The Sabres Report: ‘The Other 80 Percent’

Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Unless you have been living under a rock, it is well documented that the Buffalo Sabres are in a full fledged rebuild mode. The decision was made to for a lack of a better term, gut out virtually the entire roster and start from scratch. This concept was embraced by most Sabres fans, as the Darcy Regier era of finishing 9th in the East and going nowhere fast had lost its appeal.

The focus of the 2014-2015 Buffalo Sabres seems to be clear as day: The Sabres have a plethora of draft picks. And the fan base is totally focused on ‘taking’ to land prospect Connor McDavid. Hashtags #FailForMcDavid and #DishonorForConnor have become the go-to tags on twitter (for yours truly as well).

Why the hype for McDavid? McDavid has essentially been deemed the #1 overall choice now for three years. Scouts have mentioned he has elite skating, vision, and puck handling. These traits are music to suffering Sabres fans ears as this Sabres team scores goals as frequently as the worst teams in the MLS Soccer League.

Considering the Sabres have three 1st round picks in the 2015 NHL Draft, the optimism for this moment is through the roof in Western New York.  But should Connor McDavid the sole focal point for the 2014-2015 Sabres ON the ice?

Far from it.

Assuming the Sabres finish last in the NHL in points (a very likely scenario) the chance of winning the NHL Lottery has decreased from 25% to 20%. Far from a guarantee. But Sabres fans should not paint doom and gloom either: This draft is deep, and offers other high-end prospects besides McDavid. Jack Eichel would be an excellent consolation prize.

So instead of focusing on a 20% chance at best, why don’t we peek into the 80% on the ice right now.

This is a very important year for the long-term vision that General Manager Tim Murray has in mind. The goal is to clearly identify who will be part of the long-term solution in Buffalo. And so far that vision appears to be very blurry.

The Sabres currently sit at 1-7 to start the 2014-2015 season. A grand total of 9 goals in 8 games. To say the offense is putrid would be an insult to the word putrid. The offense is worse than that. When watching the Sabres, it just appears the offense has no flow no organization, just shoot on the net and hope for the best. Examine the numbers from the Sabres top salaried forwards:

Cody Hodgson 8 games, 1 assist, -6 and 9 SOG:  9 shots on goal? For a player who is supposed to anchor the top line for Buffalo, this number is completely unacceptable. Cody has been virtually invisible the entire season. Cody needs to show more, and fast.

Matt Moulson 8 games, 2 assists, -4 and 18 SOG: Moulson was signed to a pricey 5 year deal, and so far like the rest has showed very little with zero goals. Moulson can be streaky, so let’s hope the streak swings in the positive direction.

Brian Gionta 8 games, 1 assist, -5 and 16 SOG: I understand Gio is here to be the ‘leader’ for the younger players to follow, but considering his role on the team, some production would be of some help.

Drew Stafford 8 games, 3 assists, -4 and 15 SOG: Stafford has been an enigma during his tenure as a Sabre. Much like Tyler Myers, he started stronger and had slowly eroded over time. Do not see Drew as part of the long-term solution in Buffalo.

Chris Stewart 8 games, 1 assist -4 and 26 SOG: A player that was an intriguing get in the Ryan Miller trade, the thought was that Stewart needed a change of scenery to get things going. 26 SOG is a decent number, so perhaps he will get something going soon.

The salaries of the players above combined? $21,650,000. And the rate of return would make any financial investor cringe: 40 games, 0 goals, 8 assists, -23. This MUST change and fast for some of the younger players like Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Nikita Zadorov, four players who clearly appear to be part of the core in the future, to develop properly.

The poor start isn’t an issue of effort. When a team is losing, fans love to just throw around the effort excuse.  The Sabres are TRYING. But the real question to me is: are they ‘trying’ correctly? Do they have the right system in place? Or the right coach?

Make no mistake: I am a fan of Ted Nolan. In some situations, he is a very good fit for an NHL team. But does his style bring out the best in some of the young players on the roster? Are guys like Sam Reinhart, who appears to be a little lost so far in his rookie NHL season, going to be negatively impacted by Nolan’s style?  Time will tell.

But while it is nice to dream of what can be in the 2015 NHL Draft if the Sabres go to the podium and announce: The Buffalo Sabres are proud to select from the Erie Otters of the OHL, Connor McDavid’, let’s all put the 20 percent or less chance to the back-burner. ‘The Other 80 percent’ is just as crucial.

