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.

Sharks’ Comeback Bites Devils in Shootout

San Jose 4              Devils 3   — shootout

Over the past few seasons the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks have played some wildly entertaining games and Friday night at the Prudential Center was no different, as the visiting Sharks rallied from two goals down and beat the Devils in a shootout after tying the game again with 33 seconds left in regulation. Johan Hedberg ended up as the hard-luck loser in this one as he was brilliant in goal for New Jersey, finishing with 37 saves. “I thought he was great,” said coach Peter DeBoer after the game, “he gave us a chance to win, to get a point.”

The Devils opened the scoring 13:53into the game when Patrik Elias scored off a perfect circle-to-circle pass from Ilya Kovalchuk, snapping a wrist shot top shelf past Sharks netminder Antti Niemi. The power play goal was the 92nd of Elias’ career, tying him with John MacLean for most in franchise history.

With 2:52left in the period, the Devils lost their second line center Jacob Josefson when he crashed hard into the boards behind the San Jose goal. The 20-year-old skated immediately to the bench and into the locker room with his right arm dangling; it was later announced he had a broken right clavicle.

Thirty-six seconds into the second period Zach Parise was awarded a penalty shot when Sharks defenseman Brent Burns pulled him down on a shorthanded breakaway. The Devils captain has become a master of sorts in penalty shots/shootout attempts lately and he continued that reputation as he increased the lead to 2-0, faking out Niemi with his forehand and slipping a backhand shot through the goalie’s five-hole.

Hedberg held the Sharks scoreless as long as he could with the shot total rising rapidly, but he was finally beaten 15:18into the second when Joe Thornton’s wrist shot slid into the net under the goalie’s pads. “I’m not sure how that went in,” Hedberg admitted, “it surprised me too; I don’t know why I didn’t stop that, I’m not sure actually.” Ryane Clowe completed the comeback and evened the score 1:03 later when the puck pin-balled off of his shin pad and found the back of the net.

San  Jose continued to outshoot the Devils but the game remained even until 13:18 had elapsed and David Clarkson scored his second goal in as many games, converting a beautiful spin-o-rama feed from Mattias Tedenby. “He made a great play to me in front,” said Clarkson, “I had enough time and found the back of the net.”

Victory for New Jersey seemed certain until the final minute when with their goalie pulled for an extra-attacker, the Sharks tied the game as Joe Pavelski wired a shot through a maze of players in front of the crease. Hedberg appeared to be interfered with on the play, and he tried to plead his case but the officials didn’t see it that way and the game was tied. “We were thirty seconds away from winning the game and we still had a chance in the shootout,” said Parise afterwards. “I think we know we have to be a lot better. It wasn’t our best game tonight and we know there are going to be more of those, but we definitely need to be better for tomorrow.”

The game remained 3-3 after a five-minute overtime, sending the outcome to be decided by a shootout. Kovalchuk scored first, beating Niemi with a rising backhand and Pavelski’s attempt went wide of Hedberg’s cage. Parise was denied on his attempt, evening the score between he and Niemi. “He made a good save on it,” said Parise. Niemi didn’t want to get burned on the same move as earlier and was ready. “You can’t really cheat too much,” said the Sharks’ goalkeeper. “You just have to try and wait him out.” Michal Handzus evened the tie breaker with a shot that hit the goalpost and then went in off Hedberg’s back.

Elias attempted a wrist shot through the goalie’s five-hole and was denied and Clowe won the game when he flipped a backhand over the Moose’s glove hand. “I’ve taken a few shootouts now over the years and that’s kind of my go-to move, I usually go backhand,” said Clowe. “It’s a little easier I guess when I face Eastern Conference goalies because they don’t get to see you as much. Hedberg’s kind of a smaller goalie and I have a long stick, long reach; I try to use that when I go to my backhand. I think he was over there, but I got it up over his pad.”

Game Notes: Thornton (the Sharks captain) played in his 1000th NHL game, and had two points, giving him 42 points in 34 career games against New Jersey. Colin White played his first game against the team he spent the past 11 seasons with and the two-time Stanley Cup winner was applauded by the Devils fans when he was announced during pre-game in the San Jose starting lineup; he played 14:44, led all players with three hits, was minus-1 and had one shot on goal. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 32:25 and Dan Boyle led the Sharks with 31:23. Pavelski, Boyle and Clowe led all players with six shots on goal, and Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov led all players with four blocked shots. New Jersey (3-1-1) is back in action Saturday night when they play at Pittsburgh (5-2-2) and San Jose (2-3-0) will also be in action that night when they play at Boston (3-4-0).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Joe Pavelski (SJ) – goal (3), assist (1)

#2 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 37 saves, OT loss (3-0-1)

#3 – David Clarkson (NJ) – goal (2), assist (1)

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

Zach Attack! Parise & Devils Blow Past Hurricanes

Devils 4           Carolina 2

The New Jersey Devils picked up their first win of the new season on Monday afternoon, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 at the Prudential Center. Captain Zach Parise scored his first goal in a year’s time to start the scoring, and he sealed the win by scoring an empty-net goal with 1:06 left in the game. “Someone just told me it was a year between goals (for me), it’s always a good feeling scoring a goal. There’s a lot of excitement that rushes through you. When you’re not playing, or not scoring, you want that feeling back,” said Parise.

