Merry Christmas!

I would like to personally wish all of our visitors and fellow fans a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who visit at njdevils.info, At the Red Line, DevilSphere, and the NJ Devils New Center. Your continue patronage, support, and positive feedback make the time and effort put in to our little network worthwhile.

Thank you again, and as always, Lets Go Devils!

Quickie – Playoff Game vs Bruins

It resulted in a loss, but the Devils held up very well against the best team in the East, only allowing one goal, and that goal came on the heels of a Bruins power play.

Yes, two goals were scored by Boston; the second goals was an empty net goal after the Devils pulled Scott Clemmensen near the end of the third.

The Devils had the most difficulty setting up in the Boston zone. Their normal game of dumping the puck in and then going after it didn’t work, and their attempts at passing the puck in was well covered by Boston defensemen.

The game was played so tight, and so carefully, it looked like this was Game 1 of a playoff series between the two teams.  I’d give the Devils an A for effort.

Clemmensen and Devils find ways to win

When #1 goalie Martin Brodeur got injured, and Kevin Weekes took his place – I was about to throw in the towel. Brodeur was one of many backbone player the Devils had to leave the roster because of an injury.

This was going to be a nightmare season.

Now, what do we have? Surprising Scott Clemmensen has taken over as the Devils #1 goalie in net (sorry Weekes) and has been filling the rather large skates left behind by Brodeur.

In addition to Scott shining in his moment, the Devils injured have come back, one by one, to make one of the most solid rosters I have seen since the lockout.

Every year you say “this is going to be our year” and every year you know in the pit of your stomach that you are secretly lying to yourself. Okay, maybe I do that. But since the Devils came back in the “new era” of the NHL, not one time have I gone in to the playoffs feeling good about the team. Not once. You look at the playoff tree and you try and see “okay, what team could be beat?” “Oh I don’t want to play Carolina – they’re tough.” “Oh, does it have to be the Rangers? We can’t beat them to save our lives this season!”

Well now the Devils find themselves in a good position.  They sit with one of the best records than any other team in the NHL this month (with the exception of San Jose…) and are continuing to score goals at a pace they haven’t seen since 2000.  Furthermore, they are simply playing well.

Take, for example, Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers.  The game didn’t start out well for either team.  The Devils were having difficulty penetrating the Flyers zone and getting scoring chances.  After some time, however, the Devils were able to adapt and score two goals against the Flyers and keep the damage to a minimum.  The game later went in to a shootout and Clemmensen was able to keep the Flyers from scoring too many to give the Devils a chance to win – and eventually got the win in extra innings.

It is one thing to score a lot of goals and hang on to games by trying to play keep-away.  But the Devils are playing solid games and continuing to play well even after they stretch their lead.  Although their special teams are slightly inconsistent, they are still scoring some goals on the Power Play and are holding off most chances from opponents on the penalty kill.

Fact is, the Devils are moving up in the NHL.  They are separating themselves from the lower 7 teams and are inching closer and closer to the top.  In addition, they are several games in hand from the teams above them and thus are gaining ground in every game they play.

Now Tuesday is a true test.  The Devils will be playing the Boston Bruins, a team which has impressive talent at both ends of the ice.  Looking over the standings, although they are “second” to the San Jose Sharks, they are first in “Goals For” and “Goals Against” – meaning they have scored more goals and given up the fewest than any other team in the NHL.

The trick for the Devils will be to adapt like they did to the Flyers and find the holes necessary to beat the Bruins.

Devils to face Rangers in High Spirits

It’s true.  Although you may never think it, the Devils are in a very good mood – and why shouldn’t they be?

The Devils are a little streaky at the moment – with eight wins in their last nine games.  But take a look at this breakdown:

  • October 10 – October 22 (6 games): 5-1-0
  • October 24 – November 14 (10 games): 2-6-2
  • November 15 – December 10 (9 games): 8-1-0

Yet with this not so bad outlook on the Devils season so far, the Devils still find themselves in seventh place in the conference – one point in front of Buffalo.  The Devils will see Buffalo twice, within the next six days.

