In the Stands: Opening Night!

First I want to make a public service announcement and say congratulations to the New Jersey Devils for pulling this off. The arena is absolutely gorgeous. I was a little hesitant but they’ve really got it right. The atmosphere is great, the concourses are wide, the food is excellent, the seats were comfy, the ice looked good, the view was great, and getting there was nice and easy since I took the train.

It started with hopping on the train from Dover to get in to the Broad Street station. The station, although under construction, seemed to have promise. Getting off of the platform, we saw three shuttle busses waiting for us with workers directing fans right to them and the busses clearly marked “Shuttle for Prudential Center.”

The shuttle stopped at the back of the arena, dropping us off at one of the less crowded entrances. But Jen (Strawberrie) and I walked past to get a glimpse of the whole arena. It is astounding what they accomplished in such a short time span. There were some tell-tale signs that they were rushing a little, however. No plants or decorations around the arena (although it is October), and the fact that the doors opened late because the fire alarm was going off inside the arena.

When we stopped touring the outside of the arena, we were at the PNC Tower (the glass cylinder on the right side) where hundreds of fans crowded trying to squeeze through only a few doors. It was a little disconcerting that this wasn’t thought out better, but I chalked it up to the fact they opened the doors later than they wanted to and a lot more people coming early then normally would.

Once getting in the arena, we saw the Stanley Cup, saw some excellent places to get food, took some pictures, and found a stand that sells hot dogs. Again, this is something we’ll get used to, but it was odd that the concession stand behind our seats didn’t sell hot dogs, just cheese stakes, pizza, and Chinese food. After wandering around, we finally saw “Top Dog” and grabbed a few to eat while we found our seats.

I found it really interesting that where we sat was wide open to the concourse. It wasn’t like this corridor that lead you from the concourse to your section, it was completely open so you could see in to the bowl from the concession stands.

Now this is where things started to get a little hairy. We walk down to our seats… row 11… row 10… seats 14 and 15… there is no seat 14 or 15. Check the other isle… no that’s section 15… Okay, so I give up. Where are our seats?!?

As it turns out, the Devils ran a little short in the seat department. They assumed they would have 15 seats in row 10 and sold 15 seats in row 10. I was just the unlucky one who got two at the end which the nixed. Nice job guys. So in any event, the usher called someone who helped us out, and got us different seats. They were 11 rows away from where we were supposed to sit, but I was happy sitting down and not being in the second tier!

Another minor but still inconvenient was that you had to get a program for the small Devil’s Den shop. This is one thing where Continental Airlines Arena had it right with guys standing in the concourse selling Programs and Media Guides. I didn’t even see a Media Guide to buy!

I won’t bore you with a recap to the game but instead some observations I noticed during the night:

1. I now fully understand the criticism people give John Oduya. This guy can barely stand on skates, let alone keep his grip on his stick. I think someone said he was gripping his stick to tight – so he wanted to prove them wrong.
2. I do not like the fact that the goal judges no longer sit behind the nets. It has become very obvious that the goal light comes on a good 10 seconds after the goal is scored. Really, what’s the point of it then? Either put them back, or get rid of the light altogether. I can watch the ref signal much quicker then a delayed red light.
3. The Devils horn sounds more like a train horn (which would make sense for the area I think) but I’m not a big fan of the goal song. Both the “Hey” song and the “Ole” song could be sung with. This song has no words, so you’re signing “Da da da da da. Da da da da da da da da da, da da, da da.” I still think we should be singing the “Hey” song, but I grew to like the “Ole” song after a few games.

Luckily it doesn’t look like this will be much of a problem because it appears as if this season we’ll be struggling to get goals, let alone wins.

The ride home was fine, but quiet. A general passenger getting on a few stops after the arena looked around, saw all of our faces, and said “Guess they didn’t win tonight, huh?”

Although what’s on the ice doesn’t look particularly good, everything else about our new home is just about there and looks great. I will be looking forward to going to more games soon.

Click Here for Photos from tonights game.
Includes photos by Kyle Bisignani, Jeff Zelevansky, Bill Kostroun, and Bruce Bennett

Some Thoughts on the New Devils

I’m not going to go into detail, but I just wanted to post this quickly.

There have been rumblings from fans about the new system of play Brent Sutter has initiated. The persistent fore-check and attack methods are a stark contrast to their mentality of defense and discipline. Some fans are unhappy with this type of play because it doesn’t seem to be working – or at least that’s what it may appear as with 3 wins and 5 losses.

The reason this is being posted is to point out the flaw in this logic. The new method of play is a convenient scapegoat but the truth is the Devils were having the same defensive and goaltender problems last year as well.

Sutter’s changes are just what the Devils need in order to stay competitive in the new NHL, especially when they get around to playing West Coast teams. Although no official stat can be produced to prove this, the Devils have spent a great deal of time in the offensive zone for most of their games. In fact they have only spent more time in airplanes getting from venue to venue.

Give Brent Sutter some slack. This is new life being fed in to the Devils and is just what they needed. Their Defense and goaltending needs to shape up as well. They have still yet to truly recover from the loss of their top three defenseman: Scott Stevens, Scott Neidermayer, and Ken Daneyko.

