Carter & Clarkson Combine to Carry Devils Past Rangers

DEVILS 4                    NY RANGERS 1

The New Jersey Devils beat the New York Rangers for the third time this season on Tuesday night at Prudential Center 4-1, and it was the first time in four games that they scored more than one goal against Henrik Lundqvist. David Clarkson and Ryan Carter scored goals 1:54 apart early in the third period, breaking the 1-1 tie and giving Martin Brodeur enough offense to pick up his first win in his last six starts.

Ilya Kovalchuk opened the scoring with a breakaway goal 49 seconds after the opening face-off, capitalizing on multiple blunders by the Rangers in the neutral zone. First they turned the puck over while they were changing personnel sloppily, and then defenseman Ryan McDonagh slipped trying to defend against the speedy Kovalchuk, giving the sniper a clear path to the net. “They turned the puck over and Zach (Parise) made a great play,” said Kovalchuk in describing the goal. “They were in the middle of a change and I got a breakaway; this was a big goal for us.” His 26th goal of the season came on a snap shot, giving the Devils a 1-0 lead that they would hold onto until the second period.

Derek Stepan (4 pts. in 5 games) and Carl Hagelin (6 pts. in 5 games) continued to rack up points against New Jersey this season as they were the key components in the lone Rangers tally of the night. Hagelin’s pass from behind the net was tipped by Brodeur’s goal stick and the puck went right to Stepan who then fired a knuckling shot for his 16th goal of the season at 6:56.

Entering the third period 1-1, Clarkson netted the eventual game-winning goal 2:27 in, and he had no idea that he was the one that scored the goal initially. After another turnover by New York Clarkson carried the puck over the blue line and dropped it to Petr Sykora, who was playing in his 1,001st NHL game. Sykora let loose a slap shot that changed direction after nicking Clarkson’s leg and sailed past Lundqvist. “I had no idea (it was my goal) until I got off the ice and onto the bench,” said Clarkson after the game. “It was just one of those plays where I was going to the net, it bounces off of me and goes in. It’s one that I’ll take, but I had no idea it hit me until I got off the ice.”

Carter scored his first goal since November (37 games) 1:54 later when he converted a two-on-one with Jacob Josefson and fired a one-timer past the Blueshirts’ netminder.

The Rangers best chance to get back in the game came with just over eleven minutes left on a power play scramble in front of the net that was defused by the combination of Brodeur and defenseman Bryce Salvador. “I was part lucky on that play, and it hit the post,” Salvador told reporters after the game. “You have to give credit to Marty too, he made some big saves for us in the second period and gave us a chance to win.”

Patrik Elias finished the scoring when he potted his 22nd goal into an empty Rangers net with 1:53 left on the game clock, ensuring that New Jersey would take a 3-2 lead in the season series with their rivals (the final match-up of the regular season will be March 19 at MSG).

Game Notes: The NHL and New Jersey Devils each presented Sykora with gifts prior to the game in honor of his 1,000th game in Long Island on Sunday. Salvador assisted on Elias’ goal for his 100th career point (23g-77a); Stepan now has points in four consecutive games. Brandon Dubinsky only played 42 seconds and did not return to the ice after his first period fight with Carter. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 23:38 and all players in shots on goal with 8; Dan Girardi led New York in ice-time with 23:09, while Stepan and McDonagh led their team with four shots on goal each. New Jersey (79 points, 6th in East) is off until Thursday when the host the New York Islanders (65 points, 13th in East) and the New York Rangers (91 points, 1st in East) will be in action that same night in Ottawa (76 points, 7th in East).

Dan’s 3 Stars of the Game:
#1 — Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ): goal (26), assist (38)
#2 — Martin Brodeur (NJ): 25 saves, win (23-17-3)
#3 — David Clarkson (NJ): gw goal (26)

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

Gaborik Scores Twice as Rangers Roll Past Devils

NY Rangers 4                Devils 1

       

Lately, when the New Jersey Devils play the New York Rangers it seems like groundhog’s day — what I mean by that is the script/recipe is always the same when the Rangers win, just like in their 4-1 victory over their Hudson Riverrivals at Prudential Center on Tuesday night. The Devils scored early, but only once — allowing the Rangers to hang around until they tied the game with a late second period goal. New Jersey then became less aggressive and it was exploited for two goals and an empty netter in the final twenty minutes to put the finishing touches on their first loss since December 10.

