Devils Fire Blanks in Opener vs. Flyers

Philadelphia 3               Devils 0

The 2011-12 edition of the New Jersey Devils started their new season on Saturday night looking to get off to a fast start, unlike last season’s squad which dropped its first three games. Unfortunately no one informed the Philadelphia Flyers about these plans as they controlled the play and pace of the game virtually all night en route to a 3-0 win in front of a sold-out crowd at the Prudential Center.

Despite the disappointing loss in which the Devils (the worst offensive team last season in terms of goals scored) failed to score a single goal, there were some positives to take out of the game. Martin Brodeur made 26 saves, and was the main reason the score was only 1-0 heading into the third period; “He was outstanding, by far our best player,” said coach Pete DeBoer, who made his debut behind New Jersey bench.

The team’s new captain Zach Parise made it through the entire game without incident and appears to be rounding back into his All-Star form following a knee injury that cost him 69 games last season. “I felt pretty good, my legs were good, but I still need to have a little more patience with the puck,” said the newest and ninth captain in team history.

Finally, despite taking way too many penalties, the Devils killed off all eight power plays that they gave the Flyers. “We did take a lot of penalties, so it was tough to generate anything in the third period,” said Parise afterwards. “I thought our PK did a good job, it got called on a lot, and there were some good things that we did out there.”

Claude Giroux scored the first goal of the game 12:05 into the first period burying a one-timer past Brodeur after a pretty backhand pass from James van Riemsdyk. Andreas Nodl (KNOW-duLL) almost made it 2-0 when he roared in on Brodeur on a shorthanded breakaway during the dying seconds of the opening frame, but New Jersey’s netminder stifled the attempt with a midseason-form save. “Yeah (his shot) hit my shoulder; noodle or however you pronounce his name,” said a laughing Brodeur. “He made a good shot and it hit off of my shoulder.”

The Devils improved their play in the second period, but were still unable to get any pucks past Philly’s Ilya Bryzgalov and still trailed on the scoreboard. “It looked to me like we were at practice speed and they were at NHL game speed,” said DeBoer after the loss. “Our reaction time never caught up with where theirs was tonight.”

He was absolutely right in his assessment and his team imploded, surrendering two goals in a span of 2:19and then proceeded to take needless penalty after needless penalty — sabotaging any slim chance of coming back against Philadelphia. Matt Read scored his first career NHL goal from the slot, muscling a shot into the back of the net that Brodeur got a piece of at the 2:31 mark. “I saw it,” said Brodeur, “it just kind of snuck through between my arm and my body.” The lead increased to 3-0 when Wayne Simmonds beat both Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador to a loose puck in front of the crease just asPhiladelphia’s power play had expired.

Less than four minutes after his goal, Simmonds fought David Clarkson — and beat him soundly — putting the exclamation point on a workmanlike Flyers victory. “I think we have less than 48 hours until our next game,” said Parise. “We’ll come in tomorrow and identify some things we didn’t do right and fix them.”

Game Notes: Before the game there was a moment of silence and very touching video tribute in honor of all of the players that the hockey world lost this summer; The Devils honored former teammates Karel Rachunek and Alexander Vasyunov with memorial patches on their jerseys that they will wear again next Saturday night; the jerseys will then be signed by the entire team and auctioned off with the proceeds going to the Rachunek and Vasyunov families. The 4th overall pick in this past June’s draft, Adam Larsson, had a nice debut despite the ugly loss: 21:46 of ice-time (tops among NJ defensemen), three shots on goal, two hits and one blocked shot. Ilya Kovalchuk and Nick Palmieri were both -3 on the night. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 23:30; Chris Pronger led the Flyers with 22:57. Philadelphia’s Andrej Meszaros led all players with five shots on goal; four Devils had three shots on goal each. New Jersey rookie Brad Mills won 10-of-11 face-offs he took and his teammate Jacob Josefson won eight-of-ten. Philadelphia (2-0-0) is off until their home opener on Wednesday when they hostVancouver (0-0-1) and New Jersey (0-1-0) is back in action Monday afternoon when they host Carolina (0-2-0).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Claude Giroux (Phi) – gw goal (2)

#2 – Wayne Simmonds (Phi) – goal (1)

#3 – Ilya Bryzgalov (Phi) – 20 saves, win (2-0-0), shutout (1)

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

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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.

