Waiting on Dubinsky


Written on 12/14/2009 by Jim Cerny

There have been many recurring themes for the New York Rangers so far this season, none more common than their lack of secondary scoring on a game-in game-out basis.

But another theme that has been repeated since the start of training camp is the club waiting on 23 year-old center Brandon Dubinsky.

First the Rangers had to wait on Dubinsky to arrive at training camp. A no-show when he could not come to terms on a new contract with the club, Dubinsky was on the receiving end of some verbal wrath of head coach John Tortorella before his holdout ended during the first week of training camp.

Then after a strong start to the season, both Dubinsky and the team hit a major lull. The Rangers looked to Dubinsky to be one of the club's top offensive players, but instead found themselves waiting on Dubinsky to be more consistent with his play. Dubinsky had eight points in the first eight games of the season, and not shockingly the Rangers posted a 7-1-0 mark in that span as Dubi and his 'mates were clicking on most cylinders.

But then Dubinsky hit the skids, notching just two assists over the next ten games, and the team mirrored his offensive struggles. His ice-time---often in the 22-23 minute range while skating with Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal in the opening weeks of the season---was cut back by Tortorella. In fact, Dubi found himself rooted to the bench, playing just nine minutes up in Montreal on October 24.

Everything came to a halt for the third-year centerman on November 7 in Calgary. On that night Dubinsky went down to block a Jay Bouwmeester slap shot during a Flames power play. The puck hit Dubinksy on the right hand, breaking a bone and sending him to IR.

Dubinsky has missed 13 games since breaking his hand. And with the Rangers struggling mightily to score goals (they have been held to 2 goals or fewer in 15 of their previous 19 matches) and win games, the organization has been waiting for Dubinsky's return to game action to hopefully spark the club.

The latest wait for Dubinsky may finally be over.

Dubinsky, who has skated in full-contact practices this past week, took part in the morning skate earlier today and all indications are that he will return to the lineup this evening at Madison Square Garden against the Atlanta Thrashers.

I spoke with both Dubi and Torts this morning and neither would confirm Dubinsky's return this evening. But my gut says Dubi is in, meaning Erik Christensen would be out of the lineup and Prospal likely will shift back to wing from center.

"My hand feels great, and, obviously, we've given it enough time," stated Dubinsky. "I'm anxious to get back in."

Dubinsky said there is still some pain in the hand, and that he will have to wear a protective cast over it during games. He also noted that only yesterday did he practice taking faceoffs. The hunch here is that if he does return tonight, Dubinsky will defer to a linemate---perhaps Prospal or Christopher Higgins---to take draws for him.

"Yesterday we had a chance to do some battle drills and I was able to lean on some guys, put some pressure on some guys without the hand hurting," explained Dubinsky. "I took some (faceoffs) yesterday. As far as that is concerned, I think we'll just see how it goes."

If Dubinsky does return this evening, Tortorella said that he will play him Top-six forward minutes.

"We'll go full-bore (with Dubinsky)," said the head coach. "Practice is one thing, but then the game comes along. We'll just have to read him. We think he's healthy, but we just have to be careful there."

One look at Dubinsky and you can see he is absolutely ready to jump out of his skin if he doesn't get back in the lineup soon. Though he said he enjoyed eating the shrimp, popcorn, and "maybe even a little candy" during games, it was also "hard to watch" his teammate struggle so.

Dubi said that he is done being a "fan" and a "cheerleader" for the team. He is ready to be a Ranger again.

It loks like the latest wait is going to be over, sooner rather than later, as far as Brandon Dubinsky is concerned.

Now the Rangers have to hope that they do not have to wait on Dubinsky to regain his scoring touch.

That already has been the longest wait so far this season.

Vokoun's Availability Doesn't Help Rangers


Written on 12/11/2009 by Jim Cerny

Chris Botta has himself a nice little scoop over at Fanhouse today.

Botta is reporting that the Florida Panthers have contacted teams about Tomas Vokoun's availability.

Add Vokoun's name to those of fellow netminders J.S. Giguere, Martin Biron, Jaroslav Halak, and, perhaps, Manny Legace and you have quite a group of experienced goaltenders available via trade.

Dealing Vokoun is easier said than done, what with his hefty contract extending past this season. And it's a huge risk for the Panthers because he has been their best player this season; and what would become of the Panthers without their most important player?

But as Botta points out, Florida has top prospect Jacob Markstrom at the ready beginning next season to assume duties in goal, so the Panthers may be willing to make a deal now during the season as other teams become desperate, as opposed to next summer. They would just have to bite the bullet on this season and see if Scott Clemmensen has any New Jersey magic in him left over from a year ago.

Vokoun's contract is a major stumbling block. Clearly the Panthers would have to take serious salary back in any deal for their No. 1 goalie. But how could the Flyers not be interested in Vokoun, especially with the inconsistent state of their goaltending this season and the current injury to starter Ray Emery?

What about Ottawa? They did swing a deal last spring to make Pascal LeClaire their No. 1, but surprise of all surprises, he is injured again.

Then there is Toronto. If Brian Burke believes his club's recent run the past two weeks is for real, does he consider such a big move? Vesa Toskala has been horrible and Jonas Gustavvson has had heart issues. Logic would say no deal for Toronto because Gustavvson is the goalie of the future, but yet with Burke, well, you never know.

I have chronicled Detroit's goaltending issues before here on Rink Rap. Vokoun would look quite nice in red and white, but no way the Red Wings could slip him in under the Cap, right? Right? Hmmmm......

Of course the playing field changes dramatically if another team---in particular, a serious Stanley Cup contender---loses their No. 1 goalie to injury. That would make Vokoun, arguably, the hottest commodity on the NHL market.

As for backup goaltenders, the question on Broadway is: will Henrik Lundqvist play every game the rest of the season now that his backup, Steve Valiquette, has shockingly flamed out and been sent to the minors?

Well maybe that is not exactly the question, but it is close. The Rangers are right up against the salary cap ceiling and really can't afford to add a Halak or Biron---the most affordable options out there---as Lundqvist's caddy. So right now rookies Chad Johnson and Matt Zaba are alternating playing in Hartford for the club's AHL afffiliate, practicing with the Rangers, and backing up Lundqvist on game day. Not exactly the ideal situation.

"It's a mess," Rangers coach John Tortorella said this morning of the goaltending situation behind Lundqvist. "Let's call it what it is. It's a mess."

Tortorella shared that the plan was for the veteran Valiquette, who earns a Cap-friendly $750,000 this season, to make 15-17 starts this season, "especially with Hank set to play in the Olympics."

Now Torts has no idea when, or how, he can give Lundqvist any nights off, in particular because the team is struggling so mightily right now and needs his play to either steal them some victories or keep them in games. At some point, Tortorella explained, Johnson---a rookie who played at Alaska-Fairbanks last season, and who is considered a decent NHL prospect---will be forced to make a start.

"We sent a veteran backup down and he's still struggling down there, and we don't even know what we have in Johnson," explained Tortorella. "I'm not trying to paint a lousy picture, but that's the picture it is."


By the way, check out the Rangers Radio page at newyorkrangers.com for an interview Steve Gelbs and I conducted with John Halligan, author of "100 Rangers Greats", this week. Halligan, a long-time Rangers employee, is a true historian of all things Rangers, and our conversation is a lot of fun, and sprinkled with many Rangers anecdotes and memories. Not to mention we have some fun debates! For example how can Mike Gartner, perhaps one of the top two or three snipers in franchise history be ranked No. 67? Fun stuff, so go check it out.

Also, for you folk up in Canada, I am a guest this week on The Fourth Period Radio Show. Dan Kingerski and I will be debating topics such as the return of the NHL to Quebec City, who will be the next coach fired in the NHL, and will Wayne Gretzky coach Canada at the World Championships.

If you are not north of the border, http://www.thefourthperiod.com/ should have the show on its site beginning on Saturday.

Monday Musings on Flyers, Canadiens, and Goalies Valiquette & Howard


Written on 12/07/2009 by Jim Cerny

After being smoked 8-2 by the Capitals in Peter Laviolette's debut behind the bench, the Flyers will look to show their new coach their better side tonight when they skate against the Canadiens in Montreal.

But what exactly is their better side right now?

The Flyers have lost four in a row---outscored 16-4 in the process---and seven of their last eight. They scored three goals or more twice in that span, and lost both games anyway.

They are having problems putting the puck in the net. Their goaltending with Ray Emery and Brian Boucher has been spotty. And their commitment to strong defensive-zone play comes and goes on a nightly---and sometimes shift-by-shift---basis.

Bu the biggest issue in Philly just might be in the dressing room. Though there are plenty of denials from the Flyers, I have heard from several reliable NHL sources that the mix may not be a good one in Philly. And if that is the case, that is a huge problem.

