Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reviewing Trade Deadline

Former Cup winner Sami Pahlsson could help Canucks win first ever championship.

A second consecutive year saw GMs balk at overwhelming prices. Like 2011, only 16 trades were struck at the NHL Trade Deadline. Whether it be parity or not willing to budge, more executives are playing a game of chess. We might just have to get used to it unless the next CBA makes it easier for big moves to be made.

The big winners for this year are Nashville, Vancouver and Boston. All made solid deals that bolstered their chances of winning it all. Without further notice, let's break down every trade.

1.Bruins acquire: D Greg Zanon

Wild receive D Steve Kampfer

Breakdown: Boston adds a rugged blueliner who'll block shots and deliver checks, addressing a need. Minnesota gets a young D who will be part of their rebuild.

2.Bruins acquire: D Mike Mottau and F Brian Rolston

Islanders receive: D Marc Cantin and F Yannick Riendeau

Breakdown: Boston adds depth to back end and up front. Rolston returns home, which should be a boost. The Islanders get what they can for two expendable parts. Don't know too much about either player.

3.Canucks acquire: F Sami Pahlsson

Blue Jackets receive: D Taylor Ellington + 2 4th Rd Picks ('12)

Breakdown: Vancouver gets another reliable faceoff guy who's won a Cup. Not bad to send out Pahlsson and fourth ranked Manny Malhotra for defensive draws. Columbus gets decent value in return.

4.Canucks acquire: F Zach Kassian and D Marc-Andrei Gragnani

Sabres receive: F Cody Hodgson and D Alexander Sulzer

Breakdown: By far the most intriguing move with both clubs moving prospects. Canucks add physical wing in Kassian while the Sabres believe Hodgson can be their top center. Gragnani could also provide offense in Vancouver. Great trade.

5.Canucks acquire: F Andrew Gordon

Ducks receive: D Sebastian Erixon

Breakdown: Vancouver adds depth up front while Anaheim hopes Swede can one day crack blueline.

6.Predators acquire: F Paul Gaustad + 4th Rd Pick

Sabres receive: 1st Rd Pick

Breakdown: Nashville gets a physical faceoff guy in Gaustad, who provides depth for push while rebuilding Buffalo does well recouping a first rounder for player who turns unrestricted.

7.Predators acquire: F Andrei Kostitsyn

Canadiens receive: 2nd Rd Pick ('13) + Conditional 5th ('13)

Breakdown: The Preds boost scoring by reuniting the Kostitsyns in Music City. Will it pay off? Gave up good value to Les Habitants.

8.Oilers acquire: D Nick Schultz

Wild receive: D Tom Gilbert

Breakdown: In one of those WTF deals, the Wild give up their emotional leader on the back end for a more offensive minded D in Gilbert, stunning Schultz and even returning Kurt Foster. Looks like steal for Edmonton.

9.Leafs acquire: D Mark Fraser

Ducks receive: F Dale Mitchell

Breakdown: Not exactly what desperate Leaf Nation had in mind although Fraser will play physical. Anaheim got someone back for extra D.

10.Leafs acquire: F Carter Ashton

Lightning receive: D Keith Aulie

Breakdown: Another good trade that could benefit both teams. Toronto gets former first rounder while Tampa adds young D prospect to fill void. Aulie was in Dion Phaneuf trade.

11.Sharks acquire: F Daniel Winnik and F T.J. Galiardi + 7th Rd Pick ('13)

Avs receive: F Jamie McGinn, F Mike Connolly and F Michael Sgarbossa

Breakdown: Short term, it could boost Sharks' chances. But long-term, McGinn looks to have big future. Plus two other prospects.

12.Lightning acquire: D Mike Commodore

Red Wings receive: Conditional 7th Rd Pick ('13)

Breakdown: Likeable character guy Commodore 64 gets chance to help Bolts try to squeak in. A nice gesture by Ken Holland.

13.Senators acquire: D Matt Gilroy

Lightning receive: D Brian Lee

Breakdown: Solid puck moving Gilroy on third team in a year, who could provide offense for surprising Sens while former first rounder Lee, who went ahead of Marc Staal, gets a scenery change in St. Pete.

14.Blackhawks acquire: D Johnny Oduya

Jets receive: 2nd Rd + 3rd Rd Pick ('13)

Breakdown: Chicago desperate for blueline help add Johnny Five while Winnipeg gets great return for bottom pair D.

15.Rangers acquire: F John Scott

Blackhawks receive: 5th Rd Pick ('12)

Breakdown: Rangers add more toughness with scary Scott while Chicago gets decent value.

16.Senators acquire: G Ben Bishop

Blues receive: 2nd Rd Pick ('13)

Breakdown: Ottawa adds potential No.1 goalie in Bishop who got caught in numbers game with Jaroslav Halak and ex-Sen Brian Elliott, who just re-signed. Now, Sens' former No.1 Robin Lehner won two straight starts with Craig Anderson hurt. Go figure.

Rangers add toughness with Scott

Monday's trade deadline came and went like a March breeze. Well, relatively speaking. Few teams made a big splash. One that didn't was the Rangers, who's last ditch effort to acquire Rick Nash was turned down by Columbus. As we previously noted yesterday, that might not be such a bad thing. Instead, Nash who handled himself well after breaking his silence about why he asked for a trade due to a rebuild, will likely be moved this summer. We can always reexamine that when the time comes.

While Ranger President and GM Glen Sather couldn't add much needed scoring or a depth defenseman, he did execute one deal to make the club even tougher. With Brandon Prust basically reduced to one arm as evidenced in his scrap the other night with Eric Boulton, Slats traded a fifth round pick to Chicago for big enforcer John Scott. The 29-year old forward/defenseman is as tough as they come, going 6-8, 270. He's not a guy you want to mess with. As he noted after the trade to his third NHL team, few messed around with former Hawk teammates Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa.

Scott is one tough customer. He was a late bloomer in college, playing all four years with Michigan Tech before Minnesota signed him as a free agent. It took three years in the AHL with the Houston Aeros before the Wild gave him a shot. Scott played parts of two seasons in St. Paul, getting into 71 games while racking up 111 penalty minutes and even scoring his only career NHL goal in '09-10. The Blackhawks signed him in 2010 and he got into 69 contests. In his Chicago stay, Scott had two assists with 120 PIM while adding a physical element.

"He’s a real good factor to stop the fooling around that happens at this time of year,” Slats said. “[Brandon Prust and Mike Rupp] have done all the heavy lifting this year. If someone gets hurt, he’s another asset.

Now, he'll join his third team (2nd Original Six) for tomorrow's road game at Carolina. While John Tortorella has said he won't play tomorrow and doesn't see any lineup changes for now, that can always change. You can bet your bottom dollar Scott will get in for the Hudson rematch next Tuesday. It also may not be a bad idea to play him versus Boston this weekend. Especially given their nasty reputation. With Mike Rupp picking his spots, this move makes sense.

Deadline Dud: Parity limits action

Disappointment was the scene at TSN for a second straight trade deadline. Parity ruled the day.

For a second consecutive year, the NHL Trade Deadline was fairly quiet with only 16 deals struck. Compare that to the 31 made in 2010 and that's a combined 32 the past two years. Big difference. One of the reasons for the decrease is that GMs are unwilling to cave to high prices. Unless you're Nashville, Vancouver or Boston, who all paid premium to win now, most organizations stuck to their guns.

Combine the outrageous costs with just about every team still mathematically alive and it's becoming harder for general managers to sell. Do they really want to be the one to tell fans that they don't believe their team can make it? With approximately 20 games left, all it'll take is a good run along with some luck. It's happened before. Considering all the three-point games due to the shootout, it allows more clubs to compete for the postseason. There's also the tiebreaker which hurts teams who depend on the shootout, putting more of an emphasis on regulation/overtime wins. For clubs such as the Devils who seem like a lock to make it, they must continue to play well.  The Avs are another team who'll need more traditional victories to qualify out West.

A look at the standings shows that everyone in the East is still in the hunt, including Montreal, who sits last with 58 points. Eleven total points separates eighth Washington from 15th Montreal, meaning anything's possible. Even the free falling Leafs are only four back despite a terrible month. After thoughts such as Tampa Bay and Carolina are within striking distance while underachiever Buffalo is a hot stretch away from making a push. The Islanders need to erase last night's gut wrenching 3-2 overtime loss at Washington from their memory banks and focus on the remaining 19 if they hope to reach their goal.

Even wilder is a five-team Southeast race with the Panthers leading the division with 72 points. Three better than the Caps and four ahead of Winnipeg. The Lightning have ridden the torrid pace of Rocket Richard leader Steven Stamkos (44 goals) to stay eight out of first while the Canes have been carried by rejuvenated star Eric Staal. Eleven is the margin for Carolina with 19 games remaining. But eight is the cutoff if they chase down rival Washington. It's still not a given Florida wins the division but they've been the most consistent.

