Comeback Kids, Devs Top Caps

Our three stars of the game, Hedberg, Fayne and Tallinder.

First, Johan Hedberg. The Devils got themselves in trouble early on on the game going down by two goals before the first period horn sounded. Devils commentator Steve Cangelosi commented that it looked like he was busier than the shots on goal tally indicated; the reason for that was simply because most of the shots were huge saves. A any point the Devils could have found themselves in a hole too deep to dig themselves out of.

Next up, Mark Fayne. Mark looked like he was given Ovechkin duty, as he seemed to tail the Caps captain most of the night. In fact during the second and third periods, I would credit him for keeping Ovechkin off the scoresheet. That alone means the Devils had a shot to win tonight.

Lastly, Henrik Tallinder. His persistence, energy, and drive is the sole reason the second goal was scored. He drove hard into the corner, wasn’t phased by a Caps hand under his arm, and actually pulled the Caps defender’s stick and glove off his hand using his armpit. That distraction, gave the Devils the slight edge they needed to get the puck back to Bryce Salvidor, who made a hard pass to Ryan Carter that he deflected in to the net to tie things up.

That brings us to the shootout. After a nail biting overtime, the Devils were fortunate to pass five minutes still tied, and even get a couple of scoring chances. In the shootout, Zach Parise made an excellent fake then shot to give the Devils the initial advantage. You would expect the Capitals Alex Ovechkin to score, but Hedberg stopped the other attempts leaving the teams tied at one goal a piece after the initial three rounds.

Nicklas Backstrom was next up for the Caps and could not get his shot past Hedberg, giving the Devils a chance to win it. The Devils choice was David Clarkson, and it was a good choice. Clarkson faked out Capitals net minder Michal Neuvirth and his backhand shot reached the back of the net. The Capitals were dealt only their second loss at home so far this season, and the Devils won their eighth game of the season, five of which now have been generated in overtime.

Of course the Devils aren’t coming out of this matchup unscathed. Their Penalty Killing unit kept the Capitals off the board when they were short a man, getting the Devils a 93% PK rate, second only to Pittsburgh Penguins who have a 94% rate. But their Power Play continues to struggle. To be fair, the Devils PP ability has struggled for quite some time, but they now sit dead last in the league’s Power Play percentage with 10%. If the Devils really want to come out of their mediocre haze, this must be addressed immediately.

A Thought: Devils Need Help

I’m not going to even dignify the stunt Sykora pulled with a post.  It was incredibly stupid and I wouldn’t blame the league for fining or suspending him, especially since he has flat out admitted to what he did.  Its downright cheating and I would expect it from sports like Baseball and Football, not hockey.

 

Instead, I need to point out that the Devils need help.  There are three key elements missing from the Devils and if action isn’t taken soon, we might find ourselves mid-season too far behind (a la – last season).

Key element #1: Depth.  Missing someone like Jacob Josefson in the lineup will hurt the Devils.  He sustained a broken right clavicle Friday against the San Jose Sharks.  In addition to missing Travis Zajac, Josefson’s injury will soon take it’s toll on the Devils if they cannot fill the void with a competent player.  Devils go-to move is always to fill with AHL talent, but said talent may not be good enough to to keep the Devils afloat.

Key element #2: PK and PP.  It hurts enough when the Devils take too many bad penalties.  And sure enough that’s what we’re seeing today.  It gives the opposition good chances and, perhaps worse, momentum.  Now sprinkle in the Devils inept-ness on the Power Play and you have a perfect concoction for mediocrity.  Devils GM Lou Lamoriello hired Adam Oates to work with the Devils’ power play unit and to act as an assistant coach.  Guess what folks – it isn’t working out.  I’m sorry, but it’s time to find some new help here.

Key element #3: Defense. I will harp on this until they get it right, I’m sorry.  The Devils must get help on their defense.  Offense is great, but we need talented blue-liners who can get the job done in front of our net.  And having a pair of aging goaltenders in the crease doesn’t help matters either.

Brodeur Watch 2011: Out for 7 to 10 Days

Earlier in the day Devils coach Peter DeBoer declined to make any information on Martin Brodeur’s doctor visit public, instead forwardingt hose requests to Devils GM Lou Lamoriello.

