The new site on SB Nation
is up and has been for the past week or so. I apologize for not updating this sooner, as the site went live shortly after my last post. All new content will be at inlouwetrust.com.
- The first period was pretty good. I'd almost go as far to say that the Devils were controlling the game. The Ranger fans at the Rock were silent save for the one who decided to fight security in Section 232.
- Second period. To quote Vince Lombardi, "What the hell's going on out here!?" This was the worst period the Devils have played all season - even worst then the first period against Buffalo last week. Absolutely awful. The discipline was looser than diarrhea, the defense was a sieve, and the offense was nonexistent as the Devils tend to rely on transition offenses and spent a good chunk of that period making clearances and dumps. How does this happen? How do the Devils leave the Rangers open in space? How do the Devils commit not just one 2 man disadvantage, but two times in the same period? Where was the leadership? The coaching? The focus? The common sense in hockey? In summary, the Devils played like dog vomit and the Rangers were a bucket full of sawdust.
- Third period, got one back only to lose it. Inconsequential in the larger scheme of things.
Needless to say, I was unhappy with the performance after the first. As an aside, I was amazed that the Rangers fans, who claim to be so supportive, didn't make too much of a peep until they scored. I guess being on the road to support your team alone isn't enough - they have to do well to make noise. Contrast this with Devils fans (e.g. Section 232/233, 208, various parts of other sections) who kept cheering them on even when they were awful. If only the Blueshirt-clad fans had prawn sandwiches. Anyway, the only Devils who you could say had a solid game all around was Travis Zajac. But that's rather inconsequential when you embarrass yourself with such a putrid performance at home and the result of the game clearly reflects that. Fair play to the Rangers, they saw a team starting to flounder after a goal against and they pounced on it again and again and again.
I want this Devils team to turn it around ASAP, PDQ and they have a home-and-home with Washington to do it against. They need to shut down their top forwards (Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom - on the same line
). With Scott Clemmensen in net again, according to Gulitti
, perhaps the rest of the Devils can get the message that Martin Brodeur isn't in net and therefore they need to raise their
game instead of hoping Clemmensen raises his game to Brodeurian proportions. But I want to see some fire on the ice. I want to see a desire that screams, "Damn it, we are winning this game and there is nothing you foolish fools can foolishly do to stop us!" I want to see some hustle, smart play, and finish to go with that desire. I want to the see the Devils Hockey we have not seen in the past few weeks.
Labels: 2008-09 Postgame, Devils Issues
For Devils fans like me, who basically started following the team when Marty was a rookie, these are uncharted waters. An extended period of time where the Devils will play hockey without Martin Brodeur as goaltender is all new to fans like me. It's basically a taste of the inevitable occurring about 3-5 years from now. The simple fact that Martin Brodeur won't be the main goaltender for the New Jersey Devils. If you're not familiar with his importance to the team, then I don't think you really know anything about the Devils since 1994. He is an absolute cornerstone to the franchise in their past, present, and continued successes. And now he's going to be gone until March, assuming everything goes well. That's well over half of the season.
That's well over half of the season where Kevin Weekes will have to reprise his role as a starting goaltender. The last time he was the definitive #1 on a team, it was on Carolina in 2003-2004. Weekes is a talented keeper, but he's clearly a drop off from Martin Brodeur. He's not going to play every night, so expect and learn to hope Scott Clemmensen can play like a NHL goalie on the nights where he's playing. He's a butterfly goaltender, meaning that Weekes' needs to pay special attention as to when he drops into that position. He's not like Marty where Brodeur will tell defenders to let him see the open shot, the defense will have to be more willing to sacrifice their bodies and sticks for blocks. He's not as quick to smother up pucks or as talented to limit rebounds, so he needs to work on both while the defense needs to play with more awareness around the slot in front of Weekes. I'm not trying to pick on Weekes, but he's definitely a drop off from Brodeur in terms of quality in net. We, as a fanbase, need to accept this and support Weekes even when he's not at his best (like, say, last night
). He has the unenviable position of having to pick up after one of the greatest goaltenders in the history of the NHL, a player that the Devils have built entire teams and seasons around, and keep some level of consistency in net. He doesn't need any additional pressure.
