Letter to the New Jersey Devils

Dear New Jersey Devils,

I have to say that I don’t think there is another team who can build hopes for a promising post season as much as you can, just to let the wheels fly off and have everything come crashing down.

The playoff dysfunction that you have shown since winning the cup in 2003 has progressively gotten worse.  The past three seasons have ended prematurely.  Each season you promote competitiveness, fight, will, and discipline.  You are one of the best each year throughout the regular season.  And once the playoffs start, each cornerstone to what makes Devils hockey crumbles.

Please, everyone, stop looking at goaltender Martin Brodeur.  Tonight’s game is a testament to the problems you face.  I don’t care if Brodeur gave up one goal or a hundred goals.  The fact that you were shut out completely from making a single tally punctuates the lack of cohesiveness you have shown since the post season began.

Lou Lamoriello, you are one the best GM’s in NHL history, but I am beginning to lose faith in you.  Since the “new” NHL began after the lockout, the game has changed, and I fear you are not able to compete in this new environment.

I believe your acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk aides in explaining this issue.  He is a great player and will be the winner of a number of Stanley Cups.  But taking Ilya, which everyone viewed as the Devils move to push for an extended post season run, was a bust.  I don’t believe he meshed well with the team, and he seemed to be slightly out of sync with the rest of the Devils.  He is a threat when he holds the puck, but he never got to the point where the threat became reality.

In fact, perhaps, nabbing him from Atlanta may have only compounded problems, given the fact that we had to give up some good personnel, such as John Oduya, who were key in keeping the Devils afloat.  In fact, this point can be verified by looking at the season as two halves.  The Devils first 41 games consisted of 30 wins and 11 loses.  The second 41 games was much bleaker, with only 18 wins and 23 loses.

What I find even more interesting is the fact that the second half of the season consisted of the Devils coming back from injuries and the entire team playing as a whole for the first time since the very beginning of the season.

Lou, you said at the end of last season that you felt the team was a good fit, and that you only needed to change a few minor pieces and next year you expected to go far.  I believe that was an incorrect assessment.  The team is in fact not good as is, and needs a complete overhaul.  You will be judged next year based on their performance next year.  It is not a threat, but a fact.  The media will talk about this.

It would be one thing if the team just wasn’t there, if the team was not consistent, if the team didn’t play well – but fact is you’re competitive.  They do play well.  They can play good hockey night after night.  But the second half of the season dropped.  We managed to hang on and take the Atlantic Division title, but it’s a hollow victory when you get knocked out so quickly in the playoffs.

We are officially the first team out of the playoffs this year.  The first team not to hold up under the pressure.  The first team that showed incompetence against a team who statistically played worse than the Devils.

As a fan, I am upset, yet oddly comfortable in what I saw.  Unlike last season, where I feel the victory was stolen by the opposing team, we gave this series to the Flyers.  Last season, I was horrified when the Devils lost, and hated the Carolina Hurricanes for their win.  This year, I don’t hate the Flyers.  They came out and played strong nearly every minute of every game.  The Devils did not.  The Devils did not compete the past five games. They did not score goals – period.  They did not penetrate the Flyers end.  They didn’t block enough of the Flyers chances.

I could probably continue with the “did not’s” for quite some time.  But it should just be summed up with: They did not execute when they needed to.  Year after year the expectations are high, and the ability, capability and potential is there.  But they just don’t execute in the clutch.

For now I wish you all the best over the summer.  My gut tells me the complexion of the team will significantly change by the time we see them in the fall.  This post season has ended too soon, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t see this coming since game three.  I wish to conclude by simply saying “thank you” for the entertainment and enjoyment you have given us this season.

As always,
     ~ DevilBoy

Devils Top Buffalo, Secure Second, and Set to Play Philly

I like the shootout.  I really do.   It’s an exciting way to end a regular season hockey game to determine one measly little point which, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t really add up to much.  At the end of the shootout, you go home knowing your favorite team won or lost with an exciting finish that kept you on the edge of your seat.  Sure, it’s not the traditional tie that we were so accustomed to and after 65 minutes, a little upset that what you just witnessed didn’t really have an impact and no one was deemed better than the other.

