Thursday, 13 December 2007

Those Would Be "The Kids"

Last night, it became very apparent that in order for your team to win in the NHL, you need to develop your players into very good NHL players. Simply drafting a blue-chip prospect and waiting for him to score 50 goals and 100 points doesn't happen very often outside of the first three picks at the NHL Entry Draft, so scouts and GMs need to be shrewd and start working with their AHL affiliates to develop the other guys they draft to help their NHL team remain competitive. Injuries happen, and you need an AHL guy to fill a role with the big club.

Anaheim had a pile of youngsters playing for them last season as they went on to win the Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh has been in a youth movement for some time, and they had success last season. Ottawa has drafted well, and developed some excellent young talent. It appears the next wave of youngsters could be found on the west coast after last night's game.

Vancouver is struggling with a pile of injuries now, most notably to Roberto Luongo. Brendan Morrison and Brad Isbister were also sitting in the press box - Morrison due to his wrist, and Isbister due to a groin injury. In the wake of losing three regulars, the Canucks called their AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, and had goalie Drew MacIntyre and forwards Mason Raymond and Jason Jaffray sent up to the big show.

It's understandable that the Canucks weren't expecting Crosby-like numbers from Raymond and Jaffray. It was expected that they would fill their roles as assigned to them by head coach Alain Vigneault. Instead, the Canucks saw the pair score their first NHL goals each, and both added an assist.

"It was a great feeling to see the look on Mason's face when he got his first one out of the way," Jaffray said to the Associated Press. "And when that puck went in for me, I could have jumped five, six feet in the air. It's definitely a moment I'll always remember."

Former Manitoba Moose coach and current Anaheim Ducks coach Randy Carlyle was also impressed with Vancouver's call-ups. "They called two young players up from the minors and both of them made a contribution," Carlyle said. "That's huge when you can have young guys step in and get on the score sheet for you."

Mason Raymond opened the scoring 17:35 into the first period with an even-strength goal, his first in the NHL, coming from Jaffray and Aaron Miller. At 4:54 of the second period, Jaffray notched his first NHL goal on a beautiful wrap-around. Linemates Taylor Pyatt and Mason Raymond drew the assists. Both players worked hard all night, and goaltender Curtis Sanford was quick to notice Raymond, who started the season by playing nine games with the Canucks before being sent down to Manitoba.

"He has amazing speed and an NHL shot. It was just a matter of time for him," goalie Curtis Sanford said. "Maybe going back to Manitoba got him geared up to get back here, as it always does to all of us who have been through it. But by no means did he look out of place the first time he was up here."

All in all, both players finished with two points and a +2 rating on a night where they were expected to just not give up any goals. The Canucks ended up defeating the Ducks by a score of 3-2, giving Jaffray his first NHL game-winning goal as well.

However, the audition doesn't end there. Vancouver faces San Jose tonight, and both players will have a chance to build on their point totals. If they play like they did last night, there's a good chance we'll be seeing more of Jaffray and Raymond in Vancouver's colours this season.

Wrecking Ball Has Arrived: Mark Recchi arrived in Atlanta in a big way, scoring two great goals against the Boston Bruins last night in his Thrashers debut. He looked like he had been part of the Thrashers since the season opened.

"I feel very comfortable with the hockey club already," Recchi said. "I hope to continue to help and help us get some wins."

However, the Bruins prevailed over the Thrashers, thanks to a Milan Lucic goal with 3:47 remaining in the third to put Boston up 4-3. The Boston rookie scored his second career goal after being knocked down by Bobby Holik. With the delayed penalty being called, Lucic got up and headed for the net where he swept in a Phil Kessel rebound to put Boston up for good.

Former Thrasher Marc Savard scored an empty-net goal with four seconds remaining to give Boston the 5-3 victory. Alex Auld won his third straight game for the Bruins, possibly proving that his time in the Phoenix Goalie Graveyard wasn't all bad.

Capital Youth Movement: The kids came to play for Washington last night, and helped the Capitals defeat the New York Rangers 5-4 in a back-and-forth game that was decided in overtime.

Joe Motzko had his first two goals of the season for the Capitals, and looked very comfortable playing on NHL ice. Mike Green scored the overtime winner on a great shot at the 3:41 mark of the overtime period after having recorded two assists earlier in the game. Brooks Laich had a couple of helpers for the Caps, including a gorgeous feed to Green for the winner.

And not to forget another young guy, but Alex Ovechkin scored his 22nd goal of the season as well. If the Capitals continue getting production from their young players, they may be able to push their way into first place in the Southeast Division. Since Bruce Boudreau took over the head coaching duties from Glen Hanlon, the Capitals have gone 6-3-1, and have played much better.

Isles of Despair: It's been 19 games since the Islanders last saw four goals on their side of the ledger. The Long Island Broncos haven't scored more than three goals since November 1, and it has Ted Nolan out of options.

The latest setback came at the hands of the Barney Rubble Hairpieces last night as the Islanders fell 5-3 to the Sabres. Nolan juggled line combinations and benched Bryan Berard for the last two periods, but still couldn't solve the Isles' offensive woes. He's called players up from Bridgeport of the AHL and put veterans in the press box if they weren't hustling, but nothing has worked.

Personally, I think the Islanders aren't a very good team, and it's finally showing. They have some great hustle guys in Mike Sillinger and Richard Park, but they are a soft team with few high-calibre prospects. If this streak continues, look for GM Garth Snow to start heating up the phone lines.

The Little Hawks: Jonathan Toews and NHL rookie scoring leader Patrick Kane put up more points for the improving Chicago Blackhawks last night as the Hawks beat the Los Angeles Kings 6-3.

Toews had a goal and two assists while Kane has two assists. These two have been impressive thus far, and it appears that Chicago has the makings of a very good team for the forseeable future with Patrick Sharp and Martin Havlat still relatively young as well.

The Kings' youth also showed up to play as well. Anze Kopitar and Patrick O'Sullivan scored for the Kings, showing that they are no slouches when it comes to getting the kids involved.

That's all for today, folks. I have some work to do, so I'm off until tomorrow.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

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