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.

Who Will Be the Beast of the East?

Who Will Be the Beast of the East?

Eastern Conference predictions

Round 1:

(1) Washington over (8) NY Rangers

(7) Buffalo over (2) Philadelphia

(3) Boston over (6) Montreal

(4) Pittsburgh over (5) Tampa Bay

Round 2:

(1) Washington over (7) Buffalo

(3) Boston over (4) Pittsburgh

Round 3:

(3) Boston over (1) Washington

Washington (1)      vs.    NY Rangers (8)

Last Cup Win: Washington (never), NY Rangers (1994)

Why the Capitals will win: They aren’t intimidated by the Rangers or their goaltender whom has been known to get in some of his opponents’ heads (see: New Jersey Devils). Washington is also one of the deepest teams in the league and they will wear their undermanned first round opponent down.

Why the Rangers will win: They spanked Washington twice this season (6-0, 7-0) and when they are on their game, the Blueshirts have all of the necessary components to go toe-to-toe with any team in the league; solid goaltending, timely scoring and team defense will lead New York to the upset win over the Caps.

Washington’s most important player: Tempted to say Alex Ovechkin, but it’s Mike Green; if he is healthy and has fresh legs he could bury the Rangers (a team that has taken a penalty or two) with his power play prowess.

New York’s most important player: The soul of the Rangers is Henrik Lundqvist, if he falters, they are cooked. He’s only won two playoff series in his career, but his league-leading 11 shutouts this season tell you that he is capable of shutting down any team in the NHL.

Washington’s biggest question mark: It has to be the goaltending, despite the fact that they won the East with three goaltenders — two of them rookies. Michal Neuvirth will get the nod to begin the series, and that’s probably the right call. He won back-to-back Calder Cups for the Hershey Bears and was victorious in 27 of his 48 starts with the Caps this season.

New York’s biggest question mark: Which version of Marian Gaborik will show up in this series? Will it be the same Gaborik that had only 48 points (22 goals) in 62 games this season or will he become the two-time 40-goal scorer that the Rangers are paying for?

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Washington (Jason Arnott, Mike Knuble), New York (Chris Drury, Ruslan Fedotenko)

PREDICTION: CAPITALS IN 6 — Gaborik and Lundqvist will show up and the Rangers will put up a fight, but Ovechkin will eliminate them with a hat trick in Game 6.

Philadelphia (2)     vs. Buffalo (7)

Last Cup Win: Philadelphia (1975), Buffalo (never)

Why the Flyers will win: Since the start of last season’s playoffs Philadelphia has probably been the best team in the NHL. With the talent on this roster they should walk all over the Sabres, but only if their power play finds itself. This season they ranked 19th in the NHL out of 30 teams, with a putrid 16.6%. Offensive juggernauts that were ranked ahead of them: Buffalo, Colorado, Atlanta, Minnesota and Ottawa.

Why the Sabres will win: They have Ryan Miller and the Flyers don’t; it’s as simple as that. He has won playoff series as the favorite and the underdog in his career, and Buffalo is the hottest team in the league heading into the playoffs. If Miller is at less than 100%, then the Sabres will be in trouble.

Philadelphia’s most important player: Chris Pronger’s presence alone will make a difference in the series, but only if he’s healthy enough to be there. His absence over the final weeks of the season is the reason the Flyers crashed and stumbled out of the East’s top spot.

Buffalo’s most important player: Aside from Miller, it’s Thomas Vanek who very quietly had a solid season — 73 points (32g-41a) in 80 games. If Drew Stafford can get into one of his hot streaks it will make a big difference in the series.

Philadelphia’s biggest question mark: As always since Ron Hextall left, it’s goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky will start Game 1, but lurking behind him are somewhat proven veterans in Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher.

Buffalo’s biggest question mark: Can Tyler Myers and the Sabres’ defensive corps stop the flock of talented Flyers forwards is a good place to start; also how will smallish rookie Tyler Ennis (who had a real nice season) hold up in a seven-game series against the rugged Philadelphians?

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Philadelphia (Nick Boynton, Sean O’Donnell, Pronger, Kris Versteeg), Buffalo (Rob Niedermayer)

PREDICTION: SABRES IN 7 — Miller shines as Buffalo wins a l-e-n-g-t-h-y Game 7 in Philadelphia.

