Devils Take Afternoon Off Against Isles

It doesn’t take much to go from turning the team around to playing just as bad a few weeks ago.

This afternoon the Devils took on the New York Islanders at the Nassau Colosseum. There really isn’t much to say about the first two periods. The key to winning this afternoon was to keep the pressure in the opposing team’s end. The Devils didn’t do that today and subsequently gave up two unanswered goals in the first two periods.

They would eventually lose by that same deficit after they put up a fight for the third period. But you can easily argue that by only playing hard for a third of the game means they didn’t deserve the two points.

So where do the Devils go from here? Well again, one loss does not a season undo. Just like two consecutive wins does not turn the season around. What we are looking at is a longer reevaluation of a team which had one of it’s worst starts in team history (I will forgo the use of “franchise history” because I’d like to ink they they are still playing a little better than their former selves as the Kansas City Scouts or the Colorado Rockies). You cannot say the Devils have turned their season around until you evaluate their performance over a period of two weeks. Just like we held off saying the Devils were having a horrible season until after a month of sub-par performance.

What does all this mean? Just because the Devils dropped to the worst team in the NHL doesn’t change anything more than the Devils beating the best team in the NHL.

Perhaps tomorrow when the Devils take on the Philadelphia Flyers tomorrow back at the Rock at 1:00 pm.

Devils Shut Out… The Capitals??

If you told me before the game that the Devils were going to win, I might be a little skeptical but, heck, anything is possible. After all I know I’ve seen some Devils games when the Devils were sitting high up in the standings and managed to drop one or two against some lowly teams.

Granted, tonight we’re talking about the best team in the NHL losing a game against the team tied for last place in the league. Yes, its far fetched, but no it’s not impossible.

Now if you told me the Devils would score five goals, I’d say I’ll believe it when I see it. And if you told me they were going to shut out Ovechkin and the Capitals, I’d might consider taking you up on a bet.

Like a good fan, I continued to watch these games, as painful as they may be. The Devils have a number of issues that need to be resolved, including scoring, special teams, defending, forechecking, and their transition game. This list, of course, doesn’t include things like injuries or coaching, because those aren’t issues the player can work on. But all of the aforementioned issues combined do culminate in a struggling team that has had significant trouble in conjuring up wins.

What occurred tonight was overcoming these issues. For a brief 60 minutes, the Devils came together to do everything right. We’ll ignore the fact that the Capitals didn’t appear to be 100% in sync. But fact of the matter is Devils got goal scoring from a number of players, transitioning they moved the puck well, the forechecking kept the play alive, and defending they kept the Capitals chances to a minimum.

My theory: Pat Burns was with them. For tonight until December 2nd, the Devils will wear a small black patch on their sweater with a white "PB" sewn in. Pat Burns, the coach of the Devils when they won their third Stanley Cup, lost his third battle with Cancer last Friday. He was, in my opinion, the Devils best coach that I can remember since 1996, and made the Devils fight for their victories up until the final buzzer. Something the Devils have had trouble with for a few years.

Theories aside, emotion, luck, and confidence was with them throughout the entire game. Two pretty impressive goals from veteran Jason Arnott, a penalty shot goal from rookie Mattias Tedenby, Dainius Zubrus and a deflection off the pants by Patrik Elias gave the Devils what they needed to grab a hold of this game. And when Washington was able to get a few shots on net, Marty Brodeur’s replacement Johan Hedberg (whose nickname is "Moose" for those of you curious what fans were saying when he made a great save – they weren’t booing him!), helped to make the combination needed for a strong victory.

One final point that needs to be aired out – is this the turning point? Could this be what the Devils needed to get themselves out of their current funk? It is way to early to tell. I’m not going to lie, I’ve seen quite a bit of "good" going on for the Devils with the exception of goals or victories. Take a step back and look at the last four games. They had five goals tonight, and in the three games prior to tonight, they had only three goals. If you’re going to talk about the turnaround of the Devils this season, remember tonight because this may have been it. We’ll known more in the coming weeks.

In Memory of Pat Burns

The hockey world on Friday learned that Pat Burns, the coach of the New Jersey Devils when they won their third Stanley Cup in 2003, passed away.  Pat Burns had been battling cancer for quite some time including colon cancer in 2004 and liver cancer in 2005.  In his final year coaching with the Devils, he admitted to receiving news that the cancer has come back, and this time, incurable.

Pat Burns was well known for his rough exterior.  In fact I can honestly say I only saw him smile once when he was coaching the Devils: when he held the Stanley Cup over his head.  He had coached for quite a few years prior to coaching the Devils, including coaching the Montreal Canadians, Toronto Maple Leads, and Boston Bruins.  But he only won a Stanley Cup in New Jersey.