In the West, 13 teams are vying for eight spots. Excluding last overall Columbus and 14th Edmonton, who must make up 14 points with 20 to go, the other 13 have realistic chances. After the elite four of Vancouver, Detroit, St. Louis and Nashville, eleven points separates Pacific leading Phoenix from 13th Anaheim. Loose translation: Anyone can win that division and clinch a top three seed, plus home ice. After that, there are no guarantees. Even battle tested clubs such as San Jose and Chicago (tied w/73 points), who hold down the sixth and seventh seeds are fighting just to get in. By virtue of one less game played, Dallas sits in eighth with 70 while Colorado and Los Angeles are tied but have 18 games left to the Stars' 19.

Calgary has dropped four in a row (0-2-2) after playing well. They are three out while the Wild sit five back and the Ducks trail by six. Had Anaheim won the other night in Colorado, they'd have been within two after one of the worst first halves. Similar to last year's Devils, the Ducks are trying to make up all the ground to qualify. Will they run out of steam?

For the NHL, parity makes for compelling races. Who can be the 2010 Flyers or the 2006 Oilers? There aren't many locks anymore. Unless you think the Rangers are that much superior to a team that's ousted them recently. The same goes for Florida and Philly if that's a first round series. Out West, do any of the top four want to see San Jose or Chicago? Home ice is no longer the same. Anyone can beat anyone. The playoffs are a war of attrition. You'll get games similar to Devils/Rangers Monday, Canucks/Coyotes and Flyers/Sharks last night.

It's all about who's hot. For now, enjoy our own March Madness. It starts tomorrow and doesn't end till Spring.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rebuffed Nash offer maybe for the best

Glen Sather's last attempt to acquire Rick Nash was rebuffed but that might not be such a bad thing.

You just knew Glen Sather had one more trick up his sleeve. Prior to Monday's 3 PM deadline, the Rangers President and GM took one last crack at Rick Nash. Less than a day after basically telling teflon Columbus GM Scott Howson no, Slats made one last offer to acquire the Blue Jacket sniper.

Predictably, he didn't offer Ryan McDonagh or Mike Del Zotto. Top prospect Chris Kreider also remained off the table. However, Sather still made a strong bid by including three big prospects along with Brandon Dubinsky and a No.1 pick. The reported deal would've sent Dubinsky, defenseman Tim Erixon along with forwards Christian Thomas and J.T. Miller to Columbus for Nash.

To be blunt, that is way too much for Nash. But it only would've subtracted one player from a roster that's been good enough to lead Boston by nine points for the conference lead. The temptation to acquire another big scorer and boost our offense was there for Sather. Even if Nash's $7.8 million cap hit might've hurt our future, Slats was willing to roll the dice. Nash is signed through '17-18, meaning whoever gets him this summer has the two-time 40-goalscorer for six years. With uncertainty surrounding the CBA, it's hard to predict what will happen to the cap.

Considering that the Blueshirts must give raises to Del Zotto this summer and key RFA's McDonagh, Mike Sauer, Carl Hagelin, Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan following '12-13, taking on Nash's contract comes with a risk. The Rangers are already locked into Brad Richards ($6.67 million cap hit) for another eight years. That doesn't take into account Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik and Dan Girardi, who are all up in three years.

With John Tortorella publicly supporting the fact all of our kids stayed, perhaps it's better that Slats' offer was turned down. Miller impressed at the World Junior Championships and Thomas showed off some skill at last year's camp. Erixon already has gotten into NHL games and is likely to be a late recall, which could further improve the blueline. It's unlikely that the Rangers would go to the postseason with Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel as starters. At yesterday's conference call, Sather also hinted strongly that he's looking to sign a certain college prospect. Without saying the name, you get the idea.

At present, the Blueshirts' biggest strengths are in net and on the back end. If they are able to add a kid with scoring touch, it could only bolster their chances. Only time shall tell. For now, they'll go with a tight knit group that's gotten them this far. Either way, the present and future look bright.

No Discipline for Clarkson

David Clarkson wasn't punished for a dangerous run he took at Brandon Dubinsky last night. The fiery Devil forward made a flying elbow attempt at Dubinsky during the second period of the Rangers' 2-0 win over the Devils Monday. However, he didn't connect. Clarkson received two minutes for charging on the play.

While Clarkson didn't injure Dubinsky, it still was the kind of play the league wants to eliminate. Targeting players heads should have a zero tolerance policy regardless of injury. At the very least, blind League VP Brendan Shanahan could've fined Clarkson. The 27-year old who is in his sixth year, is having a career season under former junior hockey coach Pete DeBoer. His 24 goals and 34 points are new career bests.

Working in his favor, Clarkson has never been suspended. He will not face any discipline. Perhaps he caught a break. One that remains inexplicable.

McDonagh, Rangers swarm Devils in shutout

Copyright Getty Images

Every time the Devils and Rangers get together, it's always compelling. The Battle Of Hudson is one of the fiercest rivalries in the league bar none. Especially now that both teams are good. In as odd a game as you'll ever see between Newark and Broadway, the Blueshirts swarmed their way to a well earned 2-0 shutout last night at The Garden.

For a late February game which oddly enough came on a quiet Deadline Day with only 15 trades made and not one involving Rick Nash, it had all the makings of a playoff match. The intensity was through the roof from the drop of the puck. Every battle won. Every check finished. Every shot contested. Well, even if most had no prayer of getting through to either Martin Brodeur or Henrik Lundqvist. In what became the lowest combined shot total for a regular season game in three years, the Devils and Rangers combined for a meager 28. This isn't a misprint. The shot totals for each period:

1st  NJD-4  NYR-4  
2nd NJD-10 NYR-10
3rd NJD-13 NYR-15

Combined Total:  28

It's rare that the number of shots overshadows the actual score. This was throwback hockey played pre-lockout. Tight checking. No space. Forced turnovers. And of course, nastiness that included a pair of fights. Throw in the chaos of David Clarkson and it had a bit of everything to keep eyes glued to the NBC Sports Network Monday night feature.

Rangers-Devils is as good as it gets when it's hotly contested such as yesterday. Sure. It would've been nice if there were more shots but it was like a war of attrition. Ultimately, the difference proved to be rookie Carl Hagelin's 11th which snuck past Brodeur short side late in the first. If memory serves, that was only the Rangers' third shot. Like Clarkson's power play goal in the Devs' 1-0 shutout here last time, it turned out to be all they needed with Lundqvist needing just 13 saves for his league-leading eighth shutout (43rd career). Perhaps it was appropriate that he'd tie Tony Esposito for the most consecutive seasons (7) of 30 wins to begin a career.

It means that things have been going well, but it also means that I played for a club that’s given me an opportunity to play a lot,” the NHL leader in goals-against-average said while crediting his teammates. I have a pretty good team in front of me, as well. I’m happy I reached it again. You always want to improve each year. So far this year it’s been a good ride.

Lundqvist still made a few clutch stops, including a nice stack to deny Clarkson in tight. His best came late in regulation when a cat-like glove denied Ilya Kovalchuk's Russian missile from tying it. He had a lot of help from Ryan McDonagh, who was awarded the game's second star for his shutdown defense on Kovalchuk and Devil captain Zach Parise. Going against the Devils' two stars flanked by Calder hopeful Adam Henrique, McDonagh's skating and physicality along with partner Dan Girardi's usual warrior effort nullified one of the game's best lines. Outside of a Parise shot that deflected off a sliding Girardi and drew iron, plus Kovalchuk's great chance with over two minutes left, the cohesive trio were kept to the perimeter. They combined for four of New Jersey's 13 shots. No Devil had more than two, shared by Kovalchuk and Steve Bernier.

It was that kind of yeoman effort from the Rangers' best, who each logged over 22 minutes and combined for six hits and five blocked shots. The MSG hosts blocked 18 while their Hudson rivals had just a couple due to the pressure they applied. The Devils pinched every chance but couldn't find a way to beat Lundqvist. There were a few blown opportunities, including Henrique firing too high off a crazy bounce. Patrik Elias nearly set up former A Line buddy Petr Sykora only to see Lundqvist slide across. There also was another close call created by Clarkson but the rebound never made it.

For once, John Tortorella used everyone, including Anton Stralman (17:13) and Stu Bickel (14:41). Stralman had a few shaky moments but recovered along with help from Marc Staal and Mike Del Zotto depending on who Tort rotated. Even Mike Rupp saw 12 shifts against his former team, delivering five hits. According to the stats, the Rangers outhit the Devils 37-24. But they definitely missed a few for the guests, including Kovalchuk launching himself into Girardi. A play that we'd see again later.

Hagelin's tally came thanks to a smart pinch by Girardi, who pushed the puck down to Ryan Callahan behind the net with Cally quickly feeding the impressive Swede for the lead. Hagelin got free of Mark Fayne, who went for a fishing expedition, leaving the former Wolverine to cash in on a lazy Brodeur, who didn't cover the near side.

