Parise Shines against Stars on Niedermayer Night

Devils 6           Dallas 3

Over the course of his career with the New Jersey Devils (1991-2004), Scott Niedermayer had many memorable moments — most notably his end-to-end rush and subsequent goal in Game 2 of the Finals against Detroit in 1995 and his goal in Game 6 of the 2000 Finals against Dallas — but Friday night at Prudential Center was filled with a collection of memories that Devils fans will never forget. His number 27 was immortalized as the team retired his number to the rafters alongside Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko, his speech was humble, low-key and classy (typical Niedermayer) and his former employers exploded for six goals in a 6-3 win over the Dallas Stars.

Zach Parise continued to show why he is the team captain, leading by example with hard-work and relentlessness that resulted in a four-point night (1g-3a); he was one of six different goal scorers on the night — a show of just how balanced the Devils’ attack can be when all cylinders are clicking. “When your captain is the hardest working guy out there, night in, night out, everybody has to follow,” said Johan Hedberg afterwards.

The game also marked the return of Travis Zajac to the lineup, after he missed the first 30 games recovering from achilles surgery over the summer. “Physically I felt great,” said a pleased Zajac in the locker room. “I was a little tentative in the first period and that’s just due to coming back from an injury. As the game went on I felt better, getting hit, knocked down and engaged in some battles I felt more and more confident. It’s nice to come back and get a win like this.”

Dallas scored first on Niedermayer night, silencing the sellout crowd briefly, but New Jersey had answers all night, responding with their own goal every time the Stars scored. David Clarkson, Adam Henrique, Petr Sykora, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias all potted goals for the Devils who won their third game in a row, and fifth in their last six games. Even enforcer Cam Janssen got on the score sheet with the primary assist on Sykora’s late second period, game-winning goal; it was Janssen’s first point of the season in 24 games played. “When you have a full house, you want to put on a good show,” said Parise. “Tonight I thought we did that. We had a little bit of a slow start, giving them the first goal, but overall we played pretty well.”

With Elias’ goal — the sixth of the night for New Jersey– he now has 346 career goals (all in 992 games as a Devil), one short of tying John MacLean’s franchise record. Rookie blueliner Adam Larsson (hopefully about to embark on a similar career to Niedermayer’s) had two assists in the romp and his fellow defenseman Bryce Salvador was a plus-4 on the night, while leading the team in ice-time with 26:20.

In goal it wasn’t Martin Brodeur (the next Devils number to be retired) for New Jersey, it was Hedberg and despite the unusually later start time for the game the Moose was still sharp with 33 saves in his team-leading tenth win of the season; Brodeur will start Saturday night against his hometown Canadiens. “We wanted to send the fans home with an even happier feeling than during the ceremonies,” said Hedberg, “and we did.”

Niedermayer wasn’t just a great hockey player, but he was also a great person and in sports that gets overlooked far too often. He made it a point to thank the people behind the scenes — trainers, equipment men, public relations staff and family — all who played a big part in allowing him to be as successful as he was. Despite the fact he left New Jersey for Anaheimin 2006 to play alongside his brother, and despite the fact that the Devils gave out the number 27 to other players (Mike Mottau? Really?) after he left, he will ALWAYS be # 27 to Devils fans and every fan who ever comes to a game at the Prudential Center will see that when they look up to the rafters and see his # 27 next to # 4 and # 3.

