against the Caps but sold my tickets when I got sick, so I'll be watching the broadcast). Over the last couple of weeks there's been plenty good and bad to write about. Derek took the bad - though not from his perspective - the other night so I'll start with the good and look back on Nieds night.

Regrettably I wasn't able to be around to write on this one at the time but I did attend the game of course...and had a bird's eye view of them raising Scott Niedermayer's jersey up from 120 since they did it behind the net. Admittedly when it was first announced, I was a little lukewarm about it and thought they should have waited a while since a lot of the fanbase is still (unreasonably) bitter about him leaving, but you can't really deny he deserves the honor on merit. His winning has been chronicled a hundred different ways, including emcee Doc Emrick using props to do so, bringing out the record books for all the different levels of hockey Nieds has played on.

Certainly you have to look at Nieds' level of play and say it was no accident he won so much on all levels. If you were only allowed to give the Conn Smythe to a player on a winning team in a Stanley Cup final, you could have made a compelling argument for Nieds winning it in 2003 when he led the Devils in points during the playoffs and was a force defensively. Derided for much of his career for inconsistency - including by myself - I felt Nieds turned it up another level in 2003 and 2004 under the late Pat Burns. He had become the dominant player his talent had always predicted, starting with his end-to-end goal in Game 2 of the 1995 Stanley Cup finals. Even with a bit of a mercurial early part of his career, Nieds was always a very good player, and a difference-maker (as the Devils' mediocre record in the first twenty games of 2001 attested to when both he and Cup hero Jason Arnott were holdouts).

After winning the Norris trophy in 2004 and being named captain once Scott Stevens was forced to retire, it appeared as if he'd cement his legacy as an all-time Devil that much more...but it turned out Nieds had a higher calling. In a rarity of modern professional sports, he left the highest offer on the table (ours) to go to Anaheim and be closer to home, including having his brother on the same team. At the time I felt that playing with his brother was the only reason he left, that he wasn't looking to actually win since the Ducks weren't particularly a great team at the time and he'd already accomplished everything championship-wise here. However, in his first year the Ducks got to the Conference Finals and after GM Brian Burke added Chris Pronger in the offseason, Anaheim went all the way the next year with Nieds getting his Conn Smythe, and Rob finally getting to hold the Cup with his brother.

Even with Nieds' Disney-like finish to his career, his number still had to be retired by the Devils. Even if the immortal Mike Mottau wore it for us after Nieds left (but while he was still playing in the league), and Nieds never actually wore a Devils uniform on the Prudential Center ice until last Friday. All three retired numbers the Devils have raised to the rafters have been of defensemen that played on each of the Devils' three Cup-winning teams. The only other players to have that distinction are Martin Brodeur, who'll surely join them in the rafters someday soon, and utility forward Sergei Brylin - still playing in the KHL and thus unable to attend the ceremony.

Perhaps the most uplifting thing about the night was the return of Doc himself, kept secret until just a couple of days before the ceremony. Really, it would have been a shame if anyone else had done it since Doc called practically every one of Nieds' games as a Devil before he started branching off to VERSUS and NBC post-lockout. It had been kind of puzzling that Doc hadn't done one of our VERSUS telecasts yet but apparently he was scheduled to do the game in Buffalo a few weeks ago except that he had a hernia situation that needed to be taken care of. He will do one of the Devils-Boston games in January apparently, according to one of the Devils fans who heard him speak at the fan club meeting.

In his return to the Prudential Center ice, Doc played to the crowd, reminding people that one of his favorite Nieds moments was a rare fight against a certain Ranger (I think Valeri Kamensky) where the Ranger jersey came off and Nieds threw it into the crowd. Funny I seem to have forgotten about it, for all I know it could have been a preseason game but Doc sure knows his audience! Nieds was his usual understated self, thanking everyone who he needed to thank and keeping his poise throughout, before he and his family went to the net right in front of me and started raising the banner. I got at least one or two good pictures of it on my phone, after it had been raised since the lighting was too dim throughout most of the ceremony to get a decent picture otherwise.

Keeping up their perfect record on retirement ceremony nights, the Devils whipped the Stars 6-3 in an uplifting performance for several reasons. First, the fact that it was Travis Zajac's first game back after his offseason achilles injury that ended the Devils' all-time iron-man streak. Then there's current captain Zach Parise's recent resurgence...which crested last Friday with a goal and three assists, a performance and effort that screamed 'ZACH'S BACK!'. His signature play from that game was when he terrorized the Dallas defenders shorthanded for about thirty seconds, before stripping the puck from Stephan Robidas and laying up a perfect pass to Adam Henrique for the game-tying goal in the second period.

That shorthanded goal turned the game around, as the Devils turned a 2-1 deficit into a 6-3 win with six different goalscorers lighting the lamp. Yet, despite the six goals one of the three stars of the game turned out to be Bryce Salvador, who didn't register a single point...but what he did do was put up a +4, play a team-leading 26:20 with defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Andy Greene on the shelf, and save an automatic goal with a brilliant sweep of the puck from the crease early in the second period. I was really wondering about how getting rid of Colin White to make room for Salvador (coming off a year on the shelf, thanks to a concussion caused by inner-ear symptoms) was going to work, but after a slow start Sal's turned back the clock and looked like the defenseman he was when he first got here.

Finally, it felt like beating Dallas at home buried one of our recent ghosts, for it was against the Stars last year on Opening Night where the John MacLean era got off to a flying start - for the first ten minutes - before the Devils melted down for a devastating defeat. Speaking of MacLean, I was kind of relieved he wasn't booed when he appeared on the jumbotron to make comments about his former teammate Nieds. Even Bobby Holik didn't get booed though I didn't hear a lot of cheering either...but Scott Gomez got booed so loudly I bet he heard it in Montreal. The team's really gotta stop putting him on the board until he retires at least.

Winning on Nieds night was the Devils' third straight win, in a streak that would go to four in a row the next day after Patrik Elias broke MacLean's team record for goals by scoring two against the Habs in a come-from-behind win at Montreal. To start the streak, the Devils swept the Florida road trip, beating Tampa in a 5-4 game that wasn't as close as the score indicated, and then getting revenge on the Panthers for a horrendous meltdown earlier in the season in Florida by turning the tables and rallying form a multi-goal deficit in Sunrise to win in - guess what? - a shootout.

After scoring eleven goals in two games, of course Henrik Lundqvist only allowed the Devils one first-period tally - Zajac's first since March of last season - and as usual since the lockout won in his home away from home, after Brodeur again allowed a back-breaking soft second goal and couldn't rise to the challenge against his biggest tri-state rival. Even with that defeat, the Devils still have a respectable 18-14-1 record and currently are holding a playoff spot. Even if almost half of those wins have come via the the Flyers proved a couple of years ago, all you have to do is get in the playoffs and you can do something in them.

Our last game before the holiday is tomorrow night against a Caps team that is surprisingly still sitting outside a playoff spot. Even after firing last year's 24/7 celebrity Bruce Boudreau, it doesn't seem like it's done much to pick up the team's play or revive Alexander Ovechkin's career. It's amazing that the NHL built most of its marketing around Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin not that long ago, and now one's on the shelf yet again with a concussion and the other's turned into a rather ordinary (and moody) player overnight. I won't be in attendance because of a virus, but perhaps that's a good thing since the Devils are 3-0 at home when I'm not in the stands and 4-6-1 when I am, with my only home win since early November coming on Nieds night.

