Running Out Of Gas

Where to start…

I guess to get it out of the way, I have to give credit and congratulations to the Hurricanes.  As much as I am upset but what I just saw, I don’t even know if I can describe it.  The only way I can think of is to point out that the Devils ran out of gas.  At the end of the game, they couldn’t close it out in the last few minutes.

This happened once before in the series, the Devils couldn’t close out the end of the third and it cost them that game as well – Carolina getting the game winning goal with only 0.2 second left.

 

The Devils were down early in the first period but came back to get the lead.  Players like Jamie Langenbrunner, Jay Pandolfo, and Brian Gionta were really on there game.  The Devils kept the 3-2 lead for most of the latter stages until Carolina scored with only 1:20 left in the third period.

The with nearly 30 seconds left, Carolina scores again to break the 3-3 tie and take the win.  The cause was just a Devils team with nothing left in the tank.  This was a big issue for the Devils in previous seasons, not being able to play a complete 60 minutes.  But this season you didn’t see too much of that.  The past few games against Carolina, however, exposed that same weakness that I thought was eliminated from their game.

 

During the course of the season, the Devils played against adversity and injuries, and came out victorious.  The when the star players returned to the lineup, the Devils became an even more powerful team.

At this time, the season became just another season to a special one – some former Devils were back in the lineup and it looked like an old spark returned to the team.

That spark made me a believer.  Every year you hope for the best, and convince yourself that this year is going to be the year your team wins the Stanley Cup.  I have in the previous seasons and wasn’t all that surprised when the Devils were knocked out in the first or second round.

I don’t believe that makes me any less of a fan, just more of a realist than anything else.

This season, however, I didn’t need to do that.  I really thought their roster would bring them far into the playoffs.  I was truthfully expecting an Eastern Conference Champions banner handing in the rafters for the 2009-10 season.

 

A lot of news will be occurring during the off-season.  First, there are a plethora of free agents that the Devils will need to comb through and make some tough decisions.  There is the phasing out of Lou Lamoriello from what only appears to be arena business operations.  And there will need to be some restructuring of the roster.

The offense the Devils had this season was good.  Not much, if any, tweaking is needed in that aspect.  But two areas do need to improve: the first is defense.  The Devils tout no-name defensive lines, but in the end they could not withstand the pressure of the playoffs.  They need change back behind the blue line.  The second is Martin Brodeur.  This will be a deep conversation for another time, but when Brent Sutter was asked about Brodeur’ play, Sutter said very dryly "Marty was great."  You got the distinct impression that Sutter wasn’t happy about his play, but had no ability to do anything about it.

Again, I will be more than happy to dive into this topic much deeper at a later time, but the Devils are going to need to have a long hard discussion with Brodeur’s role in the lineup.

 

I’d like to thank all the fans and visitors to njdevils.info, attheredline.com, and njdevilsnews.com.  Your patronage throughout the season makes what I do here fun and worthwhile.  I appreciate your continued support and I look forward to seeing everyone back here next season, my 12th season in operation.

For now, I wish every Devils fan and visitor a happy and enjoyable summer.  We’ll continue to post updates periodically throughout the off-season, but infrequently.  I suggest you visit the NJ Devils News Center as this will continue to be updates frequently as news occurs in the Devils world.

Thank you again, and good bye for now.

Devils, Game 7, Pray

It’s a little unfortunate.  We are in Round 1 and fighting to survive yet again.  But something feels different.  It’s… optimism?  Hope?  Change?

No wait, that’s politics.

 

So what’s different here?  Why do I have this funny feeling – almost giddy – about a round 1 game 7?

It’s because the Devils have a chance to not only get past round 1, they have from what I’ve seen all season long a great team.  They were unstoppable at one point, at an extreme high.  But like most highs, the fall is great.

They seemed to drop off just weeks before the season ended and fear struck every Devils fan in the state.

 

But here’s the funny thing about sports: the Devils could win tonight and regain that high – that feeling of invincibility – and push through the playoffs in spectacular fashion.