Boston (3)       vs. Montreal (6)

Last Cup Win: Boston (1972), Montreal (1993)

Why the Bruins will win: Boston’s depth is only matched by Washington in the East as far as I’m concerned, especially when your top three centers are Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Rich Peverley. The addition of Tomas Kaberle really balanced out the defense in Beantown too.

Why the Canadiens will win: If I had to pick one team in the East that would give Boston the biggest challenge, I’d say Montreal. These two teams know each other inside and out with all of their legendary battles throughout time. Also how will Boston react after blowing a three games-to-none lead in last year’s East semi-finals.

Boston’s most important player: Tim Thomas is the easy choice here, if he continues playing the way he did during the season (35-11-9, 2.00 GAA, .938 save %, 9 shutouts), the Bruins should be able to choke-out the sometimes offensively challenged Habs.

Montreal’s most important player: Where were you this season Scott Gomez? Horrible season (7g-31a, minus-15 in 80 games) from one of the veterans on the Canadiens, but during last spring’s run to the East Finals he put up 14 points in 19 games. If he can get on that type of run it would be much appreciated in Montreal.

Boston’s biggest question mark: The Bruins had a great year, but after choking away last season’s opportunity to beat the Flyers in the semis, anything less than a trip to the East Finals would be a failure. It will be interesting to see how they react if they get Montreal into an elimination game.

Montreal’s biggest question mark: Last season’s dramatic run was led by goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who is now with the St. Louis Blues. Now it’s Carey Price’s turn and judging from the season he just had (38-28-6, 8 shutouts) he could be a difference maker, not only this season but for many, many more to come.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Boston (Mark Recchi (2), Shawn Thornton), Montreal (Gomez (2), Brian Gionta, Travis Moen, Hal Gill, Brent Sopel)

PREDICTION: BRUINS IN 7 – Boston will bend, but won’t break as they hold off the Habs; Nathan Horton, playing in his first playoffs, will have a monster series.

Pittsburgh (4)                vs. Tampa Bay (5)

Last Cup Win: Pittsburgh (2009), Tampa Bay (2004)

Why the Penguins will win: They have an elite goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal will not only shut down Steven Stamkos, but he’ll also chip in a few big goals.

Why the Lightning will win: Without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, the Lightning can focus their attention on solid team defense and timely goals. Whether or not Stamkos and Simon Gagne can score multiple times will be determining factors in the series.

Pittsburgh’s most important player: It will be all of their penalty killers; they led the league killing off penalties at an 86.2% clip and if they can shut down Tampa’s powerful power play the series could be a quick one.

Tampa Bay’s most important player: If he becomes a playoff-beast once again, it will be the league’s second leading point getter Martin St. Louis (99 points). He’s a proven playoff performer (48 pts in 45 games) and if he gets hot the Pens will become postseason spectators.

Pittsburgh’s biggest question mark: If there is a small chance he can play, does Pittsburgh risk everything and put Crosby out there? If Crosby doesn’t play, who else besides Staal is going to contribute offensively?

Tampa Bay’s biggest question mark: In the 2006 playoffs, Dwayne Roloson led the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and then blew out his knee in Game 1. That was the last time he played in a playoff game, so five years later it’s hard to tell what you are going to get from the veteran netminder.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Pittsburgh (Chris Kunitz (2), Craig Adams (2), Fleury, Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Alex Kovalev, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Tyler Kennedy, Michael Rupp, Max Talbot, Eric Godard), Tampa Bay (Vincent Lecavalier, St. Louis, Pavel Kubina)

PREDICTION: PENGUINS IN 7 — The Lightning prove to be a valiant opponent but Fleury will top Roloson in a wild Game 7

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

Overachiever/Underachiever…

With the season almost a month old and today being a rare off day for all 30 NHL teams, I figured it would be a good time to look at each team and see which players have caught my eye as under and overachievers.

Anaheim:

Over —  Teemu Selanne: at age 40 the Finnish Flash still has some gas left in the tank with 12 points (5g-7a) in 12 games. He didn’t want to retire the same summer as Scott Niedermayer, so expect this to be Team Teemu’s swan song.

Under — Jonas Hiller: Only 3 wins in 9 games played with a ghastly 3.13 GAA after the last two seasons when he posted 2.73 (2009-10) and 2.39 (2008-09).

