Rangers Stun Wild With Five Goal Third Period

October 28, 2014

NEW YORK — Figuratively, it was shaping up to be a brutal game for the New York Rangers.  But in every way imaginable, that’s how it ended up for the Minnesota Wild, who coughed up a three-goal lead and suffered a stunning 5-4 defeat in Madison Square Garden on Monday night.

The Rangers had turned in a listless performance against the Wild through two periods, and were hampered by 14 minutes spent on the penalty kill; Chris Kreider was given five minutes and a game misconduct after a boarding call on defenseman Jonas Brodin, who returned, and John Moore earned a match penalty for targeting the head of Erik Haula on a vicious hit that will all but surely earn him a lengthy suspension.  Minnesota got on the board with three second period goals and had held the Rangers to just eight shots on goal through the first 40 minutes of play.  Surely, they seemed well on their way to a blowout win.

So, what changed?

“For us, we just didn’t play very good hockey those first two periods,” winger Ryan Malone told The Trentonian.

“We were shorthanded, but we found a way to get the job done.  That’s all that matters.  (We needed to) play with some emotion; go out there and get one and see what happens, you never know.  Obviously, Nasher, Zucc, Brass…everyone stepped up and led the charge offensively.  Everyone was on their toes on puck battles, and the result was a win.”

Early third period tallies by Kevin Klein and Rick Nash cut the deficit to 3-2, but Jason Zucker’s goal, scored just 47 seconds after Nash’s, to get Minnesota’s lead back up to 4-2 seemed to be a back breaker for the Rangers.

“When they scored that fourth one, that was a tough one,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.  “We came back with two goals, and we had energy and we had the building going, and they kind of killed the momentum.  It’s great to see the way guys stepped up and showed character.”

The Rangers would score three unanswered goals after that; Derick Brassard got them to within one at 7:54, Anthony Duclair’s first career NHL goal tied the game at 4-4 with 3:48 left in regulation and Mats Zuccarello’s first of the season just 37 seconds later capped off a wild frenzy of action after an otherwise uninteresting first two periods of play.

“These are big points right now, and we want to catch up on teams in front of us,” Lundqvist said.  “We found a way tonight, even though it looked pretty dark for a while.  We kept battling, and I’m happy with the way we responded.”

Miller Makes Triumphant Return To St. Louis

October 24, 2014
Ryan Miller made 31 saves in his first game back in St. Louis since leaving the club to sign with the Vancouver Canucks (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Ryan Miller made 31 saves in his first game back in St. Louis since leaving the club to sign with the Vancouver Canucks (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

ST. LOUIS — OK, so it wasn’t like Ryan Miller was playing his first game back in Buffalo.  But still, the Scottrade Center was the scene for an intriguing night, as the world-class goaltender was back in town for the first time since leaving the St. Louis Blues to sign a free agent deal with the Vancouver Canucks.

Prior to the game, Miller was the subject of an interesting column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch which, in part, read: “Miller is 34. He’s clearly not a goaltender that can carry a team.”

To be sure, Miller’s tenure in the shadow of the arch can only be described as a failure, but that’s not entirely on him.  And on Thursday night?  Well, he carried the Canucks to a 4-1 victory, making 31 saves along the way.

“You want to prepare like it’s any other game, but guys know when guys were on the other side, so obviously you want to get the win for him,” forward Derek Dorsett told The Trentonian.

“I think when we got that third (goal) there, we made a mention (on the bench), ‘Come on, boys.  Millsy made a big save to keep us up.’  We want to get that victory for him coming back to an arena he was in last year.”

Miller made it a point to visit with some of his old teammates during the morning skate, but everything from there was all business for the 34-year-old netminder.

“It was interesting, I’ve never done that before, never had a chance to play against a former team like that,” he said.  “There are a lot of good guys on the team, and it was one I was really looking forward to, especially in St. Louis.  It was fun.  I got yanked out of the last game, and we’re coming to a place where we bowed out of the playoffs early.  There were some good memories, but it was a tough ending.  It could have ended up being a little bit of an emotional game, so I wanted to get myself ready and I was looking forward to the challenge.  The guys responded well.”

Head coach Willie Desjardins said after the game that after Miller was pulled from his last outing, he went over to the goaltender on the bench and told him he’d be starting in St. Louis.  Miller’s message to his coach?

“That’s the game I want.”