Let's focus on the other guys on the Devils. The defense has done a great job in terms of playing much better than they look individually on paper. Credit for that goes to the players and the coaching staff for figuring out what they are good at. Now more than ever, they will need to limit opposing offenses to fewer than 30 shots per game. They cannot afford to be as passive, they will have to be more willing to get into the other team's faces outside of the boards, keep them away from Weekes' field of vision, and pick up the flanking players. I do think they will play more aggressively to help Weekes' out in these terms, as well as putting them into more positions to block shots and force bad passes. Of course, this comes with a higher risk of being burned by more skilled players or being caught on crafty plays. In summary, they need to become stingy-er as well as more stable in their own end. Nights where they get rolled in a period or they spend much of their defensive game chasing people need to end for the Devils to remain successful.
And to be successful in hockey, you need to have goals scored. The Devils can't just score 1 or 2 goals, try to get more, but be able to ward off the other team with strong defense and excellent performances from Brodeur in case that they don't. Again, it is foolish to expect Weekes to play like Brodeur so it would be foolish if they played like Brodeur was in net. That extra level of comfort, confidence, whatever you call it isn't a constant anymore. The Devils skaters need to score more goals. It can come from guys who have been doing it (Zach Parise), guys who can do it but need to do it more (Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta), guys who have the potential of doing it (Travis Zajac, Dainius Zubrus), and guys whose role may not be scoring but can definitely provide help should they light the lamp more often (John Madden, Jamie Langenbrunner, David Clarkson, etc.) They need to take advantage of power plays - nights where they go 0 for 7 are inexcusable regardless of who is in net. They need demonstrate better discipline to stop committing as many penalties as they do to prevent the other team from scoring goals. And if the other team figures out a constant move when attacking - dumping it in the boards, looking for a man in the slot, etc. - the Devils (the coach or the players) need to realize this and adjust their tactics to keep the opposition honest.
As much as this has been despairing and lecturing and ranting and writing poor sentences, I honestly do believe the season is not lost. Nothing has been decided. Am I as confident in this team without Marty as I was when Marty was here? No. I don't think many fans are. But I sincerely think they have the talent to still be one of the best teams in the East. The Devils have skilled forwards up top such as Parise, Elias, Zajac, and Gionta. They have checking forwards who are a pain to play against from ace defenders John Madden and Jay Pandolfo to grinders like David Clarkson. They have forwards who do a bit of both in Jamie Langenbrunner and Dainius Zubrus. They even have some rookies with potential in Petr Vrana and Nicklas Bergfors. And when Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik come back, the group will be that much better. On defense, you may not think much of a unit featuring Paul Martin (get better soon, please), Colin White, Johnny Oduya, Anssi Salmela, Mike Mottau, and Sheldon Brookbank. But these guys got the job done last season with little fanfare and if they can at least do that, it should be enough. And, hey, Kevin Weekes is a pretty good goaltender. Don't forget that Brent Sutter is in control of this team and Lou Lamoriello is the best general manager in sports.
I'm not going to lie; the season just got a lot more difficult. But there is reason to be hopeful. Hopeful that this team can still win tough hockey games. Hopeful that this team can still keep up in a very tight Eastern Conference. Hopeful that when Marty does return, he doesn't have to put on a Superman cape and try to single-handedly carry the team to the playoffs. They have the players, they have done more with less in the past (thanks to Marty, admittedly); but the players, the coaches, the trainers, and the organization has to step it up and do more with what they have. I think they can still at least make the playoffs and cause a lot of other teams problems. I do not know whether the Devils think that, but it's what I think. But it will be far from easy.
Now, more than ever, we must support Jersey's team - we must support the Devils. I sincerely hope that Marty's surgery is successful and he makes a proper and complete recovery. But the sun will still come up, the night will still come upon us, and there are hockey games to play - and they can be won. Let's go, Devils.
Labels: 2008-09 Season, Devils Analysis, Devils Issues, Devils Legends
Kevin Weekes played very well and it is an absolute shame that the Devils could not help him out as he helped them out in the first period. The Sabres, to their credit, absolutely rolled the Devils in that period. Thanks to Weekes and a defense that only became effective in the absolute clutch, the Devils were lucky to escape with only one goal against. But the Devils were terrible in these twenty minutes. For starters, the Sabres controlled the tempo from the start in what seemed to be the running theme of the night - the Sabres can complete passes, whereas the Devils cannot. Because they kept swarming the Devils' zone, all New Jersey could really do is clear. And as the Devils could not maintain possession, they could not generate offense; hence, the pathetic amount of 3 shots on net by the home team. The Devils took the awfulness to a new level by handing the Sabres 5 power plays in the same period. Amazingly, it was after they killed a 5-on-3 did Jason Pominville finally get a puck above Weekes' sliding legs (in a butterfly stance) to score. I emphasize the finally as the Sabres had 20 cracks at it all period. Outshot 20 to 3 and a magnificent effort from Weekes kept the score low. And Weekes' effort was the shining silver lining in a dark grey cloud of horribleness that was the rest of the Devils.