The second was more chippy thanks to Clarkson, who lost his mind with some undisciplined penalties that only hurt his team. While the teams opened it up with 12 shots (6 each) and better quality chances, the Devil antagonist earned 19 penalty minutes, including a misconduct for shenanigans following a whistle. Continuing to mouth off after vet tandem Stephen Walkom and Brad Watson warned him, they finally had seen enough. In a bizarre sequence, Pete DeBoer refused to put his line out for the next faceoff, nearly resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed.

No idea,” Clarkson replied afterwards. “[Brandon] Dubinsky went after [Kovalchuk], and I went out and said something.
The Rangers were incensed at a Dainius Zubrus elbow to Hagelin, which earned two minutes. Callahan came to his teammate's aid and there was pushing and shoving. Part of why the game deteriorated was because of the bullish antics of Eric Boulton. Following Hagelin's goal, DeBoer put the goon out for the faceoff and he shoved Marian Gaborik, drawing Tortorella's ire. He immediately sent Rupp out but was rebuffed. Such a move by Boulton has no place in hockey. He later goaded Brandon Prust into a scrap. Prust has been playing banged up. Despite not wanting to go, he took one for the team. Once back, Clarkson continued his mindlessness by getting suckered into an unsportsmanlike by Rupp. Astonishingly, Clarkson wasn't done. With nothing better to do, he took a flying run at Dubinsky. Fortunately, an attempted elbow missed with Clarkson off again for charging. Dubinsky had seen enough, defending himself in an entertaining scrap which the Devil won.

I knew it was coming,” an incensed Dubinsky said. “It was just a matter of time before somebody was going to fight him. He seems to always turn away the tougher guys—not taking anything away from myself—and go after other guys. It’s just the way he is.
There were only three power plays. The Rangers' best chances came in the second thanks to strong work from a grittier Gaborik, who forced Brodeur to scramble. Despite little room, our leading scorer had four shots and a takeaway where he stripped Kovalchuk and nearly cashed in. The Blueshirts also nearly scored a second if not for a sprawling Anton Volchenkov, who prevented a gimme by laying out and wisely freezing the puck with his skates. Tremendous play.

Once the second was over, the teams got back to hockey. There was a game to be decided with two points up for grabs. For the Devils who came in hot with a seven-game road win streak, they were trying to avoid a three-game skid after two disappointing home losses over the weekend. Particularly a 4-3 defeat Sunday to Tampa Bay. They tried their best against our stingy D, which may as well have been the kinda dull hockey the Devils once were known for. There weren't many clean plays. Henrique was guilty of over passing right into the teeth. Newest Devil Marek Zidlicky also passed up a couple of shots and struggled to keep pucks in.

If the first was hard enough, the Devils only managed three on Lundqvist, who was equal to the task. The Rangers were a shade better with five that Brodeur turned aside, including one big one to give his team a chance. DeBoer pulled him with 75 seconds left. Aside from Kovalchuk's bomb that Lundqvist handled, they were unable to generate anything. Instead, Hagelin forced Zidlicky at the point and then drew a delayed call. He still slid the puck across to Callahan which sealed it at 18:54. It was his career best 25th.


3rd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (13 save shutout, league best 8th-43rd career)
2nd Star-Carl Hagelin, NYR (game-winner-11th at 16:59 of 1st, assist, +2 in 16:50)
1st Star-Ryan McDonagh, NYR (25 shifts-22:29, 3 hits, 2 blocks, stifled Kovalchuk)

Notes: The teams combined for 44 penalty minutes. Devils-28 (19 Clarkson, 7 Boulton, Zubrus 2) Rangers-16 (Prust 7, Dubinsky 5, Hagelin 2, Rupp 2). ... New Jersey had 32 shots that never reached Lundqvist (18 BS, 14 missed). By contrast, New York had 14, including 12 misses. ... After failing to pick up another faceoff guy, Rangers edged the Devils 26-22 led by Brad Richards (8-of-16) and Brian Boyle (7-14). Henrique paced the Devs going 6-of-11 while Zubrus lost 8-of-14. ... Rangers (40-15-6, 86 Pts) visit Hurricanes Thursday while Devils (35-23-4, 74) continue a four-game road trip with the next stop at Boston March 1 before returning to The Rock to host the Blueshirts 3/6.

Devils get shut out at MSG in a chippy game

Less than a week ago, the Devils were flying at fifteen games over .500, 9-1-1 since the All-Star break and seemingly in a solid playoff position. However, the Devils have clearly hit a rough patch now after a tough-luck loss to Vancouver, a disgraceful performance against Tampa Bay and a 2-0 loss last night that saw more hits than shots on goal. With road games at Boston and suddenly resurgent Washington later this week before returning to the tri-state area for rivalry week it won't get any easier, and visions of the six-game losing streak that was the beginning of the end for Brent Sutter here in 2009 are dancing through my head.

Make no mistake about it, it would still take a monumental collapse for the Devils to miss the playoffs considering they need Ottawa (without goalie Craig Anderson) and three Southeast teams to pass them before falling into ninth. Or two Southeast teams and Toronto, who 'improved' their defense at the deadline by adding ex-Devil Mark Fraser - insert chuckle here. That said, is there any Devil fan that really wants to fall all the way to eighth and have to play the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist in the first round again, a goaltender who they clearly have a complex against?

You need look no further than last night for proof, when the Devils continually threw the puck into traffic, and even pros like Patrik Elias were passing up easy shots out of intimidation. Not only do our shooters squeeze their sticks a little tighter, but Martin Brodeur also seems to press these days against Lundqvist. Aside from his brilliant 1-0 shutout at the Garden last month, Brodeur seems to give up one soft goal a game against the Rangers, which is usually enough to lose against Lundqvist and his .950 save percentage against us.

For a rare time though, last night wasn't entirely about Lundqvist - though he did set a record by beginning his career with seven straight thirty-win seasons - as a Ranger defense that's getting more impressive by the game allowed a mere thirteen shots to the Devils for the entire night. While offensively it appeared as if the Rangers lost interest in trying to score after Carl Hagelin's stuff-in goal at 16:59 that Brodeur somehow didn't see despite the play going right in front of him, defensively they continue to astound the league. Without a game-changer like Zdeno Chara, Nicklas Lidstrom or even a superb puck-mover like the Pens' Kris Letang, the Rangers' defense just continues to do the job and shut teams down.

Perhaps the only bright spot for the Devils last night was their own defense, which allowed a mere fourteen shots of their own, despite chasing the game the last two periods. Although Lundqvist astoundingly accused 'us' of not trying to score after the game despite being behind for two periods, fact is the Devils' defense has done very well the last three games - allowing just 16, 16 and 14 shots respectively. Yet, despite only allowing 46 shots on net total in the three games, the Devils have managed to lose all three...go figure.

However, there was more to talk about from the chippiness of last night's game than the actual action (or lack thereof) otherwise. Particularly in the second period, which centered primarily around the Devils' David Clarkson and the Rangers' repeated attempts to goad him into losing his mind, which were ultimately successful - a page out of the Sean Avery playbook. Initially however, Clarkson was incensed over a Brandon Dubinsky high hit on Zach Parise and somehow wound up taking a ten-minute misconduct penalty early in the period. Clarkson was right in front of the Devils' bench when he got teed up and literally everyone from Pete DeBoer to normally stone-faced assistant Adam Oates and even Larry Robinson went nuts. Parise went nuts too, leading me to believe that what Clarkson said or did didn't really merit such a harsh penalty. Not when you have calm, level-headed guys losing their mind on the bench.

After Clarkson served his penalty, the Rangers intensified their attempts to bait him, with Mike Rupp surreptitously using his stick to try to trip Clarkson at the faceoff circle. Clarkson responded in kind and slashed Rupp, earning both matching minors. Then soon after getting out of the box, Clarkson had finally had enough, taking a run at Dubinsky by leaping in the air to try to clock him before dropping the gloves, earning a minor penalty along with the five-minute major. So in a twenty-minute period, Clarkson somehow managed to earn nineteen minutes of penalties.

While the Devils were incensed about the Rangers' baiting tactics and the officials' unwillingness (for weeks) to call a penalty on the opposition, John Tortorella in turn was annoyed that he couldn't pull Marian Gaborik off the ice when the officials were ready to drop the puck in the first period after the Devils put enforcer Eric Boulton on - soon after Parise had gotten hit. Then the Rangers thought an otherwise brilliant stop by Anton Volchenkov in the second period should have been a penalty shot despite the fact that Volchenkov never touched the puck with his hands, and as much as anything had it shot into him as he was falling down to try to make a save.

I like Torts but cry me a river, buddy. I guess you don't believe in 'safe is death' anymore, considering the Rangers in the third period didn't make much of an attempt to score on the power play Clarkson gave them. Unlike the Devils though (when they got swamped by the Rangers up 1-0 in the third period at MSG and only got saved by Brodeur), the Rangers can play a prevent offense and get away with it, because their defense and goaltending is that good. Especially considering how inept the Devils were on offense. In a fitting end, the puck skipped past new acquisition Marek Zidlicky late and Ryan Callahan cashed in the empty-netter to seal a 2-0 win.

