Quickie – Devils Take Win Away from Penguins

I will be posting a more in-depth review of this game as an “In the Stands” article, but I pretty much just got home off the train and I am very tired at the moment…

Friday night the Devils took on the Penguins at the Prudential Center in a game that started with honoring Mike “Doc” Emrick, the Devils play-by-play announcer in to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I had the honor of meeting “Doc” prior to the game – more about that in my next post.

As for the hockey, the Devils started out on their heals, not playing very well initially, yet the Devils prevented the Penguins from getting many shots on goal.  The problem: the few shots on goals gave the Penguins an early 2-0 lead.

When the Devils did manage to score, the Penguins scored again to make it 3-1.

It didn’t look like the Devils outplayed the Penguins, but when looking at the shot total, I wondered what game I attended.  In actuality, the Devils did spend an awful lot of time in the Pittsburgh end, but the chances the Penguins got were on target and tough to handle nearly every time.

The Devils were continuing to put pressure and eventually Pittsburgh was unable to keep the Devils from making strong scoring chances.  They were within one goal late in the third; a very similar situation like they were the previous night against the Boston Bruins.  A late goal by Jamie Langenbrunner tied up the game and brought the two teams in to overtime.

Jamie scored again in Overtime to win the game for the Devils, making this the third game in which he scored two goals, the third game in which he scored the game winning goal, and the second game in which he scored the OT winning goal.

I will be posting more reaction to the contest, some insight from section 213, a handful of pictures from the contest, and take a look in to the Devils 8 game winning streak that has them in second place in the Eastern Conference, and beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the teams.

Devils Take First; Shanahan Gets First

When the Devils decided to take Brendan Shanahan, there wasn’t a question if he would help the team.  He is well known throughout the league and it was pretty obvious that with him in your lineup, the offensive struggles the Devils have had in the past might not be a worry with fans any longer.

It is also assumed that when you sign a player who hasn’t played the first half of the season, there may be some pains in getting back up to the condition they need to be in – in order to play well and to regain their focus.

Someone forgot to tell Shanahan that.

Let me start out with saying I was not happy Jay Pandolfo sat out.  I assumed that’s what would occur, but I practically brainwashed myself into believing that Pandolfo was more valuable to the team than Mike Rupp, so Rupp would be the one to take a seat.

With that said, Shanahan looked to be in good form.  For yet another player to increase the Devils “team age,” he aided in giving the Devils the first goal of the night and being credited for his first goal with the Devils since 1991 – before their team colors were Red, White, and Black.

What’s interesting is that Shanahan is one of two players from the 1990-91 Devils team that are still playing today.  The second, Claude Lemieux – who just signed with the San Jose Sharks.  Although active, Lemieux has yet to see an official game in the NHL, and is currently playing in the Shark’s minor league affiliate for 21 games with 3 goals and 7 assists.

Watching the game last night, I realized that if Shanahan continues with his current scoring, the Devils may find themselves with three scoring lines.  Now I know what your thinking, because I’m thinking it too.  These are not your typical Devils teams.  What we see before us is something very new to the organization, where Offense has trumped the Devils typical Defense style teams.  But to be honest, that shouldn’t be too forign to the Devils.

The idea behind the Devils defense shouldn’t dominate the story behind the team.  Defense should be a quiet killer, something that isn’t at the forefront of your mind, but when the fore-check fails, the defense is there to back them up, and behind that is a grade A net minder who keeps the opponent with a goose-egg on the scoreboard.  This is partially what the Stanley Cup teams the Devils had back then – with one minor change.

Change is good though, right?

Sure, especially when the rest of the league has already changed!  That one minor difference is the fact that in previous years, the Devils would score a couple of goals and then shut down.  You wouldn’t see the team normally score 5 goals a night, because they simply didn’t have to.  But with the new focus on scoring these past few seasons, it’s inevitable that the Devils need to increase their scoring as well, which brings us to the “Why” of their current roster.

Think of the top scorers the Devils have right now: Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, and Travis Zajac alone have given the Devils nearly 60 goals.  The current standings give the Devils 140 goals scored this season.  They are on a pace to score 250 goals this season, something they haven’t done since the 1999-2000 Stanley Cup winning team, and 2000-2001 Stanley Cup finalist team.