For Dorsett, who’s played in front of some of the top goalies in the game over the last two seasons — Henrik Lundqvist and now Miller — he didn’t hesitate to put his current netminder among the best in the world.

“I think those guys are two of the elite, they’ve done it for years,” he said.  “I think there’s some good goaltenders in the league, but I think when you ask who the best goaltenders are, it’s hard to pick one.  I always say Miller, Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick; those guys are in the top three because they’ve done it year after year and they’re just consistent.  Obviously, this game is a lot easier when you have a good goaltender.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Scouting Jack Eichel, 10/18/2014

October 19, 2014

I’m not a professional scout.  Not even close.  I’m a writer with 12 years experience covering pro sports, and ten covering hockey in college, juniors, every level of the minors and the NHL.  So, take what I say as an educated opinion and not gospel or me attempting to speak to you in that light.  I’m just going to tell you what I saw out of a kid that everyone has a lot of interest in heading into his draft-eligible year, especially given that this was my first time seeing him live.

I wanted to walk out of Agganis Arena being blown away by Jack Eichel.  After the first period, I wasn’t sure that was going to be the case.  He tallied a secondary assist on a very pretty tic-tac-toe plassing play off an odd man rush that led to a goal by linemate Danny O’Regan, but it wasn’t until the second period that I saw him shift his game to another gear.  Overdrive, really.  Eichel was dynamic at times in the middle frame.  His first goal banked in off a defenseman — it wasn’t pretty — but he read the play and jumped in up the right side of a 2-on-1 to generate the scoring chance to begin with.  His second goal though?  That’s one of those moments you don’t forget, one that has you saying wow for a while up in the press box.  Eichel doesn’t always exhibit excellent speed — average to slightly above average — but he’s able to get his legs going and really accelerate up the perimeter to work his way around defenders when necessary.  He did just that on this power play chance, and when many players would have either pulled up and set up in the zone or tried to wrap around the net to create a chance, Eichel was aggressive and snapped a supremely impressive wrist shot from the right faceoff dot through the goaltender and in.

Eichel is by no means a physical player, but is willing to go to the dirty areas in the corners and behind the net, and is good on the wall, especially when attempting to anticipate where the play will go.  He’s an aggressive forechecker, however, I’d like to see him forecheck with more of a purpose in the neutral zone…I saw way too many matador like runs that accomplished little else than taking him out of the play, albeit in low-risk, high-reward scenarios.

It is fascinating to see how good he is at 17 years old.  I can’t definitively tell you he’s ready for the NHL right now, nor can I tell you that would be the case when it comes time to find that out around this time next season.  But it would surely be very interesting to see him try, as well as to see how the draft unfolds in the top two spots, which assuredly belong to he and Connor McDavid.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

BREAKING: Live From Agganis Arena, Jack Eichel Very Good At Hockey

October 19, 2014
Jack Eichel scored two goals and added one assist in a 6-4 Boston University win over the USA U-18 team at Agganis Arena on Saturday night (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Jack Eichel scored two goals and added one assist in a 6-4 Boston University win over the USA U-18 team at Agganis Arena on Saturday night (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

BOSTON — There is a foregone conclusion — has been for a while, actually — that Erie Otters standout Connor McDavid will be the first overall selection in the 2015 NHL Draft.

And then you see Jack Eichel.  And then you have to re-think everything you ever were told was written in stone about who’s going where when Gary Bettman stands at the podium in June.

Eichel is still just 17 years old.  He’s 6-foot-2, 194 pounds.  And damn, is he good.  After an up and down first period against the USNTDP U-18 squad at Agganis Arena on Saturday night, the North Chelmsford, Mass. native kicked his game into another gear for his Boston University Terriers in the second period.  Following an even strength goal that banked off a defenseman an in, Eichel used impressive acceleration to get past a defender on the rush on the right wing side and fire a wrister from the right faceoff dot that was in the back of the net in the blink of an eye.

“Jack garners a lot of attention and rightfully so…(he’s) got that world-class skill set and the physical ability to turn it on and off in the game whenever he wants and really be dominant,” Terriers head coach David Quinn said after the game.

Eichel was flanked on either wing by juniors Ahti Oksanen and Danny O’Regan, a line that could be for BU what Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes were for BC just a year ago.