 

And so I sit here in front of my laptop with this positive feeling in my gut that the Devils are going to push past the ‘Canes and enter Round 2.

If you happen to be going to the game, heed the advice from a fellow Devils blogger and be loud, be supportive, and most of all, bring everything you have and give it your all.  I’ll will be screaming in front of my TV and cheering with you, just many miles away.

 

As for the Devils, lets go guys.  Brent Sutter said you played like there is a tomorrow in Game 6.  Well now there isn’t one.  You need to get pumped up and give it your all.  Play hard, physical, smart, and attentive hockey.  Give it your all.  Because Carolina is going to be doing the same thing and they won’t sit back and watch you bring it to them.  You can bet they will be pushing just as hard and you can’t let that get to you.

 

Pray – that this is not the last time I get to say this this season…

Lets Go Devils!!

Lou to Drop Business Operations

The move may not be voluntary, but Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek has enlisted an executive search firm to look for a replacement to Lou Lamoriello for the Devils business operations.

Lou, who neglected to comment on the decision on the initial reports, would still remain a prominent figure with the New Jersey Devils, handling all team related operations and represent the team in NHL committees, like the Board of Governors and the NHL Executive Committee.

The move is actually a positive step for the New Jersey Devils.  Nearly all NHL teams have two executives, one that handles all of the hockey aspects and one that handles the business aspects.  Lou Lamoriello, the Devils executive with 1,000 titles, has so many responsibilities that getting to pull one of those hats off of his head can only help him and the team.  Now he had more time to devote to the New Jersey Devils.

No one can deny Lou is one of the most notable General Managers in the NHL and in sports as a whole.  With this shift, he will now be able to spend more time managing the Devils team and all of the hockey aspects, and not worrying about arena management, handling public relations, and being in charge of marketing.

Most Devils fans will tell you that Devils marketing hasn’t been the best in their recent history.  Just recently things have turned around with a positive spin, with their new slogan "Jersey’s Team" and more in-arena entertainment.

Owner Jeff Vanderbeek is hoping that a separate executive for business operations will allow the Devils to become a more profitable organization as well, utilizing their assets, including the Prudential Center, better.

‘Canes Stage Off Elimination; Devils Opt Not To Play

In the event you couldn’t tell by the title, I’m not happy.

I’ll start with Eric Staal.  He’s good.  We know he’s good. They know he’s good.  Keep a leash on this guy.  The Devils in previous games were able to keep him contained and tonight it’s like they forgot what he is capable of.  "Staal?  Whose that?"

Next, I heard someone touting the Devils no-name defense prior to the game.  Tonight, in addition to having no name, they also forgot what the term "defense" means.  It means you stop the other team from getting opportunities to score.  I have nothing against Martin Brodeur tonight.  He had no support in front of him, and the goose-egg on the Devils side of the scoreboard proved that.  Oh, and the 15 – 4 shot difference in the first period also shows that.

And lest we not forget the Devils forwards.  Again, the announcers made the comment that the bounces were not going the Devils way.  The reason: they weren’t skating to where the puck was bouncing!

During the post-game press conference, Brent Sutter made the following statement: "One team was playing like there was no tomorrow, and the other team was playing like there was."  That by far sums up the play of tonight’s game.  Collectively the team dropped the ball tonight.  There wasn’t one aspect that was good about tonight.

 

The good: a little past the halfway point in the third period, the Devils decided this wasn’t there night and decided to fight for the sake of fighting – they wouldn’t go down not swinging.  That’s what they needed to do.  Why the officials decided parties involved needed game misconducts is beyond me.  I didn’t think the officiating was very good – I saw a lot of one sided calls, but this game was not lost by the men in stripes – it was lost by the team in the white jerseys.

 

Here’s what the Devils need to work on for Game 7:

Forecheck – This could just as easily be listed as offense, but this was what really prevented anything from starting.  They would dump the puck in but just not in smart spots.

Defense – The Devils need to play with some.  There was none tonight, and it really showed in the first half of the game.

