Devils Record First Win Since March 15th

While the Rangers and Islanders have the Devils number, the Devils certainly have the Flyers number, now beating them in 6 of the last 7 matchups. However, unlike the previous matchups, the Flyers are also playing with desperation fighting for a playoff birth in the conference.

The Devils have scored 3 or more goals in roughly 84% of their wins. Tonight was no exception, with the Devils scoring 4 goals and getting another 3 in the shootout to clinch two more points which they desperately needed after losing five straight.

The entire game they played strong, including a very well-played penalty kill which has struggled recently, killing off only about 70% of their penalties – not a good number at all.

Fans at the Prudential Center worried, however, as halfway through the first Philadelphia’s Vaclav Prospal scored the first goal. The Devils came back at the end of the period to score two straight and bring the confidence back in to the locker room for the 1st intermission.

In the second, Jamie Langenbrunner of the Devils and James Dowd of the Flyers scored before the halfway mark, with the Devils still in the lead by one goal for the second intermission.

The Flyers tied things up in the third period as Randy Jones scored at 8:18 in. Brian Gionta then scored with 6 minutes remaining to give the Devils the lead. But with 56 seconds remaining, Mike Knuble of the Flyers scored to tie things back up. After that, both teams accepted the one point eagerly and waited for Overtime to start.

In the past 6 games the Devils have given up a late goal in the third period to relinquish their lead or tie.

The teams passed 5 minutes of Overtime to find themselves in the shootout. Although the Flyers managed to squeeze two shots past Devils netminder Martin Brodeur, Brian Gionta, Patrik Elias, and Jamie Langenbrunner all scored to win the shootout for the Devils and end the five game losing streak.

Battle of the Division continues Friday night

Tonight the Devils will face off against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Prudential for yet another Atlantic Division showdown.

The Devils now find themselves in a 5 game losing streak and what appears to be almost a complete collapse of their offensive ability. The Devils need to score at least 3 goals to win a game. This season, the Devils have won 35 times when they score 3 or more goals. When they have scored two or less, they have won only 7.

Patrik Elias was the original target for the blame when he sat out for a few games, and the Devils lost three straight. However since his return, he’s been able to score, but the team as a whole continue to struggle.

On Thursday night the Devils did have the lead against the Rangers, but a fluke goal gave the Rangers a 3 – 2 lead and the ultimate victory. The loss marked the seventh time the Devils lost to the Rangers this season.

Against the Philadelphia Flyers, The Devils have won all but one matchup in the five games they’ve played. The wins have been for the most part decisive, with the Devils having leads like 7-3, 6-2, and 4-1.

The Devils were extremely frustrated after Thursday night’s defeat. Hopefully that defeat will not cause the Devils to play worse tonight against the Flyers.

Newjerseydevils.com quoted captain Jamie Langenbrunner saying, “We can’t afford to lose games like this at this time of year. It’s extremely frustrating for us, a team that prides itself on being able to finish games.”

Philadelphia is currently fighting its way to stay in the top 8 of the Eastern Conference, as the Washington Capitals sit only 2 points behind them. The Flyers are also right behind the Boston Bruins who also have 88 points, but more points when playing against the Flyers, giving them the tiebreaker advantage.

New Jersey last lost six games in November of 2000, the year the Devils made it to the Stanley Cup Finals but lost to the Colorado Avalanch.

Mayday!

The Devils find themselves in a five game losing streak with only five games remaining. They have now lost seven games in a row against the New York Rangers. And the Devils find themselves in a three-way tie with the Ottawa Senators and the New York Rangers for the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference with 91 points.

The worst part of it all: the Devils played well tonight.

Patrik Elias made a fantastic deflection to get the Devils tied with the Rangers midway through the second period. Then, Zach Parise scored at the end of the second to give the Devils the lead for the first time in a game since March 19. And in the past 5 games the Devils now average 1 goal a game.

I am not bringing back the big red panic button, but I’m very tempted. This is the worst stretch of games the Devils have seen the 2004 season.

Brent Sutter summed things up nicely during his post-game press conference: “We did enough good things to win here tonight, but we still found a way to lose the hockey game.”