Look at what Brent Sutter was able to do in a month to get them playing offensively. Things need to be tweaked – obviously two shutouts so far doesn’t help to prove my point – but the fact remains that they have been getting great offensive chances, most of which is thanks to their excellent fore-check and ability to move past their opponents defenseman.

Thursday night at the Garden watch for this. They have more puck possession in the offensive zone so far this season then they did during the entire last half of last season.

A Different Devil

When Devils GM Lou Lamoriello announced he had hired Brent Sutter as coach of the New Jersey Devils, it brought some to question how he would accomplish coaching a defensive style team.

Ladies and Gentlemen: we have our answer. He is no longer coaching the New Jersey Devils. At least not the Devils we knew.

Brent Sutter made no inclination that he was going to leave the Devils defensive style alone. He openly announced that he was going to make the Devils a more aggressive team. I had no idea that meant that the Devils would abandon defense altogether.

As much as I love the New Jersey Devils style and ability to strangle teams by sheer locking them out – I think Brent Sutter may have something here. Even during their early losses at the start of the season, Brent Sutter showed promise in the action, poise, and commitment to playing a whole 60 minutes.

When Claude Julian was let go with only a handful of games remaining last season, I questioned the timing of it, but not Lou’s decision. Julian never impressed me as a coach. Many fans were upset with the Devils lack of ability to play a whole 60 minutes. The “new” NHL required more oomph out of teams that the Devils couldn’t muster.

Was it fatigue? Was it poor coaching? Was it simply mediocrity? Or all of the above…

Wednesday night, the Devils remained in attack mode for all of the game, and got out a 5-4 victory in a game where the officials had to leave with security protecting them.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were assessed 6 penalties in a row in the second period, had a power play goal scored against them, and when scoring a goal, had it reversed because of too many men on the ice.

In the two games prior to this one, there were a couple of calls I did not agree with, for and against the Devils. However Wednesday night’s match did not seem to have poor officiating, but instead the Penguins just seem to have lost cohesiveness. The Devils did not have the ability to capitalize on most of the opportunities, but kept the Penguins from getting many chances and kept good offensive pressure on Pittsburgh for most of the game. Brent Sutter was happy with his team’s play.

As a fan I cheer for the team, what it stands for, and their history. The decision to go with a different style of play may be just what the Devils need to keep up in the new NHL. Looking back at the past couple of seasons, the Devils never had a poor team or a time when they did not appear competitive, but they had difficulty propelling themselves past the second round of the playoffs. Perhaps this new style is just what the Devils need to win another Stanley Cup.

Status at the Rock

Few things make me feel that overly excited feeling in my stomach that makes me giddy. Getting to the top of Nitro (a roller coaster at Six Flags amusement park) and not being able to see the track under you. Counting down the seconds to the final horn of the season knowing Lord Stanley’s cup is down the hall waiting to come out to your team. Running down the steps Christmas morning to see what Santa has left under the tree…

What?

In any event, that excited feeling is how I feel when I see this picture:

Only 12 days left until the Prudential Center opens its doors to New Jersey Devils fans.

Give it a year or two and we’ll probably dread having to pay the train fair to get there, but when I think of having to cross 5 lanes of traffic in a matter of feet in order to make the exit for the parking garage the state has decided to erect in the middle of nowhere, not to mention the 78,345 other construction projects going on that now completely surround our beloved Brendan Byrne Arena, I don’t feel so bad.

It is sad knowing that our home for 25 years, the original location of 3 Stanley Cup victories, will soon remain quiet for most nights. Sure some concerts will occur inside the now-branded Izod Center (hmm, wonder why they went with a name that ended in “Center”), and maybe an occasional circus. But once the Nets depart, it may not be worth it to keep it up.

For now I am left wondering if the move will bring more fans to the games. The Devils have been notorious for poor attendance, but will a new venue revitalize the fan base and persuade those who’d rather hear Doc’s great voice to go outside and join thousands of fans around a slab of ice?

I like to go to a game a month, personally. But I’ll be quite honest – knowing that when I get home from work, I can just jump on to the train down the road and get to the arena in an hour to catch a game is very tempting. Sure they may have better attendance to start, but once the novelty wears off, will there be enough at the arena to keep fans coming?

With two restaurants that overlook the arena, a fresh modern atmosphere, better food, better seats, better mass-transportation, better special effects, better ice – well, you get the idea – the Devils are hoping fans will continue to come for many years.

Of course a winning record couldn’t hurt either.

Sutter Sick over Loss

Literally. Devils coach Brent Sutter stayed at the hotel and didn’t go to practice today because he was under the weather.

First, however, I want to congratulate my assistant blogger Strawberrie who got her first full time teaching job (Kindergarten) and will be starting Monday. Good luck Jen!

Now back to hockey. I’m going to boycott watching games. The one game I missed they won.

It’s certainly not time to hit the panic button (I prefer the Staple’s Easy button myself), but this is an ominous start to the season. The tornado hasn’t ripped through, but the sky is looking very green lately.