Physical Play – Carolina just ran over every Devil with the puck – it was almost embarrassing to watch.  A couple of guys tried to step up their game, like John Madden, David Clarkson, and Mike Rupp, but the latter two were thrown out of the game halfway through the third and Madden was given a cross checking penalty.  But this needs to be a team effort.

Power Plays – Any advantage the Devils get need to be taken.  This cannot be taken lightly; the Devils must get good scoring chances, must take the opportunities and make Carolina pay for their mistakes.

Fire – There was no passion, and no heart in tonight’s game.  They were sluggish, unambitious, and uninspired.  They didn’t have any spark tonight, and it showed.

 

Game 7 is on Tuesday, back at the Rock, at 7:30 pm on MSG+.  Home ice has been kind to the Devils, and the Hurricane Shelter has been just the opposite.  The Devils have a tendency to bounce back from games like these – lets pray they do for Tuesday.

In the News: Langenbrunner In, Salvador Out

Although no official word came in on Jamie Langenbrunner’s return to the lineup, by the end of practice today Jamie was with his old line mates Zach Parise and Travis Zajac.  Coach Brent Sutter made no claim that he was certainly going to play and that the decision would be made tomorrow, but even he admitted that Jamie looked good out on the ice.

You can read more about this story in Tom Gulitti’s blog.

"I thought he looked good out there," Sutter said. "We’ll see how he responds and make a decision at game-time tomorrow whether it happens or not."

 

Bryce Salvador is, however, a definite no for Sunday’s Game 6.  Salvador left mid-skate during practice today, and Sutter confirmed that he would not be playing, but would continue to skate in practices.  Bryce is very happy, though, for being able to skate just two days after suffering his injury.

Colin Stephenson for the Star Ledger covered the practice.

…he said he did not wear a knee brace when he skated Friday or Saturday, and did not know whether he will have to wear one whenever he returns to the lineup. Then he caught himself.

"Well, I don’t even know if it’s a knee,” he said, causing raucous laughter.

 

The time of Sunday’s game has been officially set as a 7:30 pm start time.  The afternoon game on NBC has gone to the Rangers/Capitals game 6, as anticipated.  Steve Cangialosi will be handling the Play-by-Play for the local broadcast on MSG+, as "Doc" will be taking the NBC broadcast.

Battle of the Goalies

By looking at the score after Game 5 ended, you would think this was a tough, close, defensive style game.  You would have two out of three correct.  The proof: Martin Brodeur had a playoff career high of 44 saves tonight, with a total of 44 shots on net.  Brodeur tied Patrick Roy for the NHL record of career shutouts in the playoffs.

The offense wasn’t one sided either, with the Devils making 42 shots, and one of those going in behind Carolina’s Cam Ward.

 

The game started out with a crash – David Clarkson literally bowling over Cam Ward.  It was an obvious Goalie Interference penalty that Clarkson took without too much objection.  But that play set the tone, even though both coaches denied it in their post-game press conferences.  Essentially, it was the Devils telling Carolina, "Don’t even think of trying anything near Brodeur tonight."

There was also a moment in the first in which Devils fans collectively held their breath as Chad LaRose went crashing in to Brodeur and tumbled over.  Brodeur staying on the ice bent over, didn’t realize play was continuing and after a few moments was severely out of position.  He made one of his most interesting plays ever seen, literally jumping across the goal mouth to prevent a shot from going in – but thankfully the shot was wide anyway.

Brodeur spent the next fe moments flexing his leg – he had been cut on the back of the leg but was determined not to let it get the best of him – and he didn’t making a total of 16 saves in the period.

 

The fight to win was evident in both teams, especially sine after a series is tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has won 25 of the last 27 series.  But the Devils were trying to do it without Captain Jamie Langenbrunner and Defenseman Bryce Salvador.  Langenbrunner has been out with a "lower body" injury that many suspect was a pulled groin muscle, and Salvador had his knee hurt when a Carolina player came crashing down on his leg.  Langenbrunner was thought to be returning for Game 5 but has yet to skate in practice, and Salvador is day-to-day.