(And now for the dislike portion) I do not find it acceptable that the shootout determined the fact that the Rangers were eliminated from Playoff contention and the Flyers were able to make their way into the playoffs.  There is a reason why the shootout doesn’t play a role in the post-season, because it’s not proper to end a true competitive match that determines championship status based on what is essentially a skills competition.  Sunday’s game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers, for all intents and purposes, was a playoff game as the winner would move on to continue playing and the loser would be done until next season.

This is your only warning NHL.  You have been put on notice that this is not acceptable.

Remember that stupid rules have been overturned very quickly after the season or post-season ends.  Remember that "Skate in the Crease" rule that negated goal after goal if a players skate happened to be in the crease before the puck was?  Oh, and remember that Stanley Cup winning goal that was scored that was technically illegally because a player had his skate in the crease before the puck entered the crease? And remember how quickly, I think it was no more than 15 seconds, after the goal was scored, the NHL repealed that rule for the upcoming season?

And now we move away from the Ranting section…

Sunday the Devils defeated the Buffalo Sabres in a very even matchup that left the teams tied at 1 after nearly 60 minutes of regulation.  Nearly.

Dear Buffalo Sabres,

It has come to my attention that your goaltender was not made aware of the likelihood he would be requested to come off of the ice in the event the score was tied when the third period is nearly over.  As we at home were made aware, a tie game would give the Devils the one point they needed to secure second place in the Eastern Conference.  Your netminder for Sunday’s game was not aware of this fact.

As a reminder, you may want to use facilities available to you, like verbal communication during stoppages in play or even when you or the opposing team calls a time out, to make sure your goaltender is kept abreast of these types of situations.

Yours truly,

~ A Happy Devils Fan

In the event you missed Sunday’s game, the Buffalo Sabres needed a win in regulation to take second spot away from the Devils.  In every other possible situation, the Devils would secure the second seed in the East and gain further home-ice advantage.

So with just under a minute left, Buffalo’s coaching staff, players, and training personnel stood waved frantically, and jumped to get their netminder’s attention to have him come off the ice for the extra man.

Patrick Lalime, Buffalo’s goalie, did eventually get to the bench, with about 3 seconds remaining and not before he knocked over the referee at his end of the ice.  By the time he reached the bench, Jamie Langenbrunner scored the game winning goal in a very unusual empty net situation.

So what now?  The Devils now are set to play the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, which by NHL standing regulations, is the Philadelphia Flyers.

Is this a good or bad thing?  Will the fact that the Devils lost to Philadelphia 5 times out of 6 affect them?  These issues are all for a different post sometime on Tuesday.

Flyers defeat Rangers, Bottom Set of Standings Complete

I normally don’t report on non-Devils games here, but here’s the standings.  The only question mark is second and third spot, which is the Devils – Buffalo game going on right now, with the Buffalo Sabres ahead 1-0.

  1. Washington Capitals
  2. ?
  3. ?
  4. Pittsburgh Penguins
  5. Ottawa Senators
  6. Boston Bruins
  7. Philadelphia Flyers
  8. Montreal Canadians

And as such, we see the following playoff matchups.

  • Washington vs Montreal
  • (Devils or Buffalo) vs Philadelphia
  • (Devils or Buffalo) vs Boston
  • Pittsburgh vs Ottawa

The Wife would like to know if it’s okay to root for Buffalo – she does not want to play Philadelphia in Round 1.  I’m on the fence myself…

We Are The (Atlantic Division) Champions

Thanks to a victory by Atlanta over the Pittsburgh Penguins, plus a thorough routing of the Islanders by a score of 7-1, the Devils have locked in first place in the Atlantic Division and another Atlantic Division title – their ninth in team history.

Depending on the outcome of tomorrow’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, the Devils will be finishing second or third in the Eastern Conference. They will drop no lower than third.  But will the Devils concern themselves with keeping one leg up over Buffalo with another game tomorrow?