With Patrik Elias (flu) out of the Devils lineup Travis Zajac moved up to Elias’ second line center position between Dainius Zubrus and Petr Sykora and the move paid off early for coach Pete DeBoer. Zajac, who missed the first 30 games after achilles surgery scored his first goal of the season at 15:51, pouncing on a loose rebound that Sykora fanned atop the crease of Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist. “They really came out strong and put us back on our heels,” said New York’s Mike Rupp. “Hank was big for us tonight; you kind of take it for granted sometimes. You always ask your goalie to keep you in the game, give you a chance to win. That’s what he did tonight.”

The game stayed 1-0 until 17:28 into the second period when with the Rangers being out-shot 20-9 Artem Anisimov buried a pass from Derek Stepan past Martin Brodeur. On the play Anisimov scored his seventh of the season when he slipped between the Devils duo of Zach Parise and Kurtis Foster to collect the perfect pass.

The tie didn’t last long as Marian Gaborik collected a rebound alone at the side of the net and netted his 18th goal of the season 4:45 into the final period. Gaborik’s goal was the eventual game-winner, but the back-breaker was rookie Carl Hagelin’s shorthanded goal with 5:18 left in the period. Hagelin controlled a loose puck that got past Ilya Kovalchuk and fired a twisted wrist shot over Brodeur’s glove hand. Gaborik finished the scoring on an empty net goal with four seconds left, giving him 19 on the season — one away from the NHL leader Steven Stamkos.

“We were never able to get that second goal,” said a frustrated Parise afterwards. “I thought Lundqvist played really well tonight, he was definitely the difference.” Despite the loss the Devils captain like his team’s effort in the rivalry game, “No matter the outcome, I thought we played a good game; our effort was good, we played hard, had a great start. We were mentally ready and into it, we did a lot of things we wanted to do, we just weren’t able to get that second goal.”

Game Notes: Stepan had three assists, giving him five points/assists in seven career games against the Devils; Gaborik’s first goal was the 600th point of his career (302g-299a) and he has 18 points in 19 career games against the Devils. Zajac’s goal was the 250th point of his career (90g-160a). Rangers’ defenseman Dan Girardi led all skaters in ice-time with 29:09, while Kovalchuk led New Jersey with 27:04. Gaborik was +3, while Kovalchuk and Foster were each -3; New York captain Ryan Callahan led all players with four hits, while his teammate Ryan McDonagh led all players with five blocked shots. New Jersey (18-14-1) is off until Friday night when they host Washington (17-14-1) and New York (19-8-4) travels to play the NY Islanders on Thursday night.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Marian Gaborik (NYR) – 2 goals, gw (19), assist (11)

#2 – Henrik Lundqvist (NYR) – 30 saves, win (13-7-4)

#3 – Derek Stepan (NYR) – 3 assists (17)

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

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.

A Star Is Born As Henrique’s 2 Goals Sink Jets

Devils 3           Winnipeg 2 — overtime

Rookie Adam Henrique has played all of his 10 NHL games in relative anonymity. After notching his first career goal on Thursday in Philadelphia, he struck for two more goals Saturday night at Prudential Center — including the overtime winner — as the New Jersey Devils skated past the Winnipeg Jets 3-2, making him, at least for one night, a folk hero in Newark.

The home fans were already chanting ‘Hen-Rique’ after his goal that pushed his Devils lead to 2-0 in the second period, and they cheered even louder after his nifty goal on a breakaway during the five-minute overtime period gave the team their second consecutive win and pushed their record to 6-5-1.

New Jersey’s most consistent player this season has been Patrik Elias and he continued that trend early in the 2nd period, giving the team a 1-0 lead. Dainius Zubrus raced into the offensive zone along the left wing wall and found a streaking Elias wide-open in the slot; Elias hammered a one-timer into the top right hand corner over the Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec’s glove hand for his 6th goal of the season.