Though the season series is now at 2-2, clearly the psychological edge is still in the Rangers' corner, considering Lundqvist has given up a grand total of two goals in his three starts against us (indiciative of his entire career against us) and they're coasting toward the division title and top seed in the East. Despite playing the Rangers in a rematch next week at the Rock, the Devils can't worry about that right now - they need to focus on their own game, with three more to play until the next game against their biggest rival.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Wolski traded to Panthers

While all the hoopla surrounding Rick Nash continued entering last night's game versus Buffalo, Ranger GM Glen Sather was able to make one deal. Slats sent forward Wojtek Wolski to the Panthers in exchange for minor league blueliner Michael Vernace and a third round pick in the 2013 Draft.

The 26-year old Wolski was acquired last year from Phoenix for defenseman Michal Rozsival. After a promising start on Broadway, the former '04 first rounder finished with 19 points (6-13-19) over 37 contests in '10-11. He had a good camp but a sports hernia limited him to nine games- falling out of favor with John Tortorella. Even after surgery, he only was given three games by our Keenan-esque coach before becoming a healthy scratch following an AHL conditioning stint with Connecticut. Tortorella's liking to John Mitchell and his continued insistence on playing seven defensemen when Ruslan Fedotenko was out, proved to be the end of the road for Wolly.

Wolski had three helpers in nine games this season, finishing his brief Ranger career with 22 points (6-16-22). The likeable winger never complained and thanked his former teammates on Twitter. The always classy Henrik Lundqvist wished him the best with Florida. In his first game Saturday, Wolski forced OT before the Panthers prevailed in a shootout to remain tops in the Southeast. Following the season, he'll become an unrestricted free agent. The Polish kid needs to impress and help the Cats make their first postseason since Pavel Bure starred in 2000.

Somewhat fittingly, like all trades with Don Maloney, the player we dealt is still contributing while the guy we got fizzled out. Lauri Korpikoski for Enver Lisin still irks me. :P Oh well. Rangers West prevails yet again.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dreger: Rangers out of Nash sweepstakes

As I was finally putting together my thoughts on Rick Nash, Rangers President and GM Glen Sather did the wise thing and told Columbus GM Scott Howson thanks, but no thanks. According to TSN's Darren Dreger via Twitter, the Jackets' asking price for the 27-year old power forward was too rich.

NYR wasn't willing to pay price established for Nash prior to today + today CBJ asked for more than they were originally after.

Not surprisingly, I had no idea Sather told Howson no a few hours ago. As I mentioned in tonight's Nash post, it was way too much. The Rangers have deemed Chris Kreider untouchable with the former No.1 looking to have a bright future. There was also no way they were weakening the D by trading emerging top blueliner Ryan McDonagh or rejuvenant third-year defenseman Mike Del Zotto. Even without them, they still would've had to part with 2011 first rounder J.T. Miller, plus a No.1, Brandon Dubinsky and likely another roster player (Stepan/Hagelin?).

The Blueshirts have worked their way to the top of the East with a young nucleus that Slats helped build post-lockout. It doesn't make sense to break up team chemistry. If he does see fit to add a couple of key pieces tomorrow that can improve the team's Cup chances, by all means he should do what he can. It's still possible Saturday was Brandon Dubinsky's final game as a Blueshirt. Dubi loves being a Ranger and doesn't want to go. He's been an integral part of a successful rebuild and a fan favorite. Even if there were hardly any loyal fans at Saturday's game. I'd love to see Dubinsky stay and try to help this team win. Guess we'll see how it plays out tomorrow.

The Nash Saga

Will Rick Nash be doing more celebrating in a Ranger jersey or will Scott Howson wait till the summer to deal the much targeted power forward?

For what seems like a year (really two weeks), Rick Nash has been rumored to the Rangers. True enough, the Blueshirts could use another scorer to help balance an inconsistent offense that's too reliant on a few performers. Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Swedish sensation Carl Hagelin have been the most consistent while Brad Richards has struggled to make a difference on our hideous power play.

Remember when everyone was convinced overpaying Richards for nine years would automatically improve our man-advantage? That didn't account for chemistry. Especially when documenting our powerless play, which has never been the same since Leetch and Zubov ran it to perfection in '94. Granted. Those were Hall Of Fame defensemen, who did it more conventionally. These days, a forward is frequently used on the point. It works a bit better in New Jersey with Ilya Kovalchuk, who paces the Devils with 21 power play points, including seven power play goals which puts him in a three-way tie with teammates Patrik Elias and David Clarkson.

In Big D, Richards had 29 power play points, including seven power play goals. Since coming to Broadway, he has been unable to carry it over with a disappointing 15 along with three PPG. Somewhat astonishingly, that output is good enough to tie Gaborik for the team lead. Gabby's scored seven and set up eight while Captain Callahan leads the club with 11 power play tallies. Mike Del Zotto has 11 power play helpers and Stepan is 3-7-10. The production suffers for two reasons:

A.No True Point Man- Del Zotto has bounced back but rarely shoots and if he does, it almost never hits the net. Without someone who can blast the puck, the Rangers often find themselves working the puck to Gaborik on the right side. So predictable to decipher.

B.Lack Of Cohesion- What should be simple enough in what's been a very good year just isn't. For some reason, the Rangers relax. By that I mean they take their foot off the gas pedal and get outworked by hungrier shorthanded foes. It takes forever to get anything set up due to no consistent faceoff wins and a lack of aggression from our units. By the time they get going, there's time for one last chance. The Blueshirts move the puck too slowly and don't take enough shots.

If you just looked at Nash without factoring in his nightmarish cap hit ($7.8 million) or accounting for team chemistry that has the Blueshirts tops in the East with 84 points entering Monday's home match against the Devils, it's a simple answer. Stick Nash with Richards and Callahan while shifting Hagelin to the third line for better depth. It'd be easy to assume that the 27-year old former No.1 overall pick who's had two 40-goal seasons and four 30-goal years would instantly bolster our power play. However, one look at his recent decline and it's enough to make you wonder if he'd fail under the spotlight.

                 GP      PPG       Goals       Pts        Shooting Pct.
'02-03       74        6            17           39         11.0
'03-04       80       19           41           57         15.2
'05-06       54       11           31           54         18.2
'06-07       75        9            27           57         11.8
'07-08       80       10           38           69         11.6
'08-09       78        6            40           79         15.2
'09-10       76       10           33           67         13.0
'10-11       75        6            32           66         10.5
'11-12       62        4            21           43         8.9

There are two schools of thought. One is his power play production has dropped along with the expected output. That shooting percentage decline is hard to ignore. At 27 (28 this summer), Nash is in his prime and should be a consistent 40-goal, 80-point guy. One could argue that the lack of talent on the Blue Jackets has hindered his ability. Shut down Nash and you have a good chance. In a brutal year, counting today's shorthanded goal in a 4-2 loss to the Penguins, his 21 goals, 43 points and 14 power play points all pace Columbus, who just subtracted Jeff Carter. When Scott Howson traded for the ex-Flyer, he had big expectations. The hope was Carter could take some pressure off Nash and improve enough to make the postseason. Instead, Carter got hurt and sulked before finally playing to potential when he knew his days were numbered.

Ironically, Nash has picked it up since the Jackets made it known they wanted to move him. Following a down January in which he totaled six points (5-1-6) over a dozen contests, the franchise cornerstone has 10 points (4-6-10), including points in eight of 12 games this month. That included a tying goal which forced overtime at MSG last week. Not a bad showcase. Even more impressively, he notched a goal and assist in a 6-3 rout of slumping San Jose, who have interest in reuniting him with former Olympic gold medal linemate Joe Thornton. With the Rangers able to pull out a 3-2 OT win over Buffalo yesterday while the free falling Sharks again lost today to Minnesota, might his destination be HP Pavilion instead of The Garden?

It all depends on who's calling the shots. If Howson has his way, the odds are Nash doesn't get dealt until the summer. The teflon GM has continued to demand Ryan McDonagh or Mike Del Zotto along with Brandon Dubinsky, top prospect Chris Kreider and a No.1 pick. Too rich for Glen Sather's blood. Slats would part with popular Blueshirt Dubinsky along with D prospect Tim Erixon, possibly prospect Christian Thomas and a No.1 pick. Meanwhile, Howson wants Logan Couture from the teal. No way that goes anywhere.

"We're hopeful a deal can get done prior to the trade deadline that is fair and equitable for the Blue Jackets," Nash's agent Joe Resnick informed TSN in Puck Daddy's Nash update earlier today. "However, if a deal is not reached, then the list of acceptable teams will not change at a later date."

Resnick basically is trying to dictate the market in an attempt to force Howson's hand. It's obvious they want this resolved by 3 PM at tomorrow's trade deadline. It's unfair to Nash, who's been all class despite playing for a minor league franchise who's appeared in the playoffs once when they were swept by rival Detroit. I don't buy it. If Howson has any brains, he'll bypass the Rangers and Maple Leafs along with latest suitor Philadelphia (gee, what a shock) for the chance to acquire a No.1 goalie in June. Vancouver is the likely destination with Cory Schneider forever stuck behind Roberto Luongo. Hard to believe Blue Jacket scouts don't like LA backup Jonathan Bernier while Howson is in love with former Calder winner Steve Mason. Hell-o Jim Carey, Blaine Lacher, Andrew Raycroft!

