Devils Gomez and Parise Key to Offense

Unless you’ve been underground during Round 1, you know who you need to rely on to get the job done offensively for the New Jersey Devils.

On a recent perusal of the http://www.nhl.com stats section, I was pleasantly surprised, however, to see that Devils lead the league (in the playoffs) for Points, Goals, and Assists. Not to mention two more Devils in the top 3 for Goals and Assists.

Of course now that you know that, picking the 5 players that meet such criteria come in to your mind.

For Points, Scott Gomez actually leads the playoffs with 9.

In the Goals category, Zach Parise leads with 6 goals. Brian Gionta is actually tied for second with 5, tied with the now-eliminated Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And last but not least, the Assist leader of the playoffs is Scott Gomez with 7. Patrick Elias is in a three-way tie with Nicklas Lidstrom for Detroit and Joe Thornton for San Jose with 6 assist.

Pretty interesting stats for a team whose defensive style is the gripe of hockey fans league wide…

Next Round Set; Devils take on Senators

As the schedule has been set by the NHL for Round 2, you cannot take anything as a sure thing. The Devils had a pretty good record against the Ottawa Senators during the regular season, winning three games out of four. But Ottawa is coming off of a pretty decisive victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins and has been playing strong.

First, it’s worth pointing out that three of the four games were played during the first half of the season, and that fourth game the Devils won in a shootout, an aspect of the game that doesn’t exist in the playoffs.

Secondly, Ottawa has had a much better second half of the season than first half. Granted this could be due to scheduling abnormalities, but when just looking at the numbers, the first half of the season they had a 21-18-2 record. The second half they had a 27-7-7 record, less than half the number of losses.

Even Ottawa’s backup net minder, Martin Gerber, had a 17-9-3 record, while their chief goaltender, Ray Emery, had a 36-16-6 record, and has only lost one game in the postseason.

Chances are we are going to see yet another round where the goaltenders play an important role in the success of the team that moves on to round three. Comparing the two is tough, mostly because their stats are very similar. Devils net minder Martin Brodeur has a slightly higher Save Percentage where as Ottawa’s Ray Emery has a slightly lower Goals Against Average.

Brodeur has let up 4 more goals than Emery, but Brodeur has also seen an extra game, 72 extra minutes, and 58 more shots than Emery.

Defensemen are also going to be key, but not just in their defensive role. We have already seen that the defensemen’s ability to spark offense has been a deciding factor in games. While both teams defensemen have score three goals as a whole, Devils defensemen only have 9 assist while Ottawa’s have 12.

Don’t forget that the Devils key to success – always – is their ability to shut down their opponent’s offense. Tampa Bay, the Devils opponent in the Conference Quarterfinals, scored 288 goals in the regular season, where as Tampa Bay only had 253.

Devils Take out Tampa, Tortorella

Perhaps it took them longer than it should, but the Devils were able to finally eliminate the Tampa Bay Lightning and move on to Round 2.

The Devils must remain cautious as they progress in the playoffs. Tampa Bay showed us that the Devils and their last line of defense, Martin Brodeur, can be beat. But after games 2 and 3, the Devils defense and skillful goaltending by Brodeur stopped Tampa Bay and gave the Devils offense a chance to win the game.

The swells of the game, the offensive pressure applied by one team, seem to sway much easier when a team becomes desperate, but even with consistent pressure from Tampa for the last half of the third period of game 6 couldn’t penetrate the goal line.

But you cannot deny the fact that Tampa had some pretty decisive games where they pretty much eliminated the Devils in the first period. They were not able to get many offensive chances, let alone complete a pass. Tampa Bay shut down the Devils and did it early in games 2 and 3.

It could certainly be an emotional thing, and the Devils are certainly feeling really good about themselves right about now. But as history has shown us, even after a four game sweep of an opponent, you are still vulnerable in the next round. Nothing can be taken for granted.

Clarkson and Zajac and White, Oh My!

Lowell Devils David Clarkson (or Kelly Clarkson as he’s known to the Providence Bruins fans) was called up to the Devils for the first time in the postseason but was a scratch for Friday night’s game.

Colin White has missed his third consecutive game of the series with a reoccurring back injury. He has skated but was not ready to play in Game 5. He may try to play on Sunday but he remains questionable.

Travis Zajac needs one more assist to tie the New Jersey Devils playoff record of assists by a rookie, currently held by Jon Morris in the 1990-91 Patrick Division Semifinals.

Brodeur Kicks It Up a Notch, Devils Pull Ahead 3-2 in Series

In their best game of the postseason this year, the Devils won Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals match up with a shutout, 3-0.

Devils net minder Martin Brodeur made 31 saves to shut out the Lightning in his 22nd career playoff shutout, one behind Patrick Roy’s record.

