NYR Camp Notes – Blackburn Turning Heads

By Brandon LeBourveau
After sparkling in his first ever NHL action against the Detroit Red Wings last Monday, stopping 25 of 27 shots in about 30 minutes of action to earn a 3-2 win, Dan Blackburn followed that up with another excellent performance, this time against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

The game was a significant one to begin with, considering that it was the first major sporting event played in New York since the terrorists attacks took place a week before. With all the pre-game ceremonies finished, it was time to drop the puck. Eric Lindros was making his first appearance as a New York Ranger, and Brian Leetch also saw action for the first time this pre-season. For New Jersey, their lineup consisted of a lot of rookies and hopefuls, as Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora, Jason Arnott, Martin Brodeur and Scott Stevens were some of the players who did not suit up for the contest.

Blackburn had a solid game, stopping 15 of 16 shots before being relieved in the middle of the second period by Johan Holmqvist. Blackburn played a poised, focused game and showed flashes of what to expect in the future. He robbed one of the Devils on a point blank shot with his glove, flashing it in the air kinda like Patrick Roy. He did a good keeping the Rangers in the game early, as the Devils put on a lot of pressure in the offensive zone and were awarded for their efforts as the Rangers took two penalties, leading to a 5 on 3 advantage for New Jersey. Blackburn turned away everything that was thrown at him, and wasn’t beaten until the 2nd period when Bobby Holik was able to get one by the young goaltender. Dan didn’t have much of a chance on the play, as the puck deflected in the air to Holik, who was parked at the side of the net, and he dropped it and quickly shot it into an empty net before the young netminder was able to get across the crease.

The final score to the game was 6-1 in favor of the Rangers, and Blackburn picked up his 2nd NHL win and was also named the game’s 1st star. Theo Fleury, Jeff Toms, Sandy McCarthy, Radek Dvorak, Martin Richter and Eric Lindros scored for the Rangers. Zdeno Ciger, who signed with the Rangers this year after playing the last 5 years in Europe (He last played back in 1995-96 with Edmonton), had 2 assists as did Andreas Johansson who is coming back to the NHL after spending last year in Europe. Here are notes on some of the rookies who played in the game:

Dan Blackburn: As you all know, Blackburn played excellent in the game and was named the game’s 1st star. You can see how focused he is in net, and he was able to effectively read where the play was going and get into position to make the save. His only weakness that was clear was the fact he gave up a lot of rebounds, but he was able to recover by knocking the puck into the corner. The velocity of shots in the NHL is a step up from juniors, and Dan should be able to adjust with more action in the pre-season.

Johan Holmqvist: Holmqvist didn’t allow a goal in the last half of the game that he played in. He made some excellent saves, including a glove save on a bullet to the top corner. He also has been making some noise in camp, and if the Rangers feel Blackburn is not yet ready for the NHL, Holmqvist might be the logical choice for the backup spot this season.

Barrett Heisten: Heisten played a very tenacious, all-around game. He took two bad penalties, but other than that he played well. He is very quick and is very responsible defensively. On one play, when Martin Richter went into the offensive zone (he eventually scored), Heisten knew to stay back at the blue line in case the puck was turned over, thus preventing the chance of New Jersey having an odd-man rush. Barrett is extremely quick, and on another play he showed his ability to forecheck, as he blew past a lot of people to get back into the defensive zone, where he helped break up a 3 on 2.

Jamie Lundmark: I saw Lundmark for the first time this season, and you can definitely tell that he got bigger and added some strength. He had a quiet game, but showed some signs of things to come. His speed and creativity was evident, although he lost control of the puck a few times while skating up the ice. He did okay on the face-offs he took, and played on a line with youngsters Barrett Heisten and Mikael Samuelsson.

Martin Richter: The young Czech defenseman has been impressive in camp so far, scoring 2 goals in his first pre-season games, which is pretty good for a player considered a defensive defenseman. He beat Devils goaltender J-F Damphousse through the five hole with a backhander after he picked up a loose puck in the offensive zone and broke in towards the net. He was defensively very good, and he held his own against some pretty strong opponents. He was not overmatched physically and played a tough game. Head Coach Ron Low said he was impressed with him in an interview after the game, and Richter could have an outside chance of making this team come October.

Mikael Samuelsson: Samuelsson had a quiet game, although you could tell he has a lot of speed. It seemed like he didn’t get the puck much, but when he did, he made a smart play.

Mike Mottau: Mottau (wearing number 3 this season) had a good game. He consistently jumped into the offensive rush, and played physical in the defensive end. I noticed him a lot out there and he impressed me with his swift skating and puck rushing ability.

The next night the Rangers were back on the ice to play the Philadelphia Flyers. The game was delayed 36 minutes after the 2nd period was over so the fans could watch President George Bush address the nation (It was shown on the scoreboard). The game was then called off, and ended in a 2-2 tie. Peter Skudra and Dan Blackburn split time in net, with each of them allowing 1 goal. Blackburn saved 8 out of 9 shots he faced, just basically getting into the game before it was called off. He was only beat on a goal by all-star Mark Recchi, who faked him out and shot it over his leg into the net. Blackburn was credited with the tie, and improved his record to 2-0-1. Before the game, the Rangers called up PJ Stock, Sean Gagnon and Garth Murray from Hartford, where they were sent down last week. They all played in the game, and it marked Garth Murray’s first ever NHL action. He played a gritty game, but it was clear he still needs some time to develop. He’s close to making it, but another year or so developing will improve his game tremendously. Barrett Heisten and Mikael Samuelsson scored their first goals of the pre-season and they were both against Brian Boucher, who was in goal for the Flyers.

The Rangers square off against the much improved New York Islanders tonight at Nassau Colosseum, and Blackburn is expected to play the entire game. He could have his hands full, as Alexei Yashin and Michael Peca could be in the lineup for the first time together this pre-season for the Islanders. It has not been said who will be playing for the Rangers, but it is likely a few of the young guys will be dressed.

It was also announced today that young defenseman Filip Novak and forward Garth Murray were returned to their junior teams. Both players play for the Regina Pats of the WHL, and Murray is expected to be named the team’s new captain. Neither expressed negative feelings about the move, and Novak even said it was the right move to send him back. He felt he didn’t play as well has he would have liked, and the pressure got to him, thus effecting his game. Blackburn is the only junior eligible player remaining on the roster, but don’t expect him to be sent back until the final cuts are made, that’s considering whether the team even decides to send him back at all. At this point, Blackburn has shown me he’s ready for the challenge of being in the NHL at 18 years old. Whether or not the Rangers feel that way as well is still up in the air, but it is an interesting situation to watch as it unfolds. I’ll be quite honest and admit heading into the 2001 Draft that I didn’t want Blackburn. I wanted Tuomo Ruutu instead, but Blackburn certainly is making me change my mind right now. I think the Rangers got a winner with this pick.