Three More Weeks Until Hockey is Back…

A lot has happened since the last time I wrote, so I will try to cover a variety of topics here:

Congrats to the Boston Bruins who won the Stanley Cup in a Game 7 @ Vancouver. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron were off the charts in that series, and Tim Thomas’ performance was legendary. That Claude Julien guy that coaches the B’s is pretty good, it’d be nice if the Devils had a coach like that…

The Atlanta Thrashers (and their fugly uniforms) are gone and the Winnipeg Jets are back! It’s a shame they won’t be wearing the old uniforms, but a new beginning does deserve a new look and I think I like what I saw from the logo and the uniform scheme.

My sincere and deepest condolences to the families of all of the hockey players that passed away this summer. I am still trying to wrap my head around what happened in Russia with the plane crash and I still cannot erase the images of Pavol Demitra, Josef Vasicek and Alexander Vasyunov’s faces from my mind; hopefully they didn’t suffer. They will all be missed and never, ever forgotten.

So the Philadelphia Flyers brought in Ilya Bryzgalov to play goal this season, making him the 500th goalie they have employed since Martin Brodeur became a New Jersey Devil and the 1,000th netminder since they last won the Cup in 1975. They also traded their two best players — Jeff Carter and Mike Richards — in separate deals that did not bring back equal value and signed 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr. Good luck with that.

It seems certain that Sidney Crosby won’t be ready for the start of the season, but could suit up at some point in 2011-12. Concussions are a delicate issue and Crosby’s career could be derailed like Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya before him. Intentional head shots must be eliminated from the game, but certain players (ahem Criesby…) are also responsible for protecting themselves and need to stop admiring their passes.

Don’t be surprised if the New York Islanders (that’s right, I said it) make the playoffs this season. IF they can stay healthy! John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson seem primed to have big seasons and hopefully Evgeni Nabokov can add some stability to what has been a blue cross and blue shield crease the last few seasons.

The Rangers added the biggest fish in the free-agent pool in Brad Richards, but have we not learned anything over the past six seasons — the team that signs the top free agent never wins the Cup. They did make one right move this summer — naming Ryan Callahan their new captain.

The Devils had a semi-quiet offseason after selecting Adam Larsson with the 4th pick in the NHL Entry Draft. They were able to rid themselves of Colin White and Brian Rolston’s ridiculous contracts, and they were able to re-sign Andy Greene and Johan ‘Moose’ Hedberg. Both Bryce Salvador and Zach Parise have been cleared to start the season, but Travis Zajac may not be back until December after tearing his achilles tendon during an off-ice workout; Zajac’s team record consecutive games streak will end at 401. Cam Janssen is back with NJ and Petr Sykora could be too — he will be in training camp on a tryout basis. The new coach is Peter DeBoer who was fired from the Florida Panthers, the same DeBoer who helped the Cats reach 94 points a few years back — a remarkable feat in itself with the roster he was given. I predict Mattias Tedenby will net at least 20 goals this season and Jacob Josefson will have 30 assists as they help lead the Devs back to the playoffs after last season’s hiccup.

Boston begins defense of it’s Championship on opening night (October 6); the Rangers open in Sweden against the LA Kings the following day (October 7); the Islanders (vs. Florida) and Devils (vs. Philly) both begin their seasons on Saturday October 8; and the new Winnipeg/old Atlanta team makes it’s debut on Sunday October 9 vs. Montreal.

Kovalchuk Hits 30 as Devils Top Toronto

Devils 4 Toronto 2

One hundred million dollars can buy you a lot of things; the New Jersey Devils chose to invest their $100 million into Ilya Kovalchuk, one of the NHL’s most lethal goal scorers. In his first full season with the Devils Kovalchuk has disappointed, amazed, awed and disappeared (in that order), but he reached a number of milestones in his team’s 4-2 win over the also-eliminated Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on Wednesday night.

Playing in his 700th NHL game, Kovalchuk scored his 30th goal of the season, giving the Devils a 1-0 lead 13:47 into the game, assuring that he wouldn’t match his career-low in goals for a season; he scored 29 in his rookie season with Atlanta in 2001-02. In the second period he had the primary assist on Mattias Tedenby’s goal at 14:29 (making it 2-0) for the 700th point of his nine-year career.

At 15:34 of the second period, 65 seconds after Tedenby’s tally, New Jersey defenseman Henrik Tallinder made it 3-0 with a blast past Leafs’ goalie James Reimer from the slot. Reimer, who has been splendid for Toronto in his rookie season, had no help really from his teammates through the first two periods was mercifully pulled by coach Ron Wilson to start the third period and the move seemed to spark his sluggish club.