Atlanta:

Over — Andrew Ladd: after winning the Cup with Chicago, Ladd was a salary ‘cap-rifice’ and traded to the Thrashers where he has tallied 12 points (4g-8a) in 11 games.

Under — Bryan Little: There are a few choices here (Antropov, Modin, Bogosian), but I’ll go with Little who has seen his goal production drop from 31 (2008-09)  to 13 (2009-10) to 1. More is needed out of the 12th overall pick in 2006 if Atlanta is going to make any noise this season.

Boston:

Over — Tim Thomas: Sure he won the Vezina Trophy two seasons ago, so we shouldn’t be too surprised by his success, but take a look at these numbers: 6-0-0 in six starts, 3 shutouts and a GAA of 0.50!! The Drew Carey lookalike is pain-free and found his game again.

Under — Blake Wheeler: Only two assists in eight games; he could be trade bait once Marc Savard is ready to return from post-concussion syndrome.

Buffalo:

Over — Tyler Ennis: He has seven points this season (in 12 games) and entered the season with nine career points in 10 career games, so not much was expected of the youngster.

Under — Tyler Myers: The reigning Rookie of the Year may be falling victim to the ‘sophomore jinx’ because he is an NHL-worst  minus-10 this season…yikes!!

Calgary:

Over — Brendan Morrison: The guy didn’t sign until after training camp and leads the team with 10 points (3g-7a) in 11 games; ’nuff said.

Under — Jarome Iginla: The team’s captain and heart & soul has only two goals so far, which isn’t very good for a guy with 443 career goals and nine consecutive seasons with 30-plus goals.

Carolina:

Over — Jeff Skinner: The youngest player in the league (18) is tied for the team lead with seven points (3g-4a) and the seventh overall pick in last June’s draft hasn’t looked out of place at all.

Under — Brandon Sutter: After wetting our appetites with 2 goals in the season-opener, Brent Sutter’s son has only managed one measly assist in the following nine contests.

Chicago:

Over — Patrick Sharp: Leads the NHL in goals (10) and is third in points (15); eh, what Cup hangover?

Under — Niklas Hjalmarsson: The Hawks wanted to keep him so bad they let Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi go to San Jose; now the blueliner has 0 points in 11 games & is a minus-8.

Colorado:

Over — tie, John-Michael Liles or Chris Stewart: Liles has 11 assists in 11 games (t-1st in NHL); Stewart has two hat tricks and is second in the NHL in points (16) and goals (9).

Under — Craig Anderson: The goalie’s play last season meant so much to the young Avs as they made the playoffs; this season he is 3-4-0 and hurt his right knee during warmups this week, and is out indefinitely.

Columbus:

Over — Chris Clark: He has six assists in eight games for the low-scoring Blue Jackets.

Under — Rick Nash: Only five points (3g-2a) through the first ten games and is a team-worst minus-8. Not good enough.

Dallas:

Over — James Neal: The third-year pro is off to a nice start of 10 points (5g-5a) in 10 games and could surpass hsi career-high of 55 points set last season.

Under — Jamie Benn: After 41 points in his rookie season, he has gotten off to a slow start with one goal and five points through seven games.

Detroit:

Over — Jimmy Howard: Nice record (4-0-1) in his second full season with the mighty Red Wings; he is proving that he’s the real deal and learning from vet Chris Osgood everyday.

Under — Mike Modano: He scored on his first shift as a Wing but hasn’t done squat since. Perhaps he should have just walked away after 20 years with the Stars organization.

Edmonton:

Over — Jordan Eberle: The rookie has eight points in his first nine games and two highlight-reel shorthanded goals; keep an eye on this kid.

Under — Andrew Cogliano: Only has two points in nine games; he should be better in what is now his fourth full season with the Oilers.

Florida:

Over — Marty Reasoner: The journeyman has seven points in his first nine games for the Panthers, giving them some much-needed offense.

Under — Stephen Weiss: One of the longest tenured Cats is having a rough start with only three points through eight games and he’s a minus-6.

Los Angeles:

Over — Jaret Stoll: Just about every team would take 10 points (4g-6a) from their third-line center through 11 games.

Under — Drew Doughty: Only one point in five games, plus he suffered a concussion.