The Devils are 1-9-4 against the Metro teams (Rangers and Isles). Rangers are 9-3-1 and the Isles are on top with 10-3-0

Devils color analyst Chico Resch also made the point that the Devils penalty killers have given up a power play goal in each of the last four games, two tonight against a team who was 1 in their last 30 before the game started.

Right around now is when Devils GM Lou Lamoriello fires the coach and steps behind the bench to take over for the playoffs. He’s done this is the prior two seasons, and it didn’t get the Devils any further than Round 2.

It should become increasingly evident to Lou that perhaps it’s the players’ physical ability and limit, not the coaching or coaches, which is to blame here.

Each season that passes the Devils lose key players to free agency. The Devils make do with what they have, and post a competitive team year after year, but it’s not the type of team that has confidence throughout the year, which is probably one of the most important facets when entering the playoffs.

When the Devils lost Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski, I was initially mad at Lou Lamoriello for not being able to re-sign them. The anger soon wore off during the off-season and I once again had hope for a strong run. The run has now slowed to a crawl with five games remaining in the season and the importance those players had on the ice for the Devils, Gomez with his play-making ability (which he showed again Thursday night) and Rafalski with his defensive ability, is becoming more and more evident.

So once again Lou, I think the burden of the Devils recent demise at the moment rests on the available talent we have on the ice at the moment.

Perhaps I am being too cynical, and, as Chico pointed out, the Devils will soon find themselves as the underdogs and perhaps that will give them a lift in the playoffs. And perhaps that’s just trying to put sprinkles on your melted ice cream sundae. But frustration is extremely high and desperation turning in to frustration is not something the Devils can afford to go through with five games remaining.

This rant has been brought to you by the number 7, the letter L, and the sound of a toilet flushing.

Another Crossroad and Offensive Struggles

At each of the past four games, I have stressed the importance of that game because of placement in the standings, in addition to the confidence they need to build as the season quickly comes to an end and the playoffs sit in the not-to-distant future.

In each of these instances the Devils have found a way to lose. The number one problem: scoring. The Devils are averaging .75 goals in the past four games. That’s not even in the ballpark of what you need today to win games. Long gone are the days of 1-0 victories the Devils were so famous for. In fact, 35 of the Devils victories this season have come when they have scored 3 or more goals.

That’s 7 games where they have won with less than 3 goals.

I’d read the above line over a few more times. As of right now, the Devils do not have a secured spot in the playoffs. Sure it isn’t likely they won’t make the playoffs, but it is not mathematically impossible at this point.

Now sure it’s possible to claim that the loss of Patrik Elias in 3 of the last 4 contests the Devils played in was a factor in their previous losses, but on Tuesday when they finally saw the return of Elias, they were shut out by the Penguins.

In fact the Devils have been shut out 10 times this season, nearing a franchise (not team) record. Meaning the Devils have been shut out more this year then any other year in which they’ve been known as the New Jersey Devils.

I trust Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello. He’s built competitive teams year after year. But looking at a statistic like this must be disconcerting, especially since the only trade you made at the trading deadline was for a defenseman. It appears to me that a good shooter or at least a good play-maker would have been on his to-do list.

You could also look at coaching. I like Brent Sutter a lot. I will stick up for him because he’s the first coach who has gone in and tried to change the Devils obsolete system around. But lately their fore-check has become lazy. They are not nearly as aggressive as they were earlier in the season. The proof? Compare Tuesday’s third period with any other period of any other game in the past 2 months. They were playing desperate hockey for that third period, but they were going after guys with the puck, not just sitting back waving their sticks hoping to block or deflect a pass or shot. Sure maneuvers like that could put you out of position and leave a potentially vulnerable hole open in the ice, but that’s where you need to have proper positioning of your players where they recognize when you are moving up to make such a move and can cover your spot in the event of such a catastrophe.

Again, looking at the third period of Tuesday’s game showed players doing just that, as well as having better positioning around the Penguins’ defense to find open shooting lanes.

This has quickly turned in to a rant, so I will finish with what I started with: the past four games I have stressed the important of the game both as a whole with their positioning in the NHL and on an individual basis for the teams confidence and needs before the playoffs begin. Since that obviously didn’t work, play 60 minutes of desperate hockey in which you are looking for one thing: offense. Without it, 35 games wouldn’t have been won.

