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 trick...as 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.