If you look at winning percentages – which for those of you who only follow hockey are not familiar with – we basically want to look at the records of teams but include a comparison of the total games played.  Here’s the outcome of those results (their actual place in the conference is in parenthesis after their name):

  1. Boston Bruins  (1) 0.750
  2. Montréal Canadiens  (4) 0.661
  3. New York Rangers  (2) 0.645
  4. Philadelphia Flyers  (5) 0.643
  5. New Jersey Devils  (7) 0.640
  6. Pittsburgh Penguins  (6) 0.621
  7. Washington Capitals  (3) 0.603
  8. Buffalo Sabres  (8) 0.554
  9. Florida Panthers  (10) 0.518
  10. Carolina Hurricanes  (9) 0.517
  11. Ottawa Senators  (12) 0.481
  12. Toronto Maple Leafs  (11) 0.464
  13. Atlanta Thrashers  (13) 0.407
  14. New York Islanders  (14) 0.379
  15. Tampa Bay Lightning  (15) 0.379

 Interestingly enough, the Devils aren’t too far off from their actual placement in the standings.  But because of “conference rules” in which the first team of each division is seated first, second, and third, Washington who is first in their conference is actually seventh in the winning percentages.

One thing in the Devils favor – most of their injuries came during the slowest part of the season.  The Devils have the fewest games played than anyone else in the league!

Now they only have two players who remain out, and one is skating with the team once again and will most likely see action by next week.  That is, of course Andrew Greene, who’s been out with a broken hand.  (Now that, Bobby, is a better reason to be out than a broken pinkie!).

One last note for the Devils – they are have been beating teams ahead of them in the conference, which is very important if they want to move up.  In fact the last three games were against teams in front of the Devils: the Flyers, the Canadiens, and the Penguins.

Coming up in the Devils schedule includes the Rangers tonight (ahead of the Devils), two games against Buffalo (1 point away from the Devils), and a game against Toronto down in 11th in the conference).

One of the most important thing in the NHL, though, is the match-ups with divisional opponents.  Teams see their division rivals more than any other team, and having a leg up in this area really helps when it comes down to the final months of the season.

Here are the Devils current records against Divison rivals:

  1. NY Rangers: 0-2-0
  2. Pittsburgh: 2-1-0
  3. Philadelphia: 1-1-1
  4. NY Islanders: 2-0-0

In simple terms, the Devils are about halfway.  Out of a total of 20 possible points, the Devils have 11 witha  record of 5-4-1.  As evident, the Devils need to do better against the Rangers.In both games against the Rangers, the Devils played as a whole poorly.

Although I am hesitant to say this, the Devils are playing better now than they have the entire season – mostly because of their return of good players but also because their confidence is high.  Of course the Rangers have a way of turning that around…

The key here tonight: score goals and keep Rangers from planting themselves in front of the net.

Some additional notes: Mike Rupp will be back in the lineup as P.L. Leblond has been sent down to the minors.  The reasoning is not 100% clear, it appears as if this had been planned.  And although there is no official word, expect Bryce Salvador to play after being struck in the face with the puck late in the game against the Penguins.

Holik to Return, Rupp to Sit Out

Brent Sutter has announce that Bobby Holik has recovered from his broken pinkie ( 🙄 ) and will return to the lineup for tonight’s game against the Canadians.  According to Star Ledger’s Rich Chere, he was in practice and in a blue jersey, indicating that he will be on the fourth line.

Having Holik in the lineup means that Sutter needs to choose someone to sit out, and that someone is Mike Rupp.

While no explicit reason was give, it is evident that Sutter simply chose Rupp as he was the least producing forward in the lineup.  With the exception of Rolston and P.L. Leblond, both who just returned to the roster from an injury, Rupp has the fewest points than any other forward.

If you don’t recall, Mike Rupp was the rookie who scored the game winning goal against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the game which won the Devils the Stanley Cup.  Rupp was later shuffled around Phoenix and Columbus, and their minor league affiliates, before returning to the Devils roster back in 2006-07.

Last season Rupp saw 64 games, and had three goals.  The season before, Rupp played in 76 games and scored double that number.

In Rupp’s defense, he’s a fourth liner – a line who doesn’t go out and score goals to win the game.  But Sutter has really been working towards eliminating the “fourth line,” that is, the checking line, from the Devils roster.  Instead, the Devils would be rolling four offensive lines that are a threat at all times to their opponent.  This is somewhat of a change of the Devils previous infamous style of defense at all times, and score when the other team makes a mistake.