Thursday night the Devils will see the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. This will be the seventh time the two teams will see each other; the Devils have yet to win a game against them this season, and have only scored 5 goals. For all we know, the Rangers may be the first team the Devils see in the playoffs. They need to generate offense, and they need to be desperate for the win. A victory by the Rangers Thursday will tie them with the Devils and, as of right now, the Ottawa Senators for fourth spot in the Eastern Conference.

Battle at the Mellon

The Devils will see the Pittsburgh Penguins today, Saturday, in a very important battle for the Atlantic Divison.

With the state of the Eastern Conference standings and the Devils past losses against the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders, the Devils need two points to keep them from dropping further in the standings. The Pittsburgh Penguins just so happen to be tied with the Devils for second spot in the Eastern Conference – meaning whoever loses tonight will drop down to fourth in the East and could be dangerously close in points to lower teams, like the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, and the Carolina Hurricanes.

Pittsburgh is without their shinning star Sidney Crosby who is still experiencing some trouble with his ankle, which he injured several months ago. He came back for some action in February but decided to sit out once again to rest for the playoffs.

Nevertheless, Pittsburgh has been playing very well even without Sid the Kid, winning 6 of their last 8 games.

Every game is important, every game is a must-win situation, and every game could be the difference between 1st in the conference and 5th or more. But a game like this against a division rival, after the Devils have lost two in a row against division rivals, makes tonight’s game just that much more important.

Devils Get Half Credit for Loss against Rangers

It wouldn’t be so bad if they just blew this game – because they seem to be inept when playing against teams that begin with “New York.” But the Devils were looking at an old-time Devils victory, 1-0, as time winked down in regulation.

Dainius Zubrus was the only Devil to score Wednesday night during the only period where the Devils truly played, the first. After 20 minutes were complete, the Devils went in to lock-down mode where offense and a pretty aggressive fore-checking kept the Rangers off the scoreboard and away from Brodeur.

The Devils penalty killing played well all night long, keeping the Rangers from scoring, and an unlikely Power Play combination consisting of Dainius Zubrus, Michael Rupp, and Sergei Brylin, connected to score the lone goal in the first. In addition, the Devils physical presence was in for the first period as well, with David Clarkson taking Sean Avery to task.

But once the first horn sounded to end the first period, the Devils took a back seat to the action letting up for the next 40 minutes, and eventually leading up to the Rangers late third period goal.

The shootout was just strange, as the Devils really looked lost. The Rangers came out with Shanahan, Dawes, and Callahan, and tried various different shots and made some great attempts to get the puck past Martin Brodeur. Dawes got the lone goal in the shootout. But the Devils had Langenbrunner, Gionta, and Parise, with Langs and Gio trying to go 5-hole against Rangers goaltender Lundqvist. Zach Parise tried to go around Lundqvist but he got back in time to force Parise to eventually over skate and shoot wide of the net.

Post-game interviews showed frustration in the eyes of the Devils, as Zach Parise admitting they “stopped going at it in the third.”

You might bring up the fact that the Devils didn’t have the stick of Patrik Elias tonight, and you would be right. Nevertheless, the other Devils lines should and have shown the ability to score, including players like Jay Pandolfo, John Madden, Brian Gionta, and Jamie Langenbrunner. Players like Dainius Zubrus have also connected now in the past three games to get a goal in each matchup.

Brent Sutter, in his usual disgusted self, stated that they were “one mistake short” in winning this game. But the fact of the matter is, they were a good 40 minutes short from completing what could have been a victory over a team where they have played and now lost six times this season, with two more in a short span left in the schedule.

The Devils will be meeting up with the Rangers next Thursday, March 27th and ending their season against the New York Rangers on April 6th.

Devils have Big Game Wednesday

Every game matters. Every game changes your position in the standings. Every game is a must-win scenario. Every night determines whether you sit first in the conference or drop down to fourth. Competition is great, and the East has so many close battles for every playoff birth making this race nearly historical.

Pittsburgh Penguins are one point behind and sit in fourth spot in the conference. The second place team has the same number of points, but two less wins, allowing the Devils to hold the first spot. The eighth place team, the Philadelphia Flyers, is only eight points behind the Devils in first.