 

 

 

 

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Homecoming For Boychuk, Johnson as Isles Look To End Two-Game Losing Skid

Johnny Boychuk (above) returns to Boston along with Chad Johnson when the Islanders take on the Bruins later tonight. https://twitter.com/NYIslanders

After a quick start, the Islanders have dropped two in a row. They’ve come back to earth falling at Pittsburgh and getting blitzed by Toronto at home 5-2 on Monday. A game that saw the Maple Leafs erupt for four unanswered goals in a 8:49 span during the second period.

Top defenseman Travis Hamonic was injured and won’t play tonight at Boston. The Islanders announced that they’ve activated Lubomir Visnovsky off IR. The veteran will replace Hamonic in the lineup. Tonight marks the returns of Johnny Boychuk and Chad Johnson at TD Garden. Coach Jack Capuano will give Johnson his second start. He won his first making 21 saves against the Hurricanes on Oct. 11.

“It’s a different feeling coming back when there is no animosity on both sides. It’s just like, ‘okay, this is the way it is. It’s a process.’ It’s always nice leaving on a good note because you always want to leave a good mark wherever you are, a positive mark in the locker room, in the community or with the fans,” Johnson told reporters about facing his old team.

For Boychuk, it should be emotional with the former Stanley Cup winner facing the team that gave him a chance. The former Avalanche ’02 second round pick came over in ’08-09 and became a regular the following season. He spent six years in Beantown becoming a dependable top four defenseman coach Claude Julien knew he could count on. The 30-year old was a cap casualty with the Bruins dumping his salary to the Islanders before the season. He started like a house on fire putting up six points (2-4-6) in the Isles’ first three wins. Since, Boychuk’s without a point over the past three with a plus-one rating.

Offensively speaking, captain John Tavares continues to produce. With a goal and assist Monday, he’s tied with Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Tyler Seguin for first in scoring with 10 points (3-7-10). Linemate Kyle Okposo is also off quickly with two goals and six helpers. Second-year forward Brock Nelson has four goals and four assists. Ryan Strome has quietly tallied six assists but is without a goal.

Mikhail Grabovski sat out the last two games with an upper body injury after absorbing a big hit from Sharks bruiser John Scott. Following early tests that he didn’t suffer a concussion, he has experienced symptoms. He’ll miss a third consecutive game. Here are the Islanders projected lines below.

Conacher-Tavares-Okposo

Kulemin-Nielsen-Bailey

Lee-Nelson-Strome

Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck

Leddy-Boychuk

Hickey-Visnovsky

De Haan-Strait

Johnson

Halak

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Devil of a time trying to find success at home

Kevin Klein’s OT game winner which sent Devil fans home vexed (NJ.com)

DISCLAIMER: While part of me feels silly about posting this blog after the real-life tragedy in Ottawa earlier today, ultimately there’s nothing we can do but send our best wishes to all those affected there.  As much as we may rant about our favorite teams (and I’m about to do that now) ultimately we know in the end it’s just a game and how sobering it is when real life interrupts our little diversion known as the NHL.  That said since I teased this blog yesterday in Derek’s recap, and won’t have time to do it the next couple days it’s time to return to the diversion now:

Although I’ve calmed down a little bit in the nearly twenty-four hours since the Devils’ latest meltdown at the Rock against the rival Rangers, I still feel compelled to vent about last night.  Derek already did a game recap so I don’t really want to do the blow-by-blow though I will get into certain specifics and problems this Devil team is facing after six games.  Before I get to any of that though – the airhead coaching, bad PK’ing and goofy roster management, I’ll start this blog with some off-ice commentary.

Number one on the agenda is last night’s attendance, or lack thereof.  Since moving to the Rock, every single Devil-Ranger game – playoff or regular season – was a sellout before last night by whatever sellout number the Devils have used, either the 17,625 under previous owner Jeff Vanderbeek or the thousand or so less premium seats new ownership is no longer counting in the reported attendance.  Whatever a sellout entailed, the Devils filled every seat in the building for every single Devil-Ranger matchup the last six years…until last night when there were more than 2000 empty seats, according to the reported figure of 14,484.  If you’re racking your brain wondering how a Devil-Ranger game could be so far from a sellout (even on a weekday in October), the answer is quite elementary and just one word long.

Pricing.

Over the last few years the Devils have gone to a tiered pricing system where games against the Rangers get the highest pricing and there are a few other levels down from that, but this year the Devils pushed the envelope till it finally broke in reference to the level of increase this game got.  Memo to whoever was reponsible for last night’s pricing (where single-game tickets started at nearly $100 upstairs), whether it was CEO Scott O’Neill, DAE president Hugh Weber or one of their underlings…this isn’t MSG, Montreal or Minnesota!  You simply cannot price the market as if it was.  Me with my zero economics degrees could have priced that game better last night.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the concept of tiered pricing in itself, but you can only gouge people a ‘premium game tax’ so much, especially in October.  Especially when the Devils have three home games in six days, with the other two games the home opener and a much more affordable game on Friday where longtime broadcaster Chico Resch will be honored before the Devils’ now-crucial tilt against the Stars.