Johan Hedberg was the somewhat-surprise starter in net for New Jersey and the Moose was solid, turning aside 24 of 26 shots to even his team’s early season record at 1-1. “You usually have an early game routine and a late game routine,” said the Swedish netminder when asked how he prepared for the 1pm start time. “I usually find it hard to remember what I do (for day games) when it’s early in the season,” he added with a smile.

Parise scored 3:59 into the game, redirecting a shot-pass from Patrik Elias past ‘Canes goalie Cam Ward. “I felt like last game, the crowd was waiting for something to cheer about,” said Parise when asked if the first goal of the game (and season) was important. “Fortunately we were able to get one early, get that first one for the season out of the way and just settle down a little bit. We had a better start tonight.”

The game remained 1-0 until 8:56 into the second period when Alexei Ponikarovsky was the last player to touch the puck after a long shot from Tim Gleason pinballed off of a host of players in front of Hedberg’s crease. The tie didn’t last long, as Mark Fayne one-timed a circle-to-circle pass from Ilya Kovalchuk past Ward at 9:36.

Chad Larose evened the score again when his rocket shot deflected off of defender Henrik Tallinder’s stick and went over Hedberg’s shoulder and under the crossbar. “I should have had that. I got a piece of it, it hit the post and went in,” Hedberg explained afterwards. “I have to take a look at it (on video) and see what happened there.”

New Jersey had to kill off a two-man disadvantage early in the third period with the score still tied at two and did so thanks in large part to their defenseman and forward Dainius Zubrus. “Great job, from our goaltender to Zubrus upfront and the defensemen,” said coach Peter DeBoer. “I thought Zubrus did an outstanding job there at a critical time in the game.”

Kovalchuk, who had broken two of his sticks earlier in the game on attempted shots, finally netted his first goal of the season when he followed up his own shot and flicked the rebound over Ward for the eventual game-winner. “Those plastic sticks, they’re not very strong,” said a smirking Kovalchuk. “I should stop working out.” His linemate, Nick Palmieri, helped create the time and space that Kovalchuk needed on the goal that gave the Devils the momentum they needed to close out the first win for DeBoer as their new coach. “You breathe a sigh of relief,” said Palmieri after the team’s first win, “especially after getting shutout in the first game.”

Game Notes: New Jersey used the same exact lineup as they did in Saturday’s shutout loss; the only change was in goal, as Martin Brodeur got a rare early-season game off. For the second straight game the Devils’ PK was perfect, they were 5-for-5 against the Hurricanes and now are 13-for-13 this season. Petr Sykora assisted on Parise’s goal for his first point in his second-stint with the franchise. Larose led all players with five shots on goal, Parise, Kovalchuk and Elias led New Jersey with four each. Devils rookie defenseman Adam Larsson led all skaters in ice-time with 24:35 and Joni Pitkanen led Carolina with 23:08. Palmieri and ‘Canes blueliner Bryan Allen had two assists each. New Jersey (1-1-0) is off until Thursday when they host Los Angeles (1-1-0) and Carolina (0-2-1) will try again for their first win of the year on Wednesday when they host Boston (1-2-0).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – gw goal (1), 2 assists (2)

#2 – Zach Parise (NJ) – 2 goals (2)

#3 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 24 saves, win (1-0-0)

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

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.

Devils Win Season Finale/Lemaire’s Last Game

Devils 3 Boston 2

The New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins played a game on Sunday afternoon at the Prudential Center, but all of the talk following the game wasn’t so much about how much of an epic failure this season was for Jersey’s Team, it centered on their coach who was retiring again and stepping away from the Devils bench for the third time.

Jacques Lemaire ended his second stint as the team’s coach last season after the Devils were eliminated in the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers; he cited his age and family as reasons to step away from the game. New Jersey started this season poorly under first-time bench boss John MacLean (9-22-2) and when GM Lou Lamoriello called Lemaire the week before Christmas looking for a coach to save the season, the 65-year-old couldn’t turn his back on the franchise. “I’m going back to where I was before this year,” said the coach at his farewell press conference.

“(The job) demands a lot. I want to enjoy life; I want to enjoy the family. I thought that I did make the right decision last year. I’m happy I took it, I took the job for the rest of the season; I had fun. It was a huge challenge for me; I thought the guys responded well. Like I mentioned this morning, the only regret I have is not making the playoffs.”

