Bryan Berard's First NHL Game Since Eye-Injury, Will Blackburn Make the Team?

Take a look at how Bryan performed in his first game back, and is the media acting immature about Berard not coming back with the Leafs? Will Sather decide to play Blackburn as back-up? How will Coach Ron Low set the line-ups for the regular season?I did not watch this game to see the Rangers win, or even hoping that they would win, I was not watching this game to see how Lindros would do, but I only watched this game to see Bryan Berard perform.

What did I expect from Berard, and what were the results? Well, I expected Berard to play short shifts, low ice time, and to show how well he can play in the defensive zone. It was his first game back, so I did expect Berard to make some mistakes, but he did not make one. Berard played a very simple and hard working game. To tell you the truth, and call me blind if I’m wrong, but when Berard was on camera, he looked normal to me. His right eye did not look weird at all.

Berard is 24 years old, is about 6’2 ft, and weighs around 220 lbs. Having that on a roster just adds size and makes the team younger. So how did Berard perform? I must say he played very well. Obviously, before I receive some criticism saying “Oh, it’s only one game.”, Berard still needs to show how much time he can play, if he can play on a PK and PP, and if he can still make the team. As of now, judging by that game, Berard makes the team. He made very sharp passes across the ice. He used a lot of strength when checking a player. He played a simple game. At one point, Berard was facing a 2 on 1 and he made the right play by blocking a saucer pass with his stick layed down. That was a play that top defensemen with two perfect eyes can make a mistake on.

One thing I mentioned earlier is that Berard still needs to prove what he can do on a PP and PK. He should be tested on each, and maybe in Sunday night’s game. I know Berard is also a point man, but is that what Rangers fans, Coach Low, and GM Sather is looking for in Berard? Not really. Berard’s main job is to be a solid defenseman. That is Berard’s main focus at this point, if he can play defense. Should he participate being a point man? Yes, he should because it will improve him and the team itself. Is it important? No, not at this point.

Berard was asked about how it feels to play with one eye (not using the right eye), and he made a very interesting point. He said that you do not lose 50% vision if you don’t use one eye, but you actually lose 10% to 20% vision. That is not a major disadvantage. Try it yourself. Focus on an object far to the right side, keeping your face pointed forward. Then close your right eye. You lose sight of the object you focused on, but if you turn your head just a bit to the right, you will see that object. So Berard can make a successful come back, obviously he will have to work harder.

Is Berard overpaid? Sure if you just look at his salary without thinking. But, if you think, Berard has to pay $6.5 million dollars to the Insurance Company…so he is not gaining much money. Should Toronto fans and the Leafs organization be upset at Berard? I think not, it’s a mistake. As I recall, when Berard started skating again (not with the USA team yet), he mentioned that he wanted to make a comeback, and that he will try to work his way there. Did I hear of a team responding to that? No, not at all…not even the Rangers. Leafs should have paid attention to Berard at that moment. When Berard skated with the U.S team, Leafs did not show much interest, don’t say they did because they did not, it’s a fact. The Leafs should have offered him a contract, a try out, or at least they should have talked to Berard. Did they? No. Leafs had their chance for quite a long period of time. I think it is very immature to complain that Berard only signed with the Rangers because of his Rhode Island home. Glen Sather was the first person to talk to Berard about coming back, and showing real interest in him. If I was Berard, and I was skating with the U.S team in training camp, and Sather comes up to me and talks about me having a good chance coming back and showing interest in me, I’d feel delighted and psyched, wouldn’t you? Here is a GM who is trying to fix a messed up team, and he is willing to give Berard a chance to make a comeback. Leafs fans and the media cannot complain about this as they have been. Berard had the freedom to choose where he wanted to play and he picked the team that showed most interest in him. As a Rangers fan myself, if Berard joined any team, even the Devils, I’d be happy for him. The Leafs media should be complaining about the Leafs organization, not Berard “owing” himself in return.

Blackburn missed a couple of games because of a groin injury. This was his first game back since the injury, and he did not perform as good as he has before, allowing one soft goal. One soft goal does not make him look so questionable, but Blackburn was a little shacky this time, moving out of position a couple of times. Blackburn still made some impressive saves, this time with his legs more than glove. If this kid is not ready for this season, he should be ready for the next. The best talent I’ve noticed about Blackburn are his reflexes. On the first Bruins goal, the puck was deflected infront of Blackburn, about a foot of distance, and he made an impressive quick move from attempting to save the puck with his chest, but as it quickly deflected, he made a very fast kick save. He was correct, his style is very similar as Curtis Joseph’s style. Should he make the team? Well, here is the problem Sather and Low are facing. If Blackburn is sent back down to juniors, might he make a step back from his improved skills over pre-season? If Blackburn stays as the back up goalie, might he lose track of his talent and ruin his confidence? Here is what I think. So far, no one knows how many games Richter can play, that is the major problem, because it might force the back up goalie to play more games. Can Blackburn play 30 games? It is a risk, and could Skudra? That’s also a risk. So, I’m thinking that both Skudra and Blackburn should be back-ups. Skudra plays 15, and so does Blackburn. I think that if Blackburn ends up with a 6-8-1 record, it’s good. But, I am not looking at the standings only. What I’d be looking for is Blackburn’s GAA and S%. Obviously if he makes 31 saves out of 35, I consider that good. I think Blackburn deserves a chance, so yes I would make him as back-up and I would have Blackburn play in the AHL as well. My strategy could work, but it is not a secure strategy, unsafe, because both goalies (Skudra and Blackburn) might not play well at all. However, I think that Blackburn deserves to play two regular season NHL games.

Coach Low should be smiling with the team he has now, compared to the team he has last season. One thing I disliked about Low so far is that he has not kept a line together. So, I see the lines as “suspects”. I suspect the 1st Line will be LW-Johansson, C-Lindros, RW-Fleury. I’ve seen that line change many times though. Sometimes I saw York, Dvorak, McCarthy, Ciger, and Nedved on with Lindros. I mean, this is a strategy, however. To change the lines constantly is a strategy. What Low has infront of him is a number of choices. He has many ways he can set the line-ups, unlike last season. Basically, it all comes down to how good Low is. This time he cannot have any excuses, he has a team that he can play around with, and it is his job to make it work. There are still some youngsters on the team, like Heisten, who might be sent down. Sunday, Low should make up his mind because it is the last pre-season game.

I will post an update on Bryan Berard’s performance of Sunday’s game against the Bruins.

Micki Peroni