Hopefully they keep that split going for one more game tomorrow, then keep winning when I do plan on going to both home games the next week :P

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pride on line for Brodeur

Martin Brodeur remains a legend even if it could be the end for the Devil all-time great.

There are a lot of No.30's in hockey. But none quite like Devil superstar Martin Brodeur. It's still hard to imagine the former 1990 first round pick stolen by Lou Lamoriello in a swap of picks with Calgary, who took Trevor Kidd instead. We'll let that sink in for a second.

Years since, the Devils have laughed all the way to the bank to the tune of three Stanley Cups, several division titles and four Cup appearances thanks to their No.30. Once, a 19-year old teenager was introduced to blood rival Rangers in a first round conference quarter that saw Broadway prevail in seven led by Mark Messier. Odd that only two years later, Brodeur was the man following some road heroics from vet backup Chris Terreri that aided the Devils past Boston. Marty opposed Mike Richter in one of the most memorable series when he was still a bright eyed rookie. He just didn't play like one, going save for save against Richter in a classic Conference Final that nearly didn't end until Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!

A heartbroken Brodeur cried as the Rangers celebrated their first Finals appearance since '79, on their way to erasing 54 years of curses in another epic series. But the all-time greats are able to bounce back and Marty soon was a Cup hero for the Devils' first of three championships, spanning nine years. One of the dominant runs by a franchise with New Jersey's repeat bid falling just short against boyhood idol Patrick Roy and Colorado. Despite losing out to Jean-Sebastien Giguere for the Conn Smythe, there was the franchise Devil reminding fans that all that mattered was the chalice they would soon drink from. He was right. Why all these years later some fans still get upset over that is befuddling.

That's the life of a franchise that went from laughingstock to elite when No.30 took over in net. Oh. They had Sean Burke before. He of the miraculous first playoff berth thanks to former franchise scoring leader John MacLean, who victimized Darren Pang (yes, that midget). Burke was eventually dealt to Hartford for Jay Pandolfo and Bobby Holik. One of Lamoriello's wisest moves along with getting future captain Scott Stevens as compensation for losing Brendan Shanahan to St. Louis. There also was the hoist that sent Tom Kurvers to the Maple Leafs for a first rounder named Scott Niedermayer, who finally had his No.27 retired in a win over Dallas last week.

It's this type of work that's made Lamoriello one of the best sports execs. He also had a hand in helping the Nets acquire Jason Kidd, who only led them to their first two NBA Finals appearances. There also was the reacquisition of Conn Smythe winner Claude Lemieux,who helped win a second Cup with as talented a group that included free agent steals Brian Rafalski and John Madden. Staples of two of the club's three Cups. The trade for Jason Arnott didn't produce right away but once he teamed with 'A Line' members Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias, they were unstoppable.

In the first ever 3-1 comeback versus the Flyers, everyone will remember Larry Robinson's post-Game Four tirade and Stevens' big hit on Eric Lindros. But without the clutch netminding of Brodeur, they never come back. He did some of his best work in '00 and '01 when the Devils beat the Leafs twice in grueling second rounds. He also was money against defending champ Dallas, who pushed them the limit before Elias to Arnott won Game Six following Mike Modano's triple OT stunner. Those were the best games the Devils ever played even though Hasan might argue what the '03 team did was even better.

Under Pat Burns, he squeezed every ounce of energy out of not the most talented squad that still boasted Stevens, Rafalski, Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko on the back end. Madden replaced Holik, who became Benedict Arnold by bolting for Manhattan. A trade for Jamie Langenbrunner a year prior that sent popular Cup heroes Arnott and Randy McKay to Dallas also landed Hall Of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk. Much like Arnott, they didn't have success right away, getting ousted by the upstart Canes the year before. But Langenbrunner became a fixture on the Madden line with Jay Pandolfo, with the trio stifling the opposition while scoring big goals. Sykora was also dealt to Anaheim for Jeff Friesen and throw in Oleg Tverdovsky.

They made it work with Friesen torching his former club in a topsy turvy final where the home team won every game. Before they reached that glory, there also was deadline pickup Grant Marshall setting up Friesen for one of the greatest goals in franchise history, beating the Sens with two minutes left in a classic series. Wade Redden was victimized but apparently, Glen Sather never noticed. If not for Brodeur, they don't upset Ottawa. He came up with some monster saves that prevented the Sens from turning the tables on the Devs after they led 3-1. Fans killed him for allowing an OT winner to Chris Phillips, noting Marty's shaky sudden death record. But the Sens were more dangerous, boasting Marian Hossa, who Brodeur flat out robbed following a softy to Radek Bonk that tied Game Seven.

Sometimes, fans don't realize how good they had it until a legend's gone. Even during the post-lockout as Cup pieces have moved on, Brodeur still was the backbone that got the club into the postseason 13 consecutive seasons. Only once ('95-96) had they failed to do so since last missing in '88-89. Three times since Lamoriello took over, speaking to how consistent the Devils have been. Marty has been front and center. Injuries finally caught up the past couple of years but he still returned during a second half surge, playing outstanding alongside Johan Hedberg, following a dreadful start.

It's amazing to think Brodeur owns the most ever wins (633) and shutouts (116) in league history, speaking to his durability and competitiveness. The man has a lot of pride, which is on the line in what could be his final season. If it truly is the end, an era will finally be over. One full of records that probably will stand the test of time.

He's a throwback athlete who won in a more wide open style ('95) even though the Devils get blamed for the neutral zone trap due to Jacques Lemaire. What people conveniently leave out is they had one of the highest scoring teams before becoming more conservative, which spelled the end of Lemaire I.

It's also easy to leave out Brodeur's athletic skills which included emulating Ron Hextall by scoring into an open net in a series win over the hometown hero's Canadiens. His puckhandling was so good, it was like having a third defenseman. No wonder Bobby Clarke helped institute the Brodeur Rule. Whatever you want to call it, it prohibits goalies from playing the puck outside the boundaries behind the net. A silly rule that's led to defensemen getting creamed. No wonder they must seriously consider taking icings out and switching to hybrid to help eliminate such dangerous collisions. Given the fragile state the game's in, there's no other choice.

Brodeur still adjusted by coming out to play pucks before they went in the designated area. He still makes some exciting outlets on the power play but sometimes gets caught due to the unfriendly rule. Even the best can be flawed. Marty will never not play the puck. If he can, he'll do whatever it takes to help his team gain an edge.

In recent years, with only one memorable series win in exacting revenge on the Rangers with a sweep at the old CAA, Brodeur's been more scrutinized due to the team's failures. Devil fans aren't accustomed to seeing their team out of the playoffs so early. Last Spring was a harsh reality that there are no guarantees anymore. Especially with the new realignment coming next year with the Devils, Rangers and Islanders having to deal with powers Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington. It won't be easy with only four making it. The league did doormat Carolina no favors in the new seven team conference. It'd be peculiar if Brodeur hung it up with the old format returning that includes Conference Playoffs, where you must win two rounds before advancing to the league semis.