“I love that first line…I like what I see, but I think their best hockey is ahead of them.  I think they’re really going to be a line that’s going to be difficult for other teams to match up against.  I think they’re just scratching the surface.”

But the focus — even when facing a team that Quinn said might be the most skilled one his club faces all year in the USA U-18 squad — was on Eichel, as it will be all season long.  However, the chemistry between he and his linemates will be critical to the success of everyone involved going forward, a point that was not lost on anyone involved.

“It’s a real unselfish line,” said O’Regan, himself a draft choice of the San Jose Sharks.

“Right off the bat, it kind of worked out.  We seem to find each other in the right spot at the right time.”

Added Eichel: “I think it’s been good, it’s a lot of fun playing with Danny and Ahti.  They’re two really good players, so it’s nice to be able to go to school with them every day.  You get to know them, and you build chemistry off the ice, and I think that translates onto the ice.  But they’re two unbelievable players, so it’s a lot of fun.”

And so is watching Eichel, who dazzled those lucky enough to be in attendance with his highlight reel goal at the 4:43 mark of the second period.

“We drew up a new power play breakout this week…I just tried to move my feet and stay with it.  Coach is on us to attack on the rush, and I saw a seam.  The goalie was cheating a little bit off his post, so I tried to just zip one to the net real quick.  We got a fortunate bounce and I was able to beat him.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Hurricanes Show Promise Despite Shootout Loss

October 17, 2014

NEW YORK — The Carolina Hurricanes were always expected to be towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings this season.  Add in injuries to Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner and Andrej Sejera and, well…it’s not going to be pretty.  And to be sure, their 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night was more evidence of that, but it isn’t all negative.

Although they’re still looking for their first win on the young season, Carolina played its most complete game yet, and received an excellent performance between the pipes by Anton Khudobin, who has outplayed Cam Ward early on.

“Dobie kept us in the hockey game, for sure,” said defenseman Jay Harrison.  “He took away a lot of chances for them, and gave us an opportunity to win, which is what we need right now.  With how dilapidated our lineup is right now — we’re running short on bodies — we need our goalies to be pillars back there for us.  And they’ve been that way so far, giving us a chance to win in the last couple games for sure.”

There is, as Harrison pointed out, not a lot in front of Khudobin these days.  But even with Nathan Gerbe having left last night’s game to due a lower body injury — he was walking with a pronounced limp after the game — the Hurricanes aren’t looking to make excuses.

“It’s a tough situation,” Khudobin said.  “We have a lot of guys injured…it’s tough for us, and it’s tough losses for us, but we can’t blame that.  We have to figure out what we need to do without them and play.  You have to still play while you’re waiting for the other guys.”

Against a Rangers team that was hungry after two blowout losses, Carolina did just that.  Defenseman Ryan Murphy and forward Brad Malone had particularly strong showings, leaving the Hurricanes thinking that their first claim of two points on the year wasn’t far away.

“I think we played a pretty strong 60-minute game,” Harrison said.  “We showed some resiliency there, and held onto it.  We kept pucks deep, we cycled the puck, we generated some offense and we played really tight defensively away from the puck as well.  That’s two games in a row we put back-to-back efforts together, and we’re probably going to look back at some positive things about that and not the result.  We’ll take the things that we did really well and move forward.”

Added head coach Bill Peters: “The effort was good.  These guys work, these guys compete.  You can’t question that.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Leafs Appear To Dodge Bullet With Reimer Escaping Collision Uninjured

October 13, 2014

NEW YORK — It seems a little silly to suggest that the Toronto Maple Leafs dodged a bullet in an easy 6-3 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.  And, after the way last season unfolded, perhaps it might seem shocking to suggest that the potential loss of James Reimer would be a significant one, given that Jonathan Bernier emerged as the clear number one.

But this isn’t last year.  Thankfully, Reimer, who has a history of head injuries, appears to be fine after being struck in the mask by Dominic Moore with approximately 13:15 remaining in Toronto’s blowout victory in the Rangers home opener while Moore was driving to the net.  Reimer, who was down on the ice for a few seconds, skated over to the bench during the stoppage, told head coach Randy Carlyle he wasn’t feeling well, and skated to the dressing room after being replaced by Bernier.

The Trentonian asked teammate James van Riemsdyk, who was one of 11 Leafs players with at least one point, about the scary moment.