How the West Will Be Won

How the West Will Be Won

Western Conference predictions

Round 1:

(8) Chicago over (1) Vancouver

(7) Los Angeles over (2) San Jose

(3) Detroit over (6) Phoenix

(4) Anaheim over (5) Nashville

Round 2:

(8) Chicago over (3) Detroit

(4) Anaheim over (7) Los Angeles

Round 3:

(4) Anaheim over (8) Chicago

Vancouver (1)        vs. Chicago (8)

Last Cup Win: Vancouver (never), Chicago (2010)

Why the Canucks will win: The team won the President’s Trophy (117 points), Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider won the Jennings Trophy (185 goals-against) and Daniel Sedin won the Art Ross Trophy (104 points). This team is built to win now and this is probably the first of their two-year window of opportunity to do just that.

Why the Blackhawks will win: Their nucleus from last year’s championship is still in tact despite losing several key pieces; and Patrick Kane brought his playoff-mullet back.

Vancouver’s most important player: Whichever player replaces Manny Malhotra (eye injury) as the third-line center; his ability to win key face-offs and his lead-by-example attitude will be sorely missed.

Chicago’s most important player: Captain Jonathan Toews has led the Hawks’ playoff push in the second half and he will need to continue with that effort to help his team advance past the Canucks.

Vancouver’s biggest question mark: Can Luongo finally beat Chicago? Two years in a row the Canucks were sent packing for the summer by the ‘Hawks; if Vancouver does win the series will it be a stepping stone to bigger and brighter things?

Chicago’s biggest question mark: The Blackhawks will try for a second consecutive spring to win the Cup with a rookie goalie. Corey Crawford had a stellar season, but can he duplicate Antti Niemi’s 2010 success? If Crawford falters, Chicago can always send in Marty Turco.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Vancouver (Mikael Samuelsson), Chicago (Dave Bolland, Toews, Troy Brouwer, Marian Hossa, Kane, Tomas Kopecky, Patrick Sharp, Brian Campbell, Jassen Cullimore, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook).

PREDICTION: HAWKS IN 6 Luongo may be crying again after this one as the rejuvenated champs begin their defense of the Cup by eliminating the Canucks swiftly.

San Jose (2)            vs. Los Angeles (7)

Last Cup Win: San Jose (never), Los Angeles (never)

Why the Sharks will win: San Jose’s players have a lot of playoff experience, just not too many winning experiences though. The additions of Antti Niemi and Ben Eager (who won the Cup with Chicago last season) should help, but will it be enough for this underachieving bunch to finally make the Finals?

Why the Kings will win: Two words — Jarret Stoll. One of the NHL’s most underrated players is very important to LA’s success. He was a key cog in the Oilers’ run to the ’06 Finals and whether it’s winning a key face-off or scoring a clutch goal, you can expect to see Stoll’s name a lot if the Kings are to do some damage this spring.

San Jose’s most important player: Dany Heatley, He had a very un-Heatley like season this year (26g-38a), but he can make that a distant memory if he’s clutch in the postseason.

Los Angeles’ most important player: Jonathan Quick, He’s made the big saves all season long and is the rock solid foundation of the Kings’ stingy defense. With the offense hurting, he will have to steal a game or two for his squad to advance.

San Jose’s biggest question mark: Niemi, yes he won the Stanley Cup in the Windy City in 2010, but the ‘Hawks defense was and is a lot better than the Sharks’ blueline.