Henrique doubled the lead almost nine minutes later when on a semi-breakaway he flipped a backhand shot past the Jets’ goalie, while being hooked at from behind by 2 defenders. “It felt good,” said Henrique, “especially at the time of the game when we were up 1-0. I didn’t know if there was going to be a penalty (when they hooked me) or what, and the puck didn’t seem to sit down (for me) either.”

Martin Brodeur and the Devils held onto the 2-0 lead until Mark Flood netted his 1st career goal 6:43 into the third period on a long shot. Jim Slater evened the score for Winnipeg when he took advantage of a no-call that neutralized Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov, allowing him to get a shot past Brodeur uncontested with 2:45 left in regulation.

Evander Kane took a hooking penalty with 48 seconds left in regulation but New Jersey was unable to capitalize on the power play that carried over into overtime. Henrique jumped on the ice to replace Elias during the extra session after the man-advantage had expired and found himself on a breakaway again after a perfect pass from Zach Parise. “He scored some awesome goals tonight for us,” said the Devils captain, who added that “he played really well. He’s getting better and better every game. It’s fun to play on a line with him.”

Henrique very calmly skated in towards Pavelec and snapped a wrist shot low to the glove side that found the back of the net, sending home a bunch of happy humans from the Rock. When asked about the winning goal after the game, the 21-year-old Henrique’s face lit up, “Oh my God, my heart started racing from the blue-line in again (like on the previous goal),” he said with a smile from ear-to-ear. “I got in there and tried to keep it simple, I didn’t want to go to the same move again.”

Strangely, the win was the first of the season for Brodeur (in his fourth game played out of 12, with the calendar reading November. “It was a good win for us, back-to-back wins after losing what, four in a row,” said Brodeur afterwards. “It definitely weighs on you, the way you approach a game when you haven’t helped the team get any points in the standings yet.”

Game Notes: Ilya Kovalchuk (groin) and Andy Greene (lower body) were scratches for New Jersey. Henrique has 5 points (3g-2a) in the last three games; Elias now has a point in four straight games (2g-2a). Parise had two assists in the game and has 21 points in 21 career games against the Thrashers/Jets. After not registering a point in his first ten games, rookie Adam Larsson now has an assist in each of his last two. Jets defensemen Zach Bogosian led all skaters in ice time with 26:25, and Henrik Tallinder led NJ with 24:58. Petr Sykora led all players with six shots on goal; three players led Winnipeg with three each. Volchenkov blocked a game-high three shots. New Jersey (6-5-1) is off until Tuesday when they host Carolina (5-5-3) and Winnipeg (5-6-2) plays at MSG against New York (6-3-3) on Sunday night.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Adam Henrique (NJ) – 2 goals, gw (3)

#2 – Zach Parise (NJ) – 2 assists (3)

#3 – Mark Flood (Wpg) – goal (1), 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.

Zubrus & Devils Are Ready For the 2011-12 Season

The New Jersey Devils won their preseason finale on Saturday night, beating the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in front of 12,729 fans at the Prudential Center. Next Saturday night, the two teams meet again in the Devils’ season opener asNew Jerseytries to rebound from a very disappointing 2010-11 season that saw them miss the postseason for the first time in 16 seasons.

Martin Brodeur made 25 saves in his final tune-up before the real games start, his only blemish of the night was a Scott Hartnell power play goal late in the first period. Petr Sykora, still with the Devils on a tryout basis, tied the game when he blasted a shot over Ilya Bryzgalov’s stick hand 4:12 into the second period and David Clarkson’s power play marker at 15:39 of the middle frame proved to be the game-winner.

Stud rookie d-man Adam Larsson led all skaters in ice-time, logging23:46, and he played a solid game quarterbacking the power play and never looked out of place once against the Flyers.

For Dainius Zubrus, who missed the first five games of the preseason with an undisclosed lower body injury, he admitted he was rusty, but was happy to be back in game action. “In the first period I was trying to get into a rhythm,” said Zubrus. “I don’t want to call it nervous or whatever, but it was my first game in a while. I settled down after that and in the second and third periods I think I was a little better.” He didn’t register a shot on goal and had 21 shifts for 16:10 in ice-time centering a line with Clarkson and Mattias Tedenby. When I asked how he felt after the game he smiled and said, “Like I hadn’t played in six months.”

