Off the Ice with Bryce Salvador

The New Jersey Devils have always been built around defense and goaltending, and after the departures of defensemen Scott Stevens (retirement), Ken Daneyko (retirement), Scott Niedermayer (free agency) and Brian Rafalski (free agency) many wondered how the team could lose so many linchpins and still stay competitive. GM Lou Lamoriello has tried to rebuild the defense and drafted a key piece in Adam Larsson at this past June’s NHL Entry Draft, but one player who could anchor the new-age Devils defense is Bryce Salvador who was acquired from St. Louis on February 26, 2008.

Salvador, a ten-year NHL veteran, missed all of last season with post-concussion syndrome but has returned in 2011-12 to solidify New Jersey’s defense corps (along with oft-injured Anton Volchenkov). The 35-year-old has played in 645 games over his career, compiling 97 points (23g-74a) and now in his fourth season with the Devils, he seems to have found a niche under new coach Pete DeBoer as he is routinely among the ice-time leaders for the team.

Recently I sat down with Salvador to talk about his career, his interests away from the game and some of his memories:

Dan Rice: I’m assuming that you have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season after what you went through last season?

Bryce Salvador: Definitely, it’s a great feeling to be back after missing the whole season, I feel fortunate to be back and playing in the NHL.

DR: Does a year off from hockey extend your playing career another year?

BS: Hopefully a few more years (smiles). My body is definitely rested after a whole year of no hockey games.

DR: What do you remember about your draft day?

BS: That I was the first guy not to be there (laughs)! It was pretty exciting just to be drafted, getting that call from Tampa Bay; it was a great feeling.

DR: What do you remember about your first goal?

BS: It was one of those plays where the puck came to me at the blueline, I believe it was against Chicago; Pierre Turgeon passed it back to me, I walked in and fired a shot that went in top shelf.

DR: Do you still have that puck?

BS: Yup. I have it at home, framed and everything.

DR: Who is your best friend in the NHL?

BS: There’s a lot of guys over the years that I’ve made pretty good acquaintances with, right now David Clarkson and I are pretty close, but I wouldn’t say one player more than another.

DR: Who is the funniest guy on the Devils?

BS: For the most part the guys are pretty quiet; (big smile) Dainius Zubrus is just funny…funny-looking maybe. He’s a pretty lively guy in our room.

DR: Is there any player in the league that you don’t look forward to playing against?

BS: Oh geez, the other teams all usually have two solid lines. But obviously guys like (Alex) Ovechkin, (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Martin) St. Louis, (Steven) Stamkos and (Rick) Nash — just to name a few. There are a lot of great players and each one poses a unique threat in their own way.

DR: What was it like playing in St. Louis?

BS: It was a great time; that organization took a chance on me, signing me as an unrestricted free agent out of juniors and gave me an opportunity. I was pretty fortunate to play the beginning of my career with Hall-of-Famer Al MacInnis for a couple of years; it was a pretty nice start to my career.

DR: Do you have a favorite TV show?

BS: Modern Family.

DR: Favorite movie?

BS: Memento.

DR: What’s on your iPod these days?

BS: Whatever my wife puts on it (laughs)!
Thanks for reading, if there is a player you would like read an interview with submit your suggestions and also questions:

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

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Who Will Be the Beast of the East?

Who Will Be the Beast of the East?

Eastern Conference predictions

Round 1:

(1) Washington over (8) NY Rangers

(7) Buffalo over (2) Philadelphia

(3) Boston over (6) Montreal

(4) Pittsburgh over (5) Tampa Bay

Round 2:

(1) Washington over (7) Buffalo

(3) Boston over (4) Pittsburgh

Round 3:

(3) Boston over (1) Washington

Washington (1)      vs.    NY Rangers (8)

Last Cup Win: Washington (never), NY Rangers (1994)

Why the Capitals will win: They aren’t intimidated by the Rangers or their goaltender whom has been known to get in some of his opponents’ heads (see: New Jersey Devils). Washington is also one of the deepest teams in the league and they will wear their undermanned first round opponent down.

Why the Rangers will win: They spanked Washington twice this season (6-0, 7-0) and when they are on their game, the Blueshirts have all of the necessary components to go toe-to-toe with any team in the league; solid goaltending, timely scoring and team defense will lead New York to the upset win over the Caps.