Los Angeles’ biggest question mark: Where will the Kings’ goal scoring come from with their top two scorers (Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams) sidelined? Paging Wayne Simmonds

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: San Jose (Dan Boyle, Eager, Kent Huskins, Niclas Wallin, Niemi), Los Angeles (Dustin Penner, Rob Scuderi, Williams)

PREDICTION: KINGS IN 7Quick will steal two games, including Game 7 in the Shark Tank.

Detroit (3)              vs. Phoenix (6)

Last Cup Win: Detroit (2008), Phoenix (never)

Why the Wings will win: Detroit has too many savvy and talented players to lose in the first round right? Look for Todd Bertuzzi and Mike Modano to have big impacts in this opening round series.

Why the Coyotes will win: For two consecutive seasons now Phoenix has hovered around the NHL’s elite with back-to-back stellar regular seasons. Obviously this is not a fluke and captain Shane Doan just might get out of the first round for the first time in his career.

Detroit’s most important player: Johan Franzen aka ‘The Mule’ is an absolute proven playoff beast — 69 points (35g-34a) in 75 career playoff games — and if Phoenix has any hopes of surviving this series they better find a way to corral the large Swede; he also has 11 playoff game-winning goals.

Phoenix’s most important player: Ilya Bryzgalov
is the backbone of the Coyotes and could be the biggest factor in knocking the Wings out. His 36 wins and seven shutouts this season place him among the NHL’s elite netminders going forward.

Detroit’s biggest question mark: How healthy is Henrik Zetterberg is the main question in the Motor City; if he is at less than 100% the Wings could be ripe for the taking against the hungry Desert Dogs. He will definitely miss Game 1 with a left leg injury.

Phoenix’s biggest question mark: Can they finally get past the big, bad Red Wings? They should be motivated and know what to do after being eliminated in seven games by Detroit in last year’s first round.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Detroit (Pavel Datsyuk (2), Zetterberg, Brian Rafalski (3), Franzen, Nicklas Lidstrom (4), Nicklas Kronwall, Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula, Tomas Holmstrom (4), Kris Draper (4), Brad Stuart, Drew Miller, Darren Helm, Chris Osgood (3), Modano), Phoenix (Bryzgalov, Ray Whitney)

PREDICTION: RED WINGS IN 7 Experience wins out for the Wings, but they will get another scare from the gritty Coyotes.

Anaheim (4)           vs. Nashville (5)

Last Cup Win: Anaheim (2007), Nashville (never)

Why the Ducks will win: Who on Nashville can stop Corey Perry? No one in the league has been able to contain the league’s leading goal scorer (50) in the 2nd half, so good luck Preds.

Why the Predators will win: Defense wins championships, and Nashville has two of the NHL’s premiere defensemen (Shea Weber, Ryan Suter) plus a Vezina Trophy candidate in Pekka Rinne.

Anaheim’s most important player: I think it will be Saku Koivu’s time to shine in the first round. With all of the defensive attention (and rightfully so) being paid to the Ducks’ top line, watch out for the Finnish dynamic duo of Koivu and Teemu Selanne to wreck havoc.

Nashville’s most important player: If Rinne can stand on his head (and get in his opponents’ head) the Ducks might be in trouble here. His numbers (2.12 GAA, 33 wins, .930 save %, six shutouts) speak for themselves, but his ability to take over a game can’t be measured in numbers. Nashville’s penalty killers (fifth overall) will be tested against Anaheim’s power play (third overall).

Anaheim’s biggest question mark: Who’s in goal for them? Is it All-Star Jonas Hiller, vagabond Dan Ellis or head case Ray Emery? If one of these tenders steps up the Ducks will be hard to eliminate and SoCal could be celebrating their second Stanley Cup in four seasons.