While Columbus has dumped Carter (Kings) and Antoine Vermette (Coyotes) they're stuck with bad long-term contracts like R.J. Umberger, Fedor Tyutin and James Wisniewski. In other words, it could take years to recover for one of the NHL laughingstocks. So, now they're gonna trade their meal ticket. What reason should Jacket fans go to games when Nash is gone? Other than top prospect Ryan Johansen, there''s little to get excited over. Jack Johnson is a solid pickup from LA that can improve a terrible back end but isn't exactly the greatest defensively. They got little for their most versatile player Vermette, who had a friendly cap hit ($2.82 M). Solid move for the Pacific-leading 'Yotes. Essentially, Howson cannot screw this up, which is why he'll probably hold out till the Draft unless there's a sucker.

If you're Slats, try to shore up the blueline which needs one more dependable 18-20 minute guy to help an overworked top four of Dan Girardi, McDonagh, Del Zotto and Marc Staal, who's still not there defensively. Adrian Aucoin is in his final year with Phoenix but it's hard to see them trading now. Forget chief target Ray Whitney or dream scenario Shane Doan. The Rangers could also use a faceoff guy. Vets Sami Pahlsson (Scotty Hockey) and Paul Gaustad might fit. Another player who's signed through '12-13 is David Steckel on the Leafs. Gaustad is the best of the bunch who can also bring size and physicality to our bottom six. Dealing for Chris Stewart wouldn't be a bad move. He's underachieved in St. Louis but a scenery change may work.

For now, it remains quiet an hour before midnight on the East coast. What happens between now and roughly 14 hours away remains to be seen. Fasten your seatbelts!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Devils deal for Zidlicky, honor Doc before loss to Canucks

Last night was certainly busy at the Prudential Center. Before the game, the Devils honored long-time announcer Doc Emrick with a ceremony paying tribute to his twenty-one seasons in the organization. During it, word filtered out about a trade for Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who instantly becomes the Devils' best puck-moving defenseman since Brian Rafalski. And oh yes, there was the game itself - a marquee matchup between the Devils and the Canucks (who had just ended the Red Wings' record-breaking win streak on home ice last night). Unfortunately the game didn't have as happy an ending as the Devils lost 2-1 despite dominating long stretches of the last fifty minutes.

First, the ceremony itself. Before the ceremony, the Devils gave Doc a few gifts, including a jersey with Doc on the back and a new Lincoln car which prompted genuine excitment from his wife, who dropped her flowers and her jaw. Doc was his usual genuine self after the fans' chants of 'Thank you, Doc!', acknowledging the hard-working guys like the Newark Penn Station popcorn maker and other everyday fans like the one who came up with the moniker of ZZPops for the Zach Parise-Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner line. His love for dogs certainly came out, reminding everyone that a lot of puppies need a good home, as well as his love for family (including the fact his nephew has one of his three Stanley Cup rings, and his brother has another).

And of course, his love for the Devils and the people he worked for and with were expressed, thanking the Devils for one of his favorite moments as a fan - the comeback against the Flyers in 2000, saluting past and current members like Larry Robinson, Patrik Elias, Scott Stevens and Martin Brodeur for their contributions, among others. Conversely, I don't know if I have a favorite Doc moment myself. Between his voice, excitement and knowledge he was just a pleasure all the time - and still is whenever I get up to listening to him nationally. Just by default, you can't go wrong as a Devils fan citing 'The championship to New Jersey...the Devils win the Stanley Cup!' as your favorite Doc call after the Devils' first title in 1995.

Unfortunately after a great ceremony, the start of the game wasn't so fantastic, as the Devils fell behind early and generally looked dead-legged for the first ten minutes of the game. Coach Pete DeBoer acknowledged as much afterwards, saying we were standing around watching play for the first ten minutes. During a commercial break, I checked online as I usually do and found the Devils were close to a trade for Zidlicky, a puck-moving defenseman for the Wild who had been rumored to both be on the block and anxious to come here (since he's good friends with fellow Czechs Elias and Petr Sykora). Following that trade online on my phone became what held my interest for much of the first two periods.

Initial reports that we gave up very little for Zidlicky proved incorrect, the trade and terms finally became consummated sometime during the second period - when the Devils were now behind 2-0 - as the Devils gave up not only Kurtis Foster (rumored to be on the block since the Zidlicky rumors started), but also forwards Nick Palmeri and Stephane Vellieux, as well as a second-round pick this year, and a conditional third-rounder next year which we give up if the Devils reach the Conference Finals and Zidlicky plays 75% of the games.

While I was initially dissapointed we had to give up so much, really it was only about the pick(s) for me since I've never been a fan of Palmeri, Vellieux is more or less AHL fodder and Foster's basically only capable of playing on the power play (and even then, the mere threat of his 100 MPH shot seemed to contribute more to the PP than his actual play did). Granted, given the current market for defensemen, a second and a conditional pick for really the only puck-moving defenseman on the market seems to be fair. I wasn't sure Zidlicky would go for market value mainly because the player himself seemed dead set on waiving his NTC 'only' to come to New Jersey, plus he was having a bad year in Minnesota - frustrated by the system of new coach Mike Yeo.

Even GM Lou Lamoriello said his wanting to be here played a part. Addressing whether the Devils overpaid or not for Zidlicky, Lou gave another one of his Lou-speak answers...'We don't ever worry about what we give up, only what we're getting'. Calling Zidlicky a potential top two defenseman, he went into detail about the recon work he'd done, citing former coach Jacques Lemaire (who had Zidlicky in Minnesota), as well as current Devils assistant Dave Barr who was also on the Wild staff when Zidlicky was there as people he went to for first-hand knowledge on the player.

Given the fact the Devils have not only been searching for a legitimate puck-moving defenseman who can help the power play (Foster wasn't a puck mover, just a puck boomer) for years - but also a right-handed defenseman at that, Zidlicky fills both those needs with one trade. Not to mention he provides far more offense five-on-five than Foster ever did. Plus, while some people are concerned that Zidlicky's signed through next year at $4 million, it could wind up being a huge asset if Zidlicky's play turns around. He had been a 40-plus point defenseman for years before injuries last year and an off season this year got in the way, but I could definitely see him being rejuvanated here - filling an important role, being in a place he wants to be, and around people he knows and likes.

In the end, you certainly can't accuse Lou of not being 'all in' this year. He's absolutely all in, with this deal coming after trading for Alexei Ponikarovsky last month. Plus who knows, maybe Lou's not even done yet if he feels there's still a need for more forward depth. While all this was taking place, the Devils found their game legs and got back into the game through the leg of David Clarkson, after an Elias pass found Clarkson's leg instead of his stick, but the goal was allowed to stand after it was ruled there was no kicking motion.

Clarkson's 24th goal of the year at 11:30 pulled the Devils to within one, setting up a frantic final thirty minutes where the Devils had chance after chance but somehow couldn't get the puck past highly regarded backup Cory Schnieder. One home-run pass narrowly missed a wide-open Ilya Kovalchuk. Elias had a glorious chance in front but shot it right into Schnieder. Parise had a good chance in front but was stopped by the Vancouver netminder, who had me wishing they had played him the night before and starter Roberto Luongo last night!

All in all, still not a bad night. The Devils may have lost a game, but they played well against a good team and got a potential difference-maker for the rest of this season and next year without giving up any key pieces off the active roster. And it's always nice to see Doc again. As last night's emcee Matt Loughlin reminded us all not-so-subtly at the tail end of the ceremony, hopefully Doc will be able to do our games again the farther we go in the playoffs. That would be something to hear!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Devils continue winning ways through Canada

On a mini two-game road trip that saw the Devils swing through Montreal Sunday and Toronto Tuesday, the Devils put another four points in the bank as stunningly, a playoff berth that looked iffy at best going into the All-Star break is becoming all but a fait accompli weeks after it. Don't get me wrong, there's still a lot of work for the Devils to do, specifically navigating a brutal March schedule where the team will play seventeen games in thirty-one days at one point. Before that however, come important home games against Vancouver on Friday and a suddenly resurgent Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon, the Devils' last two games before Monday's trade deadline.

Even with twenty-three games left to play and having key pieces still on the shelf, the Devils' consistency (23-8-2 over their last 33 games) has put them in a promising position to play in the postseason once again after their first April without playoff hockey in fifteen seasons last year. Not only are the Devils sitting in fourth place a point ahead of division rivals Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, but they're nine points and three games in hand clear of ninth-place Winnipeg - who happens to be tied for first with current third seed Florida in the usually interesting Southeast division. With teams like Winnipeg, Tampa Bay and Washington far closer to their division lead than the Devils it seems unlikely enough teams will pass them at this point. What a change from just before the All-Star break where the Devils were sitting on the bubble in eighth place after losing four in a row!

