Devils weekly: Road success marred by the injury bug

I haven’t felt like blogging much in recent days, at times this season my blogs will be more of a weekly recap than a daily blow-by-blow though I still want to at least recap the home games I go to.  Unfortunately me and the Devils are both 0-for the season at home after the Devils’ shootout loss (yes, that again) on Chico Resch night last Friday.  Oh well at least I liked the ceremony and Chico of course ran over his allotted five minutes for his speech by about four minutes more.  Probably my mental state would have been helped by watching the telecast as opposed to being at another half-empty arena Friday, since during the second period there was even an extra special treat – hearing several minutes of Chico and Doc Emrick in the booth, together again…of course I did tape the game and was able to watch their repartee later though.

There was insane traffic on route 21 on the way up and back to the arena though, preventing even more people from getting there on time for the Chico ceremony which was unfortunate.  So were the boos for captain Bryce Salvador before the game.  Hate his play and the fact he’s in the lineup all you want, but personally it’s a bit distasteful we would boo Salvador who at least gives max effort (and even fought Antoine Roussel on Friday at a dead point in the game to give the team a spark) and yet never booed Brian Rolston, who to be kind didn’t exactly do enough to earn his money after re-signing as a free agent.  Of course with only about 12000 there for the pregame intros – actual attendance wound up being just under 15000 – a few yahoos could sound like the majority of the crowd.

Granted there wasn’t exactly much to cheer about on Friday though at least early-season scratches Jacob Josefson and Damien Brunner both made an impact with Josefson getting a nice assist on Eric Gelinas’s first period bomb and Brunner himself scoring a semi-contreversial goal in the third period when Patrik Elias hand-passed the puck through the crease and off goalie Kari Lehtonen to Brunner, but fortunately that went unseen.  As apparently did every Dallas Star infraction during the game since the Devils didn’t get a single power play, so maybe that allowed goal was our payback.  It’s a pity there were only two penalties called total during the game since whoever the official was announcing penalties (one of the refs was Wes McCauley but not sure whether it was him or the other guy) was pretty….theatrical and demonstrative when announcing penalties.  Maybe he has an acting job on the side since being a ref isn’t ‘quite’ a year-round job.   Not that I would want to see us on the PK any more than neccesary since our PK’s been positively brutal this year.

The less said about our inevitable shootout loss Friday the better.  Clearly it’s mental at this point and once again it was same crap, different season.  At least on Saturday the Devils managed to win in overtime at Ottawa during an emotional night when the Senators played their first home game since the recent tragedy there, with all three Canadien teams (Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa) taking part in a simultaneous ceremony in the YouTube above.  During the actual game, special teams were once again the story for the Devils as their power play remained hot with two more goals…including Jaromir Jagr’s OT winner that spared the Devils another shootout of doom, though they had to overcome a PK that once again couldn’t kill off a mighty mites power play much less an NHL one.  Alex Chiasson and Bobby Ryan scored both Sens’ goals with the man advantage, with goaltender Cory Schnieder continuing a troubling trend of allowing shortside goals on Chiasson’s opening marker in the second period.  A great individual effort by rookie Damon Severson in the second period – when he broke up a pass by Erik Karlsson and then went down the other end and scored on a bomb – proved to be the only even-strength goal of the game.  For the second straight game Severson got an incredible 25+ minutes of icetime and with his four goals already he’s staking an early claim for the Calder trophy.

However, as was expected by many before the season injuries are already starting to become a factor on an older forward core with two of our 30+ forwards (Jordin Tootoo and Martin Havlat) going on IR and Mike Cammalleri being checked out for a jaw injury suffered in Ottawa.  With Brunner and Josefson already in the lineup for our IR’ed forwards, the Devils called up prospect Reid Boucher in case Cammalleri can’t go tomorrow night in Pittsburgh.  Not much will change on defense, as Adam Larsson will sit out his seventh game out of eight and the regular six will go again, with Cory Schnieder in net for the eighth straight time tomorrow.  Schnieder has made plenty of spectacular saves thus far – especially considering our high shot totals allowed in most games – and you can’t really argue with getting points in six of eight games, but as previously noted it seems like he’s given up a shortside goal every game lately.  That’s going to have to stop asap, especially if we’re going to continue to allow 30+ shots a night and get most of our scoring from the defense as opposed to up front.

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Duclair back in for Conference Final rematch

This one has been circled on the calendar for Montreal. They have waited for tonight’s Conference Final rematch between the visiting Rangers and host Canadiens from the Bell Centre. For the guests, it promises to be chaotic. Especially for Chris Kreider. The scene of the crime was Game 1 when he collided with Carey Price ending his postseason. Montreal coach Michel Therrien and former Blueshirt Brandon Prust stirred the pot. Ultimately, the Rangers won the series in six to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

“It’s not about focusing on individuals on a team, it’s about trying to win the game,” Price said. “That’s the only thing we have to focus on.

“They’re a good hockey club. There’s a reason they were in the Stanley Cup finals last year. They got great goaltending, and they play as a unit. It’s definitely going to be a good challenge for us.”