Game Notes: Zajac had 24 shifts in his first game of the season, logging 15:22 of ice-time, one hit, three shots on goal and he won eight of the 17 face-offs he took. Parise led all players with six shots on goal, while Brenden Morrow and Sheldon Souray led Dallas with five apiece; Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski led all skaters in ice-time with 26:45. Rookie goaltender Richard Bachman started forDallas and made 25 saves, losing for the first time in five appearances (3-1-0). The four-point effort by Parise was the seventh time he achieved that mark in his career and he now has a goal in each of the last three games. New Jersey (17-13-1) next plays at Montreal (13-11-7) on Saturday night and Dallas (18-12-1) is back on the ice on Monday when they return home to host Anaheim (9-16-5).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Scott Niedermayer (NJ) —  4 Stanley Cups, 740 points (172 goals, 568 assists) 98 playoff points (25 goals, 73 assists), 2004 Norris Trophy, 2007 Conn Smythe Trophy

#2 – Zach Parise (NJ) – goal (11), 3 assists (16)

#3 – Petr Sykora (NJ) – gw goal (7), assist (9)

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

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Off the Ice with…Martin Biron

Recently I was able to screen New York Rangers goaltender Martin Biron long enough to ask him a few questions about the life of an NHL goalie, as well as his favorite movie, TV shows and what he brings with him on road trips. Biron is a 33-year-old from Lac St. Charles, Quebec, who was originally drafted by Buffalo in the first round (16th overall) in 1995. Over his 13 NHL seasons his record is 212-178-49 in 469 games, with 26 shutouts, a 2.63 GAA and a .910 save pct. He is considered one of the ‘good guys’ of the NHL, always a good interview and trust me — he has never met a microphone he didn’t like. His best season to date was probably in 2001-02 when he won 31 of the 72 games he appeared in for the Sabres and posted a stellar 2.22 GAA.

Biron finally made the Sabres roster as a regular during the 1999-2000 season, as the backup to future Hall-of-Famer Dominik Hasek and finished the year with a 19-18-2 record and five shutouts. In total he played parts of nine seasons in Buffalo, but never really had a hold on the number one goalie job. After finally taking over when Hasek left to play in Detroit, Biron broke his thumb and the Sabres called up Ryan Miller, who is still the starting netminder in Buffalo’s crease today (see: 2010 Vezina Trophy, 2010 Silver Medal for Team USA). During the 2006-07 season, Biron was dealt to Philadelphia and the following season he helped lead the Flyers to the East Finals before losing against Pittsburgh. He stayed in the Philly for a total of two and a half seasons and in 2009-10 he served as Dwayne Roloson’s backup with the New York Islanders, but he had only signed a one-year contract there. This past summer, he inked a two-year deal with the Rangers, to give All-Star Henrik Lundqvist (who has been overplayed) some more games off.

So far this season he has done exactly what the Rangers have asked of him — in seven games he is 4-2-0 with a save percentage of .907 and a 2.33 GAA. So just who is Martin Biron off the ice? Read on:

Dan Rice: What do you remember about your first win in the NHL?

Martin Biron: “Oh, I remember I got called up from Rochester (AHL) to play against Dallas at home, in Buffalo; I was having a pretty good year in Rochester, (my second year there). A bunch of my buddies from Pee-Wee hockey and Bantam hockey from Quebec City decided to drive up, so they were at the game. I remember Rob Ray made a joke, a funny comment before the game, between warm-ups and the start of the game, he said: ‘Don’t worry Marty, if it doesn’t go well, you’ll get over it; we all do.’ It was a subtle comment, but relaxed me before I had to play against the defending champion Dallas Stars. I played a solid game, we won 2-1; it was one of those days where I don’t remember what happened in the game. It was so crazy and I’ve played so many games between now and then, but I remember little things like that. At the end of the game — the excitement of having your first NHL win was incredible. Then we had a huge snowstorm, so the next day we got snowed in and didn’t have practice; so I got to sleep in and enjoy the first win a little bit more! A couple of days later we played Philadelphia and tied 1-1, so I had a really good week my first week in the NHL.”

DR: Do you have the puck from that first win?

MB: “I do. It’s at my parents’ place right now on a plaque in the basement. I’ve got a picture that my sister-in-law got me in a frame, and it’s engraved: first NHL win, Dallas 1, Buffalo 2 with the date. It’s kind of funny because I have my arms up and I’m on one leg celebrating the win (smiles).”