The Devils also only have 116  goals against, which puts them in fourth in the league.

So at this point the Devils find themselves in first place of the Atlantic Division, third in the Conference.  The interesting thing is that they are not too far out of second – only 4 points behind the Washington Capitals.  Forget about first for the time being – Boston Bruins are sitting up high with 71 points, tied with the San Jose Sharks.

Sidebar: You may remember not that long ago that we were looking at the Devils record as a percentage, since they had fewer games played than any other team in the league.  The Devils hectic away schedule has eliminated that difference.  The Devils sit with 46 games played at this point, which is about what the average team in the league has players.

One last thing, which I plan on typing more about later on this week (depending on how well the team does this week) – remember that we are missing our #1 goaltender.  Martin Brodeur still remains out and it looks as if this will be so until the end of February – at the earliest.  Scott Clemmensen, and yes even Kevin Weekes, have done an incredible job keeping pucks from going in to the net.  It might seem like a scary though, but does Brent Sutter want to mess with the chemistry of the Devils right now, after winning the last 7 of their 10 games?

Another New Old Devil, Devils have One Too Many

I would like to quickly first announce you are the proud reader of our very own Post 100.  It probably took too long to reach this point since our inception back on April 6, 2007, but nevertheless I’m happy we’re here and hope to get to 200 much quicker! 🙂

On to the headlines:

Brendan Shanahan has been signed by the Devils to join the growing list of former Devils to dawn the red, white and black once again.

Well in fairness to Brendan, I’m pretty sure he only wore red, white and green.

Nevertheless, the Devils find themselves with 13 forwards and 12 spots to fill.  Don’t expect anyone to disappear any time soon, but someone must be a healthy scratch.

Nothing official has been discussed by Devils coach Brent Sutter, but the most likely candidates are Jay Pandolfo and Mike Rupp.

Both players sit on the fourth line and have not been too productive this season, but that’s what you typically find with fourth line guys.

Jay Pandolfo has a much more decorated history with the Devils, but finds himself with only four goals and five assists.  Mike Rupp has missed a couple of games this season giving way to some alternate players, but has only three goals and three assists.  Jay Pandolfo is typically used as a top penalty killer, where as Mike Rupp is used for his grittier play.

Brent Sutter has made numerous mentions that he sees no room for a checking line, hence Jay Pandolfo’s presence on the fourth line.  This would indicate that Rupp might be the one to hit the road, making the fourth line Pandolfo, Shanahan, and Holik.  That line sounds more plausible than Rupp, Shanahan and Holik, but it’s not completely out of the question.

When is all this to take place?  Well unless something drastic occurs within the next few hours, Shanahan is anticipated to dress tonight against the Nashville Predators, the last game in the Devils six game away stretch.

What can we expect?  Well we know from past experience that you can’t expect too much right away from someone who has sat out for a great number of games.  In this case, Shanahan has practiced on his own and with the Devils for a little over a week.  But you can’t simply start pulling random Devils to fit Shanahan in to place.

It would seem only logical that Pandolfo is more valuable to the Devils than Rupp, but Sergei Brylin found himself out of a job when this season started, meaning longevity may not play a role when Sutter plans for tonight’s roster.

Devils find Success away from Home

There is still one last game left to play on their away stint this month, But out of the five games played, the Devils have won four of them.  The nice thing that has come out of this is that the Devils are starting to look like their old selves *.

* It is worth noting that their solid 60 minute effort in which they did just about everything right was against the worst team in the league.  Nevertheless, one can hope that this most recent victory against the Islanders merely bolsters their confidence.

Why are the Devils playing so well?  What makes this team better than the previous Devils teams we have seen the past few seasons?

There a combination of things that make this team one of the best Devils teams I have seen since the lockout.  Sure acquiring veterans Bobby Holik and Brian Rolston help, and Brent Sutter, no longer in his rookie season of coaching, understands that much more about coaching the game at a professional level.  But this Devils team has done something this year that no other Devils team has had to do:

Play without key players for an extended period of time.

