People, including myself, are getting physically ill over two very bad feelings in the pit of their stomachs. The first is the Devils recent rendition of “Choke on Ice.” The second is the Devils, uh – history – against the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs.
WARNING: This post is written in Glass-Half-Full optimism. Your browser may require additional plug-ins to read this post correctly.
Now I am in no way an optimist. Unless the score is heavily in the Devils favor, I am criticizing the team for something. Seriously. It could be the fact that John Oduya missed a pass and that’s it, their entire defense isn’t sharp – or Patrik Elias shot wide and I say none of the Devils forwards could hit the broad side of a barn. I want to explain this since writing this post killed me a little inside.
So lets get to this, shall we?
Old Blood Back
Something new to the Devils this year – since the lockout – is veteran leadership. Sure the Devils have long-time players like Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner. But additions to the Devils lineup like Brian Rolston and Brendan Shanahan add experience that can’t be measured. Just watch these players move around the ice when they don’t even have the puck. They have great hockey sense that guides them and they too have been through bad spells like the Devils recently went through the past few weeks.
Brodeur and Clemmensen Have the Pads On
Not for nothing, but these are the two goalies the Devils need for the playoffs. First, Martin Brodeur is not in the shape he once was 10 years ago. But he’s still an amazing goalie, and still manages to keep the Devils in contention year after year. He is the backbone to the team and a staple that the Devils need. But Brodeur has his off nights, and when that occurs, Scott Clemmensen is the guy you want between the pipes. He not only took the reigns in front of the net when Brodeur was injured, he got the wins that put the Devils into first place in the Atlantic Division.
Devils Offense Can Catch Fire
Thinking of the Devils offense at their best times, you have some pretty good goal scorers available to play. You have to start with Zach Parise, who scored 45 goals this season. You read previously about how the veteran leadership has great hockey sense on the ice – Parise is the exception in that he’s young and yet exudes hockey sense. He is so often in the right place at the right time that his stats are merely inevitable. In addition to his total goals, he had 49 assists, making his points total 94. If he continues to play with a clear head, he will be the future of this organization’s offense.
Moving on to the rest of the forwards, we have Patrik Elias with 31 goals, Jamie Langenbrunner with a career high 29 goals, Travis Zajac and Brian Gionta with 20 goals, David Clarkson with 17 goals, and Dainius Zubrus and Brian Rolston with 15 goals.
Most of these guys had +/- averages that were significantly in the positives. This says they are outscoring their opponent and doing so consistently. They have the firepower and ability to get the puck on net, dig out the rebounds and score.
Here’s a stat to put this all in perspective: Parise was the team leader in points this year with 94. Last year he also led the team in points with 65.
And to sum up
This tells me collectively as a whole the Devils are playing better than last season. While in my previous post I did mention that the Devils broke their franchise win record and (as usual) criticized them for not doing so sooner since the termination of ties, the fact of the matter is they had 51 wins this season. Looking a the previous seasons…
What you see above is clear evidence that the Devils are better this season than they have been for the past 6 seasons. The have fewer losses this season than in any previous season since the lockout. If we pretend that half the ties in pre-lockout seasons would be wins and the other half would be losses – this season still has fewer losses than all but the 2002-03 season, the year the Devils last won the Stanley Cup.
Getting to the point
The Devils have a great team this year. Their ability and great play has been tarnished with the previous few weeks of “issues” – but even with that debacle, the Devils still wind up with one of their best records since the 2000-2001 season.
So, with optimism in mind, the Devils are going in to the playoffs in better shape than since that 2000-2001 season – in which the Devils made it to the Stanley Cup Finals and were only trumped by the Colorado Avalanche. Oh, and by the way, that season the Devils beat the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.