He's been there for all of it. There are some nights where he turns back the clock and makes a jaw dropping save like the one on Phil Kessel that had the prolific Leaf scorer shaking his head in disbelief. Early on last night, he made a strong kick save on a Ryan Callahan shot labeled for far corner. But then there are moments like the odd rebound that went right to Marian Gaborik for the winner along with Carl Hagelin's shorthanded goal that beat the glove that used to be money. It's still there in spurts, duping opposing shooters in shootouts. Just not as accurate as we're accustomed to seeing.

Even from the enemy side, it's kind of sad to see a legend starting to show that he's only human. An old 80's tune from Human League. A man who will always speak up when asked about things such as HBO's 24/7, where he was opposed to all the expletives due to children who might be watching. We might not always see eye to eye with Brodeur but he's an influential voice that should be heard even after he retires. But as he warned Larry Brooks in a Sunday Post column, it'll be up to him.

Do the Devils use Brodeur's empty slot along with Bryce Salvador to re-sign Zach Parise? Hedberg is also up, meaning it truly could be a changing of the guard in net. The transition's already taking place. It doesn't mean Brodeur is finished just yet. He still wants one more chance to shine. Don't count him out.

Lundqvist stands tall in win over Devils

Ruslan Fedotenko battles Tim Sestito on the opening faceoff during last night's Ranger 4-1 win over Hudson rival New Jersey.

They're separated by the Hudson River. Just a Path ride away, the Rangers and Devils renewed allegiances during the first Battle Of Hudson three months in the making. It was the Manhattan side that came out victorious over the Turnpike with headliner Henrik Lundqvist backstopping his team to a 4-1 win at a packed Prudential Center last night. 

In front of a makeshift defense that included emergency recall Tim Erixon, Lundqvist stood tall finishing with a game high 30 saves en route to his 23rd career victory over his favorite opponent. The Rangers needed every single one to get out of Newark with its second consecutive win in direct response to a two-game skid. That's been the story all year for John Tortorella's resilient club who never makes excuses. Even with the blueline battered minus Marc Staal, Mike Sauer and Steve Eminger, they fought back to steal two points thanks to Lundqvist. The scoreboard may have said otherwise but anyone who saw it knows the Devils controlled much of the action only to be denied by King Henrik.
I enjoy playing against this team,” Lundqvist pointed out after diminishing his career GAA to 1.85 versus the Devils. “It’s always a great challenge to play them. There’s a lot of action. We all knew that this was going to be a tough one.
Martin Brodeur brings out the best in Lundqvist, who was outstanding in keeping his team afloat despite a strong attack from New Jersey led by the ever dangerous top line of Adam Henrique, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. Minus top scorer Patrik Elias (flu), the Devs entered having won four straight and seemed on their way to five when Travis Zajac got to the only bad rebound Lundqvist allowed to put the hosts in front 1-0 15:51 into the first period. In his third game, Zajac won a draw back to Petr Sykora, whose low shot leaked out. A mad scramble ensued with Ryan McDonagh unable to clear it before Zajac deposited his first. Dainius Zubrus helped set it up by crashing the net.

It easily could've been two or three without Lundqvist, who watched his teammates struggle to mount anything the first half. Part of it had to do with how the game began with pushing and shoving between fourth lines. When Cam Janssen asked former teammate Mike Rupp to go, he obliged the smaller foe who showed a lot of guts taking some hard lefts early before coming on late. Only his second game back, Rupp looked weary at the end and asked refs Tim Peel and Justin St.Pierre to step in. Somewhat astonishingly, the officiating was good. Other than Ryan Callahan and instigator Eric Boulton getting misconducts in a heated first, they did a good job letting the teams play.

The rough stuff wasn't done when Brandon Dubinsky and David Clarkson stopped talking and dropped 'em. Dubinsky managed a good left that buckled Clarkson, who fell which was enough for Dubi to stop. Clarkson was involved later when a hit on Erixon prompted a strong reaction from partner Stu Bickel. Bickel acquitted himself well in front of family, who while being interviewed by John Giannone saw Zajac score. I hate when that happens cause it takes away from the game.

The Devils certainly had their chances in a more even second that saw at least four goal posts struck. Derek Stepan had Brodeur beat from 45 feet out when his shot deflected off a Devil and drew iron. Brodeur really didn't see much rubber due to his quicker team having the puck. The Rangers did plenty of chasing, especially when the Parise line was buzzing. Lundqvist robbed Henrique twice, including a nice kick out off a nifty Parise set up. The defense was on its heels. Kovalchuk certainly looked good on the right side, meshing with his cohesive unit. He got off a strong shot that Lundqvist made a head save on. The man can certainly shoot it.

If there was an area which decided it, it was special teams with the Devils unable to cash in on three power plays. Part of it was due to the Ranger penalty kill, which did a solid job getting in the path of shots and making key clears. The Devs still had decent looks but just couldn't get the second on Lundqvist. They also missed the net quite a bit in the second with Clarkson blowing some huge opportunities where he was set up alone but fired high and wide. For a guy having a bounce back season (11 goals vs 12 all last year), he disappointed the home side.
We kept on scrapping and fought through it,” Tortorella said. “We started to take over in the second period and then kept on coming in the third. Hank made some key saves at key times and we just tried to stay with it. Eventually, we found a way to score some goals.
Given a chance to get back in it, the Rangers responded with some strong work from elevated Carl Hagelin, who was bumped up by Tortorella with Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan. Hagelin helped generate chances, including a close call when a Richards shot pass was deflected by Callahan off the right post. Finally moving their legs, the Blueshirts turned the tide thanks to a brilliant rush by Derek Stepan. The second-year forward took a Marian Gaborik feed that saw our top finisher drilled, and then skated around a Devil before firing the puck into the slot off Kurt Foster for Artem Anisimov, who buried his seventh to knot it with 2:32 left in the second.

Suddenly with momentum, they nearly went ahead when Anisimov set up Stepan, who was denied by Brodeur on the short side. With it even, it was anyone's game. The first few shifts of the final stanza showed that as each side came close. A couple of more key stops from Lundqvist paid dividends when an unusual play allowed them to go ahead. Stepan started it by backing up the Devil D and then got the puck to Anisimov who methodically skated around to the right before flipping a tricky backhand that trickled off Brodeur right to Gaborik, who deposited his team best 18th at 4:45.
That’s how we score,” Gaborik explained after also netting an empty netter in the closing seconds on a special night that saw the Slovak record his 600th career point. “We get a lot of rebound, second-chance goals. I just try to stay in front and be there to lay it in.
The Devils didn't give up, coming back with a couple of strong shifts that eventually landed them a third man-advantage when McDonagh closed his hand on a puck. For whatever reason, they rank dead last at home despite oodles of talent. Even without Elias, the addition of Foster has added another shooter to a top heavy unit which features Kovalchuk, Parise, Henrique and Clarkson. Pete DeBoer can also roll out reemerging Petr Sykora, Zubrus and Zajac on the second one with improving rookie Adam Larsson, who played well defensively. During the PP, Lundqvist made back-to-back stops, including one he deemed 'lucky' on Henrique, whose shot went through the wickets but wide. Perhaps luck was on the Rangers' side with Gabby's odd goal earlier and Step's pass off Foster to Anisimov.