DR: What are your memories from the day you were drafted?

MB: “It was so exciting. It was in Edmonton in 1995, there was a lot of excitement in not knowing where you were going to be drafted. Was I going to go in the first round or not? I had talked to a lot of teams, but funny enough I hadn’t talked to Buffalo at all. Four picks before Buffalo was to pick made a trade — they traded (Alexander) Mogilny to Vancouver and in exchange they got (Mike) Peca and an extra first round pick. They picked Jay McKee with that pick and then about three picks later it was their time again and I was sitting there and saw the NHL people coming over to my section, cameras starting to get ready; I kind of had an idea that they may take me with that second, first round pick. I heard my name and when I went on stage I remember posing with the team’s personnel, just standing there and one of the guys said to me ‘You can wave to the crowd.’ I kind of just waved my hand and was shy, didn’t know what to do really. It was a very fun day — my whole family was there, it was a lot of excitement.”

DR: Do you have a best friend in the NHL?

MB: “Yeah, me being a goalie it’s kind of funny because a lot of guys are usually good friends with their D-partner or their linemate; for me as a goalie, you play with so many guys and you get to be good friends with your goaltending partner. Over the years I’ve gotten to be really good friends with JP Dumont, in Buffalo we were roommates together. I am really, really good friends with Danny Briere, we were roommates together in Buffalo after JP left for Nashville and then we played together in Philly for a couple of years. Some of the guys I have played with I stay close with in the summer like Jay McKee, Michael Peca — those are guys that in the summertime in Buffalo we do the family thing, going out together and always keep in touch; text or talk once in a while during the year. Those are probably the closest group of friends I have around the league right now.

DR: Do you have a favorite sport other than hockey?

MB: “I do, I’m a big golf fan; I like to play, but I don’t play as much as I used to. My little guy is six now and he wants to play, so it’s fun. We go to the range and go to the course a little bit. I love baseball; I’ve always been a big fan of the game. I loved it growing up; I still play slo-pitch during the summer. That’s so much fun during a nice summer day. I’d say those are my two top sports outside of hockey.”

DR: What’s your favorite movie?

MB: “Movies kind of change, they come and go. It depends on what kind of mood you catch me in. One of my favorite movies would be The Negotiator with Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Every time that movie is on I get drawn to it, I like the excitement of it and the mental aspect of it; I think it’s a really well done movie. It’s one of those you pop into the DVD player once in a while just to watch it again.”

DR: What’s your favorite TV show?

MB: “I love The Office, my wife and I watch it all the time. Now she’s gotten me into Modern Family, that show is so funny; definitely one of my favorites. Another one that I like is Entourage, I got to meet the guy that plays E (Kevin Connolly) being in Long Island last year and he’s a huge Islanders’ fan. It’s kind of fun when you get to meet somebody and see them on the TV. Those are my favorite TV shows right now.”

DR: Typically, what do you bring on a road trip?

MB: “Typically I bring my iPad, my Kindle and I will bring a change of clothes depending on how long the trip is. My iPhone, my iPad, my Kindle are usually the things that I bring with me everywhere. I never liked to read much, and my wife got me a Kindle a few years back and now I’ve read so many books on that thing. I don’t know, I’m just a gadgety kind of guy, so I think that thing is kind of cool. I always have that with me and I always carry my Bible with me, we are a Christian family and with the kids; it’s always something I like to go back to. Those are the things that always stay in my bag and the rest of the things, they change around depending where we go and how long I am gone for.”