If I weren’t already a season ticket holder going to all three games and I only wanted to pick one or two, I’d pick the less expensive games with undivided crowds.  You would think maybe Ranger fans would have scooped up the extras (and they certainly made their presence known) but even they seemed disinterested to a degree…after all it’s only been a few months since their fans shelled out second mortgages for a long playoff run at MSG.  Even they weren’t even going to run out and buy $100-500 tickets for an away regular season game in October.  Regrettably I forgot to take a picture of the uppers last night because it was a true ghost town in the 200 sections.  The lower corners were also scattered like it was a midweek game against Florida.  I half-joked to a friend that the crowd seemed like 45% Devils fans, 30% Ranger fans and 25% empty seats.

Quite honestly though, I never thought I’d say this but now I’m glad there’s only one more Devil-Ranger game in NJ at this point since more and more every year it seems to bring out the worst in both sides.  Whether it’s the idiot Devils fan sth in 120 who did an unfunny caricature of a ‘Ranjuh fan’ but mostly was just talking to hear himself talk, the Ranger fan who tried to tackle my friend leaving the arena out of nowhere, the inevitable random fight I always wind up walking past during these games – last night it was on the way out – the shenanigans around Devil-Ranger games at the Rock have gotten old.  The irony is, the game itself last night was as entertaining as most Devil-Ranger matchups have been even if it was mostly a special teams battle (three PP goals for us, two for them) and a bit on the sloppy side.

Which leads to my critiques of the in and out-of game management from the Devils.  Yesterday might actually have been the worst managed/coached hockey game I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something considering my various issues with Devil coaches aside from Pat Burns and Larry Robinson.  What annoys me the most about current coach Pete DeBoer is everyone loves his system (whether we blow a million leads or not), it’s more asthetically pleasing to watch than the trap, players love it….all that’s true, which makes Pete’s in and out-of game management even more maddening.  My aggravation with Pete started even before the game when he scratched Tuomo Ruutu in favor of Jordin Tootoo.  I understand you needed to make a change to keep Damien Brunner in the lineup – and Brunner actually had his second straight good game in a row since getting a chance after Martin Havlat’s gruesome facial injury.  However, this staff’s collective mancrush for Tootoo is puzzling, to say the least – particularly since Detroit had him in the AHL before they let him go and Ken Holland doesn’t throw out good hockey players.  Let us ignore for a moment that any hockey scout would rate Ruutu as the better hockey player or even that he brings the same ‘grit’ they go ga-ga for about Tootoo, but what exactly has Tootoo done to earn an every-game spot in the lineup anyway?  He’s spent almost as much time in the penalty box as he has on the ice this season.  Ruutu actually has a goal and saved another goal with a good defensive play, and he can play on the top three lines in a pinch.

While I was happy to see Adam Larsson finally get ‘a’ chance on defense, that turned into another fiasco as he wound up only playing twelve and a half minutes in an overtime game, and was frequently benched for noted defensive stopper Marek Zidlicky late in the game (sorry if I blew up anyone’s sarcasm meter with that one).  Predictably, Zidlicky had a horrendous giveaway that led to Rick Nash’s tying goal in the third period.  Also predictably Zidlicky got even more icetime late while Larsson continued to stew on the bench.  If I wasn’t convinced before, I am now…a change needs to be made for all involved.  Trade Larsson for whatever you can get before he goes back to Sweden, bring back Peter Harrold to fill in and just get rid of the angst.  I get the fact that young guys like Jon Merrill and Damon Severson have/are succeeding under this coach and Larsson hasn’t looked the same since his rookie year and at some point he has to be accountable to his own play, I get all that.  However if you’re going to demand safety first, second and third from a talented 21-year old and hold a guillotine over his head while he’s skating, how is he ever supposed to get better?  Sadly it seems Larsson was ruined by too much, too soon as an eighteen-year old.