The PK bent but never broke with two big clears, including a yeoman effort from Dubinsky, who played his best game of the season. However, it was a strong clear by Bickel that led to the Coup de grace. Unable to corral the puck at the left point, Kovalchuk fell leading to a two-on-one. The league's most potent shorthanded team is also the worst at permitting shorthanded goals. Here came Hagelin flying down the wing with Brian Boyle as the decoy. The brilliant Swede whipped a shot past Brodeur's glove for his second shorty before an odd celebration saw him fall down and laugh. It's amazing how poised he is. But remember, he spent four years at Michigan and isn't afraid.  
We had a lot of opportunities, but their guy didn’t allow us to get the second goal,” DeBoer said. “If we got the second goal, we could have taken charge of the game. I thought it was one of our better games, maybe our best 60-minute effort this year.
“We didn’t come out on the right end, but I liked the way we played. Tip the cap to their guy. We have to find a way to solve him because we play them five more times.”

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Marian Gaborik, NYR (2 goals-19 incl. GW for 600th NHL point, assist, +3)
2nd Star-Stepan/Anisimov, NYR (5 Pts: 1-4-5, 7 SOG, +5)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (30 saves for 23rd career win vs NJD)

Notes: Henrik Tallinder sat out for the third consecutive game due to back spasms. ... Elias still is up in the air for Friday versus Washington. ... Larsson will fly home to Sweden for his grandmother's funeral. He'll miss the Devs next two games including next Monday at Carolina. The top line of Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk combined for a dozen of the club's 31 shots. Each were held off the score sheet due to Lundqvist and the D tandem of Dan Girardi and McDonagh. ... Sean Avery sat out a fourth straight game. ... Brodeur turned aside 17 of 20 in his second consecutive start, falling below .500 (8-9-0). ... Rangers host Islanders tomorrow and Flyers Friday.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Game Preview: Battle Of Hudson Part I

Tonight is the first installment of the Battle Of Hudson with the Manhattan meeting Jersey as the Rangers visit the Devils at The Rock with faceoff in less than an hour. It only took nearly three months for these bitter rivals to finally meet for the first of six in another fun season where both clubs are jockeying for position. Post-lockout, the Blueshirts' improvement has made this a more entertaining match-up. Both clubs have seen the postseason five of six years since with the Rangers missing in '09-10 while the Devils failed to qualify for the first time since '95-96 last year.

The Rangers currently sit third in a crowded Patrick that has the Flyers and Pens just ahead while the Devils have used a four-game win streak to creep within three of the Broadway Blues. It's New Jersey who should have an edge thanks to the reemergence of captain Zach Parise. Parise is sizzling hot with eight points (3-5-8) over his last four since missing a penalty shot in a loss to the Habs. Exactly the kind of response you'd expect from the Devil leader. Along with Calder hopeful Adam Henrique and Ilya Kovalchuk, he'll have to shoulder the load with leading scorer Patrik Elias (13-16-29) out due to the flu. In a recent win, Elias surpassed John MacLean to become the Devils' all-time leading finisher with 348 goals. His club record 845 points (348-497-845) over 993 games all with the black and red are impressive. He needs three assists for 500 and seven more games for 1,000.

New Jersey has also gotten inspired play out of David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus and Elias' Czech pal Petr Sykora. That Sykora factored into Elias' record-breaker was ironic, invoking memories of Cup lore. Without Elias, Pete DeBoer will move Travis Zajac up to center the second line with Zubrus and Clarkson. It's just Zajac's third game back. The Rangers will have their work cut out for them with the dangerous top line that includes Devil second third round pick Henrique. The kid is legit placing second in rookie scoring behind leader Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with 25 points. More notable is Henrique's overall play with a dangerous penalty killer a shorthanded threat with two SHG while Parise paces the club with three. Henrique also leads the Devils with a plus-seven rating.

Martin Brodeur will oppose Henrik Lundqvist in a classic showdown between the two franchise goalies. Even if he's not what he once was, the 39-year old Brodeur is capable of making the highlight reel save and enjoys playing our team. You know he'll be up for this one. With Johan Hedberg splitting duty with MB30, it truly is an all-time great's career that could be coming to a close. But as the controversial all-time winningest goalie with the most shutouts (116) noted, it will be his decision when his contract expires this summer. Brodeur recently had some choice comments about the HBO documentary series 24/7 covering the Winter Classic for a second consecutive year with bitter foes the Rangers and Flyers set to do battle at Citizens Bank Park on January 2 in the City Of Brotherly Love. Never one to shy away from an opinion, Marty doesn't care for the F bombs that will continue to air for three more weeks every Wednesday, including following the signature event.

While he's got a point, it doesn't air till 10 in the evening and kids shouldn't be allowed to watch. It's an A-Plus for the sport, which Brodeur made sure to point out. Sometimes, I wonder if he just ran his mouth because it's our team involved. He hates us and usually times his comments. While not as ornery as his idol Patrick Roy, Marty is becoming more and more like him. Chalk it up to not having the spotlight. Something he's always coveted. I do agree the Devils deserve the game. Perhaps they should get it and play their emerging rival the Islanders, who also could use a boost. I wonder if the league would allow essentially the same market to split the game.

While Brodeur makes headlines, the Rangers have done their talking with their play, which has leveled off since a great November. After beginning December with two wins, they're 3-3-1 since with injuries starting to mount. The loss of Mike Sauer, who isn't close to returning from a concussion, along with Steve Eminger separating his shoulder and being sidelined eight to ten weeks has turned the blueline into shambles. While Marc Staal awaits word for physical contact, John Tortorella will lean heavily on Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Mike Del Zotto. Lately, it's been the strong play of Del Zotto that's keeping them afloat. After an inconsistent start, MDZ has regained the confidence he had in Year One when he was an offensive threat. Even better, he's playing more physical in his end and logging big minutes. Tort now trusts him and MDZ is teaming with emerging Derek Stepan to run the power play. While a bit risky, it's not doing badly. The problem is still consistency with some PP's abysmal while others click. You never know what to expect.

Brad Richards has been everything advertised. His last second goal to stun Phoenix was a brilliant play by a proven winner. That's why you get the shot on net. Richie's 26 points (12-14-26) trail Marian Gaborik by one. Gabby is back with a vengeance, pacing the Blueshirts with 17 goals and 27 points. His two goals in a come from behind win over the 'Yotes was clutch. No question he is 100 percent, taking the body much more and putting forth an extra effort each shift. Ryan Callahan has been a leader with 12 goals (5 PPG, 3 GW) and over 100 hits. D-Step has emerged with 21 points and some heady play that reminds of a more skilled Drury. Artem Anisimov should be in after missing Saturday with the flu. It's the play of the top line (Anisimov-Stepan-Gaborik) that the Devils must focus on while Richards anchors Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, who picked up a big helper in the victory Saturday. Will he ever score again? He usually fares well versus the Devs.