However newjerseydevils.com is now reporting that Marty will be out for the next 7 to 10 days.  The results from the doctor indicate that he will not require surgery, but will need to go through further rehab.

Devils net minding lineup until then will have Johan Hedberg starting in net with recalled Albany Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid as his backup on the bench.  When asked about Hedberg, DeBoer stated "He’s been very good, exactly as advertised.  He’s a great pro, great person. Someone gave me a stat that he’s [12-2] going back to last year in his last [14] games."

That stat is correct.

The 7-10 day estimate isn’t set in stone.  Further evaluation during rehab may push the date back further should sufficient progress not be made.

Brodeur’s Questionable Return

Devils start net minder Martin Brodeur is on the final year of his contract. His fate in the hockey hall of fame is sealed. His presence on the ice is noticeable in every NHL rink with a trapezoid behind the net of where goalies are not allowed to play the puck. And his records broken will take many many years to break, many if ever.

But all this fortune has taken it’s toll, and now Marty is no longer unbreakable. Once again Martin Brodeur is sidelined with an injury of which was previously noted as getting much better, but is apparently still a concern as the Devils have brought up the Devils AHL affiliate’s goaltender Keith Kinkaid to join them against the San Jose Sharks this Friday.

Keith is a solid goalie and may very well be the Devils next go-to man between the pipes in the not so distant future. Current back-up goalie for the Devils, Johan Hedberg, is a solid performer and has proven that he can step in at any time to take over the crease duty when called upon. But even he is only a year younger then our all-star Marty.

Brodeur’s test results will not be known until Wednesday, and even then the outcome may be uncertain.

Devils With Solid Start

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the Devils are playing like Stanley Cup contenders. I’m not going to type out a line about how the Devils are cruising and are a top team in the East. What I will say is that they are playing a very solid game post game one of the season, and that we should see a good season from them this year.

What has contributed to this start? Goaltending for one. Hedberg is currently filling in for Marty Brodeur, who was knocked out a few games back with what may just simply be a pulled muscle. But at his age the coaching staff isn’t taking any chances and having him sit. The Devils are now in the midsts of a short break before their next game on October 21 against the San Jose Sharks, and you may see Brodeur return to the crease then.

Next up, strong play from all of the Devils. Sure, my instinct is if Kovalchuk doesn’t get a hat trick every night I’m not happy with his performance. But between the top two lines on the ice, the Devils are scoring goals and making a good stand.

Last important point, confidence. Right now the Devils have some. Last year at this time the Devils started to slip in to their worst start in franchise history and confidence was severely hurt. As you can see, however, the Devils came back from a two goal deficit in Nashville and were able to come back, force overtime, and win in a shootout.

It’s certainly not an ideal win, but the point is it easy to get yourself in trouble, it’s hard to dig yourself out of a hole, and if the Devils can accomplish that, they have one very good thing going for them, much better than how they were doing last season at this time.

Welcome Back Hockey! Devils Not Dominant in Preseason Game 1

In an effort not to sound too “glass half empty,” the Devils took on the Rangers for their first preseason game. Truth be told, it looked like a typical mid-season grind away type game with relatively low score, not great offense on either team’s part, and on the plus side for the Devils, low shot count for the Rangers.

Overall I’d rate the team at a B. They did not show any form of dominance, which is to be expected in the first game of the preseason. But in the same vein, I was hoping to see more from the team as a whole. Energy was their from guys like Zach Parise and second time Devil Petr Sykora, but I still find myself wanting more from players like Ilya Kovalchuk.

Again, this was the first game of the preseason, so I will not harp on this.

My thoughts on the new coach – for the first time since… Pat Burns? the Devils have a new coach to the organization that has actual NHL coaching experience. Truth be told, I’m hopeful that this works out for the team. The Devils dearly need consistency behind the bench, and lord knows we haven’t seen that in a very long time. With consistency comes familiarity and a level of comfort that will hopefully make the players think less and play better.

The team last year had one of their worst first halves to a season in franchise history, and it could be chalked up to over thinking and gripping their sticks too tight.

We’ll see what the next game will bring, which will take place on Friday night at the Prudential Center. That game will also be televised on MSG with new Devils Play by Play guy Steve Cangelosi behind the mic.