Although last year they had a better record, I find the games more exciting to watch. They seem to be playing a more aggressive and complete 60 minutes of hockey, but are merely missing the skills required to work well with each other.

Could this be a dreaded “rebuilding” year? It’s too soon to tell.

One thing I dislike is the excuses. I don’t buy into the fact that it’s because they’re on the road too much. They have enough of a break at the beginning of the week to go home and relax. And while a number of the calls were questionable Thursday night, and most of the hockey world agrees, they still took too many penalties and their penalty killing was not performing well.

They simply look out of shape. It’s a well known fact netminder Marting Brodeur is a little flabby, but I think he should try and fix that – it can’t hurt.

Here’s a problem: the Devils are accustomed to a defensive style disciplined game. Can they make the change to an aggressive style team and remain disciplined? Is it possible Jay Pandolfo might wind up the penalty leader for the team this season? Will Kevin Weekes wind up with more wins then Brodeur? Hey, I know it sounds bad, but after four games he is beating Brodeur in that category.

By the middle of November, we’ll have a better idea what to expect, but a dismal start of the season may be difficult to recover. I guess the only solace we have is the fact that over 50% of the NHL makes it in to the post season.

New Faces for the Devils

Welcome back all to the Devils 26th year of hockey. At the Red Line’s parent site, njdevils.info, is also celebrating its 10th year in operation, and I hope you’ll spend a minute of your time there, as I spent most of the off-season adding a fresh look to the site and new content.

Now in the Hockey world, anyone else watching games and scratching there head as to some of the names that are sewn to the back of Devils jerseys’? Here’s a quick rundown on some of the fresh faces to the club:

#22, Arron Asham: Acquired as a free agent on August 7 this summer. He plays RW, but doesn’t make big numbers in the points department. Last season he played 80 games with the Isles, had 11 goals and 12 assists. He pretty much brings 209 pounds to a team that was pushed around too much last season.

#12, Nicklas Bergfors: Signed by NJ in the 2005 draft, has only seen action in the minors until this season. He’s only played two seasons in the minors before seeing a game so far this season. He’s in the roster to fill gaps left by Colin White, Cam Janssen, and Jamie Langenbrunner. Don’t expect to see too much of him this season.

#8, Sheldon Brookbank: Has seen 6 seasons in the minors before being picked up by Columbus as a free agent. He was dropped off of their rosters and put on waivers, and was claimed by the Devils October 2 of this year. He’s a solid defenseman with some accolades behind him, including the Eddie Shore Trophy as the AHL’s top defenseman last season. He’s an active scratch that is holding Colin White’s spot on the roster. Expect to see him play a couple of games, but spend most of his time in Lowell.

#23, David Clarkson: Finally you now have a new name to sew on the back of your old Scott Gomez jersey. We saw him a few times last season; Clarkson has a decent shot at making a name for himself, but he has some anger issues. Thankfully hockey has a great anger management program: sit out for 5 minutes, and then get back to work. I saw him as a Lowell Devil fight his way through the game.

#6, Andrew Greene: (aka, Andy) was a member of the new defensive team the Devils are still trying to construct ever since they lost Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, and Scott Niedermayer. He doesn’t look that half bad on skates, but I think he needs more practice in the AHL before he really has a shot up here.

#27, Mike Mottau: He’s seen action all around, playing for Boston College, Hartford Wolf Pack, even the NY Rangers and the Calgary Flames. He was picked up by the Devils and played last season in Lowell. He’s moved around a lot 3 and 4 years ago, but had his longest sting in the Rangers organization, a total of 3 seasons. Although he plays Defense, he’s already scored a goal in 48 minutes played this season.

#10, Rodney Pelley: Playing Center, Rod played for Ohio State from 2002 through 2006 and signed up with Lowell in 2006-07. He saw 9 games with no stats other than 11 average minutes a game, a -3 +/- average, and 8 shots on goal. I can’t fairly say whether or not he’ll be an asset, but he seems to be a seat filler at the moment.

#28, Karel Rachunek: Pronounced “Racoonic”, Karel played for the Rangers last year and had a decent season of 66 games played, 20 assist and 6 goals, and a relatively small amount of penalty minutes: 38. Prior to playing with the Rags, he saw 4 and a half season with Ottawa. He had good +/- numbers with Ottawa and -9 with the Rangers in two seasons. The Right Winger brings 230 lbs. to the team – another “size” acquisition by Lou Lamoriello this summer.

#2, Vitaly Vishnevski: He’s seen 7 years with the Ducks before being dumped to Nashville at the trade deadline. The Defenseman is yet another physical presence the Devils need on the ice. This plus the Devils new head coach Brent Sutter’s plans to make the team more aggressive is pretty much what the Devils are looking to to get them past Round 2 of the post-season this year.

#16, Dainius Zubrus: Dainius has seen action with Philly, Montreal, Washington, and even a brief 19 game stint with Buffalo. With regular ice time, expect him to post a 25+ goal season with the Devils.