Washington’s most important player: Tempted to say Alex Ovechkin, but it’s Mike Green; if he is healthy and has fresh legs he could bury the Rangers (a team that has taken a penalty or two) with his power play prowess.

New York’s most important player: The soul of the Rangers is Henrik Lundqvist, if he falters, they are cooked. He’s only won two playoff series in his career, but his league-leading 11 shutouts this season tell you that he is capable of shutting down any team in the NHL.

Washington’s biggest question mark: It has to be the goaltending, despite the fact that they won the East with three goaltenders — two of them rookies. Michal Neuvirth will get the nod to begin the series, and that’s probably the right call. He won back-to-back Calder Cups for the Hershey Bears and was victorious in 27 of his 48 starts with the Caps this season.

New York’s biggest question mark: Which version of Marian Gaborik will show up in this series? Will it be the same Gaborik that had only 48 points (22 goals) in 62 games this season or will he become the two-time 40-goal scorer that the Rangers are paying for?

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Washington (Jason Arnott, Mike Knuble), New York (Chris Drury, Ruslan Fedotenko)

PREDICTION: CAPITALS IN 6 — Gaborik and Lundqvist will show up and the Rangers will put up a fight, but Ovechkin will eliminate them with a hat trick in Game 6.

Philadelphia (2)     vs. Buffalo (7)

Last Cup Win: Philadelphia (1975), Buffalo (never)

Why the Flyers will win: Since the start of last season’s playoffs Philadelphia has probably been the best team in the NHL. With the talent on this roster they should walk all over the Sabres, but only if their power play finds itself. This season they ranked 19th in the NHL out of 30 teams, with a putrid 16.6%. Offensive juggernauts that were ranked ahead of them: Buffalo, Colorado, Atlanta, Minnesota and Ottawa.

Why the Sabres will win: They have Ryan Miller and the Flyers don’t; it’s as simple as that. He has won playoff series as the favorite and the underdog in his career, and Buffalo is the hottest team in the league heading into the playoffs. If Miller is at less than 100%, then the Sabres will be in trouble.

Philadelphia’s most important player: Chris Pronger’s presence alone will make a difference in the series, but only if he’s healthy enough to be there. His absence over the final weeks of the season is the reason the Flyers crashed and stumbled out of the East’s top spot.

Buffalo’s most important player: Aside from Miller, it’s Thomas Vanek who very quietly had a solid season — 73 points (32g-41a) in 80 games. If Drew Stafford can get into one of his hot streaks it will make a big difference in the series.

Philadelphia’s biggest question mark: As always since Ron Hextall left, it’s goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky will start Game 1, but lurking behind him are somewhat proven veterans in Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher.

Buffalo’s biggest question mark: Can Tyler Myers and the Sabres’ defensive corps stop the flock of talented Flyers forwards is a good place to start; also how will smallish rookie Tyler Ennis (who had a real nice season) hold up in a seven-game series against the rugged Philadelphians?

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Philadelphia (Nick Boynton, Sean O’Donnell, Pronger, Kris Versteeg), Buffalo (Rob Niedermayer)

PREDICTION: SABRES IN 7 — Miller shines as Buffalo wins a l-e-n-g-t-h-y Game 7 in Philadelphia.

Boston (3)       vs. Montreal (6)

Last Cup Win: Boston (1972), Montreal (1993)

Why the Bruins will win: Boston’s depth is only matched by Washington in the East as far as I’m concerned, especially when your top three centers are Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Rich Peverley. The addition of Tomas Kaberle really balanced out the defense in Beantown too.

Why the Canadiens will win: If I had to pick one team in the East that would give Boston the biggest challenge, I’d say Montreal. These two teams know each other inside and out with all of their legendary battles throughout time. Also how will Boston react after blowing a three games-to-none lead in last year’s East semi-finals.

Boston’s most important player: Tim Thomas is the easy choice here, if he continues playing the way he did during the season (35-11-9, 2.00 GAA, .938 save %, 9 shutouts), the Bruins should be able to choke-out the sometimes offensively challenged Habs.