Already we have seen a very good man, and solid coach, in John Stevens lose his job. Word is that he couldn't handle the locker room issues that have arisen with the club. Laviolette, not as much of a player's coach, will do his damndest to get the players in line.

But the issues may run deeper than any one coach can correct. From what I saw on Saturday, these players sure didn't look like they gave a damn about trying to impress their new coach.

Laviolette has been a winner at his previous stops. He guided the Islanders to playoff appearances in both seasons he was their coach, and in 2006 he coached the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Championship, which was secured with a Game 7 victory. Clearly he seems to have what it takes to get a very talented Flyers team back on track.

Or does he?

Check out Puck Daddy's take over at Yahoo! Sports.

Despite a strong case made by Puck Daddy, I still think Laviolette can turn things around in Philly. And I would not be surprised to see the Flyers right in the Eastern Conference mix when the playoffs roll around in April. They are too talented a bunch not to be.


The Canadiens sure know how to throw a party, eh?

Saturday night's extravaganza to celebrate the organization's 100th birthday was both classy and memorable, plain and simple. The introductions of former greats, complete with the ex-Habs skating out on to the ice, was really just phenomenal.

To see Patrick Roy and the reclusive Ken Dryden not only skate out on to the Bell Centre ice, but do so with their full goaltending gear on, and then proceed to set up in their respective nets and face shots, was most definitely my favorite part of just a terrific night in Montreal.

Hats off to Les Habitants, as classy an organization as you will find in professional sports.


And a tip of the hat to Red Wings netminder Jimmy Howard, who really showed me last night. Back on Friday I wrote right here in Rink Rap that I believe---and still do, by the way!---that Detroit needs to upgrade their goaltending situation. Part of the reason for that is the inconsistent play of Howard, the 25 year-old rookie.

Well, with me in the building at Madison Square Garden, Howard was simply terrific last night in a 3-1 win over the Rangers. It was more than the 28 saves he made. It was the quality of the saves, the timing of the saves. In short, Howard had himself a brilliant night.

Trailing 1-0 with less than 30 seconds to go in the first period, Howard exploded across his crease from left to right to stone Christopher Higgins on the doorstep. A 2-0 lead at home for the Rangers would have been huge, especially receiving a goal so late in the period. Instead Howard kept the deficit at one.

Then less than two minutes into the second period Ryan Callahan was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway by Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson. Callahan made an excellent move in-tight, switching from backhand to forehand and sending his shot to the far corner of the net. Howard dropped into the splits, and somehow got his left toe on the puck, stopping it along the goal line.

Yet again, Howard kept the deficit at one with an amazing save.

Then after the Red Wings had tied the game at one apiece, Howard made several more big-time saves, including at least a pair during a Rangers power play in the third that swung the game's momentum in favor of the Red Wings.

I still believe Howard needs to be more consistent. And I still think adding a Martin Biron, for example, would be the move to make. But give credit where credit is due. Howard was splendid last night, giving me and 18,200 at MSG a glimpse into the player he could be on a regular basis.


I'll end on somehwhat of a downer today.

One of hockey's real good guys---and a long-time personal favorite of mine---Steve Valiquette was placed on waiver by the Rangers last week. Unclaimed, Valley was shipped to the club's AHL affiliate in Hartford.

In his first two games for the Wolf Pack this weekend, Valiquette struggled even worse than he had at the NHL level this season. On Friday, Valiquette started and was pulled in an unsightly first period. Restored between the pipes in the second, Valiquette ended his first game with the Pack having allowed five goals in a 7-1 defeat.

It didn't get any better yesterday. Valley was pulled early in the second period after having allowed five goals on 16 shots in what would turn out to be a 9-3 loss to the Hershey Bears.


First Valiquette struggles to the tune of a 3.74 goals against average and .852 save percentage in six appearances as Henrik Lundqvist's backup this season. Then after being strafed for eight goals two Saturdays ago in Pittsburgh, Valley is placed on waivers. When no one claims him, an indignity itself for a goalie who performed very well as a backup the past few seasons in New York, he is sent to the minor leagues, where he thought he had finally escaped back in 2006-07. Now Valley is rocked in his first two starts at Hartford.

It is very tough to sit back and watch this happen to a man who is among the most friendly, and funniest, I have known since working in the National Hockey League.

Valley and I first met when he was fourth or fifth on the Islanders depth chart, but was called up to the NHL level in 1999-2000 out of necessity anyway, and I was the team's radio broadcaster. We formed a friendship then, and rekindled it when I became the Rangers' beat writer for newyorkrangers.com and Valley had evolved into a capable NHL goalie with the Blueshirts.

Here's to hoping that Steve Valiquette can pull his game back together and escape the minors again at the age of 32.

Goaltending Solution Sought in Hockey Town


Written on 12/04/2009 by Jim Cerny

Watching another ugly goaltending performance by the Red Wings during last night's 4-1 loss to the Oilers just makes me wonder how and when Detroit is going to fix this season-long problem.

Jimmy Howard overplayed two shots/passes last night and, as such, allowed a pair of weak goals that helped to undermine his team.

It continues to be a case of one step forward, one step back for Howard during his inaugural NHL campaign. On Monday I thought Howard played one of his best games of the season, positionally-strong and at times outstanding in denying the Dallas Stars during a 4-1 Red Wings triumph. Then last night he looked awkward and allowed a pair of softies.

The numbers bear out Howard's inconsistent play. He has appeared in 14 games, posting a 7-5-1 record with a 2.67 goals against average and .907 save percentage. Howard has been better of late, but he doesn't seem capable just yet of stringing together a slew of solid starts in a row.

Of course this wouldn't matter if veteran Chris Osgood was playing better. Ossie is following up a very mediocre regular season performance from a year ago with another shaky one, so far, this season. Osgood's 2.75 goals against---while better than last year's 3.09 mark---is disappointing, and worse than Howard's. So, too, is his unsightly .897 save percentage.

The thing is, Osgood redeemed himself a year ago by turning in a phenomenal effort during the playoffs, carrying the Red Wings to within a game of another Stanley Cup Championship with a solid 2.01 goals against average.

Just two years removed from his third Cup, a league-best 2.09 regular season GAA, and a ridiculous 1.55 GAA in the post-season, Osgood certainly has the appropriate street cred and quite a bit of cache built up in Detroit. But yet this is the second straight regular season where you scratch your head and wince when you consider his play.

Last season Detroit was fortunate to have Ty Conklin, much more of a proven commodity than Howard, to shoulder some of the load during the regular season. Now the Red Wings have turned to Howard, the 25 year-old goalie of the future who has been apprenticing in the American Hockey League the previous four seasons, and the results are decidedly mixed.

Of course both Howard and Osgood do have somewhat of a built-in excuse for their average numbers, what with how Detroit has been ravaged by injury so far this season.

Still, Wings GM Ken Holland and head coach Mike Babcock are not ones for excuses. So what is their move? And do they have the cap space to make the type of move they may deem necessary?

Anaheim would be willing to unload J.S. Giguere now that Jonas Hiller has emerged as the favored goalie, but his contract is very difficult to move. And I'm not so sure that the Ducks would be eager to send Giguere to a conference rival like the Red Wings anyway.

Perhaps now that Rick DiPietro is closer to returning to the Islanders, New York might consider trading one of its goalies. Dwayne Roloson, who is on a two-year deal, has played better than Martin Biron, who signed a one-year contract this past summer. Likely Roloson and DiPietro, who basically has a lifetime deal to remain on the Island, would stay, and Biron would be shipped somewhere.

The Red Wings could do worse than Biron to split time with Osgood during the regular season, and push him heading into the playoffs.

If such a move would take place, it would not be for amother few weeks, I would think. DiPietro is going to play some games in the minor leagues starting this Saturday, and you'd have to believe that the Islanders want to see him play a few games at the NHL level and see if he can remain healthy, a big IF considering he played only five games a year ago, and has yet to play this season.

In the meantime Howard and Osgood will try and convince Red Wings brass that outside help is not needed.

From my point of view, I disagree. Change is needed in goal for the Red Wings.

Tuesday Tidbits on Ovie, Vokoun, Savard, and more


Written on 12/01/2009 by Jim Cerny

Less than 24 hours after being helped off the ice with an injury to his right knee, Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin was back on the ice this morning testing that knee.

According to Caps beat writer Tariq El-Bashir on Twitter, and Joseph White of the Associated Press, Ovechkin donned a sweatsuit and skated gingerly for about five minutes by himself before retreating to the dressing room.

After practice the Capitals reported that Ovechkin is listed as Day to Day.

Ovechkin was hurt in a knee-on-knee collision with Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason in last night's Caps victory.