The missing personnel let Brian Rolston come up to the top line to work with Parise and Zajac, which appeared to work well, although they were unable to convert offensively.  Andrew Greene came back from being a healthy scratch to fill in for Salvador, and was able to get the primary assist in the only goal scored.

"He’s a very poised, controlled young man." Sutter said of Andrew Greene.  "We wouldn’t miss a beat tonight back there."  Sutter was dead on, as the Devils shut out the Hurricanes.  On the shutout, Brodeur was happy about tying the record.

"Shutouts will happen when you play so many games in the playoffs. It’s nice to accomplish. The atmosphere was unbelievable."

 

Despite the obvious that both goalies played well, only Brodeur wound up being a star of the game.  He received the first star, with David Clarkson taking second and new-to-the-playoffs Andrew Greene getting third.

Remember The Fallen: Weekes, Langenbrunner, and Salvador

We’ll start with the first casualty of the post-season, Kevin Weekes.  Tom Gulitti reports in the Fire & Ice blog that Kevin Weekes is out indefinitely.  Although no official word has come of when Kevin will return to the bench, he travelled up to Toronto to take part in "cutting edge" rehabilitation which will "accelerate [his] recovery by 70 percent."

"I just told Lou that, ‘If I want to have any chance of being back any time soon, if there is anybody that is going to accelerate that healing curve, it’s going to be Dr. Galea,’" Weekes said in an interview in In Goal Magazine.

 

Next we have the captain Jamie Langenbrunner.  As I mentioned earlier in the week, the odds of Jamie playing on Thursday were very slim, based on the way Langenbrunner injured himself and skated off of the ice.  This was not a simple snap and heal, but a pull of some kind that will need time to rest.  Not something you typically get in the playoffs.

Colin Stephenson over at the Star Ledger confirmed the thoughts I had when Wednesday he posted that he passed Jamie in the corridor outside the main locker room.

I asked him if he would be attending the media availability session that was scheduled for about a half-hour later and he said, "You won’t see me!”

So I asked if I would see him tomorrow, for Game 5.

"Probably not,” he said.

Brent Sutter seemed to feel the need not to spread the good news to the media, stating "Who knows?  I don’t know what to say, because I’m not sure myself.”

 

Lastly, lest we forget our fallen fellow from Game 4… you remember game 4 – the one with the goal that was scored with only 0.2 seconds left of the clock?  Bryce Salvador went down in front of the net when Carolina Chad Larose landed on Bryce’s leg.  The incident occured in the last minutes of the second period, forcing 5 defensemen to play the remainder of the game.

Despite his optimism, Salvador appears to also be a scratch for tomorrow.  Like Langenbrunner, coach Sutter would not clue in whether or not Salvador is a definite no.  But Andrew Greene is preparing and has been practicing with the team.  Sutter did admit Greene is ready to fill the spot.

"I thought our five defensemen played extremely well. I thought the five of them handled it very well. And Greenie will come in and we won’t miss a beat."

Game 4: Unfortunate…

I saw only bits and pieces of this game; I had work tonight covering the School Elections here in New Jersey (I hope everyone went out and voted!).  But the parts I saw were the first period and the end of the third.

All parts in which the Devils were scored against.  Maybe I shouldn’t have turned on the TV.

In any event, the Devils certainly did not play well in the first, but the late goal in the second period by Brian Gionta gets the Devils motivated and moving.

Then goals by Brendan Shanahan and David Clarkson got the Devils and ‘Canes tied up at 3.

The parts of the third period I saw left the impression that the Devils were significantly outplaying Carolina.  But near the end the tables were wobbling and both teams were making good chances, but you could tell things were about to unwind quickly.

Sure enough, it happened when Carolina had the puck deep in the Devils zone.

The ‘Canes scored with 0.2 seconds left in the third period.  The puck went in to Martin Brodeur’s left side and slid just past him.