Montreal’s most important player: Where were you this season Scott Gomez? Horrible season (7g-31a, minus-15 in 80 games) from one of the veterans on the Canadiens, but during last spring’s run to the East Finals he put up 14 points in 19 games. If he can get on that type of run it would be much appreciated in Montreal.

Boston’s biggest question mark: The Bruins had a great year, but after choking away last season’s opportunity to beat the Flyers in the semis, anything less than a trip to the East Finals would be a failure. It will be interesting to see how they react if they get Montreal into an elimination game.

Montreal’s biggest question mark: Last season’s dramatic run was led by goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who is now with the St. Louis Blues. Now it’s Carey Price’s turn and judging from the season he just had (38-28-6, 8 shutouts) he could be a difference maker, not only this season but for many, many more to come.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Boston (Mark Recchi (2), Shawn Thornton), Montreal (Gomez (2), Brian Gionta, Travis Moen, Hal Gill, Brent Sopel)

PREDICTION: BRUINS IN 7 – Boston will bend, but won’t break as they hold off the Habs; Nathan Horton, playing in his first playoffs, will have a monster series.

Pittsburgh (4)                vs. Tampa Bay (5)

Last Cup Win: Pittsburgh (2009), Tampa Bay (2004)

Why the Penguins will win: They have an elite goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal will not only shut down Steven Stamkos, but he’ll also chip in a few big goals.

Why the Lightning will win: Without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, the Lightning can focus their attention on solid team defense and timely goals. Whether or not Stamkos and Simon Gagne can score multiple times will be determining factors in the series.

Pittsburgh’s most important player: It will be all of their penalty killers; they led the league killing off penalties at an 86.2% clip and if they can shut down Tampa’s powerful power play the series could be a quick one.

Tampa Bay’s most important player: If he becomes a playoff-beast once again, it will be the league’s second leading point getter Martin St. Louis (99 points). He’s a proven playoff performer (48 pts in 45 games) and if he gets hot the Pens will become postseason spectators.

Pittsburgh’s biggest question mark: If there is a small chance he can play, does Pittsburgh risk everything and put Crosby out there? If Crosby doesn’t play, who else besides Staal is going to contribute offensively?

Tampa Bay’s biggest question mark: In the 2006 playoffs, Dwayne Roloson led the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and then blew out his knee in Game 1. That was the last time he played in a playoff game, so five years later it’s hard to tell what you are going to get from the veteran netminder.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Pittsburgh (Chris Kunitz (2), Craig Adams (2), Fleury, Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Alex Kovalev, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Tyler Kennedy, Michael Rupp, Max Talbot, Eric Godard), Tampa Bay (Vincent Lecavalier, St. Louis, Pavel Kubina)

PREDICTION: PENGUINS IN 7 — The Lightning prove to be a valiant opponent but Fleury will top Roloson in a wild Game 7

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Hedberg & Devils Blank League-Leading Capitals

In game two of this season the New Jersey Devils played the Washington Capitals and got smoked in D.C. to the tune of 7-2. In game 21 on Monday night at the Prudential Center, with both teams heading in different directions, the Devils evened the score by shutting out the NHL’s most talented team in a much-needed 5-0 win. It was perhaps their most complete game of the season as four different players tallied goals and Johan Hedberg was rock solid in net to the tune of 30 saves and his first shutout as a Devil.

Jason Arnott scored twice for the winners (bumping his team-leading total to eight) and rookie Mattias Tedenby continued to impress with a penalty shot goal and the primary assist on the winning goal — scored by him and Arnott’s linemate, Patrik Elias. “He said before the game he felt good,” said Elias of the 20-year-old Swede, “he was right.”

With rookie Braden Holtby making his fifth appearance in an NHL game, Elias opened the scoring 5:49 in when it appeared he got the shaft of his stick on a crisp pass from Tedenby during a power play. He admitted to the media that the puck hit Caps’ defenseman Mike Green’s stick and hit off of his pants leg. Arnott doubled the lead at 16:15 when he carried the puck into the zone, fought off Capitals’ defenseman John Erskine and forward Brooks Laich, and then scored on a quick wraparound that had Holtby spinning in his crease.

Tedenby was pulled down by Erskine on a breakaway 1:59 later and he was able to make it 3-0 for his Devils on a penalty shot when he calmly skated in and flipped a backhand shot over the fellow rookie’s glove hand. “I don’t know if it’s good or luck,” he admitted shyly after the game before a media crowd.

