Kings Send Jack Johnson to Columbus for Jeff Carter

With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching (Monday, February 27) the LA Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets pulled off the first significant trade — unless you consider New Jersey’s acquisition of Alexei Ponikarovsky: 10 points (4g-6a) in 13 games. Columbus acquired 25-year-old defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional 1st round pick from Los Angeles for former 40-goal scorer Jeff Carter. Current King Mike Richards and Carter were traded exactly eight months ago from Philadelphia and will now reunite in Hollywood hoping to save the goal-starved Kings season.

Carter, 27, has struggled this season in Columbus (who hasn’t), but the previous three seasons he netted 46, 33 and 36 goals; once you score 40 goals in a season in this league, you are always expected to reach that plateau and are held to high expectations — making Carter’s 15 goals this season an aberration.

Johnson is a steady two-way defenseman that should help the Jackets improve on the back end, and I always believe a team should build its foundation from the goaltender out. With linchpins Fedor Tyutin and James Wisniewski already on the blueline in Ohio, Johnson will help solidify that group and also possibly provide some help for floundering goalie Steve Mason (who may also be traded by Monday).

So who’s next to be traded….Rick Nash? Derek Roy? Ales Hemsky? Luke Schenn? Someone unexpected perhaps?

Expect Detroit to make a move, seeing as they have a nice chunk of space to reach the salary cap thanks to Brian Rafalski’s retirement. Los Angeles could still make another move, or two, possibly shipping goalie Jonathan Bernier to a team where he can be a no. 1 starter.

What will Washington do as they sit on the outside of the playoff picture after entering the season as a favorite to win the Stanley Cup? Will the NY Rangers be tempted to add an impact player such as Nash despite their success and risk messing with the chemistry of mostly homegrown players on their roster?

By 3pm Monday afternoon, we will know which teams improved and which teams are giving up hope on winning the 2012 Stanley Cup.

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Devils Thankful for Brodeur after Topping Columbus in OT

Devils 2           Columbus 1    — shootout

Over his 17-year NHL career, Martin Brodeur has given the New Jersey Devils franchise and its fans a lot of reasons to be thankful — three Stanley Cups, the most wins and shutouts in NHL history would be a good place to start. But on Wednesday night at Prudential Center, everyone was thankful that Brodeur was in net, stopping 35 of 36 Columbus Blue Jackets’ shots — and then two more in the shootout — as New Jersey rebounded from a tough loss in Florida on Monday night and skated to a 2-1 victory on Thanksgiving eve.

After a scoreless first period, Brodeur would make one of his biggest saves in the game when he stared down two Blue Jackets coming at him with no defenders of his to slow them down. On the play Vinny Prospal attempted to hit Rick Nash with a backhand pass across the mouth of the crease, but Brodeur alertly poked the puck away with his goal stick to avert what seemed to be a sure goal.

About forty-one seconds later Dainius Zubrus gave the Devils a 1-0 lead when he collected a loose rebound in the slot and swatted it past Jackets’ goalie Curtis Sanford for his seventh goal of the season. “Our defenseman got a shot on the net and Zubie was in the right spot and he got that second chance,” said Patrik Elias who now has 20 points in 20 games. “He’s been in those right spots lately.”

The score remained the same until Jared Boll tied it 6:01 into the third when Marc Methot’s long shot deflected off his skate and past Brodeur.Columbus seemed determined to score in the third period as they out-shot New Jersey 17-3 over the final twenty minutes, but other than Boll’s goal they were unable to solve Brodeur.

The Devils gave the Blue Jackets six power plays throughout the game and were able to kill them all off, something that has become the norm at home –New Jerseyhas yet to surrender a power play goal at the Rock this season (36-for-36) and ranks first in the NHL on the penalty kill (94%). “Some nights it’s all about luck,” said Elias of his team’s PK, “the puck is bouncing around there and they had a couple of great opportunities. Marty makes the save or it gets blocked; sometimes it’s not about X’s and O’s, you have to get lucky.”

After a scoreless overtime, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise each scored on their shootout attempts, while Brodeur denied Nash and Mark Letestu — improving the Devils’ record to 5-1 in the tie-breaker. “It’s nice going second (in the shootout),” said Parise. “I can watch a little bit, I was able to watch when Kovy came in and watch the replay to see what their goalie was doing.”

The Devils captain was also very thankful that Brodeur was backstopping the team on this night as the team continues to pile up points early in the season. “He played very well, made great saves when we needed him to; we kind of got the play taken to us at certain points of this game,” explained Parise. “He’s a big reason why we got to overtime and the shootout.”

Game Notes: Adam Larsson assisted on Zubrus’ goal, giving him an assist in three consecutive games; Elias had the other assist and now has points in four straight games. Kovalchuk is 4-for-4 this season in shootouts; Columbus has never won a game in New Jersey (0-3-1). Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski led all skaters in ice-time with 28:56 while Kovalchuk led the Devils with 23:17. Parise led all players with seven shots on goal; Nash and Jeff Carter led Columbus with six apiece. Ex-Ranger defenseman Fedor Tyutin led all players with three blocked shots and New Jersey’s Anton Volchenkov led all players with three hits. New Jersey (11-8-1) is back in action on Friday afternoon when they play against the NY Islanders (5-10-4) and Columbus (5-13-3) is on the ice again also on Friday when they host Buffalo (12-8-1).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Martin Brodeur (NJ) – 35 saves, win (5)

#2 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – assist (12)

#3 – Curtis Sanford (Cbj) – 23 saves, ot loss (2)

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…