Even the benching of Larsson and treating Zidlicky as a shutdown defenseman wasn’t Pete’s most egregious tactical error of the night, although it certainly didn’t help matters as the Devils blew yet another multi-goal lead.  Neither was having Tootoo in the lineup over Ruutu.  Even when Stephen Gionta (he of the 26 points in 127 career NHL games) was on the ice for an offensive-zone faceoff with under a minute left in regulation, as annoying as that was it still wasn’t the most egregious snafu Pete made last night.  Nope, Pete waited until overtime for his most idiotic move.  In a four-on-four situation Pete puts our two slowest cement-skating forwards (Danius Zubrus and Ryane Clowe) on the ice – together!  Against a Ranger team that’s all speed!  The end result was predictable with Chris Mueller and Chris Kreider skating circles around our slugs setting up Kevin Klein’s OT winner.

Make no mistake I don’t just want to take Pete to task for last night.  As good as our power play was last night (scoring all three goals), we were -2 even strength in the game and gave up two more power play goals.  It seems as if Bryce Salvador and Andy Greene are on the ice for every single one of them too.  Whether it’s Salvador’s own cement skates or Greene playing on his off side, that pairing just is not working on the PK.  Ideally you want to have one vet with one kid, especially since Greene and Damon Severson are an even-strength pairing.  Why not pair them on the PK and have Sal and Merrill be the other pairing?  Merrill probably has more quickness than Greene at this point and can compensate a little bit for Sal being stuck in mud.  Of course it would help if we didn’t take nine million penalties a game.  Who do the Devils think they are, the New York football Jets?  We can’t even catch a break with the calls right now, as Mike Cammalleri’s questionable delay of game – which to me looked like it could have been deflected and/or hit off the camera above the penalty box – led to the Rangers’ second power play goal in the third period that made the game 3-2 and turned what looked to be a comfortable game into a nervous one, and we know how the rest ended.

After yesterday, Chico night can’t come soon enough.  At this point in the season Devil fans need a little laughter and healing, which no doubt the Devils’ former color man will provide when he’s honored before Friday’s game against Dallas.  Devil fans especially need some of Chico’s humor now since the Dallas game has become vital with the team now at 3-2-1 after its opening streak on the road.  I don’t want to put the ‘must-win’ term on an October game but let’s be honest, going 0-3 at home with tough trips to Ottawa and Pittsburgh looming is not exactly a recipe for success.  Especially with the schedule only getting harder and more taxing in November.

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Game #7 Klein’s Improbable Overtime Winner Stuns Devils

Of all the crazy scenarios, this one was almost unthinkable. Meeting for the first time in this unique Hudson rivalry, the Rangers and Devils battled past regulation. A game that featured the two teams combining for an unlikely five power play goals had one final surprise in store. Kevin Klein’s improbable overtime winner lifted the Rangers to a 4-3 win over the Devils at The Prudential Center. The unlikely candidate became the first Blueshirt defenseman to score this season.

By far their best win so far, the Rangers rallied back from a two-goal deficit in the third period to post their third straight victory. It was made possible thanks to Rick Nash, who continued his torrid pace by scoring his league-leading eighth of the season with 5:28 left in regulation. The much ballyhooed finisher is on fire. He’s looked on a mission so far. His tying marker was made possible due to an awful turnover from veteran defenseman Marek Zidlicky. His errant clear was easily intercepted by Kevin Hayes, whose shot rebounded off Cory Schneider right to a streaking Nash who buried it. He’s not missing those because he’s hungry. Nash has gone to the dirty areas and is getting rewarded.

Early in the third period, it looked like the Devils would take the first installment of four regular season matches. Already having scored twice on the man-advantage, they made it three when second-year defenseman Jon Merrill took a Damien Brunner pass and put a low shot past Henrik Lundqvist with Jaromir Jagr in front. The goal came just 36 seconds in and increased their lead to 3-1.

Discipline was a problem for both teams. Special teams dominated with the Devils scoring all three of their goals on the power play. It took the Rangers seven games to convert on the power play. Chris Kreider and Chris Mueller each tallied power play goals. In the first period, Kreider put the Rangers ahead 1-0 with both Ryan McDonagh and Marty St. Louis assisting. Most notably, McDonagh finally hit the score sheet tallying two assists including a key one on Mueller’s PPG that allowed his team to come back.

After falling behind early, the Devils responded with three consecutive goals. First, Jagr tied it with his first set up by Brunner and Travis Zajac. You had to figure Jagr would finally get one facing one of his former teams. He finished with a goal and assist also setting up Adam Henrique’s power play goal that put New Jersey ahead 2-1 with 5:05 remaining in the second. Impressive rookie defenseman Damon Severson picked up a secondary helper for his fifth point in six games. Henrique’s one-timer looked to be heading wide but deflected off Klein past a perturbed Lundqvist. Perhaps it was fitting that Klein played the OT hero.

