Friday, October 05, 2007


The Schedule and Expectations

The regular season schedule for the New Jersey Devils is fair. This is not sarcasm or a mere statement of the obvious. The Devils will play 41 games at home, 41 games on the road by the time the season has ended.

How that is structured, the Devils really did not have much control over. The Prudential Center is in it's final stages of completion - the photo gallery at the Devils' official website has a look inside the arena today. The Devils won't be playing there until the end of the month, and so they will have 9 road games to start the season. Well, eight now that I'm typing this after the Tampa Bay game.

No team in the NHL today can expect to do very well on the road for (eight) nine straight home games. Hockey isn't like football where the home field advantage is a visible and incredibly audible advantage for the home team. Nonetheless, there's no feeling like playing in front of people who largely want to see you win instead of people who largely want to see you suffer as miserable of a loss as possible.

The Devils loss, last night, could be construed as a miserable loss on paper. The recap at NHL - which has full links to boxscores, super stats, and other wonderful, more detailed reports - states it plainly: The Devils lost 3-1 after scoring first. Vincent Lecavalier, one of the best players on the other team (and in the league) scored the two goals that put Tampa Bay ahead. This is true. What is also true that little mistakes liked missed defensive coverages led to larger mistakes, such as Vincent Lecavalier - one of the best players in the league, mind you - being absolutely wide open and without a Devil within 5 feet of him scoring quite possibly the easiest goal he'll score this year short of an empty net.

What the recap doesn't tell you is how the Devils had opportunites to score and either were unlucky and unfortunate to be denied by Johan Holmqvist or simply wasting them. The recap doesn't note that when Patrik Elias completed his first hit of the season deep in their zone, the Devils new strategy of aggressive forechecking was turned on. The Devils played up tempo hockey. The Devils forced turnovers. The Devils bamboozled Tampa Bay so badly that head coach John Tortarella had to call a timeout in the first period. Then the Devils started running out of gas and when Lecavalier got the equalizer, the Lightning turned it up. They played more smoothly, their possession became more cemented, and the game became more balanced. The Devils didn't respond as well and as such, the game went down the tubes.

But I can't say the loss was miserable. OK, the game winning goal certainly was due to the absolutely lapse judgment of the defensemen and the left winger (who should be covering for the defenseman's mistake of leaving an all star forward wide open). That was miserable. However, considering the Devils haven't even stepped onto the ice in a place called home and trying out a brand new system of play - I can't completely begrudge anyone on the team or the new systems just yet. It's too soon.

However, soon will soon become later and that is where the schedule comes into play. Tomorrow, the Devils will play the Florida Panthers. Before October 27, the Devils also play the Ottawa Senators, the Panthers a second time, the Atlanta Thrashers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Islanders, and the Rangers. Those are not easy games. Florida may now have another stud goaltender in Tomas Vokoun, the games against Atlanta have become tougher in recent years, Ottawa went to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, and the rest are divisional opponents. I repeat, these will not be easy games for the Devils.

I am emphasizing this because what I hope the Devils will do is to keep their perspective. Yes, these games do count and the good teams are competitive and successful to a degree on the road. That said, it's still the beginning of season. The Devils will get a ton of home games later in the season when teams are jockeying for playoff spots. Even if this road trip ends miserably, the organization and the team should not be quick to make rash decisions. Brent Sutter has the Devils players playing a different style of hockey than what most of them are used to - and adjusting to that style will take time even after preseason. If I suggested that any coach should fired after 9 games short of some absolutely boneheaded decisions, you'd think I was mad. If I suggested that the Devils should revert to passive, ultra-defensive, and counter-attacking hockey because the current system wasn't immediately successful, you'd think I was crazy.
My main point is not that the Devils should avoid adjustments or lineup changes. It's that they need to stick to the overall game plan until it is clearly apparent that the game plan is what is holding the Devils back from victories.

I am calling for patience and perspective. I am confident the Devils will do just that; and I hope the fanbase (which includes me) will have enough of both for now. Keep in mind, this is a tough and long road trip. Should the Devils end the road trip with 5 wins, that would be an excellent accomplishment considering the schedule. I, for one, would certainly be pleased with that. And if the Devils can play the hockey we saw some of last night - the play that led to a ton of Tampa Bay turnovers and Devils shots on net - closer to a full 60 minutes, we're going to see some great hockey being played, regardless.

Lastly, the regular season schedule for the New Jersey Devils is fair. It will all balance out. This is certain. The Devils just need to get what points they can get and use the experiences as a stepping stone for future success later this season. If you need to, keep repeating it: the regular season schedule for the New Jersey Devils is fair.

Labels: , ,

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home
Blog Directory - Blogged