Essentially what made the team play so well was their consistency for all 60 minutes of play and their ability to make uninterrupted passes, strong defense, and enough offense to win in the new era of the NHL.

Goals scored by Andy Greene – his first postseason goal, Brian Gionta – his third goal in the series, and Scott Gomez – who got two assists in the previous goals, gave the Devils the 3-0 victory.

Not everything was perfect during the match up. Lightning did get a few shorthanded attempts but every goaltender’s best friend – the goal post – came up big with the save.

At the beginning of the second, Richard Matvichuk came up big with a blocked shot from Andreas Karlsson. In an exchange where the Lightning were surrounding the net, Brodeur dove to his right to stop one shot, and the rebound came out to the left where the net was wide open. Karlsson got to the puck first and a diving play by Matvichuk prevented Karlsson from getting the shot to the net.

Plays like that kept both the crowd and the Devils believing in the game, and continued to discourage the Lightning.

At the end of the third, Tampa Bay obviously frustrated, began to start picking fights. Andre Roy searched three Devils before finding Mike Rupp who was happy to drop the gloves and Roy. Roy received an additional Misconduct.

Not more than 30 seconds later, Andreas Karlsson, Ryan Craig, and Nolan Pratt got in to a disagreement with Jamie Langenbrunner and a few other Devils. Langenbrunner and Pratt wound up dropping the gloves for a fight that could barely be called one.

While the pushing and shoving continued on the ice, Devils assistant coach John MacLean and Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella began yelling at each other across the walkway.

The Devils had a record low for shots made in a postseason game with 14. The third period the Devils only got 2 shots that reached Lightning net minder Johan Holmqvist. Obviously it didn’t affect the outcome of the game, but the Devils need to continue to put shots on net.

Devils Not Out of Woods; Gomez Gets Game Winner

Scott Gomez did not have the stats like he did last season. In fact, the EGG line as a whole (Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Patrik Elias), although has good games, they don’t have the dominance as they did in the previous season.

Devils netminder Martin Brodeur faces a similar dilemma. Although he has posted some incredible win totals, the Tampa Bay Lightning has made him appear “human,” similar to what the Carolina Hurricanes did.

There is no one reason as to why this is happening. Bordeur may simply be tired – especially after the season he had. Gomer might be holding his stick a little tighter than he should knowing his future may rest on his performance now (For those who may not know, Scott Gomez will be a free agent next year because he went to arbitration this year to get a higher salary than what Lou was offering him).

But the Devils have a stronger chance in the playoffs this year than they did last year. The only catch is that the Tampa Bay Lightning is putting up one heck of a fight to stay live in the post-season and not nearly as much as a pushover as the Rangers were last season.

Why? It’s simply because the Devils as a whole are playing better, not just one or two key guys.

Back in the 1990’s, the Devils became known for their reputation of being modular. Bits and pieces of the team could change and be replaced but the main gear that made the Devils function continued to turn.

Granted, there have always been a couple of exceptions to the rule, like Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Martin Brodeur. But even when one of the three was scratched or inured, the rest of the team picked up the slack and continued to churn out wins.

Last season the Devils were a one line team; obviously the team as a whole had difficulties and the line was shuffled a great deal trying to find a good combination of competitive lines, instead of just one.

With the teams performance today, you have a hard working but often frustrated first line, a very good scoring-wise second line, a competitive and defensively strong third line, plus a hard hitting fourth line – something every team needs.

But because of this, the spotlight doesn’t shine as bright as it once did on Scott Gomez. Nevertheless, he still plays very well and the theory behind why his stats don’t match those of last year is probably because teams pay more attention in to defending his line.

Gomez proved this on Wednesday night when he scored a game winning overtime goal to tie the first round match up 2-2.

“Must Win” for the Devils

Although its not immediate elimination, Wednesday night’s game has turned in to a “must win” situation for the New Jersey Devils. After an inspiring Game 1, the Devils have fallen short in two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and now trail the series 2-1.

Of course the Lightning need two wins in order to eliminate the Devils, a 3-1 deficit, although not impossible, would be tough to overcome in their present state.

Colin White remains out of the lineup with back problems, and Richard Matvichuk is slated to continue to take his place.

Matvichuk played one game in the regular season after coming off of the long-term injury list.

In Monday night’s game, Matvichuk logged 15:34 minutes of ice time, 4 minutes in penalties, but had the most blocked shots out of any player in the game with 6. In the end, however, it didn’t help as Tampa Bay still made 24 shots on Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, 3 of which went in to the net.

Cam Janssen, however, is still not slated to be in the lineup even after the Devils were outplayed in every aspect, including physically, in the past two games.