As Gleason was starting a rush out of his end of the ice, the aggressively forechecking Ovechkin went for a hit on the defenseman and simultaneously threw his right leg out as Gleason cut towards the middle of the ice. There was direct knee-on-knee contact, and both players remained on the ice for several minutes. Ovechkin was helped from the ice, and was also assessed a five-minute major for kneeing and a game misconduct. Gleason eventually returned to the game.

After the contest Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was in full spin mode trying to protect his most valuable asset, Ovechkin. Boudreau claimed that, at best, Ovechkin should have received a two-minute minor, and that a suspension was not warrented. Boudreau's main fact to support his belief was that Gleason was not seriously hurt.

I disagree, and I am not influenced by the severity of Gleason's injury.

Ovechkin made a similar knee-on-knee hit to Pittsburgh's Sergei Gonchar in the playoffs last spring. Enough is enough. I understand he might just be the biggest draw in the game, but Colin Campbell has to make the right call here. Ovechkin deserves to be suspended.

Whether he is or isn't, though, it seems that Ovechkin will miss some game action no matter what due his own knee injury.


Washington's next opponent is the Florida Panthers. You may not see Tomas Vokoun between the pipes for the Panthers at the Verizon Center, though, on Thursday.

In one of the most bizarre---and embarrassing---plays you will ever see, Vokoun was struck down by his own teammate after Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk scored a goal in last night's game. Defenseman Keith Ballard was so incensed that Kovalchuk was able to pot his own rebound past Vokoun---due in large part to the fact that Ballard had skated himself out of the play behind the goal line---that he swung his stick wildly in frustration. In the process his stick struck Vokoun on the side of his mask, sending the veteran goalie crashing down to the ice, with blood pouring from his left ear.

Apparently unaware of what he had just done, Ballard proceeded to swing his stick again, this time smashing it against the goal post, while Vokoun lay writhing at Ballard's feet.

Simply incredible.

Ballard then skated to the bench. Meanwhile the Florida trainer was sprinting past him to tend to Vokoun, who eventually was taken off on a stretcher, and spent time at a local Atlanta hospital.

You absolutely need to watch this video if you haven't already. 

The good news is that Vokoun only suffered a laceration of the ear, and had no internal damage. He flew home with the team after last night's game.

But in a season chock-full of injuries---and by the way add Columbus defenseman Rotislav Klesla, Carolina's Joe Corvo, and Ovechkin to that list, all from last night's action---this one has got to be THE most bizarre, and stupid, of all.


Cross Marc Savard's name off the free agency list for next summer. Savard and the Bruins today agreed to a seven-year deal, that reportedly averages out to about $4.2 million a year.

My initial reaction is a split one.

On one hand, I say good job by the Bruins keeping one of their best players in the fold, and doing so at a cap hit that is not brutal. Though hurt ealier this season, Savard has thrived in Boston, recording 96, 78, and 88 points in his three full seasons with the Bruins.

But on the other hand I say "Yikes!" Seven years for a player who will be 33 years old by the time his contract kicks in? That is a long commitment, though---this season aside---Savard has been remarkably healthy the past four years. By the end of this contract, Savard will be 40 years old. I understand wanting to lock him up so that he didn't receive other tempting offers, but seven years sounds like an awfully long time to be tied into Marc Savard if you ask me.


Saw that Devils beat writer Tom Gulitti tweeted earlier today that Johnny Oduya returned to practice this morning. Oduya and a whole host of other key Devs have been sidelined recently, not that anyone would have noticed.

New Jersey has won three in a row, including a 6-1 pasting of the Islanders on Saturday, a game that saw six of the Devils regular 18 skaters sidelined due to injury. Dating back to the end of October, the Devils are 11-2-1 in their last 14 games, making them, surprisingly, one of the hottest and top teams in the league this season.

Not sure how they do it over there in Newark, but Lou Lamoriello seems to be a magician year after year.

Naslund and Forsberg Show True Colors


Written on 11/25/2009 by Jim Cerny

One of the cooler hockey stories so far this fall involves two former star players who no longer play in the National Hockey League.

Sweden's Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund (photo, right, from his last season in the NHL as a member of the Rangers in 2008-09) have decided to unretire and play for the same MoDo team in the Swedish Elite league for whom they starred some 17 years ago.

The reason for their joint return?

MoDo, once a powerhouse in Sweden, has been struggling on and off the ice. Forsberg and Naslund are hoping that their presence can lift the team out of the cellar in the standings, and, just as importantly, help improve the team's bottom line.

"The hockey team means everything to this city," Naslund recently explained. "When the team is not doing well, you can tell a lot of people are down here, too."

And the total monetary compensation the two former NHL all stars will receive?

Nothing. Zero. Nada.

That's right. Forsberg and Naslund are coming back to provide a lift to a MoDo franchise that helped launch both of their careers. And they are asking for nothing in return.

That right there is why this is my favorite hockey story this fall.

I have always had tremendous respect for Forsberg. His skill level. His battle level. His willingness to fight through, and, later in his career, fight back from debilitating injuries. He has always been a player to admire.

Naslund was someone I respected and watched from afar for most of his career. He had always struck me as a classy guy, both on and off the ice, and was a fine ambassador of the Vancouver Canucks for many years.

Last year Naslund embarked on his final season in the National Hockey League as a member of the Rangers, and I had the privilege to work with him while serving as the beat writer for the team's web site. Though he was somewhat guarded regarding himself on a personal level, Naslund was a pleasure to get to know professionally. He was honest and straightforward, both during good times and bad, and made himself available to me and other members of the media every day. When I needed the most honest assessment of whatever was going on with the Rangers last season, I always turned to Naslund for the answers, and he delivered the goods.

I know he didn't produce the numbers that both he, the organization, and the fans had hoped for when he signed as a free agent two summers ago, but no one can ever say that Naslund did not represent the Rangers with the utmost class during his one year on Broadway.

Now Naslund shows his true colors again. One more classy move, this time in his native country, as he and Forsberg refuse to forget those who helped them on their road to stardom.

Best story of the year, so far.

Gaborik Most Valuable in First Quarter


Written on 11/24/2009 by Jim Cerny

A quarter of the way through the 2009-10 NHL season is a good time to assess the good, bad, and ugly in the National Hockey League.

To me, the top story has been the plethora of injuries sweeping through the league. That, and the amount of injuries caused by blows to the head, as well as the GMs consideration of tougher penalty calls for such violent hits.

The biggest surprise, in my opinion, is the play of the Colorado Avalanche, though both the Islanders and Coyotes deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the Avs. First place in the Northwest and third overall in the Western Conference, the sorry Avs of a year ago have been replaced by a plucky bunch backstopped by the somewhat-suprising, and quite dependable, Craig Anderson.

The most disappointing team has been the Carolina Hurricanes, hands down. An Eastern Conference finalist last spring, the 'Canes returned much of the same lineup this season, just with much worse results. Their 14-game winless skid (0-10-4) was as shocking as it was embarrassing.

The top rookie? Tough call because this is a really, really deep freshman class this year. Two that have really impressed me ar Philly's James Van Riemsdyk (6-12-18 in 17 games, with four game-winning goals) and Evander Kane of Atlanta (7-5-12 in 20 games, with three game-winners and, like Van Riemsdyk, a +7 plus/minus mark). John Tavares of the Islanders, Victor Hedman of Tampa Bay, Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers, and the Avs precocious duo of Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly will all continue to bear watching as the season moves along due to their strong play, too.

Now, who has been the most valuable player through one-quarter of the season? Anderson deserves consideration for what he has done in Colorado, though his numbers are not eye-popping great. Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, despite injuries that sidelined both for a spell, are averaging just about a goal-per-game and have both been phenomenal so far this season. Philly's Chris Pronger has been a beast, playing 27 minutes a night in every important game situation, averaging nearly a point-per-game as a defenseman, and carrying a +13 along the way. Anze Kopitar leads the league in scoring and has helped push the Kings into second place in the Pacific Division.

And what about Joe Thornton or Dany Heatley, both of whom have played huge roles in helping the Sharks stay ahead of the resurgent Kings? Or Ryan Miller and his sub 2.00 goals against average and 12-3-2 record for the Sabres?

There are a host of players off to great starts this season. But who is most valuable to his own team? I'd have to say Marian Gaborik of the Rangers.

Gaborik's numbers certainly back this argument. In 21 games played (he missed two because of an injury), Gaborik has 18 goals---nearly one-per-game---and 32 points. He is tied with Heatley for the league lead in goals, and is second behind Kopitar in points. He has also scored at least one point in 19 of the 21 games in which he has played, showing tremendous consistency this season.

Dig deeper and you find out that Gaborik has also been a workhorse, averaging more than 22 minutes of ice-time, among the leaders for all forwards in the NHL. He has also been an excellent penalty killer, while thriving on the power play with seven power play goals, second most in the league.

But dig some more and you find out the real reason why I think Gaborik is the MVP of the first quarter of this season.