Phil Kessel got the Leafs on the board with his 31st of the season at 6:18 on a power play, whipping a one-timer past Martin Brodeur after collecting a nice centering pass from Joffrey Lupul. Jean-Sebastien Giguere made eleven saves in total during the period for Toronto and Tyler Bozak cut the lead to 3-2 when he scored a 3-on-5 shorthanded goal at 12:42. Devils’ center Travis Zajac kind of won the face-off on the play, but both Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston were unable to corral the puck as Bozak raced past Rolston and roared in on Brodeur. Bozak scored on his backhand, slipping the puck between Brodeur’s stick and right leg pad. “I kind of gave that guy the puck,” admitted Zajac. “It was a bad play by me there; other than that we played pretty good.”

New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire called a timeout and eventually his team settled down for the final 7:18, limiting the Leafs to only seven shots on goal for the whole period and 24 for the game. “I thought we played well (after the shorthanded goal,” said Lemaire. “The guys came back to their game; tried to put pressure on them. We skated, we moved the puck, I thought we did very well.” Patrik Elias scored into an empty net with 9.7 seconds left, giving him 20 goals for the ninth time in his 13 seasons with the Devils.

“It’s been a rough season this year,” said Brodeur after the win, “hopefully we’ll have a great season next year.” Lemaire knows he couldn’t have asked for more down the stretch from his star netminder. “He’s been really good lately; really good. He’s had at least two great months.”

Game Notes: Kessel’s goal extended his point streak to nine games (3g-7a); Elias has a five-game point streak (4g-4a). Devils forward Dainius Zubrus left after a collision along the boards in the first period and did not return. “My head’s okay, I really think I’ll be fine,” said Zubrus in the locker room after the game. “We’ll check it out a little more tomorrow, but everything’s coming back right now so I’ll be okay.” Zach Parise sat out his second straight game after returning from knee surgery on Saturday; the Devils offered no update on his condition or why he was out of the lineup. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 28:42; Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf led his squad with 26:27. Kovalchuk led all players with six shots on goal, while Kessel led the Leafs with five; Tallinder was the only player that was +2.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – goal (30), assist (28)

#2 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – goal (20), assist (41)

#3 – Mattias Tedenby (NJ) – goal (8)

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

Habs Feel Right at Home as They Eliminate Devils

Montreal 3             Devils 1

From the time the game started, check that — walking to and into the arena I could sense this wasn’t going to be a good night for the New Jersey Devils. I had to navigate my way through multiple busloads of partying Montreal Canadiens fans to get to the arena entrance; and the party didn’t stop there. “It’s impressive; that’s all I can say,” said Devils goalie and Montreal-native Martin Brodeur. “It’s better than the Rangers when they come in here. I know the Canadiens’ fans are die-hard, but to show up in the numbers that they did and how much noise they made, it was weird. I knew there were a lot of people coming, but not half the crowd.”

Figuring about seven buses, forty people to a bus, about 280 fans maybe, but in the arena it looked — and sounded like — 12,080 of the sellout crowd were rooting for the Canadiens, something that has become the norm on the road for current Canadien and former Devil Scott Gomez. “It seems like everywhere we go on the road there is a huge Canadien-following, and yeah they’re passionate; but it’s nothing new to us. They’re everywhere we go, it’s unbelievable.”

The result was a 3-1 Canadiens victory, officially eliminating the Devils from the playoffs for the first time since 1996. Ex-Devil and current captain of Montreal Brian Gionta had a strong game with two primary assists on Mathieu Darche’s two goals which were sandwiched around PK Subban’s power play marker early in the third period. “They’re a team that’s known to lock down the middle of the ice,” said Gionta talking about both of Darche’s goals. “There are not many plays there, so you have to drive them wide; Matt did a good job of getting his stick on the puck as I drove them wide.”

Despite being out-shot 23-12 heading into the third period, New Jersey only trailed 1-0 thanks to their best player, Brodeur, who made several big saves that gave his squad a faint pulse. “Can you ask Marty to be better than how he was tonight?” asked Devils coach Jacques Lemaire afterwards. “He had nobody in front of him. Sorry, but that’s what it was. Mistakes after mistakes; just a bad game.”

Perhaps the best news of the night for Devils fans was that Zach Parise played for the first time since October 30, missing 65 games with surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. But even the always-energetic Parise couldn’t save New Jersey from elimination on this night. “He looked like a guy that didn’t play for a year,” said Lemaire. “It’s going to take a little time, and he didn’t get any help either. It’s not because he didn’t try. For his first time, he was fine.” Parise played 21 shifts for a total of 16:05 and had two shots on goal.

Montreal’s Carey Price was lined up for his ninth shutout of the season until Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 29th goal of the season with Brodeur on the bench during a delayed penalty. “He’s at that level now where it’s just expected,” said Gomez of the 23-year-old Price. “That’s one area we don’t have to worry about. He’s up there now with the Brodeurs and the other guys; it shouldn’t be too shocking because he’s the best goalie in the world right now. We know he’s going to come up with the big saves, he’s done it all year (for us).”

