Team Russia Looks as Good as Gold…

The ice hockey tournament begins tomorrow and after long consideration I’ve made my pick for who will win the gold medal. In looking at all of the rosters I feel that the Russian squad is poised to win their first Olympics gold medal in 18 years, mainly because of their firepower and their strength in goaltending.

Up front the Russians can throw two lethal lines at their opponents with any combination between Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Semin and Maxim Afinogenov. In my mind it doesn’t matter how you combine these six and they are still the scariest two lines in this short tournament.

Finishing out the bottom six forwards will be familar names gone from the NHL, but in active duty for the Russian league — the  KHL: Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov, Alexei Morozov and Alexander Radulov. All players who are capable of taking over a game when they are in a groove.

The Russians will be led on the blueline by the always-steady Sergei Gonchar and the underrated Andrei Markov, with solid depth provided by Fedor Tyutin, Anton Volchenkov, Dmitri Kalinin & Denis Grebeshkov. Gonchar will be the key player here — his passing and work on the power play will go a long way in determining the difference between evenly-matched teams in elimination games.

In goal Evgeni Nabokov, the backbone of San Jose’s great regular season success over the last three seasons, will begin as the starter, but if he should falter they can still turn to Washington’s Semyon Varlamov (who proved last postseason that big games don’t faze him) or Ilya Bryzgalov, who has pulled Phoenix from the ashes of the NHL to fourth in the West with 19 games left. Between the three of them, most likely Bryzgalov or Nabokov, they have the ability to shut down an explosive, high-powered team a tad more than some of the other goalies in the tournament — including Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist.

I think the gold medal game will be Russia vs. Team USA, final score 5-2 Russia.

Canada will win the bronze medal game 4-3 in ot against Sweden.

Hope that I am wrong…but I won’t be…

Devils-Predators Postgame Quotes [02.12.10]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after the Devils 5-2 win over the Predators on Friday night:

Travis Zajac:

Talking about his goal…

“It was all Jamie (Langenbrunner), I just put it into an open net. A good play by him coming across the middle and taking everyone with him. He threw it in front and I had an open net; not too tough of a goal to score.”

Did you find yourself open by staying back a bit on that play?

“Yeah I just went towards the net and the puck just came out to me; he made a good play and knew someone was coming in.”

Your thoughts on the win…

“It was a good win for us; we did a lot of good things and we scored one on the power play, which was a big goal for us. We got scoring from different lines and different players which we haven’t had in a while.”

Are there any adjustments you have to make when the lines change as much as they do?

“You just have to be aware of who you’re playing with and make sure that you’re talking a lot. That’s the only thing that could get us in trouble, when you have new guys on a line and you aren’t talking. As long as we are sharp, talking and making plays we should be all right.”

Ilya gets his first goal as a Devil finally…

“Yeah a huge goal, it’s nice to see him get one finally because he’s hit some posts and had some great opportunities. To come away with a big goal when we needed it was huge.”

Martin Brodeur:

After a game like this, what do you make of your team’s offense?

“Well we had a lot of chances, it could have been a greater score — I think their goalie played well and made some good saves. I think it’s the reason why we went after Ilya Kovalchuk, to get our offense to a different level; we just have to combine our overall game with having a big weapon like him and he’s definitely going to get other players dangerous out there because of him.”

The second goal did that go off of Andy Greene at all?

“You know what, I don’t know. He (Jordin Tootoo) made a pretty good shot from where he was; it was about 14 inches off the ice and just inside the post. I doubt it touched him because he had a big gap and he walked right into Greenie, a little bit like the goal James van Riemsdyk scored (Monday in Philly); it was similar to that. It kind of becomes a screen if the guy hits their shot; the guy made a pretty good shot, even though it was far out it was a pretty good shot.”

You took a pretty good shot in the throat in the third period, you were okay?

“Yeah a stick, it’s okay, I was coughing a bit. I was surprised because I was looking one way and the stick just came and jabbed me right in the throat.”

A much needed win after three straight L’s?

“Yeah, it’s always nice to win; I think it’s nice for Kovy to get the first one under his belt and get that monkey off his back a little bit. As a team, it’s been a struggle for us to win games, so definitely any win we’ll take it.”

Ilya Kovalchuk:

Talking about his goal…

“It’s very easy to play with good players; it just takes a little while to know them. I’ve gotten a lot of chances every game, a lot of shots, but they didn’t go in so finally today I got that one and hopefully a lot more.”

Were you worried (that you hadn’t gotten a goal yet)?