Zubrus believes this team will move past the disappointing season last year and get back into playoff contention. “Honestly I didn’t think much about last season. Even though the second half, whatever blah blah blah, it was good, but at the end of the day still we were at home in April watching TV,” he said. “It was a long summer, saying that, you try to spend that time with the family. I was able to practice and train hard to get ready for this season. You always look forward to the upcoming season and you want to make it better than the previous one, and there is a lot of room (for us) to improve.”

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Martin Brodeur (NJ) – 25 saves

#2 – Petr Sykora (NJ) – goal

#3 – Adam Larsson (NJ)

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.

Waiting For Kovalchuk…

A lot has happened since Ilya Kovalchuk (642 points in 621 NHL games) became the most talented free-agent in NHL history to hit the open market on July 1, but here we sit on July 18 and the Russian sniper (338 career goals) still hasn’t found a new home. New Jersey, which acquired him in a trade last season is still in the mix, and so are the in, out, in, out, in the Kovy-sweepstakes LA Kings. A third option could be the Russian KHL League, but a talented player in his prime like Kovalchuk needs to play in the league with the most talent and best competition — the NHL.

There are still very valuable players on the market besides Kovalchuk and it seems that the are all waiting for him to sign, before they decide where to go or maybe the other GMs are waiting to see where he lands — making for a very boring two weeks in July devoid of any substantial hockey news.  So, here’s what I am thinking about as we wait for Kovalchuk’s ‘decision’ to be made:

-The NY Islanders have made some solid, off the radar moves to shore up their blue line (Mark Eaton & Milan Jurcina), but more work needs to be done if they are to contend for a playoff spot out of the ultra-competitive Atlantic Division. They should look to sign Alexei Ponikarovsky to play in the top-six and bring back two former Islanders to add more grit to their game — Andy Sutton & Raffi Torres. Sutton has said he would welcome a return to the Island and Torres would be a perfect fit on the third line alongside either Frans Nielsen or Doug Weight.

-What in the freaking world is going on in Calgary?!? They signed two ex-Flames, who both had less than stellar tenures the first time around. Alex Tanguay is a shell of the player he was in 2001 with Colorado and Olli Jokinen was traded away for Ales Kotalik and his ridiculous contract and then they re-sign Jokinen who never looked comfortable in Calgary alongside Jarome Iginla. A few days later ex-Tampa GM Jay Feaster as assistant to the GM who will be probably soon be fired in Darryl Sutter.

-There are still two solid goalies available — one via free agency (Marty Turco) and one via trade (Tim Thomas). It’s not every day you have these types of quality goalies available, so stop being cheap and give your team a decent chance to succeed next year (this means you Columbus, Toronto, Atlanta, Florida, Tampa, Montreal, Minnesota, LA, San Jose, Dallas).

-There are two enigmatic, but talented wingers available in Max Afinogenov and Alex Frolov and i haven’t heard peep about either yet. It’s possible that one of these two could wind up in the KHL, but in the right situation they can still be solid NHLers.

-Two talented centers are available for trade, but both have almost unmovable  contracts — Boston’s Marc Savard and Ottawa’s Jason Spezza. Hey, maybe they should just be traded for each other?

-It seemed odd to me that: Pittsburgh signed defenseman Paul Martin from New Jersey, New Jersey signed Anton Volchenkov from Ottawa and Ottawa signed Sergei Gonchar from Pittsburgh. This is just my opinion but, a three-way trade during the season would have been soooooo much cooler!

-If the Devils don’t sign Kovalchuk, they should take a hard look at Miroslav Satan, and not just because of the name. Miro proved in the playoffs that he can still produce and help a winning team go deep into the spring.

-Four solid long-time NHL vets are still on the market. Would Mike Modano, Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne & Bill Guerin have lasted this long on the open market ten summers ago in 2000? I think not. Modano may go to Detroit, which makes sense in a lot of ways. What if Kariya and Selanne sign one-year deals in Pittsburgh like they did in Colorado? Apparently Sidney Crosby felt he didn’t need Guerin’s leadership, so maybe Guerin could ride shotgun with AO in DC?