Gaborik has put up these elite-level numbers with little-to-no help from his teammates. In fact in a stretch that spanned more than 200 minutes of hockey and ended in the first period of last night's victory over the Blue Jackets, the Rangers did not have a goal scored by a player not named Marian Gaborik or Vinny Prospal. That's a total of six goals, and Gaborik either scored or assisted on all six.

The Rangers have scored 71 goals this season, and Gaborik has a hand in 32 of them.

So even as the only legitimate offensive threat wearing a Rangers jersey every night, Gaborik has still found a way to keep scoring. With that target etched on his jersey, and every coach game-planning against him---and pretty much only worrying about him---Gaborik has delivered game-in and game-out.

Even last night when the story was about a seven-goal outburst by the Rangers, with five goals tallied by others on the Rangers' roster, it was Gaborik who scored the biggest goal of the game. The Rangers surrendered the first two goals of the contest, and trailed 2-0 just 9:31 into play. As head coach John Tortorella and goalie Henrik Lundqvist both told me after the game, had Columbus scored a third goal before the Rangers scored their first, it would likely have been lights out for the Blueshirts. But instead Gaborik scored a huge goal two minutes after the Blue Jackets went up 2-0, and the Rangers took off from there.

"Who else but number 10," Lundqvist said of Gaborik.

There's plenty of hockey left to be played yet this season. But one quarter of the way through, Marian Gaborik has been the most valuable to his team.

Strange Days Indeed


Written on 11/19/2009 by Jim Cerny

I am not sure if it's a black cloud or a full moon, but there's something wreaking havoc on the National Hockey League so far this season.

As discussed here before, the amount of injuries to star players is off the charts. Plus there have been a string of strange incidents that add to the question: what the heck is going on here?

Two more stories from today fit right in with what has been par-for-the-course over the first quarter of the NHL season.

First, the Los Angeles Kings placed winger Ryan Smyth (above photo) on Injured Reserve this morning. So down goes another star player---and another one who was off to a very strong start this year. Smyth joins the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jonathan Toews, Cam Ward, Brian Gionta, Simon Gagne, Sergei Gonchar, Roberto Luongo, Marc Savard, Joe Pavelski, and seemingly half of the entire Detroit Red Wings roster as star players forced to the sidelines for an extended period of time.

Smyth, who was thriving with 23 points (9-14-23) in 22 games during his first season out in LA, suffered an "upper body" injury during Monday night's game against Florida. The Kings announced today that he will miss at least a month of action, a severe blow to a team has thrived with Smyth skating on its top line alongside the league's top scorer Anze Kopitar.

"All these injuries that are happening to key players around the league, everyone is going through it and no one is going to feel sorry for you," Kings coach Terry Murray told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun.

Actually, I find it most interesting that Murray would even speak to anyone associated with ESPN.com. You see, you could make the case that Smyth is on IR because ESPN.com put the whammy on him earlier this week.

On Monday, mere hours before Smyth suffered his injury, Scott Burnside at ESPN.com included a segment in his column making the case for Smyth to be a part of the Canadian Olympic Hockey team. Citing his great play this season, and his past contributions to Canadian entries in international competition over the years, Burnside detailed why the 33 year-old Smyth deserved a call from Team Canada's Steve Yzerman.

Then WHAM! Smyth gets hurt, is out a month or more, and the Olympics---while still a possibility---become more of a long shot.

So this one may have less to do with black clouds and full moons than with ESPN.com's hockey analysis! Just think of it as the hockey version of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

If we argue that Smyth's injury has more to do with Burnside and a jinx, then it can be said that the clouds most certainly found their way to Minnesota, where all hell was breaking lose at Wild practice today.

To quote Michael Russo, the fine Wild beat writer for The Star Tribune, from his Twitter update (@Russostrib) this morning, "This is an angry practice."

Russo reported that head coach Todd Richards was in rare form, "plenty of lectures, smashing sticks against glass", he Tweeted. Then Russo added, "(Kyle) Brodziak chopped stick in half, (Mikko) Koivu threw stick four rows deep."

Sounds like good times in Minnesota.

But really they are just taking a page out of the Calgary Flames book. Apparently there was a shouting match in coach Brent Sutter's office following Calgary's 3-2 home-ice loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. Though it can not be confirmed who was shouting at whom, it was reportedly loud and angry.

Sun Media's Randy Sportak reported that Sutter downplayed the incident afterwards, saying it was just the normal course of doing business in the NHL.

"It's a high level of competition where there's a lot of emotion and a lot of intensity involved," stated Sutter. "Those things are going to happen at different times."

Sutter made sure to add that this incident "is no one else's business...that's the way it is."

Coaches flipping out. Star players being shelved almost on a nightly basis.

Black clouds. Full moons. Sportswriter jinxes.

Can't say things are boring this year in the National Hockey League.

Fresh Start for the Wild


Written on 11/18/2009 by Jim Cerny

A quarter of the way through their "fresh start" of a season---as newly-minted captain Mikko Koivu (photo left) calls it---the Minnesota Wild are still trying to find their identity, while at the same time attempting to remain out of the basement in the Western Conference.

Within a matter of months this past spring, the Wild lost the three pillars of their organization, signaling a major change in the course the franchise would take in the following years.

Doug Risebrough, who was GM of the Wild even before there was a team on the ice, was the first to go.

He was followed by Jacques Lemaire, the only head coach in franchise history.

And then Marian Gaborik---the Wild's first-ever draft pick and the organization's all-time leading scorer---was allowed to slip away as an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

The three long-time faces of the organization, all gone within a matter of months.

"A fresh start is the right way to describe it," Koivu told me a couple of weeks ago. "There are a lot of new things on and off the ice. Now we are trying to build it all again. But it is strange not to see those guys around here anymore."

Strange indeed. Over the past nine years no three people were more visable representatives of the Wild than Risebrough, Lemaire, or Gaborik. It is one thing to lose one or two of those men. But all three? Almost unheard of. But that is the path ownership chose months ago.

"It's tough to not be around those guys who have always been here," stated Koivu, who has a team-best 18 points in 20 games this year. "You get used to a certain way, and certain people. But it is part of the game, and it's something that every team goes through. It's fresh, and a whole lot different."

What Koivu didn't say---and wouldn't answer---was whether fresh and different equal better. So far the Wild---under new coach Todd Richards and GM Chuck Fltecher---are tied for 13th place in the west with 16 points. They are 7-11-2 and have allowed the fifth most goals in the conference (63), something unheard of when the defensive-minded Lemaire was the coach.

And while Gaborik thrives in New York with the Rangers---his 15 goals are tied for the league lead, while his 27 points are second most---his replacement in Minnesota, free agent pick up Martin Havlat---has struggled mightily with just two goals and eight points in 18 games.

It was Gaborik that most Wild observers believed would have been the first to leave the State of Hockey. A world-class talent---albeit one limited by injury for much of his career---Gaborik had been through several contract battles and stalemates with the Wild. And he was no fan of Lemaire's stifling system either.

It was not a huge surprise that Minnesota let Gaborik walk without even a token contract offer.

Well, at least it was not a big surprise to most observers. Long-time Wild forward Andrew Brunette told me that he thought up until the final days that his good friend was going to return to Minnesota.

"I thought something would get done the whole time," said Brunette, a 22-goal scorer a year ago who has seven so far this season. "I called him the night before free agency started and he said 'I'm going to go', which was a little disappointing. I know how it was with the old regime and (Gaborik) with the contracts, but I really thought with the change (in management), and with how well he played at the end of last year, that he would stay."

Brunette added, "I mean, you move on. It's part of the business. But maybe I am partial. I just know how good he is. I really thought something would get done."

Though the results aren't there just yet---and it must be difficult for the Wild faithful to see Gaborik's success on Broadway and Lemaire's so-far triumphant return to New Jersey---the Wild organization did the right thing. Nine years is a long-time for the same voice as head coach. And Brunette feels maybe Gaborik needed the change as much as the organization did.

"As hard as it is for me to say this, for his career and for him, he might have been a little stagnant here at times, he might have needed a change," stated Brunette.

Speaking of change, the new regime in Minnesota is going to have to change the recent trend of draft-day failures from that of the old guard. After selecting Gaborik, Koivu, center Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and defenseman Brent Burns with their first picks from 2000-2003, the Wild have not chosen one stud in the first round since. And forget studs. Right now the word is "duds", as in 2005 first rounder Benoit Pouliot (2-2-4 in 14 games, five goals a year ago) and 2006 first-round selection James Sheppard (0-1-1 in 18 games, five goals last season).

And other than the rugged Cal Clutterbuck in 2006, the Wild have not drafted a regular contributor in the later rounds since early in franchise history.

Add to the mix the disappointing play of veterans Petr Sykora (2-1-3 in 10 games) and Havlat, and, well, you can understand the problems that face Fletcher and Richards.