“No, I was worried because we’re not winning, but the most important thing for us is to win. It really doesn’t matter in this locker room who’s scoring, we just want to get two points every night; and stay on top of our division.”

Isn’t scoring goals why they brought you here though?

“It’s nice to get a goal, especially at home and I’m sure the fans they all expect the goals from me; finally I did it. Like I said we played a solid defensive game and we got the two points.”

Did moving Patrik to center have anything to do with why you scored your goal?

“I don’t know; it was just a great play by everybody putting pressure on their D and Patty made an unbelievable pass, so.”

How’d that feel when it went in and you heard the crowd roar?

“It was nice. It always fun to score, but it’s more fun to win; that was a big win for us.”

When you saw the hats go on the ice what did you think?

“I don’t know; I don’t know what to think. It was kind of a welcome goal and I appreciate that they did it.”

You’ve been here for a week now and in a few days Marty will be your enemy again at the Olympics, what’s that going to be like?

“Unbelievable, I know the guy more now and it’s always good to play against you’re teammates; it’s fun. You play for your country and it’s important, a big honor and I think it will be a great challenge for both of us.”

Have you learned any secrets that you may share with your Russian teammates?

“No, he’s so good you don’t know where to shoot on him. But every goalie hates traffic so you have to make it tough on him.”


Patrik Elias:

Talking about Kovalchuk’s goal…

“Sometimes it goes in and sometimes it doesn’t. Obviously the way he plays, sometimes you look at three goals and you don’t see him on the score sheet you think that he doesn’t do his job, but he always does. He’s getting a lot of opportunities, a lot of shots — and hopefully this will keep him going.”

Were you looking for him there or just anyone?

“Often plays like that we’re just trying to cycle it and you always look for the high man. He was smart enough to find the open spot.”


Jacques Lemaire:

In all your years did you ever see hats thrown on the ice for a non-hat trick?

“We had three goals (smiles).”

No, one goal that Kovalchuk scored…

“Yeah, but it made it three for our team (smiling). It’s been a long time since we scored three goals.”

What did you like best about the team tonight?

“Well our top guys, I think our top guys were better than their top players. They pretty much all scored, they played good. I think we moved the puck better — we even scored a goal on the power play.”

Devils Power Past Predators with Late Surge

Here is the link to my recap of the Devils 5-2 win over the Predators on Friday night:

Devils Power Past Predators with Late Surge

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – gw goal (32), assist (30)

#2 – Jamie Langenbrunner (NJ) – en goal (15), 2 assists (36)

#3 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – goal (11), assist (19)

tonight’s line combos/d-pairings
New Jersey:
Parise-Zajac-Zubrus
Kovalchuk-Elias-Langenbrunner
Rolston-Niedermayer-Corrente
Pelley-McAmmond-Zharkov

Greene-Salvador
Mottau-White
Fraser-Murphy

Nashville:
Sullivan-Arnott-Hornqvist
Erat-O’Reilly-Dumont
Tootoo-Legwand-Ward
Belak-Wilson-Jones

Weber-Suter
Hamhuis-Klein
Bouillon-Sulzer

Devils-Maple Leafs Postgame Quotes [02.05.10]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after the Devils 4-3 win over Toronto on Friday night:

Travis Zajac:
The game didn’t exactly go the way you planned, are you happy with the result?

“Yeah, we found a way to get the two points; we know we didn’t play good until, maybe the last five minutes of that game. When we got it to 3-2, we started to pressure them a little more, getting in on the forecheck; we got a penalty called in our favor and we were able to capitalize. Then we got one with 20 seconds left so it was a weird game. We didn’t get much going until the end of the game.”

This game was similar to last Friday’s game against Toronto, wasn’t it?

“Yeah exactly, I think the first two periods we didn’t play with a lot of confidence, excitement; I don’t know what it was. We weren’t controlling the puck; we were making terrible plays and turning the puck over. In the third we came out with a little better performance and were able to sneak one away.”

Was part of that lack of energy the overexcitement of having a new player on the team?

“Yeah, maybe; I think this morning we were all pretty excited and we had a lot of energy at pre-game skate it felt like. Maybe we were a little too excited and weren’t ready for the game; but it looked like we didn’t have as much energy or we weren’t working hard or something, but it helps when you get a couple of goals. It was definitely exciting and hopefully we can build off this win.”

Talk about your goal…

“Just on the power play there, Kovalchuk had it at the point and he made a nice play to Dean-o; Dean sent it cross-ice to me and I was just able to get a pretty good shot away.”

