Sunday, December 31, 2006


December in Review; Devil of the Month

December 2006 was a strong one for the Devils. The began the month with a 5 game winning streak, defeating the Penguins, the Flyers in a shootout, Montreal in overtime, a shutout win over the Flyers, and a dominant win over the Bruins. The Buffalo Sabres put an end to that winning streak and unfortunately it was the beginning of a little losing streak. The Devils then lost to the Bruins and then lost their third straight to the Detroit Red Wings. In that losing streak, the Devils were heavily outshot and taking way too many penalties. They were looking up from the wrong end of the Atlantic Division, if I recall correctly, halfway through December. Right now, they're at the top? How did this begin? They righted the ship, so to speak, in the greatest way possible. A 6-1 beatdown of the New York Rangers. The good times ended with a shootout loss to Atlanta, a game well known for two shorthanded goals given up by the Devils. While I missed it, the Devils did defeat the Capitals 4-1 in convincing fashion. Atlanta continued to give the Devils trouble, convincingly beating the Devils in the next night 5-2. The Devils then got hot to finish off the month. The Devils stymied Sidney Crosby in a shutout win against Pittsburgh; then later shutdown Alexander Ovechkin in a win over the Capitals. Lastly and most recently, the Devils defeated the Islanders 2-0 to extend a winning streak to three games and finish December at the top of the Atlantic Division.

By my count, the Devils finished the month 10-4-1. Pretty dang good. A lot has improved for the Devils over the month. They currently stand in the NHL with ninth best record in the league, 22-13-3. They have scored an average of 2.55 goals per game (26th) and given up 2.34 goals per game (4th), thanks to an improved offense as of late and the mighty play of Martin Brodeur. What has seen the most improvement has been the power play. It has been a long running joke that the Devils' power play is unproductive and in this season, susceptible to shorthanded goals. Well, the latter part is true; but the Devils have the fifth best power play in the NHL. Yes, the FIFTH best, with a 19.5% effective rate. The penalty killing has not been strong, it has been dominant. The Devils have the best penalty killing units in the NHL, killing off 88.9% of all penalties. While the Devils shot a lot of pucks last night, they still average only 27.5 shots per night (27th). Despite all the criticism of some defensemen (i.e. Paul Martin), the Devils still allow an average of 28.6 shots per night, good for the seventh best average in the league. The numbers back up the strong play of the Devils this month.

Martin Brodeur has been aces this month, finishing December with the following stats: 22-12-2, 2.11 GAA, a save percentage of 0.925, and 6 shutouts. Brodeur is second in the NHL in wins (Jean-Sebastian Giguere leads with 23), second in GAA (Dominik Hasek has a GAA of 1.82), tied with Giguere for the third best save percentage (Cristobal Huet leads with a save percentage of 0.931), and leads the league in shutouts. Brodeur is not just having a Vezina-caliber year. He's having a MVP year. I don't want to think about how the Devils would do without Marty and I don't think any of the Devils do either.

That said, the Devil of the Month is Patrik Elias. Yes, Brodeur has been The Man. But Elias has exploded this month. He has struggled a bit early on in terms of production, but he has took it to another level this month. He opened the month with a goal and two assists and proceeded to have at least one point in every game he played in December but one. The exception being the 2-1 loss to Detroit. Elias only missed one game, the second Atlanta Thrashers game in the month wherein he was out with a sore foot. With 10 goals, 11 assists during the month, Elias now leads the Devils in scoring with 15 goals and 22 assists - where many have predicted he should be in terms of production. 3 of Elias' goals have been game winning goals, so Elias has been coming through when the Devils need a goal as well. Just as importantly, Elias has been skating hard regardless if he's the left winger for Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner or completing the EGG line with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. He's playing incredibly well and the Devils' success this month is due to this as much as it has been Martin Brodeur. Therefore, I decree that Patrik Elias is the In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month for December 2006.

The Devils ended December on a high note, which is good as the Devils played 15 games. January has 13 games mostly against conference opponents, with the Devils hosting the St. Louis Blues as the sole exception. If the Devils are serious about taking the division, another strong performance in January would definitely go a long way in retaining that Atlantic Division title. Here's to a new year in whatever you do, and hey who knows, maybe a fourth Stanley Cup.

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