There is a bit of controversy surrounding the goal, not because they weren’t sure if the puck crossed the line before the buzzer, but because Brodeur was "bumped" by Jokinen.  Brodeur was livid after the goal became official and swung his stick into the boards.  He was in rare form about this play, as he believes the interference was what knocked him off-balance and prevented him from being able to stop the puck.

 

Okay, now I love the Devils, I love Brodeur, but I need to dissent from the public opinion that this should have been called back.  At no time would you normally see interference called on this type of play.  Broduer did not fall down because of the hit, he was not knocked out of position in the complete opposite direction from where the puck was traveling, and Brodeur skated out as much as Jokinen skated across, meaning both players collided and it was incidental contact.

Incidental contact, as the rule reads, is permitted as long as the player made an effort or was not provided and method of avoiding the such contact.  The ruling is made by the closest referee cannot be reviewed by video tape.  The referee does have the option of waving off the goal without calling a goalie interference penalty; the official at the net did not believe that was warranted.

Moreover, the replay shows that Jokinen was almost completely screening Brodeur when the shot was taken, meaning Brodeur had little or no view of the shot which is, in my sole opinion, the reason he was unable to stop the shot.

 

With all that said, it’s the Devils defensemen’s responsibility to clear out players from in front of the net – they didn’t.  It was the Devils responsibility to clear the puck out of the zone, they didn’t.  And the Devils did not play well the entire game – they fought extremely hard in the third and played very well, but you are not guaranteed to pull out a win with only a 20 minute effort.  To elaborate on the point, the stats clearly show that in the first two period, the Devils gave up a combined 37 shots on goal and only took 17.  It’s clear they were being outplayed.  Ken Daneyko also pointed out after the game that "they didn’t play to that last second; you gotta play ’til the whistle."

Brent Sutter admitted that during his post-game press conference, stating "[Carolina] dictated the play."  He continued with, "it is what it is," and you can’t argue with that logic.  Even Martin Brodeur in his interview after the game made that statement.  Martin Brodeur, however, was much more vocal on his displeasure of the officials interpretation of the rules. 

 

Last note on my soap box – this is not necessarily a bad thing.  Sure, the 3-1 series lead would be nice to have.  But the Devils are livid right now.  The team as a whole is angry.  And playing angry isn’t a bad thing – it got Carolina the win tonight.

Here’s what you need to be careful about, though: don’t take bad penalties.  They took four penalties in the first two periods and it affected their ability to mount an offensive early on.

The Devils need to come back home to the rock with passion for taking the series lead once again.  Game 5 will take place Thursday at 7:30 pm in Newark.  The Devils will need to come out guns firing and just take Carolina to task for a complete 60 minutes.

Devils Zajac Gets OT Win

In Overtime, the Devils had continued a horrible tradition of losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in 4 OT attempts.  That tradition continued on Friday night as the Devils lost to Carolina 2-1 in overtime, making the streak 5 OT losses in a row against the ‘Canes.

Tonight, the Devils changed that.

With team captain Jamie Langenbrunner out of the lineup, Brian Rolston stepped up to the Z Z Pops line, and the combination worked.  The Overtime goal played out like this:

  • Colin White want to pass the puck across the defensive zone to Mike Mottau, but misses the puck.  The team gasps as a forward of Carolina is on the forecheck and is dangerously close to stealing the puck.
  • The ‘Canes out of position allows White to quickly recover and get the puck down the ice along the boards instead.
  • Zach Parise receives the puck and drags it across the ice in the Carolina zone to the opposite side.
  • Zach Parise shoots the puck, it hits a Carolina defenseman and drops to the ice.  Travis Zajac picks up the dropped puck, and shoots, hitting Cam Ward who has gone down to make the save.
  • The rebound is left in front of the net, where Brian Rolston swings and misses.
  • Zajac is still in position, grabs the missed puck and this time puts it in to the top corner past Ward who has yet to get back to his feet.

This, of course, happened in the span of about 6 seconds.  It was a fast play, it could have had 87 different outcomes, but this one was the best scenario and it got the Devils the series lead back, now at 2-1.

 

Good points about the game:

Eric Staal was unarmed during the course of the game.  He is by far the most dangerous man in front of the Devils net, and could muster only a penalty for slashing against the Devils.