You’ve been getting goals like that lately, on slap shots and one-timers, is that something you work on constantly?

“Yeah we work on it in practice; one-timers all the time. I just got all of that one for some reason.”

Kovalchuk jumped on you after that goal; how exciting of a moment was that…

“Yeah (smiles), you could see, just by the first game you can tell he wants to win, he’s a good teammate and he gets excited to score and win games; that’s what we need on this team.”

Martin Brodeur:

Talking about the power play…

“Having Kovy in the lineup, we need to draw penalties because having him is a huge weapon.”

What’s your take on Kovalchuk?

“Well he’s an exciting player; he’s a guy where the opposing team cares about where he is at all times. Eventually it will open up some ice for other people — you saw it on the power play with him faking the one-timer and passing it back to Dean-o. It opened that whole lane because the defender didn’t want to give that shot away from Kovy right in the middle of the ice like that. That’s what hopefully he’ll bring every night to us.”

Last week we talked about recent wild games against Toronto, does this one go right up with that?

“Definitely (chuckles), that was an interesting game; I think we played well for two periods and we were as bad as it gets for the second period, myself included. Turnovers were made and it wasn’t pretty out there, but I was able to make two big saves — one on (Phil) Kessel early in the third period and the toe save I made on (John) Mitchell — that kept the game still within reach and the guys took over in the last five minutes.”

Did the second Toronto goal hit one of your players on its way towards you?

“No it kind of screened me, a scissor-effect with the skate; I think (Colin) White was following the player and it went right through his legs — and I missed it a bit, I thought I was in good position. It just hit my stick and found a little hole in my five-hole.”

Jay Pandolfo:

Talking about his goal…

“I just went to the net, Jamie (Langenbrunner) made a great play in the zone to kind of keep in it, he made a nice pass back to (Mike) Mottau and I just went to the net and got the rebound.”

Similar to last week’s game except this week your team scored the late goals?

“Yeah it was a nice comeback for us, we didn’t have our best game obviously, sometimes that happens when you get a new player and everybody’s trying to get him the puck.”

Jacques Lemaire:

Can you describe what led to the turnaround?

“I cannot (smiles). The whole game I was asking the players to win battles, to make plays, to be better with the puck; we have to be better, we couldn’t do that. We did it only the last two minutes and fifty seconds — then everything was working — we were skating, passing the puck, making plays. How it happened, I just don’t know.”

Did (Vladimir) Zharkov’s pass to (Dean) McAmmond change the whole game there?

“I think it did. The guys on the bench were really excited about that goal and I heard some of them saying ‘hey we can come back, we can come back’ and for the first time in the game I saw that they were excited.”

Talking about the third period…

“We played (only) three lines at the end, most of the time. I was trying to find the combination that could work together; I probably tried everyone with everybody.”

Is Kovalchuk more than just a goal scorer?

“He can pass the puck, you can tell by the plays he’s making; he’ll be fine. He’s a guy that can’t do it on his own all the time; he will sometimes, but he needs help. I thought we played exactly like we’ve been playing lately — not enough energy on the ice, which we paid the price for. Now I’m trying to find the right answer, the right things to do, to make them play as hard as they can.”

Did you know he is getting better in the defensive aspect of the game?

“On the flight from Washington maybe he thought about that (smiles).”

You used (Anssi) Salmela almost twenty minutes, what did you think of him?

“He was fine; he played well. He was not a liability, he moved the puck fine; he just has to get used to the type of game that we’re playing.”

Did Zharkov have one of his better games?

“Zharkov played really well; I have to say that he was one of the best players (for us). He was skating, had puck control, and played hard defensively and offensively.”

Ilya Kovalchuk:

How exciting was this win?

“Very exciting; I took a penalty in the second period and they scored. I was saying to myself that I had to do something because it wasn’t going to be a good debut.”

How many comebacks like this do you remember, this was pretty unusual?

“This year, with the Thrashers, we had quite a few. But it was great to play in front of this kind of crowd, they supported us all game long and nobody left the building.”

You mentioned Brodeur being meaningful, what do you mean by that?

“Yeah, the saves he made in the third period, on their power play, I think that was the key to the game.”

Were you nervous?

“No, not really. First shift, maybe, but the guys were supporting me real well.”

Were you trying to come back and play defense more often tonight?

“I will try always to do that; this year I was plus-1 when I left the Thrashers and that was a big change for me. I think in my career I am minus-95 or something, so hopefully that will change.”

How do you feel you played?