Minnesota:

Over — Matt Cullen: Ten points in ten games was probably not expected when they signed the reliable center during the summer, but the traditionally offense-starved Wild will take it.

Under — Martin Havlat: The talented, yet oft-injured winger should have more than six assists in the club’s first ten games. Chances are he will be dealt at some point this season.

Montreal:

Over — Carey Price: The young goalie looked abysmal during the preseason, but he has rebounded nicely with a 6-3-1 record putting the Habs atop the Eastern Conference standings.

Under — tie, Scott Gomez, or Brian Gionta: The two ex-Devils have one goal and two assists each in 11 games, and are no longer considered the Canadiens top line.

Nashville:

Over — Anders Lindback: Another year, the Preds produce another young goalie. The rookie is 3-0-1 in his first four NHL starts. One of these years people will realize that Barry Trotz is a great coach.

Under — Patric Hornqvist: After posting 30 goals last season, he has only potted 3 in ten games this year.

New Jersey:

Over — tie, Matt Taormina or Dainius Zubrus: Taormina, a rookie defenseman, is tied for the team-lead in goals with three; Zubrus leads the team in points (7), and assists (6).

Under — Martin Brodeur: The all-time leader in wins is off to a rocky start (3-7-1); is it his age (38) or the amount of rookie defensemen (3) in front of him on a nightly basis?

NY Islanders:

Over — James Wisniewski: The late-summer acquisition has been excellent for the Isles with a team-leading 11 points (2g-9a) in nine games; his performance has been equal to what you would expect from Mark Streit, who is out until March with a shoulder injury.

Under — Trent Hunter: Two assists in eight games;  coupled with the fact he has never come close to duplicating the 51 points he put up in 2003-04 make you wonder why he is still on the Islanders and in the NHL.

NY Rangers:

Over — Ryan Callahan: Even before Marian Gaborik went down with an injury, more was expected of Callahan this season; he has been the Rangers most consistent performer with a team-leading 11 points (4g-7a) in 10 games.

Under — tie, Gaborik or Chris Drury: They’ve played a combined four games this season, which may explain why the Blueshirts are playing like a .500 team.

Ottawa:

Over — Pascal Leclaire: Injured again and sporting an 0-2-1 record; if the Sens are smart they’ll stick with Brian Elliott or start looking to make a trade for a real no. 1 goalie: see Martin Biron, Jonathan Bernier.

Under — Milan Michalek: It’s tough when you are traded for a 50-goal scorer like Dany Heatley; it’s even tougher when you only have five points in ten games and no points on the PP.

Philadelphia:

Over — Sergei Bobrovsky: The latest in a long, long, long line of Flyers goalies has started the season strong, going 5-2-0 in his first seven NHL games.  Not bad for an undrafted free agent.

Under — James van Riemsdyk: More was expected of van Riemsdyk in his second NHL season, but so far he only has four assists in 11 games.

Phoenix:

Over — Eric Belanger: All that can be said is that Belanger leads the team in scoring with six points in ten games.

Under — Shane Doan: The Coyotes captain has only two points, both assists, in seven games; both points came in the same game.

Pittsburgh:

Over — Brent Johnson: The ‘backup’ goalie has a 5-0-1 record this season with one shutout and a 1.16 GAA.

Under — Marc-Andre Fleury: The ‘starting’ goalie has a 1-5-0 record this season with a 3.35 GAA; can you say goaltending controversy?

San Jose:

Over — Antero Niittymaki: The ex-Flyer and Lightning goalie has started the season strong with a 4-0-1 record for the hungry Sharks, and for the moment has the no. 1 job over Antti Niemi.

Under — Devin Setoguchi: Only one goal and one assist through nine games is a disappointing start for the 8th overall pick in 2005.

St. Louis:

Over — Alex Pieterangelo: He is tied for the team lead in +/- with a plus-6 as the 4th overall pick in 2008 looks to stay with the Blues for a whole season finally.

Under — Brad Boyes: Only has one goal in nine games and its beginning to look like he won’t ever reach 43 goals again like he scored in 2007-08.

Tampa Bay:

Over — Steven Stamkos: Okay, I knew Stamkos was good, but he is turning into a superstar and has Hart Trophy written all over him; and turning Tampa into a force to be reckoned with in the East. 19 points, 1st in the NHL. 9 goals, 2nd in the NHL. 10 assists, tied for second in the NHL.  plus-9, 2nd in the NHL.