Forechecking was key in pushing the Hurricanes in to their zone and keeping offensive pressure to get better scoring chances and wear down Carolina’s defensemen.  Late in the first period, Brian Gionta all alone intercepted a pass in Carolina’s zone and scored a goal  with only 9 seconds left.

Coach Brent Sutter kept the lines the same as when the game started, which helped to keep the game flowing and limited confusion of line changes, passes, and positioning.

Penalty killing helped the Devils and kept Carolina discouraged and off the board with unnecessary goals.  However, at the immediate conclusion of a penalty to Paul Martin, Carolina’s Chad LaRose scored to tie up the game.

 

Some improvements that would be nice:

Power play goals.  The Devils had a total of 4 power plays and were unable to score on any of them, although not for lack of trying.  Halfway through the first, the Devils got a 4 minute power play and were unable to score, but spent a lot of time making good scoring opportunities.  The missed some great chances by shooting wide.

Carolina had 5 power play chances to score as well.  As mentioned earlier, they capitalized as one had immediately expired, so it was not counted, but the player exiting the penalty box barely got both skates on the ice when the goal was scored.  The Devils need to play much more disciplined and stop giving Carolina the number of scoring chances they had.

 

As a whole, the game went well for the Devils.  The teams appear to evenly matched despite their placement in the standings.  The Devils may have the lead now but they must continue to play strong if they have any hope of taking this series and keep it from dragging on too long.  Game 4 will also take place at the Shelter, with the same 7:30 pm start time on Tuesday, April 21.

Devils Set Sights On Breaking Series Tie

Now more than ever, with the absence of Jamie Langenbrunner, the Devils will need to play a focused and complete game.  Although Brian Rolston appears to be the go to guy to fill in his spot, Brent Sutter hasn’t committed him to the line just yet.  Bobby Holik will be filling the hole left in the roster.

The Devils will have a lot to think about during this game tonight at 7:30.  Below are some important points to keep in mind.

First, the Devils need to capitalize on their power play.  Yes, the Devils did score a power play goal, but it was out of 6 chances.  In game 1, although the Devils were unable to score on the power play, a couple of their goals came immediately following the end of a Carolina penalty kill.

Second, the Devils must have a dedicated man on Eric Staal.  His presence in front of the Devils net scored both goals for Carolina in game 2 and expect Staal to continue this placement for game 3.  They need to find ways to keep him clear of Martin Brodeur’s crease and to keep the pucks from finding him.

Third, the Devils need to keep consistent with their lines.  Brent Sutter likes to mix things up during the game when things aren’t going his way.  Without home ice, he must put out the first line for a faceoff, and this could give Carolina an advantage.  He should pick a combination that is producing and play that for 60 minutes.

Last, the Devils must play disciplined.  They did a good job of this earlier, only getting two and four in games 1 and 2, respectively.  But in game 2, one of those penalties did lead to a Carolina power play goal.  They must continue to play disciplined without taking bad penalties or else they will be on their heels quickly.

 

As mentioned earlier, Sutter hasn’t committed Brian Rolston to the Z Z Pops line to replace Jamie Langenbrunner.  Although the threesome skated together in practice, Sutter told Tom Gulitti

"I’m not sure what we’re going to do yet.  We know, but I’m not saying. You’ll find out, I guess. I just think it’s a situation where we could try different scenarios with a lot of different line combinations."

Zach Parise agrees Rolston would be a better choice, stating "We need an older guy in the lineup with us."  He was joking – sort of.

 

With Bobby Holik in the lineup, Sutter is concerned about his ability to take penalties.  In another Tom Gulitti interview with Brent Sutter

"I hope he’s fired up, but I want him fired up in the right way. We need discipline. I don’t want any bad penalties. So, I think Bobby will be ready to play."

To be fair to Bobby Holik, he averaged one penalty minute per game.  Bryce Salvador was just as bad, while Mike Rupp and David Clarkson neared an average of two penalty minutes per game.