Lemaire came in and, although it took a few weeks, he was able to get the team back on track to their usual winning ways. Many of the players, including Ilya Kovalchuk, responded almost immediately and started to live up to the backs of their hockey cards. “Kovy really likes him, there’s no doubt about that” said Martin Brodeur. “They got along real well right from the get-go last year. So I’m sure he’d like to see him back; I think a lot of guys would like to see him back also. “Although they didn’t reach their ultimate goal of reaching the postseason, Lemaire’s Devils (27-17-3) gave a valiant effort that included a two-month stretch of the season where they reeled off eight consecutive wins and an incredible 20-2-2 record in 24 games to pull them back into contention for a playoff spot.

Ultimately the season was a failure, but the team never gave up and had some fun over the final 41 games — including the last game where they sent Lemaire out a winner with a 3-2 win over the Bruins. Vladimir Zharkov scored his second career goal, breaking a 1-1 tie four minutes into the third period, beating goalie Tuukka Rask on a breakaway. Rookie defenseman Alexander Urbom’s first career goal came 5:10 after Zharkov’s tally and proved to be the game-winner when Boston’s Chris Kelly scored with 3.1 seconds left.

Urbom (who appeared in seven games earlier this season) was recalled from Albany earlier in the day along with Adam Henrique — who was making his NHL debut. Henrique, the Devils’ 3rd round draft pick in 2008, became the tenth Devil (team record) to play his first NHL game this season: Mark Fayne, Stephen Gionta, Jacob Josefson, Oliver Magnan, Brad Mills, Matt Taormina, Mattias Tedenby, Urbom and Alexander Vasyunov. Lemaire really liked what he saw from the 21-year-old Henrique, “He didn’t look like he played in his first game in the NHL. He’s going to move the puck, can skate, sees the ice well and I’m sure he’s got a touch for scoring. So, all these kids that are either with us or came up, this is the future — and the future up front is bright, there’s no doubt about this.”

Johan Hedberg made 24 saves in front of the sellout crowd at the Rock and finished the season with a solid record of 15-12-2 (three shutouts) in 34 games; Brodeur’s season ended under .500 for the first time in his 16-year career, 23-26-3 (six shutouts).

Patrik Elias scored his 21st goal of the season 1:47 into the game and with his 62 points he led the Devils in scoring for the seventh time in his career. Kovalchuk led the team in goals with 31. Four players played in all 82 of the team’s games: Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder and David Clarkson; Kovalchuk appeared in 81 games — only missing a game when MacLean suspended him for missing a team meeting.

Lemaire admitted he was unsure up until two days ago, but was confident he made the right choice. “This is exciting, this is fun; especially when the team wins, and it’s a great atmosphere. You love a lot of things, you get really upset, you get mad about what the players do, not at the individual but at what they’re doing. But as soon as they do something good, right away you feel good. I said this today when I talked to my wife; I said if I was younger, I would be coach because I love it.”

Game Notes: Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg led all skaters in ice-time with 22:54 while Greene led the Devils with 22:18. New Jersey forwards Rod Pelley and Clarkson led all players with five shots on goal each; Milan Lucic led Boston with four. Clarkson’s assist on Urbom’s goal was the 100th point of his career. The Devils will be in the NHL Draft lottery for the first time since 1996 and will find out where they pick in the first round on Tuesday night.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Vladimir Zharkov (NJ) – goal (2)

#2 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 24 saves, win (15)

#3 – Tuukka Rask (Bos) – 29 saves, loss (14)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

Moose Trumps King as Devils Blank Rangers

In nine games since returning from the All-Star break, the New Jersey Devils are now 8-0-1 after Friday night’s 1-0 win over the New York Rangers at Prudential Center. They continue to gain ground on the teams ahead of them in the standings, and if they are in contention come April with six games remaining they may get some help from their recovering star Zach Parise; a player better than any player a team ahead of them (Rangers, Sabres, Thrashers, Hurricanes) will acquire at the trade deadline.

Ilya Kovalchuk netted the game’s only goal in the second period on a clean breakaway, snapping the puck past Henrik Lundqvist for his 21st goal of the season; he now has goals in four consecutive games and points in nine games in a row (7g, 4a). He also has four game-winning goals in New Jersey’s last six games.

That would be all the offense that Johan Hedberg needed, as he turned aside all 16 Rangers’ shots; he even admitted on TV to MSG’s Stan Fischler that it was a pretty easy game in net. The shutout was Hedberg’s second of the season and the win was the second for his team against the Blueshirts after dropping the first three match-ups. The sixth and final meeting between the Hudson River Rivals will take place on April 9 at MSG; the second-to-last game of the year for the Devils and the last game of the season for New York.

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.