And now, Wednesday night, the Devils will face-off against the New York Rangers. In the event you have been underground, the Devils have yet to win a single game against the Rangers. They have accumulated 2 points, however, for Overtime loses.

It gets worse. Between tonight and the end of the season on April 6th, the Devils will see the Rangers three times. That’s six points the Devils will certainly need if that want to finish first for the playoffs, or take the Atlantic Division title.

In the lineup tonight, Patrik Elias will remain out with a bruised left knee. Bryce Salvador will miss tonight’s matchup as well with “lower body soreness.”

Colin White, however, will return to the Devils defense – a much needed player tonight against the Rangers.

Devils Top Avalanche, Keep Lead in East

It seems to be very frustrating, but even as inconsistent as they are, the Devils still appear to be a strong force in the East and still sit in first place overall.

They haven’t clinched any type of division or conference title, or even a playoff birth yet, but with 5 wins in the last 6 games, they have to be feeling pretty good about themselves.

The Devils had two of their top men out of the lineup as well on Saturday afternoon when they beat the Avalanch, forward Patrik Elias and defenseman Colin White. Nevertheless, with Martin Brodeur in net making save after highlight-reel save, and getting the first star of the game, the Devils held off Colorado that, despite their 7th place position in the standings, have been hot recently.

Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur also recorded his 40th win, making this his seventh season with 40 or more wins, extending his own NHL record. He is also only 18 wins shy of breaking Colorado’s Patrick Roy’s career win record of 551.

Unlike the previous few matchups, at no point in time did the Devils fall behind, or even look week in any aspect of their game. In those games, the Devils would go periods where offense would disappear for periods, and then defense would vanish in to thin air. Brodeur was not perfect either, letting in some long-shot goals that he would normally glove.

Yet last Saturday afternoon’s game showed a team that was consistently good in all areas for an entire 60 minutes. Even though the Devils took an excessive amount of penalties (6 compared to Colorado’s 2), Colorado was only able to score a single power play goal, something else the Devils haven’t been doing too well against in recent games.

Tips for the New Jersey Devils on Bad Nights

  • You see those guys in different color jerseys? Not the ones in black and white, the other ones. Yeah, you don’t like them. Hit them occasionally to keep them in line. If one of them drops their gloves and comes after you, hope David Clarkson takes him for you. If your name is Zach Parise, unless you turn into the Zach the Hulk again, run away.
  • You’ll notice you are equipped with a long carbonate device with a flat blade at the end. We call this a hockey stick. It’s used for moving the puck around on that white ice you skate on.
  • When the puck is at the end of your stick, you should pass it to one of the people in the same color shirt as you, or shoot it at the opposing player who stands in front of that white net held up by the red posts. That contraption is known as the net, and the player that stands in front of it is the goalie.
  • If you decide to shoot the puck at the goalie, either try to shoot the puck so it goes past him, around him, or through him. If you run out of options, turning the puck over to the players in different color uniforms is not acceptable. Try to shoot the puck at the goalie and have one of your teammates stand near the area in front of the goalie. He can deflect the puck, screen the goalie, or intercept a rebound and maybe get another scoring chance.
  • This is tricky: when getting off of the ice for a line change while play is going on, make sure the opposing team doesn’t have the puck and is skating quickly towards your own goalie. If they are, don’t leisurely get off the ice on to your bench! Either stay out on the ice and defend (see note 6) or get off quickly as another player replaces you. The first option should probably be heeded under most circumstances.
  • When the opposing team has the puck and is in your own zone (the area behind the blue line that your goalie is in), try to get the puck away from them. Do not simply skate around and wait for them to give up the puck. Aggressiveness is not necessarily a bad thing here. Going after a player who has the puck can sometimes lead to taking over control of the puck, or at the very least, forcing him to get rid of the puck, giving you or your teammates an opportunity to get possession of the puck.
  • If the opposing team goes to shoot the puck, while it’s a good idea to keep your stick down on the ice to try and stop or deflect the puck, be conscious of the fact that your stick may inadvertently deflect the puck in to your own net past your own goalie. Furthermore, make sure you are not standing in front of your goalie, preventing him from seeing shots from opposing players. Lastly, never let opposing players stand in front of your goalie as this may also have adverse effects.