I would like to point out now that the Devils only three possible opponents are Boston, Philly, or Montreal.  I’ll explain why at the end of this post.

Getting back to tonight’s matchup, there really isn’t much to report on.  The Devils completely shut the Islanders out tonight – with the exception of one goal.  The Islanders only made 19 shots on goal, where as the Devils had a total of 37.  The Islanders did try to fight their way into contentions, but failed and the Devils took two of five power play opportunities to score.  The Islanders scored their only goal on one of three opportunities.

Perhaps the best story to come out of the decisive win is the scoring that came across the board from the Devils.  Players like Patrik Elias scored twice, Travis Zajac had four assists, and Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists, Zach Parise had a goal and two assists, and three defensemen stepped up to make assists on four of the goals.

An overall strong effort by much of the Devils team, with the big names coming through to really shut down the Islanders, albeit not a extremely competitive team as their position in the standings show, is still a good accomplishment to have with only a single game left before the post-season begins.  If for nothing else, it will build confidence.

The Devils are also one step closer to the Jennings trophy, awarded to the team with the fewest goals allowed.  The Devils would need to give up seven goals to Buffalo on Sunday in order to give up that award.  That award should be noted in not only Brodeur’s award list, but also the entire Devils team.  Not only have the defensemen stepped up and played an excellent season, but coaching has once again instilled defense team wide so that even the offense comes back to lend a hand to the defense during the course of the game.  This eases some pressure and even causes turnovers which lead to offensive rushes.

On a final note, some playoff matchups have been decided in the East (finally).  Pittsburgh will be playing against Ottawa.  And that’s about it… I thought there was more.

If the Flyers win tomorrow, they will be playing against the second place team, Devils or Buffalo depending on tomorrow’s outcome, and Montreal will see their first round matchup against the Washington Capitals.  The loser of tomorrow’s game (again, Devils or Buffalo) will then be playing up against the Boston Bruins.

Now if the Rangers win, things shuffle a little more.  The Rangers would then play the Washington Capitals, Montreal would play the second place team, and Boston, like the previous scenario, would be playing the third place team.

So the only two games that will make changes in the lineup are the Devils – Buffalo game and the Rangers – Flyers.  It should be a very interesting day on Sunday.

Standings Shuffle Continue

The only thing certain right now is that the Capitals, Devils, Sabres and Penguins will be playing either the Bruins, Senators, Canadians, Flyers or the Rangers.  So last night did not determine anything except that the Rangers are still in it and the Flyers may not be for much longer.

There are two days left in the season, today and tomorrow, and we still have no clue who we’re playing against.

Both the Devils and Penguins have two games left to play, and they are tied at 99 points a piece.  If they end tied, the Devils do hold the tiebreaker advantages and will be seated second or third, depending on the outcome of the Buffalo Sabres last two games – who currently sit third.

The only position that is certain, the only team that has a spot locked, is the Ottawa Senators.  They are stuck in fifth, with no chance of moving up or down in the standings regardless of what they or any other team does.

That leaves Boston, Montreal, Philly, and the Rangers left to duke it out for the remaining three spots.  It’s hockey’s version of musical chairs.  Each team has one game left with the exception of Boston, which has two.

There are a few conditions that must be met at this point in order for the Rangers to get in, but they might just do it.

  • If they win on Sunday against the Flyers, whether in regulation or in overtime, their in.  They will end with 88 points and Philly will have 87.
  • If they lose in overtime and Boston loses both of their game, their in.  At that point Boston and the Rangers would be tied at 87 points, and the Rangers hold the tiebreaker advantages to be placed ahead of them.

There’s probably a few more scenarios that will make the Rangers get in, but it involves farm animals and it actually raining inside MSG, so chances are they won’t happen.

So what does this all mean? It means we have no idea who we’re going to be playing next Wednesday when the playoffs start.

Devils Fail to get 2 Points; Mottau: "It’s really unacceptable"

Two important notes come out of tonight’s 3-2 loss against the Florida Panthers:

First, Martin Brodeur gave up two goals he should have stopped – one that went off of his skate, the post, then in, and one that was ripped past his right side.