Nashville’s biggest question mark: Who the heck is going to score for this team? They have only two 20-goal scorers (Sergei Kostitsyn, Patric Hornqvist) and obviously rely on defense and scoring by committee. If Mike Fisher and JP Dumont find their scoring touches, the Predators could pull off the upset.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Anaheim (Ryan Getzlaf, George Parros, Perry, Selanne, Francois Beauchemin, Todd Marchant, Andreas Lilja), Nashville (none)

PREDICTION: DUCKS IN 5 The Ducks will be too powerful for the gutsy Preds; the series will only go five games, but each game will probably have a 2-1 final score.

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

Devils Snap Skid, Muzzle Coyotes 3-0

Devils 3 Phoenix 0

Not only did the New Jersey Devils snap a five-game losing streak with their 3-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday night at the Prudential Center, but they may have gotten their two most important players into a positive frame of mind — a rarity in what has been a dismal season. Ilya Kovalchuk scored two goals, his first multi-goal effort as a Devil in 56 games with the club and Martin Brodeur made 29 saves for his third shutout of the season (113th career).

“It’s one game,” said Kovalchuk after the game, “it doesn’t make the season, you know? It’s a good game and we have to build on it.” He paused and added, “It’s a long way to go to where we want to be, but we just have to take it one game at a time.”

The win was much-needed for a team that was watching their playoff hopes slip away as they sat 29th out of 30 teams in points (18) this season. After New Jersey killed off an early Coyotes power play, Kovalchuk gave his squad a rare, early lead when he converted a one-timer after receiving a nice pass from Dainius Zubrus. It was only his sixth goal of the year, putting him on pace for the worst offensive season of his nine in the league. “I knew it was a two-on-one and the back-checker was on me,” explained Zubrus, “I don’t know if I would’ve been able to cut to the middle and get the shot off; I knew Kovy was there too, so I was able to get a pass to an area where he could do something with it. And he did.”

Rookie defenseman Mark Fayne doubled the Devils’ lead when he netted his first career NHL goal at 13:18, blasting a shot from the blue line past Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov who was screened on the play.

Brodeur turned aside ten Coyote shots in the first period, eleven in the second and eight in the third but it wasn’t until he stopped Taylor Pyatt’s semi-breakaway early in the second period that it appeared it was going to be tough to beat the future Hall-of-famer on this night. “I had a good angle on him,” explained Brodeur, “I held my ground on my butterfly and he hit the top of my pad; he wasn’t really looking but he hammered it pretty good.”

Kovalchuk finished the scoring early in the third period when he pounded another one-time past his countryman Bryzgalov, this time during a 5-on-3 advantage. “I always feel good about it,” he said about his confidence in his one-timer. “Sometimes I don’t get many opportunities to do it, tonight it seemed like I got a few of them. That’s all my linemates and my teammates – they create that room (for me).”

One more important challenge/moment remained for New Jersey and that was late in the third when they had to kill a penalty to preserve the shutout — as well as a good state of mind. “Marty played real well for us (tonight), so you want to get him the shutout,” said Zubrus of his goalie’s performance. “It’s good,” said Brodeur of the blanking, “winning is what we’re looking for, shutouts are a bonus; if you could call it a bonus in these times.” He knew it was important for his team’s fragile psyche after their worst start in fifteen seasons. “We have to learn to battle, to play through a little adversity; not just when you are losing — but when you’re winning.

Killing that penalty, even though getting scored on wouldn’t have really mattered much (to the final outcome), that prepares you in knowing that you’re able to get the job done when it’s a tighter game.”

Game Notes: Defenseman Anssi Salmela made his season debut for the Devils and played 14:57 during his 20 shifts. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 22:51 and Derek Morris led Phoenix with 22:21. Kovalchuk and Coyotes captain Shane Doan led all players with five shots on goal each; Doan led all players with four hits. Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac each have six points in their last five games. New Jersey (9-19-2) is off until Friday when they host Nashville (16-8-6) while Phoenix (14-9-6) plays Thursday night against New York (19-13-1) at MSG.

 

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – 2 goals, pp/gw (7)

#2 – Martin Brodeur (NJ) – 29 saves, win (5), shutout (3)

#3 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – 2 assists (15)

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…