Devils Win Lottery

It’s not every day you hear of a sports franchise winning the lottery.  I mean, they typically have enough money as it is.

Ah, but this was no ordinary lottery.  In reasons that are really sad (which I will get to in a moment), the NHL holds a draft lottery in which the teams that don’t make the playoffs are ranked from lowest to highest, with the lowest (Edmonton) having the best shot at winning.

If a team wins, they can – at most – move up four positions in the NHL Entry Draft.  In this case, the Devils had less than a 4% chance of winning, and they did.

Side note: See!  All you conspiracy theorists that think the NHL is just out to get the Devils.  Obviously the NHL isn’t out to get us, we won their own lottery!  But I suppose that might just be to try and throw us off their trail…

So here’s what this means. The Devils were, because of their placement in the standings, slated to get the number eight seed in the Entry Draft, but by winning the lottery they can move up the max four positions, placing them fourth in the Draft.

 

So why is this done?  The logic as I understand it is that this will help prevent teams from sucking on purpose just to get the number one draft pick.

Anyone who watched the Devils the first half of the season can tell you we were not sucking on purpose.  We legitimately sucked.  But alas, we started to win games once again and thus moved us from being the worst team in the NHL to the eighth worst team in the NHL.

Now if only we can eliminate the trapezoid behind the net will I officially stop believing in the conspiracy the NHL has against the Devils.

Thank You New Jersey Devils

As a fan, I sat here watching the final game of the season with a sense of pride and happiness. When the post-season ended abruptly last season, it was like hitting a brick wall, and I, as well as many other fans, we extremely angry over what felt like a collapse of the team.

But today, the Devils ended their season knowing that today was the last game for them until October. And the fans at the arena felt the same way. As the clock wound down to zero the fans stood, cheered, and showed that, despite all odds, despite a rough season with more downs than ups, we will stick by them.

Wife, earlier in the season, said in a fit of frustration, that she was done with the Devils this season. But I knew that the Devils are a very lucky franchise. I look at the last time the Devils missed the playoffs – 1996, the last time the Devils finished under .500 – 1991… to me that’s an impressive statistic. It’s not record breaking, but it is an impressive feat, and something the team and it’s fans should be proud of.

It has been announced that Devils coach, for the second time in two years, is retiring. Jacques Lemiar retired at the end of last season, but came back just before Christmas to replace rookie coach John MacLean after the Devils had their second worst start in franchise history.

Jacques, thank you. In a season of unquestionable despair and an unexplainable stretch of losses, he was one of the main factors that turned this team around. I hold no ill will against John MacLean, but he didn’t have the knowledge or experience to deal with a team that had pretty much convinced themselves that they were completely and utterly broken.

With that being said, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello has in my opinion three priorities.

The first is to find a new long-term coach. Someone who you can, barring any major disasters, see behind the bench for at least three to five seasons. The Devils need some form of stability. Starting with a head coach who can show the team some form of consistent coaching style for the next few years would be great. Having a new coach every other year means players must learn new methods to conform to the plays the coach wants to see.

Next priority, with primary net minder Martin Brodeur nearing the end of his career, veteran captain Jamie Langenbrunner now off the team, and other higher priced contracts nearing their end, the Devils had a semblance of a fresh start. Forwards Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are the new stars for the Devils. The Devils need to solidify their defense, and that includes looking beyond the era of Brodeur and start looking out for a new number one net minder. Johan , who played a great game this afternoon against the Bruins, is only a year younger than Brodeur. While he makes a great solid backup, the Devils must look for a new goalie that can be with the team for a number of years.

Lastly, as hinted in the last paragraph, the Devils must sign Zach Parise. There is a reason why he didn’t play after his one game back with the team – he wasn’t ready. You take off the season, you need more then one week to get back in to playing shape. But the Devils knew they needed him with a few games experience should they make it in to the playoffs. On his return, the Devils lost, but that now permits him to continue to rest for a little bit, get back in to shape properly, and be 110% for training camp in September. Zach is the future captain of this team – everyone including stars like Kovalchuk and Brodeur have stated that – but he must be resigned if that is to become the reality.

