Sports Outside the Beltway

Devil of a time- Minnesota beats New Jersey 2-1

Nothing is bouncing well for the NHL’s worst hockey team.

When Clayton Stoner drew up the first goal of his NHL career as a kid, it probably didn’t look anything like the game-winner he scored against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night. From

Out of gas at the end of a shift early in the third period, the rookie defenseman of the Minnesota Wild dumped the puck into the zone and turned toward the bench. Stoner never saw the puck hit the stick of Ilya Kovalchuk, ricochet off the glass and carom into a vacated net.

The goal turned out to be the difference in the Wild’s 2-1 victory at Prudential Center.

“I was thinking about burning the tape and telling a different story a few years from now,” the 25-year-old said. “It was a lucky goal. It was one of those ones that sometimes you need that lucky goal just to win a hockey game. We needed those two points. That’s pretty huge.”

Here’s the goal.

Ilya Kovalchuck scored his 12th goal of the season last night. That would tie him for the team lead on the Florida Panthers. All that goal production for 6-7 million dollars a year.


New Jersey Devils fire coach John MacLean

His replacement, Jacques Lemaire, was Devils coach immediately before MacLean. From AP-

Jacques Lemaire, who led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup in 1994-95, is returning for his third coaching stint with the team, replacing John MacLean.

Lemaire told’s Pierre LeBrun Thursday that Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello called to offer him the job Wednesday.

Lemaire was on his way to Newark, and plans to be behind the bench Thursday night for the Devils’ game against the New York Islanders.

The Devils are 9-22-2 and tied with the Islanders for last place in the Eastern Conference with 20 points. They have lost three straight.

Here’s a list of problems New Jersey has at this moment

They signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a 15-year contract where he makes around 6 million a year. With the salary cap, this restricts the team’s personnel options.
What has all that money bought? Kovalchuk has exactly 8 goals and 10 assists and a -32 rating. Mike Santorelli of Florida has 9 goals. Mike who gets paid about one sixth what Kovalchuk does.
Perennial Vezina winner/contender Martin Brodeur is having his worst year in net with a save pct. under .900
Brodeur has been injured, so has Zach Parise, the team’s captain.
The team has scored just 59 goals this season.

New Jersey is a terrible point at this point. Firing the coach was easy, making the team turn itself around is going to be tough and it won’t happen this year. Lemaire has agreed to coach the Devils just to the end of this season. So what does MacLean’s firing accomplish?


Atlanta Thrashers trade Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey

The long anticipated deal finally took place. From ESPN-

The New Jersey Devils have won the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes, acquiring the superstar winger from the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night.

The Devils have struggled of late, especially scoring goals. Veteran Devils GM Lou Lamoriello didn’t hesitate, swooping in and acquiring the biggest rental player available on this year’s trade market.

In exchange, the Thrashers get rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, defenseman Johnny Oduya, prospect Patrice Cormier and a first-round pick in this year’s draft.

Oduya has two more years on his deal after this season at a $3.5 million salary-cap hit. Bergfors will be a restricted free agent July 1. Cormier was suspended for the rest of the season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for an elbowing incident but he’s a highly regarded prospect.

In addition to Kovalchuk, New Jersey also gets defenseman Anssi Salmela, who was originally a Devil and sent to Atlanta at the trade deadline last year.

Kovalchuck is still a free agent at the end of this season. The Devils may have acquired a rental only. If Kovalchuk doesn’t get New Jersey to the Stanley Cup finals at least before fleeing for greener pastures, this deal will rate as a total bust.

Here is another concern with the dea- How well will Kovalchuk, 31 goals and 27 assists in 49 games this season, play under the system, sometimes referred to as ‘neutral zone trap’ used by NJ Devils Coach Jacques Lemaire? It is very defensive oriented. I think Kovalchuk will adapt but may slow scoring goals and assists till the Olympic break.


Minnesota Wild release Winger Petr Sykora

Just a year ago he helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup. From AP-

The Minnesota Wild have placed right wing Petr Sykora on waivers.

Sykora and rookie Robbie Earl were placed on waivers on Tuesday. Earl can be returned to the minors or stay with the Wild if he clears, but Sykora’s stint with Minnesota is all but over.

Sykora turned down richer offers to play in Russia and signed a one-year, $1.6 million contract with the Wild in September.

The 33-year-old ranked fourth on the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins last season with 46 points in 76 games. He had only two goals and one assist in 14 games with Minnesota, missing nearly two months while recovering from a concussion.

The well traveled Sykora, who played his first NHL game back in 1995, may well be finished as a player for the 2009-10 season. If the concussion isn’t too bad, I am certain he will be back playing pro hockey but perhaps not in the NHL. As of a year ago Sykora could still help a team, and concussion aside, that is the basis for my evaluation.