“It wasn’t my best game, but I think it was all right for my first game — especially that we got the two points.”

Can you sum up what the last 24-hours have been like for you?

“It’s not easy, but when you come to this kind of organization, where they’ve won three Stanley Cups, they definitely know how to win and they want to win. To make this move shows that they are serious and hopefully we can do some damage in the playoffs.”

Pandolfo Burns Maple Leafs with Late Goal

Here is the link to my recap of the Devils 4-3 win over the Maple Leafs on Friday night:

Pandolfo Burns Maple Leafs with Late Goal

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Dean McAmmond (NJ) – goal (6), assist (7)

#2 – Jay Pandolfo (NJ) – gw goal (4)

#3 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – 2 assists (29)

tonight’s line combos/d-pairings
New Jersey:
Parise-Zajac-Rolston
Kovalchuk-Zubrus-Langenbrunner
Pandolfo-Niedermayer-Zharkov
Leblond-McAmmond-Peters

Greene-Salvador
Mottau-White
Fraser-Salmela

Toronto:
Ponikarovsky-Bozak-Kessel
Mitchell-Hanson-Stempniak
Sjostrom-Wallin-Kulemin
Rosehill-Primeau-Orr

Phaneuf-Beauchemin
Kaberle-Exelby
Schenn-Gunarsson

Merry X-Mas Devils Fans

The hockey world was stunned last night when the Atlanta Thrashers traded superstar sniper Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils for rookie Niclas Bergfors, defenseman Johnny Oduya, prospect Patrice Cormier & NJ’s first round pick in the 2010 NHL draft.

The deal immediately reminded me of one that GM Lou Lamoriello pulled off almost ten years to the day when he swapped Denis Pederson & a young Brendan Morrison to Vancouver for another Russian sniper — Alexander Mogilny — on March 14, 2000.

The Mogilny deal was very successful as the Devils made two consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, beating Dallas in 2000 and losing to Colorado in 2001. Can this deal work the same magic? Given the fact that the Lamoriello didn’t have to gut the team to acquire Kovalchuk and the fact that he can still make another move or two before the trading deadline, I would say this puts New Jersey as strong contender to represent the East in the Finals (along with Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Washington).

Besides the question of is Lamoriello done dealing, another big question will be is Kovalchuk a rental? The 26-year-old turned down an offer of over $100 million over 10 years  from Atlanta, but would he take less to stay with an established Cup-contending team? Time will tell, but I’m glad that Kovalchuk is on our side now.

Trade Talk [02.03.10]

There’s one month ’til the NHL’s trading deadline and the action should be heating up as we inch closer to the league-wide roster freeze for the Winter Olympics. Already Toronto made separate deals with Anaheim & Calgary, and the Flames completed a four-player deal with the NY Rangers. Not that anyone is keeping score, but — I called Jean-Sebastien Giguere going from the Ducks to the Maple Leafs over the summer; anyways here is a few things that I think we could see transpire between today and March 3:

Last week Atlanta GM Don Waddell took in the Kings-Devils game in New Jersey and was spotted conversing with LA’s GM Dean Lombardi; would a package of Alexander Frolov, Jack Johnson & and a no. 1 pick be enough to lure All-Star sniper Ilya Kovalchuk away from Waddell’s Thrashers?

The NY Islanders placed Brendan Witt on waivers and sent Martin Biron down to the AHL for some conditioning; we could see Witt resurface with one of his old squads — the Washington Capitals — if the Isles try to bring him back through re-entry waivers. As for Biron, none of the teams in serious contention for a playoff berth is in desperate need of net help (at the moment), so i believe GM Garth Snow will wait until the deadline to see what type of value the hard-luck goaltender could bring back.

Rumors have suggested the NJ Devils are looking to add a center and/or defenseman before the deadline, with Anaheim’s Saku Koivu and Toronto’s Tomas Kaberle as possible targets. Perhaps a deal for Koivu would include a package of Jay Pandolfo & Niclas Bergfors or Bergfors and defenseman Mike Mottau. I thought Matt Stajan could have been the center that GM Lou Lamoriello was looking at, but that ended when the Leafs traded him to the Flames in a massive seven-player trade. With Kaberle, I don’t see a deal on the horizon, mainly because he has a no-trade clause in his contract and I can’t see him waiving it to come to New Jersey.

In Boston, enigmatic winger Michael Ryder is supposedly on the trading block and I think Long Island would be a perfect destination — the Isles need another goal-scoring winger and maybe they can acquire him for a minor leaguer or two.