Game Notes: Devils rookie Mattias Tedenby had an unsuccessful penalty shot attempt 4:48 into the game but after beating Price his shot hit the goal post and stayed out of the net. “He actually got roasted on that penalty shot,” said a smiling and laughing Gomez loud enough for his buddy Price to hear it. Gionta’s first assist was the 400th point of his career. Devils defenseman Andy Greene led all skaters in ice-time with 29:02, and was a game-worst minus-2; James Wisniewski led the Habs with 24:24. Mike Cammalleri led all players with seven shots on goal; no one from New Jersey had more than two shots on goal, Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus were the only two players on the team to not record a shot on goal.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Mathieu Darche (Mtl) – 2 goals (12)

#2 – Brian Gionta (Mtl) – 2 assists (17)

#3 – Martin Brodeur (NJ) – 26 saves, loss (25)

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

Hedberg, Devils Keep Rolling

Earlier in the season the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders were in a battle to see who had the worst record in the NHL. Now they are two of the hottest teams in the league, and the Devils continued to rise from the dead on Wednesday night with their fifth straight win, topping the Carolina Hurricanes for the second time in eight days. New Jersey is now 12 points behind the eighth place ‘Canes with 25 games remaining.

Johan Hedberg made 25 saves as New Jersey raced out to a 3-0 lead and then held on for a 3-2 win. Ilya Kovalchuk continued his torrid second half pace, netting his 20th goal of the season to get the scoring started in the second period. After a scoreless opening twenty minutes, it was Kovalchuk (20 goals for the ninth consecutive season) who beat Cam Ward with a dazzling shot at 5:41, giving his team a lead they would never relinquish.

In the early stages of the third period Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias scored goals 1:25 apart, leaving Carolina dazed, confused and in a 3-0 hole. Both goals came during 4-on-4 play as the Devils exposed the ‘Canes with the extra space on the ice. First Rolston converted Elias’ rebound for his ninth goal of the year at :34 and then Elias buried a backhand shot past Ward after taking a cross-ice feed from Rolston.

Hedberg lost his bid for his second shutout of the year when Sergei Samsonov scored at 8:17 and Tuomo Ruutu finished the scoring with 2.8 seconds remaining, making the game seem closer than it actually was. Next up for the Devils are the floundering New York Rangers on Friday night at Prudential Center, before a rematch with the Hurricanes in Carolina on Saturday night.

Dan’s 3 Stars of the Game:
#1 — Johan Hedberg (NJ) — 25 saves, win (10): The Moose was solid again, now has .500 record
#2 — Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) — goal (20): Kovy continues his torrid pace, money well spent
#3 — Patrik Elias (NJ) — gw goal (14), assist (29): NJ’s leading scorer continues to lead.

Kovalchuk Comes Up Clutch Again as Devils Nip Sharks

Two of the NHL’s hottest teams squared off on Friday night at the Rock as the San Jose Sharks visited the New Jersey Devils. The unstoppable force met the immovable object — San Jose is 9-0-1 in their last ten games, New Jersey is 5-0-1 over their last six contests. For the second night in a row the Devils won a game by a score of 2-1, and for the second night in a row Ilya Kovalchuk had the game-winning goal.

The game remained scorelees through two periods due to stellar and sharp netminding by the Devils’ Johan Hedberg and the Sharks’ Antti Niemi. Finally 6:08 into the third period Hedberg blinked first, surrendering Patrick Marleau’s 21st goal of the season on the 27th shot he faced in the game. Just over three minutes later Brian Rolston tied the game on a one-timer during a 4-on-3 power play, after a nice set-up pass by Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk gave his team it’s first lead of the night with 3:59 left, firing a shot through Niemi’s arm/body after a face-off win by Travis Zajac; he now has 12 points (6g-6a) over his last nine games. The win moves the Devils only 11 points behind the 8th place Carolina Hurricanes. Kovalchuk’s goal was his sixth game-winner of the season and he now has points in seven consecutive games.

Dan’s 3 Stars of the Game:
#1 — Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) — gw goal (19), assist (19): King Kovy strikes again.
#2 — Johan Hedberg (NJ) — 31 saves, win (9): The Moose has another solid performance.
#3 — Travis Zajac (NJ) — assist (24),  11 face-off wins: Who needs Zach Parise right Travis?

 

Devils Climb Out of the Cellar

In their 1st three games against the NY Rangers this season (all L’s), the Devils scored a total of two goals. On Thursday night with 4:56 left in the second period, New Jersey had three goals on the board at MSG and had sent their nemesis Henrik Lundqvist to a rare early shower.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 15th 1:04 into the match on a Kovalchukian shot that beat the Blueshirt netminder over his left shoulder; it wad the kind of shot that fans have been expecting since the Russian sniper was acquired by the Devils last February.