To be honest, I also saw some moments that show why Weekes isn't a starter. There were a number of plays where most goalies would smother a puck or ensure a rebound goes a little farther and into better locations for their own defense. Weekes didn't really do either in those cases; but thanks to an alert defense, it didn't cost New Jersey. Not to steal Weekes' thunder, he did truly play well, I'm just pointing out some miscues.
Now, in the second period and onward, the Devils defense finally got their minds right and started playing preventative defense. Such that they would stop the Sabres on offense before they could shoot. I know, a novel concept. This was aided by the fact that Lindy Ruff, coach of Buffalo, decided that the team should hang back. The second could have been the Devils' version of the first had they didn't spend most of the period giving away pucks. Seriously, forget what happened in the offensive zone. They couldn't make good passes in the neutral zone. When they finally did learn how to move the puck in there - using the tried and sometimes true method of dumping it in from last season - the Devils actually started generating some scoring chances. By the end of the second, I figured the Devils would continue the momentum and make Buffalo pay for sitting back.
But, oh, how was I wrong with the third period. The Devils made errant passes to waste opportunities, errant shots that would hit Sabres and not the net, and whereas the Devils were incredibly successful in burying loose pucks down low recently, they couldn't snag a clear shot off one at all. On a scale of 1 to 10, the Devils' offense was miserably awful. Fair play to Ryan Miller for making the saves he needed to; he did well. Also, credit must be given to the Sabres defenders who knew that if they collapsed in the slot, then they can stop the Devils from cleaning up loose pucks for goals. They also knew that if they challenged puckhandlers with aggressive positions, then they could either force a bad pass, block a shot, or force a Devil to miss the net. They did stand back, but the Sabres were ready for New Jersey. Again, by the third period, they knew about the dumped pucks, they responded well to them, and kept forcing the Devils to try and beat them. And they couldn't. While the Devils on defense did their job in limiting Buffalo to 5 shots; Patrick Kaleta's shot hit a Devil (I think) and it beat Weekes to ultimately seal the deal. The Devils offense was stopped stone dead.
What makes this loss so particularly frustrating was that the The Devils were handed opportunity after opportunity to get back into this game. The Sabres dropping into a shell since the start of the second period. The SEVEN
power plays (seriously) the Devils had tonight (and some of them weren't bad, but they didn't build anything from them). Kevin Weekes' putting in a strong performance in their own end. But everyone on offense had a bad night, to say the least. Petr Vrana was miserable. Nicklas Bergfors played like he was in Lowell. Dainius Zubrus didn't really get going. Brian Gionta was inconsistent. Patrik Elias missed the net 6 times. Zach Parise couldn't get anything going and was ultimately ineffective despite his hustle; the same for Travis Zajac. John Madden couldn't muster any extra offense. Defensemen, namely Anssi Salmela (who was called up to fill in for Paul Martin, who had upper body soreness according to Gulitti
), trying to power home loose pucks high from the point consistently missed. It wasn't like the Devils didn't try, what they tried didn't work and instead of adjusting and simplifying their game, they kept trying again. It's frustrating to watch and we can only hope they get it right for Wednesday's game against Tampa Bay. Especially on the power play.
Labels: 2008-09 Postgame, Devils Issues
As far as the game itself, there are some nits to pick. Scott Mackie had some complaints about Nicklas Bergfors' and Petr Vrana's ice time at 2MA
and colorful language aside, he's got a point. There was no real reason, that I could tell, that required Brent Sutter to shorten the bench. Amazingly, save for a few shifts, he kept the fourth line of Mike Rupp, Bergfors, and Vrana together instead of his usual mixing up of the lines. Anyway. It's a minor point for Vrana as he's going to continue to play in the foreseeable future. Hopefully Bergfors will continue to get time before his call-up ends. That Matt Halischuk was sent down to Lowell (as reported by Gulitti)
is at least a sign that Bergfors will be at The Rock for a little while longer, I think. Speaking of nits to pick, can someone show Sheldon Brookbank how to defend a 2-on-1? I'm not a hockey player or a coach, but I'm pretty confident the right way is to not stay in the middle and lamely reach for a pass. Colby Armstrong found Slava Kozlov (the good Kozlov) with a pass and Kozlov was patient and cooly slid the puck off Weekes' sliding skate and into the net. The run-and-gun (because defense isn't something they are good at) Atlanta Thrashers upped the tempo as the Devils took their foot off the proverbial pedal in the third and it led to their only tally of the night. That's not to say the Devils took the third period off, but it was a bit sloppy and you could tell they were playing with a 5-6 goal lead. It's forgiveable because, well, it was a 5 goal lead and they kept it that way thanks to Kevin Weekes and a defense that bended a little but not too much.
