Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rangers Drop Tough One In Carolina

A night removed from an emotional comeback home win over the Devils, the Rangers played on fairly even terms with the defending Cup champion Hurricanes in Raleigh. But one mistake was all it took to decide a tightly contested game which Carolina pulled out 2-1 thanks to a Rod Brind'Amour goal with just 6:05 left at RBC Center Wednesday night.

With the teams knotted at one, an icing proved costly. Forced to keep the same players out while Carolina changed, the Blueshirts paid the price. Even though ex-Cane Matt Cullen beat Brind'Amour in the faceoff circle, an Aaron Ward reverse got intercepted by Justin Williams, who quickly setup a vacated Brind'Amour in the slot for a quick shot which beat Kevin Weekes inside the crossbar for the Hurricane captain's eighth.

Though the Rangers pressed late for the equalizer, they couldn't beat Cam Ward. The second-year Conn Smythe winner turned aside 23 of 24 shots to pickup the win, including a couple of big stops on Cullen and Fedor Tyutin.

Making his first start in five to give Henrik Lundqvist a night off, Weekes was solid in making 22 saves. But the ex-Carolina netminder got out to a tough start when Ranger killer Craig Adams tipped home an Anton Babchuk feed only 2:51 in. Chad LaRose also notched an assist.

After looking a couple of steps behind, the Rangers found their game and nearly tied it a couple of minutes later when Michael Nylander found Jaromir Jagr all alone for a breakaway. But the Ranger captain's forehand deke was denied by a sprawling Ward.

Weekes made some big stops in a busy second (14 saves) to keep his team down one. With the backup providing solid netminding, Jagr wouldn't miss the next time when Brendan Shanahan set him up in the slot for a one-timer which beat Ward five-hole on a power play at 16:02 to tie it. It was Jagr's third in two games and 599th of his NHL career. With his next goal, he'll become the 16th player to reach 600. Martin Straka also picked up a helper.

After killing off a Canes' man-advantage late in the second, they had a great opportunity to surge ahead early in the third when Eric Staal was assessed a double minor for high sticking Cullen. But New York failed to capitalize and it was cut short by a Jagr tripping penalty.

The Canes' Erik Cole came close to beating Weekes when his shot rang off the right post with less than 13:00 to go. It was the third post they hit to that point. Unfortunately for Weekes and his teammates, they wouldn't be as fortunate late.

Notes: After seeing over 3:00 of ice-time the first period, Colton Orr (4:31) rarely saw the ice and was replaced by Jagr in the third, who took a doubleshift with the fourth line a night after it worked so well against the Devils. The formula nearly paid dividends again when Jagr almost banked one past Ward. ... This was Cullen and Ward's first return to Carolina since helping them win the Cup last June. ... Canes won 29 of 51 draws including 20-11 from Brind'Amour. ... Rangers (10-8-1) are idle the next two days before visiting Pittsburgh Saturday and then returning home to MSG Sunday against Tampa Bay.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The King Of Shootouts Gets Blueshirts Victory

The King was back in net for the Rangers. And that was definitely a good thing as Henrik Lundqvist continued his shootout dominance by stopping all three shooters in a 4-3 shootout victory over the Panthers at Bank Atlantic Center Wednesday night. It was the Blueshirts' third win in four and improved them to 3-0-1 during that stretch with just a home OT loss to Buffalo.

After sitting out the last three in favor of backup Kevin Weekes, Lundqvist was sharp enough to spark his team to a much needed win in the first of a three-game four-day Southeast trip with stops in Atlanta Friday and Washington Saturday.

In a game he made 37 saves just to get his team to its third shootout of the season, the 24 year-old Swedish gold medallist was the difference once again in improving the club to a perfect 3-0 under such instances. Forcing an Olli Jokinen miss while stoning Nathan Horton and Joe Nieuwendyk, Lundqvist made Michael Nylander's backhand deke stand up. In the three shootout victories, the King hasn't allowed a goal in 19 tries, including that memorable 13 round triumph over the Flyers back on October 7.

"I always feel pretty confident going into a shootout, but at the same time I know they (Panthers) have some good shooters," Lundqvist told the AP. "So I knew it would be a challenge."

"We really don't mind going into a shootout," added Rangers coach Tom Renney. "We feel like we have an advantage with our shooters."

It was all Rangers early as they took advantage of some undisciplined penalties by Florida to connect twice on the power play thanks to Martin Straka. With Martin Gelinas off for hooking, it took Straka just 10 seconds to blast a shot from the left point past Ed Belfour to give them the lead 3:13 into the contest. Brendan Shanahan and Nylander picked up assists.