-Finally where in the world is Petr Sykora? The rest of your buddies from 2000 are in NJ…..A-LINE, ASSEMBLE!!!!

MacLean + Arnott = Devilicious

First off congrats to the Chicago Blackhawks and captain Jonathan Toews for winning the 2010 Stanley Cup; it looks like Toews and Patrick Kane are the next faces of the NHL — sorry Sidney Crosby, your time is up!

Earlier this week the Devils announced that the franchise leader in goals (347) John MacLean was named New Jersey’s new head coach. Johnny Mac was an assistant for several years until last season when he coached their AHL team (Lowell Devils) to their first playoff appearance in eons. Apparently that was enough seasoning for GM Lou Lamoriello, who was satisfied that MacLean is ready to take over the head coaching vacancy for the recently retired Jacques Lemaire. As far as I see it this is a safe move, but if the Devils struggle out of the gate I wouldn’t put it past Lamoriello that MacLean could get the axe by Thanksgiving. I doubt that will happen (you never know), but hopefully he can at least get the Devils out of the 1st round of the East in 2010-11. Also a nice touch that one of his assistants will be one of the classiest guys in the game, another old friend/coach, Larry Robinson.

Earlier this afternoon the Devils acquired an old friend in Jason Arnott from Nashville for young Matt Halischuk and a second round draft pick in 2011. Arnott is a hero in Devil-land, thanks in part to his double-overtime Cup-clinching goal in the 2000 Finals against Dallas. His presence gives New Jersey a bonafide no. 2 center behind Travis Zajac and should help to re-ignite Patrik Elias, who hasn’t been the same player he was before the lockout; it will also allow Elias to move back to his natural left wing position.

Could the other member of the high-scoring  ‘A-line’ (Petr Sykora) rejoin the Devils too? Highly unlikely, but again with Lamoriello, one never knows. Arnott is in the last year of a deal that will pay him $4.5 million this season, so if I had to guess I would say this could take the Devils out of the running to re-sign Ilya Kovalchuk. However, if Trader Lou can move around a few more bodies (i.e. Brian Rolston), maybe Kovalchuk could still stay in NJ and give the Devils the best trio of left wingers (Zach Parise, Elias, Kovalchuk) in the NHL.

Next up: the NHL schedule is released on Tuesday, the NHL awards are on Wednesday and the 2010 NHL Draft is on Friday and Saturday. On July 1 free agency begins!!

Stay tuned, it’s sure to be a busy summer!

My Top 10…

Everyone these days is doing some sort of top ten, and recently I read a blogger who listed their top ten favorite players and the idea intrigued me. If you have a top ten (or five) player list, let me know & here is my submission:

10: Zach Parise (New Jersey) — This kid has done nothing but score since making his debut after the lockout and he never seems to take a shift off. Other coaches visiting New Jersey have instructed their healthy scratches to watch Parise shift after shift and pattern their games after him. The best part is that Zach is only 25 and still has room to get even better (if that’s possible); oh and he is as nice a person as he is as good a hockey player — one of the few players that says thank you after being interviewed.

9: Patrik Elias (New Jersey) — My buddies & I nicknamed Elias ‘The Finisher’ back in the 2000 season because of the Czech star’s penchant for scoring big goals (See Philly, Game 7 2000 East Finals) as a member of the A-line (Jason Arnott, Petr Sykora). There have been times when I doubted that he would stay in New Jersey his whole career, but the franchise’s all-time leading point-getter has been a treat to watch and still has some gas left in his tank.

8. Saku Koivu (Montreal-Anaheim) — I instantly became a Saku fan when I first started participating in fantasy hockey and Montreal’s top line was the lethal trio of Koivu-Mark Recchi & Martin Rucinsky. After I read the detailed stories of his battle with stomach cancer, a battle he would survive, how could you not pull for the little guy? One of the most memorable games I ever attended was when he played his first game (after going through treatments for almost a year) at the end of the 2001-02 season in New Jersey. It’s sad that he couldn’t finish his career as a Hab, but I’ll always be a fan.