A Kreider interference minor in the final minute allowed the Devils to have another power play. After failing during the first part, they connected for a third time when Henrique recovered a loose puck and helped set up Merrill’s first to put the Newark hosts up 3-1. Pressing for more, they were unable to increase the margin. Lundqvist made some key stops to give his side a chance. That included getting a piece of a dangerous Mike Cammalleri point blank chance pushing the puck off the crossbar. He finished with 28 saves.

Ironically, the game turned on a Cammalleri penalty. He accidentally got a piece of a John Moore shot with his stick sending the puck out of play which led to a delay of game minor. It only took the Rangers 23 seconds to get back in it. Alain Vigneault sent Mueller out to take the offensive draw. Even though he didn’t win it cleanly, he helped retrieve the puck getting it to the point. McDonagh made a diagonal pass to Derick Brassard, who faked shot before threading the needle for a Mueller one-time blast short side for his first goal (point) as a Ranger. That cut the deficit to 3-2 with 10:54 left.

Afterwards, the Rangers attacked with vigor. Dangerous virtually every shift, they came close a couple of times. The closest was when Kreider had a loose puck bounce over his stick in front. Eventually, it was a costly mistake by Zidlicky which allowed them to tie it. His turnover led directly to Nash finishing off a low Hayes shot that caromed off Schneider for the equalizer.

Undeterred, the Devils went for it. They kept attacking and nearly had the go-ahead goal a couple of times. However, Lundqvist made some crucial stops on dangerous opportunities. He also had some good fortune when he stopped Ryane Clowe and then had Dominic Moore and Marc Staal push a loose puck underneath him for a whistle. Conversely, Lee Stempniak nearly had the winner when on a rush his snapshot went off the crossbar with over two minutes to go.

Just from how both teams played, it looked like someone would win in overtime. Severson had a great chance when he spun around a defender but fired a shot wide. Eventually, Mueller and Kreider started the other way. Mueller dropped for Kreider, who drew the Devils D before making a no look pass to Klein, who cut in and beat Schneider at 2:42 for the OT clincher.

NY Puck 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Chris Mueller, NYR (power play goal, assist in 12:21-might be a keeper)

2nd Star-Adam Henrique, NJD (power play goal, assist, 3 SOG in 20:51-dangerous throughout)

1st Star-Chris Kreider, NYR (power play goal, assist, 4 SOG in 16:18-brilliant rush and set up)

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Battle Of Hudson Preview: Rangers visit Devils In Newark

The first installment of the Battle Of Hudson commences tonight in Newark when the Rangers visit the Devils at The Rock. The close rivals separated by a Path ride begin a new journey. The Post Brodeur Era. With Martin Brodeur no longer a Devil hoping to catch on somewhere, Cory Schneider is their new number one goalie. With that comes plenty of expectations and pressure. After winning his first three starts, he’s allowed eight goals during the last two losses including getting pulled in Washington after permitting five. He’ll make his sixth straight start.

As usual, Henrik Lundqvist will man the net for the Blueshirts. After giving up an uncharacteristic 12 goals in consecutive defeats, he’s bounced back winning his last two starts while posting a 0.48 goals-against-average that included his 51st career shutout coming Sunday against San Jose. Lundqvist has stopped 62 of the last 63 shots. Facing a familiar foe he has fared well against posting a 30-14-6 record with a 1.87 GAA, .932 save percentage and eight shutouts, he’ll make his 51st career start in the regular season versus New Jersey.

The Rangers aim for a third consecutive win while the Devils try to avoid a three-game losing streak. Tonight’s game features two hot leading scorers. Rick Nash is off to a tremendous start with a league-leading seven goals and is tied with the Islanders’ Brock Nelson for third in scoring with eight points. Derick Brassard has rebounded from a slow start with three goals over the last four. Reunited with Mats Zuccarello and joined by Martin St. Louis, who got his first in their win over San Jose, Brassard anchors the top line while improving rookie Kevin Hayes centers Nash and Chris Kreider. With Carl Hagelin finally scoring and Chris Mueller doing a solid job on the fourth line, does Anthony Duclair sit again?

For the Devils, free agent addition Mike Cammalleri has been superb pacing them with five goals and seven points. Jaromir Jagr has three assists so far and is searching for his first goal. Adam Henrique and Michael Ryder each have five points and 20-year old rookie defenseman Damon Severson is out quickly with three goals. They’ll need more production from franchise scoring leader Patrik Elias. The noted Ranger killer usually steps it up in these games.

New Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh hasn’t recorded a point yet. He is coming off a strong game and could make an impact. Meanwhile, partner Dan Girardi is a “game-time decision” according to coach Alain Vigneault. He suffered a leg laceration Sunday after blocking a shot. If he cannot go, that means Michael Kostka which could spell doom. UPDATE: Scratch that. After taking the morning skate, Girardi declared himself ready to go.

The Devils could have a different look. Marty Havlat is questionable due to facial lacerations suffered against the Capitals. That could mean Damien Brunner again or Jacob Josefson. Defenseman Adam Larsson is expected to replace Eric Gelinas in the lineup. The former 2011 first round pick hasn’t been handled well by coach Pete DeBoer. Last year was a nightmare with the 21-year old Swede recording a goal and two assists in 26 games while spending most of the winter in Albany. After being beaten out by Severson, he expressed frustration. If he plays tonight, here’s a chance to prove he belongs.

Face off is at 7:07. With Game 1 of the World Series starting an hour later between the Giants and Royals, it should be interesting to see how they do. With Dad an avid Giants fan since the classic days of the Polo Grounds, there could be plenty of channel flipping. Either way, I’ll have a game review with Hasan taking the Devils.

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Game #6: Rangers Sink Sharks As Lundqvist Tosses Shutout

It took six games for the Rangers to put together their best effort of this new season. Taking full advantage of a tired opponent, they overwhelmed the Sharks winning by a score of 4-0 at MSG to get back to .500 (3-3-0). A couple of days off didn’t hurt the cause as they won a second consecutive game.

The highlight of this one were back-to-back goals by Marty St. Louis and Rick Nash only four seconds apart tying a franchise record. The difference being that both came at even strength. As Rick Carpinello noted in a tweet, the previous fastest two goals in team history were from Kris King and James Patrick, who scored an empty netter in four seconds. Essentially, that makes the new mark more impressive.

Carl Hagelin got off the snide finally scoring his first goal at 13:01 of the second period to break a scoreless game. Playing on a newly comprised third line with Dominic Moore and Lee Stempniak, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. Hagelin had been pressing. It seems that whoever Stempniak plays with benefits. Prior to the Rangers seizing control midway through, Stempniak was their best forward. He had another strong game. Hagelin’s goal came off hustle and second effort. The combination of John Moore and Dom Moore sent him in. His routine shot was fumbled by San Jose backup Alex Stalock, whose blunder allowed Hagelin to steer home the rebound.

At the time, the Rangers were playing very well. Finally skating with purpose and controlling puck possession in the offensive zone for long stretches, they had come close previously with Stalock stifling Kevin Hayes and St. Louis hitting the crossbar. Nash also had a dominant shift where he basically pinned the Sharks in and had them at his mercy. It didn’t get the end result. Once Hagelin recorded his first point of the season, that changed.

With Henrik Lundqvist able to see every shot, he picked up his first shutout. He was busy in the second making 15 of 33 saves during the middle stanza. Most came during the first half when the Sharks still had enough of their skating legs to generate quality chances. For the most part, an improved defense did a solid job in front. Ryan McDonagh had his best defensive game and partner Dan Girardi was instrumental. The tandem of Marc Staal and Kevin Klein got better throughout after a couple of shaky moments from Klein. Matt Hunwick also shined saving a goal in the first period by just clearing the puck before it crossed the goal line. John Moore also picked up a key assist on Hagelin’s marker.

It was more reminiscent of last year. Better puck management. They even dominated faceoffs winning 41 of 62. Derick Brassard and Dominic Moore combined to go 29-and-6. Hartford call-up Chris Mueller went 8-for-9. Hayes was 5-for-14. No coincidence that their dominance in the faceoff circle contributed to strong puck possession. Exactly what coach Alain Vigneault had in mind when he sat out Anthony Duclair.

Aside from that, Hagelin and Hayes scored their first goals. Hayes was a great reward as he’d been getting chances. True enough, I tweeted to another fan at the game that I thought maybe he’d get it in the third. Not to toot my own horn but when Hayes got to his own rebound and roofed one past Stalock, that was pretty cool. It was created off some strong defensive work. He stole the puck and had a wraparound stopped before rebounding home his first to put the exclamation point on the victory.

As for the record St. Louis and Nash matched, it came out of nowhere. Still nursing a one-goal lead in the final minute, an aggressive Girardi pinch kept a cycle alive. A loose puck eventually came to an isolated St. Louis in front, who jammed away before stuffing it in on his third attempt. San Jose coach Todd McClellan questioned the referees because he felt they should’ve blown the whistle similar to an earlier goal the Rangers had correctly waved off. A new rule is that they can use replay to help avoid controversy. On St. Louis’, they clearly got it right.