Thought on the Devils: I have been noticing that the Devils overall, even in some of their losses, have been playing very well.  Their passes are good, their positioning on the ice is great, and they seem to be connecting better as a team on just about every level with the exception of special teams.

I’ve been informed that this means the Devils have good coaching.  Lets hope this keeps up.

Whose on Fire: Looking at the most recent leader board, Zach Parise is on top of all three major categories (goals, assists, and points).  Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, and Travis Zajac have also played very well in their positions even with the injuries the Devils have suffered.

Two categories I like to look at is +/- and Shots.  Go figure, Parise is first in those categories as well.  As expected, though, the three other players mentioned earlier also find themselves high up in the Shots category.  What’s also nice to see is that Devils defensemen are finding themselves high up in the +/- category.  In fact, only four players have a negative +/- rating, Petr Vrana, Bryce Salvador, Jay Pandolfo, and John Madden.  The first two I understand, the last two make me wonder what line they should be moved to.

With the slow return of Brian Rolston and now Bobby Holik, it will be interesting to see what they can now provide for the team as they find their niche back in the lineup.

Devils Fly Past Philly Late in Third

Not too shabby tonight.  Both teams seemed sluggish during the first period.  The Devils may have been working out some cobwebs since they haven’t seen action in 5 days, when they lost against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  It may also have something to do with choppy ice.  Normally I have a hard time blaming the ice surface for a teams performance, but both the Devils and the Flyers were struggling to make crisp passes or even keeping the puck on their stick.

The first period ended 0-0.  Both teams were playing it safe, not taking any chances with the puck bouncing all over the place.

I was upset at first because the Devils appeared to be playing sloppy.  John Oduya stuck out in my mind as making a few too many mistakes with Flyers around.

I will admit that the Flyers seemed to have a step up on the Devils.  They seemed to be intercepting passes and taking the puck hard to the net, as well as swarming the net with the Devils defenseman not able to clear them away.

Additionally, the Flyers have one of the best Power Plays in the league (3rd best in the league), and the Devils have one of the worst Penalty Kills (26th worst in the league).  While they did give the Flyers a total of 5 power play opportunities, both of the Flyers goals were scored on the power play.  Thankfully the Devils didn’t give up any Short Handed goals, as the Flyers have scored 10 of those already this year.

Zach Parise tied things up after Jamie Langebrunner found himself pushed in the Flyer net minder Marty Biron.

Scotty Upshall was credited with a goal that actually went past Scott Clemmensen off of a deflection from teammate Bryce Salvador.  That broke the tie late in the second.  With less than five minutes left, the Devils now found themselves down by one and the clock being their enemy.

To make matters worse, Brian Gionta was given a penalty for Hooking with less than four minutes remaining.  Well, it didn’t turn out all that bad.  First, the Devils killed off the penalty.  As Brian Gionta got out of the penalty box, he was able to get the puck from the Flyers, and passed the puck back to Patrik Elias who just got on to the ice from the bench.  Patrik shot the puck literally through Marty Biron to tie the game up with a minute and a half left in the game.

Okay, so the Devils have a great confidence boost with that late goal with 90 seconds left.  Now in overtime, both teams are going at it without thinking of dragging this game to a shootout.  A combined total of 5 shots made it on net in only 2 minutes at 46 seconds.  The Devils came together, with an strong effort from Colin White, Zach Parise, and Patrik Elias – Elias getting the goal – to secure the second point.  You could tell that the Devils were excited about this win  as Zach Parise jumped on top of Elias and started a pile on the ice.

Chico mentioned after the Devils scored the late goal that this was one of the most important points they have taken this season.  Players like John Madden and Brian Rolston returned to the ice after Madden’s short injury and Rolston’s much longer ankle sprain injury.  Rolston saw 11:48 of ice time, while Madden saw 16:39.  P.L. Letourneau-Leblond also came back, being brought up from his minor league stint to bring him back up to speed.  He, however, only saw 4:53 of ice time.

Bobby Holik is practicing, but has not committed to any time frame as to when he will return.  I speculate that he may get some ice time against the Pittsburgh Penguins when they come to the Prudential Center on December 10, the Devils first home game since November 21.