There will be a number of off-season news stories over the next few months, but for the immediate time being the Devils and their fans have some time to rest while the playoffs get underway. We went through an interesting season, with a very tough start, but in the end they put up a great fight, making a push to make the playoffs, and brought fun, not to mention a sense of accomplishment, back in to the Prudential Center.

Thank you New Jersey Devils.

Sour Return for Zach; Devils Out of Playoff Race

Zach Parise returned tonight to the Devils lineup after missing 65 games due to a torn meniscus.  The injury forced him to have surgery and miss a majority of the season.

But on his comeback night, the Devils lackluster performance ended their chance to make the playoffs.  Coach Jacques Lemair juggled lines all night long – something that actually may have hurt the team more than helped – but was trying to find the right combination with Parise back in the lineup.  At some point, Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk played with Parise, at other times Parise would be with paired with Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson.

Zach would play about 5 minutes each period and looked more and more comfortable each shift.  Zach would later admit that he was surprised at how quickly the opposition was on top of him each time he touched the puck, but by the end of the game he felt much more comfortable and looked to be back in his typical mindset.

Parise’s return, however, was marred by the Devils truly poor performance.  I cannot discredit Montreal’s play, all goals they scored were good goals, ones that any team would have trouble defending against.

But the Devils were sluggish on getting to the puck, they couldn’t complete a pass, and they were severely limited in the true number of scoring opportunities.

It’s a shame.  At the beginning of the season if someone mentioned to me that the devils would be fighting for a playoff spot with only five games left in the season, I would have laughed.  The Devils didn’t have a chance to make the playoffs at that time, sitting comfortably in the cellar of the NHL standings.  But then passed the halfway point, captain Jamie Langenbrunner sent back to his former team in Dallas, and a coaching change from John MacLean to Lemair, the Devils showed life.  And this wasn’t just a turn around from bad to not as bad, they went from bad to hot, going on a near franchise record winning streak.

But now, alas, with only a handful of games left, they sat in a do-or-die situation.  Truthfully, even if the Devils did no wrong, their chances of making it into the playoffs was slim.  Either the Rangers or the Sabres would need to lose every game in regulation.  And Buffalo just got an Overtime Loss, so they would be out of reach of the Devils even if they had won.

Nevertheless, the Devils season will end on April 10th against the Boston Bruins with no possibility of post-season action.  It is the first time the Devils have not made the playoffs since 1995-96, the season after the Devils won their first Stanley Cup.

It’s sad, as the Devils have spent the past 15 years becoming one of the most competitive teams in the NHL, making it into the playoffs and winning another two Stanley Cups.  The past handful of seasons the Devils have struggled and even when they made it in to the playoffs, they didn’t spend much time there, but fact was they were a threat. Always.

I’ll end with this: the Devils didn’t end their chance to make the playoffs tonight against the Canadiens.  They ended their chance back in October and November.  The team had a near miraculous comeback, but in the end they could not correct the substantially poor first half of the season.

“Snowball’s Chance” Still Frozen after Pat’s Hat

Brian Rolston’s ability to find Patrik Elias was impeccable during last night’s Devils – Flyers match-up.  Three times, including one short-handed, Patrik Elias would score to get his eighth career hat trick and give the Devils another win in their attempt to stay alive, by a sliver of a chance, in the playoff run.

In order for the Devils to actually make it in the playoffs, as they are not mathematically eliminated, they must win every game from here-on out.  In addition, either the Rangers or Sabres must lose every game from here on out – in regulation!  One single point by both teams will push them out of reach for the Devils to make it.

The million dollar man Ilya Kovalchuk also had a strong game last night, making a number of good efforts and finding Nick Palmieri at the front of the net who, without a distinct kicking motion, deflected the puck off of his skate to go in past Philly net-minder Brian Boucher.

Johan Hedberg, the Devils #2, made a total of 34 saves to keep the Devils in the game.  A strong outing for him kept the Flyers from scoring on a number of opportunities as the Devils defense was unable to keep Flyer forwards from making some great scoring chances.

The Devils will try to continue their defiance of all odds in tonight’s match-up against the Montreal Canadians – reeling from their last game, a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, by a score of 6 – 2.