Though they failed to capitalize on three more power plays during a onesided first which saw them control play and outshoot Florida 11-6, another penalty would lead to Straka's second of the night only 2:07 into the second. Off a faceoff win from Nylander with help from Shanahan, the left wing stepped into another point shot and beat Belfour inside the post to put New York comfortably in front by two.

"I was in good position to get off decent shots (on both goals) and it just worked out tonight," Straka said. "It's nice to get that early lead, but we have to maintain it throughout the game."

Continuing to dictate play, they drew two more penalties including a double minor on Chris Gratton. But instead of seizing complete control, a Straka hooking penalty led to a four-on-four goal by Ruslan Salei at 11:13 which cut it to one. With the Panthers back in it, they drew even 6:05 later when Horton rebounded home a Gary Roberts deflection on the power play. Suddenly, the Panthers came at the Rangers in waves outshooting them 12-1 over the final few minutes. Despite being outshot 18-7 for the period, New York escaped further damage thanks to Lundqvist (16 saves).

Even on the scoreboard, the Blueshirts once again got an early goal in the third thanks to a brilliant individual effort from Blair Betts. The checking pivot took the puck from his own blueline and then went around Florida defenseman Mike Van Ryn flipping a backhand on net and putting home his own rebound for his third unassisted at 1:34. It was the second highlight reel goal he scored in the last three. Betts also pulled off a similar play at Anaheim when he went coast to coast undressing Scott Niedermayer before beating Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

But Florida responded by tying it when defenseman Jay Bouwmeester put home his third with 11:07 remaining to force OT. In it, both teams played an unconventional three-on-three before the Rangers killed off a brief Panthers man-advantage to force the shootout leading to Lundqvist's theatrics.

Notes: Straka has three goals and four points in his last three. After starting the season with three goals in his first eight, he's got six in his last seven. ... Belfour finished with 27 saves. ... In an oddity, the Rangers' 4-3 shootout win was almost a year to the date of last year's identical margin last November 9th in the same building. "Yeah, I was thinking about that during the shootout, you know, maybe it's in the stars again," Renney pointed out. "We were able to prevail and win, so, yeah, history does repeat itself."

Friday, November 03, 2006

Oduya Growing In Confidence

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -Before training camp, Johnny Oduya was just another player who was trying to make an impression with the Devils. After a solid camp and preseason, the Swedish 25 year-old defenseman suddenly found himself not only on the roster but in the lineup for their opening night 4-0 win at Carolina October 6.

So far, he's suited up in every game and is a respectable plus-one for the season. After playing the last few years overseas back home, the former Capitals 2001 seventh round pick understands how much tougher it is now that he's finally in the NHL.

"The game is a bit different for sure," Oduya pointed out after falling to the Islanders 5-2 Thursday night. "It's faster and there's not as much time with the puck. Unlike Europe, there's skilled players on every team. But you got to be aware when you're on the ice so much more. Like if you make a mistake here, they score right away."

As the season has gone on, Devils coach Claude Julien has given the rookie more ice-time and responsibility, which has helped boost his confidence.

"It's always, especially for a defenseman to play more. It helps you get in the game faster and makes you more confident," he pointed out after logging 18:49 including 2:09 of power play time last night. "Even if you make a mistake, you got time to get it back. I'm happy for every minute I can get on the ice. Just try to play the game they want me to play. Pretty smart defensively and try to skate as much as I can."

With Brad Lukowich missing some time due to a bruised left foot, Oduya has even gotten a chance to play with Brian Rafalski. So far, it's gone well.

"Rafy is an All Star player and he's got a lot of experience and helps me out a lot," he remarked. "He knows when to make the plays and not to. It's great for me to learn from. I think it's pretty good now."

On a veteran-laiden team, it's helped Oduya feel more comfortable. He's especially eager to improve and help the club have success on the ice.

"For sure. Like the guys have been around. They know what it takes. That's the thing you want to learn as a newcomer. How to win. We had a tough one today and had a couple of tough ones before. I think this is the place to be and learn from it."

Though he never got a chance to debut with Washington, Oduya is very pleased to finally be here and hopes to continue to impress with his new club.

"Anytime you get the chance to play in the NHL, I think that's a big thing for any player when you break in."

"It didn't workout in Washington for me but I was happy I came here. I'm happy I'm playing here and I'll try to do my best and we'll see what happens."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Isles Continue Domination Over Devils

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -Sometimes in sports, a particular opponent has a team's number. Apparently, that's still the case with the Islanders, who continued their recent mastery over the Devils with a dominant 5-2 victory before a sparse 8,269 at the Continental Airlines Arena Thursday night.