Under — Simon Gagne: His first season with a team other than Philly has been a disaster. No points in six games, and now is on IR with a stiff neck.

Toronto:

Over —Clarke McArthur: He had five goals in his first four games as a Leaf, and has given them the second line scoring they so desperately need to stay in contention for a playoff berth.

Under — Kris Versteeg: Aside from the goal and assist he posted in game two of the season he has done nothing else for the Leafs and is a prime candidate to be traded if Toronto continues to play well.

Vancouver:

Over — Corey Schneider: He has made two starts and gave up only one goal in each; he is sporting a sparkling 2-0-0 record with a .970 save%.

Under — Roberto Luongo: The former captain of the Canucks has stumbled out of the gates this season with a 2-3-2 record and no shutouts.

Washington:

Over — Michal Neuvirth: He has taken the no. 1 goalie job away from Semyon Varlamov and ran with it, going 7-3-0 with a 2.15 GAA for the high-flying Caps.

Under — Mike Knuble: One goal and four points in 11 games, no PP points.

Devils-Bruins Postgame Quotes (10.16.10)

Dainius Zubrus:

Talking about a disappointing game…

“It was frustrating; I thought we had a decent start, we were playing okay and then it seemed every mistake that we made, they just…If you look at the goals that they got, it was something where we turned it over or lose a battle or some other thing; a lot of the goals that we get scored on, we have the puck on our stick and then we lose it or whatever happens. We’re just not being good enough really.”

Coach switched you and Ilya tonight on the lines, how did that work out for you?

“It was fun, I obviously enjoy playing with those two guys (Zach Parise and Travis Zajac), they work really hard and I try to match their intensity and the pace of their game. I just try to work hard and I think at times we got the puck back on the forecheck just because we work hard and support each other; it’s fun playing with those two guys. It seemed like we got some chances and we could’ve gotten more than just one goal — Travis hit the post and maybe a few rebounds didn’t go our way, but that’s how it is. We have to still play better and earn those things.”

Any type of adjustment for you, you were playing left wing and tonight shifted to right wing?

“Not so much really; you play with these guys, I want to be in motion as much as I can, especially coming through the neutral zone from our end. I try to come across and support Zach all the time to maybe back off the D or if they step up on him we kind of keep going forward all the time. We don’t want to do too many drop passes or criss-crosses through the neutral zone, we just try to simplify it and get the puck down in their end. Once we’re there we talk a lot, we support each other and try to cycle it. That’s how I think we got our chances and that’s when we had our good shifts; it just wasn’t good enough tonight though.”

Can you talk about your goal tonight and if it felt good to finally get on the board?

“Well yeah it felt good, yesterday I had some good chances that I didn’t put in; now it’s five or six games in and I was feeling a little pressure (to finally get a goal). I don’t know, I felt like I was getting some chances, I don’t want to say it was a matter of time, but I just have to stay with it and bear down. Today’s goal was a good shot on net, a battle in front of the net — I think Zach got a piece of it — and it popped out right to my backhand. I saw (Tim) Thomas was down and I tried to get it over the top of him and I was able to do that. It felt good obviously, because it gave our team some energy and we haven’t been scoring that much; I thought the spirit of the team came up a bit. Then they scored right away to even it out and we weren’t too good after that.”

Tim Thomas:

Talking about being injured last year and healthy this year…

“Like last year when you don’t do something and you don’t even realize why you didn’t do it, your body’s not letting you; and you’re like ‘c’mon, what’s going on here? I know I’m better than this.’ Not to have that restriction, to be able to play in a loosey-goosey manner — it’s great.”

You feel like a young guy again?

“Yeah, yeah exactly, it’s refreshing. Hopefully it lasts all year (laughs).”

Can you just talk about you team’s effort tonight?

“It was a great effort up and down (the lineup). Every person in the lineup, you can think of a lot of good things that they did.”


Claude Julien:

How did you like your team’s effort tonight?

“I thought everybody was able to contribute and we had some nice goals. This is probably one of the games where I’ve seen our team generate the most offense in this building in a long time; we scored four goals and we had a lot of other quality chances. I thought we got better as the game went on, maybe a little bit of rust early in the first — which was a normal thing when you haven’t played in a week and we came back from Europe, but what we wanted to do was get better as the game went on and we did that.”