What followed was stunning. Off a Moore faceoff win, Nash carried the puck in and took a routine shot which Stalock butchered allowing him to pounce for his NHL-leading seventh at 19:20. The odd sequence was identical to Hagelin’s tally. Stalock struggled handling the puck and the Blueshirts capitalized on two crucial miscues. It was a rough night for the San Jose backup, who allowed four goals on 29 shots. He started in place of number one Antti Niemi, who was in Saturday at New Jersey.

Encouraging is that it was by far the Rangers’ best performance. Even if it came at the expense of a road weary opponent who had already faced the Islanders and Devils on a New York/New Jersey invasion, it was imperative for them to cash in. As St. Louis said afterwards to Al Trautwig, those are the ones they have to get. It now sets up the first Battle Of Hudson Tuesday in Newark. To borrow a quote from Major League, “Win that and that’s three in a row. It’s called a winning streak. It has happened before.”

NY Puck 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (33 saves-1st shutout of season)

2nd Star-Dominic Moore, NYR (2 assists, +2 in 16:20-a beast on draws)

1st Star-Kevin Hayes, NYR (1st NHL goal/point, 4 SOG, 3 takeaways, 5 hits in a lucky 13:13 for #13)

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Second straight defeat mars home opener

Devils’ pregame show looked better than last night’s game

It must be said the bloom is a bit off the rose now for the Devils.  After an impressive three straight wins on the road, the Devils are now back in the pack with two consecutive losses following a blowout in Washington and last night’s 3-2 home opener defeat at the hands of the Sharks.  While it’s not panic time yet, clearly it’s get worried about the special teams time.  Both in the fact we’re taking so many penalties and the fact we’re not killing enough of them off.  And some big names need to start playing better, beginning with the goaltender Cory Schnieder – who had two bad games on the trip and gave up a killer soft goal last night to Patrick Marleau in the third period.  Not that Cory’s the only guy who’s struggling, really the only big-name guy that hasn’t struggled the last few games is Mike Cammalleri, who may wind up being our most successful FA signing in quite some time.

Still, our struggles start with the PK woes.  New Jersey’s been shorthanded an astonishing 26 times in its first five games, and allowed six PP goals among them, for a woeful 76.4 percent.  After having a league-leading PK the last two full seasons, it’s struggled out of the gate.  While ‘conventional wisdom’ (re: coach Pete DeBoer) says part of that is integrating new guys into the penalty kill, the fact is it isn’t so much the new guys that are killing us as it is the holdovers getting more PK time than they should.  Like Bryce Salvador, who the organization has a collective mancrush on but let’s face it, he’s 38 years old and a statue on the ice.  He was supposed to be a PK specialist but has been on the ice for more than half our total goals against (9 of 17) so far and the Sharks’ quick, effective passing on their PP left him standing still on both the first two goals.

To be fair, Salvador getting over six minutes of shorthanded time a game is in part a function of the changing defense.  Without Mark Fayne and Anton Volchenkov around, second-year defenseman Jon Merrill and rookie Damon Severson are the #3 and #4 options defensively on the PK behind Sal and Andy Greene.  While neither’s fallen in over their head yet at some point they’re either going to have to get more minutes (which isn’t ideal in Severson’s case yet) or we’re going to have to finally free Adam Larsson from jail.  Maybe that chance’ll come Tuesday since Eric Gelinas has his second straight poor game, not hitting the net with shots, turning the puck over and making a dumb decision late in the third to give a penalty shot where he really had zero chance of getting the puck and not tripping Tommy Wingels.  Fortunately Schnieder saved Wingels’ penalty shot.  Whatever changes we’re negotiating on D, the forwards are mostly the same on the PK other than Cammalleri taking over the departed Ryan Carter’s slot on the three forward lines.

Elsewhere, our own PP hasn’t been great yet going just 3-18 so far with two of them coming in the Florida scrimmage.  Offensively after scoring eleven goals its first two games, the Devils have gotten two in each of the last three games.  Not particularly terrible but two’s not going to be enough to win a majority of your games either.  Especially when you wait till down 3-0 in the third period before coming to life last night.  Plus some other people besides Cammalleri are going to have to pick it up eventually.  We are only five games in but other than Cammalleri, Adam Henrique’s the only other forward with multiple goals so far and he has two.  For all the hulabaloo about our increased mobility and offensive potential on the blueline, only Severson has scored among our defensemen through the first five games (granted, he alone has three goals – though two were in the blowout at Washington).  While last night was the first time we weren’t outshot, we still gave up 30+ shots and are maintaining an Oiler-like average of 32 shots a game against in the first five.  And in goal, if Schnieder’s play isn’t concerning yet it surely is eyebrow-raising.  In his first season after signing a long-term deal to be Martin Brodeur’s replacement the spotlight’s obviously going to be on Cory more now.  Defensive issues aside, he just has to be better than a 2.97 GAA and a .908 save percentage before the vultures start to have a feast.