"It's tough to say but as long as it is we'll take it," chuckled Islander captain Alexei Yashin after setting up three goals while Jason Blake added a goal and two assists in the Isles' seventh win in the last nine against New Jersey.

"What it is is that we don't play our game against these guys," explained frustrated Devils' captain Patrik Elias. "We played into their hands and they were good."

The Isles' fifth win in six improved them to 6-4-2 and into a first place tie with Pittsburgh in the Atlantic.

"It's very nice to see," said a pleased Yashin. "It was nice to see the team respond like that. I think it's important like we really recognize the situation and importance of the game. What I want to say is, 'Game over today. There's a next game on Saturday.' We have to continue. Atlanta has been playing great hockey. So we have to be ready for that."

After owning the season series last year by taking six of eight meetings, the Islanders outworked and outplayed the Devils (6-5-1) by a wide margin, even limiting them to just 16 shots (10 first two periods).

Not even Martin Brodeur aiming for his third consecutive shutout could prevent them from finding the back of the net. It took Trent Hunter 8:00 to solve the Devils' netminder with a quick wrister which snapped Brodeur's shutout streak at 136:28 and gave the Islanders an early lead. It also broke a seven-game goal drought for Hunter.

After New York pressed for a two-goal lead, the Devils would respond by tying it thanks to rookie Travis Zajac, who finished off an impressive shift by one-timing a Jamie Langenbrunner backhand off an Isles' defenseman past Rick DiPietro at 15:30. But any momentum was shortlived as the Isles got it right back just 32 seconds later when Miroslav Satan rebounded home a Hunter shot. Mike York made the play possible by stealing the puck from Scott Gomez and setting up the goal.

Alexei Zhitnik padded the lead halfway through the second when his wrister from the point through traffic beat Brodeur. Taking a Yashin feed, his one-timer looked to change direction with Blake in front.

Briefly after, the Devils had a huge opportunity to get back in the game when two Isles were sent to the box five seconds apart giving them a two-man advantage for 1:55. But instead of capitalizing, they failed to force DiPietro to make any big stops and frequently missed the net, drawing boos instead.

"That could've brought us closer to make the game more interesting obviously and getting shots. We just haven't been able to hit the net on those and we were missing chances," Elias lamented.

Feeding off the huge kill, the Isles went up three thanks to some more nifty playmaking from Yashin. Taking a Blake drop pass at the blueline on a three-on-two, the Russian center drew two Devils and then made a perfect pass across to a wide open Viktor Kozlov in the slot for an easy one-timer goal for the ex-Devil's fourth of the season.

The Devils cut it to two 3:32 later thanks to another great shift from the Zajac line. Off a steal by Zajac which setup an odd-man rush, Langenbrunner chipped a pass to Zach Parise, who deflected it home for his sixth to give New Jersey some life heading to the third.

"We had one line going and that was about it," Elias pointed out. "We got to have obviously four lines with everybody on the same page and once again, we haven't done it."

Instead of making another comeback, New Jersey repeatedly took uncharacteristic bad penalties. After killing off one, an undisciplined Colin White slash would prove costly. Once again, a great play by Yashin resulted in a goal. Victimizing the shorthanded Devils on another three-on-two, he worked a give-and-go with Mike Sillinger and then slid the puck through a sliding Alex Brooks to setup a wide open Blake at the doorstep for a PPG at 4:46 to regain a three-goal lead.

"To beat great goalies, you have to move them from side-to-side...It's the only way to beat great goalies like Marty," Yashin concluded.

The formula worked to perfection.

Notes: York finished with two assists while Hunter matched his season output with a goal and assist. ... Isles' Arron Asham and Devils' Cam Janssen squared off and battled to a draw 2:47 in. ... Yashin has five points (2-3-5) in his last three games and has only been held without a point twice this season while leading the Islanders with 16 points. ... DiPietro turned aside 14 of 16 shots for his fourth win while Brodeur finished with 22 saves. ... Back after missing the Columbus game, Gomez played the first two periods (14:05) before reaggravating a groin injury. ... Making his return in a Devils uniform for the first time in a decade after helping them win their first Stanley Cup, Brick native Jim Dowd took 12 shifts (10:12) while playing on the fourth line with Janssen and Erik Rasmussen. ... As part of their 25th Anniversary celebration, the Devils honored their 1983-84 team before the game with a brief tribute.