Very little has come easy for the team this year however. Even in the Devils' relatively comfortable 3-1 win over the Canadiens on Sunday came reminders of this, when Anton Volchenkov took a puck to the face in the first period but even a deep gash wasn't enough to take out the Russian shot-blocking dynamo. However, fellow defenseman Bryce Salvador faced a much more formidable foe - a bug that caused Sal to miss the final twenty-five minutes and coach Pete DeBoer to remark later that 'He (Salvador) would have needed a Port-a-potty on the bench to play in the third'. That's about as graphic as I need to know! Without Salvador, the Devils had to go with five defensemen in the final minutes, including Peter Harrold - playing only his second game with the Devils after Kurtis Foster developed back problems and was a scratch.

As usual, Martin Brodeur had another outstanding game in his hometown. But the absence of his father (a Canadiens photographer) led to the revelation that Denis Brodeur was in fact recovering from brain surgery - a fact that had been known only by close friends and teammates for the last couple of weeks after Marty's brother texted him with the bad news that his dad had a brain tumor just hours before he was to play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Perhaps then it was oddly fitting that Brodeur came up with a stirring 31-save performance and his first shutout of the season. Unlike all the other pucks from his previous 110+ shutouts however, this one wasn't going in a glass case but straight to his father's bedside. Sometimes it's amazing just how much an elite athlete is able to focus despite a potentially devastating distraction. Thankfully, it seems as if the elder Brodeur came through the surgery well.

After the Devils' trip to Montreal over the weekend came last night's game in Toronto, another back-and-forth affair where the Devils took a quick 2-0 lead, then the Leafs tied it up with goals in the first and second before Alexei Ponikarovsky burned his former team with a late second-period goal. Ponikarovsky has been nothing short of a revelation since GM Lou Lamoriello acquired him from the Hurricanes in exchange for a third-round pick, contributing four goals and six assists in just thirteen games. Ponikarovsky, Steve Bernier and Danius Zubrus have at last given the Devils a third line that can score for the first time in seemingly forever. Zubrus had been part of a successful line earlier in the season with Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora but has played just as well since getting matched with the Devils' two most recent additions. Bernier was a camp tryout and former first-round pick who didn't make the team and was riding the buses in Albany for the better part of the season before finally being promoted.

It was at this point in the game that I wound up having to go out to a late movie. While the movie (Hugo) was kind of sappy, the Devils as it turned out were writing their own improbable script. After blowing yet another lead in the final minute, a knucklepuck by Mark Fayne in overtime somehow skipped past Jonas Gustavsson in goal when it looked for all the world like it was going wide, to give the Devils a 4-3 win barely a minute into the extra period, further damaging the Leafs' already fading playoff chances while putting the Devils back into fourth place in the East.

With the deadline now less than five days away, speculation is high on whether the Devils will do anything else to fortify their team, specifically a defense which has suffered key injuries to Henrik Tallinder and Adam Larsson. Even power-play specialist Foster has had to sit out the last couple of games. Although a guy like the Caps' Dennis Wideman (if the Caps do decide to break up the team and cash it in for this year) intrigues me, the prices for defensemen now are through the roof. Especially after a middling guy like Kyle Quincey goes for a #1 - granted, a low #1 but still.

Can the Devils really afford to give up a first-round pick - which is what it would take to acquire a real difference-maker on the blueline, since we will have to surrender one to the league in the next three years to finish off the penalty for our Ilya Kovalchuk cap-changing contract? Giving up less for a role player like Marek Zidlicky may still be the path Lou chooses. Or...can they afford not to trade a first-rounder and make a move for a difference maker? After all, this may be the Devils' best chance to win for the next little while if Zach Parise walks at the end of the season and Martin Brodeur retires (for the record, he's given no indication that this will be his last season yet).

Decisions, decisions. At least one that we know will not be made involves Parise, as the GM and coach have both vehemently denied that the captain is on the block, nor should he be. You don't trade your captain and a key player when you're fifteen games above .500 and may just be a contender after all. Teams usually look to acquire UFA's to be in that situation, not give them up. Although the opposite may be happening in Washington where it seems obvious they're tired of the dissapointing core and may look to break up the team despite having every chance to win their division.

In the end, I think Lou decides that getting players such as Tallinder, Larsson and center Travis Zajac (assuming he's not in witness protection) back into the lineup will do more than any acquisition could. Maybe he'll try and shop at Wal-Mart for a defenseman as opposed to Neiman Marcus, but hey the Devils' last Cup run in 2003 was fortified by Wal-Mart pieces like Grant Marshall and Pascal Rheaume. Nothing wrong with shopping at Wal-Mart if you have a good enough team to win. Whether the Devils are good enough to win in April and beyond still remains to be seen, and won't be answered until then. After all, only eight players including Zajac remain in the lineup from the Devils' last playoff team not even two years ago, and only Brodeur and Elias remain from 2003.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Deadline deals begin: Downie to Avs, Quincey traded twice

Steve Downie and Kyle Quincey were on the move as part of a three-team trade as Deadline 2012 heats up.

With less than a week to go in this year's trade deadline, a couple of moves were finally made. No. It didn't involve much rumored top fish Rick Nash, which is fine with me since I want no part of him.

However, two players were dealt in essentially a three-team trade. First, the Lightning sent rugged winger Steve Downie to the Avalanche in exchange for defenseman Kyle Quincey. Then, Tampa Bay flipped Quincey to the Red Wings for a 2012 first round pick and minor league blueliner Sebastien Piche.


Colorado gets physical Downie, who can bang in corners and contribute on stat sheet. The 24-year old has 28 points (12-16-28) with 121 penalty minutes over 55 games. The former '05 first rounder of the Flyers spent four years in Tampa developing into one of the game's top pests. He now joins his third roster trying to boost the Avs' playoff chances.

Tampa Bay recoups another pick as Steve Yzerman continues to sell spare parts. He did well landing a second for Dom Moore and got another second, plus a third for Pavel Kubina, who was shipped to Philadelphia. Now, he gets a first round pick from Detroit, who's all in for another Cup. We don't know much about Piche other than he's already 24 and has been in the AHL.

Detroit acquires a top four defenseman who can relieve pressure off ageless Nick Lidstrom along with Nik Kronwall and Brad Stuart. Quincey, 26, was originally a Red Wing fourth round draft pick in '03. However, he only got into 13 games over three seasons before the Kings claimed him. His best year came during '08-09 in Hollywood when he totaled 38 points (4-34-38). LA dealt Quincey to Colorado in a failed blockbuster for Ryan Smyth. He's a solid blueliner capable of contributing with his 23 points (5-18-23) tied with Erik Johnson for most by a D this season. Now, he'll return to Hockey Town and try to help the Wings win another Cup.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Devils win second-chance shootout against Ducks after Getzlaf's disallowed goal

For all the regular season games I've gone to at the Prudential Center and the Continental Arena over the last several years, and many other games watched on TV I can't remember one ending like this. Ryan Getzlaf scored in overtime, leading the Ducks to an apparent 3-2 win, completing their comeback from 2-0 down and continuing their improbable playoff run. Clearly, this game was over and I was annoyed - especially at our lack of jump in the overtime. I had my coat on and was walking out of the arena, but I didn't even get to the end of my row before I noticed a bunch of odd things.

Martin Brodeur was still defiantly in his crease. Zach Parise was talking to the refs and the rest of the Devils were still on the bench. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out something was amiss, and sure enough seconds after I stopped walking out, the announcement came...'The play is under review'. Even so, we never get the benefit of the doubt on video reviews from Toronto anyway. I thought it was just delaying the inevitable - until I saw the second replay where it was as clear as day Getzlaf kicked the puck in the net with his skate.

And even then I worried we would get screwed because the call on the ice was no goal, and the review was taking forever. Parise later said somewhat sarcastically he thought the call was going our way simply because seemingly nothing else has, including his own disallowed goal against the Islanders back in November. My exact words at the arena were 'if this (Getzlaf's goal) isn't kicking, can we get the Parise goal back?' Finally however, justice prevailed and the erroneous call was overturned in a kick that was obvious to everyone outside the Ducks locker room except Chico Resch, who clearly needs Davisvision after I heard him later on still wondering after the tenth replay if it was kicking. It was a kick, Chico...and as obvious as one I've ever seen.

Anaheim had gone to the locker room in fact, thinking they won. No doubt many fans turned off the telecast and wound up surprised later when they found out the later outcome, for this game would eventually go into a shootout. Though captain Parise continued his post-Montreal penalty shot hex by missing, teammates Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias bailed him out with goals, and Brodeur - who stood tall with 36 saves (many of the highlight quality) - would come up with the key saves on Corey Perry and yes, Getzlaf to end the shootout.

Overshadowed by the wild ending was a compelling game between two good teams. Anaheim was trying to continue their massive run (14-2-3 in their last twenty after a terrible start that had them twenty points out of a playoff spot). In the pregame in fact, ex-Devil Rod Pelley admitted there were parallels to the way Bruce Boudreau's handled his team compared to Jacques Lemaire last year when the Devils were making their own even more improbable surge. For us there wasn't quite as much at stake though we were looking to continue our surge up the standings, possibly to finish as high as fourth and get home-ice in the first round - quite the change from when the Devils were still a bubble team at the All-Star break.