"It will get better," predicted Koivu.

The question, though, is when?

Kovalchuk is Back to Thrash


Written on 11/13/2009 by Jim Cerny

The Atlanta Thrashers did a commendable job holding down the fort while their captain, Ilya Kovalchuk, missed six games due to a broken foot.

Atlanta posted a 3-3-0 mark without Kovalchuk, and continued their season-long run as one of the better road teams in the Eastern Conference---now an impressive 6-2-1.

But you could just sense the lift this team received last night when Kovalchuk returned to the lineup earlier than expected, and helped the Thrashers grab another road win---this time a 5-3 decision over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Though he is wearing a removable cast on his foot, Kovalchuk was not held back by his coach John Anderson. Kovie logged more than eight minutes of ice-time in the first period, and finished with 22:22 worth. He seemed to skate well, and was his usual sniper self in firing six shots on goal.

And not missing a beat from how his season started before the injury, Kovalchuk recorded his second three-point game, posting a goal and two assists. The Russian superstar---who is in his walk year, and has thrived amidst the rumors that he may receive a huge offer from the KHL next season---has now notched ten goals in only nine games played this season, placing him among the league leaders despite 16 days on the shelf with the foot injury.

What he did best last night, though, was make others around him better. The enigma known as Maxim Afinogenov was absolutely flying, skating on a line with fellow Russians Nik Antropov and Kovalchuk. Afinogenov was a part of at least four odd-man rushes that I could count, and had at least three outstanding point-blank scoring chances, using his speed and feeding off the scintillating play of Kovalchuk. That Afinogenov's only goal came into the empty net had more to do with Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist than anything else.

If Kovalchuk's return can spur his two Russian sidekicks to a higher level, and Rich Peverley (three points last night, team-best 8-12-20), exciting 18 year-old Evander Kane (two points last night includuing an assist where he blew past defenseman Michal Rozsival as if he were a pylon 19 seconds into the match, 4-4-8 on the season), and a talented young high-scoring defense corps led by Zach Bogosion and Tobias Enstrom can continue their strong play, these Thrashers might actually be able to stay in contention in the east.

And if they stay in contention, there is a better chance that Kovalchuk---who has stated repeatedly his fondness for the organization and city of Atlanta---will re-sign with the Thrashers either before or after free agency arrives on July 1.

There are certainly some red flags for the Thrashers to be aware of. They have not been good on home ice (2-4-0); they rely on some very young players to play very important minutes; they have two of hockey's most enigmatic talents in Afinogenov and Antropov; and they are piecing together their goaltending between the unproven Ondrej Pavelec and the useful backup Joahn Hedberg while Kari Lehtonen recovers from back surgery.

But Kovalchuk is an X factor here. Despite the injury, he is off to a start that is rivaled only by his fellow countryman Alex Ovechkin---who has 14 goals in 14 games, though hampered by an injury, as well. A 300+ goal scorer already in his underrated career, Kovalchuk now is playing for the right to earn top dollar next year.

That extra motivation makes him a frightening man to play against this season.

A Hall of a Class


Written on 11/11/2009 by Jim Cerny

The Hockey Hall of Fame welcomed, perhaps, its greatest class ever this past Monday night in Toronto. Between Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, and Steve Yzerman, you are talking about three of the Top Ten all-time leaders in goals, three of the 21 most prolific point-producers, and the 7th-highest scoring defenseman in NHL history.

Put them together and this fantastic foursome scored 2,348 goals, notched 3,220 assists, and recorded 5,568 points over their NHL careers that collectively spanned 5,419 games in 79 seasons in total.

Add Devils executive Lou Lamoriello---who was also inducted into the HHOF on Monday---to the mix and this group has totaled 10 Stanley Cup championships, as well.

Eye-popping numbers, for sure.

But it's not just the numbers that makes this group so special. Yzerman is regarded as one of the game's greatest captains ever. Hull was one of the sport's most colorful and outspoken ambassadors. Leetch and Lamoriello helped cement USA Hockey as a true force on the international scene. Robitaille---and Hull, too, for that matter---proved that through tremendous dedication and hard work, a player does not have to be a highly-regarded prospect or first-round pick to become a star, setting an outstanding example for youth players everywhere.

Their individual speeches all found a way to touch me during Monday's ceremony. Hull describing not what he brought to the game, but what the game of hockey gave to him, and explaining that he represented all of the beer-league players out there. Yzerman humbly explaining how he became the sport's pre-eminent leader by the good fortune of those great players and coaches he worked alongside for 22 years in Detroit. Lamoriello remembering to mention that we all should keep cancer-stricken former Devils coach Pat Burns in our prayers. Robitaille providing inspiration to those players who are not considered fast enough, strong enough, or talented enough to play the game of hockey. And Leetch pointing out that he played hockey because he loved the sport, not because he planned to be an NHLer one day, and then encouraging today's youth coaches to always remember to keep the game fun for the kids.

I have had the good fortune to work in the National Hockey League as a broadcaster and reporter while these five greats were in the primes of their careers. I remember Robitaille as one who was always quick with a genuine smile and a twinkle in his eye, just a really good guy. Hull's hearty laugh and sarcasm in locker-room conversations we had over the years stands out to me, too. Yzerman's grace, on and off the ice. That's what always struck me about him. Grace and class all the way. Lamoriello? Loyalty and intensity. Those are the two words that come to mind when I think of him.

As for Leetch, well, he is the one of this group I know the best. I was fortunate enough to cover his career, pretty much right from the start. It's funny, I remember a fellow reporter and good friend Bob Grochowski---Bobby G to you that remember SportsPhone---sitting next to me in the press box at Madison Square Garden during Leetch's early days, saying, "They have never drafted a player like this before. He is going to be the greatest Ranger ever."

You could argue that Bobby G was right on the mark, once Leetch's career was done.

There are so many memories I have of Leetch---end-to-end rushes, his amazing stamina and recuperative powers where he could play in every key situation, 35 minutes or so a night during the playoffs, his ability to play through brutal injuries, his elite-level skating and on-ice vision that were second to none---and I feel extremely fortunate to have covered his career so closely.

Of course, the spring of 1994 was his crowning achievement. Mark Messier was the Rangers captain. Adam Graves was the team's heartbeat. Mike Richter the impenatrable force in goal.

Brian Leetch was the soul of that Stanley Cup championship team that ended 54 years of misery on Broadway.

One other thing I'll always remember about Leetch. Though very soft-spoken, Leetch was a very intelligent and articulate athlete, and very respectful of me, the media, the fans, and the organization, no matter the circumstances---good or bad.

I thought Leetch really summed it up best on Monday night.

"If you look at the Hockey Hall of Fame as one big team, and everybody in one big locker room, even if I never get on the ice for one shift it's still the best team in the world to be on."

Monday Musings on Rangers' Injuries, 'Canes Woes, and HHOF


Written on 11/09/2009 by Jim Cerny

Up at Rangers practice today John Tortorella gazed across the ice and saw a group of players that did not include his No. 1 goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, his top two centers, Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky, his top offensive threat and sniper, Marian Gaborik, and another regular role player, Enver Lisin.

Could make the head coach long for a return to Tampa, eh?

Panic, though, is not really a word found in Tortorella's vocabulary. As such, he expects his club to forge ahead, with or without the availability of the aforementioned players.

"No one wants to have injuries, but they are a part of the game," Torts said. "There are no excuses here."

Lundqvist, who has missed the past two games with an unspecified injury thought to be a groin or thigh issue, echoed the coach's feelings this afternoon.

"When you go through a year you have to expect that guys will get hurt," Lundqvist said this afternoon after riding the stationary bike and receiving some treatment. "The thing is to never have an excuse to not be ready to be out there. There's never an excuse for not playing your best. You don't start thinking about who's not on the ice or who's feeling sore because it only hurts your game."

For the record, Lundqvist stated that his plan is to play on Thursday in the Rangers next game against the Atlanta Thrashers. He feels another complete day off---which Tortorella is giving the entire team on Tuesday---will have him ready to go.

Torts confirmed that Dubinsky has a broken hand. "I'm not sure how long he's out, but I guess he'll be out for an extended period of time".

The coach also said that Drury was "feeling better" today after suffereing a concussion on a blindside hit thrown by Calgary's Curtis Glencross on Saturday night. Drury rode the bike and will be monitored by the Rangers training staff. Tortorella would not rule him out of Thursday's contest.

Lisin is a question mark right now. He blocked a shot with the inside of his foot eight days ago and is still limping badly, though he did play in each of the Rangers last two games.

And the best news is that Gaborik, who missed two games a couple of weeks ago with a right leg injury, was given the day off to rest.

This club's depth and mettle is about to be tested like it never had to be a year ago when the Rangers had a ridiculously lucky season as far as injuries were concerned.