One look at the standings and it’s the Canadiens who sit atop the Atlantic Division boasting a 6-1-0 record with 12 points. They’ve remained motivated and are finding ways to win. Different players are stepping up. P.A. Parenteau has two goals and three assists since an offseason swap that sent Daniel Briere to Colorado. Alex Galchenyuk has seven points and Brendan Gallagher continues to improve in his second year. The Habs boast old reliable Tomas Plekanec and top finisher Max Pacioretty. Beware of P.K. Subban (3-2-5) and Andrei Markov. Even bruiser Alexei Emelin has added offense with five assists.

It won’t be easy for the Rangers, who look to extend their winning streak to four. They should be well rested after getting the last three days off. An emotional come from behind overtime win at the Devils saw Kevin Klein play the unlikely hero. It was made possible by a breathtaking rush from Kreider, who combined with new fourth line center Chris Mueller to set up Klein. Kreider will be a frequent target. The noted crease crasher should be prepared to battle in front of Price. His start’s been alright. With two goals, three helpers and a team-leading 23 penalty minutes, the budding power forward is learning.

After sitting out the last two games, 19-year old rookie Anthony Duclair is back in. He’ll play on a third line with Dominic Moore and Carl Hagelin. Ryan Malone is expected to be a healthy scratch. The Duke has three assists in five games so far and hasn’t looked out of place. When he’s on the ice, good things happen. You can’t ignore his breathtaking speed and uncanny ability to create offensively. This will be Game 6. With Derek Stepan finally skating in anticipation of a November return, the Rangers have a decision to make. Wouldn’t it be great if Duclair made it more difficult by scoring his first NHL goal in Montreal?

New captain Ryan McDonagh finally got off the snide with a pair of helpers against New Jersey. The former Canadiens first round pick who Glen Sather stole for Scott Gomez returns to Montreal. He blitzed them last Spring with 10 points. Interestingly, eight came in the three games at Bell Centre. You think he had something to prove? Anyway, he and partner Dan Girardi will get tested as should Klein and Marc Staal. Matt Hunwick and John Moore remain the third pair.

Henrik Lundqvist should be fresh. He’s been much better lately. Even against the Devils- a game he gave up three- he was pretty clutch making a few sparklers when it was needed. Historically, he has struggled at Montreal. But the playoffs erased a lot of bad memories. It should be a good one between him and Price on Hockey Night In Canada.

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Islanders Lose Bailey, Grabovski returns tonight

When the Islanders play host to the Stars, they’ll get Mikhail Grabovski back. He sat out the previous three games after getting walled by Sharks forward John Scott. That’s the good news. The bad is they’ll be without Josh Bailey, who suffered a broken left hand in their 3-2 win over the Bruins Thursday.

“(Bailey) was our best forward in the first period (Thursday), and over the last three or four games he’s been really good for us,” coach Jack Capuano said. “It’s just very unfortunate that this has to take place now, but it’s going to give other guys an opportunity to step up.”

Bailey set up Frans Nielsen’s first of the season. It set the tone for a good road win at Boston, ending a two-game skid. After struggling last season, Bailey was off to a nice start tallying two goals and two assists in a supporting role. He’ll be out several weeks after getting slashed in the second period.

With Grabovski returning, he can slide in for Bailey and help offset the loss. The Islanders are still minus penalty kill ace Michael Grabner. The dangerous shorthanded threat is still recovering from sports hernia surgery.

Meanwhile, top defenseman Travis Hamonic is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Lubomir Visnovsky came back Thursday and finished minus-one in 21 shifts (17:50 TOI). Thus far, key acquisitions Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy have solidified the blueline. Each has been instrumental in the Isles’ 5-2-0 start. Boychuk leads Islander defensemen in points (6) and plus/minus (5) while providing steady D. Leddy paces the back end in goals (3) and is 3-2-5 with a plus-four rating.

The Isles have also gotten a boost from Chad Johnson. Facing his former team, Johnson made 30 saves including a couple of money ones late to preserve the one-goal win against the Bruins. He’s 2-0-0 with a 2.15 goals-against-average and .918 save percentage. Starter Jaroslav Halak should be back in tonight against the Stars. UPDATE: Scratch that. It looks like Johnson gets the start again. Fresh off a 3-2 shootout win over the Devils last night, Dallas coach might opt for backup Anders Lindback in a back-to-back. If he starts in place of Kari Lehtonen, it should be advantage Isles.
The Islanders will have their work cut out against the Stars’ potent trio of Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza and Tyler Seguin. One of the game’s most lethal top lines, they’ve combined for 10 goals and 16 assists to spark them to a 4-1-2 start. With a goal Friday, Benn extended his goal-scoring streak to five. Over that span, the Dallas captain has nine points (5-4-9) and is plus-seven. Spezza has eight points in his last four. Scariest is Seguin, who is 5-6-11 and plus-six during that stretch.

It should be a good test. Can the Islanders take advantage of a road weary opponent? Stay tuned.

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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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