And so the majority of the game is exactly what I expected to see before the game and from what I read afterwards at places like IPB.
The Devils kicked the snot out of a terrible hockey team. The offense was clearly on point - more then they were back in mid-October
- as Nicklas Bergfors got his first goal from the sideboards - and I think it definitely hit Johan Hedberg's blocker not Dainius Zubrus' stick so it was his goal. This was followed up in the second period when Patrik Elias threw a shot (or a pass to the slot?) from the sideboards with enough vigor that Mathieu Schneider and his stick helpfully deflected right past Hedberg. The remaining 4 goals all came from the slot. Zach Parise got his first off a rebound after Jamie Langenbrunner drove to the net; Parise got his second on the power play by burying an open net in the slot after great passes from Travis Zajac and Paul Martin. Brian Gionta scored just after a power play ended by burying a rebound off an Elias-tip of a Johnny Oduya shot. Jay Pandolfo got his first of the year by burying an Oduya - who was key on a lot of these plays with 3 assists - feed right in the slot.
Saturday's game clearly had this lesson demonstrated by the Devils: GO TO THE NET. It's where the goals have been coming from for New Jersey and with 21 goals being scored in the last 5 games, it's something I'm sure the coaching staff keeps emphasizing to the players. Particularly Brian Gionta, as both of his goals this season came from within 6 feet of the net. Perhaps they should also emphasize other players in joining Parise's Shot Club, as Chere reported on in the Star Ledger this morning.
In all honesty, I regret not seeing this game as it was certainly an exciting blowout by the Devils. They did what good teams should do to poor teams - just outright beat them, and New Jersey clearly outclassed them that night. And, just like many things in life, the Devils really don't get to sit back and enjoy it as they will be without Brodeur against a good Buffalo Sabres squad on Monday night. The offense is clearly hot right now, hopefully they can keep the fire burning
against the Sabres tomorrow.
Labels: 2008-09 Postgame, Devils Issues, Devils Legends, Devils Prospects
OK, with a game at the Rock tomorrow, I put up my NHLFA article up just now.
It discusses the current issues each team is facing right now based on the past week. A bit obvious in some cases, but they do describe the troubles each team is facing right now. Speaking of NHLFA, you should check out this interview Kevin Orris did with former Hobey Baker finalist Chris Collins.
You probably don't know who he is unless you're A) a big Boston College/Hockey East fan, B) a Boston/Providence Bruins supporter, or C) a fan of the team he currently plays for, Rauman Lukko. It's an interesting insight as to what the player goes through in and after college hockey. Hopefully, he'll be able to make it back to North American hockey and prove himself worthy of a shot in the NHL.
Now, as far as last night's game, you may be wondering why you haven't seen anything from me yet. Well, I didn't go to last night's game. I was at the Red Bulls one (and only) playoff game at Giants Stadium; yelling, chanting, wearing two scarves, and beating on a bass drum in section 115 with supporters group Raging Bull Nation.
While the team looked good against the Houston Dynamo, the Western Conference leaders and winners of the last two MLS Cups, they got a late equalizer and the game ended 1-1.
Given that the first round is a two-game leg, the second game is in Houston, the Red Bulls have only won once on the road this season and never at Houston, and the winner of the aggregate moves on, I can't say I'm confident in their chances. I hope I'll be wrong. Anyway, given the time of the game and the time I finally got out of the Meadowlands (not to mention how tired I was from the drum and how lost my voice was), I wasn't going to be able to see the game live. Circumstances have stopped me from seeing the full game; but I did check up online at NHL.com
, and Fire & Ice
last night, as well as Rich Chere's report in the Star Ledger
this morning as to see how things went. I've already commented on the big occurrence at the game; but given everything that I've read outside of the injury, it seems that the Devils just stomped all over a terrible hockey team. I'll watch the game shortly this evening and see if that really sums it up.
Labels: Personal/Site News