I hope everyone enjoyed learning about Martin Biron and if there is a player you’d like to read about in a future column or have a question you’d like to see a player asked, let me know:

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

Eriksson & Stars Spoil Opener, Beat Devils in OT

Dallas 4          Devils 3   — overtime

The New Jersey Devils lost their season and home opener on Friday night, falling 4-3 in overtime to the Dallas Stars. Loui Eriksson was the hero for Dallas (who rallied from a two-goal deficit) with two goals – including the game-winner in overtime that sent the sold-out crowd at the Prudential Center home unhappy. “It was fun game to play in,” said Martin Brodeur who made 24 saves in defeat. “It was disappointing to not get a win for the fans because they supported us real well. It was playoff hockey out there, it’s the first game, there’s a lot of excitement building up for the opener and it was fun to be a part of it.” The Devils led 2-0 just 7:13 into the match, but Stars coach Marc Crawford used his timeout to settle his team down and the move paid off.

New Jersey’s new top line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise started the new season with a bang scoring the first two goals of what is expected to be a successful campaign for the trio. Zajac and the 100-million dollar man (Kovalchuk) worked a nifty give-and-go before Zajac’s soft shot slid under Stars’ netminder Kari Lehtonen’s pads for a 1-0 Devils lead 2:45 into the first period. “We came up the ice on a 3-on-2 and Kovy made a good pass to me in the middle,” explained Zajac. “I kind of fanned on the shot or it got tipped or something and I got lucky and the puck got through the goalie.”

Minutes later when Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric stumbled in the neutral zone, Kovalchuk and Parise had a 2-on-1 and quickly extended the lead to 2-0. On the scoring play, Parise patiently held the puck on his stick as Trevor Daley dove to the ice to take away the passing lane. But the defenseman’s momentum carried him into the crease, essentially negating Lehtonen and allowing Parise to easily score with a wrist shot into the gaping net. “I was originally going to try and pass it back to Kovy,” said Parise, “I kind of picked my head up and saw that Lehtonen was down and out so I had some net to shoot at.”

Just over four minutes after Parise’s tally, Dallas’ captain Brenden Morrow gave his team some life when he rifled a one-timer past Brodeur after a nice pass from Mike Ribeiro. After one period both teams had fired eleven shots on goal.

Eriksson tied the game 3:02 into the second period, pouncing on a loose puck at the edge of the crease and flipping it over Brodeur’s outstretched arms along the ice. The Stars controlled most of the play during the period but fell behind when the Devils converted on what would turn out to be their only power play of the night. Jason Arnott, playing his first game in a Devils uniform since 2002, blasted a long slap shot past Lehtonen’s stick side at 10:22, to give New Jersey a 3-2 lead.

That lead was short-lived as the Stars tied the game again 1:16 later when Brad Richards flicked a shot past Brodeur for his 31st point (5g-26a) in 32 career games against the Devils, converting a pass from James Neal who was behind the cage. Dallas out-shot New Jersey 12-5 in the period. “I thought we played well in different parts of the ice,” said Brodeur. “Defensively I thought we did a good job, just little turnovers here and there that were not really necessary and they capitalized on it.”

Neither team budged in what was a fast-paced, exciting third period – featuring almost ten consecutive minutes of uninterrupted hockey; very reminiscent of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final overtimes that the two franchises collided in that spring. Despite out-shooting the Stars 13-4, the Devils were unable to muster up any more offense as the game moved into overtime.

It took only 1:36 to end the game as Eriksson scored unassisted on a 2-on-1, snapping an accurate wrist shot past Brodeur’s glove hand. “It was a tough shot, a tough play for everybody. It’s pretty rare that we practice that — a 2-on-1 from their zone — the guy had lots of time,” Brodeur said. “I think Richards was well covered and it became almost like a breakaway; he was able to pick a corner.”

The Devils did gain a point in the standings, which means the performance wasn’t a total waste. “I thought we competed really hard,” coach John MacLean said afterwards. “As I said to the guys before the game, it’s the little things that kind of make the difference and unfortunately we paid. But you know what? The work ethic was there. We had some chances, but also little mistakes were made. They’re all correctable. We’ll just keep plugging.”

