Thursday, September 27, 2007


I Would Have Liked to Have Seen That, Guys

The New Jersey Devils played in another preseason game last night against the New York Islanders. How did they do? They won 6-1. I'm glad the incredibly brief AP summary of the game noted who scored for the Devils; otherwise I would have been more in the dark about it than I originally was. Martin Brodeur played two periods, Brian Gionta got a hat trick, John Madden got a brace (2 goals), and Travis Zajac got one.

You know, I'm a big Devils fan, I generally know what's going on. But so far could have hurt someone in the organization to figure out a way for some of the fans who do care about preseason to follow the games? I'm not asking for full TV coverage featuring Doc and Chico; even a radio or internet only feed would suffice. With the season coming up, the lineup is taking more shape, and I want to see who's really making some of that proverbial noise on the ice so far. Instead, I rely on after-the-fact accounts of what happened, who did well, who did poorly, and etcetera and so forth.

While I'm on this subject, has anyone noticed the Devils being proactive in terms of promotion for this coming season? Any ads on TV that aren't during Devils games? Any print ads in the newspapers or in other media? Any billboards somewhere? While the Devils organization has been excellent in so many aspects of running the team and the on-ice product, I constantly feel like they're lacking in selling the team. It doesn't have to be star-based; the Devils have been a very successful team with 3 Stanley Cups in the last 12-13 years and many other accolades (e.g. division championships). That's certainly worth pointing out to non-hockey fans and hockey fans of other teams. It couldn't hurt to promote the team beyond tiny print ads and ads during their own games. I would think most the people who are watching Devils games on TV are already Devils fans. Is this a crisis? Well, no. And I do understand that advertising in this market is considerably expensive. All I'm saying there isn't anything wrong with spreading the word and I wish the Devils organization would do more of that.

Anyway, back to what's interesting:

Tom Gulitti's blog Fire & Ice has stated that head coach Brent Sutter was pleased with the team's performance - one without Patrik Elias and Paul Martin in addition to all the other Devils who are injured. Elias and Martin should be fine for Saturday's game and Kevin Weekes should also dress, but Gulitti has stated that Colin White will definitely miss the season opener against Tampa Bay in addition to Saturday's final preseason game.

I will say this: Tom Gulitti has provided the best coverage of the Devils in preseason so far. Much thanks for his efforts. Not that Rich Chere has nothing: his article from today's Star Ledger focuses on how Dainius Zubrus has been adjusting to the team and the recent additions of big players to the lineup.

But Gulitti has a big article from today's Bergen Record about how Sutter's changing the way the Devils play hockey. Here's the important quote:
"The checking line, to me, is way overrated," Sutter said. "Your best defense is still always having the puck, puck possession time. Yeah, there are certain guys that are better at working with the puck than others, but we want to be a puck possession team where we have the puck more. Defensive hockey doesn't mean just staying on your heels and playing well in your own zone. Defensive hockey is about working hard. It's about turning pucks over. It's about neutral-zone puck turnovers."
Did you get that? Turning pucks over. A majority of teams in this league have the following set up: their first and second lines are for scoring, their third line is a defensive/checking line, and their fourth line is for physical presence, utility players, and youth. Do I expect Sutter to change this classification? No, not really What I do expect - and what has been going on in preseason - is Sutter getting the Devils to battle for the puck. That's not just forcing turnovers, but also a committed effort to forechecking. Such an effort wasn't there last season (or the season before that, now that I think about it), but it's there so far this preseason.

I think this is a grand idea because the Devils have done this before. I don't know what Gulitti meant when he talked about this idea being a shock. The Devils played like this in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Devils were feared by opposing offenses in the past because they were so good at being patient, waiting for the offense to make a mistake, and force the turnover while transitioning from defense to offense. And even when the offense wasn't attacking, the Devils were going after the puck-handler either to make him make a bad decision or to make him cough it up. Guys like Randy McKay, Jason Arnott, Bobby Holik, and even a young John Madden did all this (yes, I know Madden isn't physical, you don't have to be). Given the recent additions of larger, more physical players; even if forechecking doesn't yield a turnover, the Devils will at least wear down the opposition in the process. Not to mention that some of the veterans - John Madden and Jay Pandolfo in particular - are familiar with this style given prior seasons. Maybe we'll see a boost in their production because they won't be as passive as they were in the last few seasons. Not a large boost - Jay Pandolfo still sometimes seemingly has the goal scoring skill of, say, Ken Daneyko, after all. However, by being aggressive going for the puck, the Devils will get more opportunities on offense which can't hurt the already-low goal production the Devils have had last season.

Will it turn them into offensive dynamos? No, but I think it will help the team because Sutter has the players and so far they're buying into his system. At least, I believe they are - if I could see these games, I'd know for sure and be in a better position to agree or disagree. I would really like to see how it's working before Tampa Bay next week, guys.

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