“It’s never easy to see that sort of thing,” he said. “It was kind of a freak play too, it kind of looked like he got caught in a rut or something.  Hopefully, it’s not too serious, because he played a hell of a game tonight.”

Bernier had struggled in his first two starts, allowing nine goals on 73 shots.  Reimer, meanwhile was dazzling at times on Sunday, stopping 24 of the 26 shots he faced — including an early barrage in which the Rangers dominated the first two minutes of play — before being removed from the game.  While Toronto had veteran Drew MacIntyre in the fold last season as somewhat of an insurance policy, this year is different.  The unproven duo of Antoine Bibeau and Christopher Gibson serve as the current tandem for their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, making Reimer’s insistence that he was fine after the game all the more important.

“I got bumped in the head, and protocol is to come out,” Reimer said.  “(I feel) pretty good.  When you get a bump in the head…I felt like I could stay in the game, but I feel fine.”

Moving on from the injury front, the win was a significant one for the Maple Leafs, especially after suffering a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins the night before.  Van Riemsdyk admitted it was a big confidence boost for his club.

“When you get kicked around like we did last night in our own building, to come here — a tough building to play in and the home opener for them — obviously, you know what kind of team they were and what kind of team they are this year.  We knew it was going to be a big challenge.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Rangers See Future In Duclair, But Does Future Start Now?

October 5, 2014
Anthony Duclair, the Rangers third round pick in 2013, made a huge impression in the preseason (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Anthony Duclair, the Rangers third round pick in 2013, made a huge impression in the preseason (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

NEWARK, N.J. — At least early in the NHL preseason, fans and perhaps more importantly the front office is given a glimpse into the future.  Many young players who aren’t expected to make an impact at the highest level for at least a few seasons are brought into camp for a look, and most of them are often jettisoned back to the minors or juniors early in the process without making much of an impression.

Anthony Duclair is different.

The 19-year-old, drafted in the third round by the New York Rangers in 2013, has made a huge impression during the preseason, and is a strong candidate to make the club’s opening night roster after potting three goals and two assists in five preseason contests.  The skilled forward was named the team’s Lars-Erik Sjoberg Award winner as the top rookie in camp.

“I think I had a pretty good camp from start to finish,” Duclair told The Trentonian in an exclusive one-on-one postgame chat on Saturday night.

“I was pretty focused every day, I came to work hard every day, and we’ll just see what happens here.”

Duclair has spent the past three seasons with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, where he’s posted 215 points in 177 games, including his first 50-goal season in 2013-14.  The 5-foot-11, 185 pounder could at the very least receive a trial run with the Blueshirts this season, staying up for nine games before potentially being sent back down to juniors before the first year of his NHL contract would kick in.  After the game, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said his unique contract status wouldn’t play a role in any decision regarding his future.

“I don’t think that comes into the equation,” Vigneault said.  “I think if we want him to stay, we’re going to find a way to make it happen.”

Duclair said the experience in training camp and the preseason was “unbelievable,” and credits a strong showing in Traverse City towards building momentum he had coming into the past three weeks.

“My goal was stay as long as possible, and to reach this far, I want to make this team,” he said.  “These are new systems for myself, so I’ve got to learn every day and adapt to new situations.  I played with new linemates every game, and I think positioning-wise, I learned a lot.”

If there was a downside to Duclair’s camp, it was that the majority of his points came early in the preseason, where he was facing lineups that weren’t primarily made up of NHL talent.  As the preseason wore on, he struggled, and seemed out of place at times in last night’s 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

“Any time you play on the road, they’re going to put out a good lineup,” he said.  “Playing against veteran guys, I think it makes it that much tougher, but at the same time you just have to adapt to the situation.”

If nothing else, Duclair has made the decision on whether to keep him around or not a difficult one for Vigneault, something Duclair couldn’t help but smile about.

“I stuck around longer than people thought,” he said.  “That’s pretty good.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Haggerty Hopeful For Opportunity With Rangers

October 4, 2014

8477811The past seven months or so have been an interesting time in the life of 21-year-old Rangers forward Ryan Haggerty.  A highly sought after undrafted free agent, the skilled winger signed with the Blueshirts in mid-March, but didn’t manage to get into a game anywhere in their organization.

The easy thing to say would be that he hasn’t played in a meaningful game since his last game with RPI — which topped of a year in which he posted an impressive 28-15-43 line in 35 games — but that’s to suggest that his preseason action isn’t meaningful.