Second, former Devil Scott Clemmensen is a great goalie and made 42 saves tonight to give the Panthers the win.

I can only blame the defense on the final goal the Panthers scored, because they should have cleared out the Panther in front who got the puck and ripped it in to the net.  Other than that, I liked how the Defense stepped up several times to create or keep play alive in the Florida end.

The offense really kept up as well.  44 shots on goal indicate an offense that is making every attempt possible and finding open lanes to get pucks on net.  The chances, in most cases, were quality chances.  But Clemmensen kept the Panthers in the game make the, in some cases, great stops.

Near the final seconds of the third period, Jamie Langenbrunner had Clemmensen screened very well, and a shot from the point was gloved by the Panther netminder.  Jamie, as he had several times earlier in the game, had a complete look of disbelief.

Mike Mottau was clearly frustrated in the locker room after the game, and was quoted saying "It’s really unacceptable."  Mike was referring to the Devils not being able to close on the these lower place teams and not being able to win when the points really matter, which at this point will determine home-ice advantage after round 1 of the post-season and an Atlantic Divison title.

Jamie Langenbrunner stated "I don’t think we should get too disappointed; I think we did a lot of good things."  That statement is very accurate.  The Devils did play very well, and you don’t want to over-analyze with the final two games and the post-season quickly approaching.

Devils Blank Thrashers, Brodeur Takes Win 600

We all knew a 600th win was in Brodeur’s future, although some may not have believed that it would come this season.  It did, in the form of his 110th shutout Tuesday night against the Atlanta Thrashers.

In my ongoing series of praising the Devils when they win, the Devils played hard and deserved this win for their efforts.  While I may think that this win cannot be held too high because of the position this team is in, the Thrashers played a very tough and very determined game since the two points they did not receive now place them out of a playoff spot permanently for this season.

Atlanta did not make this win look easy.  The entire team worked hard at limiting the Thrasher’s chances, and Brodeur was able to stop the one’s that got through.  That key in itself is what makes this win so important.  A collective team effort put into making this win.

In addition, the Devils have seven goals scored in the past two games.  Not a bad figure, especially for a team that has had some difficulty in finding the back of the net.  While the teams are not the best to be gloating over, this can at the very least build confidence, something else that the Devils forwards can certainly use.

While the West knows who is in the playoffs, the East still has three open spots at the bottom.  The win gives the Devils a little more breathing room between them and Pittsburgh for second spot in the East, but only two points and both teams have three games to play.

The bottom teams in contention are the Canadiens, the Flyers, the Bruins and the Rangers, with 87, 86, 85 and 84 points respectively.  Every team mentioned has two games left to play, with the exception of Boston who will play their third to last game tomorrow.

The Devils are also playing their third to last game tomorrow (Thursday) against the Florida Panthers.  The Panthers sit comfortably out of playoff position with a 13th place spot in the standings.

Devils Prep for Atlanta, Media Preps for Langengate

Alright folks, lets just chill for a moment.  Everyone seems to be getting bent out of shape on the whole Lanegnbrunner scratch topic.  Is he hurt? Was he benched? Did he break a nail??

Ahhhhhhhh!

First, Lou Lamoriello has had a gag-order on all players included in their contracts.  No big surprise here, guys: he’s not speaking to the media about it.  So what else is new?

Second, Langenbrunner might be a little ticked that he was scratched so he could rest.  Maybe he thought he didn’t need rest?  Typically players thrive on playing, and when they’re taken out of the lineup, even with good intentions, they get a little frustrated.

Third, maybe coach Jacques really just wanted to rest him because he thought his play would benefit the rest coming down the final stretch and he saw the team could perform well without him in the lineup one night.  No offense, but should a team be deep enough to sustain his absence a single night?

Okay, ranting over.

***

As we inch closer to the off-season (not saying it’s coming too soon, but hey, if recent history is any indication…), swirls of Kovalchuk’s contract status seems to be popping up in the news as well.

An interesting prospect.  To be honest, I don’t feel the Devils have seen his best.  I think his style – you know, good offensive play – didn’t exactly mesh with the Devils style –  not so good offensive play.