NJ Devil General Manager says postponed game to be costly

Should we start taking up a collection for team owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek? From the Newark Star-Ledger-

The Devils will enter Sunday’s 6 p.m. half-game against the Tampa Bay Lightning trailing by three goals. Barring a dramatic comeback, the resumption of Friday night’s suspended game will be a Devils loss.

It will definitely be a loss in the pocketbook, according to general manager Lou Lamoriello.

“No question there are going to be a lot of costs involved,” Lamoriello confirmed before Saturday night’s game in Montreal. “The circus was moving in tomorrow because the circus plays Tuesday. They had to change the ice. We had to make sure it was OK to hold up what had to be done with the ice to get the game played.”

What do you mean, you can’t put skates on Clowns and Elephants?

Seriously, the Prudential Centre was built for the Devils specifically. In order to keep the NHL team from re-locating. The operators of the arena should remember who their main resident is, and if they forget, then New Jersey management should remind them.

There is also the likelihood that the Devils will have to pay expenses for the Lightning to return to the Prudential Center. That could mean hotel and travel costs.

There’s always the Wyndham Garden Hotel Newark Airport formerly known as the formerly Ramada Inn Newark International Airport. The rooms are comfortable but not fancy and the food is good. I’ve stayed there when playing in Star Tournaments.

The game will be resumed at 6 p.m. Sunday. The teams will play the final 9:12 of the second period with one TV timeout and then go back to the dressing rooms for ice resurfacing. Then the final period will be played

The article makes no mention if there are seats available for the game.

I asked Lamoriello if he felt the fans who remained throughout the one hour and 42 minute delay Friday night were treated fairly. No announcements were made after play was stopped and players were told that the game had been suspended at least a half-hour before the media and fans were informed.

The GM said he felt the team handled the situation with fans properly.

Memo to General Manager Lou Lamoriello. If a NHL game is ever suspended in New Jersey again, tell the media about it first. Otherwise they will whine and make your life miserable.

There were many different problems. NHL bylaws prohibit players from playing on three consecutive days, but that has been waived.

I didn’t know about that rule before writing this blog post. It makes perfect sense because hockey is a rough physically demanding sport.

Both teams agreed to waive the rule.

Coach Jacques Lemaire didn’t want to discuss the fact that the Devils will be trailing, 3-0.

“I thought we were playing really well,” he said.

If down 3-0 is playing really well, what would the score of a Devils game be if they were playing horrible? 100-0?

The article makes no mention if the rest of the game will be on television or not. I won’t be checking later as my day will be spent watching the NFL playoffs and then the final round of the PGA Tour’s SBS Championship.


Tampa Bay-New Jersey game postponed after some lights in the arena fail

It had been over four years since a NHL game had to be postponed. From AP-

The New Jersey Devils’ game against the Tampa Bay Lightning was postponed Friday night when a lighting problem on one side of the arena in the second period could not be fixed.TB-NJ

The teams waited more than an hour and 40 minutes before the Devils announced the game would be rescheduled.

The Lightning led 3-0 with 9:12 left in the period when the lights dimmed in the Devils end and could not be relit.

Steve Downie, Brandon Bochenski and Steven Stamkos scored for Tampa Bay.

The last time an NHL game was postponed was on Nov. 22, 2005, when Detroit defenseman Jiri Fischer had a seizure on the bench in the first period of a game against the Nashville Predators. Doctors had to perform CPR on Fischer.

The Newark Star Ledger reports that a failed circuit breaker caused the lights to fail. Tampa Bay can’t be happy about what happened tonight. They got 3 out of their 7 shots taken past Goalie Marty Brodeur. You just don’t see that happen too often and the same can be said about lights going out at a NHL arena.

Update- When the game is played again,(perhaps as early as this Sunday) it will resume from the point it was suspended at.


NHL Eastern Conference at the mid point of the 2009-10 season

Due to the Winter Olympics, the NHL season is being being played at a more accelerated rate than normal. For instance, prior to Christmas week the Florida Panthers had four games in a week, five straight weeks in a row.

A NHL season is 82 games in length. Half of 82 is 41. Most teams are at 41 games or more

New Jersey 39 games 28 wins 10 losses 1 overtime loss 57 points
Buffalo 40 25 11 4 54
Washington 40 24 10 6 54
Pittsburgh 42 26 15 1 53
Boston 40 21 12 7 49
Ottawa 41 21 16 4 46
Montreal 43 21 19 3 45
NY Rangers 41 19 17 5 43

Tampa Bay 41 16 15 10 42
Philadelphia 40 19 18 3 41
Atlanta 40 18 17 5 41
NY Islanders 42 16 18 8 40
Florida 41 16 18 7 39
Toronto 41 14 18 9 37
Carolina 41 11 23 7 29

Bold denotes all teams who would make the playoffs as of this minute.
The above standings are as of 6 p.m. on Saturday January 2nd.