After a cagey first twenty minutes, the Devils went ahead in the second period when Parise and Kovalchuk worked the puck to rookie sensation Adam Henrique in front with a brilliant pass by Parise and a shot by Kovy that rebounded to Henrique, and the Calder candidate did the rest beating Jonas Hiller with a deke at 1:25. A fortuitious bounce off of Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa led to our second goal at 10:56, when Danius Zubrus pickpocketed him and found a wide open Alexei Ponikarovsky. The former Cane - who's been a revelation since he's come here - scored his tenth goal overall and third as a Devil, beating Hiller with a quick five-hole shot.

That two looked large with the way the game was going, even as the Ducks continued to outshoot us every period. Brodeur was continuing his recent return to excellence by stoning chance after Duck chance...until Perry finally broke the lock, putting home a backhander off the rebound from a Getzlaf shot at 16:08. The Ducks right-winger, who scored 50 last year put home his 29th of this season to cut the Devils' lead in half. And there it remained as the end of the second and most of the third period rolled by quickly, despite power play chances for both teams in the final twenty minutes the game seemed destined to end 2-1.

But then a former Devil came back to burn us, and no it wasn't Pelley - it was the even more obscure Sheldon Brookbank, who was made to look like teammate Teemu Selanne after getting open in front and roofing a wrister past Brodeur with under four minutes remaining to tie the game. Then came the overtime, where it seemed like either the Ducks found another gear, or we downshifted and the result was a couple of bad shifts that led to the Getzlaf goal...or almost-goal. Credit defenseman Anton Volchenkov on the play, for the second time in the last couple of weeks his work tying up an opposition player's stick in front of the net proved key (following his role in the much-debated Marian Gaborik no-goal a couple weeks ago), as Getzlaf couldn't shake loose and actually had no other choice but to try and kick it in.

However it came, the Devils win continued their terrific post-All Star break play as they improved to 7-1-1 and got their second win in a row after losing two straight last week. It's been said so often by GM Lou Lamoriello and others, but your best players have to be your best players more often than not for you to win - and with Marty turning it on and Kovy coming through with twenty-seven points (13 goals and 14 assists, including a hat trick in Buffalo Tuesday) in his last eighteen games, that's exactly what's happening here. No longer are people wondering whether Marty has lost it or Kovy will ever fit in as a Devil. With all the great stories from this season so far, those two are among the most meaningful ones.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lundsanity or Linsanity: Henrik's still top dog

Henrik Lundqvist makes one of 42 saves for his league best seventh shutout in Boston.

The two biggest sports trends on Twitter involve MSG teams. It took less than a week for #Linsanity to be born on newest Knick folk hero Jeremy Lin. The kind of rags to riches story that would make Roy Hobbs proud. The Natural is one of my favorite sports movies, depicting Robert Redford's Hobbs character who once is a hotshot can't miss teenager who strikes out The Babe on three pitches and then disappears from baseball until basically my age. The rest is a poetic fairy tale made for Hollywood.

What does this have to do with Lin or nightly Ranger hero Henrik Lundqvist? Let's just say both were long shots. Of course, Lin more so due to starring at Harvard and having two NBA teams waive him and then needing Knick injuries and point guard ineptitude for Mike D'Antoni to finally give him a shot. Almost similar to Wilfred Brimley's Pop Fisher character, who sees Hobbs put on a show in batting practice and then pinch hits him for Bump Bailey, who eventually dies crashing into a wall. A little far fetched? Sure. Thankfully, nobody dies in these stories.

It's easy to forget Lundqvist was a seventh round draft pick given his lofty status among NHL netminders. But the truth is the Swedish King every Ranger fan loves and other female observers drool over was just as long a shot as Lin. Not too long ago, the Blueshirts were a laughingstock that missed the playoffs seven years in a row. Two things changed. The work stoppage altered Glen Sather's organizational plan and Henrik Lundqvist happened by surprise. Sometimes, luck is all that's required for a team to turn it around. If not for Dan Blackburn's career ending freak injury during weight training, Henke never sees the light of day and probably stays put in Sweden starring for Frolunda.

Instead, the afterthought selected so late back in 2000 became a star back home- developing into a legit prospect fans like myself started following and onto the Rangers' radar. It really is that simple. When Slats brought Kevin Weekes in for '05-06, everyone knew he wasn't going to be a full-time starter. However, Weekes had the NHL pedigree and enough professionalism to help ease Lundqvist in once it became apparent he could hold his own. If only some of our fans had given the admirable present NHL Network analyst the same respect. Based on tweets with him, he really is a classy guy who's one of the best.

You can't give all the credit to Hank without mentioning Jaromir Jagr, who happens to be celebrating his 40th birthday today and amazingly is still a star you don't want to see this Spring. It was No.68's record-breaking season of 54 goals and 69 assists for club bests in goals and points (122), that backed up a guarantee, putting our team back in the playoffs. Somehow, he was robbed of the Hart which went to Joe Thornton in half a year with San Jose. It would be like blind squirrels denying Lundqvist of the Vezina this special season. Here we are seven years later with that same seventh round pick standing on his head, leading a first place club to the East's best record.

The incredible numbers speak for themselves. Fresh off last night's virtuoso performance in which he denied all 42 Boston shots for his league-leading seventh shutout, which ironically was his 42nd career blanking, Lundqvist is first in save percentage (.941), second in goals-against-average (1.77) and fourth in victories (27) in fewer games played (42). The only goalie to win at least 30 at the start of a career six consecutive seasons is three shy of extending that NHL record to seven and there's nothing lucky about it. He is a model of consistency similar to the opposite No.30 across the Hudson who's tops all-time in wins and shutouts. Could Henrik one day chase down Martin Brodeur? If he continues to shut teams out (18 since '10-11) with regularity, perhaps an unbreakable record could one day fall. It still is a long shot given like Dominik Hasek, he started his NHL career late. He'll turn 30 on March 2 with one goal in mind. The Stanley Cup.

No wonder following yesterday, Garden faithful referred to him as #Lundsanity. Kinda sad that it originated from Knick fans who haven't been this caught up in the play of a guard since Walt Frazier. It'll take Lin a lot longer to be mentioned with an all-time great or even Lundqvist. He can either go the route of Kurt Warner or Kevin Maas. The same was said once of King Henrik, who despite three Vezina nominations, Olympic gold and All-Star recognition, has only won two playoff series. Part of it was the team, which wasn't built to go far. However, with key addition Brad Richards and the continued development of legitimately the area's best captain Ryan Callahan, the Rangers lead the East with 79 points. In fact, they've only lost 13 times in regulation- boasting a league best 37-13-5 mark. One less point than Detroit, who's played three more games.

With John Tortorella running the asylum, he's kept them focused to the point where seven times, they have bounced back from a loss. A great characteristic to boast this postseason. Amazingly, they've done most of it without Marc Staal, who still looks shaky. A credit to overlooked Norris candidate Dan Girardi and super sophomore Ryan McDonagh. When you look amongst the stat leaders, you won't find anyone in the league's top 10 scoring race. There isn't a Kovalchuk or Tavares on this roster but Marian Gaborik has answered every question leading them with 27 goals and 49 points while getting a bunch in the third period when most Ranger games are decided. His six game-winners are tied for second with Captain Cally (6), trailing only Richards' seven. While most teams rely on one big name like the Pens with Hart frontrunner Evgeni Malkin, the Rangers possess balance that delivers. You never know who'll play the hero. It was Brandon Prust with a shorthanded goal in Sunday's 3-2 win over the Caps for his first goal in 49 games. McDonagh also scored in back-to-back W's including the club's second triumph over the defending champs. They still have two left including a pivotal match on April Fool's Day.

By now, nobody is fooled anymore by what these Blueshirts are accomplishing. Despite a solid contribution from Martin Biron (10 W, 2.02, .920, 2 SHO), it still hinges on Lundqvist, who deserves MVP consideration. More often than not, they win on the back of the best goalie this season. As was on display at TD Garden Tuesday, the Rangers relied on their franchise netminder to bail them out. They were outshot 42-20 by the Bruins, who are the standard. The club was opportunistic doing damage on a suddenly hot power play thanks to some great passing from Mike Del Zotto to Callahan, who now has six goals over his last four. McDonagh also tallied late in the first which really hurt the B's chances. Boston did much right, attacking and generating quality chances but couldn't beat King Henrik. One ridiculous sequence saw Milan Lucic thought he'd scored on a rebound only to see the puck bounce around before a Zdeno Chara blast was denied by a backwards Lundqvist, who somehow got it with the back of his mask. If that isn't a defining moment of how it's gone, we're rendered speechless.