If the on-ice product has been uneven to this point, so was the off-ice product last night.  Let me start with the positive, asthetically I liked most of the changes.  All the new food choices made me pine for the fact we’re not going to have a fresh roll of Chico Eats this year.  I didn’t actually sample the food choices though, as I haven’t received my $200 food and beverage card yet (neither has anyone else) due to an unspecified delay.  Plus by the time I got inside the lines were just so crowded anyway, so I might as well wait for another day.  Even Championship Plaza had some good food choices in the various trucks outside though. The renovated and expanded team stores seemed to have more of a choice and variety between locations though I didn’t really have time to go through the main store last night.  Upstairs actually saw a fair amount of renovation including a mini-bar area outside of 225 and just off the main escalator upstairs.  Our much-balleyhooed pregame show debut looked good enough, especially the opening effects of the ice and fire: http://video.devils.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=647349&lang=en

Now for the negative/pet peeves, and part of that is related to the opening show.  The Devils made such a big deal on social media about being in your seat by 6:45 (normally the end of the pregame skate) for the debut of the new 3D presentation.  To the point where they even mailed postcards to all sth’s encouraging us to be in our seats by 6:45.  So while I was downstairs with friends just before 6:30 I decided to go upstairs so I’d be able to walk around the upper concourse at least once before getting to my seat.  When 6:45 came all we saw were Zambonis circling the ice, and there was nothing on the jumbotron either.  In other words your normal 6:45-7 break between the pregame skate and the game.  Apparently 6:45 in Devil-land really means 7 PM, which is a Tom Coughlin approach to time.  Although I liked the pregame show I was annoyed that I wasted fifteen minutes sitting at my seat for nothing.  It seemed like half the crowd was still stuck in concession lines or outside at 6:45 anyway, maybe they didn’t get the memo or knew better than to listen to anything the Devils said.

Another pet peeve took place before the game as well, where the Devils have apparently dispensed with player intros for the opposing teams.  Why?  Because it doesn’t add to the owners’ corporate vision for the atmosphere having us chant ‘sucks’ after every player on the other team gets called out.  I’m shocked they haven’t stopped introducing the refs yet to keep them from getting booed.  For whatever issue I’ve had with their handling of the goal song to me taking away the well-timed and completely harmless ‘sucks’ towards the other team’s starting lineup is a hundred times worse than trying (unsuccessfully) to sanitize the goal song.  Which of course leads to the main issue last night – and something I’m already tired of talking about – the goal song itself.  At the arena, the goal song sounded nothing like the YouTube preview I posted the other day.  And all of the fans chanting Let’s Go Devils for the video?  I kind of thought each fan clip would be shown on a rotation basis throughout the season, instead what we saw on the jumbotron was a Brady-Bunch like picture of like twenty-five little squares with all of the fan chants at once and the combined noise sounded awful.

Especially when the music got jacked up to concert levels on the second goal because again Devil fans cannot resist being defiant and trying to pump ‘you suck’ into every single goal song the team will ever put on the board.  I just don’t know what to say any more.  I’m tired of how petty and selfish Devil fans have become, and I’m tired of doing nothing after a goal besides clapping since I don’t want to join in the YS chant and nobody else wants to join in the goal song.  If you want to keep ruining the in-game atmosphere of a positive act (scoring a goal) for years and years and years eventually you’re going to do more to sanitize the atmosphere than the owners you’re trying to stick it to.  Clearly this impasse is no longer about RRP2 – especially since most of the people crying tradition are the ones who changed tradition by adding YS over the last several years – but more about Devil fans taking a perverse pride in being stubborn, selfish fools.  I was fine with ‘you suck’ in RRP2, especially when we were winning, but that’s over with now.  Ownership has been clear on this issue and instead of respecting their wishes on this one little thing we’re going to continue to drag every goal scored through the mud, as if we’re all Rosa Parks sitting in the front of a bus.  GIVE…IT…UP with this crap already!  RR2 is not coming back, YS is going to be frowned on and if you want the team to keep doing things to counteract your stupidity you’re only going to continue to annoy real fans.

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