Devils Ride Their A-Train Past Flyers

New Jersey Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov is a very likeable guy, he’s got kind of a goofy, yet genuine smile and always puts the team first in sacrificing his body to block shots or using his body in violent collisions against the opposition, so when he contributes offensively everyone smiles a little more after a win. It took the A-Train almost a season and a half (102 games) to register his first goal as a Devil, and his second goal (sixteen games later) was the tie-breaking/game-winning goal in Sunday night’s 4-1 triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers at Prudential Center.

“He saw a spot there, and I was yelling at Kovy (Ilya Kovalchuk) from the bench to shoot it when I realized who was with him,” said coach Pete DeBoer while smiling broadly and laughing. The coach chuckled again and added, “It goes to show you that Kovy is smarter than I am.”

The game was even throughout the first period until the Flyers took a penalty in the dying minutes, setting the stage for New Jersey to grab the lead. David Clarkson and Patrik Elias worked a brilliant give-and-go play (both on their backhands) as they crossed the blue line that resulted in Elias backhanding his 24th goal of the season past Sergei Bobrovsky with 25 seconds left in the period. “Patty made a great play getting me the puck and I just gave it back to him,” said Clarkson describing the scoring play. “He just flipped it upstairs on the goalie; a great play by him and it got us going early.”

A scoreless second period ensued as both teams squandered two power plays apiece over the twenty minutes, setting up an interesting final period between two evenly matched teams. It took all of sixteen seconds for Philadelphia to even the score as Claude Giroux converted Jaromir Jagr’s nifty pass from behind the net over Martin Brodeur’s right shoulder.

Jut over two minutes later the Devils retook a one-goal lead when Volchenkov and Kovalchuk completed a two-on-one that saw the 398 career goal scorer pass to the 18-goal scorer. “I did the same thing as the first time,” said a grinning Volchenkov. “He made a great pass to me. I play a lot of defense, and PK, but when there’s a chance to help offense, I try.” Kovalchuk held onto the puck as long as he could, drawing the defender’s attention towards him and then threaded a perfect pass that his fellow countryman buried into the Flyers net.

“That was a big goal by Volchie,” said a smiling Kovalchuk. “he was looking like a forward there. He never gave up, he moved up on the play and he scored a big goal.” When I asked if he knew it was Volchenkov with him on the rush he responded, “Yeah definitely. He’s one of a kind; you’re never gonna mistake him for someone else, you know?”

Kovalchuk netted his 399th career goal, and 30th of the season at 8:08, wiring a redirection pass from Marek Zidlicky past a helpless Bobrovsky, giving New Jersey a two-goal lead against their suddenly-struggling to score division rivals. “That’s my job to go and make plays for my teammates,” said Kovalchuk, “and score goals if I can”

Captain Zach Parise salted the game away when he tallied a power play goal at 14:19, leaving the only drama remaining whether or not the Devils would surrender more than one goal for the first time since March 1 in Boston (six games). Brodeur stood his ground and gave the Flyers nothing, sending his squad into Philadelphia on Tuesday riding a four-game winning streak.

“It’s a big win,” said Brodeur afterwards. “If we want to do well in the playoffs we are going to have to face different types of teams, and the Flyers are one of them. We’re starting to play a little better on home ice and that’s a good thing; we played three solid games in a row (at home) against big rivals. Guys are playing well and we aren’t getting into (as many) shootouts as we were earlier.”

Game Notes: The win for Brodeur was career win number 650; not counting the 99 playoff victories he has. Kovalchuk now has 43 points in 44 career games against the Flyers; Elias has 75 points in 75 games vs Philly. Clarkson, Parise and Kovalchuk all extended their point-streaks to four games. Flyers forward Daniel Briere is without a goal since January 7 — 23 games. Zidlicky led all skaters in ice-time with 24:05; Braydon Coburn led Philadelphia with 22:36. Elias, Clarkson and Coburn led all players with four shots on goal apiece. New Jersey (85 points, 5th in East) plays at Philadelphia (85 points, 6th in East) on Tuesday night in the final game of the season series.

Dan’s 3 Stars of the Game:
#1 — Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ): goal (30), 2 assists (41)
#2 — Patrik Elias (NJ): pp goal (24), assist (43)
#3 — Anton Volchenkov (NJ): gw goal (2), 2 hits (151)

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.