Up next for New Jersey is a game in DC Saturday night against the Washington Ovechkins and then a late afternoon tilt with the Pittsburgh Crosbys on Monday at the Rock. “Hopefully it will get easier later,” Brodeur said with a chuckle. “That’s the way it goes usually. But it’s pretty rare that we start (the season) with so many games, like six games in ten days. Usually we trail teams by three games after the first week in games played, so this will be a little different look; we just have to get going quicker.”

Game Notes: With New Jersey needing to make a move by the end of the month to get under the NHL salary cap, the proverbial sharks are circling in the water as there were 12 teams represented with scouts at the game on Friday night: NY Islanders, Philadelphia, Detroit, Florida, Calgary, Nashville, Chicago, Phoenix, Colorado, Anaheim, Vancouver & Ottawa. For the Devils defensemen Alexander Urbom and Matt Taormina made their NHL debuts. Zajac has eight points (4g-4a) in seven career games versus Dallas; Arnott played in his 1,100th NHL game. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 23:27 and Stephane Robidas led the Stars with 22:42. Arnott and Benn led all players with five shots on goal each. The Stars won the face-off battle by a 24-15 margin. This game was the first time that Dallas started a season without anyone from their 1999 Stanley Cup winning team on their active 23-man roster.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Loui Eriksson (Dall) – 2 goals, gw (2)

#2 – Travis Zajac (NJ) – goal (1), assist (1)

#3 – Brad Richards (Dall) – goal (1), assist (1)

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

Devils 4 Islanders 3 … preseason (10.01.10)

Last night at Prudential Center the New Jersey Devils raced out to a 4-1 lead over the New York Islanders and held on for a 4-3 win in front of an announced crowd of 13,596. Jason Arnott and Zach Parise had a goal and an assist each for the Devils, while Travis Zajac had two assists. For New York, Matt Moulson had a strong game with two goals and captain Doug Weight looked like his old self (after off-season shoulder surgery) with two assists.

Both goalies played the entire game: Martin Brodeur made 23 saves and Dwayne Roloson made 24; Jesse Joensuu also scored for the Isles and Patrik Elias and Brian Rolston chipped in goals for New Jersey. The same two teams play again tonight at the Nassau Coliseum, finishing out the preseason schedule. The Devils open the season on October 8, hosting the Dallas Stars and the Islanders open their season on October 9, also hosting Dallas. I will post some postgame quotes from Arnott, Brodeur & Zajac later today or tomorrow.

Here are the line combos/d-pairings that started the game for both squads:

New Jersey:
Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk
Elias-Arnott-Tedenby
Rolston-Josefson-Langenbrunner
Mair-Pelley-Palmieri

Greene-Corrente
Tallinder-Urbom
White-Taormina

New York:
Joensuu-Weight-Kolanos
Moulson-Nielsen-Niederreiter
Bailey-Schremp-Rakhshani
Gillies-McAmmond-Ortmeyer

MacDonald-Hamonic
Hillen-Gervais
Jurcina-de Haan

Devils Blank Stars in 2000 Finals Rematch

Here is the link to my recap of the Devils’ 4-0 win against the Stars on Tuesday night:

Devils Blank Stars in 2000 Finals Rematch

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – 2 goals, gw (10)

#2 – Travis Zajac (NJ) – pp goal (10), assist (21)

#3 – Martin Brodeur (NJ) – 28 saves, win (27-10-1), shutout (5)

line combos/d-pairings

New Jersey:
Parise-Zajac-Langenbrunner
Elias-McAmmond-Rolston
Pandolfo-Niedermayer-Bergfors
Leblond-Pelley-Zharkov

Greene-Oduya
Mottau-White
Salvador-Fraser

Dallas:
Eriksson-B.Richards-Lehtinen
Morrow-Wandell-Benn
Neal-Ribiero-Ott
Peterson-Modano-Barch

Grossman-Robidas
Daley-Skrastins
Niskanen-Fistric