This one important facet to the Devils game has pushed every line to their best.  Prior to this, the lower lines could get away without needing to play as hard as they knew the top line would carry them.  This led to extremely inconsistent play and never able to play a whole 60 minutes.

Now every line the Devils put out on the ice is a good line, with players who are either a threat to score, or at the very least, keep play in the offensive zone.

If you remember last season, coach Sutter tried to make four top lines that could play at the same level.  What he wound up with was 0 lines that could produce.  He made some shifts but that left him with an A line, a B line, and two D lines.

Last night against the Islanders, the Devils did a great job of winning every battle against the boards or getting the Islanders to turnover the puck.  Two of the Devils three goals were scored that way.

The other advantage the Devils had last night was their ability to fore-check, which led to the number of turnovers and giveaways and which prevented the Islanders from doing much against the Devils.  This also gave the Devils the opportunity to score nearly every type of goal you could score – a shorthanded, a power play, and an even strength goal.  The only thing they were missing was a penalty shot goal and an empty net goal!

Two of the Devils four wins during this away stretch came from net minder Kevin Weekes.  Both times he played was during a string of back to back games.  It has been indicated by Sutter that Clemmensen needed a little bit of a break so he didn’t want to push him on consecutive nights.

This is very important, because the Devils need Clemmensen to be competitive, and if they overuse him, he may not be able hold up up near the end as the standings become more important.  Of course you can always look at the silver lining which says Martin Brodeur will return by the time Clemmensen is used up.

In any event, look to see Clemmensen remain as the number one goal for the Devils, but for him to get a break every couple of weeks.

Kevin Weekes did play well in both victories; but it is apparent he will continue to only be the Devils backup to whoever is the number one goalie.

Game Shorts – Game 43 @ Vancouver

I am trying something new tonight – a short recap of each period typed up during the intermissions of the game.  Hopefully the facts are still fresh in my mind after 20 minutes.  So here goes…

Period 1:

The Devils have come out strong in the first, but looks can be deceiving.  The Devils have the “worst lead possible” as dictated by hockey analyst Stan Fischler – 3 to 0.  They looked very strong making all the right plays, and taking advantage of each mistake Vancouver made early on.  In fact they pulled their initial goaltender after Zach Parise scored the second goal, less than three and a half minutes in to the period.

In fact, the Devils made three times the shots on goal than Vancouver, 12 to 4.

The third goal came from a fumble by new net minder Curtis Sanford.  He gave up the puck behind the net and Brian Gionta was able to swing it around quicker than any Canuck could move to block the open net.

Don’t judge the game too quickly.  Vancouver was re-energized towards the end of the first and started to get some scoring chances.  If they keep up the pressure, they too will eventually get some chances.  The crowd tonight, however, is not that optimistic.

Period 2:

This was the period I was afraid of.  It was exciting and as I thought at the end of the first, Vancouver came out wheels spinning.  Sure enough, they played like you would expect a decent team.  They were making good scoring chances, and even out shot the Devils 13 – 10.  Both teams also took some penalties; there were none in the first.

Unfortunately even though no Power Play goal was scored against them, a penalty kill always makes the team on their heels and sure enough Vancouver’s Alex Burrows was able to score a goal on a pretty nice play.  Ryan Kesler charged down the ice, made a shot on Clemmensen’s right pad, which he saved.  The problem was Kesler was also charging down the ice on the opposite side, got the nice big rebound from Clemmensen’s pad, and shot it in the open side of the net.

The Devils didn’t quit, though, which is always a fan’s biggest fear when they go up 3-0.  They continued to fight, but unfortunately the bounces and odd plays didn’t go in to the net as easily as they did in the first.

Defense is an important game for the third period.  The team broke down a little defensively and they must keep pressure on the forwards.  I saw a few times Vancouver plant a forward in front of Clemmensen and the defenseman must clear them out.

The final 20 minutes are on the clock – time to see if the Devils can hold this together.  Some insurance goals wouldn’t be a bad idea either!