The back end will use Anton Stralman, Stu Bickel and likely Jeff Woywitka. If he can't go, then Tim Erixon rejoins the lineup. How Tort handles it will be key. Mike Rupp also has a homecoming with the team he played Cup hero for in '03. Wonder what kind of reaction he'll get. Oh wait. He sucks now. :P It should be interesting.

Monday, December 19, 2011

As injuries mount, pressure is on Slats

Injuries are part of hockey. More and more, we're seeing the unfortunate aspect with many big names sidelined by concussions. Or in Chris Pronger's case, severe PCS has finished the future Hall Of Famer for the season. A costly loss for the Flyers, who also are keeping their fingers crossed for leading scorer Claude Giroux to return at some point from the concussion he suffered from an accidental knee from teammate Wayne Simmonds. This is the ugly side that's becoming a league wide epidemic.

As the Rangers would attest, they know full well that much of their season depends on if Marc Staal can return from PCS. His is an odd case where the All-Star blueliner returned for the rest of the '10-11 season, including all five games in a first round defeat to the Caps. He was 'good enough' to play but then suffered a setback during the summer that ended his workouts. It still boggles the mind how he was able to play and then the unknown hit, forcing the Blueshirts to shut him down during camp. Finally improving, he could be cleared for contact soon. What that could mean for a suddenly depleted back end is pivotal. The light at the end of the tunnel says perhaps we see Staal debut in the new calendar year. However, we're still dealing with uncertainty. The organization will take every precaution.

Just a brief look into Sidney Crosby is proof enough how fragile the head can be. What if the Penguins had not brought Sid The Kid back so soon following the first concussion suffered on a David Steckel hit? If only we knew. Crosby is again sidelined due to a hit from David Krejci a couple of weeks ago. He'd returned with a flash pulverizing teams with 12 points in eight games, including the unreal backhand goal on his first shift in a blowout of the Islanders. Now, he is suffering from PCS (post concussion symptoms) again. Not a concussion, which the Pittsburgh captain clarified to the media recently. So, the game's most dynamic player sits with no time table. Almost like that repeat scene in Ground Hog Day where Bill Murray's Phil character keeps waking up to that annoying alarm clock with "I Got You Babe" playing. No matter what he does to the clock, it keeps playing. Of course, this harsh reality is sadder and much more daunting.

Already without concussed Mike Sauer, who was KO'd by a clean Dion Phaneuf shoulder, the Rangers lost Steve Eminger to a separated shoulder for eight to ten weeks in their miraculous last second win over Phoenix. In the wake of one of the wildest endings that saw Brad Richards last ditch backhand fling deflect off Keith Yandle past Mike Smith just beating the clock literally (it crossed the goal line with 0.01 forcing a video reversal), the Blueshirts find themselves in dire straits. With tough games beginning tomorrow against division rivals New Jersey, the Islanders and Philadelphia with HBO cameras rolling, they'll be minus half their starting D. No Staal and no Sauer is bad enough because that's half their top four. Somehow, John Tortorella has managed to get by by wisely teaming super soph Ryan McDonagh with Team MVP Dan Girardi while recently replacing Sauer with Eminger for emerging Michael Del Zotto.

If only it were that simple. There are so many injuries that you can never have enough players. Especially defensemen. So, here's what Tort's left with for tomorrow's big showdown in Newark against the suddenly red hot Devils, who are blitzing goalies thanks to wiz kid Adam Henrique, Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk and yes, David Clarkson. Even Dainius Zubrus has 10 goals. A once weakness is now a team strength, which explains the Devs' torrid play that suddenly has them just three points behind us and the Pens. While they are clicking on all cylinders, Tortorella will roll out McDonagh and Girardi as much as humanly possible in the blood rivals first of six. Del Zotto likely will play with Anton Stralman while unsung hero Jeff Woywitka if available, should see increased responsibility. Emergency recall Tim Erixon could also return after spending over a month with the Connecticut Whale. In other words, the Rangers are in trouble.

The Devils are hardly All-Star caliber on the blueline. However, at least most of their regulars will be a go with first-year Swede Adam Larsson learning on the job along with second-year man Mark Fayne while vets Bryce Salvador, Henrik Tallinder and Lou Lamoriello steal Kurt Foster supply depth. How the odd GM got Foster from the Ducks for Mark Fraser and immortal Rod Pelley we'll never comprehend. Yeah. I know they're character guys but come on. Bob Murray should be investigated for how he's run a former Cup champ into the ground.

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that our team is at a disadvantage tomorrow night. Sure. Marian Gaborik's playing like an MVP and Richards has proven what a leader he is. Derek Stepan has blossomed along with Artem Anismov while Ryan Callahan has certainly welcomed the challenge of being captain with open arms. After those four, it gets thin with underachieving Brandon Dubinsky still stuck on one goal. That's four million's worth. Brian Boyle has not been able to repeat last year's output and Brandon Prust is more a warrior than scorer who'll take on all comers despite being nicked up. Carl Hagelin just might be the next most important player with incredible speed and instincts. Ruslan Fedotenko is what he is. A solid checker who can scorer every once in a while.

Something needs to be done. Henrik Lundqvist is going to be peppered given our D issues. How soon before Girardi's tank runs on empty? He can only do so much. Glen Sather needs to open his eyes and realize this team cannot have another first round flop. That means get on the phone to try to get a character D like Tim Gleason. Our team also lacks enough skill up front. One more scorer and this team could compete with Boston, Pittsburgh and Philly. Even the Panthers boast more talent.

It's high time Slats gives us a team that can actually win more than two rounds. The pressure's on.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A team of contradictions

It's been thirty games and I still can't figure this Devils team out...or maybe I already have. This team has been a total roller-coaster ride from Opening Night, alternately capable of brilliance and hair-pulling stupidity. Multiple times this season they've fought back from two-goal deficits and even came back from three down against Ottawa last week at home. And almost as many times they've shown a propensity for blowing late leads, including a four-goal meltdown in Florida and giving up the tying goal against the Senators with 3.3 seconds remaining in the same game they were down three late in the second. At times our offense looks impressive, like the other night in Tampa when we scored five goals and chased Dwayne Roloson - and at times it's still clueless, like when we let the Canadiens trap us to death after they took an early second period lead last Saturday.

Our penalty kill has been as good as I've ever seen it - even in the glory years. It's not just that they keep teams from scoring, but we've also been extremely agressive and scored several shorthanded goals ourselves. And conversely, our power play has been as bad as I've ever seen it. Granted, it feels like the last five years we can't buy a power play goal (other than the first half two seasons ago where we were strangely the top power play team in the league through 41 games), but this season the Devils have taken the power play of doom to another level - giving up shorthanded goals at an alarming the tune of nine through the first thirty games.

Even our goaltending has been a mixed bag of chocolates this year, with Johan Hedberg being brilliant for the most part - except at playing the puck, while Martin Brodeur until recently was struggling as bad as he did during the first half last year (when the whole team was in a collective malaise). Granted for the most part, I thought Marty's struggles were due to an inexperienced and shaky defense behind him, but after he got waxed in Colorado it took him a while to get his groove back. Coach Pete DeBoer had to pull the legend twice in a week's time at one point but strong performances against the Canadiens and Panthers show that Marty's coming out of his funk at least...even if the defense is still a question mark.