Arnott added his second goal of the game 2:43 into the second period, collecting the rebound of Andy Greene’s point shot and sliding it into the net and Dainius Zubrus delivered the final blow when he flicked a rebound into the net after a well-orchestrated 3-on-2 into the Caps’ zone.

To their credit, Washington never quit, and they certainly made Hedberg work for his 15th career shutout. “It felt good,” said the Devils’ netminder. “We needed a win badly and I think the way we played we started something good.” He denied dangerous sniper Alexander Semin’s wrist shot from deep in the slot midway through the second.

The great-eight aka Alex Ovechkin challenged Hedberg 6:10 into the third period with a booming slap shot that loudly bounced off the goalie’s leg pad – right back to the ever-dangerous Ovechkin who quickly fired another shot towards the goal. But his shot rang off the goal post and bounced away, perhaps signaling that this would indeed be the Devils’ night. They’ve now won two in a row at the Rock, a small positive, but something that they can build on, as well as the 5-0 thrashing of the team with the NHL’s best record.

Game Notes: The Devils are honoring their former coach Pat Burns with memorial “PB” patches on their jerseys for the next four home games. Each of the jerseys will then be autographed by the entire team and auctioned off. Proceeds from the sale of the jerseys will be donated in Pat Burns’ memory to La Maison Aube-Lumiere, a cancer hospice in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The team also showed a brief video and held a moment of silence before the game. Elias, Arnott, Tedenby and Greene each had two points in the game; Tedenby led all players with a +3. Ovechkin and Semin led all players with five shots on goal apiece, while Elias and Arnott led New Jersey with four each. Washington defenseman John Carlson led all skaters in ice-time with 27:11, while Henrik Tallinder led New Jersey with 25:23. Ovechkin led all players with five hits, while Devils defensemen Colin White and Anton Volchenkov had a game-high three blocked shots each. New Jersey (6-13-2) is off until Wednesday when they host Calgary (8-11-1) and Washington (14-6-2) is also back in action that same night when they play at Carolina (9-9-2).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Mattias Tedenby (NJ) – goal (3), assist (2)

#2 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 30 saves, win (2), shutout (1)

#3 – Jason Arnott (NJ) – 2 goals (8)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

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-Caps Postgame Quotes [11.14.09]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after Saturday’s 5-2 Devils win over the Washington Capitals:

Dainius Zubrus:
Your thoughts on the game…
“Well the start wasn’t obviously very good, with the penalty that they (the refs) gave them and the quick goal they scored. We don’t want to give that up, but sometimes that happens. But more than anything, its how we reacted afterwards; we started skating, we were much better with the puck, winning battles — definitely for the last 40 minutes and parts of the first period as well.”

I thought you had a strong game (10-4, 71% on face-offs) and you were active when you had the puck; did you feel good out there?
“Yeah I felt good. You play against good players; our line and Travis Zajac’s line, sort of matched up against their two top lines. They’re a good team and their top guys play a lot, that’s where they get most of their goals from, so you want to be skating and play well against them. At the same time, by playing alot, you get in the game and you have to be moving and get your legs going, so I felt pretty good.”

Next game is in Philadelphia, how do you continue the winning streak?
“Well, the same way we played tonight for the last 40 minutes, when we are skating, when we are strong on the puck, winning battles, we can be successful. We’ve done that for the last nine games on the road, and some here at home too. I don’t think we’ll change much; honestly I don’t think about how many games we’ve won on the road. It’s just a big game because it’s a division rivalry and they’re doing well too, winning a lot of games. I don’t know stats-wise, but I know they aren’t too far from us in the standings.”

Jamie Langenbrunner:
What did you change after they scored the first two goals?
“Get our feet moving, we stood around and watched them for the first 10 minutes of the period and they took it to us. You watch that much skill and you don’t move your feet and you don’t battle; Jacques (Lemaire) talked about intensity and we didn’t have intensity for the first part of the game, and we got it back”

How different of a team are they without Alex Ovechkin?
“They’re still a talented team…everybody’s missing players. Obviously, he’s a big part of their team, but they’re missing four other players too; and we’re missing five. That’s part of playing in the NHL.”