To that end, Torts says that we shouldn't be so quick to assume there will be a call-up or two from Hartford. With Vinny Prospal moving to center the Rangers could make do with their current roster.

"You don't need four centers anyway," explained Torts.

That would put a lot more responsibility on the shoulders of young pivots Brian Boyle, 23, and Artem Anisimov, 21.

Torts seems eager to see if they---especially Anisimov, whom the coach is becoming fond of---can handle it.

We shall see what the coming days bring.


The Carolina Hurricanes are in a shocking freefall. And now their No. 1 goaltender Cam Ward will miss 3-4 weeks after being cut on his leg Saturday night against Columbus.

Today the 'Canes inked veteran Manny Legace for some goaltending insurance. He will team with Michael Leighton in goal, and try to help Carolina, months removed from an impressive playoff run, turn its season around.

The Hurricanes are amazingly winless in their last 12 games (0-9-3), and have scored more than two goals only twice in that span. Right now they sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference---yes, below Toronto which has now won two in a row---with seven points (2-11-3).

The 'Canes have been outscored by a whopping 59-32 margin. They have not scored. They have been brutal defensively. And, even with Ward in the lineup, have received sketchy goaltending.

Carolina GM Jim Rutherford has never been afraid to change coaches midstream, so Paul Maurice can not be feeling too comfortable right about now.

And the dim prospects in Carolina have turned more dark now with Ward's injury.


The Hockey Hall of Fame welcomes a truely elite class this evening as Brett Hull, Lou Lamoriello, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, and Steve Yzerman (pictured above) are officially enshrined in Toronto.

I will share my thoughts on all of these hockey greats tomorrow, in particular Leetch, who I covered as a reporter for much of his career in New York.

But for now, congrats boys! Very well deserved in all cases!

Tuesday Tidbits on Komisarek, HNIC, the Isles, Rangers, and More


Written on 11/03/2009 by Jim Cerny

There are so many things I want to get to, and each one could fill a blog entry by itself, but instead I will provide a bunch of NHL quick hits, with a longer column on a singular topic---the Minnesota Wild---tomorrow.

First off, after a long, long day of travel, and travel delays, returning from Minnesota on Saturday, my Halloween night could not have been spent in any better fashion than watching the Canadiens and Maple Leafs duke it out at the Bell Centre on Hockey Night in Canada.

The game had everything you could want. Great rivalry. Back and forth action. Plenty of scoring. Mike Komisarek's first return to Montreal since departing as a free agent on July 1, with the home-town fans spewing their anger at him at every turn. Beleagured Leafs show no quit by scoring twice late in third to force OT. Numerous scrums, much vitriol, and 36 combined penalty minutes.

And finally a shootout victory for Les Habitants.

Great Stuff. Great Theater.

And great throwback candycane-striped jerseys by the Canadiens.

This was not an artistic gem, but it would be awesome if this type of battle was the norm as far as the NHL regular season goes.


By the way, great work by the HNIC studio crew disecting the issues surrounding the NHLPA. There was good substantive debate, with Glenn Healy's passion for the topic at hand really standing out. I know most fans would rather tune in to Don Cherry's weekly segment, but this was HNIC at its absolute best and most compelling.


Speaking of the NHLPA, I had a chat with Hockey Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate at Madison Square Garden on Sunday and he had nothing but contempt for how the current players ousted Paul Kelly as Executive Director.

"I bet you these players don't even realize the role Paul Kelly had in improving this player's association by prosecuting (former union head) Alan Eagleson years ago," Bathgate told me. "They have no sense of what has happened before. Just as long as they can count all their money at the end of the day."

Pretty strong stuff, though to be fair, many of the players from the '50's, '60's, and '70's are somewhat bitter that the current crop of NHLers is so much better compensated than the oldtimers ever were.

By the way, Bathgate will be joining me and Steven Gelbs on Rangers Radio over at the Rangers official web site, NewYorkRangers.com, this Friday afternoon. Don't forget to check it out.


As for the Rangers, don't expect winger Enver Lisin to play tonight in Vancouver. His foot is still sore after blocking a shot Sunday against the Bruins. Christopher Higgins, reported to be on the trade block according to the Ottawa Sun, might get a crack to play on the top line with Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal tonight.

Prospal, by the way, has been named as an alternate captain, and very deservedly so, by John Tortorella. Prospal has emerged as a true leader and powerful voice in the Rangers dressing room, not to mention a strong presence on the ice. He joins Ryan Callahan as an "A" serving under team captain Chris Drury.

One other quick Rangers nugget: 19 year-old defenseman Michael Del Zotto today was named as the NHL's Rookie of the Month for October. Though scoreless in three straight games, Del Zotto closed out his first initial month in the NHL with four goals, eight assists, and 12 points in 14 games.


And how about those Islanders? Winners of four in a row, after last night's 3-1 home-ice win against the Oilers, the plucky Isles find themselves tied with the Flyers at 15 points for sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

In 14 games so far this season, the Islanders have won only five, true, but they have lost only four in regulation. This is a gritty, hard-nosed team, one that was decidedly tougher than the Rangers in a 3-1 win last Wednesday and the Sabres in a 5-0 shutout victory last Saturday.

Seeing Kyle Okposo---no heavyweight---fling Sam Gagner to the ice after a whistle in the final minute last night was awesome because it showed the fire, passion, and desperate nature of this young team. Seeing unheralded Jeff Tambellini notch a hat trick on Saturday, and veteran defensive-minded defenseman Brendan Witt pot a pair last night, makes you think that the Hockey Gods are finally smiling down on Long Island's team.


Ok, enough for now, though I could go on and on....

On Wednesday I'll have a piece for you on the new-look Wild, featuring interviews with freshly-minted captain Mikko Koivu and long-time favorite Andrew Brunette.

Monday Musings on Road Warrior Devils and Superstar Injuries


Written on 11/02/2009 by Jim Cerny

Off to a perfect 7-0-0 start on the road following Saturday's 2-1 shootout win in Tampa, the Devils are proving to be real Road Warriors, playing intelligent, gritty, resilient hockey.

Take Saturday for example. No Paul Martin. No Johnny Oduya. No Jay Pandolfo. (Still) no Patrick Elias.

No Problem.

Hold the Lightning to 9 shots on goal through 40 minutes of play, but allow them to tie it up on a fluky bounce in the third period.

No problem.

Pummel Antero Nittymaki with wave after wave of shots, but score only once through 65 minutes of play.

No problem.

Top forwards Zach Parise and Travis Zajac get stoned in the shootout, and head coach Jacques Lemaire plays assistant coach Tommy Albelin's hunch and gives David Clarkson his first-ever shootout attempt.

No problem.

Just put it in the books as a "W" because the Devils can seemingly do no wrong on the road. Clarkson scores, Devils remain perfect on the road, and now have the second best road start in the history of the NHL.

The good news: the Devils face the Senators up in Ottawa on Saturday night.

The bad news: the Devils have to play two games on home ice before then.

Oh yeah, forgot to tell you. Amidst the joy of this great road run, the Devils have played downright ugly at the Prudential Center, losing four of their first five home contests.

It's kind of like a reverse Jekyll and Hyde for the Devils. Their games are fairly similar at home and on the road, usually very close affairs decided by one team's mistake here or there. Of their 12 games, nine have been decided by two goals or fewer. They are 6-0-0 in such contests on the road, and 0-3-0 on home ice.

The difference has been that on the road the Devils have not made the killer mistake. At home, they have been the team to blink first.

As Martin Brodeur told The Star Ledger's Rich Chere, "We're not getting outplayed. It's maybe the little things we do on the road. We have to incorporate them into our home game, also."

If I am Lemaire or Lou Lamoriello, one month into the season I would think that what the Devils have accomplished on the road as far character and resiliency far outweighs a slow start at The Rock. Those two traits are vital components of a contender, and they will help turn things around on home ice sooner rather than later.


The spate of injuries that has claimed some of the biggest names in the National Hockey League already this season found another superstar yesterday.

Alex Ovechkin suffered an "upper-body" injury in yesterday's 5-4 loss to the Blue Jackets and is listed as day-to-day. Caps beat writer Tarik El Bashir is speculating that Ovechkin suffered a left shoulder injury follwing a collision with Raffi Torres.

Nonetheless, the bottom line is that many of the league's top stars have been KO'd from their respective lineups at a fairly alarming rate to start the season. Ilya Kovalchuk. Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik. Marc Savard. Sergei Gonchar. Roberto Luongo. Jonathan Toews. Johan Franzen. Valtteri Filppula. The list goes on and on, with Ovechkin and Carolina's Eric Staal joining the injured list yesterday.

And this list doesn't even include Phil Kessel, Patrick Elias, or Marian Hossa, all of whom have not played yet this year following off-season sugeries.