Game time tonight is at 7:00 PM ET at the St. Pete Times Forum. The game will be broadcasted on FSN NY 2 and WWDJ 970 AM. To lookup what channel FSN NY 2 is in your area, please visit http://njdevils.info/schedule/tvoverflow

Devils Get Struck By Lightning Twice

On Saturday I had the honor of going to the Devils game and watch in horror as everything that could go wrong went wrong. I hate you Murphy…

Monday night’s game didn’t start out much better. The first period was just bad, and the Devils were being outplayed by the Tampa Bay Lightning. They were being beaten to the puck, out played, out muscled, out maneuvered, and out face-offed.

By the end of the first period, Tampa Bay had a 1-0 lead and a pretty strong grasp of a game that still had two-thirds left to play.

I was reminded of a chant I heard in front of me on Saturday: “We want Janssen… We want Janssen.”

Cam Janssen, the Devils official scrapper and resident payback guy, has been scratched by the great and powerful Lou, probably because he feels he can get more out of the fourth line without Janssen sitting in the penalty box for ten minutes a game.

Previously, scratching Cam didn’t seem like such a bad idea, because he was a good guy to pump energy in to the team and the Devils at Game 2 and now 3 of the playoffs shouldn’t need energy at this point.

Wrong. They need to turn the tables against Tampa Bay and get things straightened out soon or else they are in danger of finding themselves down 3 games to 1 and in such a big hole mentally you should start getting your golf clubs polished.

Interestingly enough, the Devils had some wiggle room in the roster tonight due to a back spasm Colin White was suffering from and thus scratched 25 minutes from the start of the game. Devils coach Lou Lamoriello decided to write in Richard Matvichuk, and player who played 1 game, the last game, during the season, and who showed even he could find a way to sit in the penalty box and put the Devils behind at crucial times.

In any event, the Devils managed to dig themselves out of their miserable play and tied things up in the second period.

Scoring and offense really came from the Z. Z. Pops line (coined by “Doc” Emrick for the Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Jamie Langenbrunner), which has been the case during the past three games. Tampa Bay has been able to pretty much shut down and eliminate the Gomez, Gionta, Elias line since Game 1.

The third period, however, didn’t bring much joy as crazy plays and referee missed calls and bad calls continued, as they did in Game 2. The Lightning broke the lead early in the third. Zach Parise tied it up at two, getting his fourth playoff goal in three games minutes later. But the clinching goal for Tampa Bay came from Vaclav Prospal on a shot which fluttered over Devils net minder Martin Brodeur’s right shoulder.

The Devils played stronger in the second and third, better than the entire game on Saturday. Nevertheless, they could not come back after the late goal by Tampa Bay, and the late penalty by Richard Matvichuk pretty much sealed the deal to put the Lightning ahead in the series 2-1.

The Devils must come out strong in Game 4 and push Tampa Bay around like they did to the Devils in the first period. They must come out strong and continue strong for 60 minutes if they wish to tie the series up.

The next match-up will be on Wednesday when the Devils and Lightning meet up for Game 4. The game will start at 7:00 PM ET and again be broadcasted on FSN NY 2 and WWDJ 970 AM.

Devils Prepare for Playoffs

As the playoffs begin, a lot is running through the players, coaches, and fans’ minds. Sure there is some anticipation of a new arena with a great atmosphere and ticket prices so high even Bill Gates cringes when he sees them. But that won’t be until October.

Right now there is the possibility of 28 grueling games ahead with one goal in mind: Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Recently player injuries, including John Madden, Patrik Elias, and Brian Gionta cause some concern over their reliability and their stamina over the next two months.

Oh, and we should certainly not forget that GM and CEO of the New Jersey Devils who, which we all have faith in, is once again behind the bench of a team he piloted quickly past Round 1 last year and in to a brick wall in Round 2.

I’ve been asked on several occasions what is going on with this team and why would we fire a coach with only 4 games remaining and standing first in the division. There are two possible answers, one Lou-ish and one cynical.

The Lou-ish answer is that he’d been planning this for a month or two and noticed that Coach Julian wasn’t getting the performance out of the players Lou knew they were capable of. So, with good intentions in mind, Lou asked Julian to step down and he would take the reins behind the bench as the team settled in to enter the playoffs.

The cynical answer is that Lou knew he had a lot of young kids on the team and Julian was just the guy to train them. Now that Julian’s job is done training them and molding them in to the Devils team we see today, Lou was finished with him and fired him.

I like to keep the rose-colored glasses on and believe option one.

As of the time of this writing, the Devils have two options for a first round opponent. The first is the Tampa Bay Lightning and the second is the New York Rangers. Against Tampa Bay, the Devils have a 1-2-1 record, and against New York, the Devils have a 5-2-1 record.