It's a team whose offensive stars - Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise - have largely underachieved, at least until recently. Yet, role players like David Clarkson (tied for the team lead in goals!) and Danius Zubrus have picked up the slack. Defensively, this team plays very well a man down but has more than its share of goof-ups with a man up and five-on-five. If anyone personifies the Devils' defense right now, it's Adam Larsson. The teen has been impressive enough to garner major minutes from day one, yet made more than enough mistakes to remind us all that he is still a teenage rookie. Derek compared him to countryman Victor Hedman a few days back, and sure Larsson's not as good as Hedman now but he might be better than Hedman was at eighteen - also when he debuted. It's hard to say since I didn't watch him every day like I have Larsson for the most part.

So what does that all lead to? A team a couple games over .500 that frequently is tied after sixty-five minutes, and is only over .500 because of their incredible prowess at the the tune of seven victories in the skills competition against only one loss. This is a team that alternates three games winning streaks with three-game losing streaks. And for one reason or another, we've been a .500 team overall since acquiring Kovalchuk two winters ago - although as down as I've been at times on him this year (and early last year), I have to admit he's handling the switch to RW much better this time around. And having captain Parise on his line does seem to provide a good influence for Kovy, a guy who seems like he's one of those star talents that needs someone he respects to follow or look up to, like he did with coach Jacques Lemaire last year.

Does that mean we're going to be stuck in a roller-coaster version of neutral for the rest of the season? I hope not...a lot of Devil fans are hanging their hats on Travis Zajac's imminent return tomorrow night, treating it like Elias's comeback from HepA in 2006 in that it'll be something that propels the team to a great second half. I like Travis but I don't think he's that kind of player and anyway, it's not as if the rest of the team's automatically going to stay healthy throughout either. We found that out when Andy Greene came up with a non-displaced fracture in his toe and is going to be shelved for a month because of it.

At least the rest of the supporting cast other than Greene will be back in the fold tomorrow night, as Anton Volchenkov will return to the lineup and Henrik Tallinder will also play, after being shaken up late in Tuesday's game. GM Lou Lamoriello also made a move to further fortify the defense, acquiring Kurtis Foster from the Ducks to give us a booming right-handed shot from the point we've long been searching for on the power play. Current assistant Adam Oates and former head coach Lemaire each have familiarity with Foster, since he played with the Lightning when Oates was there and the Wild when Lemaire was in Minnesota. Packing their bags (mercifully) were forward Rod Pelley and defenseman Mark Fraser, who the GM had been trying to move since the season started due to their one-way contracts and tenuous position on the depth chart.

Even though I haven't been far from the team (apart from being at a movie and missing Tuesday's game), in some ways I've been chomping at the bit to blog due to my recent computer meltdown. I still won't have a fully functioning desktop until next week in all likelihood, and am only able to blog now by re-typing this post on a library computer after originally typing it on Word and saving it to a floppy disk. Which would have been fine except most new computers - including the ones at the library - don't have a floppy disk drive, and my work computer can't read my disk so I was basically stuck printing out a copy of this at home then retyping it at the library...sheesh! Where the heck have I been that I didn't realize floppys have become obsolete in new computers?! Guess it was time for me to upgrade anyway.

Between the missed penalty shot by Parise in the final minute of last weekend's game against the Habs and the excruciating loss against the Isles where Kovalchuk was booed out of the building, it's been tougher watching the Devils in person than on TV lately. I haven't seen a home win live since my foray into the clubs on the 8th of November. Hopefully it'll be a better atmosphere for Nieds night tomorrow than it has been in recent games, with a better result. If I can I'll post on that early next week, and on Doc Emrick's return to be the emcee for Nieds' ceremony - which will begin around 6:45 and last approximately 40 or so minutes, with warm-ups for the actual game to 8:08 faceoff against the Stars.

Rangers-Flyers 24/7 Debut A Hit

When your own fans are counting down the minutes until HBO's award winning 24/7 that documents the preparation of both Winter Classic participants, the Rangers and Flyers, you know the NHL has a hit. For a league that's never been spot on about much aside from driving writers and fans alike crazy with every rule tweak, they hit a home run with last year's inaugural appearance on HBO Sports, which pitted Sid The Kid's Pens versus Ovi's Caps in the 2011 Classic.

This time, a blood rivalry is renewed when old Patrick foes, the Rangers and Flyers take to the made up ice at Citizens Bank Park for a unique setting this January 2. There will also be the Legends Game on New Year's Eve which should energize players from both sides along with each fanbase. There's just nothing like pond hockey. From the time the Oilers hosted the first one against the Habs pre-lockout in the Hockey Heritage Game, these events have become a league signature. Yes. It's already become overhyped, especially with astronomical costs pricing most out of even scoring tickets. However, one thing remains the same. The passion on display leading up to the marquee event as depicted by HBO is great theater.

Finally, Part I of IV debuted last night at 10 ET with the repeat at 11 ET. And boy, the amazing backdrop they opened with of both cities was ultra cool. The setting for New York City was classic with closeups of true New Yorkers headed to work with one on the subway. A part of our culture that isn't as fickle as everyday traffic. Right away, you noticed the hatred between the clubs with noted pest Sean Avery exchanging a classic barb during the first meeting.

"You bleepin' loser."
Between the first of many f-bombs with Peter Laviolette getting the ball rolling to John Tortorella's plea for star Marian Gaborik to get going in a recent win with the potential All-Star responding with a power play goal, HBO Sports had again captivated the Classic participants in rare form. But it wasn't all fun and laughs. Not when Mike Del Zotto crashed hard into the boards during a race for a puck with Toronto's David Steckel, that included a loud thud right into the boards with MDZ protecting his head. That he was mic'd up gave viewers more perspective into how dangerous icings can be when two players are neck and neck. It only reaffirms Del Zotto's point following a tough loss that maybe it's time to change the rule. Hybrid icing wouldn't result in such huge risks. I was never a proponent but sometimes, such scary events can change my mind. Listening to MDZ discuss his close call on the way to the rink while getting razzed by Dan Girardi for getting treatment portrayed things in a whole new light. The game of hockey is super fast and we got a taste of the scary aspect up close.

HBO also made sure to include Flyer star Claude Giroux's recent concussion during a freak incident with teammate Wayne Simmonds, who immediately apologized to 'G' after his knee caught the league's leading scorer. Getting to see Giroux taken to the Flyer locker room for precaution due to any head hit gave us some insight into the safety policy. Of course, we couldn't see him fully examined with it covered up but it speaks to how dangerous the sport is. Even your own teammates can accidentally hurt you because they can't get out of the way. It brings to mind how Pat LaFontaine's career ended when he collided with ex-teammate Mike Keane. Given the PCS Sidney Crosby is again experiencing following a loss to Boston last week, it speaks to the gross nature of the sport. You're always at risk. Based on the list of players who are mostly stars that's growing (Crosby, Giroux, Marc Staal, Jeff Skinner, Mike Sauer, etc.), nobody's safe. Can anything be done to prevent the league wide epidemic?