So why so many injuries?

Caps owner Ted Leonsis shared a theory with the guys on Hockey This Morning over at XM Home Ice earlier today.

"The schedule is responsible for these injuries," stated Leonsis. "We just played four games in less than six days. We had two sets of three games in four nights one right after the other. It's too much. We have to take a really hard look at this. We are talking about very big men, and a very violent, fast game. Too many games in too few days is a problem."

Good points. But what is the alternative? Play fewer games? Expand the season to include more days off, and, as a result, play the Stanley Cup Finals closer to the month of July? Do not participate in the Olympics?

The answer is that there is no real clear answer. But what is obvious is that the league needs to take a close look at the injury issue. It's not good when any group of players is getting hurt on a regular basis, no matter the sport.

But when it's your top players---the faces of your league---going down one after another, answers must be forthcoming.

Gaborik a No-Go in Return to Minny Tonight


Written on 10/30/2009 by Jim Cerny

Let it not be said that Marian Gaborik did not hit the ice in his return to Minnesota for the first time as a member of the New York Rangers.

He skated. He laughed with teammates. He fired shots on goal.

I was there. I saw it all.

Unfortunately there were 18,064 empty seats at the Xcel Energy Center at the time Gaborik was on the ice. And it was seven hours or so before game time.

No, Marian Gaborik will not be playing this evening when the Rangers face the Wild. A right knee injury suffered during last Monday's 5-2 win over Phoenix at Madison Square Garden will keep him out of the lineup, just as it did for Wednesday's ugly 3-1 loss on Long Island.

This morning marked the first time that Gaborik skated since Monday. He said that the knee felt better once it warmed up, but he wasn't sure when he'd be able to return to the Rangers lineup.

Gaborik is very disappointed that he will not be able to play against his former team tonight. He was the face of the Wild organization for its first eight years, and he is the club's all-time leader in goals (219) and points (437).

"It's very disappointing," Gaborik stated this morning, while standing in the odd surroundings of the visitors' dressing room at the Xcel and not the Wild's more familiar room. "I tried to push myself in order to have a good feel, but it's just  not there. I don't think I'd be a piece to the puzzle tonight. If it had been any other game, I wouldn't even think about (playing), but, obviously, this was a special game."

That Gaborik---who is off to a tremendous start this season with ten goals (tied for 2nd most in the NHL) and 18 points (3rd most)---is unable to play in his return to Minnesota is more than ironic, of course. Since the lockout, he missed 121 of the Wild's 328 games due to injury. Most of the games missed were because of nagging groin and hip issues which are unrelated to this knee injury, and were supposedly corrected by surgery that limited him to 17 games a year ago.

Many fans in Minnesota hold a certain bitterness towards Gaborik, labeling him soft and injury-prone, preferring to remember his numerous games missed as opposed to the five 30-goal seasons. It is part of what made his return here to The State of Hockey today so intriguing. That, and the fact that Minnessotoans did  not take kindly to his "money grab" this summer, leaving for the bright lights and greenbacks of Broadway.

"He'd get booed for sure, no doubt about it," Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck stated this morning.

"That's not my comment," laughed diplomatic Wild captain Mikko Koivu when Clutterbuck, seated at the next locker, provided his opinion. "I don't know what would happen. It's tough to say."

Aaron Voros, a popular former member of the Wild who is in his second year with the Rangers, praised the fans in Minnesota as being extremely intelligent hockey people. And he is not so sure they would boo his good friend Gaborik if he was able to play this evening.

"I'd be surprised if they booed him," said Voros. "He brought a lot to this organization. He spent eight years playing through injuries, scoring goals. He was probably the most recognizable face of the franchise for eight years. I think for them to boo him would be really unfortunate."

Gaborik was able to catch up with some of his former teammates upon arriving last night. In fact he took in dinner with long-time teammate Andrew Brunette, among others.

"The weather when you get off the plane doesn't change much," Gaborik joked about the grey skies and rain that greeted the Rangers when they arrived yesterday in Minneapolis/St. Paul. "It's special to come back into this building. And I've seen a few guys, nice to see them, obviously. We talked about old times. I had a lot of fun with them."

"I'm probably partial because I played with him a long time, and I know how good he is, but I always thought something would get done the whole time," Brunette explained of Gaborik's not re-signing with the Wild. "It was a little disappointing. But you move on. It's part of the deal, right?"

Ironically, the Rangers last visit to the Xcel Energy Center was on December 20, 2007. The Wild won that game 6-3. Marian Gaborik scored five goals and recorded six points in a masterful performance that evening.

"That was a fun night to be on the other end," noted Voros, who played alongside Gaborik for Minnesota in that game.

No such luck in seeing another virtuoso Gaborik performance this evening, though.


Seperate from Marian Gaborik not being able to play tonight, the Rangers will also be without forwards Sean Avery and Christopher Higgins, who both were nicked up in Wednesday's loss to the Islanders. In case you are counting, that is three of the Rangers top six forwards out of the lineup tonight.

Rugged Dane Byers has been recalled from Hartford in the American Hockey League and will play this evening. PA Parenteau, who was recalled from Hartford on Tuesday and scored his first NHL goal the next night, will also play, as will Donald Brashear, who has been in and out of the lineup due to injury.

"This is a chance for some guys to get more ice time and show what they can do," said Brashear. "It's a long season, you have challenges that come up like this."

"We'd like to keep our lineup healthy all the way through," Rangers coach John Tortorella said this morning. "But it's not going to happen. There's always another side to it. Do we want to remain healthy? Yes. But now this helps me see what we have in the minors."


The latest addition of Rangers Radio is available on the New York Rangers official web site. No guest this week, but Steve Gelbs and I tackle the latest news, and share some interesting anecdotes along the way.

Remember that each episode of Rangers Radio can be downloaded and remains up on the Rangers web site for future listening pleasure!

Next week, Hockey Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate will be our guest, and will answer your questions!

The Secret About Enver Lisin


Written on 10/27/2009 by Jim Cerny

Oh no. Our little secret has been discovered.

That was among my first throughts when I heard that 23 year-old Enver Lisin was being bumped up to play on the Rangers top line alongside star forwards Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal.

Oh no. Our little secret has been discovered.

I had the same reaction when Lisin scored a big third-period goal against his former team, the Phoenix Coyotes, last night at Madison Square Garden.

Oh no. Our little secret has been discovered.

Yup, those same words rattled in my brain when I headed to the Rangers' locker room after last night's 5-2 victory and saw Lisin being interviewed on television as the post-game guest.

Now everyone is going to know what a great guy, and engaging personality, Enver Lisin is.

"We're going to lose him now," Andrew Gross, Rangers' beat reporter for The Record in New Jersey, said, thinking the same thing I was.

You see, since arriving in New York a week or two before training camp to skate with his new teammates after a summer trade from Phoenix, Lisin's locker stall has become a popular daily destination for beat writers like myself, Andrew, Michael Obernauer of The Daily News, and Newsday's Steve Zipay.

Stop by Lisin's stall and you are sure to be greeted with a genuine smile, a funny remark or three, and an openness and friendliness that is not often found inside the locker room of a professional sports team.

He is at the same time wide-eyed and innocent---in an endearing Yakov Smirnoff way---and thoughtful and intelligent. In one breath, Lisin will be telling you about his PlayStation skills---"I'm a really good sniper in those killing games"---and in another he will be breaking down the importance of team concept---"I am happy to play on the first line, but I will do anything they ask me to do here---first line, fourth line, whatever---because the only thing that matters is winning the Stanley Cup".

We are blessed in hockey to be able to deal with so many good people on a day-in, day-out basis. I have worked in all four major sports, and am well aware that hockey people are far and away the best, and most respectful, of the lot.

And in my many years covering the NHL I have been able to become acquainted with some very special people. Adam Graves and Mike Richter stand out from those 1990's Rangers teams I covered. When I broadcasted for the Islanders, I had the pleasure to work with and get to know Don Maloney, a real classy gentleman who was GM on the Island for a bit. Mariusz Czerkawski, Zigmund Palffy, and Robert Reichel were Islanders I was pleased to count as friends. Steve Valiquette and I forged a bond on Long Island, and now we are fortunate to be together again with the Rangers.

There are so many people I could name. But Enver Lisin is fast moving up that chart of great guys.

And there for a month or two, no one outside of our small writers' circle knew much about Lisin, a speedy winger who played in 78 games, scoring 18 goals, over parts of three seasons in Phoenix before being shipped to Broadway in exchange for Lauri Korpikoski this past July. Overshadowed by his more famous teammates---like Gaborik, Prospal, and Henrik Lundqvist---as well as other more highly-touted youngsters---like 19 year-old Michael Del Zotto and 25 year-old Matt Gilroy---plus playing 3rd and 4th line minutes, there wasn't much reason for the fans or the TV and radio media to care much about Lisin.