The 1-0 lead held up until 8:01 of the second period when Dainius Zubrus continued his recent hot play and beat Lundqvist with a hard shot that was assisted over the line by New York defenseman Dan Girardi. Seven minutes later Brian Rolston one-timed a shot from just inside the blue line over Lundqvist’s blocker side. Patrik Elias set up Rolston on the play, extending both of their point-streaks to a season-high seven games.

Just over a minute later Ryan Callahan scored for the Rangers, and Vinny Prospal (playing in his 1st game of the season) cut the Devils’ lead to one during a 5-on-3 early in the third period, but that would be as close as they would get. Martin Brodeur was sharp again for NJ and finished with 25 saves as his team climbed out of the NHL basement for the first time since three days before Christmas.

Talk of making the playoffs may still be a bit premature — they are still 18 points behind 8th place Atlanta, but they are trending in the right direction.

Dan’s 3 Stars of the Game:
#1 — Dainius Zubrus (NJ) — goal (9), assist (11)
#2 — Brian Rolston (NJ) — gw goal (7)
#3 — Martin Brodeur (NJ) — 25 saves, win (12)

Hedberg Stands Tall as Devils Outlast Flyers

Devils 2 Philadelphia 1 — shootout

Despite losing to the New York Islanders 2-0 at the Nassau Coliseum on Black Friday (snapping their modest two-game winning streak) the New Jersey Devils were able to rebound and beat the division-leading Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 2-1 in a shootout 24 hours later at Prudential Center. The Devils have now won four in a row at home and the last three of those can directly be attributed to the play in goal by Johan Hedberg who has surrendered only two goals in the three games, stopping 83 of the 85 shots he has faced. “He’s been incredible. It seems like he’s a goalie that the more shots he gets, the better he is,” said New Jersey’s Travis Zajac. “Today, they got a lucky one on him, other than that he’s been making key saves for us in key situations of games.”

Just 1:52 into the game the Flyers found themselves shorthanded for four minutes when Scott Hartnell smacked Brian Rolston in the head with his stick. Although the Devils didn’t score on the power play they gained some early territorial momentum and had seven shots on goal before Philly had registered its first of the day. Adam Mair scored his first goal of the season at 11:49, snapping a wrist shot past Flyers goalie Brian Boucher’s stick hand to give New Jersey the early 1-0 lead. “It feels great; I’ve had some chances,” said Mair afterwards. “As a hockey player, you always like to score; you always like to help contribute offensively.”

Philadelphia out-shot the Devils 41-18 for the game after the first eight minutes but they were never able to solve Hedberg until Daniel Briere scored the tying goal from behind the goal line 8:38 into the third period, his 12th of the season. “He just shot it at me,” said Hedberg. “I think he shot it from the side of the net, it bounced up and hit my thigh and went in. It’s just one of those things.”

After a scoreless overtime, the game went to a shootout where the first two shooters on each team were turned aside without a goal — Ilya Kovalchuk and Mattias Tedenby for New Jersey, Claude Giroux and Briere for Philly. Nikolay Zherdev beat Hedberg through his five-hole, putting pressure on Jason Arnott to keep the game alive for his fellow Devils. “I just had it in my head what I was going to do all along and it helps when you have it in your head what you are going to do,” confessed Arnott. “I knew Boucher was going down a little bit early, and I wanted to go (top) shelf; I wanted to make sure I got it off quick and hard…and it went in.”

Flyers’ captain Mike Richards rang a wrist shot off the post in round 4 before Zajac clinched the win with his sharp wrist shot that went by Boucher so fast it hit the back of the twine and popped right back out past the Flyers netminder. “I said to myself if I got a chance I would just fake a shot, and then try to go upstairs,” said Zajac. “To be able to come back today (after Friday’s loss) and get the two points against a very good hockey team, that was important for us.”

Game Notes: Devils winger Patrik Elias missed the game because his wife Petra was giving birth to their first child, Sophia Gabriella. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 26:31, while Matt Carle led Philadelphia with 25:40. Jeff Carter, who assisted on Briere’s goal, led all players with nine shots on goal; Kovalchuk led New Jersey with eight. Flyers d-man Kimmo Timonen led all players with four blocked shots. New Jersey (8-14-2) is off until Thursday when they host Montreal (15-8-1) and Philadelphia (15-6-4) is back in action on Wednesday when they host Boston (12-7-2).

 

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 40 saves, win (4)

#2 – Travis Zajac (NJ) – g/w shootout goal

#3 – Daniel Briere (Phil) – pp goal (12)

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