Head coach Alain Vigneault suggested that three roster spots are open — one of them certainly the battle for the seventh defenseman’s role between Mike Kostka, Matt Hunwick and Steve Kampfer — and Haggerty’s name remains in the mix to crack the roster of 13 forwards the Rangers will likely break camp with.

“I just need to keep on coming out and competing,” he said.  “It’s a job opportunity, but it’s also a privilege to play in the NHL.  When you’re in a great opportunity like myself and a few other guys, the best thing you can do is show up every day, play your best hockey and compete.”

Haggerty, who is expected to play in the Rangers preseason finale against the Devils at the Prudential Center tonight, says that although he didn’t get to actually play for the organization at any point last season, the experience of just being around a veteran group did wonders for him heading into this year.

“That was big,” he said.  “Just seeing the daily routine of a lot of the guys, there are really a lot of leaders on the team.  Being able to see what it was like and being able to prepare myself coming into camp this year was big…being able to hold yourself accountable like the other guys coming in and knowing where you need to be was probably one of the biggest things from being in the organization.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Leighton Takes Broken Road Back To Blackhawks

October 3, 2014
Michael Leighton is wearing a Chicago Blackhawks uniform for the first time since the 2003-04 season.  (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

Michael Leighton is wearing a Chicago Blackhawks uniform for the first time since the 2003-04 season. (Photo: Mike Ashmore)

It feels like Michael Leighton has been everywhere over the past years, so it may be hard to remember that he came up with the Chicago Blackhawks organization.  The 165th overall selection of the Original Six franchise back in 1999, the goaltender reached the NHL in the Windy City in both the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, but left the organization just prior to the start of the 2005-06 season when he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres.

A multitude of organizations, an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final with the Philadelphia Flyers and a trip to the KHL later, and the now-33-year-old finds himself back with the Blackhawks, albeit unexpectedly.

“I was supposed to go play in the KHL this year with Sochi, and I ended up getting ill a week or two before I was supposed to leave, and they ended up canceling my contract,” said Leighton, who posted a 1.74 GAA and .933 save percentage with Donbass last season.

“I waited around for about three or four weeks trying to get healthy.  I heard from a few teams, but Chicago seemed like the best fit for me.”

The experience in the KHL, his first time playing in Europe was a unique one.

“It was definitely different for me,” he said.  “I’ve never been overseas anywhere, so just traveling over there and playing a different style of hockey was quite interesting for me.  It was an experience, and I’m glad to be back here.”

Leighton, who says it’s “definitely strange coming back” to an organization he hasn’t been a part of in nine years, will provide veteran depth behind incumbent starter Corey Crawford and backup Antti Raanta, and expects to start his season in Rockford.

“I know it’s not easy to come back from Europe and play in the NHL, so for me I’ve got a good contract in the AHL and when I signed this deal, that’s what I was expecting,” he said.  “So if I get sent down, I’m just going to work my butt off and try to get back up.”

A veteran of 106 NHL games, most recently in 2012-13 with the Flyers, Leighton also unveiled a new mask for the season, featuring a wide array of colors and a minion character from the popular “Despicable Me” movies on it.

“I’ve got three young kids, and they thought it was great,” he said through a smile.  “I know kids will like it.  It was just something my wife came up with.”

Preseason Game 1: Sabres @ Capitals, 9/21/2014

September 21, 2014

ARLINGTON, VA. — Hi.  Remember this blog?  Well, our hockey coverage will have a strong online focus for the first month of the season or so, so get used to seeing it a lot more.

Anyway, I write this from Kettler IcePlex in Arlington, Virginia.  The Capitals are, obviously, still holding training camp…and that’s been what I’ve been getting to see this morning instead of a standard morning skate given the 5 PM start time.  Head coach Barry Trotz won’t speak to the media until 3 PM, so any lineup questions won’t be answered until then, but…based on who was in the scrimmages, it’s pretty simple to see which of the guys on the roster listed on the media notes won’t be playing.

Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both still dressing tonight, should you care.  Looks like Pheonix Copley backing up Braden Holtby as well…really hoping to get to see him in action.  Buffalo’s tandem will be Andrey Makarov and Nathan Lieuwen.  The Sabres will also not dress veterans Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson, making an already lean lineup look even worse.  However, second overall pick Sam Reinhart will play, which should generate some excitement.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com


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