It seemed like in the third period you kept the pedal to the metal there…

“Well I think it was important for us because this was their third game in four nights and we had to make sure that we didn’t hold back because we were a fresh team. We wanted to make sure we played a full 60 minutes, we didn’t want to give them too many opportunities and let them back in the game.”

Can you talk about the solid coaching strategy playing Tim Thomas two games in a row?

“He played well, he had the shutout (in Prague) and I thought he really deserved it. We talked about that this morning that it would be fair and making our decisions tougher as we go along. We have to consider two things — the goalie who is playing really well and a good goalie who can’t sit forever either. So we have lots of games, three games in five nights next week, so I’m sure we’ll see both of them. Timmy did good tonight; he challenged everything, when he’s on top of his game, that’s what he does. He challenges (the shooters); he doesn’t over think, he just does the job. I thought he did a great job in close, they had some shots, some rebounds and he battled through those.”

How big was killing off the 5-on-3 against you at the end of the first period?

“Yeah that could have been a turning point right there; the second call was a tough one on (Brad) Marchand, but you have to kill those off. I thought our guys did a good job – they have a couple of guys that can shoot from the back end: (Jason) Arnott and obviously Kovalchuk. We wanted to make sure that we took away those opportunities and make the big save when we needed it – our guys did a pretty good job of killing that. It seemed to give us some momentum heading into the second period.”

John MacLean:

What did you tell the team after the game?

“What did I tell them? I’m not going to share that with you. It’s pretty simple, we had a couple of lines that battled the whole game and we had some passengers.”

Why did you change two of the lines?

“To get some energy and it worked for one of the lines. I had been thinking about it for a while and I thought that lined played really well; I thought Zubie and Travis and Zach worked really hard. They had a lot of chances and they battled the whole game. I thought that line was good.”

When things are going bad like this is it kind of a snowball effect?

“Well it can happen, but you also have to battle through that.”

Is chemistry or a lack of it your biggest problem right now?

“Chemistry, yeah, I guess to a certain extent. That’s the easy way out. Hard work and battle, you could still do that and win one-on-one battles.”

You have a few days off before Thursday in Montreal

“We’ll take a break and then we’ll start working on things from the defensive zone out, work on some starts and stops, some battles, start winning some battles, and getting our mind focused.”

You mentioned passengers, are you worried about the leadership of this team?

“I’m worried about guys not focused enough for 60 minutes; sometimes I think we read how we are on paper and the other teams don’t really care. For this team to win it’s not going to take one or two guys, it’s going to take all 20 guys, night in and night out. That’s no different than any other team in the NHL. The leadership that comes with the 20 guys being ready to play; we have some guys in there that are veterans and everybody knows what’s expected of them. They need to come and be ready to compete.”

Did you consider pulling Martin Brodeur after the second period?

“No, I thought Marty played fine. Some of the breakdowns are not his fault; it’s not his fault if the breakdown happens in their zone.”

Are you shocked at your record through six games?

“I wouldn’t say shocked but maybe a little bit surprised.”

No Doubting Thomas as Bruins Bash Devils

Boston 4         Devils 1

Through the first four home games this season the New Jersey Devils have perfected only one thing — the art of losing. Saturday night at Prudential Center they dropped a bomb against the Boston Bruins, falling by a 4-1 score with all goals coming in the second period. Tim Thomas played a strong game in net for the Bruins, turning aside 31 of 32 Devils’ shots as he picked up his second win of the season. New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur also made 31 saves, but the four he surrendered in 16 second period Bruins’ shots were the difference in the game as his team fell to a disappointing 0-3-1 at home. “Timmy did good tonight; he challenged everything,” said Boston coach Claude Julien. “When he’s on top of his game, that’s what he does. He challenges (the shooters); he doesn’t over think, he just does the job. I thought he did a great job in close, they had some shots, some rebounds and he battled through those.”