Do you remember your first NHL goal?
“Yup (smirking), it was a while ago.”

How special is it to see Matt score his first NHL goal?
“He tried to play it cool and stuff, but you could tell he was excited. I think he has some people in town too, so that makes it that much more special. You couldn’t ask for a better goal, it was a good shot. Usually it’s a sloppy one, but that was a great shot.”

Nicklas Bergfors:
Coach changed the lines after the first period again, is it a big deal to you, or do you just play your game no matter what line you are on?
“We didn’t really do too much in the beginning (of the game), so I didn’t mind it; whatever is best for the team — he knows that. It (changing the lines) has worked before, it’s not the first time, so you just have to go out and play harder.”

Do you have to change your game at all, when you play with different linemates?

“I just try to play my game, try to be more simple because things didn’t work out in the beginning of the game.”

Describe the play that Matt scored on, you had a big part in it with the primary assist…

“We had a 3-on-2 and that’s something that we have practiced, the middle guy drives to the net. He got open, I gave him the puck and he made a good shot. It was a nice goal.”

Zach Parise:
How did you shut the Caps down after they scored the first two goals?

“We started to be a little better as a team and we didn’t give (Nicklas) Backstrom and (Alexander) Semin a lot of room out there, so it was a good job by our defense.”

You can set a record in Philly for longest road winning streak to start a season. Do you guys even look at that, or is it just a game in Philly?
“We don’t look at that, that’s something that you guys (the media) looks at. We don’t pay attention to that, we’re having fun, we’re playing smart, we’re playing well. We know it’s going to be a tough game, it’s never easy going into Philadelphia; they have a good team and they are playing well right now. We want to do the same things we did tonight — play good smart hockey.”

Matt Halischuk:
Walk me through your goal and how did you feel afterwards?
“It was a great play by my linemates there Timmy (Sestito) did a great job driving to the net and I got a nice pass from Nicklas, so I just tried to get it on net as quick as I could and fortunately it went in, so it was a pretty special feeling for sure.”

I know you’ve scored some big goals playing in Junior Tournaments, how big is this one?
“Oh, well this is right up there, it’s pretty special, and it feels great to contribute. It was a great team effort for the win.”

Do you have to change your game at all when Coach Lemaire changes your linemates?

“I don’t think so, I think you just have to go out there and take responsibility and play your best. We have a bunch of great players here, so it’s always nice to get to play with these guys.”

When you got sent down to Lowell earlier in the season and then got called back up, did you play any different so as to not get sent back down?
“Yeah, it’s never fun getting sent down, but you always want to play as hard as you can to get called back up. Fortunately, it was a quick turnaround (3 days) and I was able to get back up. I just try to take it game-to-game and keep going.”

2009-10 Fearless Forecast

The NHL season is almost upon us and I’ve decided to take a stab at predicting what will happen this year. So without further ado, here is what I think could happen this season:

Hart Trophy: Alex Ovechkin– Washington

Art Ross Trophy: Alex Ovechkin– Washington

Rocket Richard Trophy: Ilya Kovalchuk– Atlanta

Norris Trophy: Nicklas Lidstrom– Detroit

Vezina Trophy: Tim Thomas– Boston

Jack Adams Trophy: John Anderson– Atlanta

Calder Trophy: John Tavares– NY Islanders

Selke Trophy: Pavel Datsyuk– Detroit

Atlantic Division: Pittsburgh Penguins

Northeast Division: Boston Bruins

Southeast Division: Washington Capitals

Central Division: Detroit Red Wings

Northwest Division: Vancouver Canucks

Pacific Division: San Jose Sharks

Eastern Conference: Washington Capitals

Western Conference: San Jose Sharks

Stanley Cup: Washington Capitals

Worst team: Phoenix Coyotes

Surprise team: New York Islanders

Breakout Player: Milan Lucic– Boston

Comeback Player: Erik Johnson– St. Louis

Olympic Medals: Russia (Gold), United States (Silver), Canada (Bronze)

Dan Rice covers the New Jersey Devils & NHL for NYCSportsnetwork.com is a contributor to Maxhockey.com. He can be reached at DRdiablo321@yahoo.com.