All of this is great on paper because that's all it is if they don't go far this Spring. It's been 15 years since the Rangers won two rounds and made the Conference Finals. Given the gritty, physical style they play helping Lundqvist out, they have a real chance this season. But as Tortorella reminded them along with Brandon Dubinsky in a tweet, they can't expect to succeed like last night. The playoffs are a different animal. Everyone that's been here knows it, which is why there's plenty of incentive.

If they are to finally shed the label of early round fodder, the Rangers need Dubinsky and streaky Russian Artem Anisimov to step up. Both are going well and have playoff experience. It can't just be the Henrik Show and Gabby, Cally, Richie, D-Step and Carl Hagelin. It takes a lot to win 16 games in the second season. In case you hadn't noticed, the Blueshirts aren't the most talented bunch. But they are a complete T-E-A-M that wins the battles, sacrifices their bodies and gets dirty. That should make them a tough out along with the hot goalie who can do no wrong in his seventh year.

One memorable time, it was Mike Richter who made every clutch save. That team also had the best leader in sports along with a Norris winner, 50-goalscorer and one of the greatest passing defensemen to play in this era. They too played with a lot of determination. Oh. And had a fiery coach similar to Tortorella. Of course, we're referring to '94, which Ranger supporters have begun envisioning. But before you get too far ahead, there's still 27 games left including tomorrow's match against former Cup champ Chicago. Yes, they have lost nine straight but still are fully capable of coming into The Garden and ending that streak.

The Rangers will do what has become routine. Grind and finish every check. If they don't, they'll hear about it from the coach who's never hesitant to tell you what he's thinking. There's still so much time left and plenty more to go. It doesn't get easier. Only tougher. At least the Eastern leaders know they have a decided edge in net. #Lundsanity

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Devils' winning streak finally ends as scoring dries up

Amazingly, the Devils have only been shut out once this season - on Opening Night against the Flyers. I say amazingly because despite the team's improved offense and slowly improving power play they still go through stretches (like the three games before the All-Star break) where the offense looks like it's lost in a dark forest without a clue on how to get out. After a fortunate 1-0 win over the Rangers where I missed the entirety of the third period where we were outshot 15-1 and still hung on, the Devils did get Jaroslav Halak chased on Thursday with a couple of early goals.

Then the offense dried up again. I was out Thursday with my friends having my seats for this game and almost totally forgot about the contest until I saw the Facebook updates after I got home lol. Fortunately we were still up 3-2 despite Facebook not updating when we get scored on, but that's another story. In the inverse of Tuesday, this time I got home in time to watch the third period - not quite in time to see Kurtis Foster's five-minute major that was apparently a hosejob, and he didn't even get fined for the play! That tells you someone screwed up.

And yes, everyone including Patrik Berglund himself thought his stick was high on the tying goal late, but it's a tough call to overturn unfortunately. We were the benficiaries of that late last season when Evander Kane scored an apparent tying goal, but it was ruled out because of a high stick near the faceoff dots. Despite this one being much closer to the goal and Berglund's stick being high enough to 'make our 6'4 defenseman (Mark Fayne) duck', there still wasn't going to be enough video evidence to overturn the good goal call on the ice.

So, instead of a 3-2 win the Devils went into overtime and eventually their 12th shootout of the season. At this point it seems like we've been in too many shootouts for our own good as teams seem to be catching on to what our shooters and goalies like to do. For the first time all season it seemed, Ilya Kovalchuk got stopped by Brian Elliott and Johan Hedberg let through a crappy goal off his pads. In a disturbing trend, one-time shootout ace Zach Parise missed again to end the game, and hasn't been the same in the skills competition since missing that late penalty shot against the Habs - failing to convert on every single shootout attempt.

After Thursday's loss, the Devils still had a streak with points in every game since January 21, but that ended Saturday as they suffered a regulation loss to the Panthers, and split the season series against a team many Devils fans have dismissed as being 'inferior' and a 'one-line team'. Maybe they can be a one-line offense at times (with actual offensive firepower from the blueline to help, something we can only dream of), but not a one-line team as they proved again Saturday.

First of all, any Devil fan that thinks we're going to the playoffs for certain now just because we're five points up in early February is delusional. This league is too closely bunched together, one bad week and you're back on the bubble - as what happened to us right before the All-Star break. Not to mention this Devil team, despite its terrific start to the post-All Star portion of their schedule, is still a team with its problems. Inconsistent offense, a defense prone to giving up the big mistake and goaltending that's been spotty equal a playoff bubble team.

Yet, so many Devil fans treated the Panthers like an afterthought before, during and after the game it's mind-boggling. No, they're not Boston or even the Rangers but let's be honest, the Panthers' record would be as good as ours if they had better luck after the first sixteen minutes (with a whopping eleven OT/SO losses, to be precise). And the Panthers, once they got the lead against us early in the second put an absolute clinic on how to protect a lead. One in which I hope the Devils were taking notes. People can say the Devils were flat all they want, the Panthers knew what they were doing out there too. Every pass we missed by a hair they were right on it for the turnover.

Yes they did gum up the works by slowing down the game (as Scott Clemmensen admitted to doing) and stacking four guys up at the blueline, making it hard not only to enter the zone but get the puck once you dump it in...but isn't that what you're supposed to do with the lead against a team that has the firepower of the Devils? After some of our hideous performances with a lead this season - including nearly blowing a six-goal lead in Philly - it was almost refreshing in an odd way to see a team that knew what to do up a goal. They weren't sitting back either, sitting back is getting outshot 24-1, or 15-1 in the third period. That wasn't the case yesterday, and the Devils lost their only real chance to tie the game when they failed to convert on their lone power play opportunity late in the third.

So now the Devils' giant home stretch concludes unconclusively. People can point to the 5-1-1 since the break, but what about the 1-2-1 before the break (with three straight losses at home)? Even the overall 6-3-2, you can't complain about it, but you'd still like to see better than 4-3-2 at home. And you definitely want to see the Devils keep the wins coming the rest of the month before Hell March and seventeen games in thirty-one days against tough opposition.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday Matinees for area locals

All three area locals are currently in action on a busy Saturday. The Rangers are visiting the Flyers. At last check, they led 2-1 after one with goals from Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik. Wayne Simmonds has the Flyer goal. The Blueshirts lead Philadelphia by six points for the division. So, it's a pretty big game. Our team also has two games in hand but another win would put even more distance between us and the Flyers.

Meanwhile, across the Hudson the Devils are hosting the Panthers, who lead the Southeast over Washington due to one less game played. Both have 61 points while third Winnipeg is three behind following a stunning 3-2 shootout comeback triumph over the Caps the other night. Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien scored 12 seconds apart to erase a late two-goal Washington lead. That division may only place one team in. So, whoever wins it is huge. The Devs are trying to bounce back from a tough home shootout loss in which they let a one-goal lead slip to St. Louis with Johan Hedberg victimized by T.J. Oshie for the only shootout goal. Only their third such defeat in 12 tries. Martin Brodeur is back in against former backup Scott Clemmensen. The Cats just surged ahead 2-1 on a goal from Kris Versteeg. Steve Bernier has his first for New Jersey while Sean Bergenheim has the other Florida tally.

On Long Island where they honored the past including former defenseman Kenny Jonsson prior to the start by inducting him into their Hall Of Fame, the Islanders and Kings are tied up at one. Dustin Brown just knotted it in the second. Michael Grabner got his 15th in the first from Mark Eaton and Kyle Okposo. It's Evgeni Nabokov against Jon Quick in net. The Isles need every win while LA's in a tight race with Phoenix, Dallas, Colorado and Minnesota for the final two spots.

Updating the Ranger game, Claude Giroux has tied it with his 22nd from Simmonds and Scott Hartnell. Might it be one of those three-point games later today? They've gotten to Henrik Lundqvist twice, which has to boost their confidence while the Blueshirts have tallied their two against Sergei Bobrovsky. And just as we're typing away, Callahan has his second of the day and third in two games on the Rangers' second power play goal of the game. This isn't a misprint. It actually happened! Stop the presses. Mike Del Zotto and Gaborik set it up. So, the Rangers now lead 3-2 with half of regulation left.

In other action last night, the Sabres earned a big two points by coming back to stun Dallas 3-2 in a skill competition. They rallied from a two-goal third period deficit, including Derek Roy's equalizer at 19:21 with Ryan Miller on the bench for an extra attacker. Nathan Gerbe's backhand top shelf beat Kari Lehtonen and Michael Ryder missed against Miller as Buffalo climbed to 54 points. They still trail Winnipeg by four and eighth Toronto by eight with 28 games remaining. They are hot though and there's still enough time left. Especially with Miller back on and Thomas Vanek scoring last night. Even Ville Leino is contributing. He had two assists in a 6-0 drubbing of Boston earlier this week. Buffalo hosts the Lightning tonight at 7.

The other game of note is Winnipeg visiting Pittsburgh. So far, it's the Jets leading 2-zip on goals from Kyle Wellwood and Alex Burmistrov. What a great story it would be if they somehow won the Southeast in their first year back. It should be some finish. We'll try to have more later.

The Puck Stops Here


Search This Blog