In the final two minutes of the scoreless opening period the Devils had a 5-on-3 advantage, but were unable to capitalize as the road-weary Bruins began to find their game legs. “Yeah that could have been a turning point right there; the second call was a tough one on (Brad) Marchand, but you have to kill those off,” the ex-Devils coach said afterwards. “They have a couple of guys that can shoot from the back end: (Jason) Arnott and obviously (Ilya) Kovalchuk. We wanted to make sure that we took away those opportunities and make the big save when we needed it – our guys did a pretty good job of killing that. It seemed to give us some momentum heading into the second period.” Boston played their first two games this season in Prague, Czech Republic against the Phoenix Coyotes and won’t play their home opener until Thursday when they host Washington.

At the start of the second period New Jersey coach John MacLean altered his line combinations, switching Dainius Zubrus with Kovalchuk. Zubrus’ addition to the duo of Travis Zajac and Zach Parise paid almost immediate dividends as the trio accounted for the team’s only goal. On the scoring play Zubrus collected the rebound of Andy Greene’s point shot and flipped a backhanded shot past a lunging Thomas at 3:45. “The goal was a good shot on net, a battle in front of the net — I think Zach got a piece of it — and it popped out right to my backhand,” said Zubrus. “I saw Thomas was down and I tried to get it over the top of him and I was able to do that. It felt good obviously, because it gave our team some energy and we haven’t been scoring that much.”

Unfortunately Kovalchuk was relegated to the third line and managed only one shot on goal each period skating with David Clarkson and rookie center Jacob Josefson. “I thought Zubie and Travis and Zach worked really hard. They had a lot of chances and they battled the whole game. I thought that line was good,” said MacLean. “We had a couple of lines that battled the whole game and we had some passengers.”

The Devils lead lasted only 1:53 as the Bruins evened the score when rookie Jordan Caron netted his first career NHL goal by sliding a rebound past Brodeur, sparking his team’s goal explosion. Michael Ryder gave Boston the lead permanently when his slapper from the slot beat Brodeur’s glove hand at 10:44, followed by Shawn Thornton’s tally at 16:43 and Milan Lucic’s at 18:09. “It was frustrating,” admitted Zubrus. “I thought we had a decent start, we were playing okay and then it seemed every mistake that we made, they just…if you look at the goals that they got, it was something where we turned it over or lose a battle; a lot of the goals that we get scored on (lately), we have the puck on our stick and then we lose it.”

The Devils will have four days off before their next game and clearly have some things to work on if they are to get back to their winning ways. “We’ll take a break and then we’ll start working on things from the defensive zone out, work on some starts and stops, some battles,” said a surprised, but not shocked MacLean, “start winning some battles, and getting our mind focused (on playing 60 minutes).”

Game Notes: Nathan Horton’s assist on the fourth Boston goal was his 300th NHL point (145g-155a). Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara led all skaters in ice-time with 23:55 and Greene led New Jersey with 23:36; Arnott was a game-worst -3. Parise and Horton led all players with five shots on goal apiece; only two Bruins (Gregory Campbell and Blake Wheeler) failed to register a shot on goal. Both teams won 21 face-offs and both power plays were empty: NJ 0-4, BOS 0-3. New Jersey (1-4-1) is off until Thursday when they play at Montreal (3-1-1); Boston (2-1-0) will continue their early-season trek in Washington (4-1-0) on Tuesday night.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Tim Thomas (Bos) – 31 saves, win (2-0-0)

#2 – Michael Ryder (Bos) – gw goal (1)

#3 – Milan Lucic (Bos) – goal (2)

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

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!!!!

If You’re Not First, You’re Last; but…

Normally that’s how I see things: ‘If You Ain’t First, You’re Last’ — Ricky Bobby; but after seeing how Team USA played at the Winter Olympics, a silver medal isn’t too bad for a group that no one was too familiar with and no one gave a chance to medal in the tournament filled with powerhouses.

So I felt I should thank the 23 players that made me not only proud to be an American, but proud to be a fan of American hockey. Thank you guys for giving us a scintillating two weeks of hockey and hope you can bring home the gold in 2014.

Team USA 2010:
Goalies
Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas & Jonathan Quick

Defenseman:
Tim Gleason, Jack Johnson, Erik Johnson, Brooks Orpik, Brian Rafalski, Ryan Suter & Ryan Whitney

Forwards:
David Backes, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, Chris Drury, Patrik Kane, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel, Jamie Langenbrunner, Ryan Malone, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski, Bobby Ryan & Paul Stastny