No disrespect to Zach Parise and the gang, but the Devils aren’t exactly known for scoring goals.  They currently sit 25th in the league in “Goals For.”

In any event, I would like to see his performance in the playoffs and see how much he adds to the Devils there.  I can certainly see him being an asset, and he can see the Devils are consistently good year after year with a competitive team that enters the playoffs at the top of their division every season – a reason why he wouldn’t take a long term deal with Atlanta.

Brodeur, Devils Shut Out ‘Canes

I can’t post when the Devils have a rough stretch and then not post when they win a good game.

Now I am going to split this post in to two halves.  The first, why they should be happy, and the second, why we should celebrate so quickly.

First, tonight’s game addressed every issue I have been talking about – Their offense made strides in scoring more and making more chances.  They were getting pucks on net, not blocked, and they were getting passes close in front of Carolina’s net making an open net.

Their defense kept Carolina outside of the slot, kept their chances to a minimum, kept the lanes open for Brodeur to see what was coming, and supported Brodeur in keeping Carolina from getting at too many rebounds.

Lastly, Brodeur was on the top of his game tonight recording his 599th career win, his 109th career shutout, and his 8th shutout this season.  He was on top of his crease cutting down angles, he was sliding well and made sure he covered the puck.  One thing I like the most about his game tonight was that he kept the puck in play, keeping the action moving and helping the Devils get additional chances, instead of slowing things down by stopping play and forcing another faceoff.

Lastly, their Power Play scored a goal.  I’m not going to calculate what their average is in the past 9 games or so, but it’s pretty bad – for the entire season – and it’s nice to see it click every now and again.  One thing is for certain, if they get deep in the playoffs, they will need to have a contingency plan because they cannot rely on their Power Play to be the game changer.

As for the negatives (and I promise I won’t concentrate on these), first, we beat Carolina – who will most likely not see playoff action this season.  Second, the Devils record marginally improves to 3-2-4 in their last nine games.  That is, they have won one third of their last nine games.  Not a great winning percentage.  Their big name guys need to continue to score.  They are neck and neck with Pittsburgh for the second spot in the Eastern Conference, and one bad game could mean then end of home ice advantage past the first round.

So all of that aside, The Devils have four games left in the season, two away and two home.  You have the Atlanta Thrasher first, who’s fighting tooth and nail to get into a playoff spot.  They are one point out of 8th spot, and currently sit in 10th.  Next is the Florida Panthers, who find themselves third to last in the East – while not mathematically eliminated – will most likely be enjoying some time outside of the skates after next week.

After that, the final two games will be at home, first against the NY Islanders –who are in a similar spot as the Florida Panthers, and the final game will be against the Buffalo Sabres, which depending how Buffalo does in the rest of their matchups, could determine who sits second, third, or fourth in the standings.

So there you have it folks.  Four games left before the playoffs begin, and the standings shuffle is still hot.  I hope to keep the posting up throughout next week as we get closer to the playoffs and continue to report on the Devils highs and lows.

Good night, and happy Easter.

Struggles Continue against Chicago

First, I’d like to thank Mike Mottau for proving my point in the previous post and getting the game tying goal for the Chicago Blackhawks. No no, he still plays for the Devils, but in the final  seconds of the third period, with the Devils up 1-0 (because we can’t score more than one goal a game – that’s not allowed anymore), Mike used his skate to angle the puck in past Martin Brodeur.  If it hadn’t been for that, the puck would have hit Brodeur’s right pad on the ice, and the Devils would have won.

Instead, this game got us past the overtime period and into the shootout.  Did I mention we’ve been sucking at that too lately?

Tomorrow they’ll be heading out to Carolina to see the Hurricanes for the fourth and final time this season and – barring a miracle – this year until next fall.  The Devils have won each of the previous three matchups.

In the past eight games, the Devils have won twice, lost twice in regulation, and lost four times after regulation.  Not exactly a strong finish before the playoffs begin.  With five games left, we can only hope they step it up now or very soon with the playoffs only a week and a half away.