Teams all but certain to make the playoffs- Buffalo, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Washington
Team that won’t make the playoffs- Carolina

That’s hardly rocket science based on the above.

I will be greatly surprised if Florida, NY Islanders, or Toronto are playing in the post season. The Panthers haven’t made the playoffs in 10 years and this will be no exception. How is a team that hasn’t won more than 3 games in a row since March 2008 supposed to get the momentum up for a playoff run?

Tampa Bay and Atlanta have been pleasant surprises this year. I’m still not convinced either team can make the playoffs. Particularly so in the case of the Lightning who are most impotent offensive teams in the league,(28th of 30 teams)

Honestly I think the teams who are currently 1-8 will all make the playoffs. There will be reshuffling but I think the 7 other teams each have enough liabililites that it will keep them out of the postseason.


Goalie Martin Broder sets new all-time career shutout mark

He surpassed the previous mark of 103 set by Terry Sawchuck. From AP-

Martin Brodeur broke the NHL record with his 104th career shutout, and maybe the only surprise was how easily it came against the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.Brodeur

Brodeur needed to make only a few difficult saves while breaking Terry Sawchuk’s shutout record, further strengthening his case to be considered as the best goaltender to play the game, and the streaking New Jersey Devils had little trouble beating Pittsburgh 4-0 on Monday night.

Brodeur made 35 saves to break the coveted shutout record only two games after setting another NHL mark. He surpassed Patrick Roy’s record for regular-season appearances by a goaltender when he started his 1,030th on Friday, and Monday was his 1,032nd game in 16 seasons, all with the Devils.

Brodeur made NHL history against one of the most potent offensive teams today. What can be said about this future Hall of Famer that hasn’t been said already? I’ve never seen a better Goalie.


To hell with them- Florida beats New Jersey 4-2

Why can’t the Panthers play more often like they did tonight?

Scott Clemmensen made 26 saves to beat his former teammates, Michael Frolik scored twice and the Florida Panthers ended a four-game losing streak with a 4-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.FL-NJ

Jordan Leopold and Shawn Matthias also scored, and Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss each had two assists to help Florida improve to 2-5-4 in its last 11 games.

Brian Rolston and Dean McAmmond scored for New Jersey. The Devils who had won four in a row and seven of their previous eight.

Florida jumped out to a 3-0 lead but Rolston’s goal cut the lead to 3-1. Then early in the third period, MacAmmond scored. It looked like the same old Panthers at that point. Build a good lead then fail to hold it.

Then Frolik scored his second goal a minute later. For the rest of the game Florida easily dispensed with any and all threats New Jersey made at scoring again. Overall, tonight may have been Florida’s best win of the year other than their pummeling of Buffalo a month ago. Still, I remain unconvinced that the Panthers can end their nine-year playoff drought in 2010.

A few other notes about tonight’s game-

*- Shawn Matthias, given a chance to play on the second line, got his 2nd goal of the year and played a great game. Still when Florida got up 4-2, Peter DeBoer began using Peter Oreskovich rather than Matthias on the 2nd line. Florida Panthers announcer Billy Lindsay this was a move made for defensive purposes. I’m not so sure, DeBoer has shown little confidence in Matthias to this date.

*- With New Jersey down by two goals, Devils coach Jacques Lemaire did not pull Goalie Martin Brodeur till their were about 25 seconds left in the game. In similar circumstances of 2 goals down, other teams yank their Goalies with two minutes left or even more. It seems to me that Lemaire conceded the game to the Panthers well before the final buzzer.

Update- Rumors are flying that Florida is shopping around Goalie Tomas Vokoun. They have an excellent goaltending prospect, Jacob Markstrom, who is playing in the Swedish elite league and eligible to play in the NHL next season.

The move not surprisingly wouldn’t just be based on the prospect of Markstrom joining the club, but due to Vokoun’s contract. It has one more season to run and will hit the Panthers for 6.3 million dollars.

The Panthers are mediocre at best this year, Markstrom is the team’s future but Vokoun or the injured David Booth are the Panther’s best players at this moment. I can see why to make the trade, and why not to. If Florida is thinking long term, sure shop Vokoun around but don’t do another Luongo deal where the Panthers got shit for their goaltender.


Did the NHL make a mess of the 2009-10 schedule?

The upcoming schedule was released yesterday. Right away I noticed something interesting. Florida has a home and home series with Nashville.

Nov 28 and Mar 29 are when the Panthers and Predators play next season.

What I find interesting is- Florida is playing Nashville home and home for the second straight season. In 2008-09, the Panthers and Predators played on November 1st and December 23rd.

In light of the way the NHL season is set up, namely that any Eastern or Western conference team plays only play 3 home and homes in any season, Florida and Nashville shouldn’t meet home and home more than once every five years 15 western conference teams divided by 3 home and home series equals five.

Here’s a link to the 2009-10 schedule. Anyone have theories as to what happened here or am I off base?


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