When asked who I felt was the best Devils coach – at least the best Devils coach during my tenure as fan (after 1995), Pat Burns is my answer.  I’ve stated this years before when the Devils were involved with the coach of the year club and fans found GM Lou Lamoriello behind the bench on more than one occasion.

Pat Burns, on the other hand, kept the team together and made them look good.  The Devils only lost a total of 20 games his first season as coach, won them an Atlantic title, and were only a few points shy of a Conference title.  But the regular season didn’t matter.  It was the post season in which the Devils shined.  In the Finals against the Anaheim Might Ducks, the Ducks were shut out three times in the Devils four wins.  And when he pulled Ken Daneyko from the lineup and fans were up in arms, he didn’t waver.  In the final game, he did the most honorable thing I can ever recall a coach doing and put Ken back in the lineup knowing this would be his last.  And sure enough, Ken was able to rejoin his teammates and held the cup over his head one last time before retirement.

Perhaps a reason I pick him as the Devils best coach was because his tenure was so short.  In his second season as the Devils head coach, they were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in 2004.  After the final game, the announcement was made that Burns had cancer for a third time.  He would have stepped down as coach should the Devils had continued.  But we never had a chance to see how he would have fared as the Devils coach for successive seasons after that.  Had that occurred, who knows what his record would have been like.  But what I do know is he brought the 2002-03 Devils, a team I think most people would not have expected to win as much, to the finals and won the ultimate trophy.  He was an honorable man and a respected coach.  The hockey world lost one of it’s finest members – and he will be missed.

Thank you, Pat Burns, for our third Stanley Cup.

Devils, Kovalchuk Get First Win At Home

We’re approaching Thanksgiving, and as such we should really be looking for things we are thankful for. You could put Ilya Kovalchuk on such a list, but after the Koval-Choke incident last Wednesday against Buffalo, you would be hard pressed to be thankful he’s on our team.

You had to believe that good things will come out of his signing. You may be angry because his production has been beyond subpar this season. When he gets the puck, it seems as if he gets surrounded and can’t make any type of a play, whether shooting or passing.

Well last Friday we got the response from Ilya we had all been looking for. And the end result was our first home win this season. With the game against Edmonton all tied up and in sudden death overtime (excited because we got a point!) Kovalchuk got a pass from Henrik Tallinder and one-timed it in to the back of the net.

Only two days after his shootout non-shot (in all seriousness, how do you score that? It wasn’t a missed shot…) Kovalchuk’s quick hands gave the Devils their first home win.

Now I don’t want to sound like a buzz-kill, but I am forced to take a step back and look at this objectively. The Devils just beat the last place team in the Western Conference. And we just squeaked by. It took post-regulation action to finally subdue them.

But, now let’s look at the positives. We are no longer the last place team in the Eastern Conference. The NY Islanders hold that title currently. In addition, players like Brian Rolston and Martin Brodeur came back for their first game after being injured and contributed in the win. Brian Rolston was actually one of the goal scorers for the game. And the Devils got their first win at home.

Right now the Devils biggest opponent is confidence. If you take a step back and look at the talent on this team, they should be at the top of their division. But they dropped a few games early on, production of of the top players has been off, and eventually it begins to take a toll on the team’s level of confidence they have in themselves. Playing in the middle of November and not having a win at home makes home games terrifying. What the Devils need to do is take this one step at a time. They got the home win, now it’s time to build on that.

The Devils will travel to Boston on Monday to face the big bad Bruins who currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Martin Brodeur did not practice on Saturday; neither did Jamie Langenbrunner. Both players are still a question as to their availability for Monday’s game.

Devils Still Looking For First Home Win, Bested By Buffalo

No need to bring out the shiny red panic button.  No need to worry about the end result of where this season is going.  No need to fear making the playoffs.

Fear winning a single game at home.  Fear not having a single two game win streak at all so far this season. Fear the possible worst season in Devils history.

Oh, and fear spending $100 million for a player who can’t keep the puck on his stick.

 

I think I’m beyond anger over the performance of the Devils.  In truth, I don’t think I ever was angry, more just perplexed.  How many years did the Rangers have off seasons?  And we just sat back and laughed at them.  Guess what guys, it’s upon us this season.

 

I am constantly being asked, “What’s going wrong?” and to that I can only respond that it’s a lack of nothing going right.  Between injuries and that lack of goal scoring, it’s no wonder the Devils sit last in the NHL.  They are technically “tied” for the last spot in the league, but their winning percentage is the lowest since they have played more games than any of the other last place teams.

They have the fewest goals scored in the league, and yet they play a top scorer in the NHL every night.  Ilya Kovalchuk, who flexed scoring talent when first signed at the end of last season, can’t seem to get a shot on net these days.  Not to mention anyone else who has some form of scoring ability seems to be injured or playing at a sub-par level.

 

You can’t win hockey games without scoring, and that’s the what the Devils must focus on.