Period 3:

A whirlwind finish for the Devils, as they give up 2 more goals, and let Vancouver nearly tie the game.  The Devils did not play the last 10 minutes well, giving up goals from Pavol Demitra and Steve Bernier.  The defense nearly disappeared and the Devils had a good deal of trouble clearing the zone.  Offense also seemed to sit on the back burner and the Devils looked to be having the trouble Vancouver was plagued with at the start of the game.

Although the score was close, at 1:30 left Vancouver pulled net minder Chris Sanford.  It took several tries, but eventually the Devils were able to score the empty net goal.  Dainius Zubrus and Patrik Elias did some give-and-go passing, and Zubrus shot one towards the front of the net; it was deflected in to the net by Canuck Henrik Sundin.

Brent Sutter stated in his post-game conference that while Clemmensen did let in some goals he would want back, it wasn’t 100% his fault.  Sutter was very happy with Clemmensen’s play, and if you look at the game as a whole, the team.

Taking a critical look, it was mentioned by a reporter and I think it may have some merritt, Scott Clemmensen hasn’t been as strong as you’d like near the end of the past few contests.  Clemmensen did admit to flubbing some rebounds and looked unhappy with his performance late in the game, but overall he did play well.

There is no secret the Devils have not been playing as well as they were a few weeks ago.  Although they won tonight, you could tell nearing certain stages of the game, the Devils were not making the crisp passes nor the sharp plays they have been.  I do not want to take anything away from this win, however.  They did play well and did a very “old style” Devils moves, such as really capitalizing on their opponent’s mistakes, especially early in the game.  They are moving back in to their position I believe, but they must continue to work hard as their road trip continues on Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“A Mystery Team”

The quote which makes up the title of tonight’s post is courtesy of Chico Resch, Devils color commentator.  And I don’t think the team can be described any better than that.  It’s strange, but for part of the game the Devils looked like they were in control, but then collectively broke apart.

The offense wasn’t able to keep the puck on their sticks, and was not testing Duck net minder J.S. Giguere.

The defense wasn’t stopping the Ducks from rushing in and making good scoring chances.

Scott Clemmensen was letting a couple of weak goals in the net.

To elaborate on the above points, the Devils only had 21 shots on goal, 11 of which came in the third period; this means the Devils had a combined 10 shots on goal divided in the first and second period.  Giguere has also been having some trouble as of late, and the Devils offense and fore check needed to be testing him by getting everything on net.  The amount of blocked and missed shots was low for the Devils as well, and this is a pure indication the Devils were just not shooting the puck.

The Devils defense allowed the Ducks to take 34 shots on goal.  They were leaving too many shooting lanes open, and didn’t get there sticks between Anaheim passes.

Scott Clemmensen was hot and cold as well tonight.  At first I thought he looked shakey in net, bobbling the puck a little, but later it became evident that he was making some stops that really kept the Devils in the game.  Unfortunately he let in one too many and the Devils were not able to recover even after pulling Clemmensen for the extra man.

The Devils didscore one goal without Scott in net, but they were down by two so they still needed one more before they might tie things up.  They appeared to pick things up in the third, as evident with the Shots on Goal tally, but it was too little too late.  That, plus the fact the Chris Kunitz scored twice to double the Ducks original lead made things difficult for the Devils to come back from.

One last thing – although the Devils didn’t take an excess of penalties, nor did Anaheim score on the power play, one can only hypothesize that the eight minutes the Devils were down a man may have hurt the Devils and keep them from continuing some of their stronger surges during the course of the game.

The Devils are not playing all that badly though.  In fact Saturday night the Devils played one of their best games beating up on the LA Kings with a 5-1 victory.  Goals came from across the whole team, including Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, Zach Parise, Brian Rolston, and Jamie Langenbrunner.

What’s interesting was that three of the goals Saturday night and one of the goals Sunday night were scored on the Power Play.  Another interesting note: Kevin Weekes played on Saturday.

Aside from the fact the Devils won on Saturday and lost on Sunday, I still rate Kevin Weekes as outplaying Scott Clemmensen these past two games.  It’ll be interesting to see how the remaining stretch of away games is played out goaltending-wise.  There is nothing wrong in seeing which net minder has the winning touch – after all, Clemmensen won out on that race earlier in the season, but with the Devils play down the past few weeks, it might not be a bad idea to try it again.