It'd be easy to forget some of the funny moments Episode I gave us. So, we'll pick our top five:

1.Ilya Bryzgalov discussing the solar system at length as being humongous along with his keen sense of humor that his coach termed as different than most. He talked about how he was getting into Hell by choosing Philly. Then in the next breath, he's given a small bottle of alcohol that would kill tigers. "Death penalty," Bryz pops. Who knew the man was so analytical about the Earth and one of the randomest, insanely funny dudes our league has?

2.Artem Anisimov's goal celebration, which he later referenced was a tribute to a fallen comrade in the Lokomotiv tragedy. Of course, the Lightning reacted the way any team would thinking he was shooting his stick at them with Vinny Lecavalier and Steve Downie taking exception. We got to hear some of the chaos with Brandon Dubinsky ripping into the ref for the 16 minutes Artie received with Dubi screaming, "[Lecavalier] started the whole bleepin' thing."

Even more amusing was Anisimov who asked what he did in that cool Russian accent before skating off to the dressing room to sit by himself until teammates entered. There was Sean Avery with a huge smirk as he passed by while Brandon Prust laughed and Artie said, "I was just reloading my gun." The only one not laughing was a fuming Tortorella who referenced the incident as idiotic because it put them in a whole heap of trouble. "They're coming," he warned. His former team came with Dominic Moore's tying shorty leaving a grimace on Tort's face as he talked to assistant Mike Sullivan. They would fall when Moore again picked high glove on Henrik Lundqvist, who then sat by himself at his locker with a pained look as if about to cry. The prideful man hates losing. Especially in a shootout. I was a bit disappointed that we didn't find out a bit more about our star goalie aside from the comical credit card roulette that we'll get to.

3.Scott Hartnell/Matt Cooke exchange during the first Battle Of Pennsylvania was priceless. Following a Hartnell hit to a Pen, Cooke called out the orange haired Flyer by saying, "What the bleep are you doing?" But Hartnell deadpanned, "Cooke. You're the dirtiest player in the league. It was a hit." Easily one of the laugh out loud moments. Talk about irony. I also liked from before the game when Dan Bylsma visited ex-pupil Max Talbot. Though I'm no fan of Talbot, it was awesome to see Bylsma pay tribute to the former Cup hero by saying: "So now you're a goalscorer." Classic.

4.Credit Card Roulette- There are too many words. While captain Ryan Callahan treated his family to dinner that included 95-year old grandma, the rest of the Blueshirts ate out together. Then came the favorite part where someone has to pay for the fancy meal. In an epic game of credit card roulette in which they all tossed their cards into a hat, the unlucky winner was Jeff Woywitka, who had to foot the bill with King Henrik. I hope Lundqvist coughed up a little bit more given the salary difference. Best part was when team clown Brandon Prust remarked: "Thanks for dinner." A reference to the Mighty Ducks III. Now, everyone wants to emulate the Ranger tradition when they're out with friends. Nothing like splitting the difference.

5.Garden Of Dreams night out with the Rockettes was interesting as underprivileged kids got the luxury treatment in a huge limo with all the trimmings. A special treat for children who aren't as fortunate. But it was obvious that Brian Boyle enjoyed staring at those long legs while Prust put some popcorn in Lundqvist's hair. You can't make it up.

Honorable Mention would have to be the Flyer dressing room post-win dancing to Mac Miller's "Knock, Knock" was pretty bleepin' epic. The scene with Simmonds in the locker room was great. I just hope we don't hear it following the big game.

Moment Of Episode I: That was stolen by Callahan's grandma, who was a bundle for everyone watching. From her and Mama Cally upset over a hideous crosschecking call on their kid in Buffalo to the awesome embrace Ryan gave his 95-year old granny following a win in which he scored a highlight reel shorthanded goal to loud cheers from the family, it was easily one of the coolest moments HBO's ever given us. When you hear Cally talk about her and how he doesn't know how much longer she'll be around, it makes you realize how important family is. We all have grandparents. I wish ours were still around. I will never forget those special moments spent with them as long as I live. If only we could go back. Yes. It was touching and tear worthy. I hope we get to see more of her but doubt it considering there won't be another Buffalo game leading up to January 2nd. It makes you want Captain Cally to bring the Cup back for her. That would be the perfect script.

My only other gripe was not much of Jaromir Jagr other than him explaining how much he's enjoying life in Philly. As odd as it still seems, No.68 has fit in well, leaving Giroux to praise the future Hall Of Famer. Though it was interesting to hear him say, "Sometimes you think with your heart over your head." The stuff on going opposite instead of returning for one final sendoff with Pittsburgh where his jersey would hang was compelling. You never know what he's thinking. But there's definitely a lot going on.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Keep Haggin' away

The Rangers got back in the win column last night with a 4-1 win at Buffalo. They were sparked by Swede rookie Carl Hagelin, whose two goals from identical spots were enough to halt a two-game winless streak (0-1-1). The 23-year old former Wolverine made the most of his shifts by notching his first NHL career shorthanded goal and first ever two-goal game. Not bad for the former sixth rounder who more and more looks like he belongs.

Since being recalled along with partner in crime John Mitchell, Hags has combined with Mitch and Brian Boyle to form a solid energy line. Hags' speed and energy certainly has been an asset. John Tortorella has shown enough confidence already to give Hagelin additional responsibility on the PK. No small task. It already paid dividends in Western New York. Along with a yeoman effort from captain Ryan Callahan, who scored a highlight reel shorthanded goal on struggling Jhonas Enroth, Hags beat the Sabre rookie from the left circle twice with essentially cardinal copies. Both goals were top shelf past Enroth's glove. The Buffalo backup who was so good at the beginning of the season has won once over the past eight starts. Yesterday, he allowed a bad goal to Callahan, who somehow got off a shot while falling after spinning around Christian Ehrhoff. The puck went right through the wickets for a momentum turning goal.

Despite being even in shots (33-33) and creating several opportunities, Buffalo only mustered one past ex-starter Martin Biron, who was stellar. The only goal he permitted was to Thomas Vanek, who beat him five-hole on a nice pass from captain Jason Pominville that tied the game in the second. However, an unreal individual effort from Captain Cally resulted in a huge go-ahead shorty. He somehow spun around Ehrhoff and surprised Enroth with his 12th. He trails leading sniper Marian Gaborik by two with Gabby also netting his 14th on a late power play in the third that iced it.

Steve Eminger and Mike Del Zotto each had two helpers in the win. Brandon Dubinsky was elevated to the second line with Brad Richards and Callahan with Tortorella trying to get him going. He has one goal and 11 assists so far.

The Blueshirts have a quick turnaround tonight with the surprising Panthers coming in for a 7:30 tilt at MSG. Dale Talloon's Hawks South is working out with Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell looking like All-Stars alongside Tomas Fleischmann and holdover Stephen Weiss. In the first meeting, Florida blanked the Rangers with their superior speed winning out. The Rangers have had issues against fast teams with Toronto beating them twice and the Bolts exacting revenge in comeback fashion in what's now become Artie Gate. It should be interesting to see if our guys adjust against the Southeast division leader.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Random Thought: Shanahan fails on Ovechkin

Today's random thought pertains to the continued hypocrisy of the league. Even Brendan Shanahan has picked up right where Colin Campbell left off. By not even having a hearing with Alex Ovechkin for his spear to Chris Neil, who actually was called for diving after taking a cheap shot to the midsection, it's the same old story for the NHL. Sure. Neil isn't exactly a choir boy. But he delivered a good hit and Ovechkin intentionally used his stick while skating by the Sen tough guy. A clear attempt to injure. Given Ovi's track record, he deserved at least a fine. Though in our book, he should've been suspended for at least two games. Only when a star a la Ryan Miller gets plowed into twice does the league overreact. I'm all about protecting stars but when one bends the law, they should be punished.