7. Kirk Muller (NJ) — Captain Kirk spent the first seven years of his career in New Jersey and was my first favorite player when I began watching/listening to games in 1988. I don’t remember many specifics from back then, as I was still learning the game, but I do remember that he seemed to get a point, or do something to help the team win every night. Meeting him a few years ago in New Jersey (he’s now an assistant coach with Montreal) is one of the highlights of my career so far.

6. Jeremy Roenick (Chicago-Phoenix-Philly-LA-San Jose) — I remember JR’s back-to-back 50-goal seasons and his three consecutive 100-point campaigns, but what everyone remembers most is his outspokenness and willingness to say what was on his mind. The Rooming with Roenick spots that ran on Center Ice were hilarious. He’s probably the one player that I ever liked that played for the Flyers (his OT goal in Game 7 against Toronto was a classic) and one of the few great players of my era that never won the Stanley Cup. He did some great TV work during these past Olympics — and hopefully we see more of him doing stuff like that in the future.

5. Sergei Fedorov (Detroit-Anaheim-Columbus-Washington) — He just about all you could do in an NHL career: won three Cups, league MVP, two Selke Trophys and now plays in the Russian league (KHL) after a great 19-years here in the US. Sadly, when I interviewed him I never got the chance to tell him about the ‘White Russian’ Nike poster I had hanging in my basement for 10 years; but he was one of the best players I’ve ever met and had the honor of interviewing. It also annoys to me no end when media outlets like MSG (gag!) spell his name wrong on their bottom line: IT’S FEDOROV NOT FEDEROV!!

4. Brett Hull (St. Louis-Dallas-Detroit) — Hull, like Roenick was never shy when it came to saying what was on his mind, but on the ice he was lethal. His 741 career goals are an amazing number and he’ll probably always be remembered for his Cup-clinching, foot in the crease goal for Dallas in Buffalo in the 1999 Finals, but I also remember the seasons when he tallied 72, 86 & 70 (in consecutive years) while skating in St. Louis. Hull clinched his spot on this list when he decided to suit up for the US team rather than Canada in the 1996 World Cup, prompting boos from the Montreal crowd every time his face was on the jumbotron during the Final series (I was at Game 2 of 3).

3. Scott Stevens (Washington-St. Louis-New Jersey) — When Stevens came to New Jersey, he immediately impacted the franchise and became one of the fiercest open-ice hitters the NHL has ever seen. There were so many memorable hits (See: Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya, Slava Kozlov, Ron Francis) but one of the things I think of when I think about  Stevens is he was the guy who led New Jersey to three Stanley Cups — turning the Devils from a “Mickey Mouse organization” into a team that the NHL has twice adjusted it’s rules for. The only other franchise I can think of that has that distinction was Montreal.

2. Dominik Hasek (Chicago-Buffalo-Detroit-Ottawa) — Ten years ago, I would’ve never picked Hasek for my list, but times change. He was always Martin Brodeur’s biggest rival during his Buffalo days, and Hasek’s unorthodox, yet successful style led him to six Vezina Trophies and two league MVP’s. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when he and Brett Hull became teammates in Detroit, and I’m sure Hasek’s pain was eased a bit when the two Hall-of-Famers became champions together in Detroit. The Dominator had some strange moments throughout his career, and he suffered too many injuries to contend for some of the NHL’s goaltending records. Talking to him late in his career after a game in NJ, still feels very surreal, but he was willing to talk until all of my questions were answered, something I’ll never forget.

1. Martin Brodeur (New Jersey) — He’s been my absolute favorite player since 1994 and when he retires, I may actually shed a tear. Brodeur owns just about every major NHL goaltending record and still has some good years left so who knows what those numbers will be when he does hang up his skates. It’s still a little intimidating to interview my favorite player, but his easy-going personality makes my job a lot easier; and the fact that I can tell that he recognizes me (he should after five seasons!) is pretty neat. He became the ultimate comeback when being taunted by dopey, Rangers’ fans: ‘Devils suck! Yeah but we have Brodeur and you don’t! Whatever, you guys suck!’ I’ll never forget where I was when he scored a goal in the playoffs vs. Montreal or when he broke Patrick Roy’s wins record vs. Chicago, or when he was the backbone of three Stanley Cup championship teams, and one of these days, I will make sure to thank him for all of those memories…and hopefully a few more!