Embarrassing: Devils Shut Out by Atlanta

When push came to shove, the Devils toppled tonight letting in four goals and failing to put a single tally up on the large scoreboard at center ice at the Prudential Center.

I believe I was fortunate for missing part of the game, most importantly, the three goals scored by Atlanta in the second period, leading to the eventual pulling of Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes getting a chance to dust off his glove and blocker.

Kevin Weekes wasn’t playing much better either.  In fact the entire team appeared to be out of sync – passes were missing the mark, they still had trouble breaking in to the opponents zone, they made some bad penalties, and had trouble getting any type of scoring opportunities.

Basically the problems that they have been experiencing in the past week or so has caught up with them and dealt the Devils two losses in a row.  I was secretly hoping that the return of Colin White would boost the Devils spirit, but he looked sub-par as well, as he may need a couple of games to get back in to the grove.

Unfortunately things only look bleaker for the Devils.  They are in a cramped part of their schedule, and will see action seven times in the next 12 days, and won’t return home until a match up with the Montreal Canadians on January 21.

To further stir up bad feelings, the Devils sit a mere 4 points out of first in the Atlantic Divison, and only 5 points out of tenth place in the Conference.

What the Devils need to do is to snap out of this fog they currently find themselves in and quickly before they drop further in the standings.  To be fair, the Devils overall record is not bad, with 23 wins, 14 losses, and 3 OT losses.  But recently they have been doing more losing than wining, with 5 losses and 4 wins.

A change in netminder will not change much.  The faltering the Devils are doing is a collective issue, one that the entire team will need to work on pulling out of.  It does not appear to be fatigue, but simply a mental block in which they are not playing with the confidence and ability they were playing with only a month ago.

For the record, the Devils struggled at the end of January last season.

Devils Start to Struggle

I’m not sure if the holidays caught up to the Devils, but they haven’t been playing well in their last few games.  If you just look at the fact that they have been winning, you wouldn’t be too alarmed.  After all, four wins in their last six games isn’t too bad.

But if you watched those games, you’d know something was amiss.  This struggle coincides with the loss of Colin White, who had an “upper body” injury and is slated to return tonight against the Atlanta Thrashers.

But Jamie Langenbrunner, Devils captain, said it best when he claimed the sign of a good team is one who wins when playing poorly.  And it’s true.  Last year, these were the games that made you pull your hair out as they just couldn’t muster enough to pull out a win in 60 minutes.

The only problem with this mentality is that sooner or later, if you don’t correct your issues, you will begin to lose.  Now enter the Carolina Hurricanes.  The Devils didn’t show up for two and a half periods, letting up some bad goals, taking some bad penalties, and not able to muster any kind of an offensive charge or good scoring opportunity.

Life only came to the Devils late in the third when they had a power play, and Brent Sutter, Devils coach, pulled a “What the…” move – pulling Scott Clemmensen and having 6 skaters attacking against the Hurricanes 4.  Now this wouldn’t have been too outrageous, but there was still 9 minutes left in the third period.

It worked, and the Devils scored a goal.  They got a second power play later on, and tried the same move, but it didn’t work out.  Carolina didn’t score against the Devils shorthanded, but it was fun to watch Scott Clemmensen skate back to his crease on the fly as he returned to the net as part of a line change after the power play was over.

It was an interesting move to say the least.  The Devils also managed to score a second goal with 22 seconds left in the third, also with Scott Clemmensen standing on the bench.  But the Devils offensive came too late as they were unable to match the three goals Carolina scored.

I would like to express my sincere sorrow to Mike “Doc” Emrick and his family for the loss of his father, who just celebrated his 90th birthday.  Every Devils fan’s thoughts and prayers are with you during this trying time, and I hope to spend this time thinking of all the great memories your family shared with him.  We miss you Doc!

In an unrelated Red Line note, we should be posting with some frequency once again.  I find very little time during the holidays and unfortunately I ran out of time to post here.  I am sorry, but I hope everyone had a loving holiday season, and I hope the new year treats everyone well – and perhaps bring some peace to the torn world.