Moore makes birthday prediction ring true

Sometimes, I really wish I could make this stuff up. Or in my case, you can't. Tonight was my birthday and so we embarked to the World's Most Renovated Arena for Bolts/Rangers. My second game on the same day as Jim Morrison's birthday and one of my idols John Lennon's tragic death 31 years ago in the center of New York City. Drew Doughty also shares a birthday and Brian target Dwight Howard. Oh btw. I also crushed on Kim Basinger. Who didn't?

Getting to the game which was bizarre for a whole lot of reasons. Though judging, from the Sens-Devs boxscore, I'll bet that one brought a smile to Hasan. First, a former Blueshirt was involved before and during the game. Dominic Moore is always someone I liked. He centered the infamous HMO line (Hollweg-Moore-Ortmeyer) in '05-06 which put us back on the map. I always felt he got a raw deal even if Blair Betts was a solid citizen. Amazing to think a guy with his skill set is now on his seventh NHL roster. Moore has been a frequent flier during the trade deadline. He was instrumental in the Lightning's run lto the Conference Finals last Spring. No surprise that on my birthday, Dom had plenty of impact.

It was during the morning skate that an accidental backhand caught Marty St. Louis right in the face, bloodying the star to the point where he was held out, ending a consecutive games streak of 500. Albeit he's always been one of my favorite players. So, while some in the twitterverse reacted with good for us, I was disappointed I wouldn't get to see him. I just enjoy the game so much and love full rosters with all the stars. Beating the best is what determines who you are. We have a good team and I was hoping he'd sew up. Oh well. Maybe that was an ominous sign of things to come. The traffic we endured coming home was regrettable. Never before had it ever been that bad. Thanks for nothing NYC. It's nights like this that make me wish I lived elsewhere. Only in dreams.

Anyway, Moore KO'd St. Louis. So, the Lightning were minus one of their Big Three. They still found a way to exact revenge in large part to Moore's heroics. Combine that with a controversial goal celebration from Artem Anisimov after he put us ahead and Tampa had plenty of incentive to come out with the two points. If you know me, I hate the brownie point for the shootout. A skill competition should never decide anything. And for the love of sanity, they need to ditch it for the latest Bettman Experiment. I was in favor of realignment but came away as baffled as Hasan about the whole conference set up and an unfavorable   schedule. It just is too confusing for words. More on this later.

Many critics will rip Anisimov for his foolish celebration in which he imitated Teemu Selanne by using his stick as a gun to point at Mathieu Garon following a shorthanded goal. It was impossible for us to see due to the overhang but Arty made a huge error in judgment and fired up the opposition. So, I guess it was no shock that Steve Downie came off the bench and jumped him along with Steven Stamkos and Marc-Andre Bergeron, who took a beating from Brandon Dubinsky. Speaking of which, Dubi had a decent night, combining with Mike Del Zotto on Anismov's shorty. He also saw some time on the top line with Anisimov somehow assessed 16 minutes for getting jumped. The appropriate call would've been unsportsmanlike conduct. Instead, the blind mice gave him a double minor and misconduct. So, we lost one of our best forwards for a while, which didn't help our powerless play. Yes. Even if it connected early with Ryan Callahan scoring his 11th from the left circle, it still doomed us.

If you want to watch how not to run a power play, just try to understand ours. I know I'm not alone on this futile topic in these parts but good God it stinks. There is zero creativity and no fluidity. Watch the Red Wings or Blackhawks for how to score on the PP. Quick passes. Movement and shots. I know. It's been this way for years no matter what superstar we add. Brad Richards did make a nifty pass to Cally for his PPG but too often it's not a five man unit. It's give it to Richy or Marian Gaborik and watch them lug the puck up and try to juke four guys. It's too predictable. Del Zotto also is the only defenseman who has that capability but he never shoots and when he does, it's nine feet wide.

The man-advantage cost them big time. What was it? Four consecutive failures including two in crunch time when Tampa tried to hand us the game. One-for-six overall? I am not bothering to check if it's five or six and could care less if our success rate says otherwise. Our powerless play SUCKS!

Ryan Malone tied the game on a breakaway after a dreadful giveaway from Ryan McDonagh, who had a night to forget. Chalk it up to it being my birthday. They just weren't sharp after the first and believe me, they started heading downward in the middle of the opening stanza. At least I had the pleasure of meeting Stephanie Maggie and her boyfriend Nick, who ironically enough are from Sayreville. Only where Brian is from! So classic. It really was fun to meet you. Hope to see you again along with some other tweeps next time out.

The Bolts were undisciplined, handing us three early power plays. But we only capitalized on one and then fizzled. Of course, before the chaos that ensued, the Lightning couldn't handle our top two lines, which generated enough quality chances to beat Garon more than twice. This was a goalie who stunk entering with like eight allowed in his last two starts. But he turned in a good performance and came up with some gems in overtime. Following the Arty nonsense which John Tortorella condoned without going overboard, the Bolts wanted it more. They began carrying the play with Stamkos, Moore and Vinny Lecavalier forcing Henrik Lundqvist to make some tough stops. Even Matt Gilroy had a solid game. The Bolts also benefited from Victor Hedman, who was outstanding defensively. He really is overlooked because he doesn't do anything flashy. But now I see why they extended him at five a pop. Adam Larsson could learn a thing or two about how to defend by watching his Swedish buddy.

Late in the game, there was our chance to make it easy. Instead, they didn't even try to get the third goal. No sense of urgency. And boy, did it come back to bite them. Right before the inevitable, I told my brother Justin I thought Moore would tie it. I have no idea why. It just came to me that it would be an ex-Ranger. Gaining steam, Moore skated around two of our guys like they were ghosts before backhanding one upstairs on Lundqvist, who must've dozed off from the uninspired play. How else can you explain that going in? And no. I don't want to hear any spin about it possibly changing direction. He has to stop that. It really wasn't his fault that our five fell asleep. But come on. The shootout winner to Moore was no better. He again went top shelf for the only goal in the shootout.

Regarding the skill comp, interesting that John Mitchell went first and didn't shoot. All three (Richy and Gabby) were duped by an aggressive Garon, who challenged while Lundqvist sat back. Quite a contrast. And all three of our shooters went too deep and tried to deke, playing right into his hands. No adjustment. Why not shoot right away for the top part of the net? They got what they deserved.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star: Mathieu Garon, Bolts (29 saves)
2nd Star: Victor Hedman, Bolts (assist, stellar defense)
1st Star: Dominic Moore, Bolts (tying shorthanded goal-2nd of season, shootout winner)

The Puck Stops Here


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