But we knew there was something special about Lisin. More importantly, so did Rangers coach John Tortorella. And it extends far beyond the fact that Lisin is really, really good guy.

"Lisin is a talented player, and he is getting better and better at the (defensive) part of the game," stated Tortorella. "There is upside there. And he really works at it. He's a great skater, and he has that great offensive instinct, but he's willing to work hard on the other parts of his game. And that's what is going to land him more opportunities to play and be put into more offensive situations."

Always among the last to leave the ice following practice, Lisin's kid-like features and twinkling eyes bely the fact that he is one of the hardest workers on this Rangers team. And now he is being rewarded with more ice-time---more than 17 minutes in each of the last two games---and the chance to skate with the club's top two offensive forwards.

"All you have to do with those players is work hard and listen to what they tell you to do," said Lisin, as usual with a laugh at the end of his sentence. "I learn something from them every game. There's only one way to play the game and that is to face the pressure. I am very lucky to play with them, and to be on one of the best teams like the Rangers"

Lisin, who has put up decent offensive numbers (3-5-8) considering his lack of ice-time to start the season, has a goal and two assists in two games skating alongside Gaborik (10-8-18) and Prospal (4-12-16).

Last night, with the Rangers leading 4-2 in the third period---but with the Coyotes having already shaved two goals off New York's lead---Lisin accepted a Prospal pass on left wing, skated over the 'Yotes blueline, and blistered a slap shot short-side on Jason LaBarbera that sealed the deal at The Garden. It was a glimpse into some of the possibilities Lisin brings to this Rangers squad.

The goal was followed by a somewhat-awkward jump for joy, which brought Lisin much teasing following the game. As could be expected, his response was nothing but good natured.

"I don't know why I did that, it just happened," Lisin tried to explain afterwards.

When I asked him if the goal was more special because it came against the team that selected him 50th overall in the 2004 draft, Lisin responded, "Somewhere deep, deep in my soul, I was pretty happy about it."

Classic, classic reply. The kind of answer that will have a host of media folk dropping by his locker on a more regular basis, for sure.

Oh no. Our little secret has been discovered.

Hits by Richards and Scuderi Suspendable or Not?


Written on 10/26/2009 by Jim Cerny

Frightening scene in Philly on Saturday where David Booth of the Panthers was laid out on a hit by Flyers captain Mike Richards.

Any time you see a player motionless on the ice and then being taken off, immobilized on a stretcher, it give you pause for how dangerous a game this great sport can be.

Fortunately Booth is already out of the hospital, being released yesterday after sustaining a concussion on the play. But it was still extremely scary to watch Booth absorb the hard hit after dropping a pass to his left, and then hit the ice head-first, and remain motionless thereafter.

If you have yet to do so, check out the hit here.

So what do you think? Clean hit by Richards? Or a dirty one, with intent to injure?

The referees called it one way and Colin Campbell saw it another, with the benefit of much video study, of course. The refs handed Richards a five-minute interference major, and a game misconduct for "intent to injure". Campbell, after much review, did not see reason to suspend Richards.

For the most part, the referees and Campbell were both right.

The refs were on the mark with the interference call, as Booth clearly had dished the puck before being leveled, and without the benefit of watching the replay, they had little recourse other than to toss Richards from the game with Booth out cold on the ice.

But with the benefit of studying the video at all speeds and from all angles, Campbell was correct not to suspend Richards. I do not think there was an intent to injure here. And I agree with Richards' post-game analysis that he was just trying to deliver a hard shoulder-to-shoulder check, which, unfortunately flipped Booth to the ice head-first.

"Everything happened so quickly," stated Richards. "I just wanted to separate him from the puck. Obviously, I am not trying to hurt him. I don't have a history of head shots, and I am not even sure it was a head shot."

I was in Montreal at the Bell Centre writing my final game story for the Rangers-Canadiens match that night, while also watching and listening to the reaction to Richards' hit on Hockey Night in Canada. It sounded as if the fellas agreed with my take, that it was interference, for sure, but not a suspendable hit.

In fact the HNIC on-air crew was more upset with a string of knee-to-knee hits that took place around the league that night.

Then last night, the Kings Rob Scuderi sent Columbus' Jason Chimera head-over-heels with a hip-check dangerously close to Chimera's knees. Chimera flipped over Scuderi and landed face-first on the ice,  suffering cuts on his face and inside his mouth.

You can watch that play here.

Scuderi was not penalized on the play, and claimed afterwards that he made a split-second decision on delivereing the hip-check and was not trying to injure Chimera.

Needless to say, Chimera did not agree.

''I don't care what you call it. It was a dirty hit,'' Chimera said. ''I've been hip-checked before, but this wasn't a hip check at all. It was a direct hit on the knees. I mean, I landed on my face on the ice, and my neck was squished against the ice. I'm lucky I didn't come out with a concussion or something."
I have to side with Chimera on this one. Scuderi went way too low, much lower than your normal hip-check. Whether that was his intention or not can be debated.

Ironically when the game was complete, Chimera had racked up 12 minutes in penalties, and Scuderi had zero.

Scuderi needs to pay a post-game penalty for that hit, I think, perhaps two games for going for the knees

Retooled Canadiens Look for Solid Footing


Written on 10/24/2009 by Jim Cerny

The Montreal Canadiens spent the better part of their summer retooling the coaching staff and roster following a second place finish in the Northeast Division, 8th place in the Eastern Conference, and getting swept by the Bruins in the opening round of the playoffs.

Now, nine games into the 2009-10 season, the question is: where exactly are the new-look Canadiens after all of the changes?

The answer from new head coach Jacques Martin is, "a work in progress."

"It takes a while, not only from the players standpoint, but from that of a coach," Martin told me this morning at the Bell Centre. "It takes me a while as a coach to really appreciate what a player brings to the table. And as for the team, I think we have progressed, but it will take some time."

Martin's club---with seven players on the roster who did not play for Montreal a year ago---has won two in a row after a five-game losing streak had the Canadiens off to a dismal 2-5-0 start. And Martin is beginning to see some positive signs in his club's all-around game.

"I have been happy as far as how we got better with our fore-checking, spending more time in the offensive zone, versus the first couple of weeks in the season," Martin told me. "We've also been better with limiting the scoring chances for the opposition."

Montreal has surrendered only two goals in their past two games---a 2-1 shootout victory over the Thrashers and a 5-1 win against the Islanders. One of the key reasons for this is that Jaroslav Halak has replaced a shaky Carey Price in goal, stopping 43 of 45 shots in those two starts.

Martin indicated this morning that Halak---sporting a 1.88 goals against average and .921 save percentage in four appearance sthis season---will make a third consecutive start between the pipes this evening against the Rangers.

As for Price, the 22 year-old supposed stud goalie of the present and future?

"I think Carey is OK, he's fine," stated Martin. "He's a young goaltender who can take this time to work on his game."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Martin was similarly lukewarm about the play of center Scott Gomez, the first of the big names acquired by the Canadiens this summer. Gomez, who will play against the Rangers tonight for the first time since the June 30 trade that sent him to Montreal for Christopher Higgins, among others, scored his second goal of the season on Thursday against the Islanders. So far, he is 2-3-5 in nine games, skating with fellow newcomers Brian Gionta (4-0-4) and Michael Cammalleri (2-5-7).

"We count on Scott o play hard every night," noted Martin. "He's given us some good minutes, in particular against Atlanta (on Tuesday). His emotion and passion were the best they've been all year in Atlanta. He has to recapture that."

You can expect Gomez to play a strong game tonight against his former club. Gomez has always been a big-game player, and while in New York he had some clutch performances against his first club, the Devils.

"This is a business, and I've been in the league long enough to know that it is," Gomez said about the trade following this morning's skate. "Last year was an off year, but it's in the past. I have nothing but great things to say about the New York Rangers organization."

Gomez was his usual wise-cracking self this morning in his chat with New York media. Whether it was telling stories about his difficulties taking French speaking lessons, the obsessive nature of the Montreal media and fan base, his new Mini-Cooper car, or the recently fabricated story that he punched out Sergei Kostitsyn during training camp, Gomez ripped off one one-liner after another.

Of the bogus Kostitsyn story, Gomez said, "I guess that was my first welcome to Montreal. Yeah, that was my initiation, and welcome to Montreal moment."

As far as what's taking place on the ice, another newcomer, defenseman Paul Mara, said, "It's coming along, especially the last two games. You know they live and breathe hockey here, and they're knowledgable fans who know hockey, so that raises our level of play. You come to the rink every day wanting to play better for them."


On a side note, this week's Rangers Radio talk show, which I co-host with Steven Gelbs, is available to listen to at NewYorkRangers.com. Click on this link to listen. Former Rangers forward Adam Graves is our special gues this week.